Are Subscription Services the Future?

With life getting busier each passing year it hard to imagine fitting more things in, but I always seem to manage to find time. So what if I could reduce what I have to do? something simple like, oh socks and underwear. We’ll it turns out you can get these necessities by subscription from a company called BlackSocks. To this end I have signed up for some underwear and some cashmere socks on subscription. This will undoubtedly make life easier, and got me thinking about other items that are available via subscription, and by extension are these kind of services the future of shopping for basic items for those who are time poor?

SafeDuino – Part 05: First Released Part Sketches

Further to my last post on the subject I have had a little time, or rather made a little time and created two boards for use in the movement of power and data from the EtherMega to where it’s needed. The first is a RJ12 connection so 4 data pins are possible, the second is a RJ45 connection so 6 possible data connections.

Both boards are double-sided, and have multiple power inputs/outputs and are designed in such a way as to be stackable either vertically, horizontally or both to allow a layer cake effect for these connections, there is a row of single header pins at the “back” for the board and you can mount either horizontal or vertical pins in it, or as I intend to do, pins at an approximately 45 degree angle, but we will see how that works.

As the boards use standard header pins for all instances it is possible to integrate them into your own circuits, however where possible I would recommend integrating the RJ12/RJ45 part directly just to eliminate un-neccicary connections and components.

Anyway eithout futher adu;

RJ12

RJ12

RJ45

RJ45

Fritzing Files

RJ12Connector

RJ45Connector

SafeDuino – Part 04: Further Afield – A Complete Redesign?

After having not had much time to work on this project in the past few months, with a major half-million dollar project going on at one of my clients, which was/is the implantation of a new computer system of my own design that will be serving them for the next 20 years or more (well the physical infrastructure will be, the PC’s wireless, network, servers etc won’t they are replaced on a 3 year cycle, again on my insistence) and with one of the suppliers delivering critical components in excess of week late it has pushed back the final deployment for a couple of months as now I can only do core works on weekends and after hours, I have not had much time for this project.

What I have been doing/contemplating is two things however, firstly is whether I need an LCD screen/buttons interface, and I have decided that I do need one, this has become evident so that I can set up the system “in place” when it is finally deployed.

The other thing I want to do is be able to deploy some sensors and control circuits remotely, including some in hard to access places, well ones that once they are in they will not be easily accessible. To this end I have come up with the idea of using network cable for limited power (5VDC for system power) and command and control signals, and where required I will use Flat-Flex Cables’ (FFC’s)  to get into those tight spots that I cannot otherwise support sensors in. 

 What this leaves me with is a system that is essentially divided into three distinct parts, the main controller (the Freeduino EtherMega) the distribution node which is connected to the EtherMega via network cable, and the sensors and control points are connected to the distribution nodes via CAT3 (telephone) cabling or via FFC’s (which are limited to 18″) where required.

This now leaves me of working out how to select which pins go to which distribution point via the network cabling, this I am still trying to solve, however jumper wires are looking like the best option at this point

SafeDuino – Part 03: The goalposts change

Ok, I admit it… feature creep has officially set in on this project.

After doing the basic designs and working out I needed the EtherMega (from Freetronics) for the SafeDuino project, and consequently purchased some (I say some as I keep changing the design) of the components I decided that it was a “waste” of a mega to only use the small number of I/O’s I needed (but more than I could get from an ethernet connected UNO), and this is where the feature creep began.

So, now what I have is more of an environmental monitor not only for the cabinet it was to maintain originally, but also for the room/building it is housed in, this will allow me to do differential monitoring for parts of the building vs the areas I am going to monitor/control individually.

