Bright Side to Covid-19: Social Distancing is an Introvert’s Paradise

Obviously a pandemic like that being caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus is nothing to make light of. However, that being said, the very effective “social distancing” that has been implemented in order to slow down the disease is, for me, a gift.

Home Depot
Well organized line to get in

I had to visit The Home Depot today in order to pick up some muriatic acid so I could balance my pool chemistry. For the first time in my life I needed to wait in a line to get in to the store. At first I balked as I *hate* waiting in lines.

But this looked different, the vibe was decidedly calm and patient. There were about 20 people ahead of me. This was out in the parking lot and, even though the temperature was in the high 80’s, we were comfortable as there were shade canopies set up and they were offering cold bottled water. Everybody was requested to stand one car park space apart (see the picture).
It was… comfortable, nobody breathing down my neck while I waited, imposing their impatience on me. In fact everybody was decidedly chill.

If the lines at amusement parks, concerts or other events were anything like this, I might even be tempted to go to some of them.

We also had to pick up some necessities from our local Publix (milk, some bread, etc.). The parking lot was pretty full so I was expecting it to be kind of a zoo inside. Again I was pleasantly surprised.
*Everybody* in the store was pretty chill, gave each other a wide berth and were basically pleasant all around.

Last week we picked up a big bag of cat food, the pet supply store requested us to call when we got there and someone came out and just put it into the back of my car for me. A bit decadent I admit but it appealed to my sensibilities. I’m not a “browser” I know what I want, I just want to get in, buy it and get out. So this is exactly my kind of shopping experience.

At my company, a couple of years ago they drank the “collaboration workspace” Kool-Aid and laid waste to the entire idea of privacy and permanence in favor of low-walled, noise encouraging, distraction provoking work areas.
They also introduced “hoteling” for our Consultants because: screw them.
You could not design a more miserable work environment for introverts if you tried. As someone who takes a while to learn new people’s names I can tell you that making sure that I cannot see a name tag or figure out where someone sits from day to day just doubles down on the awkwardness of working with these “temporary” workers. By temporary, you mean “months” and “years” at a time BTW.
The constant distraction of people making phone calls as they stroll up and down the aisles looking for a little privacy, to the myriad conversations going on in any language except English to the guy, and I kid you not, two cubes down who thinks it’s perfectly fine to use his speakerphone for everything from long-form conference calls, to retrieving voicemail, to just letting a call ring and ring and ring in case the recipient might answer it one day (who the hell doesn’t have voicemail these days anyway).
Anyway, I rant. The point is that today, with “social distancing”, that nonsense is completely out of the picture as I am now required to work from home.
My home office is awesome! I no longer have my concentration efforts shattered into an infinite number of small pieces as interruptions and distractions force me to start and restart my train of thought endlessly in a wasteland of extroversion.

As for having to stay at home generally, I *like* my home and have made it nicer to be at than ANY resort I have ever stayed at.
I have a full and comfortable gym. My office is spacious and practical. I have a heated pool that I can and do use any time I choose – with no rude people or their kids getting in my way. My media room is a nice place to enjoy TV or a good movie.

And I am never, ever bored.

I have had to put some hobbies on hold in the past as my interests are far ranging and there is never enough time to do everything I want to do. I could stay heads down on my personal projects for *years* without running out of things to do.

People who get bored mystify me.

In short, social distancing is custom-made for people like me. I enjoy the company of people in small amounts, I don’t enjoy the crush of strangers, especially the ill-mannered ones that seem to dominate public sphere when I’m out.

I’m comfortable with and thrive on being on my own or just with my wife.

I earnestly hope that some of what we are doing now will stick around after the current pandemic fades. Covid-19 is awful, but the unintended side effects have proven to be life enhancing. Let’s keep the good stuff!

So my Tesla Model X has a Little Known Bug

Back in early December (2019) I noticed that the regen on my Tesla was not what it should be.

Basically, after overnighting in my garage on a 63 degree F morning, it would take about 25 minutes of my 40+ minute commute before I had full regeneration restored.

On a cooler 37 degree night, I ended up preheating the car for *54* minutes (miscalculated departure time) and, for that 32 minute drive I NEVER regained my full regen.

I contacted Tesla to have them take a look-see, after all, not a couple of weeks earlier they had replaced my Battery Coolant Heater (coincidence?).

