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Review of the Ecobee 3 Lite Smart Thermostat

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Review of the Ecobee 3 Lite Smart Thermostat


We live in Canada where the winters are cold and our house is heated with an in-floor heating system. This is great, except when we go away for a few days, we turn the heat down, and then when we return it takes several hours to heat the house back up. The thought was to get a smart thermostat so we could turn the heat up remotely from a phone once we start heading home. To this end we purchased an Ecobee 3 Lite smart thermostat. This article is a review of the thermostat now that we’ve had it for a few months.


Installation was straightforward. Most thermostats consist of a base that attaches to a standard electrical box. The wires attach to the base and then the main part of the thermostat clicks onto the base. The three wires attached to the old thermostat were colors matching the instructions for the Ecobee, so no guesswork. I took a photo of the old base with its wires attached before removing it. Then wired the new baseplate and attached it to the wall. If the new baseplate is a different shape than the old one, then there is a larger circular plastic pad you can add that will hide any bits of old paint or drywall damage. I needed this as otherwise some old paint would be exposed. One nice feature is that there is a small bubble level built into the base that makes it easy to install the device straight. The Ecobee either takes power from the wires in the wall or if there isn’t a power wire then from an optional battery pack that you need to recharge periodically. I was lucky and power was available, so I didn’t use the battery pack.

Once you snap the thermostat into the base, it powers up and starts the software configuration part. Most of the questions are straight forward. You have to create an Ecobee account at their website to connect to. The claim is that you can configure the Wifi from a phone using their app, but I couldn’t get that to work, so I had to type the Wifi password into the Ecobee’s touch screen.

Once this is all done, you can then control the Ecobee from it’s touch screen or from Ecobee’s app on your phone.

Why is it Lite?

The thermostat is lite because it doesn’t take voice commands, you have to control it from the app or touchscreen. It also doesn’t have a camera, however it does have a motion sensor, so the display becomes more detailed if you approach. You can also program it to turn down the temperature if no movement has been detected for a while. This is a good energy saving measure, but only if your system can reheat your house quickly and you don’t have small dogs that don’t trigger the sensor.

As far as I’m concerned the lite features are all you need, with a heating schedule set, you don’t need to keep yelling at the thermostat to change the temperature and you don’t need another camera streaming your rooms to another cloud service.

Even though this is a lite device, it is still really powerful. It can control all sorts of heating and air conditioning systems, the main limitation is that they must be DC power through the thermostat and not the full 120 VAC. If you have the wiring, multiple of these can be connected together in your house. It has a humidity sensor and can adjust the air conditioning based on the humidity. We don’t have the wiring to connect multiple thermostats, nor do we have an air conditioner, so there are a lot of features we aren’t using.


The Ecobee is really a small computer with a few extra sensors and control wires. As a result it will do periodic software updates and will require rebooting now and then. I noticed it performing a software update once, and basically you can’t use it for the half an hour or so that this goes on. Not a big deal.

When working normally, the Ecobee displays outside weather information on the screen that it obtains from the Internet. One day I noticed the weather display was just displaying a question mark. Touching the question mark, I got a message saying it needed to be connected to the Internet to get the weather. I left it for the rest of the day to see if it would reconnect. All my other devices were working fine, connecting to the Wifi without any problems. So, like any computer, the Ecobee needed a reboot. I googled how to do this, expecting a hidden button or menu to do this, but the answer was to pull it off the base for ten seconds then reconnect it. I did this, it rebooted and then everything worked fine again. So far it’s done this twice. It would be nice if there was a recessed button to press with a pin or something to make this a bit easier.

The main problem here is that when it fails to connect to the Internet, you can’t control it from your phone. So for instance, if you are returning early from a trip and want to change the vacation schedule, you can’t and you’ll return to a cold house again. If you come back as expected the preset vacation schedule will rewarm your house, as the schedules will still work whether connected to the Internet or not.

Similarly, if your Wifi router needs a reboot, the Ecobee will be inaccessible until that happens. If we don’t get a power failure, our router seems to need a reboot after about six months of continuous operation.

Another annoyance, at least to me, is that you do everything via a schedule. One consequence of this is that if you change the temperature, it is considered an update to the current schedule and will go out of effect at the next temperature change in the current schedule. I would like a mode where it just takes temperature commands from the phone and overrides the schedules entirely, until I tell it to resume.


The Ecobee is a nice, easy to install and easy to use smart thermostat. It works reasonably well, keeping in mind that it requires Wifi to connect to your phone, and might require rebooting every couple of months. The price is good, we got it on sale for $180. However, we only bought one for the main area of the house. If we replaced all six thermostats, one for each zone, that would be too expensive.

Written by smist08

February 25, 2022 at 11:16 am

Posted in Life

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Apple M1 MacBook Air Review

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I received my new shiny golden ARM based MacBook Air a few days ago, so I thought I’d write this blog posting on my initial impressions. This replaces our aging 2012 MacBook Air which continues to be a good computer, but sadly it isn’t supported by the new Big Sur MacOS release. It is also a bit limited with only 4Gig RAM and a 128Gig SSD. The new MacBook Air has 16Gig RAM, a 512Gig SSD and has an 8 core GPU.

Same Old Mac

The first impression when you turn it on and perform the initial setup, is that it is the same MacOS as you are used to. Everything works the same and you wouldn’t know there is a new ARM based CPU running behind the scenes. The screen is really nice at a resolution of 2560×1600, the keyboard is the updated magic keyboard and is quite nice to type on. The laptop is relatively lite and the battery lasts a long time.

