Sharing pictures with the grandparents

I decided to use a factual title for this post to make it clear what it’s about. You have the grandparents who have some basic computer skills but who typically shouldn’t be the subject of your experimentation with the latest trendy services. You don’t want to discourage them. But if you don’t live together, you still want to share your memories with them somehow. I’m going to tell you about our journey before we found a good solution to this problem.

I decided to use a factual title for this post to make it clear what it’s about. You have the grandparents who have some basic computer skills but who typically shouldn’t be the subject of your experimentation with the latest trendy services. You don’t want to discourage them. But if you don’t live together, you still want to share your memories with them somehow. I’m going to tell you about our journey before we found a good solution to this problem.

How digital pictures get piled up

Back when it was just the two of us, photos seemed to get piled up as if on their own. Even in the early days of digital photography people tended to take a hundred times as many pictures as than could be realistically viewed in a lifetime. We fell under this category: we took pictures of everything we saw. Then smart phones came along, with limited storage, so we only took 90 times as many pictures as needed. You don’t even realise this until you start organising your pictures. When you see that you still have 9,356 images to go through in your image viewing app, well, that’s the point when you just give up and go do something else. But how do you end up with pictures the grandparents would enjoy looking at?

Should you email them?

No, no, no!!! This was a poor solution even back in the day. Photos sent in emails are just momentary messages that will never, ever become a photo album. They’ll never become an easily accessible collection of memories that you’ll pick up year after year to look at fondly. Plus, with these “2,000 Megapixel” images it’s easy to use up your seemingly infinite email storage and your mobile data package.

Should we post them on Facebook?

When we first encountered the problem of sharing pictures, there was very little difference between Facebook and Twitter. There were very few image management functions available on Facebook. Today Facebook can be a viable alternative, but only if you properly manage privacy settings: closed groups, picture only visible to those that you want to share it with, and so on. The point is, today Facebook is a viable option, but to me it’s still complicated. Also, with all the ads and comments and pop-up windows, I just don’t have the feeling of “I’m just looking at a photo album”.

Photo album wanted

This was my motto when I started searching for a service. I had the following requirements in mind for it:

  • it should handle closed groups

  • you should be able to bookmark the page and it should always show the latest picture up front. I set the grandparents’ browser so that all they need is to click on the link to access the pictures.

  • it should handle photos and videos in the same place: this was the most critical requirement because for some reason, videos were always put in the “not pictures” category.

  • it should have basic image editing functions

  • it should have a working app for both iOS and Android

Back then only one service met these requirements: Flickr. So I didn’t need to do comparative tests. Today you also have Google Photos service. But to me, the Google service appears too “smart.” For the life of me I can’t figure out what and when and why things are included in Google Photos. So we keep using Flickr.

Daily use

The thing I like most about Flickr is that this is nothing but a family photo album.

When uploading your pictures, try to limit yourself to 10-15 images a month. So when you look back on the year, it won’t take more than 10 minutes.

I use the phone’s camera to capture the moment, and when I have a few minutes, I launch the Flickr app and upload the images. If I happen to get a photo via email that I would like to see in the album, I can simply forward it to a Flickr email-address. This worked so well that one day I was hit with a wave of nostalgia.

Our family

If you think about it, the family’s story did not begin with the birth of our children (that was when we started sharing photo albums), but with the birth of the parents. So one day I got all the digital pictures taken since 1998 and went through them to select the best ones. I take pride in the fact that at the end, out of the more than 10,000 pictures, we had 1,500 good photos to view. I really liked this project, so I asked my parents to lend me the old, printed photographs. I went through them and scanned a selection of 1,000 images.

The result is an online photo album that has family images in chronological order starting from the birth of the parents (that is, us).

It would be fun…

I’ve tried using digital picture frames that displayed new images automatically. None of them have stood the test of time. What would be fun is if the smart TV displayed these photos. I’m on the hunt for a proper TV/app combo. In my opinion, the television set would be the ideal photo sharing/photo viewing place for the grandparents. Unfortunately, I have yet to find a solution that works. If you have any advice on this, please share it with me.

