Tag Archives: apps

Home Automation Update

2017.

As with all things that change, much remains the same.  The past several years have seen an explosion of new products in the “Smart Home” market, yet no clear winner has emerged, resulting in a landscape that is even more fragmented and beset by compatibility issues than ever before.  Whereas 5 years ago one was faced with a choice of several protocols (Z-wave, X10, ZigBee) and control software options (HomeSeer or Vera) or expensive, bundled turn-key solutions like Control4 or Savant, the product offerings are now much more diverse.  Almost every large tech company (Google, Apple, Samsung) and many home appliance stores (Home Depot, Lowe’s) have their own brand-name devices, home automation hubs, and cloud subscription services.  Nothing as ambitious as Google Home (the platform, not the smart speaker they launched this year) has materialized, and because no one ecosystem has gained wide acceptance, the consumer is faced with the unfortunate choice of settling for the limitations of a single ecosystem that may be lacking in certain device modules or software features, or going down an ever more harrowing DIY path and dealing with compatibility issues as they try to integrate products from the above manufacturer’s offerings into a third-party control network, hoping that the underlying protocols are still compatible.

Left with the choice of investing an a single ecosystem that may – and likely will – become obsolete (and unsupported?) within less than a decade, I have decided to stick with the tried and true – HomeSeer and Z-Wave – for the foreseeable future.  While lacking some of the nice flourishes like well-designed mobile apps and effortless compatibility, the endless rule-based configuration and extensibility of HomeSeer offers true Automation where competing “consumer-friendly” products lean more towards glitzy remote-control.

In the past few years, I have added some additional functionality, mostly through software, that has improved the overall experience of my setup.  The mantra is simple: unseen, unheard.  Anticipate, react, but do not interfere or present features that add little value.  What does that look like?

Alexa

My glorified smart alarm clock.  Really.  While the other features are nice, and I do enjoy the occasional customized morning briefing, using the Echo as an alarm clock has made a notable improvement in the daily routine.  With IFTTT integration, Alexa can trigger events in HomeSeer, and trigger phrases can be customized.  I can say, “Alexa, trigger all lights out” to turn every (connected) light in the house out, or “Alexa, trigger air on” to turn on the AC.  Rather than fumbling with a crappy old alarm clock or relying on my phone, I can say “Alexa, set alarm for 5:25 AM” and it is done.  The time is maintained accurately via internet connection, and daylight savings is accounted for.  Better yet, IFTTT can respond to the alarm going off as a trigger.  This allows the lights in my bedroom, hallway, and living room to automatically come on when the alarm goes off, and (optionally) the coffee pot to turn on with a 10min delay for me to finish a shower,  Pretty cool.

Presence

One of the requirements for true home automation is the accurate tracking of presence.  The system must know who is home in order to respond appropriately.  This is actually very difficult to implement, and there are many ways of going about it, including motion sensors, Bluetooth beacons, pinging each household member’s phone while connected to the Wi-Fi network, or using GPS position reporting from an app.  The latter two options offer the additional granularity of knowing WHO is home (assuming they keep their phone with them) and the last option gives the ability to set multiple trigger zones on a map with the goal of anticipating one’s arrival home and thus responding BEFORE they arrive, allowing for heat/AC to already be on, alarms to be disabled, etc.  This is what I have implemented with one of my favorite iOS apps, Geofency.  It allows multiple “Geo-Fences” to be set up, with accurate cell and GPS based tracking of the entry and exit into and out of set geographical regions, with associated trigger actions.  In this case, like with Alexa, IFTTT is used as a bridge to connect with HomeSeer and set “Home” and “Away” status.

Security

ADT?  pfft.  With no additional hardware, and zero monthly subscription fees, I have an adequate security system by simply utilizing the existing presence features described above with alternative events to be triggered when either of the in-house motion sensors (entryway and stairway) detect motion.  Normally, these are used to turn lights on, but when no one is home, they send an alert text that there is activity in the home.  While I have experimented with cameras, there are just too many false positives (headlights flashing through a window, lightning, birds etc…).  Simple IR sensors are much more reliable at detecting humans and humans only.

