Saturday, January 18, 2014

LED Light Bulbs

Recently, I've overcome a bout of laziness and finally got around to replacing light bulbs that had burned out around the house since I first moved in.  I decided to be more energy efficient and spent the extra money on LED lighting, and figured I'd share my research.

If you're not aware, LED lights are the newest type of light bulb available on the market, sitting alongside incandescent (the old style light bulbs that everyone is familiar with) and CFL (compact fluorescent lamp, which are the tube-based ones that have been getting more popular in recent years).  LED lights do have many advantages over the traditional light bulbs; however, as with any new technologies, there are a few considerations that you need to make before deciding to implement LEDs in your home.

First (and foremost!), the entry cost into LED may be difficult to justify.  Incandescent light bulbs are easily found for under $1 each, and even CFL are generally available for around $2 each -- but LED lights still aren't readily available at retail stores, and are significantly more expensive (you may find some under $10, but most are between $10-$20, with some going as high as $60!).  With that kind of price difference, it makes sense to do some cost comparisons.

The chart below shows the features that most people will use in the cost comparison -- the amount of energy they take to produce light, and the expected life of the bulb itself:

380-460 lumens
750-850 lumens
1100-1300 lumens
1700-1800 lumens
Bulb life
750 hr – 2,500 hr
10,000 hr
– 50,000 hr

Generally speaking, although the energy use is reduced, the real economical value of the LED over the CFL is the bulb life, at 2-5 times greater – but even then, breaking even financially compared to a CFL bulb is not a guarantee (though it is pretty easy to see that you’ll break even over the traditional incandescent bulb fairly quickly).

The second issue with LED light is fitting into fixtures made for traditional light sources.  Because LEDs are directional, they may not fit well in some of your existing fixtures – especially fixtures that have a base-down configuration.  If the lights  are pointing up, they’ll be distributing the light upward.  That can make the light inconsistent where you typically need it.  Look at the picture from my bathroom below – the light fixture on the left has an LED light in it, and the fixture on the right a standard incandescent.  You can see that there is no light in the bottom of the fixture with the LED – the room still gets filled with light as it bounces off walls, but it is definitely noticeable that you don’t have direct light where you might expect in a bathroom – at the sink and eye level.  Similarly, in base-sideways light fixtures on my bedroom ceilings, the light seems too concentrated at the top of the room.  Light distribution is something that LED bulb manufacturers are focusing on now, and I expect this will be less of a concern in the near future.

There are also some problems related to the base-up configuration of fixtures (though from a light distribution perspective, this is really the best configuration for LED).  The technology for LED bulbs is significantly different from the traditional incandescent and CFL bulbs.  Because the circuits for powering the lights are more centrally located, that area can get very hot.  All LED bulbs have heat sinks to help dissipate the heat from that area, but if the base is up and the fixture is closed, it may be holding all the heat at the point of dissipation.  While the lower energy requirements of the LED bulbs make this less of a safety concern, many manufacturer warnings indicate that base-up configurations may affect the longevity of the bulb, and recommend not putting them into recessed fixtures for that reason.
If those issues aren’t as much of a concern, there are still several benefits that you can get from LED bulbs.  Unlike CFLs, they are very close to instant-on.  There is no warm-up time to get to maximum performance, and no need to keep it on for an extended period of time to extend its life (Energy Star recommends that you keep CFL bulbs on for at least 15 minutes to extend the life of the bulb).  Finally, since the LED bulbs do not illuminate in the infrared or ultraviolet spectrums, some insects may be less attracted to LED bulbs than their warmer alternatives (while studies have shown that you will still get some insects that are drawn to the heat and blue light, others will pass for warmer light and more ultraviolet).

With all of this information, I decided to replace all my flood lights and ceiling fan lights (taking advantage of the efficiency of directional light) and lights without fixtures (such as those in my garage) with LED equivalents.  For lights that will be on for longer periods of time and have base-down fixtures, I’ve stuck with CFL bulbs for the time being.

