Home Automation for the other 99%

Those with enough money have for years had the option of creating levels of home automation to impress their visitors. Everything from automated window blinds and lights to massive display screens supplemented with hidden surround sound audio systems have been the mark of those with massive egos supported by enough free cash to pay experts to wire every inch of their show houses. These impressive implementations have been supported by custom control systems and can easily run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. For those living in multiple multi-million dollar houses around the world, this is a drop in the ocean.

But technology has moved on and it’s now practical for the average home owner or renter to build their own home automation system, tailored for their specific needs.

  • Multi-room cable systems connected to a single digital video recorder are now available from numerous cable companies or from the likes of TiVo.
  • Multi-room audio systems from companies like sonos or Bose, are simple to implement, and now that abode-spanning high speed Wi-Fi is common don’t require custom wiring systems.
  • Do-it-yourself stores and online outlets now offer a wide range of replacement light switch, power socket options as well as plug in control modules and even light bulbs that have integrated automation, making previously complex systems really easy.
  • Fan controllers, Automation IR repeaters and even automated window-blind motors are now available for prices not much more than their non-automated versions.
  • Room Thermostats, fire alarms and even water sensors are now all available internet connected.

So the components of full home automation are now available to the do-it-yourselfer, but is that enough?

No, it is not enough. The real power of a home automation system is to be able to interconnect all the sensors, actuators and controllers together. And that is where the millionaires their installation companies still are a step ahead.

It’s all very well to be able to replace light switches with ones that can be controlled from a remote control or your phone, but it is quite another to be able to press a single button, have the window blinds close, the lights dim, the TV turn on to your fav channel, the rooms temperature be set to 70 degrees and the sound system turn on, all when you relax in your chair.

But that is starting to become possible. Today all the consumer level automation devices come with their own method of control, and little integration, but this is changing. Companies such as Apple, Google and Amazon are starting to create integration between all the disparate devices.

There are still gaps, but it’s getting closer.

Today for a few hundred dollars you can buy all the components to pull most of your AV equipment together into a single controllable system. And for a few hundred more dollars you can interconnect your lights, light switches, fans, thermostats, fire and water sensors, A/C and heating units and window blinds together.

But connecting your AV systems and your environmental systems together are a bit more complex. It can be done in some ways using Amazon Alexa, Hey Google or Apple’s Siri, but this is still just a taste or what the millionaires can do.

The world is changing, and home automation is quickly going to become useful for the average home.

The challenge is that today’s DIY home automation choices are very poorly described. The googles/apple/amazons of the world want you to believe their latest knickknack is the way to go and want to amaze you with voice recognition systems. But these are only a small part of the solution. There are some incredibly powerful home automation offerings available, but you need to be willing to invest a lot of time to find out about them.

Here’s the best of what I’ve found over the last few years.

  1. For your TV and music the best system for total integration comes from Bose. The Bose lifestyle home theatre systems create a hub that allows all your sources (DVR, DVD, Roku, Apple TV’s etc) to be connected and a single HDMI cable to go to your TV. Then every device can be controlled from a SIMPLE single remote control that uses RF and not I.R. meaning that it can be entirely hidden from view. The Bose method of controlling devices from their single remote is the best I’ve seen from anyone. In my experience, it works perfectly and doesn’t require touch screens or complex programming. Bose pre-program their system for all the common devices you are likely to have, and it just works. Yes, Bose is expensive, and for the price there may be better sounding systems (depending on your tastes) but their systems sound great, and work simply, reliably and consistently. I’ve been using them for the last 10 years, and they just work, and despite what Bose will tell you, even their most basic lifestyle system from a couple of generations of tech back is just as good as the lastest one on sale today, there are some real bargains available if you hunt around on amazon or ebay.
  2. For lighting I use Insteon, not the most common vendor out there, but their range of devices includes everything you need to control lights, fans, blinds and AC/heat units, they are cost effective and also provide a range of remotes that mean you don’t have to use your phone to turn on the lights (but you can if you like). It works well, and the whole environment can be configured using a simple app on your phone or tablet to create any kind of macro you need, so a single switch can be made to do multiple things.

The future for home automation is clearly integration, and all the main vendors are starting to be supported by centralized control platforms from the amazon/google/apples of the world so quickly you will be able to setup systems that work and don’t annoy those who visit.

There are still gaps in what is available, but today you can automate big chunks of your home in ways almost identical to the ways millionaires have been doing for the past ten years, at a tiny fraction of the cost, and for the DIY-er in all of us, this is exciting.


 

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Breakup Note Signed by “Autopen” in Question; Relationship End Delayed 2 Months Pending Inquiry

January 3, 2013: Average Angry Wire Service:  A controversy is brewing in Washington, DC around the use of an autopen to sign an important document, namely a document which would end a controversial agreement between often arguing parties.

This is a boy-meets-girl story that began well enough on a Capitol Hill bar crawl stop at the Tune Inn dive bar and evolved into a semi-commited relationship between the two long-time singles. The relationship now includes a drawer at each other’s apartment, a joint credit card and an assumed “date” each Saturday night.  But as with many boy-meets-girl stories it got ugly after one unfortunate “toilet non-flushing” too many. Screaming, name calling and a storming out followed and then a few days later the “note” appeared in the boy’s Google + account.

The autopen is mightier than the swirl?
The autopen is mightier than the swirl?
The girl in question (Nancy), states that “It’s over!” and that autopen is a perfectly acceptable way to authenticate a breakup, BFF status change or other relationship decision.  Her former love (John, but known as “Boner” by friends and colleagues), disagrees and adamantly states that the breakup “isn’t the real deal without a real quill.”  He also refuses to relinquish her drawer, end their fiscal entanglements or change his Facebook relationship status until she returns from her family vacation in Hawaii (so they can come to a resolution face to face on neutral territory in Washington).

