Over the last several years I've been dealing with various stages of disability thanks to ALS. My goal is to share solutions and review various products/tools/devices that I have found particularly helpful.

Monday, 29 April 2013

Help with the Dental Hygiene

but Elmo has no teeth?
These days it's becoming a bit of a challenge to brush my teeth. I've long since moved over to an electric toothbrush, but to get in the toothpaste onto the brush has become quite an adventure.

Whatever usually do is rest the toothpaste on the counter place my left hand on the to, and try to line up the toothbrush with my right hand and then squish it… Hoping it wouldn't get everywhere. It turned into quite a balancing act. Backspace and this was getting even more difficult as the to both Tuesdays with getting down to about half full.

So started to look around online for an automatic toothpaste
dispenser. Finding one was actually pretty easy. There are several types to choose from on Amazon. But I found a pretty good one for around about C$15. Unfortunately, this particular project does not seem to have a specific name in the boxes shipped in is all written in Korean. That said, you should double to find this particular item (left) pretty easily.
Yep, I'm not the
only one drooling…

The toothpaste dispenser is designed to attach to the wall/mirror using 3M double-sided tape. This works okay, but in my case I have a bunch of little glass tiles where I've mounted it and sticks less well to those. Probably also because my three-year-old likes to pull it off the wall…

Anyway, is designed to work by screwing in your tube of toothpaste from the top and is a little lever in the whole that you push with toothbrush. This squeezes the tube of toothpaste and opens a valve dropping a portion of toothpaste (hopefully) on the brush. The first week or two, this didn't work out too terribly well. I found the amount of toothpaste delivered insufficient and often it was quite messy. In part because the toothpaste was either not dropping properly or because of my shaky hands would dump it all of the dispenser.

However, I seem to have gotten the hang of it… I guess there is apparently a bit of a technique for people with shaky hands and is working quite well right now. It does however still create a little bit of a mess.

Me and my boy!
… No, not really…
Also, if your hands are about as functional as mine. Meaning you have difficulty holding her hands up, I found that sticking it to the wall, flush to the counter works quite well. This makes it easy for me to use both hands, sliding them first the dispenser. This also makes it much easier for me to press the lever at the back of the dispenser. Thus getting a more appropriate amount of toothpaste. This also stabilizes the shakiness of my hands, so I make less of a mess.


  • much easier than the toothpaste tube/toothbrush balancing act
  • reasonably well controlled portion of toothpaste
  • can be a bit messy
  • double-sided tape can wear out and limit what you can stick it to. My options were the glass tiled wall or the Wood Cabinet. I'm pretty sure it would've ruined that
Cost: I paid about C$15 with shipping. Pretty good price.

You can check out an example of it in action here. This is just an example I found on YouTube, this is not my house ;-) Honestly though, given the cost it's really well worth the try.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Siri proxy & Home Automation

Well crap.
That was only a matter of time…
If you been following my blog for some time, will no doubt noticed that this is not my first attempt to create some voice control for my home automation system. However at the time of my previous attempts, I was not aware of the Siri proxy, which is pretty awesome once you get working.

I first became aware of Siri proxy being used to drive home automation system while reading one of my favorite websites, life hacker. The article talked about Elvis impersonator who it created a plug-in to open and close his garage door and set the thermostat. Needless to say I found this to be pretty amazing, and far superior to anything I've attempted so far. So I went about looking into how to get this set up.

I've been wrestling with this for some time. First off, I didn't know anything about Ubuntu nor what would be the best way to install it. Particularly because of my dexterity limitations. Anyway, check out the results!

I have to say, I'm really quite pleased with the results. It was well worth the effort.

So what was required to get this up and running?

As mentioned, I had to first figure out how to work with Ubuntu and what was the best way to install it. For the time being, I'm running a bootable partition on my desktop PC. I am going to try to get a old PC/laptop running it 24/7. I also tried running it through virtual box. While the installation went smoothly, I had some difficulties getting Siri proxy up and running.

The and to create the functions for turning the light on/off or locking/unlocking the door, I had to figure out a little bit of Ruby script. Fortunately, modifying the sample plug-in is pretty straightforward and it's very easy to insert console commands to it, and fortunately I had already figured these commands out from my previous attempts…

If you would like to give it a try, here's the links to all of the resources you will need:
Even though Siri proxy is working super well for me, they do say that it is in an alpha state development now. Meaning it does have occasional issues and going through the proxy server, some of the voice commands or functions may not be quite the same/functional.

