The Northern Spy — Automation Information

The Northern Spy

Last month,

the Spy said of the botched Ecoline window installation: “Yes, if one can believe the scheduling department,  the installers shall return(!) on January 4 (that’s 2023 BTW) to fix their errors and damage, install a long list of items missing from the first delivery, and make everything honkey-dory. But given the history of this thing, if you believe all will be well at the end of that day, I know of a really busy bridge I can sell you.”

Well…, they didn’t have some of the parts, and had to return on January 31 to finish up by replacing their badly installed casing around two of their windows. At least now he can get the rest of the blinds installed, and automate three more of them in the process. From local blind manufacturer Wholesale Blinds, automating motors are by Louvolite, controlled by both remote and an app. The shades can be dropped or raised entirely or partially by either, and options include doing so on a dawn-to-dusk schedule, and grouping two or more under one more channel to have them operate together, either by remote or the app. The motor units have to be recharged every few months, but that’s an easy process. So far, however, though it is all Wi-Fi, there is no integration with any other automating app. Hey. “Matter” matters, and the interoperative standard cannot arrive too soon for the Spy. 

But his reader really wanted to know if Ecoline finally finished the window job. Of course not. When installing the lock, two small bolt covers on the handle were damaged or lost. Still are. The window that opened the wrong way still does. No end in sight.

Other house automation

has in the past, and as noted here last month, consisted of an alarm rig and light/plug scheduler originally based on the X-10 system. Yup, it’s that old. X-10 devices are still sold, but… Well, some of the lamp and outlet modules were becoming intermittent, and a power surge not long ago seemed to have damaged others–they would turn off but not on. So, the Spy has sprung for a number of Apple HomeKit compatible replacements for parts of the old system. Thus far, this consists of smart plugs in some places and smart switches in others, all controllable by apps and Siri voice commands. On the security side, the X-10 door and window sensors and alarm centre remain, for the old ones still work, and such devices in the HomeKit ecosystem are ludicrously overpriced. However, as previously noted, he’s added security cameras. So how well has the project gone so far?


As also mentioned last month, he’s installed a Logitech Circle View doorbell, three indoor Eufy Pan-tilt cameras, and several Eufy 2C Pro outdoor cameras. The latter two groups are on the Eufy iOS app, though the pan-tilts use on board storage, and some of the externals, with the Circle View, are on HomeKit, but there the Spy notes that Apple has upped the price on its max iCloud plan from $9.99/month to $12.99.

Anker, the Chinese manufacturer of Eufy branded cameras, requires the outdoor ones to be added to their bridge, called HomeBase2, and thence to HomeKit. However, there is what used to be a feature, but is now a bug, in the HomeBase OS, which limits how many devices can be passed to HomeKit–a total of five, including the HomeBase module itself, or four cameras maximum. This was because the Apple Max plan once topped out at five devices. However, for a year now it has had no limit on the number of cameras from which it will store video. Eufy, though, still claims Apple limits the number of cameras to four, which is simply untrue. Well, they did mislead customers about how private their data is (not) when stored in their cloud, so…

This appears to the Spy to be either incompetence, ignorance, or an effort to require customers to spend another $250 on a second HomeBase model–a money grab IOW. Their “Customer service” appears no longer to be monitoring and responding to posts on its BB, so queries on the matter have gone unanswered for months. Too bad. These are nice cameras, and among the few on the market that are HomeKit compatible. Once Matter arrives and everybody’s device communication works with everybody else’s, the hope is that such issues will go away because there will be more direct competition across the marketplace, so much more incentive to stay on top of the game, or you’ll end up on the sidelines. There are hundreds of companies competing in the field, but probably only room for a dozen or so in the end. 

Plugs and switches

The Meross smart add-on plug modules he mentioned last month work like a charm, are easy to set up in HomeKit (scan the QR code after plugging in), and of course are portable, groupable by room, can be added to scenes, and controlled by iOS, MacOS, and/or Siri. In his case, “Hey Siri, good night”, turns everything off, motion detected in a room turns one lamp on, and arrival home switches on the entrance lights, for instance.

He’s also got one of the Eve buttons, that can manage up to three programmed options. Set them up to control scenes and you can switch numerous devices at once. All this worked flawlessly, no glitches, no failures. He may get one of the Apple speakers, though as noted last month, he’s not sure whether they will be an enduring product given the apparent lack of a long term business case for making and deploying them.

Switches are another…Matter. The Spy designed his own house and in particular specified and installed the electrical plant. Well, he contracted out the rough wiring, but that was a mistake–too many errors including one dead short in the garage, and far too many lights on one circuit that he had to re-work into two. He did the whole thing in his first house, but only the finish wiring in the current one. Some of the design is rather elaborate. For instance, there are seven sets of lights using multiple switches, four of which include one or more four-way switches in between the three-way ones. 

