Goodbye, Bellatrix

Today our lovely blonde bullmastiff had to be put to sleep. We knew the day would come when she was diagnosed bone cancer back in July, but it was a heart-breaking moment none the less.

Bellatrix (after the star, not the Harry Potter character) was the sweetest of dogs, despite her imposing size, always friendly even though a bit on the lazy side, if I may say.

She didn’t like chasing wild rabbits in our backyard and wasn’t a particularly creative escapist, although she didn’t mind following Sauron in his outings and, before we rebuilt the perimeter fence, she enjoyed her fair share of visits to the local dog impound.

Surely there will be a comfy sofa where you are now..

The benefits of a PV system

ITA

At end 2013 I installed on the roof of my house a state-of-the-art PV system: 15 kW peak power of monocristalline Sunpower panels and a PowerOne inverter, the best (and most expensive) then available.

Today I realized that the benefits of my system are twofold, and to describe them I will use this infographic.

It represents various unit costs of the kilowatt-hour (inclusive of all charges and taxes):

  • The blue bars represent the minimum and maximum value charged by the utility during each year.
  • The yellow dot is the weighted average of the bought kWh (total expense / number of kWh).
  • The red dot represents the unit cost of the consumed kWh: it differs from the above because I self-consume some of the energy I generate, but this quota varies each year, so the distance between red and yellow varies.
  • The blue dot represents the weighted average of the kWh cost net of the revenue from the sale to the grid of the non self-consumed quota of the energy I generate; also the distance between blue and red dots changes, because each year I sell a different amount of energy at a different rate.

To sum up, I have achieved two benefits from my investment:

  1. I cut my yearly electrical bill (from €3,500 to about 1,000); on top of this, I occasionally charge my electric car, but I have ignored this because of the time shift between energy generation (day) and charging (night).
  2. I greatly reduced the variability of cost of my electrical consumption: without the PV system, rates could vary by as much as 20 or even 30 cents, while this range is now less than 5 cents.

I benefici di un fotovoltaico

ENG

A fine 2013 ho installato sul tetto di casa mia un sistema fotovoltaico di 15 kilowatt di picco, con pannelli monocristallini Sunpower e un inverter PowerOne; si può dire che, per l’epoca, l’impianto era al top di gamma per qualità e prestazioni (e prezzo).

Oggi mi sono reso conto che i vantaggi di questo sistema sono in realtà più articolati di quanto può sembrare a prima vista, e per descriverli userò questa infografica.

In essa sono rappresentati vari valori di costo (comprensivo di spese fisse, oneri di sistema, accise ed IVA) relativi al kilowattora:

  • le barre blu rappresentano il valore minimo e massimo in ciascun anno del prezzo praticatomi dal fornitore
  • Il punto giallo rappresenta la media pesata del costo del kWh acquistato (totale spesa / totale kWh)
  • il punto rosso rappresenta la media pesata del costo del kWh consumato: è diverso dal precedente perché una parte dell’energia che genero la autoconsumo, ma siccome l’entità dell’autoconsumo varia (negli anni sono andato da un minimo del 21% ad un massimo del 40%, con una media del 32%) la distanza tra giallo e rosso cambia da un anno all’altro.
  • Il punto blu rappresenta la media pesata del costo del kWh consumato al netto dei ricavi dallo Scambio Sul Posto; anche la distanza tra punto rosso e punto blu varia negli anni perché variano sia la quantità di energia conferita in rete che la tariffa a cui questa energia mi viene pagata.

In conclusione perciò ho ottenuto due vantaggi:

  1. Ho ridotto la mia spesa annuale (da 3.500 euro a circa 1.000); a questo vantaggio negli ultimi due anni si è sommato il vantaggio di poter in parte ricaricare la mia auto elettrica, che però è minimo dato lo sfasamento tra momento di generazione (giorno) e momento di ricarica (notte).
  2. Ho ridotto la variabilità del prezzo totale di approvvigionamento; senza il fotovoltaico infatti, il mio prezzo di acquisto nell’anno poteva oscillare anche di 20 o 30 centesimi, mentre ora si contiene al di sotto dei 5 centesimi.

