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?

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 dying left and right they are 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.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Rechargeable batteries for your IoT


I've got a lot of half used batteries from left over from recording shows (house concerts) and I've got enough sensors now that number of batteries getting tossed is becoming significant. I've tried rechargeables in the past but they did not seem to last all that long in devices, on the shelf or recharge that many times before going bad. Plus the size options were limited. There are a new options now though including smarter chargers, a lot of Li-ions that are lite and no memory issues that should make them perfect for environments where you might want to swap out batteries before they go dead without wasting them.

Here is what I've tried this time around:

Large "watch batteries" for Wireless tags, Ambient moisture sensors and such.

CT ENERGY Coin Button Cell Battery Charger LIR2032(LR2032)/2025/2450/2016/1620/1632/1220 USB Charger for Rechargeable Batteries 4PCS LIR2032 Included Replacing CR2032
Hillflower 10 Piece LIR2032 2032 CR2032 LM2032 BR2032 Rechargeable Bulk 3.6V Long Duration Lithium Battery

9v batteries

9V Battery Charger Tester Analyzer Model BT-C96 for NiMH NiCd 7.2V 8.4V 9.6V PP3 6F22 6HR61 6KR61 9V Rechargeable Batteries
EBL 9V Rechargeable Batteries NiMH Everyday 280mAh 9V Battery for Smoke Alarm Detector, 4-Packs

Most other sizes

Miboxer 18650 Battery Charger 8 Bay Intelligent Automatic LCD Display for Li-ion LiFePO4 Ni-MH Ni-Cd AA AAA C 18700 21700 20700 26650 18350 17670 RCR123 Batteries and More
Arlo Certified: Tenergy 650mAh 3.7V Li-ion Rechargeable Battery for Arlo Security Cameras (VMC3030/VMK3200/VMS3330/3430/3530) RCR123A Batteries UL UN Certified 4 Pack
Panasonic BK-4MCCA4BA eneloop AAA 2100 Cycle Ni-MH Pre-Charged Rechargeable Batteries, 4 Pack
Panasonic BK-3MCCA4BA eneloop AA 2100 Cycle Ni-MH Pre-Charged Rechargeable Batteries, 4 Pack
Panasonic BK-3HCCA4BA eneloop pro AA High Capacity Ni-MH Pre-Charged Rechargeable Batteries, 4 Pack

Results so far:

Panasonic BK-3MCCA4BA

Note they say these hold a charge for a long time but I fully charged them then put them in a drawer for a couple days. When I stuck them back in the charger to check them though they said about 70% Not clear if that really means 70% or how much that affects the runtime. Take the following percentage in that light though.
I put a set in my Zoom H4n Handy Portable Digital Recorder and left it to record for the day. After about 6 hours it was still going so I decided to try them in a show. With backups just in case.

Next I charged up a couple sets for a show, used one set for about 3 hours then left them for a couple week till I had time to check the battery levels.
The one from a shotgun mic said 59% when put back in the charger.
Then two from the H4n said 40%

Panasonic BK-4MCCA4BA

Put a set each in a Netatmo indoor module and a wind module. The alkalines last about 6 months so may take awhile to see how these do.

Panasonic BK-3HCCA4BAs

These are supposed to be a bit more heavy duty than their standard AAs. Stuck a set in my Bescor Motorized Pan & Tilt and left it on automatic for about 6 hours. It was still going which was pretty impressive given I've had older, but unused, alkaline batteries be too weak to run it.  

Between these and the other AA I should definitely see a savings since I swap batteries every show so I don't have to worry about them dying during a show. Used for thew above show without and issue. A couple weeks after the show they said 57%.

EBL 9V Rechargeable Batteries

From another shotgun mic from same show. Charger said 8.97v but then the back up that was not used said 8.98v so basically it was still fully charged. Not unexpected though as this mic I usually only swap out batteries about every half dozen shows or so and that is mainly just to be safe.


Have a few of these in Wireless Tags. The non rechargeables last 3-6 months in those so should have some data on thos a bit sooner. 


Planning on trying these in some Z-wave sensors like the Aeon 6n1 and Homeseer motion sensor though those tend to last up to a year. Probably will try some in a Dakota Alert 3000 Wireless Vehicle Detection Probe Sensor VS125 too.

Check back for updates.

Might be time to give up on IFTTT

On top of the linkage breaks like Facebook and Google cutting some previously supported features and VeSync for instance just stopping working while still being listed as a service, you can expect many intermittent outages. Some for days at a time. So you should not count on IFTTT. For me it has been getting steadily worse. I have not gone a day without at least one failure in my IFTTT activity log for a long time now. And most of those are automation related. Add to that instances where it thinks it succeeded but did not because it has to assume the receiving service did its job. Keep everything as local as possible if you want any chance of reliability.

Here are some of the recent errors in my activity log in just over 24 hours. This gives a feel for the variety of services affected.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Monitoring soil moisture

Someone asked on Stacy's podcast about a good way to monitor soil to know when to water.  So I was motivated to finish this and get it posted.

Real Options I've tried:

Davis Soil Moisture station
Expensive but works.
  • Prosumer grade gear. It still is working 7 years later with little maintenance. 
  • You can expend to many units as the the consoles and hubs are coded to each other. 
  • I've ran Davis on cables up to 100 feet with chewed wires and ants getting into the hub being the only issues and the hub upto over 50 feet from the gateway/console.
  •  Leaf Wetness Sensors come with 40’ (12 m) of cable standard and can be extended up to 200’ (61m) using 6-conductor 26 AWG cable.
  • Soil Moisture Sensors come with 15’ (4.6 m) of cable standard and can be extended up to 1000’ (300m) using #18 gauge UF cable.
  • Temperature Sensors come with 15’ (4.6 m) of cable standard and can be extended up to 800’ (242m) using #24 AWG shielded cable or up to 1200’ (260m) using #22 AWG shielded cable.
  • Sensors can be placed as deep as you want.
  • Temperature reading is true at depth and unaffected by air temperature.

