Choosing a thermostat

In most parts of the developed world, we live in houses that are at least ten years old (or often older). Hence homeowners spent their money on home improvements. One of the easiest ways to renovate your house is to replace the old units with new ones. Today I am going to discuss a simple item found in every Canadian household; the thermostat.

Good old days

Thermostats in the past are based on mercury switches. The temperature and humidity information is passed to the furnace, air conditioner and humidifier from a mechanical leaver inside the thermostat. Today, the same task can be done either electronically or electrically without the use of mercury or mechanical parts. Almost all modern thermostats operate by sending electrical signals via two circuits built in to the controller and the receiver on the other end.

Choices

thermostats

With electronic controllers, you can buy thermostats from several different manufactures. Additionally there are many models even from the same manufacture. This is expected because modern units are not limited to manual controls. Depending on the type of the unit, you may be able to control the temperature and other aspects either remotely or via an automated system.

When purchasing a unit, here are few pointers to think about;
How old is your current furnace/heater, air conditioner and humidifier?
What are the types of input controls in your current units (can it take an electronic signal)?

If your units are old enough to replace, it may be time to replace them with a modern cutting-edge units. This way you can use any thermostat to control them. If you have an older unit, then make sure you have the right configuration for whichever the thermostat you want to install. For example, if you are missing a specific wire required for an electronic automated thermostat, you may either have to add an additional circuit box in between the controller and the heading/cooling unit or you may have to opt in for a traditional older thermostat. This is where the return policy of the store will help you out! However, you can avoid retuning an item by doing your research before you buy one.

Technology

There are several technologies in the consumer market. Most of them are proprietary technologies made by companies like Nest and Honeywell. Others have little more flexibility with built in standards like Z-wave, which can be used along with any Z-wave controller.

Most “smart” thermostats can be connected to your LAN (home network) and ultimately to the Internet. You can control these thermostats from computers and mobile devices in addition to physical controls. You can create accounts and enforce restrictions on who can control what. You can create schedules or in some thermostats can learn from your behavior and automatically create schedules for you (eg. Nest). You can create relationships between the thermostat and other units in the house. For example, you can connect a Z-wave thermostat to your front door sensor. Then you can set it up so that if the front door is opened between 4-6 PM, the temperature will increase from 19 C to 21 C. This way, when you come back from work, the house will be warmed up in few minutes. With the electronic and Internet age, the possibilities to make your house a home with technology are endless.

So when you are ready to buy a thermostat, ask yourself what do you want to do with it. Do you simply want to control the temperature? Or do you want to control the temperature via a computer in the house or mobile device or anywhere in the world? Of course, how much will you be spending?

Proprietary or Independent

Personally, I prefer flexible options because it limits dependencies. If you have a Nest thermostat, for your remote controls you will depend on the Nest network. Any issues there including technical or otherwise (like free to paid service), must go through Nest company. Contrast this with a Z-wave unit like Honeywell VisionPro Thermostat, in which the remote control is done through your home LAN and Internet connection. To me, it is no brainier; Z-wave is better for independence.

Here are some key things about proprietary verses the Z-wave based thermostats (or any other equipment). With proprietary technologies you get much better security and reliability. Since millions of others also use the same network and technology, you will provide with cutting edge support for your thermostat. It is also easier to setup a Nest thermostat than to setup a Z-wave thermostat for most people. However, you will be giving up your personal information such as “Away from home time/temperature” to a server somewhere in the world. Since you are one of millions of others on the same network, you may be vulnerable to cyber security issues. Additionally, you have no control over the network itself. While it may be reliable and secure, if the company responsible for the network decided to charge you for the remote service, you have no choice but to pay (or stop using the remote features).

Installation

Installation is very simple assuming you have all the right wires. In other words, as long as you have a compatible heating/cooling unit, you can install the thermostat by yourself. I found the programming the thermostat is harder than the actual installation process. But it is just me!

Subject to interpretation

World is full of mysteries. Science is the study of natural world through experiments and observations. Hence to solve mysteries we often rely on scientific method, logical processes, to explain the unexplainable. But what if I told you that large portion of science is also subjected to numerous interpretations?

Role of human nature

Modern science is a gradual progress of failures and accomplishments. It was not created over night nor does it have a perfect track record. Sometimes Scientists make mistakes out of limited knowledge, experience or simply due to their egos. For example, the AC-DC war (“War of Currents”) in the late 1880s both Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse did not realized the potential for both AC and DC currents. Therefore they fought for a monopoly. Today we use both types of currents; AC for home electrical systems and DC for our electronics. Another example of limited knowledge would be how we used to handle radioactive materials without the concern for radiation. In the old days Scientists like Marie Curie did not know the effects of radiation on human body. Therefore she used the same tools used for uranium salts for cooking food. She was poisoning herself without being aware of it. Unlike what most people assume, the subject of science is not perfect and it is already muddier with a so many failures and assumptions.

