Some Techno-Geekery at Home
Obviously the blog hasn’t been updated for a long time. That either means nothing of note has happened or so much has been happening I just haven’t had time to keep things updated. It’s a little bit of the latter, and predominantly because I simply couldn’t be bothered. Anyway, today’s post is very much a first world problem and my current solution.
When putting ‘The Son’  to bed in the evenings we like to switch on the air conditioning unit in his room so it’s not too hot and humid. Unfortunately, the aircon in his room is of the non-remote control, plugged into the wall and manually switched on variety. The switching on is obviously no problem – however, at some point it does need to be switched off, and this means going back into the room and running the gauntlet of potentially waking him up. And that’s a quick way to ruin the evening … Like I said, first world problem, but still one that needs solving.
 You mean you didn’t know? This probably falls into the first category of reasons as to why this hasn’t been updated for so long …
The other half (OH from now on I think), had suggested putting some kind of ‘plug timer’ device on the socket that the aircon was plugged into. This would certainly have worked as designed, but wouldn’t have given a huge amount of flexibility, and to be honest, is a bit too boring for my liking. And let’s face it, we’re living in the 21st century now, and supposedly the Internet of Things means everything is going to be connected.
Clearly this called for something a bit more geeky. The answer, unsurprisingly, is a wifi enabled plug socket passthrough adapter. With this gizmo, it plugs into the socket, and the aircon then plugs into it. The power can be controlled by an app on Android or iPhone. Early research (i.e. using google and amazon) suggested there were quite a few options available. However, the requirement of a UK plug socket limited choices a bit, and then limited options completely as it seems Amazon UK wouldn’t ship them to Hong Kong. I suspect they don’t like exporting electrical related products – even though Hong Kong has the same electrical system as the UK. Prices were also looking slightly higher than I imagined, e.g. 40GBP per unit.
Not to be deterred, it occurred to me that these things are going to be made in China, and I live in
China Hong Kong then surely there must be a more local solution. And indeed there is … alibaba.com (OK, not so much local as massively global these days). No such shipping restrictions here. And choices galore. In fact it was difficult to decide which suppliers to contact.
The fact I didn’t want to order 100s or 1000s of units, as well as the strict design guidelines I had in mind (i.e. it wouldn’t fail the ‘it’s ugly’ test from the OH) helped narrow this down somewhat and I think I sent off contact requests to about 5 different suppliers. Of which only one responded and asked for my WhatsApp contact details. Not exactly ideal, but I figured I would be providing contact details if an order went ahead, so duly contacted ‘Crystal’ via WhatsApp.
Despite my initial caution, this started very well. The company was based in Shenzhen, had the units in UK format in stock, and could ship the following week. Each unit would be US$20 – so I ordered three. The only problem was that Crystal required a delivery address in Chinese … I had decided to get delivery to my office, and even though the official address is English in Hong Kong, I still needed to supply a Chinese address for delivery.
The double sided printing of business cards here, with one side in English, and one side in Chinese came to the rescue. A quick scan provided the address in Chinese, and sure enough a few days later three wifi enabled plug adapters turned up. one of which has been installed into The Son’s room for his aircon, and we’re now happily remotely controlling the aircon without the danger of waking him up and ruining our evening.
The plugs are Orvibo S20 models, and it seems they’re not particularly security conscious. Initial pairing sends your supposedly secret WPA2 passphrase in cleartext to the S20. However, the easy setup didn’t work for me – probably due to so many wifi signals in our vicinity, so I had to use the AP set up method where the S20 hosts a wifi network which your smartphone joins, and then you configure the S20 for the real wifi network. Once this was completed, then I could use the app on my phone whilst connected to my home wifi network.
Kind of. The S20 app on Android called Wiwo looks pretty modern and seems to adhere to Google’s material design guidelines (suggesting it might be reasonably recently coded). Unfortunately it kept crashing on my phone (running Kit Kat). It worked on my tablet though (running Lollipop), even if it didn’t really conform to the tablet layout. Fortunately, the older Wiwo app (designed for S10 plugs apparently) does work on the phone, even if it is a bit ugly. The OH gave this solution the thumbs up, and even installed the iPhone app … which promptly refused to find the S20 plug. Fiddling about in the app settings, I randomly added the wifi details, and lo! it found the S20. Overall app experience felt a bit flaky.
Doing a bit of network scanning, it seems that the S20 listens for UDP traffic on port 10000. There’s a couple of blogs that go into way more detail than I needed, but it shows some promise for being able to control the socket outside of the app. Even better, I found that someone had put together a driver for Orvibo kit (including the S20) for a solution called ninjablocks. Unfortunately, ninjablocks was a Kickstarter project that as of a couple of weeks has run out of money, and is starting to wind up, which is a shame.
The outcome of this is that I could install the ninjablocks software on a Raspberry Pi, register this to the ninjablocks cloud, and then remotely control the aircon via this cloud dashboard. For however long the ninjablocks cloud remains in operation anyway.
Sorry – a much longer post that I initially imagined. Well done on getting this far, just to read about me plugiing an aircon in.