How Amazon Echo Helped Fix My Fractured Home Automation Ecosystem

The device, basically a Pringles can stuffed with wires, is deceptively well-designed.

Being the OCD homeowner I am, the inability to control all of my devices from a single point was not an acceptable situation. Instead, I went in search of a solution and think I’ve found one in the Amazon Echo or, as ZDnet’s David Gewirtz calls it, the “Pringles Can Of Doom.”

To preface this, you have to know that I’ve been on a home automation kick for the past two years and my latest obsession has been training my home to respond to voice commands. Of course, this isn’t something new as Apple’s HomeKit is built on Siri integration. However – as any of you who use HomeKit know – it comes with some serious limitations, the most glaring of which is the (current) inability to use logic to build scenes.

Instead you’re stuck with either a) controlling one device at a time or b)  dealing with the insanely buggy and ecosystem-limited Insteon Hub Pro.

In the time I have owned my home, I have automated lights (Hue & Insteon), temperature (Nest), sound (Sonos), device power (WeMo) and security (ADT Pulse & Kwikset Kevo). To say that making each of these things play nicely which each has been a challenge is an understatement.

The addition of the Amazon Echo – though not without its own issues – has brought order to my home automation galaxy.

First of all, it understands and responds to voice commands WAY better than Siri. The microphones are so well-tuned that they can hear over music, tv, and even my boyfriend complaining about the constant changes I’m making to my house’s wiring.

The killer feature though is that Amazon Echo team is on a mission to make Amazon Echo integrate with the vast majority of technologies one way or another. To do this, they’ve made strategic integrations with SmartThings, Hue, Insteon, and most importantly IFTTT, the logic recipe-based “glue” of the internet.

What this means is that I am able to give my Amazon Echo a voice command that controls lights, device power, temperature and music all at one time. Personally, I’m OK leaving my security devices as isolated systems for obvious reasons but the rest is a breakthrough worthy of Tesla, himself!

For anyone looking to replicate my success, I will put out one or two recommendations out there…

1. Forget the Insteon Hub Pro, go for the Insteon Hub 2245-222.

Not only is it cheaper, the 2245 is the only one with the Amazon Echo integration. Yes, it’s choosing sides AGAINST Apple but even for the most ardent fanboy, you can see that Siri and HomeKit aren’t quite ready for primetime.

2. Invest in a SmartThings Hub even if you don’t have SmartThings devices.

The SmartThings hub is not only the critical link between my Amazon Echo and Sonos but it allows you to create virtual devices that help IFTTT trigger actions that bring critical components together.  For instance, it can tell Sonos to play a specific track at a specific volume, at a specific time.

For now, I get to play and explore as that’a what the Amazon Echo is built for. If you have other tricks and tips, let me know.  On my end, as I tech my Pringles can new tricks, I’ll pass them along, as well.

How Resolutions Constrain, Rather Improve Us

I’ll make this a quick one. Seems that this year, there’s a lot less talk about making specific resolutions. Ok, well I saw one gay rag talking about how to “get a boyfriend in the new year” but that’s besides the point.

Resolutions have always seemed to me to be doomed from the moment you make them. Personally, I’ve always favored the “better decisions” resolution but even that one falls by the wayside after a couple of months.

The problem for me, and I’m guessing pretty much everyone else, is that life happens. We get busy, we get distracted, we have other things that take priority. None of us say “I think I’ll gain 5 founds in the first quarter of the year despite my new, fancy gym membership” but it happens anyway.

Let’s just leave it at this, we are busy people. Resolutions are fun for the first seven to ten days of the year but then they’re just anchors dragging us down.

I, for one, am elated to see fewer of those resolutions posts on Facebook, Twitter, etc. I say this not because I think we should just say “f-it all” but because it frees us to focus on more important things. Resolutions drag us down, handcuffing us to commitments that we make in overly idealized versions of reality.

Let’s just say we’re going to make today better than yesterday and see how that turns out. How’s that for something we can stick to?

To QuikTrip Or Not On Ponce De Leon?

This week, I want to post on the proposed QuikTrip on Ponce de Leon between Penn and Argonne Aves. Though the bulk of the conversation is happening on the local Nextdoor message board, I figure any discussion is good discussion. Plus, it gives me a reason to keep up with local development in my neighborhood.

