Using USB-Powered Fans (AC Infinity MULTIFAN S5) to Cool Entertainment Devices (Comcast X1 DVR)

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Our X1 DVR simply can’t handle any heat buildup. This is probably largely due to the fact that it lacks any fans and several comments on the Internet seem to indicate that the device is underpowered and thus works harder to handle high-quality audio and video (and as a result it generates more heat). I’m undecided on whether or not the box needs to be replaced. The features are fine and when it isn’t having issues it works very well.

Lately I’ve started to experience the same symptoms of the box overheating even though it’s still outside of the entertainment cabinet and the air conditioner is usually on. This may have something to do with using a different TV, which is directly above a small part of the DVR’s case and perhaps restricting airflow in that area.

Last weekend I attempted to use a very inexpensive USB fan to cool the box. It was very basic; little more than a USB plug and a fan motor. It did actually work but it was on a flexible arm, which generated a lot of vibration and thus a lot of noise. Even though it only cost about $5 it simply wasn’t going to work. I also suspect the fan wasn’t intended for continuous use as I noticed the motor was warm when I removed. I dropped it into a box of unused devices and decided to look for something specifically made for this purpose.

That’s when I found the AC Infinity MULTIFAN S5 on Amazon.com, which appeared to be a much better device for cooling the DVR (and indeed, it is). It features two fans that work from a single USB connection. In addition, more fans can be chained together though I don’t have a need for this capability. They truly are very quiet. The fans have a single switch that can be used to turn them off or to a low, middle and high speed. The highest speed isn’t very loud and the set is much, much quieter than the first fan that I had tried.

At $16 it looks like a good deal and even if I replace the DVR with something better, down the road, I can still reuse the fans with other devices. So far I’m extremely pleased with this purchase.

A Good USB Microscope for Education and Fun (Plugable USB 2.0 Digital Microscope)

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Even though our son isn’t yet three years old I wanted to go ahead and introduce him to some cool science. I had the idea that a USB microscope might be a fun way. We could look at various things up close, including insects. After reviewing several devices I decided the Plugable USB 2.0 Digital Microscope with Flexible Arm Observation Stand for Windows, Mac, Linux (2MP, 250x Magnification) would be a good choice. With a birthday coming up soon I chose to add it to my wishlist rather than outright buy it though at only $35 it’s a great price. Sure enough, someone bought it as a gift.

The only thing I can’t offer a comment on at this stage is how well it holds up as I’ve only had it for a week. I’m impressed by the simplicity of how it works. The device easily connected to my Mac and instead of requiring the installation of driver software it connected as a standard USB webcam. At this point the only software I’ve used to view and capture images is Apple’s built-in Photobooth app.

The microscope has a built-in LED light with a plastic guard surrounding the camera. To view something up-close one simply holds the guard against whatever is being inspected. The focus is adjusted by twisting the middle, rubber part of the camera assembly.

It’s USB only though it wouldn’t take much effort to connect an HDMI cable to my laptop and send the video to a TV. I’ve only used it on macOS though its supported on multiple operating systems.

Here are some sample images:

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Close-up of the threads in the comforter on our bed, including some dyed strands.

 

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This is the smooth, aluminum shell of my MacBook Air.

 

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Threads in a pair of my pajamas.

 

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High thread-count bedsheet, which normally looks dark blue.

 

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A closeup of the bottom side of one of my feet.

Easy Accessory Power Switch for a 2008 Chevrolet Impala

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I used a dashcam, phone charger and bluetooth adapter in the car for a while but I grew tired of having to manually unplug those devices when not in use or when I turned the car off. Unfortunately, in my 2008 Chevrolet Impala the vehicle would continue to provide power to any plugged in accessories even when the engine was off. Most of these devices are low power but even a dashcam, given enough time, could eventually drain the vehicle batter, especially if the car wasn’t being used for several days.

Re-wiring the electrical system and messing with fuses is beyond my experience so I decided to see if I could find an automotive power strip that would have a built-in power switch and sure enough I was able to find the perfect device.

The EUGIZMO Cigarette Lighter Splitter only costs about $16, offers three DC outlets, four USB power ports, a large power switch for the unit and also a very good visual indicator to show whether or not it is on.

I chose to mount this upside-down, just below the vehicle’s built-in DC power ports. This placement moves most of the power adapters and cables out of the way; whenever I turn the car on or off it’s very easy to just reach down and hit the large power button.

