Sunday, December 18, 2022

Another trip into the archive: My First Apple Story

I published the essay below in early 2015. The stories to which I refer date back to 1998. - Ed. 

As of this writing, I’ve spent more time than many in the tech media covering at least some aspect of the Apple beat. This has not always been something that reporters would covet in the manner they do today.

For a few months in 1998, I worked briefly for Internet World, a weekly trade newspaper covering the Internet industry. (Yes, it was a newspaper that covered the Internet…. Don’t start….) It was owned by Alan Meckler’s MecklerMedia Corp. which has after numerous corporate contortions survived inexplicably to this day. The publication didn’t.

The summer Macworld conference was taking place in New York that year, and I lobbied successfully for the assignment to cover it. It was easy: No one else wanted to go.

At a time when Apple is now the largest company in the world by market cap, it may be hard to remember, but in 1998 the only stories anyone seemed to want to write about Apple concerned the corporate death spiral it seemed only to be delaying. The notion of a journalist who covered Apple full time, now a plum assignment at several tech and business publications, was limited to perhaps the local newspaper in Apple’s hometown, and a handful of enthusiast magazines.

Nineteen ninety-eight was another of the bad years for Apple. The best indicator of just how bad was its share price. After adjusting for stock splits over the years, Apple shares were trading at $1.036 a share as the month of July began in 1998. [Update: As of 2022 the split-adjusted price in July 1998 was about 26 cents. -Ed.]

The summer before, Wired had published its "Pray" cover (at right) containing 101 suggestions for saving the company. It was low on cash, suffering under the domination of Microsoft Windows, and the conventional narrative about its future was not so bright.


This was the day that history began to turn Apple’s way, and I was present when it happened. From the stage at New York’s Javits Center, Steve Jobs first showed the world the iMac. This was the first computer of that name — the brand survives to this day — and in many ways was the product that saved Apple.

It was a colorful desktop machine — Bondi Blue — and controversial in many ways. It had no floppy disk drive. It was the first computer to use the Universal Serial Bus (USB) port that is so common on PCs and Macs plus so many wall sockets and cars today. None of the uglier and more conventional connection technologies were present. This too was controversial.


In time the iMac would evolve. It would gain more computing muscle, several iterations of colors, and more radical physical designs. The product was one that bought Apple the time it needed to figure out what it was going to do next. A little more than three years later, in the fall of 2001, we learned what that would be: The iPod. Six years after that came the iPhone. And three years after that, the iPad.

Now let’s go back and look at that stock price chart from 1998 to early 2015. If you had bought a single share of Apple stock in the summer of 1998, you would have paid about $30 for it.

If you had owned that single share to the present day without selling, it would have by virtue of several stock splits, multiplied into 28 shares, each worth about $127 as of the closing price on Feb. 13, 2015, totaling $3,558.24. That amounts to an increase in value of 11,761 percent. [I updated the math to reflect data from late 2022. The same share held since July of 1998 would be 112 shares worth more than $15,000 for an appreciation of about 50,000 percent. See the chart I used.-Ed.]

Below is a video of the Steve Jobs keynote from that day. After that are two versions of the story I filed on the day’s proceedings. One was for Internet.com, the online outlet of the print publication. (An archival version without my byline can be found here.) Seven days later came a print version that ran in the weekly newspaper at the bottom of page 8 of a 74-page issue, which is also embedded below.

I of course went on to find a more interesting professional setting and parted ways with MecklerMedia within a month of publishing these stories. For a short period, I found freelancing for Wired News more lucrative. But before the year was out I had landed a staff job at Electronic News covering the chip industry at another historically critical period, which in turn led to jobs at Forbes, BusinessWeek, AllThingsD, and then Recode. By 2005 I had taken over a dormant column at BusinessWeek entitled “Byte of the Apple,” a bi-weekly meditation on all things Apple. Among its readers was Steve Jobs, who would occasionally call or email when he read something he liked or more often when he didn’t. That is another story.










iMac Grabs Spotlight at MacWorld
By Arik Hesseldahl
Internet World

[July 8, 1998 — New York City] Apple’s interim CEO Steve Jobs surprised the crowd at MacWorld Expo by showing up in person, not via satellite as was originally planned. And he brought news that seemed to hearten the crowd of Macintosh faithful.

