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)

Wrist-based Sleep Tracking Opinion

Referencing this recent article from the NY Times:

By and large I have to agree with the conclusion that we don’t really know what to do with the information.

There was a comment where the person pointed out that the sleep tracker at least gave him some insight into his sleep after lifestyle choices (drinking, going to be late, etc.).

I am using the “Autosleep” app that was referred to in the article. One thing he didn’t mention was that the app references a “sleep bank” and tries to get you to average out to whatever you say your nightly requirement is (defaults to 8 hours). And then proposes wildly inappropriate go-to-sleep times for that night to “catch up”.

For me:

1) Nothing has come close to the UP! wristband for mapping my sleep habits (it had its own issues about not being able to edit the results when it recorded incorrectly)

2) the fitbit is between the UP! and the Apple Watch. It was OK but very coarse.

3) The apple watch is pretty good. I appreciate that “Autosleep” tries to take a holistic view of things and considers your overall sleep in conjunction with what it records as “Deep sleep” and something else called “Quality sleep” and then adds a dash of your average heartbeat and your wakeup heartbeat and something they call “Heartrate variance” to come up with a comprehensive assessment of your sleep status.

Now if only we had any scientific evidence that any of the above actually means anything, I would be much happier. But I suppose that’s one of the points of the original article.

But my perception that the Apple Watch (and any wrist-based tracker I’ve tried. Not mentioned is Intel’s Basis Peak which I rather liked but disappeared pretty quickly) is still relatively crude for sleep tracking does not instill confidence in me in any ratings/statistics generated.

I’m at the point now where I’m thinking of not bothering with sleep tracking anymore in favor of waking up to a fully charged watch so I don’t have to think about topping it up during the day….

Private Internet Access “Connection Refused”

PIA Main Panel

This morning, to my dismay, I found that my Private Internet Access (PIA) VPN had disconnected. It showed a little yield sign on the toolbar icon. A closer look at the panel showed me a note that maybe my account was disabled or expired.

I then logged on to PIA’s web site and verified that my account was just fine and wouldn’t be due for renewal for a few months yet.

  • Checking Google yielded no results, neither did PIA’s own support knowledge base.
  • Restarting the client didn’t help.
  • My computer had recently been restarted so that was an unlikely candidate.
  • Changing connection servers also didn’t help.

The solution, in my case, was to simply explicitly log out of the PIA app and then log back in. Now it’s working again like nothing happened.

I leave PIA on as a matter of course to ensure that ALL of my internet traffic is encrypted. I just like to be sure that nobody knows my business except me and the entities I’m dealing with. Nobody in between anyway.

I use PIA because it’s normally rock-solid reliable. I tried NordVPN’s trial and found it couldn’t even stay connected for a whole day at a time which wasn’t super useful to me.

PIA did a massive marketing campaign a few months ago which I thought was beneath them. Trying to scare everybody into renewing immediately for long term plans with super expensive (nearly triple) annual rates after that. I’m waiting to see what they want to charge me on my next renewal to see if I stick with them. They’ve been very good so far, it’s a shame if they get too greedy.

Apple iPhone Xs Max vs Galaxy S10+: One of these smartphones wins in three key categories – MarketWatch

A friend forwarded me this article knowing I’d have an opinion. *Shockingly*, I do.

You can read the original article here

Part of my job is to certify new devices for my work environment.
I haven’t picked up the S10 yet, but I think most of the “key” aspects Jurica points out are kind of trivial.

It depends wholly on the person but, for me, once you get beyond 256 GB of storage it’s all just .. more. Sure, in a few years I’ll probably be pushing up against the 1 TB limit, but that will be for the phones of that generation to accommodate.

When you’re talking about $1,000 plus for a smartphone I think that $50 here or $100 there can’t be a big deal. If it is you *really* should not be at the luxury end of the market. And make no mistake, Apple’s recent offerings and Samsung’s Galaxy 10 are the at the pinnacle. 

With respect to power and the ability to use your phone to charge up other devices, I see this as the same as when I had a separate MP3 player and cell phone. At the time, the idea of extracting power from my phone to play music seemed ludicrous when I had a separate device that did this excellently without eating into my call time or smartphone usage. 
If I’m in a situation where I’m charging someone else’s phone, I’m probably in a situation where I need to be conserving my phone’s power and *shouldn’t* be inefficiently wirelessly charging other devices.

