SmartThings Aren’t All that Smart, Yet

sthingsIn my never-ending quest to achieve  automation nirvana, and somewhat  thanks to WeMo‘s frustrating inability to control devices on separate wi-fi networks, I decided to give SmartThings a try.  While there is little doubt that SmartThings is a highly ambitious platform, and the potential is evident, I found the SmartThings experience, at least at this stage, to be frustrating and unsatisfactory.  After months of wrestling with the devices and the overly complicated and unintuitive iPhone app, I took the entire system off-line.

To begin with, SmartThings devices are difficult to set up.  Techie folks will likely stay the course and eventually get their hub and assorted components up and running.  Those who just want the equipment to work out-of-the-box may become frustrated and give up.  I considered it, after wrangling with an uncooperative light switch.  The process to connect to various devices is not consistent and some devices simply will not connect  to the hub that controls the platform.  For example, I have a Motion Sensor that simply will not connect to my hub, no matter how many times I try.  I had to try 5-6 times to get my recalcitrant light switch to connect (though once I got it connected, it worked fine).

Additionally, the set-up instructions, both written (to the extent there are any) and in the app, are lacking (and the instructions for the light switch are utterly horrible).  SmartThings should take a look at the way Dropcam and WeMo handle set up for elegant examples of how easy it should be.  The hardware, while sufficient, seems a little inconsistent (I have the sense that SmartThings outsourced the manufacture of the various devices to different companies) and insubstantial.  Unlike WeMo devices, for example, which feel substantial in your hand most of the SmartThings devices feel light and fragile.    I accidentally broke one of my devices and had to tape it back together.  I would also like to see more detailed instructions on installing the Multi Sensor device to various doors.  I had to try it a number of ways to get it to operate properly (though, again, once I got it installed, it worked, for a while, sort of).

If you stay the course and manage to get your hub and assorted devices set up, connected and working, the SmartThings platform, which includes basic functionality as well as numerous add-on apps, creates a lot of flexibility.  For example, after some trial and error, I created rules and processes to notify me when doors are opened or closed, when motion is detected in certain areas and when certain people leave or arrive home.  When it works, it’s beautiful.  The kludginess of the set-up experience reminds me a little of wi-fi in its early days.  It was frustrating, somewhat unreliable, but the potential was abundantly clear.  My expectation is that SmartThings devices will become easier and more reliable over time.  That may be cold comfort, however, for early adopters like me who spend several hundred dollars on the current hardware.

The iPhone app is in a two horse race with the Hue app for the title of taking something that should be simple and straight forward, and making it almost incomprehensible and totally frustrating.  I love my Hue lights, but they need to trash the app and start over.  Seriously.

Maybe Apple Home Kit will wrangle these devices into compatible simplicity.  In the meantime, I’d wait for Apple or SmartThings to evolve this platform a bit.

Movie Review: Insidious Chapter 3


Delaney and I went to the movies last night, after I picked her up from Longhorns Swim Camp.

Title: Insidious Chapter 3

Director: Leigh Whannell

Genre: Horror

Interesting Fact: The power went out in the movie theater during the scary séance near the end. It was pretty creepy.

Review: Horror is my favorite genre, so I’m reasonably easy to please. This is a good and workmanlike horror film. Nothing more, but nothing less

Best Part: The window scene. I just about jumped out of my skin.

My Rating: ★★★

Delaney’s Take: “Freaky.”

Rotten Tomatoes

Weekend Mix: 6/5/15


Some hard to find classic rock.


Here are the first lines of all 14 songs.  Recognize any?

Cassius Clay was hated more than Sonny Liston.
Sometimes I walk around town looking at faces.
He had a haircut like Martin Van Buren.
Come gather ’round me, people, here’s a story you never heard.
Dear Elaine, what have I done.
We drag our arrows up to the edge of town.
You know you sell yourself too short.
Wasted Words about an old love affair.
Sun through the curtains I gave you a sign.
I want to hold the hand inside you.
You gave your best shot.
Mamma’s in the kitchen rattlin’ pans and the baby cries.
They met one night at a party.
Come on in buddy.

Link, if the embed doesn’t work in feeds, etc.

