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Home Automation: What It Can Do for You

Home Automation: What It Can Do for You

    Over my next couple of articles, we’re going to take a look at home automation. This is a fascinating area that is, for some, a reality, but for many, something that borders on science fiction. The truth is, there are all sorts of products out there to help you automate elements of your home, ranging from those that the average Joe can afford and implement to those that cost as much as the house itself.

    Today, we’re going to find out why home automation is worth bothering with (or not, depending on the conclusions you draw from this article). Automation, in all areas of life, will usually do one of two things for you: save you time you can use productively, or provide you with convenience. It’s up to you to draw those sort of conclusions for yourself in this case.

    1. Lighting

    Lighting has, by far, been the most popular and common use of home automation since it was a technically and financially viable option. It’s no wonder; the most annoying thing that has ever happened to most people, throughout all the terrible experiences in life, is getting into bed only to realize that a light has been left on.

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    You can rig up your home to control your lights from a remote control panel inside the home, for when you hop into bed, or remotely, when you get to work only to realize you left everything on. And of course you can just as easily turn them all back on once you get home or before a bunch of guests arrive.

    Most lighting automation systems give you control over light dimming. This is no breakthrough in itself, as dimming is a pretty commonplace thing, but combine that fact with the ability to create intricate profiles with different lights set at different levels through the house. You can have a preset for every mood!

    Of course, lighting control can’t stop at bulbs. There’s natural light to consider as well, and there are products available to help you control curtains, blinds and shades.

    2. Home Theater

    If you’ve ever bought one of those programmable, all-in-one remotes, you’ve taken part in a small part of home automation. A lot of home automation hobbyists will have the most intricate remote programmings you’ve seen, and I don’t blame them; it takes a lot of waiting and a fair few clicks for me to get my television on and switched over to the Apple TV or DVD player.

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    But there’s also multi-zone audio to consider – the ability to select various speakers around the house through which to play audio from any given source, or even the ability to play from them all at once (or any combination thereof). If you’ve used AirTunes at home, you’re familiar with multi-zone audio, and as far as I’ve seen AirTunes provides one of the smoothest integration and operation experiences.

    3. Communication

    Intercom technology often falls into the home automation field. Hobbyists often like to have an intercom system right through the house, in every room. I remember the first time I spoke to someone via instant messaging when they were in the next room; I imagine the intercom provides a similar feeling of redundancy.

    Intercom systems can be made accessible to your PDA or smartphone via wifi, and practically any device via the Internet. They can also assist in transmitting alarms right throughout the house; if you have trouble hearing the smoke alarm from your bedroom, this may just be what you need to keep alive for the rest of the year!

    Us productivity types like to have one source to go to for everything – take the old one inbox rule, for instance. If you’re like that, you can have your intercom system routed into your phone so that you only have to speak into the one mouthpiece, safely avoiding the germs Aunty Glenda left on the other cordless last time she was over. I imagine this works best when there’s an intercom at the front gate; there’s not much use for intercom over the phone when it comes to in-house intercom.

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    4. Air

    You’re sitting at work in the air conditioning and you know it’s going to be a hot drive home. The last thing you want to do is get out of the hot car and into a hot house. With home automation you can get your air conditioner and a couple of fans going just as you take off for the day. Of course, the same thing applies to heating and ventilation, too.

    Air conditioners are expensive beasts. If you’ve routinely caught someone in your home forgetting to turn the thing off and running up the electricity bill, use an automation system to shut your air conditioner off after a half hour’s use.

    5. Security and Surveillance

    An automated security system in your home provides a far more protective and much safer experience than traditional methods. With cameras you can view over the Internet, you can ensure nobody is taking off with your HDTV (or even keep an eye on the kids). You can have a motion sensor that sends you a text message if it notices movement when nobody is meant to be home, or if sensors on your windows sense the glass breaking.

    If your system includes intercom, you can have alarms played through all those speakers around the house, ensuring that everyone in the house is aware of danger. And remember when we talked about lighting automation so you could have all the bulbs in your house switch off when you leave home? Advanced systems even allow you to lock up all the doors and windows as you’re leaving at the same time.

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    Of course, there’s the old simulation of presence trick. If you’re going on holidays, get your system to randomly play with your blinds, play music and flick lights on or off; you can sleep a little sounder knowing that your home is a little less likely to be broken into.

    And More…

    There’s much more to home automation. There are systems for getting your pets fed on time, in case you’ve killed a rat or two due to negligence, and irrigation automation, in case you’re guilty of the same when it comes to plants. You can even have your percolator or espresso machine brewing fifteen minutes before your alarm goes off.

    Needless to say, we can all live without this stuff. We have been for thousands of years. But these things can make life easier and more enjoyable, so they’re certainly worth considering if you’ve got the interest and the budget.

    Next time, we’ll be coming back to the topic of home automation and looking at how one can get started with their own home, and what sort of equipment is available for various prices.

