Fixing a Tesla Powerwall that isn’t charging

fixing a Tesla PowerwallIn February 2018, I took advantage of an excellent Green Mountain Power (GMP) program to install a Tesla Powerwall 2.0 on my Vermont home. For just $1,500, GMP installed a 13.5 kWh Powerwall on the outside of my home, providing us with an automatic back up electricity source that has proven capable of running our home through continuous outages of up to two days. (Yes, we get those kinds of outages now and then in rural Vermont.)

Why GMP subsidizes Powerwall installation

Given that an installed Powerwall costs about $10,000, you might be wondering why GMP installed mine for only $1,500. The answer is that they have the right to suck power out of it when there’s a system wide power consumption peak. With several thousand Powerwalls like mine currently installed around Vermont, these combined units can supplement conventional power sources with tens of megawatts of power, reducing GMP’s need to buy expensive peak power.

I get automatic reliable power when the line power to my house is interrupted. GMP gets lower power purchase costs. Win-Win!

How the Powerwall has worked so far

My Powerwall has worked perfectly for eighteen months. In that time it’s taken us through 43 outages. Most of them are short and last less than an hour, and we don’t even realize the power was off until later. Our longest (54 hours) began on November 27th, 2018 and that’s the only time our Powerwall got completely discharged. In total, the unit has supplied 66 hours of backup electricity since we purchased it.

I know all these stats because Tesla provides an app that monitors your Powerwall, showing your backup history…

Powerwall backup history…current power flows…

Powerwall power flow

…and historical power flows.Powerwall historic power flows

The 42nd power outage

On August 9, 2020, we had a 3 hour outage. It turned out that a tree fell on the power line that snakes up the ten miles of road between our home in Marlboro and the feeder point in Brattleboro. The Powerwall worked perfectly, but when utility power was restored, the Tesla app showed that though Powerwall was still 80% charged, there was no power flowing between the electricity grid, Powerwall, and our home.

This had never happened before.

The green light on Powerwall was steady, so it was “enabled” and communicating with the Gateway.

First I tried turning off the Powerwall, using the switch on the side. The house power remained on, and the big green LED on the side slowly dimmed. I waited for ten minutes until the light was out and then turned the unit on. No improvement. Strike 1.

Second, I gingerly opened the Gateway box, something I’d never looked at before (or been told anything about by the installers.) There was a reset hole, but a flashlight showed me there was no button to reset. The Gateway box has a single breaker which I turned off. The app then came to life and showed that the Powerwall was powering the house, draining the battery. Encouraged, I turned the Gateway breaker back on. The house became powered by the grid again, but, the app display went back to showing no flows. Strike 2.

Fixing a Tesla Powerwall charging problem

Well, when all else fails, read the manual! I’d never received a Powerwall owner’s manual, but found it online and discovered these instructions in the Troubleshooting section:

If the Gateway and Powerwall are both unresponsive:
1. Turn off Powerwall by setting its switch to the OFF position.
2. Turn off the AC breakers for the system (Gateway and Powerwall).
3. Wait for at least one minute.
4. Turn the AC breakers back on.
5. Turn on Powerwall.

I was reluctant to do this, since I knew it would turn off the house power completely and I’d have to run around and reset all the clocks. (A classic First World problem.) Anyway, sometimes manuals prove useful, because after I followed these instructions — hallelujah! my app showed flows, including the welcome sight that my Powerwall was being recharged by the utility company. Everything worked again!

I hope my experience fixing a Tesla Powerwall that isn’t charging is helpful to anyone else who experiences this problem.

Any other Powerwall tips and experiences to share? Add a comment below!

Goodbye Quicken 2007 – Hello SEE Finance!

Quicken SEE Finance

I have switched my personal finance software from Quicken 2007 to SEE Finance. For twelve years, I used the venerable Quicken 2007 to manage my personal finances; a lifetime for software these days. Later Quicken versions never matched the functionality of the 2007 version, which has consequently remained extremely popular.

But software platforms constantly change, and Intuit recently announced the functional death of Quicken 2007 in two ways: one that can be worked around, and one that really can’t. First, Intuit pointed out that the 32-bit software will not run on future 64-bit versions of macOS. If you don’t upgrade macOS (or keep a machine to run Mohave or an older version) Quicken 2007 can still be used. But the game changer for me is Intuit’s announcement that “Due to a security and reliability update from the service provider, the ability to download transactions will no longer work in Quicken 2007, regardless of your macOS version”.

