One of the cool things about the installation of the Powerwall last week is that we now have total energy monitoring. The solar by itself includes aggregate reporting about generation, but without matching it against actual usage, the overall story about how and when we use energy is not complete. At best, I have the electric bill that shows how much we pulled from the grid, and how much we put into it. That isn't that interesting at the macro view of a month.
So a little about what the installation changed. The Powerwall is just a big, 14kWh battery. You can use it in two ways: Either to back up the house when the power goes out, or to shift power generated during the day to power the house at night. If the difference between your generation and usage is the amount of the battery capacity, then the latter scenario makes sense. But we don't have the generation or storage capacity to cover it, so it doesn't make any difference if we net-meter our excess day power back into the grid and pull at night. Not only that, but in the case of power outages, you can't keep the lights on if the battery is just time shifting the power for you. I like to keep "exercising" it, so I let it discharge down to 90% during the day instead of keeping it topped off at all times.
The key ingredient here is that the ancillary battery hardware includes the gateway, which will disconnect the system from the grid in an outage. You don't automatically get that with a solar system, but you need it because during an outage, you don't want to be feeding power back into the grid and electrocute a line worker who doesn't expect power there. We also had to shuffle our loads around, because the whole house can't be powered off of the battery, which has a maximum output of 7 kWh. The house was wired with two 150a panels, plus one of the two heat pumps (no idea why it isn't both) feed directly from the main box. So inside, they grouped all of the big stuff, the oven, range, AC, car charger, water heater into one, and everything else, including the fridge into the other. The "other" is what gets backed up. It collectively uses around 300W for the most part, meaning it could last almost two days without sun. During the day, there will be so much excess power that I can invite a neighbor to plug in some fans or something. So yeah, we'll have no air conditioning in an extended outage, but the alcohol will be cold and we'll have ice forever.
The battery came online at a time when we're in the middle of crazy hot, dry weather. We normally top out at 92 during the middle of summer, and only briefly because of daily afternoon thunderstorms (it's even cooler on the coasts). For whatever reason, we're into the second straight week of hitting 100 with no rain in sight. We're in our worst-case scenario for energy usage. Just last month we only took about 350kWh from the grid (around fifty bucks). It'll be way higher now.
You can stare at the app all day to see how you're doing on an instantaneous basis:
Also revealing is the overall draw pattern on a particularly hot day:
There are all kinds of things you learn about this data:
We live in the future. Residential storage was not even practical a few years ago, and solar ROI used to take 20 years.
In my previous job, I was straddling the line again between hard core manager and software developer, and again I realized how hard that was. Following the "involuntary separation" of that gig, I felt like I had to make a choice about being deliberate to the next level. Someone from the investment firm that bought my current employer found me somehow, and encouraged me to apply, and eventually the rest became history.
I'm a year in now, and when I look at everything that I've done (because one takes inventory when writing a self-evaluation), I'm surprised at the volume of the work. I'm also a little frustrated with the number of mistakes, but I have to give myself a little grace there because this is the largest scope of people and process that I've been responsible for. In fact, that's the real challenge: I know what the right thing looks like, and I've been able to successfully apply it to smaller teams. Now I have to figure out how that works with what will be at least 35 people in my reporting line before the end of the year. That's almost three times my previous record of 12!
Hiring takes an extraordinary amount of time, and because the market favors the workforce, I find that I have to prioritize it even though it's dynamic in its demands. You can't control when people apply or can interview, but you can't move slowly because you might lose the unicorn that you're looking for. I'll close on six hires soon, plus the screening for my product peer, and I've looked at more than 500 resumes this year. While it feels like frenzied work, it's one of my favorite aspects of the job. I've got a pretty good track record of team building, able to see the gaps and match the skills and personalities to fill them. This is one area that isn't that different at this scale, though I suspect it would get harder toward the org size of 50 or 60.
The rest of the job got easier when I realized six months in that I couldn't realistically get in the weeds on everything the way I was used to. I had to delegate and hold accountable my direct reports, and it was like someone flipped a switch when I finally embraced that. I guess I always knew that's what scale required, but I stubbornly thought otherwise. Not only was that change in behavior more effective, but it also gave me a lot more time to look at the bigger strategic problems and give them time. Now I've got a blueprint about where the risks and opportunities are, and can spend time thinking about the tactics to move forward.
