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Home Control Assistant Newsletter for Nov 24

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.

Want to read messages from past weeks? Here you go.

Version 16

In case you missed it, HCA version 16 was released a few weeks ago. There are two big reasons to upgrade to this new version. First there are a lot of new features and a lot of stability improvements that make things go better and faster even if you make no changes in your design. Take a look at the release notes and you can see all the changes. Let me highlight two reasons to upgrade.

First, over the years we have had a lot of requests for ZWave and Zigbee device support. These wireless devices have their pluses and minuses and some people really like them. If this is what you are looking for, then you should look into Samsung SmartThings and Hubitat Elevation. Both offer hubs that provide the interface that HCA needs to talk to these kinds of devices.

The second big reason to upgrade is that you have a lot of time invested in HCA and by upgrading, at a nominal cost, you support the company that keeps this software going year after year. A few weeks back the HCA Cloud got caught up in a bit of a squall when our hosting company came under attack. While it was nothing to do with HCA, our team was there over the weekend and sorted it out within a day. Upgrade now to keep this level of support going.
 
The X-Files
This week I’m going to report on three support issues that I worked this past month. Each was unique and each was very difficult to resolve. The users all had serious issues that impacted their ability to use HCA, but each resolution wasn’t 100% an HCA issue. I not whinging here (well, not much) but offer these to help show that we live in a complex world and there are many pieces of this automation puzzle that you should know about when things go wrong. This message is a bit long because these were not simple issues.

It’s almost always the firewall
I worked with a user who just couldn’t get client-server to work via the direct connect method (he needed that because he didn’t care about Alexa but used the mobile apps). I tried all my usual attempts and told him to download the portforward.com tools which he did. Those showed the port as OPEN but the app couldn’t connect to the server. After many ideas tried and failed – checking the HCA cloud, his cloud account subscription, and configuration settings - I finally had to report I couldn’t help and told him it is his network in some way and I can’t help. I hate to do it but sometimes I must move on.

A few days later I heard from that user (a follow-up is always appreciated) that even though he had disabled his firewall, there is some “allowed programs” setting in Windows firewall setup that didn’t have HCA on it that still was active. Once HCA was added, all was well.

Alexa is impatient
A user reported that he couldn’t link the Alexa HCA skill with his server and the few times he could, discovery yielded no devices. As usual I tried everything: created a new Amazon account, checked all the cloud and account stuff. Nothing helped. This went on for weeks. 

Turns out that there were two facts I didn’t know until recently. First that Alexa only allows a brief time for the HCA cloud to return an answer when Alexa asks for something. Second, that during the linking process, even before you get to the “Discover devices” step, the HCA cloud has already done what is in effect a discovery.

Luckily the user was very cooperative (Thanks go to him!), and I was able to “Team Viewer” into their computer. When I attempted to link my Amazon account to his server, I saw that there were hundreds of messages per second flying around. (The Remote Access Viewer shows all the messages between the server and clients). I never saw a storm of messages like that!

While the client-server features of HCA work well generally, they were never designed with performance in mind. The number of messages was so great that Alexa just ran out of time and so it showed linking as failed.

But why all the messages? That’s the interesting part.

Turns out that at sometime in the past the user had a problem with clients not showing the correct icons, icon labels, icon representation (is it on, off, or dim?), and annotation (the text over the icon).

To “fix” this the user added programs that ran “upon client connect” and did this massive state updating. And there wasn’t just one program there were about 16 that got kicked off each time a client connected. In this case that connection was Alexa. This message storm was just too much for the HCA Server to get Alexa the results needed in the limited time available.

Once all these “On client connect” triggers were removed then Alexa could link.

Two sidebars to this story. First, the “fix” for the icon problem was the cause of the Alexa problem. While there may have been a problem with clients not getting the right icons at some point, there isn’t any more – I tested that - so all the “fix” did was to break Alexa. Now, the user perhaps reported the icon problem at some point, I really don’t remember, but that would have been the best thing to do rather than the “fix” that wasn’t a fix.

Second, what’s sort of “funny” here is that the “On client connect” trigger was never really documented or intended to be used by any user but me. I had that trigger added so that I could tell when Apple – which tests apps before being added to the App Store – connected to the test system setup for them. Somehow the user got on to it and, well, now you know the story.

Windows can be too protective
The third support issue that wound up in the X-Files was that a user reported HCA couldn’t create any log files. Now on an issue like this it must be something either the user did or his installation. It couldn’t be a problem in HCA that serious and obvious or we would be all over it.

I had little idea what to do. I had him check the registry settings that tells HCA where to put log files and that was fine. Had him check for things like out of disk space, but nothing I suggested helped. Again, I had to report failure and move on. A while later the user reported to me – and I really appreciate the follow-up – that they had recently enabled “Windows ransomware protection” which locks any program not on an “allowed list” from writing to the disk. Once HCA was added to that list all was well.

If you see something, say something
I know that you all really appreciate the “all you can eat” technical support and I shouldn’t be making a plea here to get more support requests, but if you see something that appears wrong – a client not showing the right icons – or something dramatic - an action that causes the program to terminate - please let me know. It has happened many times that in working with a user they say: “I did “X” because I had to deal with something not working as expected”. Rather than building a “fix”, reporting the issue that started it all would have helped save lots of my and their time.

When you do request support please tell me what you do step-by-step, what you see and what you expect to see. Please try and be as specific as possible. Details matter.
Want to watch instead of read?

If you are interested in watching some videos about how HCA and Insteon can work together, George De Luca, a HCA users of a few years and technology video creator, has started to add HCA videos to his channel. He has a good knowledge of HCA and its ins-and-outs.
 
His channel can be reached at: https://www.youtube.com/deluca2008. While I’ve offered him some thoughts on the videos, his opinions and advice on using HCA are his own. If you have questions about something you see, ask them in the video comment section and you may see a video with an answer.


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.

https://www.reddit.com/r/HomeControlAssistant/

 
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.
 
Copyright © 2019 Advanced Quonset Technology, Inc, All rights reserved.


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