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Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Smart Home — Devices

Eve Degree, Eve Motion and Wemo Switch on the office wall.In the second part of my smart homes series I wanted to concentrate on specific devices and accessories that we’ve picked and used and our experiences with them. Having said that I want to make sure that it’s understood that there are many other viable and good alternatives on the market.

Our actual use, applications and automations of these devices I will mostly leave for the next post.

Before I start I just wanted to mention that everything that we did in the house with regards to smart devices had a requirement of an ability to control EVERYTHING without a phone or voice. Everything had to have a physical control.

The idea of setting up a smart home must make things easier and not harder. Phone apps and voice triggers do provide deeper options, but everything works just fine without them at all. Neither kids nor guests have phones or access to our internal systems.

Homebridge


Homebridge sever running on Raspberry Pi and Hue Dimmer remote next to iPhone X.I’ll kind of start from the end and one of the last thing that I’ve added to our setup. Homebridge is a an open-source project supported by a large community of developers.

Homebridge allows you to add devices to your HomeKit setup that don’t officially support HomeKit protocol among other things. That expands HomeKit device list significantly.

Homebridge also allows for much higher customization of your setup by providing an ability to create such things as fake switches that you can control and monitor various things in your home with. The possibilities are vast.

I was finally pushed to get a Raspberry Pi and install Homebridge on it when I was trying to get Hue Motion sensor to do and behave how I wanted it to, which ended up being impossible. More on that later.

Having said all that I still prefer devices that do offer native HomeKit support.

Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarms


Nest Protect.One of the first thing that we upgraded right after moving in was our ancient fire alarms. Since I was a long time fan of Nest I went with Nest Protect.

One thing that I didn’t realize at the time, because I didn’t know I cared yet, was the fact that none of the Nest devices support HomeKit. Nest is owned by Google after all.

However it seems that specifically Nest Protect is the best device on the market. They automatically run self-checks on batteries and sensors, they show their status with a colored ring every time you turn the lights off, they synchronize with each other and they send notifications to your phone beside the normal alarm to let you know that something is off.

Nest Protect is supposedly can tell a burnt toast from a real fire, and instead blaring an alarm it will light up yellow and tell you in a normal human voice what’s up if it is indeed your cooking’s fault. They also come with motion sensors that allows you to turn a night light on.

And even though I didn’t really need these exposed in HomeKit as I was content with them living in their own app, I did install a Homebridge plug-in for Nest. Might as well, since I had everything running anyhow.

We have a total of six Nest Protects placed throughout the house and are feeling happy and safe with these devices.

Smart Lighting


This is going to be the biggest section in this post. There are many different paths and options to go about smart lighting in your home and is probably the first thing that most people do.

I would split this into three different paths that you can take — bulbs, independent lights and light switches.

Philips Hue

Philips Hue Play on the back of our main TV.Philips was one of the pioneers in the smart lighting with their Hue series. Hue has a lot of options starting with differently shaped bulbs. They also make a bunch of different stand-alone lights and lamps and good number of really nice accessories.

One of the first things that we did in our foray into smart lighting was replacing all our living area BR30 bulbs with Hue color bulbs — total of 8 all in all. While we do have many more bulbs in the house, at $50 a pop Hue bulbs are not a cheap proposition.

When going with smart bulbs there is another consideration — light switches. For smart bulbs to work, the power has to be always on. Asking people to not touch the switches is not an option, yet I didn’t want to remove them completely.

3D printed wall plate for Hue Dimmers on top of toggle switches.The best option that I found was a 3D printed wall plate that goes right over your normal switch plate with a Hue Dimmer remote mounted inside of it. You can still cut the actual power to the bulbs, yet those switches are out of the way and are essentially replaced by smart dimmers.

As far as the operation of the bulbs, originally it felt like a fun, yet useless gimmick. But with time it actually grew on us and we do enjoy setting different moods up.

Bulbs perform well, most of the time. On very rare occasions some bulbs will refuse to cooperate, and a flick of an actual power switch brings it back in line.

We also have some other lights from Philips, specifically a pair of Hue Play bars that you can lay flat, put up vertically or mount them on something like the back wall of your TV.

We also have a pair of Hue Light Strips. They are long LED strips that can be glued to some surface to provide a nice defused light. We also have a number of strip extensions for certain applications such as a long perimeter light under our bed.

With these you want to make sure to actually hide the strip itself from view as it is ugly. Only the light from it should be visible.

Hue requires a use of a bridge for its more advanced features and for native HomeKit support.

And as I mentioned before, Philips also makes a good number of very useful smart accessories that I will go into later in this post.

Nanoleaf Aurora

Nanoleaf Aurora on the wall of my office. These are really hard to photograph well.Nanoleaf is stand-alone light option. Currently there are two types of panels in Nanoleaf’s lineup. The original triangular shapes and newer square shapes. They also announced hexagons at this year’s CES.

