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Automation One

Posted on Monday, December 14th, 2015

Dave!Welcome to Home Automation Week at Blogography!

I've been dreaming of having a "smart home" for years, but the technology never really seemed "there" yet. It's either been flakey or lacked important features or had some quirk that made it less than ideal. I just couldn't see investing the money for an experience that was less than stellar.

But then Apple decided to get into the game by announcing their "HomeKit" platform and I was convinced that this was the solution I had been waiting for. Apple has a real knack for perfecting technology in a way that's smart, elegant, and simple, and finally they had turned their almighty gaze towards home automation. At last.

And so I waited.

And waited.

And waited.

But, other than an announcement, Apple never did shit for the longest time. Third party solutions never came.

Apple eventually got around to improving the HomeKit platform to make it more capable... and a few devices were released here and there... but overall HomeKit has been a failure. I love the security that Apple built into their solution (they really take stuff like that seriously), but that's about the only thing they've done right. Everything else to do with HomeKit has ended up being utter shit. The biggest failing being that all HomeKit devices are local, meaning that you have to be at home to control your home. Their solution for remote access is via Apple TV, but I've never been able to get it working well.

And so I went searching for a new solution.

I looked at every option I could find... Lutron, Wink, SmartThings, INSTEON, Nest, Belkin WeMo... the list goes on an on. There are a lot of companies out there doing home automation, and new ones are popping up all the time.

But which platform to choose?

At first I was convinced that I needed a single-company solution. If everything came from the same company, it would all work together and I'd have the most complete, powerful, and capable system. Right?

Well... not so much.

Every company has their strengths and weaknesses, which made choosing a single source for everything quite difficult. So after a while I decided I'd split my home automation chores between two different companies, focusing on their strengths to get the best system possible. Sure they probably wouldn't play well together, but if I were smart about which company got which devices, I could come up with a split-system that worked well for what I was trying to do.

It was a good plan.

But a plan doomed to failure.

Which I'll talk about in my next entry.

   

Automation Two: Doors

Posted on Tuesday, December 15th, 2015

Dave!Welcome to Home Automation Week at Blogography!

As I mentioned yesterday, trying to tie my home automation project to a single vendor was doomed to failure. So I decided to split the tasks between two vendors along a logical divide... one company for monitoring stuff and one company for acting on stuff. Simple, right?

Yes. Kinda. Maybe.

Except... no. Not really. After a lot of false starts, I realized it doesn't really divide out like that.

And so I decided to stop worrying about how many companies it took to get what I wanted and just get what I wanted. Which, after weeks of research, actually ended up being a pretty good idea.

Starting with the door locks...

Schlage Sense Lock

The one area where Apple's HomeKit came through for me was door locks. Out of the dozen or so that are available, Schlage's "Sense" was the solution I liked best. It's not an add-on that sits on top of your current lock, but a complete deadbolt replacement. You can use a key to lock/unlock. Or you can use the keypad. Or you can use your iPhone. Or, since it's HomeKit compatible, you can tell Siri what you want. It can handle multiple entry codes and has a "tamper" alarm if somebody tries to take a hammer to it. Supposedly it can be controlled remotely (out of Bluetooth range) via AppleTV, but I can't get that to work. Perhaps eventually I'll get that part figured out, but it's not so important to me just now.

The one "feature" I did NOT want was auto-unlocking when you walk up to the door with your phone. This kind of proximity unlocking may sound convenient, but I didn't like the idea from a security standpoint. Schlage Sense doesn't have it, which was actually a plus for me.

Once I reset the door jamb strike plates back so that the lock opened/closed effortlessly when the door was closed, installation went perfectly.

On the first door.

On my two other exterior doors, I couldn't get the tab on the lock assembly to line up with the slot on the deadbolt turn. This was incredibly frustrating, and I had to place a call to Schlage support to find out why in the hell my locks were built upside-down. Turns out they weren't... they just weren't aligned properly. Using a screwdriver (and more pressure than I was comfortable with) you can force the slot to rotate 180° so everything lines up. Why in the hell they couldn't put that in the manual is beyond me, but all's well that ends well.

Except, as you can probably guess, this wasn't the end.

If my locks are HomeKit but my lights are not HomeKit, how do they talk to each other so that the lights turn on when I unlock the door at night?

Guess we'll find out tomorrow...

   

Automation Three: Lights

Posted on Wednesday, December 16th, 2015

Dave!Welcome to Home Automation Week at Blogography!

One thing you find out very quickly when researching home automation solutions is that everybody has an opinion as to what's best. You're never going to find that one flawless technology that everybody universally loves. Which means making a decision can be a tricky business indeed. You have to weigh all the opinions and reviews so you can find the solution that feels like the best fit for you.

I'll just cut to the chase and say that I ultimately decided on INSTEON for the bulk of my home automation tasks.

Yes, there were some reviewers saying that INSTEON is crap, but there was enough good things said about the types of things I was wanting to do that it seemed the best solution.

One thing I really liked about INSTEON was the dual-mesh networking technology they've got going on. Many of their devices are wireless, but that can be problematic because low-power wireless devices don't have a lot of range. But INSTEON also has networking-over-power lines for many devices, which means your network is instantly extended via reliable hard-wired connections anytime you plug a device into an outlet.

So while that open/close sensor on your window may be battery-powered and have limited range over low-powered wireless... that light switch three feet away is wired into the electrical system and acts like an extender to the sensor, so no problem at all.

And speaking of light switches...

My new INSTEON light controllers are ever so dreamy!

Thanks to the INSTEON Hub, you can control your lights from anywhere your smart phone has internet access. You can also monitor what's on and what's off. You can also link light switches together. And, of course, you can program schedules easily. My front and back porch lights automatically turn on at sunset and turn back off at sunrise, for example. You can use INSTEON motion detectors to talk to the lights and have dark rooms light up automatically. You can pretty much do whatever you want so long as there's an INSTEON device to make it happen. And there are a lot of INSTEON devices available.

But, alas, all is not perfect...

The INSTEON "smart" switches are much, much larger than traditional light switches. They take up a lot of space. Which means if you have shallow electrical boxes throughout your home, the odds of the switches actually fitting into them are remote. Even if there is enough room to cram the switches into the box, that may not be a good idea, as it will involve smashing all the wiring to the back of the box with a hammer. I'm not an electrician, but that didn't seem like a very good idea. Won't heat build up and melt your switches? Or, worst case scenario, start a fire if the electricity arcs in there?

