February Update #2

Home automation, communication protocols, and devices

Finishing my last blog, I promised to discuss home automation in my next blog. Let’s do that now!

What is “home automation”? Why would I (or you) want it? What does it require and what does it cost? (I’m certain that you have additional questions! Feel free to email them to me and I’ll do my best to answer them quickly as possible.)

Home automation can be as simple as adding an automatic garage door opener to your home or as complex as adding smart device-controlled lighting, access, irrigation, security systems, and more! (There are refrigerators available today that have smart tablets inserted into the door to enable all the functions of a tablet [watching videos, listening to music, leaving notes for family members] and including enabling you to look inside the ‘fridge, via internally mounted video cameras, to quite literally “see” what other groceries you might need. Oh, to be more clear, I am referring to “see” what’s inside the ‘fridge while you’re in the grocery store using your smart phone as your viewer. Forget making a shopping list: just grab your smart phone and go. You can peek inside from your grocery store’s “Aisle 12.”)

Most of us aren’t ready for the digital refrigerator however, many of us might be ready to try digital lighting. I mentioned in my previous post that I recently installed LED “can” lights in my kitchen. There are ten lights twenty feet up. I do not want to change any more lightbulbs. (I don’t like heights and there’s a TALL ladder required to get up there.) These LEDs last for approximately ten years (or more) so I’m OK with the slightly higher price they command. And, they’re BRIGHT! (My wife, Georgi, said she could probably get a suntan while working in the kitchen. Hmmmmm…)

We want to control the brightness of the lights, so we had a smart dimmer switch installed. “Smart?”, you ask. Well, a regular dimmer requires walking over to the switch, turning it on and adjusting to the brightness desired for the moment. A smart dimmer, however, “talks” to my smart hub which, in turn, works with my Amazon Echo and Google Home Assistant. I don’t need to flip a switch, I tell Echo “Alexa [Echo’s ‘wake’ word], turn on kitchen lights!” Echo replies “OK!” and turns the lights on! I also installed some smart light bulbs that include speakers. They also work by talking to my smarthub through my smart home device (or my smart phone or tablet).

Time to get “tech-y”. Home automation requires connectivity. Many of us have wifi throughout our home. Some fo these devices can be used via wifi HOWEVER wifi is a finite amount of signal. Each device I connect to my wifi network uses a portion of the available signal and they compete for that signal. I might be working on a computer and on the Internet while my wife is watching a movie on Netflix™. My security system has four, motion-sensing cameras. If they get “awakened”, they too need some signal. Every working wifi device demands a share and each working device reduces the amount of signal each device can have. Wifi is not a great method for installing home automation devices. What then?

Bluetooth™, z-wave™, zigbee™, insteon™, thread™, and Apple Home Kit™ are alternatives to wifi to connect devices for home automation. Remember the introduction and subsequent wars of videotape home players? There were two players: Sony BetaMax™ and VHS. They fought. Ultimately VHS survived and Beta threw in the towel and faded away. That’s what is occurring now with home automation and wifi alternatives. Next blog, I’ll explain the differences among the strongest players.

The questions I asked at the beginning of this blog were: What is “home automation”? Why would I (or you) want it? What does it require and what does it cost? Here are the short answers. Home automation is connecting as many devices as you want to do as many things as you want with as little effort as you want. Why would I want it? Because technology is fun! Because connecting things to work automatically is fun (and can be VERY convenient). What does it require and what does it cost? It requires a smart hub and connectors. Smart hubs cost around $100.00. Devices range from $25.00 to a couple hundred depending upon what devices you want.

And, to complicate matters a bit further, home automation includes home security. There are many home security systems on the market. Some cost a few hundred dollars and are DIY installations and monitoring and others are “free” (via home security monitoring services) and carry a monthly fee that can range from $30.00 to more than $100.00.

What would you like to automate in your home? Or, why wouldn’t you want to automate at home? email me and let’s begin the conversation!

(Disclaimer: as always, I am in no way compensated for the opinions expressed herein. I earn no commissions. I am not paid nor sponsored by any of the item manufacturers, resellers or services. My blog is entirely my opinion for you to take with how ever many grains of salt you choose! Enjoy!)

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