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back to article WTF is the Internet of Things and how insurers will use it against you

What is "the internet of things" and why should we care? Put simply, the internet of things is a catch-all term for ultra-low-power embedded devices that mostly consist of sensors and control systems. This market segment is expanding rapidly; devices falling into this category will soon outnumber all other types of computers on …

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My fish has got a virus.......

...not sure if I should call the vet or update my firewall settings.....

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Solutions looking for a problem

Wasn't the point of keeping fish that the activities related to caring for them are supposed to be fun, relaxing? And are therefore the things you do not want to automate at all?

BTW, I understand the wish to automate certain things, but then the hobby is to automate things, not to take care of a fish tank. Now that it is finished, you get bored by it and want to replace it by something new to automate.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Solutions looking for a problem

There are certain things you'd want to automate if possible - particularly with Marines - in order that you can spend more time enjoying the fish and less time arseing around testing, topping up, switching on and off lights, dosing, blah blah.

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Re: Solutions looking for a problem

I enjoy watching my fish. Giving them treats. Playing games with them. Training them and scooping the younglings that inevitbaly occur into a breeder tank, raising them and getting them off to the store to be sold to another hobbiest.

I enjoy cross-breeding and getting new variations going. I enjoy watching my plecos om-nom-nom algea off the side of the tank or the wriggling hive cory cruise along the bottom and terraform the tank. I like how the guppies come up and say "hi" when I walk by, or how the Betta puffs up and does his tubifex worms dance.

I emphatically don't like losing fish to bad water conditions, testing, refilling the tank, making sure the snails have enough calcium or other bits of tedium. Automating that isn't a hobby, it's a tedious chore that I find bothersome...but less bothersome than keeping the water in parameters all the time.

There's an old joke amongst aquarists: we don't keep fish, we keep water. I prefer to keep the fish.

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Holmes

Re: Solutions looking for a problem

Interesting you mention that. I do a lot of digital photography and obviously we benefit from some huge advances in technology, we have incredible light meters built into the cameras, camera sensors that can work in such low light that film cannot compete with. We can process images out in the field on a laptop. ( Before you think it, no Photoshop doesn't not magical make crap pictures in a quality art! Garbage in is still garbage out, just like IT! ).

You'd think it can hardly be worth taking pictures as a set of computers does all the work, you'd be quite wrong. All this technology has freed so many people who wouldn't have delved into photography, to concentrate on the art of picture taking and production. I can spend far more time learning about such ephemeral things like composition and kinds of natural light I have to work in, rather than spend so much time having to learn the chemistry of developing a film and prints. I'm not saying for one second that digital is worse or better than film but that for me and countless others, digital has freed us to have more time to learn the art of picture taking.

Technology has change photography to make it more appealing to a wider audience. It must apply to other interests as well.

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Re: Solutions looking for a problem

Bang on. Automate your bank statements. Set the fish tank to manual.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Solutions looking for a problem

@Trevor - I don't know what type of top up pump you're using but my previous marine setup had a top up (to maintain constant salinity) and as I was pre my current sump based filter the float switch had to be in the main tank. I had a turbo snail decide to sit on the float switch which dragged it down. Luckily I only had the top up pump on for about half an hour a day, so it didn't flood, but it was close. A float-switch guard of some sort is always beneficial!

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Re: Solutions looking for a problem

I only do freshwater - I like me my Corydoras! - so I get to escape some of the more miserable parts of the marine equation. I haven't built the pump system quite yet, but I do actually have most of the parts from an old automated marine mixer system (that was used with an RO water purifier that I also have yet to install). That will all get sorted when the project takes off in Jan.

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** fishtank-app01.local PROBLEM alert - Food_Dispenser is CRITICAL **

***** Nagios *****

Notification Type: PROBLEM

Service: Food_Dispenser

Host: fishtank-app01.local

Address: 172.31.1.1

State: CRITICAL

Date/Time: Wed Nov 27 08:17:50 UTC 2013

User:

Comment:

Additional Info:

FOOD_DISPENSER CRITICAL - has it all gunked up again?

