I’ve had a Ambient Weather WS-1400-IP weather station installed for some time, reporting to Weather Underground. During the fires of previous years, I considered getting an air quality monitor, but I could never find anything worth the installation effort. During this year’s fire season I saw several ads for PurpleAir, advertising that they collaborate with Weather Underground, so I decided to purchase and install a PA-II outdoor sensor.
The installation instructions are sparse, and the device is not really what I would call rugged or weather proof. I would not put money it on it surviving outdoors for longer than a year, specifically because of the use a vanilla Micro-USB power plug that offers no corrosion protection. The unit I received came with a Nest outdoor camera power cable, but unlike the Nest camera that uses a watertight plug, the sensor uses an open USB cable. The instructions do say to point the open USB port downwards, instead I opted to seal it in using clear silicone sealer.
The ideal installation location would have been near my Rachio water sprinkler controller, where I have a waterproof enclosure with power, but that location is also near the HVAC, instant hot water heater, and dryer vents, so not ideal due to local air pollutants.
I installed the sensor next to my UniFi AC Mesh AP outdoor AP, the cables do look a bit messy, and if the sensor survives long enough, I may install an enclosure to clean up the cables.
Configuring the device is reasonably simple, but a mobile app would have been easier. Power up the device, connect to it’s WiFi access point, access a web page hosted by the device, configure the local WiFi SSID and password, connect to local WiFi, then register the device with PurpleAir. After all is done, I received a welcome email, and I could see the device on the PurpleAir map.
Next up, I have to figure out how to view combined weather and air quality data on Weather Underground, how to get a direct link to my sensor’s data (the map link shows an area only), and how to use the data API (I archive all my data).
Update: On 27 July 2018 eNom support notified me by email that the issue is resolved. I tested it, and all is back to normal with DNS-O-Matic.
Sometime between 12 May 2018 and 24 May 2018 the eNom dynamic DNS update mechanism stopped working.
I use the very convenient DNS-O-Matic dynamic DNS update service to update my OpenDNS account, and several host records at eNom, pointing them to my home IP address.
I was first alerted to the problem by a DNS-O-Matic status failure email, but as I was about to get on a plane for a business trip, I ignored the issue, hoping it was temporary.
eNom response for 'foo.bar.net':
;Machine is SJL0VWAPI03
;Encoding Type is utf-8
Err1=Domain name not found
ResponseString1=Validation error; not found; domain name(s)
RequestDateTime=6/21/2018 6:11:11 PM
Here is the update history from DNS-O-Matic:
126.96.36.199, Jun 29, 2018 4:58 pm, ERROR
188.8.131.52, Jun 29, 2018 4:53 pm, ERROR
184.108.40.206, Jun 21, 2018 6:11 pm, ERROR
220.127.116.11, May 24, 2018 6:10 pm, ERROR
18.104.22.168, May 12, 2018 8:56 am, OK
22.214.171.124, May 4, 2018 2:48 pm, OK
126.96.36.199, May 3, 2018 1:42 pm, OK
188.8.131.52, Apr 1, 2018 12:39 pm, OK
184.108.40.206, Apr 1, 2018 9:58 am, OK
220.127.116.11, Mar 24, 2018 5:06 pm, OK
As of yesterday, I could not find any other reports of similar issues on google, and the eNom status page showed no problems.
I use a Ubiquity UniFi Security Gateway Pro as home router, and I have the dynamic DNS service in the UniFi controller configured to point to DNS-O-Matic, but it offered no additional hints as to the cause of the problem.
I contacted eNom support over chat, and they informed me they know there is an issue, and they said I should use the following format for the update:
%1 = Is username in Enom
%2 = Is password
%3 = Is my host and domain
%4 = Is my domain access password
This was interesting, I had looked at several eNom update scripts, even the eNom sample code, and they all used a different command format. I looked up the SetDNSHost documentation, and sure enough, it looks like eNom changed the API.
eNom changed the meaning of the “Zone” parameter to be the fully qualified domain name, and they required the addition of the account username and password.
