230V Air Conditioner and HomeKit

I could use some advice from anyone with electrical, appliance, and/or construction experience.

I’ve got an old air conditioner in my apartment. It’s the same one I had when I moved in, so it’s at least 30 years old. I’ve also got Apple Homekit set up for other devices in my apartment (light bults and fans).

The goal: control my air conditioner through Homekit. The dream: Before I go home, I turn on the A/C remotely so the apartment will be cool when I get there. Double dream: use Homekit to connect my thermostat to the A/C so that it would turn on if the apartment temperature got over 85 degrees, to keep my pets comfortable.

There are plenty of Homekit devices that plug into conventional wall outlets. Here’s one that I already use.

For those of you keeping score at home, most home plugs and outlets are NEMA 5-15:

This old A/C uses a NEMA 6-15 plug, I think; it’s pretty grungy after 30 years. It looks like this:

AC plug

A new plug of this type looks like this:

The outlet looks like this (it was the best I could do sticking my iPhone behind a bookcase):

AC outlet

This looks like a NEMA 6-20 outlet, but it doesn’t match what’s in use today. A current NEMA 6-20 outlet looks like this:

Again, for those like me who are keeping score at home, this means that my A/C can draw up to 15 amps of current at 240 volts.

The studliest Homekit switch I know of is the Eve Energy Smartplug. It can handle up to 250V, it’s rated for 11A at the most. With my current A/C, even if I could solve the outlet compatibility issues, either a circuit breaker would trip or a fuse would blow if I used it for my air conditioner.

So now we get to the advice I need from people who know what they’re doing:

  • Is it possible to set up some kind of relay so a 15A/120V device can control a 20A/240V device? My web searches suggest that it’s possible, but you need to have electrical experience to construct one and no one has put up any “how to” plans yet. Can you think of something?
  • As I said, my current A/C is over 30 years old. It is certainly not energy efficient. It’s not remote controlled (so devices like Tado won’t work). The latch that lets in air from the outside froze shut 20 years ago, so I can’t use just the fan to vent in cool air when it’s hotter inside than outside. And you can see the picture of the plug above; I’m not sure it’s safe anymore.

    So I’m willing to consider buying a new one. There are Homekit-compatible air conditioners coming onto the market. That leads to contractor-style questions:

    • They make plenty of wall-mounted air conditioners with NEMA 6-15P plugs. I can’t seem to find one that’s Homekit compatible. Do you know of any? (Translation: Is your web-fu better than mine?) Or will I have to accept a Tado-like solution?
    • Alternatively, modern air conditioners draw less current than my old A/C. My living room is about 400 square feet. A decent wall-mounted air conditioner like this one draws less than 5 amps. So it’s theoretically possible to use the Eve Smartplug, if I can solve the outlet compatibility issue.
    • Is it worth solving this problem a different way, by replacing that old NEMA 6-20 outlet with a NEMA 5-15, with a suitable downgrade in voltage? Then an unmodified Eve Smartplug would work. I’m certain that a modern A/C with a NEMA 5-15 plug could handle 400 square feet.
    • How difficult is it to replace a wall-mounted air conditioner? My preliminary web search says that it’s not that difficult, but I’m clumsy when it comes to this sort of work. Is this the sort of thing that I’d have to hire a contractor to do?

      Before you ask: I’ve got a good relationship with my superintendent. He doesn’t mind me doing this sort of work in my apartment, as long as I don’t get him and the landlord involved.

I’ll gratefully listen to any advice, even if that advice must be “Suck it up, Homekit-boy, and live with what you’ve got.”

Blank Screen

I went to a screening of Incredibles 2 tonight. I walked into the theater about five minutes before the scheduled start. The screen was blank. That’s a bit unusual these days, but it was an IMAX screen; I figured that perhaps they didn’t have any commercial fluff that was in IMAX format.

The starting time of the movie came and went. People were still entering the theater. The screen stayed blank. People sat and watched the blank screen.

I began to entertain myself. “OK, this is a trailer for The Invisible Man Returns. Next, we have the trailer for Pitch Black. Now we have a trailer for a black-and-white movie, but because of a limited budget they couldn’t afford the white.”

