Frustrated with the clash of names in my “Smart Home”

I just want to vent a touch.  Why is it that my “Smart Home” is not very smart?  If I look at the 27 connected devices I have in the home, and the names for these devices, it does not seem that hard to make them work across systems.  The two key ways I control things are via voice with Alexa, and HomeKit on my iPhone.  (I don’t use Siri much due to lack of my success with it)

So.. tonight I was trying to use the Alexa app to create a group called “Downstairs”.  OK.. so, let me go back and see what the actual naming conflict is then.. Was it my Hue?  Lutron?  Nest protects?  Nest Thermostats?  .. damn, it was a Thermostat named “Downstairs”.   So, I re-named it to “Downstairs Nest”.  Fine.  Now..  what happens when I look at the list in the Alexa App?  It appears Nest reports some stupid names.

Luckily, Alexa is smart so when I saw “Turn up the temperature downstairs”, it knows that only the Downstairs Downstairs Nest can accommodate that command.   But what about if I had TURN ON, and multiple devices had an ON command? Ugh.

The Connected Home space is complicated.  With Nest, Alexa and HomeKit, we are battling for naming conventions.  Luckily, at this point, Lutron does not have it’s own rooms model.  Just for a quick view in the top level items, I inventoried the various apps.

As you can see, its a joy to think through.  Anyway.. my quick vent. This was mainly to document my learnings in the Connected Home space .

Wine cooling system for the room, on the cheap with HomeKit devices

We did a small remodel in our house where we cut a larger room in two so that we could create an area for storage of wine.  In the room we have one duct in the floor for heating that I knew eventually I wanted to use for the cooling of the room.   The challenge came as we started to price out cooling systems, and they ran in to the thousands.  I think I have a solution, all the parts are ordered, and I will let you know how it goes.   Here is my plan.

 

First, I need an AC Unit.  I settled on the relatively cheap, but highly rated (and quiet) Frigidare.

6,000 BTU AC Unit

 

I could leave this in the window, but it just doesn’t have the look we were hoping for.  I needed to move this in to the crawlspace area.  I can easily build a rack for this to live on in the crawlspace.  There is plenty of ventilation as it’s 6ft tall.  I will then build custom ducting from this unit to the floor vent.  But, the thermostat is built in to the unit.  So.. how do make the unit shut off and on?

I decided to piece together my own system using the Eve Degree HomeKit room sensor.  This gives me my remote sensing I needed.

I can use the Eve application to monitor when the room temperature is getting too warm, and I want to make sure the AC turns on.   So.. Now to control the unit itself.  I decided to stick with the Eve system since I could tie the automation together in their app.  (HomeKit does not do remote thermostat automation the way I needed).   Here is the wall plug I went with.

Now, when the Eve Thermometer senses the warm temp, it will turn on this outlet, feeding power to the AC unit.   When the Thermostat gets to a certain lower temperature, the wall unit will shut off again.

Sure.. it’s a bit of a hack, but one I am trying for now to get the look I wanted, without breaking the bank. A split AC unit or Heat Pump was going to be a minimum of $2500 or more.   With this, I spent the following:

AC Unit:  $229.00

Eve Thermostat: $60

Eve Outlet: $50

Total:  $339

I feel like it’s a reasonable price to try to get this working.  If it doesn’t work out, I can always re-purpose all of the items in my house.. but it’s definitely worth a shot!

In the coming weeks, I will try to get the ducting build done and post an update.

iPhone Live Photos

iPhone Live Photos

I’ve had my new iPhone for only 4 days now.. but I can tell you that I am quite impressed with the Live Photos feature.   Initially when I saw it, I was sure it was going to feel gimmicky.   Like many people, I can tell you that the emotional connection you get with a live photo is much more than a still.

In order to take a live photo with your iPhone, you use the little yellow icon at the top of the screen to toggle them on/off.  I am not going to go into the HOW these work.  There are plenty of sites doing that.  I just wanted to share my experience with them, albeit limited.

Live Photos Icon
Live Photos Icon

When you take a photo, yes, you can go back and hold the screen down with 3D touch and see the animation.  That is just a portion of the “magic” that you get with a Live Photo. Where I really start to see the value is in the integration with the rest of the ecosystem.  When you are scrolling through the images in your camera roll, each image has a slight bit of life to them.  This is subtle, but it helps me remember the moment just a touch more than before.   Then, the kicker for me is the integration with the watch.   When you create a photo face from a live photo, every time you pull up the watch to see the time, you get a live photo animation.