I tried the old format in my browser, and I got the same “Domain name not found” error. As I tried the URL, I noticed that HTTPS failed with a certificate mismatch. The certificate for https://dynamic.name-services.com points to reseller.enom.com.
Broken SSL, and including my account username and password was not an acceptable option, additionally I use 2FA on my account, so I had doubts that my password would even work. I tried the command as described in the documentation, but I omitted my account password, and it worked.
Today CrashPlan, my current online backup provider, announced on Facebook of all places, that they threw in the towel, and will no longer provide service to home users. The backlash was heated, and I found the CEO’s video message on the blog post rather condescending.
I’ve been a long time user of online backup providers, and many have thrown in the towel, especially when free file sync from Google and Microsoft offers ever expanding capabilities and more and more free storage. Eventually even the cheapest backup storage implementation becomes expensive, when compared to a cloud provider, and not profitable as a primary business.
I’ve been using CrashPlan’s unlimited home plan for quite some time now, they were one of a few, today none, that were reasonably priced, allowed unlimited storage, and supported server class OS’s. But, I could sense the writing was on the wall; they split the home and business Facebook account, they split the website, the home support site has not seen activity in ages, they made major improvements to the enterprise backup agent, switching to a much leaner and faster C++ agent, while the home agent remained the old Java app with its many shortcomings, and there were some vague rumors on the street of a home business selloff attempt.
The transition offered a free switch to the small business plan, for the remaining duration of the home subscription, plus 3 months, and then a 75% discount on next year’s plan. For my account, this means free CrashPlan Pro until 12 June 2018, then $2.50 per month until 12 June 2019, and then $10.00 per month.
I’ve switched to the Pro plan, as they promised the agent updated itself, going from the old Java to the new C++ agent, the already backed up data was retained without needing to backup again, and all seems well, for now…
I’ve been looking for a Windows Hello capable webcam, and the Razer Stargazer, based on Intel RealSense technology, looked promising. The device is all metal and tactical looking, but the software experience is so buggy, install this, install that, then crash after crash after crash. I ended up returning it for a refund, and got a Logitech BRIO instead, the BRIO is cheaper, and works great.
A couple days ago I was greeted with a BSOD on one of my test machines, a crash in the RZUDD.SYS “Razer Rzudd Engine” driver, part of the Razer Synapse software. What makes this interesting, is that the issue seems to be triggered by having Driver Verifier enabled.
One may be tempted to say do not enable Driver Verifier, but, the point of driver verifier is to help detect bugs in drivers, and is a basic requirement for driver certification. Per the WinDbg analysis, this appears to be a memory corruption bug. After some searching, I found that the Driver Verifier BSOD has been reported by other users, with no acknowledgement, and no fix forthcoming. I contacted Razer support, and not surprisingly, they suggested uninstall and reinstall. I tried the community forums, and I was just pointed back to support.
This post is just me venting my frustration at Razer’s poor software user experience, and their shoddy support practices. I’m writing this after I just had to go and find a working mouse, so I could click a button on a dialog that had no keyboard navigation support.
I’ve been using Razer keyboards and mice for some time, love them, their software not so much. I had to replace an aging ThinkPad, and the newly released Razer Blade Stealth looked like a great candidate, small and fast, reasonably priced, should be perfect, well, not so much.
I keep my monitors color calibrated, and I cringe whenever I see side-by-side monitors that clearly don’t match, or when somebody creates graphic content (yes you graphic artists using MacBooks to create content for PC software without proper color profiles) that looks like shades of vomit on a projector or a cheap screen, but I digress. My monitor of choice is NEC and their native SpectraView color calibration software. Unfortunately, the Blade with its lower end Intel graphics processor, and HDMI port, does not support DDC/CI, so no ability to color calibrate my monitor. My main monitor is a NEC MultiSync EA275UHD 4K monitor, and the internal Intel graphics processor is frustratingly slow on this high resolution display. And, the HDMI connectivity would drop out whenever the monitor went into power saving mode. Why not use a more standard mini-DisplayPort connector, would not solve the speed problem, but at least would have resolved the connection reliability and allowed for proper color calibration.