I dunno. But it's not a risk I'm willing to take.

So... I either replace all my electrical boxes with something deep enough to handle the new switches (a positively massive undertaking that will involve cutting into walls)... or I give up on automating my lights.

Except... my dad offered another solution when I told him of my dilemma... a box extender.

Usually box extenders are used for when you add tile or some other thick product to your walls and the electrical box ends up too deep for the switch plate screws to reach. That wasn't my problem, so I had to find a solution which would extend the boxes out from the wall.

I figured with all the home automation going on, there would be a plethora of solutions out there to do just that.

I was wrong.

After hours of research, I was able to find just one.

One.

Which I'll save for tomorrow's discussion.

Along with INSTEON's efforts to make their system Apple HomeKit compatible.

   

Automation Four: Controllers

Posted on Thursday, December 17th, 2015

Dave!Welcome to Home Automation Week at Blogography!

Home automated "smart" light switches are not really called "light switches" as their functionality is so much more than that. Most people call them "light controllers."

And, like I said yesterday, they're big.

Which means if your electrical boxes can't handle the additional size, you've got to install deeper boxes... or find a way of extending the box from the wall. Since the first option is a massive undertaking, I went with option two.

Which was not the cake-walk I was expecting. I could find only one manufacturer for such a thing. One.

Arlington Industries, Inc. and their UL-listed BES Box Extenders...

Arlington BES1

The extenders themselves are textured so you can paint them to match your decor. And while some people may not like the way they stick out from the wall, I'm actually quite happy with them. For one thing, I think it will cut down on finger-oils and grime hitting the wall. For another, when you pair the extenders with a screwless switch plate, it ends up looking kinda cool.

And when it comes to controlling the controllers? Now that they've been installed?

As I mentioned yesterday, INSTEON has a hub that plugs into your electrical system and the internet. You can then use your iPhone to control all your INSTEON devices wherever you may be... so long as your phone has internet data access.

But INSTEON didn't stop there.

In an effort to tie into Apple's HomeKit, they've recently released a Hub PRO model that does just that. Being able to integrate all my INSTEON stuff with all my Apple stuff and have Siri voice control for the whole shebang is pretty awesome. In theory. In reality? Well...

The problem with the HomeKit-enabled INSTEON Hub Pro is that it doesn't support all the various INSTEON devices. Only some of them.

Door sensors? On/Off sensors? Water leak Sensors? Nope. Nope. Nope.

Which means that the HomeKit option is pretty much worthless to me, for the time being. Perhaps one day INSTEON and Apple will get their shit together so everything will work right, but that day is not today. So I just bought the "regular" hub and figure I'll upgrade sometime in the future. That will be nice because then my HomeKit Schalge door locks will fit right in with everything else. In the meanwhile though... not so much.

Kind of a buzzkill, right?

Except...

There's another option to bring your INSTEON controllers into the future that Star Trek promised us. And I'll talk about that tomorrow.

   

Automation Five: Alexa

Posted on Friday, December 18th, 2015

Dave!Welcome to Home Automation Week at Blogography!

So... the INSTEON solution for Apple HomeKit integration, the Hub Pro, leaves a lot to be desired. It only works with a handful of devices, which means HomeKit voice control via Siri is half-assed at best. Which sucks, because being able to literally tell your home what you want it to do is the brass ring of home automation.

Lucky for us, there's another solution for that.

It's Amazon Echo, which is better-known by the "wake word" you use to activate it... Alexa.

I've actually owned one for quite a while, but the novelty wore off quickly given the limited amount of things you can do with it...

   
But all that changed once Alexa got INSTEON integration.

Now voice-control for my automated home is a reality.

And it's pretty awesome.

"Alexa, turn on the kitchen lights."

"Alexa, dim the dining room lights 50%."

"Alexa, brighten the living room lights."

"Alexa, turn off the garbage disposal."

"Alexa, turn off the lights."

Anything that can be turned on or off via an INSTEON switch can be discovered then controlled by Alexa. You can even set up groups of items within the Amazon Echo app so you can control multiple devices at the same time. And while Alexa doesn't understand what I'm saying every once in a while, "she" pretty much nails my requests spot-on every time.

And that feels more incredible than I thought it would.

Thanks to my INSTEON automation system and Amazon Echo's ability to integrate with it, my home now has ears and a voice.

But what about eyes? We'll get to that tomorrow.

   

Automation Six: Cameras

Posted on Saturday, December 19th, 2015

Dave!Welcome to Home Automation Week at Blogography!

When it came to installing cameras in my newly-automated home, I thought I would use the cameras I already had. They're older, but they still work perfectly fine. Most of the time. Kinda.

Okay, they suck. They're finicky and don't always work. They have a limited viewing angle so you have to pan to see everything, which is almost impossible to do remotely. You can't store footage to review past events... at least not easily. Worst of all they are a total bitch to set up and maintain. But they were relatively cheap and capable at the time I bought them, which is why they're here.

Time to upgrade.

Of all the home automation devices I bought, figuring out which camera system to get was by far the most difficult decision.

The obvious choice seemed to be going with INSTEON, since that was where most everything else came from. Unfortunately, their camera solutions are terrible. Barely a step above what I have now. Even worse, they're not really an integrated solution at all. They're just old FOSCAM models that have been re-branded for INSTEON and slapped on to the system half-assed. Complaints are legion about how difficult they can be to set up and maintain, which is what I hate most about what I've got now. Which means INSTEON cameras are not at all what I was looking for.

Luckily, there are a lot of other options.

Too many options, actually.

But one model kept rising to the top over and over again... DropCam.

Which was bought out by the Nest thermostat people (which was, in-turn, bought out by Google). Which means DropCam is now NestCam. Which wouldn't be a bad thing, except a lot of people have been complaining about lost functionality with the Nest app compared to what DropCam had. But, in the end, the things that NestCam did right were the things I most wanted to have, so I decided to buy one and try it out.

I loved it.

