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Staying Cool in Texas: Our Recent Air Conditioning Transition

Yeah, I know a picture of an air conditioner's outside coil is not very exciting. It's better than nothing.This begins back when we bought our home in 2001. We gave very little thought to the associated technical systems. It was our first home, which was excitement enough. It had four walls and a roof. A fenced yard for Dickson T. Dog. These were the explicitly stated criteria. It came some with old appliances, an old central air conditioner and a very old gas furnace. The house was built in the early 1920’s, so it’s safe to say that everything was vintage, but we didn’t care.

The Story Begins in 2003

About a year later, the compressor in that obviously very old air conditioner failed. While repairable, it was so old that a major repair (compressor) seemed a bad idea. So, we called our preferred air conditioning vendor and arranged to have a new system installed.

It was spring and not yet too hot. We opted for a 4T American Standard system rated for 13 SEER. Pretty basic, but a leading brand, from a vendor we trusted, with a 10 year warranty. Honestly, I don’t think we even considered anything beyond a single stage unit. It was a vast improvement over the ancient, recently deceased, Kenmore system.

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Amazon Sidewalk Approaches

As a household that has several Amazon Echo devices, I feel obligated to share the news about Amazon Sidewalk, including how to disable it.

What is Sidewalk?

Sidewalk is a “feature” in the latest firmware for the current generation of Amazon smart home products, including; Echo smart speakers, Ring doorbells & security cameras, and Tile trackers. When enabled, Sidewalk capable devices used by neighbors, visitors or passers-by are able to leverage your local internet connectivity.

Amazon says that these Sidewalk interlopers are allowed a limited amount of bandwidth, just 80 kbps, which is about the same as a tradition VoIP phone call.

Why Sidewalk?

That’s simple – ubiquitous connectivity is very convenient. Amazon knows this from years of experience. For example, their WhisperNet was a mechanism leveraging AT&T’s 3G mobile network to provide ubiquitous connectivity to early Kindle e-book readers.

Tile tracker

Imagine someone who uses Tile Pro to track their car keys. They are, as so many do each day, dropping their child off at Travis Elementary School, which is across the street.

It could be very handy if their Tile Pro found our front room Echo Dot, allowed it to ping Amazon servers. If they later lost their car keys, Amazon would know they had been near our home. Presumably, Amazon would have a more detailed record of their location that might otherwise be possible.

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My first year with Home Assistant

I set about to solve problem back in December 2019. Not truly a problem, just an annoyance. In my office I have a music player (RPi 3 + Hifi Berry Pro XLR) that feeds a pair of Behringer powered subwoofers and M-Audio BX5 powered monitors. We have several similar arrangements, creating five separate music zones across the property.

I’ve had this arrangement for years. I’m pretty happy with it, with one exception. The audio gear does not have signal-sensing power on/off. What I wanted was a way to turn the gear on/off automatically based upon the status of the media player. How hard could that be?

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Home & Office Instrumentation: The Netatmo Weather Station

We have quite a lot of IoT stuff hereabouts. One device that’s hardly had any mention is the Netatmo Weather Station. I honestly can’t recall how long we’ve had it. Perhaps as much as five years? I think it was a Christmas gift, since it does not appear in my Amazon order history. I’ve been pretty happy with it. It pretty much just works.

Netatmo Weather Station

The basic kit includes on outdoor module (House) and the main indoor unit. I really like being able to know the precise local conditions, not the exaggerated conditions local broadcasters report from northern counties or down in Galveston near the gulf. They always go for the more dramatic presentation.

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Tech we have deployed for Halloween

It started back in 2002. My wife brought home a large inflatable spider, something new for the exterior decor at Halloween. I struggled to find a way of using it that seemed appropriate.

In the end, I decided to give it context by building suitably large, lit spider web in the font yard. It spanned the gap between the house and a very tall Loblolly pine in the corner of the yard.

The children came in droves, and were filled with awe. They left with candy, and it was good.

Every year we try something new. We occasionally drop something that didn’t work quite as well as we hoped. This year I’d like to highlight a few things we’ve used that work very well.

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