Monday, January 8, 2018

Wiring the ecobee3 AUX+ and AUX- inputs

Note: this post has nothing to do with the dreaded "C-wire" that is required to run an ecobee.  If you're looking for that, go elsewhere.

One of the more frustrating items for a heating/cooling system is the sheer number of possible ways to set it up.  Sure, there are "standard" ways, but there are also always other ways.

My previous post on a missing G (fan) wire was not my only issue; in fact, it wasn't even the hardest issue.  The actual problem I had - the one I called ecobee about - was that my humidifier wasn't working.

For anyone who may not know, a whole-home furnace-mounteded humidifier is de rigueur  in Canada and the northern parts of the USA.  The cheapest and most common kind is the "evaporative" kind which uses hot furnace air to work - hence, it only runs when the furnace runs.

There are undoubtedly many ways to wire such a system, most of which the ecobee3 will support.  But it sure helps to know what the ecobee3 does.

ecobee3 supports two types: a "one-wire" accessory, and a "two-wire" accessory.  According to ecobee support, the thermostat works thusly:

-  In "one wire" mode, the thermostat supplies +24V to ACC+.

-  In "two wire" mode, the thermostat presents a dry contact across ACC+ and ACC-.

If you put this information together with how your system is currently wired, I bet you can figure out of how to wire and configure the ecobee to run your humidifier (or other accessory). 

If, on the other hand, you don't know what a "dry contact" is, this job is likely not for you.  Best get a pro to help.

Wiring an ecobee3 without the G wire (G-wire, fan wire)

Note: this post has nothing to do with the dreaded "C-wire" that is required to run an ecobee.  If you're looking for that, go elsewhere.

One of the more frustrating items for a heating/cooling system is the sheer number of possible ways to set it up.  Sure, there are "standard" ways, but there are also always other ways.

We had a new furnace installed not long ago.  However, there were not enough wires run to the thermostat to support the additional A/C system.  The cable had only enough wires for heat-only operation.

To make it work, the installers should have run a new cable, but they didn't.  Instead, they disconnected the G (fan) wire, and used it for Y (cold call) instead.  This led to an atypical installation that lacked a G (fan) wire at the thermostat.

Note it still worked.  The thermostat sent the W (heat) and Y (cold) signals, and the furnace controlled its own fan.  No worries, thanks to them thar new-fangled furnace, y'all.

However, when I installed the ecobee3, it said "To use the Y1 wire you must install the G wire".  Since I didn't have one, that was a bit of a poser.

When I described this to to ecobee tech support, they could not wrap their head around the idea that the furnace controlled its own fan.  They actually told me to rewire the entire furnace to include a G wire, otherwise they wouldn't help. 

Note I said "wouldn't" there.  I don't know if they could have because - basically - they just gave up.  The tech support rep said - and I quote - "I have been instructed not to proceed further."

Now, I don't particularly blame ecobee for this, owing to the problems noted at the top, but the workaround is actually built into the ecobee.  There was no reason to tell me to go hang; it was rather disappointing and reflected a lack of understanding of their own product.

Fortunately, in the first 5 minutes of being on hold, I figured it out for myself.  The actual correct workaround is as follows:

-  Run the ecobee setup.
-  Tap "Configure" to set wiring manually.
-  Tap "G" to tell the ecobee the G wire is connected (though it is not).
-  Later on, it will ask if the fan is to be controlled by the ecobee or the HVAC equipment.  Select HVAC.

That's it, it should work as it did before.

Now, OBVIOUSLY, you do not have manual control over the furnace fan at the thermostat with this setup.  But I didn't have that before, did I?  So no change there.

Also, I would not recommend anyone switching existing wires around to get a C wire (or any other wire) by sacrificing the G wire.  My furnace works this was because it was originally set up and configured to operate in the absence of a thermostat fan wire.  A furnace that has been set up otherwise, only to have the fan wire removed, is highly unlikely to function correctly afterwards.

This workaround applies to furnaces that have a manual fan switch installed somewhere else.  This is sometimes called the "summer fan" configuration, and often involves putting a manual switch on the furnace to provide for fan control that is independent of the thermostat.  Not a "normal" situation - unless your installer was too lazy to run new wiring when you got your additional cooling/heating unit(s) installed.

