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On the path to home automation

Posted By · January 21, 2015 at 10:40 am

People have been talking about home automation for decades. Recently the name for it has been “smart homes.”

But for most of this time it’s been a dream or a partial reality for the wealthy. Now this is changing as prices come down and technology improves.

A couple of years ago I took a minor step in this direction with the Nest thermostat. It works independently with a connection to the home wi-fi. With the Nest app I can change the temperature from anywhere in the world with an Internet connection. The thermostat will learn my schedule if I ask it to. It will turn off when it detects no one is home and keep the temperature within a range I specify. Once it detects I’m back home it will go back to the set temperature. This is great when leaving town for a couple of days, saving money and energy. Now, if only my wife and I could agree on a temperature.

But now I’ve taken a major step toward home automation.

I purchased a Wink hub. This is a device that talks to “connected” peripherals. Some are made by the same company that makes Wink and many others come from other companies. This is what made me go this route.

The price also helped. Most automation hubs cost $100 or more. At Home Depot I was able to get the Wink hub for $20, list price of $50, with the purchase of two GE Connected LED light bulbs at $15 each. So for $50 total I got two bulbs that I can set schedules for, turn on or off or dim as well as control from anywhere in the world. The hub will also connect to many other devices.

The setup for the Wink hub was easy, although I have read about others who had issues with the setup. However they all say that the tech support was very good.

Once the hub is plugged in, there is no battery and it is powered through a wall outlet, I downloaded the Wink app on my phone, told the app to add a new device and chose hub as that device. It connected to the hub and asked for my security code for the wi-fi. Once the hub made the wireless connection the app told me the hub needed an update. That took about five minutes. The only way the hub can communicate is through the color of a light and the app. Various colors mean various things.

When the app told me that the hub was connected it was time to add the first light bulb. I turned off a lamp and screwed the bulb in. Then I told the app that I wanted to add a new device and turned the lamp on. From a list I chose the GE Connected bulb. There was a three-step process for connecting the bulb to the system. I then repeated the process with the second bulb in a differnt lamp.

Now it was time to set my schedules. Since both lights are in the same room and neither one is a primary light that we use I scheduled them to turn on when we get up in the mornings of Monday through Friday and turn off around the time the sun is coming up and we’re usually leaving the house. I set another schedule for the evening.

That night they turned off when they should and the next morning they turned on when scheduled to do so.

Here are some of the issued with this system. I have to leave the power to the lamps turned on at all times. It’s not pulling power when the lights are off. To turn the lights on or off at times other than what’s scheduled I need to use the app on my phone or tablet. This is why it important to give serious thought to where you want to place the bulbs. Getting out your phone to turn a light on or off isn’t as easy as flipping a light switch. Most of the lights in my house get turned on whenever we need it and turned off when we’re done. This is not conducive to a schedule since there’s more than one person living in the house. A schedule would work much better for someone living alone.

Again, one of the things I like about the Wink hub is that it’s compatible with devices from other companies. For lights you can also use the Cree Connected bulb, Philips Hue Lights and Leviton receptacle as well as others. For remote controlled blinds and shades you can connect to Bali and Lutron. Kidde and Nest smoke alarms will work along with the Dropcam and Kwikset SmartCode and Schlage Touchscreen deadbolt locks. You can even connect to your Rheem Connected Water Heater.

Personally I can’t see a reason I would want to connect to my water heater, but the option is there. My next connected purchase may be the deadbolt lock.

Before getting on the path to your own smart home, do your research and think, what do you really want to be able to control in your Indiana home while on your trip to London?

Categories : 13 Tech Blog
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Always behind the times

Posted By · September 4, 2013 at 4:26 pm

The telephone, for decades the only real change in the phone system and equipment was from a rotary dial to a button dial. Once you bought a telephone you didn’t need to replace it for years.

The television, for decades the only real change in the equipment was from black and white to color. Sure, we got remotes and cable, but the basic way to operate the system remained the same. And once you bought a television you didn’t need to buy another one for years.

Now things are different! You buy a cell phone, actually it’s more computer than it is phone, and six months later your equipment is out of date. You buy an HD television which gets replaced by a TV with internet apps which gets replaced by a 3D TV that requires glasses which will probably soon be replaced by a 3D TV that doesn’t require glasses (or something else we haven’t even thought of yet).

I’ve recently looked at new cars, my newest one being a 2004. I’m amazed at the electronics in it. I can play the music on my phone (make that portable computer) through the car speakers with a Bluetooth connection. I can also use Bluetooth to use my phone as a phone without touching it. I can get weather reports, gas station locations and even movie times on the color screen in the dashboard.

