Photo from Russell Davies - "The lowest we can get the wattson to go"
A few coincidences triggered me to write this post.
Early last week I saw a link (via rodcorp I think) comparing four home energy monitors - devices that measure your electricity consumption and display it in the hope that it will make you more energy aware. What intrigued me was that all four of them are wireless, i.e. a sensor measures the current being drawn in the house and wirelessly communicates to a base unit, but none of them connects to the internet. Only one of them in fact, even connects to your computer; the rather expensive but smart Wattson from diykyoto, .
Later in the day I was at the Innovation Edge conference, put on by NESTA at the Royal Festival Hall. At lunchtime I had a wander round the stands and diykyoto were there showing off the Wattson. So I asked my question about connecting to the internet. The representative said that they are currently building a social networking site based around the product and people's energy consumption and that they have also made the decision to make the data accessible (as a CSV export initially, I think he said). So they're getting there, and I imagine adding in this kind of stuff is hard for a small company. Interestingly, the guy standing in front of me (sorry, didn't catch his name) was talking to them about Jane McGonigal and Amy-Jo Kim, two game researchers who advocate the power of games and fun in society, and whether they could develop gaming around decreasing energy consumption.
What I would like to see is for energy monitors like these to make the data easily accessible, preferably publishing the energy data straight to the web. And there should be open standards defining how that data is published and how it can be consumed. And then there could be aggregation sites for this data, energy widgets incorporated into social networking sites and games based on consumption. So people can see each others energy consumption, display their low energy badges with pride and compete with each other to get the lowest score. My old boss, Dan Hill, has written one of his usual comprehensive essays on this kind of thing over at City Of Sound; thinking around how this would work with cities and communities.
So does this exist already? Could we build it? I think we can see the beginnings of something at Pachube, a site for sharing real-time sensor data, and Usman Haque's EEML (Extended Environments Markup Language (EEML), a protocol for sensor data) but there can be so much more.
Anyway, I don't really want to buy an energy monitor until it can do all that. Am I missing anything? Has anyone managed to get data out of any of the other energy monitors?
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
Monday, May 26, 2008
I've decided to start a food blog - food at cookin'/relaxin'. I'm seeing it as a bit like an MP3 blog, but sampling favourite recipes from books, rather than tunes. Please buy the recipe book if they look good. It's mainly a place for me to collect my favourite recipes, including my own (not that there are that many) as well as any modifications I make. But maybe you will enjoy them as well. Oh, I'm part-vegetarian (I eat fish) so I don't eat meat and there won't be any meat-based recipes here. Sorry.
Read more here:
Friday, May 16, 2008
I've recently been working on Olinda, a project to build a new radio that includes features inspired by the internet but incorporates them into a physical device. Enabling social networking around radio, providing modularity and APIs for radios and incorporating thinking around hackability and adaptive design in products. You can read about Olinda in detail on the Radio Labs blog or at Schulze & Webb. Anyway, here I just wanted to note down some thoughts which I haven't written about elsewhere.
If you've read anything by Bruce Sterling you've probably heard about spimes. His book, "Shaping Things" introduces them in a very readable fashion. Some brief quotes, somewhat selectively:
"SPIMES are manufactured objects whose informational support is so overwhelmingly extensive and rich that they are regarded as material instantiations of an immaterial system. SPIMES being and end as data. They are designed on screens, fabricated by digital means and precisely tracked through space and time throughout their earthly sojourn." [Shaping Things, p.11]
"The key to the SPIME is identity. A SPIME is, by definition, the protaganist of a documented process. It is an historical entity with an accessible, precise trajectory through space and time." [Shaping Things, p.77]
"In an age of SPIMES, the object is no longer an object, but an instantiation. My consumption patterns are worth so much that they underwrite my acts of consumption." [Shaping Things, p. 79]
"A Spime is a location-aware, environment-aware, self-logging, self-documenting, uniquely identified object that flings off data about itself and its environment in great quantities. A universe of Spimes is an informational universe, and it is the use of this information that informs the most exciting part of Sterling's argument." Cory Doctorow on Boing Boing
"These UFOs, which Bruce Sterling labels spimes, are objects precisely located in space and time. They ingest their own metadata. They accumulate histories. They network with peers. They are scary, infinitely complex and almost inconceivable." Peter Morville, "A Garden of Forking Paths"
So one interpretation of a spime is an object that is connected to the internet and creates data about itself and its behaviour. Although not meeting all the above criteria, particularly around the production aspects which are core to Sterling's vision, I think of Olinda as a radio spime. Think of the self-publishing, data-producing, uniquely identified, connected object. Olinda is a uniquely identified object (we use its MAC address), it's aware of what its owner is listening to (cf. the adaptive favourite station tuning) and it's on the internet (cf. the social listening module) throwing out data; publishing and logging the listening that happens through it (cf. the connection to our Radio Pop website). I think that might qualify as a spime.
I've also been thinking about some questions about how the listening data should be published from Olinda and I know that others are thinking very similar concepts might work in practice. Here are three scenarios:
1) Olinda sends listening data over the internet to an aggregator. The aggregator may collate data about a single user's listening across many devices, or collate lots of users' listening, or both.
2) Olinda sends listening data over the internet to an intermediary which publishes that data in a form that is consumable by others, including sites like the aggregator above. The intermediary is effectively a unique website for that Olinda radio.
3) Olinda publishes the listening data itself. Using an internal web server it becomes an active, addressable object on the internet. I guess that's a closer to a spime.
The current iteration of Olinda actually defaulted to sending data to an aggregator (Radio Pop), because that was simpler for Matt to code and didn't require Olinda to run a web server on its own hardware. I don't know which is best, I haven't thought about it enough, although I'm attracted to the third option but it's probably not practical in the short term.
And what forms of data should Olinda be publishing? RSS or another XML based format? HTTP or something more light-weight and synchronous? You'll see more of this in our forthcoming Radio Pop prototype - RSS feeds, custom XML for more detail, APML for attention profiles and OAuth for authorising the creation of this data.
Finally, I hope it's obvious that all of this potentially applies to TVs and other media.