My Entry into the World of the Internet of Things

I have been following home automation every since returning from the 4th Annual Home Server Show Meetup. On the return trip home from the meetup, my mind was swimming with ideas of different projects to automate my townhouse. As I researched the topic and options, it became clear that home automation was in its infancy. What I mean is there is many companies that offer different products from door locks, light switches, thermostats, cameras, and other products which only worked with their products. I became aware there was no common standard of communication for the different devices to communicate with each other. I decided at the time to keep reading home automation articles and wait for the products to mature.

Fast forward to 11 months. During the July 2015 and August 2015, Concord North Carolina had some very hot temperatures. The hot weather eventually caused my air conditioner to fail. I called Christian’s Heating & Air Conditioning Services and talked to Ron about my failing air conditioner who came out to my house the next day.  He inspected my air conditioner and gave me the news that I expected that my air conditioner is failing. I was not surprised as the unit was 10 years old and came with the townhouse when it was built in 2005. With a fews days Ron Christian had quotes for four different air conditioners and I decided on an AIREASE. While I was having my air conditioner replaced, I decided to do some research for smart thermostats. Nest thermostats came up during the research but I wanted a smart thermostat that had sensors, generate reports, and overall easy to use. I discovered ecobee thermostat. The more I researched the thermostat the more I liked what I read. At the time, ecobee was getting ready to update their smart thermostat to support  Apple HomeKit. I was able to purchase the ecobee3 Wi-Fi thermostat at a $25 discount for $222.18. This thermostat does not support Apple HomeKit but I did not see myself using it as it seemed too much of a overhead for a smart device. Ron Christian installed the devices in my townhouse.

The ecobee3 Wi-Fi thermostat was easy to setup. It consisted of following the directions on the thermostat and before I knew it, volla it was setup. I ran into a small problem with setting up the two ecobee sensors but a call to ecobee customer support resolved my issue in a matter of minutes. The ecobee customer service representative listened to me explain my issue and had a solution within minutes. It took me a few hours to program each ecobee3 Wi-Fi thermostat due to looking at all the options and getting the programed temperature just right.

I have been using the ecobee3 Wi-Fi thermostat since July 9, 2015. I have been satisfied with the performance and the different features it has to offer.

The next home automation product that I am looking at is ring.

Is There a Better Method For Getting The Best Cable Price?

This morning I was looking at my Time Warner Cable bill and wondered if there is a promotion that will reduce my cable bill. I am currently paying $114.94 every month for Internet access. The Internet speed that I am paying for is up to 50 Mbps (download) and up to 5 Mbps (upload). I could get by with either 30 Mbps (download) and 5 Mbps (upload) or 20 Mbps (download) and 2 Mbps (upload) but I don’t want any stuttering, freezing, or anything that would hinder me from streaming media on the internet. Because I am a cord cutter, download different ISOs from my Microsoft TechNet subscription, perform offsite backups with CrashPlan, and update my computers, I want the fastest internet speed Time Warner Cable has available.

I called Time Warner Cable this morning and talked to an account representative who quickly found a promotion on my cable account. The promotion will reduce my cable bill from $114.94 to $74.94. That is a savings of $40 per month or $480 for the term of the promotion. This is a promotion that is good for 12 month and once the promotion expires could/will increase my cable bill back to $114.94 or to a price that is more than $74.94 but less than $114.94. I did not understand that part as it was explained to me but I will keep a closer eye on my cable bill. I have already placed a reminder a year from today to call Time Warner Cable to check for any new promotions.

