TT#183 - Google Project Fi

I have had to take a little break from politics while I focus efforts of technical mumbo jumbo for the podcast, so guess what you get to read about? The Nexus 6P. I was having a terrible time with my MotoX (2nd Gen). The bluetooth would constantly restart itself. The charging module decided to just stop charging while using GPS and then shut down at 20% because it was actually 3% but was actually 20%? yeah it was frustrating.  I live on my phone during business hours and several hours both before and after work so having a reliable device is pretty darn important.

I have been a proud proponent of Republic Wireless, which is an MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operator) for the Sprint network. They make a darn affordable service, as long as you use as much WiFi as you can. This worked great for me for both cost and offloading my phone calls to my more reliable wifi network. The construction of my home is a little like a bunker and cell phone reception is terrible for all providers. I inquired with them if they had a new model coming out, since Motorola sold off their cell phone business to Lenovo, thereby likely killing the  brand for their use. They have to build custom firmware for the phones to do this cool little wifi to cell to wifi  handoff thing. Regardless of my personal superuser issues, I got my parents and my children on Republic Wireless and I still recommend them highly as a valuable budget option.

So then I was reminded that Google was rolling out their Google Fi service. This is an interesting project and it warrants attention. First, the phones Google chooses as Nexus devices are always top grade performers in the "flagship" category. These phones are also unlocked and can be taken to any GSM carrier. They always get the latest software update which has become more and more important in recent times.  Google Fi is similar in function to Republic Wireless. They handoff calls to wifi when possible. The billing is also quite fair starting at $20 for unlimited cell calls and text messages and $10 a gigabyte of data. If you don't use all your data that you pre purchased, you get a refund at the end of the billing cycle. Totally fair. Republic Wireless has some similar plans but I was not using it due to my work style being on the road most of the day and away from WiFi. With Google Fi, they also use the Sprint back bone, but not solely. Google engineered a dual carrier sim for the phones and put enough radios in the phone to cover Sprint and T-Mobile. Between the two, they can likely balance billing and we end users will use the best network available in the area.Also, tethering devices to your cell phone with Google Fi is included at no extra cost, you just pay for more data as you use it, which removes the need for the WiFi hotspot that I have through Ting or the Vinli OBDII WiFi hotspot that I have also been playing with. 

Project Fi was closed to invite only until just a couple days ago. Now anyone can jump in at https://fi.google.com and I beleive there was a discount for the smaller Nexus phone, the Nexus 5X. Now might be a great time to switch carriers and phones.

So now I start a new adventure with a massive phone with 3GB of RAM. This really should help out a lot.  One caveat, it is a USB-C device. Now I have to get certified cables (otherwise the USB-C cable can allow for too much voltage and kill the device). There has been a smart guy at Google named Benson Leung, going through Amazon cable offerings and reviewing them in excruciating detail. Look for his review before buying a cable, it matters.

For those curious about Republic Wireless, Vinli, or Ting, here are their links. https://ting.com/ and https://www.vin.li/  and https://republicwireless.com/ 

Topic Tuesday #159 2015/08/04 "Moving my cheese"

Topic Tuesday #159 2015/08/04 "Moving my cheese"

I have dove straight into Windows 10. This is not a post about Windows 10, but about migration habits. We have so many things that we use on a daily basis that having it readily at hand is both paramount and sometimes surprisingly difficult. Being an I guy... I have, to be quite frank, too many machines in my armada. I have multiple computers used for my day job, including multiple servers that I log into all the time. I have multiple android devices like phones and tablets that are both for work and play. I have a couple laptops and desktops at home that are for the children and myself as well as development and testing of my skills. I can't even give an accurate number to the mass of hardware I could go through on a day to day basis. So how do I have all the things I need with me? It's not an easy solution, so I have any options and use them all to varying degrees of success.

The cloud is wonderful! Wonderful for small documents and notes and pictures. Anything above 20MB and it becomes a pain because of internet performance, and if you are on a WiFi hotspot and paying for data... FORGET IT. Also there are security concerns. Data breeches are a valid concern in this day and age, so security must also be a component of any solution.

What I end up with is a hodgepodge of solutions. Some in the cloud, some on portable drives that I can take with me, some that are always going to live on a server and network drive that will be accessed by remote control. And many syncing solutions between all of these to ensure everything is up to date and consistent.

Certainly, I am an "edge case". So, I ask you... How do you do IT?

