Sunday, January 01, 2023

Happy New Year 2023

The start of a new year is a good time to review a few things and make sure everything is right. Here's my list of things I think you should check once a year.

Some of the steps may be a little out of date but I think you can find your way around. If not, leave me a comment and I'll help.

You'll sleep better.

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Office Deployment Tool - Revisited

Once again I found myself with a new laptop and no Microsoft Office license. 

I found one of those gray market key vendors and bought a Office 2021 Professional Pro key for less than $20. It came promptly and even included a link to a Microsoft download site. (Don't rush to download.)

I don't need all the included Office apps. The legacy installation dialog would let me choose which application and features would be installed. I used to use that dialog to omit all the Office apps except Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.

But now Microsoft has an Office Deployment Tool that lets you customize the installation.

I recalled the solution I had found earlier and revisited my previous post.

The referenced site, MS Guides, seems to have gotten crossways with Google and probably other organizations. I used to retrieve the instructions. This post is my recap of the process and is heavily based on MS Guides.

Step 0: Uninstall all the Click-to-Run Office 365 apps that come pre-installed.

Step 1: Download the appropriate version of the Office Deployment Tool from Microsoft. Use Google to find the proper download and download it.

Step 2: Double click the download to extract the contents of this file. It will create a new folder with configuration files (xml) and setup.exe.

Step 3: Tailor the following code as needed and paste it into a new text document.

      <Add OfficeClientEdition="64">
        <Product ID="ProPlusRetail">
          <Language ID="en-us" />
          <ExcludeApp ID="Access" />
          <ExcludeApp ID="InfoPath" />
          <ExcludeApp ID="Lync" />
          <ExcludeApp ID="OneNote" />
          <ExcludeApp ID="Outlook" />
          <ExcludeApp ID="Project" />
          <ExcludeApp ID="Publisher" />
          <ExcludeApp ID="SharePointDesigner" />
          <ExcludeApp ID="Skype" />
          <ExcludeApp ID="Skypeforbusiness" />
          <ExcludeApp ID="Groove" />
      <Display Level="Full" AcceptEULA="TRUE" />

The above sample code will only install Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.

Then save this as config.xml in the folder created earlier.

Step 4: Copy the code below into a new text document file.

    @echo off
    cd /d %~dp0
    setup.exe /configure config.xml

Then save this as install.cmd in the folder created earlier.

Step 5: Double-click on the install.cmd file and it'll run. You may have to right-click on it to run it as  an administrator. I didn't have to do this.

The process will even download the required bits.

Step 6: After successfully installing Office, launch one of the apps. You'll be prompted to login OR enter a product key. Enter your new product key there.

You're done.

Friday, September 30, 2022

USB-C vs Lightning - Redux

Earlier this year I shared a post on USB-C vs Lightning. It was mostly on the durability aspects of the different connectors.

But with the recent release of the iPhone 14 Pro, there's another furor around Lightning connectors.

The earlier post included the following chart:

But I didn't pay much attention to the last row - Maximum transmission speed.

There's a 40 fold increase in transmission speed when using USB-C. FORTY FOLD!

And Thunderbolt is twice as fast as USB-C.

So what does iPhone 14 Pro have to do with this? 48-megapixel ProRAW photos - four times as many pixels as iPhone 13 models.

Full-resolution ProRAW photos taken with the iPhone 14 Pro can be close to 100MB per file.

I hope you're not in a hurry to offload your photos from your shiny new iPhone 14 Pro.

The good news is that there's lots of talk that next year's iPhone 15 Pro will have USB-C.

We can hope.

Here's a good recap of the issue from Lifewire (

Sunday, June 19, 2022

The Green Light is Back

Insteon users have had a bad couple of months. I gave up and moved on.

Then Insteon rose from the ashes.


Here's their blog post:

A New Day for Insteon!
We are a small group of passionate Insteon users that have successfully acquired Insteon. Like many of you, our homes are powered by Insteon’s amazing dual-mesh technology and highly configurable products. 

Most of you discovered that the Insteon Hubs began coming back online. Our first priority was getting the hubs online immediately before we had access to this site, the email service provider, social accounts, etc. Every day more customers were giving up hope so it was critical to get that restored as soon as possible. We are aware not all functions are back online but we are actively working on it. We hope you understand this urgency and appreciate your patience. 

Going forward we are committed to responsibly re-building the Insteon business. Our commitment to you, as part of the Insteon family, is to listen, communicate and be as transparent as possible in everything we do. 

Please stay tuned for updates here as well as on twitter, facebook, reddit and elsewhere. If you are an Insteon Hub account holder, look for an email in the coming days. 

Thank you all for your patience. We look forward to sharing this new journey with you. 

Best regards,
Ken Fairbanks
CEO, Insteon Technologies
No thanks.

And here's an e-mail thread between me and some co-workers:
A: Are either of you doing anything with the new Insteon company??
Me: Not with a 10 ft pole. The new owners seem to be well intentioned but the brand is sullied beyond reprieve.
A: That’s my thinking too. Plus I am [not] as dependent on them as some people.
B: No. Pretty much moved all to Wyze.

