Wattcher Notes


There was a Greener Gadgets Contest and the Tweet-a-Watt won. The first place I saw it was on blog.makzine.com.

Eventually a pretty detailed tutorial and parts list appeared at ladyAda.net.


14. March 2009 12:43 by Kal | Comments (0) | Permalink

Zigbee Research - Mesh Networking Standard

Zigbee networking came up as a fairly serious discussion topic and I spent some time with Google. Here is where I document what I learned so I can find it again.

Zigbee is a mesh network standard that operates over IEEE 802.15.4 networking hardware. The software protocol is called Zigbee and it is administered by the Zigbee Alliance (link is to the products page). There are plenty of announced gateways and products out there. I wonder how many are real?

There is a reasonable explanation of the 802.15.4  spec here. At least it looks reasonable to a Zigbee novice like me.

Product Design and Development has a sort of round table on 802.15.4. A comment by Robin Heydon caught my eye:

The technology best suited for consumer products is either Bluetooth low energy, or a combination of Bluetooth with a higher speed radio for transferring large files. Unlike 802.15.4, Bluetooth only needs to be on when it is sending or receiving. During down time the radio is switched off to save power. Bluetooth low energy is designed for products such as watches, sports devices and products that do not need to send large amount of data.

Zigbee comes in various forms including chipset radios that cost about $5 each, near as I can tell. Texas Instruments makes some of these products. Others do as well. Here is a chipset level comparison chart. Zigbee/802.15.4 Chip Comparison Guide.

Trilliant appears to be focused on selling to utilities: Trilliant passes 1 million.

Tendril is the company that got us started thinking about Zigbee.

Tendril explained by Tendril. 

Zigbee is an "open standard", but it costs $3500 per year to get the specs. However, there is an in progress truly open source effort that you can read about at freaklabs open source zigbee blog. I think this may be the mother lode for learning about Zigbee. See the Featured Zigbee Articles.

Engaget has a Zigbee tag. Some of these look pretty interesting:

Nokia launching Z-Wave Home Control Center next year

Philips SJM3151 universal remote mirrors your iPod screen

"Tweet-a-watt - our entry for the Core77 & Greener Gadgets design competition" is a Kill-a-Watt(TM) power meter modified to "tweet" (publish wirelessly) the daily KWH consumed to the user's Twitter account (Cumulative Killowatt-hours).

And here are the instructions. There are several links inside. Pretty much anything you need to know is there.


We had a conversation with  Hayden Williamson of Digi International, mostly about their X2 ($200), X4 ($400 or $500 depending on options), and X10(?) gateway devices. These are programmable in Python and have about 1 mB of unused memory. It has an Arm processor.

An alternative to Zigbee is GainSpan's lower power WiFi: https://www.gainspan.com/ GainSpan is claim 3 years on one AA battery (versus Tendril's 2 AA).

Another alternative is X10:

And here is a fancy home power meter based on X10 and an IOBridge IO-204 Monitor & Control Module.


I just found a XBee Wiki 


27. February 2009 11:08 by Kal | Comments (0) | Permalink

Monterey Bay Shores Green Development

Monterey Bay Shores Website

Off highway one north of Monterey.


10. February 2009 08:55 by Kal | Comments (0) | Permalink

Google Power Monitoring Initiative

Imagine how hard it would be to stick to a budget in a store with no prices. Well, that's pretty much how we buy electricity today. Your utility company sends you a bill at the end of the month with very few details. Most people don't know how much electricity their appliances use, where in the house they are wasting electricity, or how much the bill might go up during different seasons. But in a world where everyone had a detailed understanding of their home energy use, we could find all sorts of ways to save energy and lower electricity bills. In fact, studies show that access to home energy information results in savings between 5-15% on monthly electricity bills. It may not sound like much, but if half of America's households cut their energy demand by 10 percent, it would be the equivalent of taking eight million cars off the road.

And now for the new part

But deploying smart meters alone isn't enough. This needs to be coupled with a strategy to provide customers with easy access to energy information. That's why we believe that open protocols and standards should serve as the cornerstone of smart grid projects, to spur innovation, drive competition, and bring more information to consumers as the smart grid evolves. We believe that detailed data on your personal energy use belongs to you, and should be available in an open standard, non-proprietary format. You should control who gets to see your data, and you should be free to choose from a wide range of services to help you understand it and benefit from it. For more details on our policy suggestions, check out the comments we filed yesterday with the California Public Utility Commission.

