Electronic Thermostats

October 11th, 2011 admin Posted in Electronics No Comments »

If you do not already have an electronic thermostat, this is the right time of year to consider installing one, especially just before the heating season begins in northern climates. There are so many advantages to having an electronic thermostat for both heating as well as cooling seasons, that it is hard to know were to begin.

Basic Features

The basic features of most electronic thermostats ( Note that these will vary depending on the model so it is important to read the specs before you make your purchase ) include control of both heating and cooling systems; ability to set the temperature in your home at least four times during the day; monitor the humidity level in your home and display on a small screen; monitor the current temperature and display the temperature on a small screen; ability to set your furnace fan to run only when the furnace heat is on or to run constantly at a slow speed. The same applies to cooling cycles in the summer time.

Advanced Features

Obviously the sky is the limit here as is the price, however features such as additional setting times during the day for the temperature; control the humidity level in your home; remote activation / control via the internet; set the degree drop or rise  before the furnace or air conditioning kicks in;  auto switch from cooling to heating;  control of your thermostat by your electrical utility. ( we will discuss this last feature more in a later section)

Convenience and Saving Energy

Today’s modern electronic thermostats are designed to provide convenience to consumers as well as enable them to also save energy and reduce their electrical and heating costs.  Not everyone is perhaps familiar with these advantages so we will spend a few paragraphs discussing this particular topic.

With a manual thermostat you must constantly adjust the temperature for your own comfort as well as remember to adjust it downwards during heating seasons when you are away. The same is true for cooling seasons except that you must increase the temperature. Most of us are forgetful and will only remember that we should have adjusted the thermostat after we have left. We do not receive the energy savings as a result and our energy costs are increasing every month.

With an electronic thermostat you can set the temperature based on your schedule for each day and then forget about it. If your schedule changes, just manually change the temperature for that period to a comfortable level. during the next period the electronic thermostat will revert to the regular schedule that you have set for it. This is perfect for people who go to work every day. Who needs to heat or cool the house when no one is home?

Not only will you save heating fuel such as natural gas, oil or electricity depending on what your home is heated with, you will also save on electricity since your furnace fan will not run as often as well. The same principles are true for the cooling season when you run your air conditioning systems. All energy sources have been increasing their rates  recently so this is becoming more and more important as consumers look to stretch their hard earned dollars a bit further. It is not unheard of for electrical rates to be increased by 10 or 20% in some areas, so reducing usage is becoming even more important.

Electrical Energy System Banding

In several Canadian provinces and in some US states as well, the electrical utilities have begun charging for electricity used based on the time of day it is consumed. The idea is that more electricity is consumed by industry and consumers during the day causing maximum peaks around 11 am and 2 pm. By charging higher rates during these time periods the utilities are hoping consumers and industry will move their consumption to evening hours when demand is usually way down and also when electrical rates are much lower.

With this billing system in place, consumers can actually save money if they cause their electrical systems to be turned off during these peak times. Reducing  your furnace and air conditioning use during the day as well as clothes dryers, dishwashers and other appliances that consume electricity will definitely reduce your electrical bill.

Electronic thermostats are perfect for this energy reduction initiative, since consumers can adjust their thermostats to take advantage of the lower electrical rates offered by the utilities during non peak hours.

Electrical Utilities Controlling Your Thermostat!

We said we would come back to this subject in this post. Can you imagine that this is even  possible? And why would you allow it?

Well it seems that some utilities are so worried about meeting peak demands for electrical energy, they are offering all kinds of programs to help them reduce electricity consumptions and control peak demand load. If they cannot meet the electrical demand on any given day, consumers may experience brown outs which are dimming of the lights all the way to electrical system failure. Brown outs are also bad for computer systems and many other devices that need to have a stable electrical system.

Anyway, some utilities are offering to provide you with a brand new electronic thermostat complete with all of the bells and whistles and one more feature that most do not have. These special thermostats give the utility the ability to adjust the temperature in your home to reduce the electrical consumption during peak demand times. Apparently you can manually adjust the temperature yourself to over ride the change they make, however for many people it can be an excellent way to upgrade to a new thermostat and save money at the same time.

