When I am bored or traveling, I write the 21-Word Review part of this blog. While this is entertaining for me, it may be obnoxious and/or tedious for my reader(s). If you would like to view this blog with no reviews or other trivia, click here. If you would like altogether better content, allow me to recommend the Google "I'm Feeling Lucky" button.


Saturday, December 15, 2018

The 21-Word Review: The Man Who Invented Christmas (Amazon)

I am a huge Dickens fan. Tale of Two Cities is my favorite book. I even liked Martin Chuzzlewit. And this.

Monday, October 29, 2018

I Built an 80s Arcade System

About a month ago as one job was winding down and another had not yet started up, I decided to try to build one of the 80s retro arcade machines that I'd seen other people build on the internet. It looked like a relatively simple project and one that the whole family would enjoy. By the time it was complete, the project had taken a bit longer than expected, but a lot of that time was build-enjoy-modify. If I were to do it again, the process would go much faster. Plus, now I have all of the cool tools that I need.

Here are some of the resources that I used:

  • I bought a complete V-kit Raspberry Pi retro gaming kit on Amazon. I ended up not using some of the parts in the final project and I'm sure that I could have bought it cheaper in pieces, but buying a kit allowed me to very quickly try out the idea without having to purchase arcade buttons or joysticks or figure out how to load software onto the device. If I were to build a second one, I probably wouldn't go this route, but it's a good way to get started.
  • I based the cabinet on this amazing overview on ArcadeCab. I had an available monitor that was much larger that the one in the plans, which made for some interesting modifications. More on that below.
  • I settled on this set of ROM files to download as I ended up using lrmame-2010 as my default emulator (no, I didn't know what that meant when I started, either). Not all of the file names are self-evident, so I occasionally used the MAME list at CoolROM to find ones that weren't easy to determine. And I asked all my old 80s-era friends on Facebook to list their favorite games as a starting point. (I have all of them now except for Joust ... and many, many more.)
  • For buttons and joysticks, I bought this kit from Amy Happy Mall via Amazon.When I decided to make the console 4-player, they were very nice to let me buy just the parts I needed to expand out. The hardware was very simple to set up.
  • For speakers, I bought these cheap ones, but really any computer speaker would work. They get chopped up and only the speakers survive.
  • I played Centipede, Millipede, and the others that used a trackball in their original form for a while with just a mouse hooked up. Eventually I splurged for this nice 3-inch trackball and mounting plate. It's pretty and feels very solid.
  • I already had casters, a USB mouse, USB keyboard and monitor available, so that saved some money. I made up for it in mistakes that forced me to buy extra plywood and other parts.
  • I went onto fiverr.com and found a graphic artist to make the marquee and other designs. I dropped them into my control layout to make the control panel design. I like what he came up with from the options that I provided.
Some notes in case anyone else wants to go down this route.
  • The cabinet plans are really great, but the system ends up being pretty deep. I think that's because the original plans included space for a computer underneath and a wired door with a coin slot. For my console, the Raspberry Pi and all other electrics were in the control panel and I didn't put in a coin clot. If it were to make another one, I would make it shallower so it didn't take up as much space in the room.
  • The monitor that I used was 25" across, which is really nice to see. However, by going past 24" the cost of the system went up quite a bit. A lot of material (plywood, plexiglass, etc.) comes in 24" or 48" varieties. By going to 25" I ended up having to use an extra sheet of plywood (two extra when I messed up on one measurement), much larger pieces of glass, etc. If I'd had to buy a monitor, I'd probably have gone a little smaller to reduce complexity. I do have plans that I used for the 25" wide version if anyone would like them.
  • I did not put covers over the speakers. I just cut them out of their holders, routed out a place for them from the back of the speaker board, and attached them directly. They're black and the paint is black and no one will ever notice.
  • The buttons are all metric sized (24mm, 28mm), so it's hard to find a hole saw that works. I ended up buying Forstner drill bits because that's all I could find in that size. They were a pain and should only be used in a drill press. Use a drill press. Don't make the same mistakes that I made.
  • The plans talk of taking the cabinet apart to paint it. I did not do that. I had some trouble assembling (one of the boards above the slot for the base was slightly bowed and the base did not want to fit in, among other things). I assembled most of the cabinet except for the drawer, top, front door, and speaker board then put it on sawhorses and sanded and painted it. I like the outcome, especially since all of the little gaps could be filled in and painted.
  • Do, however, make sure that everything is going to fit before painting. Not all measurements are as precise as you might think that they should be. Probably due to user error.
  • I did the full back version of the cabinet. I like the way it looks in the house. Be sure to cut a hole for the power before painting.
  • The drawer in the plans is a little shallow. A standard mouse does not fit. I might make it deeper if I did another version. There's plenty of room.
  • The plans also talk of angling the control surface down. When you're building a two-player version that's complicated. With my four-player version it really wasn't worth it. I had to significantly expand the control area to fit everything and had to build a relatively complex box to do it (plans are available if anyone wants them). I might consider angling the part that it connects to next time to get that slope, but honestly it's not too bad the way it is.
  • I think that the controls are a little high. If I made another one, I'd lower them by 2-3 inches. We have some tall barstools, so it's not too much of a deal, but they seem high when standing.
  • I ran all of the cables from the control panel over the monitor shelf. That means that the plexiglass in front of the monitor is resting on the cables. That's not ideal. If I did it again, I'd try to run them under or around that shelf.
  • Plexiglass is hard to get to break right, especially when you're breaking something that's more than 24" across and your longest metal straight edge is only 24". Take the time, use a metal straight edge, and cut the plexiglass at least twice as deep as you think you should. Otherwise things will break sideways and you'll have to start over. Sometimes more than once.
  • I built shelves to go underneath in the empty cabinet and we're storing our DVDs there. There's plenty more room available. It's a big, empty space. I've seen people put in refrigerators. (If you're going to put in a refrigerator, be sure to use the open back version for cooling.)
  • Originally I downloaded some games other than the MAME games (Atari, for example). I eventually deleted them all off and left just the MAME games. Those are the 80s arcade games that I remember and they all can be accessed from one, uncomplicated menu on the console.
  • It can be a pain to determine which games work and which don't. Start out looking for games that you remember. If they don't work, delete and try another version. Only in a few very special cases did I try making adjustments to get games to work (you can pick emulators, change how controls work, etc. - it can be a rabbit hole). I enabled WiFi on the Raspberry Pi and can access all of the files from my home PC by going to \\retropie. That lets me add and delete games whenever I have time to check them. And I try to keep the ones that the family uses the most on the "Favorites" list so they don't get lost in the potentially thousands of titles that can be installed. I have over 100 installed. We play about 10.
If you have any questions, let me know. And please feel free to come over and play sometime!

