225: AMA with Matt Ferrell


Matt and Sean respond to your Ask Me Anything questions. There’s a wide array of topics in this one including, “why did the chicken cross the road?” Why indeed.

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On today’s episode of Still to Be Determined, we’re finally going to pin Matt to the wall with your questions. Hi, everybody. Welcome to Still to Be Determined. As usual, I’m Sean Ferrell. I’m a writer. I write some sci fi. I write some stuff for kids. With me, as always, is my brother, Matt. He is that Matt of Undecided with Matt Ferrell, which takes a look at emerging tech and its impact on our lives.

And we’re today, we’re going to ask him all the tough questions. Matt, how are you today?

Why is the sky blue?

We don’t have that question, but we do have something that’s somewhat similar, so we’ll see how you handle that one. So here we are in a balmy weekend, uh, looking down the road and because of family travel, We won’t be able to record at our usual schedule, so we fit this recording in to allow all of you listeners and viewers to drop questions for Matt and give us the opportunity to travel next weekend.

So that we don’t lose a week of conversation. Getting into that now, Matt posted on his, uh, various social media feeds. And there are quite a few of them at this point. So I don’t even know what platform is Matt’s on anymore, but he sent out the clarion call saying, so you got questions for me and all of you responded beautifully.

Thank you so much for your questions. Like this one from sustainable orange, who writes in to say. If you were starting again on your journey, but with your understanding now, what is the order of operations you would recommend to maximize savings and allow you to get your energy independence in the fastest and cheapest way possible, minimizing capital required up front?

He of course is talking about your journey, not as a YouTuber, but as a homeowner and the decisions you’ve made in that regard. There aren’t,

I would say there’s not a lot of changes I do in the order I did things, but I might go a little more aggressively into some of the things that we did. Biggest bang for the buck is always going to come down to trying to make your home as energy efficient as possible, like retaining the heat that you’re generating or retaining the air conditioning you’re trying to hold.

So, insulation, insulation, insulation, sealing doors and windows, maybe upgrading windows to you know, triple paned or double paned at the very least. You know, doing stuff like that is where you’re going to get the most bang for your buck. And depending on where you live, there are programs that will help you do that and cover some of the cost.

Like here in Massachusetts they will sometimes cover half the cost of re insulating your house. It’s, it’s, it’s huge. Like, my wife and I did do that. Um, it’s one of the first things we did. And I think it cost us only a few thousand dollars, but yet it was like almost ten thousand dollars of work that got done.

Um, and the state covered all that cost. Um, but I probably would have gone more aggressively at it. Um, our old house, even after all that work was done, still was not as airtight as it could have been. So it’s like, I might have done, like, maybe we changed all the exterior doors. Maybe we upgraded some of the windows.

Like, we actually upgraded one of the windows right before we moved. We probably could have done that 15 years earlier and got the benefits for the 15 years we lived there. So, like, there are things that we could have done that wouldn’t have broken the bank and would have paid in huge dividends over time.

Uh, that’s where you’d always want to start. As well as things like changing out light bulbs for high efficiency light bulbs. For finding things that are running 24 7 that don’t need to be running 24 7. Like you have a dehumidifier running in your room. Does it really need to run all the time? Or can you cut it down by half?

It’s like little things like that are very low effort and will pay you in huge savings after that. It comes down to, I, I don’t think I would change too much. It’s like solar for me is like a . I don’t care what, what house I’m living in, Sean, I’m gonna get solar in that house because I live with it. And then my freeze house, I’m living with it now and it’s like, I, I, I don’t wanna live without it.

It’s like, it makes too much financial sense for my goals wherever I’m living. Mm-Hmm. . So for me, solar is, is a no brainer. Uh, but that’s also a huge investment, so that’s gonna break the bank. But it’s like you’re talking about appliances in your home, like induction cooktops. I would’ve gotten an induction cooktop in my old house if I had known how awesome it was.

