iPad home automation


Admittedly I'm a first class dork, and I have been writing about home automation for many years. From climate control, to music, to hard core energy savings (vampire devices not allowed), I use automation to make my life a little better. For example I'll be heading out on vacation in July and while I'm gone, lights will turn on randomly at night, outside motion detectors will make people think someone is home, plants will get watered, chicken coop doors will go up and down, cameras will keep an eye out for the pet sitter, water mains will be watched, and I'll be able to login remotely and check that all is well and the house hasn't burned down.

The one hitch in my system for years is that since I've been building my own UI's for controlling the house, I've been limited because touch screen devices were either too expensive or limited by functionality and screen size. I've had a touch monitor, Nokia N800, and even an iPhone mounted to my walls. However as soon as I got my iPad home, I knew that I'd found the perfect touch device and started to rebuild my UI from scratch.

First I found some metal framing material at Lowes and built a mount for the wall. Then I embedded a rare earth magnet in the wall and spackled it in place so you couldn't see it. I cut a strip of tin, flattened it, and mounted it to the back of the iPad behind some velvet. This way when you place the iPad in the mount, it clicks and sticks to the wall (no velcro for me). With that done I moved on to a new UI. Here's a description of what I have so far:


All Lights Off: Basically this will shut all lights off in the house.

Everything Off: Everything non-critical (light/appliance) will turn off.

Television: No vampire plasma TVs. This shuts the TV off at the outlet.

Fireplace: Gas fireplace. Turning it on via automation puts it on a 45 minute timer. Saves energy.

Coffee Grinder: 6:30 every morning, freshly ground coffee. Not going to be home? This turns it off.

Grinder Times: You can run the grinder at any time, and select how long to run it. Coffee pot or espresso shot?

Living Room Lights: All lights in the house are controlled. These control just the living room lights.

Percentages: Set what level you want the lights at.

Outside Lights: These are all the house lights and landscape lighting, which are on a timer as well.

Patio Lights: turn on all the accent lighting, and even set the brightness.

Kitchen Motion: The kitchen lights (like many lights in the house) operate on a motion detector. Sometimes you want to disable that.

Vacation Settings: Leaving? Clicking this button sets everything in motion. When you return, everything is back to normal.

Sonos Settings: While my Sonos already has a controller, this let's me quickly jump to my favorite music, pause, or mute. Coming soon, a Pandora page.

Thermostat: My Ecobee smart thermostat is web enabled, so this jumps to that page. Plus, I can login from my iPhone to control my thermostat with their app.

Timers: Need to set a reminder that the laundry will be done in 45 minutes? Baking something? This tells the kitchen iMac (VESA mounted) to announce the timer is set and when it is done. Using Growl and Applescript I also get notifications on my laptop, my wife's laptop, and a text message to my phone.

Watch Movie: Turns on the TV, sets the audio to the right input, turns on the TV, and sets the TV input to the Mac Mini Media Center. I could even script this to open either Front Row, Hulu, or Netflix on demand.

Bedtime: Turns on the the Hall Lights, Bedroom and Master Bath lights, and puts all other lights on a 10 minute timer.

Entertain: Sets all the lighting to a certain ambiance and turns the Sonos on with a party playlist.

More Controls: Eventually I'll have another page of controls for irrigation, music, and the security system.

So far the iPad is an outstanding touch screen solution, and I wouldn't be surprised if we start seeing all sorts of people using it as a kiosk. I'm in the process of writing an ebook about automation so I'm excited to see what other ideas I come up with during that project.


  1. _Ugly_ User Interface: You’ve taken a glorious apple product, nearly devoid of buttons, and turned it into a field of blocks of tiny type – almost a windows application, there. This resembles a bar/restaurant register, which is another example of poor design.

    Plus, you really need to describe what ‘All Lights Off’ means?

    1. There are limits to design that can be done with the software running the system considering it is simply an html page without the ability to handle CSS the way I’d like…and it has to be spouse and guest friendly. But thanks for the nice review.

