Posts Tagged ‘Life’


Notes from “Plug into the SmartGrid”

February 17, 2009
Andy Karsner

Andy Karsner - Policy Panel

Washington, DC Feb 17, 2009 –  Every seat in the auditorium at Google’s DC office was filled with people passionate about bringing about change in the way power is distributed. People even lined the back wall and the overflow room. A total of 500 people in attendance. The event format was split into two industry panels, the first discussing the technology requirements for a SmartGrid and the second focused more on the Federal and State policy initiatives required to properly implement such a sweeping technological plan.

Tomorrow afternoon, the ~2-1/2 hour video footage of the panels will be available on both Google’s DotOrg channel as well as GE’s YouTube channel. If you don’t have time to watch, here are my notes from the event. I’m sure I missed some details, so please correct me or submit your comments.

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Google To Give The Energy Sector A Jumpstart

February 13, 2009

windpower_hdrThis week, Google announced they’re Beta testing a new application that you can use to track your household (or business) energy use by device in an effort to cut energy usage. Google PowerMeter will break down your energy usage almost in real-time. According to their data, the clothes-line may be due for a comeback. As the old adage goes,

“If you can not measure it, you can not improve it.” – Lord Kelvin

They’ve built the application, but now they’re looking to develop some hardware to go with it. Google is not the only player in the game, though. Pepco is also looking to develop Smart Meters in the DC suburbs, and Agilewaves, comprised of a trio of NASA engineers, developed similar technology after the wave of California’s rolling blackouts in 2006. Even with a decent head-start, it might be hard to beat the raw initiative, seemingly unlimited cash reserves, and amazing grasp of user interfaces that Google has shown time after time. 

Last fall, Google and GE announced a partnership aimed at pushing technology and policy in the energy sector. To kick off the initiative, they’ll both be hosting Plug Into The Smart Grid next Tuesday at 2pm EST. The event appears to be open to the public, but plan for attendance to be maxed. Instead of making you fight the crowds, though, they’ll be posting the  content within 24 hours of the presentations on both Google’s DotOrg channel as well as GE’s YouTube channel. Google has also invited everyone to submit and vote on questions in advance via Google Moderator. This event appears to have some big players, so it’s not exactly a grass-roots effort. But, everyone is going to be called upon to act eventually. Now is a good time to start paying attention. 


  • Introduction and welcome 
    • Dan Reicher, Director of Climate Change and Energy Initiatives,
    • Bob Gilligan, Vice President, GE Energy
  • Part I: Envisioning smart power
    Energy tools and technologies to empower people with information and choice    

    • Moderator: Bob Gilligan, GE
    • Adrian Tuck, CEO, Tendril
    • Ron Binz, Chairman, Colorado Public Utilities Commission
    • Jeff Renaud, Director, Ecomagination, GE
    • Ed Lu, Advanced Projects, Google
    • Kelly Speakes-Backman, Principal, RE+GENeration Consultants LLC
    • George Bjelovuk, Managing Director, American Electric Power
  • Break

Part II: Accelerating the energy revolution
State and federal policies to drive smart power
Opening remarks: The Honorable Carol Browner, Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change (invited)  

  • Moderator: Dan Reicher, Google
  • Fred Butler, President, National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners
  • John Podesta, President, Center for American Progress (invited)
  • Andy Karsner, Former Ass. Sec. for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, U.S. Department of Energy
  • Chris Miller, Office of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid

Photo Credit: John Nyberg


Preparing for the Digital TV Transition

February 11, 2009

digital_worldI get most of my news and entertainment online instead of through the television. But, we still turn on the weather or PBS cartoons in the morning, so we needed to prepare for the upcoming “digital transition”. Here’s a summary of how I chose a converter box and built an antenna. Did I miss anything? What did you do?

As you’ve probably heard, Congress and the FCC are requiring full-power television broadcasters to drop their analog signal and go completely digital. The date for this transition was originally scheduled to be February 17, 2009, but it was postponed recently to June 12, 2009. According to the FCC, they plan to use the “discarded” analog spectrum for public safety communications (fire, police, rescue squads, etc.) as well as auction off portions to private companies for the expansion of more advanced wireless programs such as wireless broadband. Regardless of why Congress has federally mandated a technological shift for television broadcasting, it appears to be happening. Even with the postponement, there is no reason for you to wait.