Regardless, in spite of what seems like an obvious connection between a battery coolant heater and my battery heater not activating properly, Tesla came back and initially informed me basically that “battery packs are big and can be slow to warm up” and, when that didn’t work they then let me know that there is a firmware bug that is preventing the battery heater from activating.

Below is the transcript of my conversation with Tesla. I’m still waiting for the “future firmware update”.

Basically I’m seeing that Tesla Model X (Premium car) has now become so niche that it basically is not getting much attention at all. And I frankly believe that Tesla service is so overwhelmed that they can’t spend the time on customers such as myself, the earlier adopters who helped to fund the whole enterprise, to ensure that our vehicles are running correctly.

Color me disappointed. I can’t wait to see where I end up on the list of HW 3 upgrade recipients.

Tesla’s explanation of my Regen issue

UP Express Toronto is Low Key Excellent

I recently had the opportunity to try the UP Express in Toronto.

“UP” stands for “Union (Station) Pearson (International Airport)” and was apparently conceived as a premium service to shuttle people from the airport through the city of Toronto via a couple of stops taking you as far as Union Station in the heart of the city.

Fortunately the “premium“ aspect of pricing this service was recognized to be a bad idea and this service is now premium in every way except for the price which is extraordinarily reasonable.

On a recent visit to Toronto, Michelle and I took the UP Express one way from the airport to the Bloor station at a cost of CAD $5.65 each. The trip from Pearson’s Terminal 1 takes about 17 minutes.

After flying in to Pearson Terminal 3 coming in from the States, it is simply a matter of taking the terminal shuttle train over to Terminal 1 (a single stop, don’t ask about Terminal 2), making the short walk to the UP Express train station, boarding the train, and shortly there after being deposited at the Bloor station.

They have a great little mobile app with which you can sort out purchasing and activating tickets. Basically, you can purchase your tickets ahead of time and, just before boarding the train, activate as many as needed for the trip and, simple as that, you are on your way.

I originally purchased tickets to the wrong station (Weston), don’t ask why I thought I needed to be there instead of Bloor, and had to phone their customer service. This was an unexpectedly pleasant experience where in there was no hassle whatsoever at getting those tickets refunded so that I could purchase the correct ones.

Since I was not intending to rent a car on this trip and was staying with family, this worked out very well for everybody. Saving them a trip to the airport and saving us the hassle and expense of taxi or Uber. From the Bloor station we were picked up by our hosts, but we could just have easily have taken the TTC or GO trains to get where we needed to go.

The UP Express trains were clean, quiet and uncrowded (at least for our visit).

I would easily use this service again. 



Sears Home Services

*Update February 13, 2020*
A representative reached out to me by phone and asked me to send some confirming documentation and she’d get that to the billing folks.
Three days later, she again reached out to me by phone and left a voicemail confirming that the matter had been resolved.
Hearing back from somebody in this day and age AT ALL is unbelievable and I have to give Sears Home Services props for that. I’m adding a “The Good” category to this post for their efforts in resolving this issue with me.
*End Update February 13, 2020*

I was initially pleased as they showed up on time and, even though they couldn’t find a definite source of the issue with my relatively new clothes dryer, they took it apart and put it back together again and, since then the issue I contacted them about has not recurred (was happening daily).

We paid them by credit card when they were here.

A month later I get a bill from them saying they were not able to process our payment (they were, according to my credit card company) and that I needed to remit payment.
My beef with them is that there is no earthly way to reach them for a billing dispute.
They want me to sit down and write them a letter (this is the 21st century isn’t it?) and then maybe they’ll consider if that has merit and let me know.

I need to decide if it’s easier to just dispute the original transaction and then pay them again or to sink into the 18th century and pull out a quill, blotter and wax seal and send them a missive via messenger.

So points for solving my problem. Major demerits for sending me an errant bill and then providing no means by which to follow up with them.

Edit: Finally did manage to reach them via chat (Chat on main page of their website does not work, but after searching for my order, the chat on THAT panel did work). They assured me that I can just ignore the bill.

Here is a chat that I had. If they are true to their word then it does reinstate the faith I had in Sears Home Services. Mind you I could probably do with out the upsell at the end there…

Turns out “Plug In EV” Plan is better for us

If you’ll recall, back in September (2018) I switched us *from* the Plug In EV plan *to* the Smart Usage Plan.

