It has been a month since my last post about saying goodbye to cable. We haven't missed cable at all. It's the opposite. With PlayOn services, we get to watch different shows whenever we wanted. It's like a giant DVR for us. Hulu on PlayOn gives us another access to movies besides NetFlix and Amazon... The best part is that we don't have to pay $80/month for cable!!!

The next step is to move our land line service to Internet-based phone service. I wish we could move away from land line altogether but the quality for land line is so much better than our cell phone quality. 
We decided to cut our cable service right after New Year 2013. 

We don't watch much TV. Our TV shows come from NetFlix. My sports fix comes from Yahoo! Sports  and I can't remember when was the last time that I watched a full football game or basketball game. In the mean time, our cable bill with Time Warner for HD extended basic, HD DVR, and DVR rental ballooned to almost $80/month. Time Warner threatened to raise the cable rate again. $80 per month for less than an hour of cable TV a day. That doesn't seem like a very smart move.

So what did we do to substitute cable TV?
  • First: faster Internet access. We have 20MB download and 2MB upload.
  • Blueray DVD with WIFI.
  • A HD antenna for live major channels.
  • Roku: we have a Roku box for over a year now. We paid $50 for the HD version.
  • NetFlix: we have both DVD and streaming service.
  • Amazon: for newer movies that we can't wait on DVD, we can rent an HD streaming video on Amazon. This is when we could use a faster Internet connection. Half of the time, the HD connection failed on us. The weakness of Amazon Instant Video is that once the connection fails, it doesn't resume to the previous scene. We'd have to fast forward.
  • PlayOn and PlayLater: A streaming service that runs on your Windows PC/Laptop and serves the media streams to any connected devices such as my Roku and Blueray DVD player. We paid $60 for lifetime service of PlayOn and PlayLater. The best description for PlayOn is "prime time on demand". I can watch the latest episodes from all major networks plus Comedy Central and others. A huge bonus is that there are developers out there developing channels for PlayOn. We get to watch Showtime's Homeland series. PlayLater lets me record shows to my laptop so that I can watch shows offline. As this writing, I haven't tried it out yet but it's tempting to "tape" my favorite NetFlix movies to watch on a plane.

It has been a month now and we haven't missed our cable. Matter of fact, it seems that we have more quality options to choose from. We paid $30 for the antenna and $60 for PlayOn and PlayLater subscription. That's $90 investment - one-month payback... For our family, this is the right choice. For the sports nuts, I am afraid that you are "tethered" with cable or dish...
It has been awhile since I last looked at the Home Energy Monitoring (HEM) industry. Ever since Google and Microsoft shutdown their HEM projects, I was afraid the market might not be able to sustain itself. Now looking back, I think that the industry was in its infancy and Google and Microsoft might not have the stomach for this nascent market.

As of this writing, it seems that the market continues to march forward. In the early days, there were talks about HEM integration with Smart Grid. With Smart Grid projects continue to be subsidized by the governments (US, Europe, and others), HEM is shaping its own identity. HEM ranges from simple monitoring to a sophisticated system.

Firs off, there are the "energy vampires" killer products that shut off standby power of unused devices. Kill-A-Watt offers a wide range of products. Belkin has its own line of offerings. A quick search on Google yielded quite a few options. These products are simple and easy-to-use. Homeowners could easily obtain these products through, Home Depots, and similar retail outlets.

Next, HEM gets a little more involved in term of installation. The batch of products monitor the entire home energy usage. TED (The Energy Detective) offers several options that home owners (or rather a certified electrician) install into their circuit breakers. I had a TED connected to my circuit breaker in my previous home. CES (Computerized Electricity System) in Israel  has a replacement circuit breaker panel that an electrician needs to install. Once installed, home owners will have the ability to see the circuit-level energy usage.

