IVB\’s Home Theater and Home Automation

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

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.


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The 1wire temp sensors show me something I didn’t know

Posted by IVB on June 17, 2007

I finally put in the VK011 mini-temp sensor board. Great advantage of that is that since it was so cheap, I got 4 sensors for $75 shipped.  I actually learned something too after mounting them:

I put 2 sensors in: my basement server room, and the crawlspace. Turns out those rooms aren’t nearly as cold as I thought. The server room wasn’t that surprising, but the 70degree temp in the crawlspace at 11:00pm at night surprised me. Now I realize why the media closet isn’t getting that cool – it’s drawing 70deg temp in.

I’m going to hunt down an old style thermometer to verify those temps, it certainly feels colder than 70deg down there, but i’ve been known to be vastly off temp wise before. If it really is 70, I may start thinking about how to pull in outside air – it’s 54 deg outside right now.

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RFID is working, AP800 making good strides

Posted by IVB on June 15, 2007

well, momentum seems to be maintaining.

I got RFID working (woohoo!).  Seriously simple too, just plug in the RFID receiver to the PC, put 2 AAA batteries in the transmitter (probably about the size of 4-5 of them total. The CQC driver records the tag id, and allows you to rename it.

Plus, the alpha test of the AP800 driver worked fine, so that’s cool too!

Here’s the only pic I got of the RFID stuff. I’m going to have to muck with positioning & placement as i’m only getting 15′ off it, which is barely enough for me to reach the dining room. I need another 20ish feet, then I can use it to tell if i’m home or not. I can put on “coming home” routines based on who’s home, and who just arrived (after door is opened, that is).


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Very primitive Voice Recognition in CQC

Posted by IVB on June 10, 2007

Tee Hee Hee, lookie ma, behold the power of my voice! No hands!

Well, I have 10% accuracy to turn my lights on with a ludicriously simple “lights” command using a $10 VRCommander package (i’m on the free trial as I didn’t want to pony up the $10) and a cheap $15 computer headset/mic.  I can’t get it to recognize “lights off” but “lights on” and “lights” seem to work.

It was all pretty righteously simple, albeit highly inaccurate and pretty fragile. I setup a keymapping in CQC so that it would turn on the lights on a shift-F2, then I setup a command in VRCommander so that when I said “lights on” it would send S-F2 to CQC.

Pretty simplistic, but 2 points of issues so far:
1) VRCommander can’t understand “lights off”, but it can understand “lights on”. But this is from a headset 2″ from my mouth, and I ain’t walkin around with that.
2) In order to do a keystroke command from within CQC, either the Admin Interface or the Interface Viewer needs to have focus. This has a ramification on which PC I put the AP800 at as the HTPC will obviously have video running, and I wouldn’t want the whole VR system to be down just because of that.

#2 isn’t a huge issue, as the server is headless so it letting the AI be the focus program isn’t a problem, but it is point of failure.

Anyhow, i’m just mucking around anyhow until the AP800 driver gets done, at which point i’ll try something better than a $15 headset. I may also see if I can find someone who has Dragon Preferred to see if it can translate a voice command into a keystroke (ie, shift-F2).

But it was geeky cool to see the lights turn on by the sound of my voice 🙂

Here’s 2 screenshots first is of VRCommander, second is CQC.



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How i’ll use the elk keyfob arm/disarm, and prox reader…

Posted by IVB on June 9, 2007

Nothing like spending hours to stand still outcome-wise. well, not entirely still:

I had to disable the maglock last weekend when I moved the Elk expander to the basement. The wife has actually grown to prefer it as it gives us one additional level of security, and really didn’t like not having it. I could have just rerun the wire to the other location, but the current conduit is nearly out of space and, in hindsight, not in the best location.  I put in a 2nd conduit, although I could only fit a 1″ pipe due to some random stud positioning. Then I reran the wiring for the maglock and got it up & running.

I’m going to link that output to the keyfob I got, plus that might be how we end up using the prox reader I bought but haven’t yet mounted. I don’t feel comfortable linking the actual Elk to the arm/disarm of a keyfob or a prox reader, but enabling & disabling that maglock might be just the ticket.

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Oh thank god, DirecTV tuning is back.

