Fun with Homekit

With the release of iOS 10, and homekit becoming a little more mainstream, I have finally begun to really take advantage of my homekit enabled devices.  It has been an interesting process, but I remain hopeful.

I wrote previously about my experience with my Ecobee3 Thermostat.  I purchased it instead of a competitor because of homekit specifically.  When I installed it, I didn’t really have a solid understanding of how homekit worked, and honestly didn’t take the time to research.  It worked through the app, and we were happy.

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Recently on the Home On podcast #075, Richard Gunther had the CEO of iDevices, Chris Allen, on his podcast to discuss the state of homekit among other things.  During the podcast Chris offered a limited giveaway of his companies connected switch, which I was fortunate enough to be a part of.  I decided to use it for the plug controlling our Pond pump, replacing an analog dial controller which always seemed to lose time somehow.

idevices-switchWhen I went to setup the switch, just prior to homekit, I couldn’t figure out why it was so spotty when I joined it to the isolated device wireless network I previously discussed.  When I added it to the primary network it worked well, and suddenly siri integration worked.  Then I tried to use siri with my Ecobee3 Thermostat, which failed because, you guessed it, it was on the isolated network.

This lead me to the whiteboard where I started digging deeper into how airplay, airprint, bonjour, and most of the other apple protocols work.  It occurred to me if apple is using MDNS for almost everything else, that would be the logical way for homekit to work, and MDNS requires that devices be on the same network segment.  (Yes I could have just read the instructions, but I am a guy.)  Once I placed all homekit devices on the same network, everything worked fine, siri was responsive most of the time, and with iOS 10, the home app was generally functional.

I have noticed that devices tend to stop responding sometimes, and need to be power cycled.  I am assuming this has something to do with the wireless, although the signal is not the issue.  There have also been a few oddities with devices not wanting to retain their config, but that may have been something in the setup I missed.

If I didn’t have so many apple devices I am not sure I would have gone the homekit route, in favor of more amazon alexa or google home ecosystem devices, but the simplicity of apple devices, as usual, is unsurpassed.  The integration will continue to improve, but for the price, homekit has me hooked for now.

Fun with Homekit

Remotely Managed Home wifi

“Oh you work in the tech field?  Can you fix my wireless?”  We all get this request, it is why I have started pushing friends and family toward chromebooks and iPhones.  They seem to be the easiest to troubleshoot when things don’t work as expected.  Wireless on the other hand has always been a challenge, trying to help someone remotely, to explain why their wireless doesn’t work.  With home networks now relied upon for home automation, home media, security systems, and normal web browsing, a $50-$100 wifi router is not likely to cut it any longer.

Recently I decided to put in wireless for my mother, who has never had internet access, and lives 2 hours away.  We wanted to get her an iPhone, but wanted to make sure the experience was optimal.  I did significant research on how to control the system remotely, and even debated trying to teach my mother how to manage the system.  For our home, I had already installed the Ubiquity Unifi System, so after some research I opted for the same system for the remote site.

The setup was pretty simple.  I opted for the Unifi Secure Gateway  for the firewall, I need to write an update on why I made that decision later, and the UAP-AC-LR for the access point.  I chose the Long Range model because I was more concerned with coverage than performance, and because the only use case was internet access, no network storage or local media servers.  I used the Raspberry Pi 3 unifi controller from my previous post, but I opted for a local controller, rather than running both from the one controller, although it is possible based on this support KB.  My concern was if there was an issue when I was not home with the controller, I didn’t want to lose access to both systems.  For the price, it seemed prudent to separate them.

Making changes to the system was exceptionally simple since Ubiquiti gave us the cloud controller.  I simply enabled cloud access on my existing system, and the new one, and voila, I have remote access to the controller with no VPN and no port forwarding.

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To manage the system I go to the cloud management site, http://unifi.ubnt.com and login.  I am able to access both controllers independently, make any changes, and push those to the firewall or the access points.

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I even went so far as to install a TP-Link Smart Plug so I can remotely reboot the controller if it becomes non-responsive.  This became necessary after I made a change that caused an issue with the controller and required my son who lives nearby going over to reboot the controller for me.