For my bathrooms, I’m still using incandescent lights.  The major consideration that favors incandescent lights in this situation is the color rendering index (CRI).  This is a rating that gauges how well color appears – a scale of 1-100, where 100 is basically how things look in daylight.  Because incandescent bulbs can emit the full spectrum of light, they can achieve a perfect score.  CFL bulbs max out around 80 CRI, and most LEDs are between 75-80 CRI.  While still decent, I am more intrigued by newer LED bulbs that are just coming to market with a CRI over 90 – which should be even better at rendering accurate colors where you may need it most.  In the meantime, I can justify the extra inefficiency of the incandescent bulbs by believing that they’re keeping the chill off as I exit the shower.

And that seems like the ideal image to leave with you.   

Monday, May 20, 2013

Blackberry Z10 thoughts

Update on the new Blackberry, now that I've had it for a little more than a week:

Overall, I like the phone.  My experience with the Playbook helped me get past some of the learning curve that people express concerns with, so that hasn't been a bother, though they could definitely clean some things up.

Things I don't like:
1.  Blackberry Maps is definitely not as good as Google Maps.  I initially had some issues with getting the voice navigation to work, but it did eventually become more consistent.  However, the initial directions are pretty much non-existent.  The compass is poor, so it is difficult to tell where you even need to go to start the journey.  As this is one of my most-used apps on my personal phone, it is disheartening.

2.  Only one alarm can be set, isn't very loud.  Even at max volume in my pocket, I didn't hear it.  That's not good, since I use my phone as my alarm when I'm on the road.  Extra alarms help me prepare for things like demos without having to set over my general alarm.  That stinks.

3.  Common tasks aren't streamlined -- in order to put your phone in airplane mode, for instance, you have to pull down a menu to open settings, then open network settings, then swipe airplane mode on or off.  It should just be in that initial settings window, with the bluetooth and wifi settings.  I can't seem to get the gesture to open the Hub to work correctly, and the Hub itself doesn't open where I would prefer it to (it goes to the last opened Hub app).

4.  App support:  Missing Trip-It, Amazon shopping, Amazon Cloud Player, Google+, Google Maps, Google Voice, and probably more that I just haven't wanted to use yet.  Plus, most apps have an additional charge -- apps that cost $0.99 in the Android ecosystems are mysteriously $3.99 in Blackberry World.  And some of them (like eBay and YouTube) are third-party apps, which leads me to trust them less (and I figure they'll always be a few updates behind).  I assume some of it will be fixed, but it's just a little frustrating for right now.  I know that many apps will work sideloaded as an Android app, and I'm finding that the mobile web pages are generally good enough -- but I'd still like some native apps to support the gestures that Blackberry has to offer.

5.  Battery life:  Granted, I've been using it fairly heavily, but the first full day, I used up 80% in 6 hours.  That included about an hour of talk time, 30 minutes of GPS use, and maybe 1-2 hours of data browsing on the 4g network, with synch for Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and 4 email addresses turned on.  When I got the 20% warning, I pretty much stopped using it, and it stayed on until I plugged it in to charge overnight (5 hours later), but I was disappointed that under heavy use, it wouldn't really get me through a full day.  My typical day isn't quite as taxing, though I do tend to use it heavily for data browsing over lunch/dinner, GPS when I'm traveling, and a few phone calls.  There is no extended battery available yet (though there is a charging case, which I guess is the more popular alternative now).  Through the first week, the battery life did actually get better, but I still need to keep a battery charger handy for times that I use it heavily.

6.  Zooming doesn't change the wordwrap -- on a web page in Android (and I assume iOS), the word wrap will adjust for zooming.  Not so on the Blackberry -- prepare to scoll left and right as well as up and down.

And the things I like:

1.  The hardware itself is nice, from the rubberized back that feels secure in your hand, to the high resolution screen, to the balanced weight, it really looks and feels like a high quality device.  Plus, when using a headset, the button on the headset mutes the line instead of hangs up on the call.  That is much better use of the button -- I hate having to turn the screen on to mute/unmute.  Double-pressing the button still hangs up or calls the last call, so that functionality is still available, too.

