Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Silly, cool, oddities; continued

Yesterday I posted a few of my finds from Christmas shopping for my geeky friends. I've noticed a few interesting things on some of the wireless setup steps of those devices. I noticed that when you configure the WiFi device with your phone that the phone seems to be right on top of the WiFi device. Weird, this doesn't give me a warm fuzzy on the distances these devices can cover. Also I'm guessing that the WiFi settings are being imported from the phone to the device. The device probably has a default SSID or uses ad-hoc. This would make it easy to setup for the average user.

I'm also left wondering if these wonderful finds use a cloud service with these devices. A few systems I can hack around a cloud service but that's not the point. The average user can't. Cloud services make me nervous as the second the business or service is no longer profitable, it's shutdown (and it will eventually shut down). Leaving you with a power sucking brick (hmm, guess my eggs will go bad, that sucks ;-) ). I'm still using my X10 modules from the early 80's. Doubt we'll see a web service live that long. Yet cloud services are becoming a fact of life (everything is in the cloud). Also what happens when there is an internet outage? Ignoring the withdrawal symptoms ;-) some HA won't work as the control logic is in the cloud. While this saves money the latency and loss of control can deliver a SAF of minus 1!

Finally, a great many businesses are now mining data to make money. I get very nervous about what I think vs. what they think is a 'morale' use of my data. I just read where one HA company's actual business is something to the effect of bringing more data about the consumer to their customer (meaning the HA customer isn't their main focus). I've noticed that I've gone from being the customer to being the product.

PS: I looked up the Philips Hue bulbs and I'm hoping that I've made a mistake but I think the Hue replacement bulbs cost $60, ouch!!!! Hope that bulb lasts a long time.

I've just had an apostrophe ... ;-)

Okay I just needed a sounding board to hear my thoughts. I can't discuss this with my wife as she doesn't understand this part of the technology (and she doesn't need to). One of the things I've been giving a lot of thought to is my node.js based HA system. I've been doing a lot of playing with objects and inheritance (really a requirement for this to work). It's not straight forward for Javascript but it's still possible. I'm still working out the details (and the architecture). I'm stealing a lot of ideas from Misterhouse. One thing I've done in MH is to add the devices to a floor plan. I think this is more natural than the big menu of buttons that so many HA systems have. Once I get a good handle on the inheritance I'll start working on the display objects (HTML5, CSS, and socket.io - more to architect ;-)). I've figured out the placement of the object on the display and the added information (a title attribute) given on hover. I need to work out the details of how to handle a single (left) click and what to do on a right click. Normal click should do what is normally expected of a single click. Such as on/off, open/close, or bring up the information or configuration page of a device. I'll still need to work out the floor plan and layout editor.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Silly, cool, oddities.

Still trying to decide if I should pick up the TCP Connected Wireless LED bulbs (they're still wired to the AC). While they seem like a good idea they are a bit expensive (a $17 replacement bulb). I think I may try something else.

While searching around I did find other oddities and 'cool' things (but read the reviews). Under the category of WTF:

  • PSPT1-WH01 Wink Spotter - The blurb: "... lets you monitor motion, sound, light, temperature, and humidity from your smartphone.". Reading the reviews, it's not even close. So it is probably a good idea but a bad implementation. I might see if I can pick up one when they hit the ebay EOL resellers. This could be a useful device and I wouldn't mind getting my hands on a unit to hack around with.
  • Porkfolio - Wink-Enabled Piggy Bank - is the world’s smartest piggy bank. It wirelessly connects to an app on your mobile device so you can track your balance and set financial goals from afar. Its nose lights up in celebration every time a U.S. coin is inserted. Kind of cool but senseless. Again read the reviews. For my needs I can't see this being more than a geek toy.
  • Eggminder Internet Connected Egg Tray - The blurb: "... wirelessly connects to your mobile device to track the number of eggs you have and tell you when they’re going bad. In-tray LED lights indicate the oldest egg, while push notifications alert you when you’re running low. Check Egg Minder while at the store; you’ll never be in a scramble for a good egg again." This one seems a little weird at first but could be useful for those who forget if they have enough eggs. Read the reviews, most people seem to like it ... oh, wait they're not serious. ;-)
  • Nimbus 4-Dial Dashboard - The blurb: "... is a highly customizable 4-dial dashboard that tracks what’s important to you. Personalize each gauge using your mobile device to keep an array of info up-to-date and available at a glance. Nimbus can monitor your commute traffic, weather, email, calendar, social media networks, and more." While the device looks cool I can't find a reason to own one, I mean I need to use the cell phone to use this thing but isn't the cell phone my window on the world? Pop the cell phone in the charger stand next to my bed and I have an alarm clock, phone, radio, MP3 player and camera (but you really don't want to see me when I get up). Hold on, my cell phone is buzzing me ... yup my cell phone agrees (hmmm, need to disable that preference in my Google preferences).

