Thursday, September 12, 2019

Winix AM90 Wi-Fi Air Purifier

Winix AM90 Wi-Fi Air Purifier, 360sq ft Room Capacity, Amazon Alexa and Dash Replenishment Enabled

I love my 2 Winix WAC9500 Ultimate Pet True HEPA Air Cleaner with PlasmaWave Technology filters. Been great for going on 5 years now. Been dry enough lately that the vent that pulls in cooler outside air at night into the computer room is pulling a fair bit of dust too.  So I decided to get a third. The WAC9500 is discontinued and none of the current models use the same filters. The Winix HR900 Ultimate Pet True HEPA PlasmaWave Technology Air Purifier, 300 Sq. Ft, White is the follow up to the 9500 but as far as I can see it does not clean the air much better than the AM90. It is even rated for a larger space.  So I bought an AM90 which is $100 cheaper and is supposed to work with Alexa. It also uses the filter, Winix 115115 Replacement Filter A for C535, 5300-2, P300, 5300, 5500 which I ordered once by accident for my 9500s. The filters the 9500s use, Winix 114190 Replacement Filter B for 9500, U300 Air Purifiers are also more expensive and use a plastic cassette that each replacement comes in and so makes for more plastic waste.


The setup via the android app was so bad I almost sent it back. Note the C545 model needs it own skill and app.

To get it to finally finish I had to:

  • Get the timing right to see the direct WiFi connection. (You have to connect before unit quickly times out)
  • Have the phone forget the 5Ghz WiFi
  • Let it use the default city as the location.

Took me about 5 tries to get all the way through, having to start over from scratch even after I could see it was connected to my network.

Even trying to change the city later caused the app to completely hang during search. So I ended up leaving it on the default as useless as that is.

Note the Alexa name entered into the app (as in Bedroom) is what shows in lists in the app though in the web interface it shows as Bedroom Winix Air Purifier. You will probably want a longer name, though you can change in the Alexa app later.

Alexa integration:

For Alexa to see the instructions say you have to enable 2 skills

Since I use a password manager I find linking accounts easier in the web interface. Be sure to select Approve before clicking submit.

The Winix Custom Skill is the old "Ask Winix" style.

The Winix Smart Home Skill is supposed to let you say "Alexa, turn on WINIX", "Alexa, increase WINIX" and "Alexa, decrease WINIX" Though this did not work for me. So I looked to create a routine to alias it. After not seeing it on the list at first ( showed as a a fan named bedroom) I decided to rename it.

I tried triggers of "more air" and "increase air" to turn up the cleaner bey neither worked. The less intuitive "full power" did. I then made a matching "half power" routine to set it back to normal.

Reviews complain about WiFi connectivity so I'll have to update after I've had it online for awhile.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Smart bulbs revisited.

In The right / best way to control a light I discussed how switches vs smart bulbs depends on install. Here I'd like to update with some of the experiences I've have with smart bulbs since then. To summarize here are my note in my compare sheet.

Note you can get some crazy cheap deals on SYLVANIA / Lightify / Osram stuff right now.
Like this $9 bulb and gateway bundle still on sale. I got a bunch to sample to eval on sale. For less than $75 I got 5 bulbs, a gateway, a motion sensor and 2 dimmers. Awesome deal except only the bulbs worked OK for me. I even bought the Sylvania Smart Home 74099 Sylvania LIGHTIFY Smart Switch 8 Functions/ 4 Buttons, White, still only $10, which did at least seem to work controlling the bulbs but is not seen by Homeseer and so can't be use as a general remote. Homeseer did see the bulbs and motion detector did turn the lights on most of the time it should though seldom off. The dimmers worked for a bit then died. They were not seen by Homeseer. So all in all pretty much a waste of money and time. Too bad give a 4 pack of white Lightify bulbs is going for as low as $16 onsale versus a 4 pack of Hues which go for around $40.  Though I did stumble a 6 pack once $50 a couple years back. Which brings us to price.

I see a lot of posts saying Hue bulbs are too expensive. I think that is mainly because people seem to compare the Hue color bulbs to white version by others. If you compare a 4-pack of white bulbs they cost about the same as Sengled Smart LED Soft White A19 Bulb 4-pack.  Or Cree 60W Equivalent Daylight (5000K) A19 Dimmable LED Light Bulb in the (6 Pack) compared at a per bulb price.  You even here people going on about the new Wyze bulbs but they are about the same price and do not work with anything other than the Wyze app.

I had planned on using then instead of upgrading the Hue gateways after Hue basically cut V1 one users off.

Other than the price I'm liking the Hue motion sensors more and more. Homeseer does not always seem to get non motion event updates from them but otherwise it is nice to have them automatically turn the lights full on and off without need of setting up events. Especially after having to redo all my lighting related events after the v1 to v2 upgrade.

The Lifx bulbs seem like a good alternative if you want to avoid getting a hub though the white bulbs cost more.  And like I've said above, the one I got for eval had a lot of issues. Still the outdoor BR bulbs with IR look interesting but if you do the math, unless you want to light your yard in color, even at the $50 sale price you can get a Z-Wave switch, 2 LED bulbs and a 2 serious IR floods for about the same price.  And the IR floods turn themselves on and off as needed automatically. If you want smart flood light bulbs, Hue has new outdoor bulbs. 2 for $50.  Still cheaper to go with 2 LED floods and a switch though.

Tp-link (kasa) bulbs cost even more and they require cloud access. I have a couple of their outlets I got on Prime sales for $5. The cloud link fails way too often.

Even the TRÅDFRI bulbs are more now.

Etekcity, while I like their smart plugs for non critical stuff. Very cheap and so they have been more reliable the the TP-link ones despite being cloud based as long as you call their API directly. Going through IFTTT stopped working awhile back. I don't know if they ever fixed it because talking directly was so easy to do. But their bulbs are more than the Hues so why?

Z-wave bulbs like Aeotec LED Bulb Gen6 Multi-White are even more.

