It was a hot Sacramento evening, but there was still a good size crowd tonight. The raffle guys were selling raffle tickets with their usual chatter and good cheer — even though there were no raffle prizes on the table! The coffee and snack table was busy at the start of the meeting.
“Happy Tuesday, MacNexus” Pete greeted us as the meeting started. He was concerned that the mike was making him too loud and making his voice (like an opera singer’s) sound tinny. The AV guy for the center was not there, so he had to make do. Pete was doing tonight’s presentation on “Home Automation and the Internet of Things”, which is hardware pieces connected, usually through a hub, in your house.
We had no new members tonight. Remember to invite a friend or family member to come check out one of our meetings. Carol, who is one of the volunteers that provide the snacks and the coffee had a quick survey for the group. She wanted to know if we wanted to go back to the COSTCO cookies we previously used or stay with the home baked cookies we have currently. The home baked cookies were quickly chosen as the preferred option. Bob White announced that Ken Spencer had left town without making arrangements for raffle prizes. The only prize tonight would be a basic iPad which would be delivered to the winner later.
Apple announced new MacBook Pro’s (30 days after Pete bought his) with faster processors and graphic cards. They have a True Tone Retina display, but basically have the same look as the previous MacBook Pro. Pete commented that most people won’t need a MacBook Pro. It is for professionals that use their Mac to generate income. They start at $1299 for a 13 inch version and $2399 for the 15 inch version. You can customize them to get the 15 inch up to over $5000 if you want. Pete got asked if there would be a new Mac Book Air. His daughter was just accepted to UC Davis and he took her shopping for a computer for school. He told her she could choose whatever she wanted PC or Mac. She said she could never use a PC (which brought a warm glow to Pete’s heart). So, they looked at the Mac options and Pete said he couldn’t figure out why Apple had the Air. The MacBook and MacBook Pro are almost as light and thin, both have been updated recently which the Air hasn’t been.
A member asked about the recent news about routers and the suggestions that they be turned off and updated. Another member had attended an FBI briefing in which they had said 75% of all the routers had the login set to “Admin” and the password set to “password”. Making your router more secure can be as easy as changing those two things. Ken and Pete are available to help you with this if you need it. The router exploit that had been in the news required physical access to your router to work. A member noted that she had gotten a call from Comcast advising them upgrade their cable modem. (Ed. note: Comcast does do this relative to network compatibility issues.) Pete noted that older routers do not track your data usage like the new DOCSIS 3.0 modems. Comcast will get more information on your data usage and you will get faster throughput.
Another member asked about Pete’s thoughts on upgrading to High Sierra. He noted that he and Ken think differently about it, Pete is in favor of always upgrading to the latest system update from Apple. Pete thinks if something breaks due to a system update the developer of the software (who gets a copy of the new system long before it is released to the public) has not updated the software to run with the new system in the time they have had to do so. Pete suggests using Apple solutions whenever possible as they are designed to work with the operating system — by people who want you to get the most out of what Apple has to offer.
One member said they were getting a pop up window that says something about cleaning their Mac. Pete said this was probably adware and it would take some time at the members computer to find where it was hidden to delete it. Another member asked about Thunderbolt and what it was. Thunderbolt uses the same port as USB-C ( an industry standard) but offers faster data transfer speeds. Apple uses it on the iMac and MacBook Pro. There is a lightening bolt symbol to designate Thunderbolt ports. A member asked if Quicken is compatible with High Sierra and, if it isn’t, is Apple developing an alternative. Quicken, while it was an Intuit product, was not good at doing software updates when Apple released OS updates. Pete had switched from it a while ago for a web based program that is similar to Quicken. Quicken now offers its own web based subscription program. Quicken has been an independent company since 2016.
A member tried to save documents as a PDF and encountered a window indicating that she should get Adobe Acrobat to do the conversion. Apple computers can convert any document to PDF format via the Print dialog. Another problem is sites that require you to have Adobe Flash. If you reach a site that does require flash; you can use the Chrome browser which has a Flash emulator built-in (and Chrome is free).