PS.: I regularly back up the Flickr album offline, just in case. I use the Bulkr app for this.

Power consumers in the household

Electricity is used in households in three different manners. I’ve collected a few useful tips around these three power uses that I find important to make everyday life easier or that I’ve come across as a problem in other people’s homes.

Electricity is used in households in three different manners.

  • 220V power outlets are used for regular household appliances

  • Low voltage adapters are used to power rechargeable devices such as smart phones and tablets

  • Finally, batteries are used for a number of other gadgets

I’ve collected a few useful tips around these three power uses that I find important to make everyday life easier or that I’ve come across as a problem in other people’s homes.

220V tips and tricks – The world of power outlets

If you’re about to have your house constructed/renovated, you should think hard about the placement of power outlets. You can be certain that you’ll miss a plug where you need one, or there will be fewer power outlets than needed. This basic problem is exacerbated by a few more that you’ll encounter every single day.

  • rooms usually have four walls. Power outlets should be installed on at least three of them.

  • if you’re planning on putting a wardrobe or a floor to ceiling book case against a wall, you can put the power outlet just below the ceiling.

  • one power outlet is never enough. Always place at least two together. Power strips take up more space and are uglier than sockets installed in the wall.

  • the living room and the kitchen really “eat up” power outlets. You often need more than 8-10 of them.

  • use surge protectors for more valuable appliances and devices. You can install surge protectors for the power outlets you already have. For example, use this cheap protector.
  • if you have a table in the middle of the room, you can use an in-floor power outlet

  • nowadays, smart power strips are becoming more widespread. These can be controlled from your phone or timed as you wish. Here you can see about one in detail. This function can be handy if you want to automatically control lighting, or to start up your kitchen appliances in the morning.
  • to protect children, you should childproof your outlets. We didn’t have much luck with the Ikea safety plugs. We kept losing the red plug that was supposed to serve as a key to remove the safety plugs. We’ve tried a number of swivel socket protectors. Finally, we’ve found a type by Reer that lasted for years.
  • power strips are often also extension cords in one. Yet we keep an extension cord with one socket for the vacuum cleaner. It’s easier to move around in the house with it, and you don’t need to keep unplugging and plugging in the vacuum cleaner when you go to a new room.

  • cords on the floor collect dust. It’s better to have them tied up on the wall. Just one screw in the wall or in the furniture is enough to hold these cords up. You should use cable ties to fasten them.

 

The world of USB chargers

Most of the rechargeable devices use 0.5-, 1- or 2-amp battery chargers. Honestly speaking, I now avoid 0.5-amp chargers because devices that take a lot of power such as most smart phones take forever to charge with them.

  • a fundamental accessory of your nightstand is a phone charger

  • in the kitchen, we use a USB hub. During the day this is where we tend to plug in the devices whose battery died (tablet, phone, watch, mini drone battery). This article describes a bunch of these USB charging hubs. Choose what you like in terms of design, your wishes and your wallet.
  • better desk lamps today have USB charging capabilities. Just stay away from the ones with 0.5-amp chargers.

  • you can use multi-charging cables. These are universal chargers that allow you to charge all your devices whether they have lightning, micro USB or mini USB plugs.
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  • If you want to have a power bank on hand, the ones I’d recommend can double as torch lights. We’ve used several products of this company with satisfaction: Bioliteenergy.com

Batteries and rechargeable batteries

The life-changing moment came for us when I decided to keep all the batteries and rechargeable batteries in the same spot. I set up a nook with the following things:

Since these are all in one spot, it is easier to see if something’s running low. As for brands, I have no particular preference. Although for rechargeable batteries I’ve started to rely more on the Enelope brand lately.

Cyber crimes in the family

Best practice to prepare your kids and yourself to manage passwords and other secrets in the family.

Best practice to prepare your kids and yourself to manage passwords and other secrets in the family.

I came across an infographic the other day that explained how to talk to your kids about the dangers of the Internet. Taking that a little further, I’ve thought about what you should do in the family to protect yourself and your loved ones from annoyances that could have been avoided with a little more care. Before I begin, I must make it clear that I’m not a security expert. What follows is based on everyday experience rather than expert advice. If you take just one piece of advice from here, you’d be better off than you were before reading this post. Let’s look at the issues one by one.