It’s unclear exactly what “update” Intuit is referring to. Regardless, there was no way I was going back to the days when I had to manually enter security prices, and bank and credit card transactions.

So I needed new personal finance software.

My search for personal finance software

I spent a few days reading reviews and comparing features of current personal finance software. My must-have features included:

  • Runs on an Apple Macintosh and looks like a Mac app
  • Can import my historic Quicken 2007 data (~50,000 transactions!)
  • Downloads bank and credit card transactions from the financial institutions I use
  • Updates security prices
  • Allows customization of the information shown in account registers
  • Includes memorized repeated transactions
  • Provides adequate financial reports
  • Allows me to choose where I store my data, so I can access it anywhere from my desktop or laptop Macs
  • Rock solid reliability
  • As responsive as Quicken 2007

One feature I didn’t need is built-in online bill paying. I use my bank’s service, or the online payment scheduling that most businesses offer today.

Hello SEE Finance!

After checking out options that included Moneydance and subscription-based Quicken for Mac, I installed a thirty-day free trial of SEE Finance 2, and never looked back.

SEE Finance 2 imported all my Quicken 2007 transactions flawlessly, even highlighting a few discrepancies I’d overlooked over the years. The OFX (think Microsoft Money) one-step update of prices and account transactions works better for me, and for more accounts than Quicken 2007 ever did. Online account updating is outstanding: one-click updates all security prices and brings in new transactions from all linked brokerage, bank, and credit card accounts.

I have bank accounts, credit cards, investment accounts, mutual funds, individual investments, and some assets — all handled without problems. It took me a little while to understand how SEE Finance reconciles accounts, but I now find the process intuitive. The program is very fast and has been rock solid. And I am rapidly adjusting to the new interface after all these years of muscle memory Quicken 2007 data entry.

The program handles multiple currencies and budgeting, which might be great features for some, but I don’t need them. The developer also offers an IOS version for $4.99 (!), but it only works if your data is stored in iCloud. My free iCloud storage is fairly full, so I prefer to use my paid Dropbox account to store my 200MB data file plus the backups SEE Finance makes.

I think the only thing I will probably miss is Quicken 2007’s extensive reporting capabilities. I haven’t fully explored the reporting in SEE Finance yet, but it looks adequate for my needs, though there may be some minor gaps.

Currently, you can buy SEE Finance 2 for $39.99 US “for a limited time”. Unlike the current Quicken for Mac, no subscription is needed.

I have no connection with the developer, Scimonoce Software; I’m just, so far, a happy customer!

Two free easy ways to create graphics for blog posts and presentations

free easy ways to create graphicsHere are what I think are the two best free easy ways to create graphics for blog posts and presentations if you’re not a graphics wonk. (Note: I am not a graphics wonk.)

I’ve written over five hundred posts on this blog over the last ten years. As they tell you in SEO School, every post has at least one image. I often find an appropriate image on the web, but sometimes I feel inspired to create a graphic that fits better.

In addition, I frequently present at meeting industry events and to clients. Good presentation graphics can really help communicate what I’m trying to say, and strengthen my message.

Are you also “not a graphics wonk”?

I think there are a lot of people like me who have difficulty easily creating even simple graphics. My problem is that I simply don’t use “professional” graphics creation tools enough to be able to reliably memorize the variety of techniques, tools, and processes needed to speedily turn what I visualize into reality.

My graphic designer, whom I happily hire for complicated stuff, can quickly create perspective drawings, remove unwanted photo elements, and tone down someone’s bright clothing. For me, attempting any of these things takes a few hours on the web figuring out how, and making lots of mistakes along the way. The next time (if ever) I want to repeat the process I’ll have likely forgotten how to do it.

