Category Archives: Home Automation

Home Automation iPhone Mac OS X

Which Apple TV Works With My TV?

I recently purchased a new TV (actually won, but that’s aside from the point). I put the DirecTV receiver on there and it worked like a charm. Then I put the Apple TV on and it appeared to work like a charm. But when the screensaver kicked in, the colors inverted. Sometimes I’d see lines across the screen and other times the Apple TV would get weird and just be blurry. I knew immediately that I was sending it too much. Turns out the new TV couldn’t do less than 1080p and the old Apple TV couldn’t do anything higher than 720p. To confirm, I looked up the serial number. All Apple TVs have Wi-Fi (up to 802.11n), 10/100 Ethernet, optical audio and an Infrared receiver for the remote control. So, here’s some information on model-specific connectivity to your other equipment:


  • Early 2012 Model: Model A1427 or A1469, with HDMI that supports 720p or 1080p
  • Late 2010 Model: Model A1378, with HDMI supporting 720P
  • Early 2007 Mode (Silver): Model A1218, with HDMI supporting 480p and 720p as well as RCA and a built-in 40 or 160GB hard drive


Home Automation

Change Subtitle Language In Netflix On AppleTV

My daughter is always finding features I’d never heard of. I’m sitting there, watching the Katy Perry movie with her. She hits some random buttons on the Apple TV remote and a screen comes up and then disappears as quickly as it appeared. A screen I’ve never noticed…

Flash forward to later in the day and suddenly the subtitles for Lillyhammer are in Spanish. Now, my Spanish just isn’t as good as it used to be. So here I’m wanting to switch it to English. But, where’s the setting? I finally found it by browsing to Settings, then Audio & Video. Then browse to Closed Captioning and switch it to English, or just Off if you’re only looking to see captions when something is in another language.
This caused me to start trying every possible key combination (with only 6 keys it didn’t really take that long) until I held down the Play button for a few seconds while inside Netflix and streaming a movie to my Apple TV. This brought up a menu allowing me to select the Closed Captioning language.

Fun stuff. Good luck!

Home Automation

Integrate WeMo with IFTTT

Part II. In Part I we setup those little WeMo units you just got. Now, we’re gonna’  connect our WeMo devices to IFTTT. Short for If This Then That, IFTTT allows you to connect lots of different services to other services so that you can trigger events between services. For example, you can connect WeMo to Facebook so when you come home from work the motion sensor posts to Facebook. I don’t recommend that, but it’s an example. A better example is to trigger a change in the weather from your thermostat. Wait, I mean, change the thermostat based on the weather… Anyway, the more things you connect to IFTTT the more ideas you’ll get of cool things that can save you a little time here and there. In this case, we’re just going to connect WeMo devices to IFTTT. To get started, open the WeMo app and tap on the More button along the bottom of the screen. At the bottom, there’s a button for Connect to IFTTT. Tap it.


At the next screen, you’ll be provided with a Temporary WeMo PIN.


Log into your IFTTT account and then click on Channels. At the Channels interface, click on the WeMo Insight Switch icon.

Screen Shot 2013-11-12 at 4.19.48 PM

At the WeMo Motion Channel screen, click on Activate.

Screen Shot 2013-11-12 at 4.19.59 PM

At the Activate WeMo Switch screen, provide the PIN provided earlier and then click on the Activate button.

Screen Shot 2013-11-12 at 4.21.05 PM

If you ever change your mind, just use the Deactivate button to turn off your WeMo channel.

Screen Shot 2013-11-12 at 4.31.42 PM


Once done, you can configure a Recipe linking your WeMo Switch to trigger other events. To do so, click on Recipes in the top nav bar and then at the Recipes screen, click on Create a Recipe. In this example, the Recipe uses a Tweet that contains a hashtag of #off to

Screen Shot 2013-12-05 at 9.03.37 AM


Once done, trigger the event and see if it does what you’re after. If so, you’re all done!

Home Automation

Quick and Easy Home Automation For Christmas Lights

OK, if you’ve been following this site for awhile you probably know that I’m a huge z-wave nerd. But I’m open minded and I like to experiment with new systems. So I bought some Belkin WeMo stuff. I am mostly pretty happy with it. To start, it came in a cute little box. You can just get the light switch, but I splurged the extra $5 and got the little motion sensor, which is well worth $5. I got mine at Best Buy who has a couple of WeMo products in stock at the stores around my house.


First up, install the WeMo app on your iOS device from the app store.


By now, you might have noticed that your two WeMo devices have each setup their own wireless network (similar to the setup of a FitBit Aria). Once you install the WeMo app, open it to be prompted to select a wireless network. Tap on one of the two listed WeMo networks.


