Tag Archives: technology

Custom Home Automation

The summer 2013 was a eventful period in my personal tech world. We have decided to renovate two bathrooms that are in dire need of attention. While my dad focused on the renovations, I decided to slowly automate electrical and electronic household equipments. This article will be the first of many posts on Home Automation.

Home Automation

There are many aspects to automating a house. If I have to be general, I would say it is the process in which advanced remote control devices were installed in place of traditional equipment in order to manage, control and expand from a centralized location. A light switch that can be programmed and managed using a computer or a smart phone is an example of a automation of a traditional switch. Yes, it cost a lot of money to replace items in a house to newer “smart” technologies. If you are looking for a rough figure, I would say an average Calgarian would have to spend around $6000 CAD to automate the entire house.

It is NOT a need, it is a want

If properly maintained, the traditional electrical fixtures could last for decades. There is no need to replace them. The automating a house is entirely a personal choice. While it may replace the older fixtures, the benefits can be far less compared to the cost associated with it. I am highlighting the cost because even after you installed the equipments, you may have to end up upgrading them every now and then. Added to that; since there are more complex circuity involved, the failure rate may be higher than that of the traditional units.

Where to start

I would recommended replacing your light switches that controls outdoor lighting. You will most likely have to replace one to three traditional switches with automated units. But before we you start installing, let’s look at the configuration options.

If you want to keep the costs to a minimum and you are not interested in advanced management, then companies like Belkin have developed units that will work with your existing wireless LAN without the added controllers. Their wemo products comes with free online access control from your smartphone or tablet. However, it lacks the online PC control component. This is geared towards the home users who are not technically inclined.

Then there are advanced systems which allow connecting several different units from wide range of manufactures to a central system. This allow the homeowner to control almost anything in the house from light switches to dog food dispensers. Similar to standards in WiFi (b/g/n/ac), the home automation also have few different standards. INSTEON, UPD, X10, Z-Wave, ZigBee and general purpose WiFi connected systems are examples of these. After doing an extensive research, I found the general purpose WiFi and Z-Wave compatible devices are the most easiest to find in the current market.

Infrastructure

All smart homes (homes with extensive automation) should have the following

  • High speed LAN Network with wireless broadcast in b/g/n/ac (the router should be able to broadcast a strong single to all corners of the house)
  • High speed Internet connection; if you want to control the house over the Internet
  • A suitable location for controller(s); if you are installing an advanced centralized system
  • UPS (battery) power backups for all possible units (you cannot provide backup power to a single power switch, but you can to IP Cameras, routers, modems, etc)
  • Money, money and money…

After that, it is all about choosing which traditional units will be replaced. I will introduced you to WiFi and Z-wave connected products within next few weeks. A good place to start on buying products would be, SmartHome.

Ordinary tech heroes

The dictionary definition for the term hero reads; a person who, in the opinions of others, has heroic qualities or has performed heroic acts and is regarded as a ideal or model for the rest of the community. The classical definition implies that you know the person well enough to identify the hero. If you research any civilization, almost all heroes are popular characters with very unique social statuses. In this Information Age, not all leaders have the desire to be famous. But all great heroes from the history to the present have similar stories to tell.

..it is hypocritical for organizations like FoxNews, CNN and even BBC to criticize the lack of education and/or high moral backgrounds of people like Edward Joseph Snowden, while at the same time the workers in these media giants use iPhones made by a college dropout, Mr. Steve Jobs and Microsoft Windows OS made by Mr. Bill Gates who never passed a programming course.

They haven’t changed

In modern Information (technological) Age, often we disregard our history because we think the history is irrelevant. From my opinion, it is the opposite.

In 2013, most of the news in Canada has been dominated by privacy issues. Our increasing dependencies on technology has lead to redefining the term privacy. The key players in this privacy wars have both supporters and opposers. Just like in World War I or the French Revolution, a hero to some may be a villain to the others. Bradley Edward Manning and Julian Paul Assange are examples of modern day heroes or villains. Regardless if this is the 1800s or the 21-century, there is always a conflict between what is considered good and what is considered evil. The history has repeated itself and nothing much has changed. The only difference between the war lords like the Alexander the Great or the King Asoka and the modern tech world lords is the medium in which they fight. Unlike in the old days, it is not always clear what we are fighting for because the causes are often complex and dynamic. I think this is why most people are unaware of the growing problems in the modern world.

