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Showing posts from 2016

Wii U - For an "Unpopular" Console, It's Really Fun!

We acquired our Wii U for Christmas last year in spite of all the doom and gloom that the press has been putting out.  Why?  We wanted a console that focused on family and kid friendly games (my kids range from 14 to 6) and the Wii U fit the bill.  Plus we loved our Wii and were excited to get the next generation console.

It does not disappoint.  We don't buy games prodigiously but the ones we have are a lot of fun.  Super Mario 3D, Mario Cart 8, and Splatoon have all been big hits in our house.  Plus the ability to play our old Wii games has been awesome.  My kids will play as much as their parents will let them.

We recently purchased Minecraft and the kids love the Mario skins and themes that are included in it.  They love playing multi-player and creating their own worlds.  Granted this is nothing new to them as we already own Minecraft for the PC and for the XBox 360.  However, they liked it enough to save up their own money to purchase it.

So, it's a fun console that foc…

Sonos Control with the Amazon Echo - Part 2: Raspberry Pi

So, a little while ago I posted how I set up my Amazon Echo to control my Sonos speakers (the article is here).  However, there was a major drawback:  If the computer ever went to sleep, got rebooted or if my user got logged out everything would stop working.  Compound this with the fact that my PC is shared by my kids and you can see that I had a lot of service interruptions.  The obvious solution is to have a permanent computer just to run this service.  I needed something I could leave on 24x7 and that was really inexpensive.  Enter the Raspberry Pi.

The Raspberry Pi computer is cheap, low power consumption, and small.  It seemed like the perfect fit.  So I found a kit (on Amazon of course) and ordered it.  Now to find out if it's as good as it seems.

First, I had to put it together.  That was really easy - I just had to stick the heat sinks on, put the Raspberry Pi board into the case, and put in the SD card.  Then I plugged in a keyboard, mouse, and monitor and I was on my w…

Awair Air Quality Monitor Review

This post is a bit tricky for me to write.  My Awair air quality monitor is one of the most expensive gadgets I've purchased but it's impact has been the most subtle.  Usually when I buy a gadget, it's impact is much more dramatic like smart switches from Insteon, endless jokes and device control from Echo, temperature/humidity readings from Sensorpush, or automated sprinkler control with Rachio.  With Awair, however, the impact was more subtle.

One of the main reasons the impact was subtle was that my air quality was actually pretty good.  CO2 levels were good, humidity was mostly good, dust wasn't too bad.  Only VOCs (volatile organic compounds) were consistently high.  Not too high, they're usually at 2 but sometimes spike to 3.  What does the VOC measurement mean?  I don't know except that Awair puts a 2 or a 3 at not good orange (not horrible - that would be red).  So what do I do?

So, here's the thing.  I'd been thinking about air quality for a w…

Sonos Control with the Amazon Echo - How I did it

I've had my Amazon Echo for a year or so and one thing that I've wanted ever since I purchased it, is to be able to use voice commands to control my Sonos speakers.  I waited patiently (OK  not patiently) for Sonos skill to appear on the Echo but it still hasn't come.  I was encouraged when Sonos announced it was going to focus more on voice but still nothing.  Isn't there any way to control my Sonos with my Echo?

Yes - sort of.

WARNING: This post is not for the faint of heart because the solution is not trivial.

So, I found a project on github that uses another project on github combined with a custom skill on
the Echo via a web service hosted by AWS Lambda.  OK, that was the easy part.  I knew that going in.  That's why, initially, I waited.  There must be an elegant solution out there.  I searched and waited and searched again and waited again.  Finally I decided to give it a try.  If it worked it would be really cool.  If it didn't, well I'm no worse o…

My Smart Home - SensorPush

I am an efficiency nerd.  I love to use technology to make my life easier, better, or to save money.  I live in the Phoenix area of Arizona so it gets REALLY hot here.  Well, I had noticed that my garage would always seem to be hotter in the summer than outside.  I didn't think much of it the first couple years in my current house but this year it hit me.  The garage is always super hot.  The master bedroom - my bedroom - is right over the garage.  The master bedroom gets pretty warm as well - especially in the summer.  Is there a correlation?  How would I find out?

