Monday, March 23, 2015

Fire Alarm safety - Philips Hue Lights and Nest Protect integration

In light of this weekend's terrible tragedy in Brooklyn, where seven (!?!) of eight children perished in a fire, because of no smoke alarm, (except for one in the basement which wasn't working) I thought I'd post about my recent breakthrough with this and to remind everybody to CHECK YOUR FIRE ALARM BATTERIES!

In a prior post, I talked about the Philips Hue and the Nest Protect.  Previously, I had to connect the Hue and the Nest Protect via IFTTT, and then set a recipe for each individual Nest Protect (we have five) and then set it to change my lights to red whenever we got an alert for smoke or carbon monoxide. It was very tedious, and we found that the lights would take up to 10-15 minutes to change, and it wasn't in a very obvious way. Just a slow change.  You wouldn't notice it unless you were directly looking at it.

Then about two months ago, Nest announced an integration at CES with Philips Hue, and I was overjoyed!  You have to go to the Nest website for "Works with Nest", here, and sign into your Nest account and then sign into your Philips Hue account (if you don't have a log in for it, create one). They have a feature where you can "test" it and when I did, it worked beautifully.  I've had several kitchen "accidents" since and each time it has worked wonderfully. The lights blink red.

One other reason why I love the Nest Protect is because they all connect together.  If one goes off, all the others will as well. You can "name" each one, i.e. "Kitchen", "Basement", "Top Floor hallway," etc.  And if one of them go off, then the others will also and it'll say which one is going off so a hearing person will be able to listen and detect where the fire is coming from.  I also get a notification on my phone, as well as on my Pebble watch.

Fire safety is a very important issue for me as a deaf person because I can't always hear the fire alarm going off.  There are some models with strobe lights, but not everybody can wake up to that.  I know I can't so I have to resort to different measures - i.e. a VISUAL way and a notification via my phone so that I don't miss it.  Minutes matter in a fire, and waiting 10 minutes for a slow notification on IFTTT does not cut it.

Also, the Nest Protect will notify you via the app if the battery is low or a hardwired version has lost power.  I don't have to climb up on a ladder and fiddle to find a battery anymore.  There's an app for that!

As a deaf person, I believe this is the best solution you can find for fire safety, using a Nest Protect and the Philips Hue light system to create a VISUAL notification system.  Nothing else comes close, and I've looked.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Home Automation - Philips Hue lights

So, its been two months since I wrote about this.  Plenty of time to report back my "findings."

I initially started out with the 3 light bulb with bridge starter kit, and have gradually added bulbs and lamps as I've went along, linking them to the bridge, and using apps to control them.

There are a myriad of apps out there that you can use to control the lights.  Some are simply to set "scenes" - where you can group a particular set of lights (like the TV room, kitchen, bedroom, etc) and then set a scene using a particular group.  I like to use a TV scene in the TV room when I'm watching TV, and then when I go to bed, I'll tap an off button on the main Hue app to turn all the lights off and then go to bed.

The biggest drawback with this is this... You have to take the phone out, turn it on, find the app, tap around till you get to where you want, just to turn on/off the light.  Whereas you can just flip a light switch.

Here's my "set-up"

I have 5 regular lightbulbs. I also have:

1 Bloom lamp
1 Iris lamp
1 light-strip
1 Disney Storytime light

That totals nine lights linked to the bridge.

They're grouped this way:

I put one regular lightbulb in the Kitchen.

One bulb in a lamp on my side of my bed in my bedroom.
The Disney Storytime light is on the other side of the bed.
I put a bulb in a lamp in one of the kids rooms.

Two bulbs are in regular lamps on end tables in the living room.

The light strip is set up underneath the cabinet that the cable box, Apple TV, etc are set up in.
I put the Iris Lamp and Bloom lamp on the floor in corners of the living room.

There is an app called StoryLights - where if you have a philips hue light, you can link one bulb to the story, (there are three within the app) and then you can read the story to your children, and the light bulb will change color on each page.  One of the stories has a peacock with 8 different colors in his tail, and you can tap each color (orange, blue, purple, etc) and the bulb will change color. It is awesome to see.

