Saturday, December 19, 2015

Get your Synology NAS to notify you when your IP changes

I have a residential internet service. That means I never know when my IP address is going to change. But that is ok because I use DDNS Updater 2 in order to automatically update the DNS for my domain with the IP address of my Synology NAS when it changes. But the problem with that is DNS updates do not immediately propagate to every DNS server on the internet. It could take up to 24 hours until your domain is finally updated with the new IP.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

My initial impressions of the new Ilumi Smartbulbs from Kickstarter

One can always expect delays from Kickstarter projects. Always tack at a least a month or two on the expected shipping dates. You should never be angry about that, it is part of the Kickstarter game. But for Ilumi, it is disappointing to here that the reason there was a delay in shipping to backers was because they decided to use the initial inventory to supply Home Depot Canada first as they had struck a distribution deal.

My Pad & Quill Leather Apple Watch band arrived!

After a bit over a month, a package arrived in the mail containing a long cardboard box with no marks or any identification. Upon opening it, I discover the Pad & Quill Classic Leather Apple Watch Band had finally arrived!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Picking up the Aukey Aluminum Dual Bay Hard Drive Enclosure

My setup has consisted of my Macbook Pro connected to a WD My Passport 2TB USB drive which hosts my Photos library, iMovie library, and other large files which I don't need stored on my internal SSD. While I was pleased with it, I originally got the drive because I liked the idea of having a portable hard drive I can take everywhere. But eventually I realized that it never left my desk. Since it was a small 5400RPM drive, the speed wasn't the greatest. So I started looking for what I could replace it with.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Using the SmartThings Hub V2 as my primary home automation hub

My Previous Setup

My home automation setup had consisted of WeMo switches for controlling lights and appliances, a Logitech Harmony Hub for controlling my home entertainment system and a Honeywell Wi-Fi Thermostat. I was using OpenHAB, on my server, as the backend in order to automate everything.

Then I decided to buy the Wink Hub and GE Link Lightbulbs in a combo from Home Depot which they regularly have for $50. Although it had bad reviews, the reason I got the Wink hub was because:
  • It worked with my thermostat natively
  • It was the first hub to be supported by Amazon Echo
  • The combination with the lightbulbs was cheap

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Getting notified when my laundry is done using the WeMo Insight switch and IFTTT

While I normally would remember to switch my clothes from the washer to the dryer, I would accidentally forget my clothes in the dryer. Buying some new smart dryer is out of the question, especially since I am an apartment renter and the dryer is included. So I wanted to find other some home automation method in order to alert me when the dryer is done. This is what I came up with:

What you will need

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Cracking open some WD Elements to use the hard drive within

Unfortunately my 3TB Seagate Barracuda (Z1F0DS2F), which I bought in May 2012, died on me randomly. My NAS immediately reports when hard drives start getting bad sectors and should be replaced. But this hard drive died on the spot! I had no opportunity to recover my data. The moment I would try to mount the drive, it would just disappear on me. I had lost my data. Luckily it wasn't data that can't be replaced, but it still sucked.

Upgrading the AirPort Card in my Macbook Pro 15" (Early 2013) from 802.11n to 802.11ac

The Macbook Pro 15" (Early 2013), which is similar to the Mid-2012 version, was released with 802.11n Wi-Fi AirPort card. I have the AirPort Extreme (6th Gen) router at home. When I had an iMac, before I sold it, it would connect at 1300Mbps through 802.11ac. But with my Macbook Pro, it would only connect at the 450Mbps limit of 802.11n. The late-2013 Macbook Pro released by Apple included 802.11ac AirPort cards, which a teardown from iFixit revealed, was also the same size and connection type as the early-2013 version. So this meant that you could upgrade the AirPort card in the early-2013, as well as mid-2012 Macbook Pros.

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Logitech Harmony Smart Keyboard

I've recently purchased the Logitech Harmony Smart Keyboard for my living room setup. The package includes the smart keyboard, a control hub, and an IR blaster extender.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

My thoughts on the Withings WS-50 Smart Body Analyzer

A few weeks ago I bought the Withings WS-50 Smart Body Analyzer. I would of preferred buying the WS-30, but there was a good discount on the WS-50. The biggest difference between them is that the WS-50 provides the ability to measure body fat, heart rate, room temperature and CO2 levels. Both still automatically upload your weight. But is a "smart" weight scale worth having?