Meross sells both single and double pole (three-way) smart switches, but not double pole double throw (four-way). Both require grounding plus access to the (white) neutral wire. Trouble is that in such installs, power in and out may well be in one of the four-way boxes, so unless the three-way switch lives in a box that has power supplied for some other switch, it will lack both the hot and the neutral, have only the common and traveller conductors, so cannot house one of these switches. This is a problem so far in only one location, but the Spy thinks he can fish in another wire. (That was written last night. He did fish in another wire, just hasn’t got it all hooked up as yet.) 

But so far, those switches have sometimes been difficult to instantiate. They lack a QR code, just a series of digits that have to be typed into the setup box. Moreover, the Wi-Fi setup does not always work. He sent one box (of two single poles) back when one failed to fully connect despite repeated tries. The replacement had a similar issue, but it turned out that the 2.4 net (only one with sufficient penetrability for such devices) had become unstable after (because of?) all the trial-and-error. Rebooting the router and restarting the Apple Home app rectified the problem, and after another reset, the switch connected and added. Hmmmm. Three switches to go and add to various automations and we’ll see if the issues have really been dealt with or not. 

Side issue: these new switches are all in the square profile decorator style in white. His old switches and plates are all toggle style and ivory. Four way switches in such colours and styles are over $30CDN each. Not part of the project at that price. Hey, they are purely mechanical–no automation. Five bucks should be plenty.   

One electronic oddity surfaced when fiddling with the switches and the recalcitrant Wi-Fi connection. The documentation is quite explicit that the various items (switches, plugs, relays) work only on a 2.4G network, and are specifically not compatible with 5.0G. He has an Asus 3200 router, which spins its wireless webs locally as one 2.4G net, and two 5.0G nets all with the same name except the last two names are suffixed 5-1 and 5-2. The devices may well have to all be on the 2.4G version (probably cannot talk to anything else), but that is not true of the controllers. His iPhone 12 talks quite nicely to all those 2.4-ers even when connected to one of the 5.0 nets. Go figure. Apparently as long as the net is served by the same router (and has the same first name for the net?), it doesn’t matter to the system. Who knew?

   Yet another piece of the automation is supplied by a relay (single pole) that can be installed in a fluorescent fixture and in the Spy’s case turns off two of three banks of lighting in his home office, leaving only the one farthest from his desk on (when the wall switch is of course). When teaching, the light from all three is excessive, washing out his cameras and therefore his feed. Even the notes he’s using can be hard to read in the glare. From a company branding its product “Smart Home” (but these may be generic) and sold in packages of two, these little boxes are easy to install in a fixture and set up on HomeKit, and have proven reliable thus far. They replace X-10 relays that did the same thing, but developed communication problems with his controllers.   

Ah, but at this point the Spy has a communication problem himself–he’s run out of words for today. He’ll mention as a note to self though, that purchasing one of the new M2 MacBook Pros, expensive as they are, might be a good idea. After all, if they really can run up to four external monitors, one could replace both his desktop and battery challenged sixteen inch laptop from the 2019 batch. Worth considering?  

Tune in next month.

Meantime, fellow Canadians, don’t forget that you also are next door to Russia and this country too has  a large Ukrainian population. If one neighbour can be exterminated for the glory of Tsar Putin, so can another.

–The Northern Spy

Opinions expressed here are entirely the author's own, and no endorsement is implied by any community or organization to which he may be attached. Rick Sutcliffe, (a.k.a. The Northern Spy) is professor of Computing Science and Mathematics and Assistant Dean of Science at Canada's Trinity Western University. He completed his fifty-second year as a high school and university teacher in 2022. He has been involved as a member of or consultant with the boards of several organizations, and participated in developing industry standards at the national and international level. He was co-author of the Modula-2 programming language R10 dialect. He is a long time technology author and has written two textbooks and ten alternate history SF novels, one named best ePublished SF novel for 2003. His various columns have appeared in numerous magazines and newspapers (dead tree and online formats) since the early 1980s, and he's been a regular speaker at churches, schools, academic meetings, and other conferences. He and his wife Joyce celebrated their fiftieth anniversary in 2019 and lived in the Langley/Aldergrove/Bradner area of B.C. from 1969 to 2021, where he now continues alone, depending heavily on family to manage. 

URLs for Rick Sutcliffe’s Arjay Enterprises: 

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Specifically Cited here: Meross Amazon Store:


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 Louvolite :


“Smart Home” relays on Amazon:

Elegato’s Eve–Amazon Store:

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About the Author

Rick Sutcliffe

Opinions expressed here are entirely the author's own, and no endorsement is implied by any community or organization to which he may be attached. Rick Sutcliffe, (a. k. a. The Northern Spy) is professor of Computing Science and Mathematics at Canada's Trinity Western University. He has been involved as a member or consultant with the boards of several community and organizations, and participated in developing industry standards at the national and international level. He is a co-author of the Modula-2 programming language R10 dialect. He is a long time technology author and has written two textbooks and nine alternate history SF novels, one named best ePublished SF novel for 2003. His columns have appeared in numerous magazines and newspapers (paper and online), and he's a regular speaker at churches, schools, academic meetings, and conferences. He and his wife Joyce have lived in the Aldergrove/Bradner area of BC since 1972.