We decided to go with original ones. I feel that you can build more interesting designs with triangles and their squire panels have a weird cross in the center that does not look right to my eye.

We have two separate sets of these in our house. One consists of 21 panels and one consists of 12. These also come with a module that can listen to music and animate with the beat.

They are natively supported by HomeKit and unlike Hue can have all their animations initiated directly from Home app.

One small downside is the fact that you’re going to have a power wire sticking out of your configuration. You have to make the best of it, be it hiding the wire behind some furniture, or at least lining it up in way that doesn’t ruin the whole appearance.

Light Switches

Wemo Dimmer Switch.This is probably the cheapest way to get your normal light to act as smart lights. Instead of replacing each bulb with a smart bulb you take out a normal switch and replace it with a smart one.

In our house we have used switches from two brands — Belkin’s Wemo and Lutron’s Caseta. We’ve used both normal switches and dimmers from both of these lines.

Both of these require bridges to work or to work with HomeKit. Caseta uses its own proprietary protocol, so it doesn’t hog your Wi-Fi. Wemo uses Wi-Fi, but most of Wemo’s devices did need a bridge for HomeKit, although that’s changing now with newer devices.

Wemo was originally what we started with. Currently we have eight normal Wemo switches and two dimmers. Wemo switches require neutral wire, but we had it everywhere so it was not a problem.

Lutron Caseta dimmer and regular switches.Caseta has some other amazing applications. It allows you to wire up 3 and 4 way setups. It also allows you to use your old manual switch in 3 way setups, making it the cheapest option on the market. And for a 4 way setup you can use a non-wired Pico remote control that looks just as a usual switch when installed.

We have four standard Caseta switches, one dimmer and one pico remote. A thing of note is that Caseta dimmer does not require a neutral wire.

For my simple applications I still prefer simple Wemo switches. They have a nice feel to them and a pleasant click to them when they activate remotely. But if you want to “smartify” you multi-way setup, Caseta is your friend.

Note, however, that all smart switches will require you to fit a lot more bulk inside the wire box than any standard switch will. These will not fit inside all of the boxes and I have struggled with some in our house as well. But in the end I made it all work.

Smart Thermostats


Ecobee4 smart thermostat.As I have mentioned before my whole smart home dream started at the time when original Nest thermostat came to the market. So it is somewhat ironic that in the end I ended up going with another product.

I’ve done my research and still strongly considered going with Nest, but several factors swayed me to a thermostat made by Ecobee. And one of those factors was in fact a native HomeKit support that Ecobee has and Nest does not.

Another major factor was the way both thermostats work. All the information about Nest comes from reading reviews as I have no personal experience with it.

My understanding that the idea behind Nest is that you never have to fiddle with it after initial learning phase. It learns how and when you prefer your temperature, detects your proximity and just does its thing afterwards — hence learning thermostat.

Ecobee on the other hand gives you a lot of fiddling options and I’m nothing but a major fiddler, so to speak. Another very enticing option for me was the fact Ecobee logs all kinds of data on five minute intervals in a spreadsheet format for you to look over and analyze. I love that.

Both thermostats can employ remote sensors. Ecobee can handle around 30 paired sensors. When it logs the data it will save all the readings of those sensors as well.

So you end up with a file that has the thermostat mode (heat or cool), set temperature, what equipment is running or not running, outside temperature (comes from weather service), inside temperature on all individual sensors and thermostat itself, occupancy (remote sensors report on temperature and occupancy data) and a bunch of other fields. Love it.

However there is another side to all that glory — it all depends on Ecobee servers being up. And specifically at a time when I’m writing this the servers have been down for almost a week now, and your logged data looks more like a Morse code than a steady graph. I bet Nest with Google behind it would not have their servers practically down for a week.

Ecobee3 lite.We had Ecobee since early December and the performance has been stellar, but this particular week that we’re going through now gives me pause. How healthy is Ecobee as a business?

Note that even thought a lot of data logging and remote control does depend on the remote servers, normal thermostat operation and following your set schedule does not need an internet connection at all. So the actual operation is not compromised, but a regular dumb thermostat can do that too.

The only difference with scheduling versus dumb thermostats is that it can be much more granular. I can have a different schedule for each day with as many segments as I want and each segment can rely on the sensors that I select. And with my work schedule that definitely is handy.

The downside with remote sensors is that it uses the average temperature of all your selected sensors. I would much prefer if I could use the lowest reading as the target. With average you can end up with a situation of having 66 degrees in one room, 62 in another, and with a target set at 64 the boiler will not engage, since the average is also 64.

Ecobee has two thermostats on the market right now. There is Ecobee3 lite and Ecobee4. Originally the biggest difference that would matter to me was that Ecobee3 lite could not use remote sensors. But that has changed and is no longer the case.

Ecobee4 comes with Alexa built in, which I have disabled. Ecobee4 however does have an occupancy sensor built in, which Ecobee3 lite does not have.