    More by this author

    Joel Falconer

    Editor, content marketer, product manager and writer with 12+ years of experience in the startup, design and tech digital media industries.

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    Published on September 25, 2020

    10 Best VPNs to Browse the Internet More Securely

    10 Best VPNs to Browse the Internet More Securely

    When it comes to digital security, public Wi-Fi networks aren’t safe enough, making it much easier for hackers to access your personal data. Whether you are studying in a library or scrolling through Facebook in a coffeehouse, it is vital to have a VPN installed on your device.

    VPNs work wonders when it comes to securing your internet connection. By creating an encrypted tunnel between a remote server run by the VPN service, they protect your personal data from prying eyes. There is a variety of VPNs available on the web, and we have collated a list of the best VPNs that stand out from the rest.

    How to Choose a VPN

    • Free trial period – Free trials allow you to try the product risk-free. The same idea technically applies to those with 30-day full refunds as well.
    • Speed – You want your VPN to be just as fast as the internet speed at home. Good quality VPNs are ones where you see little difference between those speeds.
    • Device connection – Of course, the more devices that can connect to VPNs, the better. It increases the customers’ coverage and the product’s value. You also want to consider compatibility since fewer VPNs may work for Mac or Windows only.
    • Number of servers – The number of servers determines how much capacity a VPN can handle while you are connected. The more servers there are, the more users it can handle without running into potential disconnections or slow speeds.
    • Kill switch feature – Having this feature means that your IP address isn’t exposed if the VPN disconnects for some reason. A lack of this feature is a big deal since the whole reason why you’re paying for a VPN is to hide your IP address, among other things. (Find out how to avoid getting tracked online here: Big Brother Is Watching You Online: How To Avoid Being Tracked)

    Why You Should Trust Us

    Our hand-picked VPNs are incredibly efficient and offer such distinctive features that grant you safe browsing. They outperform many VPNs in terms of both speed and security. Their primary aim is to provide you the utmost security, thus enabling you to surf the web safely and prevent any potential threat from causing harm.

    Among the best VPNs’ many unique features include split tunneling, strict logging policies, high encryption level, and availability of international servers. We have gathered them in this article to enlighten our readers and offer the best pieces of advice before you get one. Therefore, take our word for it, and if you go for a VPN mentioned below, you’d be fully appeased.

    1. NordVPN

    The most popular VPN on the market these days is NordVPN, and it’s easy to see why. It has widespread coverage, offering a selection of over 5,000 servers spanning across 59 countries.[1] Due to the high number of servers, its speed is similar to your Wi-Fi at home.

    Lifehack’s CEO, Leon, has been using NordVPN for many years and wants to recommend it for its remarkable server count in different locations with no-logs policy. The VPN perfectly works with Netflix and Fire TV stick, too.

    NordVPN is also compatible with Mac, Windows, and Linux. You can download the app onto Chrome, Firefox, Android, and Mac OS. Thanks to its massive coverage, it’s easy to connect multiple devices onto these servers.

    In terms of pricing, while NordVPN doesn’t have a free trial period, they argue that their plans are considerably cheaper than those of their competitors. For example, a one-year plan for ExpressVPN costs $8.32 per month, but NordVPN only charges $6.99 monthly.

    NordVPN has a new protocol called NordLynx that is based on WireGuard with speed benefits, though it’s still under development.[2] If you’re looking for general quality and affordability, this is one of the best VPNs around.

    Buy this VPN.

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    2. ExpressVPN

    ExpressVPN is the second-best option out there for keeping your privacy while browsing the internet. Like many other VPNs here, they will encrypt your IP address, offer vast coverage, and can have multiple devices connected to their servers.

    Compared to NordVPN, while the pricing point is higher, ExpressVPN’s biggest selling point is the number of countries that their connection covers. Depending on where you are in the world, this may be the only option you have. They have fewer servers — 160, to be precise — but they make up for the low server count by covering 94 countries.[3]

    Cost-wise, your best bet is to go with the yearly plan where they charge $8.32 a month. They also have one- and six-month plans.

    Buy this VPN.

    3. Surf Shark

    With regards to Surf Shark, you can connect multiple devices to its servers, and it’s compatible with Windows, Linux, and Mac. It is also available on Android, iOS, Chrome, Firefox, and FireTV.

    Furthermore, Surf Shark can whitelist apps and sites, letting them bypass the VPN. This, along with the lines of split-tunneling, is another feature that many VPNs offer. The difference is that Surf Shark allows you to whitelist specific apps or any website, while most VPNs will whitelist all sites or none at all.

    The other consideration for this app is the price. While lower-tier plans are more expensive compared to others, Surf Shark’s 24-month plan is priced at $2.69 a month, so it’s cheaper than even NordVPN’s equivalent plan!

    Buy this VPN.