2.  The keyboard is amazing.  It doesn't use the swipe technology, but rather as you're typing, it predicts what words you're going for by the next letter in the word, and then you flick the word up.  The words show above the next letter, so there are several options for you to choose.  It makes typing much quicker and more accurate -- I never used the word prediction capabilities in Android because it was clumsy to do so, but I use it all the time on the Blackberry, since they made it simple.  Autocorrect problems should be a thing of the past.

3.  Blackberry Hub -- it integrates all messaging, social, and notifications in one frame on the left that is accessible from just about anywhere.  It's not quite perfect, but it gives you much easier access to the things that you use your phone for the most.  It's like Apple's message center, except I actually use it.

4.  Some apps are better -- Yahoo! mail works with the built-in mail client, no extra client needed.  LinkedIn access is actually as useful as it is on the web -- I can get at stories, contacts, and updates much easier than I could on the Android version.    They have a free travel app (Blackberry Travel) that I'm testing out now to see if it can replace TripIt (and that integrates with LinkedIn).  Even the Reddit app (Reddit In Motion) works like a champ.

5.  The camera -- I know that the new Samsungs have a similar ability now, but the camera can be set to take several pictures in a row and give you some options for faces.  A coming update will give HDR capability for those times when you want a picture with uneven lighting, too.  I assume there will be a panorama update, as well (looking forward to a panorama of my gaming shelves).  Best of all, you can use the hardware buttons (volume/mute) to take the picture, so you have some extra stability vs. having to press on the screen.

6.  Balance is sensational.  It clearly divides your work and personal experiences, and lets you maintain all the security settings that you need for work while leaving you with the convenience of personal use. Unlike other containerization products (like Divide), it is seemlessly integrated, with no real impact on the performance of the phone.  It was also easier to set up than other corporate mail programs, and gives access to the corporate intranet in the work space.  There are different gateway addresses for the work and personal sides of the balance, so you can feel confident that your personal surfing isn't being logged at corporate, as well.  It just generally has a good feel to it.  And you can access both sides simultaneously -- once you've unlocked the work side, apps opened in it stay available to you while you work on the personal side -- but continue going through the BIS server.  Your calendar is combined, and blocks off the time from both the personal and work side -- with the work side descriptions showing only when work is unlocked.  Text messages show on the personal side, too -- which gives the ability to check them quickly without having to enter a password.  Very convenient, and something I really missed on the Android.

There are still many things that I am looking forward to playing with -- I've taken a few screenshots, but haven't shared my screen yet.  I've struggled a little with attachments and voicemail (it downloads them as a file, for some reason).  I haven't been able to merge contacts yet, and it still doesn't let me respond to calendar entries.  All quibbles that should be fixed with an early update, and which make me excited to be an early adopter for the platform.  For work, I don't think there is a better solution.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Problem with Online Advertising

I started writing something up to post on Google+, but it ended up getting a little long winded.  I hadn't closed down this account yet, so I figured I'd post here.  As a result, I may just leave it up for a while longer, though I do not anticipate a regular delivery of content any more -- just random postings, in cases like this, where it would be too long to read in a social media post, but I still felt like sharing something.

Alright, so I began to get rather annoyed with a "First World Problem" last night that I think is going to need to be addressed in the near future:  web videos supported by video ads.

The problem is three-fold:

1.  There is not enough variety in the ads
I recently found a web series that I enjoyed, which had already produced 4 seasons.  I started to go back through the older shows in the series to catch up -- but there was an un-skippable ad for each of the 90+ episodes -- AND IT WAS THE SAME AD IN EACH EPISODE!  After watching about 10 of the shows, I decided it wasn't worth it.  I even started to resent the advertisement, which gave a bad impression of the advertiser, even though I realize without their support the show wouldn't be made.

