The Steam Deck, not to be confused with the Stream Deck, is a handheld gaming “console” that isn’t from Sony, Microsoft or Nintendo. Valve, the company behind Half-Life, Portal, and Steam, made a portable computer you can play games on.
Back in my day, PC gaming was a never-ending money pit of hardware upgrades as new games push the limits of graphics cards. This vicious cycle led me to primarily be a console gamer, mostly focusing on Sony’s Playstation. I was intrigued when Valve announced the Steam Deck, but like most others, skeptical of the performance a portable PC can achieve. Earlier this year I pre-ordered a Steam Deck, but after reviews said it’s not ready yet, I pulled my order. Meanwhile, Valve worked hard on software updates and getting units shipped, so I gave it time to percolate. Revisiting tech reviews, Reddit first-hand accounts, and six months of improvements, I was ready to give it a go.
Prior to fall 2022, Valve had long wait times to get your hands on a Steam Deck, much like the almost two-year-old next-gen consoles. Apparently I waited until the right time as my pre-order was only in for a few days before I was able to actually order a console. Within about 10 days, it was delivered to my home and I was full steam ahead.
The first thing I did was look at my sad Steam library and figure out how to play games. After exploring SteamOS a bit, I went directly to Reddit to aid in my fun. The Steam Deck community was alive and well and has all the resources I needed to learn about Steam games, emulation, and playing non-Steam games on my brand new Steam Deck.
While a huge device, it’s comfortable to hold and not heavy
Great software and familiar if you know Linux
So many buttons
Speakers sound good for how small they are
Right to Repair friendly
The screen could be better on a device released in 2022
Base model storage is slow and tiny
No built-in cellular options
Feels kind of locked to SteamOS
Battery life is very low, especially on newer games
No native way to run Windows
Runs hot and has an exhaust port
Not a Nintendo Switch competitor
The Steam Deck is a full-fledged gaming computer, that (almost) fits in your hands. For me, it wouldn’t replace a Nintendo Switch or gaming on an iPhone. The Steam Deck is targeted at the PC gaming market in an effort to take those games on the go. What Valve may not have realized, is they have a tinkerer’s dream on their hands. Giving a technically inclined person a powerful computer they can take with them on an Airplane is great opportunity in a small package.
What you CAN do with the Steam Deck: – Play most games available on Steam – Install and use most apps available to Linux distros – Emulate retro gaming systems – Emulate Nintendo Switch games – Play Xbox Cloud games – Use it as a real computer
What you CANNOT do with the Steam Deck: – Play native Windows games without workarounds – Run iOS or Android apps/games – Easily play PC games not purchased through Steam – Play games for more than six hours without charging – Mirror wirelessly to a display or TV – Natively play Xbox, PlayStation, or Nintendo games
Did you know?
Steam makes a dock for the Stream Deck to allow you to use it as a full desktop computer or connect to a TV for a Nintendo Switch-like experience.
Watching the recent Apple event where the Apple Watch Ultra was announced, I was elated at the feature set, but at the same time dreading the price reveal. When Jeff Williams revealed the $799 price tag, my jaw dropped. This is not the normal Apple pricing we usually see. I was throwing around $999 or $1099 in my head trying to figure out how I could justify spending that much. Compared to a normal Apple Watch with cellular, sapphire screen, and titanium body, $799 isn’t that far off, but the Ultra does so much more!
I’ve been wearing an Apple Watch every day since buying the first-generation in April of 2015. It was a big change for me as I was an every day traditional watch wearer. I even had a small watch collection growing. Since the first time I put on an Apple Watch, I had wished for a bigger screen for my large wrists. Over the years we’ve seen the (biggest) Apple Watch go from 42mm to 44mm, and then last year to 45mm. The Ultra watch is a generous 49mm.
What’s New on Apple Watch Ultra?
Compared to the Series 7 of last year and the Series 8 introduced with the Ultra, it has a lot more adventurous features than your standard watch. While on the surface it may seem like a whole new watch from the ground up, it’s not. More of a case redesign, it still has the same trusty Apple Watch features we’ve grown to love over the years. What sets the Ultra watch apart from the other Apple Watches is the addition of a 86db siren, 2000 nit display, dual-frequency GPS, customizable action button, and water depth and temperature gauge. If you’re only interested in the health sensors, it has the same exact sensors as the Series 8. Some other improvements to existing features that the Ultra watch has are sure to come to the lower watches like louder speakers, bigger battery, and three mic array.
What Makes This Watch Ultra?
Apple tells us this watch isn’t for everyone, it’s for the most extreme, athletic, and adventurous people out there. We all know that the majority of customers for the Apple Watch Ultra will likely not fit into any of those categories, myself included. This isn’t the first time Apple has offered a titanium case watch with sapphire glass. Last year’s Series 7 was available in that configuration for $699. What truly makes this watch special is the size as it’s Apple’s largest watch to date. Additionally it can withstand the elements more, dive deeper, and possibly not get damaged as easily. My main reasons for buying the Apple Watch Ultra were the large screen size and long battery life, everything else is just a bonus.
The new sensor this year on both the Series 8 and Ultra is wrist temperature sensing. This takes a reading of the ambient under-screen temperature and your wrist temperature and forms an opinion on what your body may be like over the course of your sleep. This was presented as a benefit to Cycle Tracking, but for those who do not menstruate, this was left as an unknown. After wearing the Apple Watch to sleep, it does in fact record temperature readings in the Health app. If these will be accurate or useful in the long term remains to be seen.
Water temperature sensing only works when the watch is fully submerged. I was unable to get this to function whilst running my watch under a water faucet.
The Alpine Loop band looks and feels good, but it’s much harder to adjust and remove than any of the traditional Apple Watch bands.
Here we are again, the fall weather is upon us and there are new iPhones out in the wild. Apple recently announced the iPhone 14, iPhone 14 Pro, and iPhone 14 Pro Max. Later this year the iPhone 14 will get a big brother named the iPhone 14 Plus. It’s easy to tell that Apple has a long term strategy with the iPhone. They meticulously add new features that seem like a big deal at first, but are actually very small improvements year over year. This allows them to continue to release a new phone every fall and get people (like me) to buy it.