HVAC

Here is where the cost savings comes in to save the day and pay for all the cool stuff described above.  Presence sensing and a connected thermostat (no, not a Nest, just a simple, dumb, Z-wave thermostat) allow for the heat and AC to be on only when home, and to dynamically react to changing outside weather conditions, bedtimes, and early/late mornings.  The cost savings, especially with air conditioning, is in the range of hundreds of dollars annually.

Conclusion

With the exception of voice control via Alexa, little has changed from the hardware standpoint.  Sure, a few more lights are attached via Z-Wave outlet, thanks to overall lower prices.  Several 4-button Aeon MiniMotes have been added for convenience of turning said lights on and off singly or in groups.  But the rest?  Mostly better software integration.  Better presence detection has enabled a much less distracting level of automation, where the house reacts to certain events reliably and appropriately, but is still able to be overridden manually without hassle.

While the lights don’t change colors and doors don’t lock and unlock themselves, I am happy with this fairly unobtrusive setup until something better comes along.

 

Category: Technology | Tags: , , ,

TK102 Clone – GPS Tracker Setup Guide

As with most Chinese knockoff and clone devices, one can expect minor variations in hardware, numerous inconsistencies in software / firmware and a complete lack of documentation.  For a device where all commands must be issued over SMS text message, figuring out how the Xexun / ZY International TK102 / TK102B / TK102-II functions without a proper manual is difficult enough, but for my “clone,” the closest to which I’ve come to identifying as a Heacent HC06A board inside a TK102 shell, in which the formatting of the commands has inexplicably been altered, the task was a miserable one.

SupportedDevs_1

Mine resembles the “Hash Clone.” Click for the key and link to the source, the developer of an android app for these trackers.


That said, at $27.97, this type of hassle is almost expected, and for a fully functioning (once understood) GPS / GSM tracker, the lack of documentation does little to spoil the deal.

The Elusive list of Commands

For this device, the commands use “#” for padding/separations, rather than a space as on the official devices and many of the, er, “more official” clones.  The commands also vary slightly.  As with the original, all passwords must be numeric only, and six digits.  The default is “123456.”  Here is what I have gotten to work:

 

Function SMS Command SMS Response Notes
Initialization #begin#123456# begin ok resets password
Change Password #123456#123456#987654# password ok
Get IMEI #imei#123456# imei:123456789000015 15 digits
Set Timezone #timezone#123456#S0400# time ok S equals negative?
Set APN #apn#123456#epc.tmobile.com#user#pwd# apn ok user and pwd are optional
Set Server IP #adminip#123456#193.193.165.166#20751# adminip ok IP and port (IP can be a url)
Remove IP #noadminip#123456# noadminip ok Limit 1 IP / Domain?
Admin Number #admin#123456#18001234567# admin ok need country prefix
Remove Number #noadmin#123456#18001234567# noadmin ok Can store 5 numbers
Admin SMS #adminsms#123456#18001234567# sms ok Can store 5 numbers?
Remove SMS #noadminsms#123456#18001234567# noadminsms ok
Check Status #check#123456# electricity:24.97% GPS:A gprs:open gsm :75 A= fix ; open=online
Google Maps link #smslink#123456# http://maps.google.com/?q=N41.000000,W87.000000
Auto Track #fix#030#004#123456# set fix ok interval (<20) # total (<255)
Auto Track-alt #fix#030s#004n#123456# set fix ok s: second, m: minute, h: hour
Stop Auto Track #nofix#123456# Cancel fix time ok!
Listen to Microphone #monitor#123456# monitor ok Call to listen to mic
Back to default mode #tracker#123456# tracker ok Switch back to normal mode

From the various sources I pieced this together from, I still couldn’t figure out the following issues:

  1. Admin phone number: Requires an international prefix (eg +1 for the US).  The example they list is for China (+86), which is formatted as 0086.  Unsure how many zeros should precede the “1” for US.  I’m also not sure a prefix is even needed unless you’re calling from out of the country.
  2. The “Auto Track” position updates don’t seem to be sent via SMS, only GPRS when a server is configured.  Not sure if that’s because I incorrectly whitelisted my number or if I never tried with GPRS disabled.
  3. I tried a bunch of free android apps; none worked with this clone; they don’t like the “#”s.  This app looks like it would work, but it is $10.  I’ll just use Tasker.
  4. The :Low Battery Alert” supposedly begins to alert at 3.7V and sends you SMS in 30m intervals thereafter. In my experience, “Low” is about 60%.
  5. Several commands I did not mention above or test, but which should work:

 

Function SMS Command SMS Response Notes
Geo-fence #stockade#123456#500#60#22. 312451#113.54376# stockade+geo-info radius#time#longitude#latitude
Disable Geo-fence #nostockade#123456#
Movement alert #move#123456# move+geo-info Must be still during setup
Disable Movement alert #nomove#123456# move ok
Overspeed alert #speed#123456#080# speed ok km/h; not less than 20km/h
Disable Overspeed alert #nospeed#123456#

For the Geo-Fencing, apparently there’s a way to either set a coordinate and diameter, or to use two coordinates, where the first defines the top left corner of the box making up the geo-fence, and the second is the coordinate of the bottom right corner.

Now, Make it Pretty…

Finally, here is how to get the GPRS / data connection set up using GPS-Trace.com

  1. Register at this website: http://gps-trace.com/
  2. Setup your GPS with the following configurations (remember to leave the GPS tracker outdoors with clear view of the sky):
    1. If you have not already set up your GPS password:
      1. Send SMS command: #begin#123456# (you should receive an SMS saying “begin ok”)
      2. Make a phone call to the SIM card you put in your GPS (you should receive info such as geographic coordinates);
    2. Send SMS command: #imei#123456# and save your IMEI for later.
    3. Send SMS command: #timezone#123456#S0300# (this is the setting for GMT -3, Brazilian time);
    4. Send SMS command: #adminip#123456#193.193.165.166#20751#
      1. This is for setting the correct IP and port to work with gps-trace
  3. On gps-trace.com, considering you’ve already registered your account, you should now add a new unit – must use “Vehicle”
    1. Look for the “new unit” icon placed on the bottom right side of the screen
    2. Fill the “unit name” field with a name of your choice
    3. Fill in the phone number in international format (“+1” prefix for US)
    4. In “device type” choose “Heacent HC06A”
    5. Fill the IMEI field with your device’s IMEI number (15 digits)
    6. Fill the “password” field with your device’s password (default is 123456)

Now both the Auto Track and individual polling options (smslink and simply calling the device) should also result in a transmission to gps-trace with your coordinates mapped and timestamped.  Theoretically, the above method could be adopted with any online service, or hosted oneself with something like GPS-Gate.

c8ab2848-6466-6241-e541-dc493b82b49d

The TK102B…or a not-so-identical clone.

Or Make it Yours

As an alternative to GPS-Trace Orange, I have actually found Traccar, and more specifically, the Traccar-Web UI modification to offer the best blend of features, simplicity and the ability to export data for use in google Earth or similar.  You can either create an account and use the free demo server each of these projects maintains, or download and host your own server, which is what I did.  This allowed me to watch the connection log as my tracker attempted to send data, make sure it was actually connected, and figure out which port it should use.  Traccar uses ports 5000-5100 based on the format of the data the GPS tracker sends, as each is formatted differently.  The HC06A / TK-102 clone, for example, sends a HEX string that converts to “#123456789000015##1#0000#AUT#01#31041001a4776d #8312.534700,W,4120.236900,N,0.00,0.00#060715#212609.000##”.  It’s sending the IMEI, lat/lon, date and time as well as some other stuff I couldn’t decipher.  If this is sent to Traccar on port 5016, it is able to correctly parse the data and display it on a map.

traccar

Traccar. The UI modification adds several additional features, including import/export.

So, to adapt the above instructions for GPS Trace Orange if you prefer to use Traccar instead, simply change the IP and Port to reflect this.  For the Traccar demo server, this would be:  #adminip#123456#104.43.219.242#5016# or alternativly the UI-Mod server is #adminip#123456#188.166.50.6 #5016# .  You can also use your own server, such as #adminip#123456#innominatethoughts.com#5016#.  Using text for your domain does indeed work, rather than needing to use the IP, which is great if you’re using a dynamic IP with DDNS.  Whichever version of Traccar use, you’ll need to create an account, add a device, and use the IMEI as the “unique identifier.”

