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Home Automation: Controlling Your House with Computers

Home Automation: Controlling Your House with Computers

    We’ve looked at what you can do with home automation and what sort of methods exist for installing automated functionality, and now it’s time to take a look at some of the popular software applications out there for controlling your home automation system.

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    I haven’t included any software that ships with various systems in this list; you’ll find out about those when you’re looking at individual systems and deciding on one. What’s listed here are some well-respected and popular choices that enthusiasts around the world are using.

    Indigo

    Indigo is Mac OS X software, but as long as you have one Mac in the house you’re okay since it comes with web server functionality — you can control things through your PC or phone’s browser as well as from your Mac. There’s also a Dashboard widget available if you like to control things that way. Indigo offers compatibility with Insteon and X10 systems, and you can extend its functionality using AppleScript.

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    MisterHouse

    MisterHouse is an open source application written in Perl, which means you can run it on pretty much any operating system—including, of course, Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux. It is incredibly flexible and extensible, but that comes at the cost of ease-of-use. While the AppleScript used for extending Indigo is accessible and easy to learn, Perl has something of a reputation for being hard to grasp. MisterHouse supports most popular home automation systems.

    XTension

    Despite having an eyesore website that makes it hard to find useful information, XTension has a good reputation. XTension works with X10 hardware (get it? XTension?) and like Indigo, it uses AppleScript for extensibility. Also like Indigo, XTension is a Mac application (I can’t help being biased) and the bonus for the recyclers among you is that versions of the application from OS 7.5 up on to OS X are all supported. If you have an ancient Mac gathering dust that you’d like to put to use, here’s the app for you, though you might want to ensure you have a USB-to-serial adapter if your hardware’s that old.

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    HomeSeer

    HomeSeer is Windows software (“Finally!” I hear you gasp) that supports Insteon, X10 and Z-Wave home automation systems. Being proprietary Windows software, it’s not extensible via Perl or AppleScript, but VBScript. I’m not a Windows user, so I haven’t tried this software, but it is popular amongst those who are game enough to leave their home in the hands of a Windows computer. Apparently its voice capabilities are pretty good — it can understand your commands quite well, and synthesize vocal responses and alerts back to you. It’s not cheap software like some of the other offerings here, and will drain your bank account of around $200.

    Thinking Home

    Thinking Home is donationware (what else do you call a commercial application where the trial never expires?). It has a fairly polished look that fits in well on its native OS X. The software starts at $79. It does offer a web-based control (via OS X’s Personal Web Sharing), and works with Insteon and X10 standards. It’s the first application I’ve seen that explicitly states that it can be extended not just with AppleScript, but almost any other scripting language installed on your Mac — Perl, Python, etc, etc. Thinking Home’s main selling point seems to be that it takes advantage of specific Mac OS X features better than other applications that try to be jack-of-all-trades and cater to everyone.

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    HouseBot

    CeBotics offer the HouseBot software, which is another Windows application. It retails for about $70, making it a fair bit cheaper than other commercial home automation applications. It’s true blue Windows software, with native applications for every version of Windows for the desktop computer as well as for handheld devices stretching as far back as Windows CE. It’s certainly no resource-hog, requiring a machine with only a 200Mhz processor and 128MB of memory to be content.

    Choosing an Application

    There are a few factors to consider when choosing one of these applications for yourself. Operating system is the obvious variable. The other thing you need to check out is whether the application you have in mind is compatible with your hardware. You also need to consider extensibility versus ease-of-use, and your own level of familiarity with the scripting languages each application supports. All-in-all, there’s an option for everybody, whether your decision is motivated purely by an application’s price (or lack thereof, most likely), or its capabilities.

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    Joel Falconer

    Editor, content marketer, product manager and writer with 12+ years of experience in the startup, design and tech digital media industries.

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    1 The Power of Ritual: Conquer Procrastination, Time Wasters and Laziness 2 13 Common Life Problems And How To Fix Them 3 How to Be Your Best Self And Get What You Want 4 How Setting Personal Goals Makes You a Greater Achiever 5 How to Break Out of Your Comfort Zone

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    Last Updated on July 10, 2020

    The Power of Ritual: Conquer Procrastination, Time Wasters and Laziness

    The Power of Ritual: Conquer Procrastination, Time Wasters and Laziness

    Life is wasted in the in-between times. The time between when your alarm first rings and when you finally decide to get out of bed. The time between when you sit at your desk and when productive work begins. The time between making a decision and doing something about it.