The Disney Storytime lamp takes this to a different level, where you link to their Disney Storytime app - (20 stories I believe) and it will do the same thing as the Storylights.  It can also change all other bulbs linked to it so it makes storytime more immersive.

To make these bulbs all work, they need to be left on at all times.  What this means is this - you can turn off the light via the app, but its still "on."  For example, in my kitchen, I have a pendant light that my bulb is in. There's a light switch dedicated to that pendant light.  I have to leave that light switch on all the time for the light to work.  I'll control it via the app, and turn it off, but the switch is still "on."  If you wanted to turn it back on, without the app, you'd have to flick the switch off then back on again to "activate" the light again.  It would go back to a regular white light, not the last "color" that it was on before, if any.

I had some difficulty adding lights to it for the first time.  They say you can add via the app, but I found that virtually impossible.  I had to download a software program onto my Mac and then I open that up and add lights as I go along.  The program isn't in the Mac app store, and its not a very well made program, but it gets the job done.

I have set these lights up using IFTTT, and for the most part, they work fairly well. Here's one way I use this.

I have an Automatic in my car. This is a device that links to my phone via bluetooth and will track my miles, keep track of how the car is operating, etc.  Using IFTTT, I linked Automatic to my Hue.  There's a recipe where if my car is turned off in a specific geographic area (like my house), then it turns on my lights via the Hue.  For the most part, it works very well. My issue is that my house has a lot of natural light, so they'll turn on at 12 pm even if I don't need it.  I wish I could tailor the recipe to turn on after dark.

I also linked my lights to the Nest Protect system via the IFTTT. I found this cumbersome as they want you to link each individual Nest Protect (smoke/co2 detector) to it and then do a recipe.  So they have a CO2 emergency, CO2 notification, smoke emergency, and smoke notification. This is 4 different ones, and I have to set up a notification for EACH of those, for EACH of the devices (5 in the house) so that's 20 different recipes.  I wish you could just do one for all of them.  But IFTTT doesn't allow further customization. Anyway, I set this up to change my lights to red in case of any alert notifications. It works, but there is a lag time, and its not obvious.  I didn't time it, but it felt like about 10-15 minutes before they changed color, and it wasn't very obvious. I would have liked a blinking light to get my attention.

My ultimate dream is to improve the notification system, to different light recipes. My dream is to do Star Treks red alert, where they're pulsing and you hear it.  I'd love to have my lights and a sound system pulsing when there's a fire or a notification. I think there's a way to do this, and I just have to figure it out.  I don't think it can be done with IFTTT as there are limits to it.

An aside, after doing all this, I've come up with an idea for a possible business, so stay tuned.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Home Automation

Its been almost a year since I posted a blog here.  Life gets in the way sometimes, and I'm sure its happened to my readers.

As a deaf person, I'm very conscious about knowing whats happening around me.  This applies especially to a household.  Many deaf people get a dog mainly so that the dog will be their "doorbell" - it'll bark when someones at the door or if something happens, so they act as an early warning system for most people.  However, I'm allergic to dogs/cats so this isn't really much of an option for me.

We recently moved to a two family house in Rockaway, New York (a part of Queens) and are now one block away from the beach.

I've used this as an excuse to really do a lot of home automation upgrades to our new home, to see what I can and can't do, especially in the way of smoke alarms, lights flashing for notifications, etc.  I have a lot of great ideas and will be posting a series of blogs here about specific products that I've used, and what I liked/didn't like about them.  Hopefully this will give other people (especially deaf) ideas on how to utilize today's technology to enhance your home experience.

Right off the bat, we've purchased four things.

1.  Lockitron which is lock you put on your deadbolt and you can program it so that it'll open as you walk up the door, or you can open it remotely via an app on your iphone/android.

2.  Doorbot - This is a webcam doorbell.  You'd install a device where you'd normally put a doorbell.  It has a webcam on it, so whoever pushes the doorbell will be on video.  You'd get a notification on your phone (regardless of whether you're home or not) that someones at the door, and you open the app and see who it is.  You can see them, but they can't see you.  You can also "talk" like an intercom through the app. This wouldn't work for a deaf person, but I like the video aspect, so I don't have to go downstairs and peek through the peephole.  This also has a tie in with the Lockitron so you can unlock the door via that while in this app.

