The Future Is Arriving

For the past three decades, we’ve been hearing forecasts of smart homes that will respond to our every need. The list of over-promised features includes such things as smart refrigerators that will order what you need from the grocery store, lighting that automatically turns on or off when you enter or leave a room, heating and cooling that adjusts itself constantly to your desires and even robot butlers.

Fantasy? Perhaps, but your smart phone actually is bringing the smart home future to you now. There are now ways to control every aspect of your nest from your palm, from how bright your bedroom is to how much energy you use every month.

smarthome2Here are some of the ways you can control your home today, whether you’re there or not.

Music that follows you around. It now is easier than ever to throw what you’re listening to from your phone to your home speakers – even if those speakers aren’t internet-enabled. You probabaly have heard of Sonos, one of the market-leading connected speaker systems, and they undoubtedly put out beautiful high-quality sound with seamless syncing around the home. But, with speakers starting from US $199, it’s an expensive solution – and there are now much cheaper options providing you have some speakers already.

Gramofon is a classy-looking box that connects your speakers to your WiFi for US $69 and you can link them together to play the same or different music across your house using Qualcomm AllPlay. Similarly, Google’s Chromecast Audio is a smaller version of the same idea, though it can’t be wired into your home network with ethernet like the Gramofon.

There’s also the ingenious Vamp, which lets you turn any passive hi-fi speaker into a Bluetooth one – the tiny red box plugs into your normal black and red connections on the back of any speaker and even provides the power. With Vamp you could rescue any ancient working speaker and make it smart for about $60.

Appliances that do the hard work for you. Tea lovers’ dreams have come true with the iKettle (US $180), a Wi-Fi enabled kettle that you can turn on from your phone. It tells you when the water’s boiled and even keeps it warm until you get there. Th iKettle can send a message to your phone first thing in the morning or when you arrive home after a long day, asking if you’d like to turn the kettle on so the water will be boiled by the time you make it to the kitchen. The same firm also makes a connected coffee maker if that’s your caffeinated beverage of choice.

Other appliances are seeing similar features added, too. Forgetting to press “go” on the washing machine as you’re heading out the door ceases to be a problem with connected washers, which can be controlled from an app on your phone. Most manufacturers now offer this, with laundry apps from brands like LG and Samsung even diagnosing technical problems with your machine and telling you how to fix them without calling a repairman.

In fact, everything from your oven to your dishwasher can be controlled from your phone with appliance ranges like Hoover’s Wizard. Whether you want to ask how much cooking time’s left on your food, get an alert when your chilled drink’s reached ideal temperature or just remotely switch on the cooker hood light, it’s all a tap away. LG’s taken things even further with the LG Homechat, which lets you text your appliances.

Homechat responds to commands like “monitor all products,” (gives you a status update), “going to bed” (stops music after 10 minutes), and Siri-style “what is this song?” inquiries. It’s as zany as it sounds, but as AI and language processing improve, natural conversation will be the way we interact with everything.

While we’re waiting for robot butlers, we do at least have robot vacuums. Neato’s BotVac can be controlled not only from your phone but from your smartwatch too – Apple or Android. Cost is around $800 US.

Stopping the worries when out and about. What about forgetting to turn things off, such as the iron, hair rollers, the heating or air conditioning? All these things and more can be controlled from the cloud.

The Heat Genius system allows you to turn the heating and hot water on and off from a smartphone app, and even lets you control and schedule room heating individually. Similarly, Google has raised temperatures by buying out Nest and offering the Learning Thermostat through the Google Play store, alongside the Nest Cam home security camera and Nest Protect smoke alarm.

Nest products work seamlessly with each other, connecting to a range of third-party smart home tech including Philips Hue lights and Whirlpool washers. It’s an Apple-like approach, encouraging people to look out for the “Works With Nest” logo before making a purchase – much like the “Designed for iPhone” badge Apple uses.

The Nest range is facing tough competition from tado, though: a heating system that claims to pay for itself within a year. It uses your smartphone location to automatically turn the heating off when everyone’s left the house then turn it on again when someone comes back.

Smart plugs are the anxious user’s best friend, letting you check something’s switched off when you’re not at home. Belkin’s WeMo and D-Link’s Home Smart are two of the many branded versions of this handy product. Smart plugs can switch anything on or off from your phone.