      You stay classy underdesign!

      1. here are limits to design that can be done with the software running the system considering it is simply an html page without the ability to handle CSS the way I’d like

        This implies that your system can handle CSS in some form, which in turn means you may be able to do more than you think: CSS in blocks within the HTML can do everything CSS in stylesheets can, and even if you’re restricted to inline CSS, the only thing you lose is the ability to use pseudo-classes like hover.

    2. “Plus, you really need to describe what ‘All Lights Off’ means?”

      Same thing that happens when you get tired of watching your ultimate fighting and monster truck videos and pull the cord on the lightbulb to go to sleep in your mom’s basement.

    3. Stow your Apple-rage, sir. Look closer.

      See how the author has grouped the functions together based on colour, and has provided himself with some shortcuts to execute series of frequently-combined functions? The key to a good, Mac-like interface is a minimal approach focusing on the most often-used functions. Style is a secondary concern, and I think the minimal approach looks good; probably a lot better than a grid of smaller, semi-embossed icons in a vain attempt to duplicate the iOS springboard.

      UI form follows function, not the other way around. But if you think you can do better, let’s see it!

      1. Thanks GeekMan…there is a logic behind the UI and this isn’t custom written software, so I have some limitations. Also after doing this for somewhere around 10 years, I’ve learned what works best for building something that you can memorize by both placement and by color.

        The commands on the left are all grouped as they are because they are rarely used, so they aren’t intended to stick out.

        The living room lights are all designed to look like gradients and are in the same color family because they reinforce the fact that they represent brightening or dimming of lights.

        There are macros which are grouped by color.

        The ecobee icon is white because I don’t have a transparent icon to work with so I made the button match the screen shot.

        You know something is active because it recesses when pushed.

        Again…there are limitations to how “cool” I can make it because I can’t just makes this some animated HTML5 CSS screen of awesomeness. I can’t make coo sliders or Flash buttons and animations.

        At least I don’t have the animated doggie gif running across the screen.

    4. C,WAA. I assume from your comments that you would design a better interface, and build it, and program it?

      I’m pretty impressed with the whole thing. I got one of those graphic light timers from thinkgeek.com and I’m proud of myself for being able to program it for a vacation. Alan demonstrates clearly what it means to be a Happy Mutant Make. I love it.

    5. Oh I think it’s pretty cool. I like how the grid layout and font choice looks an Apollo-era caution/warning annunciator panel in an aircraft or, even better, a space capsule.

      Main bus B undervolt!
      We got a main bus A undervolt now, too!

      Also seconding siliconsunset: LCARS version needed.

    6. _Ugly_ User Interface: You’ve taken a glorious apple product, nearly devoid of buttons, and turned it into a field of blocks of tiny type – almost a windows application, there

      I sure hope this comment was an inside joke of some kind, or a half-hearted attempt at trolling.

      If not, how does it feel to be a walking stereotype?

    7. Actually, bar/restaurant touch screen functional design does the job efficiently and serves the purpose, the design is not intended to keep people staring at the screen it’s intended to get a job done quickly. = good functional design.

      …I’m just a principal user interface architect though, what would I know.

  2. That’s all very well and good until the house becomes self-aware and decides to kill you. (Hey, I watch movies.)

  3. I wonder if the carbon emissions used to make/charge your electronics aren’t way more than the savings reaped by this system.

    I am not anti-tech by any means but I just use lots of power bars to turn off my vampire devices and seem to have the same savings without spending thousands on gadgets.

    1. If you have the gadgets and server anyway, you might as well use it to save energy elsewhere.

    2. I have a whole house energy monitor as well as a kill-a-watt…so I can monitor usage 24/7. Because my lights are automated, no light runs at full power unless I tell it to. Modern day dimmers actually do a great job of cutting power usage without wasting energy.

      TV’s, laser printers, computer monitors, paper shredders, audio components, are all devices that most people forget to turn off. All of these devices are turned off at the outlet and all of this is run by a Mac Mini which uses the energy of a single lightbulb.

