the discordian calendar on your wrist

I’ve finished my little coding exercise today. With a good sunday afternoon used to understand and develop an iOS and Watch application from scratch I just handed it in for Apple AppStore approval.

The main purpose, aside from the obvious “learning how it’s done”, is that I actually needed a couple of complications on my watch that would show me the current day/date in the discordian calendar.

I have to say that the overall process of developing iOS and Watch applications is very streamlined. Much much easier than Android development.

The WatchKit development was probably the lesser great experience in this project. There simply is not a lot of code / documentation and examples for WatchKit yet. And most of them are in Swift – which I have not adapted yet. I keep to Objective-C for now still. With Swift at version 5 and lots of upgrades I would have done in the last years just to keep up with the language development… I guess with my choice to stick to Objective-C I’ve avoided a lot of work.

Anyhow! As soon as the app is through AppStore approval I will write again. Maybe somebody actually wants to use it also? :-)

With writing the app I just came up with the next idea for a complication I just really really would need.

In a nutshell: A complication that I can configure to track a certain calendar. And it will show the time in days/hours/minutes until the next appointment in that specific calendar. I will have it set up to show “how many hours till wakeing up”.

why I still can’t endure using Android

I own some Android devices as I am actively trying out Android every once in a while when a new version arrives.

While doing so the usability was always what eventually put me off and made me not use it.

This is indicative of my experience:

source: Twitter

Simple things like the scrolling or tapping never worked for me. Of course it worked after the 2nd or 3rd tap. But not as it “should” feel.

I own Google Nexus devices as well as 3rd party android tablets from Asus. The basics never worked.

Why is that?

and then there’s Chrome OS.

I recently wrote about how I am using ThinClients in our house to always have a ready-to-use working environment that get’s shared across different desks and work places.

To complete the zoo of devices I wanted to take the chance and write about another device we’re using when the purpose fits: ChromOS devices.

A little bit over a year ago I was given a HP Chromebook 11 G5 and this little thing is in use ever since.

The hardware itself is very average and works just right. The only two things that could be better are the display and the trackpad. With the trackpad you can help yourself with an external mouse.

The display works for the device size but the resolution being 1366×768 is definitely a limiting factor for some tasks.

What is not a limiting factor, astonishingly, is the operating system. I did not have any expectations at all when I first started using the Chromebook but everything just fell into place as expected. A device with almost no local storage and everything on the google cloud as well as a device that you can simply pick up and start using with just your google account may not sound crazy innovative. But let me tell you: if you start living that thin client, cloud stored life these Chrome OS devices hit the spot perfectly.

Everything updates in the background and as long as you are okay with web based applications or Android based applications you are good to go.

being productive?

Did I miss anything functionwise? Yes. At the beginning there was no real shell or Linux tools available for Chrome OS natively. This has changed.

Chrome OS comes with linux inside and exposed now.

Would I buy another one or do I recommend it and for whom? I would buy another one and I would recommend it for certain audiences.

I would recommend it for anyone who does not need to game anything not available in the Google Playstore – anything that can be done on the web can be done with the Chromebook. And as long as there is not the requirement of anything native or higher-spec that requires you to have “Windows-as-a-hobby” or a beefy MacOS device sitting around I guess these inexpensive Chrome OS devices really have their niche.

For kids – I guess this would make a great “my-first-notebook” as it works when you need it and does not lock you in too much if you wanted to start exploring. But then again: what do I know – I do not have kids.

exercise: develop a Watch app + complication

I’ve started to write a watch app for iOS/WatchOS which is going to display the current calendar information according to the discordian calendar.

Since there’s no watch support on any of the calendar apps in the AppStore and I wanted to have easy to use watchface support I had to try it myself.

I will update here on the progress but so far it looks like this:

using calendars to automate your home

When you want to make things happen on a schedule or log them down when they took place a calendar is a good option. Even more so if you are looking for an intuitive way to interact with your home automation system.

Calendars can be shared and your whole family can have them on their phones, tablets and computers to control the house.

In general I am using the Node-Red integration of Google Calendar to send and receive events between Node-Red and Google. I am using the node-red-node-google package which comes with a lot of different options.

Of course when you are using those nodes you need to configure the credentials

Part 1: Control

So you got those light switches scattered around. You got lots of things that can be switched on and off and controlled in all sorts of interesting ways.

And now you want to program a timer when things should happen.

For example: You want to control when a light is being switched on and when it’s then again been switched off.

I did create a separate calendar on google calendar in which I am going to add events to in a notation I came up with: those events have a start-datetime and of course an end-datetime.

When I now create an event with the name “test” in the calendar…

And in Node-Red you would configure the “google calendar in”-Node like so:

When you did wire this correctly everytime an event in this calendar starts you will get a message with all the details of the event, like so:

With this you can now go crazy on the actions. Like using the name to identify the switch to switch. Or the description to add extra information to your flow and actions to be taken. This is now fully flexible. And of course you can control it from your phone if you wanted.

Part 2: Information

So you also may want to have events that happened logged in the calendar rather than a plain logfile. This comes very handy as you can easily see this way for example when people arrived home or left home or when certain long running jobs started/ended.

To achieve this you can use the calendar out nodes for Node-Red and prepare a message using a function node like this:

var event = {
'summary': msg.payload,
'location': msg.location,
'description': msg.payload,
'start': {
'dateTime': msg.starttime,//'2015-05-28T09:00:00-07:00',
'timeZone': 'Europe/Berlin'
},
'end': {
'dateTime': msg.endtime,//'2015-05-28T17:00:00-07:00',
'timeZone': 'Europe/Berlin'
},
'recurrence': [
//'RRULE:FREQ=DAILY;COUNT=2'
],
'attendees': [
//{'email': 'lpage@example.com'},
//{'email': 'sbrin@example.com'}
],
'reminders': {
'useDefault': true,
'overrides': [
//{'method': 'email', 'minutes': 24 * 60},
//{'method': 'popup', 'minutes': 10}
]
}
};
msg.payload = event;
return msg;

And as said – we are using it for all sorts of things – like when the cat uses her litter box, when the washing machine, dryer, dishwasher starts and finishes. Or simply to count how many Nespresso coffees we’ve made. Things like when members of the household arrive and leave places like work or home. When movement is detected or anything out of order or noteable needs to be written down.

And of course it’s convenient as it can be – here’s the view of a recent saturday:

pushing notifications in home automation

I was asked recently how I did enable my home automation to send push notifications to members of the household.

The service I am using on which all of our notification needs are served by is PushOver.

Pushover gives you a simple API and a device management and allows you to trigger notifications with icons and text to be sent to either all or specific devices. It allows to specify a message priority so that more or most important push notifications even are being pushed to the front when your phone is set on do-not-disturb.

The device management and API, as said, is pretty simple and straight forward.

apparently we’re sending a lot of notifications to these devices…

As for the actual integration I am using the NodeRed integration of Pushover. You can find it here: node-red-contrib-pushover.

With the newest client for iOS it even got integration for Apple Watch. So you not only are limited to text and images. You can also send our a state that updates automatically on your watch face.

As Pushover seems consistent in service and bringing updates I don’t miss anything – yet I do not have extensively tested it on Android.

how to find out who needs to clear out the dishwasher

We use the term “smart home” lightly these days. It has become a term of marketing and phantastic stories.

Considering how readily available lots of different sensors, actors and personal-assistants are these days one would think that most people would start to expect more from the marketing “smart-home”.

I believe that the smart is to be found in the small and simple. There are a lot of small things that actually make something feel smart without it actually being smart about anything.

Being smart is something not achieved yet – not even by a far stretch of the sense of the word. So let’s put that to the sides of the discussion for now and move a simple thing in the middle of this article.

Have you ever had an argument about who should or should have cleared out the dishwasher after it’s finished?

We had.

So we outsourced the discussion and decision to a 3rd party. We made our house understand when the dishwasher starts and ends it’s task. And made it flip a coin.

There was already a power consumption monitoring in place for the dishwasher. Adding a hysteresis over that monitoring would yield a simple “starts running” / “stops running” state of the dishwasher.

Pictured above is said power consumption.

  • When the values enter the red area in the graph the dishwasher is considered to be running.
  • When it leaves that area the dishwasher is considered finished/not running

Now adding a bit of random coin-tossing by the computer and each time when the dishwasher is detected to have started work a message is sent out depending on the result of the coin-toss.

That message is published and automatically displayed on all active displays in the house (TVs/…) and sent as push notifications to all members that need to be informed of this conclusive and important decision.

In short:

Everyone gets a push notification who is going to clear out the dishwasher based upon a coin-toss by a computer every time the dishwasher starts.

The base of all of this is a Node-RED flow that that uses the power consumption MQTT messages as an input and outputs back to MQTT as well as pushes out the push notifications to phones, screens and watches.

Additionally it creates a calendar entry with the start-finish time of the dishwasher run as well as the total energy consumption for this run.

Node-RED flow

The flow works like this: on the right the message enters the flow from MQTT. The message itself contains just the value of the power consumed at this very moment. In this case consumed the dishwasher.

The power consumption is updated regularly, every couple of seconds this way. So every couple of seconds this flow runs and gets an updated value of

Next a hysteresis is applied. In simple terms this means: when the value goes above a certain threshold the dishwasher is considered to be running. When it goes below a certain threshold then it is considered finished.

When the dishwasher changed it’s state to “running” the flow will generate a random number between 0 and 1. This give a 50:50 chance for either Steffi or Daniel be the chosen one to clear out the dishwasher for this run. This message is sent out as push notification to all phones, watches and TVs.

When the dishwasher finishes it’s run the total energy consumption is taken and sent out as the “I am done message”. Also this information is added to the calendar. Voilá.

the real smart home has a calendar!

A calendar? Why a calendar you may ask. Oh well there are several reasons. Think of calendars as another way to interact with the house. All sorts of things happen on a timeline. A calendar is only a visual aid to interact with timelines.

May it be a home appliance running and motion being sensed for your home alarm system. All of that can be displayed in a calendar and thus automatically sync to all your devices capable to display this calendar.

And if you start adding entries to a calendar that the house uses to know what to do next… how about putting light on-off times into an actual calendar right on your phone instead of a complicated browser user interface like many of those marketing smart-homes want us to use?

Never confuse wisdom with luck.

44th Rule of Acquisition / Ferengi

disaster warning!!! This is just a test.

Apparently yesterday somebody pushed the wrong button. Twice.

Like most countries Germany got a system in place to broadcast out warnings to the public in case of disasters or else.

And it proved to be quite useful in the past when it comes to the occasional storm or heavy snowfall/rain/lightning.

Seeing that they run a test and then again send out an apology to have run a test is puzzling and funny at the same time. Everyone has a “bad hair” day, right?

Head Up Display esthetics

Many cars these days come with head up displays. These kind of displays are used to make information like the current speed appear “floating” over the street ahead right in your field of vision.

This has the clear advantage that the driver can stay focused on the street rather than looking away from the street and to the speedometer.

As practical as it seems these displays are not easy to build and seemingly not easy to design. Every time I came across one it’s built-in functionalities where limited in a way that I only can assume not a lot of thought had gone into what exactly would the driver like to see and how that would be displayed. There was always so much left to desire.

Apparently the technology behind these HUDs is at a point where it’s quite affordable to start playing with some ideas to retrofit a car with a more personal and likeable version.

So I started to take a look at what is available – smart phones have bright displays and I had never tried to see what happens when you try to utilize them to project information into the windshield. So I tried.

As you can see – bright enough, readable but hazy and not perfectly sharp. The reason is quite simple:

“In the special windshield normally used, the transparent plastic safety material sandwiched in between the two pieces of glass must have a slight and very precise wedge, so that the vehicle operator does not see a HUD double image.”

laserfocusworld

There are some retrofit adhesive film solutions available that claim to help with that. I have not tried any yet. To be honest: to my eye the difference is noticeable but not a deal-breaker.

So I’ve tried apps available. They work. But they do a lot of things different from how I would have expected or done them. They are bearable, but I think it could be done better.

tldr: I started prototyping away and made a list of things that need to be done about the existing HUD applications.

mirrored basic html prototype, not well adjusted, just to play…

Here’s my list of what I want to achieve:

  • display orientation according to driving direction – I had expected all HUD applications to do this. They know the driving direction. They know how the device is oriented in space. They can tell which direction the windshield is. They know how to correctly turn the screen. They do not do that. None of them.
  • fonts and numbers – I cannot stand the numbers jumping around when they change up and down
  • speed steps interpolation – GPS only delivers a speed update every second or so. In this time speed might jump up and down by more than +1. The display has 60 fps and gyros to play with and interpolate… I want smooth number transitions.
  • have an “eco-meter” – using gyros the HUD would be able to display harsh accelleration and breaking. Maybe display a color-coded bar and whatever is measured is reflected in the bar going left or right…
  • speed-limit display – apparently this is a huge issue looking at the data availability. There seems to be open-street-map data and options to contribute. Maybe that can be added.
  • have a non-hud mode – non mirrored to use for example to set speed limits and contribute to OpenStreetMap this way!
  • automatically switch between HUD and non-HUD mode – because the device knows it’s orientation in space – if you pick it up from the dashboard and look into it, why not automatically switch?
  • speed zones color coding – change the color of the speed display depending on configurable speed regions. 0-80 is green, 80-130 is yellow, 130-250 is red.
  • turn display off when car stopped – if there’s nothing displayed or needs to be displayed, for example because the car stopped the display can be turned off completely on it’s own.

Navigation is of limited value as the only way I could think of adding value would be a serious AR solution that uses the whole windshield. Now I’ve got these small low-power projectors around… that get’s me thinking…

What would you want to have in such a HUD in your car?