04 April, 2021

DIY Home automation and security. I'm angry. Mostly at myself.

I have built up an automated home with some DIY security that helps keep the honest people honest. Pretty much nothing short of altering a violent dishonest persons state of being will keep them honest, but at least I will have a leg up in that regard. 

My first attempt at the DIY setup was by using an Iris by Lowes system, full protection on all access points, full camera coverage and integration with my personal assistant of choice.

And then as of February 2018 Lowes shut down the Iris cloud services effectively making my Iris by Lowes devices bricks... BUT Lowes had the decency to refund my investment in their system that they were turning off.

Since it worked with at least some of my existing hardware, and was supported and had seucity monitored by 2 of the most recognized and in theory reputable names in Home Security and Automation, I opted to invest in an ADT Smartthings Security hub and sensors, setting my home security on the paid ADT services and again, moving on to a different camera setup due to compatibility issues with my old cams.

Now here we are, April 2021, just a shave over 3 years after diving into ADT Smartthings, I get an email telling me that Samsung and ADT are turning off the cloud services for ADT Smarthings devices. 

Well that's a fine how do you do.

I was never truly impressed with ADT Smartthings to be honest with you. I mean initially it worked well, but within 6 months, I would get frequent errors on sensors where they would report a "loss of supervision" error, I would call Samsung Smartthings support, they would refer me to ADT and we would go in circles neither side wanting to take responsibility for, or support the product. 

This experience has convinced me of something vitally important. And that is local processing / services for my hub and devices is an absolute MUST. Cloud services can, and I am now seeing for the second time, will be cancelled at the whim of the vendor. The vendors can NOT be trusted. 

And while Samsung is offering refunds to customers, they are only giving refunds to customers whose equipment is still under warranty. 

I made my purchase decision based heavily on a long established experience with Samsung products. I have specifically sought out and purchased Samsung optical drives and memory when building PCs in the past, bought Samsung TVs, and every Smart phone I have owned after my HTC Inspire has been a Samsung. And now I feel abandoned, and betrayed by a company that I had an established relationship with. I have 3 smart phones that are up for replacement soon. I will likely not even consider Samsung as a replacement.

Now however, home automation and security wise that is, I am in a bit of a pickle.

I have got to come up with a solution, and have it working before ADT and Samsung kill my functioning system, and I am torn because nothing fully meets my requirements.

#1. Vendor independent. Whatever system I end up with MUST be able to keep doing what I need it to even if a vendor decides to turn their cloud services off. 
#2. Independent of internet. Aside from making external calls that is, there should be absolutely no requirement for the system to remain connected to the internet for it to function, so if a contractor down the road rams a backhoe through the cables / fibers that provid my internet service, I still stay working. It's happened.
#3. Open source. This is where I run into issues. There are open source automation suites out there, but getting them to run on what hardware to provide the needed radios to work with home automation protocols instead of WiFi isn't super straight forward. 

It would seem my options are either straight forward, or not so straight forward. 
#1. It hits all the marks except being open source, and that is Hubitat Elevation hub. They seem to have a good strong community, good support allegedly, and there are a large number of vendors for monitoring services that will make my insurance carrier happy.
#2. Any variety of home automation Linux distributions loaded onto a Rapsberry Pi and outfitted with Zwave and Zigbee dongles as there really is no room in a Pi for the radios for those functions.

So at this point, I am fairly undecided how to proceed. I know Hubitat is basically a drop in kind of thing that just works. Whereas with a Pi based approach, I will need to decide on a distribution, grab a Pi, housing, dongles etc... and cobble it together, and heaven only knows if I can get monitoring.

I have more research to do on this, but I must do it quickly.

This will get to be a lot more pressing should we end up back in office, as for now working remotely really doesn't make it super important. But I am just ticked off that they are doing this and forcing their customers off of their platform...

03 April, 2021

Powering a CPAP for camping, off grid living, or emergencies.

 If you are like me, on CPAP therapy, and have had experiences where you couldn't do therapy either because you were off grid by choice say on a camping trip, or you were without power because your electrical grid operator decided to pull the plug on you due to, whatever reason, you know the terrible burden this leaves on you. For me, one night of no CPAP means a night worse than if I had just not slept, and an almost guaranteed migraine level headache. 

