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October 2004
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December 2004

CF lights and home automation

At my session at the Mac OS X Conference, Chuq asked about using compact fluorescent lights with X10 modules. You see, while CF lights are great for saving energy, the ballasts used to ignite the light can throw X10 modules for a loop. Either they generate noise which prevents X10 signals from being properly sent or received, or the "jitter" created when the bulb is being lit confuses the module into thinking that you're controlling the light manually so the module immediately turns it back off.

It's a pretty common problem and really the only way to solve it is to find CF lights that are well-behaved. And since manufacturer's don't bother to test for X10 compatibility, you need to rely on the home automation community, or trial and error, to find out which models will work. The XTension user's discussion list has reports on both good and bad experiences with various brands, for example.

For my part, and as I emailed to Chuq after the conference, The Harmony Lightwiz CF lights work OK for me. I buy them from Silicon Valley Power. I only have a few in my house, but they've served me well for the past couple of years.


Learn about home automation at NCMUG

Is your appointment calendar empty the night of March 15, 2005? (It's a Tuesday.) If so, join me in Rohnert Park, California for the monthly meeting of the North Coast Mac Users Group. I'll be speaking about home automation on Mac OS X, teaching some of the best techniques from Smart Home Hacks, and just generally answering your home automation questions.

You don't have to be a member of NCMUG to attend, though it will cost you all of $5 if you choose not to join at the door. Even if you can't attend, it's well worth visiting the impressive NCMUG web site for a peek at the Macintosh community at its finest.


Get to Know MisterHouse

If you're interested in trying home automation, but don't want to spring for commercial software, check out the open source MisterHouse, which is available for Linux, Windows, and Mac OS X. My article at O'Reilly's ONLamp.com will get you quickly up-and-running. And if you've bought Smart Home Hacks, you can easily compare the capabilities of the program with those covered in the book.


Performance interfaces

I enjoyed Jason Moore's presentation, Physical Interfaces for Musical Performance, at the O'Reilly Mac OS X Conference. He talked about several techniques for controlling a Mac during live performances, and even demonstrated of a nifty hand-built controller stuffed into a small toy electric guitar. Too bad he had to leave his gas mask-based controller at home; a wise move given airport security scrutiny.

My primary interest in this area is for the control of soundtracks during conjuring performances, but the geek in me loves the frankenstein-esque nature of it all. To that end, Jason's talk led me to some URLs that I definitely want to explore further: Chips International, i-Cube, and Making Things.


My own Hipster PDA

At their Mac OS X Conference session, Danny O'Brien and Merlin Mann showed off their Hipster PDAs.

For the uninitiated, a Hipster PDA is a collection of 3x5 cards. While using a binder clip to hold together a bundle for easy portability is very handy, I'm a proponent of using a "jotter wallet" to hold the cards. I've been using one similar to this for about three years now, and I'm never without it handy. Mark writes about a slightly different style that is available from Eastgate Systems. My friend Ron uses a Pocket Briefcase from Levenger.

I normally carry about 6 blank cards, a business card, and a few playing cards in case I have an opportunity to pitch a little Three Card Monte. The overall package, not counting the Fisher Bullet Space Pen that I carry in my front pocket, is a barely noticeable 1/4 inch thick. At the end of the day, any notes that deserve permanence are transcribed into Tinderbox. (Some might call this synching.)

Those of you still lugging around battery-powered, chip-driven PDAs should try a Hipster. It's retro-cool.