Tag Archives: home

iBeani Tablet Stand



iBeani is a small bean bag promoted as a tablet stand for iPads and other tablets….but it’s so much more. Tablet stand, book holder, doll recliner – if you want to rest something so you can see it better, iBeani’s your gadget of choice. Best of all, it doesn’t need batteries and doesn’t look out of place on the sofa.

The iBeani bean bag is designed to prop up a tablet or book at the perfect angle for reading or games. As a bean bag, it can sit on a flat surface or adapt to more awkward shapes, like sofas or knees. The iBeani is about 30 cm / 12″ across when squashed down and has a loop at the top for easy carrying and pocket for battery packs, mobile phones, spectacles, whatever…

The iBeani comes in a range of around 40 fabrics and there’s something for everyone. From geometric patterns to paw prints and classical art, it’s not hard to find an iBeani to suit your style. The fabric seems durable without being coarse and the bean bag is double zipped on the bottom to avoid any accidents involving small balls.

Made in Britain, the iBeani’s standard price is GB£24.99 including postage within the UK. There are a few sale items at £19.99 and a couple of more expensive ones at GB£29.99. I’m guessing that it’s the licensing of the art work that pushes the price up on those models.

iBeani is very handy. It’s infinitely adjustable and looks like a soft furnishing rather than a tablet stand. If you need to position a book or tablet “just so”, it’s ideal, and it’s great for children or older people who don’t want some convoluted stand with legs to unfold. It’s simple and it works.

Thanks to iBeani for supplying the bean bag for review. YouTube video below.

 

 


Pushing Power Back into The Grid



Phase Two Array ResizeI have always been fascinated by solar power. There’s something quite intriguing about the idea of simple sunlight hitting a solar panel and instantly producing electricity.

Home solar systems can take a few different forms. There are power backup systems that require the use of battery storage, as well as systems that allow people the luxury of electricity that live completely off-grid. Today, the most popular form of solar by far is known as grid-tie or Net Metering.

Grid-tie Net Metering

With grid-tie net metering solar power systems, no batteries are used. Grid-tied solar panels feed power back directly into the public electrical grid and can actually make the power meter run backwards. The more solar panels integrated into the system, the more potential power can be fed back into the connected electric grid. Power bills can either be reduced, or in some cases, completely zeroed out, depending on local electric power company policies.Solar Phase One

Solar panels produce DC or direct current. The power grid is AC or alternating current. Therefore, to sell power back to the electric utility, it is necessary to convert the DC power coming from solar panels into AC so it can be fed into the power grid. This is accomplished with DC to AC power inverters.Inverters Resize

I recently visited a home solar system installation where the home owner has been slowly expanding his net metering system over the past seven years. He initially began seven years ago with forty-three 100 watt 12 volt solar panels, placed on top of his workshop.

With this first system, it was necessary for him to run wires down the length of the interior roof to a bank of mounted micro-inverters that needed to be protected from the weather. One of the lessons he learned from this initial installation was that lengthy wires carrying 12 volt DC results in power loss. The longer the lines, the more the efficiency drops. Higher voltages don’t experience as much line loss.

The best way around this problem is to mount weatherproof micro-inverters directly to the backs of the solar panels. Once the power is converted to 120 volts AC, the length of the wires to the grid connection point are somewhat less critical because the voltage is higher.Grid Tie Inverter Resize

With the second phase of his foray into solar, he built a rack on a metal pole complete with a sun tracking mechanism that he built and wrote control software for himself. The rack contains nine higher efficiency 280 watt 24 volt panels with weather proof micro-inverters attached to the backs of the panels.

The weatherproof micro-inverters are of a modular design that can allow additional inverters to be plugged in to the to the system. The rack-mounted system produces as much power as the workshop roof-mounted panels, even though they have less surface area, primarily because they are higher-efficiency panels.Solar Porch Canopy

He is currently working on phase three of his system, which consists of panels that form a sort of porch canopy over the garage door entrance to his workshop.These are also 280 watt panels, each with its own micro-inverter. He is in the process of slowly adding additional panels to continue expanding his overall system capacity.Meter Output

At the moment when I took this picture of the system output meter, the total output was about 5.4 kilowatts.

A great way to learn more about solar panels, inverters and net metering is YouTube. Good search terms include solar power, grid-tie, and inverter.

Many recreational vehicle enthusiasts have developed a strong interest in attaching solar panels and power inverters to their RV’s, which can allow them to have a measure of generator-free and thus noise-free AC power and engage in extended off-grid camping.


