A cunning yet nefarious smarthome plan involving Samsung Smartthings

Being woken up at dawn by blood curdling screams isn’t the best way to wake up but when it’s something you’ve planned and it’s worked perhaps better than you had any right to hope for, well it’s a mixed feeling of success and chagrin!

Anybody that know’s me will know I love a gadget or a bit of tech. I’m often mistaken for someone working in IT* as I tend to obsess about that sort of stuff to an unhealthy degree. Consequently when I got a Samsung Smartthings hub last year on an Amazon Lightening Deal, I had more planned for it than the sensible.

The sensible in this instance was to set up a virtual thermostat in our summer house. Our summerhouse is a concrete and wood affair and has an under the counter freezer in it. It’s useful for pizza and ice lolly storage but it’s not a certified outdoor unit, so we have to ensure that the environment is kept within the tolerable operating limits. With my Smartthings hub, a wireless Xiaomi temperature sensor, and a smartplug, an oil filled radiator gets turned on when the ambient temperature inside the shed drops below 6 degrees. It’s only a 15 watt radiator, so it doesn’t get hot quickly or use endless electricity but it’s quite handy.

So that was the boring reason I decided to get a Smartthings hub but there is so much more you can do with them, and there is a lively community who integrate third party apps and sensors into Smartthings.

Being a tinkerer who has more imagination than ability, I set out to do something funny with my Smartthings hub that ended up in screams and me and my wife being woken up at just gone six in the morning. I think I’ve been forgiven but only time will tell.

As well as the temperature sensors, Xiaomi also make motion sensors. Battery operated stick up motion sensors to be precise. And they’re cheap. They’re a little bit fiddly to connect to the hub but once they have been connected, you can use a straight forward menu to trigger an action:

There were a few extra conditions I added. The routine was only live between 5am and 6:30am, the time that the kids would normally creep downstairs and start watching telly, even though they were under firm instructions to stay in their rooms until 7am and read a book if they couldn’t get back to sleep.

And so the morning after I’d set the routine up, the blood curdling screams occurred. You see, Fifi had sneaked down at 5:40am to watch some telly, only to trigger the Smartthings routine, which blared out Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells at her. You may know this better as the theme from The Exorcist .

The kids haven’t seen the Exorcist, I’d like to make that clear, but the music is probably the second most spooky bit of music I know after the main theme from Suspriria by Goblin. It must have taken about half an hour to calm Fifi down afterwards but at least the point was made about not going downstairs to watch TV before dawn!

If you fancy having a play with Smartthings, the hub is £59.99 from Amazon, and the Xiaomi sensors can also be had from Amazon (although if you’re willing to order them from China, they’re a lot cheaper, but will take a lot longer to deliver).

 

*that is until that somebody asks me for something particularly technical, then I tend to come unstuck and dispel the myth rather promptly. Although, like most of the IT professionals I know, Google is my friend.

And so it begins…

The last month has gone a little something like this:

  • mad frenzy to get all work done before Christmas;
  • mad frenzy to wrap all remaining pressies up before Christmas;
  • mad frenzy of Christmas;
  • Boxing day, in a bit of a mad frenzy;
  • All the illness
  • New Years Party (ON DUDES!)
  • Littlest’s 8th Birthday
  • Back to work
  • Back to school

Of course the proper grind starts this week, I was back to work in the Phoney Work period last week- the roads were still unclogged by parents on the school run and commuters- so there were no classes or extra curricula lessons. I could come and go (almost) as I pleased. Today I had to drop the eldest off in the rain on my way in and have to rush back to feed them all before taking the two eldest to music lessons.

Come the weekend it will be almost like the ten day break had never happened. I’m still not very well, I managed quite a lot of sleep over the weekend, rather too much for someone who isn’t ill:

The next day I’ve got scheduled off work is mid/late February, so I think a few more nights like I had at the weekend are probably in order.

Almost everyone had the hump by the end of the break as nobody got to do much of what they wanted to do- I wanted a day out at the seaside but we were all too ill, wifey wanted to swap a couple of cabinets over but we were all too ill, we wanted to go and see the new Star Wars movie but, yes, we were all too ill, and so and and, cough cough cough.