Welp, that was not the way to go. Besides Georgia Power’s ability to charge whatever they like, whenever they like (read the above article), it’s extraordinarily difficult to figure out in advance what your peak usage is going to be. Georgia Power only offers a daily electrical consumption summary if you remain on their hyper costly legacy plan. Despite having the very same smart meter and, ostensibly, the ability to report the total number of kWhs that were consumed over the past 24 hours.
I shouldn’t think it would be terribly difficult to report back to you what consumption was during what time frames (since the charges vary by time of day on the plans in question) and surely the meter can show your peak consumption spike for that period as well. I understand you are charged (penalized really) based on a peak that lasts 30 minutes or more. But I have no way of measuring or monitoring that.

So, for my case, it seems that we have a base load of energy consumption (not unexpected) that would include all the electrical bits and pieces that run constantly throughout the day – furnace fan motor, fridge, lights, computers, etc. – that I have no means to measure. Then, despite my extended efforts to schedule things like pool pumps, car charging, air conditioning, oven / stove use, clothes dryer use, etc. I still managed to hit significant peaks that lead to my bills being far greater than I was/would have been paying under the Plug In EV plan.

Fortunately, to Georgia Power’s credit, it’s not terribly difficult to switch back again which I did after reviewing the past few bills.

My December bill showed as 1,280 kWh consumed with a peak consumption of 13.4 (!) kW for a total of $189.43.
My November bill showed as 1,344 kWh consumed With a peak consumption of 9 kW for a total of $155.78.

Similarly my December bill from LAST year showed as 1,620 kWh consumed (686 kWh Super Off Peak and 0 on peak) for a total of $157.06.
My November bill from last year showed as 1,715 kWh (771 Super Off Peak, 10 kWh On Peak) for a total of $164.25

Part of the lower consumption during the past few months was that I was able to charge my car at work more often recently. Regardless, I had already reduced my car charging consumption to around 3.5 kW. This was done on the car charging page where I can limit the amperage draw. This was part of my strategy to avoid hitting the onerous peak consumption penalty.

Just grossly speaking, it seems that I could take my total consumption for the December and November bills from this year and divide them into the cost to get an average of 13.16 cents a kWh.
Doing likewise for the same months from 2018 yields about 9.63 cents a kWh or about a 40% increase in my per kWh rate.

I understand that this is not super accurate, were I to look at ONLY my November bill the average per kWh rate would be somewhat more reasonable (maybe 20 % more costly).
I guess, at core, my issue is that it is much more impactful on our day-to-day living to try to avoid the Smart Usage peak use penalty and I am chafing because Georgia Power appears to be withholding a very effective tool (daily consumption email) that might make it feasible to try to keep going down this path.

The fact remains that, for me, the increase was significant enough that I decided to fall back to the Plug In EV plan.

YMMV

Clarifying Delta’s “Full Trip” Upgrade

In checking the Delta Airlines app for some details on an upcoming trip I saw that they offered an upgrade to First Class for 7,400 points per person for Full Trip.

After doing a bit of research I saw that others had upgrade offers that specified each segment.

Since both going and return segments were listed on the same page I was not sure if this really was a “Full Trip” upgrade – which could understandably be interpreted to mean the return trip since I have only a single segment each way.

Anyway, to clarify for anybody else also wondering about this, Delta’s use of Full Trip just means all the segments within the one here-to-there trip.

It’s obvious in retrospect, as many things are. But it was ambiguous to me up front.
If you’re reading this, hopefully it’s no longer ambiguous to you.

Not sure why this doesn’t meet Amazon’s Review Guidelines

So I ordered a new Fujutsu ScanSnap ix1500 printer from Amazon a couple of days ago.

I received my delivery the following day and was pretty impressed… until I opened the rather war torn box and saw an obviously used device had been sent to me.

So I posted a quick review on Amazon indicating that I’ll post an update when I get the actual new item and downrating the device in the meantime due to the sloppy mess-up.

Stuff happens, I get it, as long as they work to make it right I’m not going to be a stickler about it.

However, just a few minutes ago I received this notice that my review was rejected. They didn’t say why exactly, only that “Reviews must adhere to the following guidelines”. After which they thoughtfully posted a link which went… well… nowhere.

The new device has already arrived (Kudos to Amazon for the fast turnaround on the replacement) and was brand new and as described. So I was happy and was going to update the review. I guess I don’t have to now. Still, somewhat disappointed at being muzzled. I don’t think the review was all that terrible. Just facts.

The actual text of the review was:

I’ll adjust the rating to represent the actual scanner quality when I receive the new one I paid for.
As it is, I received a torn box with the old shipping labels obviously torn off and new ones with my address slapped on to replace them. Heck, the original recipient’s address was still on one of the labels that were still attached to the box.
Inside, the unit was scuffed and had obviously been used. The plastic and foam protectors were all scrunched down on the bottom. It was obvious that someone had just hurriedly packed the item to send it back to Amazon.

Here is where the link regarding guidelines led:

I don’t like to bash on Amazon because they are a REALLY good company to deal with. But they shouldn’t try to hide this kind of wart.

No Way to Calculate your own Electric Bill in Georgia? And Why I’m switching to the Smart Usage from the Plug-In EV plan

Summary: There is not enough information provided on your electric bill to verify if you are being charged correctly.

Cause: There are two items on the tariff sheets that are not reported and, it appears, there is no way for a normal person to know their costs.

These are:
Demand Side Management Schedule is described as “The amount calculated at the above rate will be increased under the provisions of the Company’s effective Demand Side Management Residential Schedule, including any applicable adjustments”.
and
Fuel Cost Recovery is described as “The amount calculated at the above rate will be increased under the provisions of the Company’s effective Fuel Cost Recovery Schedules in the manner ordered by the Georgia Public Service Commission, including any applicable adjustments”.

This came up when I was reviewing my electric bill to see if the “Plug-in Electric Vehicle” rate, to which I currently subscribe, is the best option for my use patterns.

Georgia Power has 6 rate plans. Two of which (Flat Bill and PrePay) I dismissed immediately as being of no value to me. The remaining ones all had potential so I created a spreadsheet to contrast the amounts I would have paid under those plans compared with what I actually paid.

I took the last 12 months of bills and put them into a spreadsheet. Since I am already on the Plug in EV plan I already had my peak, off peak and super off peak hours broken out for me to simplify the calculations.

I also assumed that the crap fees (Environmental cost recovery, Nuclear boondoggle, Municipal Franchise fee, Tax and the monthly basic service charge) would be about the same regardless of my plan since most of these are based on my energy consumption.

When I first began my calculations I was pretty happy with the results as it looked like there was a tremendous potential for saving money by switching to a different plan. However, to my dismay, I found that the calculations for the rate plan I currently have also gave results that were significantly lower than what I’m actually paying.

I reviewed my formulas a bunch of times and had to conclude that Georgia Power was adding something into the per kilowatt charges that was not obvious on the main part of the bill. Enter the Demand Side Management Schedule and Fuel Cost Recovery items that I finally noticed in the lawyer section of the document.

By my figuring, for the past year, those two items accounted for cost increases on the power portion of the bill of from 21% (last October) up to 59% (last February) over and above the actual published rates.

In real dollars this means I paid $21.40 more on a bill totaling $124.83 up to $58.05 more on a bill totaling $157.06.

Suffice it to say I am not impressed.

So I have no way to really know how much I will pay for electricity under ANY of these plans since it appears Georgia Power can charge pretty much any amount the PSC will let them and I can have no knowledge of that.

The inability to actually calculate the costs of future bills notwithstanding, I can at least get a feel for the *relative* cost differences between the various plans.

Almost universally, the Residential plan is the worst for me.

Likewise Nights & Weekends will not do my wallet any favors although it’s much better than Residential.

Here’s where it gets a bit tricky. It took me a long time to figure out what the “Smart Usage” plan was doing. The description kept going on about needing to split up your high energy uses so as not to consume a lot of power at once. But the mechanism they were using to determine this wasn’t clear to me.
Then I understood. This section here:

DETERMINATION OF BILLING DEMAND:
Maximum kW: Maximum kW shall be the highest 30-minute kW measurement during the current month.

