While the dust settles a bit in the TrixBox world, we thought we’d digress today and tell you about an incredible whole house audio system. Yes, there’s the iPod for private listening and there are some streaming audio solutions for those that want music in one or two rooms of a home or office. But what if you want music (different music) available in every room of your home. Well, until now, you could look at spending $20,000 to $50,000 for a very proprietary solution such as Elan’s Home Systems. It’s no accident that you won’t find any pricing on their web site.
As luck would have it, we just moved into a new home that was prewired for audio and video in eight rooms including recessed ceiling speakers in all the rooms. While this is an expensive proposition when retrofitting an older home, it’s fairly reasonable during new construction, and many builders now include it as part of the cost of a new house. The gotcha, however, is adding the multi-room amplifier, the audio devices to produce the music, and the touchpanel control units in each room. Can you spell outrageously expensive! In round numbers, you’re looking at $5,000 for installation of a suitable amplifier, $1,500 to $2,500 for each ultra-proprietary touchpanel display, and another $10,000 or more for the audio sources. These include CD jukeboxes, iPods with infrared remote access, a multi-channel XM radio receiver to the tune of $1,500 plus XM radio fees of nearly $30 a month (for three channels) forever, and loads of consulting fees at $100+ an hour. Each of the touchpanels or keypads is manually configured to match the audio components you purchase so that you can switch audio sources, adjust volume, and skip songs in each room. The double-gotcha is that despite having spent tens of thousands of dollars on this system, you have no ability to adjust anything down the road without another $100 an hour service call from the installer. So just pray they’re still around, or you’re basically stuck with your initial setup forever. A $500 magic box is used to configure the touchpanels and keypads, and, NO, you can’t buy one. It’s not sold to consumers, just dealers. Ouch!
You should be getting the picture of why we went shopping for an alternative with a bit more flexibility. That’s when we stumbled upon an incredible product called the Sonos Digital Music System. In a nutshell, you have a self-contained system unit in each room where you want music. It includes an optional amp for connection to a pair of speakers, wired and wireless networking, and a user and streaming audio interface that is as good or better than the iPod. Then you add as many touchpanel control units to select music and music sources as your budget can afford. There are also PC and Mac versions of the touchpanel which won’t cost you a dime. Each touchpanel can control every zone (aka room) in your home. What you don’t need with this system is a house prewired for audio because each unit lets you connect directly to a set of speakers or an external amplifier if desired. You also don’t need a wired network throughout your home. Only one of the Sonos units needs to be connected to a wired network. The rest of the devices automatically configure themselves to communicate wirelessly with the other system units and controllers scattered throughout your home. If you buy the starter pack with two system units including amps and one controller unit, you’re looking at $1,200 which works out to roughly $500 per system unit and about $200 for the controller. That’s roughly one tenth the cost of a functionally similar controller unit from Elan except you can configure the Sonos controller while a dealer has to configure the Elan unit … at $100 an hour.
I feel a little like the guy selling the Ginsu knives on television: "but there’s more." Boy, is there! Not only is the sound of the systems downright incredible (depending upon your speakers, of course), but the variety of available music sources is going to make you want some of these in the morning. Each system unit can stream audio from almost any music source imaginable. This includes MP3’s stored on your PC, Mac, or our latest discovery, a $150 network-attached storage (NAS) device. You also can play Shoutcast streams, either your own or those available for free over the Internet. Another option is to map a file share from a Sonos unit to a Mac or PC. It takes about 10 seconds. Sonos units also can play music from Rhapsody. And, if you’re lucky enough to be a Comcast broadband subscriber like us, a Rhapsody streaming audio subscription with about 50 music channels is yours for free! Just login to your Comcast account and download the Comcast Rhapsody software to any Windows PC. Rhapsody Stations are every bit as good as XM or Sirius channels with one important difference. There’s no additional monthly charge to Comcast customers for as many simultaneous streams as you care to play. That’s quite a contrast from Elan’s three XM streams solution which means three rooms with XM radio and no more … for $30 a month … once you buy your $1,500 Elan XM receiver. With Rhapsody, you won’t need a receiver at all, just an old clunker PC sitting in the corner with the Rhapsody application running. It can be used for other tasks as well. At the moment, we have my daughter’s game PC running Rhapsody with four simultaneous streams playing in seven zones of the house. You can double up zones with the click of a button using any Sonos controller. In addition to all these music sources, you also can connect an old-fashioned analog audio device (like a CD jukebox or an iPod) to each system unit. Music from these sources can be streamed to any combination of rooms you choose, just like traditional Shoutcast streams or Rhapsody stations. The only thing missing with analog device streams is the album art, but it still sounds great.
