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2009/01/21 Linux.conf.au 2009 in Tasmania
π 2009-01-21 00:00 in Linux
Oh, yes, we were actually in Australia for a reason: linux.conf.au :)

The conference was quite good as usual, and my talk on subversion went fine.

the jet boat that took us to the speaker dinner
the jet boat that took us to the speaker dinner




my buddies Raster and K-Fish
my buddies Raster and K-Fish

Linus, getting ready to shave some hair and beard pledged for charity :)
Linus, getting ready to shave some hair and beard pledged for charity :)

you need the right tool for the job, right? :)
you need the right tool for the job, right? :)


all the money raised went to saving Tasmanian Devils
all the money raised went to saving Tasmanian Devils

Jon's section of the interesting geek my ride talk
Jon's section of the interesting geek my ride talk




conference close
conference close

See more images for Linux.conf.au 2009 in Tasmania
2009/01/20 Diving in Tasmania, Australia
π 2009-01-20 00:00 in Diving
Since we were in Tasmania, we of course had to use the opportunity to do some diving. Unfortunately, even in the middle of summer the weather wasn't that warm. It was nice enough for going around, but the water was a somewhat cold 15 degrees C, or about the same than we get in Monterey.
That meant reasonably thick 7mm suits, which when they were properly sized and zippered, were good enough for me, but were taking their toll on Jennifer.

We started with a dive in Bichenot, which was actually a very nice short dive. Among other things, it was the first time we got to see a sea horse or sea dragons (thanks to the guide who we hired to come with us).


some spots had lots of minuscule fish
some spots had lots of minuscule fish

sea dragon
sea dragon


our first sea horse
our first sea horse

they hang on with their tail
they hang on with their tail


We then went back a few days later by EagleHawk Neck, which while closer to Hobart where we were staying, wasn't as good diving for us, even with a dive boat. I think we were however somewhat unfortunate on the weather that day (windy, and it cut us off from at least one dive site we could have used). We did get to see a few sea dragons on the first dive, and absolutely nothing on the second dive unless you count sea weeds.... Oh well...

hello power ranger :)
hello power ranger :)



another sea dragon
another sea dragon


See more images for Diving in Tasmania, Australia
2009/01/18 Visiting Tasmania, Australia
π 2009-01-18 00:00 in Australia, Trips
Like every year, I went to linux.conf.au for the yearly conference where I was invited to talk, and Jennifer came along to molest some native animals :)

As soon as we got off the airport, I had a rental car lined up, and drove to St Helens/Bay of Fires to get there before sunset. This was the time when I drove the most on the left side of the road for a total of 600km or so. I actually got reasonably used to it, except for the part with the turn signal is on the wrong side of the car, where I would use the windshield wipers on the other side instead of the turn signal (to the point that it took me a while to readjust when I got home). The only part that was a bit tough was knowing exactly how far the right and left sides of the car were on a narrow road.


Anyway, here are the picts:

Our drive up from the airport to St Helens
Our drive up from the airport to St Helens


The next morning, we had a very busy day from an early hike around the Bay of Fires, a visit of the area, a hike to the top of the highest local peak (after a drive up a dicey road for a wimpy 2WD), a visit to Natureworld, a 2H visit/hike of Douglas Apsley national park, and then getting to see baby penguins by the beach.

started the day with a quick hike around the bay of fires
started the day with a quick hike around the bay of fires


Bay of Fires
Bay of Fires

ok, it was a nice beach, sure. Notice no one in the water in full summer
ok, it was a nice beach, sure. Notice no one in the water in full summer


oysters everywhere, we just weren't sure if they were fresh
oysters everywhere, we just weren't sure if they were fresh

the trail up to south sister was definitely 4wd
the trail up to south sister was definitely 4wd

I got all the way up in our 2WD beater except on the little piece above :)
I got all the way up in our 2WD beater except on the little piece above :)




those were local geese
those were local geese



tasmanian devil
tasmanian devil


most those snakes were venomous and deadly
most those snakes were venomous and deadly

baby wombats were very cute and cuddly, albeit a bit porky :)
baby wombats were very cute and cuddly, albeit a bit porky :)





we went hiking to a gorge in Douglas Apsley
we went hiking to a gorge in Douglas Apsley

in Bicheno, we were able to see penguins at night
in Bicheno, we were able to see penguins at night

the parents come from the sea with fish to feed the young
the parents come from the sea with fish to feed the young