Birth of the IT heroes

Today in 2013 a Computer Engineer or a student with access to a network can cause more damage to a country than a nuclear weapon. From stock markets, educational systems, banking system all the way to the private family databases have been digitized. While it provides faster access to information, it has also significantly altered the way we fight. The same network and database that provide information on your family history like ancestry.ca can also be used to track you down by your enemies. The same fail proof DNA evidence is used in trials have been linked to wrongfully convicting innocent people.

You could be a 10 year old or a 90 year old with access to a high speed Internet connection. You could have no friends or lots of friends outside of the “networked world”. You could have Facebook and Twitter accounts or you may never had one at all. You could be formally educated as a network and computer specialist or you could be someone who never passed a single high school course. It does not matter who you are, we all can be tech heroes. I came across stories in which 90 year old using a mobile phone took pictures of a bank robbery in progress and called the police at the same time. The group of unorganized individuals known as the “Anonymous hackers” includes people as young as 10 years old.

Side note on the background of people. I found it is hypocritical for organizations like FoxNews, CNN and even BBC to criticize the lack of education and/or high moral backgrounds of people like Edward Joseph Snowden, while at the same time the workers in these media giants use iPhones made by a college dropout, Mr. Steve Jobs and Microsoft Windows OS made by Mr. Bill Gates who never passed a programming course.

To some this is a great opportunity to be a hero while to others this is a great time to be a criminal. It all depends on how you use the technology, for what purpose and what is defined as “good” and “evil”.

What is good for the society?

Who should decide what is good for our civilization? The Governments run by handful of people? The tech heroes which include people with hidden evil intentions? The large data mining companies like Google or Amazon? These are valid philosophical and logical questions we should ask ourselves. Even if we answered them who will keep these in checked and balanced? In my opinion, this will be a never ending war. Unlike the French Revolution or the World War I and II, this tech war will have much larger impact on our civilization. While you could argue that this is not as fast and violent as “traditional wars”, I can counter argue with the increased dependency on technology, we would only need a single mad person to push that button to explode a nuclear missile.

Introduction to Modern Warfare

Israel use of banned chemical weapons
Israel use of banned chemical weapons

I do not think that I have to explain to my readers who are Bradley Edward Manning and Julian Paul Assange. They became famous for WikiLeaks which released large databases containing US Government’s criminal activities around the world. They have been viewed as enemies in some politicians (who probably couldn’t even connect a computer to a projector), while others have hailed them as heroes. Either way they are only two out millions of tech heroes.

Edward Joseph Snowden is another leader in the tech war. He exposed the NSA (National criminal Security Agency) operations involving spying on multimillion droller trade deals for American companies like Microsoft and Google and spying on US citizens. Too bad the modern media controlled by the few Zionist elites do not want to publish the US spying on trade deals eh?

The group of highly unorganized tech experts known by their umbrella name “Anonymous hackers” have been exposing corruptions in Governments and Private Companies. They have also forced powerful people (similar to A. Hitler) in modern companies to step down. They have also fought for the rights of civilian victims, which otherwise have no voice to promote justice. I am not going to say if they are good or bad, but if you would like to read their projects like Occupy Wall Street, Child Pornography crack down or Rehtaeh Parsons operation, ironically Google Search is your friend.

There are other small cases such as murders like Derek Medina of Miami posting messages on Facebook admitting to killing his wife or police officers being questioned (and often not changed) after digital video evidence recorded by civilians (and even their own other officers) indicate abuse of power. The best example of this in Canada is the Robert Dziekański Taser incident which created a ripple effect in the RCMP (Royal Canadian Male-only Police). How about those RCMP male officers groping female officers or even raping them by forcing them to have sex while on duty?

Aftermath Boston Marathon explosions
Aftermath of Boston Marathon explosions

Yes there are good examples from conventional type wars. The video and photographic evidence of modern wars such as the ones in Middle East have disputed the official accounts. The use of banned chemical weapons by Israel Army OR the use of lynching of Black men by Nazis are great example of conventional hate spilling over to the tech world. Let’s not forget about the the role of technological age in Abu Ghraib prison scandal photos. I did not know US Army had sluts until I came across those images. The Boston Marathon bombings civilian video surveillance is another example of bad guys being tracked using technologies.

