iOS 16 Focus Modes

I installed the new iOS 16 and finally set up my work calendar account to sync with my phone, mostly so I could take advantage of viewing all my calendar events (personal and professional) in the calendar widget on my Home Screen.

Up until now, I’ve just had my personal events in iCloud in the native calendar app and work events in the Google Calendar app. Annoying to check two calendars when making dentist appointments? Oh absolutely. Still an improvement from when I worked at Verizon and they gave us a separate phone! Anyway. At least this way I only looked at my work calendar when I was in work mode.

I thought the new focus mode feature would be my savior. I logged into my work account through settings, only enabled calendars (I really don’t want commingled mail thank you very much!), clicked through a bunch of calendar notifications (including a coworker’s vacation from April. Thanks Apple.) and — focus modes filters work by hiding things only!?!?!

Like you’re telling me I have to see my work and personal calendar events all commingled together. But then I can turn on my “work” focus and hide my personal calendars? Thanks, I guess? This is the opposite of what I want! I want to hide my work calendars until I’m, you know, working. I don’t need my damn 9am Monday meeting showing up on my Lock Screen all weekend long thank you very much.

No problem, I thought, I could just create a shortcut to hide work calendars when the work focus mode turns off. Noooope! You can’t change calendar visibility from shortcuts, so far as I can see.

So should I just leave my phone in a “personal“ focus mode 100% of the time I’m not working? I guess I could do that, and then set the notification/text to allow all notifications — oh this isn’t supported on my SE3 watch that’s not going to get anymore updates.

Ugh. Maybe I should just go back to two phones.

AJ’s Favorite Things: Insulated Water Bottles

There’s always so much whining and complaining about things online, I’m going to try to change that with my own little ray of sunshine on my little corner of the internets. These posts will sound like I’m trying to sell you something and I’m not. No affiliate links here. Just a few of AJ’s favorite things.

You see them everywhere, so I’m hardly unique when I write about insulated water bottles. There’s MIIR, and we have some Yeti tumblers, and Hydroflasks, and some S’wells, but my favorite are the Hydroflasks.

I’m a fan of the 32oz wide mouth. Alissa got one for me for my birthday with custom colors of gray and orange, and when I accidentally left it behind in a rental truck, she ordered me a second one.

It’s the little details that I like about this. The lid’s inner seal is depressed just a little bit, enough that if you drop it on the ground, the part that goes in the bottle isn’t going to make contact with the dirt or ground. I also like that it comes with a little rubber “boot” that acts like a built in coaster.

I’ve relegated all my old uninsulated Nalgene bottles (the ones that don’t cause cancer) to the refrigerator. I love cold water, and keeping them in the fridge lets them cool the water off before filling my Hydroflasks.

Irrigation

We spent the spring and summer trying to get clover to grow in the front yard and it just didn’t quite take the way we had hoped. Tired of having a yard full of weeds and mud, we decided to take a different path and we called a local tree company and they delivered 20 yards of mulch.

I think we might need another 20-35 yards to really get the depth we need to keep weeds at bay, but it’s a start. Last weekend we got some new plants through a friend of ours that is able to order at wholesale prices. We selected native plants that are drought resistant and will hopefully be both beautiful and low maintenance.

I went to Home Depot and got a starter drip irrigation “system” and additional parts and … that’s a lot easier than I really imagined. Now we have each new plant with its own drip water source. Each plant gets 1 gallon per hour, and we just run it a few times a week for a couple hours to ensure the plants have enough moisture to grow and thrive in this crazy September heat.

I’m kicking myself that we didn’t do this sooner. The drip system was shockingly easy to set up, and I just buried all the lines under the mulch so very little digging is required.

Meet Oto

This was one of those things I saw on Instagram that looks cool but not sure if it’s going to work out to be practical. 😅 I originally had it set up in the front yard but I was concerned someone would just steal it, and it didn’t quite have the reach that I was hoping for.

Oto is a wifi watering robot. It comes with an app that lets you customize your watering any way you would like. We are using it in the backyard with our trees to make sure they get established with enough consistent water, but it will water lawns as well and also has support for adding fertilizer and other treatments to the water. It’s a neat thing, but I am always nervous about expensive devices that require a cloud service from the manufacturer. We’ll see if Oto sunsets this service eventually but for now it’s nice to get the trees some consistent water and take at least some things off our todo list.

In the future I think I’d like a few additional fruit trees in the back yard, and we can move Oto to water those.

Electric Cars and the Grid

Much has been made the past few years about various faults and failures in utilities across the country. Of course there’s the famous incident from Texas a few years back, and now California is facing grid problems during an unusually hot September.

Many people are pointing out the irony that the same week California is struggling with power, they announced a ban on gas powered cars. That ban is, of course, years away, but that doesn’t stop plenty of pundits from making their comments.

