How to uninstall an August Smart Lock

Step 1 - Remove the battery panel

I find simply attempting to operate the August Smart Lock with one’s hand sufficient to remove the battery cover, but a strong gust of wind or a stern look should also do the job. You’ll know it’s worked by the familiar clattering of the cover falling on the floor again.

 The August battery cover in it’s natural habitat.

The August battery cover in it’s natural habitat.

Step 2 - Realise this doesn’t help you remove the lock

The actual mechanism you need to mess with to remove the lock is actually along the outer ridge of the lock. It’s hard to see, but there’s a pair of indentations on either side that if you put a screwdriver under - or use a finger with a nail you don’t mind breaking - will lift up like two little arms allowing the lock to slide off a mounting plate.

 Little notches here.

Little notches here.

Step 3 - Notice the glaring problem

Ah, the previous owners of this home and door had to remove the inner-door mechanism to attach this superior smart locking system, leaving behind just a rod. Try scrabbling around in the boxes in the back of a cupboard where you know they left a bunch of random screws and such and maybe the old latch is still somewhere and come up short.

 This won’t work.

This won’t work.

Step 4 - Declare failure

Put the August lock back on the door, because this job now requires a trip to a hardware store. And it’s Thanksgiving.

severaldayslater.png

Step 5 - Repeat step 2

Having returned from the local hardware store with a whole new front door lock (turns out it’s not particularly easy to just buy half a lock) unscrew the mounting plate from the door.

Step 6 - Add new lock

Remove the inner-side lock from the packaging and basically throw the other half in the bin (or, I guess, save it for if you ever need to change your own lock in the future). Install it as per the instructions in the box. Triumphantly turn the lock with your own hand without bits falling off and with a reduced number of security attack vectors. Note that you’re still going to have to patch and repaint the door because of the unsightly condition left by the August lock.

 New lock.

New lock.

Step 7 - Uninstall the app

On the off chance your August lock was still successfully paired with your phone, you should probably tell your device to forget that bluetooth connection. My lock, fortunately, took care of this step on my behalf many moons ago.

You can now safely uninstall the app, and gone are your days of standing at your own doorway, hoping that a device mere inches away will connect more quickly than a local mugger spots you standing in the blue-glow of your phone late at night.

Wodehouse upgrade

Time for the classic blog post opener: I’m so sorry for the lapse in posts. I promise to be better.  I have a good excuse, however.

At the end of last year, we did the ultimate upgrade to our smart home, Wodehouse.

We moved!  

So, I’ve had the opportunity of finding out what it’s like to dismantle a smart home and re-configure a system in a new one. We also have a whole new world of options and upgrades available to us, as we now have a single-family home. The roof is now up for grabs.

I’ll follow-up soon with the new and shiny discoveries, but for now… here’s some of the gadgets that didn’t make the cut in the move.

Arlo Cameras

Living in a flat meant that we didn't have control over anything beyond the wallpaper - we couldn't just drill holes for wired cameras or install extra WiFi easily in the hallways or outside our doors and windows, so I thought these would be a good option.

They're WiFi cameras from Netgear that run on batteries, although it looks like they do an AC version now, too.

They look pretty neat, but they add to hub-ageddon in my home, have really poor range (so a wall too many will break connection and good luck connecting more than one in two locations). 

All in all, I just prefer wires for everything for jobs like this. 

IMG_20161024_103421.jpg

Blink Cameras

For all of the Arlo reasons but like, 30% crappier. I didn't even take any photos of them, but they're still a thing you can get.

MySmartBlinds

I liked these in my initial review and they did work, but they just didn't wow me enough to commit to kitting out a whole new place (with all new blinds).

The Bluetooth stack, as usual, flaked out too often and the software was just too clunky and was isolated from the rest of my automations. I still want to automated the window shades, but I'll be looking for something more integrated this time around.

Wodehouse status update

It’s been kind of quiet over here, and that’s largely a good thing - Wodehouse has just been ticking along more-or-less working as designed. I’ve not needed to add any new devices for a while, nor have any catastrophically broken.  We are looking at upgrading Wodehouse in the near future (i.e. moving), so it’ll be interesting to see how redeployable our setup is.

In the meantime, here’s a quick round-up.

Bye Bye Hello Sense

So, back in June, Hello went bust, so my sleep tracker’s life has come to an end. The company stated they’d be releasing the data from the system to users “at the end of [that] week”, but that never happened. I did send a follow-up email to find out what was up with that, but I haven’t heard anything. I'm a bit disappointed that they said they'd release the data and they haven't followed through.

My advice on data is if you know you’re going to want it, only use services that already offer data extraction up front - my experience has been that if they don’t offer it to begin with, then go bust, they generally have little incentive to offer it after the fact.

Other things to look out for are how the data is published, is it in an open format, is it compatible with other services (and do those other services have import options) and are they going to charge you for the privilege? Fitbit, for example, used to only offer export as a premium service, but now it’s available to everyone. Google Fit lets you export your data anytime via Google Takeout.  

The same goes for checking if you can delete all of your data from a service before you commit to using it long-term, which may be something you can do but requires you actually contacting them to ask (you’ll have to check the T&Cs on signup).  

Remember, most companies are not incentivised to help you either leave their services. If freedom to move your data between services is a top priority for you, check before you commit.

Wrist wearable

On the topic of sleep data, my now only sleeping tracking device I’m actively using is my Pebble Time Round. It’s still working great, although I have bought a back-up one from Amazon for cheap just in case. I’m glad I did, since the latest offering from Fitbit - the Ionic - is underwhelming to say the least. My plan is to keep my Pebble on life-support until someone else cottons on to the fact that women want smart wrist watches that actually fit.

