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Lessons from the lockdown

Lessons from the lockdown #4

The lockdown seems to be coming to an end (at least in England) and I’m now back at work full-time, but I still have a few more “Lessons from the lockdown” posts to post.

Today I’m looking at my utility (gas, electricity, water) usage and how it’s changed (or not) since the lockdown came in. I’ll stick the disclaimer up front: my meter readings are irregular and the data isn’t discrete enough to do a specific analysis by day/week, but it should show the general trends.

Gas

The most obvious thing in my gas usage over the last couple of years are the massive peaks over the winter period as I have a gas heating system. The lower usage last winter is either because I’ve had my flat much colder, or because the new double glazing actually does help to bring down heating costs.

The lockdown has coincided with a period of reasonably warm weather so I’ve had the heating turned off for a while. The only other use for gas is for cooking food on the hob. I have had to do more cooking whilst I’ve been at home, which may account for the slight recent rise and drop as I’ve gone back to work, but this is all within the realm of statistical anomalies. My current gas usage is almost at the lowest point it’s ever been (at this property anyway).

Electricity

My electricity usage on the other hand has never been higher. Electricity usage is fairly non-seasonal, despite the longer winter evenings needing more lighting.

Generally just being at home and running more electrical devices has probably caused this massive spike. The massive ramp up in electricity usage recently coincides with both buying a new computer and being at home more to use it. The good news is that it appears to be dropping which could be linked to being back in the office more often, but only time will tell.

Water

Water usage has fluctuated the most over the last couple of years. There is a definitive spike in usage during February/March this year, but then a massive drop before increasing again. It’s possible that some of these seemingly anomalous readings are caused by rounding errors when the meter is read. The actual usage is probably somewhere between the two peaks and the average trend is shown by the dotted line.

Either way there does seem to be an upward trend in water usage. With being at home more, there’s much more water being used than normal. From washing hands more often due to coronavirus, to the things I would normally do in the office (filling my water bottle, using the toilet etc), it’s not surprising that water use is higher than previously. Again, the good news is that the water usage seems to be on a downward trajectory too as I return to work.

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Lessons from the lockdown Technology

Lessons from the lockdown #3

For a long time I’d been thinking of getting a new computer. My 6-year old laptop is still pretty powerful and does everything I need it to (I massively overspec’d it when I bought it), but it is laptop and the case is starting to fall apart. Regular readers may remember that it previously had an issue where the battery died and needed replacing. Three years on, and the replacement battery is also no longer able to hold a charge and requires permanently being attached to the wall. However, until my laptop died outright I was unwilling to replace it.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve kept and updated a list of components I would buy if I was to build my own computer. By late 2019, I had decided that late April/early May 2020 would be when I put my plan into action.

And then the lockdowns started to come in. With the factories in Asia shut down, the internet was predicting that computer parts would drop in availability and increase in price over the next few months. This would be exactly when I was planning to buy my new computer. So, in mid-March, I decided to accelerate my purchasing plans and spent a couple of days finding the cheapest places to buy each of the components I wanted.

A week or so later (and several trips to various parcel depots around London), and I had a new computer built and working:

Since the initial build I’ve also added the additional RGB fan at the back and the two vertical RGB strips (mainly to look better). The light strips could be a bit tidier, but that would involve a lot more effort. The only other planned change I would like to do is to move the graphics card to a vertical orientation, but the parts I want to do that aren’t available at the moment.

Speaking of availability, remember how I mentioned that it was thought that availability would go down and prices would go up as the lockdown went on? Well, I’ve kept track of the prices since then (whilst hoping to avoid buyer’s remorse). Here’s my findings normalised to 100% at the price I paid:

(Note: It’s not entirely scientific, because this is just the prices for each item at the retailer I bought each item from. When doing my initial price checking, I compared all 9 items across about 20 retailers, but I wasn’t going to do that each time. I also only recorded the prices every week or two so it may miss some fluctuations. It’s also not possible to compare with prices before I started recording – prices may already have been trending upwards, or I may have just bought when everything was on sale.)

It may not be entirely clear from that graph, but here’s the key points:

  1. The total price (highlighted in yellow) has gradually increased over the last two months
  2. The second SSD (yes, I have two), the power supply and the memory all went out of stock about two weeks ago. It would be possible to use different components with similar specifications, but then it wouldn’t be the computer I’ve built
  3. The motherboard and graphics card both dropped in price the week after I bought them. However, everything else went up the week after I bought them, and the overall cost would still have been more expensive
  4. Apart from a couple of items, costs have generally stabilised over the last couple of weeks and may even be starting to drop back down again. This is possibly due to increased availability again, or it could just be retailers trying to clear stocks in anticipation of the next generation of components. I may keep recording prices over the next couple of months for comparison

So did I buy at the right time? From the (incomplete) data I have, yes.

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Lessons from the lockdown

Lessons from the lockdown #2

Several years ago, I started doing something called “Takeaway Thursday”. It’s a simple enough premise – get a different takeaway meal every Thursday evening from the local area. Several years and several houses (and one lockdown) later, I decided I should reinstate this tradition in order to bring some regularity to my week (and so that I didn’t have to cook).

