Thursday, September 30, 2004

X10 problems x10 :-) (Part I)

First allow me to apologize for the lack of anything written (almost 3 weeks). Work, weather and a really long and fast bike rides have conspired against me to delay the next installment (see I had nothing to do with it it's all a conspiracy! ;-). At least it has allowed me to add ZigBee and A10 to the mix (more to follow on those 2 subjects).

OK, you've got your X10 module and your X10 computer interface (i.e. CM11A) and you've tested out the setup near you computer. It works great! Now you move your X10 module out the living room (to impress your spouse) and nada, nothing, zilch! Hey what's going on here?

Well X10 has a few problems that need to be overcome. For US homes, one of them is that there are 2 110v AC phases brought into the home. Together they deliver 220v AC, apart they each deliver 110v AC. If your CM11A is on one phase and your X10 module is on another phase then you'll need a way to get the signals from one phase to the other. The first thing you don't do is connect one phase to the other with an extension cord, effectively shorting out 240V AC! Bad things happen when you let the magic (smoke) out. The proper way to 'bridge' the phases is with an X10 passive phase coupler. ACT Solutions (A10 & X10) makes one that is very good. Some folks with larger homes may want to get a repeater. A repeater will couple the phases and boost the signal.

Some people find that X10 works intermittently or that it works when certain appliances are on. This is also a phase problem. What is happening is a 240v appliance is performing the bridge function while it's on. When it's off there is no bridge. Of course other things may also be causing these problems.

Another problem is that some common home devices are 'signal suckers'. A signal sucker is a device which is a low impedance path for the frequencies that X10 uses. Said another way, X10 finds it easier to travel through those paths than going straight to end device (and X10 module). Some common 'signal suckers' are TV's, Stereo systems, PC power supplies, backup power supplies and filtering power strips. A way to fix this is to purchase a good, quality X10 type signal filter such as those made by ACT and Leviton (?). There has been some question as to the rated load an X10 (the company) made filter can handle.

There are a few more things to be wary of such as the Super Socket (an X10 controlled AC outlet). The Super Socket is notorious for breaking after a few months use. Seems a cheap plastic part can't handle the switching on and off duty. Mine break after 3 months. On and off once a day

Another product to be careful of is the Socket Rocket. It's OK to use it in a lamp where the bulb is on top but don't use it in a ceiling outlet (where the bulb hangs down). Seems some folks tried it and found that the heat from the bulb was enough to melt whatever was used to hold the product together.

The last product is the X10 wall switch. While it does work as advertised it is very cheap looking. Not something you want in the foyer of your home. There are other wall switches (such as ACT & Leviton) that are made better and the quality &feel are much better.

Now I know that doesn't leave us with much more than the X10 Lamp and Appliance modules but there are other devices such as the inline modules, the ACT A10 devices (wall switches, keypads and inline modules) and other devices I'll get to. So there is plenty to work with and I'll show you how to get it to work.

OK, In a few days I'll have more on this subject. Sorry to rush this out but if I don't I'll never get it out. I held this section back because I was investigating the problems with the CM11A, the RR501 and the TM751. Unfortunately this requires googling the comp.home.automation newsgroup. Some of threads go back to 1996 (maybe further) and you need to read a good portion of them to get the facts (wheat from the chaff so to say). In future entries I'll introduce the tools that help us work around these problems and the product that seem to work pretty well. In the mean time here are Uncle Phil's X10 articles written for Home Toys

Well that's all for now. More to follow.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

So what can I hook up to?

OK, so you think HA sounds like a good idea and you would like to know what you can hook up to be controlled and monitored? Well lets start with the obvious, X10. Why X10? Because it's cheap, available and mostly works (though some appliances, such as PCs do interfere with X10's operations). You'll note that I have a distinctly Do-It-Yourself (DIY) point of view. I'm sure there are plenty of businesses that can create a set it and forget it HA system. It's just that I don't deal with them enough to know about them (hmm, another BLOG entry idea?).


  • X10 PLC - uses the home's power lines to communicate between controllers and modules
  • X10 RF - uses RF to communicate between controllers
  • IR - uses infrared to communicate
  • DMX - hardwire control
  • CEBUS - I consider this vaporware, lot of promise, little materialized
  • Lonworks - big in industrial controls but it licensing cost is too prohibitive for consumer products.
  • ZigBee - a wireless standard, this has the promise to replace X10. Hopefully it can live up to that promise.
  • Custom - Parallel ports, USB, RS232, RS485, and Ethernet. Ports found on your PC and generally an extreme form of DIY. With a little imagination and appropriate knowledge creative things can be done.


