back to article Keep the utopians out of my fridge

Inside of every free-wheeling tech entrepreneur, there’s a Stalinist trying to get out. Supermechanical, for example, lauded inventor of the photo-printing night-stand table, is now getting utopians and gadget-heads excited over a cloud-connected home automation gadget called Twine. Internet of things device fits into palm of …


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  1. Chris Miller

    "from you and I"

    Nope, from takes the accusative: "from you and me".

    1. Frumious Bandersnatch


      It's such a pity that that's about the only thing I took from the article.

    2. A J Stiles

      It amazes me how many people get this wrong

      It never ceases to amaze me how many people get "... and me" / "... and I" wrong.

      Hint: The correct form is whichever you'd use if it was just you -- so pretend the other person.wasn't in the sentence. Would you write "from I" or "from me" ?

      1. Tom 13

        Blame it on US broadcasters, especially news.

        For some reason they have decided that "you and I" always sounds better than "you and me" and therefore preferentially use it, even when it is grammatically incorrect.

        1. Darryl

          Worse yet

          The current way to 'sound smart' in US/Canada would be to say "From myself and you"

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "from you and I:

      And "Inside of"? What's wrong with "inside". Needs an editor.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What's not to like?

    A box that will notify you wirelessly its batteries have run down. A sort modern day tamagotchi. Looks useful to me.

    But yes, I agree that less dependencies makes a better design, and "cloud" is essentially "uncontrollable, unknowable, uncontainable dependencies" writ large. Still, as a tie-in it'll be wonderful for charging yearly subscription fees to keep the device working you paid for and thought you fully owned.

    As an aside I recall a column (in Dutch) probably some score years ago about someone bemoaning the lack of home automation in a "natural speech like" language, proposing one with the name "eventjes" (event+diminuitive ending, also meaning essentially "shortly" or "quickly"; it's a multi-language pun, mate). So far few of such ideas have taken off, though we already could for a long time. Something as simple as a few parallel or serial port-steered relays and a bit of scripting would do (coupled with an ISDN card, someone cobbled up a way to open the $company[-N] gate by calling a certain number). Or one of those X10 things, though for some reason its use has remained mostly proprietary.

    There probably will be a market for some sort of real world objects control automation language, but I fully agree there's really no need to pull external infrastructure into it. Addressing isn't important except that it would be useful to figure out where in the building a certain thing is. IPv6 won't solve that, and adding GPS chips to every fixture is equally silly overkill. A unique serial and a short excercise turning them on and off individually would be fine already.

    In fact, I don't even want such systems to run wireless most of the time. This is one of the few applications where sending a few (coded, encrypted) pulses over powerline is just peachy as most devices that could use automation in the home are permanently hooked up to the grid anyway. It saves a lot of batteries, making it that much greener, and not clogging the waves is a good idea too. Why don't we have a standard for that, with a simple (programmable, interfacable) control unit on a din rail?

    1. gerryg

      since we're playing in ped'ants corner today

      fewer dependencies (the object is countable)

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    I love irony

    "Twine is an equal mix of the trivial, the cute, the innovative, and the invasive."

    No, twine is string.

    I do however, appreciate the irony of using useless new words to rant against useless new tech.

    1. Graham Dawson Silver badge

      which was the new word? Twine is attested from the 13th century so it can't be that...

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    WHEN front door is unlocked AND Jesus not at home THEN tweet ‘Come home quickly Jesus before anyone finds out your house is unlocked and burgles it'

  5. Francis Boyle Silver badge

    "into an Arduino again"

    You say that kike it's a bad thing.

    1. ~mico

      Kike, you say?

      Grammar Nazi approves of your nazi error.


  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not so newsy

    Except for being hard-wired rather than wireless, mbed did this about a year and a half ago

    So long as you trust your internet connection as much as mobile data, you can probably code to use a direct connection to your destination rather than a tweet.

    Since it can also do USB host, you could use a 3G USB modem -

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ah, politics

    "The common justification is 'efficiency' – we will invite the Internet into things that don’t actually need it, yielding up vast amounts of data about our lives and behaviours in our homes, in exchange for energy efficiency. If that doesn’t sound a just little Stalinist, you’re probably too young."

    Sounds like capitalism to me.

    1. elsonroa
      Big Brother

      I't not Stalinist if you have a choice...

      As long as the consumer is making an 'informed' choice to trade detailed information about their home lifestyle for a shiny piece of techno-bling, I'd say that's capitalist.

      If the government makes it compulsory for every house to be fitted with a 'Non-Invasive Appliance Load Monitoring' (NIALM) system in order to obtain the same information, I'd say that's Stalinist.

