Friday, January 20, 2017

Smart Home Adventures: Amazon Echo (And Alexa)

For Christmas my parents gave me an Amazon Echo. It's pretty cool and we've been using it for a while. Since it's a voice activated system, I thought I'd record a video of my review. It's 10 minutes long, and that was to give you a good flavor for the types of things it does. The game of 20 questions is particularly interesting. Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

2017 Goals: The Maker Year

This might sound weird, but I've been looking forward to 2017 starting for a while. It's mostly because there's a handful of things I want to make and I didn't want to start them until the year started so I could have them as goals.

That's weird, right? Why wait to do something I want to do?

Well here we are and it's time to kick things off officially.

(While writing this Elinor figured out how to open her room's door all by herself... it's going to be an amazing year)

Given all the things I want to make, the theme for this year is "Maker".

1) Get Sore 4 Times Each Week
My first two goals are around health. I signed up for a Tough Mudder with my brother in June and I'd really like to be in shape for it. It's a half marathon plus an obstacle course, so I need to do more than run. According to various sources, you don't need to have 2-hour weight lifting sessions to get 80% of the benefits of lifting. Instead, you can spend a short amount of intense time. The trick is to take your muscles to failure. When you do that, they tear a little bit and then rebuild. How do you know if you went to failure? Your sore the next day or two. So that's my goal.

Furthermore, our bodies operate by the "use it or lose it" rule. So I want to regularly send my body signals that I'm using my muscles. Since sitting is the new smoking, I need to do something to offset it.

2) No Desert or Treats for 1 Month
To stay healthy you need to do two things: stay active and, limit your sugar & carbs. I tired the "scale it back" approach, and that didn't last long. So I'm starting out the year, Jan 1, with no desert or treats. I have a calendar based on Jerry Seinfeld's "Don't break the chain" concept to help keep me motivated.

3) Send 1 Thank You Each Week
This one is back from last year. I tried to go only paper last year and I never built momentum. I'm going to try again this year, but allow myself to use any medium to send the thank you. That should reduce the barrier enough to actually do it.

4) Complete a bevy of home projects
Here's the part where the maker year comes to play.

4a) Wood / Classic Construction
I plan to finish the bathroom remodel. It's turning out to be a large project, but it's slowly coming together nicely. I also want to build a standing desk so I'm sitting less often. Normally my wood projects are functional without any finish. I'm plan to have both function and finish this time. Then I'm going to take what I learned and create a new family dining table because our current one is too small to host large groups of people at our house.

4b) 3D Printing
3D printing (aka additive manufacturing) is the future and I'd like to understand it better. Plus, it just so happens that I work for a 3D printing company and have access to 3D printers (and the software). So I'm going to do 3 simple projects to learn more: an iPhone holder, an Apple Watch stand with integrated charger, and a case to hold my different watch bands.

4c) Internet of Things
I have a desire to better understand how software and hardware interact. Plus smart home things are cool. To learn more, I have 3 projects in mind: 1) get notifications from my laundry machines when they're done, 2) Automatically open and close windows, and 3) a digital photo frame that automatically pulls new photos from different social sources. I know very little about these, so it's going to definitely be a challenge.

4d) Food
Finally, I want to improve the food I'm regularly eating. So I'll be taking an online cooking class which should be fun. Plus, our current cooktop is not great (pots and pans don't sit flat on the burners), so I'm going to research and install a new induction cooktop.

Those are my goals for the year. I'm excited for each of these. It feels like a lot, but the trick will be to focus on one thing at the time for #4.