When I travel I ALWAYS have chargers (yes plural) and cables capable of charging all my devices. If I’m with someone who needs a charge at the airport, I’d rather they use my charger than sucking my critical link to the world dry of power.

The comment about still accepting microphone jacks is cute. Again, these are luxury devices. People whine that they are being forced to use the latest in headphone technology while they blow over a thousand dollars (a year?) on their smartphone. 
1) if you can’t afford a bluetooth headset, you really can’t afford the phone, 
2) if you don’t like new tech and would rather have a wired headset, why the hell are you buying one of the most technologically advanced smartphones in the world? There are plenty of less expensive, less advanced phones that cater to people who don’t need or want next-year’s tech.

The final decision comes down to OS preference and ecosystem preference (dependency).

As someone who moves between iOS and Android OSes all day every day I am careful to avoid getting locked too deeply in any ecosystem that makes it a nuisance to use the other device.

My preference has gone back and forth throughout the years but, in spite of the (correctly called-out) dismal tech support, the iOS devices are what I go to at the end of the day.

After mucking about problem solving and tweaking and resolving assorted god-knows-what issues with these devices all day, I’m happy enough to use the one that just works out of the box and that presents me with the fewest headaches.

As of today, iOS, in the form of the iPhone Xs Max, is my choice.

Rebuilt Web Site

You’ll find that subscriptions for tracking posts/replies as well as view counts have all been reset.

I’ve been maintaining this blog since 2005 and have made only small changes to it now and then. My goal was not to get mired in all things WordPress but rather to have my own little forum of expression.

I’ve been having more and more issues lately that my Web Host has been chronically blaming on “old and inefficient scripts”. It probably doesn’t help that my hosting plan has me sharing a virtual machine with likely hundreds if not thousands of other low-use websites.

So rather than troubleshoot 14 years worth of updates and tweaking since I *know* I’ve made some coding changes along the way that may or may not have been impactful to the efficiency of the blog functions, I elected to just lay down a fresh install of WordPress and leave the customizing to plugins.

I’m still seeing some “500” errors that miraculously go away if you refresh so I now need to collect stats and get my web host on the ball.

On the plus side I can now change my theme pretty easily to make it look a bit more modern/attractive.

Thanks for visiting!

Blackvue DR750S-2CH Overheating Issue

I have a  Blackvue DR750S-2CH that started just shutting off this spring. I’ve had the camera since August of last year and had no issues with it throughout that hot Georgia summer.
The issues started after one of the firmware updates (I forget which one), but in my garage, with the car sitting at about 85 degrees I could barely touch the camera it was so hot – and this was in parking mode. Something was making it’s CPU work overtime.
I went back and forth with BlackVue three or four times. It almost seems like they try to just keep you occupied while they test and prep the next firmware release.
Anyway, the solution was to reformat my SD card and basically install the firmware update from the SD card directly rather than pushing from the phone. I installed the 1.010 firmware update.
It’s been over two months now, through the height of summer, and I haven’t had any issues. I just went out to the garage and touched the camera and, while warm, is NOWHERE near as hot as it was when the issue was manifesting.
So there seems to be hope, at least in modestly hot regions like the SouthEast. Not sure if you desert-dwelling folks can get the same relief.
Below are the instructions I followed:
Our apologies for the inconvenience.
 Please follow the procedure below to upload the firmware again in your dashcam and see if it fixes the issue. If the issue persists, please let us know and we will provide you guidelines to pursue RMA services.
Please do the following steps to upgrade the firmware (factory reset/troubleshooting)
1. Turn off the dashcam and take out the SD card. Connect it with the computer by using the micro SD card reader.
2. After getting the backup your necessary recordings saved on the SD card, format it as FAT32[windows] / MS-DOS(FAT) [MAC] using the format tool in BlackVue PC Viewer program (please refer to the attached pics).
3. Download the latest firmware for your dashcam model from our website : https://www.blackvue.com/downloads/#1460710341510-e242903f-5343 ( <– Note: No doubt this is terribly out of date now)
4. Unzip the downloaded firmware and copy the “BlackVue” folder into the SD card.
5. Insert the SD card in the dashcam and power it up.
If the issue recurs, please let us know

Samsung Galaxy Note 8 Bluetooth Pairing issues?

I have recently had the opportunity to work with a Galaxy Note 8 and found it somewhat persnickety when it comes to Bluetooth pairing.

In trying to find a solution I peeked around the internet and found several fairly intricate suggestions.

