It used to be the only thing in our homes hooked to the Internet were our PCs. In a short amount of time, we added phones and tablets. Now, there are a multitude of things we can connect to the net, in our home and in the outside world.
This concept is called the Internet of Things, or IoT for short. The Internet of Things will dramatically change the world and, if we choose, our homes.
IoT in the world can be sensors along the roadside that report traffic flow. It can be power meters already in many homes that automatically report meter readings to utility vehicles that pass your street.
IoT can be sensors monitoring pipelines, medical equipment monitoring patients as they go about their day, buoys at sea watching for tsunamis, remote seismometers, and new uses every day.
IoT may already be in your home. There are home automation lights you can control from your phone, the Harmony remote control system for controlling TVs and other home entertainment, the Ring doorbell or any of the multitude of connected home automation devices.
The Amazon Echo, and Google’s just announced Home, let you ask questions, receive answers and command some home automation products. The Echo makes it easy to order from Amazon simply by asking for a product.
The Ring doorbell is mounted by your front door. When someone touches the button, thinking it is your doorbell, you are alerted on your phone. You can see them and have a conversation with them. They do not know you might not be in the house. Burglars often ring the doorbell first to see if anyone is at home before entering a house.
If the person is someone you trust--maybe your child coming home from school who has forgotten their key--you can activate your electronic lock on the front door and let them in or open the garage door with an opener controlled from your phone.
All these devices use your WiFi access point to connect to the net.
That garage door opener could be linked to your phone so that when your phone’s location sensor realizes you are approaching home, the phone sends a signal to open the garage door as you drive into your driveway.
You can place water and freeze sensors in your home. These are really handy if you need to monitor a vacation home or an elderly parent's home.
Smart thermostats like the Nest can help learn how you live, and adjust your heating and cooling so you are comfortable, and save you money.
Home security systems now almost always use IoT capabilities to report security status to your phone. Small WiFi capable security cameras can monitor the outside of your home or wherever you choose to place them.
The Ring doorbell has a motion sensor that is used to grab a photo of anyone passing near. It can alert you when a package is delivered or what time your teen came home last night after you were asleep.
The Internet of Things can monitor your health through devices like the Fitbit, WiFi connected treadmills and even bathroom scales that Tweet out your weight. That last one oddly didn’t do well in the marketplace.
There are sleep monitors, blood pressure and body temperature monitors all talking to apps on your phone.
There are even IoT devices for your pets. There are dog collars that use GPS to report your dog's location, even being able to sound an alarm if they leave a designated area. The collar can even tell you when your dog is too hot or too cold.
Your phone is itself an IoT device. It reports your presence on highways, and your speed, so that Google Map’s traffic data is useful. Search and rescue teams have saved lives by pinging the phone of lost hikers and others to find out their location.
All of these devices are not without concerns. Security is one. Potentially, someone could hack your electronic door lock for easy access. Easier still though is to break a window and climb in.
There are also concerns about interoperability. Your WiFi-controlled light bulbs need one phone app and its own hub, while your doorbell, door lock and water sensor may need different hubs and apps. Hopefully that will get better soon.
And there is a risk of abandonment. The makers of the Nest Smart Thermostat purchased a company called Resolv before Nest was acquired by Google. Eventually, they noticed that not many people were actually using the Resolv hub, so they discontinued its cloud-based services the hub was dependent on.
If you buy a IoT device and the company chooses to stop supporting it, your device may become useless.
When you hear of the Internet of Things, you now realize it is your phone and items in your home, as well as a multitude of sensors and controls out in the world.
