Today, the simple fact is that IoT devices are excessively, unnecessarily, intrusively bright. This is not the first time I’ve addressed this matter. Sadly, the trend does not seem to be improving. All manner of techno-gadgetry has power or status LEDs that typically cannot be disabled. In the hallway of our home, where the network core and IoT hubs reside, there are several devices with status lights that likely made the product designer proud, but they convey no useful information at all. They merely make it impossible to have a dark room.
“You are beginning to damage my calm.” – Jayne, Firefly.
I am recently reminded of this in the course of dealing with our elderly Labrador. She’s had trouble sleeping the past few weeks. This is quite common in very old dogs. We’ve tried many things to help her sleep at night. Anti-anxiety medication only sorta works. Brown noise helps a little to mask the noise of nearby traffic.
Last weekend we installed a couple of calming pheromone dispensers. These are like Glade scented plug-ins, except they dispense a pheromone that is supposed to have a calming effect.
Each pheromone dispenser covers 700 square feet. So, two of them handle our entire home. Further, they last about 30 days under normal circumstances. Pheromone refills are $22 each.
They appear to help the old grrrrl, but they have the opposite effect in humans. The ridiculously bright power LED is unbearably bright in a darkened bedroom.
As a practical matter, these devices need to have free flow of air around them. They get a bit warm, too. They should not be behind furniture or curtains. I had to carefully apply some aluminum foil and electrical tape to block the light from the utterly meaningless LED.
Typically, the dogs are not in the house during the day. They’re in the yard or the garage apartment that serves as my home office. On that basis, I don’t think we need to have the pheromone dispensers powered all day. I’m planning on plugging them each into a TP-Link Kasa smart outlet so Home Assistant can turn them on/off on a scheduled basis.
We likely only need them active in the evening and overnight. By turning them off when not required, I hope to get a little more time from the refills. Also, allowing them to cool off routinely will hopefully make them a little safer.
Home Assistant is weather aware. So, it should be possible to have them automatically turn on when stormy weather is expected.
Supposedly Smart Devices
The pheromone dispensers are inexpensive, and definitely not smart, so modifying them is an acceptable solution. Looking back at our most recent IoT installations, the Flume water gauge stands out as an example of a slightly dumb design for a supposedly smart device.
The Flume gateway device (pictured above right) has two little status LEDs that are always on. Once the device is installed they signify nothing of consequence. I assert that the Flume application ought to allow me to disable these LEDs.
Perhaps, I’m being a bit harsh. The Flume system works as promised. In general, we’re pleased with it. Let’s just say that it’s lacking this one feature. It’s a significant oversight.
The Enlightened Support Darkness
You know who gets it right? Ubiquiti! We have their AC Pro Wi-Fi access points. They have an LED status ring that indicates the state of the device during configuration. Once configured, the Unifi controller application lets me turn off the status LEDs. It’s brilliant! Well, not literally. And that’s the point!
New Rule: Blackout Mode!
Here’s an idea for a new rule. In order to say that some device is “smart” it must have some user accessible way to defeat any status LEDs. Essentially, a “blackout” mode. If it doesn’t provide this facility it’s well and truly dumb.
If the device is operating normally, it could simply go dark all on its own. If something is amiss, the status lights can turn on like the wee alarms that they are, or should be.
While we’re thinking about the dark, you should give a listen to the latest episode of Tim Panton’s Distributed Future Podcast. He talks with an astronomer who is concerned about various issues of satellite meshes and light pollution in the night sky.