Graphic design software like Photoshop and Illustrator — kitchen-sink tools that can do almost anything — are overwhelming for me. What I need is software that:

  • Allows me to easily work with and position images and vector graphics.
  • Has easy to use, intuitive methods for duplicating, manipulating, aligning, and spacing graphic elements.
  • Provides a text tool and a simple palette of basic graphic shapes.
  • Includes object grouping to speed up repetitive graphic element duplication.
  • Can easily add drop shadows to objects.
  • Includes a gallery of my existing work, allowing me to create a new graphic from an old one.
  • Can export anything I create as a jpeg.
  • Doesn’t include a ton of extra capabilities I’ll never master and therefore never use.

If these sound like your needs too, read on! (Also, I’ve included two great additional resources at the end of this post.)

Read the rest of this entry »

How to enable Verizon free call filtering

Verizon is now offering free call filtering, but enabling it can be incredibly frustrating! Many reviews complain that, after downloading the Verizon Call Filter app, no option for the free version appears. Instead, you are only offered a free 10-day trial or the option to purchase a monthly subscription.

Here’s how to activate the free version of Verizon Call Filter

I found these instructions buried in a comment on the wonderful TidBITS website, posted by Paul7. I have cleaned up Paul’s explanation and added a couple of screen shots, but Paul deserves full credit for this solution.

The crucial step omitted from Verizon’s incredibly brief explanation of how to activate free call filtering is that if simply enrolling via the Call Filter App doesn’t work, you need to log in to My Verizon. Here’s what to do.

  1. Sign in to your Verizon account.
  2. Go to My Plans & Services and select Manage Products & Apps.
    Or your menu might look like the image below, in which case go to Plan and select Add-ons and apps.
  3. Click on the Get Products tab and the Premium Products option.How to enable Verizon free call filtering
  4. Scroll down till you find the Call Filter app and select the Call Filter Free option.How to enable Verizon free call filtering
  5. You’ll see a Checkout box where you can add Call Filter Free to the lines in your plan. Select the checkboxes next to the lines you want, and click Confirm Purchase.How to enable Verizon free call filtering
  6. On your phone, close the Verizon Call Filter app if it’s currently open. Now, when you reopen it you’ll see that free call filtering has been turned on!
  7. Paul notes that if you have more than two lines, you may have to go through this process multiple times since it only shows two lines at a time. Alternately, your My Verizon may offer this process for each device/line separately. If that’s the case, select each device in turn and repeat the above process.
  8. Finally, follow the steps in Josh Center‘s helpful TidBITS article to enable Verizon Call Filter’s spam filtering.

That’s it! Did this work for you? Do you have comments/additions/corrections? Please share them in the comments below.

AlphaZero, machine learning, and the future of work

AlphaZero, machine learning, and the future of work

Not long ago I wrote about the end of decent paid jobs and the need for basic income. A startling recent advance in machine learning has only heightened my concerns. Last month, Google’s subsidiary, DeepMind, published a paper on AlphaZero, an artificial intelligence (AI) the company designed to play games. The AI started with only game rules. Here’s what happened next:

“At first it made random moves. Then it started learning through self-play. Over the course of nine hours, the chess version of the program played forty-four million games against itself on a massive cluster of specialized Google hardware. After two hours, it began performing better than human players; after four, it was beating the best chess engine in the world.”
—James Somers, New Yorker, How the Artificial-Intelligence Program AlphaZero Mastered Its Games

From “knowing” nothing about the game, in four hours the program became the strongest chess player in the world. AlphaZero also taught itself in a few hours to become the world’s best Go and shogi player.

As a schoolboy I played competitive chess for a few years. Although I haven’t played chess seriously since then, I still have a feeling for the game.

I was shocked watching AlphaZero’s tenth game with Stockfish, the strongest open-source chess engine in the world.

I’d describe AlphaZero’s play as completely solid, interspersed with incredible flashes of brilliance. Great human chess players have an uncanny ability to view a position and quickly select a few plausible moves for deeper study out of the many possible legal moves. The best grandmasters occasionally discover a brilliant and unexpected move in a game. AlphaZero found several during this game.

Having seen this game, I’d describe AlphaZero as the most creative, brilliant, and strongest chess player the world has ever seen.

From a novice to best in the world in four hours, is a level of performance that no human can match.

Now think about what would happen if this kind of performance could be achieved in human work environments such as:

  • medical scan diagnosis;
  • legal document creation;
  • engineering design; and
  • stock market trading.

