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Hello Twine, will your notifications ward off flooding in my basement? Fingers crossed little square turquoise buddy.

August 6, 2013 20% Time,Blog 0 Comment

Hello everyone, Josh here…

I use Twine, courtesy of supermechanical.com, to notify me via Twitter the state of the sump pump that services my home basement egress drain – when the pump is running, when it has stopped running, and if there is more water in the pit than desired.

Why Twine?  I found Twine online a few months ago during my quest for a water sensor that would send me a text message for alive and wet sensor states.  Those offered by the big box stores were primarily foreign made and would only tone an integrated alarm.  An alarm is great if I am asleep, but does little justice when I’m at work or out of town.  Out of the box Twine has built in sensors for temperature, vibration, and orientation.  I chose the external moisture sensor for obvious reasons; also purchased the Cloud Shield to leverage my interest in Arduino boards.  I was aware at time of purchase that a Twine instance can have one and only one external sensor connected at a time.  Here are some pics for your enjoyment.

They made this simple box and slapped on a mailing label.  Smart, simple, witty. IMG_0545 IMG_0552 IMG_0554 IMG_0555
Twine_inner_box_1 Twine_accessories Installing the batteries is pretty much self explanatory.  Supermechanical also provide a drawing for your convenience.  Some effort is required to force the rubber turquoise cover over the white plastic chassis. My bad, I didn’t take pictures of the top/bottom of white plastic chassis before integrating Twine with my sump pump. Twine_battery_directions Twine_battery_install
Upon opening the box, Twine’s cover is exposing the battery slots of the chassis.  Also, a 10′ sensor cable for my moisture sensor.  Remove this inner tray. This inner tray, under the first, contains the sensors I chose when placing my order – moisture sensor (“It’s wet”) and Cloud shield for and Arduino.  You see they sent batteries and a 3′ sensor cable.  Notice spaces for the other sensors.

Do this after the batteries are inserted.

Do these steps after the batteries are inserted.

 Moisture_sensor Cloud_Shield_with_sensor_cables

The setup of Twine was straightforward.  The card board box had all the directions necessary.  Insert batteries, cover case, turn over, hit the URL.  During my pre-purchase research, I was aware of system requirements, but then TWINESETUP.COM remined me of them before we got started.  I needed a 802.11b compatible Wi-Fi network running in my home, for my computer/laptop to be connected to the Wi-Fi network, and Javascript enabled in my browser (no IE support, score!).  Check, check, check.  For my setup, Twine communicates via WPA-2 with my Wi-Fi router.

TWINESETUP.COM

Following the initial setup I got kicked to the device management portal https://twine.supermechanical.com.  The site was SSL protected, but the certificate was not issued by an authority in the Firefox trusted root store.  I went with a new email identity for this login effort as there is no User AuthN API integration (boo, another un/pwd). A few months later https://twine.cc/ came along to settle my nerves on the SSL front.

Twine.cc_MainTWINE.CC

Upon login, I cannot complain too much about their dashboard, tough a manufacturer supported app would be 100x more useful when I’m on my mobile.  Here you see the state of your Twine – temperature, orientation, vibration state, information about the external sensor connected, and when Twine phoned home last.  You see links for help, forums, and rules.

Twine.cc_Dashboard_Main

Setting up rules is straightforward.  Click Rules > from the main dashboard and then + Add Rule.  You are presented with WHEN parameters and THEN parameters.  For WHEN, the + Add a condition drop down allows you to monitor something about Twine’s state – temperature, orientation (e.g. top, bottom) , vibration, or the external sensor (e.g. moisture).  THEN is all about what to do if for example the moisture sensor is triggered – blink Twine’s LED, send email/tweet/sms, call a phone number (speech-to-text), or HTTP GET and POST requests.  I have rules for both wet and dry.  Finally click ‘Save to Twine’.  It is best to flip Twine on its back (the side with the setup directions) for quicker updates to take.

Twine.cc_Dashboard_Rules

All of the rules I currently have send notifications to a Twitter account I set up just for Twine.   For $5/mo you can get 100 SMS (100 are included as part of the Twine purchase but I haven’t set mine up so cannot speak to any latency); $9/month for 200 text messages or voice calls (for the text-to-speech phone notifications).   No complaints about latency between activity and a tweet’s arrival.

Twine can be powered by both battery and micro USB into a standard wall power socket – I run both (using an old Kindle power cord) and am apparently supposed to receive a notification from Twine when the batteries are low.

