Turn it down!


After setting off a MyJoulo logger just before Christmas, it’s already finished its week of temperature logging; this holiday is definitely going way too quickly!

The website seems a bit temperamental but after a few failed attempts to log on and several stalls loading and processing the data, it came up with a pretty unsurprising result:

web-report

Yep, the thermostat is definitely set on the warm side.

Still, it was interesting to get another vote on what the temperature actually is, having previously got conflicting readings from several other thermometers. (It seems I should recalibrate the thermostat back up a degree!) It was also interesting to see it showing the outside temperature, which must be based on the address details used to send the logger in the first place. Both indoor and outdoor readings seem to match what I was expecting:

temp-comparison

Over all I definitely like the concept of re-usable data logging to give personalised advice, and MyJoulo is a pretty good beta. Aside from some confusion about what colour it flashes when it arrives, the logger seems to work well. At the end of the week you just plug the logger into a USB port to get a simple text file containing all the temperature data, and a device serial number.

The web site seems to have more teething problems but it did eventually work. I had assumed you need to log on to analyse the data but luckily they must link the serial number to your details since I wasn’t able to log on at all, even after resetting the password. I guess that I won’t get someone else’s details if I upload the file again after the logger has been reused but I have a copy of the data file just to see what happens in a few weeks!

The other slight disappointment was the actual analysis, which seems very basic. You can add your annual heating bill, but it might have been useful to get people to enter meter readings at the start and end of the week. It would also be nice to take account of temperatures in different rooms- maybe by sending a different number of loggers based on registration questions about where the thermostat is, or whether there are thermostatic radiator valves for example. Or you could just use a single logger in different locations over a few weeks instead. Maybe this is something that will develop over time.

The logger is now back in the return envelope ready to send off for its next mission.

Early Christmas Joulo


After a tweet from @andysc I ordered a free Joulo logger– well free stuff is always hard to resist! Plus, since the Hursley CurrentCost craze (also Andy’s fault?!) it’s seemed like the first few days of monitoring are the most valuable and that, in most cases, you could just borrow a monitor. So there was a nice surprise in the post today- a logger and a freepost envelope to send it back after a week. Neat. Much better idea than a load of energy monitors gathering dust in peoples cupboards.

myjoulo

After a bit of confusion/user error about what colour the flashing button was, it’s now sat on top of the thermostat recording the temperature. (Apparently it’s supposed to arrive flashing orange, which is clearly not green like it is after pressing the button, doh!) It’ll be very interesting to see what it comes up with at the end of the week, especially after I had a collection of thermometers all showing different values while trying to figure out if the temperature on thermostat was right the other day!

To be continued!

Mad thermostat plan


Something I’ve really wanted to have a go at for a long time is hacking together a smarter heating system. The long process of moving house prevented any progress until now but I think a few things fell in to place today to get the project off the ground. And so a slightly mad thermostat plan was hatched…

The first part of the puzzle is a side effect of getting a solar water panel; to make the most of the solar panel we should only be using the boiler to top up the hot water at the end of the day. (Obviously that’s just theoretical at the moment because its pretty much been raining non stop since we got the solar panel!) Unfortunately the current central heating controller will only turn on the heating if the hot water is on at the same time, which is no help at all, so we really need a new controller to make the most of our zero carbon supply of hot water. There’s another, purely aesthetic reason to want a new heating controller; the kitchen upgrade got under way this week and the old controller has seen better days.

The current kitchen destruction has a bigger part to play though; now is an ideal opportunity to hide cables behind the new cupboards. For a while that didn’t actually seem like it was going to be all that much help, based on where the old thermostat was (hidden behind a door in the living room). I was looking at various programmable thermostats but the existing wiring from the thermostat restricted the options somewhat. The programmable thermostat we had in the old house seemed to work quite well with the existing wiring and controller… as long as the battery was fresh, otherwise it got confused about the temperature. Obviously not ideal for a thermostat, so I was hoping to avoid batteries this time!

Then, while being distracted by the wonky light switches yet again, inspiration struck…

The house hasn’t been constructed with the greatest care in the world, but those switches just could not have been original. The only thing that makes sense is if they were another botched DIY job, and it seemed highly unlikely that anyone would have dropped another cable run down the wall to do it. My hunch, based on the fact that there’s a water cylinder directly above those switches, is that there’s a horizontal cable run between the two. I checked, and… eureka! So now it’s a simple job to put both switches back on the same box, leaving an empty recessed box with a now bare kitchen wall behind it, making it perfect to run a new thermostat cable through the back of the box and round to the boiler! (Well I was pretty excited by this plan at the time.)

