Github repo for xtralean

I’ve created a github repo for xtralean – located at


All software posted is licensed under MIT license.

Posted in The Lab | Comments Off on Github repo for xtralean

There is an interesting website service called ThingSpeak (link).  The website uses a simple protocol, so simple that even small micro controllers can use it, to collect data and then display the data in handy graphs. Up to 8 parameters at a time, once a minute can be posted to the site, where it is logged and then graphed.

I’m using it right now for the solar power weather station.  I’m posting the temperature, humidity, and the voltage of the battery and solar panel.  So far it’s been really helpful in debugging the solar weather station as I can let it collect data and the next morning take a look at the graphs to see how much energy the weather station used overnight while the battery can’t be charge by the solar panel.

The graphs of the solar power station can be found here.

As well as collecting data and displaying graphs, there are other features such as acting as a proxy to do more complex web requests, doing actions based on collected data, etc.  All this wonderful stuff for free.  I’m not sure I understand the business model, but the site is really useful and easy to use.

Posted in IoT ideas, The Lab | Comments Off on

Experiment in energy conservation

My new Internet of Things project is a solar powered mini weather station.  Sensors will be able to measure temperature, humidity, and UV index.  Since this unit is solar powered, it has an on board battery that keeps the station going at night time when the sun goes down.


Also, the solar panel is so small that, even in bright sun light, it can not power the weather station alone.  So the unit will have to shut down the wifi radio and go into sleep mode and only wake up every once in awhile to connect to the Internet and report the observations.  The 500maH battery that gets charged by the sun should be able to power the unit at full power for 6 hours when the battery is completely charged up, so there is plenty of reserve power.


As well as being able to measure the weather information, the device can also monitor the amount of power the solar cell is generating and the battery level.  This will help the device get smart at how much power (how many times a day it can connect to the Internet) is can use without depleting the battery backup.

I’m thinking, since it is connected to the Internet it can also get weather forecasts to predict how much potential sun energy is will receive in the future.  The idea is to have a weather station that can operate autonomously without having to connect an external power source.

I’ll be updating the progress of this experiment as new information comes in.  The battery is almost charged up, soon I can load the software on the device and turn it on.

Posted in IoT ideas, The Lab | Comments Off on Experiment in energy conservation

Particle Photon



I’ve been playing around with various micro controllers for quite awhile. Building little electronic projects and it’s been very enjoyable.  I came across this relatively new micro controller from called the Photon.  Particle was previously known as Spark but changed their name to be more unique.  The previous generation micro controller was called the Core and it was quite good – built a few projects with that controller.

What sets the photon apart from other micro controllers is that it is Internet of Things ready.  Besides having a small 32 bit Arm chip, 16 channels of IO, a serial port, it also has WiFi baked right into the chip.  If that weren’t enough, Particle has the whole back end cloud system setup and ready for you to use.  In fact if you want, you can write code in your browser, compile and flash the controller straight from the Internet (more on that later).


The photon arrives in a smart little box about the size of a match box.  It can be powered by a regular USB cable, or you can connect a power supply (wall adapter or batteries) directly to the device.  The first step, before you can use the Photon is to ‘claim’ the device. Simply plug a USB cable to the device to power it up.  Next, using a free App from the App store, select the device (it will find it) and claim it.  What this process does is adds the device to your Particle account so you can start programming it.

The programming language is C++ and it can be programmed very much like an Arduino.  In fact most Arduino libraries will work and in some cases a bit of modification is necessary, but Particle has a growing list of ready to use libraries to get you started right away.

The IDE is based on Atom.  Which is a whole story in itself – maybe I’ll save that for another blog post.  You can choose to either edit in a browser by signing into the Particle website or download their IDE and edit locally.  While the browser edit/compile/flash idea is really novel, I found it to be a little buggy for bigger projects so I use the locally run IDE on my Mac.

Everything is done in the cloud.  When you it the compile button, it compiles the code in the cloud.  And when you’re ready to flash or program the device with your code it will download the compiled code directly from the cloud to your device.  Some might feel uncomfortable about doing this, however I find the convenience of not needing to know what version of libraries, compilers etc. go with which device outweighs any concerns – heck I’m just a hobbyist building electronic gadgets.

The last ingredient in making this an excellent Internet of Things micro controller is their backend that can handle posting of events, triggering functions and communicating with the device.  They have a portal that can track events and such (still work in progress as I write this, but looks very promising) but more importantly they have a channel with IFTTT so you can easily setup your Internet of Thing to trigger or respond to actions.

You can read more about the Particle photon at their website – or just pick one up for $20 and start building your next IoT gadget!

Posted in The Lab | Comments Off on Particle Photon

Internet of Things Wallpaper

Click here for original news article

Andrew Fenton invents Internet of Things Wallpaper.  While not a totally original idea, these types of displays have been around for a long time, it shows some creativity and how an ordinary wall can become a digital display for messages or other data.  Perhaps the biggest marvel is in the actual engineering of flipping the bits of paper over.

