Monthly Archives: August 2011

Rooftop Solar Suppliers

So I’ve spent the last week evaluating different suppliers/installers of our rooftop solar panel system. Basically I drew up a shortlist based on the various experiences written about on the Whirlpool Forums and the equipment I wanted. Here was my key selection criteria:

  1. Be able to install Suntech mono-crystalline panels and a Sunnyboy inverter.
  2. Not be universally disliked on the above mentioned Whirlpool forums.
  3. Be able to explain to me in no-nonsense (ie no BS) terms what signing up for the September 30 deadline for the South Australian State Government feed in tariff (FIT) actually meant. I knew already what this meant but wanted to use this as a litmus test to detect any attempt at deception on the part of the supplier.
  4. Be able to answer (or ask) questions about roof type, roof facing, system size, and accreditation of installers

I rang about 8 companies and the winning company pretty much popped out straight away. Some companies didn’t return calls, some couldn’t (wouldn’t) supply the right equipment that I wanted, and one in particular just annoyed me with their hard sales spiel and wishy washy answers to my technical questions. So, we’ve ended up choosing Braemac (http://www.braemacenergy.com.au/), who are also a large electrical and automation company who I’ve had some dealings with back in the days when I pretended to be an engineer. Their main point of contact was very helpful and booked in a rooftop inspection for the 5th of September.

Rooftop Solar PV System

I’m moving house in a couple of weeks and will be a home owner for the first time in a while and because of this I’m planning on doing a lot of work on the new house. One of these projects is to get a rooftop photo-voltaic (PV) system installed and cut back on power costs and (hopefully) benefit by selling excess generated power back into the grid. The South Australian state government (I live in South Australia, a southern state of Australia) is offering a $0.44 per kW/h feed in tariff (FIT) for rooftop PV systems approved by 30 September 2011 and installed by the end of 2011. FIT payments are guaranteed until 2026 and power retailers may also offer up to an additional 8c / kWh giving a total of $0.52 / kWh for excess power generated by your rooftop PV system.

The real benefit of a rooftop PV system only really comes into play when the power it generates exceeds the power used. For example, if your system is generating 10 kW/h during the day but you are consuming 12 kWh the system only offsets the power you use. My last power bill was charged at almost exactly $0.25 kWh so a PV system that generates under my average daytime use is only going to benefit me at that rate. However, a bigger system that exceeds my daily usage will benefit me at $0.52 / kWh and my return on investment in the rooftop PV system will be much better.

We’ve booked in a couple of PV installers to come take a look at our new house on September 3. I’ve not settled on a system size yet but I have settled on the components, Suntech mono-crystalline panels and a Sunnyboy Inverter. These are reputable brands that should just work. No point skimping on quality on a system that will cost multiple thousands of dollars whether a good quality or rubbish brands are used. More on this later.

Redirecting Unwanted Domains Pointing at Your Content

In the last year I’ve had people pointing unwanted domain names at my own website content. For example, let’s say I have a web site called http://www.foo.com that uses the name server reallycool.nameserver.com. If I wanted to be a pain in the butt I could point another domain (say http://www.annoyingwebsite.com) at the same content by using a custom DNS A record or a 301 redirect. It’s a pretty simple matter to work out the nameservers and IP of a site by using a tool like this.

The problem with someone doing this to your website is that search engines (like Google) see this second website as a duplicate of your own website. Now, in theory this shouldn’t be a problem because Google should determine that your website was the first listed and pretty much ignore the duplicate site. In theory anyway, but the paranoid part of me says having a copy of your website is a Bad ThingTM. Another problem is that this spurious second site will show up in search listings and also in your website referrer logs. It’s an annoying, and potentially damaging issue.

I tried a few different things to stop this from happening including messing about with .htaccess files but ended up just adding the following to the top of my global header file (which happens to be php).