The thermostat to finish off this puzzle is a Heatmiser combined programmable thermostat and hot water timer. My theory is that I need the PRT/HW-N thermostat to go in the living room and a PRC powered relay card in place of the old central heating controller. I’m almost certain that the wiring will work with the existing system anyway, but if anyone has any experience/tips/gotchas, please let me know! That programmable thermostat should give me an RS485 interface to the thermostat which, if all goes well, won’t be too difficult to connect to my nanode– either with a bit of soldering, or one of these IO shields if I’m feeling lazy! The thing I like about this arrangement is that it should be possible to achieve plenty of automation if all goes well but, if there are any technical hitches, there’s a decent off the shelf controller to fall back on.

Update: a quick update since I’m doing some head scratching over whether the existing wiring from the central heating timer to the junction box in the airing cupboard will allow the heating to run independently from the hot water. If it does, the new thermostat is in place ready to go…

If it doesn’t, the new thermostat will just be a decorative feature while I figure out where I can sneak a new cable upstairs without disturbing the new kitchen! I don’t want to break the heating until I’m sure everything will work, so I’m working off a photo for now…

I’d love to hear from anyone who can decipher that lovely nest of wires! Here’s my theroy so far:

The black cable is the valve, and the other two cables that enter with it at the bottom are the pump and cylinder stat. It looks to me like the grey cable should be to turn the hot water off, which seems to be connected to the cylinder stat and a red wire from one of the cables above, which I’m hoping is from the timer. That just seems too easy for this house though, and I’m a bit puzzled by what the connections on the orange wire actually are. Lucky it’s all neatly connected and labelled so I can check the orange wire is connected to the cylinder stat and pump… bother. I guess I’m going to have to wait until Jo’s not looking so I can investigate more thoroughly!

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!

Geek Camp


As Jo was cheerfully telling someone on the phone on Monday, I was “at geek camp” at the start of the week, which was the second ‘camp’ I’ve been to recently. Still not entirely sure what they have to do with camping but here’s a quick summary of what they were about.

BarCamp Southampton

Southampton’s first BarCamp was held in not one, but two bars at the end of November; I think it needed two so that there was room for all the food! Chris has posted a much more detailed report, and Tony has a gallery of photos from the day, but these are the bits I remember:

And since it was more than a week ago, that’s pretty much all I can remember. Definitely a good day though, and the food and drink (plentiful tea) was excellent!

Design London

Ok, so not technically a camp, but a small detour on the way to Monday’s home camp to visit a 3D stereoscopic visualisation system. Nigel has been on secondment from IBM to Design London, and I’ve been meaning to drop in to see what he’s been up to for a while.

I have to say, I was more impressed by the 3D system than I was expecting, even with a couple of technical hitches while I was there. (I didn’t touch anything honestly!) Essentially it’s just a wall and floor screen with two (very bright) projectors each, polarising lenses and Shrek glasses. Ok, probably not Shrek glasses, as far as I know, but the same kind of thing. Actually, one of the most interesting things about the glasses was the head tracking markers which were stuck to them. These were an asymmetrical arrangement of reflective blobs on stalks, picked up by an array of infra-red cameras. They looked like an extension of the ordinary plastic frame of the glasses, but the texture gave away a 3D printer at work. A great example of the potential of 3D printing.

Nigel demonstrated a few projects that have made use of the system, and it’s immediately clear that this is more than just a 3D monitor, or even a 3D cinema screen. Particularly with the oil rig model he showed me, there’s a real sense of scale and there are some obvious advantages to really getting to know your way round a place like this before going on site. There are just so many possibilities for this technology, but moving swiftly on to the next camp…

HomeCamp 3

After Design London, and a quick stop to have a play with a Galaxy Tab (it’s soooo shiny!), it was time for some home hacking. Thanks to Mike for getting something organised before the end of the year, and thanks to all the excellent speakers as well.

It was also great to catch up with (another) Nigel and hear about the MSc he’s doing at the Centre for Alternative Technology. It sounds like there really is no such thing as a free lunch when it comes to energy, with some very interesting side effects to off shore wind farms and wave power.

It’s always good to hear what Usman and Pachube are up to. One of the things they have been up to this year was hiring Ben and I had a thought provoking chat with them about their extended tagging features. It also seems that I’m not the only one pumping data in to Pachube, but not getting much data out. Must do something about that.

Lots of other ideas floating around during the evening, including a USB 3 low voltage system with solar panels, a battery pack and some efficient AC-DC conversion which sounded interesting. Plus tablets seem like a really good way to add visuals to your elevator pitch!