Currently we have two thermostats in our main floor zones. The hallway one is Ecobee3 lite and the one for the bedrooms is Ecobee4. Alexa was redundant since I have an actual Echo device in that same bedroom.

Ecobee has a feature called Smart Recovery. What it does is that you don’t have to guess how long it will take for your house to reach a certain temperature. It tries to analyze your house along with outside temperature and eventually learns to start the heat so it will be at your desired point by the time that point arrives.

What that means is that when I wake up I want the bedroom to be at, say, 70 degrees and I wake up at 7am. So that’s exactly what will happen. It doesn’t start heating at 7am. It is already at 70 at that point. It’s been working fairly well for us after its initial learning period.

It has a number of other smart features which for now we have turned off. We’re tuning and adjusting things as we go, incorporating more and more things into our schedule.

Smart Sensors


There is a multitude of different sensors available. Beside providing some informational data points most of them allow you to trigger different automations based on the events created by these sensors.

To give an example — I use a space heater in my office in addition to the regular heating system, to heat the only occupied room on a whole floor. When a temperature sensor in my office reaches a certain number, my space heater turns off.

Some sensors provide a single data point, some combine multiple things and events.

Temperature

Ecobee remote sensor and Eve Degree.My favorite temperature sensor is made by a company called Elgato under their smart home brand called Eve Home. In fact Eve makes a lot of great things.

This temperature sensor has a nice screen which can display the temperature or humidity. What makes these especially nice is that it collects historical data inside Eve’s application and all that is done locally. So having that I can monitor what’s been happening with temperature or humidity not only when I’m staring at the sensor, but all throughout the day and night.

Another set of temperature sensors that we have all around our house are Ecobee remote sensors. We’re using this purely for information purposes. How is the temperature in the rooms of our kids? What’s going on in the living room? These also save historical data, but as I mentioned before these rely on Ecobee servers.

Obviously thermostats themselves also expose the temperature reading into HomeKit. However if you factor the above mentioned sensors into your current setting, thermostat starts showing the average temperature of all the participating sensors instead of its own sensor.

These also provide occupancy information, but are mostly useful for letting know the thermostat to regulate the set temperature based on rooms which people are in. But at this point we prefer to control which sensors are used manually, instead of using the occupancy data.

Interestingly enough Hue Motion sensor also provides temperature information even though you wouldn’t know it from the packing or the information on Hue’s website.

Door and Window Sensors

Eve Door & Window sensor.Currently we use a single Door and Windows sensor made by Eve in our house. It allows you to trigger an automation when a door is opened and when a door is closed.

To give an example — when our closet door opens, this sensor triggers a Wemo switch which controls the lights inside the closet. And the reverse.

The sensor is a little bit bulky, and since all Eve devices use bluetooth, sometimes it takes a fraction of a second to reach your hub. Most of the time the events are instant, but not 100% of the time.

I also have gotten a pair of Koogeek Door and Window sensors on a good sale that I have plans for controlling air conditioning and open and closed porch doors during the summer.

Both of these have native HomeKit support. In fact, Eve ONLY has HomeKit support and nothing else.

Motion Sensors

Philips Hue and Eve motion sensors.Philips has been making an indoor motion sensor as a part of their line up for a good while now. They just came out with a new outdoor model several weeks ago.

Indoor version comes with high recommendations. It’s small, very fast, sensitive and includes two additional non-advertised surprises — a temperature sensor and a light intensity sensor.

It works really well if you want to control your Hue lights with it for a typical application — turn the lights on when motion is detected and turn the lights off if the motion has not been detected for a specified amount of time.

If you want to control something other than your Hue lights, things get ugly. The delay for no-motion trigger can only be set inside Hue app and is not controllable in HomeKit. So if I want to turn off my Wemo switch on no-motion in five minutes I can’t do it.

There are hacky workarounds that people have invented and even when they work they have a lot of issues. And even those I was not able to get to work after lots and lots of trial and error experiments. I had zero luck.

This is what actually pushed me to get Homebridge going. There is a simple plug-in that creates a fake occupancy sensor. You use Hue sensor to trigger it on and off, but the off event only goes off after the delay that you specify in your plug-in configuration. And if the motion is detected again, the timer stops. Works beautifully.

While I was struggling with Hue Motion sensor I’ve acquired a motion sensor made by Eve. As opposed to Hue this sensor actually lets you set up a time-out without any additional plug-ins and works natively as you would hope a motion sensor would.

It works just as fast as Hue, but it is bulkier and has no additional sensors built in. And as with all Eve devices it keeps a local log of all events — when and for how long was the motion sensor active.

To sum up — if you are willing to run Homebridge — and there are many reasons to do so — I’d most probably go with Hue for the additional sensors and smaller size. If you care about motion sensor logs and simple set up, Eve is better.

Smart Plugs


Eve Energy, Wemo Mini, iDevices smart plugs.Smart plugs allow you to turn your dumb devices into smart devices. Plug your lamp, your fan or your kettle into one of these plugs and you can turn them on remotely and use them in your automations.

