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The Uses of Home Automation for the Lazy

Fri, Feb 11, 2011

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So many times, when I’ve told people about home automation, their first response is, “I’m not lazy – I can turn off my own lights.” I tried to fight it for so long, but I’ve finally given in — home automation is awesome for the lazy!

If you’re lazy, and interested in home automation, which is a pretty fair assessment if you’re on this site, then this is for you.

Lighting Control

Well, what if you don’t want to turn off your own lights? How many times have you wasted energy getting off the couch to turn the lights off before a movie? You friend calls and says he’s coming over – do you walk to the front door to turn on a light to the entry?

All of these situations are ones that can be directly avoided! With lighting control, you’ll never need to get up. Simply pull out your favorite iOS or Android device and hit the button for the light in question…easy peasy. (We love Crestron lighting control from their iPad app – figure $1k for the processor, $100 for the app, and around $120 per light switch.)

The side benefit is that you can change those lights from anywhere in the world with an Internet connection. Makes for a great way to mess with family members while at work or traveling. Also great if you actually need to turn a light on or off while away from home.

Security Cameras

Many people falsely believe that the best usage of security cameras is to catch would-be intruders. Their best usage is giving you eyes on what’s going on while at work or on the couch. It’s simple.

Someone ring your doorbell and you want to see who it is before leaving the couch? No problem – your front door security camera can show you right on your TV who’s there. Want to make sure your son is mowing the lawn? Your back camera should do great here. Simply open the app on your iOS, Android, or Blackberry device and watch live.

You can even get security cameras with pan/tilt/zoom functionality so you can watch exactly what’s happening…all without lifting more than a finger. (We love ICRealtime for our cameras. Figure between $400-$600 for a DVR and about $80/camera.)

Whole Home Audio

Let’s face it, we all love music, but what’s more annoying than having to go to a different room to change the volume or radio station? If only there were a remote that you could control your music from, without having to physically move closer to the music source?

Your answer, whole-home audio. It’s awesome on an iPad with dragging a music source to a room, and clicking on the room to raise and lower the volume. Never again worry about having to get up to change the station. Pure awesomeness. (We love Sonos for their awesome interface, and being able to play Internet radio and a plethora of other sources. Plan on spending $500 per room/zone, and the control app is free.)

Home Theater

Don’t even get me started about how automation can integrate with your home theater. Suffice it to say that on your same smartphone, you can control your home theater at the same time as all your other automation, ensuring that while you lazily waste the day away on your couch that you will be thoroughly entertained the whole time. (Home theaters are extremely diverse – you can spend as little or as much as you want.)

About the Author:
AJ Wilcox works for a Utah home theater company that specializes in integration of home automation. He loves technology, running, and hanging out with his wife and 2 kids. He especially loves exotic cars and writes for Utah’s car blog.

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Media Center / Ceton Thoughts

Sun, Feb 6, 2011

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I got the Ceton Card installed a while back. It took longer than I expected, and I wound up having to perform a number of Google searches to locate my answer, which of course was ultimately found on the Green Button.

I must say, having the ability to record up to 4 channels at the same time is sweet. Throw in 3TB’s of storage and I have over 1000 hours of recording time available. Take that FiOS!

Other people have written about this card, and I have to agree. It’s great and just works.

My system consists of:

Windows 7 Media Center PC. I went a bit nuts with the setup and got a high end graphics card and a six (yes, six) core processor. Still, at the end of the day the PC cost me about $1200. A Ceton tuner card takes the signal from FiOS and records it on this PC. This is literally “out of the box”. Windows Media Center (“MCE”) will walk you through the setup of the tuner card. The PC shipped with a remote control, which is a pretty decent, intuitive remote that you can quickly get very comfortable with. Having a phone style number pad is great, as you can enter searches by typing the letter associated with the number on the keypad. The PC sits in my living room and is attached to a 42″ Panasonic plasma TV. The sound system isn’t all that amazing – just a Panasonic all-in-one CD/DVD surround sound system. I think I paid about $250 for it. I really don’t need the CD/DVD changer, since my entire movie collection has been ripped to the drives on my network. I did snake the speaker wires into the wall and up to the attic and then pulled it through small holes in the ceiling to the speaker mounts. Gives a very clean look and gets the speakers totally out of the way.

XBoxes. You need XBoxes. Everywhere. XBoxes are the equivalent of your old cable box. They connect to the Media Center PC and stream the content that has been (or is currently being) recorded. I have been able to find refurbished XBoxes at Best Buy for $130 each. They are bare bones XBoxes – no hard drives, Kinect, etc. Then again, you don’t need them for that (although I will say that I have been playing Call of Duty, Black Ops downstairs in the family room). Anything on your network can be shared. If you have a folder on one of your PC’s that you keep pictures in, you can also add this to MCE. Obviously, all music can be streamed to each XBox. The are also very simple to set up. You can connect wirelessly (which I don’t recommend) or wired, which I prefer. Once connected, the Xbox finds the PC fairly quickly. The softwares then walks you through the remainder of the setup, which generally consists of MCE authorizing the XBox to connect to it.

Once everything is connected, you are ready to go.