Se Kafka avesse avuto un’auto elettrica…

“Ciao Vittorio, domani sono a Torino da un cliente, ti va se ci vediamo a pranzo?”

“OK, vediamoci da Eataly, così tu carichi l’auto mentre mangiamo”

Il parcheggio di GreenPea, paradiso dell’elettromobilista?

Accanto a Eataly al Lingotto c’è GreenPea, il concept store di Stellantis tutto dedicato all’elettromobilità: il suo parcheggio conta ben 12 pole AC e 6 DC, tutte di Enel X.

Cerco di attivare una pole (resterò al ristorante un paio d’ore, un rabbocco mi è sufficiente) ma non ci riesco, e chiamo il call center che dopo breve indagine mi spiega che quelle stazioni sono private.

Inizialmente mi arrabbio per la mancata segnalazione ma poi mi accorgo che è colpa mia: lo stallo infatti NON È dipinto di verde e, anzi, c’è scritto “Riservato”, che distratto!

Poco male, mi sposto di qualche metro, per occupare lo stallo accanto ad una imperiale Porsche Taycan in carica.

Ma in effetti, non è tutto oro quello che luccica: delle 6 Fast, 4 sono fuori servizio.  Le ultime due però funzionano e visto che sono di un tipo che non ho mai visto prima, decido di provarle.

Nemmeno qui funziona la mia tessera e allora richiamo il Call Center con il quale ho una conversazione kafkiana: prima leggo all’addetta il numero di matricola della stazione e lei mi risponde che non esiste, poi mi dice che non le risultano stazioni Enel X in tutta la via dove mi trovo, per concludere con un poco lusinghiero: “Ma è sicuro che siano Enel X?” che ascolto, incredulo, mentre fisso con l’occhio sbarrato il loro logo.

Totale, rinuncio anche perché sono ormai in ritardo. Conclusi i miei impegni, prendo la via del ritorno chiedendo a PCC di far tappa al McDonald’s di Alessandria.

Quando ci arrivo, nonostante un bel segnalino verde su PCC, trovo la stazione fuori servizio.

Cerco in tutta fretta un’altra soluzione e decido di tentare la sorte alla Fast di via S.Giovanni Bosco che è a pochi kilometri: PCC me la segnala occupata (alla peggio aspetterò, mi dico) ma invece la trovo libera e funzionante.

Franz se la ride, ma i geni che hanno realizzato quel po’ po’ di parcheggio hanno poco da ridere…

The true reason for the birth of the Internal Combustion Engine

My current business life deals with the painful transition from the internal combustion engine to the electric powertrain.

Advocates of the statu quo cry buckets of tears over the lost jobs, the threatened competitivity of the western automotive industry, the diminishing prospects of cherished industrial skills, the industrial threat of China to mention but a few of the current, querulous lamentations.

Historically speaking, however, this is not the first time this industry underwent such a profound transformation – and for exactly the same reasons, as we will demonstrate.

At the end of the nineteenth century, London was the largest metropolis in the world, its population of over 4 million dwarfing New York and Beijing.

As it turns out, there were over 300,000 horse carriages in the city of London, needing therefore over 300,000 horses.

As the father (and longtime sponsor) of a youngster who spent 20 years competing in show jumping, I have a clear memory of what it takes to look after horses: feeding them, shoeing them but most of all … dealing with manure!

A beautiful 400-kilo horse will gift its owner with about 25 kg of manure PER DAY! This means that the over 300,000-strong London equine population deposited about 7,500 tons of the product on its streets every day, making manure a 2,7 million tons-per-year problem!

I am sure the roads in Mayfair were spotless, but the rest of the city lived with walls of the stuff piling up to waist height. The situation had gotten so bad the well-off had started to leave London, until technology came to the rescue.

