(Attention: this post was written in mid-2008. I have no idea if the information in it is still applicable. Please make your own checks before sending any cheques.)
In certain circles there’s been a lot of excitement about the Current Cost, a meter that clamps to your mains electricity cable and measures how much power your household is using, comparing usage over time with numbers and little graphs. Evidence shows that having a device like this can save you 15% on your electricity bills. Plus it’s, you know, data.
What sets the Current Cost apart from its competition is the fact that on its underside is what looks like an RJ-45 port. This is entirely undocumented—neither the manual nor the website acknowledge that it exists—but geeks being geeks, there has been a flurry of enthusiasm and people bodging together cables to get the data off the machine and onto PCs and the web.
There’s no official software for this. We know the device spits out an XML packet every six seconds, and people have been grabbing that and feeding it into Google Charts or homebrew solutions. The Current Cost website gives a demo of an interesting-looking app which is apparently under development but not released yet. And it’s only a matter of time before people start aggregating their data using a service like AMEE, and then things get interesting.
The chief stumbling block till now has been the lack of a cable to physically get data from CC to PC. People have created their own—apparently it’s TTL to RS232,3.3V, running at 2400 baud—but I bring the glad tidings that you can put down your crimpers and Maplin catalogue because Current Cost sell data-cables to those in the know. Send a cheque or purchase order for £11.12 per cable (£7.95 + VAT and shipping) to:
Current Cost Ltd (attn: Steve Allen)
1 The Mews
Surrey GU7 1NN
And in the UK you can buy Current Cost from here, £28 plus shipping.
Not strictly games-related business, I know, but if we can turn data-gathering of this kind into a game-like behaviour, with status rewards for greatest improvement and so on, then energy-conscious behaviour ceases being a worthy chore and becomes something that you want to do. People used to game Last FM in the early days when it was still Audioscrobbler, running multiple simultaneous iterations of Winamp and iTunes to push their ‘tracks played’ total higher than anyone else’s, just to have the biggest number on the site. Pointless but fun.
If you engineer the same behaviour but use it to gather data that has a purpose, does it make it any less fun?
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