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Think IPM

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

PSA: Citrix Netscaler Builds temporarily offline.

imageSam Jacobs alerted us that the Citrix Netscaler build versions for 11.0 and beyond are no longer available for download from Citrix’s website.  No reason listed why it was pulled from the shelves yesterday in the KB article, just a notice that revised builds will be posted soon and progress will be updated on the article: 

https://support.citrix.com/article/CTX227893

This seems like it could have been a security flaw which prompted Citrix to pull the builds but that’s just speculation on my part.   In any event, if you are running one of these versions, you should keep an eye on the article or this blog for updates and then patch your Netscalers soon after.

And if you do know why the firmware was pulled, let us know in the comments.

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Friday, September 15, 2017

Smart Home Lessons from Hurricane Irma

imageFlorida is a great place.  I love living here but every so often, between September and November, it gets a bit intense.  This past week, #Irma rolled through the state.  It came fast and furious and was pretty unpredictable (at least to me).   We prepped the best we could and waited.   From a Smart Home perspective, it hit in 3 phases. 

The first was the initial bad weather that rolled through.  I had some automations already set up related to the extreme weather.  Some examples were shutting the Rachio sprinklers if the winds measured higher than 15 mph.  In general, those high winds would make the sprinklers less effective and to prep for the hurricane, we issued a 5 day rain delay on the controllers to help dry up the ground to soak up the anticipated rains.  Another automation checked wind speed and flashed the lights in the house if winds reached 50 MPH to notify us to be on alert and possibly get into our safe room.  The system also verified that all windows, doors and garage doors were not open and would have alerted us via TTS if they were.   Using the Skybell HD was a great way to ‘see’ outside during the actual Hurricane until …

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The next phase to hit was the power outage.   An IOT Smart House is pretty crippled when the power goes out.  Some surprisingly helpful exceptions to that were the Nest Protects and the Hue Go Lights!  Irma hit us very late at night and when the power went out in the neighborhood and house, everything was really dark.  Even moon light was not really useful since most of the openings in the house were boarded up with plywood. (Side note – Plylox clips are amazing for putting up boards!)  Once the power went out, as we walked around the house, the Nest Protects kicked in with their pathlight feature.  Since the Nests also have a battery backup, we had amazing ceiling nightlights kicking in as we walked around the house.  I don’t honestly know the battery life on these things but we lost power for almost 6 days and the pathlights worked every night.   We also knew from the pathlight that the Nest protects were still in fire notification mode in the event of a fire, they would still be working.   The Nest thermostats also provided light to us using their internal battery and motion detection.  Walk by one in the living room and it lit up providing some light at night.  Unexpected but awesome side benefit of an already great product.  

The Hue Go lights were something that we knew would come in handy.  They charge up and provide a 3 hour battery operated portable light.  We had 2 of them and each one lit up a room on their own.  We did have to scramble a bit to get them charged in the daytime but I used a fully charged APC UPS unit for that.   It worked out great and I’m glad we had them for the hurricane.

The last part of the hurricane experience was power restored but no internet.  Most of the devices came back online pretty quickly when power was restored but almost all of them required at least the local Wifi network to be functional and controllable.  The Alexa echoes were pretty useless without internet. (although they provided a LOUD notification once it came back).  The Wink controlled devices were also pretty useless without internet.   There are some hacks to allow for local control but I haven’t implemented them yet.  This is now on the todo list.   Hue lights worked like a champ but I did have to dig out the app on my phone.  Home Assistant also worked pretty well controlling what it could on an automated basic over the local Wifi.

I’m pretty pleased with the prep we did and the expected results.  No major property damage and no injuries.  It was somewhere between a Category 1 and 2 when it hit us.   For next time, we are hoping to have some solar panels and a Tesla PowerWall to keep us afloat for the outage.  We’ll have to see how all that works out.

Be sure to check out the rest of my #IOT posts by clicking the hashtag link.

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Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Multi Room Audio for the Echo! It’s finally Here

 

Image result for multi room audioSo I’ve written about my Sound/Voice set up at the house before : Giving Voice to the Smart Home

At the time, I really just wished that Amazon would release the ability to group their Echo devices up similar to Google Chrome Cast Audios and give the ability for a user to play synchronized music over all of the devices giving whole house surround…

The time is now.  Here is Amazon’s official Press release.  I’m super excited about this development and glad it is finally here.   It looks like support is for almost everything except Spotify and SiruisXM right now (promised in the future) and there is no support for Amazon Tap just yet.  No indication on whether it’s coming but I don’t see why not.

Some of the neat stuff it can do is be controlled from any of the group echoes.. so play, pause, resume, skip, next, thumbs up/down and volume control all work across the devices and can be ‘heard’ by any of the devices in the group.

