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Ask Slashdot: Options For Cheap Home Automation?

James McP zwave + vera (189 comments)

I went with zwave because of the variety of manufacturers. The GE Wink and Lowe's Iris systems are both zwave at heart and most of the devices use standard zwave device profiles so they work on any zwave controller.

I went with a vera3 because it is turnkey, supports a wide variety of devices and inputs including many security systems, has software for insteon modems, is user hackable, and can be controlled locally or remotely without being dependent on an active internet connection. (I.e. Wink)

The trick to controlling costs is to use it where needed and not because it is cool. I.e. my thermostat (iris zwave $100) and the switch on my pipe heater ($35) are zwave. I have internet weather and a couple of sensors that fine tune the house temperature throughout the day. Now my 2nd floor bedrooms don't swelter, the lower floor tv room isn't freezing and even when the temps dropped to 5F(-15C) my water lines were flowing and I didn't have to worry about it.

I won a Hue starter set and while light control is interesting (i use it as an alarm clock) the fact switches render the bulbs inert makes controllable bulbs a novelty. Controllable switches are the important part. Except remote controlled lights aren't very useful beyond novelty. The exception are exterior house lights. Having those on a randomizable timer or turned on by Autotasker geofencing when your phone drives up, and/or triggered by your security system in alarm mode are all good usrs of "smart" lights.
    Oh, and if you know anyone with hearing problems. Having the lights flicker/dim or color cycle when you have a phone call or doorbell ring is very helpful. But for typical people its just novelty.

about three weeks ago

New Slashdot Beta Sucks

James McP Re:Meh. (3 comments)

The Beta design is something I would have expected about 5 years ago. It's very much a design suitable for a low-res, resistive touch screen. The amount of "dead space" even at 1280x800 is silly. If I had a 16:9 screen, it would be a nightmare of scrolling.

The fact the comment system in Beta has issues is unbelievable. Slashdot has been all about the comments. Heck, I remember the firestorms around moderation and then meta moderation.

That would have been apocalyptic.

about a year ago

Slashdot Tries Something New; Audience Responds!

James McP Re:Fuckbeta (2219 comments)

Are people really flaunting six digit user ids? Wow, I've been away from slashdot too long. Stupid baby, being all needy.

about a year ago

Slashdot Tries Something New; Audience Responds!

James McP Re:Why? (2219 comments)

Quiet down, you whipper snapper. Let the young one speak.

about a year ago

Slashdot Tries Something New; Audience Responds!

James McP Re:Why? (2219 comments)

I get the feeling the designers are using something other than a regular mouse/keyboard or tablet. Maybe Windows 8.1 or something, but the white space usage is is just astoundingly bad. This is an information desert.

I tried 3 different pages on Beta, including this one, and two gave errors on comments. Including this one. I was going to comment using the new system but couldn't. Sad.

The beta user accounts are just ... silly. We need trophies and achievements? And if you have achievements, shouldn't you bloody well have a mouse-over to explain what the shazbat they are or why some are gray? Sure, I know that the "4UID" one is because I have a 4-digit UID but what why is that even an achievement? Is it to give me internet-hipster cred, so I can prove I was on Slashdot before it was cool? At this point it means "been on slashdot so long I'm starting to get out of touch with the cool stuff if it ain't on slashdot".

Have I mentioned the white space? My [deity], the amount of scrolling needed is just ridiculous.

about a year ago

HP To Open Source WebOS

James McP Open Source support already exists (137 comments)

While WebOS is not yet open sourced, the operating system is sufficiently open and accessible that there is a significant open source community devoted to it: WebOS Internals (http://www.webos-internals.org) They have hundreds of OS tweaks (called "patches"), custom kernels, new services, apps, etc. Furthermore, WOSI worked with HP to develop the roadmap for open sourcing WebOS.

