Home Control Assistant Newsletter for August 16

Have you looked over the version 16 release notes? Lots of changes that you can incorporate into your designs right away.

And if you are looking for answers to the most common questions about HCA check out our Frequently Asked Questions page.
Infrastructure Day
A week ago, I decided that my office was a mess and I wanted to do some cleanup. After I did the usual putting items back on the now rearranged shelves and vacuumed up six months of dust, I started to think that this might be a good time to do make a backup of my HCA design. I copied my personal home HCA design and auxiliary files – backgrounds, my custom icons, HTML templates, to a USB drive. But then I started to think. Is that all there is to do?

We all have a lot of time and energy invested in our automation. If you just wanted to be able to say to Alexa or Google Assistant, "turn on the lights" you could have just picked up some LIFX or other WiFi lights, screwed them in, and you were off. But you wanted more so you put the time into learning about the HCA toolbox and created your own design. And those design have lots of parts that need to be restored if something bad happens. Here are the kind of things I did.
  • I used the HCA "Design Backup Assistant" to tell me which files to backup to my USB drive. Also I saved the file it creates of all the HCA settings stored in the Registry. Would you remember all the settings for everything in HCA Options? I wouldn't. That info is stored in the registry and not the design file. The backup assistant creates a file just to save that.
  • I put labels on all the power "bricks" used by all the various automation gear I use – Hubitat hub, Global Cache IR transmitter, etc. They all look alike to me and now I can get them back to the right places if I need to move a hub or device.
  • I tried to reduce the "Rats nest" of cables connecting it all together. Over time, with no one watching, they braid themselves into a knot and so is hard to trace what connects to what.
  • I created a file of the account credentials for all the services I use and put that on my USB drive. My Ecobee account, SmartThings account, etc. If I lost those usernames and passwords it would be a mess.
  • I wrote down the IP addresses of devices and controllers that need fixed addresses and all the port forwarding setup in my router. If the router died and I had to get a new one it would be a total mess without this info.
  • I tried to restore some sanity to "power strip" usage. What's plugged in where and can it be done simpler? I want to be able to turn off only one power strip if I needed to power cycle the hard to get at router or Hubitat hub.
  • I did Windows update on my HCA Server machine when I wanted it to happen and not when Windows wanted it to happen as it always seems to choose the most inconvenient time. Not that this lasts long, but for a short while at least Windows will not be restating my machine on me.
Well, that's my list. It didn't take long so I can rest a bit easier knowing that if something bad happens I can recover all my hard work. Maybe you should have an "Infrastructure" day" soon. I still get too many of those emails to support saying "My machine died".

"Startup" best practices
Got into a long exchange with a user about how best to handle startup issues. They wanted to both ensure that some special devices were polled at startup, and to have any programs that normally are triggered on those status receptions not trigger at that time. This is part of a much larger question about startup but here is what I consider the "best practice" for just this part.

First, have only a single program that has the "start when HCA starts" trigger. Have that program perform its actions step-by-step. That way you have control of the sequence of actions. If you have more than one program, these could be running concurrently in an undetermined order.

Be careful that your program doesn't interfere with the HCA state restoration or polling. Both options are on the HCA Options Startup tab. If you program wants to query the state of devices you may be competing with the HCA initiated startup device control. This is especially important if the devices use the same protocol. For example, those that uses power line transmission. You may want to start your start-up program with a delay long enough for these HCA initiated startup activities to finish. How long? That would depend upon your installation.

Second, create a global variable that is set at the beginning of your startup program and cleared when it is done. Then in any program that responds to a state change of a device have a check of that global variable and not act if that variable is set.  A better, but more work to implement solution, would suspend those programs and then resume them when it completes. A sophisticated solution could use the design enumeration functions and use tags to mark those programs to handle this way.

The idea is to make sure that you have startup happen in an orderly manner and in a step-by-step fashion that you control, and not a bunch of competing programs all trying for control or status polling.

HCA Server machines
We still have available Windows 10 small footprint computers that are perfect for running the HCA Server. We do all the updates for you - yes, even the big Windows 2004 update, install HCA, and get it all ready for 24/7 operation. And with the HCA design backup/computer move tool, getting up and running only take minutes after you get this new machine. Want more info? It's all on the website HCA Server Computer page.

V17 Open beta now available - beta 23
The HCA 17 open beta this week is new: Release 17.0.23. 

Please remember after installing to carefully read the release notes for the changes in this build and previous builds if you skipped any. This beta makes some incompatible changes from version 16 so know what you are doing.

Want in on the version 17 beta? All you need do is to enter your HCA registration code into the
online form as usual, and the resulting page contains a link to the beta page for download. The beta zip file password is the same as your V16 password. Please read fully and carefully the build notes. One suggestion: If you are using SmartThings or Hubitat you really should get on board with the beta as there is new stuff heading your way that needs this beta version.
User-to-User forum

An HCA User who wanted to set up a forum for user-to-user communication. I'm passing this on, but please know that this is not a HCA company project and I will not be spending much time there so I don't know how this will work out. Here is a link to what he set up.

Want to take the next step in automation? Want to get started with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant and control HCA by voice commands? Even if you are a long-time user of HCA, the Getting Started guides have all the info you need on client-server, mobile applications, DDNS, and voice assistants.

All of the
Getting Started Guides are available on the support website.
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