Installing Software

Using software natively compiled for the new Apple M1 ARM processor is the best and there is already a lot of software available this way. All the Apple software, of course, is compiled for ARM. I installed XCode, which took a little while since it is so large. As long as you don’t compile for Intel, you don’t need the Rosetta emulator to run this. I installed Microsoft Office and Google Chrome, both of which are natively compiled for ARM and run great.

Bigger companies all bought or were provided with the developer prototype hardware to get ready for the real release, however smaller developers and open source developers weren’t going to pay the $600 for the prototypes that you were contractually required to trade in when the real release happened. Now that the ARM based Macs are released and people are receiving them, we are seeing lots of projects with test native ARM builds posted. Further, Apple engineers are contributing to a number of open source projects to help them move a little quicker.

After all this, I needed some utilities that weren’t compiled natively yet, so I let Rosetta install. Then the utilities installed and worked seamlessly. I haven’t installed a great many non-native applications, but for the ones I have installed, I’m impressed that they just work and you can’t see any sign of all the magic working in the background to seamlessly emulate an Intel processor.

You Can Run iOS Apps

Besides running MacOS applications, you can run iOS Apps. From the App Store you can select most iOS Apps to install as well. When I heard about this, I didn’t think I’d really need this. However, it lets you do some things that I couldn’t do before. For instance, a complaint about EchoLink, a ham radio program, is that you need to run it on a phone. Now I can run it on my laptop, which I find handy.

There are actually a number of useful phone or tablet apps that are handy to finally be able to run on a laptop.

UPS Sucks

When I ordered the MacBook, I ordered from, so I sort of expected it would ship from Canada. There were no options for shipping, it just said free shipping, so that is what I got. The website said to expect two to three weeks before it ships. OK fine. Then exactly two weeks later, I received the notification that it had shipped. I clicked on the track shipping button and found out it was shipping from Shanghai, China via UPS. Oh no, I’ve never had a good experience with UPS. It took three days to leave Shanghai and then showed up in Incheon, South Korea. Then the next day, tracking showed it in Anchorage, Alaska. What the heck, was it on a boat sailing around the Pacific? The next day, Louisville Kentucky, so it was flying. Sucks that UPS routes everything through this hub. Next day, Seattle Washington. Next day Richmond, BC. It then sat in Richmond for three days. Then it moved to Gibsons, BC and sat there for three days before being delivered. It seems to me that sending anything UPS is about the worst way you can ship things.

Apple sucks that they use UPS. For instance, my experience with FedEx is that it would have flown from Shanghai to Vancouver directly and then gotten here the next day, since FedEx does two deliveries each weekday and then also delivers on Saturdays. FedEx is the best, but Purolator and DHL aren’t far behind. Again UPS sucks, please Apple stop using them.


The MacBook Air is a very nice laptop. It is well made, light and fast. It’s easy to work on and the long battery life makes it ideal for a mobile workforce. There is tons of software available, naively compiled MacOS, Intel based MacOS and then all the iOS Apps. If you are looking for a new laptop or an upgrade to an old Mac Mini, then these new M1 based Apple Macs are a great choice.

Written by smist08

December 23, 2020 at 11:10 am

Posted in Life, Mobility

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Solving COVID-19 with Folding@Home

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Pretty much all of us have several computers lying around the house, most of them not doing anything for 90% of the time. The people looking to discover extraterrestrial life came up with the idea of analysing everything ever received via radio telescopes to look for patterns or messages. They devised a distributed system where any computer could run a client that would run when the computer is idle and work on a small piece of the problem. All the pieces are uploaded to a central set of servers where they are combined. This project is called seti@home and has a vast network of computers looking for ET.

Proteins are extremely complicated molecules that our body’s DNA manufactures to perform all the functions within our cells. Our DNA specifies the individual elements that make up the protein, but the true wonder of proteins comes from how this string of building blocks folds together. Studying this process is vastly complicated and until recently far beyond our computational power to model. With new algorithms and a vast network of distributed computers, the folding@home project was born and today forms the largest supercomputer the world has ever seen.

There are hundreds of problems being worked on. Each computer is given a series of work units to calculate. You get points for work accomplished that you can use for bragging rights. Folding@home has been running for twenty years, since 2000, but with problems associated with COVID-19 being added, usage has soared. I have all my household computers dedicated to this task, since as it stands it seems like solving this problem is the only way that life will return to normal.

Installation and Configuration

Folding@home will run on most Intel/AMD based computers, usually as long as they are at least 64-bit and dual-core. I’m running it on three 2008 MacBooks with core2duo processors, an 2015 HP laptop with an i3 processor and my new gaming laptop with an i7 and nVidia GPU. The installation is straightforward. You download the correct install image, for either Windows, MacOS or Linux and run the installer. This installs and configures a process that is always running and you can see in your task tray. You can access it from your browser at or via one of the configuration GUIs. Here is it running on my gaming laptop:

To get the GPU going, I needed to reboot. I suspect Tensorflow of X-Plane still owned the GPU. Then I could add a GPU slot in the advanced control configuration screen.

Joining a team is fun, you can combine your resources, note that I’m part of team 253800 which is the SunshineCoastBC_Team.

Notice the lower right where it describes the project your computer is currently working on. You can also use the protein viewer to see the associated protein.

Only Partly Open Source

I was planning on running this on my nVidia Jetson Nano and two Raspberry Pis. Sadly, I discovered that folding@home only runs on Intel/AMD processors and not ARM processors. I went to have a look to see if I could compile for ARM, but found the source code isn’t open source. Folding@home uses several open source libraries like gromacs, but they claim they don’t want to go fully open source to prevent people cheating on the points system or corrupting the results.

I think it would benefit them to support ARM processors; the millions of Raspberry Pis and other SBCs could really add to the effort. I looked at a couple of their dependent projects like gromacs and found these do have ARM support, so I don’t think it would be hard to add. Especially since they keep promising a mobile version.



