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.

Publishing with Ulysses

Publishing with Ulysses

OK.. the new version of Ulysses is out now and it includes the ability to publish straight from the app to WordPress. The great thing is.. not only is it WordPress.com hosted sites, but if you self-host, you can also publish.

I’ve recently started moving my writing to the iPad. The challenge is, and was going to be.. how to publish from the iPad. I know Fredrico Viticci and others have managed to put together some workflows.. but this is nice. It’s just built in.

Anyway, for now.. let’s see if we can get some more stuff published. I am just trying to figure out the sheets vs. grouping for publishing.. but here we go. Hopefully a better and easier workflow.

 

Apple Notes Slowness on Startup – FIXED!

Apple Notes Slowness on Startup – FIXED!

I was trying to explore switching from Evernote to Apple Notes for a period of time.  At some point during this experiment, Apple Notes started acting like a punk.. basically every time I tried to open Notes, the sync to iCloud would freeze up the app for anywhere from 15-60 seconds.  It was unusable.   It was also driving me crazy.

I finally broke down and did something I NEVER do, I called Apple Support.   After a bit of back and forth on the phone, the tech suggested I delete my iCloud Account from the phone and then add it again.   While this seemed extreme, I was a bit desperate.   So I did.   Once I was able to restore my iCloud account, to my happy surprise, Notes was responsive again..  for about 15 minutes.    Then it all went south again.   UGH!  Oh, and did I mention that when you delete your iCloud account, you have to re-add all of your Apple Pay options?  (phone and watch).  What a pain!

After some poking and digging on the interwebz, I came across Adiel_G.  He had found a way to fix his issue.  He gave me clear instructions that I wanted to share here. Why am I sharing?  Well, it seems to fully work!  I no longer have this lag or slow-ness at launch.

Summary:  We want to remove the Notes database from iCloud completely, but leave iCloud intact.  

 

Before you start, you will want to backup your notes.  You can export 1 by 1 to something like Evernote through a Share Sheet, or use something like Note2Text to export the text out of the notes.  (it loses attachments, but might be worth it for you.  I was for me)

Step 1:  Go to your iCloud Account on your iPhone/iPad and choose Storage

IMG_2618

Step 2:  Click the Manage Storage option, this will bring you here:

IMG_2619

Step 3:  Click the Notes under Documents and Data.  (If it isn’t showing, click more)

IMG_2620

Step 4:  Click the Edit in the upper right, then click Delete All.  This will remove your Notes DB completely.

IMG_2621

Sure, I lost some formatting and attachments in the process, but I had also backed up key items to Evernote first.   The key point here is, it fixed me.  I am happy for this.  I wanted to post this in hopes that others find it when searching for the same issue.  What a pain.

 

IDEA: Auto-create tasks from Apple Notes

IDEA: Auto-create tasks from Apple Notes

I am playing around with the Apple Notes app still to see if I could replace Evernote.  One of the items I love about Evernote is my ability to see recent notes with checkboxes created in them.  There is no way to do this with Apple Notes.  It got me thinking, why are Tasks in Reminders different from Tasks in Notes?

Imagine you are taking meeting notes, and during the meeting you create some tasks that have to be completed.

 

Notes

After the meeting, you currently go back and extract those tasks out manually.  What if the the reminders application had a special note(s) that pulled out tasks for you?   Then, you could use Reminders for your tasks, or automate IFTTT rules into a task editor of choice.

Reminders

A task is a task in my view. Why wouldn’t I want them in the same place?  It seems like any software creating a “task” could use a common platform and integrate these across the board.   Could someone get to that please?

Giving up on Photos and iCloud for my photo needs

Giving up on Photos and iCloud for my photo needs

It’s been a rough time trying to figure out if iCloud and the Photos app was going to be the solution for me.  TL;DR – No, it is not for me.

I started out on the beta of the photos app.  The idea of using iCloud for storage and Photos on my phone was a great concept.  The ability to look up any photo at any time was exciting.  In practicality, it just didn’t work.  I will say the Photos application on my Mac did a remarkable job when processing that many photos. The challenge came when  trying to use it on my phone. My phone just became incredibly slow and trying to scroll through that many photos. The worst part was that I would take a photo, it would take 15 to 30 seconds for a photo to show up in my library. This was just not usable.

What I realized is that I use my camera less than ever before. I finally deleted the photos out of the application in an effort to see if it was a corrupted file or something causing the slowness. Then when I reuploaded photos I ended up with multiple duplications.I am now on my third iteration trying to get the photos application to work. This weekend I just decided to declare Photos bankruptcy and give up. I’m going to delete all of the photos that were in iCloud.
I have turned off photo storage on my devices until I can get the 30 days RECENTLY DELETED gone.  I am not sure why there is no easy way to purge the trash. At this point, there are 90k photos in there.  Once I can get all of the photos removed, and all of the photos out of the backed up deleted files, I will re-enable this feature and just keep the photos syncing across devices. I will then just continue to use my old process of filing photos by year and by event; editing and sifting through them by hand as normal.
I really had high hopes for iCloud photo storage to work. It turns out the main issue was really the ability for the phone to write quickly to the database when I had over 50,000 photos.  It made my phone crippling slow. I hope they can get this figured out in the future but in the meantime I’m going to be using my old process to manage photos.
UPDATE:  Monday, September 28, 2015.   I have read a bunch recently about the improvements since launch.  I have gone back and re-uploaded my photos to see how things worked.   Seems like things are much improved and I am going to stick with it for a while.  Hopefully this keeps on working. 
iCloud Drive – Apple needs to fix this product

iCloud Drive – Apple needs to fix this product

I am not sure why Apple feels the need to restrict the way I use iCloud Drive.  They believe they are helping users by trying to take the file system away from the user so they don’t have to think about it.  I can’t speak for everyone, but this is my largest frustration.

iCloud Drive

When I look at iCloud Drive, I see a bunch of folders by application.  I don’t organize my files this way.  I organize them by project I am working on.  If I am working on “Project X”, I put all files related to that project in a folder, then it is all in one tidy location.  iCloud Drive, by default, tries to force you to put everything in a sub-folder by application.  That is just strange.

