Dipping my toes in the IoT pool: Microsoft DevKit IoT Board

In my personal life, I’ve jumped in the SmartHome head first, but I’ve been really reluctant to blur the lines into my professional life. Recently, I saw something that changed all that. The Microsoft IoT DevKit board.

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What is it?

This is Microsoft hardware product that allows developers to jump into the IoT pool. Specifically, the Microsoft Azure IoT hub pool. This is a very capable board with multiple sensors.

What sensors you ask?

  • Humidity: 
  • Air Pressure
  • Temperature
  • Magnetometer
  • Motion
  • Microphone

Basically, it’s a really good sensor that can grab the majority of the physical measurements that we want to look at in the IoT world. 

What do I do with it?

Right now, this is really just a tech toy for me. I have no specific projects that I’m trying to achieve. Rather this is a device that I’m using to try and really understand HOW the IoT ecosystem works and ensure my employability in years to come. So I don’t have any specific goals, but that’s really ok because Microsoft has been wonderful enough to supply us with the Microsoft IoT DevKit page over at Github which has a few different projects that allow me to grow my skills in several IoT use cases until my own specific use-case pops into my head. 

What Projects are available?

The great thing about the DevKit project page is that there are a bunch of projects that are intended to take us from zero to hero in the IoT developer world. Or at least from noob to semi-competent. 

From basic projects like Connect to Azure IoT hub and Remote Monitoring to more advanced projects like DevKit translator which leverages Microsoft’s Bing to create a speech translator or Shake,Shake for a tweet which integrates motion sensors with twitter.

There are ten projects in all and I wouldn’t be surprised if more projects are released in the future.

What Next?

This is an interesting project for me. It’s not python, it’s not really networking. And I’ve never used any Microsoft Azure services before. So this is going to be an interesting ride.

My plan is to start with the first tutorial, and see if I can bang my head against it until it works. 🙂  Look for that blog soon!

Interested in joining me on the journey? I picked up a board for $39 from DFRobot and it arrived in just a couple of days. If anyone wants to jump in and compare notes, please feel free to reach out. I’m more than happy to share what I’ve learned.

 

@netmanchris

 

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Home Automation Setup with Apple #HomeKit

As many of you know, I’ve been diving into the home automation pond for awhile now. I’ve been asked to blog out my current home setup and this is an attempt to do that. There’s MUCH too much to be put into a single post, which is why I started a new blog for this subject over at www.homekitgeek.com as well as doing some video reviews of different HomeKit accessories. Work in process, but I’ll do the short version here.

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Apple HomeKit

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I chose to use the Apple homeKit framework as the base for my home automation journey for a few reason. The biggest one is that I already owned a couple of Apple TV (gen4) devices which fit the home automation hub role. These devices are a homeKit hub and are the always-on/always-present devices that are used to perform orchestration/automation actions when I’m home or away. These also tie directly into Apple’s iCloud which allows me remote access to my homeKit gear without having to VPN into my home network.

 

Home Setup Room-By-Room

There’s a lot to talk about here, but I thought I would just do a quick description of what’s going on room-by-room with any specific features or automations that I’ve got setup. 

 

Front Entrance (outside)

DoorBell

I’ve got a Ring Pro Doorbell which is NOT HomeKit compatible yet. They’ve been promising for a couple of years and have assured me, both publicly and in DMs, that they are committed to updating the Ring Pro for HomeKit support. Small issues with the wiring of my house, but I was able to eliminate the doorbell chime itself and get the Ring Pro up and running. The Ring Chime Pro was a nice addition as well which I’ve got setup in the living room. 

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Lights

For the lights, I’ve got the front entrance lights tied to a Luton Caseta light switch in the house which is setup with an automation to turn the lights on at Sundown and turn them off at Sunrise. This is nice in that the system automatically checks the internet to see exactly what time those will be everyday. Living in a Northern country, Sunrise/Sunset can vary pretty wildly throughout the year. This automation lets me get the benefits of a timer system but without the hassle of changing the timer every month as the times change. 

The one thing I haven’t automation yet is the flood motion light.  I would really like to get a ring floodlight cam but I’m not investing any more money into Ring until they deliver on their promise around the doorbell. 

Front Entrance (inside)

Lock

I decided to not replace the whole deadbolt system and just use the August lock which fits nicely on top of most existing locks.  I particularly like the August iPhone App feature which automatically unlocks your front door as you pull in the driveway. Really nice to not have to mess around with keys. 🙂

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Sensor

In addition to the lock, I also installed an Elgato Eve Door & Window sensor on the front door. Just because it’s locked, doesn’t mean it’s closed. 🙂 Yes, I found that out the hardware. 

