Friday, June 7, 2013

Initial Design for my SmartHome project

I have prepared an initial design for my Smart Home. The first version of the system will simply be able to detect the temperature in the house and turn the heating on or off.

I chose this design on the basis that I should concentrate on a single use case at first. I also wanted to make maximum use of the equipment I already have installed (all the items in green are already installed and only the items in white remain to be ordered). I also have a number of redundant communication paths because this is advised in the Insteon whitepaper.

As always, I would welcome feedback from people with more experience in this area.

Next week I will be adressing the Intelligent Systems Summit hosted by University of Ulster in Derry/Londonderry

Here is the content I will present.

I hope to travel up and back by train, because a colleague told me that Michael Palin declared that the trip between Belfast and Londonderry is the most scenic in the British Isles. It should also be more relaxing than driving.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

How and why our intellectual properties became ludicrous

Most software engineers agree that the current laws covering intellectual property rights in our business are a disaster and impossible to implement. However, we should remember that nobody ever set out to design the system this way, it just evolved based upon a different environment which existed when the laws were being drafted.

To understand our current laws we must look back to Shakespeare’s time. Back then there were very few laws that protected the creative works done by William Shakespeare and his contemporaries. As a result they had very little financial security and had to rely upon the generosity of patrons.

It was of great benefit to the English language that subsequent authors felt free to re-use passages of Shakespeare's work with out fear of litigation from his heirs. However, most people felt it was wrong that he was not getting financial recompense from his creative output and so a series of copyright laws were enacted. These laws evolved over time, but they all maintain the principle that the author retains rights to control anything they create for a limited time after which the work reverts to the public domain.

As well as protecting publications, many countries felt that they needed a legal protection for inventors. One of the big differences between inventions and creative works is the fact that there is no inherent reason for inventors to publish details of their inventions. The initial patent laws granted inventors total control of their inventions for a period of 10 years in return for the inventors publishing a detailed description of their invention that others could follow after the protection period expired.

The basic idea behind patents has still been retained in modern laws, but the main area of change has been in relation to the length of the protective period. Currently patents last for 20 years, but there has been much debate about this in relation to medicines.
  • On the one hand, 20 years probably provides enough protection to allow the original inventors make a decent return on their investment.
  • On the other hand, it seems reasonable that 20 years after the invention, the consumers should benefit by having market opened up to competitors (who presumably would sell the medications at cheaper prices).
However the speed of innovation in the software industry is much faster than in the pharmaceutical industry. A 20 year exclusive right to implement an invention is a long time on the internet. In fact things move so fast in the software industry that parallel teams are coming up with similar ideas while the original invention disclosures are still being evaluated by the patent office. As a result companies find that they are accidentally infringing upon patents that they had no way of finding out had been already filed. There are many examples of patent trolls who try to make money by extorting money out of technology companies rather than by implementing any technology themselves. This practice has much in common with Mafia protection rackets and needs to be stamped out whenever possible.

The copyright system works pretty well for the software industry because software programs are similar in many ways to books.  Nobody begrudges commercial companies the chance to control the programs that they have developed at huge cost. However, the patenting system is not working as well.

NB - I should emphasise that what I have written here is my own personal opinion and not the opinion of my employer IBM. IBM's position is that they are currently the most prolific user of the patenting system, but they are also actively campaigning for reform of the system.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Equipment for my SmartHome project arrives

This week I took delivery of an Indeon SmartHub and a Raspberry Pi model B. Both of these will play a key role in transforming my home into a SmartHome.I don't have a detailed system design yet, but I think that the SmartHub will be the central controller and main web interface while the Rasberry Pi will probably become a media centre.

I already have most of the other bits and pieces (e.g. Arduino boards), but I am sure I will also probably need to make a few purchases - especially cases which will be required to make the system neat and tidy.  However, my initial observation was how differently these two different devices were packed for shipment. Although the devices are roughly similar in size when unpacked - the Raspberry Pi was simply packed in a jiffy bag and the postman was easily able to slide it through my letter box, but the Indeon device was packed into a box along with bubble wrap and this box was in turn packed into an even larger box so that I struggled to attach the large box to my bike carrier when I collected it from the post office.

If anyone with experience ins Smart Home projects has advice to share with me, I would be delighted to hear from you so I don't have to learn all of the lessons the hard way.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Completing my first Olympic distance Triathlon

I originally signed up for the Sprint distance at TriAthy, but when the races schedule was published I found that the sprint distance would not be held until the evening when I had a conflicting commitment. As a result I signed up for the Olympic distance instead.

The registration for this event closed at 8:30 am, so I was up and on the road from Dublin at 7 am. I was already excited before I arrived at the registration venue, but my adrenalin levels went into orbit at the sight of a beautifully decorated school filled with athletes preparing their equipment. I was dismayed by the length of the queue for registration, but the organisers were so efficient that it was no time until I was heading back to my car with race number etc. safely in my hand.

There is a lot of preparation required for a triathlon and so I didn't have time to draw a breath until it was 10 am and the race marshal announced that it was time for the competitors to line up behind a pipe band and march to the starting point. This was a lovely touch which added to the sense of occasion. I was delighted to meet a former college classmate and two work colleagues also lining up for the start and so I knew that even if I was crazy to be competing in Triathlons at my age - I was not the only one. The competitors were very friendly and offered lots of encouragement to each other.

We were soon under way and the 1,500 meter swim went much better than expected. I was surprised to find myself getting cramp in calf muscles towards the end of the swim, because I had not really been kicking my legs very much. I took it easy during the transition in order to give my legs a chance to recover.  This was  probably a good idea because I was delighted with my performance on the 40 km cycle. I used the tri-bars for most of the run and average marginally over 30 km/h. However, this did take a lot out of me and I limped home quite slowly on the 10 km run with plenty of time to admire the beautiful scenery along the River Barrow. The results are not yet available on-line  but I guess that I probably completed it in around 4 hours because I reached the end shortly after 2:30 pm and I was in the 4th wave to leave which meant it would have been after 10:30 and before I started.

I later found out that Leo Varadkar (the current Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport) was one of the competitors in the sprint event. I think that this is great example for a Minister for Sport to be personally involved in such an active sport. .

Overall I think this was a great way to spend a sunny June Bank Holiday weekend.  I overheard some experienced triathletes who said that if there was a prize for efficient organisation - TriAthy would be the winner. However, the pains in my legs the day after have convinced me that maybe I should stick to the sprint distance in future.

Update 12:30pm:  It seems that my tiredness caused me to be wildly inaccurate about my timing. When the official result was released it seems that I was closer to 3 hours (3:07) than 4 hours. This beats my expectations. Unfortunately they recorded me as 21 years old rather than 50.