One of the big things that releasing this framework does is let existing WebOS developers quickly port their apps to Android and possibly iOS and WP7. It may be counter intuitive, but giving developers a way to produce apps for other platforms actually keeps them in the WebOS community. There are already WebOS apps that have been ported to Android (http://www.webosnation.com/first-open-source-enyo-app-jumping-other-platforms-paper-mache-android-flashcards-everywhere). This means that the good WebOS devs (and there are several) will get to keep developing WebOS apps that quickly cross-compile to Android.

about 3 years ago

Apple Patents Using Apps During Calls

James McP Palm Treo is calling from 2002... (434 comments)

For the love of god, who is doing prior art searches? Drunken tweeners who don't know how to use Google?!?

more than 3 years ago

Does HP + Palm = Facepalm?

James McP Re:Seems to make sense to me. (236 comments)

go to Precentral.net or www.webos-internals.org. You'll need to first get the WebOS Internals Quick Install application for your PC. That will let you install the PreWare app on your phone over USB. After that you can install all the unofficial apps you want using the PreWare tool.

One of those items in the "Patch" category, enables character counters in SMS messages. There are something like 300 of those little patches available through PreWare.

Plus, the system is designed to be OS upgrade friendly. When an OS update comes out your patches are removed but PreWare knows what you had. Then as those patches are re-released for the new OS version you can reinstall them all with a couple of clicks.

I have about 3 dozen patches on my Pre. The character counter, date+time in title bar, battery level as percentage instead of icon, enabling "open link in new card/window" in the browser, landscape email, etc, etc.

more than 4 years ago

Does HP + Palm = Facepalm?

James McP Sprint is #3 carrier and probably was 3rd choice (236 comments)

I agree but Vzw must have been working for a quite a while on getting the license for "Droid" from LucasFilm. Notice that the original Droid was a Motorola but the Droid Incredible is from HTC, so Droid is a Verizon brand. I'm pretty sure Palm wouldn't want their "splash" phone to have a brand they don't own and Vzw probably wanted their first Droid phone to be just "Droid" not "Droid Pre".

Next is AT&T. Yeah, they are going to risk the wrath of The Steve cutting off their money-truck. Notice that AT&T doesn't have much beyond Blackberries competing against the iPhone. The Android OS devices are nerfed and WinMo 6.5 is obviously end of life.

So that leaves Sprint. It's bigger than TMobile, seems to have more advertising dollars for devices, and has a history with Palm.

Soooo yeah. It was the best thing that Palm could pull off.

more than 4 years ago

Palm Sued Over Palm Pre GPL Violation

James McP Re:How hard is it? (374 comments)

While I'm a little disappointed in Palm, it's only a little. Stupid stuff happens in large projects and Palm has so far played nicely with the GPL crowd.

This was a weekend release from Australia. Palm will need a bit of time to respond.

Plus there seems to be a difference of opinion through the GPL community if dynamic linked libraries can be "infectious" or not, at least according to the Wikipedia article on the GPL. If that's accurate, Lawrence Rosen isn't sure that a court would enforce the GPL on dynamic libraries.

And you might be surprised at how reprogrammable the Pre is. With a simple code (june062009) you unlock the phone and can then install .ipkg files over usb, like on-device terminal access as root. You're pretty much in charge of the device once you've got root access.

There are limits based on hardware drivers and the like but you can reconfigure most anything that isn't in a binary driver. Although as OpenMoko showed, coming up with open source drivers for modern cell hardware is not easy.

I do not know if it is "tivoized" and will hork under unsigned kernels or if you can install anything you might want. That'd probably be delimiter for a "completely reprogrammable phone".

Now I *really* want to know if I can put a different kernel on my Pre....

more than 5 years ago

Novelists On the E-Book Experience

James McP Re:Interface (215 comments)

I've got Preader on my Palm Pre and it has a slider bar that you can drag. Open an ebook and drag your thumb along the slider just like riffling through the pages. I suppose you could even request haptic feedback to give you some semblance of the page-flipping sensation.

