In an earlier post I discussed the utility (or otherwise) of the 24 hour power consumption graph and questioned why Google and Microsoft were both investing in this approach to home energy efficiency. Since then both Google and Microsoft have stopped their efforts in this area.
Interestingly, in Europe I’m seeing more and more homes with devices like the one shown here that provide real-time power consumption information. One of the more interesting uses for devices like these is as a check that everything has been turned off when a homeowner is about to leave the house. A quick glance at the meter can reveal if a heater has been left on in a bedroom. Of course the main water heater has the largest impact on the reading but homeowners learn what numbers represent ‘normal’ and can see at a glance when something else has been left on. Clearly a true smart home that can turn devices off when they are no longer in use is still a better long-term solution for this scenario but it’s interesting to see how a fairly simple device can at least provide an indication that everything is off without a significant investment in replacing light switches and device controllers. What would be nicer however would be if the meter included some kind of machine learning so it could show at a glance if the home is in a minimal power state or not.
This weekend I tried the time lapse mode on my GoPro HD Hero. The weather wasn’t great but the results were fairly impressive. On the 60s interval mode the video was a little bit jerky but on the 10s mode it came out really smooth. The battery life was good enough for several hours of filming but it would have been nice if it was longer.
The other issue was in dealing with the sunset which caused the camera to completely wash out the bright details.
Apart from these minor issues I’m overall still very impressed with the GoPro HD Hero in both video mode and time-lapse mode.
I purchased a Canon Powershot D10 Underwater Camera recently and I love it! It’s a great little underwater camera costing less than many underwater housings. It shoots great shots both underwater and above water and I’m constantly surprised by just how good many of the shots look even when compared to my 70-200 f2.8 IS lens.
It’s a fun camera to have around because it can literally go anywhere: you can take shots above the water, underwater, or just close to water without any worries about your equipment getting wet. These pictures were all taken using my Powershot D10 over the last month, from Australia to North America. Click to enlarge any of them.
I take and share hundreds of photos a week. They are all loaded onto the Mac, edited and then distributed using Facebook, email, Twitter, Flickr, various web sites and occasionally on CD-ROM. I also frequently get requests from people to send them the original. All this takes time and there’s no easy record of what has been shared with whom. So over the past couple of years I’ve been thinking about creating a new way to share photos that would be easier for my situation and here’s my concept:-
In iPhoto (or any other photo management application) simply tag the photo with the email address (or group name) of the people you want to share it with!
Yes, that’s it! That’s all you would need to do to share an image with someone.
What happens behind the scenes is more interesting …
The sharing software makes a regular sweep over the iPhoto library and finds any newly tagged photos with email addresses or group names on them. If then looks up each individual and your preferred method of reaching them (email, Facebook, …) and it delivers the pictures to them. A management screen allows you to define groups and to manage the list of people with whom you share photos. For each person or group you can define how to reach them (Facebook, Twitter, email, Flickr, web site, CD-ROM, …) and you can also set a limit on how large a photo to send them and a limit on how many to send per day. Thus for a friend on a slow connection you might chose to only email them a medium sized version and limit it to one per day. They would thus get a daily email from you every day until all the photos tagged with their name (or a group that they belong to) have been delivered to them. It would also enable you to easily set up a photo of the week post to Facebook and to queue up images for future picture of the week posts.
I think this approach would be much easier than my current photo sharing process. Thoughts? Comments?
I also see that a local startup PhotoRocket has announced plans to revolutionize how we share photos. I wonder if there are any similarities between my ideas and what they are planning … we shall see soon.
Recently I accidentally imported a batch of photos into iPhoto twice. With over 1,000 duplicates to clean up I went looking for an application that could do the job. I found Tidy Up! which looked like exactly what I needed. It had a professional looking UI and I was in a rush and so I skipped my normal due diligence on reviews, forums and tests and paid $33 to unlock it. $33 and countless hours of frustration later I have to conclude that it simply doesn’t work as advertised.
The UI is complex and despite numerous attempts with different options it still wasn’t finding the duplicates – sometimes it would spin for minutes and then declare no duplicates, sometimes it would find some but not all. I finally found a setting that seemed to find all my duplicates and I launched it into deleting them. iPhoto began flickering wildly as it did its work but it gave no indication as to how far it had progressed or when it would finish, so I left it running. In the morning it seemed to have stopped running but iPhoto would not quit. I reluctantly did a force quit and restarted it. Disaster – it had deleted the images but left the thumbnails in iPhoto for each of the duplicates it had found. Worse still, there were still lots of duplicate images left in my library. Undeterred I tried the option to find images with thumbnails but no backing files. It found 1,900 of them so I asked it to delete them all. That failed so I tried deleting just a few at a time from the list of 1,900 images. After about 40 operations it claimed they were all gone and my library was clean. Except it wasn’t, I still have missing images and I still have duplicates.
Next I tried an option to find photos by similarity in the time they were taken except the developer used the date instead of the date plus time so it lumped all the photos found on a single date and called them duplicates!
At this point I emailed to get my money back. The developer send me a form which I dutifully filled in, signed, scanned and sent back. But, oh no, that wasn’t good enough for him, he wanted me to mail the letter to Italy. At this point I sent a strongly worded email and contacted Paypal to get a refund which came through. The developer claimed that because it worked for thousands of other people there was nothing wrong with it and that he shouldn’t have to refund me, a classic case of “it works on my machine”! It’s also a lesson that “because most customers can’t be bothered to call doesn’t mean they are happy”, for $33 most will just write it off as a failed investment. A quick look at the forum showed just a handful of people using (or attempting to use) the product.
