Nest for Sprinklers: OpenSprinkler

My friend Jeff Cable was one of the early adopters of the Nest thermostat. At the time we talked a lot about the obvious next step of supporting home sprinkler/irrigation controls. Especially here in California (where we are in a pretty serious drought), having better control over irrigation (not to mention the remote access) seems like the logical next step.

Rather than waiting around for Nest, I just bought and installed an OpenSprinkler. OpenSprinkler started out as a hobby kit for makers and they still sell it a variety of ways, from kits to completed units. The software is open source as well.

There is also the possibility that if OpenSprinkler can get certified by the EPA WaterSense program, that rebates from water agencies could be possible (similar to low-flow toilets, energy-saving water heaters, etc.). Getting certified is still on the to-do list according to this OpenSprinkler update from Feb 2015.

Hardware

Replacing my old Lawn Genie controller with the OpenSprinkler controller was really simple. All the cabling is compatible (assuming you have the standard 24 VAC controllers), so it’s just a matter of reconnecting everything to the OpenSprinkler. You’ll also need to connect to your home network with an Ethernet cable. (The OpenSprinkler itself does not have Wi-Fi.)

Here’s a comparison of the old Lawn Genie and the new OpenSprinkler:

Photo of Lawn Genie sprinkler controller
My original 20+ year old Lawn Genie controller
Photo of OpenSprinkler controller
My new OpenSprinkler installed

Software

The more interesting part is the software which is easy to set up from a web browser. You can give your zones nice names like “front lawn” or “back roses” so you don’t have to remember zone numbers. Programming the schedule is pretty straightforward as well. If you attach a rain sensor, the OpenSprinkler can also operate in a smart weather mode where it decreases the amount of watering based on local rain or weather forecasts from Weather Underground.

Once you have the software configured, I recommend downloading one of the OpenSprinkler mobile apps so you can control everything from around the house (via Wi-Fi). For me this was one of the best use cases: while I’m out adjusting sprinklers I can remotely turn each zone on or off. (I know, the exciting life of a homeowner!)

With all of the above you’ll have mobile access, but only on your home wireless network. You can also configure your home network to allow access externally from anywhere (depending on your comfort level for setting this up and exposing to the internet in general). Now you can have remote access just like you can for your Nest thermostat :)

Screenshot of OpenSprinkler mobile app
The mobile app interface, including local weather

Yahoo! Pipes Closing

Just A Pipe Dream

I was sad to see this week that Yahoo! Pipes will be closing soon. Pipes launched in early 2007, so it had a pretty good 8+ year run.

People created some pretty crazy mashups with Pipes. For me the simple ability to combine RSS feeds with some simple logic was very useful (for example: 2014 Tech Advent Calendars). I also recently created some Stack Overflow feed tools for work which will have to be recreated in Python or something similar.

The news was part of a broader product update from Yahoo: Q2 2015 Progress Report On Our Product Prioritization. Also included was the news that Yahoo! Maps will be closing down at the end of this month.

I worked at Yahoo for almost 7 years and the phrase “Product Prioritization” became kind of a good-news/bad-news thing towards the end. It always sounds good (it’s logical to focus resources on the most important products and sites), but if the closure affected the site that you work, that’s not as much fun. (In the end that was the final result for me and much of my team on the Yahoo Developer Network.)

Photo Credit: Just A Pipe Dream by Paul B (Flickr)

Best Technical Podcasts

Podcast Equipment Photo

Every so often I like to publish my current podcast subscriptions (last update from late 2013: Top 7 Technical Podcasts). Since joining DataStax a year ago my commute time is significantly shorter, so I’ve slimmed down my playlist as well.

Here is my current subscription list:

Hanselminutes [rss]

One of my favorites. Scott Hanselman is a great interviewer and runs through a broad variety of guests.

Giant Robots Smashing into other Giant Robots Podcast [rss]

One of my other favories. Ben Orenstein from Thoughtbot hosts. Plus, the title is cool.

.NET Rocks! [rss]

I’ve been listening to these guys for over 10 years now, and they’ve recently hit episode 1132. That’s a lot of podcasts! In March 2014 they merged in The Tablet Show (which had 130 episodes on its own). These days it’s not only about .Net, but covers a lot of different technologies and platforms. The Geek Out espisodes are especially good, if you’re in to that sort of thing.

RunAs Radio [rss]

Hosted by Richard Campbell (also of .Net Rocks!), this podcast is more IT-focused, giving a slightly different perspective.

The Changelog [rss]

I kind of dropped out of this one for a while, but recently have been catching most episodes. They cover a nice cross-section of different open-source projects.

Startups For the Rest of Us [rss]

Rob Walling and Mike Tabor covering all aspects of bootstrapping and running your own SaaS business. It makes me wish I was actually doing that, but in the meantime I enjoy hearing about it.

Zen Founder: Startups. Family. Life. [rss]

From Rob Walling (of Startups for the Rest of Us) and his wife. I’ve only recently starting listening, but it seems promising.

Product People [rss]

I really enjoyed the interview style and variety of guests on this show by Justin Jackson. It’s no longer regularly produced (last episode was December 2014), but I’m still subscribed to scoop up any new ones.

Kalzumeus Software Podcast [rss]

It’s not published very often, but still worth hearing the latest ideas from Patrick McKenzie and his experiences running SaaS businesses.

Colophon:

I’m still using and can highly recommend the Downcast iPhone app. It has a handy export feature for your podcast subscription list in OPML format. I have a simple Python script (podcast.py) which converts it to Markdown text, then I just added my review comments to create this point.

Photo credit:

My Podcast Set I by Patrick Breitenbach (Flickr)

Traffic Resuming After WordPress Hack

Early in March this site was hit with a WordPress hack that was present for about 10 days until I discovered and fixed it. After the fix I was frequently checking Google Webmaster Tools to make sure search results returned. After about one week, my traffic (from Google at least) had pretty much recovered to the pre-hack levels:

Google search traffic screenshot
Google search traffic recovering after WordPress hack removed

And here is the corresponding timeline from Google Analytics, showing traffic slowly returning to normal:

Google Analytics traffic screenshot
Google Analytics numbers recovering after WordPress hack removed

Recovering from a WordPress Hack

Last night I had the unpleasant discovery that this site’s WordPress had been “hacked”, with every post redirecting to an uploaded “this site has been hacked” variety of HTML file. I looked back and realized it happened on March 1st and mad at myself for not noticing sooner.

Fortunately it was pretty easy to clean up by zapping the database and restoring from a good backup (thankfully I have daily backups running).

The harder part is going to be recovering in Google’s view. Search queries as shown in Google Webmaster Tools dropped like crazy right away:

Search queries chart from Google Webmaster Tools
Search queries chart from Google Webmaster Tools

And here’s the corresponding crawl errors view:

Crawl Errors Chart from Google Webmaster Tools
Crawl Errors Chart from Google Webmaster Tools

Hopefully after a little time the Google crawler will see all those pages returned, but I’m guessing whatever page rank I had will be very slow to recover (if it ever does). In the meantime I’ve improved my WordPress security a bit more, updated to the latest of everything, and removed a few unused plugins. Next will be to set something up to notify me more quickly if this happens again.