• Categories

  • Wayback Machine

  • My Defunct Podcast

    The Bungee Line was an audio podcast for web developers, covering web API's, software development, and the creation of richly interactive web applications.

    podcast feed  Main Feed

Home Automation: The Network


Automating a home well requires communication pathways between the different things you want to control and automate. Light switches, audio-visual components, garage door openers, and climate control equipment–all of these can be harnessed only if there is a way to communicate with them.

A fully automated home will actually have two networks, an IP network and a ZigBee network.

  • TCP/IP of course is the network you probably already have, providing wireless Internet access throughout much of your house. But most of us don’t have a network that’s ready for streaming video workloads, whether for TV’s or security cameras. That requires wired ethernet.
  • ZigBee is a low-power, low-bandwith wireless protocol used in a lot of components for home automation. ZigBee provides amazing flexibility so that you don’t need to run ethernet cables or power cables to every component in the system you automate. ZigBee works as a mesh, so each component in the system can act as a wireless relay for all the others. Battery-powered components running ZigBee cannot act as a relay, but things like powered light switches and dimmers will.

Going Gigabit

To stream video to any room of the house requires bandwidth. So for the TCP/IP network in our house, I selected a 24-port gigabit switch from Luxul. Fortunately, my house is already wired with cat 5, which means I won’t need to pull much cable. I got a smaller, 8-port switch for our main entertainment center because there are several components to connect in there. I also picked up an 8-port Power-over-Ethernet (PoE) switch.

Power-over-Ethernet gives great flexibility for things like a front-door camera or a wall-mounted touchscreen. Ethernet is required for streaming video, but with PoE you can run a touchscreen without running a power cable.

Getting Ziggy

All of the dimmers and switches in a system work over ZigBee. In replacing existing switches, it also builds out multiple powered ZigBee nodes. That should create a pretty solid mesh throughout my house so that any battery-powered devices can be added. Controllers from Control4 include a ZigBee network, so for my 2,800 square foot home system I likely won’t need extra ZigBee networking components. (I’ll need to verify this notion.)


After I get the ethernet gear set up, I’ll put in the next post in this project.


Note: Control4 systems can be installed only by professionals. Go to the Control4 Dealer Locator to find an installer in your area.

Home Automation: A New Frontier


A vast new technological field stretches ahead of us, and for me in particular. I’ve just joined Control4, a company creating advanced home automation solutions. Now I’m going through the steps to ready my house for some awesome new features.

Some of the things I want to do include:

  • Lock up the house, but make it easier for my family to get in. When I leave the house, I want the confidence that the house is secure because I have contact sensors to tell me what door or window is open, and automated deadbolts to remotely lock the doors. Modern deadbolts have programmable keypads, allowing codes for different people.
  • Stream Video to any room so that my wife doesn’t have to be chained to the TV room to watch televised murder trials and Vinnie Politan’s courtroom analyses. (There are real life men named “Vinnie.” Who knew?)
  • Light pathways for when I wake up, so that I can more easily do my fumble-stumble routine (which consists of fumbling around for my pajamas, and then stumbling around as I herd the dogs from our bedroom to the back door downstairs). Current non-dimmable light switches make for jarring light, and many of our switches are hard to find in the dark.

These are just a couple examples of what Control4 can do. So, I thought I might start explaining how I am working to make this happen. In my next post, I’ll cover the foundation of a home automation solution: the network.

Open Letter to eBay CEO John Donahoe


Does eBay Really Need a Special Exception to online tax collection? I received an email from eBay’s CEO, stating

…we believe small businesses with less than 50 employees or less than $10 million in annual out-of-state sales should be exempt from the burden of collecting sales taxes nationwide.

At first blush, the exception seems reasonable. But considering eBay’s business model, it’s completely self-serving. I replied to the address from which he sent the email. Since it might bounce, I share my response publicly.

Mr. Donahoe:

I agree that processing state & local taxes could be a burden on small businesses, especially the sort of special-focus, long tail small businesses that reach customers far and wide through eBay. eBay’s opportunity is to alleviate this burden. How? Provide new services & API’s in your platform to make tax collection a dead-simple process. Wouldn’t this render eBay an even more strategic platform for the small businesses that integrate with your platform? Coming from eBay–a company among the first to demonstrate how a web platform could simplify doing business online for micro-businesses–the “burden of collecting sales taxes nationwide” argument is rather specious. I notice that eBay does not advocate that all businesses of the scale you state–online or not–should get that exception.

Online businesses have had a remarkable opportunity to germinate and prosper for nearly two decades free of sales taxes. As online sales have grown, state and local governments’ revenues have declined. That affects our schools, highways, municipal services and other infrastructure. Furthermore, since the demographics show that online shoppers are generally wealthier than those who don’t shop online, isn’t your exception for online micro-businesses a special accommodation for higher-income households?

