Troubleshooting an IR remote control

The other day, my Sonos Playbase speaker stopped responding to the volume control buttons on my Apple TV Siri Remote Control. Here’s how I eventually resolved the problem.

The source of the issue proved difficult to diagnose because infrared is (of course) invisible light. I couldn’t determine if the Sonos was no longer seeing infrared signals, or if the remote was no longer sending them.

  • I quickly determined that I hadn’t added any new nearby electronics or LED light bulbs that might be interfering with IR signals. A lesson I learned from a confounding situation several years ago.
  • Using the Sonos app, I temporarily re-programmed the Playbase to respond to a TV remote it had not been previously trained on. When I was able to successfully do so, this established that the Playbase’s IR receiver was working.
  • The Apple TV remote was still able to control the Apple TV, but that uses an RF connection, not IR. (Sadly, the Playbase is IR-only.) But this confirmed that the remote’s battery wasn’t dead. I recharged it anyway, under the theory that perhaps the light emitter had grown too dim. This didn’t resolve the problem.
  • The next step was to reboot the remote. Yes, that’s a thing. After doing so, the problem was resolved. Yay!

If you have a remote control that suddenly and inexplicably stops working, I hope these steps will help you in solving the problem.


A solution for an outdoor speaker sound system

I needed to drive eight outdoor speakers, and clearly, I wanted remote control of their operation, and the ability to stream from Apple Music.

I could have utilized something like an Echo Link, or a Sonos Amp. But I rejected those options due to the cost (Sonos) and obnoxious assistive technology (Alexa).

What I ended up implementing is a bit of a Rube Goldberg machine, but it works well, and it did not break the bank. Here are the details:

  • A Belkin SoundForm Connect adapter acts as an AirPlay 2 receiver. This satisfies the requirement of streaming any music I desire either from my iPhone, HomePod, or Apple TV. The only downside is that the AUX output from the Belkin device is horrible, as many of the reviews on Amazon also note. Luckily, the optical output is OK, so I use that instead.
  • Because of the above-mentioned Belkin flaw, and the lack of optical support on inexpensive amplifiers (see below), a Digital Audio Converter is necessary. I settled on an inexpensive Amazon Basics DAC. It works well, and is USB powered, so I can run it from a power hub instead of using up another outlet in my network closet.
  • Audio amplification is provided by a Nubsound 100W mini-amp. It has built-in Bluetooth, which I turned off, as I prefer to use AirPlay. The amp itself is remarkably small — about the size of a Tarot deck. (You were expecting a less esoteric analogy from me? OK. About the size of two sticks of butter.)
  • Finally, I installed a Pyle Multi-zone Selector so that I can fine-tune the volume of each speaker pair. This also allows me to turn off speakers in unoccupied areas of the yard. (Because I’m a good neighbor.) A fancier solution would let me manage this remotely via my iPhone, but for under $100, this passive, no-power-required switch works well. It’s also small enough to fit, barely, on a shelf in the network closet.

Here’s a block diagram of how it’s all connected:

monodraw illlustration

The system works well, with a total cost that is hundreds less than a Sonos solution. (And cheaper than nosey Alexa, too.) The only downside is that I have to stream from a device to the amplifier. The Sonos can independently connect to Apple Music. But this is a limitation that I can take to the bank.

If you need me, I’ll be outside listening to Poolsuite FM.



Wired backhaul and Linksys Velop Wi-Fi mesh networks

The Linksys Velop MX4200 mesh Wi-Fi router supports wired backhaul between nodes. However, the information you’ll find online about how to set it up is either outdated, or confusing, or both.

When you use Google to find info about it, many of the top hits won’t help you very much. In particular, there is a top-rated reddit post from a few years ago that is filled with incorrect information (maybe it used to be accurate?) And, surprisingly, even the Linksys support site has conflicting advice. (I’m not linking to any of these so as to not reinforce their dominance in search results.)

Here’s what worked for me:

  1. Add the child as a wireless node first. Let the system perform any software updates, etc.
  2. Connect the ethernet cable to the Internet port on the child node. The device will automatically adjust its settings to use wired backhaul to the parent.
  3. It’s OK (if not, perhaps, required) to connect all the children to an unmanaged switch. Daisy-chaining is not necessary. (Apparently some managed switches cause problems, see this support article for things to try.)