So, if you're unlucky enough to be missing a G wire at your thermostat, you can still make the ecobee3 work.  Hope this saves someone a few hours of their life.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Vizio M70-E3 will not work with HDMI adapters

This is only a problem, as I have no solution.

I tried to set up my new Vizio M70-E3 display (circa Dec 2017) to accept HDMI audio/video from two Acer Veriton N4640g mini-PCs.  These PCs are quite capable and run Windows 7, which I prefer.  They are also small and almost silent, and so good media PCs.

The Veriton is VGA only.  I figured that I could use a VGA-to-HDMI adapter to convert the signal.  However, the adapters I tried did not work.

(For anyone reading who is unfamiliar with Vizio TVs, they have no discrete audio inputs.  If they had, I would have bypassed the HDMI video first thing.  But this is not possible.)

The first was the Cable Matters VGA-to-HDMI Converter with USB Audio.  The video on this worked perfectly but there was no audio.  The drivers were fine and Windows showed the USB audio device playing, but the TV did not play the audio.  I tried several ports, several HDMI cables, and two separate identical converters without success.

Figuring there was an issue with the USB audio, I next tried the Bytecc VGA-to-HDMI with 3.5mm audio.  The 3.5mm jack on the PC worked, but the TV again refused to play audio.

Finally, I  tried the Vantec USB 3.0 to HDMI 4k converter.  I didn't have much hope, but the audio worked perfectly (surprisingly).  However, the video playback was ever-so-slightly laggy, making it unsuitable even with locally stored 1080p video files.  I don't know if the issue was with the Core i5, the Veriton USB, or USB 3.0 performance in general, but it didn't make it.

In the unlikely event that anyone other than me wants to try this, be aware that the Vizio M70-E3 does not like the audio signal produced by x-to-HDMI converters.  Be sure you test the configuration beforehand.

Also, as a note, anyone looking for a "media PC" might want to look at a laptop/notebook instead.  They are frequently cheaper than a "media" or "mini PC" when on sale, are just as quiet/power-efficient, have better specs, will fit most media centers (when folded closed) and are (in my experience) much easier to set up owing to the built-in screens and keyboards.  I snagged a couple of new Win 7 laptops on sale to fix my issues and they worked very well.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Repairing the Snuggles My Dream Puppy

Problem:  Snuggles either stops working or begins barking incessantly.  This is apparently a very common issue, and also one that most parents dread - a broken toy on Christmas morning.

Cause:  Snuggles has a loose battery connection, somewhere.  This is causing the puppy to either not work, or reboot over and over.  The constant rebooting is the cause of the incessant barking - it is replaying the startup bark over and over.


1.  Try removing the gaskets in the battery holders.  They look like this:

These are normally separate parts and are not glued into place or anything.  Just pull them out with your fingernail.

The gaskets really don't have any function in Snuggles.  They theoretically seal the batteries against water, but this should not make any difference since Snuggles is not a water toy.

Once this is done, reinstall the paws (battery covers) as normal.  They should be able to press down on the batteries more effectively and will (hopefully) solve the connection issue.

2.  There is a video on the subject that shows how some Snuggles - likely earlier ones, though that is just conjecture on my part - have a loose cap on the battery compartment in the left-hand leg.  Repairing the cap requires removing the battery holder from the leg, which takes a bit of doing.

I removed mine and found that the battery holder was already fully glued, with no possibility of disassembling and regluing it.  So that did not work for me.  I did not try the right leg because I felt that it was unlikely that one leg was glued properly and the other not.

One way you (should) be able to tell if the video will work out is if Snuggles starts to behave when you push the battery holder together with your fingers.  If so, the internal endcap is likely loose and can / should be fixed.  If not, that is not likely to be the problem, and you might want to look for another solution before removing the compartment from the leg.

For what it's worth, removing the compartment from the leg is not too hard and is easy to reverse, so you're not risking much by trying it.  But it may be unnecessary since it takes only 10 seconds to remove the battery holder gaskets.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

How to downgrade Firefox 57 Quantum to Firefox 56

God damn you, Mozilla.  You DO NOT do a major, massive update to people's web browsers without any warning in the middle of the work week!  This is Change Management 101, go buy a bloody book on the subject!