I really think Apple is on to something here.  Yes, they are not the first to do this, but they have the power to make it real.   I hope they open this up for everyone to create and play these photos.   Still photos are an artifact based on a medium.   Most of us don’t print out photos anymore, why not make them have more life.  I say bring it on.  I love them.

A Pebble Watch Kickstarter Backer – My first week with Apple Watch

A Pebble Watch Kickstarter Backer – My first week with Apple Watch

Thursday marks my 7th day with my Apple Watch.   There are enough great and detailed reviews, people poking fun, and downright haters out there that I don’t need to write a full review.  What I want to share is the difference with my Apple Watch vs. my Pebble.
Admittedly I am a gadget geek.  I like to buy things, understand what they have to offer and typically have more forgiveness for cutting edge things than the average person.  This is partially why I don’t “review” things.  I would just gush over them.  When others find the worst, I am trying to find the best while forgiving the worst as an early adopter.  I tend to like to see what things offer today and dream about the “What If” for tomorrow.  This is just who I am.  (and many of you are)

The Pebble

I was a proud owner of the original Pebble Watch (Kickstarter Edition).  When I first saw the videos coming out about the Pebble, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it.  I love the Pebble watch.  It has been on my wrist mostly without fail since the day I got it.

Pebble Learnings

The first thing I noticed about getting notifications on your wrist wasn’t how much better it was, but how it made me feel as if I was signaling people I had to leave, or they were boring me.  If I pulled out my phone while we are talking, at least they knew I was being pro-actively rude.  By looking at my wrist, I felt I was being passively rude.  I didn’t like it.  Plus, I couldn’t do anything, just look.
One of the key things I liked about the Pebble was the customization aspect.  I was forever tinkering and trying out new watch faces. I really enjoyed the simplicity of the Pebble Watchface Generator.  I could easily upload my own images, those I found online, etc and make myself a new watch face.  I made watch faces for special occasions, teams, etc.  I made Seahawks watch faces,  Napster Watch face when I was working there, and fun seasonal watch faces.
The battery life was amazing.  I could go on a short business trip and not have to worry about charging.  I could easily get 5-6 days on one charge.  This was really helpful.

The New Pebble – Pebble Time

Once the new Pebble Time was announced, I started drooling.  I knew about the Apple Watch, but was not 100% dug in to figure out all I could do there yet.  I knew I loved my Pebble, maybe a Pebble Time was the right choice.  I knew Apple wasn’t going to let us all do our own Watch Faces, and that was one thing I loved doing.  I knew the battery was going to be better for an e-Ink display.
The microphone was also a big draw.  Not being able to respond to messages was tough.  It made the first Pebble more of a notifications remote viewer instead of something I could do much with.  The idea of being able to respond to messages with a microphone, or dictate reminders; these things got me excited.  So, I pulled the trigger and pre-ordered one.

Then… The Apple Watch

Once I pre-ordered, I really spent some time thinking about the two watches.  What would I get with the Apple Watch if I chose to go that way instead?  I already know I am an iOS Fanboy.  Trust me, working in mobile for more than 15 years as both a developer and product manager, I’ve had my share of Phones.  I have always tried to have at least the latest iPhone and Best Android phone on the market every year. Many times I have had 2-3 Android phones as part of my job.  I still currently have a Moto-X and iPhone 6 Plus.

The Screen

Seriously, have you seen the Apple Watch screen?  It is amazing.  Once I really started comparing The Pebble Time and Apple Watch, I knew I was feeling a bit jealous of the bright screen.  Even at the expense of the battery, I was jealous.  I figured, hey.. I charge my phone every night, why not just charge my watch too.  (I can justify about anything in my mind when it comes to gadgets)
The next thing I started reading about was the challenges for Pebble when it came to the Microphone, iOS integration and what apps would work with the Mic.  It started to feel like on iOS, Pebble Time was going to have more challenges ahead of them.  For all the things I love about Apple, the closed ecosystem comes at a price.   If they were going to build a watch, it would have the best iOS integration of any watch.  I was sure of it.  Did I want to bite off a sub-par experience for daily interaction for custom watch faces and battery?  Was this my tradeoff?

