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Wednesday, 1 October 2014

witching season for replacement light bulbs

I can't complain that the excellent September weather has meant trialling the replacement smart thermostat for the heating may take longer. So far the thermostat has only switched on when I've been testing.

Curiously, our house's annual September peak in light-bulb pops has continued, with five bulbs pinging over around a three week period. Maybe the Phoebus conspiracy lives on?

I've taken this seasonal opportunity to rejig the lighting. We've got one of those little energy metering gadgets which tells me stuff that should really be common sense(!)
I can easily see the quiescent load of the house. To my pleasant surprise, this base load is quite low, even with the range of technology we have around the place.

It emphasises when something bigger kicks in like the electric kettle, dishwasher, washing machine and even the vacuum cleaner.

A much more surprising load is the effect of conventional lighting, which can easily double or triple the base loading. I'm not sure if I should admit to this, but I've walked around with the handheld gadget and flicked lights on in different areas, witnessing the sudden boost in energy used. I know common sense could do the same thing, but the left-brained readouts reinforce the impression. Particularly when the gadget shows the £ and pence running costs.

So for this year's light bulb season it's been a no-brainer to spend more on the replacement bulbs. There's a few higher usage areas: the office, the kitchen, the living room.

Quite a few halogen spotlights amongst that selection too. My quick calculation indicates moving to LED-based lights for these areas could save maybe £150 per year. They can be just as bright and with warm low 2700 Kelvin colour temperature they even look like tungsten.

...Okay, so I might not have been able to resist the temptation to get some internet-addressable light-bulbs too.

Monday, 29 September 2014

a generational pointer from Billy Elliot

Along to see the dynamic special performance of Billy Elliot on Sunday, introduced by the producer Stephen Daldry.

Harder-edged than the movie, it features the stark political climate of 1984-1985 during Thatcher's closure of mining villages.

Set in Easington, there's the theme of the lad inspired to dance, played alongside the prolonged miners' strike, with police from the south sent to control the protests in County Durham.

A superb and energetic cast, driving a spirited musical - the story of nurturing creativity in adverse conditions - with music in this stage version by Elton John.

The writer, Lee Hall, expressed a sentiment scarce from this September's political conferences:

"We owe it to the next generation to create a world where it is possible for the Billy Elliots...to have a chance to succeed and flourish rather than be fed to the machine which grinds us into identical pieces only fit for consumption..."

It may be thirty years since the original story, but it does seem to be another speech point that today's politicians have forgotten.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

adding heat to If This Then That

Like many, for quite a while I've used Hazel to keep my Mac systems tidy.

It's "automation for the rest of us", with a rules engine to do things like tidy the desktop and file things away without having to do anything.

I regard it as a sort of magic nowadays and occasionally have to remember to switch it off when I deliberately want to make a mess.

The cloud equivalent of Hazel type rules, which doesn't yet get much coverage, but which can become a twitter-like phenomenon, is IFTTT.

"If This Then That" can be used for all kinds of event triggering.

Although it has the makings of a 'Rise of the Machines' scenario, I'm kinda relying on Asimov's first law (A robot may not injure a human being etc...) as protection through my experiments. This is mainly through the application of 'Keep it Simple' with the IFTTT recipes I've added. And yes, I'm familiar with HAL 9000.

Although hardly Jedi mind tricks my basic examples of automation include a "probably a rainy day" notification first thing in the morning (to pop up on the iPhone). I know, I could look at the sky or listen to the radio, but a small notification to the iPhone seems a reasonable test.

The wheely bins don't have RFID, so the best I can do is to have an automated reminder on a Tuesday evening. I've just hooked up the home thermostat to send occasional alerts. Currently there's no Garmin or Strava channel, although I've noticed they can both be set up as RSS channels.

Because it can work with many types of channel triggers (things like location sensitivity) and also with many applications, there's also potential to trigger an event such as reminders based upon location (e.g. office/supermarket/train station).

The 'approaching home in the car' scenario is one that I'll want to explore further, as will be the obvious applicability of short notifications to smart watch technologies.

For me it will be mainly 'silent running' because I'm unwilling to let IFTTT have access to broadcasters like twitter in case of the potential for unexpected side-effects.