What’s new on iPhone 14 Pro Max
The iPhone 14 Pro Max is a lot like the 13 Pro max and even the 12 Pro Max. Same shape, size, and materials. The biggest difference is the screen notch has been replaced by a rotated lowercase “i” shaped cutout called the Dynamic Island. I feel like this has a lot of potential in the future, but without any third-party app integration, it’s just a cool demo. The OLED screen has been updated to be brighter and be “Always-On” when not in use. This is similar to the Apple Watch where the screen dims but still shows some lock screen elements. I frequently have my iPhone sitting on a table in-front of me and now I won’t have to tap it to see what’s going on. Having devices where the screen is always-on is soon to become the norm. In the near future we’ll look at devices that don’t have the screen on as antiquated.
There’s a new main camera sensor (again) this year, but this time they quadrupled the megapixel count from 12 to 48. This doesn’t mean a whole lot, but allows it to gather more details and present you with a better image. I’ve found that when you want the most detail, use the “RAW” option to get a 48mp image as opposed to the Apple processed 12mp version.
As a semi-professional photographer I use multiple tools for my hobby. With an iPhone, I always have a great camera in my pocket. Since 2007 I’ve been taking photos with my iPhone and updating that camera as fast as Apple introduced new features. Because of the ever-changing smartphone camera market I started to track what type of photos I was taking with my primary camera. Now that we have at least four cameras on flagship smartphones I wanted to know even more which lenses I was using and which I didn’t really care for.
I started tracking these numbers in 2018 when I moved from the iPhone X to the iPhone XS. The iPhone XS had a much better camera over the X which was more of an industrial design change than a focus on photography. Each year since, I’ve counted up my photos from the past year and noted which lens was used. Now I can look back and see which phone I took the most photos with and which lens was the most popular that year.
Over the years my overall iPhone camera usage has gone way down since the iPhone X. Not sure why other than the pandemic. The majority of my photos come from the Main/Wide/1x camera but that share has gone down as the cameras have multiplied and offered different perspectives.The first zoom or telephoto lens was added to the iPhone back in 2016 when the iPhone 7 Plus was announced, and since then it’s been a unique addition allowing you to zoom into subjects without digitally cropping.
With the addition of the Ultra-wide camera on the iPhone 11 Pro, a third rear lens was available to split my photography between. It was recently updated to include macro photography on the iPhone 13 Pro, which explains the large bump in share of my photos this past year. In contrast, the lack of progress on the front-facing camera reflects in my reduced use. If you are the type of person that takes a lot of selfies though, that camera will get a lot of work.
2702 / 80%
467 / 14%
198 / 6%
2183 / 74%
646 / 22%
128 / 4%
iPhone 11 Pro Max
1458 / 64%
369 / 16%
318 / 14%
141 / 6%
iPhone 12 Pro Max
1094 / 67%
218 / 13%
220 / 14%
104 / 6%
iPhone 13 Pro Max
900 / 52%
291 / 17%
444 / 26%
88 / 6%
8337 / 70%
1991 / 17%
982 / 8%
659 / 5%
Ever year Apple has a story to tell about how the camera is better/different on the new phones. With every upgrade I say I’m going to make a better effort to take more photos but the numbers don’t lie. Over the last 12 months, I only snapped 1,723 photos which was the lowest amount of iPhone photos per year I have record of. To compare, I have saved about 300 photos from my professional camera, Sony a7III, so overall it was a down photos year. I plan to improve on that over the next 12 months.
Remote controlled curtains have been around for ages but only recently has that same technology been translated into a smart product. Much like blinds and shades, most of us have at least one set of curtains in our house and depending on where they’re located, you may want to automate them. Opening and closing of curtains can have an impact on both the climate and light in your home, but the primary function is to block nosey people from looking into your room.
The first time I learned about smart curtains was from SwitchBot who I believe was one of the first to market with a smart-assistant controlled curtain controller. Originally they were priced too high for what I wanted to spend, and like a bunch of other products, were only geared toward the Alexa/Amazon smart ecosystem. Even still as I write this today they don’t support Apple Home (fka Apple Homekit).
The smart curtain controller is simple. It rides along various types of curtain rods and rails and pushes or pulls your curtains. The drawback is that if you have two sets of curtains on a window, you need two controllers to push/pull each side. This doubles the cost as most controllers are sold in singles. The controller either connects to the track of your rail or rides along the rod like suspended roller coaster. There is also the compatibility of the type of rod or rail you have for your existing curtains. The compatibility varies from manufacturer and most can’t do a telescoping rod as the wheels can’t overcome the height differences.
When Aqara started selling their curtain controllers I was immediately interested. They’re product connected to my already existing Aqara camera hubs and that connected to Apple Home. They were discounted on Amazon during their initial launch so I thought I would give them a try, and if it wasn’t something I wanted or didn’t work right, I could return them. They arrived pretty quickly and while bulky, they were easy to install.
I have a bay window in my living room that lets in a lot of light throughout the first half of the day, but also faces the street I live on. This window has your traditional dual curtain rods with a shear set covered by an opaque set of curtains. Putting four controllers on each set of curtains wasn’t cost effective for this setup so I opted to buy two controllers for each side of the inner-most opaque curtains, while leaving the shears to manual adjustment.
The Aqara controllers work well and have yet to fail in the two months I’ve been using them. One odd thing about the Aqara models are that I needed to group them as one accessory in the Apple Home app to get the two controllers to work together. They’re exposed as left and right modules to Apple Home allowing you to operate them individually, but I have no use case for only opening one side. I have not yet needed to charge the batteries and as of writing this they currently sit at 80% so they should last about a year before needing charged.
Controlling them from the Apple Home app or by using Siri is very easy. Usually I just shout into the air, “Hey Siri, open the curtains” and within a second or two they start moving. I currently only have one automation set on the curtains and that is to close them in the evening. In the Apple Home app I have the automation set to: 15 minutes after sunset, close the curtains. This allows the most amount of light until the sun fades and then closes for privacy. In the winter months I can see having a schedule automation to open the curtains in the morning when heat is less of an issue.