The conversation didn’t slow down on the train home either, with Laura and Sophie talking about design, wire frames, nabaztag smart rabbits, exactly the kind of projects that Georgina was describing in her homesense presentation, and some very (very) cool sounding documentation automation stuff from Ana Nelson. (A bit like a micro Home Camp unleashed on a train. Maybe the Real Ale Train would be a good venue for a future event!)

So, not all that geeky really…

Update: according to Ken, that low voltage dc household power distribution system was from Moixa Technology. (23 January 2011)

Illuminations


It’s lasted a few years but sadly our old Christmas tree failed the strictest quality control standards required for indoor duties. Luckily there was an opening for front garden decoration, so it’s not out of work just yet. Doing a fine job too I think:

The lights are plugged in to a Home Easy socket, so I may be dusting off the arduino to control them, which would be an ideal excuse to give a Pachube Dashboard a try… as soon as I’ve finished the Christmas shopping that is!

Too busy to blog


I seem to have been far too busy to get any time for blogging lately. Actually, it’s the finishing off posts that I’ve been having trouble finding time for; I do still keep adding to the number of unpublished posts, with this selection boosting the number of drafts to 38:

  • Master Information Hub: Social Bookmark Search Transaction
  • My first Joggler app
  • Election results!
  • Icelandic Economy Bill
  • dub dub dub dot fail
  • Parking charge

Instead of finishing any of those off I’ve been…

…ordering a canvas for one of our wedding photos.

We’ve been married almost a year so it seemed like it would be a good idea to finally do something with some of our favourite photos!

The canvas has arrived, and looks great, but it’s still sealed in a back to keep all the dust off from…

…decorating the porch.

We have two front doors; one on the outside and one on the inside. I added the outer door not long after moving in to create small enclosed entrance hall/porch, which has been great for shoes, coats, assorted junk, and getting rid of anyone trying to sell something without letting out all the heat in the process. The old front door has needed a coat of paint ever since, but because I never look at the outside much I only painted the inside, until now. As a result, most of the house is currently covered in dust from all the sanding!

…playing with a new toy.

A bit of an impulse buy, but after gradually increasing the number of boxes I have plugged in all the time (ironic since it all started with the Current Cost meter!), I’ve cut down a few with a FRITZ!Box. Pretty happy with it so far: it’s a neat combination of ADSL wireless router, file/media server and DECT base station. Plus, thanks to a tip off from Jee Labs, @jthouse will soon be following @andy_house‘s lead and sending me an SMS if I miss any calls.

…not hacking the Joggler.

Apart from being in German, the FRITZ!Box media server works very well with the Joggler, so I’m still really happy to keep using the default Joggler software. For now that is: the Joggler appears to have been discontinued, and my question to O2 about creating Joggler apps seems to have vanished as well. I didn’t have much/any luck using Flash Develop, which is a shame because it seems to be a decent IDE, but Nick has been getting on pretty well on Linux. His Joggler music app looks very promising.

I have been keeping an eye on various Joggler hacks and the first one to have me seriously tempted, is Opera mobile running on the Joggler. I did briefly boot Ubuntu off a USB stick, but I don’t think it’s worth it just yet. On the other hand, Jolicloud does look like it might be ideally suited to running on the Joggler, unfortunately it doesn’t seem to work. I’m still hopeful that someone will get Jolicloud booting on the Joggler though; any ideas?

Actually, I think Sony have got a much better idea of how devices like the Joggler should work with the Dash. Getting something like that running on the Joggler would be awesome.

…thinking about home automation.

@lauracowen sparked off some great discussions on the Homecamp group, and I definitely like some of the ideas in Ian’s blog post. I had a chat to Laura on Friday, and the idea of a ‘boost’ is probably a good starting point. I’m sure that would help lower my gas bill, although I’m wondering whether an even lower tech solution might work with my existing heating controls. We often turn on the hot water to top it up, but forget to turn it off again. So, since there is currently no boost button, I’m tempted to just get a basic timer to sit next to the controller to set a reminder to come back and turn off the hot water after a short period. Or I guess I could even use the kitchen timer that’s already in the microwave.

…visiting London.

We spent yesterday in London, mainly to see The Woman in Black, which was excellent. It was hard to work out which of the blood-curdling screams were from the audience and which were part of the production! We also had some time to visit the National Gallery, which brought back a few memories of art lessons.

See how much things have changed since I ruined Turner’s Ulysses deriding Polyphemus with an oil rig?!

…watching Inception.

Really enjoyed Inception although, now I think about it, it’s riddled with plot holes that I never noticed at the time. Guess that’s pretty normal for dreams!

…blogging.

I’ve also been posting on the MDM Workbench blog, so there’ll be fewer work related posts on here now. (Still figuring out how to decide which blog to pick for MDM posts.)