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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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    Published on July 9, 2019

    The Power of Tapping into Your Hidden Creativity

    The Power of Tapping into Your Hidden Creativity

    Despite what you might have been taught — everyone can be creative.

    It’s too easy to think of creativity as just being reserved for musicians, artists and writers. In reality, creativity can be used in all jobs and in all areas of life.

    I’m referring to creative traits such as thinking outside the box, finding new solutions to old problems, and combining two ideas to invent a new one.

    For example, think of Henry Ford. He gave people automobiles, when at that time, they probably just wanted faster horses!

    And, then there is Elon Musk. He found a workable solution to the problem of congested roads in towns and cities — the Hyperloop! This is an underground tunnel system that is designed to connect major conurbations using clean, ultra-fast capsules that can carry passengers, cars and freight. In the case of cars — Musk envisages elevators taking the cars down to the tunnel system. Ingenious.

    As a final example, I want to tell you about Saltwater Brewery in Florida. They’ve created six-pack rings that are edible by marine life. So instead of the six-pack rings ending up in the ocean and killing sea creatures, these rings actually feed them. They’re made from the by-products of beer brewing, and contain either barley or wheat, and are not just safe for fish to eat — but humans can eat them too!

    Let’s turn now to see how improving your creativity can improve your life.

    Creativity Will Improve Your Outlook

    As a Psychology Today article reveals, people who practice everyday creativity (like finding new ways to work, preparing meals and solving crosswords) share personality traits with those we regard as ‘genuinely’ creative, such as: artists, designers and musicians.[1]

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    The shared traits include:

    • Curiosity

    • Drive

    • Open-mindedness

    • Persistence

    • Positivity

    Some studies also suggest that people who regularly indulge in creative pursuits are less judgmental and more flexible.

    It’s no wonder then, that there is a proven link between creativity and enhanced mental health (this could be due to creative thinkers’ superior problem-solving skills).[2]

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    I hope I’ve said enough to convince you that exploring your creative side can improve your outlook on life.

    So what’s the best way to get creative? 

    Boost your confidence.

    When you have ample self-confidence, you won’t be afraid to try new things and to break out of your comfort zone. Both of these things will put you in touch with your inner creative genie — who’s just waiting to work their magic on your behalf!

    But, how can you boost your confidence? 

    …by constantly facing and overcoming challenges.

    Creativity Will Increase Opportunities

    Creative individuals often notice more opportunities in life.

    How come?

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    Because they’ve learned how to find a way to turn any obstacle into an opportunity by tackling it from another angle. They’re also more likely to SEE the opportunity in the first place, just by having an open mind; whereas someone who is not tapping into their creativity may miss these hidden opportunities. 

    For example, one of my friends recently lost his job as a senior administrator for an insurance company. He’d worked there for more than 10 years, and although he wasn’t excited by the job, it paid his bills.

    When he was told that his job was to go, he was initially shocked and knocked off track. However, my friend is a resilient and creative soul, and within a few days, he’d formulated a plan to not only secure a new job, but also to make a positive change in his career. He did this by taking his administrator skills and his deep knowledge of finance and insurance and turning himself into a business consultant.

    It’s still early days for him, but he’s already secured several clients, and I predict his new career will be a happy and successful one.

    If you feel stuck in a rut, then try some (or all) of these things to break yourself free:

    • Get moving – yes, staying still is staying stuck; moving is getting unstuck!

    • Look for the positives – when you do this, you’ll open the door to opportunities.

    • Start small – you don’t necessarily need to make a big jump; instead, you can make small changes that create an unstoppable forward trend.

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    Creativity Gives You Freedom to Mess Up

    “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” ― Thomas A. Edison

    I love that quote, as it cleverly demonstrates that creativity is all about experimentation. And, experimentation often means making mistakes!

    If you’ve ever watched a graphic designer at work, you’ll notice one thing: they’re constantly changing things until they get the look and feel that they desire.

    That’s how most creative people work. They keep trying new and different things until they have that aha moment.

    So how about you? 

    Are you currently afraid to try new things? Perhaps because you’re worried about losing face? 

    If you are, then you’re holding back your creative potential. To unleash it, I recommend throwing caution to the wind and pushing yourself through your self-created mental barriers.

    Once you’ve learned to have thoughts and ideas that are free from your current conditioning, then you’ll have learned the secret to living a creative life.

    We all have creativity within us. And, by adopting the suggestions above, you can tap into this hidden force for good. When you do that, your life will take on a new trajectory — one that leads to happiness, fulfillment and success.

    Featured photo credit: William Iven via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Psychology Today: Everyday Creativity
    [2] CNN: A Creative Life is a Healthy Life

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