So frickin' easy to set up. You plug it in, scan the QR code on the back with the iPhone app, then connect to your network. That's it. And once you get it set up, it's solid. Over the past couple weeks there has been -zero- flakiness. The camera always works, it has a wonderful wide-angle lens. It has excellent night-vision. It has motion detection alerts sent to my iPhone. It has online storage (for an extra fee) which is dead-simple to scan through... even remotely. The image quality is fantastic. There are even multiple mounting options. I cannot say enough good things about NestCam. I now own four of them...

NestCam

My hope is that one day Nest will offer a firmware upgrade that will allow their cameras to integrate with Apple's HomeKit. I'm not holding my breath, however, as Nest is building it's own competing architecture, and Google may not want to throw a bone that big Apple's way. Which is a bummer, of course... I'd love to be able to have my cameras be able to pass any detected motion to the rest of my home automation system... but even without that feature, they're still too good to pass up.

Not a bad acquisition for what started as a thermostat company!

And speaking of thermostats... what's in store for the final installment of Home Automation Week here at Blogography? Guess you'll just have to tune in tomorrow to find out...

   

Automation Seven: Thermostat

Posted on Sunday, December 20th, 2015

Dave!Welcome to Home Automation Week at Blogography!

Probably the most famous of home automation toys is Nest, the Learning Thermostat. The brainchild of a couple of ex Apple engineers, their "smart thermostat" took home automation into the mainstream. Able to smartly control your heating and cooling system, Nest is simple to install, easy to use, and makes a real difference when it comes to saving energy and money.

So when it came time to pick a "smart thermostat," Nest was the obvious choice for me... especially since I already had invested in NestCam as my security camera of choice.

But then I started doing the research in HVAC forums and found out that Nest might not be my best choice after all.

So I went looking for alternatives.

One of the first products to jump out at me was Ecobee3. Of all the choices, it seemed to get the best mentions by HVAC technicians. And the reviews were good. And I liked that it features the ability to monitor multiple rooms to figure out a best temperature setting. And of course it has all the usual energy-saving smarts you'd expect...

Ecobee3

What was unexpected is that it can also control the whole-home humidifier I'm installing. I had hoped that this meant the remote room sensors would be monitoring humidity as well as temperature but, alas, this is not the case. Still, handy.

When it comes to controlling your Ecobee3, it comes with a beautiful color touch-screen and equally impressive minimalist interface. You can also use your iPhone (or Android, if you're so inclined) to control your thermostat from anywhere in your home... or anywhere in the world you have internet access.

One of the more interesting aspects of the Ecobee3 is that both the main controller and the remote monitors have motion sensors. This enables your thermostat to automatically determine when you're home and away... and also to follow where you're at so that the temperature is exactly where you want it wherever you are. The main unit's sensor activates the touch controls when you are near it and goes into a "display mode" (where the controls disappear) when you're away.

A nice feature that's so logical it seems a glaring omission for smart thermostats that don't have it... is integrated weather. This helps Ecobee3 figure out how to best use your heating and cooling resources to keep your home at the desired temperature. It also allows the unit to save on energy costs by using outdoor ventilation to cool your home when the outdoor temperature drops after the sun goes down in the summer (assuming your HVAC system can do that). And of course you can view the current weather and forecast at the touch of a button.

At first I thought the remote sensors were kind of gimmicky, but then I saw how Ecobee3 can integrate them into the system. At night, for example, you can tell the thermostat to ignore all but the bedroom sensors, because that's all you're really going to care about. Clever.

I've not had my Ecobee3 long enough to know if the "DataRhythm" technology is savings me big money (it takes a month before any of the main features are available), but the "HomeIQ" web portal keeps track of all kinds of information so you can fine-tune your HVAC system to get the most bang for your buck once everything kicks in. It seems fairly comprehensive, so here's hoping.

Overall, I'm very happy with the Ecobee3. It's easy to use, has features for days, has an excellent interface for my iPhone, on the web, and on the thermostat, and could end up saving me some money. As if all that weren't enough, it's also Apple HomeKit enabled. So if Apple ever gets their shit together, that could be a big plus.

If you're looking to dip your toe in home automation waters, a smart thermostat might be a good place to start. And if the Ecobee3 is compatible with your HVAC system, it might be worth a look.

   

Automation Eight: Smoke Detectors

Posted on Friday, December 25th, 2015

Dave!Merry Christmas to those who celebrate it!

Welcome to an extension of Home Automation Week at Blogography! I say "extension" because a week has seven days and this is part eight. I guess I should have put a bit more thought into this.

But anyway...

I loathe smoke detectors. I loathe CO2 detectors even more. They're all bug-ridden, noisy, and prone to errors. Then you've got the damn batteries running out all the time which results in running around the house trying to figure out which alarm is "chirping" at you for attention. And God help you if you burn the toast.

Don't get me wrong though... if there's an actual fire in the house... or a CO2 leak... then I frickin' love detectors. But, for the most part? Not so much.

When I was looking into "smart" detectors last year, I was intrigued by Nest Protect. It seemed sensible, secure, feature-rich, and very cool. Ultimately I took a pass on it for two good reasons: 1) Nest Protect wasn't compatible with Apple's HomeKit, and 2) A lot of people were complaining about false alarms and features being turned off and never turned back on, despite promises from Nest.

But then two things happened: 1) Apple's HomeKit turned out to be a STEAMING PILE OF SHIT*, and 2) Nest came out with a "Protect Version 2" that supposedly addressed the many problems people were having. Oh, and the reviews were great...

Nest Protect
This is probably Nest Protect v1. I think v2 is not so squared? Very close though.

And so... I went ahead and bought Nest Protect. Actually, I bought five of them, because that's how many smoke/CO2 detectors I had in the house. Since all the Nest protects talk to each other, you kinda have to use them for ALL your detector needs in order to get the most benefit. Not a happy prospect considering they cost $100 a pop. But, when I thought about it, protecting my life and property (even when I'm away) is worth $500, so I handed over the cash.

Setting up Nest Protect couldn't be easier.

Except when it is.

When you first open the thing, they tell you to set it up before you hang it. That way you're not climbing up and down a ladder if there's a problem, I guess. So I pulled the strip to engage the battery and my first Nest Protect told me to "PRESS THE BUTTON IF YOU WANT THE LANGUAGE SET TO ENGLISH!" And so I pressed the button. But apparently not fast enough, because my Nest Protect started speaking to me in Spanish. And wouldn't stop. Fortunately I was able to get the gist of what she(!) was saying and set things up without issue. Removed my old old smoke detector, no problem. Installed the mounting plate, no problem. Hung my Nest Protect, no problem. Tested the unit, no problem. Change the language to English... problem.