There are some other reviews of the Sonos system which are worth a look. Check out David Pogue’s article in the New York Times, the Home Theater View, Audioholics, Playlist Magazine, and PC Magazine. Then you’ll want to run, don’t walk, to buy at least one for yourself! You can purchase units from Sonos and most of their dealers with a 30-day money-back guarantee. We installed eight systems with four remotes in just over two hours. We haven’t quit listening since. Now you know why we’re running a little behind on the Asterisk® and TrixBox articles. Enjoy!
Hosting Provider Special. Just an FYI that the Nerd Vittles hosting provider, BlueHost, has continued their limited time special on hosting services. For $6.95 a month, you can host up to 6 domains with 15GB of disk storage and 400GB of monthly bandwidth. Free domain registration is included for as long as you have an account. It doesn’t get any better than that, and their hosting services are flawless! We oughta know. We’ve tried the best of them. If you’ve never tried a web hosting provider, there’s never been a better time. Just use this link, and we’ll all be happy.
Nerd Vittles Fan Club Map. Thanks for visiting! We hope you’ll take a second and add yourself to our Frappr World Map compliments of Google. In making your entry, you can choose an icon: guy, gal, nerd, or geek. For those that don’t know the difference in the last two, here’s the best definition we’ve found: "a nerd is very similar to a geek, but with more RAM and a faster modem." We’re always looking for the best BBQ joints on the planet. So, if you know of one, add it to the map while you’re visiting as well.
Got a PDA or Web-Enabled Smartphone? Check out our new PDAweather.org site and get the latest weather updates and forecasts from the National Weather Service perfectly formatted for quick download and display on your favorite web-enabled PDA, cellphone, or Internet Tablet. And, of course, it’s all FREE!
Some Recent Nerd Vittles Articles of Interest…
We’ve been a big fan of the Ceiva digital picture frames since they were first introduced several years back. In fact, all of my daughters’ grandmothers have one and love them. The beauty of the devices is that you can upload photos to the Ceiva web site and update one or many devices whenever you choose. The drawbacks are the monthly subscription fee per device (which now costs as much per frame as dial-up Internet service) and low resolution displays (640×480) which are adequate but nothing special to look at. The devices hold a maximum of 20 pictures or a customized weather or stock report. If you want to display the pictures perfectly on the Ceiva, then the images need to be converted to 640×480 before you upload them. When grandma is hundreds of miles away, however, there is no better gift on the planet if there are young grandchildren that change almost every day. And you can provide special passwords to numerous people to allow them to share photos with grandma as well.
Today’s column, however, isn’t just about what’s good for grandma. It’s about a brand new digital picture frame for your significant other. The frame can handle a CompactFlash, SD, MMC, or MemoryStick card but has no Internet connectivity. In short, you’ll need physical access to this device to load it with pictures. The tradeoff is its resolution which is nothing short of incredible. In addition to being powered by an AC adapter, the unit also can operate on its internal battery for about an hour at a time, just long enough to pass it around on Valentine’s Day with a customized slide show of about 50 pictures. The actual LCD image is 4″ x 6″ and can be oriented either vertically or horizontally. Unlike similar, high quality frames of years past which sold for several thousand dollars, this one, the Philips Digital Photo Display, is downright reasonable with a suggested retail price of $299 which is exactly what it costs at The Sharper Image, the only retailer with the product in stock this past Christmas. There’s a link on Philips’ web site to check for other retailers, and there may be some that actually have the unit by now.
