Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Ecobee is super nif-tee!

Fellow ClimateTalk Alliance Member Ecobee can be quite proud of their product. The Ecobee thermostat flawlessly connects to the internet to allow its users web access to change thermostat settings and set up programming.

They really had their Nogginthinkingcaps on when they thought to put the weather report right on the thermostat display and when they made it easy for customers to schedule maintenance with convenient on-board reminders.

And boy, the design of the Ecobee is super-sleek - enough to make Steve Jobs blush! Add to all that the fact that there is even an Ecobee iPhone App you can use to control the thermostat leaves me virtually speechless.

You can bet Nogginhaus clients will see Ecobees on their living room walls & we look forward to seeing more of their Nogginhaus musings in the future.

Check out Ecobee here...

Friday, November 13, 2009

ClimateTalk and Nogginhaus

Spent the day in Phoenix, Arizona with the good folks at the ClimateTalk Alliance. Nogginhaus is now a member of the alliance and will be helping the smart people from Emerson, EDC, Microchip and more create a product that will revolutionize the way houses work (house? work? housework!).

So how will they work?

That's our task. It seems to me that we really do live in a Matrix of sorts. Data is everywhere --getting it to the people and machines that can make good use of it is the challenge.

ClimateTalk is up to that challenge.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Smart Machines

Your cellphone rings. A voice tells you that you need a gallon of milk and you have about a week's worth of mustard left for the family-pack of Hebrew Nationals you bought last weekend.

You make a mental note to make a supermarket stop on the way home from work tonight.

No, it wasn't your wife who called, it was your refrigerator.

A recent Wall Street Journal blurb announced a joint venture between Verizon and Qualcomm to provide "machine to machine communication" via cellular equipment.

Machines are already smart, they just need to communicate. Once they do that, who needs you?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Wethinks about chickens, Part Double Yolk

I wrote a few months back about raising chickens in our backyard (read it here).

Evidently, this line of thinking is becoming more mainstream.

Boog is worried about that and thinks maybe we should consider pheasant instead.

Check out this video from the Wall Street Journal about the chicken wars in Salem, Oregon.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Thoughts on Independence Day

This Independence Day, take a moment to learn how our politicians are gleefully taking the role of the aristocracy and how there's no difference between Democrats and Republicans.

Wall Street Journal provides these reports that illustrate that the rhetorical badgering that takes place on the Sunday talk shows is followed by happy backslapping on the planeride to exotic locales on the taxpayer dime.

There's the Political Class and then there's us stuck paying for it.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Smart Outlets

What if an electrical appliance could communicate with its house? What if a coffee maker that is suddenly drawing too much current and could not only shut itself off, but also shut off its circuit?

John La Grou, longtime electronics inventor talks here about such a product. Another exciting step toward Nogginhaus - the house that thinks for itself.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Remembering GM and Chrysler

The recent news about the government takeovers of GM and Chrysler has me in a bit of a melancholy mood. I'm thinking of my grandfather too, who passed away Christmas last.

In the 1950's not everyone had central air conditioning. In fact, most didn't. The most recent breakthrough for home comfort was the oil burner and the ability to get rid of (or convert) that coal-eating beast in the cellar.

Not long after that came the advent of central cooling for homes. Americans had enjoyed cool movie theaters, restaurants and department stores for years now, but the entry into the home has been somewhat slow.

Now, most credit Willis Carrier for the dry summer comfort we enjoy in our homes today and that would be only somewhat true. Ol' Willis was an engineer. And as engineers are wont to do, he liked figuring out the big stuff.

And so it's here where my thoughts of GM, Chrysler and Grandpop come together. You see he was quite good at selling his comfort wares. And proud too.

Proud to tell his customers that his company offered the safest, most reliable systems available to this new industry. Proud because he sold GM and Chrysler.

You see, in the 1950s, America was proud of her industry. And Grandpop was proud. That's why he sold GM Delco oil furnaces and Chrysler AirTemp air conditioners.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Solar Buyer - Beware

I read with great interest Diane Mastrull's Sunday, May 10th Philadelphia Inquirer column; "Solar power - for rent"

In it she explains that solar, even with the available rebates and incentives, can be prohibitively expensive for many people these days. She then goes on to explain how a small company is offering to pay this upfront cost in an effort to "raise a bumper crop of solar panels across Philadelphia's rowhouse rooftops."

These types of agreements, while new to the Delaware Valley, have existed in various forms over the years. While helpful, there are pros and cons to them. It is important that people know the consequences of 'renting' and may be better off saving their shekels to put down on their own system instead.

