Home automation

The Air Tags are Here

The Air Tags have been here about a week. The fobs a couple of days.


  1. Nice explaination Find My presentation of the location process. No waveforms or math. IEEE has that locked up in standards and papers.

As a Key Finder

I have mislaid my keys once since then. Find My let me know they were in the house. We ended up playing Marco Polo for a bit to find which room they were in. Once the room was identified, the ultra-wideband position sensing took me right to them.

The Sound is Usefully Loud

I also left them in a pocket in the laundry. Find My quickly let me know they were in the laundry bin. The alert sound is loud enough to carry out of the laundry bin. There were only 3 pants to search so they were found quickly.

My first experience with a Bluetooth token was pretty dismal. The noise maker was too quiet to be heard when tossed into a laundry basket. There was no secondary form of cuing. The ultra wide band location requires a ultra wide band radio and associated ranging software.

Ultra Wide band Location and Ranging

My Mk VII Golf GTI key fob also uses Ultra Wide Band precision positioning to determine whether the key is inside or outside and which lock is nearest. I’ve yet to outsmart it. It won’t let you lock your keys in the car. It sometimes gets confused about the rear passenger door which is next to the gas filler door. The keys come attached to a $30,000 auto.

Apple may be the first to use ultra wide band remote sensing as a consumer product. Here, it actually works. A cute display indicates that Find My is chatting with the selected missing AirTag, a compass indicator shows the relative direction, and the approximate range is shown. This feedback is like the hot/cold feedback of hide and seek. It is very helpful search cuing.

Android Find My is Coming

At 2021 WWDC, Apple software VP Craig Federighi announced that Apple would be making an Android version of Find My to allow Android users to use AirTag and to locate a mis-laid Mac. Hardware capabilities will determine functionality. Those Android devices having ultra wide band locating capability (UWB radios) will support nearby direction and distance capabilities. Those without should be able to play Marco Polo with an AirTag and to talk to it by near field to learn its ID.

Home automation Personal Computing

Air Tags?

I had tried an earlier tracker that worked so well it became E-waste at the end of battery life. Basically, the radios weren’t there yet. A tag in the laundry basket could not be found or heard. Discovery of a tag left away from home relied on the general population running the tag app on their phones. Some did but the coverage in Norfolk, Virginia was truly sparse. Oh, and the battery life was about a month. BlueTooth Low Energy was not so low.

But I also watched the Apple announcement with some interest as I had just laundered one radio car key and cleverly hid the other in pants I’ve not worn for a while. The near death experience of the first key increased my interest in finding the second. I also have a couple of sets of Yubi Keys that unlock several important 2FA things. It would be really bad if they both went missing.

Home automation Personal Computing


A number of manufacturers of interesting kit have chosen to stay out of the smart home universe among them Ubiquity. Others like Nest play only in their own proprietary environment. HomeBridge is an open source software project that creates an environment in which Apple HomeKit bridges may be built. Smart home enthusiasts have developed over 2000 product plugins supporting popular devices.

Here at Dismal Manor we have two bridges, a Starling for Nest gadgets and Home Bridge on a RaspberryPi 4b that brings in the UniFi Protect camera RTSP streams.

The Starling is a commercialization of the Nest HomeBridge plugins. This product makes sense with the Thermostat and the cameras. It is less useful with just Protects.

In this article, I’ll describe my experiences setting up a UniFi Protect gateway and making the Ubiquity UniFi Protect cameras visible in HomeKit. UniFi Protect is one of the few camera systems having a Verified HomeBridge plugin.

Home automation Personal Computing

It’s a New Dawn?

Thanks to Apple for use of its Apple Silicon banner image. It’s a new dawn in Apple Land.

MacOS 11 Big Sur arrived at Dismal Manor. Its arrival was mostly uneventful after troubles with installation media download were resolved. Reference 1 gives an excellent guided tour (geeky) of Big Sur. Here, I’ll hit some first impressions.

Home automation Personal Computing

Dismal Manor Dog Doorbell

At last, the dog doorbell I’ve been wanting. Apple HomeKit Secure Video with Eufy second generation wireless cameras makes a nice dog doorbell. This article tells how to set up HomeKit 4 for the dog doorbell application.

I primarily use HomeKit to alert me when the dogs want in. We have only a couple of months of door open weather where temperature and humidity allow the garden door to stay open. The rest of the year it is shut. The cameras are more reliable than an ear peeled for barking (greyhounds are notoriously non-vocal). It also collects video in case we have a break in while I’m away. Greyhounds are not territorial but Rocky is. He scares the bejesus out of anyone who comes to the door.


