Automate your home for under a grand

Nest's thermostat is a whole lot smarter, and sexier, than its clunky gray predecessor.

Nest’s thermostat is a whole lot smarter, and sexier, than its clunky gray predecessor.

The idea of “smart” technology seems a bit silly. If stupid is the opposite of smart, then what is stupid technology? Why would anyone seek to create technology that isn’t smart?

The pervasiveness of “smart” technology comes from devices like the one I’m typing this on — a phone. But it’s far more than just a phone; in fact, the phone is simply one of the many, many things I can do with this multitouch bundle of sensors, brushed aluminum and high resolution screen.

For innovation around devices with a seemingly singular function, look no further than the gradual evolution of the technology inside our homes.

Belkin's WeMo Switch provides simple automation for any electronics plugged in to it.

Belkin’s WeMo Switch provides simple automation for any electronics plugged in to it.

It started with a fridge that became a water cooler, then an ice machine too. Now, we have no-fuss, instant coffeemakers that require no filter and no beans, just a little plastic pod. Our TVs are “smart” now, mostly because they can connect to the Internet and do more than just show television.

With Nest, the pace of innovation in the home has been taken to a whole new level. What Nest has done to the thermostat, that clunky gray rectangle on the hallway wall, is akin to what Apple did with the portable music player and then the cell phone. Before the iPhone, there were touch screens and Internet connectivity on a cell phone, but nothing that resonated. Nothing that truly caught on. Nothing that sparked a revolution in mobile technology.

Temperature control doesn’t seem very appealing at first pass. But with the looming threat of global warming and “being green” equivalent to “being cool,” the brains behind the iPod decided to tackle just that. No screwing around with a bunch of hard-to-press buttons and a tiny digital screen. Instead, turn the bright blue Nest thermostat like you were adjusting the volume on an iPod or the temperature in your car.

For not much more than the cost of a smartphone, Nest can track energy consumption in a home and start saving you money by learning behaviors and turning on only when needed. You can preheat your place before arrival and never worry about turning off the air.

There’s even an app, Nest Leaf, that acts as a remote control for your thermostat from anywhere in the world. The gas and electric bill should no longer be a shock with up to the minute tracking and month to month energy usage comparisons.

With such a smart device, the next generation of intelligent, learning in-home gadgets will likely be ushered in over the next 10 years.

It’s not hard to imagine the lights turning off automatically when we leave, with an app to program the living room lamp to stay on at night during vacation.

In fact, for 50 bucks, you can do just that. Belkin’s WeMo line includes an outlet and motion detector, which can even be used together to power electronics off and on remotely. Anything plugged into a WeMo switch can even be scheduled to activate, so you can always leave the lights on when you go away.

The Lockitron enables wireless control over you existing door locks.

The Lockitron enables wireless control over you existing door locks.

Worried you forgot to lock the door? Try Lockitron. With options as low as $295, you can set your door to lock automatically behind you and unlock as soon as you’re near. If the kids forgot their keys or you need to let the neighbor in to feed the cats, this simple to set up hardware and software combination will do the trick. That is, if you haven’t already automated your pet feeding too.

Cars have already integrated a lot of this technology, from auto locking, remote control ignition, and even a built-in personal assistant, a la Siri or something similar. It’s not hard to imagine a day when the home is smart enough to make our lives simpler, more enjoyable and more effective.

But new cars are manufactured every year and that’s hardly the case with front doors or kitchen appliances. The trick is finding an affordable way to upgrade an existing system. Between Nest, WeMo, and Locktron, you can automate your house now for less than a grand.

New ‘Countdown’ begins on Current TV

The liberal firebrand news host known as Keith Olbermann returns to television tonight after departing from MSNBC a little under six months ago.

As I reported HERE, Olbermann takes his “Countdown” show to the fledgling TV station and Web community known as Current TV and Current.com. (Current was founded in 2005 and pulls in under 60,000 viewers during peak hours according to the New York Times)

The real motivation for Olbermann here is a majority stake in the company. He joins former Vice President Al Gore and businessman Joel Hyatt as an executive of the company.

Full disclosure: I interned for Current’s Vanguard back in summer ’09. Blogged about my experience here and also contributed to Current’s news blog here and here.

Current is not exactly a house name just yet, but getting a heavy hitter such as Olbermann on board may start to change that — at lest that’s what the station is banking on.

Besides Vanguard and now Olbermann, the network received mass media spotlight for its two reporters, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, that were held captive in North Korea.

Keep an eye on this five-year-old channel, because despite setbacks and low ratings, (around 25,000 viewers during prime time) shows like Vanguard, infoMania and now Olbermann’s are worthy of your attention.

Current has always been forward-facing: it initially gathered much of it’s programming through incorporating submissions from online contributors and was the first station to incorporate tweets into it’s coverage of the 2008 presidential debate.

But with new efforts focused on getting the station into more homes and a recent redesign (or more like design overhaul), I have heard few outcries but my own over what I find to be one very big problem:

Current, which was known for bridging the online and televised worlds, stopped allowing full episodes online. So much for anywhere, any time. What year is it?

The channel says the only way to continue carriage on networks like Verizon, TimeWarner and Comcast was to offer exclusive deals and Olbermann tweeted that the TV companies have them “over a barrel.”

Instead, Current is pushing clips big time, all over Hulu, iTunes and YouTube.

But for those of us who already cancelled our exorbitant cable subscriptions, we’re shit out of luck.

I can’t even legally purchase the shows in their entirety…anywhere. Now that’s just not right.

That’s why I scheduled a viewing party of sorts at a friends house for tonight’s premieres of Countdown with Keith Olbermann and a new season of Vanguard.

WATCH TONIGHT: Countdown premieres at 8/9c and Vanguard’s new season follows at 9/8c.

Check out behind the scenes with “Countdown” HERE.