Windows 8.1

Updating My Home Automation and Security System

 

A couple of years ago, I wrote a series of posts detailing my roll your own home automation and security system. A recently failed Insteon SmartLinc 2412N Network controller (the brains of the system) forced me to replace the device and provided the opportunity to add some components and address the issue of controlling everything from a Windows RT device. It turns out that the 24112N has been failing for many others, right after the expiration of the 2 year warranty and is no longer available from Insteon. As I was already invested in Insteon modules and devices, I didn’t want to start fresh with a different technology (and I was happy with Insteon), so I ordered an Insteon Smart Hub from Amazon (best price at the time that I ordered) as well as a pair of Insteon 79750 IP Cameras.

As with the earlier (and now discontinued 2412N) there are apps for iOS and Android (but not for Windows). I use an iPhone, so I have no problems controlling my devices from my phone. With the new iPhone App, not only can I control my lights, but I can pan and tilt my Insteon cameras.

insteon iphone app

Although I I can control the lights, and the Insteon cameras  as shown in the image above, I can’t control or view the D-Link cameras. Insteon has a beta web portal for remote/local management, but it sadly uses an unsigned ActiveX control (which also means the web site won’t work on an RT device like the Lumia 2520). The phone apps (and obviously the web portal) therefore depend on a vendor web site that I don’t control (as well as Internet connectivity). Unlike the 2412N, the embedded web server in the Insteon Hub does not offer controls. I also use a Nokia Lumia 2520 and I was determined to be able to use it for Home Security and Control. Bottom line, I needed better control and as important, didn’t want to depend on someone else keeping a server running.

 

Controlling the Lights from Windows/Windows RT

I found that Insteon devices could be controlled by passing parameters directly to a device from a web browser and found a great source for these commands. Note that in current versions of IE, you can no longer pass credentials via an http URL for security reasons, but sending commands without credentials does produce a prompt for them. I quickly built myself an app (which can be installed locally with a developer’s license) to control the lights with Microsoft Project Siena. To insure that I could use these controls both locally and while away, instead of using the local LAN IP, I used my DDNS hostname and the port that the Insteon hub uses (which is set up in my router’s port forwarding table).

The basic On/Off commands I used were:

On
http://[dynamic DNS hostname goes here]:25105/3?026218EF6C0F11FF=I=3
 
Off
http://[dynamic DNS hostname goes here]:25105/3?026218EF6C0F1300=I=3

 

I created a simple interface in about 60 seconds to control some lighting with Project Siena:

barbs siena app

It took less than 15 minutes to create this simple app which is now installed on all my Windows 8.1 devices. I can add Dim and Brighten commands as well. No one has uncovered any Scene commands, but for my needs, what I have now is sufficient for basic functions.

Viewing and Controlling the Cameras from Windows/Windows RT

The video formats for most of the currently available IP cameras requires an ActiveX control or stand alone app to render the video/audio feed. Setting up these cameras from a computer also sometimes requires installing an ActiveX control (some of them are unsigned and require permission changes in IE which I won’t accept). In many cases, once you decline the install, you can proceed with configuring the cameras, you just can’t view the video feeds. Most cameras (like my D-Link and Insteon cams) have a static image jpg feed; but a "live action" video feed is always the better choice, if available.

The original iPhone App for my original Insteon 2412N allowed me to configure non Insteon devices, so I was able to add the D-Link cameras and view from within the iPhone App. That is not the case with the new app for the Insteon Hub. Plus, once again, I wanted something to view the cameras in Windows 8.1  I decided on IP CamView for Windows 8. This app supports Pan and Tilt as well as Presets (on supported cameras). Note that the Insteon 75790 uses the same settings as a Foscam FI8918W. Once again, the trick to use this app remotely is to use a Dynamic DNS hostname as opposed to a local LAN IP.