There are more of course many others, some even cheaper than Hue but one of the main things to remember is what do they works with? So in the long run you will probably end up tossing them unless remote control via your is all you ever want.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Homeseer on a Raspberry Pi 4

I maind got a this as a second instance so I could test MyMonitor without risking corrupting my main instance monitoring and controlling my house, shop and barn.

I started with a CanaKit Raspberry Pi 4 Starter Kit - 4GB RAM The assembly instructions are non existent though. So here is a pic with the heat sinks and fan installed.

You might also want to get Cable Matters 2-Pack Micro HDMI to HDMI Adapter (HDMI to Micro HDMI Adapter) 6 Inches

It is a bit hard to see in the picture but the red wire of the fan to pin 4 and the black to 6. See chart next to board. The main HDMI port is the one next to the USB C (connected in pic). Once all assembled you can start with the instructions.

The HomeSeer HS3-Pi Install Guide has instructions for older versions so let me add changes. The image file will not even boot in the Raspberry Pi 4 so you need to start with the option 2 instructions. So use the SD card in the kit and do the basic install of Raspbian and basic config. You probably will want to enable ssh. I also pulled info from Correct Installation of HS3 Standard on Raspberry Pi 3

ssh to hostname
As in
ssh pi@HS3-pi4
sudo apt update
sudo apt install mono-complete
sudo apt install mono-vbnc
sudo apt install mono-xsp4

After installation, make sure you update the builds. Repeat this pair of commands several times to update all of the dependencies.
sudo apt update
sudo apt upgrade

Look at the install guide for the tar URL and get it with curl. For me its was
curl -O
Install HomeSeer: sudo tar xvf hs3_linux_<version>.tar.gz
As in
tar xvf hs3pi3_070319.tar.gz

The tar script creates the /home/pi/HomeSeer directory.

Instead of the way he did it in the post above, run (method 4 from Five Ways To Run a Program On Your Raspberry Pi At Startup)

Create a service config to start Homeseer on boot and stop it during shutdown. (Adapted from Autostart Homeseer on Linux)
Create the file /lib/systemd/system/homeseer.service and put the following in it.
Description=Homeseer Service



sudo chmod 644 /lib/systemd/system/homeseer.service

sudo systemctl daemon-reload
sudo systemctl enable homeseer.service
sudo systemctl start homeseer.service

sudo systemctl status homeseer.service

If no typos you should see something like this
root@HS3-pi4:/home/pi/HomeSeer# systemctl status homeseer.service
● homeseer.service - Homeseer Service
   Loaded: loaded (/lib/systemd/system/homeseer.service; enabled; vendor preset: enabled)
   Active: active (running) since Fri 2019-08-16 08:35:51 CDT; 6min ago
 Main PID: 2210 (autostart_hs)
    Tasks: 31 (limit: 4915)
   Memory: 32.0M
   CGroup: /system.slice/homeseer.service
           ├─2210 /bin/sh /home/pi/HomeSeer/autostart_hs
           └─2211 mono HSConsole.exe

Aug 16 08:35:51 HS3-pi4 systemd[1]: Started Homeseer Service.

Homeseer should now start when the system boots.

If you want to do the init.d method you will need to do this to get the screen command installed
sudo apt-get install screen

Open a browser and go to the hosts IP. For example mine is on so the URL is
The login and password were both default instead of homeseer/hsthsths3 the guide mentions.
That gets us to this screen

This is where I hit an issue. check_passwd called by this screen gets a Segmentation fault.

This appears to be a known issue. On page 4 I found a link to download the ARM version mentioned in the thread. Note you have to log in to download it.   That was not the issue though. Turns out the actual problem it looks for an linux user named homeseer with the hsthsths3 password. If the user is not found it gets a Segmentation fault. So adding a user with
sudo useradd -d /home/homeseer homeseer
sudo passwd homeseer

Once that is sorted, you should now see this

Clicking the link took me to the registration page

Note the number is your License and the other is the password.
Next fill in the user info form

Note you can ignore this and start adding your devices or restoring from a previous setup if you want.

Note found another issue. 

Lastly go to setup, check for updates and install if found.

Seems when updates try and run the system goes down and you have to manually restart it. Update: this was a issue with the After line of homeseer.service which I corrected above.
sudo systemctl start homeseer.service
Also it seems to want me to change the System password again and shows the update did not happen.

To help debug this I ended up changing to this
sudo rm hslinux_zees2_3_0_0_$1.tar.gz
sudo wget -o install.log$1.tar.gz
sudo tar xavf hslinux_zees2_3_0_0_$1.tar.gz 2>&1 >> install.log
sudo chmod +x
sudo ./ 2>&1 2>&1 >> install.log

and ran it from the command line. This time the update seemed to take. I'm thinking the issue is it starts the update before the system has fully shutdown. From the first few tries I can see it is running and is extracting the tar like it should. So failing to overwrite a file in use would seem the only explanation. Status shows it appears to be calling systemd to shut it down but not to start it back up. But then when I ran from the command line Homeseer was already down. The other scripts start with a 20 second wait. So I created a reports folder
mkdir /home/pi/HomeSeer/html/reports
(So you can then get the latest update log at http://HOST_IP/reports/install.log)
and changed to this

while [ $counter -gt 0 ]
 sleep 1
 counter=$(($counter - 1))
sudo rm hslinux_zees2_3_0_0_$1.tar.gz
sudo wget -o /home/pi/HomeSeer/html/reports/install.log$1.tar.gz
sudo tar xavf hslinux_zees2_3_0_0_$1.tar.gz 2>&1 >> /home/pi/HomeSeer/html/reports/install.log
sudo chmod +x
sudo ./ 2>&1 >> /home/pi/HomeSeer/html/reports/install.log
systemctl start homeseer.service 2>&1 >> /home/pi/HomeSeer/html/reports/install.log
systemctl status homeseer.service -l 2>&1 >> /home/pi/HomeSeer/html/reports/install.log
This seems to work OK but I can't test it form the web interface till the next update comes through.
Note the update you get says it is for the Zee.

