ALEXA (and Apex Fusion) What's your Experience? Share your Automation learnings

Discussion in 'Aquarium Controllers' started by WallyB, Oct 22, 2018.

  1. WallyB

    WallyB Valuable Member R2R Supporter Build Thread Contributor

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    So I just stumbled on the fact that the Apex Fusion skill has been released for Alexa, by Neptune systems (integrated with Fusion).

    Here is the Neptune user manual for Alexa that I just glanced at.

    https://forum.neptunesystems.com/showthread.php?24464-Amazon-Alexa-Integration-with-APEX-Fusion-FAQ

    Wonderful new techno toy!! Or is it? I am weary, and until I fully understand things there is NO WAY Alexa is going to have access to my Apex Controller running my tank.

    So hoping this thread generates some knowledge sharing, experiences, to make things better for everyone.

    I am an electronic/computer engineer, and I love technology.

    ....in case some onequestions my knowledge of automation, integration and control, here are a few examples of my Fish Tank/Home-Automation related projects.

    Recently I re-did my Sump Room (dual tank) with Dual Apex Automation and more

    [​IMG]

    I've built a few Custom projects for my Setup.

    DIY ATO (Ardiuno)
    [​IMG]

    DIY DOSER / Water Changer (Ardiuno)
    [​IMG]

    Other automation projects plenty of Home Automation Projects using a variety of Hubs (Samsung, WINK, Philips Home lighting) and ALEXA.

    Each project required extensive planning, knowledge of action/reaction, fault logic, and reliability. (BULLET PROOFING)

    What I have learned is automation isn't always reliable, and Alexa is even less reliable, so the two together multiple the failure/error rates.

    LET ME GET BACK TO APEX......(and Alexa)

    My Apex Classic/Jr has also been used in advanced ways, since I've taken advantage of Virtual Outlets, Logic, and Latches, and even integration with my Doser/Water change Controller.

    Here are some questions I have:

    How well designed is Apex with Alexa?

    NOT.... how easy it is to setup (since that could be dangerous).


    Are there controls in place to NOT enable any part of your Apex Control logic for Doser, ATO?

    User Control Logic? Who can do what?


    What about reliability, response time? Internet availability? Wifi Avilability? (my 3 kids on home Network, running videos, games can bring my Internet/Intranet Speed to a crawl)

    How can you protect your tank, from children, or YouTube Video's playing that may trigger Alexa?

    I have a spare APEX, and will do some exploring.....

    ... so hope some of you can SHARE your experiences, questions, concerns, challenges and knowledge/solutions.
     
    Last edited: Oct 22, 2018
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  2. WallyB

    WallyB Valuable Member R2R Supporter Build Thread Contributor

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    That was the intro Post, and here is what motivated me to make this thread.

    I have a bunch of these Wifi Plugs to automate my house lamps, some non-critical fish tank components like my QT Tank, Frag Tank, ATS Lights. (since I used my APEX EB8 outlets for more reliable needs)

    [​IMG]

    https://www.amazon.ca/gp/product/B076Q5NFB6/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o05_s02?ie=UTF8&psc=1

    These particular plugs are very reliable (tested many), and have built in smarts to schedule on/off, timers, etc
    They also come with one of the best apps (I've tested many) called SMART LIFE, which give you Intranet and Internet control via phone/tablet.

    LAST NIGHT I decided to use one PLUG to turn off my RETURN PUMP, which normally I turn off MANUALY by HAND at a specific point during my Water Change.

    -> I tested to make sure the outlet was working and I had control via APP and ALEXA (but at my desk)
    -> When I setup things for my water change (IN MY SUMP ROOM), I moved Alex over, and got started with WC.

    --> At the critical moment when I wanted Return pump OFF, I issued the VOICE COMMAND ("Alexa Turn Pump off").
    -----> Nothing Happened. Tried again.....Nothing Happened. I HAD TO STOP THE Tank Siphon and reach for my Phone APP and it worked.

    Alexa Failed me. (nothing went terribly wrong..that time)

    What I LEARNED is the Noise of water splashing, and other pump motor noises (skimmer, pumps) interfered with Alexa hearing me properly.

    Lesson Learned, that you have to plan well, test things, and not expect 100% reliability.

    Just one example.

    I look forward to trying Alexa with Apex Fusion and see what can be done well, or not so well. Hoping folks save me time with their feedback, input and tips.
     
