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Tiny Deathstars of Foulness

One of my favorite options in the latest round of home automationry is the ability to voice control all the things. The Wink has a pretty substantial list of supported home automation devices. The Alexa can control the Wink. Therefore, the Alexa can do all the things, even though integrations with Alexa were not built for most of those devices by Amazon.

The beauty here lies in the ubiquity of APIs these days. Alexa has a recipe-style option called a Skill (further humanizing her). Basically, you add the Wink skill, then scan for devices that are connected through the Wink, then viola, tell Alexa to do something to them. To get started, open the Alexa app and tap on Skills. Search for Wink and then tap on Enable.

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At the Wink screen, enter the username and password for your Wink account and then tap on Sign In.

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Provided all goes well, you’ll then be told that Alexa linked with Wink (there’s a joke there… anyone?).

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Alexa doesn’t know about your devices that are connected through Wink yet. So now tap on Discover Devices.

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The app then shows all the devices connected. Mine will have about 20, but I’ve only got two setup for now.

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From the Wink app, let’s add another device.

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Then let’s tap Discover Devices again from the Alexa app.

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Any new devices are then displayed.

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Different devices have different voice commands. For example, a thermostat can change the temperature whereas a light switch can turn on and off, a dimmer can be set to a certain percentage of power, or a garage door opener can open a garage door. Now, if I can only find the dip-switch controlled coffee pot and hook it up to an automated receptacle so Alexa can make me a cup of coffee…

July 7th, 2016

Posted In: Alexa, Home Automation

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The Ring is a great little device. I love it when I see an alert on my Apple Watch, tap a button on my phone, and then see the UPS deliverer walking away from my front door. When you’re home though, it’s nice to have a door chime. The first thing you do when you’re setting up one of these is to join a wireless network called Chime-****something****. This is pretty common in the home automation world. Devices ship running as a WAP so you can wirelessly control and set them up.

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Once the device joins the wireless network, open the Ring app and then verify that you’re joined to the right wireless network. If you need to leave the app and join the right network, do so.

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Provided that you’re joined to the Chime network, the Chime will then scan for Wi-Fi networks.

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Once the networks have been listed, choose the one yours will live on (or use the Add Hidden Network option if you have a suppressed SSID).

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When prompted, provide a password for the network.

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The chime then completes setup and should be audible when the button on the Ring is pressed.

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July 6th, 2016

Posted In: Home Automation

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There are two main garage door openers in the home automation space. The first is the Chamberlain MyQ and the second is the GoControl. The hardest part about setting up the MyQ was that I had to hit a funny orange button on my existing non-automated Chamberlain opener and then hit the button on the opener in my car to sync ’em up. It took about 10 tries, but eventually it worked.

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Once configured, I didn’t love the loud noise the device made to open the garage door (guessing that because it’s compared with a strobe that this is a safety measure). Once the Chamberlain is configured, open the Wink app. Then tap Add A Product and then tap on Garage Doors.

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At the Garage Doors screen, tap MyQ Garage Door.

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At the Chamberlain Garage screen, tap on Next to verify that you want to add a MyQ to the Wink.

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At the Get MyQ App screen, tap on I Have An Account (unless you don’t have an account yet, then tap on Get MyQ App and download the app, setup the garage door, and create an account).

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At the Connect Account screen, tap on the Connect Now button.

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At the MyQ overlay of the Link Account screen, enter your credentials and then tap on Authenticate.

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Provided the authentication worked, tap on Done. Tap Name Garage Door and provide a name for the door (useful if you have two doors).

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Next, use the Wink app to test the opener.

July 3rd, 2016

Posted In: Home Automation

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Domino’s is arguably not the best pizza in the world. But it’s pizza. And, if you have an Amazon Echo, you can order it without opening an app, touching a keyboard, or making a phone call. This makes for a great look at using one of the skills options in Alexa to extend the usefulness of an Echo.

To do so, you’ll first setup a Domino’s account (aka Pizza Profile). Do that at Dominos.com (avoiding any conflicts with the Noid along the way).

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Also setup an Easy Order, which is the kind of pizza that Alexa will order each time you tell her to do so. Once done, you’ll need to enable the Domino’s skill. To enable the Domino’s skill. A skill is an extension of an Echo. Think of it like an App Store on an iPhone. In this example, I’ll use my desktop to enable the skill, but the process is the same when run using the Alexa app. First, open the web interface at http://alexa.amazon.com. Then, click on Skills in the sidebar along the left side of the screen and click on Enable.

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You’ll then be prompted to provide a username and password for your Domino’s profile. Enter that and then click on Link My Pizza Profile.

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After a brief moment, Alexa will tell you that the skill was successfully linked. Close this window.

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Now, you’ll see that the skill has been enabled and can easily be disabled if you decide that there’s better pizza to be had by clicking on the Disable button.

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Now, just say “Alexa, open Domino’s and place my Easy Order” and then as your tummy grumbles, simply say “Alexa, ask Domino’s to track my order” to check the status.

June 4th, 2016

Posted In: Alexa, Home Automation

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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…

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And then tap Update Now.

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

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Then complete the wizard again, updating firmware when prompted.

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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.

December 8th, 2013

Posted In: Home Automation

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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 weather.com 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 http://weather.noaa.gov/pub/data/observations/metar/decoded/.TXT or http://weather.noaa.gov/pub/data/observations/metar/decoded/KMSP.TXT for Minneapolis (or http://weather.noaa.gov/pub/data/observations/metar/decoded/KANE.TXT for Blaine which is actually closer to me). You can actually just curl this straight with nothing special to view the text file:

curl http://weather.noaa.gov/pub/data/observations/metar/decoded/KMSP.TXT

The output is basically as follows:

MINNEAPOLIS-ST PAUL INTERNATIONAL , MN, United States (KMSP) 44-52N 93-13W 265M
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 http://graphical.weather.gov/xml/rest.php.

October 2nd, 2013

Posted In: Home Automation, Mac OS X, Minneapolis, sites

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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/org.net-snmp.snmpd.plist
launchctl load -w /System/Library/LaunchDaemons/org.net-snmp.snmpd.plist

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 http://wiki.micasaverde.com/index.php/Luup_Requests. 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…

May 8th, 2012

Posted In: Home Automation, Mac OS X, Mac OS X Server, Mac Security, Mass Deployment, Xsan

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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: http://www.smarthome.com/8500SD/Monster-Wall-Dimmer-Switch-Z-Wave-Lighting-Control/p.aspx. 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: http://www.monsterproducts.com/productdisplay.asp?pin=3369&id=9139.

 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.

April 23rd, 2012

Posted In: Home Automation

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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!

March 17th, 2012

Posted In: Home Automation

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When you’re out in the field, wouldn’t it be nice to know that your stuff is safe at home, and in the most geeky way:

http://www.ap501.com/

Thanks for pointing this out to me, Zachary!

June 15th, 2008

Posted In: Home Automation

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