Notes from Barcamp Auckland 2010

Barcamp Auckland is an annual gathering of developers, designers, start-ups and social-media types. It’s a full day event held in an ‘unconference’ like style, where the attendee (see my attendee & interested folks list on Twitter) set the schedule – and people turn up to discuss topics which interest them.

The following are the session notes I took during this years Auckland Barcamp

Continue reading “Notes from Barcamp Auckland 2010”

Profiling my Power

To celebrate the introduction of the Emission Trading Scheme (ETS*) in New Zealand today (1 July 2010), I thought I’d publish the following article on what I’m doing in terms of residential Power Monitoring.

Read on for:

The Back Story

A few years ago, I was working on what devices would sit in an ‘average’ connected home and, given the sheer volume of ‘things’ – it be came clear that not only would a homeowner need to justify the existence of each device, but also their unseen costs in terms of installation, maintenance and ongoing power usage.

To answer the last of these, I bought a device called a Centameter which, aside from the benefit of being designed in NZ, measured the current power usage via an induction clamp and transmitter which sits in the power meter box and sends the data through to a LCD display.

After a couple of attempts to elicit a response from the manufacturer, I asked an electrical engineering friend of mine to see what information they could pull from the display unit as we wanted to capture and graph this data over time. The short story is, while we could get some information out of the device, the time required to make this meaningful far exceeded what he was able to donate to the project so things were shelved – until now.

Continue reading “Profiling my Power”

Health Monitoring 2.0?

Sensewear DeviceSorry about the headline, the 2.0 tag is getting waaay too much air time of late – that aside, I was reading an interesting article on some of the technology advances in the realms of health monitoring.

A few years ago I was researching some of the advances within medical monitoring and how the devices could be integrated into a connected home*. At that time we were looking at near field communication devices which would upload via Zigbee or a similar low range, low power technology, as well as a concept toilet in Japan which measures and reports on glucose levels detected in ones urine.
Anyway, with the advent of specifically addressable devices thanks to IPV6, as well as advances in near-field and Personal Area Networking (PAN), the reality may well be closer than we thought.

The self-care market is hotting up, especially in this difficult time where concern about the economy and ones future financial well-being may well be impacting on peoples immediate, and long term health.

Some of the more interesting companies making headway in enabling health monitoring are:

  • Proteus Biomedical who have just released their platform for body monitoring dubbed ‘Rasin’

Proteus ingestible event markers (IEMs) are tiny, digestible sensors…Once activated, the IEM sends an ultra low-power, private, digital signal through the body to a microelectronic receiver that is either a small bandage style skin patch or a tiny device insert under the skin. The receiver date- and time-stamps, decodes, and records information such as the type of drug, the dose, and the place of manufacture, as well as measures and reports physiologic measures such as heart rate, activity, and respiratory rate.

All of the data collected by the Proteus system can be sent wirelessly to the doctor for remote monitoring.  The system is currently in clinical development.

  • Body Media have their Sensewear device which allows “monitoring of calories burned, dietary intake, duration of physical activity and sleep”. It’s USB connected, which is fine, but I’d prefer to see a device that automated the processes for more ‘real-time’ monitoring and feedback possibilities – all in time I guess and the biggest issue will be size and battery life, just like every other mobile device.
  • The Toumaz device recognises the ‘you must remember to upload your data’ issue, and has created their ‘Sensium’ device with the capability to stream the data to a logging device (within ~5m). This is the kind of thing I’d be looking for, but would want to incorporate into a meshed network within the bounds of a home (or health-club) to make truly useful.

Of course, with my day-job hat on as a Security type person, the biggest concern, given the very personal nature of this data, is how security will be treated. Recent reports attribute [a potential link to] cyber terrorism, with the ability to cause widespread blackouts. Whether that threat is credible or a causative action with the cited 2003 US blackouts is debatable. What isn’t up for debate however is the fact that as more systems which control or influence our lives become network aware, the more this risk profile will inflate. How we deal with this is something which needs to be built into the monitoring protocols from the outset – especially with the potential to link into the online health record repositories being toyed with by big players Google and Microsoft.

Comments?… Fear? Uncertainty? Doubt?

*A ‘connected home’ is what marketers refer to as a ‘future home’ – a term which I really hate as I agree with William Gibson “…the future is already here. It’s just not very evenly distributed…” (time code 11:55).

Home Networking – the Why (not the How or What)

The first of what may become a series of presentations covering the home networking space. This presentation covers WHY you may want a home network, and what considerations need to be top of mind during planning.

I’ve just finished a presentation on Home Networking, The first of what may become a series of presentations covering the home networking space.

This presentation covers WHY you may want a home network, and what considerations need to be top of mind during planning.