As we all know, the first “horseless carriages” were electric, but the immaturity of the electricity transport network and the immediacy of the gasoline proposition made sure mr. Benz’ invention (the internal combustion engine, or ICE, patented in 1887) prevailed instead, to the point in 1910 the number of “horseless” already equated “horsed” in New York.

The rest, as they say, it’s history.

So the first technology transition in automotive was driven by the need to resolve a rather mundane issue which made life miserable for everybody:

1880’s2020’s
the incumbent techhorsesICE cars
drops too much refusemanureGHG gases
in a common resourcecity streetsthe atmosphere

Sounds familiar?

Caro-energia

I social in questi giorni strabordano di gente che si lamenta del prezzo della benzina o del gas.

Lasciate perdere le cretinate pseudo-ambientaliste e guardate al vostro portafoglio: il costo dell’energia è una voce di spesa che anche nelle famiglie DOBBIAMO imparare a gestire.

Questo grafico rappresenta il mio costo dell’energia elettrica (100% rinnovabile):

  • linea blu = €/kWh tutto compreso tranne canone
  • linea rossa = €/kWh al netto del ricavo della vendita dell’eccesso di produzione del mio fotovoltaico.

Oltre al FV installato nel 2013 sto molto attento alle bollette e a fine 2020 ho stipulato un contratto a prezzo fisso che spero mi permetta di scavalcare l’attuale crisi.

In totale spendo circa €2,300 l’anno (ho consumi molto elevati) nei quali sono compresi circa 1,400 euro l’anno di consumi dell’auto che però prima mi costava 5.000 l’anno, solo di gasolio.

Tutto ciò per dire che, se uno ha voglia, è possibile fare qualcosa per “gestire” il proprio costo dell’energia (famiglia ma anche Paese), ma solo se si spostano i consumi verso l’elettrico: rimanendo ancorati al fossile si può solo… lamentarsi su Facebook!

Making simple things unnecessary complicated

Very happy about the performance of my newly-installed Starlink satellite Internet connection.

The dish was installed in less than an hour on a normal antenna pole on my roof (not by me, of course) with the cable running down through the roof to the room where the rest of the equipment is.

This placement is optimal, as there are no obstacles, and the dish can happily connect to the low orbit sat network with minimal interruptions.

I will be keeping the existing ADSL connection as a backup for a while, until I am sure everything works OK then, given the high cost of Starlink, cut off that wire and go totally untethered.

Unfortunately I will need to replace the powerline extender (config utility no longer supported on MacOS) needed to get a decent signal through our thick (in some places almost a metre!) walls, but that’s OK because I’m getting TP-Link extenders where the receiver supports up tp 7 remote extenders all on the same SSID.

Also I will need a switch (EDIT: someone suggested I get a buffer router instead), as the very basic Starlink router only has one network port, so all that is next week’s task, after I get the hardware.

Today’s task involved moving my wireless printers/scanners to the new network. Unfortunately the Starlink router doesn’t have the insecure but practical WPS button, so configuration must be made manually.

BROTHER MFC-6520DW

  • [on the printer control panel]
  • Setup
  • Wireless network
  • [from the list of available SSIDs] Select SSID
  • Enter password
  • OK

HP LaserJet M148DW

  • Connect USB cable
  • Launch HP Smart app
  • Select printer
  • Printer settings
  • Advanced settings
  • Networking
  • Select SSID
  • Enter password
  • The HP Smart utility apparently installs a new printer, as the driver has a slightly different name, so on each computer’s printer list, you’ll need to select the “new” one (and delete the “old” one to avoid confusion)

Took me 5′ to connect the Brother vs. over 2 hours for the H-P, including innumerable resets, reading of manual and perusing of support boards and an assortment of profanities.

Still unclear why the H-P printer control panel does not simply display a list if available SSIDs to associate, but it doesn’t.