Topic Tuesday #158 2015/07/29 "Windows 10, Part 1"

Topic Tuesday #158 2015/07/29 "Windows 10, Part 1"

It is the eve of a new dawn, or something poetic and fanciful like that. Really, it is a calendar event for us geeks out there, as Microsoft releases Windows 10 - for free to those with a current genuine copy of Windows 7 and later. 

There will be some changes to what you have come to know about Windows. For one, updates for Pro and Home versions are mandatory. You will be able to postpone the install, to backup and save files etc, but you will have to install eventually. Enterprise customers, well you will have other solutions with your versions, that you have to pay full price for. The upgrades are part of the new Microsoft direction, SaaS (Software as a Service) model. 

Also, the menus should be familiar to both Windows 7 and 8.1 users. Charms are taken away. And the operating system will customize the interface based on certain criteria about the hardware. Like if there is a physical keyboard attached, if there is a touch screen, how large the screen is, and so on. These are the things I know before getting my mitts on the bits. I've been busy.

So, consider this part one. I'll come back with more Windows 10 trivia and guides later, but in the meantime, tell me if you are going to upgrade, and what do you think about SaaS?

Topic Tuesday #157 2015/07/21 "Home Automation - Part 3 - Amazon Echo and Wink"

Topic Tuesday #157 2015/07/21 "Home Automation - Part 3 - Amazon Echo"

My quest for a Star Trek home experience has led me to Amazon.com. Amazon has released a fascinating device, the Echo. It is an amazing gadget! It is a black cylinder with two high quality speakers, seven microphones, wireless networking, and a brain in the cloud. You wake the device by calling a keyword. It is defaulted to "Alexa" and thanks to that cleverness and a pleasant feminine voice, it is a she, and she is pretty slick.  

Heavy on facts and the occasional dad joke sense of humor, Alexa doesn't have the personality of Apple's Siri, but it doesn't need to be snarky, I have enough of that within my walls. The microphones are pretty sensitive and can listen for the keyword (which can be changed from Alexa to Amazon - but why do that?!) even over music at high volume, and it is very loud when you want it to be. The Echo, just 'Alexa' from here on, has some other tricks up its sleeve- er.. cylinder...

Back in #148 2015/05/19 "Home Automation - Part 2" I wrongly said that Wink was limited to lighting. I was looking at only one of their products lines, the Wink Link, after getting that deal on their z-wave light bulbs. Now that I have been playing with Alexa, I found out that she can talk to the Wink Hub and also another product I am playing with from Wemo.

Wink is rather well equipped for all manner of devices. and has 1GB of storage and 512MB RAM to be ready for the future.

Wink is rather well equipped for all manner of devices. and has 1GB of storage and 512MB RAM to be ready for the future.

The Wink Hub can communicate with Z-Wave+ (version 4 of the standard) as well as ZigBee protocols, just like the SmartThings Hub. The Wink Hub is also half the price and about 4 times the size of the SmartThings hub. GE, the makers of Wink, are also actively promoting and advancing their product Wink line, with a focus on high end consumers. I am just getting my Wink Hub connected to devices but it promises similar functionality to SmartThings at half the cost with integration to Alexa.

From left to right: The Wink Hub, The SmartThings Hub, Amazon Echo (muted to show the red ring)

From left to right: The Wink Hub, The SmartThings Hub, Amazon Echo (muted to show the red ring)

WeMo Insight Switch + Bunn Coffee Pot = GLORY

WeMo Insight Switch + Bunn Coffee Pot = GLORY

To give you an idea of what the end game is looking like, just imagine Star Trek or Iron Man. This morning I said, "Alexa, turn on the coffee pot." And she did. I had configured the WeMo Insight Switch to be named "Coffee Pot" and after Alexa scanned the network and found the little guy it was able to turn it on or off.

I am not going to lie, I felt like a badass. I was a technomage bending the will of technology to do my bidding by just offering a phrase! Magic. (see Clarke's 3 laws)

Below is a video I found that shows a teardown of the Wink Hub - SO WE DON'T HAVE TO. Crazy informative and in-depth.  Thanks to TheHouseBlog for the research and effort.

Topic Tuesday #156 2015/07/14 "Pictures of Pluto!"

Topic Tuesday #156 2015/07/14 "Pictures of Pluto!"

With the blue Atlantic Ocean as backdrop, smoke and steam fill the launch pad, at right, as NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft roars into the sky aboard an Atlas V rocket. (NASA)

New Horizons launched January 19th, 2006 at 14:00 hours atop a Lockheed Martin Atlas V from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Space Launch Complex 41, after being manufactured in Maryland. It is roughly the size and shape of a baby grand piano weighing half a ton. Its mission was to complete the initial human survey of the solar system’s planets. There are 7 scientific instruments on-board (See Below), a nuclear decay power generator, the ashes of Clyde Tombaugh who discovered Pluto in 1930, a CD ROM with 434,000 names, another CD ROM with pictures of the New Horizons Team, a chunk of Space Ship One, 2 state quarters, 2 little American flags, and a US postage stamp from 1991, that says "Pluto Not Yet Explored" (29 cents).

The instruments, because I know you are curious:

  1.  Ralph: Visible and infrared imager/spectrometer; provides color, composition and thermal maps.
  2. Alice: Ultraviolet imaging spectrometer; analyzes composition and structure of Pluto's atmosphere and looks for atmospheres around Charon and Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs).
  3. REX: (Radio Science EXperiment) Measures atmospheric composition and temperature; passive radiometer.
  4. LORRI: (Long Range Reconnaissance Imager) telescopic camera; obtains encounter data at long distances, maps Pluto's farside and provides high resolution geologic data.
  5. SWAP: (Solar Wind Around Pluto) Solar wind and plasma spectrometer; measures atmospheric "escape rate" and observes Pluto's interaction with solar wind.
  6. PEPSSI: (Pluto Energetic Particle Spectrometer Science Investigation) Energetic particle spectrometer; measures the composition and density of plasma (ions) escaping from Pluto's atmosphere.
  7. SDC: (Student Dust Counter) Built and operated by students; measures the space dust peppering New Horizons during its voyage across the solar system.

Today, New Horizons made it! The spacecraft did a fly by, 7,800 miles from Pluto, at 30,817 mph, to take the best pictures we have every had of the dwarf planet, before heading for the next phase of its mission, the exploration of the Kuiper Belt.

Pluto is 3,000,000,000 (3 billion) miles from Earth (at this time in it's elliptical 248 year orbit around the Sun.

That's Pluto and Charon nestled to scale between Earth and our Moon. (Copyright Walter Myers)

It takes radio signals (traveling at the speed of light) a little over 4 and half hours to reach us, at a staggeringly slow 1 kilobit per second. At that data rate, the images take almost an hour to download on a 200 foot dish antenna. 

Pluto, Hubble Image, 2010, NASA

Previous to this mission the best image we had was the second round of pictures from Hubble, seen here.

Yesterday, 7/13/2015, New Horizons gave us this image from its LORRI instrument.

More even higher resolution images and readings will be downloaded over the next days and weeks. I can't wait!!!

Pluto, New Horizons (LORRI), taken on July 13, 2015 when the spacecraft was 476,000 miles (768,000 kilometers) from the surface. (NASA)

To sum up how far we have come, the fine folks at VOX lined up these images, the one on the left is the earliest photo from Hubble, maybe before it got its glasses. 

We have now visited all the planets of the Sol System.  But there is much work still left to do. Stephen Hawking commented on this latest historic mission  and his words say it all. 

"The revelations of New Horizons may help us to understand better how our solar system was formed," Prof Hawking said. "We explore because we are human, and we want to know. I hope that Pluto will help us on that journey. I will be watching closely, and I hope you will, too."

In case you were curious, These are the years we did reconnaissance on our planetary neighbors. 

  • Mercury - 1974
  • Venus - 1979
  • Mars - 1962 Soviet, 1965 Mariner 4
  • Jupiter - 1979
  • Saturn - 1980
  • Uranus - 1986
  • Neptune - 1989
  • Pluto/Charon 2015

Take a moment, Think about the task and really applaud the team of scientists and engineers that made this happen. Remember, Space is hard. #Penny4NASA

Topic Tuesday #154 2015/06/30 "Leap Second"

Topic Tuesday #154 2015/06/30 "Leap Second"

Long ago, I wrote about the origins of the calendar. #24 http://www.orlyradio.com/canwefixitorg/2013/01/topic-tuesday-24-20130101-happy-new-year.html

