IT at Home–Unexpected Problems & Solution

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Following a successful conclusion to an important project at work I decided to treat myself and my family to a new home entertainment system. I purchased a new 3D television with Google TV, a new home theater surround sound system with an integrated 3D Blu-ray player, a new home theater PC, and a new stand with which to store all of these gizmos and to mount the television onto. On top of all of that I added two new Android tablets (one for the family room and one for the master bedroom television) that I have installed various applications onto to act as a universal remote control for everything that I possibly can. I even bought some Bluetooth headphones for when my children are playing in the family room and it can be difficult to hear whatever form of media is playing at that moment.

These are the kinds of home tech projects that I love to do. These types of projects have obvious goals, such as in this case the goal of providing my family with entertainment, but these projects often have no clear roadmap as to how I will achieve those goals. For instance, the two Android tablets to be used as universal remote controls were an unforeseen solution to my desire to consolidate every interface possible onto a single device. At first I was just going to reprogram my old Logitech Harmony remote, but then I thought how nice it would be to have one device for the HTPC’s keyboard and mouse. I found various applications that could be used on my smartphone to manage everything with and installed and configured those applications onto mine and my wife’s smartphones. Everything worked great!

The problem though is that my kids do not have smartphones. My two children are nine and seven years old, so they will just have to wait a little bit longer for smartphones even if dad is an IT geek. I still want them to be able to control the home theater system though, thus why I bought two seven inch Android tablets.

After I installed all of the applications I then realized that my children would now have access to any Google services that I use. I trust my children, but kids have a tendency to “break” stuff when their curious little minds start pushing buttons in order to see what happens. To a child a scenario such as “Look! A calendar! I wonder what happens if I drag this thing called ‘very important meeting’ over to the little trash can icon?” is an experiment. For a busy professional your children having the capability of attempting such an experiment is a disaster in the making.

It was back to the drawing board as I tried various solutions out for how to restrict access to my Google account and services. Multiple accounts via the Jelly Bean version of the Android operating system was not going to work, because I would have to manage each user’s account on each device. A new family account on Google was not very appealing to me for the same reason. I do not want more services to manage even if I am increasing the amount of devices on my network. Luckily I liked a few of the apps available for securing other applications with a code, and once that was installed and configured I had solved the Google account problem.

I had absolutely no idea how much work I was getting myself into when I made the initial purchase of the television, home theater system, HTPC, and stand. Yet I really enjoyed solving each new challenge as it popped up. Now that the work is done I am very happy with the results. I have a single device to control the televisions and various devices with, as well as replacing my wireless keyboards and mice with. I even replaced my alarm clock since I am going to have another tablet sitting around in my bedroom.

Solving problems with technology is one of my passions, even if I did create some of these problems myself and pushed my budget for my home setup. For those interested here is a list of the Android applications that I installed after trying out their free versions that were available (you can easily search for them in the Android Play Store as I don’t feel like hunting down links, sorry Smile):

  • LG AV Remote 3 (for the Blu-ray and surround sound system)
  • Google TV Remote (just plain groovy if you have a Google TV)
  • My Media Center (this one I use for my bedroom HTPC where I have the required Ceton tuner card installed for the cable service and Windows Media Center)
  • XBMC Remote (XBMC is a magnificent alternative to Windows Media Center, but I like having both available just to see how they differ)
  • Unified Remote Full (a great app that I can use as a replacement for my wireless keyboards and mice on my HTPCs, but it also does a whole lot more)
  • Alarm Clock Xtreme (the best alarm clock that I have used, because it is so highly customizable)
  • AppLock (easily protect an application by creating a single PIN on the device and choosing what should or should not be protected)

I hope that if you are working on similar projects that you find some of these apps to be useful. Now that my home theater is done, and since TechNet is ending their subscription service for IT professionals to test software with (more on that next week), it is time to start planning my next home IT project – rebuilding my lab with Linux and possibly pursuing some new certifications. Wish me luck!

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