Monday, January 02, 2017

2016 Goal Review

Well... Well... Well... 2016 is gone and was a crazy year. It should have been called the "unplanned year". Here were the big unplanned happenings:
  • I travelled to Indonesia in March for 3 weeks. I didn't know about the trip until February.
  • We moved. We stopped looking the end of 2015 and put the search on hold because of another unplanned thing (see the next point). Then a property found us and we had an accepted offer within 8 hours of seeing it.
  • We had a another kid - a pleasant surprise - but not planned.
  • I got a new boss at HP and my team merged with my former team. I'm still adjusting to this change.
  • A friend approached me with a business idea based on some research I did. We're in the process of launching it now (more later).
Given all of this, my life looks significantly different today than it did at the beginning of the year. All that to say, from a goals perspective, I did a horrible job of staying on track.

It's kind of embarrassing and I'd rather gloss over it and move onto next year, but I won't.

1) Memorize 52 Bible verses
It turns out that adding verses on top of a lot of existing verses is hard. It started taking significant time to just maintain what I already memorized. It didn't help that after we moved I lost my system. This is my biggest disappointment.

2) Weigh 160lbs
I started P90X and counting calories in February. Then I lost momentum during/after the Indonesia trip and never got it back. Then we moved and I lost my workout space. I actually ended the year 5 pounds heavier. Yikes! 

3) Complete a 1 week water fast
I actually completed this and it was epic! Fun fact: it was during the fast that I landed on the name Samson.

4) Grow ProDIYLandlord
It's all bad news from here on out. I didn't write 26 posts. I didn't even write one every month! This is for a couple reasons. 1) I usually write in the morning, but have been finding it difficult to wake up early enough to write. I also sleep much heavier than I used to. Jessi can get up in the middle of the night and I don't notice. It used to be that Vinnie and I would go on adventures in the middle of the night and Jessi was the clueless one. Now that I'm writing it, this is something I should probably investigate... 2) My research indicated that landlords struggle with one thing: property maintenance. Actually, ALL homeowners struggle with this. My new venture aims to help with this problem. That means less time was spent writing and more time was spent on the new idea.

5) Send 52 thank you notes
Sending physical cards was surprisingly hard. I failed for 2 reasons. 1) I didn't have a good system in place to actually write and send the cards. 2) I felt like it had to be a "big deal" to send a paper card. This goal might come back, but in a slightly different form so I can actually gain momentum.

6) Read 12 books
I only finished 6 books and am in the middle of 2. One of them is "The ONE Thing" which is all about only doing one thing at a time. Keller says that next year I should only have 1 goal and put all my focus on that. After last year, this might not be a bad idea.

In the end, progress is better than nothing: 6 books is better than none and the new venture came about because I was writing for landlords. So in that sense, it's still a good year. Still, I'm ready to move on to 2017!

Friday, December 30, 2016

Samson Vincent Furlo

Samson was born Dec 22, 2016 at 11:45pm at 5lbs 9oz and 17". As someone noted, he felt like a bag of sugar.

His due date was January 9th! So, as you could imagine, we were a little surprised.

Here's how it went down:
  • 4pm: I finished working for HP for the year. Jessi also started to feel some contractions. We thought they were false because her due date was so far in the future.
  • 6:30pm: I finished working on a project (installing a sun tunnel) and asked Jessi if I could keep working or stop to eat dinner. The contractions were still pretty far apart, but when they happened she couldn't talk to me. I decided to stop working and get Panda Express for the family.
  • 7:30pm: While eating dinner the contractions started to be closer together. We decided to call the doctors to ask. Our advice was to give it an hour, and if we still felt unsure to go to the hospital. It's at this point I started to eat faster.
  • 8pm: We both still needed to shower. Jessi went first and was doing OK when she got out. When I finished, she was on the floor in pain. I suggested she call the babysitter, to which Jessi replied, "I already did!"
  • 8:30pm: We arrived at the hospital and Jessi was already 6cm in size (a little over half way).
  • 11:45pm: Samson was born! In all honesty, we were both in shock with how fast it all happened.
Thank you so much to all of our friends who helped us out!

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Smart Home Adventures: Shining a Light on Lutron's Caséta Wireless Light Switches

Last night I got into bed and realized I forgot to turn off the bedroom light. Jessi gave me a look that questioned who was going to be the one to get up and turn it off.

