Smart Home Woes

Gizmodo has a great piece on cheap home automation gone terribly mediocre. It's actually really interesting to realize how often we as humans need to relearn the idea of resiliency, durability, usability and in systems. Home automation is neat, and I've enjoyed playing with parts in it. But if your normal workflow requires a smart phone, you are taking a step backwards. Sadly, most of the solutions out there today head down that path.

A much better approach would be to put smarts directly into existing electrical structures (wall plates, switches), and ensure that all of them had physical manual override. Some of the zwave wall switches out there do that, to the best of my knowledge no one has done that with plugs.

I think a lot of the folks working on these solutions probably need to read The Design of Everyday Things. I promise if you read that, you'll never look at a phone or a wall switch the same way again.


Star Trek, Star Wars (and more) Cinematic Space Compilation

screenshot_145A wonderful 6 minute compilation of visually stunning clips from 35 amazing films, from 1968 to 2014, including Star Trek, Star Wars, Aliens, Interstellar, Gravity and Guardians of the Galaxy.

This short film by Russian Video Editor Max Shishkin features music by Hans Zimmer (“Mountains” from the Interstellar Soundtrack); Lyrics (“Do not go gentle into that good night”) by Dylan Thomas; and Voice by Anthony Hopkins.

via Star Trek, Star Wars (and more) Cinematic Space Compilation.

Totally amazing remix of space scenes from various films. A testament to imagination, ambition, and special effects. I'll admit I've been jonesing for some new good space Sci Fi TV after watching through Babylon 5 again recently. Hopefully the recent management shuffle at SyFy will help.

Unpacking Back to the Future

If you want to be disappointed by anything in our real 2015 compared to what’s imagined in the Back to the Future movies, don’t be disappointed because we haven’t yet been given flying cars or hoverboards. Instead, be disappointed that the momentum of the cassette era has slowed, stopped, and even been rolled back; be disappointed that tech and media companies alike work with judges and law enforcement to take our machines and our culture back out of our own hands.

via Back to the Future, Time Travel, and the Secret History of the 1980s — The Message — Medium.

A way more interesting look at Back to the Future than complaining about flying cars. One of my favorite bits about the article is noting that Marty could plug his camcorder into the TV that existed 30 years prior. If we went back 30 years, we couldn't.

I suspect there will be a movie night soon.


The long and interesting history of East Palo Alto

Moreover, the questions being asked today about why the tech industry lacks racial diversity, and what the long-term consequences of gentrification are in the U.S.’s most economically vibrant regions like the San Francisco Bay Area are deeply intertwined in a way that is hard to perceive unless you step back.

This is a story of how two neighboring communities followed entirely different trajectories in post-war California — one of enormous wealth and power, and the other of resilience amid deprivation. It’s about how seemingly small policy choices can have enduring, multi-generational consequences.

A year ago, I told you my family’s history in Silicon Valley. Let me tell you another story.

from East of Palo Alto’s Eden | TechCrunch.

Great long form piece on East Palo Alto over the last 70 years. It makes you think about how national and state level policies play out in individual communities, sometimes in unexpected and undesirable ways.

Via Sean Collins on Twitter.

Dissecting an Infographic

This morning I woke up, made a cup of coffee, picked up my tablet, and took a quick look at Twitter. The following was in my twitter feed via retweet:



Huh, that's interesting. We do often see media blowing things out of proportion. See: Ebola in the United States panic this fall. I was about to move on before I noticed the scale on the upper left.

2014 had less than 500 deaths? That can't be. The two Malaysian Air lines planes that went down this summer (one shot down and one lost entirely) had to have accounted for more than 500 deaths just together. They had no survivors.

Then I noticed the lower right corner.


So I get things getting safer year over year, but there is no way that 2014 actually had an order of magnitude drop in crashes in one year. 10% decrease seems plausible, but not 80% drop.

That's because this infographic is from March (which makes a ton more sense). It's publication date is March 10, so we're really looking at 1/6 of a year at best in that final bar.screenshot_142


Note: the original author completely refuses to acknowledge he was wrong over the course of the twitter thread. Self denial is amazing.

This CNN article from right after the Ukrainian flight was lost on CNN accounts for 761 deaths so far as of end of July.

This year is still going to end up with less deaths than most years, it will look more like the early 2000s, and less like 2013. Not the worst year on record, but definitely not the safest either.

LED Lighting Primer - Part 4 (Native LEDs)

Forget the Bulb

I have replaced most of the traditional lights in our house now, with a plan to purge the rest over the next couple of months. However, for new lighting in the house, I'm starting to look into LED native solutions. A good example of this is the task lighting I added to the kitchen.



This kit provides you with 10 8" 2700K LED bars, wiring connections for them, 2 transformers, 2 small switches. The install is very quick, and you only need a spare outlet somewhere.

Susan had been asking for counter task lighting for years, and I was basically stalling until we had an LED solution for it, which wasn't really there 2 years ago (the last time I looked seriously). We've now arrived.

For our kitchen I only used half the components in the kit. The bars are bright enough that a single row is the right brightness. There are 4 under the main cabinet, and 1 that's under a side shelf in the corner. I'm still contemplating where the rest of the kit is going to be used.

