Home Media Servers and Owning Your Library

The Verge recently published an article on physical media, and they were not alone. It seems as if there are two camps. Those who have given up on physical media because streaming is so prevalent, and those who have embraced it. What is the difference?

Streaming is great, in that you get a large library of content for a set price. But, with streaming services raising prices, adding ads, removing content to save money…it isn’t a guarantee, especially if you have certain content you want to keep. Even if you ‘buy’ videos on a service, buying is a license that the service can revoke at any time and owe you nothing, as the people who had content in anime service Funimation discovered.

So, I have been, like the author of the Verge article, accumulating physical media, mostly waiting for sales and other opportunities. For one, I get extras like deleted scenes, director’s commentary, and such. But, I consider the DVDs and Blu-Rays to be the archival copies. I rip a digital copy of the media onto my home media server, and that is the production copy. This is some work, and I do tend to do it over time. But I am building a collection of classics I would rewatch in the future.

There is a lot of infrastructure that goes into a home media server. There is the software and the hardware. The hardware is the largest investment. You need something with some power, if you want to be able to transcode files, and with a lot of redundant storage space. Redundant as in more than one drive to ensure your data is protected in protection. Backing up media files is another cost. Fortunately, the collection won’t change that often, so even an external drive that isn’t hooked up to the same system can be an option there.

That just covers storage. Then there is playback to consider as well. What devices you want to play on, etc. Transcoding, as mentioned, can also allow you to generate smaller alternate versions of files for watching on different devices, if needed.

More on those things in future, but if you have favorites you want to be able to watch more than once…if you want to curate a collection, then you may wish to have your own server.

Thoughts On Using a Mini PC On the Go

Recently, I was reading an article by Brady Snyder of XDA Developers about using a Mini PC on the go. It happened to match up with something I’d been thinking about. However, Brady’s premise involved the use of a battery pack. So…turning a Mini PC into a fully portable computer, instead of my goal…a computer I could set up anywhere. I’m thinking about this a lot right now because I just spent two weeks in a hotel for work, where I’d want more than I’d take on a short trip.

Dual portable monitors are coming down in price, but so are portable USB-C/HDMI single monitors that have good quality, and fit in a bag. I calculated that a USB-C to barrel connector could power everything off a USB-C PD charger. A 60-65% keyboard, portable mouse, and even a second monitor if needed can complete something that fits in a bag.

I stopped using laptops at home ages ago…because staring down at one started to hurt my neck. I could dock my laptop, but I found I rarely used the screen and mostly had it in the dock, so why not save money on the screen and get a better processor?

Over the years, I’ve tried many combinations of mobile setups. Different small keyboards. Different portable monitors. Etc. I’ve already decided on my next experiment, and will be putting out some notes about how different configurations work out. This includes:

  • Improved 60 or 65% keyboard options
  • Different portable monitors
  • Keeping the wiring simple.
  • Converting mini-PCs to USB-C PD using adapters
  • Travel micetrackballs
  • Storage devices

Curious what others thinl.

Seal Your Garage Envelope With The Green Hinge System

Last week, as part of my garage door overhaul, I installed two upgrades to my garage door itself…as opposed to the upgrade to the control system(the ratgdo board). When picking out new products, I do my research.

One was the Green Hinge System. You can find the Green Hinge direct on their website, or through Amazon(click here) if you prefer. Garage door mechanics aren’t my area of expertise, but the Green Hinge system is a spring loaded hinge for garage doors. The tension of the hinge pushes the door flush to the frame. This reduces the entry of cold air, wind, dust, bugs and other critters from entering. It also makes it harder for someone to try to grab the garage door release through the gaps in the door. The Green Hinge was created by a small business owner whose garage stored items were freezing in the cold Wisconsin winter.

The installation target was an original garage door installed with the building in 1976, so the door is nearly 50 years old, and still had the original hinges. The rollers had been replaced twenty years ago or so, so replaced them with nylon rollers rated for 100,000 cycles at the same time. In order to get it to work properly we had to strip two layers of weatherstripping that not only had been on for years, but had been painted over to the point I didn’t even realize it was there(need to touch up the paint unfortunately at some point though).¬† The hinges don’t rattle quite as much as the 50 year old ones, although if I wanted the door to be even more silent, between that and the new rollers, I’d need to replace the garage door opener motor, track, and/or chain as well(maybe next year).