Main View IP CamView:

ip cam main view

 

Detail View IP CamView showing Pan and Tilt Settings and Preset drop down menu.

ipcam camera view

Home Security and Access to Features using Windows/Windows RT

If you’ve read my earlier Home Automation/Security posts, you know that I’ve been using Blue Iris to manage my IP Security Cameras as opposed to setting up each individual camera for alerts, email notifications, etc. etc. and great scheduling capabilities. It certainly meets my needs. There have been lots of updates – nearly weekly – to the Blue Iris software and it supports nearly every IP Camera on the market. While there was no listing for My Insteon cameras, but they use the same settings as a Foscam FI8918W, and Blue Iris works perfectly with my Insteon and my D-Link cameras.

blue iris pc

Blue Iris can be accessed over the web via browser (and DDNS), but also requires an ActiveX control. I had been using RDP to the host desktop from my Windows RT devices. After searching the Windows Store, I was surprised, but pleased, to find a program called Blue Iris Companion.

Blue Iris Companion in addition to viewing live camera streams, shows alerts and recorded clips.

blue iris companion

Viewing a single camera in Blue Iris Companion provides an interface for PTZ commands and presets.

blue iris companion detail view

All in all, I’m extremely happy with my upgraded Home Automation/Security System.

Single Device Replaces Three In My Connected Living Room

 

I’m all about the Connected Home (as the title of this blog implies). My Living Room Home Theater system up until yesterday consisted of a circa 2010 Samsung 52 inch TV, an ancient Sony 5.1 Receiver, an Xbox 360 used solely as a Media Center Extender, a WDTV Live Hub which I used for DLNA Play To streaming, a Netgear PTV3000 for Miracast, an Apple TV for You tube, Hulu, Netflix, etc., a cable DVR and a first generation Samsung Blu Ray player. Separately, I have a pair of Sonos Play 5 speakers. A few days ago, the ancient Samsung Blue Ray player started groaning and screeching and it was the final incentive to replace it with something newer.

I did some Internet research and decided that the Samsung BD-F5900 would certainly improve my movie experience several fold. I downloaded the user manual and was even more impressed. While Samsung is likely to have a replacement model any day now, the $99 on sale price (at Best Buy no less) and the local availability drove me out in the 2 degree weather to purchase the device.

My intention was to replace an aging Blu Ray player, but what I got was a whole lot more.

No where on the box, the device itself, or in the user guide does the term DLNA appear. The BD-F5900 works perfectly as a Play To target. HD movies even play across the network smoothly. I can now move the WDTV Live Hub out of my Living Room (it is still a great NAS device).

playto samsung bd

The user guide mentions Samsung’s proprietary All Share multiple times, and mentions Miracast once.

add wireless display samsung bd

Miracast works perfectly. My Netgear PTV3000 can move upstairs to the bedroom TV or travel with me.

I can also use my iPhone with the PlugPlayer App as a small remote controller (the manual refers to similar functionality only working with s Samsung branded phone).

Last but not least, I had been using the Apple TV as a device to watch YouTube, etc. and not for Airplay of late (since the arrival on Miracast on Windows 8.1). I’d been watching some Amazon Prime Instant Movies on my Surface and using Miracast to display on the TV, (and didn’t have any app direct on a device that accessed this). Amazon is one of the apps available (along with 100+ others including the other big names like Netflix, Hulu, etc.) on the BD-F5900. Streams at 1080p HD smoothly and looks great. I’ll put the Apple TV away for now.

Bottom line, I’ve now got one device that replaces three and have removed some of the clutter in my living room.

In related news, there is rumor of a Microsoft Surface branded Miracast dongle via an FCC filing. Interesting development to say the least. It will be interesting to see what price point this launches with (if it launches). Stand alone Miracast adapters like Netgear’s PTV3000 and Actiontec’s Screen Beam are selling for $65-70. I guess I feel really good having purchased the Samsung BD player for $99 and getting everything but the kitchen sink included.

Major Update to My Project Siena NOAA Doppler App

 

I’ve been using Microsoft Project Siena (beta) for rapid app development and am really excited about the possibilities this tool holds for the future. Project Siena is a truly visual tool that lets you visually construct apps and bind data in the background so you can design and preview in real time from a single interface. It’s a whole lot easier than coding in Blend or Visual Studio, and a whole lot faster. A week or so ago, I decided to build an app that displayed the real time available Doppler Mosaic animated images from NOAA, with a future goal of adding the individual 155+ individual stations in the USA. I sat down over the past weekend and added the individual stations, by sector. Release 3 of my NOAA Doppler Radar Mosaic Imagery app is now available in the Windows Store.