So far I have determined, that beyond the original cabinet it was going to monitor, the following are going to be monitored;

  • The building itself, this is to allow for differential comparisons and fluctuations in temperature and humidity to see if the things I am putting in place to control humidity are in fact working
  • Two other cabinets, including one humidor, just because I can 😀
    • Turn on/off humidification/dehumidification equipment and fans to allow for circulation in the closed environments based upon readings
  • Possibility of wine/beer fridges
  • External temperature/humidity
  • Solar Radiation (for estimating solar panel power generation)
  • Background radiation, this is more of another because I can thing, being able to monitor radiation (Alpha, Beta, Gamma) in the background of the environment long-term will be useful in the future just to see the changes over time, I will be connecting it to one of the sensor networks that have popped up after the Fukushima accident
  • Internal and External light sensors, again to see how it affects temperature/humidity in the closed environments/building
  • Same goes for door/window openings

I am sure there is more to come, in fact I know there is, I have 40 odd pins to fill up :D.

In addition to these added features, I have decided to add some protection to the arduino itself through the use of optocouplers/optoisolators to isolate the external electronics from the device itself, where possible anyway, this will also take some of the current loading of the arduino board. So far I have confirmed that the 4N25 optocouplers work, and I have tested those which I have purchased to ensure they operate correctly.

I am still to get a few linear optocouplers for use the with the voltage divider to allow me to monitor the voltage in the battery system.

Considering ultimately that the EtherMega will be powered via POE (supplied by the switch, so a proper 801.11af regulator, which is being done to ensure monitoring will continue even if the batteries for the lights etc fail) there will be no load on the batteries apart from a few mA for sensors and alike for the most part, but I will be configuring the reed switches for example to be Normally Open (NO) so that there is no power going through them when they are not activated (apart from what is used by the resistors to keep a proper ground) I should be able to maintain this for a long period with just the batteries, and with a solar charger, I should be able to maintain this use of the system indefinitely.

Hyper-V Fix Time Sync issues

I know this has been done to death, but as this is my Blog, and the original idea for it was for me to put all the odds and sods of knowledge in one location so  I did not have to remember every little command, I am doing it again.

Hyper-V on Server 2008 and 2008 R2 has a known issue with time slipping slipping slipping into the future (sorry Steve Miller Band moment there) when using a Hyper-V based Primary Domain Controller (PDC). The first part of this is an east step, you turn OFF “Time Synchronisation” for the PDC, or whichever server takes care of your time syncing on the network (although I do it for all servers) on the Hyper-V host, this is done by selecting the Virtual Machine in the Hyper Visor, opening its properties, selecting integration services and unchecking “Time Synchronisation” as shown in the image below

Virtual Machine Settings - Integration Services - Turn off Time Sync
Virtual Machine Settings – Integration Services – Turn off Time Sync

Secondly to that, on the PDC you should set a known reliable time source, I normally select one from http://pool.ntp.org.

To add this sever and set it to your PDC time server open an Administrative Command Prompt and enter the following commands

net stop w32time
w32tm /config /manualpeerlist:PEERS /syncfromflags:manual /reliable:yes /update
net start w32time

Where PEERS is the selected time server or time server pool.

This should update itself instantly, and keep itself updated

My Thoughts: Fleetio

First of all, what is Fleetio? Fleetio is a web based vehicle maintenance system aimed primarily at companies that manage fleets of vehicles, which is where it got its name… strange about that. This is not to say that it is not useful for us “regular” people who have multiple vehicles, or even one vehicle, it really does handle them all, but it does shine and is primarily designed for those with the large fleets. That’s enough of that, on with my thoughts.

Now why would I be interested in this solution, well apart from being a sole trader, so tracking my vehicles expenses is to say the least very important to me so I can claim the maximum amount back from the tax office, I also have multiple personal vehicles, including motorcycles, work vehicles and a convertible all that need to have maintenance and other expenses tracked to ensure its all kept up to scratch, and having complete logs when you go to sell it certainly helps.

I have been using Fleetio now for several months, well its getting close to 12 I would think and I can honestly say I love it, its not perfect, nor does it do everything I need/want it to do but it is honestly the best solution I have used.

The prices for the service range from free for one user and five vehicles, this is suitable for many Sole Traders and families, up to $149 (USD) a month for 250 vehicles and unlimited users, personally I simply use the free one at this point, although I am considering using the $9.00 in future to add the other vehicles in the family, including several collectors vehicles, a forklift and a boat, this will be a true indication of how well it runs when I do this, but at least all the records are in one place.