It also had the normal go to page/percentage options.

more than 5 years ago

Novelists On the E-Book Experience

James McP Re:No problem (215 comments)

Most e-book sites excluding amazon have DRM-free books (see Fictionwise.com, ebooks.com, etc) but the presence of DRM is up to the publishers.

So use a publisher who doesn't have DRM or device lock-in, like Baen, Del Ray, Night Shade, SRM, Subterranean, and Tor (all at webscription.net). Their e-books are available in rtf, html, pub, etc. I'll point out that they also tend to discount vs. hardcopy as well as offering advanced reader (pre-release) copies for addicts.

Plus there are different kinds of DRM. I detest the Adobe and Mobireader approach that requires a remote server. External authentication or device-specific encryption == devil. You can't trust that you'll be able to get to your book when you want it.

The alternative is password protected encrypted files. The eReader format sets a password on your books based on your name and credit card number. As long as you have the info and the device supports the format you can read it on anything you want. The "safety factor" to the publisher is that if you post the book on a warez site they know who did it, since you also have to post the password (name+cc). Plus, you know, your credit information gets out on the net, which is almost punishment enough by itself.

If you're interested in an ebook reader check this wiki page on ebook formats that shows what hardware will read what format.

Based on that little tidbit, the Nook, and therefore Barnes & Nobles' ebook store, has the advantage that all their formats are either unencrypted or devoid of remote authentication. Maybe not ideal but at least you aren't trapped to a particular device or dependant on a remote server.

more than 5 years ago

Lifecycle Energy Costs of LED, CFL Bulbs Calculated

James McP Re:Great assumption (400 comments)

Oh please. First off, incandescents come in different color spectrums just like CFLs so just because the bulb is incadescent doesn't mean it's "good" light. Second, most of your time spent indoors is under flourescent light (work, restaurants, movie theaters) ergo shopping for work and night-time clothing is best done under flourescents.

You can get CFLs with a Power Factor of 90% or higher, so I call shenanagins. The capacative load increase of a CFL is completely negligible compared to the reduced active power consumption. I point to the fact my power utility is giving away CFLs by the dozen as evidence that power generation/distribution engineers find CFLs to be effective.

I have many CFLs in outdoor applications. I have a barn with 8 bulbs. The first year I put up 6 incandescents and 2 CFLs. My wife was afraid the CFLs wouldn't start up quickly enough so I put up 2 as a test.

In the first year 5 of the 6 incandescents died between our 100F summers and 20F winters. I replaced those 5 with CFLs that have continued to work for the last 2 years. Once my wife decided the CFLs provided good light in winter, I replaced that last incandescent.

Given that 3 of the bulbs are located 25ft off the ground, I really appreciate not having to change the bulbs annually.

I also replaced our two porch spotlights with outdoor CFLs. Yeah, they don't come up to full power immediately in cold weather but I upsized the bulbs. I went from 75W incandescents (950lumens) to 23W (1300 lumen) CFLs so I still have a hefty power savings and they start out almost as bright as the incandescents.

more than 5 years ago

Should You Be Paid For Being On Call?

James McP Convert to Hourly (735 comments)

Do you have direct reports, are you allowed to make independent judgments important to the business, do you have an advanced degree, or are you a producer of creative works?

If the answer to all the above is "no" then you probably shouldn't be an exempt employee, meaning you would be eligible for overtime which would offset any on-call demands.

There are lawsuits on if programmers are "creative" types (EA & IBM settled I think, so I'm not sure if the government has weighed in officially) but if a "webmaster" role doesn't produce content but is more involved in server maintenance, that should neatly get past that threshold.

more than 4 years ago

Software Piracy At the Workplace?

James McP 7 simple guidelines... (1006 comments)

The best case scenario is that you can migrate them to free software and be hailed a hero. Don't expect it though. Here are the best of the many ideas I've seen posted to slashdot on this recurring topic.