While having smart curtain is great and convenient I don’t think it’s yet cost effective to have it on every set of curtains in your house. It’s nice on one or two, but there may be no need to automate curtains that are rarely changed or within easy reach. The smart curtain controllers are a great example of retrofitting smart objects on existing dumb things to make them better. Having a robot push or pull curtains open is a glimpse into the future of how tiny machines can make everyday items better.
The summer months offer a lot of natural light, but letting in the light comes with heat tradeoffs. There are ways you can automate blinds and shades to give you the natural light you need, when you need it, without having to touch your window dressings.
After working from home during the pandemic for a year and a half, I decided to upgrade my office blinds. The existing blinds where cellular shades that came with us in the move to this current house. They were fine, but I wanted something powered and better looking. Since I was looking at powered shades, I figured why not just get “smart” blinds too. The smart blind market is a premium one and I was immediately turned off when it starting getting pricing. Luckily Ikea exists to give us affordable options in the home decor space. I settled on the Fyrtur motorized roller shades in gray. Because of the size of my office window, I needed their largest offering of 122x195cm (48×76 3/4″). They fit the width perfectly, but are way too long, so I deal.
Ikea’s smart system links to their Tradfri hub to communicate with any of the major smart home ecosystems. When I purchased the blinds, the Tradfri Gateway was out of stock everywhere. As of this writing, Ikea has announced a new version coming in Fall of 2022. Obviously I bought the shades anyway thinking to myself “I bet I can get this working without the Ikea gateway”.
In a short amount of time I received the roller shades from Ikea and installed them above my office window. They have a very utilitarian aesthetic but do a great job of blocking the light. Black out shades were not something I needed, but it does work well. The motorized rolling shade was nice and the simple interface allowed me to set a lower limit so I could one-touch close them and not have them extend all the way to the floor. They came with a little handy remote that can open/close the shades without having to touch the large crossbar at the top. Funny thing about the remote is that the included wireless transceiver needs plugged into power for the remote to work. After searching again for the Ikea smart home gateway, I started the journey of making these dumb blinds smarter.
After some Reddit research I learned more about the Fyrtur blinds and that they communicate over the Zigbee wireless standard. This was great because I have a few Zigbee hubs in my house. First, my recent Aqara camera purchase has a Zigbee hub built in. A quick web search lets me know that the Aqara Zigbee hub is a closed system and only works with Aqara Zigbee accessories. Next, I went to my eero 6 pro wireless mesh system which also has Zigbee built-in. The eero Zigbee implementation is piggybacked on Amazon which means you can only add Zigbee items that work with Amazon/Alexa. The Ikea system does not work with Amazon. Lastly, I looked at some other ways I could get this connected by using a Homebridge plugin, my LG TV’s hub, or even “hacking” the smart system in the Ikea shades. No dice on either of those, so back to Reddit to get more answers. After posting about my predicament, someone recommended to me an open Zigbee hub that I can plug into my Homebridge Raspberry Pi via USB.
The USB Zigbee gateway that I purchased was the Conbee II. This is a pretty interesting project and the configuration is a little tricky. I made a walkthrough on how to get this working over here.
My office shades were now connected to the Zigbee hub and I connected that to a Homebridge plugin which added the shades to Apple Home. Now that they were in my preferred smart home ecosystem, I could do some automations. When I start working at home, I have an automation that runs from my Stream Deck to start my day. I added opening my office blinds 35% to that script. Also, my ‘Good Night’ scene closes the blinds. As we get into the cooler weather with less light, I will add some more automations to close them with the setting sun.
As a tech enthusiest and an information technology professional, I‘m always looking at technology first when looking at a vehicle. If I had to rank infotainment (what the industry calls the vehicle’s screen, software, and entertainment package) on a list of most important features it would definitely be in the top three. Not only am I a tech enthusiast, I’m also a car enthusiast so I’m always looking at what’s new in the car world. I’ve thought about buying several vehicles and decided against it only because of the technology implementation (looking at you Ford Explorer).
My current vehicle, 2022 Toyota Tundra Platinum, has the best technology package in a truck as of the time I bought it. Even better than the F-150 Lightning (which I’m still ”in line” to buy). The F-150 Lightning has the same infotainment as the non-electric F-150s with the exception of the added controls for the EV.
Here’s what is wrong with most of today’s in-vehicle technology:
Large screens with bad use of space
Not utilizing integrated cameras effectively (see photo)
Trying to pack options on the screen that no one wants or uses
Not prioritizing the majority of drivers that use Apple CarPlay or Android Auto
Instead of filling the screen with the functions you are currently using, most manufacturers leave space for other controls, split screen, or messages. The same applies to mirroring you phone to the built-in display.
The 2022 Toyota Tundra has the cleanest large screen infotainment I’ve seen to date. This was major factor in why I purchased this particular truck, especially after pre-ordering an F-150 Lightning, and never owning a Toyota before. The Tundra’s infotainment is simple and thoughtfully laid out on the giant 14-inch LCD display in the center of the dash. There’s not a lot of bloat either with a modest selection of four different modes, plus Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.
When using Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, it takes over the entire screen giving you the most screen real estate to see your maps, music, or podcasts. My previous vehicles from Stellantis had a bottom navigation bar with CarPlay enabled to allow you to navigate away from CarPlay without having to do anything. Toyota’s implementation, like others I have seen, put a Toyota icon on your homescreen that when tapped, takes you to the built-in vehicle controls. This allows your phone mirroring experience to be more immersive . When the truck’s cameras are activated you again see it fullscreen and are able to see multiple cameras at once. Most of my in-car use is CarPlay so I never use the truck’s built-in functionality so the fullscreen experience was important to me. Hopefully soon Apple updates Carplay to better use the large amount of screen space I have now and make the elements fit better.