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@Amorous Cowherder

I beg to differ when it comes to photography. I now take the odd snap, but in the past with the outdated technology I used to take much more care about subject, framing and composition and other parameters, then break out the Patterson tank, chemicals, etc. and start the most satisfying part of the whole process in creating the image. Instant gratification isn't necessarily lasting gratification.

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Re: Solutions looking for a problem

@Amorous Cowherder

Almost ditto - but I'm still enamoured of both my 20yr old Nikon F4s bodies - hell, I also use my F-801s too. I shoot Fujichrome and send my exposed films off. If I want to get all arty-farty, then I have a Coolscan V - but I don't feel the urge to go digital quite yet. I'm due to retire (or more likely, semi-retire) in early 2015: maybe I'll relearn B&W processing as I have fond memories of darkrooms. I'd do it now, but I just really don't have the time.

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"did you leave the stove on before you went out"?

Well, if you did, you're a pillock, and hiding the fact is insurance fraud anyway. Why should people be exempt from that just because they don't have an electronic device tattling on them?

Otherwise, I think you underestimate the resistance to such things. Just sheer tech support for junk like that isn't worth the advantages it could give. This is why nobody bothers with those remote-reporting smart energy meters - the advantages given (to turn your heating on early once in a blue moon) just don't compensate for even learning the interface, let alone all the other junk.

And, sorry, but electronic control is a typical geek thing. Sure, at one point if I'd had the money I'd have wired up the fish tank to the Internet when I was younger. Fact is, now I'd rather NOT have to be doing my own tech support at home in such an unusual, custom and specialist area. And automated pump control? Hope you have complete faith in that, because your insurers are going to love a claim for "my fish tank overfilled because of a bug in a piece of software that I wrote"...

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Indeed

I really dont get wireless light bulbs - they have no need to be. Infact if you wanted a light bulb that could turn itself on and off when reacting to your prescense all it needs is a IR sensor and a light sensor. Both of which have been around for donkeys years. The fact that no-one has made a killing selling them already suggests the market doesnt exist......

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what's more

It has been proven time and again that when people can get away with no longer thinking for themselves, they will forget about it. If I know I would never need to remember if I left the stove on, I will probably never check it again. Of course there will be problems whenever you are someplace where the stove doesn't automatically check itself, but the biggest problem is people will get even lazier.

Also, I find it interesting that you use the fishtank as an example, as with all the sensors that will soon be surrounding us, will it be us owning the fishtank, or living inside one?

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Anonymous Coward

> Well, if you did, you're a pillock

No, just human. That's why stoves have various safety features. Being human should not count as "negligence".

Tell me, do you have a safety checklist beside your door with tags to prove that things are on/off as required?

If not, WHY NOT! Failure to do so is negligence! CLAIM DENIED!

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Anonymous Coward

Tech-fetishism meets control freakery meets Big Brother

"And, sorry, but electronic control is a typical geek thing."

This (*) pretty much hits the nail on the head. The "Internet of Things" hype has long struck me as little more than an unconvincing attempt by its proponents to post-rationalise (as much to themselves) their geekish technology-for-the-sake-of-it obsession and "Gadget Show"-style shiny boys' toys fetishism meets control freakery.

The supposed advantages in making our lives easier will be offset by the addition of another layer of complexity.

The fact that all this- if it takes off- plays into the desires of corporate and governmental interests to pry into every aspect of our lives for their own reasons is just the unpleasantly-flavoured icing on the cake. Accuse me of being paranoid if you like, but if the technology is used enough for it to become normalised, such intrusiveness will gradually become acceptable and then required (**) until (as always happens) politicians- almost all inherently control-freakish regardless of their party colours- enshrine it in law.

(*) Along with that pesky "solution in search of a problem" criticism that keeps popping up... because it's true.