And that's why this is so exciting... because just the next year alone is full of really cool stuff that you can only do in a growing company at this stage. It's challenging, for sure, but in all of the right ways. I'm surrounded by excellent people, with a proven business model and a whole lot of potential. The technical challenges are becoming well defined and more of a function of time to solve than difficulty. It checks a lot of boxes, and I'm super excited about it.
Simon is officially done with third grade, in what has easily been the most difficult year of school for him, and us (and especially Diana). There was an unnecessary amount of suffering in no small part because of the ridiculous Florida Standards Assessment, or FSA, and his psycho principal that sees it as the most important thing in the world.
The good part is that his grades were A's for math, science and social studies, and a C for reading. His FSA score was a 3, which is the minimum to automatically be promoted to 4th grade (less requires a portfolio review and a lot of bureaucracy). He continues to be on an IEP (individual education plan) to help him with his social skills and issues related to ASD, ADHD and anxiety. He actually had the same teacher two years in a row, and she was amazing, though I wish he had a different set of classmates the second year as he never really found a niche.
As I said, this principal likes to brag about having the best test scores in the district, which she gets because frankly she mentally abuses the kids until they submit to a reality that they must do well or be held back in third grade. This is coupled with endless amounts of required teaching about how to take the tests, instead of teachers being able to teach real, useful things like more math and science. The kids are all tweaked out over it. That photo below? That's Diana trying to talk Simon off a cliff the night before the test. He was a mess. I was so fucking infuriated by this that it took every bit of my being not to call the principal and tell her to shove the test somewhere. I already knew of her tactic from two years previously, where they pressured the kids to pressure the parents to order Papa John's for a fundraiser, which of course Simon interpreted as required, and cried and thought he would get in trouble when we didn't. She blew me off on that concern, and frankly I haven't cared for her since.
Outside of the testing, Simon struggled a bit socially. Some of it was his misunderstanding of social contracts, certainly. If kids didn't laugh at his jokes, then he believed that they didn't like him. But as I said, he never really felt included in this class, and lacked a "BFF" like the one he had in first grade. It doesn't help that some of the boys in the neighborhood are, well, boys. This hasn't been a great year for his self-esteem. Extra tutoring and being taken out of class periodically for special education makes him feel different, too.
And with all of this adversity, maybe more of a share than he deserves, I struggle as a parent because I don't want to entirely shelter him from it. I don't want him to be one of those sad kids who graduates high school (and college) only to rely on us for the most fundamental things. (Seriously though, I keep encountering people in their early 20's who don't understand getting their own place, doing their laundry and getting and keeping a job. If he ends up that way, I will have failed completely as a parent.) But as much as I don't want him to grow up to be a co-dependent asshole, I do want him to have a happy childhood. Taking him to Disney isn't what does that... he has to feel supported, engaged and part of the scene.
Simon is such a smart kid, and a potentially brilliant mind for technical things. The expressive abilities are behind, but they're getting better. He actually is getting funnier, even if that's not the stick with which to measure his likability. Even tonight, I felt like I had a breakthrough with him, understanding him when he didn't entirely make sense to me. The specter of homework and high stakes testing are behind us for now. I think we can spend some time together now just doing kid stuff. And as for next year, well, "FSA" isn't even an acronym in his new principal's vocabulary. Also, his special ed help will be in-place, with the teacher coming to the classroom instead of pulling him out of it.
After two and a half long years, I finally got my "free" Powerwall to backup our power in the event of an outage. I say "free" because I didn't have to pay the $7,800 for the battery, just the installation, by way of the company's referral plan back when we bought the Model S almost four years ago. The program ended in December, 2016, so it actually took them that long to make good on this thing. It's signed by Elon Musk, Franz von Holzhausen (the car designer) and JB Straubel (the CTO).
