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Home Alarm Analytics With AWS Kinesis

Home security system projects are fun because everything about them screams "1980s legacy hardware design". Nowhere else in the modern tech landscape does one program by typing in a three digit memory address and then entering byte values on a numeric keypad. There's no enter-key -- you fill the memory address. There's no display -- just eight LEDs that will show you a byte at a time, and you hope it's the address you think it is. Arduinos and the like are great for hobby fun, but these are real working systems whose core configuration you enter byte by byte.

The feature set reveals 30 years of crazy product requirements. You can just picture the well-meaning sales person who sold a non-existent feature to a huge potential customer, resulting in the boolean setting that lives at address 017 bit 4 and whose description in the manual is:

ON: The double hit feature will be enabled. Two violations of the same zone within the Cross Zone Timer will be considered a valid Police Code or Cross Zone Event. The system will report the event and log it to the event buffer. OFF: Two alarms from the same zone is not a valid Police Code or Cross Zone Event

I've built out alarm systems for three different homes now, and while occasionally frustrating it's always a satisfying project. This most recent time I wanted an event log larger than the 512 events I can view a byte at a time. The central dispatch service I use will sell me back my event log in a horrid web interface, but I wanted something programmatically accessible and ideally including constant status.

The hardware side of the solution came in the form of the Alarm Decoder from Nu Tech. It translates alarm panel keypad bus events into events on an RS-232 serial bus. That I'm feeding into a Raspberry Pi. From there the alarmdecoder package on PyPI lets me get at decoded events as Python objects. But, I wanted those in a real datastore.


Raspberry Pi UPS

I'm starting to do more on a raspberry pi I've got in the house, and I wanted it to survive short power outages. I looked at buying an off the shelf Uninteruptable Power Supply (UPS), but it just struck me as silly that I'd be using my house's 120V AC to power to fill a 12V DC battery to be run through an inverter into 120V AC again to be run through a transformer into DC yet again. When the house is out of power that seemed like a lot of waste.

A little searching turned up the PicoUPS-100 UPS controller. It seems like it's mostly used in car applications, but it has two DC inputs and one DC output and handles the charging and fast switching. The non-battery input needs to be greater than the desired 12 volts, so I ebayed a 15v power supply from an old laptop. I added a voltage regulator and buck converter to get solid 12v (router) and 5v (rpi) outputs. Then it caught on fire:

Scorched UPS controller

But I re-bought the charred parts, and the second time it worked just fine:

Working UPS setup


Crossed Lamps

Last weekend we bought two Rodd lamps at Ikea for the guest room, and it struck me how amused I'd be if each one switched the other. Six hours and a few new parts later, and it came out pretty well:

The remote action is especially jarring because the switches are right next to the bulbs they would normally control:

Ikea Rodd lamp head


Home Carbonator

Last year I read about home carbonation, and looking at the amount of club soda Kate and I buy it made sense. The only unknown was where to put the ugly tank that would be out of sight yet still convenient to use.

Months later coworkers and I were at the Red Stag, which carbonates their own sparkling water, and talked about doing the same at the office. I still didn't act until a friend got a soda club machine as a gift.

This weekend I (or actually Kate since I was running late) went to Northern Brewer and picked up parts K003, KX03, and K026 to build the setup below. It really does work as easy as the first article promises, and the price including the purchase of a tank came to $200 total. So far the best thing we've carbonated was orange juice, but I'm looking to try some fruit purees soon.


Alarm System

My favorite book in the Wren Hollow Elementary school library was The Gadget Book by Harvey Weiss. I must have checked it out a hundred times during the second and third grade and tried to build most of the half-practical projects it detailed. The best among them was the burglar alarm. It used wooden blocks, a door hinge, and a strip of metal to make a simple normally-open contact switch. It was the first electrical work I ever did and almost certainly shaped my interests and career path.

As a winter (read: indoor) project I decided to install a security system. Our system at the office uses DSC components and works well enough, so I used the same. I bought a Power 632 panel on line along with some wired and wireless contact switches, and keypad. The only difficultly during installation was routing the wire for the keypad from upstairs to downstairs where it couldn't be seen. Programming was nothing like modern computer programming. Bits and bytes were entered directly into numbered memory registers by toggling boolean flags and entering hex characters on the keypad. It was oddly fun.

