Happy New Year!


Following Dan Power and Crysta Anderson’s lead, I’m going to kick off the new year with a look back at the most popular posts from 2010. So with barely a pause and not even a drum roll, the winners are…

1. My second CurrentCost development board circuit

Way out ahead at number one is the only circuit board I’ve completed and put to regular use. Still working fine, apart from a brief pause when the batteries ran out. Kind of regretting replacing the batteries just in time for the recent spell of cold weather!

2. Master Information Hub: Getting Started

Not a close second, but still respectably ahead of the pack, this post is one I regularly point people to the first time they use the MDM Workbench. Hopefully it’s helped a few people out this year.

3. New clock radio

Leading the pack is this surprise entry to the top ten. Unlike some Joggler owners, I still use it fairly regularly and, apart from the occasional experiment, I’m still using the O2 software it came with. I did give Jolicloud another go yesterday, to see whether a little bluetooth keyboard helps; nice, but just not quite fast enough to switch permanently. Might give MeeGo a try next.

4. Get off my hashtag

Had a really interesting chat at the last homecamp about tagging, so this is a subject I’m likely to return to this year.

5. Weather Underground + Mashup Hub + Pachube = orb food

Maybe it’s just me but I get quite excited about the potential that this kind of data mashup has. Perhaps it’s because I’ve seen what you can do with enterprise data and software like Message Broker; now imagine the possibilities with open data and simple ways for anyone to manipulate it. (That’s not manipulation in the political sense of course!)

6. Master Information Hub: Social Bookmark Services

This follows on from the number 2 post, while the third in the series has some catching up to do and didn’t make the top 10. I also have some has some catching up to do; I hope to get to the next instalment early this year.

7. Liberal Democrats can’t win here

Politicians, gotta love ’em. I wonder how these graphs will look if we get proportional representation for the next election.

8. Home Easy ambient orb

All soldered together but not yet receiving that lovely data from the number 5 post. I’m currently pondering whether to just hard code things ‘for now’ or hack some more so that the three orbs could be programmed using the BlinkM sequencer.

9. Digital House Arrest

Politicians again. Really. Very. Annoying. I never did get a reply to my last letter to my MP, Chris Huhne.

10. Manifesto

Given that all politicians seem to be as bad as each other I was half tempted to stand as a RON (reopen nominations) candidate Anyone else up for a For The Win party next time?!

Highly commended: It takes two

Not actually in the top ten but this post about Hedge End twinning deserves an honourable mention for the great comments about Frome’s twins.

Happy new year!

Explaining the auto kitchen light plan


Since a few people seem interested/skeptical on Twitter, here’s a very quick explanation of a small update to the kitchen lights. Since getting a Current Cost meter it’s been obvious that the biggest waste of electricity are the halogen spotlights in the kitchen. (It amazes me that ordinary incandescent light bulbs are being phased out while at the same time many new houses are full of halogen bulbs, but that’s for a future post!)

Most of the time the two lights under the cupboards would be good enough, but the switch for those is a bit hidden away, so we usually use the five ceiling lights instead. The first part of the cunning kitchen light plan is to connect the two worktop lights to a Home Easy remote control ceiling switch. Now we could put an ordinary remote switch in easy reach next to the main light switch but where’s the fun in that? I got tentative spousal approval to use an indoor PIR remote control instead…

Results so far seem promising: the lights aren’t triggered walking past the kitchen because the sensor is looking inwards from above the existing light switch, and there’s often no need to resort to the manual switch to turn on the electricity burning main lights… which is actually quite lucky because they aren’t there at the moment!

Only temporarily removed due to some planned ceiling painting* but it was a good excuse to automate the backup lights.

* Well, it seemed pointless painting the tiny ceiling in the porch on it’s own, so the kitchen is getting a fresh coat as well.

My second CurrentCost development board circuit


My first attempt at monitoring gas use with a CurrentCost development board was partially successful. I could get a reasonable idea of when the boiler was firing but I didn’t really find that information particularly useful. So, plan B was to actually count the pulses from the gas meter. The second circuit, which is described in the 8. More about triggering section of this 555 timer page, has been running ok for a few weeks now, so I’m thinking about actually soldering it together. Thanks to Richard for suggesting VeeCAD, which led me to TinyCad, this is circuit number two (much easier than using MS Paint!).

I’ve been using R1 and C1 values of 122k Ohms and 47u F for the 555 timer, to trigger an output pulse that’s just long enough to get transmitted by the CurrentCost development board (~6 seconds). I may yet tinker with the timing to make it long enough for three transmissions; the time between pulses on the gas meter is long enough and it might make receiving pulses more reliably.

Thanks to Mark and Andrew for some ideas for laying out a circuit on strip board, here’s what I hope is the same circuit using VeeCAD:

Might get the soldering iron out next time Jo’s away!