The price of stubborness

Lifelong Mac user, I always limited my allegiance to Apple’s computers and music players: while I cannot count the number of Macintoshes, Macbooks and iPods I owned over the years, I never had an iPhone or Apple Watch or any other gizmo.

I paid dearly for the obstinacy in resisting the lure to go all-in on the bitten apple, especially when trying to get my Android phone (but it was a Symbian phone before that) to talk to my Mac, sync information and move files.

In this latest iteration I had to replace a damaged-beyond-repair Huawei device, and chose a Xiaomi Poco X3 Pro which has three of the things I want: a headphone jack, a replaceable battery and a micro SD card tray. This last requirement was especially long-sighted, for reasons you’ll understand below.

The migration from the old phone was a non-migration: my Google accounts did a little of the work (essentially remembered which apps I had) but not much: I had to manually rebuild my painstakingly designed single-page home screen, pictures and music did not budge at all, and contacts got hopelessly messed up.

All in all, there was (and still is) A LOT of manual work to complete the task:

  • Pics got backed up and pulled down from Dropbox (this was a piece of cake, there were very few of them, as I back up and catalog them very often)
  • Contacts got exported in VCF from the old phone and re-imported, after razing the new phone address book
  • Music is tougher, as there is a whopping 35GB of it:
    • Backing up to Dropbox would take ages with my slow connection. In fact these files are the result of the manual ripping of my CD collection, so until fiber or Starlink don’t bring us to this century (which is happening, let’s see who makes it first) they won’t be backed up to the cloud like everything else, as I have the actual CDs.
    • Next I tried using the USB cable connection: Android File Transfer keeps breaking down as it does with many other phones and USB-debug reliant Macdroid does not like the wonky USB driver of my Xiaomi phone: alas, there is a new one, but only for Windows!
    • Then I tried FTP, but first I had to understand (it took me a while) that the native FTP server OSX used to offer was removed around 2009-2010 (I think for security reasons) so I had to install an FTP server on the Macbook and an FTP client on the phone. Speed is very low (perhaps due to poorly configured WiFi ?) and the FTP pipe kept breaking down, mostly due to incoming calls (which, BTW, failed so don’t do this when working !) and I had to give up. Moreover, the FTP client’ mere existence even if it’s not running makes receiving calls impossible, so I had to uninstall it altogether.
    • My final option is the StairsNet: back in the days, at Lotus we had the developers team housed on the third floor and the QA team on the first. Our LAN was not the best (*ahem!*) and sometimes developers would put a build on a portable HD drive and trudge down to first floor, hence the name. Basically, I’ll copy the files to a micro SD card and move it to the phone from where I’ll copy it back to the destination folder. Not the fastest process as the SD card slot on my Mac does not have a very fast connection and the file system simulators on phones are horrible creatures, but lo-tek enough it could work.

Adding to my predicament is my wife’s and daughter’s relentless teasing about oh-so-much-easier it would have been had I chosen an iPhone, especially nasty because it’s true.

Without the SD card tray I’d be stuck: God save us from the bad example set by Apple of removing everything from their phones: it might work in a closed, tightly controlled system like the Apple ecosystem, but definitely NOT on a mixed ecosystem like the one I insist in having.

Next task will be to get the phone to work with Android Auto, but that’s for another day.

[EDIT 22/9]: I have decided to return this phone – during all of yesterday I could not receive calls, and compatibility with Android Auto and the Neutron Music Player was awful.

Back to shopping, I have relented on the replaceable battery and am willing to downgrade to 128GB (currently using about 75GB) but not willing to compromise on audio jack and SD card tray. Current shortlist includes:

  • Samsung A72
  • Samsung A52s
  • Google Pixel 4a (no SD card might be compensated by the cruft-free OS…)

A new problem to my car’s High-Voltage battery


July 11th (Sunday): this morning I wasn’t able to start the car whose dashboard showed the alarm you can see below. I therefore called Road Assistance because the Kona blocked my driveway and I could not exit with any other car; the car was taken to a deposit and delivered tomorrow to the authorized Hyundai service point (Autorino in Cava Manara, the closest to my house).

