Giving Thanks

November 1st, 2009

Many years ago, President Washington set aside a day to give thanks for our nation.  President Lincoln made this day an ongoing tradition.  The third Thursdays in November gives us a much needed opportunity to reflect on our lives, as we realize just how lucky we all are, and hopefully, thankful for what we have.

What’s this got to do with Home Automation? Nothing, and everything.

The month of thanks reminds me of how lucky that I’ve been to be using X10 for the last 21 years.  I’m lucky that I found the technology.  Lucky that I’ve had the resources to grow my HA system.  Lucky that I’ve met so many people that share my interests and are always willing to lend a hand in trouble shooting and designing my projects.

This time of year also makes me realize that there are many in the world that aren’t so lucky.  Many could only wish that they had a home, let alone an automated one.

While I sit here typing this blog and designing a way to attach a meat thermometer to my computer so that I can have a voice announcement when the turkey is ready,  I wonder how many will go hungry this holiday season.

Here’s what I resolve to do this November.

Instead of buying any new HA toys, I’m going to make a donation to my nearest food pantry or to a church group that has a community Thanksgiving Dinner that’s open to anyone.   Instead of spending my time on my projects,  I’m going to give some time to the less fortunate.  Instead of using my prayers to ask for the safety of my family,  I’m going to pray for others.

Home Automation will be always be there for me next month (Christmas display on X10).  This month I’m going to focus on what really matters, I hope you will too.

Give Thanks


October 1st, 2009

As the leaves begin to turn in South Western Ohio, so too our thoughts turn to Halloween and youngsters setting out to earn a bounty of treats, hopefully without turning a fair share of pranks.

It’s also this time of year when my personal thoughts turn to dragging out the old yard decorations and props that I’ve been amassing since 1986, in the hopes that I’d trick some little beggar into skipping my house for the night.  After all, the best way to score some candy is to buy it and NOT give it away.

A few years back, I began incorporating my motion yard props into an X10 setup, which I could single-handedly operate from a palm pad remote.  This allowed me to hide in different places and still control all the fun.  I’ve learned from years past that the kids soon become wary of that guy standing around the table with all the air hoses and extension cords running to it.  The X10 remote is a fine compliment to my wireless microphone hooked to the echo machine and my loud sound system with the base turned way up. Parents love to give me the names of their children so that I can personally scare the daylights out of them.  (It’s uncanny how they can always locate me out in the street, while the children remain impervious to the situation.)

One of my favorite props involves a coffin with the lid closed. When an unsuspecting soul walks past, a pneumatic cylinder lifts the lid, while another cylinder causes a plastic skeleton to rise up and a piercing shriek is emitted from within.  It never fails to get them.  When X10 came to the old yard haunt, Active Home Pro allowed for the proper sequencing of the air charges and releases to keep poor “Mr. Bones” from rising up too early and wracking his head on a coffin lid that wasn’t fully opened.  All the hassle of running the prop was reduced to the push of a single button, or even yet, a motion sensor!  (The motion sensor worked wonders on “Puking Pete”.)

I just love automation.

Back in September, I decided to dig out Mr. Bones and do the necessary maintenance work to get him ready to go.  I rechecked the electrical connections, made sure that my washing machine solenoid valves still operated, dabbed a little epoxy where needed, and ran to the house to grab my computer and a CM15A.  All I had to do now was load up the “MyHaunt.ahx” file and would be set to go.

All I had to do……..


I had forgotten that last summer I had sent my computer back to the guy that built it for a simple motherboard replacement, and he had reformatted my hard drive without backing it up, as a favor to me.  I should have known, as most of the complicated macros in my system originated from that machine, and I’d spent the last 4 months living with only half of my home automation.  Looks like I’ll have to resurrect my awesome automation programs from the depths of my head.  (Might find some spooky cob webs in there while I’m at it)

In this whole ordeal, I’ve learned that while most people give up on computerized home automation do to the occasional gremlin or glitch (see “signal suckers” or “phase issues” or “operator error”), “Luke the Spook” can be equally as frustrating.  In my case, “Luke” was an acquaintance of mine, but more often than not, we’re our own spook.  If I had a nickel for every time that someone preached at the forum the lesson of “Always Back Up Your .AHX Files”, I’d be buying a soda pop about now.

We never know when a computer is going to crash, or a power surge is going to wipe out data, or when Melvin will hit the magic delete key, but we can take precautions against such acts, and make back up copies of our hard work on a regular schedule.  It’s just ashamed that Mr. Murphy ensures the lessons we retain in life are the ones we learn at the school of hard knocks.

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Changing Times

September 13th, 2009

The other day I was telling my friend about how I can control any light in my house from the comfort of the sofa, without getting up.  I quickly added that I really didn’t need to even pick up the remote, as my computer will recognize voice commands for the lighting as well.

“Heck”, I opined,  “I can even control the lights from half way around the world via the internet, or even my cell phone.”

“Wow!”, said my friend, “you have got to be the laziest person I have ever met.”

It’s a good thing that I failed to mention that the house tells me every time my furnace runs and calculates the remaining fuel level in the tank out back, or that I can control music in each room via remote, or that the pool fills itself, or that once I contemplated building an automatic toilet flusher with X10 technology.

But it kinda got me thinking, “Is this really laziness, or the next step in the evolution of homes?”

I often wonder what my Great-Grandfather thought when his wife insisted that they be one of the first in rural Brown County, Ohio to get electric lights. (They tapped power from the rail line out back and had to wire the lights in series of four.  Yes, they did it legally.)  I can just hear him extolling the virtues of filling the lamps and manually lighting them with a match every night.  He probably thought that the oil light was healthier too (he was a country doctor).

“Darn fangled lights.  All you have to do is flick a switch and the lights come on in four different rooms!”

Little did old Doc Faul know that the electric light would allow him to see patients in his own office at hours that were more convenient to the patient, and allow him to work in better conditions.

A lot has changed since the 1920’s.  We live with more electric appliances in our home than could be imagined for someone born in the Nineteenth Century.   From the alarm clock that wakes us each morning, to the heating system that runs automatically throughout the night and never needs stoked at 3 am to keep us warm, our homes are more automated today that what any oldtimer who lived through the Depression would like to admit.  I personally, could not function without my Bunn high speed coffee maker.

Has all this made me lazy?  Not in the least bit.  It just allows me more time to be more productive.

So, what does it do for me by voice controlling several Home Automation systems?  Mostly, it’s the coolness factor.  But, as I have spent the better part of the last twenty years volunteering with handicapped children,  I can see new ways to warp the current technology into something that will enable independence for someone who otherwise would have none.  I see the technology providing my wife with added ease of watching the children in the pool via a camera while she cooks lunch in the kitchen.  I see it as a way to keep an eye on the house when we’re away, from the event of a fire or even a simple snapshot of the delivery guy dropping a package at the front door on my phone.  I envision financial savings, by not wasting energy from a forgotten light, or controlling the thermostat when away from home.

You want to call me lazy?  You think I could accomplish all this with the technology of today just by purchasing some items from the internet?  All the projects listed on this site took a great deal of thought and labor.  Most of what’s on the project pages are things that the inventors of the technology never imagined.

Convenience, independence, energy conservation and innovation are just some of the virtues that we extol on our banner as we jump to the next stage in the evolution of the home.  Kinda like they did when Doc Faul first got the electric light.

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