Home Automation: “The dryer has finished drying your clothes.”


While most of the things that I can do with my home automation setup are only of interest to myself on occasion I manage to add something that my wife also thinks is useful. This is one of them.

A while back I decided to add the ability for the home automation system to know when the washer has finished washing clothes and to make an announcement. This worked well though the module itself appears to have been damaged and is no longer communicating. Before that module failed I managed to find a way to sense when the dryer has finished. This was accomplished using an Aeon Labs Energy Reader.


The unit is a Z-Wave device with two clamps, which is typically intended to be used at a breaker box. It wouldn’t have been able to properly sense current flow if I had just placed the clamps around the power cable for the dryer; the clamps need to be over individual wires that are normally within the cable sheath. However, on my dryer the three wires are individually accessible for a few inches before they enter the main sheath and are then covered.

It was just a matter of placing the clamps around two of these cables. Fortunately, as with the washer, our dryer is low-tech and doesn’t draw any power while not in use so setting up the sensing thresholds in Indigo was relatively easy (actually easier than setting up the washer). Though the washer module is not currently working the dryer notifications still continue to work.

TaoTronics Bluetooth Transmitter


Several months ago I decided to purchase a set of Bluetooth headphones so I could, on occasion, watch TV in the bedroom late at night without disturbing my wife. At one time I had a wireless headphones set that worked well for this purpose but they were simply very bulky (both the charging unit and the headphones themselves). I attempted to use a jail-broken iPod as well but I wasn’t satisfied with that either.


The TV itself doesn’t support Bluetooth so I decided to purchasing a Bluetooth audio transmitter. In this case, one manufactured by TaoTronics, which is small and reliable. Overall the device is very good but there is a slight delay in the audio that is noticeable relative to the action on TV, especially with dialog, though I grew accustomed to it rather quickly.

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Using a Zubie Key: A Year in Review


Almost a year ago I purchased a Zubie Key, which is a device that can be used to track the location, and monitor the status, of a vehicle through a vehicle’s OBD-II port. This device has a built-in cellular connection and requires a yearly subscription fee of about $100. My motivation at the time was to integrate it into my home automation setup, which I actually did by connecting it to the IFTTT service combined with text message notifications that my home automation software can receive and process.

A year later I am uncertain whether or not I will continue to pay for the service. Mind you, it is not bad and has lived up to my expectations. But with daycare and various other child-related costs I’m not sure that it’s worth (that suddenly more valuable amount of) $100.

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Blogging Hiatus

I’ve been on a bit of a blogging hiatus for nearly a year. The first half of the break was the result of other responsibilities and, quite simply, not feeling too eager to spend a lot of time on a laptop after work. The other half was the result of, well, a new addition to our family, which I hinted at in my last post. We had our first child last summer, which kept me preoccupied before and after he was born.

So, what follows is an attempt to add some new posts. I can’t guarantee that I’ll go back to my previous frequency of posts. In fact, that seems highly unlikely, especially since my buying power for gadgets has been, uh, significantly altered. But over the past several months I have accumulated a few things that I wanted to get around to mentioning at some point.

Baby Monitor (Temporarily) Killed Z-Wave Network

Late last week I started to experience problems with various Z-Wave modules that began having communication problems. One module refused to work at all and others, including our thermostats, demonstrated frequent communication problems.

This was frustrating because I had never experienced communication issues with my Z-Wave gear; it is one of the reasons that I have come to prefer Z-Wave.

At first I thought it was a software issue and then I began checking batteries and routing. After a couple of days I figured out what was actually causing the problem.

Our baby monitors were creating interference. It turns out that the monitors operate in the 900 MHz range and so does Z-Wave. This also explained why it wasn’t my entire Z-Wave network that had problems; only the devices clustered in and near the nursery.

The monitor that we have provides a button to change available channels. Tapping this a few times adjusted the frequency of the monitors enough to remove the interference. Ever since then the communication problems have disappeared (in fact, the change was nearly instant).

Using a Blacklight Flashlight to Find Dried Dog Urine and Lost Toys


Yes, you read that correctly. A while back I purchased a blacklight flashlight to find dried dog urine in our house. Why? Because when you have two young puppies it’s not uncommon to identify the smell of urine but to not be able to find the source…

They’ve grown a good bit since I originally purchased it and it’s less of an issue now. That’s not to imply that they don’t “go” in the house anymore but it’s not as frequent and also less likely that we won’t notice.

There was a time, however, when they would frequently sneak off and piss in a corner or under a table and we wouldn’t notice it for a while. On wooden floors can be difficulty to see after it has dried.

Does this work? The short is answer is that yes, it does.

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