New Year’s resolutions fell by the wayside in a helter skelter of illness but there is one thing I’m sure to be fit enough for, and that’s my first session in the Shape Up St Albans fitness campaign. No, this isn’t something I’ve blagged as a blogger, it’s a course run by Watford FC Sports & Education Trust for blokes of a certain age, weight and BMI. Sadly I smashed all the numbers for a place, and I’m looking to try and get myself going again. Last year was difficult for me in a number of ways, and a lot of sitting around and comfort eating occurred. Hopefully this will kick start me and mean that at some point in 2020 I can once again go back to weighing myself in stones rather than KGs (stones are too depressing at the moment). I like being fit and active but don’t so much like the process of getting from being unfit and lazy to being fit and active. Wish me luck!

Just a normal nights dinner- homemade onion rings recipe

Last night I got home a little later than usual, as did the boy (auditions for the school play!). As Ned had Beavers and Fifi had a school opening evening visit planned (can’t believe she is in the last year of primary school- madness!), the two youngest and wifey had eaten, leaving me to fend for the boy and me. I had a forty minute window between getting back from dropping Ned off at Beavers and having to go and pick Ned up from Beavers. Not so much of a window, as a chink of light creeping in from between the curtains really.

So rather than going for the typical egg & chips that had been suggested, I had a spring onion and cheese omelette with a side of hastily home made onion rings, and the boy had home made onion rings and chips.

Onion rings aren’t difficult to make, and home made ones are so much nicer than the manky frozen ones you bung in the oven.

The thing it’s easy to forget (or not know in the first place I suppose) is by the time the oven is up to temperature to cook frozen pre-prepared food, it’s entirely possible to cook something much nice yourself on the hob. In this case, there were even some onion rings left over for Ned when I picked him up from Beavers. This is the sort of stuff I wouldn’t have in the freezer compartment even if there was room, which there isn’t, as we’ve got about 6 bags of frozen pineapple chunks in there at the moment for some reason or other I’ve never fully understood.

And lo, there was WAR

Ned is taking to junior school (well year three) with aplomb. The focus on learning vs play lead learning in infants hasn’t fazed him and he’s still very chipper.

We get regular updates on how things have gone at school, and I have to say mostly they’re believable. The thing with Ned is you can always tell the cut off point where his retelling of events starts to veer into the realm of fantasy; it will be the football story where he goes from having a good game to scoring 87 goals and being carried on the shoulders of his team mates, or the maths lesson where he gets a prize for doing well, followed by a prize for the number of prizes he won.

So it’s in this context of tall tales, that we listened raptly to Ned’s tale of the school WAR. A child in year three who disliked someone in year four decided to declare WAR on year 4. An army was marshalled and there was much punching and kicking, with lots of blood spilt, as WAR was enacted upon year 4. Ned and his buddy were determined to not get involved (this was perhaps the beginning of the tall tale, who knows, Ned does follow some rules at school) but saw the carnage wrought during the WAR. The large foam play bricks were used to batter other children, there was shoving, and shouting, and it took all the playground supervisors to separate the factions.

In the aftermath of the WAR, the headmistress spoke to both years, threatening a ban on the play bricks forever, and various other dire consequences if they broke the terms of the peace treaty and the white caps patrolling the playground had to intervene.

The next morning the boy who instigated the WAR smuggled in a large supply of sweeties to dish out to his disaffected troops in an attempt to keep them onside and loyal through the phoney war period until proper WAR could be re-instigated. We didn’t get to the bottom of how this morale boosting manoeuvre worked out because there hasn’t been any additional WAR so far, and I had to get Ned off to Beavers, thus ending our discussion of WAR. I’ve reached out to Kate Adie, former BBC war correspondent, to see if she wants to join me on the front line but have yet to hear back.

Rudimental (DJ Set) to headline 21st edition of Nozstock The Hidden Valley

Nozstock The Hidden Valley is back for its 21st season this summer. Following on from last year’s spectacular sell-out 20th anniversary, the independent festival now reveals its main wave of artists.


Joining Nozstock so far are Rudimental (DJ set), Soul II Soul, The Skatalites, David Rodigan, Hollie Cook, Elvana: Elvis fronted Nirvana, Oh My God! It’s The Church, Henge, Jam Baxter, DJ Zinc + SP:MC, Turno, Notion, A Skills, Randall, Hospitality Takeover and loads more!

Last years Nozstock was pretty special, I absolutely LOVED Grandmaster Flash and a load of the other acts but Rudimental is a particular favourite in our household so it’s bound to be really exciting.