To solve the problem, I decided to get a Razer Core with an EVGA GeForce GTX 1070 graphics adapter. The Core is an external USB and network dock, with a PSU and PCIe connector for a graphics card, all connected to the notebook by Thunderbolt 3 over a, too short, USB-C cable. I connected my monitor to the GTX 1070 DisplayPort connector, connectivity was fine, I could color calibrate my monitor, and the display performance with the GTX 1070 was fast, great. By the way, JayzTwoCents has a great video on the performance of external graphic cards.
But, my USB devices connected to the dock kept on dropping out. I found several threads on the Razer support forum complaining about the sameUSB problems, and the threads are promptly closed with a contact support message. I contacted Razer support and they told me they are working on the problem, and closed my ticket. I contacted them again stating that closing my ticket did not resolve the problem, and they said my choice is RMA the device, with no known solution, or wait, and then they closed my ticket again. To this day this issue has not been resolved, and I have to connect my USB devices directly the notebook, defeating the purpose of a dock. They did publish a FAQ advising users to not use 2.4GHz WiFi, but to stick with 5GHz due to interference issues, so much for their hardware testing.
Now, let’s talk about their Razer Synapse software, the real topic of this post. The software is used to configure all the Razer devices, and sync the device preferences across computers with a cloud account, neat idea. The color scheme and custom drawn controls of this software matches their edgy “brand”, but their choice of thin grey font on a dark background fails in my usability book when used in a brightly lit office space.
Whenever Windows 10 updates, the stupid Synapse software pops up while the install is still going, if you say yes, install now, then as expected the install fails due to Windows still installing. I logged the issue with Razer support, and they told me it is behaving as designed, really, designed to fail.
So, today the Synapse software, again, prompts me to update, a frequent occurrence, and my mouse dies during the update, presumably because they updated the mouse driver, but this time I am prompted with a reboot required dialog. Dead mouse, no problem, have keyboard, tab over, wait, no keyboard navigation on the stupid owner drawn custom control dialog, no way to interact with the dialog without a mouse, just fail.
Moral of the story, UX is important people, and I should just stick with ThinkPad or Microsoft Surface Book hardware, costs more, but never disappoints.
What started as a simple Mini PCI Express WiFi card swap on a ThinkPad T61 notebook, turned into deploying a custom BIOS in order to get the card to work.
I love ThinkPad notebooks, they are workhorses that keep on going and going. I always keep my older models around for testing, and one of my old T61’s had an Intel 4965AGN card, that worked fine with Windows 10, until the release of the Anniversary / Redstone 1 update. After the RS1 update, WiFi would either fail to connect, or randomly drop out. The 4965AGN card is not supported by Intel on Win10, and the internet is full of problem reports of Win10 and 4965AGN cards.
Ok, no problem, I’ll just get a cheap, reasonably new, with support for Win10, Mini PCIe WiFi card, and swap the card. I got an Intel 3160 dual band 802.11AC card and mounting bracket for about $20. The 3160 is a circa 2013 card with Win10 support. I installed the card, booted, and got a BIOS error 1802: Unauthorized network card is plugged in.
This lead me to the discovery of ThinkPad hardware whitelisting, where the BIOS only allows specific cards to be used, which lead me to Middleton’s BIOS, a custom T61 BIOS, that removes the hardware whitelisting, and enables SATA-2 support. I found working download links to the v2.29-1.08 Middleton BIOS here.
