Home Automation Project

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always thought the idea of having automated controls was pretty cool. This became especially pronounced after watching the Iron Man movies. The idea of have something like Jarvis in control things was really cool and I really wanted to create something like it.

In 2011, I started watching a guy on YouTube who had taken a MacMini and wrote a bunch of AppleScripts to create what he was calling Jarvis. He was sharing his ideas and features and for the first time I thought it might be possible to create such a thing without needing to spend a ton of money to buy it.

I originally borrowed his Library.scpt file and used many of it’s pre-defined functions in my code. This worked well until many of things it used were disconnected by their vendor, like Google Latitude, and Yahoo Weather’s API. I spent a long time writing AppleScript to do stuff like, answer questions using Wolfram Alpha and check my Calendar for events, which was cool. But it wasn’t “useful” to me as much as I wanted it to be. I stopped writing AppleScript somewhere around 2015 and the project sat idle for the next 5 years, occasionally I would poke at it.

Fast forward to 2019, when I started learning Python. I had known about Python for a long time but was hesitant to learn it because of the learning curve. My learning style is very different than other peoples, I learn by doing. My first foray into Python was a project for work, a utility that would read over files from one of our products and build a database of objects and cross-reference several data points (both dynamically and statically). After a year of working on that project, it had received many positive reviews and was adopted into a new product. Not bad for a first go, eh?

With this new found Python knowledge, it reignited the idea of “Jarvis”. Could I create such a thing with Python? There are so many videos on YouTube where people have created really simple single function “bots” and have called them “Jarvis”, stuff like, “Call me Dan” and the bot responds, “Hi, Dan”. Don’t get me wrong, if you’ve never written code before, that’s a big accomplishment. I wanted something much more advanced.

I started writing a bunch of different functions to do stuff like collect weather data and send tweets, which again were somewhat useful in the grand scheme of things. After sometime I decided I’d use those as parts of a bigger picture, and started focusing on what I needed/wanted this thing to do when done.

I knew it needed to:

  • Be aware of external temperature data
  • Be able to detect temperature data from multiple rooms in the house
  • Be able to adjust both the thermostat and the various dampers in the house to better balance temperature
  • Notify me of things like unusually high humidity in a room, or room temperature that will not adjust.
  • Automatically control lights (both internal and external), either by voice command or time of day.

Now, much of this is already possible with Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa or Siri, but I don’t want to be bound by what the limitations are for those. I want to be able to build in fail-overs for things. Like, if a room temperature won’t adjust, close all other dampers by some small percentage for a set time and turn the fan on, forcing more air into that room, and thus more air out of that room. I don’t know that I could have that kind of custom workflow with the others.

With all that being said, how will this work?
I’ve built a docker container that will run Python + Flask for the front-end. This way, I can have a TV with system data displayed, room temperatures, damper percentage, outdoor temperature, thermostat schedule and some other bits of data. Within this docker container will be several pieces, the first being a scheduler. The scheduler will automatically trigger several operations, like collecting all temperature data once an hour, or doing a systems check and sending me a push notification if somethings wrong.

Second, will be the vocal side, I haven’t yet decided how I want to go about communicating by voice, but there is code to handle that. I’ve thought about having a bluetooth that I wear, but that seems tedious. I’ll revisit that a bit more in the future.

Third, a Rest API. Why have a Rest API on this? Integrations. One of the things I thought about was the ability to have “outside” things integrate into my system. Things like purpose built Raspberry Pi’s that can either be collecting data or pulling data from the system and doing something. The primary purpose here is HVAC damper control. There will be a couple of Raspberry Pi’s around the house with equipment wired to dampers in our HVAC ducting, when the main system I’ve written needs to check temperatures in a room and adjust the damper, it will send a POST command to the appropriate Pi to adjust the damper, and the damper will make the change and return data points about damper position among other things. The main system can then note the change and it will now have in a database, the damper value.
Another piece to this is having this entire system on its own private network that is on battery backup.

Thanks for reading.. More to come.


Farewell 2020…

2020 has gotten a pretty bad reputation. It’s the year the pandemic ruled the world and lockdowns occurred. However, something I think a lot of people don’t see is that, 2020 gave us the ability to grow closer to our family and learn to adapt and overcome. But many people won’t see it that way, they’ll see the negative side before they see the benefits. They’ll see that their ‘right’ to go into a restaurant and eat was taken away, or the their ‘right’ to be in a large group of people was taken away.

What’s interesting to me is everybody seems concerned with their ‘rights’ but not so much about ensuring the people around them are healthy and don’t die. They’d rather enjoy themselves than be safe.

I’m hopeful as we move into a new year, people become more open minded and see benefits before negativity.

Hello 2021. Let’s rock this thing!

Starting over.

Previous attempts have not worked as I would have wanted them to. So, it’s time for a “reboot” if you will.

What does this reboot consist of? Well, quite simply dedication. I haven’t dedicated myself to losing weight. It has gone to far, I’m 342lbs. Three Hundred and Forty Pounds. It’s embarrassing to say, and it’s a hard thing to come to terms with. Things that I used to be able to do with the greatest of ease, I’m finding gets me winded and it takes me a few minutes to catch my breath..

