Home Control Assistant Newsletter for Mar 12 2023

Have you read the Important Announcement posted on August 1, 2021? If you haven't you need to.
How is your HCA installation working over time?

Over the last month as a thought experiment, I considered what I would add to HCA if I were to continue – not that I will be! - and I really couldn’t think of anything. That tells me that the function is there – it has a great programmer, scheduler, and supports a wide range of device types. In the past I would get ideas from my own home design but aside from my old-technology device replacement I wrote about a few weeks back, I don’t change my own home design much at all.

So again I return to two topics: Making things more reliable and to help that, better reporting tools so I can find out what isn’t reliable.

I want to pause here and relate a story on reliability that I have been meaning to tell for a while and this seems like as good a time as any. Very rarely I ask Alexa to turn on a light and she says “that light isn’t responding”. For a while I was carefully looking for the reason by disturbing as little as possible - so no wholesale restarting. I would first check my internet, then that I could connect to Hubitat, then that HCA was online, then that the interfaces were connected and working. A long chain of checking and I would find nothing. So I ask Alexa again to turn on the light, and this time it works. There are just too many points of failure between me speaking and the light coming on, many of them aren’t in my control. I sort of gave up. When it now happens, I try the voice command again and it always works. My quest for 100% reliability will never be achieved, but we shouldn’t give up since much is in our control.

I see a lot of users HCA design files. Usually when I’m asked some questions about a feature not operating as expected. I ask for, and usually receive, their file to look at. Many times I see a large number of “Alerts”. Last week I looked at a file that had 57!

\What HCA calls an “Alert” is a report when something goes wrong when executing your design. It could be a device that can’t be communicated with, an error in a program, a client disconnecting, a device not heard from in too long. There are even 8 possible alerts that you can use for your own uses. The HCA Alert system is great! It has 27 error condition categories and lets you configure how those are responded to. You do want to pay attention as it is telling you lots of useful information. But there are two problems: You must  “pay attention” every day as alerts can happen and be cleared, and it is hard to see trends over time. Is “this” device having a lot of control problems or only occasionally? Is “that” program working well or making errors?

To help figure this out I created a new library package called “Health Check”. I’ve released the first version of it to the online library. In this package is a program that runs when any alert happens and adds info on that alert to a log file. That’s useful since nothing is now lost, but data reduction is needed to let you make sense of what is in the log file. The package also contains a program just for that. What this program, named “Create Alert Report”, does is to aggregate each alert type into a count of the number of times it happens in the last day, last week, and last month. That’s the overview. And then it adds to the report for each alert type the device or program that generated that alert, aggregated into those same three time periods.

Now I can look at the report – it’s in HTML format so I can open it in a browser – and see what’s causing problems currently and historically. Since nothing is lost, I can “pay attention” maybe only once a week or once every few weeks. The historical information tells me if something is no big deal – there will always be some types of problems with any form of communication between two endpoints – or is something that needs looking info.

This new package is there for you to import into your design. All you need is the latest HCA and access to the online library. That was all explained in a recent weekly message.

Really important note!!!  There is a bug in HCA but there is an easy workaround. Before you import the "Health Check" package, first import the packages “HTML Tools” and “Array Tools” both now in the library. After those imports are done, then do the import of “Health Check”. HCA is supposed to tell you about dependent packages and block the import if the needed packages are not already in your design, but as I said, that doesn't work. Will be fixed at some point.

After you do the import, there is one manual step to perform: Open the Alert Manager and at the bottom of the Summary tab is a button to assign the program that gets run on any alert. Assign that to the program “Health Check – Run on any Alert”. This program creates the log file as alerts are generated. Give it some time and then to see what’s in that log, run the program “Create Alert report” and then use a browser to open the file it creates.

All this work we put into “Smart Home” stuff is useless unless it actually works. You have tools to build a “Smart Home” and tools to monitor its health. Use them.

BTW, the Health check package will get some upgrades as we go through March. Stay tuned for that.
HCA Cloud Termination Countdown

Each week I’m going to update this section of the weekly message. If you use Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant to control HCA devices and programs though the HCA Cloud, and if you want to keep doing that, you need to act this year. The HCA Cloud is terminating in
302 days.

Hubitat can provide that bridge between Alexa and Google Assistant when the HCA Cloud shuts down. Without an alternative to the HCA Cloud, voice control will be a thing of the past for you. And its not hard! Clear step-by-step instructions are in
technical note #703.
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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