Pragmatic 3A: Turn The Damn Light Off Follow-up 1

15 December, 2013

CURRENT

Follow up (Part A) to Turn The Damn Light Off where we explore Multi-room Audio and Eco-home design as well as smart glass.

Transcript available
This is Pragmatic Follow-Up Part A for Episode 3, Turn the Damn Light Off. I'm Ben Alexander and my co-host is John Shiggy. So, Michael Oertle, who has been following the show from the beginning, has put together a nice addendum piece, if you will, to the home automation segment of the last show. And I encourage you to check it out. The link's in the show notes. And I just, there's a few comments that he's made in there. Have you, first of all, have you had a chance to read through what he wrote? Yeah, I did. I read it the other day. Yes. So, just want to sort of pull out some key comments in there just for further discussion. So, Mike's comment regarding presence and activity detection are key in order to perfect those before accurate automation is reliable and most people would then see a benefit from it. Remote control is important, but then so is remote monitoring. And it's something that I didn't really address in enough depth. I've really, I skimmed over that piece as the remote monitoring piece. I see remote control as being a bit gimmicky. I can see a handful of cases where it's useful, but the problem that I've got is that when people try and sell the concept of home automation, selling the concept and saying, "Oh, look, I can turn the light bulb off "from the next continent." It's like, well, that's great, but why would you want to do that? Now, if you expand that beyond lighting and to include door locks, which we didn't really talk about, but you can get solenoid release door locks, you can get shutters, blinds, and window dimming, and all that sort of stuff. We'll talk about that a little bit more in a minute, but there's all sorts of other parts of aspects of home automation you can control remotely. Another idea that someone floated out in comments, someone else said that there's also the coffee maker idea. So the idea would be that you're heading home from the office and you wanna have a nice, freshly brewed cup of coffee sitting waiting for you. Well, you could, with home automation, you could click a button and it would just happen. But the thing is, it seems like an awful lot of trouble to go to just for a cup of coffee to be made when you get home. And you still gotta have the presence of mind to do it, Unless of course you set up this thing where every time you've got a geo fence, right? And a geo fence goes off when you are two miles from home. And as soon as that happens, hey, presto, it automatically detects that and starts making a cup of coffee for you. And then what happens when you walk in and you don't feel like a cup of coffee that day? Well, you've got a fresh cup of coffee there in case you wanted it. Oh, yeah. Yeah. Using the iBeacon tech, right? Yeah. Or something similar. Yeah, exactly. But the point is that, you know, I find that the remote control piece of it is more of a gimmicky cell than a practical cell. Whereas I can definitely see the benefit in remote monitoring, because let's say you've left home and I'm not going to talk about my mother very much on this show, but I just want to throw this in there. You probably do this sometimes yourself. I do it sometimes. She does it all the time. Did I leave the iron on? Right. Did I lock the front door? And literally, in some cases, you will stop the car, turn around, go home, just to check that you actually shut the door. And it's a little bit infuriating, especially if you're in a hurry, you know, and it's about trusting yourself and all these other exercises. And I think we did talk about this a little bit, is sort of trusting in the fact that you do something with repetition, you have to trust that you've done it. Yeah. And there's a certain benefit to that sort of learning. But then again, if you did have your house wired up and home automated and you had door position sensors on all of the doors, you could tell if the doors were open or closed. Of course, if there were solenoid locks, you could also tell if the door was locked or not. So, all of this extra benefit, it would be handy every now and then. you were a few miles from home, you're heading out for a long drive somewhere and you're like, oh, did I leave the door open or did I lock it? And you could pull up your, you know, iPhone or whatever device and have a look in the software and say, oh yeah, okay, no, it's all shut, it's all locked, it's all good. Again, that's very cool and I can see how that would be very handy but then again, how often does that actually happen to people? I know it happens happens every now and then, it's maddening. But I don't know, is that enough to spend 10 grand on a home automation system? If it's that, I mean, you can spend $50,000 on some home automation systems, for that sort of convenience, which is why I tended to look at it from the cost saving point of view, rather than the geeky, "Gee, it'd be cool if" sort of point of view. And there are use cases, of course, like I just pointed out where that is handy, but how often do they regularly occur? And I would suggest to the listener, think about how often have you left a light on and wished you had turned it off and burnt through three, four dollars worth of electricity versus how often do you get two miles from home wondering if you'd turn the, close the door and locked it? So, I guess the answer will vary from person to person, maybe depending on how, if you have any OCD, I guess. I'm not sure. But yeah, and I bet it's one of those situations where. You know, our biased memories are going to screw with us, right? That you're not we're not you're not even going to have the right answer for how many times that you left the lights on. Well, no, exactly. You know, you and you'll have an over, you know, a overly well-remembered answer for how many times you've you left the stove on, right? That- Oh, absolutely. And for how many times you left your son home alone while you went to France. Which someone tweeted the other day, I don't know if it was, I don't think it was in response to this, but it was the same idea that the premise for that show, that movie is it couldn't happen anymore. Just it wouldn't happen. Yeah, because, yeah, because you've got the Internet and your mobile phones and yeah, that's exactly right. It's a shame. Home alone. Anyway. Okay, cool. So, yeah, I know. All right. There were some really nice moments in those movies. I will admit. That's for good movies. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. I actually quite like the second one when he was lost, lost in New York. I thought that was lovely. Had some lovely moments in it. But anyway, okay, digressing. Okay, so next, I just want to read a line that he wrote out of the review because I think it's definitely bears further discussion. The setup costs and technical knowledge required prevents it, meaning home automation, from being mainstream. The fact it isn't mainstream prevents a lot of companies from investing in it. The lack of participation in the market prevents costs from dropping due to competition. So, I completely agree with that. The deeper question for me is the reason why these things are not as mainstream as you would think. And in my mind, it comes back to local regulations surrounding household wiring. And that is really the biggest piece, but there's also technical ability. So, people... And one of the things I did talk about in the last episode was that there is now a tendency to move away from, regarding lights, to move away from the idea of of something you have to physically mount in the wall and everything's going wireless. So, everything's all, you don't need to run a dedicated data bus around the house anymore, C bus or X 10 or whatever, you know, and so on and so forth. They are now doing it over wireless, which means since that's the case, you don't need any special skills to do it. If you can change a light bulb, if it's built into the light bulb, then that's all the skill you need. And for the moment, at least, changing a light bulb doesn't require an electrical contractor's license, but yeah, watch this space. They'd love to put that in, I guarantee it. I mean, they're already just as an aside note, in Australia at least, there's a device called an earth leakage circuit breaker. And the point of an earth leakage breaker is that it detects when there's an imbalance in the earth, the earth wire, such that there is power leaking to the earth and it's presumably leaking through a person, which is of course, electrocution. So, originally, yeah. So, originally, they had them just on general purpose outlets. So, you know, your toaster, your TV, anything you plug into the wall and give it power. Lighting circuits didn't used to have them. But a few years ago, I think it was about five, six years ago here in Australia, they made it mandatory for all new houses to have earth leakage breakers fitted to the lighting circuits. Because there are many very rare cases, but there were still cases where people were getting electric shocks and electrocuted from changing light bulbs incorrectly. Wow. So yeah, I know. Wow. My closest experience with that is when we'd pry the ground plug off of our guitar amps in high school and see what have that hum. And then you get a little too close to the mic and zip. Oh, my goodness. Really? Yeah. Okay, do not try that at home. Bad idea. Yeah. Yeah, I've actually had a couple of electric shocks, which I don't know if I want to talk about that yet. I'm not quite ready, but yeah, yeah, they hurt. Anyhow, moving on. I didn't quite finish where I was going with that. Where I was going with that is, the point is that it's in my mind, it's the fact that it's too hard for so many, for the majority of people to retrofit home automation to their place, which means they need to get an electrician or a tradesman or both. And that costs money. It costs a lot of money. So, it's not just the purchase price of the equipment, it's the fact that you have to do the installation. So, the way that this stuff needs to go is it needs to go away from needing, well, basically any cabling at all. And whether that's for power or whether or not that's for communications. So, the communications piece has been handled between low power Bluetooth or Bluetooth 4.0 or Wi-Fi or some alternative wireless proprietary protocol that lives in free bandwidth, that sort of thing. Yeah, that's been handled. The technology exists, it's quite cheap, no problem. The piece that hasn't been really solved is for all of the other devices around the house that need power to work like solenoid door locks. Where do you get that power from? And something like a solenoid door lock, the amount of power that that actually needs to release the solenoid, You're not going to get that from a battery. It needs to be wired to a decent power source. You know, window tinting, I'll get to that in a minute. But there's a whole bunch of different cases where you really just need to get wires to these things. And so long as that's the case, you're really going to struggle with retrofitting houses with a lot of home automation. Lights is the easy one. And that's why I talked about it. So, yeah, it's the sort of thing that people can get access to, like the LAFX bulbs, a whole bunch of other adapters. you can get adapters that now sit between the light bulb and the actual light socket, and they have the wireless control built into it, and you can turn them on and off remotely. So anyway, so I see that what's gonna allow there to be a disruption is going to be when it's possible to completely get rid of any wiring whatsoever for the item that you're using for home automation. And once that happens, I think that's the point at which, and obviously the cost has to be reasonable and there has to be a cost trade-off whereby after five years it pays for itself or 10 years it pays for itself. People will see the value in doing it and then they'll start using it. So those are my thoughts on that anyway. Oh, yes, there was one other thing too. And that is that a lot of the home automation stuff needs a server to run like a central controller. And it's interesting because everything starts off centralized and then moves to decentralized. So that's been my observation. So at the moment, it's cheaper and simpler for everything to either through wires or wirelessly go back to a common controller. And the common controller is like, he's a stop go guy and says, "Yes, this happens, you turn on." Or, "No, this didn't happen, you stay on or off." Or whatever you do, go do it yourself. And it's interesting because some people have gone down the PC route, kind of like media PCs. So you run the software on your PC, you plug it into the wireless connection or to your C bus or C bus adapter or something, and your PC can then communicate and control these devices and do all your home automation for you. So Microsoft announced in 2010, something that I called Home OS, which was designed to do exactly that. Hasn't been released yet, but in typical Microsoft fashion, they announced it anyway. Yeah, I know. But there actually is a real product you can download and use and it's called LinuxMCE. And as the name suggests, it runs on Linux. Oh, come on. Linux is fine. It's perfectly fine. I bag Linux sometimes, but I'm glad that we live in a world where Linux exists and there's a heck of a lot of servers that do run Linux. So, I used to bag Linux a lot more, but it has come so far in the last 10 years that it's nowhere near as painful as it used be and it used to be painful. And that has nothing to do with the fact that it will never work as a consumer product. Yeah that too but you know never mind that. So, yeah so anyhow the point is you can download the software and you can use it as a server and there's plenty of, well not plenty, but there are several applications that will run on an