Archive for the ‘Home Sweet Home’ Category

Servers ahoy!

Sunday, June 10th, 2012

I’ve had Apple servers for quite some time now (actually, this MacMini is my fourth Mac doing server roles, after a G3 iBook, a dual G4 MDD PowerMac (power hog alert!) and a beautiful G4 iMac), and I’ve had an incredibly positive experience. Although people are complaining about (Mountain) Lion Server’s simplicity, I believe things have gotten better, not worse.

Still, my requirements are a bit simple; after all, this was, up until very recently, a geek’s server. It does file, web/wiki/blog, mail, and home automation server, as well as media center, my apps server, Internet and gaming machine. Nowadays, with Lion Server and our startup activities, it does a bit more: Time Machine (backup) server, contacts and calendar, VPN, and a couple of web apps.

And most of these with a simple flick of a switch.

What I like the most about it is it’s flexibility, but also it’s resilience. Remember, it’s used daily as a media center (XBMC, iTunes) and a gaming machine (native Mac games). No crashes, no down time, no perceivable performance loss, low power consumption (13W “idle”), inaudible in all tasks (except with some heavier games).

It’s just there all the time, and it Just Works®. I wish more things in life were like that! 🙂

My house is growing up

Monday, February 7th, 2011

My super-secret project advances pretty well! Ok, so my home automation project is not that super secret anymore, but the progress is definitely there.

The network of nodes is working perfectely, lighting and blinds control is 100% done in terms of logic (I still need to prettify these elements visually), as are the temperature sensors. The sensors still need some low-pass-filtering, because the noise is a bit harsh for the logic I need the nodes to execute in “Emergency Mode”.

Yes. Emergency Mode. When the control machine is offline, the home automation keeps on going. The nodes, when not talked to for a few seconds, take control of their critical systems. Lights, blinds and climate control keep on going in a basic way, so that you still can control your house. You loose special control routines, like turning on lights based on motion sensing, opening blinds to harvest the sun’s heat in winter, blind positioning, earth tubes house air intake, etc, but the basic funcionality is always there.

In the beggining, this emergency mode was the mode the home automation was running in, every day. Now the control “server” is online, the system is accessible remotely, and complex control can easily be achieved.

The climate control system is now coming along nicely, including control of radiant floor valves via temperature sensors, solar hot water tank (with solid fuel boiler support), and earth tubes for the house air intake (with direct exterior air alternative).

The roadmap includes the complete security system (that is presently working but via a very quick and dirty hack, needs reimplementing) with volumetric and periferic sensors, the botanic manager (gardens, vegetable growing, fruit trees, greenhouse, etc), and meteorology center. There are a couple of very advanced (and useful) features planned, but that will be a surprise… 🙂

Stay tuned for more info!

Server down. Culprit: dust.

Sunday, October 31st, 2010

My server went down yesterday! 😮

It was when I came to it to program a bit more on my Arduclema guinea pig that I realized it was off. I quickly opened the case (a 1.5-second affair on this dual-processsor PowerMac G4 MDD) to see if something was horribly wrong, and I saw the problem immediately: dust had clogged the air intake.

This PowerMac has been modified by me in the past to keep it’s fan noise down; every fan was replaced, mainly the two Nidecs on the power supply, and the CPUs heatink got a couple of specially placed fans and duct. Many air paths were blocked to force simple, efficient intake and exhaust. So when dust settled in, it quickly wreacked havok on the inside temperatures.

I gave it a good cleanup, and here it is, up and running. Again. But one of the power supply fans has given up the ghost and needs replacing, as does a cheap blower that was on one of the PCI bays (exhausting the Nvidia GeForce Titanium).

This PowerMac needs some love…

Back and on track

Monday, August 2nd, 2010

Estou de volta ao meu blog, após um óptimo e merecido período de férias! Tenho tido muito trabalho (no emprego e fora dele), o que me impediu de escrever, mas agora vou tentar manter o ritmo.