Using the iPhone Nest App, I was able to switch to English easily. But then I get a message saying "Changes will take place within a day." Yes... A FUCKING DAY! And they mean it. When I went to work two hours after installation, it was still hablaba español. Kind of ridiculous it should take so long, but okay.

Nest Protect does exactly what you'd expect a smoke/CO2 detector to do... detect smoke and CO2 and then sound an alarm if it finds anything. But Nest Protect goes much further than that...

  • Any alerts will be passed to your iPhone/Android phone, thus letting you know if there's a problem no matter where you are.
  • Have a false alarm? You can silence it from your phone!
  • Instead of having to test your detectors every month like you're supposed to, Nest Protect has a microphone so it can test itself then listen to make sure it's working.
  • You can also manually check to make sure all your detectors are working. Just press the big button on the bottom and they'll all talk to each other, figure out if there's any problems, then report back to you.
  • Rather than just screech at you with an alarm where you can't figure out which detector is going off, Nest Protect speaks in a human voice and tells you exactly where the problem is (you name each unit by its location).
  • Nest Protect monitors its battery level and will let you know in advance if a battery change is in your future. This alone is a feature worth $100 a piece... no more being woke up in the middle of the night by the idiotic chirping of your detector wanting its batteries changed.
  • Nest Protect has a fancy "Split Spectrum Sensor" that Nest says can detect both slow-burning and fast-burning fires. There's shit-ton of documentation from Nest explaining why their photoelectric technology is better than other photoelectric and ionization solutions, but I'm just going to take their word for it.
  • Almost as important, Nest Protect has a humidity sensor so it can tell the difference between smoke and steam.
  • Nest Protect has a light ring around that big button which indicates what's going on with it. Blue and Green lights indicate stuff is going good. Red and Yellow lights are for when things are going badly. Yellow is kind of a cautionary "advance warning" that trouble may be present. Red is for when the shit is hitting the fan. The cool thing is that the light ring can also act as a "Pathlight" nightlight which comes on automatically if you walk underneath it and it's dark. Clever.

Nest Protect is available in both battery-powered and power-line-powered options. My old alarms were power-line-powered, so that's what I bought. If the power goes out, the battery back-up kicks in and the outage is recorded, then (apparently) reported to your phone app. I never got a notification when I tripped the breaker for the the smoke alarms, which Nest says I will. If ALL power goes out, I don't see how Nest Protect can notify you because then the internet would be out as well, wouldn't it?

And so...

All in all, I'm most impressed with Nest Protect. I haven't had it long enough to know if the chronic false alarm problem that plagued v1 has been truly solved with v2, but I'm hopeful. And, of course, I haven't had an emergency to truly put it to the test, but I'm very much okay with that. What I can say is that all the various features seem to be working as advertised. I love being able to check in on my home when I'm gone and know everything is okay... but I've even more in love with the idea that if there's a serious problem with fire or CO2, my home will let me know.

   
*I will talk more about Apple HomeKit being a STEAMING PILE OF SHIT tomorrow.

   

Automation Nine: HomeKit

Posted on Saturday, December 26th, 2015

Dave!If you take away one thing from Home Automation Week (now in Part Nine of Seven Parts!) it should be to avoid Apple's HomeKit home automation platform like the plague. It's no secret that I think it's utter crap in its current form, and the fact that automation companies aren't really flocking to the platform is a sure sign of "too little too late."

Yes, I love the idea of controlling my home with Siri, but Amazon Echo is probably more convenient for that anyway. Yes I love Apple's dedication to privacy and security, but what does it matter if you don't have all the automation options available that you might want? Yes, I love the idea of having absolutely everything tied to a single system instead of being in pieces but, again, it's only nirvana if you actually have all the pieces you need for that one system.

But the biggest reason to completely avoid HomeKit is not what's missing... it's about how what's there doesn't fucking work.

My Schlage Sense door locks are HomeKit compatible. But I never use any of the HomeKit features. Siri is just too fucking slow at unlocking doors to have her do it. I'd rather use a key or punch a code. But even worse than that? HomeKit's remote access features DO. NOT. WORK. My locks are supposed to use my 4th Generation Apple TV to communicate with the outside world, but they don't.

If I'm at work and want to know if I remembered to lock my front door? I'm supposed to be able to ask Siri. Siri asks my AppleTV back home. AppleTV then asks my lock. But unless I'm within Bluetooth range, this is all I see...

HomeKit FAIL!

Maybe my front door isn't close enough to my AppleTV and doesn't have the range to report what's going on? Possibly. So I check my back door, which is two feet away from my AppleTV...

HomeKit FAIL!

Nope! And it doesn't matter how many times I reset my AppleTV or login and logout of my iCloud account. NOTHING I have tried has gotten remote access to HomeKit to work for my locks.

My Ecobee3 thermostat? Also HomeKit compatible. Surprisingly, it can be accessed remotely via Siri voice control. Probably because it isn't having to go through my AppleTV and has full WiFi-enabled control via its app. Funny thing is? I'd rather use the app. Again, Siri is a little slow to act... and often gets my Ecobee3 requests wrong for some reason.

So... lesson learned.

If you're going to get something that's HomeKit compatible, be sure that it has its own remote access app that doesn't attempt to route crap through your AppleTV... because, for me at least, it ain't happening.

Which means as much as I love my Schlage locks, if I had known then what I know now, I would have picked a different non-HomeKit solution that actually works remotely as intended. As it is now, the status of my door locks is always unknown unless me and my phone is standing next to them. Pretty useless.

Maybe one day Apple will fix the AppleTV hub remote-access problem. Maybe one day Siri won't be so damn slow to do anything. Maybe one day HomeKit won't be a pile of shit. Maybe. One day.

In the meanwhile, I reiterate... do not be blinded by the Apple Reality Distortion Field when it comes to making decision about home automation. At every turn I've found that the non-HomeKit solutions which can be paired with reliable in-app remote access and a link to Amazon Echo are far, far superior to stuff that's tied to Apple's home automation platform. Yes, having to go through multiple apps and having no unifying system can take a little extra effort at times, but it's not at all a deal-breaker. If you're organized, it's not even that big of a deal. If you have Amazon Echo, I'd argue you're actually better off than using Siri.