Category: Technology | Tags: , , , ,

Going Paperless

In the 20 years that I have been a student, I have always had a backpack.  I was never in want of a place to stow a binder, pockets for extra pens and highlighters, and still more compartments for snacks, a laptop, umbrella, and the various tools, trinkets and gadgets that I might (never) need to use.

Well, I’m still a student, but now I have only two pockets in a short white coat to assume the place of my trusty pack.  Suddenly, I have become over-encumbered with what would have in the past only been only a moderate load.  It wasn’t too difficult to boot the umbrella and trinkets from my cargo manifest, but the nature of the true culprit quickly became obvious: paper.  I hate paper.  It has been only three weeks since I have been forced to accelerate the demise of this pulpy, archaic medium, but I am happy to declare that progress has been made.

Looking back, it’s scary how dependant I was on 19th century (and older) technology for organizing my life.  Because of its insidious creep into every nook of my routine, there was no single solution to ridding myself of those stacks of ugly scrawl, often labored over for hours only to be buried under an unstable tower of their brethren and forgotten.  Yet slowly I have succeeded in reducing – if not eliminating – my dependance on parchment.  Here is what I have used to accomplish the task:

Notepad / Scrap paper: Google Tasks

Google Tasks open in Gmail

Google Tasks open in Gmail

Google Tasks is the best tool for anyone integrated into the google ecosystem, as it is quickly accessible from gmail.  I leave it enabled in the bottom right corner of my screen, and have lists for To-Dos, personal notes, long term reminders, and tasks specific to certain occupations, organizations or activities.  These liste are instantly synced across all of my computers, as well as my android phone (app: GTasks) and iPad (app: GoTasks).  There is a checkbox to mark a task complete, and you can also set reminders and due dates.  Say goodbye to sticky notes and that pile of cut-up recycle paper you used to keep on your desk.

Filing Cabinet: Evernote

Evernote Web Clipper browser plugin

Evernote Web Clipper browser plugin

Evernote occupies that second tier of notes – those that aren’t tasks or items to be remembered for a short time later, but rather all of those pesky little details in life that need to be remembered.  That combination for the bike lock that you always forget in the spring?  You know, the one you wrote down….somewhere?  Yup, evernote will take care of it.  Along with longer items such as notes, pictures and even audio recordings.  You’re limited to 100MB of uploaded stuff per month, so plan on paying for the premium account if you do much of the latter.  For text and the occasional picture / scan, it’s plenty. The web clipper browser plugin is also essential for saving interesting/funny things you read online.  Storing them in evernote solves the issue of trying to find them later only to realize the content was pulled, the site offline, or you just plain forgot where to look.  Of course, like Google Tasks, Evernote is available on the desktop, web, and mobile platforms, so your filing cabinet is always with you.

Scrawl: Penultimate

penultimateI use this app on the iPad for those rare situations in which you simply need to write.  The resolution and accuracy of a capacitive stylus leaves much to be desired, but it works in a pinch.  Samsung’s Note line of phones/tablets, as well as many Windows tablets such as MS Surface, have Wacom digitizer hardware, allowing the use of a proper stylus for better accuracy and ease of use.  Still, my 9″ iPad mini is about as good as a 3×5 paper notecard as far as the amount I can fit on a page.  On the plus side, it syncs to Evernote – a feat that leaves the note card feeling quite resentful and unwanted.  Good riddance.

 

Binders: Dropbox

Dropbox or Google Drive, you can have your pick.  Either of these are great for storing vast archives of created content or school/work documents and keeping them synced across all your devices.

Flashcards: Anki

I already wrote in length about Anki.  In short, if you have a pile of things to memorize and retain for any significant amount of time, there’s nothing better.

Textbooks: PDF

It’s amazing how many things you can find online if you dig a bit.  And by digging, I actually mean a simple google search.  If you’re lucky enough to find a decent quality PDF of the textbook you need, I still think Adobe Reader is the best app for the job (perhaps with the exception of PDF X-Change Viewer on a Windows machine).  Sadly, the CHM format is still used frequently, and it necessities using apps that are generally more buggy and less polished.

