I am pleased to introduce the first Orthodox three times daily Internet Minyan (iMinyan) live streamed. The Internet Minyan will stream daily Shacharis, Mincha, and Maariv, except of course on Shabbos and Yom Tov.
At the outbreak of COVID-19, Zoom Tefillah groups sprang up across the country. Many individuals davening alone at home did so together via Zoom. While not halachically constituting a minyan, this at least offered the feeling of Tefilah b’tzibur while in lockdown. Once the lockdown ended and people began to feel a bit more safe, live minyanim formed and were sometimes streamed on Zoom so those who were unable to attend in person could participate virtually. While Zoom minyanim were very popular, their broad availability diminished considerably once outdoor minyan became commonplace and indoor minyanim resumed with precautions.
Enter the new Internet Minyan, which now streams live three times daily with a high-definition, wide-angle camera providing the viewer with the feeling of being present in the room. Microphones placed over both the amud and the bima allow the ba’al tefilah and the ba’al kriya to be heard loudly and clearly. Viewers participate without the need to download a smartphone app or to know a password. Using a computer or a smartphone, simply click on a link to participate in the minyan.
Halachicly, online participants in the Internet Minyan may respond Amen to brachos and to devarim she’bekdusha (Kaddish, Kedusha or Barchu) but may not be counted toward the minyan, recite Kaddish or lead the tzibbur. Additionally, it is recommended where possible that one davening at home with the Internet Minyan make every effort to dress as if he or she were attending in person.
While the global pandemic highlights the need for a virtual minyan, many people during ordinary times are medically or otherwise unable to participate in tefilah b’tzibur. There are also those who are traveling or find themselves in a location without a minyan. The Internet Minyan is a permanent offering and will stream weekday’s live (no replays) even after COVID, offering participants the ability to hear a full tefilah including Kaddish, chazaras ha’shatz, kriyas HaTorah, Hallel etc. A daily d’var Torah will follow Shacharis.
Currently, the platform can potentially support one thousand or more simultaneous viewers. In the future there is the potential to also live stream the Internet Minyan on Facebook and YouTube as well as on a dedicated Roku channel for users who prefer to use a TV. This could be beneficial to someone who is bedridden or for whom a smart phone is less than ideal. In the first week we began to stream, I received my first thank you email. The person wrote about his 88-year-old father who throughout his life has made his schedule around davening daily in shul but who was recently advised by his physicians to not attend indoor or even outdoor minyanim. He described how upset his father was to lose the opportunity to daven with a minyan but who now virtually attends the Internet Minyan and loves it. After reading that email, my feeling was that for this one person alone, the entire project was worth it!
The current times for the Minyanim are: Shacharis (slow minyan) Sunday (8AM); Mon-Fri (7:15), Mincha at 1:45 and Maariv at 6PM (7PM Sun). An updated minyan schedule can be seen at any time by clicking on the event or checking the shul calendar.
The stream can be found at: tribeautomation.com/iminyan.
The Internet Minyan is dedicated in memory of Miriam bat Betzalel Yehudah a”h who learned to daven in the secrecy of her own home under Communist rule. In the Z’chut of all those who participate in the Internet Minyan, may her neshama have an aliya.
Note: If you are interested in broadcasting your own shul’s minyan, please contact us.
Last time we discussed the various versions and features of the Ring Doorbell. We analyzed the different motion detection methods and raised the question of the Ring Doorbell’s use on Shabbos. We now present the conclusion: The Lord and The Ring.
There are many settings that Ring offers to help control your motion detection and alerts. To address concerns for Shabbos, you can turn off motion detection (not just alerts) on your doorbell all the time or just for Shabbos. However, the results are not the same on all doorbell versions. According to Ring, unlike the wired versions, changing the settings on the Ring and Ring 2 does not guarantee that you will not trigger motion on your doorbell on Shabbos, it just minimizes it. For this reason, I recommend the wired Ring Pro over the Ring and Ring 2 if possible since it will stop your doorbell from triggering anything based on motion and should make the Ring permissible on Shabbos. The Ring and Ring 2 may be more problematic.
To disable motion detection for the non-battery-operated models (i.e. Pro), from the device settings, go to Motion Settings and remove all motion zones. However, turning off motion detection will reduce the function of the Ring Doorbell to… just a doorbell that requires a visitor to actively press before you are notified. If, however, you simply turn off the Motion Alerts or set a Motion Schedule in the settings, your phone will not get alerts, but you will still be triggering the Motion Sensor which will record the event, that can be seen after Shabbos. In fact, even if the Ring alerts are set to off, if you have an Amazon Echo connected to Ring and the Echo is set to notify you of motion, your Echo will ping with motion alerts even with your Ring motion alerts off. For this reason, it is important to turn off all motion detection and not just disable the alerts.
The problem with turning off all motion sensing is that you may want to have the feature on during the rest of the week and turning this feature off and on for Shabbos adds to the dreaded and potentially forgotten Shabbos to-do list. So, I sought another possible solution.
I first explored an IFTTT solution which does have a Ring integration. However, Ring only allows you to control other devices based on a Ring trigger (such as a doorbell push or motion sense) but if you have another trigger, such as a calendar that says it is Shabbos or Y’T, you cannot ask the Ring to turn off its motion sensing or alerts. I posed the question and request to Ring but did not get a response that would indicate that a more advanced IFTTT integration is in the works.
