Setting Up My New Phillips Hue Lights

The Phillips Hue lights are a very polished piece of gadgetry. They work reliably, are easy to configure, and fun to use. They don’t come cheap, but if you want a rock-solid product, you can’t go wrong here.

Awhile back, I was sitting at my desk in my room, thinking about how cool it would be if I could turn my lamp on and off by talking to it. So I decided I was going to get a smart outlet that would connect to Apple HomeKit. Long story short, this escalated[1] until I finally decided I would buy a set of Hue light bulbs to replace all the light bulbs in my room[2].

What I Bought:

I purchased two items on Amazon: The Phillips Hue White Smart Bulb Starter Kit and the Hue Dimmer Switch Smart Remote. These four bulbs would cover the ceiling light fixture and the desk lamp in my bedroom. This cost me a little over $100.

Image Credit: Amazon

Hardware Setup:

These instructions were printed clearly on the inside of the box, and they couldn’t have been easier:

Install all the lightbulbs, turn them all on, plug the Bridge into your router, and download the app.

I walked through the app setup process, which involved downloading a software update for the Bridge, and then I was all set.

The dimmer switch was even easier to set up. I simply stuck the little plate to my wall with the included stickers. No screws, no mess, no fuss. Even better, the dimmer comes out (it attaches magnetically) and acts as a wireless remote.

Software Setup: Hue App

In the Hue app, I have all four bulbs grouped together as one room, which I tied to the dimmer switch. Then I created a “scene” called “Ceiling on,” which I mapped to the “On” button on the switch. So when I press the on button, only my ceiling lights turn on. But when I press the off button, all my lights turn off, including the lamp. No more forgetting to turn that thing off!

Software Setup: Apple Home App

In Apple’s Home app, I also have all four bulbs assigned to the same room. I’ve got three of them grouped together as my “Lights,” and the other one by itself as my “Desk Lamp.” Nice and simple.

Software Setup: Siri

I can control the lights using Siri by simply saying, “Hey Siri, turn my Desk Lamp on.” But the Home app goes even deeper than that with its “scenes” feature. A “scene” is a group of settings for any number of HomeKit devices, which can be configured all at once with a single tap, or by using Siri. So I can say “Hey Siri, goodnight” and all my lights go off.

My personal favorite turns my lamp on to 5% brightness and is called “You up.” So if I need a nightlight, I simply say, “Hey Siri, you up?” Straight magic.

Bugs

Not too much to complain about here, except for a minor signal strength issue. We have two routers in my house, and I originally plugged the Hue Bridge into the one in my basement. In hindsight, this was silly, since that’s the router that barely reaches my room. The Hue Bridge had similar performance issues: it worked most of the time, but occasionally a bulb wouldn’t respond. Moving the Bridge to the other router in the garage — the one that does reach my room — seems to have solved this problem.

Conclusion

I’m extremely happy with my Hue lights. They work well, were easy to set up, and are very customizable. My eye for expansion is now turned to my garage. For my dad’s birthday, we’re going to get him a few more bulbs and a Hue motion sensor, so that the lights in the garage turn on automatically when you walk in. Heck yeah!

[1] Whoops. Never leave a nerd alone scheming about gadgets. Last summer I went on a 20 minute walk without my headphones to distract me, and by the time I got home I had convinced myself I needed to buy an iPad Pro.

[2] Except for my nightstand lamp, which I don’t want or need to be automatic.

Aside

Interim: Going on Hiatus

Hey everyone.

So today I’m announcing that I will no longer be writing here every single week.  Since starting college, my school load has increased (I am an engineering student after all), and my time to write has dwindled quite a bit (and my time to keep up with tech news, through blogs and podcasts, has gone down as well).

I still love writing this blog, and I’m sad to end this era.  I’ve really enjoyed it.  I still see myself potentially writing on here every now and again, but I’m no longer able to stick to a regular schedule.

Thank you so much for everyone who’s read my work over the past almost two years.  It’s really quite humbling.  I appreciate every one of you.

