Sunday, December 28, 2008

School la la la ...

I just finished off my classes for the semester and I only have 4 more classes before I get my Bachelor of Science (BS) degree, yeah!. That's two more semesters, so I should be done by September if outside factors (a story for another day) don't interfere. Already I'm investigating getting a master's degree (I must be nuts). I have to figure out finances, reviewing and taking the GRE, what I want in a master's degree program and, finally, where to apply. I am certain that I will take a year off from my studies and try to get a few more things done around my home. So far I have some 192 credits (don't ask) but I probably need some more for my interests. Of course they may not necessarily align with any graduate degree program. I wish they had a program where I could make up the curriculum and I would learn on my own. This is what I'm doing with my BS degree. In my psychology course this is a guided self-discovery type of learning. This is something I've pretty much done all my life. I think I'm very interested in computer science, information science and electrical engineering. These are the majority of the fields that come into play with smart home technology (at least the ones that come to my mind). Add artificial intelligence, machine learning, and the home as a robot (domotica) except you live in it instead of it living with you. The only reason I want to continue with school is that it would further my smart home hobby. :-) I certainly doubt it will further my career. For now I haven't spent any extra money to further my degree goal but I'm giving it a serious investigation. I don't know, maybe a masters degree isn't the correct path to my goals of smart homes. The one thing I need most is someone to talk to about the degree programs, some one who can advise me. So I sent an email to my adviser to see if they can help. :-) I hope they'll be able to help. I'll also ask my coworkers in the Labs. A great many of them have already gone through this, a few recently. They won't be able to help me select things but they can fill me in on the processes.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Diary of a Future-Home owner

A few weeks ago Jack Ganssle, in his news letter: The Embedded Muse (issue 170) found something I had been looking for but couldn't remember enough details to find. A particular humorous, but fictious, HA story that I read in 1996. Twelve years ago Christina Vasilakis wrote her Fine Arts master's thesis on House of the Future. This would seem an odd combination, Fine Arts and the topic of Future-Homes, except she was also working on a Master's in Computer Science (I don't know which she received first). Either way this thesis is unique in that it's not strictly from the technical background of a computer scientist but also that of a fine arts major. The part I like best is the Diary of a Future Homeowner, it's a funny read about HA gone awry. I may attempt to do my own updated HA humor but not right now. I started working on it but it's become too long and it needs a lot of work. I'll post it as a web page at a later date.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Smart Homes and the TV show "Wife Swap"

Because I was busy with school I couldn't post this topic until now. During the summer I received an interesting email from a Casting Producer for ABC's "Wife Swap", her name is Gaby. Gaby was "... casting our fifth season at the moment and we're looking for one-of-a-kind families with plenty of personality. This season, we would love to feature a family that lives in a smart house! It would be a great help if you could forward the below casting call to your clients or anyone you think would be interested in participating in this once in a lifetime adventure!". Well I don't have any clients (yet) and at the moment this is just a hobby which I hope to turn into a business someday. While it might have sounded like a tempting offer I would have passed no matter what. First my wife and I don't match the initial criteria of having children (do dogs count?) nor do my friends, also I'm not a big fan of TV. I've never seen wife swap. Second we're both going to school and very little free time anyway. Finally these shows are mainly about the soap opera atmosphere that ensues when you take a person out of their comfortable environment and put them into a new environment where the rules change. That is just plain cruel and I would never let my wife endure that kind of torture (it's bad enough she has to put up with me, but that's her fault). I don't know how long the episodes take to film but the money offered doesn't sound like it's enough for the ongoing soap opera. So I politely turned it down. It would have been a little bit of fun showing off the home automation but not the invasion of privacy and our comfort space.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Asus EEE B202