To finally sort the System password issue I went and changed the homeseer password back to the default hsthsths3 from the command line
sudo passwd homeseer
Then submitted the change password form with hsthsths3 in the first field and my selected new password in the others.

Other info


You will see these error in status
Aug 17 13:22:51 HS3-pi4 autostart_hs[6101]: /home/pi/HomeSeer/./ 2: /home/pi/HomeSeer/./ flite: not found
I'm not using speech on mine but if you want to, you might want to start here. I tried this which is a newer version but it did not seem to work for me. Though I'm not getting any sounds from other stuff either like youtube videos so the issue is probably the Pi4. Tried this to fix the sounds but did not help.


If you want to mount to or from a Windows PC. Good for copying over images and scripts for example. Based on this post.
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install samba samba-common-bin smbclient cifs-utils
mount my main Homeseer on on my test instance with user dea's permissions.
sudo mkdir /HS3
sudo mount.cifs "// HS3" /HS3 -o user=dea
copy over missing image files
cd /HS3/html/
find ./images/ -type f -print | cpio -pvmd /home/pi/HomeSeer/html
Copy over missing scripts
cd /HS3
find ./scripts/ -type f -print | cpio -pvmd /home/pi/HomeSeer

Sunday, August 11, 2019

My first home automation system.

Technically my first home automation hub was a CP-290 clear back in 1980 but my first real hub that supported both programmed events and more than just X10 was the TimeCommander Plus. In Aug of 2016 I finally took it off line and post the following to Facebook. It popped up in my memory feed today so I thought I should add it here. I never did retask it. Instead I've used door sensors with dry contacts and an alarm panel linked into my Homeseer system. Links and photo caption added.

Retired a bit of history the other day. This is my old TimeCommander Plus which was my home control at the old house for a decade and was later retasked as an alarm system in the new house. I finally let it go and replaced it with several Z-wave devices when the last Windows XP PC gave out since it was going to be a major rewrite to get it going on Windows 10 or Linux. It was almost state of the art in the late 1990s when I bought it and still works. Though these days there is just too much interference from other devices for X10 stuff to be usable. I might still make the effort to retask this yet again seeing as how current home controllers do not seem to see the point of wired inputs and outputs. I have not found anything that has close to the 16 digital inputs, 8 analog inputs and 8 digital outputs this has.
TimeCommander Plus with addons.
TimeCommander Plus with addons. The relay was for a delay system to slow hold output from the rain fall monitor it was connected to long enough so polling would not miss triggers. The extra terminals made wiring up power to all the alarm sensors form a central power source easier.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Installing Linux has become fun again

What happened

Been a "fun" week. The mom board in my main CentOS PC died.

Based on past experience I grabbed a older PC I'd been using to test deploy options for my co-hosted servers and swapped in the drives and would it not boot. Swapped back and found it too had taken this time to die. Found a slightly better PC online and got it and matching memory rush shipped. FedEx delivered it to the local fire station instead of my house. By the time FedEx got back to me about where it was I'd already called the local Frys and had them coming with and even better, and more expensive, PC. All that to give you an idea the fun level I was at when I started trying to use the new PCs to recover from my initial server failure.

So I had 2 PCs to work with 

Refurbished: Acer Desktop Aspire TC TC-780-UR11 Intel Core i7 7th Gen 7700 (3.60 GHz) - 8 GB DDR4 - 1 TB HDD - Windows 10 Home

Dell Inspiron 3670 Desktop PC with Intel Core i7 Processor - 8GB Memory - 16GB Optane Memory + 1TB HD - Windows 10

Plus memory that should work in either.
Crucial 32GB (2 x 16GB) 288-Pin DDR4 SDRAM DDR4 2400 (PC4 19200) Desktop Memory Model CT2K16G4DFD824A

Each came with an 8 GB SIMM so one would think I was set to have a 32 GB in one and 16 GB in the other.

First off I wanted to get the data backed up which was its own adventure.

The steps boiled down to:
get the volume group id with
In this case AQjjAr-C4Lg-O3qX-Y0RN-hsme-IqFf-h4PrAC
Since both the host system and the one I was wanting to back up were both centos I had to rename the second one to something else. I used centos2
vgrename -v AQjjAr-C4Lg-O3qX-Y0RN-hsme-IqFf-h4PrAC centos2
You will probably need to make it active
vgchange -ay
Make a mount point. I used /asusl (the hostname)
mkdir /asusl
Mount root and home
mount /dev/centos2/root /asusl
mount /dev/centos2/home /asusl/home
Backup to with something similar to this. Where /Syn12/Backup is my mounted back drive and AsusL is the folder for this host.
cd /asusl
find . -type f -print | grep -v "/dev/"| grep -v "/.cache/" | grep -v "/.minishift/" | cpio -pvmd /Syn12/Backup/AsusL/ 2>&1 | grep -v "newer" 2>&1 > /Syn12/Backup/AsusL/cpio.out

Putting it back

Now to rename it back you need to put in a system without a vg named centos. This probably means the target PC booted from a "Live" CentOS image.

But this only works if that PC you are putting the drive into is an older one. Because as I found out ....

Things sure have changed

But it seems UEFI has changed a bit since the newest model Linux PC I have was made. They have added all kinds of safe guards to the Dell BIOS which block booting from anything. Add to that it seems there are also issues with the video chips in the Dell. Then too there seems to be issues with SpeedStep and TurboMode which the Asus does not seem to let you disable. Which means the Asus probably can't be used. So I gave up on it and focused on the Dell. Oh and some have reported issues RAID / disk drivers which might be why I never got any image to boot from the DVD.
I had to "burn" those same images to USB sticks with Win32 Disk Imager to get them to boot and run.

After trying all kinds of suggested options, I finally got it to load the install program and even install onto the drive by disabling UEFI support. But then the Dell would not boot from the HD. A bit more fiddling I got it to boot from USB with UEFI enabled (with some errors) but it could not see the HD. BIOS did see it but would not let me added it to the secure boot list. The PC will only boot from the files in this list. An entry looks like this.

