Contents of the MANUAL.DOC file
AUTOMATE - Home monitoring and control. Version 2.0 Shareware issue
(c) Copyright 1991 Boyd W. Penn
Equipment required: 1 game joystick, printer, IBM compatable computer system.
It is highly recommended to print out the manual before using the
demonstration files. To print the manual type PRINTDOC.BAT and follow
the prompts or select Item B. from the menu system.
Files on this Disk:
GO.BAT ......... Starts AUTOMATE menuing system. All of the features of this
offering can be accessed by this menuing and navigation
system. Just follow the prompts and on screen instructions.
If you have a monochrome system and have difficulity, load
your favorite SIMCGA program before loading AUTOMATE.
YOU MUST BOOT WITH THIS COMMAND TO USE THE MENU SYSTEM.
README ......... This file
MANUAL.DOC ... Manual of information and discussion of what is possible
in home automation using a personal computer.
PRINTDOC.BAT ... Prints the manual.
AUTOMATE.EXE ... Demonstrations and illustrations of monitoring and control
features available by using AUTOMATE development system.
Has all display, demo, data logging and menuing files.
This file is the basis of the menu system.
MONITOR.DTA ... Data file for actual monitoring and data logging using
AUTOMATE data collection capabilities.
ORDER.FRM ..... The order form to order the registered version of AUTOMATE
ORDERPRN.BAT ... Prints the order form.
BROWSE.COM ..... Files comprising the AUTOMATE menuing and navigation system.
Home Automation Using a Personal Computer
by Boyd W. Penn
91 Navarre Street
Hyde Park, Ma. 02136
August 8, 1991
(c) Copyright 1991 Boyd W. Penn
All Rights Reserved
Permission is granted to distribute
exact copies of this document with its
AUTOMATE - Home Monitoring and Control Shareware Version 2.0
1. INTRODUCTION ............................................. 1
2. ABOUT THE AUTHOR ......................................... 3
3. LICENSE .................................................. 5
4. APPLICATIONS ............................................. 7
5. HOW TO DO AUTOMATION AND CONTROL ........................ 10
USING A PERSONAL COMPUTER
6. DEMONSTRATIONS ........................................... 14
7. SENSORS .................................................. 24
8. FILES OF ACTUAL MONITORING ............................... 28
9. GAME CARD ............................................... 29
10. X-10 POWER LINE INTERFACE SYSTEM ......................... 33
11. GENERAL AUTOMATION AND CONTROL THEORY .................... 37
12. AUTOMATION AND CONTROLS LAB .............................. 41
13. MURPHY'S LAW ACCORDING TO CONTROL THEORY ................. 42
14. WHAT TO EXPECT FROM A PERSONAL .......................... 44
COMPUTER CONTROL SYSTEM
15. PROBLEM AREAS AND LIMITATIONS ............................ 46
16. WHAT DO I GET IF I REGISTER .............................. 48
17. QUESTIONS ................................................ 51
REGISTRATION AND ORDER FOR
1. This software offering is probably a little different than most you
have seen. Its about doing things with your computer. Not just databases,
word processing, games and all that sort of thing but doing real stuff
like turning on lights, making the coffee, monitoring the house in short
getting out of the computer world and bringing the real world into the
2. Home automation, monitoring and control has been the dream and goal of
many folks but until recently it has not been practical for many reasons.
Number one, the cost of real computer automation was out the financial
reach of most people in their home environment. Number two, you needed to
be a programmer, electrical engineer, control engineer and just plain
lucky to get your brilliant buzzing computer box to do anything practical
as far as the rest of the world was concerned. Number three, the real
world runs on high voltage, like 115 VAC for lights, dishwashers, etc and
220 VAC for larger appliances like dryers and air conditioners. High
voltage and computers don't mix, put high voltage (except for the wall
plug to power it) anywhere near your computer and you have one fried
machine that is in bad need of a repair shop.
3. That has all changed. The hardware is now available on the market to
allow the average computer owner to have automation, monitoring and
control of the home environment. This program explains it in simple
terminology, shows what is possible, tells you how to get the information
into and out of the computer and for registered users provides details on
building equipment, design of control programs, lists of equipment
manufacturers, references to all sorts of information, more sample
programs, how to get analog signals into the computer and write programs
to manipulate or control from the data. And as the sales persons like to
say and much, much, more.
4. In short this software is about information. I have found most software
and for that matter most things in life don't work exactly the way you
would like. The best software is always that which you write yourself. It
has your particular wants and desires built-in. You don't need any
programming knowledge to use most of the included information and I will
try to present things in a non-technical way and build toward the more
complex subjects as we go along. I will show you how to build automation,
monitoring and control systems to do what you want, not what some genius
decided you wanted.
5. This program is the start of many I hope to write on these subjects.
The intent is pull together many subjects, computers, energy related
subjects, automation and control, tinkering in general, inventing of just
about anything, more computers, information (where can I find this) and
maybe roll it into a newsletter and idea exchange where you can get
support for not just computer subjects. For more on this see (about the
6. It will probably make more sense to just go through the items as
numbered on the menu. There isn't that much to play with in this
presentation. The ideas should start popping up all other the place on
things you can do as we go along. There are demonstration files but they
probably will make more sense if used in the area that they are
7. The offering is divided into two issues. This the shareware version is
a discussion of what is possible and demonstrations. The registered
version is an completely different set of files, devoted to the actual
control and monitoring applications.