1. Consider putting a lawyer on retainer. Not as expensive as you might think and an hour or so's conversation can ensure that you document all the appropriate recommendations to keep you out of the BSA's sights and do so in a legally admissible fashion.

2. Don't make it look like a crusade so avoid being confrontational. i.e. "We need to find out who uses $software_package so we can put upgrades/support in next year's budget" or "Investigate free-for-commercial-use $kind_of_software to avoid budgeting needs entirely"

3. Document any time you bring it up with your boss. Use email or written word as much as possible. BCC an external email address and/or take backups of your exchanges home. (again, see #1 for region-specific laws)

4. Any time you are given a verbal pat on the head, do an email follow up later and if at all possible put the responsibility of license management on them. "I installed Office on the 2 new-hires' PCs. We have $quantity copies of Office installed to date. Let me know when we are getting close to our license limit as I may be able to remove the software from $clueless_user's PC."

5. List any of your little victories as fiscal savings during reviews or status reports. "Have replaced Adobe Acrobate Suite with $freeware_PDF_exporter, which will lower our licensing overhead by $250/user and allowed for widespread distribution"

6. Be prepared to be thrown under the bus. Companies willing to operate unethically are, by definition, unethical. Even if you never report them to the BSA, someone else might and you, as the IT guy, may be thrown to the wolves. Having that documentation of all the times that the CFO/CEO was stated to be in charge of license management and that you had no knowledge of the licensing limits, plus the fact they knew how many instances of software will at least ensure you get your unemployment and that the BSA won't come after you.

7. If you report them to the BSA, make sure to get the bounty and put your lawyer on notice. The BSA has a vested interest in concealing their informants, but stuff can come out and unethical people do unethical things. They often say or do things that are defamatory in the process. Whistleblower laws should ensure you can get compensation for lost wages, compensation for defamation, damage to career, etc.

more than 5 years ago

VASIMR Ion Engine Could Cut Mars Trip To 39 Days

James McP Re:Reaction mass vs. Reactor Mass (356 comments)

Your points about storage and fuel are valid. I ignored storage compartments for water/argon as well as the mass of a nuclear motor equipped with 1.5 years worth of fuel. If the final "dry" mass of the VASIMR and nuclear rocket are closer, the Vasimr becomes more appealing.

The math on this sucks. Rounding is a total PITA. You need like 8 significant digits for the final periods (which are critical) to work out. It's been almost twenty years since my last calculus class so yeah, my math could be fubar.

Here's my physics algebra:
Force = mass x acceleration
Force = 4N = mass x acceleration
acceleration = 4N/mass

Mass is reduced over time based on the Isp of each thruster. Time (t) is in seconds.

So acceleration = 4N / (start mass - (Isp^-1)t)

because acceleration is itself a function of time you can't use the pre-solved newtonian v=at or d=0.5at^2 to calculate velocity and acceleration.

So v= integral(acceleration)dv/dt

and distance = integral(velocity)dv/dt

Final velocity and distance is solved by integrating across t from t=0 to t=47,304,000s (1.5 year in seconds)

With the variable in the denominator you need partial fraction calculus which results in natural log terms which then get integrated again. The double integral of c/(a-bx) is a right nuisance and I could easily have screwed up the order of operations on the second integral.

more than 5 years ago

VASIMR Ion Engine Could Cut Mars Trip To 39 Days

James McP Reaction mass vs. Reactor Mass (356 comments)

The features of nuclear steam and VASIMR are pretty much a list of opposite pros and cons. E.g.:

nuclear steam doesn't waste any mass with electrical generating components so it is lighter overall than VASIMR.

Contrast this with VASIMR which can run on solar arrays and can share its electrical power source with other components.

Nuclear steam has a lower exhaust velocity so the overall power source requirement is lower.