For example the open app command still does work for any of the non-default applications. However it seems to not recognize programs like contacts or music. This also means that when asking to play a particular song or album e.g. "Siri, play album X" the proxy does not recognize this. Saying I do not have that album or artist.

All in all, swapping one level of convenience for another. Not too big of a deal. Easily reverted by resetting your Wi-Fi IP.

So what's next? Well I've ordered a few more light nodes and those of the most immediately useful to me. I would also like to add some thermostat control, however my house is kind of badly designed for that, making it cost prohibitive. (I have a number of baseboards on independent thermostats in the same room… Stupid)

If encounter a few issues about trying to get Siri proxy up and running, try the following:
  1. I found that the DNSMASQ may be interfering. You can try killing it with terminal command: killall dnsmasq
  2. If your server IP is showing open .siriproxy/config.yml and set the IP which should be in the first or second line of the file to whatever the IP is for your machine
  3. Apparently there has been some issues with Siri proxy and Ruby DNSnot playing nice together…
    • Edit line 56 in /home/<username>/.rvm/gems/ruby-2.0.0-p0/gems/siriproxy-0.5.3/lib/siriproxy/dns.rb to look like the following: match(/guzzoni.apple.com/, Resolv::DNS::Resource::IN::A) do |transaction|
    • Then perform siriproxy bundle
  4. iPhones are known to "leak" data over the cellular network even when connected to Wi-Fi. Try turning off cellular data.
I performed these three steps, and Siri proxy consistently runs perfectly. Thanks to Elvis Impersonator for most of these tips!

Woo hoo!
It's apparently also possible to connect an IR blaster to my home automation system. This would then give me voice control over my TV, air conditioner and other IR devices (awesome!). This is up from more investigation…

Also in the process of trying to find a machine I can use for dedicated Siri proxy server. Raspberry_pi is an option, and you can find more about those on Elvis impersonator's page. I have to look into it a bit ourselves first to see if it's the best option for me.

One of my favorite things about the Siri proxy server is, as you see in the video I can unlock my door just by using my voice. As I walk up to my house, I reconnect to my Wi-Fi and the Siri proxy server, all I have to do is tell the door to unlock. Which is really great for me as I can no longer manage keys.

So all in all I found getting this up and running was challenging, but well worth the efforts.

I would just like to take a second and give a shout out to Elvis Impersonator who contacted me out of the blue with a generous offer for help and advice. Be sure to check out his YouTube page and some of the other magic that can be done with Siri proxy and a Raspberry_pi!

Additional Note (added 29th of July 2013)

be sure to check out the related blogs comparing the desktop installation to using a raspberry pi

Monday, 8 April 2013

A Little More Humor…

Imperial versus Metric…

Every two weeks I get some help to come to the house to help to prepare some meals in this usually works out okay. But once in a while there are some things that just don't seem to be understood… While making a particularly good ratatouille, here's a sample of the conversation I had the other day:

Me: "we need to slice all the vegetables to be about 3 mm thick."

Helper: places the knife on the vegetable and shows me where she thinks to cut, which is about a centimeter. Asking "like this?"

Me: "no, recipe calls for about 3 mm that's about a centimeter"

Helper: "I don't know what a centimeters…"

Me: thinking to myself, okay she must know the Imperial system. "Recipe actually specifies 1/16 of an inch" (okay, I know that's about half the size of 3 mm…)

Helper: "oh, like this then?" She places the knife on the vegetable ready to cut about a quarter of an inch thick.

Me: "no, the recipe says 1/16 of an inch"

Helper: she repositions the knife again, this time to about half an inch. "How about this?"

Me:… Okay, she apparently doesn't know the Imperial system either…

Battling with the Car Seat…

Every weekday, I have a helper come by the house to assist me in getting my son from daycare. I can still drive there and back, but I have difficulty getting him ready and I cannot manage the car seat. I don't know what it is, but there seems to be an ongoing battle with my child's car seat when we pick him up from daycare. Helpers often just don't seem to understand how it works. 

The following is an actual conversation that happened, you can pass your own judgment…

Me: I sit down in the driver seat waiting for my helper to attach my son. I mistakenly assume he knows what he's doing.

Helper: fumbling with the straps for a few minutes he actually says to me "well, I can't figure this out. I'll just hold him in the car seat."

Me: completely dumbfounded I replied "the hell you will. We may only be going a few blocks away, but you will do it up properly"