The basics of the discussion is whether or not a currently undeveloped parking lot could be better utilized as a QuikTrip gas station, or can the neighborhood hold out for something more upscale?

On spec, I am general fan of anything that can help bridge the recent new developments near Peachtree with the up-and-coming Ponce City Market corridor. In fact, I think anyone in the neighborhood would back a developer that wants to step up and add value to Ponce over some businesses that might thrive off the seedier elements of the neighborhood.

On the other hand, I do see the points brought up by many of my neighbors. There are environmental, traffic flow, and security concerns that have to be dealt with not to mention the debate over the historic vs. modern character of Ponce de Leon, itself.

There’s even a debate about whether or not a QuikTrip might drive out the last vestiges of in-neighborhood businesses like L & M Service Market at 6th and Argonne. Just to put it out there, the defense of L & M is probably my strongest personal call to arms. I love that market and its owners and would rather the streets run red with QT slushy juice than see L & M shut down…just sayin….

Ultimately though, my opinion is just one of many. I’m going to try to make it to the public hearing at Jason’s Deli on 10th, Tuesday night at 8 PM. If you’re interested, I suggest you go to.

Until then, I’ll be at L & M buying up all their Whynattes just in case….hey, you can never be too prepared, right?!

Let’s Start A Shadow Marketing Campaign For The ASO!

If a symphony plays in midtown and no one is around to hear it, does it sound as beautiful?

Let me ask it another way…what does it take to translate art into a marketing campaign? Money? Resources? Media Attention?

The truth is that great marketing campaigns are never, and have never been built on big budgets. Sure money, resources and media attention helps but what really compels marketing to touch the very heart and soul of its intended audience is the passion and conviction of its creators.

This truth isn’t new. In fact, artists like musicians have relied on it for centuries to produce some of the most compelling “communications” in human history.

It’s no wonder then, that the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra is up in arms about it’s own marketing. After enduring an extended lockout, they are ready to show Atlanta why it is the great cultural epicenter of the south. You would never know it, though by looking at their marketing.

I’m not trying to pass judgement on whoever does the marketing for the ASO. However, I am interested in knowing what people that benefit and are inspired from the music of the ASO can do if they took brush to paper?

Starting today, I am going to publish one piece of marketing collateral for the ASO. A tweet, a Facebook post, a brochure, a flyer…something that says what I think the ASO means to me and to Atlanta. I am encouraging my friends in the marketing space to join in. Let’s create a shadow/grassroots marketing campaign for the ASO that helps them sustain their efforts and shows the Woodruff Arts Center we support arts in the community in a very real and tangible way.

Just to be safe, let’s set the basic standard that if we wouldn’t show it in our own professional portfolios, let’s not publish it. Post your creation with the hashtag #ASOgrassroots. Let’s see if we can even come close to creating marketing with the magic and conviction of the ASO musicians.

Photo Courtesy of Flickr User – Wally Gobetz (via Creative Commons)

PS – Flickr is a great place to find photos to support your marketing collateral.  Just make sure it’s under the Creative Commons license!  

Self Help Clickbait

How many of us have seen one of these lists (or similar ones) pop up on Facebook or Twitter?

  • 8 Traits of Truly Successful People
  • 5 Traits of Emotionally Happy People
  • 10 Things Stable People Don’t Do

They promise the secrets of eternal happiness and even, in veiled form, the keys to eternal wealth. It’s tempting, no-doubt but it plays on a very sinister side of our cynical brains. We don’t want to be helped but we’re glad to see examples of those who have been helped.

It’s like hearing a therapist from the other side of a wall just so you can claim you don’t actually “see” a therapist.

These articles aren’t help, they’re clickbait. Rather than luring you to look at llamas that look like Taylor Lautner, they want you to look at self help dogma. The authors of these articles want and need the clicks just as much as the Monster energy drink-addled millennials BuzzFeed calls writers.

It’s not that clickbait isn’t entertaining, it’s that there’s no real substance to it. Sure, I can read a biography about George S. Patton but does that mean I’m ready to command a battalion of tanks into a battle? For the sake of our brave veterans I sure as hell hope not.

Just by looking at a list, we cannot and should not measure ourselves in terms of our progress towards our life goals. We’re too diverse and our paths to happiness are too different.