    Last edited: Oct 22, 2018
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  3. WallyB

    WallyB Valuable Member R2R Supporter Build Thread Contributor

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    Here is another FOOD FOR THOUGHT....(one of my BIG concerns before enabling Alex Skill on Apex Fusion)

    I also have various PROFILES setup on my APEX for pump speeds, and Controlling Dimming levels on my Dimmable T5 Ballasts for TANK LIGHTING.
    In the CASE OF LIGHTING......Things are programmed/scheduled to ramp up, and turn on/off pair of T5's appropriately.

    The lighting intensity programming can be OVERIDDEN/controlled VIA: Apex WEB GUI, and by Fusion. (Auto mode)

    I wouldn't want Alexa to by mistake mis-understand 50% for 100%, which could potentially Fry my TANK.

    Another concern I control my TANK equipment from a Computer or APP while watching my tank. I have multiple Alex's in my house, so there is potential that a command could be issued/accepted without me seeing the result on tank.

    I have so many questions/concerns (before enabling Alexa on my Living Tank)
     
    Last edited: Oct 22, 2018
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  4. WallyB

    WallyB Valuable Member R2R Supporter Build Thread Contributor

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    Got Alexa with Apex Fusion Working (On my Test Apex Classic)

    TWO PIECES NEED TO BE DONE [ Alexa ] & [ Apex Fusion ]


    as explained below....

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    STEP (A) Adding Apex SKILL to Alexa: As per Apex manual Step (1-6)

    1. Signed into your Amazon account using the applicable Alexa web app for your region (https://alexa.amazon.com , https://alexa.amazon.ca , or https://www.amazon.co.uk, or https://alexa.amazon.com.au).
    You may also use the Alexa app on your smartphone or tablet (never tried that)

    2. Click Skills
    3. In the search box, type "Apex Fusion" then click the search button
    4. Select the APEX Fusion skill
    5. Click the big blue Enable button
    6. Follow the prompts.

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    STEP (B) Adding Alexa to Apex Fusion: As per Apex manual Step (1-6)

    FIRST Log into Apex Fusion an follow one of these TWO STEPS:
    .
    METHOD #1) On the Apex List view, click the gear button for the Apex you wish to control. Choose the Enable Voice item, then follow the prompts. If you see a Voice item instead of Enable Voice, that Apex is already selected; the Voice item will take you to the Alexa configuration page for that Apex.

    METHOD #2) In APEX Fusion, click the Fusion account name in the upper right corner; from the drop-down menu, choose the Settings menu item, then choose the Alexa option. You can then see the currently-selected Apex, select a different, or remove the current Apex from being controlled via Alexa.

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    -> The Apex Implementation ALLOWs ( ONLY one) Apex Controller Per Fusion account ACTIVE AT ONE TIME
    -----------> One or MORE Apex Controllers can be on that the Apex Account (BUT ONLY active/controlled One at a time)
    -----------> It was explained to me by Neptune Support that I could setup two Fusion Account if I wish to have separate controls
    ----------------------> The Advantage to Two Fusion account is more for Logging, since you can keep thing separate.


    I am using my Spare apex which has no EB8 Outlet, but has a PH probe.

    I did the following using Alexa:

    -> GOT A STATUS Report from Alexa on my Controller ( FIRST YOU HAVE TO CONFIGURE that in Fusion. What alexa will report on)
    -> Asked ALEXA to put a TEST Entry (Alkalinty) into My Apex Fusion Logs


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Next I am going to try some advanced stuff:

    -> Can't I control Virtual Outlets (via Aliases)
    -> and can I use Profile control to Dim Lights
     
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  5. Rakie

    Rakie Federal Coral Reserve R2R Supporter Reef Tank 365 Build Thread Contributor

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    @mdbannister @hybridazn @Amoo

    What section do you think this should be at for more visibility? This post is good content flying under the radar
     
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  6. WallyB

    WallyB Valuable Member R2R Supporter Build Thread Contributor

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    Forgot to mention.

    If I get APEX Virtual Outlets working with PROFILEs........

    Next Step would be Amazon ALEXA ROUTINES....(love them. Makes Alexa actually Useful....When/IF Alexa Listens to you and IF/When the integration technology Vendors Servers respond Fast/Reliably Enough to complete their TASK.)