I then explored toggling off the notification options for Shabbos which can be achieved with a schedule in the Motion Schedule setting. While you cannot set a schedule based on sunrise or sunset currently, you can schedule for the earliest start of Shabbos in your time zone. For most east coast residences that would mean setting up two schedules. One from Friday night’s earliest zman ever (say 4:00 pm) ending at midnight. The second schedule would be Shabbos from 12:00 am until after the latest zman (say 9:30 pm).
The problem with the schedule approach aside from the timing imperfection is that just because you schedule notification off does not mean you are not triggering the motion and recording on Shabbos. As I mentioned earlier, if you look after Shabbos, you will see all the events recorded on the app.
I posed this question to the Star-K, an authority on Shabbos mode appliances that many of us rely on and I was surprised by their response. According to the Star-K, if you are not performing a melacha (walking past a motion detector is not a melacha) and there is not an event that can be detected by your five senses, it is permissible!
This opinion has far reaching implications for the smart home, so I checked with my Rav who thought this opinion was problematic. For example, he said, turning on a light switch on Shabbos when there is no bulb. In this case there is no melacha and nothing is detectable to the five senses, but it would still be problematic. One can argue that the switch itself is muktza because of its purpose but walking is not muktza and therefore if you hold of the Star-K opinion, walking in front of a motion sensor that has no response that is detectable with your five senses, would be permissible on Shabbos!
However, if you walk in front of the doorbell in the dark even with notifications off, you may still notice a series of lights illuminate. This is the night vision feature that exists on all Ring doorbells and it is triggered by events. This, according to the Star-K, is problematic. The only way to possibly get around this is to make sure there is ample night lighting in the area around the doorbell, so that the night light is not triggered.
I did speak with another Rav who has the original Ring doorbell. He was misled by the App to think he removed all potential of motion activities on Shabbos. However, he felt, unlike the Star K, that even If the night vision lights are turned on, they are not for his benefit and if he is not receiving recordings he was not concerned.
This all reinforces the need not only to be connected to the smart home but to be connected to a competent Rav who is your authority when it comes to the Lord, the Ring and all smart home things. Shabbat Shalom!
As a thank you to my readers, I have partnered with Tribe Home Automation who for $199.99 (below item cost) will provide a new Ring Doorbell Pro and basic installation programmed for Shabbos according to the Star-K. Click here for more info.
Let’s ring in the New Year with a review of the Ring Doorbell. As smart doorbells become increasingly popular, I have noticed the Ring appear on more and more front doors around the neighborhood. Ring, as a company, is a great comeback story. It was famously rejected for investment by the “Shark Tank” before it was eventually purchased by Amazon in early 2018 for over $1 billion.
So, what makes a doorbell smart? They replace your existing doorbell and chime in your house just like your existing doorbell. What makes them Smart is that they will also ring on your mobile phone. The doorbell and your phone act as an intercom allowing you to speak to anyone at your door regardless of your location. Additionally, the doorbell contains a camera so that you can see who is at your door. The video is one directional so you can see who’s there, but they cannot see you.
Smart doorbells are commonly pitched as security devices. Ring considers itself a security company that competes with companies such as ADT. Ring even uses the slogan “ring of security” to describe their ecosystem and product suite. I have always been skeptical of this claim. While burglars are known to ring doorbells before breaking and entering, are they likely to ring a doorbell that they know will record their face? And with millions of these units sold, will burglars be fooled into thinking you are home when you answer a Ring chime from the beach on vacation? I personally think the security is not from the doorbell itself, but rather the embedded camera and motion sensor. The Ring Doorbell will not only notify you when someone rings the doorbell but will also notify you when someone even approaches your door. While this can certainly be a deterrent against burglars, having a single camera at the front of your house hardly addresses the security needs around your home. Burglars will often target other access points besides your doors. Ring does offer other security cameras and window sensors as part of their product suite. Perhaps putting these all together begin to form the basis of a home security system.
The most direct competition to Ring in the smart home space is Nest, which also offers doorbells and other security-related smart devices. Ring and Nest are now owned by Amazon and Google respectively. When building your smart home, one of the important questions you need to ask yourself is: which smart home ecosystem are you buying into, Amazon or Google? If you are an Amazon user and own one of the Echo devices that has a screen (i.e. the Echo Show), then when someone presses your Ring Doorbell you will be able to see and communicate with them on the Echo device. If, however, you are a Google Home user and want that same functionality, you are out of luck unless you have a Nest Doorbell and vice versa. This, of course, is not consumer friendly but is the unfortunate result of fierce competition between the big tech companies for your smart home.
If you are building or renovating a home, planning for a smart doorbell will be important. Your contractor, without direction, may install a wireless doorbell or even a sophisticated Intercom system. However, if you want a smart doorbell that does not require you to replace batteries regularly, you will want to make sure you have the proper low voltage wiring that will allow you to install a smart doorbell. Placement of the wiring so the camera can get a proper viewing angle is also important and may be different from the most convenient placement of a standard doorbell. If your home does not have the required wiring, you will have to settle for a smart doorbell model that is battery operated and replace the batteries as necessary. As you will see, you give up more than convenience when using a battery-operated version of the doorbell, even if you hard wire it.
Ring has recently introduced the neighborhood App that allows users (even non-doorbell owners) in a local neighborhood to post notices about suspicious activity or other safety issues. Looking at my area (Teaneck) I see a report of an unhealthy coyote, a resident complaining about illegal dumping, a lost cat, a suspicious man looking for the mall, among others. While these reports sound somewhat benign and this service can potentially become a hyper local social media platform, one can easily envision using shared knowledge to avert a real threat. In fact, Ring is now working with police departments nationwide to enable them to potentially view users’ footage (with user permission) to help solve local crimes. Privacy advocates argue that this puts too much power in the hands of law enforcement. While Ring does not currently offer facial recognition, its owner, Amazon, does have this capability and this combination takes us a big step closer to the potential of a surveillance state. On the other hand, it is also hard to deny the potential this feature has in helping to get violent criminals off our streets.
