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Evolution of notifications

I’ve had smartphones ever since the Nokia N-Gage was released and I’ve grown accustomed to notifications changing. It started with things like Bluetooth being turned on, new SMS text messages and missed calls, something not unexpected on a telephone.

Symbian S60 changed to v2, v3, v3/v5 and v5 before it was retired. Icons and symbols associated with telephone function have since changed to include tweets, weather forecasts, RSS feeds, choice of keyboards and various other apps.

I now get reminded to take my medication or to take out the bin, as well as more personal notifications such as the computer has finished whatever task it was set or the dishwasher has finished its cycle.

Of course nowadays our notifications are branching away from our phone screens to Google Glass, Android Wear smartwatches, or the more battery friendly Pebble.
We can acknowledge or even respond to our information with the blink of an eye or a flick of our wrist.

So much information is at our fingertips we’re now the weak link in the chain. We can’t possibly process everything that comes our way. The notifications for it all would be overwhelming. So as we bring more and more information to our attention with services like IFTTT and apps like Tasker, we set up customisable conditional events to only show something of we’re at home or something else if we’re at work but only if the outdoor temperature drops below a given temperature or above a given humidity level; send a photograph to Twitter, Instagram or Facebook if we use a certain app, or change our wallpaper every day to match NASA’s photo of the day.

We are now at a stage where we need these systems in place, picking apps allowed to show us relevant notifications like a VIP list and banning others (especially those spamming us with pop up adverts). In the last decade notifications have evolved so much I can’t help but wonder where we’ll be in ten years time, and perhaps more importantly how we’ll be notified.

Automation

We’re only here for a finite time.  That time is precious.  We spend far too much wasted time checking up on things to see if there’s anything new.  That’s why we automate things, to save time and effort.

We all have automated devices, even if we don’t look at them that way.  Washing machines, dishwashers, apps on mobile phones.  We don’t want to waste time checking our phone all day, so we use notifications.  We don’t want to wash our clothes or dishes ourselves, so we use washing machines and dishwashers to do the work for us.  The question is, where do we draw the line?  With houses, offices, servers, PC’s, smartphones, vacuum cleaners and even cars being automated the line keeps moving.

For me, my line is drawn far away from most people’s.  I take things a step further, I like automation.

I use automation tools on my phone, computer, tablet, watch etc.  I like the fact that my computer knows how long the dishwasher takes and turns it off at the right time, sends a message to my phone which in turn forwards that message to my watch to let me know when to open the dishwasher door, just so the crockery dries itself.  I like the lights turning themselves on when it gets dark.  I have NFC stickers throughout my house which enable the phone to perform various tasks.  I like that my calls and texts are automatically backed up to my Google account for me, so I can keep track of who I called, who called me, and when.  I love smart notifications, apps you can configure to link obscure items to your phone or tablet.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I’m getting overloaded with messages all day long.  This is simply about having the right information at the right time. This then enables me to disregard or act upon what I receive.

So, how can you set things up?  First of all decide on what you want automated and why.  My own inspiration was the Orange Automated Home which featured in their magazine, boasting levels of technology which at the time was admirable.  Since then a number of high tech, fully automated homes have been featured as newer technology is developed.   Since reading the article I wanted to own my very own automated home. Building Management Systems are now used to automate offices across the globe.  The thing is, once you start automating things you get the experience and imagination to automate so much more.  You end up looking for ways to help you.  

I currently use Homeseer to run the house, an automated alarm system to keep it secure.  The PC’s have EventGhost with the AutoRemote plugin for two way notification and control.  This allows me to be notified on my phone/tablet when the computer does something I want to be told about without having to sit at the computer.  [This is particularly useful if you have kids with their own (albeit really old) computer.]  Our smartphones use NFC, Tasker, Secure Settings, AutoRemote and Pushover to perform multiple functions with little or no input. [Useful if your bairns use your old phone].  Finally my watch links to the phone so that the most important information is brought to my attention without the need to keep taking out the phone.  Because of the way all these things link together I only have to look at my watch to know the PC or the house has done something on my behalf.  Web sites, files and even clipboard contents can be pushed from the phone to the PC (and vice versa).  I know if my son has my old phone turned on or not, whether he’s playing games or reading ebooks on the Kindle app, and we can lock / unlock / track / take photos / reboot the phone remotely.

One web site that really helps is IFTTT (If This Then That).  It works on logic principles, if (for example you get an email) then do (insert action here) for me automatically.  I use IFTTT when awaiting deliveries (amongst other things) to keep me up to date by using smart notifications on my phone by linking the tracking number to Pushover.  I don’t have to keep checking the tracking web site on the off chance that something had happened, I’m not wasting time. There are all sorts of ways IFTTT can help you.  If it’s going to rain that day you can have the weather report sent to your phone before you wake up.  You get the idea.

If you’d like to know more about automation, please feel free to comment below or get in touch.

Links:
Home automation hardware
Smartphone automation – Android
NFC tags

 

Medication

Medication can be great, it helps you get better and can help you cope with pain.  The trouble is, almost all medication has side effects.  It can colour your urine, make you constipated, induce seizures, get you stoned and if it’s not yours it can even kill you.

Some medication must be taken at certain times of the day.  I have one tablet at midday, and again at midnight.  I have some tablets which need to be taken around 9pm, while others are taken as and when needed.  The trouble is, all of my tablets have side effects, some of them quite severe so I’ve found a solution.  No longer can I forget to take my meds.  No longer can I wonder if I’ve taken them and take them twice.  While the solution is a little over the top, it’s a solution, and one that works well for me.