I waited for twenty-two minutes after the scheduled start time, which is about how long trailers last these days. Finally, I asked the people sitting next to me to please watch my stuff as I went to the customer-service booth.

I asked the people there if anyone had reported that the screen in theater 10 was blank. No one had. A staff member said he’d check it out.

I went back to the theater and announced, “In case anyone’s interested, I just reported the problem.” A few minutes later the movie began.

The projectionist skipped the trailers and went straight to the movie… or what passes for “straight to the movie” these days. There was the warning about shutting off cell phones.

Then there was a special introduction from the voice actors and the director of Incredibles 2. More they once, they said that they’re sorry it took 14 years to make a sequel. But Samuel L. Jackson thanked us for our patience and assured all of us that it was worth the wait. Mr. Jackson, your words were truer than you know.

The chief antagonist of Incredibles 2 is the villain ScreenSlaver, who uses the power of hypnotic patterns on a screen to control people’s minds. During the film, the ScreenSlaver gives us the usual super-villain monologue about how everyone was mindlessly looking at screens.

Oh, poor ScreenSlaver. You worked so hard on your hypno-screens. Little did you realize that you can hypnotize a theater full of people with just a blank screen.

God of War

When you step into the middle of a franchise, whether it’s written, on screen, or in a video game, you run the risk of not understanding references to past events. Within a couple of minutes of playing God of War, I watched the main character, Kratos, fiddle with his arm wrappings. There was a strong sense of reminiscence, but without having played the earlier games I couldn’t tell what he was remembering.

By the end of the game… I still didn’t know. I had to do some web research before I finally understood: In the first God of War game, Kratos used Blades of Chaos as his weapon. The chains from these blades had seared themselves into his flesh, leaving scars on his forearms.

Fortunately, that was the only unknown element I encountered when playing the current God of War on PS4. Other events in Kratos’ past I either knew from various descriptions I’d seen on the web, or are explained within the game: Kratos, the “Ghost of Sparta”, is a son of Zeus. In a series of adventures he slew most of the Greek Gods, including his own father.

God of War begins in the lands of Norse mythology. Kratos is chopping down a tree to make a funeral pyre for his wife, Faye. Once the ceremony is done, he and his son, Atreus, go on a journey to fulfill Faye’s last request: scatter her ashes from the peak of the tallest mountain in the Realm. God of War takes you on two journeys: the physical road to the mountain, and the emotional path of the father-son relationship.

By the end of the game, I felt satisfied with the story. It had the usual tropes of video games: side characters whose purpose was to give you additional quests; mysterious enemies whose motives you don’t know; emotional beats that are wrapped up a little too neatly; several links to the inevitable sequels. I felt it all made sense in the end.

God of War is an open-world game in the vein of Tomb Raider: Regions become available as you go through the main story, with side quests opening up with each new region. You gain new skills and gear as you progress. Some of the side quests require so much additional gear that you’re not likely to be able to complete them until after you’ve finished the main story.

That leads to my main criticism of the game. The God of War series has a reputation for being punishing, requiring fast reflexes and a good memory for button combinations. I knew my sluggish brain and fingers couldn’t handle that, so I picked the easiest difficulty, dubbed “Tell Me A Story.” I determined that the game had an “old folks” mode before I bought it.

But even in the easy mode, I found the game to quite difficult in spots, including a discouraging boss battle near the beginning of the game. Later in the game, I found encounters that were massively hard; I once innocently stuck my hand in a black blob and was promptly one-shotted by the critter that emerged. Again, I had to resort to web research to learn that Void Tears and Valkyries are meant for characters who had geared and skilled up via completing the main story first.

If you like challenging games, God of War is definitely the game for you. I was disappointed that the game posed such a frustrating challenge for someone who picked the easiest difficulty.

God of War is a gorgeous game. It takes full advantage of the graphics capabilities of the PS4. I understand that the game looks even better in HDR, but to experience that I have to get a PS4 Pro, an HDR-compatible TV, an HDR-compatible receiver, and HDR-compatible HDMI cables. Maybe someday…

Overall verdict: A must-buy for PS4 gamers, provided you can handle game challenges without throwing the controller across the room.