DTE Insight v3 Review: A Big Step Back

Like many power companies, our local company rolled out smart meters a few years ago.  These smart meters are in constant communication with the power company.  Benefits for this include real-time monitoring capabilities and the elimination of meter reads.  Drawbacks are, according to some, increased exposure to RF radiation as the communication takes place.  Like it or not, they are here to stay. Our company, DTE Energy, made it really cool. They came up with a device called an Energy Bridge and an app called DTE Insight that allowed real time monitoring of your usage. They recently rolled out DTE Insight v3.  Here’s my review.

Energy Bridge and DTE Insight

The Energy Bridge and the DTE Insight app went hand in hand.  With the app, any electric customer could monitor their usage.  It provided breakdowns by day, week, and month.  You typically had access to your statistics after a day or two.  With the Energy Bridge device, it moved this up to real-time.  This device had a data connection that you plugged into your home router. It paired with your electric meter, and you could view your usage in real time.

It’s a really cool bit of technology.  On many occasions, I would pull up the app, and literally go around the house, turning things on or off, or plugging or unplugging devices to see how much energy it used.

It was wicked cool

And, because I signed up when it first came out, it was free!

Widespread Rollout

After a couple of years, they announced that they would be making this available to everybody.  Apparently once they ran out of the initial devices, that was it.

Existing customers received notice that a brand new device would be coming our way, replacing the first device.  The new devices were wi-fi capable, which was a definite plus.  So far as I can tell, that was about the only improvement.

Still, the device came, and after getting it configured, it was back to business as usual.

Trouble On The Horizon

One of the things their rollout e-mail promised was that we would soon have an updated app to use.  I was curious so I went on the Google Play Store to see what I could find.

It wasn’t good.

The reviews of the updated app were lukewarm at best.  One common complaint was that the newer version of the app took away a lot of features.

I guess I was skeptical of this, because why would any developer take away features?

Well, turns out that they were right.

The New DTE Insight v3 Sucks

The old version of the app (v2.3.7) will no longer be supported.  Customers who want to use their Energy Bridge have to upgrade or it won’t work.

I have automatic updates turned on for my apps, so one recent morning I saw that I’d received the newer version of the app.  How did I know? Well, the icon was missing from my front page but I found it in my Apps folder, and the icon was different than before.

I had a feeling that the fact that it didn’t put the icon back wasn’t a good sign.

Turns out, I was right.

First, the new app made me log in again.  I can’t stand when apps do this.  Unless it’s a financial app or app that can be used to compromise my identity, I want to set it and forget it.  But, no big deal, I soon supplied my username and password and I was in.  It kept the connection to my Energy Bridge device, which I guess was good.

But, then I started noticing how awful this app is.  I realized after about two minutes that none of the reviews were exaggerating.

Pretty much every feature I’d found helpful in the old app was gone.

Missing Features

  • Current Day Access to Real Time Data – In the old app, you could press and hold a circle and move it around and it would show you your usage for any point in the day.  Now, that was gone.  I could see my real time data, but trying to go back a few hours was a no-go.
  • Historical Data – The old app showed pretty much every bit of historical data you could think of.   I could compare any month to the last twelve months, or even go back over a year.  The new app has no historical data whatsoever.
  • Budget and Usage Goals – In the old app, you could set your goals based on historical data.  I always set that I wanted to keep my usage at the same level as the same month a year ago.  But, since they got rid of the historical data, the ability to goal set is gone as well.  How lame.
  • Challenges – The old app had some different challenges, and when you made them you were awarded points.  For example, if you checked your usage on three different days, you’d often get a couple hundred points.  If you kept your usage under a certain amount for the week, that was good for a few hundred points.  The challenges changed weekly.  They were cool.  You didn’t really get anything for them, but it was still something to shoot for.  These have all vanished.

Adding Insult to Injury: They Are Charging For This

All of the above is bad, but to top it off, they’re now charging for anyone that wants an Energy Bridge device.  They will start charging 99 cents per month.  Now, since I was a user of the old device, I get six months for free.  Which is good, because otherwise I’d be sending that thing back today.

I find it really amazing to think that they would strip away so many features, and then turn around and call it an upgrade.  My guess is that this is probably a brand new app, so technically they’re starting from scratch.  But you know what?  That’s no excuse for rolling out something so terrible.