2.  The video ads are too long
In that same web series, I might have kept going if the ad in question was only 15 seconds.  But it was 30 seconds, and most of the shows in the web series were between one and two minutes.  That's too much investment in watching the same ad over and over compared to the content I was trying to consume.  In Internet time, if I'm bored before I consume the data, I'm much more likely to move on, missing the content I was looking and skipping the commercial.

3.  Bandwidth restrictions are coming
I believe we're close to paying for the amount of data we consume instead of having it bundled (or at least buying it in batches).  At that point, people will be even less inclined to sit through video content that will eat through their limits more quickly.  Perhaps the same will even happen with images, and more people loading ad blocking software to keep that content from being downloaded, as well.

So what can be done so that content creators can still get support from a sponsor to create, and the sponsors can still receive a benefit from their sponsorship?  I've got a couple ideas...

People like episodic content, so break the commercials up into episodes.  Serve up the episodes in order, based on your session (so start over if a new session is created).  I'm much more inclined to sit through a 10 second ad than a 30 second ad, and I'm more inclined to stay on that tab and actually pay attention to it if it's new and builds off the previous commercial.  This is especially important if you're the only advertiser.  This addresses the first two issues, though the third may still be a concern moving forward.

Perhaps instead, the creators and sponsors need to look at Internet marketing more like celebrity marketing.  Instead of paying to put an ad on top of the content they've created, the sponsors should be paying the creators to be a spokesperson for their company.  They could put a commercial on the page, but limit it to once a session, and maybe not even on the first view.  Or it could be clickable.  Apart from that, the content creators could be called on to do commericals or appearances for the sponsor, or wear their clothes or logos, etc, much like a sports figure or entertainer.  Of course, these ads would need a place to be broadcast, so it couldn't be a universal solution (as Internet fame doesn't always translate into media recognition, so the Internet would be a more powerful place for those commercials to be broadcast).  In this case, the sponsor may be feeling like they aren't getting their value, or wouldn't be able to pay as much, but at least the ads would be less intrusive.

I don't just feels like there should be a better way to keep the sponsors, creators, and consumers all happy.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Day at the Ballpark

After getting off the train in Seattle and getting settled into my hotel (which was a bit of a hike, and it seemed all up very steep hills in both directions), I made my way to Safeco Field to watch a game between the Mariners of Seattle and the Rangers of Texas.

Safeco is a very nice field, with an interesting retracting roof that all comes from one direction (and hangs over the railroad tracks when it is opened.  When it opens, as it did just before the game, it even has a bit of a railroad feel, with giant cogs that pushed it along.  It also is right next door to Century Link Field (home of the Seahawks), sharing parking and the great location near the water.  Of course, that makes parking a bit less convenient, but that didn't matter much since I took the train and walked, anyway.

Inside, there were many options for unique foods, but I ended up just trying the chicken tenders, since that is what most of the people in our section seemed to be getting.  There was also a fish fry, sushi (selling the Ichiroll, while Ichiro still played for them; not sure if they still sell it now), and the expected array of sausages and other stadium fair.  It also happened to be Ichiro T-Shirt night, so we had a nice XL T-shirt to sit on for extra padding.

As for the game, the Mariners won in a bit of a blowout, even though I was expecting a pitchers duel, Yu Darvish vs. Felix Hernandez.  Hernandez ended up with 12 Ks in a complete game shutout.  I was rather surprised that they kept him out there the whole game, since they won 7-0, but it was probably a good choice for the fans.  Their fun chant was every time Hernanez had two strikes on someone, they would chant, "K, K, K, K" until the pitch was delivered.

A very fun time was had at the game, and I would go again.  I will probably not make another game until football season, though, when I'm hoping to get tickets to the Packers -- Seahawks Monday night game in September.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

On the Amtrak Cascade

My train arrives over the bridge
On Saturday, July 15, I took the train from Vancouver up to Seattle for a Mariners game (vs. The Texas Rangers).  A co-worker of mine from my last job recently moved to Seattle, and we thought this would be a good opportunity to catch up and share notes about life in the Pacific Northwest.  It was also a good excuse to take the train!