      Closets are on motion detectors…bathrooms are on timers…all lights have default timers that ensure no light is left on. For example, the kitchen is on a motion detector…if no one is in the kitchen, no lights are on. There is no light in this house that cannot be controlled or will stay on if no one is home. If you forget to turn something off, you can email the house and it will cut the power.

      Another example is when the temperature in the house reaches 71º in the summer, instead of the AC turning on, first the ceiling fans turn on to try and keep the temp cool as long as possible. Even though the western setting sun can heat this house quickly, I can usually keep the AC off until 5pm-ish this way. At night the ceiling fan in the bedroom automatically shuts off after 2am because by then it normally is cool enough outside and in…so why run it all night long?

      These are some of the ways a simple efficient computing device can cut energy usage, while also helping your home feel more comfortable.

  4. If you want to follow whenever I add a new feature or ask me questions on how to build any of this, feel free to ping me on Twitter @agraham999

  5. That is very cool! So, you are the one responsible for the Tea Party, you’d better hit that button before you go on vacation. Are you using all off the shelf wireless electrical socket controllers?

      1. Alan, have you done any research on external cameras? I was thinking of outfitting my house with some motion-detecting cameras that could automatically upload photos/videos to a hosted site (like dropcam, but for outside the house) and was wondering if you had any suggestions.

        Thanks for the interesting article!

  6. Very interesting!

    Have you done any research into the total amount of power consumed by the monitoring system around the clock (i.e. timers, motion detectors, iMacs, iPad, cameras, displays)?

    Most of this probably wouldn’t be worth it for me, as I’m keener on energy savings than on having a Star Trek house. I mean, when I go to bed it makes more sense to switch off the lights than to tell a timer to switch them off in ten minutes. Still, cool stuff.

  7. I really like the interface. Has a cool retrot 50s look to it.

    I’d love this. If this could be turned into an app and all I had to buy was the controllers to make it work, you’d sell a ton of these

    1. One last thing…the reason the buttons are so square and big is because when dealing with home automation, you don’t want accidental activation of the WRONG task. I don’t want to turn on the fireplace and grind a pot of coffee, for example.

      Also…people have different size fingers…mine are fat…my wife’s are tiny. You want to be able to have anyone use it without having to resize the screen…and double tapping to zoom on the iPad can be an accidental activation if you aren’t careful.

      The reason it is a block grid is because you want to maximize how many things you can control on one screen so you don’t have to load screen after screen. When you want lights on you want them on right away. You don’t want to navigate through three pages of controls. You want the stuff you will use the most all there.

      The artsier you get the less effective the UI is when wanting to do something NOW.

      Lastly…my wife has to be able to use this and she’s not Ms. Technology (or Mrs.). She has to be able to see immediately what she wants…memorize it’s placement…and be able to perform that task without any major navigation. In the past, the fancier I made things…the more confusing it was for her.

      1. In other words your UI design criteria were entirely based on function over style and appearance. And so you end up with something that looks a lot like an industrial controller screen. This isn’t intended as criticism of the result. It’s more of a note to those who call it “ugly” that beauty was pretty low on the requirements list. If I built my own UI of this type, I’d probably do only a few things differently, based on my own reqs:
        1)Leave space at the bottom for a swipe area so you could scroll to additional pages of buttons. Or is that what the black bar at the top of your screen is for?
        2) Put the dimmer %ages in a popup when you click on a main button for lighting. Maybe even a slider control.
        3) Make the boundaries between the buttons a little thicker so that if your aim is a little off, you’re more likely to get a no-response than hit the wrong button.

        Making the buttons purty would be phase 3 or 4. Which is about where I suspect you have that in your own project plan.

        1. So the limitations of the software I use make certain aspects you mention difficult. The software runs off a Mac Mini and part of that software includes a web server. There is also an iPod/iPhone app, and I believe now an iPad app. You have to understand how the software works to really get why I use the web server component…however…it has limitations as well*.

