Santa back from the FAB!In my never ending quest to lower our carbon footprint, I bring you good tidings of progress made and lessons learned.  Recently my wife and I became “empty nesters” and our two daughters are learning that a one degree change in the thermostat can affect their electric bill. You may have read some of my previous posts such as “Saving Energy Takes Getting your Hands Dirty” or ”Ignorance is Bliss... How Knowing Too Much Can Ruin Your Day”.  Both of these posts exemplify the old adage that “The Blacksmith’s kitchen often contains wooden utensils” or in other words, my home projects are the last to get finished!

And so it goes… my never ending home automation project to keep our now less occupied home more efficient.  I have made progress, and so have many of our customers!  For example, the NEST thermostat (available at Best Buy and other fine retailers) learns your behavior and adapts to your lifestyle. It employs WiFi to connect to the web and track your usage as well as provide you control over your HVAC system… even from your smart phone! This is something I’ve been trying to do for a few years. So if you’re struggling on what to buy that geeky family member or (“cough”) co-worker…, this is a great gift and it will benefit the planet too!

I’ve also made some progress (you can see the before and after shots below) to at least neaten up the 4 miles of CAT5e I have in the house… no joke, 20,000+ feet. I’ve also terminated the 100+ connections (finally) providing me reliable connections to the sensor and controls for the house. Progress on the Zarr "Smart House"

Dimming lighting can save a tremendous amount of energy since the TRIAC in the dimmer only turns on a percentage of each half cycle to provide reduced energy to the load. This can both reduce the amount of energy consumed as well as extend the life of incandescent bulbs. Some newer CFLs and LED replacement bulbs read the phase angle of the TRIAC and can change the output level to mimic an incandescent bulb’s lower output level.  In any case, dimming is good for saving energy.

Now my lighting system uses a technology called Universal Power Bus (UPB) and the technology works very well… in fact, it works too well.  You see, I’m not alone in my quest to automate… so is my neighbor.  When I noticed that one of our fans kept coming on at a weird (un-programmed) time, I simply wrote it off as a programming error and turned the fan back off… but then it came on again.  This repeated about three more times and finally I gave up. 

After some research and some guessing, I walked across the street to my neighbor and asked, “Hey, you guys don’t have any home automation on your lights do you?”… Well, yes they did.  It turned out that their older X-10 system failed and they replaced all their light switches with UPB versions… and never changed the default network address ( a number that is unique to a network).  For the past several months we’ve been turning each other’s stuff on and off!  The fan I mentioned, well it turned out to be on the same address as my neighbor’s master bathroom light.  When I was turning off our fan, I was leaving poor Victor in the dark! Probably worse was leaving his lovely wife in the dark while in the tub! Not nice…

However, with it being the holiday season, my post would not be complete without some commentary on LED holiday lighting.  I’m so over the “one bulb fails and the large portion of the string goes out” thing, that I’m ready to throw away every incandescent Christmas light I own and buy LEDs. They are far more efficient, live MUCH longer and have more intense color saturation.  There are issues however… and most of them are power related. LEDs require a constant current so in general, a string of them connected in series will see the same current which can be limited by a simple circuit. Sometimes however more sophistication is required (See Marjory Conner’s Holiday LED tear down).

And last I will leave you with a little poem where I’ve taken some literary license with a classic from Clement Clarke Moore… I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it!  Have a wonderful holiday season and I will see you next year when I return from my time off!  Till then…


 ‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the fab,

The equipment was whirring, even in the chem lab.

The yield charts were hung by the exit with care,

And all of our steppers were in good repair.


Most employees had gone home and were snuggled up tight,

With dreams of implanters that were powered up right,

And along with their processes all shiny and new,

They dreamed aggressive forecasts would surely come true.


When out in the clean room I heard such a clatter

I sprang from my lab bench and fell over a ladder.

Away to the hall way I flew like a plane,

Threw open the door and almost burst a vein.


Down with the equipment with lights all aglow,

An object was moving by the computers below.

Who could it be in those extra-large cleanroom clothes,

And how did he get in since security always knows?


He moved by the gear so lively and quick,

I knew in a moment it must be St Nick!

Faster than BiCMOS he worked hasty and neat,

Wafers of devices for toys to complete.


He looked up and saw me hovering above,

And I saw his hand wave in an antistatic glove.

He vanished as quickly as he had appeared,

With devices that Texas Instruments pioneered.


I heard a quick rumble on top of the roof,

And knew in an instant that I had my proof,

That TI silicon was in all his toys,

For all the good girls and all the good boys.


I heard him whistle for his reindeer to fly,

along with his booty of parts from TI.

As he flew to the north and clean out of sight,

I heard him exclaim, “Merry Christmas, and to all a good night!”