What I have learned I like so far

Turns out that the integration with iOS is amazing for Apple Watch.  The new Siri is far better than before.  I have always liked Google’s Voice speech to text much better than Apple’s.  I think with this new version, they are appearing to be closer to On Par with each other.  I have also loved having the interactive notifications.  Quick replies need some work, but have come in handy.  (far too often I sound like a terse jerk responding, I need to tweak these)  I also think Siri responses are a bit awkward at first, but I will use them often I think.
Glances have been a big surprise.  I am liking the way a lot of these work.  My goal is to keep these small in numbers and useful.  I don’t want to over-do it.  This would likely take the usefulness away if I had too many.
I have also liked having apps that do things.  My most-used app on my Pebble was my fake Starbucks app.  On my Apple Watch, my favorites apps so far include:
  • Maps – walking turn by turn is actually fantastic
  • Omnifocus – makes it easier to tick things off quickly once reminded
  • Overcast – quick easy access to pick up where I left off
  • Calendar – a much better micro-view into my day
  • Drafts – still the fastest way to capture some quick idea

What I don’t like so far

One of the biggest annoyances so far is the fact my watch has to be laid down on a table to be charged on some goofy puck.  I am already in line for a Night Stand by ElevationLab.  I love this. Why couldn’t Apple have taken some of the money the spent on that useless, plastic box this came in and given me a nice stand?   That would go along much better with the $600 price I paid.

The Layout engine for apps is annoying.  David Sparks intentionally does not call it the “Home Screen”, and I agree.  The Watchface is home.  The Apps are on a different screen that looks quite pretty, but functionally sucks.   How do you organize this?  Well simple, you drag your icons around to be near each other by category.  In practical life, the auto layout component perpetually screws up what you are trying to do and it takes FAR too much fiddling to get what you want.
How to fix the App Screen?  Turn off that damn auto-layout engine and let me place icons where I want.   Let me cluster icons together into my own world-map of categorization.  Let me separate icon clusters into their own continents.  Let me pinch and zoom in and out to the items I need by cluster.   If you want to get clever Apple, if I touch a cluster while zoomed out, snap to that cluster and zoom in… but don’t make me fiddle so much.
My Current Layout
 IMG_7315
Another thing I don’t care for is only having 12 friends.  Seriously, is there no other way to send someone a digital touch unless they are in that group?  No, I don’t have 12 friends with Apple Watches, but the ones who do are not necessarily the ones I want to communicate with all the time.  Can we just make that work from the normal contacts on your watch?  It’s as if 2 different groups built those out and didn’t talk to each other.

Summary

Yes, I am still a fan-boy.  Yes, I love my watch.  Yes, there are issues.. but overall, I am happy with my purchase.  I like seeing where this is going.  I know this is only V1 and it will change over time, but I like to be one of the people who try this out and collectively we help shape what will be an amazing market.  No we don’t have direct influence at Apple, but we do have a voice, and hopefully people do listen.
I am happy with my choice and have since cancelled my pre-order for Pebble Time.  I guess it just wasn’t meant to be.  For all the challenges a restricted ecosystem imposes on others, and the compromises that get made to accommodate Apple in these cases, Apple has a distinct advantage..  With their ability to go around those restrictions, and build to order, they end up with the most functional Smartwatch I’ve seen or used.  It’s one of my favorite gadgets I’ve ever had.  And yes, I will get V2.

Some good reading


The Definitive Review – The Verge
Custom Watch Faces – Daring Fireball
Apple Watch Review – Cult Of Mac
Using Pebble for my Starbucks Card

Using Pebble for my Starbucks Card

OK, this was not my idea..but in many discussions about people using their Pebble watch for barcodes, I thought I’d try it out.  I gotta say, it works great and you get a lot of geek-cred with the baristas.  (if that means much these days).

 

Here is what I did.

 

Step 1:  Take a screenshot of your Starbucks card on your phone

 

Starbucks Card Screenshot - iOS

Step 2: Crop your bar code and make a graphic to be used on your watchface.  (144×168).

Step 3:  Upload the image to the watch face generator here

Step 4: Follow steps to size and save your watchface.  You can then load it to your device.

Here is an example of how mind turned out.

(slightly modified of course to not show my real card)

Strabucks Card on Pebble
Strabucks Card on Pebble
Torg’s Mini Holiday Gift Guide

Torg’s Mini Holiday Gift Guide

The Holiday Season is upon us.  More and more people are looking to gadgets as a good gift.  If I look back just a few years ago, no where near as many of my family and friends were into their Smartphone, now they are a daily staple in our lives.   This love for technology has extended to other parts of our lives as well and this is my list of some great gadgets and gifts for friends.

 

Sonos Play 1 ($199)

If you have have not heard of Sonos before and you love music, be prepared to fall in love.  Sonos is a fantastic multi-room speaker system that lets you stream music to speakers in the house in the most simple and elegant way.  You can stream different music to different zones, and have up to 32 zones in your house.  The Play 1 is their entry speaker that will get you going on the Sonos bug, or be a great fill in for rooms you need to fill with sound.