But what I didn't discuss was corrections to timekeeping.
See the calendar that we eventually landed on is not perfect, by a long shot. This is why every 4 years we add a day (24 hours) to February. This keeps the calendar in sync with the planet's seasons. Today, June 30th, the last minute of the day has 61 seconds as we add a leap second in order to keep the time of day close to the mean solar time, or UT1. Without such a correction, time reckoned by Earth's rotation drifts away from atomic time because of irregularities in the Earth's rotation. Since this system of correction was implemented in 1972, 26 leap seconds have been inserted, including today's. Ideal implementation adds a positive leap second between "second 23:59:59" of a chosen UTC calendar date (the last day of a month, usually June 30 or December 31) and "second 00:00:00" of the following date. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leap_second

Peter Whibberley, senior research scientist at the UK's National Physical Laboratory (NPL), said: "Because they depend on measurements of the Earth's rotation, which varies unpredictably, leap seconds occur at irregular intervals. Leap seconds are announced only six months in advance. This means computers and software cannot be supplied with leap seconds programmed in, and they must be inserted manually," he explained. "Getting leap seconds wrong can cause loss of synchronisation in communication networks, financial systems and many other applications which rely on precise timing. Whenever a leap second occurs, some computer systems encounter problems due to glitches in the code written to handle them. The consequences are particularly severe in the Asia-Pacific region, where leap seconds occur during normal working hours."

Due to these complications many would like to do away with the practice of adding leap seconds. The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) is set to discuss the topic at the World Radiocommunication Conference in Geneva this November.

There was some jargon in there, like "Mean Solar Day" and "UT1". Let me do the work for you and tell you what those are.

The duration of daylight varies during the year but the length of a mean solar day is nearly constant, unlike that of an apparent solar day. An apparent solar day can be 20 seconds shorter or 30 seconds longer than a mean solar day.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mean_solar_day

UT1 is the principal form of Universal Time. While conceptually it is mean solar time at 0° longitude, precise measurements of the Sun are difficult. Hence, it is computed from observations of distant quasars using long baseline interferometry, laser ranging of the Moon and artificial satellites, as well as the determination of GPS satellite orbits. UT1 is the same everywhere on Earth, and is proportional to the rotation angle of the Earth with respect to distant quasars, specifically, the International Celestial Reference Frame (ICRF), neglecting some small adjustments. The observations allow the determination of a measure of the Earth's angle with respect to the ICRF, called the Earth Rotation Angle (ERA, which serves as a modern replacement for Greenwich Mean Sidereal Time). UT1 is required to follow the relationship
ERA = 2π(0.7790572732640 + 1.00273781191135448Tu) radians
where Tu = (Julian UT1 date - 2451545.0)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/UT1

Around the world, we try to use UTC, (oddly acronymed for Coordinated Universal Time, because French.)
UTC is an atomic timescale that approximates UT1. It is the international standard on which civil time is based. It ticks SI seconds, in step with TAI. It usually has 86,400 SI seconds per day but is kept within 0.9 seconds of UT1 by the introduction of occasional intercalary leap seconds. As of 2015, these leaps have always been positive (the days which contained a leap second were 86,401 seconds long). Whenever a level of accuracy better than one second is not required, UTC can be used as an approximation of UT1. The difference between UT1 and UTC is known as UT1. 
For most purposes, UTC is considered interchangeable with GMT, but GMT is no longer precisely defined by the scientific community. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coordinated_Universal_Time

Topic Tuesday #153 2015/06/23 "A Climate for Writing"

Topic Tuesday #153 2015/06/23 "A Climate for Writing"

Ladies and Gentlemen of my readership, we have had quite the week since I have conversed with you on topical matters. The news has been rather heavy, week over week and it has taken its eventual toll on me, thus I am unable to fully articulate the gravity of the activity on the world stage. I am not silent on it, as you can tell by my other posts and the continued activities of the ORly Radio Podcast. The news has hurt me and has moved me to alternative action. In as much as we have seen through time - adversity, even if it seems tangential to this writer, fosters creativity. This last week it was not the news of the Charleston murders that hit me the hardest. Though they are certainly shocking and deplorable, I have been desensitized to the bigotry and violence to those of color by those with a far paler character. No, what has moved me to some sort of action and kept me awake is the future.

I would consider myself a rational person and a man of facts and perspective. I have grown to trust the scientists that work in their chosen fields and have come to know many of them. They value the same things I do. Facts and the truths that they describe. The recent news that the figures were wrong and corrected on the so called pause in global warming was a hammer blow. I didn’t expect it to be so, as I had a feeling that this sign of climate change was not up for taking a vacation, but still, I had hoped that nature had a trick or two that would explain it and it would not be a miscalculation. Sadly, the results indicate that we were incorrect with initial findings and that the world may have warmed much more than was anticipated in other models and it was not getting any better.