The only caveat is that you device should have an analog on/off switch. Meaning that if your lamp is on, you pull it out of the outlet, then plug in back in, it should still be on.

We’re using three different switches in our house — Wemo, iDevices and Eve.

Eve Energy, Wemo Mini, iDevices smart plugs.Wemo are probably the cheapest ones and are often on sale. They have a physical button on them, so you can still turn things off without using anything else, but your finger.

Current Wemo plugs natively support HomeKit, but since I already had a bridge for my Wemo switches it made no difference. We have four of these in our house and they work reliably.

We have one iDevices plug which has a native HomeKit support. The unique thing about iDevices plug is that it has an LED strip on it which can be turned on with any color. It gets exposed in HomeKit as a separate light which can be controlled independently.

iDevices plug as a status indicator.We’re actually not using the “plug” part of this plug. We are using its LED strip as a status light — all doors are locked, the light is green. Any of the outside doors are open — light is red.

And you can also use the brightness of the strip as a separate tracker — we have a trigger that sets the brightness to 97% and all motion sensors do nothing if this light is set to that. This is useful to prevent lights from going on and off while your cat is roaming around the house at night.

A third smart plug that we have is made be Eve. I use this one to actually track how much energy my office heater is using. It also has a physical button on it. And as with any Eve device it logs a bunch of data locally.

Smart Locks


August Smart Lock Pro.One of the things that Alёna was most resistant to was a smart lock. But for it was the last step on my mission to get rid of all the keys. Eventually she agreed it give it a go and is now is a strong believer in the convince of such things.

There weren’t many HomeKit options on the market. We decided to go with August Smart Lock Pro. One of the appeals was that it leaves the outside cylinder intact and looks like a regular lock.

The idea is that you just replace the handle on the inside. Our door happened to have a cylinder on both sides, which was inconvenient to begin with. And as a result I ended up having to change the whole lock anyhow to a more compatible version.

The lock itself is rather large which is its biggest downside. Other than that we really have no complaints. We don’t have a smart lock or unlock enabled and we control it from either our phones or our watches.

Another thing to note that it does need your phone or watch to be authenticated before it will unlock the lock. And HomePod will completely refuse to unlock it for you as a security feature. You don’t want to end up with a situation when somebody can yell loudly enough from the outside to unlock your door.

The lock keeps a complete log of the door activity in August’s own app. It shows when the lock locked and unlocked and who initiated the event. It also has a sensor which can tell if the actual door was opened as well, which is also logged.

And in the end it can be controlled fully manually from the inside by turning the ring on the lock, or via a key from the outside.

Another smart lock that we have is on our garage door. This happened by a pure accident. Our motor went bad and it ended up getting replaced with a Wi-Fi enabled LiftMaster unit. It worked with a proprietary MyQ app, but in order to add it to HomeKit another piece of hardware was required — a LiftMaster HomeKit bridge.

Both of these locks’ states can be tracked inside HomeKit and can be used in various automations.

Smart Controllers


Hue Dimmer switches.To achieve our goal of having an ability to control all our smart devices with physical devices, we had to employ a couple of different controls.

The most affordable and versatile ones is Hue Dimmer switch. Currently we have six of these in use. Each of these comes with four buttons which can be programmed to do control any HomeKit device.

These can be used as stand-alone remote controls or they can be mounted on the wall with a supplied wall plate.

Our kids bedrooms do not have ceiling lights and the most convenient location for the floor lamps ended up being on the opposite side of the entrance.

I was able to mount a pair of these at their doors. For Anna it turns on and off her regular lump plugged into a Wemo plug. For Aaron it turns his Nanoleaf panels with a soft white lite. Very continent.

Philips Hue Tap switch.Another control that I use is Philips Hue Tap. It’s a switch that works on kinetic energy without the use of batteries. It can have a weird feel to it for some people, because the buttons are harder to press than a regular switch is, but I have no problems with that.

As Hue Dimmer switch Hue Tap also has four buttons and they also can be programmed individually in HomeKit. But if you want to turn buttons into toggle switches you can easily do it with 3rd party apps such as the one made by Eve. So instead of having one button turn a light on and another turn it off you can have the same button do both depending on the state of the light.

Another intriguing remote that exist on the market is a dodecahedron shaped unit made by Nanoleaf. Each of the twelve sides can have its own setting and you activate it by simply placing that side up. I haven’t had a chance to experiment with one yet, but if I see it on sale I might pick one of these up.

Conclusion


Part of my well hidden, dusty bridge "collection".This ended up being a rather long post. That’s what you get when you put writing something like this off for six months.

In the next and last post of these series I will go room-by-room through our house and talk about scenes, automations and device application for each location and how some of the above mentioned accessories interact with each other.

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Friday, February 8, 2019

Kids’ Rooms

Aaron's room.As the time goes we’re getting more and more settled in. The house has became really nice and cozy.

