Archive for House Stuff

Aeon Labs 4in1 Sensor – Hardwired

I know I’ve mentioned it before but battery powered devices included in a home alarm or home automation system are, at best, temporary fixes and more likely long term headaches.

In our case I HAVE been feeding batteries to three Aeon Labs 4 in 1 sensors used in our home automation setup. Four “AAA” batteries seem to last around three months (and that is a few bucks out of my pocket if you’re keeping track – I am).

I sourced some automotive 12VDC-USB devices and as the outdoor multi-sensors are co-located with surveillance cameras pulling 12VDC this seemed like a good way to get better service from the devices AND save a few bucks on batteries. It did, however, take me more than a little time to get rolling.

USb thimgamawhosit

I’ve now installed the first one and it seems to be working just fine. Of course this involves a song and dance with Vera – but more on that later as I rewire the other two.

Vera – Recovering from the upgrade

Just over a week since the upgrade to U17 and I am 90% certain that the system is functioning properly again. The processor is under a higher load, but routine functionality is back.

Vera Home Automation

I’ve opened two tickets with tech support (the first dealing with rolling back the firmware – which I have put on the back burner), and the second dealing with a recurring error message (the forums suggest this is a common problem, and that tech support does NOT have a solution for it).

Meh. We’ll see.

Vera Upgrade – Oh dear.

I’ve been running my Veralite with the older U16 firmware since I got it. The new and improved U17 was rolled out some time ago, but I was happy with the performance of my Vera and decided I’d put off the upgrade.

Last night I received an email from the company recommending the upgrade, and I figured “what the hell, it might just resolve some minor issues I’ve been dealing with.”

It did not.

Vera Home Automation

It broke, or more importantly ‘bent’ every facet of this system aside from manually turning things on or off. The entire “automation” part of my “home automation” system needed to be torn apart, examined and put back together by me over the last 16 hours.

Most of the issues seem to stem from the way the firmware converts scenes from U16 to U17. Examples of the malfunctions are;

– Virtual Switch set to turn exterior lights on or off – using this switch causes a runaway process where the switch turns itself on and off dozens of times a minute until the system is rebooted.
– Vera Alerts App configuration screen damaged, causing multiple pop-up window errors. Had to be deleted and reinstalled.
– Exterior Multi Sensors began reporting detected “motion” as “Low battery” alarms (regardless of ‘armed’ or ‘disarmed’ state).

There were others, and presumably issues I could not find as the system itself would become unresponsive and would fail to fire scenes when the associated triggers were activated.

I fired off an email to tech support demanding they help me roll the firmware back about 4 hours ago, but in the interim I have identified a few of the key problems and resolved them. I’m now sitting on the fence trying to decide if I should keep working on this, or roll things back to the way they were.


CCTV to CATV – An overview

We have always had our CCTV system fed into our cable so that regardless what room of the house you are in you can simply turn to a specific channel and see what the cameras see.

This is accomplished by taking the composite video signal from the CCTV DVR (usually a quad screen split or some such), feeding it through an agile modulator (a device that converts a signal from a composite source into a designated frequency specific to a cable television channel) which is then combined into the CATV line for the house (a notch filter is used to block a specific channel range so there is no interference on the channel used by the modulator).

CATV distribution system

1 – CATV feed from cable company.
2 – Signal is split – one line goes to cable modem to minimize drop loss.
3 – Cable signal is fed through a ‘notch filter’ which eliminates a specific cable band (channels 72-78 are deleted).
4 – Cable signal and CCTV modulated feed (set on channel 75) is combined, then fed to various locations.

Hey presto, your cameras are now easily accessible from anywhere in the house and you can check what goes ‘bump’ in the night by simply changing channels.

Media Player – MyGica (XBMC)

I have still not found a media player that is more reliable or robust than our Boxee Box(s), but I’ll admit that obsolete technology doesn’t exactly inspire confidence and I’ve started looking around for the next media player we’ll adopt.

Recommended to me was the MyGica ATV520E media player. This is an android based box running XBMC, which seems to offer all the bells and whistles we’ve come to expect from Boxee – initial impressions were positive.

MyGica ATV520E Media Player

The Box: This is an android system set up to run XBMC Frodo. The usual bells and whistles are present, and with a google account the play store awaits.

I had zero interest in this except for installing some VPN and autostart apps so XBMC would start immediately.

Media stuffs: XBMC is pretty robust, and this system seems to offer all sorts of options for customizing the way your media is presented. There were some false starts here, and I had to restore everything to factory defaults once or twice before I got things right.