Time to start filling my house with DOTS now.

 

Be sure to check out the rest of my #IOT posts by clicking the hashtag link.

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Monday, August 28, 2017

Not attending VMworld? That’s no reason to not follow along from home (or work)!

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VMworld 2017 is happening today (Monday!) in Las Vegas!  If you didn’t make the trek out to the desert, understandable but that is no reason for you to miss out on all the great announcements and information!

VMworld will have it’s own streaming TV channel - http://www.siliconangle.tv/vmworld-2017/ 

Here you will be able to watch days of interviews with company and tech leaders in the virtualization space.  This is like walking around the solutions expo without all the free T-Shirts and pens.

Like every year, the Keynotes will be streamed live for everyone.  Be sure to point your browser here.

If Twitter is your thing, #VMworld hash tag should provide excellent real-time commentary on the events and keynotes. vExperts from all around the world will be weighing in with their opinions.

Of course, don’t forget all the blogs.  Every announcement, event, party and session will probably have a blogger diligently writing a summary for your consumption.  If you don’t know where to look, check out the Planet v12 feed from VMware.

Enjoy the conference no matter where you are.

-Carlo

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Monday, August 21, 2017

PSA: vSphere Patch can break working NVIDIA GRiD set ups. (And don’t look directly at the sun #SolarEclipse2017)

I was working with a client today and going nuts trying to figure out why the NVIDIA VIB was not loading correctly in the vSphere 6.0 environment.  We pushed the VIB via Update Manager like I have done in the past. (See Note Here) Yet the XORG service was refusing to start.  XORG is needed for shared vGPUs.  If you do 1 to 1 pass-through, you can get away with out it.

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No errors in the Xorg.log but you can see the issue when trying to restart it manually.   Unknown command or namespace graphics host refresh.  Not terribly useful but unique enough that a little Google-Fu lead me to this KB article. 

https://kb.vmware.com/kb/2150498 - After upgrading ESXi hosts to ESXi600-201706001 Hardware 3D graphics functioning fails

As of today, there is no resolution for this fix so be very careful when upgrading any ESXi hosts with NVIDIA GRiD cards in them.

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So at this point, our only option is to rebuild the hosts using an older version of ESX that does not have the patch installed.  Since the patch was released on June 6, 2017, I would advise using the 6.0U3 ISO released on February 24, 2017 and then carefully patching it up to a newer build version being sure to NOT apply patch ESXi600-201706103-SG.

If all goes well, the vGPUs should be available again for the Virtual Machines to use.

Oh and Next eclipse : April 8th 2024.

Image result for solar eclipse 2017 

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Sunday, August 20, 2017

DIY Outdoor Smart Home LED strips

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Inspired by Ben’s awesome video on LED lights on his house, I decided to something similar.   My approach is more off the shelf than his and I give up the ability to individually address each LED but in my implementation, that was ok since I just wanted to accent the house ridge lines.

Parts list for this weekend project are as follows:

1 x LED RGB Wifi Controller

1 x LED Light Strip Kit

1 x Power Supply

1 x Outdoor Housing

2 x Aluminum LED Diffuser housing

3 x Hue colored lights.

3 x E27 to E12 socket adapter

 

Setting up these lights from a Home Assistant perspective is SUPER easy.  The RGB Controller linked above is supported OUT OF THE BOX by Home Assistant using the Flux_LED component.

They use standard IP so if your WIFI coverage reaches outdoor places, controlling these LED strips is pretty easy.  I have the good fortune of having AC outlets in my eaves so this, plus the WIFI, made the install super easy.   The only real challenge I had was making sure the controller was sort of waterproof.  Under the eaves gave it pretty good coverage already so adding them into a standard AC box was the perfect solution to protect them from the elements.

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A little double-sided tape to keep the controller in place was all I needed.  From there, one opening was used for the Power and the other for the LED strips themselves. 

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The diffusers were a luxury item.  Since the LED strips themselves are waterproof already, the diffusers weren’t needed for protection but they really change the way the light is bounced off the house.  Since the LEDs are made up of RGB lights, using a diffuser gives it a much softer light on the house.  You can see the difference pretty dramatically when making the lights white or yellow.  I feel like the diffusers also made it MUCH easier to attach to the house.  They are rigid and much easier to nail into house.   For my install, I used the wood edging under the eaves to point the LEDs AT the house so you would see the soft reflective light from the street.   I think the effect came out great personally. Smile 

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In addition to LED lights, I also added in 3 HUE lights to my outdoor sconces.  The scones were set up with 3 candelabra type lights so I need to purchase adapters to put the standard Hue E27 lights in there.  Since I was replacing 3 higher wattage bulbs with the single lower wattage bulb (per sconce), I felt good about this swap.  They have been working this way for about a year without issue.