I guess not even Apple can hit a home run every time.

But HomeKit isn't even a base hit.

   

Guest Room Remodel 1: Furniture

Posted on Monday, April 11th, 2016

Dave!Welcome to Remodeling Week at Blogography!

This time, we'll be taking a look at my guest-room remodel, which didn't require moving walls or tearing anything apart or anything extreme like that, so it was actually the easiest to work through. Kinda. The problem being that I've never had a guest room before, so it required all new furniture and stuff. In the end, the guest room actually ended up being one of the pricier expenditures I had.

The room itself is oddly-shaped, has one off-center window, and is kinda small, which left me limited options. I wanted a queen-sized bed, and it couldn't go under the window because I'd only have room for one nightstand, and I wanted two. So here we are...

Guest Room Layout Map

The overall color theme for the room is white. In order to make things interesting, I went with as many shades and style of white as I could find. Then added dark blue to keep it from looking stark.

And now... on to the furniture...

The bed is just a metal frame because I didn't have room for anything extravagant... also, I wanted to put the money where it counted by getting a great mattress (Bellagio at Home by Serta). I did try and dress it up a bit with a pricey headboard from Target though...

Guest Room Remodel Project

Nightstands are IKEA. Originally I didn't want drawers, but ultimately thought they'd be less effort to dust than shelves...

Guest Room Remodel Project

Originally, I wanted to have a desk and chair in the room with the dresser in the closet. But the desk wasn't tall enough that both people could see the television while laying in bed, so I swapped them around, which works really great. Except there's no outlet in the closet, so I mounted an extension cord to a hook on the side of the desk. Both desk and chair are IKEA...

Guest Room Remodel Project

Guest Room Remodel Project

I had the chair by the door, but it looked like it would be easily tripped over, so I put it with the desk in the closet and bought an IKEA stool there...

Guest Room Remodel Project

I should mention that I don't usually allow cats in this room in case my guests have allergies or something... but the minute they hear the door open, they run to get in. It's apparently their favorite room in the house. Probably because it's the one place they can't normally go.

Meanwhile, back at the dresser...

The television is at the perfect height on top of the dresser, so adding the DVD player underneath wasn't working. I decided to remove one of the small drawers and see if I could make a space. I started by attaching some wood strips to the center support, then secured them to the side of the dresser...

Guest Room Remodel Project

Then I whitewashed a thin piece of wood to match and secured it to the strips with carpet tape...

Guest Room Remodel Project

After drilling a hole in the back of the dresser for the cords to pass through, the DVD player (and AppleTV) fit perfectly...

Guest Room Remodel Project

And... that's it for furniture. Thank you, IKEA.

   

Guest Room Remodel 2: Textiles

Posted on Tuesday, April 12th, 2016

Dave!Welcome to Remodeling Week at Blogography!

After the guest room furniture had been purchased, the next step was to figure out what I wanted to do for the textiles. Eventually I settled on a Liz Claiborne bed set that had a pattern I didn't hate. The matching window valance was incredibly expensive, so I found a Liz Claiborne solid that matched (I needed two because the window is apparently wider than average)...

Guest Room Remodel Project

The pattern on the bed cover is called "Arabesque" but it's reversible to a paisley kind of design I liked better...

Guest Room Remodel Project

The bed looked a little plain, so I took a cue from my sister's guest room and added pillows. I found them on close-out at Fred Meyer, and they worked perfectly...

Guest Room Remodel Project

When it came to the rugs, this time I went back to the "Arabesque" pattern for inspiration and found some nice-looking options at Shopko that weren't matchy-matchy blue, but a darker grey-blue...

Guest Room Remodel Project

Yes, the cats decided to get in the way everywhere I pointed the camera. The hams.

In addition to the blanket across the base of the bed, I bought a comforter and some cotton blankets in case my guests get cold. IKEA has nice "under-bed" scooters that work perfectly to store them...

Guest Room Remodel Project

And that's that for textiles.

   

Guest Room Remodel 3: Frames

Posted on Wednesday, April 13th, 2016

Dave!Welcome to Remodeling Week at Blogography!

Rooms are made more homey and comfortable by adding some art and photos to the wall, so I worked hard to find picture frames that were interesting, but not overpowering. Shades of white that would work with the walls and furniture seemed the way to go.

I started with a vertical frame to fill the space between the dresser and the closet. Pier One (my favorite place for frames) had an option in cream that was perfect. I filled it with pictures of my kittens...

Guest Room Remodel Project

The centerpiece of the room is one of my favorite paintings, The Flower Bearer by Diego Rivera. It has a black frame, so it stands out from everything else in the room...

Guest Room Remodel Project

The two photos on the sides I took while visiting Barcelona Cathedral in Spain. The frames I found at Fred Meyer had cream mats to play off the cream vertical frame on the opposite wall...

Guest Room Remodel Project

To tie into the Diego Rivera, I had two postcards also by Rivera framed on both sides of the window. I think they came from Pier One as well...

Guest Room Remodel Project

To tie into the photos of Barcelona Cathedral, I framed photos of the geese in their courtyard on the opposite wall...

Guest Room Remodel Project

The frames I found at Target, and are my favorite in the room...

Guest Room Remodel Project

I needed a full-length mirror for my guests to get dressed in, and I found an interesting one at Fred Meyer. It was pricey, but the detail was pretty cool...

Guest Room Remodel Project

Guest Room Remodel Project

The wall with the TV was boring and needed something, but I didn't want anything too distracting, so I got the matching mirror from Freddy's to stick back there...

Guest Room Remodel Project

And... enough with the expensive wall decorations.

   

Guest Room Remodel 4: Rabbits

Posted on Thursday, April 14th, 2016

Dave!Welcome to Remodeling Week at Blogography!

I wanted some kind of "theme" with the decorative junk I wanted to add to my guest room, but no idea what that might be. Then, while trying to find the right rabbit for an image I was working on for Thrice Fiction magazine, I found myself knee-deep in bunnies and thought I'd give that a try.

Not bad at all.

I started on the nightstand with this cool ceramic bunny I found in Fred Meyer...

