Thats too bright.. turn it down

We moved into a brand new construction house and initially loved that there was soo much light, both from natural light and the integrated can lights in the ceiling, then we started living here.  Our living room is incredibly bright, in fact at night it looks like daytime because there are 6 LED can lights that make it look like we just proclaimed “let there be light.”  So how do I fix this?  I need to put dimmers on but first I need ot figure out if these lights are dimmable.  In case you didn’t know many of the LED lights on the market for a low price right now are not dimmable at all.  I was able to find out that mine are dimmable but then there is the next obstacle, are they compatible with the dimmers that I want.  I had no idea when I started this journey that that even mattered but it does.  When I switched out the switches the first thing I noticed was that I had one bulb that would flicker regardless of who I set the levels.  The rest were fine.  I talked with some electrician friends and they said it was most likely the first or last light in the string or i didn’t have compatible lights to the dimmers.  I started looking up the Lutron Caseta dimmers that I chose and found out my lights were not on their compatibility list.    I needed to use the Lutron though because I had started with the Xfinity Home system that only used the Caseta switches.  So off to Home Depot I went…

 

I found that I was able to pick up a few of the LED Can Light Retrofit kits and replace just the flickering bulb and everything is working great.  The dimmer is perfect as a manual switch but also so far everything has worked well with them on the smart home side of things.  That is with the exception of my hallway lights.. The hallway has light fixtures that use GU10 bulbs and the only dimmable ones dont fit in my light fixtures, so I needed another solution.  At this point I had already gone down the route of the Lutron so I looked for a Caseta regular switch.  I found it on Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/Lutron-PD-5WS-DV-WH-Switch-Wireless-Lighting/dp/B00NO7Z80S)  This worked with the Lutron hub and the Pico remotes and now I can control them with the same home automation.  I will say that the standard switch without the dimmer does not respond as well to group settings as the other dimmers do.  I am not sure on that one yet but want to get everything set and I will figure it out.

I did add a few Pico Remotes, if you are just starting out Best Buy has a kit with one dimmer and one Pico remote that was a great price, better than Amazon.  The pico remote does not mean you want ot be able to walk around with it, although you could.  They make a wall mount that replaces a wall switch.  This is important for when you look to wire 3-way and 4-way switches which apparently is half my house.

Overall the Lutron Dimmers and Switch have been super easy to install and have worked great.  They are a little pricier but I would say they are worth it for the look and functionality.

Keeping the Nest warm in the winter time

This one probably goes without saying but the Nest Thermostat was one of the easiest add ons for the home automation setup.  They manage to work with just about every system out there and it does exactly what it says.  That being said there are a few things to be aware of.  #1 if you have a rectangle standard thermostat you will probably want to order a surround or wall palte to use to cover up the screw holes, unless you plan to patch the walls anyway.  I went with this one http://www.amazon.com/Round-Wall-Plate-Nest-Greenfii/dp/B00T3TEPT6    Connecting it into our system did have a problem on switching what was heat and A/C  If this is the case call support.  They were fantastic and we determines that the back panel actually had one bad pin.  They sent me a new one within days and we had it all set up and working.

Nest

Since we have had it installed I have been asked once to reset it but they did that via email to let us know so they could do a firmware update.  Overall very easy and the ability to change the temperature from anyway has been great.  This is probably the one piece of electronics that I have added that my wife picked up on right away.

I can see clearly now.. Wink (ing) fully

IMG_0140With now my fifth hub that I have worked with I am now so far able to control almost everything (Waiting on you Sonos and Xfinity).  I picked up the Wink Hub from Home Depot for $49.99 (If it rings up at $69.99 check the shelf) which comparably is not bad at all since it does allow alot more functionality although you would think the much more expensive Relay would give you as much also.  That being said, so far I have been happy with the integration options on the Wink Hub.  As you can tell I have most things through the app now.  Cant do the alarm from XFinity or the Camera but those are integrated on their own app.

The biggest problem I had with the Wink Hub was getting it updated.  The app will continually tell you that you need an update until you are past version 0.89.  Interestingly they tell you to basically get it as far away from your wireless router or access points as possible.  The problem I have is I like to not have dead spots in my house so I have wifi that covers the house.  To get around it, I ended up setting up tethering from my iphone and then joining the Hub to my iphone and using my ipad to get it to update.  Once I did that I had no problem with it.