Thursday, October 18, 2018

The 21-Word Review: How it Ends (Netflix)

My favorite part of this post apocalyptic standard fare is that the underlying reason for the post apocalypse is never revealed.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

The 21-Word Review: Annihilation (Amazon On-Demand)

Stunning visuals and disturbing audibles. It is truly amazing the quality of material coming out of the streamers video services today.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The 21-Word Review: Extinction (Netflix)

Putting a twist on the end of a bad movie elevates it to an interesting bad movie, not a good one.

Monday, October 15, 2018

The 21-Word Review: Anathem by Neal Stephenson

Found at a St. Vincent de Paul Society thrift store, perhaps the best three dollars ever spent on a complex novel.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

The 21-Word Review: Cargo (Netflix)

Zombie movies are all generally the same, but some are more the same than others. This was more the same. Much.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

The 21-Word Review: A Wrinkle in Time (Delta In-Flight)

I vaguely recall loving these books as a child. Maybe I would have liked the movie more as a child, too.

Friday, October 12, 2018

The 21-Word Review: The Dark Tower (Delta In-Flight)

What book did the writers of this movie read instead of the magnificent tome by Mr. King? Let's just start over.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

The 21-Word Review: Jumanji, Welcome to the Jungle (Delta In-Flight)

I wanted to hate it. Some movies should remain sequeless. It won me over. Maybe it was the jetlag. Maybe Karen.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

The 21-Word Review: Rose Madder by Stephen King

Another book sale find. King's head must just be crammed with characters and situations that he can expand at a whim.

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

The 21-Word Review: Hostiles (Delta In-Flight)

Kind of what you expect out of a postmodern, improved sensibilities Western. Not bad, but I did snooze occasionally. (Long flight.)

Monday, October 08, 2018

The 21-Word Review: Lady Bird (Delta In-Flight)

Yeah, I could have written this. If I was a midwestern teenage girl with a single mother and an artistic bent.

