Coming Soon…Learning Home Automation

We are in the process of learning how to integrate the different IoT and home automation tools available to businesses and consumers. Couple of false starts and a number of success stories to tell you about.

Be sure to check back in early 2022 to begin reading our series of how to get started and become successful with your home automation.

Suggestion on Ubiquiti UniFi Controller Versions – July 2018

We use the Ubiquiti UniFi Controller (now in version 5.8.24 stable candidate release) to run our networks. Our best practice suggestion is to have 2 virtual machines – a production and a development role which alternate after each release – and then use a DNS service such as DYN for assigning the active machine to be the controller.

Of course, Ubiquiti always recommends a backup before versioning up and this is wise advice.  However my experience is that sometimes you don’t recognize what is going wrong until you are into the new build for a couple of days.  So we have worked our way around that problem by creating two (2) virtual Windows environments at Amazon EC2 space.  The method we followed was to create 2 equal environments – Windows, Java, UniFi controller 5.7.23 running identical management sets of data; and then we updated one of the machines to 5.8.24; after the update and testing the machine we updated the DYN software to point to the updated UniFi controller.  The DNS update by DYN is not instantaneous so we left the 5.7.23 machine running for 48 hours before turning off the controller and the virtual machine.  We took a baseline backup of both 5.7.23 and 5.8.24 machines post upgrade.

The development machine (now the 5.7.23) will remain off while we test the production (now the 5.8.24) machine.  Assuming everything goes as planned the next stop for the 5.7.23 machine will be an upgrade to the next stable candidate release after 5.8.24; and then the present 5.8.24 machine will become the development machine.

By spinning up the 2nd virtual machine we have made rollbacks of stable release candidates possible by simply changing the DNS information.

Contact us for more information or search YouTube for useful information from my internet heroes – Crosstalk Solutions and Willie Howe (H2)

P.S. Be sure to use complicated and lengthy passwords.  My personal advice use a password generator to generate both your username and your password.  And go for the complicated passwords 15+ characters of alphanumeric and special characters.  And always use two factor authentication if it is offered.

Telephone Number Lookup

I recently needed to run a reverse lookup on a couple of telephone numbers.  This used to be very difficult in the old days (read this as before the Internet and even last year.)  I researched online and tried a couple of sites.  The best one I have found – and joined – is powered by SafeCaller.com.  I signed up at http://www.okcaller.com.

About the only negative comment I can make about the website is that they don’t use https:// to transport the information.

 

Upgrading to Windows 10 – A Smooth Experience

For the past couple of months Microsoft has been urging me to upgrade my various PCs, tablets and workstations to Windows 10.  I finally relented and made the upgrade on a couple of tablets, virtual machines and a workstation.  All of the installations were completed using Cox highspeed internet (150 mbps) from the Cloud.

For the most part the installations went hitchless.

Here is the very brief list of issues that I found:

  1. The Displaylink driver on Windows 8.1 needed to be upgraded to support Windows 10 on 2 tablets.  We use this software to drive our Pluggable multi-screen displays.
  2. On a workstation we needed to upgrade an Intel Rapid Storage Technology application to a new version.  This is used to create RAIDs.
  3. We needed to upgrade Siber Systems RoboForms to the latest version.  However this upgrade failed to create a menu in Microsoft Edge the new browser.  We’re still working on a fix for this issue.
  4. Our old version of TeamViewer 9 is still running (used for personal not business purposes).  Although a weird (<–>) error appeared on the home screen, this was resolved by disabling that feature.  We need to update to v11 which will happen in 2016.
  5. Stardock Start8 kept popping up errors.  So we uninstalled this software.  We’re going to try going without by using the Windows 10 startmenu.  I’ll update you in the future if we decide to go back to Stardock.
  6. On one of the Windows 8.1 tablets the upgrade only put on Windows 10 Home.  We needed to pay $99 to upgrade to Windows 10 Pro.  Other than the expense this was easy and completed entirely through the cloud.
  7. On a Windows 10 Pro Workstation two older NVidia GeForce 9800GT cards are having driver issues at random times usually related to video playback on certain news and video websites. (New issue c. 1/2016 – Core i7 930@2.8GHz 24GB 64 bit)

I am very pleased with the upgrade of our Windows 8.1 Pro to Windows 10 Pro.  We use this on a 64 bit workstation which also has Hyper V Manager installed.  The upgrade went seamless and no changes to Hyper V were necessary.  This particular upgrade has me most concerned because we have virtual machines which control Ubiquiti WiFi authentication and running the BlueIris video software.  Other than the very brief downtime for the Windows 10 upgrade we had zero downtime on these machines.  We even updated the virtual machines to Windows 10.

