Sunday, November 30, 2008

Homecamp November 2008

Great day at Homecamp yesterday, an unconference loosly based around doing cool stuff with Current Cost and other home automation stuff. We heard about tracking llamas across the downs, linking your doorbell to twitter, sharing your electricity usage with a group and getting competative about it.

What impressed me most about the day was the awareness of the problems we face with energy and climate change and the enthusiasm for addressing them. How can we encourage the behavioral change we need? Was an ongoing question for the day. This was in marked contrast to the previous conference I attended where the general mood seemed to be denial of the problem if possible and certainty that people won't change behavior.

Back to Homecamp. Met lots of interesting people and more I never go the chance to talk to but here are a few links and buzzwords I managed to jot down:
IBM have exteneded their range of protocols down to a Really Small Message broker suitable for Pervasive Messaging (think lots of things measuring stuff and sending out messages about it). Google MQTT and RSMB and XMPP
Prices of Zigbee coming down, £4-5 per chip, but does have problems with stone walls as uses 2.4GHz - X10 still useful for some applications.
Current Cost is the cheap and cheerful device if you want to start measuring electricity use and using the results. Produces an XML feed which can be updated every ?? seconds or will save data up to a month but only in 2 hour granularity. Uses Serial port with Serial to USB cable to connect to a computer. More stuff here:
If you don't want to use more electricity monitoring your electricity, consider Viglan MPC that uses about 10 watts. Cost £80ish. For details see ubunto podcast.
If you want to start tinkering go to and buy a arduino board which can take data from all kinds of sensor and has an ethernet connection. Also check out, blinkum and ambiant orbs.
Predictive Failure Analysis links with Pervasive Messaging. Your washing machine sends the manufacturer ongoing measurements of it's performance so that changes in pattern can be used to predict failures before they happen. Or vans send data on their usage so that maintenance can be scheduled based on need for greater efficiency.
Ideas for visualising electricity/carbon - for another measuring device but using design to create awareness. Idea of having plant (real of electronic!) that droops or flowers depending on your behaviour.
Plugin for sketchup allows measurements from aduinos via pachube to be displayed on a sketchup model. Useful for planning location of solar panels, how buildings are behaving after people start messing with it in ways the architect didn't foresee. Can also do with into second life to turn lights on and off or see if you left the iron on.
Nokia are doing a homeautomation project using mobile technology - no details.
In terms of changing behaviour - social motivation is stronger than monetary (generally but depends on context). Nothing like a near death experience to motivate people. The power of the group can be used to provide a context - how am I doing compared to others in my group. People like challenges - challenging but achievable.
We currently waste more than half the energy we use (ie. delivers no benefit) 35-40% is down to the technology (standby mode etc) and 30-35% is behavioural (leaving things on).
We are facing a complex problem with is both socially and technologically challenging.
Joe Short from Dynamic Demand and I brought the group up to speed with the challenges and opportunities around dynamic demand and balancing the grid. It's not just using less that cuts carbon, but when you use it. A previous post on demand response.
Publish your data to (pronounced patch-bay) to allowing sharing and aggrigating. This project is only just getting going but already has feeds from all over the world - energy use, carbon footprint, wind speeds, London Bridge going up and down, whatever you fancy.

I've started twittering #laptopsurvey counting the types of laptops in cafes. This was initially triggered by a friend who said it was rubbish that more and more people were buying Macs instead of PCs. Also interested in counting uptake of netbooks as I think PC people are considering alternatives when buying a new laptop and I suspect many, who might have gone for a Mac last year, will go for a netbook. Feel free to add your own surveys!

Homecamp (approx figures)

Macs 11 (2 white, 5 black, 3 silver, 1 air)
PCs 7 (all but two were Thinkpads belong to IBM employees I think)
Netbooks 6

Checkout @homecamper on twitter and friendfeed room is homecamp.

Hope to see you all again in March if not before.


Jerry said...

Hi Phoebe, I publish the Irish Grid Frequency and the Irish wholesale market price for electricity on

I think that just like we have a weather forecast on TV after the news, we should have an electricity forecast.

I am open to any ideas as to how grid frequency and electricity costs could be made visible to consumers.

andypiper said...

Hi Phoebe, thanks for your thoughtful contributions yesterday! Sorry not to have spoken to you in person. I think you are right that there was a real awareness of the issues... some of the things you were talking about have also been covered by Tom Raftery of Greenmonk in his Electricity 2.0 talks (check Slideshare).

Jerry - we'd all be glad to have you join the HomeCamp community - we have a wiki, Google Group etc - might also be worth you reaching out to Tom if you haven't spoken to him already.

Phoebe Bright said...

Great writeup here:

Adrian McEwen said...

Hi Phoebe, it was good to meet you on Saturday.

Nokia's home automation stuff is using Z-Wave, and there was some info about it on Engadget yesterday.

And an extra datapoint to your laptop survey - I had a Toshiba laptop with me but didn't get round to getting it out of my bag :-)

Phoebe Bright said...

Thanks for your comments and links - have updated the survey!

Phoebe Bright said...

Another great blog on the day