New Windows PC

a mac
Now I know what people mean when they says its the best Windows PC they've ever used!

So far have only got a few things installed, but Parallels with Windows 7, Office, Outlook and Zarafa connector covers the "corporate-type email" that I might be missing.

Just a quick hotkey between OSX and Windows... Awesome. And very neat integration.


A generic datastore for home monitoring/automation

For a year or more I've been storing temperature readings from 3 probes several times a minute.

The probes themselves are all hooked up to a Nanode that's still in "dev mode" (i.e. a mess on my desk), albeit that one of the probes is actually dangling outside and so providing useful temperature readings (which are input into Cortex - that runs our heating - but more on that another time). The data is sent by the nanode to a server where some php code deciphers it and puts it into a mysql database. More php supports graphing it and a bit more php formats data into xAP packets and sends it to Cortex.

I found that I was changing the database schema when I wanted to add something and because I was using the database as an integration point, with multiple pieces/apps reading from it I would then have to make matching changes to each part at the same time (ironically I realise this is a pain I've been on the receiving end of in my day job for the past couple of years too).

This got me wondering if using a full relational database was really necessary, whether it was use using it as an integration point and maybe some of the "new-fangled nosqls" would be better - given I'm mostly just storing "a few" key/values in a relatively flat structure.

Smart meter - Dumb implementation

Our electricity supplier (currently British Gas) have just done a meter exchange fitting us with a "Smart Meter" instead of the really old analogue wheel variety. The new meter has a mobile modem & sends daily readings back to them so no more estimated bills, ever.

Connecting things up

A long term projects has been to build some smaller temperature sensors that can be dotted around the house. These would store data back centrally but mainly be used to feed additional room data into the Idratek Cortex system that controls the house heating.

This has ended up being a project made up of part development and part integration but as of today I've got the initial integration of the various components working - albeit to a limited extent.

It all starts with a little Nanode board. Wedged above it is a small digital temperature sensor.

The green cable is to the network. Every few seconds the Nanode makes a pretty rudimentary web call to a predefined web address (which happens to be a VM on my server, but where & what isn't that important). The call includes an identity of the Nanode (there will be several eventually) and a set of temperature readings from each of the (currently one) sensors.

The server (running some basic php) stores the data into a database.

To help me test the interaction this far, the server also hosts a very basic web page that lists the last few readings received, displays a big red "Temperature now" reading and has a graph of the last 100 readings. As I'm lazy, it auto refreshes and the same frequency as the Nanode transmits. Here's an image of it on the iPad:

Display on iPadDisplay on iPad

The next step is to get this temperature data pushed into Cortex and recognised there as data for one of the objects defined in Cortex. To make this leap, I'm using the xAP automation protocol which is support by Cortex for both inbound & outbound transfer.

Another module of rudimentary code is on the same server that receives/stores the data. This takes the last two readings and if they differ (the assumption here is a temperature change) then the code builds an xAP packet and squirts it at the Cortex server. xAP is apparently normally a broadcast protocol but as the two servers involved here are on different networks the xAP packet is sent unicast so it'll get routed to the destination (in reality the 2 VMs are both on the same physical server but are on different networks for reason that once made more sense than now). For speed and convenience this module is currently triggered by the refresh of the web page so wont actually work unless that page is being viewed somewhere, but now it's working I'll move the trigger to a cron or something similar.

Finally, Cortex receives the packet, pulls the data out and applies it to the DTS Temperature Sensor module defined in the guest bedroom.

Energy usage

I've been taking meter readings from both the gas & electricity meters on a regular basis since our last full supplier change in July 2008. The interval between each reading has been between 1 and 24 days after the previous (generally about once a week) and at a consistant(-ish) time of between 11pm and midnight. The time is less important for long durations reads but more important to avoid skews on 1- or 2-day intervals.

The resulting charting shows our peak daily usage at the very start of January and again a little later the same month

CFLs in the kitchen

I'm not fully convinced about CFLs.
Are they really better for the planet?
Do they really save money?

But despite my sceptism, I'm putting CFLs into our kitchen GU10s

GU10 CFLs (aka energy saving spots)

I decided it was time to fit low-energy bulbs in our kitchen/diner. We currently have 2 surface mounted fittings, a 4-spot bar fitting in the kitchen area and a circular 3-spot in the diner area. There are signs that the 4-spot was a replacement for a traditional florescent tube whilst the 3-spot probably replaced a simple pendant lamp.

Basic insulation

One of the aims of the technology & automation is to improve the efficiency of the heating system in the house. However putting in heat more effectively is only one part of the story. The other, of course, is reducing heat losses. Whilst this is not nearly as gadget driven it's nevertheless and essential part of the story...


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Further switch to Cortex heating management

After running the top floor heating fully controlled by Cortex for about a week , I've now switched over our first floor so that only the ground floor is left under old-fashioned timer control.

CurrentCost: behaviour modification starts...

The Current Cost unit I ordered earlier in the week arrived today.

Immediately it was out of the box to be set up. Suprised that it actually came with a 20 page user guide I decided to follow the instructions rather than ignoring them till something went wrong. For a change the instructions were clear and useful.

Current Cost

I've been meaning to do this for a few weeks, but I've just got round to ordering a Current Cost unit... Looking forward to having a play and then probably driving people nuts by knowing how many pence per year things cost to run!

Traditional Easter weekend - yup, DIY, DIY, DIY !

It's been a traditional easter weekend with wall-to-wall work on the house & garden. Mostly the garden; typical when it's cold & wet too. So far only one visit to B&Q!

The power of many people has yet again been proved with a complete replacement the old decking to the rear (which was rotting) with lovely new in just 6 hours (including stops for bacon butties, coffee, tea, pizza, tea, coffee,....).

Are the sneaky fellows at Yahoo crippling existing MusicMatch installations?

 So, if you read the above, you'll know I've re-downloaded & re-installed the latest MusicMatch Jukebox.  But are Yahoo pushing out malware that cripples  the installations of  troublesome folk that have resisted the "upgrade" to Yahoo Jukebox or worse... like me.. "downgraded" back the  better features of MusicMatch ?

Long Live MusicMatch Jukebox

Musicmatch JukeboxI've been using MusicMatch Jukebox for years - I think since something like 1998/99.  Anyway, a long time.  It was such a good app that I quickly paid for their "plus" version which even included future upgrades.  Fab.  Happy as can be I kept on upgrading from time to time through till 2007.  But the upgrade to Yahoo Music Jukebox was utter rubbish so I've got rid of it.  Seems I'm not the only one that hated it.