And you can't add any "legacy" internal devices to the list. The last magic bit was to turn off "RAID mode". Since there is really only room for one spinning drive in the system I'm not sure why it was on much less has any effect.

More issues

So at first I tried the HD from the spare PC to see it there might be something I was missing or some way to "repair" the actual drive. Once I sorted the above it seemed to install OK but I still had the issue it did not seem to want to let me add the HD boot file to mistake it for the one on the smaller drive. Granted I could maybe hack it by going through some more girations to clone the boot partition  from the small drive onto the large drive but this many days in it seemed like good time after bad. So I decided to go for broke and reinstall on the large drive. It is backed up after all. Though I'll still need to setup apps. Not only that, but install the 32 GB of memory and the ZOTAC GeForce 8400GS graphics card - GF 8400 GS - 512 MB from the old server. But the system would not even boot with the video card in there. Not sure if it is a power supply issue (which appears to only be 240 watts and proprietary) or that it is an X16 card (the specs do not  say it is an x16 slot though it is the right size and some have posted that they got X16s to work). So I stuck in an old GTX720 I had. (I do not plan to do any serious graphics on there anyway.) That at least booted. However the CentOS 7.6 installer could not start X on it. I did not want to install in text mode and then maybe not have the graphics drivers installed so I keep tweaking. I finally had to go into BIOS settings with the cable connected to the GTX card and set it to use the motherboard's Intel 630 as the primary and move the cable while it rebooted. Once installed though X does appear to use the GTX OK once I set the primary video back to auto. So probably yet another driver issue.

Below are the settings I ended up with.

Note some of these need to be changed one at a time and in order. For instance you can not disable legacy ROMS till legacy boot has been disabled and options saved. Alert will pop up if you try telling you where the conflict is.

SpeedStep disabled

Secure boot enabled

PTT off (unselected)

Disable legacy stuff

Now to reinstall the other stuff that was on there:


Install basic LAMP stack

Note I found I also needed to open the ports after this to get to the web server from another PC. Commands for this are:
firewall-cmd --zone=public --add-port=80/tcp --permanent
firewall-cmd --zone=public --add-port=443/tcp --permanent
firewall-cmd --reload


installed modules userAdmin, samba, apache, mysql, exports-nfs4, fetchmail, firewalld, 

NTP server 

to keep time check requests local and synced to same source.


Followed the instructions and copied over my old web pages and data which seemed to have broken httpd. Tried to repair by installing packages as httpd said they were missing:
sudo yum install mod_session -y
sudo yum install mod_form -y
sudo yum install mod_auth_gssapi -y
sudo yum install mod_auth_kerb -y
sudo yum install mod_nss -y
sudo yum install python-pip mod_wsgi -y

Create and install a self signed cert
Commented out iRedMail, RoundCube and AwsStats stuff and got http up again. This time with TLS support.

Then removed Weewx and started with fresh install because something was still missing. It appeared part of the app was looking for Python 2 stuff and other bit Python 3.  Did a manual reconfig and was up and running.
Note when you run 
sudo wee_config --reconfigure
be careful. The backspace key gets recorded and shows on the web pages as an unknown character.

Looked at the instructions on migrating my DB and template customizations from the old version I was on to the current one looked like a week's worth of work. Did not think it would have changed that much.

Using the WeeWX Customization Guide I added add the soil moisture station though it is on its last legs. To do that I needed to edit my /etc/weewx/skins/Seasons/skin.conf  and /etc/weewx/skins/Seasons/index.html.tmpl. Seasons it the default template now.

Might wait on the rest of this too. I was about to try Shinobi's NVR on that system before it cratered. Got a few things ahead of that in the queue now.

Install iRedMail

RoundCube mail

Install AwsStats 

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Transferring Hue v1 hub to v2 after the app split.

Note I'm using hub here though it is better described as a bridge or gateway. Since it is most often called a hub I'm using that here.

Wish I'd got more screen grabs but the app seemed so touchy I did not want to risk trying so I just snap pics with my other phone (on 3rd try while standing on a ladder in the dimly lit barn).

So first you had to reconnect all your v1 hubs to the new v1 only app after they stripped support for them from the main app. If like me, you interface with your Hues via third parties like Homeseer, Harmony, Alexa, Google Home ect. you might have not even noticed till you, again like me, went to add something. The instructions on line and this video look straight forward but also out of date since each app only sees a version of hub. You will notice the comments on that video mention the transfer option is gone now and not solutions have been posted. (I'll add a link to this post).

So here is what worked for me.

After doing all this below for the first hub I discovered it only works if you have multiple v1 hubs! I'd already connected 2 of my v1s because I changed my mind about which I was going to do first. Fortunately I have 3 v1 hubs so no biggie. If you only have one to transfer you might want to pick up a used one for the transfer. They are going for about $30 as I write this. Alternatively you could move each device one at a time. All depends on the number of devices you have and what your time is worth to you.

Update you might not need a second v1 hub!

While transfering my 3rd Hue v1 to v2 I still got the transfer message when readding the v1 to the v1 app even though at the time it did not see the "spare v1 hub".  So you might want to try the below without a second v1 hub first if you would need to buy one.

Before you start

If you have third party logic (could be calls routines,events, scenes actions ect.) using the devices on you Hue v1 hub(s) make sure you  note where they are used. You might need this later on as some apps will delete the references to this objects in the logic. For example this was just one of mine.

You might want to make a note of the IP addresses of your hubs too in case you need them.

Making the transfer

Make sure you have both the Hue v1 and v2 apps on your phone.
Take your phone, a small paper clip or pin and the new v2 hub to where the v1 hub you want to transfer is as you will need to press the buttons on the hubs.
Connect your phone to the same network the hubs will be on.
If needed add at least 2 v1 hubs to the v1 only app.
Do NOT add the v2 to the v2 app yet.
Put the v2 hub on the same network
Do another search for new hubs in the v1 app.
It will say it found a v2 hub and give you an option to download the v2 app.
Ignore that and you should see a transfer option even though the v2 hub does not show.
Note you may need to reset the v2 hub. If so instructions should pop up to show you show but the leave out you need to hold the rest till the lights blink. Any lights devices linked to this hub will be disconnected.

