IVB\’s Home Theater and Home Automation

You don\’t have to spend a lot for that smarthome.

The Value of an “Easily Recreatable HA Config”

Posted by IVB on November 30, 2007

Today’s lesson for Vivek was on the value of building an “easily recreateable config”, and how far I really am from that. I have an idea in here about what I could request of Dean for future CQC versions to hack around some Windows stuff, but that won’t address my XP config issues.

i’m now realizing how much of a non-appliance I deployed for the server. As I posted above, my boot disk died, and given that I had used a P.O.S. non-RAID1 setup, one disk dying = PC dying. If you’re going to do software-based HA, you really need to make sure you get a RAID1 boot disk cuz this *will* happen to you at some point.

Well, in true IVB form I got a wee bit lazy and just used the E6850 3.0GHz Core2Duo I temporarily had in the den. It was supposed to be the new HTPC, but then I would have had a 3way machine swap which would have sucked. So now i’ve got one hell of an overpowered CQC/CCTV server. I’m sure i’ll find a way to eat it up, but damn stuff loads near-instantly. Not that it was slow on the 2.8GHz, but this is a clearly noticeable improvement.

But on to my realization. I was thinking it would be a simple “just name the new machine with the same name as the old one, install the cards & sw, and bada bing”.

Yeah, not quite. I had some glitches:
[u]Workarounds may be possible: [/u]
1) I use CQC for .WAV playback on phone ring or doorbell. But, I used a non-standardized location (C:\Documents and Settings\Vivek\My Documents\My Music). On the new machine, I hadn’t created a “Vivek” user cuz I didn’t think of it at the time.  I changed it and setup a share drive so that now I point to \\cqcmaster\sounds , and that will have my stuff. Still, there’s gotta be a better way. I wonder if I can convince Dean to have a user files section of the \ProgramFiles\CQC directory, or perhaps have CQC store it’s stuff in some other directory and have him create an official “backup CQC config” routine that captures that stuff. Of course, then he’d need to have a “restore CQC config” which puts it back in the same place. 

2) 4) Random XP config settings, like the “sound scheme”, comes defaulted to “windows default”. As I have the HAPC sound-output hooked up to the Elk-amp input, I need it to be “no sound”.  I wonder if the “Files & Settings Transfer Wizard” would have that, and whether it would end up picking up extraneous crap too.

[u]Workarounds unlikely or not easy[/u]
3) The new mobo has 2 COM ports on it, the old one had none. Hence, all my COM ports are different, so I had to drop/add the drivers that were on it. This makes me *really* respect the concept of complete standardization across all machines, with all PCs designed to the maximum that any one PC needs to be at. Or, *always* setup your systems to start with COM3, and use filler serial cards if the mobo doesn’t have a COM1/2.

4) Although I now put a doorbell.wav file in the right place, it’s still not working. Well, I just realized that the default sound device is probably set to the s/pdif out, but I need it to be the stereo headphone jack which is what is hooked up to the Elk speakers. Sigh. It’s 44 degrees outside, and I have to go outside to get to the basement which is where the stuff is, or else I’d go fix it now. Plus it’s night-time, kids are asleep, so I best not muck with the Elk speakers and wake them up.

I’m sure there’s more stuff, but that’s all i’ve hit in 24 hours. 

I was contemplating using a hard-disk imaging program, but I don’t think that route will work for me as I doubt I’d have the same hardware config on any servers given that years would pass and technology would massively improve. I.E., I don’t know how an image of a HD built on a 2.8GHz cpu with no COM ports could even dream of working on a C2D RAID1 for boot PC with 2 COM’s on the mobo.

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Camera Back-boxes, zWave improvements

Posted by IVB on November 30, 2007

I did 2 things this past weekend, one interesting, one frustrating.

1) I got a backbox from CollinR @LowVoltageOnline for the bosch 540line variable-focus, variable-zoom bosch camera that I bought from AutomatedOutlet.com , and I finally mounted it. The backbox made it look very clean on a surface-mount, check out the pic.