The BIOS update is packaged as a Win7 x86 executable or DOS bootable ISO image. As I’m running Win10 x64, and I could not find any CD-R discs around, I used Rufus to create a bootable DOS USB key, and I extracted the ISO contents using 7-Zip to a directory on the USB key. The ISO is created using a bootable 1.44MB DOS floppy image, and AUTOEXEC.BAT launches “FLASH2.EXE /U”, I created a batch file that does the same.
I removed the WiFi card, booted from USB, ran the flash, and got an error 1, complaining that flashing over the LAN is disabled. Ok, I enabled flashing the BIOS over the LAN in the BIOS, and rebooted.
I ran the update again, and this time I got error 99, complaining that BitLocker is enabled, and to temporarily disable BitLocker. I did not have BitLocker enabled, so I removed the hard drive and tried again, same error. Must be something in the BIOS, I disabled the security chip in the BIOS, tried again, and the update starts, but a minute or so later the screen goes crazy with INVALID OPCODE messages.
Hmm, maybe the updater does not like the FreeDOS boot image used by Rufus. Ok, let me create a MS-DOS USB key, uhh, on Win10, that turned out to be near impossible. Win10 does not include MS-DOS files, Rufus does not support custom locations for MS-DOS files, nor does it support getting them from floppy or CD images (readily available for download), the HP USB Disk utility complains my USB drive is locked, and writing raw images to USB result in a FAT12 disk structure that is too small to use. I say near impossible because I gave up, and instead went looking for an existing MS-DOS USB key I had made a long time ago. I am sure with a bit more persistence I could have found a way to create MS-DOS bootable USB keys on Win10, but that is an exercise of another day.
Trying again with a MS-DOS USB key, and voilà, BIOS flashed, and WiFi working.
I am annoyed that I had to go to this much trouble to get the new WiFi card working, but the best part of the exercise turns out to be the SATA-2 speed increase. This machine had a SSD drive, that I always found to be slow, but with the SATA-2 speed bump in Middleton’s BIOS, the machine is noticeably snappier.
A couple hours later, my curiosity got the better of me, and I made my own version of Rufus that will allow formatting of MS-DOS USB drives on Win10. In the process I engaged in an interesting discussion with the author of Rufus. I say interesting, but it was rather frustrating, Microsoft removed the MS-DOS files from Win10, and Rufus refuses to add support for sourcing of MS-DOS files from a user specified location, citing legal reasons, and my reluctance to first report the issue to FreeDOS. Anyway, can code, have compiler, if have time, will solve problem.
Two lessons learned; do not trust scheduled battery tests, and leave working firmware be!
As the saying goes, if it is not broken do not fix it, especially when it comes to firmware.
I have a couple APC Smart-UPS‘s at my house, same as the models I like to use at the office. I use the SMT750 models with AP9631Network Monitoring Cards. The problem started when we had a short power outage, and the UPS that powers the home network switch, cell repeater, alarm internet connection, and PoE IP cameras, unexpectedly died. A battery replacement led to the opportunity to do a UPS firmware update, which led to an unrecoverable firmware update.
It started when I woke up one morning and it was obvious the power had been out, first indicator is the kitchen appliances have blinking clocks, second are the numerous power failure email notifications, and the emails that stood out were from the alarm system that says it lost power and internet connectivity. The alarm has it’s own backup battery, the network switches and FiOS internet have their own battery backups, and the outage was only about 4 minutes. So how is it that the UPS died, killing the switch, disconnecting the internet, especially when the outage was only 4 minutes, and typical runtimes on the UPS should be about an hour?
