6 things I learned from DIY home automation

I installed a home security system a couple years ago and added some home automation to it recently. These are a few of the things I learned along the way. If you are in a hurry, jump to Number 6.

  1. What is DIY home automation?

DIY (do it yourself) in the home security market means you select and install the base system and sensors yourself, following simple directions and/or googling for help. You will likely monitor alarms yourself (though you may be able to buy monitoring services) when you are away and call 911 if there is a problem, so having a smartphone is essential. You will want reliable internet service from your home, too.

Home automation means your base system controls appliances in your home. These can be the thermostat, lights, door locks, or virtually any other electrical appliance. Home automation is a relatively new market, and we can expect to see a lot of growth and improvement over the next few years with players like Amazon Echo and Google Home getting into the market. Home automation is an important aspect of the IoT (Internet of Things).

  1. Getting started

I chose Piper, which was highly rated at the time, for my security vendor. There are several new players in the market now, and Piper may no longer be the best choice, depending on your needs. Do your own research before buying the system that is right for you.

I like Piper because it’s simple and inexpensive. One box holds the camera, motion detector, z-wave hub, microphone, loud noise detector, speaker, thermometer, and siren. I put the main unit where it had a good view and added a few door/window sensors–a magnet on the door and a little sensor box on the doorframe–both of which can be attached with the included adhesive pads. My smartphone served as the control panel.

  1. Staying in touch

Piper and most other systems connect to your home internet router to send video to the web, where it can be stored or streamed to your phone or browser. Piper’s video storage is free, but many systems charge a monthly fee for storage, so do your research. Many of the newer systems provide cellular data as a backup in case your internet is down.

  1. Press and hold

Getting the hub to connect to a sensor is pretty much like pairing your smart phone to a Bluetooth device. You put both devices in connect mode, and they do the rest. I had some trouble with this as first, but I think it was because I tried press-and-release when I should have used press-and-hold.

  1. Home automation can be awkward with a security system

Home automation is very basic with Piper: a trigger occurs, and something happens. For my test case, I chose to monitor the laundry room for water on the floor and turn off the washing machine if this ever happens (again).

I got a z-wave water detector and a smart switch (one that can be turned on and off by z-wave command). They were easy to add to the Piper hub now that I am experienced.

Then I hit a snag. The security-oriented Piper folks don’t provide an option to turn anything off. They assume, apparently, that you will want to turn on the lights if an intrusion occurs, and that’s all.

  1. Check out IFTTT.COM even if you don’t do any home automation

IFTTT to the rescue. This free web service at IFTTT.COM will interface with a variety of systems and allow one system to trigger the other. (IFTTT stands for IF This Then That). Piper participates, so I was able to define a rule to sense water and turn the switch off, as desired.

IFTTT is a very powerful service. It connects to a variety of home devices, news sources, email clients, google services, etc. You might find you can automate several tedious parts of your digital life.

I found the IFTTT location service particularly useful. I set it up to track my cell phone’s distance from home, and every time I leave the house, it arms the security system. Every time I return home, it disarms the system. No more forgetting and/or stopping the car to arm the system.

 

 

 

 

Why we know interstellar war is raging in our galaxy right now

If intelligent life is abundant throughout the galaxy, then where are they? — Fermi’s Paradox, Enrico Fermi, 1942.

Since 1942 the paradox has only deepened. Scientists have found many Earth-like planets and shown that creating the amino acid building blocks of life is relatively easy. The standard assumption is that since intelligence is a beneficial survival characteristic, life on nearly every planet will eventually evolve intelligence. Yet scientists have probed the galaxy for the artificial broadcasts of a super-civilization. They have found nothing.

In theory it’s possible that a civilization sufficiently advanced to have space flight would be so beneficent to undeveloped species that they would leave young planets like Earth undisturbed. After all, isn’t that what humanity will do when we reach the stars? I doubt it. And it happens that all of the many civilizations out there are beneficent? The probability becomes minuscule.

No, we don’t see any signs of intelligent life out there because they are hiding. The only question is, what are they hiding from? What could be more fearsome than an advanced interstellar civilization? They must be hiding from each other–because when they are not hiding, they are fighting.

Why haven’t we seen signs of war, you ask? Things like exploding stars (oh, novae) or annihilated spaceships (oh, GRB–Gamma Ray Bursts).

Yes, novae and GRBs can be explained as natural phenomena. But let’s say you are an advanced technological civilization and do not want to draw attention to yourself. Wouldn’t you disguise the blast of your weapons as a natural process?

How do you say ‘about a foot’ in metric?

Don’t get me wrong, I love the precision and scalability of the metric system, but what if I don’t want precision?

“About a yard long” becomes “about a meter long,” no problem.

“A few miles” becomes “several kilometers,” no problem.

“About a foot long” becomes . . .

  1. about 30 centimeters? (sounds too precise)
  2. about a third of a meter? (avoid fractions)
  3. approximately three decimeters? (deci-what?)
  4. about as long as a person’s foot? (man or woman? what shoe size?)

I’ve wrestled with this problem long enough. Don’t be surprised if the aliens in my metric-system-based stories have arms, legs, antennae, and reproductive organs about a meter long!

 

 

SciFutures – Blending Futurology and Science Fiction

I am excited to have become a freelance writer contributing to SciFutures.

Most people know (or think they know) what science fiction is. But what is futurology and what on earth is SciFutures?

