Solar PV system not working as it should

16 08 2018

For most of this year, my renewable energy rebates have been way down. When I compared this year’s billing to previous years’ rebates for the same billing periods, there was a noticeable drop-off. For example, from Nov 2017 to Jan 2018, the system fed some 800 renewable units back into the grid. From Jan to Mar 2018, a period of perfect, mild, sunny, summer weather, it fed only 79 units into the grid, compared to Jan to Mar 2017, when it fed 500 units in, and Jan to Mar 2016 when it fed back 408 units. The same pattern occurred over the billing cycles for the first half of this year — the feed-in units were down substantially, and we hadn’t changed our electricity use.

I called my solar PV people to see if there might be a reason for this big drop. On their advice I checked the overall output from the system, which was a tad down on the average, but not enough to be significant. We decided to wait another billing cycle and see if there was any change. When the latest bill arrived, it was clear that something was up. Instead of the usual 100 or so feed-in units over May to Jun (winter months), it was zero. Nada. Nothing.

I decided to take two measurements at the same time over two consecutive days of similar weather. And it was then I noticed that something wasn’t right with some of the figures displayed on the inverter. In particular, the PIN 1 and PIN 2 figures. When the system was installed, I was told that the PIN figures were the ones to focus on as they told me how much electricity the system was producing at any moment in time. The PIN figures have always been slightly different, but always within 50 or so of each other.

However, when I checked on these two days, the PINs were way out. For example:

Normally, these figures should be about the same. Instead, they differed by more than 1500 units. The same for the next day.

I got back on the phone to the solar PV people and sent them the photos I’d taken of all the displayed information on the inverter, and my concern about the wildly varying PIN numbers. Yep, something was up. They organised for a local solar guy to come out and check the system, particularly the arrays on the roof. And it was there that he found the reason. One of the two isolators (one for each array) was full of condensation, what looked to be salt (we live near the ocean), and some rusty grungy stuff. No wonder it wasn’t working! (click the photo to see it larger, with all the water drips on the top and back, and the salt particles on the dry surfaces)

Yesterday, he came out and replaced both isolators (I figure if one was like this after 5 years, the other might not be good either, even though he said it was fine and still well sealed). The new isolators have better weather protection (a new standard brought in since we had our system installed 5 years ago), so here’s hoping the problem has been solved for good.

When he’d finished, I checked the inverter display and both PINs were back to being within a few units of each other. Problem solved!

May storms

27 06 2018

I’ve been a bit lax writing new blog posts and putting up recent photos.

A month ago (around 25 May) we had a big storm front come through, finally heralding winter after a very long mild autumn. The black swans that normally float serenely on the very calm estuary were tossed around on the wind-driven waves, and I saw a bunch of them huddled on the shore on my drive home from town. The writhing black mass of them reminded me of tadpoles in a small puddle struggling to survive.

There was a high tide combined with the strong winds, too, so water inundated places where it doesn’t normally go.


A few days later, after it had all calmed down, the swans were back doing what they do. This group were bunched around a stormwater channel that spills into the estuary from the paddocks on the other side of the road. Obviously, they found something good to eat there, but they swam away quickly when they heard me get of the car to take their picture.

When naturalisation means nothing

4 06 2018

I’ve been researching various parts of my family tree on and off since the mid-1990s. Most of it has been inconsequential — no famous lives, no famous connections, no connections to Australian convicts, no scandals that I can find. Just ordinary people going about their ordinary lives.

Like every non-Aboriginal person in Australia, I come from a mixed, multicultural, immigrant background — South Africans on one side (going back to the Huguenots moving out of Europe in the 1500s and 1600s), English and German (Prussian really) on the other. Although I can find out quite a bit online about the English and the South Africans (those Lutherans certainly kept detailed family records!), finding out about my German ancestors has been much harder — I don’t speak or read German, and my ancestors lived in a place that has variously been under the control and jurisdiction of  Prussia, Poland, Germany, Sweden, and Russia, among others. Two world wars in the area also mean that many records have been lost forever, and even when you can find records, many are written in languages (such as Old German) that are almost extinct. Knowing the name of a town doesn’t help — town names have changed as various countries controlled the Prussian region, and often bear little resemblance to the current name (e.g. Posen [Prussia] became Bomst [Germany] and is now known as Babimost [Poland] — only the ‘o’ and the ‘s’ survived!; Marienburg [Germany) became Malbork [Poland], etc.). And the names of people have changed too — when my German branch came to Australia, they anglicised their name (or it was anglicised for them); e.g. a name like Wiegmann could easily have become Wigman or Wegman, or something else entirely. What this means is that this branch of my tree is hard to trace.

