Augmented Personality

While I consider myself a technologist and not a futurist, I had the inspiration for this idea on the car ride back from the kid’s soccer practice.

It occurred to me that in the future, the phone, which is a means of communicating orally and via text input, will become transparent and evolve into a form of communication that combines the power of a layered communication grid beyond the Internet.

Your connection to the cloud will be a wearable device, most likely attached to your nervous system and fueled by your body.   The clumsy interface of miniature keyboards on screens will be replaced by our own thoughts.  Our conversations will become altered as we are able to have augmented communication in real time.  The ability to speak one language and have the other person hear their native tongue asynchronously will bridge a gap between cultures like never before.  Just as today, we customize our ringtones, backgrounds and social channels with pictures of our families our interests, we will alter our personalities by adding the equivalent of emoticons to our speech.

The opportunity to augment your communication on the fly will bring the same type of richness you expect in a Word document to your speech.  Similar to how you bold/animate/typeface your written communication, you’ll be able to punctuate your communication with music, voice overs, cloud sourced knowledge.  It may sound scary, almost Max Headroom like, but it will happen as the technologies around us mature into instantaneous computing.

Eventually, the oral communication that we depend on today, but avoid by using text messages and emails will be replaced with a telepathic form of connecting with each other.  It might sound unnatural that a personal interaction, like talking to a friend, would become even more amplified by connecting with them directly.  Cities will be eerily silent, but in your mind, dozens of conversations will feel as though there is a symphony of songs playing in your head.  Scientists will discover that it doesn’t take thousands of years for humans to evolve and we will naturally become more adept at our new form of communication.  System halts in the layered cloud will bring pockets of society to their knees similar to modern day power outages.   Communities will form which only allow natural communication and ban any augmentation devices from their way of life.  People will pay to hack other peoples thoughts for theft, for love and maybe just for curiosity.

The world that will exist in 100 years from now is going to be so different from the world we live in today and it’s going to happen quicker than you can imagine.   I hope to see that world one day.  I hope to help build it.

Reading your Smart Meter

My electric service in Connecticut is provided by United Illuminating.  They recently replaced my old electric meter with a new smart meter when I had my solar panels installed.  If you have a Landis+Gyr Focus AX smart meter, then you can use this cheat sheet to understand what the display codes are that it cycles through:

Landis Gyr Focus Smart Meter Display Codes

Lightweight Camp Shoes For Backpacking

I got the idea to make these DIY camp shoes from a backpackinglight.com thread.  The blue foam pad only costs eight dollars in Walmart.  They weight in at 1.6 ounces for a pair, size 12.  I probably could get them a little smaller and down to 1.3 ounces.  With one pad, you can probably make at least three pairs too.

Lightweight Camp Shoes

Lightweight Camp Shoes

Some tips:

  • If you have an existing set of flip flops, then try to use that as the template otherwise trace your foot on the back of some old wrapping paper
  • I thought of making a velcro adjustable strap but that’s not needed.  Just duct tape it and you’re done
  • Be sure to fit it with your socks on.
  • Once you make one, trace that one and flip it over to make the other side.

Most ultralight backpackers are against camp shoes of any kind, but at 1.6 ounces, how could you resist?  I’m looking forward to changing into dry socks and my camp shoes while making dinner the next time I go backpacking.

Two Night Backpacking Loops in the NorthEast

Surprisingly, it’s hard to find good backpacking loops that you can do in 2 nights, 3 days.

1. Mt. Marcy: Adirondacks.  Lean-tos, water falls, cantilevered bridges, a wooden dam and climbing the highest point in NY are all some of the highlights for this trip.  I have done this trip two times and it was awesome every time.

Lake Colden Lean-To

You’ll start your hike at the Adirondak Loj parking lot near Heart Lake.  Their is a fee to park and you’ll need a bear canister and possibly crampons if there is still snow.  You can rent them there, but call to make sure they are not out.  They also have a gift shop, food, supplies and hot showers for after your hike (50 cents?)

Day 1:  Arrive Friday afternoon and hike to Marcy Dam.  Take Avalanche Pass to the tip of Lake Colden and snag a lean-to.  Visit the gigantic park ranger’s log cabin and talk to him about recent bear sightings.  ~ 6 miles

Days 2:  Head East toward Lake Tear of the Clouds and ascend Mt Marcy, the highest point in NY. Enjoy awesome 360 views and your lunch.  Head back down the North face towards Indian Falls.  Find another lean-to at Marcy Dam  ~10 miles

Day 3:  A short 2 mile sprint out of the park and back to the car to shower.  Remember to bring some soap and a towel with your clean change of clothes.  Head into Lake Placid for breakfast/lunch.