These are only harder problems than playing a game because:

  • the problem space is larger; and
  • the data needed for learning can’t be self-generated by the AI itself and must be supplied by humans.

But these are not insuperable obstacles. If overcome, many high paid jobs for medical practitioners, lawyers, accountants, and financial analysts would disappear.

Are we moving towards a world where the only available work is in low paid “human service” areas where people are still cheaper than machines? Perhaps.

Until the arrival of robots capable of doing just about everything humans do. What work for humans remains then?

Image attribution: Wired

What’s better than people augmented by technology at meetings?

What's better than people augmented by technology at meetings?
There’s a better way to improve meetings than augmenting them with technology. As Finnish management consultant and polymath Esko Kilpi says:

“Human beings augmented by other human beings is more important than human beings augmented by technology” —Esko Kilpi, quoted by Harold Jarche

At face-to-face meetings, we can facilitate relevant connections and learning around participants’ shared just-in-time wants and needs. This is more effective than augmenting an individual’s learning via technology. We maximize learning when:

  • Participants first become aware, collectively and individually, of the room’s wants, needs, and available expertise and experience (i.e. “the smartest person in the room is the room” — David Weinberger, Too Big To Know);
  • We use meeting process that successfully matches participants’ needs and wants with the expertise and experience available; and
  • Time and space is available for the desired learning to take place.

And of course, this approach significantly improves the quantity and quality of relevant connections made by participants during an event.

So the smart choice is to invest in maximizing peer connection and learning. Do this via simple human process rather than elaborate event technology.

I’ve wasted time at many events trying to use apps to connect attendees in some useful way. Even when high-tech approaches use a simple web-browser interface, getting 100% participation is difficult due to technical barriers: all attendees must have a digital device readily available with no low batteries or spotty/slow internet access.

Well-facilitated human process has none of these problems. The value of having a facilitator who knows how to do this work far exceeds the cost (which may be zero once you have invested in training staff to fulfill this function).

When push comes to shove, modern events thrive in supportive, participatory environments. Attendees appreciate the ease of making connections they want and getting the learning they need from the expertise and experience of their peers. Once they’ve experienced what’s possible they rarely enjoy going back to the passive meetings that are still so common.

Yes, we can use technology to augment learning. But the majority of the high-tech event solutions marketed today are inferior and invariably more costly to implement than increasing learning and connection through radically improving what happens between people at our meetings.

How the Apple Watch Series 3 improves my life

How the Apple Watch improves my lifeWhile exploring the New York City High Line for the first time in November 2017, I High Linestopped for lunch in the Chelsea Market, passed the Apple West 14th Street Store and on impulse went in to take a look at the Apple Watch Series 3 which had just been released. Though impressed while watching the original Apple Watch launch two years earlier, I was still wearing an inexpensive watch I’d purchased years ago in Zurich. This time I liked what I saw. Within 30 minutes I was the owner of a space gray 42mm aluminum Series 3. I added a space black Milanese Loop but passed on the cellular option.

As I write this, two months later, my Apple Watch has hardly left my wrist (you’ll see why later). Frankly I’m surprised at its positive impact on my life. Let’s list the ways…

Read the rest of this entry »

Four tools for communities of practice

Four tools for communities of practice
HT Harold Jarche

Today, communities of practice — groups of people who share a common interest, profession, or passion and actively engage around what they have in common — have become essential sources for productive learning, because they provide crucial bridges for social learning between our work community and our external social networks.

Here are four tools for creating, supporting, and enriching communities of practice.

Peer Conferences

In my post Conferences as Communities of Practice I explain how peer conferences can support communities of practice. (In 1992, the first peer conference I ever designed created a community of practice that has endured to this day.)

Listservs

Listservs are an old but still surprisingly useful technology. They manage a list of subscribers and allows any member to send email to the list. The listserv then sends the message to the other list subscribers. Listserv software is available on multiple platforms and is free for up to ten lists of up to five hundred subscribers which should be sufficient for most communities of practice. Yes, it’s true that numerous commercial alternatives exist. But self-hosted listservs don’t rely on commercial providers who may close down or change services with little notice or recourse.

Slack

Slack can be used free for basic support of communities of practice (up to 10,000 messages), though many useful functions are only available in paid versions ($80+ per person annually). All Slack content is searchable. The product, initially targeted at organizations, has been evolving into a community platform. Because of its cost, Slack is probably most useful for communities whose members already have corporate access.