iPad and on an iPhone and an Android and so on that allow you to control things via the Linux MCE server, as it were, home automation server. No matter how you slice it, though, even if you don't use a PC, you still need some kind of a controller. And that's a problem because then you come back to, well, how do I program it? What options have I got? Is there a common programming language? And of course, there isn't. It's the same problem with PLCs, right? Everyone's got their own. So, if there's an area that could also make things so much easier would be if somebody would put together some common platform for all this stuff and have a nice, clean programming language that most people could learn. And I realise that that's actually impossible, probably, because as soon as you say a programming language that anyone could learn, suddenly you've just, you know, you've just talked yourself into a corner because I'm not sure such a thing really exists. I mean, Apple script was supposed to be that and it isn't. I mean, can you think of any pro like Automata? That's another good example. The closest you're going to get is something like, like IFTTT or Yahoo! Pipes, something like that. That's, yeah, that's, you know, you're, you're chaining things together. You're chaining together a series of predefined actions. I mean, I think that's, that's what seems to me that that would work. And then, you know, I mean, It's the Unix, kind of the Unix model of things, of have little things that do one thing and pipe input through them. And yeah, I mean, you could probably do it's doable. I just don't know. It's just like a it's just like Linux on the desktop, right? Like it's all in how you package it. Absolutely. So I was looking at this and I thought to myself, well, why not go with a distributed approach? So we've got centralized home automation, and that has a whole bunch of advantages, I guess, cost being one of them. But what about a decentralized approach? What about an approach whereby you set up a relationship between two devices? Let's say you've got a motion detector in the room and it's programmable and you pair it with it on Bluetooth 4.0 and you say you are the living room motion detector. And then you put one of these add-on light adapter things in between the light bulb and the light socket, and that will turn the light on and off or maybe has a dimming control built into it. So, you could dim it as well either way. And you program and say to the light bulb, you're the master and you need to listen to when this guy says there's no one in the room. And you give it, say, you know, listen to the living room monitor, living room motion detector. And all it does is sit there and the light is on and the motion detector says, someone in the room, light turns on, someone's left the room, wait two minutes, no motion, turn the light off. And it'll send out these signals and it'll let know when to listen and when to run times on sort of a thing. And such a decentralized system, if you had the whole house built with all these things in them, then you could network them all together. And they could all collectively share what was going on in all the rooms. And they could just tell each other what to go do with themselves. And you wouldn't need a common a single point, you wouldn't need a server, it would all be decentralized. And you could program each of them individually just from using an iPhone, because each of them, embedding a web server on something these days is so tremendously easy. Right. Yeah. So it's amazing, because, like, the modem that you've got connected to your computer, yeah, it's got a web server built into it, you can just go to the IP address and go and configure the thing. And this has been around for a long time. And getting an embedded web server on these things is cheap as chips these days. So, you know, it wouldn't be a massive expense. It could be done. So anyway, I guess that's where I'd like to see it going. And there's none of this. If you wanted to go outside, you'd have to get a special module that would then connect to the Wi-Fi and give you external access to it. But the other thing about external access, before I wrap up and move on to some other things, is once you open up to external access, then what about external hacking? And you got to, admittedly, things have improved a lot. I mean, WPA2 still relatively solid. I mean, comparing it to WEP, for example, for your Wi Fi, but yeah, and that's just local on your local network. But once you go beyond that to the internet, you know, if you've got a firewall set up and your router set up correctly, and you know, there's no malware and no back doors been put on your computer, so no one can get into your local network from outside. If you assume that all of that is fine, you got nothing to worry about. But you know, hacking is hacking. Then again, what are they going to do? You know, it's it's two in the morning, and suddenly someone hacks in and turns all the lights on to piss you off, I guess. But more maliciously, it would be if you had someone like door locks fitted, you can hack in and just automatically unlock all the doors and let yourself in. Right, right. So I don't know. I'm dubious about door locks. Anyway, I I think it's a bit, yeah. I get it for high trafficked areas and when you've got secure access and in a corporate or military environment, I get that. But in a home environment, I'm not so sold on it. But anyway, so I don't know. I think I'll just leave it there unless you've got anything else to add on that quickly. And I want to jump into sound around the house. - No, I think that's, I think the distributed approach is an interesting idea. And I was just, um, I had to look around. I was looking around on GitHub actually just to just as you were going, as you were explaining that, because there's a, um, it's a project called, um, surf that's a, uh, this is very, very lightweight, um, service discovery and orchestration tool that's designed to kind of, That's why I'm trying to think of the right way to describe this where it's it's extremely lightweight, available and what else? Well, as I say, like fault tolerant, but it's sort of this idea of like eventual consistency like with databases, right? But it's the same way with services. So it's it's the kind of thing that this concept would work well for what you're describing because you're really Things have to happen inside a certain period of time, but they don't need to be extremely precise, right? You don't need a huge level of control. You just need these things to kind of fuzzily work themselves out without you having to be super finicky and design everything down to the last detail. And yeah, there's a lot of, I mean, I don't think this particular project is the right answer for that or something that would work because I still think it's probably too heavy for for the kind of embedded systems you'd want to have. But it's getting there. All these sort of things are coming together. You're seeing