On a personal security note, if you have not installed two-step verification onto your Microsoft Account yet, now is as good as time as any.  I am an Android user and I found that you can setup for both the Google Authenticator Account (by choosing ‘other’) and a Microsoft Account app (by choosing ‘android’).  This will help to prevent unauthorized third parties from accessing your Microsoft account which often contains passwords, alternate contact information and credit card information.  It takes just a couple of minutes and provide invaluable protection.  We use similar protection for our Google accounts.

The only feature that I haven’t found in Microsoft Windows 10 or Office 365 that I would really like to have is support for the FIDO U2F.  I have been told that it is in there but I haven’t figured out how to activate that yet.

Adding Skype SIP Line to Polycom VVX410

Recently a client asked about adding a Skype SIP line into their existing Polycom VVX410 VOIP telephone.  The client already uses OnSip as their virtual PBX.  They wanted to add Skype capabilities to their conference room.

I found no documentation at Polycom or on Google searches.  So for future reference here is how I added Skype to a Polycom VVX410 phone without needing a Lync server.

Steps

(assumes you have http access to phone and know the admin password and that you have already used Skype Manager to setup SIP account):

1) Access the phones web interface by going to https://myip

2) Select the Setting/Lines then select the Line that you want to add the Skype SIP address to and be certain to select a Line that is not already in use.  If you are using OnSip it can show you what lines are available…beware because it will not be able to see custom line configurations you make from this point forward.

151009 skype1

3) In Identification Enter the Display Name

4) In Address enter the Skype Connect SIP ID + “@sip.skype.com”

5) In Label enter “Skype” (or whatever you want displayed on the phone’s display)

151009 skype 2

6) In Authentication Enter the Domain sip.skype.com

7) Enter User ID which is the Skype Connect SIP ID #

8) Enter the Skype Password

151009 skype 3

9) In Outbound Proxy Address sip.skype.com

10) Port 5060

11) Transport UDPOnly

151009 skype 4

12) Server 1 Address sip.skype.com

13) Port 5060

14) ‘Save’ on Phone

 

This should work for outbound SIP calls.  Inbound SIP calls are received by giving out address of skpesipID#@sip.skype.com or by using a Skype account (must be managed from within Skype Manager).

 

For use with OnSip we created an External SIP Address and assigned an extension number.  Internal callers and callers using the AutoAttendant can now access this line.

 

The Skype helpline was frustrating with respect to adding forwarding information from a Skype address to Skype SIP.  Here is what you do in Skype Manager (https://manager.skype.com):

1) Create a new Account in the Create Account area

2) Once it is created log into Skype and set it up to receive call from Anyone

3) Back in the Manager select Features / Skype Connect

4) Select Incoming Line and Add A Managed Account using the name of the newly created Account

Now whoever is on Skype placing a call to that account will be forwarded to your Skype SIP account.

About the only function it appears that a Skype SIP line is incapable of performing is outbounding a call to a Skype Account.

 

Foscam – Windows has blocked this software because it can’t verify the publisher.

Anyone who has purchased a Foscam camera in the past couple of years has undoubtedly experienced the Windows Internet Explorer Add-on Installer Security Warning.  Here are the exact steps to get around it on Windows 8.  This blog entry will teach you how to manually expand the FSIPCam.cab file so you can manually install the .ocx file you need to operate the Foscam camera.

Windows has blocked this software because it can't verify the publisher.
Windows has blocked this software because it can’t verify the publisher.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First you need to download the .cab file to your local drive (c:\temp or c:\windows\temp).  I then created a directory/folder c:\windows\fsipcam\ to store the expanded files.  Here is how you download, type this URL ( http://IP_address/FSIPCam.cab ) into your IE URL textbox.  You will prompted by IE about what to do about the file.  You should select “Save as” and save the file to c:\windows\temp (if you can’t save there because of restrictions save to “Downloads” and then manually move to c:\windows\temp after the file downloads.)

Open up a CMD window as an Administrator.

