Scheduled SMART Checks

For years hard disks (both spinning rust and SSDs) have had a built in monitoring system that tracks various metrics about the health of your disk, called SMART. In the old days if you were lucky you might get some warning that your disk was about to fail because it would start to make a nasty noise. In the modern era of SSDs you likely won’t get any warning, and suddenly boom, your laptop won’t boot or mount the disk.

Obviously nothing is perfect, and any monitoring can miss a failure, but the potential of some warning is better than definitely not getting any. Also this is no subtitute for a proper backup and recovery strategy, but in most home situations people don’t have spare laptops or hard drives just sitting around.

It would be relatively easy for operating system vendors to automatically detect SMART capabable drives and automatically run a check every so often. If it fails, they could pop up a warning about a potential imminent failure. As far as I know though, no-one does this.

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Working In A Crisis Is The Easy Part

Recently one of my team asked me how they were doing, and to be fair I think they’ve been doing great. The challenge though is that they started as team leader right about the time that COVID-19 hit. Working for an online supermarket, around March 2020 was definitely challenging, but in some ways it actually made things easier. When there is a fire to put out, it’s easy to know what to do next - you put the fire out! And after that? You put the next fire out!

Certainly, there are challenges for being a team leader during a crisis. Perhaps people in your team are stressed or losing their cool. You might have stakeholders shouting at you to fix things quicker. Maybe you have to take shortcuts that you know lead to technical debt, but that will get things fixed quicker.

Calming people down, and protecting your team are important skills for a team leader. Knowing when to make pragmatic technical decisions is something all developers should know. And recognising when your stakeholders are crying wolf and you can push back on fixing their fire is important. For us, back in March, it was pretty clear that this was a real crisis and we needed to do all we can to help.

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Meter Readings Over MQTT

In a previous post I talked about swapping the in-home device (IHD) supplied by my electricity and gas company for one produced by Glow. This connects over wifi and gives access to the raw data coming from your smart meters over MQTT. To collect this data and integrate it into my house monitor I needed to listen to the MQTT topic and expose the data to Prometheus.

This was quite similar to my previous project to expose statistics from my router, but as this was processing JSON data being exposed over MQTT it was a lot simpler than parsing raw text over SSH. As before I created a GitHub repo with my usual Python linting, testing and build scripts set up.

Connecting to MQTT is straightforward, using the Paho MQTT library. When they’ve set up your MQTT account Glow’s support team will supply you with a topic name that you can use, along with the username and password you set, to connect. The code below shows how to do this. We’ll cover the on_message callback next.

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Clockwise

As soon as you make the leap from developer to manager one of the most immediate changes you notice, apart from the crushing uncertainty of not knowing what it is you’re supposed to be doing, is that your calendar will fill up quicker than you can say “let’s schedule 30 minutes to discuss that”.

Clockwise is a new tool that has proliferated around the managers at work which claims to solve your meeting woes by taking over the scheduling and booking rooms for you. It’s like having your own PA, only without, you know, actually being important enough to justify one.

Technically Clockwise is a browser plugin which integrates with Google Calendar. Every day at 4pm it looks at meetings occurring over the next week and rearranges them to resolve conflicts, and to try and create blocks of “focus time”. Focus time is a chunk of meeting-free time, two hours or longer, in which you can get stuck into work, rather than having a series of 30-minute gaps where it’s hard to achieve anything.

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Glow Bright

When my electricity provider, nPower, upgraded me to a smart meter I was excited about getting access to more data about my electricity and gas usage. Unfortunately, it turned out that the extra data provided by the connected meters was only available to the power supplier, and not to me as a consumer. They provided a little device with a screen (known as an IHD, or in-home device) which displayed the current and daily/weekly/monthly usage, but little else. No mobile app, no ability to dig into your historical usage, and definitely no API access.

While I was disappointed and frustrated about not having access to what I consider be my data, I left it as I had more important things to worry about (i.e. kids). With my recent project to look at collecting more data from my house, I wanted to revisit this, and collect the data.

There are two meter standards in the UK, SMETS1 and SMETS2. SMETS1 is the older standard, which is no longer being rolled out. SMETS2 is the current standard, which operates quite differently to SMETS1. The main benefit being that if you switch provider your smart meter will continue to work, something that wasn’t true with the earlier standard. If you’re unlucky enough to have a SMETS1 meter you can ask for it to be upgraded. Fortunately, I had a SMETS2 meter.

The way these meters work is that both the electricity and gas meters broadcast their readings locally over a ZigBee network. This is picked up by your IHD, and displayed live. The electricity meter also listens to the gas readings and every so often uploads them over a mobile phone connection to a central data broker. This is then forwarded on your supplier. smartme.co.uk has much more detail on this process.

The key point is that your data can not only be forwarded on to your supplier, but you can grant access to other companies too. Enter Glow who act as what is known as DCC Other User and use smart meter data to help companies do research and development. They also provide more tools for consumers to use their data.

After installing the app you need to go through a security verification process. This involves uploading details of your electricity meter and address (by taking photos of your bill), a photo of some photo id, and a selfie video of yourself saying “I’m My Name, and I accept the terms and conditions”. After that, your details are sent away for a manual verification process, which in my case took two days. I also received an email asking whether I was planning to buy their display. When I said yes they said they wouldn’t process my application until it arrived. This was a bit frustrating as it meant I couldn’t use the app in the meantime. Once the device arrived the application was processed quickly.

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