Category Archives: erik-VS

VS: Erik’s Ipad vs Xoom Review

You’re trying to decide between a Apple iPad 2 and a Motorola Xoom running Android 3.0 (“Gingerbread”)

My summary is that if there are specific apps or games that you know you want or if you are an app-aholic, get an iPad. Otherwise get a Xoom since all the basics — web brower, google apps, dropbox, netflix, etc work just great on a Xoom. And flash works!

Buy an iPad 2 at Amazon
Buy a Xoom at Amazon

Here are the issues:

  1. Price. Advantage Xoom. At Amazon at least!
  2. Battery life. equal. But Xoom is probably replaceable. Advantage Xoom.
  3. Weight: iPad is lighter
  4. Screen Format: Xoom is 16:9 (nearly. 16:10 actually), iPad is 4:3
  5. Screen Resolution: About the same but Xoom is higher res and some say easier to read.
  6. Flash support. Advantage Xoom. Lots of wesbites still use Flash, not HTML5.
  7. 3g/4g: Xoom is 4G upgradeable in Sept 2011 via Verizon
  8. Generally, if you care about “special” apps: Advantage iPad. A number of apps are iPad only at the moment — like the NewYorker, Flipboard, etc. And the Apple App Store is a better environment for evaluating and finding apps. Though word on the street is that the Amazon Android App Store is the up-and-coming solution to this on the Android side.
  9. Google Docs. Either is fine. Works great either way.
  10. If you care about Web: Advantage Xoom (see #5 flash support)
  11. Need Minecraft? Advantage Xoom. Android can run Minedroid nicely
  12. Cheap Keyboard? Advantage Xoom. A USB keyboard will usually “just work”. The iPad can use the Apple Wireless Keyboard (Xoom too), but that costs more than nothing. Well, you’ll need a $3 micro adapter from Amazon. Search on “Micro USB Male to USB A Female Adapter”
    LINK

  13. Video Out. Both have HDMI. The Xoom just needs a $6 micro-HDMI cable from Amazon. No dock needed. That’s misinformation.

OK, that’s my list as of 9/9/2011. I’ll check back in a few months and see if I still agree!

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Erik’s Shopping 2011: iPad 2 vs Xoom & why no Android Flipboard?

Here is the best 2011 specs breakdown I’ve seen of the iPad/iPad2 vs the other popular tablets out there:

LINK

I still haven’t chosen. But I will buy at Amazon when I do. Probably a Xoom, but maybe an iPad 2. Definitely Wi-Fi. Why isn’t there a Flipboard app for the Android Tablets? Is it that hard to code? There’s that Facebook app that does something similar I guess. I forget the name. Shows you how impressed I was I guess.

  1. Apple iPad 2
  2. Motorola Xoom

    Uh… no…

  3. HP Touchpad (coming mid 2011)
  4. BlackBerry PlayBook
  5. HP Slate
  6. ASUS Eee Slate
  7. Samsung Galaxy Tab

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Sudbury Valley School (the modern-day village) vs unschooling

“Dear Coby,
I liked your posting about SVS type schools vs unschooling. I also think that no matter how democratic a family is it is a too small unit for children to grow up in. I believe that they need an “outside the family community” to belong to as well as to the family. The old villages in the non-western world provided just that and here in the west we are obliged to create a psuedo [sic] village for them and call it a school. The children get to belong to a family and to a community which hopefully is in harmony with the family but which is separate from them. It provides kids for a place of their own to make relationships, to observe people of all ages, to learn skills that are not the family’s skills such as carpentry or putting on make-up (skills that my children enjoyed acquiring in the school), and above all it is a place in which they can make mistakes in privacy from their parents. …
Hanna from SVS” LINK

Related:
– Villages — See book: Reflections on the Sudbury School Concept (1999) (pages: 13, 30, 127, 130, 134, 136, 137, 139, 144, 152, 154 ,161)
– On SVS and Family:
“Sudbury Valley was set up to be a day school complimenting the child’s family but never superseding it in importance. The assumption is that the child receives a full measure of love from within the family, and uses the school to develop a wider range of relationships, from close and intimate, to very casual, all of course determined by the children themselves.” (The Sudbury Valley School Experience, p 180)

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Verizon FIOS vs Solar Panels

I just measured it with our handy $20 KILL-A-WATT meter and the FIOS set-top-box… when off (on “standby”)… uses 16W! That’s 24/7. Even if you are not watching TV and carefully turned the thing off.

