Random Musings

Month: January 2009

Monitoring Electricity usage with a CurrentCost monitor

A couple of friends of mine have recently been playing with CurrentCost monitor, which is a nifty little home energy usage device. It has an induction loop that you clip onto one of the wires coming out of your electricity meter and that wirelessly transmits electricity usage to the display, which looks like this:

The display shows you how much electricity your house is currently using, how much that is costing you (you can change the electricity cost depending on what your supplier charges you), and cleverly if you turn something on or off it will tell you how much your consumption has gone up or down, so you can see exactly how much power that device was using.

I got mine from the eco gadget shop although they are available direct from CurrentCost’s own ebay shop for more money. The eco gadget shop seems to be part of Scottish and Southern Energy so I guess they are subsidising the cost of these things a bit. One thing to be aware of though is delivery can take some time. They took my credit card payment when I ordered, but the device took almost 3 weeks to arrive as they were out of stock, and was sent standard 2nd class post!

But the best bit about these devices is that they have a port on them that allows them to be connected to a PC via a cable that can be purchased from the CurrentCost ebay shop,  and collect the data it spits out every few seconds. There have been various IBM people writing little applications to plot this data onto graphs, and also one of the friends who originally pointed me in the direction of the CurrentCost device has been creating a great little bit of software:

Techtoniq Current Cost Agent

Techtoniq Ltd's Current Cost Agent in action

As you can see it plots both electicity usage (green bars) and temperature (pink line).

In order to connect the device to a USB port on my PC I had to download a USB to Serial port driver. The Windows XP one can be downloaded from the Prolific website and I found a Vista version from here, although having read a bit more I think Vista might have found a driver for it automatically when I plugged the device in. Unfortunately either this driver or the CurrentCost software I’m trying doesn’t like Vista, which keeps BSODing so I’ve temporarily enlisted the use of an old Dell laptop that has got Windows XP on it

I can see this energy usage worry gauge coming in very handy when trying to reduce the amount of electricity we use. And it’s also perfectly geeky for me to play with.

This is the current LIVE power usage and temperature in my house:



Running Windows 7 Beta under Vista’s Virtual PC

I was interested to see what Windows 7 was like, so downloaded a copy of the beta, but didn’t have a spare PC to install it on.

However, I have a MediaCentre PC under my telly that is running Vista Home Premium and wondered if I could install Windows 7 using the built-in Virtual PC application.

So I fired the application up and created a new Virtual PC of type Other with 1024Mb of memory, catpured the ISO image of Windows 7 Beta that I had saved to my Desktop and started the installation.

And it worked perfectly. I now have Windows 7 working happily in a Virtual PC window on my Vista machine. And I must say Windows 7 looks pretty funky, and it seems to be fairly quick even running in this configuration.

Tilt-shift your photos online

I discovered a nifty little tool that creates tilt-shift-looking photos quickly and easily online. Not everyone is a fan of this look (it’s the new HDR), which makes (some) photos look like they are of models rather than of the real thing but I really like it.

In the great Blue Peter tradition, here’s one I made earlier of some Sumo wrestlers taken in Tokyo:

Sumo Tilt-shift

Sumo Tilt-shift

The original un-tiltshifted photo can be found here

Getting a MediaCenter PC to go to sleep

I’ve got a nice little MediaPC that I bought from these guys which is running MediaCenter under Vista Home Premium and is turned on 24×7

In these days of Climate Change economic doom and gloom it thought I would look into getting it to standby when not in use, but come back to life when I needed to use it, or it needed to record something off the telly for me.

Setting the power settings in Vista didn’t work so I googled for some answers and found this little application, the MCE Standby Tool which promises to “make all the required power management settings, even some which are normally inaccessible” and make my machine sleep soundly.

It’s a small nifty looking app and seems well written:


It didn’t seem to work at first but with a bit of tinkering I discovered that the LogMeIn client was causing the machine to come out of standby as soon as it activated.

And then I remembered that the PC runs SqueezeCentre that my Squeezebox Boom connects to. So the next thing to test is getting Wake on LAN to work…

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