I asked the Time Warner Cable account representative this question “Why do I have call Time Warner Cable every year to check for any new promotions?” The account representative did not have an answer (surprise). I don’t blame the account representative as this person is doing what she is being trained to do which look up my cable account information and check to see if the system has awarded me a promotion. I guess you can look at this process as winning a small lottery because there may not a promotion on your cable account each time you call Time Warner Cable. To me, this is an act of frustration because everyone with a Time Warner Cable account has to take the time to call to see if there is a promotion. I can see why Time Warner Cable goes with this business model because they are counting on you to keep paying your cable bill at full price. I can see this business plan as a opportunity to reinvest with their infrastructure to enhance their service (faster internet speeds, better equipment, more useful services. Does this really happen? My answer is “No”. What causes Time Warner Cable to offer better/more services is competition. For example Time Warner Cable Internet upgrade due to rival takeover attempt and Google Fiber announce plans to expand to other cities. AT&T announced their expansion of Gigabit Internet speeds to other cities shortly after Google announced their plans to expand Google Fiber to other cities. Is this a coincidence about AT&T announcement? The answer is “NO”.

The point I am trying to make is for management at Time Warner Cable and other Internet Service Providers should to take a close look at their current pricing polices and services in hopes of eliminating promotional offers and just offer one low price. With Google Fiber and AT&T upping the game to offer cheaper and faster Internet speeds, I hope that Time Warner Cable management will get their heads out of the sand and make some changes to try to keep their customers rather than wait for them to switch to Google Fiber or AT&T.

My Experience With Unlocking my AT&T iPhone

My Experience With Unlocking my AT&T iPhone

Last month I was asked how to unlock a iPhone 4S from AT&T. Off the top of my head I informed my friend to go to their local AT&T store and ask a sales representative to unlock the iPhone. A week later my friend informed me that my answer was wrong. With egg on my face and my professional ego taking a hit, I decided to get to the bottom of how to unlock at AT&T iPhone. I have an iPhone 4 that I use as a spare phone is begging to be unlocked.

 I decided to follow my own advice and drove to my local AT&T store. Andre Simmons who is an AT&T Retail Sales Consultant immediately greeted me. After our introductions, I informed Andre that I would like to unlock my iPhone 4 which I pulled out of my pocket. I was quickly informed by Andre that unlocking a phone is done online and not in an AT&T store. I followed up with his response with the question “Why AT&T staff are not able to unlock a phone?” My response was “It is AT&T policy.”   I can see the conversation with Andre going from pleasant to the feeling I was bothering him. My guess he did not have a sale so I am wasting his time. I followed up with another question “What is the web site to the submit a request to unlock my iPhone 4?” Andre’s answer is go to the AT&T web site and do a search for unlock phone which he wrote on the back of his business card. I was not satisfied with Andre’s answers and argued my point of a lack of customer service to not have the ability to unlock cell phones and tried to push a point of someone at the AT&T store should have the ability to unlock cell phones. Shane who is another AT&T Retail Sales Consultant heard my conversation with Andre and stepped into the conversation. Shane confirmed Andre’s answer of going to the AT&T web site to submit a request to unlock my iPhone 4 and gave me the web site to begin the process of unlocking my iPhone 4. The web site Shane gave me is att.com/deviceunlock. With the information in hand, I thanked Shane and Andre and went back home.

I fired up my computer and typed att.com/deviceunlock within my web browser. I read the information, selected the check box at the bottom of the web site that I have read and agree to the eligibility requirements for unlocking my device, and selected the Agree button. I quickly received a email from AT&T that informed me they received my request and it is under review, gave me a request number, and informed my request can take up to 5 business days. With the four major cell phone carriers agreement with the FCC to the unlocking cell phone policy, I guess AT&T does not want to make it too easy for me to unlock my cell phone. Five business days later, I received an email from AT&T to inform me that my request to unlock my iPhone 4 has been approved and instructions on how to unlock my iPhone 4. Below are the steps to unlock my phone from AT&T.

1. Open iTunes on your Mac or PC and verify that you have Internet connectivity.

2. Ensure the original SIM card that came with this device is inserted in your iPhone.

3. Connect your iPhone using the dock connector to USB cable that came with your iPhone.

4. Backup and restore your iPhone using iTunes. For information on backup and restore, please visit http://support.apple.com/kb/HT1414.

