Monday, March 19, 2018

Wink - The Heart of My Smart Home - Review


1st Gen Wink Hub
Easy to setup
Connects to many devices
Works with Alexa
Easy to create schedules
Local control
No monthly fee

No Ethernet port
No Battery backup

If you're wanting to get started with using smart home products, you're going to need a hub of some sort. Actually I'll backup a bit. You don't need a hub, but I'd recommend it if you want multiple products to work together in one ecosystem.  On top of that, you're a little safer than if said non hub company decided to get out of the smart home business (there were some TP-link lights that were wireless and they no longer work because they stopped supporting them.) That's why I don't recommend going with systems that strictly use WiFi or Bluetooth.  The most popular smart home hubs on the market today are Wink, SmartThings, Vera, Amazon Echo (yes, they have a speaker that has Zigbee support),  Nexia, and Iris. I'm sure there's a few others out there that are more niche.

So what does the Wink hub do you ask? It allows you to connect different products with different protocols, such as Zigbee, Z-wave, Lutron, Bluetooth, and WiFI to the same "network". Some hubs only connect to a few protocols, for example, the Amazon Echo speaker hub will only connect to Zigbee devices. These protocals allows the hub to control all the devices you have.

I bet you're wondering why I chose Wink over the other hubs. As I mentioned in another post, I didn't chose SmartThings because I didn't know if they would be buried when Samsung bought them. I liked the layout of the Wink app with my Android phone, it's a very clean layout. It's also really simple to setup new devices with the app and they keep adding more.

There are several ways to control your devices with Wink. The first is with your smartphone, Android or Apple. You can turn devices, such as lights, on and off. The second is with a schedule, setup a schedule everyday to turn on your garage light at dusk and another to turn it off at midnight everyday. The 3rd way is through what they call robots. Other companies call them recipes, but they're basically the same thing. With robots you can setup devices to do certain things based on events. I have over 100 robots setup for all kinds of different things.  I have one setup to turn the lights on when the motion detector detects motion downstairs after sunset. I have a robot setup to turn a 3rd light on when the living room lights turn on. There's another one that turns the coffee light off after 30 minutes when it's turned on. There's so many different things you can do.

Some devices connect through Wink through their API. Here's a few products that I have that do: Nest thermostat, Nest smoke alarms, Canary camera, Arlo cameras, MyQ garage door opener, Ring camera, and my Amazon Echo. With a some of the products you don't receive all the features through Wink, probably because the products want you to download their own apps. For example, in Nest, to see your thermostat usage history you need the Nest app. To turn the smoke detectors off, if they detect smoke, you need the Nest app. You need the Arlo app to arm the Arlo cameras. The canary camera doesn't show video through the Wink app, it can only arm and disarm. This is OK though, you can still use their features to trigger other events through robots. Even if you have products that won't connect to Wink, you can use other services like IFTTT and Stringify to connect them together.

Just to be clear, having a smart home doesn't go without having any problems. There's network issues every once in a while. You can check Winks api status here.  Since I have a gen 1 hub, if I lose internet connection (which rarely happens), then my robots won't run. If you upgrade to the Gen 2 hub this doesn't happen, the robots can run internally instead of over the cloud. Now these issues aren't limited to just Wink, they can happen with any smart home system. With the history of my setup I can tell you it doesn't happen too often. There may be times that lights disconnect from your hub. Most of the time this is because the light is too far away from the hub. With Z-wave and Zigbee device you have mesh networks (separate mesh networks, Zigbee and Z-wave don't work together). This mean the lights can reach the hub by connecting through each other. For example, my garage light is way to far away to connect to the Wink hub. It goes through several other lights to reach the hub.

I can definitely recommend the Wink hub! I purchased my hub in July 2015 and it's been very reliable. You now have the option to purchase the 2nd gen Wink hub, which offers a few advantages. The second gen hub supports 5 GHz WiFi, Ethernet port, Bluetooth LE, and auto-discovery for setting up new devices. Checkout this blog post for a full list of devices that I have connected to my Wink hub. As I said in my last post, I'll be reviewing some of the smart home products I have purchased.

Devices I Own Connected Through Wink
5 cameras
25 lights (combination of switches and bulbs)
2 fans switches
1 garage door opener
1 thermostat
2 smoke detectors
12 sensors (door, water, and motion)

Links - Official website.
Wink 1st Gen Hub on Amazon - $34.95 at the time of this posting.
Wink 2nd Gen Hub on Amazon - $99 at the time of this posting.
Wink Hub 2

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Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Should You Upgrade to the Samsung Galaxy S9?

