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Windows Home Automation - SEWWUG Recap

I had a nice time meeting the members of SEWWUG and talking about home automation. (See my previous announcement for details.) The Brookfield Library is quite nice, and I took advantage of being in the Milwaukee area by seeing some of the local sites. Thanks to everyone who came, and to Ron for making it happen. Here's a clickable list of some of the sites we talked about.

If you want to catch up with some of the home automation articles that I've written since the book, here's a list of the pieces at this site.



Monitor your home with ZigBee

One of the technologies that home automators are watching with interest is "ZigBee." (It's an advanced wireless technology.) Unfortunately, software support and affordable modules have been slow in coming; it seems that the ZigBee folks are pursuing the more lucrative commercial automation market instead of the home do-it-yourselfer. (A decision I can't really fault them for, if it's true.)

But that might be starting to change. The recently introduced Home Heartbeat Starter Pack is ZigBee-based, reasonably priced (comparatively speaking), and offers a wide variety of options for monitoring your home. You can watch for drawers being opened, water leaks, the garage door opening, and the on/off status of key appliances. This information is available to a nifty-looking keychain remote, or you can have it sent to your cell phone over SMS when you're away.

It appears, however, that the Home Heartbeat Starter Pack only includes one module, not all of those pictured in the product description. So, the price will grow if you want a more sophisticated system, but this also allows you select only the pieces that you need.


Cleverness over clarity

Egads, the headline editor for the Associated Press must have been having a bad morning when they let this slip through:

Borders stores in UK shelve Tintin book - Yahoo! News.jpg

The story is clearly about Borders stopping the sale of the book series. But the figurative definition of "shelve"--to temporarily cancel or stop --is very much at odds with its primary meaning with regards to a bookstore. (Which is, for the record, "to place or arrange items on a shelf.")

Fortunately, the AFP writer did a better job with their version, it's titled "Book chain pulls Tintin from children's section."


Buy a bite of Smart Home Hacks, by the byte

O'Reilly Media introduces another innovation in publishing--books by the chapter. You can now purchase a PDF of just the sections of a book you're interested in. (You can also purchase rights to reuse any part of a book in different contexts, another nice touch.)

My Smart Home Hacks is available this way too. Let's say, for example, that you want to automatically forward calls from you home phone to your cell phone, whenever you leave the house. Now you can buy a copy of "Forward Phone Calls" (in Chapter 2) and put it to use right away. Sweet.


Resolving a Comcast DNS problem

I've been generally happy with my business-level Comcast cable-Internet service here in Chicago. It's reasonably fast, although not as fast as advertised, and complete service disruptions have been relatively few and of short duration.

However, I do have regular problems with DNS, and I've had a few paperwork/billing hassles as my account has been (apparently) transferred from one Comcast division to another. The latter I guess I just have to live with; or at least enjoy how it reinforces the work of Max Weber.

But the DNS? That's a whole other issue that has finally gotten bad enough for me to address. While I was away on a business trip, some incompetent person at Comcast made a DNS change that redirected every HTTP request made from a business-level account to a page that insisted the user's service agreement was invalid and that a new contract had to be signed. This mistake effectively blocked access to the web, for at least some of their customers, for nearly a whole day. For some businesses, that's catastrophic. For me, since I was traveling, it was only inconvenient. (It did cause some of my home automation to hiccup, however, which was puzzling until the problem was diagnosed.)

To makes sure that never happens to me again, I've completely switched to using OpenDNS. They have some nice features, such as anti-phising, and I've been really pleased since making the switch. In fact, I think their DNS is much faster than Comcast. It's free; they make their money off the sites they suggest when you mistype a domain name. One little configuration mistake at your ISP can ruin your productivity--I speak from experience--so perhaps you should consider using OpenDNS, too.