You’ll know that each child is set up correctly by the way it is displayed in the Linksys management app. Signal strength will indicate it is connected via ethernet, and “Connected to” will show the parent node. (Called “Master Bedroom,” in the screenshot below.)

linksys screen shot

That’s it, you’re finished. Bravo to Linksys for making this “just work,” now if only we could clean up the bad info lingering around on the internet.

See also: How to lose a customer, the Amazon eero 6e way


Book Review: Coding Games with Scratch

This book caught my eye because, as a youth, I enjoyed learning LOGO (specifically, SmartLOGO) and Scratch is a modern equivalent of that fundamental gateway drug.

gordon meyer holding book

Scratch seems like an ideal way to introduce OO concepts, and the built-in sprites make it much easier to make a functional game without getting bogged down with pixels. The Scratch runtime is freely distributed; sort of. You must deploy your creation on their website, which automatically makes it eligible for modification (AKA “remixing”) by others. (A sly indoctrination into open source culture.)

Like all DK publications, the book is visually engaging and well-designed. The copy I read was an older edition, but I see that it is regularly updated to keep up with Scratch releases.

I borrowed the book from my favorite neighborhood Little Free Library, but you can get yours at the Amazon.


A system for aging in place

Since 2007, I’ve written several times about using home automation technology to support aging in place. And over the years I’ve heard from many folks about the peace of mind such techniques can bring to families with seniors who remain in their homes.

I’m really pleased to see that Amazon has introduced an easy and comprehensive service for this. It’s called “Alexa Together,” and for a small monthly fee, it brings together various useful techniques.

Although I’m definitely not a fan of the Alexa service overall, I like that Amazon only requires one Alexa device (placed at the senior’s home), and that the compelling nature of Alexa will help ensure it will work in this capacity. The service also seems to have some nice privacy and security features (if you’re willing to live with Alexa’s other serious flaws in this regard).

Although I haven’t tried it myself — I no longer have a use case for it — I like everything about it and encourage you to consider it when approaching the challenging and sensitive nature of this growing need.



Charging a Ring Stick-up Cam camera

I was faced with an annoying situation that was inconvenient to solve. The problem was an outdoor Ring Stick-Up Cam, which was permanently mounted to a wall, needed to be recharged.

The solar panel that was supposed to keep it charged was poorly positioned and didn’t receive enough daily sunlight to keep the battery topped off. The camera itself, perhaps because it is a first generation model, doesn’t have a “quick release” mount to take it down from the wall. Furthermore, being mounted 10 feet above the ground over some precarious landscaping, makes it tricky to reach the screws that hold it to the wall.

All of this is not a one-time challenge. The camera will need to be recharged regularly unless that solar panel is moved.

My solution? A cellphone battery booster pack. I opted for an Anker Power Bank, which at 20 watts is more powerful than the Ring requires (2 watts) but I thought it might charge the camera more quickly (I was wrong) and be useful in other situations (we’ll see). The Anker unit has a trickle charge option for low-powered devices (which would seem to include the Ring), but I did not use it.

The connection from the Power Bank to the camera is via an extra long cord from IKEA. A great source for low-cost and high-quality cables, as I’ve noted previously. The photo shows the Power Bank resting on a wall box, with the charging cord running up to the Ring Stick-Up camera. The Power Bank is plugged into the camera where the solar panel is normally connected.

photo of camera and power bank

The “device health” display in the Ring app is decidedly not real-time. It displayed 13% battery power when I began charging, and stayed that way for five or six hours, until jumping straight to 100% after letting it charge overnight.

The Ring website wasn’t especially helpful in solving this dilemma. Mostly because they make it very difficult to find support documents for older models. There is no way to filter the results to show only information that is relevant to the product you own.


How to lose a customer, the Amazon eero 6e way

Oh, eero, you disappoint me. I’ve been a customer since before you were assimilated into the Amazon. I even upgraded my original system to your “6 Pro” models. And, I’m an eero Secure subscriber, despite the hassles it causes with overly aggressive site blocking and nonsensical “new client” alerts.

