Posts tagged “automation

Stringify for Home Automation

We are able to do more and more with our pocket super computers; however, have you heard of Stringify?  If you haven’t, it may be time for you to take this little quirky app for a spin if you’re into home automation.


Background

Similar to the app IFTTT, Stringify focuses on home automation in addition to one key difference, multiple triggers.

While IFTTT allows you to have one condition to be met to perform an action, you can string together multiple conditions then multiple reactions on top of that which allows you to perform quite complex automations called “Flows”.  See an example that I use below:

Stringify_01

Stringify Flow.

The above flow is used to operate a heater that is powered by a TP Link Smart Plug Mini.  The flow will trigger when the temperature is below 35 degrees Fahrenheit and between the hours of 9 PM and 5 AM, then turning on the heater and sending a confirmation notification to my device.  See the notification confirming that the flow has ran below:

Having multiple triggers is something that IFTTT does not support at the time that this article is being written.  As noted, this is the key difference between the two platforms; moreover,  Stringify also has far less connections than IFTTT.  So, while the most popular APIs may be available for you to integrate with, if you are a IFTTT user, like myself, you may be disappointed with the selection of integrations that are available.


Final Thoughts

Stringify is a very neat, niche app and while it offers a lot of power and customizations, it simply does not integrate with as many third parties as IFTTT; however, this is a growing list.  Note, that Comcast recently purchased Stringify and I am currently unaware how this may pan out.  With this being said, I urge you to give this a try — yet, keep in mind of how Comcast views consumer privacy.

Google Home Review for 2018

Ah, Google Home and the omnipresent Google Assistant……just works and whether you are looking to get into home automation with over 1500 devices available, wanting Google Assistant smarts or wanting quality sound — you can get it from one of the Google Home options.

Left to right: Google Home Mini, Google Home, Google Home Max

Key Review Points:

  • How easy is setup?
  • How many devices should I use?
  • Is Google Home good for home automation?
  • How is Google Home for the privacy junkie (like myself)?

Background

When you receive a Google Home for Christmas, then proceed to lose your mind buying “smart” everything, a review is the least that I could do.

Google Home is currently slotted against Amazon’s Echo and the upcoming Apple HomePod in the smarthome “smart speaker” wars, although Apple is touting it as “speaker first”, so we will see how smart it is.  Additionally, similar to the Echo, Google Home comes at multiple price-points with Google Home Mini ($49), Google Home ($129) and Google Home Max ($399) — enabling Google to meet the needs of many different consumers and their underlying budgets.

Google Home.

The key features of Google Home is that it gives you and other Google accounts that are linked access to all of your personal calendars, lists, music accounts and all of the smarts of Google itself through the phenomenal Google Assistant.  Yes, Assistant is better than Siri in every way Apple fans.


Setup

The first thing that you’ll need to do to get started on your Google Home journey is download the Google Home app, which serves as the primary landing spot of every Google home and entertainment product, including the Google Home, ChromeCast and ChromeCast Ultra.  Setup is simple, requiring you to connect the device to your home wifi network and your corresponding Google account.  (Note, the first account used will be the primary account on the device, with other accounts being referred to as “linked accounts” that can also operate on the device and receive personal information such as calendars, reminders and place phone calls.)

One thing of importance, is that if you’re wanting to take full advantage of Google Home by controlling wifi enabled devices throughout your home, customizing news and getting personalized results, you will additionally need to download and use the Google Assistant app.

So, now that your Google Home is all setup, likely in your living room, what happens when you go into the office?  What happens when you go into your kitchen…..  You know where I’m heading with this.

Enter Google Home Mini (or Max).  First, let me state that having one Google Home product is enough; however, Google Home Mini devices are very affordable and can be thrown just about anywhere to ensure that your Assistant is always at your side.  Additionally, for the audiophiles out there, Google Home Max is nothing short of a complete and utter monster, delivering superb audio quality and rivaling the sounds of Sonos.


