Solar panel performance – 2010

It’s a bit rum writing a post about this so many months into 2011, but it is supposed to be an annual thing, after all!

Solar panel performance 2010

As the yearly data graph shows, despite feeling a little disappointing, last summer, or at least the year as a whole, provided more hot water through my solar evacuated tubes than any previous since the installation was put in.

3,999 kWh of heat is just ever so slightly frustrating. An extra hour of sunshine on Dec 31st and we might have had 4,000…

Nottingham Energy Partnership have an Energy Costs Comparison table. I neglected to look at it last year, so will have to use the data from last month now to estimate the financial value of the heat we got from the sun. At 4.40 pence per kWh, the value adds up to £175.96.

The running total to the end of 2010 is therefore £451.68.

There are all sorts of flawed assumptions being made to come to that figure, so take it with a fairly large pinch of salt.

But if you are considering a solar panel of your own, whether for hot water or to generate electricity, and you live vaguely near Nottingham, do please get in touch with Sungain at Nottingham Energy Partnership, who would be delighted to let you know what to do next. You can also follow them on Twitter, and they also have a very helpful service on their website that lets you compare your electricity and gas tariffs and see if you can save money.

Buckets more information about my own solar panel under this link.

And a declaration of interest: I’m on the board at Nottingham Energy Partnership, where they very kindly describe me as an “energy expert.”

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“What’s a permalink?”

Earlier today I tweeted at CllrKemp that he needed to learn about permalinks.

That’s because whenever he tweets about a new blog post (which by the way, is always worth reading), he uses the base address of his website – http://richardkemp.wordpress.com/

The problem with doing this is that if you come across the tweet a couple of days later, the tweet will be pointing at the most recent blog post. It may no longer have anything to do with the rest of the tweet.

Every blog post you create has a permanent address that refers to only one post. So today’s post by Richard Kemp about new councillors has a “permalink” that is http://richardkemp.wordpress.com/2011/05/11/some-advice-to-new-councillors/

Now the clear problem with that is that it is too long and won’t fit in a tweet. But any time you use that you can be sure it will point at exactly the right content, whilst the base address of the blog will just point at the most recent content.

The way most people square the circle is to use URL shorteners. I use bit.ly – it converts the long url above to http://bit.ly/mwe8Uh – again, we’re back to something short enough to fit into a tweet.

The other advantage of bit.ly is that with a simple twist, you can also satisfy your urge for metrics. If you add a + to the end – ie http://bit.ly/mwe8Uh+ – you get a page that tells you how many of your readers actually clicked on the link.

Eek! They’re switching off BBC2 in just over a month

This post on Wartime Housewife prompted me to visit Digital UK again to find out what is happening in our area.

I was dimly aware something was up. I have spoken to Digital UK at Lib Dem conference in the past, and know that they are rolling out the digital switchover, and the end of free-to-air analogue television, in stages, across the UK. The first few regions have already completed the change. I know that the East Mids was soon.

I’ve also had something pink and scary through the post that explains very briefly what is going on.

But I hadn’t really appreciated till now quite how soon it will be.

Plugging my postcode into the website gives me the information that they are switching off BBC2 analogue in just over a month, on 30th March. All remaining analogue stations will go a few weeks after that, on 13th April.

For people living in Notts: if you are currently using a digital TV receiver, for example a set-top box, you will need to retune it on both of those dates.

If you are currently receiving your TV through your aerial and don’t have a digibox, you will lose BBC2 in just over a month and will lose all TV on the second date. Time to make the switch! If you have cable (Virgin) or satellite (Sky) TV you are not affected.

Back again II

This blog has now moved host and is hopefully with a more attentive provider who knows more about how WordPress works.

In doing so, we identified a 300 MB error log that the previous host hadn’t mentioned I should look at. Unfortunately a log of that size is simply very difficult to open, so the only thing we’ve done with it is delete it. If it starts to get large again we’ll have a look to see whether it’s anything important.

I’ve been very impressed at how easy it was to transfer hosts, once I’d divulged my cPanel login details to my new host. There was a “copy everything” tool that works on two website backends running cPanel, and one cPanel can switch everything automatically behind the scenes from one host to the next with just a single script running in the background. Then DNS needed restarting, and voila, the site is moved.

Since we’re now relocated, I have turned everything back on, so the automatic reposting of things I write for libdemvoice.org (should there be anything; at the moment I am allocating my time to uploading other people’s posts and struggling a little to write about politics) and my daily tweet post should keep things ticking over when I’m I’m too busy and disorganised to post.

It is controversial and I know not everyone likes it. However, I have had comments – mostly in person – from people who are not on twitter and like keeping up with my twitter witterings. It does strike me that those that like it least are the ones that have an opportunity to read them already because they are twitter members.

I’ve been looking for a plugin that allows readers to select which version of the site they like – sans, or avec tweets. I have found plugins that automatically exclude entire categories based on the host’s settings, but nothing that allows the readers to make their own choice, or set up a feed for one or the other.

Unless you know different, as they say?

Martin Tod and the QR Code of Doom

When Martin Tod got excited about QR codes a couple of years ago, I got excited too. It looks like an interesting technology that has got to have some fun application that I can do something with ((Newspaper Club is in this category too, but so far, nada))

Martin was initially sceptical that QR codes would ever take off but commenters on his blog attempted to argue him round.