Means that you are essentially punished for the entire month for your highest amount of consumption at a single point in the month regardless of whether you are using the energy in the middle of a hot summer afternoon, or at 2 in the morning, you will pay a premium of $6.64 per kilowatt for the month for that spike.

I am able to charge my car at work many days but if I choose to charge it at home at the maximum power available to me (50 amp service at 240 volts * .8 (max sustained draw) which is 9.6 kW that means a premium on my bill of $63 even if I do it only once during the month.

But I’m able to lower the rate of consumption through my car’s charging controls. Since most of the time I don’t need the car charged *that* fast, I can simply drop it down to

So theoretically I can charge my 75 kWh battery from absolutely empty, assuming about 85% efficiency, in 18.4 hours rather than 9.2 hours and reduce my hit by about $31 from Georgia Power.
Keep in mind that it’s pretty rare for me to ever get below 45% charge, so those times change from 7.8 hrs and 15.6 hrs at 40 and 20 amps respectively to about 5.2 and 10.4 hours which is very comfortable.

Of course there can be other high consumption appliances running when I’m charging my car, so I just need to set my car schedule to off hours and make sure those items don’t conflict. For me the next biggest consumer of power in the house will be my pool pump. So I will just schedule it outside of the car charging hours. Between that and ensuring that the clothes dryer isn’t running at 3 in the morning should keep things pretty simple.

For reference I include links to the Tariff sheets (plus pdf copies I have in case the links go stale).
Nights & Weekends (Link to permanent PDF)
Plug-in EV (Link to permanent PDF)
Residential (Link to permanent PDF)
Smart Usage (Link to permanent PDF)

When, oh when will people stop using gift cards?

So, my wife received a $100 gift card a few years ago and decided to hang on to it to perhaps use to give to somebody else as a nice gift later on.

Of course she had no idea that this US Bank backed gift card started ticking down in value at a rate of $2 a month until she mentioned it today and I looked it up.

What started out as perfectly good, American cash was translated into crappy “stored value” and then sucked dry by the bank. As of today that $100 gift card, which had never been used, never been opened is worth a whopping $14.

For those people who think giving cash is crass, I would argue that giving people a gift that loses value for no good reason at all, except that it can help enrich various banking institutions (thank you for 2008 by the way) is a terrible alternative. Either you care enough to buy a thoughtful gift or you don’t, a gift card does not fill that void.

If you want to direct the money, get a nice card and tell them that here is $100 cash from your loving admirer for you to spend on “x”.

Surely you cannot feel good knowing that your recipient does not get the bulk of the gift you had intended for them?

Found a great source for my Sacrificial Anodes

Long story short, if you are looking to find copper-free zinc sacrificial anodes you want “Pool Tool Anti Electrolysis” and, as of today, you want to get them from GetPoolParts.com.

To protect my Endless Pool Fastlane I use Zinc Sacrificial Anodes.

The purest source for these I had for these was from Endless Pools themselves. These used to cost a little over $15 each from them which was pretty pricey for something I would need to replace 2-4 times a year. When I checked a few days ago they were now

Similar anodes are used for maritime part protection (inboard motors, hulls, etc.) for a fraction of this cost. However, the maritime anodes that I have found are typically not so pure as I hoped. There is enough copper in them to cause blackening of stainless steel which quickly becomes unattractive.

This…

Endless Pool Fastlane showing stainless steel handle.

becomes this…

Endless Pool Fastlane showing stained stainless steel handle (yes I see the irony).

So I bought a healthy supply of the anodes that lasted me until this year.

When I went looking I saw that the price has now increased to about $24 for these, which is patently absurd.

What I want specifically is a product called “Pool Tool Anti Electrolysis”.

So I came across a site called “Get Pool Parts” that had them available for less then half of where I was seeing them anywhere else ($12.16 per anode). Ordinarily this would be a red flag as deals that are too good to be true are there to suck you in on the internet.

Their BBB record was just OK (B+ as of this writing) but I couldn’t find anything really bad about them in searching for scams or problems. Another vote of confidence for them was a few postings on Troublefreepool.com which has been a great source of pool information for me in the past.

I ordered these really late Tuesday night (2 am) and they arrived on Saturday morning. Everything was exactly as specified. I couldn’t be more pleased. I just wanted to give them a shout out and also let people know about this option and my good experience should you wish to avoid the extortionist pricing for this basic part.