Archive for June, 2009

Stupid Internet Tricks

A few weeks ago, I decided I would like to be able to get into the house using my iPhone. My first idea was to have a network controlled deadbolt on the front door. After some research and thinking, I detemined that while that is possible, it’s much easier to have a network controlled garage door.

So, I did my research and planned it all out with hardware from Smarthome and Indigo for Mac to control it all.

InsteonStarterKitThe first hardware package is an Insteon starter kit. By itself, this gives you a hand held remote, two lamp controllers (remote controlled dimmer switches, basically), and two access points.  Generally speaking, you need an access point in any room (actually on any circuit, but close enough) where you have devices you want to control, and near anywhere you want to control them from.  Two is enough for my setup so far.

Second, A PowerLinc USB interface to the system, which is plugged in on a circuit with an access point and the computer you’re going to use to control it all.

Last (Well, not “last” if a Mac Mini counts as hardware too, but I already had that), a garage door control and status kit, which of course gets hooked up to the garage door.  This was the only hardware part that required anything more difficult than 3 prong electical outlets and USB cables.  I haven’t hooked up the sensor yet, but getting the control part working was just a matter of connecting a paired wire to the device and the garage door opener.  It requires about the same level of technical expertise as hooking up stereo speakers.  Also a little tiny screwdriver, which was provided.

Having done all that, I then installed Indigo, went through the process of having it detect all my devices (I also have a lamp and a fan in our bedroom hooked up so far), and was able to click buttons on my Mac to control it all.  The software side of all this took really not more than 15 minutes.  Seriously.  I’m really impressed with Indigo.

More over, Indio includes web control.  Once it’s running, you can have it run a web server with full access to all your devices.  Since it’s in our home, behind a cable modem and router, I also had to set my router up to forward a port from the outside world to the Mac Mini I have Indigo running on.  Easy enough.  The last piece is finding our IP address.  The router I’m using now had a feature I thought was neat when I set it up, but didn’t have use for before.  It can talk to the DynDNS service and change a specified name to point to our external address any time it gets a new one from our provider’s DHCP. So I did that, and now there’s a URL I can use to get to the Indigo server, which is dynamically updated if our IP address ever changes.  It’s even happened once, so I know it works.

SmallIndigoTouchThat’s actually enough to get the original goal working, the standard web page Indigo provides works just fine on iPhones, Blackberries, etc.  (And it even has a minimalist page for less capable devices).  But just for good measure, there’s a free iPhone app for Indigo too, which also works quite nicely.  I’m not convinced it’s actually any better than the web page for the simple setup I have right now, but it works just fine.

All this was done in one weekend.  It’s been working fine ever since, except that the Mac Mini it’s running on has a flaky hard drive that sometimes doesn’t like to boot up if it’s been turned off.

Also, and perhaps more importantly, I can now turn on and off  the lamp on the dresser and the fan all the way across the room WITHOUT EVEN GETTING OUT OF BED.  Finally technology has accomplished something truly wonderful.  I remember back when I had to actually get out of bed to turn the fan on or off, man, life was so hard.

Comments (5)