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Wired Smoke Alarms — Yep, they expire.

Wired Smoke Alarms — Yep, they expire.

??? ??????For those of us with a fairly new home, wired smoke alarms are the norm.  A wired alarm acts in a similar fashion to battery smoke alarms.  The big difference between the two is the fact that they get power from an AC source (like your main power feed/breaker box) and they have a shared wired connection to all alarms that allow them to communicate to each other.  This shared connection  allows a single alarm to signal the rest of the devices to alarm as well.  From a safety perspective, this whole-house notification is a great safety feature.

Most wired alarms also have a 9V battery backup in case of loss of power.  In all cases, the traditional low battery “chirp” that all alarms feature will take place at 2 AM, like mine did last week.

I removed the alarm, removed the battery and went back to sleep.  The next morning, during my attempt to replace the battery in the alarm, I read the fine print on the back of the device.

Manufactured 10/2001, Expires 10/2011.

That’s right, my alarms have been expired for over 2 years!  To be honest, I didn’t even know smoke alarms did expire, only that the batteries needed to be replaced.  So, I began the research on suitable replacements.

My current alarms were the Kidde Model 1275.  These were basic alarms, with ionization sensors and a rear battery door.  There are two types of sensors in smoke alarms, ionization sensors and photoelectric sensors.  I’m not going to dig into the pros and cons of each sensor, the Underwriters Laboratories have done that for me.  Read until your heart is content.  I wanted to purchase a Kidde unit again, because they would share the same wiring harness with my old devices.

Fire-Hands-Screensaver_1After much research and two calls to Kidde Customer Service with questions, I decided on the Kidde KN-COSM-IB Hardwire Combination Carbon Monoxide and Smoke Alarm with Battery Backup and Voice Warning as well the Kidde i12080 Hardwire Smoke Alarm with Exit Light and Battery Backup.  Here is why:

  • Carbon Monoxide is the leading cause of accidental poisoning deaths in North America.  It is odorless, tasteless and invisible – it’s a silent killer. The only safe way to know if carbon monoxide is present is to install carbon monoxide detectors on every level of your home and in sleeping areas.  The Kidde KN-COSM-IB Hardwire Combination Carbon Monoxide and Smoke Alarm with Battery Backup is a great solution for this problem.
  • Kidde recommended that I do not install a CO alarm in the room where my heater is installed, which in my home is the finished basement.  This is because there is some amount of CO during the combustion process for the home’s heater.  Not enough to kill you, but enough for the alarm to sound.  So, a normal smoke alarm should be installed in these locations where CO is expected. The Kidde i12080 Hardwire Smoke Alarm with Exit Light and Battery Backup was my choice.

These alarms and not expensive and the upgrade to CO detection is worth the extra cash.  For under $200, I was able to replace all the smoke detectors in my home.  I noticed the Amazon delivery took place today, so I think I know what my weekend is going to look like!

Deckkeeper Tie Downs

Deckkeeper Tie Downs

My deck is raised off the ground by about 4 feet and there is an above ground pool built into the deck.  Every spring and every fall, I struggle to close the pool. The big headache is securing a tarp to cover the pool.

When I had pressure treated decking, I would just screw some hooks into the decking and use some bungee cords to secure the tarp.  I recently replaced the pressure treated boards with composite decking. There is no way I’m going to drill holes into my beautiful boards!

So, I’ve struggled with securing the tarp.  I attached bungies to the railing, I secured it through the boards under the deck, you name it.  All of these solutions took time, effort and were simply not easy.  I had to find a better way!

I heard about these DeckKeeper Tie Down devices from Ask This Old House a few years ago.  They slip between the boards, include bungee cords to attachment and protect the surface of the deck.   I bought them from Amazon and closed the pool this fall using them.  What a difference!  I secured the tarp in the a few minutes, I didn’t have to crawl under the deck.  At only $20 for 4, not a bad deal.

Link to the Peppermill Home — The Manufacturer

 

photo 4 photo 3 photo 2 photo 1

Product Review — Logitech Harmony Touch

Product Review — Logitech Harmony Touch

I’m a big fan of the Logitech Harmony product line.  Before purchasing the Touch, I already own the Harmony One Advanced Remote and the Harmony 620 Advanced Remote.

My Harmony 620 has been struggling lately.  The LCD screen completely died and the button have not been as responsive as they used to be.  So, I jumped on the Logitech web site to see what they had to offer.

The Harmony Touch was released on October 1, 2013 — just 10 days before my search.  But, at $250, it was a pricey clicker to say the least.  I thought about getting the Harmony One remote but at $200, it wasn’t much of a downgrade in price.  So, off to Newegg I went and bought a new Touch.

When the box arrived, it’s a behemoth.  You can see the packaging stealsa lot of queues from Apple’s.  The boxes are thick and sturdy. The directions are quick and to the point and the device is presented in a very simple plastic cradle.

I plugged the charging base into the wall (yay!  no more batteries) and let the remote charge overnight.  The next evening, I went to MyHarmony.com, installed the necessary software and plugged the remote into my laptop.

As a prior owner of Harmony remotes, I knew what to expect.  This was my first time using MyHarmony.com.  My previous two remotes used the thick Harmony software that installed on my laptop.  Both the MyHarmony site and the Harmony software are pretty straightforward   My biggest complaint with the software is that you could not use multiple remotes under a single login.  So, since I had two remotes, I had to remember two logins.  With the MyHarmony this limitation is removed.

Setting up my devices in MyHarmony is really easy.  You enter in the brand name and the model number of every device in use.  After the site knows all the devices that are in use, you setup all the Activities.  I have a fairly limited number of devices but they do some fairly complicated things.

Here is my hardware:

  • TV
  • Receiver
  • Cable Box
  • Remote Camera Receiver (we have a camera installed in my sons room so we can watch him)

Here are my activities:

  • Watch TV (TV, Receiver, Cable Box)
  • Listen to Music (TV, Receiver)
  • Watch my Son (TV, Receiver, Remote Camera)

MyHarmony goes through a very brief question and answer session for each activity and programs the remote for the activities   The Watching Music and Watching my Son activities presented some minor problems for the software as the settings to bring these actions to live are not default standard   But, since I have some known experience with my other two Harmony remotes, I was quickly able to customize my remote to do exactly what I want and programmed it without issues.

I’ve now been using the remote for about a week and there are things about it that I like and things that I don’t.

Things I like:

  • Size/Weight/Materials
    • My favorite part of my Harmony remotes is the design.  They have a dog-bone shape to them where your hands fits perfectly inside the thin part of the remote.  Your thumbs, for the most part, can reach all the import buttons with ease.  The Harmony Touch is similarly shaped to my previous remotes, with one big improvement.  It has a slightly grip material where your hand sits that really feels nice.
  • Touch Screen
    • The touch screen with the icons is very similar your SmartPhone screen.  It’s fast, responsive and very slick.  The Favorite icons you can setup make it very easy to jump from channel to channel.  This has shown to be a great benefit to my 3 year old son.  He knows what the channel icon is for Disney Junior and he just clicks and it’s on.  No numbers, no guide.
  • DVR Button
    • Finally, a DVR button.  Both other remotes did not have this and I was always too lazy to program one.  So, I ended up just clicking menu, and finding the DVR selection under there.

Things I don’t like:

  • Touch Screen Location
    • Yes, I said I liked the touch screen and I do.  The problem is the location.  It’s smack in the middle of the remote.  So, the common buttons like channels, volume, DVR, menu, Guide are at the buttom of the remote near your thumb. This is a great spot.  Right above these common buttons is the touch screen.  Above the touch screen and at the top of the remote is the Play/Pause/FF/RR buttons used for DVRs/DVDs.  So, everytime I want to skip commercials, pause the TV or play, I need to slide my hand to the top of the remote.  This was not the case with my other remotes and for me this is my biggest complaint.
  • Price
    • $250?  Are you shitting me?  I’m glad I have a nice wife.
  • No number pad
    • This isn’t 100% accurate.  There is a number pad, but it’s built into the touch screen.  So, it takes a click or two to bring it up.  I understand the need to consolidate and improve, but I miss my number pad.
  • No keyboard
    • My Vizio TV has lots of neat-o applets that run things like Twitter and Pandora.  They require input for the username and password only once and then they are saved.  Most of the time.  Every once in a while, my SmartTV decides to be dumb and forget everything I taught it.  I then need to input all my logins again, via it’s onscreen keyboard.  I usually end up digging out the Vizio remote which has a very slick slider keyboard built in.

Overall, it’s a nice remote.   It’s very snazzy, has a cool touch screen and the MyHarmony site is probably easy and workable for most situations.  Is it worth the price?  Nah, that’s a serious premium for a remote control.  Most folks that want a easy to use, functional remote would be perfectly happy with the $50-$100 device that Logitech makes.

AastraLink Pro 160 PBX Product Review

AastraLink Pro 160 PBX Product Review

I’ve had the opportunity to purchase and install the AastraLink Pro 160 PBX in a small doctors office and I wanted to post a brief review of the product.

Background
My good friend is a dentist who was moving offices. As part of the move, a new phone system would need to be procured. I am a home user of Asterisk, the Linux based IP PBX system and I have been very happy with its overall use. I started doing a fair amount of research on Asterisk based PBXs. I did research on premise based systems, hosted systems and hybrid systems. I also looked at non-Asterisk based systems based on Microsoft Response Point and proprietary systems. Prices are all over the map. My biggest concern for my customer was first and foremost, usability. But, it also had to be priced right and feature rich.