Update: For plenty more advice on moving from breadboard to a more permanent prototype, have a look on the Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories blog. (11 March 2010)

Update: Finally got round to pulling everything off the breadboard and soldering it together…

…and it actually still works! (14 March 2010)

Get off my hashtag


I’m still not completely convinced by hashtags on twitter. On the plus side, they can make following what people are saying about a show (#bbcrevolution) or an event (#iod2010) easier. On the other hand, these are a few random thoughts about the downside to hashtags…

Hashtags are common property, which is not a problem when people are cooperating to join threads of conversation, but it’s easy to see how that could #fail:

  • I might think #iod is a great tag for Information on Demand, but there are plenty of others who think it means something else.
  • An ‘official’ hashtag can avoid some of the confusion but, even if you manage to stake your claim to something unique enough, you can’t control it. While #bbcrevolution was talking about denial of service attacks, I was thinking about how easy it would be for anyone to launch a denial of hashtag attack. Not to mention when marketing tags get hijacked.
  • If there isn’t an official or obvious hashtag for something, it’s easy to end up with multiple hashtags. A bit of discussion can usually get things on track, but it always seems a little odd talking about the tag, rather than the subject of the tag.

And finally, the situation that got me thinking about hashtags in the first place. When different people use the same tag for almost the same thing, especially if one of those uses is much noisier than the other(s). In this case, tweets related to the Current Cost meter, and automated Current Cost meter readings have both used the #currentcost tag. Not a huge problem, except it would be easy to miss interesting information if the tag was swamped by even a few tweetjects posing meter readings:

“seems a shame that @mmnHouse is inserting the #currentcost hashtag to their house temp and elec reading. creates major noise” @yellowpark

“thinking we need a new hashtag for #CurrentCost stuff: one for bots and noisy automated stuff, another for discussion. what do people think?” @dalelane

“@dalelane How about #CurrentCostData ? I agree my searches are becoming muddled with people’s bots, and not information on #currentcost” @cumbers

“@dalelane Agreed – It frustrates me no end having countless #currentcost tweets popping up all day!” @markphelan

“thinking we should use a specific hashtag for tweeting #currentcost data to avoid creating noise. any suggestions? #ccdata ?” @yellowpark

“Moving from #currentcost hashtag to #mymeter with a data format for auto graphing.Join in discussion at http://is.gd/7b0si (via @ScaredyCat)” @stuartpoulton

So one solution is to agree on uses for #currentcost, #currentcostbot, #ccdata, #mymeter, etc. which is likely to work reasonably well for the Current Cost audience, but it may not be as practical for every situation.

Alternatively, as well as being able to mute retweets, it would be handy to be able to mute selected people using a hashtag in a way you’re not interested in. Even better if lists could be muted: if I could mute any tweets containing the #currentcost hashtag from anyone in my @jtonline/tweetject list, this problem goes away.

So, a fairly random collection of #thoughts on #hashtags. What are yours?

The cake fairy


Reentry from honeymoon to real life was softened a bit by this…

HomeCake

…which was waiting for us when we got home this morning.  Looks like the cake fairy got in while we were away! And the milk fairy had restocked the fridge so we could start making up for missed tea without any shopping delays!

It’s been a fantastic September so far, but it’s not over yet. The rest of the month I will mostly be:

  • Married!
  • Unpacking
  • Going back to work tomorrow- urg!
  • Catching up (what’s been happing the last few weeks? Anything interesting?)
  • Writing lots of thank you letters
  • Looking at wedding photos
  • Looking at honeymoon photos
  • Finding out why @jthouse is frozen
  • Working on my second CurrentCost development board circuit (this time sensing pipe temperature- any clues?!) inspired by the homecamp blog
  • Taking things apart
  • Going to another wedding!
  • Other stuff I’ll find out about when I risk looking at my inbox in the morning

But first, of course, I’ll be eating cake! (And sleeping!)

My first CurrentCost development board circuit


The result of a fair bit of googling and a weekend of hacking is… [drum roll]… a circuit to connect my gas meter to a CurrentCost Envi using a nice little dev board from CurrentCost

cc-circuit

Now I’m much more familiar with messing about with software, not all this messy hardware stuff, so I’m really hoping to get some feedback to improve this early prototype!

So, my theory is that the stuff on the left will trigger the timer on the positive edge of the pulse from the gas meter. R1 and C1 control the 555 timing; more on that in a second. And the stuff on the right (LED and the CurrentCost dev board) should be triggered whenever the gas meter is running and emitting pulses. It all seems to work, except that I can’t seem to get the timing quite right. The gas meter takes about 1m40s between pulses, and I can choose values for R1 and C1 that trigger the output for the right length of time when a single pulse is detected, unfortunately subsequent pulses don’t keep the output on as I was hoping. The best I’ve managed is with R1 = 3M ohms and C1 = 100uF, which does stay on as long as there are pulses from the meter… unfortunately just for a little too long at 5 minutes. Still, at least the CurrentCost Envi will get a reading all the time the boiler is running, and it won’t get stuck on if the meter stops on the portion of the dial where the reed switch is closed.

Any comments with glaring errors, small problems, improvements, or a completely different way to do it?!

Updated: looks like I was having problems with left and right in my first description! Hopefully I’ve got them the right way round now! (2 July 2009)

Update: for an alternative approach (latching a pulse and clearing it when the cc board transmits) take a look at the circuit and photos on John’s blog. (9 July 2009)

Update: an on/off indicator for the boiler hasn’t been all that useful. Instead, to count pulses, I’ve now modified the circuit to simply trigger an output pulse that’s long enough to get transmitted by the CurrentCost development board (~6 seconds). The circuit is described in the 8. More about triggering section of this 555 timer page, with R1 and C values of 122k Ohms and 47u F. (25 January 2010)

Update: posted some more info. on my second CurrentCost development board circuit. (23 February 2010)