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Amazon Sidewalk Approaches

As a household that has several Amazon Echo devices, I feel obligated to share the news about Amazon Sidewalk, including how to disable it.

What is Sidewalk?

Sidewalk is a “feature” in the latest firmware for the current generation of Amazon smart home products, including; Echo smart speakers, Ring doorbells & security cameras, and Tile trackers. When enabled, Sidewalk capable devices used by neighbors, visitors or passers-by are able to leverage your local internet connectivity.

Amazon says that these Sidewalk interlopers are allowed a limited amount of bandwidth, just 80 kbps, which is about the same as a tradition VoIP phone call.

Why Sidewalk?

That’s simple – ubiquitous connectivity is very convenient. Amazon knows this from years of experience. For example, their WhisperNet was a mechanism leveraging AT&T’s 3G mobile network to provide ubiquitous connectivity to early Kindle e-book readers.

Tile tracker

Imagine someone who uses Tile Pro to track their car keys. They are, as so many do each day, dropping their child off at Travis Elementary School, which is across the street.

It could be very handy if their Tile Pro found our front room Echo Dot, allowed it to ping Amazon servers. If they later lost their car keys, Amazon would know they had been near our home. Presumably, Amazon would have a more detailed record of their location that might otherwise be possible.

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My first year with Home Assistant

I set about to solve problem back in December 2019. Not truly a problem, just an annoyance. In my office I have a music player (RPi 3 + Hifi Berry Pro XLR) that feeds a pair of Behringer powered subwoofers and M-Audio BX5 powered monitors. We have several similar arrangements, creating five separate music zones across the property.

I’ve had this arrangement for years. I’m pretty happy with it, with one exception. The audio gear does not have signal-sensing power on/off. What I wanted was a way to turn the gear on/off automatically based upon the status of the media player. How hard could that be?

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Home & Office Instrumentation: The Netatmo Weather Station

We have quite a lot of IoT stuff hereabouts. One device that’s hardly had any mention is the Netatmo Weather Station. I honestly can’t recall how long we’ve had it. Perhaps as much as five years? I think it was a Christmas gift, since it does not appear in my Amazon order history. I’ve been pretty happy with it. It pretty much just works.

Netatmo Weather Station

The basic kit includes on outdoor module (House) and the main indoor unit. I really like being able to know the precise local conditions, not the exaggerated conditions local broadcasters report from northern counties or down in Galveston near the gulf. They always go for the more dramatic presentation.

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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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