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.