So kudos to my uncle for going to Germany and Poland a few years ago to find out more about his grandfather’s family (my great grandfather). My uncle was able to get the correct name (my great grandfather was named Johannes, but he was known in Australia as James), the name of the town he came from, and some other records — enough to continue to research James’ life once he came to Australia in the 1890s, at the age of 23.

By 1900, when he married my great grandmother, James was living on the Western Australian goldfields and working on the gold mines and the power stations as an engine driver (likely called an engineer these days). They went on to have 5 children. In 1903, he became a naturalised British subject (Australian citizens weren’t known as that then — they were known as British subjects), with all the ‘rights and capacities of a natural-born British subject’ (see first document below).

During the 1900s and early 1910s, James was an expert marksman, receiving certificates and awards from the military through the local rifle club. He was well-liked and newspaper articles of the day (as well as employment references my uncle found in the National Archives) show that he was reliable, sober, and a hard worker. He and his family continued to live in the Kalgoorlie area, and he continued to work as an engine driver for various gold mines, holding down jobs for several years at a time.

And then came the Great War.

Family folklore has it that the family was forced out of town because they were German, and that they came to Perth where they set up a vegetable market garden and poultry farm. No more engine work for James. By the outbreak of World War 1, his children ranged in age from 9 months to 13 years. Three of them were at school, and were no doubt ostracised there too. Remember, this was the family folklore. I didn’t have verification, or dates.

My uncle hunted the National Archives and found the document (below) that verified this tale, and in many ways it is worse than the family folklore led us to believe. James was ‘reported to be an enemy subject’, his ‘natural born British subject’ status is questioned (despite his Certificate of Naturalization 1903 stating that he has the ‘rights and capacities of a natural born British subject’, and it is stated that ‘advice has been received’ (advice from whom? gossip? allegations? someone who didn’t like him?) that he has ‘pronounced German sympathies’.

All this happened in September 1916, some two years after he’d lost his job at the Main Reef Gold Mine because he made ‘disloyal utterances’. He was 45 at this time, and had lived in Australia almost his entire adult life. His Certificate of Naturalization meant absolutely NOTHING.

I’m not sure what happened between 1916 and 1919, or where the family was living, but by mid 1919 he had purchased some land in Perth for a poultry and vegetable farm (by this time the children’s ages ranged from 6 to 18 years). More police investigations into his ‘allegiances’ followed as to whether he was a ‘proper’ person to own land, and he wasn’t granted Certificate of Title to that land until 2.5 years later.

I can’t imagine how harrowing this was for James, his wife, and the whole family. All their children (all born in Australia) were brought up in an environment where they could have seen their father taken to prison or a prisoner of war camp at any time — all because he publicly stated he wouldn’t fight against Germany because he still had family living there (his parents, 5 brothers and 3 sisters, and 2 step-brothers and 3 step-sisters).

What makes me particularly angry is that he was officially a British subject, and had been for some 11 years before World War 1 started. But that meant diddly. The parallels with what’s happening with immigrants in Britain and the US today are frightening.

Note: I had no idea what a ‘non-efficient member’ of a rifle club was, so I looked it up. There’s not much, but this letter to the editor from 1909 explains it quite well [Source: “RIFLE SHOOTING.” Northern Times (Carnarvon, WA : 1905 – 1952) 6 March 1909: 3.]:

Smoky sunsets

24 05 2018

We’ve had the warmest and driest May almost on record. It’s been an ideal time for the fire services to do burn-offs and reduce the fire fuel before the winter rains set in. As a result, we’ve had some stunning sunsets the past few weeks because the smoke has created all sorts of weird light filtering.

Here are some photos of the sunset over the estuary that I took on the way back from the shops a week or so ago. Unfortunately, the camera doesn’t seem to capture the blood red of the sun that the human eye sees, but no matter — I thought some of these shots turned out pretty well. And the one where it looks like rain? That was smoke particulates dropping out of the sky! I’d never seen that before, and the black swans didn’t seem too perturbed by it (yes, those black dots on the water are our native black swans).

(Click on a photo to view it larger)

Small world’s colliding

30 03 2018

There are about 7 billion people on Earth, so what are the chances of two people from opposite sides of the world (US and Australia) being on the same tour in India and Nepal at the same time, and both knowing me??? I don’t even want to try to do the maths on that one!

Sharon lives near Los Angeles and is a friend of mine on Facebook — I first met her at technical writer conferences we both attended in the US. Julie lives in Perth and is a quilter — Julie knows of me, probably because of the work I do for the Community Quilts program of our state quilt guild, but I don’t know if we’ve met. However, Julie is quite well-known by another West Australian quilter, Michelle, who is a good friend of mine.

