Home Control Assistant Newsletter for December 6

Have you looked over the version 17 release notes? Lots of changes that you can incorporate into your designs right away. Easy upgrade.

Looking for answers to the most common questions about HCA? Check out our
Frequently Asked Questions page.

Resiliency and Kaizen

Resiliency is defined in my online dictionary as “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.” Kaizen is a Japanese concert that literally means “change for the better”. It is a philosophy of continuous small improvements. It is, like most Japanese concepts, much more than that but will do for what I’m going to discuss.

Much earlier in the year I wrote in one of these weekly messages about how the HCA development focus at that time shifted towards making HCA as stable as possible and away from adding new features. The goal was – and remains – making the whole product more reliable. Over the last six months many small changes have been made towards that goal. A client can be connected to a server for weeks – reconnecting after the inevitable network connection interruptions – and then one time it can’t reconnect due to some extremely rare set of events. 

Problems get found and changes introduced – usually ridiculously small changes - that correct the problem and improve the operation. Hopefully, that “fix” doesn’t introduce new problems. After a while, these changes get released to the user base. Those changes are the Kaizen side of what we do.

The resiliency side is somewhat different. Take automobiles as an example. The improvements of traction control, anti-lock brakes, better headlights and tires all make accidents less likely. But there will always be accidents, so time and engineering also go into crumple zones, air bags, and shoulder belts. That’s resiliency.

So why am I going all philosophical this week? As usual it comes from an interaction with a user. And it’s all about “continuous improvement” gone awry. 

At the dawn of time HCA made a “bet” on Microsoft Windows. It was a system I could understand, was very well documented, had good development tools, and supported the kind of hardware that automation used. And, in general it still is all those things. But somewhere along the line Windows Update came along and my life has never quite been the same. In the beginning it wasn’t all that big a deal. The updates happened infrequently, and they didn’t take long. Now these seem to happen daily and are made at a glacial pace. This has become a nightmare! My goal is not to have the tool (Windows) but an application (HCA). The tool shouldn’t get in the way of the project. This is “Continuous improvement” gone way off the rails.

I was helping a user who had some issues with HCA and in doing so I inadvertently triggered a Windows update when I restarted their machine. This took out his system for hours as it restarted and did whatever the heck it does when it is saying “This will take a while”. No option to ask if they wanted what it was doing. It just did it. The effect was I had to wait until all that was done before I could get back to my work. And that’s very inconvenient.

And this hits HCA hard because it’s a program that runs 24/7. There are no “Inactive Hours”. 

(Let me pause here a second because someone is going to speak up and say that all one needs to do is to start a project to port HCA to Linux. That’s not going to happen due to the development cost that no one is willing to take on. Don’t suggest it. And, BTW, Linux has problems like this too).

There is some good news here as Microsoft does recognize that applications like HCA do exist and that is called “Windows LTSC” (“Long Term Servicing Channel”). Sometimes you may see the older name “Windows 10 iOT”. All that it means is that Windows doesn’t update very often and is a bit stripped down of extra software that would never be used but adds to the pile of “updates”. LTSC does the smaller security updates but not the big invasive “Feature updates”.

The user I worked with was so upset at having HCA and Alexa and all their automation down for most of a day, that I replaced that machine with one using LTSC so this will not happen again. I consider that an improvement.

After this change we now had a “dedicated” machine for the HCA Server so less chance of some other application taking it down. Also, I added in a program that restarts the HCA Server should the software fail – no software unless you are NASA is 100% reliable – and used the best method for making sure HCA starts when Windows starts. Lastly this machine is one of the few that will start Windows directly after power is restored – no buttons to push.

I consider this the definition of resiliency. 

So, again, why am I going all philosophical this week? Is it because we are approaching the Winter Solstice? Is it because I would very much like to – but can’t - sit in the lobby bar in the Seattle Westin (noticeably quiet in the afternoon), have a beer and work the New York Times crossword puzzle? Maybe.

But I guess my real reason is to point out that here at HCA Central that even though we can try to make a product as reliable as we can through the small improvements we make every day, we are part of a whole ecosystem of unreliability. (Don’t get me started on the Insteon PowerLinc!) While it isn’t possible to eliminate all factors except HCA, we can mitigate it some. My converting the user to the LTSC machine did that.

I really didn’t want this to be a “sales pitch” but If you want to look at the machine I set up for the user in this story, all the info is on the website. It’s a new model and I like it even better than its predecessor.

Please wear a mask when you go out. Please cooperate. Science will save us.

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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