The type of agreement described in the article is typically known as a "Power Purchase Agreement". They are commonly used in situations when non-taxable entities like schools, churches or governments want the benefits of solar.

Simply put, a third party pays for the solar installation. As such, the building owner does not 'own' the system and cannot participate in the tax credits or depreciation.

In some cases (like the one described in the article), the leasing company receives all of the available incentives (rebates, RECs) and basically becomes the utility by forging an agreement with the building owner to purchase power from the leasing company (usually at significant savings) for a fixed period of time. At the end of that period, the system usually becomes the property of the building owner for a payment as agreed at the inception of the lease.

While leasing (Power Purchase Agreements) can be helpful, it is important to understand that they are most useful for nontaxable entities to take advantage of credits they would normally not have access to.

Taxable entities must understand, however, that using these types of agreements can strip them of their rights to the kind of incentives that make alternative energies attractive. Consequently, they would likely be better off tapping sources of loan funds or simply saving the money to invest in solar in the future.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Fast Response Even Faster

I know it's hard to believe, but 2 weeks ago we were in summertime weather. A lot of air conditioners were breaking down in South Jersey.

Thankfully, people were able to count on Runnemede Plumbing Heating Cooling & Electric

Here's a nice note from a homeowner in Mount Ephraim:

Thank you so much for responding to our call as fast as you did on Saturday. Our central air broke late in the day and with the outside temperature increasing over the weekend we needed your help and expertise right away... My husband and I were able to sleep comfortably, and so did our Golden Retriever Harley who was panting frantically earlier throughout the day...As homeowners we will continue to use Runnemede Plumbing Heating Cooling & Electric because we need a business, and service such as yours we can depend on to help us with the unexpected. Go Big Red R! Thank you once again.

With office hours Monday through Saturday 7am - 10pm, TheBigRedR is definitely the place to call with your home service needs; who wants to take off from work in this economy??

But then there's Nogginhaus.

With Nogginhaus, the air conditioner's problem would have been identified and fixed before there was a breakdown. No hot Saturday afternoon. No worry about a hot, miserable night. No panting Golden Retriever.

Fast response even faster.

Monday, April 27, 2009

April Summery

A week ago I was sitting in a barn in Califon, NJ learning the whats and wherefores about solar electricity. It was cold.

It's a barn, after all and although the building had solar panels on the roof and lights to read by, one still had to use a port-a-john for his business and rub his hands vigorously together for heat.

Today, on the verge of May, temperatures push past 90 for the third day straight. The phones at Runnemede Plumbing Heating Cooling & Electric ring nonstop. Lots of people are finding that their air conditioner doesn't work. Others want to schedule a maintenance visit before 'summer' arrives.

But a Nogginhaus has not a care. It already knew weeks ago that the air conditioner needed attention. So it scheduled the repair visit and had it fixed before the homeowner even realized that there was problem.

He went about his work and enjoyed life while his thinking house took care of itself.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Social Media on Steroids

The success of online networking sites is intriguing to me. Facebook, LinkedIn, Plaxo; I've joined them all and encouraged my friends and family to do the same.

But I think the process is clumsier than it needs to be.

Let's say you meet someone interesting at a business meeting. You have a good, spirited conversation and exchange business cards. When you get back from your trip, you decide to look your new friend up in Facebook. You send an invite.

Now maybe he'll remember you. Maybe he won't. Maybe he'll accept your invitation. Maybe not.

The fact that you stood together, had a conversation and exchanged business cards is all useful data. Maybe someday soon your networking sites will know instantly who you met, how you interacted and the likelyhood that you'll meet again in the future.

Perhaps you'll be able to simply logon to your Facebook account and you'll see that you are already 'Friends'

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Pinball Inflation

The family spent the day at Arnold's Family Fun Center in Oaks, PA. My son, Hunter, turned 4 this week and he has been wanting to go gokart racing since last fall.

That reminds me; Full Tilt Racing provided a great day of gokart racing for our company (Runnemede Plumbing Heating Cooling & Electric) last fall.
Here's the video:

Anyhow, this post isn't about gokart racing. Rather, it is about pinball and inflation.

Huh? Well, at Arnold's, they have a section full of pinball machines new and old. I began by playing the newer machines and gradually made my way to the older ones.

I must say, I enjoyed the old ones the most. They were noticably old and from the 1960s or 1970s. I enjoyed them for a few reasons:

- The new machines were very complicated. There was so much going on; lots of lights, targets, tunnels, flippers, holes. All kinds of stuff. They were fun, but a bit overwhelming. On the other hand, the old machines were beautiful in their simplicity. Two flippers, not four or six. Very simple layouts so you actually knew what you were supposed to try to accomplish.