RGB Lighting

Susan and I took a flight to India for a wedding in 2008. We flew on a new 767 that had a color changing LED light kit that meant that we got simulated sunrise (deep red -> orange -> yellow) and sunset (orange -> red -> deep purple) during our flight near meals. This was amazing. My entire interest in LED lighting started with this experience, as I wanted that in my home. I have parts and experiments scattered across my electronics workbench that never quite got far enough to be useful. Now you can buy this off the shelf.

Living room with Hue RGB light strip and Iris color pot

There are a few different systems out there. I bought into the Philips Hue universe for a couple of reasons. The Hue system includes a "bridge" which connects to your home network (wired only). It then communicates to up to 50 Hue devices via zigbee, which is a low powered wireless protocol that lives in the 2.4 Ghz spectrum.

They have a very open API, which means there are tons of 3rd party applications that can talk to Hue. That includes applications that do things the base system does not, like color animation (aka simulated sunset). Plus you can write your own.

They make regular A19 bulbs, unique color pods for indirect lighting, and connected light strips. They are definitely in a different price category than regular lighting, but if this is your thing, they are pretty awesome. And this was definitely awesome enough for me to spend some time and money to experiment with.


They make a scene switch for these lights which you program via smartphone app. It's actually 4 buttons, as the whole thing clicks in. Typically 1 will be off, then 3 different configurations. For our bedroom I've put Hue bulbs in both of our night stand lights. 2 is roughly a 2700K full brightness. 3 lights up only Susan's light on the lowest reddest bulb setting. This is to give her just enough light for nighttime feedings for Arwen, with hopefully the ability to get back to sleep after. 4 is currently a mellow orange light, just because.

Button 2 - Normal Light
Basic soft white light
Button 3 - Red Feeding Light
Note the hallway light difference from the prior, this is actually extremely dim, and the camera is compensating with much higher iso.

What's super cool is once you have a few of these you start thinking about the lighting in your house in a different way. We can set the lights to a very low level while watching TV, so you can still see in the room, but it doesn't impact the watching experience. I'm leaving the living room ones on at the lowest red level.

Note - not quite RGB after all: 

One last thing I discovered on Hue is that the A19 Bulbs actually live in a different color space than the "Friends of Hue" gear like the Iris or Light Strips. The bulbs are optimized for nicer whites so they can act like normal bulbs. Which means they can't do a super deep red, and don't do cyan at all. The Friends of Hue are optimized for color control, which means their whites are a little odd, but their deep colors are really straight on. So depending on whether you'll be using this more as normal lights, or more in color accents, choose accordingly.

The Future of Lighting

I've been listening to BBC's History of the World in 100 objects, which has made me think a bunch about long term evolution of objects.

The history of light is a curious thing. It's kind of amazing to think that the way we got light in the 20th century is to run so much current through a wire that it heats to the point that it glows white. Then put it in an evacuated glass sphere to prevent it from igniting. Fluorescent lights use a bit more physics, but are equally baroque.

But LEDs are extremely malleable. They come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. Honestly, it wouldn't surprise me if the ceiling fixture standard we know today becomes a thing of the past. To my daughter the light bulb will probably be the same way I think if vinyl records, a thing that I saw as a kid, felt nostalgic about, and now have no place for in my life.

My journey experimenting in this space has just begun. I'll continue to write about some of this in the future. But hopefully this primer has been useful in providing a base line to let others explore the space as well.

Read the whole series:

The backstory on the Shrimp on a Treadmill

Exactly how much taxpayer money did go into the now-famous shrimp treadmill? The treadmill was, in fact, made from spare parts—an old truck inner tube was used for the tread, the bearings were borrowed from a skateboard, and a used pump motor was salvaged to power the treadmill. The total price for the highly publicized icon of wasteful government research spending? Less than $50. All of which I paid for out of my own pocket.

via How a $47 Shrimp Treadmill Became a $3-Million Political Plaything – The Conversation - Blogs - The Chronicle of Higher Education.

From the intersection of science and politics. Kind of like Ebola no longer being a thing everyone is freaking out about now that we're past the midterm elections.

Longreads on Jim Henson

On Muppets & Merchandise: How Jim Henson Turned His Art into a Business | Longreads Blog.

Honestly, I can never quite read enough about Jim Henson. It's kind of amazing that he both did IBM corporate meeting videos, created the most iconic childrens television, and created a studio that went on to make one of my favorite science fiction series well after he passed on.

This article looks at his balancing act between Art and Business in getting established.

New Cold Frame

In the better late than never camp, I just finished off the new cold frame (an unheated green house). This is a project that started this summer, and I needed to finish it before first snow so that we can get the cars back in the garage.

Made of 2" Ceder and Thermoclear sheets (which is corrugated Lexan with a UV coat), it should hold up for quite a while.





All the joints were done with a Kreg Jig, a completely invaluable tool that I got to know during the day of service at the Poughkeepsie Farm Project a few years ago.



Various rambling thoughts from my personal corner of the internet