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Lights

In the mud-room, I’ve got a light which is connected to the same Lutron Caseta which controls the outdoor lights. Once you’re in the house, I’ve got a Philips Hue motion sensor which turns on a Philipps Hue GU10 light bulb at the bottom of the stairs. Unfortunately, the Philippe Hue motion sensors are not exposed directly to HomeKit, so I was forced to setup an on/off automation pair for a Lutron Caseta switch which controls 6 GU10 lights in the ceiling. 

Living Room

Sensors

I’ve got a Elgato Eve Degree for tracking general room stuff ( temperature, air pressure, humidity ). 

Cameras

I’ve got a Dlink Omna 180HD camera which, at the time of this writing, is the only camera on the market with official HomeKit support. I was unsure about it when I first installed it, but it’s started to grow on me.  The device is billed as a 180 degree camera which gives me full view of my kitchen/dining room/living room areas ( open concept ) and also provides night vision.  The one feature that seems to get used the most though is the 2-way audio which lets me talk with someone in the living room without having to be physically present.  

Parent note: Also handy to check in on the kids discretely to see what’s happening when you hear things starting to go sideways. 

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Lights

The living room definitely has the most complicated light setup in the whole house. I’ve got GU10 ( recessed lights.) through the whole upstairs which can be quite expensive with the Philipps Hue systems. So the living room is the only place I used the GU10 in mass. Typically, I would use a Lutron Caseta switch to power a bunch of GU10 bulbs ( anything over 2 bulbs and the Lutron is cheaper!!!), but for the entertainment area, I really wanted to have the ability to set different scenes.  Philipps Hue has a bunch of different models available and for the living room, I decided to use 

  • Philipps Hue GU10 lights ( both coloured and white )
  • Philipps Hue Bloom ( accent light )
  • Philipps Hue Light Strip

The combination of these products let’s me go from regular family to chill movie watching with the touch of a button.  I’ve also got a coupe of IFTT automations setup to help manage the kids schedule.

At 8:10pm, the coloured GU10 lights go purple which is a visual signal for them to stop what they’re doing and get ready for bed. If they are quick, they can come back and finish whatever they are doing. At 8:30, every light in the living room flashes to let them know it’s time to go to bed.  To be honest, the flashing light is pretty rough, but it is definitely impossible to ignore, even for a kid who’s deep into a Minecraft session. 

Other

The other thing I added to the Living room is a Logitech Pop button with the HomeKit Bridge.  Voice control with Siri is great and all, but it’s also nice to be able to just tap a button to set the scene.  You can set three different scenes with the button which I’ve chosen as follow

  • Single Press – Turns on the Living Room lights bright scene. This is “normal” mode
  • Double Press – Turns on Movie time Scene. Dims lights and turns on the Philipps Hue lights for accent lighting.
  • Long Press – Turns on Good night Scene which turns off all the lights, locks the doors, etc… 

Dining Room

Lights

Dining Room is pretty simple. I have 6 lights controlled by a Lutron Caseta light switch. I also got a couple of Ikea Accent Light Boxes which are hooked up to an iDevice plug. This gives me a candle-light vibe without the fire. 

BackDoor

The dining room opens directly onto a small deck. This is an entry point with I wanted to add a bit of security to. I used the Elgato Eve Door & Window sensors

To let me know when the door opens and closes. This is really nice when you’re leaving the house for a quick “Hey, Did I close the back door?” check.  It doesn’t tell me if I locked it or not. Still haven’t found a solution to that problem.

Kitchen

Lights

Kitchen lights are also pretty simple. Overhead is 6 GU10 bulbs controller by a single Lutron Caseta switch. I’ve got under cabinet lighting as well that I’m planning on adding another Lutron switch to control.  Idea here is to setup a motion sensor to turn on the under cabinet lighting at night. No need to blind anyone, right?

Sensors

 I have an iHome iS550 5-1 sensor in the kitchen. No particular reason to be honest. I originally bought this for the master bedroom but it didn’t work out at all. Constantly lost wifi signal and the fact that it’s a wall-powered device makes it difficult to hide. 

Hallway to Bedrooms

Lights

In the hallway to bedrooms I have a couple of Philipe Hue GU10 bulbs with a motion sensor setup. This automatically turns on the lights as you walk down the hallways. I have young kids ( 6 -10 -11) who need to get up at night, so I also setup a rule that turns the lights in to a “nightlight” mode if motion is detected after 9pm. Keeps the blinding of the children down and makes sure that they can still hit the target in the ‘wee hours of the morning. 

Kids Bedrooms

Kid1

Lutron Caseta Switch for the ceiling lights. I also setup a Philipps Hue bloom with the sunrise scene turned on to help him get out of bed in the morning. His room is in the basement, so I also got a fibaro window & door sensor as his room is in the basement. 