Based on my experience with the developer I would not recommend this product. If you could try it and then pay if it worked that would be one thing, but having to pay to find out that it doesn’t work and then having to deal with the hassle of getting a refund makes this not worthwhile.
So now I’m back to cleaning up iPhoto by hand to remove duplicates and fix the thumbnails that still have no backing photo.
I came across the email below while I was cleaning out my email the other day. It’s an email I sent in August of 2008 proposing a service that sounds uncannily similar to Four Square.
Oh well, would of, could of, should of, …
———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Ian Mercer
Date: Tue, Aug 26, 2008 at 10:06 AM
Subject: Geo games …
#1 Claim that point
Every morning we distribute 1 million points on the map
You can use your iPhone to see a map with all the points highlighted
Visit one and hit ‘claim’ – your name goes onto the map at that point with a link to your profile
Prize each day for the most places claimed by a user
Prize each month for the most places claimed by a user
Running scoreboard with overall most claims, most diverse claims, largest claim area, …
Local businesses pay us to be a claim point – to get visitors in the door
or local adverts displayed when you visit a claim point (since we have your attention and know where you are)
#2 Territory wars
Form a team with up to 4 other players
Visit anywhere in a zip code (city? block? square mile?) area and hit claim
Territory belongs to a decaying average of how many members of your team have claimed that area
i.e. all five of you claim it today, you probably own it, at least for a while
nobody visits for a week, your 5 person claim is now worth only one point and a single visit from someone else can take it away
Scoreboard for each city – leading teams, most captures this week, …
Overall scoreboard – most territory owned by a team in their own country, in the world, most countries occupied by a team, most states occupied, …
Visit far out areas to claim land that might never be visited by someone else
Go visit those areas belonging to competing teams to try to knock them down
Build your empire …
Issue challenges to other teams – “We own Bellevue, and we are going to keep it!”
Time? held at midnight local time? or average time held during the day? Do we want to promote people driving around late at night trying to capture the map?
So, you’ve been sold on the idea of a smart home and are looking at your options. There’s one that has gorgeous LCD keypads that you could put in every room for just a few hundred dollars a pop, and look! it says in the brochure that it’s “smart”. Well, guess, what, if that LCD keypad has options on it like “Home”, “Away”, or “Entertaining” you are about to purchase what I call a “dumb” or “stupid” home.
A smart home as I define it is one that can act autonomously to increase homeowner comfort, reduce energy consumption and generally just do the right thing.
If you have to repeatedly tell your house to do an action that would be obvious to a human being then it’s not smart.
So how is a real smart home different from a dumb home?
Well for starters it has no flashy LCD keypads – they simply aren’t necessary – it figures out what to do and does it without being told. Lights come on ahead of you and go off behind you. When you have visitors if knows that and adjusts its behavior accordingly, keeping the house slightly warmer, leaving lights on in areas frequented by visitors, suppressing audible warnings it would normally give, …
Secondly, it has a much more dense sensor network than a dumb house. To reliably detect occupants and distinguish between homeowners, dinner guests, relatives stopping over, and a full-blown party it needs motion sensors in every room, contacts on every door, a sensor on the driveway to detect cars approaching, … and more. With this dense sensor network and algorithms that can track each sensor over long periods of time and perform statistical calculations your home can become a whole lot smarter.
Thirdly, it has a whole new programming paradigm. The traditional if-then-else or the even more lame table driven approach to home automation is not going to be sufficient to make your home smart. It needs a whole new language with the expressive power of what I call ‘sequential logic blocks’ that allow for events to be wired up easily using a fluent, almost natural language approach that hides the complex statistical and timing code that is required by the scenes to make your home smart.
Fourthly, it can remember what it did last night, and the night before than and the month before that and the same time last year! A smart house tracks all of these hundreds of sensors over long periods of time so it can detect trends and can determine what is normal and what is not normal.
Fifthly, it can explain why it did it! Any complex system is going to have unpredictable behavior, that’s almost guaranteed in a Goedel-esque kind of way. But when your smart home does something crazy it’s no good calling the author and saying ‘it went wrong last night, why?’ unless the author has what I have in my house which is a log of what happened and an explanation by the house as to why it happened. My house can, for example, explain that it turned the driveway lights off because it was 9PM and there were no visitors at the house and all of the people who lived there appear to be home.
So give your house the test, figure out how smart it is, and if it’s anywhere above “really dumb”, leave me a note in the comments below.
It’s always fun to go looking at some of the gadgets our Asian counterparts dream up. Here’s a small sample of ones I’ve come across recently that elicited a ‘that’s cool’ or a ‘that’s crazy’ reaction:
This novelty is a USB flash memory card with a twist: it has a digital display built right into it so you can show your photos right off the card without a computer. Seems a little confused to me – if I wanted a small player there are other options that use more of the surface area for the screen. If I wanted a USB memory card I’d go for something more compact. Still, it’s a neat idea and it looks like it could almost fit in a wallet.
This HD camera is designed to mount in your car, it looks like it can record in loop mode, so if you are ever involved in an accident you have all the proof you need. There’s some sample video on YouTube showing it in action and the video quality is pretty impressive.
It would be a neat device to take along on a driving vacation, or maybe on one of the more scenic drives around here like Mt. Rainier or the Olympic peninsula.
If you bought four of them your could make your own Google street view car!
Great advice on setting up a NAS for home network: http://holtsblog.blogspot.com/2009/12/home-network-and-backups-nas.html