Usually, science fiction is about science gone wrong. This makes exciting adventures, and arguably posts warning signs for potholes in the road ahead. But don’t we also want a map for where the road is going? That is where futurology comes in, by considering what is likely, or possible and within our scope of control.

SciFutures is a company where freelance writers such as yours truly do their best to come up with desirable scenarios and stories for the future in a given industry (or direction on the map, to extend the analogy above.) We aren’t doing the hard work of figuring out where technology is going, but we are listening to the experts and turning their ideas into stories for general consumption.

Well, that’s my take on it anyway. SciFutures describes what they do as “science fiction prototyping.”  If you want to know more, you can check out their website here.

Workshop Mania – 3 writing workshops in 4 months

I’ve been extremely busy with writing workshops the last few months. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the writing workshop process, it usually involves (1) writing madly to get your submission in shape and send it in, usually about a month before the workshop, (2) reading and critiquing the manuscripts from all the other workshop participants, (3) going to the actual workshop and getting your writing beat up by guest professionals and the other participants, (4) fix up the story based on the critiques you received at the workshop. (The rewrite (4) can be done right away or put off until later.)

Sasquan

In late August, I attended Sasquan (WorldCon 2015) in Spokane, Washington. Sally and I made this trip into a vacation, visiting our son and daughter who live in Oregon and Washington State the first part of the week, then going to Spokane. Under a black cloud of smoke from nearby forest fires, I received writing critiques on the opening to my book, Enemy Immortal, from pros Mark Van Name, James C. Glass, Laurel Anne Hill and fellow participants. The main take-aways were that my book got off to a slow start (too much setting up) and my synopsis seemed to pack an awful lot into one book. I rewrote the opening and submitted the new version to the Sail to Success workshop in December (more on that later).

ICON

ICON – Cedar Rapids, Iowa

In October, I attended the writing workshop at ICON in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. There I received writing critiques on my short story, “Jubilee,” from fellow participants and met with guest speakers Joe Haldeman, Anne Leckie and Tamara Siler Jones. The main critique was that I needed to do more to develop the romance between two of my main characters.

At ICON, the workshop participants also gave short public readings from their works (typically a different work than was critiqued). I read from the opening of Enemy Immortal (revised version). Unfortuantely I had a cold and had to cut my reading a little short. In any case, thanks to Brent Bowen from the Hugo-nominated Adventures in SciFi Publishing, who recorded this session and has released it in his pod cast. I am the last reader on Part 1.

SpaceRangersSmall

Adventures in SciFi Publishing – Part 1

 

Adventures in SciFi Publishing – Part 2

 

 

Sail to Sucess

 

 

 

 

In December, I attended Sail to Success, a writing workshop aboard the Norwegian Sky cruise ship. While cruising the Bahamas, I received writing critiques on my short story “Collisions” from Nancy Kress and on Enemy Immortal from Baen editors Jim Minz and Toni Weisskopf. I’ve updated my stories based on these critiques and they are off to the publisher’s slush piles.

Phew!  After this marathon of workshops (including a fourth, Paradise Lost, last May, which makes 4 workshops in 9 months), I plan to slow down the pace, but most likely I will workshop at this year’s WorldCon in Kansas City. I’ve also volunteered to be presenter on a panel in the KC WorldCon, so I hope something interesting comes of that.

Seven Waves of Inflation have Rocked our Universe.

OscillatingUniverseThis is huge, pardon the pun, and very much under-reported. We have supplanted the idea that there was a sudden, huge inflation when the universe was born and then a flat, smooth curve with a slight increase in inflation rate recently.

A careful, new study of Type 1a supernova brightness–the universes’s standard candles–give a different picture. Yes, we still have a huge expansion soon after the big bang, but then the evidence is for seven waves of diminishing contraction and expansion thereafter (decreasing in size like the waves around a stone dropped into the water or the ringing of a bell). We are currently on one of the waves of expansion, which will peak and then slow into the next inflationary rate trough. The new model clears up a few anomalies in the old model, like the rate of early galaxy formation. Check it out at  Universe May be Ringing like a Crystal Glass

The diminishing waves of inflation suggest that one big event probably triggered them, with the forces of the universe seeking equilibrium thereafter. Perhaps our universe collided with another baby universe. Maybe it is still recovering from the force required for expulsion from a singularity. My bet is we have the answer soon.

Why doesn’t evolution eliminate mental illness?

I was reminded by a couple recent articles that mental illness, specifically psychosis and depression, must have significant survival value, or surely evolution would have rooted it out long ago. After all, these conditions often lead to risky behavior or suicide. Where’s the value in that?

The value is to the species, not to the individual. Male black widow spiders suffer from evolution’s ruthless disregard for the species at the expense of the individual, as do those who suffer from sickle cell anemia.

The articles that caught my eye were:

Tributes to the “Beautiful Mind” of John Nash,  such as this one by   Rachael Rettner at LiveScience.com  

which reminds us that psychosis, or “thinking outside the box”, has both good and bad sides.

The Nash tributes appears on the heels of a recent study Are Entrepreneurs “Touched by Fire” by Michael A Freedman

which highlights the (to me) more surprising association of depression with successful entrepreneurship. One mechanism that could explain this association is that depression results from or in an increased sensitivity to the needs of others, which entrepreneurs then proceed to do something about.

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