Kid2

I’ve got a Philipps Hue color light bulb paired with the Philipps Hue Light switch.  He’s also got a colorful “moonlight” which is connected to an iDevice plug. This is connected to a time-of-day based automation which turns it on at bedtime and off at midnight ( after he’s fallen asleep). The Philipps Hue color bulb is also setup for the sunrise scene

Kid3

Of the three kids room, this was the hardest. We had legacy fluorescent light that simply didn’t work with the Lutron Caseta light switch. I ended up replacing the light fixture completely as I REALLY like the Lutron switches. I also have a Philipps Bloom setup with, you guessed it, the sunrise scene.

Master BedRoom

Lights

No ceiling lights in the master bedroom, so I use a couple of different lamps. One lamp I’ve used a Philipps Color bulb, and then other large lamp I use a Lutron Caseta wall plug.  The large lamp uses small candle bulbs ( not sure the exact model ) and it was far easier to just grab the Lurtron Caseta wall plug. The Caseta wall plug also acts as a repeater extending the range and reliability of the Lutron automation. ( Luton uses a protocol called ClearConnect, not wi-fi or bluetooth).   There’s also a Philipps Go light in the master bedroom as well. The Philipps Go is great as it’s got an internal battery. This came in handy recently when we got hit by a power outage. 🙂 

Sensors

 I originally used the iHome iS550 sensor in the master bedroom, but it just didn’t work out. Iswapped it for the Elgato Eve Room Sensor which has been working great. The Elgato Eve Room sensor is a bluetooth device and is power by batteries, so no issues with disconnecting wifi networks or losing the device completely during a power outage.  The Eve room sensor gives me temperature and humidity. I then use this measurement as a trigger to either turn on the humidifier if the air is too dry. 

The room also measures VoC ( volatile organic compound ) or air quality. As allergy season is about to hit, I’m going to get an indoor room air-purifier and use the VoC measurement to turn the purifier on or off. 

Humidifier

The humidifier is a generic Honeywell humidifier. I got lucky in this is an analog switch based unit. This means that if it’s in the ON position and you plug it in, it just starts working. I use an iDevices wall plug (with Nightlight!) to control whether or not the power is turned on to the humidifier. Basically, if it gets to dry, as measured by the Elgato Eve Room sensor, a trigger is sent to the iDevices wall plug to turn on and start pumping a little moisture into the air. 

Air Purifier

 I don’t have the air purifier setup yet, but planning on this as my next purchase. Same basic principal as the Humidifier, but replace with the purifier. If the air quality is poor, as measured by the Eve Elgato room sensor, then the power to the plug turns on and the air starts getting clearer. 

Home Office

Lights

 The home office lights are using the Lutron Caseta switch. I also included an Elgato Eve Motion Sensor to automatically turn on the lights when I walk in the office. The Eve is Bluetooth based and doesn’t have the response that the Philipps Hue motion sensor does, but the 2-3 second delay doesn’t bother me at all when I know I’m going to be in the office for awhile.  The Eve motion sensor also turns on some desk accent lighting which has been plugged into an Eve Elgato Energy wall plug.  In a nutshell, the lights turns on when I walk in the office and the lights turn off when I’m no longer there ( after a 15 minute period of no movement detected ). 

Sensors

In addition to the Eve Elgato motion sensor mentioned above, My home office is in the basement, so I also included a couple of Eve Elgato Door & Window sensors to make sure the house is secured.  Living in a northern country, leaving the window open can have consequences. 

Laundry Hallway

Lights

This was my latest addition. I noticed that when I walked downstairs with the laundry basket in my hands, I had to put it down to turn on the light. I know. The horror!!!!   I installed 2 Philipps Hue GU10 bulbs with a Philipps Hue Motion sensor to automatically turn on the lights as I carry my basket.  Kid1’s room is also at the end of this hallway, so I also setup the nightlight ( 5% light.) to trigger if it’s after 9pm. No need to blind the kid, right?

BackYard

Plug

I have a single iDevices outdoor plug which I use to plug in my electric lawn mower. Although this is a dual-plug unit, both plugs are controller simultaneously meaning that they are both ON or OFF.  The plug is set up to be off during the week and power on at 9pm on Friday night. Just enough time to get a full charge to mow the lawn on the weekend.  

As the season gets colder, I’m planning on using this to power the Christmas lights as well. Plan is to setup a time-based trigger to turn on the lights at Sundown to save a little electricity. 

Garage

Lights

I have a single Philipps A19 bulb with a Philipps Hue motion detector installed to run on as motion is detected in the garage. I also had a spare Koogeek Smartsocket that I plugged a regular A19 light bulb into. I’ve setup an ON/OFF trigger pair to turn the Koogeek light to match the Philipps hue light.

