At Home with Tech

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

Tag: summer vacation

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.

Comfort Data to Feed Your Vacation Zen

What's it going to take to make your next vacation as carefree as a three year old experiences it?  Well, you'll need a little tech at your side to maintain a small but steady stream of ‘Comfort Data.’

What’s it going to take to make your next vacation as carefree as a three year old experiences it? Well, you’ll need a little tech at your side to maintain a small but steady stream of ‘Comfort Data.’

As we’ve arrived at the unofficial end of summer, I think it fitting to conclude my season-long investigation on the nexus between:

  • House
  • Weather
  • Home tech
  • and my blood pressure!

Consider this…
You take one last look at your house as you drive away on your late-summer vacation.
You’ve staged your home for low-occupancy use.
(The cats will hopefully use the time to catch up on some sleep…)

But your castle is essentially on its own.
Who knows what tomorrow will bring…
Natural disaster. Power outage. Alien attack.

As you turn the corner towards your relaxing journey, you smile at your family and secretly wonder if you will ever see your house again… in one piece.
(A slightly catastrophic perspective… but don’t tell me the thought has never crossed your mind.)

Are you enjoying your Vacation Zen yet?

Your Tech Always Comes Along for the Ride
Disconnecting from your daily routine is the foundation of recharging yourself on vacation. And that usually means putting down the work BlackBerry and personal smartphone.
But hey, how many of you spend zero time with your iPhone or Droid while soaking up your summer sun?

You’re not disconnected at all.
And you like it that way…

  • Send that text
  • Update your Facebook page
  • Make the phone call

The digital ‘wish you were here’ moments fly off your digits.

So if you continue to keep in touch with every part of your life, why can’t you use the same tech to monitor your house’s life signs?

Well, of course you can…

Comfort Data
I’m back from more beach R&R, and I’m happy to report my house is still in one piece.
(I know you’d be worried for me.)
More importantly, I didn’t have to wait to get home to arrive at this conclusion.  I received enough ‘Comfort Data’ via my iPhone along the way.

I’ve been enjoying the benefits of having made my house a ‘wee bit’ smarter.
Now it shares its vital signs wherever I go.

And this ongoing evolution helped to make this vacation more relaxing than my earlier summer jaunt…

Let’s review my three tech muses that now feed my Comfort Data stream…

Nest – Keeping It Cool
Recently, I installed a Nest Learning Thermostat to give me remote access to my home’s HVAC system.
This vacation was the perfect opportunity to see if my pricey investment was worth it.

Each beach morning, I sat down with my cup of Joe, reflecting a bit while the early sun illuminated the calm water, and then I opened up the Nest app on my iPhone to confirm my house was as temperate as my current surroundings.

(All my windows were closed at home to avoid the possibility of wind-swept rain damage. But that choice also removed the opportunity for my house to breath in all that chilly late-summer night air.
So my Nest really needed to keep things cool without running my AC 24/7.)

The Nest app powered up and showed me the current temperature in my living room. It knew I was away, because it didn’t sense any movement.
(Apparently, its software algorithms can filter out cats.)
Nest was holding the temperature steady just under my ‘Auto-Away’ setting.


Leaving Eyes Behind with Your Foscam
So Nest can make you Lord of the Temperature, but you’re still blind to everything else happening at home.
Well, not exactly…
Remember that Foscam IP baby monitor camera I installed last year…?

  • I walked it downstairs before the trip, so I could take a remote peek at the homestead while building sandcastles with my son
  • I also moved a digital thermometer next to the Foscam so the IP camera could visually confirm my Nest was behaving

This back-up temperature check gave me additional peace of mind to know the cats were comfortable and getting their beauty sleep.

One time, as I was having some fun remotely panning the Foscam about the room, I spotted one of my two felines studying the sudden movement.

I immediately froze the camera so as not to incite more interest and a direct encounter.
(My Foscam didn’t have the optional ‘anti-cat force field’ installed.)

Finally, the simple fact I could successfully monitor the happy status of my Foscam confirmed my home was still getting juice from the street.

Dark Sky Looks for Trouble Overhead
So if you were wondering… no, I wasn’t continuously preoccupied with my offsite tech throughout my vacation.

There was plenty of room left to apply the power of tech to my present environment…

I was forced to navigate a dodgy weather day at the beach, and I really needed some hyper-local weather forecasting.

My friend suggested I try a weather app called Dark Sky, which was created by a couple of cool-looking dudes via
a successful Kickstarter campaign.
(The name sounds like a bad sci-fi movie on late night TV.)

This app’s trick is to take real-time data from the National Weather Service, pair it with your specific location and offer you an accurate rain report for the next hour right where you are.

I downloaded Dark Sky from iTunes for $3.99 and gave it its first test drive the final morning of our trip as I was packing up the car with all our family gear.

The clouds looked a little ominous, and of course, I was curious to see if I’d be schlepping out all our gear in the rain…

I asked Dark Sky…
‘All clear for the next hour!’

So I took my time.

Ten minutes later, the droplets began bouncing off my head.

To be fair, it only rained for the next five minutes, and then it stopped.
The rest of the day’s precipitation held off till later that afternoon as per the forecast.
(An errant rain cloud in need of a diaper change?)

Clearly this rain predictor app wasn’t completely infallible, but it wasn’t entirely wrong either.

I gave it another try last week during lunch at work. I needed to run an errand, and it was pouring out. Dark Sky displayed there was no end to the storm for the next hour.
So I dashed out after waiting as long as I could.

As I made my return protected by my trusty Tumi umbrella, the heavy rain subsided to a drizzle.
While waiting for a red light on Sixth Avenue to change, I felt curious what Dark Sky had to say…

It was ready to impress and let me know we were in a window of drizzle for the next ten minutes.
(eerily accurate)

Okay, this app wasn’t so bad after all…

It’s Getting Chilly Already
So there you have it… my summer… made a bit more relaxing through the power of home tech.

Yes, it’s always a little sad when you have to say hello to September.

But the good news is you can keep some of that summer glow with you
year round with all your Comfort Data.

You’re going to need it…
Old Man Winter isn’t that far off!

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