Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Answer to "I'm new what should I get?"

Wire your cams. You have to run power to them anyway (do not get battery powered ones) so you might as well run cat 6 and power them through that.

Only record to the cloud as a backup. Get a NVR like Blue Iris to record local.

Record 24/7. Recording on motion will get most stuff but usually misses that one thing you REALLY needed to get.

Think about what you want the camera for. 720p is fine if you are mainly looking at stuff up close or letting you know someone it there but if you want to have a pic the police can use you will need something with enough pixels to work with at the max distance you might see them at. This applies to viewing angle as well. The wider the angle the thinner you are spreading those pixels. If you are not rich you will be making compromises. You need to decide what you can live with.

Cams that also record to an internal card is not a bad idea too. Cameras should only talk to the NVR and be blocked from talking to the outside world.

I hace a lot of notes, tips and compare pics of most of the cameras I've tried in my blog Security Cam 101

Automation is VERY subjective. Anything from simple remote control of a bulb to multi room scenes that happen automatically based on conditions. The only real suggestion here is get a hub and look for devices that work with multiple hubs to keep your options open. This blog lists a lot of the stuff I've tried and some of the issues I've dealt with. I also have a matrix of hubs and devices I've tried tracking how well each worked. As a first hub I generally suggest SmartThings or Vera as they are both fairly cheap and simple to set up. When you are ready to go whole hog you can upgrade to Homeseer which costs more and is aimed more at the installer but does almost anything you can think of except talk directly to Zigbee devices.

Gateways / sub hubs like Hue are good too just try and get ones that do not need to link through the cloud.

In a similar vein you can use your automation sensors for an alarm system if you really do not think you need an alarm and just want something simple. But if you think you need an alarm get one that is separate but talks to the hub you decided on above.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Voice data bandwidth, a quick test, could Alexa listen all the time even if they wanted too?

Seeing a lot of posts about Amazon seeking a patent for voice sniffing which seems to imply they either do have the capacity on the device to recognize a whole list of trigger word or they plan on streaming all your voice to the cloud to be processed for key words. For example "Amazon patent reveals 'voice sniffer algorithm' that could analyze conversations". My response was:

These are the same devices that supposedly do not have the ability to let us select our own trigger word but will be listening for variations of I like or hate that? Does not add up. In theory they could stream all your voice to the cloud servers but that quickly starts taking up some serious bandwidth and server resources. 

Plus for all that, all they are going to find is I love my pets and hate slow computers and the cable company. No news there. Given the false triggers both my Alexas and Homes get they would build more of a profile of the characters I watch on TV than me. They would have to sort the whole speaker recog first. Alexa still is having big issues with that. Being able to read your emotional state is simple be comparison and they are still working on that. Then there is the whole I'm commenting on something I'm looking at instead of what Alexa last heard too.
Most likely here they are looking to cash in if someone attempts such a silly thing.

But as part of that I tried to find just how much data a request takes. I could not find an actual spec online so I asked my Echo Show and one of my Google Minis the time. The Mini used 254.5 KB processing the request and 26.7 KB while I was talking to Alexa. Alexa used 213.6 KB processing the request and 0 KB while I was talking to the Mini. By comparison my Roamio TiVo used 12.9 during both exchanges. That was way more than I expected and puts this even more in doubt. It takes roughly a second to say "what time is it" so those are pretty close to the kbps rates the devices sending your requests at. So say 5 of them streaming continuously would swamp the 1 Mbps upload speed of many US ISPs. Granted a lot of ISPs are advertising "up to" 5 Mbps upload now but that is still a lot especially if you are using the ISPs router provided WiFi. Then there is the other end where a server now needs to handle not only usual requests, say a 30 a day. That server has gone from processing and average of 74 bps total (over a day) to 213.6 times the number of devices I have every second of every day. That is 2886 times the amount of data needing processed now.

The other assumption that they are going to move some of the processing local for this, even though they say the devices to not have the horsepower to handle user defined trigger words. This would seem to be squashed as well given the amount of data sent just to process "what time is it".

Monday, April 2, 2018

Google Home vs Amazon's Alexa for voice control of automation.

I see someone ask this almost every day in one of the automation groups. As hard as these guys are working to out do each other which is better ALL depends on what you want to do AND what day it is. There is no sign they will even play nice with each other so you still probably want both for the near future if not long term. To answer which is better for you, if you have to have just one, you need to fall back to the old list method. What is it you want from voice control? Any deal breakers? Now look at the latest (like within the last week) reviews and announcements and check off your list. Seriously though if you are getting into home automation $50 is not that much to risk on just trying them both out. Each of you sensors and controlled devices is going to run about the same $30-50. Keep an eye out for sales and you could get a Dot for as little as $29. Google express and Wal-mart had a deal going on for months where you could get $25 back on the $50 price.

Talking to home automation is at least 80% what I use these for. The remainder is almost all adding stuff to lists and alarms / reminders. So here is an exchange I have almost every day which drives me nuts and to me sums up the argument as far as which is better for home automation voice control is concerned. It is not always this bad but it has been all too often.

(Note from memory so maybe not exact phrasing and Alexa follow-up on.)

me: Alexa, turn on TiVo
Alexa: I can not find TV
me: Hey Google turn on TiVo
Alexa: I don't answer to that
Home: Sure for that you might to ask Harmony. Would you like to try that?
me: Yes
Home: I was unable to verify your voice. Please try again or adjust setting in app.
me: Alexa, turn on TiVo
Alexa: I can not find TV
me: Hey Google turn on TiVo
Alexa: I don't answer to that
Home: Sure for that you might to ask Harmony. Would you like to try that?
me: Yes
Harmony: Turning on TiVo.

Sometimes either will even work first try. It is interesting to note though Google always knows I want TiVo and only fails allowing me to turn it on while Alexa fails realizing while there is no TV on my list there is a TiVo. It would seem Alex's problem would be easier for developers to fix given it has a list of items to compare to what I asked for. As in if item is not located, do fuzzy search and ask did you mean [closest match]?  Another example is Iris3 (my north security camera server). Alexa has no trouble at all with Iris2 and Iris4 but is almost pathological in not understanding Iris3. While Google gets it right every time.

On the flip side, I like Alexa's integrated list features better (though both are lacking in my book) and when I'm ready to go to bed I say Alexa, wake me up at 7 AM [pause for response] Goodnight and kicks off the event which confirms everything and if is puts house into sleep mode. I think can almost to the same with Google too (you need to use the word and between command phrases) but the Alexa sequence works well and feels more natural to me. It is also kind of cool that with follow-up turned on (the bit that let's you ask more than one thing with out saying her name again, usually) you can say "thank you" to end an exchange and she gives you a random friendly reply like "You bet!" So for today anyway I'm leaning Alexa. But I have the mix. As of this writing I have an Echo, a Home, a Show, 2 Minis, 7 Dots and 2 Wands.

Oh and as far as answering general questions I think Google has been able to answer about 10% of the time and Alexa about 5% but that could well be what I'm asking.