6 things I learned from DIY home automation

I installed a home security system a couple years ago and added some home automation to it recently. These are a few of the things I learned along the way. If you are in a hurry, jump to Number 6.

  1. What is DIY home automation?

DIY (do it yourself) in the home security market means you select and install the base system and sensors yourself, following simple directions and/or googling for help. You will likely monitor alarms yourself (though you may be able to buy monitoring services) when you are away and call 911 if there is a problem, so having a smartphone is essential. You will want reliable internet service from your home, too.

Home automation means your base system controls appliances in your home. These can be the thermostat, lights, door locks, or virtually any other electrical appliance. Home automation is a relatively new market, and we can expect to see a lot of growth and improvement over the next few years with players like Amazon Echo and Google Home getting into the market. Home automation is an important aspect of the IoT (Internet of Things).

  1. Getting started

I chose Piper, which was highly rated at the time, for my security vendor. There are several new players in the market now, and Piper may no longer be the best choice, depending on your needs. Do your own research before buying the system that is right for you.

I like Piper because it’s simple and inexpensive. One box holds the camera, motion detector, z-wave hub, microphone, loud noise detector, speaker, thermometer, and siren. I put the main unit where it had a good view and added a few door/window sensors–a magnet on the door and a little sensor box on the doorframe–both of which can be attached with the included adhesive pads. My smartphone served as the control panel.

  1. Staying in touch

Piper and most other systems connect to your home internet router to send video to the web, where it can be stored or streamed to your phone or browser. Piper’s video storage is free, but many systems charge a monthly fee for storage, so do your research. Many of the newer systems provide cellular data as a backup in case your internet is down.

  1. Press and hold

Getting the hub to connect to a sensor is pretty much like pairing your smart phone to a Bluetooth device. You put both devices in connect mode, and they do the rest. I had some trouble with this as first, but I think it was because I tried press-and-release when I should have used press-and-hold.

  1. Home automation can be awkward with a security system

Home automation is very basic with Piper: a trigger occurs, and something happens. For my test case, I chose to monitor the laundry room for water on the floor and turn off the washing machine if this ever happens (again).

I got a z-wave water detector and a smart switch (one that can be turned on and off by z-wave command). They were easy to add to the Piper hub now that I am experienced.

Then I hit a snag. The security-oriented Piper folks don’t provide an option to turn anything off. They assume, apparently, that you will want to turn on the lights if an intrusion occurs, and that’s all.

  1. Check out IFTTT.COM even if you don’t do any home automation

IFTTT to the rescue. This free web service at IFTTT.COM will interface with a variety of systems and allow one system to trigger the other. (IFTTT stands for IF This Then That). Piper participates, so I was able to define a rule to sense water and turn the switch off, as desired.

IFTTT is a very powerful service. It connects to a variety of home devices, news sources, email clients, google services, etc. You might find you can automate several tedious parts of your digital life.

I found the IFTTT location service particularly useful. I set it up to track my cell phone’s distance from home, and every time I leave the house, it arms the security system. Every time I return home, it disarms the system. No more forgetting and/or stopping the car to arm the system.

 

 

 

 

Why we know interstellar war is raging in our galaxy right now

If intelligent life is abundant throughout the galaxy, then where are they? — Fermi’s Paradox, Enrico Fermi, 1942.

Since 1942 the paradox has only deepened. Scientists have found many Earth-like planets and shown that creating the amino acid building blocks of life is relatively easy. The standard assumption is that since intelligence is a beneficial survival characteristic, life on nearly every planet will eventually evolve intelligence. Yet scientists have probed the galaxy for the artificial broadcasts of a super-civilization. They have found nothing.

In theory it’s possible that a civilization sufficiently advanced to have space flight would be so beneficent to undeveloped species that they would leave young planets like Earth undisturbed. After all, isn’t that what humanity will do when we reach the stars? I doubt it. And it happens that all of the many civilizations out there are beneficent? The probability becomes minuscule.

No, we don’t see any signs of intelligent life out there because they are hiding. The only question is, what are they hiding from? What could be more fearsome than an advanced interstellar civilization? They must be hiding from each other–because when they are not hiding, they are fighting.

Why haven’t we seen signs of war, you ask? Things like exploding stars (oh, novae) or annihilated spaceships (oh, GRB–Gamma Ray Bursts).

Yes, novae and GRBs can be explained as natural phenomena. But let’s say you are an advanced technological civilization and do not want to draw attention to yourself. Wouldn’t you disguise the blast of your weapons as a natural process?

How do you say ‘about a foot’ in metric?

Don’t get me wrong, I love the precision and scalability of the metric system, but what if I don’t want precision?

“About a yard long” becomes “about a meter long,” no problem.

“A few miles” becomes “several kilometers,” no problem.

“About a foot long” becomes . . .

  1. about 30 centimeters? (sounds too precise)
  2. about a third of a meter? (avoid fractions)
  3. approximately three decimeters? (deci-what?)
  4. about as long as a person’s foot? (man or woman? what shoe size?)

I’ve wrestled with this problem long enough. Don’t be surprised if the aliens in my metric-system-based stories have arms, legs, antennae, and reproductive organs about a meter long!

 

 

SciFutures – Blending Futurology and Science Fiction

I am excited to have become a freelance writer contributing to SciFutures.

Most people know (or think they know) what science fiction is. But what is futurology and what on earth is SciFutures?

Usually, science fiction is about science gone wrong. This makes exciting adventures, and arguably posts warning signs for potholes in the road ahead. But don’t we also want a map for where the road is going? That is where futurology comes in, by considering what is likely, or possible and within our scope of control.

SciFutures is a company where freelance writers such as yours truly do their best to come up with desirable scenarios and stories for the future in a given industry (or direction on the map, to extend the analogy above.) We aren’t doing the hard work of figuring out where technology is going, but we are listening to the experts and turning their ideas into stories for general consumption.

Well, that’s my take on it anyway. SciFutures describes what they do as “science fiction prototyping.”  If you want to know more, you can check out their website here.