 

http://www.sonos.com/shop/products/play1-bridge

 

Sonos Play 1
Sonos Play 1

 

 

Anker® Astro 3E 10000mAh External Battery Pack ($39.99)

These little battery packs are great for saving your bacon when you are out and about.   This one is big enough to charge your tablet and phones at the same time.  Great gift for people that have a gadget addiction and burn through their battery.  (Isn’t that all of us?)

 

Battery Pack
Battery Pack

 

 

 

Tiltpod – iPhone Mini Tripod ($30)

I had this for the 4S.. need to get it for my 5.  I loved this little thing.  Always handy on the keychain and works really well.

Check them out here: http://gomite.com/products/tiltpod-stand-iphone-5

Tiltpod
Tiltpod

 

 

 

Round 1.. more to come.

 

 

 

 

 

My Backup Process

My Backup Process

I am very particular about the backups of files that I have.   The main reason for this is my fear of losing digital photos, but in general, this is how I approach it.  (and to be clear, I am forever refining)

Goal for my backups:  at least 3 copies of all files I deem critical, one of those copies must be offsite.  (meaning out of my house)

The original is my original files/folders on my computer.

First Backup (local)
My first line of defense took a while to get to.  I was forever copying files to USB drives and trying to keep those in sync.  It was a little bit of a pain, but it worked.  Finally I wanted to have a nice local network place to backup my original files.   I settled on Drobo.  A DroboFS to be specific.  The great thing about the Drobo units is you can add, or hot-swap hard drives as you use them. Drobo makes RAID simple for duplicating your data across multiple drives and you don’t have to sweat over it. Very good systems. Not the cheapest.. but well worth it.
I setup drobo to monitor and sync certain folders (like my photos folder).  I think I eventually landed on manually copying new files to Drobo just to feel like it’s a little more precise.  Not sure why but sometimes it felt like I wanted that extra assurance.

Second Back (offsite)
For years I tried the likes of Carbonite, Back Blaze, etc.   While they worked, they were not quite what I was looking for.  I wanted not only backup, but some cloud storage.  This is where Bitcasa comes in.

Think of Bitcasa as an online USB drive that is infinite in size. No more worrying about how much you put there. The other cool thing it does is allows for mirroring of folders on your computer to the cloud.  This is the backup piece of Bitcasa.   I mirror my music, pictures, documents, movies, etc.   They are accessible on any other machine I use with Bitcasa and no worrying about an offsite backup now .
evernote-logo

 

 

Evernote is a daily use product for me.  I’ve been using it since it’s very old days.. prior to it’s current incarnation, but I LOVE it’s new (new in 2007?) direction.  The idea is that you place anything and everything into Evernote and don’t worry about remembering it.  Evernote will make it available on all of your devices.

Recommendation:  Must have notes/memory app

hdd-mini-5d-enclosure-image-picture-logo-storage-thunderbolt-drobo

 

SITE: http://www.drobo.com

I use the Drobo FS for in-home redundant backup.  The great thing about the Drobo units is you can add, or hot-swap hard drives as you use them.  Drobo makes RAID simple for duplicating your data across multiple drives and you don’t have to sweat over it.  Very good systems.  Not the cheapest.. but well worth it.

Android tablets won’t see the success of the Android phones

Android tablets won’t see the success of the Android phones

There is no doubt that Android is killing it in the phone space.   They have come to market with an open platform that allows the flexibility for OEMs to bring a variety of devices to market.   These devices can be a low end 128mb Smartphone for free to consumers (or very cheap on the open market) all the way up to a high end device with fantastic processors, large amounts of storage, NFC and stunning design.  If you are on the market for a Smartphone.. Android will have one that fits your pricepoint.. and arguably can do it quite well for that price.  It doesn’t mean it’s a better phone than an iPhone or Windows Phone 7.. but it is good enough for the price.

The challenge standard Android tablets are running into are partially due to some of the same things that are making the phones a success.  When users look at a “luxury device” like a tablet, they are falling into two buckets.   People who want basic email/browse capabilities with a few applications, or the power users who want a lot of applications and the ability to be more productive with them.  The problem is, Android is unable to compete for the consumer market with either one of these scenarios.

iPad is killing it with market penetration on tablets right now.   They have captured the hearts of the general consumer and are getting people to spend the money to get the best tablets available on the market to day.   Many people will argue these are not full computers.. and are limited to content consumption.  I disagree.. with the right applications, you can be very productive.  The iPads are easy to use, accessories are everywhere and they just work.