These programs do not exist in all jurisdictions and it is optional were they exist. The major advantage is that you receive a new electronic thermostat and they will install it for you as well. A great way to contribute to energy savings, reduce your costs for heating and cooling while still having control over your systems.

 

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Photo Sensors and Timers

May 9th, 2011 admin Posted in Electronics No Comments »

Security around your home is becoming more and more important these days and as a result many home owners are investing in photo sensors, motion detectors  and timers to turn lights on during the evening and control other devices around the home. They also invest in alarm systems as well, however having lights come on at strategic locations around the home can make any would be burglar nervous about entering a home at night.

Timers to Control Lights

Traditionally many people have used the older style mechanical timers to turn on lights inside and outside the home. They plug into an electrical socket and with the use of small indicators turn on lights at the desired time. One of the drawbacks to this style of timer is that if the power goes off , the timer will lose time for the period that the power is off. Next thing you know you have the lights turning on and off at weird times if they are not reset. This is not easy to do if you happened to be away from  home on vacation.

There are electronic timers that work the same way, however they have no moving parts and a battery can be purchased to power them if the power does go off for a short time frame. They still need to be reset from time to take into account the changing times of sun rise and sun set, or daylight savings etc .

Photo Sensors

These are new devices that have light sensors in them which will turn off the light when there is adequate light and as the sun sets, the photo sensor will then turn the light on.  These are excellent devices since they do not depend on a timer to turn them on. They do need power of course and will not turn on if there is no power. However once the power returns, they will again begin to work as usual, turning the lights on as needed with no adjustment required.

There are a variety of photo sensor devices on the market. Traditionally you could not use a photo sensor with the new fluorescent lights. You were stuck using an incandescent light which draws more power and drives up your energy bill. Lately we have seen products on the market that are designed to work with fluorescent lights for indoor and outdoor use, which give you the power savings as well as light only when it is dark inside or outside your home.

Some of these devices now have timers with them as well. They work a little bit different than traditional timers. Instead of staying on for a specific time, they will turn on whenever there is a low light condition and then the timer kicks in keeping the light on for a specified time. Typically settings can be chosen from 2 , 4 or 6 hours. The lights will stay on for the number of hours chosen. Combined with the use of florescent lights and only staying on for a short time gives you additional energy savings.

There are also photo sensor lights with LED  bulbs available on the market as well. They work in the same manner as any other photo sensor based light, however they use LED’s instead of incandescent or fluorescent bulbs and take very little energy as a result. You can leave them on all night and they will consume very little power. They do not shed as much light, however there is sufficient to see your way around a dark home.

Motion Sensors Combined with Photo Sensors.

This is an excellent combination for those people concerned about power usage as well as security around the outside of their homes.  The photo sensor will only enable the motion sensor when there is a low light condition. The motion sensor when activated will only turn on the light if it senses motion within the range of the sensor. Aiming of these devices is important to ensure that you have a wide enough scan to give you the security you need. The light will also stay on for a specified length of time, which is usually long enough to scare any would be burglar away.

We have not seen these devices combined with the ability to support fluorescent bulbs yet, however it is less of an issue since they only turn on when they sense motion and they do not need to stay on all night. Power usage is minimized or at least less than it would be if the lights were on all night so there is minimal impact on your energy bill.

Application of these Security Devices

With all of these new products on the market it can confuse a consumer regarding which is better to use.  Many consumers will use the new LED photo sensor devices indoors to provide a low level low energy ambient light for their homes. When they are away from home over night and wish to give their home that lived in feeling, they will employ timers to turn lights on and off at the usual time you would expect. Lights come on in the evening and turn off at night around bedtime and the same thing in the morning.

Outdoors is a different matter. You want to have additional security at all times. No one wants to approach a dark home on any street. Lights with photo sensors and also with motion detectors are excellent devices to employ. This way when you come home at night your front door is always lit giving you the additional security that many people relish. In addition, motion detectors at the side of the home and at back entrances provide additional protection by turning on only when needed and when there is some sort of motion detected. Note that if you live in area were there are lots of animals, your lights are going to turn on more often that what you might expect.

