If Coffee == True {

Having a shared coffee maker in the workplace is both a blessing and a curse. It’s nice to have constant access to coffee, but it can be frustrating to find the coffee pot emptied right as you walk in to the break room. To solve this problem in their office, [Vitort] and co. built an IOT solution that notifies everyone of the current coffee status on a Slack channel.

This project wasn’t built just as a convenience for the office, either. It makes extensive use of AWS SNS, the simple notification system from Amazon Web Services because they wanted to learn to use this technology specifically. Besides the notification system, the device itself is based on a NodeMCU/ESP8266, communicating over WiFi, and is a simple push-button design which coffee drinkers push when a fresh pot is made, and then push again when the coffee is empty.

While relatively straightforward, this project is a good one to look at if you’ve been interested in AWS at all, especially the simple notification system. It’s a pretty versatile tool, and all of the code used in the project is available on the project page for your reading pleasure. If you’re more interested in the coffee aspect of this project, we have a special coffee maker for you too.

How Power Over Ethernet (PoE) Works

A remote Ethernet device needs two things: power and Ethernet. You might think that this also means two cables, a beefy one to carry the current needed to run the thing, and thin little twisted pairs for the data. But no!

Power over Ethernet (PoE) allows you to transmit power and data over to network devices. It does this through a twisted pair Ethernet cabling, which allows a single cable to drive the two connections. The main advantage of using PoE as opposed to having separate lines for power and data is to simplify the process of installation – there’s fewer cables to keep track of and purchase. For smaller offices, the hassle of having to wire new circuits or a transformer for converted AC to DC can be annoying.

PoE can also be an advantage in cases where power is not easily accessible or where additional wiring simply is not an option. Ethernet cables are often run in the ceiling, while power runs near the floor. Furthermore, PoE is protected from overload, short circuiting, and delivers power safely. No additional power supplies are necessary since the power is supplied centrally, and scaling the power delivery becomes a lot easier.

Devices Using PoE

[via PowerOverEthernet.com]
VoIP phones are becoming increasingly prevalent as offices are opting to provide power for phones from a central supply rather than hosting smaller power supplies to supply separate phones. Smart cameras – or IP cameras – already use Ethernet to deliver video data, so using PoE simplifies the installation process. Wireless access points can be easily connected to Ethernet through a main router, which is more convenient than seeking out separate power supplies.

 

Other devices that use PoE include RFID readers, IPTV decoders, access control systems, and occasionally even wall clocks. If it already uses Ethernet, and it doesn’t draw too much power, it’s a good candidate for PoE.

On the supply side, given that the majority of devices that use PoE are in some form networking devices, it makes sense that the main device to provide power to a PoE system would be the Ethernet switch. Another option is to use a PoE injector, which works with non-PoE switches to ensure that the device is able to receive power from another source than the switch.

How it Works

Historically, PoE was implemented by simply hooking extra lines up to a DC power supply. Early power injectors did not provide any intelligent protocol, simply injecting power into a system. The most common method was to power a pair of wires not utilized by 100Base-TX Ethernet. This could easily destroy devices not designed to accept power, however. The IEEE 802.3 working group started their first official PoE project in 1999, titled the IEE 802.3af.

[via Fiber Optic Communication]
This standard delivered up to 13 W to a powered device, utilizing two of the four twisted pairs in Ethernet cabling. This was adequate power for VoIP phones, IP cameras, door access control units, and other devices. In 2009, the IEEE 802.3 working group released the second PoE standard, IEEE 802.3at. This added a power class that could deliver up to 25.5 W, allowing for pan and tilt cameras to use the technology.

 

While further standards haven’t been released, proprietary technologies have used the PoE term to describe their methods of power delivery. A new project from the IEEE 802.3 working group was the 2018 released IEEE 802.3bt standard that utilizes all four twisted pairs to deliver up to 71 W to a powered device.

But this power comes at a cost: Ethernet cables simply don’t have the conductive cross-section that power cables do, and resistive losses are higher. Because power loss in a cable is proportional to the squared current, PoE systems minimize the current by using higher voltages, from 40 V to 60 V, which is then converted down in the receiving device. Even so, PoE specs allow for 15% power loss in the cable itself. For instance, your 12 W remote device might draw 14 W at the wall, with the remaining 2 W heating up your crawlspace. The proposed 70 W IEEE 802.3bt standard can put as much as 30 W of heat into the wires.

The bigger problem is typically insufficient power. The 802.4af PoE standard maximum power output is below 15.4 W (13 W delivered), which is enough to provide power for most networking devices. For higher power consumption devices, such as network PTZ cameras, this isn’t the case.

Although maximum power supply is specified in the standards, having a supply that supplied more power is necessary will not affect the performance of the device. The device will draw as much current as necessary to operate, so there is no risk of overload, just hot wires.

So PoE isn’t without its tradeoffs. Nevertheless, there’s certainly a lot of advantages to accepting PoE for devices, and of course we welcome a world with fewer wires. It’s fantastic for routers, phones, and their friends. But when your power-hungry devices are keeping you warm at night, it’s probably time to plug them into the wall.

 

Images As Excel FIles Are Gloriously Nasty

Almost every person of a technical persuasion who has worked in an office will have some tale of wildly inappropriate use of office technology for a task that could have been accomplished far more simply with an appropriate tool. There are jokes about people photocopying a blank sheet of paper when they need a few sheets themselves, but some of the real stories are very bit as surreal.

[Bjonnh]’s patience for such things was exceeded when he received a screenshot embedded in a Microsoft Word file. His response is both pointless and elegant, a Python script that takes a JPEG image and encodes it into an Excel file. It’s simply an array of cells whose background colours represent the pixels, and he warns us that the output files may take a while to load. We just had to subject it to a test, but are sorry to report that LibreOffice doesn’t seem to want to play ball.