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The final set up allows me to pretty easily change the look of the house using just 7 addressable light elements (4 HUE bulbs – 1 foyer, 3 Sconces & 3 LED strips). 

I have written a pretty easy YAML script to change the colors of the house for all of the major holidays and a few of the lesser known ones.  All of this happens automatically based on the script so you can add in your own favorites.

The script Monthly Colors changes the smart home’s look depending on the day.  Holiday colors or a standard Gold/Yellow for all of the other days.

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Since these are all addressable, we also have some automations that for instance, turn ALL the lights to a bright white when certain events happen.  Examples include movement in front of the house at night or any of the garage doors opening.   For movement, I am currently using my SkyBell HD to detect the movement and for Garage door detection, we have Garadget.

I feel like this easy weekend project gave the house a pretty cool look and lots of flexibility to change it when we want to.  Adding in some smarts (Sunset/Sunrise detection) and replacing out all those hungry incandescent lights also had a pretty good side effect on my electric bill. 

 

Be sure to check out the rest of my #IOT posts by clicking the hashtag link.

If you end up doing this project, be sure to post some picture in the comments below.  I would love to see them!

 

-Carlo

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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Project Update : Visualization of the Home using Fire Tablets and Home Assistant [Final Mount]

So last month, I put out a project that demonstrated how I used a few Fire Tablets and Home Assistant to really give life to a new interface in the house to control my Smart Home.  This post is just a quick update to that original post since a few things changed once I started rolling it out.

The big change was the use of Wall Panel.  Unfortunately, this software presented too many issues related to the Fire Tablet locking and then not being able to unlock on motion.  Switching to ‘Fully Kiosk Browser’ solved this issue.  Fully Kiosk Browser allows the fire Tablet to just DIM the brightness level down to 0 and then when motion is detected by the camera, it brightens back up.  The result is perfect and exactly what I wanted for the panel.  After 60 seconds of no motion, it will dim back down.  Check out the short video below for a demonstration.

The magnetic cable has worked out GREAT though!  I can easily slide out the Fire Tablet and then leave the cable end attached to the corner metal bead under the sheetrock.  That was unexpected but works great!

 

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The USB outlet also worked out great.  It was easy to install and provided the necessary voltage to provide full power to the Fire Tablet.  

 

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The only thing left now for me is to paint around the outlet box.   All in all, I consider this a successful weekend project.

The part list used was as follows:

1 x FireOS tablet

1 x Wall Mount clips

1 x Recessed Outlet box

1 x USB Charging Outlet

1 x Magnetic tipped Micro USB cables 

Read all my Home Automation Posts here! #IOT

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Monday, August 7, 2017

VMware SRM–After failover, LUNs still have ‘snap-xxxxxxx’ in the name

Image result for PENCIL ERASERVMware’s Site Recovery Manager is a great product!  Allowing companies to protect and failover in the event of a disaster is amazing.  The ability to test these plans in a bubble is what really sets it apart for me though.  For my clients, we do bubble tests quite often to make sure our runbooks are good and we are protecting everything we need in the event of a disaster.  Even with all this planning, every so often we need to run a full failover to make sure our planning and testing are complete and valid.

A noticable difference in bubble testing and full failover is the preservation of LUNs during a full failover.  When we do bubble tests, once the testing and validations are complete, we toss the LUNs in the DR and are ready to go again in Production.  For Full Failovers though, we must go through the reprotect process and actually do the failback. 

At a client, I ran into an interesting issue where during the failback (and failover), the LUNs that were failed over were prefixed with snap-xxxxx-[DATASTORE-NAME].  No other functional difference in the LUN or virtual machines but not what the admins expect to see in the vCenter screen.  If the failback is successful, you can just rename the LUN back to it’s original name.  No downtime or mess.

If you would like SRM to rename the LUN to avoid this in the future, there are 2 relevant settings in the advance section :

 

Sites –> [Primary Site] –> Manage –> Advanced Settings –> Storage Provider –> EDIT

From there, you can find the following section and modify appropriately

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Once this setting is set to enabled, SRM will automatically rename the LUNs after a successful failover.

-Happy Testing!

CARLO

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Monday, July 31, 2017

VCSA 6.5 Fails to start. File System and then Network Service errors.

Image result for repostThis is basically a repost of Paolo Valsecchi’s excellent blog post (http://nolabnoparty.com/en/vcsa-6-5-fails-to-start-file-system-check-and-network-service-errors/).  I ran into this issue today with a client and then commands are so obscure (to me) and only yielded a single useful hit on Google that I wanted to make sure I captured it and added it to my private repository of information.