Bangalore : Karnataka Cooperation Minister Lakshman Savadi seen watching porn.
Bangalore : Karnataka Cooperation Minister Lakshman Savadi seen watching porn.

With mobile devices ethics of using it also can be come in to question. The Women and Child Welfare Minister CC Patil and the Co-operative Minister Laxman Savadi (BJP) of India have been cought watching pornography during the Assebly in Benglauru. While this is nothing illegal in India or even in Canada, it brings the spotlight to ethics of technology and how we use it. The irony in this particular case is the abuse of technology is proven by another technology; the TV broadcast of political proceedings in India.

Back to the basics

May be the solution for those who would like to secure data is to going back to the old technologies. The reason Sub.-Lt. Jeffrey Paul Delisle of the Canadian military was able to copy data from secure servers in Canada to a USB drive and hand information over to Russia, is because our data on military intelligence have been digitized in recent years. After the incident, I was researching on the history of spying and realized may be physically writing down non-time critical data is not a bad idea. Think about it, if you only keep the essential data and services on digital format, it would be at least bit difficult for someone to copy the data. While it is still not fail-proof, at least it would be better than the current system of digital encryption. In old days spies are trained to memorize information not copy information on a PDA (Personal Digital Assistant, now known as Smartphones or Mobile Computing Devices). This will completely eliminate the need for secure networks all together.

In my opinion, separating data networks from one another is another way to combat security issues. If you have a NAS (Network Attached Storage) with family pictures, why not simply separate the entire Internet LAN (Local Area Network) connections from the NAS connections? This will still give you the access to data on your home network while blocking all access from outside. It may not be an ideal solution for some, since you cannot access your data from outside the house, but still provide much better security than an encrypted password.

Democrazy to democracy

The point is the complications of tech world goes on and on…and in this technological age, it is difficult for anyone to keep secrets from everyone. After all, when even the authorities commit crimes, I do not see a problem in civilians taking actions to protect their community form crime and abuse. However the accountability knife should be able to cut on both ends. Both the criminals and the heroes should be held accountable for their actions. It is scary to say that it is difficult for us to keep track on who is watching whom. With billions of people with access to technology, the power has truly shifted from “democrazy” to true “democracy”.

Idc wh@t wrds r +ed 2 dic

Some linguistics would say OMG WTF (Oh My God What The Fuck) to words and acronyms that came out of the technological age. I asked an English professor how languages evolve. She told me the words are often added to a language in two distinct ways; through academics such as Shakespeare and through general usage. In the last ten years most words added to English dictionary did not come from academics, but rather from general usage.

Evolution of Modern English

Unlike in the old days we are heavily depend on electronic devices to communicate with each other. When the telephone was invented, some thought that it will be the end of “letter age”. In 1950s a unit called Pager was introduced to medical staff for faster communication with the hospitals. This trend catch on world wide and almost all hospitals around the world used (and still use) Pagers. The time it takes to transmit data from one client Pager to destination Pager depended on the length of the message being sent. This is because each packet of data (like a photon of light) can only be so big. Longer texts will be “cut in to pieces” transmission. In addition the Pager displays only used one line. Shorter the message easier for the end user to read. Why would you page, “There is a medical emergency. Come in as soon as possible” when you can page “ME ASAP”? I think this is the birth of electronic age acronyms.

AOL Pager: Message is too long? "Hi mom, How r u doing?"... would be better.
AOL Pager: Message is too long? “Hi mom, How r u doing?”… would be better.

But in 1970s Universities and US Government successfully establish a communication system called TCP/IP network (today we call it the Internet). With this the text age has rocketed in it’s popularity. Now the Pager and the Internet has effectively replaced most conventional letters of the “letter age”. This wide use has created the stage for not only modern languages.

Spread of English

English became a popular means of communication thanks to the British imperialism. After World War II, it was boosted by the American and “new world” imperialism. My dad said, “if German and Japanese won the war, today we won’t be speaking English. But rather German and Japanese”. He is right because English is now almost universal.