Welcome to the exciting world of computer monitoring and control. This
version introduces the concepts, provides background information and
education in the overall field and allows for a "test drive" to show and
demonstrate what monitoring and control using your personal computer will
Imagine pressing a key on your computer keyboard and turning on/off
lights, appliances, dimming/brightening lights, setting the lighting mood,
monitoring temperature, alarming when the temperature drops below
freezing, total automated control and monitoring of the home environment
and all those other things folks have promised for years but where never
really available to the average personal computer user.
AUTOMATE is written and developed by an experienced instrumentation and
controls engineer with extensive background in automation of large
projects. AUTOMATE brings many capabilities enjoyed by industrial users
and the specialized individual users for years to the average personal
computer user. AUTOMATE allows for a level of control that until recently
cost in tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars range. AUTOMATE is a
tutor, equipment selection guide, provides a complete engineering working
method for achieving your goals. In addition it is fun, maybe the best
computer fun ever, with that elusive quality of vastly increasing your
computer skills while enjoying the experience and having a ball.
More important AUTOMATE'S instruction manual is written to the level of
the average computer user and assumes no engineering, electronics or math
background. The registered version contains a huge manual and
documentation written to be very detailed instructions to accomplish the
goals of home monitoring and control. The instructions provide the
background and step by step instructions to allow the average computer
user to develop their dream home automation systems.
8. The AUTOMATE menuing system is provided to allow for access of all
areas and functions provided by this offering. To use the AUTOMATE menu
system the program MUST always be started by typing GO.BAT. The menu has
control of all demonstration files, printing functions, and all required
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
1. Most software I have used brings to mind the question, who is the idiot
who did this monstrosity? If you buy a book, there is usually a little
section on the the back cover that tells you about the author, then you
can decide to believe what they say based on what they have done. Software
isn't like that, something about computer stuff that says you better
believe it and if it don't work it must be your fault. I said if I ever
wrote anything for the general public I would at least include a sketch
about the author.
2. I spent about twenty years working as an instrumentation and control
engineer building big things like power plants, industrial plants, energy
projects, etc. Basically I did the engineering for all sensors to collect
data, the control room, computer systems, monitoring systems, controls of
all types, programming for industrial type computers and the like. This is
my first software ever released to the general public, mostly because the
bulk of what I write is very custom and I wanted something general in
nature. Plus something useful and that could be modified by the user to
their needs. So no fancy flashing graphics, windows, gimmicks but
something you can use and develop further.
3. Also had factory jobs, electronics technician, The Army, Navy nuclear
power program on a submarine as a reactor operator/technician, worked in a
power plant and in general kind of knocked around the world and saw a lot
of different situations. I had one interesting project of developing a
monitoring system based on a personal computer to monitor a small factory
operations, compute and log the data and transmit it to remote locations
over the phone lines. Its not as easy or cheap as many people claim. I'll
try to present some ideas and solutions to some of the problems for low
cost solutions relating to the home environment. I found you could skin a
cat a lot of different ways if you had various different skills. I will
try to present some of that knowledge gained over time from work
situations, engineering handbooks, seeing what works and what didn't, how
to build complete systems and give a complete understanding of what is
going on, not just lots of little parts, a little software and then you
figure it out. Also worked in a calibration lab and did a lot of field cal
work. Will give some hints on low tech/low cost calibration methods.
4. I am not a computer nerd per se. Other skills are just as important.
These days I run a general home repair business. In short I fix, repair,
build, modify, design and just about any other thing anyone asks me to
tackle. It runs the gamut of just about any type problem found in the home
environment plus new type work. The idea is to get a creative solution and
to be results orientated. That is the approach to this work. Having and
developing many other skills really can enhance what you can do with your
computer. Many of the programs I look at these days leaves me wondering
what was the real intent of the effort.
5. Any programming examples will be done in modules with each module
explained. The shareware version does not have any real world application
programming examples. All demo programs in this version use the joystick
to simulate computer monitoring inputs. The registered version includes
program examples for monitoring using real world inputs.
6. My software philosophy is simple. It is:
a. Software should be of use to the user.
b. Be tunable to their needs.
c. Be understandable
d. Be fully disclosed, with no "hidden secrets".
e. Rights to use the results generated from use of that
software should be included in the purchase.
f. Folks should be willing to pay for what they get.
g. And finally it should be enjoyable, fun and hopefully
have some humor. Enough of this white knuckle approach to
AUTOMATE is developed and published by Boyd W. Penn of 91 Navarre Street,
Hyde Park, Ma. 02136.
The information presented therein is for educational, experimental and
hobby purposes only. NO direct applications for home automation and
control have been provided as part of this program, in whole or in part.
Although extra efforts have been made to ensure this program and its
documentation are accurate and precise, they are provided to you on an "as
is" basis. No warranty of any kind (direct or implied) is made with
respect to this program and its related files. The author of this program
is expressly not liable for any damages to computer hardware, software or
any other equipment. Also there shall be no liability to the author of
this program for lost profits, lost revenue or other incidental or
consequential damages arising out of the use or information of this
The user assumes ALL risks with respect to the accuracy, quality,
reliability, performance or otherwise use of this program and its
A limited license is granted to all users to this program to make copies
of the program files and its related documentation, and to distribute them
to other users subject to the following conditions:
1. The program, its related files and documentation are
not modified in any way and all files are distributed
together in their original form.