Books / Novels: Calibre and ePub

Calibre is an awesome piece of software for managing an eBook library for use with dedicated eReaders, tablets or phones.  Not only will it organize and convert your library of digital books, but it can also act as a server to allow those books to be accessed from anywhere if you happen to have a computer you can leave running all the time.  My favorite apps that support the ODPS protocol that Calibre uses as well as the widely-used ePub format for eBooks are FBReader on Android and Marvin on the iPad.

calibre

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With the above tools, as well as a capable PC, smartphone and tablet, you have all that’s needed to leave paper behind in the last century where it belongs.  If you still find yourself having to use it from time to time, I think you would be well served by adding two more items to that list: a scanner and document shredder.

Saving Battery with Tasker

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The Galaxy Nexus is notorious for its mediocre battery life, especially when operating in an area with marginal 4G coverage.  Finding that my phone would frequently attempt to maintain a cellular data connection even while not being used, I decided to remedy the issue with BattSaver, my creatively-named Tasker profile designed to minimize power usage from the phone’s radios while not in use.

Components

BattSaver comes in 4 parts, either due to necessity or my own inefficiency.  Still, it is quite simple, and the results speak for themselves.

Left: Samsung Galaxy Nexus LTE failing || Right: Running BattSaver Tasker profile

Left: Samsung Galaxy Nexus LTE failing at being a phone || Right: Improvement with BattSaver activated

There are many of these profiles out there, such as this one on XDA, but I found them to be  either too complex or overly rigid.  While one can attempt to plan for every usage scenario, it eventually becomes so burdensome and inefficient to do so that the whole point of automation is lost.  I don’t, for instance, want to manually add every Wi-Fi network I use to the profile so that it can trigger when away from home.  This is an inconvenience, but worse, it is inflexible.  What if I go on a trip, or change my routine?  I do not want to have to manually update my phone to keep the task working.

Here, as with most things, I’m a fan of the KISS (keep it simple, stupid!) principle.  My profile may not have as many functions, but it is predictable.  BattSaver requires no attention aside from enabling or disabling it, and is –  I’ll bet – at least 90% as effective.

So, back to the 4 components:

Batt Saver Trigger

This profile checks to see that the phone is not in use, as defined by the following conditions:

  • Screen is OFF
  • Charger is disconnected
  • Phone is not at home

If these are met, Batt Saver will activate.  You can also set a minimum percentage the battery must reach before the profile engages – I typically use 25%.

Batt Saver

This is the main profile, which enables airplane mode as long as the above conditions remain met, and no phone calls are ongoing.

Battery Status

This maintains a variable (%BATTLVL) to monitor the battery percentage and use it as a condition in Batt Saver Trigger.

Batt Check

Finally, we need a way to periodically check for messages and email while the battery saver is running.  This turns the radios on every 30min by interrupting Batt Saver for one minute – enough time to connect and send/receive data.

Profiles

As usual, here is a zip of the profiles and tasks if you wish to import them.  Aside from Tasker, you will also need the free version of SecureSettings installed.

The only modification you will need to make is to change or remove the condition in Batt Saver Trigger that checks if the phone is at home.  I use a variable that is set by another profile that monitors the nearby WiFi and Cell towers, so you can either create a similar profile and have it change the %AT_HOME variable (1=yes, 0=no), use a different condition, or just delete it.

Category: Technology | Tags: , , , , ,

Flashcards Like a BOSS…with Anki

When confronted with information overload on a daily basis, one quickly learns how to be efficient when it comes to memorization.  One of my favorite tools for this daunting task is Anki, a multi-platform flashcard application that uses the principle of Spaced Repetition  to maximize retention of information.  There’s nothing more frustrating to spend, say, a semester learning the intricacies of Biochemistry just to forget everything a year later when it comes time to review for an exam.  Sadly, I haven’t managed to solve this particular problem, but Anki is the closest to a solution I have come across.

There are plenty of tutorials out there on what Anki is and how to use it, so what I’d like to focus on is my setup for reviewing cards.

Desktop

To maximize speed and comfort while reviewing 100s of cards in one sitting, I’ve found using the keyboard and mouse to be suboptimal.  Instead, I acquired one of these:

Microsoft Media Center IR Remote (A9O-00007)

Microsoft Media Center IR Remote (A9O-00007)

This is the first half of the equation.  The second is a nifty piece of software called LM Remote Keymap.  It allows you to assign any keystroke (or other function, such as launching programs etc…) to the button of your choosing on the remote.