I was excited taking the train. It is about a 3-hour trip, and let's me off very near the stadium.  The Cascade Line train even has WiFi for internet connectivity during the trip (although I did find that coverage was quite spotty, and slow when you were able to get connected.  They disable all video streaming, and limit any downloads to 5mb to help with the service).  It was a little disappointing, but at least it gave me more reason to look up from my tablet and enjoy the scenery. 

I was in a coach car, which actually wasn't bad.  I even got a seat with a table, since there were so few others getting on the train at Vancouver.  The seats were comfortable leather, and had a fair amount of recline.  It was a little warm on the train, and they didn't have any fans to help with air movement, but that was the only comfort complaint I had.  The scenery was what I expected -- a lot of trees, occasional water, and many views of the freeway (since I was on the eastern side of the train).  It was nice that they had a map displayed to show your progress, as well.

The food selection was okay in the food car, but it was expensive, and the hot selections were microwaved. I would definitely recommend bringing your own food to save on the expense and avoid the temptation of getting their cold hamburger (which I ordered before I realized they just popped it in, bun and all, into the microwave).

The reverse trip on Sunday morning was a bit less flexible.  Because the train originated from Seattle, there was assigned seating within the cabins (all the Vancouver passengers were put in the same car).  I was assigned a window seat at the end of the car, so the recline didn't feel nearly as comfortable (though I have no reason to believe that it didn't recline the same amount).  I definitely preferred the table seats, and would ask for one on a future trip if I was traveling with someone.  The station in Seattle was also under construction, so it was a bit more difficult than it would normally be to get into and out of the station.

That said, it was an enjoyable train ride, and I will be doing it again.  Next stop, a Vancouver-to-Vancouver trip up into Canada to test out my Enhanced Drivers License!

Vancouver, WA Amtrak Station

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Cinetopia First Impressions

With my sister coming to town for the 4th of July, I wanted to make sure to tailor their visit to the things that they would find interesting. Among other things, we crammed in visits to Powell's City of Books, Jeld-Wen Field for a Timbers game, and Voodoo Doughnuts into their brief visit (all things that I had done before, so I somewhat knew what to expect). My sister and her husband are also cinema buffs -- so from everything I had heard, I felt the need to take them to Cinetopia, a Vancouver original.

For those not familiar, Cinetopia is a small chain of three movie theaters, 2 in Vancouver, one in Beaverton. They feature very comfortable seating, all-digital high definition DLP projectors, and even a living room experience (complete with ottoman and restaurant services from your seat). At the theater we went to (the Mill Plain 8), the restaurant was named Vinetopia, and had a large selection of wines available for tasting, one ounce at a time.

I cheated a little bit and went to a movie in the grand auditorium with a 50' screens beforehand, to get a feel for the movie experience. This was a pleasant experience, although the movie itself left a bit to be desired (I'm not a Family Guy fan, but though I'd give Ted a try, anyway). The seats were comfortable, had an ample recline, the picture was large, and the most crisp I've ever seen. I even got popcorn and used their butter bar, which gave several non-standard options for your butter toppings.  They had some other selections that you don't normally see at a theater, like baked goods, at the concession stand, as well.

With my sister, however, we chose the living room experience. With this, you are able to order food up to 10 minutes before the show begins. You're given a tray for your armrest with your food, and a comfortable ottoman to raise your legs. You still have the comfortable seats, and the digital projection, so the quality was just as good. It was a little early in the day to enjoy the full wine-tasting experience, though my sister did take advantage of ordering a wine in the theater.

Pricing between the two options were rather competitive.  The evening showing and the matinee in the living room theaters were both only $11.50.  Compared to the other local cinemas, it's only $1 more for the normal showing (and about $3 more for the living room theater showing).  But, as the ad in the theater proclaims, "Why watch a movie in coach, when you can watch it in first class?"