2. No fee is charged for the software and documentation,
except for a small distribution and media fee.
3. The program, its related files and documentation may not
be packaged with any other software (except as part of a
shareware software distribution program as stated in items
1 and 2) or hardware without written agreement from the author.
4. Any for profit, business or commercial use of this program,
its files and information is expressly prohibited.
5. The software contained herein will be used in a "shareware try
before you buy mode", without continuous or useful daily use.
Additional restrictions and terms are contained in chapter 16 of this
version for the right to purchase this software. In signing the order form
agreement, the purchaser is acknowledging reading and understanding those
additional restrictions and terms in addition to an understanding of what
is being offered in the registered version.
Note: X-10 is registered trademark of X-10 (USA) INC.
WHAT CAN I DO - APPLICATIONS USING YOUR COMPUTER
1. What kind of things can a home automation, monitoring and control
system based on using a personal computer do?
2. These applications come to mind and I'm sure its far from complete:
A. Burglar alarm
B. Security systems
1. Control lights in responds to motion
2. Control surveillance video systems
3. Calls if fire/break in
4. Extra smart garage door control
5. Door entry control
6. Night light control
7. Fire alarms
8. Outside parameter monitor
9. Counting events, people passing, etc.
10. Smart doorbell(s) (rings where you are)
11. Basement/cellar flooding monitor
12. Crib/area/room monitor
13. Oil tank level low monitor
14. Pool area monitor
15. Event logging
16. Panic/Help buttons
17. Sump pump control
C. Energy systems
1. Solar energy (a big one, more to come)
2. Attic fan
3. Thermostat control
4. Air conditioning
6. Hot water
8. Greenhouse temperature control
9. Snow melting
10. Auto warming
11. Environment control, air cleaners, humidity
12. Exhaust fans
13. Swimming pool temperature/level/pump control
D. Appliance control
1. Make coffee in morning
3. Wake up service
6. Ceiling fans
7. Window fans
8. Light bright/dim control
1. Phone answering machine
2. Remote control of home over the phone
3. Home status over the phone
4. Home based switchboard/paging/call forwarding
5. Telemarketing dialing
6. Voice mail
7. Remote door answer over the phone
8. Security calling features
9. PBX features through out house using one phone line
10. Communications/TV dish/antennas
11. FAX monitor
12. Phone/communications charges/time/logging monitor
1. Lawn watering
2. Freezer thaw alarm
3. Automatic plant watering
4. Pet entry/exit control
5. Outdoor/Indoor temperature monitoring
6. Snowfall/rainfall monitoring
7. Mailbox monitor (did the mailman cometh yet)
8. Gate monitor (Is it open/closed)
9. Dawn/dusk light control
10. hallway/bathroom nighttime light control
11. Drapery control
12. Voice/motion activated control
13. Aquarium monitor
14. Freeze Alarm
15. Automatic timed computer operations
16. Automatic weighting and data entry to weight control
17. Fitness program monitoring
2. As you can see security, energy systems and communications are big
areas for home automation. But there are already systems on the market to
do a lot of those things, why mess around with a computer?
Number 1 - Most stand alone systems are "dumb". They blindly do their
thing no matter what is happening around them. Basically you want an
integrated system. Most stand alone systems work on time. Why water the
lawn just because its 6 O'clock in the morning and raining. Or why turn
off the window fan at three in morning when its still hot. Using the
information developed by one system and then shared by all other systems
is very powerful, cost effective and provides systems that are very useful
and easy to live with.
Number 2 - Most don't work very well at their best. Murphy's Law talks
about the hidden flaw and most stand alone systems manage to find them.
Some little gismo breaks and the entire system no longer works or the
set-up is complicated with instructions that make no sense and can not be
remembered plus you lost the written instructions. Another big flaw many
require running wires for power or control through an existing
ceilings/walls or where ever, lots of luck. The systems I will talk about
in later sections avoid new wiring completely or let you decide the
applications where it is possible.
Number 3 - Most don't tell what they did or if they did it at all.
Computer based systems provide data logging with the event time and date.
Plus its at no real cost and can be very complete and detailed.
HOW TO BUILD AN AUTOMATION SYSTEM
1. Ok so how do we actually build one of these automated systems. The
answer is the the X-10 "power line carrier" technology that has been
around for awhile. Basically its little modules that plug into the
standard 115 VAC wall power receptacles. They are capable of sending
signals to each other over the same wiring that powers the house. The
modules talk to each other based on codes set on small dials on each
2. Many are familiar with the motion sensing light systems that turn on
lights when someone walks in an area. These sensors are also capable of
turning on remote lights inside the house via other modules tuned to
listen for their signal. Many manufacturers make these systems, some are
Powerhouse, Stanley and Heathkit to name a few. Many stores carry the
basic X-10 modules in the security section.
3. What type of modules are there?
1. Lamp modules to turn on/off and dim/brighten lights
2. Appliance modules to control small appliances
(15A or 1/3HP motor limits)
3. Motion sensing modules
4. Annunciator modules
5. High voltage appliance modules (220 VAC at 20 amps)
6. Contact sensing/input modules
7. Transmitter units to control the modules
(usually by a pushbutton)
8. Communication modules
9. Timer modules
All this has been around awhile, the system is programmed by setting dial
codes and control is by a fixed base station or remote hand carried
4. What is now different is that hardware gateway modules are now
available to allow your personal computer to talk to the X-10 modules over
the power line that powers the house. The power line interface plugs into
the wall receptacle and another cable connects to the computer serial or
parallel port. Two way communication is now possible between the computer
and the X-10 modules. In short the computer can now control lights,
appliances, etc. Also the computer can read the power line for
communications between two modules or a transmitter/control unit. An
integrated automation and control system is now possible.
