Smart Home: Mindset and Products

Smart Home.

The new buzz word of 2017, and now 2018. You’ve all seen it. Products lining ads in webpages and flyers for Black Friday of last year touting “Google home!” and “Amazon Echo/Alexa!”.

I personally have tried a number of these basic items and have fallen in love with the simplicity of a smart home. Just don’t think about it too much or you might get a little weirded out…or a lot.

I started my smart home endeavor with just an Amazon Echo (first gen, refurb) for what at the time was a stellar deal on Woot!. This was amazing, mostly for the usefulness of having a music system, alarm, news, and reminder assistant all in one. Set up an alarm at 0700 to wake up, tell me the news, what’s tomorrow’s weather? It’s all handy to use. Fast forward to Amazon’s black friday and christmas sales this year, and now I have a number of Dots to complete the control factor. The audio isn’t nearly as good, but the price point (30 a pop at the time) makes a smart home very easy to afford for anyone.

So what’s a smart home without a little…well, smarts? I ended up adding various lightbulbs around the house using the TP Link Warm White Wifi bulbs. These mimic the light of incandescent bulbs and are very easy on the eyes. With this, you can also do voice control of levels of brightness and on/off. Kicking it up a little, I picked up a couple RGB bulbs with light stands and now can control my living room’s color with just voice commands.

Further down the smart home path, I added several wifi sockets to control various lights and LED strips I have around my home. Biggest perk here: Adding a group in the Alexa to turn off everything when I go to bed. I frequently forget lights constantly and now I can just control it all.

But, there is one functionality I enjoy the most for all of these: The scheduling.

Various rooms are set up to come on at certain times. Example: I wake up in the morning, my room is dimly light to get me moving, living room is on and so is kitchen. My lights then shut off on their own after I leave, and come on right before I come home from work. This both helps me not forget to turn off lights (saves power!) and if I’m not home, there’s a nice glow from the house to ward off unnecessary guests.

Now if only I could get my friends/family to stop changing the lights with voice whenever they come over…

Thoughts? Does anyone else use smart home gear or get weirded out by the invisible assistant running your life? Let me know in comments!

Steam Link: First impressions

Steam had a sale on their Steam Link device over Christmas and the following week. I picked one up for dirt cheap and figured even if it wasn’t that great, it wouldn’t be more than a few bucks lost.

I got the unit in the mail last night and was impressed immediately with the packaging: It all looks like a nice retail box and set up, not just some brown box that’s bland.

The install/set up is incredibly simple. I plugged into the unit into power and into another HDMI on my TV. Plugged in a mouse into one of the 3 USB ports on the Steam Link, and went through a simple set up which prompted for an update and restart. All total, this might have taken 20 minutes.

Once this is done, you go through some prompts on your computer used for streaming to this which involved confirming a PIN code quick and setting up a new Audio driver (Steam Link can play audio over the TV from the computer!) for streaming to itself. I will say, getting the full sound bar usage off my desktop PC system has been wonderful.

Now, I ran into a couple snags with some games but this was a a mod issue with Fallout 4: Fallout 4 Script Extender (F4SE) uses a custom launcher which isn’t supported properly by Steam. To fix this, you go into Steam and “Add a non steam game”. Browse and find the F4SE launcher/binary, add it to your library and you can now launch it from the Steam Link properly!

Overall, I love it and how simple it is. I’m using a wired Xbox 360 controller and it works great, even over WiFi (AC, 5GHz) and there’s very little lag or latency. Definitely recommend checking it out!

Crockpot Mac and Cheese recipe

This is amazing and comes out wonderfully for any parties/events I go to and the mac and cheese comes out amazing. Everyone asks for the recipe after!

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups (1 lb) uncooked elbow macaroni
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stuck) butter, cut into pieces
  • 3 cups grated sharp Cheddar cheese
  • 2 cups grated Pepper Jack
  • 6 eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • (2) 10 3/4-ounce cans condensed Cheddar cheese soup
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper

Boil macaroni until al dente (will fully cook in crockpot). Drain.

In sauce pan, mix shredded cheese and cut up butter stick and cook on low heat until melted and creamy.

In the crockpot, mix everything together then put macaroni and cheese sauce in. Stir.

Set cooker on lowest setting for 3 hours, stirring occasionally.