Home Automation Hacking Part-II

In Part-1 of this hacking series, I set the stage for an adventure in home automation hacking. My goal is to start small, grow a system over time, and share the experience.

To follow along on my openHAB adventure, instead of creating an enormous blog entry, I decided to document it in a PDF ‘How-To’ document. I have found these types of documents are highly valuable to those folks that are new to the Raspberry Pi and Linux, and/or those who have little programming experience. Download the PDF and configuration files below:

 

Here in Part-II, we explore my adventures with openHAB.

To learn more about openHAB, read Part-I of this series or head over to their web site. I started knowing nothing about openHAB, so I spent a lot if time in the documentation. Next, I burned an image of openHABian and fired it up on a Raspberry Pi 3.

In a couple of weeks of study and hacking, I have a working home automation system that is quite cool. Below is a view of my openHAB system as seen in a browser.

Continue reading

Home Automation Hacking Part-I

Hello smoke-breathing brethren. Ole’ Sopwith is about to embark on another hacking adventure. This time it is all about home automation. Yes, it seems I am a little late to the party – but hey – at least I showed up!

There are two goals to this project. 1) To learn something new, and 2) To have fun. Wait a minute! Those are the goals of every Sopwith project!  Yes – but this project should be really interesting. In this multi-part blog series, I am going to compare the two leading open-source home automation platforms:  OpenHab and Home Assistant.

OpenHab is a Germany based open source project founded in 2010. It is written in Java and is based on the Eclipse SmartHome platform. It has a very active community with a very large pool of developers. It provides the ability to integrate hundreds of home automation devices, regardless of manufacturer or whether is it open or closed hardware. The cool thing about OpenHab is that it provides a mechanism to build a complete home automation environment and keep it private.

Home Assistant is another very active open-source home automation platform written in Python3. It also has a vibrant and active community. Founded in 2013 by Paulus Schoutsen, it began as a simple Python script to turn on some lights when the sun set.

Continue reading

NatureBytes Camera Kit Part-IV

In my previous posts in this series (I-III), I added night vision capabilities to the very cool NatureBytes wildlife camera kit. As in all maker projects – improvements had to be made.

Once I placed the night-vision capable camera in the field for testing, I discovered the LISIPAROI IR light board cannot be used in the wild. The device is just not powerful enough. If is fine for close-up work, but outside? Forget it.

It was time to turn disappointment into action. Plus, if it worked out of the box – what fun is that? Time to get serious. As I searched the web, I discovered weatherproof 12V IR lamps are cheap. These are designed to be used with CCTV cameras, most of which are 12 or 24 VDC powered. I purchased a pair for around $16 USD. The one I chose is made by a company called Phenas.

Continue reading

The AM2315 Sensor – Revisited

Hello fellow smoke-breathers. Sorry about the very long absence from my blogging duties.  I intend to be more active now that I no longer travel so much.

Over the last several months I have received some Emails telling me the AM2315 temperature sensor code I wrote long ago no longer works. There are a lot of reasons for this. First, the Google code repository has been taken down and folks are having trouble finding the quick2wire code libraries. They are now posted here.

Second, there were some hardware changes made to the Pi-3 and Pi Zero that broke the sensor detection code in my AM2315.py script. Finally, the use of the quickwire code is difficult due to its size and complexity. There are better i2c code libraries available now.

Since the AM2315 is still a popular hacking sensor, I will plug in an alternative i2c library, test the code on the latest Pi’s, and update the ‘How-To’ document.

Standby for the update – ‘ol Sopwith is working on it.

Sopwith

It’s Time to Find a New Printer Vendor (Shame on you HP!)

I came across this interesting article over at the Wired web site this week. Seems like HP does not like customers who buy their printers to use non-HP ink cartridges. HP has modified the firmware in their OfficeJet, OfficeJet Pro, and OfficeJet Pro X printers to reject any ink cartridge that is not theirs. Essentially they have DRM’d these printers.

It is one thing to know this going in when you bought the printer; but to lock down the device after you purchase it, is evil. For example, if I walked in, say a BestBuy, and was interested in buying a new printer, and the sales guy says, “Remember, if you buy this HP printer, you can only use genuine HP printer cartridges.” Knowing this in advance, I can make an informed decision if I am OK with this “limitation.” If not, I buy something else.

This is not what happened here.

Continue reading

When it Doesn’t Work – Sometimes it’s Painful

As you well know, the theme of this blog is: “It is works out of the box – what fun is that?” Ol’ Sopwith loves it when things don’t work! That means you have to fix it. Fun!

Today was one of those days when “fixing it” was not fun.

I run a backup server that takes care of all my backup chores. Had it running for years. On all my computers, I run an rsync backup script that backs up everything to this server. The server has a pair of hot-swap SATA drives that get rotated to a fire safe on a regular basis. This setup has served me well.

Continue reading

Excellent Customer Service

Now that I have had a couple of days to use my shiny new Dell XPS-13 (see Part-1 and Part-2), I realized that Ubuntu 16.04 LTS was taking a long time to shutdown. When the shutdown shutdown screen appeared, I hit the <Esc> key to watch the shutdown sequence. It was hanging on several shutdown tasks.

Lots of Googling determined this is a well know issue going back several Ubuntu releases. In one post, it was mentioned that the issue was caused by the Private Internet Access (PIA) client. It just so happens that Sopwith uses this great tool. I have had an account with them for about a year. When my Dell XPS-13 boots, PIA automatically connects to the nearest access location and gives me VPN privacy at all times. I use it on Mrs. Sopwith’s Windows box, and several of my Android phones. It just works.

I disabled the client, rebooted, and then shutdown the laptop. It shut down within a few seconds. Bingo – maybe the PIA client was not accepting the shutdown request.

Even though this problem was annoying – it was not a big deal to me. But just for the heck of it, I decided to submit a technical support issue to PIA so they were aware this might be an issue.

Continue reading

Dell XPS-13 Laptop (Part-1)

O’l Sopwith finally decided it was time to purchase a new laptop. My personal laptops usually last 4-5 years before I part with them. In the past, I have owned Dell’s, Toshiba’s, and even an Azus. Most of my corporate provided units came from Dell, HP, or Lenovo. Sorry Apple freaks, Sopwith is not a fan – so a Mac is not in my future.

For a long time, I have had my eyes on the Dell XPS-13. In my humble view this is the finest laptop on the planet. You can read about it here:
http://www.dell.com/us/p/xps-13-9350-laptop/pd?ref=PD_OC

dell-xps13

Continue reading

Raspberry Pi Zero Released

On November 26, 2015, Eben Upton and his engineering team at the Raspberry Pi Foundation announced the release of another member of the Pi family – Pi Zero. As far as I know, this is the first usable computer that runs Linux and costs $5 USD. This is an amazing accomplishment.

RaspberryPi-ZeroRather than blog out all of the technical details, I suggest you download the latest issue of the MagPi. This is one of my favorite magazines, and the 40th issue is one of the best ever. It contains everything you need to know about the new Pi.

Cynics may argue that this Pi really does not qualify as a $5 computer since you need to invest in a couple of special cables to make is useful. Also, you need to solder in a pin header if you want to use the IO capabilities. So what? This is just another proof of Sopwith’s theorem – “If it works out of the box – what fun is that?”

The fact anyone can purchase a computer with this power at a $5 price point says it all. I suspect this device will be more popular with hackers and makers than with schools, but this remains to be seen.

Eben posted a video explaining the reasoning behind building a $5 computer.  I am struck by his passion and dedication to the education of young people. His humbleness is striking.

Sopwith