Last year you bought the beautiful Samsung Galaxy S8 and it was everything you dreamed of. Round edges, OLED screen, great camera.... and so on. After plopping down a huge amount of money, a year later the S9 comes out. Should you upgrade?

We'll start with what's new with the Samsung S9? You have a new color option, they fixed the finger-print reader position that everyone hates (I didn't have an issue with it because I use a case, so this makes it easy to find the sensor), the newer Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor and Adreno 630 GPU, AR Emoji, added 'Super Slo-Mo' mode, and 'dual aperture' camera if you get the S9 Plus. These are some great updates to the S9. But again, should you upgrade?

To me it really depends on what phone you're currently carrying. If you have the Galaxy S8, I'm going to say no. Here's my reasons. The S8 is still a good phone. It has a great camera, a great screen, plenty of internal storage, plenty of ram, and is fast with the 8 cores. The Samsung S8 is still in the process of being upgraded to the newest Android OS, Android 8.0 Oreo. I mean, if you have to have the new AR Emoji or 'Super Slo-Mo'mode, then by all means upgrade. 

Now if you have an older phone, let's say a Samsung Galaxy S5 or S6, or never had a flagship phone, then maybe you should upgrade. I'd imagine your phone is getting pretty slow at this point and the camera's not the best out there. Or you have an older iPhone and looking to make the switch to Android, then this would be a great opportunity.

So the bottom line is, it really depends on your situation. I currently have the Samsung Galaxy S8 and won't be making the switch. I can still get a few more years out of my phone. Do you plan on making the switch?

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Monday, March 12, 2018

Smart Homes are Awesome!

Older video, I'll be updating this later.

This will be an overview of how I use some of my smart home products and  the backstory on how I got started. I honestly have too many products to review each one individually in this article. I knew for a long time that I wanted a smart home. What does this entail do you ask? I mainly wanted the ability to turn  lights on and off with my smartphone. Another reason was just for convenience, who doesn't want to turn lights on and off from the couch? You can build a simple or sophisticated smart home, mine is more on the sophisticated side. More about that later.

I bought my first smart home product to save some money. The year was 2012, my A/C bill was pretty high. I had a thermostat that had the built in schedule, but it didn't know when I was away from home. That could be a huge savings if my thermostat could automatically go into away mode when I wasn't there. I had read on the internet that there was a new "smart thermostat" that was heading to the market. As soon as I laid my eyes on it online I knew I wanted one, so I placed an order. At that time Google didn't own Nest, and they didn't even have an Android app. I received the Nest thermostat in the mail, installed it, and it's been great ever since. You may even recall a blog post where I reviewed it.

The next thing I needed was a central home hub for all the devices to connect to and communicate with each other. At the time there were only several options, Alexa didn't even exist yet. The three main ones were SmartThings, Iris, and Wink. There may have been a few more really expensive options that I wasn't even going to consider. I chose Wink as my home automation hub and have been happy with it every since. Iris had a monthly fee and Samsung owns SmartThings (they had just purchased them.) Just a few years back Samsung had purchased Boxee and buried them. I was worried the same thing would happen to SmartThings.

From there I bought the Chamberlain MyQ garage controller, a few light switches, and some bulbs. I didn't want to go too crazy and get everything at once. I slowly built my smart home so I could verify everything was working along the way.

The other reason I chose a hub was because I wanted to use Z-wave and Zigbee devices. Without getting too detailed, Z-wave and Zigbee are 2 different wireless technologies used in a lot of smart home products. I don't care for the WiFi and Bluetooth enabled products because they typically don't integrate well with other devices. Below is a list of devices I own. Some of them integrate through wink with APIs.

Smart Home Products I Own (I'll be reviewing products individually soon.)
1st Gen Wink Hub 
1st Gen Nest Thermostat 
Canary Indoor Camera 
Ring Doorbell Camera 
MyQ Garage Door Opener 
3 Arlo Cameras 
1 GoControl Siren 
5 Go Control Door Sensors 
1 Iris Door Sensor 
2 Go Control Motion Sensors 
1 Iris Motion Sensor 
3 Dome Leak Sensors 
2 Wink Relays 
Quirky Egg Minder 
4 GE Link Bulbs 
2 GE Fan Switches 
2 GE Dimmer Switches 
3 GE 2-way Switches 
4 GE Light Switches 
2 Quirky Pivot Power Genius Outlets 
3 Sengled Elements Classic Light Bulbs 
5 Sylvania RGB Light Bulbs 
1 Sylvania Adjustable White Recessed Light 
2 Aeon Z-wave Plugs 
1 Sylvania Zigbee Smart Plug 
1 Sylvania Flex Outdoor/Indoor Zigbee Light Strip 
Roomba 690 Vacuum 
Bloomsky Weather Station 
1 Harmony TV Smart Control Hub and Remote 
1 Fire TV Streaming Media Player 
1 Echo Show 
1 Echo Spot 
2 Echo Dots 
1 1st Gen Echo 

