Posted on December 12th, 2016
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...
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...
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...
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...
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.
Posted on December 3rd, 2016
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:
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.
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.
Posted on November 23rd, 2016
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...
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)...
With nothing else I can do, I decided to be patient.
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...
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...
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...
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.
Posted on January 6th, 2016
Welcome to the second installment of Things I Bought Week, showcasing stuff that I recently purchased and what I think of what I got for my hard earned money!
What did I buy this time? The Ring WiFi Doorbell
Call me anti-social, but there's two things I really don't like... 1) Talking to people on the phone, and 2) Having uninvited visitors drop by my home. And when the person calling or dropping by is a salesman or political organization or somebody wanting me to convert religions? That's even more annoying.
When it comes to the phone, I just don't answer it when the caller ID is somebody I don't want to talk to or the identity is blocked. But what can you do when it's somebody ringing your doorbell? My door has a glass panel on it... it's not like I can sneak up and see who's disturbing my peace.
Ring is a "smart" doorbell with a camera, a microphone/speaker, and a motion sensor... all wrapped up in a package that's connected to the internet.
This means that you can get an alert on your phone when somebody approaches your door... see who it is... then talk to them to find out what in the hell they want. And you can do that whether you're in your living room... or around the world. Couple Ring with a connected door lock, and you can also let them in your home if you want...
The main reason I got Ring was because of UPS deliveries. They say your package is out for delivery and will be delivered by 5:30 so you wait until 6:00 just to be safe... then leave because you've got better things to do than wait for a package that never showed up... only to have it ultimately be delivered at 6:45 when you're not there. And then you've got a package sitting on your doorstep that could get stolen before you even realize it's been dropped off. With Ring I can be alerted when UPS approaches the door, see that they've rand my doorbell and run off, and know that I've got to run home and get it before somebody steals it. Neat, huh?
And, for that purpose, Ring works exactly as advertised.
Where you run into problems is when you want to interact with somebody. I called a neighbor and asked them to go ring my doorbell so I could see what happens when somebody presses it. Since I had motion detection enabled, I knew they were approaching before they even pressed the doorbell, then received another alert once they did. Problem was that the alerts were not instantaneous like it is with my INSTEON and Nest devices. The first time I was playing around with Ring, the delay was so long that I wondered if I had set it up wrong. My worry is that somebody will ring your doorbell then leave before you are alerted they were there. Subsequent tests were a mixed bag. Many times it was pretty quick... other times it was a bit slower. I don't know if it's the doorbell, my internet, or Ring's messaging service that's the problem, but it could be problematic if you have an impatient caller. Not a deal-breaker for me, but something to be aware of.
And now for a run-down...
Camera: When it comes to optics, Ring isn't bad at all. The 180° wide-angle lens gives you a clear view of everything happening around it in 720p resolution (1280 x 720). Even better, it has night vision so you can see in the dark. For $30 a year, any video your Ring captures is stored in the cloud. This way if somebody steals your UPS delivery off your doorstep, you can retrieve a video for the police. Ironically, this also allows you to have footage of somebody stealing your Ring, in which case they mail you a replacement for free. One pitfall that surprised me is that you can't access the camera whenever you want just to take a look outside your door. In order to see what's going on, Ring has to detect motion or sense a press of the doorbell button before the camera activates. I guess this is to save battery, but it seems a no-brainer of a feature to have, and should be up to the purchaser what's a good use of battery power.
Microphone/Speaker: Works pretty much as you'd expect for a Voice Over Internet application. I was able to hear them. They were able to hear me. They advertise "active noise cancellation," but I didn't have any noise going on to test that.
Motion Detector: Surprisingly sensitive. My doorbell is off to the side (not facing the street), yet it was still alerting me to cars driving by. Fortunately, you can reign in the sensitivity and choose which areas to monitor, so this isn't a problem at all. As mentioned above, the only issue I've run across is that there can be a bit of a delay between when motion is detected and I get an alert.
Cloud: As mentinoed, Ring records video every time it detects motion or somebody presses the doorbell button. This video is then uploaded to the cloud as it's shot so you can retrieve it from your phone whenever you want. I believe I read somewhere that they store 6 months of footage. You get a 30 day free trial with purchase, then have to pay $3 a month or $30 a year to keep using it. A small price to pay given how handy it can be to have access to your video events.
Power: Ring has batteries inside of it that can be charged over USB. This means you can stick your Ring wherever you want. Unfortunately, you have to remove the unit from your house and let it charge overnight every time it runs out. According to Ring (the company) the battery can last up to a year. Reviewers were saying it was a lot less, depending on how much activity your doorbell experiences. This wasn't an issue for me, however, as I used the power from the wiring of my old doorbell to power my Ring.
Installation: Attaching it to my home wasn't a big deal (drill bit, screws*, and screwdriver included!), and setting up the device with my iPhone was fairly painless. If you get stuck, there are step-by-step videos available for everything.
Doorbell: As expected, Ring passes a signal to your doorbell chime when somebody presses it. If you don't have a chime, you can purchase a WiFi chime that plugs into an outlet and connects with Ring to give you one.
And that's pretty much it. Except to say that it comes with a 1-year warranty.
Ring has solved a problem I knew I had... solved other problems I didn't know I had ... and increased the security of my home. If I could rely on the notification delivery speed and had the ability to view a live feed from the camera whenever I wanted, this would be a solid "A" product.
RATING: B+ • DAVE APPROVED • Currently selling for $199 at Amazon.
* Helpful hint... the screws they give you are shit. Very soft metal that broke on three of the four screws when I attempted to drive them into the siding of my home... AFTER I HAD DRILLED PILOT HOLES! Do yourself a favor and pick up some good-quality wood screws when you pick up your Ring so you don't have to make another trip to Home Depot like I did.
Posted on December 26th, 2015
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...
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...
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.
Posted on December 25th, 2015
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.
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...
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
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...
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?
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.
Posted on December 20th, 2015
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...
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.
Posted on December 19th, 2015
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
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...
Posted on December 18th, 2015
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.
Posted on December 17th, 2015
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...
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?
There's another option to bring your INSTEON controllers into the future that Star Trek promised us. And I'll talk about that tomorrow.