Friday, July 17, 2015

Sony 64GB microSDXC (SR64UY2A/TQ)

On Amazon Prime Day I was looking for a new 64GB microSD card for my GoPro Hero 4. I was able to grab the Sony 64GB microSDXC (SR64UY2A/TQ), although I could not find any information on it online and the Amazon reviews were pretty generic. It is just an SD card, after all, so nothing here will be very exciting. But I will show some basic information about the SD card performance in order to help anyone else in the future.

These are initial tests with the card being brand new. I will update in the future after the card has been used a bit to see if the performance still holds up. But based on the results, I am pretty happy with the card. Since the card is guaranteed a minimum of 70MB/s read speed, you must consider yourself lucky for any extra you do end up getting.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Are WeMo switches really that bad?

If you look through the reviews found online, you will notice that many people are not very happy with their Belkin WeMo devices. They mention random disconnects, unable to connect to their WiFi routers, and unresponsiveness. But even reading through all of that, I decided to get some WeMo switches and see for myself if it is really as bad as people say. The benefit of WeMo is that they use WiFi, which means a control hub is not required to manage them. I will share my experiences with the two devices I have, the WeMo Insight Switch and WeMo Light Switch.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Controlling the Honeywell WiFi Thermostat using Amazon Echo

In my previous article I reviewed the Amazon Echo. In further integrating it with my home automation setup, I want the Echo to control my Honeywell RTH9580WF WiFi thermostat through voice commands. Honeywell does not have any plans to allow its My Total Connect Comfort system to integrate with the Amazon Echo, and I have little hope that they will. But by creating our own Amazon Echo app, and using my previously discussed python script to control the thermostat, we can make it happen. Let's get started!

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Welcome to your new home, Alexa! The Amazon Echo.

Why would anyone get an Amazon Echo? The bluetooth speaker quality isn't worth the cost. And there is already Siri and Google Now on your phone to handle voice requests.

Those were generally the comments you would see when the Amazon Echo is mentioned. And I must admit, I also felt the same way when then Echo was announced. I did not plan on getting one. But once they started integrating more features and allowing it for use in home automation, I realized what I had been missing out on.

Friday, June 26, 2015

A python script to control my Honeywell WiFi Thermostat

I was always jealous of Google Nest users who have such an open API to interface with their thermostat as well as the ability to connect to home automation hubs or services like IFTTT. I had bought a Honeywell WiFi Thermostat (RTH9580WF) because I got an amazing price on it. It always worked fine for me since it had a webpage as well as iOS and Android apps to control it. But now that I am interested in home automation, I am finding the Honeywell thermostat to be very limiting.

After scouring the web, I was able to find and hack a python script to be able to control my thermostat. Thanks to code from Brad Goodman, my modified version is working how I like it to.

Link to my python script

There are three things you need to edit to have the script work for you. First, edit the USERNAME variable with the email login and PASSWORD with the password to your account. When you log in and enter the page for your thermostat control, the web url will contain the device ID for that thermostat. For example, web address means that my device ID is 542695. You will enter this number for DEVICE_ID in my python script without any quotation marks.

When downloading the script, remember to check that it has execution permissions with chmod +x on linux. You can see the arguments available by doing python -help. The following are the options available:
  • Cooling: -c temperature -t hold_time
  • Heating: -h temperature -t hold_time
  • Status: -s
  • Cancel: -x
The hold_time is in the unit of hours. so -t 1 would be 1 hour. The temperature is configured to be fahrenheit, but can be set to celsius. Cancel means to cancel the current temporary settings. And status prints the following:
% python -s
Indoor Temperature: 82.0
Indoor Humidity: 37.0
Cool Setpoint: 82.0
Heat Setpoint: 74.0
Hold Until : 0
Status Cool: 0
Status Heat: 0
An example of using the script to set the temperature to cool to 76F for 2 hours would be:
python -c 76 -t 2
In the future I will be showing how I use this script to allow my thermostat to be controlled by IFTTT and Amazon Echo.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Controlling my Air Purifier using IFTTT Maker and my Web server

Now that IFTTT Maker was released, I will be switching away from my original method of using Dropbox for home automation requests. IFTTT Maker allows you to create IFTTT recipes that interact with a web server of your choosing. In this article I will describe how I replaced my old method in automating my air purifier with IFTTT Maker, which allows it to be faster and more reliable.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Home Automation with a Raspberry Pi, IFTTT, and an Air Purifier

Finding the right air purifier

I wanted to get an air purifier since my Hello Sense sleep tracker would tell me that the air quality in my room was not the greatest. I also didn't want an air purifier that I would have to remember to turn on and turn off throughout the night. I began searching online for what "smart" air purifiers existed, and the only one I found was the Holmes Smart WeMo air purifier. Not only was it a bit expensive at $200, but I was not particularly fond of the way it looked.

