Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The dog ate my e-mail

This blog's American readers will recognize the old excuse for homework not being done. Mine's a wee bit better -- the wayward laptop finally returned home Wednesday, repaired and re-imaged, but it wasn't until I had re-set it all up over the holiday weekend and I tried to access my e-mail Sunday night before flying out I realized I had a problem. And I confirmed it yesterday from the airport on the way out; my corporate VPN connection had not been configured.

To be fair, I seem to recall the process requires my participation but I've been busy enough in BACnet and Smart Grid meetings (I managed to have both today), not to mention sitting on airplanes, that IT and I have not managed to connect.

On the other hand, being disconnected for a day or three more after two weeks' absence can't increase the pain that much. Plus it's giving me time to write the article and textbook piece on BACnet and Smart Grid that are overdue due to traveling without the laptop at all for too long.

Where I know there are issues I am making contact through this blog's e-mail address; once private and acquired just for the purposes of creating the blog, I fear it will never be the same again.

So if I don't respond to your e-mails, you now know why. The dog ate my e-mail.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Puzzler (event notification timestamps)

Speaking of things going worng, I was handed a puzzler during the plugfest last week and don't know the answer. I'd asked for it to be e-mailed to my Gmail account because I don't have access to work e-mail right now, and it was duly sent. I plan to forward it to the BACNET-L e-mail list, but my Gmail account is not subscribed and I have to wait for the list admin to add it -- I hope he is not on vacation! So I'll initially just post it here for the BACneteers checking in and follow up on the list when I have access.

There exists a device that, due to hardware limitations, does not have a hardware clock. However, the device is able to initiate Un/ConfirmedEventNotifications. The question is: what should the device do for the timestamp parameter of event notifications issued after the device starts up but before it receives a UTC/TimeSync to set its software clock? The options seem to be:
1. Suppress event notifications until the clock is set?
2. Use sequence number until the clock (date and time) is set then switch?
3. Use sequence number only?
4. Start the clock at January 1, 1900 until it is set?
5. Hold the clock at January 1, 1900 until it is set?

I don't like #1 and 5. #2 would be okay except it makes assumptions about the client device that might be invalid. #3 is safest but loses the time information. #4 again makes assumptions about the client device.

Dear readers, what do you think is the best answer?

When things go worng

It was suggested that I should post about the year's "fun" in traveling, but this month alone beats all the rest. It started with the work laptop failing to boot the night before a trip (and due to a snafu we're trying to clear up, it has not reappeared -- I hope it will be back before I fly out Monday for Smart Grid meetings). But I had backed it up just before the crash and have recovered files for one task in front of me: writing a piece on the Smart Grid for a high school textbook.

That was followed by my Android phone no longer connecting to PCs for file transfers, though it was useful for reading documents in the BTL-WG meeting (courtesy of FTP download). Sunday I learned its USB port had failed and the store swapped it for a new one -- now I have hours ahead to reconfigure it. And hours I have, since we're shut in by snow (icy streets and hills are a bad mix).

So, on reports of the Seattle highways being a mess, I went to install the Washington State Dept. of Transportation app on the Android. Then I opened it...

...but why is it giving me information about Tulsa?!? It's looking like it's going to be a loong day..

Sunday, November 21, 2010


Well, the plugfest is long over -- but not for the R&D groups, who'll be working to resolve issues found during the plugfest. Being hampered by the lack of a working laptop at least gave me time to ask around about surprises others encountered during the plugfest and sadly, there were a number.

But then again, not all the devices present have been tested and bear the BTL Mark. I know some of things found, such as a router that apparently does not respond to a Who-Is-Router-To-Network message (but which routes nonetheless, leading to different results from workstations with different network discovery procedures), would have been discovered in BTL testing.

Another surprising response I saw in a previous plugfest (but there was reason for the form of the response) was handled correctly by a client workstation, even though from network traffic it looked like it wasn't. (There was more --much more-- but some items might identify the manufacturer, which is against plugfest privacy rules.)

Until everybody's devices bear the BTL Mark, and maybe even then, plugfests are going to remain important.

And even if we hadn't found anything at all with our devices, we found issues with other (untested) implementations it's comforting to know that we did make it more likely that other devices will work with ours when installed in the field -- fewer unwelcome surprises ahead.

(Looking forward to the BIG-EU plugfest in Saarbrücken, Germany, in May. What will I find there?)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A new plugfest standard?

One could hope... We've not always had even the continental breakfast, but the to-order omelets were a surprise. (If I'd known I might have ordered a lighter dinner last night.)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


One of the more fun elements of the BACnet International plugfests is the round-table, a semi-chaotic event where everyone participating plugs into the same set of networks and starts testing, ad-hoc or pre-arranged.


Today there are a couple of "round-tables" running, for ad-hoc and group testing sessions. An interesting feature of one was set up by Steve Karg: an MS/TP LAN with 117 devices. Unfortunately a still photo doesn't convey all the blinking lights.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The biggest yet, with 98 people in 51 teams.

Plugfest prep

It's still a few hours before the plugfest begins but setup is well underway. Sadly, without my laptop I did not have the schedule so I set an alarm to be ready to go at 8AM, instead of sleeping in. Oh well - at least I now know why I didn't see many BACneteers in the hotel last evening.

But they're here today, checking in with Sarah.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Honey, I shrunk the laptop

Carl was amused when he saw my setup for reviewing documents in today's BTL-WG meeting. And made a comment along the lines of the heading on this posting. But to my surprise it worked fairly well, though I could apparently have only one document at a time open. (And, sad to say, not a computer-locked PDF such as the BACnet standard.)

