September 30, 2014

Jill of All Trades / Mistress of None

One of the things I have struggled with throughout my life is the rather scattershot (is using the term schizophrenic politically incorrect?) set of skills and interests I have cultivated. From earliest days (when my high school core competencies bounced from math and science to creative writing to music) to today (when "What do you do for work?" elicits of stream of consciousness that includes engineering, teaching yoga, social media, computer automation, writing, and music), I've never been particularly focused.

It is both a blessing as well as a curse. There's not much that crosses my path in terms of work or hobbies that I cannot apply some experience or competency to. On the other hand, there's something to be said for being "the writer", "the geek", "the performer", etc. and I've never applied myself to any single interest or skill long enough to be highly expert in any one thing.

Right now, I'm struggling with this broad set of interests and skills in several areas.

My professional / business website is an old and tired mess. Designed and assembled in the early 00's and last seriously updated in 2006, it does not reflect much of what I do for work these days, nor provide a winning and reassuring update to present or future clients. It's way overdue for a makeover (which I have started several times) but I struggle with it. I've grown tired of traveling and doing on-site troubleshooting work; a lot of what I do for money these days is distinctly non-engineering. How to fold all of that into a website without having to create and maintain multiple sites (electrical engineering, yoga, computer / marketing / social media)

Similarly, this blog has become a catch-all for my myriad interests and passions, including:
  • Folk and Acoustic music (playing and listening)
  • Sound reinforcement (audio toys and equipment, gigs)
  •  Local arts and culture
  • Home repair / energy conservation
  • Yoga
  • LGBT issues (I'm pretty light on this, but it sneaks in occasionally)
One thing I am doing right now is splitting out some of the more techie / geekie posts I've made here to a new Residential Power and Energy Blog
I've decided to start a blog focusing on electrical power and energy for residential and small commercial users - relying on half a lifetime of work in this field, and consolidating, integrating and updating documents, posts, and other material I've written and/or published over the past 30 years.
Hopefully, I can use my engineering training, experience, and interest to bridge the gap between the high end users (contractors, equipment manufacturers, energy engineers) and home-owners and small business owners.  I've got a long term eye on monetizing the blog, as well as perhaps leveraging it towards some freelance writing.

In the meantime, I'm still trying to figure out how to put my professional life out there in a way that is coherent, fresh, and not too off-putting to those looking for expertise in one particular area or skill. Wish me luck....

September 26, 2014

Efergy E2 Classic Energy Monitor

I recently picked up a small energy monitor for my home / condo, made by Efergy Technologies Limited. As I confessed via social media:
Just ordered a small energy monitor for the main condo panel. Call it 40% professional interest, 30% desire to be more energy efficient / save money, and 30% number and graph nerd.
In the professional interest department, I'm always looking at new / low cost ways to monitor, measure, quantify electricity and power. The price point here was minimal ($100). The functions and feature set (monitoring demand, wireless display that can be moved throughout the home, USB interface to access data and produce reports, software to facilitate all that) all looked great.

From an energy conservation / cost savings perspective, although I'm a single person in a small condo, I'm a bit of a nightmare in terms of electrical usage. My condo is all-electric (heat, stove & oven, water heater). Although cooling season is over, I have two small window A/C units (bedroom and basement office), a basement dehumidifier, and a basement space heater. Besides normal living usage, I work out of my house (so I'm in the basement office a lot) and I practice / teach yoga - my second bedroom is a dedicated practice room and when I practice, I generally crank the heat a bit.

Now, I've taken a lot of first steps to reduce my electrical usage - replaced almost all of my incandescent bulbs with CFL or LED, and replaced all of my baseboard thermostats with either digital units, or digital units with a timer. Digital thermostats = more consistent control (I'm not turning heat up or down based on "feel") as well as more even heating (they have triac controls that can turn heat up incrementally not simply ON / OFF like mechanical units). I keep my heat pretty low, 58F at night, 65F during the day, it's scheduled based on my life, and the thermostats make sure I never leave the heat cranked for more than a few hours. I'm pretty good at reprogramming the thermostats as needed. 

But enough about me - back to the Efergy energy monitor. It's arrived, been connected, and is doing it's job. Here's a quick review.

Technical Capabilities

Strictly speaking, the device is a CURRENT monitor. There are two clamp on current probes, but no voltage connection point - it calculates demand based on a fixed voltage, and presumably a unity power factor. Have not determined it it measures average current or true RMS at this point. It samples data on a 10 / 15 / 20 second rate. It's not super accurate, as a result, but it's "close enough" and certainly can provide a good comparative measure of energy usage over time.