I smiled and said...

The light dimmed and turned off. We fell asleep.

Welcome to the next installment of the Smart Home Adventures.

I'm on a quest to make our home the smartest on the block. So far, we have an August door lock and an Ecobee3 thermostat. They're awesome; click those links for more details.

The next item we smartened up were our lights.

I first looked into going the light bulb route. Philips is doing some really cool things with the Hue. You can buy an LED bulb that can turn any color. With a bridge, you can control all your lights using a variety of ecosystems (like Apple's HomeKit, my choice). My brother has one in his room, and really likes it.

I almost went this route, except I had two issues:
  1. Some of my light fixtures don't use standard bulb sockets, so they wouldn't work.
  2. The bulbs require the light switch to be on all the time. The only way to turn them on/off is to use the app, a voice system (Siri/Alexa/etc), or another button on the wall that "sets a scene", which could be on or off. Most normal people, including Jessi, wouldn't go for this.

Lutron's Caséta Wireless Light Switches

Lutron gets that normal people still use light switches. So they created a light switch, called the Caséta Wireless, that replaces your existing one. It's not quite as easy as screwing in a light bulb, but it's not too bad. Not only can you turn your lights on & off manually, you can also dim the lights, use their app, or talk to Siri via Apple's HomeKit.

While sitting on the couch this morning, I realized I wanted more light for what I was reading. No big deal: grab my phone, swipe up, tap my light and it turns on. It might seem frivolous and lazy, but so did remotes on TVs when they first came out.

Then, because TV remotes were so convenient, manufactures started adding more features to the point that remotes became an integral part of the TV. Thinking about lights... Philips is already adding color. Someday (Or today) music speakers will be added to bulbs/fixtures, and smoke alarms, and motion/moisture/temperature sensors or wireless extenders. Given their whole house coverage and access to wired power, there are some cool possibilities.

One cool feature we can do through HomeKit today is add triggers: our smart things can automatically perform actions based on criteria such as my location or time of day. So, if we go on vacation, we can schedule our lights to turn on & off, making it seem like we're still home. We can also have our entry light turn on as we drive up to our house.

Imagine waking up in the middle of the night. The light senses movement, and so it turns on a faint blue glow to guide you, but not fully wake you up. As you move through the house, each light fades in and out. Then, in the morning, the lights continue to sense you, but instead delivers a bright white so you can see exactly what you're doing. Sounds nice, doesn't it? We're not there yet (and my switches won't do this), but this is the direction we're headed in.

The Software and Hardware

This is Lutron's app. I use it to add lights to the system, but that's about it. I have no idea why the "scenes" section is empty when I have multiple ones set up in HomeKit.

I actually use Siri, or the Home App, to control the lights.

Like most smart accessories, Lutron also requires a bridge to communicate with the light switches. It's fairly small and plugs directly into my router.

Are Smart Lights Really Needed?

Well... no... I haven't done some of sort of cost/benefit analysis that weighs the additional expense against potential electrical savings, but there probably isn't any (just buy LED bulbs; that's 99% of the savings). It's also not such a huge time saver that "getting time back" can be used to justify them either.

Instead, they're fun to have, and do afford little conveniences. For example, when I tell Siri "I'm going to sleep". It turns off all the lights, but dims to 25% one light in the kitchen, one light in the living room, the hallway, and the master bedroom. Then, when in bed I tell Siri "good night", and it turns all the lights off.

Is it needed?


But it sure is awesome.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Completed a 7-Day Water Fast

I recently completed a 7-day water fast. For one week I ate nothing and only drank water.

I decided to fast for three reasons:

  1. It would be a fantastic challenge.
  2. There are health benefits to putting your body into a state of deprivation that long.
  3. It was an opportunity to dig deeper spiritually.

While doing the fast I kept a video journal. Check it out!


