Category Archives: Tech

Expanding X10 security systems limits and functionality with Raspberry Pi

I was initially happy with my X10 security system years ago.  It performed all the functions of a professional security system for a fraction of the price.  X10 components generally exhibit questionable manufacturing quality, but they’re cheap enough that it’s feasible to maintain spare parts and still stay “under budget.”

As time moved on, however, and computing power became more and more affordable, I started to take another look at X10 security.  Sure it’s dated, mostly losing market share to Zwave and other players. But there are still some rock solid components in the X10 arsenal.

I originally had the Protector Plus PS561 security console, along with the original 9-pin serial interface.  At some point I upgraded to the SC1200 security console and the CM15A USB interface. The SC1200 supports 16 security “zones,” comprised of door/window and motion sensors. That is its limit, as a self-contained unit, with no expansion.  I’m going to show you how to easily improve drastically upon that, limited only by your imagination and creativity, for almost zero investment beyond the initial expense of the console, interface and sensors.

I started with a Raspberry Pi 2B, freed up when a model 3 was purchased.  I installed mochad and Jim’s CM15A controller demo http://www.eclipsehomeauto.com/cm15a_on_linux/cm15ademo.tar.gz and made sure they were up and running first.  Once I could get responses from mochad, I knew I was making progress:

# echo ‘st’ | nc localhost 1099

should return a list of detected sensors.

At first, I worried I would have to write a daemon to monitor traffic on port 1099 to detect events in real time. When I realized that that entailed programming-wise, I put it off and used a periodic poll to port 1099 and parsed the results instead.  Once the results are parsed, they can be inserted into a database for monitoring sensor status and logging details. Later, I realized that mochad includes a Perl script, mochamon,pl, which demonstrates how to poll mochad (actually, MULTIPLE instances of mochad, if you so desire) for real time results, which is what I was looking for, for triggering purposes.

This is where the game gets fun.  Without a programming platform and mochad, you’re limited to the X10 console’s interface and its limits.  Since the X10 sensors generate their own random 6-byte identifier and transmit those by RF, and mochad detects all RF transmissions received by the security device, this means that with a little bit of work, you are no longer bound to the 16-sensor limit provided by the console interface. In fact, once you get your system programmed to your liking, you can deregister ALL of the sensors from the console and have your platform with mochad doing the heavy lifting.  You can even cheat the system, apparently, and send X10 commands directly to piggyback on the security console’s alarm using the “panic” command (and hopefully “disarm” when needed — this process needs testing).

More importantly, you can write your own logic and flow, and add external interfaces.  Maybe I want to be notified by SMS on certain events. Maybe only when “armed.”  Maybe I want to be able to “arm” and disarm the system via SMS. Maybe I want to use security events to trigger other Pi units in the house to start capturing video.

As you can see, adding mochad and a Pi to your existing X10 security system can turn your system into a state-of-the-art security portfolio, limited only by your imagination and coding skill.

Elenco EP-130

So I impulse-shopped again on eBay, which is always a dangerous thing. This time not so much. For just $6 plus shipping, I picked up an Elenco EP-130 “Electronic Playground & Learning Center.” Of course I would have rather had the 500-in-one kit, but that one goes for over $200, so I just can’t justify it.

elenco-ep-130

I’ve always been somewhat ashamed of my lack of intimate electronics knowledge. I know a little about a lot of things, and a lot about a few things. I’ve just never given actual electronic components the proper level of devotion and practical learning time.

So I started today. Experiment #1: Woodpecker. Two resistors, three capacitors, a transistor and a transformer make the speaker emit chirping sounds.  Whoopee.  Changing the capacitors, resistors or voltage changes aspects of the chirping sounds.

Top Shelf Software Cynicism

Adobe Flash Player, which I’m sure we can all agree is rather ubiquitous at this point…

During an UPGRADE, mind you, not a fresh install…

Sneaks an install past the end user of a limited version of McAfee Security Scan.

1) McAfee products haven’t been considered viable players on the security market for YEARS.

2) Something offered as a bundled product which you CHOSE not to install before should not be again snuck in during an upgrade. Especially something that doesn’t play well with other products.

3) I can’t honestly remember the last time McAfee caught anything in terms of malware.

4) The sole purpose of THIS McAfee product seems to be to sell you a beefier product — which ALSO SUCKS.

5) Ubiquitous software, which is installed on just about every desktop and powers some of the most frequently-accessed pages on the internet should ABSOLUTELY not bundle SHITware along with it. You really want to tie your reputation to that of McAfee, Adobe Some of us are paying attention.