Everything's working quite well. We've got a bevy of contact, motion, and temperature sensors. We can arm/disarm from the keypad or using the wireless remote keys on our key chains. For monitoring I went with next alarm and they even make an RSS feed available (though only through yahoo, so I had to fake the User-Agent: HTTP header);


Trash Can Snorkel

This one's dumb. We've got the same trash can that everyone who shops at Target has. The inner removable pail is handy for keeping spills from pouring out the foot pedal hole, but its air-tight nature creates quite the vacuum when you're trying to pull the bag out.


After ripping the handles off yet another Glad bag trying to get it out of the pail I went to get a drill to poke an air hole in the bottom -- leak proof be damned. Next to the drill I saw a piece of 3/4" plastic tubing, which I ran from the top of the inner pail to the bottom.


After a trash day that left the bag handles intact I can report that the hose allows air in without requiring new holes. Future trash pails should have top to bottom air ducts molded into them. Trashcan manufacturers please to be getting on that right now.

Whole House Humidifier

This weekend I put in a Honeywell 360A whole house humidifier. The instructions said it should take an hour, and it only took me four. Nothing went wrong, which what you hope for when a project means cutting holes in your duct work, tapping into your water, and some wiring. Now when we wake up our throats don't hurt.




Update: If you don't tighten down the compression fittings on the water supply line it will let go and you'll drain water into the floor drain all night. d'oh

From a concerned internet'er Get rid of that saddle valve at your earliest convenience, those things a prone to leaking or letting go. Have someone put in a tap on the line with a proper cutoff with a 1/4"FIP. Same connector you would use for an icemaker. To be real safe after you do that you can buy a braided steel icemaker line that will connect inbetween the cutoff and the humidifier, so no compression connectors anymore either.

Motion Lights and Silliness

We've got an old lighting fixture for our front porch, which we didn't want to replace with an ugly motion light. I tried putting a socket adapter in-line with the bulb, but it wouldn't fit in the globe.

More time spent staring at the lighting offerings at Home Depot turned up a workable, if convoluted, solution. An external motion detector sends a wireless signal to a replacement indoor light switch, which then turn on the external light. To make what should have been a ten minute project even sillier, I should be able to control the remote switch from the home link button in my car. Heh.

Home Repair and Misc.

When I don't post here in a while it either means I'm not building anything new or that I'm too busy to write about what I am doing. This time it's the later. Not that any of it's been exciting, but almost all of it involved using a saw, which totally counts.

Gwin, our eldest cat, has always kicked toys into the basement sump for the joy of watching humans pick them out later. Milo, on the other hand, likes running into the muddy sump and then running up stairs. To keep the cats and their toys out I built a little wooden frame to fit and covered it with chicken wire. It's ugly but functional.


At some point during Monday night's storm a 20' branch fell from the sky and broke our fence gate. Neither of us woke up. Sometimes I park my car right where it landed, and I'm glad Monday wasn't one of those times. Repair was just a matter of replacing a few pickets and fixing the latch. The latch has never worked well and still doesn't, but it's slightly better, which I keep telling Kate counts as fixing it.


Meager construction efforts aside I've been working on some big things at work and on our [http://kateandry4an.org/gallery/invitation wedding invitations], which we hope to mail in the next week or two.

Ivy and Stucco

This weekend was full of discoveries involving ivy and stucco and removing the former from the later. Summarizing them we have:

  1. Don't. Keep them away from one another. If you have a stucco home and your neighbor plants ivy secretly poison it.
  2. If there is ivy on your stucco, just leave it there. Removing it is not worth the pain.
  3. If you do remove the ivy, remove it completely. If you pull it off and plan on getting the residual debris later, you're going to find it's dried to a state where it can no longer be pulled off in strands like it can be when green.
  4. If you've let residual ivy dry to the point where it's brittle, plan on a day full of power washers, long handled brushes, and ladders. Try to drink a lot. Expect to repaint.