I am not a doctor or nutrition expert, but here's my understanding of how our bodies work:

On a standard American diet (lots of carbs & sugar - synthetic & natural), our bodies burn glucose to provide our bodies with energy. Our bodies don't naturally store glucose, we store fat, and so if we don't eat regularly, it hurts. This is the "hunger pains" we all know and hate.

However, after a few days of not eating, our bodies switch to burning fat for energy. Once that happens, the hunger pains go away because there's an abundant source of stored fat. This is called reaching a state of Ketosis.

The trick, as anyone who's tried a Keto diet will tell you, is to get your body into a state of Ketosis before you start fasting. That way you don't have to suffer through the hunger pains. You do this by eating food with lots of fat and protein. You can read more about Ketosislisten to a great Tim Ferriss podcast about it, and check out an excellent Reddit community.

So, the day before I ate a Ketosis diet. I should have started 3 days before, but my schedule didn't really allow for it. I think it helped cut down the hunger pains some.

I did NOT talk to my doctor before doing this. To be honest, I didn't even think about doing it. It turned out to be OK, but I probably should have.

Physical Observations

The video explains pretty well what I experienced: headaches, stomach aches, temporary blackouts, and constant low energy.

I also lost 10lbs, which is pretty normal (and gained it all back pretty quick).

Read more about the benefits and preparation.

God is a God of "And"

I spent time purposely praying, reading, and thinking while fasting. I didn't expect a lightening bolt to go off, but I did want some sort of revelation. Here's what I determined:

God is a God of "And". Somehow, He is able to achieve two seemingly opposite properties at the same time. Here are some examples:

  • Jesus is 100% God AND 100% man.
  • God ordains everything AND we have free will.
  • God loves everyone AND has a chosen people.
  • Entrance into heaven only requires faith AND faith without works is dead.

So many times we want to think of God in human terms and define him as one way, but not the other. After all, that's how it works as a human. However, God clearly is able to go beyond our human capabilities.

That's my understanding. As such, we are called to live a life of "And":

  • We are to study the Bible AND serve others.
  • We are to enjoy what God gives us AND give generously.
  • We are to serve locally AND globally.

It's not easy, but we were never promised that.

Will I Fast Again?

Not anytime soon. It's not that it was that miserable, but I don't see the need again. I'd consider it again with a different emphasis and perhaps with somebody else.

If you have any questions, feel free to ask.

Monday, August 01, 2016

Smart Home Adventures: The Honeywell Lyric & Ecobee3 Thermostats

Let's start with a pro-tip: If you order something on Amazon, and then move houses before it arrives, and it happens that UPS uses USPS to make the final delivery, the chances of your package actually arriving are slim.

The best part is when you call UPS, they refer you to Amazon. Who then refers you to USPS, who can only confirm you did indeed update your address because they don't track packages. I guess this is what I get for not being a Prime member and using free shipping.

At least Amazon makes it easy to cancel your order (and then buy it at Home Depot).

Once I got my hands on Honeywell's Lyric, the installation process began.

Installing the Honeywell Lyric

The first step is to take a picture and write down what colored wires go with each letter. My previous heater only had two wires, so this is a step up in complication. Our system is a heat pump, which also adds a little more complication to the process.

The booklet helps you map the wires, but I didn't know about two of the wires. It turns out, the trick is to use Honeywell's app. You add your wires, and then their magic algorithm tells you exactly where to put what. It's actually very cool.

It turned out the orange "O" wire needed to be put into "W".

Then I ran into a slight cosmetic issue. As you can see in the picture below, the previous thermostat was a big square. The new one is a circle, meaning the corners would stick out and look horrible. Furthermore, the two screws to attach the Lyric are in the middle, right where the gang box is.

Thankfully, I had some extra drywall mud and was able to semi-match the existing texture's pattern. I also took a metal cover plate and hammered it flat. It also turned out that the hole for the Lyic isn't in the middle (of course), so I made a new hole slightly higher. Finally, the screws needed to be longer than what the metal cover plate provided, so I took some long screws from a plastic cover plate (that's why the screws are white. Finally, I found some extra paint that matched the wall.