3. Nest - This is a well known company.  I've wanted this product for a long time and finally got an opportunity to get this.  We also bought 5 of their Nest Protect (smoke/carbon detectors).  I'm looking forward to having some fun with these. The Nest is a "learning" thermostat that learns your normal daily behavior and will program the thermostat to save energy based on your normal behavior.  Naturally, there's an app, and you can adjust the thermostat remotely.

4. Philips Hue -  This, and number 5 will be the key to the whole system of home automation.  The Hue system, albeit on the pricey side, has a lot of applications.  Its a wifi-enabled network of lights.  You can buy several different types of light bulbs and they connect (up to 50 at once) to a device called the Bridge.  Depending on the bulbs you buy, they can change color, to as many as 64,000 different colors.  Some bulbs are designed to be like a regular bulb - in a lamp. Others are more of a floodlight type (that you'd put in recessed lighting) and they have stand-alone lamps called the Iris and Bloom. They also just released the Lux which is white only.

And this next part isn't a system we "bought" but a service thats available to everybody.

5. If this, then that. If this, then that is a service where you can enable "channels" of various things - from ESPN to the Nest to the hue.  You set up a trigger, "if this" and then if its triggered, an action "then that."  To give you an example, I can set it up so that If the Baltimore Orioles start a game, then my philips Hue lights blink on and off.  I can do the same for any team.

I can even make it blink for every score. I can also make it so that my lights turn on when I arrive home based on the Lockitron. I can even make my lights change color based on WHO comes home. "If Simon comes home, then turn lights blue."  "If Sarina comes home, turn lights orange" and so on.  All of this works with the If this then that system.

I'll be posting pictures of my various gadgets and will devote specific blogs to each of the systems above.  If anybody has any questions about any of these, feel free to let me know.  I'm looking forward to playing with these toys!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Using iLearnWith apps with your toddler

As a father with two pre-school daughters, aged 5 and 4 and in kindergarten and Universal Pre-K - I'm conscious of their educational progress.  Its crucial at this age up until 3rd grade that they learn to read.

In 3rd grade the focus switches from Learn to read to Read to learn.  Let me explain.  Up until third grade, the child is LEARNING how to read. In third grade, the assumption is that they already know how to read, so now they can read to LEARN.  If they haven't mastered reading at that point, they'll fall farther behind their peers quickly.  It's for this reason that it's crucial that your toddler learn to read and stay on track with their peers.

I've bought practically every educational app there is out there to teach my daughters math, reading, their A-B-C's, tracing the letters, etc. I have enough that I could easily fill 10 pages on my iPad with it.  I've deleted and put back on and experimented with a variety of them.  What I've been looking for is something that engages my daughters, can progress with their progress, and give the parent (me) feedback on how they're doing.  There are some apps that do this, most notably the Dora the Explorer series that teaches them to read.  It provides feedback and I can check their progress, but my kids seem to get bored with it. I've also tried the Jumpstart series which teaches ABC's and math.  But it's not as robust as I'd like it to be.

I came across a new suite of apps developed by Tribal Nova out of Canada.  Its a suite of 9 apps called i Learn With.  All are free to download. 8 of them have an in-app purchase that you pay to unlock it. The unlock varies from $1.99 to $2.99, so if you bought all of them, it'd set you back about $20 or so.

The 8 apps teach a variety of concepts: Language, Literacy, Math, Science, and Arts/Social Development.  For example, the Math app teaches you how to count up to 15.  In this particular game, two people are bowling, and they knock over pins.  You have to count the pins that are knocked over then select the correct number.  If its correct, they'll do it again.  Each "game" has 3 levels, with 3 bars per level.  Once you complete 3-4 of these "games" one bar will be completed.  So in theory, they'd have to complete 9-12 games to complete one full level.  Then they'd move on to the next one and so on.  In the Math app, they have 3 sets of games - one that counts up to 6, then another up to 10, then the last is up to 15.

If the child is having difficulty with a particular level, the algorithm of the app will recognize that and adjust the levels difficulty to match the child's progress. 

In other apps, they'll learn things like what kind of clothes you wear for particular weather (this is in arts/social development) and how to follow instructions - like "tap the circle in front of the treasure chest". They learn concepts about habitat of particular animals, like does a polar bear belong in the jungle, etc. They also learn about emotions and what kind of emotion was expressed in a scenario that is shown to the child.