Passwords today

If you use passwords for websites and services that you can memorise, you’re reckless – unless, of course, you have photographic memory. Unfortunately, with today’s computing capacities, you don’t need to be anyone special for your passwords to be worth cracking. All you need to know is that passwords shorter than ten characters are totally outdated. Even passwords with 20 characters protect you only if the people who want your data don’t want to spend too much time on cracking your account. It’s not just about the length of passwords any more. To make your password safe, you should use a variety of characters (and two-step verification – see below).

What does this mean in practice?

  • creating your own password (this can be memorised)
  • if you want to create your own password, start with linking two or three words together. You can play with different languages or use nonsensical words. For example: brown apple flower
  • add capitals and lowercase letters, numbers and special characters (space is also a special character). For example: browN:Apple flower
  • then add a character that’s not normally used in writing, and you’re done: For example: browN:$Apple flower

Using a password generator (these passwords can’t be memorised): there are software solutions that help generate random series of characters.

Now you have at least one password that appears safe; let’s call it the Master password. This should be the one you actually memorise. If you have one such password, you don’t need to remember the rest. You’ll use the Master password to encrypt all your other passwords.

Use password manager software to store your passwords

A good password manager software program today must meet at least the following requirements:

  • it encrypts data locally. This means that no service provider should have your Master password – once something’s stored online, it may be cracked.
  • it stores the data in the cloud. This doesn’t contradict the point above because your data are already encrypted with a Master password. This means that your passwords are backed up and their storage is location independent.
  • it should be usable on more than one device. In addition to your computer, your cell phone is used for many things.
  • it should support sharing passwords within a safe group. This is useful for families as well as companies.
  • it shouldn’t be expensive.

I’m going to show you two solutions, one free, one paid.
– the 
Keepass software is free, and it stores data locally on the computer. But if you upload the encrypted password data on Google Drive, you’ll be able to access the passwords on your cell phone. A drawback of this software is that you can only share passwords with your family members by using different password database files for yourself and for your family. Another drawback is the overly simplistic mobile interface, making it a bit difficult to use. But it’s safe and free of charge. You can make it work with the browsers on your computer, but setting that up requires some computer expertise.
1Password is a monthly subscription-based service, but it meets all the requirements of a password management solution. A particularly likeable special feature is that 1Password works with your cell phone’s browser, so it automatically fills out the login information on the selected websites. (That is, if it has the Master password.)

That’s the theory. And then you have the practice.

In spite of the well-thought out principle above, humans are LAZY. Even I don’t store all the passwords for all services and websites. How do I decide when to be lazy and when security-conscious? This depends on the kind of data stored about us and which of those I find sensitive:

  • scenario 1: I want to try a service: I’m just looking, so I don’t give out my real email-address but an anonymous one registered for this purpose. This has a short but suitably complex, tried and tested password. If I decide to use the service for real, I’ll re-register with my real email-address and a safe password. This solution involves NO password storage.
  • scenario 2: I order something from a shop I don’t use often: I don’t register but check out as a guest (doesn’t save bank card data). I’ll survive having to type in my personal information twice a year. This solution involves NO password storage.
  • scenario 3: I often order something from the shop but it doesn’t reveal much about me, and the store doesn’t save bank card data: I register with my real email-address but use the short password that was mentioned above. In this case, identity theft is not a real risk at the shop, since you give out your address in many places anyway. This solution involves NO password storage.
  • scenario 4: I often order something from a shop and it’s important that it remains a secret; or the shop stores bank card data: This DOES involve password generation and password storage.
  • scenario 5: using an online service: This DOES involve password generation and password storage.
  • Facebook: This DOES involve password generation and password storage. But I create my password so that it can be memorised if I want it to.
  • Email: This DOES involve password generation and password storage. But I create my password so that it can be memorised if I want it to.

 

Logging in with Facebook or Google

Recently, many websites and services have started to allow you to log in with your Facebook or Google account. To me, this convenient scenario equals those above that were marked as involving password generation and password storage. But it’s important to know what you allow the websites/services access to. Let me give you an example that made me think twice about this the other day. I wanted to use a function of the  IFTTT service that sends a notification to your phone if you get a certain email. But for this not only was I asked to authorise Google login, but IFTTT wanted access to the actual email. I didn’t want this, so I had to find another solution. I’d like to stress here that you really need to think hard when a website/app/service asks for access to your most valuable user data, that is, your email and Facebook profile.

Always, always lock everything

To sum up what you’ve learnt here so far: you need to remember one password, and then you’ll be able to see all of your other passwords on your computer and cell phone. And if you need to give access to it to a family member, you can do that, too.

Unfortunately, every chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Your weakest links include the computer (maybe more than one), cell phone, tablet. If any of these get into the wrong hands, your passwords may be revealed.

  • Most devices think that if you enter the Master password then it’s you using the device. This is all fine but only if the password database automatically closes after, say, three minutes, or once the device is locked. A typical workplace scenario is that you pop out for a coffee for just two minutes and you leave the computer unlocked. DON’T do this! Learn that two-character keyboard shortcut that locks the computer and use it whenever you get up and leave. You should get used to using it; it’s not a problem if you “automatically” use it even at home.
  • Likewise, lock you phone when you put it away. Try to avoid using your fingerprint instead of a password on your cell phone. In my opinion, a fingerprint is enough to protect your phone data, but not for your precious passwords. Just think about a night out when you don’t remember everything the next day – you shouldn’t give anyone a chance to abuse the situation and your fingerprint. (My suggestion is that if you do use your fingerprint to unlock your phone, the alternative shouldn’t be a pin code but a suitably strong password you came up with.
  • So you have to type in the Master password on the phone. When you do this, cover up the phone screen with your other hand. Modern cameras can see the screen from a distance of several metres.

To sum up what’s been discussed so far, you can say that only you have access to your stored passwords. All in all, you must remember two passwords: the Master password, and a password that allows you to unlock your phone or computer without your fingerprint.

The 12+1 commandments

Interestingly enough, kids are faster than adults to understand the issues described above. They don’t have bad habits set in yet. In summary, here are the steps to follow:

1) Have a Master password, the “boss” of everything.
2) Have a password for devices you use your fingerprint to log in.
3) Always lock the devices, just like you lock the door when you leave home.
4) In addition to your regular email-address (which contains your name), have at least one extra email-address. You can forward the messages you get here to your real email address.
5) Use a password manager software where you can save all your secret information. Only you can see it.
6) Learn your Facebook and email password by heart.
7) In addition to Facebook and your email, there is other important personal data that should be protected. The best way to protect it is the so-called two-step verification. This means that, for example, you get a text message/generate code within an app to verify your identity when you log in. This means that if an unauthorised person learns your password somehow, he/she won’t be able to log in with it because you get notification on your phone, and because you use your phone to verify your identity.
8) Check for the privacy settings for every service you use. If there’s something you don’t understand, look it up online or ask someone in the know, but don’t just leave it at that.

There are a few other things I’d recommend doing:
9) Use a virus scanner.
10) Install updates.
11) Don’t click on any email attachment if you don’t know the person who sent it or if you’re unsure whether you know him/her.
12) Use your browser’s HTTPS setting. Today, any website worth visiting must be able to handle it.
12+1) If any of your passwords has potentially been exposed, take the time to change it, even if it’s the Master password.

As an afterword to those who made it to this point, or to those who doubt that this is all useful, I’d like to recommend some scary-amusing lesson on the topic: watch episode “Shut Up and Dance” in the third season of the series Black Mirror. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shut_Up_and_Dance_(Black_Mirror)

How to live for 100 years? Smart gadgets in service of your health

Or, what smart gadgets are useful and why- if you want to lead a healthy life? The way I see it, health-related gadgets connecting to the Internet are often answers to simple problems when they first appear in their 1.0 version. Then, in order to be able to sell the 5.0 version, their manufacturers cram them with every little thing even if it doesn’t appear to be needed to solve the original problem. I’ve been using several of these devices for years; this post relies mostly on my experiences with them.