(**) Via increasingly passive-aggressive and disingenuous measures akin to how companies couch charging for a printed bill as a "saving" for getting it online, then once the latter has become the norm, don't bother pretending any more.

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Re: Tech-fetishism meets control freakery meets Big Brother

Everything is "a geek thing" until it is so useful that it is an "everyone thing".

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Re: Tech-fetishism meets control freakery meets Big Brother

Computers man, what are they good for? Only nerds use them.

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Re: Tech-fetishism meets control freakery meets Big Brother

I don't think it'll happen...not in the near future anyway. You would have to pay for; install; configure and maintain said gadgetry all for a (probably minuscule) rebate on your insurance. For many, many people this would be expensive black magic that they couldn't really see the point of; whereas the people who do know about this stuff wouldn't be totally comfortable about broadcasting private data to a 3rd party.

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Re: Tech-fetishism meets control freakery meets Big Brother

Uhhhh, no. You're absolutely wrong. The insurance company will provide you with a pre-canned device that simply uses DHCP internally (and/or IPv6) and then sends it's information out to the cloud. There would *be* no user configurable anything. Just like OnStar.

Any information you, the user, get about the sensors would be through the insurance company's cloud portal. In fact, the insurance company would probably just be reselling/rebadging software/hardware made by a Silicon Valley IoT startup.

Did you miss the past twenty years of consumer electronics development, design and dispersal? TiVo. Spycam TVs. Wifi Routers. ADSL modems. Security systems and cameras. OnStar. And on and on and on and on...

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Re: Tech-fetishism meets control freakery meets Big Brother

There was a time when the internet and mobil phones were considered tech-fetischism. For some reason both turned into commodities. I suppose it all comes down to a question off value-add and the sum of pros and cons. I guess that in a few years time we'll all be talking about connectivity (adding value) rather than whether or not things are part of the internet-of-things.

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Reality check

> ... already in homes: they range from network addressable lightbulbs to the bleeding-edge biosensors and medical equipment

If I might be so bold. NONE of these things appear in "homes". There might be one or two examples of one or two things that appear in one or two technology-sampler buildings in a few of the world's most advanced counties. But thats all. And that's all it will ever be,

Most people neither want nor care about making their houses intelligent. Most people just want some basic stuff that does what it's told to: when you press the button to tell it. No options, arguments, further questions or "This app has crashed and set you house on fire. OK" dialogs. Just simple, no-questions-asked obedience.

So let's leave off about the Internet of Things. Maybe one day in the distant future there will be some small uptake of already built-in devices in new homes. One thing we learned from trying to manage the vast array of telco nodes and devices is that it's very, very hard and is a massive block to the adoption of standards. So the chances of the "average user" being able to use or configure some IoT devices is about as likely as them learning and using ASN.1 and BER.

Stop reading the hype and forget it all. A fish tank with some sensors and maybe an internet connection doesn't cut it - and is a poor substitute for having a reliable system (that doesn't need remote monitoring) in the first place.

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Re: Reality check

Bang on. I live in the UK, which is allegedly part of the first world, yet I don't even have double glazing. Why on Earth would I need an networked light switch, oven, fish tank, toilet brush etc???

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Re: Reality check

For the most part I agree; "Most people neither want nor care about making their houses intelligent"

No .... most people don't give a shit one way or the other

What people care about is simpler & easier. I don't want to HAVE to program each and every bloody light bulb in the house, I want a smart system that can figure out for itself... when he walks in the door at night he normally turns on these lights, so the system would then start doing that automatically

What I don't want is a system where I have to talk to a thrice damned speech recognition system,

<me> Ok House turn on lights,

<house> Do you mean turn on living room lights? Yes to proceed, no to cancel

<Me> *sigh* YES,

<House> Ok cancelling selection,

<ME> "Aaaarrrggghhhh",

<House> OK turning off heating.