5. So what's the difference, the computer just replaced the
transmitter/control unit and is doing the same thing only it costs a lot
more. Doesn't sound like a big gain to me. What is needed is a way of
using the power of computer software to react to the changing environment
and modify a fixed rigid program (that put in the X-10 transmitter/control
units - push a button turn something on) to a flexible program reacting to
changes like what time of the day is it, what day of the week is it, is it
raining, is it hot/cold outside, is the sun shining. In short the computer
replaces the human for monitoring and some decision making.
6. I have seen all sort of people get fascinated by high tech solutions,
race around putting this hardware with that hardware, talking about dreamy
software lurking just over the horizon that will solve all the worlds
problems, all very vague and wispy and in the end just doesn't work. Why
didn't it work, most will tell you the software needs a little more work,
another gismo here, another there. In truth, they never really understood
the problem, good project organization, had reasonable expectations, were
able to foresee the hidden flaws and limitations, the only way it could
have worked was if the tooth fairy helped out. More important some of
these poorly thought out projects can be down right dangerous. AUTOMATE is
written with a common sense approach. The why's, what and concepts are
based on proven engineering techniques. AUTOMATE was written around a
concept of what was needed to having a working system. Those difficult or
impossible areas are worked out and presented as "plug in" files for
developing your systems. There is no experiment with this concept and see
if you can get a working application. All applications presented in
AUTOMATE have been built, debugged and tested as working applications by
AUTOMATE was developed based on a scaled down model of industrial
monitoring and control concepts. Safety was and is a prime consideration.
Safety is discussed in detail and is a common thread throughout the
offering. The user is guided in the areas of equipment selection,
construction and in the overall use concepts.
7. Lets stop and see what we know and what is missing to allow use of a
personal computer as a good control device.
A. The X-10 technology can solve the problem of connecting
the computer to the high voltage real world.
B. The X-10 technology is "Dumb". It just does what its told.
Therefore we need information from another source. Using this
other source of information we can modify the system operation
to meet the changing environment.
C. The status of the X-10 technology devices is not continuously
reported. The system only reports status when commands are
given. Therefore in certain situations we may need to verify
an operation actually happened.
D. Data logging and event reporting really become a useful possible
option at little or no cost.
E. Software design can become a problem if many different pieces of
software from different sources are used for separate functions.
F. We are kind of limited to on/off type control output. Example -
turn on the light, turn off a pump. Analog output, like close the
the sprinkler water valve another 1/4 turn is going to be tough.
G. The X-10 technology is modular in nature so you can try a little
project and then expand as the needs change.
H. The X-10 technology is not totally "Fail Safe", especially in a
computer control environment. The local control switches to the
devices being controlled are still operational but good software
design is still required.
I. The X-10 technology can not perform direct operation of many
systems. For example a solar energy collecting system would need
its own control system and maybe the computer system would just
do the data collection and analog monitoring part. These types
of situations can be tricky and sometimes dangerous. A lot more
on these situations in later chapters and in the registered users
versions. It can not stressed enough that good safe control and
automation designs are not just throwing some hardware together
and then writing software to take care of any problems. You can
get into very sticky situations doing that and maybe a lot of
legal hot water.
AUTOMATE is basically the missing link to allow the home monitoring and
control system to operate as an integrated, smart system. AUTOMATE can
measure parameters in the real world, be programmed with the user's wishes
and exercise the control via a communications gateway to operate the X-10
technology. Those X-10 control/transmitters are a very poor method of
achieving control using the X-10 technology. First they are not very
powerful in capabilities. Second they make no sense to program and you are
forced to do it the way someone else wanted. Third they do not keep time
very well, your computer keeps excellent time. Fourth, they cannot measure
the outside world. Fifth, the system size is very limited, using AUTOMATE
it is possible to build huge systems.
8. Where do we get those other sources of information and how do we get
them into the computer? Plus why who you really want to do it? A good
place to start is the game port. You can buy input/output boards but my
experience with them has been dismal. Manufacturers like to sell these
boards and make all sorts of claims. I found few to pan out. They tend to
be expensive and the software included (if any) is very cramped and short
sighted. Usually your into some sort of development program to make it all
work. There are input/output boards for personal computers ranging from
around several hundred dollars to over a thousand but when you stop and
look at what is required to actually get them to perform real world
control or monitoring functions, its many of the same things that you have
to do using my methods. Only my methods don't cost even one hundred
dollars, is totally under your control, uses very low cost sensors and
input equipment and in the end, if properly understood and implemented is
just as accurate or maybe even more accurate. I used some of these other
input systems and found little problems, like no ability to make
corrections for sensor errors or inaccuracy in the software, hardware and
software compatibility problems and stupid things like you could not
unplug a sensor without causing the entire system to crash. Another big
drawback, you pay them for the input board but they forget to mention the
amount of calibration equipment required to ever get a working system. The
board winds up being only a very small fraction of the cost of a working
The game port is good because usually its already there at no cost. Both
analog and contact status data is possible. The software routine to read
the data is very straightforward. Game ports can be added at very low
cost. Many sensors can be fashioned that work quite well. As long as you
don't try a great complex system or require blazing accuracy it will
probably serve well.