Sunday, May 08, 2022

Z-Wave to the Rescue

You'll recall the disaster that Insteon caused me.

I started off down the road to use "simple" Wi-Fi devices and bought a couple of Kasa (by TP-Link) plugs and a switch. They were easy to install and setup and worked fine.

But every one of them was a separate device on my IoT Wi-Fi network. Long term, that could get to be a problem.

Then another problem opportunity arose. My alarm system went south. But it was 20+ years old.

My alarm company suggested a new system. As I was researching it, I noticed that it included a Z-Wave controller.

So, I stopped my Kasa roll-out after 2 plugs and ordered Enbrighten Z-Wave switches.

The alarm system uses for an Internet interface. The Internet services costs $5 per month. To add Z-Wave service adds another $5 per month. At least has a business plan unlike Insteon.

Adding the Z-Wave switches to was easy. has a good system to create device scenes and schedule them but I wanted to concentrate my automating into my Amazon Alexas.

Amazon has TWO Alexa skills for alarm. com. One is for alarm settings, e.g. scenes, and the other one controls individual devices.

This one is for the alarm and scenes:

This one is for devices:

It would be nice if there was something more obvious to differentiate them other than inferring function from the terse text.

Anyway, initially I installed the alarm and scenes skill. With that, Alexa didn't see the individual devices. So on the app, I created scenes for the each logical activity I wanted, e.g. "Outside Lights On".

This caused further complications in the Alexa routines. Notice that I had to use the syntax of "Alexa ask to run outside lights on".

That works fine but there are undocumented syntax restrictions on the Alexa action command. It took lots of trial and error to get names that would clear the restrictions.

Then I discovered the Alexa skill for devices. With that, Alexa could see the individual devices. I haven't undone my successful work and switched to the more direct constructs.

For thermostats, I'm going with Honeywell RTH6580WF.

Sunday, May 01, 2022

Almost as Good as Wired CarPlay

I've been running CarPlay in my car for a couple of years. I dedicated an old iPhone to this function and left it in the call full time. We run the car enough to keep it charged.

That worked very well. Every now and then the car's head unit wouldn't recognize the iPhone. Sometimes unplugging and replugging would fix it. Sometimes you had to turn off the car and restart it.

Nevertheless, it was very satisfactory.


My wife wanted to be able to call and text from her phone using the car's integration. The dedicated iPhone worked fine for that but presented a different phone number.

I had tried a wireless CarPlay dongle from AliExpress in 2019. It required me to download an app and install it in my car's head unit. Microsoft Windows Security pitched a fit when I downloaded that app and then it wouldn't install in my car's head unit.

Recently I gave it another try.

I ordered CarlinKit 3.0.

This time it worked almost flawlessly.

I say "almost" and that's not a big negative. Even wired CarPlay is not 100% dependable. This CarlinKit 3.0 is "almost" that dependable. The CarlinKit 3.0 disconnects more than the wired iPhone but not enough to be a real problem. When either CarPlay disconnects and reconnects, any trip in progress is terminated and has to be restarted.

CarlinKit 3.0 connects quickly, "almost" as quickly as the wired CarPlay.

The only thing I've found that is different from wired CarPlay is that CarlinKit 3.0 occasionally switches away from FM to CarPlay audio. But I'm not convinced that that is a CarlinKit 3.0 problem. Since I am no longer using a dedicated iPhone for CarPlay, my passenger uses the iPhone connected via CarlinKit 3.0 while we are driving. If the iPhone starts emitting audio, e.g. from an autoplay video, I think that triggers the switch. That would be a CarPlay issue, not a CarlinKit 3.0 issue.

Overall, it is worth the minor issues. Being able to use CarPlay for voice calls and text messaging is very valuable.

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

That's where ALL Insteon users find themselves.

I've had a good ride with Insteon. Until April 15, 2022.

I'll let you read Stacey on IoT's coverage. And even SmartLabs' feeble and belated attempt at explaining.

Where that leaves me and 1000s of other Insteon users is that their in-house equipment is fine but crippled due to being down for the count.

So, where do I go from here? There are several organizations out there trying to help.

But let's think about those solutions. They all cost a couple of $100s. And when you're done, you still have the Insteon switches and plugs which you can no longer buy and the Insteon hub which you can no longer buy. And the solutions put a server in your house that you have to support and maintain.

That's the Rock.

Then there are the alternatives. These mostly consist of Wi-Fi switches and plugs but depend on a cloud service.

What do you do if/when the cloud service goes away like Insteon did?

That's the Hard Place.

My decision is "Less is More." I'm going with Wi-Fi switches and plugs with no hub and server in the house. At least there are less moving parts.

And I plan to use Amazon Echo to create the automation schedules and routines. That gives me one degree of separation from the Wi-Fi switch and plug vendor's cloud service.