Sunday, October 07, 2018

The 21-Word Review: Dr. Sleep by Stephen King

I picked it up at a book sale. I didn't know it was a sequel to The Shining. Holy cow. Suoredrum.

Saturday, October 06, 2018

The 21-Word Review: I, Tonya (Delta In-Flight)

It was only at the end, when they showed the actual footage, that I realized that Margot didn't look like Tonya.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Suburban 5-4-and-a-Door Solar: How Much Power do you Generate?

We now have a year's worth of data to play with, and one of the most asked questions is "how much power are you generating from your panels?" That can be a difficult question to answer because it depends on the month, the weather, the clouds, the pollen (probably) and other factors.

We took the generated power numbers from every day for the year ending on June 30, 2018 and put them into a histogram to see exactly what our power generation looked like over the year. We have a south-facing 6.875kW array with some minor shading in the mornings.


The way the histogram works is that the first column (0kWh generated) represents exactly zero kWh. Subsequent columns represent the range from the previous number to the number shown (just over 0 to exactly 2 kWh, just over 2 to exactly 4 kWh, etc.). The smart meter didn't record for the first 5 days, so there are a total of 360 days represented.

  • Our best day was 33.3kWh generated on March 14, 2018. March was an especially good month with a lot of sun and had a few days in the 30kWh range.
  • Our worst day was 0kWh on September 12, 2017. September had a couple of very poor generation days due to some major storm activity. Even so, zero was startling to see. Fortunately it only happened once.
  • The average power generation in a day is 18.4kWh. Perhaps more relevant, the median power generation in a day is 20kWh.

On a per-month basis, the data shows numbers ranging from 354kWh in December to 688kWh in April, but those can be highly influence by weather so your mileage may vary.




Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Suburban 5-4-and-a-Door Solar: Which Rate Plan is the Best?

With a years worth of data to analyze, one of the questions we asked is whether or not we are on the right rate plan. Georgia Power offers three plans that are relevant to us. The one we are on now is a flat plan. It costs the same amount to use power at any time of the day. The cost per kWh rises as we use more power during a billing period, but there is no dependence on when we use that power.

The two other options are the Nights and Weekends plan and the PEV (Plug-in Electic Vehicle) plan. Each of those has a rate that changes depending on when you use power. The Nights and Weekends plan has a lower rate outside of the hours of 2pm and 7pm, Monday through Friday. The PEV plan has high rates from 2pm to 7pm Monday through Friday and very low rates from 11pm to 7am every day.

Since our smart meter give us access to our power usage every 15 minutes, we can make a good estimate of what our bills would be under the other rates. (Although one can never be entirely sure - read here for how we estimate some of the fees and charges.)

Based on our calculations and current usage schedule, we wouldn't see a whole lot of savings under the other plans. Our estimate is that we'd save about $41 over the year with the Nights and Weekends rate and about $48 with the PEV rate. It's not nothing, but it's not enough to make us change our plan immediately.



Since Georgia Power only allows changes in residential rate plans once a year, we wanted to wait a year to see exactly what our usage would be before making a change. And since the flat rate was actually lower cost in June, we'll probably wait a month or so to make the change this year.

We suspect that once we change to a different rate, our usage may change as well. We'll be more careful about using power during those low cost times and set the dishwasher and other appliances to run after 11pm. However, since there are two of us working at home right now, there's not a lot we can do to change our patterns. For people who aren't home during the day or who have batteries that can arbitrage power (buy during low cost periods, use battery during high cost periods), your options will likely be more clear.

Monday, July 09, 2018

Suburban 5-4-and-a-Door Solar: Savings in the First Year

We have now had our solar array for a year's worth of bills. Since our array gives us data for every 15 minutes, that's a lot of data to analyze (a 15MB Excel workbook at the moment). But here's some of the more useful graphs from our experience.

Probably the most asked for - what is your bill with solar compared to without solar. Our total bill for the 12 months ending June 30th was $1541. Compare that to last year at $2064 or to our peak year at $2502 and there's a significant savings. If you want to use average bills over the last four years as a comparison, we've saved about $770.


Average bill isn't the best way to compare, because we were making moves to lower our overall energy use during that time period. We're switching burned out light to LEDs, we're using the clothesline more, etc. You can see that dramatically in the graph of yearly grid use.


