A refrigerator that sings

samsungFamilyHub

Unlike Talkie Toaster, the Samsung Family Hub Refrigerator is a real product and it has some interesting features.  The product page lists features such as:

  • Food Management (knowing what you have)
  • Family Connection
  • Entertainment
  • Apps

It’s not until the “More features to love” section that there is any mention that this contraption can keep food cold.  Perhaps that ability was considered obvious, but it’s interesting that the main purpose of the device is the last thing listed even though it does have some innovative cooling functionality such as FlexZone(TM) which lets you use the bottom right section as either a freezer or a fridge and a “Triple Cooling System” (apparently there are three separate evaporators to better maintain temperature and humidity).

I’d take the Family Hub Refrigerator if someone gave it to me, but I’m not going to rush out and buy one for $6,000.  I think most people could have equal smart-fridge-satisfaction by purchasing a similarly sized high-end fridge for thousands less and then slapping a Triby on the door.  Still, I think it’s worth looking at the “smart” features.

So the fridge doesn’t really sing, but it can stream music from Pandora or TuneIn.  From how frequently the Amazon Echo is used to play music during chore time, I concur that it’s nice to be able to easily play music in the kitchen.  However, this is a problem already solved in multiple ways and I’m not seeing the benefit of shoving that capacity into a refrigerator.  I certainly know of no relationship between music and food cooling.  I suppose it is possible that the size of the fridge could be used to improve sound quality (a big woofer in the bottom or using the full width to separate speakers for a better surround sound), but that doesn’t seem to be the case here.  Something I see useful in some situations in a first world problem sort of way is screen mirroring–it can mirror your TV so that when you run in from the other room to grab a snack you don’t miss what’s going on in your show.

The Family Hub includes a clock, calendar, photo display, and notes–all features that are on BakBoard and are nice, but the only benefit I see putting it on the fridge is that it provides screen real estate in a convenient location.  The screen can show weather information and some of the pictures suggest displaying the “word of the day” and “on this day in history” factoids.  There’s a “Family Bulletin Board” display and a “Morning Brief” as well.

What’s more interesting are the food related features integrated with the Family Hub. Since a refrigerator is for food, I think making a smarter refrigerator should improve that relationship with food.

Putting cameras inside and letting you view the contents without opening the door (or even being in the vicinity if using the cell phone app) is a good attempt to make refrigerator a better refrigerator.  My refrigerator is always more densely packed than the pristine Family Hub examples, so I’m not sure if it really is practical, but I would prefer it if my kids could look at a screen on the door instead of standing with the door open staring inside for minutes while trying to decide what to eat.

I won’t go into detail about the ability to search recipes or order groceries–I think those are fine and at least related to food, but not exciting.  The obvious missing piece is that the Family Hub doesn’t really know what’s in it, so it can’t suggest recipes using ingredients you have, nor can it automatically order something when you are almost out of it.  One video I saw mentions the ability to track the age of items in the fridge, but only if you always put the items back in the same spot–there aren’t any smarts to track item movement.

I think the main problem with the Samsung Family Hub is that it’s trying to be the hub of things instead of a thing in the Internet of Things.  I want smart solutions for things like food management, but a picture of the inside where I don’t see any ketchup only tells me there is no ketchup in the fridge and doesn’t tell me whether there is any in the pantry or garage.  The refrigerator is not the central hub of my home, it is merely one of many things in my home and any truly smart fridge will know its place–no matter how well it can sing.

A toaster that sings

I don’t want a toaster that sings.  I don’t want a toaster that makes polite conversation and suggests assorted bread products.  I don’t want a toaster that comes with a custom app.  I don’t want a toaster that plays games or gives a weather forecast.  I want a toaster that can toast bread.

The whole IoT (Internet of Things) concept is a nifty idea, but I think sometimes it’s taken the wrong way.  It is cheap and easy to add features and so everything is being packed with features that may or may not be useful or necessary just so the device can be labeled “smart”.  It’s easy to pick on toasters (apparently many people do)–it’s something that’s been ubiquitous in kitchens for decades and has essentially one purpose; adding “smart” features doesn’t help it accomplish its purpose better and in some cases complicates and hinders.

