DaveNet: Tuesday, May 6, 1997; by Dave Winer.
Chuck's X10 TreehouseChuck Shotton, firstname.lastname@example.org, is 34 years old. Here's his latest story...
I've always been intrigued by remote control. Affecting things from afar. That's ranged from squadrons of model airplanes to a coffee table burdened under the load of a dozen different consumer electronic remotes. Now even the house isn't safe. I just completed the installation of a bunch of X10 home automation hardware. I can now sit in any room in the house (or any room on the planet with a telephone) and operate every electrical device I own.
Ever crawl into bed and realize you left all the lights on downstairs? Ever leave town for the weekend and forget to leave a light on? Ever wonder how your vacation home fared through the latest storm? Tired of always having to monkey with the thermostat to get the temperature just right? Hate coming home in the evenings to a dark house? Pained by that long walk over to the stereo to change CDs? Forget to record your favorite program before you went out to dinner? Nyah! Nyah! I don't have those problems anymore.
Not only is the X10 stuff inexpensive, any bubba that can work a screwdriver can make it go. Little boxes plug into wall sockets. Lamps and appliances plug into the little boxes. More little boxes plug into computers. Add some simple software and ta-da! instant Jetsons' house! All the parts talk to each other through the power lines in your house. No special wiring needed. And you don't even have to have a computer in the mix if you'd rather not.
So how do you do it? Grab your credit card and go visit Home Automation Systems, Inc. For a whopping $75, you can get all the parts you need to become totally addicted in a matter of minutes. Order 4 X10 lamp modules, $36. Order an appliance module if you want, for a TV, fan, or some other power hungry device, $10. And then get yourself a couple of X10 Mini Controllers, $20. Feeling brave with that screwdriver? Get a X10 wall switch for another $10. The lamp and appliance modules plug into the wall, anywhere you already have a lamp or appliance plugged in that you want to be able to turn on or off.
Now here's the cool part. The mini controllers can turn things on, off, or even dim lamps anywhere in the house. They've got 4 little on/off buttons, a dim/bright button, and an all lights on/off button. Plug one in beside your bed. Put another somewhere else convenient. Now you can operate all those lamps and appliances from anywhere.
Sound fun? Now that the treehouse is taking shape, you need the phone controller. Leviton makes a nice one that has a security code and can operate any X10 device. Suddenly, your cordless phone becomes a remote control for your house. Your cell phone works just as well. At home, just pick the phone up, hit a few buttons, and flip the lights outside on, or change the channel on the TV, or shut off the lawn sprinkler. Oops, I'm getting ahead of myself.
Now here's the fun part. Go get the CM11A computer interface (a whopping $60). Plug it into the serial port on your Mac. Go get a copy of XTension from Sand Hill Engineering. Now you're dangerous. Not only can the CM11A send commands to X10 devices, just like the mini controllers, but it can also receive them. So what? Well, receiving a single X10 command could trigger all sorts of actions inside your computer. Not only does it let the Mac know what else is going on in the house (lights on, off, etc.), but you can trigger macros inside XTension, Frontier, or any other scriptable application. Maybe you decide that the X10 command "A1 on" (which means turn the device with the address "A1" on) actually means "turn on all the lights around the pool". So XTension, Frontier, etc. can turn that into the appropriate commands to the lights around the pool and retransmit all the commands necessary to light up the back yard.
Obviously the commands don't have to be limited to turning things on and off. They could trigger all sorts of stuff inside the computer like running back-ups, paging someone, picking up the phone and calling for help, etc. Carry that one step further. Hook your house up to your web site. Now you can click on a map of the house, run a CGI and turn stuff on and off from the other side of the planet. Not geeky enough for you yet? Build your own WebTV. Hook your computer display up to your TV, get a remote control that sends X10 codes, then you can drive your Mac from your armchair, watching it on your TV. Channel up... mouse up. Channel down... mouse down. Throw an X10 infrared transmitter into the fray and you can now have your computer send X10 commands that get turned into IR signals to control all your TVs, VCRs, and stereo hardware.
Now that your house has a brain and at least 4 different ways to communicate with it (wired controllers, computer control, phone control, network control), the fun can really start. Turn on the party lights at dusk, off at dawn. Add a software timer to fire up the coffee pot at 6 AM. Wake up and hit a button on your nightstand and have your Mac download all your mail, favorite web pages, turn on the lamp by your desk, and start your favorite tunes on the stereo before your feet ever hit the floor. Maybe your computer can check the day's weather forecast, decide if it needs to turn on the lawn sprinklers, or crank down the air conditioning. It could check your calendar, see that you're planning a party on Saturday, send e-mail to the pool service to come on Friday, and start warming up the hot tub Saturday afternoon. Some bad ass treehouse, eh? The Jetsons got nothin' on us!
Once you get all the parts (probably for a total far less than $500), the applications are only limited by your imagination and spare time to implement. This is one of the problems that scripting was destined to tackle and it's a perfect application for a tool like Frontier. The hardware is finally available, and easy enough to install. The software to talk to the hardware is totally scriptable. All you have to do is sit down and tell your machine what you want. Have fun!