Please see the map for the route described above.

Notes:

2. Stratton: VT.  At first I wasn’t excited to hike to the top of a ski mountain, but it’s nothing like that.  You wouldn’t even know you were on Stratton mountain until you get the fire tower and see the lifts on the other side (barely).  This loop features a 20 person shelter as well as beautiful Stratton Lake and classic Vermont hiking on the Long Trail.

Mount Stratton Peak

Day 1:  Park at Old Rootville Road just off of Route 30.  Note that the road is named “Rootville Road”, but the maps incorrectly shows “Old Rootville Road”.  There are a few small parking ares by the water tower on the right.  Hike up Rootville road and stop at Prospect Rock and enjoy the views of your early ascent.  Catch the Long Trail heading SE towards the South side of Stratton pond and hopefully grab a bunk at the spacious Stratton Pond shelter (sleeps 20!).  Always bring a tent just in case, but chances are if you get there around 4pm, there will be room.  You might consider cooking/hanging out at the shelter and then sleeping in a tent.  The reason is that it can be quite loud with twenty or so people milling around.  We also had some quite rude people show up at midnight which can be quite noisy.  Hopefully you’ll meet a few AT thru hikers which will be more than happy to eat your extra food.

Day 2:  Leave most of your gear except your lunch and wind breaker at the shelter and ascend up to the top of Stratton Mountain.  Climb the fire tower and enjoy views all the way up to Killington.  You’ll descend the way you came up again and pick up your gear before you head towards Bourn Pond.  At Bourn Pond, head North on Branch Pond Trail to the WIlliam B Douglas Shelter.   It only sleeps about 5-6 so you’ll need to get there around 4pm to have a good chance of having a spot.  Otherwise there is plenty of tenting spots.

Day 3:  Quick hike out to the car.  Head to Bob’s Diner and enjoy a great meal before heading home.

Here is a map of the route.

Notes:

  • Camp fires ARE allowed so think about bringing some steak to grill for the first night.
  • Each one of the lean-to sites has a privy, but bring your own TP.
  • There are plenty of places for water, just remember to always chemically treat or filter

If you have any other suggested loops, please post in the comments.  I’m always looking for new hikes.  As always, make sure you are practicing ultralight backpacking as well.

Prius Home Generator

My original home generator system consisted of a 7000w power generator hooked up to a manual transfer switch which would power ten circuits in my house.  It was a perfectly fine setup, but once I started researching other alternative options, I knew I had to change my approach.

After doing a LOT of research, I was able to find examples of how I can have my Prius power my house.  What’s unique about my setup is that it takes the 110v that the Prius generates and transfers it into the 220v manual transfer switch.  The flow is: Prius -> Inverter -> 15amp plug -> 30amp plug -> 10 circuit manual transfer switch.

The four main components of the system are:

Lets go into detail on some of the items:

 

Inverter:  The inverter I chose can generate 1000w of electricity and peak at 2000w.  After doing several tests, I knew that I didn’t need any more than 800w so a 1000w inverter would be more than sufficient.  Additionally, I opted for a more expensive Pure Sine Wave inverter because I wanted to be able to to power electronics such as the TV, cable box, cable modem and routers.  I also wanted a quick an easy way to connect the inverter to the Prius.  You could go with alligator clips similar to how you would jump start a car, but after finding Woodman’s setup, I knew this is how I would need to set it up.  I have more info in the video, but here is the parts list:

I won’t repeat Woodman’s instructions, but do watch my video for a few tips on actually putting the cables together.  Also, the crimping can take some practice, but this crimping video should help.

Manual Transfer Switch:  Even though I didn’t have a lot of circuits to power at one time, I did have at LEAST six circuits I wanted to power.  You can find 4 circuit transfer switches which are made to work with 110 volt cables, but it doesn’t seem like they make 6 circuit’s anymore.  My setup allows you to power ten different circuits using a 120volt input

Custom Cable:  They do not sell 15a to 30a power cords.  If you want to mimic this setup, you’ll have to create your own.  I followed the great instructions provided by hazardjk.  In my video I talk a little bit about it, but there are a few things you should note:

During the installation of my manual transfer switch, my electrician found some serious issues with my subpanel.  I had double tapped breakers, no grounding to the main panel, neutral and ground bars mixed up and multiple MBWC.  I actually paid him to rewire the subpanel to sort out those issues which needed to be fixed regardless of generator setup.