Public expectations

The problem with the term “science” is that majority of the general public expect it to be prefect and logical. For example, if 1+1 is equal to 2, then it must be true for everyone under any given circumstances. Public expects the Scientists like us to search for explanation to problems and find solutions the same way that 1+1=2. This is where the relationships between the general public and the scientific community fall apart.

In 2012, Geologists who did not predict the earthquake in Italy were treated with jail time. The reason the judge gave was that the Geologists downplayed a series of minor earthquakes in L’Aquila, Italy in 2009 prior to the big one. The public want accountability for our actions. But most people do not understand that science is not a perfect tool. It is a series of tools that often far from perfect. Instead of jailing the Scientists, public should have encourage them to find better ways to interpret minor earthquakes so we can predict better in the future.

Interpretations

Yes, there are many different shades of black (or any other color). You can say the “sample X was white on day 1” and “turns to dark gray on day 3”. Then someone else observing the exact same sample can say the “sample X was purple-white on day 1” and “turns to light black on day 3”. You both may be right because the color is subjected to interpretations. The ambiguity factor is everywhere. How do you do you define sea level when sea rise and fall with seasons and time of the day, how do you know the soil color index is correct, how do you separate one Geologic Formation from another, how to you measure a success of a medical trial, etc?

Scientists have spent vast amount of resources to calibrate and standardize how we record and interpret our observations. Still as individuals we have to make decisions when we observe, record and interpret data. During all three steps, we can make mistakes or we may be influenced by our superiors (CEO, Manager, Professor, “smart friend”, etc). This is not always a problem in every area of science. But it does affect a lot of Geologists. I found this is a huge problem for students in Geology and Geophysics compared to Students in Mathematics and Classical Physics.

Let’s look at the problem from a Field Geologist’s point of view. Imagine you are given the task of mapping formations in a five by five kilometer area. This is what exactly I did during field school in Carlin Canyon, Nevada in May 2014. Compared to millions of square kilometers of Earth, this is a very small area. But even with such a limited area, you can be faced with multiple interpretation issues. First you need to define lithologies. Assuming you had no outside help, it will require you to walk across the area scanning for outcrops with different properties. Then you have to define the definitions you will be using to separate one formation from another. Just because of the lithology has changed; it may not be enough to call it a new formation from the unit above/below. (There are many other features like on a fault; you must decide what type of fault and the sense of motion. The list goes on…) This is where your interpretation is important. While not everyone will agree with you, whatever the interpretation you make has to be backed up by facts; facts that you observe and recorded. These facts must be able to traced and tested. For example, providing a GPS location reading for the contact between two or more formation must be able to trace back by someone else. You may be correct or you may be completely wrong. The important thing is that you have solid evidence on what you have found.

Just because all observations are subject to interpretation, it does not mean that all interpretations and subsequent conclusions are wrong. Even if the interpretations sound too extreme, they might be right. In fact, most reputed findings are born out of interpretations that at the time might even sound crazy. For example, by analyzing a wave, scientists said we can transmit sound and images over the air wirelessly. It was a crazy idea at that time, but this lead to the development of television.

Interpretations are not wild guesses, but rather educated decisions based on previous studies and your own observations. The problem is there is a human factor in which we all think differently.

Public must be educated

An experienced Geologist cannot predict when the next earthquake or sinkhole may occur. Even with the advancement of technologies we still cannot predict when and where these would occur. We can predict, but we cannot be sure. We need to realize this is always be a problem when we try to define nature.

Perceptions that all sciences are based on clear cut observations and evidence (by the public hurts) the academic community. In my opinion the solution is to educate the public by admitting that science is not perfect. Even if it damages the controversial and politically sensitive matters like climate research, we need to admit that science is not perfect. Otherwise the trust between the science community and the public will be broken. As a result I think we might even be going back to an age where religion rules the world over the reasoning and science. That world without logic, reason and scientific method is to me, unthinkable.

Pictures from field school

The pictures are from the Carlin Canyon, Nevada Field School instructed by Dr. Charles Henderson and Dr. Benoit Beauchamp at the University of Calgary. However, this page has no affiliation to the professors or the university. This is a personal (Sanuja Senanayake) collection of images. The GPS reading are taken either from the built-in GPS locator in the camera or from field notes. I found that the location information can be highly inaccurate. One should not use the information on this page for any type of field work. The images are posted purely for entertainment.

