Monday, November 23, 2020

UPS Battery Backup

A UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply) provides power from batteries during a power outage. Commonly used to ensure that devices can be safely and cleanly be powered off during an outage.

Selection criteria

  • Price - < $100
  • Reputable vendor
  • Good reviews
  • Device should provide battery backup for at least 1 hour
  • USB interface – provide performance metrics

Use case

Supply battery power for a router, modem and home automation system for 1 hour.

What size UPS do you need ?

During the research it was surprising to discover how much power (watts) these devices actually used. The numbers below are based on personal observation, device specifications and benchmarks and have been rounded up, to include some buffer as they could fluctuate, based on usage.

Device specifics

Linksys WRTAC1900 router - ~12-13 watts

Motorola Surfboard SB6183 modem- ~9 watts

Raspberry PI4 - ~ 4 watts

Initial observations

The documentation was clear and the setup was basic. Configuring the device and dashboard confirmed that the battery was at 100%. Cutting the power for the first time, all devices continued to operate as expected, however the metrics were unexpected. The battery charge immediately dropped from 100% to below 75%. Power was immediately restored to determine root cause.

UPS batter graph - drop to 70%

Customer service

Based on a chat with customer service, it was recommended to “calibrate” the UPS. This is not mentioned in the documentation, however it appears there are many similar concerns and recommendations. It appears that the correct recommendation is to ensure that the load is at 30-40% during this process. It took some effort to plug in a few other devices to generate the required load to ensure that the test was compliant with the recommendations.

UPS calibration graph data

Test results after calibration

Battery drop to to 85% after 1 minute and then to 77% after another minute. However, the battery sustained power for a full 70 minutes before power was restored.

UPS performance after calibration - graph

One last test

Even with the 20% drop in battery available during the first few minutes, the battery has provided power for more than the required 1 hour.

UPS final test results


While this device does not perform as expected, it does meet our goal. Buyer beware.

UPS device

APC Back UPS Pro BX 1000VA, 8 Outlets, AVR, LCD interface, LAM 60Hz
BX1000M-LM60 - there are no direct links for this device. While this device met our needs, we can't recommend it.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Home Assistant Review

Home Assistant Review

If you have been thinking about making your home smart, with automation and have experienced the frustration of switching apps to perform simple tasks, its time to take a look at Home Assistant.

Home Assistant (HA) has come a long way, since we first looked at it many years ago and has become exponentially better over the past year. To date it has been rock solid and stable as any production system. At the time of writing this blog, the released version is 0.116.4. While setting up and using the system can seem overwhelming, the platform provides a blank canvas that can be customized to your individual needs.


We have been using a home automation system for a decade now. The system has been operating flawlessly and has scaled well over the years, however there are limitations that HA helps to overcome. There a many competing products in the marketplace, and some that no longer exist or changed their business models (e.g. Lowes IrisWink). Other larger players in this space are unnecessarily overprices and have subscription fees. Most are cloud based, overpriced, prone to hacking (Ring) and more focused on revenue and selling your data. Security and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) systems are focused on preying on consumer fears and have closed or proprietary systems with high premiums and lack flexibility. The other giants in this space, force you to lock into their ecosystem, which once again requires giving them your security, privacy and data.

Home Assistant Platform

Your starting point is here. The simplest, minimal cost approach is to use a virtual machine (VM) and run it on an old or existing computer. In our experience, we immediately saw that we could integrate a few cameras, some Bluetooth devices and an existing zwave controller, into a single platform and obtain some real benefits from automation. However, running the system virtualized had some limitation in our use case.

The next step, was to run HA on a physical device. Choosing a device depends on how much work you expect the system to perform. For most of us a Raspberry PI4, will be more than sufficient to perform the required tasks.

Getting the PI4 running was easy and restoring the backup from the VM meant that any setup was not lost. Initially, we used a slower SD card and later upgraded to a higher performance SD card. Over the past year, there have been significant performance improvements to the platform, which has also helped in providing a user experience, which has less frustration, lag or delays during navigation.

We chose to run InfluxDB to capture data from all Internet of Things (IOT) devices, so that we could monitor and interrogate historical data, trends and issues. Most end users would not require this, however for us, it was important to view historical data for anomalies, e.g why did the battery in the sensor suddenly die. There are a number of other add-ons that we chose to run on the PI4. System and power utilization have been within acceptable parameters for a device that is the size of a deck of cards and provides significant benefits, like Ad blocking for the entire home.

At this point, it is important to mention, that part of the reason that we like HA, is the added benefits of privacy and security, when compared with products that the major technology and security companies have. Your HA system is run inside your home and the data is not stored in the cloud, where hackers can, and will get access to it. It’s not a question of if, but when.

