mPanel Discontinued, iOS Device Support for mControl Planned

Embedded Automation announced via its forums that it is discontinuing the mPanel device partly due to supply issues. The part of this announcement that I’m interested in is their planned support for iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch devices. Many mControl users have been hoping for an iPad app since the device first hit the market.

According to the announcement it will probably not be released before mControl 3.

mPanel Announcement

Updated 08/18/2011: A few weeks ago I started using the mControl 3 beta along with the freely available iOS app. I’ve been using the app on my iPhone and it works well, though sometimes it can take several seconds for it to connect to my server. It works just as well through a VPN into my home network.

Replacing an Interior Mortise Lock (Skeleton Key) with a modern lock with Privacy Latch

This seems to be one of the more popular posts on my blog. Well, I’ve had two of these locks in place for over five months and I haven’t had any problems with them. I corrected all of the issues mentioned (except repainting). One item to consider – you might want to have a set of wood chisels on hand.

Our entrance doors and some bathroom doors were upgraded before we owned our house but none of the bedroom door locks have been replaced so they still use the old skeleton-key hardware. I wanted to add privacy and some additional security so I searched for a good mortise lock to replace the old ones. I eventually found this (after a lot of searching). I received it yesterday, installed it, and it’s working great.

Not all parts fit perfectly, though that’s not a flaw of the lock. More likely there are just several different types of locks that were made with different alignments. In the end I won’t have to make any major changes. The plates aligned about a quarter of an inch higher than the old ones so I’ll need to repaint one side of the door and finish the other (in very small areas). The strike plates don’t match up. At the moment the knob part doesn’t latch in – I’ll need to remove the old strike plate, remove a small part of the frame, and install the new one (but even without doing this the latch locks in just fine).

I was able to use the old crystal knobs instead of the included ones. I had hoped to be able to use the old cover plates but part of the latch is built into one plate and it does not look like it can be adapted to fit the old ones. However, it looks good and works great and I’ll be ordering another one for our guest room.

Interior Mortise Lock Set with Privacy Latch

Update: I ordered a second lock set and installed it on the door of our guest room. That door is a left-handed door but the lock can be reversed by opening it up and moving the top lock around.

Update (11/19/2010): Both locks are holding up great. It’s hard to tell from the photos but so far they seem to have a reliable, solid construction.

old lock set shown on left, new lock set shown on right

Using an Electronic Cigarette (and what works for myself)

Updated 08/27/2011: Several months ago PureSmoker stopped carrying most of the Ace parts. I’ve had a good experience purchasing from them so I switched over to the Joy eGO model, which actually works better than the Ace though it’s a larger size. I’ve included new details in another post.

I’ve been using an electronic cigarette (eCig) off-and-on for nearly two years. At one point I went six months without a “real” cigarette. I’ve gone back to using them again and this time it’s sticking better now that I’ve discovered better brands/suppliers. I’m not going to get into the details of how an eCig works or what a cartomizer or atomizer is. There are plenty of other sites that explain these in better detail.

My first eCig was an NJOY NPRO. The original starter kits, which included two batteries, at least one atomizer, five cartridges, and a charging set, cost about $80. A pack of ten cartridges cost $20. Each cartridge was marketed as being the equivalent of a pack of cigarettes, but in my experience that was never the case. I stuck with the brand for a long time and by the time I stopped using NJOY products I purchased two starter kits, bought a used one from a friend, and purchased at least four more express kits ($35 each with fewer pieces). I don’t even know how much I spent on cartridge packs.

I had learned to save money by purchasing “smoke juice” (the liquid included in cartridges) and refilling my own. I also started buying blank cartridges and filled those myself. I also started buy atomizers from another company, which saved some money. Eventually, I was even able to buy third-party “cartomizers”. However, in the end, the high rate of failure (off all parts) and the cost was too much to deal with.

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DirecTV HR20 Receiver and RF Remote Issue (Simple Fix)

Updated 05/25/2011: Save yourself time, money, and frustration by checking out my latest solution.

I discovered a simple fix for a problem with getting our DirecTV (HR20) receiver to pickup the signal from the DirecTV RF remote. It had been working great since I bought it and was fine until recently. Tonight I checked the batteries, which were good, so I went to the DVR and noticed that the antenna was leaning to the left slightly. I must have bumped it one night when fiddling with the new HDMI splitter.

I straightened the antenna and when I went back to the bedroom the remote worked perfectly again.

Update: This may not have been the real problem. I have an update in Part 2.

Installing X10 Software in Windows 7

I attempted to re-install Vanguard (from a new download) to see if it improved the CPU consumption. It didn’t. But in the process I was reminded of an issue I ran into when I moved to Windows 7. Some programs, especially those not originally intended for Windows 7, may need to be installed by running them as Administrator. The first time I re-installed Vanguard I received a prompt at the end from Windows 7 stating that the program may not have installed properly. The next time I re-installed I ran the install as Administrator and did not get the same warning.

Using iTunes with mControl

Despite my lack of luck with the mControl text-to-speech driver I did manage to get the iTunes beta driver to work. Setup required a lot of troubleshooting and in the end the only way I could get it to work was to dump all songs into only one playlist. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get it to play only one song at a time so instead I set a delay of two minutes after a song starts to play. After two minutes iTunes receives another command to stop playing the current song.

It could be a simple matter of not understanding the commands that are available but for now I’ll stick with this setup as I don’t have very many uses for the music. To handle the sudden delay I’m considering editing the MP3 files by cutting them down to two minutes with a fade-out.

Note: I was using Winamp in conjunction with a command-line interface (Clamp) but it didn’t work perfectly and I was not thrilled that Winamp seemed to have updated itself automatically.