Taking delivery of the Model S in August, 2015, was the first time since childhood that a shiny object with scientific significance completely blew me away. (That time in childhood was the first time I had a computer in the house, in case you were wondering.) Sitting in that car felt like being in a space ship, and I'm not exaggerating. Everything about the buying experience was amazing, and it resulted in driving this beautiful thing that moved my family around safely and without pollution. And I'm not even a car guy.
In early 2018, once we sold our previous house, we were next in line to order a Model 3, and I got some quotes for solar. Tesla price matched the best deal, and I wanted to go with them since I was entitled to the Powerwall reward. As they designed the system, they reached a point where they said the delay for the Powerwall would be a few months, and that time period got longer and longer as they basically stopped making them, since the cells inside are also used for the Model 3, which they were ramping up to produce. They set one poor expectation after another.
Concurrently, we ordered the Model 3. It slipped on delivery time more than once, but I tried to be OK with it. I was selling the S to my best friend's dad, who was fortunately flexible in the delivery timeframe. The person out of Vegas who did the scheduling was horribly rude when I asked them to fix their crappy CRM system, which to this day lists the alternate contact (Diana) on everything, including contracts, meaning everything ends up having to be done twice.
Taking delivery of the 3 was another big deal, but only because of the product. The enthusiasm in the store that we had from the staff for the S was long gone, and I felt like we were being rushed out. Similarly, when I had to take it in to replace the windshield, I couldn't help but feel like I was bothering everyone there. But whatever, it's still the greatest car ever made, to me. I love it.
Back to the energy business... Our solar system was installed on June 25, 2018, which also happened to be the day I started my new job. It took several extra weeks because getting the permits to me to sign was always someone else's failure, and the guy who set up the sale wasn't empowered to get it moving. But install day came, and everything looked solid and professional, but I had to wait for Duke Energy to put in a net meter. Here's where I learned for sure what I theorized in the back and forth about the Powerwall: No one at the company is in a position to make a decision and do anything. Duke finally put in the meter on July 12, put a tag on the door saying I was good to turn on the system, and so I did. Tesla was never going to get more of a notification than that, so they didn't even attempt to turn on the monitoring. I finally got a solid tech on the phone who took the serial numbers on the inverters to at least input the information into their system. It wasn't officially "on," but I could at least take the measurements on the inverters and see how much it was producing.
Except it wasn't. The daily totals were somewhere in the teens or low 20's, instead of the 40+kWh that are normal for July days. Something wasn't right. I called three times, and each time they were waiting for a notification to operate that would never come, even though I offered to send them photos of Duke's door tag, or even the meter itself. I finally got a support person with a little more of a clue, who got in touch with a field tech who was in the area on July 27. That guy came and found that the smaller inverter was not wired correctly, lacking a jumper on the inside to bridge the two channels that the inverter has. The very next day, production jumped to 41kWh. The tech showed me how the configuration worked while he was there. He also pointed out that my larger inverter, tied to my panels facing south, was only able to do 5kW, even though the panels can produce 6kW. I'll get back to that.
The next day, I was surprised to see mid-day that the larger part of the system, the 6kW (or 5 because of the inverter), was producing about as much as the 4kW segment, which faces more west, and that didn't seem right. Turns out there's a setting for parallel vs. independent, which depends on how the panels are wired in two strings, in this case. As mine are two identical strings facing the same way, it should have been parallel, but was instead set to independent. I could see the output immediately increase when I changed it.
More than a week would pass before they would turn on the monitoring, even though they quite literally had a guy touch the system to confirm it had the blessing of the utility. Why? Because no one at the company can make any decisions on anything, or call the right people.
The aforementioned under-provisioned inverter is a real sore spot though. It's not uncommon that I can walk up to the inverter, and see that it's pegged at 5,000W, even though the panels feeding it could be producing as much as 6,100W. While there are some minor curves in the efficiency of panels and inverters, I know that they can hit spec. The other, west facing panels, 13 capable of doing 305W each, have driven the 4.2kW second inverter to about 4,000W, which exceeds the 3,965W they're collectively rated for. That's super frustrating. My recourse at this point is to initiate arbitration, or take them to small claims court. I'm not excited about either action.
