Utility History

I like to collect data. It’s rarely interesting at a single point in time, but over the years, it can provide insights or show trends that I didn’t know existed.

For example, my irrigation controller is based on a Raspberry Pi. There’s a webpage for it and it has an API so I can download the actual runtime of each zone. I’ve measured the amount of water used for a minute in each zone (by watching my water meter) so I can get a rough estimate of how much water I’m using through the system overall. Some of the variability is due to the weather, but I’ve also been tweaking the algorithm to automatically adjust the watering schedules based on the forecast.

I have a similar logging system for my HVAC. I haven’t been successful in reducing these costs much as I think I had it pretty optimized to begin with.

So yes, this is geeky, but it’s also frugal. Two things that are super attractive, right?

Custom Address Bar Shortcuts

This one is a little geeky but stick with me. Have you noticed how sometimes when you type in the address bar, it changes the UI a little bit and then performs a search on whatever you typed? For example, if you start with “amazon” and a space, it says “Search”. Did you know that you can customize this? This post assumes you’re using the new Microsoft Edge browser (it’s fantastic, highly recommended) or Chrome. Let’s use my website as an example.

  1. Search for the word “test” using the search box on the right side of this page. Notice how the resulting URL in the address bar is “”. Copy that URL.
  2. Click the three ellipses in the top right of the browser window and click Settings. In Edge, search for the “address bar and search” setting and then click “Manage search engines”. Chrome is similar but I think you can search directly for “Manage search engines”.
  3. On that page you can define your own search shortcut. So add a new one and call it studio711 and use that as the keyword too. For the URL, give it the URL that you copied from step 1 but replace “test” with “%s”. So you end up with “”.
  4. Close out of the settings, click the address bar and type “studio711 hot dogs”. Press enter. Now you’ve just searched my website for posts about hot dogs.

You can do this for any website that has your search string in the URL. I use it for all kinds of stuff at work like looking up bug numbers or live site incidents. At home I use it for quickly looking up Bible verses. I have defined a search engine called “ehv” (for Evangelical Heritage Version) with a URL like this “”. I have another one for the NIV translation.

Once I learned about this, it took me a little while to grasp it’s power and also to remember to use it, but now I’m hooked!

Excess Deaths

On Monday I mentioned that I couldn’t find a good graph showing the increased number of deaths in 2020 (from any cause) in the US. This post is a quick update to say that I’ve found better data. This ourworldindata website shows the number of deaths per week and compares it to previous years. You can also choose other countries and read about where they get their data sources. Note that their data isn’t fresh enough to show a lot of impact from the current spike that we’re going through.

Reddit user sjaquemate took a few countries and made radial line graphs for various countries.

Yard Watering

My sprinkler controller is an Open Sprinkler model and I wrote a program which periodically pulls the logs off it and stores them in a database. I was checking out my yearly irrigation water usage and noticed that I’m generally getting better every year about keeping the yard alive with less water. Obviously this is heavily weather dependent, but generally our summers are exceedingly dry so the main variation is in the start and stop of the watering season.

The y-axis roughly equates to the number of gallons used but this is far from accurate. The year to year comparisons are completely valid though.

I have similar data showing my HVAC (furnace, AC and fan) usage over the years but I’ll save that for another time. I don’t want to pack too much excitement into a single post.

Azure Data Explorer Overview Talk

I’ve written about Azure Data Explorer (aka Kusto) before, and I realize that many of you aren’t geeks, but for those who have geek-ish tendencies, I want to share a great talk from our Israel team. (These are people that I met on my trip last February.) It’s a couple hours long, but if you watch the first 45 minutes, it will give you a great overview of the product and maybe help you understand why I’ve been so excited to work with it for the past years.

My job revolves around petabyte datasets and analyzing new data within minutes of it getting created at the source. This product was a game changer in what we were able to achieve and promise to our users. I realize that 45 minutes is a non-trivial chunk of time, but if you’re in the data space, I think you’ll find it valuable or at least intriguing.