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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.

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    Last Updated on August 6, 2018

    20 Google Search Tips to Use Google More Efficiently

    20 Google Search Tips to Use Google More Efficiently

    Millions of people use Google search every day for a variety of reasons. Students use it for school, business people use it for research, and millions more use it for entertainment. But most people may not be using Google search to its full potential.

    Want to use Google search more efficiently and get the search results you want quickly? Here are 20 Google search tips and tricks to maximize your search efficiency:

    1. Use the tabs

    The first tip is to use the tabs in Google search. On the top of every search are a number of tabs. Usually you’ll see Web, Image, News, and More. Using these tabs, you can help define what kind of search you need to do. If you need images, use the Image tab. If you are looking for a recent news article, use the News tab. It’s rudimentary and most people use the tabs already. If you are not, then it’s highly recommended to get associated with them. They can cut search times dramatically if utilized properly.

    2. Use quotes

    When searching for something specific, try using quotes to minimize the guesswork for Google search. When you put your search parameters in quotes, it tells the search engine to search for the whole phrase. For instance, if you search for Puppy Dog Sweaters, the engine will search for content that contains those three words in any order. However, if you search “Puppy Dog Sweaters”, it will search for that phrase exactly as you typed it. This can help locate specific information that may be buried under other content if not sorted out correctly.

    3. Use a hyphen to exclude words

    Sometimes you may find yourself searching for a word with an ambiguous meaning. An example is Mustang. When you Google search for Mustang, you may get results for both the car made by Ford or the horse. If you want to cut one out, use the hyphen to tell the engine to ignore content with one of the other. See the example below.

    • Mustang -cars

    This tells the search engine to search for mustangs but to remove any results that have the word “car” in it. It can be wildly helpful when finding information about something without getting information about something else.

    4. Use a colon to search specific sites

    There may be an instance where you need to Google search for articles or content on a certain website. The syntax is very simple and we’ll show you below.

    • Sidney Crosby site:nhl.com

    This will search for all content about famous hockey player Sidney Crosby, but only on NHL.com. All other search results will be removed. If you need to find specific content on a particular site, this is the shortcut you can use.

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    5. Find a page that links to another page

    This Google search tip is a little obscure. Instead of searching for a specific page, you’re searching for a page that links to a specific page. Think about it this way. If you want to see who cited a New York Times article on their site, you would use this trick to find all the sites that link to it. The syntax is below.

    • link:nytimes.com

    That will return all pages that link to the New York Times official website. The URL on the right side can be practically anything. Be aware, though, that the more specific it is, the fewer results you’ll get. We know not a lot of people will likely use this Google search trick, but it could be very useful for some.

    6. Use the asterisk wildcard

    The asterisk wildcard is one of the most useful ones on the list. Here’s how it works. When you use an asterisk in a search term on Google search, it will leave a placeholder that may be automatically filled by the search engine later. This is a brilliant way to find song lyrics if you don’t know all the words. Let’s look at the syntax.

    • “Come * right now * me”

    To you or me, that may look like nonsense. However, Google search will search for that phrase knowing that the asterisks can be any word. More often than not, you’ll find they are lyrics to The Beatles song “Come Together” and that’s what the search will tell you.

    7. Find sites that are similar to other sites

    This is a unique one that could be used by practically everyone if they knew it existed. Let’s say you have a favorite website. It can be anything. However, that website is getting a little bit boring and you want to find other websites like it. You would use this trick. Below is the syntax.

    • related:amazon.com

    If you search that above, you won’t find a link to Amazon. Instead, you’ll find links to online stores like Amazon. Sites like Barnes & Noble, Best Buy, and others that sell physical items online. It’s a powerful Google search tool that can help you find new sites to browse.

    8. Use Google search to do math

    As a college student, I can attest that I use this one rather frequently. Google search can actually do math for you. This is a rather complex one to describe because it can be used in so many ways. You can ask it basic questions or some more difficult ones. It is important to note that it won’t solve all math problems, but it will solve a good number of them. Here are a couple of examples of the syntax.

