Sizing a UPS for cable modem and router; market opportunity for a long duration low power UPS?

Things that our neighbors hate more than Donald Trump:

  • cell towers
  • underground power lines

Power failures are routine and, when they happen, we lose all communications capability (since a mobile phone won’t work inside the house and only barely works out in the yard).

I’m thinking it might be nice to back up our Verizon FiOS service, including the Internet. Then, in theory, we can at least use our landline and our smartphones or laptops that are charged.

A friend in town says that this is a fool’s errand: “when we had power failures, it turned out that the fiber switch on the street would go down.” On the other hand, this FiOS customer had 72 power outages with Internet in a 6-year period (great advertisement for U.S. infrastructure!).

I’m wondering how to size the UPS to run the latest ONT (corresponding to a cable modem) and VZ’s WiFi router. Verizon sells a ghetto backup battery system, just for the ONT (to run the landline for 24 hours), based on 12 D cell disposable batteries. Wikipedia says a D battery has 18 amp-hours of capacity at 1.5V, so the total of 12 would have 324 watt-hours?

If we assume that the WiFi router draws a similar amount, and will have both boxes plugged into a UPS, we therefore need a UPS with 650 watt-hours of battery? Add another 20 percent for the efficiency losses in converting from DC up to 120V AC down to DC, so now we need 800 watt-hours of battery inside the UPS to run for 24 hours?

It seems to be tough to find this information. UPS vendors spec them in volt-amps or watts and then bury the battery details. Also, maybe Verizon is selling its own thing because the appropriate product does not exist in the market? To get a beefy battery one needs to invest in crazy high max VA, which is irrelevant in this application. A $200 UPS rated at 1500 VA is backed by only two feeble $20 8.5 Ah 12V batteries (204 watt-hours; less than Verizon’s 12 D cells). We bought one to try out and it supplies the ONT and router for 2.5 hours, less than half as long as expected. The higher-capacity machines seem to be marketed as “generators” (without the generator!), e.g., this 412 Wh 11 lb. box for $550.

APC makes a box with a replaceable lithium ion battery for only about $71, which they say is intended to power routers, but it stores a pathetic 41 Wh. Lithium-ion is just not a sensible way to buy watt-hours, apparently.

Readers: Is there a market opportunity here? Apparently providing even the power of 12 D cells on a trickle-out basis is crazy expensive right now. How about a device that holds 24(!) D cell batteries and, in the event of a power failure, will supply power from those batteries to a router and ONT or cable modem? A brief interruption in the power supply is acceptable. Amazon sells D cell Energizer alkaline batteries for about $1 each, delivered. Instead of buying a $500 lith-ion battery that will be garbage after 3 years, just buy $24 of D cells every year or two.

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17” laptop for seniors

I wonder if this is the start of a trend… a 3 lb. laptop with huge screen and medium (2560×1600) resolution: LG gram 17″.

Could this be the perfect device for seniors? With eyes older than 50 years, 4K resolution on a 13″ screen is not all that useful.

Maybe this particular laptop isn’t the one, since it lacks a touch screen (I don’t need the convertible fold-over feature, but I don’t think I can go back to a non-touch laptop), but I’m wondering if it shows a future to which we can look forward.

As with other computers these days, I’m mystified by the small amount of RAM (16 GB) with which this thing is set up. My 32 GB desktop right now shows that 19.4 GB is in use. Google Chrome accounts for 6 GB. CrashPlan backup software is using 3 GB (it needs this if you have a lot of disk space to be backed up). Microsoft Edge is using 0.5 GB. Adobe Acrobat is virtuous! It has a bunch of big documents open and is consuming only 147 MB.

Given that processor performance has more or less stalled out I would expect a modern laptop to be available with 32 or 64 GB of RAM and 1-2 TB of SSD. A SanDisk 2 TB drive is $250 at Amazon. The 16 GB of RAM that LG includes is less than $100 at retail on Amazon. Why buy an expensive package, screen, and battery to go with a puny RAM and SSD?

Readers: Can bringing the weight down to 3 lbs. and the package size down to where 15″ laptops typically are revive the moribund 17″ laptop category?

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Why aren’t all dishwasher detergents the same?

Here’s a conundrum… given that dishwashers haven’t changed in the past couple of decades and fundamental detergent chemistry hasn’t changed substantially since 1946 (source), why wouldn’t all dishwasher detergents have converged to essentially the same formula? Or maybe there would be three formulae: soft water, medium water, hard water.

