Monday, April 23, 2018

Fibit Versa Review - Finally a Decent Affordable Smartwatch!


-4+ day battery life.
-Store and play 300 songs.
-15+ exercise modes
-Access apps for sports, weather, and more
-See phone notifications
-Track heart rate all day
-Purchase accessory bands
-Connects to wifi

I started out with the Fitbit Charge HR. It had band problems where the band would peel up near the watch after about a year. To solve this problem I bought the Charge HR 2, which has replaceable bands and fixed the problem. I've been really happy with the HR 2 but missed the truly "smart watch" experience. I use to have the first gen Motorola 360 smartwatch (purchased it after the second gen was out), which was awesome looking. It lasted until the back started cracking, which was a common occurrence in that watch. So I was super excited when the Fitbit Versa was announced and pre-ordered the watch. At $199.99, it's actually one of the cheaper smartwatches.

Just in case you don't know what the Fitbit line is, it's a set of fitness/health tracking devices. You can track your steps, heart rate, resting heart rate, sleep (deep and light), your activity, exercises, active hours, and more.  This can help you have some insight on your health. Along with that, you can track your calorie intake, water intake, your weight (they have a scale). You have to manually enter your foods and water for the calorie and water intake.

When it arrived I was excited to get it out of the box and start wearing it. Like most internet connected devices, the first thing it needed to do was install an update. While the update was being applied I installed the screen protector and new band that I had purchased on Amazon (links below). After the updates were installed,  I placed the watch on my wrist and started tinkering with it.

So you may be asking, what can you do with this thing that another cheaper Fitbit can't do?  There are 2 things the Versa can do that the cheaper ones can't. The first is, you can install apps.  There are a couple useful apps the watch has, but the library is pretty small right now. I'm sure there'll be many more apps added. The one app I was hoping was there is the Spotify app, but it doesn't exist yet. They do have 2 other music service apps, Pandora and Deezer. With both those services, you'll need the paid version of the music apps to use them on the watch. The other feature the cheaper Fitbit can't do is app notifications. With the Fitbit Charge and Charge 2, you only had the basic notifications, which included the calendar and text notifications. With the Versa, you get all your notifications. Of course, you can de-select a notification if you don't want it. I really love this feature of the watch because now I don't have to pull my phone out of my pocket as much.

So what do I think could be improved you ask? Well, there could be a better selection of watch faces. After coming from an Android smartwatch, the quality of watch faces is lacking, but there are a couple of good ones. As I stated above, there are also not many apps right now. I'm sure there'll be more added in the future.

What are the positives you ask? Definitely, my favorite part is that the watch can go 4 days on a charge, most other smartwatches you have to charge daily. The display is nice and bright and it's a great looking watch. I love being able to get all my notifications now! It's great that you can change bands. The price is just right as well. I definitely think it's worth the upgrade to the Fitbit Versa!

Price: $199.99

Links - Official Website - The band I purchased from Amazon - The Screen Protector I purchased from Amazon

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Monday, April 16, 2018

Coding Boot Camp - 1 1/2 Months In

A Game I Coded
I'm one month into my coding boot camp class at UNCC Charlotte and thought I'd give a little overview and my thoughts so far. As of right now, I have learned HTML, CSS, Bootstrap, Javascript, and a little JQuery and AJAX. I won't go into what each of those is right now.  I decided to take a coding boot camp course because I had been interested in it for a long time and thought it would be a great way to make a career out of it.

The good. I'm definitely learning a lot of stuff.  My previous knowledge of coding was very little. I knew a little HTML and what CSS was. I didn't know how to read or write CSS, but I could do very little editing of it. As for software, the only software I used was Adobe Dreamweaver, which worked ok. Now I'm very familiar with HTML and CSS and can write a complete webpage from scratch. For school, we use Visual Studio Code for coding. Some other good softwares are Atom and Sublime. Of course, there's many more out there. JavaScript, not the same as JAVA (I didn't know that before this class), has taken me a little longer to learn, mainly because it's completely different. We are currently working on APIs and pulling things from APIs and displaying them on a webpage. Again, it's a little confusing in the beginning, but I'll catch on.

The bad. Sometimes when you're learning this stuff, it's a struggle to remember everything. I do my best to take as many notes as possible. I have a Google docs sheet I use to keep notes. Sometimes you leave the class thinking to yourself, "What in the world did I just learn?" Then a couple weeks later everything clicks. It feels like you're always working on homework, which you are. If you're not doing that then you're going over coding that you did in class. Anytime I'm not at my full-time job, I'm coding on the laptop.

