x10


Insteon, A Year Later.

Posted by Steve on Mon, 09/01/2008 - 1:01am


Last year, I was struggling with upgrading my home automation hardware from fickle X10 to the latest/greatest, Insteon. While cleaning up the blog today I ran across a comment I'd made promising to write about my experience with Insteon after a year of living with it. That was like 18 months ago so I'm a bit late.

The summary? It's been flawless. About the best thing I can say about a technology is that it works so well you forget that it's technology. You turn on a conventional light switch; you expect it to work. It's been pretty much the same with Insteon.

The problems I had with Insteon initially reduced to two things: a very noisy powerline LAN for my Slingbox and I didn't have enough Insteon devices in my network to provide a reliable communications cloud. After retiring the problematic Slingbox (the Worst Customer Support Ever) and adding more Insteon switches, my problems disappeared.

Robot, robot

Posted by Steve on Thu, 07/05/2007 - 1:31pm


There was a song by a Chicago band called The Flock that I used to love during my trippy teen days:
Robot, robot arms and legs
Teeth, bones, hair, its all there
Robot, robot arms and legs
Battery's dead, head's dead.
(Mechanical man, mechanical man!)
Whenever I muck with my home automation hardware this song plays over and over again in my head. It's pretty maddening.

Sitting on my dining room table since last Thanksgiving was a small pile of boxes containing Insteon controllers, in-wall dimmers, relays and the like that have been waiting patiently for me to complete the master bedroom renovation. I was intending to do client work over the Fourth but after sixteen consecutive days of building database stored procedures I needed a break! So I assembled my tools and got busy making that pile smaller.

Anyone who has read the X10 primer I posted here knows that I'm a nut for home automation gear. And anyone who has read my blog knows that I've been very faithful with renovating and reproducing the original assets in this old house. But you can keep your Chicago Electric rotary and push button switches and your old pull chain fixtures. I want my electrical system state-of-the-art!

Insteon Rides Again

Posted by Steve on Sun, 12/10/2006 - 12:10pm


I thought I'd post an update on my trials and tribulations with the Insteon home automation network here. A couple of months ago I posted an X10 and Insteon home automation primer. At that point I was just getting into upgrading my problematic X10 stuff here with the newer, wireless Insteon hardware from SmartHome and didn't know how well this stuff would work or what problems I'd find. However I was fed up with X10's flakiness and Insteon looked like an improvement, at least on paper.

I ran into problems with Insteon from the git-go, mostly devices that either didn't work or worked only part-time. I was ready to go back to the toggle switch world. But I decided to forge ahead with the upgrade anyway. I'm glad I did because things magically started working.

When Robots Attack

Posted by Steve on Sat, 10/21/2006 - 11:00am


Being the gadget freak I am, I'm of course a big fan of home automation. 90% of my house is under X10 control and the command of a FreeBSD server running some perl scripts I hacked together. I've already written some articles about X10 and my trials and tribs with it so I won't repeat them here.

I love having my house turn its own lights on/off. I like setting up whole-house lighting schemes, available at the touch of a button. But truthfully, X10 is a lot like owning a 1970s-vintage Triumph motorcycle. You run it for a while, then you spend a whole lot of time fixing it. X10 devices will work fine for years only to suddenly stop responding to commands. After hours of sleuthing you find that it's because the battery charger for your new camera is generating a noise storm on your household wiring.

Labor Day Snoozer

Posted by Steve on Mon, 09/04/2006 - 1:11am


This was the first Labor Day weekend since I got this place that I wasn't knee deep in some h/i project. Last year I was in the middle of the guest room renovation. Now, I'm waiting for lumber estimates so I can start on the master bedroom rehab. I took the opportunity to hack on my Drupal software here and to play with the Categories and Views modules on a private Drupal instance. Nice software but, man, does it need a coherent manual.

We got some of Ernesto on Friday/Saturday. The wind down here on NY Harbor was pretty fierce so there was clean up to do, which is about as clumsy a segue as I can make to my house topic o' the day: compressors.

I've got a 20-gallon compressor. It's one of my favorite tools in the shop -- not just for what it typically does but for some of the oddball uses you can put it to, like drying off a washed car and blowing out the shop after a sanding marathon. It can even take out a mosquito at six feet. Today it was my broom.

Electrical Gremlins

Posted by Steve on Sun, 09/03/2006 - 2:09am


Just when I think I've got this electrical stuff all figured out, something tosses me in the weeds. This morning I noticed that the clock on my four-year old Frigidaire stove wasn't working. Neither were the buttons. Great, the computer's shot. Of course, it's got an electronic starter that depends on the computer so the oven's not working either.

Well, I guess it's about time. The Frigidaire microwave I bought at the same time had to be replaced last fall. Nice quality control, guys. I remember when companies like Frigidaire and Maytag had good reputations for durability.

But that wasn't the end of it.

Those of you who have followed my X10 home automation articles know that I have a love/hate thing going for these devices. Or rather, like Frigidaire, I'm annoyed by the sub-standard quality of X10 hardware in general.

Building a whole-house X10 controller

Posted by Steve on Fri, 08/25/2006 - 11:10am


X10 transmitters and tabletop controllers are nice but to really explore the potential of X10 you need a central controller. If you've scanned the X10 ecommerce sites you've probably seen a few, along with their frightening price tags. Most of them are basically just PCs running a closed-source application. You've already got a PC so why invest in another one?

Insteon - The Next Generation

Posted by Steve on Thu, 08/24/2006 - 8:34pm


There have been times when I've been so fed up with an annoying X10 glitch that I've wanted to chuck it all and move back to the toggle switch world. But I'm so used to the convenience of X10 that this Luddite rebelliousness lasts about three seconds.

In the past few years new technologies challenging X10's low cost and DIY-ability have become available. With the exception of dark horses like UPB, HomePlug, CeBus and a couple of others, and of course the hyper-expensive dedicated control line stuff, most newer home automation devices have abandoned problematic powerline protocols and adopted short-range wireless. The latter group includes Insteon, ZigBee, Z-Wave and Bluetooth. Wireless has become so reliable, pervasive and the hardware has gotten small enough that wireless is a natural for home automation.

Now the Bad and the Ugly

Posted by Steve on Thu, 08/24/2006 - 3:46pm


So if X10 is the coolest thing since the pop top beercan, why isn't it more popular? If X10 devices have been on retail shelves since 1978, why doesn't your house have them?

For one thing, X10 has always lived in the hobbyist's domain. The devices were first marketed through Radio Shack stores and are pretty much only available through mail order. Even today I talk to professional electricians who've never heard of X10.

Secondly, when a client asks an architect for a home automation system for his new seven-figure McMansion, he's going to get a five-figure home automation system, complete with dedicated control lines, a basement master panel/punchboard and probably lots of disappointment when he needs to replace a proprietary switch twenty years from now.

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