There isn’t a giant claim that folding@home has cured a major disease yet. However, it has contributed quite a number of results leading it that direction. You can see all the scientific papers that have been generated from the results of all this computation here.


Watching the folding@home web page is fascinating. It enables you to contribute to solving a number of major problems in medicine. If you configure folding@home for a light load, you won’t even notice it is there. Just leave your computer turned on and let it solve the world’s problems.

Written by smist08

April 25, 2020 at 4:47 pm

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LinuxFest Northwest 2019

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2019 is the 50th anniversary of Unix and the 25th anniversary of Linux. Last weekend, I attended the 20th LinuxFest Northwest 2019 show in Bellingham at the Bellingham Technical Conference. A great celebration with over 1200 attendees and 84 speakers. Most of the main Linux distributions were represented along with many hardware, software and service companies associated with Linux.

I attended many great presentations and learned quite a lot. In this article, I’ll give a quick survey of what I got out of the conference. In each time slot there was typically ten talks to choose from and I chose the one that interested me the most. I tended to go to the security and overview presentations.

Computers are Broken

The first presentation I went to was “Computers are Broken (and we’re all going to die)” by Bryan Lunduke. This presentation laid out the problems with the continued increase in the complexity of all software. How this is slowing down current development, since programming teams need to be much larger and understanding what is already there is so difficult. He gave his presentation running Windows for Workgroups 3.11 and Powerpoint 4. His point was he can do everything he needs with this, but with way less RAM, disk space and processing power. Lots of arguments on how software gets into everything and how hard it is to test, it is getting quite dangerous. Just look at Boeing’s problems with the 737 Max.

50 Years of Unix

Next I went to Maddog’s presentation on “50 Years of Unix, the Internet and more”. Maddog has been around Unix the whole time and had a lot of great stories from the history of Unix, Linux and computers. He spent most of his career at DEC, but has done many other things along the way.

Freedom, Security and Privacy

Then I went to Kyle Rankin’s talk, which started with a slide on Oxford commas and why there is only one comma in the title of his presentation. The Linux community has some very paranoid people and maintaining security and privacy are major themes of the conference. One of the most hated items by the Linux community is the UEFI BIOS and how it gives corporations and governments backdoors into everyone’s computers. If you can, get a computer with a CoreBoot BIOS which is open source and lacks all these security problems. One claim is that security in Linux is better because there are so many eyes on it, but he makes the point that unless they are the right eyes, you don’t really gain anything. Getting the best security researchers to test and analyse Linux remains a challenge. Also people tend to be a bit complacent on where they get their software, even if it’s open source, they don’t build it themselves, leaving room for bad things to be inserted.

Early Technology and Ideas for the Future

Jeff Fitzmaurice gave a presentation that looked at some examples from the history of science and how various theoretical breakthroughs led to technological developments. Then there was speculation on what developments in Science happening now, will lead to future technological developments. We discussed AI, materials science, quantum computing among others.

Ubuntu 19.04+

I went to Simon Quigley’s presentation on Ubuntu. Mostly because I use Ubuntu, both on this laptop and on my NVidia Jetson Nano. This talk covered what is new in 19.04 (Disco Dingo) and how work is going towards 19.10 (note the version numbers are year.month of the release target). I’ve been running the LTS (long term support) version and I was surprised to find out they only do a LTS every two years, so when I got home, I changed my configuration to install any new released version. It was interesting on how they need to get open source contributors to commit to the five year support commitment of the LTS.

People were present that work on all the derivatives like Kubuntu and Lubuntu. Most of the work they do actually goes in the upstream Debian release, which benefits even more people.

The Fight for a Secure Linux Bios

David Spring gave this presentation on all the evils of UEFI and why we need CoreBoot so badly. He has a lot of stories on the evils done by the NSA, including causing the Deepwater Horizon disaster. When the NSA release the second version of Stuxnet to attack the Iranian nuclear program, it got away on them. The oil industry uses a lot of the same Siemens equipment and got infected. Before the disaster, Deepwater Horizons monitoring computers were all down, because of the NSA and Stuxnet. If not for the NSA, they would have detected the problem and resolved it without the disaster. For all the propaganda on Chinese and Russian hacking, the NSA employees 100 hackers for every single Chinese one. Their budget is huge.

Past, Present and Future of Blockchain

My friend Clive Boulton (from the GWT days) gave this presentation on the commercial uses of blockchain. This had nothing to do with cryptocurrencies and was on using the algorithms to secure and enable commercial transactions without third party intermediaries. The presentation covered a number of frameworks like Hyperledger and Openchain that enable blockchain for application developers.

Zero Knowledge Architecture

M4dz’s presentation showed how to limit access to application data, for instance to stop insurance companies seeing your medical records. Zero knowledge protocols find ways to tell if you have knowledge without getting that knowledge. For instance if you want to know if someone can access a room, you can watch them open the door, you don’t need to get a copy of the key. Similarly you can watch a service use a password, without giving you the password. These protocols are quite difficult, especially when you get into key recovery procedures, but ultimately if these gain traction we will all get better privacy.

Linux Gaming – the Dark Ages, Today and Beyond…

Ray Shimko’s presentation covered the state of Linux gaming from all the old console emulators to native ports of games where the source code has been released, to better packaging of all the layers required to run Windows games (right version of Wine, etc.). There are a lot of games on Linux now, but sadly the newest hot releases lag quite a while before showing up.

One interesting story is how the emulator contributors are trying to deal with games like “Duck Hunt”. Duck Hunt came with a gun, you pointed at the TV to shoot the ducks. The way this worked was that when you pressed the trigger, the game would flash the screen white. One a CRT this meant the refresh would scan down the screen in 1/60th of a second. A sensor in the gun would record when it saw white and by measuring the time difference, the software would know where the gun was pointing. The problem is that modern screens don’t work that way, so this whole aiming technique doesn’t work. Evidently a workaround is forthcoming.