Next it wants you to reset the v1 hub.
Then you are done

Clean up

After the transfer is complete add the hub to the new Hue app.
If you had devices linked to the v2 hub you will now want to readd them. Search probably will not find them so you will probably want to use the serial number.
I later found this post describing how you can use a Hue dimmer to reset the bulb so you can scan for it.

You will probably need to add the new v2 hub to all the third party interfaces. Remember this means you will need to again press the button on the Hue hub and have access to the interface you are linking too.

Adding the new hub to third party interfaces will probably create all new device instances in those apps which will need to swapped into any logic using those devices. In my case this was more of an issue with Alexa than Homeseer.

Update 8/26/2019:

For added fun Hue pushed out an update that broke Homeseer (and probably other) integration.  The developer of the Homeseer JowiHue plugin has scrambled to deal with the change being released early. Note the beta plugin to get things working again seems to dup all your groups and the bulbs now only seem to turn on but not off so you will need to waste time cleaning up and redoing any JowiHue device events. See the support forum for details.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

If you think your device is spying on you, then you are missing the point.

Why does this keep coming up? No one buying a $25 cam or < $50 voice assistant is a hot ad target. Much less a blackmail target. Just think about it for a second and it is obvious. It all comes down to ROI. Processing audio much less video to the point of getting data points out of it is costly. Note devices are getting more powerful all the time. Processing is moving from the cloud to the device. So not long from now it might be cost effective to pull ad data from every word heard by a speaker but right now it is not. Note too even with local recog the assistant needs a wake word / phrase to know it is being talked to to pull that voice from the stream of other voices (like a TV or radio) surrounding it.

Streaming audio, much less video, 24/7 is going to get noticed. Lots of people have looked at the traffic on these devices and found nothing unexpected. Note Wyze used to use servers in China but people complained about it right away and they switched to US servers. But in the posts I mainly see it is "someone told me that it was doing X." Or some sort of vague thing like I talked about this thing and then saw an ad for it. Usually something not all that unusual for them to see an ad for.

However IF the makers of these devices were going to do something malicious the odds are MUCH more likely they would be used as bots for attacking REAL targets. As in companies and agencies. Either for extortion or brute forcing access. An even greater worry ought to be that these cheap devices probably are not that secure and might be pulled into a third parties botnet. Either way unless it is activated you would not expect to see any significant traffic. Note though, while you might be a "real" target, there are lots of script kiddies out there that might just use you to learn on and or try stuff out before going after a real target. They hit my websites and bang against my home firewall all the time. And since they do not know what they are doing they can REALLY screw things up if they get access.

That said if you give a damn about your data security you ought to have decent network gear that lets you monitor traffic and put your IoT on a network isolated from data you care about. Allow no inbound traffic and on the IoT network only allow outbound traffic as need. As a rule cameras should talk to nothing outside your network other than any cloud storage they might be linked to. On your data network you should be using a DNS that at minimum filters known bad actors. That is just life in the 21st century. Like door locks in the 20th.

Or just hope for the best and not worry about it. There is NO point in worrying about something without doing something about it much less doing any research. After all I hear some people still happily leave their doors unlocked.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Alexa vs Google revisited.

As so many of these this started as a reply to a question on a Facebook group. In this case what is up the Google Assistant and Homeseer? After a rather lengthy response I thought I should flesh it out even more an post it here. I'm just comparing my experience living with them nt side by side features. In my opinion both Amazon and Google are trying to push hard into siloed home automation which is just wrong. Interoperability is the future and local control is a must. Expect to see local (cloud independent) voice assistants REAL soon.

I find I'm using Google Home less and less. Mainly I use Home when Alexa is one of her moods (had another badly weighted update pushed) but things seem to have peaked with Google Home.
For an example it used to be "tell Harmony to turn on TiVo."
Then is was just "turn on TiVo"
But then "Turn on TiVo" got you "Do you want to use Harmony for that?" "Yes". In diff voice "Turning on TiVo".
Then "Turn on TiVo" got you "Do you want to use Harmony for that?" "Yes." "I don't recognize your voice."
Now back to "Tell Harmony to turn on TiVo." and half the time it says it does not recognize my voice. Which is even more irksome considering how often it responds to someone on the TV or a podcast just saying Google without even the hey. Not to mention all the times I'm not sure what triggered it.

Sorry but having to remember which thing this week to ask to turn something on or off on top of the name for the thing I had to give it so it did not sounds like something else, is just is not going to get you market share. Especially if it keeps telling me it will not do stuff cause it does not recognize my voice. Granted maybe if I spent more time tweaking it I could improve it a bit but that kind of misses the point of it and I've not had to mess with Alexa other than adding devices and alias TV to TiVo after one especially bad update. Though I have to admit recently I added my "Good morning" "routine" so instead of just telling Homeseer to put the house in day mode it also tells me some fun fact and the weather.

I should note too Google is more likely to false trigger and to just not respond than Alexa if it does not know what to do. So it might be having trouble listening when you think it is down. Though Alexa is getting more like Home in that respect. I keep the notification sounds on so I know when they think they heard something but ignored it. Which is why I just do not get people that complain about Alexa saying OK. But then I work in IT so I kind of expect a certain amount of errors. Like saying "thank you" to end a follow on sequence it just makes sense from a programmer's mindset.