- The new machines had very elaborate sound systems as well. There was Baywatch, The Simpsons, The Sopranos - all with the requisite theme songs and sound effects. The old machines though, what a wonderful cacophony of clacks, pings and bells. Playing those old machines felt like playing an old instrument - you had an idea of what it should sound like, but were pleasantly amused once you started playing.

- Lastly, I couldn't help but notice the point inflation. It was nothing to score in the millions of points in the newer machines. But in the old machines, scores were only in the tens of thousands.

So just like the price of bread and milk and gas and virtually everything in the
1960s, the 'same thing' is much, much more costly today.

In 40 years will our kid's look back at 1,000,000 and wax nostalgic at what such a small sum could buy? Most definitely, if our government has anything to say about it.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Wethinks about chickens

Jeff and I have been talking a lot lately about chickens. We want chickens. Good, egg-laying chickens. Like a Rhode Island Red. Or maybe a White Leghorn.

We figure on getting four chickens. Four nice egg laying hens will do us good. Omletts, scrambled, poached, hard-boiled, over-easy, over-medium, over-hard, sunny-side-up, sliced egg sandwiches, egg salad, soufles, egg cremes.

Our wives think that we're crazy, that we'll never actually get around to buying our coveted fowl. We did a lot of research on coops. The Catawba Brougham is our favorite. We downloaded the plans and intend to build it ourselves (our wives chuckle when we tell them that too).

So when we tell others our plans for world domination beginning with a humble flock of yard-raised chickens, they usually have a few questions after their hearty belly laughs and snide comments. I will gladly address them here:

1. You can't keep chickens in your town, can you?
I read our town's rule book, and it specifically says you can't keep a specific list of farm animals one of which is NOT chickens!

2. Won't they make a lot of noise?
They're CHICKENS, not roosters! Besides, I'm sure they won't wake me up in the middle of the night like the stupid dog across the street! Chickens might be dumb, but at least they know to go to sleep when it's dark!

3. What will you do with all of the eggs?
Eat them. See deliciously long list above.

4. Won't they smell?
No more that the yard of the beast mentioned in item number 2. Pew.

5. What will you do when they're too old to lay eggs?
Eat them. Mmmmm; fried, roasted, fricassied, poached, baked, cordon blue, pot pies, caccatore, with cashew nuts, salad, monte carlo, croquettes...

6. Where will you keep them?
In their coop. The Catawba Brougham; what a fine piece of capon construction.

And lastly, my wife's favorite:
7. Who's going to feed them every day?
That's what we have kids for!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Cure for Low Prices: Low Prices

Seems that we've been pretty lucky over the past 9 months or so regarding energy prices. Oil's been around $50 per barrel, natural gas was surprisingly inexpensive this winter. Heck, even the electric company sent a friendly flyer with this month's bill that they lowered the price per kilowatt hour.

But an old commodities traders used to say "the cure for low prices is low prices". Last summer, when energy prices were through the roof there was a lot of talk about drilling, searching, conserving and alternativising (my word). That talk has all but been silenced.

When prices fall it just doesn't make sense to keep drilling and searching for energy. It doesn't make as much sense to conserve. And it doesn't make as much sense to put money into an alternative energy source. The payback just isnt there.

But whoa to those who think that the energy prices we pay today are a good foundation to which to base an energy decision. Energy prices will be going up. If you had any doubt of that yesterday, be sure of it today. Geithner just printed up another trillion.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Snap Out Of It!

Last month the Innovation Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF)released its report showing the rankings of 40 countries regarding their capacity for innovation. In that report, the U.S. is shown as ranked #6 out of 40.

Ahead of the United States are: Singapore, Sweden, Luxembourg, Denmark and South Korea. All fair company I suppose.

But perhaps more disturbing are the little tidbits a bit further into the report. For example, when measuring the rate of change in innovation over the past decade, the U.S.A comes in dead last. 40th place. In other words, every other country (countries like China, Poland, Latvia, Malta and even Cyprus for heaven's sake) innovate at a faster clip than we do hear at the good ol' USA.

It seems that we've been telling ourselves that 'we're #1' for so long that we've come to believe that success will simply come naturally to us. Over the last 10 year's we patted each other on the back as we admired our cunning brilliance. "We think, they sweat." we said.

And all the while, our competitors are gaining on us while the politicians keep telling us that "we have the most dynamic economy in the world" and that "Americans work harder than any other people on the planet."

Do we really?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Revolt Against Big Baaa!!