Vasimir's higher velocity mean the specific impulse of reaction mass is 5x greater than nuclear steam, reducing carried mass and power generating needs. This has significant impact when duration of thrust is very large.

These attributes define the design envelopes.

If you need occassional thrust without a lot of mass and already have an electrical power source, VASIMR is good (e.g. orbital correction for satellites and space stations).

If you want to move a payload under continous thrust for days on end, a nuclear rocket is a good choice.

If you have a payload that has a fairly beefy electrical power source that you want to move under continous thrust for weeks on end, VASIMR is worth considering but may or may not be the best choice.

If you want to move a payload under continous thrust for a many months, go with VASIMR.

E.g. a russian ERTA generator can produce 150kW for 1.5 years while weighing 7500kg. A 150kW VASIMR drive would weigh 225kg and produce 4N. Fuel for 1.5 years is 9300kg. Total starting mass for 1.5years of 4N thrust is 17,025kg.

The SNTP nuclear rocket weighs ~13kg/N so 50kg of motor. Generously assuming the nuclear fuel would last 1.5 years, it still needs 49,000kg of reaction mass. Total starting mass for 1.5 years of 4N thrust is 49,050kg.

Assuming I've done the math right (which is not guaranteed since it involves partial fraction calculus) under that whopping 4N of thrust the VASIMR rocket will crank up to yawn-inspiring 0.004 m/s while the nuclear rocket will do a pokey 0.0012 m/s. Distance wise, the Vasimir will traverse 10.8 km vs. the nuclear rocket has only covered 3.8km.

While utterly theoretical, it does show that for ultra long burns, the reactor overhead of VASIMR is outweighed by the reaction mass increase of a nuclear rocket.

more than 5 years ago

New Jersey Outshines Most Others In Solar Energy

James McP Re:Macro economics not micro economics (240 comments)

Your math is flawed. Let's start over.

In the article 45% of the install subsidized. So in your $10,000 install Joe pays $5500. The article states a 5-year return period. For simplicity we're going to say that the solar panels produce $1100 of electricity per year. There are some issues with inflation, opportunity cost of investment, maintenance, etc but we'll assume the $1100 reflects those adjustments.

So that means over the 20-year life of the solar panels, Joe gets $22,000 worth of power from a $5500 investment. That amounts to a 8% annual return on investment which is about the median for a 20-year stockmarket investment after adjusting for inflation (http://www.investmentu.com/IUEL/2005/20050509.html). Obviously, Joe's payout is not a spectacular government bailout.

While you're right that centralized power generation is cheaper, distribution eats into that. Miles of copper, substations, control systems, and raw distribution losses are a pain. Plus there's the discussion of buying/retasking land for singular megawatt solar arrays.

The government investment has the immediate advantageS of:
*stimulating the economy with construction
*contributes to the overall health of NJ by *reducing coal fired coal emissions (coal was 50% of NJ's power in 2005 http://apps1.eere.energy.gov/states/electricity.cfm/state=NJ) with the associated reductions in healthcare/medicaid costs
*reduces the need for additional distribution system
*doesn't require additional land acquisition *doesn't adversely affect the ecology
*convinces average people to invest at a time they might save

more than 5 years ago

New Jersey Outshines Most Others In Solar Energy

James McP Macro economics not micro economics (240 comments)

You realize that all states subsidize businesses and utilities already, right? Low interest loans, access to the bond market, tax deductions, heck, some companies get to keep all the sales tax they collect.

These kinds of things make sense at a scale that most people can't (or won't) think about. You can get an infrastructure built for less if you are willing to commit to funding a larger system over building multiple small systems. Suppliers will lower prices on bulk orders or provide long-term price guarantees, much fewer lawyer fees from repeated negotiations, less time lost in negotiations which allows inflationary forces to increase costs, etc, etc.