The undisputed star of the show was Apple’s iMac, the eye-catching translucent desktop model set for release on Aug. 15. Jobs said the machines will ship with 56 Kbps modems, not the 33.6 Kbps modems that had been originally planned.

It was at this same conference in Boston a year ago that Jobs first announced what some Mac users likened to a pact with the devil, a software development alliance with Microsoft. That feeling was evident today, but to a lesser degree as Jobs was hissed as he mentioned Apple’s plans to bundle Internet Explorer and Outlook Express with the iMac.

“I use IE and I like it,” Jobs said. “You can make your own choice, and choice is good don’t you think?” he said as the crowd applauded. Indeed, two other presenters, Apple vice president for worldwide marketing Phil Schiller and Richard Wolpert, president of Disney Online, mentioned IE as their “browser of choice” during their segments of the keynote address.

Microsoft, seemingly determined to win more friends among the Mac community, did not come to the show empty-handed. Ben Waldman, Microsoft general manager for Macintosh products, announced a Mac-specific upgrade to its browser, Internet Explorer 4.01 that will be bundled with the iMac.

New features include Web archiving, and the ability to save the content of a Web site for offline browsing. A new tabs feature will allow users to keep the results of their Web searches on sites like Yahoo, Excite, Lycos and Infoseek, in their browsing window simultaneously with the content of the pages they select from the results.

Schiller introduced a new Internet search feature, code-named Sherlock that will be included with the release of Mac OS 8.5 set for later this year. Enhancing the current “find file” menu item, the new feature will search on the Internet via several search engines, including Alta Vista, Excite, HotBot, and Lycos as well as Apple’s Tech Info Library.

At the show, Disney’s Wolpert announced that its Blast Online will be available to Mac users for free during a preview. Previously, Mac users could not access the service that is geared toward children. Once the test ends, at a date to be announced, the subscription service will be offered at the rate of $6 a month or $40 a year.



Thursday, December 1, 2022

From The Archives: The Bungee Jumping Story (1990)

Thirty-two years ago this month I published this story I wrote for The Commuter, the weekly student paper at Linn-Benton Community College, just before I was to transfer to the University of Oregon. It was kind of my swan song at the paper that had been my home base for the first few years of my college career.

My plan had been to write a standard-issue "Look what crazy things people are doing now!" sort of feature on Oregon Bungee Masters, the business that organizes jumping excursions, and its customers. I ended up jumping and writing a first-person account of the experience instead.

The idea originated with Bill Mills. He and I were students together at the college and had started out working on the paper together the same year. And we had both served stints as its Editor. Now in our third year of college, we had both stuck around at LBCC for an additional round of fall term classes before heading off in different directions. Neither of us had formal positions at the paper and yet its office formed our social home base between classes. We'd hang out with friends on the staff and write the occasional story.

That fall, Bill had a case of Bungee fever. I'm not sure what brought it on exactly, but in 1990 Bungee Jumping was having a moment. It was the year that Reebook had used staged a jump to launch its Pump brand of basketball shoes. Bill was eager to try it and arranged a trip intending to write a story. Sensing a good writing opportunity, I asked to join. 

Initially, I didn't intend to jump. Bill insisted rather strenuously in a dramatic way that only he could, that I could only join the trip if I agreed to jump. I agreed but kept that decision from my parents, who were understandably freaked out at the prospect of the whole thing. 

Six years after its publication, I submitted this clip with my application to Columbia's Graduation School of Journalism. A member of the admissions committee — one with a reputation for not being easily impressed by applicant submissions — gave it her highest rating, essentially cementing my admission. That means that had I not written this story, my career and life might have been very different.

Bill and I had drifted apart as young people do, and I can't remember seeing him again after the end of the fall term. Years later, he met a tragic end, so I never got to thank him for insisting. -Ed.


