Category Archives: Technology

Review: Our Smart Home

This past Black Friday I finally spent the Christmas money I had been saving for nearly a year.  There were some incredible tech deals too good to pass up so I finally made the jump to start turning our house into a “smart home”.

I picked up two Google Home Minis, a Phillips Hue Starter Kit, and two TP-Link Smart Plugs.  All totaled… it added up to around $150, more than half off the original pricing.

Needless to say, I was really excited to get it all home and set up.  I was hoping the rest of my family would share my excitement.

Setting up the Google Minis was easy.  If you have a Google account and can and follow directions I’m confident you could easily set one up too. I chose to put one on our main floor near the dining room and kitchen.  The second found a place downstairs in our living room.

The Phillips Hue bridge and bulbs were also easy to set up.  I put smart bulbs in two of our basement lamps and two in our ceiling fan light in our dining room.  I spent an extra $15 to get another smart bulb to go over our kitchen sink. You too can get a smart home light switch for your house by checking out a site like, who can tell you what light switch is best for your home.

One of the smart plugs got used for the lamp next to my wife’s side of the bed while the other initially went to control our Christmas tree.  It’s since been moved to control the lamp next to my side of the bed.

That’s the current set-up in our home.  So how has it worked out?  I’d say 90% success and 10% frustration.

It’s been awesome to be able to be able to ask our Google Home Minis random questions that come up in everyday life that we’d normally just search out online.  “Hey Google, how long will it take me to drive to Oskaloosa High School” not only got me the answer but also sent driving directions to my phone. That’s not only cool… but also convenient.

Having total control over our lights via my smartphone and Chromebook has been cool too.  No more getting in bed, realizing I forgot to shut out the kitchen light, and having to get up to go shut it off. Now, I can turn it off with my phone from bed.

It was great for the holidays to be baking goodies with the family and have Christmas music playing throughout the house on the Google Home Minis.

My youngest daughter spent a couple hours dipping pretzels.  If a song came on she didn’t like she’d just say, “OK, Google… I don’t like this song” and the song would stop and another would start.

Having a Google Home Mini next to the kitchen has been great too.  “Hey, Google… set a timer for _______ minutes” is something I use all the time.

That’s some of what I love about having a smart home… but what are some of the things that I haven’t liked? What’s led to the 10% frustration?

Since everything is controlled via wifi if your internet goes down things don’t work as they’re supposed to… which can be annoying.

My family can tend to be fast-talkers so sometimes Google doesn’t “hear” us and we’ll have to slow down and make our request again.  This can be frustrating when you’re asking it to turn on a light and you’re already in the room wanting light.

I’ll be honest, there have been other times where I just don’t feel like talking… even to an inanimate object and wished I could just use a light switch to turn on the lights.  With our current set-up, it’s all voice.  I’d need to spend some more money on connected light switches.

Speaking of spending more money… I do plan on getting 1 more Google Home Mini to put in our bathroom.  It would be really useful to be able to listen to the news, weather, and music while I get ready in the morning. I was also thinking about maybe getting something like a home security system after a friend recommended one to me. If you are looking for a security system in your house, you may want to view these home security cameras reviews.

I wouldn’t mind getting a smart thermostat too… but I’m holding off until the prices really come down.

The only other annoying thing is I wish there was a way to get the Google Home Mini to not respond after every request but just do what I ask.  For example, if I tell it to turn off the basement lights it will respond with, “OK, turning off the basement lights.”

Don’t tell me, Google! Just do it.  It’s a minor thing but it can be annoying.  I’m hoping this is something that can be controlled via a software update.  I submitted some feedback to Google, so we’ll see.

Oh, and I didn’t need to worry about my family sharing my excitement for having a smart home.  They’re liking it just as much as I do.

Do you have a smart home? What are your favorite things about it and what are your frustrations?

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What’s Your Online Legacy?

I mowed tonight and while I did my mind started to wander… which is often the case when I mow.  Several upcoming blog topics came up and so did an article a friend shared on Facebook today.

It was about how Harvard withdrew offers of admission from 10 incoming Freshman based on things they had posted and shared online.

This is the world we live in.  Schools, workplaces, even potential dates are all checking out our online profiles to decide if they want to be associated with us.

It got me thinking about the things I share online?  Would I be embarrassed if any of my posts ended up on a billboard? What would my online legacy be if my accounts were locked as of today?

What would my online legacy be if my accounts were locked as of today and examined?

If my online legacy was my last 10 tweets, Facebook posts, or Instagram pics what would it say about me?

After I was finished with the yard and put the mower away I went back and checked.  Turns out I’m fine with my last 10 posts… but I’m sure if I dug further back there could be some I might regret.  How about you?

What do your last 10 tweets, Facebook posts, or Instagram pics say about you?

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App Review: Google Keep

Those that know me know that I could be described as a somewhat OCD, organizational, control-freak.  I don’t take offense to it.  It’s something I willingly acknowledge and accept.

It’s something that was reinforced in the results of a recent Meyers-Briggs personality test that I recently took.

With this in mind, it should be no surprise that I like and use several organizational apps on my Android smartphone.  One of my favorites is Google Keep.

 I’d describe it as an online bulletin board or refrigerator door; a place to keep notes, make lists, and just generally organize my life.

One of the things I like most about Google Keep is that I can access it via the app on my phone or from the web.  That’s right!  My virtual bulletin board is everywhere, just a click or screen tap away.

Getting started with Google Keep is easy.  Just download the app, sign in with your Google account, and you’re ready to go.

At the bottom of the screen, there is a place where you can just start typing to take your note.  There are also icons to tap if you want to make a list note, draw your note free-hand, record a voice note, or take a picture for your note.

Once you’ve made your note you can “pin” it if you want.  Pinned notes stay right at the top of your screen.  You can color your note if you want, add labels to it, and even send it to someone if you wish.

You can also add someone as a collaborator.  I’m trying out this feature with my family.  I’ve started a Summer Bucket List note for different things my family would like to do this Summer.  As a collaborator, any member of my family can add to the list.

Another way I’ve used Google Keep is to keep information handy that I might want on a somewhat regular basis.  

An example of this would be a picture I took of a postcard from our local ice cream shop.  They do a flavor of the week… and many times my family has wondered what it is.  Before, we’d try to find the schedule on the ice cream shop’s Facebook page.  Now, whenever we want to know I just need to open the Google Keep app.

Here are a few other ways I use Google Keep:

  • Making virtual Post-it notes of quotes I see online.
  • Keep track of Bible verses I may want to use for my weekly Bible verse blog post.
  • I’ve got a running list of potential blog topics to write about.
  • By using a Chrome extension, I save websites and articles I’d like to come back to at a later time.
  • There’s a running list of gift ideas for my family.  If they mention an interest in something I’ll add it to the list.  Then when I need to get them a gift I’ve got a great resource to draw from.
  • There’s also a list of little jobs around the house and yard I need to do when I get some free time.  

Google Keep is an app that is really easy and intuitive to use.  In fact, the more you use it the more uses you’ll find for it.

Want to try out Google Keep yourself? You can get it for free in the Google Play Store and iTunes.

Do you use Google Keep?  What are some different ways you use it?

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