My brother’s granddaughter called her grandmother four times Friday after school. When an 8-year-old can place a video call for free, cross country, from her own tablet, it struck me again just how easy kids can communicate these days. Therein lies the great benefit, and the profound risk of online life. The 8-year-old can communicate with friends--hopefully ones she knows in real life--but also ones she has met online. How do you teach a child that not everyone is good, not everyone is really 8 when they say they are, and the other cautions they need to learn sooner than later? And it is not only children who need to be taught to be safe online. We can all fall prey to bad actors online. And we need to help our senior citizens understand the dangers online as they are often the target for financial scams. Thankfully there are some powerful resources out there to help parents, kids and seniors. Our county schools teach from materials found at Netsmartz.org. Parents should review the materials there. There are sections for kids of various ages: teens, tweens and younger children. There are also sections for parents. Material is available as articles, presentations and videos. The teen sections have real life stories of the consequences of being unsafe online. Larry Magid of CBS News is the power behind SafeKids.com. It has a contract families can agree to for safe surfing. They also have resources on how to stop cyberbullying, how to prevent sexting and how to recognize when your child is being groomed by a predator. Cyberbullying is especially worrying. It used to be your child could only be bullied in the presence of the bully: at school. The home was a safe place from bullying, and after school hours could be peaceful respites from bullying. With cyber bullying, the bullying can follow the child into the home, and long into the evening. It is best to require that electronic devices not be in the bedroom at night, so that a young person is not tempted to monitor online conversations among their group late into the night to see what people are saying about them. For a phone or tablet, it is a simple matter to make them surrender the devices at bedtime. But what if they have a computer in their bedroom, say a desktop, that can’t be moved. Your wireless router should have settings to let you block particular devices during specified hours. Check with your ISP to see how to set that up. A sister site of SafeKids.com is ConnnectSafely.com. This site has articles for the elderly who want to be safer online. There is an article, noted in this week’s link post, discussing safe banking, expressing views online, and finding new friends and online romantic partners online. These guides also have advice on creating powerful passwords. One popular and fairly secure method is to come up with a sentence that amuses you. For example “Great Danes are lovers not fighters and amuse me.” That long phrase is not the password, instead you use the first letter from each word. So your password becomes "gdalnfaam.” That is a fairly strong password as it is not a word or phrase that might be deduced. Many password systems require a special character and number to be part of the password. You could choose to replace a specific letter with a special character. Perhaps all Ss become $. Or all As become @. Then that password becomes “gdainf@@m”. You can append a number at the beginning, end or elsewhere in the password. Maybe the person’s age or street address, something they will remember. So your password can become a very strong “gdainf@@m900” All the user has to retain is the sentence, the letter to replace with a symbol and the number. Special attention should also be paid to articles on Facebook security. How much of your private information you do not mind your friends seeing on the public portion of your profile is available online? Spend some time reading up about this and choosing your security settings carefully. It used to be that making our child street smart was enough before they ventured out into the world. Today, our child needs cyber smarts before they go into the online world. There are many benefits of being online — school research, social life and exploring the real world virtually — and we cannot realistically ban them from online adventures. We can make it safer for all of us.
Our recent venture into the wonderful world of car buying brought home the nicest car I’ve ever driven. That’s saying a lot--but on the other hand my brother never has let me drive his classic roadster or Lexus --but I digress.
We ventured forth with a list of must-have and nice-to-have features. We came home without any of the nice-to-haves.
Our list of Android Auto, heated seats and a backup camera were available but added thousands to the cost.
And in one vehicle the package with those items came only with a third row of seats--seats that only a toddler would fit in, and would take away useful storage space.
This is my first car with Bluetooth technology. I enjoy listening to podcasts and having phone calls through the speaker system instead of my Bluetooth earpiece. Coincidentally, last week’s column was about earpieces. Tech changes fast. Seriously, an earpiece is still good if you are not the only one in the car and you want to listen to something other than what the rest have chosen.
Thankfully, I have found ways to get my nice-to-have features at much lower cost.
Android Auto and its Apple equivalent, Apple CarPlay, are devices in some cars that bring some of the functions of your phone to the dashboard. Usually they display map and navigation information in large, easy to see and use displays.
Likewise, they make extensive use of voice to read your text messages and permit you to send texts and place calls using voice.
Some cars were available with only one of the systems. Some cars had both.
Your smartphone, mounted in a dash mount, can do many of the features of Android Auto and CarPlay. Apps, in their respective app stores, duplicate many of the functions.
One app I’ve used on my Android phone reads incoming text to me. When I dictate a response, it reads out loud what it thinks I said so I can know for certain before sending it.
Other apps have large buttons taking you to apps you might want while driving, like navigation and phone.
And Google announced at their developers’ conference in June that Android Auto would be a stand-alone app for Android phones. I am hoping it is one of the announcements they will make at their event on Oct. 4.
CarPlay and Android Auto units are available, too, from well-known manufacturers like Kenwood.
My wife’s car has heated seats, and it did not take me long to understand that what I first thought was a needless luxury was a delightful feature on frigid days. They would be nice on my commute.
I have found aftermarket heated seats at Amazon. Some install right inside the seats. From the installation video I saw, I would want them professionally installed, as the seats have to be removed from the vehicle and partially disassembled. Others sit on the seat themselves. One costs just $20 per seat.
A rental car I drove recently had a backup camera, and it took only one use to convince me these were essential for safety and efficiency. I found I was being extremely conservative in my backing, often stopping many feet from the car behind me.
I found backup cameras on the internet for as little as $30. They usually come with their own monitors. With the phone, the dashboard could begin to fill up on displays. I found one model that used WiFi to send an image to a phone, but it was pricey and not well reviewed. An $86 model comes with a replacement rearview mirror that has a monitor built in. That seems to be an elegant solution to the monitor problem.
The Automatic is a useful device for $130. It plugs into the diagnostic port that is in every car made since 1995. It tells you what a lit check engine light means. In the event of a crash, it notifies a service center via its built-in cellular communications. It does not need a phone to communicate. And the cell service is free for the first year.
Together, I could add my missing nice-to-have features and the Automatic for less than a $1,000, much less than factory installed would have cost.