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.

luup.inet.wget("http://user:pass@IPAddress:Port/jsonrpc?request={%22jsonrpc%22:%222.0%22,%22method%22:%22GUI.ShowNotification%22,%22params%22:{%22title%22:%22Motion%22,%22message%22:%22Front%20Porch%22},%22id%22:1}")

Works just fine.

..in 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.

’72 Honda CB350 – 2015

It’s been just over two years since the CB350 came home with me. It’s been an education, and as the weather has improved to the point where I can spend more than 15 minutes at a time in my garage I thought I’d try and start the bike.

It’s a bit smokey, it’s only firing on the one cylinder, but it’s a definite start.

Let’s see if we can’t get her on the road this year.

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 (VoIP.ms).

Voip.ms

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 VoIP.ms 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.

The Router – The heart of our home network.

In case you’ve not already guessed our home is extremely network dependent. VoIP for our telephone service, torrents and streaming for our television and a host of domestic interconnected devices that serve a variety of purposes.

For the last three years we have had a Linksys E3000 router running TomatoUSB firmware (Broadcom 480mhz, 64MB RAM and 8MB Flash) as the central hub of our home network, and I’ve had few complaints. The range of the router was more than sufficient to cover our home, and with the expanded features of the TomatoUSB firmware (QoS, parental controls, bandwidth tracking) our needs were met.

The configuration of the E3000 was ‘just right’, and it concerned me that a failure on its part would not only take us offline, but cause all manner of work (on a fairly urgent basis) at an undoubtedly inconvenient time. A backup was needed.

I thought we would roll the dice rather than simply obtaining a refurbished E3000 from Ebay. A LOT of online reading followed. Looking for a router that would notionally offer the same features AND work with custom firmware if needed. In the end I settled on the Asus RT-N66U (Broadcom 600Mhz 256MB RAM 32MB Flash).

A host of features come standard (Dual usb ports, guest wifi, parental controls, DD-WRT ready and allegedly coming with a fairly robust stock firmware) and it seemed the best bang for the buck, and so we plunked down the cash and took one home.

After spending some time copying the DHCP and Port Forwarding tables over I shut down the E3000 and plugged everything into the RT-N66U hey presto near seamless change-over.

Initial impressions are favourable. Configuration was fairly easy and the stock firmware appears to offer enough functionality that there is no immediate need for a change to DD-WRT or other firmware.

Early days yet, but looking good so far.

(Return policies suggest that it’s prudent to make the RT-N66U the primary unit and relegate our E3000 to the position of “backup device” at least until we’re certain the RT-N66U will do the job.)

Boxee Box – Network stuff for posterity

I’m happy with our Boxee Boxes, and expect to be using them as our primary media players for some time to come. I’ve experimented with XBMC on them, but in the end have stuck with Boxee Hacks+

Their versatility and dependability, combined with their useful interoperability with our home automation system (remote shutdown, displaying network messages originating from Vera, etc etc etc) has been astounding.

Boxee is dead however, and each time I have to go out on the interwebs and find reference materials for obscure commands they seem to be harder and harder to find. I’ve decided to save my notes on these under the cut, more for my ease of reference rather than yours.

I’ll add to it as we go along.

» Read more..

HA – Making your house talk.

I am a big fan of Vera (You’ve probably picked up on this) – one area where it does miss the mark for me is in its notifications.

By default it sends email or semi-SMS notifications. The emails are long and generic, and include more than a bit of Vera branding (I guess thats fair), and the SMS notifications are just as cluttered.

Email Vera Alert

The solution is in an Vera app available called Vera Alerts. This consists of an app installed on the Vera, and corresponding apps on your smart phone(s). The system allows you to configure your own notifications, specifying the precise wording and attachments.

Email Vera Alert

The smart phone app includes an option of having the received alerts trigger a sound or be read out through a built in TTS function. I simply plugged a jack into an old smartphone and fed the audio into our CCTV channel at home.

Hey presto…. voice notifications.