Guest Room Remodel Project

That didn't work for my Thrice project, so I found a smaller vintage bunny at an antique store which ended up on the opposite nightstand...

Guest Room Remodel Project

That rabbit didn't work either, so I found another antique store rabbit plus a tall fellow that was on sale at Pier One. They're on the dresser behind the television..

Guest Room Remodel Project

When neither of those rabbits worked, I finally struck gold with bunnies that did work. Those ended up on the other side of the television...

Guest Room Remodel Project

With all my rabbit decor needs met, I ended up buying a plush bunny for the bed to tie everything together...

Guest Room Remodel Project

The cats like to attack the thing every chance they get...

Guest Room Remodel Project

And that's it for bunny rabbits.

   

Guest Room Remodel 5: License Plates

Posted on Friday, April 15th, 2016

Dave!Welcome to Remodeling Week at Blogography!

After jamming bunnies everywhere, I considered getting bunny pictures to add to the walls, but that seemed like entirely too much rabbit.

After tossing around ideas for a couple weeks, I was at an antique mall when the solution jumped out at me... vintage license plates!

Not only are they very cool-looking, but they are available in dark blue to tie into the textiles I bought. I found five great ones for above the closet...

Guest Room Remodel Project

One of the plates I bought was so worn there were no letters left on it... and it was pre-embossing... so I could barely make out that it was an Ohio plate from 1914. I wanted a companion plate, so I went hunting on the internet and found that the 1915 Ohio plates were dark blue... perfect!

Guest Room Remodel Project

Guest Room Remodel Project

The main wall has my Diego Rivera print on it, which has rich reds in it, so I found a license plate to match that I could put it above the mirror on the same wall...

Guest Room Remodel Project

Overall, I'm really happy with the license plates. The only down-side to acquiring them is that all the coolest ones are also the most expensive.

   

Guest Room Remodel 6: Accessories

Posted on Saturday, April 16th, 2016

Dave!Welcome to Remodeling Week at Blogography!

After buying the furniture and textiles, then decorating the place, all I had left was to add all the things the room needed to feel like home for my guests.

I started with an alarm clock. I was going to go with white or blue to match everything else in the room, but the Diego Rivera print above the bed had some yellow in it, so I decided to mix things up a bit...

Guest Room Remodel Project

I live in a relatively quit neighborhood, but there's barking dogs and other distractions on occasion, so I got a Marpac white noise machine in case a guest needs a way to block sounds so they can sleep...

Guest Room Remodel Project

Nightstand lights are simple chrome models with white shades...

Guest Room Remodel Project

To camouflage the screws I used to secure the DVD player shelf in the dresser, I bought a chrome hook bar that guests can hang their keys and stuff on...

Guest Room Remodel Project

The top drawer is for guests to use, but the bottom three I used for a selection of DVDs... divided into Action/Drama, Comedy, and Kids. If a guest can't find something they want to watch, they can go to the main collection in the garage...

Guest Room Remodel Project

For fun-time reading, I bought some antique magazines. I also found some inspirational phrase books in my collection from Richard Bach and Deepak Chopra...

Guest Room Remodel Project

And thus ends Remodeling Week at Blogography!

   

Sense-Less

Posted on Wednesday, November 23rd, 2016

Dave!I should have known better. I really should have.

Did I leave the television on? Has my dryer finished running? How much electricity am I using to heat my home? Good questions all.

These are things I'd like to know, so when I saw there was a new device was coming out called "Sense" that could answer these energy questions... and more... I was intrigued. And once I watched the promo video, I was completely onboard...

After a long wait my Sense ($250) finally arrived and I hired an electrician to install it ($120). Turns out I could have easily installed it myself, but the Sense instructions said I had to go online to get info if I didn't have a breaker free... then provided absolutely nothing online... so I took their suggestion to get a professional to do it.

Unfortunately, since my electrical panel was embedded in the wall and not surface-mounted, the electrician had to add a break-out box for the antennae. Not a big deal, but not exactly elegant. Would have been nicer if the antennae could have been inside the box, but I wasn't sure it could get signal there...

Sense Antennae Breakout Box.

And so... all that was left to do after sinking $370 into this project was to download the Sense app which, fortunately, was free. And, oh yeah, there's one more thing you have to do... you have to wait. The idea is that Sense will "listen" to your electricity usage and eventually learn to recognize your various electrical devices by their "signature." The process takes days to weeks depending on whether Sense has your particular signatures on file.

After a week, my Sense was recognizing absolutely nothing, so I wrote to Sense Support to find out what was wrong. I was told I had to be patient. Eventually it will start to "get it" and devices will pop into place. Until then, I get to stare at two "usage bubbles" for "Always On" stuff (things like clocks and devices in "standby mode") and "Unknown" stuff (things that Sense doesn't yet recognize)...

Sense App.

With nothing else I can do, I decided to be patient.

A month passes.

Now my Sense recognizes exactly three things: my microwave, my garage door opener, and my water heater. It thinks it recognizes other things, but it calls all of them "Unnamed Heat" even though none of them are my heater. I try to figure out what they actually are so I can inform Sense, but I can't for the life of me figure it out, even though Sense tells me what time they turned on and off...

Sense App.

   
What's so fucking stupid here is that my ACTUAL HEATER should be dead-simple for Sense to figure out. It's the only thing in my home that causes the "Unknown" bubble to blow up like this...

Sense App.

   
But no joy. It's the most obvious thing using electricity in my house, but Sense hasn't a fucking clue.

Needless to say, I'm pissed off. Partly because this is not what I was promised, and certainly not what I paid $370 for. But mostly because Sense is stupid as a box of rocks... and there's no way to train it to be smarter about what it's sensing.

Take this morning, for example.

I turn on the garbage disposal. On the Sense app, I can see that it has the same "signature" every time you turn it on. It's right there on the screen...

Sense App.

You would think that I could tap those spikes and tell Sense "Hey, that's my garbage disposal!" but you can't do that. All I can do is scream "IT'S MY FUCKING GARBAGE DISPOSAL, YOU PIECE OF SHIT!!!" at my iPhone because Sense has the garbage disposal lumped in with all the "Unknown" crap and there's no way to tell Sense anything about the "Unknown" crap. But what about those "Unknown Heat" devices?