          Also…what some people don’t get is that this UI is borne from years and years of experience in dealing with these components and not everything is as simple as a lovely OS X interface builder based app.

          1) Scrolling…the problem with touch screens and scrolling is that in the case of things like the iPad, when you touch a button, you might accidentally press a button but flick the UI as the same time which would cause the screen to scroll, which is not what you want…so people who aren’t familiar with how the UI works or the iPad works might get lost or confused. I pressed a button…why is the screen moving?

          Also…when you scroll, it won’t snap into place and stop necessarily where you want it to…so you might flick the screen to expose more controls, and what happens is some buttons might get cut off. The one option I have is to open another URL from a button, which is why there is a button for “more controls.”

          The black bar at the top of the screen is for server status UI elements when I get around to putting them in.

          2) The popup controls don’t necessarily work that way and another aspect of that is by giving only three options, I not only make the object of dimming or brightening easier…I allow for a consistent and exact percentage. Once you know what you like in your home, you find you return to the same things often. I guarantee you that having precise control so that you can set a light to 10% is almost never useful as you may not even notice the light illuminated at all. I also have handheld remotes that can control the same lights so if I want something more subtle…a better way to handle it.

          Finally…sliders don’t help you if you can’t see the lights. Perhaps you are in another room and wanting to set a light before you get there…if you can’t see feedback on what 20% or 40% looks like, you might not like what you get.

          3) Boundaries…what you don’t get from not seeing this in person is that each of these buttons are almost exactly 1.5 inches across, so missing one is almost impossible to do.

          As for purty…I’ve been building these for many years now. I’ve had dimensional buttons, rounded/metal buttons, buttons that looked rubbery, buttons built in Apple’s Interface Builder…a few samples:


          I settled on this because working within the confines of the software’s limitations, I’m able to maximize how many buttons I can fit on one screen without having to worry about accidental navigation…I know my wife gets it…and your average person can figure it out.

          Would I like it to be fancier…of course…but that’s a future project for when there are more features available for me to use.

          *None of this is a critique of the software as being limited. It is very sophisticated and flexible, it cannot, however, be everything to everyone. So you work within what it gives you.

    1. Ah Chris…fellow Treehugger…you know plying me with compliments always works…yes yes…I’ll fill in for you anytime you like…no need to butter me up. ;-)

  8. That’s exactly what I thought! You may live in Doc Brown’s awesome house, and you may have built it all yourself, but what’s up with that interface? And that geode! *Everybody* gets purple geodes. Couldn’t you have picked a different color?

    1. It’s the wife’s geode…but my chunk of salt. I prefer my Day of the Dead collection there…but it isn’t everyones cup o tea.

      1. Be careful with that chunk of salt over your skynet. A friend gave me one and sometimes (I assume when it’s been relatively humid and then gets dry out, but haven’t actually tested) I’ll come home and what looks like at least a quarter cup of water will have leached out of it all over the table it’s on.

  9. Oh, and on an actual note: why doesn’t the rare earth magnet screw with the ipad?

    (I am steeled for any and all disdainful responses. I am a card-carrying member of BB’s minority luddite readership. Don’t hate the player.)

    Steeled: get it?

    1. The magnet question was my first thought, too!

      Alan, that’s a pretty sweet design. You could probably make a mint selling kits for other people to do this (specifically non-tech-y people like myself who wouldn’t know where to begin on a project like this)! :D

      1. I’ll have an eBook in August on how to do this…from simple affordable starting points to advanced systems.

  10. now all you need to do is get a bunch of old itouches on ebay and you can get rid of the switches in your house. ;)

  11. This is really cool, and thanks for sharing it. I’m sure you’ve done this, but if you’re concerned about vampire devices, consider connecting the suspect appliances to a Kill A Watt meter.