Until you can improve on the UI of a simple light switch, these things are doomed to fail

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Re: Reality check

I can see the point of a networked fish tank, otherwise you can't really go anywhere without finding someone to look after your fish, and maybe they'll decide they're looking a bit thin and throw in a couple of extra pinches of food or the water's too cold on this fine winter morning and put a bit of hot water in the tank.

I can see the point of being able to start the oven if you're first in but you don't know what time you're coming home.

I can see the point of being able to set up lights switching on and off if you're on holiday for a while.

As always they're just tools, what you do with them is up to you.

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Boffin

Making 1+1=3 ?

I would suggest that technology goes in bursts. Massive advances, then a hiatus as people start to find weird and wonderful ways of mixing it up. Case in hand, is a combination of my home server, and a WiFi router. Who would have thought that by setting up a ping to my smartphones WiFi IP address, I would have a crude - but effective - presence detector. Now, my CCTV setup is switched in automatically, if there's no response to a PING after 2 minutes.

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Re: Making 1+1=3 ?

That's a great idea, and one which I think I will steal very soon.

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Re: Making 1+1=3 ?

Did you check the patent status of this technique before implementing it?

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Unhappy

Re: Making 1+1=3 ?

Not really, it seemed so bleeding obvious ... just a tiny bash script which runs on a cron ...

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Re: Making 1+1=3 ?

Alas, you are no longer living in the entrepreneur-friendly 19th Century :(

Even though you may have no intention of marketing it, do not be surprised if you receive a patent-troll 'Cease-and-Desist" letter from somewhere. Probably America....

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Anonymous Coward

Re: security by ping

I can see quite a few flaws in that idea.

Does your smartphone have a static IP?

Does it have a low-power mode that switches off WiFi?

I hope you don't find you've been burgled and then realise that all the action happened in the first two minutes, such as the actual breaking and entering!

@ Dodgy Geezer: One cannot patent a technique.

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Mushroom

Re: security by ping

*You* said security by ping not me. I didn't say I was using it as a security measure. My experience of CCTV is that it's not a deterrent, and it's never of any use to the police in getting any stolen property back - let alone catching the scrotes.

I just happen to have a CCTV camera hooked up to my server so I can play around with Zoneminder. I did toy with the idea of sending an email or SMS when the phone was out of ping range, but it was easier to issue a "service zoneminder start" command, than trawl through the sendmail or bluetooth manuals.

Yes, my Smartphone has a fixed IP - or rather my router gives it a fixed IP. And regarding any power saving mode (which it does have) that's kind of a failsafe anyway. There's no downside to the camera being activated erroneously, so it's a risk I'm managing to live with.

It irritates me when people fail to account for all factors before picking fault. As a 100% reliable presence detector, is this suitable ? No. As something cobbled together with what was lying around to illustrate how we can always find new tricks for old dogs is it of interest ? Yes.

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WTF?

..proactively solve environmental issues for my fish..

You might want to cut back on the joss sticks and whale song music.

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DMZ and firewalled to hell

Any device which I did not install, I do not have the ability to fully configure and for which I do not have access to the source; will find itself off on a DMZ and behind a very strict firewall (if it is even permitted to connect).

I cite LG as one reason why.

When the system if fully under my control - OK, I might find that advantageous. When it is under the control of a third party - screw that.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: DMZ and firewalled to hell

but..but.. DMZ is the opposite of firewalled! Does not compute!

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Re: DMZ and firewalled to hell

Isolated/DMZ/Firewalled/Locked-down/Whatever.

Sorry - didn't really get much sleep last night.

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Re: DMZ and firewalled to hell

You'd put sensors like that in the DMZ so that they're outside your network. To see anything happening on your network it'd have to pass through the firewall.

So something in the DMZ is firewalled off from your private network, though still able to connect to the Internet to provide services and call back to it's masters.

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Alert

Be very afraid

The "internet of all things" is scary. It's the NSA's/GCHQ's wet dream until it be becomes sentient.