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Apple iPad

April 25th, 2011 admin Posted in Electronics No Comments »

Have you tried the new Apple iPad yet? If you have not, your probably one of the few people in North American who has not. Just wander into almost any electronics store and they will have  them on display for prospective customers to try them out and play with them. If you already have an iPod touch, you will notice that they are almost the same in terms of app’s and the way you use them. The major difference of course is the size. One is made to throw into a pocket or small purse, while the other must have it’s own case and you must carry it around with you in a brief case or in your hand.

Aside from that they are pretty much the same in terms of function. The much larger screen is easier to read of course and if you want something to allow you to read books, then this device is about the size of a large book.  The Apple iPad has taken the tablet market by storm to the point that they cannot make them fast enough to keep up with demand. Most apps written for the iPod Touch have been rewritten to also support the iPad.

Apple iPod or iPad

If you are thinking about purchasing one of these devices there are a number of things that as users you should be aware of. I am not going to get into all of the technical issues here since most consumers just want to know that it works all of the time and can they use it for the functions that they need it for. Also there is really nothing on the market that comes close to the functionality of these devices or the number of applications that you can download to them. As a result we will not even think about reviewing any of the other tablet and pocket systems that are gradually making their way onto the market.

Form Factor

Form factor is a fancy term for describing whether you like the size, shape and feel of a device. For me the form factor was really important and that is why I chose an iPod over an iPad. I like the idea of being able to read all of my emails, browse the internet, read books and check on my bank balance from a device I can carry around in my pocket. Both the iPad and the iPod Touch can do all of these things and much more.

I just like the idea of throwing my iPod touch in my pocket. While other folks will prefer the larger size screen of the iPad and the larger  font size that can easily be selected on the iPad. I have seen operations managers carrying both the iPad as well as the iPod Touch with them so that they can easily keep up to date with the systems they are monitoring and at a glance be able to check on any amber or red conditions that might be occurring in the network. Some like the size of the screen of the iPad, while others cannot be bothered carrying around the larger heavier devices.

Advantages of the iPad

Apple has been able to throw into one device the ability to browse the internet, read emails, read books, play games, be a photo frame device, play music as in an iPod. Combine that with 10 hours of battery life and over 300,000 apps available from the iTunes store and you have a very powerful device. While it is a general use device, it cannot do some of the application specific activities that other devices may be known for. Still this is a very powerful tablet computer and a major contender.

Reviewers have also mentioned that viewing videos on this device are so much better with the crystal clear screen and size. It has the portability of the iPod, with the larger screen to make viewing videos very enjoyable compared to the iPod.

Reading the news from online news papers as well as news feeds is also very comfortable with the large screen. The larger keyboard as well is convenient for replying to emails and sending notes to friends or updating status on Twitter or Facebook.  The portability of this device compared to a desk top or even a lap top computer is seen as a major advantage.

Disadvantages of the iPad

We already mentioned the size of the iPad, which may be a negative for some and preferred by others. It also does not have front and back cameras which would make it useful for video conference calling using services like Skype. Flash support and integrated HD video are promised for the next release, so if you have not purchased an iPad yet and can afford to wait, this new release might be worth waiting for.

While it is affordable, and a light weight tablet computer, it will not replace your laptop any time soon.  Power users of applications such as word, excel, power-point and project will prefer their personal computers for these applications. Note that you can work and / or read files for all of these, it is just more difficult to use them on the iPad including printing and modifying these files compared to a lap top or desk top.

One big disadvantage that many reviewers discuss, is the inability to connect the iPad to printers and other network elements other than through a wireless connection. Many agree that this wireless connectivity gives a great deal of flexibility, most do not have external devices set up to connect in this way.

