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Good Bye HomeKit

Posted on March 7th, 2018

Dave!I have spent the past 35 years falling in love with everything Apple. It started with the Apple ][ personal computer and continued through the Macintosh then continued right up through the iPhone. I jump head-first into whatever Apple releases, and I've loved it.

But recently things started to change.

After waiting way, way too long for Apple to release a new "Pro" Mac, they came out with a steaming turd in 2013 which looked pretty, but was overpriced and lacking the things that pro users need. Then... THEN... they did the exact same thing with their MacBook "Pro." And it keeps going... they standardized on an expensive Thunderbolt peripheral port, then abandoned it... they developed the brilliant MagSafe power adapter, then abandoned it... Apple TV can't stream worth a crap, even in its 4th generation model, and the remote is horrific... their mice are built to pit and deteriorate... the list goes on and on, and it's nuts.

And the software side isn't much better. MacOS X has developed so many problems that it feels as though it's been abandoned. They dumped Aperture, their photo cataloging software, after luring people into adopting it. They screwed up iMovie so much that a once-joyful program to use is a frustrating joke.

But the final straw for me was HomeKit.

I've long obsessed over home automation, so when I bought a home where I could install home automation devices, I went full-throttle. Apple had been developing their own home automation ecosystem, called "HomeKit," but it was tough to find any devices. And so I held off until HomeKit devices were released.

Then it happened. Schlage released "Sense" HomeKit-enabled door lock. So cool!

Until I got them, that is.

The locks are great, but the HomeKit functionality is garbage. It never works reliably, and half the time I can't even connect... despite having AppleTV's within 6-feet of them (HomeKit uses AppleTV as a hub). But that's not even the half of it. After all my waiting, HomeKit was laughably incapable and feature-poor. Tons of devices weren't supported... or even available if they were supported.

I immediately regretted buying HomeKit locks, and never bought another HomeKit device. And ever since then I've been dying to replace my locks, but couldn't bring myself to walk away from the hundreds of dollars I spent on them.

And then...

Schlage has released a WiFi interface which allows you to control your locks without having to use crappy HomeKit...

Schlage WiFi Interface

If your locks are set up with HomeKit, you have to reset them to factory defaults and start over again. If you don't, you can't connect them to the WiFi Adapter. Also... they will start screeching an alarm if you try, which I found out the hard way (sorry kitties).

Your lock has to be within 40 feet of the adapter (just like HomeKit, since both use Bluetooth connections). This was no problem for me, and I was able to use one adapter for both my locks (it supports a maximum of two).

Annnnnd...

It works as advertised. Once you set up a Schlage account as a gateway between the locks and your phone's Schlage app, you can control your locks remotely and see their status. Access is blazingly fast and reliable compared to HomeKit. Every once in a while I'll get a bit of a lag, but at least I can always connect.

Then there's the ability to ask Alexa if a door is locked... and then lock it if it isn't (for security reasons, you can't unlock a door via Alexa). I don't know how handy this would be, but it's nice to know it's there. Except when it's not. Because no matter how many times I link and unlink and re-link the skill, Alexa tells me the lock can't be reached... even though both locks show up in my Smart Home list. I've sent an email to Schlage customer service for help... fingers crossed.

And so... good bye to the massive failure known as HomeKit. And good bye to the seventy bucks it cost me to rectify this disaster. But, hey, at least I didn't have to spend hundreds to replace my locks!

My hope is that one day Apple will just bag HomeKit and buy out a company like INSTEON so they have an integrated home automation system that works. Heaven only knows they've got the cash. Until then, I'm just glad to be rid of that one piece of home automation that's never worked for me.

   

Your Lock is Unreachable

Posted on November 27th, 2017

Dave!Honestly, I don't condone violence (well, except punching Nazis in the face, because that's what Captain America would do)... but I have a deep-in-my-soul feeling that everybody at Apple who is involved with the colossal fucking failure that is their "HomeKit" home automation technology should be executed.

Publicly.

By firing squad.

Without a blindfold.

It's the only way that tech companies are going to learn that you can't unleash half-baked, non-working, pile-of-shit tech on an unsuspecting public without paying the consequences...

Apple HomeKit Bulshit

I can run my entire home from my iPhone... except my locks. The only thing I can do with my locks is either remote-lock or remote-unlock. Because apparently anything more complex than that overwhelms HomeKit and it just goes non-responsive. My whole lock goes offline until I can get home and hold my phone next to the lock, thus bypassing HomeKit entirely.

The only thing I have that's Apple HomeKit enabled is my locks. The only home automation I consistently have trouble with is my locks. And I don't blame Schlage, because anything you submit for HomeKit has to be approved by Apple.