Nonetheless it is already providing some intriguing potential.

Friday, 26 September 2014

unbendium as the next unobtanium?

One of my favourite marketing examples is the use of Unobtanium in the construction of Oakley sunglasses.

For ages they emphasised the straight side bits and nose grips featuring a 'three point grip system'. If I see modern Oakleys with ear-shaped or wiggly side bits, then I automatically think they are sub-standard, under-utilitising or even omitting the Unobtanium.

Which brings me to the gambit pileup facing Apple. Will the iPhone 6s need to feature a new material? Unbendium. The gambit is because they can't solve a problem they won't want to admit to in the first place. A real case of the 'I Know You Know I Know', but needing to be handled with just eye gestures (maybe iGestures?). Okay, and maybe some stress test pictures with really big weights.

The handwaving of the announcement worked. Only later did the media have a collective refrigerator moment, thinking, "Wait a minute, it's big and thin, and made of pliable metal..."

It wouldn't take long to find a few twits tweeting about how quickly they've wrecked their new phone. By sitting on it or using it as a hammer.

I've briefly examined my iClone for the alleged fault, but even with this non-Apple engineering it'd take a serious amount of force to recreate what I've seen on the telly.

It reminds me of those groovy California 1 wooden postcards I bought in Santa Monica last year. I put them in my back jeans pocket, then later sat down and, yep, only one survived. Come to think of it, they weren't made of tempered aluminium with titanium inserts.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

feed them on your dreams, the one they fix, the one you'll know by

My bicycle is still blogging away quietly most times I ride it, and since I started using tapiriik, it copies similar information to a couple of other health analysis sites as well.

Now that there's a renewed interest in health applications we can expect an armful of smart watches to wind up in the stores by year end. At present I'm pretty comfortable with the (invisible) fitbit, which is a useful daily tracker but without needing to light up one's wrist.

As well as this Personal Area Network stuff, I've been turning attention to the Internet of Things, and the related Innernet of Things, which are the basis to link ever increasing amounts of home systems together. My recent experiments have been with a mainly unnoticed device - the home thermostat.

We've replaced the old clicky unit with one of the nest devices, somewhat jazzing-up a relatively mundane task.

The nest replaces the room-style thermostat with a combined thermostat and day-to-day programmer, which uses heuristics and sensors to dynamically determine the settings. As well as a wi-fi link to the home network, it has a separate and persistent Zigbee wireless protocol between the thermostat and a small unit connected to the boiler/pump system.
The end result provides a remarkable range of capabilities. As well as the normal temperature up/down control, it learns the rate of heat exchange in the environment and also monitors whether anyone is at home, potentially dropping to an economy setting when everyone is out.

Our smoke detectors also have motion sensors, which the nest wirelessly hooks into to improve motion coverage. It uses the postcode to collect weather information. We've also set it to send its telemetry to the cloud, so that the temperature and home heating use can be analysed and adjusted remotely from a phone or browser.

A catalyst for this was a recently quick energy audit as part of the annual gas and electricity service provider review. In our case I am certain that the improved intelligence in the new device will save a decent chunk of cash. For us, probably at least the cost of the unit in the first year, compared with the previous 'set to stun' heat setting that has been routinely deployed.

Some might say this technology is giving away ever more information to the world of corporate Big Data, with naysayers predicting the thermostat will start running adverts on its display. Okay, it may also have a bit of a HAL vibe, but I'm finding that this all presents interesting ideas for the connected home.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Enjoying The Bone Clocks, but now a dilemma...

I've been reading the polyphonic adventure of David Mitchell's The Bone Clocks, but still have a way to go.

I've just noticed that it is being serialised starting Monday night on Radio 4, which presents me with a kind of dilemma.

Should I listen to the radio adaptation, which has the potential to overtake my reading speed? Or should I ignore it until I've finished the book?

I'm enjoying the multi-perspective and multi-timed story telling, which began in 1984 and has been jumping forward in roughly ten year increments, from different narrative points of view. It's compellingly written with sudden moments where everything pivots onto another plane, as well as various clues being dropped into the storyline ahead of later reveals.