A Leap of Faith

By Arik Hesseldahl
Of The Commuter

Forget every definition of fear and sheer terror you’ve ever understood. Forget all the laws of common sense, that tell you not to stand in front of a car going 75 miles per hour, touch a hot burner, or jump off a 175-foot bridge.

When I first became acquainted with Bungee Jumping, I thought it was just another of those crazy California fads that people do for a little hype and 4-minute spots on “PM Magazine.” When the recent Reebok commercial made Bungee jumping more popular, I boasted that I would do it if given the chance, a chance I would never get, not in Oregon anyway. But then we heard about a jump scheduled outside Eugene on Nov. 18, and it was time to put up or shut up.

The site was the Blue River Dam catwalk in Eastern Lane County, 200 or more feet above the ground — no water, just a rocky floor where the water of the McKenzie River used to be.

Casey Dale is the guy in charge. He's the proprietor of Oregon Bungee Masters. I know little about him except what I learned during a phone conversation a few weeks before. The setup is simple. Two harnesses and four bungee cords, each about as thick as my thumb and capable of supporting objects that weigh up to 1,500 lbs. The military uses them to drop jeeps and tanks from planes.

“If you weigh more than a jeep or a tank you probably shouldn’t try this. In fact, if you weigh more than a jeep or a tank, I don’t even want to know you,” Casey says during our short class on how to "fall properly."

There are two methods: The swan dive and the backward fall, also known as the “Elevator to Hell.” The swan dive involves a forward leap out and away from the platform mounted on the catwalk railing. Then count to two and grab onto the shoulder straps to protect your face. It doesn’t seem too difficult, assuming you can count while in freefall. I opt for the backward fall. Start out with hands across your chest on the shoulder straps, and leap away from the platform backward. It’s the safest way to go, and emotionally easier if you don’t like looking down from great heights.

I’m still not completely convinced about the bungee cord. Casey hands me a short piece of the stuff. My companion Chuck Hicks and I play tug-o-war and can barely feel a stretch. The bungee cord will not break. And if one does, there are three more there just like it. I am convinced.

“It’s a real deep emotional reach for most people and they have to find the strength from within themselves,” he says. “When you are ready, start counting down from five and the rest of us will join in from four. That’s all the noise we’ll make.”

We are now ready to jump. A young Oregon State University woman whose friends call her Anderson — I later learn she's on the university's Diving team — is the first to go. She has made a three-jump reservation and doesn’t seem scared at all.

She leaps off from the platform and everyone watches in silence until she starts her count. Off she goes like there was nothing to it as if she was a regular. Everyone wants to know what it's like, she has almost nothing to say.

At the end of each fall, Anderson bounces at the end of the cord like a yo-yo, and we can see her as she swings all the way to the other side of the catwalk. A rope is thrown down. She gets ahold of it and hooks into her harness. About ten fellow jumpers pitch in to help pull her up.

Casey says it’s now my turn.

I leave my glasses with Chuck, and don the goggles attached to the shoulder harness. The four-foot climb to the top of the platform is more difficult than I realized — I’m only four feet higher than before and I’m terrified. My steps to turn around are only centimeters in length. I am not a person typically comfortable with heights, and my movements make that obvious. Every tiny movement of my feet seems likely to cause me to fall before I'm ready. Everyone can see that I am scared past my wits. I will later be told that I sounded like a tired-out dog before the jump and that my color matched that of Caspar the Friendly Ghost with a hangover. This is not my finest hour.

I close my eyes since I can’t see much anyway, and try to find the proper mental state to do this. There isn’t one. My mind is clear, except for the fact that I eventually have to get this over with. My eyes are open, but I don’t really notice, because they have glazed over. All I see is an internal emptiness. I suddenly realize that I might be taking a long time to get off the platform.

I mutter “okay”, presumably to myself, and Casey’s assistant Alex starts the count without me.

"Starting from five,” he says. The rest of the group starts in, and I realize that if these people get to one and I am still on the platform, I am in some kind of trouble, or at least embarrassed. They get to one and my legs make the leap without my permission. I am now out and away from the platform and falling at an ever-increasing rate, and I haven’t yet realized what I have done.