Because of the fact that I’m getting this for six months, I guess I’ll hold onto it for now.  But simply put, DTE Insight v3 is awful.  Hopefully by December they are on a newer version that brings back the features I found handy.  If not, I have a feeling they’ll be getting a lot of these things sent back.  Mine would be one of them.

Readers, do you have any devices or systems that allow you real time monitoring of your utility usage? Would you pay for such a thing?  

No Emergency Fund? These Consequences Might Change Your Mind

“Emergency savings fund? Who has the extra money in their budget to set aside for a rainy day?”

“Every day is rainy and there’s always something to be paid right now.”

“You can’t take it with you when you’re gone, you might as well spend it now.”

These are common things people say when the topic of emergency funds come up. Though each of these statements is true in some form, failing to organize your finances for unforeseen circumstances could put you in a really bad position.

No matter what reason you have for putting off the need to save, eventually it comes back to bite you. Many people end up finding this out the hard way.

Isn’t That What Loans Are For?

Sure, there are opportunities out there for you to take advantage of if you’re in a real jam. There are banks and private lenders who will extend a loan to you if you qualify. Bank loans tend to require a lot of paperwork, good credit, and collateral. They also take time to process. Short-term loans provide a quicker solution.

Payday loans are cash advances you can take out despite your credit. You can get approved for several hundred dollars in just a few hours, but if you don’t pay it back on your next payday, you’ll find yourself in a cycle of debt. Installment loans are payday loan alternatives with easy eligibility requirements. If approved you get funds within a day and have several months to repay the balance in full.

Though there are loans out there that can lend a helping hand if you’re in a jam, if your financial emergency is long-term or more than you can get approved for, you’re still backed into a corner.

So What Are the Consequences of Not Saving?

Loans provide a lifeline for quick, short-term personal emergencies, but aren’t the answer if you’re dealing with a lot of debt, can’t repay them, or are dealing with ongoing financial problems. That’s why it pays to save, and here’s what happens when you don’t.

Abuse of Assets

If you don’t have a lump sum of cash stashed away for emergencies, you have to start looking elsewhere to get financial relief. This means borrowing on equity from your home or trying to get a loan using your vehicle as collateral. Who really wants to give up their house or car in the event they can’t repay what they’ve borrowed?

Tapping Into Future Resources

Don’t think you need an emergency savings fund? So, if suddenly you need to do emergency home repairs that cost you thousands of dollars, where will you turn? Many people end up tapping into future financial resources like their kid’s college savings, or their retirement accounts. Failure to replace these funds could leave your children stuck with few options for higher education (or needing to take out a student loan) and the inability to enjoy your retirement (not to mention the IRS and state fees on your income taxes).

Digging Further Into Debt

Some people who are in need but don’t have savings turn to their credit cards to get them out of a jam. They max the cards out and rack up a bunch of interest charges. This ruins their credit history and puts them further into debt. This is compounded by paying interest for months or even years after their financial emergency.

Weakened Quality of Life

When you can’t handle your financial emergencies–which are already stressful–it does nothing but stress you out more. High levels of stress can lead to a multitude of physical and mental consequences and lessen your quality of life.

Judging from these consequences, it would seem that the best course of action would be to begin working towards an emergency savings account.  Even if your funds are already tight it simply pays to set aside a few bucks each week to keep for a rainy day. You never know when you might need a few extra bucks, and while there’s relief out there like loans, liquidating assets, and your future financial accounts, it feels so much better when you’re able to handle the problem all on your own.

10 Reasons That I Miss The Old Internet

Nowadays it seems like the Internet has always been around.  For many people, grown ups even, it always has!  Yet, at the age of 43, I distinctly remember the time before the Internet. But along with that there was the time when the Internet was new.  Those were some cool times.  Of course, all those ‘new’ things are now old.  That’s the way it happens.  But, there are times when I miss the old Internet.  Here are a few throwbacks that many will remember.

The Dial-Up Tone

The Internet was first accessed over phone lines.  You had to connect your computer’s modem to another and establish a connection.  This was done with a series of bongs and boops and clicks.  It was a pretty cool sound.  I was such a geek that I could often tell just by listening to the patterns if I was going to get a good connection or if I’d have to re-dial.

When I Was An Expert

I was pretty computer savvy back in the day.  As such, I learned a lot about the Internet before many others did.  Even though it lasted only a couple of years, I became sort of an expert.  I was one of those people that others asked when they needed to learn how to connect to the Internet, to find things on the Internet, or even to explain what the Internet was.

