Z-Car

Troubleshooting and Hacking the Ambient Weather WS-0900 Weather Station

For Christmas I received the Ambient Weather WS-0900-IP Wireless Internet Remote Monitoring Weather Station.  This little unit is a great way to setup your own personal weather station, which as a bonus allows you to access the data over the Internet.

So, after setting up the unit, and playing with it for a while, I got the urge to start hacking it.  I found out that you can access the device over telnet.  The built-in controller has a limited set of commands, and unfortunately on this model, does not really have much utility.  After playing around with various commands to try and redirect the units update from weather underground to my own servers, I accidently used the fwupdate command which wiped out the units ROM.

Lesson learned, don’t mess around with stuff unless you are ok breaking it!  After a bit, I was able to work out the following procedure for reloading a valid firmware.

This is the proper fix if your  IP Observer is not connecting.  In this case, only the Power, Link and ACT lights are lit blue on the unit, and the ObserverIP module does not communicate to the server, and you cannot access the unit via the built-in web server.   This state will require that the firmware be reloaded.

  • Download the latest firmware here:  http://www.AmbientWeather.com/observerip.html 
  • Turn off the power to  the ObserverIP module however leave it connected to your network. 
  • Launch the IP Tools.   Because the ObserverIP module is turned off, you will not be able to locate it on your network, but continue anyway. 
  • Select the Upgrade button in IP Tools. 
  • Select the Select File button, and browse to the location of the file you downloaded in Step 1. 
  • Select the Upgrade Firmware button. 
  • Plug in the ObserverIP module. The software will locate the device on your network and begin the update.  The dialog box will display Received a Read Request from the ObserverIP module. A green progress bar will provide you with the upgrade status. 
  • Once the firmware upgrade is complete, the dialog box will display Read session is completed successfully.
  • Wait about one minute for the ObserverIP module to reboot, and then access the web server.

You should have a restored fully functioning unit!  I still have not been able to redirect the weather updates to another server.  In my unit, a WS-0900 with the 3.0.8 version it appear that the server that it connects to is a hard coded IP address.  Leave a message here if you have found a way to make this work.


Verizon FIOS box keeps beeping and red battery light is on – Cheap Replacement

Battery-Girl-2

So you suddenly notice that your FIOS box, usually mounted in your basement or garage, is beeping. On closer inspection, the red replace battery light is on. If you call Verizon, you will also learn that they will not replace the battery, it is your responsibility. They will sell you a new one, but it is not cheap.

Save yourself time, frustration, and money!  There are DIY solutions that will help you solve this issue.  Don’t waste your time trying to contact Verizon, or paying someone to turn off the beep.  This will only leave you frustrated, and out a lot of money.  

Now that you know this, you have two options that will save you a lot of money.

The first is to simply reset the unit. It seems that the FIOS box will often erroneously report that you have a bad battery, when you actually do not. To do this, unplug the FIOS box. Then open the battery compartment. Inside will be the sealed battery with two wires coming from it. Remove either the black or red connector, it may be easier to do if you slightly remove the battery by pressing down on the two plastic clips holding it place. Then wait for a minute or two after unplugging the battery. Then reconnect, close up the panel, and plug the box back into AC. At this point, you most likely will notice that the red light goes out, and no more beeping.

If this does not work, it means your battery is bad. Replacing your battery is a very easy process, and a new battery is amazingly cheap.  Don’t pay an outrageous amount of money for an “official” battery.  A OEM quality battery can be had for less than $20. You can buy a replacement locally, or order from Amazon here.  To install, remove power, open box, and remove both connectors.  Remove the battery and replace with the new one.  Make sure you hook up the red lead to the positive battery terminal, and the black lead to the negative.  Close everything up, and turn back on.  Congratulate yourself on saving some bucks and eliminating the annoying beep.

