Monthly Archive for January, 2005

Cool Dragon Illusion

Go to this site, download the PDF, print it, cut it out, fold as directed. It will freak your brain, I guarantee!

More X-10 developments

I received my second shipment of X-10 goodies from SmartHome today. Among them:

  • Leviton DHC Universal Switches
  • Leviton DHC Three-way Dimmer
  • Leviton Three-way Slave Switch
  • Leviton DHC Low-voltage Universal Module
  • SwitchLinc Transmitter
  • PowerLinc USB
  • I installed all the new switches and modules this evening, it’s all working beautifully.

    The Universal Switches are to replace under-powered 500W dimmers I originally bought for my driveway and front-porch lights. After I installed them, I checked to make sure my HomeLink Vehicle Interface (which I’ve had for years but never used until now) was set to the same house and unit codes, and tried it out. Works like a charm!

    The documentation that comes with the HomeLink Vehicle Interface is very vague, but I have established that it appears to send out alternating ON and OFF codes. Also, it appears to send the codes to three subsequent unit addresses, starting with the one configured on the dials. This works well for me, since I have two separate switches to control, and I didn’t really want to put them both on the same unit code.

    Since I had the driveway now remotely controllable, I also set up the previously purchased Leviton Photocell Controller. I installed it onto an octagon box, with a cord going to a nearby outlet, and placed in my garage window. It was already dark when I plugged it in, so I haven’t been able to see it actually work yet.

    The Leviton Three-way Dimmer and Slave Switch were to replace a non-three-way dimmer that I mistakenly installed into a three-way circuit in my bedroom. I found this installation a little bit confusing. The master dimmer and the slave switch each came with a wiring diagram, but they do not agree with each other. The dimmer has black, red and blue wires on it. The black is supposed to go to the line, the blue is supposed to go to the load (the light socket), and the red is supposed to be the “traveller” to the slave switches. The slave switches are supposed to be connected between red and black, or between red and blue, depending on which diagram you believe.

    I installed it with red and black, but I suspect it would work either way. The blue line is always going to have power on it, even when the light is off, because that is how X-10 dimmers with no neutral lead work. They always pass a small amount of current through the bulb filament. They need that current to power the X-10 circuitry itself. That’s also why X-10 dimmers usually have a small slide-switch used to power the circuit off completely, for changing bulbs, etc. Even when an X-10-controlled light is “off”, it actually still has a fairly large voltage in the socket. In fact, with the light bulb removed, it will be the full 120VAC.

    The ability to wire the slave as either traveller-to-line or traveller-to-load is very useful. Standard three-way circuits can be wired quite differently, depending on which box the line comes into, and which box the load comes out of. The flexibility of the traveller wiring lets you install X-10 into a pre-existing three-way circuit, regardless of the original layout of the circuit.

    The Universal Module was installed in the fireplace, on the end of the unused cable that was roughed-in to power a blower motor. The switch that controls the non-existant blower was removed, and the power permanently connected inside the box.

    The SwitchLinc Tx switch was also installed in that same box. It doesn’t control any load, it just transmits X-10 codes to the Universal Module. I thought it desirable to have at least one permanently-installed switch in the room to control the fireplace. Without it, the X-10 Mini-Controller on my bedside table would be the only way to control the fireplace. The Mini-Controller could be removed for some reason, and then there’s nothing to control the fireplace. Not good.

    I haven’t had any time yet to play with the PowerLinc USB interface or the software that came with it. I’m looking forward to giving that a shot. Not sure if I’ll end up using the software, in any case. I’ve always looked forward to the opportunity to write my own home-automation software. Hoping the USB interface comes with some kind of drivers or programming details.

    Attempted break-in

    Today at 2:43pm, somebody attempted to break into my house. They used a prybar of some sort to pry open the patio door. They never actually made it into the house, fortunately. They never even got the door open completely, before the attempt set off the alarm. It appears from the tracks in the snow that the culprit took off through the bush behind my house, and jumped the fence into the neighbouring strip-mall.

    I got the call from my alarm monitoring company a few minutes after the attempt. Drove home to check it out, found no evidence that the culprit(s) ever set foot in the house. They did, unfortunately, do a fair bit of damage to the patio door, which I now must replace.

    There were footprints all around the house, suggesting that they had looked in the windows to see if anyone was home. I think the shoe size seems somewhat small… maybe a young punk kid.

    I called the police almost immediately when I got home. An officer arrived very quickly indeed (I was impressed), checking for any obvious evidence. Another officer looked around the neighbourhood, following the direction of the snow tracks, looking for any suspicious characters with crowbars. As one might expect, nothing particularly useful was discovered.

    This follows a series of incidents with my alarm, but none of the previous incidents can be conclusively identified as being an actual break-in attempt. There were definite problems with the alarm wiring for a while, which have been fixed now, but they did cause quite a few false-alarms.

