My Not-So-Smart Smart Home

My foray into the Internet of things and the connected home


Where it all began

When I was 12 years old and had ‘reverse-engineered ’ (destroyed under the pretense of repairing) enough of my mother’s household electronics, I decided it was time to use the several, clearly unnecessary parts from my exploits to construct something useful. Armed with my soldering iron, my grandmother’s garlic storage container, and hundreds of spare electronic components, I successfully designed and built a home security system that would alert the entire neighborhood if an intruder dared to do what they do best.

No longer was I known as ‘the destroyer of all things electronic’. I had proven what I knew all along — the stereo, the fans, the alarm clock and a few battery-operated toys, had all died so that our home could become a little smarter. We would arm the system by flipping the hidden switch under the staircase. The garlic box served as the main distribution point for the hundreds of feet of black and red speaker wire that connected the door sensors, the siren and the power. The 9-volt battery would automatically engage when there was a power outage, on account of the cleverly connected relay switch. ADT didn’t stand a chance.

There was no way I could have known that the only unwelcome guest would be the large frog that once jumped onto our front door, tripping the arguably too-sensitive door trigger, awaking the entire community with the colorful blasts of the siren that was installed below my grandmother’s bedroom window. I believe the six-inch siren cutout still lives today on that north-facing wall.

My new context

I’ve since retired my trusty soldering iron and now that I have the Internet, a house and a family of my own, my desire for a smart, efficient and connected home inspires more elegant solutions. Your new garlic box is safe, grand mom.

After a few weeks of strategically placing technology articles on the coffee table, and not-so-casual conversations with my wife on the exciting future of the connected home and the possibilities that lie ahead with the ‘Internet of things’, I managed to convince her that we needed to step things up a notch. Our home needed to be launched into this new era of efficiency, convenience and connectivity. We were on the cusp of something grand. Failure to act immediately would set us back twenty years. Think of the children!

I’m now the proud owner of a single Internet-connected switch that remotely turns our living room lamps on. My powers of persuasion are a work in progress.

Connecting things

After careful evaluation of the many devices that attempt to marry the basic functions of the home to the all-mighty cloud, I settled on the Belkin Wemo Switch. I’ll admit that the $50 price tag is primarily what made it a front runner over the likes of the $200 Phillips Hue lighting system that can turn any family room into a 1970s disco, with its infinite color and dimming options. Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea of binge watching House of Cards in a dimly lit, smoky blue TV room, or drizzling olive oil over an Italian dish in a kitchen lit to match the soft glow of the sunset on Venetian canals. But the powers of persuasion, remember?

The Wemo switch arrived and was immediately set up with very little issue. A few taps on my smartphone using the custom app and the device became the newest member in our family of Wi-Fi-connected gizmos. Even my wife enjoyed the instant gratification that ensued as she controlled the living room lighting with a single tap on her iPhone from wherever she was.

I’ve configured the switch to turn the lights on every day at sunset and turn them off at bedtime. I know there is someone out there who will be eager to point out that the same could be done in the 70s with a cheap lighting timer that controlled many a Christmas tree light. And the few too-hip-for-their-own-good owners of The Clapper are probably also confused as to why I think I’m on to something new. But now that my house can be controlled over the Internet, I can have my living room light up like the Time Square New Year ball whenever my smartphone enters a particular geo-location, or when the 100th person likes my Labor Day beach photos on Facebook. Try doing THAT with your Clapper…

In the end, my entry point into the world of the connected home though small and limited in its, dare I say, ‘usefulness’, is a peek into an exciting future of door locks, refrigerators, crockpots and home operating systems vying for spots on our Wi-Fi routers allowing us to interface with everyday things in a new, more high-tech way. Yes, it’s expensive now and in the very early stages of disjointed devices, competing protocols and control interfaces, but a time is coming when walking up to a wall to hit a plastic box to make a room brighter will be as obscene a requirement as needing to walk up to a television to change the channel. I think back to my garlic boxed powered security system and I say ‘bring it on’.

My living room is dark right now and I left my phone upstairs…

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