	//
	//Redirect people hijacking site
	//
  if ($_SERVER['HTTP_HOST']!='www.foo.com' &&  $_SERVER['HTTP_HOST']!='foo.com' && $_SERVER['HTTP_HOST']!='localhost')
  {
   Header( "HTTP/1.1 301 Moved Permanently" ); 
   Header( "Location: http://www.google.com" ); 
  }

Note that I’ve got the localhost entry in there to allow for debugging of my websites on my local PC.

VLCStreamer on the iPad

I bought an iPad a while back with intention of developing an Online Time Clock MTS client for it. However one look at Objective-C and I ran screaming for the hills so that particular ambition was put on hold. This has relegated the iPad to being used for browsing the web while watching TV, playing the odd car racing game, and teaching our kids their times tables. I must also confess to the guilty pleasure lying in bed late at night and using the iPad with the ABC Iview app to catch up on episodes of Time Team and Good Game. This was only the real video I watched on the device as converting AVI files to watch looked painful enough to not be worth the effort, so I’d never done it.

Then last night I was poking around the App store and found that the VLCStreamer app has been re-listed. Previously it had been listed as a free app but Apple (for whatever reason) had nuked it and it was no longer available. VLCStreamer allows you to stream video files from your computer and view them on your iPad. Installing the app on the iPad was simple (as installing all apps is). To serve up video files to the iPad required me to download an install the VLC Streamer program on a computer which serves up the video files. Once this was done I could see the PC name from within the VLCStreamer app on the iPad and could navigate to the folder that contained all my video files. I selected one and hey presto I was watching the video! Setup took all of 2 minutes.

To me the iPad is the stuff of science fiction anyway, but VLCStreamer simply takes it to another level completely. Highly recommended to anyone with an iPad and digital media library.

Footnote: Reading about MonoTouch and developing iPad applications in .NET has resurrected the idea of an iPad client.

About the Author

I’m a 40 something year old male with 4 young kids, a lovely partner, and experiencing a mid-life nerdy crisis. For the last 10 years I’ve run my own mISV (micro independent software vendor) business developing and selling mostly time tracking applications. These applications were all installable Windows programs until last year when I launched a web based time clock system which was developed mainly in PHP and Javascript (Prototype and JQuery) and is hosted on a LAMP stack. My other products are Time Clock MTS, Timesheets Lite, Timesheets MTS, and Time and Attendance Plus. These programs were developed in Visual Basic 6 and right now are being ported to C# using Winforms.

I also help my partner run a collectables and hobby supplies business, write for a popular collecting weblog and maintain several different websites. Sometimes I also dabble in a bit of contract web-development mostly focused on custom WordPress solutions. For example, I built the Numismatic Association of Australia website and I’m currently developing a nifty reference site for the Perth Numismatic Society (no, I didn’t develop the website in that link). And finally, I still do the odd bit of contract programming (mostly VBA and C#) but I’m trying to stop this sort of thing because I really don’t have the time for it.

Back in the early 1990’s I managed to get a degree in mechanical engineering but haven’t actually worked as an engineer since 2006. To be honest I wasn’t all that good at it anyway so the engineering world probably doesn’t miss me.

About the What Mark Did Blog

The What Mark Did blog is written by me, Mark, and it’s mostly about what I’ve done. Occasionally it’ll be about what I am about to do, and sometimes it’ll just be about what I am thinking. Most of it will be technical because my job is technical and a lot of my interests are technical. Some of it will be nerdy because I am a 40 year old going through something of a nerdy renaissance (thanks to the Big Bang Theory mostly). Right now I am expecting entries covering programming (C#, PHP, Javascript, VB6), web development, search engine optimization, gadgets, software, and whatever else happens to interest me.

As I write this entry I am not expecting a lot of my entries to be of much interest to anyone but myself so you’ll have to excuse any self indulgence. I don’t feel bad about this because I am self employed and spend a lot of hours staring at a computer and need to get what I am thinking written down. So I intend that this blog be something of a medium for my thoughts during my work day and I am certain that sometimes it will only make sense to me. Apologies in advance for this.

If you’re wondering about the title of the blog thanks must go to my lovely partner who suggested the name as a play on the children’s book title What Katy Did. So, if you’re interested in What Mark Did please read on.