Home Networking 01 Why Not How

View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: home network)

Obviously things in this space change fast, so please feel free to comment and correct me if things get out of date, or if you plain don’t agree!

Spending time with my digital memories

I spent the last 3 days at home looking after our youngest son William who had the chicken pox and during that time I did a little bit of a tidy up of our digital photos and, during that time I reminded myself, yet again that we have HEAPS of photos, but finding any particular one, on any particular subject is pretty hard.

This then lodged itself in the back of my head and, as a result – two technologies have jumped out at me since then.

The first concerns the accessibilty and display of this data, and the vapourware representation of Microsoft Surface certainly struck a chord in our house.
“I’ve found our next coffee table” I announced to Amanda, then played her ‘The Power’ section of the demo from the above link.
“Wow, that’s cool – when could we get that?” was the response (and from a non-geek, that was certainly high praise indeed!)

Leveraging the display device of surface (and I’d be interested in open source alternatives I could cobble together earlier than waiting for the official product release), is the technology discussed in the clip below from the recent TED talks (I love the TED inititive)

Check out the presentation below… and imagine what it could mean for your collection of digital memories.

[Edit: Here’s a link via my collegue Justin – nice find, interesting if you want to learn the workings]

Getting a Weather Station?

I’ve always (well, not ALWAYS, but for quite awhile) enjoyed Weather information and, around 3 or 4 years ago I started thinking about putting together a weather station at my place, so I could prove to those nay sayers that Auckland weather isn’t really as bad as people may think.

Initially I looked into the 1-Wire weather solution from Texas Instruments, there is a few open source projects like this one which support the equipment and of course, then my life got busy 🙂

So – now I find myself eagerly awaiting a tax refund and planning to finally update the technology in the house, my question is – should I start down the slippery slope of home weather tracking hobbiest or should I spend the money in more disk, CPU, RAM and or graphics performance?

I revisited an online store based here in New Zealand, and I’ve currently got a couple of things sitting in my checkout basket, awaiting some feedback. My intention is to start with a good base of technology and expandability, and build the system out from there as money, time and interest level allows – so initially I’m looking at the following:

So – has anyone else set up a home based weather system? Was it worth it?
If you haven’t set one up – is it something you’d be interested in doing? What’s holding you back?

Home Storage

Today (17/07/2006) we received a couple of Buffalo TeraStation Network Attached Storage (NAS) devices. These devices came kitted out with 1Tb of disk (each) and will be used within ETS to centrally store our media (MP3 music, WMV VoD files, DVR-MS MCE Recordings).

This entry will cover the unpacking and installation of one of the units as something of a HOWTO / review of the device.

The packing was fairly hardy 20060616-buffaloterastation-packing.jpg (albiet with a wee crush mark in one corner) and, once removed, the interior packing has all the marketing type loveliness that you’d expect describing all the ways you can use the product.20060616-buffaloterastation-box.jpg

I found the language used on the shelf packaging very comprehensive and, for the most part would be understandable for anyone who was in the market for a NAS device (though some proof reading was lacking). It wouldn’t pass the “your mother” test but I would say we need to educate the market somewhat before Joe consumer starts understanding (and thus desiring/requiring) what large volumes of network storage can offer them in their home environment. So, comments about the boxes out of the way, let’s crack it open and see what’s inside…

20060616-buffaloterastation-contents.jpgThe box contents included the obligitory End User Licence Agreements (ELUA) that nobody ever actually reads, a quick setup guide (that no one who believes (s)he knows what they are doing ever reads), A CD-ROM containing a setup wizard and softcopy user manuals, a power cord (I’m assuming if we’d purchased the unit in NZ we’d have received a plug which we could use), some nice flat CAT5 cable to connect the device to our network and of course, the TeraStation itself.

20060616-buffaloterastation-front.jpg 20060616-buffaloterastation-back.jpg The TeraStation is not a bad looking device, would certainly pass the WAF (Wife Approval Factor) test and is skinny enough to scream “buy me some friends to keep me company” whilst still fitting on a standard rack shelf (everyone has a 19″ server rack at home right?).

The status lights on the front of the unit are easy to understand (and they cycle clockwise in a groovy fashion while the unit powers up which is a nice bonus). The Link/Act LED is an annoying but fashionable blue, so – this would be a store in a vented cupboard device, unless you are one of those flash harry types with a window and cold cathode tubes inside your PC and enjoy flashing lights like that kind of thing. Guys take note, the blue LED can be used as an annoyance device to assist in getting the spousal approval to buy your 19″ server rack should you not yet have one.