Posted by IVB on June 6, 2007

Ah, there’s no such thing as a problem that money can’t solve!

Tuning on my DirecTV has been down for 3 weeks ever since I had the power outage thing. Looks like it was the PatersonTech cable, I bought a 2nd one, just got it, plugged it in, it works fine!  I just sent them a note asking them how to deal with fixing the old one.

The wife will be very happy – 3 weeks of only one channel of DirecTV (i left it on, with only HBO enabled) made her very sad.

Of course, now that I got a 2nd paterson cable, once it gets fixed I really should just get the 2nd D* STB and have 2 SDTVs recording at once. And I could get an HDHomerun, and get 2 more HDTV streams.

Plus, now that Squintz agreed to do the AP800 driver, looks like that’ll actually get done on a timely basis too.  Things are looking up in the IVB household!

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Baby steps towards Voice Recognition inside CQC

Posted by IVB on June 5, 2007

Hoho!  I got a Gentner AP800 mic mixer/cancellation system off eBay for <$100 shipped plus a Crown half-supercardoid mic for another $75 to see if VR is really as awful as everyone says.It came with Firmware v1.00, I just upgraded it to Firmware V2.40, and I can connect via HyperTerminal!  Not too bad for the pittance of a cost.

Of course, the mic hasn’t gotten here yet, let’s hope the AP800 actually works, and not just via the serial port. The protocol looks pretty dead bang simple, except for the pesky pick a mic # for each command otherwise i’d be able to bang out a PDL driver for CQC within a few mandays. I say mandays as I have that security 101 thing on Sat, plus a boatload of day job work this week, so i’m not sure how much time i’ll have to brush up on my PDL skills. I haven’t touched PDL since last Jan, 16 months is a long time to forget that which I didn’t really know too well in the first place. Plus I don’t really know how to best deal with commands when everyone is in a format where each command has 2 values (1 is channel#, 1 is value, null means you want to read), so I’ll have to ask questions there.

Regardless, let’s see if I can get an AP800 driver for CQC done in 4-6 weeks. Of course, that’s a loooong way from actually doing any VR, but at least being able to control the mixer is step 1. Step 2 is figuring out how to get a command to CQC, if I could figure out what the hell Nuance/DragonNaturallySpeaking meant by some of the jargon on their page I might look into that.

JKMonroe is tightening up the RFid stuff inside CQC, i’m looking more into VR, all I need is help with the recipe db and outlook contacts/callerID db lookup driver, and we’ll all be able to start doing some seriously cool HA stuff 🙂

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Almost done with the HA Announcements.

Posted by IVB on June 4, 2007

Well, it only took 14 months of having the stuff in my parts closet, but I finally have zoned HA announcements including doorbell ring, CallerID, and TTS!  Not completely done, but 80% of the way there.

I created 3 zones of HA announcement speakers using the Elk (intentionally not using my A/V speakers). Right now there’s only the CQCServer as the source (ie, not the Elk M1 output1), but that does:
1) Doorbell ring (different per door) (ripped out regular doorchime, i’m now Elk-only)
2) Custom WAV playback on callerID. I recorded 4 of our friends so far, and play back their greeting.  This is actually the AWESOME bit, as I used strictly CQC for it, meaning I can sell off the Elk-930 Doorbell detector, Elk-120 4channel Recordable board and Elk-129 computer sound interface. And, since I’m using CQC and WAV files, I have infinite file capability.
3) Custom TTS (text to speech). I’ll probably get a custom voice, I really want to try out one of the nuance ones as I think my kids would get a kick out of a british female accent, but it’s $90 and there’s no demo. I know Kate is a tried&true voice, but it just seems so bland.

Some techie details for those of you who care:
– Doorbells are rigged up directly to Elk zones using CAT5, so they’re very simple open/close circuits.
– I’m using an Elk-800 amp which can handle 2-16Ohms
– For each zone, I used a relay on the M1XOVR relay expander
– I mounted 3 of the 32Ohm Elk speakers in parallel so I get a 10Ohm resistance on that leg
– I mounted 1 Elk 8 Ohm External speaker and 1 Elk 8Ohm internal speaker on two seperate legs.
– I *will* be added either a 32Ohm single gang speaker or an 8Ohm regular speaker on leg#4, haven’t quite decided which form factor I want.

