Pebble Smartwatch


I’ve carried an iPhone around for some time (probably since a year after they were first released). Overall, it’s been a good choice for me and most of the initial annoyances I dealt with have been resolved over the course of several generations. However, one problem I’ve dealt with is sometimes not realizing when I’ve received a text message or have an incoming phone call (I usually carry my phone in my pocket).

This wasn’t a constant problem but it did happen often enough to be an issue. A couple of years ago I started searching for a wristwatch with Bluetooth capability that would vibrate or provide some other form of notification that was obvious. I did find devices that were almost what I was looking for but they were too expensive (several hundred dollars), had poor reviews, or they looked more like bracelets than watches. I had no interest in wearing two devices (for example, a watch and a device just for notifications) so I didn’t bother acquiring any of the devices available at the time.

Then I become familiar with the Kickstarter project for the Pebble Smartwatch. Sometimes I’d read about the progress of the project on tech sites or hear it mentioned in the TWiT podcast. I was interested, but not interested enough to become an early adopter so I waited. I also wanted to see the watch in person before deciding to find out just how big the watches really are.

This year the Pebble went into full production and was eventually available for sell at Best Buy stores. On a recent visit to a store I remembered to look for one. Sure enough, a couple were in stock. After seeing it in person I decided it wasn’t too large to wear (I didn’t want to walk around with a clunky box attached to my wrist) and finally purchased one. In Best Buy stores they sell for about $150. They are also listed on Amazon but are usually much more expensive.

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Moving from mControl 3 (Windows) to Indigo 6 (OS X) for Home Automation



The Short Version: I moved VPN, home automation control, and video recording from an ASUS eeeBox PC (Windows) to my iMac (OS X Mountain Lion). VPN was changed from PPTP to L2TP using iVPN to control the server. Video recording is with the same program (Vitamin D Video Pro) using the same license. mControl was dropped and I’m now using Indigo 6 to control everything.

For home automation control I’ve been running mControl over the past few years. The development team rarely updated the software but rather than invest in a different package I went ahead and upgraded to version 3 when it was released. The software was running on an ASUS system I had setup at the house for managing home automation and security video recording.

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Plugable USB 2.0 to Gigabit Ethernet Adapter



Several months ago I lost some network ports on different devices due to a power surge from a nearby lightning strike. Unfortunately, one of the devices that took a hit was the ASUS system I’m using for managing home automation. After the surge I configured the system to use wifi but it was struggling to keep up with network traffic (the system does more than just manage my home automation setup).

After I while I decided to purchase a Plugable USB 2.0 to Gigabit Ethernet Adapter. It’s worked great ever since and as far as I can tell I haven’t had any new problems with the system (and bandwidth has clearly improved over the wifi connection). The device retails from Amazon for about $25.

mControl 3 Activation Problem – License File


Our house experienced a power surge caused by a nearby lightning strike that damaged one of our A/C units along with a few other devices. Today I figured out that it damaged the network ports on the Airport Extreme Base Station along with the ethernet port on the ASUS system, which is my home automation server.

Fortunately, the ASUS box also has wireless so I was able to shift all of the network services over to the wifi adapter. I had to re-establish the built-in VPN server, among other annoyances. Since the ethernet port was no longer usable I decided to disable it in Windows 7.

Well, that caused a stupid problem.

mControl 3 has activation. I’m not a fan of activation.

I noticed the service was no longer working and wouldn’t start. When I viewed mControl’s log I saw the following message every time I attempted to start it:

The Installation Code of the license file does not match with Code 2. Please contact your System Administrator.
mServer License Code=Hacked/Hacker, Ver=.

My version isn’t hacked. I paid the commercial price (less because it was an upgrade from a previous version that I had also paid for). At first I thought that perhaps the license information was damaged but then I remembered that I had disabled the ethernet port and I noticed that there were some entries in the log during the activation check that hinted toward a check of the network device.

I re-enabled the built-in ethernet port. Sure enough, the software passed the activation check and started up. It seems to use a hardware identifier that’s part of the network card for activation.





X10, Insteon, and Z-Wave – If I Knew Then What I Know Now


The Short Version: X10 is considerably less expensive and more compatible with various wiring schemes, Insteon is very reliable and relatively secure but requires a neutral wire for in-wall modules, Z-Wave is more compatible with various wiring schemes and far more reliable than X10. X10 modules are usually around $5 each. Insteon and Z-Wave typically run from $35-$50 each but they both rebroadcast signals and verify device status. X10 is good for beginners but anyone considering a whole-house automation scheme should probably invest in Insteon or Z-Wave instead.

I’ve learned quite a bit about some of the more popular home automation devices and protocols. When I first became interested in home automation I started dumping cash into X10 modules. X10 is typically much less expensive and compatible with most wiring.

Over time, and after much experience troubleshooting my own X10 woes, I eventually started switching over to Insteon modules.

Recently, I installed my first Z-Wave dimmer switch.