Here is the UPS outage log produced by the NMC card:
10/11/2016 06:53:05 Device UPS: A discharged battery condition no longer exists. 0x0108
10/11/2016 06:12:27 Device UPS: The battery power is too low to support the load; if power fails, the UPS will be shut down immediately. 0x0107
10/11/2016 06:12:24 Device UPS: Restored the local network management interface-to-UPS communication. 0x0101
10/11/2016 06:12:12 System Network service started. IPv6 address FE80::2C0:B7FF:FE98:9BAF assigned by link-local autoconfiguration. 0x0007
10/11/2016 06:12:10 Device Environment: Restored the local network management interface-to-integrated Environmental Monitor (Universal I/O at Port 1) communication. 0x0344
10/11/2016 06:12:09 System Network service started. System IP is 192.168.1.11 from manually configured settings. 0x0007
10/11/2016 06:12:02 System Network Interface coldstarted. 0x0001
10/11/2016 05:45:36 Device UPS: A low battery condition no longer exists. 0x0110
10/11/2016 05:45:36 Device UPS: The battery power is too low to support the load; if power fails, the UPS will be shut down immediately. 0x0107
10/11/2016 05:45:35 Device UPS: The output power is turned off. 0x0114
10/11/2016 05:45:35 Device UPS: The graceful shutdown period has ended. 0x014F
10/11/2016 05:45:35 Device UPS: No longer on battery power. 0x010A
10/11/2016 05:45:35 Device UPS: Main outlet group, UPS Outlets, has been commanded to shutdown with on delay. 0x0174
10/11/2016 05:45:35 Device UPS: The power for the main outlet group, UPS Outlets, is now turned off. 0x0135
10/11/2016 05:45:18 Device UPS: The battery power is too low to continue to support the load; the UPS will shut down if input power does not return to normal soon. 0x010F
10/11/2016 05:41:36 Device UPS: On battery power in response to rapid change of input. 0x0109
I could see from the log that the UPS battery power ran out within 4 minutes, 05:41:36 on battery, 05:45:18 battery too low, 05:45:35 output turned off. The UPS status page was equally puzzling, load was at 9.7%, yet reported runtime was only 5 minutes, impossible.
Here is the status screenshot:
I ran a manual battery test, the test passed, but from the log it was clear the battery failed. I have bi-weekly scheduled battery tests for all UPS’s, never received a failure report. So what is the point of a battery test if the test comes back no problem yet it is clear to me from the logs that the battery failed?
Here is the log:
10/11/2016 18:07:06 Device UPS: A low battery condition no longer exists. 0x0110
10/11/2016 18:07:06 Device UPS: The battery power is too low to support the load; if power fails, the UPS will be shut down immediately. 0x0107
10/11/2016 18:07:05 Device UPS: Self-Test passed. 0x0105
10/11/2016 18:06:59 Device UPS: A discharged battery condition no longer exists. 0x0108
10/11/2016 18:06:59 Device UPS: The battery power is too low to continue to support the load; the UPS will shut down if input power does not return to normal soon. 0x010F
10/11/2016 18:06:58 Device UPS: Self-Test started by management device. 0x0137
10/11/2016 18:06:56 Device UPS: The battery power is too low to support the load; if power fails, the UPS will be shut down immediately. 0x0107
I asked for advice on the APC forum, no reply yet, and I ordered a replacement RBC48 battery. I received the battery, installed it, and the reported runtime is back to normal, 1 hour 48 minutes.
Here is a status screenshot with the new battery:
Here is where I should have stopped and called it a day, but no. I knew that the UPS’s were on old firmware, and I decided to use this opportunity to update the firmware. I’d normally let firmware be, unless I have a good reason to update, but I convinced myself that the new firmware readme had some fixes that may help with the false pass on the battery test:
Release Notes (UPS09.3):
2. Improved self-test logging for PCBE / NMC.
11. Repaired an occasional math error in the battery replacement date algorithm that resulted in incorrect dates.
I update the UPS, where I just replaced the battery, instructions are pretty simple. Only hassle is I have to bypass the network equipment to be mains powered so I can turn the UPS outputs off while updating the firmware, while maintaining network connectivity.