With sadness,
-Nick

Technology on Campus

In the past two weeks I started my joint-enrollment at Atlanta’s Southern Polytechnic State University.  Basically, joint-enrollment allows high school juniors and seniors (me) to take some (or all) or their classes at a local college, and the rest of their classes at their high school.  The college classes give double credit towards high school, plus they still count towards your degree once you start going to college full time.  As a homeschooler, this is a big jump for me.  Not only has it provided an entirely different atmosphere for school, but it has also given me many new opportunities to (aha!) stare at other people’s phones.  This has also gotten me thinking about all the other various electronic devices used all over campus.  I thought I’d run through all the tech I have, and why each piece is or isn’t necessary on campus.

1.  iPod
As someone who still doesn’t have a smartphone, my iPod Touch is basically my go-to device when I’m leaving the house.  Fortunately, SPSU’s WiFi is pretty good, so the iPod is definitely serviceable.  If I need to make a note of something, or if I want to check my email or twitter between classes, this small, portable device really can’t be beat.  Of course, being small is also a drawback in some respects, which brings me to my next device.

2.  iPad
At home, there’s no question that I’d rather use my iPad Mini over my iPod.  The simple fact of the matter is that it’s bigger.  However, on campus, I don’t really use my iPod a whole lot.  Sure, I use it, but it’s mostly for quick things.  Therefore, I don’t actually bring my iPad to SPSU.  I had thought about taking notes on it (I opted for paper there), and I did bring it to the first day of classes, just in case I needed it.  Honestly though it’s just one more device to carry around (and worry about getting stolen).  I’m not sure I even touched it that one day I brought it, so that means it’s staying at home from now on.

3.  Laptop
This was the one piece of equipment that I knew for sure I was going to need.  A friend of mine (who’s a year older) told me that they do a lot of in-class writing for English, so you needed a laptop.  My English class is actually held in a computer lab though, so I don’t think I technically need the laptop.  However, I do prefer to use it.  For one, I’m used to it, and I know how everything works.  Secondly, if I use the university computers, I have to use a thumb drive to save all my work and take it home.  This immediately makes me nervous; I don’t want to accidentally not save my work and lose everything.  That being said, the laptop is definitely something that I will be using frequently.  It’s also nice because just in case I do need to do something that I can’t do on my iPod, I can boot up my laptop, since I don’t have my iPad.

Oh I almost forgot – what have I picked up staring at other people’s gadgets?  Well, I’d say there’s a fairly even split between iOS and Android phones (though I think Android has the edge).  Most of the laptops are PCs, but there is a mac or two here and there.  Finally, I’ve also seen a few iPads floating around.  It’s a pretty tech-centered campus, though that term may be redundant in and of itself.  ••

The Hands-Free House

A while back our garage door opener broke.  After buying a new one, we discovered that it had a nice little feature: A motion sensor that turns the light on automatically when you walk into the garage.  After we got past our Beverly Hillbillies “someone left the light a-burning in there!” realization, we discovered that it’s actually a really helpful feature.  So helpful, in fact, that there are other rooms in the house that I walk into now only to be reminded that, “Oh yeah, I have to flip the light switch.”  So I got to wondering, what if I made a smart home, where everything in my house was automated?  What if I put every electric device in my house on a network and programmed them all to obey my every command, without my even having to command them?  Here are some imaginative scenarios from inside the Hands-Free House.

I wake up to my alarm going off.  But that’s not all I wake up to.  My lights slowly dim on, and different music plays depending on the day of the week (one less thing to think about first thing in the morning).  I sit up and say “Good morning” to a TV, which immediately turns on.  It starts scrolling the Apple TV Today View I’ve talked about before, showing me my email and twitter, as well as a weather forecast and a news ticker.  I roll out of bed, and as I walk to the kitchen, all required lights turn on, then off as I walk in and out of each room.

As I walk out the front door, the house checks to see if anyone else is home.  No?  The air conditioning lets the heat rise a bit, in order to keep those energy bills down.  The door, after confirming that I have my keys in my pocket, locks itself.  After I’ve finished my errands, my car lets the house know that I’m almost home, and the AC cools the house back down again.

