Posts filed under Technology

Wink Hub - Review

It seems that home automation is the big thing this year.  Until not long ago home automation systems were expensive, required specialized knowledge to setup and install and not compatible with just about anything you'd want to use them with...

Behind the scenes standards to get devices talking together like ZWave, X10 and Zigbee started to take shape, and devices to take advantage of those standards are starting to become more common.  This year, Belkin and several other manufacturers have worked to bring home automation into the mainstream.

Quirky has rolled out it's system known as Wink, you've probably seen the commercials for the system featuring the couple with the robot butler.  Wink uses the Zwave standard which is supported by Nest, GE (which Quirky has a partnership with), Schlage, Kwickset, Lutron and several other companies.

We picked up the Wink hub and so far are using it to connect and control the Schlage keypad deadbolt.  The hub is a "simple" device, no buttons, switches, or even a display all it has is one multicolored indicator light.  To configure it, you download and install the Wink app on your iPhone or Android phone, and plug in the hub.  The app uses Bluetooth to configure the hub, pulling your WiFi settings from your phone and importing them to the hub, it took just a few seconds to get the hub online and on to our network.

 The Wink Hub

The Wink Hub

Once the hub is on the network the app will see it and allow you to add devices, The app provides the instructions and in some cases videos that show you how to connect your compatible device and in most cases the process should be pretty simple.  Connecting up our Schlage lock wasn't quite as easy.  The instructions provided by the app say that connecting should be simply a matter of extending the deadbolt and entering the programming code, which didn't actually work.  It took a look at the Schlage website to discover that the lock needed to be reset in order to prepare it to connect.  Once connected the lock worked as expected - swipe a button to lock, swipe again to unlock.

There are a few things I don't like...  Range appears to be an issue, while not indicated by Wink or the app - Schlage recommends the hub be within 6 feet of the lock when pairing, and I could only pair it when the hub was that close to the lock.  Once the hub was paired to the lock and connected it could be moved further away from the lock, however the further away from the lock you place the hub, the slower the lock response to a command.

In order to keep the interface as simple as possible, the app provides very little information.  There doesn't appear to be a way to determine if the hub is actually connected to a device or if it's out of range. This isn't much of a problem, except when you're trying to determine the best placement for the hub in your home.

Overall though, Quirky's Wink Hub looks like a promising device, and we have several more compatible devices on their way over the next few months.  I'm excited to see what we can do with it...

Posted on December 21, 2014 and filed under Technology.

Sony Makes a Mess

At this point it's hard not to be at least somewhat aware of the mess that has come out of the massive hack at Sony Pictures Entertainment.

So far the company has managed to become a four time looser out of this...

  1. They were hacked
  2. A staggeringly large amount of proprietary and confidential data was lost and leaked
  3. The loss of money spent in producing and publicizing a movie that at least for now won't be released.
  4. The ever worsening PR disaster that the company has experienced since news of the hack first broke.

But it's Sony's last move, the decision to cancel the opening and release of The Interview that will probably have the worst and most widespread implications...

First let's get it out of the way - when I first heard about The Interview, I thought it was going to be just another in a line of mindless "comedies" that would get a lot of publicity, but ultimately flop at the box office and quickly fade into obscurity.  12 months from now you probably would have been able to find it in the $9.99 bargain DVD bin collecting dust...  By hacking into Sony and making it an issue - the movie got more traction and buzz than it would have gotten if it had been ignored outright.

That being said, Sony and the various theater chains caving to the bullying of the hackers was the worst thing it could possibly do.  I get that the companies were faced with a terrible choice - ignore the warnings and risk an incident at a theater and get accused of not doing enough to protect theater goers and deal with that taint on the movie, or cave to the demands of the hackers - don't run the risk of an incident, and take the PR hit for caving....

When looking at this purely from a human perspective - pulling the movie is an easy choice, even when there's no evidence of a credible threat - better to not have blood on your hands...

The thing is - of course the North Koreans were going to get mad over The Interview...  In the UK they went so far as to send some goons over from the Nork Embassy (thank you El Reg for gifting the world with the term Nork...) to try and bully a hair salon owner to take down a poster criticizing young Kim's hairstyle...  By the way, the owner left the poster up, a London hair stylist apparently is bolder than a multi-billion dollar trans-national corporation...   Sony couldn't have been so stupid as to think that the disciples of the Kim family weren't going to try some level of bluster that would get the world's attention.

But the implications of this decision are immense.  Sony has just told the world "the US Government might not be bullied or swayed by hackers and their demands - but US Companies - they'll cave in...."  It wasn't highly publicized, but Sony wasn't the only major hack of a US Corporation this year.  Sands Casinos were also hacked this year in an attack traced back to Iranian activists acting in response to comments made their majority shareholder regarding Iran.  The scope of the attack on Sands was just as broad as the Sony attack, but the attack was focused on destruction not on theft and disclosure...

Odds are hackers are in other companies too - and thanks to Sony caving - odds are other companies are now going to get demands too...  Company releases a product that your group wants to scuttle - hack them and threaten to physically attack any store that sells their product...  Blackmail a company in order to change their position or not release a product... Try and elicit a payoff, or payoffs from a company you want to damage...  Because if these tactics worked on Sony - you can bet they're going to be used on other companies too...

One of the US's great strengths is it's economy, and Sony just handed the worlds cybercrimals and terrorists a few thousand ways to attack the US economy...  

Posted on December 19, 2014 and filed under Technology.