By default, Anki is set up to use Enter (or the OK button) and the numbers 1-4 to advance and rate cards.  All I had to do was assign a button for Suspending (Hotkey: @), Marking (*) and Undoing (Ctrl-z).  I chose to use 3 of the 4 media buttons above the number pad (Recorded TV, Guide, and DVD Menu), because they had no other function outside Media Center.

With this setup, you can assume any number of postures while reviewing; you aren’t stuck in a chair, nor bound by a cord.  The next option improves on this idea even further…

Treadmill

Here’s the true breakthrough in efficient studying.  If you own a treadmill, the option exists to position it in such a way that allows it to work with the above setup.  At the gym, however, one must improvise…

1) Android Tablet, running AnkiDroid (free) – MUST Support Bluetooth

2) Wii Remote

3) Wiimote Controller App

Wiimote + Nook Color (CM7, Rooted) + AnkiDroid + Wiimote Controller App

Wiimote + Nook Color (CM7, Rooted) + AnkiDroid + Wiimote Controller App

The process is much like before.  You need to map the keys of the Wiimote to function in AnkiDroid.  I used the D-pad for rating cards (Left=1, Down=2, Right=3, Up=4) and the A button for advancing cards (Enter).  AnkiDroid didn’t have as many hotkeys as the desktop version when I last used it (an update may have fixed this), so I just used the touchscreen if I needed to mark, undo or suspend.  I also set the cards to auto-advance after 30sec in the options, marking the current card as failed.

iPad folk – sorry, I’ve had no luck finding a way to replicate this setup.  Even with a Jailbroken device, there are few options for Wiimote tethering over Bluetooth, and all of them are either tech demos or usable solely for games.  No app exists to map keys…yet?

With the proper setup in place, it’s surprising how much more efficient it is to review flashcards.  Mastering Anki’s many functions, such as filtering cards by tag, creating filtered decks, and most importantly – designing cards in a suitable fashion for memorizing – are things that come with time and practice.  With its growing popularity, multitudes of high quality, shared decks, and compatibility (with sync) for all of the major operating systems, Anki is unparalleled for reviewing flashcards in a digital format.

UPDATE: Well, what do you know, using Anki on a Treadmill actually has research to support its effectiveness.  Seth Roberts has an excellent post detailing the synergy of these two activities: Boring + Boring = Pleasant!?

Favorite Android Apps

I just finished loading the latest release of Jellybean (Android 4.2.2) on to my Galaxy Nexus, going through what has become an almost painless process thanks to Titanium Backup and Nova Launcher.   Together, these two apps preserve 99% of my data, settings and homescreen layouts even when performing a factory reset to upgrade safely to the latest and greatest custom ROM of choice (I’m partial to AOKP, myself).

This is usually the time I go through and weed out all of the apps I’ve installed in the last 6 or so months, deciding which have been useful enough to keep, and which are to receive the boot.  This time, I remembered to use my new favorite app-for-sharing-apps, appropriately titled ShareMyApps, to make a nifty list of installed android apps, with links to the Play Store automatically added.  So, without further ado, these are the ones that made the cut (*** denotes favorites):

