Category Archives: Home Automation

Secure your home network

Our home networks are become busier places.  Working from home, more wi-fi enabled light bulbs and switches, home automation, tablets and smartphones all add to the complexity.

Shortly before the pandemic, I had upgrade my service to fibre and gigabit bandwidth.  With the new service came a new modem/router, and a very dumbed-down management interface that provides minimal control over the network.

My previous service provider provided a modem/router that ran in bridged mode, so I was able to bypass their router and use my own router.  The router has a very rich management interface, so I wanted to keep using it.  It also wasn’t that old.

So looking at the devices on our home network, I was able to divide them up into 3 categories:

  • work computers
  • family computers, tablets, and phones
  • home automation devices, Google Home or Mini’s, and a couple appliances

I wanted to set things up so that family computers couldn’t see or access anything else on our work computers, and also isolate the home automation, Google devices, and assorted wi-fi enabled light bulbs and switches from everything else.

One function my router was missing was the ability to create VLANs.  I purchased a small Netgear managed gigabit switch to to do this.  I connected one of the ethernet ports of the service providers router to the Netgear switch, and another ethernet cable from the provider router to my router.

Basically, I use the service provider router to provide a guest wifi network, and use it’s ethernet outputs to connect my own router and a managed switch.  The managed switch provides 3 VLANs for work computers and our home automation hub.  My router is configured so that our IoT devices operate within it’s guest network, and the rest of the router is use for family computers, printer and phones.

In Canada, we have access to an excellent DNS service, called Canadian Shield.  It provides an additional layer of security for the family – and I have my router configured to use it.

Of course there are also the standard things needed to ensure your home network is secure:

  1. Make sure any default passwords have been changed on your router – and use STRONG PASSWORDS.
  2. Set your router to update it’s firmware automatically.  Most manufacturers are pretty proactive to get their firmware updated as new threats and bugs are discovered.  Make sure the manufacturer is proactive and providing timely updates – and if it isn’t, seriously consider purchasing a new one from a manufacturer that is proactive.


Homeseer update

Things have been rocky lately with my Raspberry Pi running Homeseer – over the past couple weeks it was randomly stopping to respond.  This began after attempting to update the system to the latest stable version (and being lazy I forgot to do a complete backup!).

After reflashing the micro SD card at least 4 or 5 times, I bought a couple new SD cards to use.  Tried a couple more times and I thought I had things back, but 2 days later it all halted again.  Enough with the Raspberry Pi.

I decided to get a license for HS4 Standard, and run it on an older Windows 10 workstation I have.  The installation was a breeze – although I did have a hiccup when adding the interface – was a bit of a guess choosing the Sigma UBZ interface (I have a Homeseer SmartStick +), and then the COM port (1 or 3).

Service is up and running nice now, and a couple events set up – just have to work on them more and get my garage door events rebuilt and running again.

MyVolumio and Tidal subscriptions – Are they worthwhile?

I’ve made some changes to my JustBoom/RaspberryPi – including updating to the latest version of Volumio. Over the holiday break I signed up for a 4 month trial of Tidal’s Hi-Fi plan. To access a Tidal plugin on Volumio, and subscription to MyVolumio was required, so I signed up for the trial, and ended up getting a 1 year Volumio ‘Virtuoso’ subscription. My only motivation for getting the subscription was for the Tidal Hi-Fi plugin.

So far my experience with Tidal is less than stellar, and I doubt that I will keep using it beyond this initial 4 month trial. The sound is very good, but the Tidal apps aren’t. On AppleTV it’s very buggy, and whether I use the app on my phone or on AppleTV I really dislike having to endlessly scroll past a pile of content that I have no interest in, to get to my stuff. I mean, they do ask what interests you – why isn’t that shown first? Maybe it just takes a little more time to learn what I actually listen to. We’ll see.

The one thing I do appreciate in the Tidal interface within Volumio is that I don’t have to go through all the stuff I have no interest in. I only see what I have added to my collection, but I haven’t seen a way to add to my collection from within the app – I have to go to the Tidal iPhone app or AppleTV app to do that.