    4. CyberGhost

    Another top-reviewed VPN is CyberGhost. They’ve been around for 15 years and have fine-tuned their offers and features to stay competitive. They provide the standard package of browsing the web and logging into accounts safely and give you access to regionally blocked content.

    The network also maintains security from hackers, malware, and phishing. Aside from that, you can connect multiple devices, and it’s compatible with all kinds of platforms.

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    What separates CyberGhost from the others is their extensive coverage. They have multiple servers, and the pricing point is still very low. It covers over 88 countries and has roughly 6200 servers for you to choose from, all while charging $2.75 for their 18-month plan.

    Buy this VPN.

    5. IPVanish

    IPVanish’s prime purpose is to give users online freedom by providing fast speeds and private connections. It’s clear that they can meet that promise as they provide many of the features that have been listed previously from their competitors.

    IPVanish is a part of SugarSync now. What is that, you may ask? It’s a cloud-based service that syncs files across devices and computers for sharing, backup, and many more. What this means is that other devices can access various files and videos so long as they are connected to your specific VPN. Furthermore, it can serve as a backup plan if you get hacked or lose your device for some reason.

    Buy this VPN.

    6. Private Internet Access

    Private Internet Access (PIA) is a remarkably generous company in many ways. Aside from the obvious features, they offer great incentives and discounts for people to try out their products. They claim to be the most trustworthy and reliable VPN around, and we believe that.

    One notable thing is that PIA offers a free two-month trial. Compared to other VPNs to this point, none have provided free trials (though all come with a 30-day money-back guarantee). On top of that, small businesses can avail of their VPN at a discounted rate. There is also the fact that their pricing plans go as low as $2.69 a month for two years, and they let you pay with gift cards.

    In terms of specs, PIA has over 2695 servers that cover 47 countries right now.

    These particular aspects make PIA unique and one of the best VPNs to consider.

    Buy this VPN.

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    7. Hotspot Shield

    Hotspot Shield is all about offering protection while you’re browsing the internet or using streaming services like Netflix. The encryption is military-grade, and its speed is ultra-fast. In truth, it is even marketed as one of the fastest VPNs.

    Hotspot Shield offers a plan that only costs  $7.99 a month; however, it’s one of the few in this list to provide its services for free. Like other Freemium apps, the free version comes with limited features. That said, it gives you a much better feel for the VPN.

    Also, take note that the encryption feature is still there, though the limitations in the free plan include connecting to one location in the US and having limited streaming options and speed.

    Buy this VPN.

    8. TunnelBear

    As unusual as a name choice for an online security protection service can be, TunnelBear is nothing short of incredible. It makes our list of the best VPNs for various reasons.

    The biggest one is that the company goes through a yearly security audit. This is notable because many VPNs don’t bother about independent audits to ensure their systems are secure and safe from any issues. This is critical as VPNs have gotten some bad reputation over the years, as TunnelBear has noted in their post about their security audit.[4] The fact that they are doing this annually ensures that nothing is being compromised.

    Furthermore, TunnelBear offers limited services for free, but even their paid plans are pretty cheap. For individuals, you’re merely paying $3.33 per month. The only catch is that you can connect five devices regardless of which paid plan you pick.

    Buy this VPN.

    9. Norton

    Norton has been on the security scene for some time, and it’s actually one of the founders of the internet security industry. It started with virus and malware protection in 1991 and has since branched off to other sectors as the industry has shifted.

    As you might expect from a company that’s been around for a long time, Norton provides excellent services, and a few of their other services have gone into the VPN package. In reality, Norton is the only one thus far to offer a password manager with their VPN services. They provide 50GB of cloud storage as well.

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    Norton has one of the cheapest VPNs, considering you can get their deluxe plan at $49.99 per year. That comes up to roughly $4.17 a month. It might be slightly higher than other equivalent plans, but you get a lot of extra value that makes it worth the price.

    Buy this VPN.

    10. StrongVPN

    The final VPN we want to cover is StrongVPN. Like many others, it’s great at blocking unnecessary web traffic and providing a fast and simple solution to navigating the internet without any hindrance.

    StrongVPN has over 900 servers. It is available in more than 30 countries and compatible with all devices. Beyond that, the only notable selling point it has compared to others is that it also offers Sugarsync services and 250GB of storage, irrespective of your chosen plan.

    As for the pricing, their year-long plan costs $5.83 a month, while their month-long one is $10.

    Buy this VPN.

    Bottom Line

    Getting online protection is important these days, and companies recognize this.

    With more hacks and breaches occurring every single day, the best VPNs can provide an excellent haven for many people who value their security and privacy.

    We hope that by putting together this list, you’ll be able to find the best VPN that you can trust and enjoy using. As you can see, there are several great options with no real wrong one out there. Pick the VPN that’s best for you.

    Featured photo credit: Petter Lagson via unsplash.com

    Reference

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