The great thing about a smart home is that you don't need to only use your app to turn lights on and off. With the help of motion sensors and robots (used to trigger events based on inputs) you can really automate your home. I have 3 motion sensors that I've setup to turn lights on and off at different times. The one downstairs turns on 3 lights when motions is sensed after sunset. Upstairs I have the hallway lights turn on at night for 5 minutes and the stairway light turn on for 1 minute when motion is detected. I have my computer lights in the master bedroom turn on at night with motion until 9 pm, at 9 pm the master bedroom lamps turn on and the computer lights turn off. My garage light turns on at sunset until midnight.

Wink also integrates with other products for automation. I can use the motion from my Ring doorbell to turn my porch lights on at night. When my outdoor Arlo cameras detect motion, outdoor lights turn on. When my indoor Canary camera is set to away (it does this automatically based on your location), my Arlo outdoor cameras arm, door sensors arm, and the motion detectors arm.  If there's smoke in the house, my Nest smoke detectors will turn all the lights on and turn off the air conditioner (to keep the fire from spreading). If my garage door is left open I get a notification. Another neat thing I can do is use my Amazon Echo's to turn lights on and off (the one's that aren't automated). A voice assistant should be one of the first things your purchase for your smart home.

There's three ways to make a smart home automated through Wink. You have robots (setup through Wink), IFTTT, and Stringify. IFTTT and Stringify are 3rd party apps. I use all 3 for different things. I have around 100 robots setup to do various things, many IFTTT robots, and a few Stringify recipes.  For example,  I use IFTTT (if this, then that) to turn all my lights off, turn on door triggers, and arm my Canary camera at night. I have a recipe setup through Stringify that arms the Arlo cameras when the Canary camera arms. I wouldn't really call a home smart without all of these services.

If you're thinking of setting up a smart home I'd recommend starting out with a few items and slowly add more. This way you get a chance to see how all the products you purchase work without being overwhelmed. I can say I definitely recommend Wink as a good smart home hub.

Helpful Links (you can get most of the devices on my list from (List of products that work with Wink)

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Monday, March 5, 2018

IKEA Computer Desk Dream Build - Around $300


I've had this idea for a while that I wanted to build my own computer desk from pieces from IKEA. I had watched many videos of people doing something similar on YouTube. I was so tired of my small desk and wanted something larger, plus, you can save so much money over buying a large desk.

I researched what I wanted from Ikea's website and went shopping. I ended up going with a 98" counter-top for the desk surface, which was definitely way bigger than my previous desk. For the base I chose two have 2 Alex Drawers, one on each end. I wanted to do something about the wiring with the new desk, it looked terrible on the one I was replacing. Luckily IKEA actually sold a cheap one that would do the trick and was easy to install.

Assembling the desk was pretty straight forward. I assembled the base cabinets first, then placed the counter-top on top. 4 screws mounted the cable management underneath. You can see the progress in the video below.

The parts:
Karlby Beech Counter-top (Link) $119 (now $159)
Alex Drawer (Link) $89, bought 2 for $178
Cable Management (Link) $12.99

Total Cost: $310.98

Additional Purchases:
Wood Base Table Lamp from Amazon (Link) $19.19
Sengled LED Smart Bulb from Amazon (Link) $9.99, bought 2
Desk Pad from Amazon (Link) $8.90
LED Strip from Amazon (Link) $7.99
Smart Switch for LED Strip - One I wasn't using.

The desk looks amazing! I built the whole thing for just over $300. There are so many options for you to go with at IKEA, you can definitely make it your own.

What do you think of the desk? Comment and share if you enjoyed this article!

Time Lapse Video of IKEA Computer Desk Build

New Desk Showing Cable Management (Wall to be painted later.)
Showing Cable Management
The Old Desk

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Saturday, March 3, 2018

Toshiba Keyboard Numlock Stuck On - Fix 2

I've since found a second way to fix the NUMLOCK stuck on issue with my Toshiba laptop and it's even easier to do than my original fix. It's so easy that you're not going to believe how few steps it takes. The steps are below.

1. Go to your Windows search bar, type OSB, and press enter.
2. De-select Numlock from the on-screen keyboard (located in the bottom right corner.)

Now you have 2 options. The first fix was to copy and past some code into a text document and save it as a different file, then run the file. You can find the link here.

That's it. Enjoy! If this post has been helpful be sure to share, like, and comment!
Deselect the Highlighted NumLock

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