November 20, 2017

How to take control and backup your files without thinking about it?


Do you feel overwhelmed by the amount of information you have to manage?  Photos, documents, work, mp3s, media files, contracts, etc.  You probably have these information scattered across multiple devices like a smartphone, tablet and/or laptops.  If you haven't gotten around to organizing and staying on top of backing up your data, I hope this article can help you get going.

Objective:  To easily backup data safely, leverage cloud services on a limited basis.
Pre-requisite:  The system I designed requires a couple pieces of hardware at minimum; a laptop or computer that will serve as your primary information gateway and a dedicated NAS drive (you can proabably hookup a hardrive to your Router if you fancy to take that route).

A couple of thoughts before we dive in; 1). This may not be the best solution, but its something I find effective and helps me stay in control, you may be able to point out a lot of flaws in my design but my objective do something easy and so it promotes the idea of backing up my data on a regular and automated basis.  2). This system pre-supposes you have some kind of discipline in organizing your data on a day-to-day, for instance, labeling your files and folders in a logical manner; the point of this entry is to "backup" data, so it doesn't help on the issue of "organizing" your data.

This backup plan (as illustrated by yours truly) is centered around two types of backup locations; the cloud which is predominately Dropbox for me (you can choose other services of your liking).  Whatever file or important scanned documents I receive on my phone, I would file it in the Dropbox.  The beauty of it is that is auto-syncs with other devices or my laptop (the "mastermind") so I can access useful documents or references on the go.  For all the more sensitive documents, I store is locally on my laptop to keep it away from the cloud (I know this is proabably me being overly cautious), however I do use a free software called Syncback to setup periodic backup of my laptop's content (both sensitive local drive as well as the dropbox folder for added measure) to the NAS drive that is connect to my network.  Beacuse of the way Dropbox automatically syncs with other devices and saves on the cloud and because of my local drive is automatically backed up to the NAS drive, I have more or less designed a simple system to help me keep my files save in an almost autonomous manner.

So here is an example of what a day could look like:  Lets say you are working on a project, you snapped a couple of photos, by default, your Google or Apple account will back it up to their photo services.  If the photo is serving as an important project document, I would then save it to a location in my Dropbox folder (this is then auto-sync'd back to my laptop).  Lets say you scanned a document from a smartprinter; I again choose Dropbox as my destination and boom it goes to the cloud and all my sync'd devices.  Back at home, if I deemed certain documents in the dropbox to be of high sensitivity, I will pull it down and store it locally on the laptop's designated folders.  From there, Syncback software will grab all the content of my laptop (both Dropbox and sensitive data) and back it up once per week to my network drive.

Of course there are flaws in every system and here are some of the draw backs of my design:

1. Having a NAS Drive locally will not prevent from theft or damage in the event of fire or water; experts will recommend having another NAS drive off site to account for this situation.
2. Occasionally, Syncback software hangs because of something I did, so its prudent to double check it (maybe set a calendar reminder for yourself) to make sure things are backing up smoothly, once I noticed it didn't back up for 3 months, the thought alone gave me the chills
3. Some of the cloud services have expenses associated, I keep my documents lite so I am still using the free Dropbox account but I know Google, Apple and Microsoft also charges a couple hundred dollars per year for their cloud storage solution, so if you have a lot of files, that might be added expense





November 16, 2017

Operating Cost of a Tesla Model S vs. Gas Engine 300K Miles

I just ran across a video on YouTube posted by a couple of guys from the Ideal Cars channel; they are discussing the significance of a particular Model S owner who drove the electric supercar for more than 300,000 miles in a span of 2 years.  Apparently, because of unlimited mileage warranty and much lower cost of electricity compared to fossil fuel (approx. $10K for 300,000mi), this is far cheaper than a comparable internal combustion engine vehicle.  In the video, they used a Mercedes S-Class to compare the cost, which they assume approx. $40K+ in fuel cost and with all the vehicle services required to total came to $100K.  I am not sure if I totally agree with their final cost estimate for a S-Class to be close to $100K for the same operating cost equivalent of 300,000 miles but their point is still valid... that a low servicing Electric Vehicle can be really cheap if you maximize your mileage.

I have always known that EVs have lower maintenance needs; but hadn't realized how significant total savings can be!  (Check out the video here)

November 15, 2017

Amazon's Fleet of Echo Products is Scary Powerful

It all started in what looked like a nonchalant experiment, when Amazon introduced an innocent little speaker for your home in mid-2015.  Three years later, we are met with a huge fleet of Echo devices ranging from speakers, to cameras to smart displays.  At first, I was going to make an attempt to do a write up o cover each device, that is when I realized the folks at Pocket-Lint has already done a solid job here.