It also has a third current probe "port" so can presumably monitor three phase power as well. It appears to be designed for a world market: 50/60 Hz, multiple nominal voltage settings, and multiple rate / tariff units.

Installation

The monitor was easy to install. Two clamp-on current probes (A) were connected to the mains coming in. I have a 100A panel, the probes appear to be sized for 200A maximum. The probes are not spring loaded, but use a nice little plastic latch / clip for secure connection, and since there is no voltage monitored, the vector / direction of the probe does not matter. I'm comfortable sticking my fingers in a live panel, but to be safe, kill the power before installation.

These are connected via a fixed cable to a transmitter (B) which is powered via 3 x AA batteries, or an optional DC supply. The company claims battery life of 8-10 months is typical for both transmitter and monitor.

The wireless display / monitoring unit (C) can be located anywhere convenient; I placed it atop the panel for the photo. It's powered via 3 x AAA batteries. The transmitter / monitor are linked via a simple push-button procedure. I had no problems getting them to talk. The expected range is 100 - 200 ft. although I found signal was sketchy up on the second floor. 

The past week I've had the wireless display sitting on my desk as I've worked, and have enjoyed (yeah, I'm an engineer, what do you want) watching the kW measurement track up and down as I work throughout the day. 

Monitor / Display Unit

The display for this device has some rudimentary information. There are three values available:
  • Energy Now (KW) 
  • Cost (per day) based on present energy ($)
  • CO2 (per day) based on present energy (KgCO2) 
In addition, the device displays all of these parameters as an Average (over the life of monitoring, with energy in KWHr) and History (scroll through a daily, weekly, or monthly tally of demand, cost, and CO2)

The device allows you to set up variable rate (single or multiple) in cost / kWHr, and a CO2 usage factor.

The display is pretty rudimentary; and if I were relying on that I'd probably check out the Efergy Elite True Power Meter (more sophisticated measurement, more advanced display, temp & humidity) but that  device does not have "in the box" communications capability to a PC, and I am all about the data.

Software

The free to download software, elink, is pretty spiffy.  The basic HISTORY function displays demand on an hourly basis (per day), a daily basic (per month), or a monthly basis (per year)


Under the MANAGE function, the user can look at individual days, do a weekly comparison (for instance compare individual weekdays or weekday vs. weekend), as well as a month by month comparison.

Finally, there are some advanced options of tracking actual usage vs. planned usage, setting up complex utility tariff schedules (for those working with peak / off-peak billing) and adding multiple utilities (so one could presumably compare different rate schedules with actual historical demand data)

Reports

Last but not least, the software gives the option of generating a Daily or Monthly report - selecting a specific time period, and creating a PDF report. The "Add Stickie"feature is not all that intuitive or well documented, but from the main HISTORY page you can create comments on notable usage or patterns which would be great if one were creating a report for users, management, clients, etc.

The exported spreadsheet is pretty rudimentary: Date / Time / KWHr / Daily Max / Cost / Stickie Note(s). Including the Stickies is a nice touch. But really, the PDF report is pretty much all I might need.  

Using the Efergy Demand Meter

I can think of a lot of ways to use this device.

Professionally, it would make a great tool to do short and simple residential / small business demand audits. Hook it up, perhaps do some walking around turning things on and off and recording the demand, then leave it connected for a week and generate a report, with recommendations for savings.

As an end-user, I'd probably first characterize the household energy consumers. I'll be able to (over time) generate the cost (in electricity) for things like a load of laundry, a shower, a hot bath, and factor those in a bit. Might even consider replacing older / less efficient appliances. Same with cranking the heat for a yoga practice or fine-tuning the heat schedule and zoning. And although I've gone through the condo pretty well in terms of replacing incandescent bulbs and other energy hogs, perhaps I'll find something I've missed - most consumers who have been less fanatic than I will probably find a lot of room for improvement.

I can also watch the electrical demand on a real time basis, and if I've left something on (stove burner, iron, etc.) I should be able to spot that quickly.

Bottom line, really nice piece of technology - really well designed (hardware and software) and useful.

August 05, 2014

Falcon Ridge Folk Fest Emerging Artists - Merch Sales vs. Audience Survey

2007 Merchandise Leaders: Anthony da Costa, Lindsay Mac, Randall Williams, Vienna Teng, Joe Jencks

2007 Most Wanted: Anthony da Costa, Joe Crookston, Lindsay Mac, and Randall Williams

The three top sellers came back as "Most Wanted" artists, Joe Crookston finished 8th out of 24 in the merchandise sales

2008 Merchandise Leaders: Abi Tapia, Danny Schmidt, Anne Heaton, Amy Speace, Lucy Wainwright Roche

2008 Most Wanted: Abi Tapia, Amy Speace, Blue Moose and the Unbuttoned Zippers, Lucy Wainwright Roche

Danny Schmidt and Anne Heaton sold the merch but missed out on Most Wanted, Blue Moose and the Unbuttoned Zippers placed sixth in merchandise sales - mostly because they sold out (67 pieces) of their CD at $5 each.

