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Comment Re: Which side am I supposed to be on?!? (Score 1) 60

First of all, load management systems for consumers are almost always voluntary and opt-in.

Second, I've never heard of a consumer load management system that dealt with dishwashers and washing machines - first, because these typically are minor power consumers compared to heating and air conditioning, and second, because yes, you shouldn't interrupt them mid-cycle.

It's not like demand management shuts down your entire house. That's more like a rolling brownout, which is precisely what demand management tries to avoid.

Maybe you're thinking of variable rates, which encourage people to use energy intensive devices when the rates are lower - like starting your electric dryer, which is a large consumer, when you go to bed at night, rather than at 3 PM in the middle of July.

It's amazing to me how people who have absolutely no idea how electricity works or how it is generated and delivered suddenly become experts on everything from RF radiation, privacy and security of IT systems, energy efficiency, and utility infrastructure.

Comment Re:Which side am I supposed to be on?!? (Score 4, Insightful) 60

Smart meters aren't evil.

Differential rates for solar power the customer generates versus electricity consumed from the utility don't really require smart meters, either, at least not the kind commonly deployed. Plus, the vast majority of homes and businesses where smart meters are being deployed don't generate their own power, so it's silly to suggest this is the intention for deploying them.

Actual reasons for deploying smart meters include better demand monitoring and management, fast and accurate outage reporting so that service can be restored more quickly, and better customer service - since you as a consumer can now find out exactly how much you're using and when.

I had a smart meter when I lived in Connecticut, and I loved it. I wrote a script to log in to my utility's website and get my daily consumption data, so I could track my consumption over time and make energy-conserving decisions. We also had natural gas, but in my best month I was able to lower consumption to 186 kWh, about a fifth of the US average.

I now live in New Jersey, and our so-called 'ratepayer advocate' is rabidly anti-smart meter because she doesn't want to permit any increase in utility bills, even to pay for infrastructure investment. It took Hurricane Sandy to convince her to allow some infrastructure improvements that PSEG had been asking for a long time, but still no smart meters.

Comment Combo of CS, Stats, Analytics, & domain knowle (Score 4, Insightful) 41

While I think this has changed over time, initially I think some statisticians were suspicious of techniques coming out of computer science, e.g. SVMs. And still, machine learning is a rather niche field of statistics that requires a fluency in CS that many statisticians don't have (or need). Check out this discussion.

Of course there are some statisticians who are also good CS people (think Trevor Hastie and Rob Tibshirani). And a lot of stats people have great domain knowledge in their areas. But I think "data science" is supposed to be the combination of stats, CS, practical programming ability (e.g., cleaning and manipulating large datasets, which is definitely not part of traditional CS or stats education), ability to communicate results effectively, maybe throw in some visualization, knowledge of how to query databases, and domain knowledge to interpret what data mean. Also, some types of data (e.g. text with the aim of NLP) are pretty infrequently touched upon in stats education.

That said, I get the sense that a lot of places looking for "data scientists" are actually just looking for business intelligence people.

Comment Re:Call me an old guy with a short attention span (Score 2) 87

Just took a Stanford MOOC on statistical learning. The best part of the course was the PDF textbook that the authors made available free of charge. The videos served to reinforce what I had already read in the textbook, and were by no means a substitute for actually reading the book. But I did appreciate them.

Comment Re:We aready have this (Score 1) 33

Yeah, soldering SMT is not that hard, at least for the larger packages and pitches. The no-lead stuff is hard without specialized tools, but with a decent iron, flux, good light, and a loupe you can accomplish a lot.

My strategy is to prototype on a breadboard, and use breakout boards for the SMT components. Then when the design has been thoroughly tested, design a PCB that either accepts the larger SMT stuff directly, or accepts the breakout boards. Requires lots of care in design, and all my projects have been relatively simple, but if you're patient, the result is good and not very expensive.

I've tried the print and etch process, but the pitches you can achieve are not small enough to make it worthwhile for me. The whole point of getting away from perfboard was to use SMT, and in my experience it's too easy to mess up small traces when etching at home.

Comment What is a "cyberattack"? (Score 4, Insightful) 58

The article doesn't say. A ping flood? Attempted DOS? Attempt to connect to telnet port?