Here’s the math for a year:
16 * 24 * 365 / 1000 = 140 KWh

If you pay $0.15/KWh then that’s $21 per year you pay** for that. In the Northeast in some city/towns, you probably pay closer to 0.20 or maybe 0.23 if you pay extra for GREEN electricity (Or use NEW ENGLAND WIND FUND if you use a Municipal).

Anyway, the important point is that this is approximately the equivalent to 1/2 of the output of a typical 230W solar-electric PV panel on a reasonably South-facing roof in MA for a year according to PVWATTS.

http://rredc.nrel.gov/solar/calculators/PVWATTS/version1/

IOW, turn junk off with a powerstrip! It’s cheaper than buying solar panels!

And Verizon, you can do better! Shame shame! Some things in our house use less than 1W when “turned off”! Not 16W!

==============

**In the winter, this extra 16W is helping to heat your house, but there are much cheaper ways to heat your house than using phantom loads!

See also:
Visualize Energy

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Facebook: Follow vs Like

Facebook… I’d like to request a new feature. It would be called “Follow” (as it is on many other websites). The idea is to be able to keep track of continued discussion on a given status update (from another person or group) without
1. saying you LIKE it.
2. saying it publicly.

If one can ignore the 2 problems above, one can get the same basic effect by just saying LIKE to everything you see in FB. But that’s a little annoying.

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Walking vs Driving…

(I am writing this here in my blog and linking to it from Facebook, since at the moment there is no easy way to search and find old stuff on FB — like this will be 6-months from now, and that is annoying!)

Anyway, here goes:
You noted: http://wiesmann.codiferes.net/wordpress/?p=9592

So you might be interested in this FB thread where we discuss the NYTimes article
http://tierneylab.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/02/25/how-virtuous-is-ed-begley-jr/

1. FRIENDS ONLY:
https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=123404021047760&id=757944225

2. And a friend goes on (via email) to do a little quick research into this (he has a PhD in ecology) and came up with a rough estimate of the carbon footprint of walking vs driving. (This is different than energy cost of course, but related…). What I believe he came up with is that it depends a lot on the diet. If it is heavy on the meat and dairy, then it is a close match carbon wise (which makes sense because “making” meat is very very resource intensive) But if you are eating a plant-based diet, walking wins. But still, not be the “many orders of magnitude” difference one might expect. In other words, it’s certainly quite possible that (say) 4 people on foot or on bikes could be better off carpooling or using a well-used train, etc. But probably not if they are vegan and eating locally sourced, organic/“solar” food. But my friend needs to do more careful number crunching based on some of the research articles on the topic he pulled up.

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REVIEW: MAGFORMERS vs MAGNA-TILES (also: Icosidodecahedron using Magformers)

I used to think magna-tiles were the clear uncontested champion in comparison to magformers. But now I’m not so sure. They aren’t on top either, it’s just that each has it’s uses. I’ll explain briefly here, then follow up with some better pictures.

ADVANTAGE MAGFORMERS
– 3D geometrical shapes — one can make a number of these Archimedian solids if you have enough pieces.
– less expensive

ADVANTAGE MAGNATILES
Everything else! They have slightly weaker magnets, but they are solid (get the translucent ones. prettier) and are better for:
– 2D arrangements (they sit perfectly flat) such as: (and here I will just include everything my kids have used them for…)
— roads/racetracks/airplane runways
— functional checkerboard (we used 2×2 duplos as the pieces) when stranded in a snowstorm without checkers!
— making words
— making numbers
— 2D planes/people

3D buildings
– matchbox car and airplane parking garages/hangars
– forts/castles
– mazes
– stairs
– some simpler 3-D shapes hold together if you are VERY gentle, but the magnets aren’t strong enough to realistically build things like a icosidodecahedron for example.

OK, so I guess that’s still a pretty long list in the magnatiles column. Still, if you want to make cool geometric shapes the magformers are where it’s at.

