Category Archives: Tech Stuffs

All topics relating to technology

Home Automation with Digital Door Locks

For the next post to my Home Automation Series, I’ll share about what I’ve done with automating the Main and Yard doors for my apartment.

The initial requirement was simply to have a keyless way to unlock the door, and just so happen that there are further integrations possible, I took it a step further. Here are the details.

My initial use case was to be able to unlock the door without keys, but yet secure. After some research I arrived at the Samsung Digital Locks. Specifically I bought the two SHP-DP728.

This lock supports the following methods to unlock the door

  • Fingerprint
    • works fine for most grown ups, doesn’t work well with children
  • PIN
    • a rather smart implementation that it will randomly force you to key in prefix numbers first before the actual pin. This is so that there is even “oil prints” distributed around the keypad
  • Proximity Card
    • the unit came with 2 credit card size, 2 mini card size, and 2 key tags; straightforward tap and unlock
  • App via bluetooth
    • needs to register the phone first via the app, then use the app to unlock. It doesn’t go by proximity, meaning it will not unlock just because your phone is near.
    • I was told that once the Z-Wave module is installed, bluetooth does not work; however it didn’t seem so.
    • To use bluetooth function with this lock, I needed to install the sHome app on my iPhone and setup was quite straightforward. The use of the app wasn’t so good though, I’ll have another post to share more details about it.
    • The short of it is I am able to unlock the door from the app, but that’s all.
  • Automation via Z-Wave (needs add-on module, **ask for EU/I chip**)
    • connects to my Homey, and the possibility becomes unlimited
    • as Homey is primary built for EU market, the Z-Wave module needs to be of the EU band as well
    • For my installation by Hanman, I requested for the EU/I module, as I’ve been told it provide fine grain details to the lock operations, e.g. the Z-Wave trigger can be distinguished on how the lock is unlocked, with a fingerprint, card, opened from inside etc.
    • The module is installed after the lock is installed, and a firmware update was necessary for the module. Both of my modules were supposed to be updated before they brought to my place, but one didn’t work and had to be re-flashed once more on site.
  • Manual Key (override)
    • in case everything else fails, or when battery runs out, this is the override to unlock the door

Another important aspect for me with this lock is the way you would open the door. The lock need to push/pull according to the same direction the door opens and closes. Hanman site describes this really well, here. Bottom line is, you’ll want a natural feel to the direction of opening the door.

Installation by Hanman was professional and nicely done, the installer came with the right tools to  accurately drill the necessary holes in the door and door frame to fit the unit. He then showed me how to do the necessary setup, and that’s about it. The rest was for me to figure out.

I’m generally quite pleased with this lock and would recommended it. I do want to remind you to check out that it is a unit that is compatible with your door, in terms of fitting, as well as the direction of opening.

Taking it further – Here comes the real automation bit

The automation I’ve done is basically two main use case
A. When a door is unlocked, Homey will announce it. This is particularly useful when we are not constantly watching the door.
B. When me or my wife gets home, the door will unlock automatically. This is rather complex to setup, and I’ll need another blog post for that. It incorporates a motion sensor, Google Wifi, IFTTT and of course, Homey.

After the digital lock is installed with the Z-Wave module, the next thing to do is to install the Samsung Z-wave Locks plugin for Homey. The plugin is written by the good guys at Automate Asia, where I bought my Home Automation Solution from.

Pairing of the Digital lock with Homey was straightforward, just like pairing any other Z-Wave devices. Bring the Homey near the lock and start pairing. To know if it’s successful, and if the module in the lock is truly EU/I, there’s a bit to do.

Basically, the acid test to determine if the chip is EU/I, is that if you set a flow as below
When… “Unlocked from back”
And…
Then… “Speech > Say Hello

The key part is “Unlocked from back” as a non EU/I chip will not be able to distinguish that action. So, a successful test is when you open the door from the inside, Homey will say “Hello”

That’s it for the first use case, you are free to create more flows to have Homey say different things based on how the door was unlocked. 🙂

Do you have other ideas? Do share! Have Fun!

2019 Home Automation with Homey & Google Home

I recently move into a new apartment, and I took the opportunity to dive into some Home Automation. This post shares some of the things I’ve done, and will write more around the details.