My next thought was to get any standard air purifier and use a WeMo Switch to power the air purifier on or off. But after doing a bit of research, it seems most air purifiers will not turn back on automatically or remember your settings when powered.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Controlling Kodi HTPC with my TV remote

I really like have an HTPC (Home Theatre PC) that automatically starts up into Kodi (Home Theatre Software) to handle all my multimedia needs. The only issue is controlling it. I had an Xbox 360 remote hooked up for gaming, and I would use that to control the HTPC. But the controller goes to sleep after a bit, and if I needed to pause the movie right away I had to wake up the controller and wait for it to connect.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Synology, meet Pushbullet

I'm a big fan of Pushbullet. I have talked about it before when mentioning my favorite extensions for Safari. This software allows notifications from your phone/mobile device to appear on your Desktop, send text/pictures/files/links from any device with Pushbullet to any other device as well as sending to other people you have as friends. It is easy to get started since you can easy sign up with just your Google+ account.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Hello Sense sleep tracker from Kickstarter

I backed the Kickstarter project Hello Sense last year and finally received it earlier this May. I have been using it for a few weeks now. So what is it and what does it do?

There are two main components, the Sense and the pill. The sense is the round device that you place on your night stand which has sensors to detect light, sound, humidity, temperature, and air quality (AQI). The pill is the white round clip that attaches to your pillow to track your movement. With this combination, Sense is able to detect if your room is ready for you to sleep. If you tap or wave your hand over Sense it will glow green to tell you the environment is in the right condition for you to sleep based on the researched optimal levels from its sensors.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Review: Monoprice Wi-Fi microSD Adapter

Today I will be taking a look at Monoprice's WiFi SD card. For just $35, you get a SD card that acts as a Wi-Fi hotspot that you can connect to and download pictures. The great thing about this one is that unlike the eyefi, flashair, or Transcent Wi-Fi card, you supply your own microSD cards that you already own and can swap between multiple cards and still have the Wi-Fi feature for all of them.

New Camera! Sony RX100 Mark I

This is just a small update that two weeks ago I bought a Sony RX100 Mark I digital camera for $250 as a Best Buy open box deal. I figured, for such a low price, trying out one of the best compact digital camera's around (although the oldest version) was worth it. So for my future articles, I hope you are able to enjoy better quality images with lower picture noise of the devices and gadgets that I post. I have been enjoying taking pictures with it, and my friends and I have noticed a much higher quality in the images as a result. It should at least be better than using my iPhone!

Sunday, May 10, 2015

My Home Entertainment Setup

Hi Internet,

Today I am deciding to share my home entertainment setup in my apartment living room. It is not big and fancy, but I am happy with it, especially with how little time I spend using it as I am usually on my computer. Ignore the messy left side of my cabinet :-D

Monday, April 20, 2015

Review: The Anker TC930 bluetooth keyboard for my iPad Air 2

Today arrived my Anker TC930 bluetooth keyboard. I wanted to get a cheap bluetooth speaker to see if I would really use it, and the Anker keyboard has great reviews at only $36 as of this writing.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Hard Drive latency with USB3

When people think of ways to connect a hard drive to a computer, the main factor they consider is speed. But let's say the hard drive is slow enough so that it will not saturate the interface, then what else to consider? My next thought was latency, which you can consider as the acceleration, as the data rate is the speed. I found this tool called ioping on GitHub and decided to give it a try. Although I do not have a Thunderbolt drive, I will compare my USB3 5200rpm drive, my retina iMac pcie 256GB SSD internal drive, and an Intel 530 SSD connected to a NexStar CX USB3 enclosure.

Minimizing the number of cables I have to carry: Micro to Mini USB adapter

I try to be a bit of a minimalist and only carry the amount of stuff I need, and possibly a bit more for emergencies. These days, almost everything uses micro USB for connectivity and charging. With the new USB-C starting to show up on products, that may change in the future. Most of the things I have use either Lightening (my iPhone and iPad), or micro usb (portable batteries, portable bluetooth speaker, bluetooth headphones). There was one that was annoying for me, especially when I travel: USB Mini on my GoPro Hero 4. So what I recently bought from Amazon was this cheap Startech USB Micro to USB Mini adapter so that I simply need to bring two types of cables with me wherever I go.