So yes, this is a small departure from our usual fare of hardware, and it serves no use other than to be a fantastically awful misuse of office technology. If you’ve ever been emailed a PowerPoint invitation to the office party though, then maybe you’ll have cracked a smile.

If pushing your corporate spreadsheet to the limit is your thing, perhaps you’d also like to see it running a 3D engine.

Impressive Pi System Controls Large Office

A pile of Raspberry Pis isn’t what would spring to mind for most people when building a system to control a large office, but most people aren’t [Kamil Górski]. He decided to use Pis to run the office of his company Monterail when they moved to a larger space. The system they built is one of the largest Pi installations we have seen, controlling the lights, TVs, speakers and door access. It can all be controlled through a web interface, so anyone on the network can turn the lights on or off, check if a room is occupied or send sound and video to the fancy AV system in the conference room. He even hacked a bunch of HDMI switches so that every TV can show the same image if everyone wants to watch the same event. Even the radio station that plays in the lounge is controlled remotely from an employee slack channel.

The system is run on five Pis, one of which acts as a master, while the others are connected to each of the TVs, running Chrome in console mode being remotely controlled through the Chrome Debugging Protocol.  That allows anyone on the network to control the display and send content to it. One interesting thing to note: [Kamil] freely admits that this is a bespoke system that couldn’t be easily sold as a product. Nothing wrong with that, but he decided to build in some backups: if the whole system fails, all of the lights, doors, and other devices can still be controlled through old-school switches, keys, and remote controls. Even a full system crash doesn’t render the office unusable. That’s a wide precaution that many people forget in systems like this.

Working In Peace With An Off-Grid Office Shed

Finding a good work space at home isn’t a trivial task, especially when you’ve got a wife and kid. A lot of us use a spare bedroom, basement, or garage as a space to work on our hobbies (or jobs). But, the lack of true separation from the home can make getting real work done difficult. For many of us, we need to have the mental distance between our living space and our working space in order to actually get stuff done.

This is the problem [Syonyk] had — he needed a quiet place to work that was separated from the rest of his house. To accomplish this, he used a Tuff Shed and set it up to run off-grid. The reason for going off-grid wasn’t purely environmental, it was actually more practical than trying to run power lines from the house. Because of the geology where he lives, burying power lines wasn’t financially feasible.

Continue reading “Working In Peace With An Off-Grid Office Shed”

Alarm Notifies The Office When The Coffee Is Ready

[Stian] thought it would be nice if his coworkers could be electronically notified when the latest batch of coffee is ready. He ended up building an inexpensive coffee alarm system to do exactly that. When the coffee is done, the brewer can press a giant button to notify the rest of the office that it’s time for a cuppa joe.

[Stian’s] first project requirement was to activate the system using a big physical button. He chose a button from Sparkfun, although he ended up modifying it to better suit his needs. The original button came with a single LED built-in. This wasn’t enough for [Stian], so he added two more LEDs. All three LEDs are driven by a ULN2003A NPN transistor array. Now he can flash them in sequence to make a simple animation.

This momentary push button supplies power to a ESP8266 microcontroller using a soft latch power switch. When the momentary switch is pressed, it supplies power to the latch. The latch then powers up the main circuit and continues supplying power even when the push button is released. The reason for this power trickery is to conserve power from the 18650 li-on battery.

The core functionality of the alarm uses a combination of physical hardware and two cloud-based services. The ESP8266 was chosen because it includes a built-in WiFi chip and it only costs five dollars. The microcontroller is configured to connect to the WiFi network with the push of a button. The device also monitors the giant alarm button.

When the button is pressed, it sends an HTTP request to a custom clojure app running on a cloud service called Heroku. The clojure app then stores brewing information in a database and sends a notification to the Slack cloud service. Slack is a sort of project management app that allows multiple users to work on projects and communicate easier over the internet. [Stian] has tapped into it in order to send the actual text notification to his coworkers to let them know that the coffee is ready. Be sure to watch the demo video below. Continue reading “Alarm Notifies The Office When The Coffee Is Ready”

An Adjustable Sit/Stand Desk For Under $100

[Cornel Masson] is a 46-year-old computer programmer. He’s been working on his computer for the last 30 years. Computer work can be good for the wallet but it can be bad for our health, particularly the neck and back. You can purchase adjustable desks to allow you to change positions from sitting to standing, but unfortunately these desks are often expensive. [Cornel] took matters into his own hands and build his own adjustable riser for under $100.

To start, [Cornel] used a typical computer desk. He didn’t want to build the entire thing from scratch. Instead he focused on building a riser that sits on top of the desk, allowing him to change the height of both the monitor and keyboard. His design used mostly wood, aluminum stock, threaded rods, and drawer slides.

The main component is the monitor stand and riser. The riser is able to slide up and down thanks to four drawer slides mounted vertically. [Cornel] wanted his monitor to move up and down with ease, which meant he needed some kind of counter weight. He ended up using a gas strut from the trunk of a Nissan, which acts as a sort of spring. The way in which it is mounted makes for a very close approximation of his monitor’s weight. The result is a monitor that can be raised or lowered very easily. The stand also includes a locking mechanism to keep it secured in the top position.

The keyboard stand is also mounted to drawer slides, only these are in the horizontal position. When the monitor is lowered for sitting, the keyboard tray is removed from the keyboard stand. The stand can then be pushed backwards, overlapping the monitor stand and taking up much less space. The keyboard stand has small rollers underneath to help with the sliding. The video below contains a slideshow of images that do a great job explaining how it all works.

Of course if replacing the entire desk is an option go nuts.

Continue reading “An Adjustable Sit/Stand Desk For Under $100”