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Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

It does not rain that often on July 1st here in Belgium, but it did in 2020 ;-)

Our solar electricity production numbers for June are not influenced by the latest rainy days, luckily: the panels generated just a bit more than the average of the past 10 months of June. In total, we have now surpassed the 22 MWh mark in ten and a half years.

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In 2017, I was looking for a wrist-based device that would do three things:

  • keep an eye on my heart rate at all times;
  • serve as a subtle alarm clock;
  • last longer than 24 hours on a single battery charge.

I was lucky to find a refurbished Huawei Fit with standard warranty for little money, and I must admit that it did exactly what I wanted. The heart rate numbers registered by the device were pretty close to those that appeared on the cardiologists monitor. I only overslept when I really wanted to, ignoring the gentle buzz of the Fit. Just having a black and white screen was good enough for me, and that screen clearly helped to realise my third requirement: it would easily last for 5 to 6 days on a single charge without being too big and bulky. The Huawei Health app was (is) not ideal but certainly sufficient for my purposes.

Since a few months however, the Fit slowly started to degrade. Not by failing, no, but the battery performance started to get worse. And energetic physical exercise, like working in the garden, resulted in water vapour (sweat!) on the inside of the glass, rendering the screen unreadable for many hours. Time to look out for a replacement.

I surveyed the large field of activity trackers, sport watches and smart watches (if only because it is hard to distinguish those categories and the devices in them). I have no need to add applications to my watch, but I do want a measure of interaction between the watch and my phone – hence a certain measure of “smarts” is required in the watch.

Finding a replacement turned out to hard: the number of available smartwatches and activity trackers has grown, as have their features. But when you look at the battery life, the manufacturers seem to have problems extending the battery life of those new devices substantially. The Apple Watch hardly lasts a day. Android Wear devices can get you through two days if you’re lucky. Garmin has a few devices that do (much) better – if you are an athlete, you can do worse than pick one of their watches.

In the end, it turned out that the real champion of battery life is still Huawei, with the GT 2 series devices. By the way: the Honor MagicWatch 2 is almost identical to them. I saw the Huawei GT 2 on the wrist of a colleague, who spoke very favourably of it. My wrist is rather thin, so I chose the GT 2e for a better fit. 46mm is large, but I wanted to maximise the battery capacity.

I had to wait a few weeks to get it delivered (so much for webshops that promise stock availability and overnight delivery!) but I will say that so far I am quite happy with it.

The Huawei GT 2e is a large device, but it just fits my wrist and is quite comfortable. The sporty strap is a lot better and less sweaty than the one on the Fit. There is currently no real choice in alternative straps, and that is one thing I look forward to: for a more formal occasion I would like to be able to change the strap, but it would have to be a strap that closely fits to the watch’s body, like the original.

Old and new on the same arm ;-)

The screen is very nice, although not as bright as I expected: in bright sunlight some effort is needed to read all details. Functionally, it does more than what I want or need, so I have no complaints there. Did I mention that it is a relatively cheap device, compared to similar sport watches? I hope this one will last at least 3 years as well, and possibly more.

I do have a wish, though: Huawei should work on the iOS version of its Health app. Compared to the Android version, the iPhone version is missing more than a few things that I would like to use. Being able to tune the app notifications in more detail is my most important request. So there you have it, Huawei: the watch is good enough, but it will take an extra effort on the iOS app to make it even better!

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I know I’m (very) late to the party, but nevertheless, here it is:

Welcome in my computer stable, Raspberry Pi!

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Yes, “warm” and “sunny” are again the words needed to describe the local weather during May 2020. The COViD-19 measures keep us close to our house, but when we go for a long walk the atmosphere is that of a summer holiday walk. There is much less traffic on the roads, and you encounter more people walking or riding a bicycle. All that enhances the holiday feeling, and takes away a big part of the pre-Corona pressure to rush and hurry. It may seem contradictory, but yes indeed, during those walks we feel like we’re on holiday – even in the midst of a serious crisis.