Each XBox has nearly the identical menu as the MCE (certain menu items may not exist that are resident solely on the PC). This gifts a nice consistent look throughout the house. What’s nice is that you can easily setup and begin recordings from the XBoxes (something my FiOS media extenders boxes couldn’t do).

Overall, the system is slick and works. I ran into a couple of bumps along the way with network issues, but in the end it appears it was a punch-down issue with some of the CAT5 network cable runs and not the XBox. Although I think I went a little overboard with the PC, from what I have read MCE will run fine on some very basic setups. MCE has a pretty good way of making sure that resources are always being allocated properly to ensure programs are recorded without a hitch. Who knows, you may already have a PC that could work?

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Another Touch Panel is operational…

Sat, Feb 5, 2011

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About a year ago, I found a great deal on a 19″ touch screen on eBay (which would be the only place I would ever go to if I wanted another touch screen – brand new screens are simply not a good deal, in my opinion). As a result, the 15″ that I had currently mounted in the living room was replaced. I mounted the screen in my family room, and it has been sitting there for months without use (a complete waste in my opinion). Last week, Buy.com was running a special one day sale offering a refurb’d Dell PC for $139 w/free shipping ($150+ w/tax). Rather than try and reanimate a PC laying around the house I decided to drop the $150. I figured it was worth at least that much for the time savings alone.

It was shipped last week and I turned it on for the first time this morning. The box is running XP Professional, with a 3gig processor, 1gig of RAM and a 160gig hard drive (not bad for $150). Since all it has to do is run Promixis NetRemote, that is plenty. Sh*t, I am using a similar PC to run the arcade setup.

I need to begin to think about modifying the menus on the touch panel. They are not as functional as I would like regarding the selection of songs. I think at the end of the day just a simple search function with pop-up keyboard would work nicely. I also tend to have problems syncing the different zones (which is needed when you are entertaining). I also need to improve the automation control as well – I really don’t like the fact that the NetRemote skin that I am using has to load a web page to operate Homeseer. I would rather have integrated buttons in the skin that can be pressed to run scripts (such as “Normal Lighting Mode” in the living room, which is a script that turns lights on in the living room to certain brightness levels).

Either way, at this point I have the touch screen in the family room. Since it is near the door to the back yard, I am able to easily begin playing music in the backyard, which is nice when I am grilling some steaks for dinner. I also have the ability to more easily control the music streaming to my home theater receiver in the family room.

Hmm… what to do next…

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More Weight Loss?

Tue, Feb 1, 2011

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So last year I wrote a bit about my weight loss goals. Then, I stopped.

To recap, last year was a roller coaster of a year from a weight loss standpoint. On January 4, 2010, I was tipping the scales at 244. By April 5, I was down to 199 (which put me in 3rd place in the office “Biggest Loser” challenge). My weight crept back up to 225, and in September, I started yet another project to get my weight down. After hitting 199 again in November, I sprained my ankle pretty damn badly, which brought my running/exercise to a screeching halt.

Last monday, my orthopedist gave me the green light to begin running again.

That being said, I need to get my weight back under 200 again. This time not just 200… 190.

I have not been 190 for many years. At 6’1″, I think this will be the ideal weight for me. I have gotten back on the treadmill and have been able to run a mile at 5MPH (a 12 minute mile). This is pretty good, considering the fact that I haven’t run for nearly three months and have started putting weight back on again.

I have added some gadgets (of course) to my arsenal. I now use BodyMedia’s Fit to keep track of the calories I burn throughout the day. It is great to see how different activities can affect your body’s ability to burn fat.

So here I am – posting for the world to see. This morning I hit the scale and was back to 216lbs. – that stinks. At 199 I feel really good. At 190, I will be buying a new wardrobe. So what is my goal? 190lbs.

Do you think I can do it?

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Checking In

Sun, Jan 30, 2011

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Hello everyone. I haven’t written anything in a while and thought I would write something this morning.

I have been moving forward pretty aggressively with my home automation/media center setup. As you may have read in one of my previous posts, I was able to secure a Ceton InfiniTV tuner card for my HTPC. I am now streaming media from that box to 3 (soon to be 4) XBoxes located throughout the house. The quality is amazing. I did hit a few bumps with network issues with one of the XBoxes, which was solved by just re-terminating the CAT5 jacks. The Ceton provides me with the ability to record up to 4 channels simultaneously – which is very cool.

I am also starting to build more macros within Homeseer. If you walk into the kitchen after the sun has set Homeseer will turn on the under-cabinet lights, providing some nice ambient lighting. If there is no motion in the room for more than 5 minutes, the lights will turn off. It is nice function that prevents that horrible blindness one experiences when turning the light on in the kitchen if you get up in the middle of the night. If you want to know how I did it, let me know I will post the DooMotion code.

Here is a product I am starting to focus on:

Remote Potato:

From their website:

Remote Potato is the missing part of Windows 7™ Media Center. You can manage and watch your recorded TV shows over the Internet from any web browser. Browse the EPG, record shows, watch shows, listen to your music library. Home late from the office? No problem, just open a web browser and tell your Media Center PC to record that sitcom, so it’s waiting for you when you get in. On holiday? Stream that sitcom you recorded direct to your hotel room!