Finally for the energy geeks, there are sophisticated systems with sensors (that could talk to each other) and a gateway (a main unit that gathering and making sense of the data from the sensor plus communicating to the home owners via Internet). Current Cost is an example of a sophisticated system. Home owners could acquire sensors as needed and a gateway with a display for at-a-glance energy read outs. Greenwave Reality is another company in this space. Greenwave founders all came from Cisco so they should know a thing or two about networking. Of course, sophisticate equal dollars so again, energy geeks are the early adopters.

By no means, this is a complete list. I just wanted to do a quick glance to see whether or not HEM is still alive. It seems to me that the market still has a pulse and a potentially bright future.
I was asked to write an article about MicroTCA from an ex-insider perspective. You can read it here. The bottom line is that it was a good technology for niche markets. As much I love the technology, it's hard for me to see how it could be mass-adopted for the embedded industry.
Home energy monitoring was all the buzz. Google and Microsoft jumped on the bandwagon. Both companies signed up a bunch of device companies to build out this HEM market. The idea of understanding my energy usage is cool so I set out to buy one of these devices. I picked TED since it seems that they got the most traction out there.

Well... TED recommended that I need an electrician to install the device on my circuit breaker. Once that was done, I had to figure out how to get the data to my laptop via Power Line Communication (PLC). As it turned out, it was harder than I thought since my router sat in the office - too noisy for the device to work. 50' of cabling later and almost 2 weeks later, I was able to see my energy usage in R/T. It was fun until I realized that I still didn't know which appliances were energy hogs... The TED connected to Google service so that I could monitor it at work. Again, I still don't know which appliances were on at a certain time.

Anyway, this HEM thing is for techno-geek. My wife wouldn't be able to use it. I think we need a lot more improvement for mass adoption. This could be something that UlluTek would investigate in the future.
We got invited to participate in the new WI Innovation 25. Here's the official notice from WI Entrepreneurs Network:

Congratulations, you have been selected to participate in our premier Innovation 25 Pilot Program! 

You are joined by other technology-based companies (startup and existing) ranging from defense, advanced manufacturing, environmental, energy, and life sciences. The goal of Innovation 25 is to help you win federal funding for your innovative ideas, concepts, or projects using the federal $2.5 billion Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Programs; a vital source of non-dilutive capital.


In September, the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Network (WEN) was awarded a grant from the Small business Administration (SBA), Federal and State Technology Partnership (FAST) Program in partnership with the Wisconsin Department of Commerce, the University of Wisconsin System, and the University of Wisconsin ‐ Extension, Division of Entrepreneurship and Economic Development, to create and launch the Innovation 25 Pilot Program. WEN is extremely grateful for the financial and in kind support for the Innovation 25 Pilot Program.
UlluTek applied for WI Innovation 25 to get individualized coaching on how to apply for federal funding. This could be good for UlluTek as we are closer to get seed funding. It would be nice to get funding from the government. This way we don't have to dilute our equity until when we absolutely have to.
It's official. UlluTek is presenting at 2010 Wisconsin Early Stage Symposium. There are 42 early-stage companies in two tracks: WAN Track for companies seeking angel investment and beyond and Elevator Pitch Olympics for companies seeking seed funding. UlluTek will be in the WAN track with 19 other companies.
We are very glad to have Pehr Anderson joining our Board of Advisors. Pehr bio could be found Harqen website. Pehr is one of the key players driving the high tech entrepreneurial scene in WI. You can't go to a startup event in WI without someone mentioning Pehr. He will be very instrumental for UlluTek as we continue our adventure... And did I mention that he's a pretty cool guy?
MicroTCA proved to be a very challenging technology for us to do an open source. The advancement in processor (Atom servers anyone?) coupling with high cost for MicroTCA-based products could spell a death for a once promising technology. When I was still in the industry, I have pointed out to MicroTCA vendors that a $4K Pentium M blade is out of the question. Several years later, the price has not come down. It's hard for me to see how the technology could survive.

Fortunately in the past few months, we have shifted our focus to something more exciting. More to come in the near future.