Color Me Unimpressed

The plan for the next Pi is to run a home automation hub on yet another network (HomeLink623, of course). As a runup to that, I thought I’d start simple with some light bulbs.

I bought a Hue starter kit, which has two white light bulbs and their hub. Thinking I was expanding on that hub, I accidentally bought two colored bulbs of another brand, Merkury. I purposefully bought a colored bulb of yet a third brand, Sylvania.

They all require an app, so I have three apps installed on my phone.

The Merkury bulbs run under Geeni, which is rather neat but requires an account on some mysterious cloud server and has no Windows version. That’s not entirely true. There seems to be one written by a Nigerian Prince: “We share two working techniques with you which help to get more thoughts and the interaction of establishment. Before we start how we can introduce this application on our pc, we should talk about what is this application?” I would prefer it be written in clean Cyrillic or German than mangled English. I don’t trust that. Of course, the Geeni app cannot see the Phillips or Sylvania bulbs.

The Merkury bulbs worked fine with both them and my phone connected to the Starlink network. When I split that network, the bulbs must connect to the 2.4GHz network and they must be on the same network as the phone, which means I cannot use the 5GHz network with my phone. Clearly the Starlink router has a much better chipset. On the other hand, the phone seems perfectly happy on the LegacyLink623 network, so whatever. The app implies that Bluetooth is involved somewhere/somehow, but it’s not clear what’s going on, which is why the home automation network is getting its own subnet and Pi system – so I can see what’s going on.

The Phillips Hue bulbs run under a Hue app, which does have a Windows equivalent. I haven’t installed it, yet. The phone app cannot see the Merkury or Sylvania bulbs. The app does work – the bulbs dim and turn on and off. The app does not require an account anywhere. The setup process implies that it is siphoning mad amounts of data from you and selling your information everywhere, but it doesn’t actually seem to do that. This is rather the opposite of the Geeni app, which asks you for all sorts of information (e.g. to geolocate your house) and never says a word about selling your data or privacy.

The Phillips hub requires a wired connection to the router. This is actually the reason behind all the network rejiggering of the past few days. All that effort to dim a light bulb with my phone. I’m less than impressed, but this is a learning experience. I’m starting with light bulbs because they are cheap and no one sees you naked when they hack them (I don’t think).

The Sylvania bulb is Bluetooth and does not pair reliably. When it does pair, the controls do not work reliably. It has an interesting GUI widget with white in the center of a diamond and colors spreading out to the corners. I like the Geeni widget that’s a rainbow arch; it’s easier to swipe on the arc than maneuver around the diamond. I would much prefer a functional connection to an improved widget, though.

Since everyone on the planet knows where I live, now, I shouldn’t say much about the state of the back door lock. Let’s go with “Hollywood would love it” and leave it at that. Adding a “smart” door lock is the next test device.

First, more reading about how all this stuff is supposed to interoperate. It all claims to work with Google, Alexa, and Apple Home, so there must be SOME way of tying all this together. I don’t get the business case for outsourcing the integration, though. There must be a common _something_. Or perhaps not and only the large players can afford the licensing and implementation costs of a zillion different interfaces – all hiding behind data-center consuming audio processing.

openHab, ioBroker (note that it admits to being machine translated from German), and Home Assistant seem promising, but all will wait for a new computer. It will probably start with VMs carved out of the gaming system and, after finding one I like, installing it on a dedicated Pi (so I can turn off the power sucking gaming system).

Oh, and tomorrow the WiFi Roomba is supposed to show up. I bet it comes with an app, too. It’s not totally frivolous; we left the old vacuum in Denver and we have more carpet in this small place than we had there. We have to clean it somehow.

Update: So, I tried to download the Hue app, which sent me to the Microsoft store, which will not let me install the app without signing in to Microsoft, first. Um. No. This is why I want Linux to be the main OS on the next computer. I’ll install whatever I want without you tracking me around the Internet, thank you very much.

Let’s see if the Phillips version will actually install… Well, it installed. It seems to have found the bridge – after beating down the Windows Firewall – but I seem to need to have an “area” defined, the lack of which has left the program in a strange hung state with a dialog box with no border or buttons on it covering up the program’s main window. The phone app can “Add lights” or “Add new Room or Zone”. No mention of “areas”. Ah. Under settings there are “Entertainment Areas”. This looks neat… Unfortunately, “You need color lights to create an Entertainment area.” Sigh. Closing the Windows program doesn’t close it. It’s one of those annoying “I’m going to keep running despite the fact that you pressed close, when there is a perfectly fine minimize button to use if you wanted to keep me running” applications. That is especially annoying when it does not work because the setup process failed.

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