that same pattern emerge at multiple levels. We see the same thing with things like Tent. And what's the... There's a Raspberry Pi project for doing your own home server and there's a couple of them, but I can't think of what they're off the top of my head. But it's the same idea where the power requirements and the processors needed to actually run these servers are trivial now. And you could do it on your phone while it's not busy doing other things. And so just having a couple little boxes in your house that run different rooms would be no problem. some. Anyways, yeah. Yeah, I actually looked out there for a practical real world currently selling model distributed system and I couldn't find any. Doesn't mean they're not out there, I just couldn't find them. So, I think it's something that will be. Yeah, it's happening now. Like we're in a year or two, it's going to be a different answer. Because the one, I can't find it, I can't find the link, but the project that I was watching was, It really was. I mean, their stated goal was like, we want to be the iPhone of home servers and running all the, you know, which is a big task to set for yourself. But, oh, yeah, I mean, just think of the size of the market, though. I mean, it'd be enormous. huge and there's so many things that really are, you know, a lot of these systems have been designed, were clearly designed by engineers for engineers, right? And there was a great article on Ars Technica a couple weeks ago, I think, talking about the need to do away with software that's designed to deflect users away from it. And you think about like sending up bind for DNS or running your own mail server and just what a nightmare that is for smart geeks to do. And the idea that a normal, you know, I'm sorry using the horrible term, but that a normal human would do it is not going to happen. Yeah, exactly right. Okay. - Alrighty, so thank you very much to Mike for that wonderful addendum to the home automation discussion. So there's some other feedback we got from mainly, it's a sort of a combination of different people, but the majority of it came from Clinton. So my co-host from Anodize also listens to the show and suggested that we didn't mention multi-room sounds, speaker systems and the tracking of people through a house such that the sound follows you as you move through the house. Now, the reason I didn't bring that up, because I was aware of that, that's sort of one of the dreams. It's the same with lighting following you through the house, same kind of dream, right? There's currently no products that I'm aware of that do that. And yeah, there are products like there's Sonos and then there's this one called Jongo, which is a new one. Assuming I'm pronouncing that correctly. And anyhow, they are multiple room sound systems, but you still have to manually select which of the rooms is playing what sounds. So, and that's AirPlay then. I mean, like, yeah, and AirPlay. It's yeah, we're so close, right? We're so close to that perfect setup, but it's. Yeah. So, and here's the theory, right? The theory goes, Apple adds iBeacons. Right. So, an iBeacon detects that you are within a certain proximity of a certain speaker and that that speaker then should take over whatever music you're listening to. But the only way the iBeacon would work is if you had your iPhone in your pocket. The problem with that is that, well, what if there are other people in the living room and you've walked into the dining room and the other people in the living room are the ones listening to the Christmas music and you've just brought the music with you? Yeah. There's certain assumptions, there's a lot of usage assumptions that it follows. I think if you're the only person in the house, it kind of makes sense. But the other thing is the iBeacons only really make sense because with audio, it's the source of the audio that matters. So the source of the audio is the speaker itself. So you would build the iBeacon into the speakers, which means if it's AirPlay, then part of the AirPlay standard would then require an iBeacon to be built into all AirPlay compatible branded speakers. And I would suggest that inevitably that will start happening, but how on earth they manage that control is another thing entirely. The other issue with iBeacons is that it is a very short range technology. So, if you do have, let's say, a set of speakers on the backside of one wall in one room and directly on the other side of that wall behind them, you have another set of speakers, which is a perfectly legitimate way to set your speakers up, especially if you're running cables through all the walls. you want to have cables going to a common location in the wall space and you would simply punch through on each side of the wall. Problem with an iBeacon is, is it going to be directional enough to tell the difference when you're in front of it in one room or behind it from the other room's point of view? Yeah, that's a good point. So, because walls generally are RF transparent, I say generally. I mean, we all know that if you've got a steel frame house and your Wi-Fi starts to die as it goes through the walls, but there's still plenty of houses like my house is a wooden frame. And the Wi Fi travels a fairly decent distance. So, the iBeacon is going to have the same kind of range through the walls. So, there's all sorts of practical issues and with directionality and actually truly detecting when people are in whatever rooms, which is why I prefer the motion detection point of view. But motion detection is not what what iBeacon is all about. Right. It's interesting how the experience of having a I have a Bluetooth receiver in my car and it shows up as an AirPlay device, right? And then as I come in from the garage it'll turn off the car so that shuts down the radio or shuts down the car audio and so then my iPhone's like, "Hey, I need to find something else to play this out of. And it will often then select the airplay from the Apple TV, which is in the back room, but it won't start playing again. Like it's, you know, the series of steps that are going through to decide what to do when, you can kind of work out the priorities that Apple's had setting these things up, Because you do have that weird lack of security with AirPlay, where pretty much at any time, someone can kick you off and sort of take over a screen, usually by accident, right? That someone just had it set up from what they were doing before, and now they jump onto YouTube and something's playing. But what's strange is, it's exactly what you were talking about, is how how far in certain directions those the Bluetooth will actually range. And then in others, it will be extremely short. And that I mean, yeah, you could through through walls. Sometimes I'll be playing stuff from my like from my Mac or from my iPhone to like I have a set of Bluetooth headphones, like little remote ones that, you know, so you don't have any like mowing the lawn or something and you don't want a cable and it. Yeah, it's