Before you add the Ring Doorbell to your online shopping cart, it will be important for you to understand the different features in the array of models available. The Ring Doorbell has four primary versions: The Ring at $99, the Ring 2 at $199, the Ring Pro at $249 (If you are in the tri-state area, I am currently running a special on basic installation of the Ring Pro at the list price $250- Contact me) and the Ring Elite at $499. Each version has the two-way talk feature we previously discussed as well as night vision. However, there are many nuances between these doorbells such as image quality, face-plates and the physical size of the device. I will focus on the most important technical differences; power and motion detection. The Ring and Ring 2 models are battery powered but do have a hard wire option. If you don’t currently have a wired doorbell then the only options available are the built-in battery powered Ring that requires you to remove the device to replace the batteries or the Ring 2 which allows you to remove the battery pack alone. Even though the Ring and Ring 2 have the hard-wire option, I strongly recommend you do not buy these models unless you do not have wires and specifically require the battery. The reason is that the battery-operated versions only offer limited features. Most significantly, the battery-operated versions offer Adjustable Motion Detection vs. the wired only versions (Pro and Elite) which feature Customizable Motion Detection. I suspect, the differences between these versions will also be significant to software upgrades in the future. There are also potential implications for Shabbos.
The motion sensor functionality will alert you to the mailman and the Amazon delivery person. If you have a view of the street, it will also alert you to the motion of passing cars and dog walkers. Fortunately, there are settings that will allow you to control the area for motion detection.
The Ring and Ring 2 version use three Passive Infrared sensors (PiR) for motion detection that detect the heat signature that humans emit. On these doorbells, you can control the area of motion and attempt to limit the circumference of the three areas monitored to avoid false alarms.
Many users have reported being frustrated with the numerous false motion alerts on the Ring and Ring 2 doorbells. In response, the Ring Pro and Ring Elite models use the camera itself and run sophisticated algorithms to detect human motion, rather than using the PiR sensor. The Customizable Motion Detection on the Pro and Elite versions allow users to draw up to three separate polygons (see kids, you do need geometry in real life) to identify the exact areas you are looking to monitor, ignoring other areas such as the street. The Customizable Motion Detection greatly increase the effectiveness of Ring’s motion detection and in my opinion is worth the price upgrade.
It would be nice if the Ring had facial recognition features and let you know who is arriving at your door without checking the video feed. The option of getting special notices or perhaps no notices at all when your children or spouse arrive home would be a welcome upgrade. The Nest Hello Doorbell currently offers facial recognition features but Ring does not. I suspect this feature is in the pipeline for Ring, given Amazon’s capabilities in this space but for now, if you have alerts set, you will be notified regardless of who is at your door.
It is important to know before you purchase a Ring or a Nest doorbell that when you are notified of someone at your door you can see who is there live at that moment. However, if you want to see who was at your door earlier in the day or even just one minutes ago you will need to subscribe to the Ring Protect service. Ring Protect Basic is $3 a month or $30 a year and allows access to videos of every ring and motion for up to 60 days. The interface does do a good job of showing the event timeline and granting ease of use and access. This though, is the first home automation device that I own whose basic features require that you purchase a subscription. If you look back to my review of the Wyze Cam, you will notice that this simple $25 camera, if placed facing your door, will not only notify you of motion at your door but will also store those clips for you for free for 14 days. Your Ring or Nest cameras at multiples of the cost will unfortunately not have this basic feature unless you pay the subscription fee. Wyze does not currently have a doorbell connected to its camera. Should one wait to purchase a Wyze doorbell if/when it becomes available? Perhaps. But for now, both Ring and Nest have a subscription-based model for this service. I should note that Nest Aware service begins at $5 monthly or $50 a year and includes up to 5 days of history. Personally, I have Lorex security cameras around my home so if I want to know who was at my door or what triggered a motion alert, I can check my security camera footage. While this is certainly not as convenient as the Ring App, it does do the trick and saves the monthly fee. A Wyze camera with a view of the front door will also accomplish the same for those who have an aversion to the monthly fee.
With the motion sensing and notification features of the Ring Doorbells are there ways to make it more Shabbos compatible? Please stay tuned for the concluding part Two of this article where we attempt to address the Shabbos issues in depth.
Last time, we discussed the Honeywell Total Connect Comfort Smart thermostat, which does not pose any Shabbos issues, and contrasted it to the series of thermostats by Ecobee that have several. One reason to consider an Ecobee thermostat is for the way they use remote temperature sensors to address temperature discrepancies from room to room. Another is that Ecobee thermostats attempt to add comfort and save energy by overriding your Home and Away schedules and instead detecIIting in real time if you actually are home or away, and then adjusting the temperature accordingly.
We pointed out that the Ecobee3-lite only had a Motion/Proximity sensor but allowed add-on remote Occupancy sensors. The Ecobee3 and Ecobee4 both have Motion/Proximity and Occupancy sensors. Either of these two sensors can be an issue on Shabbos. The Ecobee4 had the added complexity of an embedded Alexa that I also recommended you turn off for Shabbos.
The Proximity sensor found on all Ecobee thermostats changes the screen from Standby to Active and should be deactivated before Shabbos. In Standby mode, the screen displays the time as well as inside and outside temperatures. Walking in front of the screen will activate the Proximity sensor and change the screen to Active, which then allows changes to be made. Walking in front of the device will also change the brightness of the screen which of course may also be an issue on Shabbos.
