Useful applications of embedded and not-so-embedded computing around the home

Branching from: Getting Away from Intel/x86 - #13 by Vertiginous

It’s too easy to succumb to hype about the great specs you’re getting for such a low price, BUY IT NOW!
Or maybe you have this problem where you see perfectly good tech, that decades ago would have been a supercomputer, now heading to the landfill for the crime of being outside of its 3 year warranty.
I’ll admit, I’m both. My closet contains at least 3 desktops computers ranging from Pentuim 4, Core 2 Duo, and even an early gen i5. And probably countless (at least on one hand) singleboard computers and wifi microcontrollers too.

I know what you CAN do, the question is what SHOULD you do with these things, that actually represents some modicum of benefit or convenience that’justifies the setup, troubleshooting, maintenance, and security consideration. Heck, even if its not DIY - are there any “Smart” “IoT” or whatnot services that you find convenient. I’m feeling like a luddite, but I actually prefer things that keep working even if the wifi router stops. What to do with all this tech that we’re drowning in?


Solar monitoring.

Blog posts comparing different things to each other.

I have a Roomba and Nest that are “IoT,” and I’m not a huge fan of either, but the Nest does a good job of running the heat pump sanely and not triggering backup coils stupidly, so… I put up with it.

Running farmOS on a home server makes a lot of sense for my use-case since most of the traffic is local - though it’s exposed to the internet for phones and the occasional off-site access.

Also solar monitoring with InfluxDB/Grafana.

Have you considered getting fancy with router configuration, maybe openwrt or similar, to try to isolate/sniff traffic?

Once you’re running your own Grafana or whatever logging solution, why would a thermostat or heat pump need to be on the internet? I can’t say for sure but the risk of being an unknowing beta tester via OTA updates or joining some hackers botnet outweighs any benefit I could see from having these devices on the public internet. Or maybe less paranoid reason, my terrible internet struggles with videochats as-is and the last thing I want is more unknown/uncontrollable network traffic from any random toothbrush, vacuum cleaner, lightbulb, toaster.

I like the idea of something like a IoT locked down network, but I’ve never gotten into that type of networking to know how to implement it effectively.

I run Mikrotik. If I can dream it and am crazy enough to implement it, I can do it. I do have a separate IOT segment, but it’s not really isolated from the rest of the network because I like to talk to my solar inverters and see what they’re doing. Once I’ve got better logging on them, I’ll probably lock that down better. I’m pretty sure that iot network routes out my backup/bulk transfer connection, so it doesn’t interfere with the interactive traffic out the primary link.

Arguments for the thermostat being on the internet: It pulls weather information down and can learn how long it takes my heat pump to heat my house in particular conditions, so it knows roughly when to early start it in the winter to heat the house up for morning without having to use the backup coils.

I generally trust Nest/Alphabet to keep their devices sanely updated, but increasingly I’m not so sure that’s true, and I’m considering if I want to keep that or go to something that just uses an outside weather station to accomplish the same goal. The phone app use is almost non-existent and if you don’t have that hooked up, the home/away stuff gets quite annoying.

The Roomba does a lot of online cloud crap, and while I’m not a huge fan of it, it does beat me doing all the vacuuming. My wife likes it, and it does keep the house looking a bit neater, though it was way more useful when people weren’t home all day, every day… the kids do mess with it an awful lot. No matter which way it turns, tap the bumper and laugh hysterically

In general, if you want to lock down an IOT network, the following would be useful:

  • Separated SSID.
  • No default forwarding on that SSID, so devices cannot talk to each other, only to the router.
  • Bandwidth limits/bucketing so the device can only send a limited amount of traffic upstream over a long period of time. I’m fine letting it run “unrestricted” for short periods, as long as it’s bursty and not sustained. Perhaps report out if something is sending a ton upstream.

That should mostly solve the device problems, or, at a minimum, contain them and limit the damage they can do.

backup/bulk transfer connection, … primary link.

Do you have 2 internet subscriptions, or are these virtual segments of your network traffic that are prioritized differently like with QoS or similar?