  • Appliance module - for things you shouldn't use a dimmer on.
  • lamp module - for things you can use a dimmer on
  • RF module - some to control the module, some to pass the signal to the AC line
  • RF remote - such as the Key chain fob or the X10 TV remote (the TV uses IR but the X10 uses RF).
  • Computer interface - CM11A, CM17A or TW523

X10's devices are relatively cheap and work for the most part. They are susceptible interference from other devices but this can be remedied by using the appropriate filters on TV, stereos, and PCs. Many people just use them for holiday lighting. Others for day to day appliance and lighting control. Many people have experience with IR as it's used in all the modern TV remotes used today.


  • Temperature probe
  • Relay probe
  • Reader probe


  • HCS II & HCS_C - One of my pet projects. A controller which doesn't need a PC once it's setup.
  • ADI Ocelot - another controller that doesn't need a PC once it's setup. Has very good IR capabilities!
  • LynX-10 - a RS232 PC to X10 interface
  • CM11A - a RS232 PC to X10 interface
  • CM17 - a RS232 PC to X10 RF interface
  • RS485 - needs a converter to go from your PC's RS2232 interface to a custom controller which uses RS485. The HCS II's comm-links use this.
  • RS232 - RS232 to custom controller.Weeder has a very good reputation with the MisterHouse folks.

Weather Station

  • Wm918
  • Dallas Onewire Weather Station

User Interface

  • The discontinued 3COM Audrey is an excellent interface. It simplest terms it's a touch screen with a built in browser. These can still be picked up on EBAY and a few other places.
  • MisterHouse - Perl base, Open Source and portable software.
  • Event based - meaning using cron to set off a job running at a certain time or having software run all the time and kicking off an action because some event occurred.
  • And here is a Demo Example of some PHP, HTML & JavaScript I threw together to demonstrate HA to a friend. It was really meant as a monitoring app. What it actually consists of is a PHP page, a database (I've used both MYSQL and a flat text file), and some JavaScript. While not a perfect example it is good enough to show what can be done with very little effort.


  • Asterisk - IP PBX, this is the other end of VoIP. From a home users' perspective it a personal PBX for home use with voice mail, extensions and everything else you'd expect from a PBX. But it's also scalable for business use.
  • Tivo - Digital Video Recorder (DVR). The Series 2 version are not very hackable but are extremely useful for watching TV programs when it's convenient for you! The Series 1 is extremely hackable but I'm not sure Tivo is supporting them any longer.

While hunting around four links on HA I came across KCP's Idea Page. Another HA enthusiast with ideas on HA.

And not to out do myself, yet another interesting BLOG. Nothing up my sleeve - Gordon Meyer's BLOG. Gordon is the author of the O'Reilly book: "Smart Home Hacks"

It's time to wrap this one up. I'll continue this in another entry. I need to get further details to backup the information. Also I'm leaving a whole lot of details out.

Friday, September 10, 2004

So what is Home Automation?

Ever try to nail jello to the wall, difficult eh? Well defining home Automation (HA) is just like that. The first thing that comes to mind is lights and X10 (Warning: X10 has annoying pop-ups, -unders and whatever else). Controlling electrical appliances (on/off) is not hard with X10, though it has it's annoying quirks. Next you might include alarm/security systems, follow that by irrigation, just to name a few. So far we're controlling and monitoring physical devices. Next we start monitoring the temperature of rooms and outside our home, using Dallas Onewire/iButtons temperature probes, maybe get a weather report. Now what do we do with this information? Well can then use this information to control the heating/cooling in a home. Decide if we should open windows or use HVAC system. With the weather report we can have a program decide if the irrigation system should run now or later. BTW, I use MisterHouse and I can do all of this, and more.

OK, is a telephone answering machine HA? What if we expand it to include VoIP services and a PC based PBX (see Asterisk) for the home? Hmm ... What about Tivo or ReplayTV TV services? What about router monitoring and management (like corporation have)? All these things can be part of HA and yes I am wondering, "How far is too far?".

