Category Archives: Uncategorized

DIY Offgrid Project – Batteries

A couple of years ago I bought a Tesla and put vanity plates on it that say OFFGRID.

Ever since then I have been trying to make the dollars make sense to install some batteries, an inverter and a bunch of solar panels in an attempt to charge my Tesla and keep my pool clean with free solar electricity.

About five readers are about to leave a comment that I don’t need a battery to achieve that and indeed I don’t but why have a simple life when I can add technology?

Recently some associates found a stash of 460 AmpHour Lithium Iron Phosphate storage cells being disposed of and I managed to get 16 which means I now have a 52 volt, 460 Ah, 23kwh battery. You can cycle these cells to 80% discharge thousands of times. If you keep them between 20% and 80% State of Charge (SoC) they should last much longer. 60% of 23kwh is still 14kwh which is more than my overnight electricity consumption.

It seemed appropriate to put the batteries in the boot of my Tesla.

LiFePo4 cells are great technology. They don’t need water and don’t produce hydrogen gas. If you over charge them or allow the terminal voltage to exceed 4.2 volts you will damage the battery and the classic failure mode is to catch fire. If you over discharge the cell, to below 2.8 volts you will damage the battery and the classic failure mode is to catch fire. I’m obviously going to need some sort of battery protection or management system.

Before the project is finished I’m also going to need solar panels, mounting frames, isolating switches, fuses, circuit breakers, an inverter and some sort of overall monitoring and control system.

I’m going to try to do as much of it myself as I can but there are some parts which will need an electrician.

Welcome to my solar storage adventure!

Correlation implies causation?

Let me start by warning that this isn’t investment advice.

I found an interesting graph at the end of a Finder.com.au article on mobile performance showing the falling cost per gigabyte of mobile data on what they described as flagship plans. I take that to mean approximately $50 per month which has been the popular Australian price point for Telstra SIM only mobile services.

The graph runs from October 2015 to October 2017 showing the $/GB every six months.

It reminded me of  how Telstra’s share price has fallen over the three years since Telstra launched 4G.

I wondered what the mobile retail price is at April 2018 so I looked at Telstra’s current pricing which has fallen to $2 per GB. Internode sold it’s flagship ADSL2+ service with a 40GB quota for $80 in 2006.

Now it’s May and Telstra have announced “Unlimited*” (* 40 gigabyte limit with 1.5 megabit speed limit thereafter) mobile data. They are trying raise revenue from $50 to $70 with it but it’s still well under $2 per GB, continuing the downward trend. Sadly for Telstra TPG have rained on their parade by offering $10 for 1 gigabyte per day which adds new line to the graph at around $0.33 per GB which must have caused a few folks at Telstra, Optus and Vodafone distinctly painful weekends.

TLS vs Mobile value

2016, 2017 and now 2018 show a remarkable correlation between Telstra’s share price (which can be a proxy for the investor view of Telstra’s future profits) and the “value” of Telstra’s flagship mobile product.

Why is there this correlation?

Telstra’s monthly average revenue per user (ARPU) for mobile and fixed line services remain largely unchanged in a decade so total revenue is directly a function of market share.

Really? Well yes, according to Telstra’s 2006 annual report their revenue from being a telco was $22,750 million and in 2017 the report stated $26,013 million which was largely unchanged from 2016 where it was $25,911 million.

So let’s come forward to May 14th when Income is forecast to be in the middle of the range $27.6 to $29.5 which is $28,550 million. It’s also stated NBN DA (“NBN Definitive Agreement” compensation) one off revenue is forecast to be in the “mid to upper” of the range $1.4 to $1.9 billion. Let’s assume it’s $1.9 billion.

That leaves Telstra’s telco revenue at $26,650 million which is only 2.4% more than last year and in line with inflation. If “middle” means slightly less than middle, revenue could be $26 billion for the third year in a row.

I think we have to accept that Telstra’s revenue is flat. It has been for the last three years and unless the entire industry plays the drinking game and just happens to decide to raise retail prices at the same time we aren’t going to see a shift upwards.

Is it capex? Telstra are forecasting capital expenditure of around $4.8 billion dollars for FY18. Last year they said they would spend $15 billion over three years which is all being depreciated. The FY17 depreciation figure was $4.4 billion so every $1 of revenue costs $0.17 of capital investment write down. But this is actually fairly flat so it’s not driving down Telstra’s profit.

So why is there this correlation? Good old fashioned “operating expenses”. It’s expensive to pay NBNCo, all those people, all that electricity and all that A grade rent. It’s an expense that rose 5.8% in FY17 and has probably risen faster than inflation in FY18 too. This drives a  margin crunch and at some point Telstra are going to need to find dramatically cheaper ways of delivering $26 billion of services.

Some of this will need to come from lower capital expenditure but that isn’t going to happen in a world where Chinese vendors are being banned on national security grounds. The rest will need to come from operations and that’s going to be very hard for an organisation that still sees itself commanding a premium price for premium service.