Nozstock is one of the UK’s longest running festivals. Set on a beautiful working farm, it is family-run, home-made and proudly independent. It’s a gloriously eccentric and decadently off-kilter brain-shift with incredible detail at every turn. A small festival with a big heart which continues to chart its own path, far away from commercialism and following the flock. Nozstock transcends the classic festival experience, creating its own sense of community and escapism for a few precious days. The Nosworthy family curate one of the UK’s finest portfolios of music and arts, with a huge focus on keeping families entertained in the Little Wonderland Kids’ Area.

Payment by instalments available, and you can find all the details below. I recommend watching some of the videos to get a good idea of how cool it all is!

www.nozstock.com / @Nozstock  / facebook.com/nozstockthehiddenvalley
youtube.com/nozstockfestival   /   instagram.com/nozstock

Last night I got told off by my mum- I’m 43!

I’m used to be told off, it’s a part of life but it has been a number of years since my mum actually told me off. I’m well into my forties now and had thought that I’d passed that stage of my life. It appears that I haven’t.

I tend to have a weekly chat with my parents on the phone while I’m walking home from work. Although they’re only based 18 miles away, with three kids and lots of activities at the weekend, we only see them once every couple of months, so it’s good to keep in touch.

While I was chatting to mum yesterday, I mentioned that it’s great to be able to see what the boy has had for lunch- he’s newly started at secondary school and his school dinner money is done via biometrics- in this instance a thumb print. We can log on to an app and see what he’s spent and what he’s spent it on. Mum was impressed, I could tell. Mind you, a lot of technology impresses her generation, but even so, she said it was a shame that they didn’t have that sort of system when I was at school.

I was a creature of habit in my school days. Packed lunch containing:

  • two slices of Sainsbury wholemeal bread made into a Marmite sandwich (cut diagonally)
  • a bag of crisps (Ringos, Farmer Browns, Hula Hoops, Chipsticks)
  • a biscuit (orange/mint/fruit Club or a KitKat)
  • an apple
  • a carton of drink (5 Alive, Umbongo or something similar)

Blithely, I mentioned to mum I didn’t actually eat my packed lunch very often, instead I sold it to Mark Giltrow. Mark was on school dinners but didn’t like them and preferred a packed lunch, so I sold him mine for the equivalent of a school dinner, pocketing the money to fund my obsession with comics and computer games. Along with my 55p bus fare home I didn’t spend, choosing to walk instead, this added a huge £8.75 a week to my income. That was enough to buy a Megadrive game once a month!

There was silence on the other end of the phone. The silence extended and became awkward. Them mum replied, “You naughty boy, no wonder you were hungry when you got home, honestly Alex, I’m cross with you.”

I had to point out that we were talking about something that happened 30 years ago, and as a 43 year old parent of three I wasn’t about to take a telling off for something that happened so long ago but there was little I could say that would mollify her. I was in trouble!

Nozstock the Hidden Valley 2018 Review

This year Nozstock celebrated it’s 20th birthday, no mean feat given how the festival market has burgeoned in recent years. The secret to their success is threefold- Nozstock has refused to grow to the size of a mega festival, it has great music, and it’s just incredibly friendly.

This year the weather gods were kind to us,it was gloriously hot and sunny where it had been rather wet the previous year. The weather does make a big difference at a festival, even one where they deal with the mud really well, and I have to say combined with the lovely local cider and the musical line up, this was probably the best Nozstock yet.

We started off Friday with We Are Scientists, before moving on to the Selector for a bit of ska. Both were ace, but simply a warm up for Chase & Status a bit later in the evening, who did an awesome set. Day time is quite chilled at Nozstock, with a mixture of mellow acoustic, folk, and guitar based pop/rock. Things get really banging in the evenings. The kids did well on the first night, managing to stay up until gone midnight.

On day 2 we were joined by the rest of our posse (the Friday had been year six leavers party, so my wife, the eldest, and one of our friends and their eldest came up first thing Saturday morning). The last sets of the previous night only finished at around 2/3am, so the morning was quite chilled. I’d made the cardinal mistake of not filling up my water bottle so had to start the day with a gin in a tin to wet my whistle – why not start as you mean to carry on eh? 

Although the family camping has always been great at Nozstock (restricted to people with actual families and not groups of teenagers on their own like a few other festivals I could name), this year it really outdid itself with a bespoke adventure playground and some football goals.  This is a really great addition when you have kids that get up at 7am and the festival proper doesn’t open until 10!