Anyway contrast the above with Alexa will generally get a voice command at least by the third try if I have not triggered it some other way before that. Some responses just make you go huh? Like the other yesterday when I said "Alexa , turn on video", a command to switch my main video stream from the triggered security cams back to what I was watching and unpause. Her response, "I can not find a device named lamp." Then too I started putting Echo buttons about as backups / quicker response for things like sending OK / Select to the device currently playing video or signalling the house to go into away mode. They light up green instead of saying OK so you know the command got through. Used to have an Echo button for TiVo skip too before they made that automatic. Planning on getting some more Prime day. Note you can only pair 4 to an Alexa and they are only reliable to around 20 feet though a wall. At 2 for $14 (on sale price) hard to beat for when you just need an easy to hit button. Like advancing to the next show while washing dishes with the volume up. Both seem able to pick your voice out of impressive levels of room noise but you can only expect so much.

Note too IFTTT has been having a ton of issues with Homeseer, among others, lately. So I wonder sometimes which end it is truly on. Or if maybe something in the middle is the iffy bit. Which why you always have back methods for every trigger no matter the interface. Even the local ones.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Answer to what can I do with X?

Another post I'm seeing a lot lately, especially with Wyze adding sensors and bulbs to their line up, is what can I do with X? This of course is backward thinking, trying to find a problem for a solution. You don't hear about a great plastic surgeon and then start asking people what you ought to get fixed. You go looking for a plastic surgeon when you think surgery is the fix for a problem you have. In the same way you dive into home automation to make some aspect of your life easier that is troubling you. Odds are you are not going to be happy with the outcome of finding a problem for your solution. But you a good solution to a problem is always a joy.

So the first thing you want to do is come up with a list of things you would like to fix / make easier in your life. Don't worry about if there is something out there to do it or how hard you think it might be. That comes later. Also go overboard here. You will probably find automation is out there is more capable than you thought. For example you might be thinking you would like to be able to turn lights on and off with your voice but wouldn't really like those lights to turn of when you enter and off when you leave all own their own and only use voice control as a backup? The cost difference between remote / voice control and automation is not that much when you are talking more than a couple things.

Prioritize that list.

Next do some research to find what options you have to automate each of those options. Be sure to note costs and needed skills for each option. (Some options might require coding or even hardware modification though most probably will not.) Also lean toward local control, works without talking to a cloud service, where possible.

Now see which hubs and devices (that work together) solved the most problems for YOU in the easiest way. There will probably be compromises to be made at this point. Note you want to lean toward devices that work with the most hubs so you are less likely to need to replace them later when you upgrade. And yes you will need to upgrade or abandon your setup at some point. That is just the state of the world. See Is the cloud over? for just some of the examples of services and devices that have gone away recently. Also drives home why you want to avoid cloud services for your logic whenever possible since there have been many more outages than shutdowns.

Lastly make a plan how start and grow. Odds are you will need a logic hub (as in SmartThings, Wink, Vera, Hubitat or Homeseer not gateway hubs like Hue. Lightify or Google Home) to start even if you plan to start with just remote / voice control unless you are OK with starting over later. Depending on the logic hub you start with this might be a significant outlay in money and or time. So go for the highest priority problem on your list you think you can tackle. Note however you might want to start with an easier one if that top one requires you to learn new skills or depends on equipment needed for other solutions as well. You want to avoid having to recode, repair or replace if possible. For example if controlling lights if top priority you might want to start with a Hue gateway and bulbs and a basic voice assistant. Then you could add all the Hue devices to a logic hub without having to repair all the devices directly as you would have had to do if you bought one of the voice assistants with a built in gateway. If you had gone with "works with" bulbs or switches you would probably need to replace them when you upgrade to logic hub.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Dakota mailbox and driveway alert system

I started this awhile back. Then the Dakota receivers became unavailable so I thought I'd wait till the new model came out. Unfortunately after talking to Guardline it appears that will not be happening. It sounds like there will be no compatible receiver coming. Probably no new model with multiple relay outs either though they hinted a model that talks to home automation might be in the works. So I figured I should go ahead and post this for those that want to snap 2500 up before they are gone. Guardline does make a model with 1/4 mile range and talks to 16 sensors but only 1 relay out. You are expected to memorize which tone means what of  those 16 areas was triggered.

Most Dakota 2500 receiver bundles are now going for several times the MSRP.  For example the receiver / contact sensor I used in my mailbox was just $75 a little while back. At the time I'm writing this the cheapest option is to get the underground bundle from Guardline directly for $240 and toss the sensor unless you need it and add contact sensor for $35. (While you can. Some are already trying to get over $80 per sensor.)  After a fair bit of research I'm not finding any decent replacement options as Dakota seems to have been to only one with multiple relay outs much less also supports contact sensors or talks directly to home automation. So you best option now for a mailbox sensor is to buy a 4000 bundle for each sensor you wish to install at like $90 a piece though those have no relay out. After distributors clear the last of the Dakota 2500 stock there might not be an option for awhile so I broke down and bought a "backup receiver" and several sensors. I wanted to add more sensors to the south field anyway with all the "interesting creatures" (deer, cows, wild? pigs, coyotes....) passing through there lately so finding them on video is easier. PIR motion sensors can be way more sensitive without the false alarms most video systems can give you since they see heat diffs. Of course you want both for best results.(See Paranoia definitely pays when it comes to recording.) Hopefully by the time one goes there will be better options. Or at least by the time both go. Kind of amazed there isn't one already.

Update: after ordering the above mentioned receiver / probe bundle I found the receivers on their own for just $70. The site is damn slow. I ordered yet another one at that price so I should be good and well covered. But they just cancelled the order.

Update: Dakota has release a 4000 series receiver (RE-4000 Plus) which has 2 relay outputs. It support 16 sensors each with its own chime type. It still not the one relay per sensor of the 2500 but better than 1 for all of them. And it still will not use 2500 series sensors of course.