Medical grade CPAP battery packs typically run as much as the CPAP itself or more,  They are little more than a battery pack, a charging circuit, and a 12V output for most CPAPs. And even with efficient travel CPAPs these battery packs rarely last a user for 2 nights sleep, so for extended outages you absolutely MUST have a way to recharge off of 110V AC power. So i your budget is tight, and your CPAP can run off of 12v DC keep reading. I have a solution that will save you a mess of money, and provide you with much longer run time between needing to be recharged. 

I have multiple reasons to run it, but I do have a small, and I mean tiny small generator, a Harbor Freight Tailgator, which is a little 900w peak 2 stroke generator that will easily handle my battery charger for this rig, or a small 5K BTU window AC etc... So I have a way to recharge, but honestly nobody wants to try to sleep while a generator that sounds like a chainsaw is running. I needed a better, more efficient solution to the problem. 

In my last blog post, I described the materials that would be used for a build like what I was doing. Today I present my finished product. 

The project didn't come off perfectly, and I will explain below, but overall I am VERY happy with the results.





So if you see my first photo with the box closed, you will notice that on the group on the left, the 12V outlet is positioned a bit too far left, apparantly I didn't have things measured out was well as I could have liked. Oops.

The charging circuit, I.E. bench top battery charger seen in the second pic leaves a bit to be desired, but it is sized so that I have no issues running it off of my Harbor Freight Tailgator generator, and topping the charge off quickly at 25 amps @ 14v output. (peak I believe). 

I want an onboard charger but they are EXPENSIVE, and typically max out at around 10 amps. I may upgrade my workshop battery charger at home and figure out a way to mount this thing to the box, and add ring terminals to it... Yeah that's probably not going to happen.

Anyway Upon testing, I find the Deyooxi 3 in 1 works, but the voltometers are innaccurate, and they don't even match each other, but rather they both read high and are .1v apart from each other. At best they are a good guess. Good enough, but not perfect.

I found the face plates the 3 in 1 sets came with don't fit accross the raised sections of this battery box. No shock there, So I left them out. This really doesn't need them, and with the oops hole, well...

Now during my hurried testing after the Great Texas Ice Storm and power outage of February 2021, I found that this battery, and a 12V power outlet can and will EASILY power my Z2 Travel CPAP for 4 nights in a row without recharging. Upon setting up to recharge I measured the standing charge in my battery with my multimeter and it measured 12.4V DC, which was still at a very high level. Mind you the Z2 is freakishly efficient. I would have had no issues or concerns running my Airsense 10 with the humidifier turned off during that time on the battery either.

If you want a great off grid power box for items like a CPAP, or USB charging, or even running a 12v compressor fridge, look at my last post as well. I go into the nitty gritty of what I did. It's all bound up nicely, and built in honestly as professional a manner as possible for a hand crafted item. And on the plus side, the skills needed to build this thing are minimal at most.

02 April, 2021

Off Grid power pack for CPAP users. Future expansion.

 I assume for those that have watched my videos, or know me personally know that I am on CPAP therapy. I am also an avid outdoors enthusiast. And have found the 12v portable power packs typically pre designed and sold for use with CPAPs being $350.00 + and having extremely low run times of one night or less effective use before the battery is drained. 

As you no doubt have heard, or even experienced personally, Texas suffered from an extended power outage in Mid February 2021. 

In my experience, I was prepared, or so I thought. I had an Everstart 1100 amp peak jump starter / power pack. I had used it for a max of 2 nights while camping off grid. However during the power outage, and family members thinking this was going to be short enough they were charging phones on it. I didn't even get one hour of CPAP time on it.

I needed a solution. NOW, and I needed one with capacity. Plus I needed to be able to extend my run time off grid for more than 2 days.

While they were open prior to them being forced to close, I was able to run into my local O'Reilly auto parts and grab a group 27 Deep Cycle battery, on what charge they had it with, some crimp on alligator clips, and a 12V power outlet socket. I quickly grafted together a simple rig that had the alligator clips holding on to the positive and negative posts powering the port. This was a quick and dirty way to provide power to my CPAP for the duration of power outage. I did test with my multimeter, starting voltage was at 12.9v, ending voltage after 4 nights of usage of my Z2 CPAP (no humidifier) was at 12.4v. No more than 8 hours night use. The battery was the trick, but was not a permanent solution.

