As always, I am obsessed with backups. Because, we all procrastinate and so many people have horror stories of times they lost important data, like family photos. Just a quick recap:

  • Backup your mobile devices automatically (if you’re on iOS just turn on iCloud backups).
  • Backup your laptops automatically to your NAS (Network Attached Storage) when you are at home.
  • Also, get your photos off your cameras and phones regularly and put them on your NAS. I also use Flickr for storing and sharing my favorite photos.
  • Finally, make sure your NAS is being backed up regularly to an offsite location. Fire, theft, and floods are far more likely than you realize.

It’s that last point that has caused me so much trouble. The easiest solution before now was to send all the data to Amazon Glacier using the Glacier Backup app from Synology Package Center. Unfortunately the pricing on Glacier storage is still a little too high for me. It ended up being around $10 per month for my 1.2 terabytes of data.

But when comparing pricing on various other cloud storage solutions I saw that Amazon is offering something that no-one else can compete with right now… unlimited storage in Amazon Cloud Drive for $60 a year! Microsoft, Google, Apple and Dropbox are all quite a bit more expensive than that now. As far as I can tell in their help documentation, they really do mean “unlimited”.

Unlimited Data

I have successfully switched my Synology DS213+ to use Amazon Drive in their Hyper Backup application. I am using the latest version of DSM, I installed Hyper Backup and configured a backup job by following the wizard.

setup

I choose to turn on encryption and enter a long password that I can definately remember, because it may be a long time before I have to use that password.

Choose the applications and file directories to back up. I leave my collection of ripped DVDs out of the backup to save size.

Set the backup job to run automatically on a schedule, at least once a week. I chose to run mine every Sunday morning at 1am. And when it’s complete you get a directory of inscrutable files and folders containing encrypted data inside your Amazon Cloud Drive interface.

files

Here’s the hard part, letting it run that first backup. I have a very slow internet upload connection (about 5 megabit upload according to speedtest.net), meaning the first upload took 12 days to complete. And sadly the first few times I tried to run it I included the huge video files, and the backup job completely failed after a few days. Hyperbackup was not able to continue the failed backup job, it re-started each time. And, to add insult to injury, last month XFINITY instituted an internet usage cap of 1000 Gigabytes. Which I promptly breezed through with my several aborted backups. Thankfully, XFINITY will give you 2 “grace” months before they start hitting you with their usurious fees. So, now that I’ve done the initial backup I shouldn’t come close to using it up again. (Unless I need to download and restore a complete backup in the case of total data loss.)

  •  → Written by: Tim

Last week Google announced a skein of new products intended to wrap your home in google’s intelligent information interfaces. They are calling their new voice interface cloud system “Assistant”. I guess we’re calling this category of product a “Smart Speaker”.

Google launched the Home alongside a WiFi Router for your home. Their router creates a mesh network if you have multiple units in your home. The convenience of not having to run ethernet cables to multiple access points sounds very compelling. We’ve seen a similar product this year form eero. I’ve been curious to try out a mesh router or a cabled multi-access point setup.

New Google Chrome 4K - Seems pretty nice. But Amazon has a new FireTV Stick too. 4K doesn’t sound compelling to me right now, especially in light of Comcast’s new Terabyte data caps rolling out next month.

That’s a very nice market niche your created there, Amazon. It would be a shame if something were to happen to it. -Google

Home

  • Google play Music - smart assistant finds music for you.
    • what about aux out?
    • what about controlling the Chromecast? - Yes it does this. That’s an excellent feature, one that Alexa needs soon!
  • What about push notifications? Nothing so far. And no API either. Amazon is able to pair up their AWS cloud platform with the Alexa API to great effect. Can Google do the same?
  • My Day - is a really compelling personal assistant feature. I want to try it. The first thing we ask for in the morning is “Alexa what’s the weather today?” and sometimes “what’s on my calendar today?”
  • Controlling smarthome devices… not a lot here yet.
    • nest
    • smartthings
    • hue
    • IFTTT
  • Starting a netflix show… with your voice, yes please!
  • Show photos from google photos on your living room TV - and specify an event, person or time range, ✔ that’s good stuff Google. Killer feature.
  • Only $129 - and changeable colors.

OK, there’s a lot to like here. Competition is good. But Amazon has a pretty good head start here. We shall see if they hold on to it. It’s not like Amazon is resting on their laurels though. They announce new features and integrations with Alexa every single week. And Alexa has built up some good word of mouth marketing.

  •  → Written by: Tim

Now that I’m a proud homeowner I have the opportunity to choose home automation solutions. I’ve said in the past that it’s too soon to do extensive home automation because the technology is so young… but it’s hard to take my own advice.

