I got the PM gig at Yahoo! Answers because I was the top points-scorer during the internal alpha. These days, my participation is limited, but I still want to answer your questions. Email me a question at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll do my best to answer it! Try to play to my strengths- questions about consumer electronics, cars, and home improvement are more likely to be answered satisfactorily than questions about table manners or ballroom dancing.
The ultimate irony for me is old technology that seems cutting edge. Nothing epitomizes this more than X10, which was developed in the 1970’s as a way for people to remotely control lights and appliances in their homes. Since then, the basics have remained the same. There’s a wall module that can control up to 16 devices. These devices are comprised of light switches and appliance modules. The light switches simply replace your standard wall switch and have dimming capability. The appliance modules plug between your appliance and the wall. They come in a variety of capacities and designs. These are controlled by a variety of remotes in all shapes and sizes- a wireless wall switch, a full remote with 16 buttons, and even a small key fob remote.
The big difference between today and the 1970’s is the availablity of programmable control modules. You simply connect your computer to the control module and you can program macros and timers for any X10 device in your home. For instance, I have a macro that lets me set all the living room lights to a level that is suitable for tv viewing, and another that turns off every light in the house (very handy for bedtime). The timers are quite flexible too- not only can you set any device or macro to turn on or off at a set time- you can also program timers that are based on dusk/dawn settings. For instance, I have a macro that turns on the front door light at dusk- and since there’s almanac data in the control module, the light turns on at a different time every day.
Finally, there are a variety of interesting add-ons like motion sensors that can turn devices on and off based on motion. In my garage the openers are in the extreme corners of the garage. This isn’t great for finding your way around the garage at night, so I have a motion sensor turning on the garage lights whenever there’s motion in the garage. The openers are sufficient for triggering the sensors, so I always have light when I want it, and the sensor also takes care of turning off the lights after a couple of minutes.
Yes, replacing every switch in your house takes time, and X10 isn’t without issues. Since the device signals travel through your house wiring, it may take some experimentation to find out which outlet in your house works best for the control module. For instance, when we had the module in our bedroom, signals from the module wouldn’t reach the garage. We found an inconspicuous outlet in the living room which works nicely.
The last issue is that the primary vendor of X10 devices is X10.com. Visiting this site can make your eyes bleed- it is very well known as the purveyor of wireless cameras of dubious virtue… but rest assured that even non-voyeurs can find something of value here. Any of the ActiveHome bundles will get you started- and if you have any questions feel free to ask!