Anyway, here are links to the sets I personally can recommend:
MAGNATILES 100 piece translucent set
Here is a link to all the magna-tile sets at Amazon… circa 2013 they list more options than they did back in 2011. There are also some less expensive compatible competitors that seem to get decent but slightly mixed reviews. See update below.
Magformers — perhaps buy 2 of the “Magformers 48-Piece” sets to get enough to do some good stuff? To do the bigger 3D geometrical shapes you’ll need a lot. Including (ideally) some of the very big 6-sided pieces. Though the 3 4 and 5 can make a GREAT rhombicosi-dodecahedron!

Just make sure you have enough pieces, especially the magnatiles! It seems like approximately 100 is enough for kids (or grownups!) to feel like they aren’t being held back too often by a lack of pieces. They will want to build very elaborate villages of buildings, walls, roads and runways, plane and car garages. And stuffed-animal houses! You will be AMAZED!

And again, my favorite thing about these toys is the ability of age-mixed kids to play side by side. The little kids are safe (no little legos to chew on or swallow) and can actually build a few things, and the older kids are still quite well entertained.

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2013 REVIEW UPDATE:

1. Magnatiles continue to impress big time. The kids are now 9 and 6 and they still pull them out and play for hours/days at a time quite regularly. A MUST HAVE TOY. They paid for themselves a million times over in kid (and dad!) fun! Still better than Lego in this household. Although Lego Hero-Factory/Bionicles does come first!

2. A new player on the scene is a company named “Magnetic Stick N Stack” which sells Magna-tile compatible tiles. From reviews it sounds like the magnets might be a TINY bit weaker, but the price is lower. Could be a good alternative. “Magnetic Stick N Stack” at Amazon. (They also seem to have a few different types of shapes including windows and wheels, but I doubt those matter much… the standard Magnatile shapes are classics. The kids never cared much for the magformer wheels…)

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Filed under erik-reviews, erik-VS, lego, magnatiles / magformers, must-have, reviews, shopping, toys

Things I would do differently…

Not to be a downer, as the house is really AMAZING, appears to be performing right in line with estimates we made for heat load and UA and the more detailed PHPP workup. But I can’t help it, there are definitely things I would do a little differently if I were to build a house again.

  1. Our property has a 2-bedroom deed restriction, which we knew going in, and it’s totally fine, but if I were to do it again, I would have been in communication with the town’s building inspector (who is also the zoning enforcement person) early on in deciding — show him our rough plans, what we were going to build — instead of waiting until submitting formal plans. Novice mistake. Luckily things turned out fine.
  2. Don’t be afraid of stock plans. I don’t think one necessarily needs custom home plans to build a superinsulated house. Certainly if you are trying to do passivhaus then you probably do since it will mean really messing with window sizes and placement, but otherwise, I would advise that, if you already have a plan that you really like, just go with it, and ask your builder to build 12″ or so double walls, rather than the 2×6 walls shown in the plans. Spend that money you save on something else!
  3. If I were to do it again, I might not be quite so enamored of strict strategies for reaching/approaching passivhaus in New England. A passivhaus would use 2.5x less energy than our house, approximately (assuming the same TFA) but we’re talking maybe $200 in heating PER YEAR vs $600 PER YEAR. I am not at the moment convinced it is worth the substantial extra effort/expense due to slightly unusual methods needed and products. It’s still tricky to do this stuff and so it means having a team — a builder and architect — who are obsessed I would say. Correct me if I’m wrong! So, do all of the items on the passivhaus checklist that are low-hanging fruit, but pass on items that are stretches. Might as well do 6″ of foam under the slab and edge, for instance. But have nice views on the North, East or West of your house? I would say not to feel bad about putting in nice windows there! That’s me. (I would aim for R40 walls including basement, R80 roof, R5 windows, R20 slab)
  4. On the other hand, I would also ENCOURAGE everyone to VERY EARLY in the project to seek out a Certified Passivhaus Consultant (such as ours in the Boston, Massachusetts area: DEAP GROUP) and have them model your house plans in PHPP. Even if you don’t follow all the Passive House advice, you will be very well informed!
  5. On Solar PV panels: I really like the Enphase microinverter approach we took, but I can’t help but think that the grass-is-greener — IOW, a central inverter. I like that a central inverter approach would have 1) been a little cheaper, and 2) allowed for a “hybrid” grid-tie AND small battery approach, and 3) w/ battery, allowed for some degree of “off-grid” use in case the grid goes down during storms and such. Ah well, I probably would be wishing we had microinverters had we gone with a central inverter approach! I am remembering that I think part of my decision for microinverters had to do with worrying about shade. I should have trusted the solar survey more! We are pretty much totally shade free except at the beginning and end of the day. Which microinverters don’t help much with I don’t believe.
  6. I would probably try to use as little foam as possible. Cellulose all the way! And generally, vapor-open envelope assemblies seem like a Good Idea. I now like this thinking better than the Lstiburek “perfect wall” approach which is closer to what we have. Ah well, grass is greener…
  7. I would use bigger windows in some spots and remove them in others. I guess trying to be a bit more site-aware. Where are neighboring houses… where are views, etc. We did this to some extent, but there are a few misses where I wish there was a double bank of windows. That sort of thing.
  8. I would have looked into unusual choices IN PERSON a bit more. I think it would have helped, for instance, to visit a house with had the Thermotech windows we were considered upgrading too. We were feeling stuck on using double hung (which we love) vs casement (which we do not). But maybe we would have been swayed seeing them in person?
  9. Sorta related to that… I would have in some cases gone with the experience of the subcontractors (on paint brand choice) but in other cases, considered using a different contractor who had specific experience using an uncommon but greener product (OSMO Poly-X floor finish). So there are 2 alternate sides to the same issue of trying too hard to use a product that is maybe greener, but if it also gets installed wrong might mean expensive undoing or redoing. And “wasting” green ($) is not green! :-)
  10. I said not to worry about custom house plans, but on the other hand, I will admit that it is a Very Good Idea to have it worked out ahead of time exactly where the HVAC ductwork will go. I think it is wrong to leave it to the contractors. Better to have it worked out ahead of time.
  11. I might have considered more seriously a “backwards saltbox” approach (we face south, so the long roof would be in front) since it would give more room for panels.
  12. I think everyone who builds a house feels this way, but there are definitely a few spots where I wish a light-switch or outlet was in a different spot. Our electrician did a great job helping us with this, but maybe there is a way to get this even MORE right. Not sure how without living in it first.
  13. OK, that’s a pretty short list actually. More as I think of it…