The integration with the Lutron lights did take a little work, although it might be easy if you do a fresh install.  If you had not done a fresh install you will have to remove each switch and Pico remote from the Lutron hub as well as reset the switch before you can join it to the Wink App.  Also you will not link the remotes specifically to the remotes via Lutron.  You will have to redo that in the Wink app.  It took a few minutes but overall not bad at all.

I also added a couple of the GE Link LED bulbs.  These needed the update as well but I have them set as a group so I can turn two of them on at the same time.  The one issue I have with these is that I have to leave the light switch in the on position all the time for the app to be able to manage them and since my wife is not fully set up, that means I will hardly use them via the app.

Another plus of the Wink Hub is that is is integrated with the Amazon Echo.  I had friends over and was able to say “Alexa turn on the living room lights at 50%” and the reaction from everyone was that it was pretty cool.  I would prefer if it was integrated with the Apple HomeKit like the Lutron Hub so I could use Siri from any room and not need to be in the vicinity of the Echo but I am also almost all Apple at this point so itsjust easier.  if you had Android or PC this would not work as well.

The next thing I added to the Wink App was the ability to run Robots.  These are essentially If This.. Then That for the Home Automation.  One example is that if I come home anytime after sundown but before midnight it will automatically turn on the entry lights for me.

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Maybe just Wink a little.. with the Relay

I have been admiring the look of the Wink Relay for quite sometime as I have been looking at home automation.  How great would it be to have a touchscreen on the wall that is convenient and be able to control everything without bringing out my phone but i didnt like the high cost of a unit that seemed to get mixed reviews.  I finally found one for a decent price on a trip to Home Depot and decided to give it a try.  The look of it is exactly what i expected, very slick as you can tell from the picture.

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I did have to try it in a couple places and had some install issues.  First off if you have a 3 or 4 way plug it wont work because you cant add a remote tot he buttons.  If you are using smart bulbs you are fine i would guess but i have lots of 3-way switches, in fact I think I only have 9 places in the house that are not 3-way.  Three of those are bathrooms so that seems weird, one is my guest bedroom that I dont really want a guest to have to try to figure it out, my office and then I have 3 spots for closet lights.  The next issue was the buttons wont work as dimmers so I cant put it anywhere that I want to be able to dim the light, that eliminates my office.  Since the option seemed to be one of the closet spots, luckily the master bedroom had a decent spot for it.  I installed it and right away had problems.  The push in connectors it comes with were never getting a good connection.  I ended up pulling them off and using normal electrical connectors that I had.  Once I did that I got good connection.

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Next came the issue with functionality, I was able to get the closet light working fine which by the way only uses the top button, if you replace a double switch you can use both but i just replaced a single.  You tap it on and off which is not a big deal.  I was able to tie it into my Nest without problem as well as my garage door.  It also shows the weather nicely and connected to the app without any problem. (Will show the app in the next step..)   The problem came when I tried to connect it to my Lutron dimmers that run the lights for the rest of the house.  This requires the Wink Hub also.  The Relay is pitched as a home automation hub on your wall but according to a reply tweet from @Wink it only has 1 antenna while the Hub has 6.  So began the search for Hub #5

Connected Garage-yes please

This one seemed like a no brainier although I am sure some would disagree.  The argument seems to be that why would you want your garage to be opened over the Internet? For me it was simple, I still needed a username and password and our garage is not connected to the house so it isn’t a home security concern. Also with the app and the xfinity integration I could have the door opening when on my motorcycle without having to stop and find the garage remote.


The setup was rather easy, add the MyQ Internet Gateway (it wants to be hardwired) and download the app.  Once downloaded you just tell it to discover and press a button the the wall panel. That’s it!  Then you can set alerts to tell you when it is open and even to close the door if it has been open for too long.  Overall this was is easy to recommend.

Hub #2 Lutron 

So this was the one that was really needed first.  We have some can lights that I wanted dimmers in and the only ones that worked with the Xfinity were the Lutron Caseta but for them to work you need the Lutron Caseta Wireless Smart Bridge. The nice part is you only need the basic bridge and not the Pro that I had heard many other alarm systems need. This is a nice small box that I was able to put out of the way and it does not need to be right beside your router. In fact it doesn’t even need a wired connection it just connects via Wifi to your network.  

This one also has its own app that you need to configure the lights on.  It is supposed to work with the Lutron blinds also but I haven’t added those yet.  

  
Adding lights and setting scenes is very easy and can be done either schedules or manual.  The ones listed I set manual. 

The downside so far to this was that it only works with the Lutron switches and no other Zigbee or Z-Wave devices, so now I am limited to only what they offer.  