The way the system works is that you load several dozen of your favorite photos on your preferred memory card. Then plug the card into the frame. You’ll get a listing of all the pictures that are "suitable" for use with the frame. Some low-res photos and super high-res photos get rejected. Otherwise, you click a button on the back of the frame to choose the pictures you want to upload to the frame’s internal memory. Then you click the OK button and let the frame do its thing. It will convert every photo to fit perfectly on the frame regardless of its original dimensions. Once all the pictures are loaded, you simply remove the memory card and set the display to play back your pictures either randomly or sequentially in a slide show. Image switching and image orientation both are based on a variety of settings from which you can choose. You also can set an ON and OFF time for the frame each day. A USB cable also is included for connecting the unit to your PC or Mac.
Bottom Line: If you have a digital camera, you need one of these … maybe more. We rate this frame a must-have for those that are serious about photography and want a high quality, easy to use device for displaying several dozen photos in your home or office. It’s also the perfect Valentine’s gift, and you’ve still got almost a week to find one so get busy! If you spend a little time loading it up with pictures before the Big Day, this may be the first "gift with a plug" that doesn’t get you a black eye from your spouse. YMMV.
If you’ve always wanted a complete Computer Telephony Integration (CTI) solution for your small business or home office but were put off by mega-thousand dollar sticker shock, there’s good news. Your clean living finally has paid off. Thanks to Apple’s introduction of the $499 Mac mini and Ovolab’s 2.0 release of their $150 Phlink telephony server, you now can build an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) call center and auto-attendant with complete messaging, voice mailing, call routing, data base lookuping, out-dialing, faxing, and email message forwarding for under $650 … in one afternoon. And, yes, I’ve done it so this isn’t a sales pitch. Need support for additional incoming lines? Just add additional $150 Phlink server modules, and you’re in business. If you’re contemplating building the Home Automation Server we discussed last week, then this telephony server is a perfect complement. All you’ll really need is Phlink and a little additional RAM when you purchase your Mac mini.
Here’s a quick introduction to Ovolab Phlink’s feature set. Using any phone line with caller ID (including VOIP lines such as those we’ve previously recommended), you can build customized solutions to answer and route calls based upon the caller’s identity. This customization includes user-specific IVR menus to retrieve customer data, weather reports, sales figures, or virtually anything else you need. After retrieval, the caller can use a touch tone phone to route a fax or email to a specific phone number or email address. Or you can use the IVR capabilities to capture voice mail messages which immediately can be retrieved using any web browser or emailed to you or your cell phone. All you need is an Ovolab-provided script. If you need to turn on the sprinkler system in your front yard while away on vacation, that’s no problem either. Just phone home, key in your secret sprinkler watering code, and Phlink will pass the instruction along to the Home Automation Server we built on the same Mac mini last week using Indigo. Another great use of this system is to route telemarketers and folks on your personal do-not-call list into that special place: IVR Hell, an endless variety of choices to press 1 for this and press 2 for that. It can entertain obnoxious sales people for hours at a time, and you’ll never even know the phone rang. Or, if you prefer, Phlink can just disconnect these calls. Finally, you can use the Mac’s powerful text-to-speech capabilities which are incorporated into Phlink to build customized responses to queries from callers. For example, a customer could be provided a current inventory status based upon a customer-initiated query. The possibilities are endless. And if you’re not that imaginative, Ovolab has assembled an incredible array of scripts to get you started. Some of you probably are shaking your head saying, "I’ve tried cheap IVR solutions before, and the touch-tone commands just weren’t reliable." Well, Phlink is bundled with a USB hardware adapter to handle caller ID and touch-tone translation, and I have found it to be just as accurate as corporate systems costing thousands of dollars. You won’t be disappointed. Just send me a check for half your savings, and we’ll call it a day. Enjoy!