In the CMD window you need to expand the .cab file you just downloaded so change directory (CD c:\windows\temp) and enter this command expand fsipcam.cab c:\windows\fsipcam\ -f:* (this sets the expand command to take the .cab file and extract its entire contents to the target directory \fsipcam).

Staying in the CMD window you should now change directory to \fsipcam (cd c:\windows\fsipcam).  Now is the time to register the .ocx (directx) file that you expanded from the .cab file.  Type in regsvr32 ocxipcam.ocx and hit enter.  Nothing will appear to happen.  Don’t worry it is now installed.

Go back to your browser and go to http://IP_Address:88/ and the ActiveX blocking window will be slightly different…it now displays the camera company manufacturer name.  Accept whatever prompts are required, enter your username and password and you should be able to see the entire interface.

Any more problems are issues, feel free to submit them on our Contact page at http://www.americanspecialprojects.com.  If you use the chrome browser try our SIP telephone contact number.

 

 

 

reg server
Register The OCX File

new warning which means success
Success!!! This new warning screen means that you have successfully registered the FOSCAM DirectX / OCX file.

 

expand fsipcam
Expand the FSIPCam.cab file

 

Be sure to select "Save as" and save to c:\windows\temp
Be sure to select “Save as” and save to c:\windows\temp

see the URL as "Program Location"
Do you want to allow the following program from an unknown publisher to make changes to this computer?

Which Vacation Rental Service is Best? A Comparison of HomeAway, AirBnB and FlipKey

One of our clients, a property management company, recently ventured into the vacation rental market.  Based on our work with another client and personal experience we made recommendations on various vacation rental services they should use.  When I travel, I prefer to stay in a vacation rental versus a hotel for longer stays or when traveling with my spouse.  My experiences certainly played a role in helping to recommend which services to use.  While there are other services to choose from the three we use and recommend are HomeAway™, AirBnB™ and FlipKey™.

We developed a scoring rubric with 23 dimensions based on an 85 point scoring system (“our recommendations”.)  Certain dimension’s scores were weighted heavier than others; and the score assigned to the service when the score exceeded 1 point are subjectively assigned.  A secondary performance rubric (“success test”) was created using the original 23 dimensions plus a 24th dimension that measured the actual success in vacation rental bookings.

My personal observation and preference for a service is HomeAway™ because they have really good customer service, deposit money into the owner’s bank account when it is received, and has a mature dashboard.  Getting the money when the tenant pays is a huge plus for me.

My original thought was that AirBnB would be the third place because I had personally had a very negative experience with them in Templeton, California last year.  However the only major detractor for this service is that it does not include the correct taxes in the rental fee.  My client was able to overcome the tax problem by including tax in the nightly rate.  Including tax in the nightly rental creates an in-balance because sometimes competitive property owners do not include taxes in their rates and AirBnB deducts a service fee from the included tax.  AirBnB could win first place if they fixed the taxation issue, deposited funds when they are received and had an easier to configure pricing system.  If “Bookings” was the only measure, then AirBnb was the clear winner.  AirBnB was responsible for majority of bookings on our client’s property (62%.)

I found the HomeAway customer service to be the most responsive.  AirBnB ran a close second place, although their stubbornness with regards to the taxes is most disappointing.  And FlipKey just took too long to respond.  In some fairness to FlipKey, they made significant changes to their dashboard and had other technical glitches during the testing period which might have caused excessive wait times in the customer service queue.

FlipKey (which is a Tripadvisor™ company) does a huge marketing campaign and is very well positioned for search engine optimization.  All you need to do to find a property in Phoenix, Arizona is type “tripadvisor phoenix az” into the Google™ search engine.

Comments on Subjective Criteria

Service Fee to the Guest – We ranked HomeAway the highest (4 points) because there is no service fee charged to the tenant.  Both AirBnB and FlipKey charge a service fee, but AirBnB’s is considerably less than FlipKey’s so we gave a higher score to AirBnB.

Merchant Charge – All of the services charge something to the owners for the merchant fee.  HomeAway charged the highest rate so their score was lower.

Tax Included / Correct – HomeAway properly computed taxes and itemized it correctly on the quotes and invoices.  FlipKey included taxes but incorrectly did not compute taxes on taxable fees (e.g. cleaning).  AirBnB scored zero because they do not include taxes and receive a booking fee on nightly rentals which include taxes.