Starting out hub (XfinityHome)

Picking a smarthome hub is probably the biggest choice you have to make since depending on the hub you choose you may or may not be able to use the gear you have or want.  My first hub choice had more to do with our home alarm than it did with tech.  We decided to go with the Xfinity Home alarm system since we already had it for Internet and TV the price was right and it offered a good selection of “Works with Xfinity” companies

  • Lutron Caseta
  • Chamberlain MyQ Garage
  • Nest
  • August Locks
  • More to come (they claim)

First off this seems like an easy option unfortunately these are some of the higher priced options out there and the only one I have seen that actually works out of the box is the Nest. I haven’t tried the August Locks yet (I am hesitant on the cloud connected clock).  If you want the Lutron switches or blinds to work you will need a Lutron Hub (more on this one later). If you are keeping count we are at hub #2. The Nest thermostat integrated perfectly and has been solid.  The same goes for the Chamberlain Garage door opener except for that to work you need what they call their MyQ Internet Gateway and you have to have a wall panel that has the MyQ logo. We will call that a hub also so we are up to 3. 

The best let of this one was that you don’t need anything extra from Comcast, they give you a “Control Panel”

Here’s a quick look at the app as well it is very easy to use. 

  

From dumb to smart(home)

Those of you who I have seen since we bought our new house are probably aware that I decided that I wanted to make the house as smart as possible. There are a ton of options out for home automation and only a few companies that can work with all the different parts. Since I have learned quite a bit and doubt I will ever really be done I figure I would write it up.

Let’s start by detailing all the parts as I have found them and then I will try to write up each part

  • Hub (Control Center)
  1. Xfinity
  2. Lutron
  3. MyQ
  4. Wink Relay
  5. Wink Hub

I am sure more pieces will come up so I will plan to update this post as I get into them.

The accounts of a few and guidance to many…

Every once in a while there is a day that brings together people that are from down the street, across the country and around the world with an attempt to make the world a slightly better place.  While this sounds like quite the audacious goal, The Reckoning aims to:

Do Work That Matters 
Beyond Technologist: Communicator, Businessperson
Be a Creator, Not An Operator
I have been lucky enough to be in attendance to represent Nexenta but also my history and background.  Kicking off the day with an unconference that was hosted by Cody Bunch and Alastair Cooke of vBrownbag we started with a generic list of topics that those in attendance thought were important to the community, the tech sector and hopefully others that could not attend.  I have done these before and the ideas tend not to get to flow past the group in attendance, and since the first break out, I volunteered to lead it seems only write to pass on some of the insight from those that may have been there, might want to go there or those that are just guessing but either way they are nuggets of knowledge.
Breakout #1: Making the transition from hands on tech to a business person
After a little history of everyone in the group a few main topics really jumped out, first off what does being a business person mean?  We came up with a few things but overall it is a multi-faceted role where you may manage people, you may be leading a technology or you may be selling technology.  The business role could me one or any of these and we had some random comments throughout:
  • Help to build things that remove blockers for others – it shouldnt always be about you getting ahead
  • It doesnt have to be just about making more money
  • Move to what comes from the heart
  • Actively pursue happiness or as Amy Lewis mentioned “I can’t work if I’m not happy”
  • Be the one to make the decision

As we tried to wrap up the first breakout we have a few pieces of advice to pass along in no particular order.

  1. Don’t worry about your title and role – Do the job you want to do
  2. Perception Management is key – Don’t hide your second job, that extra you do that may not get noticed
  3. If you are making your job up and your company doesnt agree, maybe that means you are at the wrong company
  4. Find something you resonate with – Follow your internal GPS
  5. Be comfortable in your lifestyle, it might not be about the paycheck but make sure you are happy
Breakout #2: Crossing the skills gap from one vendor to many

Again this one required a little bit of clarification, many of the people here had their careers revolve around VMware but how do you make sure you are not just “The VMware Guy”?  The first thing discussed was from Cody Bunch pointing out that when he mentors others he asks them to write down all the things they do in a week.  He doesn’t need to read the list but the mentee needs to recognize all the things they do.  Another version of this was to come up with a skill set pie chart.  Maybe you spend 80% of your day working on VMware, but then you spend 5% learning about DevOps and 10% of your day in project management (we all know 5% of your day is wasted at a minimum)  Now determine which of those secondary skills you want to get better at.  What will make you happy?  You have to remember that it is a choice of sacrifice, meaning what will drop, why would you drop it and are you ok if something doesnt get developed?  As you try to develop a skill though you have to remember that if you hit a wall, that doesnt always mean give up but there are times when you should potentially look elsewhere to find what you can excel at.  Are you not sure what those secondary skills are?  Ask your peers, interview for roles not exactly like yours, you will find out what your brand is and quickly learn what those secondary skill sets are.