    • 8 * 5 + 5
    • Planck’s Consant

    If you search the first one, it’ll return 45. It will also show a calculator that you can use to find answers to more questions. This is handy if you need to do some quick math but don’t want to do it in your head. If you search the second term, it will return the number value of Planck’s Constant. So it can do math, but it can also help you solve math problems by showing values for known mathematical terms.

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    9. Search for multiple words at once

    Google search is flexible. It knows you may not find what you want by searching only a single word or phrase. Thus, it lets you search for multiples. By using this trick, you can search for one word or phrase along with a second word or phrase. This can help narrow down your search to help you find exactly what you’re looking for. Here is the syntax.

    • “Best ways to prepare for a job interview” OR “How to prepare for a job interview”

    By searching that, you will search both phrases. Remember the quotes tip above? It’s being used here as well. In this instance, these two exact phrases will be searched. It can be done by word too, like the example below.

    • chocolate OR white chocolate

    This will search for pages that have either chocolate or white chocolate!

    10. Search a range of numbers

    Searching for a range of numbers is another tip we don’t anticipate a lot of people using. The people that do use it, though, will probably use it quite a bit. People interested in money or statistics will find this tip particularly useful. Essentially, you use two dots and a number to let Google search know you’re looking for a specific range of numbers. Like the syntax below.

    • What teams have won the Stanley Cup ..2004
    • 41..43

    In the first instance, the search will toss back the team that won the Stanley Cup in 2004. The two dots with only one number will tell the search that you don’t need anything before or after 2004. This can help narrow down searches to a specific number to improve search results. In the second, Google will search for the numbers 41, 42, and 43. It is obscure, but wildly useful if you happen to need to search for numbers like this.

    11. Keep it simple

    Now we’re getting into the general tips. Google search knows how to search for a lot of things. What this means is you don’t need to be too specific. If you need a pizza place nearby, use this to search.

    • Pizza places nearby

    Google search will grab your location and deliver a variety of results about pizza places that are near you.

    12. Gradually add search terms

    There will come a time when Google search doesn’t shovel out the results you expect. In this instance, keeping it simple may not be the best option. As Google itself suggests, the best method is to start with something simple then gradually get more complicated. See the example below.

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    • First try: job interviews
    • Second try: prepare for job interviews
    • Third try: how to prepare for a job interview

    This will gradually refine the search to bring you fewer, more targeted terms. The reason you don’t go straight from the first try to the third try is because you may miss what you’re looking for by skipping the second step. Millions of websites phrase the same information in a number of different ways; using this technique lets you search as many of them as possible to find the best info.

    13. Use words that websites would use

    This is a very important one. When people use Google search to hunt the web, they generally search for things using the same language that they would use for speaking. Unfortunately, websites don’t say things the way people do; instead, they try to use language that sounds professional. Let’s look at some examples.

    • “I have a flat tire” could be replaced by “repair a flat tire.”
    • “My head hurts” could be replaced by “headache relief.”

    The list goes on and on. When searching, try to use terminology you would find on a professional website. This will help you get more reliable results.

    14. Use important words only

    The way Google search works is to take what you search for and match it with keywords in online content. When you search for too many words, it may limit your results. That means it may actually take you longer to find what you’re looking for. Thus, it is apropos to use only the important words when searching for something. Let’s see an example.

    • Don’t use: Where can I find a Chinese restaurant that delivers.
    • Instead try: Chinese restaurants nearby.
    • Or: Chinese restaurants near me.

    Doing this can help Google find what you need without all the clutter. So remember, keep it simple and use important words only.

    15. Google search has shortcuts

    A number of commands can be entered to give you instantaneous results. Like the math example above, Google can immediately give you the information you need that is displayed right at the top of the search results. This can save time and effort so you don’t have to click a bunch of bothersome links. Here are a few examples of some commands you can enter into Google.

