Sunday, June 2, 2013

Home Automation

A few years ago, I spent some time installing X-10 devices around our house.  I (and my wife) was never really happy with the results.  The main problem that we had was with reliability.  We needed to install a phase couple in order to improve reception of between the different 110V legs.  Another difficulty when setting up an X-10 network was that there is an extra step to configure battery powered devices.  The battery powered wireless devices would need to be in range of an IR/RF to X10 bridge in order to send the signals to other devices.

I decided to try some home automation projects using Z-Wave.  Since Z-Wave uses a wireless protocol for sending commands, there aren't the problems from using a powerline protocol.  And, since Z-Wave uses a wireless protocol, it is very easy to add wireless battery powered devices.

I ordered a Mi Casa Verde VeraLite to use as the controller.  This will let you control any of the Z-Wave devices in your house, as well create custom scenes.  It also has a web server, where you can control your devices and scenes.

The first small project that wanted to accomplish was to automate turning off the lights in the garage, as these tend to be left on.  I bought a couple of Z-Wave light switches and motion sensors.  Once the devices were paired, it was pretty easy to configure a scene that would turn on the lights when motion was sensed, and a scene that would turn off the lights 2 minutes after no more motion is sensed.

I can also control these devices from an Android device using the Home Buddy application, even when out of the house.

Since these Z-Wave devices are working pretty well, some of the other projects I want to work on in the next few weeks/months are:

  • Z-Wave control of garage door opener, with sensor to detect the door remaining open
  • Control of lighting when watching movies
  • Detection of washing machine / dryer cycle to trigger a notification on completion
  • Control of other lights that tend to be left on.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Microsoft two-factor authentication

This week Microsoft added the ability for users to secure their Microsoft account with two-factor authentication.  This should help prevent unauthorized access to your account.  I think that it is great that Microsoft is enabling this extra security, as people can have their credit cards associated with their account.

I enabled two-factor authentication on my account, and by default your verification code will be sent to your phone.  You can also use a phone based authenticator to generate codes.  Microsoft has released an application that you can use on Windows Phone based phones, or you can use Google Authenticator on Android, iOS and Blackberry.

There are some things that you should be aware of before enabling this for your accounts:
  1. If you use Google Authenticator, since Microsoft doesn't add a prefix to the account name in the key uri, adding your Microsoft account to the app, will replace any existing account with that name.  Make sure that you rename, in the app, any account that is named with the email address that you use to log in, before adding the Microsoft account.
  2. The Xbox doesn't have the UI to allow entry of the second-factor verification code, so you will need to create an application specific password for these devices that don't accept these validation codes.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

SqueezePlug

We have been using various SqueezeBox radios for several years now.  These allow us to listen to our local library of music, and streaming radio throughout our house.  We have had a NAS installed in our house for years (initially a Windows Home Server, now a ReadyNAS) and these were great to run the Logitech Media Server software, as we didn't need to leave any of our PCs up and running.

Recently, we have been transitioning to cloud services for storage, from the NAS.  We use CrashPlan for backing up our Macs and PCs.  Since we have been transitioning to Chromebooks, I have copied all of our files to Google Drive.  All of our movie content exists on the NAS, but since we have been using Vudu and Netflix for watching movies, we haven't played this content.  Since we haven't been really using the NAS for anything other serving content for the Squeezeboxes, this seems like a waste.  The electricity needed for a NAS with five 2TB drives, is overkill just to serve our music.

The +Raspberry Pi  is a great solution for this.  It is a small ARM based computer that uses 3.5 watts of power.  The SqueezePlug distribution has every thing needed for a media server, including the Logitech Media Server software, and this distribution supports the Raspberry Pi.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Fitbit One

I have been using a +Fitbit for a while now. In the past few years, using a Fitbit has encouraged me to move more during the day.  I have had two of the original Fitbits, and one Fitbit Ultra.  I just got a Fitbit One and I was looking forward to the wireless syncing.