 

In our case, the client had a storage failure and it resulted in the vCenter Appliance not booting up correctly.   The appliance displays the error “Failed to start File System Check”.  A quick Google search on this term will lead you a VMware KB article (https://kb.vmware.com/kb/2149838) that will only get you HALF the way home.   After following the steps outlined in the KB article, we were faced with a network error next.  I couldn’t find a way to solve this until stumbling onto Paolo’s article.  This gave me the last piece of information needed to resolve the issue. 

# fsck –y /dev/sda3

By adding the –y  to the mix, you can avoid typing in yes 10 – 15 times. Smile 

After this ,the vCenter Appliance will be back to normal.  You can then commit your snapshot.

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Thursday, July 27, 2017

Giving Voice to the Smart Home

Related imageVoice is awesome in a home automation context!  Whether it is Voice control, voice notifications or even just music; I love it.  I believe it really adds something to the overall feel of the system.  It gives it a distinct personality.  In my own personal setup, I have quite a few instances of speech and sound throughout the day coming from the house.  It is also the primary way we override automations (i.e. Lighting controls).  Voice control is MOSTLY 1 set up using Alexa devices all over the house. (Dots, Echo and my new Tap!)  Using the Emulated Hue component, Alexa is able to control all of my lights, switches and other devices configured in Home Assistant

The home is also able to talk back to us to give us a variety of notifications.  With the new security system in place, I have a wealth of sensor data in HA so I am able to allow the house to speak to us when a window or door is left open for extended amounts of time or past certain hours.   It is incredibly useful and personal which makes the home seem even smarter than it really is.   Since we are primarily an Amazon Voice household, I have configured Home Assistant to use the Amazon Polly service to give the voice experience a very fluid feel.  A member of the household can say “Alexa, turn on Home Stats”, Alexa will respond “Ok” and then the Amazon Polly service (Joanna) will respond over the speakers with a run down of inside temps, lights on and a list of open windows or doors.  Even though different systems are working behind the scenes together, the User Experience is that of one voice from the house.  

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I’ve built a pretty complex (at first glance) speech engine and processing script in yaml/Jinja to craft dynamic sentences and random phrases to give the system added personality.  The centralization of the scripts also allows me to easily update the base of language and vocabulary used in various automations.

One of the things that really drove me nuts was the music aspect of the system.  When I played music over the whole home audio system, the HA Notifications were crowded out.  It was too difficult to figure out a way to pause the music, play a notification and then resume.  And I had no way of mixing them both in and over each other.  Then I spoke with Dale!  He clued me in to a very inexpensive Mixer that he had been using in his system for a while.  This mixer was about 50 bucks and allowed up to 4 channels to be mixed in and played through my AMP (another very inexpensive item).  The result was the ability to play music throughout the house while having HA notifications and Alexa responses mixed in.  Even the fake Cuckoo Clock automations would play over the music every 30 minutes.  The whole system works great!

Here is the part list I used if you want to create a similar set up in your home with Home Assistant.

Hardware Part List

 

I also had in-ceiling speakers already run throughout the house that I connected the AMP to.  The configuration is Chrome Cast Audios and DOT connected to the Mixer connected to the AMP connected to the Whole House Audio.  Depending on your situation, you could also use the separate CCAs to play different things (stream music to one via HA and have the other just do HA notifications 2 – Both connected to the mixer (up to 4 inputs).

I’m also hoping to add additional voice to the house via the new Fire Tablets.  The Floorplan project is developing the ability to use the tablets as a Media Player that will be capable of being a TTS target.  This will help increase coverage in the house for various alerts and notifications.

Hope this was helpful to help understand my particular set up using voice, music and  notifications in my Smart Home.

-CARLO

 

1. I do on occasion use the iPhones and Homekit for a quick Voice override.

2 A typical voice notification can be seen on the bottom of my tablet interface.  This message was spoken over the whole house audio system in a voice VERY similar to Alexa giving a unique cohesive feel to the Virtual Assistant’s presence in the house.

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Thursday, July 13, 2017

vSphere Enterprise licensing Plus Throw Back Thursday [2017 Update]!

Image result for licensingSo the last time I posted about vSphere Enterprise licensing was in 2010!  At the time, Enterprise licenses were not available for net new purchasing.  You could however upgrade your existing Enterprise licenses to vSphere 6 enterprise licenses.   Sever years later, still the same! Smile   Oh and also the same, Client confusion. Smile   So today I was asked about it and did a little research to refresh my own memory and came across an updated KB article (from 2016) here:

End of availability of vSphere Enterprise, vSphere with Operations Manager (vSOM) Standard and Enterprise edition
https://kb.vmware.com/kb/2143987

 

This confirms (again?) the end of availability of Enterprise for new vSphere license purchases. Oh! and a fancy new chart as well.

