So … one of my on-going thoughts about this building project has been monitoring its performance over time. I am curious to know how the building performs in terms of temperature and humidity inside compared to outside.
All of this has led me to thinking about data logging and (being an engineer) I started to think about automated recording (you can see where this is headed). Over the last couple of weeks I have been doing more than thinking … I have been playing!
About two weeks ago I found myself standing in the middle of the Future Shop in Kamloops looking for a new cell phone. I was not particularly happy about this purchase (or standing in the Future Shop for that matter) as we had managed to get rid of three phone numbers related to the business when we decided to slow down a few years ago; life has been much more relaxing without them. I started doing some part time IT work recently and it became obvious I should have a cell phone so that I could be reached easily. Chris (the person helping me at the Future Shop in Kamloops) was knowledgable, helpful and even managed to take my surly attitude in stride. I quickly nixed an iPhone (sorry Tom) and Chris and I were unenthusiastically discussing the merits of the low-end handsets in the Koodo display. One of my HUGE issues (and I have many) with cell phones are 3 year contracts; I dislike the financial commitment required and hate being tied in like that. Koodo has no contracts (you can leave whenever you like), but you do have to buy the phone. I can live with that, but most of their phones tend to lack sex appeal.
My whole shopping experience changed when I glanced at the end of the display area and saw the LG 500ph cell phone included in the Koodo display. My pulse quickened, I got visibly excited and Chris relaxed for the first time since meeting me. What, you might ask, is particularly special about the LG 500ph that would make my knees go weak at first sight? Absolutely nothing. What excited me about the phone was its Android operating system. Android is Google’s answer to an iPhone. Most cell phones that compete with the iPhone (touch screen, applications, music …) use the Android operating system or are Blackberries. I could care less about getting an iPhone wannabe, but I did want (desire is not too strong a word) that Android operating system. I had been reading about Android; it’s open source meaning it’s free to develop and extend, and they are targeting the embedded device market with this operating system. In short, a perfect platform for building a data logger or a controller for a gasifier down the road!
With that one starry-eyed glance all of my vague ideas and plans coalesced into one burning thought … I must have that cell phone. I am not what you would tend to call a shop-a-holic; I generally dislike buying things, worry over the cost and tend to be concerned over environmental impact. Electronic items are particularly bad for the environment as they tend to have short life cycles and contain a relatively high percentage of valuable resources. However, if I am convinced (more often deluded) that a technological gizmo will simplify my life I will find a way to justify the purchase. That last sentence possibly summarizes the biggest problem faced by modern western civilization … I often think I should just go sit or work in the garden when I get like this. But think of the possibilities! the garden would be so much better with an automated watering system … except that I’m trying to eliminate the need to pump water to it in the first place. It’s a slippery slope …
Regardless, I am now sliding down. Soon after being in the Future Shop I found myself in Lee’s Electronics in Vancouver; an electronics parts store catering to hobby electronics and microcontrollers. Here again, most people tend to get excited when looking at a new car or at least a sectional couch. Sadly, I really like these stores, my inner geek shines through. Its not the narrow aisles, nor is it the dusty shelves crammed with components that I haven’t got a clue as to what they do. It isn’t even trying to talk with someone who, even if he is speaking english, I can barely follow what he is saying. It’s all of it! I like building things and I have always enjoyed playing with computers. The next time you are enjoying that new car smell you’ll know what I mean … sort of.
I went to this store armed with a basic list of parts to get me going, and bought myself my own ‘starter’s kit’ of electronic parts (resistors, LED’s, …), an Arduino Uno (a controller that is popular in the hobby electronics community) and a bluetooth modem card. Raymond (the person who helped me) wanted to sell me a pre-packaged starter kit, and was concerned that I was getting in over my head. No problem, I assured him, I’ve done this before. I figured I could do better on my own and was not really starting from scratch anyway.
My first step in this whole process is to get re-acquainted with playing with a micro controller. The first goal that I have set myself is to get the Arduino controller talking to my cell phone via the bluetooth modem. I will be tracking my learning progress in all of this on the blog under a new technology category. I understand that most people reading this blog will probably want to skip over these posts (I will not be offended), but I do want to track these efforts as ultimately they tie into the earthship; both as a tool to monitor the building’s efficiency, and as part of the gasifier I plan to build. Besides, if I do not write my meanderings down somewhere I will not be able to remember what I have learned by next week.
This should be interesting … for me anyway!