I see the platform, my last link to the real world fall away from me in a direction I had never imagined I would see something fall. This is not reality.

In dreams I’ve had of falling, (you know, the kind we all have when you wake up before you hit and wake to find you’ve fallen out of bed) have all returned here to haunt me. The feeling I had dreamed of was accurate, but only a millionth of the intensity I now feel. I am frightened to a point I had never imagined possible, but I am still in control of myself. I am powerless to stop this fall, so all I can do is wait for the ultimate “trust fall” to end, and I don’t know when I will be caught.

Then it's suddenly over. During the fall, it seemed an eternity. But in the end, it was not far enough. I could actually stand to fall a little further.

There is a misconception that the end of the fall produces a painful bounce effect. True, there is a bounce, but it is not painful, at least not until the next day, when I was a bit sore. I know that I was too occupied to worry about pain, and instead had to deal with the underside of the catwalk it seemed I was about to hit.

Instead, some law of physics prevents me from doing so, and I can now concentrate on getting ahold of the rope Alex will throw down momentarily. My only link with the world above me is the bungee cord, and I don’t want to let go of it. I want only to hold onto something stable.

The rope comes down, I reach for it and hook it into my harness. I still try to hold onto the cord, until it goes slack and the rope starts to pull me back to the real world. I am still scared, but never more alive. I don’t even like roller coasters, and I just fell roughly 200 feet, at a speed between 50 and 70 mph, and had lived to tell about it.

I stay for a few more hours and watch others do spectacular flips with their jumps, and I don’t feel at all envious. I had to find the strength to do this inside, and no one else was able to help me. On that platform was one solitary person who must ultimately make the final decision to go and place a lot of trust in the strands of four 3/4-inch cords.

On the way home down Highway 126, Chuck and I stop at a little place called Ike’s Pizza for lunch. If you’re ever in Leaburg, stop in at this place; the pizza is good and the service is homey.

Bill Bixby used to fish the McKenzie River and left an autographed picture at the place. I want to talk about the jump, but I’m content to just sit and watch football while we eat. I want to calm down and the pizza helps. I’m not yet sure how I feel about the day, but I know I’ll have to do this again.

(Photos by Chuck Hicks.)


Postscript: In fact, I did do it again. 

I went Bungee Jumping a few more times. At the University of Oregon I spent two years as a Resident Assistant in the dorms, and one of the things an RA is expected to do is the vaguely-describe role known as "programming." Essentially it meant I was expected to dream up some activities for students. I had kept in touch with Casey Dale and organized two jumping excursions. The first was in the fall of 1991. It was an unauthorized trip back to Blue River Dam, this time at night. Casey said we'd have to "Bungee Bandits."

The second was in the fall of 1992. This time the venue was a private logging bridge in Southwest Washington. A friend who helped me organize it, Robb Williams, and another friend, Jim Mulder, shot some video which we then handed over to a friend of Jim's named David Bess who is now an editor for Walt Disney Animations. He set a fast cut of the jumping action to Johann Strauss's "Die Fledermaus Ouvertuere." An hour or so of raw footage follows after that. 

I ran across the tape with this video on it about 10 years ago and finally had it digitized last year.

Sunday, November 6, 2022

From the archive: The Andy Rooney Story (From 2011)

(Originally published on Nov. 6, 2011. I actually don't watch "60 Minutes" anymore and this isn't nearly as interesting a story as it seemed 11 years ago. But here it is for posterity or something. -Ed.)

Andy Rooney died yesterday. He was 92. I’ve been watching CBS' "60 Minutes" for as long as I can remember. My parents would always put it on every Sunday which was usually dinner time in my house and that generally meant that I watched it too. 

Rooney didn’t begin his show-ending monologues until 1978 when it replaced the Point/Counterpoint segment featuring Shana Alexander and James Kilpatrick. I didn’t take much notice of Rooney until I was a teenager in the 1980s and had taken an interest in writing and journalism and harbored dreams of being a newspaper opinion columnist. Rooney personified the folksy, grumpy, common-sense curmudgeon and could make you roll your eyes, but I guess I found something about him to like and stuck with it. 