The one other thing to note in the garage is a time-of-day automation I setup to prevent me from banging my head until the wee hours of the morning. At 11pm, the lights go into nightlight mode reminding me to go to bed and work on it tomorrow.  

Boiler Room

This is really just a small closet which contains the hot water tank and my furnace. I installed a Fibaro flood sensor in here to detect any leaks before they become a big problem. The hot water tank is a little bit older. Installing the leak sensor just gives me a little peace of mind. This sensor also includes a temperature sensor which is super important for a water tank in a northern country. If it starts to get cold, bad things can happen. Not a bill I’m interested in seeing. 

Downstairs Windows

There are a few different windows in my basement that I installed the Elgato Eve Door & Window sensors on. Peace of mind to make sure that we’re all locked up when we leave at night. Already mentioned, but also important when you live in a Northern country. Bad things can happen when the inside of your house goes below freezing temperatures. 

What’s next?

As you can tell, I’ve really developed a passion for home automation. I currently only have two projects I’m planning, but as new HomeKit enabled devices come out, I expect this list to grow. 

HomeBridge Nest Thermostat integration

The Nest thermostat is not currently Apple homeKit compatible. The Homebridge project exists to let non-Homekit devices participate in a HomeKit ecosystem. I recently purchased a RaspberryPi3 for this purpose. My goal here is basic thermostat integration into the rest of my smart home. 

Soma Smart Shades

Soma has recently announced a HomeKit bridge for pre-order. I’m pretty wary about ordering any products without the HomeKit certification. Too many companies which have announced HomeKit support and never delivered. Soma is an after-market device which connects to your existing shades and allows you to control them as part of your smart home.  Combine this with the different temp sensors and we can do some interesting things such as 

  • Shut Blinds at 12pm every day
  • Shut blinds when outdoor temperature exceeds desired indoor temperature
  • Open blinds at 4pm
  • Shut blinds for Movie Time scene

 

Hopefully this was interesting. If you have any questions or want more information, feel free to post in the comments below or to reach out on twitter 

@netmanchris

The First IoT Culling: My Devices are Dying.

 

Cull: to reduce the population of (a wild animal) by selective slaughter

As an early adopter of technology, I sometimes feel like I get to live in the future. Or as William Gibson said “The future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed”. There are a lot of benefits to be gained from this, but there are also risks.  One of the biggest risks is 

How long is the product you choose going to be around?

 

I was an early adopter in the first wave of IoT devices, from wearables to home convenience devices, I dipped my toes in the pool early. Most of these platforms were Kickstarter projects and I’ve been generally happy with most of them, at least the ones that were actually delivered. ( That’s a story for another time…).

But in the last six months, the market seems to have decided that there are just too many of these small companies.

The Death Bells are Ringing

In the last year, I’ve noticed that there’s starting to be a trend. Many of the early platforms that I invested in seem to be disappearing. Some have been bought off and killed. Remember the Pebble watches which was acquired by Fitbit? I’ve got an original and a Pebble time that are now little more than short-term battery traditional watches.

 

NewImageSome are just dying on the vine.

The latest victim? The Sense sleep monitor system by Hello.  This was a Kickstarter project that really helped to define a new category. When the project was launched in 2013, there was nothing else like it in the market, at least nothing that I’m aware of. Like most Kickstarter projects, they shipped later than their Aug 2014 estimate, but when it arrived it was definitely worth the wait.

This device had multiple sensors including light, sound, humidity, VoC ( air quality ), and temperature. It also had remote bluetooth motion sensors that attached to your pillows to track body movement while you sleep. The basic idea is that you sleep 1/3 of your life. Shouldn’t we make sure we are doing it right?  The combination of the sensor data combined with sleep research will help users understand why they feel good or bad in the morning. How to create the optimal conditions in your bedroom etc…  Obviously I’m not a sleep expert, but I can say that sense has improved the quality of my sleep since I started using it. 

Just last week, we all received some sad news that Hello, the company behind the Sense product is shutting down.

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What’s happening?

Although there are some people who believe that Sense was just a faulty product, I think there is something deeper going on here. This shows a fundamental flaw with the business models that some of the early IoT and wearables players came to market with. There is a very simple business principle that somehow they seemed to completely miss.

If you want to survive as a business, you’re incoming cash must be more than you’re outgoing case. 

 

Pebble and Sense, and several other wearable and IoT products in the market right now were built on a single-purchase model. You buy the product and you get unlimited right to use that product.  This is the consumers preferred model. When I spend my money on something, I want to own it. I want to be able to use it, and I don’t want to have to pay for it again and again. At least this is the simple version of the thought process.

Spending some time watching various devices become little more than expensive bricks has made me re-examine that thought process though.

