Thursday, February 19, 2009

My head is spinning!

Well I guess I over did it! During December I put in a marathon effort to catch up with my studies (I'm working on a BS degree). Then I proceeded to take on some MIT EE online courses. Meanwhile at work I was working on 120 hours of course material also. Well it's finally catching up with me. I'm feeling a little burned out. The good news is that I can slow down, take it easy and I'll recover. Also I need glasses! I can no longer read normal size print and I can no longer see fine detail work. So it's time to go to the doctor and get proper glasses (not the kind you pick up at the local drug store). This is probably hindering and frustrating me more than anything.

So lets see what computer projects I'm working on at the moment. I've ordered a BOL-BOT (Full Kit) from A-WIT (a local NJ company, cool!). I hope to learn various things about robotics and AI/Machine Learning. I feel that robots and smart home technology (aka home automation) are close cousins and that by learning one I'm also learning the other. I may eventually try to use the robot in the TCF 2009 Robotics competition. I'm looking forward to seeing what various people are doing (and how they're doing it too). A-WIT also has a PCB Ordering Facility. This is very cool and I can take advantage of local resources (yes!).

Last year I presented at TCF and I would love to present this year but with the turmoil of strike contingency plans for work I can't take the chance. Next year I hope I can present again and I hope to have lots of new and interesting technology and software to talk about. For this year I'm now just hoping to attend the outdoor flea market, the Robotics competition, the Micromouse Contest and the Circuit bending workshop. Such cools things to learn!

I'm still reading the book on Groovy, it is suggesting that it will be able to add the ability to debug running code and allow advanced user code while running your home. This is an important feature that really is needed in centralized smart home services (at least in my opinion). I'll also need to work out some simple multi-threaded objects (concurrency) so the users don't get into trouble with Starving Philosophers. And, of course, I'm still reading the book: Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach. So far I must say that I have enjoyed reading it (weird). It has no hard code in it but the ideas and concepts have been very useful and it's giving me new ideas and avenues of study to pursue.

Sunday, February 15, 2009


Note: First let me say that I am an AT&T employee so take this review with that in mind. Also I am expressing my personal opinion and I am not representing my employer.

Last week I attended some AT&T U-verse installation training (here's a Wiki entry). Still I really want this service. :-) We got some time to play with the service and the middle U-verse package (U200). I had a lot of fun with it and it worked well (despite my tries to blow it up ;-). The U-verse package comes with a DVR and several STBs as part of the package. The ability to record/watch up to four streams at the same time is great and while you can only record/watch two HD streams at the same time (the other two streams would be standard TV streams) that doesn't bother me. Heck I'm still running an older 13 inch color TV (my wife has a 29 inch TV that we're not quite ready to replace just yet, though I am tempted). Each STB can view the stream recorded on the DVR (independent of another STB or the DVR). My current cable service gives us 1 channel/stream (to get more we have to purchase additional service). My wife and I have Tivo DVR (at extra cost but worth it) and if we wanted to use the cable provider's DVR, again it's at an extra cost. The current cable service we have is about $30 more than AT&T's equivalent and with the cable service extras it would be a lot more than AT&T's U-verse service. The AT&T service also includes VoIP which our current cable provider doesn't include in the above referenced prices. So why don't I have AT&T's service? Well I live in the North East (US) and AT&T doesn't have coverage in this area (rats!). Sorry I'm not about to move either, at least not yet.

In other related news, Verizon is building out their FIOS service in my development. I see the FIOS techs throughout the neighborhood, as busy as bees! This is great news for the local consumers because it means competition. While my cable provider is not known for dropping prices they have been known to add features to remain competitive. I certainly hope so as I'd really like to drop my cable provider. They'll need to do a lot of work to convince me to remain their customer. They're also not known for their customer service and I'm tired of all the nickle and dime increases we've seen tacked onto our bills over the years.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Google your energy usage?

Note: I've also posted this to the Open Remote forums so some of you are seeing this twice.

Here's something I just read with interest and fear; Google and energy information (Google's Powermeter). The news industry is calling it Google and Smart Grids. I haven't seen the hardware yet and I'm trying to find out what the details are but it looks like the smart grid will provide us with ways to track our energy usage. I've been discussing this from time to time and I suspect others have also. The basic theory is that if we, as the consumers, know our energy usage we can do something about it. I agree and I extend the theory that with additional smart software we can extend when it's economically in our best interest to replace various equipment because it's to inefficient. With this smart technology and software we can predict when we should start saving for new appliances before an something runs down.

So far I haven't read all the articles but the details seem a little thing. I have a lot of concerns as to why Google is doing this. I don't believe their do no evil mantra, they have investors. I'm wondering if this will be near real time. Worse is that while I may be able to see the energy usage I won't be able to tell what I'm looking at. If appliances a - g are running, suddenly appliance r then q start running, which appliance caused the spike? I think we'll need much finer detail than the overall energy usage will entail. Still it's a start.

One more thing to note. I believe that the future of energy usage on this planet hinges on a great many things. First a lot more human power (walking, bicycling and other human power vehicles). We're running out of all our resources on this planet. That means we'll need to mine stuff in space and that won't be cheap. The other alternative is to recycle everything and make everything recyclable. Mining space is very problematic in that it will be expensive and resource intensive. Oh, and this little problem that we're no were near ready to do it.