it's I wonder, I think you probably would need something like motion detection to really, really have accuracy because it'll it'll work just fine. And then and for ridiculous distances. And then if you get the wrong thing in between you and the in the transmitter and boom, it's gone. Yeah. Unless unless you do you think they could do like some triangulation with multiple beacons? Is that accurate enough? Okay, yes and no. The problem with triangulation by using RF is that timing, there's two ways you can do it. You can do it based on signal strength, or you can do it based on time differential and GPS works on time differential. So, all of the GPS satellites are all synchronized to the same clock, they all send out an encoded data stream with the time encoded into it. So, by measuring the time differences between the received signals, you can calculate your position, so long as you've got three or more satellites to work from. But when you've got Bluetooth, you don't have that. And there's no way that they're going to release, well, they're just not going to release a source whereby your Bluetooth is synchronised. And it's got a clock with such a high stratum level as an atomic clock that never drifts and a GPS receiver for triangulation on a different set of frequency, it's just not going to happen, like an indoor GPS essentially. No, so they're going to have to do it based on signal strength. And the problem with signal strength is if they did do it based on signal strength, and I'm not saying that they will, but if they did, then the issue with that is that it varies depending upon what it's travelling through, but your position doesn't. So, let's say I'm standing at the halfway point, I'm looking at a wall in the hallway and on one side of the wall is one room, the other side of the wall is the other room and they both have a beacon on either side of them. Well, one of them is going to pass slightly through the wall and its signal will be attenuated ever so slightly. And that will then show me in a position that is incorrect. Whereas the other one has a direct line of sight to me, so there'll be no change to the signal. And that's not including multipath. So, if you've got a signal bouncing off walls and stuff, then you'll get cancellation of the signal. So, you'll get slightly out of phase effects and that'll reduce or increase the signal strength based on the the distance of the reflections from the multi paths. There's a whole bunch of annoying geometry and radio stuff you got to deal with to get any degree of accuracy. The other problem with position detection through triangulation is that you need to know where each of the transceivers are. So, if you put something in a room, it needs to know where it is relative to the other device it's triangulating from, with. So, if you've got two or three, let's say you've got three eye beacons, if they're used in this way, and those three eye beacons, you put them on a coffee table in one room, you know, kitchen bench in the next room, whatever, they need to know in order to get an accurate position on you, they need to know where each of their other friends are in order to do that calculation correctly. So, the geometry requires that. So, what are you going to do? Are you going to ask people to use a tape measure to measure the distance between them? And I mean, you're just not, are you? No. You know, there's no. So, there's all sorts of, you know, fundamental issues with tracking position within a house. And it's one of the main reasons why this sort of thing is just hasn't happened yet. So, I don't know, I... The ultimate, the correct answer is to do something like GPS. Right. But I just can't see consumer level products with that sort of technology for at least, you know, another five or 10 years. it's just, it's too expensive and difficult. And I mean, I guess if you had an external antenna and you pulled one of the GPS clocks in and you're able to replicate that clock and then distribute it to the different devices and then have them retransmit it. But then the distances between them would be so small that the multi-part difference, the time differential would be so inconsequential, you'd never tell them apart. The GPS works because they're so far away. So, the further away you are in essence, the more accurate your position detection becomes, which is kind of counterintuitive. But. Right. Oh, yeah, you actually need a slower transmission. Yeah, you need physical separation, otherwise there'll be no time differential between the different signals. So, I don't know, complicated problem. It might be, yeah, it might be the kind of thing that needs another. Well, you know, there's we were talking about it on Cultivate with the with PrimeSense. Yeah, I was listening to that. And I looked at that one. Yeah, I researched a little bit some of their other, you know, PrimeSense has licensed their technology to a number of companies. And, you know, one of the things that, you know, is a potential use for this is a sort of, you know, in basically internally mapping, you know, homes, houses, buildings, you know, all that sort of thing. You could, these are essentially, they're getting to the point where they're accurate enough that maybe a little eye beacon could also be spraying some IR throughout the room and figuring out, you know, that sort of thing. Building small maps and figuring out where things are relative to other devices that are broadcasting and receiving. I don't know. I mean, it's the kind of thing that's actually, I mean, that's what a lot of what Microsoft actually does with it is they're figuring out what's going on in the room so they can know what they actually need to focus on, because otherwise there'd just be too much noise. But I don't know. It does seem like it's a little way off. And it still doesn't get around the fundamental problem of what to do when there's more than one person. Well, the thing that I really love about the Kinect is the multiple ways in which it detects it, because Microsoft obviously figured this out, that you can't just use any one method because each method has a flaw. So, you can't just use stereotropic cameras for depth detection of moving objects. You can't just use infrared. They also use audio. And I'm not sure if they use ultrasonic or not, but yeah, there's more than one kind of sensing that goes on in order to determine who's doing what, who is who and what's in the room. So, whatever solution they come up with for eye beacons and tracking people's movements through a household, there's no doubt in my mind that it'll be something like a Kinect and whoever it is. And it's going to be expensive for a long time. It's not going to be... Yeah, the easy way out is a simple eye beacon and you just turn the signal strength down really low, such that you've got to be right in front of it, like within a foot of it in order to actually detect you. Other option, you know, is that you've got a motion detector that detects when something is moving