The interface still lags a bit when scrolling through options, and this may be the box itself or just that I’ve selected a skin with too much overhead.

It works, but I still prefer Boxee.

Home Automation Integration: XBMC allows the display of network messages (like the Boxee) from our Home Automation system, so I just have to configure the HA system to send the messages formatted correctly.


Works just fine. the end: MyGica still doesn’t seem to run as smoothly as the Boxee, but allows us much of the same functionality. Maybe I just need to buy an android media player with a faster processor and more memory.

I’ll continue to monkey around with this system, and see if it doesn’t grow on me.

Stopping Robo-calls

Over the last few months we’ve seen an increase in recorded telemarketing calls, nightly fax machine calls and as we normally received between “few” and “bugger all” calls on a weekly basis this started driving me a little nuts.

I was being continually bothered by robots on the phone. The solution seemed simple, get my own robot to counter their robots!

Based on reading I had done on a forum I frequent I set up an IVR (Interactive voice response) on our home phone that prompts callers to press ‘2’ if they are a human, any other number pressed or 20 seconds of inactivity results in the special information tone indicating a disconnected line being played, followed by the call being disconnected.

This was surprisingly easy to set up using the options available from our VoIP provider (

A whitelist allows known numbers to automatically bypass the IVR altogether (although with shift work and all that whitelist is rather small).

It was immediately effective at screening the annoying robo-calls, and thanks (I’m guessing) to the tone played our number appears to be slowly being removed from the robo-callers databases (or at least we’ve seen a substantial decrease in these calls).

This was so effective that when I started receiving these same calls on my cellphone I set up Tasker to automatically forward my cell to our home number whenever I was home (more on that later).

I can, if I so desire, happily peruse the call logs through and see how many calls we’ve been missing, and although robo-calls cost me approximately $0.005 each I can confidently say that I would pay much more than one half of a cent to not have to deal with these calls.

Eyez-on Envisalink EVL-3

I purchased a DSC TL-150 card for my alarm system ages back. It is designed to allow IP monitoring of an alarm system, and as an added bonus allows local (or remote) access to the system via http or through smart phone apps. It was this last item, the remote arm/disarm feature that appealed most to me.

When I began monkeying with Home Automation I learned that the company the manufactures the TL-150 for DSC also makes the EVL3 card for Envisalink. This card is functionally the same as the TL-150 card, but is tailored towards the Eyez-On self monitoring service.

Eyez-On offers a free internet gateway to interact with the EVL3 card and your connected DSC or Ademco system, including network supervision and text message/email notification of alarms.

Eyez-On also offers ULC listed alarm monitoring at the most economical price I have yet to find ($8.99/mo, $8.50 a month if you’re prepared to prepay two years at a time) through their Envisalarm service.
» Read more..

Phillips Hue

Phillips Hue is a line of Hub controlled lighting products – initially just LED bulbs capable of producing thousands of ‘hues’, it has expanded into LED strips, spotlights and plain-Jane dimmable LEDs.

Phillips Hue

The appeal of the system is likely its non-intrusive nature. Simply pair the Hue Bulbs with your Hue Hub and screw them in where you want them.

Hey Presto! – Remote control lighting!

Of course it won’t work if the light switch controlling that particular bulb has been turned off, but that’s not a total deal breaker – this stuff is snazzy.

The Hue system is, for me, a solution in search of a problem (even more so that the rest of my Home Automation experiments). It DOES allow remote control of lights that are controlled by switches who do not have a neutral (preventing a smart switch being installed to control them), and there is some “neato” value to having your bulbs change colors at the press of a button, but for the $300 I’ve spent on the Hue hub and bulbs its a feature we hardly ever use.

As a gadget geek however, I felt obligated to give them a whirl, and truthfully the do fill a niche here in our house (Our Hue bulbs are controlled by the Vera system through a plugin).

Aeon Labs 4-in-1 Sensor – Power issues?

We’ve had two of these sensors running for the last two months, and the batteries (generic batteries included with the units) have run down to 20%. I’ve replaced the stock batteries with Lithium batteries and we’ll see how long those last for comparison.

Aeon Labs 4-in-1 sensor

These sensors have the option to hardwire (which I would obviously prefer), but this is done using a supplied USB cable. This presents some minor, but not insurmountable, difficulties in getting the 5VDC to the locations.

Instead of running additional wiring to each location from a central location I found an automotive 12VDC – 5VDC USB unit for cheap that will allow me to tie into the 12VDC supply for the CCTV cameras (located nearby) and supply the sensors.

In theory this should be a simple solution.