It's Just this Little Chromium Switch Here

Weblogging and commentary by Chip Rosenthal

How many "fucks!" and "goddamits!" does it take to change a light bulb?

I don't find light bulb jokes as funny as I used to now that I have a home automation system.

Tips for using a Sun Pass on a Rental Car in Florida

I just returned from a 10-day trip through Florida. We used Thrifty Car Rental, and their counter people put the really hard screws down on their toll service. The cost of the service is outrageous ($10.49/day) and they threaten you with even crazier charges ($25.00 plus charges for each toll both) if you choose not to take their program.

There is a much more sensible choice that they won't tell you about.

You can get a Florida Sun Pass portable transponder at numerous locations. I got mine at a Walgreens in Destin, FL. It was $20 plus tax.

Once you purchase the transponder, you can register it online, place an initial balance in your account, and attach a credit card so your account replenishes automatically, as needed, as you drive.

At the end of my trip, I was able to deactivate the transponder, close my account, and request a refund to be applied back to my card.

Cloud Fail, Dumb Home

Today has not been a good day for my smart home, and it points to a major flaw in the SmartThings product.

When I walked out to the living area this evening, the motion sensor failed to illuminate the lights. I checked the SmartThings app on my phone. It said my home hub was inactive.

The SmartThings status page had a note saying from 18:39 EST saying:

Some users may be experiencing issues with Hub Connectivity. SmartThings is investigating and will update accordingly. 

Hello, Smartthings

Smartthings hub

Nov 26 update: See note at bottom, where I retract a bunch of stuff in this post.

I've been playing with the Smartthings smart home hub. After two nights of hacking, I can see the great possibilities, but it's got some rough edges.

The default state model provided is a poor fit. The system default provides three states: Home, Night, Away. I think what's really needed is four states, a 2x2 matrix of Home/Away and Day/Night. The lighting I want for Away at night is different than that for Away at day.

Running pocketsphinx Speech Recognition on Ubuntu

 I'm currently researching speech recognition for home automation projects. My primary requirement is that I want an open source package that runs locally in a Linux environment. "Runs locally" means a cloud based solution is not acceptable; I don't want random household chatter shipped off to the cloud.

I thought the pocketsphinx package looked promising. It's available in the Ubuntu repos, so I could try it on my desktop before setting up an embedded testbed.

Here's what I did to get it working.

First, install the following packages:

  • pocketsphinx-utils -- the pocketsphinx runtime
  • pocketsphinx-hmm-en-hub4wsj -- the "acoustic model"
  • pocketsphinx-lm-en-hub4 -- the "language model"

For voice input, I used the microphone in the Logitech Webcam Pro 9000 connected to my system. It's a USB device, and with my Linux sound setup gets routed to /dev/dsp.

To launch the speech recognition engine, run:

Comments on Twelve Years of Commission Service

On March 27, 2014, I received a Distinguished Service Award from the City of Austin for twelve years of service on the Austin Community Technology and Telecommunications Commission. Here is the video, followed by my prepared text.

Thank you for this recognition. I see this as a recognition not just for my personal efforts, but also for the accomplishments of the many groups I've had the good fortune to work with over the past ten years.

I'd like to share this recognition with: all my fellow Community Tech and Telecom Commissioners, past and present; City Council and its Emerging Technology Committee members; Rondella Hawkins and her staff in the office of Telecommunications and Regulatory Affairs; the city's CTM and PIO departments; and the many groups who work so hard on behalf the community, such as Austin Free-Net, Channel Austin, Big Gig Austin, and Open Austin.

Feedback on Technology Items in City of Austin Budget

I'm down at City Hall, waiting for the hearing on the city's FY2014 budget.

Here are my notes on feedback I want to share with the City Council, regarding budget for some technology-related matters.

LG Optimus G Sprint: Zero to Meh in Microseconds

My old HTC Evo 4G phone died week before last. I had to buy a new phone. I was tired of bumping up against the memory and processor limits of this phone, and swore my next phone had to be a quad-core processor phone.

At the time, the most popular performance phone -- and the best performing Andoid phone available on Sprint -- was the Samsung Galaxy S3. The version on Sprint, however, was dual-core processor. While that may suit now, I suspect I'll be pretty unhappy with the performance at the end of the two year term, given the way the platform and app markets are moving. (Plus, while I like my wife's S2, I'm just not loving the S3. It feels big and clunky and flimsy.)

I was geeking along with everybody else with the new Google Nexus 4  phones just announced. There is a lot in these phones to be excited about, including the fact that they are being offered unlocked at a stunningly affordable price. And, yes, they are quad core processors.

My Election Endorsements


Yes, it's a looong ballot. For what it's worth, I'll share my decisions and some of my reasoning.

What I'd like to do is start with the Austin Chronicle endorsements, because I pretty much agree with most of them, and I know that's a basis that a lot of my friends use.

The one race I'd urge you to look closely at is the ACC Trustee Place 7 race. The Chronicle endorses Barbara Mink, but I found Brig Mireles to be a credible candidate who has some attractive points. I don't follow ACC issues closely and I don't know either of the candidates, but I do think ACC is a very important resource to us. I don't feel informed enough to "endorse" here, but I do urge looking into this race more closely, and not following an endorsement knee-jerk.

It's Time to Create a Civic Innovation Office at Austin City Hall

6:30pm update: This afternoon, Austin City Council approved a budget that includes funds to create an innovationn office.

If you're a Boston resident and a pothole springs up on your street, help could be just a phone click away. The Citizen's Connect phone app will file a report for you.

What could be easier than a phone click? How about no phone clicks?

The Street Bump app, recently unveiled in Boston, uses the accelerometer built into your smart phone -- a device that measures speed and directon changes -- to detect when you've encountered a pothole. When you run the app, It will record a street bump event and file a report for you.