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Home Automation: Evaluating the Options

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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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    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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    Last Updated on November 25, 2021

    How to Make Private Browsing on Safari Truly Private

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    How to Make Private Browsing on Safari Truly Private

    There comes a time when we may be searching online and don’t want the browser to remember our footsteps. The reasons don’t always have to be what we obviously think of as the main reason; for example, sometimes, you may not want Safari to remember your passwords or prompt you to enter your password when surfing the web.

    Whatever the reason, we may think that we are totally in the clear with Private Browsing on Safari and the other browsers on a Mac. However, a quick Terminal command can bring up every website you’ve visited. How do you do this? Also, how do you clear your tracks for good? We will provide both answers and more today.

      What Does Private Browsing Do?

      When activated, Private Browsing on Safari prevents your browsing history from being kept in the history tab of the application. Along with this, it doesn’t autofill information that you have saved in the browser. In this mode, you essentially become incognito and any references of previous use is essentially hidden when you are in private mode.

      For example: if you are on Facebook or filling out a form and some information or your login is already filled in in the spaces provided, this is called autofill. It’s activated by simply clicking Safari next to the Apple symbol in the menubar and selecting Private Browsing, then clicking “OK” to the prompt.

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      The reasons behind private mode differ for each individual. While we won’t go into all of those reasons, one thing that is  important to remember is that private browsing doesn’t forget the websites you visit. As we will see later on, Macs keep a second copy of the websites you visit in either mode. If you are in frantic mode looking for a solution to this, look no further.

      The Terminal Archive

      While Safari does a good job of keeping your search history out of prying eyes in the history tab, there is a less-than-obvious way to view a full list of visited websites on Mac. This is done in Terminal; the command-line emulator that allows you to make changes to your Mac.

      Terminal is located in the Utilities folder on your Mac. Once activated, simply add the command:

      dscacheutil -cachedump -entries Host

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      Once you hit “enter”, a list of the visited sites appear. Showing only the domains, the sites appear in a format of:

      Key: h_name :(website domain)ipv4 :1

      However, there’s no need to fear—there is a way you can clear this information from Terminal with a command that’s just as simple.

      Clearing Your Tracks

      Just as simply as you were able to enter the command to view the websites, you can clear the cache that Terminal showed you with the comamnd:

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      dscacheutil -flushcache

      As the command denotes, this literally “flushes” the domains from Terminal. This does not prevent the record from continuing to be recorded for future sites, however, so if that’s an issue for you, repeat this process regularly.

      Other Browsers and Private Browsing

      Other browsers have this form of privacy mode for their service. They promise many of the same things as Safari, but they do not have the same Terminal issue due to how this command only presents websites visited on Safari (the browser Macs come shipped with).

      If you use Firefox, you’ll notice that its private mode is also known as Private Browsing. Chrome calls private mode Incognito, while Internet Explorer refers to it as InPrivate Browsing. Opera is the newest to the scene, denoting it as Private Tab. Safari is the oldest well-known browser with this feature.

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      As you can see, despite Private Browsing not being 100% private, Terminal allows for your browser to be. In what ways has Terminal helped your life or allowed you to become more productive? Let us know in the comments below.

      Featured photo credit: Benjamin Dada via unsplash.com

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