Productivity

***Adobe Reader 

***Andy-83 

***AnkiDroid 

Body 

Calendar 

CamScanner 

Chrome 

Chase 

Drive 

***Dropbox 

E*TRADE 

eBay 

Embiggen 

Epocrates 

Finance 

Gmail 

Google Reader 

***Google Voice 

Google Voice for DashClock 

***GTasks 

How to Tie a Tie 

OfficeSuite 

Opera Mobile Labs  

Navigation / Car

Earth 

***Glympse 

FuelLog 

FuelLogPro 

GasBuddy 

GeoCam Free 

Goggles 

GPS Essentials 

GPS Status 

GPS Test 

***Guard My Angel 

Locus Free 

Locus Map Tweak 

Maps 

My Tracks 

OBD AutoDoctor 

OBD DroidScan 

***OruxMaps 

Street View 

***TetherGPS 

Entertainment

Diode 

Domination 

Facebook 

***FBReader 

FBSync 

Google+ 

Great Big War Game 

HDR Camera 

Lapse It Pro 

***MX Player 

OpenTable 

Pandora 

Paper Camera 

Photoshop Express 

Snapchat 

Songza 

***Subsonic 

***UK & World News 

VLC 

VlcRemote 

WeatherBug 

X-Plane 

Yelp 

YouTube 

YouTube Remote

Utilities

***AdAway 

AirDroid 

AlsaMixer 

AndFTP 

AndroZip 

***AutoRemote 

Battery Extension for DashClock 

Busybox Installer 

CallRecorder 

CalWidget 

Cheetah Sync 

***DailyRoads Voyager 

DashClock Sunrise Extension 

DashClock Widget 

Drive Mount 

***Dropsync 

Dropsync Pro Key 

ES File Explorer 

IP Webcam 

Locale Calendar Plugin 

Locale Execute Plug-in 

***LogMeIn 

***Minimalistic Text 

NFC ReTag FREE (2.4.1)  

NFC TagInfo 

Noise Meter 

Nova Launcher 

***Nova Launcher Prime 

***AndroidLost 

***PushBullet 

Python for Android 

ROM Manager 

Root Explorer 

ShareMyApps 

SL4A 

Screen Timeout Toggle 

Secure Settings 

Sound Search for Google Play 

Speed Test 

SuperSU 

***SwiFTP 

***TapeMachine 

***Tasker 

TeslaLED 

tinyCam Monitor PRO 

***Titanium Backup 

Translate 

Ultrachron Lite 

Unified Remote 

***Webkey

µTorrent 

 

If you were astute enough to notice the lack of flying apps in the above list, you’ll probably appreciate the fact that I’m giving them a separate post in which I can go into a bit more detail on my experiences with them.  I don’t think Android has quite reached parity with iOS when it comes to aviation apps – primarily due to the lack of ForeFlight – but the situation is certainly improving.  More to come on that…

I’ll also try to remember to update this next year with a list of medical apps relevant to students on clinical rotations.  This is another field where the quality of apps is developing rapidly.

Category: Technology | Tags: , , ,

Bluetooth Trigger for Dash-Cam

Last week, I wrote about my experience using an old Droid X as a dash-cam, Russia-style. With Tasker and DailyRoads Voyager, the implementation allowed for completely hands-off operation; recording video only when the car was on.  The only issue was that I had needed to use the power source as the trigger for letting Tasker know when the car was operating.  This was fine until Winter struck here in Michigan, spelling doom for the battery, even with Airplane mode engaged.

I had the capability to run continuous power to the phone from the car’s own battery, but then what would trigger Tasker?  I had thought about trying to make something work with the GPS, or even a relay, but each had its pitfalls or inconsistencies.  Fortunately, Slickdeals offered a solution to the problem when Best Buy held a fire-sale for the Rocketfish Bluetooth Speaker for iPad.  $5 you say?  I’ll take 3!

A bit of dis-assembly later, and I was left with this:

Disassembly required.

Disassembly required.

Now, there is nothing too special about this specific product.  I imagine any Bluetooth audio device – including headsets – would work for the task, provided that it do three things:

  1. After removing the included battery, it must still power up and attempt to connect when USB power is attached.
  2. Pairing settings must be saved when power is removed – despite the lack of battery.
  3. If you decide to leave the battery attached, it must still power down immediately after power is removed, without any button presses required.

 

I suspect many Bluetooth devices will meet these requirements, but I can only vouch for the one I tried.

bt_adapter

Bluetooth audio receiver module, Rocketfish RF-TRSPIPAD

So, once you have the board and are satisfied that it will function properly, it must be connected to a USB car adapter that powers on/off with the car.  Pair the phone up with the Bluetooth device, and create a Tasker profile to start DailyRoads Voyager when a pairing is made.  I have made my profile available below.

 

And it’s as simple as that.  No more dead batteries, and everything works just as well as before.  I noticed no lag at all in detecting the Bluetooth connection, even after days of it being powered off.  It is also worth mentioning that there has been no noticeable impact on the car’s battery, despite the phone running all the time with the radios on (but screen off).

100% hands-off operation, working flawlessly.

100% hands-off operation, working flawlessly.

Android Dash-Cam DIY

Premise

The gadgets in my car have been through a number of iterations, from TomTom running on an old Windows Mobile 6 phone, to a full-fledged, Windows 7 based CarPC complete with touchscreen, GPS and Bluetooth OBD-II data monitoring.  These were fun projects, and may be worth a future post.  Sadly, each had a number of flaws, and have since been replaced with a much simpler android setup.

droid_dvr_profile

My current electronics suite: a Droid X and a Whistler XTR-150 Laser/Radar Detector

Having no better use for my retired Motorola Droid X, I decided to re-purpose it as a dedicated Car DVR after watching one too many YouTube videos involving Russian motor vehicle accidents.  Why does a former superpower dominate this genre of video clips?  Surprisingly, Russia does not top the statistics when it comes to fatal motor vehicle accidents (the Middle East seems to dominate that field) and while they place a respectable 4th in alcohol consumption per capita, this by itself doesn’t seem to explain the need for meticulous video record-keeping of one’s daily commute to work.

Of course, the reason most of us keep records usually has something to do with taxes and the law, and it is no different here.  Apparently, the legal atmosphere on Russia’s roads is very much one of guilty-until-proven-innocent.  With widespread corruption, hit-and-runs, and the general dearth of witnesses, the Dash-Cam is a technological last hope for innocent drivers who are tired of being taken advantage of by accident-staging and bullying.

Here in Michigan, its more just for fun – although you never know when having footage on hand may prove useful.  So, how do you turn an old android smartphone into an automated, HD-video-shooting piece of awesomeness?

Set-up

1) The phone.  Generally, any android phone will do for this, though you will want to be sure the camera placement is in a suitable location so as not to be blocked by the mount.  I’d aim for something that records in at least 720p, such as the Droid X, 1st-gen Galaxy S, or HTC Rhyme/Incredible/Desire.  A MicroSD slot is also highly recommended.

2) Get a mount.  I used this one from Arkon.  It is universal, cheap, and (aside from coming lose on a hot day), dependable.  This may be a better option, depending on where your camera is located.

droid_dvr_close

3) Time to go shopping…at the Play Store.  You’ll need DailyRoads Voyager (free) and Tasker ($6.49).  Optionally, you can add (all free) Orientation ControlNo Lock, MyTracks (and its Tasker plugin), and Quick Boot to log GPS tracks and keep the screen unlocked and in landscape mode.  Rooting your device will unlock some extra functionality with Tasker, but isn’t strictly necessary for the task at hand.

4) Power.  You need a power source from your car to charge the phone.  It must only supply power when the car is on (most outlets do this).  A cheap car adapter will do, or you can get a bit more creative and splice in the wiring so as to conceal the wiring and make things look more professional.

5) Configuration.  Set up DailyRoads to automatically record (I like 5min clips) when launched.  Make sure to go through the rest of the settings and tweak them to your needs and the capabilities of your device.  Ensure the GPS data is logged in .srt format, as this will allow it to be overlayed on the video as subtitles when playing back on your PC with VLC or similar.

For Tasker, you’ll need it to launch DailyRoads (and MyTracks) when the car is powered on (charging), and kill it when power is removed, as well as switch to airplane mode to conserve battery.  Tasker can be a bit daunting the first time you open it up, but there are many guides online that walk you through its array of functions.  In addition, I have shared my profiles here, an you may import and modify them to suit your purposes.

 

That’s it!  Your Android Dash-Cam will now start and stop recording in tune with your driving, no input required.

Issues

car_lower_dash Having had this setup running for a bit over a half of a year, my biggest issue remains that of battery life.  Despite the power savings afforded by Airplane mode, I still find myself having to charge the phone manually about once per week, especially in the winter.  Ideally, I’d just run a cable to the phone that is always powered by the car’s battery – the small drain shouldn’t pose a threat to the car.  However, the issue here is that Tasker depends on the charging status to know when you’re driving. One idea is to use the GPS to measure speed, and have that trigger Tasker.  In my set-up though, the GPS is turned off with the car to save power, and even if I were to leave it on, I’m not confident that it would reliably maintain a fix for days on end.

That leaves Bluetooth and Wi-Fi as the only other input options.  I’m thinking of using a Bluetooth device  powered by the car to trigger the event when it connects to the phone.  When the car turns off, it will lose power, disconnect, and thus Tasker will know to stop the recording.  I’ll try to give both these options a fair shot in the next few weeks, and will report back if successful.

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