In the years I watched him hold forth on subjects as varied as chairs, the Super Bowl, the job of the US Presidency, umbrellas, ice cream cones, barbers, and the random items found in people’s backpacks, I had always wanted him to do a segment on books.

It seemed an obvious Rooney segment. He had always sought to make a larger point about something small from his own experience, I just knew that one day he would finally get around to giving TV viewers a tour of the bookshelf behind his desk. Years passed, and one grumpy segment followed another. It never came, and yet my curiosity persisted. Finally in 2007, working late one night in my office at BusinessWeek I wrote a short email to 60 Minutes with the subject line “For Andy Rooney”: 
 

Dear Andy,

I’ve watched your segments on “60 Minutes” every Sunday since I was a young kid. I didn’t always get what you were saying, but I got enough to know that I liked you. It probably had something to do with me getting into the media business myself.

All these years you’ve talked about the silly things that people send you, your junk mail, the mess on your desk, the stuff you find in your attic and other curiously revealing trivia. But I’ve always wanted to know more about what we see in the background behind you every week: Your bookshelf.

When I visit someone’s home I sometimes find it interesting, if I can do it politely, to peek at what’s on their bookshelf. You’ve been inviting me and millions of other people into your office for years. As someone who like you, values the written word and the simple pleasure of reading a great book, I’m curious about what’s on that bookshelf of yours and why. I doubt it’s junk, and I’m certain it would be revealing. How about a little tour?


I’m certain Rooney never read that email, and though I can’t prove it, I’m betting it got passed to a CBS producer who did. Because two months later, Rooney closed the April 22, 2007 edition of 60 Minutes with a segment that included a few of his favorite books. They were: three dictionaries; a heavily used edition of Modern English Usage by Henry Watson Fowler; Walter Lippman’s A Preface To Morals; four leather-bound volumes by Charles Darwin; and the fifth edition of The Modern Researcher by Jacques Barzum and Henry Graff, also heavily used.

Over the years of watching I had noticed two others. One I recognized because I own it, and one I recognized because I knew of it. The one I own, and which is plainly visible in Rooney’s final commentary is The Good Times, a memoir of Russell Baker’s years as a reporter for The Baltimore Sun and columnist for The New York Times. It is often neglected in favor of his better-known personal autobiography Growing Up. The other, which I know by reputation is Words on Words by the late, legendary journalism professor John Bremner.

Two years later I got the chance to meet Rooney. The occasion was the 2009 Deadline Club Awards dinner at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in Manhattan. I was a finalist in the science and technology reporting category, for a series of stories I wrote for BusinessWeek.com called “Unconnected America,” which examined how the lack of access to broadband Internet connections affected people in various walks of life and in different places. I lost out to a Time Magazine cover story, “The Clean Energy Myth.”

There was, before the banquet, a cocktail party lasting an hour or so, and Rooney happened to be there. And I noticed that my then-colleague, BusinessWeek writer David Kiley was talking to him rather enthusiastically at a set of chairs surrounding a table as if he knew him well. It turns out he did, so I ventured over to where they were sitting and waited for a chance to introduce myself.

It came. I told him about the letter I had written him and before I could get to the part of his segment on books, he cut me off.

“And I didn’t write back, right?”

“No, and I didn’t expect you to,” I said. Then I told him about the segment on books, and that I had always been curious about them because I had been watching since I was young.

“Well, how old are you?” I was 38 at the time, but my answer was “I’m not quite 40.”

At this, he got a little indignant. He called across the table to a female friend he referred to by her last name — I didn’t catch it. “You’re really 39? Hey, do you believe this guy is 39?” he said to her.

“If he is he’s very lucky,” she said to him and grinned at me.

Then he looked back at me. “Well, you look older.”

I couldn’t argue with that. And I couldn’t help but smile at having been insulted by Andy Rooney.

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

The Power Grid Failed for a Few Hours on Sunday. Here's What Happened.


On Sunday a little after 2 PM I had taken my daughter out for a lunch of grilled cheese sandwiches when my wife texted: "The power just went out."