    Single A "voice command", can issue a sequence of actions, across, many technologies. Wifi plugs, Philips Dimmers, etc and now Apex.....to setup a theme Action..
    (Ie "Alexa.....MOVIE TIME". Can Dim Lights any combo, Turn on Projector, Feed Fish, Dim Tank, and pour a beverage into you ATO beer mug :) )

    Also possible with IFTTT, to send an txt or Email to tell everyone you are busy for next two hours...

    The sky's the Limit with "Integration, Automation, & Voice/Trigger Control". Just takes a while to learn it, perfect it, and Make it Safe/Easy, convenient....not a Complex Chore".

    I have spent like 3-4 months learning, perfecting, testing many aspects of Alexa/Automation, so hoping to save everyone some time, avoid mistakes, and setup some really cool/handy controls. (Still learning, since every day a new feature comes out)
     
    Last edited: Oct 23, 2018
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  7. WallyB

    WallyB Valuable Member R2R Supporter Build Thread Contributor

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    So a Update on ALEX ROUTINEs.

    Too bad, but after some testing they will not work with Fusion.
    Neptune.... for GOOD SMART reasons have not exposed the OUTLETS to Alexa, so Routines can not control them.

    This means that mostly likely IFTTT won't work either (but I haven't tried).

    Alexa can only issue commands to Fusion Alexa as a gateway, so very limited, BUT VERY SAFE from any catastrophic failures.

    Advanced programmers could have done some great stuff, but Neptune want's to avoid in-experienced users to not make mistakes.

    Fine with me.....I have different (working) methods to control My Tank with Alexa (EVEN my Apex Controller, but that is done through Smart Relays, and the APEX Breakout Inputs)
     
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  8. IgnatiusRath

    IgnatiusRath Member

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    Really appreciate your going through and testing this! I've been meaning to take some time and test what Alexa can do with my Apex, but I've been hesitant to negative test or do anything except happy path basic functions since I only have one Apex and it's running my tank. I've yet to read through your build thread yet (on my to do list), but do you have any how-to for Alexa/IFTTT/Automation tutorials or DIY info out there? Or could you point to some of the docs you've found most useful for tank related automation? I've seen a lot of threads on homebrew tank controllers and Rasberry Pi builds, but not a ton on smart automation integration specifically for reefing.
     
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  9. WallyB

    WallyB Valuable Member R2R Supporter Build Thread Contributor

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    HI again,

    This thread is more for Alexa and Neptune fusion. I still will do some stuff. When I have time. Too bad Routines don't work.

    I started a Thread about Tank Automation Technologies. Some good stuff, that people added links for options out there.
    https://www.reef2reef.com/threads/d...complex-aurdino-raspberry-pi-projects.420090/

    See you there.

    But if you want just Alexa, IFTTT, then just google IFTTT....It's pretty simple once you have Alexa and skills enabled. I didn't play much, since IFTTT is more apps.
     
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  10. IgnatiusRath

    IgnatiusRath Member

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    Sounds good to me and thanks for the link. I've got IFTTT for other things already; makes it easy to setup stuff on the girlfriends phone, so I like it. I'll give your build and your other thread a read.
     
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  11. WallyB

    WallyB Valuable Member R2R Supporter Build Thread Contributor

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    So how reliable/Fast is IFTTT. I only played with it a bit.

    Alexa/Routines are not perfect. I have one where I say "Dinner Time" and my kids rooms flash, my sump room, and offices lights flash. So my wife doesn't have to run around the house.
    But it took some tuning with Alexa "speaking" delays to make it work. To get light to flash right.
    Plus some Smart devices don't have the best Apps for two way communication, so sometime things don't happen, or you can't revert to original stae.
     
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  12. IgnatiusRath

    IgnatiusRath Member

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    Routines definitely have room to grow, although there's a ton of potential for them in the future. I would love to be able to tell Alexa something like "water change" and have it fire off my Apex to heat change water and get it mixing, then Alexa let me know when it was at temp. Simple things like that would be handy.

    TBH, I haven't done a ton with IFTTT yet and nothing tank related. I've set it up so when my girlfriend comes home it turns on the lights since she always has her hands full and doesn't like the house to be dark. I use it to shut off wifi on my phone when I leave home an turn wifi on when I get home. For those things it doesn't really matter if it's slow since the command usually triggers when we're down the block driving up to the house or away from the house. I have noticed that some of our lights come on much quicker than some of our plugs, but those lights tend to be quicker firing than the plugs anyway. My roommate has played with it a bit on some custom boards he's put together for projects too and seemed to like it for simple tasks, but it definitely has some limitations. Biggest problem is GPS on my phone will wander sometimes if I'm not connected to my houses wifi network, so I've had a few times where my lights will kick on for no reason because it appears my phone entered range from outside when GPS corrects after wandering.