Right – now on to the software setup…

20060717-buffaloterastation-sw-startup.jpg20060717-buffaloterastation-sw-client-main.jpg20060717-buffaloterastation-sw-utilinstcomp.jpg

Frustratingly, the autorun didn’t fire on the CD, but once the setup was running, clicking the ‘Install Client’ Button resulted in an ‘Installing Client Utility – Please wait’ screen flashing a couple of times and – that was it!!

Buffalo TeraStation - Client [Main]The client software then runs up, finds the device and presents the info on the device within the application, from which we now were required to go configure to suit our network.
Buffalo TeraStation - Client [Browser Config]The configuration, like most nice CPE devices, is done via a browser, and the first thing we’re instructed to do (after authenticating of course) is to change the NAS device name to something more ‘friendly’. On the same page are the date and time options as well as that useful Network Time Protocol (NTP) server setup, used to ensure your device is always synced with a known good time source (very important). We changed the timezone (which only offered + / – 11 hours either side of GMT (so you’re not allowed to live in NZ and have daylight savings?) and enabled the NTP server, pointing it at pool.ntp.org (personal favorite). I considered disabling AppleTalk, but decided against it since we’ve got a iMac running and it might possibly be useful in some small way to have the Mac talking TCP/IP/SteveJobs across the network.

After hitting apply, we were (rudely) informed that it expected an IP address for the NTP server, so – after a quick Google – I ended up using the IP of a (gasp) iHUG NTP public server.

That’s it – all the quick install guide suggests you need to do. From here on out, you simply setup your shares and access the NAS via the UNC path \\[NAS-Device-Name]\[Share].

The reality in an easily managed network environment is, that a static IP address is easier to find after power failures or from devices where the IP address wasn’t pre-provided by the client utility from the CD. Jumping into Network and setting a static IP, then workgroup (for that Windows browsing ease) to set the Workgroup name will make future use (and discovery) a lot easier for all your other CPE devices.

There are a few other options which will be explored later, but for now, that’s the out of box experience for a Buffalo TeraStation, I’m clogging the netowork transferring all sorts of data across to the device now so it’s time for the final thoughts.

Final Thoughts:

Network Attached Storage is still in its infancy in the CPE space, it’s been commercalised for a few years, but – as it started off in the ‘external, portable storage’ space – the pricing is still too high to attract much attention from the average punter and it is only recently that the big names have had the right price point on the devices to make devices with a useful amount of permanant (as opposed to transient / backup) storage. In all seriousness, once a music collection is format shifted, your copied your multi-megapixel digital photos of your family and also transfered some of your kids DVDs onto a disk based distribution system (to protect against the sticky, scratchy finger syndrome), even 1Tb of storage is getting a bit light.

Ideally, all your removable media (CDs & DVDs) would be format shifted to a central server so you had access to the content from any appropriate device throughout the house. Unfortunatly, aside from the questionalble legality of doing this, the disk required is huge and managment of large amounts of disk for the average punter must be managed by a simple CPE device such as the TeraStation. You then have the question of backups, you want to store all your documents/personal settings on something aside from your PC as well, and then – when all your digital memories are sotred on one managed, central device in your home – what happens if that fails? Offsite backups are the obvious solution, but the upstream and edge/core traffic requirements are again horrendous. Do you then need a secondary NAS to mirror your primary once a month (or more regularly?) and then take that NAS down to your friends/parents/bank security box?

With the amount of information we are storing in a digital format now, the future social implications are equally frightening, the analogue inscriptions of the dead sea scrolls survived centuries in pottery containers in the desert giving archelologiests and historians valuable insights into our past, how would our future historians learn about our how our society ran should a holocaust event occur which included a massive Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) – which would wipe out these digital data stores. Who holds the responsibility for providing true (not just local) network, reduntant storage which is safe from EMPs, flood, fire, administrative access stupidity (drop database *) – or should we just write all this stuff out to physical media and invest in a few clay jars?

Viewing multiple video streams using Linksys WVC54G

We’ve got a couple of Linksys WVC54G IP cameras lying around the office from a previous project, so I was thinking “How hard would it be to create a page I could navigate to from my home PC (or media center) to view live video streams from these cameras?”
Apparently, it’s a bit harder than one would think…

We’ve got a couple of Linksys WVC54G IP cameras lying around the office from a previous project, so I was thinking “How hard would it be to create a page I could navigate to from my home PC (or media center) to view live video streams from these cameras?”
Apparently, it’s a bit harder than one would think…
Continue reading “Viewing multiple video streams using Linksys WVC54G”

MCE 2005 – Why Media Center will change the way I’m entertained.