This is squarely on Apple's doorstep, and somebody needs to die.

And if Steve Jobs was still in charge, somebody probably would.

   

Bullet Sunday 512

Posted on June 25th, 2017

Dave!Hope you're enjoying those lazy, hazy days of Summer, because an all-new Bullet Sunday starts... now...

   
• Munneh! But, yes. By all means. Let’s invest our money in coal. Soon-to-be-obsolete coal that nobody is going to want when there are going to be far cheaper, cleaner, and more efficient ways to get our energy...

I mean, we could bring this technology to former coal towns and train the workers there for jobs that will actually matter. But, no. Because coal. Uh huh...

The sheer idiocy involved in killing off the American worker by our politicians is just astounding. We're not going to be competitive in the global job market, and we did it to ourselves by electing assholes who are more interested in fleecing taxpayers for the benefit of coal executives than creating jobs for ex coal miners.

   
• Kens! And so This happened: Mattel released 15 new variations of Ken Dolls... aka Mr. Barbie...

Matel Barbie Kens

And no, your eyes are not deceiving you... there are Ken dolls with a man-bun now. I can't fathom the parent that would buy their daughter (or son, for that matter) a doll with a fucking man-bun on it, but since society is hell-bound anyway, here you go. As if that weren't enough, the Kens are available in three body types: Original, Slim, and Broad. Because heaven only knows we don't want to cause body identity issues in our children. Their dolls have hipster man-buns now, and that's enough fucking trauma for childhood.

   
• MMMMMMEAT! Clearly God wants everybody to be vegetarian, and this is His solution... OH, LOVELY: THE TICK THAT GIVES PEOPLE MEAT ALLERGIES IS SPREADING. From the tick's perspective, I'm guessing that people taste like chicken.

   
• White! "Being white in this country, I should just shoot myself." — Somebody please hand her a gun. Because this racist fucking waste of space shouldn't be raising kids... let alone be allowed to join society...

No matter how many times I see bigoted shit like this, I remain amazed. Not that assholes such as her exist... but that they feel so confident in their racist bullshit to act this way in public.

   
• Hope That Helps! Ben Palmer released video from one of his shows and it is everything you'd hope it to be...

Watching him troll on Facebooks is one of the reasons I am happy that Facebook exists.

   
• HomeShit! You know, I understand that companies can't release a winner every time. There are going to be some duds, even for the most inovative of them. I get that. Honestly I do. But Apple's HomeKit is such a festering pile of shit that I cannot fathom why in the hell they don't scrap it and start over or fix their stupid crap so it will actually function reliably. Thank heavens the only thing I was stupid enough to trust to Apple's failed system is my door locks. I wanted them on a completely separate system from the rest of my home automation for security reasons and, hey, it's Apple... right? What could go wrong?

Sorry, David, I didn't hear back from your devices!

I never dreamed the answer to that question would be everything. Apple should just do everybody a favor and kill off HomeKit instead of continuing to pretend that they give a flying fuck about home automation.

   
Dis be da end, everybuddy.

   

Automation Nine: HomeKit

Posted on December 26th, 2015

Dave!If you take away one thing from Home Automation Week (now in Part Nine of Seven Parts!) it should be to avoid Apple's HomeKit home automation platform like the plague. It's no secret that I think it's utter crap in its current form, and the fact that automation companies aren't really flocking to the platform is a sure sign of "too little too late."

Yes, I love the idea of controlling my home with Siri, but Amazon Echo is probably more convenient for that anyway. Yes I love Apple's dedication to privacy and security, but what does it matter if you don't have all the automation options available that you might want? Yes, I love the idea of having absolutely everything tied to a single system instead of being in pieces but, again, it's only nirvana if you actually have all the pieces you need for that one system.

But the biggest reason to completely avoid HomeKit is not what's missing... it's about how what's there doesn't fucking work.

My Schlage Sense door locks are HomeKit compatible. But I never use any of the HomeKit features. Siri is just too fucking slow at unlocking doors to have her do it. I'd rather use a key or punch a code. But even worse than that? HomeKit's remote access features DO. NOT. WORK. My locks are supposed to use my 4th Generation Apple TV to communicate with the outside world, but they don't.

If I'm at work and want to know if I remembered to lock my front door? I'm supposed to be able to ask Siri. Siri asks my AppleTV back home. AppleTV then asks my lock. But unless I'm within Bluetooth range, this is all I see...

HomeKit FAIL!

Maybe my front door isn't close enough to my AppleTV and doesn't have the range to report what's going on? Possibly. So I check my back door, which is two feet away from my AppleTV...