I’d never run all of them together, but even if I did that’s still 2.1->2.6Ohms total, which is above the minimum.

If you want to calculate it yourself, the formula for parallel resistance is
1/x = (1/R1) + (1/R2) + (1/R3) + … 
or, to put it simpler
X (resistance) = 1 / ( (1/R1) + (1/R2) + (1/R3) + …   )

Here’s the revised overview screen. I know all the HA speakers don’t look like that, but the ones my wife can see do, and one icon is simpler than 3.

Final piece is to step down the M1 output to line level and use the $50 mixer i got off eBay to blend those two, and sell off the Elk-930, Elk-120, and Elk-129. If I get decent $$, I may take a gamble on the Nuance voice.


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Cool HA voice stuff done

Posted by IVB on May 28, 2007

Ho ho, I am on an absolute TEAR this weekend.

Ideas implemented in the last 24 hours:
1) Sound/Voice Stuff
Well, I got ideas from 3 different folks in 3 different forums, but in typical IVB fashion I went waaay over the top with it. Well, I only got the basics done to-date, but i’m setup well for future.
1a) Custom sound playback over HA Elk speakers for callerID. I recorded my M.I.L.’s voice saying “it’s me, why aren’t you picking up the phone”, and that’ll get played everytime the phone rings and CID says it’s her. Plus, since i’m using a PC, i’ve got unlimited .WAV capacity, so I can record a different voice/.WAV file for each person.
My wife gets bugged because if the phone rings, I *never* move to get it – 90% of the time it’s for her. She always yells at me saying it could be the one time someone calls for me, but now we’ll hear it and not in that generic ass M$ TTS voice. I told the wife about this, in typical wife form she shrugged her shoulders and asked why we need it.
Doesn’t she know by now? It’s not for her, it’s for me, and so I don’t have to do anything when the phone rings and it’s her.

1b) Ripped out doorchime, ran wires to Elk for custom doorbell ring. That’s boring, but i’ve been meaning to do something similar for a year now, since i was redoing the wiring for all the speakers i just got off my ass to do it.

1c) Bought a mixer so that I can re-use those same speakers for the Elk M1 output, PC (both TTS and custom WAV), whatever else I want.

Now I know all that’s pretty straight-forward, but I think it’s pretty impressive since I had to run all new wiring for the Elk speakers that those are running through. Plus I got the wiring done for adding another 3 speakers hooked up to the relays. This lays the groundwork for both
– Intruder warning on any non-alarm violation (ie, motion in entryway or backdoor detected)
– RFID greeting when it sees me come home

2) Nuvo Concerto control over CQC.
Given that I can now trap that a particular keypad pressed a button in CQC, i set it up so that pressing the AUX button will run the same weather script that we have going off in the AM.

3) Keyfob control
– got the keyfob hooked into CQC. I won’t do remote disarms with it, but i did link the lighting button tonight. It’ll be one of those things I gotta sit with to see what I want to do with it.

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Super-fast mounting of Elk M1XRF and wireless window sensors

Posted by IVB on May 25, 2007

And another very productive day. I got the Elk wireless M1XRF, and inside of 3.5 hours I had added it onto the Elk system, and mounted [url=http://www.automatedoutlet.com/product.php?productid=400&cat=0&page=1]15 wireless recessed window sensors[/url] and added them into the ElkRP & panel! And in true DIY fashion, I only broke one sensor (don’t ask), and only needed gorilla glue on three windows (don’t tell wife).

I still have all these damn wired recessed window sensors that I was going to use, but I just didn’t have anymore time plus we’ve now had 10 muggings or armed robberies in 10 weeks in the general vicinity and we wanted more protection quicker. (police crackdown in downtown basically pushed crime out to the outlying areas.)

I also found out the Elk has three arming modes: Away, Stay, and Night. I put some of the windows into the Night mode, so we can open/close them during the day if the Elk happens to be in Stay mode. I don’t actually know how to use the Elk Keypad to put it into “Night” mode, but I know how to do that through CQC so I may just stick with a screen to do that.

I played around with the overview screen, here’s what I got. I’m contemplating adding an “ArmStay” and an “ArmNight” button with the security code hardcoded so I don’t need a keypad, but not sure how smart an idea that is.


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