All in all, it was quite enjoyable, and I look forward to future visits to Cinetopia -- though my next experience may be at their Vancouver Mall location, which has 80 foot screens, and at least one theater equipped with the new Dolby Atmos sound system (which makes it one of only 14 theaters in the US with this technology).

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Vancouver First Friday Game Night - July 2012

Through boardgamegeek, I found a gaming group that gets together on the first Friday of each month at a grange hall less than a mile from my house!  Even better, because of the holiday earlier in the week, they were having a potluck dinner beforehand.  Usually, they start around 7pm, and game until everyone gets tired -- but because of the addition of dinner, the festivities started at 6pm.

A little after 6pm (thanks to work), I grabbed some animal crackers, Tootsie Roll Pops, and a few games (Citadels, Bohnanza, and Elder Sign), and headed out.  I was really surprised by how close it was -- if I had a good way of transporting my games with me (or knew that I wasn't going to need any), I'd take my bike.

Once I arrived at the grange hall, I wasn't really sure where I needed to go.  Both of the obvious doors were locked...but the event was being held in the basement, so I just needed to go around the side.  Fortunately, the organizer just happened to be heading outside as I walked around the building, so I didn't have to explore too much before finding the entrance.

Inside, the grange was a very nice venue.  There was plenty of space for tables and a large kitchen for whatever purposes you needed.  They also give you the use of two refrigerators, if needed.  I'd guess that there was room for 100 people in the basement, easily, though I didn't see any signs indicating the maximum occupancy.  As it was, I think there were only 7 people in attendance when I showed (not counting myself).  The organizer was busy in the kitchen, and the other 7 were playing Hex Hex and really seemed to be having a good time.  They allowed me to interrupt their game to introduce myself and get introductions, and really seemed like a welcoming bunch.

When they finished, we ate -- they had hot dogs, nachos, lasagna, several types of chips, and fresh fruits.  There was plenty for everyone, and then we got down to business.

We separated into two tables, since we were then up to 8 players.  I was at the table playing Last Will, a fun Brewster's Millions type of game where you try to spend all your money as quickly as you can, and end with no possessions.  I didn't quite get it early on, and completely wasted my first few turns, but caught on in turn 4, and wasn't out of contention quite yet.  I finished third, 2 points away from the leaders.

Next, we consolidated to play Incan Gold, a press-your-luck type of game.  The person who brought it had replaced the Adventure/Leave cards with tokens, which I think added a lot to the game.  As is par for the course, I pressed my luck a little too much after getting a 17 card to myself, and ended up in dead last -- but could have won if greed hadn't gotten the best of me.

Afterward, we socialized for a bit, and got to know each other while weaving in discussions about the next game.  Another person showed, and they started setting up a game on the second table (I believe it was Homesteaders).  As others were deciding whether to play another game or head home, I joined the Homesteaders table...but because of the number of players left, we changed the game to  Alea Iacta Est. This poorly-named game is a dice game where certain combinations of dice can be played for different effects.  I liked it, though there were a few awkward parts of the game (specifically the Senate actions). I was only a couple points off the leader in this one, as well.

Finally, we ended with a game of Mu, a trick taking card game with multiple trumps and a fluid partnership mechanism.  It was fun, but I think it would be a lot more fun once people had played enough to develop it was, there was a lot of uncertainty of what to do during the auctions for trump.  I didn't finish well score-wise in this one, but felt like I could climb back into contention once everyone had the hang of it.

In all, it was a great evening with great people, and I'm considering this my new gaming group now.  I look forward to the next one in August, and hope that we'll be able to get together a little more often for one-off games when possible.

If you're interested in more information on this gaming group, the vangames Yahoo! Group is where most of the communications are.  

Also, I recommend you read more about the Washington State Grange.  I found it interesting as a concept for local outreach, and it is apparently well-utilized here in Washington.  Besides renting out the facility, they have monthly meetings to discuss activities in the community and sponsor a few different community activities.