Does every geek take a photo of Google in Zürich?

Maybe not all… my col­leagues wouldn’t have gone there if I wouldn’t have said some­thing…

To be hon­est, I would have ex­pec­ted some­thing a little bit more shiny/​geeky/​… to take a pic­ture of (any­way, if you don’t see it: I have a real smile in my face on the pic­ture, so the geek in me en­joyed tak­ing the photo).

 

Alexander Leidinger in front of Google CH
Me in front of Google CH

 

Google CH
Google CH

 

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A smart­watch I would buy

After read­ing an art­icle about smart watches, I tried to come up with a spec of a smart watch I would buy:

  • It needs to look like a nor­mal watch (I wear a stain­less steel ana­log one, about two thumbs wide with the strap be­ing one thumb wide) and needs to be thin (or at least give the im­pres­sion it is thin, even if it is not).
  • It needs to be an ex­ten­sion to my smart­phone, but be­ing able to dis­play date and time without it.
  • It needs to have an open pro­tocol, so that people can write smart­phone apps which are able to dis­play any­thing they want.
  • It would be nice if the vendor-​supplied app would dis­play in­com­ing calls/​SMS and at least cal­en­dar no­ti­fic­a­tions (ad­di­tional no­ti­fic­a­tions should be con­fig­ur­able, I do not want to see “you are roam­ing now” mes­sages, but email mes­sages could be nice when you are wait­ing for an im­port­ant one) from the smart­phone. I am not sure how many columns/​rows for char­ac­ters there need to be or if it shall be a pixel-​display with a spe­cific min­imum amount of DPI.
  • There needs to be at least one easy to use by in­tend but hard to use by mis­take but­ton which switches back to the date/​time dis­play (and/​or switches between sev­eral de­fault dis­plays like weather, date/​time, agenda… when con­nec­ted to the smart­phone – again, ideally this is con­fig­ur­able in the app). Bo­nus points for an ad­di­tional con­text sens­it­ive but­ton (e.g. “snooze 5 minutes” or “dis­miss” for cal­en­dar no­ti­fic­a­tions, ideally this can be con­figured in the app).
  • The bat­tery needs to last long and be easy to re­place (like with my cur­rent watch, so it needs to last years). While I would prefer a re­chargeable way of hand­ling this, the cur­rent tech­no­logy is clumsy (stand­ard­ized con­nect­ors like micro-​USB to charge are too big… non-​standard con­nect­ors are not an op­tion) and does not last enough (I would be OK if one charge would last nearly a year).
  • I do not need col­ors, but a good con­trast even in full sun­light is man­dat­ory.
  • Med­ical or life-​style sensors (com­pass, gyro­scope, blood pres­sure, ac­cel­er­o­met­ers, ra­di­ation, air qual­ity, …) are not ne­ces­sary, but as long as they come for free (read: do not make the watch much thicker), I would not mind.

Free DLNA server which works good with my Sony BRAVIA TV

In sev­eral pre­vi­ous posts I wrote about my quest for the right source format to stream video to my Sony BRAVIA TV (build in 2009). The last week-​end I fi­nally found some­thing which sat­is­fies me.

What I found was ser­viio, a free UPnP-​AV (DLNA) server. It is writ­ten in java and runs on Win­dows, Linux and FreeBSD (it is not lis­ted on the web­site, but we have an not-​so-​up-​to-​date ver­sion in the ports tree). If ne­ces­sary it transcodes the in­put to an ap­pro­pri­ate format for the DLNA ren­derer (in my case the TV).

I tested it with my slow Net­book, so that I was able to see with which in­put format it will just re­mux the in­put con­tainer to a MPEG trans­port stream, and which in­put format would be really re-​encoded to a format the TV un­der­stands.

The bot­tom line of the tests is, that I just need to use a sup­por­ted con­tainer (like MKV or MP4 or AVI) with H.264-encoded video (e.g. en­coded by x264) and AC3 au­dio.

The TV is able to chose between sev­eral au­dio streams, but I have not tested if ser­viio is able to serve files with mul­tiple au­dio streams (my wife has a dif­fer­ent mother lan­guage than me, so it is in­ter­est­ing for us to have mul­tiple au­dio streams for a movie), and I do not know if DLNA sup­ports some­thing like this.

