The 4th, from my house.


Fireworks in my neighborhood.

I happen to really love shooting fireworks (both meanings). I’m not the only one; this photo is a preview of what my neighborhood will look like tonight. As a rule, we Idahoans LOVE our country and LOVE our fireworks. Did I mention that every single firework you see in this picture is Illegal in the State of Idaho?  I guess I didn’t, but that’s a discussion for a later time…

This was taken 3 years ago, We hadn’t been in our new house for very long and the only organized fireworks display I was shooting that year had been the night before. So we had a nice quiet 4th at home. Until sunset, when thousands of dollars of sparkly gunpowder was propelled en masse toward the heavens. Our quiet suburbia outskirts neighborhood lit up in a display that trumps most cities.

My dog? HATES fireworks.  He was a nervous wreck all night as the house shook every few seconds with each new mortar explosion, this continued from dark (about 10:30pm) to about 1:30am. He wasn’t a happy camper. To be fair, I wasn’t either when mortars were still going off every few minutes at 2am…

So tonight, like many Fourth of July nights, we’re headed to the hills for some peaceful, quiet, astrophotography. Happy 4th!

Posted in PhotoBlog

Severe Weather Alerts API – JSON Web Service

I’ve had a couple requests over the past few months to add a webservice to my WeatherAlerts project, the code for this is now functional (and working quite well) but I’m doing some testing with it before I release the new version. If you’d like to experiment with the webservice you can either run an instance yourself (three lines of code to get up and running) or use my reference/test implementation. The new feature is on the development branch of WeatherAlerts on github and you can find the documentation for it here.

If you’d like to try out a live instance, you can experiment with mine which is located at  take a look at the documentation for how it works, but currently there are only two endpoints. First hitting will give you json output of all active alerts in the US. If you want to get just your own area’s alerts, look up your SAMECODE  and query the API like so:,016001   replacing those samecodes with one or more samecodes that you care about.

The data is downloaded from the National Weather Service CAP Emergency Alerts Feed via my WeatherAlerts python package and it’s updated every minute. I’ll leave this running for my own experimentation and use in my own automation projects (instead of running multiple instances of WeatherAlerts) so feel free to use if for tinkering. But standard disclaimer applies, DO NOT DEPEND ON THIS FOR IMPORTANT STUFF (including but not limited to your continued existence). Your primary source of data and alerting should be the National Weather Service and NWS Radio. 

You may ask why I’m adding a webservice to WeatherAlerts when the NWS already provides a XML/CAP feed….  1) because I am already parsing that feed via WeatherAlerts, adding a simple queryable WS API was easy, I’ll be adding other queryable fields soon 2) I hate XML 3) I’ve had several requests for it


Posted in Tech Tagged , , |

Cortana: Home Automation A.I. (Intro)

House Temps

We’ll dive more into this later, but for now here’s an old screenshot of our house temps dashboard.

Meet Cortana…

This post has been a long time coming… a few of my friends and people I’ve met in my travels have been asking a lot of questions about a little project of mine, but thus far I’ve only mentioned it in passing on Google+ and twitter. This post will largely be a teaser, an intro, but will be the first in a series on Home Automation (HA), specifically, my take on it. In this series, I’ll try to outline my background in HA, the current state of my HA, a few of my goals and the general scope and direction of my project. I’ll start with an overview of the architecture, hardware and software then follow up with a deep dive into specific components of my setup including the monitoring networks, the chatbot user interface, some of the logic in my software, problems I’ve run into, a couple areas where I wish I had more expertise and hardware I wish existed. We’ll see where we go from there.

First, let me introduce you to my project, I call it “Cortana”… ok, many of you will recognize the name from HALO. My wife and I are both HALO fans and when I was trying to decide on a persona for my project after pouring through lists of AI names in Sci-Fi past and present, Cortana was the obvious winner. More on the need for a persona in later posts. I also refer to it as an “AI”. My project is pretty smart and it does learn from past conditions and results, but sadly there is no high level ground breaking artificial intelligence work going on here. Everything that happens is programmed to happen based on various conditions, commands or other input, as I said, there is learning involved, but it’s highly programmed. I use the term “Automated Intelligence.”