You want advice? Talk to your best friend. Don’t have a best friend? Find a therapist. Can’t afford a therapist? Journal.  I guarantee that any of these are better than the clickbait you’ve been reading.

Happy Pride?

The festival known as Gay Pride and I have always had an unconventional relationship. Oh, we’ll tolerate each other in public. Behind each other’s respective backs, though? Our actual feelings towards each other vary widely from admiration to an acerbic questioning why each other exists.

Let me lay some groundwork for you: it’s never always been this way. At one point in time I was a flag-waving, gay history-obsessed HRC intern. I held attendance at Pride up as the ultimate in gay patriotism, second only in importance to voting for only candidates with a 100% equality score.

What happened though was reality. As I came out of the closet, I entered into the “real world” of gay culture. For those of you who don’t know, the truth about gay culture is a far cry from the pained artists and “out of the closets and onto the streets” activism that it might have once been.

“Gay Culture” as it exists now is a overly-commercialized attempt at reconciling our sexually rebellious past with an intense need to be liked by mainstream culture. It has morphed the concept of gay identity into a couture ideal guarded viciously by the club queens, bar fairies, and gym rats.

It’s possible I’m a little jaded, though.

The good news is that I’m not alone in my opinions. Louis Perlman, a year ago today, documented this phenomenon in his article “It Get’s Better, Unless Your Fat.”

Don’t get me wrong. Despite the fact that I am an – achem – not a thin girl, this is more than aesthetic ideals. It’s about what we stand for as a community and what we want to leave to the generations that come after us.

This brings me back to the concept of Pride. I chose to buy my first house in the shady, tree-lined neighborhood right in the epicenter of gay Atlanta. It was important for me to seek out a home where I felt surrounded by not just gay-friendly businesses, but also by like-mind Atlanta natives that feel a connection with the area and it’s past.

Of course, this also means that once a year, our neighborhood is flooded by queens and dykes from all over the southeast who want to revel in the three-day event that Atlanta Pride has become.

To them, it’s a carnival of culture where the overwhelming presence of corporate sponsors are just another way to collect free shit they can go back and hang on their OTP walls. They might even look fondly on all the rainbow beads and bottle openers branded with ID Lube and Bud Light and affirm to themselves that they are indeed a part of the “gay community.”

The fact of the matter, though is that we are more than corporate sponsors. We are the community of Harvey Milk and Larry Kramer and of Ruth Simpson and Elizabeth Birch. We are the modern carriers of the American legacy of civil rights. We can be out, proud, and frivolous at the same time that we are restless, politically engaged, and hungry to cultivate the amazing creativity and talent that have sprung from our struggle.

Let’s bring back the connection we have to the past and realize the rainbow flag isn’t just a pattern. It started as a binding of the diverse elements of our nature and support for the rainbow of diversity, of equality for all, not just some.

When you come to my neighborhood this year and someone wishes you a happy pride, think for a moment. Is it a come-on or is something more? For me, it’s important to wish you a Happy Pride as a reminder of our connection to each other and our collective responsibility to lift each other up.

Have a safe and a meaningful Pride, Atlanta.

HoneyBubble Brings Awesome Bubble Tea To Atlanta

If you drive up and down Ponce as frequently as I do, chances are you’ve seen it at least once. The sign proudly proclaims “The Very First HoneyBubble On Earth!” A bold, ambitious statement for a little tea shop…or is it?

It’s easy to dismiss places like HoneyBubble as well-funded, good intentioned shops that pin their hopes too much on temporary fads. As evidenced by the cupcake fad of 201o to 2012; many try but few succeed.

My guess is though is that that HoneyBubble may just have a shot at bucking that trend and achieving the world domination their sign suggests.  Here’s why…

Let’s start with the basics. HoneyBubble is a purveyor of bubble (or boba) tea, a traditional a Taiwanese milk-based tea with tapioca balls at the bottom. Yes, I know it sounds odd but try to keep an open mind. Trust me, it works and it’s delicious.

My personal introduction to the amazingly, refreshingly gummy beverage was thanks to my friend Amanda. During my stint in Washington, DC we’d venture up to the burbs to shop at malls popular with the Asian-American community.

Amanda, you see, was/is a big fan of anything anime/comic book related. To her, these malls were an oasis of cool for her away from the increasingly gentrified (and overpriced) areas like Georgetown and Pentagon City. Case in point – they were hipster/harajuku cool before said sub-cultures were “cool.”