Credit: NASA.

Credit: NASA.

The data that they used to make these statements came from a big data project, NASA Earth Exchange (NEX). It’s data is available to the public. http://climate.nasa.gov/news/2293/

“The NASA climate projections provide a detailed view of future temperature and precipitation patterns around the world at a 15.5 mile (25 kilometer) resolution, covering the time period from 1950 to 2100. The 11-terabyte dataset provides daily estimates of maximum and minimum temperatures and precipitation over the entire globe.”

I have concerns. I am a future minded person and they are painting a rather hot picture of the future, a future that if I am not a part of, surely my offspring will be. So I have to prepare them for the reality of climate change, rising oceans, hotter summers, colder winters, floods and droughts, and the people that deny it could happen. This is the tall order that keeps me up at night, and I figure if I am going to be kept up, I might as well be creative and productive with it.
This is the inspiration for a story I am going to write. It may be horrible and completely un-entertaining and worthless to some, but I will learn a lot along the way about how to write and communicate a narrative of discovery and adventure - one of surviving a changing world.
National Novel Writing Month is approaching you know.

Time to get to it. Let me know what you think.

Topic Tuesday #152 2015/06/16 "Software-Curses, foiled again!"

Topic Tuesday #152 2015/06/16 "Software-Curses, foiled again!"

Okay, get this: my oldest daughter has been recording herself (with my help of course) doing how-to draw sessions. I was using the cheap cell phone that I got to keep tabs on her (and entertain her) but I am not as steady as a sniper, so the video production quality blows. I'm a techie, so I figure I can do this better than a cell phone. I attached a 1080P webcam, the Logitech C615 http://amzn.to/1JSF2fa to a tripod (it has the mounting built in) and positioned it above her desk.

Awesome!, looks great! but it's upside down... and the angle I have to get things at , it would be over her shoulder and it would be a mess logistically. I don't have another boom that I can incorporate into this, and now it is becoming a huge hassle. I figure I will fix it in software, just flip the image.  

An hour later, and many software trials and failures later, I "think" I can manage it with the Open Broadcasting software (https://obsproject.com/) I was originally using to stream the podcast. But that is less than intuitive to use, so what the hell am I missing?

This would be a problem on pretty much any platform, save smart phones...  The absolute easiest, not the best quality for sure but easiest, is to mount the cell phone to the tripod with a $7 accessory http://amzn.to/1ffUhC8 , manipulate the orientation by just rocking it until the gyroscope kicks to the right angle, maybe give it a charging cable and make sure it has enough space to record, and hit it. Seriously... 2 minutes to setup. Then even if I screw up there was a free app to flip the video. Then just go to the Youtube app and upload the video. No stress, it just works. 

WHY CAN'T MY COMPUTER DO THIS? I love my beast of a desktop and the power of my laptops, but seriously, for simple versatility and functionality a smart phone is absolute champion. Add a couple adapters, and send the video to a big screen and it will function for 90% or more of all you ever do on the web. If you are clever, you can use it to remote to another system, like your power house desktop, and crunch away at the heavy tasks or acquire files you need. 

Life these days is played out in the palms of our hands. It's no wonder everyone you see is looking down at their phones, they are actually living their life on that little screen, falling through the looking glass of untapped potential. I swear once I get my augmented reality glasses, I simply won't know what to do with myself. One day... One day at a time... 

Topic Tuesday #151 2015/06/09 "Mobility - The Urge To Travel"

Topic Tuesday #151 2015/06/09 "Mobility - The Urge To Travel"

Do you ever have the urge to do something that you haven't done in decades? I have found myself day dreaming. I want to travel. I want to see the country and meet fascinating people. I do not want to fly, that has become too stressful and expensive. I don't want to stay in hotels, though they are often fabulous, they are also too costly and inflexible in many ways. No.. I have a somewhat crazy idea to buy a travel trailer. 