This was the frustrating thing though – the issue with variable focus, variable zoom is that you have to, well, focus&zoom it.  I keep forgetting to take a picture during the day, and to take a snapshot from the recording would mean I have to go downstairs as it’s god-awful-slow over VNC. I’ll get to that someday when I remember, but it’s currently much crappier than my 480L Vitek camera.  Oh well.

http://www.myhometheaterpc.com/images/bosch_camera.JPG

2) I added 2 more zWave switches to my setup: One in the basement, and one in the pic above, just outside the back door. You’ll notice I had to use a screw-in module as i have no 3rd wire, plus the lamp cover now doesn’t fit as it’s too dang long but the wife is stoked she gets to go shopping for a new cover.

Here’s the surprising thing though – both the crawlspace & backdoor are on one side of the house, but suddenly the front-porch switch works *much* faster than it did before. It used to take 1.5s or so to turn on after pressing either the Elk keypad button or the touchscreen. It’s been <1s, sometimes damn well near immediate, for 4 days now.

I know zWave is a mesh network, but I have to admit a little surprise that something on the other side of the mesh is faster. Perhaps that basement switch actually makes it to the other side faster than the 1st floor switches, and the routing table is taking that path.

Interesting stuff…

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Wireless Out, Wired In.

Posted by IVB on November 30, 2007

I finally swapped out 3 of my $40 and unstable wireless window sensors for the hardwired $2 and stable variety.  I’ll be fully ripping out all wireless sensors, at least the “security” ones, perhaps re-using them for stuff like deck gates where it’s a “non-alarm” zone.

I post b/c I finally used the 54″ long, 3/8″ diameter flex drill bit I bought a year ago to drill through the window.  Damn that thing is cool. I used it in a 3-window “bay” that’s pushed out from the foundation, so I couldn’t just push the drill all the way through and pull the drill bit and then wire out the other side.  There’s two things I thought were cool:

1) I was able to use my left hand at the middle of the big, just above the hole, to keep it going straight in. I used my right hand to hold the drill, and bend it back about 20 degrees as the window as above the hole and I didn’t want to spend 2 hours taking it out/putting it back in.  Good thing i’ve got a relatively high tolerance for pain & heat – I opted to not use gloves or a cloth to hold the bit on my left hand as I couldn’t get a “feel” for when I was pushing through wood studs vs subfloor, and when I had cleared it. For those of you who’ve met me, i’m sure you can picture this; the rest of you, look at what i’ve gone through over the past 18 months to deploy HA – burning the crap out of my hands was a walk in the park :-)

2) I have one of those long plastic fish wire sticks, but it had a different and harder flex level than the bit so I couldn’t get that through the hole without removing the window. As mentioned before, I couldn’t just push the wire through the bit all the way through since I couldn’t pull the bit out the other end. Hence, I pulled the bit out of the drill, turned it around, and taped 22/2 to the end; piece of cake to push that through the hole all the way down.

3 wireless sensors swapped out, 13 more to go. I’ll have to use the fugly surface mount I can’t do this with all of them as I have a/c wiring below some windows. I’m hoping I can embed 75% of them due to the low WAF of surface mount, but the wife agrees that ugly surface mount is better than unstable wireless or no security, so that’s something.

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The blog comes back to life, but for a bad reason.

Posted by IVB on November 6, 2007

Oy. What would make me revive this thread?

Anger. Severe Anger. At Myself.

My god**%*&%&  NuVo Concerto that I bought off eBay for $500 turned out to be not such a good deal. It just died. 

If you consider that I bought the Xantech ZPR68 for $200ish 2 years ago, then this, for just a few hundred more I could have gotten something under warranty new.

I’m unsure about what to do next, figure i’ll sleep on it and ask Martin @EHX (get this one fixed and pay for it, etc).

Damn, damn, damn.

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HT led me to HA, led me to HR (home repair)

Posted by IVB on August 5, 2007

Interesting thing, this HA journey, and interesting places it’s led me.

I took a half-day off yesterday, had this burning desire not to shop at newegg (haven’t bought parts in weeks/months), not to muck with my interfaces or rules (haven’t touched screens or event engine in months), but to go to Home Depot and get some plywood, romex, and junction boxes for the basement server rewiring.  Initially I was just going to put up walls, but then decided that running the physical romex wasn’t that big a deal, I’d just get an electrician in to examine my stapling and do the terminations both at the box and at the panel. Oh, and maybe a fan. And a light.

Today, my in-laws decided to recruit me to help do some *very* simple work at their house. Replacing light fixtures, switches, outlets, etc.  I figured that would be simple and maybe 2 hours of work, esp after what i’ve been through, and given that their house was totally redone 25 years ago.  Well wouldn’t you know it, they picked the one room that hadn’t been touched in many decades, so that sucked up the whole day.