David Mitchell also wrote 'The Cloud Atlas', which I haven't read, and to be honest I gave up when watching the movie. My guess is that the prior book started out with similar multiple point of views but somehow the movie struggled.

Mitchell has created very accessible characterisations. The initially 15 year old heroine of Holly gets a somewhat Roald Dahl styled start (No spoiler to say that Dahl would say 'Kill the parents' as a quick way to give young protagonists free will). By the first 10% (Kindle-speak) the story is jagging off unexpectedly.

The thinking explores connections and arcs much broader than the grounded start. From very early in the book there's hints of strange and paranormal topics, which I'm expecting to clarify over the last third of the book.

"she’s sort of sketched onto the corner where nobody’ll spot her"

Weirdly, in just looking for a cover art image to head this blog post, I notice the alternative U.S. cover actually has a series of arcs. Like those strange enamel black and white labyrinth signs in tube stations, the book is messing with my mind in a good way.

I'm trying not to give too much away. Suffice to say we get straightforward human interest, mysticism, academe, conflict, humour, economic catastrophe and metaphysics. And I've still got a decent chunk left to read.

A thoroughly enjoyable page turner, with (so far?) a positive heart.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

goofing around with an iClone 6

iClone 6
Aside from the rather early Xmas displays, I also passed by an Apple store yesterday. There was a long patient looking line of people standing outside waiting to pick up their new pre-ordered (pre-ordained?) iPhones*.

The 6 appears to be winning over the 6 Plus, but that could be a supply thing.

I should explain that I've had an iPhone 6 shaped device for some time.

When I'm in New York I like to visit Canal Street to see what kinds of special offers are available. It usually comprises sunglasses or similar which bear the name of a famous brand, the packaging of a famous brand, but for some reason are on sale for, oh, 'ten dollar'. Maybe 'two for 18 dollar'.

My iPhone shaped device has similar cloned origins. It's from a Chinese company that produced their iPhone 6 clone back in July. It's quad processor, 13 Megapixel camera, dual SIM and runs on Android 4.4.2 (KitKat), with an iOS shell. There were two USB lightning cables and a charger (they'd be £45 from Apple) and some awful-looking headphones in the box.

To my surprise it is genuinely quite usable. All the standard smartphone capabilities work. It downloads Apps from Google Play store and they install and work correctly. The 'OK, Google' speech recognition works. The iOS style display can be toggled back and forth, so the phone can look like it's running both Android and Apple operating systems.

It won't replace my regular phone, but as a way to continue to use an old pay as you go SIM, it cost less than a burner from Tesco. It's only borderline pocketable though.
Goophone iClone 6
* The line I saw was quite a lot shorter than on launch day outside the Regents Street store. There's a video of it here, which is like a mini tour of Regents Street, Hanover Street, Hanover Square and Brook Street.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

too early for Santa sightings?

I know it's a bit of a messy photograph, but I snapped it hurriedly as I walked past the front of a shop today. Notice anything abnormal?

It's September.

There's reindeer and fir trees in the display.

Oh, and a little Santa Claus popping out of the chimney.

It seems a bit early to be checking xmasclock.com

Friday, 19 September 2014

well, you say you want a federation

307 years and still counting. Yes, I woke to still being in the UK this morning, based on the last 5.3% of the Scottish votes.

The voting gap sounds bigger because of the way it gets represented, but undoubtedly the last 191,969 'No' votes from a voting capacity of 4.24 million still decided it.

The surviving politicians have been quick to move to the next stage of 'devolution' bringing up a question that has languished since, oh, 1977. Yes, the wonks are looking for the next political advantages.

We are now being promised answers to all kinds of issues by November 2014. Nothing unrealistic or distracting in these moves? I wonder if they will last until tea-time? There'll also be plenty of arguments for the media to recycle - will anyone bring up the Stone of Scone?.

I predict some speedily arranged new field appointments and swap outs including democracy task forces or similar sounding edifices (no, I didn't say artifices).

Probably, by November it will have to be along the lines of a plan for a plan.

Or maybe to incept a plan of how to make a plan of a plan. But maybe I'm entering unconstructed dream space when I say that.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

time to delete a few more apps

A useful change in the iPhone operating system is the ability to add a different keyboard.