I finally have the Powerwall today, but of course, that already has an issue. They installed the monitoring equipment incorrectly, so it thinks that the energy that I'm pulling from the grid after sundown is going from the solar to the grid, when it should be from the grid into the house. Of course they can't get it right the first time.
I love the cars, I love the energy products, and I'm all-in for Elon's vision, but the people in between are running a shit show. I think the company desperately needs a COO or someone who can focus on customer experience. If we operated like this at work, I'm certain that our investors would have us all replaced. You can't treat customer interaction like an assembly line, where someone creates the order, another gets permits, another designs your system, another installs it, another supports it, and no one is accountable to each other, or the customer. That system doesn't work.
I imagine it's just growing pains, but the company's reputation is taking a beating online for this sort of thing. They've gotta turn it around.
After five years or so of home ownership in Central Florida, I finally decided to get a water softener/filter installed. The water here meets all of the standards that the EPA sets, certainly, but they generally rely on the Florida aquifer to get most of the gross stuff out. This does actually work, relative to the ground water you'd find in a lot of other places, but it tends to have enough hydrogen sulfide to smell funny (especially in the summer), and the mineral content is so serious that it leaves a film on everything.
When I first moved here, the water smell actually reminded me of the Royal Pacific Resort at Universal, specifically the shower. I never thought it was outright offensive or anything, but it was definitely an "Orlando smell." Then I noticed that any time we traveled, my skin would clear up. Then I noticed the film that tends to get on everything, in the shower and in sinks, and I ever saw it on the stainless steel water bowls the cats use. We've had filters in our refrigerators, but we still bathe in it and brush our teeth with it. Also, the toilets get moldy in like three days, and frankly combating it in the shower is difficult.
So I finally had enough. The system we got isn't high end, and we have to add pellets to it periodically, but it does flush itself out. It's about the least interesting thing you could ever spend money on, but like your bed, it's something you use every day.
And it'll be fun while the air bubbles get evacuated from our system the next day or two.
I don't write code for work anymore. At the scale where you have 30+ people reporting indirectly or directly to you, you really couldn't do it even if you wanted to. At the same time, if you're going to make decisions about engineering, you should know what you're talking about, and what your leaders bring to you. I know how important this is from being on the other side (with managers who absolutely did not understand anything about engineering), and it makes a huge difference. To that end, having a project where I can always be building something serves as both a tool to keep me rooted in some kind of vague legitimacy, and also be a hobby. I also find that education in software development is super critical to the advancement of the field, and I can't just talk about it.
After Node.js came out and a massive world of front-end web tooling and frameworks started growing out of control, there was a crazy amount of specialization that started to occur between front-end people and everyone else. The specialization annoys me, because it's harder to find developers who can build something end-to-end as a vertical piece of functionality. But I'm a little guilty of this myself. Even when I was doing the consulting work a few years ago, I generally didn't get beyond some recreational basics around whatever front-end tech we were using (and in my defense, it was an appropriate level of knowledge for the job). I still never felt good about it though, because I had all of these false starts on Angular and React. A year and a half ago I toyed with Vue.js, and I really liked it, but never followed through.
For me to learn something new, I need to apply it to something in a practical way. So I decided that I would convert the admin area of my forum app into a single-page app using Vue.js. It's around 20 forms of various kinds, with some of it more interesting than other parts, and no significant validation or guard rails, because it's so infrequently used. But whatever, I wanted to at least port it to use Vue, and so that's what I did.
I really enjoyed learning about Vue. I'm no Vue-master (see what I did there?), but I now feel pretty confident about how to use it going forward, in the very hybrid way that the forum will likely go eventually.
It's a relief that after 20 years at this, I can still learn new tricks.
I've seen a number of younger friends, former volleyball "kids" and just random people on the Internets express some excitement over reaching various milestone ages. I'm surprised when I see it for some reason. Maybe because I've celebrated big birthdays, but not celebrated the act of reaching an age, if that makes sense. Heck, I basically glossed over 40 because it happened just before we moved. But there is something glorious about getting older.
