Category Archives: technology

My The Things Network Gateway Activated

After receiving the hardware for The Things Network, I now activated the gateway. I had first planned to run up a Cat6 to the top floor but I couldn’t successfully get the cable through the empty conduit that was available for that. Deciding not to wait until I get a cable through the conduit, I connected the Gateway to an ethernet port on the Netgear Orbi satellite that is installed on the top floor. This means it has a steady internet connection, even if not directly wired to the router yet.

The first few messages were sent, so now that ‘hello world’ is behind me, I am curious to see if there will be any traffic my gateway sees passing by.

Jetpack and XML-RPC

Following up on yesterday’s posting on blogging more, I looked at using the WordPress desktop and Android apps. This to see if using those apps makes it easier to blog something on the go (triggered by Peter’s comment that enabling mailing entries to his blog helped his workflow.)

It turns out that I can’t connect to this blog from those apps. WordPress is designed to build the connection using its own plugin Jetpack. I’ve been using Jetpack for visitor statistics already, and previously noticed how the statistics function was the only bit that ever worked. Jetpack needs the xmlrpc file that allows remote access to work. While that file exists in my install and responds as if its active when accessed (“XML-RPC server accepts POST requests only”), in practice it does not seem to be functional. Running the Jetpack debugger to test xmlrpc returns an error message.

None of the suggested fixes by Jetpack help, like disabling all plugins to see if there’s a conflict with Jetpack, and I already am running a default theme. As a final measure they suggest to disconnect Jetpack from the Jetpack settings, but that does not work…..as Jetpack says it can’t save settings. Which was the issue I started with, so I’ve come full circle without a solution.

The Things Have Arrived

A little over 2 years ago I backed a Kickstarter project The Things Network. It’s an order of magnitude cheaper version of a gateway for a LoRa (long range) network, for internet of things sensors etc. The fascinating thing about this The Things Network gateway is that it provides an infrastructure for very little money. With just 2 or 3 of these your entire city becomes your sandbox for IoT experiments. Usually it’s the other way around: you have cheap prototypes but to scale you need expensive infrastructure (a prototype car is fun, but also having to roll out a road system isn’t.) Now you are just as easy rolling out the infrastructure, as well as your prototypes.

It took a long time to arrive. The original team I think learned the hard way that setting up production and supply chains for hardware from scratch has a quite different dynamic compared to software development. This is not a new lesson for Kickstarter projects either. So the hardware which should have been delivered in June 2016 took until January 2018, some 18 months of delay. But now it’s here.

In the mean time I’ve co-initiated an IoT community in Enschede (community site here), before moving house to Amersfoort where another group is active. Here in Amersfoort I participated in the Measure Your City project, by placing a IoT sensor hub in my garden. With the hardware now arrived, I can’t wait to start experimenting. My gateway will come on-line as soon as I have run up a Cat 6 cable to our attic space, and can then help support the Measure Your City network, and any other projects that might take place in the vicinity.


The Things Network goodies arriving today: a gateway (shown), 4 uno’s (sensor platforms) and 2 nodes (prototyping platforms)

New Mesh Wifi Set-Up: Satisfactory

Since we moved in to our new home, the wifi has been a source of irritation. I had recreated the set-up we had in our previous house (main router on ground floor with a second access point on the second floor), but the difference is that we had wooden floors there between the first and second floors, here it is all concrete with rebar. So the irritants kept building up. The need to switch networks between floors, Sonos players dropping out of the network at unpredictable times, not seeing connected light bulbs unless I was near the stairwell. The internet connection itself isn’t the problem, with a 500Mbit symmetrical glassfiber to the home. Also the ground floor living room and most rooms on the first floor (where E and my offices are) have a wired ethernet connection.

I wanted a wifi set-up that allows seamless roaming around the house, and provides full coverage at high bandwidth. So a mesh-network it needed to be, and a way to either connect access points to ethernet cables, or have enough bandwidth between access points through a dedicated wireless backhaul connection. Various options exist, all rather pricey.

The cheapest one I found, Devolo Gigagate looked good at first glance. It provides a 5GHz back-haul connection, and provides lots of wired ports on the access points, so you could connect NAS or high bandwidth devices to it. However the regular wifi it provides is only a 2.4GHz network, as the 5GHz is reserved for the backhaul. This made me realize I needed to look for a 3-radio device (a 2.4GHz and 5GHz radio for wifi, and a 5GHz radio for the backhaul). Other solutions such as Google Wifi send a lot of data about your usage back to remote servers, and that is an absolute no-go. Ubiquity AmpliFi scored low in tests on actual speed delivered, and doesn’t offer any ports on the accesspoints. In the end it was a choice between Linksys Velop, and Netgear Orbi. Linksys has just one port available on an access point, and scored lower in speed than Netgear in reviews. Netgear is however the most expensive option. Figuring we really wanted to get rid of our irritations, I went for Netgear Orbi anyway.