I'll bet the Bush family own a sheep farm too! Planet haters!!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Nogginthought About Alternative Energies

Wow, energy is a hot topic these days. It appears that cap and trade is a shoe-in and that our nation's efforts will move more and more toward finding alternative ways to power our buildings.

But despite the hype and the seemingly clear path away from carbon based fuels, there are still some doubters.

In today's Wall Street Journal, Robert Bryce, managing editor of Energy Tribune points out what a small drop in the bucket(or should I say barrel) solar and wind power will make toward reducing our use of fossil fuels.

27.7 million barrels of oil were not consumed during 2008 thanks to the use of solar and wind. Problem is, he points out, that America uses the equivalent of 17,301 million barrels of oil worth of energy per year. That makes solar and wind quite a small contributor to the solution of our energy problems.

His conclusion is that hydrocarbons won't go away anytime soon and that the politicians need to admit that fact.

I'd have to agree with him. Politicians do things for power. And rallying against hydrocarbons is a politically popular thing to do.

Now, I don't propose to have all the answers, frankly I believe all politicians are cut from the same cloth, but I do think about this stuff.

The one thing that stood out in Robert Bryce's opinion piece is that he, in fact, has a solar array on the roof of his home that provides about a third of the power his family uses.

And that's where my Nogginthoughts begin. A Nogginhaus is a thinking house. And just like a thinking person is an independent one, so too will a Nogginhaus be an independent house. Sure, the nation needs to reduce it's dependence on foreign oil, blah, blah, blah. But we also need to reduce our dependence on the government 'doing something' to solve our problems.

Gas companies, electric companies, and water companies are all utilities that are fingers of the hand of government. And while all this talk revolves around solving the energy problems through various means, it is the individual who will pay for it.

Think now about how your home can be independent and then let the government do what it will do anyway - no matter what you think.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Coming Trade Shortage

"It's going to be hard - and very expensive - to live in a country where only a few know how to fix a broken car engine or faucet, build well-crafted homes or make sure the lights come on when it gets dark," says Katherine Harding of Canada's Globe & Mail.

In the 1940's and 1950's you didn't have too many choices to cool off on a hot day. Many houses only recently began enjoying the comforts of indoor plumbing and indoor electricity powered little more than the light next to your favorite easy chair.

It wasn't Doctorate degrees or professional certifications that brought these things to pass. It was the hard work of a select few who decided to dedicate themselves to learn a trade. A trade passed down, refined and improved upon generation after generation after generation.

Canada is facing a huge skills shortage . Government statisticians say that by 2020 there will be 1 million fewer tradespeople than they need.

"We often forget the value and importance of the skilled trades because we take their work for granted," says Keith Lancastle, Executive Director of the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum (CAF). "Our lights stay on, our water is clean and our cars are on the road. We rarely stop to think of the people who work hard to make things run smoothly."

That we rarely stop to think might make our stuff just stop working.

For decades well-meaning parents in Canada have been encouraging their kids to get a college degree as their ticket to the good life. That's a good idea, of course. Continuing ones education is a defining step in becoming a productive, tax-paying adult.

Soon, however, Canadians became too focused on that nice piece of parchment. It became the do-all end-all. Many technically gifted youngsters may have been encouraged not to explore their passion to fix things, but to get a degree - any degree - so that they could get a 'good' job.

Before they knew it, schools decided 'shop' classes weren't so important anymore. Instead, they were replaced by more computer classes, language classes and art classes. These are important to get into college, they said.

In 1966, 20% of a Canadian high schoolers course credits were in technical subjects. By 1990, only 5% were of a technical nature. Today it's even lower.
Canadians are trying to wrap their arms around the issue. In March 2002, the Conference Board of Canada issued a report entitled "Solving the Skilled Trades Shortage". In it, they talk about many of the issues already mentioned here. They also shed some light on why young people are shying away from the trades.

First, they found that young people find the trades 'relatively unattractive'. In other words, 'they lack the cache of white collar jobs'. The study reports "Other common youth perceptions are cold, dirty, outdoor, seasonal, boom and bust occupations, that involve repetitive work, low job satisfaction, and little imagination for even less compensation."


The report goes on to point out that their adult leaders know no more than their children, "They are frequently misinformed by parents, teacher and guidance counselors, who regard the skilled trades as "dead end" or second best jobs, to be pursued only when other avenues are closed. Teachers and guidance counselors still regard the trades as best suited for students who have difficulty achieving academically and do not recommend them as first choices for students who achieve at relatively higher levels of performance."

And so it's the blind leading the blind up in the Great White North.

