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.

Thursday, 11 July 2019


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.

So 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.

So 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?

One 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.


  1. Even more pleased right now, as the £10 light bulb has been installed and works. When the Mini arrived, I had to download an app on my phone, Google Home, in order to set it up. When the light bulb arrived, I needed to download another app, Smart Life, in order to set *that* up. Then I had to go back into Google Home, and authorise it to use Smart Life, and all of a sudden we had lift-off.

  2. I have just ordered some more gadgets which claim to work with this Smart Life app, so fingers crossed.