Here are the parts I used:
Dakota Alert UTDCR-2500 Duty Cycle Universal Kit, One UT-2500 & One DCR-2500 (see update above)
Dakota Alert DCMT-2500 Transmitter 2500' (Green)
Dakota Alert 2500 Wireless Motion Detector, Black (PR-2500)
Dakota Alert UT-2500 2500 Wireless Universal Transmitter
Dakota Alert DCPT-2500 Duty Cycle Probe Transmitter 2500'
Dakota Alert BBA-2500 Break Beam Alert Kit, One BBT-2500 & One DCR-2500 (Note was same price as beam sensor alone)

Step2 531700 MailMaster StoreMore Mailbox
Ecolink Z-wave Plus Rare Earth Magnets Door & Window Sensor, White & Brown (DWZWAVE2.5-ECO)
ALEKO 5BS-MC13S-M 5 Sets of Magnetic Contact Reed Switches Security Alarm Contacts For Doors Windows and Other Applications
I would suggest upgrading the door switches to
SM-226L-3Q Seco-Larm Overhead Door Mount N.C. Magnetic Contact w/ 3 Wires for N.O./N.C. Applications
And adding a deck box for parcels with signage.

Battery life

In the just weird department, the battery ran out in my first Dakota Alert DCMT-2500 Transmitter after almost a year. I stuck in a new battery and it kept tripping constantly. Even though the battery tested OK I put a newer one in and it worked fine. I'm guessing I just got a bad battery. Almost two years on now I've only needed to replace a battery in one of the motion sensors since.


Should be pretty straight forward. Just follow the instructions for setting channels on the sensors to pair the with the receiver. Wire the Ecolink sensors to the relay outs on the receiver and pair the Ecolinks with your home automation. Here is an example of how trigger Blue Iris cams when a Dakota sensor is tripped.

Pic of Ecolink insides with terminals showing.

Sensor mounted inside. Running the wire inside the shell would look better and probably hold up better but there is not easy way to do it without making some good sized holes in the shell. Note a switch on each door wired in series to sensor.

After being swiped by semi truck pulling out.

Snapped back together almost cannot tell it was hit.
I turned it around after this (effectively moving it back close to a foot) and added a more signage for all the delivery drivers that could not figure out all mailboxes in rural areas are on one side of the street.
I also have a similar set up in the parcel box just inside the gate along with motion sensors to tell me if some one / thing comes through the gate and if they decide to go up the driveway to the house.

Why 2 signs? Because with just one things like this happen.

I suggest you seal the holes in the parcel box as things may nest in there. I almost grabbed the snake that left this skin behind when I reached in for a package the day before. Note the sand looking stuff is Snake-B-Gon.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Why female voice assistant?

Scifi female computer and androids generally good and male ones generally bad.


Hitchhikers diff school marm vs Eddie.

Like black pres scfi more of an experiance / memory thing than sexist / racist thing.

Is the cloud over? (And some related EOL issues.)

I posted the other day how IFTTT has been getting damn iffy lately and services have been changing and going under so I though maybe a list might be in order. At least the ones I know of.

Back on September 18, 2015 I started a Facebook group for the people affected by FitBit deciding to discontinue support for custom trackers and even a couple non custom ones with little notice and no way to export that data. I scrambled and built a scrapper for people to get their data off before they shut down the pages. Fitbit eventually added the custom trackers to their data export a while after they shut them down but everyone that had been using those trackers had to find a new service to use. Generally at a higher cost. 

Since then this what I've seen / dealt with:

Sleep Tracking Startup Zeo Says Goodnight

Awesome device just poorly marketed. Technically they went under in 2013 but people the app still worked and you could still buy them as late as 2016. I got mine from the bankruptcy reseller while there seems a possible comeback. There was some effort buy users to support and enhance the app and make replacement bands. Looks like there might even be a couple bands on eBay yet. Basically dead as a product not though.

Lowes' Iris vapor API and devices that never came 2014

I bought one of the v1 hubs in the home security bundle only to find most of the devices on display in the store and on the website were not actually available. IT also turned out you could not do much of anything without a monthly subscription. The company often talked about the coming API but it never appeared.

Lowes' Iris forced conversion from v1 to v2 2015

A few things that glossed over were:
You had to "upgrade"
You had to give them a credit card and sign up for a subscription to do the upgrade.
A lot of the v1 sensors and devices where not supported by the v2 hub.
And some other things pointed out by users.

Google Drive downsize sort of upgrade 2015

I bought a Chromebook Dec 2014 that came with a TB of Google Drive space. Instead of adding a year of service on they added a second TB of space. I had almost 1 TB of used space on Drive at that point so that was great. Over the next year I added about 500 GB more thinking I could just pay for both after the free year was up. But instead my option was to remove 500+ GB or pay for 10 TB which was alos 10 times the price. So I scrambled to research for the best alternative and then moving ~600 GBs to Amazon. Also about this same time they came out with a new version that you still had to switch back to the older legacy version to use some features.

Safety Recall of all Basis Peak watches 2016

Loved this. You could download temp and heart rate data at 5 minute intervals. But they had a few batteries go bad back before that was such a common thing and they panicked. At least they refunded everyone that sent it back before the service shutdown. I wore mine up about the last day I could. As I recall I kind of made out on this one as I got mine refurbed, wore it a good year before getting more than I paid for it back.

Withings to Nokia and back again. 2016-2018

Nokia acquired Withings in 2016 and then sold it back in 2018 causing ripples in service.

Charter Communications Merges with Time Warner Cable 2016-2019

Being able to log into partnered sites like where messed up for a long time.

Crashplan deciding to ditch the home market. 2017

They suggested people either move to a business plan at a higher cost or go to Carbonite which I left for Crashplan because their app kept resetting before I could get my data up there. Fortunately they honored plans already paid for and I had about 2 years paid ahead at that point so it was not total panic but the Home plan had been unlimited for multiple PCs. The business plan wa my the TB. I had ~ 5 TB on there so my prices was going to go up about 5 times.

Amazon ends its unlimited cloud storage plan 2017

Got Drive files moved to Amazon and notified people of the new locations to find their files (house concert footage of local bands I recorded for them). Since the plan was 
unlimited I started backing up files going to Crashplan there too. Was close to getting about 4 TB up there when they announce they would be switching to 1 TB for the same price unlimited had been. So again I was looking at a 5 X jump to stay.