2022 Toyota Tundra technology overview
Pros: UI elements utilize large screen Fullscreen Apple CarPlay / Android Auto Responsive and high resolution No bloatware or complicated views Landscape orientation Digital rearview mirror
Cons: Can’t use in-vehicle WiFi hotspot and wireless CarPlay simulteanously CarPlay elements not made for such a large screen Uses Google Maps, but not an online version 360º camera view only available in park [P] Most camera views only available in drive [D]
In my short four months of owning the Toyota Tundra, it received one software update that was mainly bug fixes, but that doesn’t prevent them from adding features via an update. Hopefully they can add some cool stuff I haven’t thought of, but this is a promising start to a car brand that I once wrote off due to their interest in technology innovation.
Recently I made a change to my daily driving vehicle, read about it here. My new vehicle doesn’t allow me to park inside my integrated garage which changes how I enter/exit my house. Previously, after parking in the garage, I could enter the house through the interior door to go inside. Now, I have to park out in the weather and go through my front door. Because of this change, I had to take a long hard look at the current smart lock on my front door.
When moving into my current house I purchased a smart lock that was the best available at the time. The Yale Assure SL had all the bells and whistles including HomeKit integration (via August), touch keypad, guest accounts, no key access, etc. Since then, I’ve had nothing but troubles with this lock which mostly was how fast the batteries would drain. The 4 AA batteries lasted between 7 and 21 days and more times than not, the door would be unlocked with dead batteries. When I was only parking in the garage, and not entering/exiting through the front door, this really didn’t impact me. At one point about year ago, I contacted Yale about the battery draining issue, and they sent me a new lock. The replacement lock didn’t help the issue and I was back to always having dead batteries.
Frustrated by this and using the front door more than ever, I set out to fix the problem. The latest and greatest technology for smart locks involves a new wireless standard called Thread but also a way to a better way unlock the door with your phone called Apple home key. The only available lock with this technology is the Schlage Encode Plus. Of course this lock cannot be found in stock anywhere and is not available to order (it’s also ugly). I needed a solution I could implement now and not wait for something to be manufactured.
I decided I would try a similar lock to the Yale Assure SL but had Google/Nest as the integration/backend. I went to my local Best Buy and picked up the Nest x Yale – Smart Lock with Nest Connect. The install and most of the parts were similar to my outgoing Yale lock so that made install a breeze. Setting up the lock in the Nest app was very easy and I was up and running within minutes, unlike the August implementation.
A couple of missing features that I was accustomed to on my previous lock were auto-unlock and a door sensor to detect if the the actual door was ajar or not. The August integration of the previous lock used your phone’s GPS to determine when you left or arrived your home, then lock or unlock your door. The idea behind this was great, but regularly failed. When the lock had battery power, upon arriving home, my door wouldn’t be unlocked. Due to the nature of Bluetooth and WiFi, my phone would also struggle to unlock the door, standing directly outside of it. That being stated, I was motivated to get these two features back, in another way.
The door sensor was pretty easy. I already have an Aqara Zigbee hub on my network so I can easily add their cheap sensors. I purchased a Aqara Door & Window Sensor and added it to my network and Apple Home. The sensor has two parts, one that goes on the moving object, in this case the front door, and the other piece goes on the static object, the interior wall. When the two pieces get close enough for a magnetic attraction, the sensor detects that it is closed. Upon installing the two sides on my door, I realized the door-side sensor was too far from the other sensor when closed. After a couple hours, I designed a 3D printed extension for the sensor, and now it lines up perfectly.
Next I had to tackle the auto-unlock feature. The Nest lock does have an auto-lock function, but it’s only time based. Once the door is unlocked, it will auto-lock in 15 minutes, or a preset time duration of your choosing. It doesn’t know if the door is open or closed, so if you leave the door open, it will still lock.
Previous to getting this lock, I purchased a Starling Home Hub that smartly integrates (almost) all Nest products into Apple Homekit. This is a much better solution than running a Nest plugin in Homebridge, plus you get a few extra features. When I added the new lock to my Nest account Starling Home automatically added it to Apple Home and I was able to control it immediately. This led me to using Apple Home and Apple Shortcuts to achieve my auto locking and unlocking goals.
First, I had to setup a plugin in Homebridge to allow me to have a dummy switch (read about why here). After that, I setup another dummy-type switch in Homebridge that triggers on a set time duration. This allowed me to constantly check if the door was open or closed, then act on it. All of this is done in Apple’s Home app with their built-in automation. It allows you to trigger actions based on your phone’s location, which is perfect for when I leave or arrive at home.
This locks my door when my phone detects that I’m out of range of my house. The DoorChecker automation also checks if the door is open/closed. If it’s open, it will not lock the door. In addition to when I leave my house, the DoorChecker automation runs every 15 minutes to ensure my door is always locked when closed.
Many years ago I wrote a piece titled The Future is Not Here and complained about how, in that point in time, we still weren’t at the technological future we had been reading about. That same year, 2015, I wrote another piece about how smart my home was. Looking back on those two pieces of work makes me happy and sad at the same time. Sad that not much has changed in almost seven years, but happy that one thing is better; most of our homes are “smarter” than they were before.
When I wrote about my smart home several years ago I only had one smart device to brag about. Thanks to Google’s lack of innovation I’m still using the same 3rd generation Nest thermostat. While it’s the oldest device in my home’s technology package, it’s also the most reliable. Much like your home appliances, reliability is something we want out of our smart devices. What if, for some reason, the thermostat crashed and I couldn’t turn on the heat? Thankfully, that hasn’t happened to me while I’ve owned the Nest thermostat.
Along with the smart home market, the Beard Blog home has exploded with new gadgets and internet connected widgets. WiFi light bulbs, smart assistants (lady in a tube), garage door controllers, game consoles, TVs, fans, doorbells, cameras, door locks, refrigerators, outlets, blinds, and light switches are just some of the things I’ve integrated into my home life over the last four years. Throughout this series, I’m going to dive into my favorite devices and how I’m using them to again, make my home smarter.