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VS: home heating — heat pumps vs wood (or solar)

There are many in green circles — superinsulated/zero energy home/passivhaus circles — who think that heating with electricity (ideally with an air-source heat pump) is the ideal way to heat a house with solar electric (PV) panels on the roof (well, or yard). Example link

As someone with a house that is exactly that, let me chime in.

Heat pumps: PROS
1. No hole needed in house for exhaust or air intake
2. No air-quality or safety concerns since no burning of wood or fossil fuels in the house
3. Math is easy if you are trying to be net-zero. If everything is electricity, then there is no complicated math to do converting gallons of propane or cords of wood burned into KWh. (not much of a reason)
4. Now you have AC too. OK, so you saved a few bucks. Window ACs are only $80 though. And you house probably doesn’t need much more than one of those. Really.
5. No baseboards taking up space. But there are other approaches (forced hot air and such) to deal with that.
6. Quiet inside. Wow, very very very quiet. No furnace, furnace fan, or boiler making a racket. (Aside: And no humidifiers in winter… thanks to the tight superinsulated house part…)
7. Electricity tends to be price-stable vs the price of propane and heating oil which seems to whip-around a lot.
8. Usually a bit cheaper to install vs a “central” system esp in a very small house. But add in the price of the HRV or ERV stuff if you have that too.
9. Point source: I list “point source” below as a con too. Some like point source heat since it allows zoning, getting cozy by the “fire” and such. Flip side to everything.
10. Future safe. Electricity can come from many primary sources.