Note: If you’re a cable/FIOS/Satellite subscriber, you don’t need to worry. The digital transition is only for over-the-air (OTA), broadcast television that you’d pick up with an antenna. 

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Cross-train your brain

January 18, 2009

datastreamIf you’re going to run a marathon, or participate in any sporting activity, most experts agree that cross-training is important to improve your overall fitness. Focusing too hard on one set of muscles leaves other muscles weak and prime candidates for injury. As an engineer, focusing too hard on a small skill-set may leave other parts of your brain starving for stimulation.

The internet is FULL of great content. Let your brain do some cross-training by expanding your input stream. Instead of listening to another webinar on the features of the next Solidworks release, maybe you want to stretch out and listen to an interview with Seth Godin on marketing your small business or check up on the state of innovation in the medical device industry for 2009. Not only will you have new things to talk about at dinner parties, but you might learn something related to your everyday.

Who/what are you paying attention to? Please share in the comments.

Photo credit: Rodolfo Clix


The Imposter Syndrome

January 14, 2009


Now that you’re in, are you qualified? Are they going to find out you’re really an imposter?

Maybe you just got into grad school, started a new job, or landed a new project. A case of the “Imposter Syndrome” can grab you no matter your experience or accomplishments. It’s the feeling that you don’t really belong, that you’re a fake or a fraud.

Actually, it’s a feeling that’s not uncommon, as I found out when I entered grad school. I’d gone back to school after a few years of working, so some of my technical skills were a bit rusty. I was hitting the books hard and putting in hours at the lab, but I was feeling overwhelmed and not sure of myself. Everyone else seemed to have it together.

Then I found out about the “Imposter Syndrome”. Apparently, it is well-known in grad-school circles, although not recognized among psychology professionals as a real disorder. For me, just knowing that people much smarter than me were having the same feelings helped. Hmm, I guess it didn’t occur to me at the time that this could have made me feel worse.

Confidence is often a fine line. Don’t dwell on your failures OR your successes. Be honest with yourself. Recognize your accomplishments, learn from your mistakes, and move on.

A few relevant links:
Cal Tech Counseling
Chronicle of Higher Education
Overcoming the Imposter Syndrom

Photo credit: Meliha Gojak


Train hard, fight easy

January 5, 2009

lecture_room1Preparing to do something is often much harder that actually doing it. There’s often anxiety, stress, physical and emotional hardship, etc. In the end, most people sigh and quip, “That wasn’t so bad.” So why do we focus so much of our fear on the act itself?

Whether it’s giving a presentation, sparking up a conversation at a networking event, or sitting down to an interview, the act itself is often insignificant compared to the hours or even years put into preparing for this moment. Plus, let’s gain some perspective; unless you are actually training for a fight, the consequences are usually much less than we imagine. Is someone going to rudely quip that you’re stupid, yell at you in front of a crowd, or slap you across the face? Not likely.

Get out there. Revel in the good experiences, learn from the bad ones, and gain confidence either way. And, when you think, “What’s the worst that could happen?”, be realistic.

Photo credit: Fred Kuipers


A New Year’s Resolution – Change your commute

January 1, 2009


This time of year, everyone’s talking about the changes they didn’t get to keep last year, maybe the year before that, too. This New Year’s, maybe I can help you cross one of your resolutions off the list.

If you’ve made the resolution to live healthier, using one of the many car alternatives, like public transportation or biking, may be a good place to start. You can relax instead of stress about traffic, maybe read a book (was “Read more” also a resolution?), and you’ll have the chance to look up and appreciate the view. I’ve been a regular bike commuter for about 15 years, not including elementary school. It’s great exercise and an invigorating way to start and end the day. If your commute is less than 3 miles to your office downtown, it will probably take you the same amount of time whether you ride a bike or drive, but you won’t have to go to the gym that day.

