Paul's smart home diary week 3: The Tinkerman cometh

Making dumb stuff smart

Paul's smart home diary week 3

Before he earned God-like-genius status for spearheading the greatest scenes that football has ever seen, Italian coach Claudio Ranieri earned the nickname ‘Tinkerman’. He was seen as a man who was never settled on what he had, and one who didn’t know what his best set-up was – even if the system he had was working perfectly well at the time.

Ladies and gentleman, I am the ‘Tinkerman’ of smart home tech. Everything works well in my house. There are no major issues. My wife, who played no part in any of the process of setting up our house of connected tech and is no way a techy person at all, has very few problems commanding Alexa to carry out the various scenes and automations I’ve set up.

Everything. Works. Just. Fine.

But am I happy with the system? Am I settled with the setup? Like Ranieri in those dark-days, pre-miracle-season, I am not.

I just can’t let things be – even if they work just fine. And I’m constantly assessing what needs to be done next in my quest for the ultimate smart home.

And it’s on this latter point that this week’s smart home diary is based. This week I’ve been making things smart that don’t really need to be smart at all. But things I want to be smart because, hey, why the heck not?

I’ve become obsessed with smart plugs. So much so that, if you read our features on smart home fails recently, you’ll know that I’ve taken that obsession too far. But they are great. Why not have everything dumb in your house connected? Why turn a switch on and off – like the olden times – when you can use an app or, better still, have a digital assistant turn them off for you when you tell her to?

Paul's smart home diary week 3: The Tinkerman

The main use cases for smart plugs are for appliances such as lamps with dumb bulbs, fans, heaters… I’ve got one attached to pretty much all of them. I actually compiled our best smart plugs buyers’ guide very recently, so click that link to find out which of the contenders I rate the highest (spoiler: they are all much of a muchness, it just depends what ecosystem you want them to play nicely with and whether you want to pay a few extra bucks for energy monitoring).

But it’s beyond the usual use cases that my obsession starts to show. Sky Q boxes in my house – that’s the main one and two Minis – all have them. I know what you’re thinking… “no one ever turns these boxes off at the plug.” And you’d be right, most of the time. But, once every few weeks, one of these boxes crashes and the easy fix is the tried and tested ‘turning it on and off again’. That’s right, I have smart plugs on things just for the handful of times a year they need resetting. Because why not?

Next up, and in my office (a glorified shed at the bottom of the garden) I’ve gone beyond the usual plug and play smart plugs. In there, I’ve got a smart plug socket (the super easy to install Mi|Home double socket from Energenie). The beauty of a smart socket is: stick a regular old gang-plug into it and you’ve got yourself a bunch of dumb-tech-turned-smart.

In my case, and what I’ve spent most of today setting up actually, this is a double socket with a gang-plug in one, which has my iMac, desk lamp, Echo Show and wireless charging pad connected (I’ve called this group ‘Desk Power’, which sounds like a bad 80s electro-pop act); and on the other socket I’ve got a double-gang which gives power to my Apple HomePod and a Google Home (group name ‘Office smart speakers’; and no, it’s not normal to have Alexa, Siri and Google Assistant all in one room but remember the website I write for).

Now, when I leave the office and head back to the house I can simply say, “Alexa, I’m going back to the house now,” and that activates a routine I’ve set up that powers down this socket (and its two groups), as well as turning off my Nanoleaf, my big office light (Hue bulb) and activating the Somfy One alarm.

I think that’s pretty cool. Then again, I have smart plugs on all my Sky boxes so my opinion of cool probably isn’t all that valid.

Next week’s smart home diary will go into more detail on what happens when my tinkering cocks things up – which is exactly what happened today while I was setting up what I’ve described above, but is too raw to talk about just yet.

Now read - Week 4

Catch up with my smart home diary…

TAGGED   smart home

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