If you have used Remote Potato, please let me know. I am curious how it works in your existing application.

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Water Sensor Saves Basement

Sat, Nov 6, 2010

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Hello All:

You cannot have an even slightly automated house without having a (or several) water sensor(s) in your basement.

Last night, during a card game at my house, a friend came up the stairs from the basement and said, “hey, there’s a siren going off in your basement”. I was able to run downstairs quickly and turn the water off to my water heater before anything worse happened. In the end, my only “damage” was a small puddle of water (no more than 2-3 paper towels’ worth).

I cannot stress enough to any of you the importance of having a water sensor next to your hot water heater (or washing machine). This sensor has saved me twice, once shortly after I bought my house and yesterday.

Fortunately, my A.O. Smith water heater had a ten year warranty and I was able to replace it at about a $2-300 savings.

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Searching Classifieds The Lazy Way

Mon, Nov 1, 2010

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So I am in the process of searching for a BMW Wind Deflector Screen for my 2002 BMW Convertible… I will be damned if I am going to spend $450… I began searching on Craigslist – BINGO! I found one – and it was cheap! The problem was that the ad was 2 weeks old and that’s right, you guessed it, it was already sold. The other problem with Craigslist is that if you live in a metropolitan city like New York, you have to not only search New York, but also New Jersey… And when searching Jersey, you have North Jersey, Central Jersey, Jersey Shore – it gets confusing!

I stumbled across claz.org about a month ago. This really website allows its registered users (it’s free) to enter in their search keyword, zip code, and distance they are willing to travel. Once entered, you then have the option of having an e-mail delivered to your inbox whenever a new ad appears that fits your criteria. It’s very cool, and like I said – it’s FREE!

I’m sure there are other things you can do with this site, and I am just scratching the surface. As I continue to play around with the site I am sure I will learn more, but for right now this site definitely makes its way into my bookmarks for future use. I have already come up with a short list of things I would like to pick up that don’t necessarily have to be new (i.e. a snow blower, a generator for my house, and stand-up arcade games *UPDATE* purchased a Megatouch arcade game from a guy that posted an ad in an area that I would never have searched but was 50 minutes away from my house – sweet!)

Check the site out. Let me know if you find stuff that I haven’t

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Ceton InfiniTV Card Arrives!

Wed, Oct 27, 2010

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It’s here!

Back in May, I ordered a Quad-Tuner PC Card from Ceton Corp. Unfortunately, Ceton had some PRETTY bad issues that pushed the delivery of cards back significantly. Some people waited nearly 6 months to receive their cards. Mine took 5 months.

Last year, the PC that operated my entire house died. Rather than replace it, I did some reorganizing. The PC I was running in the living room could be replaced. I had purchased this PC several years back and it would easily run Homeseer. Furthermore, I could purchase a new PC for the Living Room that was running Windows 7 (Vista was running on the previous box) and hopefully take advantage of this new quad-tuner card.

I purchased a new PC shortly after I placed the order for the Ceton card. It was a Dell XPS series, with an AMD 6 core processor (that’s right 6 cores – lemme hear ya growl!). It was initially delivered with a 1TB hard drive, but I also added a 2TB drive shortly thereafter. I also went hard core (for me, that is) on the video card. It is a massive card, and takes up two slots on my motherboard. I think it has its own cooling system.

The object of all this?

To set up a media center to distribute content to any number of devices within the house. I recently purchased two Xboxes (I need at least one more) that will act as extenders for all my content. In the end, I will be able to view my photos, listen to music, watch videos and TV on any TV in the house.

That is pretty cool stuff, if you ask me.

Now the card is sitting on top of my PC, since I can’t install it until Verizon comes on Saturday. They will not allow (currently in my area, that is) a consumer to perform a self-install. Really stinks because usually I wind up knowing more than the cable guy that comes to the house about the equipment.

Once I get the card installed I will let you know how the installation went as well as my thoughts regarding the new equipment.

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Ceton posts another disappointing notice re: InfiniTV Cable Card

Sat, Jul 10, 2010

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I am in the process of building a full blown media center with streaming video to Xboxes throughout the house. The Ceton InfiniTV cable card was an integral part of this project. I found the card online several months ago and have been on the pre-order list since early April. The company was issuing a tentative May 31 ship date. At the last minute they sent an apology to their mailing list that “mid 2010” was more likely. At the end of June, one of the retailers was listing a mid July ship date.

From Facebook, earlier today:

We want to pass along some good news and let you know that the Ceton InfiniTV 4 quad-tuner cards are now in production! Ceton personnel are currently overseas supervising the final assembly and testing process. We’re sorry for the unexpecteddelays but many other companies were hit with parts shortages as we were, including Apple for the release of iPad and iPhone 4. Delivery of units will begin as soon as final testing and shipment from overseas have been completed. We’ll update you shortly as soon as we can confirm an actual delivery date.

Not exactly the news I was hoping for.

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New controller to hit the market.

Thu, Jul 1, 2010

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New video game controller hits market. Where do I place an order?

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