Saturday, December 31, 2005

Year end clearance

Happy New Year to all!

The last few weeks have been hectic! I seem to have been inundated with SPAM but Thunderbird is doing a good job of pitching it into the Junk folder (hmm, seems to attacking my Sourceforge email, time to obfuscate the email address). I've been having troubles with updating my web site. First my web host put in ssh session limits to deal with SSH attacks (that's understandable) but that messed up sitecopy when using rsh (via ssh), so I switched to sftp. Then Sitecopy's sftp broke, but only under Fedora 4 systems. It works on my Gentoo system (my web pages are stored under the Fedora system). My laptop's wireless network stopped working under Fedora. That one's easier to fix as I just noticed that I receive a kernel update (recompile, rebuild kernel, reinstall, argh!). Up2date broke (I fixed it).Some how I manage to get my Insteon PLC hosed (been playing too much with my driver code) and now I need to reload the core app. I also have 2 updated (V2.12) PLC's ordered and I hope they arrive soon. But in the mean time I haven't written the download code needed for Linux (I sort of has this book to write ...). I was hoping to get to that later. Now I can't load it from Windows because Windows doesn't recognize the USB serial port (but Linux does, hey ain't that backward?!? ;-)). I've ordered another serial port, hopefully Windows will recognize it! At least it can still send out X10 codes (that part has been working well). I think I've finally attacked the last of my X10 gremlins. Last but not least I've spent a lot of time working with PHP to make my web sites easier to update. I had been using make, Perl and shell scripts to update my previous pages. Kind of my own CMS. I've now switched to PHP and I've been making pretty good head way on it. To those that my be wondering, I use make to build the web pages when I've updated a small section. They're mostly static pages, maybe daily updates. Make updates only the pages that are affected by the changes. Then sitecopy pushes the pages out to my websites and I have a local copy that I work with. I need to do a little more work with CCS and convert everything to XHMTL 1.0 or 1.1 but so far the redesign has been going pretty well. I have a few ideas for making the pages look a little nicer and I'm trying to par down the immense.size of the all-in-one page (~110K) to make it easier to look at and find information. I still keep the all-in-one page as others may want to look at that instead. Besides with my scripts it east to build the pages.

Well that's it for now, I'm currently working on the wireless network chapter (the kernel change made a mess of that!). My mind aches and I've got lots of work ahead. My brain aches!

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Recommendations, X10 vs. Insteon (really long!)

First let me thank everyone who has complimented me on my web sites and posts over the years. I promise I won't let them go to my head. :-) And no more posting when I'm tired it makes me sound like a troll (very unprofessional).

I've recently received about 4 or 5 requests for recommendations as to which Power Line Controller I would get if I were to get a new one. Remember my opinions are mostly Linux based as that is my OS of choice. As it stands I just made such a choice. I have 2 new Insteon V2 controllers (a serial and USB PLC) and I've dropped the CM11A from my Misterhouse (MH) setup. I still have it for my Heyu setup but that's for support reasons. BTW, I have the following controllers:

Now I don't think I've missed any but I might have a few more. ;-) I chose the Insteon Serial PowerLinc V2 so I can migrate to Insteon. I wrote some software for MH so I can dump my CM11A. The Perl software should work under Windows also but I haven't tested it yet. I think in the long run Insteon is going to be a winner in the home automation market. I think UPB and ZigBee (not ZWave) may give it a run for it's money but I'm not up to date on those technologies right now. If you're not running MH then your choices are limited to the software you want to run. The CM11A is still popular but it's a bit long in the tooth and has a long list of unique problems. The CM15A is it's replacement but X10 has not been kind enough to share the interface info so we only have some hacked info that the community pulled together.

Anyway back to my choice for MH, the Insteon PowerLinc V2. Here's my thoughts on Insteon and why I think it will be a winner. Benefits of Insteon:

  • X10 compatibility, the controller and the modules can send and receive X10 and Insteon. The only exception is the SignaLinc V2s which only repeat Insteon commands (these are great amplified phase bridges even with multiple phases).
  • Insteon and X10 modules can coexist on the same power line network. The Insteon modules can be setup to respond and transmit X10 in addition to the Insteon commands.
  • Better reliability, each Insteon module repeats an Insteon command thereby boosting the signal along the way. Also an Insteon command sent gets ACK'd, NAK'd or nothing (never reached its target).
  • Faster, X10 is about 60 bps (about 1 command/sec), Insteon is between 1K bps to 2K (4800 bps?). Faster than 1 command/sec. :-)
  • Better support! X10 I'm still waiting on the CM15A info.
  • Better quality, the price has come down and is compatible with any of the good X10 compatible products.