Or, what smart gadgets are useful and why- if you want to lead a healthy life? The way I see it, health-related gadgets connecting to the Internet are often answers to simple problems when they first appear in their 1.0 version. Then, in order to be able to sell the 5.0 version, their manufacturers cram them with every little thing even if it doesn’t appear to be needed to solve the original problem. I’ve been using several of these devices for years; this post relies mostly on my experiences with them.

I’d like to show you three devices that measure and record health-related data. Recently, they’ve become unnecessarily overcomplicated in their latest reincarnations, but I still wouldn’t give them up. The great thing about these devices is that they all have less trendy, simpler, slower, less accurate and cheaper analogue versions. I still recommend the newer, Internet-linked versions. Let’s see why.

Bathroom scale

When I first came across the smart scale made by Withings, I looked at it mostly as a motivational tool. I knew nothing about my body mass index and didn’t care about my body fat, but I disliked seeing my former slim self disappear under layers upon layers of fat. So when I hit 116 kg, I bought the scale to be able to see on charts how I lose weight.

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The motivation the scale provided was not as fast and spectacular as I’d hoped, but the scale did help me track the trends in my body weight.

When you buy things like this is, the second reason is almost always that it’ll be good for the children. This is what I had in mind, too. So the other function that drew me to this scale is that it can track babies’ weight gain.

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To give you an example, this is my daughter’s weight chart: The scale cleverly recognises the person standing on it, based on the body weight of the family members. When two people in the family have the same weight, the recognition function doesn’t work, but the scale simply asks, who is it? You can select from up to three options by shifting your body weight, which I think is an ingenious solution. I don’t know what happens if four members of the family have the same weight… Our scale can accommodate 7 users, and it doesn’t get confused unless the kids mess up (on purpose, usually) the name selection.

We use the second generation of the scale now. This one measures temperature, CO2 levels, BMI, body fat, and it even tells you the weather forecast for the day. In other words, it has all these functions I don’t need.

Thermometer

We’ve used up about a dozen of the old school digital thermometers over the years. If we need to be certain of the reading, we still go back to the traditional mercury-in-glass thermometer. In our experience, the Internet-connected thermometer is more accurate than the digital ear thermometer, but it falls behind the mercury thermometer in terms of accuracy.

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This device measures from the artery and calculates the temperature from that. In addition to its basic function, what caught my attention was that you can select whose temperature in your family you’ve just checked. What’s also important is that it lasts for a long time on a single charge. You don’t want your thermometer to run out of juice right when you need it.

As an aside, I’d like to give some tips on how to organise family health data. You should create a shared table (for example on Google Drive), and on separate worksheets add the following data for each family member:

Basic data: the person’s basic information that can be important for a doctor (date of birth, blood type, allergy, medicine taken regularly, social security number)

Illness journal: in separate lines, you can enter illnesses members of your family suffered from and the medicines they took. You should also mention if the medicine had any side effects.

Vaccination card: you should enter the same data that you have on your paper card. At least you won’t lose this one. In my adult years I’ve had at least three different paper vaccination cards, and I’ve always used the one I’ve managed to rummage up when I needed it.

Heart rate monitor watch

This is a device you most certainly won’t need in your daily life. Under normal circumstances, nobody needs to know their heart rate during the day. Although it’s interesting to see how you’ve had a 200 reading when someone made you mad, it doesn’t have much practical importance. The data from the watch starts to come in handy if you have a goal to achieve with your heart rate. A very typical example is to make a certain sports activity more effective. I don’t really know how to do this scientifically. I wasn’t reading articles about running before or after I ran, and I didn’t analyse my pulse rate charts. Instead, I kept an eye on the current heart rate, and watched what kind of signals my body was sending to me. Based on this, I have now learnt to optimise my running for distance, weight loss or for time – depending on what the current goal is.

Back in the day, I tried a chest strap heart rate monitor, but I never got used to it. It was just uncomfortable and clumsy.  Since I use the heart rate monitor for sports, I only wear the watch when I’m engaged in some sports activity.