Perhaps detergents actually are all the same, but there is money to be made in fancy packaging and convincing advertising? If so, why does Consumer Reports rate detergents on a scale from 19 (Cascade Complete Gel with Dawn; looks like Procter and Gamble might need to spend more time in the lab and less time making toxic masculinity commercials for its Gillette division) to 85 (Costco’s Kirkland Signature Premium pacs, which might be Finish Powerballs in disguise? Finish rates 83).

Maybe it makes sense that the eco brands such as Seventh Generation and Ecover perform badly. Or the Trader Joe’s absurdly cheap (about 1/3rd the price of Costco!) pacs aren’t great (though nowhere near as bad as that Cascade gel product, above).

But why wouldn’t similarly priced pacs from the bigger vendors all be formulated essentially the same? How is it that the folks who make Finish know something that the chemical engineers behind Cascade don’t know, or vice versa? Even products with similar prices from the same company performed differently.

[Separately, if Consumer Reports is right, you should never ever buy dishwasher gel. A Palmolive eco+ was a mediocre performer and all the rest fell on a spectrum of bad to worse. The top-end Costco pacs were the best performers as well as about 1/3 the price of the top-end brand name pacs.]

It makes sense to me that a Tesla and an Audi electric car will be different. But why should dishwasher detergents be? Everyone wants the same thing (clean dishes).

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Gillette-compatible blades from Schick

In the one thing that seems to give Gillette a slight boost over the Korean-made Dorco blades is that flexible head on the Gillette handle.

What if one could buy third-party blades and put them on the Gillette handle?

Schick offers just such a product: Hydro Connect. I ordered some yesterday and will be offering a report!

(These seem to be tough to obtain from retailers, though it is easy to buy them direct from Schick. I’m wondering if retailers are afraid of getting entangled in litigation, e.g., “P&G’s Gillette sues Schick maker Edgewell over razor blade design,” which notes that “Procter & Gamble Co’s (PG.N) Gillette unit on Monday sued the maker of Schick razors for the second time in 13 months, seeking to stop its sale of razor blade cartridges designed to fit Gillette’s Fusion handles.”)

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Gillette versus Dorco Shaving Test 2

Continuing research in response to the controversy over Gillette’s recent “toxic masculinity” ad campaign … (see Test 1)

Test 2:

  • two days of growth
  • shaving in the shower
  • Edge shaving gel
  • Dorco Pace 7 on right side of face
  • latest and greatest Gillette Fusion 5 ProShield with Flexball on left side of face
  • second shave for each cartridge (first shave was Test 1)

Results: Indistinguishable feel and capability of the two blade cartridges. Equal resulting smoothness of face on both sides. No nicks from either system.

Winner: Gillette by a hair(!), due to the Flexball (introduced 2014), which seems to reduce workload slightly.

[Bizarre: in their zeal to be the wokest of U.S. consumer goods companies, Gillette has neglected to be orthographically consistent with their only potential advantage over Dorco. Parts of their web site use “FlexBall” while other pages include “Flexball”.]


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Renovate a 10-year-old Buderus gas boiler?

We have a 10-year-old Buderus GB142 wall-hung gas boiler that is suffering from myriad corrosion issues. The HVAC service folks recommend either dumping in $3,300+ for a “major renovation”, including replacement of the manifold and everything connecting to the boiler, or spending $15,500 (minus $2,750 in rebates under the poor-renters-should-subsidize-rich-homeowners political theory that prevails in Massachusetts) on a new 150,000(ish) BTU high efficiency system.

Does anyone have experience with these beasts? Are they worth fixing? Are we going to pay $3,300 now and then $15,500 a year from now when something else blows up?

Also, if we do decide to replace, Lochinvar or Bosch? (presumably we don’t want to go back into the Buderus money sinkhole, though on the other hand Bosch liked them well enough to buy them!)

Note that my glorious plan to replace this with an old-style standard efficiency boiler ($2,000 part every 20 years) seems to be impractical. It has to go into a small closet (no basement in this house due to architectural genius back in the 1960s) and the latest code would require fan-driven make-up air. So it wouldn’t be any cheaper than having a high-efficiency unit, according to the HVAC guys (and, for some reason, everyone who comes out to fix boilers on Christmas Day or crawl around in attics in July seems to identify as male; where is Hillary to address this injustice?).