Amy Schumer 12 Angry Men

I enjoy Amy Schumer. I think she’s funny, and I think the 12 Angry Men episode is spot on. I think it exemplifies almost everything we hate about the entertainment industry.  You know, it’s why video killed the radio star, right? Because all of a sudden you had to be one of the beautiful people to be a star. Beautiful according to a board meeting comprised of rich white men.

But hey, there’s something else I hate about the entertainment industry.

I hate the fact that they had to release this wonderful video just one step shy of a paywall. To view the video, you have to sign in to YOUR cable provider. I did so, because I really wanted to see the video. I was then assaulted with shitty, stuttering commercials. Once the video started, it was interrupted with a series of FIVE ads, some of which performed atrociously (stuttering… pausing… buffering…), after which the video resumed for a while, only to be interrupted by yet another series of five ads.

Seriously, what the FUCK is wrong with Comedy Central? They seem to be the only content provider that just can’t get it right. Before this, what I was used to on Comedy Central was pre-video advertisements that worked flawlessly, only to fizzle and die when the actual content started. Thanks, guys. Exactly what I wanted, to view an ad and then have my browser freeze before seeing what I came here to see. How come Youtube can get it right? Even porn sites do a better job than you.

At least this time, I could view the content. But jesus, does it all have to be so heavy-handed? What kind of Ebenezer Scrooge is running the advertising department over there, anyway? I’m going to break it down for you. You make things UNWATCHABLE. You do this often enough, and the savvy consumer will start to recognize a pattern. I did. What the pattern did to me was this: When I see a link to something I am interested in seeing, I pay attention to who’s serving it. If it’s comedy central, fuck it, it’s almost not worth it. Maybe I’ll look around to see if it has reached any other media outlets yet. I have better things to do than suffer content delivery that is often non-functional, frequently interrupted, and blatantly commercialized. Get yourself a modern user experience expert in there. It makes a difference, and you are losing eyeballs. Watching a great comedy video shouldn’t make the viewer angry at the provider. The provider is supposed to take a back seat once the content is underway.

I apologize that this post was less about Amy Schumer’s brilliant take on the entertainment industry’s ridiculous beauty standards in the form of a 12 Angry Men parody, and more about content providers’ relentless pursuit of the almighty dollar, AT THE EXPENSE OF THE CONTENT THEY PRETEND TO PROVIDE.

Seriously, Amy, GREAT JOB on that video. Great cast, great dialog, great message. You are hot enough. Sorry Comedy Central fucked you over.

Oh, and I’ll let you in on another little secret. INTERNET VIDEO ADVERTISING DOESN’T WORK. They’ve got you fooled into thinking it does, but it doesn’t.  Nobody buys that shit because they saw a video advertising clip.

Technology FAIL, or “Thanks, Google”

Yesterday I managed to get a few photos of Sabina departing for the women’s Typhoon races. When she came in from the races and asked for a photo to send to her friends, I pulled up the Gallery app and all I saw were blank photos. I scrolled and scrolled, and that’s all I saw. I thought, oh no, what’s wrong with my phone? Are the files corrupt?  Eventually I scrolled enough to find the photos, and realized what happened. I must have left the camera app open when I pocketed the phone after taking those photos.

I ended up deleting 90 photos of the inside of my pocket. But not before Google, in its infinite wisdom and generosity of spirit, backed up the photos and created a “Google Auto-Awesome” animated GIF of them.

IMG_20150503_170128558-ANIMATION

Personal Spam Trends

Over the past couple of weeks, my spam levels have increased ferociously, and nearly all of it can be attributed to obscure (new?) TLDs. First it was .click and .work, then I got a whole bunch from .us, and for the last few days it has been .ninja.

After eight and a half years at an ISP/hosting company, and seven more doing more advanced security work, I still have to struggle to believe that spammers make any money at all. When I get badly-worded and atrociously-spelled missives about the latest diabetes treatment or my credit score or a new security system (that’s right, it’s not just penis pills anymore — I guess the spammers finally realized I don’t need enlargement or “volume increases”), all I can wonder is WHO BUYS THIS CRAP and HOW DO THESE FUCKERS STAY IN BUSINESS?

I’m almost to the point — not quite there yet, but almost — where I’m ready to migrate from the MURDER SPAMMERS ethos to the JUST KILL ALL THE STUPID PEOPLE SO THE SPAMMERS WILL STOP MAKING MONEY ethos.