Automation, Ninja Blocks

Thoughts on open source automation

Lots of things going on on the open hardware and open source front these days. Many more advanced users are looking to use those innovations in their home. The way I look at it is geeks built tools to help geeks out with annoyances. As an IT guy, my annoyances are not in my home so much as my work place. Some examples.

Ninja Blocks

I used the Ninja Blocks as a cheap backup system to counter-verify data from my main systems for temperature and movements. They are so easy to setup and move around I can also use it to monitor places that are not covered by the main system. I would not deploy it in production as the main system. Being wireless it’s not the best fit for enterprise needs, but the cheap supply chain powering the Ninja Blocks, makes it a very solid backup and test system.


openHAB is the most single amazing piece of software out right now for automation. It’s a programmable brain. You can connect openHAB to almost any connected object out there. If you can’t, you can easily write a plugin to support it. Once you have it configured, you can add rules based on states or events. It’s really powerful. I use it at work to drive almost every connected devices in the building.

The best thing is that once you have openHAB running, all your stuff is exposed trough a neat Web API. It’s the first effort to normalize the data and the communications between all connected devices.

Raspberry PI

No secret, it’s everywhere now. When people are talking about commodity hardware the PI is what I have in mind. Granted the GPO headers are a bit weird compared to the BeagleBoard or Arduino, but a full stack at 59 bucks (with case and Noob SD card) that’S a steal. We use it to monitor commodity hardware like distribution switches too cheap to support SNMP, PDUs, UPS and mode.

With a Shinken server, the RPis are used as the data source and the monitoring process for the hardware. Once you have the basic images, you can just copy them with a disk dump (dd) and voilà!

With the current price of home automation hardware, I think we’re still in enterprise price tags. But it’s getting really affordable. Before long we’ll have usable home solutions, but until then, keep on hacking in the workplace.

Ninja Blocks

What I had to do to get my Ninja Blocks running

I went and order the december batch of Ninja Blocks. Got it in the mail last week. I was psyched!

What you need to do is not quite easy to figure out. So in order to save yourself a bunch of time I won’t get back, I’ll document everything here.

Register your NB

Plug it in the wired ethernet port, go in the backend of the NB interface and add it using the serial number. Once that’s done you’ll get the IP of the device.

Setup the NB so it’ll actually work

SSH into the NB (which is a beagleboard). Password is temppwd

ssh ubuntu@ip_of_the_NB
sudo su -

Update the Wifi chip, otherwise your setup process will never complete.

curl | bash

Install the NB management interface so the online backend will work

curl | bash

After that you can complete the setup on the administration page of the NB.