I have a van that can tow 3,500 lbs. I'm not buying a truck just for this idea. I will use what I have and make it work. I have 2 children. If I plan on taking them, which I certainly do since camping is an American family tradition, I need room for them to sleep. If I want to take my significant other, then I have more berths to allocate with more offspring. I essentially need to look at a sleeping capacity of 6. The criteria of tow weight and number of bodies narrows down what I can look at significantly. A nice, snug fit: 184BH | 2015 JAY FLIGHT SLX  

There are a plethora of options out there, including the styles that pop out beds on the sides. Those models have more space, but have more moving parts. I grew up playing around in an old Winnebago (Brave Style). I have fond memories of that experience, but more than that, I see more potential. Should I go down this route, I want it simple, no setup beyond stabilizing. I want to open the door and be in a little home, or an office. This is not just a camper, this is a mobile command center, at getaway, a den, a club house - with a kitchen. I like this model because of the flow.

I have many aspirations. One day, I would like to just be mobile. Go wherever and setup and be home away from home. I fantasize about podcasting and writing from my mothership, being my own master. Wireless internet and cloud services have made staying connected an easy proposition. It could work. I could be doing it right now, and you would never know! 

Dare to dream.

But, as dreams go, this is quite an affordable option. Brand new, one of these is under $15,000. My van will be paid off soon, and this, this could be toddling behind me on my way to the next grand adventure. 

What do you think? Is camping your thing? Do you have dreams to escape the rat race? 

Topic Tuesday #148 2015/05/19 "Home Automation - Part 2"

Topic Tuesday #148 2015/05/19 "Home Automation - Part 2"

   Today I was thrust back into home automation with two things.

   The first was a bulb I was testing with SmartThings, the GE Link A19, Soft White (2700K), 60 Watt Equivalent. GE has an automation product line (www.wink.com), similar to SmartThings (but limited to lighting only), which they say is a MUST for the A19. The Link A19 and the entire Philips Hue collection (which I have not delved into, yet), are compatible with the SmartThings system and any controller capable of using ZigBee protocol that we discussed some of in Part 1. .  The A19 does not change colors, but is quite bright and can dim to a very cozy level. At this time, the GE Link A19 will set you back about $15 from either Amazon http://amzn.to/1Hry9Or or Home Depot. They have a long life (22+ years 3 hours a day),  and at 12 watts max, they sip the juice. Even if they weren't capable of being controlled wirelessly, they make a great incandescent and CFL replacement.  And that brings me to the woe of why this bulb got my attention again today.

   There was a power outage and for the second time, the bulb lost connection to the hub and had to be removed and added back to the system. This is only a big deal because SmartThings will not allow you to delete a device if there is an "app" linked to it. I had this bulb programmed to slowly come on at dawn and then to come on at sunset. BTW, having a bright light near you when you are trying to wake up, does help. So that was a bit of a pain, and with the power situation I have here in Florida, brown outs happen quite a lot. I moved it to a UPS next to my bed so I have my alarm, my device chargers, and this on backup so I will never be late waking up (due to minor technical failures).  But this is impractical if I wanted to use it in a location that I can't slap a backup on... Still, it's a great bulb when it works and when it's not smart, it's still pretty good for the price. I will be looking at other bulbs soon. 

   The second thing that snapped me to attention was a tremendous sale on an item that I had my eye on. Amazon was running this beauty at 83% off. Aeon Labs AEDSB09104ZWUS Aeotec Z-Wave Smart Energy Monitor http://amzn.to/1BaP1nQ

Aeon Labs Aeotec Smart Energy Monitor

Aeon Labs Aeotec Smart Energy Monitor

"What does that do?" you might ask yourself, and that's a great question. It is an energy flow meter. It has two current transformer clamps the go around the AC mains in the house's breaker panel/load center to detect energy usage for the entire house. You could use the clamps around the hot and neutral power for other heavy equipment if you can separate them, but I will leave that hacking to your imaginations. For my use, it will be installed in the load center for my home, and will monitor and report the power habits of my household. I will be able to chart average usage, and them modify my behavior for greater energy savings. I will also be using it to figure out the exact amounts for when I install my generator transfer switch and can make the best use out of those watts in an emergency. This monitor is easy to install and will not require an electrician. From what I have found, it will operate on battery for about a year, but will provide rapid feedback if plugged into an external source. More on that and more in a later post. 

Topic Tuesday #135 2015/02/17 "Home Automation - Part 1"

Topic Tuesday #135 2015/02/17 "Home Automation - Part 1"

This week I decided to use some of my tax return and jump into the mysterious world of home automation. I'm going to be going through all the bits and pieces on here and with reviews in Cowen's Corner. This is just a tease, as I'm still letting the dust settle.