Of course the bigger acts were reserved for the (late) evenings but with the likes of Electric Swing Circus on earlier, it really wasn’t the case of having to sit through a lot of rubbish just to make sure you got to see the likes of GrandMaster Flash or Goldfrapp.

The thing that sets Nozstock apart (aside from the music, the food, and well lots of other things really) is the atmosphere though. It is so friendly. We had “merry” lads and lasses coming up and asking the kids who their favourite artists were, complementing us on making the kids wear ear defenders, and just being genuinely nice. There was none of the argy bargy jostling and queue jumping you see at larger festivals, everybody is out to have a good time and enjoy themselves.

Tickets are already available for Nozstock’s 21st Festival, and you can pick them up here at an early bird rate. Don’t forget that kids under 12 go free, so it really is an awesome opportunity to spend a long weekend chilling.

Blasters at the ready, we’re Lazer M.A.D!

On a baking hot Saturday a couple of weeks ago the boys and I drove down to Greenwich to sweat a lot in a concrete basement. I sweated so much I had to change every single item of clothing I was wearing. It turns out, having fun in the heat makes you sweat and we had so much fun playing Lazer M.A.D. that I must have lost a couple of pints of fluids.

Lazer M.A.D. is a blaster game that you can play in an underground bunker in Greenwich but you can also play at home, in your garden, or in the office (if your boss is understanding). I have to admit Ned’s enthusiasm and excitement as we headed to the event was probably matched by my scepticism- “toy” versions of almost everything tend to turn out to be rubbish, from low megapixel cameras, to drones that crash or fly off and get lost, the market doesn’t have a very good track record in making stuff that is good in anything other than an advert.

I have to say though that two weeks after the event, and two weeks playing quite a bit of Lazer M.A.D. at home with the kids, I’ve been proved pleasantly wrong.

Lets start with the equipment. In each pack of Lazer M.A.D. you get two blasters, with various modular attachments that affect the range and the rate of fire. you also get a little harness and a target (much like you would if you went to an actual Lazer Tag venue). The first thing that impressed me was the durability of the blasters and the add-ons. I could see that they had a bit of heft to them and didn’t look like they would break that easily. Build quality (and general style) is fairly similar to everyone’s favourite dart propelling blaster system and that’s no bad thing in my book. Each of the add-ons snicks on positively and after a few weeks of play haven’t i) been lost or ii) become loose.

Of course, like all these devices, the Lazer M.A.D. blasters aren’t really lasers, they use an IR transmitter that is pretty powerful and pretty focused. As a chap who has been on several 9/10 year old laser tag party teams, I really couldn’t tell the difference between the Lazer M.A.D. stuff and the “professional” gear.

Given that you can use the blaster in different modes, it’s great that you have to reload it (there is a pump action slider on the top, so you too can be Linda Hamilton from Terminator 2 and do it one handed if you really want to be). The target also shows the number of lives you have left, which is handy too.

Although there are no real set rules, since you can set the blasters and targets to “friend” or “foe”, it’s possible to play team games and also, if you set everyone to the A team on the blaster but the B team on the target, you can also play last man standing, or Fortnite in real life as the kids termed it.

Even with the two player advanced battle ops set we played with (and bought home with us), which retails for £59.99, you can have a lot of fun, although if you’ve got a few friends with a set, the fun exponentially increases. The price isn’t prohibitive either if you do want to add more sets to your collection and join in with your kids.

Ned, our six year old, loved Lazer M.A.D. more than I can really articulate. It took him most of the drive home to calm down, and the next hour or so getting excited about playing on his very own set. I was surprised and impressed too. Have I mentioned how hot and sweaty I got playing Lazer M.A.D? Yes? Well that’s probably testament to how much fun we had playing!

Lego City Mining Review and Giveaway With Smyths

It’s easy to get sucked into buying branded LEGO sets; I’ve got a big stack of Star Wars and Marvel Superhero sets stashed away for birthdays and rewards for the kids but Smyths have popped up with a timely reminder that their is fun in the LEGO universe outside of the film and TV tie ins with some LEGO City for review and another set for a giveaway!

LEGO City Mining is a sub set of LEGO City that focuses on the big rigs that, surprise!, do mining. All the characters come equipped with hard hats and some of the machinery is really cool- rock smashers, a tunneller with counter rotating drill bits at the front– and you can even recreate the Indiana Jones mine cart chase in miniature because there is a mine cart set too.