The fact is, however, that the time has passed where you could equate a plumber with a ditch digger or a janitor. Today's technicians need high levels of skills in areas people likely don't think about. Subjects such as algebra and calculus, physics and computers are all in the training regimine of today's technicians. The skills technicians need today greatly overshadow those of yesteryear.

But what about here in the good ol' U S of A? Well, we may be trodding the same path...

In January 2005, the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis published an article in their FedGazette entitled "The hard hat blues":

"...while good-paying skilled trades careers are available, workers are not putting on the hard hat, picking up the hammer or getting under the hood, so to speak, in numbers proportional to demand."

The reason? "Its good work (for someone else)."

And so it is here as it is north of the border. The Fed goes on to say:
"The word 'apprenticeship' is kind of like the word 'vocational': it's a bad word" said Steven Rounds, project manager for tech prep programs with the South Dakota Department of Education. 'If your kid is in a vocational career, he's looked down on." Jim McKeon, president and CEO of the Rapid City (S.D.) Chamber of Commerce, said he attended a meeting with about 20 community and business leaders, and there was widespread agreement about the future need for skilled trades workers. Then McKeon asked who among them was encouraging their kids to pursue such a path, "and of the 20 people in the room, not a hand went up."

I think the next time the cable guy shows up late I'll just count my blessings.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Pot And Speeding

I read an article recently about the somewhat rapid adoption of speeding cameras across our great land. It seems that these cameras can catch you in the act of speeding or running a red light and simply mail you your ticket.

At the same time, California is considering legalizing marijuana so that they can earn some much-needed tax revenue. It could solve their budget crisis, they say. I saw a pro-legalization fella being interviewed on television last night. He said that people are already buying billions of dollars worth of the stuff. The host then pointed out that the stuff is illegal. The guest then quipped, "so is speeding but people do it every day".

In Arizona, the AAA is sending out guides showing where the traffic cams are so that they can help their members avoid a ticket. The politicians say that this isn't fair and that chronic speeders won't get caught if they know where the cameras are.

Ok, these same politicians cried "if we save just one life" or "they make our streets safer for pedestrians" or "but what about the children", when making a case for the traffic cams.

But when push comes to shove the cameras are about the revenue they bring in and not much else.

Just like legalized marijuana.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Clear as mud

You open your utility bill, you look at the balance due and you pay it, right? Have you ever stopped to look at all the various "charges" you are paying for?

Two things crack me up about utilities, particularly PSE&G. First, they often proclaim that they make no money on the actual product (gas or electric). Then, they gobble up publicity showing their latest green projects like the recent announcment of their solar initiatives.

So they don't make a dime on product, so where do they get the money to operate and to do all of these touchy-feely projects? The answer is right there on your utility bill. Look on the second page and you'll see the BGS charge and the SB charge and this charge and that charge. All of these charges add up with each turn of your meter.

And so it is indeed you and I and every other rate payer tied to the grid that is actually paying for the latest feel-good project and giveaway and promotion that PSE&G has.

Is it wrong? No, not really. But in our newfound desire for 'transparency' don't you think we should know what we're paying for?

Friday, February 27, 2009

Talking Tools

No, I'm not going to speak here about the latest cordless drill or laser level.

What if tools could talk? Imagine a tool that could communicate where it is or when it was last used. What if a circular saw could communicate it's operating statistics and tell you how much use is left in the blade?

Science fiction? Not really. Data is all around us, we just need to grab it, interpret it and put it to good use.

Check out and see how their very simple rfid system could automate some pretty mundane things. Check out this video.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Fallacy of Simple

It's human nature to look at something and to try to simplify it. We make those judgements in a split second, often without even realizing it.

Perhaps a more enlightened being would understand it differently. Maybe the seemingly simple things just aren't as simple as they seem on the surface. The doctor may seem to leave you fuming in the waiting room for 20 minutes after your appointment time not because he is careless, or unorganized but because of some seemingly small government-imposed regulation makes it so.

In Malcom Gladwell's book The Outliers, he does an fascinating job of illustrating how something simple or seemingly unrelated can indeed have a huge outcome on a situation or a town or even a nation.

Could our nation now be realizing the unintended consequences of decisions made 40 years ago?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Imagine a house that thinks for itself.

The house knows that the basement freezer is on the blink, and schedules a service call before the food has a chance to spoil.

The house knows when you arrive home from work and greets you by turning on the lights, adjusting your thermostat and turning on your favorite television show.

The house knows when the kids open up the windows on a nice summer day - so it turns off the air conditioner to save money.

In short, a Nogginhaus is a thinking house and it's ability to do the things that will make your life easier is limited only by your imagination.