My continued delight in my Pebble has made me turn my attention to the other devices I’m carrying on my person day-to-day. My smartphone - currently the Google Pixel - really bothers me. It’s so large and cumbersome, doesn’t fit in my pockets and is just so boring. I’m looking at either getting, or making, something a lot smaller or continuing to supplement it with other devices that mean I don’t have to drag that brick out of my bag so often. I'd love to see a trend back towards the wacky Nokia days.

ToDo

The house is largely running how I want it to right now - I have a couple of outstanding jobs.  The first is our roller blinds in the living room - they’re still dumb, but I’d really like to connect them up for privacy and security reasons.  I often stalk kickstarter and indiegogo when I’m at a loss, and I am hoping that the MOVEZ blinds motoriser device comes through soon.  I had come across their solution a couple years back when it was only Bluetooth, but now that it’s Z-wave it could be perfect for what I’m looking for.

The other thing is the recent heat-wave in San Francisco has me looking at air quality and cooling again.  We generally don’t need AC, but Wodehouse does kind kinda stuffy and it's only predicted to get warmer.

Not got my eye on anything specific yet, so please do send your reckons.

Coming up soon: More robots and DIY devices.

"OK, Google" is a tongue-twister

We're a few months into having both a Google Home air freshener and an Amazon Echo hockey puck, and it's been interesting to see which one of the two we seem to chat to most.

As it stands, Alexa is our most popular artificial friend. Not because the service is better, but simply because "Alexa" is easier to say than "OK, Google".  I know Google is probably better. On the occasions I've tried more complex questions on both devices, Google's years of natural language and search algorithms expertise shine through over Amazon's, but I just cannot get used to saying that awful mouthful of a trigger phrase. 

I've been wondering what it is about the trigger phrases that make one easier to say other another. When I even think about saying "OK, Google", my tongue feels strained - the clash of that K next to those two G sounds. I suspected it might qualify as a tongue twister, so I asked a linguist friend what she thought.

She explained to me that linguists would describe the K and the G sounds as "minimally different", in that they share most of the same properties. They come from the same position in the mouth, making them hard to say in succession, much like the tongue-twisters described in this article "Why tongue-twisters are hard to say". "OK, Google" is hard to say in the same way that "She sells sea-shells" is difficult.

I wasn't imagining things - "OK Google" is simply much harder to say than "Alexa". Performing lingual gymnastics every time we want to turn on a light just isn't going to fly.

I noticed while watching some of the Google I/O coverage that many of the presenters talking on the topic of the Google Home/Assistant were in fact saying "Hey, Google" instead of "OK, Google". I assume because "Hey" sounds more natural and also it's easier to say. I know most of the I/O stage-talks are heavily scripted and show pre-recorded Assistant conversations rather than live interactions, but I just shouted "Hey, Google" and our Google Home does respond to that (in fact, it responded every time I played the video I linked to). The alteration in the phrase is not a documented customisation, rather they're making the "OK Google" phrasing a little more forgiving in certain cases. 

Not all words are going to be easy for all people to say - some sounds are impossible for some people to make, depending on which language you learned in your youngest years, or due to speech impediment.  Sometimes it's even more banal - I wanted to use the Amazon trigger-word "Computer", since with my British accent I imagined Picarding it up around the house, but sadly it only understood me when I feigned a terrible American accent. Disappointing.

It seems right that customisation in this area is the way to go if these voice-activated systems are going to be equally accessible, but Google currently offers no official way to change their trigger phrase. Amazon allows a choice of 3 trigger words, each different sounding from the other - Echo, Alexa and Computer. Just this small selection opens up the opportunity to find a verbal trigger word that is comfortable to say and easy to remember, not just for one user in the home but for a whole family. It's not fully customisable, but it's a good start.

The story on the grapevine is that Google doesn't allow customisation of the trigger word because they don't want to personify and name their assistant - they don't want you naming your device after a person and then potentially treating it badly (the latter probably being a fair concern). You'll note that 2 of the 3 Amazon words are not what you'd typically consider person-names, so this excuse is a little weak and doesn't explain not offering a choice at all. Plus the Google Assistant literally already sounds like a human being, rather than a robot / synthesised voice, and you're encouraged to interact with it via normal human-to-human conversational patterns.

There are unofficial workarounds for android phone users (for google assistant), but they won't help you with the assistant on your Google Home. If you can't say "google" easily, or something that sounds remarkably similar, you're gonna have a frustrating time.

Voice controlling our entire homes could be really amazing, particularly for those with mobility or vision issues, but they're no good if they don't work for real people, their real voices and their real vocabularies. Google and company should do the hard work to make it simple for as many as possible and I hope that's the trend we'll see. 

Lowe's Iris motion and door sensors

I've been extending the motion-based lighting around the house, and needed a few new sensors for bathroom doors and the staircase. I spotted the Lowe's Iris devices on Amazon and noticed they were a bit cheaper than the SmartThings equivalents, so decided to give them ago.  

They basically work seamlessly with my SmartThings hub and they're a lot smaller.  They appear to be standard Zigbee compatible components, so you don't need to install their app or buy their hub to include them in your setup if you're already running a system that'll gladly except 3rd party devices. Pretty happy and I plan to pick up a few more. 

 SmartThings Motion Sensor vs Lowe's Iris Motion Sensor

SmartThings Motion Sensor vs Lowe's Iris Motion Sensor

 Discrete sized motion sensor

Discrete sized motion sensor

 Door sensor attached

Door sensor attached

What I really want to set up is a night-light situation in the bathrooms, but I haven't come up wit a satisfactory way to do that, yet. Putting motion sensors in the bathroom seems creepy, and using door sensors isn't quite enough (Should lights be off if the door is open? For how long does it need to be open?). If anyone has a good configuration, I'd love to hear about it.