On the second day, we first went diving in Bicheno where we had spent the night, visited a couple of wineries on the way back, and stopped by a fruit picking place where we just had to stop :)

Jennifer was delighted with picking fruit :)
Jennifer was delighted with picking fruit :)

The next 3 days, I went to the conference while Jennifer went to visit a few local attractions around Hobart, although in all honesty, there wasn't a whole to do there, and Jennifer hated the field trips with the slow people and screaming kids :-
Came saturday, the conference was over, so we went to Eaglehawk Neck for a couple more dives (boat dives this time), and after that went south to Port Arthur (you basically get to see the ruins of the convict port), we continued to the south most portion of the Island to see the remarkable cave, which wasn't all that remarkable but had nice coastline, and I then tried to get back in time for a sunset from Mt Wellington (almost made it, it was dusk).


Port Arthur
Port Arthur


I love this sign, the bridge is only wide enough for one car, you can't pass anyway
I love this sign, the bridge is only wide enough for one car, you can't pass anyway




View of Hobart from the top of Mt Wellington (4100ft)
View of Hobart from the top of Mt Wellington (4100ft)

Sunday, Jennifer was kind of suffering from a cold, so I went to Bonorong Park where she had been a couple of days earlier.


little wombat is so cute :)
little wombat is so cute :)




the small joeys that can't quite fit in the pocket are funny :)
the small joeys that can't quite fit in the pocket are funny :)

this bird does look like a log, amazing
this bird does look like a log, amazing


that evening we had our last dinner on the rotating restaurant at the top of our hotel
that evening we had our last dinner on the rotating restaurant at the top of our hotel

All in all Tasmania was interesting to drive around, the roads were nothing but straight (although it's usually more fun for me in a real car :) ), and the 100kph speed limit was actually fairly warranted for the nothing but straight roads we went through. We saw a lot of coastline and nature, although neither, quite frankly had anything on what we have on california, but they were nice nonetheless. The highlight for us was definitely the nature parks with local animals, which were quite good in the home of the Tasmanian Devil :)

See more images for Visiting Tasmania, Australia
2009/01/17 Air France Suckage
π 2009-01-17 00:00 in Public
I almost forgot to mention how Air France got us home about 3H late and with a piece of luggage delayed 8 days (!!!).
Long story short, all their planes left hours late that day because they only had half the staff necessary to check people in, and on top of that this is the 2nd time in a row that they can't get luggage to destination on a direct flight, although taking an extra 8 days to deliver a piece of luggage is unheard off...

Their repeated "performance" was really deplorable.

2009/01/16 Solar Panels
π 2009-01-16 00:00 in Public, Solar
Around the time the garage was finished enough, I looked into solar panels for the house, because
  • the electricity bill was getting a bit steep (between $200 and $300 per month), although we found part of that bill was due to a broken high amperage fan that was running 24/7.
  • electricity rates just went up, and are scheduled to go up even higher
  • the federal tax credit for going solar became unlimited on how much it covers, making panels effectively half price between the CA and federal rebates (the federal credit used to be fairly curtailled).
  • the tech, cool, and green factors of course did not hurt :)

Solar & PG&E 101

So, one would think that getting solar panels is not that hard: you call a company over, they measure your roof space, your design factor (i.e. which way the roof is pointing as well as its inclination vs the ground, something like 18 degrees in our case), and then you decide how many panels you can fit or how many you want to put to offset how much your power bill.
The first problem is a not so simple multi factor equation because you switch to a time of use electric meter where the time of the day changes which billing range you're in, and each range has 5 tiers, the more you use the more expensive your Kwh becomes.
Then, to make things fun, you can try to compute how much you end up paying by Kwh for your solar electricity by factoring in how much you paid for the system over 30 years, and currently that per Kwh price for baseline usage (i.e. the first tier) was around 13¢ for me, or more than what I pay from PG&E. However, all remaining tiers were more than solar. Then, you could say that PG&E prices go up and baseline price will go up beyond 13¢. This is entirely correct but you have to factor this against investing the money you'd have put in panels at 4% and see what's better off.
Oh, and if you decide to generate your baseline use too, you don't want to overproduce because if you do, PG&E will not give you a negative bill: over the course of a year you can only offset your bill, not make it negative.
The last kicker is that you don't have to produce as much as you use to have a $0 bill because when you produce in May-Sept between noon and 6 (or something like that), that electricity is worth several times a kWh you use at night or during the winter. I found that producing 8,000Kwh can offset a 12,000Kwh yearly use.