Before we go too deep, I have to mention hubs or little boxes required to bridge some devices to your internet connection. These are usually included with a starter kit or part of the main device in the product’s offering. While we still haven’t settled on a standard smart home protocol (Bluetooth, HomeKit, ZigBee, Z-Wave, Thread, Matter), it is getting better. Some devices have been receiving software updates or hardware revisions to eliminate the hub. Even Apple HomeKit requires a hub if you want to access the device from outside your home. When I describe each device or system, I’ll be sure to mention if it requires a hub or not, which some people may not be fond of.
In addition to hubs that are made by the manufacturer, there are also third-party hubs to help bridge different protocols together. I’m going to deep dive into some of these hubs/bridges in a later post.
Light bulbs are all over our homes and making them “smart” is the easiest and most useful entry into having a smart home. You can easily swap a regular light bulb with a connected one and have the ability to control it from anywhere. We now live in a world where there is a wide variety of smart bulbs available at almost any retailer. Some are direct phone to bulb connections, while others attach to your network to enable multi-bulb control.
I got my start with smart lights from probably the most popular line since the smart bulb inception, Philips Hue. Some years ago I sprung for the Philips Hue color starter kit which included three color bulbs and a Hue hub. I quickly replaced three lamps in my living room with these bulbs and played with all the color combinations, much to my wife’s dismay. While the Hue bulbs are great, and have been updated over the years, they’re using old technology. The individual bulbs connect wirelessly back to the Hue hub over a proprietary Z-Wave connection. The Hue hub has to be hard-wired to your home network which then allows the bulbs to show up in Apple Home. The hub also allows you to control the lights when you’re outside of your home network. Newer light bulbs have emerged that are independent and use Thread to communicate with your network, providing you have a Thread router, like a HomePod mini. I have two Thread bulbs currently in my home, one of which replaced a malfunctioning Hue bulb from my original starter kit. Out of my 11 Hue bulbs that are six plus years old, I’ve only had one fail.
In addition to smart bulbs I have some other types of connected lights that I like even more than the bulbs. In my office, I have a three-pronged light attack that I mostly use on conference calls. First, there’s a Nanoleaf Essentials light strip on the wall directly in front of me. This works to illuminate my face and reduce shadows on my video calls. Behind me on the wall is an array of Nanoleaf Shapes. These panels change colors and create a neat light scape behind my head. Lastly, in the Ikea Kallax furniture piece behind me on the floor, is a Govee RGBiC light strip. This light strip can change colors independently in sections creating a cool effect inside the cubes of the Kallax. All three of these light setups, have independent controls and are able to be controlled from anywhere. The two Nanoleaf devices have the native ability to connect to Apple HomeKit, but the Govee strip does not.
Where I cannot have smart bulbs or light strips, I have connected light switches. This allows me to control lights connected through traditional electrical lines and not need any special bulbs or fixtures. We recently remodeled our finished basement and instead of going with smart fixtures we opted for a TP-Link dimmable smart switch. This dimmable smart switch controls the track lighting on the ceiling and can dim them to several brightness levels. This is ideal for a well lit room, where we may never use the full power of the LED lights.
On our back patio, we have a smart switch just inside the sliding door. This is a unique situation as the switch has two rockers on it to control two different lights. Then, to make it more complicated, I’ve added an outdoor smart outlet with two outlets on the one light switch. The internal switch controls the spotlight for the backyard, while the other switch turns on the outdoor outlet. That outdoor outlet controls a patio fan and overhead lighting. While it sounds complicated, it’s actually pretty simple when controlling them using physical controls, automations, or smart assistants. One gang, two switches, three devices.
My main purpose for all this smart lighting is not to be cool and have connected light bulbs, but more for ease of use and automations. The main area of my house, some may call it the living room, has no overhead lighting, so we rely on four lamps to provide light. Having to turn these on manually would be a pain and wiring them up to a switch would be costly. With smart bulbs, I have them set to turn on 30 minutes prior to sunset which ensures the room is well lit as the natural light declines.
While I’ve upgrades every light in my house to LED, not everything is a smart light, bulb, or switch. The bathrooms, dining room, kitchen, hallways, and spare bedrooms are where a manual switch is just easier to control the dumb lights. My bedroom has a ceiling fan with four light sockets integrated. I have four Philips Hue white ambiance bulbs in this ceiling fan so I don’t have to pull the chain or get up to turn on/off the lights at the switch.
Recently, I implemented an automation in the living room to better enhance the light experience. My biggest complaint was on the days where natural light was hard to come by, the living room would be dark. I could easily turn on the lights with my phone or home assistant, but I wanted to explore an automation that can turn on the lights based on the light available. My first thought was using an automation that can detect when it’s raining, and turn on the lights. That was easily defeated as here in Pittsburgh we have a lot of overcast days with no precipitation.
The automation I integrated that I’m still using today consists of the following, try to follow along: I’m using a Philips Hue motion sensor that also has a built-in light meter. When this light meter falls below 2 lux, it triggers an automation within the Apple HomeKit system. Because of the complexity of this, I have to use a Shortcut to run the commands. Also, I only want to turn on the lights during certain times of the day, so it doesn’t turn on in the middle of the night. HomeKit doesn’t allow a lot of triggers, so I’m using the motion sensor as a trigger to kick everything off.
Each time motion is detected in the living room, only during the day >
Run Shortcut 'Living Room Lights On' >
Is light level <= 2 lux?
Yes -> turn on living room lights
No -> do nothing
What’s nice is this is a set-it and forget-it approach. Now when it’s gloomy outside, my lights come on.
Some other automations around lighting in my house
When the doorbell detects motion, turn on porch light, only at night.
When back patio door is opened, turn on patio lights.
Manually triggered ‘Good Night’ scene turns all lights off.
When a garage door opens, the garage lights turn on for 10 minutes.
Be sure to follow along for the next Smarter Home2022 entry where I go over smart speakers.
You may have seen something like this on technology blogs (like this one!), YouTube videos, or even your favorite Twitch streamer, but what actually is this Stream Deck thing everyone is talking about?
