In this month’s Net Work magazine column, Google is ousted by Amazon (at home, anyway) and we try some typical smart light bulbs, testing out Alexa’s ‘skill’ in controlling them. The latest energy labelling bands for LED bulbs are also explained.
^ DuckDuckGo offers private web searching without any snooping.
Some very sophisticated techniques are used to profile a web user when they hop from one web page or social media post to another. Cookies are instrumental in this and some benign cookies are necessary anyway, to enable a website or shopping cart to function properly. With online privacy concerns in mind, British TV viewers recently saw an ad. campaign by DuckDuckGo (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QWpPyYlZXNI), an alternative privacy app that claims to offer snoop-free web browsing and email protection. DuckDuckGo is at pains to remind web users how Google is ‘watching them’ and so their desktop browser extension uses a private search engine to eliminate a user’s web surfing trails, or you can search the web directly at www.duckduckgo.com
More than 98% of the planet has now been mapped by Google, including (surprisingly) Russia though, (unsurprisingly), not China. Surfing around on Street View can be quite engrossing and it offers a taste of different worlds and cultures, whether in Britain or Bangkok. There is also no disputing the educational and informative value of Google Earth, which offers a 3D satellite-eye view of our place in the world (https://earth.google.com).
Google services that are falling by the wayside include their Stadia cloud gaming platform, which never found traction and is closing in January 2023, with users receiving refunds. The ‘Killed by Google’ website (https://killedbygoogle.com) has 275 entries listing the history of every discontinued Google project. Some useful services such as Google Cloud Print, which was embedded into some Wi-Fi printers, are sorely missed but others were clearly never going anywhere, including the instant messaging service Google Hangouts which is being dropped this month.
^ The Tapo L510B smart light bulb is dimmable and equivalent to a 60W light bulb.
I tried some Tapo smart bulbs this month too. Early on, I hit one or two frustrating setbacks, with either or both bulbs sometimes becoming ‘unreachable’ and not responding. Occasionally they fell off the network and rebooting them didn’t always work either, so once or twice they were re-installed or factory-reset (a process of turning them on and off repeatedly). This is nothing like as bad as the factory-reset routines for ‘C by GE Bulbs’ shown in a YouTube video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DgIsn0Zac3o.
Additionally the Tapo smart socket (see last month) is working well enough powering up a smart TV, but personally I wouldn’t use it to switch a heavy mains load like an electric heater or any white goods.
^ The Tapo smart bulb can be controlled via the Tapo app or by using Alexa or Google Assistant.
The Tapo range has some handy smart devices, including 1-gang and 2-gang light switches (S210/ S220) to control room lighting, but only a practical test at home would prove how well they worked for you. A stick-on smart contact sensor (T110, £15) monitors doors, windows, fridge doors, filing or medicine cabinets or even the mailbox. It can push messages or activate a smart bulb (see https://www.tapo.com/uk/product/smart-sensor/tapo-t110). It also requires the separate Tapo Hub H100 (approx £30), a small plug-in chime unit with the form factor of a wireless doorbell. Their smart PIR sensor (T100, £28) detects movement, and a handy, multipurpose stick-on smart button (S200B, £15) might make a doorbell, lighting controller or an alarm-call for the elderly, for example. These peripherals also need the Tapo Hub H100. Tapo Wi-Fi cameras and LED lighting strips are also sold.
In summary, I guess budget-price systems like these are alright as far as they go. My own domestic set-up works well enough most of the time, and the benefits largely outweigh any drawbacks. The Tapo website details all these devices and how they work together, so visit https://www.tapo.com to learn more.
^An ‘F’ rating for a 9W LED lamp isn’t as bad as it looks. Higher efficiency light sources are under development. Scan the QR codes for more data.
This month’s column highlights the changes in energy rating labels and why an LED light bulb is now suddenly labelled as ‘F’, not much better than a halogen bulb. The European Commission explains that the new scale has been designed so that very few products will initially be able to achieve the top “A” and “B” ratings at all. This will allow room for waves of more efficient products to arrive and work their way up the scale. Currently the most energy efficient products will typically be labelled as “C” or “D”, but simple market forces should encourage progressive makers to reach “A” and “B” in due course.
The public face of the The European Product Database for Energy Labelling (EPREL) database is still in Beta but the go-to address for future reference is https://eprel.ec.europa.eu. Of the two QR codes printed on my Tapo smart bulb energy label, one clicks through to TP-Link’s website whilst the EU label jumps to the EPREL database showing full technical data (and you feel sorry you asked).
^ The ITER nuclear fusion site in France continues to take shape. View inside the 30 metre deep tokomak pit (Photo: © ITER Organization)
The ITER nuclear fusion plant under construction in France (see last month) has received the first of six ‘poloidal field coils’ destined for the tokomak. The 200 tonne ‘pancakes’ have taken ten years to develop and are manufactured in Russia. Many more components and coils made for ITER by international manufacturers have already been safely delivered to the massive site which continues to come together ready for ‘first plasma’ in 2025. There’s more at www.ITER.org and readers might enjoy ITER’s new video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f9nW01PBOOQ
Recently, my Samsung Smart TV suddenly refused to connect to the Internet, citing ‘No network connection’. I ripped everything apart, including changing Ethernet cables and swapping Ethernet ports on a nearby access point, but it made no difference and the stubborn problem dragged on for weeks. I feared that the Ethernet port on my TV must have failed, but the TV still connected to the network-attached storage on my LAN, so some parts of the network were working properly after all. It looked like a DNS look-up problem, perhaps with my ISP, so after much hair pulling, I eventually found a solution: I changed the DNS address nailed into the TV’s network settings by choosing ‘Manual’ instead of ‘Automatic’ and entering 188.8.131.52 instead. The TV immediately sprang into life! This DNS IP is a Google public DNS address (see https://developers.google.com/speed/public-dns for an explanation), and others to try include 184.108.40.206. or Cloudflare’s 220.127.116.11. The latter one is suggested by my own ISP, so I configured those in my router and all is well. If you suspect DNS problems, try those IP addresses instead.
That’s all for this month – I’ll sign off by wishing all readers a Happy Christmas and join me next month for more Net Work.