The iOS app pairs to the selected WeMo device and then prompts for the SSID of your main network that you want the app to configure the device to connect to.

IMG_7384Assuming the wireless network requires a WEP or WPA key, you’ll then be prompted for what the app will send to the WeMo device as the key. Enter it and tap Join.


You’re then prompted for whether you want to receive Push Notifications. I like to do so, so I just tap OK here.


The next screen informs you that the app is gonna’ do all the networking in the background so there’s no ports or other weirdness to open to be able to control your awesome Christmas tree remotely. Tap OK.


At the Setup Successful screen, you’ll see the information for the device you just entered. Give it a name, make sure the icon is correct and provide an email address, then tap Done.


Now the annoying part. You need to say yes to this Firmware dialog. The firmware file only takes a couple of minutes to transfer from your iOS device to the WeMo device. Just tap yes…


And then tap Update Now.


Now, you get to do the next device. Yay. Tap add and then select the other wifi network created.


Then complete the wizard again, updating firmware when prompted.


Next, tap on Rules and configure a New Time Rule. I’ll do an article on this soon. First, I want to do one of IFTTT integration so that this flows. I guess that makes this a series. Swanky.

Home Automation Mac OS X Minneapolis sites

Control the Weather Using Curl

Wait, did I say control, I meant query… Sorry to disappoint!

I am a home automation nerd. Recently I’ve noticed that as it gets closer to warmer or cooler extremes that it takes longer for my hvac system to bring my house to the temperature I want. I’ve also noticed that NEST claims to automatically learn these factors. Not to be outdone by the Griswolds, I decided to look at building this into my system.

I had been experimenting with using the site to pull this data but then someone pointed out that NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) actually publishes this information on their site. I was able to access a simple-to-parse dump of information for the Minneapolis airport, which is pretty close to my house. The URLs are based on ICAO codes. You can find the code for your airport on the ICAO code wikipedia page. The URL to look at for information is or for Minneapolis (or for Blaine which is actually closer to me). You can actually just curl this straight with nothing special to view the text file:


The output is basically as follows:

Oct 01, 2013 - 10:53 AM EDT / 2013.10.01 1453 UTC
Wind: from the WNW (290 degrees) at 13 MPH (11 KT) gusting to 24 MPH (21 KT):0
Visibility: 10 mile(s):0
Sky conditions: mostly clear
Temperature: 68.0 F (20.0 C)
Dew Point: 48.9 F (9.4 C)
Relative Humidity: 50%
Pressure (altimeter): 29.82 in. Hg (1009 hPa)
Pressure tendency: 0.14 inches (4.6 hPa) higher than three hours ago
ob: KMSP 011453Z 29011G21KT 10SM FEW150 20/09 A2982 RMK AO2 SLP094 T02000094 51046
cycle: 15

I subtracted or added the difference in temperature to my desired temperature and am experimenting with how much more quickly I need to fire things up based on that (for my hvac system seems to be about a minute per 10 degrees of delta), but there are definitely plenty of ways to go about such number nerdery. Either way, I can now control the temperature based on the weather using curl, which is basically controlling the weather in my house, so not as untrue a title as with most front-page newspaper articles…

Finally, there’s also a REST API, available from NOAA at

Home Automation Mac OS X Mac OS X Server Mac Security Mass Deployment Xsan

Lights Out Managing Mac Mini Servers with Vera

There is no Lights Out Management for a Mac mini Server (btw, am I the only one that noticed that these are now called Mac mini with Lion Server, where mini isn’t capitalized). While the Mac mini Server doesn’t have the Lights Out Management (LOM)/IPMI chips in it, there are a few things that we can control anyway. Convention would say that we’d get a NetBotz card for that spiffy APC we’ve got, which can do minor automation and even a little environmental monitoring. And there are a few other systems out there that can do similar tasks.

But I’m a home automation nerd these days. So I decided to look into whether my Vera can manage my mini Server botnet and what I might be getting or sacrificing. First, let’s define what we did with LOM. The first and most important is, when the system crashed, we rebooted the server. The second aspect was to maybe wake the thing up, with the 3rd to monitor the components of the system. Let’s look at the first, most important thing, rebooting.

I’m going to start with a Vera. The setup process for Vera is similar to that of a LinkSys, where you give the device an IP and then go a step further by signing up for the MiOS portal, used to remotely control the Vera through a secure tunnel. Then I’m going to add an appliance module to the system. Notably, I want a ground, so I’m going to add the Wayne-Dalton HA-04WD HomeSettings Outdoor Appliance Module. The device can be added to Vera pretty easily. To do so, open Vera and click on DEVICES and then on Add Devices in the subnav bar. From here, click on Add in the first row.

Then scroll down a little and click on Option 1.