The reason for doing it is simple. It is what is known as a hybrid control
system, both analog and digital (contact type) are available. When
combined with the X-10 technology you have all the necessary ingredients
for a hybrid control system. That allows all the really good stuff like
direct control/monitoring of systems such as solar energy collecting
systems to be possible. Plus meaningful data logging is available. Lot
more on all this in the other chapters.
9. What emerges from all this is the ability to build control systems for
home automation where equipment, appliances, lights, etc. can be directly
controlled via a personal computer. The control can be initiated by
signals developed by AUTOMATE, the computer keyboard, time/date as kept by
the computer, computed set points by a program, signals from remote
control stations or combinations thereof. AUTOMATE carries this concept
through the signal developments, integration into a monitoring and control
system and the ability to control the X-10 modules to make a working
system. AUTOMATE includes no hardware as part of the purchase. All X-10
hardware and some software is by others. A complete reference is given in
the registered version for purchase of those parts. The instructions to
integrate all components is given in AUTOMATE. DEMOC5 (the simulated
automated house) included as part of this version is a very good
illustration of these concepts.
AUTOMATE approximates the capabilities of using a commercial 8 bit input
card. The lowest cost card is in the general range of $500 for just the
card. This method has no software development problems and unlike most
commercial cards the input have been found to be extremely stable with no
drifting of values.
The systems built using AUTOMATE are very flexible. They can be easily
modified or adjusted to compensate for changes. The systems using AUTOMATE
do not become out of date as the technology changes. The AUTOMATE systems
can be upgraded without scrapping the original system. The AUTOMATE
systems are very low cost and powerful when compared to any other method
available for home automation, monitoring or control.
DEMONSTRATIONS OF COMPUTER MONITORING AND CONTROL
1. Demonstration files have been included to show what computer monitoring
and control using X-10 modules and the gamecard would look like. All demo
files use the joystick to simulate analog or contact signals into the
computer via the gamecard. The source code for all demo modules is
included in the registered version. Programming of demos is actually more
difficult than programming of the real control or monitoring scheme.
In shareware version 2.0 all demonstrations and illustrations are
controlled from the menu system. The early versions did not have the menu.
To use the menu system, you MUST start the system by typing GO.BAT.
None of these demos require any real programming skill. A "brute force"
approach will solve most control and monitoring applications in the home
environment. When playing with the demo try to find the flaws in computer
monitoring and control and think "how would I do this". The demos are
designed to show what is possible, demonstrate limitations, stimulate
thinking of applications and solutions and give a hands on test drive.
Demos 1 to 4 source code is not documented but demo 5 is fully documented.
NOTE: THESE DEMOS WILL PROBABLY WORK BEST WITH YOUR JOYSTICK IN THE
"FREE" POSITION. THAT IS THE POSITION WITH NO SPRING TENSION
AND IT WILL STAY IN THAT POSITION IF LEFT WITHOUT YOUR FINGERS
HOLDING IT. MOST JOYSTICKS HAVE LITTLE TOGGLES ON THE BOTTOM TO
ACCOMPLISH THE CHANGE IN MODES FROM SPRING-BACK TO FREE. ALSO
MOVE THE JOYSTICK SLOWLY, THE REAL WORLD DOESN'T CHANGE RAPIDLY.
CONSULT YOUR JOYSTICK MANUAL IF IN DOUBT DOES IT HAVE THIS
NOTE: DEMOS No.s B,F & G WILL NOT WORK CORRECTLY UNLESS A PRINTER IS
CONNECTED AND TURNED-ON WITH NO MESSAGE ALARMS ON THE PRINTER
LEAVE THE DEMOS SETTLE-OUT AFTER LOADING. WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS
READ THE WRITE UP DESCRIBING EACH DEMO.
BANGING ANY OF THE JOYSTICK DRIVEN DEMOS AROUND RAPIDLY CAN CAUSE
THEM TO GIVE YOU WEIRD RESULTS.
2. For the best understanding printout this chapter before starting the
demo files. For the demo files to work correctly, you must have one
3. With this shareware disk in your default drive:
If you have a color monitor: type GO.BAT to start the menu system. Follow
the prompts to the menu section. Select Item C for the temperature demo.
If you have a monochrome monitor: Follow the instructions given for a
color system. If the program will not load or run, try loading your
favorite SIMCGA program first. (if that will not work find a color
system.) Some monochrome systems apparently give problems.
To stop the demo, press the letter Q
TEMPERATURE MONITOR - INSIDE/OUTSIDE
This demonstration simulates monitoring both inside room temperature and
outside air temperature and displaying them continually on the computer
screen. Move the joystick to different positions and the screen display
will change temperatures. This uses two channels of analog measurement
into the computer. By building sensors, properly calibrating them and
replacing the joystick we could have the computer monitor real world
temperatures. This demo also shows why it is important to condition the
data into the computer. Most industrial control system have hardware to
compensate for ambient temperature variations and to clip off spurious
signal fluctuations. The screen display shows the readings in degrees /F
but it is not just a matter of hooking up a sensor. Knowledge of the
characteristics of the sensor and how to calibrate that information into
meaningful and accurate data is required. I have seen many readings from
cheap monitoring systems that were referred to as "idiot information". In
the registered version I give a more complete discussion on selecting
devices that can be used as sensors, determining their characteristics,
calibration of that information and tips on data conditioning methods.
