Let there be light!

Every year at Christmas, we end up with an enormous amount of Christmas Lights. I’m talking about a Christmas Tree is every room of the house, with nine of them being lit. In addition to the trees, we also have at least three or four other items, like garland with lights on the stair rails that also consume electricity. Then, to top all of that off, we have your standard exterior Christmas Lights on the bushes, and porch. One might think we spend 15 minutes a day plugging and unplugging the lights, but not so much. A few years ago I decided to blow the dust off of an old X10 home automation kit, and have continued to grow it through the years. I would say last year was the absolute best setup I had used to date. I used something called Indigo from Perceptive Automation, which connected to my CM11 X10 controller. This software package allowed me to create timers, control all of the lights, and best yet, allowed me to control everything from my iPhone.


iPhone-LightsFast forward a year, and here I am setting up the control system once again.  Except this time is different.  We are in a new house, where the computer is quite far away from the circuit breaker panel, which means my CM11 has a significant amount of electrical wiring between itself and the receiver modules which control the lights.  You see, X10 is based on a concept where a command module sends signals into the electrical wiring from the outlet it is plugged into.  The signal is prone to attenuation and noise, which results in a variety of different problems.  The trouble I had varied from modules not responding to ON/OFF commands at all, to some of them working some of the time.  At first I thought my problem was due to my modules being plugged into outlets on the opposite phase of my 2-Phase wiring.  To correct this, I purchased an Insteon Phase Coupler from Smarthome.com, and once installed, I had much better luck.  Most of the modules that were not responding started working again, however, I was still experiencing a significant issue with random responsiveness.  I knew this problem was going to be a bit more difficult to fix.  Initially I debated replacing my wireline only system with a dual mode setup, like Insteon.  However, this is a very expensive solution.  So I decided to find a way to get my command module “closer” to the circuit breaker panel.  I did this by removing the CM11 from the system, and using my old Firecracker CM17A X10 transmitter and receiver.  The Firecracker consists of a wireless transmitter and receiver, which allows me to place  the unit as close to the circuit breaker panel as possible.  The difference between the CM11 and the CM17A is simple.  The CM11 is a much smarter device, but requires a USB or Serial connection to the computer, and also requires an electrical outlet near the computer to be plugged into.  The CM17A is not nearly as flexible, but eliminates the need of an electrical outlet next to the computer.  It simply connects via Serial and uses RF to transmit its signals an remote receiver plugged into an outlet elsewhere in the house.  In this case, I plugged the receiver into an outlet on the first floor, with the goal of eliminating several hundred feet of electrical path.

In order to control the CM17a, I installed a program called heyu.  This program is a command line based utility that sends and receives signals from USB or Serial connected X10 command modules.  I had to do this because Indigo did not support the CM17a.  Using heyu solved the problem of controlling the device, but it did not provide me with web based remote capability.  This is when I decided to create a PHP based webpage that would execute local commands on my computer after I selected my desired action.  After writing the webpage, I converted it to a mobile friendly format using iWebKit.  Now I am able to control all of our lights together, independently, and most important, easily.

If you would like a copy of my code, or additional details, let me know. -ntm

The perfect holiday addition …. batteries!

8AA_Beauty-33821607-277x300Sanyo Eneloop batteries to be exact.  We all know how expensive batteries are, and we also know just about every item a child has requires some mass quantity of power to work.  In addition to that, we have learned to understand these batteries seem to last only a matter of days on a heavily used device.  Over the years I have dabbled with rechargeable batteries, only to find they to wear down quicker than I would have liked, especially given their premium price over standard batteries. When I say “wear down” I don’t mean the hours of use between a recharge. I am speaking about the lack of shelf life while the batteries aren’t being used and waiting to be called into action. I prefer to keep a stock of batteries available for those moments when duty calls, and I hear “DADDY! Our batteries are dead!”. I have experienced the agony of defeat when I hear those words and I have not one battery laying around to assist in resuscitating a broken magic wand, or some other “important” item.

The Sanyo Eneloop solved all of these problems for me, and I believe is saving me significant amounts of money.  While the product is just a type of Low Self-Discharge Nickel-Metal Hydride Batteries (LSD-NiMH) (Wikipedia Link), I cant say enough great things about them. You can find these at your local Costco / Sam’s, or online from several sources. I made my purchases from Amazon.com. I have made several purchases of the AA and AAA packages, and have not had one regret. The batteries provide excellent “use” time, and also maintain their charge while on the shelf. Don’t let the upfront expense scare you away. Obviously you will need to perform your own math, but at the rate I was using batteries, the Eneloop setup has paid for itself many times over in just a few short months.

In addition to the battery themselves, I also purchased the La Crosse BC-700 “smart” charger, bc700which allows you to charge the batteries at different rates, test the batteries, and provide over-charge protection. I prefer slow charging over quick charge simply to save the wear and tear a quick charge introduces to the battery. I saw this charger as an investment to prolong the life of the battery. The additional charger upgrade might not be for everyone, but given my projected use, I felt it was worth the investment.

So far, so good.  We no longer buy AA, AAA, C, or D batteries unless they are part of the Eneloop (LSD-NiMH) family.

….and so it begins

Throughout the years, my family and I have relied on web content for a variety of topics.   We use this resource to cover topics from education, research, entertainment, and as a way to pass some time.  As time goes on, my wife seems to latch on to sites geared towards other women like herself.  She is drawn to sites to are geared towards other moms, arts & crafts, and her latest attraction is running and marathon training.

Im a father to two young daughters, and in a household where I am the only male.  As some would put it, I am outnumbered.  Prior to my first child, if you were to tell me if I would be carrying a Tinker Bell backpack through a store, or making sure I had the proper color of pink hair-clip to match a shirt,  id think you were nuts.

Fast-forward nearly five years and Tinker Bell doesn’t even phase me.  As a matter of fact, being used as a “model” for hair-clips and hair brushing doesn’t even phase me.  Now, that doesn’t mean I go out in public like that, but I am certain I have left the house with a Barbie or Tinker Bell sticker on my shirt at least twice.  When I discovered aid sticker so proudly attached to my shirt, I couldn’t help but laugh.

I have decided to create Not The Mom as a way to document the moments I encounter as a father, husband, and technology & gadget geek.   The name is simply a descriptive way of saying “I don’t always do things like Mom would.”  In addition to that, “not the mom dot com” has a smooth easy delivery from a wordsmith perspective.