I went with the SmartThings ecosystem.

There were three primary reasons for why this product and not one of the many others.

1) Cost - The SmartThings Hub was among the least expensive for the features offered. It's a pay once solution with no subscription fees.
2) Flexibility - The SmartThings ecosystem works with the major standards of "internet of things" and home automation. Primarily "Z-Wave" is represented along with the "ZigBee" protocol. These standards make up the backbone of the "internet of things" in your connected home. If you have a security system that has wireless sensors on doors and windows, you might already have some of these in your home.
3) Integration with other pioneers on the internet. So far, I would be lost without recipes from IFTTT (IF This Then That) For instance, IFTTT allows me to record when the front door is locked or unlocked to a spreadsheet on my Google Drive. It is location aware based on my phone., so if I leave the area it will lock the door and turn off my phone's WiFi. I've also set times of day for when that door should be locked by default. It makes that happen and sends me an alert and records it on the sheet. With other partners like Life360 (which I just came across) you can really get a handle on how your family can benefit from some automation and the piece of mind of know where anyone is at a given time.

I've just scratched the surface and it will be an adventure - not the cheapest adventure, but well worth exploring.

What would you automate?

Topic Tuesday #107 2014/08/05 "Some Assembly Required"

Topic Tuesday #107 2014/08/05 "Some Assembly Required"

Today is a day I have been waiting for for a very long time, so even though there are many things in the world I would like to talk about, I can't bring myself to do anything but take pictures and grab a screwdriver. My RigidBot 3D printer has arrived!

I backed the RigidBot KickStarter May 10th, 2013. They had some issues with the manufacturing process and quality control from their China mass production vendors. I don't mind, as life has been plenty busy in between and with age comes a greater degree of patience. That said... I'm outta here like a kid on a new bike at Christmas! See you next week!

Nice custom injection molded Styrofoam packaging.

Nice custom injection molded Styrofoam packaging.

Layer 1, power supply, stepper motors instructions, etc.

Layer 1, power supply, stepper motors instructions, etc.

Layer 2, PLA Material, custom cover, and spooler rack.

Layer 2, PLA Material, custom cover, and spooler rack.

Layer 3, bottom. Pretty much all the heavy stuff.

Layer 3, bottom. Pretty much all the heavy stuff.

Topic Tuesday #93 2014/04/29 "Gun Safety - Hell No!?"

Topic Tuesday #93 2014/04/29 "Gun Safety - Hell No!?"


The iP1 the first "smart gun" for sale in the United States.   Credit Monica Almeida/The New York Times

The iP1 the first "smart gun" for sale in the United States.CreditMonica Almeida/The New York Times

Last night a story came across my news feed that made me sit up and take notice. It was a beautiful fire arm that I swore was a movie prop. (See Picture) http://nyti.ms/1fHGKgi

The iP1 is quite a stunning looking pistol. It's a .22 caliber and will only fire when a 5 digit pin is input into the watch and is within 10 inches of it. As a technologist, I personally foresee the technology could be embedded in any personal item, as the watch is not as attractive as the gun, that could be a good thing for the $1,800 firearm... That is if the gun, and its technology, are ever able to make it to market. Second Amendment activists flooded social media site like Calguns.net, and called for vigilante-style investigations of Ms. Padilla and Armatix.  One user commented that he had no issues with "...the idea of personally and professionally leveling the life of someone who has attempted to profit from disarming me and my fellow Americans."

The gun lobby in the U.S. is far less concerned (and I'm not being hyperbolic) with the safety of the public than they are with the ability to manufacture and sell guns without any additional safety mechanisms, or smart technology. The company, Armatix, and its chief representative here in the states, Belinda Padila have been ostracized and harassed as part of a campaign to shut down the sale of the iP1 smart gun. They are not alone either, as just last year a study found that 3 other companies came out with a smart safety system for firearms. We haven't heard much about them either...

From the times article:

"Second Amendment defenders argue that once guns with high-tech safety features go on sale, government mandates will follow. They cite a decade-old New Jersey law requiring that within three years of the recognition technology’s becoming available in the United States, all guns sold in the state would have to be “smart.”

“Are we concerned?” asked Lawrence G. Keane, general counsel of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the trade association for gun manufacturers. “Yes.”

The National Rifle Association, in an article published on the blog of its political arm, wrote that “smart guns,” a term it mocks as a misnomer, have the potential “to mesh with the anti-gunner’s agenda, opening the door to a ban on all guns that do not possess the government-required technology.”