My opinion on the subject is that, "yes all these things are part of HA and that HA is more about control and monitoring of our environment around us". At some point companies are going to offer us services that allow us to do these things or, worse yet, have them done for us. If others do for us then it's Big Brother, if they offer us products that allow us to set and forget then that would be OK. Of course we currently use the compute as an appliance and we have have plenty of Zombie SPAM machines in use. Some real thought will need to done here before we can have HA for the masses. For now it will more likely be the realm of the Do-It-Yourself people and the wealthy who have it custom built for themselves.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Testing, Testing, 1 2 3 Is this thing on ?

Well I just found the email interface to my blog and this is just more of an experiment which I'll probably delete. I need to know how the html works, how it looks in my email software vs. how it looks on the pages, etc., etc., etc..

I'm also working on a system for ideas on what topics I want to post on. I may even work in a way to let people ask me questions on various topics (Hey Mr. Know-it-all ;-). As always more to follow...

Pressed for time ...

Sometime in December Comcast (my ISP) will no longer support the old URL format of but will support the newer URL format of Note that there are 2 changes. The first is the change from mywebpages to home and the second is the addition of the tilde (~) to the users name. Now to be fair to Comcast they announced this change in Jan. 2004 and the change will be final in Jan. 2005. In the mean time both URL formats will work. So where is the problem? Well I now have 4 months to seek out and change every page that references the old URL format! OK, so it's my own fault for waiting (no sympathy for you! ;-). But it still a lot of work (which I think I can get done in the given time). Actually I did start, I've changed my newsgroup and email signatures to reflect the change. Now it's time to seek out and change every one's link references to my pages. Hopefully it won't be as bad as my change from Worldnet to @Home and then to Comcast. Those were abrupt changes.

So how is this related to Home Automation? Well for one thing I keep a local copy of my pages on my local server and I post it to the various sites when changes are made (yep, it's automated!). Remember that Home Automation isn't just about automating appliances. It's also about automating various processes around the home such as information management (the promise of putting together your own online newspaper from information gathered off the 'net). The maintenance of these pages is a bit difficult. Currently I have about 100M of HA stuff distributed across several sites (I'll get around to adding the links to this BLOG page a little later when I figure out the format I want to use). I'm hoping that this BLOG will allow me to jumble my ideas and let me think of new ways to put them to use. I still need several tools but I'm getting there.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

First Post! Hey sue me ... (Long)

Yep, I know, lame Slashdot reference but it actually means that this is my first post. In the future you'll find my miscellaneous blatherings. For those of you who are not from the US, please pardon my use of humor. I'll try to append a smiley to at least give some hint that it's humor :-) Please note that this blog is not titled Linux ha! but Linux H A (home automation).

A long time ago in a time far, far way ...

OK, now on to my topic of interest, Home Automation!

First, understand I've been on the Internet since 1985 (Usenet & ftp then) when I ventured onto the Soup Kitchen BBS (Rutgers, New Brunswick NJ 300/1200 Baud). A friend later showed me how to bounce around between the hosts and how to find things. For the life of me I can't remember what moniker I used!

Around 1990 I had been working with an AT&T 3B1 and a Heath kit X10 interface (a CP290?). Later I received a 386sx/16, ran Linux 0.9x (I remember loading over a 100 floppies) and 2 serial ports. After modifying the software (cp290 software) to work with Linux I was up and running. Later, my friend ('D') picked up a X10 CM11A kit and gave it to me as a Christmas present. I remember using Archie, Veronica and Jughead to search (there was no Google then) for software for the CM11A. Later I found Dan Lanciani's x10d software. Though it was for BSD I compiled it on Linux. Shortly there after I got an AT&T Worldnet account (1996) and I eventually create my first Linux Home Automation page. Which looked a lot like this. I've updated it a little but that was my first web page from 1996. That page was 32K in size and I thought it was too big (remember that only dial-up was available then, broadband was just a rumor). My current main page is 101K and the entire LHA site is about 12M in size. I also have 2 other web sites, the Open Source HCS Project and the Linux Home Automation project. I also keep a backup of both at The Linux Home Automation project is pretty much idle. That's because I've moved my attention to using Misterhouse which is Perl software for Home Automation and Control. On the hardware side I've been busy with the HCS (Home Control System). This system started with Steve Ciarcia's HCS II (I've got to get a few pictures up there). It's since grown to a new ARM based HCS_C board.

Anyhow, that's enough for now. I'll save some rambling for tomorrow. :-)