A smart gnome doesn’t make for a smart home
It’s difficult to get through an episode of any TV program these days without learning about some new ‘smart home’ gadget. Looking for something that enables you to scare off gnome thieves whilst on holiday? I know just the thing.
Yes, gadgets like these do deliver desirable and useful functionality, but they generally ship with two major drawbacks:
1) ‘Smart gadget’ vendors typically require you to be wide ‘open’ to sharing all your private data with them, so this can be stored, processed (and who knows what else!) on their cloud-based servers.
2) These devices are also technically hermetically ‘closed’ – preventing any custom programming or integration possibilities. Without this capability to perform even simple integrations, these gadgets will never allow you to achieve smart home nirvana – total automation.
This is important. Without automation, as you add more and more ‘smart’ functionality to your home, what you eventually end up with is a box of buttons for a gaggle of gadgets. You will soon realise that more functionality equals more things you must remember to find, update, & check to ensure that everything still works.
Eventually, whether it’s matter of poor reliability or no-longer novelty factors (or both) you will find yourself either reverting to ‘the old way’ or looking to buy smart gadget v2, v3 and so on.
Getting the kids green, amber & ‘reddy’ for bed!
A recent family challenge of my own, beautifully illustrates the case against what I refer to as the ‘smart gadget phenomena’.
Let me first put my hand up and say that, we’re a hard-working family, and yes, there are evenings when getting the kids to bed can be, well let’s just say ‘difficult’ is an understatement. Weirdly, my kids are freakishly compliant with any rules that involve a ‘what’. They are also extremely appreciative of any expanded reasoning that helps build the case for ‘why’.
“Here is WHAT I would like you guys to do, and this is WHY it’s going really help me.” Nodding heads all round.
The problem is, they literally have no time for anything I say that involves a ‘when’.
The trigger event for one particularly difficult evening involved me having to perform emergency triage on four ‘told-my-other-half-to-buy-off-the-bone’ chicken legs. Chicken dismemberment pushed dinner late, and that subsequently messed up all the timings for my nightly fatherly duties as the ‘voice of shouty bedtime clock’ and chief of first floor curfew enforcement.
If there is one thing that annoys my kids more than me shouting at them to go to bed, it’s me shouting at them to go to bed, without giving them enough ‘notice’. When I give them notice, they complain that I did not I give them enough notice about giving them notice.
Making light work of bedtimes
Might there be a technological solution for something that would help make bedtimes run smoother? After a quick browse on Amazon, I found something which looked like the answer. A ‘smart’ traffic light count-down timer with audible alerts!
The idea behind this marvellous little gadget is simple. You enter in an amount of time to give your kids to do something. Like go to bed. The device will then automatically configure to show a green light for a set 60% of the total remaining time, 30% for amber and then the final 10% on red. So whether you have 30 minutes to bedtime, or 10, the device counts down and automatically sets a proportional sequence for each light change.
As the colours change, the unit belts out a soviet era inspired chime, so everyone knows what’s going on. I, meanwhile, can settle down with a book and a glass of wine, and pretend I am waiting for the 20:22 to Vladivostok.
After a brief product demonstration to an attentive and curious young audience, the timer was switched on and diktat delivered:
Bed by RED…or ELSE!
What followed was a week of pure bedtime bliss. No more arguments (even my most imaginatively argumentative child found it difficult to debate with a plastic light), no need for any shouting and everything ran wonderfully… literally ‘light’ clockwork!
Sadly, this bedtime timer utopia was not to last.
Any system that requires your involvement has one fundamental flaw. You.
One night I forgot to start the light timer on time (oh the irony!), and on my assent upstairs I was greeted with a Venezuelan-esk breakdown in the rule of ‘lights out law’. There were protests. Bedroom looting was rife. The value of Ninjago Lego had literally hit the floor. I ended up having to resort to (holds head in shame) BRIBERY.