It’s going to be super hard when everyone pays NBNCo the same fixed price for the same services. It’s going to force Telstra off NBNCo for lower speed, lower volume users and the “unlimited” wireless products are an early shot over NBNCo’s bow.

Maintaining mobile revenue is also going to be super hard for Telstra now that TPG have announced $10 per month mobile data plans.

Ah, but Telstra just need to grow the $26 billion revenue, you say. Go read this article from 2016. It’s all the stuff Telstra CEO Andy Penn promised would grow revenue from $26 billion in FY16.

Tabulating the subsequent write-downs and write-offs is left as an exercise for the reader.

What is the NBN for?

The NBN is primarily a machine for winning elections.

Conroy created it (I know the people who put the idea in his head but he did the political leg work) and used it to get Rudd elected.

Conroy then had to build it and he used it to get Julia elected.

It didn’t work a third time for Rudd because the slow progress of the NBN just confirmed the perception that the government were hopeless.

Abbott didn’t understand the NBN and told Turnbull to demolish it.

But Turnbull kept the NBN because he knew what it was really for and he eventually used it to help win his election.

Now Fifield has been given control of the machine with strict instructions to not touch anything.

I think Turnbull’s plan is to get millions of people migrated to the NBN then reduce the CVC charge in 2018 to ensure users are finally happy with the performance.

Late in 2018 he will announce a sale process and TLS shares will jump in value which will make a lot of Liberal voters happy.

Then he will have yet another go at riding the NBN machine to victory in 2019.

Or ScoMo or Dutton will.

The real threat to Hollywood

I’m at the CommsDay Congress in Melbourne and in the goodie bag (provided by my client TransGrid) is an 8GB USB “thumb drive” which would be described as a “fingernail drive”. Over the last 10 years conference giveaways have shifted from a CD-ROM to USB sticks of 16 megabytes and doubled every year. This 8GB drive must have cost only a dollar or two for it to be given away with a pdf brochure on it. The same 8GB can store 8 movies at compressed high definition and perhaps a couple at really good resolution. That’s 4 next year and 512 in eight years. That’s one really high def movie for every day of the week and a couple of extras for the weekend. That’s the entire output of Hollywood including the stuff that never got shown on a big screen http://www.the-numbers.com/movies/year/2014 You don’t need a broadband network for this, you need sneakers. 

  

Some idle thoughts on Dallas Buyers Club LLC v iiNet

In his August 14th 2015 judgement Justice Perram said “If the explanatory memorandum is to be believed, ss 115(5)-(8) are aimed squarely at peer-to-peer file sharing. There are aspects of the provisions which are puzzling from a drafting perspective. The use of the expression ‘on a commercial scale’ is not defined although subs (7) tells one what one is to take into account in determining whether a particular infringement was on such a scale. This appears to be focussed on the possibility that whilst one might be able to show that a particular user shared three copies of a work by uploading it, one might not be able to show much about what those three individual downloaders went on to do by way of sharing themselves.”

Peer to peer file sharing has been around a long time. Bittorrent dates back to 2001 and Napster to 1999. But you might be forgiven for thinking that the Copyright Act 1968 didn’t anticipate peer to peer file sharing and indeed it didn’t.

According to CommLaw the history of amending Section 115 of the Copyright Act recorded in the End Notes is “am. No. 110, 2000; No. 34, 2003; No. 158, 2006”

These all occurred during the Howard government and Daryl Williams was Attorney General in 2000 and Philip Ruddock was in 2003 and 2006. The 2006 amendments were very important because they implemented the US-Australia Free Trade Agreement. I have been told that representatives of the Hollywood studios sat in the Attorney General’s offices drafting the amendments so it must be particularly galling for them that the judge in this case could not see how to apply the Copyright Act to this peer to peer sharing.

There must have been some amazing tantrums after the judgment was handed down.

Perhaps next time the Copyright Act is amended some technologists might be consulted during the process, but perhaps the world is better if they just mess it up so that it’s unenforceable.

Windows 10 – Shut up and take my money!

I got an email from Holly Raiche, ISOC-au ex ED / ICANN luminary / ACCAN director, that she forwarded to the ISOC-au / Internet Australia mailing list from a friend who lives in the Cook Islands who was complaining that Windows 10 had eaten her satellite internet quota of 15GB and run up a NZD280 excess bill in less than half a month.

Of course the causes are Windows 10 cloud services and it automatically updating itself.

I mentioned this Internet consumption problem online and Phil Dobbie called me and he recorded a Balls Radio podcast segment (at 18:52) with me on the topic.

Having done this I thought I should have a play with Windows 10 myself so I downloaded it this morning, all 4GB of it.

Then I attempted to buy a license from Microsoft.

mswin10fail

Ouch! This was painful and didn’t work. I got as far as putting my PayPal details in and confirming my shipping address (for a download only version of Windows) and then the browser wedged looping around between Microsoft and some analytics company.