Why I’m looking for Subscription models now

Yup. That’s right. You heard me.

I want to find companies that are actively looking to provide value funded through a subscription model of some kind. Companies like Nest and Ring who are providing cloud storage for security cameras are a great example of this in action.

Looking at the failing companies; the one thing in common that I’m starting to see in common with these different devices is that they tend to make a whole bunch of money up front. ( $10M+ for the initial Pebble Kickstarter project. One of the largest ever on that platform! ).  But they tend to be niche products that have a limited target audience, and when that target market has been saturated….  No more money comes in and they’re left having to continue to pay for the “cloud” infrastructure required to keep their products going.

Looking at Sense and Pebble, both of these platforms sold with a hardware model. They have a product offering where your devices connect to cloud-based infrastructure, whether that’s AWS based or other is irrelevant. What most consumers don’t realize is that cloud-based infrastructure has a reoccurring monthly cost to it. This also doesn’t include the cost of ongoing platform development, whether that’s adding new features, creating a better user-experience, or just upgrading to stay current with the newest versions of Apple iOS or Android that are shipping on current devices. 

This is fine as long as you continue to sell new hardware product, but as the number of new users start to trend down and your costs stay the same… we start to see what’s happening in the market right now.

Are Subscription models that only way?

Absolutely not. There are other companies, like Dlink, iHome or iDevices that have a fairly broad portfolio of products and are continuously creating new products. These helps to ensure they have a healthy income stream as individual product segments become saturated. They can afford to continue to fund app development and the infrastructure required to host them as they are spreading that cost over many devices.

 

More Deaths in the future

There have been some notable passings, such as Pebble and Sense, but I don’t think they are going to be the last by any stretch of the imagination. 2017 and 2018 are going to be a hard year on early adopters as we start to look at the mirrors, watches, and gadgets blink eternally as they have no home in the cloud to call back to. Hoping that many of the new IoT players start to realize that having a good technology idea isn’t enough if you want to survive. Strange that I’m now looking at business models in a consumer product purchasing decision. I guess this just goes to show how educated the consumer is truly becoming.

As I invest in my SmartHome products, I look for companies who are established with multiple streams of revenue. Companies like Lutron or Philipps. In some cases, like the Soma Smart Blinds, I really don’t have another option. I’ll probably buy them, but I’m not expecting to these to last the long term. I wish Soma the best of luck, but I don’t see a subscription model and it’s not like shades are something you replace every year. 

Bottom line is enjoy your first generation wearables now. They might not be around for that much longer. 

 

@netmanchris

Shedding the Lights on Operations: REST, a NMS and a Lightbulb

It’s obvious I’ve caught the automation bug. Beyond just automating the network I’ve finally started to dip my toes in the home automation pool as well.

The latest addition to the home project was the Philipps hue light bulbs. Basically, I just wanted a new toy, but imagine my delight when I found that there’s a full REST API available. 

I’ve got a REST API and a light bulb and suddenly I was inspired!

The Project

Network Management Systems have long suffered from information overload.

Notifications have to be tuned and if you’re really good you can eventually get the stream down to a dull roar. Unfortunately, the notification process is still broken in that the notifications are generally dumped into your email which if you are anything like me…

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Yes. That’s really my number as of this writing

One of the ways of dealing with the deluge is to use a different medium to deliver the message. Many NMS systems, including HPE IMC, has the capability of issuing audio alarms, but let’s be honest. That can get pretty annoying as well and it’s pretty easy to mute them.

I decided that I would use the REST interfaces of the HPE IMC NMS and the Phillips Hue lightbulbs to provide a visual indication of the general state of the system.Yes, there’s a valid business justifiable reason for doing this. But c’mon, we’re friends?  The real reason I worked on this was because they both have REST APIs and I was bored. So why not, right?

The other great thing about this is that you don’t need to spend your day looking at a NOC screen. You can login when the light goes to whatever color you decide is bad.

Getting Started with Philipps Hue API

The Philipps SDK getting started was actually really easy to work through. As well, there’s an embedded HTML interface that allows you to play around with the REST API directly on the hue bridge.

Once you’ve setup your initial authentication to the bridge ( see the getting started guide ) you can login to the bridge at http://ip_address/debug/clip.html

From there it’s all fun and games. For instance, if you wanted to see the state of light number 14, you would navigate to api/%app_name%/lights/14 and you would get back the following in nice easy to read JSON.

http://ipaddress/debug/clip.html/

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From here, it would be fairly easy to use a http library like REQUESTS to start issuing HTTP commands at the bridge but, as I’m sure you’re aware by now, there’s very little unread territory in the land of python.

PHUE library

Of course someone has been here before me and has written a nice library that works with both python 2 and python 3.  You can see the library source code here, or you can simple

>>> pip install phue

From your terminal.