The new hinges did create another problem. Due to the slight shift in door alignment, the gap at the bottom of the door was not perfect. This was partially due to some cracked concrete I need to patch making it not level, but partially because we discovered the seal was actually nailed on on top of another, also nailed on seal. The new bottom seal uses a track, so the seal can be replaced in the track if it wears out with a new one without nailing it into the frame.

After all that, I took temperature readings. I have a sensor connected to my Home Assistant instance that sits right next to the garage door. Looking at the sensor overlaid on the outdoor temperature sensor, the temperature in the garage was higher on average during a snowstorm today than last month’s cold snap. There were no drafts. So, all in all, this was a success.

As one side note, the handyman who I hired to help install them did run into trouble due to the old weatherstripping, called the support line, and received instant support from someone with hands on installation experience. He asked for pictures and provided the key information that revealed the source of the problem, even though the handyman was skeptical. I can’t say there isn’t more cosmetic work to do when the weather gets warmer, painting, patching the concrete to level the bottom, etc. But it made an old door operate like a much younger one.

Take Control Of Your Garage Door With Rage Against the Garage Door Opener

https://user-images.githubusercontent.com/4663918/288449523-9ddf3da2-9eac-4be0-beed-11867dc8d446.png

Rage Against The Garage Door Opener(RATGDO), is a board created by Paul Wieland that gives you local control of a Chamberlain/Liftmaster garage door. It also supports other garage doors with some additional equipment. The ratgdo board is an ESP chip, and inserts itself in between the circuit board in the motor and the safety sensors and the button/control panel on the wall. It then learns to communicate with the components. I ordered this device, which is now frequently back ordered, last year, and finally got to installing it this weekend.

I haven’t spoken to the developer directly, but how did this board, which is a sudden boom side business for him, become so? It starts with Chamberlain announcing they would be blocking access to their API for home automators.

The board offers:

  • Open/Close Functionality
  • real time status of door
  • the ability to partially open or close the door
  • Obstruction sensor status
  • Motion Sensor status

If you can wait for an item on backorder, I recommend this device if you have the right sort of garage door to ensure peace of mind in regard to the status of your door.

 

 

Should I Install Solar Panels on a Rental Property?

As the world increasingly embraces renewable energy sources, solar panels have become a popular option for homeowners looking to reduce their carbon footprint and energy bills. However, if you own a rental property, you might be wondering whether installing solar panels is a financially sound decision. In this blog post, we’ll explore the pros and cons of installing solar panels on a rental property, helping you make an informed choice.

Pros of Installing Solar Panels on a Rental Property

1. Attract Eco-Conscious Tenants

In today’s environmentally conscious world, many renters actively seek out eco-friendly living options. Installing solar panels can make your rental property more appealing to this demographic, potentially allowing you to charge higher rent and keep your property occupied.

2. Reduced Energy Costs

Solar panels can significantly reduce electricity bills for both you and your tenants. Lower energy costs can make your rental property more attractive and competitive in the market, potentially leading to longer tenant retention.

3. Tax Benefits and Incentives

Many governments offer tax credits and incentives to property owners who invest in solar energy systems. These financial perks can offset the initial installation costs and provide a faster return on investment.

Cons of Installing Solar Panels on a Rental Property

1. High Initial Costs

Solar panel installation can be expensive, and the upfront investment might not align with your budget. You’ll need to weigh the long-term savings against the initial expense to determine if it’s financially feasible.

2. Responsibility for Maintenance

As the property owner, you would typically be responsible for the solar panels’ maintenance and any repairs. This added responsibility can be a burden, especially if you have multiple rental properties.

3. Tenant Turnover

If your tenants move frequently, you may not fully reap the benefits of solar panels. The savings from reduced energy bills may not compensate for the costs and hassle of installing and maintaining the system.

 

Whether or not to install solar panels on a rental property depends on your specific circumstances, budget, and long-term goals. While they can attract eco-conscious tenants and reduce energy costs, the high initial investment and maintenance responsibilities may not be suitable for everyone. Before making a decision, consult with a solar energy expert, conduct a thorough cost-benefit analysis, and consider the local incentives available in your area. Ultimately, the choice should align with your financial objectives and commitment to sustainable living.

Musings On Keycaps- Should you Favor ABS or PBT?

With my recent keyboard commentary, I thought it best to talk about keycaps…Keycaps are the covers for the mechanical switches on a mechanical keyboard. Likely the switches themselves, the keycaps are also the subject of intense debate. And I’m just experimenting with these things myself.