And I need a solution for camping, not just emergency prep, it needs to be portable.

To begin with, I know I needed weather protected ports. I wanted 2 12V ports that were switched. I found panels that provided that, AND a voltometer. HOWEVER, the switches wouldn't quite handle both 12v ports I wanted, so what was the solution? After reviewing, I am going with 2 of the 3 in 1 panels. They provide on / off switch, 12v outlet, 2 USB charge ports, with voltometers. There seem to be a LOT of brand names with the same thing. I opted for the Deyooxi branded one, seems like the same thing in all with the same features.

I am fusing these using inline marine grade ATO fuse holders I already had in my toolbox grafted inline and tied together as a harness. I needed fuses, if I needed new holders I would have ordered the ATO / ATC 12 gauge marine sealed holders and fuse kit from Amazon. ATM fuses are available and smaller, but the fuse holders have insufficient wire for this project. you want 12 or 14 ga, not 16 or 18 ga.

I needed crimp connectors, for butt splices and ring terminals, I wanted heat shrink models. I opted for the 300pc box from Amazon. It works, but quaility is spotty. But all of the options seemed iffy. I will link it here, but use at your own discretion. Metal thickness left me wondering how cheap they could get.

Now I have the stuff to put together, but I need a housing for it all. 

I need a battery box, with enough space for a group 27 battery, AND the connectors in question. The only model I have found is the NOCO Group 27 battery box model HM327BKS.

Lastly, and since I can't find a fair deal on this online I am going to tell you about it. You will need a roll of electrical tape. Walmart has 3/4" x 60' rolls of electrical tape for $0.57 roll. 

So the build and costs are like this.

Battery $99.00 + tax / core charge.

Battery box. $12.99

2 @ Deyooxi 3 in 1 output / switch kits. $16.99 each, $33.98 for both.

Fuse holders / fuses. $12.99

Heat shrink terminals / crimps. $16.22

Electrical Tape. $0.57

That gives me a total for this project of $175.75


Any added length to your wires is going to be out of your inventory and /or buy wire. Again 14 ga wire or better to handle the amperage.


The process I used was.


Disassemble one of the Deyooki sets, use panel for sizing. Attach using masking tape to allow for positioning and holding while marking goes on. Select appropriate sized forstner drill bit, and mark hole centers on 3 device holes. Move to second side, repeat.

Next using sacrificial board line up starter holes and complete drilling device holes using forstner bit.

Assemble devices to panel, panel and devices to box on one side using second 3 in 1 and a guide.Secure using provided backing nuts. Reattach wiring using second 3 in 1 as guide for where wires go. Temporarily attach wires to battery and test function. Disconnect, repeat process for second 3 in 1.

Remove inline glass fuse holder for 3 in 1 power lead, graft in ATO fuse holder loaded with 15 amp fuse using 5/16" ring connector and butt slice, careful to keep length apropriate. Shrink heat shrink tubing on connectors.

Replace ground side ring connectors with 5/16" ring connectors. 

Tape wrap grounds together, and positives together to split off to battery terminals, bringing them together quickly but not too tight. Wrap all wires as a bundled loom until they split out to each side, wrap wires as loom per side. This step protects the wires and keeps them from being just loose and messy in the box.

Make terminal connections for grounds, and positives to the appropriate posts. Not previously mentioned, but assumed you had 5/16" -18 nuts to secure on the threaded posts. Slip positive side ring terminals over positive post, and run nut down / secure, repeat process on negative side. 

Test function on both sides.


Expanding the art.

At some point down the road I am going to want to add a DC / DC charger, and terminal mount AC to DC charger (auto style battery charger with ring terminal attachment). To make this happen I do not want the charging side and the load side to be on the same post. I opted for lead top post to threaded stud marine terminal ends for $1.99 each. 

I am not aware of online sources for this, but I HIGHLY recommend getting the NOCO terminal anti corrosion spray which I got from Walmart Auto Department for something like $3.00, it included a pair of the anti corrosion terminal pads, and a small can or anti corrosion terminal spray. This should be in your auto maintenance took box / supplies to begin with... 