          Ambient Weather WS-8482 $87
          Probably best on a budget.
          • Way cheaper. Even with base plus 7 $29 soil moisture sensors still costs less than the Davis base unit with only 2 temp/moisture pairs. 
          • Wireless sensors though that also means a battery for each.
          • Some of the sensors seems to not work all that well while others track closely to the Davis units. So might still be cheaper even if you have to toss some of the sensors but you might need to toss some.
          • You are limited to 7 sensors total (plus station temp/humidity) or placing stations out of range of each other as only 7 radio channels. Some of my sensors are over 50 feet away so hard to say how far that separation might need to be.
          • Hub needs to be indoors with AC power and WiFi so may not reach to some areas.
          • Limited to reading about 8 inches down max since transmitter top needs to be above the ground.

          Tried but failed:

          Wireless Tags Water/Moisture Sensor and Plantlink both were completely worthless for more than telling when being watered. Neither seemed to last long either. The Wireless Tag you can not even change the batteries in.  Scotts bought Plantlink on 2016 then discontinued it. I appears they used the tech to create a new Scotts' version.  At $99 for a hub and one sensor then $40 for each add on sensor, it seems overpriced. Amazon reviews are NOT good either. Oddly those on their site generally are. That ought to give you pause right there.

          Though Wireless Tags indoor sensors are great and damn cheap for what you get (temp, humidity, vibration, signal level, and battery level). Especially if you buy 5+ at a time. I even use them inside the freezer.

          Also tried Wimoto SEN001 Sentry Bluetooth Smart Water Sensor, alos no longer available, a couple years back but those kept losing connection on top of the iffy data.


          Homeseer can link to Ambient and Davis via the Ambient site plugin.
          Wireless Tag talks to Homeseer directly through REST api calls from the gateway.

          Sample Ambient site screens of my Ambient Weather WS-8482. Note the Ambient site also works with Davis stations. Both also go to Wundergound site. When Wunderground is not having issues. Currently soil moisture is not showing there.

          Monthly compares
          Rain fall (not including from sprinklers)

          A Davis sensor recorded (note only one seems to make it to the cloud)
          Note the Davis sensor moisture data is sort of inverted as it really reports dryness.

          An Ambient sensor about 6 inches away.

          Just for grins here is the chart for the same period for the one Wireless Tag that is still "working".
          The sun can really throw off the temp readings. The moisture setting had been adjusted to match a meter but quickly started to vary. Finally just left alone. Note this is outside in a pot and the spikes appear to be sprinkler times.

          This is the matching Ambient sensor

          Though if you are using Rachio to water an area (no pots) then checking the soil a few times with a cheap manual $10 meter to get it dialed end might make the soil monitoring unneeded since the Rachio takes weather and soil type into account and adjusts as needed.

          Wednesday, May 1, 2019

          Sample adventure

          Still trying to sort this one out. So far no lightning I know of or chewed wires found.

          First draft: to record details while getting things working again.

          What happened:

          • All of a sudden several cams (mainly connected to barn) go offline. 
          • Go to try and reset power and find the WiFi plugs are offline. 
          • Thinking main break in barn must have tripped but on inspection that is fine.
          • Come back in and find home controller not responding, more cams offline and lots of red on MyMonitor screen. Can ping servers, all in next room, showing down but not talk to web interfaces on ones I try. Decide to sort barn first.
          • Checking edge switches I can see the north and south walls of the barn are not talking
          • Nothing appeared loose or chewed in exposed areas so ran temp line. (Note diff port on south wall switch so both lines available at north wall.)
          • Most stuff came back online implying the line was bad in some way that was flooding the network with bad packets.
          • Note barn east motion detector does not seem to be turning lights on.
          • But the Etekcity plug powering cam6 in garage was still offline and needed repowered to work again. Getting plug online did not seem to sort cam6 though.
          • The Inovelli dual plug switch controlling cams 15 and 58 seem to to have stop functioning. I can switch it manually, the status changes in screen and Z-seer says it is responding but it does not seem to respond to command via script or screen controls. 58 kept going off and on so moved off switch to see if that helped.
          • IP cam 73 also on Inovelli dual plug switch in barn that also seems unresponsive to commands. Toggled power via the on button switch but cam still appeared down for several minutes then cam back. Oddly the status only updated for one of the plugs. The side that appears to still be supplying power. 

          Some of this might be coincidence or even I just had not noticed but pretty sure cams 58 and 73 have been repowered via script recently. Both are temperamental though in the case of 58 it might be the switch. 73 is on WiFi and WiFi cams I've found just get confused and need resetting a lot.

          I should note too even with all the stats in Unifi I'm still not seeing anything that would point to a packet storm though the way non barn things became unreachable till I unplugged the line in the barn would sure indicate that the bad line had something to do with the issue.

          Note the final hump in the charts are where the issue happened. While a hump is there it is a good deal less than others shown. Though this is hourly summarized data. I wish I'd thought to grab 5 minute summarized data before it aged off. So I guess there could have been a spike of just few minutes that got normalized over the hour(s).

          While writing this I've seen 73 go offline a few times while writing / updating this but it seems it did not connect to the closest AP for some reason so that might be the issue there. Forced to diff AP to see if that helps. 58 though seems more stable but still dropping offline some.

          Looks like Netatmo stopped updating the server about the same time as the other mess too. Oddly some of the monitors built into Homeseer are still showing updates with no real pattern.  Rebooted the main indoor module and it seemed to sort itself out after a few minutes.