And how about my thermostat? It connects to the internet and uses less or more energy based on the weather. I can change the schedule for heating/cooling from my computer or my mobile device. And it will detect when no one is home and turn itself off.

How about the fact that I can set up a camera in my house and see what’s going on from anywhere in the world, as long as I have that internet connection.

Well, I don’t have the latest greatest mobile device, I don’t have a 3D TV, I don’t have a new car, I do have that thermostat and one day I did set up my web cam to keep an eye on the dogs just to see if I could do it. So, I guess that I’m one of those people who will always be behind the times despite the fact that I build web sites and am therefore, at least somewhat, a technical person.

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Galaxy S III

Posted By · September 27, 2012 at 1:09 pm

The Samsung Galaxy S III is one of the hottest new phones out there, the hottest if you believe the Samsung commercials.

I got one a couple of days ago and thought I’d give my first impressions.

My previous phone was the Motorola Droid X. I was satisfied with it. It allowed me to learn the Android interface and it got the job done.

The Galaxy S III is a phone I could fall in love with. It’s a little longer and wider than the Droid X, along with the screen also being larger. But the 720p Super AMOLED display is beautiful. Very crisp and clear. Some say that if you look extremely close you can see the individual pixels. I say, don’t look extremely close. If you look at the display normally it looks great.

The back cover comes off easy enough if you need to change the battery, but once it’s off you can see that it looks and feels flimsy. I would expect it to be more solid, whereas this one can flex.

I like the speed of the 4G network. I can see a difference when web pages load.


One drawback is how apps are listed. Instead of being listed alphabetically, they appear to be listed in order of when they were downloaded. That makes finding a particular app difficult.

However, once you find the app you want it loads quickly. And with seven different screens available, you can place your favorite apps and widgets on whatever screen you want. You can also open an app by telling the phone to do so. More on that below.

Moving from screen to screen is not only smooth, but when you get to screen seven, one more swipe moves you to screen one, and visa versa, so it’s like a rotating carousel.

S Voice

S Voice is Samsung’s answer to Apple’s Siri. Reviews say it’s not as good or accurate. My limited experience with it is satisfactory. I’ve opened an app with the command, Open (app name). I’ve also place a call by saying “Call Home.” When I asked for directions to a fast food restaurant the phone gave me a list of locations to choose from and then mapped to the one I tapped. In all instances I activated the voice command with the tap of an icon on my home screen.

Overseas the Galaxy S III has a quad-core processor. Samsung made the decision to have a duel-core processor in the U.S. The available colors are marble white and pebble blue.

One of the most publicized features of this phone is the popup video player. If you get a text while watching a video you can shrink the video so it stays on the screen and you continue watching while you respond to the text. A tap on the video brings it back full screen.

There are two cameras, one on the front and one on the back. The back camera is 8 megapixels. The phone has a burst feature that takes 20 pictures at once and then picks out what it determines is the best one.

Another nice feature is Direct Call. You can look up a contact, then just hold the phone to your ear and the phone makes the call.

While the Galaxy S III is not perfect, I doubt you’ll find any phone that is. The people who like and use all the latest bells and whistles (by the way, my phone whistles when I get a new alert) will find fault with this device. People like me who are casual users will find it an excellent choice.

Categories : 13 Tech Blog
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Proprietary connections

Posted By · September 14, 2012 at 11:40 am

The recent release of the IPhone 5 has brought to the forefront a problem that has been a pet peeve of mine for a while.

The IPhone/IPod/IPad have always have a proprietary connection, meaning it would only work on Apple devices and you had to have this special connection in order to use that device.

Now Apple has not only changed the connection, but changed it to another proprietary version. So any old connectors you were using for Apple now need a $39 adaptor. If you have a charger and a speaker for your IPhone and you don’t want to keep switching the adaptor back and forth, it’ll cost you $58 plus tax to continue using these connectors.

Apple is not the only company to do this. Personally, I have an Asus tablet which also has its own proprietary connection. So instead of being able to use a universal type of connector, i.e.: mico USB; I need multilple cables from Asus and/or adaptors.

My Droid phone charges and transfers data using a mico USB, why can’t all others? Europe has legislated that all phones use micro USB for charging. Since the manufacturers have to do this for their European products, why do they have to go out of their way to make special connectors in the U.S.?

Here’s my guess, money. One analyst estimates that more than 1.3 million IPhone 5s will be sold. If each person buys one adaptor at $29, that’s $37.7 million. Apple benefits, the companies that make the adaptors benefit and the stores that sell the adaptors benefit. The consumer loses.

Categories : 13 Tech Blog
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A battle looming?