What’s a Triby?

tribblesWhen I saw the word “Triby”, my mind jumped to a classic Star Trek episode and I imaged Captain Kirk and a bunch of fuzzy things.  A quick search revealed that those are “Tribbles” and that the Triby is very different, but the similarity in name grabbed my attention enough that I put forth to answer the question, “What’s a Triby?”

Last month I commented (perhaps bemoaned?) that all the fancy gadgets aren’t very family friendly.  Apparently Triby is a new product which is all about “Connecting you with the music and people you love”.  I find it interesting that music is listed before people, but it does seem to be a step in the right direction.

The core of Triby is the Alexa Voice Service.  This means that it is a lot like the Alexa on the Amazon Echo.  However, it doesn’t seem to support everything Alexa has to offer such as some music services (Spotify and Pandora) and home automation solutions (WeMo and Phillips Hue).  Even without those, the core Alexa functionality and numerous skills available (such as Nanny State) provide many features useful to a family.

There is also some “internet calling” capability in Triby.  This allows for hands-free calling.  It appears as though it is configured so that calls can only be made to/from specified contacts–this suggests that a kid could easily call Grandma but there wouldn’t be concern of telemarketers calling.

Triby goes beyond voice communication with a small display and a few buttons.  By default, the screen appears to have a clock, the day/date, weather information.  Some pictures show the Triby displaying information about what music is playing, or displaying virtual sticky notes sent from the phone app.  The buttons are shortcuts to call people or play specific stations and do other tasks like answer a call (but presumably those things can be done with voice as well).

tribyTo me the Triby looks like a toy radio for children.  It has a magnet on the back so that it can be attached to a fridge.  The buttons are also have a toy-ish appearance.  The screen is a small e-ink display–probably to reduce power consumption (the battery lasts about two days on a charge).  The neatest physical aspect of the Triby is the mechanical flag that pops out of the side when a new message is received.

I’d love to have a chance to play with a Triby, but I don’t see myself forking at $200 for one (or even the current $169 sale price on Amazon).  I think Triby has good intentions, but I’m not seeing a WOW! factor.  I wouldn’t be surprised if soon there is a new and improved Triby available that is flashier.  For now my family will continue using our BakBoard and Echo combination, but I’m glad that companies are starting to produce family-friendly tech products.

Less social networking, more familial interaction

It seems to me that as technology drops in price and becomes ubiquitous that it tends to focus on the individual and neglect the family unit.  I don’t see this as a deliberate attack on families, but I do see opportunities for innovation an effort in improving technology to make things easier for families.

A phone number used to be associated with a location–dialing a personal phone number would cause the phone to ring in a home.  Today, more people are cutting the land line and only using cell phones and this sometimes makes effective communication more difficult because there is no way to contact anyone in the family, only a particular individual.  This is particularly difficult for my kids who want to call friends–the younger ones don’t have cell phones yet, but when both parents work, calling cells simply doesn’t work.

Another example is the calendar.  Traditionally there would be a calendar on the wall or refrigerator that would be used to track activities for the family as a whole as well as individual family members.  Electronic calendaring systems have been around for quite some time now, but still paper calendars seem the norm for families.

It was the calendar that got me started making BakBoard, and it seems many other people have had similar ideas.  Just today I learned about the wall mounted information display created by Tom Scott which has a calendar, weather information, and (my favorite) a countdown timer to help get the kids out the door to catch the bus.  There’s also the Wall Mounted Calendar and Notification Center which doesn’t have the bus timer, but does have some buttons to change the calendar view and to refresh the web page.  Additionally there is a simple Raspberry Pi Wall Mounted Google Calendar.

BakBoard is an attempt to try to make a gadget designed for consumption by the family rather than an individual.  It remains in a known, central location and displays information for the entire household.  However, I think the technology involved is primitive when compared to many services out there tailored to the individual.

