HomeUncategorizedLet 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


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