I’ve been looking for an application to use for my email and provide integrated encryption. I was using the Apple mail application which was great except it didn’t do the GPG after the update to macOS Sierra. I was using Postbox for a while, but it’s not reliable. Too many bugs! Then I moved on to using the application called Spark. Spark doesn’t do encryption at all and now I have found Airmail 3 which looks just as good as Spark but does GPG encryption with a plug-in. I also tried Thunderbird which was okay but pretty ugly. So now I have AirMail 3 working I’m quite happy because I don’t have to do the encryption manually. There are lots of settings and customisation possible with Airmail 3. Fingers crossed it will pass the test of time in the stability department.
It Just Works – Kind of!
One of the big things about using an Apple computer, whether it be an iMac or your iPad or iPhone is that it just works. You don’t need to do any messing around with arcane settings of any sort, you plug things in and they work. For the most part this is still true. There are occasions though where you can get just as confused, annoyed and frustrated as when using other systems. It never gets as bad as when you are doing specialised things using the terminal. Delving into the Linux underpinnings of the Mac operating system using the terminal can give you weird and not so wonderful consequences. If you are going to do some copy and pasting of terminal commands from whatever website to install and configure you should really make sure it’s a reliable source. The other thing which can mess things up with your Apple computer system is when you have to fiddle around with your Apple ID or IDs. I have been in Terminal setting up HomeBrew and installing software on my iMac as well as doing things with the Apple iDs over the last couple of days.
Apple iMac computer problems this morning
I plugged in my iPhone and I wanted to do a backup using the application iMazing and it didn’t work. There was an upgrade for the application which I let run. I tried it again and it still didn’t work. At the same time there was also a problem with iTunes not seeing my iPhone. I’d say the problem was the same for both applications – whatever that was. I didn’t want to do a restart of the computer because of the noisy start-up tone. It was too early in the morning and my wife was still in bed. I didn’t want to be too loud. It would be handy to have one of those recently announced new MacBook Pros, which has a quiet start-up. Later this morning I was able to do the restart of the computer and the backup using iMazing seems to be working. I was also able to open up iTunes and see the iPhone 7+ in the sidebar. However, it wasn’t showing me the applications installed. So what was the problem causing this little difficulty? Who knows??
I have an Amazon Dot on the way to me in the post from the UK. I had to order it from Amazon to my mother’s address using my Amazon UK account. The Amazon Dot is not yet available in Spain. Reading an article this morning telling me about an application called iDevices which works in the same way as the Apple Home application. The article suggested I could use the iDevices application in conjunction with the Amazon Echo or Dot. So I went through the whole rigmarole of getting my hands on the Amazon Echo application for my iPhone. It was a nuisance because I had to sign out of my Apple ID for Spain & into the Apple ID for the UK. I have a suspicion that this is how I got problems into the workingsl of my Apple devices. Now that I’ve got the application from the UK store and changed the Apple ID sign in back to my normal Apple ID it seems to working properly again.
I decided to try and download the Amazon echo application through iTunes on the Mac when maybe it would have been better to get it directly on the iPhone. The idea was that if I did it through iTunes I would be able to install first on the iPhone. Then afterwards I’d be able to push the application out to my iPad. With all of the messing around, it did in the end work out better to download the application onto the iOS device.
Using two factor authentication could have been a factor
It’s good to use two factor authentication for all of your important web services. So you should use this two factor authentication on your main email, your iCloud account, Dropbox account, Facebook, Google account, and Twitter accounts. When you login to your account for the first time on a device you have to first put in your password and then verify using a physical device. The way that Apple does it is to send a code to a device you have set up as being a known and trusted device, such as your iPad or iPhone. You can also have it set up to send you an SMS message to your phone. With some of the services the way to do it, is to use an application like Authy or Google Authenticator. This will give you a time sensitive password which will get you into your account. I prefer to use the application Authy. It is also possible to use 1Password to supply you with these temporary (2FA) secondary passwords.
I was thinking that maybe the problem was due to me using my iPhone with SMS as the two factor authentication for my UK Apple ID account. I’m wondering if it didn’t like me using the same phone number with two different Apple IDs. Whatever was causing the problem is not a concern any more now that I’ve put everything back to rights and I still have the applications I needed to download from the UK App Store.
iDevices and Apple Home Application
iDevices pulls in the setup from the Home application for all of the HomeKit accessories you have set up. You can see your zones, rooms and products. Also view your scenes and schedules and create new ones if you wish. For instance you might want to set up a schedule to turn a light on at a certain time on one or more days of the week. Any schedules you create in iDevices will propagate into the Home application. The iDevices application doesn’t see all my Elgato Eve HomeKit accessories. It doesn’t let me set up schedules with a trigger based upon a door opening or a motion sensor. It doesn’t seem to work using the location-based triggers either. Still early days with home automation, but we will get the stage when it just works.
I’m going Dotty
I’m still waiting for the Echo Dot to arrive so I can’t finish off the setup. You have to sign into your Amazon account to link the products. Then you have to add the iDevices skill through the Amazon Alexa application (this is why I had to download the app). When you’ve done that, you can use Alexa to control your home automation electronics. I’m going to be interested to see how well it works. When I have got all of this setup I’ll do some testing first. Then I’ll make a video to show you how I’m using the Amazon Echo Dot to control HomeKit devices. I won’t have to think about opening up Siri to do the job and it should be easier with Amazon Echo Dot always listening with its far field microphones. My iPhone 7+ does respond to the command of “Hey Siri” followed by the command such as “Turn on the office light “. I do need to be close to my iPhone for this to work. With my testing using “Hey Siri” I found the likelihood of it working when more than 50 cm away from the phone was quite slim. I do have to wonder if Apple will come up with a competitor to the devices from Google, Amazon and there may be one coming from Microsoft also. Perhaps they will be too late when we all have set ourselves up with things like the Google Home or the Amazon Echo/Dot. Can we still say “It just works”?
