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?

No.

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!


Preparation

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.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Smart Home Adventures: Setting Up the August Smart Lock, Doorbell Cam & Keypad



Jessi & I recently moved and I'm on a quest to make our house the smartest on the block. And since I'm living the Apple dream, I'm trying to make as many things HomeKit enabled as possible.

The process, it turns out, hasn't been as seamless as I'd like and so I thought I'd share some of my adventures for the benefit of others.

I'd like to start with the August Smart Lock.

August Smart Lock

After installing the August lock I took my house key off my key ring and it's awesome. I can lock and unlock the door with their app. And since my phone is with me, when I approach the front door, it unlocks automatically. Sweet!



I also got their doorbell cam and keypad. The doorbell cam, besides having a camera and 2-way audio (them through the doorbell, me through my phone... anywhere in the world), it allowed me to set up HomeKit. So I can ask Siri to lock the door for me (see the video below).



When I'm walking out, the easiest thing to do is to push the bottom button on my keypad and it'll lock the door. Keys are a relic of the past.

Smart Lock Installation

The instruction manual that comes with the product is fun. It essentially tells you to visit a link which then has the instructions. That's a super nice touch (an assumption they can make since the lock requires a smart phone).

Installation was super easy. All you do is remove the inside part of your deadbolt and put the August unit in it's place. A screw driver is all you really need.

I did find their single piece of blue tape comical. I started with that, and as the deadbolt started to fall, I grabbed my 2" roll of blue tape and made sure it didn't move. Though, to be fair, you probably don't even need the tape if your good at juggling multiple items.

Connecting it to my phone was a snap. You can tell the team worked hard to make it as user friendly as possible.

Doorbell Cam Installation

The DC has multiple options. The website starts off with a questionnaire: How far is it from the door? What type of siding do you have? Where did you hear about us? Wait... one of these is not like the others... Based on the first two answers, the site tells you what parts you'll use & gives specific instructions for your particular set up. My needed the wedge because it's so close to the door.

I followed the directions pretty closely (including checking that my existing doorbell works). I did NOT mark little circles and pre-drill my holes - I just went for it. I pushed the button and it worked. I waited 30 minutes for the battery to charge. I then took the unit off so I could get it on my wireless network... but it didn't work...

This is where the adventure left "casual install" status.

I grabbed my multimeter and tested my volts. The August Doorbell requires 16V - 24V to fully work, and mine was only providing 10V... Great...

After doing some research, I learned that doorbells require a transformer (an awesome name) to take the normal 120V down to 16V (ish... apparently). All I needed to do was find and replace mine. Here's a picture of it:



It turned out that mine was located in the attic crawl space, which I found by tracing the wire from the panel and making some educated guesses (all these lights in the area also turn off, so it must be near them). Depending on the transformer you have, it might make a small humming noise... mine didn't.

After a trip to Home Depot to get a new transformer, cover plate & 3 wire nuts I was in business.

The doorbell fully charged & I connected it to wifi so it could... update it's firmware... Then connect it to HomeKit. Here's the quality of the camera (yeah, I took a screen shot on my phone while steaming from my doorbell):


It claims I have a poor internet connection, which is most likely due to my router being too low (I'll fix that eventually), but the quality is good enough to identify whoever is at the door.

Keypad Installation

This was super easy to install with two screws. If you go with the flat base there's an optional slot to put the keypad right next to it. I wish the wedge had that as well. I got it pretty well lined up, but it's not perfect (which I can't help but rub my finger over when I use it). We decided to put it behind the wedge to semi-hide it.

"Siri, lock my front door."

Here's an 11 second video of how easy it works with Siri:



Obviously, when sitting in front of the door, it's easier to turn the knob. But when I'm in bed & can't remember if I locked the door, or driving away from the house and asking Jessi if she locked the door, this is going to be really nice. It'll also be great when we start to combine it with with different scenes like "bedtime", when all lights are turned off and the door is locked.

Final Thoughts

A couple times while crawling around the house I asked myself if this was worth it. Our house was built in 1959, which doesn't seem like a crazy long time ago, but it was old enough that it required a few special tools and some research to debug the issue. Given that, set your expectations for the set up process to be a little more involved than you initially think. But once it's done, it's awesome. :)

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

A Fresh Coat of Paint On Our Old Albany House


Since we moved to Corvallis, I've been working diligently to get our old place ready to rent. I hired a couple guys from All-Star Labor and it was great. We made a couple small repairs, replaced all the windows, and repainted both the inside and outside. The results look great and I wanted to share.

Plus, it's already filled! Our residents were so excited they started moving in before all the paint dried. I'm really excited for them too. They're going to love the neighborhood, the garden, and the extra storage space compared to where they lived.

Thanks to everyone who provided encouragement, know-how, and child care.

Before




Notice all the panelling and wallpaper...










After


Tada! Nice white textured walls with stained wood trim. We also kept all the doors their original colors and the hand-crafted (locally spun?) curtains. It keeps the character of the house and provides a little splash of color.






According to my bother I'm not officially moved until the internet moves. You can see it on the floor below. So according to him, I moved today, not two weeks ago.






Next up are a couple minor repairs at the other properties (weekend project types of things). But first I'll take a short break to catch up on email/mail/address changes, play with Elinor and to go to a friend's wedding.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Hello Corvallis


Our summer plans were simple:

No travel.
2 outside rental repairs.
3 art classes for Jessi in July.
And a slew of projects at our house: new windows, new outside paint, new insulation and crawlspace access under the house. I had all summer and could spread them out.

Then on a May Friday, I received the following text message:


You always know you're in for a ride when a message starts with "Can I throw a twist in your world?"

We met at 3 and by that night, we made a verbal agreement and signed a purchase offer Saturday morning. There goes the summer plans...

I know it seems fast (it was), but let's back it up a bit.

We started actively looking to buy in Corvallis last October & November. We put in a couple offers, but kept getting out bid. We concluded the timing wasn't right and stopped looking. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, God provides the exact style house with all the features we wanted in the perfect location. Amazing.

We close July 1st and are moving July 2nd so we get a full three day weekend to settle in.

So, that summer window project turned into a June project. It's been intense. All the windows except one (the bathroom) are now replaced and I'm going to start cutting the trim after we paint the inside (yeah, that got added to the list). I plan to hire a couple guys from All Star Labor to help finish up the work so we can get our house rented sooner rather than later. I'll have a card table set up in the house so I can do HP work while managing them. Our goal is to have our house rented out by the end of July.

We're excited to move since one of us drives into Corvallis at least once every. single. day. It'll also mean I'll get to ride my bike more, which I'm really looking forward to.

If you're around next Saturday morning, feel free to help us move. :)

Here are some pictures of our new home: