Irrigation 2.0 with Rain8Net

The problem: Automatic sprinklers are great for convenience but waste a ton of water. You see businesses and neighbors running sprinklers during a rainstorm all the time–right? Rain conscious individuals can turn their sprinklers off when not needed, but you lose convenience and sometimes it is a pain to get back on track.

The solution: Rain8Net from WGL Designs, a PC with a serial port, and a little bit of Ruby programming.

Disclaimer: this post is a bit premature. I just got my Rain8Net last weekend and spent some time trying to program it. I plan to script the whole system so that it reads weather reports from the Internet to determine irrigation needs. That part isn’t ready yet. This is just an introduction to what I’ve discovered so far.

That being said, here is a sample of how to communicate with the Rain8Net via Ruby. (First, be sure to download and install the ruby-serialport library.)

require 'serialport.so'
tty = 0
rain8 = SerialPort.new(tty, 4800, 8, 1, SerialPort::NONE)
# Turn on Zone 1
rain8.write(["400131"].pack("H*"))
sleep(60)
# Turn off Zone 1
rain8.write(["400141"].pack("H*"))

WLG Designs has great documentation explaining what the various codes do. I am providing the code above as an example of how to implement the provided codes. (It took me many tries to get this far. Hopefully it will save someone else a bit of work.)

I plan to develop a Ruby library for use with the Rain8Net which will make it much easier to use. Watch for it…

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Build a Development Infrastructure…or buy a Mac

Disclaimer: Let me start out by saying I am not anti-Mac. That being said, I am very pro-Linux. I am not a Dell lover either. I just picked them for comparison.

As a web developer, I have found it extremely beneficial to have access to my own servers for development purposes. I have my own infrastructure for version control. I maintain my own DNS servers and can quickly provide access to a temporary site for clients.  While developing TheBigFork, I developed several long-running data cleanup scripts. These would not have been possible without an always-on server to do the work.

Great. So, what does that have to do with buying a mac? Nothing, really. I recently have become aware that more and more web developers (especially Ruby developers) are developing on a Mac. Frankly, I don’t get it. I’ve tried it, and it doesn’t come close to developing on Linux. But, that’s really a discussion for another day. This article is about price.

I compared the price of a MacBook Pro 17″ 2.5 gHz notebook with a collection of Dell machines. The MacBook is listed at $2799. For that much money, you could buy:

Seven Dell Vostro 200 desktops with a 20″ widescreen display and a 250 gig hard drive. These come with Windows XP, but you can easily reformat it and install Ubuntu or Fedora. Doing so opens up a whole world of freely available open-source software. (And, don’t argue that Linux isn’t ready for the desktop. If you can switch from Windows to Mac, you can easily make the switch to Linux.)

With 7 computers, you can hire a receptionist, bookkeeper and project manager and still have a few extra machines for some junior developers. Granted, these aren’t the most powerful machines out there and they probably aren’t worthy of acting as a server–unless you’re desperate.

Here’s another scenario. Buy a Dell PowerEdge 840 server plus a Dell Precision T4300 workstation (which alone rivals the macbook’s specs). The only problem is, you’ll have almost $1400 extra. I guess you’ll have to buy a Dell Latitude D830 laptop for working on-the-go, and a second 21″ monitor for your workstation. Wait–you still have extra money. So, grab a Vostro 200 from the previous scenario. Now you have four machines: a server, a high-powered 64-bit workstation, a nice notebook and an extra desktop for your assistant.

If you really need a laptop with more horsepower than the MacBook, just get the Precision M6300 mobile workstation instead of the workstation and notebook above. You’ll still have enough for a server and the spare desktop.

Finally, if computers aren’t your thing, put a down-payment on a nice new car!

Bottom line: Macs are very nice. To me, they are simply not worth the extra cash–especially when you have work to get done.

In case you’re wondering, the best Ruby IDE that I’ve found is Aptana Radrails which runs poorly on Mac and excellent on Linux. Textmate is the Ruby IDE of choice on Mac. I found it lacking in features and difficult to use.