The geekiness of learning to code
The height of being good and geeky is using code or programming to get things done. I can remember way back when, I had a book about how to construct webpages. I specifically remember reading through this book while lying on a beach in the sunshine. These days I would do that reading on my iPad and I’d be using an e-book or maybe just reading from a webpage. Webpages were much simpler in those days though. During the last week I have been learning more HTML editing and now I am working through CSS coding. I have used CSS coding in the past but not really done much with it. Now I’m following a course going through it all step-by-step. I’m getting a better understanding of how it all works. For the most part, the HTML and CSS I’ve been learning I really don’t need it. For my webpages I’m using WordPress and I only have to worry about the content. There are occasions though when I do need to delve into the actual code of webpages. On such occasions, it is helpful to know more about what it is your looking at. This is why I’ve gone back to the online classroom to update my knowledge. I’m planning to take it a stage further and continue learning more about coding generally. For some of things I’m doing with home automation and home security I need more coding skills for the projects. There are different languages for working with the Raspberry Pi or for the Arduino and I also have an interest in Swift coding. Swift is the new coding language from Apple which is open-source but mainly used for creating for iOS and for the Mac operating system.
Thinking like a programmer
Sometimes the thing about working with code is not about the way the language works and uses words to do what needs to be done, but more about how your brain understands the logic. I was going through a Tapcoding course to learn swift programming and there were occasions where my head felt like it was going to explode. There are lessons where you need to flip-flop true and false states of Boolean logic to get things to work as they should. There are parts of these courses where I’ve had to do a section two or three times to work out what was supposed to be happening. It’s an interesting learning experience. I’m a firm believer in being a lifelong learner. In this day and age our earning capability is affected by an ability to learn new knowledge and skills.
One hour of code
Each year about this time there is an initiative called one hour of code. Children can go to Apple stores and have an hour learning to code. This year Apple has the new iPad application called Playgrounds which teach you how to think like a programmer. I have done a couple of these coding lessons and they are not just for kids. It’s a visual way to learn which is more suitable for children but works very well for this older adult. I also received an email from the Khan Academy about this one hour of code. This email offered me coding courses available within that online courses website. I plan to have a look at some of these because it’s good to do the same topics from different sources. When material is presented in a different way it can help to get the information ingrained inside your head. Often what you need to have the lightbulb moment is for the subject matter to be offered in a different manner.
A plan to learn programming
Making use of coding skills
Working with the Raspberry Pi requires knowledge of Python. I still have projects I’d like to complete using the Raspberry Pi as the starting point. I have got a couple of microprocessors coming to me from China. These are the Arduino killer ESP8266 12E boards. Basically they are Arduino compatible development boards with built in Wi-Fi and you can buy them for less than $10. I plan to use these to control one or two things around the house. I want to control the garage door and the gate which at the moment both work with radio remote controllers. It’ll be much better if I can make them operate by sending a signal across Wi-Fi. It’s going to be some fun to build some Wi-Fi gadgets using this microprocessor. I actually saw a video on YouTube where a young boy of 10 years old was showing how to control one of these devices from an iOS application. When I was 10 years old all I wanted to do was go and play football in the garden. How times have changed!
If you’ve been following this blog for some time now, you’ll know that I’m heavily into photography. My photographic interests are wide and varied, but in the main would go in the direction of street photography and art photography. The street photography side of things is to create portraits of people. I’ll also make images without people, but are nevertheless interesting in another way. I have a preference to use a telephoto lens to get in close. Talking about getting up close, I have also done some macro photography which I enjoy. I like to find shapes and patterns I can use to make strong, are often abstract images. The application I’ve found to work well for what I want to do with my images is iColorama. This resides on the iPad and also on the iPhone. It’s a fantastic application which gives a multitude of artistic choices. Starting with the basic adjustments and levels to some pretty wild and amazing pixel manipulations. I really do like to punish those pixels to within an inch of their lives. When it comes to working on the Mac, I have a fondness for the application Intensify Pro which allows me to really push those pixels around. Another Mac application which gets my creative juices flowing is Topaz Impression. I enjoy these applications because they give so much in terms of turning a standard boring photo into something artistic. I’ve had the application Affinity Photo which is a Photoshop alternative and to be honest I’ve not really made the most of it. Lately I’ve been watching a load of tutorials and I realise I should be getting familiar with Affinity Photo. It might not do some of the wild effects with one click as you can with my other favourites, but it is completely amazing and nothing short of black magic. The In Painting tool is amazing!
Some of the great things you can do with Affinity Photo
Affinity Photo has just been upgraded to version 1.5 and gained some extra capabilities.
- The application will now do HDR merge and has a persona for tone mapping.
- Extra compatibility with the Photos app.
- Batch processing so you can do work with multiple images quickly.
- Image editing for 360° spherical photos.
- Life perspective projection – This lets you work with a section distorted by perspective as if it was flat.
- Focus merge which is especially good for macro photography.
- Plus a whole load of other improvements.
Working HDR images in Affinity Photo
When you’re stacking images together to get the high dynamic range of an image, there are a couple of HDR specific apps you could choose to use. For a long time I was using the application Photomatix Pro as my go to HDR app. Lately I started using the new Aurora HDR application which if you are really into HDR is the app to go for. However, Affinity Photo is more than capable and is only lacking in the number of presets you can use as starting points for your HDR image. Within the Affinity Photo application there are a plethora of controls to get just what you’re looking for. You can tone map your merged image into a mild HDR or you can go to the other end of the scale with a wild HDR. I haven’t tested this fully yet, but I expect by using the macro recording feature now with Affinity Photo, you’ll be able to create your own HDR presets. The macros are shareable so I expect they’ll be somewhere to find HDR presets made by other photographic artists.
It’s not difficult to throw together a number of exposure bracketed source images in Affinity Photo. You’ll have the automatic alignment in case you’ve taken the photos handheld rather than using a tripod. The HDR capabilities you get with the application are pretty cool. If you like twiddling and fiddling and playing with sliders, then you’re going to like it.
Round trip Apple Photos and Affinity Photo
With Apple Photos continually improving and getting better as a way to manage your photographic library, having full access to Affinity Photo is extremely useful. It can still be a good idea to make a duplicate first before sending an image to Affinity Photo. Or you could export the original file with the full data ,or a TIFF file to use with Affinity Photo. The reason you’d want to do this is if you make changes to your photo in a number of extension applications and something doesn’t work out quite right in one of them, the only thing you can do is to go right back to your starting point. Even if you’ve only used one third party extension you may find having to start again if you just want to change one of the adjustments you made. You’re always going to have much more control over the nondestructive ability aspect of manipulating with photos by working directly in Affinity Photo. This is because you’ll be working with layer masks, pixel layers and be able to move the layers around and tweak adjustments to your heart content in this professional photo editing application. If you know what you want and can do it in one shot then round tripping with Apple Photos will work out well for you. The bigger the job you plan to do with your photo, the more likely it is it’ll work better exporting a separate file out of Apple Photos.
