Saturday, January 27, 2007

Home Automation and miscellaneous updates

In a previous blog entry (Everyone loves a mystery!), I lamented at the state of my home automation. Most of it didn't work and that which did, didn't follow any logic as to why it did or didn't work. Well I've a little further progress on this subject. Today I was trying out Mark Gilmore's ECS ( software with my Insteon USB PLC. After some time of fighting with the PLC (it's behavior didn't follow the Insteon documentation, grrr). Anyway I had some of my Insteon working and I had some of the X10 working (more than previous) but it managed to get worse as the day progressed right back to the previous odd behavior. What I have discovered is that the signal is partially getting out. The first half of the command seems strong enough at about 4V. But the second half is getting garbled or not being sent at all. While the X10 looks valid the command D1 D1 DO N DON gets sent as D1 D1 B5. As the day progressed the Insteon went from working to not working also. The Insteon PLC is now flickering, not blinking, like traffic is being sent. This pretty much keeps the PLC from sending anything. The T1103 mostly works but that seems to be it.

My next course of action is the start tearing everything out and add one thing at a time until the network fails. I have a feeling that the problem may be related to the cheap Geek Squad UPS units I have. They're behind filters but I still suspect them.

I've also sent quite a bit of time updating my web pages. Between school, work and family there's not much left over. They're a mess! There is no logical format of the directories and a lot of material is hidden deep in subdirectories. I've begun reorganizing the site in the hopes of a more logical flow and less wasted space (duplicate material). So you may find some of the links broken from time to time. I'll try to repair them as quickly as possible. Please report any broken links to the outside world. I haven't run my link check program in a long time and I'm sure there are more than a few bad links. I hope to get that program up and running in the next week or so.


I received an email from Robert Stephens (Founder and Chief Inspector, The Geek Squad), he wanted to know if he could help with any problems with the UPS (GS-685U) that I have. I guess I need to be a little more clear about the problem. Here's how I replied to Robert:

Stephens, Robert (GeekSquad) wrote:

> Neil,
> I saw your blog post.  The Geek Squad is very concerned about quality.
> Can you tell me more about your concerns of the UPS?  If there is any
> quality issue, I'll be sure to take care of it for you.

Pardon my choice of words. I didn't mean to infer that the GS UPS was the problem. I doubt you are familiar with X10. X10 is a power line carrier protocol. It uses the power line to talk to X10 modules. One of the problems is that any electrical device on the line can lower the impedance (resistance) and eat X10 signals. This is what is happening in my setup. I have filters on the power line to the UPS. The filter is supposed to raise the impedance to the point where X10 signals just pass by the UPS. At one point last week (when I wrote the blog entry) I had removed the UPS and filter from my power lines, tested the X10 and found it working. But a couple of hours later that turned out to be less likely. The problems returned and I again removed the UPS from the power line only to find that X10 problems remained. X10 tends to be fickle and right now is causing me no end of problems.

BTW, Robert has home automation and is familiar with X10. He also said that he is looking/pushing Best Buy into offereing home automation. Cool! A local place to purchase HA equipment! In the mean time, my GS-685U has saved my bacon 3 times so far in the last few months, thank you! I'm looking into getting a few more small units for my Tivo and a few other devices. I also have to lodge a complaint with my power utility to see if there is a problem with the area's power or whether the problem is local to my home. This has nothing to do with my X10 problems just the quality of my power. A few year ago the utility did have to come out and tighten the drop. Maybe there is a further problem with the drop and it needs to be replaced.

As you can see my X10 problems still persist (grrr)! Maybe this weekend I'll get to tearing apart the X10 network and see if I can resolve this issue once and for all!