The boy and Fifi spent a fun filled weekend building a lot of bright yellow digging equipment and if you would like your little ones to build a lot of bright yellow digging equipment, now is your chance because Symths Toys have kindly given another set of the, um, sets to me to give away (LEGO City Mining sets 60184, 60185, 60186 and 60188).

a Rafflecopter giveaway

  • UK only
  • Winner chosen at random via rafflecopter
  • Prize is one LEGO CITY MINING BUNDLE worth £140 – No alternatives will be offered
  • The winner will be notified within seven days of the competition closing
  • The winner has 14 days to claim their prize after notification. If the winner fails to claim their prize within 14 days an alternative winner will be chosen

Getting some practical help from AXA PPP healthcare in facing my own fears!

Now I’m facing my fears with the help of AXA PPP healthcare, I’m actually facing my fears with help from AXA PPP healthcare– I spent an hour on the telephone with one of their physiologists who is also a mental health first aider. It’s all very well girding your loins and setting your goals but sometimes you need a bit of help in facing, what many perceive to be, the peril. In this instance, my peril, in inverted commas, is the fear that I’ll have a premature death and leave my family to cope without a dad or husband (the kids without a dad, my wife without a husband before you get any funny ideas). Rather than thinking of this fear as a peril, I can harness it positively, by taking steps to improve my fitness and with a healthier diet.  Unlike Sir Galahad, who obviously needed no help facing the peril:

Lancelot:You were in great peril.
Galahad: I don’t think I was.
Lancelot: Yes, you were. You were in terrible peril.
Galahad: Look, let me go back in there and face the peril.
Lancelot: No, it’s far too perilous.
Galahad: Look, it’s my duty as a knight to sample as much peril as I can.

If there’s one thing I’m never backwards in coming forward about it’s talking about myself and the AXA professional Becky was super awesome in focusing the Alex stream of consciousness into the areas that needed it the most. In fact by the end of our session I was in full on Galahad mode and wanting to face the peril, no matter how perilous. It’s funny how some external input can really help you harness the positive potential of those fears full on isn’t it?

We worked through my issues, which were a mixture of diet, exercise and a lot of apathy, and Becky came up with a three point plan:

  1. Reduce weight to less than 100kg – as you mentioned breaking this number is a big barrier psychologically. Don’t forget you have already dropped a trouser size through the addition of walking to work so you are well on your way to achieving this.
  2. Increase activity level, keep up with football and walking to work but build core strength too. Could you link this with the children as supports, just like running with your 9 year old, could you find an activity to do with the others once a week too?
  3. Improve the quality of your diet, specifically lunches when you are away from your wife. Don’t worry too much about calories, let’s look into nutritious rich foods. Take leftover dinners to work or cook yourself something – don’t forget you enjoy cooking so hopefully this will be a positive aspect of routine rather than a chore. Planning is key here!

Right now my knees are aching something rotten; I played five a side last night and by the end of it was really beginning to suffer (I am 43 and overweight!) but I was still out today racking up the steps. And while steps don’t mean prizes, they do mean kilometres, and in the long run the prize is conquering my fear of an early departure from this mortal life, so I suppose it is a prize in a way. I walked to work so fast on Tuesday that the GPS assisted activity tracker I was using categorised it as a run rather than walking! Every time I feel like dawdling on my walk to work, I think about lying in bed worrying how my kids would cope with everyday growing up milestones- transitioning to secondary school, sitting their GCSEs, getting a first girlfriend or boyfriend- without me there to help them along the way. To be honest it’s still very easy to lay awake at night with those worries but I am at least utilising that fear to drive me on to a healthier me.

I was particularly impressed with some of the tools and resources AXA PPP healthcare gave me to help with this progress. There is a great resource called Food for Thought that Becky emailed me that not only did the normal sort of “eat brown bread because it’s better for you” jazz, but also had a mood & food diary, with specific minerals and foodstuffs that could help improve your state of mind. I never knew that processing alcohol, your body uses thiamin, zinc and other nutrients and this can deplete your reserves, especially if your diet is poor.

After my first hour consultation, I get 20 minutes a month to catch up to make sure I’m still on track. This weekend, I’m following advice and taking the kids for an excessively long cross country hike followed  by a nice swim to warm us all up!

To find out how fears can hold us back and watch a video by leading psychologist, Dr Mark Winwood, about ‘How to set your fear’ so you can turn it into a motivating tool, visit AXA PPP healthcare’s Own Your Fears website: www.axappphealthcare.co.uk/ownyourfears.