2009 Merchandise Leaders: The Brilliant Invention, Swing Caravan, Coyote Grace, John Elliott, Angelo M

2009 Most Wanted: chuck e costa, Swing Caravan, The Brilliant Invention

Coyote Grace, John Elliot, Angelo M missed Most Wanted spots; chuck e costa finished 8th in  merchandise sales

2010 Merchandise Leaders: Spuyten Duyvil, Barnaby Bright, Chris O Brien, John Wort Hannam, Shannon Wurst

2010 Most Wanted: Barnaby Bright, Chris O'Brien, Folkadelics, Spuyten Duyvil

Three for three (top merch sellers), Folkadelics came in 8th in merch sales. Another case of selling out $5 CDs (in this case, 45 pieces). Edit:  I've also been told (but do not recall nor have evidence) that John Wort Hannam was voted for a Most Wanted slot but turned it down. 

2011 Merchandise Leaders: Suzie Vinnick, Blair Bodine, ilyAIMY, Bulat Gafarov, Ellen Bukstel
 
2011 Most Wanted: Blair Bodine, ilyAIMY, Louise Mosrie, Pesky J Nixon

This seems to be the worst correlation year, with two Most Wanted placing out of the money - Louise Mosrie placed 6th in sales, Pesky J Nixon placed 10th, but being Falcon Ridge regulars, suspect there were a lot of folks who already were familiar with them / had previously purchased CDs

2012 Merchandise Leaders: Poor Old Shine, Burning Bridget Cleary, Gathering Time, Kate Klim, Honor Finnegan

2012 Most Wanted: Gathering Time, Poor Old Shine, The Yayas

Two for three. The Yayas placed 9th in merchandise sales.
 
2013 Merchandise Leaders:  Darlingside, Tall Heights, Connor Garvey, Boxcar Lilies, Roosevelt Dime


2013 Most Wanted: The Boxcar Lilies, Darlingside, Roosevelt Dime, Connor Garvey

Four for four.

Bottom line - out of 26 "Most Wanted" artists (from 2007 through 2013, 19 were also in the "Top Five" in terms of merchandise sales, 7 (averaging one per year) were audience favorites although did not place in the top five in terms of merchandise sales.

Some things that might skew the results / correlation:
  1. Many Emerging Artists do not bring a lot / enough merchandise.
  2. Some artists price their CDs low ($5 or $10) to encourage sales   
  3. Some artists only have one CD, others bring several. 

July 24, 2014

Falcon Ridge - Merch Tent Prep

File this one under "If you want something done right, give it to a busy person". Alternately, file it under "Mild OCD / Organization and Office Supply Subdiagnosis". Here's a list of pre-fest prep, planning, and purchasing for the merch tent:
  1. Update laptop software (no small task, the beast barely comes out of it's case the rest of the year of late) 
  2. Resurrect ink-jet printer, purchase and install new print cartridges (the old ones have dried out), confirm it works
  3. Load up merchandise spreadsheet with 2014 artists  (presently 82 artists / worksheets, although not all bring merchandise, and some side musicians and "Friends of the Festival" (i.e. - people who got past both Anne's defenses and mine) will, I am sure, be added.
  4. Print out festival schedule (available online here) and laminate copies for the merch tent and trailer.
  5. Print out and laminate table cards / labels for all artists (helps to space out tables and hold space for late arrivers)
  6. Pick up miscellaneous supplies (punched paper, highlighters, sharpies, post-it notes, etc.)
  7. Assemble three workbooks - one for pre-fest / to be checked in. One for "checked in" artists. And one for the cashier table (to be used for price reference) - will fill one up before I leave, the rest get filled on site.
I'll be updating the master spreadsheet over the next few days as I crawl the artists' websites and tweak things. But it all seems to be coming together.....