The Two Biggest Apple Watch Buzz Kills


As I mentioned the other day, I am enjoying my Apple Watch.

But it’s not perfect.  Here are the two biggest buzz kills.


That screenshot was taken today, June 4, 2015.  If these apps and the corresponding Glances don’t automatically and seamlessly update, they are useless.  This is not an isolated problem.  It also happens with weather apps, among others.


The only thing worse than old data is no data.  This is the rule and not the exception with some Apple apps (see above) and most third-party apps.  They rarely update before the screen goes blank.  I rarely have the perseverance to stick with it, and usually just give up.

And all of this happens within a foot or two from my iPhone.

Notifications are wonderful on the Apple Watch.  Phone calls are remarkably functional.  Apps, and most Glances, not so much.

The Coolest Thing Yahoo Ever Created is Going Away


Yahoo Pipes fans have been expecting this news for a while, and today it came.  Yahoo Pipes, and some other Yahoo products that no one even knew existed, are gone.

I didn’t know Yahoo had a maps application, so I won’t miss it.  I have no idea what GeoPlanet and PlaceSpotter are, so I can’t miss them.  But I have always been a big fan of Yahoo Pipes, which TechCrunch describes as:

[A]n online (and somewhat geeky) visual interface that let you aggregate and filter web data without requiring the end user to have programming skills.

Yes, it was that, but it was a super-charged, very handy that.  It allowed you to easily and graphically create bundles of RSS feeds that you could then syndicate for use in other places and projects.  My original Headline News Page used Yahoo Pipes, as did numerous other content aggregations I developed over the years.  Sure, I didn’t use it as much in the last few years (and, undoubtedly, therein lies the problem), but it was a cool service, and I liked knowing it was a tool at my disposal when needed.

I’m not sure what Yahoo’s long-term plan is, or what it’s trying to become.  But I’m seeing fewer reasons to visit a Yahoo site, not more.  Yahoo could have owned the personal portal space (which I am convinced is not as meager as mobile-first developers would have you believe).  Yahoo ignored Flickr into near oblivion (though they are trying, at least for the moment, to revive it).  Yahoo bought and starved Delicious to death.  I’m not sure what’s left.  But I know what’s gone.

Adios, Yahoo Pipes.  You were cool.  You will be missed.


Was There Something in Her Eye

As you thunder towards the future
And you leave it all behind
You can’t wonder was she crying
Or was there something in her eye.

The Star Room Boys may the be the most under-appreciated band of all time, and Dave Marr for sure has the best alt. country voice I’ve ever heard.

Purchase Links:

How to Play Lucent Voice Player Files on Your Mac


If, like me, you have a ton of old audio files in Lucent Voice Player (.lvp) format, here’s how to access and play them on your Mac.

1. The Lucent Voice Player application (setup_lvpphone.exe) has been deprecated.  So you need to find the player, if you don’t already have a copy.  Search the file name in the parenthetical and you can find and download a copy.  Proceed with caution, and consider scanning the download for viruses, etc. before you use it.

2. Buy a copy of the Mac app CrossOver.  It’s $60, and there may be cheaper ways to run the Lucent Voice Player on a Mac, but Crossover supports lots of other Windows applications, so for me it was worth it.

3. Open the Crossover App, and select “Install a Windows Application” at the bottom of the window.


4. In the expanded list of applications, choose “Other Application,” near the bottom, under “Unsupported Applications.”

5. Choose “Select an installer,” and then Choose Installer File.


6. Navigate to and select the setup_lvpphone.exe file you downloaded in step 1.

7. Choose “Select a bottle into which to install.”  For old stuff, I use XP and for newer stuff, I use Windows 7.  Really old applications may need an older version of Windows.  Be sure to name your “bottle” at the right hand side.

8. Click “Proceed” at the bottom.

9. Follow the prompts.  These are the installation prompts you would see if you were a sad Windows user.  Click “Done” when the installation is complete.

Then you should see a Lucent Voice Player icon in your Crossover Programs window (see the top image above).  Click it, and magic happens.


From there, you can select File>Open and browse to the file you want to open.  Even better, you can right-click on an .lvp file from the Finder and choose to open the file with the Lucent Voice Player.

Problem solved.