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Decisions: 2021 Household Projects

As we come to the end of the year, I’m looking back across a range of substantial household projects. We rather famously lost power for a few days back in February 2021 during an unusually cold snap. This lead to some additional thinking about household projects, including the new air conditioner. Specifically, how best to adapt our home to operation without utility power? After all, the Great Texas Freeze of 2021 was not the first time we lost power for days. We were without power for several weeks after Hurricane Ike in 2008.

Generac Standby Generator Beauty Shot copy

The most common approach that we see around the neighborhood is the installation of a standby generator. These are permanently installed systems that startup and take over when utility power fails. Generac, Kohler and Cummins are the most common brands. They typically run on natural gas and I’ve seen systems from 14 kW to 32 kW hereabouts.

Standby Generator vs Air Conditioner

Given the position of our home on the lot, and the location of the gas meter and breaker panel, it’s not really practical for us to install a standby generator. It would be prohibitively expensive given the required location of the generator. We’d need to run buried pipe for natural gas, and conduit for electrical cable, a considerable distance. The cost of the installation is much more than the generator itself. The entire project cost is as much as a new air conditioner, for a benefit that that would only occasionally be realized.

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New Gear: Eaton 9130 Dual Conversion UPS

We have a pair of UPSs here; one in the office and another in the house. In both cases, they run the network core; Ethernet switches, Wi-Fi access points, IoT hubs and the like. Our reliance on power-over-ethernet means that there are actually quite a lot of gear that’s on the UPSs.

For many years the UPS in my office was made by Belkin. It was cheap. It did the job, sustaining the network core through many a minor outage. Being fanless, it was silent…which I deeply admire.Eaton 9130 2UHowever, as with most low-cost UPSs, it was “line-interactive” design. In such a design the power provided by the batteries and invertor is connected in parallel to the utility power. When utility power falters the local circuitry tries to make up the slack. The design is simple. Any UPS under $500 new is almost certainly a line-interactive design.

More sensitive gear is better served using a more sophisticated design known as “online” or “dual-conversion.” An online UPS puts its active circuitry between the utility power and the load. The utility power is turned into DC, which feeds the batteries and the invertor, which makes brand new, pristine, stable AC power for the load.

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Amazon Sidewalk Approaches

As a household that has several Amazon Echo devices, I feel obligated to share the news about Amazon Sidewalk, including how to disable it.

What is Sidewalk?

Sidewalk is a “feature” in the latest firmware for the current generation of Amazon smart home products, including; Echo smart speakers, Ring doorbells & security cameras, and Tile trackers. When enabled, Sidewalk capable devices used by neighbors, visitors or passers-by are able to leverage your local internet connectivity.

Amazon says that these Sidewalk interlopers are allowed a limited amount of bandwidth, just 80 kbps, which is about the same as a tradition VoIP phone call.

Why Sidewalk?

That’s simple – ubiquitous connectivity is very convenient. Amazon knows this from years of experience. For example, their WhisperNet was a mechanism leveraging AT&T’s 3G mobile network to provide ubiquitous connectivity to early Kindle e-book readers.

Tile tracker

Imagine someone who uses Tile Pro to track their car keys. They are, as so many do each day, dropping their child off at Travis Elementary School, which is across the street.

It could be very handy if their Tile Pro found our front room Echo Dot, allowed it to ping Amazon servers. If they later lost their car keys, Amazon would know they had been near our home. Presumably, Amazon would have a more detailed record of their location that might otherwise be possible.

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Offline Today

From 3am this morning our home network has been offline. This was expected. Comcast, our primary access provider, was quite good about notifying us of a planned fiber upgrade. The process has been taking areas of the neighborhood offline briefly…

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