What I wanted to talk about is this realization that Amazon has TOTALLY submersed itself into every corner of your house.  We kind of saw this coming, from the original Amazon Dash buttons and FireStick TV modules which are their first attempt to get in front of your day-to-day.  With these new Echo products, they can now have "eyes" and "ears" in every room.  On the flip side, its is extremely incredible on how they are able to pull this off by offering you top-notch technology/service in exchange for you to voluntarily invite their Echo products into your home. 

The new Echo Spot and Echo Show can be a real game changer, you can roam from room-to-room and get news, audio, video conference needs as if you are in some sort of sci-fi flick where everyroom has an interactive intercom.  The new Cloud Cam provides security and the original Echo speakers offer high fidelity audio streamed into every room at your next party.  The most crazy one has to be the Echo Look, at first I thought it was a prank but it wasn't; this device looks at your outfit and gives you fashion advice. 

The craziest part of all this is that Amazon seems to roll these things out with so much ease it makes dedicated smart appliance or hardware makers look likey they have been standing still.  On top of all that, their Alexa system are really open to compatibility working with various systems like Zigbee, Philips Hue, Sonos, Wemo, Samsung SmartThings, Nest, EcoBee, Insteon, tp link,

November 12, 2017

Get a Smart Printer and Improve Your Quality of Life

A personal printer might be one of the most over-looked gadget around the house.  I used to dread the thought of printing something at home, that is because the few times you needed to print something, the inkjet based printers are probably dried up; in my case, living in a NYC apartment would require me to store the printer in a closet when not in use, so by the time I need it, it would have to dust it off, hook up the USB cables and power cord and keep my fingers crossed.

My entire experienced changed when I decided to buy a Smart Laser Printer and it is one of the best decision I have taken.  Given the fact that I only print a dozen or so times per year, I opted for a simple black and white laser printer from Brother (MFC-L2700DW), it fulfilled my requirements of auto-document feeder scanning and features both wired and wireless internet.  The best part is you can often pick one up for around $100.  The laser cartridge is around $40 but will last approx. 3,000 print outs.


Given the wireless capabilities, I am able to hide it out of plain sight into an IKEA PAX Storage System, I added some custom shelfs and it looks like it was meant for the printer.  Now from anywhere inside the house, family members can print their assignment, boarding pass, movie tickets using their phone, tablet or computer.  You can also scan and upload directly to the cloud without ever having to deal with a laptop.  In a hurry, its also super useful to make copies of important documents.  Like I mentioned earlier, having the ability to print anywhere and not having to worry about the ink availability is such a nice feeling.  These type of internet appliance is what really enhances that mobile experience.

Recently, our family needs required color printing.  Realizing that a multi-function color laser printer costs well of $350 and ($200+ on the toner refills.  I scored a sweet deal on a DELL C1760nw color laser printer (this one just prints, no multifunction) for just $80.  The size is relatively compact, so I simply added the printer into the same storage and now I have got a full suite of production ability completely hidden from view.  






November 11, 2017

NEST to the Rescue: Sudden Sub-Zero Temperature hits NY Region

We've had a pretty mild autumn in NY this year, its as if Summer just carried over into Sept, Oct and Nov.  Then, all of a sudden, temperature dropped to 29°F last night.  In my house up in the Catskills NY region, temperature dropped even lower down to 20°F.  Of course, like many unsuspecting homeowners, I hadn't gotten around to shut off water supply to an outdoor faucet (and bleed it)); this faucet is connected into the basement.  Knowing I won't be able to get there in time, I was left with only one option to combat the situation.  I raised the furnace temperature remotely via NEST thermostat; my plan was to heat up the house nice and toasty (including my basement) to prevent the frost from freezing the water supply lines in the basement.

Given the sudden drop in temperature, I didn't have a lot of option.  It was comforting to know that I have the ability to change the temperature remotely from my phone while out at lunch.  As an added bonus, I was also able to double-check/monitor the house's temperature remotely from my SimpliSafe security system freeze sensor as a backup reference point.


October 26, 2017

Amazon Invades Crowded Home Security Cam Space and Then Some...

In the past few months, there seems to be a spike in the overlapping of home automation gadgets.  Whereas I am not seeing a whole lot of innovation, I am seeing whole lot of large companies throwing its weight into the mix and overlapping on pre-existing functionalities.  In some cases, I am seeing existing companies rolling out superfluous updates.  Just a few examples I can think of off the top of my head:

1. SimpliSafe Security adds a security camera option vs. NEST/Drop Cam, Netgear Arlo, Logitech Logi, Sengled Flood Light Cam
2. The all new NEST IQ camera line which I only see limited marginal value versus its existing Nest Cam Pros
3. NEST rolls out it's own home security system to take on SimpliSafe
4. Ring (the Doorbell/Camera folks) gets into the home security business to take on SimpliSafe and Nest
5. Google and Amazon rolling out new iterations of its smarthome speakers

Finally, Amazon drops the bomb yesterday on their new Cloud Cam and Amazon Key.  The camera (and for now a limited list of approved smartlocks) are required to use the Amazon Key program which allows the delivery man to drop off a package inside your home.  Jim Cramer made a good point about how this can be pivotal if their Wholefoods delivery strategy were to take off, delivery man can potentially drop off the perishables right into your fridge.