I don’t eat destructively or anything, I eat pretty modestly, I think. But the main issue is, I sit at my job, and I sit at home. I do get outside and work in the yard and garden. Obviously not enough to really get a calorie burn.

How will I change this? On my days off I have a membership at Planet Fitness, which 10 dollars a month isn’t bad. They have a 30 minute circuit, which is like a full body workout. I will hit the circuit 3 days a week and then when I get off work I will have to get into a groove of working out in the gym at work. For the time, I’m going to stick to cardio in the gym at work. I just need to get my body conditioned to be active.

When all else fails. Try, Try Again.

View my starting pictures

Just a reminder…

July 16, 1995 – The Columbian
Take yourself back to that soft summer night when you last saw the rocket’s red glare.
It was the 33rd annual fireworks show that capped the holiday over the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site.

There were 45,000 or so of you on the National Park Service grounds. Another 25,000 to 50,000 watched from vantage points around the city and south on the Oregon shore. The Columbia River was dotted with firefly lights of watercraft large, small and gigantic.

A television audience delivered for the first time through KGW-TV added 600,000 viewers.

This was Vancouver the place to be on the Fourth of July. It was the place known for having, whether by myth or magic, the largest fireworks show west of the Mississippi River.

And it was spectacular: Bursts of stars and red and white lights floating to the river under tiny parachutes. Flashes of orange light and the thumps of sound from shore to shore marked the launch of fireworks shells into the night. The brilliant bursts of light and sound drew oohs and ahhs of appreciation from young and old. It was exciting to watch and wonder what next would ride its light trail into the sky and burst into beauty.

This was Vancouver, and its fireworks show a mark of recognition and identity.

Summer festivals may come and go, but Vancouver’s annual fireworks display already extends past a third of a century.

When the sound had ebbed and the smoke cleared from the last shot, thousands headed home to Vancouver, Battle Ground, Camas, Washougal, LaCenter, Ridgefield, Amboy, Yacolt, Woodland and Portland.

A northbound traveler on the I-5 freeway after midnight told of a steady stream of cars returning south from Vancouver across the Interstate bridge to homes in Portland and beyond. It was like rush-hour traffic.

This was Vancouver, and on this night it achieved a magical quality.

If it is magic, then there has to be a magician. It is, and there is. He is Jim Larson, who organizes and orchestrates the show with the help of a few hundred of his friends all volunteers.

This show has been staged year after year.

People who don’t know think this is Vancouver’s show. They have come to demand this free event as an entitlement.

That’s the rub. It isn’t Vancouver’s show, but it should be. Vancouver’s leaders natural and political should understand that this event, more than any other, focuses regional attention on the city. But volunteers struggle year after year to make ends meet to raise $250,000 for that entertainment and safe fireworks. And they raise thousands of dollars for good charitable causes through sales from food and other booths at the site.

Financing is touch and go. Volunteers fret and sweat over the money. Will it be enough? Will fireworks sales cover the expenses?

Larson has waved his magic wand year after year. He’s scrimped and pleaded, borrowed and bartered to make sure it happens.

But this year, scrunching his bear-size frame into a battered chair at a staging area near the airport, he reflects weariness and irritation.

He thinks Vancouver, which reaps the rewards, ought to do more for this show.

“The city has not even paid its fair share,” he said.

Vancouver kicked in a paltry $10,000 this year, plus police and other in-kind services estimated at $12,000. Even so, city representatives pressured Larson to hire more outside security people for crowd control.

The city gave the Vancouver Festival $25,000 for its one and only event last summer. That fete, which flopped in most every possible measure, also received in-kind help from the city. The debts the effort left behind gave Larson some headaches. “We use the same sound, stage and lighting outfits as they did, and these guys worry about getting paid,” he said. “We’ve always paid our bills.”

There are other costs, too, such incidentals as trash cleanup and portable toilets.

The Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce isn’t at the top of Larson’s Christmas list either.

“The only help they gave us was to put a recording on their phone system talking about the event,” Larson said. “Big deal.”

Every year he worries the event will die. “If the state limits us to safe-and-sane fireworks (those that do not leave the ground), we might as well pack it in. If the Native Americans establish a casino near Washougal and are able to sell their more high-powered fireworks, you can forget about sales here.”

There’s another uncertainty next year as well. Larson will be working with four new major players: mayor and city manager of Vancouver, commander of the Vancouver Barracks and superintendent of the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site.

And if the Fourth of July show should lapse for one year, Larson doubts it could ever be pulled back together.

Will he try to do it next year? “Yeah. Probably,” he says with a shrug. “I don’t want to see it end.”

“I’m not negative on fireworks, but I don’t like the problems they bring in the hands of unsupervised young people and I wish we didn’t have to depend so heavily on those sales.”

It’s pride that keeps Larson going, and such things as the television image of a 79-year-old bed-ridden woman who was helped to the site because she loves the show.

It’s knowing he and his volunteer army brought excitement, patriotism and identity to Vancouver.

Next year, though, he’d like a lot more help from his friends. The City of Vancouver ought to be first in line.