For my personal situation, im also in a complete cell dead zone, not even a SMS or call comes through on any carrier, let alone 3g or LTE connection. Entirely reliant on a 3 down/1 up DSL connection, phones work over wifi calling. A roomba’s probably okay in reality, but anything like video feeds constantly going “to the cloud” would likely ruin the internet experience here.

Im pretty sure I have a little usb travel router thing somewhere, maybe I’ll see how far i can get making that an IoT network

I started with pi-hole, and it lead me down a rabbit hole of how much more secure and reliable things can be with properly configurable hardware. That lead me to PFsense, which I installed on an old small-form-factor PC with a new network card. Besides more rules, settings and configurations than I really know what to do with, it’s got the PFblockerNG plugin that basically builds-in pi-hole style blocking of ads and common addresses of gadgets/apps trying to phone home.

I’ve got more to learn about VLANS and other traffic rules. I’d like to add an outdoor IP camera or two to the network, but it doesn’t appear that one with trustworthy firmware exists at any price, so I’ll need to figure out isolating it on the network properly.

Aside from not trusting cloud/IOT services very much, must of my self-hosting is for reliability compared to my crummy rural internet. Mostly a couple Raspberry Pi’s doing odd jobs and another repurposed desktop for x86-only software.

I’ve been enjoying Dokuwiki most recently to organize reference material for electronics, machining, welding and some parts/supply inventory.

Two internet connections. Both suck in their own unique ways, but tend to do so at different times.

Well home file server and doing map photogrammetry processing is the main use of my hardware here.

I came across the FreedomBox project, the video got me hooked was : Eben Moglen - Freedom in The Cloud - YouTube

I know no one really likes long videos, neither do I but this speech was good. But for tldw;

  • with a huge effort, Free beat Proprietary in the battle for the server, now most the top tech companies run Linux instead of Windows Server
  • Early internet was not conducive to having 24x7 home internet connection, leads to peer to peer internet protocol hosting mostly client/server software
  • data-> money mechanisms turn server software companies into surveillance machines, using more resources to track everyone around the whole internet than actually providing services users want
  • geeks know how to self host most or all the services big companies offer, and its all free. the amount of storage and bandwidth needed per person, once the tracking is removed, is small enough to easily run on cheap or free (garbage bound) hardware, now having 24x7 internet access.
  • FreedomBox is a project to bring user friendly point and click interface so anyone can setup and admin.

Well the projects been going and it hasn’t exactly caught on like wildfire, but it’s still interesting to me. Technically I suppose its similar to yunohost or a homeserver dashboard type thing. I’ve been messing with it a bit and it’s okay, of course it’s not an Apple product when it comes to UI. I don’t have a good internet connection to want to self-host internet available things so that limits a good part of the functionality.

My threshold for keeping old x86 machines around is Gigabit Ethernet. if it’s old enough to be 10/100, I am not patient enough to wait for it. Old P4 hardware is just too slow but more significantly too power hungry to be useful for anything.

For router and AP, I’ve been using UBNT EdgeRouter X ($50 price point is amazing) and UniFi APs. It isn’t completely free/open, but is far more accessible (you can ssh in) and more wizard friendly (they now support dual WAN connections out of the box!) than most routers. Others compile their own binaries and run them on the router too. I haven’t used the “log your router into our cloud” stuff at all, and the router just keeps running without needing to reboot (unlike my comcast modem, grumble).

For home automation, I have a few proprietary things around the house, but I plan to move to HomeAssistant (I have one thing using it right now) and build my own ESP8266 based on/off relays, temp sensors, etc.

If anyone wants, I do have a box full (a dozen maybe) of x86 SBCs; PCI (not e). I think they’re officially Celeron, but of the Pentium III era. Bonus; they can run off straight 5V supply (multiple amps). 2mm 40-pin IDE header (no sata), serial, 10/100 10BT, and other stuff. Meant for a passive PCI backplane, but you don’t need one to run this board. I’ve been meaning to put them on ebay, just not enough tuits.