After dinner it’s time for a little TV.  As I sit down on the couch, a small camera in the TV determines that it’s me sitting there (as opposed to another member of the family).  The TV quickly loads the shows that I like to watch, eliminating all hassle in the way of successful vegetation.  ••

What Comes After the Internet?

Last week I would have looked at that title and laughed.  Nothing comes after the internet, of course; the internet is the future.  Or is it?  Didn’t people say the same thing about TV, and radio?  I just finished reading From Gutenberg to Zuckerberg: Disruptive Innovation in the Age of the Internet (which I highly recommend, by the way).  In the book, John Naughton (the author), while admitting that we can’t know for sure where the internet is going, tries to postulate where it’s going by looking at another enormous leap for technology: the printing press.  Turns out, there were doomsayers for the printing press too (they thought an avalanche of books would cheapen their quality), much the same way there are doomsayers for the internet today.  Looking back, we scoff at those who scoffed at the printing press.  Will future generations scoff at us for being afraid of the internet?  Or is the internet so special, so new, and so different that our fears are justified?

I can’t answer that question.  But I can answer the first part of it.  The internet is not different.  It’s just another medium, the same way printing, radio, and TV were before it.  This was the light bulb that hit me this week, the one that made me change my mind about this title.  I’d always thought that the internet would just continue to evolve, never ceasing, never being replaced.  However, the odds of that now seem rather low.  When television first came, it was thought to be the death of radio.  Radio didn’t die, but its heyday was over.  Ironically though, it seems television is also nearing a decline.  The internet is slowly (quickly?) taking over as our primary form of entertainment, but there’s no reason to believe it will last forever.  On the contrary, history indicates that almost everything will slowly become obsolete.

But what will replace the internet?  That’s the flip side of my epiphany: I haven’t the slightest idea.  This seems odd that we know change is so imminent, so sure, but we don’t even have a glimmer as to what it might look like.  I’m sure that, for now, the internet will keep improving (in much the same way television did).  However, at some point, something totally new is bound to come.

That’s what makes the future so exciting!  As I follow the tech world, every day I’m more and more aware of what an electrifying time we live in.  Everything is changing so fast, and we have no way of knowing where we’re going.  But maybe that’s the fun of it.  ••

August App Review: Aviary

♦ This post is one of the Best of 2014


App: Aviary Photo Editor
Developer: Aviary Inc.
Price: Free
Platform: iOS, Android

Photos are becoming a larger and larger part of the web.  Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat – we love to take and share photos.  Photo editing used to just be for photographers, but with the rise of services like Instagram (famous for its filters), people have discovered how much fun it is to be creative with their photos.  Aviary delivers traditional editing tools (brightness, contrast, and so on) as well as some fun new ones (yes, including filters).

Open the Aviary app and you’re greeted with a grid of all the photos on your device.  Tap a photo and you’re taken immediately to the editor, where you’ll see the photo front and center, with all the tools at the bottom.  The Adjust tool give you the “traditional” tools I mentioned earlier, and the Effects tool gives you filters.  But that’s only the tip of the iceberg.  There are tools for rotating and cropping the photo, as well as a blur tool.  There’s also a draw tool and a text tool for making annotations and captions, and there’s tools for fixing red eye and for whitening areas of the photo.  There are several other tools as well (see images 1 and 2).

The one tool I really want to talk about is the Splash tool (see image 5).  This tool is a ton of fun.  Basically, it makes the photo black and white, then allows you to “draw” the color back in to certain parts of the photo.  There’s even a “Smart Color” tool that gives you the accuracy you lose from a touch screen.  For example, if there’s a blue object next to a red object, the Smart Color tool lets you color the edge of the blue object without coloring the red object.  This tool is really enjoyable to play around with, and you can get some stunning results from it.

When you’re done making edits, you can save the photo to your device, and share the photo on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and more.  There’s even a button to order prints of the photo at Walgreens.

There’s one more feature about Aviary that I want to talk about, and that is their API (Application Programming Interface).  Basically, Aviary has made their entire app available to be embedded into other apps or websites.  For example, when using the PicStich App (a collage making app), you can double tap a photo you’re using and get a full-featured Aviary editor right inside PicStich (see images 8 and 9).  This is really nice that Aviary has allowed other developers to use their software to make apps better.

