Second High Performance Home Project

We finished our first “high performance” home in 2019. It is at Evans Farm in Lewis Center, Ohio. We live there now. By high performance, we mean low energy consumption, not off-grid. Our first house still costs about $750 per year for its electric utility power, which accounts for about half of the power we use (all-electric, we really cannot use gas, oil, coal, and wood anymore). The remainder comes from solar panels on our garage. Key factors that make this possible are a tight Structural Insulated Panel (SIP) envelope, triple glazed windows, efficient HVAC, efficient electrical appliances, and LED lighting, Our Tesla Model 3 costs about $250 to run for a year, for about 10,000 miles. So, total cash to the utility is about $1,000 per year (1)

Our good experience with our home encouraged us to build another home for sale as a way to push this better technology out into our community where people could see it and learn about it. We started that second house, a 3 bedroom ranch with basement, early in 2021 and finished it in October.. It sold before it was done. The November electric bill (house is all-electric) was $97. That is right on target. Summer 2022 should see some negative bills.

We learned many things about home building on the second house project, and chief among those was that it is possible to build high quality, efficient homes for not much more than conventional timber-framed structures. Yes, it will cost a bit more. Perhaps 5% more, but we really can’t afford not to spend that 5% given the environmental crisis we are presently experiencing. That money will come back to the occupants quickly, very likely making the slightly higher mortgage payment and utilities combined even lower overall. Every new home should be a high-performance home.

-George

  1. https://muchado.blog/2020/04/05/first-12-month-legacy-house-energy-results/

iPrivacy

I have been an Apple fan for many years. Most recently using a lovely MacBook Air (M1), a beautiful blue iPhone 12, and an iPad Air. But no more. This post was written on my Dell 3080 micro desktop running Linux Mint. My new Android Pixel 6 is lying by its side.

I’ve stripped all communications software, contacts, and photographs from my iPad, and use it only for media playback and browsing. The MacBook and the iPhone are gone. Making this move was a difficult decision because the finely crafted Apple stuff worked really well and worked really well together, automatically. That’s not always the case in the Linux or cross-platform worlds. It took days to get calendar syncing working between Apple (family members), Android, and Linux devices, and to do that I ultimately had to move all my calendars to a third party cross-platform system, Cozi, which works very well.

There is a lot more “grit” in my new setup and a lot less “honey”. But, in the IT world grit can be good. By that I mean that there are defined open interoperability standards governing exchanges between functional apps. Those standards increase our security and privacy. We get addicted to information technology “honey”, you know. We forget about what we are giving up to get the smooth, sweet interoperability that comes with broad closed systems like Apple’s. Or Google’s. Or Microsoft’s. Tight integration through webs of almost impenetrable code can create security and privacy problems. It can hide things. It is complicated and exclusionary. Interoperability should come through open standards.

So what happened to make me go to all this trouble and expense? Not just the grit vs honey thing. My concerns began to rise with Jeffrey Paul’s November 2020 blog article, “Your Computer Isn’t Yours” (1). Apple’s honey pot was starting to overflow. It was becoming clear that my Mac really wasn’t my Mac anymore. It was increasingly just a hardware device connected to Apple’s iThing universe. I was losing control as to what software ran on it.

Then, in 2021, Apple announced decision to install a CSAM (child sexual abuse material) scanner on Apple devices (2, 3, 4, 5). Now, there is no CSAM on any device I own, so this was not a practical concern for me, and I didn’t care much what they did in THEIR iCloud because I could always (and did) encrypt important stuff (not CSAM) with my own tools before I put it there. But, philosophically, I cared a lot what they did to MY computers. A line had been crossed.

I also cared about the practical safety and even the lives of Apple device users who live under repressive regimes like those in Russia, Belarus, Syria, Iran, China, and even Texas (with its new take on Red Guard-like vigilantes) or Florida (with the Governor’s proposed new private volunteer army) (5). That’s the hot-flowing-blood-real problem. What happens when one of these governments says to Tim Cook, “You already look for CSAM, it should not be difficult to find who is saying bad things about our glorious leader. Here is a new law requiring you to do that.” Well, we already know the answer to that question because, for all practical purposes (China’s requirement for government controlled local servers), it has happened (6).

What might nation-state hackers do with Apple’s new “backdoor” code? We don’t know, but Apple is on a steep slippery slope and I choose to let them take the slide by themselves. I’ll not help them make a big mistake, and I’ll accept the pain required find new ways to get things done even if they are not quite so pretty. I’ll gain standards grit while I’m at it. Grit that can protect me from lazy information systems practices and the security and privacy weaknesses that come come with them.