A little context

It might help to have a little background and context. I’ve always been interested in home automation, it started with switching a light remotely, this is where many home automation projects start, and promptly end. But two years ago we bought our ‘dream’ home on the outskirts of town; three bedrooms upstairs, one downstairs (my photo studio), front room, living room, a large kitchen and dining room, sizable garden, large back yard, three car garage, the works. For us it’s a crazy big house and we love it… We live in southwest Idaho, which is mostly high desert. Two months out of the year it’s freakishly cold. Two months out of the year it’s freakishly hot. But for 6-8 months of the year it’s nice enough outside that we’ll have windows open at some point during the day/night. Typically, in spring and fall we’ll have the windows open 24/7 for a month or so. You’ll see how these points matter as we dive further into my HA implementation.

After buying the house, I started in on some basic home automation (lights and such) but some manual tasks started to annoy me and caused me to take a step back, one big driver for the scope of my project is energy efficiency. Thankfully we have plenty of electrons here in Idaho and they’re fairly cheap, but I had inefficient processes/systems, so it ranks pretty high. We’ll dive deeper into my Home Automation Manifesto in the next post. But as my goals started to grow and the complexity of what I wanted to manage grew, I realized what I was whiteboarding was far different than your average HA project.

Off the Shelf?

There are a ton of off the shelf home automation systems out there. The vast majority of them suck. Ok, some of them are pretty impressive, but impressive carries a large price tag. And actually, even the really cool, crazy expensive systems don’t do some of the core requirements of my system. After searching various commercial systems, I knew it would have to be DIY, of course that’d make it much more fun too. I also spent a lot of time looking into the existing Open Source HA platforms, none of them quite fit what I was looking for. The better ones hadn’t been touched in ages and showed no signs of being resurrected. I wasn’t about to pull one out of the grave that was written in (insert any non python language here). So apologies in advance for not using (insert your favorite HA platform here). Generally the problems were 1) to simple 2) to complex for what they did 3) not extensible 4) horribly documented 5) Written in perl 6) Written in java 7) bad architecture 8) w. t. f. were you thinking?

That’s not to say that my project is the most amazing thing since sliced bread, but it works for me. Hopefully though, even if you don’t ever use a single line of code I’ve written, my thoughts, trials and errors as noted in this series will help you design and build your HA system.

Got Source?

Those that know me, or see my twitter bio, or have ever talked to me for more than 5 minutes, know that I’m an open source junkie. I love the open source community and what we are able to accomplish. Currently, my project is not open source, it will be one day. Once a component of it reaches some level of maturity, I will release it. Take WeatherAlerts for instance it’s part of my HA system and I have packaged it and released it via PyPI with the source is on GitHub. There are a couple other packages and snippets I have released to the wild and I have plans on releasing more over the next few months. It’ll probably be later this year before any core code is released. The reason I haven’t, is largely due to the fact that my core code is currently VERY specific to my implementation. 

Alright, enough rambling for now, I’ll try to post the first 3-4 parts of this every over the next 3-4 weeks, after that I’ll start into some deeper technical details and such every couple of weeks or so or as I add new components. I hope this series gives you some ideas. Please let me know if you have any questions, comments, ideas or such.

Posted in Tech Tagged , , , , , , , , |

WeatherAlerts Use Metrics

A couple years ago, I was needing a python script that would grab realtime Severe Weather Alerts and integrate that data into my Home Automation project. I couldn’t find anything (in any non-horrible programming language) that did what I wanted. So, I wrote a script to do it. It stayed hidden in the depths of my home automation project for several months until an acquaintance asked for a copy. I decided to go ahead and open source script, throwing it in a public github repo and packaging it for inclusion in PyPI. It’s called “WeatherAlerts.”  

Let me be completely clear, this package was a mess. It was my first foray into python packaging and it showed. It was also written much earlier in my python days, but, it worked (mostly). I decided that since it worked, if someone else could find use for it, or at least give them a starting point toward making something better… in the spirit of Open Source, I’d throw it out there. It’s had a few improvements over the past two years and recently it’s gotten much better but it’s still a functional mess though I’m working to fix that (the mess part).

Last year, my WeatherAlerts python package had a total of 3,574 downloads on PyPI. This year, it’s already at 2,409 with 1,287 so far this month… Since these numbers are just PyPI download counts, I don’t have any analytics on which to ponder, which drives me nuts. I do have analytics on the documentation I’ve posted and it has show a similar uptick recently. But it’s rather difficult to equate downloads to actual users considering bot downloads, redownloads, installs that are never used, cosmic events, etc. I’d love to know how many people actually use it…. When I decided to open source it, I assumed it might help as many as four or five users 🙂  Even if the PyPI numbers are way off, it is still being looked at a lot more than I would have expected.