The other MyVolumio ‘benefits’ with their Virtuoso plan include:

  • remotely control Volumio devices outside your local network.
  • CD playback and ripping.
  • Music & Artist credits.

The Music & Artist credits might be interesting, but not enough to warrant a subscription.

It’s not clear whether the upcoming upgrades (multi-room playback and automatic updates) will only be available to subscribers, and I haven’t seen any timelines on when those new features will be available. Regardless, they probably wouldn’t be enough for me to commit to continuing my initial 1 year subscription.

Will see how it goes over the next few months…

volumio File Share Type and Options settingsOne thing I finally got around to after getting a new iPhone, was getting my sources set up again. They seemed to have become corrupted when restoring apps to the new phone.

Connecting to a shared Music library on my Mac proved to be a little tricky.

I found it necessary to set File Share Type to “cifs”, and adding “vers=3.0” to Options.

The message that popped up prior to those two changes could be more helpful I think. It also seemed to disappear to quickly. Or I could just be getting old.

Once the other fields were completed, including my username and password to access my shared library, I saved the settings and Volumio immediately began to index my collection. Hooray!

Building a new PI with DAC

Purchased a Justboom DAC Hat a while back, along with a PI 3B+.  Was going to install OpenElec, but found out the latest distro isn’t compatible with the Pi.  I ended up going with LibreElec, which has been working great with it.

I did solder the IR receiver onto the Justboom DAC but found it wasn’t responding to a couple remotes – I have a Flirc dongle that worked fine though, so I have Lirc disabled for now.  I might spend more time trying to get it working later, so I can use the Flirc dongle elsewhere.

Have been very pleased with the sound quality of the JustBoom DAC – makes my vintage AR-210’s sound amazing!  I also have an old pair of Wharfedale Diamonds that also sound awesome – just lacking some bottom end – but for a tiny speaker, they are still awesome!

HomeSeer + Apple TV

For the past couple years, I have  been running Homeseer as a home automation platform to control a number of Z-Wave switches. It works well, and probably my only complaint is with the remote app – which occasionally seems unable to reach my HomeSeer server, it’s inability to customize the user interface without spending a bunch more money on a designer application, and it’s inability to connect to some  home automation devices with spending more money on plugins.
Recently I purchased a 4th generation Apple TV.  I liked the Siri/HomeKit functionality, it’s Apple Music functionality, and also the way it displays availability of movies on iTunes and Netflix.  I was also interested in getting HomeSeer working with the Apple TV, so that we could use Siri to turn lights off and on. HomeSeer has voice control functionality built in, but requires a microphone connected to the server – which would be limiting as to where voice commands could actually be used, and not sure I like the idea of microphones around the house that are always on.  Using the Siri functionality built into my iPhone and into the Apple TV seemed like a much better approach.
Here’s the hardware that I’m working with:

  • a Raspberry Pi 2 – connected to home network via ethernet
  • HS3
  • Homeseer SmartStick
  • Apple TV 4th gen, 32G 
  • iMac – late 2013 model
  • Home app – installed on my iPhone
  • Eve Elegato app – installed on my iPhone

To get HomeSeer communicating with the Home or Eve Elegato apps, it’s necessary to use a bridge application that translates the requests between them.  There is a GitHub project called HomeBridge.  HomeBridge requires Node.js to be installed. There is also a plugin that HomeBridge requires,  homebridge-homeseer-plugin.
I followed the Install Homebridge on OSX documentation on GitHub to install Node and Homebridge.
Next I installed the homebridge-homeseer plugin