When The Internet Wasn’t Full of Ads

The Internet is all about making money nowadays.  Everything is monetized, it seems.  But, it wasn’t always like that.  Before everyone figured out how to place ads, the Internet was mostly filled with real information.

A Distinction From The Real World

You know you’re an old timer if you remember ever saying that you were ‘going on the Internet’.  Back then, going on the Internet was a distinct and separate activity from everything else in the world.  Now, it’s become part of the world.  But, there was a time when you ‘got off the Internet’ and returned to your life.

When The Internet Was Mostly Fun

Nowadays, the Internet gives everybody a voice. This lets many people talk, but few remember to actually listen.  Back when the Internet was a baby, it was mostly fun.  I remember once when someone created a web site and had nothing but a picture of a toilet.  People searched for this and talked about it and we all laughed.  Nobody knew, at first, what to do with the Internet.  But one thing’s for sure, the seriousness that abounds today was not yet there.

Counters

Part of the appeal of the early Internet was getting page views.  Pages had little counters at the bottom that showed how often it’d been viewed.  People would look at this when visiting a page to make sure they were on a ‘cool’ site.  When people started creating personal sites, having big numbers was huge.  Of course, it was pretty easy to ‘Refresh’ over and over, but nobody ever cheated, right? 🙂

The Novelty Of Shopping Online

Buying something off the Internet?  Believe it or not, that was once a foreign concept.  Nobody really knew what to do with it. Once sites started establishing an inventory, it grew even further.  You started having sites that did nothing but sell random items that were supposedly deals.  Yes, deal-of-the-day sites were once a novelty!  And they even went further?  Remember the Woot Off?  People would sit literally all day in front of their computer as random items would go up for sale.  Maybe they still do them, but if so, it’s definitely not the event it once was.

Usenet

Once the Internet started growing, some felt it went a little too far and wide.  This was before Google and search engines were very reliable.  So, Usenet became the spot where specific categories and discussions could take place.  For example, fans of The X Files didn’t know how to find all the different places where they could discuss their show.  Usenet gave them the forum alt.tv.the-x-files.  Everyone knew to go there and soon every subject under the sun had a group.  I’m sure Usenet still exists, but I haven’t used it in over a decade.

Yahoo

I still lament how cool Yahoo was back in the day.  For awhile, the Internet and Yahoo were pretty much the same.  For me, anyways. I used them for e-mail, games, news, sports, stocks.  I stored photos there.  It was my first dab at online dating.  Their Messenger app was the first of many different chat apps I used.  In the age where you didn’t have tabs on your browser, all I needed was the My Yahoo page with links to everything.  Slowly, Yahoo found themselves beat at their own games, and now they’re pretty much an afterthought.

Finding Music

Nowadays, you can find music anywhere.  Pandora and Spotify have nailed the market on streaming apps. If you want a specific song, it’s probably on Youtube.  But it wasn’t always that way.  For a number of years, finding music online was a huge deal.  And it was often illegal!  Finding MP3 copies of a new album was a pretty big deal!  At first the music industry basically tried to keep music off the Internet altogether.  Very interesting times!

Those are some of my favorite memories of the old Internet.  What are some of the things you remember or have heard of?  

Investing in Airplanes or Helicopters – Making the Choice

A lot of people who can afford to buy an aircraft and have a short amount of time to spend in travelling tend to buy airplanes or helicopters. Generally, people investing in airplanes and helicopters do not have a problem with funding them. However, it is rather smart to compare the benefits of the product you are investing in. Both the aircraft are designed to transport passengers from one point to another in a shorter span of time than transports like trains and buses. Nevertheless, there is some difference between the uses of each of them which might prove to be beneficial or problematic with respect to the owner’s requirement. Below are given certain details about it.

  1. Speed

    Between helicopter and airplane, the airplane will always beat helicopter in terms of speed. It has a considerably low top speed as compared to airplanes. The average top speed of a standard passenger airplane is between 878-926 km/hr whereas the average top speed of the helicopter is 430 km/hr. Even though helicopter has the ability to hover in the air, provide a stationary and low-speed height, it has lower front flight speed and accommodation than an airplane.  Fixed winged aircraft like airplanes are usually calmer and makes lesser noise as compared to helicopters. Noise and vibrations are one of the main problems of the helicopter.