Aaron's room.This week we’ve got the bedrooms of our kids finalized. The last touch was a pair of Kallax shelves from Ikea.

Aaron's room.The only things that have moved with us from these rooms are the beds. And while Anna’s bed came with a nice foam mattress, Arosha’s old spring mattress was totally destroyed from all the jumping that has commenced on it. So he’s got a nice new Casper.

Anna's room.Anna’s curtain are from our old bedroom. Aaron’s are new. She also has a mega collection of dogs on her wall.

Anna's room.Aaron has a venetian mask on the wall from our recent trip to Italy and Venice specifically. He also has a laminated world map which was his new year gift from a couple of years ago. And this year he got his own set of Nanoleaf lights.

Anna's room.
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Saturday, February 2, 2019

Smart Home — Ecosystems

Apple Home.Elgato Eve.This is going to be a long post on my foray into smart home and automations. This venture has started soon after we bought our home — about 6 months in now — and I was finally able to do things that I couldn’t while living in an apartment.

I was fascinated by this for a long time — ever since Nest thermostat came to the market and by what Philips was doing with its Hue series. Those two products were something that I wanted to do as soon as I had the chance.

I had never really explored it any further and had no idea how quickly this hobby could suck in a lot of time and money, none of which I regret in the slightest.

I have decided to split this post(s) into several parts — general introduction into our ecosystem, overview of types of devices and specific devices in those groups that I’ve used and my impressions of them, room by room setup in the house and automations that we use.

Ecosystem


At first I didn’t give this much thought, but very soon after I’ve started to realize that I need to figure out what I want to use as a core of my system.

Amazon Alexa.Vendor apps.The biggest players in the market would be Amazon Alexa, Google Home and Apple HomeKit. The idea is that you want ALL of your smart devices exposed in one place in order to be able to do complex automations evolving multiple products and brands.

Amazon Alexa


Before I considered this all and since I had a mild fascination with Alexa for a while that’s what we started with, but eventually went in a different direction.

Amazon Echo.Amazon’s system is generally a very safe bet. Vast majority of smart devices support it. One huge plus that it has going for is the range of products available — starting from $30 Echo Dot all the way to $230 Echo show. And then there is a ton of 3rd party products with Alexa integrated. This is very convenient for voice control.

I bought a pair of Amazon Echo devices. Standard Echo lives in our kitchen and Echo Spot lives in our bedroom on my bedside table.

Alena uses the kitchen one for audio books and music listening. I use Echo Spot as my alarm clock — and a great one at that. It automatically goes into night-mode during the night where its display produces practically no light and shows the time in non-disruptive red color.

The smartphone app generally does its job, but I’m not a huge fan of the way it handles device grouping and automation in general. Automations specifically is quite a weak spot for this system in my opinion.

Amazon Echo Spot.As I mentioned before I decided against using it as our core system, although we still have our most used scenes and devices replicated into the Alexa system for easily reachable voice triggers.

Beside the pair of Amazon devices we have a Sonos One speaker and a thermostat of all things with Alexa built in.

Thermostat Alexa is disabled and Sonos speaker Alexa implementation is not stellar. I have much higher success rate with voice triggers on Amazon’s own devices. Though Sonos does provide great sound for music playback.

Apple HomeKit


Each vendor of smart home products ships their own application to manage the accessories. The more different vendors you end up using, the more messy managing it all becomes. That’s why having one single place that unifies everything is important for not only managing your devices, but stringing them up together in automation.

HomeKit emerged as a natural choice for us since we’re heavily embedded into Apple ecosystem. We have numerous iPhones, iPads, Apple TVs and Macs. As such I really have no experience with Google Home, but I imagine it’s a good choice for Android families.

Apple HomePod.There are downsides and upsides to HomeKit. The choices of accessories is more limited because Apple has stricter rules for HomeKit certification. To counter the negative part of that you end up with a more secure system. And since we, as Apple users, have to pay the price for Siri voice assistant that is not using all the data given to it to improve, we end up with a company with a very high focus on privacy.

I imagine Google collects a lot more information on your usage. I imagine Amazon does its share of this as well. And you have to be insane to even consider putting Facebook’s device with a camera and a microphone in your home. HomeKit is a big winner in the category in my opinion. I actually wouldn’t mind sharing more information with Apple if that would mean staying ahead with such things as Siri.

With regards to the main app to control your accessories once they have been added to HomeKit you have numerous options. First of all there is Apple’s own Home app. It’s clean and good looking, so we use it as our primary hub for most day to day things.

However HomeKit protocol in itself is just a back-end database which can be managed by any app. And there is a multitude of them. Elgato Eve makes a beautiful free application which lets you manipulate HomeKit’s database to a much higher degree than native Home does. It exposes a lot of controls that you wouldn’t know existed if you were only using Apple’s Home.

Sonos One.Another great application that I use for configuring complex automations is a 3rd party app named Home 3 by Matthias Hochgatterer. While it’s not very pretty, the Trigger — Condition — Action automations are invaluable as is a granular control of your accessories.