From a peak of just about 20,000kWh for the year ending in August, 2015, we've dropped to about 12,000kWh for the year ending in June, 2018. That's a drop of almost 40% over three years, and you can see from the graph that the drop started before we had our panels installed in June, 2017. There is a dramatic drop starting when the panels were installed, as would be expected. from what looked to be a leveling off point. We suspect that the graph will start to level off again now and maybe drop again in a year when we start losing kids to college.

Calculating the actual savings versus what we would have paid over the last year without solar panels is more difficult. Determining exactly what the power company charges for power is surprisingly opaque (see this post for how we tried to estimate what power really costs). Using our best information and the power usage information from our smart meter, we estimate that the bills with and without solar would reflect a somewhat more modest savings.


Using those relatively complicated calculations, we see a yearly savings of about $670. So we tell folks that our actual savings is somewhere between the average bill savings and our calculated savings - $670 to $770.

Our original ROI estimates for a 10-11 year return were $740 savings in year one, so we're pretty close depending on our calculations.


Sunday, July 08, 2018

Suburban 5-4-and-a-Door Solar: Update to How Much Does Power Really Cost?

In this post last February, we detailed what contributes to actual cost of power from our local utility for our solar-enhanced home. As mentioned, the posted Georgia Power rates are just a small part of the overall charge. There are fixed add-ons like Environmental Fees and there are hidden costs like Fuel that you can only discover by calling and speaking to a supervisor.

We now have a full year of solar-enhanced bills to analyze, and we have a better idea of how to figure out each of the additional fees. These should be more accurate if anyone is calculating for themselves.

For each of the variable fees, we've done a regression analysis of the 12 months of data to determine more accurate formulas. Not that these are the actual formulas used by the utility. If they were, then the points would line up exactly. The formulas used by the utility appear to be secret and relatively randomized. But these formulas have been accurate within a dollar or two.

Nuclear Fee = 0.009965*kWh - $3.12

Environmental Compliance Fee = 0.01314*kWh - $3.87

Franchise Fee = 0.004657*kWh - $1.05

What we also found is that the fuel charge, which we originally assumed was fixed, seems to vary each month. That makes sense, we suppose, as fuel tends to change costs. However, it's hard to find any other industry that changes their prices month to month based on the cost of fuel. In any case, here are the fuel charges that appear to have been used on our bill over the last month. This is in addition to the fixed $10/month fuel charge.

Fuel Charge = $10 + amount below per 100 kWh
July, 2017$2.84
August, 2017$2.84
September, 2017$2.83
October, 2017$2.56
November, 2017$2.56
December, 2017$2.56
January, 2018$2.99
February, 2018$2.99
March, 2018$3.00
April, 2018$3.00
May, 2018$2.99
June, 2018$3.31

So your total bill cost is Nuclear Fee + Environmental Compliance Fee + Franchise Fee + Fuel Charge + Rate*kWh + 7% sales tax. If you have solar, then there is also a $2.82 fee to have a bi-directional meter, but at least you get about 3.5cents per kWh that you overproduce and sell back to the utility.

It's amazing that no one seems to even notice most of these charges. Georgia Power was certainly surprised when I asked. It's important to understand the total cost of power when deciding to put solar on your home. The published rate is just a small part of the total cost of power.


Friday, June 22, 2018

The 21-Word Review: Red Sparrow (Delta In-Flight)

I didn't watch this earlier because of the poor marketing. It is much better than a Jennifer gets naked exploitation flick.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

The 21-Word Review: The Kingsfountain Series by Jeff Wheeler

I liked Game of Thrones and asked for advice on a similar series. This was the advice offered. It's bad advice.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

The 21-Word Review: The Shape of Water

I really like that directors are being encouraged to develop unique voices and visions, but Best Picture may be overdoing it.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The 21-Word Review: The Pearl Harbor Series by Harry Turtledove

We tend to view historical events as if they were inevitable. Good alternative history writers show us that nothing is inevitable.

Monday, June 18, 2018

The 21-Word Review: Barracoon: The Story of the Last Black Cargo by Zora Neale Hurston

It's hard to understand why this book took so long to be published. A little book with a very big impact.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

The 21-Word Review: Dallas Buyers Club

Yes it's a tragic and inspiring story over overcoming hardships, but all I could think of was the amazing cheekbones throughout.