Caching In My Moving Karma

There's a purchase agreement in place for the condo, and it's time to organize the moving extravaganza. Saturday, June 17th at 11am moving helpers generous with their time will find everything pre-boxed, wrapped, stacked, and ready. Half the stuff will be going to Salvation Army down the street and half will be moving from 580 N 2nd St. #120 to 330 E 50th St. I'm renting a large truck (and possibly selling off a good fraction of the furniture in advance), so with luck we'll be on to the beer and lots of food portion of the afternoon after just one short trip.

Please let me know if you think you can make it so I can plan food supply and figure out if I need to start trying to call up moving karma chits by name.



Yay! We'll finally have a sofa for people to sit on.

Meager Home Improvements

After moving into the house I started a series of small home improvement tasks. Some of them have genuine safety reasons but many happened only because changing things demonstrates residence. Here's an incomplete list of things I've done:

  • added a ceiling fan to the bedroom
  • rewired the doorbell with modern wire so it doesn't ring everytime you walk past the dining room heat register
  • added shelving, a phone jack and power outlets to create a server corner
  • added appliance-grade outlets behind the stove and fridge (rather than the ungrounded lamp-grade extension cords running through holes in the floor they previously had)
  • added a motion light to the break-in-ariffic back yard
  • cleaned out the gutters (I knew there's a reason I got that condo)
  • replaced the rotting wiring for the basement lighting

|https://ry4an.org/pictures/web/datacenter| |https://ry4an.org/pictures/web/motionlight|

Condo on the Market

After a lot of cleaning, painting, and decorating my condo is finally on the market. Thanks to Kate and Natz for all their help. We've priced it very aggressively in hopes of not having this process drag on, so if we're lucky we'll be bidding a fond farewell to MLS 3165642 soon.

If you ever came by and admired the place, tell your house hunting friends.

Yet More Staging

Last week Kate, Natz, and I painted a few more rooms, added handles to the cabinets, added some bookshelves, and did a lot of minor repairs around the condo in preparation for selling it. I also cut up the throw pillows and sewed some arm covers for the couch. They look as cheesy as arm covers always do, but they hide the cat damage.

front-view.jpg top-view.jpg

A Very IKEA Sunday

I'm finally tackling all the little projects I always meant to do around the house in preparation for selling it. Today I installed some simple roller shades downstairs and built a fairly complex multi-panel window covering system thing in the bedroom using the ridiculously modular KVADRANT stuff.

I've never had serious problems with IKEA stuff before, and these weren't any worse than usual, but one really is constantly beset by low-level disappointment at the quality of the pieces, their fit and finish, and the meager guidance the instructions offer when working with IKEA stuff. Still it's cheap and looks nice, which is exactly what one wants when staging for a sale.

Poker Table

As mentioned previously I'm a tool of the media machine and am thus now playing poker. I don't like online play so I host local events here at the house. We're getting more and more people and I wanted something nicer on which to play than folding card tables. Louis Duhon, a friend, and I drew up some plans, bought a lot of materials, moved the cars out of his garage, and spent four days working on a "one day project".

The result was some very nice tables with high end vinyl, velveteen, and birch. For the $250 we spent on materials we could have bought some low end tables but nothing approaching what we ended up with quality wise. Below is a photo and the plans in AutoCAD's DXF format and as a .png. Louis has a lot more photos at http://www.theshadowzone.org/media/poker-tables/poker-tables.html .




Roomba on the Pronto Remote

A few weeks back I got a Roomba Robotic Vacuum (http://www.irobot.com/consumer/product_detail.cfm?prodid=9) as a wonderful gift. Shipped with it was the optional remote control. The Roomba is fully automatic, but it's programmed to pick up dirt not to chase the cat -- you need the remote for that.

However, long time readers (you poor bastards) will remember that I try to maintain a strictly one remote coffee table (https://ry4an.org/unblog/msg00022.html). That meant the Roomba had to go onto the Phillips Pronto TSU-2000 Universal Remote. I thought for sure I'd find a CCF file for it, but it looks like only the people with newer remotes are getting the Roomba. Fortunately someone in the RemoteCentral forms helped out with instructions on how to back-convert the remote configuration and after a few wasted hours I can now steer the vacuum from the couch. Apparently I became a yuppie when I wasn't looking.

Anyway, attached are the CCF file and a screen-shot.