      1. riparian zone

        er, smart meters?

    2. Graham Dawson Silver badge

      Capitalism presents you with the option to use a "more efficient" method, assuming you can afford it. Stalinism presents you with a similar choice, for free, but with the alternative being "or death".

      And they're all out of cake at the moment...

      So this twine thing is capitalist. It would become Stalinist if the company somehow engineered a way to prevent you from living without their service.

  8. jake Silver badge


    All the devices on my networks connect to my own servers as needed.

    Devices that require connection to networks out of my control need not apply.

    It's ain't exactly rocket science ... Keep local data local. How hard is it?

  9. paulc

    Bit confused here...

    Why can't the device start the generator itself and tell you it's done so...

    1. Richard Chirgwin (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: Bit confused here...

      There are three reasons not to auto-start a petrol-powered backup generator:

      1. Safety. The local council doesn't like a domestic generator being started without someone eyeballing it, and in a high-fire-risk area, I agree.

      2. Petrol. A 20 liter tank only goes so far.

      3. Modifying the manufacturer's remote key-start kit to take a command from a computer would be a pain in the neck.

      I would have put this in the body of the article, but it would be a bit of a distraction. Richard Chirgwin

      1. jake Silver badge

        @Richard Chirgwin

        You missed number zero ...

        It's called a "transfer switch".

        1. Richard Chirgwin (Written by Reg staff)

          Re: @Richard Chirgwin

          Didn't miss number zero; it's an expensive option that still can't communicate without help (RS-232 to a computer, computer to comms, comms to me, plus programming).

          1. jake Silver badge

            Re: Number zero

            You don't know what a transfer switch is, do you?

            RS232 based shit is trivial ... I lurvs ASCII.

            1. jake Silver badge

              From email: @ Mr. Chirgwin, please keep it in Forum. Ta ...

              "1. Buying the switch itself. The catalogues I checked yesterday put this at about $800."

              And worth every penny. I had a good friend die when he made the mistake of grabbing a PG&E line that was supposedly dead, but was actually powered by a little Honda 2500 Watt genset plugged into someone's 240V dryer socket. (I was $telco, he was PG&E, we both worked the back country in Northern California. I did the CPR thing for almost an hour before the paramedics got there ... He still had a slight pulse when they choppered him into the hospital at Ukiah, but he didn't make it. Wasn't the funnest storm I ever worked ...).

              "2. Getting someone with 240v rating to install it - call it another $200."

              I install all my own wiring, 3-phase included. It ain't exactly rocket science. (Yes, I have my property inspected twice a year; I'd hate to give the insurance companies an excuse not to pay out in the event of a disaster.)

              "3. Connecting the transfer switch to a computer. Call it trivial if you like,

              but the controller room isn't computer-friendly (heat, dust, etc)."

              99% of this kind of control shit doesn't need more than 2,400 baud dial-up. I communicate with most of my "not local" kit with aging USR modems over dial-up, at 19.2K. This end is a Comdesign statmux with 32 ports (8 parallel, the rest serial, and two 10-meg ethernet cards).

              "And after that, the computer needs outside comms."

              A 19.2 modem more than covers the bandwidth needed for non-trivial stuff.

              "Hence, I don't quite see the point you're making."

              Which might just be my point ... Sarah Bee once accused me of tilting at windmills. I concurred ... Most of my posts here are an attempt to get people to think.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Most of your posts ...

                ... are you talking about yourself. And yet you castigate the wee ones for using social networks.

  10. Turtle

    Li'l Correction

    "The visionaries are just suckers who can only prophecy downsides in retrospect."

    Well, as far as I can tell, visionaries also make piles of money out of this hare-brained scheming. After all, the ability to get media attention is a *marketable ability*.

    Not only that, but it is my impression that the downsides of any given hare-brained scheme can always be remedied by a new hare-brained scheme, often proposed by the same coterie of (well-compensated) hare-brained visionaries. It's a, you know, malicious cycle.

    Anyway, if you are in the UK, you are not supposed to be using electricity in the first place. And they are determined to prevent you. And they are going to succeed. So you can think whatever you want about Twine, but the "smart meter" program, giving the authorities the ability to turn off your power when needed, and which, for obvious reasons, should perhaps be called "Shackles", should be the actual focus of your attention.

  11. stucs201

    Haven't we been here before?

    Internet of things? Hmmm, maybe, but its not that long ago since the days of Windows for Toasters jokes and that didn't really get that far.

  12. LarsG

    If it all goes......

