Revenge of the Automated Home – OSRAM Lightify

The Family was down at Lowes this weekend because we’re finally getting around to using the spare room upstairs, and by “using the spare room” I mean “remembering it exists and we really should clean it out and paint it and use it for something other than a random item graveyard.” The use in question: crafting room. My daughter is slowly (oh so slowly) getting her feet wet with cosplay and is looking for a permanent place for the sewing machine. My wife has a bunch of random craft things — jewelry making, Cricut paper cutting, et al. — which is ensconced in the basement, but I’m in the basement trying to realize my vision of turning it into a home theater, and last time I looked there was no “crafting nook” at the local cineplex. So the crafting stuff is going upstairs, once the spare room has been cleaned and painted. Hence the trip to Lowes; for paint.

While there, I snuck over to the lightbulb section because its time to come clean: I’m newly obsessed with LED bulbs. Now that they’ve come down in price I can seriously start looking at them. We have two outside the front door, and they burn like the noonday sun. I like it, but I think the neighbors object. Anyway, while ogling the bulbs, I noticed something called the OSRAM Lightify Smart Home RGBW Lighting Strips. 

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We’ve had a problem since we moved into this house: we’re the second owners, and the first owners who had it built cheaped out on pretty much everything. The owner fancied himself a handyman, and he finished the basement himself, added a three season porch on top of the raised porch (without drywalling, adding electrical, or staining the porch first), and started a fourth basement in the basement before they had to beat cheeks and find another home for some reason. Much to our chagrin, the kitchen has some really crappy lighting, especially around the counter area. The best case scenario would be to get some cannister lights installed in the ceiling, but I value my life and wouldn’t dare try such a feat myself, and we’re not financially flush enough to hire someone to do it. Seeing this lighting strip, however, ticked two boxes for me. One, they would work great under the cabinets and over the counter, and two…home automation!

See, back in our previous house, I wired the place up with X10 gear. And I mean wired: I replaced the light switches and power sockets with addressable X10 switches and power sockets, and I ran a server in the basement that I could access remotely (this was before smartphones, so be more impressed). This was great because I could turn the outside lights on if we’d forgotten to do so and weren’t home at night, and could turn the Christmas tree on and off before getting out of or after getting into bed. I felt like a god with the power over electricity in my house, although this was the era of X10 which, if you were alive and Internet-enabled back then, you remember as being some of the first and most prevalent ads ever to rock a popover browser window. The remote control was a square box with a lot of ungainly buttons, but it worked, and after many years without it in this house, I missed it. 

The RGBW lights worked like a champ. They’re nice and bright, and a single strip is long enough to cover one stretch of the counter where we do the most work. There was a problem, though: the set we bought wasn’t enough to use the “home automation” aspect of the toy tool. For that, we needed another piece of gear, the Hub. 

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This afternoon I snagged the hub-and-bulb kit because it was only $10 more than the hub alone, and a single bulb was actually $14. I raced home and plugged the hub into a wall socket — any wall socket — and downloaded the smartphone app to get the party started. 

This would actually turn out to be a party thrown by someone who’d never seen a party. First, the app wanted me to scan the QR code on the back of the hub because that registered the serial number of the device. Then I had to make an account. I got an error, but the account went through. I had to switch my phone’s network to the private network of the hub, and then use my phone as a handshake between the hub and my home network (“hub, this is network, network, this is hub”). This took a few tries because I have a wifi extender that I have apparently forgotten the password for, and then the hub and the network wouldn’t talk once I got the right wifi SSID set up. I called the app some bad names, and it decided to cooperate, so chalk one up for foul language. 

Next, before I could start lighting things up (literally), I had to upgrade the firmware on both the hub and the light strip. The strip itself has a small wifi receiver, but it’s invisible to everything except the official Lightify hub, and the hub said everyone needed some new clothes. Another nightmare involving a phone reboot, more harsh language, and some time spent on the Xbox later, I managed to get everything registered and ready to go. 

Where did this go, exactly, you might ask. Well, the light strip doesn’t have a switch. That’s OK because the point of this system is that it’s entirely modular. They sell switches that you can stick anywhere, so I could get a dedicated switch and put it next to the stove, for example, and control these lights. Right now, though, I can only turn the lights on and off from the smartphone. Not ideal, but not a deal breaker either. Although it’s not really useful for the kitchen, this lighting strip can modulate it’s color through the app. There’re several different built-in lighting schemes I can apply automatically, which got me thinking…but I’ll cover that later. The strip is dimmable, and when I turn it off it doesn’t just snap off; it dims itself to darkness. Pretty sexy! I can also set schedules, so I set the counter light to turn on at 5PM and turn off at 10PM, just in case we need it. It’s a small-watt user, so I don’t anticipate it being a massive energy hog. 

