Smart Home DIY on a tight budget

After twenty years of reading about smart homes I decided to finally make mine smart(-ish) as well. I’m working to reuse as much of existing infrastructure, so I can spend as little as possible.

At the moment my system consist of:
* hub
* four google assistant speakers
* hive thermostat
* cctv camera
* two electric switches
More will follow shortly (they are on their way from China).

The hub

My hub is based on QNAP NAS TS-453A, which I had already. I wouldn’t buy it just for that, Raspberry Pi would work as well. This NAS drive runs a QTS operating system, which is basically a linux machine with very convenient web UI. Among many features it offers a “Container Station”, which is a docker subsystem with large set of packages ready to install. I’m running two:
* Home Assistant – opens source hub for home automation hass.io
* Eclipse Mosquitto – MTQQ broker working as a transport layer between switches and the hub

Note: the container station offers three ways to connect the docker deployed apps to the network. I’m using the “Host” mode, which mean the apps are binding directly to the network interface of the NAS. You want to set it as such, so the devices on the network can easily connect to both apps.

Google assistants

Home Assistant is available as a service for Google Assistant. There’s currently a limited set of accepted commands – currently they support lights and thermostat only. Hass.io service in assistant directory.

All switches/lights can be renamed from Google Home app on Android.

Switches

I’m using cheapest Sonoff Basic switches (less than £4 on Banggood) flashed with custom firmware Sonoff-Tasmota.

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HTML5

This week I’ve attended meeting of London-GTUG (Google Technology Users Group). Main themes of the meeting were Chrome Extensions and HTML5. First part was interesting, but not inspiring – the Firefox plugins are widely available, Chrome Extensions just close the gap between the browsers. I like the architecture of Extensions and reasonable restrictions Google put on available APIs. All information are available on Chrome Extensions Lab page.

On the other hand, the HTML5 show put some new ideas in my mind. I like new semantic tags like <header/footer>, <time>, I love new styles (after 20 years we will finally have rounded corners :)), new attributes (“default if empty” for input fields) and other minor stuff like new types of input fields. But the real revolution lies in HTML’s multimedia capabilities. HTML currently supports audio and video embedding with full control over the elements from JavaScript; there are transitions to allow define movement of elements and my personal favourite – canvas. Where’s canvas and bunch of developers, there will be frameworks that will make it really usable. And this canvas gets access to GPU, so it’s fast. I will observe WebGL closely. This may be a foundation of revolution in PLM world!

Is HTML5 a flash-killer? If you compare capabilities, it may seem so, but the battle is not lost for Adobe yet. At the moment there are no IDEs that let developers use full potential of new capabilities. And the browser support is still quite poor with Internet Explorer in lead in department of ignoring new standard. Adobe has some time to make a leap forward and run away before HTML folks produce something stable and popular enough.

Btw: Someone took a decision to stop numbering HTML, so we should not talk about HTML5 – it’s just HTML now. How do you tell what capabilities are supported by your browser? IMHO it will make some mess in two or three years. I don’t understand why they did it.

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Using Google Forms for feedback gathering

For some time now Google is running Google Forms service which allows anyone to create web forms using extremely simple creator. Just log in to your google account, go to documents to try yourself:

Then follow on-screen instruction, there’s nothing that can cause any trouble to anyone. When you save the form, you will get email with two URLs – one to the form itself, second one to Google Spreadsheet which to which all data typed to your form will be saved. Clean and easy!

I’ve used Google Forms to gather  feedback from my recent presentations and I’m more than happy with results. I’ve created anonymous forms with no required fields not to put any pressure on responders. The turn-over was higher than expected, I got both positive and negative responses. Some people used “other comment” field to provide their email.

My tips for using Google forms for feedback gathering:

  • use open questions
  • ask for positive and negative sides separately “what did you like… / what didn’t you like…”
  • if you had several separable parts of presentation, ask for each part separately to make the answers more straight forward
  • do not make fields required – you will see that most people will fill all fields without you pushing them!
  • make the survey anonymous
  • add “other comments” field

Good luck! :)

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