I’ve been playing with home theater applications on and off for a few years, I dabbled with MythTV and the ShowShifter type apps, but I’m now a firm believer in Microsoft Media Center 2005 so this entry will serve as a staging point for me to babble on about it…

Like the subject says, Microsoft Media Center has changed the way I am entertained. I’ve been a keen wee techno geek for many years and since purchasing my first VIVO card [archived] back in 2003(?) I’ve been on the lookout for something which can record my TV and let me watch the stuff I want from my PC – this is important given how long I spend in front of it every day.

Things I want to discuss in this post:

  • My history of HTPCs
  • My TiVo experiences
  • Why MCE 2005
  • Ideal setup
  • The media center future

Back in the crazy days of single life, after I’d dropped close to $1000 on a graphics card I was all keen to create an alternative to the TV / Video combination we had in the lounge, after all – my flatmates outnumbered me and often there’d be broadcast conflicts as to what we all wanted to watch – I also was working a lot longer hours including my evenings, so having a TV window on the desktop appealed to me greatly.
The problem with TV cards back then were they were fairly terrible quality, or stupidly expense, so the VIVO option was a good one as I could simple hook off the back of an old VCR I had lying around and use it’s tuner to get my TV signal into the card. The problem with that was I had no IR blaster to change the channel on the VCR and, in conjunction with a lack of an electronic programming guide, the whole operation was very hands on.
Moving forward from there I dabbled with ShowShifter, I looked briefly at some linux distributions which claimed to do all I wanted but, well Linux STILL scares me despite the number of machines I have running it in my home now doing their little things – so Linux was off the cards, aside from a quick dabble with FreeVo and again with KnoppMyth.

I first saw Microsoft Media Center Edition (MCE) back in 2003 when our GM brought a gorgeous Toshiba notebook home from the states with it pre-loaded. It had interface issues which ddn’t quite ‘work’ and of course ran an NTSC tuner so the TV experience was just a fuzzy black and white, but the potential sparked my interest and I’ve kept an eye on the platform ever since.

While I waited for MCE to arrive in New Zealand, I turned to MythTV and, taking a deep breath (and many hours of time from my patient collegues at work) I suceeded in getting a system working… mostly. The main enabler for getting MythTV going for me was a HOWTO by a chap called Jarod Wilson who had documented his experience on his site. In fact, I was so impressed and greatful, that I made an attempt to document my experience and created a page of my own (which seems to get more traffic than anything else on my site, despite it’s now vintage state).

Microsoft New Zealand finally released (quietly) MCE into the NZ market at the same time that it was launched into Australia, but neither country had an Electronic Programming Guide (EPG) avalible so, it’s adoption to date has been slow to say the least. The good thing however is, that a whole range of communities have sprung up around MCE and extensions to its capabilities, including the ability to ‘modify’ things enough to load your own EPG data. I finally managed to succeed in doing this around the end of 2004 with the help of a number of threads from one of the best communitity sites called The Green Button (it’s a reference to the button on the MCE remote used to launch the app).

Now I’m almost ready to introduce it into my home (which is currently undergoing renovations) and have settled on the following specs which I’ve built up on my desk here at work. This is an excerpt from a response I posted over on The Green Button pertaining to Home Theater PC (HTPC) case recommendations:

I’m currently running a Silverstone ST-LC10B (with the iMon VFD software in conjunction with FrontView for MCE it’s sweet!)

Full specs are:

Mods I’ll probably make are:

  • I’m tempted to dremmel out the fan grills at the back over the twin 60mm fans as they’ve got a bit of turbulence noise coming from them.
  • I’d like to mount the HDD in a housing to eliminate vibration as it’s the noisiest thing in the system.
  • I’d like to crack open my MCE remote and drop the sensor into the front of the VFD for WAF (Wife Approval Factor) reasons alone (less clutter /
    visible wires = less complaints)

The case itself is kinda large, but it’s good for airflow and the ability to select from a wider range of cards and cooling product – and I like having a VFD

So that kind of sums up where I am currently, I’ll update this post in awhile with a bit more detail.

My Media Center Setup

I’m currently running a Silverstone ST-LC10B (with the iMon VFD software in conjunction with FrontView for MCE it’s sweet!)

Full specs are:

Mods I’ll probably make are:

  • I’m tempted to dremmel out the fan grills at the back over the twin 60mm fans as they’ve got a bit of turbulence noise coming from them.
  • I’d like to mount the HDD in a housing to eliminate vibration as it’s the noisiest thing in the system.
  • I’d like to crack open my MCE remote and drop the sensor into the front of the VFD for WAF (Wife Approval Factor) reasons alone (less clutter / visible wires = less complaints)

The case itself is kinda large, but it’s good for airflow and the ability to select from a wider range of cards and cooling product – and I like having a VFD