Note from this demo the general instability of the readings, hook this up
to a long wire run through areas of electrical, temperature changes and
magnetic fields and it will be even more unstable. Also note that just
hooking up the signals will not display the information. We still need a
software program to get the information from the gamecard, condition the
data and display the information on the screen. This approach as
represented would probably not be satisfactory for a commercial
application but could be useful in the home environment.
Temperature measurement is fully developed in the registered version. Two
probes, 10% tolerance and a .2 /C have been designed. The data sets are
included, sample programs to allow for measurement and display as shown by
this demonstration and full discussion on all aspects of construction,
curve generation, data fitting, calibration, techniques and all other
required functions to give a working temperature measurement. The
measurements can be displayed on the computer screen, logged in a data
file over time, printed out as a printed log or used for control
functions. Data from measurements like this could also be used for control
of devices via the X-10 modules. Example: The attic temperature is at 110
/F turn on the attic fan.
To stop the DEMO, press the letter Q
4. With this shareware disk in your default drive and your printer turned
If you have a color monitor: From the menu select Item D.
If you have a monochrome monitor: Follow the instructions given for at the
begining of this section.
To stop the demo, press the letter Q
KITTY DOOR MONITOR
This demonstration simulates monitoring of a pet entry/exit door to tell
if a cat is in or out of the house. This demonstrates the use of contact
monitoring for position or status. Two magnetic reed switches could be
used and a magnet attached to the pet door. When the door swings out the
cat is going out. When the door swings in the cat is coming in. The
switches could be mounted near the path of door travel and as the magnet
passed by they would be activated. The door would oscillate after the cat
went through so we would "debounce" the event so the computer program sees
only the correct contact closing. This example would use two channels of
contact monitoring on the gamecard. In the demo, use only joystick
pushbutton #1 to simulate the door opening. The computer screen gives the
cat's status and the printer logs the number of times in or out and when
the event occurred. No more wondering where that cat is!!! The data
logging associated with this type of monitoring is quite simple. Basically
it consists of latching up a software flag after the event and clearing
the flag after the opposite event. With more than one cat this demo would
become more complicated. Simple application programs like this can give a
lot "idiot information" in the real world. Example if someone bumped into
the cat door the computer would report the cat was out when in fact it
would be in. One spurious cycling of the door would change the truth of
the information. No magic because a computer is involved. The monitoring
applications have to be careful thought through with good knowledge of
what is involved in the real world.
The registered version of AUTOMATE develops the monitoring and control
using contact input information fully. There is an entire chapter devoted
to the subject. In addition many new techniques are presented including
methods of expansion of the number of contact inputs. Contacts may be used
to initiate control actions using X-10 modules. Example: automatic light
control based on motion, a door opening/closing or any other contact
input. Contact information inputs into a personal computer is a very
powerful and cost effective method of achieving many functions dealing
with home monitoring and control.
To stop the Demo, press the letter Q.
5. With this shareware disk is your default drive:
If you have a color monitor: Select Item E from the menu.
If you have a monochrome monitor: Follow the instructions as before.
To stop the demo, press the letter Q
TIME AND YOUR COMPUTER
This demonstration shows that your computer knows all about time. Time is
a very important factor in microprocessor based monitoring and control.
This time is available with very little programming skills. The BASIC
commands DATE$, TIME$ and TIMER will fetch the information with no
problem. The date and time are the system values you set on start-up or
are retained at all times (if you have a hard disk). The timer value is
the number of seconds that have elapsed since midnight or since you reset
the system. By using very simple programming commands we can tear this
information apart and construct any type, style or manner of timer that is
desired. No more buying those plug in wall timers to turn on lights, make
the coffee, etc. Using X-10 technology and the ability of the computer to
do dazzling feats with time you can have about any schedule desired around
the olde homestead. Time can be a problem in control situations if you
attempt to use to fine of a time setting. One wag once said "Time is God's
way of preventing everything from happening at once". In the registered
version, I discuss in more detail the use of time. Time is used in many
control situations to solve problems of letting Jupiter get lined up with
Mars and the rest of the Universe getting in step before going on to
something else. Computers are very fast when compared to the rest of the
real world, sometimes it works best to slow the beast down. Timers are
very easy to build in software. Different types of timers are used to
solve different control problems. Some types are count-up and then stop
timers, count-down and then stop timers, count to setpoint and then reset
(a continuously running timer) and about any other type you can think of.
Compiliers have a strange thing of stripping off some of your time type
instructions to a program if you write software in something like BASIC
and then compile the results. BASIC is very nice in that if you can't find
the bug after spending all that time writing the program, it can still be
run without compiling. A tip for that type of problem: If your program
compiles with no errors but is missing setpoints or other time information
and doesn't appear to work when you first load it. Don't give up, bang it
around a bit, give it a good exercise. Start and stop it a few times, run
it through all modes, usually after Jupiter gets lined up with Pluto it
will work. Do you think maybe the ROM's or RAM's got bored or something?