  1. HomeKit Secure Video setup.

Eufy Secure Video at Dismal Manor

Dismal Manor has two Eufy Camera 2 wireless battery powered cameras and a USB powered wireless camera. Since I purchased these for Dismal Manor, Eufy has retired the first generation products and now offers only the newer products compatible with the second generation bridge. Only the newer bridge runs the HomeKit gateway.

Eufy has extended the product line to include a complete set of home security door and window sensors, motion sensor, doorbell, etc. Although I’ve not tried it, I believe the perimeter sensors are also HomeKit compatible.

The featured image shows the view from our two back garden cameras. A Ubiquity UniFi Protect DVR and wired 3G cameras capture the front door approach and deep back garden. The Eufy cameras serve primarily as greyhound and fence line monitors. Note that they clearly show the gate and carport X-pen, fence line, and porch landing.

Eufy Battery Life and Motion Settings

Your mileage may vary. I find battery life is about 2 months here as there are many dog motion and dog coming and going events to be recorded. Battery life is easily checked in Home App camera settings.

Dismal Manor is set up to detect animals and people on the porch. HomeKit will spool video, send an alert, and save video when people or pooches are detected on the porch deck at the door. This is very useful as it lets me know that a dog wants in. Or is mounting Zombie Squad HQ patrol from the porch deck.

An Eve Home door sensor logs door openings and closings in HomeKit. These can be correlated with video clips to locate video of an unauthorized entry.

I have disabled vehicle detection and carefully panned the cameras to minimize the view of the street. Vehicle motion will significantly reduce battery life. Night time vehicle light motion will also eat into battery life.

Note that, depending on motion detection sophistication, the cameras may also report shadow movement and tree branch movement. Be careful to keep busy tree limbs pruned out of view.

Motion Detection

Each camera can be configured individually detect motion. There are three settings that may be enabled individually.

  • All motion
  • Vehicle motion
  • People motion
  • Animal motion

This is the key. I can suppress vehicle motion that I don’t care about. These cameras can see a bit of street and traffic is continuous so I don’t want to spend battery saving vehicle transit clips.

People motion can be disabled when the camera has a view of street or public sidewalks. No sense recording passers by. Local or state ordinances may restrict such recording. At a minimum, you must tell people they are on candid camera.

Filtering or reporting animal motion is useful depending on use case. Here at the manor, I have enabled animal motion detection. This ability makes the dog doorbell possible. When a dog comes up on the landing, it is detected and reported.

I have my cameras configured as shown above. Detect people (usually me), detect animals (usually Rocky) and record them. The bridge reflects these settings properly on the Eufy side of things.

Recording happens in an AppleTV or HomePod in the Manor. I’m not sure which takes lead. The Eufy Base Station also has 16 GB of video storage to cache clips locally. Clips pushed off site are encrypted and can only be recovered via the Home App on a Mac or iThing. And all devices must be logged in to a common Apple ID. Access by other Apple IDs may be configured by adding the Apple ID to the HomeKit home.

Off Site Video

I can look in on the dogs while away from home. A third Eufy wired camera is our “RockyCam” that is active when I’m away from home. I can check it over LTE to see how badly Rocky is pacing in my absence. He’s convinced there are Zombies under the bed. This camera is positioned primarily to show door reactions and pacing between the lounge and bedrooms. It is set up for away recording.


I have the MacOS notifications set up as shown below. The iPhone is set up to report when any motion is detected.

Notifications Management

To participate in HomeKit secure video, an iThing must have a Home App installed. Each iThing individually controls notification delivery. I have my iPhone set to always deliver motion detection notifications. It is also set to pass these on to Apple Watch. This combination lets Apple Watch tap me on the wrist when a dog wants in.

You can gate notifications using your WHISKEY (location, not single malt preference). When home or when not home. I leave this setting off which is treated as always. This works nicely as I get a tap on the wrist when Rocky or Missy wants in.

Home automation Personal Computing

HomePodOS 14.1

On Thursday, Siri and I had a shouting match ending in a hard reset and reconfiguring of HomePod. Fortunately, Apple Support procedures included a reset procedure that put HomePod back into factory fresh condition, updated the firmware to HomePodOS 14.1, and allowed me to reconfigure HomePod for use here in the study.

The 14.1 release adds support for HomePod Mini, configuration transfer, the Intercom feature Uncle Tim demonstrated, and more.


Save yourself a lot of trouble and use Genuine Apple Support Procedures rather that magazine articles or how-to click bait.

  1. Resetting HomePod
  2. HomePod Software Release Notes, like forever.

AirPlay Accepts Roon Connections

Apple appears to have resolved the AirPlay connection difficulties in HomePodOS 14.1 release. Before 14.1, HomePod AirPlay server would get horribly tangled and would refuse non-Apple connection requests, specifically from Roon Core. After much fowl language and a reset, HomePod appears to be sorted and is accepting Roon connections.

