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.





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.)


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 – 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.


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.

First day on the slush pile

I started a new adventure today as a slush pile reader for Flash Fiction Online by reviewing 9 stories. (Flash Fiction Online is a SFWA-approved, free electronic publication that offers a variety of stories of 1000 words or less–mostly speculative in nature.)

My job is to look at freshly-submitted stories and help decide if they will make the cut into the next round of serious consideration for an upcoming issue of FFO. My first reaction was OMG, how do I decide?

So I read all 9 stories beginning to end and examined how I responded to them. What I learned was that stories should not have any defects. Duh. We all know that stories should be well-written with interesting characters, a good pace and plot and satisfying ending. But the point is that any one defect is enough to cause a story to be rejected. A great beginning does not make up for boring writing. Great writing does not make up for a weak ending. And so forth. It doesn’t have to all be perfect, but nothing can be noticeably lacking.

This brings to mind the conventional wisdom (or myth, depending on your persuasion) that editors are looking for a reason to reject your work. This is more real to me now, but it also makes more sense. That one defect will not only turn off the editor, but it will turn off the reader, take them out of the story, and that is what must not happen.

In the end, I rated one story as good, two as maybe and the rest as rejects. Most of the rejects just didn’t have compelling writing. One was good all the way to the end, which then fell flat.

My initial goal with the slush pile project is to learn how to make my own writing better by understanding the editorial review process a little. So far, so good. Eventually I hope to see some great publications that I contributed to behind the scenes.

What I learned today about writing is that before you send out that story, don’t forget to reread it and look for the one thing that doesn’t seem quite right, but maybe nobody else will notice. They will notice. Fix it. The work will be worth it.

By the way, FFO uses an anonymous review process, so if you are a friend of mine, that is neither to your advantage or disadvantage. If you write flash fiction, Flash Fiction Online and I would love to see it.