Honeywell/Ademco alarm central station [updated]

For what it’s worth, I decided to start digging into how ancient alarm systems work, and how alarm central monitoring services do their job.  Why?  Well, paying between $8 and $40/month for a service seemed a little crazy, and paying AT&T one single penny, much less $25/month for a landline that saw no other use was even worse.   I probably have about 30 hours into it, which means my work will be paid back in about 45 years… but I’m not giving any more money to AT&T.

In the end, I learned how to decode the protocols and wrote my own central station monitoring system which can either supplement (as a more advanced call center) or replace entirely the central office dispatch.  The alarm I’ve tested against speaks the Honeywell / Ademco / SIA Contact-ID protocol and is a Honeywell Ademco Vista V20-P, but it can work with anything that talks Ademco Contact-ID.

It was surprisingly easy to bring up the Asterisk PBX program, and configure it to receive messages over the phone from my alarm.  In fact, after doing it on my server at a colo facility, I brought up a second instance on a $35 Raspberry Pi.

What does it do?  Accepts any/all alarm or status or trouble messages that these panels generate.  Then it issues alerts to interested parties via:

  • a voice based telephone call
  • e-mail
  • SMS (via Google Voice)
  • twitter direct messages
  • Boxcar

What I’m looking for now — some beta-testers who are clueful enough to program their alarm panel to add my server as a secondary alarm station.

Code is released under GPL 2.0, and was derived from code originally written by Uros Indihar.  Contact me by e-mail if you know it, or leave a comment if you don’t.

Updated:  The code is now on github

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disaster preparedness

We’ve been getting a lot more quakes recently, probably nothing to be alarmed about, as the Hayward fault does need to readjust, and it doing so in small slips is a win. However, between that, and the police crackdowns on demonstrators (we’ll call it police unrest, not civil unrest), I thought it was time I reviewed my old go-bag and go box. Much to my chagrin, most of the perishables had died 2 years ago since I hadn’t updated it since becoming single and moving to SF.

There are some fairly good sites for suggestions for what you should have in a quake or other emergency. This one is personalized to my needs. Do check out the following websites for building your own stuff too:

72hours.org
alert-sf.org
ready.gov

If you’re low on cash, don’t freak out. You have most of the crap you really need already in your house. It’s crazy to keep lots of “special food” just for emergencies, because it will just go bad (see above). I keep a couple things like dehydrated backpacker food with a 10 year shelf lifetime on them for real emergencies, but mostly everything is already in my pantry or freezer. Since changing my diet to gluten and dairy free, MREs and dehydrated foods are less appealing to me, but Tasty Bites, and Trader Joe’s Indian food in pouches are almost identical to Indian Army MRE’s, and those are damn fine.  Remember, if you have time to pack, and you know what your emergency is, to not forget the everyday resources already in your house.

Here’s my list (slightly sanitized to protect the guilty):

I have a go bag, a go box, and a go zone. The go bag is something I can just grab and walk out of the house with and know I can at least wipe my own ass. The go box helps me be a little more self sufficient for a longer period of time, and the go zone helps me protect my house and shelter in place, or it contains stuff I can’t reasonably store in the go box. The stuff in the go zone(s) are in just two places, one in the kitchen, one in the garage, where I *know* I keep these things.  I make an effort to put them back in the right place all the time.

I can walk out of the house with the go bag in 1 minute, ride the bike out of the house with the go box in 5, and drive out of the house with everything else in about the same amount of time if necessary.  However, the reality is that unless it’s a bad quake or a fire, sheltering in place may be a safer option.

In the go-bag/backpack (suitable for motorcycle or hiking–you want this to be light and small, don’t put too much stuff in):