Just in time for our, in terms of bandwidth, most demanding guests around New Year’s Eve, I installed the Orbi mesh. A main router, and two satellites. The main router is on the first floor, connected to ethernet. One satellite is on the ground floor, and one is on the second floor. Putting the router on the middle floor like this ensures it is able to see the two satellites most easily. It provides two networks, our own and one for guests, that both seamlessly cover all rooms.

Speed testing shows satisfactory results, and since the installation we no longer have any dropping connections, no more Sonos hick-ups and all the connected lights show up.

One step remains to do for connectivity in our home. That is running up a cat 6 ethernet cable to the second floor. As in a short while The Things Network gateway will be delivered, which needs a direct internet connection and will be installed at the highest point of the building.

Adding Sensors to the Home with Point

I’ve backed the Kickstarter project Point. Point is a device that on the front-end, in your home, works as a sensor hub and alarm. At the back-end it feeds a machine learning database that learns your patterns, and shows them to you over time. The whole set-up can be controlled by an app (both iPhone and Android). An API is provided, and it can also talk to IFTTT so you can connect your own triggers and devices if you want (and I do).

Point is an existing product, and this Kickstarter is meant to collect pre-orders for the second generation device.

To me the alarm part of the Point devices is less interesting than having a very capable sensorhub in the home. I’ve pre-ordered 4 Points, one for each floor of our home, and one for the garden shed. The sensors it has on board are:

  • Sound
  • Temperature
  • Humidity
  • Tamper
  • Barometric pressure
  • Ambient light
  • Motion/PIR

The company behind Point is Minut based in Sweden and China, and they state they take privacy protection seriously. It delivers on this, the company says, by doing a lot of the sensor signal processing locally in the device, and then only forwarding exceptions or events of interest (sudden sound e.g. in dB, though not the sound itself) to the centralised database at Minut. Traffic is encrypted, though the owner of the device has no posession of the keys. So in the event that the company should close up shop, there is the risk of having 4 smart but bricked devices, because there would be no way to read out the data it is sending, nor redirect the data to another database for instance. Given they’ve been around since 2014, this is their second run (and they know all about production and supply chains already) and that Thomas is now an investor and advisor to them, is reassuring. Hopefully over time they realise that true privacy also means I should have full control over how and where the traffic gets send, even if it means foregoing their entire back-end service. By the time the devices get delivered (May, so likely just in time for the Stuff That Matters 2018 Smart Homes unconference), I intend to open a discussion with them on those ‘privacy by design‘ aspects.

Running a Diaspora Pod

I’m planning to start running a Diaspora pod on one of my VPSs, with an aim to provide a communal space for some of our longtime friends getting more frustrated with FB but dreading the cost of leaving (such as rushing to some other platform to find no-one is there.) Diaspora is similar to Facebook and/or Twitter, is open source and set up in a fully distributed way.

Friend and fellow tinkerer Peter Rukavina and I plan to work together on this.

(btw I already have a Diaspora profile on Joindiaspora.com, so if you already use Diaspora you can find me there. Ultimately I will replace that profile and host my own.)

Mailchimp Meets GDPR

Last week I received an e-mail from Mailchimp saying

Starting October 31, single opt-in will become the default setting for all MailChimp hosted, embedded, and pop-up signup forms. This change will impact all MailChimp users

When I read it, I thought it odd, as in the EU the double opt-in is needed, especially with the new General Data Protection Regulation coming next year.

Today I received another e-mail from Mailchimp that they were rolling their plans back for EU customers.

…because your primary contact address is in the EU, your existing forms will remain double opt-in. We made this decision after receiving a lot of feedback from EU customers who told us that single opt-in does not align with their business needs in light of the upcoming GDPR and other local requirements. We heard you, and we’re sorry that we caused confusion.

Now I am curious to see if they will send out another e-mail in the coming week also reinstating double opt-in for everyone else. Because as they already say in their own e-mail:

Double opt-in provides additional proof of consent, and we suggest you continue using double opt-in if your business will be subject to the GDPR.

That includes any non-EU business that has clients or indeed mailing list subscribers in the EU, as the rules follow the personal data of EU citizens. All those companies are subject to the GDPR as well.

Dutch Design Week Inspiration

Last week was the annual Dutch Design Week. A good reason to visit Eindhoven in the south, which over the past years has turned into a innovation and creativity hub as well as a city renewal hotspot. I’ve visited regularly in the past years and every time you find new endeavours on the crossroads of high-tech, design, art and science, business, and citizen activism. When we were looking for a new place to live we considered Eindhoven because of this palpable elan (we ultimately decided against it due to travel times to other areas). Instead we visit every now and then, e.g. for Dutch Design Week.

We had a pleasant day browsing through various exhibits and expositions, and enjoyed talking to the designers, engineers and craftsmen who created the things on display. For lunch we had pizza from a mobile wood fired oven, outside on a surprisingly mild day.