Batch Processing With Affinity Photo
When you’re batch processing it’s useful for something like getting whole pile of images ready for a specific type of export. You want to send photos to Google+ and you have limited bandwidth so reducing the size of your images is a good idea. Start a new batch processing job within Affinity Photo and add all of the images to the batch. You can collect images from a few different places as you need to then have them saved back to original folders or send them somewhere specific.
If you’ve created macros which you want to apply to a batch of photos you can choose the macro and add it to the setup. I had a macro which changed the dimensions of the photo, but I found it was better to use the built-in settings within the batch processing for that part of the job. So you could use macros which crop the top of an image off (good for working with screenshots from the iPhone). Or use macros which convert to black-and-white, sharpen the image, do adjustments of saturation or vibrance, make adjustments to white balance and so on. Then use the batch settings to set the size. The use of macros and batch processing will save you lots of time.
Editing Spherical Photos in Affinity Photo
I absolutely adore taking spherical photos with my iPhone 7+. I can often be seen in a place rotating around a spot, pointing my iPhone camera in all directions. The latest spherical photo I took was in Platja d’Aro at the beach. Before that I was in Ireland where I took a picture of an amazing vista from the top of a megalithic burial mound. I take these photos with my iPhone camera, I don’t have a specific 360° camera. I am tempted to buy one at some point in time though. For the moment, the iPhone camera works really well and I use the Google Street View application to get the images. I do have other applications for taking spherical photos, but I don’t tend to use them much. It’s great being able to edit these specialised photos in Affinity Photo. It’s pretty easy to do and it works excellently.
You can do the full range of editing available with Affinity Photo on your 360° images. You have the basics of adjustments to hue, contrast and saturation as well as any other levels same as you can adjust on other normal photos. It’s easy to make use of the In Painting tool to fix areas of your photo. For example you might have missed a small section in your photo and you can use the In Painting tool to fill it in. This is another occasion when you might think that Affinity Photo is pure black magic. If you are taking a picture containing people and those people were moving it’s possible you might have the same person in two or three places in the photo. Use the In Painting tool to remove these duplicate persons.
The way to use Affinity Photo is to get the flat image showing as a projection so you can click and drag to move in 360°. Do this to find the spot where you want to make adjustments. All you do then is to click on the tool you wish to use and do what you have to do to improve your photo. When you’ve finished your editing you’ll find you don’t have the 360° projection working so you have to go back to the menu to start it up again. You can edit the photos so filters and effects affect the whole of the image all the way around. This is useful if you want to do something like adjusting the exposure or saturation across the whole of the image.
Making Use of Focus Merge in Affinity Photo
When you take a macro photograph you’ll find you have a very shallow depth of field. This is where Affinity Photo will come to your aid. What you do is to take a series of shots, as many as you need so your subject in the photo is sharp wherever it is in terms of depth. For macro shots you are almost certainly going to be using a tripod. You’ll only just need to make sure you don’t move the camera physically while changing the focus. Consider using a camera which has an application on your iPhone so you can control the camera indirectly. In Affinity Photo add your new stack of focus adjusted photos. It’s as simple as clicking a button and telling the software to do the job. There is just a possibility you’ll have to do some adjustments after the algorithm has finished its work. There is a way you can use these source photos and the Clone Tool to do a manual composite from whichever photo has the best, sharpest in focus image for that part. When you’ve got the photo just the way you want it, finish off by making whatever other adjustments. Do what you feel is necessary to get the image you’re looking for.
I’ve just got back from a trip to Ireland and I used my mobile tech devices as per usual. Obviously I had my iPhone with me and I also carried my iPad Pro with me even though I didn’t have so much time to use it. I took the Mac keyboard with me so I could do some typing and I never used it once. This was partly due to not having the time to sit down and write anything. I was delighted to spend a lot of time with my grandchildren though. The two year old demands a lot of attention and it’s a great to give the attention to him. The baby also demands attention and there’s not much you can do with tech when you have a baby in your arms. So I spent nearly a week being a happy grandad rather than being a good and geeky old bloke. However, I did get to use some of my mobile computing devices while away in Ireland. Took photos with the standard camera app and also with ProCamera. I made a couple of photos into iColorama creations. I used the new Netflix download feature to watch a movie while away from internet. I checked up on the house back at home using Elgato Eve and the camera app for the security camera.
Recording my life with Swarm and with social media
One of my favourite applications for keeping track of everything is the application called Swarm. This is extra to what I put into the journal app Day One. This is the application from Foursquare and I use it to login to various places. I like it for the gamification of logging in to record places I’ve been to. When I’m at home in Spain I will always take a photo to add to the digital login. While I’m over in Ireland I have to forget about adding photos while I’m not on Wi-Fi. Sending photos to the Internet while using mobile data in another country is just a very quick way of flying through the megabytes available. I only have 100 MB available per day and I’ve used that for giving me GPS when travelling around by car. If I didn’t do that I would have had to hire a GPS unit from the car hire firm. That would have been an unnecessary added expense. Most the time I knew where I was going and it is only when I was driving out of Sligo back in the direction of Enniskillen when I was glad of GPS on my iPhone 7+.
One of the good things about using Swarm is that I can cross post from swarm into Facebook and Twitter. It’s handy to post with one upload and catch more than one social network. Depending on what I’m posting I will choose whether it’s going to be just Swarm by itself or if I will also post to the other socials too. The application turns journalling your position on this spinning rock into a game. It gives you points for logging in. You can see where other users you’ve connected to are logging in also. There is a leaderboard which tells you your position and how many coins you collected as you used to the application. In the game section you’ll see information such as “Did you know that you’ve checked into nine different airports? Explore more places for extra coins!”.