May 2020 was sunny, indeed: it failed to set the highest electricity production number for the month of May in our installation by a hair. Only May 2011 did slightly better (332KWh vs. 330Kh), and that was in a time when our panels were still very new!

All that sunshine is fine – except for our garden (and for the farmers). The spring of 2020 is sunny and warm, but also very dry. This is not the post where you might expect this phrase, but here it is nonetheless: we need rain too!

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Here in Europe, thanks to the surge in homeworking, there is no way to get your hands on a new webcam – they’re sold out everywhere. So I tried another solution for my older desktop machine running Xubuntu.

While installing Droidcam on Xubuntu, I encountered the following message:

gcc: error: make: No such file or directory

Strange, since I had just installed the complete GCC.

But while the GCC may have been complete, ‘make’ is a separate tool. The simplest way to install it is:

sudo apt-get install build-essential

It’s easy, once you know – but I can imagine that it’s not that easy if you’re not a developer (or a seasoned Linux user). But neither is getting Droidcam to work on Ubuntu, by the way – it takes a lot of tinkering to get it to work over USB, including the right developer mode settings on the phone as well as installing the ADB tools on Xubuntu with:

apt-get install android-tools-adb android-tools-fastboot

Now I just need a longer USB-C cable to position the phone above my desk rather than below it!

Can’t use this camera position in Skype – where’s that long cable?

As an aside: the lsusb on Xubuntu recognizes my Samsung Note 10+ as a “Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd GT-I9300 Phone [Galaxy S III] (PTP mode)“. I never connected my S3 to this copy of Xubuntu, so there must be another explanation for that weirdness…

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April Was Warm And Sunny

Meteorologically speaking April was a warm and sunny month in Belgium, and that was clear from what we saw in our garden: the grass grew very fast, and our trees bloomed two to three weeks earlier than normal. Local tradition demands that we wear Lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis) on the International Worker’s Day events. It has been quite a while since the lily of the valley plants in our garden bore flowers on May 1st; this year, they were almost all gone before that day!

The first open flowers on our lily-of-the-valley already appeared on April 10th.

Those warm and sunny conditions are of course reflected in our solar energy production numbers. April numbers ended at almost 115% of the average for the month, and only two Aprils did better – almost a decade ago, when the reflective coating on the roof was still really reflective ;-)

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These are not the times to fool around on a day like April 1st. The only fools of the day are those people that do not take the current epidemic seriously.

When it comes to sunshine, having to report a very average month of March in terms of solar electricity production is not funny either. If it weren’t for those last 10 days of mostly clear blue skies and lots of sun, March would have been just as dark as the previous months. Here’s the graph to illustrate that:

Our solar electricty production numbers for March 2020

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Yes, that is how one of the comments on TechSpot describes the machine built by Daniel de Bruin. Mashable calls it the Googol Visualizer Machine, and that is what it is:

… the first gear needs to make one googol rotations just to turn the last gear one complete rotation.

Click the picture to see it running on YouTube

A googol is a 1 followed by a hundred zeroes in the decimal system – go read the Wikipedia for a explanation. That will also explain where Larry and Sergei got the name for the most famous search engine on the Internet ;-)

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The Weatherman of the Belgian Royal Meteorological Institute announced today on TV that this winter (defined as the past months December, January and February) is one of the warmest and darkest ever measured. The electricity production numbers from our solar panels can testify to the gloominess of February: we never had a February delivering so few electrons! 78% of the mean doesn’t seem that bad, but knowing that the number was never lower is not good.

The snow we saw a few days ago was, at least here in the Antwerp region, not meant to stay long: temperatures barely descended below zero Celcius, and that only during the day. I did not (yet?) have to don my winter jacket in the past few months – again, that is something that hasn’t happened often in the past!