The iPad is an excellent reader for all kinds of applications and content on the web or locally i.e. an e-book. With more and more apps available specifically for the iPad, it’s intrinsic value can only increase. Some reviewers complain that the apps written for the iPod, while they work well, are optimized for the iPod. Over time most app developers are modifying these apps to allow them to work better on the iPad and utilize the larger display the iPad provides.

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Apple iPod Touch

March 14th, 2011 admin Posted in Electronics No Comments »

The Apple iPod Touch is one of the best products I have ever had the opportunity to use! I picked up the latest model available in April of 2010, a couple of months before the new Touch was introduced. Although I would have liked to have the front and back cameras that are available on the latest model, I am still very satisfied with my iPod Touch.

For those readers who may not be familiar with this product, I will take a few paragraphs to describe some of the features that it has and why I like it so much.  First of all it does everything an iPhone can do except make voice calls on any of the nations cellular networks and it needs to have a WiFI connection to be able to connect with the internet. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rogers PVR

February 28th, 2011 admin Posted in Electronics No Comments »

In our last post about our new plasma TV that we purchased, we also mentioned the new PVR that we had purchased. We are so impressed with this unit that we felt we had to write a post about it as well.  For those of you who do not know what a PVR is, PVR stands for Personal Video Recorder, and replaces the older VCR’s that some readers may be familiar with. These devices are so much better than the VCR’s in terms of capacity and programming, that they are truly amazing. They are very user friendly and just about anyone can set them up and record their favorite programs. Read the rest of this entry »

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Plasma TVs

February 11th, 2011 admin Posted in Electronics No Comments »

We just purchased a brand new Panasonic Plasma 42 inch TV! After years of being teased by my friends that I was still in the dark ages watching TV on a perfectly good tube TV ( it was color), we finally broke down and bought one of the new flat screen plasma TV‘s! What a difference having a new plasma TV makes and there are colors that I did not see before, and the ones that our old set displayed are even more vibrant. Now I have to endure all of the “I told you so ” comments that I am getting, but that is ok.

Of course we also had to purchase a new TV stand to support the set that we bought and fit into our homes decor. This took almost as much time to make a decision as the actual TV set. We finally agreed on a sleek black glass model with several shelves that looks just great in the corner beside our fireplace. Read the rest of this entry »

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Microsoft LifeCam HD-5001

January 14th, 2011 admin Posted in Electronics No Comments »

From the title of this post, you probably would never figure out that the Microsoft LifeCam HD-5001 is a video camera with microphone that can be attached to your computer via a USB port. It is a video camera capture device that allows users to connect with other people via Skype and other systems that are similar to Skype and have video conferences or calls with them. Now that you have the basics, we will describe some of the applications and just how great these little cameras are when it comes to chatting with people halfway around the world. Read the rest of this entry »

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Samsung PL70 Digital Camera

October 19th, 2010 Paul Posted in Electronics No Comments »

It is really nice having grown up kids who have good jobs. Now that they have money you can begin collecting on all the money that you spent on them over the years. They buy you nice gifts for Christmas and birthdays! This year the kids gave us a Samsung PL70 Digital Camera for a gift to replace the one that I have had for the past 10 years. It was also a digital camera and in electronic terms almost an antique. The cameras and software that comes along with it have improved so much in ten years it is almost unbelievable.

One of the reasons we liked this particular camera is it’s small size. The camera can fit in a shirt pocket easily or in a woman’s purse with no problem what so ever. Of course it does not have the lens capability of large SLR type cameras, however we were willing to sacrifice that for the smaller camera size and ease of carrying. This way we can take the camera out when we want to take a picture easily and not look like a total tourist all of the time with his camera slung around their neck. Read the rest of this entry »

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Memory Frame 1040 Plus

October 5th, 2010 Paul Posted in Electronics No Comments »

The Memory Frame 1040 Plus by Digital Spectrum Inc. is one of the many electronic picture frame products on the market. Instead of printing all of your pictures on photo paper and purchasing an album, many people are now displaying their digital pictures on electronic memory frame display units.  We purchased Memory Frame 1040 Plus to show some wedding pictures while we were having a party at our house. We felt that this would be an excellent way to allow people to see the pictures of the wedding without having to  look through an album. They can just stand or sit and watch the show.