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The bulb ended up in a lamp in the basement, because why not? This also needed a firmware update, but is only dimmable and does not change color, although there are bulbs in this series that do. 

Overall, I give the idea an A+. The construction of the equipment also gets an A+. The software on the smartphone gets a resounding D because it’s a piece of crap. The fact that I got it working at all saved it from an F-. The good news is that these satellite items aren’t proprietary, and there are other “hubs” that I could get that would work just as well, and even better if the apps to control them are better. 

So, thinking about it at work today, I realized that now that I have this hammer of home automation lighting, everything in the house looks like a nail. I have Big Plans to work in the home theater area in the basement, and these strip lights are the perfect low-light, walkway style runner lights you see in more professional theaters. That they dim is a massive plus, as we can “dim the house lights” before the movies start. If I were into overkill, I could get the RGBW bulbs and put them around the house and when we have, say, a Christmas party, I could change things up to red and green and probably destroy retinas as a result. Maybe not such a good idea. But I could!

Extra Life 2016 Recap — For Now

I had originally planned to stream from 8am until 8pm on November 5th, but switched it up at nearly the last minute to end at 6pm. The reason was because I had decided to feature a raffle, where a minimum of a $5 donation would put a person in the running for a $20 Steam Gift Card. I wanted to be regular with this, so every two hours seemed fine by me, meaning that with $100 to give away, every two hours would see me ending the stream at 6PM. Maths!

I started out with Guild Wars 2, because why not? I hadn’t played in quite a while, it’s a beautiful game, and I had Stuff to Do. I ended up getting all the way through the latest Living Story (well, the new story introduced by Heart of Thorns) up until I had to fight Mordremoth the Flower Dragon. I managed to plow through the epic battle but was irrevocably killed about 90% of the way through. In its infinite wisdom, the system sent me back to the start of the fight, which I didn’t have the stomach to restart. I’d been at GW2 for almost the full two hours before the first raffle and needed to move on to something else. 

Originally I’d planned on sticking with Master of Orion, but I also had plans to jump into The Division with friends, so my MOO time didn’t last too long. With the help of others, I was finally able to complete my HQ in The Division. We did some of the daily Underground missions, and then it was off to something else. 

I decided to mix things up by firing up the old Xbox Streaming Service and drove around in Forza Horizon 3 for a while. I like this game for some reason. I didn’t really take to FH2Drive Club or The Crew, but I like FH3 for some reason. I bought a car. I won and lost some races. I expanded my festival. But then it was off to something else else.

believe that something else was The Secret World. I’d been preparing for this one because I had the infamous “The Black House” mission on deck. For some reason, the spoken audio wasn’t working, so I wasn’t able to get all the preamble that would have fleshed out the story. Sadly, the mission wasn’t as horrifying as I’d remembered, with the thought of the terror being more terrifying than the actual terror. I then went off into the forest to tackle the infamous League of Monster Slayers mission but got overwhelmed by the Ak’ab that inhabit those woods.

I gave away four of the five Steam Cards that I had because, well, I only got four people who donated (four people who would put a Steam Card to use, really). My participation rate was really, really low. I’m thankful for those who tuned in, and those who donated; I raised $395 this year, and might continue to ping family members for the remainder of 2016 to help reach my goal of $500.

I had hoped that the raffle would be enticing enough to get people to at least peek in and see what’s going on, but I apparently misjudged my personal reach among gamers. I guess I don’t have the kind of support other folks do for this kind of thing, but it’s of no consequence in this case. $395 is nothing to sneeze at, and I’m thankful for those who participated this year. 

Titanfall 2

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Despite not being a multiplayer shooter aficionado, I really enjoyed Titanfall. It has the mix of infantry and mechs, and even if you’re not good at shooting at other players, you can contribute to the overall score by taking out the NPC enemies. 

Titanfall didn’t seem to really last, though. I know it had a steep incline shortly after launch, and then seemed to nose-dive at least in terms of how much people were talking about it (in my circle, which admittedly isn’t a good bellwether for how multiplayer shooters are doing). I heard there was a lot of cheating and hacking which drove a lot of folks from the game, and when your game is nothing but multiplayer, getting a reputation for being the refuge of pathetic children who need to cheat to feel good about themselves is certainly not going to do your franchise any favors. 