So yes, the cost of this installation is subsidized by everyone else in NJ but everyone else will ultimately benefit by reductions (or lack of increases) in their power bills when infrastructure improvements are deferred or canceled entirely due to reduced load on the power system due to those subsidized installations.

This program is actually a "triple threat" scenario. It 1) stimulates the economy since in general every $1 spent on a project actually gets spent multiple times. 2) It is a Capital improvements that lower costs and 3) it benefits the overall environment by lowering hydrocarbon emissions from coal plants.

more than 5 years ago



Net Neutrality seen through the telegraph

James McP James McP writes  |  more than 5 years ago

James McP (3700) writes "Ars Technica has a write up on the unreglulated telegraph of the 19th century, which gives a view into what could happen to an internet lacking any regulation mandating neutrality. The owners of the "victorian internet" used their control of the telegraph to prop up monopolies, manipulate elections, inside trading, and censor criticism."
Link to Original Source

tomb robbing not cost effective due to Ebay fakes

James McP James McP writes  |  more than 5 years ago

James McP (3700) writes "According to an article on Archaeology, fake artifacts being sold on ebay have caused the bottom to drop out of the low-end artifact market. A side effect of more and more forgers getting in on the act has been a dramatic increase in high quality fakes that can fool experts and illicit collectors alike, lowering the price for high end artifacts as well. It's a lot less cost effective to go tombrobbing than to make your own fakes, especially since selling fake artifacts isn't really illegal."
Link to Original Source

Some Website T&C may be unenforceable in US

James McP James McP writes  |  more than 5 years ago

James McP (3700) writes "According to Out-Law the US District Court in Texas has ruled that Blockbuster's terms and conditions on their website are unenforceable because they allow changes at any time that apply retroactively. In essence, any T&C that states it may be changed at any time without notice and that the changes go into affect upon posting now has case law precedent against it.

Between this and a ruling against Talk America that required the company to notify customers of a change in T&C, this should stomp pretty hard on "stealth" contract changes.

Companies can still change their terms but they'll need something like a pop-up with the new terms and conditions that appears the first time someone logs in after a change, but those changes can't take effect until the person accepts them."

Own a Sprint cellphone account in 3 easy questions

James McP James McP writes  |  more than 6 years ago

James McP (3700) writes "The Consumerist has found that knowing a Sprint cell number and three fairly public (and easily guessed) bits of data will let you take over a Sprint cell phone account. Sprint has been informed of the problem repeatedly with no effect."

Theoretical parallel computer built for first time

James McP James McP writes  |  more than 7 years ago

James McP (3700) writes "A working computer has been built that for the first time demonstrates the Parallel Random Access Model (PRAM) of parallel processing. According to the Network World article the unnamed machine uses FPGAs to create sixty four 75Mhz CPUs which have a claimed combined performance of "100x" a normal desktop. The PRAM computer was built as part of a NSF grant that has the goal of developing APIs and compiler optimizations to support the PRAM system. As a bonus, if you submit the winning name for the new PRAM computer you can win $500. "
Link to Original Source

James McP James McP writes  |  more than 7 years ago

James McP writes "The Inquirer.net is reporting that Applied Materials, a major manufacturer of semiconductors and large LCD TVs, is branching out to solar power. Their new bulk panels will measure 2.2m x 2.5m, which is about 10x larger than typical panel. They are betting that by manufacturing larger panels that they can reduce installed cost of solar from the current $8-9/Watt to ~$4/Watt in 2008 and ~$3/Watt in 2010. The technology isn't new but the economy of scale is."

James McP James McP writes  |  more than 8 years ago

James McP (3700) writes "One of the big hurdles with hydrogen storage may have been licked. Researchers at Bath University have a low-density hydrogen storage system that releases hydrogen with a small electric charge at room temperatures. It intended to provide hydrogen to an engine until a high-density metal-hydride system can be warmed to the 300C necessary for hydrogen release. Public article is at The Register, and those with subscriptions can see the detailed articles at Nature or Wiley."


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