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. 


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.


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.


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.

Keeping a smart home guest-friendly

Chatting last night with an out-of-town friend staying at another smart home I know in the city, he was recounting arriving off a long-haul flight and being unable to simply turn off the lights in the guest room. "I just want to go to sleep, shout at the system to turn the lights off, will you!", he apparently told his host while being also asked to download, install, sign-up and log into an app, half-asleep.

It's all very well having a smart home you can run from your phone, but it's not much use to anyone who just pops by or stays for a little while.  Asking them to download and sign-in to a system just isn't really practical (and that's assuming they have the compatible hardware/operating system in the first place).  

Keeping the house accessible

I keep a few techniques in mind when adding new features to the flat.

1. The house is progressively enhanced

In web development, we have this concept of progressive enhancement, which means that you start by building websites with the very most basic blocks - HTML elements.  Then you enhance those basic elements with CSS to make them look better, then you add JavaScript to make them whizzy - the benefit being that if the JS or the CSS fail to load, you've still go the basic usable blocks underneath.  I'm following this same principle in the house.  

The switch on the left is internet enabled, but both of these dimmers work as you'd expect when you press them, regardless of connectivity. Excuse the paint job.

The switch on the left is internet enabled, but both of these dimmers work as you'd expect when you press them, regardless of connectivity. Excuse the paint job.

At the basic level, my first-world house is 4 walls and a roof - without power, it generally keeps me out of the elements.  With power, I get to turn on lights and the microwave.  

If I consider that the house + power is the basic foundation of the house, then anything I add after needs to maintain the ability to use the house in that state.  As such, when I then add the internet enhancement (smart home) then the light switches need to still work manually even if I'm overriding them later on in other ways.  In short: if I turn off the internet, the house should still fundamentally work because anything other than that would be ridiculous.

2. Guest routines

Smartthings, and most of the other systems, have modes or routines to pre-configure your setup in some way - movie night, party, vacation, whatever - so I have a "visitors" mode.  This mode disables any of my own weird routines and essentially puts any switches that don't have easily accessible switches (behind tables, under desks) in the guest room in always-on mode, which means that the lamps and whatnot plugged into smart switches are always controllable by the switches on the device that a normal human would expect to turn off the light.

3. Spare keys with location tags

I could even make one of those twee welcome frames you see all over pinterest. 

I could even make one of those twee welcome frames you see all over pinterest. 

The spare keys to our home generally have tags on them, to let the system know when a guest is coming or going - especially useful when we're actually away but have let people stop over.  Our handyman has one of these, for example.  The arrival of one of these tags lets the system know we have a guest and to turn on the appropriate mode if not already enabled.

4. Web accessible dashboard

Instead of having to download a native app to use any enhancements in the house, I've got a web-accessible dashboard that gives access to special modes and functions available on a tablet in the kitchen, or I can give a guest the URL and password for it while I'm also letting them know the WiFi password so they can get online - I'm not a total control-freak monster, after all - giving them as much control as they'd like with none of the commitment.  

In short, I'm making every effort to make a silly smarthouse-hobby my problem only.  Plus, it's usability insurance for when the system inevitably breaks.