As I tend to support family and friends wireless, it occurred to me this has a number of potential use cases.  For several years I have supported the wireless internet at our Church, which usually leads to me driving 30-60 min each way when there is an issue, thankfully not often.  I am also working on some projects for an orphanage we support in El Salvador, one of which is wireless.  As I continue to build out my home and extended family wireless, I am seeing further uses for this type of a system.  Simplifying the management, and making it remotely accessible will make my life easier, but also change the way others use technology.

Wireless internet is changing the way we interact, my mother is on Facebook finally seeing more pictures of the grandchildren than ever, her brother is watching old television shows and old car races he remembers from his child hood.  Young girls in an orphanage in El Salvador are getting a better quality education, and going on to improve their country with their own knowledge, not foreign aid.  Providing a remotely managed wireless system helps create more opportunities to learn and share, changing the way we communicate and takes much of the burden off those of us who support multiple family members and friends.

Remotely Managed Home wifi

Technical Presentations: stop waiting, just get started.

As I write this, I am leaving VMworld 2016. It has been an amazing conference, I was able to reconnect with friends, work in the Hands on Labs, and present a session focused on security in healthcare. This is my second year presenting at VMworld, another year of struggling to meet deadlines, building slides, and trying to make sure I was ready. I wanted to share my experience, my struggles, and my opinion on this, mostly to provide the community with some encouragement to get up and share your knowledge with the rest of us.

What topic would you want to listen to?

 

The best sessions I have found started with a conversation. This year, I was talking with my manager, bemoaning the lack of security in technical architectures. Sure we threw in the checkbox items, but we missed the larger picture. We always assumed security was a product, missing the point that it was a design principle. After some heated debate, we realized that almost every part of the VMWare product set related to security. I am not a security specialist, which we decided made the messaging even more powerful.

 

When you are thinking about what to present, think about what interest you. Make your presentations credible, make them interesting to you. If you are presenting something you are passionate about, you are going to be more engaging. The best presentations involve the speaker making wild gestures, modulating their voice, and end with heated friendly discussions. Passion is everything, and if you believe in what you are saying, the passion should be natural.

 

Ask for help!

 

One of my biggest mistakes this year has been not asking for help. I took on too many tasks, spent too much time debating content with internal teams who wanted to help, and didn’t ask for the help I could have used. I work in a company full of amazing smart people. I have met so many people on Twitter and other medium who would have loved to help. I wrote a majority of the presentation myself, and waited far too long to get more eyes on. The best thing I did was to join a local Toastmasters group which did help me with the speaking skills.

 

We have all started somewhere, and nearly all of us want to help. There are more opportunities than every to be involved in community. Having a speaking mentor, using Toastmasters, looking within your team are all great ways to get some help. There is no weakness in admitting you need help, and it is a great way to meet new people who often become life long friends.

 

Rehearse, Rehearse, Rehearse, then Rehearse some more

 

I can’t say it enough. Knowing your content is key. I am very cautious about memorizing my content, but I know the slides inside and out. I write out an outline with key phrases to jog my memory. By the time I got to VMworld I had rehearsed so many times my brain hurt. When I got on stage, I knew my slides, I knew my content, and I still forgot half the things I wanted to say. Imagine if I had failed to rehearse.

 

Rehearsing is not fun. Very few people enjoy standing in front of a mirror, or a camera, practicing their content over and over. Having someone give you feedback is thought to take, especially when you pour yourself into a presentation, but it sure beats getting negative feedback from your audience.

 

One of my favorite parts about being in the technology field is being a part of this community. Every conference, no matter how good the sessions are, the best thing is the reunion with all the people I have worked with and met over the years. While we may give each other a bad time, we are a big community, and we are all here to support each other. Presenting can be a terrifying thing, but all of us have an important story to share that will help someone else. Give back to the community, your community by getting involved. Tell your story, and grow your career, there are so many of us who want to help you, so what are you waiting for?
Technical Presentations: stop waiting, just get started.