The Proof of Concept

You can check out the code for the proof of concept here. Or you can watch the video below.

Breaking down the code

1) Grab Current Alarm List

2) Iterate over the Alarms and find the one with the most severe alarm state

3) Create a function to correlate the alarm state to the color of the Philipps Hue lightbulb.

4) Wait for things to move away from green.

Lessons Learned

The biggest lesson here was that colours on a screen and colours on a light bulb don’t translate very well. The green and the yellow lights weren’t far enough apart to be useful as a visual indicator of the health of the network, at least not IMHO.

The other thing I learned is that you can waste a lot of time working on aesthetics. Because I was leveraging the PHUE library and the PYHPEIMC library, 99% of the code was already written. The project probably took me less than 10 minutes to get the logic together and more than a few hours playing around with different colour combinations to get something that I was at least somewhat ok with. I imagine the setting and the ambient light would very much effect whether or not this looks good in your place of business.If you use my code, you’ll want to tinker with it.

Where to Next

We see IoT devices all over in our personal lives, but it’s interesting to me that I could set up a visual indicator for a NOC environment on network health state for less than 100$.  Just thinking about some of the possibilities here

  • Connect each NOC agents ticket queue with the light color. Once they are assigned a ticket, they go orange for DO-NOT-DISTURB
  • Connect the APP to a Clearpass authentication API and Flash the bulbs blue when the boss walks in the building. Always good to know when you should be shutting down solitaire and look like you’re doing something useful, right?
  • Connect the APP to a Meridian location API and turn all the lights green when the boss walks on the floor.

Now I’m not advocating you should hide things from your boss, but imagine how much faster network outages would get fixed if we didn’t have to stop fixing them to explain to our boss what was happening and what we were going to be doing to fix them, right?

Hopefully, this will have inspired someone to take the leap and try something out,

Comments, questions?

@netmanchris

Apple Watch: It’s all in the Ecosystem

Unless you were under busy living under a rock, you probably saw the Apple announcements last week launching the iPhone 6 and the Apple watch. I’ve doing a lot of thinking lately about the intersection of Big Data and the internet of things and specifically how they apply to the Quantified Self movement. 

 

A little about me

 

Currently, I’ve got a lot of stuff going on in my life. Specifically going through a separation from my wife of ten years. One of the ways that I’m choosing to deal with this is to try and focus on the moment and the daily activities. To set small goals for myself and to track them using various methods to see if I’ve achieved at the end of the day or not.  Most days, I’m hitting the goal. Others I miss and I come back that much more determined the next day to get my life back on track. Three amazing kids are an awfully powerful motivation. 

 

My devices

 

I’ve been loosely tracking my stats for a few years now and I’ve had a bunch of different devices in that time more or less in chronological order from when I started using them. Here’s the non-inclusive list that I can remember off the top of my head, although I’m sure there’s a couple I’ve missed. 

 

Garmin 305 Forerunner ( Circa. 2008)

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This was one of my first entires into the QS movement. It was a good product. Stable. Built in GPS and connected to an ANT+ hear-rate monitor. I used this a lot at the time. I’m sure if I go back you can see my tracks over Europe, Canada, US, and even a few weeks in Vietnam.

Not a bad application to go with it, but the data was pretty much locked in. They did eventually kill the 32-bit App in favour of a web interface, but by the time that was released, I had moved on. 

 

Wii Fit (Circa, 2008 )

NewImageI first got into the wii fit with the original release. Lots of family fun. Getting my kids active is important to me and that’s not always easy. This was arguably the first gamification of fitness.  It worked. The kids loved it.

I’ve upgrade these to the latest Wii Fit U which is currently a favourite of my kids. The balance board is an awesomely accurate scale as far as tracking balance. The biggest problem I have is there’s no way to get all this awesome data out of the game. Locked completely in Nintendo’s hands. I can see the data over time, but there’s no way to pull it out and do any data mashups to see if anything interesting comes out of the combined data. 