I turn stuff off and on in an attempt to see which "Unknown Heat" it might be... but that doesn't help. My television? Lumped in with "Unknown." My oven? Lumped in with "Unknown." My washer and dryer? Lumped in with "Unknown." My stereo? Lumped in with "Unknown." My iron? Lumped in with "Unknown." My Litter Robot? Lumped in with "Unknown." Everything I could possibly want to know about is lumped in with "Unknown" which means it's useless.

And so... for now anyways... Sense is junk.

Unless I want to know if I left my microwave or garage door running.

And I really should have known better.

Just like the Kickstarter crap I've bought which turned out to be garbage, I should have waited for Sense reviews to come out before investing in it... even though I saved $50 by pre-ordering. Turns out the Sense I really needed was Common Sense. Typical.

   

If You Never Hear From Me Again…

Posted on Saturday, December 3rd, 2016

Dave!Last night as I was loading my car trunk with some cardboard to recycle, I saw a gallon of milk sitting there. I must have missed it when I was unloading groceries four days ago. Don't ask me how.

I was going to dump it down the drain... but it's been cold out, it's non-fat, and milk is expensive, yo... so I decided to pop it in the refrigerator and give it a shot.

If you never hear from me again, please inform the coroner that it was the milk that did me in.

Now that they've gotten older, I am very fortunate that my cats sleep through the night. They crash downstairs around 7:30-8:00, then follow me up to my room when I retire for the evening. If I turn off the lights to go to sleep, they'll climb on the bed with me. If I leave lights on and work in bed, they'll climb into the kitty beds at the foot of my bed and fall asleep there.

Sounds great, right? Except when I have to get up and pee in the middle of the night. Jake and Jenny think this means I want to play. So when I go back to bed instead of playing with them, they are very, very unhappy I woke them up for nothing.

If you never hear from me again, please notify the police I was eaten by my cats.

Amazon's "Echo" device (called "Alexa") is tied in with my home automation system and controls everything. I can't remember the last time I physically touched a light switch in my home... I just ask Alexa to turn on/off the light I need. At first it was only when I had my hands full. But then... well...

The coolest thing about Alexa is that she can activate "scene" controls and perform numerous functions with a single command. For example... when I say "Alexa, Turn on Night Mode", the following happens:

  • Kitchen lights off.
  • Sink light off, leave porch lights on (all come on automatically at sunset).
  • Dining table lights dimmed to 10% (for the cats)
  • Living room lights dimmed to 25%
  • Thermostat down to 68 degrees.
  • Runner lights on.
  • Cat water fountain turns off.
  • Motion sensors turn on.

That kind of thing.

It's absolutely awesome, and I love having Alexa around. She's become so ingrained in my life that when the internet goes down (which Alexa requires to operate) I kind of forget how everything works. When you never use light switches, your head kind of fogs over what to do when you want the lights on. It takes me a minute. In another couple of years, I probably won't even know where my light switches are.

If you never hear from me again, it's either because I'm trapped in the dark in my house... or trapped on the toilet screaming for Alexa to wipe my ass because she does everything else around here and I've forgotten how. Please call 9-1-1.

The mindsets of foreign countries... particularly those in Asia... are radically different from ours. Relations between nations there can be based on cultural differences few Westerners could possibly understand... or on events that happened hundreds of years before the USA even existed. To not understand these circumstances when building foreign policy is to invite disaster. Even the slightest misstep can set events into motion which could have catastrophic consequences. Because of this, it is beyond critical that our leaders be well-advised by people deep into foreign mindsets before making even the smallest decision.

Unless you are President-Elect Trump. Then you just do whatever the fuck you want, no matter how idiotic or dangerous the consequences.

India and Pakistan are nuclear powers. They are also blood enemies. Keeping them from unleashing mass destruction upon each other is a balancing act that has the entire world on edge. So when Trump has a terrifyingly ill-advised phone call with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif as if he's running Pakistan when, in fact, it's the military that is actually in control of the country... you can see how this could cause a frightening shift in the structure of Pakistan, which could ultimately lead to problems with India. You do not want that.

Then you have Trump accepting a call from the president of Taiwan... which is tantamount to the United States officially recognizing Taiwan's independence from China... which is something that will send China through the fucking roof. This one phone call could set into motion events that have China taking military action against Taiwan in order to make it clear they consider Taiwan to be a part of China. Not to mention making The United States an enemy of China. Which, needless to say, is also a nuclear power. All because Trump wants to build a hotel in Taiwan (or whatever), and he has no fucking clue what in the hell he is doing.

Trump's actions are rushing nuclear powers to conflict in a way he'll never comprehend, and he's not even in office yet.

Can you imagine what happens when he's actually president?

Trump doesn't seem to want to listen to anybody. He acts like a petulant child. He doesn't seem to give a shit what the consequences are for his actions. He is willfully ignorant when it comes to foreign relations and is seriously clueless as to how critical it is not to be making the mistakes he's been making. He is very obviously putting his personal interests ahead of this country. He is inflaming foreign nations with nuclear weapons.

We are all fucked.

And I'm not saying that to be funny or dramatic.

If you never hear from earth again, it's because President Trump destroyed the planet. Please tell any alien life with time travel capabilities to go back into the past and abort this abomination before he's even born.

   

Bullet Sunday 485

Posted on Monday, December 12th, 2016

Dave!Don't go shovel that driveway just yet, because an all new Bullet Sunday starts... now...

   
• Does Whatever a Spider Can! I've always been more a Batman guy than a Spider-Man guy, but Marvel is looking to change that with their first Spidey film, Spider-Man: Homecoming...

I mean... seriously. Marvel seems incapable of fucking up a movie. They respect the source material and give fans exactly what they're dying to see. This is the complete opposite of what DC does, which is rewrite everything that makes the characters great and give fans what Zack Snyder wants to see... which is always a pile of shit. Couldn't be happier to be getting what looks like an amazing Spider-Man movie. The fact that Tony Stark is in there being Tony Stark just makes it too good to be true.

   
• The Artist Formerly Known As... If you're a Prince fan, GQ has a long, but highly entertaining look at his life from the perspective of people who knew him best. As if that wasn't enough... another genius, Nintendo's Shigeru Miyamoto, was interviewed over at Glixel. You're welcome!