Something else I’ve found interesting lately is the Tesla virtual power plant. The TL;DR is that plenty of Power Wall owners (people who have a big freaking battery in their house) are getting paid to send some of that power back to the grid when needed. $2 per kWh is crazy.

People have this overly simplified model in their mind that the whole country is connected with a big wire, and you can add or remove power as needed. That’s sort of how it works, but as you could expect, it’s way more complicated than that.

One of the biggest issues is that wires can’t carry an unlimited amount of electricity. Electricity moving through wires creates heat. More electricity means more heat. So even when power grids are interconnected, where they are interconnected matters a whole lot, and how much power can go through that interconnection is limited by the size of the interconnection. If you need a lot of power in Los Angeles, having a bunch of extra hydro-electric power from Oregon available might not do you any good if there’s not enough carrying capacity from point-A to point-B.

The other issue is that it takes time to add capacity to the grid. It doesn’t take any time at all for me to use that capacity. The dryer and air-conditioner are the two largest consumers of electricity in my house. I can turn both on at the same time with hardly a thought. If everyone does at approximately the same time (such as coming home from work), people working at power plants have to fire up the generators and that takes time.

Add this up and when people use electricity is almost as important as how much is used. Air-conditioning is hard because it is extremely power hungry, and most of the demand is going to follow the sun heating the earth up, so a lot of people will want to use a lot of power, all at the same time. Or, a lot of people get home from work to a house that has been heated by the sun all day, turn their air-conditioning on, and now the grid has a problem. (this is also a problem because most people are getting home from work about the same time that solar power is waning as the sun is starting to go down)

There are a lot of schemes to help with this. Our utility provider Xcel is introducing time of use pricing, which uses meters that track when you use power as well as how much, and you get charged more money when you use power when the grid is already close to max-use. This is an economic incentive to encourage you to dry your clothes at off-peak times when the grid is less maxed out.

The other thing that you could do that’s really interesting to me is to do some thermal shifting. If you normally set your A/C to cool to 75º at 6pm, you could set it to cool to 70º at like 2pm. You might use more electricity in total this way, but you’re potentially shifting your power use to when the grid has less demand and more renewable power available (because of solar). Your house can “store” that cool air until you get home, and when you arrive at home from work, the house is already cool and comfortable and you don’t use any grid capacity at 6pm when the grid is at its max.

But what’s really interesting to me is the Tesla Virtual Power Plant when it comes to electric cars. As far as I can see, the Tesla power plant only uses the stationary Power Walls installed in customer’s homes. But what major battery capacity has been coming online the past 10 years or so? Electric cars. Many of these electric cars have 300+ miles range. What if on the days that you don’t need to go somewhere 300 miles away, you could trade some of what’s stored in your batteries for a free payout to help the grid out?

What if you could help your neighbors out, power their A/C, and make like $30-$60 in the process? And the only thing you’d be giving up is 150 miles range for the evening?

I assume the Tesla Virtual Power Plant only covers Power Walls because using cars to power the grid requires a bit of extra hardware. The higher trim F-150 Lightnings actually advertise being able to connect the truck to your house and using it as a battery backup for “2-3 days” for most average sized houses. That’s crazy! And there’s no reason you couldn’t do the same thing with that equipment that Power Wall owners are doing for a “virtual power plant”.

This has a lot of really interesting properties. Decentralizing power means the grid doesn’t have to be upgraded as much, which saves a ton of money. It also means you can operate fewer generators and use those generators within their optimal usage range. But grids are also not perfectly uniform either. Maybe one neighborhood has more people working from home, or more solar, or an electrical problem. You can imagine the grid putting some of those distributed batteries to work to help even out differences and make the grid more intelligent.

If we’re going to put very large batteries in most garages over the course of the next 20 years, there’s a lot of interesting things you can do with that, if you have the right hardware. But honestly, even if you can’t feed power from the cars back to the grid, there’s still a lot that makes sense. Let your car charge when the grid has excess capacity (such as late at night when most people are asleep and not running much A/C, or in the middle of the day when solar is at its peak) and don’t charge your car when you need to run A/C.

I guess I just don’t see the humor in what the pundits are saying. Electric cars don’t automatically mean the end of the California grid, or anybody’s grid. In fact, they could be a really helpful tool in making the grid a lot more stable and resilient.

Taking the Bible Seriously

The more I encounter Jesus in the Gospels, the more skeptical I become of my own interpretations of Scripture.

The Pharisees spent so much of their lives immersed in the Bible, and they took it so seriously. And yet time and time and time again, Jesus seems to get really exasperated with them. I love the NIV’s translation of John 3:10 where Jesus asks Nicodemus, you are Israel’s teacher and you don’t understand?

I think for so long it’s been really easy for me to point the finger at the Pharisees and pity them or mock them or whatever for missing what is now plainly obvious since Jesus came.

But… isn’t that making the same mistake the Pharisees made? Shouldn’t I be a little cautious about my interpretations lest I fall into the same trap? Is this why we have approximately 34 bazillion Protestant denominations, each one believing their particular theology is the most important?