Achieving the level of town mayor
When you check into places you get points and these points add up. If you have the highest number of points in a place you get an automatic election to the town mayor position. There is a leaderboard which runs weekly and the top 20 on the leader board win bonus coins. I’m just looking at the leaderboard now and I can see that last week I came in at number 29. So no coins there then! My position this week at the moment is 21st with 91 coins. I have absolutely no chance of getting to the number one position because the person in that place at the moment has over 1400 coins. The competitive side of me tells me that one of these weeks I should go all out for it. I’ll use the app every hour of every day and sign in as many places as possible. You can add likes to other peoples check ins. I have two or three of my connected people who will like my check ins fairly often.
How to check-in using swarm
- Open the application on your iPhone
- Click on the button dead centre in the menu at the bottom
- Select a place from the list
- Write to your social media posting in the place where it says “What are you up to?”. You can add stickers or photos to your post. There are five stickers to choose from and the icon with three dots will give you access to a few more. Tap on the camera icon to choose from either pictures you’ve taken already or to use the camera to take a new one.
- If you add a photo to your posting you immediately get the option to add stickers on to the photo. The stickers are movable and re-sizable. When you’ve finished obliterating the picture with the stickers tap on use in the top right-hand corner.
- You’ll then get a message from the application to say how many coins you have earned. It will also tell you the last time you checked in at that place and whether or not you are the mayor of the place. You get more coins if you add photos.
While it seems there are quite a few steps to creating a Swarm social media post you do save time by having it cross posted. Once you’ve done it a few times it can be very quickly completed. One thing you’ll need to consider is the volume you have for sound effects on your device. If you’re in a place and it’s quiet and there are other people around you may get some funny looks due to the sound effects from Swarm. It sounds like you’re playing one of those noisy fruit machines. You can stop the noise immediately by tapping on the screen. At the bottom of the screen it will show you your position on the leader board, who you’ve just passed and how many coins you have in total for the week.
It’s all a bit of good and geeky fun
It is possible to check into the places the app saw you’d been, but you forgot to check in to. If you have a look at the profile page by tapping on the icon on the far right of the menu bar you’ll get more information. It will show if there are places you’ve been to you need to confirm. You can choose to confirm or choose a place nearby. If you want to you can just tell the app to take it away from your timeline.
I can see from my profile that I’ve checked in 715 times, added 341 photos and I have 669 friends. The application will show the categories of places you’ve been to. It seems I’ve been to a lot of states and municipalities, quite a few Food & Drink shops, lots of airports, one or two hotels and I’ve been in some fields. You can delve further into the information such as with the states and municipalities it breaks down into cities, countries, villages, towns and neighbourhoods. The application informs me I have checked into six different countries.
Looking at photos used
You can see the photos you’ve posted using Swarm with either a grid view or a list view. If you tap on the photo it will show you the image fullscreen and give you the text you added to the photo. It’ll tell you when it was you posted that photo to Swarm. The Swarm app also gives you the option to share or delete the photo if you wish. From the same screen you can specify if the photo is public on Foursquare and Swarm or if it is something just for Swarm friends only.
Making changes to the application in the settings
If you don’t like those sound effects you can turn them off. Decide if you want to have notifications and that can be either when contacts are nearby or always be notified. Set the notification to mute if you never want to hear beeps on your phone when a particular person checked in. There are privacy settings which are worth looking at. I let my friends see my email address, but I don’t let them see my phone number. There are enough settings within this section to let you have the privacy you desire. The Swarm application is a responsible well set up application.
Using Swarm with third-party applications
Post to Swarm from third-party applications such as Momento, Storify, IFTTT, Day One, Klout and others. You can de-authorise any of these services if you wish from within the settings, just click on the disconnect button. The two main third-party applications are Facebook and Twitter and again it is possible to disconnect if you wish.
The Good and Geeky verdict on Swarm
This is a fun and useful application I like using. It’s a good one to have on your mobile devices as it can save you time. You don’t have to take part in the games or seek out the public office of being mayor of a place. Set it up so that you are as private or as public as you wish to be.
For all of us good and geeky people we like the idea that we can live smarter by making full use of technology. You’ve got the excellent Philips Hue light bulbs which you can connect to Wi-Fi and control from your Siri enabled devices. There are the smart thermostats such as the Nest and the one from Ecobee and these learn your behaviour in the house and adjust your heating to save you money. We also have the door and window sensors, plus the motion detectors. Combine a few of these things and we get a way to create home automations. Use these HomeKit devices together to create a smart home, but what about legacy home appliances such as televisions and electric radiators? For this we have the Elgato Eve HomeKit switch and power automation accessories. I got a couple of these for the purpose of automatically switching appliances off when I go to bed. I often forgot and so was wasting power during the night time when I was in bed. So I put one in the socket which gives power to the television and the speakers connected to it. The other Eve Energy Switch and power meter I have plugged into the wall for the electric radiator I use to keep me warm in the office.
Eve Energy switch and power meter does more than switch things on and off
I was pleasantly surprised to find that the Eve Energy switch and power meter also tracks the amount of power being used by the devices connected through it. It’s interesting to see the energy consumption of devices within the house. This shows up in graphs with the kilowatt-hours used on either an hourly, daily, weekly or monthly chart. It’s quite eye-opening to see how much power is being used within the house. The Elgato Eve application will give you a projected cost based upon the usage of the last minute, day or week. The more you use the Eve Energy HomeKit automation accessory, the more information and insight you’ll have. As well as improving your comfort you’ll be making your home smarter. Have a look on your electricity bill to see how much it costs per kilowatt-hour to put into the settings of the app. In the menu bar at the bottom of the application choose Types. In the left-hand panel you choose to view the present consumption of electricity through the device. You can see the projected cost for the year. The longer you’re using the Eve Energy Switch the more accurate it will be with its figures. Get an Elgato Eve Energy Switch and Power Meter.
Controlling your home using your voice or from within an application
The first benefit I noticed was being able to set up automations to control my electrical equipment. I can now say “Good Night” to Siri and she will turn off any of the lights that are still on. Siri will also turn off the heater and the television with the Eve Energy switch and power meter. One quick and easy command with my voice and the job is done. If you want to you can also access these home automation commands from your Apple watch or your iOS devices through the applications available. So you might add a complication to your watch face on the Apple Watch to get quick access to turning things on or off. On your iPhone or iPad you pull up the control centres from the bottom of the screen. This will initially bring up the first panel which gives you access to your Bluetooth, aeroplane setting, brightness setting and so on. Slide it across to the left and the next panel is for your music. Finally you get to a panel which allows you to control HomeKit accessories and scenes. If the last panel you used was the HomeKit panel then you’ll see that first of all. On my iPad or iPhone I can quickly see the status for any of the sensors, doors or windows which are either open or closed or lights status. Switch to scenes to control the house such as the scene I use to turn the light off in the kitchen when there’s nobody there. There’s also the automation when I arrive back home which will turn on a couple of lights to welcome me to the house. I have that one set to operate on a geo-fence location. My HomeKit automation is responding to my iPhone arriving home more than it is responding to me personally. It’s cool to have the Eve Energy Switch And Power Meter so with an automation I can turn everything off when I leave the house. There’s no point having heating in the office while I’m not there.
