At Home with Tech

It’s time to maximize the potential of all your gadgets.

Tag: Nest Learning Thermostat

More Vacation with Less Tech

For once, the rusted nut I found wasn't the one in my head. Although my noggin did slide into vacation mode about six hours earlier than I would have preferred...

For once, the rusted nut I found wasn’t the one in my head. Although my noggin did slide into vacation mode about six hours earlier than I would have preferred…

I’m just back from a ‘relaxing’ family beach vacation at a cottage in the North Fork of Long Island… And let me just quickly admit that along with my favorite pair of flip-flops, I accidentally left most of my tech smarts at home.
(It doesn’t help when you pack your tech at the last minute, and you’ve got a ferry to catch!)

Not to pass the buck, but some bad Tech Karma also played a role in what was to come next…

Movie Night Cancelled
I brought along our brand new Apple Lightning Digital AV Adapter to conveniently stream videos from my iPhone onto the cottage’s resident HDTV. But it ended up being an older TV without an HDMI output. So my plan to project videos onto a big screen for a larger crowd was foiled…

No Rocking the House
Then, I realized I had forgotten to bring my portable Bluetooth speaker (Logitech UE Mobile Boombox) to stream Pandora tunes off of my iPhone.

That said, the house did have one of those formerly-cool clock radios with an iPhone dock, but again, it was an older model with the old 30-pin connector…not the current Lightning connection my iPhone 6 Plus uses.
(Foiled again!)

Dangerous Beach Exposure
I also forgot to bring my son’s cheap, but waterproof ‘family’ COOLPIX S32 Nikon camera to use on the beach.
(When a typical pocket camera with a motor-driven zoom lens gets exposed to a sandy environment, it can get destroyed by a single grain of sand jamming into the wrong spot.)

Instead, I threw caution to the wind and brought along my aging Canon S100 advanced point and shoot.
(On the upside, it survived and took much better pics than the tough but mediocre Nikon ever could.)

I should also admit my iPhone 6 Plus satisfactorily handled its share of beach-time photo taking… The camera functionality was amazingly zippy, which was useful when my five year old brought over the latest hermit crab he just caught!
(But I was careful not to go too close to the water with my iPhone… An accidental drop in the drink would have really ruined the day!)

Home Alone
Even though my limited vacation brain and a touch of bad luck sidelined a bit of fun, all of my smart-home gear thankfully remained fully on duty. Back at the homestead, this tech did a stellar job keeping me informed that our home was indeed comfortable without any resident humans.

Nest Thermostat Keeps Its Cool
I’m always conflicted about whether to leave the windows open or closed before leaving on a late August vacation. Warm days and cool nights can be a perfect combination for a few open windows to successfully ventilate your house. But if a thunderstorm rolls through, those open windows will welcome in some damaging moisture you’re not around to wipe up…

And if you decide to batten down the hatches, you have to choose between letting your house get all hot and humid without air conditioning or running your AC and feel like you’re throwing money out the (closed) window…


With my smart Nest Learning Thermostat, I was able to monitor my house’s internal temperature on my iPhone and remotely turn on the AC at night for a couple of hours if I felt my home needed it.
Sure, any programmable ‘dumb’ thermostat can handle that directive, but I’ve got to admit that having the flexibility to manually control the AC from the Nest app on my iPhone felt amazing.

Nest Connect Glows Green
My Nest app also showed me the happy ‘green circle’ status of my Nest Connect smoke detector. So I was pretty sure my house wasn’t burning down in my absence…

Foscam Camera Keeps Track
And while we’re talking about managing a few ‘irrational’ fears while vacationing…
Remember that Foscam Wi-Fi BabyCam I installed when my now kindergarten-bound boy was just a wee lad in his crib? Well, I’ve given my Foscam a new mission…

Now, the BabyCam just serves as a resident pair of digital eyes (well, just one) when nobody’s home. The FoscamPro app on my iPhone allows me to quickly take a look about whenever I want.

No, I couldn’t see throughout the entire house while simultaneously viewing the beach sunsets.
(I could if I had multiple Foscam cameras set up.)
But it’s still another data point that my house was remaining healthy all by itself.

Vacation Scoop
So I’m pleased to report my house had a wonderful vacation.
And as for me…?

I’m writing this final paragraph on my last full day away…

  • The sun is rising as I look out over the magical inlet in front of me.
  • The warmth of the sun joins the crisp morning beach air.
  • I’ve got my cup of Joe.

(I have found my Vacation Zen.)

Cup of Beach Joe









And I’m happy to admit there was absolutely no technology connected to the moment above.
…Except for the little detail that I was tapping away on my iPhone…

It’s good to know that you can be at home without tech.

Is Nest Protect Worth It?

Stop being angry with your smoke and CO detector and consider getting a Nest Protect. But it’s a costly upgrade…

Stop being angry with your smoke and CO detector and consider getting a Nest Protect. But it’s a costly upgrade…

I came home from work on Thursday to learn there was a sudden breakdown in my house’s smoke alarm and carbon monoxide-sensing infrastructure. Apparently, the 9-volt battery powering the CO detector in my son’s room decided to suddenly quit, causing the tiny unit to emit a piercing ‘chirp.’