Marc Fleury (of Jboss and now OpenRemote fame) was kind enough to get my hands on a Asus EEE (model B202). So I spent part of the day trying things out. This usually means experimentation and doing things the hard ways. This turns out to be the easiest way to learn anything! Well today I learned all sorts of stuff! ;-) First this computer is pretty small. It's about the size of my O'Reilly Perl book. It's very quiet and runs pretty cool. It does have a fan but you won't hear it unless you put your ear to the box. The operating system on the one I received had Windows XP but it was in Taiwanese. I've had no luck with getting past the registration screen. I tried to put an Ubuntu image on the machine via a USB Flash key using Unetbootin. That worked out really well. I ran into problems installing Ubuntu. I tried to save the Windows partition by juggling the partitions but that didn't work out too well. I'll just wipe the partitions and put Ubuntu server on it via a net install. The net install method is slow but it only needs a flash drive of less than 32M (not G). I tried to copy the Ubuntu 8.04 lts server image to the flash drive to install it to the machine but I ran into all sorts of problems. First it couldn't find the CD (Duh! it's a USB stick ;-) then I bypasses that but it got upset with one of the restricted drivers. One of the cool things I found on the machine is Splashtop. It turns out to be a very small Linux partition that boots up really quick. It gives you access to the USB so a drive can be connected (I don't know what else you can do yet). In addition it has a browser and a few other applications. This might be useful in grabbing a rescue image should your partition go south. It would be really cool if it were in flash but I don't think it is. I'll have to investigate that further as it may be useful to installers. The end result of this computer is that it will be the central Smart Home (home automation) server. This looks like it will be an excellent box for this purpose.

 OS Microsoft Windows XP Home (but I'll upgrade to Ubuntu Server ;-) )
 CPU Intel Atom N270 (1.6 GHz)
 Chipset Intel Chipset
 HDD 160 GB
 Card Reader SD/SDHC/MS/MS Pro/MMC
 WiFi 802.11b/g/n
 LAN 10/100/1000

Update: Hmm, I was incorrect, Splashtop is in flash, at least according to the folks at Phoronix

Monday, December 15, 2008

Wile E. Coyote, Photo(?) Super Genius!

iGala Wi-Fi Linux Based Photo Frame ... Super Genius, I like the way that sounds (Wile E. Coyote - Warner Brothers Cartoons) I just saw this while poking around on the internet. It's up on ThinkGeek and it seems like an interesting toy to hack. Its the Igala WiFi Linux Photoframe and at $239 (plus S&H) it's pretty expensive for a photoframe but it's not too expensive as a touchscreen. :-) I can't seem to find a size but it's an 800x600 touch screen Linux WiFi (b/g and WEP) computer. As long as it's hackable then it's not a problem. I found the web site: iGala and it's parent company: Aequitas Technologies LLC. So far I see no reference to the Linux source code, which I'll need as I don't use WEP in my home. We'll see how the source code issue plays out. Right now I won't cause a stink unless I get a direct no. Of course I won't be asking for the source code to their apps. Those are usually closed source and I have no problem with the mix under Linux. I do prefer open source as it makes it easier to fix things when they break. More on this later.

Friday, December 12, 2008

@#$%! passwords!

So I'm working on my final project for my Project Management course (the professor was kind enough to give me additional time to work). So I've spent the last two weeks reading all the chapters, studying all the material and doing the assignments. I've done quite well on my final (92 of 100 pts). I have about 5 assignments that I have almost complete. They're sitting on my work (Windows) laptop. Today the system security notified me that I needed to change my password. It does this by asking me for my Outlook password (really smooth MS). When this happens I know that I need to change my password. So I go and change my password. I work busily on various projects and I put it aside to do some work from my Linux laptop (my personal machine). So I come back several hours later, the computer asks for my laptop password. I enter the old one, nada. Right, I changed it, so I enter the new password, oops that doesn't work (I usually change several passwords at the same time so my passwords are in sync for several work related systems), nada. Hmm, this is not good. Maybe I spelled it wrong, so I try it again. Nope, oh yeah they changed the way I change my password. It's blahblah and I'll have to change it once I get logged in. So I try it. Nada and I no longer have access to the machine. Now I need to contact my administrator to unlock the computer, ARGH! So now my final project and homework all sit on my work laptop, locked.