Padila and Armatrix continue to look for retailers. Personally, If I was to have a gun in my house, you better believe it would be an owner recognition system. 

A friend pointed out that there may be a better marketing strategy that they missed out on. That if the caliber was the same as is used in the military and law enforcement side arms that they would have a larger target market and potential for more lateral support.  I hope Armatix is listening and coming out with a Desert Eagle equivalent. And if it looks as slick as this model, you might even see it in your next buddy cop film, unless the gun nuts get their way. Eventually, common sense should win out. There have been too many casualties and this allows people to retain their rights to bare arms and adds a layer of protection. Imagine no more accidental deaths from children shooting their siblings in the face. I would like to never see another story like that again.

Topic Tuesday #90 2014/04/08 - "XP's last update"

On October 25, 2001, Windows XP was released. It was based on the very stable core kernel of it's enterprise predecessor, Windows 2000. Now, a little over 12 years later, the most successful product Microsoft has ever released is at it's end of life. For real this time. They tried to kill it off several times, but the business community grew very reliant on the beloved operating system. Today it lives inside ATMs, nuclear power stations, enriching uranium, running mass spectrometers, air traffic control, voice dictation system, automated response gear, assembly lines, security system, lighted signs, and so much more. It is an interesting lesson in success, and how too much can be a bad thing.

You see, XP is not broken. There is nothing wrong with it. It runs great on older hardware and even better on new hardware. There was even a 64 bit version that could take advantage of lots of processors and RAM, though it was not popular and drivers were lacking, making it very niche. No... the reason to move on is not because it is even outdated. Security patches, right up to today and beyond for enterprise customers (at $1 Million a piece), keep it safe and even add new features. Surly the only real reason to move on and end the support drip is to force people to upgrade, and pay for the new operating system. This is very reminiscent of the Y2K incident we had in 1999. Almost noting was going to break then, and really, it wouldn't break now. 

OK, let's look at it without the hype. What will happen when the updates and security patches stop coming? If you run as a limited user, or are not on the internet at all with the machine (like it runs an ATM <they have dedicated connections to do their business, not the internet at large> or any task that does not require the internet, nothing will happen. Genuinely, nothing. They will keep on running as normal. What about grandma and grandpa? Yes, they are vulnerable, but they will likely always be vulnerable. If you click on that chain mail that was wanting you to do something and share this or that, they are taking an interactive action on that and giving access and explicit permission to do something, good or bad. If they are running as a User, and they always call you to install software or add a new bit of kit, like a scanner or printer, then it maybe the case they can't install it with their account and 95% of the infections that require administrative rights will fail to infect the machine. That is very good, as the remaining 5% may have been unavoidable. 

But we all want something new eventually, and now with Windows 7 and Windows 8.1, we have some great options. These options cost money, but many of the machines out there may need to be replaced. Enterprises do equipment refreshes on an annual basis, with hardware retirement falling off either at the end of the manufactures warranty period or a year or 2 after. This makes the typical refresh time about 4 years. For home users, this number is very different. Most folks let the machines run until they fail, and then they will make the mad dash to get a new machine and get up and running again. If this is your scenario, I recommend going back to one of our earlier posts on backing up your PC.

Don't get me wrong, I like the new operating systems. I am a power user and outgrew Windows XP a long time ago due to the memory restrictions. The point here is to not panic. 

If you feel no urgency in upgrading your machine or the software, get yourself off of the administrator account. There are lots of YouTube videos out there to help with setting up a limited user in Windows XP. Next, stop using INternet explorer, since it will not be updated anymore. Google's Chrome browser is feature rich and automatically updates. It is a very secure browser platform. Chrome can be a little resource intensive, so if your old machine is a little light on resources, try Mozilla Firefox. It too is feature rich and updates automatically. What ever browser you choose, just stop using IE. Be careful of everything you click on the web. The best way attackers have to get in is fooling you into clicking a link and letting them in. As a limited user you limit the ability of this attack. If you can uninstall Adobe Flash, Oracle's Java, and Adobe Acrobat platforms, you should. These are consistently rated the number one attack vectors for malicious software. 

Microsoft is extending support of their Security Essentials for XP product for another year. Come 2015, I hope you either are on a new machine or have installed a third party antivirus like AVG or Kapersky.

Play it safe out there, and if you need help, I know a guy.