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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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    Last Updated on February 15, 2019

    7 Tools to Help Keep Track of Goals and Habits Effectively

    7 Tools to Help Keep Track of Goals and Habits Effectively

    Now that 2011 is well underway and most people have fallen off the bandwagon when it comes to their New Year’s resolutions (myself included), it’s a good time to step back and take an honest look at our habits and the goals that we want to achieve.

    Something that I have learned over the past few years is that if you track something, be it your eating habits, exercise, writing time, work time, etc. you become aware of the reality of the situation. This is why most diet gurus tell you to track what you eat for a week so you have an awareness of the of how you really eat before you start your diet and exercise regimen.

    Tracking daily habits and progress towards goals is another way to see reality and create a way for you clearly review what you have accomplished over a set period of time. Tracking helps motivate you too; if I can make a change in my life and do it once a day for a period of time it makes me more apt to keep doing it.

    So, if you have some goals and habits in mind that need tracked, all you need is a tracking tool. Today we’ll look at 7 different tools to help you keep track of your habits and goals.

    Joe’s Goals

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      Joe’s Goals is a web-based tool that allows users to track their habits and goals in an easy to use interface. Users can add as many goals/habits as they want and also check multiple times per day for those “extra productive days”. Something that is unique about Joe’s Goals is the way that you can keep track of negative habits such as eating out, smoking, etc. This can help you visualize the good things that you are doing as well as the negative things that you are doing in your life.

      Joe’s Goals is free with a subscription version giving you no ads and the “latest version” for $12 a year.

      Daytum

        Daytum

        is an in depth way of counting things that you do during the day and then presenting them to you in many different reports and groups. With Daytum you can add several different items to different custom categories such as work, school, home, etc. to keep track of your habits in each focus area of your life.

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        Daytum is extremely in depth and there are a ton of settings for users to tweak. There is a free version that is pretty standard, but if you want more features and unlimited items and categories you’ll need Daytum Plus which is $4 a month.

        Excel or Numbers

          If you are the spreadsheet number cruncher type and the thought of using someone else’s idea of how you should track your habits turns you off, then creating your own Excel/Numbers/Google spreadsheet is the way to go. Not only do you have pretty much limitless ways to view, enter, and manipulate your goal and habit data, but you have complete control over your stuff and can make it private.

          What’s nice about spreadsheets is you can create reports and can customize your views in any way you see fit. Also, by using Dropbox, you can keep your tracker sheets anywhere you have a connection.

          Evernote

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            I must admit, I am an Evernote junky, mostly because this tool is so ubiquitous. There are several ways you can implement habit/goal tracking with Evernote. You won’t be able to get nifty reports and graphs and such, but you will be able to access your goal tracking anywhere your are, be it iPhone, Android, Mac, PC, or web. With Evernote you pretty much have no excuse for not entering your daily habit and goal information as it is available anywhere.

            Evernote is free with a premium version available.

            Access or Bento

              If you like the idea of creating your own tracker via Excel or Numbers, you may be compelled to get even more creative with database tools like Access for Windows or Bento for Mac. These tools allow you to set up relational databases and even give you the option of setting up custom interfaces to interact with your data. Access is pretty powerful for personal database applications, and using it with other MS products, you can come up with some pretty awesome, in depth analysis and tracking of your habits and goals.

              Bento is extremely powerful and user friendly. Also with Bento you can get the iPhone and iPad app to keep your data anywhere you go.

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              You can check out Access and the Office Suite here and Bento here.

              Analog Bonus: Pen and Paper

              All these digital tools are pretty nifty and have all sorts of bells and whistles, but there are some people out there that still swear by a notebook and pen. Just like using spreadsheets or personal databases, pen and paper gives you ultimate freedom and control when it comes to your set up. It also doesn’t lock you into anyone else’s idea of just how you should track your habits.

              Conclusion

              I can’t necessarily recommend which tool is the best for tracking your personal habits and goals, as all of them have their quirks. What I can do however (yes, it’s a bit of a cop-out) is tell you that the tool to use is whatever works best for you. I personally keep track of my daily habits and personal goals with a combo Evernote for input and then a Google spreadsheet for long-term tracking.

              What this all comes down to is not how or what tool you use, but finding what you are comfortable with and then getting busy with creating lasting habits and accomplishing short- and long-term goals.

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