Anyhow, the point i’m trying to make is that dipping my toe into the HA pool led me to basic home wiring led me to basic home repair and has now led me to intermediate home repair. There have been some very interesting CQC developments, esp with the V2.2 that’s going G/A this week, but i’m still more interested in running that romex than integrating my iTunes with that new driver.

Normal people would have gone the other way, doing the wiring first, then going from there but there weren’t really any DIY’ers around 22ish months ago when I started down this road doing HA/HT and talking about it so I suppose the organic growth option has been entertaining.

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“Intro to HA” webinar recorded as a WMV file, now available.

Posted by IVB on July 23, 2007

The 125 Megabyte WMV file for the “Intro to HA” class is now available here (http://www.myhometheaterpc.com/downloads/Intro_To_HA.wmv) . As a reminder, here’s what we cover during that class:

1) Overview of what I did, why I did it, and how it helped. 5mins
2) CQC Overview & Architecture 5min
2) How to physically hook devices up to an HTPC for control – 5mins
3) How to tell CQC you have devices connected, and use it to easily create and render a screen to control them in realtime – 45mins
4) How to setup ElkRP to monitor your devices 15mins
5) How to use CQC’s event manager and the Elk together to perform the following: 15mins
5a) scheduled tasks (i.e., irrigation, turn off all devices at midnight)
5b) triggered tasks (i.e., turn off all devices when you ArmAway the Elk. turn on the light when you open the closet door)

There’s a few known issues with the session:

1) Readability of the text isn’t as good as it could be for 2 reasons:
1a) I forgot that I was recording it, left my laptop in 1280 x 800 mode. hence you see a really wide screen
1b) I didn’t put the ppt into “slideshow” mode for the first several minutes, so the above problem is worse.

2) Not all hardware was working at the time of the session. Like a putz, I was mucking with the server the morning of, didn’t realize I had accidentally pulled the zWave USB cable out until the session had started. Hence no zWave demo’s are done here.

I think that’s it, but let me know if you find anything. Also please let me know if you have any video codec issues – there were 2 options for the recording, I thought I picked the one where it transcoded into standard format. The first thing i’ll ask you to do is to go to gotomeeting.com and download their meeting software onto your PC, in case it’s a GTM codec thingey.

Grazie, and i’ll look to get both those and any other issues dealt with for the next session, which i’ll also record. One of these days i’ll get a clean session recorded.

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Wireless Sensors are getting a bit flaky

Posted by IVB on July 15, 2007

Ok, i’m starting to get a little bugged with these wireless sensors.  I just noticed the Elk report the window next to the ‘tripped’ one in the above story as being open, but I know it’s closed.  Granted, these are the 2 farthest ones from the M1XRF receiver, but it’s only 50′ max.

That area is already double-covered, so I made the windows non-alarm zones, which defeats the purpose of having them. Hopefully I hear back from someone as to why this could be happening, or else i’m going to be running a few more wires sooner than I thought.  So much for wireless being “bulletproof”…

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keypad in MBR turned out to be smaaart

Posted by IVB on July 13, 2007

What an interesting, if a little ironic, night last night. I had just fallen asleep at 12:15am when the Elk went off (night mode).  The wife was finishing up a book, so she was up. Thankfully I had put a keypad in the MBR, so I went right to it to see which zone was violated. I then handed my wife the golf club (5wood) that we keep in the MBR and told her to go to the kids room.  I decided to bum-rush the 1 inside door leading to the room so as to take any intruder by surprise.

Thankfully no one was inside the house, but I did make NextAlarm stay on the phone with me as I checked it out ( the guy was great – very understanding). The huge bummer is that due to the rewiring, the camera pointed right at that window wasn’t connected up  (since fixed). Hence, we couldn’t tell if it was a false alarm or not from inside the house, and i wasn’t about to go outside to check for marks.  The one thing I can think of is that I hosed off that particular windowsill pretty hard with the nozzle in “jet” mode, perhaps that interfered with the wireless sensors somehow. I’ll check the outer window for jimmy marks tomorrow, forgot today.

