Friday, November 26, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving Day!

For those in the US, Happy Thanksgiving and for everyone may you always have plenty to give thanks for.

I've been busy with my preparations for my TCF Home Automation presentation on Saturday, April 2nd. I've been tuning up my MisterHouse (MH) setup on my DollHouse. I'm not sure how I'm going to proceed with the presentation but I'll see if I can present to one of the local user groups before April for their reaction.

I've started putting up the step by step procedures for putting MH on my Sheeva Plug computer. At the moment I've misplaced the script (argh!). It cleans out a lot of extra stuff that is not needed on a Linux based MH install. I still haven't figured out how to deal with the modified MH script (I've commented out a bunch of code). I'm pretty sure the installation of the default script is okay. Obviously further work is needed on the procedures. I've also spent a bunch of time cleaning up my home's automation equipment. I've been having a lot of problems with the operation of my system. I removed a half dozen various controllers, removed a bunch of extra cable in the computer room, cleaned up various code and finally figured out how to deal with MH's floorplan. I've begun documenting Floorplan on the MH Wiki Floorplan page. While MH's floor plan isn't complicated it really isn't well documented either. Back to the hardware, I think I have a bad X10 bridge. I use X10 commands to get around Insteon's stupid protocol limitation of a module being manually turned on and reporting the change. All the Insteon appears to be properly working though some more checking is needed to verify that.

In other news, Electrolux/Frigidaire has a Infinity I-Kitchen (Fridge - BR to EN Translation). Here's the translated description:

"Electrolux revolutionizes the concept of modern kitchen with the launch of the Infinity I-Kitchen, the first refrigerator with an interactive touch screen monitor that brings more than 600 suggestions for the preparation of dishes and drinks. Electrolux's exclusive innovation, the product was fully developed in Brazil and offers a variety of applications and technology attributes to interact with the consumer."

I don't know about Brazilian consumer tastes but this sounds like marketing is trying to sell a reason for putting a touch screen display on a fridge. That doesn't mean I'm against using computers (micro-controllers actually) in the appliances. It's just I don't want to see Android, iOS or some other tablet OS sitting on each one of my home's appliances, TV, Entertainment system and light switch. Look. if the appliance reports useful information such as power usage, current temperatures, open, closed, light on etc. and reports this back to a central server where the information can be processed then I'm all for it. But the recipe and shopping idea has been thrown around for a long time (my 2000 article) and I don't see it's long term value (short term - high geek points, but that wears off quick). And the central server is not the one at Vendor Central (vendor central being the appliance maker) so the company can charge me extra for something (e.q. subscription services) that should be part of the value added. I'm not against most subscription services (I love Tivo) but I should be getting something for my money not some dumb excuse for a subscription. As for a touch screen, well I want an Android tablet that can be moved around to where-ever (I like it in the living room). I don't want it attached to my fridge. That way I can use the tablet to access apps such as, I don't know, perhaps my home automation system?!

Now lets see what's in the fridge, good thing I put that wireless IR camera in the fridge, now I can sit on my couch and stair endlessly at the inside of the fridge. Oh, look, Turkey ...

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

An interesting week

The other day I received an email from a friend that I hadn't heard from in a while. This is not unusual as we are adults and we all lead busy lives. His HCS II HA system died and he was in need of a spare Supervisory Controller (SC - basically the brains of the device). Luckily I have a spare SC so his system will be back up and running soon. He also picked up some new hardware from simplehomenet. This hardware support X10 and Insteon. He plans on using this as a replacement for his HCS II. Funny thing is that many HCS users complain that the new systems don't really have the same features as the HCS. So I decided to take a look at some of the products on the Simplehomenet site and found the ZBPLM - ZigBee INSTEON X10 Interface which is a one-for-one replacement of the the Insteon 2412s (serial, not USB) but has the additional support for Zig-Bee. Simplehomenet has released an API for the device. I'm hoping to get my hands on the PLM, a ZigBee device from Simplehomenet and a ZigBee device from another vendor (just to make sure it's working). I'll probably be able to add it to Misterhouse first as Misterhouse already supports the Insteon 2412s. I would love to have this available for the Trenton Computer Festival (April 2nd, 2011). But no promises, there are many other parts of the DollHouse project that must be completed first, so stay tuned.

Friday, November 12, 2010

ARM, Java, Groovy!

No I'm not having flashbacks to the 60's (with awful memories of teens running around wearing sack clothes chanting something ... ew!). I've been busy working with my Sheeva Plug computer (and a second unit on the way). I have installed Misterhouse on it and I decided to get Java and Groovy thrown on to boot. Misterhouse is written in Perl and I'd like to write my next HA package in something a little more Object Oriented. I'm surprised at how well Misterhouse runs and I'm hoping my new HA package will surprise me as well. Of course the business with Oracle and Java has me considering other options (anything but Oracle!) as a backup.

Now don't get me wrong, I like Perl. It's great for tearing into strings-n-things but it's not objected oriented and converting back and forth between strings-n-things is maddening!. It turns out Java has many of the features I need, OOPs and threads for instance and Groovy removes some of that nasty verbosity that clings to Java. It has that comfortable feeling to removes some of the things that gets in the way of programming. With Java's RegEx library allowing me to tearing into strings-n-things it seems it should match what I'm used to with Perl. Also the Grooysh make it easy for me to experiment with code. So far I've been attempting to get a handle on concurrency but it's harder than it looks. So I've got more reading to do on that subject. I've also been working with RxTX and the Elexol USBIO24. That's been going pretty well. I'm able to talk to and control the IO board with no problems.

For my next project I may attempt to get the Sheeva plug talking to my HCS II via the RS485 port (I have a USB dongle for that). I'll also hook up the HCS serial port to a terminal server I have. That way I can build a network daemon to control the information (I hate the continuous stream the HCS sends out. I only want to know about updates and poll when I need something else). All of this ties back to my DollHouse project and my 2011 Trenton Computer Festival presentation. This year I demo working home automation using the DollHouse.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Smart phones, smart homes, Smart World

I read an interesting article from the Economist, written by Ludwig Siegele titled Smart World. The article and accompanying videos are thought provoking (and not what I expected from a magazine called the economist - a major thumbs up guys!).

The article starts out explaining how we basically live in two worlds, the day to day "real world" and the digital one. But that is starting to change, the digital world is starting to map the real world. Today's new smart phones are packed with a variety of sensors. The apps and users share all sorts of information. And with technology jumping in leaps and bounds we're only going to get more (more power, friendlier devices, more information gathering capabilities). Today's smart phones, computer networks, cloud computing, traffic cameras, facial recognition and a whole lot of data mining capabilities has lead to a whole lot of the real world leaking into the digital world. With virtualization the real world now exists in the digital world.

The naive, innocent side of me sees the benefits of such computing power to science, health, the enviroment and the really cool services we'd be able to get our hands on (imagine a Beowolf cluster of those, oh yeah that is a Beowolf cluster ;-) ). Benefit: If the US (that's me) were to increase the effiency of our power grid by 5% it would be equivalent to removing the emissions of 53M cars (from the article). The pragmatist in me sees the business uses and further nickel and diming me to death to use these services. Note to Businesses: Yes I know you need to make a profit to bring these services to reality. But I'm not a cash cow, stop nickel and diming me for services that aught to be part of service I purchased. Now, the paranoid side of sees the potential for abuse on a world wide scale by abusive goverments and organized crime.

From where I sit this is the path we've set ourselves on, for better or worse. But I'm left wondering if what I'm doing (home automation/Smart Home Technology) is a really good idea that can help us to save the planet or just another way for us to hand out more information about ourselves so others can make money off of us?