Engadget’s terrific HOW-TO on turning your Mac mini into a media center hub is a must read.
Our final installment in the HOW-TO Build a Home Automation Server series delves into the software that is available to make your home come to life. The first installment provided an overview of building such a system, and we covered much of the recommended hardware for such a system in the second installment. As mentioned previously, the brain of this system is a clever piece of software called Indigo (see inset).
With Indigo, you first define all of the X10 components that have been installed in and around your home: sensors, motion detectors, lamp modules, appliance modules, door chimes, and on, and on. Next, you define what you want to happen with each device and when. These actions occur because of one of two types of triggers: time/date matches or external triggers. For Time/Date Actions you define (1) a Time/Date Trigger, (2) a Condition, and (3) an Action. The Time/Date trigger can be a specific time, or a time within so many minutes of sunrise or sunset, or a repetitive time every so many hours or minutes. The date can be one or more days of the week, a specific date, or every day. Conditions let you limit actions to only during daytime or nighttime or based upon the value of a certain variable which you also can control. An Action can be either turning a specific device on or off, dimming a light, executing a combination of predefined actions, setting a variable, executing an Applescript, or sending an e-mail. All of these events can be randomized within a specified range of minutes or hours. As you can see the flexibility is virtually limitless. Finally, all Indigo actions can be enabled for use from two other pieces of software: Ovolab Phlink and Salling Clicker. Phlink is a complete telephony server for your Mac. Salling Clicker lets you control many Mac functions including Indigo using almost any Bluetooth-enabled cell phone.
The other powerful component of Indigo is Trigger Actions. Instead of a time and date, these actions are programmed to take place when a specific triggering event occurs. Triggering events include motion detection, darkness or daylight detection, power failure, device state change, receipt of an X10 command, receipt of an email message containing certain letters or words in the subject or received from a particular email address, or a change in the value of an Indigo variable. As with other actions, you can specify conditions for these actions which must be met, and you can define what actions or combinations of actions occur when the condition is met. As mentioned in the first installment, Indigo also can be used to download most of its actions and triggered actions into a PowerLinc Controller which obviates the need to have an always-on computer to manage your Home Automation System.
The only real limitation to Indigo is your imagination. If you’re not that imaginative, then you might want to visit the Indigo online forum which has hundreds of tips and suggestions to get you started. In addition, there is a voluminous script library that supports Indigo, Phlink, and Salling Clicker functions as well as a web interface to virtually all Indigo functions and controls. We’ll save an in depth discussion of Ovolab Phlink and Salling Clicker for next week, but these two software products will make your Home Automation Server something that no PC on the planet can rival … at any price.
This is the second of our three-part series on building a Home Automation System using your Mac mini. You probably should read the first installment before continuing here. So where were we? Before you start buying home automation equipment, sit down and figure out what you want to automate and what you don’t. You also need to familiarize yourself with what’s available in the home automation marketplace and decide which components you want now and which ones you’ll defer until later. Lamps and overhead lights on a single switch are very easy to automate, and I’d recommend you start simple. $49 will get you a great starter set to control nine separate lights and appliances in your home. Add a $12.99 wireless transceiver with your order, and all of these devices also can be controlled from the included remote. Motion controlled outdoor floodlights are also easy to implement if you want to tackle something else initially. This week you can get two sets of dual, motion-controlled X10 floodlights for $50. Not bad if you’ve compared pricing at your favorite hardware store lately. As a last purchase in Round 1, I recommend you acquire a couple motion detectors which can be used outside for porch lights or inside to illuminate rooms with difficult to reach light switches. These are half price for the remainder of this week, but they go on sale often at X10.com as well. Once you get all of these components installed and working reliably, then you can place another order for more exotic components: three-way (or more) switches, thermostats, sprinkler systems, swimming pool lights, and virtually anything else that has a plug. A good rule of thumb is that the more sophisticated a control device becomes, the more expensive it is to automate. Remember, too, that after you install a couple of new X10 components, check for reliability using some of the tests we outlined in the first installment. It’s much easier to isolate problems when you do some checking after every few additions. If there are unreliable devices, order a signal booster and resolve the problem before adding more devices.