Um, we would’ve changed, instead of changing our, we changed our heat, water heater in the old house twice. We bought the house, moved in, changed it out, but we, it was a natural gas water heater. Halfway into the living there, it leaked and died and we had to replace it again. And because we were under distress, it was like, we just need a water heater.

They came in and just swapped it out for a new one because it was actually still covered under warranty. I wouldn’t have done that again. It’s like I would have taken the opportunity if I’d planned ahead and been like, okay, this water heater is getting kind of old. Let’s replace it with a heat pump water heater.

Let’s switch to electric. I would have been doing stuff like that to try to save money and be a little more efficient.

It’s interesting too, because you’ve had the experience now of not only Bringing this tech into your home, but then building a home, which gave you the opportunity to say like, here’s the nine things I already know I want because I had them.

And here’s the additional wishlist that I never put into the old home. So I wonder how much did that feed your experience? In building the home, did you go into building the home super, super confident you already knew what you were doing? Or did you feel like you were maybe just like halfway there? Like, like, oh, I feel comfortable because of those things I’ve already done, but oh my gosh, am I in safe territory doing all these other things?

I was probably about three quarters of the way there. I wouldn’t, I was definitely not fully confident, but like, I knew what I wanted for most of the house, but there were new things we were doing in this house that I didn’t have experience with like the geothermal system. So it’s like, I felt like I was flying by the seat of my pants and some of the stuff cause I didn’t have firsthand experience with it, but I knew it’s, it was going to achieve the goal that I wanted it to achieve.

But it was, there was definitely nail biting decisions we made on this house that were But I’m glad we did them. But there was a lot of learnings from my old house, for sure, that went into the thinking about exactly why we wanted to do this house the way we did it was because we weren’t able to do those things in the old house because of money, financial constraints, uh, whatever it was.

It was, we, we, we, we learned a lot from what we did in the old house.

It’s a good reminder that Very seldom in life do we undergo major change where we feel 100 percent ready and it’s, I’m dealing with that as a parent, like right now with trying to convince my son that it’s okay for him to make choices for himself regarding His schooling, he’s going to be 19 soon.

And it’s this attitude of like, I’m not sure if I feel comfortable doing this by myself. So there’s a little bit of like pushing toward the edge of the nest that’s required. And it’s, yeah. Interesting to hear that from your perspective with all of the knowledge that you had from your first home where you had done all these things, you still didn’t feel like, oh, this is, this is a no brainer because I’ve researched this.

This is my profession. At that point, when you’re building your home, you’ve been doing this, YouTube channel for a good while. So this is stuff that you’d well researched and you were knowledgeable about. So it’s a good reminder for anybody who’s sitting at the edge of that decision and not quite sure if they’re ready to jump that you shouldn’t be waiting for the 100%.

Oh, I have zero hesitation here necessarily to make that leap. Sometimes that leap is where you find yourself more confident. In the fall before you land is sometimes where you find yourself confident. This question from Nitish who wrote in to say, why isn’t thermal storage integrated with thermal plants getting attention if it is such a good option as it solves storage, fluctuation, recycling problems all at once and can be integrated into existing systems.


Is this a case where Nish just

put out a really good question that is beyond anybody’s answering because it is kind of a, yeah, why is nobody doing

that? In general, thermal energy storage. It’s a question I’ve been asking for the past couple of years, and I’ve done several videos on thermal energy storage systems that are coming out.

And I keep doing the Jean Luc Picard, you know, face palm like in my head every time. It’s like, why, why aren’t we doing this already? It’s like this is like so brain dead simple and seems so obvious, why aren’t we doing it? Um, in his comment, he brought up the, uh, I think it was E2S. It’s a specific company.

It’s funny that that was brought up because that’s been on my idea backlog of doing a deeper dive into, and I haven’t completed my deep dive yet. So my knowledge is only yay deep, but I have a lot of questions about that specific company. There’s some aspects to what they’re proposing that I don’t know.