  • 3 days emergency food bricks (stabilized and irradiated shortbread cakes, pure butter, last 10 years, not gluten/dairy free)
  • 2 small bottles water (change every 6 months, just starter water, more would be too heavy to carry)
  • 1 empty platypus for carrying extra water
  • ultra lightweight water filtration (one of the following): chlorine bleach and medicine dropper, iodine tablets (what I chose), Miox water treatment system pen (requires CR123 batteries), Aquamira Frontier filter straw
  • electrolyte + caffeine tablets
  • small first aid kit
  • extra ibuprofen
  • lactase tablets (no time to be lactose intolerant)
  • prescription meds (need to check expiration dates, so just a couple days worth, better to grab fresh from house on the way out the door)
  • old eyeglasses
  • headlamp
  • whistle
  • dust mask
  • Leatherman-style combo-tool
  • Swiss Army knife (includes can opener)
  • emergency signal mirror
  • emergency mylar sleeping bag/blanket
  • waterproof matches
  • ring saw
  • emergency candles
  • LED flashlight
  • superlight rain poncho
  • work gloves
  • ear plugs
  • hat
  • sunscreen
  • chapstick
  • paper, pens, pencils, sharpie
  • spare house key
  • cash, in small denominations
  • quarters for pay phones or better yet, a pre-paid phone card
  • ICE contacts
  • emergency documents (see ready.gov for a nice kit/pdf to fill and print out)
  • copies of health insurance
  • hardcopy photos of girlfriend, ex-wife, and dog
  • local maps (topo best rural, AAA is probably best in urban setting)
  • spare cell phone battery/power supply/minty boost
  • flash drive with personal files & full address book
  • passport

IMG_0804

The next level up is my go-box, which supplements my go-bag.  My go-box has items that help me stay self-contained or assist loved ones. It’s not absolutely critical to have the box, as I could scavenge with just the stuff in my go-bag. (I have a friend who’s “go bag” is a brick, a pillow case and the local shops, which is actually quite wise). In the go-box, I optimize for small volume over small weight, as my plan is for it to fit in my motorcycle luggage (tight) or in the back of the car. I own almost all of this stuff because of camping, so it’s just a matter of stuffing it into a big motorcycle pack when I return home from trips. In an ideal world, I’d keep my sleeping bag in here too, but it’s a nice down bag, so I don’t store it stuffed tight.  I have to remember to grab it as I’m going out the door (thus it’s in the go-zone).

For foodstuffs, the best thing is to raid your pantry for the freshest and most edible foods.  There are pros and cons for different food strategies.  Dehydrated backpacker foods are great for being light weight and having a long shelf life.  Army style MREs are fantastic for eating a high calorie warm meal, but are heavy, have low water content, and low fiber content (there are stories about burrito babies you don’t want to hear).  Trader Joe’s Indian food, and Tasty Bites are commercial variants of Indian Army MREs, and are much healthier alternatives to US MREs.  One other thing to remember about MREs is they must be kept cool (50F/10C) and temperature stabilized to have a long shelf life. The official emergency preparedness sites recommend against dehydrated food because they require more water. Being in an urban setting, I expect to find water, even if it’s not perfectly clean, I can filter it. Again, remember though, that all the food in your kitchen is still good in an emergency. If you have time to pack, take some. If you shelter in place, your frozen food will keep in your freezer for up to two days (don’t refreeze it if it thaws, eat it, or toss it when the power comes back), and you’ve probably got a fair bit of canned or preserved foods not meant to travel. You can live off of pasta sauce for a couple of meals, if you have to.

Additionally, the recommendation is you set aside 1 gallon of water, per-person, per day. I don’t store six gallons of water, because I won’t transport it (that’s 48lbs of water) and I won’t remember to keep it fresh (change it every 6 months). Instead I have a five gallon container, and I have a ceramic filter that I already have for camping, but you can use chlorine tablets, iodine tablets, or even bleach and a medicine dropper for under $1.

My go-box:

  • 3 days of food per-person (2 people)
  • 5 gallon collapsable plastic water container
  • MSR ceramic water filter
  • Naglene collapsable pouch with wide mouth for ceramic filter
  • extra LED flashlight
  • larger first aid kit
  • even more ibuprofen (in an emergency, everyone lives on grunt candy)
  • toothbrush/toothpaste/floss
  • Doc Bronner’s soap/camp soap
  • old long sleeve shirt (wool)
  • old long heavy pants (heavy duty, BDU/TDU pants)
  • old socks
  • garbage bags (full sized and small sized for sanitary needs)
  • wet wipes
  • additional rain poncho (full sized garbage bags work great for this in a pinch)
  • sleeping bag (actually lives in go zone, but belongs in go box if kept compressed)
  • sleeping pad for under bag (ditto)
  • camping cooking supplies
  • hand sanitizer
  • sporks
  • Eton crank radio/USB charger/light (Eton NPT300WXB Axis – the older models will fry your iPhone!)
  • iPhone/iPad charger + storage battery
  • solar charger
  • lithium ion AA batteries (Li are more expensive but carry more energy and are light)
  • disposable camera? (suggested by ready.gov, I’ve never kept one)
  • HT (ham radio walkie talkie)