Things I wouldn’t mind trying

I’ve never had a problem getting up in the morning; maybe that’s why I keep postponing getting a gadget that helps with that. Supposedly it works in a way that you set a 30-minute window when you need to get up, and within that, the gadget decides the best moment to wake you. If any of you’ve had a good experience with such a device, please let me know.

Then there’s a watch that automatically measures your calorie intake, supposedly through your skin.

The air we breathe out also contains a surprising amount of information. You’ve surely come across the police checking your blood alcohol content from your breath. But Mint says there’s a lot of other data to analyse in your breath.

Oh by the way, smart toothbrushes have been around for a while. I personally stick with the good old manual toothbrush.

Not to mention the gadgets what make our sleep better. The super comfy anti snoring smart pillow that plays music, monitors and reacts to snoring, analyses sleep and intelligently wakes up the sleeper in the morning.

And what about devices that promise to analyse your blood quickly and accurately in your own home? I think they still belong to the realm of science fiction.

 

Smart ventilation – let’s have fresh air in the house at all times

All in all, if you live in a smart home, you shouldn’t just focus on comfort functions. You should also be concerned with life quality and air quality.

This topic is only partly connected to smart homes, as the air quality within the home is pretty much determined by the materials used for insulation and by the equipment operating in the home.

We used to live in a traditional house, categorised for energy efficiency as A/B. We had plastic doors and windows. Airing the rooms was a daily task all the time, because the brick walls didn’t provide adequate air circulation, and the plastic windows hermetically sealed the rooms. When the rooms were aired, the CO2 content went down and you could feel the stuffy air being replaced with fresh air. The main disadvantage of this constant window-opening practice was the temperature fluctuation. In the winter, this meant higher heating bills; in the summer, overly warm rooms.
Then we moved to the smart home I’ve been describing on this blog. This house has a continuously running ventilation machinery to always provide fresh air in the rooms. The chart below shows you the advantages of the system.

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You can tell when we moved to the new house; that’s when the relatively high and continuously changing CO2 level switched to a constant and low value. The physiological effect of this is that you no longer breath in stuffy, smelly air – whether sleeping at night or going about your business during the day, you have FRESH air. Let me describe the process without going into too much detail:

  • air keeps coming in from the outside
  • air keeps going out from the inside (the two must be balanced)
  • going through a heat exchanger, the heat of the air inside warms up/cools down the air coming in
  • the air is filtered through with 2-3 air filters. These must be replaced every 6-9 months (this costs 50-75 USD a year)

This sounds great but… sometimes what sounds good in theory, may not work well in practice. We have the misfortune of living in an area where people use solid fuel-fired boilers. So on windless days in the winter smoke settles on the street. It’s particularly bad when your neighbor uses a fireplace from the 1800s to burn every piece of trash he finds, and he has a chimney no taller than 4 m to let the smoke out. So, one day, after the wonderful ventilation system let all the smoke inside the house, we came up with a solution: we decided to add active carbon filters to better filter the air in the heating period. Unfortunately, on those days when the weather was really windless and the neighbor burnt really stinky stuff, not even this solution worked. Even though it looked like it could withstand a chemical attack… So we finally realised that the only thing we could do is to set a timer for the ventilation system, which until then worked continuously. Now we turn it off between 4 pm and 10 pm. This was the time period when the smoke was particularly unbearable. Of course this is only needed when the external temperature goes below 15 degree Celsius.

Why am I saying this? I just wanted to warn you guys that while the fresh air effect of the ventilation system is great, you always must pay attention to every factor. If you want to use something more sophisticated than your senses to measure the air quality, you’ll need smart gadgets.

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I’ve grown to like the Netatmo product family because

  • it has a clear and informative interface

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  • its rain forecast is based on local air pressure data, so to me it seems more precise than anything I’ve tried
  • if you want to monitor more than one locations, you can easily do so on your phone (e.g. your vacation home)
  • it measures CO2 data
  • it stores historical data, so if you need to look something up for some reason, the data are there at your disposal
  • it checks sound volume, so it can act as a burglar alarm
  • it can be connected to external services. For help with this, check out  https://ifttt.com/netatmo

All in all, if you live in a smart home, you shouldn’t just focus on comfort functions. You should also be concerned with life quality and air quality.