I’ve purchased two WeMo switches and a collection of Wireless Sensor Tags. These products have pleasantly surprised me. I’ve heard mixed reviews of SmartThings, and I was preparing myself to build all my sensors on a RaspberryPi or something similar, but then I saw how simple those Tags seemed to be. I have not been disappointed.

The water sensors seem to be reasonable priced, especially since they have both capacitive and resistive sensors, as well as Temperature sensors. The batteries should last 3-4 years. I bought the 5 pack, because I’m super paranoid about water leaks after some of my experiences and the shared horror stories of my friends.

The “open door” detector that lets me know (quietly) if the boys leave their room in the middle of the night was really easy to set up as well. I have that sensor doing double duty, it kicks on a space-heater through a WeMo insight switch when their room gets colder than a preset range. This way I can keep their room warmer at night than the rest of the house.

They have a very usable mobile app, but what I’m really surprised by is the power of their web based “Kumo App“.

App Interface My web browser speaks to me when events happen!

They actually offer a web-based IDE for their JavaScript-like automation scripting language. The documentation could use some more help, but I was able to create a simple custom script in a few minutes. Anyway, I’ve done DIY security systems before, and these tags are way better than I expected. The addition of a nice hosted scripting environment is icing on the cake. Not to mention they allow you to configure webhooks for integrating with other custom systems. They even allow you to configure calls to web-services on your local network. They also offer some nice out of the box integrations with a few other popular products, like WeMo, Nest, Dropcam, and Honeywell Lyric. Then there’s IFTTT support, which – while slow – is still useful for integrating with a much wider array of home automation products and services.

So, I have a lot of thoughts and plans for the future, but for my simple use cases right now I’m very happy. Eventually my home will have be full of all kinds of sensors like a space-ship!

Homeboy recipe

I received a Homeboy Camera last week. This little device is really neat, it’s a battery powered wifi security camera. Supposedly the batteries will last a month. It does energy efficient motion detection. The hardware and the iOS app are good. The setup experience went pretty smoothly, and the little magnetic mount is cool I was able to put this on an outside wall without running any wires. I think the $150 price is pretty good for what it does. And, I have a few neat ideas of how to use it.

One of those ideas was to trigger a recording using the Amazon Echo voice assistant.

I love using my Amazon Echo for a long time, I was excited when they added IFTTT support, but was a little dissapointed with the events that the Echo can trigger by default. I don’t want to remember that when I ask for Alexa for my todo list it will send my wife a text message. Now the Alexa SDK is available and I have started building some more powerful custom actions.

I can now say “Alexa, tell security camera to record a video” and 5-10 seconds later I have a push notification on my phone with a link to a video from my front door.

Here’s how I set that up.

IFTTT

Sign up for IFTTT. Configure the Homeboy Channel, and the Maker channel, as well as the either the SMS Text channel or the PushBullet channel.

Create a new recipe connecting the Maker channel to Homeboy, here’s mine. Remember the event name you chose.

Then create a recipe notifying you whenever a new video is ready from Homeboy, here’s mine.

Now you need to dive into the code.

If you’re not comfortable editing some code files, then this will be a challenge, but it should all be possible even for power users who can’t code.

Follow the instructions on https://github.com/sirtimbly/alexaHomeboy. First you will have to download that source code repository to your computer.

There are a lot of little detailed steps in there, but persevere! Eventually you will have this Node program running in the Amazon Cloud and relaying requests from your Echo to the IFTTT trigger you set up earlier.

There are so many possibilities with sending different events to IFTTT and triggering actions on almost anything that integrates there. It’s really amazing to think about. I also have barely scratched the surface of what the Alexa Skills Kit can do. I’m excited about this platform.

backup illustration

I found two options that seem like they could lower my monthly bills compared to Amazon Glacier, which is $11 per month for a Terabyte… I currently have my Synology set to backup all data to Glacier, where I pay for everything that I use.

iDrive (called HiDrive in the Synology Package Manager) https://www.idrive.com/pricing is $3.71 per month (with current discounts) for 1TB of backup directly from your NAS. It seems like the most straight-forward way to get backups for about 1/3rd the price of Glacier. I will need to try that option out.

And then there is Symform… http://www.symform.com/how-it-works/features/

Depending on how you set up your backups, it could be free, especially if you’re willing to foot the cost for drive capacity that exceeds your needs by a ratio of 2:1. My one concern is if someone manages to both break the encryption of the distributed file chunks as well as gains the ability to reassemble whole files or search across their network. I just don’t know if the threat surface on your data is actually higher with the distributed nature of their storage scheme. This will require more research, but in theory I love the way their service works.

  •  → Written by: Tim