Growing up is a somewhat painful process, full of carnage, but it sure is fun when you level up. I've said before that it feels like you encounter a lot of change every four years or so, and for me that's been like a new graduation every so often. I'm in the midst of one of those right now, I think, understanding myself better in terms of what I'm capable of professionally and as a parent and spouse. I think a lot of it comes down to leaps in confidence, all while understanding you've got blind spots.
More than anything though, maybe not every year, but as time goes on you feel like you've got something to show for it. It's easy to get caught up in all of the things that you don't know, or wish you knew, but give yourself a little credit. You're better prepared for today than you would have been a few years ago. With age comes experience, and it's OK to lean into that.
Yes, joints crack in weird ways and things hurt for unknown reasons as you get older, but the world is a whole lot less a mystery than it was. That's why getting older isn't all bad.
I had an annual pass to Universal Orlando for a number of years while I lived in Cleveland. The first time, it was because the math was so favorable with the hotel discounts that it paid for itself with one trip. But then there was a period where I went two or three times a year. In fact, I started going in 2002, and literally everyone I've ever dated seriously or been married to traveled there with me. All of those times I stayed at the Royal Pacific Resort, on-property, and was a platinum member of whatever Loews' crappy loyalty program was. In fact, the quality of service seemed to get worse every year, but the in-park perk of having Express entry into everything was worth it.
After Diana and I got married in early 2009, and pregnant shortly thereafter, we wouldn't return until 2011, flying in from Seattle, with Simon. That was after the first wave of Harry Potter attractions opened, and it was quite a change. In the old days, we pretty much had a run of the place, and City Walk would be so non-busy that we could always land there for dinner. The wizard made our little secret more crowded, but to be fair, there were few new attractions in the prior decade.
When we moved to Orange County in July of 2013, I figured we'd have passes to all of the parks by default, but it didn't happen. We bought Disney passes the day after Simon and Diana arrived, and got a comp and discounted SeaWorld passes shortly thereafter (because I was working there as a contractor, and a coworker generously offered). But we didn't buy Universal passes, I guess in part because we lived so close to Walt Disney World. I also thought it wouldn't be as fun, not staying there. I mean, I had never even entered the parks from the parking garages at that point. In those six years, we had visited three times, always on comps from friends who worked there, and only one of those times included Simon.
This year, they offered an 18-month deal on the passes, and we caved just before the promotion ended at the start of April. Because we bought the highest level passes, which include Express after 4 (there was no way I'd not do that), they were almost as expensive as Disney, but with 50% more time, I figured we would give it a go.
Simon and I have been twice, and Diana came along for the first time last night. Simon is surprisingly interested in the thrill rides, and to my surprise he volunteered to ride Rip Ride Rockit and Dr. Doom's Fear Fall. He also digs the big Harry Potter rides in both parks. He's still about an inch and a half too short to ride Hulk, but to my surprise he's interested in it. It's all good news, that he seems into it.
My impression is a mixed bag. I remember thinking the first time I saw Islands of Adventure that they out-Disney'd Disney. The two Universal parks desperately needed something new, and Potter was a big score. In the general sense, I'm very much in awe of the themed achievement there. It's so incredibly well done, in every detail, from the paintings inside of Hogwarts to the bank lobby of Gringotts, and especially the outdoor areas. Even the utilitarian design of Kings Cross Station is amazing. The Potter rides are so well run, as well.
Everything else is so hit or miss. The operations can be glacial in some places. The food service is generally mediocre at best and the food itself kind of sucks. The restrooms are almost universally (see what I did there?) a disaster. In recent years, everything has become a screen, often in 3D. There is litter in the queues and you'll still find a lot of food stands closed in the evening (unless they sell alcohol). It's frustrating, because they're on the verge of being as good as Disney even with their goofy mashup of IP, but they just don't run the place quite as well.
The future is bright though. This Hagrid roller coaster looks like it will be amazing. Apparently they're putting in a roller coaster in Jurassic Park, which seems a little light on theme, but that's OK.
It's fun to visit Universal, even if it is a different vibe from my "younger days" without child.