    Titsup, back to the dark ages, re-learn how to write a letter again. There maybe a delay.

  13. bigiain

    Advantages of the Cloud

    Seems to me there are some real advantages to using a cloud based service.

    If the sensors are talking to a locally based server (even a small, low powered PC or laptop), that server is going to be constantly drawing power - even when the house is empty. even something as small as 45 watts is a lot when its on 24hrs a day.

    You could offer a proprietary server unit with the ability to manage the system however, while this would reduce power demand over a PC based server, its going to add cost and its another piece of relatively complex kit that can crash/fail.

    If you up the complexity of the sensor units and give them the ability to send out warnings etc themselves, you drive up the sensor unit cost (not good, when you are likley to want plenty of them) and drive up power consumption - either reducing battery life or requiring a mains plug. (reducing flexiblity and adding to power running costs) and adding lots of complexity as they all need programmed.

    The advantage of cloud is you can allow the sensor units to communicate with the cloud server via your broadband router which many people leave on 100% of the time anyway, has a very low power draw, has already been paid for (or its been supplied by your ISP) and doesn't add another non standard piece of kit pushing up system complexity and opportunity for hardware failure.

    Even with your own server, a proprietary server or a more complex sensor, the broadband router would need to be on anyway to allow comms - unless you want to add a 3G dongle, with the resulting complexity and the cost of a 3g data plan.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Oi you, open the windows, there's a cloud in the room.

      That broadband router also draws /some/ power. Plenty of non-techies actually do /not/ leave it on, which would unwittingly break their home automation. Assuming that server will draw more is peecee-centric to the point of wilful dishonesty. Even a (x86/ia32 based) soekris might draw less than a quarter of your 45W figure. And it'll route your traffic too. That is, of course, ignoring all those integrated "home router" devices (regardless of whether those sport DSL and/or GSM/3G/LTE interfaces) that run some cut-down form of linux where you already can add your own programs; no reason why you couldn't add a "home automation" interface and accompanying software. And with enough demand there'll be more devices that draw even less power and are even more flexible. There already exist other options, some specifically aimed at embedding while maintaining easy expansion with new interfaces and very, very low power draw. DSL needs quite a bit of processing power so going below its power needs for the little computation resources needed to read a few sensors and run a few small scripts isn't actually hard if you put your mind to it.

      And be honest now. While you won't pay directly for the running costs of clouds, including the hardware with regular need for upgrading, associated dedicated cooling, the networking hardware to connect it all, whatnot, it's there, someone will have to pay, and that someone is ultimately you the customer that bought this thing that relies on the cloud to do something you could do for less power at home. All it does is shift the burden of ensuring reliability to somewhere where you definitely cannot do anything about it, and in doing that hide running costs.Those will pop up anyway in the form of some subscription. It effectively pulls the wool over your eyes, and reading your comment, you haven't even noticed. Impressive how you think that hiding the complexity, removing control from the end user (if the cloud don't work, what's he gonna do, reboot it?), is the equivalent of "reducing complexity". Heck no it isn't.

      1. bigiain

        I fully agree with you, as a techie user, you can do all sorts of things that would reduce power draw on a DIY homebased server to fraction of 45w (hacking routers, raspberrypi in today's article etc) - as a technical exercise for a keen techie, the cloud option would be a bad option.

        However, non-techie users lack the desire and/or time to learn about this stuff, build the system and maintain it, so they would need to buy the proprietary home automation server unit or accept the power draw of running the software on a readily avialable home PC.

        In any case - all the above options still require the broadband router to be powered - unless you want to incur the cost of the 3g dongle and data plan.

        The cloud options may not reduce overall complexity - but it shifts that complexity away from the average non-techie user and onto the service provider(s) who (hopefully) have the technical skills. If they don't, the service won't be relaible and will fail as a commercial operation as no one will use it.

        I'm aware that there is a cost to running the cloud service - powering the servers etc. but the data & processor demands on this application are relatively low, so the whole service could be run on very limited data centre based equipment. This would be much more efficient than thousands of individual power supplies running the individual home automation servers.

        Current cloud services are reliable enough for this application - it would be very risky to use a cheap'n'cheerful home automation system running via home broadband or consumer 3G for critical functions (like monitoring Grandpa's pacemaker) whether cloud or home based.

        Just cause you can't physically go and pull the plug yourself is not a reason not to place a degree of trust in it - Google Mail has yet to let me down in any way. That's not to say i 100% trust it - i just don't need a huge level of reliability and privacy for personal email.

        Note that i did say "there are some ral advantages to using the cloud" I didn't say it's definitely the right answer - just one that should be carefuly considered.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Hiding complexity can be done without crossing the pond.