On our first trip out to these malls, Amanda insisted I had to try bubble tea. After looking at the odd, gelatinous balls resting at the bottom of the shrink-wrapped beverage, I tried it. I’ve been hooked ever since.

You see, bubble tea is more than a beverage. It’s a chill, refreshing snack with just enough weirdness to trump anything Starbucks can offer.

What’s great is that HoneyBubble takes bubble tea to the next level. Not only do they offer traditional, milk-based bubble teas, they offer “clear” bubble teas as well as gelato, hot tea and a variety of snack-able items courtesy of a partnership with Alon’s Bakery. They even have a variety of “bubbles” including tapioca, sweet aloe vera, and coffee gummies.

The result is that you can mix and match teas, flavors and beverage experiences to find the combination that suits your style.

I’m not going to lie. You can go wrong with certain combinations. For instance, I tried the coffee gummies instead of regular tapioca with a clear bubble tea and immediately regretted it. Your best bet is to stick with the traditional bubble teas, at least at first.

If the selection seems intimidating, the staff at HoneyBubble knows their stuff. This isn’t Starbucks and the the staff isn’t going to look down your nose at you if you ask questions. As you get familiar with the nature of bubble teas, you can expand your palette and then it’s off to the races.

What also makes me believe HoneyBubble has staying power is that it has created a space to socialize as cool as the beverages it serves. Too often cafés like this obsess over the food as a fad without thinking about creating a place you actually want to come back to over and over again.

HoneyBubble doesn’t just have once space but three distinct areas to lounge in. There’s the main room with a variety of seating options, the conference room style working space, and a patio. Each space is cute, well designed but thoughtful enough with the ambient noise to make it a place you want to hang out.

Located a short walk from the Beltline and across from the Claremont Lounge, HoneyBubble occupies it’s own little corner of character on Ponce. Parking can get a bit tight in front but they also have a lot in back accessible via Bonaventure Ave.

Traffic is brisk, particularly on sunny weekend afternoons, with many patrons opting to walk from either from the Beltline at Ponce City Market or from the Freedom Parkway Trail. The walk is about a block and a half from either direction and is more than worth it.

The net result is that HoneyBubble is one of my favorite places on Ponce.  For date nights, long exploration off the Betline, or just a casual drop-in to see what its like, I really want to encourage you to discover HoneyBubble for yourself.

Not only is their product great but they are capitalizing on doing a unique cafe right.  My hope, and my bet, is that they become a staple in the Poncey-Highlands community and they indeed are able to embark on their quest to conquer the world…or at least offer an alternative to cupcakes.

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How I Learned To Give Up & Take MARTA

I will admit that as a native Atlantan, I have grown up with the kind of mass hysteria we’ve seen in the last 18 hours. However, enough is enough. As of 5:12 PM on Tuesday I was struck by a bolt of reason that has, now and forever, changed my view of Atlanta and the snow.

First, A Little Background

On Tuesday around 1 PM the snow was just beginning to fall and I headed out for a “farewell” lunch for a co-worker.

The roads weren’t that bad, neither was the traffic and so I proceeded to a restaurant right across from Perimeter Mall. I will admit, there is no good reason to be anywhere near Perimeter Mall at any time of the day or night but it was for a co-worker so I capitulated….BIG MISTAKE. If Perimeter Mall traffic is bad at rush hour, think about what happens during inclement weather.

jfp_snow_1

It Was The Best Of Atlantans, It Was The Worst Of Atlantans

In just over 3.5 hours, I traveled approximately .25 Miles from my point of origination. In that time, I saw the best and worst of my fellow Atlantans. In general, people were level-headed but I saw a few motorists on the verge of hoping out of their cars to berate fellow motorists. Not a pretty sight and, I have to say, a little disheartening.

jfp_snow_2

However, I did see some amazing compassion. Namely, people were helping each other in ways you would never expect. I saw one gentleman walking from a gas station to the parking lot that was the side-streets to get gas for a mother with kids in her SUV.  They didn’t know each other but he had a gas can in his car and she needed it help – it was as simple as that.

I even saw one motorist pull up beside a stranded car to offer a jumpstart.  At first, I was thinking they must be crazy – now two lanes were blocked! However, that motorist ended up not only helping out the stranded car but re-opened the lane that had been blocked by that stranded car.