The conference ended with a Q&A session hosted by Maddog, Kyle Rankin and Simon Quigley. The audience could ask whatever they wanted and perhaps got an answer or perhaps got a story. Lots of why doesn’t Linux do X and how can I contribute to Y.


Hard to believe Linux is 25 years old all ready. This is a great show and in the spirit of free software the show is also free to attend. Lots of interesting discussion and its refreshing to see software developing where users really want, rather than what you see under various corporate agendas.

When you buy a new computer, make sure it uses Coreboot BIOS and not UEFI.


Written by smist08

April 30, 2019 at 7:01 pm

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Refurbishing an Old Laptop

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My wife typically used an HP laptop running Windows 10. This laptop is probably about three years old now. Unfortunately she dropped it off the bed onto a cement floor (she claims one of the dogs pushed it off the bed, but I’m suspicious). She actually broke its fall with her foot which is very bruised now, and then it hit the floor after her foot. The laptop then stopped working. She took the laptop to a coffee shop and spilled coffee on it. This didn’t help. She then gave it to me to see if I could get it working. I took it apart to see if it was just a matter of some wires coming loose. Sadly this wasn’t the case. This blog article recounts my attempts to disassemble and repair the laptop, which I successfully accomplished. I’m writing this article on said laptop, while my wife now uses my MacBook Air.

Diagnosing the Problem

On bootup the laptop displayed a text message prompt saying no boot device present. To me this meant that the screen and processor were still working and that the likely problem was the hard drive. After all the harddrive is mechanical with moving parts and likely to be damaged by a shock such as hitting the floor (or a foot). So my first thought was to take it apart and ensure the cables connecting the harddrive were in place.

Opening the Case

It turns out an HP laptop is held together by a lot of screws and many of the screws are hidden behind plastic plugs, the laptop’s feet and various other sneaky bits of plastic. Plus there is a bead of glue around the case that needed to be broken. My first attempt to remove all the screws didn’t allow me inside. Fortunately for doing DIY repairs, there is YouTube. Doing a quick search revealed lots of videos on opening HP laptops and showed a lot of complaining about how HP makes this unnecessarily complex. Anyway watching one of the videos revealed to me where to look for the additional screws (behind some nondescript covers) and allowed me to get the case open.

I removed the hard drive, made sure all the cables were snug and put it back together. And the same result. So I assumed the harddrive was either physically broken or the boot sectors had somehow been erased. So I thought I may as well try installing Ubuntu Linux and repurpose the laptop as a Linux machine. After all running Windows 10, the laptop has been getting slower and slower, so giving up on Windows 10 seemed like a good idea.

Installing Ubuntu Linux

I downloaded an ISO image of Ubuntu Linux for desktop computers. And then installed this onto a USB key to make a bootable USB with Linux. I did this on a really old AMD Windows 7 laptop. Its slow but it’s always been reliable and since I’ve uninstalled nearly everything from it, it works fairly well. Anyway Ubuntu has really good instructions on how to do this at their website. You just download the ISO image and then use the Rufus utility program to copy it to the USB making it bootable.

I then put it in the damaged laptop and booted it up. At this point I could run Ubuntu Linux from the USB or run the Ubuntu installation program. That both of these worked gave me more confidence that the only problem was the laptop’s hard drive. Anyway I went ahead and tried to install Ubuntu Linux, which goes quite a long way before it finally tries to format the hard drive. This failed. So I concluded the harddrive was physically damaged and useless.

Fortunately I have a couple of other laptop hard drives lying around from even older laptops which I could try. The first one I tried didn’t work, so I guess that one is toast as well. But the second one I tried worked. The Ubuntu installation program was able to format the drive and the installation finished successfully. My impression is that installing Linux is now even easier than installing Windows. It didn’t ask too many questions. The screens were simple and easy to understand.

Now I had the laptop restored. Even using the old harddrive, my impression is that the laptop is much faster now running Ubuntu. Of course now I don’t need to run all that Windows stuff that slows computers down so much (like Windows Defender).

Adding Programs

Ubuntu, like Raspbian is based on Debian Linux so anything I’ve blogged about installing things on my Raspberry also works pretty much the same. Plus Ubuntu comes with Firefox, LibreOffice and a number of other useful programs already installed. I was able to quickly add Chrome, Macchanger, Gimp and Tensorflow. For amateur radio there is a program called Chirp that can be used to program most radios. I never got Chirp to talk to my radio from my MacBook due to supposed driver incompatibilities with the USB to serial cable. But when I added Chirp to Ubuntu, it just worked and communicated with my radio no problem, first try.

With my MacBook I use an external drive to hold my photo library since its so large. I use one that is formatted for the MacOS filesystem, so I wasn’t sure it would work connected to Ubuntu, but when I plugged it in, Ubuntu recognized it and automatically mounted it with no problems. I imagine this is since both operating systems are Unix based and their file systems are compatible. I’ve never tried to make this work with Windows, because the instructions are rather daunting and require quite a bit of extra software to be installed.


The end result of all this is that I have a new refurbished laptop which I’m now using as my regular laptop running Ubuntu Linux. My wife is happily continuing writing her novels on the MacBook Air. And at least for now we don’t need to buy a new laptop. Perhaps we will down the road if we see a really good deal, but it isn’t an emergency. I never feel rushed to buy a new computer since they keep getting better all the time, plus prices are bit high right now because of the run on graphics cards by people doing BitCoin mining. Might be nice to let this run its course first.


