Preventing Blackouts by Connecting Air Conditioners

In cities such as New York, energy demand skyrockets as the mercury rises. Each heat wave brings with it warnings to reduce electricity consumption. ConEd’s CoolNYC program is an effort to reduce some of this demand, while keeping customers cool.

ConEd customers that sign up for the program receive an internet connected device that controls their air conditioner. The customer can set temperatures and on/off schedules using their computer or mobile device. In extreme demand conditions, ConEd can raise the temperature on these connected thermostats a bit, citywide to reduce the amount of power needed. While CoolNYC targets the six million window air conditioners in the city, customers with central A/C can enroll in a similar program for connected thermostats.

As a side note, there’s an interesting op-ed in the NY Times about getting more customers to sign up for energy saving programs. ConEd gives customers free devices and $25 gift cards, which may not be the most effective incentives–according to the op-ed contributor’s research.

via CityLab

Mobile Date Entry UX

I usually say “go native” to the question of form field types. However, I recently saw a date entry field that I felt was easier to use than the native control. Not everyone agreed with me though. So, why not test it a bit?

The Test

Mobile Date Entry A (numeric)I created a quick and dirty prototype* to conduct some informal user testing–both at home and in the office.

The test compared birth date entry using a javascript enhanced text input to a native date control. We were looking for both speed and accuracy here. The tests were conducted only on mobile devices (iOS and Android).

Results

While the initial design didn’t completely fail, it wasn’t the smashing success I had hoped for. All of the users were able to successfully complete the task, but they all hesitated when presented with the non-native form field. There was no such hesitation with the native field. However, even with the initial hesitation, users were able to accurately enter their birthday faster in the non-native form.

After a bit of tweaking, I landed on the design shown here. The placeholder text and the helper text above the field are both very important to the user’s understanding what they need to do with this field. Users no longer hesitated when they were given this new design, and they unanimously preferred it over the native control.

Given the success of these tests, I’m confident enough to spec this design for a project. There is one issue that is still nagging me though. From a semantic web point of view, it’s wrong. In order to get the number pad to display, this field is tagged as “tel” for telephone, even though it is a date field. I wish I knew of a way to properly tag this field and present the number pad for input. Any comments or ideas on this are welcome.

Postscript

Mobile Date Entry A (native)By the way, when testing native controls on mobile phones, it’s important to test on the same type of device that the user is familiar with and using daily. In this case, Android users were universally disappointed with the date input control on iOS 7. As an iOS user, I even find that control to be somewhat finicky and difficult to use.

* At first, I tried to test from the Codepen prototype. Although, I could not get it to display correctly on mobile devices.

A Dashing Dashboard with Raspberry Pi

Recently, a coworker mentioned that we should have a dashboard to make some of the metrics we are tracking more visible. It reminded me of this post (via Adafruit) I read about Dashing.

We were able to get Dashing running very quickly. This post about setting up a Dashing dashboard was quite helpful as was this one about installing the right Ruby version. Most of the installations I read about used an external server to host the dashboard, which wasn’t really an option for us. For those that don’t have a good place to host, you can try installing Dashing on the Raspberry Pi, as we did. The raspi doesn’t have a ton of horsepower, so compiling binaries and such will take longer than you might be used to, but it has no problem running Dashing.

World Cup WidgetSo far, I’ve got nothing but good things to say about Dashing. It’s easy to set up, there are a bunch of additional widgets available, and creating your own widgets isn’t difficult.

As an experiment, we cooked up the basic World Cup widget shown here. It has quickly become the most referenced dashboard widget in the office.

Pomodoro Timer Shield in the Wild

Pomodoro Timer ShieldLast year, I designed and built a Pomodoro Timer shield for the Arduino. It was a small, personal project that I didn’t think anyone else would have much interest in. So, I was surprised with someone from The Netherlands contacted me recently asking if I had any more boards. I had two extras, which I was more than happy to sell at cost. The buyer wasted no time in soldering these up and the finished product appeared on a Dutch forum yesterday.

I’m really happy to see that someone else is getting some use out of this little project. Also, it also serves as a much needed reminder, for me, that the internet is much more than just an advertising platform.