Home Automation, The Cloud, and The Death (?) of Peer-to-peer


#1

Yesterday our Internet service was down for a few hours and I witnessed what happened with all the new automation I installed last year. It wasn’t pretty.

What bothers me is that years ago the automation I had worked fine in the absence of an Internet connection. I even had calendar sync completely local (on my LAN). I could control lamps with X10. Now everything seems to need to phone home. Nothing can work peer to peer.

While I now have a home thermostat that doesn’t require Internet access, for a couple years we had a Honeywell Lyric which can’t even do a night setback without being commanded by Honeywell’s servers.

But now I find that my home security cameras (Blink) and automation (Amazon and SmartThings) don’t work because they are actually controlled by their companies servers and not locally. Why does the Cloud need to be involved when I just want to turn on a lamp?

I don’t dare use Quicken because the data synchronizes between systems using Dropbox, which was out. Everything I’ve got under Resilio Sync however works fine because it is peer to peer.

I didn’t try it but I suspect now that I couldn’t even play my media using Plex because Plex wants to call home.

This whole thing is bad for reliability and also for privacy. Voice control with Siri or Alexa is just the tip of the iceberg.

Note that I don’t use the Apple Home App but I suspect it too wouldn’t work in an Internet outage.

Thoughts, comments, experiences welcome!


#2

Some were ”astonished” when Scott McNealy declared privacy was dead back in 99. He said we should “Get over it”. That was before the launch of Facebook. Smart man.

My erro router calls home frequently for updates, etc… That’s a plus. They have patched some zero day exploits in less than 24 hours.

I can see a reason for some of it. Running things from the cloud can eliminate the need to issue software patches and updates, and reduces support costs. But a lot of it doesn’t seem necessary

The sad fact is you don’t have to be Facebook these days to literally know everything about anyone. If you don’t collect it from your users or steal it from others, it’s all for sale from vendors and credit bureaus, or the U.S. Postal Service.

Data is the new oil and everyone is drilling. IMO, our only hope is some decent laws restricting how our data is used. The barn door has been open too long, it’s all out there.

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The good news is, I’ve used Plex when the net is down. Mine runs on an Nvidia Shield, but I would think a Mac hosted system would work the same.


#3

It is these moments for which the gin and tonic was invented.

Jokes aside it’s something I’ve pondered for years. Hopefully your outage was short. It is an important aspect to consider for commercial iot/saas applications, but just about everything is now at or headed in this direction.

A friend recently was very proud of the fact that his new VDSL/NBN router had 4G modem built in. I guess this is one approach, possibly at a not insignificant cost, to alleviate the concerns.


#4

For voice recognition. The audio is shipped to Amazon, decoded, and shipped back. It’s also convenient for Amazon to learn your secrets and dreams.

I must say I’m soooooo glad I don’t have to fight with X10 anymore, or Lantastic ( remarkably still for sale), or 50ohm terminators. I’ll trade all those shenanigans for an hour’s downtime a year.


#5

I’m also not happy with this trend. I keep reading that “the cloud” is the future, but that’s not a good future for rural dwellers like us who have no hope of ever seeing broadband connection speeds and are subject to sometimes extended interruptions of our service. If I get one more lecture about why I’m negligent for not using cloud-based backups…

Another factor for us is that my spouse and I both spent decades doing research on distributed systems, we know all the ways that this stuff can go wrong, and continue to not trust it from either a reliability or privacy viewpoint. That’s probably a disservice to some providers, but there are enough that still have major problems there to hit all our confirmation bias buttons. And, yeah, this is why we don’t do much home automation.

Unfortunately it’s getting harder and harder to find alternatives. Your calendar sync example is one that’s particularly annoying. I was so sad when the local syncing framework that Apple used to support for this stuff died. Sigh…

Thanks for the rant opportunity.


#6

Lantastic! I remember replacing a Lantastic network with (probably)10BaseT in 2000-2001.

How long has it been around? Seems like I replaced another one with Netware a decade or more earlier - but I can’t say for sure.


#7

Suggest taking a look at home assistant running on a raspberry pi. Everything works great together. It is rather techy but can do a whole lot. The interface isn’t quite as nice as smarter things but it is certainly workable.

I completely agree on the privacy issues. It bugs me to no end.


#8

For a sobering perspective on technology dependency read George Dyson’s “Childhood’s End” essay. at Edge.


#9

Internet has been down off and on yesterday and today. I take back everything I said. I have a new computer and nothing to install because the net is down. Don’t want to migrate all the detritus over from a backup.


#10

Try hassio (https://www.home-assistant.io/hassio/) with or without internet it works.