February Update #

The holidays have past. The new year has begun. And I am (finally) getting around to publishing an update!

“Tech Talk”, a bi-monthly round-table discussion group that I host, is a forum wherein a group of neighbors and I get together to talk about all things “tech”. We, Baby-Boomers/Senior Citizens, have varying skills when it comes to using tech “stuff” (smartphones, tablets, smart home devices and the like) so we spend time together asking questions, sharing experiences and, in general, helping each other move forward along the digital highway.

Someone recently asked, on an alternative community neighborhood web site, a question about home security/automation systems, services and recommendations thereto. There were a few responses (use this, try that, avoid this one…) and a little more discussion. One of the members of the Tech Talk group sent me a message suggesting that I address the topic at an upcoming Tech Talk meeting. I agreed. Little did I know how little I knew about home security/automation systems!

Based upon my research, here’s what I learned: home security is either a monitored service for a monthly fee, installed and maintained (for a fee) by professionals OR it is quasi-monitored (you and your smart device[s] get notified…), installed and maintained by you. Where it gets even more interesting (and confusing) is when we start considering home automation!

What IS home automation? A garage door opener is a early form of home automation. Pressing the button on the remote in your car as you approach the garage opens the door automatically. What about when you leave home? When you’re a few miles away and you wonder “Did I close the garage door?” Today’s digital garage door automation devices allow you to “look” using your smart device and, if you DID forget to close it, you can close it with the touch a button on your screen as you continue driving rather than going back to check and close!

There are home automation devices that lock and unlock your home’s front door; that light up a room and play prearranged music when you walk into a room; tell you about the traffic report, weather report and stock market activity (if you want to know about all that). Did you notice that I said “tell you”? Devices like Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, Amazon’s Echo, Google’s Home Assistant can speak to you and they “understand” when you speak to them! Now THAT’S home automation.

Ask Amazon’s Echo, “Alexa, what’s the weather in San Francisco” and a pleasant-enough voice will explain the current weather conditions and forecast as well as commute traffic and the latest news if you like.

I recently installed a “smart hub” (details to follow later) the enables me to connect various home automation devices together such that I can tell Amazon’s Echo “Alexa, turn on the kitchen lights” and it’s done! The lights are LED lights and V E R Y bright so I had a dimmer switch installed. It’s a smart dimmer switch and it’s now connected to my smart hub. So, I can say to Amazon’s Echo “Alexa, turn on the kitchen lights to 45 percent” and not only does Alexa turn the lights on, she sees them to only 45% illumination!

Soon, I’m installing a home security video system with cameras both inside the home and at strategic points outside. The system connects to my smart hub. I’ll be able to talk to my smart device, ask whether or not there’s been any activity in or around my home, and get an answer or a look for myself.

Gotta’ L O V E this technology! What new tech have YOU tried lately?

(Home automation, communication protocols, and devices next post).

(My usual disclaimer: I am NOT compensated for any recommendation nor am I earning any income from any manufacturers, developers, resellers or others for my comments in these posts. The opinions expressed are mine [unless otherwise noted].

 

January Update #

Welcome back! Now that the holidays are behind us (or in front of us depending upon your perspective), it’s time to decide whether to keep those technology-related gifts or to return them and get something useful (you KNOW I don’t mean that!).

What did you receive that enables you to connect with the digital world? My 86 year young mother-in-law received an iPad Mini. At first, she had no idea what to do with it. When she learned that she could “start” an app that allowed her to “watch” her daughter’s (my wife’s) commute, she was intrigued!

Georgi (my wife) drives a l-o-n-g daily commute. She and her mother are very close. They converse nearly every day. Now, using her iPad, her mother can actually “watch” as Georgi drives the 60 plus miles to work. I guess it makes her feel that she’s contributing to Georgi’s safety by keeping an eye on her during that dreadful commute.

Excuse me for rambling on. It’s NOT about the commute: it’s about my mother-in-law using a device – a computer, if you will – THAT is the exciting event! She’s been a technophobe for the past twenty years. She’s had no use for computers and has had no problem letting us no that. My 94 year young father-in-law however, is quite the opposite. He has a desktop and uses it almost daily. He’s owned an appliance business for 60 plus years and still works in it with his son. He looks up and orders parts, reads various news and generally browses.

Even my 88 year young father uses a desktop. While he was consulting, a practice he stopped dome years back, he made his own travel arrangements using his computer. Who says Senior Citizens don’t embrace technology!?

Somewhere at the beginning of this note I asked you a question: “what did you receive…?” When you have a moment, write and tell me what and what you do with it. I’d like to share you stories in the hope to provide others with some ideas about what they might do using technology. Its fun, it’s safe, and you really can’t break it (very easily anyway! 😉

R.

 

First blog post

Hopefully, you’ve already read Page 1 and About Us and know why we’re here. That said, this blog entry is intended to get you thinking about the holidays ahead; particularly about gifts and giving (well, maybe a bit about gifts and getting!). Seems everyone wants tech stuff: computers, tablets, smartphones, and toys (drones, robots, bluetooth speakers, homes security devices, B-I-G screen TVs, wireless home music systems, multicolor, dim-able LED lights, doorbells with cameras and speakers, … the list goes on …

DISCLAIMER: I DO NOT HAVE ANY FINANCIAL INTEREST IN OFFERING THE FOLLOWING OPINION. I have no connection to manufactures, mobile phone service providers (“carriers”), nor any other financial interest. The opinion expressed is my own. Feel free to take it with however many grains of salt you choose! ; )

Do you have a smartphone yet? That really should be on the top of your list! What IS a smartphone, you ask? I’m glad you asked ;). It’s a phone as you know phones AND it’s a computer! That’s right: it’s a computer. Not to worry, though. It’s much easier to operate than a computer: it simply has all the power and capability of a computer. You can write messages with it (email and text). You can take and share photos with it. You can use it as a navigation aid when traveling. You can watch television and movies on it.You can use it on a golf course to see how far the pin is from where you are now, use it to play your favorite music, and you can use it to play games. Oh, and you can use it to summon help in a number of ways so you’re always just a couple buttons press away from help!

One of the challenges of obtaining a smartphone is determining which “carrier” (provider) to use. (Remember when the phone company was “the phone company” and your choice was to have a phone or NOT to have a phone?) Now, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and a host of others want your business and compete vigorously for it. You see, “carriers” earn their income charging you access fees to their communication networks. You phone calls are one charge, your data usage is another charge. (What’s “data usage”? More about that later). Some carriers will GIVE you the phone for FREE provided you agree to, and commit to, an annual (or two year) contract. Costs range considerably and you should conduct a bit of research to determine what’s best for you. (RESEARCH? Yes! Chat with neighbors, family and friends. What phones do they use? What carriers do they use? What do they like most [and least] about their carriers and their phones?)

Smartphones offer peace-of-mind, information, education, and entertainment. They are a small price to pay for some digital involvement in today’s digital world.

Somebody on your list could (probably) use one; and if you don’t have one, you need one!

Check back in a couple days. My next post is about “apps” – they’re the applications (programs) that enable your smartphone to do things. I’ll describe some of the nice-to-have, good-to-have, and need-to-have apps.  See you next time!

Richard