I knew I’d pick up Titanfall 2 (Xbox One) mainly because it now has a single player campaign. You get to play a pilot who has a Titan gifted to him when your mentor dies in combat, turning the game into a kind of weird buddy movie that plays out more like Short Circuit than Lethal Weapon. Your first task is to escape an area infested with…I’m not exactly sure what the relationship is. I think you might be the spacefaring faction, and the enemies might be the local rebels you’re sent to deal with? Your side seems to have it’s act together in terms of rank and appearance, and your enemies tend to be more loose cannons and eclectic in appearance, which is usually video game industry shorthand allowing you to tell friend from foe. But for the intro, you are separated from your Titan and have to rendezvous with it on the other side of the facility you’re stuck in. 

If you’ve played TF1, then you’ll know the drill for the most part. You have two weapons and some grenades. You get a jump-pack that allows you to perform a double-jump. And there’s the wall-running. Wall-running gets my vote for the most overused but stupid mechanic in a video game (long form). Naturally, when a developer believes they have a Good Thing in a mechanic — aka the hammer — they have to use it all the damn time — aka the nail. Sometimes it makes sense, but other times it’s a mechanic that dictates the map layout, and it shows when there’s only one way through an area, and that’s to bounce between several walls like a spastic rubber ball.

Of course, I generally despise platformers, which is what this wall-running crap makes Titanfall in the end, but that’s all forgiven once you get back to the Titan, because there’s really nothing like being all squishy and getting shot at only to round the corner and see your mech waiting to scoop you into its innards. When the doors close and the HUD activates, now it’s time to bring the hammer down on those peons. Hyperbole aside, the squishy game plays out more or less like any FPS (albeit with wall-running), but the addition of the mech combat changes things up here and there. You have shields that collect bullets and fire them back or missiles that lock onto multiple targets like some kind of Iron Man ass-kickery. Fighting another Titan is usually the frosting on the cupcake because it’s more of a duel than just a series of pre-corpses like what you have to deal with in the FPS portion. 

I’ve not ventured into the multiplayer aspect of TF2, and I’m not sure I will. I know other people just jumped into multiplayer after install and are leaving the campaign until later, and that’s probably the way to go because by the time I get around to being ready for multiplayer, either everyone will have left, or everyone will be so good that I won’t even be able to get out the door of the dropship. That’s OK, though, because I’ve got the single player campaign to tide me over, and I’m enjoying it, even if it does stress me out. 

Elite Dangerous: Steerage Edition

Sadly, I haven’t gotten to really work with the latest Elite Dangerous update to the extent I’d like to. I jumped in last night, a day after it was released, and had two whammies working against me. 

The first was that I was trying to set up OBS to stream ahead of Extra Life on November 5th of this year. It’s a Known Issue that the Windows 10 “Anniversary Update” screwed up video, specifically video cameras, because Win 10 now allows for camera sharing between applications at the same time, which apparently screws up the decoding of compressed video. What that that mean? Every app that uses a webcam since…I dunno, the Kennedy Administration…that relied on compressed video for quality purposes is S.O.L. The OBS forums are putting the “blame” on Microsoft (which is a recognized national sport) even though the reason why Microsoft did it is so cameras aren’t unavailable for systems like their Hello facial recognition and Hololens hardware. The issue is that OBS would work for a while, but would then sieze up. Since I have it running on my secondary monnitor, I wouldn’t notice for quite some time, and since I rarely get any viewers, there’s no one there to tell me that things are getting squirrley. 

Anyway, The Magnificent Otterdown of Twitter fame suggested I turn off OBS’ preview window. This is the “feedback monitor” that streamers use to keep an eye on how well OBS is working. After doing that, the stream seemed to be working just fine. I’m assuming that the webcam usage in OBS is fighting with other software that’s also trying to access the camera…It might even be OBS itself: streaming the camera through one input, and displaying it in the monitor through another. By turning one of them off, it frees up the camera to do whatever it needs to do without interruption. 

That’s the answer I’m running with. 

The second whammie I ran into was that I don’t have a ship that can work with the new Passengers update. There were two big additions to the 2.2 patch. The first was passengers. Passengers are a new kind of cargo we can take, but which behaves differently from the usual banannas and textitles we’re asked to cart around. First, you need a passenger cabin, and the quality of the cabin determines the quality of the passengers. Second, passengers have weird requests. Some people want you to go on a sightseeing tour to the hinterlands of the universe. Others want you to stop off and buy them some nachos (not kidding, although they want more appropriate luxuries for the Elite Dangerous universe). Not only do you need to get people to their destination, which may or may not be legal, but you need to keep them happy. If you don’t, you’ll get reduced rewards, and worst case scenario, they’ll take your escape pods and leave your ship like it’s on fire (which it very well might be). 