 

Fitbit ( original ) (Circa. 2012)

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I got a fitbit when they were first released around 2012. I lost the first one while walking because of a bad design on the built clip, lost the second on e trip coming back from Barcelona, and I’m onto my 3rd iteration which I’m happy to say has a much better built clip and is currently hanging from my belt. One of the things I like the most about the fitbit is that they have allowed other vendors, like Runkeeper to access the data and use it in their own applications. I’ve tried a couple, but so far, I always end up coming back to the Fitbit apps, whether the iOS or Webapp, they are still the way I prefer to look at that data. 

 www.fitbit.com

 

 

 

 

 

Apple iPhone 5s

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With the build in motion sensor, the 5s some interesting capabilities. I’ve not taken advantage of them to be honest, but I’m aware the data is there, if only I locked. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pebble Smartwatch

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Pebble’s got the tech to be able to do a lot of what the fitbit does, but so far, I haven’t seen anyone taking advantage of it. There are the golf training apps which show the potential of the hardware platform, but I just haven’t had a chance to play with that yet. not a golfer 🙂 

 

http://www.getpebble.com




Wahoo Bluetooth Heartrate reader

Self Explanatory I think. The Wahoo sends heart-rate data to the iPhone. The apps, like run keeper, can then access the data as it tracks your pace, speed, GPS position etc… and help to provide you some “your heart rate goes this fast when you move this fast” style of observations. 

http://www.wahoofitness.com

Fit Aria Scale

This is an interesting Fitbit product that takes the pain out of tracking your weight. Sure, I could write it down and later manually input it into a system, but the Aria connects directly through my wi-fi network and auto uploads the results of each weigh-in into the fitbit online system.  I can also weigh myself in the morning, afternoon and evening and have all that data, complete with the timestamp of the measure to be able to look at fluctuations. 

http://www.fitbit.com

Muse personal EEG by InterAxio

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The muse is an interesting product that I wrote a bit about here.  Personal EEG reader. Good SDK, but all manual. You can do anything with the data you want as long as you can write the code yourself.  The app is decent and they just updated it, taking into account user feedback and improving what their customers told them was important. I’m starting to expect good things from this company. So far, I’m impressed with the product, the packaging, and especially the willingness to engage and listen to their customers and enhance the product based on customer feedback.

http://www.choosemuse.com

 

 

 

 

Sense

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 This is a kickstarter project which takes the QS movement and applies it to sleep. Sure, my fitbit can give me an idea of how I slept last night? Number of times awake, how restless, etc.. and quantify some measurement on how good my sleep was, but it doesn’t give me any insight into WHY my sleep was the way it was. That’s where Sense comes in. The sense has a sleep sensor that attaches to your pillow which looks like it will gather a lot of the same data as the fitbit. Where the sense differs greatly is the base station which also gathers audio and air quality data, and potentially other pieces of data such as level of light during the night and then attempts to correlate those different pieces of data with the quality of your sleep.  Did a car alarm go off at 3:17am?  Was there an abnormally high amount of dust or pollen in the air? Was it too dark/toolight?  how did all these factors affect the measured quality of your sleep.  Again, I don’t actually have the product, so the final features may differ, but the concept is there at a price which caused me to jump in. 

http://www.hello.is 

 

My Apps

 The other side of the hardware equation is the apps. I’ve used quite a few of them over the last few years. Here’s another non-inclusive list with some quick comments. Almost all of these devices have their own app ( fat or web ) and most of them also have an API that one could choose, if one had the inclination and ability, to mine for data. 

Garmin Forerunner App

Fat 32 bit app. Locked in data. It worked, but they stopped updating it and moved to a web. I think it might still be around, but I abandoned it long ago. 

Fitbit Website

This is my return-to interface for my health data currently. My aria scale and my Fitbit both publish nicely into this interface with no action on my part. The interface is clean and they do make an effort to make improvements to both the iOS apps as well as the web on a regular basis. 

Runkeeper

Runkeeper is something I use on and off. I tend to use Runkeeper when I am focused and going to the gym daily. When work gets too busy and I’m not able to make it to the gym, I stop using it and fall back on the fitbit apps to track my physical activity and make sure I get my 15,000 steps a day. 

Fitocracy

Interesting app. Abandoned it quickly. Social + workout may be good for some people but didn’t motivate me. 

Endomundo

Lots of people love it. I found it similar to run keeper and not enough difference to commit to trying something new. It’s a good app and I’m sure I would be there if I hadn’t tried runkkeeper first. I’m sure there are differences that would make a person choose one over the other. I just don’t know about those particular differences so I stuck with runkkeeper/fitibit combo.

Nike+

I had a Apple iPod Nano with the Nike+ pedometer built into it, but I stopped using it when I got my pebble. The historical data is in the Nike+ website and I have no idea how I might get it out.  

So what does the Apple Watch do for me?

I’ve got no special access to any data around the Apple Watch ( although I’d love to review it if someone sent me one! hint! hint! ) so I’m basing my comments on the Apple Watch launch last week. This device appears the be a nice combination of some of the devices I already own. At first glance, it could replace the Wahoo heart rate reader as well as potentially the fitbit, although what information the Apple Watch is tracking or the accuracy is still mostly unknown. Steps, sure, but what about the ability to track flights of stairs like the fitbit does? Or sleep patterns like the fitbit does? I would guess no noise pollution or air quality like the sense, but Apple has surprised us before. I suppose they could have hidden a smell sensor and they could definitely leverage the microphone in the iPhone or iPad to gather noise data. The Watch certainly looks capable, but considering what else it’s doing, I imagine the battery life may become a problem.