in the room. And again, that's prone to, you know, false triggering from all sorts of things like someone left the window open and the curtains blowing. Oh, there's motion in the room, turn the lights on. Oh, yeah. What if you do that with a put an eye beacon in and just put them in the doorways? Yeah. Well, again, the question is, are you moving towards it, away from it? Are you in the room? Are you just standing in the doorway, having a chat? It depends. No matter where you go, there's always some kind of a compromise, which is why you need multiple levels and multiple ways of detecting. And that's what the Kinect has. And whatever Apple does, if that's the way they want to go, they're going to need to do the same thing. Yeah. But in any case, it's yeah. In any case, so multi-room audio, it's a dream. It hasn't happened yet. I can't wait for it to happen. I think that'd be brilliant. Headphones. In the meantime. Yeah. It's funny how a set of headphones and earbuds with your iPod shuffle works just fine. Isn't that funny? Well, those- I have these Motorola SD10Ds, whatever, wherever they're at. Can't find them. But yeah, it's- Especially Bluetooth headsets are- Like, it's a little ugly. I wish it was smaller and I wish it was louder. But yeah, I mean, walk around the house. And like I said, it's amazing how far the Bluetooth actually can shoot. And it's probably just compressing up packets and sending it over when it can. So I'm assuming it's tricking, you know, being a little bit smart with how it's transmitting. But yeah, sometimes low tech is the way to go. Well, I mean, it's a satisfactory use of existing Technology doesn't require anything fancy. It just works. So, you know, until you walk out of range and then it doesn't work. But the other option is just gigantic speakers and turn them up all the way, all the time. It's funny, many teenagers do that. It works. It does work. And then the police get called. Yeah, multi-house audio. Oh, gosh. Anyway. All right. So, enough about speakers. I want to talk about glass or rather polarizing window filters. Have you ever heard of these things? Yes, they are fancy automatic shades for people's houses that are really, really expensive and have no walls. It's just glass all the way around. Right. Yeah, I know. And I actually was aware of their existence, but I had never actually looked into it before. and it was something that was brought up in some of the feedback and so I had a bit of a look into it and some of the stuff is really quite fascinating but the idea is just for those that aren't aware of what it is, is you can apply a film to a window and by applying an electrical charge, there's other ways of doing it but electrical charge would be the most common, so apply voltage to it and it literally will turn from clear to black in a matter of two or three seconds or a shade of gray in between, you know, a shade of tint in between. So think of it like an electrical tinting for the windows. And of course when it, that tint is a genuine tint, it'll actually reflect light just as if it was a permanent tint. And these things can be applied to a retrofit to existing windows and if you're in a climate where you have central heating for example and you want to keep the sunlight out, you'll try, oh sorry, I should say central cooling. So you've So you've got central cooling in your house or air conditioning running, then reflecting that heat through the tinting during the daytime will reduce the amount of heat lost. Mind you, getting double glazed windows would probably have a similar effect. Now, I don't know what the difference is in efficiencies. I had to look for that, but I couldn't find anything. So if anyone knows what the efficiency gains are between the two different methods, I mean, I guess if you had double glazed windows as well as the tinting, you'd probably get an additional benefit. But in any case, these things are wonderful, but there are some problems. So first problem is longevity. Longest warranty that I could find was 10 years. So you put the film on, it's only useful for 10 years. After that period of time, it'll simply stop working properly. So it won't fully tent or it just won't tent at all. So that's an issue. Most of the other home automation stuff that we've talked about will last a lot longer than that. Next issue is sliding windows. You need to fit a special window frame that allows you to actually slide it without, 'cause the problem is that you need to have power going to the window, which means you need wires to the window, which means you need to have a special design window frame in order to have this film applied to the glass on the sliding pane of the window. So that's a problem. And so retrofitting that is not as straightforward as just applying a film to it. Next problem is you need, obviously, cables need to go to it. Although I suppose it may be possible to do it using batteries, but I'm not sure how long the batteries would last. Next problem. In the middle of the day, it's hot. If you lose power, you lose your tint. That's probably gonna be inconvenient. Mind you, if you've got, I guess if you've got air conditioning running and you've lost power, I guess it doesn't matter, does it? you're going to get hot one way or the other. But it's just an interesting thing. If you were to spend the money on this electro tinting for the windows, or you were to put the same money into retrofitting in double glazed glass, well, double glazed glass is going to work, irrespective of whether you've got power. Right. You know, and it's going to last a lot more than 10 years. So, this is sort of where I'm going with this as a potential explanation as to why I don't think it's taken off. What's the off state for these? Is it a clear screen, a clear window or clear when it's off? And then, yeah. Yeah. I mean, if it'd be even worse if you're for privacy. I mean, if something was going on, like, I'm not going to go into what might be going on in a bedroom. But let's say something was going on in the bedroom and they had the windows electrically tinted and the power went out, that could potentially be embarrassing. I'm just saying, you know, anyway, let your imagination run while on that one. So okay, the other thing about it, okay, so to get the wiring, it still is a better option, though, than physical blinds, because you can automate physical blinds, you know, the most common blinds will automate the simple roll up, roll down blinds. And that will have a similar effect for privacy purposes. But because they've got a motor in them, that, you know, drives them up and down, anything that turns anything that moves is going to be less reliable than a film that you would apply and charge it with a voltage. So, they still have the reliability advantage over the moving system with moving blinds. So, it's not all bad news. But anyway, so, yeah, I had to look for sites that had these available, places that had these available. There are a handful, but I couldn't see any relative