The thing is, some of the missions pay a shitload of money. One passenger fare was paying out six million credits, but I would have had to move that person many, many lightyears away. I had a time window of several weeks to accomplish this, and that kind of made me sad because I don’t have that kind of time to dedicate to just flying someone out to the elbow of the galaxy, and that lead me to another realization. 

I don’t have a ship that can handle this. The second update was the addition of a fight craft that you can store in your ship and either remotely pilot or hire an NPC to pilot for you. My Type 6 isn’t large enough for either the passenger cab or the fighter hanger, and to get a ship that is, I need a lot more money. Considering I’ve been playing since the game has launched, and I only have almost 3 million, these cool new additions to the game are well out of my reach, and will be for some time. Maybe never. I could get the money if I had a ship that could take a passenger cab and if I had the time to fly them way out there for big paydays, but…I don’t. And I don’t see how I can. Catch 22. 

Once again, the curse of the expansion hits me: great stuff that I’m excited about, but I can’t use any of it because it’s aimed at people who are significantly farther along the progression curve than I’ll ever be. 

When Is A Cultist Not A Cultist?

In the aftermath of the cultist attack in the back alleys of Waterdeep, the party had concerns about the one cultist who got away. He had been shooting fireballs from a balcony, but quickly ducked into the building and was never seen again after that.

The party broke into the building which had housed this enemy and found a dusty old apothecary’s shop. A set of recent footprints lead through the building and out the door, but the only other sign they could find was  discarded purple robe outside the shop.

Searching the bodies of the other cultists revealed something interesting: none of the corpses had anything about them that verified their cult membership. They had the purple robes, but they were of theatrical quality — unadorned, plain, and flimsy. What the party did discover, however, was that each of the bodies was sporting a small, pinky-nail sized tattoo on their neck at the hairline: a series of small and crude daggers.

Unsure of the meaning of the situation, the party convinced (financially convinced) a cart owner to help them bring the corpses back to the council house where their Harper ally Leosin met them and heard their tale. He had the bodies brought to the manor house’s cold storage room for later investigation. A chance meeting with the representative from Silverymoon, Taern Hornblade, validated the party’s concerns that this encounter might not have been random, but it didn’t seem to be cult-related either.

There wasn’t a lot of time to investigate further because the party had a meeting with Brawnanvil to discuss Elia’s request regarding her ancestor. He listened to the party, and although he knew about the dragon-skin armor, he couldn’t deliver it to them: he didn’t know where the owner had gone.

Brawnanvil seemed like a dwarf at the end of his rope. The party’s request didn’t seem to phase him — not like the 1/3 of the treasure horde promised to the dragons — but he was obviously feeling the weight of something. He told the party that Mithril Hall was his main concern and that his responsibilities to his kingdom clashed with his responsibilities as their representative. The Hall’s population was dwindling, which made committing an army to this united cause amounted to suicide for his people. He was torn between his duty to the Council and protecting what remained of his kingdom.

In the end, the party met Brawnanvil half-way. There was no way he would apologize to Elia for the entirety of dwarven history regarding the dragon moots; it was not his place, nor was he particularly sorry about it in any way. But the party’s argument that the dragon’s cooperation meant that maybe Mithril Hall didn’t have to be a front-line force, and that providing to the dragons what was negotiated would be a way to ensure that. Brawnanvil agreed to meet with Elia, in private, to issue a personal apology for what happened to her kin, which was all he was able to do.

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I had prepared more content for this week than we actually got to. I didn’t plan on the players spending as much time trying to track down the cultist as they did, which turned out to be one of those classical DM conundrums: go with the flow, or branch out.

In a fit of confusion, I opted to branch out, which may come back to bite me in the ass later on. Still, I’m pleased that I had a sudden epiphany, even though it came to me as I was trying to avoid giving the players too easy an out later on down the line. Theoretically — and this is meta-gaming talk, Adventure Co members — this thread could lead to an interesting side module if we didn’t have a pesky dragon cult invasion that required the bulk of our attention.

Speaking of which, we narrowly avoided ditching the cult invasion in favor of a trip to the old dwarven city of Gauntlgrym. See, Brawnanvil knew of the dwarf who killed Elia’s kin, but he knows him because he left Mithril Hall with Bruenor, the fabled not-quite-so-dead-anymore king who took an expedition to the abandoned city long, long ago. If there wasn’t more pressing content to get through, the party could have easily gone on another side mission to see if they couldn’t find this guy. The problem is Gauntlgrym isn’t just a dwarven city; it’s the D&D equivalent to the Mines of Moria, and also a gateway to the Underdark — and all that entails. A trip down there would be a whole campaign in itself, and while there’s a certain level of excitement about that, now is not the time.

Still, I think we got a lot done. There was a lot of discovery, and everyone seemed really focused on the tasks at hand.