Written by smist08

February 1, 2018 at 9:48 pm

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Me and My Drone

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This article doesn’t have anything to do with ERP software or programming practices. I received a drone for my birthday this year and this posting is about my drone. My drone is a DJI Phantom 2 Vision+. Basically it’s a flying camera that can take still photos or videos. Its easy to fly and can do some quite amazing things.



A lot of people are against drones because of privacy concerns, that people will take pictures of them in their backyards or through their windows. But just to be clear, drones aren’t stealthy, unless someone can sneak up to you running a gas powered lawn mower, they won’t sneak up on you with a drone. Most videos showing drones taking pictures of people have the sound turned off. Further most of these videos are showing drones being very finely controlled around backyard or porch obstacles which means the operator is very close. Controlling a drone this finely only looking through the camera or via GPS is extremely difficult will like result in a crash.

Further there are far more effective ways to spy on people. I think people may not realize how powerful modern telephoto lenses are. I can take pictures of skiers on the cut on Grouse Mountain from Queen Elizabeth Gardens with my telephoto (15km). Before these, telescopes and binoculars were pretty effective, though like drones tend to stand out. These are much more effective ways of spying on people, just look at the NSA.

I think the lesson here is to stay alert and keep your drapes pulled if you want privacy. Certainly drones have a lot of potential for abuse, but I tend to think they are a little less effective than the media makes out.

Drones for Good

There are a lot of applications where drones are helping to find lost hikers and motorists. For instance a man was in an accident on the highway, got a concussion was disoriented and wandered off into the snow. The RCMP in the area had a drone with an infrared camera and were able to locate the motorist quickly and save him. Without the drone he would likely have died of hypothermia. Similarly several hikers have been rescued from the local mountains because search and rescue located them with drones which could fly easily into difficult terrain.

Drones are also used to inspect oil pipelines and building exteriors. Tasks that can now be performed more frequently and safely.

Journalism is able to film events like riots much more reliably than previously. This allow people to get a much more accurate view of what is really happening when events unfold.


If you’ve ever played with those cheap remote control helicopters, you know they are very tricky to fly and crash into things all the time. Modern drones are a bit more sophisticated than that. You start by getting a GPS and compass lock and then the drone software uses that data to make the drone very easy to fly. The control very precisely control the movement and it is very easy to get the hang of it.


The remote control uses a Wi-Fi transmitter to communicate with the drone. There are two joysticks, one controls the horizontal movement of the drone. The other controls up and down and horizontal rotation. Then there is a dial on the side which controls the camera up and down. There is not rotation or zoom for the camera, you must rotate the drone and move the drone closer or further away. The camera takes fairly panoramic photos.

To use the camera, you need a smart phone (Android or iOS). There is an app that will communicate with the drone through the drone’s Wi-Fi network. Basically it runs a camera app where you see what the camera sees and then you take pictures from the phone. The drone has a micro-SD card in it so you get the full resolution photos from that when you retrieve it.

Since the drone has a GPS you can program it to follow a route prescribed by GPS coordinates. I haven’t had a chance to play with this yet, more because I’m tending to not wanting to risk it getting very far away from me and after all the Wi-Fi has a range of 1km (but does require line of sight).

If communication with the remote is lost the drone will automatically return to its launch point.


Drones make a great platform for taking pictures. You can get aerial pictures of your house or other scenery. It’s amazing what you can photograph from 400 feet in the air.



I would love to take pictures of wildlife with my drone. So far I’ve only filmed my two Chihuahuas who hate the drone and try to bite it at any opportunity. But hopefully as I get better at flying and have a little patience, I’ll be able to photograph the local deer and bears.

With Sage, I’ve made several trips to Africa and have taken many photographs out in the preserves and parks. My wife Cathalynn is convinced I get to close to things like Rhinos from the pictures she’s seen. But that’s due to the power of my zoom lens and I don’t really walk up to the rhinos (really I don’t). I would love to take my drone to Africa to film wildlife, but right now you require special permission to do this with a lot of restrictions, so I suspect this would be quite difficult. On the one hand I think this makes sense since drones are noisy and could be quite disturbing to the wildlife, but then they do put up with all the vehicle traffic from all the tourists.


The drone camera can take movies of what it sees. I’ve been playing with this, but don’t want to post anything yet, since I need to get a bit better at flying. Mostly I tend to turn the wrong direction first before turning in the right direction, so my movies can be a bit disorienting. But there are some amazing videos being produced by drone operators. They are great for filming sports like mountain biking and skiing since the drone can follow the athlete down the course filming them the whole way. Here is an amazing drone film taken in the world’s largest cave in Vietnam:

A lot of movie companies are now using drones to film movies, but they tend to use $100,000 drone/camera combinations to get the quality they need for the big screen. This is still cheap compared to hooking up wired guide ways that move the camera to track flowing scenes.


One cool thing is that there is an SDK for the DJI drones where you can write customer iOS or Android apps. The first level lets you get all the telemetry and camera data from the drone, the second level lets you program and control all the drone’s system, so you can program special purpose flight maneuvers and camera operation. Some applications in their promotional material include voice control and 3D mapping.

Technology Upgrade Cycle

Like most technology these days, it tends to put you on an upgrade treadmill. My drone is only a few months old and already there is the Phantom 3 just coming out. This is similar to digital cameras, tablets and phones. The goal is once you buy one, hopefully you will want the newest model and hopefully will upgrade pretty frequently. I figure that the life of a drone is quite a bit more dangerous than other electronic devices, so my upgrade cycle will probably have more to do with crashes than with new features on new models.


Drones provide a great tool for taking photographs and videos that you wouldn’t be able to get any other way. Good quality consume drones are now readily available for under $1000 (but you can spend as much as you like). I think you will be seeing many more drones in the sky, and like cell phone cameras changed journalism so will drone cameras.