Unfortunately the 50% upgrade discount just expired a few weeks ago (sorry!).

So what do you get with new Enterprise Plus licensing?

DRS, DPM, Storage DRS, Storage I/O Control, Network I/O Control, SR-IOV Support, NVIDIA GRID vGPU support, Proactive HA, Distributed Switches, Host Profiles and Auto Deploy.  Go cheap and get vSphere Advanced and you don’t get any of them. Disappointed smile

 

So that’s the short and long of it. 

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Tuesday, July 11, 2017

My Smart Home – a LOOK at the parts that make up the sum.

imageI’ve put up a few posts about certain specific tech in the house [Check it out here] and some people have asked that I do a more complete write up of my actual Home Assistant Smart Home system.  Lots of information can be found on my Github Repo but this will be an attempt or at least a starting point to document most of the high level systems in the house.   From here, I’ll be able to write additional pieces that dive more in depth for particular systems.   If this is not your thing, look away NOW.  You’ve been warned.

The basic foundation for the system is a Raspberry Pi running Home Assistant.  Home Assistant is an open Source piece of software that in a lot of ways reminds me of VMware.   It’s an abstraction of hardware and software.  It allows me to buy and deploy pretty much whatever I want in my house in terms of hardware and provides the software layer/glue/translation for it all to talk to each other.  Smart House as a Service basically. Smile  My Raspberry Pi is a standard 16GB SD card version with the All In One install on it.  Other hardware attached to it is an Aeon Labs Z Wave Stick and a 433Mhz Transmitter.  I am also running Dasher (to provide access to my Amazon Dash buttons) and HomeBridge (to provide Apple HomeKit support) on the Pi itself.

 

Lights:

Lights are usually the first place you start with Home Automation.  Turning lights on and off automatically makes a ton of sense in the home setting.  For my lights, I first started with HUE Lights.  The hubs are standard Zigbee light controllers.  I have a mixture of both GE Lights and Hue proper lights connected to them.  I have about 40 or so lights and have 2 Hue hubs deployed in my house.  These 2 hubs control the majority of the lights for the interior of my house.  I also have a Wink Hub deployed that has a few outside lights connected to it via ZWAVE.  Much of the automations built in the house revolve around lights turning on and off through out the day.  Lights turn on at Sunset, when we turn the TV on, walk into rooms or turn off when we get into bed.   There is a pretty cool automation that keeps a consistent light level throughout the day by dimming and adjusting lights as they turn on based on the time of day.   No one like a 100% bright bulb at 2am.  I never appreciated how accent lighting and light levels can affect the overall house mood and look.  I’m a huge fan of it now.

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Outlets:

For the most part, most of my lighting is done by bulbs.  There is a never ending debate about whether you should use switches or bulbs.. I don’t think there is a right answer for everyone and for me, I chose bulbs.  They allow for more granular control of the space and it’s lighting.  That said, I do have a few controllable outlets scattered around the house.  Two main types.  Zwave outlets that control my outdoor landscaping lights and my trusty (cheap) 433Mhz outlets for accent lighting switching around the house.  For the 433Mhz operations, I have a few 6 buck Etekcity outlets that are controlled with the 433Mhz Transmitter attached to the Pi.  This worked out to be the most economical way for me to turn accent rope lighting on and off throughout the house with automations. 
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HVAC, Smoke Detectors and Irrigation:

For the Heating and AC control in the house, I chose Nest thermostats.  These devices are pretty much set it and forget it.   The thermostats keep the house cool when needed and are aware of our presence to save energy when we are not home. I have built some rules that allow Home Assistant to turn off the HVAC when someone opens a door or window for more than 5 minutes.   Once the door/window is closed, the system resumes it’s normal state.

For Smoke Detectors, I have Nest Protects deployed.  You can read about that deployment and how I came to those decisions here.

Since I live in Florida, irrigation is key to keeping the lawn green and the HOA at bay.  I have put in a Rachio smart irrigation control to control how much and how often the lawn is watered.  It’s another set it and forget it type device.

The three of these devices/systems work nicely together in the event of a fire.  The Protects will sense the fire, turn off the AC (to avoid spreading smoke through the central air) and turn on the sprinklers.  Additionally, HA will be notified and will turn ALL lights on and set our outside lights to flash to draw attention.   If we are not home, remote alerts let us know there is an emergency situation.
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Security:

For security, I did roll my own.  You can read about it here.  It’s basically NodeMCUs and the pre-existing wires.  Having 17 individual zones all feeding into Home Assistant has given me an abundance of data to build rules around such as the HVAC rule above.

We also have a SkyBell HD doorbell with motion and camera capabilities.  If people ring the bell (or just walk to the door) various lights will blink and turn on to notify us and the person that we are around and aware.   We also have 2 garage doors that are fully automated.  Using Garadget components, we get notifications when they open or close.  They also act as sensors feeding information into HA for rule processing.  A great example is at sunset, we are notified via our Text to Speech system that one or both of the doors are open.  Another neat example of how Home Assistant bridges the gap is when our Garadget Doors open at night, the outdoor Hue lights shine white for us to see.  Two separate systems working together for one experience.

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Whole House Speech:

[Expanded Write up Here] Giving the home the ability to talk to us has really changed the experience with the Smart Home.  For the longest, we have been able to use speech to control the automations with Amazon Echoes (really just to override whatever automations the house was currently implementing) but with the addition of Amazon’s Polly TTS voice, I am able to broadcast all sorts of information over the whole house surround speakers.  Example use cases for this are when the Nest Thermostats turn on or off, reminders to close the windows or doors, announcement messages when we come home giving us a status of the lights, windows and doors.   Reactions to sensors also have voice outputs such as broadcasting a dog barking when there is motion in front of the house (picked up by the SkyBell).  We are also able to stream internet radio over all the speakers throughout the house.  The speakers themselves are normal ceiling mounted speakers but they are connected to ChromeCast Audios and a cheap car AMP.

Presence Detection:

Presence detection in the house is key to a LOT of the successful automations we have.  If the house knows when we are home or not, so many more things can happen without us intervening.  For presence detection, we use a simple NMAP component that just pings the network and takes note of when certain devices are online or off.  For our home, tracking the Wi-Fi status of mine and my wife’s iPhones provides a pretty accurate sensor for when we are home or not.  We also have a SleepIQ bed that has pressure sensors to know when we are in bed or not so that the nighttime routines are fully automated.  When the house knows we are both in bed, all the lights begin shutting down and entering the nighttime scenes. Likewise when we wake up. All Pretty seamlessly.

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Final thoughts:

The house will never be finished.  The project will never end.  As new technology and newer capabilities become available I’ll work to implement them in my Smart home.  When things don’t work correctly, my family notices which means to me that these types of automations and conveniences are becoming part of the normal household routine.

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Monday, July 3, 2017

Visualizing the Smart Home. Using Home Assistant, Fire Tablets and FloorPlan.

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I’ve been running Home Assistant for my home automation for almost 3 years now.  The system has grow quite large and the User Interface was becoming pretty unwieldy and cumbersome.  For the longest time, I was able to shift most of the interface to voice using Amazon Alexa supported by an excellent HA component called emulated_hue.  This allowed us to interact with almost all of the HA objects using Alexa and the native Hue support.  “Alexa, Open the garage doors”, worked beautifully!  My philosophy when it comes to automating the house has always been to try to have the house anticipate what was needed without us even needing an interface.  The interfaces (voice or screen) should just be needed for occasional overrides.

The most recent security system I rolled has kind of changed a lot of that though.  Since all the windows and doors are now represented in the HA system, my lack of attention to the actual UI was now severely affecting the User Experience.   Having to scroll pages and pages of text items to find out if a window was opened or closed was not going to cut it anymore.  Voice helped (leave a window open for more than 5 minutes and Joanna comes in over the whole house surround system and let’s us know the situation and then also turns off the HVAC for us).

 

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All the info is there but it is just not a great user experience.  There had to be a better way!

Timing is everything and Petar Kozul had just released a great Home Assistant extension called FloorPlan.  Floorplan allowed Home Assistant users to create visual maps of their sensors and HA objects.  Named Floorplan but it could do so much more.  It’s just a framework to put up SVG images and then tie HA object IDs to them and on the fly change the images and data via CSS.  It was perfect.   And it resulted in THIS:
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This one screen gave me all the essential information I needed to see.  Date, time, weather (inside and outside temps), lights, switches and a few commonly used buttons for easy access.  And at a glance, it showed me all the windows and doors and Nest Protects in the house.  If they were RED, I would know they were left open or in the case of the Protects, OFFLINE.  It’s perfect!

 

My friend Steven helped me out with the visuals and the overall graphic design but thanks to the HA and Floorplan frameworks, the whole system will stay customizable as the needs of the house change.

Of course with the old alarm system now replaced, I had those ugly panels still on the wall (with the boring keypads).  Time to replace them with $50 Fire OS Tablets.  These 7 inch beauties can be wall mounted and are the perfect replacement for the ugly keypad artifacts.

I ended up using another great Open Sourced software called Wall Panel Fully Kiosk Browser.  This allowed Fullscreen, MQTT support, DIM and a few other handy goodies to make this an awesome solution.

image 

Hardware parts List:

1 x FireOS tablet

1 x Wall Mount clips

1 x Recessed Outlet box

1 x USB Charging Outlet

1 x Magnetic tipped Micro USB cables
This allows us to just grab the tablet when we want to surf or do something without worrying about yanking the cords out.