For the last 5 years, I’ve been using a combination of my bicycle and the Baltimore Metro to travel the 10 miles downtown. Many in Baltimore don’t even know we have a subway, so if that’s you, you’re not alone. It covers only limited parts of the city, but at least it’s clean and relatively safe. Here’s a little info to get you on your way.

Public Transportation (MTA)

The Metro parallels Reisterstown Road and the Light Rail follows Falls Road. They cross each other downtown, but they never meet, which seems to me a pretty significant oversight. However, if you’re working downtown, these can both be good options to get you to work.

Bicycles are permitted on both the Metro and Light Rail whenever the cars aren’t packed with passengers.  That’s great, because the DC Metro has restrictions which completely prohibit bikes during rush hour. Since coverage of the city is limited, being able to take bikes on the Metro, Light Rail, and buses is really helpful to really open up the system to a wider area. It seems that the MTA has the right idea:

“Public transportation and bicycles provide more mobility options to everyone, helps improve air quality and reduces traffic congestion. In Maryland, public transportation and bicycles can and do work together to allow for longer trips. That’s smart transportation – the ability to move seamlessly between transit modes in a healthy enjoyable manner.”

Storing my bike on the Metro

Storing my bike on the Metro

Although there are no specific accommodations for bicycles on the Metro, there are racks on the front of the buses to make carrying bikes simple. However, the Metro cars are rarely full, so I can just lean my bike out of the way against the far doors and take a seat. You may have to experiment with your ride, but placed properly, mine is secure enough to manage the whole ride by itself without falling over.

Tickets, please

Fare passes for the MTA system are available in a variety of configurations, and bikes are always free. I usually opt for the Single Trip pass because there are no discounts offered for the 5-day commuter, and I only use the Metro. However, weekly and monthly passes offer unlimited service on the Metro, Light Rail, and buses if you need to combine modes to get around town. The machines take change and bills, but they will only provide change up to $16.50, so if you only have a $20 bill, a day-pass is your best option. As I understand it, the capability of accepting credit cards or a debit card similar to an EZ Pass are in the works, but it is not available, yet.

If you’re bringing your bike,  aim for the handicapped accessible turnstile. It’s wider, and the MTA prefers it. By the way, keep your ticket after you enter because you’ll also use it at the exit turnstiles.

By the time you get to the train platform, it’s easy to become a bit disoriented, especially underground. There are signs on the far side of the train that show you where you are (the dot) and where the train is headed (left). Trains normally pass each other on the right unless there is a problem on the tracks. To be sure, each train also has signs on the front and side that say either Johns Hopkins or Owings Mills to let you know to which end of the line it’s headed.

It’s like riding a bike

You probably remember how to ride a bike, but there is plenty left to learn about safely riding a bike in traffic. If you want to ride a bike to work, Washington State has posted a fairly comprehensive guide to help you get home safely. Remember, you don’t need to spend $1,000 on gear to get started. You really just need an old bike in good working order and a good helmet. The Velocipede Bike Project is a good place to start if you need to get your bike tuned up because they’ll teach you how to fix it yourself. The rest depends on your preferences. If you can’t bring your bike inside at the office, you’ll need a sturdy lock. And, if you’re starting right away, you’ll need some warm gloves, bright/reflective clothing, and a lighting system.

Depending on your pace and the distance covered, it really is possible to arrive at work without being drenched in sweat. Bikers also pack their office clothes and ride in something more appropriate (spandex are rarely appropriate). Alternatively, you may have a shower at your office or find a nearby gym that offers a “shower membership”.

And, my #1 tip for riding in traffic: Assume you are invisible. You’re not invisible, and I don’t run around believing I’m invisible, either. But, unless you see evidence to the contrary, it’s a safe bet to assume the driver of that bus doesn’t see you. Don’t be shy – ride defensively and feel free to yell.

Let’s get started

The hardest part about changing a habit is getting started. First, accept that you can do it, then do it.

Good luck. Let me know how it goes. And, if you live in Baltimore and want a hand getting started, I’d be happy to join you on your first commute.

Disclaimer: Riding bikes in traffic can be dangerous. Life can be dangerous. Use your own judgement before partaking in any activity.