The popularity of English can be good and bad depend on how you look at it. It is good because compared to hundreds of dead languages, British did a good job in securing the future of their mother language. On the other hand academic institutions that safeguard the rules of English like the Oxford University has completely lost control over their language. In fact a lot of foreign English speakers (English as a Second Language) have contributed to a lot of new words. In July 2013, English-German dictionary now includes “shitstorm” often used by German Chancellor Angela Merkel(1). It is not just her but also a lot of Germans use “shitstorm” to describe out of control situations. While most of the newly added words are profanities, there are a lot of useful good words as well. For example, the phrase “friend zone” describes as “a situation in which a platonic relationship exists between two people, one of whom has an undeclared romantic or sexual interest in the other”(2). It was officially added to Oxford Dictionary in February 2013.

Even in the past

Did you know that Shakespeare invented a lot of words to describe emotions in his plays? British authors were (are) the inventors of new words. Later by the South Africans, Australians, Americans and Canadians also added millions of new words to English language. I find it hypocritical about some modern conservative academics argue against addition of new words. From what I understand, there are more English words originate outside of native English speaking countries than any other language on Earth. Which makes English stronger and better not weaker!

In case you still cannot read the title of this article; Idc wh@t wrds r +ed 2 dic = I don’t care what words are added to (the) dictionary.

References

1. Guardian

2. Oxford Dictionaries

Exploration and exploitation of natural resources

According to UN and numerous other research agencies about 80% of world’s energy demand is satisfied by converting fossil fuels in to usable energy. It involves the process of planning, exploration, exploitation and management of natural resources. These processes inherently have their own set of risks and benefits. By identifying and managing the issues will boost our energy and resource hungry civilization to the next level.

My attention to the chain of natural resources exploration and exploitation was first derived by a dear friend and future Geophysicist/Geologist, Alex Meleshko. We can discuss in minute detail on specific areas but I will limit the article to oil and gas and mineral exploration.

We use them everyday

Since Roman and Greek civilizations, we use metals and minerals in various different areas. The Greeks used copper for protecting their irrigation channels from erosion and scouring. Today we use materials extracted from Earth for our clothing, electronics, fuel, industrial applications, etc. After the Industrial Revolution and the World War I, we have exponentially increased the demand of natural resources. Think about it for a second. Even the most basic things like a watch or a copper water pipe in your house has to come from somewhere!

Economics of Supply and Demand

What is exploration and how it is different from exploitation? The simple answer is that exploration is the process of searching for resources while exploitation is the process of refining the methods which we employ to extract materials.

It is expensive to explore natural resources. Even with a successful exploration project, there is no guarantee on net capital gain. The value and profitability highly depend upon the supply and demand. Therefore it is possible for a material to worth millions today to worth almost nothing in next few weeks. Asbestos industry is an example of mineral value fluctuations. In Canada we used to export asbestos for building materials (used in insulation, roofing tiles, etc) with a large profit margin about 25 years ago. But after biologists and health officials linked asbestos fibers to lung cancer and repertory illnesses, the global demand dramatically fell. Today, Canada is only exporting large quantities of these materials to India. This is only because India was pressured into singing an agreement with Canadian companies to buy the toxic mineral several years before we start using the alternatives.

Another example on fluctuation of minerals; 2012 - 13 GOLD.
Another example on fluctuation of minerals; 2012 – 13 GOLD. Click for larger chart.

How do you find the capital for exploration? Unless you have a large chunk of money lying around, you need to find investors. The investors will come and go with the rise and fall of the demand. However, depend on the type of mineral or material, it may take several years to extract natural resources of your interest. During that time the market can go either way so your company is actually taking a risk. The payoff on the other hand could be big. On average it could take up to ten years just to explore and prepare a single area for diamond mining.

Refining

This is where the exploitation come into the picture. By using technologies and manpower we have created systems to extract materials efficiently at a faster rate. In order to meet the demands some of us have ignore the consequences of over exploitation. Instead of running a diamond mine over a ten year period while analyzing the environmental and social impact we can now expedite the process to as little as five years. In other words a mine that would have supply the demands in 1960s at a steady rate have now been mined faster and cheaper.