    I’ve found that my monitors, chargers, and other items with always-on LEDs consume no measurable power when off

  12. As a busy young entrepreneur having this kinds of gadget definitely helps me get through the day.
    I live alone and when I do get some day offs I would like to spend it with friends at home and having this gadgets would definitely make me feel that it really is my day off :)

  13. Actually, this is probably the first really cool use I’ve seen for an iPad. Other than being a cat toy.

  14. This is the kind of setup I’d expect to see in Disney’s Tomorrowland. Kudos to you. Too bad I’m vastly too technologically inept to even begin to echo such a setup, but I can look and envy. :)

    And I bet underdesign is just jealous too.

  15. 6:30 every morning, freshly ground coffee. Not going to be home? This turns it off.

    Shouldn’t there be a switch labeled “I’m feeling lucky”?

    1. Is that the one that dims all the house lights, turns on the fireplace, and starts the Barry White playlist? :D

  16. “For example I’ll be heading out on vacation in July and while I’m gone, lights will turn on randomly at night, outside motion detectors will make people think someone is home”

    Except for anyone on the internet, who now know you’re going to be out of your house in July.

    1. Well there is still the ADT security system and webcams…all images upload directly to a server.

  17. Alan, I think this is great! Something I’ve always wanted to do, but I just don’t have the technical or programming know-how.

    I look forward to your e-book. Maybe there’s hope for me yet!

  18. Dude, WTF? How can you have such a long glossary of button explanations and fail to mention the bright red “Tea Party Brains” enabler?

    My guess: It makes Palin suddenly start talking in complete sentences.

    1. “Dude, WTF? How can you have such a long glossary of button explanations and fail to mention the bright red “Tea Party Brains” enabler?”

      For some reason this button isn’t working…and everyday I keep pressing it over and over again…

  19. The older I get, the more I think home automation is a bad idea. It’s like somebody in the 1950s decided that in the future we would all sit on the couch all day being waited on hand and foot.
    If we also had switched to energy pills for nutrition, perhaps our lives would still be vapid, but at least we wouldn’t be obese.

    And as Brainspore pointed out the house could decide to kill you. Or worse, rape you to make babies.

  20. While people are debating the merits of the layout of the control panel. (Personally I don’t care either way. If it works, it works.) I’m more surprised that you’re mounting the iPad on the wall. Sure, a wall mount looks cool, but given that everything is controlled through wifi, why bother? To me it seems like you’re just stowing a perfectly good iPad in a place where it could easily fall and break.

    What’s wrong with just leaving it on the coffee table, or any place else? If you want to change the lighting while you’re on the couch, it’s easier to reach.

    Care to share your reasoning?

  21. I don’t understand how for _cost reasons_ you have bolted half the apple lineup to your wall. Presumably that meant you had to buy a new iPad for you to use as well? Why does it need upgrading in line with your phone?

    By all means, it’s a neat idea but how expensive are the ‘alternatives’ you hinted at really. I just can’t imagine the ipad being an inexpensive solution to anything

    -A poor person

  22. I think it is a pretty cool little hobby but using an iPad for this? Yikes! That is a pretty expensive way to get touch capability for something that really doesn’t need all of that shinny well marketed proprietary plastic to function. Unless Apple has a complete reversal in their marketing strategies and hardware design, I really doubt that you are going to see Apple touch screens serving any other function than as consumer devices.

    I expect that Android is the far more likely to be the OS of choice for such things. It isn’t because Android has any great technical leg up (though the Apple lock down isn’t terribly useful if you are only using it as a kiosk), but because you can slap Android onto any cheap stripped down touch screen computer and it will happily chug along. A bare bones pad with nothing more exotic than a USB port and maybe a microphone will give you the exact same functionality as a shinny iPad while at the same time padding your ass with a few hundred extra dollars. I really just can’t envision Apple offering anything to fill the ‘cheap as humanly possible’ niche, which is pretty much what you want in a kiosk style touch screen.

    1. Rindan, Alan’s solution is probably one of the cheapest available. It’s really not at all difficult to find home automation control panels that are smaller than the iPad, sans wifi, and well over $1,000 in price.

