Latest Comic : Tuesday, November 21. 2017

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Server now on iMac and macOS High Sierra

New iMac 21.5" 2017, freshly booted and ready to replace Mac mini 2012

The venerable Mac mini 2012, which took over the job of the server from the iMac 2008 in February 2013, showed signs of its age two months ago, refusing to boot due to corrupted Fusion Drive. I was able to remedy the problem, but I thought it may be a good time to move over to a new system. Seeing that Apple has not updated Mac mini in three years (and frankly, the 2014 edition was not an upgrade many had hoped for) I decided to return to using an iMac.

The iMac 21.5" 2017 was able to smoothly take over the Mac mini last month, but for some reason the system came equipped with macOS Sierra (10.12) instead of High Sierra (10.13) which was already a month old at the time. So I applied an extra caution and checked carefully that the apps I ran were compatible before manually upgrading. Finally, I made the switch to High Sierra today. It seems everything is functioning as expected.
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On Apple Maps update of South Korea region

Apple Maps showing Naju Bitgaram City area - 2014, 2015, and 2017 edition (left to right, click to enlarge)

One of the sore spots in using an Apple device (iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch in particular) in Korea was the Apple Maps. Sure, you could use the natively developed map apps from the likes of Kakao or Naver, but regular apps using map function generally resort to the default Apple Maps data, leading to sub-par experience.

This had largely to do with the lack of map updates. When Apple Maps initially launched in September 2012, map data for Korea was sparse at best. It then received a major update in March 2014 that looked more complete at a first glance. However, delving into details revealed that the actual map data was from around latter half of 2012. This was clearly evident for Bitgaram City as you can see above. Roads weren't completed until 2013, and Apple Maps had much of the major roads missing.

Apple Maps showing Gwangju's Juwol-dong area - 2014, 2015, and 2017 edition (left to right, click to enlarge)

Interestingly, there was another map update for Korea in April 2015. It showed all the major roads in Bitgaram City, as well the street of Juwol-ro in Gwangju that was completed in early 2015. This meant that the map was quite up to date at the time, but you could see it only if you were outside South Korea. The Korean server for the iOS Apple Maps that sends the data to users within the borders never received the update, leaving the Korean users with severely outdated map for several years. The screen caps shown here were made while I was on a trip to Mongolia a few months ago.

I actually asked Apple's technical support about this issue back in June. Sadly, no resolutions came out of this even though the staff did acknowledge the problem. Then, out of the blue, Apple Maps received yet another major update for South Korea yesterday afternoon. The new map data was fairly recent - judging from the building data, it seemed to be from early to mid 2017.

3D Map-enabled view of the eastern Bitgaram City

Speaking of which, yes, there were now outlines of most of the buildings. This didn't exist for South Korea before this update. The building data also contain height information, which enabled this nice flyover-style view of the map in 3D. With the updated road and building information, I felt that it finally became good enough for in-app uses, such as location-based arrangement of photos in the Photos app. With a few more feature additions and beefing up of POI data, it should be good enough for stand-alone uses as well.
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The state of HomeKit in iOS 10

Apple HomeKit platform goes back to iOS 8. It was not very fleshed out at the time, needing more polishing over the years. Last notable change to HomeKit was made in 10.2, which enabled device notifications. This, along with other improvements in iOS 10, led me to think that HomeKit was finally in a "usable" state. Thus I have invested in the HomeKit ecosystem since early April of this year, around when iOS 10.3.1 came out.

As I gathered enough tangible material to share, I did a 5-part write-up of my HomeKit experience, spanning sensors, lighting, and energy control. I felt that my 5-month experience in a non-American environment may be of use to many people who are considering the platform.

1. Moving to Apple HomeKit with Elgato Eve
2. Philips Hue adds light to the HomeKit setup
3. Controlling 220V Power & Light with HomeKit
4. How much power does HomeKit use?
5. On installing and configuring HomeKit lighting

But now, big changes are coming in the coming weeks. Most notably, the GM(Golden Master, finished version) of iOS 11 will come out in two weeks, as Apple's new iPhone announcement will be made on September 12, 2017. It will contain significant improvements for HomeKit. As noted in the 5th post, Philips will expand the range of Hue products that will be recognized in HomeKit. Elgato has announced five new HomeKit products including lock and smoke detector.