In an attempt to stop the deafening repetition, the smoke detector on the ceiling outside my son’s room was incorrectly identified as the culprit.

And let me simply say… in all the confusion, ‘someone’ broke the smoke detector away from its plastic circular mount.
(Names have been removed to protect the ‘innocent.’)

Broken Smoke Detector Tab







When it became clear that the wounded disc wasn’t the correct target, the CO detector’s horn was properly identified as the disruptor.
(Its dying battery securely jammed inside)

What’s a family to do when good home tech goes bad, threatening your child’s night-time rituals on the way to bed?

The next morning, as soon as my four-year-old son woke up, he ran downstairs to tell me what had happened.
“Mama put it somewhere where we would never hear it.”

It was banished to the garage.

Time to Make Some Lemonade
Of course, my wife had already relayed the ‘incident’ to me the night before.

And how did I feel about all of this?
(I’m not particularly known for my flexible attitude on home-tech malfunctions.)

I should have been sad.
The essential order of my little kingdom compromised by a bad battery.
But I wasn’t.

I was thrilled.

I had been waiting for this particular moment for life to throw a few lemons at me.  Looking for a reason to replace this smoke detector that had actually been taunting me for years.
(Whenever I’d cook a steak in the kitchen below, the slightest whiff would set it off.)

But a typical battery-driven smoke detector rarely stops working. Sometimes, it just annoys you… till you find a reason to throw it away.
(Usually because one of the delicate plastic latches breaks away when you’re pulling it down)

Now I had my excuse.
An excuse to buy a Nest Protect.

Thank you, family!

Hello, Nest Protect!
Nest Protect is a relatively expensive smoke and CO detector and alarm created by the makers of the Nest Learning Thermostat.
(now owned by Google)

But this $119 smart device is exceptionally cool!

  • You can purchase either a long-life, battery-powered unit or the wired 120V version, which also uses batteries for back up.
  • The six included L91 batteries are supposed to power the device for ‘years.’
  • It’s Wi-Fi enabled.
  • That means it can communicate with the Nest Thermostat in your home.
    If there’s a CO problem, the Nest Thermostat will automatically turn off your furnace.
    And Nest Protect senses your presence, which improves the Auto-Away feature of the Nest Thermostat. Sometimes mine forgets I’m home when I’m typing away in my office.
    (The wired Nest Protect is a better for this, because it gives the thermostat immediate feedback.)
  • Nest Protect talks to you in lieu of those vague chirps and explains if there’s smoke or carbon monoxide present and which room the problem exists in.
    (If you own multiple units)
  • It also uses circular color cues on its face to communicate.
    (green, white, orange and red)
  • It momentarily glows green when you turn your lights out at night, indicating all is well.
    (How civilized)
  • It can evaluate the ‘situation’ and give you a friendly ‘heads up’ notification or a full-on ‘Emergency!’
    (complete with loud horn)
  • Nest Protect lights your way at night by glowing white as you walk by it.
    (This feature can also be turned off if you like.)
  • You can keep track of it from anywhere with the Nest Mobile app, and it will send your smartphone a message if there’s a problem.

Welcome Home
Did I mention that $99 is rather expensive, regardless how cutting-edge Nest Protect is?

By comparison, Kidde makes a $33 device that senses both smoke and CO.
But Nest Protect does buy you a whole new level of connection.
(Plus, I had a Best Buy gift card I needed to use…)

A year and a half ago, you may recall I purchased my Nest Learning Thermostat.
Overall, I’ve been satisfied.
(That said, there have been a couple of glitches recently, but I’m sticking with my Nest. In fact, I’m doubling down…)

It was time to add onto my Nest ecosystem…
I hurried over to Best Buy and eagerly brought my new Nest Protect home.

My Installed Nest Protect









Installing it was a snap!
A few pointers:

  • You can only set up your Nest Protect with an iPhone, iPad or Android device.
  • You’ll first need to download the free Nest Mobile app.
  • You’ll be scanning the QR code on the back of the Nest with your phone.
  • And then temporarily connecting the two together via Wi-Fi.
    (Yes, the Nest emits its own tiny Wi-Fi bubble for this particular occasion.)
  • Finally, you’ll be connecting the Nest Connect to your home’s Wi-Fi network.

Setting Up Nest Protect







I was done with the activation process in five minutes. The installation on my upstairs ceiling simply involved unscrewing my old smoke detector’s mounting plate and screwing in the Nest’s mount.

As nifty as the Nest Protect is, its plastic mount works on the same principal as any smoke detector. It has plastic tabs to grip the unit. If you twist the Nest Protect on with too much force, you can break the tabs off. Just be careful…

Nothing Lasts Forever
One other cautionary note:
In the small print at the end of the manual, which you don’t need to read, you’ll discover that Nest Protect only lasts for seven years.
(I don’t think any smoke/CO detector is designed to work forever.)