Apple should look at something like Dropbox.  I can see every folder I want and organize HOW I want.  It does not have the concept of “by application” filing systems.

IMG_6815

The really strange part for me is when I contemplate opening a file on a project.  Let’s say on my iPhone, I open Pages.  I can’t get to anything other than what is in my Pages folder.  Apple won’t even expose the entire folder structure to you.  This drives me bonkers.

I get they are not trying to compete with Dropbox directly, but if you want me to dump a bunch of files in your system and become dependent on you, it better work with my workflow.. or it won’t fly.  I would love if Apple got to the point of sharing simplicity like Dropbox.  I know they are trying with some stuff integrated into Mail.app, but it is not enough yet.

My preference is to let the user control how they organize.  File systems are intuitive. Don’t try to “save me from myself”.. let me do it my way.

 

Annual Photo Backup Reminder Program

Annual Photo Backup Reminder Program

OK.. it’s the end of the year.  When was the last time you backed up your photos?

I know many of you have a process for backing up of your files.  I also know that many of you (despite knowing better) have yet to put the time and effort into doing this important task.   Yes, you should back up your documents and other files as well, but lets stay focused on pictures here.  This is where I get the most panicked phone calls; missing and lost photos.

Double Backup – two locations

The general rule I have is to always maintain at least 2 backups.  One on-site and one off site.  Why?  What happens when your house burns down?  If you didn’t have a copy somewhere else, you have lost all your precious memories.  I know what you are thinking, my house won’t burn down.  Well, it happened to my sister.  She DID have backups at home, but they were lost in the fire.  Seriously, Even if you just backup to a USB drive and take it to work or a friends house, do it. If you do this task once a year, the worst case is you lost a years worth of pics.  Not everything.

I personally use a combination of locations.  I may go overboard, but I am very protective of our pictures and memories.  Here is my setup:

  • My main location for files is in my pictures folder on my Mac.
  • I have a backup stored on a network drive (Drobo) that I manually copy
  • I have a time machine backup running to my Drobo as well
  • My remote copy is stored on Dropbox.
  • EDIT: I have since moved my Offsite Backup to Crashplan
    • Many people have so wisely pointed out that Dropbox is not a good backup solution, it is a sync solution.

Notice, I have 2 local backups, and one remote (off site) backup

I happen to store my photos in a nested folder structure that is by year/event.   This enables me to easily find and share photos as needed.

  • 2013
    • Michelles Birthday
    • Easter
    • Camping
  • 2014
    • Vacation to mars
    • Work event

Some online resources you can also use include:

Crashplan – automatic backup

Backblaze – another automatic backup solution

Flickr – you get 1 TB of storage now.. for free

Google Drive – yes, you can upload them to your drive account

 

Smartphone Backup

If you are anything like the rest of the world you are taking more photos on your smartphone and less on a regular camera.    Don’t forget to back these up.   I suggest at the end of the year  to take a snapshot of your phone pics and copy them to your YEAR/PhoneBackup folder.  I have one of these for each of the past 5 years.  I know I lost some photos prior to that, but I am pretty diligent now.

The method of retrieval depends on Mac/PC and the type of phone you have.   (iPhone/Android/other).  A little research and you can easily find ways to copy all the files at once to your computer.

Another thing I do is run backups from my phone to online services.  I use iCloud Drive for photos backup on my iPhone.  I also run Carousel (from Dropbox) to maintain a backup of photos from my device to the cloud.  I am an Amazon Prime member, so I am considering trying out their free photo backup solution as well. (it is free for prime members)  I don’t really need it, but that nagging in my head about backing up is telling me to add another online service to protect these photos.  (maybe I have an issue with OCD here)

 Anyway…

Just take the time to do it.  Back things up.  Get them off your computer drive and on to some external source.  Get a copy out of your house.  By making sure  you are redundant with these you can protect against corruption of files, fires, theft, etc.  Trust me, you will be happy you skipped that episode of Nashville to take care of this.

Old Webserver written in PERL

Old Webserver written in PERL

I came across some old code I had written a long time ago.  I remember seeing a post about accepting webserver traffic by running a PERL Daemon on a machine on port 80.   I decided to try it out.  It was fun.. and useless.  I wish I remember where I got the initial idea from.  That was the basis for my initial code writing.   None the less, it’s funny to go back and read this now.

PERL Web Server

iCloud Photo Beta update – big miss

iCloud Photo Beta update – big miss

I was excited today to hear that iCloud Photo beta was allowing you to upload photos from the web.  We all have to wait until next year when the new app comes out, so this was my only way to get old photos back on my phone.   (without turning it off and going the sync route)

Here is the big fail: If you upload old photos, it puts them in as if they were taken today! Seriously Apple?  The meta data is there on a photo.  Did that not come across as a single test case for someone?   Even Amazon got it right.  I was testing the Amazon Prime photo backup solution.  I uploaded the same old files to Amazon and they got it right!  Apple.. come on now, letting Amazon beat you on a user experience?

I hope Apple isn’t losing it’s edge.