I’ve always thought a Stream Deck was a command station for streamers and YouTubers that can control their streamy stuff and play stupid sound effects. While I wasn’t wrong, the Stream Deck platform is open and friendly to those of us who are into automation and scripting.
Like a lot of people, I took advantage of holiday season sales to purchase a Stream Deck by Elgato. The device is a very simple piece of hardware. At it’s core, it’s a USB keyboard that stands upright on your desk. The version I have has a five by three grid of clear buttons that each have an LCD screen under them. I opted for the mk.2 version that was released in the summer of 2021. (What are the differences?) The ability to have anything on the screen under the buttons make the Stream Deck very fun to play with and to use!
I’m going to go into very technical detail of how my Stream Desk is set up and what I use it for. Hold on to your butts!
The first button is a simple date/time display with my custom background color applied. No action occurs when this button is pressed. Time plugin by Krabs.
Moving from left to right, the next button is a stock ticker display. Currently I have it set to show $AAPL. When you press this button it retrieves an update on the stock price, outside of its schedule update. Stocks plugin by exension
When I walk away from my computer, I want to just put up the screensaver until is goes to sleep. This button, when pressed, runs a custom AppleScript to start the screensaver. At the same time, the Stream Deck goes into screen saver mode. Custom icon featuring a green iMac, by me. RunAppleScript plugin by mushoo.
tell application "System Events"
start current screen saver
The next two buttons are the same, except the left one is for on, and the right is for off. They both run an AppleScript that runs a Shortcut. The macOS Shortcut turns on/off the lights in my office I use for video calls. This consists of a Nanoleaf essentials light strip in front of my face, Nanoleaf shapes on the wall behind me, and a Govee RGBIC light strip on my Kallax unit behind me. Custom lightbulb icons by me. RunAppleScript plugin by mushoo.
tell application "Shortcuts Events"
run shortcut "Office Lights On"
tell application "Shortcuts Events"
run shortcut "Office Lights Off"
The first icon in the second row is another AppleScript button that I call ‘Start Working’. This is usually the first thing I do when I start working from home. It opens all the URLs I like to look at (e.g. Amazon, BlipShift, Woot) and work related web pages. It also opens all the applications I use daily like Outlook, Slack, Teams, NewsExplorer, LastPass, and Music. Custom briefcase icon by me. RunAppleScript plugin by mushoo.
The next button is another display only button that really doesn’t do much when pressed. This is called Octodeck and is a plugin that talks to my 3D printer server, Octoprint. This displays the percentage complete of an active 3D print job. I added a couple lines to the original creator’s code to include the time left, one line under the percentage. Octodeck plugin by cpeuschel.
This center button is kind of a playground of what’s possible. I was testing Keyboard Maestro and its Stream Deck integration and came up with this. In Keyboard Maestro I have a timed macro that runs every 1 minute and grabs the song info from the Music app and pushes it to the Stream Deck button. Also, if you press the button, it will update the info outside of the one minute interval. Keyboard Maestro plugin by Stairways Software.
Another mostly info-only button, displays the album art of the currently playing song in Music. When not playing it shows a play button that can be used to start playing music. This is a simple one, but I like having the album art displayed on my Stream Deck. Apple Music plugin Elgato – available in the Stream Deck app.
The last button in this row, is a simple ‘next track’ button for Apple Music. When pressed this will skip to the next song when music is playing. I like having this button on Stream Deck as well as on my Apple keyboard. Custom icon made by me. Apple Music plugin Elgato – available in the Stream Deck app.
In the third row, we start with two folders. The first folder holding sound effects that can be triggered with the push of a button. I also have a button in this folder to switch to my Zoom profile as I’m usually triggering these sounds while on a Zoom call.
The second folder is for all my lighting controls. I can go into this folder and adjust my office lighting as needed outside of my normal on/off functions on the main screen. In this folder I can change the scene on my Nanoleaf shapes, adjust my Govee light strip, and set all lights to red (when I’m angry).
Another folder in the third row houses my quick access commands for Slack. All of these buttons use a hotkey command to make changes to text in Slack. The middle button with the slack logo, when pressed, opens Slack or brings the application into focus.
Phone – /call – starts a call in Slack channel
Giphy – /giphy – prefix for sending a random GIF
ThumbsUp – ???????? – types and send thumbs up emoji
Quotes – shift+⌘+9 – formats the selected text as a block quote
</> – shift+⌘+C – formats the selected text as code
</> block – option+shift+⌘+C – formats the selected text as code block
Strike – shift+⌘+X – formats the selected text with strikethrough Custom icons by me. System Hotkey plugin by Elgato – available in the Stream Deck app
Next to last, is a mute button. When pressed, this mutes all sounds on the computer connected to the Stream Deck. I usually use this when I receive a phone call or need to quickly hear something not in my office. Custom mute icon by me. System Multimedia plugin by Elgato – available in the Stream Deck app.
The last button is a microphone mute toggle. This is a system-wide button that when pressed either mutes or unmutes the computer microphone. Useful for when I’m using a video chat app that’s not Zoom or Teams. Custom mic icon by me. Mic Mute Toggle plugin by Fred Emmott.
Stream Deck Profiles
The Stream deck can support multiple profiles that will display specific pages based on the application you’re using. I’m using three profiles in addition to the default profile, outlined above.
When I’m using Photoshop I like to have quick actions in front of me instead of trying to remember the keyboard shortcuts. As I use this profile more with Photoshop, I’m sure I’ll add more commands. The icons used in this profile were provided by SideShowFX.
While on a Zoom call, I like to have a button to press to mute my microphone, as everyone should. (and remember to unmute it) I found a Zoom plugin that gives you more than just mute, but also camera control and some other useful buttons. The center button with the Zoom logo does nothing other than let me know which profile I’m in at a glance. The button in the very bottom-right corner switches me back to my default profile where I can access light controls and sounds. If I click out the Zoom app and then go back to Zoom, the Zoom Stream Deck profile reactivates. Zoom plugin and icons by LostDomain.
Lastly, I have a Teams profile which is similar to the Zoom profile, but there is no plugin I’ve found as of writing this. I’m using hotkey buttons to trigger actions in Teams, like mute/unmute and show/hide camera. The Teams logo in the middle acts as a profile switch to go back to the default profile.