I did the same for my office UPS, PC and office switch on mains power, and when I power down the output, I made sure to not notify PowerChute Network Shutdown (PCNS) clients, as my PC had the PowerChute client installed to receive power state via the network. I start the firmware update over the network, and a few seconds later I get a Windows message that shutdown had been initiated by PCNS, what? I sit there in frustration, nothing to do but watch my PC shutdown while it is still delivering the firmware update.
On rebooting my PC, NMC comes up, but reports the UPS has stopped communicating. I pull AC power from the UPS, no change, I also pull the batteries, and when I plug the batteries and mains back on, beeeeeeeeeep. NMC now reports no UPS found, the UPS LCD panel reports all is fine. And still beeeeeeeeeep, and no way to stop the beeeeeeeeeep.
Here is the NMC status page:
I try to do Firmware Upgrade Wizard update via USB, plug a USB cable in, PC sees UPS, reports critical condition, but the upgrade wizard reports no UPS found on USB.
Here is the wizard error page:
So, here I am, stuck with a bricked UPS, lesson learned, actually two lessons learned; do not trust scheduled battery tests, and leave working firmware be!
Amazon just notified me in email that my Associate’s account was closed due to not being in compliance with their operating agreement:
“You are not in compliance with Participation Requirement Number 29 because purchases resulting from Special Links on your site have been used for resale or commercial use.”
I have no idea how or why this happened.
A couple of years ago I moved my blog from the free Blogger platform to a paid WordPress.com hosted site. About the same time I signed up for an Amazon Associate’s account, profiting from any Amazon links resulting in sales, hoping that the proceeds would cover the costs of WordPress hosting and domain registration.
A quick calculation shows Amazon payouts of $669.57 between 2 August 2012 and 30 August 2016, that is about $167.39 per year, less the $99.00 for WordPress hosting, less $36.00 for Akismet blog spam filtering, less $19.00 for domain registration, leaves a profit of $13.39. Less $99.00 for bulk domain registration fees, not really fair to charge this fee to one domain, leaves a loss of $85.61 per year.
I do not know why I was suddenly out of compliance, I made no changes to either my Amazon Associates or WordPress accounts, and I’ve not posted any new content in a number of months. The WordPress stats show typical traffic (ignore the last two days), but the Amazon Associates report does show a marked increase in traffic:
I sent an email to Amazon support to clarify the violation, and to request my account be reinstated, but based on similar reports from other low traffic users, I do not expect a resolution.
Instead, I opted-in to use WordPress’s own WordAds advertising platform, I still need to adjust the blog theme and settings to not interfere with reading, and I have no idea what the monetization would be, but at least I no longer have to bother with making special Amazon links.
Please comment and let me know if you find the ads to be intrusive, and I’ll consider funding the site without advertising assistance.
[Update: 1 September 2016]
A day after sending Amazon a request asking for an explanation, I received the following in email:
“This message is to advise you that your pievilsblo-20 account and your August 2016 Advertising Fees have been reinstated. Please accept our apologies for the closure.”
Looks like my account has been reinstated, no explanation of what happened.
In a previous post I wrote about my transition from Nest to Ecobee3 thermostats, and how the biggest benefit of the E3 was the use of remote sensors.
After several months of use, winter and summer, I find the remote sensors really do work very well, and our bedrooms remain at the desired temperature, while the areas around the thermostats can be warmer or colder.
But, the E3 is not perfect, there are two recurring problems; the remote sensors would report offline, and the units would lose network connectivity.
I’ve received sensor offline alerts a couple of times, typically happens early mornings, maybe interference, don’t know, the sensors never move from where they are placed.
Every time a I get a sensors offline report, the sensor already restored connectivity. This behavior is very annoying, I will get two emails a minute apart, and the E3 UI will have an alert saying sensor offline, I click ok, and then immediately an alert saying sensor online.
I expect the E3 to have some sort of grace period before it deems a problem so important that it needs to notify me. As is, it is just an annoyance as there is no remediation action to take.