The system will then scan for a device. At this point, you’ll see a screen telling you to manage the device. At this point, I just press the button on the device to pair it to the Z-wave network.

Once the device is seen by the Vera, we can go ahead and click on the Next button (by default they’re seen as light switches).

At the next screen, you’ll see a screen with a field you can type in. Here, provide a name for the device and give it a room that the device is in (if you’re using rooms). Click on Close and then Save (big red button after you click Close).

Click on the Continue button to commit the save and you should see your new device listed in All Devices.

At this point, click on the On and Off switches to turn systems on and off. From System Preferences, go to Energy Saver and then check the box for Restart automatically

We’ve now achieved the first goal, having a way to physically turn on and off a Mac mini with Lion Server. Better than LOM, we can do so using a web interface or an iOS app. While the lack of so many moving parts has reduced the need for environmental monitoring, we want to monitor the environment outside the box, the environment inside the box and whether the box has developed any human emotions. To monitor the environment outside the box, I’m using one of the many Z-wave thermostats available. I plan on replacing it with a Temperature and Humidity Sensor, so I can put a sensor right by the machine instead of just monitoring the temperature of the room. I also like the idea of seeing moisture levels, but that’s aside from the point.

Monitoring the inside of the system is really easy, since Apple has built snmp into Mac OS X and a quick snmpwalk will show me most everything I need to know about a box. For that, let’s just remove the default snmpd.conf file:

rm /etc/snmp/snmpd.conf

And then run snmpconf -i to create a new snmpd.conf file. This is interactive, so use option 1 and then choose the settings that work best for whatever monitoring software you’re using. With the loss of Lithium, I am a big fan of Nagios and Dartware’s Intermapper, but there are a number of other solutions that I would look at as well. Either way, this can be a very cumbersome aspect if you let it. Once you’ve configured snmpd.conf, restart it (assuming it’s running):

launchctl unload /System/Library/LaunchDaemons/
launchctl load -w /System/Library/LaunchDaemons/

Next, to wake up the server, we can use Wake on LAN (note that wake for network access is in the Energy Saver System Preference pane). We can also monitor the server’s IP address (ping/ICMP) and even activate a camera in the event that a motion sensor is tripped. I’ll look at these in a future automation article, where we’ll reboot the server automatically in the event that it goes offline and maybe even control an IR blaster to turn on the TV when status bars are running on the server (we might also hook up a coffee pot so we can stay awake while waiting for Lion to download during some upgrades). But for now, suffice it to say that at this point, we have some of what we had with LOM on an Xserve. It’s not everything and it’s not really pretty. But it works and would cost about the same as a module for that APC you’ve got sitting around, while also laying the groundwork for much more home and small office/small data center automation – and at about $25 per additional device, it’s priced pretty well all things considered.

Finally, if that snmp-based monitoring system happens to need to restart the devices, there’s also an API for Vera, documented at Being able to script an snmp-generated event that kicks off some kind of triggered response with a grid of devices is pretty cool, and while I hope to cover it eventually, I’m not sure exactly when I’ll end up with time, so might be awhile…

Home Automation

Monster Delivers Z-Wave Win

Who knew, Monster is getting in on the whole Z-wave thing. I can’t even find “Z-wave”  on their official website. But their Z-wave dimmers are available at a few different websites, including Smarthome: I ordered one of these and my system automatically saw it (as a Leviton btw) and I was controlling yet another light in my basement within about 5 minutes. Total Z-wave win.

While I don’t see the dimmers, what I do see on Monster’s website is a new Z-wave remote in their Revolution 200:

 It’s a little fancy for me (I prefer things that are beige and covered in DIP switches), but it’s cool to see another household name with lots of sales people pushing their products into Target, Best Buy (who use Control4 systems in their stores) and Home Depot, as well as other large chains.

Home Automation

Home Automation :: Mi Casa Verde's Vera Light

Mi Casa Verde has had the Vera appliance for a number of years. Recently, they released the Vera 3, which controls practically any Z-wave device ever made (in fact many are guaranteed to work). The Vera 3 is also wireless (802.11), so you can place it practically anywhere in the home.

Now there’s Vera Light, which retails for $100 less, has a much smaller footprint and no 802.11 networking but otherwise it appears to have pretty much the same feature set. I’m sure it can’t control as many things concurrently, given the smaller footprint, but it looks to me like a great deal for those looking to get started with Z-Wave and home automation in general!