So, the iPhone had to go. I chose my new Pixel 6 Pro phone because Android is more open to scrutiny than IOS. I don’t know that there is no “big brother” scanning going on on this device, but I find no evidence to suggest that there is. Certainly not an open admission. I chose to use Linux Mint Cinnamon on a Dell Optiplex 3080 micro-desktop that replaced my MacBook Air M1 (8) because Linux is as open as presently possible, and Linux Mint Cinnamon is about as refined as Linux comes (a lot like Windows XP). My existing ARM Pinebook Pro laptop (9) fills in for the Air when I have to be on the move. I use Manjaro/KDE Linux on the Pinebook.

There are thousands of eyes pouring over Linux Mint and Manjaro code every day. I have virtually total control of data management with a high degree of trust under these operating systems. It’s taken me a week to make the switch, mostly time required for moving and cleaning up data, and while there is more to do, I think I’m fairly well settled in. Linux Mint has come a long way since I last saw it. It found my Brother printer/scanner all by itself, just like Windows, and both functions work perfectly out of the box. Signal serves as my cross-platform messenger. Thunderbird does the mail. LibreOffice is all I need for writing, spreadsheets, presntations, and the like.

Today, even though I may have to shift gears manually sometimes, I have really good control of MY machines. Not the other way around. iPrivacy.

-George

  1. https://sneak.berlin/20201112/your-computer-isnt-yours/
  2. https://gizmodo.com/critics-say-apple-built-a-backdoor-into-your-iphone-wit-1847438624
  3. https://gizmodo.com/apple-reportedly-working-on-problematic-ios-tool-to-sca-1847427745
  4. https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2021/08/apples-plan-think-different-about-encryption-opens-backdoor-your-private-life
  5. https://nordvpn.com/blog/apple-backdoor-iphone/
  6. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/dec/03/ron-desantis-plans-florida-paramilitary-force-outside-federal-control
  7. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/17/technology/apple-china-censorship-data.html
  8. https://www.dell.com/en-us/work/shop/desktops-all-in-one-pcs/optiplex-3080-micro-desktop/spd/optiplex-3080-micro (Very good Linux box)
  9. https://www.pine64.org/pinebook-pro/ (Very light duty machine, but works)

Sol or Plaid

I have been watching Tesla’s Plaid release video’s for the last few days. They were hard to miss, really very interesting, and I’m fine with what I’ve seen, in context.  I own a Tesla Model 3 Dual Motor LR. Love it. But, we really don’t need many Plaid Model S cars, and, fact is, we won’t get many. I’ll never have one.

The Plaid Model S is a magnificent technology development project for Tesla. Good for business. Importantly, it projects leadership and power. It is a poster child (1), and that’s its context. However, in service the Plaid S is just a 390 mile range toy that gets to 60 mph in about 2 seconds. It is very expensive, and for that reason alone cannot urgently and directly help us solve our number one contemporary human survival problem, global warming.

Climate-wise, we need practical long-range carbon-free vehicles that we can afford to buy. Sadly, they are not here yet. But, there is hope.

Oddly enough, there was a fledgling company called Aptera Motors (2) putting on a show at about the same time as Tesla’s Plaid reveal. I suspect very few people watched Aptera’s webinar. Their car, the 1000 mile range (show me) Sol (current alpha version name), is a total departure from contemporary automotive design. The minimalist Sol could bring costs down to where common folk can participate in the greening of private transportation, even if it takes a lethargic 3.5 seconds to get to 60 mph. My Model 3, by the way, takes about 1 second longer, and it can be quite scary.

Aptera Sol (3)

I’ve placed my deposit on a Sol-like production car, and hope I live long enough to complete the purchase. Aptera plans to start production this year, maybe next. We’ll see. The general simplicity of the vehicle and its composite fuselage may make that possible, may make it possible to avoid Elon Musk’s Model 3 manufacturing hell.

But, one thing for certain, while I am sure the Plaid is an absolute blast to drive, it cannot help solve the big problem. It’s at the wrong end of the solution spectrum. Aptera is at the correct end, maybe too close to the end for some, but at the correct end.

-George

  1. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-06-25/tesla-s-model-s-plaid-has-more-power-than-anyone-really-needs
  2. https://www.aptera.us/
  3. https://static.wixstatic.com/media/312682_8d65c9d08f8e457a934101e8c9523410~mv2.png/v1/fill/w_742,h_446,al_c,q_85,usm_0.66_1.00_0.01/SupremelySafe.webp