My Twine is attached to the sump pump drain PVC pipe with a pipe clamp. The setup isn’t pretty but it works for now.

You are looking down at Twine.  Twine is secured to the sump pump drain pipe with a pipe clamp.

You are looking down at Twine.

The PVC pipe vibrates when the sump pump runs and Twine’s vibration sensor easily picks up the movement and sends a notification.Twine will notify when the sensor is wet.  Based upon the position of the sensor, I’m alerted to an issue with the primary pump. If the primary sump pump fails, water will start rising and I expect a notification from Twine.  Shortly thereafter, I expect a vibration notification from Twine, meaning that the secondary, marine battery powered sump pump is working.  And then, a notification from Twine that the moisture sensor is dry – the pump intake is below its sensor.Regardless of activity, if I get a notification that the moisture sensor is wet, I’m either headed home or calling a friend/neighbor to investigate.
Moisture_sensor_front Moisture_sensor_side
The moisture sensor is positioned between the sensor floats for the primary and secondary sump pump – the secondary sits higher in the pit.  It sits just at the bottom of the secondary pump’s float (black).

 

Likes/dislikes.

  • Yay.  Super support:
  • …I had issue early on with a damaged sensor cable from shipment.  From the Twine management portal, there is a help link directing you to http://help.supermechanical.com/.  Not bad that I could use my Google+ OpenID, but it’d be grand if the site enforced SSL and the certificate was issued from a trusted root.  In any case, the Supermechanical folks were quick with an email response and I had a new cable in just a few days.
  • …and then later on major issues with Twine’s wifi firmware.  Imagine being 1700 mi away from home on vacation, back home it is raining ALOT, and Twine has stopped phoning home to the Supermechanical portal.  I know water is pouring into my sump pit by the minute, but crickets from Twine.  Thankfully everything back home was fine and once back home the quick fix, recommended by Supermechanical support, was power cycling the device.  A few weeks later, just as Supermechanical support indicated, a firmware update was sent to Twine and I haven’t had any issues thus far.
  • Huzzah.  The product is mostly sourced and manufactured in the US (https://sourcemap.com/view/6095).
  • Eh.  1 Twine to 1 external sensor ratio.  I have to stop monitoring for moisture to try out the Cloud Shield, or buy another Twine.  I bought into the design so not complaining.  A comparison to @SmartThings though is always in the back of my mind – 1 hub to many wireless sensors.
  • =.  Twine reporting success is 100% dependent on Supermechanical’s https://twine.cc/ portal (not to mention the availability of my ISP).  Though leery of the availability of cloud services, I was quite aware of this when I purchased Twine.  The hosted service has however yet to experience noticeable issues.
  • :-/.  Not much research on my side but I haven’t located any service side timeline of Twine’s activity.  It seems I’d need to setup notifications for each temperature change, for example, and maybe store Tweets or SMS activity to a data store of some sort should I desire to analyze data trends.  Then again, if Twitter or my cellular provider are unavailable…

I hope this first blog of mine is a catalyst to more to come.  I have lots of interest in home automation and want to better collect my thoughts on what I’m learning related to identity & access management.  What’s next (random thoughts in no particular order)?

  • Add an in house alarm to alert me at night if there is flooding.  Perhaps using the Twine Cloud Shield + Arduino is an option.  Another is @SmartThings + water sensor + siren (will have to gauge the WAF on the siren, maybe I’d be smarter to have my bedroom light or TV turn on).
  • Monitor the backup sump pump batter charger.  The primary sump pump and the batter charger for the backup sump pump are fed by separate circuit breakers so throwing one circuit isn’t the end of the world.  The battery is rated for 8 hours, but it is a must to know if the battery isn’t being charged.  The moisture sensor is a good indicator if the primary pump has no power.  Monitoring the power cord that services the battery gets me closer to being all knowing.  T E D shows one example of doing this.
  • Research adding a cellular hotspot to enhance reliability of notifications.
  • Automate testing of the backup pump, moisture sensor.
  • Storing Twine activity in a data store of some sort.
  • @panic status board.
  • Learn to stop worrying.  The basement didn’t flood in the years before we bought the house.

I appreciate your read.  Feel free to comment, throw stones at the gaping holes, send donations.  BTW, my sump pump setup is the Zoeller Pro Pak 53.

~ @davisjoshuar

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