IMG_0803
For the dog:

  • food (he can eat people food if necessary, but dog food in a ziplock bag keeps)
  • water
  • leash
  • collapsable hiking bowl
  • up to date tags and contact info on dog’s collar
  • dog is micro-chipped

If taking the bike, consider:

  • extra motorcycle luggage (tank bag, tail pack)
  • flat fixer / pump
  • metric mini tool set
  • winter bike gloves
  • extra motorcycle security lock
  • chain lube
  • extra fuel cell for additional range (but where to strap it??)

In the go-zone, stuff I don’t keep packed because it’s either in use, or shouldn’t be stored packed, or I won’t take it with me if I leave the house:

  • good down sleeping bag (can’t store it in tight)
  • pad for sleeping bag
  • spare poly sleeping bag (since it’s there)
  • machete
  • HT chargers + car antenna + battery adapter
  • AC inverter

Luxury supplies (if taking the car and lots of room and time to pack):

  • extra clothes
  • air mattress
  • 4-6 person dome tent
  • tent lamp
  • camouflage netting
  • tarps
  • backpack BBQ/grill
  • U.S. Army field surgery kit
  • portable toilet
  • solar shower
  • camp chairs
  • camp table
  • binoculars
  • auto jumper cables
  • empty gas cans
  • booze for trading
  • AC extension cords
  • AAA/AA AC powered battery charger
  • tool kits

Stuff that stays at the house, if I leave, but lives in the go-zone:

  • fire extinguisher
  • standing water wrench (to shutoff mains in case of flood)
  • crowbar
  • adjustable wrench (tied to my gas meter to shut off gas)
  • hammer
  • duct tape
  • plastic sheeting for covering windows if they break.
  • staple gun

Finally, even if you don’t want to stash all of this stuff, make yourself a checklist.  You can probably score 90% of what you need from your house if you just remember what is important to take with you.  Having a list, that you made when not rushed, is going to be better than nothing.  If you need to move fast, you’ll be tempted to take too much stuff with you, and forget other things (like meds, spare glasses).  It’s OK to take too much stuff, if you’re willing to throw it away the moment  you have a chance to breathe.  It’s not OK to take too much stuff and then cling to it, it will just make your life hell.

Again, to my friends with smaller budgets, don’t freak out if you don’t have this stuff, and don’t spend a lot of time buying and sequestering perishables. Tune it for your use and drop me a link if you make your own “go” kits.

Thanks to Brent Chapman and Kenton Hoover for feedback.

an open letter to Twitter about information overload

Dear Twitter,

Congratulations on the exponential growth you are experiencing. You’ve stumbled upon a great idea and you deserve to be well rewarded for this new way of sharing thoughts, ideas, and helping people reach out to others.

You must be very proud of how Twitter has been used to affect social change in developing countries and helped revolutionaries topple dictators.  You get lavish attention from heads of state, media moguls, and corporate giants.  You’re the hot new kid on the block.

You’re also on an unsustainable path.  You are going to crash and burn, and I don’t want to see that happen.  I find your service useful to me.

Like many of you, I follow some information sources (i.e. people) because they are personal friends, colleagues, family, because it’s socially expedient to do so, or so that we can carry on the occasional @reply/DM conversation.  However, I don’t care about everything said by the people I follow.

As more information sources use your platform (people, news services, sources for #tigerblood), I will want to follow more of them.  However, I’m already overloaded.  I might put a few close friends on a twitter list to check the most imporant tweets.  I might banish a few broadcast sources to a list, unfollow them in my timeline, and check the list when I want to read the news.

As I follow more people, the quality of my feed will go down, but the quantity of tweets will go up.  That’s unacceptable, and it’s the kind of thing that will cause me to leave twitter.