Posted By · August 16, 2012 at 8:39 am

Could it end up being a fight reminicent of the VHS vs. Beta battle years ago?

A group of big-name retailers are getting together to create a method for people to pay for purchases with their smartphones. Wal-Mart, Best-Buy Co. and Target Corp. are three of the companies forming Merchant Customer Exchange, a company to develop a mobile application that would be available for almost every smartphone.

Mark Williams, president of financial services for Best Buy, said, “As merchants, no one understands our customers’ shopping and payment experience better than we do, and we’re confident that together we can develop a technology solution that makes that experience more engaging, convenient and efficient.”

The problem is that there are already at least six competing applications out there. Starbucks, which has its own system now, recently teamed up with Square to use its payment app. Google has one for some Sprint phones; Verizon Wireless, AT&T and T-Mobile USA have their own platform; Visa and Mastercard each have their own design and eBay even has a payment service.

Eventually there is going to have to be one platform that eveyone can use everywhere in order for this concept to succeed. But are all these companies willing to work together or is it going to be survival of the fittest?

Merchant Customer Exchange may have a good chance of being that survivor. Other companies that have signed on are 7-Eleven, Inc., Alon Brands, CVS/pharmacy, Darden Restaurants Inc., HMSHost, Hy-Vee Inc., Lowe’s Cos., Publix Super Markets Inc., Sears Holdings Corp., Shell Oil Products US, and Sunoco Inc. The group adds that even more members will be joing in the coming months.

Warren Mills is the webmaster for WTHR-TV. He has been building and working on web sites since the mid-1990s.
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How influential am I?

Posted By · August 15, 2012 at 9:57 am

I’ve found an interesting site the attempts to tell you how influential you are.

The problem is that it comes to this “score” based on how often you post to Facebook, how often you Tweet and how active you are with other social media.

In other words, if you are influential in ways that do not include the online world you have a low level of influence on Klout.com.

However, if you are very active online you might be interested in what your Klout rating is. The site says the average score is 40. I’m a 10. One of the people I follow on Twitter, ESPN Sportscaster Mark May, is a 79. Everyone else is below 40.

In today’s world, do I need to be very active in social media in order to be influential? I hope not. I have friends that aren’t on Facebook or Twitter, but I believe them to be influential in their communities.

But if I’m interested in how active online I am compared to others, this is an interesting tool.

Warren Mills is the webmaster for WTHR-TV. He has been building and working on web sites since the mid-1990s.
Categories : 13 Tech Blog
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Android vs. Apple phones

Posted By · August 8, 2012 at 3:35 pm

What have you noticed when you’ve seen others pull out their smart phones or talked with friends about the type of phone they’re using, are you seeing more Android or more IPhones?

Research firm IDC says Android is increasing it’s hold on the mobile phone market, going from a 47% worldwide share a year ago to 68% today.


The market share for IPhones fell slightly to 17%.

Most of the people I see with smart phones are people I work with, and I’m seeing mostly IPhones, which is contradictory to the information above. And that’s why I put the question out there, what types of phones are you seeing most people using?

As far as other operating systems, Blackberry and Symbian are each below 5% market share with Windows phones having even less.

And if this trend continues, does it mean that Google will be the next Microsoft?

Warren Mills is the webmaster for WTHR-TV. He has been building and working on web sites since the mid-1990s.
Categories : 13 Tech Blog
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Google glasses

Posted By · August 1, 2012 at 5:07 am

A new device from Google has me fascinated and concerned. It’s Google Glasses. This is what looks like a normal set of glasses, but off to the side and slightly above one eye is a lens which displays information into the user’s field of vision. With these glasses you can access the internet, receive and make phone calls, take video or pictures or do dozens of other things.

From a geek point of view, this sounds wonderful. I can’t wait to try them out.

But from a societal point of view, I have to wonder what affect it will have.

We’ve already seen people sitting in a restaurant while talking on the phone and ignoring others sitting at the same table. We’ve seen people in the grocery story checking out while talking on the phone and acting like the clerk checking them out doesn’t even exist.

With Google Glasses, if we can not only be on the phone, but also be watching a movie, reading a book or doing research while walking down the street or the hallway, what affect is this going to have. We’ll no longer smile and say “Hi” when we pass a co-worker in the hallway or a friend on the street. We’re already losing some of our face-to-face communication. Will that only get worse?

Or is this a case of the positives outweigh the negatives?

Again, I’d love to try the glasses, but I have non-tech concerns.

Leave a comment and tell me what you think, Google Glasses, good or bad?

Warren Mills is the webmaster for WTHR-TV. He has been building and working on web sites since the mid-1990s.
Categories : 13 Tech Blog
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