Sync we have switch to using Chomebooks as our main computers, it has been pain to sync my previous Fitbits.  I would either have to leave a PC or Mac running all of the time, or turn it on often if I wanted my activity data synced.  Uploading my data daily is useful when you are trying to compare your activity against your friends. What I ended up doing was turn on a computer when the Fitbit needed to charge.  This would sync about a weeks worth of data at once.  I was looking forward to the Fitbit One solving this problem, by adding the ability to sync through my cell phone, which I always have with me and is always on.

Unfortunately, wireless syncing doesn't work with my phone, so I still need to turn on a computer at home to sync.

One other downside of the Fitbit One is that they changed the single USB dongle that charged and did the wireless syncing with the Fitbit into two.  Now if I want to sync and charge my Fitbit, I need to use two of my USB ports.

I am still pretty happy with the Fitbit One, and am looking forward to being able to sync through my cell phone.


Thursday, January 3, 2013

Switched to Blogger

I moved my blogs to +Blogger from Wordpress.com.  Blogger has essentially the same functionality as WordPress.com but has better integration with +Google+.  Blogger also allows you to use a custom domain for free, while WordPress.com charges for this.

The conversion from WordPress went pretty well.  I was able to use the online conversion tool for one of of my blogs.  But since the tool only supports converting files up to 1MB, I needed to run the tool locally.  I also encountered a few other problems:

  1. WordPress.com supports special syntax that gets converted at display time, which creates the html for embedding content.  WordPress makes it easy to embed +YouTube and +Google Drive content, with out having to include the html.  When these posts are imported into Blogger, the inline content isn't shown.
  2. Blogger only supports 20 labels per post, while WordPress.com doesn't have a limit for tags.  I needed to remove these extra tags before exporting the blog from WordPress.
This is the 4th migration that I have done with my blogs, so I am sure that some links won't work in previous posts. My blogs were originally run on a self-hosted LifeType blog, then I migrated to a self-hosted to WordPress.org blog, and then I migrated it to a WordPress.com blog.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

New Xbox 360 Dashboard

I have played with the updated Xbox 360 dashboard for a few weeks, and really am enjoying several of the new features.  The new additions that I like are better support for using an Xbox Live account on multiple Xboxes and improved support for  new video content sources.

Multi-Xbox support


We have two Xboxes in our house.  The second Xbox is upstairs, and has been used mainly as a Windows Media Extender and as a way to watch Netflix and Hulu content.  We haven't used it to play games because it was too much of a pain to either recover our Gamertags or copy the profile and saved games to a USB thumb stick.

With the new Dashboard update, Microsoft added two features that help with users with multiple Xboxes.

Roaming Profile


Microsoft renamed "recovering" profiles to "downloading" profiles.  With this you can "download" a profile on multiple consoles, with specifying the live.com password.  This allows you to use the same Xbox Live account on multiple consoles (though not at the same time.)  With this functionality, I am able to play a game on the upstairs Xbox while my wife or kids are watching something else on the downstairs TV.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WRrJ7pVInqI

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Reducing power consumption of electronics

One of our network switches stopped working.  While looking for replacements, I decided to look for a switch that would be more energy-efficient than the existing one.  I was very interested in D-Link's Green line of products. I bought the DSG-1024D 24-port network switch.  I figured that I would be able to replace several switches with a single energy-efficient switch.

The D-Link Green series has several ways that it saves power:

  • It powers down port where it detects an idle link status.

  • The switch can detect the cable length of Gigabit Ethernet run, and will use less power for shorter runs.


Before I replaced the switch, I measured the combined energy usages of the switches and did the same after replacing the old ones with the new switch.  By just replacing the two older switches, with the single new switch I saw some power savings.  Since I have other switches that are always on, I decided to replace those as well.

Once I replaced these switches, I saw a savings of 8 watts.
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