So get creative!  I’d love to see what kinds of cool photos you guys can make using this app.  Feel free to post a comment with an Instagram or other photo link.  Happy editing!  ••

My Wishlist for the Apple TV

My family owns two Apple TVs.  The Apple TV is a $99 set top streaming box that connects to your TV.  It can display content from iTunes, Netflix, Hulu, HBO, and so forth.  There’s also a great feature called AirPlay, which allows you to stream from your iPhone, iPad, or Mac directly to the TV (this is basically the only feature my family uses).  All things considered, it’s a great piece of hardware.  But it could be so much more.  Steve Jobs once famously said that the Apple TV was just a hobby for Apple (since the market wasn’t quite ready for it).  Times have changed, however, and Tim Cook has said that the Apple TV isn’t just a hobby anymore.  There are lots of people hoping for big improvements to the Apple TV this fall, so here’s my list of features I’m hoping for.

1.  Third-Party Channels
Right now the Apple TV has different “channels,” which are very similar to apps.  For example, there’s a Music channel, a Movies channel, a Netflix channel, and the list goes on.  However, the only way for a company (such as Netflix) to get an channel is to work directly with Apple.  There is no SDK (software development kit) for developers to make channels on their own, and no store to download channels from.  In order for the Apple TV to really hit it big, this SDK and store need to happen.  For example, there is no Amazon Prime Instant Video channel on the Apple TV.  Therefore, we have to AirPlay from the Instant Video iPad app in order to use the service.  This works well enough, but it’s hardly ideal.  Opening up an SDK would also open up a whole new world of innovation.  Allowing developers to think outside the set top box could result in some really cool things, such as Apple TV games that use your iPhone as the controller (to be fair, some iPhone apps can already do this, but I’m sure it would work better if the Apple TV was more heavily involved).  Unfortunately, I don’t think this feature is going to happen this year.  If Apple intended to release an Apple TV SDK, they would almost certainly have to do so before the hardware was launched, so that there would be good channels available on the store the day it hit the market.  The perfect time to do this would have been at WWDC.  Since we didn’t see an SDK at WWDC, I don’t think we will actually see third-party channels this fall.

2.  A Real Cable Deal
My family has Dish Network.  Generally speaking, we’re happy with it, but there are a ton of channels we never watch.  As the Macworld Podcast’s Chris Breen noted, it would be awesome if Apple could partner with, say, Comcast, and have an Apple TV exclusive cable package.  This package would be relatively small, having only the most popular 30 or 40 channels (Discovery, History, AMC, etc.), but it would also be relatively inexpensive.  The key feature that really sets this apart from Netflix, however, is that it would also include locals channels – which of course includes local sports.  Live sports are arguably the biggest thing holding many people back from ditching cable entirely in lieu of Netflix.  I think my family would seriously consider switching to this Apple TV package.

3.  Supersized Today View
In iOS 7, there’s this really cool feature of notification center called the Today View.  Basically, it shows you your calendar, reminders, stocks, and the weather.  Even better, in iOS 8, third-party app developers will be able to create Today View widgets, to give you even more info (like sports scores).  Since the Apple TV is connected to a large screen, I think it has huge potential for this kind of glanceable information.  What I’m thinking of is a huge dashboard that you can look at first thing in the morning.  Instead of waking up and having to check four different apps to see how your day is going to pan out, you could just see one big screen on your Apple TV.  This would be similar to what morning shows do on The Weather Channel.  They have their main show playing in the majority of the screen, but there’s other stuff on there as well.  At the bottom is a news ticker; on the sidebar, a brief weather summary and flight delay information.  I would love to wake up and turn on the TV to see this dashboard.  I want a breaking news ticker on the bottom, and weather and traffic on the sides.  In the middle could be lots of boxes scrolling my texts, emails, Twitter feed, and so on.

And finally, I hope as much of this as possible will happen through software updates, and not hardware updates.  As cool as these features would be, I find it hard to believe my family would spend $200 to replace the two Apple TVs we already have.  Especially when most of us would probably benefit from watching less TV in the first place.  ••