Perhaps eBay needs to re-think this issue in broader terms than asking for a special exception for eBay’s sweet spot in the market.

Thanks for your email and consideration of my response,

Ted Haeger

Donohoe’s complete letter follows. Continue reading

Thoughts on Amazon Cloud Drive’s New Sync Client


center_column_illustration._V150816994_-1I’m a big fan of Amazon. They sell me many things, and I am totally hooked on Amazon Prime. So my first reaction to their new new sync client for Cloud Drive was the same as many others, “What took them so long?” Then I wanted more details on how it works. From my experience as product manager for Mozy Stash, I believe that the efficiency of a file sync client makes or breaks the core offering. Delving in, this initial release of Cloud Drive is disappointing.

Size Matters

File sync clients must “just work.” One aspect for that is their demand on system resources.

Installer Package Size (Mac OS)

Let’s start by comparing the size of the installer package, which gives us a rough idea of how efficient the developers’ code is. The smaller the package, the more efficient.

  • EMC Syncplicity: 11.7 MB
  • Mozy Stash: 10.8 MB
  • Google Drive: 24.7 MB
  • Dropbox: 27.4 MB
  • Amazon Cloud Drive: 16.6 MB

Amazon fares pretty well against the two most popular sync tools, but file sync is a hard game. Companies that venture into file sync typically have to learn numerous gotchas of sync, and their software expands as the developers make fixes to handle all of the intricacies. As Amazon does so–and adds more features–expect their package to grow accordingly.

Next, let’s look at the memory footprint.

Memory

When I saw that Cloud Sync requires Java to be installed, I knew that Cloud Drive might be something of a memory hog. Here is the RAM usage while each of the following clients are idle, taken just as a quick snapshot.

  • EMC Syncplicity: 27.5 MB
  • Mozy Stash: 17.3 MB
  • Google Drive: 86.6 MB
  • Dropbox: 44.5 MB
  • Amazon Cloud Drive: 56.5 MB

Cloud Drive shows two related processes in Activity Monitor, so the number above totals the two. So, Cloud Drive does seem inefficient, but Amazon can rest easy next to Google Drive. (What are those self-important Mountain View PhD’s doing, anyway?!)



If Stash seems remarkably lean compared to the next two lowest, Syncplicity and Dropbox, I should note that Stash does not have some of the features that Syncplicity and Dropbox provide. For example, Stash lacks the right-click context menu on Mac OS (the platform from which I did my brief comparisons).

syncplicity_menuWhile fewer features may give Stash an advantage in memory utilization, no sync client runs leanest of all. My point is that the comparison is inherently skewed, and I’d like to have the menus. Nevertheless, Amazon Cloud Drive is feature poor compared to the others, so why does it have the 2nd highest utilization?

Over-the-Wire

The third realm of file sync efficiency is differential sync. When you update a file, does the software upload the whole file, or just the changes? Do other linked computers download the changes, or do they have to pull the whole updated file? I covered differential sync in Mozy Stash back in January. Dropbox put themselves on the map long ago with a video showcasing differential sync.

Amazon makes no mention of Differential Sync, so we must assume they don’t have it. Apparently, Google Drive does not offer differential sync either. But what does differential sync matter? The classic case for differential sync is the id3 tags in your music files. Say you add some album art, or correct a misspelled album title. That tiny change causes a sync engine to upload the whole big music file, and every other computer to download it. And since it was the album details, it’s not just one file. Only Dropbox and Stash handle this scenario with the extreme efficiency that makes a solid sync client. Since Amazon delivers the digital music they sell you by putting it directly into your cloud drive, differential sync seems especially important in the context of Cloud Drive. Maybe they’re working on it?

Conclusion

All in all, Amazon Cloud Sync is a good step for Amazon, but they have work to do on efficiency. To be sure, they’re not nearly so careless as Google Drive, but if this first release is any indicator, they need to knuckle down now if they want to avoid being yet another entrant that doesn’t really grok what differentiates a sync engine.

___

Note The observations and opinions I present above are my own. Mozy recently rejoined EMC, so EMC is now my employer. Mozy is working with the Syncplicity team, although I am not directly involved in that collaboration.

Working at Mozy


UtahBusiness.com logoAlthough I have been blogging all too seldom in the past couple years, I want to share one of my responses for the “Best Companies to Work For in Utah” survey conducted annually by UtahBusiness.com. Why? Because I want to share with tech professionals in Utah what its like working at Mozy right now. Continue reading

Pure Awesome


So, I clicked it.

Wow, that was ugly.


Did these guys just totally take each other off the board? How will people react to their behavior tonight?

Photo from ABCNews article.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.