How does it all work?
In the first place it’s easy to get started with an easy setup. The Eve Energy switch and power meter connects to your iOS devices using Bluetooth LE (Low Energy). My experience with this so far tells me that it’s great not having to have a hub or mess about with complicated Wi-Fi settings. The Elgato Eve HomeKit accessories are connecting up better using Bluetooth than the way things work out by using Wi-Fi in house.
Security considerations of a HomeKit enabled home
When you set up your Eve Energy HomeKit device you use the code which came with it to securely pair to your iOS devices. There is end-to-end encryption and authentication because you don’t want someone outside of the house coming on and switching things on or off without your permission.
Which app to use to control your HomeKit accessories and scenes
There is an application to go with the Elgato Eve products or use the Apple Home App. You have a view which will show you at a glance everything is going on in your connected home. You can delve into the devices to get more information with graphs and lists of when doors and windows were opened or closed. You can go in there and check if you are not sure whether you turned something off or not. It’s not a bad application and has loads of fine detail about your Elgato Eve accessories. You can check on scenes, timers and rules. It didn’t take me too long to work out a rule which turns the kitchen light off based upon a motion trigger. If there’s nobody in the room and there is no movement the motion trigger will show clear and therefore the light will turn off. This is combined with another rule which will turn the light on after sunset if there is motion within the room. I left the motion sensitivity at medium and set the timer to 3 minutes.
Setting up rules, scenes and timers
Go to the scenes tab in the Elgato Eve application and you can work with the scenes, timers and rules. You use the scenes to group together accessories to be activated at one time. You can then go to the timers and add the scenes to a timer. When you first start doing this it will take some working out so you get it all working together as you want it to. It’s probably better to keep it simple to start with before you start getting tricky with the triggers, conditions and scenes. Look out for a video I’ll make soon to add to this article show you how to set up an Elgato Eve automation. I will but more of the Eve Energy switch and power meter devices to add to my home automation over the next six months. I’m loving being Good and Geeky and using home automation combined with home security.
Overall I can say I’m enjoying living with Apple HomeKit security. The installation of the HomeKit automation came about because I needed to set up some home security. A nearby house was broken into recently despite there being a policeman living just a couple of doors away. I’d been thinking about either buying a full security system, the same as used by my neighbour. Another possibility was to use a home-brewed system based upon electronics such as the Raspberry Pi. That would be the ultimate good and geeky system, but it was taking too long to set up. When following instructions on a website to install something like the MQTT server I would get so far through the instructions and part of it would not work as expected. The documentation in the instructions would usually omit any information about what to do if things didn’t go to plan. It’s far too easy to hit a roadblock like this and it takes time to work your way around and move forward. So with a time deadline approaching something had to be done. Naturally my preference for a system would be something which would work well with my Apple hardware and software. HomeKit was announced a couple of years ago and not much happened for sometime. The manufacturers didn’t come up with the HomeKit accessories and Apple didn’t have an application which would control everything. Devices started to appear eventually, but it’s only been since the Apple Home application came on the scene when things have started to move. It seems the industry needed Apple to make some sort of commitment to HomeKit. So I jumped in with two feet and bought a few Elgato Eve door and window sensors, and an Elgato Eve motion detector. I’ve been delighted with how easy it is to install Apple HomeKit security and set it up.
Getting notifications from my HomeKit enabled house
It’s all well and good to have a number of Apple HomeKit security sensors around the house, but these sensors have to do something. It’s not a lot of use if the sensor is triggered and it doesn’t tell anybody. It has been possible for the sensors to trigger events such as turning on Wi-Fi enabled lights such as the Philips Hue bulbs. All that would do would to make things easier so the burglar would be able to see what he was doing. Fortunately in the iOS update to version 10.2 notifications are being allowed from HomeKit accessories. I didn’t want to go to a beta version of iOS after the last time I did so it messed up my iOS device. However, I decided to give it a go with iOS 10.2 because the beta version was at number four and it would be much more stable than going with a beta version 1. So far I haven’t regretted my decision to give it a try. Notifications are coming through from my Elgato Eve Motion Detector. I was expecting to have notifications from the door and window sensors, but so far they’ve been quiet. I’m hoping that this will be remedied in the final version of iOS 10.2 when it’s finally released. Having a notification from the motion detector is going to be enough for the moment and this is how it is going to work.
HomeKit accessories for Apple HomeKit security – In operation
If somebody enters the house then they are definitely going to end up in the living room. Burglars will go to where they think the money is. The motion detector will trigger and immediately send a message to my iPad. When I see this message I can then check the Apple Home application to see if anything has happened with the door and window sensors. I’ll be able to see if the protected doors and windows are either open or closed. I’ll also be able to check the cameras and start taking pictures if necessary. If somebody who is not supposed to be in the house is there, I can then ring up the local police. I can still ring up the police if the camera is not working because it’s been disabled. The camera isn’t hidden in the living room so somebody could disable it. Hopefully I will have been quick enough to take pictures before it was disabled. I’ll be able to send pictures to the police to help them identify these burglars.
A Graph showing times door opened
If there is anything that doesn’t seem quite right with the notifications I’m getting from the Apple HomeKit security I can contact the authorities. If thieves have got into the house and closed the door behind them I’ll still be able to know if the door has been opened. I can do this from the Elgato Eve application which gives me logs of door openings and closings. It’s a silent alarm so thieves won’t necessarily know sensors have been triggered. They won’t be aware that the police are going to be arriving very soon. To test it all I suppose I could try and break into my own house, but that’s probably would mean damaging something. Otherwise the only way of testing is if thieves really do try and get in and I get to see how well the security works. I think I’m pretty well covered and at least having a policeman living right next door should make a difference. Professional thieves would probably be aware of a policeman living in the street. Opportunist and nonprofessional thieves I would expect to be sufficiently deterred by the measures I’ve put in place. Looking good with the Apple HomeKit security and I have automation in the home too.