Tom Koenninger is vice president/editor of The Columbian.

Blast from the Past!

The Columbian
To spectators, the stunning TCI Presents the Fort Vancouver Fourth of July Fireworks Spectacular appears like magic: enormous, sparkling explosions fill the sky, rising and falling in perfect synchronicity with a patriotic soundtrack.
The spellbinding show is a result of months of behind-the-scenes work by people with decades of experience.

“My involvement with the show started when I turned 21,” said Jim Larson, chairman of the Fort Vancouver Fourth of July Committee.
For his birthday that year, Larson’s father bought him a membership in the Elks club. “I was installed in the first part of June, and the Elks asked for volunteers to work the Fourth of July fireworks show down at the (Pearson) airpark,” he said.
Larson signed up and has been helping out ever since.
“It started off with digging trenches … then all the sudden I was really involved,” Larson said of his growing role. This marks Larson’s 35th year of working on the show, which has enjoyed a 37-year run.
The Fort Vancouver Fourth of July Committee counts on Western International Fireworks to deliver an astounding display each year.
“We have a long-time relationship with them,” said Larson. “They’re good people.
Western International Fireworks is co-owned by husband and wife Bob and Judi Gobet. They are the third generation to run the business. “My grandparents started the company in 1948 (and) my parents continued the business,” said Judi. In 1984, she and Bob took over.
“I’m real familiar with all the displays on the West Coast, and what’s unique about Fort Vancouver is it’s a very large display,” Bob said. “There’s a lot of hype about some other shows put on … (but) Vancouver is out-and-out, based on the sheer amount of shells and the quality of the shells, second to none. … It’s a world-class display, and it’s free. … It’s good clean entertainment.”
Beauty by design
“A lot goes on before you can get them up in the air,” says Judi of their fireworks shows.
So how does one go about designing the largest Fourth of July fireworks display west of the Mississippi? In late May, Judi begins by “writing” the show.
“First, you have to know what the shells do,” she said. “I have to plug in the timing and listen to the music. Then you use other products to accent and affect the mood of the music. … It is choreography.”
Though each show is unique, Western International’s Web site (www.western display.com) lists a formula for making a memorable display.
Start the show with a bang and create immediate excitement via eye-catching or unusual effects. Next comes what’s called “thrilling mid-show flights,” with shells repeatedly filling the sky. Each volley is selected to heighten the crowd’s anticipation.
Of course, a spectacular ending is a must, and can include flash curtains, long-duration shells and multiple break shells.
“You have to leave them with a finale that just knocks ’em over,” said Judi.
The fireworks used in the show come from far and wide. “Some of the shells are made right here in the U.S.,” said Judi, adding that others come from Australia and China.
While the visual display is the primary focus, the audio portion is important, too.
The Fourth of July Committee supplies the soundtrack and Western International makes the fireworks fit the music. Whitney Houston’s rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” is one of Judi’s personal favorites, so she was happy to hear it on the tape for this year’s Fort Vancouver show. “It’s a wonderful selection, so powerful,” she said.
One of Bob Gobet’s favorite songs is “God Bless the U.S.A.” by Lee Greenwood.
“You can’t do Fort Vancouver without that,” Judi said.
Larson said the soundtrack always contains a good mix of contemporary music and classic hits. Portland’s Z-100 (FM) radio station produces the soundtrack.
Larson said he tries to videotape the fireworks show each year. The televised display is great “for people who can’t get out people in nursing homes or hospitals,” he said.
But no matter how good the TV coverage is, he said, “It’s still not like the real thing the noise, the smell.”
Unfortunately, Judi is typically too busy troubleshooting or overseeing other shows to make it to Fort Vancouver to see her company’s handiwork on the Fourth. So she always views a videotape of the show.
“It looks totally different than being there in person,” she said. Some colors, like turquoise and magenta, just aren’t captured well by the camera.
Bob credits Fourth of July Committee members for the superior quality of the Fort Vancouver show. “They know a good one from a bad one,” he said. “They do an excellent job. I just think the general public needs to appreciate all their crew does.”
Changing times
Larson and the Gobets have endured constant change in the fireworks field.
In less high-tech times, Larson said after the show he and the crew would make a bonfire from the leftover cardboard mortars and roast marshmallows while the post-show traffic died down.
Back when her parents ran the business, Judi said, electric firing of fireworks was just coming onto the scene. And with the advent of today’s computer-fired displays, there is a lot more control.
“As far as the appearance of the display to the general public, (computers) have made it a lot better,” said Bob. “The show is done the way it’s designed to be done.”
However, from a show producer’s standpoint, he said, “it’s more work, more difficult and more technical. Some little glitch in the computer can make it so complicated.”
Still, the sheer magnitude of the Fort Vancouver show makes the extra technical work well worth it, he said.
“It’s a lot of hard work to do it right,” said Bob, who has to deal with a myriad of agencies, including the U.S. Coast Guard, the Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration.
While all the regulations make it more difficult to stage the show, Larson and the Gobets say they appreciate the enhanced safety and the spectacular end result.

KRISTINE WHITE, for The Columbian

Copyright 1999 The Columbian Publishing Co.