For this, you’ll need:

Dropbox
First of all, create a folder and a text file in Dropbox.  It doesn’t really matter what they’re called, but I’ve kept mine as \Reminders\Meds.txt as I use the Reminders folder for various things.  Once the text file is created, go to the Dropbox app and favourite it.  The file should then have a purple circle with a white star at the bottom right.  This is done so that the file is available when there is no network connection.

File Manager
Use your file manager to go to SD Card (internal if available) \Android\data\com.dropbox.android\files\scratch\Reminders you should see Meds.txt (or your variation if you’ve changed the names).

Tasker
Once confirmed, you can load Tasker.  I always have Tasker’s Beginner Mode unticked to ensure all of the options are available (Menu, Preferences, UI).

  1. I started by creating a variable called Meds (Vars, +).
  2. Then created a Profile called Meds Day which was time based, from 12:00 to 12:01,
  3. and created a Task called Medication.  The Task has the phone say “It’s time for your medication” – Misc, Say, using the Alarm stream so that it’s independent of the Ringer/Notification volume.  This is also pushed to my watch using an app called Pebble Notifier (amongst other things, the Pebble saves me stopping the wheelchair in order to get my phone out).  Using Task, Wait, the phone waits three seconds before Variable Set changes the variable Meds to 0.  I later arranged to have the buttons on my watch display the options ‘Meds Taken’, ‘Dismiss’, and ‘Meds Taken’, courtesy of PebbleTasker.  (I needed to add the Task ‘Meds Taken’ before I could do this).

You can also create the Profile Meds Night (for example) and link that to the Task Medication. By selecting set times you can create as many of these as you’d like.  If you wanted specific medication mentioned, simply repeat the steps two and three and name them appropriately.

Next, I created a new Task, named ‘Meds Taken’.  Using Variable Set the variable %Meds is changed to the value ‘1’. PebbleTasker then changes to the default options and a message is flashed on the screen (Alert, Flash) acknowledging ‘Meds Taken’.  The date and time are updated in the file (File, Write File) Android/Data/com.dropbox.android/files/scratch/Reminders/Meds.txt with Append and New Line ticked.
By doing this I am able to keep check of when I’ve taken my tablets and the file is automatically synced with Dropbox on my other devices.  In the bottom right corner I’ve also added an icon resembling a tablet, this was necessary for me to create a shortcut from the phone’s home screen.  It’s so much easier tapping an icon on the phone than going to Tasker just to change a single variable.

Meds Taken

Of course, life gets in the way sometimes.  It’s not always convenient to take tablets exactly at the intended time.  With this in mind (learned the hard way), I created a nag system:

The creation of a Profile and Task, each called Meds became my nag system.  The Profile is set every twenty minutes throughout the day, starting at 00:10 to ensure I had time to take my meds before it started nagging me, but sufficiently apart so I didn’t become annoyed with it, especially if I was somewhere that I couldn’t take my meds. The Task simply says “Have you taken your medication yet?” (Misc, Say) and has PebbleTasker open the options for ‘Meds Taken’, ‘Dismiss’, and ‘Meds Taken’ again.

Meds Taken

[Note, the other band on my wrist is an NFC tag which, when scanned, shows my name, NHS number etc.]

The whole process has evolved over time to include and exclude various aspects.  If in future any changes are made to it, I’ll post in the comments.  Of course, because Tasker is a one-off payment, hopefully it won’t incur any further costs.

Notifications

Most people with smartphones are familiar with notifications.  Whether you have an Android, iphone or Windows you’ll be getting notifications.  Most of them can be categorised as general/custom/nuisance.  The general category includes emails, texts, missed calls etc. Nuisances are mostly advertising/adware/malware, they’re all big business and the companies that invade your privacy can be extremely annoying.  There are, of course, means of blocking them but they’re not the topic of this blog entry.  While it’s important to acknowledge them, it’s custom notifications I’m writing about.

Pushover and AutoRemote are two of the more popular apps.  Each can be configured to push notifications of your choice to your phone or tablet.

Pushover:
Pushover is useful, I have it linked to a home server via an independent bit of software called MyPush.exe .  Feel free to Google it or you can download it from here.  You’ll need the Pushover app, an account and optionally MyPush.exe .  One of the most trivial uses is to notify me that the dishwasher’s finished so I can open the door to let the dishes dry.  For this I’ve utilised Homeseer, some X10 modules, and the above.  You can email notifications of your choice via your own personal Pushover email address or link sites like IFTTT to get more functionality and diversity.

AutoRemote:
AutoRemote does the same as Pushover, and more, but in a completely different way.  It offers much more functionality at both the send and receive stage.  Depending on which options have been selected the notification can change the sound, vibration pattern, URL (web address) to be opened if you tap the notification, icon URL, LED colour and blink frequency, and whether or not the notification can be shared using the ‘share via’ menu, amongst others.
When AutoRemote is used in conjunction with other apps by the same developer, or especially with Tasker, AutoRemote becomes far more enhanced.   By linking Tasker (a comprehensive automation app) with AutoRemote I’ve linked my phone to my tablet.  It’s useful if the phone’s on charge as texts, missed calls etc. can be pushed to the tablet.  It’s not an easy task with a SIM-free tablet but AutoRemote makes short work of it.
With a Linux/Windows version and EventGhost it’s possible to have both notifications of activities on your PC and control of the PC.  Ideal if your kids are at an age where they want unsupervised access to the computer.

I acknowledge that these apps aren’t free but they’re definitely value for money.  Remember, this isn’t about inundating you with information overload.  This is about providing you with information you control to one device when it happens instead of you having to look it up.  How you use it is up to you.