In addition to policy advocacy, we're building consumer tools, too. Over the last several months, our engineers have developed a software tool called Google PowerMeter, which will show consumers their home energy information almost in real time, right on their computer. Google PowerMeter is not yet available to the public since we're testing it out with Googlers first. But we're building partnerships with utilities and independent device manufacturers to gradually roll this out in pilot programs. Once we've had a chance to kick the tires, we'll make the tool more widely available.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to providing consumers with detailed energy information. And it will take the combined efforts of federal and state governments, utilities, device manufacturers, and software engineers to empower consumers to use electricity more wisely by giving them access to energy information.

The bold is mine. There will be a place for rMeter in this environment.

10. February 2009 08:10 by Kal | Comments (0) | Permalink

FeaturePics Widget 1.0.0 Released

One of my colleagues, Orly, has completed the widgets that I recently discussed here: Daily Photo Fix Right On Your Desktop. You can see them in action at the FeaturePics web site.

FeaturePics Widgets -- It's a new innovation from FeaturePics.com

All of these gadgets/widgets do essentially the same thing; they bring a selection of FeaturePics images to your desktop in a sort of miniaturized slide show. The content of the slide show is different from day to day and possibly even from hour to hour, because the content comes from an RSS Feed. Some of the FeaturePics RSS Feeds are relatively static, these are the various Author RSS Feeds. These change only when the subject Author changes the selection of images at FeaturePics. But the default RSS Feed shows a selection from the newest images and these usually change every day. Once installed, the gadget requires no further attention -- it downloads the content it needs automatically.

You could conceivably install more than one copy of the Gadget and show more than one slide show. So if you wanted to follow two Authors and also see the latest images you could simply install the Gadget three times and set each to the appropriate URL. Details of how to do that are on the respective download pages.

There are links to download all four versions, Vista (works fine on Windows 7), Mac, XP, and Windows Hta, together with instructions for how to customize the RSS feed that will show up on your desktop.

Check it out, download the gadget of your choice, and brighten up your desktop -- for free.

2020 Update - Widgets are no longer supported by any of the major browser vendors. None of these is still supported.

7. January 2009 23:05 by Kal | Comments (0) | Permalink

Widgets, Gadgets and hta Files – Daily Photo Fix right on your desktop

By now most people have seen either MAC Widgets or Vista Sidebar Gadgets. There are also Yahoo Widgets and Google Desktop Gadgets. All told there  are a whole lot of these little applications out and available. On my Vista Sidebar I keep a CPU speedometer, a local weather Gadget (it is 2 degrees C here in Santa Cruz at this moment), and the Daily Dilbert. I did not pay much attention to them until a client asked for a special purpose version, and then began to look around at what is available and how to do our own.

Yahoo Widgets is where we started. They run on XP, Vista, and MAC, and there is a tutorial for getting started. Little did I know about how different the various platform’s apps are. Orly got the assignment to learn enough to build the first app. He quickly moved through the tutorial and needed a real project, so we decided that should be to capture the FeaturePics daily RSS feed and show the new images in the Yahoo Widget.

Orly goes to school all morning and helps his sister with her homework for part of the afternoon, but in a few days he had a functioning FeaturePics Yahoo Widget. The biggest challenge was learning how to tap into an RSS feed using JavaScript as the primary tool. As promised, the Yahoo Gadget works on XP, MAC, and Vista. But it only runs inside the Yahoo Konfabulator, which is a nice enough application, but Konfabulator uses a significant amount of memory, and on Vista and MAC it is not as nice as the native applications, so on to the MAC version.

Some days later there is a functioning MAC Widget and a week or so later one appeared for Vista. We have been running these in house for a few weeks now and every day or two a bug would get fixed and a new feature appear. In appearance all are very similar, but the functionality of each platform is slightly different, and the widget functionality is also slightly different across versions.

hta_widget The Yahoo Konfabulator is freely available and works well, but from the first I thought it might be possible to build an XP widget that would work without the necessity of first installing a container application. The idea was to make use of a .hta, a technology that Microsoft introduced with Internet Explorer 5.0. Here is the MS take on the subject. The short answer, it works fine. This widget has

very similar functionality to the other versions, every few seconds a fresh delight appears on your desktop. And of course, when you click on the widget the page at FeaturePics pops up in your browser of choice.