I don’t like, but I gotta put, I gotta dig deeper to see if my assumptions are correct or not before I would answer confidently. But in general, thermal energy storage systems just like this in general, I think are just obvious and we have to do them. And the part of the reason I think that hasn’t happened yet is inertia it’s also costs because historically in the past you know when we didn’t care about going greener and we didn’t care about any of that stuff and yada yada yada and we have a system that’s structured the way it’s working why break it so it’s like there’s just this inertia for why now the technologies have gotten more sophisticated.

They’ve gotten cheaper to do. Um, how we implement them has also gotten cheaper to do. So I think there’s this kind of like the costs and the benefits coming out of these systems are starting to kind of outweigh the resistance. And so we’re starting to see kind of movement towards it. So I think it’s just a slow moving market is why it’s been happening in the past.

So I think we’re going to start seeing that happen a lot over the next decade. But again, it’s a good question. I’m glad they brought it up. Um, I’ve been asking that same question myself.

So yeah. Michael writes in to ask, how about an update on Hubitat? You did a review some time ago. Did you stick with it?

Added more devices to take advantage of its power. They’ve come out with a couple more advanced hubs and recently did an upgrade of the dashboard. So where are you currently on Hubitat?

To take the not politically correct approach, I ejected that sucker out of my home and no longer even think about it.

My advice at this point is don’t use it. Um, other systems have advanced so far beyond what Hubitat did. At the time, Hubitat was great. Um, it answered a certain question I had, like other systems like Home Assistant were too complicated. And here’s Hubitat that gives you a lot of the same power, but it’s easier to use, but it’s still not great functionality.

I mean, it’s not, it’s easy to use if you’re technical, but it’s not so technical that like, Oh my God, I have to write code to make this work. It kind of stayed static for the most part. And then things like Home Assistant and Apple Home and all these other systems, they got more and more sophisticated and easier and easier to use.

And then some of them even home assistant at this point. Sean, don’t take this as a slight, Sean. Even you could set up home assistance. Even me? It is. That’s saying a lot. These systems have gotten so, so good, um, it’s, it’s pretty impressive. And my last experience was with Hubitat, which was just a year ago before I moved.

It’s just like, it’s like standing still in comparison to those. And so at this point I’m like, forget it. Don’t even look at it. Don’t waste your money on it. There’s so many other things that you could look at that are way better than that.

It’s funny you say even I could do it because I’ve, for a while, been thinking if this podcast has any traction, I think it gains that traction from the fact that you know a lot about all this stuff and I will not retain any of this information.

15 minutes from now, I will forget all these details and next week I’ll be like, so what’s this Hubitat all about? You want to explain this to me?

Quick question dropped into the conversation by John. Who simply asks, why did the chicken cross the road? And we won’t go into that one,


Yes. Go ahead. To eat the dog food, Sean. Oh, yes. When I read this question, I immediately had chills run up my spine. When I was probably seven, I. Read in a book, what I thought was the pinnacle of comedy.

It was the, why did the chicken cross the road to get to the other side? But that wasn’t the pinnacle of comedy for me. It was the follow up question. Why did the duck cross the road? Because he was stapled to the chicken. Seven year old child that was fantastic and told his family this joke to great applause, if I remember correctly, which then spurred on Matt at that time, the age of four.

To follow me around for what felt like weeks, pitching his own versions of these jokes, which usually made no sense and involved setups like, why did the cow cross the road? And you would say, why? And then Matt would realize now he needed to come up with a punchline. So he would stand there and say, um. Um, um, um, to get the cat food.

And after days of this, I would, I remember one moment very clearly. This is always how this is framed. When I think about this, I was trying to leave for school and I was standing at the front door, trying to open the door and Matt came running up and said, wait, wait, wait. Why did the cow cross the road?