I had issues with pairing with 3 out of 4 of my attempts. For my Tesla Model X, my AquaAudio speaker and my work Jabro PRO 9465 headset the symptoms varied from both platforms seeing each other (Tesla) to the device not even showing up on the Bluetooth scan screen on the Galaxy.

In all cases, just a straight restart the phone is all it took to resolve the issue. Don’t go into the weeds.

As they say on “The IT Crowd”: Did you try turning it off and on again?

FreedomPop – Just be really careful

*** Update Feb 11, 2018 ***

OK, to their credit, FreedomPop did *not* back bill me for the previous month’s use. So I take back that claim (crossed out below).

What happened was that I missed a service that I enrolled in when I first signed up that I didn’t know to go look for. It was not obvious to me it was a thing that I needed to address. So Mea Culpa even though I think the site is laid out to promote such confusion. I knew this and did not exercise due diligence.

Using their mobile app today I tracked down the service and will disable it next month and see what comes of it.

*** End Feb 11, 2018 Update ***

I wanted a hotspot for my car so my Dashcam could be available to me whenever I wanted.

So I chose FreedomPop as an inexpensive alternative. For $20 (supposedly for Activation) I get an OK hotspot and a promo for 3GB free for the first month.

I knew I was intending to downgrade from the promo after a month so I put a credit on the account for $5 knowing they would not permit a zero balance when the time came.

So, here I am 2 days before the initial month expiry and find my credit has “expired” and I have a zero credit balance.

Apparently any credits “expire” around 30 days and you can activate them again by clicking a tiny link at the bottom if you know about it.

Then, moving on to downgrading, it took a bit of searching to find the tiny little “Downgrade” link located within the dialog that appears when you click your current plan.

I went through a series of confirmation dialogs, one of which asked if I wanted to add a $15 credit to my account, to which I answered “no”.

Finishing the downgrade process should leave me with a very reasonable free plan that gives me 500 MB included and costs 2 cents per additional MB. This is what I was looking forward to and expect I’d pay $5-$10 / month.

When I checked I found:

  1. My credits are going to expire each month so I will need to “reactivate” them each month
  2. When I downgraded my plan, it appears FreedomPop went and back-billed me for the amount I used during the trial that’s over and above the data included in the free plan. Dirty pool there.
  3. They billed me for a $15 credit even though I explicitly instructed them not to.

Ironically, this is *less* shady than my dealings with the major mobile provider I used to use for my personal mobile needs.

I’m expecting my monthly usage to be in the 700 MB range which means that my out of pocket should only be about $4-$5 which is what mobile service really *should* cost.

I’m going to try FreedomPop for a few months and see if they do anything else similarly shady. I am certainly feeling a bit uneasy. They seem to be hoping people don’t read and don’t challenge them. If they just charge me what they say they’ll charge me and stop all this *gotcha* nonsense then I’ll stick with them. The surprise costs so far are low enough that I’ll just suck it up for this start month and be happy that I ended up with a $30 hotspot (adding in the back-billed charges) which is still not a bad deal.

SmartThings Hub V2 and WEMO

Last month there was a pretty major update to my SmartThings Hub and, once it was done, I found that none of my WEMO switches worked with that ecosystem any more. The things still showed up in SmartThings “stuck” in the last state that it had known them to be in prior to the update. But the state would not update as the switches were cycled, nor could I control them via SmartThings any longer.

The WEMO app continued to control the switches just fine so I knew it was unlikely to be an issue with the switches.

I conferred with SmartThings’ support folks and they pointed out that WEMO integration is a SmartThings Labs initiative. Which basically means it’s not a collaboration between Belkin and SmartThings and that Belkin can change things at any time and mess things up.

The long and short of it is that I needed to remove each WEMO switch from SmartThings, then let it discover them anew and then update every routine, SmartApp and webCoRE piston that used them as well.

This was driven home a couple of weeks later when I had to shut down my SmartThings Hub for several hours and again found the WEMO devices to be unresponsive.

The same technique worked to resolve the issue this time as well.

I’m still not 100% clear on exactly what it takes to cause the issue. Whether it’s the amount of time the SmartThings Hub is offline or if there is a confluence of events that has to happen. But I thought I’d post this to help folks who might be experiencing the same “zombie” Belkin WEMO switches in their SmartThings ecosystem.

You just need to suck it up and re-do. It’s a bit painful but you’ll resolve the issue and get on with life that much faster if you just go for it.