It turns out that FeaturePics has a whole series of RSS feeds, including separate feeds for each of the FeaturePics author’s collection of photos. So Orly added a widget variation that allows for a custom URL – you can insert the URL of the feed for whichever author you may choose to follow, and the widget will cycle thru that particular set of photos. There is nothing to keep you from having more than one of these open at a time, so you can easily follow your two or three favorite photographers. I have a few photos for sale there myself, many from my several trips to the Galapagos Islands. You can follow the RSS link without the widget, but I suspect you will be more likely to look at them if they appear one at a time on your desktop. Feel free to browse them here.

We will soon be posting a page on FeaturePics that lays out the various versions and their respective functionalities. You will be able to click a button to download the widget of your choice. Stay tuned.

18. December 2008 00:11 by Kal | Comments (0) | Permalink

California Proposition 7 - How to vote?

I got my vote by mail ballot, and now I have to figure out how to vote. Most of the propositions an races are pretty easy, but Prop 7 is not. Most of the people I would normally listen to have come out against it. But the argument appears to be: it would be very hard, maybe impossible to meet the goals in the proposition.

I went looking for answers and found a lot of opinions:

Prop 7 opponents

Surprise opponents to renewable energy measure - Some reasons to like it

Renewals are not "practical" right now.

Implies that because a rich guy paid to get it on the ballot, it must be bad. But it has links to both supporters and opponents.

Prop 7 supporters

Looks like the "official hit piece" from the opposition

The state is already doing enough. Would not want to rock the boat.

Well, that is enough research, at least for now.

On balance, I think I will vote for it. Something needs to create some urgency in energy use. This proposition may well be flawed, but it is not "business as usual".

9. October 2008 19:55 by Kal | Comments (0) | Permalink


My friend JCF has started a blog named thoughts. Today was her first post on, what else, thoughts.

6. October 2008 08:40 by Kal | Comments (0) | Permalink

George Bush Foreign Policy -What he expected on entering Iraq

Did you read Li'l Abner growing up? He greeted me every day after school, along with other daily comics in our local Paper, the Willmar Daily Tribune, later the West Central Minnesota Daily Tribune.

I ran across this poem with which Liddle Noodnik, the shivering infantile princeling of Lower Slobbovia, welcomed Senator Phogbound to his wretched kingdom:

"Welcome, Hammericans, from
Across the Sea
'You hotts are in the right places,
You gung to make happy liddle Kits like me—
And put smiles on our pinched liddle faces!!

Stinkers you're not, nor are
You louses,
You wouldn't riffuse us a few rotten
Not even a crust brad we Got in our houses—
If you dun't come across we all are dad docks!"

11. September 2008 09:43 by Kal | Comments (0) | Permalink

FeaturePics API Demo

FeaturePics has released an api (application programming interface) that allows images on the FeaturePics web site to be used on your web site. There are various api options available that you can see described at https://www.featurepics.com/API/Search.aspx. I was aware of the api, but had not seen it in action. < /p>

I have also been hearing a lot about Microsoft Silverlight that is in the second beta release, but really knew nothing about it. Reports have  it that it will work on any browser and has only about a 4k download to install on the client computer, and the download only needs to be installed once,  the first time a Silverlight app is run. So when I found a small tutorial demonstrating how to use Silverlight in a client application, I decided to take the plunge. < /p>

The tutorial was pretty straightforward and the result was impressive. No problem at all until I tried to run the code and it did not work. It turned out to be a difference between beta 1 and beta 2. I wrote a blog post about how to resolve that issue. < /p>

https://enermeter.com/post/2008/08/16/Simple-Silverlight-2-app-APIDemo-Part-1-Building-the-DiggSample.aspx < /p>

While working out the Digg example in the tutorial I thought it might be modified a bit to show how the recently released FeaturePics api could be used in a web application. I made the changes and wrote a second blog post about doing so, including the source code I used to make the application. < /p>

https://enermeter.com/post/2008/08/28/Simple-Silverlight-2-app-APIDemo-Part-2-Building-the-FeaturePics-API-Demo.aspx < /p>

If you are not a programmer and have little or no interest in this type of technology, you might still be interested to see the page as it turned out. It allows you to search all of the FeaturePics images by keyword, and returns a set of thirty image thumbnails that result. Please note that the set of thumbs in my demo can range from zero to thirty, while the actual number at FeaturPics may be much greater than thirty. When you click on one of them you get a brief summary of the image and a link back to FeaturePics. < /p>

You can see the completed demo application here: https://enermeter.com/fpDemo/apidemo.html. < /p>

1. September 2008 16:49 by Kal | Comments (0) | Permalink


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