Sorry, but this guy is clearly exaggerating the number in order to try and get more money. Kind of like when Darryl on The Office wrote on his resume that he had overseen the "shipping of 2.5 billion units of paper material." I.e., pieces of paper.

Comment National Cryptologic Museum was different (Score 4, Interesting) 121

Visited the National Cryptologic Museum (on the same campus as the NSA, just off 295 in Maryland) about a decade ago. I and my then-girlfriend were probably the only visitors in the entire building, and the staff were pretty excited to see us. They even let us try out the German Enigma machine they had on display - no glass display case at that time! Don't know if it's changed in the last ten years, though.

Comment Re:Not that easy to see (Score 1) 53

I have a run-of-the-mill Tasco telescope and was able to make out the Galilean moons, as well as two cloud bands on Jupiter, and of course Saturn's rings. The big challenge I had was damping vibration - any touch of the telescope or the stand would make the image blurry. You can even make out the Galilean moons with binoculars.

Comment Will new firms last long enough to pay claims? (Score 0) 238

No doubt the industry is ripe for disruption. BUT in addition to risk measurement, another big part of insurance is the stability of the insurer, especially with long-term insurance like life insurance. How confident are you that the Uber of insurance will be around when you die 29 years into your 30-year term life insurance policy? Or will they have been acquired a dozen times by companies of varying financial strength?

Comment Re:Arduinos and MCUs (Score 2) 189

Some of the ideas seem like they could be solved by off the shelf hardware. Switching loads based on temperature? Buy a cheap programmable thermostat. If you want to monitor an AC load, you can use your preferred microcontroller along with an opto-coupler. I just did this, using an opto-coupler to monitor my programmable thermostat's relay and report a logic level to a Raspberry Pi, which then logs when the relay is closed (and thus the heat running) versus open (heat off). You can get opto-couplers that include built-in rectifiers, allowing you to work with AC voltages, but of course you need to understand what you are doing to avoid danger.

I used an Electric Imp, which is a WiFi-enabled microcontroller, hooked up to a digital temperature sensor and a photoresistor, as an outdoor temperature/daylight logger. Electric Imp is a hosted solution, which is not ideal - unless someone else reverse engineers the protocol and builds their own server, when the hosted service disappears, it'll be worthless, but it was very easy to use. Here's a graph of the output.

Cost becomes an issue. WiFi connectivity is expensive. Cheapest I think you can do is about $25 - that's what an Electric IMP costs (not including a breakout board), or a Raspberry Pi A+ if you throw in a $5 WiFi USB dongle. So you're looking at a minimum of $25 for each WiFi enabled device (and neither of those are ideal - Imp is hosted and lacks much GPIO, PI is large, delicate, and lacks some basic microcontroller features). That's not very affordable, especially if you're used to throwing a $3 Atmel chip in your devices.

My thinking going forward is to couple Arduinos with relatively inexpensive RF transceivers that work in the ISM band, and simply use one WiFi device (like the Pi) as a base station that can talk to all the other devices. That will bring the cost-per-unit down to maybe $15.

Note that you will be spending a LOT of time on each project. And you will almost certainly spend far more money than you will ever save. But we do it for fun, not for efficiency!

Comment NASA Spinoff (Score 2) 287

Vague statements about technological advances probably won't cut it either. Of the small percentage of people who actually care about general technological advanced, an even smaller percentage are convinced it's best done through dangerous and expensive space programs.

A friend of mine works for a contractor that produces NASA's "Spinoff" publication, which highlights the broad contributions from NASA research and programs: http://spinoff.nasa.gov/. Several of us were ribbing him about how NASA does a pretty bad job of publicizing the publication designed to showcase its public benefits.

Comment Just replace your thermostat. It's easy. (Score 2) 252

"We turned your thermostat up to 85 degrees and you can't change it. We want $5000 worth of Bitcoins in 72 hours--or we find out if your furnace perpetually on full-blast will burn your house down.

You do realize that virtually all consumer thermostats use a fairly standard interface, and they can be swapped with one another, right? This includes the Nest/Ecobee, etc. If someone threatened me like that, I'd laugh at them, disconnect the thermostat from the wall, and attach a cheap replacement.

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