“Major’ updates are released monthly, with minor update in the days following. You can choose to update as often as they are released or wait few days in the event of any new bugs being discovered and resolved. The release notes are comprehensive and transparent, with user feedback.

Accessing the system remotely can be done though the optional Home Assistant could service. In our situation, we chose to opt for running a VPN server on the home router for remote access.


The community and forums are extremely helpful, should you run into any issues or looking for ideas and feedback. There are some amazing smart people that are willing to share their ideas, feedback and assistance.

What could be better

Official SSD boot support. SD cards are known to fail and SSD’s provide better performance. Lack of support has been partly due to the delays in the Rasberry team releasing support for the bootloader feature. HA has released a beta that does support SSD, however we plan to wait for an official version.

Automations for a smart home

  • Turn on the coffee machine, when the cell phone is unplugged (only between the hours of 6am and 10am). Switch off the coffee machine after 30 minutes.
  • Tell Google home mini to make an announcement 1 hour before sunset.
  • Power on the bedroom plug at 10pm.
  • Movie mode - one click to switch off lights on power on the television.
  • Email notification in the event of a power failure and when UPS is discharging. Separate text message when the UPS charge drops below a predefined threshold.
  • High priority notification when the front door is unlocked and we are not home. Similar alert when the garage door is opened.
  • Switch the thermostat to a lower setting when we leave home and increase temperature when we arrive.
  • Bed time. Switch off all lights and set the thermostat temperature to not warm the house.
  • Set the thermostat to a predefined temperature one hour prior to the alarm set on the Android phone.

Lessons learnt

  • Take regular backups – you never know when a SD card could go bad or there is an unforeseen event. Setup an automation to copy the backup file to a separate device.
  • Review the release notes. When something stopped working, it was clearly our fault for not adjusting settings or reading the notes. However, we were not alone and the community soon posted an explanation, solution or workaround.
  • The information is constantly changing, it is easy to get overwhelmed. It is important to step back and determine your individual requirements and needs.

Learn more about our use of Smart Homes, IoT and Automation.

Monday, September 7, 2020

How to Setup a Smart Home on a Budget

Smart Home on a Budget

Most smart home technology products, in isolation, look great at first glance and can definitely make our lives easier, more secure and even save time or money. It is only when we look deeper or have used the product for some time that we realize the true cost.

Sometimes the product comes with a monthly subscription fee. It is critical to include the total cost over time to determine if the product really adds value.

Factors to consider

  • Trial or promotion periods - product price is discounted. On the surface this may seem like a great deal, but consider the motives of the manufacturer. How are they making money for their shareholders?
  • Subscription fees - over the past decade, technology companies have realized that a regular monthly subscription fee, provides a more predictable cash flow and makes shareholders happy. This boosts the share prices, executive meet their targets and get their bonuses
  • Privacy – companies sometimes sell the product at a loss, break-even or for minimal margin. Why would they do this ? Your data, habits, trends, demographics are all commodities that can be sold.
  • Security – how often are the smart devices updated. If the manufacturer stops providing updates after a few years, the consumer is now vulnerable.
  • Lack of integration – does this product work with my other IoT devices?
  • Dedicated application – Mobile apps have been known to collect more information than required for functionality.


Security – Smart TV (no names mentioned). Purchased in 2012. The manufacturer did not release any updates, ever. This device required an internet connection and should it be compromised, an attacker or hacker might have access to your internal network.

How many aging devices do you have that have not been updated?


Most of us choose to use these products, however, we need to consider the consequences. What are we willing to give up for convenience and is it worth it. This is an individual decision and depends on your own situation, budget and circumstance. See how we use Home Assistant, in our Smart Home.


  • Hard mute smart speakers – most have a button or switch to do this. It does mean that you can’t speak commands to the device, but it can still be used for streaming music or announcements.
  • Disable wifi or internet for older smart tv that has not been updated in years. Yes, it’s a dumb tv, however it can still display content from another device, eg chromecast, roku
  • Cameras – disable the old port forwarding setup. This was a great option in the past, however it is only a matter of time, before this vector is compromised, due to an expired certificate or other vulnerability and suddenly the hacker has access to your home devices.
  • When remote, VPN to your home network.
  • Setup automated alerts to notify via text, twilio or your notification or choice, while not directly connected to your home. You can always VPN in and check on history or criticality.

Learn more about our use of Smart Homes, IoT and Automation.

Friday, May 29, 2020

My Smart Home


My Smart Home

Smart Homes and the IOT (Internet of Things) are finally maturing and entering our lives and homes.

We all have one or more smart speakers, like Google HomeAmazon Echo or Apple HomePod, as well as wifi cameras and perhaps some smart switches or lights. Maybe even a thermostat that can be controlled remotely. Most work well in isolation and with their own proprietary application.

Can I have one app to control all my smart home devices?