  2. Access

    In terms of access, however, the helicopter is more compact and can enter more critical and compact areas compared to airplanes. They need smaller landing area as well which is useful for rescue missions and launching army troops. It is also helpful as it needs lesser landing area and can be landed on a rooftop. Airplanes are larger and in this context lesser useful compared to helicopters. They need a wide landing space and it takes more time to slow down from the top speed. As it is not able to make vertical flights, it needs a runway to launch as well.

  3. Mechanism

    Helicopters have even more complex mechanism compared to airplanes. Thus, it is easier and convenient to fly an airplane compared to a helicopter. The mechanism of flying and operating both need skilled professionals who are thoroughly trained in this region. Due to the noise and vibrations, it becomes almost impossible for people boarding helicopters to hear each other. Thus one has to master the art of different signs to express themselves while in a helicopter. However, helicopters have faster mobilization and lower range than airplanes. Helicopters are equipped with early initiation management and some of the rescue helicopters even have advanced instrumentation for paramedic help.

Apart from this, helicopters have higher maintenance and purchase expenses compared to aircraft. If one precisely needs helicopters to resolve their purpose, it is economically much more convenient to take one on the lease. Airplanes have several advantages over helicopters. They are spacious and more comfortable as well. If you want to gather some experience before investing you may want to look for option that help you track live share price, for example, Airbus shares. This company has had a steady reputation in the market and is known for its consistency. Thus, working with them will give you a good idea regarding the gains and losses of the aircraft industry.

Five Ways To Get The Most Value From Netflix

It seems like everybody has Netflix these days, doesn’t it?  I remember subscribing to Netflix before most anybody knew what it was.  I can’t tell you the number of people I explained it to.  You clicked a few buttons on your computer, and a couple of days later a DVD showed up in the mail.  That was before they did any type of streaming.  Ah, the good old days!  Now, if I’d only been smart enough to buy their stock and hold onto it at the time!  Oh well.  In any case, Netflix is bigger than ever.  Here are five ways to get the most value from Netflix and your subscription.

Review Your Plan

Netflix has a pretty solid menu of options.  You can stream online.  You can get DVDs.  Or, you can get both.  Then, you look at how many devices you want to use or how many DVDs you want to have out.

Netflix will default you to their standard streaming plan.  This is great for most people.  Heck, it’s what we use.  But, make sure that you’re selecting the plan that’s right for you.  Also, make sure to check up on your plan now and then.  You never know.  What was perfect yesterday may not be the best fit tomorrow.

Setup Multiple Devices

If you stream, then make sure you setup Netflix on every possible device you own.  Plans limit to how many you can stream simultaneously, but you can set it up on as many as you want.

I recommend setting up all your devices at once.  Phones.  Tablets.  Smart TVs.  Roku devices.  Whatever.  Get them all set up.  Because, let’s face it, when you’re in the mood to watch something, you don’t want to take the time to log in or have a family member unable to use it because they don’t know the password.

Share Your Account

Have you ever considered being sneaky and having multiple households share an account?  Go ahead.  Netflix knows you do it.  They really don’t care, for the most part.  Now, if every house on the street is sharing an account, they might have  a problem.  But, if it’s just you sharing with your parents, they probably won’t care.

Use Downloads

Streaming plans let you download some programming to watch offline.  This means you can watch Netflix on a plane or wherever you might not have a streaming connection.  They do limit you to the number of devices per plan in which you can download content.  But, even so, this is a really cool option.

Stay On Top Of Content

You won’t use Netflix if you don’t know what’s there.  Netflix has tons of original programming.  Plus, they shuffle in and out content from other studios all the time.  Keep track of what they have coming up.  There are sites everywhere that track the comings and goings.  Additionally, if you rate content, Netflix will build custom recommendations and let you know in advance.  Either way, if you know what’s coming, you may use the service more regularly.

Readers, do you have a Netflix subscription? How do you get the most value from your Netflix plan?  Let me know your tips in the comments below.

Smartphones Are Really Kind Of Dumb

Aren’t smartphones great?  They take care of everything, right?  Well, maybe not everything.  But they’re totally smart and intuitive, aren’t they?  After all, smart IS part of the name.  Personally, I don’t think we’re there yet.  Smartphones have made our lives easier in many ways. But they still have a lot of things that could be improved.  In fact, I have come up with five reasons that smartphones aren’t all that smart.  Yet.

Battery Life And Charging

Apple recently caught a lot of heat because they were purposefully slowing down older phones.  Why?  Because the batteries were wearing out, and would last longer if the phone did less.  So, Apple sent an update to make the phone work slower.  Oh, and the age of some of these phones was less than two years.

This is unbelievable to me.

Here we are on the cutting edge of battery technology, right? I mean, we have entire cars that can run on battery.  Yet, we can’t figure out a way to make a phone battery last longer than two years?  That’s ridiculous.

You hear advice about how to make them last longer.  Don’t charge overnight.  Don’t overcharge.  Charge only between certain percentages.

Come on.  You can’t tell me that overcharging couldn’t be prevented by shutting off the input, for one idea.  I simply can’t believe that smart phones continue to be plagued by something as basic as the battery.

Rogue Apps

I have a Samsung S7.  A few weeks ago it started acting up at random times.  It would slow down to a crawl.  This was most noticeable when I was using Chrome.

I tried a bunch of different apps that were supposed to identify problem apps.  Nothing was identified.  I looked at a bunch of internal logs to try to see what was happening.  Zero.  I spent a ton of time tweaking Chrome since that’s where many problems originated.  No difference.

Finally, I started disabling apps, and caught the culprit.  Ironically, it was AVG, a program designed to prevent bad things from happening to your phone.  As soon as I got rid of it, all of my slowness went away.

As it turns out, most phones (allegedly) have enough built in that you don’t need a virus/malware scanner.  I was using it for a ‘Find My Device’ option, but that was easily re-configured elsewhere.

Still, I couldn’t believe that there is nothing built into the basic Operating System to flag apps that could be problematic.  AVG had to have gone corrupt or something and was consuming mass resources.  A truly smart phone would have identified this.

User Priority

When I’m using my phone, I want my phone to pay attention to me.  That sounds simple, right?  But it isn’t always the case.  If the phone is updating apps, sometimes my typing is delayed.  Unacceptable!  If I’m in the middle of typing my unlock code, then don’t turn the screen off just because it’s been six seconds since I hit the button to wake up the device.

To me, it should be a basic function that user interaction takes priority.  Smartphones should never treat a user like a background process!

Storage

Phones have increased the amount of built in storage over the last couple of years.  Still, it’s often not enough.  For many phones, you can add an SD card for extra storage.

Sounds like this solves everything, right?  Well, that’d be smart.  Turns out, the answer is often more complicated.  See, internal storage and external storage are completely different.  And, most apps will only work on internal storage.  So, can you use your extra storage to install a lot of apps? Probably not.  All that it’s really good for is to offload videos, music, and pictures.  Even then, getting that working properly is often a chore. More on that in a minute.

Why is it like this?  I have no idea.  When I look this up, developers have lots of reasons why, but in the end it’s just mumbo jumbo.  I mean, to me and probably many other simple minds, if you add extra storage, it should be as simple as plug it in and away we go. Let’s get going on this, OK?!?

File Management

This one drives me nuts.  Maybe this is me just not being as tech savvy as I once was.  I don’t know.  But, whenever I want to find something, it takes me forever to find it.

If I want to upload a picture that I took to Facebook, I have to scroll through a bunch of different albums.  If I am in Facebook and take a picture, it will put it up easily, but good luck finding it later.  When I’m in Chrome and download a menu, it brings it up right then.  But after that?  Who knows?  Next time I go to look for it, I can sometimes find it.  But, most often, I end up re-downloading it again.

It seems like every app wants to put things in a different place.  Which I understand, but it doesn’t work well when I want to find something.  There has to be a better way.

image from Morguefile courtesy of DodgertonSkillhause

Smartphones Makers Need To Watch Star Trek

I grew up watching Star Trek: The Next Generation.  That show had a lot of technology.  One thing I noticed was that it was cool but it was also simple.  When they wanted to use technology, they pressed a button or two.  That was all it took.  It wasn’t complicated.  The computer paid attention and delivered on commands.  There wasn’t delays or confusion.  That sounds pretty smart to me!

One of the catchphrases on that show was when the Captain would say “Make it so.” He’d often say this when he just wanted something to happen and didn’t care about the details.  That’s kind of where I’m at with all of these things.  I just think that a smart device needs to act smarter.  Those are my ideas.  So, hopefully someone out there listens.  Let’s ‘make it so’.

Readers, what do you think of your smartphone? Is it as smart as advertised?  What would you like to see your smartphone do that it can’t today?