The registered version has example programs using time and shows some
techniques for monitoring and control using time. Using AUTOMATE and the
personal computer's ability you can have automation based on time
schedules. Example: Using X-10 technology make the coffee a 9 AM, sound a
wake up alarm in all bedrooms, each may be a separate alarm and just about
any other function you can think of the involves time.
6. With this shareware disk in your default drive and your printer turned
If you have a color monitor: Select Item F. from the menu
If you have a monochrome monitor: Follow the instructions as before.
To stop the demo, press the letter Q
TEMPERATURE MONITORING WITH ALARM AND ERROR TRAPPING ROUTINE
This demonstration is similar to demo no.1 only this time we monitor both
inside and outside temperatures and alarm if the outside temperature goes
below freezing and also log the event with time/temperature on the
printer. Move the joystick to different positions and the screen display
will change temperatures. If you slowly reduce the outside temperature to
below 32 the computer with alarm by beeping, flashing a freeze warning on
the screen and logging the event with both the time and temperature.. Many
times you start to monitor or control something with a microprocessor
based system (in this case a personal computer) and it seems like its
going to be very simple but nothing goes right. The program should work
perfect as written but the little beast has a mind of its own especially
when hooked up to the real world. Alot of the better solutions make no
real sense to us humans and if all your programming experience is with
data bases, moving data around and regular stay in the computer stuff
expect problems. A common one is you want to read something and do
something once and the little critter will insist on doing it more than
once. Like filling up your printer paper with the same information. Many
of the problems are unique to computer based control. Will talk more about
it in the chapters on general automation and control theory and the
problem/limitations areas. This demo also shows a difference between
regular stay in the computer and control/monitoring. You must anticipate
message errors better, all equipment must be connected, errors in
programming, equipment flaws, etc. can result in filling up your screen,
RAM, disk and printer page print with a lot of junky type information.
Example: The temperature alarm resets in this demo after you increase the
outside temperature to above 50 /F. If you programmed this in the real
world with a very narrow reset, like 33 /F. Minor temperature swings could
generate a lot of page print. The idea is to log the event once, and then
display the alarm status on the screen. The outside temperature displayed
on the screen allows the reading of the exact amount of below freezing and
the alarm message shows the status and adds the extra attention grabber
without having to actually read the screen. Many designs backlight the
alarm messages with a different color. The screen alarm message is blanked
after the outside temperature is increased above 50 /F in this demo. Good
program design is more about knowing what you want to accomplish, what the
expected end results are to be and the limitations imposed by the real
world than about intricate coding routines.
7. With this shareware disk in your default drive:
If you have a color monitor: Select Item G. from the menu
To stop the demo, press the letter Q
If you have a monochrome monitor: Try loading and running the program. If
it will not run, try loading your favorite SIMCGA program first. Some
monochrome systems have problems. If this will not run on your machine try
a color system.
SIMULATED AUTOMATED HOUSE ON A GRAPHICS BACKGROUND
This demonstration simulates an automated home with lights, alarm, fans,
A/C, heat, etc. running under computer control. The house operates in
three modes. Mode switching in controlled by the program: The modes are:
A. The opening mode simulates late evening.
B. The second mode is bedtime. (A little bedtime mu-zac)
C. The third mode is night. (The display will say SNOOZE TIME)
D. The fourth mode is a wake-up call. (Up and at-em)
E. The fifth mode is a return to daytime.
Data logging and house control are active only in the late evening/daytime
modes. The joystick simulates house inside and outside temperatures and
the amount of daylight. Outside temperature is (inside temp - 25 /F) and
both are derived from the X analog input channel. The Y input channel
simulates the amount of daylight. The amount of daylight does not initiate
Green lights appearing on the graphics display simulate that particular
device turning on or being operable.
Not all devices are entered into the data logging.
Analog inputs will not change during the following conditions:
A. When changing modes.
B. When data logging/printing.
C. When playing music.
DISCUSSION OF EACH MODE
Slowly move the joystick, you will observe the temperature and daylight
analog inputs vary. Devices will turn on and off according to their
setpoints. (They are given later). The timer under "TIME TILL BEDTIME"
will countdown. The timer is set to 2 minutes in the demo. (Don't worry
the program repeats for as much play time as you wish).
The garage door operates in a open/close mode from the joystick #1
attic fan on if inside temp > 90
attic vent open if outside temp > 90
upstair hall lights on if daylight < 40%
upstair heat zone on if inside temp < 68
upstair A/C on if inside temp > 76
porch light on if daylight < 25%
living area on if inside temp > 73
living area A/C on if inside temp > 73
living area heat on if inside temp < 68
Hot water on if inside temp < 48
furnace on if inside temp < 60
water lawn water if daylight <30%
& outside temp > 90 /F)
warm car warm if outside temp <30,
daylight > 60% & daytime mode)
greenhouse fan on if outside temp > 90
greenhouse vent open if outside temp > 68
greenhouse auto water water if outside temp > 90
When the timer reaches 0 the program plays taps (retreat), locks in any
devices turned on, locks up the house and turns on alarms in all areas in
the downstairs, and non-occupied area, initializes the greenhouse
auto-watering system. Analog signals freeze during this period. This is
good demonstration that computers do only one thing at once. It is
important to realize this when designing control and monitoring programs.