We set the Memory Frame 1040 Plus so that it would change pictures every few seconds, which gave everyone enough time to look at the picture while at the same time not boring them. It is important to keep the pictures moving fast enough to maintain everyone’s interest. The Memory Frame 1040 Plus is only an 8 inch by 10 inch display so it is not as large as some are, however when sitting on a small table or the mantle of the fireplace it is the perfect size.

The Memory Frame 1040 Plus has lots of features and like all new electronics these days, every year brings new features that are being added to new models.

How Many Pictures Can I Display

The number of pictures that can be displayed is a variable number. You can fill the memory with pictures and display all of the pictures one after another on a rotating basis. The reason the number of pictures is variable is that it depends on the size of the files that you load onto the Memory Frame 1040 Plus. When you take pictures with digital cameras, pictures can be quite small in size and not as good quality as pictures that are taken at full quality and consume a lot of memory. Basically it is a trade off between quality and file size. If you never will enlarge a picture there is no need to increase the pixel quality, however if you are planning on enlarging pictures you will want better quality pictures which means larger file sizes for digital images.

Loading Pictures into the Memory Frame 1040 Plus

Loading pictures into the Memory Frame 1040 Plus is as easy as transferring pictures from your computer onto a memory stick and then plugging your memory stick into the USB connector on the Memory Frame 1040 Plus. You can follow the on screen menus to transfer the pictures on to the Memory Frame 1040 Plus and set the display rate and you are ready to go.

If you decide to change the pictures or add more pictures, just repeat the same process. Depending on how many pictures you already have stored on the picture frame viewer you may need to erase some from the memory to make room for more.

On Screen Menu’s

The on screen menu for the Memory Frame 1040 Plus is quite intuitive . Most people will be able to figure it out easily especially if you are familiar with operating a computer. Just select the menu that you need and follow the step by step process to load files or display them for your enjoyment.

Adding Music in Combo Mode

The Memory Frame 1040 Plus can also play MP3 files that have been loaded onto the display. Access the file and press play to play the selected MP3 music file.

MP3 files can also be played in combination with a slide show that you might want to show. On the menu select combo and then select the MP3 file along with the photos that you want to display. The music will display in the background while the pictures are being displayed on the screen.

Movie Clips

Small movie clips can also be shown on the Memory Frame 1040 Plus.  Load your movie file onto the device and then select the clip you want to display and press play. You can also display pictures , music and movies from the memory stick that you have attached to the Memory Frame 1040 Plus, however it is better to transfer the files to the memory of the Memory Frame 1040 Plus to avoid any unnatural pauses in the display.

Adding Text

You can add test to screens as well, although this may take a little more time. Once the text file is created in ASCII format you can transfer it to the Memory Frame 1040 Plus and access it in memory for display.

Remote Control

As with most electronic devices these days the Memory Frame 1040 Plus comes with a remote control. There are controls that can be used that are on the side of the display at the back of the screen. However these are a bit awkward to use, especially when you have the remote o use.

The remote for the Memory Frame 1040 Plus has all of the functions you will need to transfer files, to load them and display them in the manner you wish. If you have trouble with the remote consult the manual for the Memory Frame 1040 Plus to clarify how it works.

Editing & Deleting Files

All of the files take up space in the memory of the Memory Frame 1040 Plus and you will want to clean up the files from time to time by deleting these files and adding others. There are simple on screen command that you can use to delete files for this purpose.

Keeping the Display Screen Clean

As with all display screens of this type and computer screens they seem to attract dust like a magnet. You will want to clean the screen often to avoid dust build up and to keep the Memory Frame 1040 Plus presentable.

Never clean the screen with anything that is abrasive to avoid damaging the screen in any manner. Use a soft damp cloth to wipe the screen and clean it. You may need to rinse the cloth several times, however each time take care to make sure that there is no possibility of droplets of water being splashed on the screen that could get past the sides of the screen and inside the display.

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