Speaking of laptops, you may be wondering which laptop I'm coding on. I went with the Lenovo Yoga 920.  It was a tough decision deciding if I was going to go with a Mac or Windows laptop. I purchased my laptop at Best Buy because I wanted to be able to mess around with the different settings in person.  There are certain products I will purchase online and others I have to purchase in person.  I like the touchscreen and the fingerprint reader on the Yoga 920 (Mac doesn't offer touchscreen). It has an I7 processor, 8 gigs of RAM, and a 250Gb hard drive. This thing is super fast!

Below I'll post some links to some of the homework assignments that I've completed, which some are pretty cool. In a few of the homework assignments, we've created some games. We post all of our homework assignments on GitHub, which is a site where many people and companies publish there coding. That site was also a learning curve. Along with that site we learned to use the Git Bash command prompt. It had been a long time since I had used command prompts.

So overall I'm really pleased with the course, even with all the work you have to do. They tell you in the beginning that this won't be an easy class, and it isn't! It will be rewarding once I complete the class in the end.

UNCC Coding Bootcamp
Lenovo Yoga 920
HTML, CSS, and JavaScript Explained

Working Homework Links - Main Page (still under construction) - Psychic Game - Number Matching Game - WW2 Quiz - My main GitHub page.

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Monday, April 2, 2018

Zenni Optical is Awesome for Eyeglasses!


Not tech related, but I couldn't pass up tell you about an awesome website I found for purchasing eye-glasses.  Most places that you buy eyeglasses from charge an insane amount of money. Zenni Optical actually charges you a little more than what it actually cost to make the eyeglasses. You go to, pick out a pair of glasses you like, add your prescription, choose your options, then click the purchase button. It's that simple! They have pairs as low as $7, now that's just crazy.  Sometimes they do charge $20 for the way they have to make my eyeglasses, but that's still not bad. They have many different styles as well.

I've purchased several pairs of eyeglasses form Zenni Optical. The first one I purchased were the classic looking eyeglasses. I had a whole look I was going for when I grew my mustache out for charity. It definitely achieved the look I was going for, you can see the picture below. The second pair I just received in the mail on Saturday (they actually shipped quicker than I thought they would), shipping can take up to 4 weeks. They have carbon fiber arms, and they look awesome.  I also have a pair of sunglasses on the way, that I paid about $20 for.

You have all kinds of options for your eyeglasses as well. You can have tints, blue blockers, polarized. You can have different color tints. They also have several different brands of tints as well as auto tinting. I usually get the auto tinting with anti-reflective coating.

My Retro Glasses
My New Glasses
Side view of the carbon fiber. 
I was wearing these glasses with my mustache (before I shaved).
So if you're looking for a pair of eyeglasses for a reasonable price, you should definitely checkout Zenni Optical.  You really don't have much to lose.

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Classic Pair Eyeglasses - start at $29.95
Carbon Fiber Arm Eyeglasses - start at $32.95

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Monday, March 26, 2018

IFTTT Review - Awesome Automation!


-Many devices and companies have it.
-You can automate many things.

-You can only have one if statement.
-You can only have one that statement.

You've heard me mention IFTTT in a few other post. I thought I'd give my review here and tell you all about it. IFTTT stands for "if this, than that", so if one action happens then trigger another.  Just from my recent post, you'd think it's just for smart homes, but it's more than that. It can be used for every aspect of your life. You can use it for photography, Facebook, blogs, home automation, your smartphone, Microsoft apps, your calendar and on and on.  Click here for a complete list of companies that allow the use of IFTTT through there products and services.  You can set up applets using the smartphone app or their website, both are super simple to use.

So what do I use IFTTT for you ask? I actually have around 100 applets (this is what they call their recipes.) Here's a list of some of them.

Home Automation
-If You say "Alexa trigger nest fan on", then turn on Hallway Thermostat fan for 15 minutes (Wink)
-Post a Tweet when Roomba® finishes a cleaning job
-If You say "Alexa trigger timer lights normal", then activate shortcut (Wink)
-If last family member leaves, then activate shortcut (Life 360)
-If You say "Alexa trigger night alarm off", then disarm Arlo (Wink)

Smartphone Automation
-If connects to Walmartwifi, then send an SMS to 7047018148
-Lost your phone? Text it "lostphone" to turn up ringer volume!
-If @movie Regal Starlight Cinema 14, mute ringtone
-Turn Phone on Vibrate at Work
-Turn ringtone back up when I leave work

Social Media
-If new public video uploaded, then post a tweet to @dhrandy (YouTube)
-If daily activity summary, then post a tweet to @dhrandy (Fitbit)
-Tweet a picture of "Old Glory" for the 4th of July!
-Share new links you post on Facebook to Twitter
-If any new post on your blog, then create a link post on Home Tech Dad (Facebook Pages)

There's really no reason not to use IFTTT, unless you just don't want to automate anything. There are so many things you can automate in your life through IFTTT! Best of all,  it's free to use!

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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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