I think the Amazon Echo is going in the right direction a device for a family rather than the individual and it is considerably more sophisticated than BakBoard.  Boy #2 uses it to listen to music while washing the dishes.  Boy #1 uses it to remind him when it’s time to go to school.  Boy #3 likes the corny jokes it tells and also adds random items to the shopping list.  The girl child can ask it how to spell words.  The caveat is that everything happens on my account.  It is possible to switch between accounts (both my wife and I have accounts but the kids don’t), but it seems cumbersome.  Also, many of the integrations are user specific.

There is a lot of room for improvement in making technology look at the family rather than the individual.  From what I’ve seen, the biggest complications are finding a good way to balance privacy and security.  Other issues include treating the family as a unit while still recognizing that the family is made up of individuals.  Since I don’t dislike my family, this is an area which I want to further explore.

 

BakBoard

BakBoard

A couple months ago I had the idea that it would be nice to have a display in the kitchen to help the family be organized and coordinated.  I wanted it to have a clock, school schedule information, calendar information, and a family Fitbit leaderboard and to power it with my Raspberry Pi.

While searching around I came across DakBoard which seemed close to what I wanted.  It provides date/time information and displays calendar events.  Additionally it can display weather information, but the really brilliant piece it has that I was missing from my idea was to display pictures.  I immediately created an account to try it out, but unfortunately ran into some problems with the Dropbox integration and was unable to get support in the forum and my e-mails for help went unanswered–it seems not much is happening with DakBoard.  Since the code isn’t open source and it didn’t provide for my requirements, I went about creating my own “BakBoard”.

The above picture is a screen shot I took of BakBoard this evening.  It currently has the following features:

  • Date/time in the top left.
  • School information in the top right.  If it is before 4:00pm, it displays the schedule for the current day and after 4:00pm it displays the schedule for the next day.  The service that provides the school schedule information is described in this post.
  • Calendar information on the bottom.  It provides five days of information: the current day and the next five days.
  • Fitbit leaderboard on the right.  Currently it just has the avatar and number of steps.
  • Picture is the background for the entire board.  The pictures come from from selected subdirectories in my DropBox folder.  The picture changes every 10 seconds.

It remains a work in progress and I’m learning a lot, but already the family enjoys having the BakBoard display in the kitchen.  In future posts I may describe how things are implemented, what I’ve learned in the process, and new features added.

“I’m Nathan and I’m anti-social” or “No, thank you. We don’t want to . . .”

I’m the first to admit that I’m not the most social, outgoing guy in the world. When a new group is having everyone do a self-introduction, I used to try to keep with a succinct, “I’m Nathan and I’m anti-social.” Unfortunately people would often misinterpret my message in one of two ways:

  1. That I am making a joke and am really a very social person and should of course be pulled into all social interactions.
  2. That I am subtly crying for help and secretly longing to be included in all social interactions.

Neither interpretation works in my favor.  For some reason some people cannot comprehend that I do not want to behave like an extrovert.  And while honesty may be the best policy, it does tend to offend people or come off as surly or whiny.

Along with “I’m anti-social”, here are some other things that many people don’t seem to always understand:

  • I don’t like people.  I do like individuals.  But just because I interact with a set of individuals individually, it doesn’t mean that I want to interact with them all together.
  • Just because I’m competent and can function in society and interact with people as necessary doesn’t mean I enjoy it.  Also, just because I don’t enjoy interacting with large groups doesn’t mean I’m not good at it.
  • I would rather stay home with my family than go “out with the guys”.  Being in a group is not relaxing entertainment, but tiring work.
  • I don’t mind just sitting quietly and letting others do the talking–being quiet doesn’t mean that I’m upset or that I don’t care or that I am angry or don’t like someone.
  • I’m good at talking with an individual or speaking to a hundred or more people, but somewhere in the middle I feel very awkward and uncomfortable.
  • I really don’t care what people think.  People are stupid.  But there are a few individuals whose opinions I highly value.

Those are a few things I wish people would understand when I say that I’m anti-social.  If someone feels the same way, perhaps I’ve found a new friend, and if I told my new friend “No, thank you.  I don’t want to” do something, no offense would be taken.