Cycle of Resources

I created a general flow chart of how the basic processes work together in natural resources industry. Specific examples of operations are more or less similar to what is described below.

Supply - Demand based economic model.
Supply – Demand based economic model.

In nature, everything is interconnected to everything. Likewise the natural resources industries in capitalist countries heavily depend on this type of feedback model. One of the major advantage is private and public investments that often yields profitable outcomes. But often it is hard to get the capital for Research, Innovation and Exploration. In order for the investors have a net gain, the exploitation has to be profitable. While Research, Innovation and Exploration leads to Exploitation, they do not always end up with positive outcomes.

Tips for portable computer users

During the last decade, the portable computers have replaced most of the the desktop computers. Today some people use portable units like laptops or tablets as their primary computer. If you use these portable devices as your primary units, you should also take precautions to protect your privacy and data security. This is not a how to tutorial. This article is written for those who have no idea on where to start. I may improve some of the explanations over time.

Setup

In order to protect your data, create an administrative account with a very strong password. Your password should be at least eight characters long and should include numeric characters. In addition I recommend using capital and simple letters. But what if you don’t want to enter a long password each and every time you want to log in? The solution to this is to create a secondary account with “limited” privileges. You can use a weaker password for this account because this account will not have the permission requirements for modifications. The administrative account password will be needed every time you want to install (or uninstall) a program. While it will not provide ultimate protection for your personal data, at least it is a good compromise for busy individuals.

Hardcare

Caring for portable hardware similar to caring for desktop hardware. You to keep the electronics clean and in controlled environmental conditions. Both of these are harder to do with portable devices.

Dust

Compressed Gas Duster (oxygen can, air can, etc) is the best way to clean dust on hard to reach area. But dusting off also helps by removing debris around fans and vents intakes. If you decide to use the compressed gas to clean, make sure…

  • not to spry an area over a long period (will form water vapor)
  • not to spry directly into connectors causing the connectors to get lose due to the force of air

Temperature

In countries like Canada where we have a very wide range in temperature, it is difficult to keep the portable devices at ideal conditions. Another problem you will run into is that with our busy lives we take the technology for granted a smallest malfunction due to these environmental elements could bring a catastrophe.

The best practices in controlling temperatures can be easily placed in a list.

  • Do not close your laptop (specially MacBook Pro) right after a long use. The head from the internal parts could damage the screen.
  • Place your electronic devices in protective casings whenever you can. For example, a laptop can be placed in temperature controlled sleeves.
  • The mobile phone/PDAs are most likely exposed to environmental elements because we cannot place them in enclosed cases (what’s the point of having a mobile communication device if it not quickly accessible?.

Liquids

The best solution for this is not to spill anything around your electronics. The measures taken after any liquid damage is not always productive. Almost all liquids we use in our household are electrically conductive and have the ability to increase the process of oxidation of metals.

Repairs

Some of you may be surprised to hear you may be able to repair some mobile devices at home. While most electronics circuity use machines, some parts are made with easy repair in mind. The most common portable device accidents are caused by gravity. To be more specific physical damage to a component caused by a fall.

Screen

Mobile smart phones made by Samsung have screen glued together using a heat sensitive material. Therefore you can remove the damaged screen by applying heat around the plastic front frame. You need to get proper tools which can be brought online. It is very cheap to repair at home than to actually send it out if the unit is not under warranty. So do your research and you might save some money.

Battery

While not all units have removable batteries, most of them have a method to open the battery compartment. This is because battery failures are one of the most common problems in portable electronics. Usually the power supply and the battery is fitted with removable plates. You may require a special tool to open it (such as special screws). I found hobby shops have variety of specialized tools that works for computers.

Power Supply

You cannot replace the power supplies without breaking them on any of the portable devices I know. However, you may want to do more research into your particular model.

RAM

This is the easiest part to replace or upgrade in most computers. Exception to some Netbooks and Ultrabooks, most laptops come with an access window for Random Access Memory (RAM) cards. Check the manual or the model number of the motherboard and verify the maximum amount of RAM it can take. In addition make sure you choose the right type of RAM (DDR2, DDR3, SO-DIMM, etc).