It was a lot easier to add the individual stations that I thought it would be. I had to massage some data from NOAA, create some Excel tables and set up some galleries. Finding the animated images and creating the Excel workbooks was actually the most time consuming part of the project. Once I had decided on how I wanted to display the data (images), actually building this out took very little time.

So what’s in my major update?

For readability/usability, I changed the background graphic. Should be far easier to read any text in the app.

menu

OK, that isn’t so major. What IS major is that I added all available 155+ local Doppler stations and current animations to each applicable mosaic sector, displayable as a gallery. Below is the Northeast Mosaic Sector display.

individual sector

So from each individual sector, simply select either the pushpin map on the left or the text below it. The stations in the Northeast sector (or for whichever of the 12 sectors you display) are presented in a scrollable format so that you can visualize the details. City names are also shown, making it easier to understand.

sector station gallery

NOAA refreshes the images every 4-10 minutes, so each time you launch the app, you will see a nearly real time animated Doppler radar display.

My NOAA Doppler Radar App Now in Windows Store

 

Living in New England, I’ve always watched storms come across the country or up from the South and visited several sources on the web to see what the Doppler radar looked like. I hadn’t yet found a Windows Store App for Windows 8 that provided all this functionality, so I sat down with Microsoft Project Siena and went to work. I came up with an idea that I liked and the second release is in the store (you can download it here).

NOAA divides the USA into a “mosaic” and produces nearly real time updating animations for 12 mosaic sectors, like 12 tiles.

The entry point for my app is a representation of the mosaic with options to select a tile to view that particular sector or view all of them as a gallery that is swipable/scrollable:

main menu

If you view a sector, a larger image displays, showing animated Doppler radar:

ne mosaic

Gallery view as you swipe:

doppgallery

Release 2 adds some About/Learn more screens to provide the explanation for the colors and the measurements:

page1

My next plan enhancement for future releases is to drill down from the individual sector to tiles to the stations within it and present animated Doppler loops in a scrollable gallery. This will provide a close up view. (The image below is not animated, but you get the idea.)

individual

GOES Satellite Imagery Project Siena App now in Windows Store

 

While Microsoft Project Siena is still in beta (and I hope that some missing functionality and enhancements will arrive when it reaches GA), I decided to take some time to create an app to publish to the Windows Store. I’ve always followed the latest GOES satellite maps from NOAA, but have not yet found a Windows Store App that displays this information. I realized that using the same functionality I used to build my Barb Bowman Photography App (I’ve submitted that to the store now as well), I could quickly build exactly what I wanted.

So I created my GOES Satellite Imagery App. Basically this app displays the satellite images (that change about every 30 minutes or so) and includes animations when available.

 

goes1

goes2

goes3

Instructions for converting a Siena app to a Visual Studio Project are available from MSDN. I made a few detours from the supplied instructions and opened the processed app in VS2013 even though the instructions state NOT to do this and specify VS2012. I suspect that this is to prevent people from trying to target Windows 8.1 which Project Siena does not support. (I hope this changes in the future, but for now, targeting 8.0 is fine since the app will run on both versions).

I checked the package.appmanifest and removed all the items from the Capabilities tab except Internet (Client) since my app does not need or use the other items that were checked by default. I designed a different set of visual png files to be used for the Splash Screen, Store logo, Wide Logo etc. and imported them into the images folder inside the project (right click the folder, Add, existing item) and then changed the entries on the Visual Assets tab in the appmanifest accordingly. Because the Project Siena generated app has no support for Portrait mode (I hope this is coming soon), on the Application tab, I checked both landscape items but NOT the portrait items.

I wanted to have both a Privacy flyout  (supplied by Project Siena by default) and an About flyout to be available from the App Settings Charm, I created the about.html page. For both the Privacy and About flyout pages, I wanted to tweak the pages to reflect the color styling of my app and add a logo that represented my app for a professional finish; I added a specific color reference and added an image (30px square) as well and specified it’s position and location. You can see the altered annotated code below:

 

aboutpage

 

To enable both flyouts to appear in the Charms, Settings menu structure, I edited default.js in the js folder slightly to enable both flyouts:

 

flyouts default js

My GOES Satellite Imagery app is free and available in the Windows Store for US, CA, UK, and AU. Take a look and tell what you think on Twitter @barbbowman.

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