After the break, Pete was up with “Your Connected Home” There is an entire market developing before our eyes as another market is dying. Tower Records and Blockbuster Videos all sold physical media — something that has died out. As they are dying out , Home Automation is growing. Pete had just been at Best Buy where he remembered aisle of DVDs and CDs. Now they have aisles of home automation equipment. Pete brought his daughter Kaileia to help with tonight’s presentation. She made a video to show how their home made use of home automation. The video started with her walking up to her house and using her Apple Watch to unlock the front door by saying “Siri, unlock the door.” Once she was inside, she said “Alexa, turn on the lights” and all the lights came on. Kailiea then told Alexa “Play Anyway You Want It” and then she went to the desk and told Alexa “Play Fireworks” and some light panels on the wall started flashing in sync with the music. She then asked the Echo Dot to connect to the bedroom so she could video chat with Pete. The Echo Spot on the desk said someone was on the the front deck and she said “Show me the front deck” and the screen on the Spot showed the person at the front door. Kailiea then went to the refrigerator and discovered there was no ranch dressing so she said “Siri, add ranch dressing to list” which Siri acknowledged. She then asked if it would be hot tomorrow; Siri said based on the predicted temperature tomorrow would be considered hot. The video then showed Kailiea in the bathroom where she said turn the lights blue and play my audio book. Pete’s girlfriend then told Alexa make an announcement “Movie time in 5 minutes” which then went out to every Echo device in the house. Pete said that it was great that you don’t have to talk to each other in person — with a smile. Kailiea was then shown on the couch with a bucket of popcorn, using the remote for the Apple TV to say “Play Guardians of the Galaxy.” She then went to her bedroom, said turn on the fan, turn off the lights and make the headboard green, which lit up a light strip Pete had installed in the headboard. One member asked how many devices were involved and what kind were they. Pete has Echo devices, Apple Home Pods and Google Home all in his house along with the Apple TV and several Nest Devices. A member asked if you can have things done on a timer. Pete said, yes you can set timers for certain actions. Someone asked “How often does it not work?” Pete says he has a very low tolerance for technology that doesn’t work and, while there had been the occasional problem, overall everything works most of the time. Someone asked Kailiea “If you don’t like your Dads music can you change it?” She said “Yes” and Pete added there are two zones in the house, his with classic rock and the rest of the house with that other music. Here is a list of links to the devices Pete has and uses:
Alexa & Echo devices
Apple Home Pod
August Smart Lock
Pete replayed the video, stopping to talk about which devices were used at each part to accomplish what he showed us. For example, the front door uses the Apple Watch and Apple’s HomeKit to open the August Lock, which replaces the inside knob of your front door hardware. That allows you to open the door if the battery is dead or you don’t have power so your router can’t communicate with your devices. You can open the lock when you are not at the house with your iPhone or have it lock after a set time when you leave the house.
Each of the major types of devices use their own protocol for communications. Apple Home Kit is very popular due to the fact that Apple has a large base of iPhones and iPads that can be used to control devices and the Apple customers are usually willing to spend a little more.
Pete does have Echo devices in every room of his house (he compares himself to Tony Stark for having automated house). He has a motion detector next to the Nest thermostat in the hallway which controls the hallway light. If it is after 10:00 pm, the light will only turn on at 5% brightness so you can still see your way down the hall but without a bright light to blind you. Someone asked about the motion detector and pets, it has a sensitivity slider that lets you adjust how sensitive it is to motion. He has all LED lights in his house and many of the Hue lights which can generate thousands of colors. In Kailiea’s bedroom, he had built the headboard with the light strip and had installed ceiling speakers hooked up to a bluetooth amp for music in the room. The bathroom has a concealed Echo Dot in it so voice commands work there too. With the Echo Spot devices you can “drop in” on another echo device, even one outside your house if you have set it up. It is like FaceTime if you drop in from one Echo Spot to another. It can show a picture like a digital picture frame or give you information when not in use. Pete has four cameras around his house and can check on them from the Echo Spot devices or his iPhone without having to go in person to each area of the house. He said there isn’t yet a robot to bring you snacks but he uses his kids for that, which got a smile out of Kailiea. They use Siri with the HomePod to keep a grocery list; they have found that works best for them. He really likes the speaker on the Home Pod and is even more impressed with the microphone, it can hear you even when the music is playing loudly.
There now is a $600 faucet you can control with Alexa. Pete would like it but his girlfriend has said no. One thing a lot of people noticed in the video was that Pete has a case for the Apple TV remote, he finds it a necessity. The Apple TV will, if you are watching a show and miss something, using the Siri command “what did they say” the Apple TV will rewind the show 10 seconds and replay it with the captioning on so you can see what was said. Pete said it helps a lot with shows like Game of Thrones. Members asked if there we’re any subscriptions involved and what the bandwidth demands were for having all this equipment. There are no subscriptions required for most of the devices, but to get the most out of them you may need to subscribe to certain services. For example, the HomePod will play your music but with a subscription to Apple Music you have access to thousands of songs to stream through the HomePod. Music does not use very much data, movies and video games will use more. With all his devices and how he uses them, Pete has rarely exceeded his data cap at his house. You can play different music in different areas of your house if you have multiple devices. All the different types of devices have abilities but Pete said that if you have the budget, he likes the Apple HomePod with SIri. Security is good for all these devices, the different protocols all use two factor authentication to ensure the you are the one adding devices to the system.
Running only a little late (15 minutes) Pete asked if we could go till midnight but we all wanted to get to the raffle. With Kailiea drawing the winning ticket the “not there” iPad was soon to be at the winner home.
I look forward to seeing you at the next meeting. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org and remember to invite someone to come check us out, either at the General meeting or at the Saturday workshops.