offset \ˈȯf-ˌset\ noun

a force or influence that makes an opposing force ineffective or less effective

Some More Home Automation

Our place just got smarter ;) First thing to sort was a fiber optic connection. Getting the router to behave was a pain. One ISP had an abysmally bad router and I am very tired of dealing with the technical support that knows less than me and should know more. I could avoid this, scratch that, I should avoid this by always going with a provider that would either allow a personal router or have theirs act as a bridge so I don't have to destroy my local network every time. We canceled the existing contract with the ISP providing coax network and switched to fiber optics with another ISP. This second ISP was, as said, bad, so we had to cancel them as well within two weeks and switch to the third one using the same infrastructure. The speeds are still not as promised, but are at least a bit more stable, with a router that has miles more options than than I expected. I hooked up one external drive so it behaves like a simple NAS now, as well as streamlining the devices connected to the internal network. For the ones who want to know more, it's a Fritz!Box model.

Moving on from there, I've set up CCTV with Reolink cameras using ONVIF Home Assistant integration. I was able to hook into streams on that side with Picture Glance card showing it. The motion sensor had to be interfaced through the local REST endpoint because it wasn't available out of the box with the integration. Fortunately, configuring it was not complicated. It looks something like this:

  - platform: rest
  resource: http://camera.local.ip.address/api.cgi?cmd=GetMdState&user=username&password=password
  name: My Camera Motion
  scan_interval: 2
  value_template: "{{ value_json[0].value.state }}"
  device_class: motion

It can later be added in the Home Assistant for display and automations. I'd need to tweak movement detection so I can record and send notifications properly when away from home.

In other news, we also got some additional Tradfri lighting under the bed (but alas no sensor yet), a shortcut button to switch scenes (even though the same can be achieved with a phone and Home Assistant scripts, which we did, but we don't always have our phones on us), a signal repeater for ZigBee so I can extend the range of our mesh (for future projects), and this cool showerhead that is powered by dynamo so it shows the temperature of water both numerically and in LED color (I know, we've got nothing better to do).

We also got a Chromecast to skip overloading our Raspberry with things. It proved to be OK and it works. Disney's application on PS4 constantly crashes on us after 10 minutes and this is a workaround so we can watch the shows over there. It also works with the NAS because we can stream videos on it through BubbleCast app on Android.

There are things in the pipeline that I'm to do in the coming months regarding home automation. I am aware that I need to wait to get all the equipment that comes to mind, but it only means that I'll have more things to write about. With another COVID-19 variant out there and the increasing number of people we know getting sick, we're staying put this year. Who knows. We might end up watching Home Alone. Not just live it :D

Topsoil Loss Problems

So COP26, right? More greenwashing, more broken promises. Abby Martin of the Empire Files asked Nancy Pelosi about military being exempt from the climate change talks and got a ridiculously evasive answer. Even more ominously, the answer implied that the primary way military was going to be involved in fighting climate change was to enforce security when inevitable unrest due to migrations and conflicts over reducing resources erupts. So, of course it needs to be extra funded. Nobody batted an eyelash.

At this point it's really hard to stay composed looking at the world go to waste. Aside from putting the pressure, people should also offer solutions. All of the activist efforts start to look like an exhaust valve, a catharsis. The pressure is not doing much. I was optimistic about the Paris agreement, but was ultimately disappointed, as noted previously.

Aside from the world being agonizingly slow to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the biodiversity loss promises also not being kept (seems like we're constantly going down because they weren't kept under control a decade ago either), there's another pressing issue that does not get enough attention - the ongoing soil erosion. For instance, where it's easiest to observe - the struggle to contain expanding deserts - there are concrete efforts undertaken, like the Great Green Wall, with varying levels of success. These efforts do, however, demonstrate that once we set our minds to things, we can do them. But there's a less obvious aspect of it, where we're going about our business as usual, which is overfarming and the related topsoil loss.

Topsoil is the upper layer of soil with the biggest amount of the organic matter where most of biological soil activity occurs. To put it simply: no topsoil, no food.


We're originally from a place that is a part of the Pannonian Plain. It's not a mountainous area and is fit for growing crops; especially the staple foods, which are the basis of agriculture. They like to say it's the granary of the country, although with all the import/export activities, it's just one piece of the larger puzzle of food security in the world. However, I've heard it said from the people working the land that there's only around a hundred years of crop harvesting left in the region and that's it. They're being optimistic. Back in 2014, that is seven years ago, FAO notified that we have around 60 years of topsoil left. Right now it's closer to 50.