   
• No Toys for Tots. After coming across this sorry story, I have concluded that it's probably the stupidest fucking thing I've read in a long time. A charity that collects toys for children won't accept toys raised by a tavern because they prayed on it and decided that toys coming from a bar is a bad thing? Who did this idiot pray to? I mean, she did read The Bible and know who Jesus hung out with, right? Yet another case of Faux Christians following in the footsteps of Jesus... just so long as those footsteps don't lead to conflict with their moral superiority and false virtue.

   
• Can I Be a Lesbian? This had me laughing out loud in the middle of the night at my hotel...

Fortunately, I must not have disturbed my neighbors because nobody beat the door down and strangled me.

   
• Kitty Homebody. Ever since I got back home in the early AM, the cats have been all over me. When I sat down tonight to work and watch Wedding Crashers, Jake came running in and attached himself to me then fell asleep...

Jake Asleep On Me

After a bit he ran to get a snack and I thought I was free... but then Jenny came running in and took his place...

Jenny While I Work

Then she ran to use the Litter-Robot and I figured that was the end of it... except Jake came running back to take her place...

Jenny While I Work

Eventually they must have decided I wasn't going anywhere tonight, and went back to life as usual. Until next time. As if I didn't already feel bad enough about having to leave them...

   
• Paranoia and Smoke Alarms. Just before my trip to Maine, I started getting paranoid about a fire in my garage. That's where my electrical panel is. That's where my furnace is. That's where my whole-home humidifier is. Any of those things could burst into flames and I wouldn't know about it until it burned through the walls and into the house. To set my mind at ease, I ordered another Nest Protect (smart smoke detector) to put in the garage. Now I'm wondering why smoke detectors in garages isn't a thing. Shouldn't they be? Sure it's $100 down the drain, but that's pretty cheap if my electrical panel caught fire while I was in Maine and unaware. Now my house will send me a text if the garage is on fire. So... yay? I suppose now I need to find out how to call a fire into my local fire department so I can actually do something about an alarm when I'm across the country and 9-1-1 won't connect me to the right place.

   
• A New History for Humanity. I whole-heartedly approve of this calendar. A simple change that adds loads of perspective...

Too many people think that all of humanity didn't begin until Jesus came along. This fixes the problem without completely disrupting everything. Until scientists decide that

   
• Trump Diplomacy. This pretty much sums it up...

Trump Being Trump

And anybody still calling me "alarmist" for posting end-of-days scenarios around President-Elect Trump's ignorance and stupidity can go read this and then go read this and fuck off now. You'll note that I linked to a FOX "News" story the second time since the people who love Trump and are not taking this shit seriously seem to think that FOX is the only "news" source that matters. Guess we don't have to give a shit about Trump cutting Social Security and Medicare since we're all probably going to be dead by the time he gets around to it. In the meanwhile... this is how Republicans are saving American jobs?

   
And... the bullets have flown. Until next week then.

   

The Joy of Home Automation

Posted on Friday, February 17th, 2017

Dave!I've long been fascinated with home automation... even before I had a home of my own where I could implement it. Once I actually got started with the stuff I became even more fascinated, because you just don't know what you can do until you're hip-deep in the culture. Depending on how clever you are (and how much money you're willing to spend), home automation is the ultimate lifestyle hobby.

Most people think that simple tasks... like turning lights on-and-off automatically or locking and unlocking a door remotely... is what home automation is all about. And they would be right. Except it can go so much deeper than that.

Take for example my morning routine.

I am usually up and working in bed around 5:00-5:30am. But my first task of the day... feeding my cats... doesn't happen until 7:00am. Once that time comes, here's what happens...

  • At 6:30am, the furnace/air conditioning comes on, as needed, depending on the temperature in the house.
  • If 7:00am happens before sunrise + 15 minutes, my bedside light, staircase light, dining room light, and kitchen light all come on.
  • I receive a text alert that it's time to feed the cats.
  • If a motion sensor isn't triggered in 15 minutes, I get another alert.
  • Once the cats are fed, I head back upstairs to get ready for work. A motion sensor sees this then turns off my bedside light and kitchen light, then dims the dining room light to 50%, if it was on (cats see better in low light than I do!). It also turns on the upstairs bathroom light and the shower fan.
  • After I'm finished in the bathroom, I say "Alexa, turn off morning bathroom," and everything shuts off there. If it's sunrise + 15 minutes or later, the stairway light goes off as well (if it were turned on).
  • When I leave the house, I tell Alexa and she shuts off any lights that happen to be on. The thermostat goes into "Away Mode" to save energy. Security cameras in private places (like my bedroom) turn on (they are off when I'm home).

It sounds kinda complicated, but it's actually dead simple to set up once your home is wired for it.

Take, for another example, garbage day.

I keep forgetting to put the garbage out on Wednesdays when I get home so it will be picked up Thursday morning. Thinking like a home automation hobbyist, I wonder how I can have my home assist me in remembering. The program to do that is pretty simple...

Home Automation Code

On Wednesdays after 2:00pm, my house is alerted to start looking for me to arrive home. It's able to do this because my iPhone (which is always with me) will trigger an alert whenever I am within 50 feet of my house. Once I arrive, a notification is sent to my iPhone which reminds me to take out the garbage. You can see it in my iPhones alert screen (which you have to read from the bottom up)...

Home Automation iPhone Alerts

The first message I get is that I've entered my "home zone"... then I get a reminder to "Take Out The Trash"... then the garage door opens (while the sensor in there lets me know there is now motion in my garage).

It worked perfectly, but I was worried I'd miss the alert if my phone were in my pocket. So I added a line of code to turn on the light outside my garage. It's easy to notice because it's green (for the Green Light a Vet project)...

Green Garage Light

So now, even if my phone is in my backpack or on silent or whatever, I still have a reminder that I need to take out the garbage can.

What I really need to do is get a bulb that can change color. Then, on alternating weeks, I could have it turn blue to remind me that the recycle bin also needs to be set out.

Ooh... then I could put a sensor on my garbage can and recycle bin so that the garage light is turned off once the task has been completed. That way I'll be saving energy until it gets dark and it comes back on automatically!

And then I could set up a security camera alert to let me know when the trash can and recycle bin have been emptied!

And then I could...

Yeah. Probably best to leave it at that. Home automation can get expensive, yo.

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