October 14th, 2014

Front Door Locks

There are a couple of "Things": The Connected House and the Internet of Things. There is some overlap between these Things. I have mixed feelings about these things. On the one hand, there are some super cool aspects to garage door openers that you can operate with your phone and/or over the internet. Also, Nest thermostats have put a complete end to an entire category of vicious fights I once had with my husband in the course of departing on or returning from a day or n away from home ("We're going to be late! Turning up/down the thermostat is less important than getting to Logan in time!!!" or "You turned the furnace/AC off and now it is crazy cold/hot in this house and will take hours to reach a livable temperature. The kids and I are exhausted but we cannot settle down to sleep in this freezing cold/insufferable heat."). I become a better human being when there are Nest thermostats in the house, because there is one less thing that I get all upset about and yell at my husband about, when he is just doing his very best to live our shared value of Not Wasting a Bunch of Energy Unnecessarily. Also, programming the Nest is so dead easy I don't even have to convince him to change the settings to make the place bearable for the housekeeper who may come while we are away.

On the OTHER hand, that garage door opener has some bugs.

Partly because our front door is located, like the rest of us, in New England (thus works better in some weather than in others) and partly because of concerns raised by the garage door opener, but mostly because one of my early adopter friends nixed the electronic front door lock idea when I asked her about it, I have only briefly researched electronic locks. Which is kinda stupid. We should at the very least have a keypad operable front door lock and here is why: keys are approximately the most awful thing that I carry around every single day.

Paper currency is bad: it is ugly, carries germs and is a theft risk. But keys are a threat to one of the most pleasurable and valuable things that I carry around every single day: my phone. Steve Jobs legendarily sent the design team back on the iPhone because the keys in his pocket scratched the glass, and people continue to buy screen protectors in job lots (don't get me started on screen protectors), largely because of the hazards presented by keys.

Keys are crazy heavy. If you have one key ring for house, car and etc., and you put that key in the ignition (I so look forward to joining recent car buyers in having a fob that only has to be _in_ the car for the button to work to start the car), it could conceivably bend things in a damaging way. (Or at least it maybe did in the past -- more than one person has warned me about this over the years, and my response has always been to trim down what is on my keychain, rather than to carry the car keys separately. Because when I do that, something important gets left somewhere.) Keys make an ugly bulge in pants pockets. Keys ruin the drape of a jacket. Keys invariably find their way into crevices and are hard to retrieve.

Keys suck. They are 19th century tech (depending on how you think about them, even older) and I want them _gone_. If we could get rid of keys, we could convince all the companies that do loyalty programs to put together a meaningful way to organize loyalty crap on our phones (there are about a million not very good ways to do this currently), because they'll know it is that or die with the key chain.

So when I read Farhad Manjoo over at the NYT:

http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/author/farhad-manjoo/

"Unless you run a boardinghouse or a bordello, it’s unlikely that you have gone looking for a convenient way to let strangers into your home when you’re away. Nor do you find keys very inconvenient. Keys are portable, they’re durable, they’re cheap to replace and everyone understands how to use them. Yay, keys."

I had to remind myself, Self, this is Farhad Manjoo. He lives to yank on everyone's chain just as hard as he can. He is clickbait incarnate, albeit in a highly readable and generally thought provoking form.

When I was in college, I got into an argument with someone about when ebooks would replace pbooks -- the otherwise intelligent young man taking the pro-ebook side was thinking in terms of a few years. The argument was had in 1990 or 1991. Obvs, off by a ways. I just did not believe that people would give up convenient, portable, easily usable paper books for reading on what we now know as the desktop computer. (I know, if I have younger readers, they're wondering about something. Maybe one of the oldsters around can 'splain the history to them. But I probably don't have younger readers, so it's all good.) Some time later (along about 1997, give or take), I knew a bunch of people In Luuuurrrrve with their Palm Pilot (ah, the jokes) and how they could read ebooks on their device. I did convert to the PDA cult for a while (yes, I was one of those people with the folding keyboards and the Treo -- I even had a couple rounds of Treo phones), but was never sold on that screen for long form reading.

And yet and yet and yet. In 2007, my husband bought me a kindle and by 2008, I'd committed more or less to buying ebooks going forward, with exceptions for used books and books I intended to donate for circulation at a library that needed more recent non-fiction (I worked this out with the librarian, but I no longer do this. Now I donate my used kindles there on occasion.). I very, very, very rarely buy paper books now.

So for all that I loved going to bookstores and loved the physicality of pbooks and the desire they induced in me, when a meaningful competitor arose, I dumped their sorry asses and never looked back except with rancor. Now I complain about how they are heavy and not very ergonomic, hard to read one-handed, especially while lying in bed, and awkward to light appropriately in a dark room. If you lose them, they are gone. And the bookstores are always closed when I want a new one in the middle of the night. Did I care much about those things back in the 1990s, when I was buying Sherrilyn Kenyon in hardcover? Heck, no. Altho I did occasionally whine about the declining paper quality.

I'm looking forward to a day when I can look through my front door camera, identify the person who is waiting to fix my dishwasher, open the lock on the front door for them, maybe keep an eye on them while they are working in the kitchen, and then relock the door after they depart. The August lock does not support this vision.

"But one thing you cannot do with the August is log on from afar to check if your door is locked. That’s because the lock’s only wireless connection is to a phone through Bluetooth, which only works from a few feet away. The August does not permanently connect to the Internet through your home’s Wi-Fi connection. The company says this limitation is meant to preserve battery life; the lock’s four AAs need to be changed about once a year.

As a result, the lock is sometimes less than smart. If you are at work and can’t remember whether you locked your door that morning, you can’t check on it. In fact, you can’t check if your door is locked even in most places in your house. The only way to do so is to walk to your door and eyeball it. How smart is that?"

Once again, for all that Manjoo says asinine things designed to enrage so the reader will engage with a piece for longer than they otherwise might, he usually comes through with a good bit of analysis somewhere along the line. Perhaps August will sell a low energy Bluetooth bridge to home wi-fi that would support my vision for what I want out of my front door. In the mean time, I'll keep sending people who arrive at my house to do work while I am not currently present in through the garage door, which I _can_ open and close through the internet, and view its current status as well. Bugs and all.

ETA: You know, for all that I read over and over again people complaining about having to wait and wait and wait for the cable or whoever person to come during a 3 hour window (and then never shows up), you would think that the appeal of electronic front door control in conjunction with cameras indoors and out would be sort of obvious. I get there are some privacy issues. I really do. Nothing a bunch of little craft-y blackout drapes won't fix.