One reason why I love this app is because once you set up a log-in, you can track their progress across multiple devices.  You get an email every time they complete a full level.  I can have one child start on one iPad and then pick up where they left off on another iPad.  Each child has their own profile, and you can have up to 4.  But when they pick up the iPad/iPhone, you have to make sure they are logged into the correct profile or any progress they do will be credited to the wrong child.

The 9th app is a free app that aggregates all the data from the 8 other apps and ties it all together so you can see in the form of a "tree" - see here for more details.

I found their tech support to be highly responsive.  They always responded within a day or two. I ran into a small bug and emailed and they explained that they were aware of it and were working on it.

The bug is as follows - if you've finished 1 or 2 bars out of the 3 bars to finish a level, and then you close the app and come back to it later, you have to start at the beginning of the level.  It can be tedious to go back to the beginning even if you've finished that block already and I've had my kids getting "bored" and closing the game and then coming back again and having to do the same thing over and over again because they don't understand that they have to stay in the game to make further progress.  It'd be nice if I could manually move them up block by block.  They allow you to move level by level, but I want to be able to move block by block to avoid this from happening.  Also every time you open the game, it'll give you an option of which level to start at - i.e. level 1, 2, or 3.  It'd have been nice if they just jumped you right to where you left off rather than giving the child the option to start at level 3 when they should be at 1 or vice versa. 

They say that this is perfect for toddlers aged 3 to 6.  If your child spends a half hour to an hour a day, they could conceivably finish this in a few weeks. There are 23 games or lessons depending on how you look at it, with 3 levels of learning in each game.  If they accomplish all 3 levels in 1 game per day, that's a little over 3 weeks.

Every time the child finishes a level, they get a "reward" and they can go over to Planet Boing! where they can make pictures and use their rewards and do fun stuff.  It's a nice reward and I find that they like to do that but I always check to make sure that they're not spending too much time over there when they should be focusing on the next lesson.

This is available on the Apple App Store, Google Play, Nook apps, and Amazon app store, so you can use them on multiple platforms. I only tested this on Apple devices. 

I really love this app series and hope they'll do a different series or expand this one for children ages 6-10 or something like that for my children to continue when they age out of this one.   I highly recommend this to anybody who has a toddler age 3-6 - as it will help prepare your child for school.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

How easy it is to make a trailer using iMovie

While I was at the Brooklyn Cyclones game last night with my two daughters, I decided to whip out a trailer using iMovie to illustrate how easy it is to make one.  This trailer took me about 90 minutes to make.  I could have made it in less, but had to wait for the right shots during the course of the game.

As you can see, its fun. I especially like the "in search for the perfect hot dog" and then the immediate shot after that is of them going to the bathroom. I think that's hilarious.

For this, I had to take about 25 short videos.  Just wait for times when they're playing or doing something cute and then take a quick 5 to 10 second video of that.

I hope you enjoy the film!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

My Morocco Trip - part 2 - Video using iMovie

In the iOS app, iMovie which is part of the iLife suite of products and includes iPhoto among other things, they have these template trailers that you can work with.

I've always seen them and tinkered with them but never really had the time to devote to actually making one.  Since we had a lot of bus time and on these types of trips, I usually have my nose in a book most of the time, I thought I'd use the opportunity to play with the app and see if I could make an actual film with it.  It was surprisingly easy! There are 11 trailers you can choose from.  They range from adrenaline to retro to Bollywood to expedition.  You pick one and then you can modify the text to fit whatever you want it to be. They'll give you about 30 to 40 different "slots" where you have to put video in.  These slots will range from anywhere to .4 seconds (that's four-tenths of a second) to four seconds long.  They'll give a description of the type of shot needed, like landscape, close up, group shot, etc.  You take video that fits that.  Once you finish taking the video, you'll then scroll through that video to find the right start and end point for that specific clip.  You may take a 10 second clip but only use 1.4 seconds of it, so make that 1.4 seconds count.  This taught me to make the shots we took short.  No long drawn-out 2 minute films.  Just short, point at this and look surprised, shots and then we clip the surprised part and put it into the film.