See all the times the Sensor checked – Apple HomeKit security
I bought a set of five Elgato Eve door/window sensors from the Apple Store to set up homekit accessories for home security on my house. They arrived late yesterday afternoon and I couldn’ t wait to get started with them. It was a simple job to set them up. The first job was to insert the battery and open up the Eve application on my iPhone. You open up settings in the app and tap on ‘Add Accessory to (Name of Home)’. I have my home named as Winterfell. The next screen will do some searching and find any new accessories.
There is a code printed on each of the accessories and the application scans this code as part of the setup procedure. In the instructions it recommends you keep the codes safe somewhere. These sorts of things I would normally keep in 1Password, but this time I kept it in the Notes application. I added the name of the place where it was fitted, typed in the code and also took a photo. If I kept just the bits of paper I would surely lose them. Things to remember when you set up homekit accessories.
What’s in a Name?
Have the accessory near to your phone to add it to your system. It’s a good idea to change the name of the accessory to something meaningful. So instead of having the accessory named as Eve Door 6A16 it could be called ‘Front Door’ or ‘Office Window’. This will help it to make more sense when you’re seeing these devices/accessories in the Apple Home App. Has to be a name that Siri will understand and is easy for you to remember. It’s all very simple and works well together. Information you add in third party applications like Elgato Eve or the Philips Hue applications will come across into the Home application. The funny thing is, you can see the Philips Hue lightbulbs in the Elgato Eve application. I suppose this is handy when you’re in one application doing something with one set of your home kit devices. You can do something with an accessory from another manufacturer while in the same place. No need to swap applications either to the application from the manufacture connected to the device or to the Apple Home app. The Apple Home App is the one with the best looking and most intuitive interface. It’s easy to set up homekit accessories.
I have it set my system so I say “Goodnight” to Siri and she turns the lights off. She also switches off the Television and the office heater with the same command.
Fixing the Elgato Eve sensors to the doors and windows – Set up homekit accessories
I was a little worried about how well the two parts of the sensor needed to line up. The thickness of the door meant that the little magnet wasn’t exactly level with the sensor part with the battery in it. So I first did some testing with the Eve accessory not stuck in it’s final position. After I’d determined it was going to work okay and I’d got the parts of the sensor positioned well, I removed the strip and stuck them on. I did a little bit more testing – Opening and closing the door or window a couple of times. When there is any sort of movement a little red light shows on the Elgato Eve door/window accessory. This happens whether you’re closing the two parts together or moving them apart. I had the iPhone in a position where I could see it and make sure it was showing open or closed correctly. I was checking this in either the Eve application or in the Apple Home application. One or the other, it didn’t really matter! The Apple Home application is prettier to look at.
Pairing a Elgato Eve Door Sensor
The nitty-gritty of using a home kit set up
So now I have seven accessories added to my home kit automation and security setup. It all started off with security being the primary requirement. I am enjoying the home automation part of the experience too. I have five door and window sensors and I have another three coming. I also have two Philips hue light bulbs. I’d like to order some more of these, but I have to find a way of making sure they are going to get fully used. The problem with the lightbulbs is that is too easy to switch the light off using the analogue wall plate light switch. When that’s been done you can’t control it using your phone or Apple watch applications. If it isn’t me who forgets about using Siri or an application to switch the light off or on, then it will be my wife. You get to see in the application that the device isn’t in responding. So you have to go to the wall switch and switch it back on again. It may be the case I’ll have to use freestanding lamps plugged into sockets in order to get the best used out of the lighting home automation. I might have to glue the switches in the on position.
I’m using the Apple TV as my home automation hub for my set up homekit accessories. This means I can control controllable Homekit devices even when I’m not at home. I could be any number of kilometres away from the house and switch on the lights. Automation is more useful if it’s just happening and gets out of the way. So I’ve set up in the Home application and automation where the lights will turn on when I arrive home. I’ve actually set up two ways for this to happen. One is a geolocation-based automation and the house knows when my iPhone and I arrive home. The other one is set to turn the lights on when the front door is opened and the Elgato Eve door/window sensor is the trigger.
I have added my wife to the system by sending an invitation from Home Kit. My wife should also be able to set up a geolocation trigger for the lights to come on as she arrives home. I’ll probably have to set it up for her. It’s not difficult to do it’s she just won’t think about it or get around to it. If I’m having visitors staying at the house then I can also add them to the system while they are visiting. When my mum comes to visit next time I’m sure she will be quite amused by HomeKit automation.
Information collected and viewable in the HomeKit system
In the Apple Home application on the homepage you have your favourite scenes and favourite accessories. You can swap to the Rooms tab, from there you can see what you have in terms of devices room by room. The third tab is for automation and this is where you set up things to happen. You only have one thing as a trigger which could be a time of day, when your location changes or is controlled by an accessory. It’s a little too simple in some ways. If I set up an automation for the lights to turn off when I leave, that should only take place if it will leave the house empty. If my wife is still in the house and doing something she could be a little bit miffed if the lights suddenly go out on her. If the automation is based upon the time of day you can use a specific time of day or use either sunrise or sunset. Make it repeat on whichever day of the week you want it. Then you decide which scenes or accessories you want to connect to the trigger. Again it seems quite simple – I could have the good night scene which turns all the lights off at a specific time. That’s not going to be too useful if I’m staying up late for something like watching a late film on the television. To do a really good job of this it would be handy if you could have arguments in the automation which would look at other things rather than one simple trigger. Think about what you want before you set up homekit accessories in your house.
If I press and hold down on the tile within the Home application for the front door sensor I get taken to another screen with more information. This is basic information such as whether the sensor is open or closed, the location and the type of sensor. There is a switch to include it in favourites and I can have a look at the status and notifications. There’s not much in there, basically there’s just one switch which will put it in to the overview items listed at the top of the Home tab. To get more information about the accessory you need to open the manufacturers application. Going to the Elgato Eve application there’s information like how many times the door or window was opened. You can then look further into that to get more information and see the times and dates of when the sensor was triggered. There is a timeline view to scroll through to see the data. When a door or window was open or closed. You’ll see how long it was opened for.