pricing. you had to call and I haven't come across these, they're not common at all. And I suggest there's a whole, those reasons I just gave are a whole bunch of reasons why, but in the end, they do exist. It is something that you could get if you want it. And it is definitely has the cool factor. And I would suggest if you were really worried about cooling in your house, that I'd go double glazed glass first. And then if you really had the money, then go for these as well. But it's not gonna be a cheap retrofit exercise. - No, no. - And there's that word again, I keep using it retrofit. So now what I wanted to talk about was, I guess something that I, no one, this wasn't part of the feedback. This is something that I feel like I really missed that we didn't talk about enough of in the home automation in the last episode. And that comes down to retrofit versus design. One of the things that really annoys me is the way in which town planning and development and housing design is more about architectural cookie cutting than it is about eco-friendly design. I find it unendingly frustrating because there is an optimal angle for houses to be built with a northern face or a southern face for the height of the roof line, the design of the natural cooling within the house, whether you use louvers in certain locations for improved ventilation, such that the house is designed to naturally be warmer in winter and cooler in summer. Forget your solar panels, forget your solar hot water, just the water system and any of your home automation, but designing a home to be actually more energy efficient without even installing electrical wire in it. And this is not new. This is something that's been around for a long time. And yet, town planners and developers have these dinky, die little winding roads, different sized blocks. When they open up a land of an estate, the roads are so narrow you can barely get one car down them. And, you know what I mean? There used to be a time when all the roads were a perfect, like hash pattern and they were all 90 degrees out perpendicular to each other. And I think I'm not sure where this began, but the place where I saw it the most prevalently was in the United States. Also in Canada, whereby the streets were named incrementally and you would have east, west, north, south. So, streets would be north, south and avenues would be east, west. And you would simply start from Centre Street, Centre Avenue, and you would go first, second, third, fourth, fifth. I'd say like Fifth Avenue and 22nd Street. And straight away, you knew that there was one or two places. And then once you add the Northeast, Southwest, Southeast, then you knew exactly where it was. That's why Calgary was originally set up. I lived in Calgary for a few years, and there are a lot of cities in America also that have a similar kind of grid system. - If you went, well, from Ohio and West, as you're going through the Midwest, you start to see, from the county level down, you'll see that grid appear. And another one is if you take a look at, I think Texas is similar where the northern part of Texas is just this perfect, it looks like a chess board. - Right. - And yeah, like my neighborhood, if you look it on Google Maps, it is a perfect grid. Even the river that goes right through it, that's ignored and everything is still just a grid around it. Yeah, Texas is great. Texas is a perfect example of this on the county level. The western half gets perfectly organized. Yeah, I appreciate that because when you go to these, I mean, the Midwest in Ohio now is full of these awful, sprawling excerpts with exactly what you're talking about, like curly Q roads that lead nowhere. And it's just, and there's what's the front yard, what's the backyard and what is this thing called a neighborhood? Yeah, gone. Anyways. Yeah, go ahead. Sorry. But yeah, that's OK. But that's exactly my point, though, is that with a grid system, you can angle the grid in such a way that all the houses would be able to point in the optimal direction. if you design your grid in the correct direction to start with. And then you could have the houses designed such that they always had the predominant face of the house was in the right direction. I'm not an architect, but I know the basics and the basics are that you don't build a box, pack it with insulation and then put heating and cooling in. And I mean, that's the most ridiculous energy inefficient way of designing a house you can think of. It's sort of like saying we've got all this excess of energy. let's just do whatever and build something that'll fit in an optimally small amount of space. And we have a standard design now. We've paid architects thousands and thousands of dollars to do this design. We've built it a thousand times. We know that it's good. So, now we're going to sell it extra cheap. And hence, you get cookie cutter houses and you get prefabrication and all of all this stuff. But the problem is that all these designs were designed to maximise the amount of floor space you get for the amount of building materials that you've got, or at least most of of them are designed that sort of way. And that's what people demand. They want value for money, but they're not thinking about, okay, well, I want something that's actually going to be more eco-friendly. I want something that's going to have good natural ventilation, you know, that sort of thing. You know, people just don't think about that. I met plenty of people that would hardly ever open their windows. You know, it's always all closed up and it's all centrally heated or centrally cooled and, you know, what's this thing called a breeze? I don't know. I think you feel that when you go outside, I think, you know. So, I- it frustrates me, you know, because all this technology, we talk about retrofitting. Yeah, but geez, it would have been so much nicer if it was built in from the beginning. Well, you've got a- I think in Australia, there's a- you have a lot of bungalows in Australia? Like, bungalow style, the- or, I don't know, maybe like early arts and crafts. It's it's it was probably one of the first examples of efficient and really, really thoughtful design that was made was that could be mass produced. Right. And it came out of the bungalow itself, I think, came out of, I want to say Bangladesh. Where is it? Maybe India. But, you know, the small one story typically or maybe like one and a half and you have the big veranda and everything and it's it's that kind of, you know, it they're small and they're compact but they make use of just sort of, you know, clever use of material and and the way it's laid out to at least, you know, at least achieve comfort in the summer. If not so much in the winter, I think it's a little harder to deal with it there. But it's also something, you know, where they're usually making use of local materials in a way that I think, I don't know, it defies that cookie cutter-ness. And- Well, I'd like to- Yeah. Yeah, I'm sorry. I'd like to say that that was the