Tuesday, July 26, 2011

My trip of a life time

I have been quite actively blogging in the past while, but for the next 3 weeks I will probably not be active on the internet very much because I am going to be on holiday in South Africa.

I am very excited because this will be my first trip south of the equator and I expect that it will be a very different country, especially during the Safari we have planned. In addition I will be meeting up with an old friend from school and college whom I had lost touch with until recently.

I am sure I will have lots of lovely pictures to share when I come back because my sister has given me the loan of her fancy DSLR camera to ensure we capture all of the adventures.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

What is happening in my house when I am not there?

My ENVIr energy monitor system from Current Cost is constantly monitoring my electric usage and posting these statistics to the CurrentCost web site where I can view lots of interesting graphs.

I was recently away from the house for a few days, so it was interesting to see how much electricity was being used when there was nobody in the house. As you can see from the screenshot below, their is constant electricity usage rate of roughly 170 watts (probably a sign of the large number of electronic devices on stand-by).

I wondered what this background electricity usage is costing me. For simplicity sake I assumed 30 days in a month, so 170 watts would equate to 122.4 Kilowatt-hours (170x24X30/1000).  If I assume that my electricity rate is around €0.14 per Kilowatt-hour this means that I am using about €17 worth of electricity before I even switch anything on. This is not a huge amount of money, but it world be worth reducing if possible.

Every 2 hours or so the electricity jumps up by 100 watts or so for a period of about 10-15 minutes before dropping back again. I am not certain what causes that, but I guess it might be the fridge/freezer which needs to turn on its motor occasionally to keep the food cold.Again this might be worth investigating further, but I will have to wait until my individual appliance monitors arrive..

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Banshee helps me listen to a more eclectic selection of music.

I normally use the Banshee music player that comes with Ubuntu to play background music while I work. I must say that I find its user interface very slick and easy to use (I would even say it is an improvement on the RhythmBox player that they used before).

I don't look very closely at the user interface and so it was only recently that I spotted that they have an unheard view on your music library which shows the tracks in your library that you have never listened to. I was amazed to see that I had 715 tracks in this category (out of slightly more than 1,000 tracks in total). I know this does not really mean that I never listened to these tracks, it means that I haven't listened to them since I upgraded to Banshee a few months ago.

But it still tells me that my music listening is not as diverse as it should be. As a result I have set the player to play random selections from my unheard list for the last few days and I have really being enjoying discovering old favourites, although it can be a little strange to hear the music switch from Metallica, to Vivaldi and then move on to Horslips.

Monday, July 18, 2011

My Electricity usage is now available on-line

My Current Cost bridge device arrived in the post so my electricity usage statistics are now being posted and stored on-line. The Current Cost Dashboard site allows me to draw many nice graphs to help me understand trends etc. Although my weather data is publicly visible, I decided that I ought not share my live electricity usage so freely because someone pointed out to me the electric usage data could identify whether or not someone is home which in turn could be helpful to burglars.

I will probably share some data on my historic usage, but unfortunately I can't do that yet because I don't have enough data uploaded yet to make the graphs interesting.

Friday, July 15, 2011

How much does it cost to cook at home

In my initial post about electricity consumption I compared the energy used by the various different ways of making a cup of coffee in the morning. Today I decided to look at the electricity consumption of the devices that I might use to cook something more substantial.

If I was cooking a fancy meal, I would use the fan oven which consumes about 2.5 Kilowatts when heating up and even when I turn off the oven the fan continues to circulate air which consumes about 65 watts. Large joints of meat can take several hours to cook. I know that the thermostat would probably switch off the oven several times during this period, but since electricity costs about 14 cent per Kilowatt-hour I can see the cost of cooking a joint could be significant (maybe the pre-cooked chickens are good value after all).

If I was cooking something smaller I would probably use the rings on the hob on top of the cooker. My cooker has both large and small rings to accommodate different size saucepans. I realised that there would be a difference in the amount of energy required to heat up the different size of ring, but I was surprised to see that the consumption of the larger ring (2 Killowatts) was over 50% higher than the amount required to heat the smaller rings (1.3 Kilowatts). So I must remember to use the smaller rings as much as possible.

The grill consumed about 1.8 Kilowatts, while the toaster only consumed about 780 watts. The means that the toaster is much more efficient at toasting bread especially since the bred will be toasted faster in the toaster than under the grill.

The Microwave oven consumes about 1.6 Kilowatts when switched to full power. However, since it cooks food much faster than conventional cooking it probably would save money to use it whenever possible.

The clothes drier is the one device that I really expected to consume a lot of electricity because I have often heard complain about how wasteful this device is. However, I measured that it only consumed about 1.2 Kilowatts. I suppose that if you really want to be environmentally friendly you would put your washing in the drier and eat a cold meal. This would be more fuel efficient than hanging your clothes out to dry in the open and eating a hot meal.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Fancy lighting can be very ineffecient

I blogged yesterday about the amount of electricity I might need to make myself a cup of coffee in the morning. In these bright summer mornings there is normally enough natural light to allow me to see what I am doing. However, in the winter I expect that a considerable amount of electricity would go towards providing lights in the house so today I decided to measure the power consumption of my lights.

My kitchen is fairly large and so I need two bulbs to provide adequate light. However, since these lights are used a lot I was sure to ensure that I installed CFL bulbs in these lights. I was pleasantly surprised to measure that both lights beking switched on only consumed 30 watts (i.e. 15 watts each).

