Nanode 343


I got hold of a Nanode kit after the excellent OggCamp last weekend and yesterday I got round to putting it together, just sneaking in before the Nanode’s first anniversary!

Nanode connected to Freeduino

It’s not doing anything exciting in that photo (just connected to a spare Arduino board in the absence of an FTDI cable) but shorty afterwards, thanks to Andy’s post, it was turning an LED on and off using the power of the internet! Ok, so maybe a Pachube dashboard is overkill for an LED, but I have a weather feed I’ve been meaning to connect to an ambient orb for a while… except I seem to have packed that for moving house already!

The Nanode is a great kit and eventually I’d really like to get it hooked up to the central heating, but I expect other DIY projects will delay that for a little while.

Update: check out this brilliant video of @knolleary building Nanode 349! It took me much longer!! (25 August 2011)

It takes two


For anyone who couldn’t hear at the back (or perhaps even missed the live version completely!) here’s a recap of my slightly random BarCamp Southampton lightning talk. The loosely-connected-to-the-theme-of-the-day title on the schedule was:

AR Twinning or The perils of Town Twinning – modernising with augmented reality

As you drive in to many towns, you’ll probably recognise a sign like this:

Not the snow, although maybe that will start looking familiar, or “Hedge End”, or even the useful driving tip, but the bit in between; “Twinned with…” In this case a town in Belgium that I know almost nothing about. (I really should try and find out how to pronounce the name.)

It wasn’t the signpost that inspired the lightning talk though; it was an announcement in the local newsletter that the twinning association was dissolving. I wonder how many people could name the places their town is twinned with, know anything about it, have visited, or even know why towns have twins, so I’m not all that surprised about Hedge End’s lack of interest in twinning activities.

So is there a way to revitalise town twinning? Something that might help is lowering the barriers to participation; not everyone can commit to formal activities or take on permanent roles in a twinning association. Providing a means for ad hoc encounters between people in the twinned towns could naturally lead to more interest in finding out more and getting more involved. But how do you do that when Hedge End and Comines-Warneton are around 300km apart?

You could create some Twinning 2.0 social web site but for me that somehow loses the physical connection between the towns. Why would you choose people in one town over anywhere else in the world? Would a shared physical space be possible and, if so, would it stimulate more interest in an otherwise remote place?

So my hair brained scheme involves a signpost in each town. Not the kind you drive past, but one right in the centre pointing the way to the twinned town. A traditional sign from Hampshire might look something like this:

I had less luck finding one for Belgium, but you get the general idea:

If a town only has one twin, it might be a nice touch to switch the signs round, so Hedge End would have a sign post you’d normally see in Comines-Warneton.

Next, add some ambient indication of what’s going on at the other sign. In particular, it needs to catch people’s attention if there is anyone near the remote sign. Winchester’s Luminous Motion might provide some inspiration here:

This sculpture only reacts when it receives a text message, but the twinned signposts would need to communicate with each other automatically, and pachube could be an ideal way to do just that:

So if you’re walking past the sign post in Hedge End, and it indicates that there is someone near the sign post in Comines-Warneton, what next? With modern smart phones and augmented reality the possibilities are endless, from a simple chat, to video feeds, to exchanging town photos, to virtual tours, to AR games, to anything people in the towns come up with.

I realise of course that not everyone has these kind of devices (me included) but there’s a library in Hedge End which could conceivably loan them to people. Some of the activities would also be possible via any internet connection, but now there’s a highly visible physical focal point in each town providing an anchor to tie it all together. At least, that’s the theory!

I did finish the talk by claiming it would never happen, but it would be really nice to be proved wrong, and maybe the two sign posts could exist in a virtual form to begin with. Thanks to everyone who was there for the lightning talk in person, and thanks to everyone who made BarCamp Southampton happen… but that’s for another post.

Update: thanks to Katy’s comments below, I’m very excited to discover that Murrhardt actually has a fingerpost pointing to its twins! (28 November 2010)

Images © their respective owners :

  • Hedge End sign – Jim Hart
  • Map – OpenStreetMap contributors, cc by-sa
  • Corhampton sign – Jim Champion, cc by-sa
  • N333 sign – Faz Besharatian, cc by-nc-sa
  • Luminous motion – Sumit, cc by-nc-sa
  • Pachube – Connected Environments Ltd.
  • Noticings Layer – James Bridle, cc by-nc-nd

Weather Underground + Mashup Hub + Pachube = orb food


The hardware side of my ambient orb project is almost finished, so I’ve been making a start at the other end: getting some data to display. Top of my wish list is to display a basic weather forecast on the orbs, which looks like it could be nice and simple thanks to the very handy Weather Underground service. There’s a decent weather station nearby for current readings, and the forecast for Southampton has been pretty accurate so far, both of which are available through the Weather Underground API.

