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.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

IT@Cork Conference 2008

A full day yesterday with talk from a wide range of perspectives from a Segway riding (standing/commanding/steering/balancing/figureheading?) economist to the CEO of the ESB. Mixed feelings at the end of the day.

We had strong talks on the clear and present danger of both climate change and peak oil (and gas and uranium and coal and copper) but for many people this was a bit of a surprise and were inclined to think they were too down beat. I, of course, would disagree.

On the plus side, great to hear all this stuff that I have been going on about for so long being talked about and built on.

Disconnect I felt, with the ITC presenters, who seemed to be talking about business as usual with lower consumption of energy, but lots more demand for computing. I don't entirely disagree with that, but I don't think they have thought through the implications of peak oil and recession for their customers and suppliers. Will blog on this in more detail in the future.

Very upbeat presentation from Padraig McManus of the ESB. Target for them to be zero carbon by 2035 and 30% reduction by 2012. Also talking demand response, smart metering (although no commitments on installation) and big growth in wind soon. Confident they would not be affected by a downturn and that demand for electricity increase significantly.

Congratulations to the organisers, well run conference, good speakers, although wifi kicking in and out so not able to keep twittering all day - probably a good thing. Met lots of interesting people so very glad to have gone.

Electric Vehicle Fans

Been getting regular feeds from Zoomi Life for the last couple of weeks - all the latest electric vehicle news. Highly recommended:

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

UK Budget 2008

Three thoughts on the UK budget.

I think consumers main concern now is their mountain of debt and how they are going to pay the interest, never mind the capital. Are their jobs secure? Is the value of their house going to go back up again? Negative equity on the car and a mountain of credit card debts. I think, and may be wrong because not everyone is in debt and not everyone worries about if they are, that people are more likely to save or pay off debt with a little extra cash than go out and spend it. So I don't think cuts in taxes are going to do the business in encouraging consumer spending.

The stock markets liked the budget, today at any rate. Well that's okay then. Is part of the success criteria for the budget, that the city will like it? I suspect it is, and is this not the kind of short term thinking that got us into trouble in the first place?

What do we need new roads for? Peak Oil has not gone away and neither has climate change. In fact the problems of Peak Oil just got worse because the low price of oil has stiffled investment in both oil and renewables. I struggle to envisage any scenario that does not involve a decrease in driving in the short term, even the most positivie scenario where we replace some of our transport needs with technology. This budget was a huge opportunity to invest in the energy infrastructure of the country and show that the UK was a sound long term investment. Instead the gamble is that we are all going to start buying again and that energy prices, energy security and climate change are not going to cause a problem any time soon.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Just add a couple of wings....

As a private pilot who once dabbled in building a kit plane, the new Aptera looks remarkably like one of those kits but without wings...

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Re eMail overload at big organisations

A couple of friends were telling me last night about the eMail overload they have at their company. 100-200 emails per day (not including spam) all of which have to be scanned to see if they are:
- genuine requests for action
- replies
- just thought you would like to know
- does anyone know....
- arse covering
- arse licking

We considered a number of solutions from charging people to send emails to banning email altogether, but here was the best idea of the evening.

  • Email is for actions only, ie. the first two in the list above
  • You can only send email to one person
  • You, generally, use the old fashioned chain of responsibility when sending - ie. you send a level up or down, NOT to the whole chain. It is the responsibility of the person you send to whether to forward your email. Structures are fairly flat these days, so not as onerous as it used to be.
  • All cc's get put on a public (to the organisation) twitter stream instead of being delivered. Can also post direct to twitter stream.
  • It is NOT expected that everyone will see everything on the twitter stream, but it allows for some element of serandipidy - MD just happens to see cleaners observation re competitions plans leaked to girlfriends, mothers, step-brothers, aunt....

Interested to hear any ideas or experiences of what has worked as huge potential savings here for many organisations! Is it possible to process emails before delivery and remove CC'd people then post text on internal twitter? Would need to notify people their email had not been delivered to everyone, by email, thus increasing the number of emails again!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Self-help gadget for electricity cost reduction

Some time in the future our equipment will negotiate for best price energy without our having to do anything. But in 2008, if we want to reduce our electricity bills we have to do it ourselves. Studies show that installing equipment to show people their current electricity usage has a big impact on their usage. For a short time. But when the novelty wears off we tend to slide back to our old habits. Here is an idea for a gadget to keep reminding us to use electricity efficiently.

Having done your initial measurement, you can tell a gadget your target electricity usage for the day. Once you reach this amount and alarm goes off and the gadget flashes an anoying red. Only 6pm and you've busted your limit again. Of course you will start to ignore this after a while as well, but maybe by then you might have got into the habit of switching the lights off or running the washing machine at night (so you don't hear that alarm going off!).

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

If I won the Lotto - which car?

My daydreams about which car I would buy if I won the Lotto (in a big way) has changed lately. In the old days (like last month) my daydreams conveniently excluded guilt over carbon emissions, crowded roads and the rough track up to my house in selecting my dream car. Contenders included the Mac Merc Monaro and Aston Martin and of course a Jag XKR.

However, pondering the credit crisis and future fallout, how long before I was struggling to find parts for my Mac Merc in West Cork. If I want to keep driving through the recession (assuming my big win can keep paying for petrol) maybe I would be better of with a classic car. Simple to repair, more parts available. And as I speed down the road in a cloud of carbon emissions I could remind myself that that I was preserving a piece of history for the nation!

Haven't come to a firm conclusion here as my favorite classics are a bit long in the tooth - Jaguar XK120 or never were that reliable - Sunbeam Tiger. Maybe I would go for something a bit more modest like a Triumph Stag?

Many happy hours ahead pondering this hypothetical dilemma.

Stimulate innovation by saying no

Great example of what happens when you say No to someone - just makes them more determined. Unable to get access to a gas meter signal, this guy did a bit of lateral thinking.


Monday, November 17, 2008

Wordle Cloud for this Blog

Wordle Word Cloud for this Blog - share and enjoy.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

What if Prince Charles used Twitter?

The recent BBC documentary on Prince Charles at 60 spoke of his hand written 'black spider' memos full of questions and ideas that were fired of into the ether of secretaries and ministers for response. What is Prince Charles were to fire these questions and ideas off into Twitter instead. I'm sure he would certainly get a satisfyingly large and fast response and he might find it more effective at promoting his ideas than the civil service?

FT this weekend 15th November 2008

Companies feel chill as trade credit insurance dries up

Companies that provide insurance against bad debts are reducing their cover - in one example from 90% to 60%. Other companies, such as Atradius, are withdrawing cover for whole counties and that list includes Ireland. As Ireland is so keen on leading the way with gaurantees, maybe we could lead the way by guaranteeing payment for all goods and services bought from Ireland?

G20 heads forced to temper ambition

The focus of the article is on how we are likely to regulate the banks in future and a process for introducing new regulations. This feels like closing the door after the horse has bolted. I know at some point in the future the door will need to close, bit isn't the priority to find the horse? Then we need to get a headcollar on him, maybe by tempting him with a bucket of feed, and then we can, hopefully, get him back into the stable...

Doubt cast on funds for Beijing boost

I have been asked all kinds of people over the last few years how dependant on exports they thought China was. If there was a slowdown in the US and Europe, would it significantly effect China. I got unsatisfactory answers, usually along the lines of "I don't know". A few felt China would continue to grow regardlesss of what else happened in the world.

Well to get the full answer, we are going to have to wait. China is still growing but at much lower levels than expected. It would seem that our global economy is so intertwined that nobody is recession proof.

Good Question Ma'am. But some people did see it coming

The Queen asked Luis Garicano of the London School of Economics "If these things were so large, how come everyone missed them?". Well some did, writes Alan Beattie in an entertaining reply to the Queen. "It gets dangerous when you treat economists as court necromancers, listening only to the ones you find congenial".

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Idea for Car Dealer

I have great sympathy for all those car dealers who are looking at forecourts full of unwanted cars. Well here is an idea for you. Get a dealership for electric cars and learn how to service them and offer this package: You buy an electric car from us and you get free membership of our car pool. Anytime you want a larger car just park your electric car here and we'll put it on charge for you and you can pay by the mile (sorry, kilometer) from a choice of any of this range of cars. If the car pool gets popular, you can offer to take cars in part exchange if they are suitable for the pool, and offer the pool service to others, who can also choose to take an Electric car from the pool if it suits their needs.

Then you can start offering a special electricity tariff especially suited to electric car users who will be charging overnight and get a commission on use from your supplier of choice.

Then you can offer electric motorscooters and motorbikes and vars and buses.....

I have at least two customers for you already if you are based in West Cork.

And just in case you thought electric cars all looked like motorised shopping trolleys:

Japanese prototype that does 0-62 in 4 secs and top speed of 230mph!

And of course the Tesla:

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Celtic Phoenix

With all the understandable focus on the credit crunch and contracting economy, the interlinked problems of peak oil and climate change have been lost, and they are a big part of the solution. If we are to maintain our current economic model, the government is going to have to pump money into the economy and what better way than with gifts that keep on giving. A new windmill keeps generating revenue year on year, a house whose energy efficiency has been upgraded with double glazing and insulation, not only releases income for alternative spending this year, but next year and the year after. By moving spend from imports, and nearly 90% of our energy is imported, to locally produced energy, this will put money back into the economy. And moving to a sustainable energy infrastructure, which includes generation, distribution, storage and use of energy, will create a wide spectrum of new jobs. from installation of windmills, redesign of products for lower cradle to cradle energy and oil use, software innovation for improving logistics and installing plug in points for electric cars. There is huge potential for new businesses to manufacture wind and wave equipment, manufacture electric cars and increasing cost of transport makes local production more competitive, especially in food production.

Rather than be sidetracked by the possibility of losing advantages over which we have little control, such as incentives for encouraging foreign investment, lets focus on the advantages nobody can take away. Our excellent wind and wave potential, our good agricultural environment, and above all, our ability to adapt very quickly to changing times.

First there was the Celtic Tiger, now there is the Celtic Mouse, but lets awaken the Celtic Phoenix.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Plastic flower more real the real flowers - or visa versa

Took this picture at Liverpool Street station today. The colours are so intense, to my gardeners eye, they appear plastic. But they are real flowers.

It reminded me of the story of a little boy who is shown a real rose plant for the first time. "It's smells like poo spray" he says.

For many people, is their baseline is becoming the artificial version of the natural product?

Tired and Emotional - President Obama

Stayed up and watched the whole election count - didn't go to bed until McCain and Obama had both made inspiring and generous speeches. I had never seen this John McCain, where was he during the elections?

Obama has inspired loyalty and faith in me. Somthing no politician has ever come close to. Whatever happens, he has shown a jaded generation or three that politics can be about more than saying what we want to hear and slagging off the opposition. It can be about bringing us together, all of us, to create something more than we ever could apart.

Congratuations America.