The crazy thing is, Amazon's entry angle is far more complicated than issuing another way to help you keep an eye on your home.  Its part of a greater design.  It all started with the invasion of those harmless little re-order buttons known as Dash.  At all moments, Amazon wants to know more about their customers and they know that the only way to truly own that relationship is by investing into hardware.  They know that to truly dominate the personal data space, they have to own the hardware that is collecting the data.  In the early days, their conquest was more passive, developing Kindle e-Book, Amazon Dash, Kindle HD ad Kindle Phone.  Then came along the harmless looking Echo speakers.  Realizing more receptors are better, they rolled out the more affordable Echo Dots, and offered a "3-pack" so it can be filled in every room.  

The Cloud Cam + Smart Door Lock integration is a bold move.  It not only completes the audio and visual coverage to average households, it grants their army of delivery personnel PHYSICAL access into your home.  

I think its both a progressive and scary thought at the same time.  On one hand, your door lock is one of the more sacred thing that stands for the barrier between you and the world, on the other hand, the irony of owning a "smartlock" is to somehow give access to random people while you are not around.  For example, I have always welcomed the idea of installing a smart garage door opener so I can allow deliveries to be made while I am not at home, that said, I would be the one opening the door remotely, as opposed to allowing the delivery man to open the garage door.  In addition to the fact that you are seriously giving up a lot of "big brother" like monitoring to Amazon since they can now watch you and hear your every move in the house.

It would be really interesting to see just how many people are willing to go through with this or better yet, can even take advantage of this.  I can't imagine there are too many people that have a pre-approved smartlock installed as is.  I am unfamiliar with the details but it seems like the smartlocks would also have to be on the Zigbee protocol (it is my understanding that you can install a Yale or Kwikset smartlock w/o being on a larger home automation system like Zigbee; whereas some locks are only to be used with Apple Home Kit or Z-Wave).   If you meet lock crtieria AND are willing to buy the new Amazon Cloud Cam, you can then think about the privacy issues before you hand over the key to your kingdom.

Regardless, Amazon just advanced their position towards a check, your move _____ (Google, Apple, Facebook, Samsung, Startups....)


August 31, 2017

Travel Smarter with Google Hangout Location Sharing (and Indoor Mapping)

 
Traveling to a different city or country can be stressful.  On top of the language barrier, the new environment alone can make it difficult to tell your travel companions where you are.  I discovered a feature using Google Hangout which is pretty amazing.  

I was recently visiting Barcelona with my family.  At the airport, my wife sent me off to look for some gifts while she searched for a ticketing agent.  Upon completion, I sent her a hangout message to check in and she asked where I was.  On my particular phone (Samsung Galaxy J5), hangout automatically asked me if I wanted to share my location (brilliant), I selected yes, and it brought up Google Indoor Maps.  Instead of the usual way of trying to sort out where each other is, now we can clearly pin-point and navigate to each other.  It used to be vague instructions like "Hey, I am near a Starbucks, I turned left after past the security checkpoint and its about 20 yards from the restrooms", now I can just use the Indoor map with precision.

To share your location within Google Hangout, just click on the little GPS icon near the bottom of the "write message" box.  This feature works great for outdoor locations but surprisingly useful for indoor spaces that have submitted their blueprint to Google.  Smartphones have made traveling much easier on a holistic level (internet, translation, reviews, transportation) but little details like this one just makes traveling that much easier.

Stop taping over your Cameras with "NOPE Covers"

If you are not paranoid like me and worry about the possibility of being hacked via Webcam or microphone from your phone or laptop, then you probably should be.  Because there are many cases of hacking that takes place via Webcams, etc.  I remember reading this bone-chilling article from GQ from 2012 which told the story of a hacker watching and blackmailing.  Just imagine how much more advanced hackers have become since then.

For the most part, I always tape over my webcams when not in use.  I prefer using the blue painter's tape as it can be removed easier with minimal amount of adhesive residue.  I think I may have left a few web cam lenses blurry from bad tape.

I have always wondered why manufacturers would not incorporate a nice lens cover on laptops or tablets to enhance security.  Well, these folks from "Nope" have decided to take matters to their own hands and what a beautifully slim solution have they come up with.

