Nexlud LED Strips for TV Backlight and Home Automation (Magic Home)

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My desire to integration visual notifications into our home automation setup has remained, despite taking the color-changing LED bulb out of the setup when we moved. I recently begain toying with the same bulb and in the process I realized it might be fun, and useful, to find an LED strip that I could place behind the TV. It would add a nice atmospheric effect and also provide another source of visual indicators. I have started working on using the bulb for washing machine notifications and other events, but those notices are suppresed after 10 pm at night, and that light spends most of it’s time simply functioning as a normal lamp in the bedroom.

With any home automation setup it’s always best to ensure that a device is compatible with your controller, before purchase. Fortunately, someone had developed the FLUX LED plugin to make certain Magic Home devices available to Indigo. I decided to order a wifi and IR controlled Nexlud LED Strip Lights set, which only cost about $30.

It’s taken some work, and I had a color value conversion issue that I’ll mention in another post, but it appears to be working great. My next step is to set it to automatically turn on when the TV is powered on, and to turn it off when the TV is powered off. I’m not sure, yet, if I can accomplish this via Indigo. I test the Harmony Companion plugin, but I think it is only aware of Harmony interactions initiated within Indigo. I could be mistaken, which I’ll find out of for certain. If that doesn’t work, I’ll train the Harmony itself to interact with the device (Harmony didn’t automatically recognize this device in its database of codes).

Updated 2018/08/08: I also have it setup to be controlled via the Harmon Hub. This just required training the device to recognize the remote commands, which wasn’t difficult but did take some time to program most of the color modes. I also added control via Alexa, though now I only control the on/off state through the Hue Bridge emulation between Indigo and Alexa, instead of using the Magic Home skill.

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Logitech Harmony Companion All in One Remote Control

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Last year, after we moved, I grew tired of having to hunt for all of the various remotes every time we wanted to watch one of the two main TVs in our home. Our toddler had a habit of tossing the remotes under the couch, beds or various nooks and crannies. Finally, I decided to consolidate by researching the current Logitech universal remote systems.

After some basic research I determined that the Logitech Harmony Companion would be a good fit for our needs. I would have preferred to get a Logitech universal remote with an embedded touch screen but those were well outside of our price range. The retail price of about $140 is still a bit pricy but the features made it appealing to me.

It’s capable of controlling up to eight entertainment devices; the TV with the most devices in our home has no more than five connected (including the soundbar). The system is composed of a hub (controller) and a Logitech remote. It also provides a remote IR blaster and a mobile app. The app is required to configure and update the system so you need to have a compatible phone to manage it. The mobile app also functions as a universal remote, which can be handy when our toddler has managed to hide the Logitech remote as well (or on very lazy days when you’re tired of getting up for the hundredth time and the remote itself is way, way over there on the kitchen counter).

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Kwikset 910 Z-Wave SmartCode Electronic Touchpad Deadbolt

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A while back I decided to purchase a Kwikset 910 Z-Wave SmartCode Electronic Touchpad Deadbolt for one of our properties so I could remotely lock and unlock one of the doors there, which is very useful when you’re trying to sell a house or if Terminix decides to just schedule a day for an inspection without actually confirming that you can be at the property on that day. The 910 currently retails for about $130 though you can find less expensive ones, typically used, on eBay (make sure that it includes the Z-Wave radio module).

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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.

Philips Sound Bar (CSS2123)

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In additional to a new Blu-ray player, last weekend I also purchased a Philips Sound Bar (CSS2123) for our living room HDTV. The speakers included with the 32″ HDTV are OK. They’re not the worst. The ones in my smaller HDTVs are so bad they must be connected to external speakers to be tolerable.

Still, we like to watch movies in the living room. I didn’t want to deal with full-surround sound. That would require a heavier investment of money and space. Instead, I decided to add a relatively inexpensive sound bar.

Audiophiles may not care for this set but we both have enjoyed it. Music, movies, and television sound really good though movies that I have ripped from DVD to an Apple TV format do not (This was done using Handbrake. I’m not sure why – the quality may have not been good before but it’s only become apparent with the use of better speakers – my next test is to rip to a slightly different format or to try movies purchased through iTunes).

The set cost $99 at Wal-Mart. It includes the sound bar itself, a wired sub-woofer, and a remote. During the first movie that we watched I had to turn the sub-woofer down. It was actually much deeper than I was expecting and I didn’t want to annoy any of our neighbors.

I haven’t experienced any major problems though when I tried to use a coaxial digital connection only the sound effects from the Apple TV came through. None of the audio for Netflix, or from our Tivo, worked. I suspect this has more to do with the different audio formats (stereo versus true surround) and for now I only have it connected to the TV via the headphone jack, which is split out to RCA adapters that go into the sound bar inputs (stereo only).

Updated 05/22/2013: So far so good. We haven’t had any problems with the sound bar.

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Remotely Solving a Windows Problem Using Two Macs

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My wife’s grandfather recently ran into a problem with his new laptop. At some point he had to restart his laptop but wasn’t able to login Windows (Windows 7 Home Edition). We’re not sure if someone changed the password without his knowledge or if he forgot that he had a passwords (it’s possible that he simply hadn’t restarted his computer since it was given to him).

The simple solution is to download a Windows password reset tool. There are many free tools available for download from the Web. In this case, I chose to use the Offline NT Password and Registry Editor.

However, the plan was to have his laptop for only a short window. My wife picked it up last Sunday and planned to return it the following Friday. Normally, that wouldn’t be an issue, except I was out of town and my wife had not used this type of tool before.

Fortunately, we both have Macs. Specifically, MacBook Pro systems. By using FaceTime and Screen Sharing we were able to burn the tool to a pre-built ISO, run it on the laptop and successfully clear the password.

I used Screen Sharing to see and chat with my wife. I also used it to view the display of the Windows laptop (from the camera on her Mac) and inform my wife which options to select. Screen Sharing was useful because I could guide my wife through downloading and burning the ISO image for the tool.

You certainly don’t have to use Macs to remotely diagnose and provide assistance. Combinations of devices, such as an iPhone and an iPad or even a mix of Windows and Macs can be used, though Windows to Mac setups will require cross-platform tools to replace FaceTime and Screen Sharing.

The point of this article is simple to serve as a reminder that remote diagnosis of a computer can often be done using built-in or free tools.