 

Other software I used were Magic Plan to create the actual floor plan of the house, Inkscape for SVG editing and Atom for all text edits. 

 

Like all my Home Automation Projects, you can visit my repo for all the additional code and details.   Be sure to Star the repo if you want updates.

 

 My Github Repo

 

Happy Building

-Carlo

 

*** Project Update Here ***

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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

PSA: Check out your smoke detectors (once every 10 years)

I have owned my house for just about a year now and I have been automating and ‘smartening’ it up like crazy.  My home automation platform of choice is Home Assistant.  If you haven’t checked it out, it’s an Open source platform that runs on a raspberry pi and becomes the glue or in VMware terms, the abstract layer between all the various hardware.   Yes.  I have a software defined house.

So last month, I got to thinking about my smoke detectors.  I have quite a few of them in the house and honestly didn’t know much about them.  I knew 2 of them were connected to my alarm system and the rest were hardwired into power.  There was also an interconnect wire between them all so that if one goes off, they all go off.  I learned this when one of them went into a low battery state and triggered them all to go off. at night. on a week day.

In addition to the ‘dumb’ status they held, I also learned after some googling that ALL smoke and carbon monoxide detectors go bad after 10 years.  They have a chemical pad in them that ‘smells’ the smoke or CO and then triggers the alert.  This chemical has a 10 year effective lifespan.  My current detectors were 14 years old (they have a manufacturer date stamped on them) and basically didn’t do ANYTHING except eat batteries and then chirp for more.  The house could be on fire and they wouldn’t respond unless a battery happened to fall out of them.

Image result for nest protect

Of course, they needed to be replaced and I went with the Nest Protects.  They are not the cheapest guys on the block but I think they are the smartest and were the easiest to integrate into my existing smart home.  By code, I needed 9 of them for the house.  1 in each room, 1 in all bedroom hallways and 1 in the kitchen.  The ones I purchased are hardwired into power and use a wireless interconnect to spread the word of danger.  You can read up on all the cool nest features elsewhere so I wanted to just share the couple of small additions I made to my set up.

Home Assistant already had a Nest component so once I set them up on the network and added them to my Nest account, all the various protect sensors just showed up in the interface.   My Nest package can be found in my Github repo here.

Out of the box, if the Nest Protects sense an emergency condition, they will of course alert you but additionally, they will

  • turn off your HVAC (assuming controlled by a Nest Thermostat)
  • turn on your sprinkler system (if controlled by a Rachio system)

Thanks to Home Assistant, mine will also trigger my emergency script.  The script sequence will

  • switch all outside lights to red to indicate an emergency
  • flash all lights in the house 4 times to grab everyone’s attention (although the piercing siren from the detectors should do that as well)
  • turn on all interior lights to 100% brightness in the house.
  • switch my front LED strips to a white flashing strobe
  • open both garage doors if we are home. (via Garadget) [Not implemented yet]

It’s been about a month with the Protects and no false alarms so I’m pretty happy with that.  The guide light feature is a welcome bonus as well.

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Friday, June 16, 2017

Building my Home alarm system (Hardware Phase)

Image result for burglar 

I have a house.  It has prewired windows and doors that I want to use for my own purposes.  I DON’T have an alarm company.  I refuse to pay some monthly fee for monitoring.  I just don’t feel as though I have gotten the value that I expected in the past from the security companies.  Basically I’ll just pay myself and become my own 24/7/365 monitoring solution. Winking smile

 

So after a ton of Googl-fu and trying to decide what type of system I should use to replace ADT with, I settled in on using the awesome ESP8266 chips in the NodeMCU form factor.   These tiny (and cheap) little devices could be wired up to all my existing wired doors and windows and then programmed to interface with my Home Assistant home automation platform.  They are about 10 bucks and have built in Wi-Fi and a good amount of support out there on the internet for DIY projects.  They really are awesome once you start working with them.

Here is the part list for my project : 

Let’s take a look at where I started :

imageIt was your standard alarm box.  All wires from the windows and doors fed back through to the walls to this 1980’s circuit board.   They were all simple reed switches (red and black) with magnets at the windows and doors.  When the window/door is closed, a magnet keeps the reed switch closed and the circuit is complete.  When the window/door opened, the magnet is moved away, switch is opened and the circuit is broken.  Easy for 1980’s tech to understand, easy for me to understand and easy for me to get the ESPs to understand.