The overall solution, I adopted the approach my friend, Vicardo, shared with me, that devices can be controlled by Voice, Smartphone App, and Manual. Voice and app will be the primary methods, and as a fallback, there must be a way to manually trigger the action, e.g. switch off the lights, roll up the blinds.

(Full post on my complete bill of materials to come soon…)

Let’s start with some of the uses cases I have, and then I’ll mention the components involved in each use case. It’s important to note that the core controller I’ve chosen is the Homey.

  • Lights Automation
    • I have all my living room, dining room and master bedroom lights automated. This allows me to control the lights as groups, e.g. when leaving the apartment, I can power off the lights with a single control. Or I can define a scene for movie time and it will power off all lights except and keep a selected few on.
    • Device – MCO Home touch panel switches
    • Connectivity – Z-Wave
    • Controller – Homey
    • (more details coming…)
  • Balcony Zip Blinds Automation
    • I have my entire balcony installed with ZipBlinds. I use the blinds to block out rain, or when fully lowered, I can let the living room aircon run and cool down a bigger area.
    • Device – MC2 Altex SecureZip (with Somfy motors)
    • Connectivity – RTS
    • Controller – Homey (Connexoon is optional; which I’m not using)
    • (more details coming…)
  • Apartment Front and Yard Doors Automation
    • I have installed electronic locks by Samsung. It has an added z-wave module which allows integration with Homey for some controls.
      • When door opens – Homey announces the door is unlocked
      • When door closes – Homey announces the door is locked
      • When I get home – the door is unlocked
    • Device – (Lock) Samsung SHP-DP728 with Z-Wave (EU/I) addon module
    • Device – (Motion Sensor) Aeotec MultiSensor 6
    • Device – (Wifi) Google Wifi
    • Advanced Integration – IFTTT
    • Connectivity
      • Lock to Homey > Z-Wave
      • Motion Sensor to Homey > Z-Wave
    • Controller – Homey
    • more on the basic setup of this lock
  • Aircon automated control
    • I discovered the Ambi Climate in late 2018, and found it to be really effective to nicely control the room temperature. The most important part for me is that I no longer wake up in the morning to an overly cold room which I dread to crawl out from under the blanket. Now I always wake up to a nice comfortable temperature.
    • Device – Ambi Climate
    • Connectivity – Wifi
    • Controller – not required, but integrated with Google Home for voice commands
    • (more details coming…)

There’s much more to share, watch out for more posts on the Home Automation topic.

Further topics I’ll be writing about.

  • How naming convention affected my voice control of aircons
  • Deep dive into – Lights Automation
  • Deep dive into – ZipBlinds Automation
  • Deep dive into – Electronics Lock Automation
  • Deep dive into – Aircon control Automation

Solution – iPhone Apps are not syncing with iTunes after a restore

So you have got a new iPhone; you did a backup of your old iPhone and restored it to the new device. Everything seems to be working except that Apps are not installing. You try to re-sync with iTunes but nothing changes.

Looking at the Apps tab in iTunes shows that the Apps will be installed. So the question is when? Seems never right?

Well, it happened to me recently when I was doing just the same thing for an iPhone I was migrating. I even tried to restore a second time, but it didn’t matter.

I then stumbled upon the “Restrictions” settings, funny enough it was disabled. The original phone had restrictions turned on and Apps installation disabled. Just in the off chance of a bug here, I enabled restrictions, just to make sure all options are set to enabled, and turned off restrictions again.

Right after, I did another sync with iTunes, and all the Apps started to install.

There you have it, there’s a bug in the process. Maybe it was specific to my situation, where the source was an iPhone 4 with iOS6 and the target was an iPhone 4S with iOS7.

Nevertheless, here’s an experience I’ll share, in case if you encounter a similar issue.

Goodbye Logmein Free? Or Not?

Today I received an email from Logmein, stating that for Ignition users, we can still continue to use the App to remotely access our computers, even after the 6 months free trial of Pro. Interestingly I do not find the same information at their website. I do however, find their community forum where thousands of users have expressed their respond to the demise of Logmein Free.

Logmein_Ignition

I’ll probably just hang around and see what happens in 6 months. I’ve already got a few other alternatives to use, such as Splashtop, Teamviewer & VNC. And while going through the forums, I discovered Google’s Chrome Remote Desktop, which I’ll find time to try out.

