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Home Automation: Evaluating the Options

Home Automation: Evaluating the Options

    In Monday’s article, we discussed the various ways home automation can make life easier. Today we’ll look at the primary commercial methods of automating the home—a true and grand lifehack, in that it hacks the primary habitat in your life!

    At the end of the day, there are two main methods of home automation. The most popular is probably most popular because it is most affordable, and that’s plug-in automation provided by companies such as X10 (warning: annoying flashing lights if you follow the link) and Insteon. You plug these devices directly into the wall, and they form a network and communicate through the home’s power lines, and/or by radio.

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    The other solutions are hardwired. You need to build these into your house, whether that involves planning a new house from the ground up to integrate home automation, or doing some extreme retrofitting of your existing house. They provide a more seamless experience, of course—hard to call something seamless when modules sticking out of power outlets dot the landscape. Two companies that provide this sort of system are Crestron and Vantage.

    Weighing Up a Plug-in System

    Plug-in solutions such as the X10 or Insteon are cheap. They’re not just cheaper to purchase, but cheaper to install, since you just whack them into a power outlet (much of the time, at least). They’re also easier to move around—if you’re renting a house, it should be no problem to take your modules with you.

    Unfortunately, you get what you pay for. Plug-in modules have a reputation for being unreliable and doing strange things. You don’t want to wake up in the middle of the night to find all the lights around the house flashing on and off! Of course, many enjoy these products or they wouldn’t be so popular in the world of home automation, so it’s hard to say whether the problem is the product or the person using, and installing, the product.

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    I’m willing to bet that the reliability of such a system is dependent on the knowledge, skill and care of its owner and operator, if not just for the fact that if these systems were so unreliable that they barely ever worked, they wouldn’t be the most popularly selling systems with dedicated fanbases.

    That said, it makes sense that these systems would be less reliable no matter what. Instead of crafting a permanent, carefully planned system in between the walls of your house, you’re running things from power outlets. Simply knocking something as you walk by could put the system out.

    Weighing Up a Wired System

    Wired solutions are reliable by design. I’m not saying there are never problems with them. They run on electricity and they’re made by humans, so you can expect problems. But by design, they’re sturdy. They’re protected by your walls. They’re well-planned, carefully-installed, and properly-programmed systems that don’t change and aren’t modular. While the lack of modularity can be a nuisance for those perpetual experimenters who don’t have the ability to set it and forget it, it provides reliability.

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    The downside, of course, is that such systems are expensive. Far more expensive than other systems. And in the case of X10 and Insteon, the changes you need to make to your home’s wiring are minor and depend on what you need to do; even if you rent, the cost is minimal (so long as you get your landlord’s go ahead). When it comes to complicated, built-in wired systems, you need to have your own home. I’m sure the landlord wouldn’t mind if you added that sort of value to the house, but I’m also sure we all agree that’s a stupid way to spend your money unless you’re really fond of the person who takes your rent money.

    What Should You Buy?

    “Ah, here comes the conclusion,” you say. “I know what he’s going to tell us — that there is no one right decision and that it depends on personal factors.”

    Yeah, I know I say that a lot in my articles, but this time I have to say there’s a clear winner. If you have your own home, don’t waste your money on a plug-in system. The extra to wire up permanently will be well worth it.

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    That said, the decision is dependent on a variety of factors. Money, whether your home is rental or owned, whether you have the electrical skills. Add the factors up and see which is best for you, but I think if it can be helped anyone interested in good, reliable home automation should be prepared to do it properly. There’s no half-assery around these parts of town.

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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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