One of the largest influencers on the modern world is dr. Norman Borlaug. He's not studied in history, but he should be. A Nobel laureate holding a peace prize received in 1970, also called "the father of green revolution", he is credited with saving over a billion people from starvation. Quite amazing. He was an agronomist that developed a strain of high-yield wheat that greatly improved food security. Especially in developing nations. Talk about singular achievement in saving the world. However, I am afraid that our farming practices are failing the civilization and high-yield crops won't be enough anymore if they have nowhere to grow.

So, erosion of topsoil obviously leads to worse crop yield and food scarcity, but that's only part of the problem. The soil loses its filtration properties and allows pollutants into groundwater, damaging water quality. Erosion increases sedimentation in waterways. Water and land wildlife habitats are destroyed, biodiversity takes a hard hit and the cascading system failure gains momentum bringing about undesirable changes in things we think are not affected, yet they are. Once these changes affect human communities and their ability to survive where they've lived for centuries, these populations will be forced to move, igniting new societal and economic pressures. Topsoil loss affects systems across the board. It's all interconnected.

The World Soil Day was conceived for raising awareness of such catastrophes. Greta Thunberg's campaign is raising climate change awareness, the biodiversity loss is not being stopped in the second decade in a row, but I am pretty sure that topsoil loss gets relegated to less pressing issues as humans suffer from present bias. There's food now, but one cannot see past 30 days, let alone 50 years. This is not talked about enough. As is our custom, we'll start wondering and hand wringing when the food shortage becomes a very real situation, but I'm very afraid it will be too late. Our approach to food growing and consumption practices have been slow to change and very reluctant to accommodate environment conservation and restoration efforts. The time to act should have been yesterday, but better late than never.

Long Overdue Vacation And Then Some

We're back in Ireland. This would mean that we were away and this article is deliberately late because we were both recharging our batteries, so to speak.

It's been twenty months, no vacation, staying put and waiting for the vaccine, but once we finally got vaccinated twice with an mRNA vaccine and were able to move around a bit, we decided to take the long way to see our parents. The direct flight was to Venice because at the time the incidence rate wasn't bad. We had to fill out the passenger locator form for Italy and, with both being vaccinated, we packed our masks and trinkets in backpacks and boarded the plane. Being locked down for a long time, we were noticeably more nervous in travel, but once we got the road underneath us, it started to feel familiar. We spent a few days in Venice, and while it was not crowded, there was still a big number of tourists in spite of the pandemic.

Venice is sinking, due to the climate change, and things are getting worse. They've set up MOSE project of closing the lagoon to combat the tides and they also believe that it can combat the rising sea level, but the project is not without its share of criticism.

With the worries out of the way, Venice is beautiful and its fame is pretty much deserved. As Vesna said, someone took out the roads and cars and put waterways and boats. It's a pedestrian city where one can walk, but it's boats all the way if you want to go around the city. Visiting can be a great experience because there are so many things to see, with the mandatory warning to avoid the usual tourist traps. For example, if there's a picture of food on the restaurant menu or a waiter inviting you inside, don't go there. They're out for numbers and overcharge things.


While in Venice, we also visited Dolomites which are breathtakingly beautiful. The height of the mountains offsets the vegetation line so the peaks turn naked at one point. The sky was clear and we saw them in all their glory. There was no snow because it was the prealp area in summer, but low white clouds can hit the peaks often.


After Venice, we were supposed to board a catamaran ferry to Pula, which for some reason didn't operate. We opted to go the long way across the mainland, taking a train to Trieste and then a bus to Pula the following day. The reservation of all the tickets and the overnight stay we needed was tricky to execute on a moving transport with the unstable internet connection and against high demand, and for a moment we were worried we'd be spending the night at the station. Because we were extremely lucky, that didn't happen. With one day lost on travel, seeing Trieste was like seeing an old acquaintance (because we were there before). It's still beautiful and we had a nice evening there.

In a way, I feel like on this trip we were following in the footsteps of James Joyce considering he was a Dublin native that was both in Trieste and Pula.