With that background, imagine my surprise when Sharon messaged me yesterday from Nepal telling me there was a Perth lady on her tour who’s a quilter and knows of me. I’m not sure how they got to me in their conversation, but I expect it was something like ‘Where are you from? What do you do in your spare time?’ ‘Perth; I quilt’ ‘OMG! I known someone in Perth — Rhonda Bracey — and she’s a quilter’, followed by ‘I know of Rhonda! Wow!’

Normally when a Facebook friend is off on a trip somewhere, I sort of follow along, but not very closely. But this time was different – I’d done a trek in the Annapurna foothills in Nepal back in 1988, so I was interested in what Sharon was doing there, where she was going, and how different it might be from my trip there 30 years ago. She went to some of the same places I went, so we’d been chatting about that on Facebook, when all of a sudden she asked where in Perth I lived. That must’ve been about the time she found out Julie was from Perth and was a quilter.

What are the chances? It certainly is a small world! And in this case, two of my world’s collided — my quilting world and my tech writing world. In Nepal, of all places.

Blast from the past

6 02 2018

I was hunting around in the bottom of some kitchen drawers the other day when I found an unopened packet of foil trays. I have no idea why I never used them back in the day, but there they were — in all their 1980s??? glory! How on earth they’ve followed me from house move to house move is anyone’s guess! (I’ve moved houses at least seven times since 1982)

Dating them is difficult, but I took a stab at it based on the information on the packet and the 87c (!) price tag.

So, how to date them… First, I looked for clues in the words and images on the front and back of the packet, then the fonts used, and finally the price sticker.

The images showed some fairly classic dishes and images I associate with stylised depictions of Australian life from the 1960s through to the 1980s, and perhaps beyond — the Sunbeam Electric Frypan, the spindly 3-legged BBQ, the styles of food (jelly moulds or garlic bread, anyone?), the plastic mugs in the picnic set… The women’s hairstyles and clothing could be anything from the 1960s through the 1970s, but perhaps not into the big-hair days of the 1980s — they all look a little more staid than that.

The measurements are all metric, so this packet must have been produced after 1974 when Australia switched to the metric system. For a period of time (perhaps one to two years?), measurements were often provided in the old Imperial system as well as metric, but this packet only has metric measurements. So it’s definitely after 1974.

That very rounded font screams the late 70s/early 80s, to me. However, I don’t have any evidence as to what font it is, or when it was widely used.

The biggest clue was the price tag. After getting over the 87c these 5 trays cost me, I saw that I’d bought the packet from Coles. And Coles had kindly printed their logo on the price tag. After a bit of Googling, I found that that style of logo was prevalent in the early 1980s, but had gone by the late 1980s/early 1990s, and was completely gone by 1991. The Victoria Library has digitised quite a lot of the Coles Myer history, including many of the annual reports, all of which have a logo on them. Based on those reports and some searches for Comalco Alfoil ads on YouTube, I estimate I purchased this packet around 1982 or 1983.

As a retail brand, Comalco Alfoil basically isn’t known in Australia after about 1990 — at least, not according to the searches I did. However, they were big in the 1960s through to the late 1980s, according to some Google searches. Leigh-Mardon, the manufacturer of the packet, were still going until they went belly-up around 2017. (As an aside, ‘Leigh-Mardon’ rang a bell with me — I remembered they produced the barcodes we used on the books in the school library I ran back in the late 80s and early 90s!!)

The other brand, of course, is Coles. When I was a kid growing up in Western Australia, there was only one Coles store as far as I can recall, and that was the big emporium (not called a supermarket then) in the centre of Perth. We lived in the country, so as a kid, the big treat the few times we went to Perth was going to Coles Cafeteria for lunch! Coles supermarkets came much later to Western Australia, possibly in the 1970s? I’d have to hunt through some of those old annual reports to find out when.

So, with a little detective work, I’ve narrowed the time frame down quite a bit to probably somewhere between 1981 and 1984 (I was living in Canada in 1986, so it certainly wasn’t then).

Of course, the bigger question is why on earth I kept them all these years!


Red, black, and white crazy quilt

31 01 2018

I made this red, black, and white (with splashes of yellow) lap quilt from fat quarters and fabric scraps, using the ‘Not so crazy’ pattern from Four Paws Quilting.

I quilted it with overlapping spirals, using a yellow thread, with a meandering stipple (black thread) in the border. The background fabric is a slightly off-white cotton, with two flashes of yellow.

This quilt is available for sale from my Etsy store:

Threads used:

  • Top: Isacord (trilobal polyester, 40 wt, colour 0600); Fil-Tec Glide ‘Black’ (trilobal polyester, 40 wt, colour 11001)
  • Bottom: Fil-Tec Magna Glide Classic pre-wound bobbin (white)