HomeKit FAIL!

Nope! And it doesn't matter how many times I reset my AppleTV or login and logout of my iCloud account. NOTHING I have tried has gotten remote access to HomeKit to work for my locks.

My Ecobee3 thermostat? Also HomeKit compatible. Surprisingly, it can be accessed remotely via Siri voice control. Probably because it isn't having to go through my AppleTV and has full WiFi-enabled control via its app. Funny thing is? I'd rather use the app. Again, Siri is a little slow to act... and often gets my Ecobee3 requests wrong for some reason.

So... lesson learned.

If you're going to get something that's HomeKit compatible, be sure that it has its own remote access app that doesn't attempt to route crap through your AppleTV... because, for me at least, it ain't happening.

Which means as much as I love my Schlage locks, if I had known then what I know now, I would have picked a different non-HomeKit solution that actually works remotely as intended. As it is now, the status of my door locks is always unknown unless me and my phone is standing next to them. Pretty useless.

Maybe one day Apple will fix the AppleTV hub remote-access problem. Maybe one day Siri won't be so damn slow to do anything. Maybe one day HomeKit won't be a pile of shit. Maybe. One day.

In the meanwhile, I reiterate... do not be blinded by the Apple Reality Distortion Field when it comes to making decision about home automation. At every turn I've found that the non-HomeKit solutions which can be paired with reliable in-app remote access and a link to Amazon Echo are far, far superior to stuff that's tied to Apple's home automation platform. Yes, having to go through multiple apps and having no unifying system can take a little extra effort at times, but it's not at all a deal-breaker. If you're organized, it's not even that big of a deal. If you have Amazon Echo, I'd argue you're actually better off than using Siri.

I guess not even Apple can hit a home run every time.

But HomeKit isn't even a base hit.

   

Automation Eight: Smoke Detectors

Posted on December 25th, 2015

Dave!Merry Christmas to those who celebrate it!

Welcome to an extension of Home Automation Week at Blogography! I say "extension" because a week has seven days and this is part eight. I guess I should have put a bit more thought into this.

But anyway...

I loathe smoke detectors. I loathe CO2 detectors even more. They're all bug-ridden, noisy, and prone to errors. Then you've got the damn batteries running out all the time which results in running around the house trying to figure out which alarm is "chirping" at you for attention. And God help you if you burn the toast.

Don't get me wrong though... if there's an actual fire in the house... or a CO2 leak... then I frickin' love detectors. But, for the most part? Not so much.

When I was looking into "smart" detectors last year, I was intrigued by Nest Protect. It seemed sensible, secure, feature-rich, and very cool. Ultimately I took a pass on it for two good reasons: 1) Nest Protect wasn't compatible with Apple's HomeKit, and 2) A lot of people were complaining about false alarms and features being turned off and never turned back on, despite promises from Nest.

But then two things happened: 1) Apple's HomeKit turned out to be a STEAMING PILE OF SHIT*, and 2) Nest came out with a "Protect Version 2" that supposedly addressed the many problems people were having. Oh, and the reviews were great...

Nest Protect
This is probably Nest Protect v1. I think v2 is not so squared? Very close though.

And so... I went ahead and bought Nest Protect. Actually, I bought five of them, because that's how many smoke/CO2 detectors I had in the house. Since all the Nest protects talk to each other, you kinda have to use them for ALL your detector needs in order to get the most benefit. Not a happy prospect considering they cost $100 a pop. But, when I thought about it, protecting my life and property (even when I'm away) is worth $500, so I handed over the cash.

Setting up Nest Protect couldn't be easier.

Except when it is.

When you first open the thing, they tell you to set it up before you hang it. That way you're not climbing up and down a ladder if there's a problem, I guess. So I pulled the strip to engage the battery and my first Nest Protect told me to "PRESS THE BUTTON IF YOU WANT THE LANGUAGE SET TO ENGLISH!" And so I pressed the button. But apparently not fast enough, because my Nest Protect started speaking to me in Spanish. And wouldn't stop. Fortunately I was able to get the gist of what she(!) was saying and set things up without issue. Removed my old old smoke detector, no problem. Installed the mounting plate, no problem. Hung my Nest Protect, no problem. Tested the unit, no problem. Change the language to English... problem.

Using the iPhone Nest App, I was able to switch to English easily. But then I get a message saying "Changes will take place within a day." Yes... A FUCKING DAY! And they mean it. When I went to work two hours after installation, it was still hablaba español. Kind of ridiculous it should take so long, but okay.

Nest Protect does exactly what you'd expect a smoke/CO2 detector to do... detect smoke and CO2 and then sound an alarm if it finds anything. But Nest Protect goes much further than that...