Zoom

The ability to converse with community members via audio/video/chat on a scheduled or ad hoc basis is an important tool for maintaining and growing community connections online. For many years the free Google Hangouts was my go to tool for this purpose, but the service has become almost impossible to use on an ad hoc basis and Zoom seems to be the most popular replacement. For short meetings (up to a maximum of 100 participants for 40 minutes) the free Zoom Basic will suffice, but most communities will be well served by Zoom Pro (unlimited duration and participants; $180/year). Any community member who has a paid Zoom plan can host a video/web conference. So this tool can be a cost-effective way for communities of practice to keep in touch.

Do you use other tools to create, support, and enrich your communities of practice? If so, share them in the comments below!

How to solve the infuriating HTTP error when uploading images or videos to WordPress

Here’s a foolproof method to fix the dreaded HTTP error seen when attempting to upload images, videos, or other accepted file types to the WordPress Media Library.

One of the most frustrating aspects of using the popular WordPress platform is running into this error when attempting to upload media. If you’ve never experienced this, you’re lucky! I run into this problem on ~1% of my image uploads and have wasted a lot of time and energy trying to resolve it.

solve HTTP error uploading WordPress
I’m not alone. The two million plus hits returned by a quick Google search for the cause of this problem make it abundantly clear that this problem is common, and that there is neither a simple explanation why it occurs nor a single solution that prevents it from happening. Here is a summary of some of the “solutions” that have been proposed:

  • Reduce image size
  • Increase PHP memory
  • Disable mod_security
  • Disable plugins
  • Change php.ini and /or .htaccess settings
  • Install a newer version of php
  • Disable image optimization
  • Change upload folder permissions

I’m not denying that these approaches work under some circumstances, and if you are consistently unable to successfully upload images to the WordPress media library you should probably investigate them. But be prepared for a lot of messing about with no guarantee of success. (At least, that was my experience.)

So, here’s a solution that works (note: except for websites hosted at wordpress.com, because plugins cannot be added to such sites).

How to avoid an HTTP error when uploading media to WordPress
Begin with these three one-time-only steps:

  1. Obtain and set up an FTP program so you can transfer files to your WordPress host. If you didn’t understand that sentence, don’t worry: here’s a beginner’s guide to obtaining an FTP program and using FTP to transfer files to and from your WordPress site.
  2. Install the Add From Server plugin and activate it. If you don’t know how to install a WordPress plugin, consult this clear beginner’s guide.
  3. From your WordPress Dashboard, check Settings > Add From Server. The default settings [User Access Control All users with the ability to upload files] & [Root Directory Do not lock browsing to a specific directory] should be fine for general use.

Once you’ve completed the above steps, you can upload media to your WordPress library as follows:

  1. Run your FTP program and navigate to the appropriate folder to upload your media. There are a couple of possibilities here. For a default WordPress installation, the appropriate folder will be your Uploads folder, i.e. (..[NameOfYourSite]/wp-content/Uploads/).
  2. If, however, you have the WordPress Dashboard Settings > Media option Organize my uploads into month- and year-based folders checked, you will probably want to upload your media into a subfolder of Uploads that has the form [CurrentFourDigitYear/CurrentTwoDigitMonth/], for example ..[NameOfYourSite]/wp-content/Uploads/2017/07/. Note that if this is your first upload for the current month, the folder won’t exist and you’ll need to create it using the FTP program.
  3. From your WordPress Dashboard, go to Media > Add From Server.
    solve HTTP error uploading WordPress
  4. Use the navigation links at the top of the Add From Server screen to navigate to the same folder you chose in step 1 or 2.solve HTTP error uploading WordPress
  5. Click the checkmark box (or boxes) next to the media you wish to add. Then scroll to the bottom of the page. There’s an option to set the imported date to the current date and time [default] or the file’s creation date and time. I think the default is most appropriate, but feel free to choose the alternative. Click the Import button and voila! Your selection(s) will be added to your WordPress Media Library!

That’s it! Although this description of the process is long, once you’ve set up your FTP program the five steps above take very little time to complete. I hope this has been helpful, and welcome your comments below!