And then there is an open-source project called Homebridge, which I’ll provide more details on a little bit later.

HomeKit voice control is a mixed bag. Siri at its release was completely useless to me because of my accent. With years the voice recognition has improved SIGNIFICANTLY. I have a very high success rate with it. It’s very much on par with Alexa if not better.

I’m not asking Siri of any complex inquiries and it follows smart home informational request and scene and accessory setting commands easily.

The negative part is that while pretty much all Apple devices have Siri built-in using your phone is far from convenient for voice triggers. It’s better on the watch, but still not ideal.

The one and only option right now is HomePod. And at $350 retail price you won’t get far without breaking the bank. We have one that we got for $250 on a big sale from BestBuy.

We placed it centrally in our living area and the performance of it is superb. Microphones are very sensitive so I can reach it easily from the kitchen, living, dinning and family rooms. And the sound it produces for music playback is the best we have in our house.

However music playback is my least needed feature and I’m saddened by the fact that Apple chose that as their focus. What I’m really looking and hoping for is that there will be additional choices of cheap(er) Siri devices that I can place in other parts of the house.

As far as hubs go, which are required for remote control and automation, HomeKit can use Apple TVs, HomePods and iPads. Since we have a pair of Apple TVs and one HomePod we use them as hubs. iPads should be used as hubs as a last resort only, in my opinion, so we do not do that.

3rd Party Apps


As I mentioned each manufacturer of devices also ships an app to control those products. In vast majority of cases I use those to only go through an initial product setup and rarely visit them afterwards.

Some of those offer additional controls that are not exposed in HomeKit and you need to use those apps for firmware updates. However I rarely have a need to revisit those apps.

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Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Smart Home Preview

HomeKit.
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Sunday, January 20, 2019

Our Day in Milan

Milan Duomo.The biggest Milan attraction for us was the Milan Cathedral. I remembered what it looked like really well, and was hoping that the children will be impressed by the Duomo and by the fact that they could get on its roof.

Inside the cathedral.A week before the vacation I finished reading a book about Italian resistance during World War II “Beneath a Scarlet Sky” by Mark Sullivan. It is based on a real story of Pino Lella, who was a Milanese native, so a big part of the action took place in Milan. My reading about the city and its people made visiting the city more interesting and somehow nostalgic. Milan took heavy bombing during those years, but I’m glad that the Duomo is still standing.

Rose windows.After a substantial Hilton breakfast, we took a subway to the Milan Cathedral. On a side note, there are a lot of shady looking characters who volunteer to “help” with entrance ticket purchasing, but we just asked to be left alone, and luckily they did not persist, although a young guy was eyeing Daniel up and down for a few minutes, while I was eyeing him in return.

View from the roof of Milan Cathedral.There were a lot of people by the Duomo. A lot of pigeons too. There was a huge line to enter the cathedral and a separate huge line to buy entrance tickets. Luckily, we got preferential treatment in both lines on account of kids and skipped both of them. I think that saved us 1.5-2 hours of waiting. Hooray such an attentive and kind attitude to children!

On the roof.Interesting thing is that both Aaron and Anna remembered being told about the cathedral during art classes which they took in Brooklyn. Aaron told us that he recognizes the rose windows and some of the statues. When we were inside, I saw remains of cardinal Schuster, and it was such a strange experience, since I was just reading about him in the earlier mentioned book.

On the roof.After appreciating the beauty of the Milan Duomo from the inside, we proceeded to the rooftop of the cathedral. There was an elevator going to the top, but we picked an option of taking 250 stairs. We all think that a little effort only enhances the experience — you feel the sense of achievement (however small) and endorphin rush because of that. I knew that for adults and Aaron this should not be a difficult task, but we were a little worried about Anna and her ability to make it to the top without my carrying her.

Top of the roof.To our surprise, not only she made it to the rooftop without any complaints, but she was not even out of breath. In fact, she and Arosha practically ran all the way! Another thing that was on our minds is Arosha’s mild fear of heights, especially on top of man-made structures. To our relief, he was not afraid! He and Anna had quite a lot of fun, and I even had to stop them from running since it did not seem appropriate and very safe.

All of us.After Duomo we went to get lunch. Last time we were so impressed by buffalo mozzarella pizza in Charleston restaurant that was located nearby, that we decided to revisit it with Arosha and Anuta. The food was as good as we remembered. Our waiter, an older Italian man who could speak some English, liked our kids and called Anuta a “principessa”, which is princess in Italian. We took liking to it right away and were calling her our principessa a lot during the trip. We still call her that now and then.

Streets of Milan.After lunch we decided to see Sforza Castle which is located in the walking distance. Got our first Italian gelato on the way. I think it was the best gelato of the entire trip. I don’t remember much about Sforza Castle since we did not get inside any of the buildings. I do remember the surrounding walls and the fact that Moscow Kremlin was originally modeled after this castle. Maybe next time we’ll explore it in more detail.