For the time being I am going to use my Black and Decker 25 amp (at 12v) output auto battery charger (max 4 amp at 110v AC) being powered by my Harbor Freight Tailgator 900w peak generator. This is NOT my ideal long term.


LONG TERM GOAL:

I am wanting to eventually build in a 4 battery bank for a long term overlanding rig.. But for the mean time.


I have not opted yet for a specific make or model, but I am looking into a DC to DC charger / charge controller. There are models on the market I am researching that will allow me to charge from both my vehicle alternator, AND solar power. I am not well versed enough in this to speak wisely at this point though...


My pending choice for generator is a 2000 watt peak Aipower SUA2000IV however that is beyond my budget at this time.


With my long term desire for a proper 4 bank battery setup, I am wanting again, long term, to use the NOCO 4 bank onboard charger.

At the point of the 4 bank system, I will want to add a 2KW pure sine wave inverter to produce clean 110v power. I have not selected a specific make or model. The idea is to power laptops, and some misc 110v devices while I try to provide most power via 12V.


As you hopefully can see, I am trying to design my system so that it works for now, and most pieces can be repurposed in the future when a large upgrade in my off grid activity abilities will be made.

11 March, 2021

Campfire cooking. Dutch Oven French Ranch Peppered pot roast.

 Okay time to add another entry to the blog, and a recipe to enjoy. I will be adding this one to video soonest possible as well...


This one uses our camp dutch oven, coals, and time. Use the dutch oven heat guide apps (LOTS available) or bring a printed guide to help you determine how to maintain heat. This works best if you are camping lake / riverfront, and will be fishing it all day close to camp so you can keep an eye on, and tend the fire and coals... NEVER leave a campfire unattended, so don't even think about doing this unless you can commit to being there the whole long slow cook time... This is a recipe that is honestly a crock pot recipe converted time and temp for a camp dutch oven. 


Ingredients.

2.5 - 3lb beef roast.

1 packet dry ranch mix. Hidden valley, store brand really doesn't matter.

1 packet Knorr French Onion Soup Mix

1 stick pasture / grass fed butter.

Pepperoncini peppers drained. About 6 to 8.


Facility issue. You either need a cleaned up / ash removed fire pit, which you could be kind enough to do for the campground, or a dutch oven table. I don't have one of those. If the grate swings out of the way, you can use one of those campground standing grills as a dutch oven table pretty easily. Not all, or even the majority do this though.  And do NOT violate any burn bans. I WILL not be responsible for any legal problems you get into for violating the rules...

Equipment.

You will need a camp dutch oven, the kind with a raised lip on the lid to keep coals from falling off, a hoop to catch the lid lifter on the lid, and of course at least 3 or 4 legs undernath to give you clearance for the coals. You want this pre seasoned, however this recipe will certainly help with seasoning it.

I am upfront about my Amazon affiliate links, but if they are not the best deals I won't post them. And in this case they aren't even close. Presently my local Walmart and I believe chain wide at least in the CONUS, have the Ozark Trail 5 quart cast iron camp dutch oven for under $18.00. https://www.walmart.com/ip/Ozark-Trail-5-Quart-Cast-Iron-Dutch-Oven-with-Handle/55208717 The least expensive one I can find on Amazon starts at over $40.00

Both Walmart and Amazon seem in the same range for thsese so here goes. Dutch Oven Lid Lifter. to help you lift the lid to rotate, and just, well open the thing up https://amzn.to/3qJ39EB

Cast Iron dutch oven trivet. This goes inside the oven and lifts the meat off the bottom to give, well a more oven experience to the contents. You want the kind that goes INSIDE the dutch oven, not the kind the dutch oven sets on. https://www.walmart.com/ip/Lodge-8-inch-Cast-Iron-Meat-Rack-Trivet-Pre-Seasoned-L8DOT3/15836674 

Oven mitts, or something like an Ove Glove. You will want to pick up the dutch oven to rotate it by the bail handle.

Means of igniting charcoal. Do NOT use Match Light. I prefer to use a proper charcoal chimney but you CAN use lighter fluid. 