      Niche market products get niche market prices: just about every specialized touch-screen/tablet-style controller you’ll find in a video suite, recording studio, or one of a hundred other areas will cost a shit-load more than an iPad and do a whole lot less, because none of their manufacturers were expecting to shift millions of units when they brought their products to market.

      1. I think your misunderstood me if you thought I was suggesting that a special niche market home control system touch screen is the way to go. I was suggesting you get a cheap Chinese made (though isn’t everything?) Android touch screen tablet. If it is going to be wall mounted permanently and only serve as a touch screen, then just get one of these for a tiny fraction of the price:


        Using an iPad when you really just want a touch screen and none of the other design functionality is like gutting a Rolex to use as a component in a timer. I mean, I am sure it will work… but you could have just used a $20 knockoff to do the same thing.

        1. Going cheap on this rarely helps. I have a home automation system and used a cheap touch screen to a MacMini. It’s a pain in the butt. You could use a Mimo monitor on a MacMini, but then you’re tied to a computer. Android tablets would be fine, but Indigo and Sonos won’t run on it natively.

          A $499 iPad makes the most economic sense as a home automation remote, or an iPod touch (which we currently use for a lot of our home-auto stuff).

          It also helps with the Spousal Approval Factor (SAF)

  23. Hi Alan, could you share a few topological details, and which infrastructural layer you use for control? X10, insteon, custom zigbee ucontrollers,etc? All funneled into a mini, via USB, rs232-USB? Then custom c-app, feeding a web server? All of the aboveo are questions. Id love to hear as much as you’d be willing to share.

    1. mysticbob:

      All my X10 legacy gear is now officially gone. I use all Insteon devices as they still have the most affordable range of products and the best variety of devices. The Mac Mini controls the whole shebang via USB controller plugged into the wall. That controller also has built in memory and stores a fair amount of the timed macros and other behaviors in case of a computer failure…the system still works.

      The software is Indigo by Perceptive Automation, which I’ve been using for maybe 7 years. It’s mature, feature rich, and versatile…and for it’s limitations (which aren’t many) it still seems light years ahead of anything else I’ve tried.

  24. I think your Tea Party button is stuck in the Disabled position.

    Nice job. Don’t mind the idiots who think that a home-made, spare-time project should rival the glitz of something built by a dozen full-time professionals. Haters gotta hate.

  25. Good job Alan the system looks sick! I wish I had a big enough place to employ something like this but alas I live in a tiny apartment and do everything manually.

  26. Love it! I agree that this would sell like gold-flaked hotcakes as an app if the control devices were easily available and installable.

    Also – I saw a couple of question about the dangers of the magnet, which admittedly was my first concern… but then I remembered: iPads are FLASH based storage devices. No spinning disks there.

  27. Magnets and the iPad:
    Magnets are bad for spinning-platter type hard drivers, because these types of drives use magnetic fields to encode 1s and 0s onto the platters.
    Magnets are bad for Cathode Ray Tube displays (ahoy, bizarro colors!) becasue the magnet deflects the electrons shooting from the back of the tube to the front- so they ‘hit’ the wrong spot on the front of the TV.

    iPad doesn’t have a hard drive (it has a storage media, but it’s flash-based which relies on electrical charges, not magnetic fields).
    iPad doesn’t have a traditional (but now extinct?) tube display- and LCDs etc are immune to the color distortion you find with magnets.

    So the age-old adage of “magnets are bad for your computer” isn’t as cut and dried as it used to be.
    Tubes are dead, there’s no longer big piles of floppy disks on every workstation, and hard drives aren’t quite as guaranteed as they used to be. (Flash chips and SSD are making inroads, but you can’t write them off yet.)

    And as for the display, I guess I’d have just used comic sans. Everybody loves Comic sans. (I kid, I kid.)