Para isso, vou começar um worklog do meu projecto ultra-secreto! 🙂 Vou fazê-lo em português (pelo menos para já), e por uma razão muito simples: as pessoas que me podem dar algum feedback e ajuda preferem a língua de Camões…

Bora lá! 😉

Busy times

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

Bolas, não tenho tempo nem para me coçar… entre a construção da casa nova e o trabalho só me sobra um bocadinho de tempo para tratar da minha raposita… e mal chega.

Apreciem: tenho na cave dois Spectrum +2 e um Amiga 1200 que comprei no eBay. Ainda não os testei sequer! Isto não é normal…

Everybody’s home

Friday, July 17th, 2009

I’m baffled by this great documentary I say on TV last night, “HOME”. You should go see it, when you have some free time, it’s freely available on the internet (or, better yet, purchase it in high definition on Blueray). It talks about our collective home, planet Earth, and what we’ve done to our resources, nature and society in the past 60 years alone. The video footage is beautifull to behold. Although the ideias exposed are not pretty, they are definitely eye-opening.

If you think all this is nonsense, and that you alone cannot change the World, think about this: you are never alone. You have familly, friends, and/or co-workers. If you influence 5 people to think differently, those 5 people will influence 25 more, those will influence 125 more, those will influence 625, those will influence 3125, and so on.

I’m contributing already; my future house will be mostly powered by the sun.

It really is too late to be pessimist!

Home, Smart Home

Sunday, May 24th, 2009

Although people are starting to take a better look at home automation (or domotics), there is still this idea that domotic are expensive, dispensable and a luxury. A mere toy, one that is quickly forgotten and seldomly used. And from what I’ve seen, they seem to be right.

Today, I’m starting to build my house. Being an electronics and telecommunications engineer it’s only natural that I’d like my home to have some kind of automation. I’ve asked around a bit, and from the proposals I saw, most people don’t get it. You should be building domotics from the users’ point of view, not from an engineer’s point of vue. It’s what’s really useful that should be implemented.

When we talk about home automation, most people think about automating lighting. Ok, so you can centrally (often through a kind of touch control on the wall) turn on/off every light in your house, or even dim them. What’s the *real* benefit in that? That’s something nice to have, but not amazing.

For me, a domotics system should be useful every day! By order of priority, it must:
* Protect me and my familly, and my belongings (by implementing a security system)
* Save money (by automatic energy saving)
* Save time (by doing things quicker, augmenting confort)

To comply with these requirements, these are some of the things the system should have, also by order of priority:

* A user-friendly, intuitive, distributed supervison and control system, based on touch screens with animated graphics.
* A data archiving system for energy and event analysis.
* A sofisticated alarm system. Several zones, several modes, motion detection, video recording.
* Automated window shutters.
* Automated entrance doors and gates.
* Climate control (temperature and forced ventilation).
* Energy monitoring (electric and thermic).
* Garden, Orchard, Horticulture and Greenhouse (hydroponics) irrigation and monitoring.
* House-wide speakers (for warnings and info).
* Daily-usage-appliances monitoring, to inform when long work cycles end (laundry, bread maker, oven, etc).
* Lighting control.

The order clearly shows it, lighting control really is the least important thing in my book. Unsurprisingly, the alarm system is the single most important thing in a smart home, and most people end up spending lots of money on (independent) security systems alone. So my ideia is to integrate all these into a very useful home automation system.

If you think about it, many pieces can be reused within the system. For example, the alarm’s motion sensors can be used to open doors and/or turn some lights on; the alarm lights and speakers can be used to warn about many other events; the alarm system can control the window shutters when securing the house; the climate control can also use the window shutters for efficiency, making the most of the Winter sun.

A system like this would be a natural part of my life, not a gimmick that quickly gets forgotten after the initial impact. But all this needs to be affordable, and most systems aren’t. 20000 Euro (that’s twenty thousand) for a system is NOT realistical these days. Things also need to be kept simple and standard. Proprietary buses and hardware is definitely not the way to go in my opinion (you simply get locked in). And finally, things need to be very dependable, and quickly amendable should a fault occur.

I’ll keep on searching for the perfect system. Meanwhile, I have my own ideias of how the basic system should be done… and some very advanced stuff too.

Stay tuned!