Next day we arrived in Pula. It is ridden with Austro-Hungarian architecural style, much like Trieste, but there's also a heavy influence from the Roman empire with arches and ruins and a huge free-standing amphitheater. There's also a strong remnant of Yugoslavia that can be felt in the city.

Being an old defensive port of the Austro-Hungarian empire, it has a number of fortresses surrounding it. Sadly, most of them have been left to disarray. The fortress overlooking the city is where the worlds meet. There are ruins of a Roman theater on the slopes of the fortress's hill, and beneath the fortification there is an underground complex, built as a nexus of evacuation routes during WWI. An expo on the old tram system that Pula once had was featured in its cold corridors. Speaking of rails, here's a fun fact: the rail system of Istria, the Croatian peninsula where Pula is located, is not connected with the one of the rest of the country.


Pula has a great coastline, albeit a bit cold water for our taste and its very near the Brijuni national park where the Non Aligned Movement was founded by Tito, Nasser and Nehru. It held a great relevancy during the Cold War, being a balance between the east and the west and is second only to United Nations in terms of member countries. That a lot of people are not aware of it illustrates well how propaganda prefers simplistic polarized narratives, omitting historical complexity.

I digress. Moving away from the geopolitics, we left Pula after four days on a bus and headed for Krk to meet with our friends who recently had a baby. The island of Krk, and the town of Krk in it, is very touristy. Sure, there are things to see, but most of it is catering to tourists. This part of the vacation was mostly chilling on the beach. We filled up our itineraries in Venice and Pula like there would be no tomorrow so it was nice to not do much.

After four nights, we left the coastline and headed to Slavonija via Zagreb. Several buses later, we were pretty scared and bought antigen tests. Vaccine breakthrough is real and we wanted to test ourselves just in case. We didn't contract anything during our travel so it was safe for us to see other people. The rest of the vacation was a workation. Seeing folks, going down the memory lane, crashing our drone three times, getting a new ID, injuring my back while carrying appliances. You know, the usual.

We attended Vesna's cousin's wedding. There was an MD present so everyone had to provide the proof of vaccination or take the test. Luckily, no people were infected, buy I have to point out that it was still scary to be there and not know if there's a disease present in spite of being vaccinated. Vaccination is not 100% effective.

There's a number of small spots along the way we visited, but I didn't want to go into details with an already big article.

We saw some friends in Zagreb where we lived for eleven years. Some connections remain and some even got reinforced by regular video calls. It was a good year for online D&D. Between Slavonija and Zagreb, buses are faster than trains, but are much more lax with respect to epidemiological guidelines.

We boarded the plane on a rainy Thursday and went back to Dublin via Frankfurt. Next big trip might be the US because Croatia entered the US Visa Waiver program. The work will require me to go there and I won't need to get a visa for it starting December. Onward to new experiences.

Home Automation Redux

Thinking how Home Assistant has REST integration to enable it to interact with various services online, BOINC came to mind, but, to my disappointment, it does not really serve the info from a single point via REST. There are services that parse public data but they should not be scraped and don't provide an API. I had to resort to parsing XML instead from two endpoints that I'm a part of to get the proper data. I also had to do some manual calculation in the template, but it works. My instance now has a card that updates daily and shows my BOINC status.


But, then again, Home Assistant supports multiple cards, right, so I went wild a bit with it:

  1. a picture-glance card to show the photo of the kitchen in two states. Are the lights on or off?
  2. streaming web camera in the room to see the state, also with a picture-glance. This is not always on. I was just playing with it to see if it can be done (it can - I did it with a mjpeg integration)
  3. a picture-elements card with a floor plan

1 and 2 are pretty easy to set up according to the instructions, but the mjpeg integration takes a bit more work. I tried using the webcamera on Windows as my source for the streaming video. What I did was install cam2ip with CV on Windows. It can connect to the camera, but the window is always present to keep the server going. I minimized it to tray with another piece of software called RBTray and put everything in start-up. There's still some manual work but it's not as annoying. The rest is setting up the camera integration with mjpeg platform in the Home Assistant and binding it to the picture-glance card. While mentioning Windows augmentations, you might want to check out Power Toys from Microsoft itself. It's also very good. I used it to quickly grab some color samples from images of the apartment.

