The Green Button – Monitoring Your Energy Usage

I am betting we’ll hear more over the years about new hardware and software that will help us monitor and control our home energy usage. One that I’ve been really excited about is Nest, a completely reinvented home thermostat that learns from your behavior to save heating and cooling costs. And I read today about how (some) consumers now have access to detailed energy usage records and apps that provide reporting on that detailed data. Sadly, I can tell you today, after a bit of experimenting, that the process of finding and using that information is not yet ready for the masses.

What I read was a news article about the US government (particularly the CTO, Aneesh Chopra) pushing public utilities to provide consumers with more information about home energy usage. I was excited to hear that SDG&E was one of the first to offer detailed extracts through the Green Button. So I decided to go online to see what could be done with the data.

The article mentioned an app published by Tendril called Energize, so I went to the Android market and downloaded it. After installing it, the home screen asked for my Energize URL, my username, and my password. No instructions about where to find the URL or how to set up an account. So right away I was lost.

I decided to go to the SDG&E website for more info. I signed into my account, but nothing was jumping out at me for where I could download data or link to a feed. I finally stumbled over to “My Energy”, where, huzzah!, the Green Button was finally visible. I was able to download an XML feed without too much difficulty, but still didn’t understand how I was supposed to get the Tendril app to interface with this data.

The next stop was the Tendril website. There is a section for Consumers with some text about the Energize application suite, but when I clicked through, I was taken to a profile page of one of their designers. Flying in the dark now, I backed up and clicked on the Developers link. It finally looked like I was in the right place because I saw a link to Green Button Connect, where I can sign up, upload, download, and learn more about apps.

So, I signed up and tried to upload the XML data I downloaded earlier. Except it failed to upload, multiple times. And I gave up on the process here, finally realizing they mean it when they say “Beta” in the logo.

After reading this narrative, are you lost yet? Can you imagine how anyone is supposed to get motivated to monitor their energy usage after hitting so many brick walls?

Thinking about this data more tonight, I wonder how helpful it really is. The utility company is only giving you a historical view, so they can’t tell you anything about how you’re currently using energy. And the smart meters aren’t quite smart enough to tell you energy usage about specific components in your house. SDG&E does give you usage details for the prior day and breakdowns by hour, which is a huge step up from the month-over-month views you get on paper bills. But I found myself wanting more; it’s very interesting to know my usage was higher for one month, but why was it higher and what should I do differently?

If you really want to learn more about your energy usage and make some changes, start with a Kill A Watt. You may need to wait a bit longer for the Green Button and apps to get a bit smarter.

Meal Planning with The Fresh 20

Stephanie and I have 3.5 year old twin girls, and my frequent joke is that we have no business having kids because we can barely feed or clothe ourselves some days. We both enjoy cooking, but far too often the last four years we’ve stared at each other at 5pm and asked “What do you want to eat?” And far too often, that has resulted in us getting unhealthy take-out, spending too much at a restaurant, or eating separately from the girls. Constantly having to think about dinner menus and grocery shopping was adding a lot of stress to our lives.

For the past six months, we’ve subscribed to The Fresh 20 and have loved it. For about $5 a month, you get access to a weekly menu with five balanced dinners, a shopping list with no more than 20 ingredients, and a checklist for things you should have stocked in your pantry. They offer Classic, Vegetarian, and Gluten-Free menus.

There are several things I love about this service. First, we no longer have to think about what to make each night, when to go grocery shopping, and how much food to get. Having a menu and grocery list takes away all the thought (and stress) about what to do for dinner. Second, we found ourselves shopping on the perimeter of the grocery store and very rarely venturing into the aisles; we buy a lot more milk, cheese, meat, seafood, and fresh fruits and vegetables, and a lot less boxed, frozen, canned, and processed foods. We also waste a lot less food because all the things you buy are accounted for in the recipes you make that week. Finally, it has promoted family meal time each night, which is currently very frustrating with our two wild animals, but will hopefully pay dividends in the future.

There are a few recipes we would have never tried on our own, but we’ve learned to trust the system and find ourselves enjoying new things. We are starting to see a few recipe repeats after six months and some recipes we’ll skip because it’s not worth the headache (like homemade chicken nuggets). But all in all, we’ve been really pleased with The Fresh 20, and are going to stick with it.

2011 Books

In terms of volume, 2011 was an average year, with 23 books read. It was also average in terms of quality – no good or bad stand-outs.

San Dieguito Half Marathon Elevation Profile

If you are running the 2012 San Dieguito Half Marathon on February 12th, you may be interested in the elevation profile below (click for a larger view):

We’d heard rumors of this being a tough course, so we drove it to see how bad it really was. There are rolling hills throughout, but the really brutal climb is at mile 6. The rise from mile 2 to 3 is also intimidating, but it is early enough in the race. Of course, it could wipe you out early if you go out too strong. The hill just before mile 10 will also be tough. The final climb from mile 12.5 to the finish looks bad, but isn’t in comparison to other hills on the course. I’m sure after 12 miles it will feel like the largest hill of all!

The roads are in fair to poor condition (potholes), which is surprising considering this is one of the richest neighborhoods in the US.

See you at the race!

2010 Books

For no other reason than for the sake of completeness, here are the books I read in 2010. I will be better about writing here this year, I promise.