Fitting solar panels on limited usable roof space

Anyway, now that this is out of the way, our house made going solar a bit more challenging because our roof is very jagged and most of our roof is not getting good sun exposure: a lot of it is east, which is not that desirable, whereas our west facing roof (better because it gets sun in the afternoon when electricity is worth more), gets significant shading from the trees on the creek side of our property.
So, we're left with our garage roofs pointing south-south-east unshaded, and a few pieces of our roof pointing due south, and that made things interesting because we had to fit panels on limited roof space, part of which was triangular shaped, making rectangular panels harder to fit, especially the bigger ones.
After getting my quote from the first vendor, it became clear that we'd have to worry about price per Kwh as much as Kwh per square footage of roof used.

Picking Vendors

This turned out to be much harder than I thought because they had different panels with different efficiency and pricing, which just added more variables to the already multiple variable equation of what to get. Also, all vendors gave you production estimates for the year, and end pricing after rebates. However most did not give Kwh/year / dollar (i.e. how many dollars a Kwh every year cost you), and only one gave the square footage used by their panels, and the more important Khw/year / sqft (i.e a panel array that produce 23kWh/Y per sqft of roof space used). While I know that those are not perfect numbers, they were the most useful in my comparison.
I wondered why the different vendors don't provide that useful data, but then I also realized that the 4 tech sales reps I talked to all said "oh, I never had anyone ask me that, let me find out for you" on multiple occasions. So it looks like most people just look at their spreadsheets and pie charts, find them pretty and sign based on that, or maybe based on price without knowing if they're getting the proper technology, or an install on paper that will even fit in practise. Admittedly my install case was probably a bit harder than some, but I got quotes that just didn't produce enough to be interesting and where the salesperson didn't measure what was really possible, so didn't offer it, or a quote where quite frankly the panels didn't fit (I went on the roof and measured), or a quote with thin film where the numbers showing thin film degradation over time had a 3X difference between a spec sheet and the sales pamphlet (-0.5% per year vs -1.5% per year, which is a huge difference). I ended up picking between the four vendors that had been pre-screened by work, and I'll list them below in the least desirable to most desirable order:
  • Rec Solar was last for two reasons: the salesman is the only one who never even climbed on my roof to measure exactly what surfaces were usable. He just eyed them and gave me a quote on paper without actually knowing if they would fit, what the design factor was, or if we could put more panels. Yet, I was supposed to sign, and then they'd come and see what they could really do for me. Yeah, right... Anyway, they did offer interesting and efficient smaller sanyo panels, but they were totally overpriced.
    Oh, the best part: one of the quotes was badly done and quoted a likely incorrect kWh/Y figure, giving a ridiculously high $4.3 per kWh/Y
  • Akeena had a good, knowledgeable technical salesman, but their system was very overpriced and while it's nice for having panels that connect like legos, requiring fewer attach points and wires, my roof did not allow for that many panels to be strung together and put in a single place. Out of the two quotes I got, the prices were quite high, and the panel efficiency was fairly poor too for monocrystaline (supposedly better) by being beat by much cheaper polycrystaline panels (evergreen 210) from solarcity.
  • Solarcity (First Solar reseller) came as a close second. The salesman really did his best to fit his system on our roof, address my concerns and my questions, and they threw in free monitoring of both production and home use (usually another $2k), as well as price matching. They gave me 3 fairly different options (at my request).
  • Cobalt Power (Sunpower reseller) was the last option I got, based entirely on Sunpower panels. To their credit that was the only option they needed because their panels were quite good.
The major problem I had comparing the vendors is that they all give you predicted production numbers that they call conservative, but have nothing to back them up. In other words, if they promise you a system that could make 9000kWh, but due to a difficult or poor install, or an over optimistic design factor they end up producing much less, that's pretty much too bad. Most of them would not back up their production numbers with any guarantee whatsoever. In the end, I got Cobalt to back up 85% of the production they promised, but if you think about it, a production 15% lower than what was hoped for is pretty big (of course, it's hard to give a 100% number since it also depends on weather).