 Verizon FIOS Battery Backup

fios battery backup


Apple Bumper a rip-off – Best Cheap iPhone bumper/case

Apple Bumper is expensive rip-offLike most new iPhone 4 buyers, I knew that I had to purchase a bumper to insure no antenna issues, and I wanted something to protect my fancy new purchase, especially since I have a tendency to drop small expensive items.  So, I told the sales guy to ring up a black bumper and I would be on my way. Imagine my surprise when I got home and realized I paid $29 for a shockingly small amount of rubber stretched around my iPhone!

At least I was happy with my new phone, and the bumper did perform as advertised, it kept my phone safe, provided a grippy handle, and masked any antenna problems.  However, after six months it finally started to fall apart.

Being cheap, I just found it very difficult to accept that I would need to budget $30 every six months to the gods at Cupertino.  So, while placing an order for live crickets or some such on Amazon, I decided to buy a couple different cases and try and figure out which I liked better.  And, as a bonus I would have the opportunity to share my findings  with the two other folks who read this blog.

The first up was the Apple iPhone 4 Semi-Hard Polymer Crystal Case – Smokey for a cool $3.49.  This one was a bit of surprise, as I was expecting a softer (semi-hard?) feel.  In fact, this was the sturdiest of the three I tested.  While I am confident that it would do a good job protecting the phone, and it feels solid when gripping, it was a bit too industrial for my tastes.  But, I would use this as a back-up in a pinch if needed, no doubt.


The Yellow and Black Premium Bumper Case for the Apple iPhone 4 for AT&T was a tasty $2.99.  Really, how could you go wrong at this price?  The bumper slipped on with no problems, all teh buttons worked perfectly.  But, it had a fatal flaw for me.  The iPhone connecter in my car would not fit through the opening in the bottom.  The newer iPhone cable fitted fine.  I am tempted to do some minor surgery to fix this over-sight.  When completed, I will post an update.  If you only use the standard iPhone cable, this bumper will do the job for you, and it is an order of magnitude cheaper than the Apple original.


The last case I tried as the most expensive (if you can call it that), and the one going into the test that I expected to win.  That case is the Incipio NGP for iPhone 4/4S in Matte Black at a still very affordable $12.55.  This case is solid all the way around.  It is actually a case rather then just a bumper, it features an enclosed back.  The unit is made out of a very tough plastic that still has a bit of a rubber feel.  I am really enjoying this case, and again, the price is right.

As always, I am a huge fan of Amazon Prime.  The fact that I can buy a quality bumper for under $3 and have it shipped to my door in two days is really a pretty amazing thing.  Each of these cases/bumpers is a good value, I think most folks would be happy with any one of them, and at the rock bottom prices, but one of each like I did and pick your favorite.  You can then use the other two as backups, or switch it up every now and then to give your phone a new feel.

Wrap your iPhone in a rubber bumper


USA Spec PA15 – INFI iPhone/iPod interface for Infiniti G35x

Pretty girl next to her Infiniti G35x AWDI have a 2005 Infiniti G35x and have been wishing for years that the car had come with an AUX plug, or iPhone/iPod interface for almost the whole six years that I have owned it.  Several years back when looking for a solution, I found an interface that claimed to work, however it required the removal of the dash.  This was not an exercise that I was interested in undertaking, nor paying for. Removing the dash did not look like an easy task, not as simple as in many cars.

Fast forward a couple years…  A couple weeks ago I get my yearly XM radio renewal (another topic I will discuss in future post) and decided I needed to get my iPhone talking to my Infiniti pronto.   I quickly found out that several vendors now sold Infiniti/Nissan to iPhone/iPod interfaces.  Interestingly, USA-Spec was touting an interface that connected between the cars existing XM Radio and the in-dash stereo.  And, on the G35x sedan, the XM Radio was conveniently mounted in the trunk.  This unit also works with many other Nissan and Infiniti cars, but please take a look at the manual here to insure compatibility with your auto.

So, I purchased the unit from Amazon, and got it two days later (thank you Mr Prime).   In preparation, I cleaned out my trunk and did some searching for the XM tuner.  After popping the trunk, you will find a trim panel across the top of trunk.  Carefully remove several of the plastic pop-rivets using a blunt knife and lower the trim panel, it will still be attached to the piece that covers the rear-seats.  On the upper right-hand side you will find the XM tuner mounted in a rack on the bottom with the connecter located on the right side.  This connecter is removed and the connecter from the PA 15 – INFI is mounted in-between the two.