Written by smist08

April 12, 2015 at 10:09 pm

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Remembering Leonard Nimoy

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The original Star Trek came out in 1966 when I was only six years old. It only ran for three seasons but had a great influence on so many people. Leonard Nimoy lived a long life and did many things; but, to many of us he is still and will always be Mr. Spock. I think I spent my entire childhood watching the original Star Trek, first the original series and then over and over again in repeats.

I’m amazed that for a series that only ran for three seasons for a total of 79 episodes (I guess television series had more episodes back in the sixties). The series covered a lot of topics and became firmly embedded in pop culture. Leonard Nimoy as an actor, even with very little make up certainly came across as rather alien (maybe more so than some of the modern CGI aliens). His character Spock introduced us to a rather rich character with logic, telepathy, the Vulcan nerve pinch and now and then getting quite emotional. After all Mr. Spock is half Vulcan and half human and the battle between his human and Vulcan sides is one of the things that makes his character quite interesting.



Mr. Spock is best known for his pursuit of logic, suppressing all emotion in order to become a purely logical being. This was probably greatly annoying to a lot of parents who now had to put up with kids always pointing out that most things are not logical. On the other hand I think it was a great way to promote critical thinking which is a skill that often seems quite lacking in society in general.

For people looking to fit into a more and more complicated world that is changing faster and faster, I think you could do far worse than adopting a more Vulcan logical approach to life. If you are worried about being conned or deceived often stepping back and applying some logic can be a great way to analyze things without getting caught up in the moment.

Of course one thing to remember is that logic is a way of making deductions based on a set of assumptions. If you don’t start with good assumptions then purely logical reasoning will lead to rather crazy conclusions. This is where critical thinking and science come in. If you start from good solid assumptions then logic will take you far. If you start with ridiculous assumptions then you get the logic often put forward by various politicians and others looking to manipulate you for their own purposes. A key takeaway for useful logic is to always question and refine your assumptions. Mathematics is based on this. Most Mathematics starts with a small set of assumptions or axioms and then builds a theory using logic and mathematical proofs to determine where they lead. For instance Euclid created his Geometry on a few axioms like “It is possible to draw a straight line from any point to any other point.” And from these proved many useful Geometric theorems that we all learn in school today.

Mathematics tends to be a mental exercise where a practical use isn’t necessarily the goal. Science uses mathematics, but everything has to be tested against the physical world. So if you start with a set of axioms and get a theory, but experiment shows some part is wrong, then one of your axioms is wrong and needs to be fixed. Science tends to be very demanding in this regard as Spock would often point out to Kirk.


Science Officer

Mr. Spock was both the second in command and the science officer for the Enterprise. As science officer Spock could apply his logic in a scientific context that was quite inspirational to a generation of budding scientists. He then had use of the ship’s scanners and his trusty tricorder when on landing parties.

One of the Enterprise’s primary missions was scientific discovery. The series was created around the same time as the Apollo moon program was in full gear. The assumption here was that the moon would be the first step and we would continue on to the planets of the solar system and eventually the nearby star systems. As it turns out we gave up on pursuing space and it only seems like we are starting to get interested in it again now nearly 50 years later.

star trek Tricorder 08


Spock was also the computer expert on the Enterprise and the common use of computers in the Star Trek series also planted the seed for many budding computer scientists. It’s interesting that the people creating the original series were most concerned that their computer technology was the most far out there thing on the series. They were convinced that we would have things like faster than light star ships and transporters far sooner than we would have talking computers that you could ask anything and get an instant intelligent answer. Of course now we have exceeded the computer technology in the original series, but warp drive still isn’t on the horizon.

There were quite a few episodes concerned with completely logical machines who often wanted to wipe out us illogical biological beings in some sort of pursuit of perfection. These episodes would often showcase the relationship between logical Spock and emotional Kirk. Asking the question of what makes us human, our ability to think, reason and be scientific and logical versus our emotional intuitive side? Usually coming to the conclusion that you needed both and that balance is required.



I’m sure we’ll see many more Vulcans and new Mr. Spocks as Hollywood reboots this series every now and then. But to me the real Mr. Spock is Leonard Nimoy and he will be missed.


Written by smist08

March 22, 2015 at 2:51 am

Wearable Devices and Sports

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I happen to be on holiday this week on the Sunshine Coast (in BC, not Aus). I’ve doing a lot of running and cycling so I thought I would blog a bit on how new devices like GPS watches, step counters and Phone Apps are helping track sports. I have a Garmin GPS watch and an iPhone 4s. So what can I do with these and what is the potential as these devices improve?


This year Sage is again participating in the GCC (the Get the World Moving Coporate Challenge). Basically you form teams of 7 co-workers and each of you wears a pedometer for the duration of the event. You then enter your steps, meters swam and km cycled into the website each day.

You then are tracked as you walk around the world and compete with other teams, either generally, within your company or within your area. The website is quite good, provides lots of useful information and tips on how to improve your health and fitness levels.


To do this tracking just requires a pedometer and their website. No other high tech gadgetry required. It will be interesting to see if more low tech solutions like this one (though the web site and pedometer are both fairly sophisticated) or solutions requiring more hardware like smart watches and extra devices will become the norm.

Garmin GPS Watches

There has been a lot of talk about Apple, Google and Microsoft coming out with smart watches this fall. Further several manufacturers like Samsung already have devices on the market. Then there have been a number of failures like Nike’s entry in this field. I think a lot of these companies have been looking at the success Garmin has had here. Garmin has transformed itself from manufacturing standalone GPS’s (which have now largely been replaced by functionality built into every phone) to making quite useful GPS sports watches.

