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Home Control Assistant Newsletter for Nov 28 2021

Have you read the Important Announcement posted on August 1, 2021? If you haven't you need to.
Be a detective
I’ve received several support issues over the last weeks that tell me “feature X stopped working”. It could be that clients stopped connecting to the server, logs no longer updating, control of a device or devices failed, and on and on. While I understand the need to reach out to someone who maybe could put things right, you should know by now that I lost my magic wand one day in 1966 while swimming in Lake Ronkonkoma – yes, a real place - and never found it again. But that’s another story.

Rather than immediately heading my way, what should you do when something doesn’t work? There are steps to follow when you have a problem. In my opinion, these don’t just apply to HCA, they are useful in other life endeavors.

Step one is always the same: Make notes. You will not remember the facts and circumstances of the case, so write them down. It’s my general maxim that if it isn’t written down then it never happened. I know this sounds facile, but many times getting the steps to reproduce a problem takes many attempts and getting the exact order is crucial. Without good notes the solution to the problem would never have been found. 

Step two is to try and reproduce the problem. Try very hard to come up with a step-by-step that shows the problem with no extraneous actions. Sometimes this is easy and sometimes very hard. It is true that some problems happen very infrequently because they require a specific set of circumstances. But that’s ok because you have made notes (see step one). Even something that happens rarely does happen again and again over time and your notes may lead to an idea of what is causing the problem.

Recently I worked a problem with a user and they just didn’t have the ability to produce a step-by-step for me. This was very unfortunate as what I was testing was different from what they were doing. Once I knew the right steps, I had an answer.

Step three is just as important as making notes and reproducing the problem: Ask, and try and answer, the question: What has changed? Equally important is what has not changed. Recently a user sent me a support question about some of their devices no longer working. First question I asked was what has changed. Did they update HCA? No. Did they change any programs or elements of their design? No. Did they change any hardware? No. I advised they look at the configuration of the devices – they were IP addressed so they may have received new IP addresses. Also, since they were Wi-Fi maybe their Wi-Fi coverage has changed. But looking at HCA first would be a dead end as it didn’t change at all. 

Knowing what changed can be tricky because somethings things change, and you don’t even know. Sometimes routers update their firmware and lose the port forwards for example. As it happened at 2am you didn’t even know about it. Same with Windows updates. Same with any of the apps on your mobile devices.

One thing you may have noticed in my questions to the user about what has changed. I didn’t ask, and so didn’t consider, a hardware failure. I tend to never (well maybe not never, but very rarely) blame hardware because it almost never is that. But that leads to the next step.

Step four is to try and determine if the failure is general or specific. If you can’t control a device of some type (example: Insteon), can you control others? That will help determine if there is a general failure (example: Insteon PowerLinc) or the hardware of a specific device.

Finally, we get to questions about what even is a failure, and what isn’t. Sometimes you expect “A” to produce “B” but thinking about it you realize that sometimes you don’t want “B” when conditions are such and such. Maybe it is one of those “odd” conditions I wrote about a few weeks back.

The bottom line is when you have a failure: Document, reproduce, check what’s changed, check if it really is a failure. I wish I had one of those acronyms like MICE for why a spy spies, but I don’t. 


P.S. If you are into debugger HCA programs, take a look at the "deep dive" into the HCA Debugger. I covered it in 5 parts starting on 17-May-2020. Just go here and scroll down to those. A worthwhile read.
If you are using a version of HCA prior to version 17, you may have questions about the wisdom of upgrading to version 17 given the future of HCA. Here is something to consider. 

The support policy for older HCA versions has been changed
 as I can no longer devote time to past version users. Support will only be available for HCA 17 users.

If you are on version 16 or earlier and want to continue using the cloud features and want to be assured that if you have a question that it gets answered, it is indeed time to upgrade.

HCA is fully operational for several more years so the update cost, spread out over that time, is very little. Knowing support is available when you need it is worth it.
Upgrade to HCA 17
Anyone who is using Hubitat with HCA – not SmartThings – please drop me a note as I would like to add you to a discussion list for those users. I have some Hubitat ideas that I would like to “kick around” and it would help to have a group of users who have experience with Hubitat. Please just send a note to the regular support address saying you would like to be added to that discussion list.
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