Siri still plays unwanted Apple Music

Siri still has the problem of playing unwanted music in an attempt to ingratiate herself with the user. Since I haven’t used Apple Music in 3 years, she’s at a bit of a loss as to what should be played. There is still no way to turn off Apple Music in HomePod OS or in MacOS. If you remove Apple Music, audio codec libraries are removed.

Checking HomePodOS Version

MacOS Home App lets you check the HomePodOS version fairly easily. Double click on the tile representing the offensive HomePod. It will open to show the device’s preferences pane. Scroll to the bottom where the device ID and software version information appears.

Single clicks will reward you with unwanted music chosen by Siri for your annoyance.

You can also reset or remove your HomePod here.

Home automation Personal Computing Technology

GDS3710 Part 4: Opening the door

This is the 4th post in a series chronicling a small church’s experience with the Grandstream GDS3710 Door System. We like the product but the deployment has been like solving Rubik’s Cube. We found we had to do a lot of tinkering to get things working, something that shouldn’t happen with such a sophisticated product.

This article summarizes some of our lessons learned, particularly with regard to use of the keypad to enter PINS, the interpretation of the virtual number field and the various way the doors can be opened using the GDS3710.

Home automation Personal Computing Technology Web hacking

Further thoughts on the GDS3710

The Grandstream 3710 Door System provides a video intercom, security camera (its recordable using compatible NVRS), RFID reader, and door unlock control relay. The device has a contact input that can be used for an inside exit demand input and a second that can be used as a door status sensor input. And all of this for the price of a door controller from HID or AXIS.

This is a new device so it has a few rough edges. This post talks about the rough edges.

Home automation

TrackR Whines on Facebook

I’ve been seeing a lot of whines posted to TrackR Bravo adverts on  Facebook. These seem to be from people who bought one or more TrackR Bravo devices expecting magic. Their things would just appear on the app map.

Greyhounds Home automation

A few days with TrackR Bravo

Bluetooth item trackers are all the rage if the Interwebs are to be believed. These gadgets are dog tag sized devices designed to be tucked into a wallet, stuck to mobile items, or  added to a key ring. They are basically Bluetooth 4 beacon devices that advertise their presence. To be an item tracker, they need to do little more. Just play Marco Polo with a mobile or other compatible Bluetooth device. About 5 or 6 companies make these things with another entering the market every few months. Most fundraiser on Indigogo so that is a good place to keep an eye peeled for new developments in this space.



The first is a link to a TrackR Bravo referral code. The second is a link to the Indigogo campaign of the European upstart mentioned below. One of the perpetrators designed Steve Jobs yacht. The third is a link to the TrackR Atlas Indigogo campaign. The fourth is Wikipedia on Bluetooth 4.0 protocol.

Web reviews can be stale

Things are highly fluid in this space, especially with the application. Most brands get the hardware right and the app usable then go to market. Once launched, they continually improve the app to fix problems and refine the user interface. Last season’s review on Engadget or Gizmodo will not reflect the current product experience.

Personal Opinion

My personal opinion is that the advertising copy writers are overselling these devices but that they can be useful if you understand their capabilities and limitations and use them within those capabilities and limitations. I’m writing this article to offer you my understanding of these devices and their application in hopes that this will spare you some disappointment and help the product category find its niche.

Apps and beacons don’t currently interoperate. It would be nice if a single app would support multiple beacon families because manufacturers are tailoring the devices for different applications using different packaging. For example, one is credit card sized for use in wallets. Another is packaged for pet tagging. Some are thicker to have longer battery life.

Not for life-safety use

The Bluetooth beacons don’t work well enough to serve as a wander alert for people or pets. The desire to keep them low power and small prohibits putting a GPS receiver and cellular radio in the device which means that location must be indirect. When a receiver hears a beacon, it reports its position and the beacon ID to HQ and HQ notifies you if it is one of yours. This is what TrackR calls “crowd GPS”. It is not a substitute for the real thing when it comes to life safety.

Dave dips a toe in the waters

TrackR, one of the better known brands in the US, held a buy one get one sale between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Having purchased a new car that has high tech keys, and having successfully laundered one of my two keys (it lived, this time), I decided some precautions are in order. Can a Bluetooth tracker be helpful? So I bought 2 pair, one to go on the keys and one to go on the houndies.

My trackers arrived shortly before Christmas so I downloaded the app, set up the trackers one at a time so that they would actually be attached to the things they were named for, and gave them a try.