I'll be able to finish the project easily (I've already done it once) but the homework is going to be tougher. I have to find a way to fight with MS word to format picture. I've never been able to get MS Word and it's tools to draw what I want. That's the one tool that I need and no OS has really been able to replace pencil and paper. Oh, I don't have my scanner setup. That would have worked nicely. Now before any one thinks I'm mad at Microsoft, I'm not. The password problem is an information management problem. It's not just passwords, it's web site IDs, it's personal information. So how do I administer and manage all this information? For now I'm using a, dead tree notebook but I am looking for something better. If it's online it needs to be secure, easy to access and does not depend on a service that may not be available on the weekends or overnight. I'm also looking for a better way to secure access to computer networks. I'll post more ideas on that in a few days.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Yahoo! I made it!

So I did it, I survived and thrived! For those who don't know, I just finished up my finals (only two more semesters, 4 more classes). So by this time next year I should have a Bachelor of Science degree.

Anyway on to HA and my courses. My first course was the "Psychology of Learning". There I learned that more about machine learning. I did a journal critique on an an AI Magazine article: "Does Machine Learning Really Work?" by Prof. Tom M. Mitchell (1997). Oddly enough much of the machine learning information is being used (search engines, facial recognition, and data mining). I'm sure much of the software is using newer techniques. So I'm pretty sure that home automation can make a lot of use of AI technologies. So I picked up Tom's book and eagerly waiting on it. It may be an older book but Tom has updated the book and his web site contains quite a bit of extra information. I also checked out the reviews and it seems to be a good starter book on the subject. I figure I have a lot of learning to do before I can start writing software. My goal is not to make computers think but rather to take advantage of learning software to make HA more flexible.

The second, two classes (sort of a lecture and lab) are on Project Management. We used MS Project Management and I learned a lot. The first thing is that I have a long way to go to be a good project manager like my friend Pat Dunn. :-) But I did learn that such a tool has great power and can be useful (if properly understood) for a great many projects. Right now I'll need to investigate what open source software is available.

Monday, December 08, 2008

May you live in interesting times ...

It is said that this is a Chinese curse. Whether it is or is not we're certainly in the middle of 'interesting times'. I rather think that life in general is this way and we must make the best of it. At the moment that's all I can do. Hopefully I'll be lucky.

Having said that I look around and I also see the other side of the coin. Right now (2008/12/8) I'm finishing up my studies and my final is on Wednesday. I'm looking forward to the finish of the semester as it has been more interesting than most. Mid-October I suffered a bit of mental burn out due to many events (not just school). Somehow I'm catching back up with my courses and I expect to pass all of them. In the mean time I've racked up some 37 new HA topics I want to discuss. I'll stretch them out over several weeks that way I can attempt to give them some thought. Oh, I only have two more semesters and I'll graduate with a BS degree. I'm even thinking of going for a Master's degree. Maybe something to do with Home Automation. :-)

The one item that is currently most on my mind is the two mobile computer platforms: the iPhone and the Android G1. The rumor mill has the 4gig iPhone being released at WalMart for $99 (US). Possible before the end of the year. Of course I also heard the same thing just before Thanksgiving (with reference to Black Friday instead of Christmas). Google has just released an open dev. kit for the Android (SDK, dev tools, no contract, unlocked phone and SIM(???)) for $399. I would love to get my hands on both. Lets face it Apple has created a pretty slick and smooth interface. Google, on the other hand, has opened up the SDK so apps can be created for it. I've heard that G1 is has a bit of a clunkier interface. I'm sure that can be fixed. Lets face it, touch screens are in and wireless mobile computing is the future. Many of today's apps are seriously lacking. The Pantech Duo I have has the default email which stinks, a calendar which can't do something as simple as bi weekly (my wife's Palm Treo 750 doesn't have this problem) and a whole lot of other annoyances. I've added a few apps, such as GMail but even that has limited capabilities. There's got to be better. I've seen a few interesting applications on the Apple TV commercials and while they look interesting I think they are more solutions looking for a problem rather than the other way around. On the G1 side I haven't heard a whole lot. Of course I am interested in writing a few apps of my own. :-) I'll learn on the Duo (no touch screen) and work from there.

I'll post more on mobile computing later. I see it be an obvious interface to one's HA system. Especially with WiFi and 3G networking. Now back to the books!