Over the past few months, I’ve had a number of emails and social media contacts from users which has resulted in some great feedback and conversations. This makes me want to spend a few minutes some day to clean it up and make it presentable. 🙂 Regardless it has fulfilled the goal I had when I decided to open source it, that being to help more than 0 people, in the process I’ve learned more about python packaging, sphinx documentation and python as a whole.  

I have four public packages on PyPI and WeatherAlerts isn’t the most popular. NagParser is a package a Friend/Coworker and I open sourced shortly after I released WeatherAlerts. I just pulled the metrics for NagParser and it had over 17,300 downloads last year and is already sitting at 8,117 this year. The other two packages I have on PyPI are barely touched and getting less popular by the day (if that’s even possible) but I’m not offended, they’re very niche packages that are hardware or API subscription specific. 

I also have run my own PyPI/pip compatible server at home, for stuff that’s not quite open source ready or stuff very custom to me.

Posted in Tech Tagged , , , , |

Python Continuous Integration and Deployment (with Jenkins)

I’ve only been in the python community for about a year, so I’m still new, but I really do love coding in python. Anyway, I decided to open source a library (‘WeatherAlerts’) I started writing a few weeks ago.  I’ll post about it at some point in the future….  At first it was just a code repo on github, but after a bit of time working with it I wanted to package it and put it on pypi so it could be installed via easy_install or pip. With the state of change that python is in right now figuring out how to write the installer, have it support both python 2 and python 3 and get the package available on pypi wasn’t trivial. But now that it’s behind me, I have a much better understanding of python package management.

I had a simple test script that I was manually running every few commits and before pushing any changes out to the public repo. It worked, but being a Linux Systems Engineer though, this wasn’t going to stay that way long term. A lot of what I do in my day job is systems automation. Deploy servers, mange changes to large clusters, Continuous Integration and Continuous Delivery at the system level… So while my simple little python project was perfectly fine with being a manual build and deploy process, I couldn’t stand it.

So, I searched out a pythonic way to automate these tasks.

Continue reading »

Posted in Python, Tech Tagged , , , |

Urban Abstract

Three other photographers and myself got together today for a photo walk downtown, a chance to catch up with each other and take a photo or two in the process. This photo was one of results of the random meandering.

Posted in PhotoBlog

Winter Waterfall

In the wide variety of things I photograph, waterfalls rank pretty high on my favorites list. I also love winter and shooting black and white winter landscapes so it doesn’t get much better than a wintry waterfall scene. We headed up to one of my favorite (and sadly one of few) waterfalls in the area, Jump Creek Falls. This place is usually too busy for my tastes as it is a popular swimming hole where folks jump off the cliff all the time, thus the name. To many people, to much trash (by out west standards, saw one beer can) to many native paintings on the rocks, recent natives…. i.e. graffiti. But add six inches of snow and it’s a great place to go.

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Beach Night Glow

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Posted in PhotoBlog

Got Print?

As I sit here printing out some 4×6 proof shots – I am reminded of something I heard today. A photographer was speaking to a group of photo enthusiast about, you guessed it – photography. This person is fairly popular online and has somewhat of a name, especially in the tech world. Anyway, in the course of the conversation this person said. “You know, I have never printed one of my photos.”

Excuse me?

I won’t question the talent, or creativity of the photographer.. but come on, you’ve never printed one of your photos? Not once in the 5+ years you’ve been working?

Wow. Holy Crap. Wow.

She, I mean ‘they’, went on to talk about how their walls were blank and just never gotten around to having anything printed.

Walls Blank? ok, this I get. I constantly keep a queue on the website of my print house of thing I want printed BIG when time, money and space allow. Seems something is always jumping to the head of the line and if I could ever pick a photo for more than a day… I’d get more printed. But regardless, I do have stuff printed quite a bit and 8×10 or smaller I’ll print myself. I don’t have a lot hanging on the walls, but that’s more a function of space. I can’t imagine not having a few pieces of my own art on my wall… it’s inconceivable to me.

I’m assuming her clients have printed her images, and I really hope they were printed in a managed environment and not at the local department store though based on the above I’m guessing so. Maybe one of her clients should give her a print…

Seriously, I know we are mostly digital (some more than others) but never?

Posted in Random Thoughts