    And then there were two incidents where I came home to investigate an alarm, and found outside doors open. In those cases, there was no evidence of force, or that anyone had been there. The doors could have been left ajar, and blown open in the wind. Or, it could have been somebody somehow had a copy of the key, and kept trying the doors, hoping that maybe I forgot to arm the alarm that day. After the second such incident, just to be safe, I had all the locks rekeyed. A couple weeks ago, I glimpsed somebody outside walking past a window (could have been the neighbour, I don’t know.) And now, this.

    What does it all mean? The previous incidents may have been nothing. Or is my house, for some reason, a popular target for random burglary attempts? Or is there one particular very determined burglar who keeps trying to get into my house? If so, why my house specifically? He would know I have an alarm now, why would he keep coming back?

    The only way I know to lay these questions to rest is to get some kind of video surveillance going. Weird that I would be considering this, when so recently I was roasting the X-10 company over the silliness of their wireless spy cameras for “home security”. But I am considering options…

    X-10 First Impressions

    I received my first shipment of X-10 home automation goodies from Smarthome today. Started installing some of it in my bedroom after work. I’ve formulated a few first impressions.

    First, I’m a little disappointed in Leviton and Advanced Control Technologies. Of the X-10 wall-switches I ordered, four were Leviton Dimmer with AGC switches. The other was an ACT RD161 [Smarthome] dimmer switch for inductive loads (I’m using it on some halogen track-lighting in my bedroom).

    Both the Leviton and ACT switches seem to work ok, but I’m disappointed with the mechanical design. They both appear to be the same cheesy old-style wall-switch design that the X-10 Company first introduced in like 1978. It seems like every X-10 manufacturer in the world is, for some incomprehensible reason, still basing their products on these stone-age designs. They’ve been dressed up in modern Decora style face-plates, but they’re just connected to the old-style innards by a cheesy mechanical linkage.

    What is this crap? They look like Decora, but they don’t feel like it. There’s no real distinction between pushing the “on” side of the rocker and the “off” side. They both link to the same push-button innards, and toggle the light state. I knew some Decora-style switches from the X-10 Company were built this way, but I expected better from Leviton.

    All this complicated and unnecessary mechanical linkage just makes the switch feel cheap, and takes up valuable space in an electrical box that is already overcrowded with wires and Marette connectors. Switches designed from the start for Decora styling would probably be much smaller and much more ergonomic.

    And why is that X-10 modules from every manufacturer in the world always look exactly the same? The same form-factor, the same construction, the same plastics, everything the same. It’s as if they’re all the just fronts for the same manufacturer, selling the same product under different names. The electronics inside the modules are supposedly different (Leviton’s modules supposedly being very sensitive to weak signals), but are they really? I hope so. For the premium you pay for Leviton, you’d better be getting something for the money.

    The ACT inductive-load dimmer supports slave switches (for three-way applications), but I don’t need that. It does not appear to have the “resume dim” feature. When I turn it on, it always goes to full brightness, and then must be dimmed manually. I don’t like that very much, but the options out there for inductive loads (such as my low-voltage halogen track lights) are rather more limited.

    Anyway, I’ve finished installing the X-10 switches for the lights in my bedroom. Plugged in the Mini Controller, and it all works like a dream. No more getting out of bed to turn off the lights when I’m finished reading and ready to sleep.

    As for my driveway lights, I unfortunately wasn’t thinking very clearly when I placed the order. I didn’t account for the total wattage of the lighting out there. Now, I’m afraid it is too much for the 500W Leviton dimmer switches I ordered. I never even wanted dimming anyway (why would I want to dim my driveway lights?). I only got dimmer switches because they’re cheaper than the relay switches. But the relay swiches seem to be the correct solution here.

    I will soon place another order for a couple relay switches to handle the driveway lighting, plus the Universal Module I need to control the bedroom fireplace. I also remembered, too late, that one of the bedroom lights I just X-10-ified today is on a three-way circuit, and should be handled differently. So, I’ll need a different three-way-capable X-10 switch to handle that.

    As for the 500W dimmer switches I mistakenly bought for the driveway, I’m thinking they might be real nice in my living room. There are always places to use X-10 switches, if you just look for them.

    57 Varieties?

    Over lunch today, I looked at a bottle of Heinz ketchup. “57 Varieties”, that’s the Heinz company slogan.

    What a weird slogan. It says nothing about the quality of their products, only the quantity. It doesn’t particularly make me want to buy it. It’s just kind of a boring, uninspiring non-slogan. Yet, Heinz has been dutifully renewing their trademark registration on it all this time.

    Just let the trademark lapse, guys. What’s the worst that could happen? You think your competitors will steal it? Unlikely. It’s too silly for anyone but you to bother with. If anything, they’d be more likely to one-up it. “E.D. Smith: 58 Varieties!”

    I guess “57” Sauce was the last variety they created before that slogan. Are we supposed to believe they’ve created no new products since then? Clearly not, we know they’ve been busy. They must have developed thousands of varieties by now.

    Maybe they just mean that they have 57 varieties at any one moment in time. So, when they create a new variety, they stop making some old one. What product could have been so bad that they would stop selling it to make room for Purple Ketchup? Maybe it was their Cranberry-Spinach Relish (variety #14). I loved that stuff. I will miss it.

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