Sunday, November 30, 2014

Day/Night Timer

If you're building a new home or renovating, it's pretty likely that you're wiring your eaves for Christmas lights, and probably installing some exterior lighting. There are lots of options you can select for controlling these lights, but after some research, the one I selected is from Honeywell, and it's awesome:

More Than a Mouthful:
Honeywell Econoswitch RPLS740B 7-Day Solar Time Table Programmable Switch for Lights and Motors
First off, you'll notice that this switch can drop into behind a normal "Decora" style switch plate, so if you have a switch on the circuit already, this just replaces the existing switch.

Now here's where it starts to get cool.  This switch is more than just a timer, it's a "Solar Time Table Timer."  If you've got day/night lights right now, you probably have a photo sensor of some sort.  If you've had many devices with those, you know that they are, how should I put it -- sketchy.  Using a timer fixes that problem, but here in Dallas, including changes for Daylight Savings Time, sunset ranges from 5:21 pm to 8:39 pm, and sunrise has a similar range, and that's where this timer helps.

When you set up the timer, you program in a latitude and a longitude, as well as the time and date.  With that information, the timer knows sunrise and sunset.  Now you can program your Christmas lights (or your eave lights, or whatever else) to do things like this:
  • Turn on 30 minutes before sunset, turn off at midnight.
  • Turn on at 5am, turn off at sunrise.
Basically, you can offset from sunrise or sunset as much as 70 minutes either way, and you can set fixed times.

For my application, I used two, one for my exterior lighting and one for my Christmas lights.  There are a couple of versions of this switch, but the one I chose can handle 1800W, or 15A at 120VAC.  This is enough for over 250 traditional incandescent Christmas light bulbs.

The Timers Installed in the Garage
Christmas Lights on 30 Minutes Before Sunset
Christmas Lights Later in the Evening, 4 More Hours Until Shutdown
The switch also has "vacation" feature which will turn lights on and off between dusk and late evening in a manner to simulate someone being home while you're on vacation, but I don't plan on using that feature since I'm not using these for interior lighting.  We'll get to better solutions to that problem in a future post.

Products referenced in this post:

A Better Car Charger

We took a trip to Stillwater with some friends and our boys a few weeks ago, and we had inadequate car chargers.  It's not that we didn't have several and it's not that we didn't have the right cables, but they were slow when we were trying to charge multiple phones and iPads.  They were a hodgepodge of junk chargers that had been purchased who-knows-where and they were less than adequate for the 6 people in the vehicle.  When I got home, I fixed it, so I thought I'd share with everyone.

A great site I like to reference is The Wirecutter.  And, like many things, they had a Best USB Car Charger article that made it simple to choose and order. (If you're reading this post way down the road, The Wirecutter is great about updating their posts as new products are tested, so make sure and check out the link above for any updated recommendations)

TL;DR?  I'll summarize:

Your iPad wants 2.4A at 5VDC.  Most chargers can't deliver this continuously.  Many 2+ port chargers that advertize that they can, can't do it simultaneously for all ports.  You can fix that with the right hardware, and here is the right hardware:

Two Ports (24W)

Four Ports (48W)
Aukey Multi Port USB Car Charger:

If you're charging to a non-Apple device and want to make sure you're charging at full speed over a micro-USB port, they also recommend grabbing a "charge only" cable so there's no danger of your device negotiating a connection with your charger and turning down the juice.  They go on to recommend just such a cable:

Products referenced in this post:

Monday, November 10, 2014

Welcome to the Lab

Earlier this year, my wife and I kicked off a home renovation here in Lake Highlands with a local builder, Southern Renovations.  During the process, my engineering background and my techno-nerd background lead to a lot of "Uh, well, I guess we can do that" and a few more "OK, so you're going to bring this <insert device name> and make this all work?" moments, and at the end of the day, "Can you help me on new projects?"

The starting point was my engineering background and our HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning) system.  That may sound completely boring, but A/C is something that is done horribly by plenty of reputable contractors, and it's something that, while largely ignored, makes a huge difference in the comfort of your home.  We had lived in a rent home that was horrid, and I knew I didn't want to get just "whatever" on my A/C.  I joked that I put more thought into our A/C than their last 20 customers combined.

The Unassuming Angleridge Lab
After the A/C we had some home automation touches and some prosumer technology touches that ranged from "similar to things other people are doing" to "hey, can you show me how to do that again on my next house" to "you know you're crazy, right?"  I still have a list of things that I'm looking forward to trying out here at our house in the coming months as we get settled in, and the good ones will be reapplied.

In the meantime, here I am, helping on new projects.  I'm doing some HVAC engineering, helping with some home automation touches, and helping better apply technology in some homes currently under construction, and having a little fun while doing it.  The key thing is, I'm using products that I have already tested, so I know what we can expect, or in some cases, what we're getting ourselves into.  In a few cases I'm having to think through how we can reasonably products for someone who doesn't really want to administer them.

It's not hard to buy things.  Pull up, read a few reviews, "buy it now," and you have a new gadget.  You name it, there is a "smart" product to buy, but when you get it home, you probably use somewhere around 10% of the capability for a number of reasons:
  • You can't figure it out, or don't have time to figure it out.  Let's face it, the world is so full of new products that it's work even for those who do it for a living, and even those who understand the technologies involved make mistakes.  I'll outline some of my own on the blog.
  • The functionality is unnecessary.  Maybe you only need 10% of the functionality.  I have about half a dozen devices that can play Netflix on my living room TV, including the TV itself.  I want to pick the best one and make that one work seamlessly.  I never have to think about the others again.
  • The functionality is terrible.  Let's face it, we've all done the research, made the purchase, gotten it home, and still found out that there was some over-promising and under-delivering going on, or that the one function that's important is great, but there are a dozen others tacked on that are terrible and that you can safely disable or ignore.
My goal isn't just to research things and give advice, but to personally TEST things and provide solutions.  As such, I'm calling my home, the Angleridge Lab.  This blog will hit on some of the whats and whys and successes and failures.

Welcome to the lab.