And don't you go telling me that it's in the media/news/whatever.  If you are going to screw with people's machines this way, you tell the up front and DURING THE INSTALLATION PROCESS that big changes are coming.  You DON'T spring it on them as just another update.

Anyway, if you are still reading this, possibly you are like me and not too enthused with Quantum breaking all your extensions, add-ons or whatever.  You could waste ages trying to figure out if Quantum supports everything, plus dicking with the UI.  Or you could roll back.

Fortunately, rolling back is indeed simple: all you have to do is close Firefox and re-run the Firefox 56.0.2 installer again.  Yes, it really is that easy.

More detailed instructions, including what to do if the process goes awry, can be found here at SuperUser.  But that's really it.


-  You need a copy of the Firefox 56.0.2 installer.  Mozilla makes this harder to find than it should be, so I don't have a link handy.  It's out there.

-  You should back up your profile directory before downgrading.  This is as simple as copying %APPDATA%\Mozilla\Firefox\Profiles\ to another location for safekeeping.

In my case, everything was perfectly preserved after the downgrade except for the theme (which I had changed in Quantum) and a new spacer in my toolbar setup, both of which were trivial to fix.  Good luck.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Tassimo machine runs cleaning or add water cycles instead of descaling cycle

Problem:  Tassimo machine runs the wrong cycle with the cleaning disc in.  Usually, the problem is it will not run the descaling program no matter how long the brew button is pressed.

For example:
-  It runs a regular cleaning cycle instead of a descale cycle; or
-  It runs an "add water" cycle instead of a descale cycle; or
-  It runs an "add water" cycle instead of a cleaning cycle.

You can sometimes tell that this is what the machine "wants" to do because the wrong icons light up when you put in the cleaning disc.  For example, the "add water" icon may light up, which is not supposed to occur with the cleaning disc in place.

Solution:  It's probably reading the wrong barcode off of the cleaning disc.  Mostly this occurs because the window that lets the machine "see" the barcode is dirty.

To fix, lift up the disc holder and clean the little rectangular window underneath, then re-insert.  The machine should then be able to properly identify the cleaning disc and everything will work as it should.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Stopping machines from connecting to the internet when the VPN goes down on DD-WRT

VPNs are good but their connections are rarely perfect. 

Usually, when they disconnect, your router fails over back to using the unencrypted WAN connection.  This is convenient but leaves your network connection exposed, which rather defeats the purposes.  Likely little point in being protected only 99% of the time, right?

Worse, you don't even know if the VPN is off.  Everything just blithely continues on as usual.  You'll only know if you manually check.  Which is stupid.

If you're like me, there are some devices on the network where you don't really care if they keep working or not.  Perhaps there are some where you actually want them to keep working, even if the VPN stops (Netflix?).  And there are probably a couple where you want them to stop working the second the VPN goes down.

If you search you will find lots of VPN monitoring programs that purport to kill programs upon VPN disconnect.  However, not one of these will work if you've set up your VPN in your router, because they can't see the VPN at all.  All those programs can see is your router, so they cannot tell if the router has lost the VPN connection, so they cannot work as advertised. 

So, those of us who have the VPN in the router have to implement the kill switch in the router.  Fortunately, OpenVPN on DD-WRT can do this.

To prevent a machine from accessing the net when the VPN is not working:

-  Make sure the device you want to block has a static IP address
-  Go to DD-WRT home page
-  Go to Administration
-  Go to Commands
-  Paste the following command in to the "Commands" box:

iptables -I FORWARD -s <ip-address> -o $(nvram get wan_iface) -j DROP 

-  Replace <ip-address> with the static IP of the device you want to STOP working if the VPN dies.
-  Click "Save Firewall"

To delete this rule later, click the "Edit" button (which will show up after the save), delete the command and click "Save Firewall" again.

To test, go to Services/VPN and disable the OpenVPN client, then click Save and Apply Settings, in that order.  The blocked machine should lose all internet access (but not local LAN access).  Re-enable the VPN to get it back, and you're all set.

I imagine the IP address might also be a subnet range, which would make it capable of blocking a whole range of devices.  I haven't tried it.