5. After restoring, your iPhone will be unlocked.

After following the above directions, I did not know if my iPhone 4 was unlocked or not. I did an online search and discovered the web site www.imei.info, which will allow me to verify if my iPhone 4 is locked or unlocked. I did have to sign up on their web site for perform the free service. Once I signed on to www.imei.info and entered my IMEI number, I was able to confirm my iPhone 4 was unlocked.

With an unlocked iPhone if I decided to go to T-Mobile, I can take my unlocked iPhone 4 to my local T-Mobile store and setup my iPhone 4 with T-Mobile. I can understand why AT&T did not make too easy for my to unlock my iPhone 4 because I can easily switch to T-Mobile. With my experience of unlocking my iPhone 4, I wonder is the grass greener on the other side of the fence?

What to do with a Google Chromecast?

On July 24, 2013 Google introduced and made available to the world Chromecast. A small device that connects to one of your TV’s HDMI ports and allows you to stream a handful of apps from your computer/laptop, tablet, or smartphone. With a limited-time promotion of free Netflix (www.netflix.com) for three months, many hailed this as a no-brainer purchase at a cost of $35. Although there were few apps available to be streamed to Chromecast, the device was sold out in a few days. What happened to those devices that were eagerly purchased? Are they being used or lying in a closet or desk drawer? How are they being used?

 I purchased a Google Chromecast from BestBuy for $30 (plus tax) last month. I did missed out on the nice limited-time Netflix promotion but I had an idea of where and how I would use this device. Before I divulge my idea, let me take a step back and inform people that I am a cord cutter. For those who do not know what a cord cutter is, here is a link. I have been a cord cutter since March 2011. Do I miss having cable TV? The answer is no. I subscribe to Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Amazon Prime. Earlier this year, I have purchased a ClearStream Micron XG indoor HD TV antenna for $100 to get local channels. By becoming a cord cutter, I have become more productive around the house and ended my dependence to cable TV.

 With more time to work around the house, I have setup a guest room and mounted a 35-inch flat panel TV in the room. What better use for a Google Chromecast than on the guest room TV.  Installation was a breeze and streaming media to the Chromecast was way easy. When guests or my niece and nephews spend the night, they can steam content to my Google Chromecast.

 Google is developing and releasing interesting devices that is making people thing twice about subscribing to cable TV or satellite TV. It makes me smile when I go to my local Best Buy and approached by a Direct TV rep trying to sell me on their service. My response is a polite “I am a cord cutter”. The reactions vary from confusion or the response of “Oh” which leads the rep to walk away. I am not against cable TV or satellite TV but what I am against is the idea of paying for channels that I don’t watch or care to watch. Maybe with the release and development of Google Chromecast (and other steaming devices) that cable and satellite TV companies may start to take notice and offer people choices.

Looking for a Job in IT

I have been working in Information Technology (IT) since I graduated from the University of South Florida in 1997 with a B.S. in Management Information Systems. During the pre Y2K, anyone with college degree, some technical experience, or a wiliness to learn was offered a job working in IT. Some people began changing careers by getting their MSCE certification and entering the IT workforce. During that time, people who wanted to change their current career (mechanic, plumber, and other jobs) asked me how to get a job in IT. I did not have an answer at that time. One of their biggest arguments for a career change was money, able to work in growing career field, and work in a clean/air conditioned environment. To become certified as a MSCE during that time, a person can sign up for classes at a school to prepare them for the MCSE exams. Schools started opening up to meet the demand and people were willing to pay thousands of dollars for courses to prepare them for the MSCE exams. What many prospective students failed to understand or schools failed to mentioned to them is that earning a certification is only part of the process of getting a IT job or starting a career in IT. The other part is having experience. What Microsoft discovered as students was passing the MSCE exams and earning their certifications was their lack of experience. Some companies found out the hard way by hiring people who earned their MSCE certification but lacked any IT experience. Some companies complained to Microsoft, which prompted them to change the exams after Y2K. After the dot-com bubble , there was a lot of out of work IT professionals looking for a job and other people who completed their Microsoft Certified System Engineer or MCSE (Microsoft has renamed MCSE to Microsoft Certified Solutions Experts. This created a glut of IT professionals in the workforce looking for a job. I took a Microsoft Windows XP exam in 2003 and it was not a walk in the park. With the help of a school, a colleague, and my IT experience, I passed the exam. I can honestly say that the Windows XP exam was one of the toughest exams I have taken.

