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Archives for : February2014

Automation

We’re only here for a finite time.  That time is precious.  We spend far too much wasted time checking up on things to see if there’s anything new.  That’s why we automate things, to save time and effort.

We all have automated devices, even if we don’t look at them that way.  Washing machines, dishwashers, apps on mobile phones.  We don’t want to waste time checking our phone all day, so we use notifications.  We don’t want to wash our clothes or dishes ourselves, so we use washing machines and dishwashers to do the work for us.  The question is, where do we draw the line?  With houses, offices, servers, PC’s, smartphones, vacuum cleaners and even cars being automated the line keeps moving.

For me, my line is drawn far away from most people’s.  I take things a step further, I like automation.

I use automation tools on my phone, computer, tablet, watch etc.  I like the fact that my computer knows how long the dishwasher takes and turns it off at the right time, sends a message to my phone which in turn forwards that message to my watch to let me know when to open the dishwasher door, just so the crockery dries itself.  I like the lights turning themselves on when it gets dark.  I have NFC stickers throughout my house which enable the phone to perform various tasks.  I like that my calls and texts are automatically backed up to my Google account for me, so I can keep track of who I called, who called me, and when.  I love smart notifications, apps you can configure to link obscure items to your phone or tablet.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I’m getting overloaded with messages all day long.  This is simply about having the right information at the right time. This then enables me to disregard or act upon what I receive.

So, how can you set things up?  First of all decide on what you want automated and why.  My own inspiration was the Orange Automated Home which featured in their magazine, boasting levels of technology which at the time was admirable.  Since then a number of high tech, fully automated homes have been featured as newer technology is developed.   Since reading the article I wanted to own my very own automated home. Building Management Systems are now used to automate offices across the globe.  The thing is, once you start automating things you get the experience and imagination to automate so much more.  You end up looking for ways to help you.  

I currently use Homeseer to run the house, an automated alarm system to keep it secure.  The PC’s have EventGhost with the AutoRemote plugin for two way notification and control.  This allows me to be notified on my phone/tablet when the computer does something I want to be told about without having to sit at the computer.  [This is particularly useful if you have kids with their own (albeit really old) computer.]  Our smartphones use NFC, Tasker, Secure Settings, AutoRemote and Pushover to perform multiple functions with little or no input. [Useful if your bairns use your old phone].  Finally my watch links to the phone so that the most important information is brought to my attention without the need to keep taking out the phone.  Because of the way all these things link together I only have to look at my watch to know the PC or the house has done something on my behalf.  Web sites, files and even clipboard contents can be pushed from the phone to the PC (and vice versa).  I know if my son has my old phone turned on or not, whether he’s playing games or reading ebooks on the Kindle app, and we can lock / unlock / track / take photos / reboot the phone remotely.

One web site that really helps is IFTTT (If This Then That).  It works on logic principles, if (for example you get an email) then do (insert action here) for me automatically.  I use IFTTT when awaiting deliveries (amongst other things) to keep me up to date by using smart notifications on my phone by linking the tracking number to Pushover.  I don’t have to keep checking the tracking web site on the off chance that something had happened, I’m not wasting time. There are all sorts of ways IFTTT can help you.  If it’s going to rain that day you can have the weather report sent to your phone before you wake up.  You get the idea.

If you’d like to know more about automation, please feel free to comment below or get in touch.

Links:
Home automation hardware
Smartphone automation – Android
NFC tags

 

What Sky says vs what Sky means

Yes, Sky again. It’s only a month since the last issue with Sky was resolved.  How quickly Sky reneges on their promises time flies. There’s a letter on my desk from Sky.  They say when my account is transferred from O2 to Sky I’ll be on a discounted rate for twelve months.  I received an email last night saying that it’s coming to an end on the 1st of March. In real terms that’s not even twelve weeks, much less twelve months.  I’m going to call them this afternoon so this can be sorted out.  There’s obviously a reason why they’re the cheapest. To be honest, if I had to pay £23 a month for a 4Mb service I’d be tempted to spend the extra £7 for EE’s fibre-optic (around) 40Mb service.  I really don’t know if they’re purposefully trying to annoy customers, scam them or if they’re just completely incompetent.
Sky says vs Sky means

New Life Form Discovered

Today, 23rd February 2014 a new life form has been discovered.

While rumours have been heard before, between midday and 12:35 the life form was confirmed to exist.  The discovery took place in south east Northumberland, England by a local a man in his thirties.  The man who wishes to remain anonymous at this time had this to say:

“It was weird.  There I was, in my son’s bedroom seeing to his bedsheet and it morphed right in front of my eyes.  It was like something off Doctor Who.  It just kept changing again and again.”

The fitted bedsheet had three short sides and one long one.  Irrespective of how many times the bedsheet was rotated, the three short sides would always be away from the man.

“It’s hard enough trying to fit bedsheets with only one working leg, but when the bugger keeps shifting on you it’s damn near impossible”.

Thankfully the man got the better of the life form, however, it was not alone.  The man was then ridiculed by the duvet cover which shifted its contents each time the man looked away.  He concluded with:

“At last I got the better of it.  Each time I looked away it would move.  It was a horrible experience, not something I would wish on anyone.  I finally outwitted it with the use of a bulldog clip.  The little [censored] didn’t move after that!”.

However, this was not the end of the man’s ordeal.

“The pillow was in the pillow case,  I got bedsheet to stay on, the duvet in the cover on the bed, everything was great.  It was only when I was straightening everything out that I spotted it.  The [censored] bedsheet was on inside [censored] out!”.

The man is currently receiving counselling.