BBQ tools including long stainless steel tongs to handle the coals.

Material:

Long burning hardwood charcoal. Kingsford or Royal Oak. Walmart's house brand I think it is called Master Grill seems to be rebagged Royal Oak.

Ignition source for the charcoal. In my case old newspapers. 

A BBQ lighter.


Procedure:

Pre heat number of coals given by your dutch oven temp guide in your chacoal chimney, +  4 or so coals until the top coals are grayed over. 

Place the trivet in and the lid on the dutch oven.

Place the proper number according to your calcuator for the lid of the dutch oven.

Let this heat up for 10-15 minutes, allowing the cast iron to get fully hot, and the inside air of the DO to get fully hot.

Remove the lid of the DO and set aside on a clean heat safe surface.

Place the roast on the trivet.

Sprinkle the ranch powder on the roast.

Sprinkle the French Onion Soup mix on the roast.

Unwrap and place the stick of butter on the roast.

Place the peppers on the roast next to the butter.

Carefully place the lid back on the dutch oven.

Cook for 2.5 to 3 hours maintaining the 325 deg F. Every 15 to 30 minutes pick up Dutch oven and rotate 90 degrees clockwise, Rotate lid another 90 degrees clockwise. Replace coals every 30 minutes or so. Place partially spent coals in campfire. 

At 2.5 to 3hr mark, remove from heat. Let rest for 10 min before serving.

Serve with your choice, but we like foil packet roasted veggies, grilled asparagus or similar greens, a couple of small roasted potatoes, and some crusty french bread.

19 February, 2021

Blue Rhino Propane Exchange handing out massively OLD tanks!

 So according to Blue Rhino and the US Department of Transportation, propane cylinders have a good for life of 12 years, and then can be followed up with recertification that MUST be affixed to the tank in the form on a sticker. 


During the massive ice storms and resulting power outage that clobbered Texas this week (Feb 15 on 2021) I used up my prior propane, and happened to be at my local HEB store when the Blue Rhino truck was there offloading, so I just went ahead and bought a new tank since nobody is certain we are out of the woods yet weather / power wise, and should I need to, I want to be able to run my Portable Buddy Heater to keep from freezing my kneecaps off.


So I get the filled to only 15lbs of propane tank (why don't these exchange programs fill a 20lb tank with 20lbs of propane?) and I got to looking at it. Mostly because it looks like it was repainted by some kid in 6th grade shop class.


Well looking at the safety collar of the tank, I see a manufacture date 02-03. Yes, that's right. February 2003. 


It's February 2021 folks!


Okay so maybe, just maybe they recertified it.


Yeah that would be a nice idea. 


No sticker, anywhere on the tank. Just the plastic sleeve Blue Rhino puts on them.


Call Blue Rhino customer support maybe I am misreading the Safety collar even though I did propane tank refilling professionally, admitedly decades ago, but I know the process.


I know they are trying to fill a MASSIVE backlog in fuel orders due to the storms. But why on earth did Blue Rhino keep this tank in circulation? 


Something is massively wrong here. I am not sure but it looks like Blue Rhino is selling massively expired, and non certified tanks to retail customers who don't know SQUAT about DOT regulations, from retail establishments, so in order to get them home these same customers MUST transport them, after Blue Rhino transports the filled tanks to the store. 


The fresh off the truck Blue Rhino Propane Exchange tank.



Date stamp 02-03. Nothing else resembling a date stamp is on

the Safety Collar.



Not a recertification sticker to be found anywhere!

I haven't written a blog post in quite a while, but I am kind of driven to do this now mostly out of frustration. You see after making this discovery, I tried calling Blue Rhino customer service number, and found that the prompts I was faced with required me to be a commercial account customer, not a retail consumer. It would seem that unless I have the big truck pumping propane into my giant tanks at the shop, or farm or whatnot, they just don't seem to want to talk to us.

I will be sending them an email asking about this as I have concerns. I do NOT want to be legally liable for transpoting expired / no longer certified cylinders in violation of federal regulations. 

I am posting this mostly as tail coverage for myself to document that I am doing my due dilligence to get this corrected. My primary purpose for having bulk tank propane is for running camp appliances, thus transport is sort of a requirement for me...