I've noticed others using the Swype-type keyboards for a while on Android and thought the idea was pretty good.

I've settled for the free Swiftkey at the moment, which can be a keyboard and also does a pretty good job letting the words be predicted by dragging a finger across the keyboard area. It learns new words fast, too.

The new iOS 8 is also a perfect catalyst for me to delete a few of the unused apps sitting on my phone and iPad.

Aside from Swiftkey, my only other recent addition has been the freemium Moleskine app, which may be a replacement for the little notebooks which I've used for several years.

I've also been playing around with that Moleskine smart paper with Evernote and wonder if that will eventually be the way to go...Write on the paper and it appears in a document in the phone...Maybe I'll use it to make a list of the Apps to delete.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

nothing belongs on a poker table but cards, chips and whiskey

We've just seen the NT production of Tennessee Williams 'A Streetcar named Desire' which has Gillian Anderson playing Blanche DuBois.

It's been running at the Young Vic, although we actually tried out the NT Live screening of it, which was a very interesting experience.

First, the play. A real tour-de-force for Anderson, from the time she tidily arrives at the New Orleans split house of her sister Stella (Vanessa Kirby) and seeks the Jim Beam from the cupboard under the sink.

Then we watch an alcoholic decline in her fortune, interspersed with squandered saving moments.

Blanche wants the lights dimmed, symbolising a reduction in truth, although it's more about an escape from realism.

"I don't want realism. I want magic. …I try to give that to people. I misrepresent things to them. I don't tell truth, I tell what ought to be truth…."

Her sister's husband Stanley Kowalski (Ben Foster) is altogether more worldly, wanting to know where the family property has gone, harking to the New Orleans Napoleonic Code of 'what's yours is mine', for what he considers is his share of the (non-existent) family fortune.

The catalyst of Stanley sets a path towards Blanche's self-destruction, along with the twisting revelations from her life before arriving in New Orleans.

There's plenty of brilliant lines delivered, sometimes at a whipcrack pace that leaves one reeling from the need to process as the story moves along.

"…...Soft people have got to shimmer and glow. They've got to put on soft colors, the colors of butterfly wings..." before the demise of Blanche towards living in the bath with a glass of bourbon.

It's been set in a supposedly modern time, although the scripting is original with arcane phone numbers 'Magnolia 1234' etc. some dated expressions and cordless but not cellular phones. For me, this didn't matter one jot and the sparseness of the unwalled setting gave mental licence to edit for the key aspects.

And that's where the NT Live big screening comes in.

It allowed an added intimacy as the camera action stalked in amongst the actors. Still very much a play, it gave stunning perspectives that would never be seen in a conventional production. The Young Vic set revolved too, spinning slowly in its slightly addled state, with the skeletal walls providing ways to see every angle on what was happening.

I loved this way to watch this play. It won't replace conventional theatre, but was a fascinating and appropriate alternative way to see this production, allowing every aspect to be scrutinised. The production anyway calls for the various monologues to be widely delivered and the Young Vic audience in the round formed the bubble of a world representing the New Orleans Quarter.

This was a kind of 'for one day only' thing, but I shall watch out for others.

Monday, 15 September 2014

office, hotels and cycling statistics

City Hall
I've made several adjustments to plans this year as a result of work, which has taken me away from home more than I'd originally predicted. I notice I've somehow moved through all of the loyalty card stages of a particular hotel chain, from their lowest card right up to platinum.

Not that it makes much difference, although it's sometimes hard to believe it was only this year that I started that particular block of work. It almost seems a longer time ago.

My time away from home is reflected in my cycling stats for the year, which are somewhere around the 2,800 mile level at the moment.

It's quite a way down from the same period last year. I think I finished last year somewhere over 6000 miles, whereas I'm guessing I'll be around 4,000 miles this year.

I only monitor the mileage clocked up via the little Garmin unit on the handlebars, but I've been doing that for at least the last three years now, so have a base of interesting data.

My stats are still considerably above the UK cycling average, which is a surprisingly low 79 miles per year with only 7-8% of the population cycling 3 times a week.

And across my three years of counting, I've only had one bicycle disappear: the heavy green one, which vanished without trace.