Any good South American despot will tell you – once you create a rule of law, if one day you forget to enforce it (because you lost track of time watching a particularly gripping episode of ‘Chernobyl’ on Sky Atlantic), the consequence of your absent mindedness will result in a far worse situation than before you established your draconian rules in the first place.
Once the matter of my own lack of self-discipline had been addressed, the following week a new problem emerged. The kids got so used to the traffic light clock flashing and chiming, they essentially tuned out and just ignored it.
Yes, they had all become unwitting victims of another phenomena. Boring automation. Or should we call it, ‘Monotimation’.
A (smart) light-bulb moment
When I was done banging my head against the wall one evening, I gazed upwards and saw my recently installed cluster of three Loxone Pendulum Slim stair lights. In a flash, I had a bit of a (smart) light bulb moment.
Just a few months earlier I had a bit of fun in setting each of these Loxone Pendulum lights to fade in and out using their own random colour sequence – producing a multi light ‘rolling random rainbow’ effect. For this visually impressive achievement, my family awarded me… maximum dad points!
I realised that, in conjunction with the house audio system (also Loxone) I could use these lights to create a much smarter BWS (Bedtime Warning System). My Loxone BWS would be louder, more interesting and above all, fully automated.
After all, I am very much the ‘weakest link’ and would very much like to say ‘goodbye’ to bedtime combat stress.
Loxone Alarm Clock Function Block: Placing the right light at the scene of the time
The lighting part was very easy to do with Loxone, however lights alone would not be enough. We also needed sound. For this I decided to go the extra mile, to avoid the curse of ‘Monotimation’.
First off all I got my eldest (8 yrs) to record her own intro chimes on a recorder (green), Yukalee (amber) and keyboard (red). I then arranged these sounds to play in conjunction with the relevant alarm enabled scene. By doing this, I gave the kids some creative ‘ownership’ into ‘their’ system. See what I did there?
Next for the clever part.
Rather than just play some music, I thought it would be even better for me to record in some actual ‘go to bed’ type spoken announcements, after the chimes.
Although the thought of hearing myself telling the kids to go to bed was, I admit, rather appealing, I wondered if being bombarded with ‘shouty dad’ on a nightly basis might be a bit harsh. To avoid sulkage, stomping and door slamming, I decided that a better strategy would be the ‘soft power’ approach.
All three kids would record their OWN set of personalised bedtime audio messages for each of the three colour scenes, giving me a total of nine fun audio announcements to work with. Finally, I just needed to fix it so we randomly select one announcement from each child for each scene.
To make this work, I stuck in a nifty random number block for each scene, I first run the fixed chimes, I sequence in some delay, and then randomly select which one of the three audio messages for that scene will be played, using a radio button block.
The result? The kids never know which one of them will be ‘up’ for each stage of bedtime announcement entertainment. To find out, they actually pay attention.
The new system has worked beyond my expectations, and in addition to making bedtime easier, because the scenes all start at set times, I believe the system is helping ‘train’ my kids about the general concept of time itself. They know the amber light is always 45 minutes after green, so they are now starting to understand what 45 minutes means. Without a clock or watch they are getting pretty good at ‘guessing’ when the lights change.
Loxone’s smart homes: built with creative automation as standard
So this blog is a little on the long side, and if there is one of you still on hold, having phoned up my local social services with a view to notifying them of a crazy dad who appears to have delegated all parental responsibility of his children to a Loxone smart home. You can put down the phone!
The fact is, Loxone’s unique ability to allow me to perform creative automation without limitations, has enabled me to become a better parent! There are no more tears and tantrums at bedtime. Rather than appear on the landing, fuming that no-one is even in their PJs, now I cheerfully skip up the stairs like the happy dad in the last scene from Mary Poppins.
This previously lost & negative ‘get to bed’ time is now spent on far more positive and interesting post bedtime Q&A sessions such as “If a Dinosaur is a big lizard, would its tail fall off if you pulled it?”.
Everyone goes to bed happy. Including me.