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My Moment Of Clarity

Somehow in that excruciating 3.5 hours I managed to make my way to Hammond Drive. Not the worst option to cut across and get to Mount Paran, I figured. It was then, right after I passed the Best Buy/Big Box strip on my left that I realized nothing was moving in any direction…except for MARTA.

Ah yes, MARTA. That transit option most of us make fun of or only use in case of football games and/or the Peachtree Road race. Despite the gridlock MARTA was still running. I looked at that train and suddenly I knew what to do!

After a couple quick couple of turns…some of which were probably illegal…and some nice motorists that let me cut across an intersection I was able to duck into the MARTA parking deck. I parked, grabbed my emergency walking mocks from the trunk and headed up to the train platform.

Not surprisingly, there were dozens of other motorists that had the same idea. When the train came roughly 6 minutes later, we hopped on, sat down and enjoyed the ride! It took 20 minutes to get from the Dunwoody MARTA Station to Midtown Atlanta. When I arrived this is what I saw:

It was a beautiful sight. Once I got back to my house, the total travel time was less than 40 minutes!

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Lesson Learned

Though MARTA won’t be my primary mode of transportation, I have to say I am going to use it much more often. In certain weather, there’s just no downside to taking MARTA. Hopefully more people will come around to that idea and MARTA will get the support it needs to become a better system that can become a mainstay in many more Atlantans’ commutes.

Separating Who You Are From What You Do

When the agency I was working for hit rough financial waters and I was laid off, I decided to try a bold new experiment…getting a life.

Don’t get me wrong. Getting laid off with more than a half-dozen of your coworkers during the holidays is not something you build into your five-year plan. In fact, because the holidays are not the easiest time to find a job, I had to resolve myself to the reality that I might have six weeks of free time on my hands.

While searching for a job I wondered what would happen if I gave myself time to explore who I was? For the first time in my adult life would I be able to separate the idea who I am from what I do?

There are dozens of studies that show that we, as a society, are increasingly building our identifies and our sense of self-worth around our jobs. In fact, people who lose their jobs experience depression and identity-related crises at more than twice the rate as those of those still employed.

Finding a sense of self-worth that is more independent from what we do is not just a matter if short-term happiness, it’s a long-term requirement for happiness.

Based on my experience, here are a few potential ideas that proved out their usefulness in helping me find out what really mattered to me (click on any photo to start slide show):

In retrospect though being laid off wasn’t the best thing that ever happened to me it also wasn’t the worst. With nothing better to do, I had to take life day-by-day. Through putting things in perspective, I rediscovered the things that mean the most to me.

Ultimately, my period of unemployment only lasted two weeks. My new job offered me the chance to start right away and I had to think seriously about taking them up on it. However, I opted to give myself more time in the experiment and the results are pretty self-evident in the photos.

Though I am ready to get back work, I am doing so more mindful of what it is that means the most to me in life. By trying to separate who I am from what I do, not only I am going back to work happier but I am going back to work with more appreciation for my life as a whole.

If you find yourself laid off or with some time on your hands, I can’t recommend highly enough conducting your own experiment. Treat yourself like you would your job and invest in your own happiness. It’s worth every second.

Atlanta From The Sky

Every once in a while you get an idea for a gift that just blows away anything else you could have thought of. I had just such a moment for my grandmother’s 80th birthday.

Now, you have to understand three of things about my grandmother.  First, she’s a very spry 80-year old.  In fact, her idea of a good time is hopping around the Galapagos Islands or in the jump seat of a Russian MIG in a mock dog fight.  Second, she’s 2nd generation native Atlantan and she’s not shy about telling you, either.  She knows Atlanta and its history about as well as any other native you will meet.  Finally, she’s a cancer survivor.

As you can imagine, the stakes for a great gift that will mean as much as I wanted it to mean were high. After some googling, I figured it out…show her Atlanta in a way she’s never seen it before – by air!

The results were incredible! I booked with Prestige Helicopters (through Xperience Days) and the 40 minute flight with our pilot, Scott was nothing less than incredible.

I’ve laid out a video, below, and some of the best of the shots from the tour are in the gallery viewer at the top of this post:

For anyone looking for a similar experience, I highly recommend the tour and Prestige, in particular. For more details on the tour and our experience, I am glad to connect.  Just contact me through my web site.

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