Later, in the general election, Tod produced some posters with a Twitter reference and a QR code in the corner. If I recall rightly, this was more of an in-joke for cognoscenti rather than a large scale production process, and I doubt more than a dozen or so were actually made or displayed. I’m pretty sure far more people will have seen photographs of the posters on the internet than actually saw the posters.

Yet this sorry joke somehow made a Top 10 list of advertisers using QR Codes.

Reading through the list of ten, remembering these are the top ten, all of them seem portrayed as monumental disappointments and missed opportunities for the advertisers who used them. Appearing on ads below ground. Appearing too briefly on TV slots for anyone to scan them. Misunderstanding that any barcode app can read them, not just the Debenhams iPhone tie-in.

Doesn’t that disappointment just vindicate Martin’s original contention that QR codes are never actually going to take off?

It is still a shame, and I’d love to be able to do something funky with them… how about giant posters for Lib Dem Voice at Lib Dem conference…?

My new phone

So, a few months ago, I wittered endlessly on about needing to replace my phone, laptop and e-reader. I eventually did all those things and am now revelling in a nest of technology. Some of the things I wrote about, but I haven’t said anything about my phone.

After a bit of agonising over whether my first non-Nokia phone in over a decade would be an iPhone or an Android model, I plumped for an HTC Desire, and I am thoroughly enjoying the phone.

Indeed as someone who (eventually) woke up on New Year’s Day, I now totes consider myself vindicated.

Although, having said that, the alarm is one of the many things that have taken some getting used to. The HTC doesn’t appear to turn itself on to ring the alarm, so my old bed time routine of setting the alarm, turning the phone off and plugging it in, for it wake and sound the alarm in the morning has taken some changing.

Now I leave the phone on overnight, albeit plugged in, and I use Locale to realise that it’s night time and turn the sound off, only to turn it back on again just before the alarm is due to sound. This approach is not perfect, as it means I miss late night calls and texts (mostly from Helen Duffett). I could do with an app that lets me tell the phone to silent from now and for the next X hours. Or indeed, I could return to a phone that turns itself on to sound the alarm.

Starting to use the phone was initially a bit of a pain, but got better. In fact, having now used an iPod Touch and an Android phone, I’d characterise the key difference as follows: if you like it to just work, get an iPhone. If you don’t mind – or positively enjoy – tinkering with it a bit to get it just right, then get something Android based. I eventually got the phone’s 7 screens set up something vaguely useful with all the various apps I use. From far left to extreme right they are:

  • RTM to do list app (not ideal – could do with filling the screen)
  • Full calendar in month view
  • Agenda (the next few calendar entries in list form)
  • (main home) Clock, small agenda, and 4 key icons: camera, gmail, Opera Mini, Foursquare
  • SMS app
  • Battery bar, settings button and Mail button for my Council email app
  • Few more random icons for a few things I use more often

Getting stuff into the phone in the first place had been a bit of a worry. I always used to use Goosync to keep a cloud-based offsite backup of my Nokia as part of my disaster-recovery plan. This meant that behind the scenes, and almost unused by me, Google had my calendar and contacts backed up. As soon as I told the phone the details of my Google Account it started fetching my stuff out of Google and adding it to my phone without me having to do much about it. So thousands of contacts and hundreds of calendar entries are now sitting somewhere in the phone’s memory and bubble up to the surface as and when required.

As I’m with Orange (and have been since 1999 – which is now just about paying dividends in line rental percentage discounts) the phone was pre-loaded with awful Orange apps that are all about making Orange money. It tries to send you to Orange’s own app store and festering pot of expensive ringtones, but eventually I discovered the actual Android Market and installed some apps of my own choosing.

A shout for some of my favourites:

  • Angry Birds. Fun game that everyone is playing.
  • Fix My Street – report broken stuff to your local council
  • Locale – make the phone do stuff automatically based on where it is, like turn silent at work
  • Our Groceries – lovely, free shopping list app than can be shared by more than one smartphone user to have joint shopping lists.

Suspensions and Twitter Tools

My website has been unreliable for the last year or so.

I host using Dataflame on a shared server. Since this is a small website, as websites go, I share a server with a few other sites. If the software running this site gets out of control, my host steps in and shuts it down, so that the overactive services on my site don’t make the other websites slow down.

Dataflame’s rather unhelpful suggestions have been to update my software (I try and keep my plugins and wordpress installation uptodate anyway) and to optimise my database tables. Logging into the database tool shows there is a tiny potential for optimisation, but I’m sure that can’t have been the cause of the suspension.

So something else seems to be amiss with my website set up. I think the culprit is the Twitter Tools plugin which makes a daily post based on what I tweeted that day. However, sometimes it goes wild and repeatedly posts the same post. Just look back and the New Year’s Day post is there five times.

Twitter Tools do have an online support system, so I have asked them if they have any ideas why I get multiple posts and whether it’s Twitter Tools that’s being a system resource hog.

Meanwhile, if anyone has any suggestions – or if there’s an alternative plugin to do a daily twitter round-up – do let me know.

In the meantime, I think I will set the plugin to run weekly not daily and see if that makes a difference.