Should you buy a Stream Deck?
Overall I think the Stream Deck is a fun toy and can be helpful with repetitive tasks. Would I be lost without one? No, but I’ve already gotten comfortable with the buttons/display I have setup that I would buy a replacement if mine was stolen.
Should you buy one? That’s a difficult question because everyone’s needs/wants are different. If you’re into tinkering, scripting, and/or automation I think you should give Stream Deck a try. If you’re not, you may struggle with what to do with your new Stream Deck. It can always be used to add a wow factor to your desk setup.
Things to Note
The Stream Deck currently only works on a Windows or Mac computer. The Stream Deck community has it running in Linux, but is not officially supported.
The Stream Deck device must always be plugged into the computer to work, there’s no wireless option.
In order to get the auto-switching profiles for specific applications, the Stream Deck software has to be running, but not currently have any windows open. If you have any Stream Deck application windows open, in the background or not, the automatic switching will not work. This is somewhat annoying and hard to determine on macOS as the application does not show up in the application switcher or dock.
The Stream Deck software has to be running for the device to work. If you quit the app, the Stream Deck goes into screensaver mode and does not function.
If you have more than one computer, you have to transfer/re-install your plugins, icons, etc. on each computer. Currently there’s no cloud syncing between devices. Same goes if you have multiple Stream Decks.
Fun Tips & Tricks
You can set the icon of any button to an animated GIF
Any button can have a custom icon – you can make your own or download them
You can take a single image and chop it up into a grid and set that as your button icons
The mk.1 and mk.2 Stream Deck are vey similar with the exception of the mk.2 having USB-C (at the Stream Deck end only), longer cable, solid stand, and interchangeable faceplate (not included)
There are currently three sizes of Stream Deck, mini 3×2, regular 5×3, and XL 8×4
Elgato’s software is free and you don’t need a device to play with Stream Deck configurations
Let me know on Twitter if you also have a Stream Deck and the different things you do with it.
This is not sponsored content. Elgato is not affiliated nor has influenced this post.
AirPods are completely wireless earphones that go in your ears to provide music or other audio from your Bluetooth device. Apple again revolutionlized music by making earphones that didn’t need wires and were super easy to use. They even went viral during their launch that made AirPods the trendy must-have accessory.
Five years later, Apple now sells four different versions of AirPods, and like some other product categories can be really confusing, especially when buying for others.
AirPods Max are a different kind of listening device and are more of a headphone than an earphone product.
I’m going to talk about the three white wireless versions of AirPods. These are always great gifts for the holidays and are still immensely popular with the younger crowds, but which AirPods are right for you?
The now iconic shape of wireless earbuds were refreshed in 2019 to offer additional features like “Hey Siri”, longer battery life, and wireless charging case. Other than the new features, the AirPods shape and design remained the same. It’s impossible to tell a generation 1 product from a generation 2 just by looking at them.
Like the EarPods that proceeded the AirPods, they were designed for a wide variety of ears and rest on the antitragus and intertragal notch. When they were first announced, everyone exclaimed that they were going to fall out of ears and get lost. Based on how EarPods always popped out, it was a hard sell. About 10 minutes after AirPods were in wearer’s ears, they were a hit. So much of a hit, they immediately faced a supply issue. I remember showing people my AirPods and they were in disbelief of the fact that they would stay in my ears, even while jogging.
With the success of the first generation AirPods came a lot of outcry that they just didn’t work in some ears. Additionally, the AirPods didn’t isolate sound and were basically useless on airplanes. About six months after the second generation AirPods were announced, Apple announced the AirPods Pro. These featured in-ear silicone tips that completely isolated sound and increased sound quality. Most people were familiar with earbuds that featured the same design, but Apple made the earbud a lot better. Noise cancelling, transparency mode, and increased frequency response were touted as the main features of the Pros. The biggest change was the shape. Gone was the long stem that projected out of people’s ears and was replaced by a stouter, less obvious version. The in-ear portion has silicone tips (in three sizes) to seal in the sound. The case was bigger and wider so the new style could fit in to charge magnetically like the original AirPods.
Apple will inevitably announce second generation AirPods Pro, but probably not until Spring 2022 at the earliest. The Pros being the flagship AirPods, they’ll probably receive new technology before it trickles down to the non-Pro AirPods.
In October 2021, Apple announced what they’re calling the AirPods (3rd generation) but I’ll be referring to them as the AirPods 3 for confusion avoidance. This was the first time AirPods have changed shapes in almost five years. They look strikingly similar to the AirPods Pro by shrinking the stem and adding more speakers to the in-ear portion. The headlining features of the AirPods 3 are spatial audio, sweat/water resistance, and longer battery life. They also changed the controls to match the Pros by adding a force sensor to the stem so you can squeeze instead of jackhammering your ear. In a rare Apple move, the price also decreased from $199 to $179 for the wireless charging case.
Which AirPods Do I Want?
This is quite the subjective question because all ears are not created equal. The complicated answer falls into three categories to determine which AirPods are right for you.
I want the cheapest AirPods, I don’t care about price.
AirPods 2nd generation are right for you, if you can find the 1st-gen, grab those instead
I want to use my AirPods for working out and casual listening.
The added sweat resistance and comfort level of the AirPods 3 is great in this scenario
I travel a lot and want to use my AirPods on planes, trains, and automobiles.
AirPods Pro offer noise cancelling and adjustable listening modes to aid you when traveling
Some caveats to those recommendations
AirPods (2nd generation) fit in most ears, while AirPods 3 are a bit larger and have trouble staying in ears with smaller openings. If you’re interested in moving from 2nd-gen to 3rd-gen, be aware that the AirPod is larger than the previous. My wife was able to wear 2nd-gen with no issue, but 3rd-gen do not stay in her ears.
AirPods Pro seal off outside noises and can cause you to hear internal noises while you’re ears a blocked. Think chewing and walking thumps. To me, this is the most annoying part of the Pros.