    Any chance that the iPad could be used to replace the other two wall-mounted devices?
    It’s looking a bit industrial there- with a primary iPad interface, it’d be interesting to relocate the other controllers to a more tucked-away location. I’d think you could even hide them away behind a panel now- they’d only need to be accessed as failover solution.
    You’d need to get a temperature sensor if oneo f those is a thermostat with integrated sensor, I suppose.

  28. Stooge: Yes the iPad is about the most affordable touch screen device of this type of size and quality. Most home automation touch screens of the past were pressure sensitive, couldn’t run the software I wanted, and costs upwards of $1k.

    Other people have combined touch screen monitors connected to computers, but that’s another layer I didn’t want and those monitors are also expensive.

    Finally the Nokia N800 I used for years was originally somewhere in the $400 range I believe.


    As for the wall mount…

    The iPad isn’t meant to sit there all the time on the wall, it can be taken anywhere. It also can be charged on the wall (I’ve temporarily moved this until I can find amore elegant plug solution). It is not a dedicated device, however when it is on the wall the UI is kept up…and the battery life is astounding anyway.

    And if you read above…the iPad won’t fall from the wall…it clicks into place.



    “I really doubt that you are going to see Apple touch screens serving any other function than as consumer devices.”




    “Any chance that the iPad could be used to replace the other two wall-mounted devices?”

    That’s the plan. I’m hoping to remove the ADT system for a more open system and run it via the iPad. The ADT junk is not only proprietary, but cannot be customized how I’d like it.


    Lastly…as for Android…well I’ve yet to see a really good tablet hit the market for less than what even the cheapest iPad costs…if that does happen, I may put a dedicated screen in…until then this works extremely well.

  29. Add in a screen saver that looks like HAL, along with a HAL voice response to your inputs, and it’s perfect. ;)

    * Actually, I think it’s awesome now! Great work, thanks for sharing.

  30. Alan,

    Awesome setup. Are there any other ways to follow your progress besides twitter? Perhaps a blog where we can keep an eye out for your eBook?


  31. Oh, man! I’d love to have a crack at this using the Sencha Touch UI framework. If just to give it that “Apple” look. Love what you’ve done and I just wish I had a reason to do all of this

  32. Cool? Yes. Geeky? Yes. Green? Not hardly.

    What burns me about self-righteous geek-greens is that there is rarely any mention of the life-cycle costs of all that fancy kit.

    In the current carbon-based economy, almost all the money we spend eventually goes up in smoke. The thousands of dollars you have spent on gear have gone to:
    1) extracting oil and metal from the ground
    2) running the lights at the factory
    3) driving workers to and fro
    4) paying worker salaries so they can buy cars, heat their houses, etc.

    Until we start getting more of our energy from non-carbon, every dollar we spend liberates more carbon from the ground. Keep your wallet in your pants.

    1. Well I thought about automating my cave but unfortunately there isn’t yet a module for rubbing sticks together.

      You be sure to stay non-self righteous yourself.

    2. What I want to know is how czzl managed to tap together two pieces of piezoelectric rock together in such a way that it sent a message through the wires leading to Boing Boing. You’ve got some amazing skillz there, and so green!

  33. If I were your pet sitter, I would never feel comfortable walking into your house if I knew there were cameras watching! That’s the only creepy part; otherwise, good work.

    1. “If I were your pet sitter, I would never feel comfortable walking into your house if I knew there were cameras watching! That’s the only creepy part; otherwise, good work.”

      Well you know there are two lines of thought on that.

      On one hand if someone breaks into the home, it is good to have a way to capture who the people were, and even if they stole all my computer gear, the images are already up on a server.

      As for the pet sitter…he’s not a guest…but a hired person which is really no different than any employee at any store where they film for security or safety. My home is his place of employment and I want to know a) if he’s coming when he says he’s going to come, and b) if he’s doing what he says he’s going to do.

  34. Amazing system, very impressed, would be intersted in any links to UK sites as I am UK based…

  35. My 2 cents:

    I also have been doing HA for years, hacked an X10 computer
    interface b4 they were commercially available. I now use
    Insteon/Indigo for lighting/electrical control. IR control is via
    lircd. I plan on doing something very similar to this project.