I remember, years ago, I bought this flat rollable keyboard, and within a few weeks, the letters started to rub off. I filed a warranty request, and spoke to the company…whose name I don’t remember at this point, but I remember was based in Texas, and they told me that some people’s natural oils tended to degrade the coating more than others. They sent me one with a newer coating they were working on and it lasted for years.

So, the tendency of letters to rub off, and keys to get shiny is certainly a concern of mine. You can clean the keyboard, but the ability to replace worn out keycaps is also a plus, and with mechanical keyboards, there are no end of options I’m still trying to figure out.

The most common discussed materials are ABS or PBT plastic. ABS is the most common keycap material on all types of keyboards. ABS is the one that tends to get shiny in a shorter period of time. But even within the two categories, there are differing levels of quality. PBT is usually more expensive, but you can get cheap and poor quality, or high quality in either material.

PBT has a bit more texture, to most opinions as well, which many enthusiasts prefer. It is generally thought to have a less jarring sound when typed on, but ABS can have the same property if you get a thicker ABS keycap as opposed to the more common ones.

This is not to mention stylistic questions like:

  • Doubleshot – two color keycaps, often used to mix a solid color on the top with transparency on the sides for backlit keys
  • Backlit keys
  • Side or top printing of the legends
  • Printing…Laser Etched, Dye Sublimation, or Pad Printing as the way to label the keys…or….do you need legens on the keys at all…some people like all blanks
  • Profiles…the shape of the key.

So many choices. In the end, I’m not buying the most expensive PBT, but I have, on the keyboards I use regularly, replaced the keys with PBT because I like the benefits. Even on the inexpensive budget keyboard I just bought, I switched out the keycaps for an inexpensive PBT set on sale. Still feels better than the originals.

My only problem is specialty keys. For example, it seems like no one makes PBT keycaps with the media markings on the function keys. I rarely use the function keys on my keyboard, having them show the traditional media options instead would be useful. I guess I’ll just have to remember which is which.

In case you are just getting started, like me, here are some brands I have experimented with, with a few examples as of publish date that were on sale.

Review: The Keychron C3 Pro Keyboard- A Value Priced Mechanical Keyboard

 

I have a problem. I keep buying mechanical keyboards. I only have one set of hands, and I don’t type with my feet, so why do I keep buying new ones? Partially because I’m hard on my keyboards. I gave up on non-mechanical keyboards years ago, but I didn’t buy really expensive ones. I bought a moderately priced ones. And I keep looking for new options in that. The pictures you see are the Keychron C3 Pro Keyboard. This particular model, an Amazon exclusive, retails for more, but I was able to get it for $29.99 on sale, which made it worth a try. I’m typing this post on it right now.

The keyboard comes in two switch varieties, red and brown. It offers a red backlight. The keycaps are replaceable, but the switches are not. Keychron makes plenty of keyboards that allow you to swap the switches as well. It is well-built for a budget keyboard, and neither version is overly loud, something people tend to comment on with these keyboards. It has many of the features a more expensive keyboard would.

I’m clearly not a keyboard aficionado, despite my keyboard purchases. I have generally bought budget mechanical keyboards, there are too many color switches I don’t have an opinion on…I don’t know the lingo. The feature that interested me particularly is something called QMK/VIA. The feature allows reprogramming the mapping of the keyboard. Never use your Scroll Lock key? Turn it into a Mute button for Zoom. Build macros into the keyboard instead of software. Certainly an interesting thing to play with. With a few custom keycaps…you can repurpose keys you barely use.

There are upgraded models from Keychron, and competing models from other companies, but for the price and features, I doubt they can beat it…especially if you get it at $30.

Update: April 2024 – Keychron is now offering the C3 Pro in an RGB hot swappable variation for only $10 more than the regular price of the variation they originally released.

Review: AirGradient Open Air Outdoor Air Quality Kit

In my previous post, Finding The Right Outdoor Air Quality Monitor, I laid out my decision making process for purchasing the AirGradient Open Air outdoor air quality monitor kit.

Much to my surprise, right after I ordered the kit, which included 2 PMS5003T particulate sensors, and added an SGP40 NOx and VOC sensor, they stopped selling the kit I purchased. The new version bundles the SGP40 and instead of a second PMS5003T, a SenseAir S8 NDIR CO2 sensor.

