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#965: Pondering the Future; Home Automation; Safari Web Inspector

 
     
 

Hello Fellow Technophiles,

My older kid has been getting more interested in comics all the time. He brought home one of my all time favorites from the library recently: Scientific Progress Goes “Boink”. This Calvin & Hobbes collection has some real gems in it, but the strip that really caught my eye was from December 30, 1989. Calvin is pondering the upcoming new decade and asks:

“Where are the flying cars? Where are the moon colonies? Where are the personal robots and the zero gravity boots, huh? You call this a new decade? You call this the future?? HA! Where are the rocket packs? Where are the disintegration rays? Where are the floating cities?”

Well, it’s been 27 years and we still don’t have flying cars but we do have self-driving ones which is probably way more practical and honestly more amazing. Moon colonies I could do without, but it seems crazy to me that it has been nearly 50 years since the moon landing but we haven’t sent a human to Mars yet. One could make the argument that personal digital assistants like Siri are “personal robots” but she still doesn’t help me do the dishes. I’ll put zero gravity boots, rocket packs, and floating cities into the “cool, but probably not necessary” category and I hope no one is working on a disintegration ray as the world is scary enough as it is.

For a vision of the near future, see Emily’s article on home automation below. As she notes, this is a new and growing field, and I am excited to see all of the fun and practical new devices that seem futuristic now, but will likely be an everyday part of our lives 27 years from now.

As always, thanks for reading!

Mike
michaeld@smalldog.com

 
   
     
  Baby Steps Into Home Automation  
   
 

Home automation is a big topic right now. The technology has been out for several years, but for many users as well as manufacturers it’s just now starting to really take off. There seems to be an almost endless list of options popping up and they range from simple DIY installations to more complex professional installations. I’ve talked to many users in the last few weeks who want to begin using some home automation products but don’t know where to start so I thought I’d start to share some of the things I’m doing in my own home. I have several products running now, but the first place I started was with simple smart outlets and installing a few apps on my phone.

Taking advantage of home automation doesn’t have to be complicated and you can do it in baby steps. In my own house I started by adding some smart outlets from Incipio. The Incipio CommandKit Smart Outlet with Metering was very simple to set up and took me just 5-10 minutes to pair it to my phone via their free app. Now from my phone I can control multiple devices within my home via this app and I can see the amount of power those items are using. Because the smart outlets work off your home wifi, you can easily move them around the house and connect them to different products around your house.

I’ve been astounded with the difference in power consumption with some lights around my house. We all know LED products use less power, but it’s remarkable to see first hand just how much of a difference there is! Thanks to my smart outlets I’ve discovered little things like the tiny lightbulb in my bedroom lamp used almost as much power as my TV, cable box and speakers combined. I quickly changed out that bulb to an LED. Before getting these outlets it never crossed my mind to change bulbs in my smaller lamps.

Through my phone I can now turn devices on and off, see how much power they are using, and program when specific devices might need to turn on or off. I can also do fun things like like use Siri (you do need to set up HomeKit for this) to turn lights on when you come into a room and don’t want to open the app. As you get more comfortable with basic home automation tools like outlets, you can expand to light bulbs, speaker systems and even start replacing physical wall switches.

My one piece of advice to someone starting off with home automation is to look at the product lines you are considering to make sure the products you are buying are compatible with HomeKit. Not all home automation products work with HomeKit so you want to pay attention to what you’re buying. Little details like this can really reduce headaches and detract from the value and fun of these devices!

 
   
     
  FROM THE ARCHIVES: Web Inspector in Safari  
   
 

While my favorite website always has been, and always will be, Warner Brother’s promotional site for the hard-hitting documentary Space Jam there have been many changes to the features and design of websites since 1996. The underlying programming language is still basically the same though: HTML.

HyperText Markup Language is a programming language that tells your web browser, such as Safari, how to render the text and images that you see. This very newsletter uses HTML (unless you are one of our plain text readers, though I am guessing that there are fewer and fewer of you every day) that is generated via Textile, a simpler markup language that allows me to write this article more like a normal document. Most websites now also use Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) to define the look of the page, embedded scripts for interactive elements,
and embedded media files as well.

If you would like to take a look under the hood, Safari has an option to view the code that makes up any website. In order to enable this feature, you will need to go to Safari Preferences > Advanced and check the box that says “Show Develop menu in menu bar”. Now, you can open that menu and press “Show Web Inspector”. This will open a box on the bottom of the window that has all of the code that makes up the page. If you click on the target symbol next to the word Inspect, you can mouse around the page and see the specific code that makes up any one element of a page.

My favorite thing about this is the ability to remove an element of a website by deleting the code that generates it. I am a big crossword fan and generally do the Los Angeles Times crossword online. I find the animated ads on the side distracting, though, so the first thing I do every time is to inspect the code and remove the ads. I then put it into full screen and it is almost like doing it on paper.

 
   
     
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  Free Shipping On Incipio CommandKit Smart Outlet with Metering  
   
 

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