    • Weather *zip code* – This will show you the weather in the given zip code. You can also use town and city names instead of area codes, but it may not be as accurate if there are multiple area codes in the city.
    • What is *celebrity name* Bacon Number – This is a fun little one that will tell you how many connections any given celebrity has to famed actor Kevin Bacon. The popular joke, Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, is that no actor is more than 6 connections away from Kevin Bacon. Mark Zuckerberg has a Bacon Number of 3.
    • The math example posted above is another one.
    • What is the definition of *word* or Define: *word* – This will display the definition of a word.
    • Time *place* – This will display the time in whatever place you type in.
    • You can check any stock by typing its ticker name into Google. If you search for GOOG, it will check the stock prices for Google.

    These quick commands can take a web search that is usually multiple clicks and condense it into a single search. This is very helpful for information you need repeatedly.

    16. Spelling doesn’t necessarily matter

    Google search has gotten a lot smarter over the years. These days, you don’t even need to spell words correctly. As long as it’s pretty close, Google can usually figure out what it means. Here are some examples.

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    • If you search “Nver Gna Gve Yo Up” Google will automatically assume you mean to search for “Never Gonna Give You Up.” If by chance your misspelling was intentional, Google gives you the option to search for the misspelled term instead.

    This trick is great if you happen to forget how to spell something or are not altogether sure how something is spelled. It can also be helpful when searching for obscure words. This applies to capitalization and grammar as well.

    17. Use descriptive words

    Pretty much everything can be described in multiple ways. Take our namesake, the “life hack.” The terminology “hack” refers to a computer programmer breaking security on a network or system. However, when used in conjunction with the word “life”, it alters the meaning to tips and tricks people can use to improve their lives. If you have trouble finding what you’re searching for, keep in mind that people may search or define what you need in a different way than you do.

    • You may search “How to install drivers in Ubunut?”
    • When you really mean “Troubleshoot driver problems Ubuntu.”

    There really isn’t a good specific example for this one. If you search for something and you can’t find an answer, try asking the same question using different words and see if that helps the results.

    18. Find a specific file

    An often forgotten feature of Google search is the ability to search for a specific file or file type. This can be infinitely useful if you need a specific PDF or PowerPoint file that you previously viewed or need to use for another project. The syntax is quite simple.

    • *Search term here* filetype:pdf

    In the above example, you simply replace the search term with whatever you’re searching for. Then use the filetype command and enter the extension of any file type you can think of. This can mostly be useful for scholarly purposes, but business presentations and other assorted presentations can benefit from this kind of search as well.

    19. Money and unit conversions

    Google search can quickly and accurately convert both measurement units and currency value. There are a variety of uses for this, like checking to see the conversion rate between two currencies. If you happen to be a math student, you can use it to convert from feet to meters or from ounces to liters. Here’s how to do it.

    • miles to km – This will convert miles to kilometers. You can put numbers in front to convert a certain number. Like “10 miles to km” will show you how many kilometers are in 10 miles.
    • USD to British Pound Sterling – This will convert a US dollar to British pounds. Like the measurements above, you can add numbers to find exact conversions for a certain amount of money.

    It’s true that this tip is geared toward math students and international business people. However, you’d be surprised how often these tips are used by regular people.

    20. Track your packages

    Our last trick is to use Google search to find out where your packages are. You can enter any UPS, USPS, or Fedex tracking number directly into the Google search bar, and it’ll show you the tracking information about your package. This is much easier than going to the specific sites, waiting for them to load, then searching for your packages there. No examples are really needed for this one. Just type your tracking number in and see where your package is.

    Google Search wrap-up

    Google search is a very powerful search tool. Using the tips outlined above, you can find anything and everything you could ever need on the World Wide Web. Whether it’s avoiding Wikipedia for a school essay project, finding the latest stock prices, or even finding song lyrics, there is a way to make Google search work for you.

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