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Today is a special day for calendar geeks: it’s a rare “global palindrome day”. In the words of the Solihull School Maths Department:

But I’m here to report that January 2020 was quite dark: sunshine was sparse, as reflected in our solar electricity numbers. Looking at the numbers, it’s clear that the months of January in the last three years gave us a lot less sunshine than before. Let’s hope that this is “just” statistical variability, no?

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December 2019 delivered slightly more solar energy to our photovoltaic panels than the December average of the previous years. In the end, that means that the production rose above 2MWh for the whole year, delivering less than in 2018 but more than in 2016 and 2017.

Photovoltaic panels lose a bit of efficiency every year, although it seems that the degradation is less than I thought a few years ago. That is what the article “What Is the Lifespan of a Solar Panel?” (from 2014) tells me, and similar numbers can be found in more recent postings on several forums about the subject.

That means that all in all, we’re happy with a yield of over 2MWh for a single year. Our installation is now running for a full decade, so I was expecting worse numbers.

Could it be that climate change has an impact on the weather here in Belgium? I don’t think our solar energy numbers can be used to measure such an impact, if only because they are way too local to indicate more than local fluctuations.

Looking at the situation in Australia, however, makes it clear that the effects of global climate change are becoming visible: extreme draught combined with extreme temperatures over a longer period result in horrifying fires. That, in my eyes, is a chilling illustration of the prevision  of scientists that “extremes” (such as high – or low – temperatures, heavy rainfall, etc.) will become more “extreme” and last longer as the planet warms up…

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Contrary to what happened in the previous months, our solar panels delivered 112% of the average photovoltaic electricity in November months for our system. November 2019 will thus help us reach yet another year with over 2MWh – even a dark December should deliver enough to make that possible (at least, that’s what I hope).

 

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Exactly 10 years ago it took just a few hours to install 16 photo-voltaic panels on our (flat) roof. We chose Solyndra panels, because of the ease of installation (that part was certainly true). We knew those solar tubes would be a bit less efficient than traditional flat panels, but less weight on the roof counted for something too, in our eyes. Given the available surface on the roof, we hoped to cover somewhere between 40% and 50% of our annual electricity consumption.

Unfortunately the end of 2019 was also the period when Solyndra started having problems delivering on their promises. I suspect that the panels we finally received are not as productive as promised. In numbers: we’re only now (calendar year 2018) seeing the (almost) 40% coverage of our yearly electricity consumption that we aimed for, and that’s because one of children isn’t living here anymore, not because the panels are so powerful ;-) Oh, and we also tried to reduce our consumption, if only by a fraction of the total.

solarpanels.jpg

The reflective foil below thee panels isn’t white anymore…

Even so: according to the pvoutput.org website where I keep track of the numbers, we have already saved more than 22 tons of CO₂. That’s not earth-shattering, but it’s a start. In theory, we’re only halfway through the lifetime of the installation. We’ll see how that turns out a decade from now ;-)

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The Sun Is Still Hiding

It seems I was complaining too early about the gloomy weather in Belgium, when I wrote about the solar electricity production of the panels on our roof at the beginning of October. Because October was even darker than ever before in the last decade – in fact, there wasn’t a single day of blue sky in the whole month. And that makes for a disappointing state of things: the darkest October in 10 years, producing only 79% of the average KWh’s of the previous years.

That number of 79% is confirmed by the national meteorological institute KMI (in Dutch): it has registered only 88 hours of sunshine in October, compared to a ‘normal’ (I suppose that means ‘average’) 112 hours. 88 / 112 * 100 = 79%. It may have been warmer and wetter than normally in October, but that’s just a small consolation.

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Our solar panels reflect what we and many people in Belgium see: Autumn has set in early, with mostly grey skies and sometimes lots of rain in a short period. The clouds in the picture accompanying my previous post are fairly typical of the Belgian sky during the last two weeks.

No wonder then that the solar energy production of September is just 96% of the average September production, and less than 89% of last year’s September!

At least at this very moment there are a few solar rays penetrating the clouds.

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