Data all over the place

“Data Data everywhere and not a drop to drink”

The main problem that I currently see with the QS movement, and my personal attempt to derive some data-inspired observations of my life is the fact that the data is all tied into a particular vendors data structures and repositories. Of the different tracking devices that I’ve used over the year, the most accessible of these has been, by far, the fitbit.  Fitbit has put out a pretty decent API and has allowed other vendors, like Runkeeper or MyFitnessPal to be able to draw out the fitbit data into their own webapp. There’s also a custom watch face for the Pebble smart watch which can also draw out the fitibit data through an android or iPhone and display how you’re doing on a given day at-a-glance right there on your wrist. You’re keenly aware of where you sit for your movement goals that day every time you look at your wrist. But fitbit does not allow access to all of the data they track through their API. There are some portions, like the sleep data, that they appear to be keeping to themselves, for either business or resourcing reasons. They seem to be a great company, so I’ll just assume that they are too busy building out great new features to extend the APIs for sleep data right now. 

 

The Garmin device? I had to abandon the data completely. The Wii is great, but a data blackhole. Anything that goes in does not come out. The Muse is new and extremely accessible, decent SDK, etc…

Long story short: All of these devices have left me with an extremely disjointed collection of data and data sources that are oozing with unconnected potential insights, if only I had the time and patience to sit down and create a framework to pull it all together. 

Ecosystem in the making?

Apple makes great products. Period. I own many of them and I’m deeply entrenched in, what I think is going to be the really value proposition of the Watch, the Apple Ecosystem. Apple has done a phenomenal job of connecting the various different iPods, iPhones, iPads, Apple TVs and OSX running machines all together through a common Ecosystem all accessed, primary, through the iTunes and AppStore interfaces. This brings together a common interface, a common user experience, and a common expectation throughout the entire range of Apple devices. They have done what I consider to be an amazingly good job of connecting those devices and the applications running on those devices.  What’s most amazing to me is that they actually extended this functionality to their developer ecosystem as well, allowing the ISV’s to be able to take advantage of those same connection points to provide a more seamless user experience.  And if reports are to be believed, this is only going to get tighter with the OSX Yosemite and iOS 8 releases.

I believe that Apple Watch and the Health sensors could possibly pave the way for a framework which would allow independent hardware and software vendors to plug into, very similar to what is done with the iPhone and iPad platforms today. Run an app?  Sure!  Have a custom peripheral that you want to use to send data to the device like the Muse? Absolutely! Come one come all! 

I expect to see Apple create a health framework to receive all the Apple Watch and currently available iPhone health sensor data. In the first iteration, it will most likely be Apple only and most likely limited in functionality. But as they iterate and extend, I think we’re going to see the Apple Health framework become the defacto standard to which health related IoT devices are going to send their data and to which ISV’s are going to look to as the primary access point for consuming this data. 

Granted, there are a bunch of potential privacy concerns that may get in the way of this, but Apple managed to get the record industry to bend beneath their will. I think that if there’s a company out there that could possibly tackle the issues and come out with something useful, Apple is more likely than most to rise to the challenge.

 

What the Future holds

With the democratization of all of this data, I’m extremely excited to the possibilities and insights into the nature of the human condition that can be derived from having such an abundance of data across such a huge proportion of the population. There’s a lot of work to be done to figure out how to categorize the contributors in useful demographics that allow us to start grouping and sifting the data for interesting correlations. 

Imagine if all of that data can be sanitized and drawn into a connected series of data sources which are all uniformly accessible through a common set of Apple HealthNet (I’m making the name up!) APIs which allow App developers to write to a common API and allows Hardware developers a common schema to which they can deploy their data. If they need something else allow them to extend it themselves or have them work with Apple to extend the schema where necessary so all devices can take advantage of it.

Even better, have the medical community give input into the schema as well allowing them to actively solicit different types of data from the collective apple-bearing masses. Crowd sourcing huge amounts of data.

There are only a couple of ways to improve accuracy in statistical analysis. Increase the number of samples in a given time period or increase the number of time periods across which you sample. Either way, more data leads to more accurate data. 

 

Are there privacy issues?  Sure there are. How do we allow medical researchers to be able to mine that data pool while protecting the individual right to privacy.  One of the ways to do that is for a single organization to take on the burden of such responsibility and allow other entities to then access through the structure, secure methods.  Kinda sounds like Apple might be in that position soon.

Am I crazy?  What do you think? Looking forward to comments below

 

@netmanchris

 

 

 

 

http://www.wahoofitness.com/