Fast forward to 2013. I am still working in the IT field (Office of Information and Technology for a VA hospital in North Carolina) and survived the different computer trends (client – server, offshoring IT jobs to other countries, company mergers, etc. ….). I am noticing another trend in IT, which is Internet Security. After President Obama signed the 2013 Cybersecurity Executive Order, I started to notice a trend of people changing careers to Internet Security/Network Security and schools offering certifications and degrees in Internet Security. How did I notice a trend of people changing careers to Internet/Network Security? Simple, people called my department, came to the front desk of my department, or volunteer in my department. I would talk to the people and noticed that what they have in common is a lack of IT experience and they are going through a Internet/Network Security program at a local school or college. Does this sound like a familiar trend that happened during pre-Y2K?

 

 Below are some suggestions for gaining experience in IT.

 

 Volunteer at your local church – There are hundreds if not thousands of small churches who need help setting up internet access, a small computer lab, or a web presence.

 

 Talk to your local barber – A person who is in constant contact with people who may have computer issues, Internet issues, or churches who need IT help. My good friend David Beatty who owns Beatty’s Barber Shop & Beauty Salon has helped me over the years find computer jobs. You can also see him in this TV clip of Church Rescue.

 

 Volunteer at your local nonprofit organizations – Many nonprofit organizations may have a inter program or volunteer program within their IT department.

 

 VA Voluntary Service – For veterans, there is the VA Voluntary Service. A met a good friend who used the VA Voluntary Service and is volunteering with my department. He is gaining IT experience and getting a degree in IT.

 

 Work on your own computers and network – It is one thing to learn in a computer lab and another thing to apply what you learned in real life situations. Each home has its own network but how manages that network. This is as good of place as any to work on computers, setup a network, and manage a network. I learned a lot about computer working on my own equipment. I still learn using my own equipment. I also listen to different podcasts to continue learning the trends in IT. Below is a list of podcasts that I listen to.

 

 The Tech Guy

 

 MacBreak Weekly

 

 My Hard Drive Died

 

 Network Security Podcast

 

 Rich’s Random Podcast Generator

 

Security Now

 

 Surface Geeks Podcast

 

 The BYOB Podcast

 

 The Home Server Show Podcast

 

 Home Tech

 

 The Southern Fried Security Podcast

 

 This Week in Google

 

 What The Tech

 

 Windows Weekly

 

 

Overall, I tell people to “Think outside of the box”. The days of walking to a company, applying for an IT job, and being hired are over. Many companies have web sites to submit an application. I tell the people who walk to the front desk of my department to go to our web site

This Is Not My iPhone

Back in May 2013, I was due for a smartphone upgrade. Rather than wait for Apple to release the next version of the iPhone, I wanted to see what other smartphones are out there. My choices where either a Windows phone or an Android phone.  I decided to purchase a Samsung S4 32 GB smartphone. I wanted to go with the Nokia Lumia 920 but the smartphone lacked apps.