I could process the resulting XML on my home server but, having been doing some work with mashups recently, I thought I’d create a feed mashup instead. I’ve played with Yahoo Pipes in the past but this time I created a feed using Mashup Hub on Lotus Greenhouse:

So that screen shot is probably not all that helpful in understanding what’s going on; this style of graphical programming is fairly common these days but I would personally like to see more advanced ways to document and share diagrams like this. Still, this one is pretty simple, so here’s a quick overview:

  • The path at the top extracts the current temperature from the local weather station data
  • The middle path makes use of some very handy date functions in Mashup Hub to pick out entries 12 hours ahead from the forecast data
  • The bottom path does a lookup on the forecast conditions to replace a text forecast with a numeric code

Which all ends up being published as a much simpler piece of XML. I could just grab this XML directly and process it on the Arduino, or I could save some effort and convert the mashed up XML to an even simpler comma separated list using an XML to CSV converter written for the Pachube community. Well, now it would be trivial to create a Pachube feed for the weather forecast as well… so here it is

Perhaps not the most direct route for getting a weather forecast but I think it’s a nice example of how anyone can pull together data they are interested in without any programming, or a server of their own. I’m also quite please with the results of the forecasts so far; 13 C and clear tomorrow in theory!

Current Cost gas meter monitoring?


As revealed at the second homecamp, Current Cost have a very nice addition to their array of energy monitoring tricks: basically a little circuit board sporting a microchip (a PIC16F689 if my squiniting is accurate) and a wireless transmitter, so the gas monitoring item on my to do list is looking a little more interesting all of a sudden.

Richard has already hooked up his gas meter to Pachube but for a few reasons I have slightly different plans. Firstly, my gas meter is not the same. Possibly better and worse for this kind of exercise at the same time: it has an RJ11 socket for counting pulses… but it is covered and declares that only approved equipment should be used. Maybe not a huge deal, but it is gas and we did have three van loads of people looking for a gas leek in the meter cupboard recently, so kind of keen to avoid any… mistakes! Though I suspect that an optical solution, leaving the meter untampered, would not be any safer but would be easier to overlook next time the meter is read. Not that it has any reflective spot on the dials as far as I’ve seen so far. (Any recommendations from someone with experience counting pulses on a Schlumberger R5 meter, or similar, would be great.)

Second difference is that I’d like to go wireless, and if possible avoid needing an arduino. The gas meter is pretty much outside the other side of the house to my home server, with no power supply. So a wireless transmitter, like the one attached to the electricity cable, would be great. It just so happens I have one of those as well now- handy!

Thirdly, having a single display with all the meter readings on has to be the smart thing to do. The display I already have, and the one which will pick up signals from that transmitter, is the Current Cost. Perfect if I didn’t want a server running to connect up to Pachube/the internet, and also perfect if it’s already connected.

So all I need to do is:

  • decide how to read pulses on the gas meter (peel off that cover, or come up with some Heath Robinson alternative)
  • count the pulses and produce a pulse for the Current Cost transmitter development kit at the appropriate increments
  • find out how to pair the transmitter as a gas channel, instead of an appliance channel (if that’s possible)
  • use some gas

Update: after a bit more investigating I think I’ll be using the socket on the gas meter; I’m hopeful a repurposed spare cable from one of the many modems TalkTalk sent will do the trick. I was also wondering about simplifying the gas meter monitor to just register when I’m using gas, rather than worry about the rate. Some sort of 555 timer based circuit to keep the Current Cost dev board input 2 on between pulses maybe? The only thing that runs on gas is the boiler, so a simple on/off signal should be good enough to work out what I’m using. Dale’s recent roundup of HomeCamp 2 has some tantalizing hints of gas monitoring as well. (22 May 2009)

Pachube and Yahoo Pipes part 1: show me the data


I’ve just been playing around with Yahoo Pipes for the first time in ages to see if it might be useful in mangling data feeds from Pachube. (Would have been useful to have tried this out before homecamp but never mind!) Early signs looked good- falling off a log looks difficult in comparison to getting Pachube data into a Yahoo Pipe. Having said that, finding data feeds to start working with is not so easy. If I want to start doing something with power data, I have to manually find the relevant feeds on the Pachube site with a tag search. It would be great to be able to get a feed of data feeds; that would be useful for keeping up with new data feeds that get added to Pachube as well as being a useful input to a Yahoo Pipe.

So the simple example pipe for part 1 does just this kind of aggregation except that, because it’s a hack, it only includes a specified set of feeds. The default user input list is just the feed IDs I manually copied from that tag search for ‘power’:

It should work using my API key if you don’t have one, but you’ll need your own if you clone the feed to do something more interesting.

Coming up in part 2: doing something useful with the data.