See: Demon Seed (1977) and Colossus; The Forbin Project (1970)

We're doomed, all doomed I say !

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Anonymous Coward

Down with this sort of thing.

Oh, unless it's directly useful or wanted by me. I'd love to control certain parts of my brewing over the internet for example. In that sort of case then: Yes! finally, more things on the internet.

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The way of the future...

...Did you leave the stove on and the leave the house? Did you use the wrong kind of toilet paper the last time you used the washroom...

We seem to have moved invisibly from a society where infrastructure services were purely for our benefit, into a world where we are beginning to be seen as Government property.

In Victorian times, it was the job of the sewers to carry foul water away, and if people started using non-dissoluble paper, it was the job of the sewer designers to alter their services to cope. Nowadays they seem happier to leave the Victorian infrastructure with no investment, and force us to alter our behaviour to fit in with the service they deign to provide.

Water is actually a good example. There has been a considerable increase of population in the South-East of England over the last 30 years. Engineers have stated that around 8 new reservoirs need to be built to provide for this. But DECC and the water companies have said that NONE will be built - instead, everyone will be required to use 20% less water, and water meters will be installed to enforce this.

I can't help feeling that the Internet of Things is part of this process - it's not being developed for the benefit of customers, but to enable complete day-to-day control of our lives...

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Anonymous Coward

The other side of the coin...

On the other hand if we didn't have so many inconsiderate bastards who think it is their right to be as obnoxious as possible at all times then the issues you mention would not exist.

Put another way, if people could act reasonably, such as by not wasting water and not putting nasty things down the drains, then services would be cheaper and better for everyone. Monitoring would be a less attractive business case to consider.

You see, this is the difference between being an ignorant tosser who thinks that other people should provide everything for his benefit, and actually having the intelligence to understand that in the real world we are subject to such annoying things as the weather, natural environment, laws of physics and so on.

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Re: The other side of the coin...

"such as by not wasting water"

Around 800,000 gallons of water literally falls from the sky for every person in the country every year. It is also 100% recyclable.

I want to use some of it to flush piss down the toilet.

Most of the water company costs are overheads, economising on water usage and especially fitting meters just makes if more expensive. You end up paying about the same and with a house smelling of piss.

What economising on water does is remove the need to build a few more reservoirs (not expensive - they last for ages) but mostly removes the need for decades of public enquiries listening to objections from NIMBYs and eco green tossers.

Water isn't precious, 4/5ths of the globe is kms deep in it. In a modern civilised society it would be plentiful. In this society of political whimps and eco green tossers we are supposed to scrimp and save and make do and smell of piss because, err, because that is what eco green tossers and spineless politicians who appease them think everyone should be doing.

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Re: The other side of the coin...

Water certainly is precious if your only source of it is Fossil Water. Remove more water from the ground than natural recharge can deal with and Bad Things happen.

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Why do we want the internet of things?

We don't.

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Re: Why do we want the internet of things?

And I also don't want to call the internet of things the internet of things.

Stupid, lazy name. Unless computers etc are NOT things, then it has already been an internet of things since day one.

Can I think of something better? Probably not.

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Re: Why do we want the internet of things?

How about the Internet of Pings?

Or the Internet of Blings? (It checks your total net worth, and projects it onto your forehead.)

I'll stop now.

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Re: Why do we want the internet of things?

I've seen "The Thingternet" being used for it :-)

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Re: Why do we want the internet of things?

Drop the 'g' to make it the 'thinternet' (which I think rolls better off the tongue) and that probably works quite well; thin being shortened in this case from thing, as well as giving an indication about the amount of bandwidth these things are likely to use (individually).

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Happy

Re: Why do we want the internet of things?

Internet of Mings - the part of the internet providing porn for ugly people.

Internet of Flings - the generic name for dating websites.

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Re: Why do we want the internet of things?

No good I'm afraid. Up in Yorkshire they've been calling it th'internet for years now

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