Home automation/voice recognition a Google perspective

I remember growing up and being told that “talking to yourself, is the first sign of madness” and as I delve into the world of the Internet of Things (IoT) I wonder if this needs to be reworded to “Talking to inanimate, may cause madness”. Being a bit of a sucker when it comes to new tech, especially when it comes in at a reasonable price point, I recently purchased a Google Home speaker.

My first interaction with voice recognition was all the way back to the late 90’s/early 2000’s where my mobile phone came with the ability to call someone by me simply recording their name in my voice, pressing and holding the call button for several seconds and then saying their name.  This method however was very hit and miss and on the times where it did work you often ended up speaking to someone you didn’t want to. Since then though, the technology has moved on somewhat.

Flash forward 10 or so years and you find that voice made a bit of a comeback in the form of voice searching via the Google search engine. This was pretty good but still suffered with some of the issues which had always, and most likely will always, plague voice recognition, the inability to recognise accents and as such the resulting incorrect searches and results.

Building on this Google launched Google Now on mobile phones, this was a great step forward and gave you the ability not just to search the web with your voice but to also interact with features and software on your phone, allowing you to set alarms, send texts and emails, set calendar entries or even using Google Maps get directions working like a sat nav.

This brings us to the latest incarnation of Googles voice recognition, Google Assistant. Assistant in my experience is extremely intelligent when it get things right but infuriating when it doesn’t, I’ll come back to this. Where previously you could use a list of pre-set command Assistant was able to work with much more natural language, so no more “Set an alarm for 9am” now you could say “Set me an alarm for 9 in the morning”, while these are only small changes the impact they have on your interaction with Assistant is great.

So back to Google Home, or as I l tend to think about it, the source of my madness.

Google Home takes all the wonder and amazing features you have come to love in assistant and wraps them up nicely in a small speaker which you can place in any room in your home, it also gives you the ability to interact with smart devices throughout your home such as your lights, blinds, smart/wifi plugs, thermostat, sprinklers or Chromecasts.

On the surface of things this is great, OK I didn’t own any smart devices when I got my Home but owning a Pixel phone I had experienced, first hand, the power of the Google Assistant and figured if Home ran Assistant with all the smart things built in too then it was a no brainer. Unfortunately however Home was not, in my opinion, ready for consumers at the point it launched. In fact I think the launch of Google Home may have been rushed by around 3 – 6 months due to strength of competitor products such as the Amazon Echo.

I am constantly met with responses such as “I am sorry, I can’t help with that right now” or “I can’t add events to your calendar yet, or “I can’t set alarms yet”. Personally I think that as a baseline the device should support all of Googles own services or at least the key ones, email, calendar etc. Also I am finding that as with previous voice recognition it seems to suffer worse than Assistant on my phone with commands for the smart devices such as Phillips Hue, at times I have to tell it to turn my lights on 3 or 4 times and it has a lot of trouble changing the colour/brightness of the bulbs.

Having said this I would probably still recommend Home to anyone looking to get into Home automation and gaining the ability to control devices in their home with voice commands. I would warm that it is an expensive habit, and highly addictive but if you have the cash to spare and the inclination to make the shift to smarter things then it is definitely worth a look.

My first/third game

For a while now I have been flirting with trying my hand at programming, part of the reason is because as time passes it becomes more and more evident that automation is the future of testing, my chosen career, and a solid foundation in programming is really needed to understand how everything glues together. Recently I started a online course through Udemy thanks to a recommendation from a colleague, this wasn’t just a programming course though it was a learn to make computer games while learning how to program in C#.

In the past I have tried to learn JS with mixed success, PHP with complete and utter failure and Ruby which while I got the concepts I didn’t really do anything with it. Where this course differs is the practical application immediately putting to use what you have learnt and turning it into games! Those who know me well know I am a gamer and so the ability to write my own games is awesome.

Today I completed my first/third game, first own game built without following the tutorials in the videos third if you count the two I have built on the course itself.

You can try the game here, www.jimconnor.co.uk/games/tower/

Time

Today marks a bit of a landmark for me, it is my, official, 15th anniversary working for the same company. I say official as I actually started there earlier as a temp but officially didn’t start until December 1st 2001.