To address the Proximity sensor, go to device Preferences and disable the Active to Standby screen timer. You would also need to set Screen Brightness at the same level for both Active and Standby modes, and disable the screen sleep option. These options are only available on the device itself and not on the App. Users may prefer to keep these options off permanently, even during the week, rather than having to turn them off each week before Shabbos, because they do not represent core Smart functionality. If you do turn these off, then as long as there are no any paired remote sensors, there are no longer any Shabbos issues on the Ecobee3-Lite. For this reason I rate the Ecobee3-Lite a 4/5 for Shabbos use.
To address the Occupancy Sensor, which is an issue on the Ecobee3 and Ecobee4, as well as with the Ecobee3-lite when paired with additional sensors, you would need to disable the Smart Home/Away setting in your Preferences as well as the Follow Me option in the Sensor settings. This can either be done on the device or via the device APP. The “Follow Me” option will only become an issue on the Ecobee3-lite when paired with two or more remote sensors.
Adding chores to your pre-Shabbos to-do list to address Shabbos issues does not make your thermostat Smart. The reason we buy these thermostats is for their smart features. When we disable them for Shabbos and leave it in that state all week, it can defeat the entire purpose of the Smart device.
I have seen it recommended to cover those sensors with tape before Shabbos. I am sure the Ecobee designers who put great care into the esthetics of the product would cringe at this. Aside from the esthetics, tape does not remember to undo itself after Shabbos and still adds an item to your pre-Shabbos to-do list. If you wish to take this approach, for the Ecobee 3-Lite you would only need cover one of the two round IR sensors (one outputs a signal and the other reads it). Different models have the sensors in different locations, and they may be a little hard to find on the device without a flash light. Taping either one of the round sensors will disable the Proximity sensor. If you have the Ecobee3 or 4 you would also need to tape the peanut-shaped Occupancy sensor. In the Ecobee4 the Occupancy and Proximity Sensors are next to each other which allows for a single piece of tape. I used blue Painters Tape backed with Silver foil but other dark tapes may work as well. The tape solution is not something I would personally choose so I looked for a more technical solution for Shabbos using IFTTT.
While Ecobee does offer IFTTT integration, it does not allow you to disable any of the features which pose Shabbos concerns. You cannot disable the Active to Passive Screen Timer, the Smart Home/Away or the Follow Me features. Of course, I’ve made a formal request to Ecobee to upgrade their IFTTT integration. If you follow me on Twitter you can see that request and to help our cause you could retweet, or add your own request to the thread. What I believe you could do to avoid the Home/Away Shabbos issue is use IFTTT to control your full Shabbos schedule.
While every other day of the week will have a Sleep/Away/Home schedule, for Friday evening from well before sunset to Shabbos night well past Havdalah, you will simply leave your device schedule blank. From your IFTTT account you will then create your Shabbos schedule. For example, beginning on Friday morning, set your temperature to the Home State with nothing further until after Motzai Shabbos (setting it to Sleep at Sat 11PM). Then, using IFTTT, you can set the thermostat to Home from before candle lighting and then to sleep at 10PM. Add another IFTTT to set the Home Mode at 8AM which will stay until after Shabbos. When you use a third-party App like IFTTT to establish your schedule, Ecobee overrides the auto Home/Away feature until the next transition which, in my example, is scheduled for after Shabbos. Since this detail is critically important to avoiding the Shabbos issues, I also confirmed it with Ecobee support and tested the feature.
In each case, since the next transition is scheduled for after Shabbos, regardless of your movement or lack of it around the Occupancy sensors, your home will remain in Home Mode. With this solution, you will still need to address the Standby timer screen and match the brightness, but the main features of the Home/Away will be operational all week except on Shabbos.
You can find this Ecobee IFTTT solution along with my other Shabbos and Yom Tov IFTTT recipes at IFTTT.com/P/TribeTechReview. Given the various possible combinations of features for the Ecobee devices, I summarized with a table below. Chag Sameach!
There are several popular Smart thermostats on the market and the competition is heating up. Honeywell, Nest, and Ecobee are among the most popular devices. Each brand and model must be looked at through the lens of a Shomer Shabbos consumer to see if there are issues that need to be addressed for Shabbos use.
I have owned the Honeywell Total Connect Comfort color touch-screen thermostat for a few years now. It has a seven-day programmable schedule that allows me to customize the temperature for each day of the week. On Mondays-Thursdays during the winter, for example, I save energy by making the house cooler while everyone is in school or at work. On Friday afternoons, it adjusts as we all arrive home earlier to prepare for Shabbos. Each day or group of days has four modes: Sleep, Wake, Return, and Home, and I can adjust the temperature for each mode based on my family’s schedule. But these features are common among many thermostats, even ones that are not Smart.
What makes this a Smart thermostat is that I am able to control the settings remotely from anywhere in the world. This comes in very handy when traveling as you can set the temperature when you are at the airport instead of rushing before you leave the house. On the return, you can do the same and adjust the temperature so that when you arrive home, the house is perfectly comfortable. The Honeywell thermostat also integrates with Alexa and other smart devices so you can ask Alexa to turn up or down the temperature and the thermostat will respond. The thermostat will send you alerts if your temperature or humidity drops beyond a threshold which could indicate a problem with your HVAC unit. The device will send you monthly energy reports that detail your usage vs the previous year. To help with comparisons, the report also provides the average temperatures for each month. When this thermostat arrives and you take it out of the box and install it, there are no Shabbos issues to deal with, which is why I give it a Tribe Tech Review rating of 5 out of 5.