My first impressions of the Samsung S4 were big. The screen size dwarfs the iPhone 4s. When I had to go back to my iPhone 4s, the small screen sized made it hard for me to focus as my eyes is getting old. The next impression from the Samsung S4 was “This is not my iPhone”. I made the mistake of trying to setup my Samsung S4 to work and look like an iPhone. I ended up having to reset the Samsung S4 three times. Needless to say I became an expert at resetting my new phone, which is not a bad thing but a frustrating thing. I will spare you the details of what happened but will say that I was cussing like a sailor (Note: I was in the Navy for 4 years). More than once, I almost conceded to return the Samsung S4 and get the iPhone 5. What stopped me?  Other than the self-punishment of trying to make my Samsung S4 work and look like an iPhone, the determination of not being beat by a new smartphone. I also really wanted to find out what is all the hype of an Android phone. I have talked to people who use Android phones and the majority of Android users that I talked to love their phones. This left me wondering what is there to love about a smartphone that has a not so attractive interface and make it so easy to mess up your phone with options to customize the smartphone. I needed a working smartphone and fast because that is my only communication to the outside world. I don’t have a home phone just my smart phone. What did I do? I conceded to the Android OS 4.2 and reset the Samsung S4 one final time and used the smartphone as it was intended with the stock apps.

The slow transition of moving from an iPhone to a Samsung S4 began. The next step was to install the apps I use on a daily basis. Over the last 5 months I tried, delete, or used different apps on my phone. Below is the current list of apps that I have installed on my Samsung S4.

LastPass – store and access my passwords

BeyondPod – download and play my podcasts

Register – Square app for credit card transactions

Evernote – Cloud based note system

NewsBlur – RSS reader

CrashPlan – Access my cloud backups

Voice – Google Voice

Team Viewer – Remote to other computers

Voice Recorder – Records my thoughts and ideas

GTasks – Reminds me of what I should be doing

Mint – Finance manager

Keep – Google note app

Facebook – need I say anything?

Google+ – Google’s version of Facebook

Google Hangouts – Google+ Video Conferencing app

Skype – Microsoft’s Video Conferencing app

TweetCaster – View my Twitter feeds

ES File Explorer – File Manager for my phone and Cloud drives

PogoPlug – To view and manage files on my PogoPlug

Flipboard – To keep up with the news

CNBC – Business news

Wikipedia – To access information from Wikipedia

Flixster – To see what new movies are showing and at what theater

Hulu Plus – To watch my TV shows

iHeartRadio – To listen to my radio programs

Netflix – To watch my movies

YouTube – See other people’s videos

Pandora – Listen to my music

Roku – To control my Roku

TV Guide – To see what shows are airing

IMDb – To look up information about movies

Redbox – To rent movies from my local Redbox

Play Music – Listen to my music collection

FuelLog – Keeps a log of how many miles I get per gallon after each fill-up

GasBuddy – Informs me of the nearest locations and prices of gas

Google Maps – My GPS

Waze – My GPS with a social twist

iBolt Dock’n Drive – I use with my iBolt car dock

Yelp – Helps me determine of some good places to eat

Yahoo Weather – Gives me the temperature no matter where I am located

Quickoffice – Allows me to view and edit Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents

WhitePages – Reverse phone number lookup app

Number Guru – Another reverse phone number lookup app

Alarm Clock Plus – Wakes me up in the morning

Brightest Flashlight – Keeps me from bumping into walls in the dark

Prey – Helps me locate my phone if it is missing

Lookout – Scans my phone for viruses

Microsoft RD Client – Allows me to remove to my servers

Fling – Identifies what devices are on the same network as my phone

WiFi Manager – Connects my phone to wireless networks

Speedtest – Measures the upload and download speeds of the network my phone is connected to

With the above apps I use the stock phone app to receive and make calls, AT&T Messages to send and receive text messages, stock email app, and stock calendar app.