More in line with what I already have:

  • Belkin WeMo - WiFi enabled outlets. Price is a little steep and I know nothing of the security. I'd like to get a few outlets before I write this one off. I think it uses WiFi - don't know if it's B,G or N.
  • Philips Hue Starter Kit - This is very expensive but way cool. I'm not sure my wife would appreciate the different colors or not. I wouldn't mind getting my hands on one of these bulbs but I find it hard to find a spot for the entire kit (3 bulbs). This one will probably wait a bit longer before I can get my hands on it. Philips also has an LED strip that works with the Zigbee base. I'm betting that they have a few other Hue based devices that will work too. I'm not sure of the quality but I have high expectations with Philips and at these prices it better be met. Uses ZigBee but I don't know if it will work with other, non-Philips, ZigBee devices.
  • TCP Connected Wireless LED - I'm not yet sure how this one works but the reports from the folks on Cocoontech is that if you grab the Javascript it's possible to figure out what's going on and communicate with the bulbs. At $50 this one is more in the realm of a hacker's budget though the $17 replacement bulbs are pretty steep. I'm not 100% sure of the amount of light output but I think the 2700k color temp is a match for the American market. I'm still leaning towards getting this one (Can you say waffle? I kneew you could ;-)). Uses 802.15.4, not sure if this will play nice with other 802.15.4 devices (ZigBee also uses 802.15.4).

At least it gives me a good idea of what is out there in ZigBee/802.15.4 land. Also if I can put together a small microcontroller with TCP/IP and a ZigBee interface I might actually have something to build future projects with. For now I have the Digi XBee chips. The number of ZigBee/802.15.4 devices seems to suggest it is a much less expensive interface than WiFi. Let's see what I can find (but no promises). I don't see IP, IPv6 or WiFi being directly used as the HA device protocol in the immediate future. Those protocols don't seem to suite HA directly. It is my undertanding that ZigBee has a gateway with direct mapping of IPv6 to the ZigBee protocol, so that's not what I'm taking about.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Christmas lights

I'm trying to decide what to get for my hacker friends (old style, hardware hackers, white hats) for Christmas. I think I've settled on ZigBee controlled lights from Lowes. It unusual enough and interesting enough that it most likely will get used and played with. I'm still checking the lights out but I think that's the route I'll go. They already have a Raspberry Pi so that won't be an issue (node.js + Pi + IP = Linux HA ;-) ). I'd also like to get a couple of the Philips Hue WiFi bulbs.. I love the idea of it being able to change color. Could be useful for an alert system. We'll see what I can find after Christmas.

Some of the other things I've been busy with are my my studies of OOP analysis and design, TDD, and node.js. So far that's mostly what I've been reading in my spare time. I've written more on the IRRNODE, I now have the conditionals working (though I have no cron jobs updating the extCnds.json file yet). I'll get that posted to the git repos soon. I also started tackling the node HCS II replacement system (but no work on the Brultech monitors yet). I've tackled the Javascript 'class' template for my dummy device. I've got a good sample of multi-class inheritance. I'll continue to work on that and the user code with a subset of Javascript with access to the node module objects. If it works I'll get the simulator (dummy classes, devices and network interfaces) to emulate real devices. This would provide a proof of concept from which I can proceed to an actual working application. Actually the new classes (node.js modules) would talk to real devices such as an X10 interface. That's a pretty short step from concept to production. In the coming weeks I'll need to interface to some kind of db, something that can live on a Raspberry Pi (maybe using a cloud drive). Yes, the architecture is still evolving. I still have to work out a few details, such as state change of variables (objects). The user will probably want to turn on a light just once when it gets dark and not each time through the loop when it is dark. Of course there are times when you may want to check the motion sensor when it is dark and not only when it just became dark. Misterhouse has a set of methods for this called state and state_now. Those worked rather well. I'm also interested in a web page that is a layout of the home. I already have this in Misterhouse though it sorely lacks some features (such as popups for the icons to give exact control and current information). So many things to still do but at least I feel like I'm making progress.

In November I picked up an inexpensive desoldering station. So far I've been practicing on single sided boards but all I can say is: Wow!!! I unsoldered a 40 pin DIP chip in about 20 seconds with no need to fight with the chip. Once unsoldered I pulled it from the board with my fingers. My next test will be on multilayer, through hole board and see how well that works. My Solderpult is good but it's a bit more work. It is nice to have the right tools.

And finally for those who have been following along. Yes, I'm actually working on several things at once. I suffer from the typical mental afflictions many geeks suffer from, ADD. But I've taken a bit of advantage of it in recent years. Since my mind likes to wonder from project to project (I wonder if Divinci suffered from ADD?) I do something I refer to as "5 minute programming". I attempt to do only small chunks of a project, something that can be done in about "5 minutes" (not literally). This seems to work well with the Agile testing work I'm doing at work (change one thing at a time, until it works). It's not the best way to get a project (or projects) done but it does fit the time I have. I try to keep the number of projects to a small set, though I'm not usually 100% successful.