It’s also worth mentioning that X10 equipment is available from a variety of sources including SmartHome.com, X10.com, and a number of eBay stores. Use your favorite search engine to find matches for "X10 equipment." For some items such as socket rocket lamp modules (a device that screws into a regular lamp socket to control a light bulb or flood light), it pays to watch the X10.com web site for several weeks. Many items are offered at 3-for-1 pricing at least once or twice a month, and the savings are significant. If a couple of overhead lights in your kitchen are controlled by four wall switches, you have two choices. You can replace all the wall switches with an X10 four-way switch system (about $150), or you can install a socket rocket for each light in the ceiling at a cost of $10 per socket (when they’re on sale!). You can do the math. If you watch the X10.com web site sale page for a few weeks, you will get an idea about what goes on sale and how often. Moral: Don’t get in a big hurry to buy this stuff all at once, or you will pay about triple what you’ll pay by being patient. SmartHome.com has the broadest array of home automation equipment, and they also have the highest prices. Some things like repeaters and noise filters you will just have to buy at market price and probably from SmartHome.com. But, again, spend a little time on their web site and their auction site to get a feel for what things should cost and how often they go on sale. It will save you hundreds of dollars. A final word of caution is in order. X10.com is an aggressive marketer to put it charitably. These are the folks that introduced pop-under web page ads among other things. Once you get on their mailing list, your grandchildren will probably still be getting your X10 emails long after you have moved on. It’s probably worth opening a new Yahoo email account just to handle X10.com mailings.
Tomorrow, we’ll wrap this series up and review some of the things you can do with your Indigo control software. And we’ll take a look at other great software applications that will further enhance your Home Automation System.
If you thought the Mac mini was only an entry-level PC Killer, think again. The Mac mini may just be the perfect server on which to build your dream Home Automation System. Having built one of these using an iMac G5, I’m more than a little jealous that it now can be done for $1,000 less using a Mac mini … or about $5,000 less than what you’d pay an "expert" to build it for you. So let’s get started. Just like baking a cake, we’re going to start with the ingredients, and then we’ll put them together and produce the finished product. When we’re finished, everything in your home or apartment can be controlled and managed from your home automation server, the Mac mini, using the keyboard, automatic timers, a web browser, an email message, or touchtone commands from any telephone in the world. A typical scenario might go something like this. You drive in your driveway after a long day at the office and, yep, the outside lights come on. But that’s not all. Your entire home magically comes alive. The living room, den, and dining room lights all dim to an appropriate level for just after dusk and your favorite after-work album for the 6 p.m. hour begins to play in the kitchen and exercise room. The aquarium lights go on, and, your Mac mini begins downloading all of your personal e-mail for later viewing. An hour later, the outdoor floods turn off. All of the interior lights turn off two hours after no motion has been detected in your home. This is the first of three articles on how to build just such a system.
Required Components. There are a number of components that can be used to build a home automation system. I’m going to break these components down into required, unnecessary, recommended, and optional. As far as required components, you obviously will need a bare bones Mac mini. It will serve as the hub for the Home Automation System. Does it need to be a unit dedicated just to home automation? Probably not, but I recommend it because the home automation system works better with an always-on server. If you’re going to do other things with your Mac mini, invest in some additional RAM. Otherwise, you’re fine with the $499 model as is.