If you have people around you who's willing to cooperate with you taking film, it can be surprisingly fun to make these.  I took about 120 videos of varying lengths.  Some members of my family were happy to cooperate, others thought I was insane. The group shots with me and my wife in it were difficult to take as I needed a cooperating person to take it.  90% of the video I took was with someone yelling at me to hurry up and get on the bus or something like that. With the amount of video I took, I ended up having to delete numerous apps on my phone to create space.  I also had enough that we were able to make four different ones.

Here is the first one we made, a thriller.

This video was specifically of my wife and I and nobody else. This was our original and after seeing how it came out, we got excited and made more.  My wife decided to make her own video using some of the film we took, but she has 3 more shots to finalize so that's not up yet.

I took video of various family members and made it into a longer video called Into the Desert. This is about 90 seconds long. See below.


This one was a lot of fun to make and I found myself constantly looking around at our various locales for opportunities for a good shot. I also have another app called Action Movie FX which we used to make a couple of shots that we used here, like the warp drive shot in the very beginning.

Another shot I took of the Hassan 2 mosque in Casablanca hit the cutting floor, but I thought it was so good that I decided to show it to you. I took a long shot of the mosque and then put an effect that makes it look like the Starship Enterprise was there. Pretty good huh?

The last video was a film I got the inspiration to make from my wife. She suggested we make a film for my mom's recipe app, so we did. Its called "In search for Ancient Recipes" and I have to admit, I'm excited about that one. I think its a fabulous film and can't wait to show it to everybody. Hopefully it'll be up today or tomorrow.  I have one more shot to do and then it'll be finished. 

I hope you enjoy these videos as much as I enjoyed making them. If anybody wants some tips or help with making a movie via iMovie, let me know. I don't profess to be an expert but I think I'm pretty good at it so far.

Monday, August 5, 2013

My Morocco Trip - part 1

This will be the first of a series of blogs I'll write recounting my Morocco trip.  If you're not interested then feel free to skip over this.

We flew into Casablanca and stayed at the Barcelo Casablanca somewhere in the city center.  It was a nice western style hotel, but the wi-fi was virtually unusable.  Food was decent, and we did a bit of sight-seeing.  First off the bat after we dropped off our bags was we ran over to a local cemetery where we saw my grandfather's gravesite.  I've embedded a video of it here.

It took a bit of searching, but we managed to find it way off in the corner. It didn't occur to me to take video as I simply took video of the overall gravesite.  I did take a couple pictures and here they are.

This is a photo of the gravesite itself.  He passed away in January 1934, a good 40 years before I was born. Technically, he's my paternal grandfather's father.  There's a funny story that has made the rounds in my family about this specific guy. My grandfather was the youngest of 8 children. The first 5 had made it to Brooklyn. My great-grandfather decided to come over to Brooklyn to visit his first grandson and planned a 3 month stay. He ended up staying only 2 weeks before he decided to come back to Casablanca. In Casablanca he was a big shot and would sit in a cafe and do business. But in the U.S. things were very different.  One day, he was taking a trolly somewhere and was wearing a top hat and his best suit and a cane, just minding his own business. A fellow passenger leaned over and asked him if this was so and so stop. My great-grandfather looked at him like he was crazy and said "do you know who i am!?!?"  He couldn't believe people would actually treat him like an equal. The rest of the family in Morocco was hoping to come to America and thought that his early return was a good sign.  Once he got off the boat, he swore never to return again and the rest of the family had to wait till his death in 1934 before they came over.

A pic of my family around the gravesite.

It occured to me that almost 80 years before, my grandfather was actually standing where I was, burying his father.  Very surreal. There are caretakers who are paid to maintain these cemeteries.  We visited a couple others around here.

We also ate dinner at a Jewish Social club that is member's only.  However they allow international visitors to eat there. We had chinese food which we found ironic.

After a couple days in Casablanca, we headed to Fez, and stopped in Rabat on the way there to look at more jewish cemeteries and other stuff.

Will write more soon. I prefer to break this up into a series so people don't glaze over reading an extra long post. 

In the meantime, during the course of this trip, I took more than 100 short videos and spliced them together into several highly amusing films.  I'll be writing a post specifically about this so look for it soon.