The power has "blinked" a few times during the night in recent weeks. We notice when certain appliances in the bedroom light up after coming back on. It's annoying, but not so frequent as to rise to a serious problem. I thought this might be another instance of that. It wasn't.

At 2:21 PM our local utility Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corp. (CenHUD) texted to inform us that "We believe there is an outage" affecting our address. The message estimated that 608 customers were without power at that moment and that it was expected to be restored by 5:30 PM. 

My daughter and I finished our lunch and drove home. My outdoor lights — both at the front porch and outside the garage doors — were lit. And inside, my wife was watching TV as if nothing were amiss. To her nothing was. Yet there was no indication from CenHUD that the power outage had been fixed.

I opened up the SolarEdge monitoring app on my phone and saw the information displayed at the left. It showed that my solar panels were generating 330 watts of power, all of it flowing directly to my house. The TV was working normally as were the cable modem and Wi-Fi routers that supplied it with content. Lights came on normally in the bathrooms and the kitchen. Had I not received the text message from CenHUD, I might have been unaware there was a problem with the power grid at all. 

As far as I could tell, all the power we were using at that moment was coming directly from the roof panels themselves, and nothing was coming from the battery. I explained all this to my wife, who was suddenly rather impressed. In the months before we signed the papers to install the panel-and-battery system I had made myself something of a pest on the subject of solar power. Now it was paying off. As the implications of the moment dawned on her, she slapped me a high five. 

I settled into my office to watch an MLS Playoff game on my iPad. My daughter watched a movie in the family room. Life proceeded as normal. 

While I was watching the game, I kept an eye on the SolarEdge app an outage map that CenHUD had provided. 

The estimated number of affected customers grew to about 1,000 and the estimated time to resolution went from 5:30 PM to 6:30 PM. No explanation for a cause was given, but it was likely routine. A faulty line or a blown transformer. 

But I started to wonder what might happen if the outage dragged on into the night. Saturday was a sunny day that started cold with temps below freezing but ended in the mid-60s. The sun was due to set just before 6 PM. If the outage were not resolved, we'd be running on battery power, something we've yet to experience. 

Fortunately, we didn't have to find out what it's like on battery power. CenHUD corrected its outage on schedule and our connection resumed before sunset. 

I went back into the monitoring app the next day and looked a little more closely at the data. 

It's clear from the data that prior to the grid failure, the panels had been producing substantially more power than the house was consuming at the time. And in fact, had we upped our consumption, say to bake a cake, or had we wanted to turn on the air conditioning, we would have been fine to do so. 

Since it was a sunny and clear day, at the moment of the grid failure, the panels had been generating 6.2 kWh worth of power, and through the inverter, exporting most of that externally to CenHUD. Our consumption at that moment was less than 1.2 kWh. What I think happened is that when the inverter temporarily lost its connection to the grid, it simply stopped sending out that excess power. 

Obviously, we were lucky that this outage happened on a day with sunny conditions. Power grids fail during severe weather events all the time. Part of my calculus in adding the solar panels and the battery has been to hedge against these moments and improve our chances of easily lasting through these moments with an easy source of power plus battery backup. And I don't expect everything to work as it did on Sunday. I've been told that when running on all-battery power during the night, we'll want to be careful with our consumption, and avoid high-consuming activities. But as yet I've no experience against which to gauge that advice. 

Meanwhile, I have an update on October's performance. For the entire month, we produced 811.87 kWh against total consumption of 515.48, leaving us with a production ratio of 1.58, which is both higher than I reported here on Oct. 19 and also higher than the level of 1.25 I recorded for the month of September. I had hoped to finish with that ratio above 1.6, and before some rainy days last week, it had indeed risen above that level, only to settle lower.

I exported 570 kWh or 70 percent of the total amount produced, and that added up to more than twice the 274 kWh I imported from CenHUD's grid. Overall I produced nearly half or 47 percent of the power I consumed and imported 53 percent. And despite Sunday's brief outage, usage of the battery remained at zero. 

I still haven't seen a bill from CenHUD against which to compare these results, though one is expected any day now. That will be the subject of my next post. 