We’re going to build this system using X10 technology so you need some software to control the timing of home automation tasks and to send X10 signals over the existing electrical wiring in your home. These signals control turning lights on and off as well as dimming them. And they can control appliances and thermostats. Combinations of tasks can be sent from the server to dim the lights, turn on your home entertainment system, choose a playlist from iTunes, and draw the drapes. It all depends upon how spiffy you want your ultimate system to be. Now that you have your Mac mini, the next required component is the X10 control software, an extremely powerful, well-supported product called Indigo. It costs $89.95 and is available with a 3o-day free trial directly from the author. Next, you’ll need a PowerLinc USB device, which is the device to which Indigo sends device instructions at scheduled times specifying when particular events should occur (e.g. driving in the driveway, sunset, or two hours after no motion is detected on motion sensors #1, #2, and #3). The PowerLinc device then sends the actual X10 signals down your power lines to individual X10 devices which control each light, or appliance, or outlet in your house .
When you buy Indigo, you get a special price on the PowerLinc device and one lamp module so here’s the link to get the deal. The cost is $35. You’re also going to need a USB hub to expand the number of USB ports on the Mac mini. A $10 4-port, bus-powered USB hub from CompUSA will suffice; however, make certain you plug the PowerLinc device into a dedicated USB port on the Mac mini, not into the hub! If you only want to control one light in your home, your required components are complete so get those pieces ordered first. However, we set out to build the ultimate Home Automation System so I’m assuming you probably don’t want to invest $635 and stop reading just yet. There are cheaper ways to dim one lamp, but you knew that.
Unnecessary Components. PowerLinc also makes a new device with memory called a PowerLinc Controller. This can be used to control X10 devices in your home without a computer even being on. Indigo can download the desired X10 commands, times, and triggers into the controller, and then you can shut down your computer. You lose some functionality with the controller, but not a lot. For example, the controller doesn’t know what time sunset is each day, but it does have an internal clock. So Indigo will handle the translation to an actual time and send the time of sunset today to the controller. This usually will suffice for a month or two at a time without another brain dump from Indigo. I’d recommend you skip this component for the time being and leave your computer on. You can always add it later when you decide to turn your Mac mini into a media center. Also in the unnecessary category is a UPS for your Mac mini. Unless your home is run by a generator when the power is off, a UPS doesn’t buy you much for reasons which should be obvious. A UPS also may cause interference which can scramble the X10 signals and produce undesired results. A power strip with surge protection should suffice for the Mac mini. Note that the PowerLinc USB device needs to be plugged directly into an AC outlet. For best results at lowest cost, the preferred location for the Mac mini and the PowerLink USB device is somewhere fairly close to the circuit breaker box in your home.
Intermission: Some X10 Theory. Let’s take a break from our buying spree long enough to talk about some of the problems you’ll encounter in an X10 Home Automation System. X10 systems suffer from two problems: line noise or interference and weak signal strength typically due to distance limitations. Large appliances, particularly older televisions, generate lots of "noise" on the power lines in your home. UPS systems and many no-name-special computers do the same thing. This causes X10 signals to get scrambled leading to undesirable or even no results. Weak signals are generally caused by one of two things: distance or too many X10 devices. Each X10 device absorbs part of the X10 signals on the line. You may not know it but there usually are two 120 volt runs of power in your home. To get a signal from an outlet on one run to an outlet on the other, that signal has to travel outside your house to the nearest transformer and back … unless you know the magic trick. Generally, you solve noise and interference problems with filters. And you solve diminished signal problems with signal boosters or the magic trick that we’ll get to in a minute.
The best way to install a problem-free X10 system is to build the server, load Indigo, and plug in your PowerLinc USB device and connect it to your computer. Get those three components working reliably first. Then turn off every other circuit breaker in your house. Now plug a lamp into your one lamp module, and then plug the module into an outlet near your computer. Enable the breaker that controls that outlet. Set the desired X10 address for this module by creating a new device in Indigo which matches the specs of your lamp module and then assign it a device address. Turn the lamp OFF at the lamp switch and then turn it back ON. Move immediately to Indigo and turn the device on three consecutive times in rapid succession. This will set the lamp module to whatever device address you configured in Indigo. There are 256 unique addresses so you don’t have to worry about running short. Turn the device off and on several times using Indigo to make sure it works reliably. If not, repeat the above steps.