I wasted a lot of money in my 20's buying crap. I always got that little dopamine hit when I'd come home from Best Buy with some CD's or movies. Sometimes I'd buy more expensive stuff, too, but I couldn't tell you what any of it was. (Except for the pair of speakers I still have in my living room after two decades... those were a good purchase.) The worst part of it is that I bought all of that crap on revolving debt, so I was paying interest as well. But I still remember the feeling, even if it was momentary.
I've been feeling that desire again lately, but generally have not acted on it. There are a lot of reasons for that. For one, I almost never go into retail stores for anything other than groceries. In a rare exception, I bought my current laptop over a year ago by going into a Best Buy, but haven't been in one since. Most stuff I buy online, which even through Amazon Prime does not have the immediacy or pleasure of buying in person. I also view money completely differently now, because I worked so hard to reverse my financial situation some years ago, and I'm behind in retirement. I rather buy an experience than more stuff, and our tenth anniversary New York trip is a perfect example of how great that ideology is. There are some big expensive things I'd like to buy, like a video camera or a pinball machine, but otherwise, there aren't many things I particularly lust after. Heck, I even struggle with all of the packaging to throw away when I have something new. I'm literally not set up to spend like I did in my 20's.
But what's missing that I'm getting the buying itch? I haven't been able to unpack that. I love my family and my job, and I derive meaning and purpose from those things. I have my share of stress certainly (maybe more than I should), but I'm trying hard to be deliberate about "me time" and such.
It might be that we've had some really uninteresting expenses. For example, we're finally going to get a water softener because we're tired of water stains in the bathrooms, the hydrogen sulfide smell, the toilets growing stuff every three days, etc. That's about as un-fun as buying something gets, but those big ticket items kind of eat into any "extra" cash.
I'm sure it's a passing feeling.
A guy that I work with, in the context of some evaluation of some technical thing being discussed, declared that, "Hope is not a strategy." The discussion was about some work resulting in some kind of outcome, and the other guy said that he hoped it would mitigate the problem. Indeed, having hope does not lead to something tangible.
I was thinking a lot about that this weekend. We all have difficult situations in our lives, and endure probably more suffering than any of us deserve. The really hard to deal with stuff is the stuff we can't control. For the things that do fall within our influence, we can get so beat down by the world that we relent and fall back on hope or faith. Neither of these things move the needle.
Life has been more challenging than I'd like in the last few years, and some of that is certainly self-inflicted pain. However, some of that pressure has been lifted by first separating the things I can and can't control, and with the former group, understanding that I can't hope my way out of those challenges. I consider this one of the empowering things in the toolbox required to keep your head up. Knowing that you have to act to improve something seems common sense enough, but pair that with other realizations (like, most problems are transient, you'll be dead soon and don't have time to waste on feeling bad, you know more than you did yesterday, people will probably be there to help, etc.), you can be confident that you'll figure things out.
Hoping for things to change will definitely not work. It's not a strategy for betterment of any kind.
Friday night, we went out to Animal Kingdom for the evening and met up with one of our Cleveland friends. I thought that we hadn't been in about three months, but I forgot about a passholder night at Epcot we went to for two hours in mid-March. Either way, the point was that we haven't been in the parks much this year. And if that weren't enough, we caved and bought Universal Orlando passes as well, because the 18-month deal that ended about a month ago was too good to pass up. A friend also gave us his yearly friends and family comps for the SeaWorld parks, which includes all of them including the Busch Gardens parks. We're up to our eyelids in theme park options.
Then on Saturday, we met up with some friends from Cleveland who were staying at the Port Orleans French Quarter hotel. We hung out at their pool with fruity beverages while Simon made a new friend and did the water slides and stuff. Unfortunately they closed the pool because of rain, but we invited the friends to our house because why not?
All of this fun, entertainment and friends is possible mostly just because of where we live. When I get wrapped up in the harder parts of life, or just don't stop enough to pay attention, I forget how awesome this arrangement is, and the perks around living here. We can generally do the stuff that most people come here to do on vacation, but year-round. And if that weren't fun enough, the "most people" that we know from all over the world tend to all visit here eventually. That's a pretty sweet deal just for living here.