It works great with my GoPro for both charging and data transfer, and I am sure it would work for any other USB Mini device as well. Now I just use my USB micro cable for my GoPro as well as my other devices.

From: To:

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Receiving my new hard drive: TOSHIBA 5TB 7200rpm (MD04ACA500)

This week I received a Toshiba 5TB 7200RPM Internal Hard Drive from Amazon for my server as I was slowly starting to run out of disk space and only had 200GB left.

Some information about the drive can be found below from hdparm:

ATA device, with non-removable media
Model Number:       TOSHIBA MD04ACA500
Serial Number:      84R3K77LFS9A
Firmware Revision:  FP2A
Transport:          Serial, ATA8-AST, SATA 1.0a, SATA II Extensions, SATA Rev 2.5, SATA Rev 2.6, SATA Rev 3.0
Supported: 8 7 6 5
Likely used: 8
Logical max current
cylinders 16383 16383
heads 16 16
sectors/track 63 63
CHS current addressable sectors:   16514064
LBA    user addressable sectors:  268435455
LBA48  user addressable sectors: 9767541168
Logical  Sector size:                   512 bytes
Physical Sector size:                  4096 bytes
Logical Sector-0 offset:                  0 bytes
device size with M = 1024*1024:     4769307 MBytes
device size with M = 1000*1000:     5000981 MBytes (5000 GB)
cache/buffer size  = unknown
Form Factor: 3.5 inch
Nominal Media Rotation Rate: 7200
LBA, IORDY(can be disabled)
Queue depth: 32
Standby timer values: spec'd by Standard, no device specific minimum
R/W multiple sector transfer: Max = 16 Current = 16
Advanced power management level: disabled
DMA: sdma0 sdma1 sdma2 mdma0 mdma1 mdma2 udma0 udma1 udma2 udma3 udma4 *udma5
    Cycle time: min=120ns recommended=120ns
PIO: pio0 pio1 pio2 pio3 pio4
    Cycle time: no flow control=120ns  IORDY flow control=120ns
Enabled Supported:
  * SMART feature set
    Security Mode feature set
  * Power Management feature set
  * Write cache
  * Look-ahead
  * Host Protected Area feature set
  * WRITE_BUFFER command
  * READ_BUFFER command
  * NOP cmd
    Advanced Power Management feature set
    SET_MAX security extension
  * 48-bit Address feature set
  * Device Configuration Overlay feature set
  * Mandatory FLUSH_CACHE
  * SMART error logging
  * SMART self-test
  * General Purpose Logging feature set
  * 64-bit World wide name
  * {READ,WRITE}_DMA_EXT_GPL commands
    unknown 119[7]
  * Gen1 signaling speed (1.5Gb/s)
  * Gen2 signaling speed (3.0Gb/s)
  * Gen3 signaling speed (6.0Gb/s)
  * Native Command Queueing (NCQ)
  * Host-initiated interface power management
  * Phy event counters
  * unknown 76[13]
  * unknown 76[14]
  * unknown 76[15]
  * DMA Setup Auto-Activate optimization
    Device-initiated interface power management
  * Software settings preservation
  * SMART Command Transport (SCT) feature set
  * SCT LBA Segment Access (AC2)
  * SCT Error Recovery Control (AC3)
  * SCT Features Control (AC4)
  * SCT Data Tables (AC5)
  * reserved 69[3]
Master password revision code = 65534
not enabled
not locked
not frozen
not expired: security count
supported: enhanced erase
more than 508min for SECURITY ERASE UNIT. more than 508min for ENHANCED SECURITY ERASE UNIT.
Logical Unit WWN Device Identifier: 50000395bb803dfb
NAA : 5
IEEE OUI : 000039
Unique ID : 5bb803dfb
Checksum: correct
DiskStation> hdparm -i /dev/sdd