Use Cases for Home Automation
- Making sure things like heaters get turned off and don’t waste energy.
- Energy not wasted by the vampire type devices which suck power even switched off.
- Being able to walk into the house and have some lights come on to welcome you home.
- Scenes set up to have a number of devices be set in a specific way – Get the lighting right for home theatre night.
- Home security – Automation of lights when you are not at home to fool the casual thief.
- Motion detectors to sense when someone is at the house. Switch on cameras to see who it is.
- The cameras can record stills and video to help catch thieves.
- Door Window sensors to let you know if someone is getting in to the house.
- Have lights and other stuff turn off when you leave the house.
- Save yourself having to get out of bed when you can’t remember if you closed a door or there’s a light left on and you want it off.
- You left in a hurry and can’t remember if you left something open. Look at the app and see.
- Coming back home from a vacation, at the airport switch on the house heating so It’s warm for your arrival.
- Have the heating set the temperatures based on what the system has learned about your behaviour.
- When ‘Game of Thrones’ is on – Make the room dark and have the accent lights go blood red.
- If someone presses the doorbell you get notified on your phone. You speak to whoever it is even if you are away.
- When you get up in the middle of the night you can have the lights turn on to a low brightness. Maybe set them red so your eyes don’t get blasted with white light.
One of the reasons I got myself a Raspberry Pi is because I wanted to set up a Raspberry Pi home security camera. I’ve had the Raspberry Pi for some time now and the first project I did was to create a home-made Amazon Eco. That little project worked out very nice and I got it all working as it was supposed to. Not quite as good as having an actual Amazon Echo because it wasn’t permissible to have it in always listening mode. In any case it was fun to set the thing up. I still wonder if an Amazon Echo would be good to have in the home when I have so many options to call up Siri to do things for me. The same goes for the Google Home device. So now that is out of the way and I’m getting set up with some Elgato Eve Apple Home Kit devices. I thought I’d also get back onto the Raspberry Pi home security camera.
Taking it a few baby steps at a time
The first steps I took was to get the camera just so that it was working. This proved to be remarkably easy. While the Raspberry Pi is turned off you loosen up the connection for the camera, push in the connection strip from the camera into the connector. You only have to push the little connector thing back in place and the job is done. The next stage of the process is to set up some Python scripts and these are very easy to find on the Raspberry Pi website. The first time I tried it the camera became operational but I couldn’t turn it off. The image was taking up the whole of the screen and I couldn’t get to the Python shell to put a stop to it. I had to resort to pulling the power out because I couldn’t find any key combinations to do what I wanted. When I went back in to have a look at the Python script file I saw I’d made a couple of typing errors. Once I had the sorted out I was able to have the camera on for the number of seconds set up in the file and then for it to turn itself off again.
The next step with the camera
Just getting the camera to run and display on-screen is one thing but is necessary to capture pictures. I added a few lines of code to the original Python script and once again we were in business. Taking it a stage further I changed the script code again and made it so that it would take five pictures at five second intervals and save them to the desktop. The next thing will be to work out how to have those pictures uploaded to a server somewhere, so they can be viewed from wherever. That stage of coding I still need to discover and put into action.
Shooting video with the Raspberry Pi camera
While it’s good to have images of nefarious persons caught by your Raspberry Pi home security camera it could be even better to have video. Getting the Raspberry Pi home security camera to record video was just as easy as setting up to do the still images. I just had to add some code into the Python script and we were in business.
Detecting motion for a Raspberry Pi home security camera
I was successful in getting the Raspberry Pi to detect motion using the motion detector I bought. I followed instructions on the Raspberry Pi website for a project and it went fairly well. There were just three wires to connect the PIR motion detector sensor to the Raspberry Pi home security camera. It was a good job I followed the instructions to check it was wired up correctly. The order of the pins had changed to how they were in the website. By looking at the markings on the printed circuit board I was able to get it done correctly. I ran into a small roadblock in that the DVD with the instructions showed up as empty on my Mac. This was sorted out with a quick email to the maker of the PIR motion detector. I received an email from him this morning with the PDF containing the necessary information. There are two potentiometers on the sensor to adjust the sensitivity and timing and I needed help to set those up. The motion detecting is working, I’ve been able to have the camera start working as soon as the motion sensor is activated. I’ve had it take photos and record videos which were saved onto the SD card. I have been trying to get the email working and use the scripts provided so that images taken are sent by email to me. I still haven’t got that working and to be honest I’m not quite sure what to do next. I’ll have to do some googling to find out what my next step will be.
Connecting to the Raspberry Pi from the Mac and from my iPad
I’m trying to set up an SSH connection to the Raspberry Pi so that I can run it headless. I managed to do this before, but for some reason I’m having difficulties this time. Have to admit there’s been some serious head scratching taking place. I also have to put my hand up to say that more than once I wondered if it might be a better idea just to buy an Internet camera. The only thing is, I want to have one which works with Home Kit. There doesn’t seem to be any home kit cameras available just yet. Including the Raspberry Pi solution. The plan is when I get a message in from the security devices set up on the doors/window sensors and the motion sensor is I’ll be able to fire up some sort of Internet connected camera to have a look at what’s going on. I’ll have to be a little patient on the camera angle – Home Kit here I come
The Ring Doorbell – My Ding-a-Ling
There is a Raspberry Pi home security camera solution for this requirement, but off the shelf possibilities too. The Ring Doorbell doesn’t yet work with Home Kit, but it is promised for later on this year. The idea is when somebody rings your doorbell you can see who it is on your iPhone. You also can speak to the person and whoever it is will not know you’re not at home. They might get a little bit miffed if you don’t come open the door, but apart from that it seems a good solution. If I got one of these I’m not sure where I’d put it. I could either put it on the gate where there is a wired intercom already set up. We never have used it though. The other place I could put it, it is on the door of the house, but then if the people don’t go past the gate they won’t to be able to be caught by the Ring Doorbell system either. I like the idea of having a camera which would take photos of people at the gate. I live on a very quiet road and is not likely to be set off very often. I wouldn’t get any false positives though. Maybe it’s going to be the Raspberry Pi Home Security Camera after all.