But we made significantprogress today and are laying out the path ahead and how we can accelerate the current pace of test development. Which will mean more work for yours truly (it's that or quit the BTL-WG, but with almost 11 years invested in that I don't want to do that); hopefully it still be in a relatively slow period of Smart Grid development activity.

Less waste, more efficiency

So I'm here at the Westin Atlanta Perimeter North on a gray rainy day, getting ready for today's BACnet Testing Lab working group meeting - which includes learning more of this Android phone that's going to replace my dead laptop today. Amazing, actually, I remember the Osborne machine of 30 years ago: integrated keyboard, 25x80 char display, dual floppies, CP/M, and no larger or heavier than a small suitcase - luggable computing. And while Swype is nice for texting (and blogging) I predict it will no more replace mechanical keyboards than did the blocky capacitive keyboards of the early 80s.

But I digress. During the BACnet committee meetings in Atlanta three weeks ago folks mentioned the hotel soap cakes with the centers cut out. Obviously a move to cut the waste of unused soap (are there laws regarding the disposal or recycling of used soap cakes?), but it looked odd. The Westin has a better solution: thin cakes of green soap in the shape of a leaf. How green.

On to the meeting...

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Future Alerton ad?

Alerton's sales conference has a future theme element. I was amused to see this ad in today's "daily" -- looks good, Larry!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Dead in the water

Traveling. Dead laptop. Soon no data signal. Oh well.

Update: Surprising what you can do with an Android phone!

Friday, November 5, 2010

New blog photo

Frequent visitors to this blog will no doubt notice a change to the photo on the right. I've never been happy with the previous photo but it took a combination of:
- buying a taller tripod,
- being home and in the office,
- a camera that shoots in RAW mode (saves the unprocessed image captured by the camera sensors),
- time of day when it's dark outside,
- the office across the hall having its lights off,
- and time for manual photo post-processing
in order to get a better picture for the blog. This is what you'd see if you stopped by the BAC Cave.

"If It's Fall This Must Be Atlanta."

The latest issue of ASHRAE Journal's supplement, "BACnet Today," and subtitled "The Standard That Never Sleeps," is out and readable online.

With a great commentary by BACnet committee chair Dave Robin, titled "If It's Fall This Must Be Atlanta." If only it were that simple; in a teleconference today I was trying to remember whether I'd participated in a Smart Grid document review last week -- but that memory was keyed on where I was last week and I couldn't remember. Outlook says it was Atlanta, the second of three visits this fall. I'll be back week after next for the plugfest, following the Alerton sales meeting in Virginia.

It looks like there are some interesting articles in it (then there's mine). If you're an ASHRAE member (it's only available to same), it should be worthwhile reading.

A new job for the resumé

Another day and the air-handler still isn't fixed. We've had to open a number of doors for ventilation, which is helping downstairs but not up. As I am camped out in the Small Conference Room with a clear view of the hallways from the lobby entrance I now have an additional job: Hall Monitor.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Importance of V

This was the view from my temporary office this morning, across eastern Redmond to Education Hill, when today's BACnet Testing Lab working group teleconference began, first in the day's lineup. (I am in the imaginatively-named "Small Conference Room," so as to distinguish it from the "Medium" and "Large" conference rooms.) A beautiful sunny autumn day out there.

At lunchtime I stepped out to the library to finish next week's powerpoint because I needed more room to spread papers than the little table here provided -- and was quite sorry I'd worn a jacket, much less long sleeves. The fall colors said it had gotten rather cold while I was away, but today it was a beautiful sunny and warm autumn day out there.

So why a temporary office, with blinds that need to be readjusted as the lighting outside changes (unless I just close them)?

It's all due to the 'V' in HVAC: Ventilation. As in, we haven't had any since the little background hiss in the BAC Cave quit yesterday morning and didn't come back on. The air-handler bearings had failed. And there began a lesson about buildings for many of us here at Alerton and Trend.

This building is like many built in the early 90s: no operable windows, no natural ventilation, and few doors. Without Ventilation we have neither Air-Conditioning or Heating. (Except in one area.)

Despite that, the heat buildup yesterday wasn't too bad (other than for me in the BAC Cave). But it was warming noticeably on the second floor, which has no outside openings.

Today was worse, thanks in part to the stronger sun. Perhaps the CO2 levels are up too, because some folks are complaining of headaches. (I've often wished I had a CO2 meter, especially for when the airline turns off the cabin air when we reach the gate -- and leaves it off! I also wish I knew what ANSI/ASHRAE Standard 161-2007, "Air Quality within Commercial Aircraft," says about that odious practice.)

Hopefully the air-handler will be fixed by morning, providing us with blessed Ventilation (and Heating or Air-Conditioning, if either is needed).

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Not so very green...

I'm speaking next week at the Alerton International Sales Conference in Virginia, delivering an abbreviated version of my talk on energy efficiency publications (standards, rating systems and design guides) and building automation systems. I wanted to update it with a new version of one of my source publications, so I started the usual routine of identifying material by printing out the publication -- to be followed by a long session with highlighters and Post-Its (to flag pages).

Unfortunately it's a "locked" PDF and as I learned once again, you lose a lot of control with a locked PDF. Once upon a time (25 years ago) I would have printed such a document "4-up" (4 pages per sheet, double-sided) but my eyes are no longer that good so I set it to simply print double-sided. But no, even that isn't possible; all I could get was one sheet per page, single-sided, and a big enough stack of paper that it will require its own binder for storage.

At least this publication doesn't have the word "green" in its title.

Monday, November 1, 2010

You're traveling too much when... (#2)

You return to the office and your supervisor sports a beard he didn't have the last time you saw him...