 Model=TOSHIBA MD04ACA500, FwRev=FP2A, SerialNo=84R3K77LFS9A
 Config={ Fixed }
 RawCHS=16383/16/63, TrkSize=0, SectSize=0, ECCbytes=0
 BuffType=unknown, BuffSize=unknown, MaxMultSect=16, MultSect=16
 CurCHS=16383/16/63, CurSects=16514064, LBA=yes, LBAsects=9767541168
 IORDY=on/off, tPIO={min:120,w/IORDY:120}, tDMA={min:120,rec:120}
 PIO modes:  pio0 pio1 pio2 pio3 pio4
 DMA modes:  sdma0 sdma1 sdma2 mdma0 mdma1 mdma2
 UDMA modes: udma0 udma1 udma2 udma3 udma4 *udma5
 AdvancedPM=yes: unknown setting WriteCache=enabled
 Drive conforms to: Unspecified:  ATA/ATAPI-3,4,5,6,7

 * signifies the current active mode

Read Speed: 211 MB/sec

Write Speed: 202 MB/s

Unfortunately hdparm does not report the cache size, so I do not know what the cache size of the drive is. There has been discussion about whether these Toshiba drives come with 64mb or 128mb caches.

Does cache size matter? When you have a larger cache size, the hard drive feels like it performs faster because accessing the cache is way way faster than accessing the physical spinning disk. So the bigger the cache, the more data that can be placed on it before it needs to move over to the spinning platter. That is why if your computer suddenly shuts down, from say a power outage, you may lose information since the data could of been in the cache and not in the permanent spinning platter when it was shut off. The cache can also be used for reading as well. One typical way of accessing data faster is by location based prediction. That is to say, if you are accessing one block of memory, chances are that you will access data around it as well as they could be related. So by having the hard drive place data stored nearby where you are accessing it, when the computer requests that data, bam! it automatically has it in the cache and can send it out quickly.

But I have the hard drive successfully installed in my HP N54L Server running Xpenology, which I love! Xpenology is essentially the project/community where they make the Synology OS package called DSM run on any computer.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Get video thumbnails in OS X Finder for AVI, MKV, etc...

It bothered me a bit that thumbnails for some video files I had would not show up in Finder. Finder would only create thumbnails for video formats/containers that Quicktime supports by default (such as MPEG-4). But there is a way to get around that with the open-source application QLVideo found on GitHub. Once you install that and reboot, thumbnails will start showing up for your videos.

I have been using this with OS X Yosemite 10.10 successfully.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Force Mac OS X to use aptX with your bluetooth audio devices

If you have a bluetooth audio device like headphones or a speaker that supports aptX, you might find that it connects to OS X using the SBC codec instead.

You can check the codec your bluetooth device is using by holding down the Option key, clicking on the Bluetooth icon in your menu bar, and mousing over to the bluetooth device to show its details.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

My favorite Safari Extensions

There are many extensions that exist out there. And there is nothing stopping you from downloading all of them. But the issue is that the more extensions you start to install, the less responsive and more memory a browser begins to consume as it needs to run and keep active those extensions. I try to stay a minimalist, so there are the few extensions I recommend others to have, and are the first I install in a new machine for Safari:

Last Pass is an online password manager that helps you store passwords as well as generate random passwords. Last Pass is free, but costs $1 a month for a premium service that allows you to use it on your mobile device. It is my favorite password manager and I have been using it for many years.
Ghostery is an extension that helps you block trackers on the web to make your web browsing as anonymous as technically possible. The category of trackers that it can block are: Advertising, Analytics, Beacons, Privacy, and Widgets. I recommend not enabling Widgets, as it can break may web pages and take effort in order to track down and whitelist the specific widget you need for the site you are visiting (although you can just whitelist the entire domain).
Ultimate Status Bar does something so simple that I am shocked it is not available in Safari by default. It allows you to mouse-over any link and have it show you what the address is on the bottom of the browser, like you would see in any other web browser.
Adblock is a great extension that does as the name implies, it blocks advertisements, even youtube! This extension is not to be confused with Adblock Plus (ABP), which allows companies to pay them in order to allow some
Pushbullet is a free service that allows you to send links, pictures, and messages to any device you have (desktop, laptop, tablet, mobile) as well as to any other friends who are registered and use Pushbullet. Pushbullet also sends notifications from your mobile device to your browser, no matter what OS your desktop or mobile device is.
Imagus allows you to mouse-over images in order to make them bigger instantly without having to click on it. This is great if you visit any website that has many small images that you would like to see enlarged fast. The extension is no longer available for download, but I have it available in my Dropbox.
If you enjoy any of these extensions, make sure to donate to the developers if you can!