Requirements

  • Auto-attendant (AA) with day/night/holiday scheduling and custom announcements
  • Easy to use telephones that integrated into the PBX cleanly
  • Support for FXO, PSTN line
  • SLA (Shared Line Appearances) support

The last item was the most important. This office was moving from an old punch-key system and my fear was that the users would not transition well to the new PBX without the idea of a shared line system.

Final Decision
At home, I’m a user of PBXinaFlash (http://pbxinaflash.net/) and I’m well aware of its close relationship and integration with Aastra phones. The XML based system that Aastra IP phone supports integrate easily and tightly to Asterisk PBX. I purchased a Aastra 57i CT phone a few years ago and have been very happy with it. When I saw that Aastra had a Asterisk based PBX that was tightly tied to Aastra IP phones, I knew I had a winner. At about $750 for the PBX and about $150 per phone, they hit the sweet spot for a small office. After a bit more research, I purchased the Aastralink Pro 160.

Review

Installation
Powering the PBX up and getting it online is a snap. The initial config is to grab a DHCP address, so no console access is required. One complaint is the external power brick. These bricks should be done away with universally for IT systems, the Aastralink Pro 160 is no exception.

After connecting the PBX to the network, you must connect a phone to the network as well. This will not only setup the admin account it will also tell you what the IP address of the PBX is so you can administer it. Plugging the phone into the network, it quickly found the PBX, loaded the latest firmware and began the registration process. After some short and easy questions on the phone (Extension info, password, full name and email address) the phone reboot again and on the Phone UI, the IP address of the Aastralink Pro 160 was displayed. This was the last part of the setup on the phone and I moved on to the web based config.

Administration
Logging into the Aastralink Pro 160 is pretty straight forward, extension and password is all you need. The Main Menu is displayed and you are off to the races. The GUI is not like any other Asterisk based GUI I have seen before and it is obvious that it was created in-house at Aastra. I’m a FreePBX man myself and I think the Aastra GUI is pretty good. It’s missing quite a few things that I would like (more on that later) but its great for the target audience, the small business.

Each subsequent phone that comes online gets registered and appears available in the GUI. You can modify quite a few things to make it custom to the end-users requirements. Is it as customizable as an out-of-the-box Asterisk system? No. But, for a small business, it does pretty much everything you would need.

For my dentist office, he wanted a single operator (receptionist) who would take the calls. The calls would either be transferred to an extension or placed on hold. The extension would be either answered or go to voicemail.

He did have some unique requirements that the 160 was able to handle without issue. The first was the need for every phone in the office to ring, not just the receptionist. This was easily done by creating a group, adding all phones to the group and then sending incoming calls to the group. The second was the ability to pickup a held call from any phone in the office. The Call Park feature handles this easily. Instead of just placing the call on hold, the receptionist simply places the call in the “Parking Lot”, which is available from any phone.

The killer piece of the Aastralink Pro 160 is its integration with the phones. Because Aastra makes both the PBX and the IP Phones, there is a very tight integration between the two. The user can modify the soft-keys via the web GUI, can open/close the office and can check the Visual Voicemail. This is all because the phone and PBX play very well together.

Also a neat feature is the function of the web GUI. You can listen to you email, check your call logs and even place outbound calls, right from the GUI. Neat stuff, that FreePBX doesn’t do.

The external SIP based connectivity worked right away. I entered in the login details to my SIP provider and it quickly registered. I was able to make outbound calls right away. With some tweaking on both the provider side and PBX side, inbound calls started to work. We decided on FlowRoute for the SIP provider, for its highly available service, great prices and support. I also did a Local Number Port to FlowRoute that resulted in about 4 hours of downtime. I don’t think this was FlowRoute’s fault, as they didn’t do anything and then suddenly it starting working. My bet is Verizon was slow on the gun.

All in all, a great product at a great price that fits the bill for a small office. But, that does not mean I didn’t have problems…the negatives for me were minor, but still negative. They were:

  • Inability to designate more then one phone/user as the “Operator”
  • No way to view logs — I’m having trouble getting the voice mail to email working. I don’t know if SMTP is getting blocked by my ISP, if my credentials are wrong, nothing. There is no error message, no email and no way to track down the problem. The ability to look at /var/log/messages or /var/log/mail is important.
  • Many things that should be configurable, are hard coded. Thinks like the outbound calling key (8+ for SIP) should be editable.

All in all, I’m happy with the install. The dentist has moved his office, the phone system is working great and the staff were able to make a very quick and easy adjustment to the new phones.

In summary:

Pros
Asterisk based open source PBX with Aastra IP phone expertise

  • Quick and easy IP Phone provisioning that makes turn-up a breeze
  • No hidden costs, support fees or licensing charges
  • Visual and standard voice-mail
  • Shared Line appearance
  • Great price
  • Works with SIP trunk providers

Cons

  • Proprietary system that is fairly closed off
  • Hard limit on number of phones and number of interconnected systems
  • When there is a problem, tough to determine the cause
  • No access to logs