And I said, Matt, I have to go to school. I have to leave. And from the back of the house in the kitchen, our mother yelled, let him tell you a joke. I was like, but they’re not funny. I have no problem with a joke, but they’re not funny. So thank you, John, for that flashback. It was appreciated. Sarah Gruber jumped in to ask this question.

She says, I teach high school engineering. So my question is for my students. With all the rapidly changing technology, what topics are you most excited about for the next generation of engineers?

Oh boy. Uh, we just talked about thermal energy storage. For me Energy storage, period. It’s like, I don’t care what aspect you’re looking at, new battery chemistries, uh, thermal energy storage systems.

Those are so desperately needed for the clean energy future where we can not just waste energy, we can have ample supply for the world. Um, that is to me like number one on that, uh, train. The other stuff is like, I would say we, we, that’s funny. We were just talking recently about plastics, plastic alternatives, basically kept for chemists.

It’s like in not engineering, but in chemistry, it’s like coming up with new plastic alternatives, things that are just as good as the plastics we have today, but you could chuck them into your backyard compost and three weeks later it’s gone. You know, those kind of things are being heavily studied right now and there’s so much potential there for whoever can crack that nut and make it work.

Um, there’s another area that I’ve been kind of like very, very focused on. And the other one is just like, specifically to engineers, it’s just in general, just like things around electric, whatever, electric motors, um, electric systems of any kind, you know, solar panel technology. It’s basically anything to having to do with the electrification of our future and making it as efficient as possible.

Those are the areas that, that one’s a very broad one I just stated, but for me, it’s, Energy storage and like plastics are the two that are like in my mind constantly. If I could just throw one out to

add to that list, I would say desalinization. I think the potential for the impact on the world that that could have desalinization, bringing fresh drinkable water to regions that struggle with it constantly and what that a boon that could be for agriculture.

Is beyond measure from a humanitarian perspective. Last question that we’ll visit in this AMA, but we will keep some of these other questions in our hip pockets because they’re good ones. And I think that they are kind of timeless. So we’ll be able to do another one of these in the future and bring some of these other questions out.

But the last one I wanted to use is from Volprom, who says, if you had an unlimited supply of funds, what are the top three technologies and policies you would invest in? Once again, this is not investment advice. We’ve had this kind of conversation before on the program.

Yes. I am not a financial advisor, so do not take this as my investment advice, but for me, it kind of links to my previous statement.

I’d be finding the most interesting energy storage breakthroughs or companies that are really pushing things forward for affordability, longevity, uh, ease of recycling. So whatever materials are in them, I’d be looking at companies that are like zeroing in on that. Sodium ion batteries, you know, that kind of thing.

I’d be finding some kind of technology in the energy storage space and just invest heavily in it. Um, same thing for, I would probably say solar technology. It’s, I’d be, Looking keenly at the technologies that have the biggest impact for creating the cheapest panels that will last the longest and produce the most energy doesn’t mean they have to be the most efficient.

It just means they just have to be long lasting and affordable. That’s the number one thing I’d be looking at technologies that do that. Um, other than that, I’d probably be like, they brought up policies, which is interesting. Um, I’d want to see, I know this is going to be unpopular with a lot of people, but I’d be wanting to lean into policies that try to make this technology more accessible to more people.

So it shouldn’t be technologies for the rich. Like for me, putting solar panels on my house, I am privileged to be able to do that. Not everybody can do that. And I’d want to be putting policies out there that would make it so any homeowner would have easy access to this technology. Um, that would be like massive, same for energy storage, whatever it is.

It’s like making this technology kind of universally accessible would be key. So I’d be trying to look at whatever policies would help do that.

Very, very, uh, well said. And Thank you everybody for your questions. I was going to say your comments. These weren’t really comments. These were all questions, even the chicken crossing the road.

So thank you for all of that. And like I said, we will keep some of these in our hip pockets and we will do another one of these. I think these are great opportunity to kind of visit a lot of topics and also maybe spur on some future episodes for more of a deep dive from both Undecided and from still TBD.

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