All of this find a second things to do and the sacrifice does come at a cost, but as with every financial advisor that says pay yourself first, the same goes for your career.  Make an investment in the company of YOU.  While you may work 60 hours a week at your primary job, dont expect that every company sees that when they make financial decisions, often times you may be 2 or 3 or more layers removed from those looking at the balance sheet.  Those people simply see numbers and while it is always good to get visibility with them, it is not always possible and you should be prepared for what your future might hold.  That being said always make sure to balance your skill set between what is good for you and what is good for your employer.  Dont take this to mean that you should just do your own thing, but remember to stretch your comfort level and find that next thing for you, or you too will go the way of the mainframe and punchcards.

The first day at The Reckoning sure was insightful and continues with some great speakers and a group talk led by The Geek Whisperers, looking forward to seeing what day 2 holds…

 

The Meteoric Rise and Slow Fall of a Community

Over better part of the last ten years, I have been involved and benefited from one of the largest business communities that I have ever seen.  Revolving primarily around the VMware ecosystem, this community has provided me with access to some of the smartest minds in systems administration, business leaders and I have made numerous friends, but alas I think it is all about to fall.

To even start to explain where I am coming from lets first take a step back and explain some history.  I started working with VMware based products somewhere around 2004 or 2005 with GSX Server. As time progressed I worked more and more with virtualization and was even offered a job after and early VMware User Group(VMUG) meeting.  That turned into a stepping stone that began to escalate my career path.  I moved from a standard admin to management and then shifted over into being a sales engineer.  During my first role as a sales engineer for a regional reseller I began to participate heavily in the Community Roundtable Podcast, a very early weekly podcast hosted by John Troyer.  Combined with the VMware community forums I had access to tons of resources and people.  Things we progressing great and I moved into more VMware centric roles and eventually moved over to the vendor side.  This move was all because of relationships I had built with this VMware community.  The community had grown and so had my involvement, 5 years ago I started hosting a daily podcast at VMworld with some of these community member that I still do today.

It was during one of these podcasts this year in San Francisco that I had a few other guys confirm feelings that I have been having for the past year, that the VMware Community has gone too commercial and lost the camaraderie and independence that made it so special.  Vendors used to spend small amounts of money to help get people together with the knowledge that their name would be shared and these influential bloggers and social media activists would in turn support them (if their product was worthwhile).  Events were created by individuals and anyone could show up and be welcomed regardless if they worked for a vendor.  If you were active with a certain group it did not matter if you filled out a form on a website to give the sponsoring company a fresh lead, you were welcomed into events with open arms.

Times have changed and while I still have many great friends and contacts I dont think the community as I knew it exists anymore.  We have groups of people recognized for their participation in the community, vExperts, that many even with the group have become too entitled and it is no longer a group that provides feedback but rather just wants free swag.  We have events that were once only ran by the community and were open for anyone that are ran by corporate marketing teams and are no different than if a customer appreciation party.  There are very few new blogs or known technical talents that are being publicly lauded for their work and those that remain are often now so entrenched in their circle of friends that it is nearly impossible for a regular customer to make a connection with them enough to feel like they are becoming part of something.

There are still a few events that are driven for the community and managed in a way that any sponsored money and invitation goes back into the event but the feel and the vibe is slowly dying.  This VMworld I was lucky to be involved with VMUnderground which while much bigger than the founders or any of us involved ever expected still goes back to making sure people meet each other and see sponsors logos and hopefully is mutually beneficial.  Community packages were built for sponsors around participation in the vBrownbags, a series of hopefully no FUD short talks, Spousetivities, the definition of work-life balance and of course VMUnderground and vRockStar and the sponsors seemed to feel they are getting good value by participating.  I also got to see a much smaller event like The Gathering with only about 35 people be very well attended and produce great value for all involved.  Something that allowed community members and sponsors intertwine and even allowed community members that had not meet were able to.

I am not going to list off any of the events that I heard were not as accommodating or as focused on the attendees as I only hope they already received that feedback.  What I will say is that I hope as we move towards VMworld EMEA in a short 5 weeks everyone involved in the community finds a way to meet someone new, find a vendors they think is amazing and support them, and welcome that new talent that has allowed our industry to grow.  The community is not about a number of leads but rather about a network of people helping people.  Lets not let that fail!

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