Now I just have to re­place min­idlna (which only works good with my TV for MP3s and Pic­tures) with ser­viio on my FreeBSD file server and we can for­get about the disk-​juggling.

In­tel­li­gent elec­tri­city meters? More be­ne­fi­cial things ex­ist (but need im­prove­ment).

In Ger­many you need to in­stall an in­tel­li­gent elec­tri­city meter if you make lar­ger changes to the elec­tri­city in­stall­a­tion in your house (or if you build a new one). At first this sounds in­ter­est­ing. If you look closer, you need to de­cide if you want to laugh or to cry.

Such an in­tel­li­gent elec­tri­city meter is able to dis­play the cur­rent power con­sump­tion in a di­gital dis­play (if the power con­sump­tion stays the same, you can test with this how much power a spe­cific device needs). It is also able to at­trib­ute the power con­sump­tion to dif­fer­ent times of the day. An op­tional fea­ture (here in Ger­many) is the pos­sib­il­ity to trans­fer cap­tured data to the power com­pany. It is not re­quired that the home-​owner is able to see all or even any data from an in­tel­li­gent elec­tri­city meter.

The prom­ises are, that with such a device people could pay less money by us­ing the wash­ing ma­chine or the dish washer or sim­ilar devices dur­ing times when not much people want to use en­ergy.

So far so good, but…

  • My wash­ing ma­chine or dish washer are about 1 – 3 years old. We did not buy the cheapest ones, but they do not of­fer to start the wash­ing upon in­put from an ex­ternal sig­nal or just by ac­tiv­at­ing the power (if they lose power, the chosen wash­ing pro­gram is re­set to the de­fault pro­gram). Am I sup­posed to buy a new one?
  • The power con­sump­tion of all the ne­ces­sary in­fra­struc­ture (di­gital stuff in the elec­tri­city meter, net­work con­nec­tion to the power com­pany) is not zero, and it is the owner who has to pay for this.
  • When every­one is wash­ing when not much people want to use en­ergy, a lot of people want to use en­ergy in such mo­ments. It may still help a bit the power com­pan­ies be­cause they do not have to gen­er­ate power (and have ex­penses be­cause of this) which is not used, but I doubt the con­sumer will get a big re­duc­tion then.
  • The dur­a­tion of such power-​surplus times with a re­duced price may not last dur­ing the com­plete time a wash­ing ma­chine needs. It may be even the case that a high-​price time slot may get ac­tiv­ated shortly after (if this is done by (ma­li­cious) in­tent or not is not even rel­ev­ant, as the con­sumer can not do some­thing about it as he is prob­ably sleep­ing when this hap­pens in the night).
  • The power com­pany may be able to get a de­tailed trace of what hap­pens in a house (the own­ers are get­ting up at 11am, only take a shower every two weeks, have prob­ably a big plasma TV which runs all the day, …).
  • I doubt the device is free of se­cur­ity holes or pro­tec­ted enough against eaves­drop­ping (with all the pro­fil­ing im­plic­a­tions, or pos­sib­il­it­ies to ma­nip­u­late the data (pos­it­ively or neg­at­ively) dir­ectly in the device be­fore trans­mis­sion to the power com­pany).
  • I do not think the most in­tel­li­gent and consumer-​friendly devices will come with enough stat­ist­ics or access-​possibilities to really sat­isfy the con­sumers.

More in­ter­est­ing would other things which could help cut costs. For ex­ample small low-​power net­worked sensors which de­tect if a window/​door is open, the tem­per­at­ure in a room, the out­side tem­per­at­ure, the sun­light in­tens­ity and so on. To­gether with some ac­tu­at­ors like for ex­ample to close the win­dow, close the shut­ter, change the heat­ing, turn off lamps and so on, it would provide much more im­me­di­ate be­ne­fit. In a new build­ing, the net­work could be wired, but in an old build­ing the sensors need to be wire­less and battery-​powered.

A pos­sible solu­tion could be done via bluetooth v3 in a mesh net­work (yes, if it is not open source, I would also be scep­tical if the com­pany which pro­duces this has enough know­ledge to make it se­cure), polled by a cent­ral sta­tion which could put the sensors in si­lent standby to re­duce the amount of ra­dio pol­lu­tion and in­crease bat­tery life­time. If some of the sensors and ac­tu­at­ors are con­nec­ted (e.g. room tem­per­at­ure and heat­ing ac­tu­ator plus a clock), you could even let it run in autonom­ous mode (time based heat­ing to a spe­cific tem­per­at­ure) and only need to con­nect to it if there is a spe­cific need. Such a situ­ation could be that the win­dow sensor de­tects an open win­dow, so the heat­ing can be turned off. Or maybe the sun­light in­tens­ity sensor de­tects (or the base sta­tion es­tim­ates) an intensity-​rise of the sun­light, so the heat­ing could be re­duced in ad­vance.

Some­thing like this would give im­me­di­ate be­ne­fit (in com­fort) to those who in­stall it, and in a long-​term view it would/​could cut the costs down a bit.

I am aware of some wire­less sensors/​actuators, but they are re­l­at­ively ex­pens­ive, the ra­dio pol­lu­tion (and type) is un­known to me, and the pro­tocol is not open, so I do not know if it is se­cure and how to im­prove things I do not like.

Any­one with enough hard­ware know­ledge and open source/​hardware spirit out there to pro­duce a mod­u­lar base for sensors/​actuators (bluetooth + I/​O for sensros/​actuators/​pc-​connection + con­troler)?

Si­len­cing a hair dryer (and other house­hold stuff)?

My wife used a hair dryer this morn­ing. Nor­mally this is noth­ing worth to blog about, but after a night with not so much sleep (my child is get­ting sev­eral new teeth at once and I took care about it this night) the sound of the hair dryer was a bit an­noy­ing, even if I was already pre­par­ing me to go to work too.

At this point I sud­denly no­ticed, that I can not re­mem­ber to have seen a com­mer­cial of a hair dryer where a low noise sound pres­sure level is one of the im­port­ant fea­tures. I also can not re­mem­ber that someone things that this shall be changed. This is strange.

There is a lot of move­ment to make cars more si­lent. There is a lot of move­ment to limit the sound pres­sure level of port­able mu­sic play­ers (those where the mu­sic is con­sumed the most with head­phones). There are rules about the sound pres­sure level at work. There are com­mer­cials which fo­cus on the lack of loud noise from the dish­washer or the wash­ing ma­chine, but I can not re­mem­ber to have seen put­ting the noise level of a hair dryer, a mixer, a va­cuum or some­thing sim­ilar as a ma­jor fea­ture against a com­pet­i­tion into a com­mer­cial.

When we are a bit late to go to work, my wife is some­times us­ing the air con­di­tion­ing of the car as a hair dryer (we drive to­gether, so no danger on the road), and this is pro­du­cing enough air­flow to dry the hairs while still not be­ing as loud as a hair dryer. Yes, the air­flow gen­er­ates some noise which you can not pre­vent, and the fans are more far away from the ear than it is the case with a hair dryer (and it is not a low–class car), but if I look at the noise level of quiet fans in a PC, I am sure that it is pos­sible to cut the noise pres­sure level of a hair dryer. No high-​frequent noise from the mo­tor of the fan and a blade and case design which provides a good air­flow while re­du­cing airflow-​noise is pos­sible.

As a hair dryer is a device which is not far away from ears, I am sur­prised that there is not more in­terest (at least in vari­ous tech­nical standards-​compliance defin­i­tions and tests re­quired by the gov­ern­ment) in this. Spe­cially kids seem to agree that it is too loud.

Sim­ilar for a va­cuum.

And while we are at it, my mother is known to bake good cakes, she is bak­ing at least one cake per week and if there is some fest­iv­ity (fam­ily, friends, neigh­bors) she is even bak­ing 5 – 6 cakes in a week. As such she is not us­ing a cheap mixer, she is us­ing a qual­ity product with a stable stand. Still, this device is mak­ing a lot of noise. A part of the noise is gen­er­ated by the mo­tor (high fre­quency, de­pends upon the speed of the mixer) and if you really want to speak about some­thing, you bet­ter go out of the kit­chen.

I know, devices with a re­duced noise level a more ex­pens­ive to cre­ate and build, but I can not really be­lieve that nobody would we will­ing to spend money for such a device. So, if you know a mar­ket­ing per­son of a man­u­fac­turer of such devices, please have a talk about a nice “our product is bet­ter than the one of the com­pet­i­tion be­cause it is more silent”-campaign with him/​her.