Ambience and Security. The new connected showerhead from French firm Start & Blue uses Bluetooth to connect to an app that lets you set your ideal shower length. LED lights on the Hydrao Smart Shower then change from green through to amber and red to tell you when you’ve used too much water.

Systems like Philips Hue and LIFX have made a huge splash with their smart lightbulbs, which let you turn your lights on or off and change the colour with your phone or tablet. Other apps sync your lighting with the beat of your music or flash when you’ve been tagged in a Facebook photo. Wearables company Misfit has also taken on the smart bulb market with Bolt, a connected bulb that, can be controlled through your phone or, for extra futurism, by tapping on Misfit’s fitness wristbands

The Bolt isn’t the only smart bulb to do more than light up a million colors, either: the latest round of products can also boost your WiFi signal (Sengled Boost Wifi Bulb), and even play music (Mipow Playbulb).

You can put a Roost smart battery in your home fire alarm. The WiFI-enabled 9V battery hooks your alarm up to the cloud so it can tell your phone when your fire alarm’s blaring and you’re not there.

Despite the array of products noted above, the market is still pretty fragmented. In the future, products from disparate manufacturers may work together harmoniously. The future of smart homes isn’t just appliances talking to you, but talking to each other. Your washing machine vould let the dishwasher know it’ll be using the hot water for a while, your oven mighjt the ventilation fan know it’s burnt the chicken and might need some help with ventilation.

Internet of Things Will Change Your World

The arrival of the Internet changed the way we do business. Now tech watchers say there’s another, equally disruptive technological change that has already begun, and stands to alter the business world once again.

InternetofThingsThe coming change is known as the Internet of Things. Alternatively it is called “Cloud of Things” or “real world web.” The concept behind it is that we will rely on actual computers less and less over the next decade as technological interfaces are woven directly into products. Products – from cars to homes to clothing and everything in between – will be constantly gathering and transmitting data to us, and to other products.

A growing web of connectivity among people, devices and homes will upend the way we interact with the world. Here’s a glimpse into how the changes may affect your life.

“The next generation is not going to understand computers as separate things,” says technology consultant and author Christina Kerley. “When a lightbulb burns out in their house, they’re going to wonder why it didn’t give them a heads-up.”

Tech watchers say 2015 is the year the Internet of Things will start to go mainstream. Indeed, many products already whir constantly in the background of our lives, gathering information on us and the environment. Increasingly, devices will make connections with each other, transferring data and coming to conclusions about how they should operate based on that data. “We are looking at re-instrumenting the physical world – 2015 through 2020 are going to be transformative,” Kerley says.

The tools of this new technology are at a rudimentary stage today, but the potential for game-changing progress, along with disruption, is huge. Think of the Internet of Things in 2015 as analogous to the Internet in 1995. Over time, technology advances have taught us that we could part with certain aspects of our privacy and autonomy. But concerns are mounting that the coming decade may see security breaches and leaks of private information on a scale that was never before possible.

Smart home devices that record and transmit data are already creating a buzz in the marketplace. Perhaps the most familiar such product is the Nest thermostat. Made by a company recently purchased by Google, the Nest thermostat can be controlled from a smartphone but over time learns a household’s schedule. Nest settings can be operated by individual users and integrated with data from institutional hubs like the National Weather Service or a city’s electrical grid. Such devices can serve as a helpful go-between for consumers and municipal smart grids, moderating energy use at peak times to minimize service disruptions. For example, Nest marries its understanding of a household’s habits with data about energy use to make decisions about the best time to run a load of laundry.

Beacon technology is another facet of the new technology. Beacons are small devices, usually powered by Bluetooth, that can be mounted virtually anywhere. They transmit information to nearby receptors, often a mobile device. Beacons can be used to track the movements of people in a home – perhaps to automatically turn lights to a specific preset when a particular person enters the room or to transmit information about the activities of an older adult to a caregiver outside the home.

