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Fuquay Varina, North Carolina, United States
A guy finding out if life really does begin at 50.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Google PowerMeter

I've been interested in home automation ever since I read about X10 for the first time in Byte Magazine in May of 1980. I purchased a X10 starter kit that had two lamp modules and one appliance module in the early 80s. In the mid 80s I had X10 devices turning on the outdoor flood lights and inside lights when the garage door opened (which my ex appreciated). By the early 90s here in North Carolina I was controlling my lights, water heater, and heat pump. I even automated closing the garage doors at 11pm if the doors happen be left open. Opening and closing a garage doors that swings like barn doors was a feat, but that's another story.

One reason I automated was to save money. All during this time I wanted to be able to measure the power being consumed. To paraphrase Lord Kelvin "What you can measure you can improve." With that in mind years ago a found an old power meter (with the dials and spinning wheel), and had the dream to wire it into my home and install a sensor to track the spinning wheel. Due to all rewiring and software that would be needed my dream never came true. Then Google came along. Google is investing $5 billion into Atlantic Wind Connection which I think is good for the planet. But buried in that article was this little tidbit "It (Google) also offers home energy management software via Google PowerMeter." PowerMeter! What's that? Well $200 + shipping, and about 30 minutes of install I now have Google tracking my energy usage. There not much data yet as you can see from the image. Stay tuned.

The $200 device I installed is a TED5000-G. No software to install or keep running on a PC. The TED has two devices. The first device is a sensor installed in your power panel that transmits over your house wiring to the 2nd device. The 2nd device is plugged into standard outlet and into your router using an Ethernet cable. The 2nd device called a gateway is running a web server that creates web pages with graphs and gauges showing your power usage. The gateway will optionally send data to Google so you can share it with those you choose. The devices monitors your power usage once a second, and stores the data locally:
  • 60 Minutes of second data
  • 48 Hours of minute data
  • 90 Days of hourly data
  • 10 Years of monthly data
All of that you can export to a spreadsheet (Google exports data also). Google has only the basic graphs, but your data is rolled up and compared to other PowerMeter users. Right now it says I use 2% more power than others with similar size house. I'm sure that is due to the limited data collected so far. I'll blog more as I learn more.

FYI - Since this is all browser based it displays nicely on my iPod Touch.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Security for Who?

We all love our key less remotes for our cars. Super convenient, great invention. One thing is now there are actually two things that have to be replaced when we "lose our keys." The remote and the key attached to it. They can be very expensive to replace if we own one of those 'newer' cars.

The remote that unlocks the doors you can get on eBay/internet for most cars fairly cheap, even if you have a high end car. You can then program it yourself to unlock the doors. So losing or replacing a bad remote is at worst inconvenient. It's optional, and maybe not even worth doing.

The actual 'key' can be tricky if you have a newer car that has a key with a 'chip' in it. That chip (a form of RFID) is called a transponder and is separate from the key less 'remote'. These chips can look like a gain of rice, or a piece of foil. Normally the transponder chip is embedded in the plastic handle of the key. The transponder is there to prevent theft by removing the lock tumbler and then turning the switch. Possibly they also prevent thief by hot wiring, but serious if a thief is smart enough to hot-wire a newer car I don't think defeating a transponder key would even slow him up.

You can get the key 'blanks' on the internet or local locksmith. You can get the metal key 'blank' cut to match your car's locks. BUT... The locksmith might not be able to set the transponder chip in the replacement key, so that replacement key will not start the car. In that case you end up going to the dealer anyway and paying the gun held to your head price for a new key. Well there is a cheap solution that is worth a try and works with no programming.

You probably have (had) two factory transponder keys given to you when you purchased the car. Instead of ordering one key blank to replace the lost one, order two and have both of them cut. Then tape the remaining 'factory' transponder key under the steering column out of site. It might have to be kept close (inches) away from the switch - you might be able to have it feet away - experiment. The hidden transponder key will respond to the car's security ping and allow the replacement key to start the car. Use the two (or more!) replacement keys from now on to start the car. Lose one of them it's no big deal.

The best thing about this is that you probably won't lose that 2nd factor key since it's attached to the car. Sure this hidden key could make your car easier to steal. You have insurance for thief, and serious how many cars have you had stolen in your life? Now, how many of you have lost a key? If you are really concerned about thief, after awhile of using the replacement keys cut the actual metal working end of the hidden key off or dig the chip out of it. Trying to remove the chip should be tried while you still have both factory keys in case you damage the chip trying to remove it. Then just tape the chip or plastic handle in place. Remember we are taking about the key here. Not the remote.

FYI - There has been no proof from the auto insurance industry that transponder keys have reduced car theft. A teacher once told me that locks are to keep honest people honest. A thief is going to have something to take care of that lock. A car thief (verses a smash and grab the contents) is not going to try and steal your car unless he already knows he can start it (or has a tow truck). So the fact that the thief knows your model of car has a transponder is enough to prevent its thief - until he has the hack to get around the transponder and then it's worthless.

The only thing that has been proved is that transponder keys provide financial security for the dealer. Today it's the $200+ for a new key and remote, maybe another $100 for towing the car to the dealer to 'reprogram' it. But the real security that transponder keys provide goes like this:

"Oh so sorry... The key code for your car is no longer available...Your car is too old...You'll have to buy a new car, and pay us to dispose of that worthless hunk of metal."

Think about it.