The interesting thing about having an S8 and an SGP40 outside is that they are not measuring what you want them to measure per se. The CO2 sensor isn’t sensitive enough to measure exact CO2 in the atmosphere, better suited for inside, but like inside, elevated CO2 levels indicate other things.

So, to the device…I was able to easily assemble it in only a few minutes. Then came the software. By default, AirGradient loads it up with their own software that hooks up to their own dashboard. I loaded ESPHome on instead. Fortunately, multiple enthusiasts had configuration files for ESPHome, so it was set up in record time and reporting data, and mounted outside. With the air vents on the bottom, instead of my version, on the side, it should hopefully be resistant to the weather.

This was an incredibly simple build, supports customizable firmware, and was integrated into my Home Assistant and WeeWX installation just as quickly. I am already planning to purchase additional units for future projects.

 

WeeWX Version 5.0 Released- Should You Upgrade Now?

WeeWX released version 5 of its Weather Station software. While there were a lot of foundational improvements, as usually indicated by a major version change, there is little here in terms of showstopping features. Which is fine, this is a stable project, showstopping features are not what is expected. But a lot of essential updates and refactoring. A few highlights:

  • Minimum Python version is now 3.6. Considering the previous minimum hit end of life in January of 2020, this is sort of a necessity. Python 3.6 hit end of life at the end of 2021. Python is currently at 3.12, which was released in October of 2023 and will not hit end of life until 2028. But in my experience, if you don’t have a reason to drop support for an older version, is there a reason just because it isn’t supported any longer? It can be a slow gradual process. For me, WeeWX supporting 3.0 meant I didn’t have to install multiple versions of Python.
  • A new utility, weectl, replaces all the individual utilities.
  • Package installs now use systemd…Systemd has been a staple on Linux systems for over a year.
  • Several Enhancements for Derived Types, including a fix to an issue related to an Air Quality Index calculating extension

A worthy update which should improve the performance and stability of your weather tracking system.  While an upgrade is not immediately necessary, it would be worthwhile to update your installation of WeeWX to version 5.0 in the next few months.

What To Know When Considering Switching To A Smart Lock

In a previous post, I discussed digital locks. Digital locks are locks that can be opened with a keypad over a key, and are either electronic or mechanical. There are other types of non-keyed locks. Increasingly, the market is filled with smart locks. Smart locks are ones that can be operated remotely and cover a broad range of options. This consists of a few different options:

  • Complete replacement – this removes the entire lock mechanism and replaces it with the completely new mechanism. There are both deadbolt and knob replacement options here.
  • Retrofit deadbolt – This replaces the thumb turn of your deadbolt. The exterior appearance of the door, and the locking mechanism remain the same
  • Renter Options – These options attach on top of the thumb turn of deadbolts to allow for easy removal.

There are a few different interface options as well. And some have combinations of these

  • Key – Just because it is a smartlock doesn’t mean it can’t have a physical key as well
  • Keypad – Not only do some models offer built in keypads, some offer it as a separate unit you can attach to the doorframe, leaving no built in lock interface
  • Fingerprint – Biometric sensors
  • Bluetooth – These locks usually allow you to open/close with your phone only, or have a gateway/hub that allows you to do so over a network connection. These hubs, as well as the phone app to control the lock over bluetooth¬† are usually proprietary to the manufacturer.
  • Zigbee/Z-Wave – Zigbee and Z-Wave are two established home automation wireless protocols. They both require a hub/gateway. But unlike Bluetooth, there are a variety of devices with support for one or both of these protocols.
  • Matter over Thread – This is the new hot home automation standard, but the first lock supporting it was only released at CES 2024, so stay tuned. Like Zigbee and Z-Wave, it would require a hub/gateway.
  • Wi-Fi – Wi-Fi smart devices are problematic, because wi-fi can be rather battery intensive and smart locks are usually battery powered. The other negative for Wi-Fi is proprietary software.

You might note that a recurring issue for bluetooth and Wi-Fi locks, which you might initially prefer because you don’t have to add a gateway or a hub to connect it to your existing devices. The problem is support. You are relying on those manufacturers and their app. It could be argued you are relying on them anyway, because they made the device, but the biggest risk of smart devices in general is, if they rely wholly on a manufacturer app or a manufacturer cloud service, that it will eventually be discontinued, making your device useless. The local control options have issues of their own. Some manufacturers don’t implement the Zigbee or Z-Wave protocol consistently, which could create some issues depending on your hub/gateway’s support. We will write a bit about these protocols and gateways in future.