In Chicago, researchers from the Urban Center for Computation and Data, Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Chicago have partnered with local officials to launch the Array of Things. It’s a network of interactive sensors collecting both passive data, such as weather and air quality, and data about how people are using the area, by measuring ambient noise and counting nearby Wi-Fi and Bluetooth-enabled devices. Researchers plan to make the data freely available as a “public utility.” Tech developers can then use the data to create helpful tools. Imagine an app that combines air quality data with traffic patterns, telling allergy sufferers the best time for a bike ride.

Beacon technology has some clear applications in the retail environment. Because beacons have a long battery life, are portable, and don’t rely on GPS to pinpoint one’s location, they may be able to replace the more expensive and intrusive “geofencing” technology that many stores are using to reach out to nearby customers via their smartphones. Macy’s, Walmart, American Eagle, Walgreens and Hudson’s Bay Co. were among the first retailers to use beacons in stores to offer shoppers special incentives via their phones. The technology has also been applied by companies in the hotel and airline sectors. In January, Facebook announced it would begin testing its new “Place Tips” service in New York, where its beacons – installed in eight iconic shops – will notify nearby users via their Facebook mobile app when they’re near these retail options.

It’s only a matter of time before malls and retail centers consider offering beacon technology to their tenants. Westfield Group, an Australian firm that owns, develops and manages shopping centers in the United States and around the world, has a subsidiary, Westfield Labs, that is currently testing beacon technology for possible use in its locations across the globe.

“You’re going to have retail properties going gaga for this,” says Kerley. “You’ll be able to demonstrate what the foot traffic is like at certain times of day, and what parking is available and just flow that information to them on their smart devices.”

Alex Filip is deputy communications director for the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which is closely monitoring smart product designs. Filip says a potentially unsafe product is just as risky when consumers push the start button as it is when triggered by automation. “Whether you start your car, slow cooker or furnace remotely is not an issue unless it behaves in an unsafe manner,” Filip said. The agency already cautions against operating certain household appliances, including clothes dryers and dishwashers, when no one is home or awake. That warning will continue to apply as smart versions of those products are rolled out.

One common fear for consumers is that their house could be hacked into the same way e-mail and credit card accounts are today. Not only could thieves gain physical access to the home, but they could also be privy to a large volume of information about the owners that might be stored on devices or in the cloud. McCaughey says individual homes would be less appealing to hackers than the prospect of a wider invasion involving “a back door that is known to all hackers,” putting all consumers who own a vulnerable product at greater risk.

At least one example of a breach has prompted action by the Federal Trade Commission. In February 2014, the commission settled charges against TRENDnet Inc., which makes security cameras that can be monitored via the internet. The company had not secured passwords or online feeds of security videos – exposing the private lives of customers – though it had made statements in its marketing that implied the feeds were safe.

“The type of consumer harm we saw in the TRENDnet case . . . feeds concerns about the Internet of Things overall,” Federal Trade Commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen told the U.S. Chamber of Commerce shortly before the final settlement. But the FTC’s “unique set of policy and enforcement tools” can help ensure new technologies safely achieve their promise, she said.

Beyond security, smart devices have other kinks that need working out. In the short term. “This is a fundamental shift in what is going to happen with our industry,” Chad Davis, senior director of digital media at the National Association of Home Builders, said at the International Builders’ Show. Builders attending the show were cautioned by other speakers to watch the development of smart home technology carefully, using the auto industry as a bellwether, and to be cautious about where they hitch their proverbial wagons.

Kerley agrees that there are limitations due to the many competing systems but predicts that will begin to change soon. “2015 will be the year where we have to make the call that there has to be an open system,” she says. “Much like the web uses the same scripting language, that’s going to have to happen.”

Regardless of bumps in the road ahead, early observers of the Internet of Things are optimistic. “Our digital and physical worlds are converging,” Kerley says. She predicts that 75 years from now, historians will look back at 2010–2025 as a time of exponential change. “We’re going through a renaissance,” she says.

Make Saturday a Red Kettle Day!

Omaha’s Salvation Army has scheduled a 5K Run/Walk for 9 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 25 at Zorinsky Lake. Join in the fun for a good cause. The run helps stock pantry shelves during a time of overwhelming need.

RedKettleLogoNo pre-registration is required, but if you want to save time the day of the run, you can get more information at or send an e-mail to for additional participation information.