First thing first, rip out all the wires from the motherboard(carefully). Smile 

Hopefully they are all labeled.  Mine were not so I basically just peeled them off in pairs and used a multimeter to test them.  Set it to tone and then walk around opening and closing windows until the tone goes away. (side note: I found 6 windows that had broken reed switches that were permanently closed through a process of elimination).  Once you identify all of your windows and doors, LABEL them!

ScreenClipAfter I had most of the physical wires labeled, I started with the NodeMCUs.  There are a ton of great resources around to explain how to program the NodeMCUs so I’ll let you find your own way through that but will give you the high level points :

I had 22 windows/doors but bundled a few together for a total of 17 zones.  I purchased 3 NodeMCUs from amazon and figured I would could do 7 zones on each one of them.

I used ESPEASY software to flash and configure the NodeMCUs.  You can see what GPIO pins I used in the diagram to the right.  Green were good, but the red Xs gave me issues.  This may have to do with my novice understanding of the whole ESP8266 architecture and microelectronics in general.

I used MQTT to talk back to my Home Assistant.  If you don’t know about MQTT, it is a machine to machine messaging protocol.  Super lightweight and perfect for these types of communications.

The way ESPEASY works in my set up is that every time a reed sensor is tripped (circuit broken), it will update MQTT.  Home Assistant is configured to watch those MQTT topics and act accordingly when it detects a change. (window opening or closing).  Based on that information, HA will do things.

ESPEASY uses a very nice web interface to do all of the configuration.  It was pretty easy to use once the flashing was completed.

 

image

Once the NodeMCUs were flashed and configured, I started wiring them up. 

image image

image image

Since I don’t like soldering (I’m not good at it), I decided to go with breadboards and wire jumper connections.  It made it super easy to connect everything in.  Plus if one of my ESPs goes bad, I can just pop it out and replace with a new one.  The wiring was pretty easy.   All the grounds (black) would be bundled together and then put to a GND on the NodeMCU, and each of the reds would go to a GPIO pin on the boards.

With everything wired up and tested, I removed the old motherboard and carefully put everything back into my alarm case.

image

image

 

The end result in Home Assistant was this:

image

It’s not the prettiest interface (I’m working on fixing that anyway) but it is WAAY more flexible than anything else I could have gotten.  I have 17 zones that I can now use for input for various things in my Smart Home.

The Home Assistant code for all of this is located here :
https://github.com/CCOSTAN/Home-AssistantConfig/blob/master/packages/alarm.yaml

One of the first automations I put in place was to turn off the HVAC systems if any of the openings were open for more than 5 minutes.  Then make a short announcement and wait to turn the HVAC back on when the window/door was closed.   I love it!

automation:
  - alias: 'Turn off HVAC in window/door is opened'
    trigger:
      - platform: state
        entity_id:
          - binary_sensor.MCU1_GPIO4
          - binary_sensor.MCU1_GPIO5
          - binary_sensor.MCU1_GPIO10
          - binary_sensor.MCU1_GPIO12
          - binary_sensor.MCU1_GPIO13
          - binary_sensor.MCU1_GPIO14
          - binary_sensor.MCU2_GPIO4
          - binary_sensor.MCU2_GPIO5
          - binary_sensor.MCU2_GPIO9
          - binary_sensor.MCU2_GPIO10
          - binary_sensor.MCU2_GPIO12
          - binary_sensor.MCU2_GPIO13
          - binary_sensor.MCU2_GPIO14
          - binary_sensor.MCU3_GPIO4
          - binary_sensor.MCU3_GPIO5
          - binary_sensor.MCU3_GPIO10
          - binary_sensor.MCU3_GPIO14
        state: 'on'
        from: 'off'
        for:
          minutes: 5
    action:
      - service: climate.set_operation_mode
        data:
          entity_id: climate.downstairs
          operation_mode: 'off'
      - service: script.speech_engine
        data_template:
          value1: "The {{ trigger.to_state.attributes.friendly_name }} has been opened for about 5 minutes.  I will shut down the Air Conditioner so you can enjoy the fresh air."
          call_outside_weather: 1
          call_inside_weather: 1

 

The home assistant code is all based on YAML and is pretty easy to learn and write for.  At some point in the future, I’ll have to do a quick write up on the main Home Assistant system running on my raspberry Pi.

So that’s about it; I ripped out my old alarm system, replaced it with 3 ESP8266 NodeMCU chips, stuffed it back into the old case, integrated it with Home Assistant and then started writing automations using my new sensors.

I built all of this a while ago and I have been running with it without issue.  In fact, it works incredibly well. 

Since then, I have also added in a light sensor to know if someone opens the panel case.

image

 

There is a ton of potential with this system and I plan to keep building it out but for now, this should get you started.  I feel like this post might have been all over the place so if there are any BIG items I may have missed or glossed over, feel free to hit me up on twitter.

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