Busting Teenage Partying with a Fluksometer

On New Years Eve 2011 I was in Geelong at a restaurant, 800km from my home in Adelaide. This year I happened to be away from my children, who were staying elsewhere in Adelaide while I was interstate. My home was supposedly vacant. However I knew it was very hot in Adelaide that day (40C) and I wondered if this would affect my power consumption, for example an increased duty cycle on the fridge. I am just that sort of power-geek.

So I checked my Fluksometer via my 3G android phone. I was surprised to see 1000W being used since 1pm – about what my Air-con uses. I also noticed that around 7pm the power jumped by a few 100W, just like the lights had gone on, or perhaps the TV.

Looked like some one was in my home. On New Years Eve. Hmmmmmm.

The 24 hour plot below just was captured on (1 Jan) at 5:30pm, so it actually shows the tail end of the Dec 31 festivities. You can see the 1000W consumption until it shoots up around 1900 hours, then the rapid, parentally-induced decline at around 2030 hours as explained below…..

I was fortunate to be at the restaurant with a couple of people expert in these situations. Teenagers. They suspected “Party”. I was unsure. I called my beloved 16 year old daughter Amy to see if she “knew” anything about this phantom power problem. My gut feel was to call my mother (Amy’s grandmother) and ask her to visit my home but I thought I’d give Amy the benefit of the doubt. Amy said that she was at a friends house but would go around and check my house. She was not keen on using her grandmother to resolve the issue. Exactly 30 minutes later I received a text from her saying the air con and TV was on but she had switched them off.

By this stage half the restaurant (I was with a friend’s extended family) were crowded around my phone, watching the next development with excitement. My teenage brains-trust were calling “Party” but there was no way to know for sure. Sure enough the power drops, down to about 180W. About what the fridge motor uses. However curiously, there was none of the regular fridge cycling on and off. It was as if all the lights were off in the house but the fridge motor was running all the time to cool or freeze something.

I returned to Adelaide the next day (1 Jan). My home was very clean but I found a few tell-tale signs: disposable cups with sticky red liquid in them in one of the bins, a trace of the same red sticky stuff on my sink, and post it notes accidentally left on my fridge saying things like “Molly, you may have to open up another bottle”.

What happened to Amy? Well to be honest I wasn’t very mad, just curious about the mystery. I actually enjoyed the detective work side of guessing what was going on and finding supporting evidence. Bart, the inventer of the Fluksometer, was rolling on the floor laughing when I told him the tale.

All my friends knew about the incident so when Amy joined me in Geelong for the next week she was teased relentlessly. Eventually she came clean, and said:

“All my friends who didnt know Dad said ‘How could he do that? Who measures power from across the country’? Those that did know Dad said ‘He knows. Dont worry!'”

“When I realised we were busted there was a mass exodus. I was the last one out and could see a continuous line of teenagers stretched up the street over three blocks.”

One of Amys friends put it well: “You gotta get dumber parents Amy.”


Flukso Web Site
Flukso – Wifi Household Power Logging
Buying a Fluksometer in Australia

23 thoughts on “Busting Teenage Partying with a Fluksometer”

  1. Thanks for the story – I enjoyed reading it. My wife knows that I can tell the difference between hair dryer, kettle, dishwasher, oven and evaporative cooler, just by the shape of the hourly energy usage graph.

    When we were 2000km away, we could tell that friends had used our house one evening, with our permission. Hopefully your daughter learnt about the “permission” bit from this experience.

  2. Heh, nice.

    But did you ever find out what happened with the fridge? Maybe it had been left open for the duration of the party and was working hard to get back to temperature.

  3. Very awesome! We had our babysitter house sit out place last year when we had a little holiday, and SEGmeter told a very interesting story of the daily activities in the house.



  4. I’m betting the fridge door was open with a bunch of teens sitting clustered around it, both for cooling and a light source.

  5. This is so very cool Dave. I’m thinking you might want to be able to conference call your lounge room TV next. Give unexpected guests a remote welcome….”Hi there!!!”

  6. Next time, we will smash rocks together to make warmth and light so dad doesn’t find out.

    1. Amy, if your dad has temperature sensors in the house, then he could also tell that people were in the house. Next time, arrange the party for when your dad is home. Your friends might want to meet this dad who busted their last party.

      David, if you don’t already have temperature sensors, see DS18B20. The temperature graphs on 40C days are as interesting as power graphs. They also make you think about where all the heat is entering or leaving the house.

      1. I am with Russel on this. Amy next time you arrange a party at your place ask him to join you and your friends for a drink. Especialy if some of your friend are into electronics, programming and stuff like that.

    2. ROTFLMBO – Amy, you would do well to learn technology better and invent some sort of tracker blocker so your dad can’t read it well or something. Great story Dave. I know you’ll find out anyway! Thanks for the laughs both of you and for sharing the story!!

  7. Heh. Well done. When my wife and I went to Paris, we told our son that he could have a few friends over if he liked, but that there was to be no drinking and no partying. Mid week, my wife and I needed to offload some of our digital pictures from our cameras, so we found an Internet cafe near the Jardin du Luxumbourg. While I was shuffling cards around, my wife thought to check my son’s MySpace account (this was a couple of years ago). We were treated to page after page of photos of the party still going on in our house.

    We weren’t all that mad. We decided that we would pocket this particular bit of knowledge, and spring it on him for dramatic effect at some later date. It still gives me a chuckle.

  8. I like the fact that all the people in this story aren’t throwing tantrums or grounding people or, essentially, over-reacting. I like that Dad is more interested in the intellectual story, and that Amy hasn’t been grounded for a week; I love Amy’s rueful understanding that naturally her Dad would be monitoring power.

    May your family continue to be Basically Nice :)

  9. Great story. I found this blog a few years ago when you first started blogging about about your EV. I have always had had hideous electricity bills, so I have been pondering for a while about purchasing the FLM for a while. I figure if you can’t measure it you can’t improve it. Dropped my order in today. Can’t wait. My daughter is only 8. I figure I have a few years before I bust her for unauthorised parties!

  10. I have at least 20 single layer DVDs burned with FLAC 96kHz audio from an earth dipole which records the power grid. If you listen you can tell when the neighbor takes a shower and turns on their oil burner and when they use the vacuum cleaner. I use a Zoom H1 handy recorder and a nail in the ground outside my window hooked to the center pin coaxial protection on my power strip. You can tell when the TV is on (the harmonic structure of the hum changes) and on ELF radio when a washing machine is agitating. If you use a multi-stage comb filter you can hear when refrigerator compressors cycle on. If you’re brave you can take 2 one million ohm resistors and put one on each prong of a lamp cord and record audio off the electrical socket. However the interesting stuff is about 80 times quieter than the hum, so a good frequency tracking algorithm for a comb filter is a must. At 18 kHz you can tell when an oil burner comes on (on wall socket, earth dipole, and magnetic loop) because it makes a pulse lasting about 20 seconds.

  11. hmmm, Power and control go together, whether remotely applied or locally applied. Think of the energy used to facilitate the surveillance process, and how that energy was projected telematically to control others…

  12. Wow, this story is something new. Really goes to show what daily tech can be used to detect people. Would be bad is some bad people hacked into the monitoring system to find out if anyone’s home to rob them.

    Interesting story nonetheless

  13. Thank you for a wonderfully real teenage story David. I enjoyed a bit a giggle over it. I’m guessing Amy’s not such a bad ass then… and glad you took it so well as her Dad. Gotta love a person with a passion… a geek? (your word) No. Just someone with a brain and an enquiring, curious, experimental mind- bravo!. If only there were more ‘geeks’ in the world:)

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