As well as the main lights, I also have a strip light under the presses. This light does not really provide enough light to do any work in the kitchen and its real purpose is to provide a nice ambiance in the kitchen while eating a romantic dinner. Therefore I was shocked to measure that it consumed 50 watts which is more than the two main lights.

In most of the rooms I have CFL bulbs which consume less than 20 watts each. In fact their power consumption was so low that it was hard for me to measure accurately. I was also pleasantly suprised to see that the two incandescent bulbs I had were consuming less power than they are supposed to. A 75w bulb which I have in a small utility room was only consuming about 60 watts and a 40w bulb in a Hot-press was actually only consuming 30 watts.

In the upstairs bathroom we have Halogen light fittings mainly because the female members of my family assure me that they look very stylish. I always knew that they were not very efficient, but I was shocked when I measured that they consumed 260 watts (i.e. more than 8 times as much energy as the kitchen lights which light a much larger room).

I suppose the lesson to learn is that it is expensive to be stylish!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

How much energy am I using in the kitchen

I recently purchased an ENVIr energy monitor system from Current Cost to track my electricity usage at home. I am still waiting for delivery of the bridge device which will allow me to publish my data to the Internet in real time, but I thought I would share some initial data that I manually recorded.

It seems that the energy consumption in the house never goes much below 200 watts (probably due to things like networking equipment and other electronic devices that I have at home). Unfortunately they are out of stock on the Individual Appliance Monitors which would allow me to track the usage of individual devices but I was able to estimate the consumption of various appliances in the kitchen by switching them on and off and looking at how much this changed my total electric power consumption.

The first thing I measured was my cappuccino maker (which is often the first device switched on in the morning). This actually consists of three different devices, a milk warmer which consumed about 615 watts, an espresso maker which consumed about 730 watts and a frother for the milk which only consumed about 5 watts. This meant that the total consumption was 1.35 Kilowatts. For comparison I measured the filter coffee maker and it only consumed 950 watts so I could trim about 30% off my power consumption (as well as trimming a few inches from my waistline) by switching to filter coffee. However, I was surprised to learn that the kettle was consuming about 2.94 kilowatts - so if I went back to instant coffee my power consumption would more than double.

I will post more data over the next few days as I make more measurements.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Sometimes Computers get stuff very wrong

There is an old joke "To err is human, but to really mess things up you need a computer".

I don't run very often, but when I do I normally use the My Tracks application on my Android phone to track my progress. This allows me to keep a training record which is usually very accurate. However, the other day I went on a training run that was more or less following the route of the Streets of Galway race. I had to run a little bit extra to get to and from the race route so I reckoned I would have clocked up slightly more than 8km. Imagine my surprise when I looked at the route that my phone thought I took. Instead of running roughly 10km per hour on the streets of Galway, it thought I was swimming at over 100km  per hour around the Irish Sea!!!

View Galway in a larger map

Friday, July 8, 2011

How to avoid being ripped off by exorbitant mobile data roaming charges

I (like many other people) have become very reliant upon my Smartphone. Luckily the market is quite competitive both for phones and for service providers so that in general you can get very good value when either buying a new phone or when subscribing to a mobile data service to allow you get the most out of it.

One big exception to this is when you leave your home country. The roaming data rates charged by most operators when you bring your Smartphone abroad are nothing short of outrageous. For example, my provider charges €10 per MByte for data access when I am outside of Ireland so naturally I turn of 3G on my phone and try to survive without connectivity when I am travelling.

In recent years the European Union has done a great service to the public by putting pressure on the  carriers to reduce their roaming charges for phone calls within the EU. They have recently turned their attention to also reducing data roaming charges, but this initiative is likely to take some time to bear fruit.

I recently came across and the TEP Wireless service which seems like a really cool idea whereby you can rent a pocket wifi from them for the country that you are travelling to. Then you can configure your Smartphone to use this wifi service and you are able to use your Smartphone abroad as much as you want without having to worry about running up large bills. The rates seem quite reasonable, presumably because they buy the devices and sign up for contracts in the country you are visiting so they are paying local rates rather than visitor rates.

I can't wait to try out this service (it was only launched a few weeks ago). Unfortunately they don't offer service in South Africa yet, so I won't be able to use it on my upcoming vacation, but I definitely will try it out soon.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Is the era of Windows dominance coming to an end?

Whenever possible I like to use Linux software on all of my PCs. Many of my colleagues also have a similar preference and so I would consider it quite normal for people to choose Linux as a desktop operating system in preference to Windows. However, I do realise that my world view might be slightly skewed and Windows might still be the overwhelming favourite operating system in the real world.

I wrote before , that Google Analytics tells me that roughly a quarter of the readers of my blog are using Linux, but this is a small and unrepresentative sample. I recently received a newsletter from the Google Analytics team where they analyse data from hundreds of thousands of sites (including mine) which have enabled anonymous data sharing.

The following table summarises their statistics about the relative popularity of various operating systems at the start of this year as compared with the year before. I assume it is probably typical of the Internet as a whole.

% Visits from OSNov/09 - Feb/10Nov/10 - Feb/11Difference

You can see that the percentage of people using Windows is indeed going down (even if it is still the lions share of the market at about 85%). What is interesting is that most people are not moving to Linux or Macintosh, but are moving to "Other". I suspect that this is mainly a reflection in the increasing number of people using various mobile devices to access the Internet.

I think that this is great news, because variety is very important for the health of the Internet.