Well, I had a temperature sensor that I was using to measure outside temperature.  One of those Accurite indoor/outdoor temperature monitors.  Actually, I have two of those.  So I took the outdoor sensor from the one in the master bedroom and put it in the garage.  Now I could see what the temperature was in the garage and compare it to the outside temperature.  I found that my suspicions were correct.  It would often…

My Smart Home - Insteon

There are a lot of smarthome devices and suppliers out there.  They all do things differently and have different devices that they're compatible with.  With all those choices out there, how do you pick a good one?

For me it came down to one question, "How many work with Windows Phone?"  At the time I started, the answer was pretty simple - Samsung Smartthings or Insteon.  Samsung was pretty new with Windows Phone support and with smarthome tech in general and Insteon was well established and even sold their stuff in the Microsoft Store.  They also had one more big advantage, they have a controller for ceiling fans.  With the way my house is set up, that actually is a big plus for me.  So, about a year ago, I ordered my starter kit:  an Insteon Hub that came with 2 plug in on/off switches, a leak sensor, an a motion sensor.  I also ordered a wall dimmer switch.

Installing it was an adventure.

Hooking up the Hub was a bit of a pain since they recommend plugging it right i…

Moving to the Rachio Sprinkler Controller

I am horrible with plants.  I've decided that I have a reverse green thumb - any plant I touch dies.  I don't know what it is but I have a past littered with the corpses of plants that had the misfortune of depending on me to take care of them.  My lawn is no different.  I have a good quality sprinkler controller and have scheduled watering but my lawn looked like was barely hanging on.  Obviously, I need help.  That's where Rachio came in.

A while ago a couple of the circuits in my sprinkler controller stopped working.  The result was that my front yard and a spot in my back yard stopped getting any water whatsoever.  I had to water them manually.  I tried to make it work for a long time but, as I stated above, my talents do not lie in that area.

I was on the web and I stumbled upon Rachio.  I don't remember if I found it on Amazon or read an article on a tech web site but I was intrigued.  Here was a controller that you could control from your phone, would adjust yo…

Creating a Smart Home - Starting with the Amazon Echo

A little more than a year ago, my smart home began.  It sounds odd to say it that way - especially because I had no idea that I was actually beginning something.  I was buying a neato, techy thing and that was it.  I had no idea that it would grow into the beginnings of a "Smart Home."  Now the question is how far will it go.  I really don't have an answer for that.

But let's rewind a bit. A couple of years ago, Amazon announced the Echo.  I was intrigued.  It looked fun - not useful but fun.  I liked the idea of a personal assistant you can talk to.  I liked the idea of it telling jokes or the news or weather.  I liked the possibility of it expanding to other things.  I really like that it was half off for Amazon Prime customers.  However, I still thought that $99 was a bit steep for a toy so I held off.  I held off for a few months.  Then other people started getting theirs and the reviews started coming in.  Most were positive.  It was cool, it was fun.  I don…

Moving from Windows Phone to Android

The hardest part about moving to Android from Windows Phone was admitting that Windows Phone was not meeting my needs.  This was really hard because there is so much to love in Windows Phone.  I love the live tiles, I love the Cortana integration (especially how it automatically reads texts to me in the car via my Bluetooth car stereo), and I love the way it works.  In fact, I had tried out Android for 4 months and ended up coming back because of the things that Android just didn't do.

No live tilesNo unread count on phone, text, or email tiles on home screenNo reading texts via Bluetooth in my carLack of seamless integration with my Microsoft services (email, calendar, etc.) So I gave the phone back to my wife.  She used it and was OK with it (although she missed a lot of the same things I did) until the camera lens cracked.  We don't know how it happened and there's not a scratch on the rest of the phone but the camera was unusable.  Well, this was unacceptable.  We look…

My Android Experience

Last December, my wife's phone died.  Well, it didn't really die, it just stopped talking to cell towers.  Everything worked but she couldn't get calls or texts (even when the phone showed 5 bars).  Great!  Now we need a new phone.

I wanted to get a new Windows Phone but the new 950s were too expensive.  However, I didn't want to get an older phone because I didn't know how upgradable it would be (Windows 10 Mobile had just come out).  On top of all that, I was have a little frustration with some of the apps missing from Windows Phone along with a study that Kristina was doing that required an Android or iPhone.  It was really looking like Windows Phone was a dead end and, with iPhones being so expensive, I decided to try an Android phone.  After some discussion, I gave my phone to my wife and got myself the Android phone.

I decided to get a Nexus 5x.  Nexus phones are guaranteed two years of updates and are sold unlocked so I would have no carrier dependencies and w…