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Home Automation: What It Can Do for You

Home Automation: What It Can Do for You

    Over my next couple of articles, we’re going to take a look at home automation. This is a fascinating area that is, for some, a reality, but for many, something that borders on science fiction. The truth is, there are all sorts of products out there to help you automate elements of your home, ranging from those that the average Joe can afford and implement to those that cost as much as the house itself.

    Today, we’re going to find out why home automation is worth bothering with (or not, depending on the conclusions you draw from this article). Automation, in all areas of life, will usually do one of two things for you: save you time you can use productively, or provide you with convenience. It’s up to you to draw those sort of conclusions for yourself in this case.

    1. Lighting

    Lighting has, by far, been the most popular and common use of home automation since it was a technically and financially viable option. It’s no wonder; the most annoying thing that has ever happened to most people, throughout all the terrible experiences in life, is getting into bed only to realize that a light has been left on.

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    You can rig up your home to control your lights from a remote control panel inside the home, for when you hop into bed, or remotely, when you get to work only to realize you left everything on. And of course you can just as easily turn them all back on once you get home or before a bunch of guests arrive.

    Most lighting automation systems give you control over light dimming. This is no breakthrough in itself, as dimming is a pretty commonplace thing, but combine that fact with the ability to create intricate profiles with different lights set at different levels through the house. You can have a preset for every mood!

    Of course, lighting control can’t stop at bulbs. There’s natural light to consider as well, and there are products available to help you control curtains, blinds and shades.

    2. Home Theater

    If you’ve ever bought one of those programmable, all-in-one remotes, you’ve taken part in a small part of home automation. A lot of home automation hobbyists will have the most intricate remote programmings you’ve seen, and I don’t blame them; it takes a lot of waiting and a fair few clicks for me to get my television on and switched over to the Apple TV or DVD player.

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    But there’s also multi-zone audio to consider – the ability to select various speakers around the house through which to play audio from any given source, or even the ability to play from them all at once (or any combination thereof). If you’ve used AirTunes at home, you’re familiar with multi-zone audio, and as far as I’ve seen AirTunes provides one of the smoothest integration and operation experiences.

    3. Communication

    Intercom technology often falls into the home automation field. Hobbyists often like to have an intercom system right through the house, in every room. I remember the first time I spoke to someone via instant messaging when they were in the next room; I imagine the intercom provides a similar feeling of redundancy.

    Intercom systems can be made accessible to your PDA or smartphone via wifi, and practically any device via the Internet. They can also assist in transmitting alarms right throughout the house; if you have trouble hearing the smoke alarm from your bedroom, this may just be what you need to keep alive for the rest of the year!

    Us productivity types like to have one source to go to for everything – take the old one inbox rule, for instance. If you’re like that, you can have your intercom system routed into your phone so that you only have to speak into the one mouthpiece, safely avoiding the germs Aunty Glenda left on the other cordless last time she was over. I imagine this works best when there’s an intercom at the front gate; there’s not much use for intercom over the phone when it comes to in-house intercom.

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    4. Air

    You’re sitting at work in the air conditioning and you know it’s going to be a hot drive home. The last thing you want to do is get out of the hot car and into a hot house. With home automation you can get your air conditioner and a couple of fans going just as you take off for the day. Of course, the same thing applies to heating and ventilation, too.

    Air conditioners are expensive beasts. If you’ve routinely caught someone in your home forgetting to turn the thing off and running up the electricity bill, use an automation system to shut your air conditioner off after a half hour’s use.

    5. Security and Surveillance

    An automated security system in your home provides a far more protective and much safer experience than traditional methods. With cameras you can view over the Internet, you can ensure nobody is taking off with your HDTV (or even keep an eye on the kids). You can have a motion sensor that sends you a text message if it notices movement when nobody is meant to be home, or if sensors on your windows sense the glass breaking.

    If your system includes intercom, you can have alarms played through all those speakers around the house, ensuring that everyone in the house is aware of danger. And remember when we talked about lighting automation so you could have all the bulbs in your house switch off when you leave home? Advanced systems even allow you to lock up all the doors and windows as you’re leaving at the same time.

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    Of course, there’s the old simulation of presence trick. If you’re going on holidays, get your system to randomly play with your blinds, play music and flick lights on or off; you can sleep a little sounder knowing that your home is a little less likely to be broken into.