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At first affixing the unit beneath the dash was a bit of the problem as the first type of velcro that I had used simply wasn’t holding and it would often come loose during the day. Eventually I ended up using some VELCRO Exterme Outdoor Strips and it hasn’t come loose since.

Updated 04/18/2018: The splitter and power button continue to work perfectly. In addition, the VELCRO has held; it hasn’t come loose yet. 

Accessing a Remote Network with a TP-Link SafeStream TL-ER604W Router

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Back in December I started using a TP-Link SafeStream TL-R600VPN Gigabit Broadband Desktop VPN Router to be able to login to the network at a remote property. It provided most of the functions I needed but unfortunately the client/server mode of the VPN service only supported PPTP. While not every secure it would have been fine for my purposes but unfortunately Apple dropped support for PPTP VPN connections from the newer Mac OS and iOS versions. I was able to purchase a program called Shimo to use PPTP from the Mac but there wasn’t really a good solution for iOS and being able to access the network from my phone was a critical need.

Frustrated that I couldn’t use my phone to connect to the network I eventually purchased a TP-Link SafeStream TL-ER604W Wireless N300 Gigabit Broadband Desktop VPN Router, which provides PPTP, L2TP and IPSEC client/server connections and so far it has worked great.

Both routers have, on at least one or two occasions, each hung up and required a manual power reset. The NetReset device I purchased recently seems to have eliminated that infrequent problem.

Updated 04/18/2018: I continue to be very pleased with this device. Combined with the NetReset device I’ve had zero problems connecting to to this VPN.

Using an Aeotec Smart Strip

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A while back I decided that it would be nice to have our son’s bedroom lamp, white noise machine and humidifier all plugged into Z-Wave automation switches. But I no longer had any free modules and this meant that I’d need to purchase three Z-Wave plug-in modules. That’s not a small cost and would require more room than was available at the outlet or involve a very ugly set of power cables.

To resolve this problem, and also reduce cost, I decided to purchase an Aeotec DSC11 Smart Power Strip. This power strip provides six power outlets with four of them controllable using Z-Wave. The four can also be controlled as a single unit to turn all of them on or off.

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This turned out to work well. I have it connected to my Indigo software and also an Aeon Labs Minimote. On the Minimote one button controls only the lamp and another controlls the noise machine and humidifier as a group.

I haven’t had any problems with this device.

Using Indigo 7 for Home Automation with a Mac

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Back in 2013 I moved from using a very good Windows program called mControl for home automation control over to Indigo for Mac OS. mControl worked great for my needs then but I didn’t want to dedicate an additional computer to the home automation and video recording tasks since I usually left my iMac running anyway.

Indigo looked like an excellent choice and over the years and it has indeed proven to be a great software package for home automation control from a Mac. I realized that even though I’ve blogged about some of the things that I’ve done with Indigo I haven’t really mentioned my overall experience with the software.

It’s now on version 7 and though the cost has risen this is largely due to improved software support and the inclusion of the required licensed technology needed to control Z-Wave compatible door locks. Indigo is very extensible; one can find a number of community-built plugins and it also supports scripting via Python.

I wouldn’t recommend it for someone that isn’t very tech savvy; there are other consumer appliances more suitable for basic home usage, but if you want to do anything more than have a few automated tasks (for example, anything that requires a good bit of logic and virtual devices or variables) you’ll need something like Indigo.

At our house I do use a Wink system and it works fine there but it’s not capable of doing much more than running a few automated tasks; consumer appliances (usually cloud-connected) currently don’t offer very much in this realm. But at the apartment I’m still using Indigo and have moved into some more advanced home automation interactions.

With Indigo I now have several actions that are dependent on the status of other devices, virtual devices and variables. I’m also using some Bluetooth proximity detectors to provide additional enhancements and in the past I’ve done some more interesting things that I currently don’t have setup.

I highly encourage anyone with more than a passing interest in home automation, and a Mac that you’re willing to leave powered on all of the time, to look into Indigo. The initial cost may seem high but when you consider the basic cost just to purchase a consumer appliance hub such as Wink or SmartThings, and then potential issues with any of your existing equipment, you may find that the savings aren’t really there in the long run. Indigo works with X10, Insteaon and Z-Wave devices as well as some other devices that don’t use those protocols.