The watches tend to be a bit bigger than a normal watch but still not uncomfortable to wear when running. Perhaps not the greatest fashion accessory, they are really quite useful. Besides recording your speed, location, distance and elevation in great detail, they also have heart rate monitors to give you quite a bit of information. Then they have a web site that is no extra charge to store and share all your routes and runs. For instance here.


The info is collected by the watch and then you upload it to your PC when you get back and then from there to their web site.

Generally this then gives you all sorts of metrics where you can see how you did, your pace every kilometer, how you did on uphill’s and downhill’s, etc. You can then track your progress and have a good idea of how you are doing.


There are quite a few fitness tracking apps for the iPhone. I just chose Runtastic because I liked the dashboard display in their app store ad. But otherwise it’s been fine, except for a bit too much promotion for the pro version. There are ads in the app and web site, but at a reasonable level, I think for the service you are getting.

There are a lot of attachments available to mount your phone on your bike; however, I’ve found that doing this really drains your phone’s battery quickly (i.e. in about an hour) and so isn’t really all that practical.

Runtastic Road Bike

More typically it’s better to leave the display off since then it doesn’t seem to use that much battery. Also if you stop to take pictures or something, make sure you switch back to the app first. The iPhone doesn’t have good multi-tasking, so unless the app is the active one, it probably won’t be doing anything.

Once you are finished your ride, the app uploads the data to the website and allows you to share what you are doing via social media (as any of my Facebook friends know). For instance this one here.


Like the Garmin website, this one gives you lots of information and makes it easy to track your progress as you try to improve your sport.

The Future

I think that companies like Apple are looking at this market and hope it is a bit like the early MP3 music player market was. Then a company like Apple could come along, redefine the market, make it dead simple and create a much larger market than what the early technology startups could achieve.

Whether Apple can repeat the iPod success in this market is yet to be seen. And they are certainly going to face a lot of competition as Microsoft and Google are hoping they can do the same thing.

Garmin type devices have better battery life and better durability than phones. However phones have better apps and greatly benefit from continuous Internet connectivity. So what are successful future devices going to need? From my perspective they will need:

  • Better battery life. Operating with only a couple of hour’s batter life is insufficient. This should really be a week.
  • Better durability. They can’t just fry when they get a little wet in the rain. Cycling and running are outdoor sports performed in any weather. Athletes don’t want extra clothing or gear to keep their watch dry. Further it would be great if these work for swimming. After all there are already a great many regularly triathlon watches that work great while swimming.
  • Intelligent support for more sports. Useful metrics gathered while golfing for instance. What about soccer, football or hockey?
  • Do not require a separate data plan. If you have to pay $50 per month to a cell phone provider then they are dead in the water.

Another area where there is great research going on is developing more sensors that measure things like blood glucose levels, blood pressure, etc. It will be interesting to see how tracking these additional metrics can help athletes.

There are also appearing apps that intelligently use the Phone’s camera to do things like analyze golf swings and tennis strokes. As these improve we may reach the stage where casual players can get real professional coaching and feedback right from their phone.

On the flip side, there is a lot of concern about the possible privacy implications of these devices. For instance if I record heart rate monitor information and it starts detecting abnormal behavior, could an insurance company find out and cancel my insurance? Could it be used in other adverse ways? Generally this sort of medical information is very protected. Will these devices, services and web sites offer the necessary levels of personal privacy protection? Will I find out I have a heart condition because suddenly I start receiving ads for defibulators and pace-makers? There is certainly a lot of concern about this out there and there have been many Science Fiction stories about the possible abuses. Hopefully these won’t all turn out to be prophetic.


By Christmas shopping season we are going to be inundated by new intelligent watches and other form factors that can help us track and improve our fitness levels. They will track all sorts of metrics for us, provide feedback and even professional levels of coaching. It will be interesting to see if this sparks a greater level of interest in fitness and sports. Maybe these will even help with the current epidemic obesity levels in our society.

Written by smist08

July 5, 2014 at 4:17 pm

Running for a Cause

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Today, I’m not going to talk about technology or ERP. Instead I’m going to talk about one of my other loves, namely running. I started running back when I was 35 years old. For most of my life before that I couldn’t put on weight no matter how hard I tried, I was perpetually extremely skinny. Then I turned 35 and things changed. I started to put on weight quickly, my only exercise was various weekend warrior type activities. As a result I ended up hurting my back during some ice skating and ended up immoveable for several days. As part of my recovery I went to physical therapy where they basically blamed everything on my lack of physical fitness.

Once I recovered from my back injury, I pledged to start exercising regularly. At that time I lived in Tsawwassen and several of my neighbors were avid runners. So I started getting up early and going for a run every second morning along the dyke. Once I got going, I joined the Tsawwassen running club the Bayside Striders. After that I worked my way up running in 5K runs then 10K runs then half marathons and eventually full marathons.

I found that only running and running the long distances required for marathon training was too hard on my body and I would frequently get injured. So after running four marathons I took up triathlon which then mixes up the training between swimming, running and cycling. Since doing that I haven’t had a sports related injury (knock wood). I worked my way up to participating in the Victoria Half-Ironman race. Then since then I’ve continued training, but only participated in a few running races including the Sun Run and the Terry Fox Run.

Setting Goals

I’ve found running and triathlon are great ways to stay in shape. But for the last year or so I’ve been letting other priorities get in the way of my regular training. As a result I’ve gained back some weight and ran my slowest Sun Run since my first year participating. I think part of that is that I haven’t been entering races. I think unless you have a goal it’s just too easy to let other things take precedence.