Medication

Medication can be great, it helps you get better and can help you cope with pain.  The trouble is, almost all medication has side effects.  It can colour your urine, make you constipated, induce seizures, get you stoned and if it’s not yours it can even kill you.

Some medication must be taken at certain times of the day.  I have one tablet at midday, and again at midnight.  I have some tablets which need to be taken around 9pm, while others are taken as and when needed.  The trouble is, all of my tablets have side effects, some of them quite severe so I’ve found a solution.  No longer can I forget to take my meds.  No longer can I wonder if I’ve taken them and take them twice.  While the solution is a little over the top, it’s a solution, and one that works well for me.

For this, you’ll need:

Dropbox
First of all, create a folder and a text file in Dropbox.  It doesn’t really matter what they’re called, but I’ve kept mine as \Reminders\Meds.txt as I use the Reminders folder for various things.  Once the text file is created, go to the Dropbox app and favourite it.  The file should then have a purple circle with a white star at the bottom right.  This is done so that the file is available when there is no network connection.

File Manager
Use your file manager to go to SD Card (internal if available) \Android\data\com.dropbox.android\files\scratch\Reminders you should see Meds.txt (or your variation if you’ve changed the names).

Tasker
Once confirmed, you can load Tasker.  I always have Tasker’s Beginner Mode unticked to ensure all of the options are available (Menu, Preferences, UI).

  1. I started by creating a variable called Meds (Vars, +).
  2. Then created a Profile called Meds Day which was time based, from 12:00 to 12:01,
  3. and created a Task called Medication.  The Task has the phone say “It’s time for your medication” – Misc, Say, using the Alarm stream so that it’s independent of the Ringer/Notification volume.  This is also pushed to my watch using an app called Pebble Notifier (amongst other things, the Pebble saves me stopping the wheelchair in order to get my phone out).  Using Task, Wait, the phone waits three seconds before Variable Set changes the variable Meds to 0.  I later arranged to have the buttons on my watch display the options ‘Meds Taken’, ‘Dismiss’, and ‘Meds Taken’, courtesy of PebbleTasker.  (I needed to add the Task ‘Meds Taken’ before I could do this).

You can also create the Profile Meds Night (for example) and link that to the Task Medication. By selecting set times you can create as many of these as you’d like.  If you wanted specific medication mentioned, simply repeat the steps two and three and name them appropriately.

Next, I created a new Task, named ‘Meds Taken’.  Using Variable Set the variable %Meds is changed to the value ‘1’. PebbleTasker then changes to the default options and a message is flashed on the screen (Alert, Flash) acknowledging ‘Meds Taken’.  The date and time are updated in the file (File, Write File) Android/Data/com.dropbox.android/files/scratch/Reminders/Meds.txt with Append and New Line ticked.
By doing this I am able to keep check of when I’ve taken my tablets and the file is automatically synced with Dropbox on my other devices.  In the bottom right corner I’ve also added an icon resembling a tablet, this was necessary for me to create a shortcut from the phone’s home screen.  It’s so much easier tapping an icon on the phone than going to Tasker just to change a single variable.

Meds Taken

Of course, life gets in the way sometimes.  It’s not always convenient to take tablets exactly at the intended time.  With this in mind (learned the hard way), I created a nag system:

The creation of a Profile and Task, each called Meds became my nag system.  The Profile is set every twenty minutes throughout the day, starting at 00:10 to ensure I had time to take my meds before it started nagging me, but sufficiently apart so I didn’t become annoyed with it, especially if I was somewhere that I couldn’t take my meds. The Task simply says “Have you taken your medication yet?” (Misc, Say) and has PebbleTasker open the options for ‘Meds Taken’, ‘Dismiss’, and ‘Meds Taken’ again.

Meds Taken

[Note, the other band on my wrist is an NFC tag which, when scanned, shows my name, NHS number etc.]

The whole process has evolved over time to include and exclude various aspects.  If in future any changes are made to it, I’ll post in the comments.  Of course, because Tasker is a one-off payment, hopefully it won’t incur any further costs.

Gastropod ampersand

I can’t help but think all this technology is having an affect. The local snails are writing out symbols.

image

Processing nostalgia

It should come as no surprise that processing power over the years has changed.  Today my BBC model B with a full 32KB of RAM (a computer’s short term memory) was taken out for one of Carole’s 365’s.  For a little fun I’ve placed one of my Raspberry Pi’s (512MB RAM) on it as a comparison.

Both are single core.  (No sh!t) But while the Pi is a £25 700MHz the BBC-B set my family back several hundred pounds and managed a paltry 4MHz.  If you include the 5¼” disk drive, the BBC-B weighs quite a bit.  The Pi and its SD card are so light you have to check to ensure you definitely put it in your pocket.

Compare each of these with what’s probably in your pocket – a quad core phone boasting double the Pi’s RAM – and it isn’t hard to see how far we’ve come.  Nowadays kids grow up with touch screen phones and tablets, helping their hand-eye coordination by playing Angry Birds, Flappy Bird, Bad Piggies, Minion Rush, various versions of Sonic the Hedgehog and Hill Climb Racing.   We had Chucky Egg and Manic Miner.  I’m not bitter about it, far from it, I’m happy my son has the opportunity to play these games but I’m tempted now and then to set up the BBC-B and see how he fares with the games we grew up with.

Thirty years ago the BBC-B pretty much took up all of my free time, especially when the weather turned nasty.  Nowadays I can recall only a handful of the commands I once spent hours typing in.  Anyway, here’s a photo for nostalgia’s sake.  Enjoy.

BBC Model B with Raspberry Pi

BBC-B Manual

BBC-B Manual