Stop slagging off IoT users if you care about them

It’s the season for gifts (or, as some would say, consumerism), and as way too often is the case, it starts a holy war between those who enjoy gadgets, new technology, and Internet-connected appliances, and those who define themselves as security conscious and tell people that they wouldn’t connect a computer to the Internet if they didn’t have to.

Those who follow me on Twitter, probably already know which side of this divide I find myself in: I do have a few IoT devices at home, and I’m “IoT-positive”. I even got into a long Twitter discussion years ago about the fact that IoT is no longer just a random marketing buzzword, but got to actually refer to a class of devices that the public at large can identify, the same way as “white goods” would, in the British Isles.

I have a very hard time giggling Twitter posts from geek supremacists making fun of Internet-connected ovens, when the very same geeks insist they would never possibly buy something like that — despite the excited reactions of the Linux, BSD and FLOSS communities nearly fifteen years ago at the release of a NetBSD-operated toaster.

This does not mean that I’m okay with all the random stuff that’s being proposed as an Internet-enable device. I have looked briefly at Bluetooth toothbrushes and I’m still lost on what the value proposition is with them. And even last year when I got a smart plug it took me a lot of thoughts to figure out what it would be used for, and decided that, for 11 months of the years, the plug will stay in a box, and it will come out at the same time as the Christmas Tree.

Today’s musing is finding a “Smart Essential Oil Diffuser” which was funny because I was looking for something completely different (a kitchen oil bottle, it’s a long story), but I actually clicked on it out of curiosity. I have looked into this type of devices last year, while I was writing my post about smart plugs: they sounded like an interesting approach to make sure they are on for a few minutes before we arrive home, just to give a good smell to the flat without having to keep a more standard Ambipur on all the time.

Indeed, I have considered converting our Muji diffuser into a “Smart” one with an Adafruit Featherwing, but it works too good to open it up right now, and nearly everything I can see in stores like TkMaxx appears to be fairly low quality and with power supplies that look too low to be true. But the device I found over there also appears to be a fairly bad one, so I think our old-school Muji diffuser will stay around instead.

The thing is, whether you like it or not, the public at large, not just the geeks, are the driving force of manufacturers. And you won’t win anyone over by being smug and pointing at how good you are at not buying stuff that is Internet-enabled, because you don’t trust it. The public will. So instead of throwing all IoT options under a bus, and making fun of their users, I prefer Matthew’s approach of actually looking into the various lightbulbs and documenting which ones are, indeed, terrible.

Indeed, if you think that Internet-enabled aroma diffusers are pointless, useless, and nobody will want to have one… you’ll find out that someone will be making one, people will buy one, and most likely some random Chinese factory will start making a generic enough model that other companies can rebrand, and provide the least secure option out there.

I think this is also a valid metaphor for politics nowadays. It doesn’t matter that you are sure you have the right answer — if you demonize the public at large telling them they are stupid, or that they are at fault for things, you’re not likely going take your advice for long.

So if you care about the people around you, instead of telling them that IoT is terrible and you shouldn’t connect anything to a computer ever in a million years, try finding what is not terrible, while still providing them with the convenience they desire. Whether it is a smart lightbulb, a smart thermostat, or an app-enabled doorbell. And if you can’t find anything, and you still think you’re smarter than others, make it. Clearly there’s desire for those tools, can you make a secure and safe one?

Driving Lessons

One of the targets I have to achieve one way or another this year is finally getting the driving license. It might not sound tremendously strange for everybody, especially in other parts of Europe and the world, to say I don’t have a driving license even though I’m 23 years old, but in Italy, with the quite disappointing public transportation system, it is a bit of a problem. In particular I also live quite outside of town, and going around from here without a car is basically impossible.

I kept myself from getting a driving license for five years because the one time I tried I failed, and then other stuff piled up (work, health), and it got moved down in the list of priorities. Since right now my health seems to be stable again, it was promoted again back to a high priority (and following that there is “moving out”; I know it’s the Italian stereotype that guys stay at home till their thirties, and I’d very much like to break it).

Also, thanks to the fact I’m now a self-employed freelancer, with a proper VAT number, being able to move around means also being able to have more customers, and thus a more stable income if something happens with the current “so-called crisis” (I say “so-called” because at least around here it really doesn’t feel like there is one).

While I did take quite a few driving lessons when I tried the first time (and still remember the basics about driving), I do need to refresh my driving before I can take again the practical exam. Since the official lessons with the school aren’t cheap, a couple of friends of mine “volunteered” to help me out (in the sense that they are actually forcing me to be helped, but that’s a different story). Of course, though, I don’t really feel like refreshing with their car for long, so I’m looking into alternatives.

Following my friend’s advice, I ended up ordering Gran Turismo 5 Prologue for the PlayStation 3 (since I already have and use it, and the game is quite cheap on Amazon UK, trying it out to see if I can get to listen to the engine’s revving up should be at least some kind of beginning for what I have to do); it . I also started looking into the option of getting a wheel and try with that until I can afford myself a cheap care (deemed to be ruined by my driving practice) before I can get my license.

Unfortunately almost all my friends seems to thwart my idea of getting an automatic drive, or at least to take the exam with one (in Italy, by taking the exam with an automatic drive car, you get a limited license that disallows you from driving manuals), which I would have hoped would help me coping with one less factor. As childish as it might sound, getting some practice with a game is still something (after all, I can testify that playing games after a while let you do some actions out of habit without thinking about them, and that I guess is what I should do about the manual shift).

Unfortunately seems like the only wheel, compatible with PlayStation 3 and GT5, is the Logitech G25, that doesn’t come cheap (€350), which is a bit of a problem, given that I never liked racing games before (on the other hand, I’d probably have to learn to like them given that I’m not likely going to drive all day every day to get used to the car). I guess I’ll wait till I get GT5, and if I fancy the idea I’ll consider that. In the mean time I should be able to work hard enough to afford that as well.

Oh and yeah, this shows how much of a geek I am.