CategoryGadgets

Building a Multisensor for Home Assistant – Part 2

In part 1, I was building a light sensor, but now it’s morphed into a multi-sensor

Running against my recent terrible Aliexpress streak, the remaining bits actually arrived. Here’s the items I’ve used to build a great little multi-sensor that pumps data into Home Assistant:

Total: US$8.38
Item Details Price
Main Board Wemos Mini D1 (probably a clone). ESP8266 chip with integrated Wifi US$3.30
Luminosity Sensor TLS2561 I²C module US$1.11
Temp/Pressure/Humidity Sensor Bosch BME280 I²C module US$3.97

It’s a little surprising that the triple sensor is the most expensive part of the whole thing, but Bosch make nice electronics, and the BME280 is the current pick of the crop for these sorts of sensors. Probably total overkill for my use case. If you don’t care about air pressure and you wanted to save a dollar* you could get away with a DHT22.

*I bet you complain about $1.99 iPhone games too.

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Building a Light Level Sensor for Home Assistant – Part 1

(This turned from a light sensor into a light/temperature/humidity/pressure multi-sensor in Part 2. By Part 3 it might be sentient.)

I’ve been mucking about with Home Assistant for several months now after buying wifi lights (and shamefully haven’t been blogging about it). Home Assistant is a hugely configurable, Python-based home automation server. I recommend checking it out.

The first thing I set up is automation of our main lights. They turn off when we go out, and turn on when we arrive home. This works fine, but I’d also like the lights to turn off when not required during the day. Home Assistant natively knows about sunrise & sunset, so the obvious thing is to turn the lights off maybe 45 minutes after sunrise. This is fine on sunny days, but on rainy day the lights end up turning off while it’s still quite dim inside.

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Thoughts: Samsung Galaxy S4

GALAXY S 4 Product Image (12)I’m not sure when it was decided that electronic product launches had to be a) gaudy affairs in major event theatres and b) completely devoid of availability information; but nonetheless this is the currently accepted formula. Samsung’s announcement of the GALAXY S4 yesterday was nothing more than appropriately bizarre.

We heard about the new technical specs, which were larger where they were meant to be and smaller elsewhere. Of course they were. I’m genuinely interested to see where this all ends up. Do we stop at 4K screens and 8-core processors in our phones, or just keep on going?

So there was nothing in the announcement of the phone itself that really surprised me. I’m sure it will be  a lovely device, but there’s valid criticism in the fact that Samsung haven’t really gone for a super-premium look and feel in the way that Sony and HTC have done with their recent phones.

Then there were the software features: S Travel, S Voice Drive, S Health, S Everything. The feedback from my circle of nerds was that most of these S Things are already S available as S downloadable apps from the S Play S Store.

We also had, by my count, just one single mention of Android during the entire launch, and this was to mention that the device is running the latest 4.2.2 release of Android.

Thoughts

My take from the entire event was this: Samsung is filling in all the gaps they need to fill to make Android irrelevant to GALAXY (and therefore Samsung).

You see, the availability of apps to make a HTC One or Xperia Z perform like a GALAXY 4 is utterly irrelevant to 90% of Android phone buyers. My mum doesn’t buy apps, so if she wants a translator or a voice-operated car mode, then Samsung will make damn sure there will be a S Thing for her in the S GALAXY S 4.

Windows Phone Killed My Children

Matt Baxter-Reynolds, former Microsoft MVP and .NET author, is angry. He’s angry because Windows Phone force-fed him a plate of locusts, then stole his life’s work and forced him into a life of poverty. I think.

It’s almost like Google putting a Google Search box front-and-centre on every Android phone.

I’m trying to interpret his recent opinion piece on ZDNet, in which he lambastes Microsoft for a flawed approach with Windows Phone, because among other things “Everything on Windows Phone feels bent and skewed towards Microsoft’s point of view“. I agree, how atrocious. It’s appallingly similar to the way iOS doesn’t let you uninstall NewsStand, and forcibly replaced Google Maps with the unquestionably inferior Apple Maps (for which they had to apologise to users). It’s almost like Google putting a Google Search box front-and-centre on every Android phone. Shocking stuff.

Windows Phone 8 Start ScreensHe then goes on to complain that the hugely customisable start screen “feels like game of shuffling Microsoft blocks around in a Microsoft landscape”. I suppose it would if you never installed any apps. Personally I don’t have any Microsoft apps pinned to my start screen, unless you count the dialler, contacts, email and the like. I do have Reddit, MyFitnessPal, Twitter, and a few other different apps pinned.

All very Microsoft-centric I suppose. Let me out of this Microsoft cage on my Microsoft Phone you Microsoft Monsters! Even their advertising (at left) doesn’t show Office for fucks sake.

What’s more, Matt got to the point where he “could no longer trust Microsoft to look after [his] career“. I presume that was the moment where they removed support for C# and VB from the platform and demanded that all former .NET developers switch to COBOL?

The career part in particular confuses me deeply. You see I work for a company* dedicated solely to building software for Windows Phone and Windows 8. We are having trouble keeping up with the amount of work flooding in, are hiring as fast as we can, and are landing deals to build software for these platforms every single week. We’re doing work out of New Zealand for clients in the USA, UK, Australia and elsewhere. Can I suggest, humbly, that Mr Baxter-Reynolds is simply not trying hard enough?

This stuff isn’t going to fall in your plate. Just like in the early days of iOS and Android, when they too had single-digit market share, you didn’t see developers complaining about it being too difficult. Microsoft developers have a massive opportunity here to use their existing skills on a new platform, where iOS and Android developers had to learn from scratch (Java skills notwithstanding).

All of Matt’s complaints would be wonderfully relevant if it weren’t for the fact that Windows Phone has accelerating market share around the world, all the while battling against a headwind of installed iOS and Android brand and market, which iOS never (nor Android arguably), had to fight against.

However, there is one truism buried in Matt’s post that I will agree with (but which he unfortunately did not elaborate on particularly clearly): the upgrade from Windows Phone 7 to Windows Phone 8 was less than it could have been, and is almost entirely due to internal Microsoft “strategy tax”. The move to an NT kernel was not necessary, and now puts Windows Phone under the crushing weight of the Windows Team. What’s more, we can only expect the move from 8 to 9 to be burdened by more of this tax as Microsoft moves to align WinRT and Windows Phone.

Personally, if I were at the top of Microsoft (because god knows the product managers have probably already tried to articulate this), I’d leave the Windows Phone team to get on with adding features to what is a fantastically fast, productive and customisable phone operating system. iOS is not OSX, for good reason

Oh, and if your friend gives you a plate of locusts, just say “bro, I don’t like locusts!”

 

*Of course this post is my own opinion, but hey, I’ll stand by it in my day job too.

500 Words and Sony Xperia Z

Twitter has destroyed this blog.

I don’t mean that Ev came and smashed my server with a hammer. But because my inspiration and unique thoughts go straight on to twitter without the chance of elaboration (most often to the detriment of society – sorry), I feel no compulsion to come here and write. As I type this I’m finding it difficult to drag these thoughts out of my head, and the very act of writing long-form is alien.

Is this wrong, or just new?

I was gutted, as is usual, to not attend Webstock this year, but didn’t stop me getting inspiration from the event. One suggestion I heard remotely was for creators to write 500 words each day before reading any, as an antidote to the antidata happening online – the trivialisation of news, the sound-biting of thoughts, and the selection of high-fructose corn syrup* entertainment news over the hard-news broccoli.

So this is me, steaming some fresh broccoli for you. Open wide, here comes the aeroplane!

I’ve been an Android hater for many years now. Back in the bad old days of 2.3 I was like the worst kind of Atheist: ranting against the stupid majority for blindly following their Google God; desperately explaining my stance to an unending stream of believers with closed ears. I still say that early Android was trash. Nothing more than a cheap, poorly designed, user-hostile land grab by Google.

Lately, I’ve been playing with Android 4 variants, and last night I got to take a look at the new Sony Xperia Z (both phone and tablet). Wow! Android: you’ve come a long way baby.

Xperia Z_black_frontFrom the outside, the phone is perfect. Some tech blogs are saying the screen is not the most fantastic and the camera needs work. I suggest you take a fucking step back for a minute and just look at the thing:

  • 1080p 5″ screen in a ultra-slim black rectangle
  • Quad-core 1.5 GHz (jesus christ!) processor
  • LTE radio
  • 13MP main camera
  • 2MP front camera supporting 1080p30 video
  • Completely waterproof to 1m for up to 30 minutes

In what world is that not holy-fucking-shit awesome? In what world do you pick this apart and say that the screen looks a fraction washed-out when you view it off-angle? In person the phone is outstanding. The screen looks like paper: you cannot see a single pixel, while its Android 4.1.2 OS – thankfully largely untouched by Sony – is massively fast and smooth. And a quad-core 1.5GHz processor? Son, in my day that was a kick-ass gaming PC. None of my complaints about old Android stand true here.

One of my other complaints about Android has been the shocking treatment of upgrades, with carriers and OEMs leaving customers out to dry on horribly insecure versions. Sony have mostly solved this by cosying up to the modding community, to the point that they were named XDA-Dev’s OEM of the year. One of the comments on that post grumbles that Sony aren’t releasing new versions and have left support to XDA-dev. That’s the point my man! The one thing us nerds have been asking for is the ability to upgrade our own phones, and Sony appears to give us that by default, rather than grudgingly producing a root unlock down the line when they deign it appropriate.

I started watching Burn Notice last night on the recommendation of a friend. I’m talking S01E01 old-school. I had to check IMDB because the program was recorded in 4:3 ratio and the main character was rocking a Motorola RAZR. Take a guess at the production date.

2007. In 2007 the state of the art was a Motorola RAZR. Today it’s that thing up there. I’m going to get all Matchbox Twenty up in here: Let’s See How Far We’ve Come.

*Apparently the actual analogy was pizza-vs-brocolli. My analogy is better.

 

 

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