Farewell Zubidou

Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

I wrote the post below two years ago (24/01/2007, when doing some maintenance on my blog that was powered by Blosxom), but it never got posted because it got misplaced in the slipstream of files that find their way into (and out of) my server. I found this file today, and I feel I must post it.

Zubidou, “our” cat, is not amongst us anymore, having been caught by a car. I think that, more than say that I miss the darn cat, this old post transmits better the way we feel.

Here goes the old post:

Up and running

Finally I found the time to re-place my blog online, following my server maintenance. No comments this time, too much spam. Maybe later.

Meanwhile, I’ve been enjoying my land. Nature is all around you here, and it’s not shy to show itself. I’m starting to understand the land, learning many new tricks of nature. Preparing and tending the vine for the 2007 wine season is my challenge for this year.

Vale de Cambra is a wonderful place to live in. It’s mountainous area greets us with beautiful landscapes and ravines, the Sun loves to shine up and down it’s slopes, and the Wind playfully dances amongst it’s peaks. The air is pure, the life is simple, tradition is just around the corner (as is the most modern technology). Stray yourself a bit from the main street and you’ll be soon diving into the woods or old villages. Traffic jams are nonexistent (unless it’s wireless network traffic jams, there’s a free hotspot near just about every public structure), and the road surfaces are generous. The climate is a bit harsher than the rest of Portugal (Summer is warmer and Winter is colder), but also gives us many, many beautifully balanced days.

In one of these days of sunny equilibrium, namely my wife’s birthday, we had an unsuspecting visitor: an adult cat, very dirty but very sweet, appeared out of nowhere and just laid there under the table while we had lunch outside.

We cuddled it a lot, and the cat seemed to be very accustomed to people, and to being well treated. It was definitely a house cat. From that day on, the cat just wouldn’t let go. Living around our house, and managing to keep his bit of territory amongst the other cats of the neighborhood (expelling our neighbour’s dominant cat), Zubidou won us over. For that’s how we came to call it.

Zubidou feels right at home here; although he normally wants to come into our home, lay on our tapestry by our side and just follow us around all day, we almost never let him in.


He does have a problem with being alone, and when he sees us he just follows us around and lays there by our feet when we stop. Even when we delve deep into the city by foot…

He conquered his place in this World, and we help him out with good food, lots of attention and petting when we’re outside.

Class.forName( “home.sweet.home” ).getConstructor();

Thursday, October 9th, 2008

Estou a ver que não vai ser fácil encontrar um constructor para a minha casa; a maioria gosta de dar orçamentos de apenas um (1) valor, para terraplanagens e movimentos de terras, construção de fundações, paredes e telhado. Um valor. Não faço a mais pequena ideia do que estou a pagar. E parece que a maior parte das pessoas acha isto normal.

Eu quero saber, pelo menos, quanto custa a mão-de-obra e os materiais. E quanto tempo vai durar a obra. Isto é o mínimo que se pode fazer pelo cliente. Menos que isto é assumir que o cliente paga de olhos fechados.

Porreiro porreiro, era dar orçamentos destes (mão-de-obra, materiais e tempo) para cada fase da obra: terraplanagem e movimentos de terras, fundações, paredes, telhado/telhas. Qualquer constructor tem de ter estes números à sua frente para poder dar um orçamento perto da realidade, competitivo e exequível. E mesmo para planeamento interno da empresa, calendarização de obras, pedidos de material, etc. Se não têm estes números, a empresa deve trabalhar na base do “é mais ou menos isto” e do “puxa pra cima que ficamos sempre a ganhar”. E este método a mim (cliente) não me interessa.

Enfim, talvez eu trabalhe numa área que evolui muito rapidamente, e talvez eu tenha de me adaptar expeditamente a métodos mais modernos e eficientes de trabalho. Acho que não posso assumir que todas as outras áreas sejam forçadas a evoluir assim.

Já não falo das opções de isolamento, tipo de aquecimento central, etc… aí, cada um puxa a brasa à sua sardinha, e a dos outros nunca presta para nada (mesmo que estejam completamente por fora do assunto)!

Ai Portugal…