The second problem is the E3 loses network connectivity, this is a real problem, as the units remain offline until power cycled, and to power cycle the E3 has to be removed from the wall bracket, i.e. there is no reboot menu option.
I reported this problem to Ecobee support in October, and on the SmartHomeHub community forum. Yes, it is a bit pathetic that Ecobee does not have their own support community forum. Ecobee had me reserve static IP’s in the DHCP server, setup a dedicated 2.4GHz SSID, still disconnects. By December the problem was still happening, and Ecobee support escalated the problem to their development team, it is two months later, and still no updates from Ecobee support on the problem.
Through my own research and experimentation I suspect the problem to be that the E3 is unable to handle a WiFi channel change, and unable to roam between access points. There are some conditions that trigger the problem that I cannot explain.
I have multiple access points in my house, same SSID, different channels, 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. I tested with Ubiquity UniFi AC and with Ruckus/Xclaim Xi-3. And in case you’re wondering, no other devices in my house have any problems with WiFi, even with dynamic channel selection.
I can make the E3 fail by either changing the AP channel, or by making it roam to a different AP, also changing channels. If I configure the AP’s to use auto channel selection, then the E3 will fail as soon as the AP chooses to change channels (UniFi does this on startup, Xclaim does this dynamically). If I manually change the AP channel, the E3 will fail. If I take one AP offline, the E3 will fail to roam to a different AP (on a different channel).
Even with my AP’s configured with static non-overlapping channels, the E3 would still sometimes fail, requiring a power cycle. I do not know why this would happen, as signal strength by the E3’s are perfect.
On the plus side, the E3 units remember the schedule, and even when offline, they continue to operate.
Bottom line is E3 WiFi is not reliable, and E3 support/dev is not responsive.
We’ve had a particularly warm summer, for our very moderate area, and between my wife and my parent’s in-law, they were constantly changing the thermostat temperature, leaving nobody particularly happy, and our electricity consumption skyhigh. I needed a better solution, I found one, but it has some quirks.
I was an early adopter of the Nest Generation 1 thermostat, and when we moved to our new house, Nest was still the best available, and I installed two Nest Generation 2 thermostats, one upstairs, and one downstairs.
Nest used to be an innovator and leader in the home thermostat space, and then two things happened; they were acquired by Google, and competitors like Ecobee and Honeywell released very competitive products. The just released Nest Generation 3 thermostat has no new notable features, it is simply thinner, not unlike its competitors.
The one feature I, and many other users, asked for was remote temperature sensors. In many homes, like ours, where there are two HVAC units, one for upstairs and one for downstairs, with no room specific dampers or temperature control, the upstairs and downstairs air mixes and causes large temperature differentials between closed rooms and open spaces. Adding to that warm air rises and cold air falls, so in the summer the upstairs pumps cold air downstairs, and in the winter the downstairs pumps warm air upstairs, this again leaves bedrooms too hot or too cold.
Ecobee solved this problem, to a large degree, with the Ecobee3 thermostat, that comes with one remote sensing unit, and extra sensors can be purchased at $35 per sensor. The latest version of their thermostat is also Apple HomeKit compatible, allowing Siri to control the thermostat.
There are 3rd party integrations that can control the Nest temperature, like Wally at an additional $299, or SmartThings at an additional $139, but these are integration solutions, not integrated solutions, and makes the Nest solution much more expensive, especially considering the Ecobee3 (with one extra sensor included) and the Nest Gen3 are both $249.
There are alternate solutions like EcoVent that controls the individual vents per room, but that adds an additional $499 minimum for two rooms.
The Ecobee3 solution cannot control the temperature in each room, for that you really need a split AC unit per room, but it does allow the temperature sensing logic to take input from any number of rooms. And in my case, I am specifically interested in the temperatures in the bedrooms, not the general open areas.