Why I Won’t Renew Hulu Plus

I recently signed up for a one-month Hulu Plus trial by linking my Facebook account. I had high hopes that Hulu would let me finally cancel cable, but so far I’ve been very disappointed. It looks like we’re still a long way from straightforward and logical TV and movie streaming options; the content owners and distributors really need to get their act together to make this less confusing and frustrating for the consumer.

  • Some shows are only available through the content owner’s website, mainly CBS: Amazing Race, The Good Wife
  • Some are only available with a paid subscription to another service, such as HBO and Showtime: United States of Tara, In Treatment, Treme, the list goes on and on here.
  • Some shows can’t be found at all: Homicide
  • I thought one benefit of Hulu Plus would be access to prior seasons, but several shows appear to only have the most recent season listed: Modern Family, Parenthood, Friday Night Lights
  • The Hulu Plus app on our Sony TV stinks. If you search for a show, there isn’t a way to modify or cancel that search, you have to restart the app. Once you find a show, it isn’t obvious which season and episode you’re opening. I haven’t been able to figure out how to play or queue an entire season, starting from the first episode.

As of now, I don’t see a good reason for continuing Hulu Plus at $7.99 a month. I’m standing on the sidelines and sticking with Netflix discs until the networks, studios, and distributors can all start pulling together.

2010 Movies

It’s been almost 18 months since my last post, which has to be the low point for this poor site. I’d like to write more, but even the simplest post takes me forever and I don’t have the time. I’m going to try to be better the second half of 2011.

Even though we’re almost halfway through the year, I thought I would post all of the movies I watched in 2010. I did this last year and was very surprised to get a response from the real life son of Robert “Flash of Genius” Kearns about my hastily written one paragraph movie review. So, in hopes of getting a response from Ricky Gervais, here are the movies I watched in 2010 in order. No comment on the movie means I can’t remember it, which I’m chalking up to either life with twins or too much Stone (or both).

  • Up – Had a very touching opening, don’t remember much after that.
  • Food, Inc. – I loved  The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Fast Food Nation, but didn’t find this film to be the ‘call to arms’ I was hoping it would be. I also liked the story about Polyface Farms, but was a little turned off in the film because he was so kooky.
  • Ghost Town – I had greater expectations for Gervais. This was amusing, but nothing has matched Liar, Liar in the gimmick comedy genre. That statement will probably forever turn you off on all future reviews.
  • Live Free or Die Hard
  • American Psycho – The book was so much better, but there is no way you could ever match it. I’m impressed the film-makers even tried.
  • The Hangover – Saw this in the theatres, loved it, thought it was hilarious.
  • Inglourious Basterds
  • The Invention of Lying – Gervais disappoints again.
  • The Hurt Locker – Very good, even though my Navy friend refuses to see it and says there’s not much reality in it.
  • Love Actually
  • Marley & Me – Liked this so much more than I ever expected. Perfectly captured the passage of life with all the ups and downs.
  • Lost Boys of Sudan
  • The Assassination of Jesse James – Disliked this, found the soft focus and voice-overs too pretentious.
  • It Happened One Night – Part of my attempt to see all Oscar Best Picture films.
  • For All Mankind – Incredible footage of the Apollo missions.
  • Moon – Interesting mind bending film.
  • Weeds: Season 5
  • Californication: Season 1 – A perfect series in every way. Very strong performances from Duchovny.
  • The Blind Side – I passed this up on an airplane, only to watch it later. I was surprised by how much I liked this, but shouldn’t have been because I love everything Michael Lewis puts out.
  • The Informant!
  • Californication: Season 2 – Possibly even better than season one. I literally cried during one episode because of some of the dialog about life, love, and family.
  • When You’re Strange – Liked it; how can one man consume so many drugs in such a short lifespan?
  • Precious: Based on the Novel by Sapphire – I thought I hated this, but Netflix says three stars, so now I’m confused.
  • Going My Way – Another Oscar Best Picture film.
  • The Pillars of the Earth – We loved the book, and this miniseries was very true to it.
  • (500) Days of Summer – I liked the non-sequential story line.
  • Hot Tub Time Machine – I loved the concept, was expecting to be disappointed by the film, and ended up liking it overall.
  • District 9 – I don’t think any movie attempting to show a real depiction of aliens has ever been rated higher than two stars.
  • Up in the Air
  • Breaking Bad: Season 1 – We both really hated this, which was amazing because of how highly rated this series is. We could never sympathize with any of the characters. And I don’t know if I can ever forgive Cranston for Malcolm in the Middle.
  • The Machinist – Very dark and strange
  • Pink Floyd: The Dark Side of the Moon – Incredible documentary. After watching you’ll listen to the album in a whole new way.
  • The September Issue – Interesting, but still have a hard time taking the material seriously.
  • Kramer vs. Kramer – The breakfast making scene is something I remember often during “Daddy Daughter Days”.
  • Dexter: Season 4 – Lithgow was an awesome addition to this season, which was significantly better than Season 3.
  • Waiting for Guffman – I’ve tried Guest’s films a few times, but have never found them better than mildly amusing. Just not my type of humor I guess.
  • Beer Wars – Good film overall, was nice to see Stone a few times and really liked the Dogfish Head guys. The caffeinated beer woman was a little sad, especially knowing that a few years down the road “functional alcoholic beverages” would be banned.
  • The OH in Ohio – A Laura recommendation, good and went in a direction I didn’t expect with DeVito.
  • Coco Before Chanel
  • Entourage: Season 6 – More of the same, but I’ll keep watching.