What is IFTTT and what can it do for you?

iftttMost of us have heard of “smart” home technology, and most of us know that means many new appliances and products from dishwashers to light bulbs will have some degree of automation.  While home automation is really handy, it’s limited by the software each manufacturer supplies with it.  Maybe you don’t want your lights to just turn off and on, you want them to come on at a low level of brightness to gently wake the kids instead.  Take it one step further; you want the lights to come on gently, and as they do, you want the coffee maker to turn on and start brewing your coffee, maybe even have the radio come on softly too. That’s where IFTTT technology comes in; it lets YOU decide exactly how your connected appliances, accessories and devices work by creating simple and easy to use shortcuts.

What is IFTTT?

The acronym stands for “IF This Then That”.  Simply put it translates to, “IF I do This (your choice of activity), Then That (your selected result) happens automatically. IFTTT (pronounced to rhyme with ‘gift’) is actually a website where you go, create a free user account, and start automating your life.  Still not sure what it can do?  Let’s look at some examples of things it can do. One of IFTTT’s life fixes is, “IF it calls for rain, Then send me an email to let me know.”

Apps and services that work with IFTTT technology are called Channels in the IFTTT website. They range from social media apps like Facebook and Twitter, to your online email accounts like gmail, weather services, even YouTube, calendars and productivity helpers like Evernote. Not to mention WordPress (for blogging), Etsy (handmade marketplace), Fitbit and Jawbone fitness activity monitors, and Nest home automation thermostat all also support IFTTT.

IFTTT explained

How Does it Work?

Creating IF This Then That programs are called making “recipes”, and some other examples include, “If the temperature drops below zero, Then turn my Nest thermostat up 3 degrees,” “If there’s a flight deal (to a certain city), Then notify me on email,” and even, “If the pollen count is high, Then remind me to take allergy medicine,” and “If the current weather condition changes to rain, then change my Philips Hue light bulbs pastel blue.”  The possibilities are literally endless, and while you can create your own custom recipes, you can browse and use the recipes others have made on the IFTTT website too.  For a look at the full list of apps and services, or Channels that work with IFTTT, click here.

Recipes & Do Button

“Recipes” work automatically, but IFTTT also has another helper option called the “Do Button.”  Downloading and using this app allows you one-touch access to tasks you perform every day, and those actions are only performed when you hit “do”.

A cheeky way to use “Do” it is to set up a quick button that will make your phone ring when you press it.  Great for getting you out of boring meetings and awkward dates. You can also make and use a Do button to turn your Nest Learning Thermostat up or down instantly, or to turn all the connected lights in your house on at once.  But you may be asking, ‘why bother, when I can already control my devices via the app on my phone or tablet’?

As Tech Crunch describes use of the “Do” functions, “the idea here is that, yes, you can already do all of this — but in individual apps. Now you can do it in one place, and even simplify that further by adding a Do Button widget into an Android home screen or into an iPhone Notification Center.”

How Can IFTTT Technology Work for You?31D7838E-CEE5-4502-A82A-E21E5B7788C1

What if one single post to Facebook or Twitter could automate all across your various social media platforms?  What if, instead of worrying about whether you left the curling iron, or space heater on, you could automatically kill that switch as soon as you drive out of the area? What if you had a better and more specific heads-up on the weather so you could remember to pack raincoats and umbrellas? What if, as you pull onto your street on a dark night, the lights in the house could come on?  Well, in short, all of those things are possible using IFTTT, with the products and partners that support the software.

What Will IFTTT Do for Me?