    One area I've been thinking a lot on how to setup for a while now would be integrating humidity control, smart thermostat, and window fans/actuator to open windows in my fish room, taking into account tank temperature and ph. Mostly brain storming still, and I know it's likely easier without using Alexa, but I'd like to have Alexa integration for adjustments to room temp, check status, and manual changes as needed.
     
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  13. WallyB

    WallyB Valuable Member R2R Supporter Build Thread Contributor

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    Yes, Reliability has a long way to go for SMART Anything.

    That's why you and me (with some experience) shake in our shoes to hook up anything DUMB-Smart to our Fish tanks (important parts).

    Glad you got some discussion going. If this tread get going, maybe others will chime in. It's complex stuff, and slow learning curve since New Bleeding Edge Technology.
    All the WINK, SAMSUNG Smart Things, and Apple, etc not quite there yet. It will come, but they are competing so no standard, but it's coming.

    I'll get back to FISH TANK but since you mention SMART THERMOSTAT.....this is something that came my way, and is slowly coming to many.

    [​IMG]

    My Electric Utility Company offered me this Free Theomostat to participate in Trial.
    It's talks to my House SMART Power Meter.

    It auto updates with Pricing, LOW, MEDIUM, PEAk.......But greatest part is it Get My POWER Consumption on whole HOUSE USage Real time.

    So then I can run AC during lower $ costs.
    But they also provided me SMART PLUG that can do things like PHOTO ON LEFT. Only run my Dehumidifier on low $ too.

    There a web site I can see my usage, and see things like Phantom Power Estimate.
    I can turn on AC and see the Price $ HOUR jump. Or anything else in the house the same.
    I still have those individual Watt Meters, but it cool to see what your whole house Draw, and see daily, month reports (real time) to run your house better.

    It's really useful and practical.

    IN MY NEXT POST....I'll show how I did Alexa (without Neptune Fusion) and APEX (the useful way)...and it does control my Tank (kind of smart)...(or better put, practical/useful)...and SAFe.
     
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  14. WallyB

    WallyB Valuable Member R2R Supporter Build Thread Contributor

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    CUSTOM DIY ( APEX CONTROL - State/Profiles) via [ Apex-BreakOutBox-Module / Sonoff-SmartRelay ] with [ Manual/Overide & RF Smart Button]


    This is complex, but once you understand it's pretty straight forward.

    I'll will try and explain as best as I can to keep it high Level. If there is Interest I can provide more details.



    IN A NUTSHELL (for years folks have been using Apex and BreakOutBox Module to Control Their Apex using MECHANICAL PUSH BUTTONS)
    ...This just takes that same setup to the NEXT LEVEL (Smart, Logical, Wifi, Voice, Intranet, Internet, etc)

    -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    HERE IS THE FIRST PIECE (Replacing the MECHANICAL SWITCH)

    [​IMG]

    That's my APEX Breakout Box at Top Right. and Sonoff-Smart Relay shown in MIDDLE.

    With 6 Inputs that you can pickup on your Apex (dashboard, or Fusion)


    [​IMG]

    Now instead of Mechincal Switch to do whatever you want....The Sonoff is 4 SMART-Switches that can be control a few ways.


    THIS IS THE SONOFF BOX [​IMG]

    The Wire Conectors at the Bottom hook up to APEX Breakout Box (either Normally Closed, or Normally OPEN)
    You plan wiring for the logic you want, and also what happens if power goes off, and they reset to whatever is NORMALLY.

    ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    ----------------------------------------------------------- (4x) TO CONTROL APEX Breakout IO INPUT -----------------------------------------------------------
    ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


    --#01--> You can Push the Appropriate Button on the Sonoff to SWITCH THE BreakoutBox Input.


    ---#02-----> Or since Sonoff is on WIfi and Alexa Controlled, you can also Control that Relay via Alexa (individually, in groups, Via Routine, IFTT, or the Sonoff APP)


    And two more ways....

    -----#03 A/B ----> Sonoff is also RF controller (like the RF button Dongle to Set the Remote on your Car)

    ----------------------> It's will learn a Remote Button (433Mhz types). **Certain Encoders only**

    I used two types of RF remotes (more reliable than Alexa, or just Handy).... They can learn/copy from each other, and copy into Sonoff.