Home Automation Mac OS X

Running SSH on AppleTV

Sometimes it can be really useful to have an SSH connection into your AppleTV. If I need to explain why then you probably won’t want to do it. Unless of course, you’re just after getting something like Boxee running, which we’ll look at as well. Before we get into doing anything to your AppleTV, when we’re done I do not know how Apple will feel about your warranty moving forward, so do this stuff at your own risk (but that’s pretty much true for many articles on this site)…

So first up, let’s install SSH. To get started, plug in a jump drive you don’t mind reformatting. Then run the df command and look at which filesystem that the jump drive was mounted as. In most cases this should be /dev/disk1s1 or /dev/disk2s1 or something like that. Note this location and while you’re at it, double-check that the data is trivial to you and that you really don’t mind reformatting the jump drive.

Next, let’s download atvusb-creator, a little utility that will generate a new patchstick based on that jump drive (a patchstick being the term applied to usb sticks that will hax0r an AppleTV). Once downloaded, run the tool. Select ATV-Patchstick in the Choose an Installation dialog, and then select the version of the AppleTV OS you have (if you’re fully software updated then as of the date of this writing that would be 3.x). Next, choose ssh tools from the 3rd field in the Installation Options section, making sure that the box is checked. If you are just trying to get XBMC or Boxee running then you can check the boxes for those as well at this point.

ATV USB Creator Screenshot

ATV USB Creator

Next, set the USB Target Device field to be the filesystem you selected earlier and then click the Create Using button and wait for the process to finish. Once the patchstick has been created, plug it into your AppleTV and reboot the unit. You’ll see a bunch of code, similar to starting Mac OS X into verbose mode. When the screen tells you that you’re done, unplug the patchstick and reboot the device. Upon reboot it will be running SSH with a username and password of frontrow. If you’re not using a static IP address then if you open iTunes and connect to the device you’ll have an entry in your arp table for it. You can run arp and find the IP fairly easily. Once found, use the SSH command to connect to the device. For example, if mine is on an IP address of then I would use the following command to connect to it:

ssh frontrow@

Now you have an AppleTV running SSH. Even though this article isn’t meant to be about Boxee or XBMC, you can then install those by going to the new Launcher menu and then to Downloads and downloading those applications (otherwise if you try to access them you’ll get an error that the .app bundle can’t be found). Once those are in place it should open pretty easily.

Now that you’re running SSH, let’s look at one of the uses. I want a web browser on the AppleTV (even though typing a URL in it is pretty painful unless you install a keyboard too). For this instance, I’m going to use CouchServer, ’cause I like the way the keyboard works and because there’s a silverlight that kinda’ sorta’ works with it. First, download the files for CouchSurfer here. Then copy the files that were downloaded up to the device (assuming the filename is CouchSurfer-Lite.tar) from your client computer:

scp ~/Desktop/CouchSurfer-Lite.tar frontrow@

Next, SSH into the AppleTV and extract the tar file:

tar -xvpf CouchSurfer-Lite.tar

Then move the extracted data into the PlugIns directory (which will display the appliance similar to how Launcher would be displayed at this point:

sudo mv CouchSurfer.frappliance /System/Library/CoreServices/

(your password will be frontrow in case you have hard core add and have forgotten it already)

We’re gonna’ give ownership to wheel:

sudo chown -R root:wheel /System/Library/CoreServices/

Then reboot the AppleTV. Upon reboot, you will then have a shiny new web browser making your AppleTV even more like a full fledged Mac with Front Row. Now you’re in pretty good shape. You’ve pretty much put more stuff on your AppleTV than you can possibly use, but you still probably just want NetFlix to work on it. For that, you’ll need to get Silverlight working with CouchSurfer and just browse to the movies in the web browser at as the Boxee implementation for AppleTV doesn’t yet work with NetFlix and there aren’t any native Plug-Ins that work with it yet either (that I’m aware of). Also, if you’re going to use any of the 3rd party media browsers, keep in mind that they’re sitting on top of the OS layer and that their resource utilization seems pretty poor compared to the native media browser on the device (given the abstraction there, it seems logical it would be so no complaints).

BTW, another fun little app (to help make your AppleTV more like your iPad):

And the most intriguing one that I haven’t actually gotten to work yet (haven’t had time to get past the second or third step – busy) is:

What I’d like to see – the ability to run my AppleTV as a Zwave controller… Or iPad… Or Newton… :)

Home Automation

Z-Wave Remotes

I talk about home automation occasionally, but I almost exclusively talk about leveraging home automation on computers. I guess it’s worth nothing that Z-Wave isn’t just for computers (nor ZigBee or X10). There are a number of remote controls that can be leveraged to manage the systems in your house. For example:

Overall, these are just a few of the options that you can go with. As I believe I’ve mentioned in the past, when possible (it isn’t always) it is preferable to go with the same brand remote as you bought a Z-Wave device, be it a garage door opener, a front door lock, an appliance module, dimmers or just a standard receptacle…