Once the lamp can be reliably controlled from Indigo, unplug the lamp and lamp module and move them to five or six different areas of your home. Plug the lamp into the lamp module and the lamp module into a new outlet. Enable this outlet on the breaker box, and then turn the lamp on and off from Indigo. Repeat the test several times. If it works every time, move on to your next location. Here’s the magic trick. If it fails, turn on your electric clothes dryer (after enabling it on the breaker box), and repeat the test. If it still fails, you will need a repeater between the location of the computer and the location of the outlet. All you do is plug the repeater in to various outlets along the way, and repeat the test. If the lamp works after turning on the dryer and repeating the test, it doesn’t mean you have to run your dryer forever more just to turn your lights on. Instead, just buy an inexpensive phase coupler that matches the outlet on your dryer. If your house is larger than 3,000 square feet or is laid out in such a way that a heavy smoker would be out of breath when he or she got to the other end, I’d recommend you purchase a coupler-repeater instead of a phase coupler. This boosts the signal in addition to connecting the two 120 volt runs in your house. Turn off your clothes dryer now, move to the next location for testing, enable the breaker for the outlet, and repeat the testing procedure above. This sounds harder than it actually is. The good news is that, when you are finished, you will have isolated most of the signal strength problems in your house. As you add more devices, you may find that the signal diminishes below reliable levels again. At this juncture, you simply purchase another repeater and install it in various outlets between the source and destination until the problem goes away. A good rule of thumb is to buy one repeater for every thousand square feet in your house.
Now that the weak signal problemss have been addressed, you’re ready to tackle the line noise and interference issues. Make sure you’re back to square one in the breaker box with no breakers enabled except the one controlling the computer and PowerLinc device and one additional breaker controlling the outlet where you are going to plug in your lamp module and lamp to begin testing. Be sure you can turn the lamp on and off with Indigo several times. If not, go back to the tests outlined above. If all is well, turn on one additional breaker at a time and repeat the lamp testing. I’d start with the appliance breakers that typically cause the most problems: circuits with old TVs, circuits with a UPS device, and circuits with a computer. If you cannot turn on the lamp reliably using Indigo, then you need a noise filter on the circuit with the noisy appliance that is controlled by the breaker you have enabled. Turn off that breaker and proceed to the next breaker. Once you complete testing all the breakers, move the lamp and lamp module to another section of the house and repeat the tests outlined above again. It is quite possible to have a noise problem in one area of your house (which requires a filter) and not see the problem in other outlets so don’t get lazy and skip any testing steps, or you’ll be absolutely miserable down the road. In the event you run into problems or get frustrated, here’s a more detailed analysis of what I’ve covered in summary. You do not need to buy a signal meter to diagnose X10 problems. You just have to perform the above tests carefully and methodically. If you’re just curious later and want to verify whether a particular appliance is "noisy," use a battery-operated radio, tune it to a low AM frequency that is clear of noise, turn up the volume, and hold it close to each appliance and outlet you want to test. You’ll know instantly if there’s significant noise being generated by a particular appliance, and you just avoided making a $300 investment in testing equipment. If you want a more in-depth review of X10 home automation technology, SmartHome.com is a great place to start.
Stay Tuned. Your eyes are probably glazing over by now so we’ll save a discussion of the recommended and optional hardware for your Home Automation System for tomorrow. Then, in our third installment, we’ll connect all the dots and you’ll see what a truly incredible Home Automation System you’ve been able to build using a $500 Mac mini for your foundation. The moral of the story thus far is simple: start small and thoroughly test your outlets to find potential trouble spots. Don’t buy 50 home automation components and install them all thinking everything will work just fine. They won’t. If you’ve ever had a marine aquarium and tried to populate it with a dozen new fish in one fell swoop, then you already appreciate the virtue of patience. Otherwise, save yourself some grief, and just trust me on this.