Logmein Free no longer available

end_of_logmein_free

I’ve been a user of Logmein Free for many years now. At the peak of my usage, I even bought the App on the iPad. It’s still the most expensive I’ve ever bought from the Apple App Store. As I logged in today, I received a notification that Logmein Free is no longer available. Due to my loyalty, I have been granted 6months free subscription to the paid Logmein Pro.

This is quite sad as I like their service, and it has been a reliable method for me to access my home PCs remotely. Some months back a limit was imposed on the number of PCs I can access remotely for free. Looks like that is not enough, and Logmein has completely done away with the free service.

Free is always appreciated. However this is for personal use and I don’t need any of the pro features (although they are great in a real support environment). At this rate, I will probably have to say goodbye to the service by the end of the 6 months.

20140203: There’s an update to this right here

Review : Jabra Revo Wireless

I recently invested in my first pair of over-the-ear headphones, after much research and testing, I decided on the Jabra Revo Wireless.

I had very specific requirements which helped to narrow down my choices, and the Jabra Revo Wireless succeeded on.

  • Bluetooth capable, and must support multipoint connectivity (simultaneous connection to 2 devices at the same time over bluetooth)
  • Must have a decent voice call quality, especially for the mic. Really hate to constantly repeat myself because of poor noise isolation.
  • Comfortable over the ears cups
  • Good music quality
  • Leverages the IOS headset battery meter; so I can see how much power is left in the headset
  • Integrates well with IOS and Android

Some nice to have features, which I really like, and the Jabra Revo Wireless supports very well

  • backup wired connection via 3.5mm – this allows me to keep using the headphones even after the battery has gone completely flat; and also enables me to use the headphone with inflight entertainment systems
  • charge via USB – this is particularly important especially for travellers; the icing on the cake here is that the Jabra Revo Wireless will act as an USB audio device. Works on both Mac and Windows; the Jabra Revo Wireless will show up in the Audio device list for both input and output!! How cools is that!?!

Call performance is very good, among the best of bluetooth devices I have used.

Multipoint works very well, though I must add that when there are 2 devices connected, there will be some lag in the audio. So, if you are watching a video, or playing a game, the sound will be about half a second late. I’ve validated that this only occurs when multipoint is in action.

Overall, this is a great headset and I am very pleased of my investment.

Self Service Support with VMware

One thing I’m impressed with VMware support is the huge database of KB articles. VMware KB does not only contain articles relating to issues, but also include best practices, supported configurations, etc. One KB which I access the most is the article that lists the TCP/UDP ports used by various vSphere products.

Now, personally I find the search function sometimes a little short. My favorite is to use google (as is millions of people out there). So, how can we use google to search VMware KB? I do that all the time. The answer is simple just include a google search keyword, “site:”. So specifically to find VMware KB articles using google search simply just do this…

Google > site:kb.vmware.com my search topic keywords

This way, google search will only give you results from the site kb.vmware.com.

Hope this is useful for you 🙂

USB Drive not working? could be the cable!

Did you have the experience that when you plug in your USB drive to the PC, it doesn’t get detected, or windows give some error, and perhaps the drive doesn’t seem to be spinning up at all? I just did, in fact it happened to 2 of my old drives. A 80GB and a 120GB which I haven’t used for a couple of years.

I thought that they were old and were failing, or already had failed. Turned out to be otherwise!! It was the USB cable I was using. The cable was meant for those drives, but due to the age and the humidity of Singapore, the contact points of the connectors had some level of corrosion. Interestingly, it’s bad enough to not deliver enough power to spin up the drives and to cause unusual behaviour. Once I switch to a good cable, the drives spin into full life!!

So, lesson learnt, if your USB drive seems not to be working, try and change the cable first.

Aztech Homeplug HL115EP

I’ve been using the Aztech homeplugs for over 3 years now. Started with the HL109EP, used it for some time, and then several months back I upgraded to the HL115EP.

My preference for home networking connectivity is Cat5e UTP cables. However, when I moved into my current apartment in 2008, renovation works was kept to a bare minimal, and so to run new wiring was not an option. The next best thing was to leverage existing cables.

My apartment has 2 levels with the core internet access point in a far end of the apartment. Wireless reach is poor, and I had to extend it. Wireless bridging didn’t give good performance, and would require several Linksys WRT54GL (my old time favorite hacked with DD-WRT) to cover the whole apartment. So, the other alternative was with physical connectivity, which cleverly uses the power lines that reaches to every corner of the apartment.

The Aztech homeplugs were introduced, and worked pretty well. The electric cabling around the house became the core network backbone of my home network.

With the HL109EP, which on the box rates to be 200Mbps, was able to deliver up to 36Mbps with the power points on the lower level, and about 17Mbps on the higher level. The reason was how the electrical connection was done; there’s a big hop from the lower to upper level.

The LAN port on the HL109EP was 100Base-T, which is very common. If you are thinking now, how will 100Base-T give 200Mbps, it’s the common marketing gimmick of adding upstream (100Mbps) and downstream (100Mbps). As my internet connection back then a 10Mbps (ADSL), that was good enough. Anywhere in the apartment I could make use of the full bandwidth of my internet line.

Earlier this year, I upgraded to 50Mbps Fibre. That puts the “core network” to be the bottleneck. The reasonable option was to upgrade. Quite coincidentally, Aztech launched the new HL115EP. On the box it says 500Mbps, and the device has a 1Gbps LAN port. How this has improved is that the device has a built in noise filter. This will effectively improves on the quality of the signal the HL115EP can deliver over the same wires, and therefore achieving higher speed.

The performance of the HL115EP is definitely noticeable. In my case as a 1 to 1 replacement of the HL109EP it gives me double the throughput. At times it can go faster up to 3x but that really depends on how noisy the power lines are.

One thing to note is that the HL115EP does not work with the HL109EP, they will not talk to each other. However, if you have multiples of each, and need 2 discreet networks, that will work just fine. So say if you want to have 2 networks on the same premise that do not talk to each other, you can have one network made up of HL109EP, and another of HL115EP.

I don’t have experience with other competing products and cannot compare. But what I can advise is that keep your Powerline networking gears to be consistent throughout. Don’t attempt to mix and match. I was lucky to be able to upgrade all my HL109EP to HL115EP through an Aztech launch promotion!!

I did say to keep the Powerline equipment consistent; that’s all that really matters. Your internet router, wireless access points, NAS, everything else on the network, does not have to be an Aztech. I have a 2Wire router (provided by my ISP), a DLink Gigabit switch, Linksys WRT54GL, Baffalo WZR-HP-G300NH, Foscam FI8919W, Apple Airport Express connected to various HL115EP and they are working very well.

For those who wonder how I test the network throughput, basically just having a PC/notebook at each end of the HL115EP and run iperf on them.

Anyone in Singapore who is keen to invest in the HL115EP, on tip is Aztech is in every PC show that happens every 3 months in Singapore. You can typically buy a pair for under S$120. Outside the PC show, a pair will cost about S$130 depending on where you shop. Find the brochure of a recent PC show here.

Foscam IP Camera

So many months ago, I purchased a pair of Foscam FI8918W cameras. Primary usage is to be able to check out what’s going on at home while we are out. After using it for several months now, I highly recommend it to anyone who needs a “remote eyes and ears”.

I must say, it has been a very good investment. Comparing the features with the more commonly known brands like Dlink, Panasonic, Linksys, etc.. it’s very very competitively priced.

Video quality is great does 640×480 @ 30fps, Pan & Tilt capability, night vision is enabled via infrared, 2 way audio (yes, you can have a conversation), motion detection alarm, and much more. All for only S$125, and includes delivery fee.

Coupled with my Singtel Fibre Broadband, I can get very good frame rates when viewing from outside the home, connected via the internet. You’ll need to know how to configure out broadband router to appropriately forward the TCP ports to the cameras.

The video can be access via your favorite browsers, e.g. IE, Chrome, Firefox, Safari (on iPad and iPhone too!!). Or my favorite method is to use the IOS App, Live Cams Pro. Find it here http://www.eggmantechologies.com

In Singapore, you can order the camera from http://www.foscamsingapore.sg. Though you can possibly order from an US site, and may cost a little less, but at the price of difficult warranty replacements. I’d rather just order from the Singapore store and get easy warranty replacement when required (so far so good, touch wood).