At just 0.3mm thickness, they came up with a nice little (elegant) solution to cover up any camera on modern device (well, all single lense cameras anyways).  They used aluminum and polymer sheet to keep the design looking slick. They did not fo



rget that mics can be hacked as well, so they cleverly designed a 3.5mm plug that tricks the system into using a plug-in mic which has been muted (very simple and clever solution).  Whats a good solution without a way to bring it with you?  Well, they thought of that too by way of a tiny holder which can be attached to your key ring.


Check them out via their kickstarter campaign.  A little bird told me that they will be ready to ship in Oct 2017 once they thoroughly test out the prototype.

August 6, 2017

Google Pixel Phones Prices Reduced up to $200!

The day I have been waiting for is here, I knew at some point, they will reduce the price for their inventory since the new Pixel 2 might be on the horizon.  (BTW, rumor has that Pixel2 might ditch the headphone jack so it royally pisses me off, which makes the original Pixel the "it" android phone).

If you head on over to the Google Store today, the price goes as follows:

Google PIxel 32GB - $524  (was $649)
Google Pixel 128GB - $624 (was $749)
Google Pixel XL 32 GB - $569 (was $770)
Google Pixel XL 128GB - $669 (was $870)

They are also tossing in a free Daydream View headset ($79 value) for free!

Act quick, while this is no quite as attractive as the old Nexus 5X reduced pricing of $249, its probably one of the best deals out there for a top of the line unlocked Android device.

July 18, 2017

Sandman Clock goes live on Kickstarter!

Remember that bad ass clock Sandman Doppler I wrote about recently.  Well, its finally live on Kickstarter and within a day, it has exceeded its minimum pledge amount of $25,000.  Looks like we are well underway for a pretty bad ass alarm clock I have always wanted!

July 5, 2017

How to get Project Fi SMS on your Computer?

My NEXUS 5X suddenly decided to quit on me.  Until I figure out the next solution, I needed to access my SMS messages since using other devices to get into my Google Account requires 2-way verification (and the method is SMS).  A Google search revealed that it can be done via Hangout (within Gmail), but not much is said after.  I found the option, just follow my screen shot.  You can see that messages coming in are noted with a little SMS icon.

Good luck!


Step 1: Login to gmail.com, go to your profile/name within the Hangout Section of Gmail and find the drop down menu, scroll to the bottom to find the option allowing you to use Hangout to send/receive Project Fi SMS messages.


Step 2: If this worked, you'll be able to send and receive SMS messages, there is a little icon that differentiates the type of messages.  


Step 3: If you need to start a new message, you'll need to go to the little "Phone" option, search for a name from your address book and the little SMS icon will appear next to the names from your address book.



June 19, 2017

My Encounter with SimpliSafe as a Smarthome Monitor

A while back, I have posted my review of the SimpliSafe Alarm system.  I originally purchased the system for its primary function as an DIY full-fledged security system, but in my review, I considered this addition as part of a larger smarthome transformation in the grand scheme of things.

Last week, I witnessed the power of this system in action.

It was late in the evening, as we were finishing up on the dish washing, we suddenly hear SimpliSafe alarm going off.  Panic fills the room as I jumped from the couch start looking around the various entry points and the security keypad/console.  I did notice the alarm sounded different than the usual entry/burglar siren.  The mobile app's push-notification and SMS text start to buzz and informed us of a water sensor detection had gone off.  Seconds later, my phone rings and a friendly call center staff warns us of a water detection in person.  I quickly checked under the kitchen sink and sure enough, I see a pool of water gathered under the sink.  I did not hear fresh incoming water leaking thankfully, so it must be coming from a leak coming out from the drain pipe.  

It turned out that there was a 2 inch crack in the stainless S-trap.

While there were a decent amount water accumulation, it never managed to leak its way outside the cabinet.  Which means had I not been warned by the SimpliSafe's Water sensor, we probably would have been kept in the dark causing repeated damages to the cabinet each and every time we do the dishes.  Because of the alert, I was able to contain the problem and run to the Home Depot the very next day and buy the parts needed to re-build the drain costing me less than $20.

(Drain rebuilt $20, could have been a lot more $ in Damage)
This was a huge relief for me and reinforces the importance and my commitment to further wise up the old house.  I am generally very handy and do my best in preventive care (ie. I always change out to fresh/new steel-braided inlet hoses whenever I move into a place, and if you haven't done so, you should!) but we can't be everywhere all the time so its comforting to know that there are now affordable technology to offer a piece of mind.

This is the 2nd post within the past two weeks where smarthome components saved my ass.  This type of mobile/smarthome integration is what gets me excited about technology and mobile experience.  I am looking forward to discovering more innovations in the near future!