What I need is filtering.  This has been implemented by several twitter clients, adhoc greasemonkey scripts in browsers, and proxy API services, but not by you.  Why should YOU do it?  Because then YOU can gain information about what people are filtering and then understand and profit from your ecosphere.

Things like the Quick Bar (by the way, #quickbarsucks) in the latest update of Twitter for the iPhone are a step in the wrong direction.  We don’t need our feeds polluted with information we don’t care about.  Be smart, like Google, and make it easier for us to get our jobs done.

Give me the ability to filter the sources I follow.  Let me mute users, hashtags, and twitter clients, either temporarily (mute for # hours/# days) or permanently.

If I want to see trends, make them available, but unobtrusive.  The new twitter UI for the webpage does just that.  I can ignore them.  The Quick Bar on the iPhone stuffs them in my face and distracts me from the information I really want to see.

I’m all about you making money.  When I helped start Juniper Networks (JNPR), the mission statement I presented was not about being “the best carrier class networking blah blah blah.”  The mission statement was “Enhance long-term shareholder value.” The magic in that statement is “long-term.”  Decisions become easy–you don’t screw your customers,  your colleagues, your clients, your suppliers.  Make your decisions based upon being around five years from now and being rabidly profitable five years from now.  Think about your kids growing up to either run your business or building off the ideas you’ve created.

Promoted tweets, trending topics, advertising, are all great ideas, but use them judiciously or you will lose the eyeballs that are keeping you in fast cars and nice homes.

software engineers shouldn’t use soldiering irons…

After a brief hiatus of 15 years, I picked up a new soldiering iron and I am actually building hardware again. I’m slowly rebuilding my lab from scratch.  The new house is going to come in handy because I actually want space for a workbench and some decent magnifying glasses, and the usual crap.

As a reflexive problem, I figured out my first new project, because I need a lab, because of the new house, oh whatever…

I’m going to try my hand at building a wireless internet thermostat for the SF house.
As it turns out, good thermostats are more complicated than one would expect.  We want hysteresis in the system so it isn’t firing and shutting down the heating/cooling units, plus, with multi-stage equipment (small and large furnace burners and small and large air conditioning) we want to intelligently maximize the use of the small (eco-friendly) stage, but kick on the big stage when the energy differential between the desired and current temperatures is high.

I just want to be able to turn off the damn heat when I’m out of the house for a few days.. or turn it on when I’m driving up from the Peninsula so it’s not freezing when I get there.

as the turn burned

WiFi deployment at Burning Man was a total success! The network consisted of a 2.4ghz long haul link back to Gerlach and then a 5.8ghz backbone for the playa which was then rebroadcasted at 3:00, 6:00 and 9:00. We used my gear for the 3:00 and 9:00 nodes and they fit in perfectly. Everyone loved Brad Templeton’s “Playa Phone” and the Internet Cafe was in constant use despite no advertising.

Continue reading “as the turn burned”

as the burn turns

I’m doing my first burning man. I came up with two art projects, but vetoed them because it’s my first burn and I figured it would be better to assist another ongoing project.

Somehow I got the bright idea to assist BMorg in doing some of the wireless distribution for the camp network. I’m busy building LEAF boxes and I’m reminded of exactly how much I completely hate their broken development environment. Somehow over the years, they managed to build a cross compilation environment that doesn’t work on anything other than an X86 running linux and gcc-3.4. Absolutely brilliant. Somebody clearly did not understand the first principle of cross compilation environments and I’ve been too lazy for the past two years to fix it until it broke when I upgraded to gcc-4. All I can say is thank god for Parallels Desktop. I brought up a Debian VM running on my Macbook Pro and whacked B-U enough to at least cross build under recent Linux distributions.

The other LEAF developers don’t feel that having a clean and reproducible cross compilation environment is a priority (being able to reproduce binaries? being able to support branched development? seems pretty basic to me). We’re so totally behind the times in distribution design, that it’s probably time for me to hook up with folks more in tune with my own goals (despite the fact that the LEAF guys are really great people). I think I’m going to go with porting OpenWRT and MADWIF-NG to a PC Engines WRAP target as soon as their buildroot-ng stuff is stable.