Yes there are some problems with Insteon but it is my opinion that they're not enough to hold Insteon back in the long rung. Some of the problems:

  • Insteon is new, expect some growing pains.
  • Protocol has a few holes in it but it's a lot better than X10's protocol.
  • Protocol documentation isn't Open Source friendly, I'm testing it's limits but I did speak with the Insteon folks and they are aware of what I'm doing and how far it will go. The good news is that anyone who purchases the Dev kit has license to the documentation. Besides the Dev Kit is a good deal, you get the PowerLinc V2 and a LampLinc V2.
  • The new protocol makes things a lot more complicated. Actually this isn't too bad. You have to 'link' the module to the PowerLinc or ControLinc. After that the minimal work you need to do is send the correct Insteon command but then that's just as bad as X10. The new protocol is half the reason to switch to Insteon (additional reliability).
  • No RF devices like X10, yet. For some folks this might be a problem. I haven't found X10's RF to work all that great so it hasn't been a problem for me. Besides you can still use the X10 RF. Insteon won't interfere with it.
  • Limited software available for Insteon and Linux. I have created iplcd, the Perl sample code (USB & Serial) and the Misterhouse iplc modules (should work with Linux & Windows if you have the Serial Insteon PowerLinc V2 controller) but I haven't written anything else yet. More will follow as soon as I get done with the book.

Let me state clearly that I still have X10 and X10 compatible modules but because I've gotten better support from Insteon I'm spending my money on Insteon. I may buy X10 compatible equipment still but it won't be X10 brand or other X10 rebranded products.

On the issue of my work on the Misterhouse module, it's Alpha code, X10 On and Off works but I haven't touched the dim/bright code yet and won't for a couple of months (still writing my book). The Insteon support will be a while and the first iteration of it will be extremely simple until I get the assembler and downloader (needed for the core app) working. Until then you need to use Windows to handle the core app (the hello world code Insteon supports). Also I don't have the USB code written so you'll need the serial controller. I recommend getting the Dev Kit (see above). Also get the SignaLinc V2s if you have more than 1 'phase' or separate fuse/breaker boxes. I don't know the real world distance of the devices. but mine works great at 20 feet apart.

BTW, the Insteon PowerLinc is the only X10 interface I have on MH other than the CM17A & MR26A which I need for a few RF remotes. I can send and receive X10 properly. The Insteon codes (such as the Event info) are just ignored. Sorry but I was in a rush. I only had 3 days to write the whole thing. Not bad considering I haven't written a Perl module before or interfaced to MH at this level.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Oh no, my holiday light won't light!

Ah the mysteries of X10! Last week my wife and I began putting up the holiday lights round the house. No, I have nothing as fancy as this. That would drive me nuts! ;-) Though it's pretty cool and yes it's real (the compression used produces the artifacts)! And as luck would have it I began to have problems with the X10. First the normal lights would work sometimes but the holiday lights wouldn't work at all. I had a nice mini-console so I gave that to my wife to use if the X10 failed. Well last night I came home late from work and asked my wife if the X10 came on by itself and she said it had. A flicker of hope that the X10 problem had gone away had sprung up in me but was soon dashed as the holiday lights didn't turn off at the appropriate time. I began to analyze the problem to figure out what was different. Well the first thing I remembered was that I wasn't there. And that I had my new laptop with me then but had it plugged in later that night. I did some tests this morning and found that my Insteon controller (sending X10 not Insteon commands) worked fine when the laptop was not on and failed to turn on the holiday lights when the laptop was plugged in. So I'll need to get my hands on a filter to plug my laptop into and all will be well again. I really wish I had time to add Insteon commands to Misterhouse, but that will have to wait a few more months.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

My first step towards using Insteon

I'm in a really good mood! I spent the last few days working on Perl code to use the Serial PowerLinc V2 (Insteon controller). Yesterday I disconnected my CM11A from Misterhouse (MH) and replaced it with my PowerLinc! I'm now running MH with my iplcs code. So far I only have the On and Off code working. I need to work on the rest of the code (DIM, PRESET DIM, STATUS, Extended, etc.) but I'm happy to finally gotten this to work. So over the next few weeks I'll be testing my code. I need to put together some kind of package so others can use it. After that I'll get to adding an Insteon package to properly support Insteon devices. Right now I'm just using them as X10 devices. Unfortunately I also spent a bit more time on this than I would have liked to. So now it's back to the book.

On the book front, I did managed to get part of it reorganized such that it now has a section on Misterhouse (that's several chapters). The book now has at least 2 authors, which is a good thing as I'm much slower at writing than expected. Writing is book is difficult. Knowing how to do something and explaining it so others can do it is really tough. I now have a much higher respect for the entire process of writing a book. But I still may be stupid enough to do it again. ;-) Hopefully this book will be good enough so people will want to buy it.