There are some great prizes, including an Apple iPad mini 16GB, Creighton Men’s and Women’s season basketball tickets, Men’s season baseball tickets and more. Dino’s Storage will be handing out water bottles to the first 300 finishers.

The entry fee is just 10 non-perishable food items or $10 for The Salvation Army pantry. The run location is at the 156th & F Street entrance to Zorinsky Lake.

Think Again: You’re Not Good at Multitasking

You might want to rethink texting while trying to hold a conversation. Multitasking actually makes you less productive than doing one thing at a time, and may even damage your brain, according to a study conducted by Stanford University researchers. recently highlighted a series of research studies that show multitasking is not a skill to boast about.

In the Stanford University study, research participants who regularly multitasked and were bombarded with several sources of electronic information failed to pay attention, recall information or switch from one job to another as well as those who just focused on one task at a time. Those who tend to be “heavy multitaskers” – who do it a lot and believe it helps their performance – were found to pay the biggest price.

multitask“They’re suckers for irrelevancy,” says Clifford Nass, one of the researchers and a communication professor at Stanford. “Everything distracts them.”

Indeed, researchers found that “heavy multitaskers” tend to struggle more at organizing their thoughts, filtering out irrelevant information and are slower at switching from one task to another.

Besides just slowing you down, multitasking has also been linked with lower IQs. In a separate study conducted by researchers at the University of London, researchers found that those who multitask during cognitive tasks had IQ scores similar to what you’d expect if they had smoked marijuana or didn’t get any sleep the night before. In fact, multitasking men were found to have IQ drops of 15 points, which put many in the average range of an 8-year-old child.

Some researchers using MRI scans even suggest that multitasking on multiple devices – like texting while watching TV – can damage your brain, although more research is needed to confirm. Researchers at the University of Sussex in the UK found that high multitaskers had less brain density in the anterior cingulate cortex, an area of the brain responsible for empathy and cognitive and emotional control.

“I feel that it is important to create an awareness that the way we are interacting with the devices might be changing the way we think and these changes might be occurring at the level of brain structure,” says Kep Kee Loh, a neuroscientist and the study’s lead author.

Six Rising Home Design Trends

What home-design trends will likely catch on in new construction? Builder Online recently spoke to Mollie Carmichael, principal at John Burns Real Estate Consulting, and Nick Lehnert, executive director at architecture firm KTGY, about the design trends that are gaining popularity in the new-home market this year.
trendsPrivate space
Baby boomers, empty nesters and Gen Yers are showing a preference for homes that have more private outdoor spaces, straying from the traditional “public” backyard, according to surveys. One way some builders are fulfilling this desire is by positioning the home’s architecture strategically around the outdoor space to enclose it more and allow it to be more open to the interior living spaces. They also are creating more covered outdoor spaces.
The Super Kitchen
Besides being a place for cooking, the kitchen is also the entertainment/conversation area in a home. Open-kitchen layouts have continued to grow in popularity, putting kitchens more front-and-center and visibly exposed to other areas of the house. Kitchen islands are offering extra seating and prep space while larger pantries are offering greater storage. “As the hub, it becomes a consumer’s dream to design these elements together with function, practicality and flair,” the designers say.
Bigger Media Hubs
More home owners are looking for a place for their large flat-screen television. Larger television sizes are prompting more builders to realize the need for greater wall space to hang the televisions and larger entertainment rooms to accommodate more seating.
Larger Garage Spaces
If home owners had their way, garages wouldn’t be just for parking the cars. More home owners want spaces for hobbies and storage. Builders are taking notice by creating larger garages for multi-use purposes.
Home Offices
An office and den space is becoming a bigger desire among home buyers, and the location of it in the home is becoming increasingly important. Placing the home office off the entry is no longer considered the most practical location for it, but builders are experimenting with moving it closer to the “living” area, such as off the kitchen or the family room.
Two Homes in One
As multi-generational living gains popularity, builders are responding by carving out more separate spaces for several generations to live together. For example, some builders are offering semi-independent suites with separate entries, bathrooms and kitchenettes.

25th Annual Marge Durham Walk for the Animals


A 5K run has been added to the Nebraska Humane Society’s Walk for the Animals. The annual event is set for Sunday, Sept. 28, at the Humane Society Campus, 8929 Fort St. In Omaha.