The next generation of console gaming is here and it might be the biggest jump we’ve seen from generation to generation. PC gamers have been enjoying the next-gen performance for quite a while, but console gaming pushes game developers to implement new features and push the boundaries more widely. This generation we have the Xbox Series X from Microsoft and the Sony PlayStation 5. I personally like console gaming because it’s an all-in-one package and ready to go out of the box. All the games are made for the current generation and you don’t have to worry about specifications or compatibility. Additionally, being able to sit down in front of my TV for a gaming session instead of in front of a computer (where I spend most of my days) is much more appealing to me.
The console wars have never been more tightly contested than now. We’re now at the point where Microsoft and Sony are buying up studios to get console exclusives and try to get an edge up on the competition. If you want to play all the best games, you need to have all the consoles (Nintendo included) because of the exclusives.
I’ve been lucky enough to acquire and spend the last six months with both the Xbox Series X and Sony PlayStation 5. It’s not an easy comparison with a clear winner so I’ve pitted the two against in each other in seven different categories. Read on to see who comes out on top.
One of my favorite categories to talk about and engage with others on is technology. Not only is it my day job but I would consider technology to also be a hobby and lifestyle of mine. Surprisingly 2020 gave us a lot of new technology; I guess that’s one thing that the pandemic couldn’t hold back. Some things were delayed, other things are supply constraint, but after it’s all said and done, nothing really got cancelled because of COVID. Good things come to those who wait so my top three picks this year were all released within a week of each other.
In order of release date, here are my three picks for best piece of technology sold in 2020:
The next generation of gaming is here! Finally we have solid state storage standard and get the amazing features like 120 frames per second and ray tracing. These are still really hard to find along with its counterpart the Sony PS5 due to high demand and low supply. Earlier this year I wrote about how you may want to put a new TV on your list as well to take full advantage of this new hardware.
The iPhone design is all new this year and Apple finally brought back the flat edge design that the iPad Pro has had for a few years now. In addition to the great new design, all new iPhones get 5G, OLED displays, and new colors. The best of them all, the iPhone 12 Pro Max, includes major changes to the three camera system producing some of the best photos you can get out of a smartphone. Two really great things about the new iPhones Pro are storage and video. Apple starts the Pro Max out at 128GB which is the sweet spot of storage for me. Lastly, the new iPhones Pro take HDR (Dolby Vision) video which may not seem like much, but when you watch it on your phone or an HDR TV, you really see the difference. I don’t want to take any other kind of videos again.
Earlier this summer Apple mentioned they would be ditching Intel for their processors and moving to their own, dubbed Apple Silicon. Now we have the first set of Macs which include the new Apple Silicon processors, the M1. It’s crazy to think that for only $999 you can get a tiny little laptop that has all day battery life and is faster than 90% of the computers out on the market, right now. We’ll probably never see leaps and bounds like this in computers again, so we have to relish it while it’s here. Anyone who asks me what computer they should buy, before they can finish I blurt out “MacBook Air with M1”. It’s great for everything from web browsing to professional video editing. It’s truly a great computer at a great price.
Thinking about getting a Sony PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series S|X this holiday season, or any point in the future? If so, the odds are your current TV won’t be good enough to get everything out of these next-gen1 consoles. Here’s why…
What’s Special About the Next-Gen Consoles
The next generation of console gaming is here and with it brings a variety of new technology that will make gaming exponentially better than previous generations. For starters, both new consoles come with solid state storage (finally!) that will make loading times 100 times faster than older systems. Another significant change is how similar the two major systems (PS5 & Xbox) compare in performance. In years past we could see an easy winner of performance on paper, but this generation, it’s much closer. The PS5 and Xbox Series X both make claims of achieving 120 frames per second2 at 4K resolution3 , which was previously only possible on very high-end computer rigs.
So Why Do I Need a New TV?
Let’s say for a moment you got a nice shiny new 4K TV a year or two ago and think that your new gaming system will look great on it. Yes it will display at 4K, but you won’t get the new features that allow 120fps gaming or advanced HDR4 for gaming. Keep in mind, if you’re TV isn’t updated, you’re better off waiting to get a new PlayStation or Xbox until you get a new TV or there is a specific game you want to play on the next-gen consoles. If you currently have a PlayStation 4 or Xbox One or One S, you’re not even currently getting above 1080P5 gaming. You need a PS4 Pro or Xbox One X6 to get the higher resolutions. If you’re fine with not getting the most out of your new system and just want the next-gen consoles, then you’re good to go and don’t need to keep reading.
What Do I Look for in a New TV?
There are three major keys to look for in a new TV for your next-gen console. I would make sure the TV you’re selecting has all of these features to make your experience the best it can be.
HDMI version 2.1 This is the latest spec of HDMI that allows 3x more data to go through the cable. Both systems have HDMI 2.1 ports, so your TV needs to as well.
120hz refresh rate This is how fast a TV refreshes the picture. Most TVs operate at 60hz. The 120hz refresh rate is needed to hit that 120fps mark.
HDR10+ or Dolby Vision support These are competing HDR standards. This will allow you to get the most 4K/HDR content out of your new TV. I personally prefer Dolby Vision, but if you buy a Samsung, it will have HDR10+.
Bonus features to look for: VRR (Variable Refresh Rate), G-SYNC, FreeSync, HGiG, and ALLM (Auto Low Latency Mode)
Just Tell Me What TV to Buy
If you don’t want to look for a TV that has everything you could need to enjoy next-gen gaming, I have some recommendations for you.
Top Pick: LG CX OLED 55”, 65” or 77”
Has all the bells and whistles plus it’s OLED so it looks incredible
Supports Dolby Vision
Samsung Q80T LCD 55”, 65” or 75”
Great alternative to the high-priced OLED, also has everything you need
Budget Pick: Vizio P Series Quantum X LCD 65”, 75”, or 85”
Personally I chose the LG CX OLED 65” for my home theater and gaming TV. The TV was discounted heavily for the holidays and met all my requirements. Now all I have to do is wait for my Xbox Series X to show up.