One of the designers showing their products is Bas Froon, whom we know since our university days. In the past few years, after a decade and a half of business consulting, he went to art academy, and now exhibited a machine he built to create products from a single material (a fiber enhanced plastic fabric) The material is soft and flexible but can become hard and very strong when heated and under pressure. It is for instance used in the automotive industry to make car bumpers. Bas built a cross between a 3d printer and a clothing iron to be able to selectively heat and harden parts of a piece of this fabric, from a digital design. That way you can make a baby carrying sling for instance from a single piece of fabric including all the clasps and fasteners and the cushions for the infant.

Dutch Design Week 2017
Bas Froon’s machine

I got some ideas about temporary furniture for a possible next unconference at home, from a project by a local packaging company challenging designers to come up with other uses for their cardboard.

Dutch Design Week 2017

Also fun to see plenty of Ultimakers in use.

Dutch Design Week 2017 Dutch Design Week 2017
Brabant Living Lab printing soundscapes, 3d representations of noise levels in the exhibition hall.

Dutch Design Week 2017Dutch Design Week 2017
local government involvement, and LoRa enable trashbins

Spotted on a t-shirt:
Dutch Design Week 2017

The blockchain links I read this week

Cryptocurrency Art Gallery
Cryptocurrency Art Gallery

I am interested in blockchain as a distributed way of organizing things through software. I have questions that center around in which situations that distributedness, having a public ledger, and having a permanent ledger is actually useful. Also in general for any defined user group, available blockchains are all global by nature. This takes away any agency that group has concerning ensuring the availability and soundness of the technology they use. This is a threat to a group’s resilience basically (e.g. when a group in northern Poland runs their transactions on something that is dominated by opaque Chinese computing clusters). So I am interested in how to deploy blockchain for a specific group (that can then run their own nodes for the needed calculations.) The potential to subvert a blockchain in such a situation is theoretically bigger, but at the same time it is also more strongly embedded in existing social relationships which provides its own robustness.

Here’s a number of links concerning blockchain I came across and read the past few days:

Explaining blockchain

  • A good read, ‘A Letter to Jamie Dimon‘, which takes as perspective that the distributedness is less effective than centralized solutions but also the key aspect for the intended user groups, as this is the only way to avail themselves of specific affordances. Distributedness is a tool to increase resistance to censorship (also read as ‘access’), and blockchain allows creating fully distributed applications.
  • A talk by Richard Bartlett at Re:Publica Dublin, on whether a blockchain is decentralizing power or not.

The ICO hype is unfolding
ICO, initial coin offerings are campaigns to sell tokens for your specific blockchain application. You can buy them usually only with Bitcoin or Ethereum. What amazes me is how much money (millions) are getting invested in short times (the term vaporware comes to mind), and that minimum investments are often in the 5.000 or 10.000 Euro range.

Examples

Measure Your City / Meetjestad.nl

Now that we moved from Enschede to Amersfoort two weeks ago, we are starting to participate in local activities. Today I joined a workshop to build a sensor-hut for the ‘Measure your city‘ project. Initiated by amongst others ‘De War‘, also the people who started FabLab Amersfoort, it is a project to crowdsource measurements to track climate and climate changes inside the city.

The national metereological institute does not measure inside cities as it does not provide data that can be compared with other measurements across the country. By building a dense grid of sensors across the city it becomes possible however to track the emergence of ‘heat islands’ or see how paving over gardens or making them greener influences the city’s microclimates.

The sensor-hub I built this afternoon is based on Arduino, and uses LoRaWan, by means of the The Things Network, to communicate. It currently holds sensors for temperature and humidity, but is prepared to also measure sunlight exposure, rain fall and soil humidity / aridity. It also has a GPS antenna, to capture the location of the device correctly.

It had been a good while since I last handled a soldering iron, but following the ‘fit for all’ building instructions after a while I ended up with a ready device. After loading the right software, it became sensor 51 in the Measure Your City network. The second stage was building a hut for the sensor device, so it measures adequately: shielded from direct sunlight, with air allowed to float around it. This so it matches up with the standards that normal metereological measurements adhere to. After a few hours me and half a dozen or so others had their own sensor-hut to install at home.


the finished device


the hut for the sensors

I haven’t properly installed the device yet: the hut still needs a white coat of paint to reflect sunlight, before mounting it in our garden at about 2 meters height. It is already taking measurements however, and it can be followed through the online database of the network’s measurements. If you look at the current data for my sensor 51, you see it also hasn’t measured its location yet. If that persists as I properly mount it outside, there might be something wrong with the GPS antenna. The temp readings are still in-house readings, and do not reflect outside temperatures.


hello world: first data log entries

I will be running a The Things Network gateway in the near future (when the Kickstarter project delivers) as well, and helped initiate a LoRaWan/The Things Network group in my previous home city Enschede. Building this sensor-hut is the first foray into exploring how I will use that cheap IoT infrastructure currently emerging in the Netherlands. I am looking to add other sensors, along the lines of what e.g. FabLab Barcelona and Waag Society have created with the smart citizen kit, or this project from Freiburg measuring particulate matter in the air.

UPDATE: GPS is working now that the sensor is placed outside. Still need to paint it white though.

Meetjestad.nl sensorhut
Sensor hut in its intended spot in the garden