Picture Count – HomeAway limits the pictures displayed to 24 which earned it the lowest score.  I would have scored them a “5” but bumped them to “7” because they have an easy to use picture management system.  AirBnB and FlipKey seem to have an unlimited number of pictures.

Review System by Guest – AirBnB’s approach as a social scoring and reviewing system is unique and easy to use.  This earned it the highest score in this category.  Also, AirBnB is the only service that allows the owner to rate the tenant, so I scored them the highest in that category.

Easy to Use Rates – FlipKey’ rate system was the most intuitive and easiest to setup.  AirBnB offered too much flexibility and HomeAway did not offer enough.

Services use of SEO – FlipKey was the hands down winner of SEO and TV advertising.

Customer Base – AirBnB’s customer base is huge, so I turned the volume up to “11” for this rating.

Background on the Services

HomeAway (AWAY NASDAQ) was founded in 2005.  It has more than 1 million properties listed in its system.  It is headquartered in Austin, Texas.  HomeAway™ is a trademark of HomeAway.com, Inc.

AirBnB (private) was founded in 2008.  It has more than 800,000 properties listed in its system.  It is headquartered in San Francisco, California. AirBnB™ is a trademark of Airbnb, Inc.

FlipKey (a TripAdvisor company, TRIP NASDAQ) was founded in 2007.  It has 300,000 properties listed in its system.  It is in Boston, Massachusetts. FlipKey™ is a trademark of FlipKey Inc.

Conclusion

In our recommendations and in the success test HomeAway™ was the clear winner because of its many features that makes it better suited for commercial vacation rental ownership.  FlipKey™ and AirBnB™ tied for second place on the recommendation rubric.  Despite FlipKey’s slick features and huge marketing budget it failed to beat out AirBnB on the “success test” rubric.  AirBnB on sheer customer numbers and booking strength bested FlipKey to pull in second place in the performance rubric.

Our ranking overall is 1st HomeAway, 2nd AirBnB and 3rd FlipKey.

We have not been asked to provide commentary on these services by their respective owners so we have no conflict of interest with this blog.

Rubric
Comparison of HomeAway, airbnb and FlipKey

Router Adware Malicious Hack causes Appimart Codec Nightmare

Recently my Chrome and Internet Explorer applications have been making unprompted requests to update the codecs (related to a website called appimart) and my tablet based internet monitoring tool was blocking additional request for information. I use several adware detection tools and very aggressive anti-virus and firewall protection.

It was stumping me where this problem could be originating from within my tablet PC.  I even went to two extremes with first restoring my PC to an earlier date and then when that failed refreshing the entire tablet to factory specifications.  Nothing worked!

Then it occured to me that I was only having the problem with one of my wireless routers — Linksys e2500.  I discovered that the DNS servers for the connection to the ISP (Time Warner Cable) had been changed and that the internal DHCP DNS was changed also.  So I released and renewed the Time Warner connection and then changed the DNS settings on the DHCP.  Rebooted the router.  The settings remained correct.

Problem resolved.

This looks to be a Linksys issue.  As it turns out I have been planning to upgrade to a SonicWall for the past couple of months.  Looks like I have a reason to do that now.

Private Email Services Division Re-Launches Service

PORTLAND, ME – MAY 1, 2014 – Madison Connections officially announced the re-launch of its popular electronic mail services.  The re-launch includes several new trademarks, service marks and are protected by pending patents.  The electronic email service will operate under the Private Email Services division of the corporation.  The initial electronic mail portals are aimed at consumer markets using the brands of SecureMail.XXX™, Forgetnic™ and MILfamily™.  Additional trademarks that the company will develop for brand recognition and distinction include: auto-destructing electronic message™, auto-destructing electronic messaging™, Disguised Notifications™, Ditty Domains™, We Can Keep A Secret™ and Like You Never Sent It™.

The services are all pay services with charges ranging from $72 to $96 per year.  The fee currently includes two accounts for the price of one which should make it easier to begin messaging.  In addition, the company provides service extensions to customers that refer friends.  One of the planned promotions will offer one free year of service when 5 referrals are completed.  Special rates are available for member of the military, veterans and their families.

Marketing information for the Forgetnic service can be found at http://www.forgetnic.com.  Additional information can be found in the corporate blog at http://www.asproj.com/wordpress.

The service is currently in alpha testing and will begin beta testing Summer 2014.  Official product launch is scheduled for September 2014.