Door locks in the Smart Home

When considering door locks, I came up with a list of door types in the Smart Home, differentiated by their functions.

When considering door locks, I came up with a list of door types in the Smart Home, differentiated by their functions. Then I selected the adequate lock after analysing usage habits. The types are:

  • interior doors with normal catches
  • interior doors locked to keep children out
  • interior doors allowing entry for me only
  • garage gate
  • yard gate
  • front door

For the first type, in order to enable easy opening, I wanted no lock, only a handle.

Interior doors with locks

For the second and the third types, the goal was to find a solution that allows you to open them without having to carry anything with you. This ruled out keys right away. You have to keep an eye on keys, and sooner or later you’ll misplace them. Modern, touch-enabled locks will not work, either, because you’d have to take a sensor or a phone with you. This just isn’t practical. And I’ve found finger print-enabled solutions too expensive. So what’s the solution? Code handles. You won’t be flooded with options for this one. I’ve found the manufacturer of the perfect handle for interior doors with locks, and this is the Assa Abloy code handle.

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Its operation couldn’t be simpler. When you hold the handle, the keypad is at hand, and you can enter your 5-digit code in seconds. For us, the only problem was coming up with several codes that are easy enough to remember. Finally, I’ve taped a number to every handle, and used a particular logical sequence to work out a code from that. For example, you press that number twice, then press the number to its left twice. This gives you a combination that’s different for every door yet easy to remember. This works best as a way of childproofing, but only until about the age of 10, when it doesn’t keep the kids out any more. This means that, unfortunately, for the rooms where I want access only for myself, I had to come up with a unique code that I had to memorise. The batteries in the handle last for over 6 months even with intensive use. Since we installed these handles two years ago, they’ve never stopped working. They also come with an automatic locking function. With this, you’ll never leave the door unlocked because it automatically locks after 30 seconds. Of course, the door is only locked from the side of the code handle. From the other side, you can simply open it. This answers the frequently asked question of what happens if your child accidentally locks himself/herself in: nothing, because he/she can simply come out by pressing the handle on the inside.

Garage gate

In addition to the usual remote-control operation, you should enable controlling the garage door via the Smart Home system. This comes in handy when, for example, the remote is on the car key but you’re taking the bike and not the car. In this situation, all you need is your cell phone. We also put a button for the garage gate on the wall inside the garage for the kids. This way they can open and close the garage gate without a phone.

Yard gate

From a functional perspective, it’s very similar to the garage gate. The most important difference is that the garage gate is an entry to your house while the yard gate only allows visitors in the yard. Our yard gate can be opened with a proxy key and through the Smart Home system. The proxy is a type of key you can give to your children before they get their first cell phone. You can also give the gardener a sensor, so he/she can work even when you’re away. You’ll need the Smart Home control here because once you decide that you’ll let in the person at the gate, you should be able to open the gate from inside your house. And finally, all you need to gain entry to your house is your cell phone.

I’d like to briefly address the weakest link in controlling the house from the street: the Wi-Fi signal. There are three options to access the Smart Home system when you’re standing outside:

  • running outdoor Wi-Fi if the Wi-Fi signal from the house can’t reach the gate
  • logging into the Smart Home system via VPN and opening the gate from there
  • opening up the house to the Internet (not recommended)

Front door

Regarding the front door lock, the main issue was the cleaning staff. As we didn’t use locks that opened/closed with keys, I couldn’t simply give a key to the house to the cleaning lady. The sensor that opened the yard gate could have been set to open the front door, too, but as such gadgets are easy to misplace, this solution would have been a security risk. I ruled out a Smart Home-linked lock because one, I didn’t want to give the cleaner access to the Smart Home system, and two, what if she doesn’t have a smart phone. After much searching, I’ve found a lock that works with a code and a fingerprint: Burg Watcher. The lock uses batteries both for the lock and on the keypad side. In our experience, the batteries on the keypad side lasted for 6 months, while on the lock side they worked for more than a year. The only downside of this lock is that it’s affected by dew. Under dewy conditions, the fingerprint scanner becomes unreliable. When this happens, you must use the code to get in.