X10 was very inexpensive (read “cheap”). Unfortunately it’s not reliable. X10 equipment doesn’t (usually) support any kind of device status or confirmation. In short, if you turn a light on from a remote, and for some reason it doesn’t turn on, the remote can’t check to verify whether or not the command was received.  Granted, our wiring is a mix of new and old (including knob and tube) so it’s not exactly an ideal environment for X10 but even with a signal phase bridge (on the clothes dryer) I still experienced frequent signal loss or interference.

I started using Insteon but so far I’m limited to only using plug-in modules since most of wiring doesn’t have the required neutral wire (at least not at the switches). It does work great with these modules. I’ve almost never pushed a button and not had a device respond.

Recently, I installed my first Z-Wave device on our back porch light. The light was controlled with an X10 wall-switch but it frequently did not receive commands from the computer. Since I’ve installed the Z-Wave dimmer it seems to turn on and off every time it should. This is very impressive considering the distance between the dimmer switch and the controller – at the moment there aren’t any other Z-Wave devices in the house to repeat the signal.

Eventually I will eliminate all X10 devices. I’ll probably keep my Insteon devices, at least until I’ve determined how reliable Z-Wave really is in our home. In the end I’ll probably have a mix of Insteon and Z-Wave, though it’s possible that one day I’ll only be using Z-Wave.

Updated 07/18/2013: I’ve completely eliminate all X10 devices from my house by replacing them with Z-Wave devices. Eventually, I’ll also replace the handful of Insteon devices with Z-Wave modules.

Loss of X10 Control Using a SmartHome 2413U PowerLinc with mControl 3 (Build 4346)


The Short Version: mControl 3 Build 4346 caused problems with controlling X10 devices. Rolling back to a previous build restored functionality.

I recently upgraded my version of mControl 3 to Build 4346. Unfortunately, I soon noticed that I was no longer able to control my X10 devices, including the virtual X10 switches I use to control some macros, from mControl. The log showed mControl was sending the commands but it was apparent that they weren’t actually reaching the controller.

I’m still working on shifting away from using X10 devices. At the moment I have a mix of Insteon and X10 in the house and the 2413U works well since it controls both Insteon and X10.

I started looking for a solution and it didn’t take long to find a new post in the Embedded Automation forums in which other users of this build were experiencing the same problem. Over the weekend I tried a few tricks (disabling unused drivers, updating other software) but finally concluded that until a new release that addresses this problem is available I’d simply have to roll-back to a previous version.

Going back to the previous build that I was using (the first non-beta version of mControl 3) solved the X10 communication problem. mControl is back to managing both Insteon and X10 devices properly.

Triggering Music from mControl


The title of this post is more general than the actual task. Specifically, I implemented a new method to play a different song for each weekday the first time a motion sensor is triggered.

A while back I  played a song from iTunes whenever a specific event was detected in mControl (I’ve used two different methods to handle this). After I upgraded from version 2 to version 3 of mControl I held off on adding this capability back into the macros. The method for using iTunes worked fine but this time around I wanted to find something simpler to use that could be enhanced via scripting.

This time I used a free command-line utility called cmdmp3 that can play an MP3 file. In mControl I added a new item to a macro (Run Application), which executes a batch file that contains the necessary command-line parameters to play the songs. The batch file actually plays a different song for each weekday.

I’ve included the basic framework for the batch file. The code used to get the current day of the week and then run specific sections of the batch file was obtained from a forum post.

The batch file could use some refinement. For example, I had planned to place each song path in its own variable, but I had some problems getting the variables to work properly as parameters for cmdmp3. If I had worked that out then each section would simply have a song variable assigned to another variable that would serve as the parameter for cmdmp3.

Eventually I’d like to make the song selection randomized, which would considerably shorten the necessary code for the batch file by eliminating the test for the day of the week along with the related sections.

@echo off
for /f %%a in ('date /t') do set DAY=%%a
if %DAY%==Sun goto :sun
if %DAY%==Mon goto :mon
if %DAY%==Tue goto :tue
if %DAY%==Wed goto :wed
if %DAY%==Thu goto :thu
if %DAY%==Fri goto :fri
if %DAY%==Sat goto :sat

c:\tools\cmdmp3win.exe "filepath"
goto next

c:\tools\cmdmp3win.exe "filepath"
goto next

c:\tools\cmdmp3win.exe "filepath"
goto next

c:\tools\cmdmp3win.exe "filepath"
goto next

c:\tools\cmdmp3win.exe "filepath"
goto next

c:\tools\cmdmp3win.exe "filepath"
goto next

c:\tools\cmdmp3win.exe "filepath"
goto next


Everything after “:next” can include whatever you may want to add after the song is played. If you don’t need to add anything then you can simply leave it as it is.

Updated 11/21/2011: I seem to have run into a familiar problem – executing external programs from within mControl. The batch file itself is sound but either mControl has a bug or the other program I’m using to execute external applications isn’t working properly. It may just be a configuration issue but I’ll need to spend some time on it before I can provide a proper solution for making this work from mControl.