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Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

February 2021 started with grey and dark days, but in the end our solar panels were quite happy: production numbers for the past 28 days are 121% of the February average for our installation. That makes up for what happened in January ;-)

Not only was February rather sunny, we have also had unusually warm days. That was a surprising experience: one week it was cold enough to freeze pools, and a few days later it was more than 20 degrees Celsius warmer. Mother Earth always has a few new tricks up her sleeve…

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Just like the past three years, the solar electricity production for our panels in January was well below the average. No, January is not ready to become the darkest month of the year, but certainly now in Corona times it seemed like the grey, wet days were never going to end. We had only a single day with nothing but a (more or less) blue sky, and lots of rain – we stepped through a lot of mud on our weekend walk yesterday!

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Two weeks ago, we took delivery of a brand-new, ARM-powered Macbook Pro. Nothing fancy, just the basic configuration with (only) 8GB of RAM. It felt a bit weird when I started it up for the first time: why would Apple think that we speak German here in Flanders?

But after using it for a couple of days we – my wife and I – were pleasantly surprised by a couple of things:

  • For a Pro, the body is sleek and yet not as light as you might expect. Feels… professional.
  • That machine is fast – not only when compared the (very old) Macs we have been using so far, but also compared to more modern machines.
  • Battery life is more than good: I did a Zoom session lasting a bit longer than an hour and a half, and the battery went from 100% to… 90%. That’s more than pleasant, it’s fantastic!
  • The “function key bar” (Touch Bar) takes a bit of getting used to, but so far I like it. I’m not capable of typing blind, even after all these years, and I’m not good at remembering what button does what. Having an extra “touch screen” is not that bad at all.

The only minus I have found so far, except for the missing ports, is that the keyboard is easily stained when your fingers are a bit greasier than average. But that problem is easily solved, luckily.

This machine is going to be with us for a long time, just like its predecessors. Now I just have to remember where I have stored the USB-C plus HDMI hub I bought a year ago, in preparation of computers like this M1 beauty.

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2020 is over, so here’s a quick and short report on the electricity production from our photovoltaic installation. December 2020 was a rather dark month: we did not have a single day where the sun shone from sunrise to sunset. That resulted in a measly production number, just 80% of the average.

Over the whole year 2020 the sun did quite well: an annual production of 2.086 MWh is almost average and perfectly median for our panels! We can only hope for similar (or better) results in the new year ;-)

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The Clearmounts smartphone holder in our Audi has won my praise, mostly because of its elegance and practicality. But I do have to mention that the mechanism that locks the grip on your smartphone isn’t the best you can have. In the position shown on the picture in my previous post about the charging cradle, it failed to hold my Samsung S7 while driving on a bumpy road (and we have lots of those in Belgium!), resulting in a cracked screen. I turned the the cradle 90 degrees to improve the grip, and that made things better – for a while.

Today, less than 3 years after its installation, the locking mechanism of the cradle has failed completely. There is no more way to use the holder. I did open it up to see if I could repair it, but whatever I tried (without 3D-printing replacement parts) there was no improvement to be made. So for the moment, I replaced it with the non-charging cradle that came in the box. Allow me to mention that we did not use the cradle on a daily basis; it served mainly when we were on holiday, so I doubt that we handled it more than 75 or 100 times…

(Image taken from the Clearmounts website – click to see more details about this product)

A a final replacement I ordered the new “Qi Gravity Cradle Wireless Charging Mount”. I do not like to fiddle with cables when using a phone that accepts wireless charging, and this Qi cradle has a bracket to hold your phone while using the cradle in its intended position: vertically! That should lessen the need to tighten the grip strongly, hopefully avoiding the fate of its predecessor. Time will tell if that’s true ;-)

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The past few days our home intranet WiFi wasn’t performing as well as previously. But everything I needed worked OK (I telework on a machine that connects to the intranet/internet by cable) and my family did not complain, so all was more or less well.

Until our daughter needed to print out papers to prepare for the upcoming exams at uni. Each time she tried to print, the printer would work OK for two pages, and then the Mac complained about an unresponsive printer. So I spent an hour checking the (or even resetting!) configuration of the router and the WiFi range extender, trying to figure out on what IP address all the devices in our home were to be found. In the end, it was almost by accident that I noticed (in Fing on Android) that there existed one device on our little network with a strange identification: ‘Ikea’ was listed as brand, and ‘Xerox’ as the name of the device…

There’s the Ikea hub, close to our router…

Disconnecting the Ikea Trådfri WiFi hub brought the printer to life without any further issues, making it clear that the Ikea hub and the printer had somehow managed to “use” the same IP address 192.168.1.3. Reconnecting the Idea hub a bit later I did check that it received another, unused IP address – just as I expected that to happen all the time.

I have no explanation for that situation, since I did not force any device to use a fixed IP address on our intranet. But the situation caused a lot of frustration! I would have thought this kind of mix up could be solved by the router software, but clearly it did not.

As a sidenote, let me tell you that my daughter proposed to buy a new, “better” printer. Of course this would also have solved the problem, since a new device would (hopefully) have received a hew IP address. But that would have meant throwing away a perfectly good printer – just because of a software failure on the router. Or is there a better explanation for what occurred here?

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There’s not much else to say about the Sun in November 2020, at least when it comes to Belgium: our solar panels produced slightly above average. Temperatures were much above average, making for a strange combination that did not really feel like Autumn until the last two days of the month. This morning it was raining, but now the sun is back – hurrah!

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I admit that I had to use a thesaurus to come up with all the adjectives to describe the past month.  But October 2020 was cloudy, dark, dim, gloomy, ill-lighted, murky, overcast, sunless, somber, tenebrous, … and more!

The numbers prove it: our solar panels produced only 69% of the average of the previous ten years. Even worse: in October 2018 the solar energy production of our installation was almost twice that of the past month!

There is a bit of good news, however. Contrary to 2016 and 2017, we’re certain to pass the 2 MWh mark for the whole year. Unless a major disaster blocks all sunlight in the coming days and months… I hope Nature agrees with me that the current pandemic is enough of a disaster for a single year.

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The September Sun Did OK

September was a nice summer month in Belgium, except for the last days: storm Odette was not a hurricane, but still inflicted serious damage at the coast. In terms of sunshine, specifically: in terms of solar energy production on our roof, September was above average. The numbers for the meteorological summer in total (at least for our panels) aren’t the worst we’ve seen, but just about average.

The rain we’re having now is most welcome anyway, since those hot summer days left our garden hungry for water.

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Yes, August 2020 was hot, very hot even, certainly for Belgium. But hot does not equal sunny, and high temperatures above 25 degrees Celsius have a negative impact on the efficiency of solar panels. Still, for our installation a production equal to 98% of the estimate is not that bad.

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92% would be a good exam result for any student, but when it comes to solar electricity production I like to see numbers above 100% – especially in what are supposed to be the sunniest months of the year. But the Royal Meteorological Institute (in Dutch) tells us that July 2020 was a bit less warm than normal, had a bit less sunshine than normal, and had less rain than normal (normal being defined as the average since 1981). In fact, July 2020 only had a single day with non-stop clear blue skies. Since we’re going to have a real heat wave the coming days, I hope we’ll see some more “perfectly sunny days” in August.

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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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