Ding Smart Doorbell at Gadget Show Live



Ding LogoIn the last of my interviews with participants in the British Inventors’ Project, I’m with Avril from Ding Labs and their Ding Smart Doorbell. She tells me more about it.

At first glance, the doorbell looks the part, dressed in “on trend” minty green. Broadly, there are two parts, the Ding Chime and the Ding Button. Obviously the Button goes outside by the door for visitors and pressing the Button will ring the Chime. In addition to ringing the bell, Ding will make a voice call to the owner’s smartphone so that a two way conversation can take place between the caller and the owner.

Ring Smart Doorbell

The Ding Chime connects via WiFi to the home network and in addition to connecting to a smartphone, there are other communication options such as a text message or a call to a land-line. It’s intended that the Ding Chime will be an easy user fit.

The Ding Smart Doorbell is still under development but the team are aiming to keep the costs down to around GB£100. A Kickstarter is expected in September with delivery in April 2017.


KiddieRail Saves Children on Stairs at Gadget Show Live



KiddieRail LogoWith our penultimate visit to the British Inventors’ Project at Gadget Show Live, I’m with Lesley from KiddieRail. She saw that for children banisters on stairs were too fat and too high for them to use comfortably so it’s hardly surprising to see that children under 5 have over 58,000 accidents on stairs every year in the UK, with larger numbers in the USA. As a result, she designed KiddieRail, a child-friendly height-adjustable handrail systems that grows as the child does.

KiddieRail

The tubular handrail is fixed to an existing banister or wall with special mounting brackets that hold the handrail in place. As the child grows up from toddler to pre-schooler and beyond, the handrail can be moved up to be at just the right height. The other clever feature of the mounting brackets is that they can support the handrail at any angle, whether the stairs are steep, shallow or even on a flat landing. If that’s not enough, if the child is holding the rail, they’re not putting sticky hands on wall.

The KiddieRail is expected to go into testing shortly and it’s hoped to be on the market before the end of 2016. The price hasn’t yet been fixed but the team is aiming at less than GB£100 for approximately 3 m (10 feet) of stairs. There’s more detail at the KiddieRail website where you can sign-up to receive updates on the project.


Transparent Appliances from Morphy Richards at Gadget Show Live



Morphy Richards LogoWhen I arrived at Gadget Show Live, household and kitchen appliances weren’t at the forefront of my mind, but I was astounded by Morphy Richard’s transparent toaster and iron. Yes, you read that right – transparent – you can see right through them. Impressed and with thoughts of transparent aluminium, I chatted with Leon about the new “Redefine” range.

Morphy Richards have four appliances in the new range; a hot water dispenser, kettle, iron and toaster. While all are beautifully designed, it’s the latter two which make an impact with transparency when there’s a expectation of solidity. There are no tricks here with hidden wires either; the ThermoGlass is the heating element and gets hot to smooth the clothes and brown the bread. Aside from the visual impact of a see-through toaster, the ThermoGlass provides a lovely even heat across the whole surface and it’s easy to see how toasted the bread is.

Morphy Richards Toaster

In addition to the good looks, the new appliances focus on energy efficiency. The benefit of the hot water dispenser is that only the right amount of hot water is heated every time and the ATOMiST vapour iron uses 75% less energy and 80% less water.

The Redefine range has been on sale since before Christmas. The toaster is GB£199, the kettle is £99, the iron is £249 and hot water dispenser is £149. They’re pricey but you’re not just buying a kitchen gadget, you’re buying an aesthetic experience.

Morphy Richards iron


Nexia at 2016 CES



Nexia logoTodd Cochrane talks with J. George Land, Executive Director of Nexia Connected Home Solutions.

Nexia Connected Home Solutions is a software provider that works with selected products from a select number of different home automation manufacturers integrating everything into one voice-controlled software application. Nexia offers Z-Wave gateways.

The Nexia Z-Wave bridge sells for $67.00 on Amazon and can handle up to 200 Z-Wave compatible products from different manufacturers.

With The Nexia Z-Wave bridge, you can control your connected home products from anywhere you have an Internet-connected mobile device such as a smartphone, tablet or laptop computer.

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Onelink Brings Connected Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors to HomeKit



Onelink smoke and CO alarmWhen Apple announced the launch of HomeKit, its platform for the connected home, hopes began running high that HomeKit would become the one platform to “rule them all” in the Internet of Things space. And while the rollout of HomeKit has progressed somewhat slowly, more companies have begun releasing products specifically made for HomeKit. One such company is First Alert, who recently announced the release of its Onelink line of products, kicking off with a connected smoke and carbon monoxide (CO) detector.