Fleetio has many features, many I am simply not going to cover as I have not used them, and if you want to know more about them I suggest you head over to the website (http://www.fleetio.com) and check them out. The features I currently use are; Service Logs, Service Reminders, Fuel Logs, Renewal Reminders and Documents. As I said however there are many other features including reports that can be useful but you really need to check them out for yourself as I don’t use them, but for the features I do use, here is a rundown

  •  Service Logs: As the name suggests, this is where you log the work you have done to your vehicle, be it an addition such as driving lights, or maintenance such as the regular oil change, it records what was done, who it was done by, the date it was done and what it cost, all the relevant details, but there is one thing that I do wish it had, the ability to attach one, or preferably multiple files to the service, things such as receipts, quotes, warranties etc. The system handles that under the documents function, which I will get to later in the article, so why not add the ability to link a document, or as I said preferably multiple documents to a service.
  • Service Reminders: Again as the name suggests this allows for the setting of reminders about services, dependent on the way the vehicle is tracked it is done through Running Time, Hours or Date based periods, for example one of my service intervals for one vehicle is 5000KM or every 6 months, what ever is first. In my case this is set up as an “Oil Change” service which to me is a basic service of oil, filter, grease points etc. This feature also allows you to have subscribers that receive emails when something is about to become due (this warning activates at a pre-determined time prior to the event happening, in the case of the service I have set this to 500KM/2 Weeks) it also emails you until you have completed it, if its overdue.
  • Fuel Logs: Basically the same as service logs, tracks (depending on settings I am using metric) Fuel input, tripmeter reading, cost and cost per unit, with this data it can calculate fuel economy and show you on graphs what is happening, a very useful feature, but it could be made better as I will discuss further on in the article
  • Renewal Reminders: Well what can I say, its a reminder, it reminds you of something, in my case I have commonly set (in addition to service reminders above, these are a different item all together) Registration and Insurance, it also handle inspection and emissions test reminders.
  • Documents: This function allows you to upload documents, any type of documents you need, nothing special, useful but not as useful as being able to attach them to a service or fuel entry, that’s not to say I don’t need to add “normal” documents such as manuals to the information, but I also need the ability to link a document, or as I have previously said, multiple documents to a service and fuel entry, service in particular, but fuel entry would also be useful

Now as I said above,  I am not saying Fleetio is perfect, but it is the best that I have used so far, and I have used quite a few programs for this kind of thing. Firstly if I were over there I would add an API and application interface, now this does not sound like much but there are several benefits and things that could be done with this that can not be done with a website only product, the first is cashing of data, now whilst I am not the same as everyone and I realise and accept this, in my situation even though I predominantly work in IT, I am not always connected to the internet, allowing me to store data locally especially the fuel log would allow me to enter data on the spot, then when the device gets an internet connection and can establish a link back to the Fleetio site it can upload the newly added or changed data.

Secondly and this is the other major change/addition I would make to the service is that of a trip log, this would simply be starting KM/Miles (automatically filled in from current trip reading/end of last trip reading) and ending KM/Miles. This would allow me to keep a log for tax purposes as well as anything else that I might require it for, this kind of data is better cashed in an application and uploaded when available than having to have an internet connection all the time, having said that, even adding this to the web interface would be a good start. To further expand on this if they wanted, they could offer GPS logging of trips, these files could then be automatically uploaded to the website when a connection was available, and be overlayed on a Google (or other) map, and the GPS file available for download if required. To add further function to the trip log, a simple “Toll Cost” field could be added so that the cost of toll road(s) could be recorded for each trip as well

Over the period I have been using Fleetio, I have made several suggestions, some have been acted on, some not. However each and every time I have gone out of my way to help them, (for me this is a big thing as I do not waste time on things that are not useful to my family, friends or myself as it serves no purpose) I have got a response saying they will look into it, they will add it or they do not plan to add it at this stage etc. even getting this response as a NON paying service user means I have no hesitation recommending them to others.

I urge people to check it out, its one useful site I just had to share

Justin

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