Day to Day Usage

Get used to this phrase, “Hey Google” because it’ll be around for a while. Using the Google Home, irregardless of flavor (eg. Google Home, Mini or Max), is simple and straightforward and you’re always pleasantly surprised at things just working great. The microphones are incredibly receptive and can pick up your voice from varying distances away even while the speaker is actively playing something. At times there are hiccups or occasional network blips and that should be expected with any product. The hits are far more than the misses. So what will you ask it on a day to day basis? Some of my most used phrases are for:

  • Weather
  • Lights and home automation
  • Timers
  • Music

Additionally, Google has added support for voice calls, I’ve tested this with my Google Voice account and it works flawlessly.

What are you asking your Google Home?


Home Automation

As I noted above, there are literally 1500 devices that can work with Google Home and allow you to control them all with your voice.  The way that this is accomplished is that first (unlike with HomeKit enabled devices) you must download the app from the manufacturer, create any required accounts and setup the device there.  Afterwards, you link that third party account with your Google account inside of the Google Home app.  This is done by going into the hamburger menu and tapping “Home Control”, this will open the Google Assistant app (on iOS), press the “+” button and find your manufacturer there.  Login with your account (similar steps to adding and linking accounts in IFTTT) and those devices will appear in Home Control and be at your beck and call.

Google Home, Home control.


Privacy

Being a privacy nerd is tough while utilizing Google Home because in order to work properly, Google will need to know a bit of information about you, from your location to your search and web activity; although, there are ways to circumvent this, without exposing all of your data.  Google is not some evil company that just wants to know everything about you, the information you give it, is vital to the services and information that YOU get out of it, so when certain aspects of data collection are removed some services may or may not work properly.  With that being said, I do not believe in giving entities your real location, so I chose to not give Google Home/Assistant my real address and let it triangulate it by where my wifi router is.  Additionally, apps that use your location, depending on what they are, can be nefarious — so I’ve turned off all location services from Google.

I let Google keep 3 data points:

  • Web and search history
  • Youtube watch history
  • Youtube search history

Web are search is the only option that is crucial for Assistant to work properly, so in this case with the only queries I push to it being voice, I deem this as acceptable and manually delete things that I do not wish for it to have.  An additional way to remediate this data grant is simply to not use the Chrome browser.  I have proudly switched back to my once favorite web browser, Firefox.  This allows me to more consistently use my search engine of choice, Duck Duck Go and limit the data that I pass into Google. Lastly, just mute the darn thing!!! This is something I certainly do when I am not using it for an extended period of time or if talking about sensitive things.


Final Thoughts

Google Home is fun, exciting and ever growing.  Regardless if you’re part of the Google, Amazon or Apple ecosystem — if you have a Google account, this could be an excellent tool for you to use.  Additionally, barrier to entry is very low with the most economical option, Google Home Mini, starting off at only $49.  Buying one smart device will certainly lead you down the path of “home automation fever”, but it’s a fun one and one that hopefully makes your life a little bit easier.

Why automation makes life easier

Let’s face it, we carry super computers in our pockets.  Alright, not really, but although our smartphone companions are not super computers, they are still pretty darn smart and with that comes device and app automation that can drastically improve and simplify your life.  An app that I personally love is IFTTT (If This Then That), which brings a beautiful interface with jaw-dropping applets (recipes) that you put together according to your needs.
ifttt_1

IFTTT for iOS (Android interface is similar).

Need to know when you make it to the gym?  Turn on location services and add a quick note to your calendar whenever this happens.  Want the lights in your home to turn on when you pull into the garage?  There’s a applet for that.  Auto photo upload, auto WordPress posting, auto tweeting — you dream it (additionally you have certain accounts that can be linked together so that they can talk to each other) and IFTTT can make it happen.  Although from my screenshot you may assume that this glorious app is available on iOS only (you know what happens when you assume, right?)  — wrong it’s multi-platform available on iOS and Android — with a web interface!

Additionally, IFTTT isn’t the only player in this game, Microsoft recently introduced Flow, which has a unique spin on task automation itself.  And for those that are looking to get extremely granular on Android, there is one app called Tasker which essentially can do it all.  (Note: I advise only experienced users to play with this app).
Bottom line:  Everything is easier when magic “just happens” in the background for you, give IFTTT and other platforms a try!