Watch the two videos which show how I setup everything:


 

Through my research I found many folks who thought that using a Prius as a generator was not worth risking the car’s durability.  Here are my thoughts:

  • Why would you risk your $30k+ as a generator when you can buy one for 500?  For me, it was a fun project and I wanted to be able to user my existing car as a way to power my house.  The cool factor for me outweighed any potential risk I was putting on my car.  If I think about how often I have lost power in the last 10 years it’s probably been only ten days total.  To be able to use the Prius in-case-of-emergency is not going to put a burden on the car or the traction battery for the few times that it would be needed.  Also, I can always switch to portable generator like a Honda EU2000is in the future if I sell my Prius or don’t have a hybrid car in the future
  • The Prius is not an efficient generator.  Actually it is!  I can’t find the link on Priuschat.com at the moment, but from the spreadsheets that I saw, it was as efficient as a conventional generator (non inverter type).  This means that with a full tank of gas in the Prius, I should be able to power the house for a few days.
  • The Prius can’t generator enough power for the home.  That’s simply untrue and really depends on how much power you need to generate.  While there aren’t a lot of videos on Prius’ powering the home, a lot of people have successful powered their homes with small Honda generators:  BillyNewport powers his Home with a 2000w Generator (and subzero fridge!), Honda EU2000is connected to a home, Another Honda powering a home,

So now I wait for the first power outage and we’ll see how my setup performs in a real life situation.  I tested the setup a few times and everything worked flawlessly so I’m excited to try it out.  However, if I never have to use it, that’s ok too, at least I’m prepared.

 

 

Email Productivity

I don’t think anyone every says that they are getting less email.  Over the years I developed an efficient system for managing my email and thought it would good to share with you.  Let me know your thoughts in the comments:

  1. At the end of each day, you should not have more messages in your inbox than you can see WITHOUT scrolling. This is a very important because your inbox is your tool to figure out what you need to DO. If you have 10k emails in your inbox it’s impossible to know what you need to do vs what you need to learn.  Yes, there is search but it’s not useful when you want to search in generic terms. e.g. ppt digital marketing (1001 results found)
  2. When an email comes in, do not immediately answer unless the circumstance calls for it. Certainly don’t answer right away if it seems haphazardly put together. The reasoning is as follows:  1)  A lot of URGENT emails are not well thought out and the direction or task is not clear. Rather than trying to decipher what the sender was implying, let them think about it. If they later respond asking for answer, kindly let them know their request was not clear. Don’t be a enabler for this type of behavior.  2) Conversely, you might be trying to answer as quick as possible but miss the point of the email or a few of the subitems. Give yourself some time so that a few more emails are not generated. Be concise and to the point.
  3. Your email filing structure should match your physical files structure. This will help you not only organize your emails, but your notes and artifacts (files) that are related to the project. For example, under Inbox create folders for each one of your projects. Prefix the important projects with a “1.” or “2.” so they are listed first. Within your documents folder, create the same folder structure. A few months later you’ll be confident that any project related items are either in the email folder or the file folder.
  4. Only file one copy of the threaded email. If you have a 10 reply email conversation going, no need to keep every iteration in your project folder. Delete the prior emails and file the last email in your project folder. You’ll always have the replies in Sent items as well.
  5. If the email is valuable and you don’t know where to file, but still want to keep it, then simply put it into an _Unfiled folder that you had created under Inbox. This is the catchall place to put items that are miscellaneous in nature. They don’t clutter your inbox, but still enable you to refer to them in the future. The next time you have some Internet down time, you can open up the _Unfiled folder and start putting those emails in their place (or delete them)
  6. If the email contains a follow up task that you can’t complete that day, you have three choices. 1) File the email in the project folder AND then create a task. The task should be specific on what you need to do. 2) File the email and send yourself an email with the task. The email will serve as the reminder. A third option is to mark the email unread which signals that there is a follow up to reread later.
  7. Remove the preview feature of viewing an email without opening. This will only distract you. The “unread” feature of emails is critical to train yourself to know when you need to respond back to someone. In the instance when you view an email and you don’t have time to fully respond, close the email and then mark it as unread and try again later.
  8. Organize your emails by Date with the newest email up top. Items that on the bottom are either things you have been procrastinated on or need some help in completing.
  9. At the end of the day, do a bottom up scan of your emails. This does a few things:
      • Highlights items that are lagging (oldest items at bottom)
      • It helps you keep a “mental inbox” of outstanding items that you need work on.
      • It helps you set what your goals are going to be for the next day.
      • Lastly, it helps you find any emails that you may have forgotten to answer

Finding the Right Generator

July 2013 Update:  I have since changed my plan and I am now powering my home with my Prius.