Talking with one of my younger colleagues, about how I am ancient and have been working at the company since he was 4, got me wondering about how long that actually was so I was “forced” to do some maths… OK not forced, I actually enjoy maths.

So first of a working year is around 261 days (thanks Google) 261 * 15 = 3915 days.

Over the 15 years I received around 434 days holiday, it’s probably a lot less than this but I don’t have the data for the old holiday scheme so that gives me 3915 – 434 = 3481 days or:

  • 24,367 hours
  • 1,462,020 minutes
  • 87,721,200 seconds

Over the years I have also done a bit of overtime, both paid and unpaid, and had some sick leave again I don’t have details of these so I am discounting them as even.

When I look at it 3,481 days doesn’t seem that much time, don’t get me wrong I know it’s a lot of time, but I still remember my first day 15 years ago,arriving for my first office job 2 hours early because I was so keen and over the years trying to maintain that same enthusiasm in each new role I got to experience. In the last 15 years I’ve had the honour of working with some great people and have survived working with others, and look forward to the next 15 years or my career especially my next milestone which I think will be in around 3 years when I will have worked for the same company for half my life!

October 2016 Loot Crate

It’s that time of the month again when loot crate delivers a box of awesome to me from the good old USA.

This month’s theme was Horror which is not really something that I would normally get behind however with one thing and another (I’ll rant about that later) I didn’t have time to cancel the crate for the month and to be honest with myself I probably wouldn’t have cancelled as a lot of the stuff can be quite cool regardless of the franchise it is representing.

Unfortunately it turns out my original thought of cancelling the crate this month would have been correct based on what was in the crate, don’t get me wrong the things in the crate were good quality and were they from franchises that I liked then I would have been happy however they were not.

This months crate had a Walking Dead T-Shirt which was actually pretty cool but I am a season behind so I didn’t really get the reference, There was a pair of Nightmare on Elm Street chop sticks which may actually get used as I don’t think I own any chop sticks. Also there was a flag for a sports team featured in Friday the 13th and finally there was a plush teddy of Leather Face from Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Overall I’d value the contents of the crate well above the £20 I paid however I just don’t think it was the right crate for me.

Now, as previously advertised, the rant.

Last month the good people at Loot Crate changed the company they shipped the packages with from Royal Mail to Yodel. This for me resulted in a degradation in service as the Yodel driver claimed to have attempted delivery on a day I was in work and I was home, he also claims that a card was put through the door, which it wasn’t, and sent me an email with a phone number to make contact, which they didn’t answer. Anyhow, long story short, the Yodel website tracking showed that they attempted 3 times and on the third attempt the package was rejected and returned to sender… Given I was in work and received no cards through the door I can only assume that the driver was at another address as I couldn’t possibly reject it if I was 10 miles away.

In a turn of good customer service though I contacted Loot Crate, explained the situation and they posted another crate out to me which arrive last week ago. This crate was much better however its contents are now scattered throughout my flat and I really can’t be arsed finding them all to photograph them.

*edit*
Just uploaded the pictures from the crate and remembered there was also a book on unfortunate super villains, this actually may be something I get some use out of as I do like my comic heroes and villains.

Chop sticks
Flag
Leather face
Book
T-shirt

10 pence coins everywhere

After months of throwing every 10p coin I received into a tin today the tin reached its capacity and it could take no more. It was time to see how much I had saved over what feels like an eternity.

So out came the tin opener and I hit a first world problem that I should have expected… the tin opener wouldnt open the tin! Here I am with a can full of money and no way in. Not being one to be so easily defeated I busted out the junior hacksaw and with a evil little chuckle I start cutting thinking to myself soon my precious soon. Then ping and the hacksaw blade snaps. Tin 2 Jim 0.

Not detered by the losses already received I decide time to take the man approach, Hit it till it works so screw driver and hammer in hand I set to beating it open. 5 minutes later and I have reached my gial and even feel a bit better about the whole situation given I got to smash something.

After much counting I found I had saved nearly £50, not to shabby, and as a slight bonus ghere was a rarish 1lcoin which is currently £4 on ebay!

Rare coin

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