I simply snaked the control unit cable under the rear seats and up along the drive tunnel.  You can be ultra-clean and run under the carpets, or go ghetto and just thread it out the ski pole opening.  Once everything is connected, connect your iPhone and run through the simple setup instructions in the manual.  This will allow you to choose via playlist, artist, or song.  In addition you can run in direct mode, the cool part of this is it allows you to access any audio application on your iPhone, including Pandora!  Lastly, there is also an Aux interface that allows you to plug in any device that can connect via a 3.5mm AUX jack.

While the manual does a pretty good job walking through all the options, walking through playlists/artist/songs can be a bit tedious if you have large song collection, but a little bit of practice will help.   The audio quality is very good, the integration is surprisingly good considering USA Spec has basically just hacked the system to make your iThing look like a XM tuner or CD Changer.

In the end, USA Spec has a real winner.  As mentioned, I found the sound quality to be excellent, and installation was a breeze.  If you run into any issues, just leave me a message here and I will try to help out.

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Cold Fire on The Discovery Channel, Put a Hex on You!

Wow, the second season of Pitchmen aired last night on the Discovery Channel®, without Billy Mays (RIP).  This year the show will be hosted by Andrew “Sully” Sullivan, and the first two main products that got the spotlight were Cold Fire® and Hex Light®.

Cold Fire™ is an environmentally friendly fire extinguishing agent that puts out ANY fire faster, safer, with less water, less damage to property, and less risk to firefighters. Cold Fire cools 21 times faster than water, and works to remove heat and the fuel sources from the fire tetrahedron, preventing re-ignition.  The Cold Fire fire extinguisher was used on Sully, after he lit himself on fire, and as expected, Cold Fire worked to put the fire out on Sullivan.

During test marketing the product sold nearly 1 million units according to Pitchmen, so it certainly seems that people are excited about Cold Fire.  As the show explained, this is not really a new product, it is  just being pitched in a new way.

HexLight was the second product featured, it is a LED flashlight that is worn around the wrist or forearm, so that both of your hands can be free.  What you end up with is a battery operated hands free flashlight that ingeniously beams a surprising strong burst of light in the direction the wearers hand is pointing.


Wireless Power Part II – Was Nikola Tesla Right?

A couple weeks ago, I posted that a small company named PowerMat had created a mat that delivered power wirelessly to small appliances like cell phone, shavers, etc.  Because the device and the mat still needed to be in contact, I claimed that this was not true wireless power delivery, and declared myself the winner in a bet between myself and friend who we know as Tim.   He had claimed that we would soon have wireless power delivery, while I felt that sending power will-nilly through the air was a lawsuit waiting to happen.

Well today, I came across a few new articles.  Ok, I did not come across them, Tim sent them to me after realizing that I had claimed victory.  Apparently some researchers at MIT lit a 60-watt light bulb by transferring energy through the air from the power delivery base to a device attached to the bulb.  The researchers have dubbed their invention, “WiTricity”.

Essentially they have extended induction’s reach by projecting a magnetic field from a length of coiled wire that has two ends almost touching, which forms a gap.   This gap forces electrons to travel back and forth through the coil, creating a magnetic field that oscillates at a specific frequency. The device attached to the light bulb has a similar gap with the exact same frequency, thereby allowing it to “pickup” the energy.

Backing my claim, theoretical physicist Douglas Stone of Yale University commented, “The big showstopper for this, would be if people, entities or devices that are not supposed to absorb the radiation do absorb it.”  In layman’s terms, that means if you got in the way of a couple hundred watts, you would feel like you stepped into a microwave oven.

Tim also cited several articles, including Pinpoint microwave resolution could lead to wireless power transfer and a Biography of Nikola Tesla which you can read at your leisure.  So what do you think, is Tim right and we will soon have wireless power delivery, or am I right and we should just stick to wires?