  1. IFTTT saves time & effort – you now no longer need to spend extra time duplicating social media content, for example.  This is a huge time-saver for small businesses, who may want to access all their customers’ favourite platforms, without having to spend all day copy and pasting. You can also use it to automate yearly holiday posts and greetings across social media, meaning you don’t need to panic the day before Valentine’s Day, for example, if you haven’t already given clients notice of a special.  Set up all the different holiday-related posts at once, across all platforms and never worry about it again. It can also save you time and effort, by saving you a return trip back home to check that curling iron.
  2. It saves energy & money on bills – Leaving lights on all day, or appliances running, is an energy waster that does cost you cash each year.  With IFTTT, you can automate light bulbs, switches, or power bars, and from there, the appliances that you plug into them (using a set up like the WeMo home automation system).  Running appliances and lights only when you need them costs you less, and of course the longer your smart automation via IFTTT runs, the more you save. You can also use IFTTT to automate them to turn on or off when you enter or leave a geographic area, or even at sunrise or sunset in your local area (updated daily of course!)
  3. It makes you more productive – IFTTT will allow you to do things like back up your contacts automatically, so that if you ever do lose your phone, tablet, laptop or device, you can easily have a secondary backup.  (Especially handy if someone breaks in and steals both your phone and your computer!)  The Android app for IFTTT also has some unique talents. Activate this channel and your Android phone will text anyone who leaves you a voicemail—and you can have the text tell them you don’t like checking your voicemail, and they should email or text you instead. No more wasted time slogging through those lengthy voicemail messages, “Ummm, hi. It’s, ummm, me.  Ahhhhh, oh jeez, I forgot now why I was calling…”
  4. It can save you money in other ways too – with recipes like “Alert for Free iTunes Tunes” or New Free MP3s on Amazon, or emails when flights are on sale.  When things (nearly anything you may be interested in) get cheaper, you can have that news delivered directly to your inbox, Facebook messages, or via text.

What Products Work with IFTTT?

wemo kit.pngI’ve touched on some of the home products above, and how they work, but to reiterate, things like the Belkin WeMo system of light bulbs, and connected switches, including the energy-monitoring Insight switch all work with IFTTT. Just install them, get your IFTTT app and then download or make your recipes for automation. Using the WeMo motion detector, you can also set up a recipe that will text your neighbour to check on the house if the detectors are set off when you’re away.

Similarly Philips Hue colour-changing light bulbs can also be automated though IFTTT.  With Philips, you can have your bulbs change colour, depending on a situation.  Is it Valentines’ Day in your calendar?  Have you Hue bulbs turn pink and red for your sweetie.

The Nest Learning Thermostat also supports IFTTT and the “Do” button, allowing you to further automate an already great system.

Want updates on whether you’re hitting your fitness goals?  Use IFTTT with your Fitbit or Jawbone activity monitors to send you a reminder to take a walk if you haven’t hit your step goal near the end of your day. You can even automate printing of photos or documents using HP Envy printers.

The 411

Figuring out IFTTT is as easy as downloading the free app, and then surfing the site to see what apps, appliances, and services it works with that you may already have.  Check it out, and if you’re already using IFTTT to run your life, let me know what recipes are working for you!

This blog was originally published on the Future Shop Tech Blog, which has since merged with Best Buy. Click here to read all the latest tech news on Best Buy’s Plug In blog.

Health and Wellness Gadgets on CTV Tech Talk

tech talk novemberFrom a brain sensing headband, to a Wi-Fi scale and even a laser razor, we looked a an interesting variety of gadgets on CTV’s Tech Talk this week.

Muse Brain Sensing Headband

museThis is a gadget I found unexpectedly cool.  The Muse headband helps you relax or meditate by playing a guided relaxation session, while you wear the Muse headband, which senses your brain activity. From a 3 minute meditation to 45, Muse will talk you through relaxed breathing exercises, then display the results of your brain activity during this time. I tested it out over a couple weeks and with different friends and coworkers and was surprised to find it worked really well. A full review and explainer will be on the blog soon. Meantime, you can get your hands (or brain) on one at Best Buy for $249.

iHealth Scale


A digital scale that’s sleek and pretty, this is a nicer addition to your bathroom than what’s standardly available.  iHealth connects to you phone via Wi-Fi and tracks and stores your weight or BMI data, and it can even be shared with your doctor or a fitness buddy. The backlit display even auto-adjusts brightness based on how dim or bright the room is. The iHealth scale is available at Best Buy for $49.

Philips Beardtrimmer 9000 Laser Razor

IMG_7413The Beardtrimmer 9000 is a standard trimmer by many accounts, but it has a few cool features that are making it popular with men, including lasers. The lasers act as a guide to give you nice even edges to your facial fur. Read the full review on the blog here. You can also pick one up from Best Buy for $79.

Sony Xperia Z5 Smartphone from Bell

Sony Xperia Z5We also shared info about the Sony Xperia Z5 smartphone giveaway — the same phone James Bond uses in the new movie Spectre–  on the CTV contest site.  Click here to be redirected to the site to enter.

