Thursday, June 23, 2005

Appliances to alleviate black outs? Cool!

Well it appears that appliances can help us avoid black outs like that of August 2003 (in the US and part of Canada). US Dept. of Energy is developing technologies that detect a power disruption and either reduce power or shut off for a period of time. Whirlpool/ is working on controllers that sense changes in the frequency of the power to determine what to do.

At first this doesn't seem like such a great idea. I mean during the black out I might have been running an air conditioner, the TV some lights, and my computers (OK so the computers and all those peripherals being turned off may have been a good thing :-). The only thing that you could turn off was the air conditioner. So how would that have helped? Well if I and a couple of million other user had turned off that extra load we probably would have reduce the power needs by a large amount. Add in a refrigerator, water heater, washer and/or dryer (all big energy users) and you can make quite a dent in the load. As I see it one of the problems is going to be the back-off timer. If all these devices back off the restart at the same time we'll still see some power dips. Another problem is the quality of the power we are currently receiving. I don't know about everyone else but here in NJ I see lots of problems When we lived in an apartment there would be a brown-out (voltage drops momentarily) or black-out every Monday between 9 and 10 AM. Where I live now there are so many homes being added that we experience multi hour outages in the fall, winter and spring. When the weather is normal (no snow or rain). These new gadgets are a great idea but they won't fix weaknesses in the power grid.

Friday, June 03, 2005

More on the Nokia 770 Internet Tablet

Dave Houston and I have been exchanging more information on the Nokia 770 Internet Tablet. Dave found the Open Source web site Maemo, which is the development web site for the Tablet. The term, maemo, was created using a password generator, pwgen. It was a substring of one of the suggested passwords and it was chosen because it sounded good and apparently didn't mean anything offensive in any existing language. They also have a and SDK tutorial for Maemo. Also available for download is the source and some apps. This bodes rather well for the Nokia 770. I hope to see a long life for this project. The only thing I'm confused about is the license for the maemo extension, which is non-free but so far I haven't found out what that means (???).

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Neat stuff!

I love visiting Dr. Edward Cheung's web site, at least the HA portion. :-) He always has interesting hardware that he has built. That's right he builds microcontroller boards to interface to things (how's that for a technical description :-). He has a power line monitor he built (cool!) and he's updated his Municipal Water Meter Monitor page. He had a new meter installed and it required a different, more sensitive sensor to measure water usage. I think you will find his explanations, diagrams, code and schematics easy to understand if you have an electronics background (yes you need to be able to handle a soldering iron). Yes I'm a hardware geek though I know software as well.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

HA Tidbits

Well I've got a few tidbits for us today! The first is the Nokia 770 Internet tablet, which Dave Houston found and let the comp.home.automation newsgroup know about. From various Google info (thanks Dave!) we can piece together a cost of about $350 (w/0 VAT)/€350 (w/ VAT). It runs Linux and Nokia says it will support the Open Source community. It looks to have removable MMC memory cards and possibly a USB connection or Bluetooth interface. If it has a USB then we can hook up wireless networking and/or Bluetooth with a few other devices. This looks to be a useful interface to many of the HA control systems available (Windows, Linux, MAC or even custom controllers with web interfaces). One article noted that it might eat into Nokia's cell phone products because of VoIP. I have my doubts on this, for now at least, because VoIP isn't mobile and the 770 isn't a cell phone. So it's currently 2 different markets. If someone can work an IR remote interface into it (I thik I know how to do it without nasty dangles hanging off of it), in addition to a wireless network connection then I'm sure I can have this sitting in my living room replacing several devices, such as an Audrey.

The second item is a series of articles on home automation like topics that CNN ran in the Tech section on 2005/05/31. As usual I find them a bit funny and still useful. The above link is a story about how a family of 4 has decided to participate in an experiment/study where they get to live in a automated home. They get the full Big Brother treatment while they live there (it's a study so you can expect that). The story goes on how the home will adapt to the user's routines. This aught to be interesting to anyone who regularly reads the newsgroup comp.risks. We regularly see the end results of systems trying to adapt to the user (do what I mean). The articles further talks about using a cell phone to contact your home to get it ready for your arrival or notifying you a an important event that just occured such as a leak or water main break. This is the stuff many in the HA communityhave been doing for a while. The sidebars are also interesting. One talks about how we'll be using voice to control everything. I hope to attempt to use Sphinx to interface to my Asterisk PBX. Of course I'm still working on the Sipura SPA-3000. While I agree it that voice will become more prevalent, it won't replace the other methods of interface (command line, browser, phone/dtmf). Can you imagine trying to change the TV channel while your spouse is a sleep?