What this Honeywell thermostat does not do that other Smart thermostats can, is to automatically adjust the temperature based on whether or not anyone is home. It also does not have the ability to connect to remote sensors that would allow you to adjust the thermostat based on, say, the average temperature of two or more rooms. This could be particularly important if a zone in your home has different temperatures in rooms that are all controlled by one thermostat. Honeywell is introducing a thermostat called the T9 ($199.99) that seems to have these features but it is currently only available for pre-order so it will have to be reviewed at a later time. The two most popular thermostats that have this capability are Nest and Ecobee. However, as soon as a smart device utilizes sensors to detect presence, it automatically sparks Shabbos questions and requires us to understand exactly what is happening and if it is permissible on Shabbos.
I will start by reviewing the Ecobee Smart thermostat which is available in three different versions: Ecobee3-lite, Ecobee3 and Ecobee4.
The Ecobee4 is the only version that has Alexa built-in. If you want your thermostat to play music and answer questions, this is the device for you. However, if you want to use it as an Alexa intercom and drop-in on another room, you will have to wait for Amazon to open this up for third party devices.
Like all digital assistant-enabled devices, the Ecobee4 raises issues of Shabbos and privacy since it is always listening and interpreting your words (see previous articles on Alexa and Shabbos). For the Amazon Alexa device itself that plugs into a wall socket, I previously recommended you use a smart plug and turn the device off completely for Shabbos. However, thermostats are low voltage and hardwired so turning the power off is not an option. Like all other Alexa devices, there is a physical/manual way to mute the microphone but no way to automatically or programmatically (using a HUB or IFTTT) turn off the microphone. While you can manually turn this off for Shabbos and then back on later, this is far from ideal. Additionally, when you mute the microphone, the Ecobeee4 has a sizable “Light Bar” that turns on and glows bright red until Alexa is re-enabled. This is a harsh visual that can be quite irritating in any room but especially in a bedroom. Unless the Alexa feature is critical, I recommend you try another model. This is only the beginning of the Shabbos issues, as you will shortly see.
The Ecobee3 is identical to the Ecobee4 in features but without having Alexa built-in. Both contain Occupancy and Motion/Proximity sensors that can be an issue on Shabbos. The Ecobee3-Lite has a Motion/Proximity sensor but does not come with an Occupancy sensor unless you add one. The differences between occupancy and motion/proximity sensors are subtle. Motion/Proximity is a simple sensor that detects clear motion such as walking in front of or passing by the thermostat. The occupancy sensor is more sophisticated and use PIR (Passive Infrared) that is heat sensing. Occupancy detectors aim to differentiate between if you are home and sleeping vs. away and on vacation. They are like night-vision goggles which use the heat emitted from our bodies to detect human presence. The Ecobee Occupancy sensors even attempt to differentiate between you or just your dog being home. Both sensor types would have identical issues on Shabbos that would require them to be turned off, though the Occupancy sensor may be less obvious to the uninformed.
To discuss the potential tech work around and arrive at a Shabbos rating for all three versions of the Ecobee thermostats will require a dedicated article, so please stay tuned for Part II.
Amazon recently announced the purchase of Mesh WiFi maker Eero for an undisclosed amount. A lesson we all should have learned by now is that when Amazon makes a purchase of a device that goes into your home, we should all be listening. In this article, I will review my Mesh WiFi system, compare it to the Eero WiFi and discuss some of the implications of Amazon’s purchase.
During our home renovation, there were times when conditions were difficult. Mornings without water and days without electricity are certainly challenging for a family. However, only when the WiFi was disconnected did my children condemn the home as uninhabitable.
When families are renovating or building homes, the most frequent question I receive is, “What is the most important item to prepare technology-wise?” My answer is always, know your WiFi plan. as it is the backbone of everything else you will add to your home in the future. Consumers often pay high fees for faster internet service from their providers. They feel compelled to do this when they find some of their devices buffering and assume it is the WiFi speed rather than inadequate signal coverage around the home. When I ask how they broadcast these signals, the answer is often from the basement with whatever router the ISP provider supplies. And these inadequate routers come with a monthly fee which can be a big money maker for the ISP but fall very short of your home’s needs. A Mesh WiFi system, in many cases, can be a much better solution.
If you live in a studio apartment in a city, you probably don’t need to worry too much about your WiFi coverage. However, if you are a homeowner with multiple floors, even if your home has not been featured in the Wall Street Journal’s Mansion section, chances are you will have areas of your home without an adequate signal. If you are Amazon and want an Echo in every room of every home, it is in your best interest to ensure that consumers have reliable WiFi. Additionally, if you are looking to be the nucleus of all devices in a home automation setup, controlling the WiFi and all the devices connected to it is of paramount importance. Not to mention all the data that can be collected by controlling consumers’ home internet traffic. In hindsight, Amazon’s purchase of Eero seems obvious.
I do not own Eero mesh devices, but I do run my home network off the Google Mesh WiFi, which is one of Eero’s biggest competitors and a very similar offering. I purchased the Google WiFi over Eero with a little hesitation. Do I really want Google to know that much more about me? Perhaps sharing the same data with a smaller company like Eero would provide me with more privacy. I ultimately threw my hands up in defeat with the reality that Google likely knows everything about me already anyway. Now I also realize that it is often only a matter of time before a tech giant comes along to purchase any smaller company that has valuable data. These are real privacy issues that we all will need to come to terms with before making a purchase. I ultimately purchased the Google WiFi because of the lower price point ($249 Vs. $399-$499 for 3 units). It will be interesting to see if this price gap narrows with Amazon being the new owner. Both services allow you to buy one central router that connects to your ISP and then add other WiFi points around your home. Each WiFi point simply requires an AC power source so you can place them anywhere around your home where you have power. The WiFi points all link to create a single mesh network giving you the ability to have reliable WiFi in all corners of your home.
Both Mesh WiFi systems have easy to use Apps with many useful features, some of which families will be wise to take advantage of. Firstly, you can identify each device on the network. Knowing the device allows you to prioritize it if desired. If I need the bandwidth for work and my family is streaming video on other devices, I can prioritize my device, so I don’t experience any degradation of performance. From a parenting perspective, you can also pause your children’s devices at certain times of the day.
I won’t preach about children and internet access, but I will share some of the internet rules I enforce with my own kids using my Google Mesh WiFi. During prime family and homework hours, I pause my daughters’ phone but not her school issued iPad. I also have a schedule that turns off internet access for all her devices at a certain time of the evening until the next morning. If my parents had a way of doing this when I had a radio beneath my pillow listening to late night baseball games when I was in grade school, I probably would not have fallen asleep in class so often — especially after extra inning West Coast games.
There is also a site blocking feature that filters millions of explicit websites. This is particularly nice to have at the router level, so it is not necessary to install a filter on each device separately. Eero offers a similar but perhaps more advanced set of features with their Eero Plus subscription which comes at an annual fee of $99. I hope Amazon will eventually include these features with the growing benefits of Prime membership. While I am sure all these precautions are still not the perfect solutions for monitoring your children’s internet safety, they are meaningful steps toward a healthy internet household. Finally, if your teenager is the network administrator of your household, these devices might be the way for you to take back control as they are easy for almost anyone to administer. If all these suggestions have your children yelling at you not to mess with the WiFi, just smile and say I did not mess with the WiFi, I meshed with the WiFi.
When our children were younger, my wife would take them on Rosh Chodesh to the Judaica store to purchase a new CD. There were certainly months that passed without a new purchase, but at the end of each year we would have added a respectable number of albums to our collection. While we invested hundreds of dollars into this medium, CDs ultimately got scratched, or lost between the house and car. Then the digital age arrived, and we evolved from MP3 players to the iTunes music store. Each new music medium arrived with great promise, but each also suffered from one challenge or another. Today, however, the age of simplified streaming music has certainly arrived and if you and your family love Jewish music, a streaming music service may be the best purchase you make in 2019.
By now, many of you have digital assistants in your home like the Amazon Alexa or the Google Home. After you set up your Shabbat switches and can control them with your voice, the next most useful function of a digital assistant is to stream music. The idea of the streaming music services is different than streaming videos services like Netflix. Netflix does not strive to have a comprehensive list of all movies or TV ever created, only a substantial but small subset. Streaming music services, on the other hand, strive to have the master list of all music made available so it is accessible to a user on any device for a flat monthly fee. Imagine having every song and album available and at your fingertips without the need to purchase each one individually. You may only want to play a specific song once and don’t want to own it or you may want a collection of Chanukah songs from 30 different albums that you will only listen to for eight days. Additionally, with a streaming service, sharing is encouraged so any playlist made by a user can be shared. You don’t have to do the work of creating a playlist — just use someone else’s. With everyone carrying a smartphone and digital assistants in more and more homes, adding the ability to stream the music of your choice has never been easier. There are several popular streaming music services available. Spotify, Pandora, Amazon, Apple and others are all competing in this space. As is our custom at TribeTechReview, we will explore each through the lens or in this case ear of a Shomer Shabbos consumer.
I will focus on the subscription-based services even though there may be a free or basic option. With a free plan, your ability to control the music, especially if you only want to hear Jewish music, is severely impaired. I reviewed each subscription service based on specific criteria. Of course, I would expect the latest in great music from some of the most popular singers and groups, but I also looked for obscure songs and albums. I added older Jewish music and Israeli music to the criteria. Finally, I consulted with local Jewish music guru Aaron Shlagbaum of Sheer Simcha to make sure the latest songs that are getting people at events out of their seats and onto the dance floor were all available. Thus prepared, I put each service to the test.
The price for streaming services is competitive with most charging $9.99/month for a single user plan and $14.99/month for a family plan. Amazon does discount their single services for Prime members to $7.99/month or $79/year. If you are a college student, you can subscribe for $4.99/month on Amazon, Apple or Spotify but not on Pandora. Starting with a single plan is probably best until you get complaints from your children or spouse when there are too many simultaneous users. These rates are somewhat equivalent to what I used to pay by walking into a store to buy a single album However, now I have access to more Jewish music than the stores themselves.
Since I am a dedicated Spotify user, I expected that service to seriously outperform the others based on my criteria. However, I was surprised by how well Amazon and Apple did, as well. Pandora was the clear laggard. Spotify, as the early pioneer in this space, still has the largest global user base and if you will rely on other users’ playlists that seems to be a clear advantage. However, Apple and Amazon seem to be closing in quickly. I do love how the Spotify App integrates with my Waze navigation while I am driving and how I can control my home Sonos system directly on the App.
Ultimately, the service you choose may also depend on your technology preferences. Are you committed to the Apple ecosystem for all services, would you prefer Amazon pricing tied to Alexa, or, are your friends’ playlist only available on Spotify? I am always wary of subscription-based services and try to avoid them when possible. However, the case for streaming music is compelling, especially when you view it from a Jewish music perspective where the variety can seem limited if you are buying songs one at a time. I encourage you to take a trial of a service that you think works best for you and I assure you that whichever service you ultimately choose, it will have you and yours dancing in the kitchen and kumzitzing into the night.
