X-10 Irony

It all started out simple enough.

About 12 years ago I was at Fry’s and I decided to by a X-10 home automation system, which uses the wires in the buildings electrical system as a network, and allows you to turn on/off various devices. Of coarse the version I bought had an interface to a computer. I bought it, because I just needed a side project, I was a bit bored at the time and I heard that this type of activity would keep me out of street gangs. Soon after, I met Heather and I am please to announce that the entire kit was put in my desk drawer never to be seen again.

A house, the arrival of Ryan, and Heather and I are decorating the house for Christmas. For two nights, we would wander the house, plugging in and then unplugging all of the X-mas decorations. As I pondered the pain in the arse that this process was, I remembered the little X-10 devices I had in my desk drawer. So I broke them out, set them up, and basked in my brilliance and the amazement of my lovely wife.

Not only had the X-10 devices saved me from a live of crime, but now…. they were useful. One button and we turned everything one. And by everything, I mean there is a lot. My mom loves the Christmas store. Ryan gets so excited that he can turn “christmas on” every morning in December.

So, I then decided to post my electrical skills in facebook. To this, my friend Randy posted some nonsense about turning it on/ff with my phone. Well, of coarse “I could”, but really the challenge was… Could Heather. This is to say, could I find a way to make it less geeky and does not require linux command line knowledge. Typically, when I start talking Linux command line people start to doze off…. Heather is not yet comfortable with Linux command line. Anyways…

Challenge Accepted!!!

A quick Google search and I found a free product called home genie which has an X-10 interface AND an app for my phone. I did a quick download, install home genie on my server, and mucked around a bit under the hood, and Tah Duh…. I have success. I can turn lights on and off with my phone, and in under one hour of work. So, now Heather has worldwide remote control of some house lights, I don’t have X-10 switches lying around in my desk drawer anymore. This is all very nice. Which, bring us to the point of the matter.

So, the other night, Heather and I are watching “The Big Bang Theory”. It was the episode where the four guys spend the afternoon hooking up a lamp to an X-10 device and turned the light on/off from around the world.

Heather just lost it….

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Zoneminder – A home security system

111174350993_1For years, I have been experimenting with home security and video surveillance systems.  I have seen a variety of them offered on ebay and various manufactures in China, some of which are pretty inexpensive.  However, they all of fail is the usability side and are locked down to such a degree that you can’t update them easily to add new features, and for the mon ey the manufacturers  wont update the software.  Those systems that do run with a large feature set tend to be much more expensive than one can afford for the home.  I have long worried about the safety of my family and house and beyond serving as a means to catch a potential, I also benefit from the system being a deterrent.

Web Enabled

Most of my experimenting was done in ZoneMinder.  ZoneMinder is an open source Linux CCTV security system which  is access via the web.   So, with ZoneMinder, out of the box you have the ability to monitor your video cameras on the Internet, or even a smart phone app.  It supports a variety of cameras including USB, composite video (with additional card), remote camera servers, etc…  So, essentially, any camera configured with ZoneMinder is now online for remote access.


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Raspberry Pi and the home theatre


For years I have wanted a centralized digital home theater system.  The limitations of almost every component failed for a variety of reasons.  Cost being a big issue, limitations in computer speeds, noise and complexity all played their part in preventing me from getting the system that I wanted.  The biggest issue was not requiring a full blown media center enabled PC on every television in the house.  Even the cheapest PC is several hundred dollars, and you are forced to deal with consumable parts such as hard drives and fans wearing out.  Size is also a big issue, and boot up times is REALLY annoying.  Additionally, even the quietest of PC’s will add at least 30DB’s to the noise of the system by the time you add in several quiet cooling fans, power supplies, spinning hard drives, etc…  The way around this is long cables, dedicated rooms, etc… which is just more cost, complexity, etc…


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A Little bit of Pi

rasppiFor months I considered purchasing a Raspberry Pi single board computer.  For the unaware, the Raspberry Pi is a single board computer, which is amazingly inexpensive ($35) and reasonably powerful for its size and cost.  The design concept was to create a small, inexpensive computer to use as a learning tool for children.  The back-story is really cool and a great example of how things should be done, well worth the read.

The Raspberry Pi Model B is a 700Mhz ARM1176JZF-S core processor with 512 MB of ram.  It has an HDMI and RCA video out, built in Ethernet, 2 USB connections and audio out.  Storage is done with an SD card and powered by a 5 Volt, micro USB connection.

The first thing to know about the Raspberry Pi, is that this is all about cost for them.  So, there is nothing extra in the package.  When ordered, your will get the ‘board’, no power cord, no SD card, no case, nothing.  This is not a pick one up from Best Buy and plug it in kind of computer.  But that is part of its charm, and the intent behind it, is to teach kids how to work with computers.


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Virtualizing the past

vmfullRecently, I inherited a project which caused a bit of nervousness.  I inherited a custom compiled application with a set of dependencies that can’t be fulfilled with modern Linux distributions.  This program needed to compiled against MySQL headers for version 3.23.   To compile the program, it was determined that the best solution was FreeBSD 6.2.  This was the last version of FreeBSD which supported the required libraries.  I did try other distributions included Suse, Gentoo and Redhat, but I ran into circular dependencies issues which precluded this use.  However, the HCL for FreeBSD 6.2 is a little old at this point.


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