We ate light dinner at the executive lounge again and went to bed early.
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Saturday, January 19, 2019

Новый Год 2019

Yearly tradition. New Year family portraits.Ну вот мы и встретили первый Новый Год в новом доме! Как пожелал всем Даня, пусть 2019 будет спокойным и стабильным! Ну и, конечно, здоровья, здоровья и ещё раз здоровья!!!

Начать хочу с Рождества, а вернее даже с выходных перед ним. У детей в субботу, 22 декабря, начались зимние каникулы, а мы наконец-то выбрались в Бруклин — навестить даниных родителей, пообщаться с Сашей и Сеней и их мамами и сёстрами, закупиться продуктами в русских магазинах.

Us with sister.Поездка получилась весьма удачной. Дети много общались — за 2 дня мы провели на площадке около 8 часов, плюс пару часов были в гостях у Эрики. Так же Даня с Арошей успели подстричься, а мама с Линой приготовили на ужин в воскресенье шикарные манты. Ещё мы успели сходить в Сахару — какие же там вкусные салаты!— и заказать обед в местных китайском и тайском ресторанах, по которым тоже соскучились.

Siblings.Ароша хорошо играл и с Сеней (в основном в футбол), и с Сашей (во все, что угодно, кроме игр с мячом), Анюта неплохо пообщалась с Лизо и Милой, хотя иногда и капризничала и жаловалась на скуку. Мне тоже было приятно поболтать с девочками. Общения мне в новом доме немного не хватает.

Спать, конечно, было не очень удобно, но вполне терпимо. Я надеюсь, что в следующий раз мы выберемся в Бруклине быстрее, чем через пол года.

Parents.А само Рождество прошло в принципе как обычный день. Готовить праздничный стол за неделю до Нового года было неохота, идти куда-то в общественные детские места тоже, потому что дети слегка кашляли и сопливили. Они, к сожалению, и до сих пор не полностью здоровы, а школа уже началась. Анюта снова жалуется на уши, но я надеюсь, что обойдёмся чесночными каплями и избежим антибиотиков.

Fairy tale.Данины родители и Лина встречали Новый год с нами. Правда, не обошлось без небольших отклонений от плана. Во-первых, за пару дней до поездки к нам заболела Лина. С температурой, кашлем, слабостью и прочими неприятными явлениями. К счастью, к воскресенью температура опустилась до терпимых 37 градусов, но в результате до последнего момента было неясно, смогут родители приехать или нет.

Grandma and grandkids.Во-вторых, совершенно замотанная уборкой, готовкой и переживаниями Данила мама забыла взять свежесваренный холодец и картофельную лапшу для фунчезы. Она была жутко расстроена и даже порывалась ехать в Бруклин. Вместо этого решили наведать местный супермаркет и поискать там рисовой лапши, которую я там когда-то видела, и ингредиентов для нового холодца.

Лапша обнаружилась — блюдо из неё получилось вкусное, но не совсем такое, как ожидалось, а скорее что-то среднее между фунчозой и лагманом. Дети этот «лагмафун» ели 4 дня подряд с большим удовольствием.

Blowing kisses.А вот с холодцом повезло меньше. Правильного мяса не было, поэтому мы купили копченые свиные рульки. Результат эксперимента до сих пор стоит на балконе и дожидается ночи перед днём вывоза мусора, чтобы отрправиться на покой в мусорный бак. Температура у нас скачет от -7 до +13, поэтому выкинуть его сразу мы не решились боясь, что он растает и перепачкает весь бак.

Но вообще-то все это мелочи. А праздник прошёл очень хорошо.

Generations.Все нарядились, накрыли традиционный стол. Долго фотографировались. Даня заплатил за неделю телевисионного сервиса, дающего доступ к российским каналам с правильной задержкой времени, поэтому по привычке смотрели российский Новогодний Огонёк. Скучновато, елси честно — российскую эстраду я знаю постольку-поскольку, но местная передача как минимум не лучше. А вот новогодние российские, а вернее советские, фильмы мы в этот раз не смотрели совсем. Ну просто воротит уже от всех этих “Ироний Судьбы”, “Карнавальных Ночей”, “Девчат” и иже с ними.

Дети очень ждали подарков, и кое-что мы разрешили им открыть уже днём. Остальные Анюта получила после ужина, а Ароша дождался полуночи и прихода Нового Года. Не могу сказать, что Ароше очень легко далось не спать до такого позднего времени, но он был очень решитально настроен встретить 2019 вместе с нами. Анюта же ушла спать где-то в 22:30, что для неё тоже на 2 часа позже обычного времени отхода ко сну.

Dad and Daughter.Подарков было как всегда много, и получать, и дарить было приятно. Анюта получила в основном разные вещи для рисования и поделок, Арошу одарили ребусами, рацией, светящимися панелями на стену и snow globe с красным кардиналом внутри. Даня получил такие же панели, только в большем количестве, а я стала обладательницей кухонного комбайна KitchenAid и разных новых кремов и масок для лица.