Cobalt Power ended up winning because they quite frankly had the best panels. Not only did they have the best efficiency (yearly power per sqft of roof space) which was a crucial factor for us, their panels were a bit smaller so they fit better in confined spaces, and they were also quite competitively priced and not much more expensive than Solarcity.
Solarcity could have worked, but I didn't trust thin film too much since no one else used it, its degradation over time was just unclear and I read conflicting information about it. As for their evergreen polycrystaline solution, it was actually decent, but was 30% less efficient per amount of space as sunpower panels, while not being that much cheaper, so it was hard to go with that, even though I really liked the Solarcity rep too.

So there we go, I signed up with Cobalt, knowing that it was the best bang for the buck for the most efficient solution that we could fit on the good portions of the roof.
At the end, I did agonize between 27 225W panels or 30 panels as I was slightly worried that 30 panels just might produce more than what we used (at which point they become a clear monetary loss). In the end, we agreed that as long as 27 panels brought me in baseline, erasing all of baseline just wasn't necessary since it's a best a wash, and more likely a small loss over investing the money you didn't spend.

Install starts in a few weeks, I'll report back then. In the meantime, below was a rather time consuming to gather and compute comparison table that should be useful to other folks. If you're looking at this yourself, I heartily recommend you consider Sunpower first (Cobalt Power distributor in the bay), you can Email Mark Byington markb(at)cobaltpower.com for more details on a home visit and quote.

.

company panelsqtypanel sizepanel ft^2total panel ft^2W STCshading factorkWh/Ynet cost ($)price/ kWh/YkWh / Y / ft^2comment

.

cobaltSPR 2302731.4" x 61.4"13.38361.2662100.868463274163.2395131749970523.4263411393456highest power density

.

cobaltSPR 2153031.4" x 61.4"13.38401.464500.848539258823.0310340789319621.2730443447932

.

cobaltSPR 2253031.4" x 61.4"13.38401.467500.848909276653.105286788640722.1948181365222

.

cobaltSPR 2252731.4" x 61.4"13.38361.2660750.858114262163.2309588365787522.4602779161822

.

.

solarcitysanyo 2003531.4" x 61.4"13.38468.370000.889006331603.6819897845880519.2312620115311

.

solarcityevergreen 2103437.5" x 65"16.92575.2871400.889047286963.1718801812755615.7262550410235

.

solarcityFS -2759523.6" x 47.2"7.75736.2571250.879196270322.9395389299695512.4903225806452first solar thin film, note 95 panels, and lowest power density

.

.

akeenaandale ST1752432.2" x 62.6"1433642000.865293219484.1466087285093515.7529761904762

.

akeenaandale ST1753232.2" x 62.6"1444856000.816354285354.4908718917217514.1830357142857

.

.

REC solarsanyo 1952835.2" x 51.9"12.69355.325460?5854252464.312606764605416.4752898795452quote bad, numbers don't even add up

.

REC solarsanyo 1952435.2" x 51.9"12.69304.564680?5643215893.8258018784334618.5283687943262
2009/01/12 Five Likes Heat
π 2009-01-12 00:00 in Cats
While 5 isn't always super smart, when it comes to locating heat, he's very good :)



2009/01/03 Dutch Family Gathering
π 2009-01-03 00:00 in Family
And last, but not least, the yearly Dutch gathering we went to was as always a great time to meet my nephews and the family in Holland.






2009/01/01 Francs New Years Lunch
π 2009-01-01 00:00 in Family
Like every year, we had a good New Year's lunch with les Francs. Unfortunately by then I couldn't eat much at all anymore, but it was still a good party as usual.





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