The more I encounter Jesus the more I realize how little I truly know. I don’t want to be a Pharisee. And I don’t want to hold tightly to a theology only for Jesus to come to me and tell me, “Oh you missed the point completely.”

I don’t think it’s wrong to study the Bible. (Quite the contrary, actually) I don’t think it’s wrong to study theology. I don’t think it’s wrong to hold a high standard for personal holiness. I just want to hold more tightly to Jesus than to my flawed understanding of theology.

It’s going to be messy, and inconsistent, and illogical at times. And that makes me deeply uncomfortable. But I’d rather be deeply uncomfortable, following as closely to the example of Jesus as I possibly can, then to be deeply comfortable in a theological fortress of my own design.

AirPods Pro

I got some new AirPods Pro a couple weeks back when they were at sale. (undoubtedly on sale to clear out some inventory before a new version arrives) I had tried out the AirPods Max in the Apple Store and was really impressed by the noise cancellation but I didn’t want anything so ostentatious or as expensive.

I was apprehensive because I never loved my original AirPods. They never switched as seamlessly as I would have liked between devices and I had a fair number of issues with audio cutting out. I always preferred the original wired ear buds, except that Apple removed the headphone jack from their phones so I had to carry a lightning version for my phone and headphone version for my laptop.

AirPods Pro are what the original AirPods should have been. Truly seamless switching between devices. And I think the head tracking/spatial audio feature is a bit of a gimmick, there were several times I have had to stop and make sure that I was playing audio through my headphones the tracking is that good.

The noise cancellation has been really great.

Overall just really happy with these.

Recycling Water

Over the weekend, I got lost in my city’s website and read some of the published reports on water.

Water is a big deal in the west, everyone is talking about the Colorado river and the mega-drought we are experiencing.

Our city has a pretty sweet water re-use program that takes water directly from the water treatment center and stores it for use to irrigate the many hundreds of acres of city parks and land. I don’t know how common this is for cities (I don’t think it’s terribly unusual) but it was really cool to read about all the pipes and pumps and other infrastructure required to make it happen.

I also read that our city now allows for grey water reuse. You can use water from bathroom sinks, showers and washing machines in your yard. So now I am thinking about how to best and most easily start using our shower water and washing machine water to water some of the trees we have in our yard.

Trying to figure out what is doable from a DIY perspective, and how to make the most use of all this water. We don’t have an existing irrigation system, but I could see routing all the grey water to a central spot and then pumping (our laundry room is in the basement) into an irrigation system that at least waters our trees.

If anyone has done this, please add a comment. I would love to talk to you about it.

Who Is This For

I have not forgotten about this blog, even though I haven’t been posting here as much as I had anticipated.

I think one of my challenges has been the thought of who is this blog for? What am I even doing here?

I have a lot of varied interests, from hiking and photography, to foster care, to all kinds of technical topics, and business, and then there’s my musings on politics and faith. (which have evolved and will continue to change over time) Then there are the house projects I could post about, or the backyard chickens, and the bees.

None of this is a problem on Twitter where I have intentionally kept my Twitter locked down, and every tweet feels ephemeral. Here today, gone tomorrow. Nor is this a problem on Instagram where most of my posts are just neat pictures.

But writing a blog has felt a lot more permanent. And if I give you a mixed feed ranging from interesting tidbits I’ve found about the Linux kernel in one post, another post about my thoughts on all the posts about deconstructing the Christian faith in the next, and then a solar update in the next, who honestly gives a shit?

Maybe no one. And you know what, I don’t have any metrics on this blog for how many people are out there reading this. Unlike Twitter, I don’t have a follower count that I can watch tick down as people find the posts I make uninteresting. And that’s a good thing. I think social media has trained us, or at least it has trained me to be too performative. I don’t want to be a tap dancing monkey.

And the blogs I’ve enjoyed reading most have been the ones of people. Real people. Talking about their real lives. Whether they get absurdly interested in running a text-only OpenBSD laptop, or talking about taking their kids down to the beach for one last summer trip, or their rain-water collection system.

Because behind these posts are real people. And real people are really interesting, even if I’m not as interested in each topic.

So, if anyone is out there reading this, I’m changing my perspective a bit. I’m going to post things I find interesting. Maybe you find everything I post as interesting as I do (unlikely), and probably half these things I will lose interest in or change my mind about in the years to come, but this is who I am. A real person. A changing person. Hopefully it inspires you to do the same on your own blog. Because those are the posts that I really love.

Slowcial Media

Just getting back from a big trip (more on that in a future post) and I had limited access to the internet. My RSS feeds were a great way to keep up with interesting happenings.

Anytime I find a blog with even mildly interesting content, I add it to my feed list. Most days I only have ten or so posts to sort through, and many of them are fascinating reads. This signal to noise ratio is a thousand times better than anything I have ever found on Twitter.