Conglomerate

Location: 40°44’05.8″N 116°01’18.3″W
Elevation: 1478.70 m
Image direction: 100.73° (true direction)

Image: Click on the image for high resolution version.

Conglomerate formed by cyclothems.
Conglomerate formed by cyclothems.

Features: Conglomerate formed as a result of cyclothems.

Cross-bedding

Location: 40° 44′ 10.26″ N 116° 1′ 2.946″ W
Elevation: 1641.20 m
Image direction: 51.06° (true direction)

Image: Click on the image for high resolution version.

Crossbeds indicating marine environment.
Crossbeds indicating marine environment.

Features: Inclined layers with dipping indicating paleocurrents.

Paleosols

Location: 40° 44′ 6.678″ N 116° 1′ 9.48″ W
Elevation: 1653.70 m
Image direction: 66.78° (true direction)

Image: Click on the image for high resolution version.

Paleosols identified by roots and root traces.
Paleosols identified by roots and root traces.

Features: Roots and rootlets are indicative of paleosols. The Paleosols are formed under subareal exposure type environments.

Lava Rocks

Location: TBA
Elevation: TBA
Image direction: 2.05° (true direction)
Image: Click on the image for high resolution version.

Rocks formed by lava flows
Rocks formed by lava flows

Rocks formed by lava flows II
Rocks formed by lava flows II

Features: Ropy texture of this lava formation is indicative of pahoehoe lava.

Chert

Location: 40° 44′ 8.016″ N 116° 1′ 9.114″ W
Elevation: 1654.20 m
Image direction: 62.95° (true direction)

Image: Click on the image for high resolution version.

Chert sticking out of the outcrop.
Chert sticking out of the outcrop.

Chert at another location.
Chert bands sticking out of the outcrop.
Chert bands sticking out of the outcrop.

Features: Chert is more weather resistant than the outcrop surrounding them. Therefore it will stick out and easy to identify. Generally all cherts are harder than the surrounding Geologic material.

Contact between Formations

Location: 40° 43′ 46.764″ N 116° 1′ 0.006″ W
Elevation: 1663.10 m
Image direction: 89.70° (true direction)

Image: Click on the image for high resolution version.

Contact between two Formations.
Contact between two Formations.

Features: Different lithoologies will often have different weathering colours and patterns.

Misidentify a contact

Location: 40° 43′ 20.394″ N 116° 1′ 16.794″ W
Elevation: 1504.70 m
Image direction: 249.06° (true direction)

Image: Click on the image for high resolution version.

This looks like a contact, but it is not.
This looks like a contact, but it is not.

Features: This is not a contact but rather a fracture within the same formation. The difference in weathering colour may have been caused by the lower part being exposed to more fluid runoffs(?) from the fracture.

Fluvial Deposits

Location: TBA
Elevation: NA
Image direction: TBA
Image: Click on the image for high resolution version.

Fluvial deposits - Hoodoos
Fluvial deposits – Hoodoos

Features: Poorly sorted clasts from almost all Formations in the region. Lose sediments, friable and extremely poor bedding (almost no bedding). Formed as a result of weathering and erosion of other formations. May indicate a paleo river formation. Highly matrix supported with sandy size matrix particles.

Resistant (cliff forming) and Recessive

Location: 40° 43′ 40.8″ N 116° 1′ 10.1″ W
Elevation: NA
Image direction: 9.59° (true direction)

Image: Click on the image for high resolution version.

Formations : Resistant and (cliff) recessive outcrops.
Formations : Resistant and (cliff) recessive outcrops.

Features: Even from a distance we can interpret some Geological formations. In this example, we can say that at least two major formations based on the cliff forming and recessive units. Often Geologists scans the area before climbing to the outcrop of interest. In this picture we are about 1 km (or may be bit less) away from the outcrops shown.

Lose (non-outcrop type) Carbonate

Location: 40° 44′ 9.54″ N 116° 0′ 15.426″ W
Elevation: 1617.40 m
Image direction: 58.65° (true direction)

Image: Click on the image for high resolution version.

Lose sediments are an erosional feature.
Lose sediments are an erosional feature.

Features: Lose materials like these red carbonate pieces can be used to determine where the actual outcrop may be; up the slope!

Searching for outcrops like mountain goats

Location: 40° 43′ 3.3″ N 116° 0′ 9.306″ W
Elevation: 1569.70 m
Image direction: 167.06° (true direction)

Image: Click on the image for high resolution version.

Searching for outcrops.
Searching for outcrops.

Features: None that can be identified at this scale.

Miscellaneous

Chert in an unknown location (same area).
Chert in an unknown location (same area).
Crossbeds in an unknown location (same area).
Crossbeds in an unknown location (same area).