    Insteon is great stuff, much more reliable than X10, but be aware
    it does eat the watts! The keypad controllers are especially hungry.

    I did my first system with about 15 keypad controllers and literally watched my monthly power bill climb by +$25. Kill-a-watt meters do NOT give an accurate measure of their power consumption, beware. I retooled, replacing most of the keypad controllers with switchlink controllers and got the power consumption down to something reasonable. Remember that every insteon device is a vampire, and you can’t just “unplug when not in use”.

    Indigo (perceptive automation) is great software for controlling
    insteon devices. It is web based, so you don’t need to deal with
    all the “apple app crap” to write your own software (don’t get me
    started). It is based on CherryPy (www.cherrypy.org), which is
    a library/paradigm package that embeds a lightweight web
    server in your app. I am going to use this to create apps
    similar to/integrated with indigo for the lircd component of
    my system, as well as the other odd components I have acquired
    thru the years.

    I need to add a way to stream video to the ipad/safari. For
    my whole-house music control I rigged up a video monitor camera in front of my sirius satellite receiver. So you can control
    the sirius device via lircd and get video feedback of each step
    at any of the hardwired monitors. Once it gets to the ipad/safari
    I can change channels, etc. from anyplace in the house without
    having to guess where the last button press actually took me.
    This concept could be applied to other devices where “a picture
    is worth a thousand icons”.


  36. I’m assuming the ‘Entertain’ setting includes powering up the rotating, vibrating bed, cuing the Barry White and turning on the disco ball?

  37. Hi Alan,

    This seems like a great idea to me. Out of curiosity, what size magnet did you use?

  38. Alan,

    This looks really cool. Are there any other ways to follow your progress besides twitter? Maybe a blog or RSS feed? I really want to get your eBook ASAP, because I would love to do some home automation but this is all going over my head right now…

  39. I understand you’re putting together an e-book, perhaps “Automation for Dummies”. I would like to see a draft as soon as it’s available. I’m looking for information on how to start. Do I just buy a handful of X10 switches, download an iPad program and, zoom, I’m ready to go… or are there other factors.

    Automation Rookie

  40. awesome.
    for those criticizing the look, he didn’t make it for you. he made it to fulfill a utility function. the buttons can be graphically enhanced later. nor does he have to explain what each phrase on each button means. only he and his family need to know what it means.

  41. Automation Rookie,

    Avoid X10 switches, they are slow and unreliable. In particular
    they are disrupted by the use of compact fluorescent lights.

    Insteon is more reliable, and faster. Start small, get a keypad
    link in the desktop console, a lamp link dimmer, and a switch
    link. You could start with something like this:
    add one of these to make testing easier:

    Set them up in various places around the house and see
    how they work. You will probably find specific combinations/locations
    that fail: noise from appliance motors, lights, etc. can cause
    issues. These usually can be fixed with filters, etc., but you
    don’t want to make a large investment in a technology that turns
    out to be unusable at your site.

    Check the subtle details, a unit might work flawlessly UNTIL the
    freezer next to it happens to be running, at which point it
    fails completely. You might find devices that turn on, but fail to
    turn off reliably because the device itself creates noise blocking
    the ‘off’ signal.

    An OK (but not enough detail) book on insteon is:

    If you intend to do a more complex setup, you will find that
    insteon (or any other technology) will not do everything
    that you need. You will end up using several different
    types, and have to deal with the added complexity of
    making them “get along”. To your list of equipment add
    a mac mini (or other low power 24/7 computer) to run
    an interface to the devices, as well as a wifi hub to talk to
    your iPad:

  42. Alan,

    Very nice way to piece together a home automation system on a budget. Check out BitWise Controls, http://www.bitwisecontrols.com, for another solution that will give you a more flexibility (espcially on the user interface), but not kill the budget.

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