Don’t forget to follow Erin on Instagram and Twitter @ErinLYYC and Like the Facebook page for tech news and gadget updates.

Cool New Camping Gear!

Stanley French Press Coffee Kit

You can usually find me testing out the latest gadgets and high tech gear.  But this time, some of the new gear I got that I’m most excited about isn’t as high-tech as I’m used to.  I love it nonetheless and want to share.

First up, this awesome Stanley French Press Coffee Kit I got at Campers Village. This versatile set up allows you to boil water in the compact narrow kettle pot, add your coffee (grounds are conveniently stored in the lid!)  then use the French press plunger grid to press fresh quality coffee, and transfer it to the thermos where it’ll stay hot for 24 hours. It also keeps drinks cold or iced if that’s your thing. I also thought it was really clever that the lid unscrews into two coffee mugs.

I also got a lot of use out of this kit by pairing it with a Biolite CampStove. Check out my video of how it all worked together!

black diamond ember power lightNext, I tested out a handy flashlight charger. The Black Diamond Ember Power light gives you light when you need it, which you always do when you’re camping, plus its USB port will also charge any gadget you have with a USB plug.  Dead camera?  No problem.  Phone out of juice? Easy to fix. I kept this gadget in my purse and also found it really versatile when we were short-cutting home through a park after visiting a neighbour after dark. My husband’s also been stealing it for everything from finding some papers in his truck after sunset, to recharging his phone on the golf course.

LED Tent Peg

Speaking of light, I also love these new 10″ LED Light Tent Pegs from Coghlans.  They secure your tent, tarp or lines, and have a simple twist on/off bright LED light which will keep you from tripping in the dark. I found myself using these to mark hazards around the campsite too, like big rocks and roots. Now, if only we could build LED lighting fibers into the tent strings….

I also picked up a couple other low tech options that I find I’m using constantly while camping and on the road.

The Nemo Helio Pressure Shower is super handy if you like to camp away from crowds and off the beaten path.  It comes in a tiny zip pack about the size of a mixing bowl.  The 11L capacity means plenty of water, and because it rests on the ground, you don’t need to worry about hefting it overhead, or trying to fill it while it’s dangling from a tree. So how does it work then?  You pressurize the “tank” with a foot pump then use the sprayer to enjoy 5-7 minutes of shower time.

Curious how it works?  Watch the short video!

Lastly, I snagged one of these versatile hooks, thinking it would come in handy and it did. The Nite Ize Gear Line is a handy line with rigid twist-tie-like tabs on each end.  It’s got several different carabiner-type S-clips along its length, meaning you can string up whatever you want and keep it there with ease.  You can use it on a tree like I did to keep a garbage bag within easy reach, or use it in a tent to keep gear, towels, water bottles, or keys off the floor and within grabbing distance.

nite ize gear line

That’s just some of the new gear I’m loving this season.  You can find everything I mentioned at Campers Village in Calgary and Edmonton, or online at Campers-Village.com

I’ll also be showing off these gadgets and some other cool camping gear later in July on CTV’s Tech Talk!

Home Automation with WeMo! Review

wemo-img-overview-3Home automation used to be the stuff of mansions, tycoons and futuristic films and cartoons.  No more.  Now it’s easy and relatively inexpensive to adopt easy home automation features into your house.

What can you do with home automation ?
From controlling your thermostat, door locks, light bulbs, light switches, sockets or plugs and even a power bar, manipulating the devices in your home for security, convenience or money savings has never been more possible.

Testing out Belkin WeMo
Enter the WeMo system by Belkin, just one of several home automation hubs.  I recently had a chance to review and test several products in the WeMo line, from lights to plugs.wemo kit

Set Up
WeMo was easy to use right out of the box.  I started my testing with the Lighting Starter Kit ($99), which comes with two LED light bulbs and a hub or the “Link”. Getting things going was as simple as downloading the WeMo app (for smartphones or tablets), plugging the Link into a wall outlet, and screwing in the bulbs.  The Link connects to your homes existing wifi, and uses that signal to control your bulbs.  Once the bulbs were installed and turned on, the app found them immediately by doing a scan. Once they’re set up, they’re set up for good, even if you remove them for a time.
The app walks you through the set up, making it foolproof.

One plus of this system for me is the Link hub is tiny compared to other hubs I’ve tested; it fits in the palm of your hand, and easily blends into the wall so you don’t notice it.  It’s important to note that while you need the Link hub for the bulbs, other WeMo devices connect on their own, and need no external hub or Link.  In fact a WeMo staffer pointed out to me, “most of the existing WeMo product line doesn’t need a hub at all: the WeMo Switch, Insight Switch, Light Switch, Netcam, and Crock Pot connect directly to Wi-Fi.”
IMG_1109So why do the bulbs need one?  Simply put, the technology to connect to the wifi takes up space.  Some bulbs I’ve tested, like the LIFX system, are much larger and heavier than the average bulb.  So while those bulbs do not need an external wifi link, they do not fit in every fixture.  The WeMo bulbs do, but the tradeoff is the small Link.

The WeMo bulbs are white light bulbs only.  I’ve written before about the fun of colored LED bulbs that you can change, but for now, the WeMo bulbs are traditional.  Maybe that will change soon; having a colour option is really fun and allows you to really customize your home.

Don’t use “WeMo Setup” to set up, click on “Add WeMo link Devices”

Setting up the WeMo plugs or outlets was a bit harder.  There are essentially two set up screens within the app, and for the first few attempts I was apparently using the wrong one.  I kept connecting to “WeMo Set Up Instructions”, but I needed to be using “Add WeMo Link Device”, as seen in the screen grab.  It seems like an easy mistake to make, and I figured out the error quickly enough, but I could see this being confusing and frustrating for others too.

Additionally, I found the set up screen getting locked, and having to force-quit the app in order to try again.  Then, somehow, mysteriously, the device would be connected and working.
Now, while this was frustrating for me, a person who likes to understand what’s happening each step of the way, it wasn’t a deal-breaker for me. After a few tries, the WeMo system took care of itself and from then on worked just fine.  Since then, I’ve had absolutely no trouble to glitches with the system; it works reliably and flawlessly.
There have been rather frequent firmware updates required; not that it’s a problem.  In fact, I like companies who are constantly trying to keep software up to date.  But it’s good to be aware you may actually need to do the firmware upgrades before the app and devices will work properly.

wemo set up screen

Easy to Use Timers, Away Function, Auto-On
One of the easiest aspects of the WeMo system is how easy it is to set up what WeMo calls Rules.  It allows you to turn your bulbs, plugs or switches on or off at appointed times, which is great if you’re going away, or frequently get up before sunrise or get home before dark.
I’ve made some rules which turn on a light in my living room, softly at 50% brightness at 3am when I get up to go to work.  I also have the same lap set to come on at sundown, and turn off later at night.  Similar rule and timer functionality is also available on the plugs/outlets. More on that below.

WeMo Switch.

Testing the WeMo Switch
One of the things I like about the WeMo Switch ($49) I tested is that it’s powerful enough for me to plug in a fan or heater. Some wifi-enabled plugs only have enough juice for a lamp, so it’s good to check the packaging or details before you buy and make sure the appliance you want to plug in to the switch (from any company you buy from) is safe to use. During my testing, I plugged a small space heater in, and set a timer rule to turn on about 30 minutes before bed so the room was warm.  I also set it to shut off automatically after an hour.  Another rule setting turns it on about 15 minutes before I wake up, and off again 30 minutes after that.  That’s it; it’s ‘set it and forget it’! I have all these items functioning for me, on the schedule I decide, and the best part is that it’s easy, so very easy to program with the free WeMo app.

The WeMo Insight – It gives you data
I tested another WeMo plug; the Insight ($59).  The WeMo Insight Switch will send notifications to your smartphone or tablet showing how much energy your electronics are using. Of course, you also have the ability to turn your electronics on and off and monitor their behaviour via the app.

WeMo Insight

One of the limits of home automation systems has been that you need to be at home, on your wifi network to control your devices.  But now many companies, WeMo included, are adding internet connectivity or Remote Access to the mix, allowing you to access your bulbs and switches online, meaning if you forget to turn off a light, or the heater, you can do it from the office, or from the resort in Mexico.

Other WeMo Products
While I didn’t test these below, it’s worth mentioning some other neat peripherals in the WeMo lineup.  The Crock-Pot® Smart Slow Cooker with WeMo™ works with the app to adjust cook settings. WeMo says, “if you’re stuck at work or running late, you don’t have to worry. You can turn it on and off, change the cooking temperature, set timers and watch its status all with the simple, intuitive and free WeMo App for your smartphone or tablet. WeMo works over Wi-Fi and 3G/4G, so you can easily adjust your dinner schedule whenever you like, from wherever you are.”
The Belkin NetCam works with the WeMo collection of products so you can program home automation triggers like turning on your lights when you walk through the door.  WeMo is also adding to its home automation arsenal, announcing partnerships with OSRAM, the parent company of OSRAM SYLVANIA, and Jarden Corporation, maker of
Crock-Pot®, Mr. Coffee® and more, to bring home automation to more  products.

WeMo also makes a wifi-enabled Light Switch.  The company says it ‘allows you to turn lights on and off from anywhere–from across the house, from the backyard, or from the other side of the world. WeMo Light Switch replaces a standard light switch in your home and can be controlled remotely with an Android smartphone or tablet, iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch. It works with your existing Wi-Fi® network and anywhere your smartphone or tablet has an Internet connection (3G or 4G LTE). Easy for most Do It Yourselfers.”

The Bottom LineIMG_1915
I thoroughly enjoyed the Belkin WeMo experience and I recommend it to others who may be looking to get started on home automation.  The system is easy to use and trouble free once it’s up and running.  Make sure to set up via the “Add WeMo Link Device” screen, and not the “WeMo Set Up Instructions”.  I’ll be watching to see when WeMo adds coloured light bulbs to its arsenal, as I’ve gotten addicted to those of late. And I’m interested to try the other products in the lineup too to see just how useful they are.
It’s worth noting that the prices I posted for these products above are recommended retail, but at the time of posting this (mid-February), there was a good deal on the devices on the Belkin website that may give you extra incentive to pick some up.  In Canada, WeMo is also available from Future Shop.

Amazing and Chic Wood Accessories for your High Tech Gadgets

There’s a new trend I’ve noticed in accessories for your high tech devices; they are going much more rugged and raw.  Wood is all the rage right now when it comes to cases, covers and gadgets.  Read all about it below, or watch the segment on CTV News by clicking here. (You’ll be redirected to the CTV site)

Screen Shot 2014-11-22 at 2.18.40 PM

Lumberjack plug

Screen Shot 2014-11-22 at 2.37.05 PM
The lumberjack plug is a great example of where adding small touches of wood can really make a difference. Yes, it’s your standard USB plug, but instead of plastic or metal, it uses a nice soft wood; just enough to warm it up. It’s not only a nice touch if you prefer more natural materials, but it looks less sterile, and it’s something that’s just a bit different from a regular charger. iLovehandles also makes my new favourite organization accessory (as seen in the video) Paperback notes that stick to the back of your phone for reminders, grocery lists, etc. Yes, it’s not technically wood, but it is paper, and we all know where that comes from, right?

Wood headphones

Screen Shot 2014-11-22 at 2.37.37 PM
Wood headphones sounds like a contradiction in terms, but these headphones from Meze are a great example of adding natural materials to technology. The company says the wood in these headphones makes for a richer sound when listening to music or other audio. While I don’t think I’m enough of an audiophile to fully appreciate the resonance wood headphones would provide, I love their soft feel, and warm richness, just as a fashion statement alone.
Wood iPad sleeves:

When I first got my iPad, I searched high and low for a really great case. I wish I had known about these sooner. Grovemade makes these very flexible wood skins, with a soft fabric lining that will hold your iPad securely in place, and keep it protected.
Coffee Maker

Canadiano coffee maker in Walnut
Canadiano coffee maker in Walnut

Just one more example of the way many of us are looking to nature, instead of to technology to enrich our lives. This coffeemaker from Canadian company Canadiano, is very similar to the old-fashioned pour over filter set ups that many of our parents grew up with, but instead of ceramic or plastic, this one is a natural wood. The company says that over time, the wood will delicately infuse your coffee, and as such they offer this coffeemaker in a variety of woods, like walnut, cherry and birch.  It brews a cup of coffee that reminds me of the French press style. You need to let it settle because there will be a wee bit of grit in the coffee, but it gives you that bold richness that you expect from coffee that’s been made by soaking in the grounds.
Wood iPhone dock:

Screen Shot 2014-11-22 at 2.34.23 PM
I first found Valliswood on Etsy. Mario, who makes these beautiful solid wood iPhone docks in a variety of configurations is a one-man operation. The docks he handcrafts are great because they can be configured to any phone or tablet style, the cords run through the middle and out and nicely carved niche in the bottom, so the wood dock sits flat.  Docks like this are a really great way to bring more wood into your office workspace; a little bit of the outdoors indoors.

Bamboo Lap desk

One of my pet peeves working with a laptop has been it gets really hot. Whether it’s on a table surface, or on your lap, it heats up constantly. The bamboo lap desk from iskelter is loaded with lots of giant holes, which allows airflow to keep both your lap and your laptop cool.
Wood Cell phone covers


keyway 6_-_Jatoba_Black_1024x1024
Keyway Cell phone case


Many people go looking for a shiny slick case for their new phone.  Others wish for a simpler time, and for them, there’s wood cases by Canadian company Keyway. They make wood and wood hybrid cases for all varieties of cell phone, which lets you keep a rustic and raw look for your tech.










Is there a wood tech accessory you love?  tell me about it in comments below.

Coffee Lust: Debating between the Rancillio Silvia and Jura Empressa E80

The debate raged a year ago; which espresso machine to choose?  And my narrowed-down choices couldn’t be more different; the Rancilio Silvia is a fully manual machine that relies heavily on the skill of the operator to make a great cup.  The Jura Impressa E80 is fully automatic, and there’s little you need to or can do to alter your espresso in this machine.

Both get very positive reviews online in their respective classes.  My decision was basically a simple one; did I want to work for my espresso each morning, or did I want is handed to me on a silver… shot glass?

Rancilio Silvia espresso machine_1

The Rancilio costs about $700 new.  It also, however, requires an expensive burr grinder to be able to finesse just the right coffee coarseness.  I went with the very well-rated Baratza Vario, which itself retails for about $400.   By comparison the Jura retails for about $1700 new (and up from there, and requires no special grinder, as it’s built right in.


In the end I went manual.  Mainly because I want to learn how to make a great cup of coffee, and all the intricacies and factors that go into making it properly.  I’m no coffee expert; save for knowing what I like and what I don’t, and occasionally being known to import coffee from my favourite California coffee house, Urth Caffe.  Even being a novice, the Rancilio has been fantastic.  While it’s a wee bit on the noisy side when pulling a shot, they’re always piping hot, and with the right bean and the right grind, the shots are always delicious with just the right amount of creamy crema. The water tank hold plenty for my needs, and the machine is easy to clean. The only downside if it can be considered one is that the machine is fincky.  Many online reviews told me this and they’re correct.  Heat, humidity, beans (roast, grind), tamping pressure and even time of year make figuring out what grind setting to use to get the beans just right a challenge.  Once you’ve got it, you’re usually good; unless the weather changes drastically, then it’s back to the grinding board.

Now I didn’t mind this process so much because as I say I want to learn.  But I have gone through a good amount of (fine, pricey) beans to get things just right.

jura images

So when I was able to pick up a used Jura Impresa E80 for a song, I snapped it up, figuring now would be the time to see if I was missing anything.  If I elected not to keep it, I could always put it back on the block.

The Jura, as I say takes the human factor out of the espresso.  While some things (grind, shot size, auto-off) are all somewhat adjustable, the Jura leaves little for the operator to do.  At the push of a single button I get a fresh espresso, with beautiful crema.

The machine heats up quickly; within a minute it’s ready to go. With the hopper loaded with beans, there’s nothing to do but press a button for your mild/regular/strong espresso.  The shots are pulled in seconds.  This machine will be a major advantage when we’re having dinner parties.  My biggest complaint about the Jura is I feel the water is not as hot as the Rancilio.  With the Rancilio I’d need to leave the shot for a moment to cool before I could take that first sip.  With the Jura, it’s at a drinkable temperature right away.  This is where i find pre-heating the cups is very important or it cools off much too quickly.

On a bleary-eyed morning, there is some definite advantage to poking a button and ending up caffeinated quickly.  But I do miss the process and the love-labour of the Rancillio.  As a result, both are currently snuggling on my kitchen counter, much to my husband’s dismay.  I’m still deciding who stays and who goes.

if you have any insight.. please post below.  I could use some help!