While I intended to write about my Takeaway Thursday experience from last week (which I may or may not use in next week’s post), I started to make a list of all the places within a 10 minute walk which do food (either restaurant or takeaway):

Have I ever been there?Restaurant status?Takeaway/Delivery status?
The Chinese (the only Chinese now since the other one closed)YesClosed
The dodgy Indian (it’s got new management now so it may have improved)Yes (but not since the new management)Closed
The classic Indian (it doesn’t look like it’s been refurbished since the 90s)YesClosedYes
The posh Indian (used to be across the road but is now where the posh Chinese was)YesClosedYes
The expensive fish and chip shopYesClosed
The fish and chip shop restaurantYesClosedYes
The station kebab shopYesYes
The normal kebab shop (only reopened recently after it’s recent four month refurbishment – I was starting to worry, even though their poster clearly said “we will be back, do not worry, we will feed you”)Yes (but not since it was refurbished)Yes
The fried chicken takeawayYesYes
The Mediterranean restaurant (I always forget this has always done takeaway)YesClosedYes
The Thai restaurantNoClosedYes
The noodle barNoClosedYes
The Indian at the other end of the high streetNoClosedNo (I think it was doing before though)
The restaurant around the corner that possibly specialises in burgers NoClosedYes
The steak restaurantNoClosedYes
The Italian place on the hillNoClosedNot yet, but starting at the weekend
The pizza place up the hillNoClosedYes
The other Italian place on the hillYesClosedNo
The Italian chain restaurantYesClosedNo
The Italian chain restaurantYesClosedNo
The Italian chain restaurantNoClosedNo
The spicy chicken restaurantYesClosedNo
The large pub on the cornerYesClosedNo
The old heritage pubYesClosedNo
The cheap chain pubYesClosedNo
The Mediterranean restaurant that also likes to think it’s a bar/night clubYesClosedNo
The hipster place on the corner YesClosedNo
The Spanish tapas place (I thought it was more of a cafe, but it is open until late evening)NoClosedNo
The place up the steps that used to be a police stationNoClosedNo
The Italian chain restaurant round the cornerNoClosedNo
The restaurant that I can’t remember next to the Italian chain restaurant round the cornerNoClosedNo
The place that used to be the French restaurantNoClosedNo
The American dinerNoClosedNo
The chain bar that does for 2-for-1 cocktails at all timesNoClosedNo
The Irish pub opposite the stationNoClosedNo
The other Irish pub opposite the stationNoClosedNo
The burger place upstairs from the night clubNoClosedNo
The seafood place on the wrong side of the tracksNoClosedPossibly
The dessert placeNoClosedYes
The dessert place across the road from the dessert placeNoClosedYes

I’ve almost certainly missed somewhere off the list, and I’ve not included any cafes that might still do takeaway during the day. I’ve also not included the three pubs that I’ve never been to, but also don’t do food.

So what did I learn from this:

  1. There’s a lot of places to get food from within a very short distance from my house.
  2. There’s a lot more places that are still doing takeaway/delivery than I expected.
  3. I’ve got plenty of new places to try out during the lockdown.
  4. I’ve got plenty of new places to go to when things are open again.
Categories
Lessons from the lockdown

Lessons from the lockdown #1

During this lockdown, they say that routine and regular social contact are the most important things to keep people going. So what could be better than resurrecting a blog that hasn’t been updated in around four years to get us through these troubling times.

Since my most (relatively) popular blog posts have been about my food shopping habits and meals I’ve cooked, I thought I’d make that the topic of this post.


Like most people I’ve been trying to reduce the number of times I’m going outside to reduce the risk of picking up the virus or transmitting it to anyone else. I decided that instead of shopping (approximately) weekly, I would instead try to shop for a whole fortnight. Here’s the list of things I ran out of, and why I won’t be shopping for more than a week.

  1. Milk – My diet is high in breakfast cereal and I normally go through 6 pints of milk in 7 days. Milk doesn’t normally last two weeks. If I bought 2x 6-pint bottles, the second one would almost certainly be going bad by the time I was through it. I’m not doing UHT.
  2. Bananas – My 11am mid-morning banana is a key part of my routine. Even if I had bought a sufficient quantity of bananas, they would still be well past their past by the start of the second week.
  3. Lettuce – I didn’t really run out of this, this one ran out on me. This was the only item I bought that went bad. I think it must have been close to its “best by” when I bought it and then I forgot about it for a couple of days. Unfortunately I had to throw about half of it away. I don’t often get lettuce so I could do without this one.
  4. Chicken – I thought I had 2 or 3 chicken breasts in the freezer, turns out I only had 1. Fajitas made with sausages still work though. This was bad planning on my part really.
  5. Onion – I bought a “seasonal vegetable pack” which contained an onion that went mouldy. Fortunately I had also stocked up on onions separately so it didn’t matter. The seasonal vegetables (carrot, turnip, swede) worked out well though, I made it into a soup with some leftover potatoes. I even made enough to put two portions in the freezer.

So there it is. Milk and bananas are the two reasons why I will be going shopping every week.

*Side note: It actually worked out at 12 days between large shops, with an intermediate milk purchase on day 8.