The intuitive, easy to install two-in-one alarm protects against threats of smoke and CO by sending notifications to users on their iOS devices or Apple Watches. The alarm can also be easily tested or silenced using the Onelink Home app. Siri voice commands allow users to check the status of their detector and ask if an alarm was triggered. Since the Onelink Alarm is HomeKit-enabled, privacy is built in and data is always encrypted, ensuring that users’ privacy is protected at all times

The Onelink Wi-Fi Smoke + CO Alarm features a 10-year sealed lithium battery that lasts the life of the alarm. By utilizing photoelectric broad-based technology in conjunction with patented smoke entry system, it is efficient at detecting both smoldering and fast-flaming fires, while being less prone to nuisance alarms.

The Onelink system is designed to work with most existing interconnected hardwired alarms in the home, so users do not have to replace all existing functioning alarms at once, and can do so over a period of time. All Onelink alarms are designed to wirelessly interconnect through a Bluetooth mesh system with other Onelink alarms in the home when an emergency is detected.

The Onelink by First Alert Wi-Fi Smoke + CO Alarm is currently available at Lowe’s and Amazon. It will also be available at Apple Stores and the Apple website in time for the holidays..


Making Solar Pay



I have always been fascinated by the idea of generating my own electric power. Back in late 1998 I installed a solar power system that has sixteen 75 watt solar panels, along with a 4,000 watt power inverter/charger and a bank of expensive deep-cycle batteries.  Mention solar power, and most people think that all of these elements are necessary, including the expensive bank of batteries.

It turns out there is a much better way to think of home solar energy – use solar energy equipment strictly to push power back into the electric company utility grid. Batteries should never be considered to be part of a solar installation unless utility power just isn’t available, say in a remote location. Battery technology is an albatross when it comes to being able to store enough power to meet real-world needs.

If electric grid power is available, there are only two elements necessary – the arrays of solar panels, and what are called grid-tie inverters. In this battery-free scenario, the math of pushing power back to the utility to offset electrical use becomes much more interesting.

Power companies in the United States are required by law to “buy back” consumer-generated power. A grid-tie inverter takes the DC power being generated by the solar panels, inverts it into AC power, and then sends it back directly into the grid via a standard AC power plug plugged in to a regular 110 volt outlet. It is possible to have more than one grid-tie inverters, which also come in different sizes.

The relatively high-end inverter that I have is capable of producing 4,000 watts sustained output. So, if I wanted to push 4,000 watts back into the electric company utility grid, I would need at least two more arrays of solar panels feeding DC current into the inverter.

In my case, the batteries died within about the first three to four years. I simply turned the equipment off and my youngest brother sold the battery carcasses to a battery recycler. The equipment sat dormant until yesterday. A friend that does solar as a hobby helped me check the inverter and get it up and running again. I contacted my electric company and they sent a man out this afternoon to look over and approve my system, an absolutely necessary step. So the net effect is that now whenever there is daylight, the inverter is pushing power back into the grid. Obviously the maximum amount of power is generated when the solar panels are in direct sunlight.

The electric company performed a test of the inverter to make sure that if there is a grid power failure that the inverter automatically cuts off its own output. This is quite critical to the power company, because they want to be absolutely certain that in case of a grid power failure, no user-generated AC current is being fed back into the downed power lines.

I was able to verify that my inverter was pushing power back into the grid by turning off all internal breakers in my house so that no power was being used. At that point I looked at the power meter out on the utility pole and it was actually running backwards! Of course, in normal operation with different things consuming electricity in the house it is unlikely it will run backwards much, but it will be slowed somewhat.

My local electric company is a rural electric cooperative and they actually encourage customers to set up these types of “selling” consumer-generating power systems. It helps them reduce peak demand, thus reducing the need for more electrical generating capacity on the utility’s side. Solar panels are generating electricity at peak capacity when peak demand is likely to occur when air conditioning demands are at their highest.

Can a system like this ever pay for itself? It depends on the initial cost of the equipment, installation expenses, and how long of a payback period you are able to live with. If you can do most of the installation work yourself, then obviously the math works better. Eliminating the batteries really helps the cost come down.