It’s all coming together quite nicely
I had an order in for the door and window sensors with Amazon. I saw this morning they still hadn’t been sent from the warehouse. So I canceled that order and put the order in with Apple. I’ll have the door and window sensors tomorrow. Can’t wait to get started connecting the Home Kit devices to the Apple TV through the app. May need to set these things up first using the application from Elgato Eve on the iPhone before the Home application on the Apple TV will see them. I can’t do anything with the Home application from Apple on the Apple TV until I have at least one Home Kit device in the house. The Philips Hue light bulbs should also be arriving tomorrow. There’s a lighting device which is a non-Internet of things type of device arriving tomorrow also. This is a motion sensing LED light which I’m going to fit inside the garage. This will just give me a simple automatic light which will turn on when I open the garage door. It has to be said that once you get started with home automation it does get kind of addictive. The question is going to be will my wife want to do the tech thing with the lights or will she still hit the light switches on the wall. The home automation is a bonus to the initial goal of setting up the home security. Going to need iOS 10.2 to make an appearance soon too. Perhaps I’ll get the beta version if I need to.
There was a break-in at one of the neighbours houses nearby recently. So we’ve decided that it’s going to be a good idea to have some home security. My neighbour has an alarm and has been pretty happy with it and my first instinct was to get the same. After waiting two days for some response back from the company selling the alarm on a couple of questions I’m looking at other options. I particularly want to have an security system that will send me notifications to my iOS devices with an app. I have my iPhone with me at all times so that sort of notification makes sense. One of the questions for the alarm company was, is there an application that connects to the alarm system. I tried following the link from their website and it didn’t work. Not a great advert for the system they’re selling. Their home security works by having a SIM card installed and it informs you with a text message. It also does the setup of the alarm using text messages (SMS). The guy I spoke to wasn’t too sure if the Spanish SIM cards would work and didn’t really want to say yes or no. My neighbour confirms that it is possible so I’m sure I could get something to work as well. Then again, I think it would be better if I have a system without having to use a SIM card. That all got me thinking about Apple Home Kit enabled devices for house protection.
Using Apple Home Kit Gives More Options
There is a convergence between home security and home automation. The alarm system I was looking at basically had a keypad system to put on the wall to activate and deactivate the alarm. Apart from that all it had was a couple of motion detectors and door / window sensors. There was a couple of RFID key ring switches allowing you to switch on and off the alarm. Going with something like the Elgato Eve system you can buy the door / window sensors and also the motion sensors separately as you need them. You don’t really need to have a box on the wall where you have to type in numbers to activate or deactivate the alarm. The system will know when you are at home because you have your iPhone with you which it senses using Bluetooth and may be by connection to the Wi-Fi. It would be possible to run an alarm system like this and not really need anything controller on the wall. After some research reading about Home Kit it seems it’s a good idea to use the generation four of the Apple TV as your home kit base. With this you get the extra facilities of automation with your alarm system. So I’ve ordered the new Apple TV. Another benefit of this purchase is that will free up the Apple TV I have already have for other uses. I can put that into another room and take advantage of another television setup. Or I could let my wife use the Apple TV Gen 3 in her work, at school. Then she’d be able to connect up with the iPad in the school to do Keynote presentations. I’d like to see that happen because she’s not really getting has much use out of the iPad as she could do.
Other advantages of setting up home security using Apple Home Kit
The biggest advantage is going to be extend its capability. As time goes by and more products become available and I have more money available then I can add to the system. I’ll be able to add a smart thermostat and also some smart lighting. I was highly tempted to add Philips hue lighting to the order I put in with Amazon to buy the motion sensor and the door and window sensors. It was possible to buy the door sensors from the Apple Store at the same time as the new Apple TV, but they were a few pence cheaper from Amazon. Now I have the orders in there is a possibility I will have the components arrive tomorrow. It’s going to take very little time to get the setup. The wireless door sensors seem expensive at €40 each, but then you do have the wireless within the device. I even saw a set of four for under a tenner. Got to have some that are Apple Home Kit compatible though to get proper notifications though an app. Have to spend the money. Ordered some of the Elgato Eve sensors for the Apple Home applications. It’s a very simple job to pair these things up.
Cameras needed to add to the Home Kit security system
I haven’t found any cameras which are compatible with Home Kit as yet. I have seen some manufacturers announcements to say that they will have Home Kit compatible cameras towards the end of the year. I’ll be able to add them to the Apple Home Kit security system and set up something like an automation to take a picture and send it to me if a door opens or closes. Before Home Kit cameras are available I could have a notification to tell me to look at video from a camera in the office or living room if it senses motion. I can set up the Raspberry Pi camera. When I get a notification to tell me that something has happened within the house I can switch on the camera remotely and see what’s going on if I’m away from home.
How does the Apple TV (Generation Four) fit in?
This is something I’ve been expecting for quite some time. The Apple TV is a perfect device to have as a hub for a home automation system. I’m pleased to see that Apple have set up Home Kit so that with the Apple TV you can organise automation. This automation is based upon things happening and the system being able to tell other devices to do stuff. The things that can be done will depend upon how you set up your system. You have the overall view of everything, then you have rooms and scenes. A scene would be something like ‘Bedtime’ and all you’d have to do is to give the Siri command for all of the lights to be turned off, heating to be set to a lower level and for the locks to activate all of the doors. This would also put it into a ready state for night-time protection. If any burglars decided to open up any of the doors or windows during the night then you could set it so that lights would come on and pictures were taken. It would be handy if you can also program something in so that your iPhone would have the application for the local police open and ready for you to use.
For the Apple TV (4th gen) to remotely control your home kit accessories from your iOS device it has to be set up in your home and powered on. To get this to work you also have to have two factor authentication setup. Your iCloud keychain should also be turned on. After you signed into your iCloud account with the same Apple ID as your iOS device the Apple TV automatically sets itself up as a home hub. Once this is set up you can get home kit to automatically turn off all lights when you leave your house. You might want to have a scene automatically run at a certain time or location. There are lots of possibilities with your home hub for automating your accessories and scenes to automatically turn on accessories and perform actions. It would be nice to arrive home and find lights have been turned on to welcome you into the house. If you have locks connected to the system it’s possible to allow remote access for specified persons. Maybe that will be a purchase in the future – One of those HomeKit door locks from August or Schlage. It looks like Apple Home Kit is coming of age at last.