npm install homebridge-homeseer-plugin

Then, it was necessary to edit a config.json file – located in my home directory in a hidden folder called .homebridge
The username in the bridge section can be anything – I just left the content of another sample config.  The username and password used in the accessories sections needs to be a valid user from within HomeSeer, with the appropriate permissions to the specific accessories.  The on_url & off_url have a querystring parameter called value, that needs to match the specific switches – the details are available in homeseer device management, in an advanced tab, along with a device or reference ID, that is used for the ref parameter.  The 8 digit pin is displayed in the terminal window after you start homebridge, as well as the port number that it is using. The pin number is also used later when setting up the Home and/or Eve apps on the iPhone.
Here is the content of my config (modify as  necessary):
"bridge": {
"name": "Homebridge",
"username": "CC:22:3D:E3:CE:30",
"port": 52733,
"pin": "###-##-###"
"description": "This is an example configuration file with all supported devices. You can use this as a template for creating your own configuration file containing devices you actually own.",
"accessories": [{
"accessory": "Http",
"username": "xxxx",
"password": "xxxx",
"name": "Espresso Machine",
"on_url": "http://###.###.###.###/JSON?request=controldevicebyvalue&ref=9&value=255",
"off_url": "http://###.###.###.###/JSON?request=controldevicebyvalue&ref=9&value=0",
"can_dim": "False",
"http_method": "GET"
}, {
"accessory": "Http",
"username": "xxxx",
"password": "xxxx",
"name": "Garage Lights",
"on_url": "http://###.###.###.###/JSON?request=controldevicebyvalue&ref=33&value=99",
"off_url": "http://###.###.###.###/JSON?request=controldevicebyvalue&ref=33&value=0",
"can_dim": "True",
"http_method": "GET"
}, {
"accessory": "Http",
"username": "xxxx",
"password": "xxxx",
"name": "Living Room lights",
"on_url": "http://###.###.###.###/JSON?request=controldevicebyvalue&ref=7&value=99",
"off_url": "http://###.###.###.###/JSON?request=controldevicebyvalue&ref=7&value=0",
"can_dim": "True",
"http_method": "GET"
}, {
"accessory": "Http",
"username": "xxxx",
"password": "xxxx",
"name": "Bedroom Lamp One",
"on_url": "http://###.###.###.###/JSON?request=controldevicebyvalue&ref=12&value=99",
"off_url": "http://###.###.###.###/JSON?request=controldevicebyvalue&ref=12&value=0",
"can_dim": "True",
"http_method": "GET"
}, {
"accessory": "Http",
"username": "xxxx",
"password": "xxxx",
"name": "Bedroom Lamp Two",
"on_url": "http://###.###.###.###/JSON?request=controldevicebyvalue&ref=32&value=99",
"off_url": "http://###.###.###.###/JSON?request=controldevicebyvalue&ref=32&value=0",
"can_dim": "True",
"http_method": "GET"

Next I launched Home – it wasn’t immediately picking things up, so I then tried Eve, which I found easier to set up initially.
In Home, it was initially displaying that no remote services were available.  This means that HomeKit functionality wasn’t actually working from the Apple TV 4.  Here’s what I did to resolve that:
1. Sign out of iCloud on ATV
2. On another device that can manage your iCloud account (I used my iPhone 6), navigate to the devices section, select ATV and select forget this device.
3. Log back into iCloud on ATV and enter a new two factor authentication code as prompted.
4. Wait.  Go mix yourself a cocktail, or go walk the dogs… and then launch the Home app again on your iPhone. (I only had to wait 3 or 4 minutes before HomeKit appeared in the iCloud section of the ATV, but on the Apple support forums, other users had different experiences).
So, now Siri works on my iPhone, and also on our Apple TV 4!  Yay!  
Issues that I’m still trying to sort out:

  • Dimming lights via Siri 
  • Getting the status to update in the Home app – sometimes I have to issue a command twice to get the status. (update: this appears to have sorted itself out)
  • More consistent – Garage lights seem to only turn off or on once when using Siri, or using the Home app.  (fixed: make sure that the values are set properly for the on & off urls in the config.json file – check the advanced tab in HomeSeer)

I’ve tried a few apps on my phone, Apple’s Home app, Elgato Eve, and Home for Homekit.  All 3 worked – but I found the Home for Homekit app hard on these old eyes….  Eve was nice, and had some nice icons to customize your accessories.  Apple’s Home app is probably the easiest to view – and I liked that I could customize the room backgrounds with my own photos.
Elgato Eve
Home for HomeKit
Apple Home
Here are some additional links I found useful.