case. But, I mean, I'm really- No, I mean, just a little bit of local history, for those that are curious, I guess, is that in Queensland, which is the state that I live in and grew up in, spent most of my life in for that matter, is there was an old style of house that was rather unoriginally referred to as the Queenslander. And the idea of this house is that there's a central living area and it's a large open space with a high peak roof. All the floorboards are all wooden floorboards, hence that they have small gaps between them to allow air to flow up from underneath. The entire house is elevated off the ground by, you know, about six or seven feet. And there's a big veranda around the outside that you can walk around and the actual rooms would open out onto the veranda. So, what would happen is that during the heat of the day, you would get natural convection breeze, basically, from underneath the house where it was cooler in the shade. You also had the warm air going to the very peak of the roof. And that natural airflow essentially made it such that on the verandas, you'd always have one side of the house that was in shade and you would get a natural breeze and everything. It was also warmer in winter. You go to the centre of the house and it was warmer in winter. And the Queenslander was sort of the iconic house that was built in Queensland. You know, again, oddly, you know, such an obvious name. But anyway. So, what happened, though, is that That was designed for the hotter conditions that we get in Queensland, the more subtropical, tropical, further out west you go, more desert-like conditions. It was designed for that. It was not designed to be built in New South Wales or Victoria where it gets colder. So, there was a transition and it happened gradually. I couldn't put a finger on when, but probably 50 years ago, maybe even 40 years ago where a lot of the designers would crank out the designs in Sydney or Melbourne for houses that were appropriate for that sort of environment. And they would go and sell these houses, house designs in Queensland. And so, the Queenslander began to die. The problem with Queenslanders also is that because they're generally all made out of wood, that there's a lot of painting and that can get quite expensive. So, people would start going towards brick houses. And now the most common kind of house in Queensland, the new houses, is a slab on ground with brick and a wooden frame, which is what I've got. You know, they're cheaper and everything, but there is no natural airflow in them. They're not- They're built on the ground as opposed to above the ground, and they are not eco-friendly in any way. And it's just a predominance where, I guess, back in- For whatever reason, it was just simpler and easier to keep copying designs from climates that weren't appropriate. And it was one of those things I came across when I was working with Energex, which is the local electricity provider. And there was a new building, a new depot building being built out at Winton, which is in the middle of nowhere, a long way from here. So, I'm like, I don't know, 1600 kilometers from here, out west in the middle of an arid region. And it was built to the same design as the new one in rural Victoria. And the cars out there had no cover, no car shade, no shelter, no nothing. The car park was simply designed without any shelter. Worked fine when you're in Melbourne, but when you're out there and you park a car in the sun every single day, it destroys your car. And it's like the design, the designers never stopped to think about it. All of the others that had been built in the last 30 or 40 years for Energex, they were done- and they had the full shades and everything. So, when you pulled in, there's actually, I mean, it's not much, just a little carport, little car cover, right? No big deal. But this new design had nothing of that and it was because the design was carbon copied from something that was done for Victoria. So, it feels to me like there's this brute force approach, not brute force, like a one size fits all, I don't care about being eco-friendly approach, a wasteful approach, I guess, to architecture with houses and it's frustrating. So, anyway, I've shared my frustration. Well, I think, you know, living in an older house and appreciating the the cleverness of the original design and honestly, the quality of the materials versus the stuff that gets slapped up in eight weeks now. I mean, it's noticeable. It's you can feel it. And yeah, I think it's I don't think there's any. The more you know, the more I read about, quote unquote, eco friendly home design, the more I just feel like I'm reading a bunch of marketing spin. I don't know. I don't know if that's where you are getting at, but it's. I don't see it. Because I think, honestly, I mean, if, you know, it's one of the things that doing it right probably means you can't be very profitable. I think the problem is that people come to expect something that is cheap and in so doing, they begin to ignore the long-term costs. And this is the whole thing about putting any kind of renewable energy, you put solar panels on your roof, it's going to cost you money. You know, you're going to have to buy the panels, put them up there, wire them up, and you're going to have to find that money somehow. Some of these companies are giving loans to let people do that, and that's great. But when you're building a house, it's a different story. I mean, every penny counts, right? And the more you borrow, the higher your interest rate and the more it's going to sting. So, you know, the cost of housing going up all the time, because labour costs are high and material costs are going up as well. you put that together, you're in a bad situation. You don't want to pay for what houses used to be worth to construct. So yeah, you go for the cheaper option. And the cheaper option is, of course, cookie cutter and not very well, well, not from an eco point of view anyway. Not well designed. So anyway. All right. I think I've rambled enough about that.
Duration 58 minutes and 44 seconds Direct Download

Show Notes

Home Automation:

Multi-Room Audio:

Smart Glass & Eco Homes:

Home Automation Software


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Ben Alexander

Ben Alexander

Ben created and runs Constellation.fm and Fiat Lux

John Chidgey

John Chidgey

John is an Electrical, Instrumentation and Control Systems Engineer, software developer, podcaster, vocal actor and runs TechDistortion and the Engineered Network. John is a Chartered Professional Engineer in both Electrical Engineering and Information, Telecommunications and Electronics Engineering (ITEE) and a semi-regular conference speaker.

John has produced and appeared on many podcasts including Pragmatic and Causality and is available for hire for Vocal Acting or advertising. He has experience and interest in HMI Design, Alarm Management, Cyber-security and Root Cause Analysis.

You can find him on the Fediverse and on Twitter.