Compared to others, Sandy and Irene were merely inconveniences for our family.  We were lucky and thankful for that.  After getting through those storms, I actually wasn’t planning on getting a generator.  However after seeing a predicated above average hurricane season, I decided it might be worth the investment and piece of mind as well (ok, and comfort).

I did a lot of research on generators and there are two main options that you can go with:

Portable Generator:  There are a lot of options here with varying degrees of wattage and features.  One of the main differences are inverter generators vs standard generators.  Without getting too much into the engineering, what an inverter generator gives you over a standard generator are two things:  they are quieter and they are more efficient at burning gas.  For example, a standard generator running on 5 gallons of gas at 1/2 load will last about 8 hours.  The same inverter generator will last 12+ hours.  

Sound, or more specifically how noisy the generator is, might not be a deciding factor for you.  Typically you want a nice quiet inverter generator for camping, hunting or for contractors where you’ll be around the unit as opposed to a backup generator for your home which you’ll put on the driveway and have the house walls to buffer some of the sound.

Portable generators are typically stored in your garage and you pull them out and connect them to a manual transfer switch in case of an outage.  You have to ensure you properly store and maintain your generator so that when there is a power outage, you don’t have to deal with mechanical issues.  The 7000w variety of generators are quite large and heavy (200+ lbs).  Make sure that you get a model with wheels and you comfortable enough in handling as it’s more onerous then something like a lawn mower.

Standby Generator:  These units are normally for those who want a fixed unit that is always available.  Typically you would choose a standby generator if you have natural gas.  This is advantageous because you don’t have to deal with buying gasoline and dealing with potential gas shortages.  A standby generator installation is going to cost more than a portable generator because typically the units are larger, require plumbing of a gas line and includes an automatic transfer switch which will automatically switch power to the generator in case of a power outage.  Also note that generators running on natural gas lose about 10% of their efficiency so you want to size them higher than gasoline fed engines.  For example, if you calculated you need 7000w of power, you’ll need at least a 8000w generator.

So knowing all this, I spent a lot of time researching options.  For a standby generator, CT Generator Solutions quoted me $8900 for a 11KW Generac Guardian (46 amps) 12 Circuit with Automatic Transfer Switch unit.  In my particular situation they would have had to run an electric conduit about 40 feet from the panel since the generator would on the opposite side of the electrical panel.  Conversely, the gas line was on the same side.  This seemed like a fair quote to me as I researched that a standby generator install is typically about 1/3 of the price of the actual generator.  In this example, the generator is about 3k so 9k for the installation + parts seems about right.  A few reasons on why I didnt with a standby installation:

  • I had originally intended on spending about 2k total, so spending almost 9k was a big leap.  
  • Although I love the idea of natural gas powering the generator, it felt like it was going to be a big project and would involve a lot of permits to run the electric and gas.
  • The unit is quite big.  If it were to break, I would have to call out a service repairman and I’m thinking that’s big $$$.  Do some research on Generac repair and you’ll see a lot of forum entries on expensive service calls.
  • Again, the unit is huge.  According to the CT State Law I would have to have it installed at least 5′ from my house.  This is important, not only because of CO2, but because of the heat it generates.  If were to ignite the house, your fire insurance could be void.  In my situation I would lose an area of my property that I wasn’t willing to give up.

So that left me with a portable generator solution.  I researched a lot of generators and what I learned is Honda Generators are the best. They are used by professional organizations (like the film industry) and literally last forever.  However, you’re going to pay a lot.  You have to decide if you think that you’ll need the most reliable generator for the rare occasions when the power goes out.  Typically most people buy a 7kWh generator.  If we compare:

  • A Honda EB65000 goes for about $2900.
  • A Honda 6500I Inverter goes for about $4000  (remember, Inverter generators are quieter and more fuel efficient)
  • A 7kWh Home Depot type Generac/Briggs goes around for $1000.

So why are Honda’s 3x the price of a generator that actually has more capacity?  Basically, we’re back to reliability.  You can research the top selling generator at Home Depot and you’ll find that the Generac for $1000 will have hundreds of reviews at 5 stars.  However, what these reviews are not telling you is the longevity of this generator.  I’m assuming most homeowners are thankful that they had power during the last hurricane, but what about the 2nd and 3rd outages?

I debated going for it and getting the $4000 Honda but it just didn’t make sense.  I literally could buy the Generac four times!  Of course, it wouldn’t match the efficiency and quietness of the Honda.  One interesting item I found is that maintenance is very important, specifically changing the oil.  Typically all the generators I found require an oil change after the first 20 hours of usage.  After that, it’s every 100 hours of operation.  However, be careful when buying a generator because I found some that suggested every 20 hours!  Stay away from these generators!