July 12th at 9AM I call to get information and to arrange a replacement car: the call center promises to have someone call me back a.s.a.p., but that never happens. I call again at 2PM and then at 4:15PM with identical results (i.e. nobody calls me back) so I have no idea what happened to my car. This behaviour mirrors exactly previous contacts I had with said service point. i.e. they never call you back.

As for the problem itself, it had happened identical in early April, while I was in Mantova on a work trip. The car was taken to the local Hyundai service point (Gruppo Ferrari) where it remained for nine days after which I got it back with the assurance that “the problem was fixed” an optimistic assessment which, as it turns out, was not justified.

PROBLEMS

  • My first problem is the unbelievable rudeness of the personnel at Autotorino which, despite my three calls only decided to call me this morning after I filed a formal complaint for poor service in writing.
  • The second problem are the many technical issues of this car. On top of the two I described, I had another three service stops due – I think – to a malfunctioning 12V battery, and I say “I think” because nobody was able to explain what the issue was or what they did to fix it. I think you will agree that for a two-years old car this is NOT acceptable.
  • The third problem is that this car is essential for my job: I travel a lot (one of the reasons I chose an electric car): a replacement car is a partial remedy, given it costs me a lot more to operate, and only if the issue happens when at home. In the episode of Mantova I had to waste a half-day to go get the car when it was fixed, but if that happens when I am in Napoli? Or next month (assuming I get it back by then) when on vacation in Sicily? Do you genuinely expect me to travel 3.000 kilometers to get it back?
  • The fourth problem is the fact that I am a long-time arthritis sufferer; my driving licence requires I drive only cars with automatic gearboxes; since it is impossible for me to speak with the service point, I cannot make them aware of this essential requirement.

CONCLUSIONS

I have read media reporting about a recall for the replacement of the HV battery for problems that seem similar to the ones I have, and I wonder if this behaviour isn’t simply a delaying tactic yo avoid performing such an expensive replacement under warranty. It would certainly help if Hyundai or its service points were a bit more forthcoming in explaining to its paying customers what’s wrong and how it’s going to be fixed.

It is fairly evident that the product you sold me was defective since the start and I am very close to defer the whole matter to a lawyer to obtain a replacement or a full refund, including damages and time lost.

UPDATES

July 14th: this morning I get a call from service workshop who asks two questions whose answer was in the letter I had sent (see above) and promises to have me recalled to figure out the issue of the replacement car. Obviously no one calls and therefore at 3PM I pay a physical visit to the workshop where they offer the most unlikely excuses for their rudeness in not calling me back and say that:

  • they are investigating, no diagnosis is yet possible.
  • the decision about the replacement car is up to Hyundai Motor Company Italy. I make clear that in a week I am due to depart for my already-paid-for holiday, that they have “investigated” for three days already, and that when the same exact problem happened in Mantova two months ago, the replacement car was issued in no time at all; I also remind them that my driving licence requires an auto gearbox car.
  • they have no clue about what happened in Mantova: apparently the information system doesn’t log the maintenance episodes by VIN number across the service network. I suggest not to perform again the same software updates performed in Mantova.

July 14th: in the evening service calls again stating that the Call Center “is about to call me” to sort out the replacement car issue, but I get no call.

July 15th: in the evening I get the call from the Call Center. I go through the list of my (simple) requirements: I live in Pavia, I can only drive cars with auto transmission; I then state upon request my drivetrain preferences: electric, plug-in hybrid, hybrid, petrol, diesel in that order.

July 16th: the ability to listen to its Customers is without question one of the best characteristics of Hyundai Motor Company Italy. Upon receiving the SMS announcing my car is ready I go to the rental company where I find…. a diesel car with manual transmission! Since I was going apeshit, and sensing he could be the innocent target of my wrath, the rental employee manages to find a car with auto transmission (but still diesel).