    And More…

    There’s much more to home automation. There are systems for getting your pets fed on time, in case you’ve killed a rat or two due to negligence, and irrigation automation, in case you’re guilty of the same when it comes to plants. You can even have your percolator or espresso machine brewing fifteen minutes before your alarm goes off.

    Needless to say, we can all live without this stuff. We have been for thousands of years. But these things can make life easier and more enjoyable, so they’re certainly worth considering if you’ve got the interest and the budget.

    Next time, we’ll be coming back to the topic of home automation and looking at how one can get started with their own home, and what sort of equipment is available for various prices.

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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 May 14, 2019

    8 Replacements for Google Notebook

    8 Replacements for Google Notebook

    Exploring alternatives to Google Notebook? There are more than a few ‘notebooks’ available online these days, although choosing the right one will likely depend on just what you use Google Notebook for.

    1. Zoho Notebook
      If you want to stick with something as close to Google Notebook as possible, Zoho Notebook may just be your best bet. The user interface has some significant changes, but in general, Zoho Notebook has pretty similar features. There is even a Firefox plugin that allows you to highlight content and drop it into your Notebook. You can go a bit further, though, dropping in any spreadsheets or documents you have in Zoho, as well as some applications and all websites — to the point that you can control a desktop remotely if you pare it with something like Zoho Meeting.
    2. Evernote
      The features that Evernote brings to the table are pretty great. In addition to allowing you to capture parts of a website, Evernote has a desktop search tool mobil versions (iPhone and Windows Mobile). It even has an API, if you’ve got any features in mind not currently available. Evernote offers 40 MB for free accounts — if you’ll need more, the premium version is priced at $5 per month or $45 per year. Encryption, size and whether you’ll see ads seem to be the main differences between the free and premium versions.
    3. Net Notes
      If the major allure for Google Notebooks lays in the Firefox extension, Net Notes might be a good alternative. It’s a Firefox extension that allows you to save notes on websites in your bookmarks. You can toggle the Net Notes sidebar and access your notes as you browse. You can also tag websites. Net Notes works with Mozilla Weave if you need to access your notes from multiple computers.
    4. i-Lighter
      You can highlight and save information from any website while you’re browsing with i-Lighter. You can also add notes to your i-Lighted information, as well as email it or send the information to be posted to your blog or Twitter account. Your notes are saved in a notebook on your computer — but they’re also synchronized to the iLighter website. You can log in to the site from any computer.
    5. Clipmarks
      For those browsers interested in sharing what they find with others, Clipmarks provides a tool to select clips of text, images and video and share them with friends. You can easily syndicate your finds to a whole list of sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Digg. You can also easily review your past clips and use them as references through Clipmarks’ website.
    6. UberNote
      If you can think of a way to send notes to UberNote, it can handle it. You can clip material while browsing, email, IM, text message or even visit the UberNote sites to add notes to the information you have saved. You can organize your notes, tag them and even add checkboxes if you want to turn a note into some sort of task list. You can drag and drop information between notes in order to manage them.
    7. iLeonardo
      iLeonardo treats research as a social concern. You can create a notebook on iLeonardo on a particular topic, collecting information online. You can also access other people’s notebooks. It may not necessarily take the place of Google Notebook — I’m pretty sure my notes on some subjects are cryptic — but it’s a pretty cool tool. You can keep notebooks private if you like the interface but don’t want to share a particular project. iLeonardo does allow you to follow fellow notetakers and receive the information they find on a particular topic.
    8. Zotero
      Another Firefox extension, Zotero started life as a citation management tool targeted towards academic researchers. However, it offers notetaking tools, as well as a way to save files to your notebook. If you do a lot of writing in Microsoft Word or Open Office, Zotero might be the tool for you — it’s integrated with both word processing software to allow you to easily move your notes over, as well as several blogging options. Zotero’s interface is also available in more than 30 languages.

    I’ve been relying on Google Notebook as a catch-all for blog post ideas — being able to just highlight information and save it is a great tool for a blogger.

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    In replacing it, though, I’m starting to lean towards Evernote. I’ve found it handles pretty much everything I want, especially with the voice recording feature. I’m planning to keep trying things out for a while yet — I’m sticking with Google Notebook until the Firefox extension quits working — and if you have any recommendations that I missed when I put together this list, I’d love to hear them — just leave a comment!

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