Google have an offer on at the moment. A Home Mini device for your home. One of these things that just sits in the room, waiting to do something until you speak some command to it.. It was £25, I like tech, so I thought, why not?
It arrived yesterday and was quite
painless to set up. On its own, however, it'll tell me what time it is
or what the weather is like - things I can do myself anyway. More
interesting, it can control things like lights, with the necessary
hardware. Okay, I can control the lights myself too just by walking over
to the switch, but I was thinking particularly about when I have to get
up at night, in the dark, and have to navigate to the light switch
before I do anything. I rely a lot on my sight these days (patchy though
it is) and am pretty wobbly (more wobbly!) in the dark.
I started off knowing nothing, and contacted one of these Internet
light shops just to ask "what would I need to buy in order to get
something going that I could control with my voice?" The answer came
back that it would cost £200. In benefits speak, two weeks salary. To
buy something to replace something which already works. So I immediately
said "no, thanks".
I noticed though that each of this
guys quotes included another bit of hardware, a hub. But didn't I have
that already? the Home Mini?
There then followed a few
hours of trying to understand the technology. Web sites were almost
universally poor - I found several articles entitled "why you need a
hub". Great, exactly what I was looking for. But what was the one
question they didn't answer?
Anyway, I found a few blogs
on the subject, and they eventually led me to the discovery that, yes,
some of these products do require a separate hub, a special switch etc.
(probably the better ones), but that others don't. Some solutions got by
with existing infrastructure, and a "smart" light bulb. Most of these,
though, still required a hub, but a few didn't. Those that didn't seemed
to specifically say that they were Wi-fi, plus I discovered that these hubs seemed to plug right into your network. So, it would seem that Home Mini just speaks to google.com, via your home's Wi-fi, and, from there, Google speaks out to the hub (wi-fi again) and lastly the hub speaks to the bulb, which can be any wireless technology you like. It was starting to make sense - bulbs which specifically talked in Wi-fi would have no need for this box in between, they could talk directly to Google. Alongside of this, prices came tumbling down. From £200 to £10!
Don't get me wrong, I can see the value in having a layer of abstraction in there to make the bulb independent of the internet. I spent my life building abstractions for clients, to have many components which each did one thing. But when you're on a budget... Plus, if the internet goes down, most likely we have a power cut, so everything is buggered anyway.
feeling pleased with myself I have ordered my £10 light bulb from eBay.
But it set me thinking, what else can I do with this thing?
of the other obvious things is that these things can play music. Great,
but these streaming services typically cost £10/month. Especially when I
already own 90% of the music I will listen to, why would I even want to
pay a penny? I mean, I tend not to buy music any more, but over the
years I must've accumulated something approaching 200 GB of music! Especially when my format of choice is FLAC, the highest-quality format, and therefore the biggest size.
Some of these services do offer free versions, however. They'll get you started, but they're restricted. However, a bit of Googling told me that I can create a playlist within Google Play Music, and that I can upload some of my existing tracks to it. Presumably there'll be space issues if I load too much. But from there, I can instruct the Home Mini to play these playlists.
It's still restricted, pretty much the only options I have are stop, go
and skip, but at least my music, just my music, and free. It does beg
the question of why I need to pay extra (i.e. on top of the box itself)
in order to listen, without restriction, to music I already own a
license for, but there we go.
BEFORE YOU START: Please note that although I currently volunteer for both the Stroke Association and Age UK, the views expressed in this blog are strictly my own. I am not a spokesperson for either (or, indeed, for any) organisation, and I accept complete responsibility for the views expressed herein. As indicated by the domain name, I am based in the UK and the blog therefore has a UK bias - I've tried to use the Glossary to explain any ambiguous terms, but if you think there is anything I've missed, please message me.