Monday, November 30, 2015

Home power monitoring

Here's an interesting device for monitoring power in your home. It's called Sense ( 

You have the device installed in your electric panel and connect it to your home WiFi. It "listens" for the electrical signatures of devices as they turn on and off and monitors how much power they each use. It can produce a monthly report of power usage by device.

In order to differentiate devices, Sense compares the signatures to a database  of home appliances they've compiled. They're working on a "Teach Me" feature that lets you train it to recognize other devices.

While it is a consumer product, you really should have a qualified electrician install it since you're dealing with lethal voltages/currents…

The application is currently iOS-only but they say an Android version is in the works. Shipping next week, a preorder is available at $199 (it looks like their retail price will be $299.)

It's another piece of the home automation and monitoring phase of the Internet of Things.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Chromebit - computer-on-a-stick

Small computer aficionados will be happy to learn that the new Google/ASUS Chromebit has just been released.

The Chromebit is a Chrome OS computer that ASUS announced back in March. It has an ARM processor, 2G of RAM, 16G of storage, WiFi, Bluetooth and a USB port. It plugs into your monitor's HDMI port. Add a bluetooth keyboard and a mouse and you've got a Chromebox on a stick.

It's available now for $85 and would make a great digital media player. It should be available at Amazon, Fry's and Newegg but as of 6 AM, it isn't in their catalogs.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Hefty Huawei charging on the horizon

Battery life and battery charging times are under constant pressure to improve – you want your phone in your hand, not the charger.

Huawei has recently shown a new battery technology using a 3Ah graphite-coated anode in a lithium-ion prototype that can charge to almost 50% in 5 minutes (a smaller 600mAh battery can get to 68% in 2 minutes.) Here's a video of the Huawei demo: 

The Huawei battery requires a special charger similar to the one Qualcomm recently announced. (The Qualcomm charger can charge a dead smartphone battery to 80% in 35 minutes.)

This advance coupled with continued reduction in the power necessary to run new smartphones could result in smaller batteries and yet thinner phones. No word as to when we might expect to see a product using this technology.

Here's the Huawei press release on the technology:

Friday, November 13, 2015

Windows 10 update

Yesterday, Microsoft released the first "big" update to Windows 10. Here are the highlights:

  • Performance improvements (boot time is 30% faster than Windows 7)
  • Cortana can now recognize your handwriting and track your events – like a real assistant
  • Cortana can also point you to coupons while you're shopping on-line
  • Cortana can send texts via your Windows phone (in preview.)
  • Edge is faster. It syncs your passwords and favorites across your Windows 10 devices
  • You can now send video from Edge to Miracast or DLNA devices (like Chromecast and Roku)
  • App updates to OneNote, Calendar, Mail, Photos, Store and a few others
  • There's a new messaging app (in preview) that allows replies in notifications.
  • Nested virtualization – I'm sure someone, somewhere has a need for this…
  • Swipe switching, swipe down to close are back
  • Better RAM usage (W10 compresses unused pages instead of swapping them to disk)
  • Speed Shift (with Skylake processors) – improves responsiveness and battery use

I don't use Windows 10 daily, but I do have one device that gets updated with each preview release. Are you a regular Windows 10 user? What are your impressions?

Microsoft announces this kind of thing on their blog – here's yesterday's.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

A push-button remote-control (literally)

Here's an oddly interesting device - that I'm surprised no one has come up with before now... It's basically an internet controlled push-button called Microbot Push (It's got about a month to go on Indiegogo.) It can be used to transform ordinary appliances into Internet of Things devices. 

Whatever you do, don't connect two of these together
back-to-back: you could tear the space-time continuum...
If you want to automate the action of something that only uses buttons, this is the tool for that. For example, in order to start a cheap Keurig coffee maker in the morning, you have to push a button to turn it on, then push another button to begin the "brewing" process. A couple of these button pushers would do the trick. Or, you could automate your garage door opener without doing any re-wiring. 

[Of course this is a solution to a first world problem - when I was young we had to walk across 9 feet of shag carpet to even change the channel on our TV...]

Over time, as more and more internet controlled devices become available, the market for this device should diminish. It remains to be seen if they can actually sell them at $200 for a "starter kit" with three button-pushers. 

If you need to do the same thing with a wall switch, you could either replace the switch with a WeMo switch or use the Switchmate switch cover – both under $40.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Disk upgrade for your old MacBook

Here’s an interesting technology that might help extend the life of your old MacBook​. 

It’s called TarDisk Pear​ and it has a special installer that "merges" an SD card with your existing solid state drive. The software uses the SSD as the preferred location for frequently used files and the SD for less frequently used files -- to you, it looks like one larger drive.

The SD has a brushed aluminium end cap so that it meshes with the side of the MacBook.

It’s a relatively expensive upgrade, but is a bit easier than replacing your SSD with a larger one. 128GB version is $150 and the 256GB model is about $400. (If you’re considering buying a new MacBook it would be cheaper to just get the larger SSD.)