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Sunday, January 21, 2007

Microsoft doesn't like me! ;-)

I've been doing a lot of grumbling lately, mainly about the problems caused by the loss of my main Linux server during the summer. The loss of the server is mostly my fault (backups!) and I'm paying for it pretty good right now. I've managed to get my dhcp, dns, samba (partially), cups, web page automation, Mr. House (home automation) and outbound email working again. Asterisk is suffering pretty badly as I lost a lot of custom files I created to integrate it with Mr. House. Right now my outbound email is through Comcast though I may make the effort of trying to connect to Google (Gmail). Inbound email is handled by Thunderbird. I wrote a Linux, Sendmail and - Howto which should make it easier to recover next time, at least for the outbound email portion of my setup. I've also booted up my NSLU2 and I've got the Unslung 6.8 firmware loaded on there. I'm having trouble with the NTFS, instead of seeing files I see $name. Looks like NTFS is going to remain hidden. I'll reformat it and just share it across the network (tftp, ftp, ssh, telnet and Samba). I tried to format the drive for VFAT but if I plug in the drive directly into my XP Home laptop it can't see it. Seems XP Home can only see NTFS not vfat on hard disks (but it can see vfat on USB jump driver, weird). I tried loading the ext driver on XP home but that didn't work very well either. Argh!

My next battle with XP Home was my printer. I have a nice Brother 2070N laser printer, an HP680C, an HP500C and a Panasonic KX-P1124 dot matrix printer. The last 3 are on HP Jetdirect network print servers. They work great with Linux and XP Pro (my work laptop) but when I went to share the printer with Samba (remember works for XP Pro) it could see it but not access it. OK, maybe I have something setup wrong in Samba. So I t ried to print directly from XP Home to the laser printer (wo! rks with Linux and XP Pro), no go! I ended up downloading an ipp driver to XP Home to print to the Linux box under CUPS because XP Home couldn't printer directly with SMB or IPP. I didn't put a lot of effort into trying XP Home and LPD. Good thing I have a Linux server or I wouldn't be able to use half the XP Home laptop. I've also tried to get tftpd running on XP home but that was a no go even after I turned off the firewall. I got around that by dual booting to Linux and running tftpd from there. Now that I can use scp with my Cisco routers (supported in 12.4 and later IOS) I won't need to depend on tftp anymore. I tell you, Microsoft really doesn't like me. ;-)

And before the Microsoft fanboys start in. Yes I know that these things are probably possible to do and that if I had been properly trained I wouldn't have a problem with any of this. But isn't this (Microsoft) the OS for the average user? I have more than an average idea how this stuff works. I've been using Micros oft's SMB since the days of DOS when you logged into the network with net login command and mounted shared devices with net use commands (btw, Microsoft has finally removed all those commands). If I have problems using this stuff how is the average user going to use it? I've been sharing printers and drive storage for more than 18 years.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Everyone loves a mystery!

I enjoyed reading Sherlock Holmes, solving the puzzle while reading the story has always been a lot of fun. Well I've got a real good mystery but I'm not enjoying it. The symptom is that my home X10 works on one phase of my homes electricity but not on the other. Sounds simple enough, a signal repeater will solve that. I've got a signal repeater and it's working properly. Here's the rub, I have my X10 controller (CM11A) on phase A, I can control my X10 modules on phase B but I can't control my modules on phase A (???). I also have an ESM1 (X10 signal meter) and it shows a 'valid' signal with a signal strength of 4.5V on phase A. To deepen the mystery further I've tried the TI103 (an X10 controller from ACT) in addition to the CM11A and still no change. I've even replaced some of the modules that exist on phase A, still no change. I've got a rather long debugging session ahead of me.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Ti-i-i-me's not on my side ...

Well time is short and I haven't much of it. Seems I need to go back to school if I want to advance in my job. So it's off to school I go. Meanwhile my mind wanders to all my HA projects and a few other things. I'm currently working on a Farmpark project (more on that at a later date), Dave Houston's Rozetta HA controller, the HCS project, my normal HA pages (links right), and a nagging X10 problem where I can reach the X10 devices on opposite phase from my PLC's but can't reach the X10 modules on the same phase as the PLC's. To make matter worse the signal appear strong (4.5V on the ESM1). So I have no working X10 at home. ARGH! So for those of you who try to contact me please be patient. I'm not ignoring you I'm just swamped. I'll figure out some kind of schedule and get things working again. Just a little bit slower.