An HQRP 1,000 watt grid-tie inverter sells for $287.95 on Amazon.Com. Aleko brand 75-watt solar panels sell for  $149 dollars each. Sixteen of these solar panels multiplies out to $2,384 dollars. With brackets, wiring and installation let’s estimate a total package price of $4,000, which may or may not be wildly off one way or the other. The 1,000 watt electrical output of the inverter would have to offset $4,000 dollars worth of electricity over a period of years before it would pay for itself, which is likely a long period of years. If the price of the equipment and installation can be brought down, then the payback period shortens.

My electric company will only allow this type of setup to function as an offset. So, let’s say that someone was putting more power back into the grid than they were actually consuming. My power company will never issue a check for the power, so it’s really just an offset for how much I consume. With enough equipment feeding power back into the grid, it would be possible to bring electrical grid usage down to zero.

Many local and state governments offer tax rebates for new solar equipment installations, which could also help mitigate the cost.

The beauty of a battery-free grid-tie solar user-generated power system feeding into the electrical grid is that once it is initially set up, everything happens automatically. Since I already have the equipment and it is long since paid for, I might as well be utilizing it to offset a portion of my power usage.


Loftek CSX 2200 Remote Wireless IP Camera



I recently started looking to purchase a remote IP camera that would allow me to remotely view my home via the Internet. There are quite a variety of remote IP cameras that offer a number of different viewing options at widely varying price points. After a bit of looking, I ended up purchasing a Loftek CSX 2200 wireless IP security camera via Amazon.Com based mostly on the large number of positive buyer reviews.

Among other features, the Loftek CSX 2200 offers VGA/QVGA/QQVGA resolutions, a built-in microphone, supports external audio, UPNP/port forwarding, 802.11 b/g WiFi, 270-degree horizonal pan, 120 deree vertical tilt, automatic motion detection and alarm, alarm notification via email or FTP server, infrared LED’s cover up to about 15 feet, and support for all major browsers.

The Loftek CSX 2200 offers a lot of features for the $67.99 price tag. The downside is that the small included quick start guide is printed in very small type and isn’t all that helpful.  A fair amount of networking knowledge is required in order to be able to get all of the features working properly. Simple Windows setup software is included, and even though once it is set up it will readily work with Apple and other non-Windows devices, Windows is required for initial setup. Initially it has to be plugged in directly to an Ethernet port so the included software can detect it. Once detected via Ethernet and into the browser setup screens, WiFi can be enabled. A more complete PDF manual can be downloaded from the Loftek website.

I was able to go into my ISP’s DSL router and enable port forwarding to port 1029 and get remote access to work from outside my home network. I was also able to get the automatic email alarm notification feature to work on motion detection. Motion detection sensitivity can be selected, but it seems to work good so far at the default setting. When motion is detected, it will automatically take a series of 6 photos and email all 6 photos to up to four pre-determined email addresses. One quirk I ran into is that when setting up an email account the email “test” feature won’t work even if all of the parameters are correctly set up until the configuration has been saved to the camera.

Since this camera is designed to work with it’s own infrared LED’s in complete darkness, the color balance can be a bit off in normal lighting conditions. I’m including two photos of the same scene, one with my compact florescent lights on and the other with the lights completely off.

 

Even though one of the Amazon.Com reviewers claimed he was able to get this camera to work with an iOS app designed to work with Foscam brand IP cameras, so far I’ve been unable to get any of the free iOS apps to work with the Loftek. On the other hand, I can easily access the camera directly in Safari both on my iPad and my iPod Touch using an Internet connection completely external to my home network DSL connection.

Overall I’m quite pleased with my purchase. The Loftek CXS 2200 offers a lot of value for the $67.99 price.


Maytag Oven Self-Cleans in 1 Hour



Maytag LogoIf you think CES is all geeky gadgets and gear, think again: many household names take the opportunity to show off their latest technology-driven product developments. Home appliance manufacturer Maytag talks to Courtney about their latest innovations.

Self-cleaning ovens are associated with high temperatures, long waits, clouds of smoke and bad smells as the deposits burn off. Maytag’s new self-cleaning range uses “Aqualift” technology to reduce the temperature to 200 F and the time to 1 hour. It’s a coating on the bottom and sides of the oven that works with water to lift the deposits so that they can be simply wiped away.

The Maytag’s induction hob is controlled by a touch panel which keeps the top surface smooth and easy to clean. Induction heating is efficient, highly controllable and much safer as the hob itself doesn’t heat up (though there are other disadvantages). It’s a technology that’s been around for awhile but hasn’t yet gained widespread acceptance – perhaps its time has come.

Interview by Courtney Wallin of SDR News.

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