[Separately, this is a great illustration of why official CPI is grossly understated for homeowners. The cost of maintaining a house has skyrocketed (very labor-intensive in a country where a worker can cost $30,000/year in health insurance premium before the first dollar of wages has been paid). The cost of paying real estate taxes has gone up dramatically (and about to go up 30% more in our town due to the approval of a $110 million school project (to renovate a school building occupied by 440 town-resident K-8 students!)). None of this is reflected in CPI (background) because they look at what we would pay to rent our house if we could find a landlord sufficiently passionate about losing money to want to buy it, maintain it, and rent it out.]

Update: Readers commented about what a rip-off the above quote was, for the Lockinvar 155,000 BTU boiler and associated fittings. So I got a competitive quote from a regular plumbing contractor who is excellent: $20.750. And I got a second quote from a friend’s heating guy: $15,000 plus or minus. Apparently this is the price in the Boston suburbs. We decided to go with the HVAC company’s $15,500 plan. Typical Americans can’t afford to live in America, is my conclusion. It just looks like we can because we’re using legacy infrastructure that hasn’t worn out or fallen down yet.

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The best small kitchen knives (paring and utility)

Due to the fact that we think children will be poisoned unless they are fed organic home-cooked meals (not to mention sliced fruit and vegetable snacks offered every hour by their grandma), there is a crazy amount of cutting going on in the kitchen.

This has led to some practical research on knives. Here’s what I have figured out so far…

The Shun DM0700 Classic 3.5-inch paring knife seems to be popular for small fruit cut by small hands, but the Wusthof’s extra length is better for most things and the Wusthof is more idiot-proof with a rounded edge at the back of the blade near your hand. (I do love the big Santouka knives.)

[That there do not seem to be any good American-made knives, at least not at a competitive price, makes me wonder how the political debate about America’s biggest problems still contains statements of the form “We should do X the way that Country Y does X.” (example: New York Times story suggesting that the U.S. health care funding bureaucracy be torn up and rebuilt like Singapore’s so that we can cut spending from our 17 percent of GDP to their 5 percent) If we can’t compete in a straightforward market such as paring/utility knives, why do we think that we can do stuff that other countries do?]

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Happy Friday: Machine-assisted Fun

It’s Friday again and therefore time to put the Happy Helmet on.  What could be more fun for an American than wallowing in materialism and playing with machines?

This old gold dredge is on the road from Nome, Alaska to the small town of Council.


MIT demonstrates its patriotism by giving us a four-day weekend for Patriot’s Day and I’ll be heading south in the airplane:  Saturday to DC (parents/sibs); Sunday to Williamsburg, Virginia (w/parents); Tuesday morning to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania (visit Matthew Amster, anthropologist, and Andy Wermuth, documentary filmmaker); Tuesday evening back to Boston (weather permitting; the forecast is a bit ugly).  On the way down I hope to repeat a fun flying experience from Monday:  asking the Logan Airport tower for a “city tour” clearance.  On the way to East Hampton we were able to fly down the Charles River at 1500′, right over Harvard and MIT, then made a right turn to the south in front of the tall buildings of downtown.  The only other aircraft in this space normally are the medical helicopters.

It is biking time again.  If you’re old and creaky and don’t like biking because it hurts your neck, back, and, uh, butt, I can recommend a recumbent.  It is as comfortable as sitting on your living room sofa except that sometimes you fall over sideways onto pavement (recumbents have smaller tires and therefore less angular momentum and therefore less resistance to tipping over).  You can pick them up new for $600+ and learn about them in alt.rec.bicycles.recumbent

If you live in the Boston area, I found a bike shop that seems vastly superior to the usual suspects (Wheelworks and IBC):  ATA Cycle on Mass Ave near Porter Square in Cambridge (  They are very fast yet thorough with mechanical work.  They have some beautiful mountain bikes for trips through the Middlesex Fells, Lynn Woods, and other local spots.

When you get tired from biking and watch to relax on the sofa, this summer will bring the first crop of HDTVs that have enough holes in the shadow mask to display something like all the pixels in an HDTV signal (1920×1180).  Unlike with computer monitors, TV makers don’t tell you how fine the dot pitch can be.  The HDTVs sold so far have taken a high-res signal in but aren’t capable of producing anything other than a low-res picture because there aren’t actually enough distinct holes in the metal grille separating the electron gun from the phosphors.  Blowing $2500 on a Sony KV-34XBR910 so that you can enjoy every pixel of Laverne and Shirley will provide a much-needed boost to both the US and Japanese economies.

If you’re concerned that America’s maturation into neo-feudalism will tempt the serfs to try to take away some of your hard-earned wealth, consider an armored car from Lincoln, Cadillac, or Mercedes.


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