So what to do.  The Hondas are too expensive and I don’t trust the 1k range generators.  I then found that some of the generators had Honda Engines.  And while a Honda Engine is a big component of a generator, it’s not the only component.  The alternator is a big piece of the equation and the lower priciest generators don’t match the quality of the Honda generators.  But unless you plan on running it every day, does it matter that much?

I researched Generators around 7kWh with Honda engines and was lucky to find that my local Costco had a Powerstroke 6800 with a Honda Engine for $1000.00.  As a bonus it had electric start and came with the wheel kit, trickle charger for the battery and usage meter.  The only thing that it didn’t have was a meter for wattage output.

PowerStroke 6800

Why this is a perfect generator for me is that I get my Honda engine and more importantly, I have the backing of Costco’s return policy.  Literally, I can return it in three years with no questions asked.  If I were to buy it online from Amazon at Home Depot, I’m basically SOL if it breaks and have to deal directly with the manufacturer.  You know how those battles go.

So now that I know the generator I want, it was onto the next part of installing the manual transfer switch.  I called a few folks and the person I thought was the friendliest and came in at a fair price was Lazaro from Barrios Electric.  For $850 he put in the 10 circuit manual transfer switch that I supplied.  It only took a day and he tested all the circuits while the generator was running to ensure everything was running properly.  Since my generator didn’t have a load meter, it was important that the manual transfer switch had wattage meters so I can see how much I’m drawing when on generator power.  Even though I have ten circuits, I don’t plan on using all of them at the same time.  The main ones I picked are:

  • Fridge:  48″ Subzero.  Peaks at 1000w, runs at about 200w
  • Furnace/Hot Water:  Lochnivar Knight WH55-399 – Hot Water:  250w, Heat: 400w
  • Internet/Phone: Didn’t register.  Estimate 75w
  • Alarm:  Didn’t register.  Estimate 75w
  • TV + Cable Box DVR:  Peak 350w, Run 250w
  • Washer/Dryer
  • Garage
  • Kitchen Outlets
  • Kitchen Lights:  Didn’t register.  Estimate 50w (5 LEDs)

Grouping:  Office + Kitchen Lights + Alarm + TV + Kitchen Outlets + Fridge:  Peak: 1200w, Run: ~600w

To be honest, everything but the first three are a nice to have.  I did a lot of pre work identifying all my circuits that I wanted to use and then estimating the total wattage.  If you aren’t as detailed as me, your electrician will help you with that.

For emergency prepardeness, I bought the following items:

  • 2, 5 gallon gas containers
  • Gas stabilizer
  • 3 quarts of 10w-30 oil
  • a few funnels
  • oil change pan

Good luck with your research and I hope this has helped a little.

 

Landscaping

So nine years ago I cleared out all the pachysandra from the side driveway bed with the intent to do some landscaping design.  This is the year I finally gave up and decided I would outsource the entire project.  Unfortunately for me (but fortunate for my pocket) I really couldn’t pay anyone for a design. I thought we were in a recession, but that does not seem to be the case here.

Determined to figure this out myself, I first mapped the sun exposure of the bed.  Every hour I noted if the area was shaded, partial sun or full sun.   Next I went to four garden nurseries and took notes on all the plants that I liked.  I then logged all those plants into a spreadsheet and noted the following attributes:  name, height, width, sun, evergreen, etc.

Next I found pictures of all the plants and then crudely created a semi accurate representation of the area I was going to plant in powerpoint.  Then I simply copy/pasta’d pictures to come up with a design.  Here is what I came up with:

Landscape Design

And this is what it actually looks like:

Some design principles I tried to follow:

  • Ensure that there was color for the Spring: white, purple and yellow flowers.
  • Vary the textures of the plants
  • Ensure that the plants would not crowd each other and become overgrown for the area
  • Ensure the plants would receive the proper amount of Sun.

The plants I used:

  • Delaware White Azalea.  White flowers in May
  • Liriope.  Purple flowers
  • Heuchera Southern Comfort Coral Bells
  • Lysimachia (Creepy Jenny).  Yellow flowers

The only thing I should have done better is not having it so “arranged”.  However, in such a small area I also didn’t want it to look too haphazard.  Now onto the next bed.

About Me

Frank Perkins

Frank Perkins

My name is Frank Perkins and I’m a Digital Marketing Architect.  Some of this blog is about my personal life while the other part is about my geek side.

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