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Tech we have deployed for Halloween

It started back in 2002. My wife brought home a large inflatable spider, something new for the exterior decor at Halloween. I struggled to find a way of using it that seemed appropriate.

In the end, I decided to give it context by building suitably large, lit spider web in the font yard. It spanned the gap between the house and a very tall Loblolly pine in the corner of the yard.

The children came in droves, and were filled with awe. They left with candy, and it was good.

Every year we try something new. We occasionally drop something that didn’t work quite as well as we hoped. This year I’d like to highlight a few things we’ve used that work very well.

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Sensibo Sky: The Newest Gadget in my Home Office

It’s that time of year once again, when the mercury rises and I am reminded of how the air conditioner in my home office is so critical to comfort and productivity. This is a little story of how I recently enhanced the now nine-year-old master of cool.

The Fujitsu Halcyon ductless mini-split air conditioner installed here is one of the larger models they make. It’s rated for 30,000 BTU (2.5T if you prefer) which is quite large for the 400 square foot office. It was sized to accommodate a full-height rack of broadcast equipment that used to occupy a corner in my office.

Back when it was installed, it was enough that it did the basics. It kept the space cool and dry, without being noisy. It meets those requirements even today.

The Master of Cool

With no controls on the device itself, it’s operated using a simple IR cordless remote control. The remote functions are very basic; on/off, target temperature, mode (cool, dry, auto) and control of the motorized vanes that direct air flow. I hardly had to use the remote control beyond on/off. Since it’s an IR remote, it only works when pointed directly at the indoor unit.

I can’t fault the Fujitsu air conditioner, since it’s installation we have become more sophisticated users. We’ve had a Nest thermostat installed in the house for years. We’ve become accustomed to the ability to program a schedule of temperature changes to minimize energy use. We also appreciate remote control from our smart phones, whether we’re home or elsewhere. This leaves the mini-split feeling primitive and costly to run.

Sensibo Sky

A few weeks ago I discovered Sensibo Sky, a small IoT device that adds all the remote control flexibility of a Nest thermostat to a split ductless unit with IR remote control. It’s similar to the Logitech Harmony remote control scheme, in that it emulates the IR emitter of the original remote, connecting it to our Wi-Fi, and making it accessible via the web and smart phone apps.

Originally priced at $149, Sensibo Sky initially seemed a bit pricey. I found a recent offer of $99 with free shipping too good to pass up, so I bought one.

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Ye Ha! NoMo WEMO!!

About 18 months ago I succumb to my impulsive side and purchased a Belkin WEMO LED Light Starter Kit. That kit included the WEMO interface and two of their Zigbee remote controlled light bulbs. Since I had “grand plans” I also ordered another six WEMO bulbs.

I must admit that I had my doubts about Belkin‘s WEMO offerings, but since the starter kit was just $25 at the time, I thought it worth a try. With just $120 invested in WEMO I sought to revisit remote controlled lights for my office, and perhaps elsewhere in the house.

Jumping ahead in time….I’m very pleased to report that I recently sold that collection of WEMO products to a neighbor, recouping about a quarter of my original investment!

Seriously, that WEMO lighting was some of the most infuriating tech to cross my path in recent years. I cannot believe that a big company would offer such a cheesy product.

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IoT Idea: A Smarter Pet Door

LabradorBlackSome years ago I installed a MaxSeal pet door into one of the French doors that leads into my home office. This lets Shadow & Gwen wander in and out over the course of the work day. I opted for their dual-flap model, which aims to be more weather-tight. We get heavy rain, and there’s no point in attempting to air condition the back yard.

In general, we’re very happy with the pet door. Where “we” are the two quadrupeds, who like their independence, and the bipeds who don’t want to be pestered about every possible coming or going.

If there’s one complaint I have about the dog door it’s the clatter it makes when it closes. Each flap has six metal clips that swing past magnets embedded in the aluminum frame. This acts as a brake for the flapping action, and holds it closed between ingress/egress events.

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A Dead Ringer For DoorBot

DoorBot-Looking-Left.jpgThis week has seen the team behind the DoorBot pseudo-smart doorbell announce their second generation product. In so doing they’ve renamed themselves Ring.

Honestly, my experience with Doorbot and its creators was so bad that I can’t help but harbor some animosity toward their operation. Yet, I want to be fair. Design is an iterative process. Perhaps they just need a few iterations on the theme to get to more generally usable product.

On the other hand, the description of the new product seems to be an incremental improvement from DootBot. Jump from 802.11B type Wifi to the more recent 802.11N type. Jump from VGA resolution video to 720p video, the baseline for HD. Abandon push-to-talk audio, ala Nextel of old, for something more akin to telephony. It’s basically a reversal of some of the bad design decisions embodied in the first generation product.

On the other hand, they still seem completely wed to their own “cloud service.” My experience with that was expect massive latency on call setup. Expect video only on occasion. I rarely even had continuous audio. On this basis alone you probably won’t receive that Fedex Express package you’re expecting on the first delivery attempt.

I’ve come to understand that my mistake with respect to DoorBot was expecting the kind of performance that I could more reasonably expect from any standards compliant IP phone. The DoorBot team clearly doesn’t have that sort of experience or appreciate that kind of performance. Even if that’s what separates the tools from the toys. DoorBot is a toy. Nothing more.

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