Last time, we discussed the two issues we all face regarding tefillah and smart phones. The first is stopping your phone’s notifications from disturbing your own tefillah when using your phone as a Siddur (which is best to only be used outside of a Shul where there are no shelves filled with Siddurim). The second is turning off all noise from your phone (ringer and vibration) when entering a Shul so that it does not disturb anyone around you.
We presented a solution for Android phone users using the IFTTT platform (If This Than That) where the phone’s Do Not Disturb Mode can be triggered automatically when entering your Shul. You can find this IFTTT recipe as well as my growing list of other recipes for the Shomer Shabbat on the Tribe Tech Review IFTTT page.
Now for many of you that are using an iPhone, I present to you the Apple side of the story.
Instead of embracing the popular IFTTT platform and integrating the iPhone in a robust manner, Apple chose to compete with its own App called Shortcuts (previously known as Workflows). Shortcuts is like IFTTT in many ways and perhaps offers even more flexibility out of the box but with significantly less third-party integrations (besides Apple). Additionally, the ability to trigger events automatically, something fundamental, is lacking. I have seen online discussions about automatic triggers of Shortcuts and some believe this feature will be added later. However, I believe that this feature may be counter to the Apple strategy. Apple wants you to use Siri or your HomePod to call Shortcuts. Additionally, Apple’s re-branding of the app to the name Shortcuts specifically implies the need to do something to get there quicker, not something that is fully automated. Apple’s strategy around its ecosystem is to provide a closed and secure platform. Thus, I understand how allowing third party apps like IFTTT to control IOS devices may be counter to that strategy. However, Shortcuts is an Apple service, so I am surprised it is missing this feature.
Regardless, I believe that I have a solution/hack that will get you as close as possible to an automated trigger. I created a Shortcut on the platform that will simply turn your iPhone’s Do Not Disturb mode on. You can then have your iPhone remind you when you enter Shul to turn on Do Not Disturb Mode. The Reminder itself can have the Shortcut embedded so that a quick tap of the reminder is all you need to mute your phone, making it quick and easy to implement. You will need to install the Shortcuts App, create the Shortcut to set your Phone to Do Not Disturb (or import mine) and have your Synagogue with its address as a Contact. You will also need to have IOS 12 or greater installed.
Then open the Shortcut from your Library by clicking on the three dots “…” to edit the Shortcut. You will see that the Shortcut turns on the Do Not Disturb mode until you leave. With this screen open (important) speak to Siri and say these magic words: “Hey Siri, When I arrive at Synagogue, remind me to run this.” Siri will respond with a reminder that has the Shortcuts logo embedded. Now when you enter your Shul’s Address, a reminder to run the Mute iPhone for Tefillah Shortcut will appear.
There are few caveats to be aware of. First, when the reminder appears, do not complete the reminder. Simply run the Shortcut so that the Reminder will appear again the next time you enter shul. Second, please go to your Settings and ensure that your Sounds for Reminders are set to None. Having this reminder setting off a chime would certainly be counter-productive to your goal of silence. Of course, this Shortcut can also be used if you want the same functionality when you enter school, library or work. If your goal is to Mute your Phone when entering a location, this Shortcut will work for you.
Now, if there was only a Shortcut to remind people to stop talking in Shul…Happy Chanukah!
I am usually the one who touts the benefits of technology within the confines of religious life. I point out how it can enhance your Shabbos and Yom Tov by turning on and off your lights. I research ways to use your gas fireplace on Friday nights to make your Shabbos a little warmer, and I will write about how you can listen to the Daf Yomi on the Amazon Echo. However, there is an area where technology may not be compatible with religious life: I am referring to, of course, having your phone turned on in shul.
We all have a siddur app on our phones that is handy when we are not in shul. At the last wedding I attended, there was a large mincha minyan with nearly everyone davening from their phone. I am sure Steve Jobs is smiling down from heaven as everyone davens to their phone. However, if Hashem is smiling at this is another question.
The problem with using a phone during davening has two facets. The first is the potential distraction of others by having your phone ring or vibrate, disturbing the people around you. Second, the distraction it causes in your own tefillah even if it is not disturbing others.
My phone is always vying for my attention. I have alerts for breaking news, stock movements, weather and the President’s tweets, just to mention a few. While these alerts alone can be a sensory overload, having to view and swipe an alert during Shmona Esrei will surely ruin any focus and connection one is having with the Almighty.
Taking a siddur is always the best idea and really the only option in a shul with shelves full of Siddurim. When not in a shul, a habit I try to form when beginning Ashrei is to turn the phone to Do Not Disturb mode. Turning off your ringer alone will not stop the distracting notifications as Do Not Disturb mode can. There are settings you will need to consider when turning on this mode and the options will depend on the phone and the version of the software you have. An alternative to the Do Not Disturb mode is to turn on Airplane mode.
The second issue with phones and tefillah is forgetting to turn off your ringer when entering shul even when it is left in your pocket. My shul has a charging station in the lobby with compartments with locks and keys, so you could safely leave your phone outside of the shul and even charge it while you daven. Yet, it is all too common for someone’s phone to ring or chime during davening, disturbing the entire minyan. The last time this happened, I thought for a moment, maybe this is a sign for me to pursue a simpler, less technological life. Then I realized the purpose of my articles is to find ways to mold technology so that it is compatible with Halacha and observant life. Thus, the idea for this column occurred to me. By then, I had taken three steps backwards and likely thought little of any of the words I was saying.