That got rid of the ugly corners and gave me a surface to drill the new thermostat into.

Here's what it looked like when done.

Using the Honeywell Lyric

I purchased the Lyric (instead of the Nest) for two specific reasons:

  1. I wanted it to integrate with Apple's HomeKit ("Hey Siri, turn the temperature down 2 degrees"). I don't see Nest doing that anytime soon, especially in the mist of their leadership transition.
  2. My office isn't in the same room as the thermostat, so Nest would constantly think I'm gone. Lyric uses geofencing with my phone to determine if I'm home or away. This does mean everyone needs a phone, with the app installed, for it to track everyone.

Also interesting: it doesn't have the native capability to set a schedule. Instead, you're supposed to use HomeKit's triggers (For example: At 5am set the temperature to X degrees) and the geofencing to set temperatures. I get it, but it's a little weird to not have the native capability that feeds into HomeKit.

Why I Returned the Honeywell Lyric

Remember those two reasons I stated for getting the Lyric? Well guess what, THEY DIDN'T WORK. I was able to connect the Lyric to HomeKit, but none of the other devices were able to detect it. Even Siri never recognized it.

Furthermore, Lyric ALWAYS thought I was home. When I went to their support pages, literally every page showed me this:

Amazingly, all of their sales pages still work. I was still within the return window, so I decided to stop fighting the Lyric and try something different. I decided to go with the Ecobee3, and it's awesome.

What Makes Ecobee Special

Ecobee, based in Toronto Canada, gets that a single sensor in one room doesn't give you the most accurate reading of your home's temperature. So their thermostat comes with one extra sensor, and you can buy more (I bought two more, one for each bedroom and office).

These sensors track the temperature AND your motion. Not only can they tell when you're home, even if you're not in the living room, but they'll optimize the temperature for the room you're actually in. So, at night, I set it to ignore the living room and office, and only take the temperature in the two bedrooms.

I forgot to add a reference item. It's only 1.5" wide.

The Ecobee supposedly also uses geofencing to track your location (so it can start pre-heating/cooling your home when you come back is my guess). My only complaint, is that it waits way too long to enter away mode. Reading online, it sounds like it waits for 2 hours of no movement before going into away mode. That's way too long. I would like an option to change it to something shorter, like 20 minutes. Thankfully, that's a software update, so it's possible to actually get this.

I also LOVE the iPad app and their stats display (called Home IQ). Check this out. The top line shows the "comfort setting". The next four are the sensor's detection of movement. Then it shows the average temperature for each room. We actually turned the thermostat off, which is why you see the temperature going up in the afternoon.

Oh yeah, you can also set a schedule, which the sensors can override if you want (You say you're away, but there's movement, so it switches to the home comfort setting). Plus, it plays nice with HomeKit (and Amazon Eco, Wink, SmartThings, Haiku fans, IFTTT, and more). It does require power, so my old 2-wire system would not have worked.

Final Thoughts

So far each new smart item continues to not be as straight forward as I would like. In this case, it was covering up an old hole (that, and the original thermostat not living up to expectations), but it wasn't too hard to set up. The apps really help a lot to make sure you get the wiring correct.

Do I like the Ecobee more than Nest? (beyond the obvious HomeKit requirement and working in another room)

I'm going to hedge and say it's still early, but so far I really like it. The device works well and their apps are polished. I still think the home/away part needs to be improved, but otherwise the experience has been really great. Given this, the integrations with other platforms, and the sensors/geofencing, I think it's better than the Nest. Plus, it looks cool.

I also find myself wondering how difficult it would be to set up triggers based on the sensors. Could it turn a light on when I enter the room? How about music following me? When it senses no movement, can it lock my front door? Connecting to IFTTT also seems to open up a world of almost-useful possibilities. It feels strange to like a device more for its possibilities instead of its actual main capability.