          There's scale advantages to "the cloud", sure. Assuming the computational power needed to make it happen including networks and such isn't already more than the processing power needed for the task, as seems the case here. It looks suspiciously put in only to upsell proprietary "added value" that can just as well be had without, even packed up in a "consumer friendly" appliance. The latter would yield a necessarily more reliable and thus better product to boot.

          Meaning that after considering it carefully I only see downsides to tieing in "the cloud" essentially for the sake of, er, tieing in the cloud. That is, there is no compelling case to be made to tie it in and a very good case to be made to not tie it in. Everything it adds can be had equivalently without, yielding better cost and function control.

          Besides, if you'd read the news regularly (like, oh, on this site) you'd know that every big mail provider has outages, and various clouds including amazon's too, who then managed to not only not fix it for days but also take quite a while to figure out just what went wrong. Doesn't matter that it's never let you down yet; it does matter that we're scaling up and that outages are inevitable, and easily avoidable by not depending on "the cloud" when you don't need to. I don't see any need to. If you do, show something, anything, that can be done obviously better that way.

          And, er, heck the bloody fsck no I wouldn't trust anyone's pacemaker to any such thing. Knowing people with pacemaker who then proceed to travel to China or darkest Africa or what-have-you... the cloud would've killed them. The only connectivity that matters there is the heart the pacemaker sits right next to. Give the thing a battery that lasts at least two years and do check-ups including recharging every half year and that's quite enough of automating that, thanks.

  14. Amonynous

    If reliability is the main concern, I am not sure why you think using SMS or 3G would be any more (or less) reliable than using Twitter, HTTP or some arbitrary proprietary mechanism? If the use case requires messages to be sent over a long distance, you will have to rely on some sort of upstream communication channel with multiple points of failure over which you have no control. For example:

    Scenario 1 (Twitter):

    Device -> Wireless Router -> {Phone Exchange} -> {ISP} -> {Internet} -> {Twitter} -> [Internet} -> {Mobile Telco} -> {Backhaul } -> {Base Station} -> Smartphone

    Scenario 2 (SMS):

    Device -> {Base Station} -> {Backhaul} -> {Mobile Telco} -> {Backhaul} -> {Base Station} -> Mobile Phone

    Where anything in {} is a point of failure consisting of an arbitary number of complex components and is something over which you have no control. So in reality, there is only one extra point of failure which you control in the Twitter scenario vs. the SMS scenario.

    Maybe you could use short-wave packet radio to do the job? But even that is subject to solar/atmospheric interference isnt it?

    On the other hand, privacy and control may be a valid reason, but again I'm not sure what could be usefully gleaned from this class of device. After all, you can essentially wire the thing up to anything and program it to respond how you like . How would big brother know whether it was telling you that granny is about to drown herself in the bath or that your beer fridge is slightly warmer than you would like?

    Standardised, centralised home automation is the thing that needs watching, as careless acceptance of 'install now for cheaper bills' might provide a channel for longer term monitoring and controlling of behaviour. One way reporting devices (e.g. remotely readable electricity meters) are probably not a concern, after all the power company will end up with data about your usage so they can bill you. Once it becomes two-way, then I would worry, since 'they' could then throttle your usage or cut it off as they see fit. (Sounds like broadband now doesn't it?)

  15. Annihilator

    Sums up cloud

    Brill article.

    Probably wrong that the highlight for me was in summing up automation by cloud, you summed up cloud for me:

    "if it can only be had by passing my data to people I don’t know, I’ll do without or find some other way."

  16. OzBob

    Evolution not revolution

    In a time that users can incur a 25K USD mobile bill through automated top-ups (a form of primitive logic) and you want to automate a start action for something that can catch fire?

    The necessary support processes (ie. a "common sense" limiting factor) cannot yet be built into computer systems (eg. If house is under 3 feet of water and power is less than 47amps, DO NOT START GENERATOR). Until this is developed, we will be dependent on humans for lateral thinking and common sense (and yes, that can be the more scary proposition sometimes).

  17. Tom 13

    It's not just twine, it's the whole home automation industry.

    I worked for about 3 years in it before I left for greener pastures. My timing was excellent as about a year later the company I worked for went bankrupt. By the time I left I concluded that while there were some cool gadgets, and some cool work with programming languages and APIs being done, at the end of the day that was it. There were no useful THINGS being done for the home user at an affordable price. Oh, and the outfit I worked for was being backed by the US National Association of Home Builders. They had a better shot at putting all the pieces together than most outfits.

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