    Slowly, your day is whittled away from all the unused in-between moments. Eventually, time wasters, laziness, and procrastination get the better of you.

    The solution to reclaim these lost middle moments is by creating rituals. Every culture on earth uses rituals to transfer information and encode behaviors that are deemed important. Personal rituals can help you build a better pattern for handling everything from how you wake up to how you work.

    Unfortunately, when most people see rituals, they see pointless superstitions. Indeed, many rituals are based on a primitive understanding of the world. But by building personal rituals, you get to encode the behaviors you feel are important and cut out the wasted middle moments.

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    Program Your Own Algorithms

    Another way of viewing rituals is by seeing them as computer algorithms. An algorithm is a set of instructions that is repeated to get a result.

    Some algorithms are highly efficient, sorting or searching millions of pieces of data in a few seconds. Other algorithms are bulky and awkward, taking hours to do the same task.

    By forming rituals, you are building algorithms for your behavior. Take the delayed and painful pattern of waking up, debating whether to sleep in for another two minutes, hitting the snooze button, repeat until almost late for work. This could be reprogrammed to get out of bed immediately, without debating your decision.

    How to Form a Ritual

    I’ve set up personal rituals for myself for handling e-mail, waking up each morning, writing articles, and reading books. Far from making me inflexible, these rituals give me a useful default pattern that works best 99% of the time. Whenever my current ritual won’t work, I’m always free to stop using it.

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    Forming a ritual isn’t too difficult, and the same principles for changing habits apply:

    1. Write out your sequence of behavior. I suggest starting with a simple ritual of only 3-4 steps maximum. Wait until you’ve established a ritual before you try to add new steps.
    2. Commit to following your ritual for thirty days. This step will take the idea and condition it into your nervous system as a habit.
    3. Define a clear trigger. When does your ritual start? A ritual to wake up is easy—the sound of your alarm clock will work. As for what triggers you to go to the gym, read a book or answer e-mail—you’ll have to decide.
    4. Tweak the Pattern. Your algorithm probably won’t be perfectly efficient the first time. Making a few tweaks after the first 30-day trial can make your ritual more useful.

    Ways to Use a Ritual

    Based on the above ideas, here are some ways you could implement your own rituals:

    1. Waking Up

    Set up a morning ritual for when you wake up and the next few things you do immediately afterward. To combat the grogginess after immediately waking up, my solution is to do a few pushups right after getting out of bed. After that, I sneak in ninety minutes of reading before getting ready for morning classes.

    2. Web Usage

    How often do you answer e-mail, look at Google Reader, or check Facebook each day? I found by taking all my daily internet needs and compressing them into one, highly-efficient ritual, I was able to cut off 75% of my web time without losing any communication.

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    3. Reading

    How much time do you get to read books? If your library isn’t as large as you’d like, you might want to consider the rituals you use for reading. Programming a few steps to trigger yourself to read instead of watching television or during a break in your day can chew through dozens of books each year.

    4. Friendliness

    Rituals can also help with communication. Set up a ritual of starting a conversation when you have opportunities to meet people.

    5. Working

    One of the hardest barriers when overcoming procrastination is building up a concentrated flow. Building those steps into a ritual can allow you to quickly start working or continue working after an interruption.

    6. Going to the gym

    If exercising is a struggle, encoding a ritual can remove a lot of the difficulty. Set up a quick ritual for going to exercise right after work or when you wake up.

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    7. Exercise

    Even within your workouts, you can have rituals. Spacing the time between runs or reps with a certain number of breaths can remove the guesswork. Forming a ritual of doing certain exercises in a particular order can save time.

    8. Sleeping

    Form a calming ritual in the last 30-60 minutes of your day before you go to bed. This will help slow yourself down and make falling asleep much easier. Especially if you plan to get up full of energy in the morning, it will help if you remove insomnia.

    8. Weekly Reviews

    The weekly review is a big part of the GTD system. By making a simple ritual checklist for my weekly review, I can get the most out of this exercise in less time. Originally, I did holistic reviews where I wrote my thoughts on the week and progress as a whole. Now, I narrow my focus toward specific plans, ideas, and measurements.

    Final Thoughts

    We all want to be productive. But time wasters, procrastination, and laziness sometimes get the better of us. If you’re facing such difficulties, don’t be afraid to make use of these rituals to help you conquer them.

    More Tips to Conquer Time Wasters and Procrastination

     

    Featured photo credit: RODOLFO BARRETO via unsplash.com

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