    So below (LEFT WHITE PANEL BUTTON, does the same as RED 1 Button On Dongl

    [​IMG]


    So to summarize:

    Now with this IO input to the Apex, you can program your regular Apex Logic (new stuff or like you did with Mechanical Buttons),

    - Plain old EB8 Outlets
    - Virtual Outlets, Latches, Logic,
    - and Profiles for Dimmer, Speed, etc

    With Alex, Fusion, Remotes, Apps, IFTT, etc.


    AND WHAT MAKES IT BETTER, is it can be JOINED with your House AUTMOMATION so........
    so when you say ALEXA "MOVIE TIME" (It will dim your room, your Tank, etc)
    or when you say ALEXA "WATER CHANGE TIME" you can do that also with a button on wall, or in your pocket


    (The RF buttons are Cheap cheap from China. Sonoff a bit pricey, but not insane)
    Example...$ https://www.aliexpress.com/item/QIA...lgo_pvid=d2411c8a-3912-4a5e-903e-62536b935294

    I hope I explained it well.

     
    Last edited: Nov 2, 2018
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  15. IgnatiusRath

    IgnatiusRath Member

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    Score on the free thermostat! What was your reason for choosing the Sonoff 4ch in particular? I'm curious if there were other options you considered and why that was what you went with.

    To make sure I'm understanding correctly, you set the logic within your Apex for normal state, power outage, etc? Or the Sonoff allows you to program defaults or apply limitation to the logic internally?

    Regarding the RF buttons and remote a few questions. Do you have protection somewhere for repeated button presses and/or stuck buttons? Once paired is the RF channel closed to devices except for the paired RF button: (thinking about neighbors garage door opener or something else causing a false signal) ?

    And finally, with your routines, do you have them setup to time out or return to default state after set conditions, or a limitation on the number of times per day they can be called?

    One of my guiding lights throughout any automation with my tank or home is what bad things can my girlfriend, niece, ignorant friends, family, etc cause by using this without understanding. For example, I could see my girlfriend saying "Movie Time" in the afternoon, falling asleep, then running out of the house late for something and leaving my tank lights dimmed or off all day unless I had a check or time limit.

    I know I'd love as much detail as you have time or interest in sharing.
     
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  16. IgnatiusRath

    IgnatiusRath Member

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    Follow up, looking into the Sonoff products available, Sonoff SC (https://sonoff.itead.cc/en/products/residential/sonoff-sc) looks like it could be perfect for some of the monitoring and integration of my fish room I'm wanting. In your setup did you look into utilizing monitoring points like the Sonoff SC in conjunction with the relay to send commands to Apex.
     
  17. WallyB

    WallyB Valuable Member R2R Supporter Build Thread Contributor

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    I am preparing a reply for all questions above. Best to show details and examples.
     
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  18. Adamantium

    Adamantium Active Member

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    I just bought some Teckin smart plugs that seem great so far. I don't have a controller, so instead of having to crawl under my table every time I want to turn off my skimmer/pumps, I just tell Alexa to turn them off, or use the app. It's AMAZING!

    I also set a schedule for them to automatically turn on every few hours, so if I ever turn them off and forget about them, they'll automatically kick back on.

    If they lose power, they come back on in the same state they were in, so if they were on, they come back on.

    So far so good! I got four for less than $40. Money well spent.
     
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  19. IgnatiusRath

    IgnatiusRath Member

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    There's definitely something to be said for smart outlets like that. I've had a few different brands of smart plugs and with disconnect issues, problems reverting to default state after failures, and random quirkiness, I won't trust them to things like my skimmer or most pumps. Anything that could potentially flood my house, start a fire, kill my tank, and that I can't have multiple fail safes or redundancies on I try to keep locked down. I love smart outlets for things like in stand lighting, some LED accent strips, fish room fans, and for some of the outlets I use for maintenance.

    That's not to discourage you from continuing to automate things, just wanted to share my level of caution with things like this. Thinking of the worst ways software and hardware can fail then testing for them is my job so I may go a bit overboard, but better safe than sorry I figure.
     
  20. Adamantium

    Adamantium Active Member

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    Toooootally makes sense. I'm feeling very hesitant, to be honest, but have faith in them.

    I can also check their status from my phone, so if they ever go offline randomly, hopefully I would notice (wish there was a way to get alerts about it, though).
     
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