My wife, Cathalynn, has been afflicted with quite bad psoriatic arthritis for the past few years and volunteers for the Mary Pack Arthritis Program. She was attending a party thrown for volunteers and found out that the Arthritis Society was participating in the Scotiabank Vancouver Half Marathon Charity Challenge. I found out about this just as I finished the Sun Run and realized that I would have two months to train and bring my running distance up from 10k to 21km for the Half Marathon distance. This seemed like an ideal goal. Improve my fitness by increasing my running distance and raising money for a charity I really believe in. So I set this as my goal, started fund raising and started increasing my long runs by 2km each week.

Cathalynn has written a guest piece for this blog on her Arthritis experience here.

2012 Scotiabank Vancouver Half-Marathon

Setting a goal has definitely made a difference. Rather than just skipping a midweek run just because I have a busy day or too many meetings, now I find a way to get that run in. Similarly now my long run becomes much more important on the weekend.

Running for Charity

Running for charity is a great way to combine a running goal with giving back to the community. Fundraising is easy now with the Web, whenever you sign up for one of these, a web site gets created that people can contribute to.


So if you want to check out my site, its at:

and please sponsor me for this race. It’s a great cause.

Garmin Smart Watch

Well, I guess I can’t really blog entirely without mentioning technology. When I run I use my Garmin GPS watch which records my route and all sorts of running data along with it. So for instance you can see the data for my 14km long run last weekend here. It also has a heart rate monitor and will record your heart rata data as well (though I didn’t wear it on the run in the link). There is a lot of talk about Apple coming out with a smart watch, but I tend to think that Garmin has been doing this successfully for quite some time now. Incidentally Cathalynn gave me this watch one Christmas, so thanks for the great gift.


Running is a great way to stay healthy. To reduce weight and increase cardiovascular health. The main obstacle is usually fitting it into our busy schedules. Setting goals like big races is a great way to provide motivation and to give our running priority. Running for a charity is a great way to make it personal and to provides a great way to give back to the community.


Written by smist08

May 11, 2013 at 10:40 pm

Oranges for the Arthritis Blues

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This is a guest blog posting by my wife Cathalynn Labonté-Smith on her experience with Arthritis. You can sponsor me in my run here.

I sat on a denim loveseat drinking blueberry punch while flat bluebirds and delicate azure flowers peered down at me from the ceiling. No, it wasn’t an Alice in Wonderland-type daydream; I was at the Mary Pack Arthritis Centre Volunteer Tea in celebration of their 75th Anniversary. As a patient, sporadic contributing writer and volunteer, my interest perked up when I heard there were 10 free entries to the ScotiaBank Half-Marathon and 5K Run for anyone willing to raise funds for the Arthritis Society.

Steve was looking for a race goal he could manage around all those business trips. He loves meeting all of you readers and has a severe case of travelophilia. However; it does make it hard for him to fit in triathlon training into his busy schedule, but a half marathon when he was just coming off the annual Vancouver Sun 10K Run sounded perfecto.

I did that race in my pre-arthritis days. I envisioned a brisk downhill pace from the top of the University of British Columbia campus to the Lumberman’s Arch in Stanley Park. I didn’t expect a heat wave so I left behind my hat as did many other runners who succumbed to heat stroke that day. Being fair-haired and freckle-faced I don’t take to heat well and knew I was far off even my usual snail’s pace when the walkers started passing me. Finally, the ambulance crew on bikes pulled up to me and asked if they could have their picture taken with me at the finish.

“I know what this means,” I said between laboured breaths, “I’m dead last, aren’t I.” They didn’t get a chance to answer because a petite runner ahead of me passed out. I felt terrible for her but was glad that the cheerful paramedic pair cycled off to someone in much more need of their services–I was still upright, after all.

I was about a mile from the finish when Steve came into focus, “Where have you been?” he asked. I can’t remember my answer it was probably a half-sobbed, “Here.” He gave me a pep talk and got me to keep up with him that last painful stretch. In the end, I got my medal and fell apart like two year-old when I found out there were no orange slices left because all the food was gone to the finishers before me.

I thought life was tough that day because I was poorly prepared for a long hot run and they were out of oranges—until the Arthritis Fairy in her blue tulle dress and cruel twisted wand came to town. About six years ago I went to sleep a busy teacher and recreational athlete to wake up an arthritis sufferer.

Since then it’s been years of constant pain, crutches, physical therapy, occupational therapy, medical leave, water walking, splints, braces, four trials of biologic drugs, off-label chemotherapy, side effects, countless tests, specialists, total life makeover, adjustments, modifications, plethora of changes little and great, losses and gains, like two new walking partners (Chihuahuas Patches and Vicky) and the people who were the keepers, like Steve.

I won’t be running any foot races with inflammatory arthritis affecting over 20 joints mostly in my feet and hands on any given day, but I will be participating in a 1K Walk to fight Arthritis next month with my casual pokey posse—Steve, our kids with paws, niece, Katrina and her entourage, neighbours, friends, their kids and/or their kids with paws. To me this is as big a milestone as any previous athletic accomplishment pre-arthritis.

If you have arthritis or know anyone with arthritis, which strikes people between the ages of two—when sufferers are too young to even say the word–and 102, please consider sponsoring Steve in his half-marathon. There is still much research to be done to make the quality of life better for those of us who suffer from one or more of the 100 different types of arthritis. I’ll be dropping him at the start of the race making sure he has a hat and be there at the end of the race with a bag of orange slices waiting with a big smile on my freckled face. Go Steve Go!


NOTE: For those of you who will ask or just silently wonder about my last name. I didn’t tack on Stephen’s last name to Labonté. Indeed, I kept my maiden name—it just happened to be hyphenated and the second name happened to be Smith. I wasn’t specifically looking for a mate with a last name that was either Labonté or Smith to make things easier in the not needing to change one’s driver’s license department but it was a happy coincidence.

Written by smist08

May 11, 2013 at 10:35 pm