Even if you turn your phone to vibrate, the vibrations are enough to disturb those around you. Of course, if you have made it a habit of turning your phone to Do Not Disturb or Airplane mode you can also turn off the sound and vibrations. However, wouldn’t it be nice if there was an automated way of silencing your phone whenever you enter shul? As your Orthodox Tech Journalist, I decided to research this possibility and update you as technology evolves.
I believe I have two potential solutions for you. One if you are an Android phone user and another less robust solution if you are an iPhone user.
For Android users, you may recall, my previous column discussed using the IFTTT (If This Than That) Platform to turn off motion on your camera. Another IFTTT recipe I created was to mute (including vibrations) your Android phone when entering a location. If you go to www.ifttt.com/p/tribetechreview you will see my growing list of IFTTT recipes for the Shomer Shabbos user. If you select the “Mute Android phone when entering shul”, you will be able to tap on the map (not the address) and alter the location if my shul is not your default shul. You can also zoom in and out of the location to provide greater location accuracy. This can be important if you live very close to shul or pass nearby without entering. You will also need to enable the reverse recipe of turning the mode off when leaving shul if you want it to be truly seamless. This is a pretty clean solution. I have been testing it with some Beta users and it seems to mostly work well but until you are confident that it is, I suggest you double check your phone before entering Shul.
Unfortunately, iPhone users will have to wait for the next column… so until then, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, Linked-In or WordPress.
In my previous column, we looked at the Wyze Cam smart camera which retails for $19.99 at http://www.wyzecam.com. We discussed the camera’s robust functionality, attractive price point and (unlike higher priced cameras) its free 14-day cloud storage. In part, Wyze achieves this price point by only storing video in the cloud in 12-second clips after the camera detects motion. We raised the issue of motion detection sensors that trigger events in your home on Shabbat and promised to provide a solution. In this article, we’ll explore a solution that may be a foundation for many smart home applications.
I mentioned in the last column that while the Wyze Cam app does allow for turning off the motion detection at certain times during the day, it does not allow you to choose the day of the week, or to choose times based on sunset for Shabbos. Plugging the camera into a smart switch that turns the entire camera off for Shabbos is a solution, but one that leaves you without recording activity, negating the primary purpose of a security camera.
Addressing the 24/7 recording requirement turns out to be easy. The Wyze Cam offers an option to install a micro SD card and set the camera to record continuously. This changes the camera’s reliance on just motion; instead it records 24/7. The size of your SD card will dictate the length of playback available as the camera will overwrite older recordings as it needs space. A 32 GB SD Card will give you a few days of continuous recording. If you simply turn off the motion detection and choose continuous recordings most halachic authorities would agree that this is permissible on Shabbos. The motion detection, however, is a key feature that you would only want to turn off on Shabbos and Yom Tov but the app itself will not allow this.
I placed a development request to the company to at least allow day of the week scheduling and sunrise and sunset times for motion detection, but at this time the app still does not offer this. Additionally, this would only address Shabbos but not Yom Tov which, of course, occurs on weekdays as well.
Recently, the Wyze Cam enabled IFTTT connectivity which I believe can resolve all the camera’s Shabbos and Yom Tov issues concerning motion detection. IFTTT stands for If–This–Than–That and it allows many devices to integrate with other services. In our case, the “If” will be if it is Shabbos or Yom Tov and the “Then That” will be to turn off the Wyze Cam motion sensing. We can also create the reverse which is to turn the motion sensor back on Motzaei Shabbos.
IFTTT is a free app that can be loaded onto any Apple or Android device. Once you sign in, there are a growing number of services and devices you can integrate. In our case, we will be integrating a Google Calendar pre-loaded with candle lighting and Havdalah times for both Shabbos and Yom Tov.
I created a series of public Google calendars pre-loaded with all candle lighting and Havdalah dates and times for several years. These calendars and IFTTT can be integrated to address Shabbos and Yom Tov issues with the Wyze Cam and potentially many other devices. There is a separate calendar for several time zones. There is one for New York Metro, Chicago, LA, etc. and, of course, one for Jerusalem. If you need another time zone, send me an email (email@example.com) and I will be happy to add it.
To add the appropriate Tribe Tech Review Public Shabbos and Yom Tov Google Calendar to your personal calendar, follow the instructions on the Navigation Page.
I created two Applet on IFTTT as TribeTechReview. One to link the Google Calendar and turn off the Wyze Cam motion detection for Shabbos and Yom Tov and then another Applet to turn them back on after Havdalah. You can search for the TribeTechreview Applets by searching for the keywords “Shabbat” or “Yom Tov” or by clicking this link. To integrate IFTTT with both the Google Calendar and Wyze Cam you will need to login to both services on the IFTTT Platform. The App will prompt you for the appropriate login when required.
I setup the candle lighting Applet to trigger 15 minutes before the listed time to provide a buffer so that small execution delays and time zone differences should not be an issue. I tested both the Candle lighting and Havdalah Applets over several weeks and it worked flawlessly and ran within a few minutes of the scheduled time. This solution will work even if your phone is powered off.
The IFTTT integration is a tremendous step forward for Shomer Shabbos consumers of smart home technology. I would like to see more hardware companies integrate it as it can be the basis of solving the many Shabbos issues that seems to be emerging in home automation. With the Wyze Cam’s IFTTT integration, I can give the camera a high Tribe Tech Level 4 of 5 Rating for being Shabbos and Yom Tov compliant with third party integration. In fact, good things do come in small packages.