Registration and check-in open at 8 a.m., the Run begins and 9 a.m. and the Walk at 10 a.m.

walk_logo_2014The one mile walk will proceed east through the park and onto the Keystone Trail then take a loop around the soccer field and head back to the Humane Society. Your four-legged companion is welcome to walk or run with you on the first-ever 5k Run.

General admission is $10 for adults and children 10 and under are free. Those pre-registered online will be admitted for free. Register at

Event sponsors include Dino’s Storage and sponsors will have giveaways and information on pet products and services. A silent auction also is on tap and rescue groups will be on hand with volunteers showing what they are doing to help your favorite breeds.

You can meet adoptable dogs at the 9:30 a.m. Adoption Parade and dogs who have been adopted from the Humane Society will lead the pack as the walk kicks off at 10 a.m. There’s even a special short walk route, dubbed the Dachshund Dash, for little legs.

There will be plenty of parking available in the ConAgra lot north of Bakers on the northeast corner of 90th and Fort. From there you can hop a shuttle bus to the Humane Society. And please be good neighbors and try not to take Bakers parking spaces. For $20 you can pull in on the north side of Fort Street and valets will take care of your car for you.

Seven New Materials Could Change Buildings

There is a huge gap between material science and construction. It can take decades to move an engineering breakthrough from a lab to a building site. Yet as architects and engineers face bigger challenges – from earthquakes to dwindling resources to sheer cost – a new generation of smart materials is emerging.

Some of these materials are still far from reality outside the lab, but others are coming much more quickly. These concepts may move into actual construction in months, years or decades. The folks at offer a look at some of what may lie ahead.

Conductive Paint. A team from North Carolina State University and the University of Eastern Finland are developing a practical version of conductive paint that can sense cracks in a structure. In a study published in June, the researchers explained how the system works: First, electrodes are placed around the skin of the building. Then, the conductive paint is layered over them. After that, a current is run through the electrodes in different combinations, and a complicated algorithm can determine whether the electrical potential has changed – if it has, the system can work out where the problems have occurred. Such of paint could be invaluable for older buildings, or those in earthquake zones. It also could be used to monitor any structural fissures at nuclear power plants.

legobuildingSmart Bricks That Act Like Lego. Lego offers a brilliant solution to prefabricated architecture. Not only do they snap together quickly and leave zero extraneous waste, the holes could provide extra space for wiring, plumbing and even structural reinforcement. With that in mind, a company called Kite Bricks wants to use Lego as a basis for a real-world building material called Smart Bricks. Just like the toy, these concrete-molded bricks snap together with a layer of mortar-like adhesive. Holes in the bricks can be threaded with rebar for extra structural reinforcement. And one side of each brick can be removed to provide access wiring, plumbing and the like stored inside.

Carbon Fiber Rope. One major deterrent to the height of supertall buildings is elevator technology – at a certain height, the amount of steel rope needed to pull people upwards becomes too heavy, increasing the number of separate elevators needed to reach the top skyscrapers. Kone, a Finnish company, has developed an alternative: A rope made of carbon fiber that’s 90 percent lighter and could support elevators up to twice as high as the current limit. Called UltraRope, the material could enable elevators that are up to a kilometer in height. It’ll also change how elevators are serviced, since it will last twice as long as standard steel cable.

Plastic That Lights Up In the Wind. Mechanoluminescence is a phenomenon in which a particular material will light up when it’s put under some form of physical stress. In the case of this material, a team from South Korea’s Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technology infused plastic with colored phosphors made out of copper-doped zinc sulfide. The combination results in a white light when put under mechanical stress. To take advantage of wind energy, the researchers molded the plastic into tubes – when the wind blows, the tubes deflect and the light appears. As for potential uses, imagine facades that light up in the wind, or beacons that glow to broadcast information about weather conditions.