Anyway, my lessons learned are:
– keypad in MBR has already proven to be a *very* valuable thing, and the wife is now very happy that it is there. Seriously, she high-fived me and said “ok, THAT was a good idea.”
– variety of speakers throughout the house are also good, as it can undoubtedly alert any intruder as to detection
– Having a “process” that me/wife understand and agree to in event of issue is also good. 
– 2 golf clubs in the MBR is a good idea, so I don’t have to grab the steak knife en-route to the point of intrusion

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So you installed a zWave network. Now what?

Posted by IVB on July 3, 2007

If anyone is interested, I submitted the below article, just got put into zWaveWorld.

http://www.zwaveworld.com/zwaveliving/070207/zwliving.php

Here’s an excerpt:

——————————–

So You Installed a Z-Wave Network, Now What?
By Vivek

If your situation is anything like mine, once you get the whole Z-Wave setup working reliably and show it to your spouse, they’ll say something like: “That’s nice, but what was wrong with using the light switches and the $5 automatic timers with the floor lamps?” I know the various Z-Wave manufacturers have been putting more intelligence into their controllers lately, but there are limits to what you’ll be able to do.

That is, unless you consider moving more into true Home Automation (HA). By Home Automation, I mean integration with non-Z-Wave systems to accomplish functionality that your spouse will appreciate including being able to:

Posted in Home Automation, Home Theater Automation | 4 Comments »

Ripped out all my wiring and started over.

Posted by IVB on July 1, 2007

Every time I do more and more with HA stuff, I realize how wrong I was 2 years ago when I questioned the value of CIs.

As you can tell by the age of the first post on this blog, i’ve been taking a very evolutionary & organic growth approach to my setup. I don’t actually know everything I want to do, I just know I always want more. And it always seems to need wiring. As a result, my wiring was really unplanned, and has become extremely spaghetti-like.  It was getting to the point where I was introducing instability due to wiring/shorts, which is really dumb. 

I decided to rip out all my wiring a few days ago and redo it. As I started doing it, I realized I hadn’t setup the physical space to be well organized for the amount of wiring I now have. It was fine when I thought there’d only be 15 runs of wire there, but i’m getting up there now, and it’s just not working. Well, my rewiring job has turned into a full server room rebuild. I decided that the physical space wasn’t really conducive to organized setups, so i’ve now spent 2.5 days redoing it. Not full days, but the wife has let me spend 4-5 hours per day so far on it.

Now, if I were a CI, first I’d know to plan out the wiring. 2nd, and this is really the bit i’m suffering from now, i’d know how to physically mount the various modules as I’d know which ones take up how much wire, and which ones don’t.  I kid you not – I spent probably 3 hours just looking and staring at the equipment, both on the floor as I was mocking it up, and again on the wall, trying to figure out how to best position all this stuff so I wouldn’t end up with spaghetti again.  No idea if I succeeded, time will tell.

Well, my rewiring job has turned into a full server room rebuild. I decided that the physical space wasn’t really conducive to organized setups, so i’ve now spent 2.5 days redoing it. Not full days, but the wife has let me spend 4-5 hours per day so far on it.

Here’s what I’ve got so far. I built a table and mounted the plywood, made all the more difficult by the fact that the room doesn’t have square walls or level floors or ceiling.  I mounted almost all my stuff.  There’s only 1 PC there now, the wife is watching SageTV as we speak so I couldn’t move the other one. I’ve also got some very temporary network wiring on the right side, as this is an in-situ rebuild, so i can’t take the whole system down for a week without wrath of wife/kids.  I just bought a smallish onwall hinged rackmount, 23″ high, 12″ deep, so I gotta figure out where to put that. The patch panel, switch, and AP800 will go in there. Only two choices are left wall or build a right wall. I’ll be building a right wall anyhow as I will have to put a dehumidifer in this room in the winter, and i’d just as soon wall off a 7’x7′ area and only dehumidify that rather than the whole room.

i took 2 pics – one with everything mounted and the cans closed, one with the cans open (and a piece of plastic holding up the Elk door).  I had a Bosch enclosure, so I put the CCTV power and Rain8Net in there, and I put my DSL modem in the Leviton SMC can.

There’s no wires run yet, i’m hoping to redo that over the next 3 days (taking whole week off work). Hopefully it still looks pretty after that.
http://www.myhometheaterpc.com/temp/closed.JPG

http://www.myhometheaterpc.com/temp/open.JPG

Posted in Home Automation, Home Theater Automation | 1 Comment »

 
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