When you recently enticed me to upgrade to an eero Pro 6e system, I took the bait and spent $600 (with discount and trade-in) for your latest models. Boy, do I regret it.

The new Pro 6e stations refuse to recognize each other, and they complain about being placed in the same locations as the stations that I’m replacing, I dutifully tried moving them closer to each other. Then, when that failed, even closer. I tried starting fresh instead of using your “replace an eero” option. Nope. Nope. Nope. These pretty white half-cubes are steaming piles of shit.

Fortunately, I was able to reinstall my “old” 6 Pro stations, which immediately worked perfectly in the same locations where the new ones failed. I wasted nearly three hours of my life trying to accomplish something that should take ten minutes. Something that did take ten minutes the last time I upgraded.

I’ve returned the new system, cancelled my eero Secure renewal, and I will eventually find some 6e stations by one of your competitors. Thanks for the memories, but don’t let the door hit you in the ass on your way out.



Resolving the HomeKit can’t find accessory error

I’m adding a new camera system to my automated home. I chose the EufyCam 2C Pro system, partially because it’s made by Anker, but mostly because it supports HomeKit Secure Video.

However, it was a major headache getting the system configured to use HomeKit. The issue is that the process of adding the HomeBase2 as a HomeKit accessory would fail. I tried doing it in HomeKit directly, and I tried doing it through the Eufy Security app. Adding the HomeBase2 would always fail.

Making it even more frustrating, each attempt took several minutes, and seemed to work until the final step. HomeKit found the HomeBase, it asked for its location and camera names, and so on. It wasn’t until the final step when it would eventually timeout with a frustrating “Accessory not found” error. Well, FU HomeKit, you found it just fine five minutes ago when I started this process!

How did I finally resolve it? By (inconveniently) connecting the HomeBase directly to the router. (I previously had it, like everything else in my home, connected to a switch. A professional-grade switch, I might add, not some cheap Amazon Basics crap.) Once I moved the connection, adding the accessory was fast and smooth. Apparently, the HomeBase (or maybe HomeKit) doesn’t like being behind a switch. Word to the wise.


How to lose a customer the CenturyLink way

If a company can’t provide at least minimally competent customer service before delivering the product, take that as a sign that you should bail on the deal. I did.

Here are the highlights of how CenturyLink makes it hard to be their customer:

  1. Require a long lead-time to install residential fiber Internet service. Your competitor, Cox, says they offer next day installation. But screw that, make people wait nearly a week.
  2. During that week of waiting, pester the customer with multiple email and text messages, insisting they need to come to a website for the latest installation updates.
  3. When the customer comes to the website, give them a garbled summary, so they won’t know what time to expect the installer.
  4. centurlink buggy scheduling
  5. On the day of install, have your tech entirely ignore the instructions they were given by the community’s security guard so that the tech will be unable to access the customer’s neighborhood.
  6. Have the tech call the customer, seemingly to obtain the instructions already given, but when the call drops before either party can utter a word, turn around and leave the area. IMPORTANT: When the customer calls you back, don’t answer. And never, ever respond to the voice mail left by the customer.
  7. Mark the installation order as ‘location unavailable,’ and reschedule it for more than 40 days in the future. But do not tell the customer you’ve done so. Let them call dispatch and ask WTF is going on.

Another reason why Dropbox sucks

There are many reasons why Dropbox sucks. (Go ahead, Google it, the results are shameful) But here is the latest from me. About 98% of the time when I boot my computer, this error message appears. Dismissing the error and restarting Dropbox makes it go away, and the status that the app reports is that everything is just fine.

Screen Shot 2022 04 17 at 9 07 11 AM

Here's what's wrong with the error message:
- It does not tell you how to contact support, only that you should.
- The Help button it refers to does not exist.
- The text implies that the user did something wrong.
- The text implies a specific problem that is vague and not actionable. (And incorrect, based on the error log it references)
- The file it references is a Python crash log. (Completely unhelpful to anyone but Dropbox programmers.)

I tweeted Dropbox Support about this error, and they said to reply with a DM and attach the error log. Twitter does not allow text attachments, and the error log exceeds the maximum tweet length. It also exposes information that I consider to be private.

Remind me again why I'm paying for a premium Dropbox account?