Watching the Weather

With three outdoor activities coming up in the next few weeks, I'm keeping an eye on the weather:

Thursday 7/24: Was a little concerned about the weather for the Guinea Pigs gig at Billings Forge Farmers' Market. But things look OK - partly cloudy, high 70s, 50% humidity, and low chance of rain (0 - 20%)

Saturday 7/26: Om Street / Yoga on LaSalle. Although the weekend forecast reads 86, Few Showers, and 30% Chance of Rain, the hourly forecast shows sunny, 60s, and 0% chance of rain in the morning. Let's call that a "go"

Tuesday 7/29 through Monday 8/4: Falcon Ridge Folk Festival. Looks like a mixed bag. Tuesday - Thursday look good (high 70s, sunny or mostly sunny, 0-10% chance of rain) - which are key days for me in terms of setting up campsite, relaxing with friends, getting prep work done in merch trailer land Friday and Saturday show showers and light rain (boo!) although we're looking 7-8 days out so lots of opportunity for changes. Fingers crossed and hopeful!

July 23, 2014

Too Busy to Blog - 2014 Edition

I seem to have this problem every year around this time. The weather gets hot, life gets busy, and I fail to blog. At least I got one more post in this July than I did last year.

Why so busy? Teacher Training at West Hartford Yoga ran through June 22 - the last weekend was really draining and there was a bit of catching my breath after that. Not that I got much time to relax; the 2014 teacher trainees jumped right into assisting; I've had 1-2 of them in most of my classes since the end of training - which keeps me on my toes and takes a bit of pre-class and post-class time to process.

Meanwhile, my web and social media clients over at Essex Steam Train launched a new website in mid-June; I'm no longer doing the tech for the site but still manage a lot of the content, so there was a lot going on there. They also started their daily operation (June 21), started planning for their summer circus train, and a bunch of summer events and features that have kept me hopping.

Finally, my band The Guinea Pigs has gotten busy - with fun gigs at MCC on Main (June 14), Blue Back Square (July 13), and the Manchester Bandshell (July 18) under our belts, and Buillings Forge Farmers Market tomorrow (July 24).

That's all the regular stuff. Summertime also brings some special events. West Hartford Yoga is doing their 4th Annual Om Street: Yoga on LaSalle event. Just another yoga class, except that I've been the audio engineer since year #1, when I rightly realized that event founder Lululemon had no idea what they were getting into, sound wise, and I volunteered the studio sound system (and my muscles and brain to make it work). This year, we're adding remote speakers; I've been busy at work drawing up plans and coordinating equipment - this year's acquisitions include 200' of XLR cable and a digital delay unit to sync up the remote system.
.

Right after Om Street, I leave for Falcon Ridge Folk Fest - my 22nd year as a volunteer (since 1992, with one year missed for a business trip to Malaysia). Like Om Street, it's not all fun and games; I've been in charge of performer merchandise since 2007 which involves spreadsheets, several supply runs to Staples, a small level of organizational OCD, and an equal measure of codependent over-functioning. I'm taking the year off from teaching yoga (I've been leading a 7:30 am practice in the dance tent since 2008) so hopefully will have a little bit of down time this year. Looking forward to nearly a week of camping, relaxing, hanging with my festival family, and more good music than I am able to absorb.

So - my busy life. I'll try to blog more often....

July 01, 2014

Hobby Lobby SCOTUS Decision

My social media timelines are filled with righteous rage today, Here's an example:



Now, there is a problem with this post (and the 100 others I've scrolled past yesterday and today)

THE HOBBY LOBBY DECISION DOES NOT APPLY TO REGULAR OLD BIRTH CONTROL.

Did anyone actually read further than the headline? Hobby Lobby sought relief from four (4) kinds of birth control:

"...emergency contraceptives such as Plan B and Ella that can prevent a pregnancy if taken within a short window after unprotected sex. The owners contend that these contraceptive methods prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the woman's uterus and therefore are a type of abortion. Hobby Lobby's owners also object to two types of intrauterine devices, or IUDs, for the same reason." - NPR

Note, not the regular old birth control pill that folks have been posting photos of ad nauseum. And as a "not a fan of abortion but not wanting to restrict access" kind of person, I'm willing to put emergency contraceptives in special category in terms of "somewhere between birth control and abortion". All of these technologies are available, just not through employer insurance.

Now, I'm not a fan of Hobby Lobby's politics, not a fan of parsing health benefits based on religion or politics, and not a fan of business supplied health benefits in the first place. You could not pay me enough to work for Hobby Lobby under any circumstances. And yeah, perhaps this decision could lead to much darker and more problematic places in the future.


But come on, lefties. We bitch and moan when the 2nd Amendment nut jobs object to reasonable limitations such as closing gun show loopholes, restrict magazine capacity, etc. using hyperbole and exaggeration, which do not really restrict access to firearms. And then we do the SAME DAMN THING when it comes to birth control.

Go to it, I guess, if you really need to vent and rage. But I'm not playing.