Friday, May 8, 2015

XTension Smart Meter Reader Kit

I am pleased and proud to announce the XTension Smart Meter Reader Kit



The arduino IDE compatible board reads the calibration pulses available on many smart meter models and outputs to XTension the instantaneous usage, the peak usage, the wh used since the last packet and the wh elapsed since the last nightly reset of the counters.

Communications back to XTension is done via an xBee radio, any other “bee” device with the same pinout and power requirements or any other means you wish via the serial data pads on the board.

Kits are available for shipping now starting at $45USD without xBee radios. The included electric meter attachments are 3D printed to order.

Though this kit is designed to interface with the XTension for Macintosh home automation software and does not come with any kind of display system, you could certainly make that a second arduino receiver project if you wished to do it yourself. The firmware describing the data output is open and available on the MacHomeAutomation wiki linked to above.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

XTdb update and Lightning Sensor for XTension

Lots of work done recently on the day job over at XTension.

An updated version of the graphing and database add on to the program that provides motion reports and lovely graphs. I replaced the simple graphing engine with a commercial one that has already added several features like transparency and on/off graph zones. Very useful and a great update. Many more possibilities are coming in future builds. You can get the new version from the XTdb home page

Today I finished a tutotial for connecting a very nice Lightning sensor to XTension by way of an Arduino and an xBee radio. I’ve been enjoying the storm alerts from this on my phone for a long time now and am finally getting around to posting the tutorial for everyone. XTension Lightning Tutorial

UPDATE: 4/28/15 and digi liked the lightning tutorial so much they added it to their gallery site! http://gallery.digi.com/2015/04/28/lighting-sensor/

Monday, February 9, 2015

A Comcast/Xfinity modem upgrade story that doesn’t end in tragedy.

Comcast/Xfinity is working hard to get everyone off Docsis 2 modems and to install Docsis 3 ones. They are so hell bent on it that they have an almost phishing level attack on you, if you click the link in their emails you’re forwarded to a page that automatically sends you a new modem whether you want one or not.

So thats where I started. I have have zero problems with my docsis 2.0 telephone modem through them. It has NEVER needed to be restarted. It’s never hiccuped or dropped a call or a data packet in 4 years. I did not want to replace it. They started sending me letters claiming that if I wanted my full speed that I needed to upgrade. Finally I clicked on one of those links and found myself with a new modem in the mail. OK, whatever, I’ll look into it when it gets here.

What arrived was their standard Technicolor TC8305C modem. Wow, phone lines and built in wifi. I wonder if I could use it to extend my current wifi or something useful or just turn it off? Well no, you can’t do either of those. The whole point of these modems is that they are complete control of XFinity and will always share that “xfinity wifi” signal that you see when you’re wandering around town. This isn’t necessarily a bad idea where people might be walking by your house and can get on the internet through wifi rather than over the phone if they log in. But it doesn’t make sense out here at all and I want to turn it off. You can’t turn it off. You also can’t set the modem in bridge mode and handle the NAT and other sharing things yourself. You have to use the tools built into the modem. I always run an airport for NAT sharing and wifi and I want to continue to do that. You CAN put the modem into bridge mode, but you have to call comcast and ask them to do it remotely! Thats just outrageous to my mind, and after reading the number of horror stories about this modem continually forgetting that setting and having to call in all the time to get it reset not to mention the lousy wifi range and other problems people have had I wanted nothing to do with it.

So I got an xfinity’s chat help person who was very nice and suggested that there was a simpler bridge mode modem they could send me instead. Ah, I would be happy to have that please go ahead and send it to me and I’ll take both other modems to the comcast place in town later.

2 days later A big box arrived with yet another Technicolor TC8305C in it. I now have 2 identical modems that I don’t want. So I decided that I had to do the research after all and got myself an Arris model that does nothing but bridge mode thats on their supported modem list. Telephone and Docsys 3 and NO wifi or NAT stuff, just a bridge to my airport.

Now I had to get it to actually work though, and there are as many horror stories about that out there as anything else. In my case the replacement of the old modem was almost completely painless and worked great. If you can help it do NOT call them at all.

Grab a cable bill or write down your account number before you start this process or you’ll not be able to go online to get it.

Disconnect the old modem and hook up the new modem. You’ll need to have a computer connected directly to the modem for this initial setup. Wait for the lights to come up, it may reboot a couple of times but eventually you’ll have a real routable IP address on your computer and any website you try to bring up will redirect you to comcast’s setup pages. Enter your account number and telephone numbers. The account number needs to be formatted differently in this page than how it was printed in my bill. Leave out all the spaces and dashes and also I had to leave off the trailing 0 in order to get it to go through.

Then it thinks for a while, reboots a couple more times. And in just 15 minutes or so I had the internet back up and running and my phone service was working too. I know they say it can take hours, but it didn’t in my case. I did have to reboot my airport after I connected it to the modem. This isn’t surprising, but my browser was redirecting me to the setup pages again which was alarming. So I just rebooted the airport and everything has been just great since then.

So if you can avoid having to call and talk to their support you might be able to get your upgraded modem working without that much pain or wasted time at all. I was pleasantly surprised that their automatic upgrade stuff actually worked and worked for me. I was not expecting it to go easily.

Monday, January 5, 2015

My pick for the best LED bulb to use with home automation dimmers

Phillips and Cree seem to be in tight competition for your LED bulb money. They both have cheap and cheaper versions of their bulbs now in more and more interesting packages but so far very few bulbs available will work in automated dimmer fixtures. The one reliable exception that I’ve found that is available locally at a reasonable cost are these Phillips bulbs.


The model info on the packaging says “AmbientLED A19  model # 9290002268A(Upgraded 06/2013)” with an ordering code of BC11A19/AMB/2700 DIM 120V

The light color is 2700k, but they dont feel that warm to me. The light is a little brighter than the sick yellow you can expect from a label saying 2700k. 

They dim perfectly on every remote controlled home automation dimmer that I’ve tried them on. They work on dimmers that do not have a neutral which forces them to run a little current through the load to power themselves. They also will run as a single bulb on an old style X10 push button switch! This is amazing as there aren’t many other LED bulbs that can run in that configuration. Sometimes you can build a large array of bulbs that wont be on dim all the time on a no-neutral switch but these work as a single bulb.

They are silent, never making even a hint of a buzz and in the last couple of years that I’ve been buying them I haven’t lost a single one.

Dont be fooled by the Phillips label though, they have several other kind and formats of bulbs, like the very interesting flat ones, but those will not work with no-neutral dimmers. They will be on low all the time and cannot be turned off. The bulb pictured above does not have that problem.

Cree makes a bulb that is a little bit less expensive than this bulb and they now come in 60, 75 and 100 watt versions in both warm and cool color temperatures. I dont have a picture of these but they are the ones with the glass envelope coated in what feels like a dip in silicone rubber to protect you if the bulb breaks. These also work great on remote controlled dimmers and will also work as a single bulb on even an old style X10 push button switch. The downside of them is that they are noisy, buzzing very audibly when on a remote dimmer and even worse they flicker. These bulbs flicker even when there isn’t a dimmer anywhere around. I’ve got some of their flood lights that I am going to soon replace as even when on an appliance module with no dimmer around randomly they seem to think they need to flicker horribly. I cannot recommend these bulbs even though they do work on the dimmers because of the noise and flickering. 

The phillips bulbs are available here at Home Depot and online in many places.