Much like a “Blade Runner” replicant, this particular tech will self terminate.
(It’s supposed to give you two-week’s notice.)

I’m sure I’ll prefer a little more warning…
Maybe, I’ll set myself a calendar reminder for 2022.

Impulse Purchase?
So to summarize:
A 9-volt battery goes south. And the next day, I buy a Nest Protect.
I know… it doesn’t make complete sense.
But I was looking for an excuse to try out a Nest Protect, and I found it.

That said, I’ve got several other old-school smoke detectors around the house, and now, I’ll need to consider whether I should continue with my Nest Protect upgrade program.

It is all worth it?

I’d like to think my home is a bit safer.
It sure feels a little more fun to live in…

And isn’t that what living at home with tech should be all about?


Can You Afford to Give Your Smart Thermostat a Second Chance?

It’s impossible to completely hedge against all technical meltdowns that might afflict your home and by association… you. By the way, have you double-checked your Nest Thermostat lately?

It’s impossible to completely hedge against all technical meltdowns that might afflict your home and by association… you. By the way, have you double-checked your Nest Thermostat lately?

I woke up in a panic at 6:01 a.m. on New Year’s Day.
My body sensed something was not right. (No, not a hangover)
I pulled off the comforter and quickly sat up in bed. It felt cold. Very cold…

I ran downstairs to check out the temperature and approached my
fabulous Nest Learning Thermostat. But my ‘smart’ thermostat failed to recognize my presence with its motion sensor, and it remained dark.

I then pushed in its circular face to manually activate it. Instead of happily popping on with a bright reading of the temperature, it simply displayed the cold message that I had to take it off its base and reattach it.

I think that’s code for there’s a problem somewhere…

Emergency Nest Surgery?
I thought about how to actually take my Nest off its base on the wall, never having done that. (You’re just supposed to pull.)

Then, fifteen seconds later… I heard the heat rumble on. I turned my gaze back to my ‘intelligent’ circle, which now looked completely normal. It glowed a chilly 62 degrees and its immediate plan to get the temperature back up to 72.

I never had the chance to yank my Nest off the wall to reboot it.
It just started working again.

I ran over to my iMac, which had recently had its own trip into the ‘Tech Netherworld.’ I furiously started Googling, looking for an explanation for this disturbing Nest anomaly. It quickly became apparent that there’s a small army of folks out there with their own Nest issues.
(But I found no smoking guns for my Nest’s troubles…)

I was able to confirm that my Nest’s message suggested some connection problem, though my experience pointed to its self-repair without human intervention.
(other than the touch of my finger)

I wondered if there had been some automatic software update that night, which was the culprit. In fact, this all going down in the early hours on the first calendar day of 2015 didn’t feel like a coincidence.
(Anyone else out there wake up cold on New Year’s Day?)

I walked back to my Nest and looked at my former champ.
I was a little heartbroken.
It stared back at me.

It had been intuitively managing my home’s temperature for almost eighteen months.
I trusted it.
Now, it was just another piece of glitchy tech for me to worry about.

I started thinking about what would happen if this kind of meltdown happened again when the family was away for a few days.
My house would become an Ice Station Zebra!

The only sure way to prevent this disaster would be to kill off my circular HAL before it happens.

“Daisy… Daisy…” my Nest would flicker in its final moments as I disconnected the last wire.

Have a Cup of Joe
I pondered this future, and then I walked into the kitchen to make some coffee and cool down.
(I mean warm up.)

At least the coffee maker still worked…
But even an innocent cup of coffee can become dangerous Tech Kryptonite.
(Your tech is never really safe…)

And I went about the rest of my day, which did not include replacing my Nest with a $20 dumb thermostat from 1955.

Smart Human?
Now, it’s almost three weeks later, and my Nest is still solidly in place. It has demonstrated zero defects since the little ‘incident.’
And I have still taken no action against it.

And you know what…?
I’ve decided to give my little Nest a second chance.

Not because I have such a blind commitment to my tech, but because it would be a pain to replace.
And it’s been working just fine…

You’re welcome to point to this moment of human error when I blog in a few months that my house froze up, but that is only one of many possible futures.

Is It Smart to Trust Smart Tech?
No, I don’t know what happened to my ‘mostly-smart’ Nest. And that’s really frustrating. But an analog thermostat can fail too. Or my heating system can go on the fritz all by itself…

I thought about whether I should blog about my Nest blip and initially considered running silent, because I don’t really know what had happened.
And I don’t really have any solutions.
(How embarrassing is that?)

But now with a little distance and an ongoing toasty house, I’ve discovered my conclusion…
Sometimes there are no answers.
And that’s okay.

Yes, there are steps you should take to minimize your home tech problems.
But if you want to completely hedge against all tech failure, then you really can’t risk using any technology.

And what kind of fun is that?!

So take a deep breath.
(I did.)

Help your tech stay healthy.
(where you can)

And go on and live your life…
(Just keep a sweater handy!)

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