Easier Self Hosting With Umbrel

While it is undeniable that cloud-based services are handy, there are people who would rather do it themselves. For many of us, it is because we want what we want the way we want it. For others, it is a distrust of leaving your personal data on someone’s server you don’t control. Umbrel is a Linux distribution just for people who want to self-host popular applications like NextCloud or Home Assistant. [ItsFoss] has a good review that points out some of the plusses and minuses of the early version of Umbrel.

What’s really interesting, though, is the approach the distro takes to installing software. Like most modern distributions, Umbrel has a package manager. Unlike most, though, the packages are actually docker containers. So when you install an app, it is preconfigured and lives in its own bubble, unlikely to conflict with other things you might install.

We also like that it has a specific build for a Raspberry Pi, although it will work on other 64-bit hardware and you can even install it within docker on top of your normal operating system. Of course, the docker container concept is also a drawback — at least for now — because it can be difficult to adjust settings inside the container compared to a more conventional install.

It amazes us that hardware has become so capable that it is easier to just duplicate entire operating systems than it is to work out the required dependency interactions. Still, it works, and in most cases, it works well.

If you want to know more about Docker, we’ve covered it a few times in the past. You can even use it for very simple development cases┬áif you like.

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Monitoring Home Energy Consumption

Power monitoring and home automation systems are coming to mainstream consumers. The New York Times covers the latest technologies (annoying login required) that improve and monitor energy efficiency in the home. As energy use and costs continue to increase, companies are popping up to offer cheaper solutions that will help consumers monitor energy usage, and decrease it simultaneously. Companies like Zigbee offer wireless protocols to track usage, and “smart metering” systems can communicate with appliances to reduce unnecessary energy usage.

Home automation systems can be set up to control a single system, such as a home theater, or multiple systems throughout a home, like audio, lighting, and temperature. Control4 offers controllers that will allow consumers to regulate their lighting, blinds, and temperature in their homes. Smart meters such as Echelon’s NES system offers users some great features, such as the ability to provide automated reads of electric and gas meters, and enabling load shedding during peak consumption periods, by controlling appliances like air conditioners and water heaters. By allowing the consumers to determine and control how much energy they use, they can successfully reduce their energy consumption levels a significant amount, but whether it’s worth the cost of investment remains to be seen. Although the prices of home automation systems have dropped from over $30,000 to about $5,000, it’s still much more than most consumers can afford.

We’ve covered home automation tools before. We like them because they’re still way more affordable than the offerings available, and the technology is more transparent. If you’ve got a creative and cheap solution to monitoring energy consumption, we’d love to hear it.

[via Waxy]

IR Controlled Relays

If you’re thinking of building some DIY home automation, this looks like an interesting idea. At the heart is a PIC16F84 that decodes IR signals and controls six outputs – in this case, relays to activate various appliances. The PIC is dirt cheap – if you get a deal on some relays you should be able to build a small local IR HA system for $30… This might be just the thing for my office. It’s cheap enough that it probably wouldn’t walk off.