Google Voice half upgrade ~2017

Around this time they also "upgraded" Google Voice. Again you had to switch back to the old version to do some tasks and still need to now in 2019.

Wunderground devolution 2017-?

It seems to have started a bit after IBM acquired The Weather Channel who had acquired Wunderground in 2012.  They started redesigning the site. It seems after a while they decided to start dropping features instead of rewriting them. My first personal issue was not being able to get my Netatmo station linked to my account. Things really went downhill when they tried to shutdown webcam support. The backlash was so intense they changed their mind on that one at the last minute. Since then though they seem to be pushing nightly builds without any testing as bugs will appear, go away and then come back. And features seem to keep going away. The latest announced feature drop, as of this writing, is dropping the free tier version of API key. This really impacted the home automation communities.

G+ shutdown 2018

After jamming G+ into all their apps then ignoring it they decided to rip it back out which required creating profiles in some apps and other issues like circles going away in Voice. Not to mention needing to convert all the posts there to a new platform or lose them.

SmartThings / Samsung merger mess 2018-?

Samsung decided to merge SmartThings account with their by making them convert to Samsung accounts and new apps. This after SmartThings had already required people to start over when "upgrading" from a version 1 hub to a version 2. No migration plan like other hub.

Amazon Wand 2018

While technically still alive and even for sale but these were never supported all that well and it is a rare day now they can even get a connection to a server.

Facebook stops automated posting 2018

Affected IFTTT applets made the news but it also hit other third party integrations.

Gmail / IFTTT split 2019

IFTTT being able to trigger on an email was how a lot of things worked so while it was just a subset of features in terms of usage it was major.

Beddit Cloud shutdown 2018

Mine actually died shortly before this so it was not as big a deal but still needed to scramble yet again to save what data I could. On the plus side Withings came out with a similar but better device recently that works pretty good.

Scanadu to shut down support for its Scout device per FDA regulation and customers are mad 2016

Not a great device but had promise. Unfortunately they basic just dumped it on customers then moved on to the next thing without ever collecting any feedback or anything.

Microsoft HealthVault service to end November 20, 2019

Google said it would kill its Works with Nest program 2019

Google acquired Nest back in 2014. Tried to sell it off in 2016. And now appears to be trying to boost their Google Home Hub by make it THE Nest gateway.

Near misses

Things I thought about investing time and or money in but did not really get the chance.

Nest is permanently disabling the Revolv smart home hub 2016 

Fortunately I did not add this one to the hubs I tried.

Jawbone 2017

Mine died fairly quickly so I'd already returned it for refund so dodged this one.

Lighthouse cam 2018

At least they offered refunds

Lowes' Iris v2 shutdown 2019

Since I'd already given up on Iris at this point it made little difference to me personally.

Jibo 2019

Again at least they offered refunds
Was just starting with this one to see if could replace IFTTT when they announced it was shutting down.

HealBe soon

Still sort of around though after Globe 1 shocking people and them dying left and right the company is all but dead. Surprisingly they have a third version supposedly coming out but reviews are not great for V2 and V3

And then there also is

The above of course does not include all the crowd funded things that either never shipped or shipped something late and basically non functional. Though I did originally get some of them via crowd funded projects. 
And all the price hikes. Streaming services spring to mind. Hulu dropping the free (commercial supported) tier for example.


Dakota Alert discontinues the 2500 series Jan 19th 2019

They replaced it with a 4000 series that while having a bit more range of course will work with any older sensors and does not have a relay per channel like the 2500 receiver did. I have a whole post on this one.

5/28/2019, Automatic forcing users to get new hardware that requires $5/month or $50/year subscription service by August 31, 2019. 

Also requires new app, works with direct cell service connection instead of your phone and it appears does not support interaction with other apps quite yet. Technically you can use it up to 3 years for free but with virtually no features other than as an OBD2 reader. Reviews of the new model appear to be awful. The one bright spot is that they are cheaper and Automatic seems to be giving a discount to upgrade directly through them. Per emails going out you can get the new model for $60. $40 off the MSRP but just $20 off the Amazon price. ($26.59 if you include taxes in my case.) If you compare the subscription fee to other services like Hulu or G-Suite for example it seem a bit steep for what you get. Sadly compared to similar products it is actually on the cheap side. Of course if you live outside the city limits like me where cell service much less LTE service is spotty any of the cell connect only models may be of limited value. So I'm going to break down like I'm sure so many other will and get one at the "upgrade" to at least try before possible having to scramble in August to find something else.

6/29/2019 Hue app splits into 2 versions along with v1 hub EOL.

I went into the Hue app last night to check something and found it not longer works with my v1 hubs. Seems last April for some reason they decided that creating a new v1 app was the best way to provide support for v1 hubs till they shutdown support April 30th 2020. So to continue to use my 3 v1 hubs with my phone I have to set them up all over again. And next April they may stop working anyway unless I upgrade them to v2s. I appears there is or was a migration option.  Though that seems to need the phone app to see both v1 and v2 hubs. Then too the v1s were only out 5 years so one has to wonder how long the v2s will be supported. I've ordered a v2 hub to try to see if it makes more sense to migrate now or relink the hubs to the new v1 app and wait for the v3s to come out seeing as how the v2 is 4 years old now. After all if it comes down to having to unpair and repair all my Hue devices to upgrade then might as well wait for the v3s. Especially in this volatile market where so much could change in a year. See more about this and follow up adventure.

9/6/2019 Best Buy is leaving smart home users in the cold, but its Wi-Fi freezer will still mostly work

Fortunately I did not get into the Insignia Connect framework. If you did, you will want to file a compensation claim.

9/20/2019 TiVo Rolling Out Skippable Pre-Roll Ads for Retail DVRs

After announcing not long ago they were going to stop making hardware they seem to be trying to make sure the brand goes away by adding adds to shows you record. Though even more oddly if autoskip is on, it is not supposed to show them. So unclear who would ever see the adds. It seems they have also announced a couple new models as well. The new feature seems to be it might stream to a Roku instead of being able to stream more channels like Roku does.