My New Year's resolutions Dec 2015

It’s that time of year again - the last day of 2015. Another year gone by. A new one waiting in the wings. In an increasingly connected and technocratic world. Time for making plans.

Energy

For 2016, my resolution is to reduce our dependence on energy and natural resources further still. The “JeeLabs household” has been a net producer of electricity for the past two years, but there’s still progress to be made:

  1. Lower nightly average electricity consumption from 100W to 50W (including the 25W or so needed to keep the servers, LAN, WiFi, and internet connection going).

  2. Reduce gas consumption by 20%. The yearly consumption for heating and washing here is about 1600 m3. This is a fairly high value, due to the way the house is built - lots of open spaces, in a 1970-era stone building. Some options: find/fix the main heat leaks and replace the 15-year old gas heater by a new even more efficient one.

Identifying heat leaks in the house could perhaps be done with a few dozen well-calibrated temperature sensors, in combination with tracking cool-off and outside wind patterns.

Technology

These past months have been an ever-increasing “feeding frenzy” of buying stuff from eBay and AliExpress - gadgets, boards, gimmicks, chips, components - whatever. Costs are so low nowadays, that the temptation to “just order” one more thing became… irresistible?

This is insane. The “free delivery” offered with most of these purchases is not free at all of course. If nothing else, it’s hiding the slave labour and oil-guzzling transportation costs.

The pile of “stuff” here at JeeLabs is now so immense, that there’s enough for many years of gadgets piled up in various little boxes to perform experiments and explore it all.

Enough is enough. In 2016, I will not buy anything with a computer in it (neither micro- nor otherwise). No chip, no laptop, no phone, no watch, no appliance. What I have is fine!

With two exceptions: if something essential breaks, I will replace it. And if it is unavoidable for finishing the development of a product for the JeeLabs shop, I’ll buy what’s needed.

Hardware

Several projects in 2015 led to a number of interesting results. The explorations with ARM µC’s, and things like the ultra-ultra low-power Micro Power Snitch really work and deserve to be turned into a product of some kind.

In 2016, I will create - and release - a number of complete hardware products, including a small successor for the JeeNode, most probably based on an STM32 µC and the wireless RFM69 radio module - although other options are not to be ruled out yet.

New, real, tangible, substantial, useful products, for the shop. You can count on it.

Software

But new hardware such as wireless sensor nodes is not actually that exciting. In some form or other, we already have lots of options for this - especially as makers with a soldering iron to combine existing solutions. Placing yet another chip on a PCB isn’t terribly exciting.

The really hard part is creating software for it all. Not just an implementation that works, but a code foundation which spans more than a single unit. I.e. making sense of an entire collection of nodes, able to combine and extend them, and able to manage the software for all of them, with tools to track revisions in the long term.

Many of the current JeeNodes here have been operating for years on end without a hitch, collecting sensor data and sending it along to some central node. But the more time passes, the harder it seems to become to keep track of the code on each of these nodes - let along tweak them further. Cross-compilation has its limits, with source code getting lost, etc.

In 2016, I will design - and release - a working implementation of an infrastructure which interoperates with both existing and new nodes (i.e. both AVR and ARM), with ways to easily reconfigure everything, and with a very high-level approach to managing it all.

The choice of Arduino vs. ARM, of IDE vs make, of RFM69 vs WiFi, of language X vs language Y - these are no longer the proper questions to ask. A home environment, any environment over the span of a few years really, is by necessity going to be heterogenous.

Writing

Well, that’s easy: nothing changes (apart from the way these pages get created and served).

I will continue to write articles for inclusion in the Jee Book - which, BTW is long overdue for an update with all the recent pieces. And as before, 10% of all book revenues will be donated to Wikipedia - a monument of collaboration and collective knowledge. As for the other 90%: all of that goes directly into the “JeeLabs Supplies Acquisition Fund”.

It’s great fun writing about all sorts of technology related to physical computing. The mix of high-level software, embedded software, microcontrollers, numerous sensors, electronics - both digital and analog(ue) - mechanical construction… it’s an unbounded playground!

It’s been over seven years of writing for the weblog so far. Let there be many more to come.

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