Friday, October 21, 2022

Music on Friday: Let's start with John Prine


I've got a huge collection and I rarely share it. So I thought I'd start posting some of my holdings on Fridays. (The YouTube link is  So here's a nice version of John Prine doing "Souvenirs" which he recorded with Steve Goodman in a much more widely recognized version. It's a great song that gets better and more poignant as the listener gets older. The performance is taken from a DVD of Prine doing the "Sessions at W. 54th" which was a public television series produced from 1997-2000 as an East Coast knock-off of Austin City Limits. I remember Prine was touring that year, but for whatever reason, I missed the opportunity to see him perform. His loss to COVID still stings. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

It's been four months since my solar system was installed. Here's how it's going.

The system went live during the mid-afternoon of June 17, which means that as of this writing, I now have about four months of operational data upon which to draw some early conclusions.

First, let's start with the big numbers. In four months, the system has generated 4.81-megawatt hours of power. During the same period, my house consumed 6.42-megawatt hours. Conclusion: In four months I generated 75 percent of the power I consumed. So far so good. 

But there's more to understand. During the summer months, I was running the air conditioning, and on some days the pool heater. AC use was fairly constant throughout the summer. The all-electric pool heater, I quickly learned from watching the data in the tracking app provided by SolarEdge, the manufacturer of the basement inverter, raised the overall electrical demand significantly when it was in use. Below is the graph for July's consumption (red) and total production from the solar panels (green) and self-consumption (blue). 

As you can see, the pool heater was running full blast all day on July 1 and not as much during the majority of the month. July was hot, and once the water in the pool reached its desired temperature, it didn't require much effort from the heater to keep it there. I also made a determined effort to keep the heater turned off during the month because I was a little surprised at how much power it consumes. All in, during July, I produced a little more than 57 percent of the power my house consumed. In August, that figure rose to nearly 63 percent. 

And then came September. It was cooler than expected and despite several days with temperatures in the mid- to high-80s, the overall need for air conditioning declined, as did the desire for comfortable water in the swimming pool. We had it closed for the season on Sept. 15 and rarely turned on the AC to cool the house. Data from SolarEdge shows that my system produced 1.02 megawatt hours against consumption of 821 kilowatts. In short, I produced 1.25 times the power I consumed. See the graphic below. 


This aligns with an early hope I had for the system before it was installed: That New York's sunny but cooler days of late summer and early fall would work to our advantage. I was right. October has been even better: As of today, the production-to-consumption ratio has risen to 1.55 with more than two weeks to go in the month. 

I'm curious about production during the winter months. For one thing, the days are shorter. The sun hits the panels progressively later in the morning and leaves them earlier in the evening. It's worth comparing a productive day from June to one in October.


This graph is from June 25. The panels first begin to produce at about 5:45 AM, and did so consistently until about 8:15 PM. The pool heater was off, but the AC was cycling on and off, as evident from the red spikes in consumption. This was the most productive day in June, incidentally, and it ended just short of breaking even against overall consumption. For the record, the official sunrise occurred at 5:22 AM while the sunset was at 8:33 PM. 

Now take Oct. 6, which is pretty close to the most productive day I've experienced so far this month. 



As you can see, the system produced more than twice what the house consumed, but its window of production was more than four hours shorter, starting at about 7:15 AM (official sunrise 6:57 AM) and ending shortly after 6 PM (official sunset, 6:29 PM). Obviously what I'll be watching is how the shorter days of winter narrow that production window even further. And then there's snow to consider: Panels that are covered in snow can't produce electricity. 

There are also a few other things I have yet to fully understand: How does exported power affect my utility bill? The green spaces in the graphs indicate when the system is producing more power than the house is consuming. That power is then "exported to the grid," and the numbers on my utility meter run backward. I've been photographing the meter readings several times a week to track the progress and can confirm the numbers are somewhat lower now than they were from their late August peak. But I don't yet fully understand how this affects my bill, in part because I'm now billed on a bi-monthly and not monthly basis. I'll write more about this as the puts and takes clear up. But overall I'm liking what I see.