During the past 5 months, I have grown use to how my Samsung S4 phone works. I figured out what those small icons in the upper left hand corner of the screen mean, how to make changes to my phone settings, and organize my apps in folders to quickly access them. I have referred to my phone as a Swiss Army knife because I have setup my phone to do many different things. My phone is a communication device, organization device, computer and network troubleshooting device, entertainment device, GPS device, and all around device that keeps me functioning. Yes, I do depend on technology a lot but like the old saying “Technology is great when it works”. For example, I was involved in a car accident the other month and instead of using a pen and paper to copy the other person’s information. I used my Samsung S4 and Evernote to take pictures of the other person’s information. I also took pictures of the accident. Overall, I am pleased that I decided to make the switch to an Android phone and took the time to learn how it works. Will I continue to use an Android phone once my contact is up? Only time will tell and the ever changing winds of the technology world.

Is The Grass Greener On the Other Side?

On May 11, 2013, I was available for a phone upgrade. I have read Andy Ihnatko’s article “Why I switched from iPhone to Android” and it got me thinking of my options. Like Andy, I have been an iPhone user since the original iPhone. I still have the 4GB original working iPhone with the charger and ear buds. I have been reading about the Samsung Galaxy S4 phone , which got me thinking more about trying a Android phone. I have  also looked at a Windows phone 8, which had me curious as well. I did my research on the Nokia Lumia 920  and the Samsung Galaxy S4. I also forgot to mention that my cell phone carrier is AT&T.

 

Nokia Lumia 920 Advantages

 Price: $99

Phone Insurance: $99 for two years and covers 2 accidents, tech support, and a $50 deductible

Note: I discovered this feature at the South Park Mall Microsoft Popup Store.

Durability: The phone is heavy but feels sturdy which I believe can hand how tough I can be with cell phones

Operating System: The cell phone is tied into Windows 8, which will allow me to synchronize my information with my Windows 8 laptop.

Uniqueness: Not may people are using a Windows Phone 8 which can generate some curiosity.

Find Phone Feature: Windows Phone 8 has a built in feature to locate your phone when it is lost.

Screen Size: 4.5 inch screen

Nokia Lumia 920 Disadvantages

Ecosystem: There are not a lot of apps for the Windows Phone 8. Yes there are some of the basic apps for the phone but a lot of the apps I use where not in the app store.  Each time I asked a rep at the Microsoft Popup store about a app I use on my iPhone I would get a response of the apps is not available or here is a alternative.

Storage: The phone has 32GB of internal storage and no option for adding a memory card.

 

 Samsung Galaxy S4 Advantages

Screen Size: The screen is 5 inches and has the same foot print as the Samsung Galaxy S3. I use my phone to watch Netflix and Huluplus and the bigger screen size makes watching movies and show more enjoyable

 Screen Resolution: The 1080P screen at 1,920 x 1,080 resolution is easy on the eyes

 Ecosystem: Most if not all the apps I have been using on my iPhone 4S I can find on the Samsung Galaxy S4. For those apps I am not able to find, there is an alternate

 Hardware: The phone has the latest hardware  for a android phone

 OS: The phone comes with Jelly Bean (4.2.2)

 Storage: The phone comes with either 16GB or 32 GB of internal storage. I can also add up to a 64GB microSD card for more storage.

 Samsung Galaxy S4 Disadvantage

Apps Market Place: The price of the apps resembles an open market. The prices for apps vary from $.99 to $7.99 and up. Also there is less quality control for the apps.

 Learning Curve: I have not used an Android device, which requires me to learn how to use the phone and all of its features.

 No find my phone feature: I have to find a app which Windows Phone 8 and iPhone have that feature built-in.

 Storage: With the Android OS and Samsung’s applications, it does not leave me much room to install apps. I am not able to install apps on a microSD card.

 Phone Insurance: Samsung does not offer phone insurance like Apple or Microsoft. The cell phone carriers do offer phone insurance but not at a flat price of $99 with a $50 deductible

Which cell phone will I choose? There are some hard decisions for me to make. By searching both phones on the Internet and talking to Jim Collison (@jcollison), I was able to make a decision.

Thanks Jim for taking the time out of your busy schedule to talk with me about each phone.