The pairing process is simple. You download the App, get an account from the manufacturer, and pair each critter. The pairing starts with the app and the mechanics are app specific. Basically, you tell the app to listen for a tracker, you press a button on the tracker to start it advertising, and the app finds and logs the device. The app will ask you to name the device. Once the device is named, setup is complete and you can move on to the next.

What the beacons do

The beacons announce themselves and listen for the controlling terminal. On command from the controlling terminal, they begin chirping. On a second command, they stop chirping. The beacons are always announcing at a low rate to save battery while allowing themselves to be detected

The controlling terminal listens for the beacons. The Bluetooth 4 protocol lets the beacon report the transmitted power. The receiver includes the received signal strength along with the packet. This lets the terminal indicate if the beacons is near (within a meter or so), close by (within 5 meters), or distant (can be heard but faintly). The protocol does not allow the terminal to determine a bearing or a range.

How are beacons most useful?

I bought my TrackR Bravos with the intent of finding the car keys when they went missing and with the hopes that they would prove useful with my hounds.

Locating hounds

The Marco Polo process is slow and the radio is weak so it is unlikely that a Bluetooth tracker will prove useful in locating a walkabout houndy, I was hoping that I could tell if Nick was exploring a neighbor’s back garden from the street but the radio strength and dynamics just don’t permit it to see a moving greyhound. So dog recovery the old fashioned way, check each back garden.

Locating keys

Trackers do work well for the missing key problem however. Tell missing keys to sound off. If the sound comes from the washer drum, you’ve just averted trouble. The TrackR Bravo makes a distinctive chirp using an FM modulated pulse that rises in volume and frequency. You won’t mistake it for the fridge door ajar alarm, the oven timer, or incoming SMS alert. It is distinctive but not very loud. It might be hard to hear in a noisy environment or across a large room. And not from the neighbor’s back garden. But it can be heard from a pocket,  a laundry bin, or washer drum with the door open.

Locating your mobile

Location works both ways. Pushing a button on the TrackR fob will cause your mobile to sound off. Much more convenient that firing up Find My iPhone if you know the phone is in the house. You may have to send the wake-up in multiple rooms but it does work. The ping is different than the one Apple uses but it can be differentiated from most normal phone noises.

Digression on modern car keys

My VW keys have survived a run through the wash but the dryer will probably fry their brains. Modern keys have RFID transponders and near field transponders that open car doors and allow you to start the car. The transponder ID is matched to the vehicle and the vehicle responds only to the registered transponders. That means you can’t go to Home Depot to have a key cut for a few dollars. It is back to the dealer for expensive parts and a hour of tech time to pair the new key to the vehicle. And if your vehicle is old, you may have to wait for Black Forest elves to make a replacement. So caution is good.

TrackR Atlas, Greyhound Doorbell?

TrackR has an Indigogo project to raise funds for a device they call TrackR Atlas. Atlas is a night light sized plugin terminal that listens for beacons from all manufacturers. Put one Atlas device in each room to be covered and it will tell you by WiFi what can be heard in that room. The app can be configured to give an alert when a devices enters and leaves Atlas’s earshot.

So, what might this be good for? A greyhound door bell? They never remember to ring the bell. And they may bark once to call you to the door. The bark is optional. So, what happens if I plug in a TrackR Atlas on the back stoop? Will it tell me when a houndy comes up on the stoop? Probably. Most of the time. I can come to the door and let them in.

TrackR Atlas is the first product brought to my attention that will report other maker’s beacons. If you have a Tile or one of the European brands, you can use them with TrackR Atlas. One French brand has an Indigogo to launch their products in the US. To differentiate themseves, they chose to use a bigger battery and go for 100 meters range vs the 10 meters or so that a TrackR Bravo can manage.

So Won’t Ring Announce the Dogs?

I had considered using a Ring doorbell for this task but the motion sensor gives a fair number of cry wolfs from passing traffic. Having an emitter on the hound solves the motion detector cry wolf problem. If only Tracker would make the TrackR Atlas device outdoor temperature rated. Basically, it needs to work from -40F to 120F or so, operating temperature, not storage. Mine is under canopy sparing it the summer sun. It does not need to be drip proof as electrical code outdoor outlet assemblies are required to be drip proof in the US.

Crowd Location

So, what happens if your dog goes walkabout at the park? That’s where “crowd GPS” comes in. Each TrackR app listens for all TrackR beacons, not just the ones paired to it. When a mobile hears a TrackR, it reports the TrackR UUID and the phone’s location to TrackR world headquarters. World HQ tells your phone where your beacon was heard. This mechanism has successfully recovered walkabout dogs in an urban environment.

One of the TrackR sales pages shows where TrackR apps are active. Just where they are, no identifying information. This gives you a feel for coverage in your city and neighborhood. There are several instances of the App active in within a few miles of home. Not enough to find a walkabout dog.