Windows 8 tablets will be here.. well, eventually.  No solid dates but we all know they are coming.  Microsoft released the Windows 8 consumer preview this week and it’s getting great reviews.   The benefits to Windows 8?  Well, first off.. it IS a real computer.  Not some limited device.  This literally will be a take-along device that is your full system.  Accessories will be everywhere for them and people will get to know the OS  very well.  I am excited about what will come with these new tablets/slates.

Standard Android tablets .. where does this leave you?   Sure.. you can try to compete against a $399 iPad price point.. but with weaker hardware and an outdated version of Android.  Do you think that will get much more market share than geeky devs looking to toy around?  Have you ever tried to hook an SD reader to an Android tablet?  Did it work?  Fragmentation, an open source OS and hardware limitations are going to be the death of Android tablets ever making it fully mainstream.  Sure there will be people buying them.. but in a year, the items you will see people carrying are going to be Win8 and iPad primarily.   The iPad will have a nice low price point with great hardware.. and Windows 8 tablets will be covering those who want a real computer with them.  This doesn’t leave much room in the market for mainstream products.

One tablet I left out was the Kindle Fire.  While technically this is an Android tablet, I put this into  special category.   Amazon was smart.  Leverage the base of an open OS and customize the heck out of it to target a more niche play.  Curate the app store to protect your users and focus on some key scenarios.  (quality apps, kindle book reading, media)   This is the one area I think you will see Android succeed.  If there are niche markets to be had.. Amazon is the one figuring it out.   The Fire is a great device.   Now.. if only they could contribute back to the Android source code.

I dig this concept.. very nice

I came across this “spotify box” concept while reading through some blogs tonight.  First off, I gotta say how nice of a concept this is.  

Img_4347

The idea is simple.   A small box to get your internet streaming from a source, pre-configured and as easy to use as possible.  In this case, they are using Spotify for the example.  Spotify is a competitor of someone like Rhapsody or Mog.  Basically a subscription music service that gives you access to millions of tracks for a flat fee per month.  I  have been a long-time Rhapsody subscriber, so I can appreciate this a ton. 

The clever thing here is the use of RFID tags that are magnetic and can be configured based on color to be your “selector” buttons for radion stations.  What I don't think this shows in detail, and maybe I am taking this a bit beyond where the inventor was thinking.. but simple programming of the RFID chip to be your “source URL” for music makes a possible way to allow me to bring my subscription easily with me to other friends houses.  Think of this:  You go over to your friends house, everyone has their “chips” for music, and every radio is programmed to read the RFID chips with built in authorization.  Now when I go to my friends house, even if he doesn't have Rhapsody, I can still play my music at his place with MY account.  

Short post.. killer concept in my view.  I'd like to think more about how to extend this out.  Very clever Spotify box, and I hope they bring it to market as an extensible platform for others as well.  

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Why I like the new Apple TV

Lots of people are complaining about the new AppleTV and what it didn't bring for features, what they don't like, what they wished it had, etc.  Realizing that Apple did their homework first, to try to hit the mass market, many of us “techies” are not necessarily the target demographic. Get over it.  Unfortunately they didn't make this for you. Geeks should wait for Boxee.  

Whatis_gallery_slide120100901

Apple has one primary goal with AppleTV.  Sell content.  If you can get a small, easy to hook up box into someones routine, make it non-subscription yet easy to purchase content.. you have a winner.  The previous AppleTV had two problems holding it back.  First was the cost.  $200-$300 for an unproven technology was too much for many people to shell out.  Drop that to a magical $99 price point and you have reduced a major barrier.  The second issue was the technical side of setup.  The syncing, hard drive, etc.. all just a little much for “mass market” ease of use.  Make this as easy (or easier) than a DVD player to watch content.. and another barrier is gone.  

The final icing on the cake is the price point for content.  Nobody will argue (at least rationally) that $5 for a first run HD rental is too much.  It'll cost you that much for the pop at the theater to see it.  People do that all day.  The $0.99 “rental” of TV shows is another win.  Seriously, how often do you watch TV shows more than once?  If you want to buy a season and stream it to your AppleTV, you are welcome to.. but for somewhere in the range of $20-$25 you can rent an entire season of a show you like. The nice thing is if (and it's a big IF) you can choose to unplug from your cable provider, Dish, DirecTV, etc.. you can probably save a fair amount of money and time over the course of a year.  At least for me this would be the case.  

Anyway.. I think Apple did it right.  Plus, add the ability to stream from your iOS products to AppleTV, ease of packing this thing on vacation if you want to.. it is some extra gravy in the value ladle.  I ordered one already and will be quite happy to move my “old” AppleTV to a new location in the house. 

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