  • Any alerts will be passed to your iPhone/Android phone, thus letting you know if there's a problem no matter where you are.
  • Have a false alarm? You can silence it from your phone!
  • Instead of having to test your detectors every month like you're supposed to, Nest Protect has a microphone so it can test itself then listen to make sure it's working.
  • You can also manually check to make sure all your detectors are working. Just press the big button on the bottom and they'll all talk to each other, figure out if there's any problems, then report back to you.
  • Rather than just screech at you with an alarm where you can't figure out which detector is going off, Nest Protect speaks in a human voice and tells you exactly where the problem is (you name each unit by its location).
  • Nest Protect monitors its battery level and will let you know in advance if a battery change is in your future. This alone is a feature worth $100 a piece... no more being woke up in the middle of the night by the idiotic chirping of your detector wanting its batteries changed.
  • Nest Protect has a fancy "Split Spectrum Sensor" that Nest says can detect both slow-burning and fast-burning fires. There's shit-ton of documentation from Nest explaining why their photoelectric technology is better than other photoelectric and ionization solutions, but I'm just going to take their word for it.
  • Almost as important, Nest Protect has a humidity sensor so it can tell the difference between smoke and steam.
  • Nest Protect has a light ring around that big button which indicates what's going on with it. Blue and Green lights indicate stuff is going good. Red and Yellow lights are for when things are going badly. Yellow is kind of a cautionary "advance warning" that trouble may be present. Red is for when the shit is hitting the fan. The cool thing is that the light ring can also act as a "Pathlight" nightlight which comes on automatically if you walk underneath it and it's dark. Clever.

Nest Protect is available in both battery-powered and power-line-powered options. My old alarms were power-line-powered, so that's what I bought. If the power goes out, the battery back-up kicks in and the outage is recorded, then (apparently) reported to your phone app. I never got a notification when I tripped the breaker for the the smoke alarms, which Nest says I will. If ALL power goes out, I don't see how Nest Protect can notify you because then the internet would be out as well, wouldn't it?

And so...

All in all, I'm most impressed with Nest Protect. I haven't had it long enough to know if the chronic false alarm problem that plagued v1 has been truly solved with v2, but I'm hopeful. And, of course, I haven't had an emergency to truly put it to the test, but I'm very much okay with that. What I can say is that all the various features seem to be working as advertised. I love being able to check in on my home when I'm gone and know everything is okay... but I've even more in love with the idea that if there's a serious problem with fire or CO2, my home will let me know.

   
*I will talk more about Apple HomeKit being a STEAMING PILE OF SHIT tomorrow.

   

Automation One

Posted on December 14th, 2015

Dave!Welcome to Home Automation Week at Blogography!

I've been dreaming of having a "smart home" for years, but the technology never really seemed "there" yet. It's either been flakey or lacked important features or had some quirk that made it less than ideal. I just couldn't see investing the money for an experience that was less than stellar.

But then Apple decided to get into the game by announcing their "HomeKit" platform and I was convinced that this was the solution I had been waiting for. Apple has a real knack for perfecting technology in a way that's smart, elegant, and simple, and finally they had turned their almighty gaze towards home automation. At last.

And so I waited.

And waited.

And waited.

But, other than an announcement, Apple never did shit for the longest time. Third party solutions never came.

Apple eventually got around to improving the HomeKit platform to make it more capable... and a few devices were released here and there... but overall HomeKit has been a failure. I love the security that Apple built into their solution (they really take stuff like that seriously), but that's about the only thing they've done right. Everything else to do with HomeKit has ended up being utter shit. The biggest failing being that all HomeKit devices are local, meaning that you have to be at home to control your home. Their solution for remote access is via Apple TV, but I've never been able to get it working well.

And so I went searching for a new solution.

I looked at every option I could find... Lutron, Wink, SmartThings, INSTEON, Nest, Belkin WeMo... the list goes on an on. There are a lot of companies out there doing home automation, and new ones are popping up all the time.

But which platform to choose?

At first I was convinced that I needed a single-company solution. If everything came from the same company, it would all work together and I'd have the most complete, powerful, and capable system. Right?

Well... not so much.

Every company has their strengths and weaknesses, which made choosing a single source for everything quite difficult. So after a while I decided I'd split my home automation chores between two different companies, focusing on their strengths to get the best system possible. Sure they probably wouldn't play well together, but if I were smart about which company got which devices, I could come up with a split-system that worked well for what I was trying to do.

It was a good plan.

But a plan doomed to failure.

Which I'll talk about in my next entry.

   

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