Heat pumps: CONS:
1. Can be a bit loud outside (well not LOUD, but there is a fan running, like for central air-conditioning, all winter) So if you are noise sensitive maybe there is a quieter heating approach? Not sure what qualifies as the quietest. Radiant floor heat?
2. PVs should not be thought of as anything more than an offset in my opinion. Don’t think of that electricity your panels made as yours. Who cares WHO uses it. The point is to reduce CO2/greenhouse gases overall. In other words, if you make electricity, dump it into the grid for your neighbor to use, and burn some wood to keep warm instead, then you are ahead (in my eyes) of someone using that electricity directly to heat their house with a heat pump.
3. In very cold areas, you will need either a HYPERHEAT model that keeps up with sub-0F temps, or some back up (maybe electric space heaters). Most other air-source heat pumps drop their output by a lot when it is VERY cold.
4. Power outages. You will have no heat. Now, that might not matter as much, because your superinsulated house has a certain amount of “passive survivability” built into it with all that insulation, but if we are talking comfort here, then grab a wood stove or a propane heater needing no electricity to run. There are a few!
5. “Non-traditional” Looks: Some might think they are ugly. I don’t mind them. Just different. And controls. Our Mr Slim one has a “remote” vs a traditional thermostat. And the model we got doesn’t control all 4 internal heads. So like a house with zoning, you have to walk around and set each individually.
6. Point source: We have 4 of these inside “heads”. One on a wall on each floor (basement, 1st, 2nd, 3rd (attic)) But there is not heat/coolth pumping into every last room. Doesn’t matter much, but bedrooms are a little cooler — 5F? Coldham/Rocky Hill study seems to say. Ask google.

Wood: PROS
1. Local
2. Carbon neutral
3. Ambience
4. Simple technology (especially if not pellets and not catalytic)
5. No electricity needed (heat when power outages)

Wood Stoves: CONS
1. Lugging stuff
2. Might be difficult to vent properly in a very tight house. Indoor Air Quality risk. Especially with a pellet stove which loses electricity.
3. Even the smallest pellet stoves will overheat some houses that are superinsulated. But big whoop. Run it on thermostat-mode. And open the window if you must!
4. Particulate pollution. You might live pretty near other people or in a town or city that prohibits wood burning.
5. Related… Gotta know what you are doing. (slow-burning, smoldering wood stove fires pollute like crazy and smell up the neighborhood.)

Solar Thermal Heating: MIGHT BEAT WOOD IF…
1. You have sun
2. You have a spot to put the solar thermal panels and a HUGE 1000 gallon tank in your basement
3. You have already done energy efficiency fixes — insulation, CFLs, etc. (see builditsolar.com)
4. CON: Up front cost is going to be higher than the wood (at least a pellet stove vented out the side of a house) unless you are a DIY person (see builditsolar.com)

Prius: PROS (W/holistically speaking, maybe this is a better place to start…)
1. Do the calculations in KWh. If you cut the number of gallons of gas you use in half by driving a hybrid or electric car, how much is that in KWh?
2. Energy Independence: coal and nukes (for making electricity) are “local” to the US, vs gasoline comes mostly from other countries. Propane is 90% from US. Natural Gas is ???
3. Use as a backup generator for house

So what would I do?
Well right now we use an air-source heat pump to heat our almost passivhaus ZEH. But I hope to do more solar-thermal heating in the future. 5 days of storage would get you to 97% solar “if cloudy days are like coin flips”. And the no-electricity propane heater is intriguing, especially for a little backup. Check back in a year!

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VS: electricity vs propane — New England style

1 gallon of propane is $2.80 right now on avg in the US says the web.

If you assume 90% efficient boiler or furnace, that is how many KWh of heat delivered to the house?

1 gallon of propane has ~91500 BTU = 26.82 KWh * 90% efficient = 24.13 KWh delivered for $2.80

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So how much does that amount of heat cost with an air-source heat pump if you pay $0.15/KWh and assume a COP of 2? (being very conservative… our seasonal avg COP is supposedly 2.7 I think I estimated once using Canadian (cold) figures from service manuals)
So…

24.13 KWh / 2 COP = 12.065 KWh * $0.15/KWh = $1.81

Even if you are heating with straight resistance electricity (no heat pump trickery), the cost is only $3.62 (vs $2.80 for propane). Not bad, $-wise.

Notes:
1. The propane would be much greener since electricity from power plants is very dirty in the northeast. IOW, the carbon/KWh heat delivered is 3 times higher due to inefficient power plants using fossil fuels. Better to use the fossil fuel directly.
2. If you are in a warmer climate, the math for the heat pump is even better, since you COP will be 3+.
3. If you can use zoning (heating one room) with an electric heater, you will probably be ahead (in both $ and green) vs central-heat using propane.
4. Wood heat or solar beat everything.

Next week: electricity vs heating oil

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