Posted in News | Comments Off on Internet of Things Wallpaper

If this then that

The Jacquard loom, invented in 1801, used a chain of punched cards to weave complex fabric pattern.  Based on a simple principle of holes in cards to determine which color thread would be used it represents the simple concept of the first computers and computing language – the ‘if this then that’ condition statement. is a web based service that lets you create ‘if this then that’ condition statements, called recipes, that can automate actions based on triggers.  The actions and triggers can be web based services (such as facebook, email, instagram) or devices connected to the Internet (the nest thermostat or that light bulb we talked about earlier). With these recipes you can easily program your light bulb to turn green when you receive an email, or turn red if the temperature goes above 28 celsius.

IFTTT is quite easy to use.  Simply sign up a free account and start creating recipes.  Recipes are grouped into categories to make it easy to find the right channels.  Channels are either web base services or devices connected to the Internet (like the like bulb).  You start by selecting the IF trigger by selecting the channel and the different triggers that channel offers.  Then you select a THAT action from a different channel.  Voila instant (well almost) connection between two unrelated channels.  It does that a few moments for triggers to process an action, but the simplicity of it all makes it appealing.


Posted in Intro, IoT ideas | Comments Off on If this then that

The light bulb

Invented over 200 years ago by Humphry Davy, the first electric light was not even a bulb.  He connected a battery to a carbon wire and made the wire glow, producing light.  Called the arc light, it ushered in a new era where streets and factories could be lit at night.  Since then the light bulb has been re-invented, perfected and optimized to its present form – the LED light bulb.

The LED light bulb comes in various flavors, from regular bulbs that can replace traditional incandescent  bulbs to colourful RGB light bulbs that can connect to the Internet.  Using a fraction of the energy of a incandescent bulb and lasting 20 or more years, these seem like the perfect light bulb.  But wait, having a light bulb connected to the Internet, is there more to the light bulb than just providing light?


Enter the Phillips Hue Light bulb

I recently purchased the Phillips Hue Light bulb starter kit to explore the Internet of things and the light bulb.  The starter kit is a bit pricy, about $200 CAD, but with all new technology I expect to get hit with the ‘first adopters fee’ until mass consumerism takes a foot hold.  The kit comes with three RGB LED light bulbs that can be screwed into a regular light bulb socket and something that looks like a WiFi base station.

The Wifi base station, is actually not Wifi, but uses a technology called ZigBee which sends radio signals to the light bulbs to control the brightness and colour of the bulb.  Setup is easy, just plug the base station into your home network, download the Hue App from the App store, press the discover button on the base station and your App will be connected to the base station and the bulbs.  Security is based on someone having physical access to press the button on the base station to take control or hijack your light bulbs.


So the first night with my new LED starter pack was spent on the porch.  Using my iPhone I could control the colour of the bulb and brightness.  I discovered that this shade of blue seemed to keep the bugs away.  But this really isn’t the Internet of Things, it’s just me controlling the colour of a bulb.

Connecting ‘Things’ to the light bulb

So what kinds of things could we connect to the light bulb?  Maybe, a light sensor that turns on the light bulb automatically when it gets dark.  Perhaps a motion sensor, so light up the porch when someone approaches.  Or maybe I am concerned with using energy so the light will be turned off if I accidentally left it on.

Going to bed at night, I would set the alarm on my Internet of things alarm clock and shut off the bedside light.  These things would all talk to each other and realize that I am no longer on the porch and tell the porch light to shut off to save energy.  Automation and energy savings, brought to you by the Internet of Things.

But wait, what if my wife, Ginny, is still on the porch and now she is left in the dark?  Do we really want the Internet of Things to control our lives or make it better? The standard user interface to a light bulb is the wall switch and everyone knows how to use it.  Having lights come on and off by different rules just might make it all confusing and frustrating.  I remember sitting on a deck at night a long time ago at a friends place and every once in awhile we would wave our arm, just so the motion detector didn’t shut off the light.  It was amusing, but not very practical.

Being informed

I see the Internet of things lightbulb as a means of presenting important information.  What information is important is different to everyone, but if the light bulb could present information, then it becomes part of the Internet of things family.  Its normal function is to give off light, controlled by a light switch.  Perhaps add a dimmer to control how much light it gives off, or during festive occasions use an App to change the colour of the light.

Imagine a light bulb that flashes green to remind you to take the garbage to the curb.  Or perhaps turns red to warn of severe weather approaching.  Pick what is important to you and imagine a simple light bulb letting you know.  Wake up in the morning start the coffee maker and have it tell the light bulb to change colour when the pot is ready.

Coming soon

I’ll be posting some projects, beginner to advanced on how you can get started with an Internet of things light bulb.

Posted in Intro, IoT ideas | Comments Off on The light bulb

New direction, new ideas

XtraLean was started as a Mac software publishing company in 2002.  Now as we wind down the original business, a new direction and ideas are taking its place.   XtraLean will explore the Internet of Things in this new blog.

Here you’ll find news, ideas and even projects that hobbyists can build.

Note: download links to the legacy products that XtraLean Software made can be found here


Posted in Annoucement, Mac Software | Comments Off on New direction, new ideas