His challenge to the validity of the “Dear Boner” letter has caused Nancy stress on her Hawaiian vacation, according to her spokesperson, and almost led to her canceling a much anticipated golf game and cliff diving tour with the newly elected president of the local American Legion hall in Waikiki Beach.  Her spokesperson also stated that she’ll deal with the problem in 2 months when she returns to DC and that her debt to him will eventually be paid off and won’t cause his Visa account to reach its ceiling and hurt his credit rating.

Sources familiar with the couple said they couldn’t elaborate on the bathroom incident but heard her threaten him with a “swirly” or similar swirl related toilet action if he didn’t “clean up his act.”

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Why I tolerate crap maps from Apple.

It’s true I’ve prayed at the temple of Apple (known to those in the know as the Tapple). Well It’s not a religious experience but a logical one. Technology is a major part of the western world. We all consume information as a primary activity, be it TV, radio, newspapers, books, conversation, music, browsing the shops, video games it’s all about information, we consume it and we create it by our every action.

A view from the just launched apple maps – seriously what world is this?

Our TV’s have grown from monochrome cathode ray tubes to 65-inch thin glass picture frames on the wall with near real colors and enough pixels to almost seem natural.

And everything has a microprocessor inside it, allowing layers of software to create a grid of intelligence that overlays our lives.

Everyone we interact with friends, family, companies we work with, companies we don’t want relationships with, governments; everyone keeps data on each of us.

Thousands of friends on facebook , twitter, pintrest. Contact databases, loyalty cards, credit cards, face recognition, everything we touch and touches us is creating data.

The trick today is to get all that beautiful data to work for us.

At the consumer level we all have multiple TV’s, hi-fi’s, phones, cameras, laptops, home computers, but they are all disparate devices, each with their own way of allowing us to consume all this data we collect.

That is except Apple. The ONE thing that Apple has done better than anyone else is to create a way that you can access all your data from anywhere.

Each of my TV’s has an Apple TV attached to it, this means I can watch movies and listen to music in exactly the same way on all of them. And I can do exactly the same thing from my Ipads, Iphones, computers, and laptops.

Apple offer the only consistent interface across many devices

I can also move the listening or watching of media from and of those devices just with the touch of a button. I can be watching a movie on YouTube on my ipad and with the press of a button push it to any of my TV’s. It’s such a trivial and easy task I don’t event see it as technical any more.

But without Apple there is no other way of doing this!

If I use Microsoft Windows, or Android I can “almost” do it, but it’s technical and if I were to try and show my wife how to do it, I would probably be wearing a keyboard as a internal nose attachment.

Xboxes, Wiis, PS3’s, Samsung TV’s, roku boxes, along with many music solutions all offer bits of the solution, but only Apple today offers one that works easily and without extreme cost.

I’ve seen some excellent marketing videos from Google and Microsoft promising a future where every surface is an interface (not unlike an awesome sci-fi movie), and they look incredible, but today what they offer is not even close to the vision or even what apple is delivering right now.

I can’t wait for others to catch up. I want to see what it’s going to take to become the new king.

I get quite angry when I read reviews for new tech, and the reviewers fail to consider the complete solution consumers care about. For example when a reviewer reviews a mobile phone, and they talk about the camera and the battery life, but entirely fail to mention that there are zero accessories available and there is really crap software that is required to move movies to the phone, or that there is no way to interact between the phone and any other device in your life. It’s lazy reviewing and is just a repackaging of the marketing departments reviewers guide, with no added value. Yes I’m talking to you David Pogue and you Walt Mossberg and you CNET. I have been fooled by your passionate (but proven worthless) reviews too many times. I mention these particular people because I think they are the best of the bunch, and while they are not always good enough that are clearly better than most.

I miss Cranky Geeks, the video blog run by John Dvorak. Dvorak lived up to the shows title, but at the same time gave an honest portrayal of tech we come in contact with, and is often very hard on new technology, but is more often than not proved right.

Cranky Geeks – I Miss you

We need more cantankerous reviewers in the tech world. Maybe if the press were less agreeable when companies launched weak incomplete solutions, just maybe they would start to put more effort into meeting the consumer need.
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Naymz – Don’t Be “That Guy”

Naymz… Naymz.com… yes I’m talking to you.  No, I’m not answering one of your many automated emails or Reputation Intercept Alert offers, I’m talking to you eMano-a-Mano.  My message?  Back off, take a breath, and reflect on your life so far and your life yet to be.

Evolution or Unintelligent Design?

Look, face it – you’re not LinkedIn or even Plaxo and never will be – It’s not the end of the world!  Admitting you’re an “also ran” and that you will always be sucking hind teat is part of the process for you now.  Becoming some pathetic hybrid by adding weak chromosomes from  reputation.com and that cheesy LifeLock service is not the answer.  Changing your name to visible.me and then back again to Naymz clearly wasn’t either btw (quick game of Qwikster-Netflixter anyone?).

Prodigy,  AltaVista,  Rayovac, RC Cola, Eric Roberts, Buttbook and the rest of your brethren have nothing to be ashamed of, so neither do you (OK, I made up Buttbook but you get my drift, right?).

New Naymz Spokesperson Eric Roberts?

Be comfortable in your own skin, accept reality and stop “calling” us like you’re an important part of our lives – Don’t be “that guy” that we tolerate nagging us and then have to cut off completely, OK?  Be the sometimes interesting uncle we check in on when WE want to; it’s really better for all of us.

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