Photography, Technology

Power Outages and the Connected Home

Just one day after writing about powering the secure, automated, wireless workflow, I experienced the one thing that can throw the whole system into disarray. Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, we’re experiencing a strong seasonal storm, and this morning, a power outage hit our neighborhood. While my primary computer is backed by an uninterruptible power supply (UPS), my Mac Mini server is not (yet). So, when the power went out, access to my server from the outside world was also severed. Power was restored in a little over an hour, and the Mac Mini turned back on since I had the checkbox Start up automatically after a power failure checked in System Preferences > Energy Saver.

Ensure your Mac server starts up automatically after a power failure in Energy Saver settings.

Ensure your Mac server starts up automatically after a power failure in Energy Saver settings.

If for some reason, I needed to re-enable the secure, automated, wireless photography workflow  during an outage, I have some options. First, I would have to put both the Airport and the Mac Mini on backup power. Next, provided cell phone service has not been interrupted, I could tether my iPhone to the GL-ARM300M mini travel router and connect the router to the WAN port on the Airport Extreme base station. Now, instead of getting internet through Comcast Xfinity, my iPhone would be providing network access. On the Mac Mini, my dynamic DNS provider would update the server’s new (but temporary) IP address. The graphic below shows this alternate workflow in action:

An alternate way to get a home server back to being accessible on the internet during an extended power outage.

An alternate way to get a home server back to being accessible on the internet during an extended power outage.

Another option that I mentioned in my workflow article is to colocate the Mac Mini server  at a hosting provider like MacMiniColo. That would completely avoid the power problem and give my server access to a far faster network than what I have at home.

I would be remiss in mentioning an annoyance about power outages and the Internet of Things. Many IoT devices, like Philips Hue lights, require you to have them turned on at all times. Continuous power allows the lights to communicate with the Philips Hue Bridge, which controls whether they are on or off. Now, when the power comes back on after a power outage, all of the Hue lights in the house turn back on. This is fine if we’re at home when this happens, but if we’re traveling, I don’t currently have a way to be notified except via our neighbors. As a result, I’m going to have to write a script that:

  1. Detects the power outage (maybe via the UPS’ ability to send an email)
  2. Sends the All Off signal to the lights

Fortunately, we don’t get a lot of power service interruptions where we live. How are you prepared to handle them within your household? Is something like a Tesla Powerwall (coupled with solar panels on the roof) in your future?

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