All this means that my iOS 10-based HomeKit write-up should be wrapped up at this point. I'll come back to this topic as the dust settles and I had my hands on the new features and products.

On installing and configuring HomeKit lighting

Regular light switch installation and its circuit diagram

There are some things to consider and take action when you're installing smart lighting, HomeKit enabled or not, around the house. For the light switches, the biggest concern is the presence of a neutral wire. In most cases, you need this for a smart switch to function, but many switch boxes omit this and make things complicated. To see why things are like this, we need to take a look at the circuit diagram.

For a light to turn on, it has to connect to both ends of a power source. This is generally a single-phase AC power, which can be derived from a 3-phase AC power by using one of the phase wire and a neutral point. The wire connecting to the neutral point becomes the "neutral (N)" and the phase wire, the "live (L)" as seen in the diagram.

With a regular switch, all you need to do is to connect or break the connection between the live wire and the "load" wire leading up to the lamp. Therefore, a switch box only needs to have the live wire and one or more load wires coming out of it. Number of load wires correspond to the number of controllable light fixtures, of course. Neutral wire could also be present, but it wouldn't be connected to anything because there is no need to.

Smart light switch installation and its circuit diagram

The situation becomes different with a smart light switch. In order for the control module in the device to work, it also needs to connect to both ends of a power source, but at all times and independent of the lighting. As the live wire is already present, we need to add the neutral wire to the device as seen in the circuit diagram. With this configuration, the switch connected to the live wire and the load wire could be controlled either manually or by the control module. This is the reason why most smart light switches require the neutral wire.

The rare exceptions that can forgo the neutral wire have the control module connect between the live and the load wires. The module itself consumes little power and a very low current leaks through the load wire in the "off mode" so as to effectively prevent the lighting from turning on. But this generally requires the lighting load to be sufficiently large. If not, the leaked current may cause the lighting to flicker or cause other problems. In other words, this solution isn't as widely compatible as the switches using a neutral wire.
Continue reading "On installing and configuring HomeKit lighting"

How much power does HomeKit use?

Measuring power consumption on Incipio's light bulb adapter (left) and Leviton switch (right)

Home automation devices have to be on standby at all times to respond to commands. This means that the baseline power consumption will increase as more devices are added. So if you're installing them not just for convenience but for more efficient energy use, you have to be conscious of the level of power that they may entail.

Unfortunately, detailed power consumption data are not usually found in the technical specs, likely because they are not deemed important. I had to take individual measurements to get the whole picture, and here are the results for the HomeKit devices I have.

Company Name Off Min. Max. Rated
Smart Power Plug
Elgato Eve Energy 0.68 - 1.01 2,500 (EU)1
Incipio CommandKit W. Smart Outlet 1.70 - 2.20 1,200 (US)
Koogeek Smart Plug P1 0.92 - 1.60 2,500 (EU)1
Smart Light Switch / Adapter
Incipio CK W. S. Light Bulb Adapter 3.32 - 3.39 1502
Leviton DH15S-1BZ 3.15 3.153 3.27 6004
Koogeek Smart Switch KH02 1.30 1.955 2.60 600
Smart Light Bulb
Philips Hue White and Color Ambiance 0.43 1.7 8.6 10.0
Hue White Ambiance 0.66 1.5 10.2 10.5
Hue White 0.38 1.6 9.2 9.0
(Initial Peak) 13.86
Hue Bridge - 1.12 1.26 2.32
[ Terminologies & Explanations ]

Off: The device is connected to the power but is turned off (i.e. standby mode).
Min.: Device operating under the lowest power mode possible.
Max.: Device operating under the normal or highest power mode possible.
(Minimum and Maximum values are measured with no external apparatus attached.)
Rated: How much the the device is rated to draw electricity at maximum.

1. Or 220V mains. 1,800W for the U.S. mains (120V).
2. For the LED and CFL bulbs. 600W for incandescent and halogen bulbs.
3. The indicator LED light is turned off.
4. For the LED and CFL bulbs. 1,800W for incandescent bulbs.
5. Only one switch is turned on.
6. Steadily decreases to the stable level (9.2W) over the span of 30 minutes.

It became fairly evident that the consumption profile is quite different between manufacturers even though the devices serve essentially the same purpose.
Continue reading "How much power does HomeKit use?"

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