Replacing the Nest with an Ecobee3 was easy, the Ecobee3 is slightly thinner than the Nest Gen2, and slightly larger, with that extra size used for a multi-color touch display.
The remote sensors come with stands, wall screw mounts, and wall sticky tape mounts, they are pretty small and unobtrusive.
The WiFi setup was really easy, and the first time I’ve seen this particular scheme in action, I believe it is called Wireless Accessory Configuration (WAC), not sure, Apple documentation is as always in short supply. Basically it worked like this; install the EB3 app on my iPhone, EB3 told me to connect my phone to the EB3 SSID, my phone asked me if I want to connect the device to WiFi, select yes, and the EB3 was automatically connected to my home WiFi, no passwords, no hassles, easy.
For each thermostat install the EB3 app asked me details about my house, address, size, construction, etc. This was annoying, one house, one set of details, multiple thermostats, why do I need to configure this for every thermostat. The Nest config was always very easy, one set of options per house, multiple thermostats. A call to EB support told me I need to create a group, then add the thermostats to the same group, then select what options I want to share between thermostats in the same group, and this can only be done from the web portal. This was a setup and first experience usability fail.
The second problem I ran into was the time configuration, the EB3 correctly selected Los Angeles as the time zone, and synced the time, but the displayed time was 3 hours ahead, East Coast time instead of Pacific Time. I fixed this by manually changing the timezone to something other than LA, saving, then changing it back to LA, and the time was correct. I did send EB support an email about this, and they replied that I need to make sure I have the correct time zone selected, right.
Pairing the remote sensors was really easy, stand in front of the EB3 and pull the plastic tab to let the sensor battery make contact, the EB3 detects the sensor, and lets you pair it, and enter a sensor name. The EB3 thermostat UI allowed me to use non-alpha characters, e.g. “Child‘s Room”, note the apostrophe, but when I later renamed the sensors, the mobile app and the web app restricted names to numbers and letters only, a slight inconsistency fail.
Configuring the schedule and comfort zones was easy and intuitive. I particularly like the concept of the comfort zones, and reusing them in the schedule, vs. the Nest’s more primitive setting of desired temperatures at times of days. This is where I configured the night comfort zones to use only the sensors in the bedrooms, and ignore the temperature at the main thermostat. Made a huge difference in comfort and AC runtime.
After a couple days of use I noticed something weird, the AC would turn on, but the thermostats would show the current temperature is still below the set temperature. This happened with both thermostats, and only in the afternoon. The schedule only called for 74F after 8pm during the night time comfort zone, this was around 7pm, when the set temperature was 78F.
Something is clearly wrong with the scheduler and the schedule. My bet was the scheduler is still using East Coast time (turned out I was wrong), Ecobee phone support was already closed, so I had to wait for the following day.
While I was looking at the System Monitor feature, very neat, I noticed gaps in the data. After a bit of research I found that Ecobee is having scaling problems, and their backend cannot handle the load, may be exacerbated by the Apple store kicking out Nest and now selling Ecobee3, or HomeKit integration, or poor planning. It was also weird that Ecobee does not run their own support forums, the Ecobee community supports themselves at the SmartHomeHub forums. One intrepid forum user created an availability graph based on his data gaps, clearly shows the recent problems.
I called Ecobee support, and they explained what was going on with the schedule; the thermostat has a feature called Smart Recovery Mode, in this mode the AC starts running before a schedule change in an attempt to reach the desired temperature when the schedule starts. And that this prediction takes a week or so to become more accurate, and that it can be impacted by fluctuations in the weather. Ok, makes sense, but usability fail by not making this behavior clear in the status UI.
As for the gaps in data, Ecobee support said they are busy migrating data, that this impacts backend performance, and that all systems should be operational in a week, and no data should be lost, slight contradiction to the post on the SmartHomeHub forum, but at least acknowledged.
I am pretty happy with the E3, the remote sensors really do make a big difference in efficiency.