Other things I wouldn’t mind trying

I’ve looked at many a smart lock but found no distributor for them in Europe. For some reason or other, the Apple Store, for example, sells smart locks only on its American site. Looking further, I’ve found this article that compares locks that are available in the market. You’ll find further ideas and aspects to consider here.

Multimedia players in a smart home

This article is about how, where and what devices we play videos on. Let’s take a look at the possibilities. My aim is to review arguments both for and against the different options.

In 2017 breaking news was that the screen of Apple IOS tokens can be mirrored to the Microsoft Xbox One player with Airplay technology. Getting really excited about that I reviewed the number of different devices we use for playing videos. This article is about how, where and what devices we play videos on. Let’s take a look at the possibilities. My aim is to review arguments both for and against the different options.

Traditional CD/DVD/Blue ray disc player

We don’t own this type of device as it is quite out-of-date.

Pros:

  • it can be indispensable hardware for old collections

Against:

  • we watch most films and series streamed on the internet or local network. We don’t use disks.

Xbox One / or other gaming console

Pros:

  • it is a type of game player which can also function as a CD/DVD/Blue ray player if necessary.
  • there is Netflix application on it with which online films are available.
  • it has a DNLA compatible video player that can play films from local networks.
  • it has an Airplay server application to mirror the screen content of iOS devices. Therefore films and videos purchased in iTunes Store can also be watched on ”Xbox”.
  • it has got Youtube which functions as an infinite tv channel for kids as well. We mainly look for videos on interesting topics: it may be a funny video or a short documentary on animals.

Cons:

  • it is slightly more difficult to manage than a remote control so it is a challenge for grandparents. They also dislike a simple remote control.
  • the codec base is not complete, that is why it cannot manage to play local films with certain coding.

Smart TV (we own a Samsung one)

Pros:

  • it has a smart tv centre that contains DNLA player and Youtube.

Cons:

  • the codec base is not complete, that is why it does not manage to play local films with some types of coding.
  • I have experience of a couple of smart TV generations but I am sure that the developers hardly ever use them in their homes. The ones I have seen are complicated and clumsy to navigate. Consequently, they are not grandparent friendly.

Apple TV

Pros:

  • series/films purchased on iTunes can be immediately streamed contrary to phones or tablets.
  • It mirrors phone and tablet screen content

Cons:

  • it cannot be used for anything else and it is not worth using it in the future just for streaming purposes.

Telephone or tablet + HDMI adapter

Pros:

  • there is no codec problem once the compatible software is installed.
  • not only video but any screen content can be mirrored on the TV screen (e.g.: games)

Cons:

  • the capacity of the battery is a question
  • it is not easy to find the adequate/compatible video player software. Unfortunately the processor or the bandwidth is not often enough for consistent HD/4K streaming. We use Airplay software and the Synology NAS video player software on iOS devices in turns/alternately.

Boxes specially used for playing videos

We have been using the PopcornHour products for a long time to our great satisfaction.

Pros:

  • I have never encountered a film which it wouldn’t play consistently.

Cons:

  • other functions are annoyingly difficult to use.
  • software updates aren’t frequent

How to control all these boxes?

I am keen on the product of Logitech Harmony Hub for two reasons.

  • Firstly, it meets my big wish, that is, it solves the all-in-one problem of different remotes.
  • Though it is much more convenient to use its own remote, it also has software that can be installed to your phone.

The result is that there is a box installed next to your device and after being programmed it can control all devices with media functions with one single remote control. The connection between your smart home is through an infra gate: if you activate the movie function in your living room, Logitech Hub informs smart home through the infra gate to adjust lightning to the function.

Conclusion: what would I buy today?

Xbox One or other gaming console is the perfect choice if you also use it for playing. If not, the best option is a smart TV with a great menu (you should try it out in the shop!) Other gadgets are becoming less and less useful.