Archive for October, 2009

Gremlins

Thursday, 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……..

Shoot!

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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