Saturday, December 30, 2006

Voice controlled music players revisited

Previously, I mentioned using voice recognition to control our mp3 players. I've been slowly adding playlists to the TellMe app and that seems like the way I'm going to go. It's scaling OK so far and I'm limiting options to our most played music anyway. One annoying thing about the app is for some unknown reason, it destroys the config file. It seems to happen if the machine crashes unexpectedly or the app crashes. I've been making backups of the config file so this hasn't been a major problem yet.

Bye bye caller ID

We've decided to get rid of caller ID on our landline. We rarely get calls we want to answer at home anyway. The main reason is the cost of the service is going up from about $6/month to over $8/month! With Comcast going all out with their telephone service in our area, one would expect SBC/AT&T to be more competitive. Not only that, but one would have hoped prices would come down when SBC merged with AT&T (and subsequently BellSouth). Theoretically, there should be some economies of scale that would lead to lower prices. Instead they're raising prices for their services. Looks more like an oligopoly to me - fewer competitors and more pricing power for them. No wonder the landline business is dying.

I've since disabled all the caller ID logic in our HA system and all calls just go to voicemail. If people need to reach us, they can call our cellphones. Besides, our Treo 700WX's have built-in voice command and they announce incoming caller names and numbers using the old Microsoft Mary TTS voice. So, we're not missing our landline caller ID announce much. It may be a matter of time before we shut off the landline completely...

Friday, December 29, 2006

Improvements to HVAC control

Our HVAC system has a couple dumb Aprilaire thermostats, one for the upstairs zone and for downstairs. They have a contact closure input to activate setback mode. The system relies on LM34 sensors in different parts of the house to control when to cycle HVAC. Those setpoints were hardcoded in the TimeCommander+ schedule. I've now made those setpoints variables in the TC+ allowing them to be changed dynamically from an ASP page, script, etc. It makes the system a little bit smarter.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

New 16 port switch

Yesterday, I ordered a Netgear 16 port 10/100 mpbs ethernet switch from After the $20 Google checkout discount & rebate it comes to about $35. This may not seem like it deserves an entry on my blog, but I designed 1 of the chips in one of the earliest 10/100 mbps ethernet switches...the SynOptics 28115. Back then, that 16 port switch was over $1000 per port (vs. $2.19/port for the Netgear)!!! It's amazing how much has changed in the 12 years since that has come out. Later, SynOptics merged with Wellfleet to form Bay Networks in 1994. Then they were swallowed up by Nortel, and out of that mess, Nortel spun out none other than...Netgear.

On a sad note, the Google Checkout discount ended yesterday. :(

Thursday, December 21, 2006

New toy - Slingbox AV

Just got a Slingbox AV yesterday. Added it to the network, connected it to the DirecTiVo, poked holes in the firewall and we're up & running. It works pretty well. Now we can watch our shows when we're at our other place. Too bad we don't have a higher upload speed. It would be nice to have 1mbps up, but according to Slingplayer, it's getting about 350kbps, which is not bad. Not useful for full screen video, but works pretty nicely. I was just watching it at work not long ago ;)

Got it from for $108 after Google checkout discount. In fact, we've bought a bunch of stuff off with either $20 or $10 off using Google checkout. I think Google should make that a permanent feature! After all, they have such a huge cash pile and have often said they won't necessarily use it in the best interest of shareholders.

Still pondering whether or not to cough up $30 for the Slingplayer mobile for our Treos. Seems steep for the software (about 30% of the cost of the hardware) and we would probably have to buy 2 copies. Now if they offer it on with GCO, I may reconsider :)

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

New media server

I have moved media serving off my HA server onto its own machine. So ends my experiment on consolidating all my HA related apps on one machine. The media server is an old Sempron 2800+ with 1 GB RAM, 500 GB of disk, DVD burner and runs XP Pro. It will take over SlimServer, MediaNet, TVersity and the Kenwood media server (for our Kenwood VRSN8100 amp). Maybe I'll even try to get xlobby running on it.

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

New cellphone & IM control

I just got a Treo 700WX w/ an unlimited high-speed data plan (only $30 for voice & data!) so I've been playing around with that for the past week. I've been looking at ways to allow control of the house through the phone. I'm not keen on opening up holes in my firewall to allow direct access to things, so for now, I'm just using my IM interface.

First thing I needed to do was get an IM client on my Treo that can talk to Yahoo messenger. I found imov messenger , a jabber client. The basic version is free and you can find it at the bottom of the imov page. The only thing I needed to do was to create a jabber account for my normal Yahoo account. I talked about linking jabber to Yahoo here. Once that was set, I installed imov on my phone, set up the login and that was it. I'm now able to control my house over IM from anywhere I have service.