Invisible Solar Cells. If you’ve ever sat inside a room that has photovoltaic panels on the windows, you know it’s easy to recognize the tell-tale, shimmering rainbow color of the cells. Researchers at Michigan State have developed an entirely different type of “solar concentrator” that can be layered over any window. The product takes advantage of non-visible wavelengths of light – ultraviolet and the near infrared – pushing them to the solar cells embedded at the edges of the panels. The result is a material that can make energy from sunlight in any number of practical situations. Examples might include gadget screens, windows and doors.

bambooforestBamboo That Can Compete With Steel and Concrete. Bamboo is inexpensive, it grows fast and it’s surprisingly strong. A team at MIT is studying how to make better use of bamboo in construction. Led by professor Lorna Gibson, the project is testing how and why bamboo is so structurally advanced. They’ve found that the material at the edges of a bamboo rod is actually denser and stronger than the stuff in the middle – and they envision using it to create a secondary building material, like plywood, to make houses and buildings that are stronger, cheaper and less environmentally impactful.

Wallpaper That Charges Your Phone. Sound can transmit energy and a new company called uBeam wants to turn that technology into a building product. A transmitter takes electricity and turns it into ultrasonic sound. A receiver on your wireless device captures that audio and turns it back into energy. You’d be able to charge any device while walking around your home. Right now, uBeam is focusing on putting its technology in wallpaper or a piece of art, but it’s easy to imagine how these transmitters could be embedded in all sorts of materials and places – an ambient web of ultrasonic sound that networks entire buildings.

Kermit Got It Wrong – It IS Easy To Be Green

You need not wait for St. Patrick’s Day, nor fear that “they’re hanging men and women there for Wearing of the Green”. And you can disregard Kermit the Frog’s advice that “it isn’t easy being green”.

greenshadesThis fall and into the coming winter, the color is definitely green.

For your pumps, your tops, your car, your furniture. For your walls, your handbag, your sweaters. For your coats, your boots, your jewelry. For your furniture, accessories, cars and interior paint. Green is the in color.

And you can use any green you like from linden to wheatgrass, from kale to emerald, from forest to lime. And put extra emphasis on emerald.

Black is no longer the be all, wear all. Couple your greens with a splash of gold, milky white, pastels and even orange. You are also in style with reds, plums, bright blues, purple and fuchsia. Grey and black and white combos also are in vogue.

Multi-tasking Can Make You Stupid

You may want to stop secretly scanning your e-mail messages as you talk with someone on your phone. A new study shows that multi-tasking with electronic media can make you stupid.

Researchers at the Institute of Psychiatry at the University of London say multi-tasking can lower your IQ more than smoking marijuana or missing one night’s sleep. The researchers studied 1,100 workers at a British company to find how multi-tasking with electronic media affected a person’s IQ.

multitaskingDespite the evidence, multi-tasking has become the norm in many work environments. Nearly 70 percent of workers say they have difficulty focusing on one thing at a time, and they say they’re easily distracted during the work day, particularly by e-mail, according to The Energy Project Audit. On average, workers spend 13 hours a week on e-mail – the equivalent of 28 percent of their typical workweek, according to McKinsey Global Institute findings.

So how can you better harness the optimal performance of your brain and body and battle the multi-tasking urge? recommends committing to a “Power Hour,” where you work in concentrated periods of time followed by short periods or rest. Shut off all distractions and block off 75 minutes of uninterrupted time to focus on the tasks at hand on your to-do list. Devote 20 minutes to your most important task and then take a two-minute break, marked by stretching and moving around. Then, repeat.

Youth Tackle Football Play Starts Sept. 7

Tackle football games for youth aged 7 to through 14 get under way in the Omaha metro area Sept. 7. The season runs through the Nov. 2 championship games.

Chiefs_WebLogoOmaha Chiefs football is a family-based, youth-oriented sports organization designed to help build and shape today’s young men and women into strong, considerate, contributing adult members of our community. Coupled with your own family values, the Chiefs strong emphasis on education, participation, courtesy and mental and physical preparedness helps youngsters feel a sense of community. Chiefs football also helps them make the right decisions in their lives while learning the fundamentals of good football and developing lifelong friendships.

In addition to the fall schedule of tackle football, the Omaha Chiefs has a full program of flag football for youngsters in the spring.

Dino’s Storage is a proud sponsor of Omaha Chiefs football. Now in its 45th year, the Omaha Chiefs is one of the oldest continuous youth sports organizations in the metro area.

Join in the fun and take in some of the games. More information on the Omaha Chiefs is available on the web at: