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.
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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.

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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)?

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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.

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