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Think IPM

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.

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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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