Даниной маме мы подарили безпроводные наушники и набор для тестирования ДНК, а папе акксесуары для его новых Apple Watch. Лина получила в подарок разную одежду. Кстати, одежду получили в принципе все. Еще мы заказали наши традиционные календари, составленные из фотографий инстаграммы. Я от них получаю массу удовольствия, ежедневно отрывая листочек и вспоминая какую-то приятную сценку из прошлых лет.

Mom and Daughter.А на православное Рождество нас пригласили в гости Лёша и Ира. Кроме нас были Илья с Ульяной и детьми и еще одна незнакомая нам раньше семейная пара с двумя детьми. Время мы провели просто отлично! Накормили нас очень вкусно и обильно — в меню было 12!!! блюд. Я на такой подвиг вряд ли бы решилась, хотя и люблю готовить. Но главная прелесть вечера (а провели мы в гостях больше 6 часов) заключалась в общении. И для взрослых, и для детей. Всё-таки не зря говорят, что общение положительно влияет на здоровье — как на физическое, так и на психическое.
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Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Foggy Morning Serenity

Our woods, our backyard.We had some light snow this morning1 and then heavy fog set in onto the area. All that made for a really quite and serene morning.

Street that our house is on.I couldn’t help it, but stop and snap a couple of pictures of this scene in our own neck of the woods.

  1. Which nevertheless caused the school day to be delayed by 2 hours. []
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Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Arosha’s Italy Notes

Arosha was writing down little things about his days all throughout our vacation to Italy. We decided to post them to the blog under the tag of this trip as well, with some small editorial notes — in brackets.

November 17


Airport lunch.Today I made it to the first stop. It is Milan. We flew out of JFK, which stands for John F. Kennedy. I was flying for 7 hours and then for 2 more. What I didn’t really like [on the plane] was food. Another thing I didn’t like is that they did not give us room for hours [when we arrived to Hilton Milan]. I have not slept on the plane, so when they gave us our room I have not slept for 25 hours.

November 18


Milan Cathedral.Today I did a lot of interesting things like eating combs [honeycombs at breakfast buffet]. Another thing is that I saw a big cathedral [Milan Cathedral] and I was on the roof. It took 600 years to build the cathedral. There were lines [to get inside the cathedral] for one hour, but we are kids, so we skipped them [got priority treatment].

After the cathedral we went to a restaurant. I had pizza and spaghetti.

Then we saw a castle. It had holes in its walls. Also we tasted gelato. I picked lemon and coconut [flavors].

November 19


Bullet train to Florence.Today I’m going to my second stop. It is going to be Florence.

First we woke up and ate breakfast. Then we walked to the train station and waited for bullet train. When we got in, we realized that we came in from the wrong side of the train car because we got [seats] number 3 and 4 and we came in where numbers 18 and 17 were. The bullet train was so fast that it went 300 km/hr [at some points].

I saw Florence Cathedral in the evening. Then we came to the pool [in the hotel]. We really liked it. It was a giant hot tub.

November 20


At the top of bell tower in Florence.We went on top of the bell tower [in Florence] today. It has 414 steps and me and my sister made it to the top. It was so high that I was scared.

Then we went to eat.

November 21


Leaning Tower of Pisa.Today I went to Pisa. There I saw a cathedral and the falling tower.

Then we ate at a restaurant where my sister liked my food less than hers. I got a souvenir [tower of Pisa].

November 22


Waiting for a water bus in Venice.Today I am excited because we are going to Venice. Today is also a Thanksgiving.

First we traveled on a train. When we made it to the water, I knew it was Venice.

Then we checked in [to our hotel, Hilton Molino Stucky] and went out to eat. Oh, and before that I traveled on a water bus. The first bus that we saw did not travel to the hotel.

After the restaurant we went to look for gelato, but we found none and an hour! At the restaurant I ate home made spaghetti.

Then we went to the hotel and went to sleep.

November 23


Gandola ride.Today is my mom’s and dad’s wedding anniversary.

Also, today we got a gondola ride. I really liked it, though it was expensive. It cost 100 euros.

Right after that we ate gelato and looked at Venice. Here are things that I noticed: not a lot of trees, lots of bridges, lots of glass stores.

After that we went to a fancy restaurant. Me and my sister had vegetables and spaghetti. It was very nice, and I also tried black spaghetti [which my mom was having].

A bit later we found a mask store, but I did not buy any [masks yet].

November 24 and 25


Venetian masks.Today we ate our breakfast and went on a ferry [from our hotel on Giudecca island]. Venice was a little flooded.

We went to into the [Venice] cathedral. It was pretty, and inside on the floor there was a mosaic.

After that we looked for masks. I was looking for sun and moon masks, and I bought one of them.

Then next we rode [by elevator] to the top of the Venice tower. It was a wonderful view.

It was raining all day, so we went to the hotel.
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