Onto number 3. The most powerful card of the visual bunch is picture-elements. Some people use just that one to set everything up and remove other cards to have their Home Assistant interface use only that. Whatever the case, setting up picture-elements takes a lot of work. I use it just as another card in the dashboard because there's currently a whole lot of them. I added all the devices in the house to the device_tracker (wired and wireless networks and Bluetooth) so they would serve as a set of icons on the plan. For the ones that had the integration, I used the proper device instead. I did toy with the alternate image states for the devices, but in the end went with the icons. Nevertheless, the option is there. I might return to it if the current looks annoy me.

I initially made the floor plan with Homestyler, but I didn't want to stick with it. I could not save things without an account and it has only the imperial units for dimensions so I switched to Sweet Home 3D, a desktop version and redrew everything. Textures and colors for the walls and furniture I made by taking photos around the apartment. I used PowerToys mentioned above to sample colors quickly. Now it's a fancy card that shows our household and the states of things inside. The apartment file should be useful in case we decide to move out and want to show the dimensions to other folks.

As for the other automations, I played a bit with lighting where the color would shift throughout the day to be easy on the eyes. There are three temperature options on the cheap IKEA bulbs so I bound them to three times a day to change the temperature. It has issues so I'm not really pleased with it at the moment because it's sketchy. What was to be simple "Turn on the lights, change the color, turn it off" turned into adding delays, special cases for the specific lights and it still managed to work half the time.

Mortgage Redemption

So we bought an apartment in Dublin. That is a fairly old piece of news. Just recently (mid last month) we paid off the mortgage so the place is finally fully ours. There was some more work involved in paying it off sooner than the expiry of the loan.

When we felt we were ready, we contacted our solicitor's office and indeed there were a few bits and pieces left to complete: signing our home declaration and confirming we were married. The office dealt with it very promptly. What was left then was actually clearing the mortgage.

The last month we got our financial picture complete so we went to the bank, consolidated our accounts, added what little was left from the bank of mom and dad (essentially getting rid of the cash on our hands) and poured everything into repaying the loan. In the process leaving just enough for us to live till the next paycheck, but we knew we would recover quickly.

It was difficult to find information on what was involved in closing a mortgage because all the banks are about opening them instead. Customer support on Twitter was unsurprisingly useless. All we got from them was a number to call which we already had. One phone call later and what we got, among other things, was that the whole process was called mortgage redemption (which is a phrase to look up online). After we gave them enough info, they sent us a letter few days later with the official sum we owed at the time (which we already knew from the online mortgage account), what the interest per day was since the day the letter was issued (so already the official sum was behind) and the closing fee (60€).

With that letter we went to the bank and, while the staff was patient and helpful, in the end it came down to manually calculating the real amount as we had to take that daily interest into account. There was some overall confusion on how to approach it and the bank had to call their own support to ask for clarification. It's not every day that someone comes to redeem a mortgage.

We were told that whatever we overpaid, the bank would give back to us, but that was a slight problem. We didn't have enough for the next rate so if there was an automatic attempt to deduct it from our account it would have bounced. We canceled the direct debit and hoped for the best. Everything was in order in the end.

It took a few days for the paid amount to be processed, we got refunded a few cents and eventually they closed the mortgage account, which disappeared from our app. A few more days later, another letter appeared in the mailbox with a confirmation that everything was OK and reiterating what they did.

We were also told we would be informed when the deeds were ready, but this notice wasn't coming so we sent them an email. Apparently, they had arrived just the day before and were ready for pickup. This was a few days ago before writing this, and, aside from canceling or changing life insurance, the last piece of the puzzle.

"We're gonna frame them!" turned into "Nope" very fast. It was around 3 kg of paper that we will keep somewhere safe instead.


What happened is that because of the pandemic, we saved some money faster. We didn't go anywhere so that was a big plus, but we were still equipping the apartment, so a minuscule minus. I still remember sleeping on the floor for some weeks, and then on the couch for some more months until the bed arrived. It was a journey well worth the wait. Still some things missing, but we're getting there. Just last month we got the lights installed in our storage room. Something we were missing and had to illuminate the place with the torches when we were taking out things.

Usually people have a nice party, but we made a nice meal and had it on the balcony with a glass of wine overlooking the trees across the street with our weak morning glory flowering above us. Idyllic setting comes and goes with the weather here. Not like we wouldn't have done it otherwise, but I guess it called for a celebration.

With variants all over the place, we're still staying put. At least for a bit more.