I tried three different browsers on my Mac.

Eventually I created a new Microsoft Live account and tried again with Chrome which worked! Perhaps it didn’t like my @mac.com address? More likely it has decided my decade old Live account is defective in some way because I never respond to their spam.

Full marks to Microsoft for charging GST and issuing a proper Tax Invoice.

Naturally the expensive new license key didn’t work!

So I downloaded Windows 10 again, thinking “well perhaps there is some timestamp thing” since the downloads seem to be generated specifically for each customer and have a time limit for use.

Another 4GB of download later and it still didn’t work.

MSWIN10FAIL2

I thought a bit harder: perhaps selecting the single language version was a mistake? So I selected the plain Windows 10 and put International English into the default language box.

Another 4GB (that’s 12GB so far!) download and the key worked! I selected Custom install because I’ve been paying attention to social media… Things ground along at a fairly rapid pace and eventually I was given this evil choice:

MSWIN10wificonnect

Think about that! I have the choice of automatically connecting to wifi networks my contacts share with me. It didn’t offer the choice to prevent my computer from sharing that information. Perhaps that comes later? I still haven’t seen an option to disable this insidious hole in my WiFi network security.

I wonder what else Windows 10 shares? Let’s look at the Update and Security screens. “Choose how updates are delivered” looks interesting.

MSWIN10updatesharing

Bless Microsoft’s cold heart, they’re using my PC as a P2P node and I’m joining the sharing economy where people on the Internet can get parts of the latest update from Microsoft from my computer. Good job I’m a nice guy and not messing with those files…

Windows 10 also offered to give all my private stuff (keyboard input and document “inking”, whatever that is) to Cortana which would ensure Cortana could help me more. I clicked “Skip”.

It offered to send pretty much everything I type into a web browser to online services to check spelling and improve page loading. Say what?!? I clicked “Skip”.

Now it looks like Windows 10 already sucked down an update and is planning on rebooting at 3am tomorrow to apply them. Again, bless its little digital heart. Good job it’s not running my alarm clock or swimming pool or watering system.

I selected Reboot Now and everything worked. Quick booting, smooth, impressive even.

Moving along, VMware Fusion offers a VM-side tool. Installing this seems to have confused the display driver. It’s not a big issue but I had to turn high performance graphics off and untick Use Full resolution for Retina display before things worked nicely on my external monitor. Not a big issue but another thing that burnt some time.

I ran a quick browser benchmark on Internet Explorer vs Safari and I think 22,000 vs 25,000 was pretty much line-ball. It doesn’t seem that running in a VMware VM does Windows 10 too much harm. I don’t actually own any modern Windows software so I can’t test Word against Word for instance.

I’ve stopped being a WinXP hipster and have Windows 10 running in a VM on my Mac. It’s like carrying around a seductive little portal into hell. I can run all those vendor config tools for DC to AC power inverters and network appliances without fear that my Windows will certainly be p0wned within minutes, but now I’m back to the simple uncertainty about when. I can run Internet Explorer so all those government websites will be slightly more cooperative and I can look at a desktop that belongs on a tablet. Cool.

MSWin10Success

How good are Uber at GST?

UBER not tax invoiceUber just sent me an email saying that they’re raising Uber charges 10% in Australia so that their drivers can collect GST, more or less. It also include a link to their blog with the promise of info about Tax Invoices.

Indeed there is. It says that you can email them to ask for a Tax Invoice for bills over $82.50 which is the ATO cutoff for requiring a Tax Invoice to substantiate the GST input credit for a business.

It goes on to say “All rides with UberTaxi (Sydney) or UberBlack (Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth) will always have a Tax Invoice that you can download from riders.uber.com.”

So let’s see if Uber know how to issue a Tax Invoice.

In their instructions the ATO say Tax Invoices must have seven features:

  1. that the document is intended to be a tax invoice – MAYBE – the words “Tax Invoice” do not appear on the document but Uber do state on their blog that it is a Tax Invoice so they must intend it to be.
  2. the seller’s identity – YES
  3. the seller’s Australian business number (ABN) – YES
  4. the date the invoice was issued – YES
  5. a brief description of the items sold, including the quantity (if applicable) and the price – MAYBE – It says “Transportation services” which is vague but accurate.
  6. the GST amount (if any) payable – this can be shown separately or, if the GST amount is exactly one-eleventh of the total price, as a statement such as ‘Total price includes GST’- YES
  7. the extent to which each sale on the invoice is a taxable sale (that is, the extent to which each sale includes GST)
    either the sale is clearly identified as being fully taxable by the words ‘total price including GST’, or
    it shows the GST included in each line item (see column with the GST amount), and the sale is clearly identified as being fully taxable by the words ‘the total price includes GST’.- YES

It appears to me that Uber are providing a mechanism that lets properly registered drivers issue documents that the ATO will probably consider to be Tax Invoices but I would feel more comfortable if they put the words TAX INVOICE on it.