In other type programming a human is usually doing something (usually not
very fast) and the computer looks good and appears to be able to do
everything on command. In a control environment the tasks required are as
fast as the computer and there can be lots of different tasks. So the
computers shortcomings become very apparent. In designing a control
program good organization is very important. You usually prioritize where
the computer will "spend its time". In a home application it might be a
problem and might not be. Probably depends on how sloppy the design and
the complexity of the design. Industrial digital control systems get
around these problems by having parallel scans, having different machines
do different things in a supervised environment and having good designs
especially adapted to control with a program language tailored to the
task. Even with all that they sometimes still have problems. Personal
computers are NOT control type machines, don't let any sales person tell
you otherwise. They can be used but don't expect real flashy results.
From these demos, you can get a better feel of the process by reading all
other chapters and playing with them again.
The analog readings are active but everything else locks up. The
programming to make this an active mode is not difficult just tedious. A
lot of what we used to call "dog work". The programming is basically of
the "switching" variety to keep everything straight and is very easy to
introduce bugs into the work already done. The best control and monitoring
programs are as straight forward as the process with allow. Loops within
loops and complexity for complexity sake are fun to play with but it you
want to really accomplish something keep it simple. Usually you can get it
all to work in a "native mode" and then the compiler kicks up a fuss about
putting it all together in a neat package. I said "enough already" if
someone else wants to develop it further, as a game or something, please
feel free to do so. Registered owners get the source code and are free to
use it in any manner including developing something else from it. More on
all this in other chapters.
SNOOZE TIME is active for a minute and then the WAKE-UP CALL mode is
Wake-up mode is just for fun. A little reveille!! reveille in and about
the decks for the troops. Everything is still locked up. Also shows off
the screen stuff, changing colors and such. Very easy to do.
Just like the time till bed mode. The program just keeps repeating from
here. All the graphic type stuff is done in the "brute force and grunt"
mode nothing fancy at all. Very easy to understand and is fully explained
in the registered version with some of the intermediate steps included in
separate files so you can see fully how it was done. (Some steps get
erased in generating the display after they have served their purpose
because they interfere). For folks who would never attempt "programming" I
encourage you to do so. Having something to relate in the real world makes
learning a lot easier. Also there are some good books to use for the
non-genius types. Progressing in complexity like we did in these demos is
another approach. Good control work in only 5 to 10 % knowledge of
programming methods. I have worked on large projects where I did no
programming at all but did the software definitions and descriptions for
the genius who did the actual coding. Some of those folks really get a
narrow focus and it can be dangerous. Programming of control and
monitoring applications is fun and unlike other "stay in the computer
stuff", the results can be seen. Don't be turned off by the word
"programming", brilliant computer knowledge is less important than good
knowledge of equipment being controlled, what you are trying to accomplish
and good design/organization. A way can usually be found to write a
statement that will make it work, might be crude and simple but it will
work. Home automation is a super way to increase your computer skills.
Even if you are a fairly accomplished user, you learn a lot and may not
even be aware of the knowledge gained until later.
This is a very good simulation of the capabilities of AUTOMATE. Home
automation and control to this level is developed with AUTOMATE. This
includes the ability to communicate with the X-10 modules for the control
In addition to turning lights on or off, AUTOMATE can dim or brighten the
lightning level. Up to 18 different bright or dim level can be selected.
AUTOMATE is also very developed to measure visible light. This ability can
be used to sense the difference between day/night, turn on lights at dusk,
adjust the interior lightning level and another function required
involving visible light. Also data logging of events as demonstrated is
easily achieved, data to a file or data logged on the printer as we did in
Control can be from the program with setpoints derived from contact or
analog inputs, manual command via the computer keyboard, manual command
via remote control stations, be based on the computer time, be computed by
the control program. All functions are developed to be under control of
user. The communications portion is a separate stand alone package that is
called when needed. The registered version contains an approximately 100
page instruction manual. The manual is organized to lead the user in a
logical manner through all phases to bring your control skill to the level
as demonstrated in this demo.
********** WARNING ************ WARNING ************** WARNING *******
DO NOT TRY TO USE ANY SENSOR THAT GENERATES ITS OWN POWER OR VOLTAGE
AS PART OF ITS SIGNAL INTO YOUR COMPUTER. ALL SENSORS AS REPRESENTED
IN THIS DOCUMENTATION ARE RESISTIVE IN NATURE. IN SHORT THE COMPUTER
SUPPLIES THE POWER. EXTREME CARE MUST BE TAKEN IN ANY DESIGN THAT NO
OTHER VOLTAGE SOURCE OTHER THAN THAT OF THE COMPUTER GAMECARD IS PRESENT
IN ANY WAY, SHAPE OR MANNER AT ALL TIMES!!!!!!!!! THERMOCOUPLES FOR
MONITORING TEMPERATURES SHOULD NEVER BE USED AS PART OF THIS MONITORING
SCHEME!!!!!!! THIS SHAREWARE VERSION IS NOT AN INSTRUCTION MANUAL FOR
THE SELECTING, CONSTRUCTION OR ACTUAL MONITORING OF ANY SIGNAL BY ANY
COMPUTER. IF YOU DAMAGE YOUR HARDWARE I AM NOT RESPONSIBLE IN ANY MANNER,
FASHION OR DEGREE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
******** WARNING ************* WARNING *************** WARNING *********
1. First of all what is a sensor. A sensor is a device that detects
something, or measures something. Some display directly the parameter they
are measuring, like a wall thermometer. It measures the air temperature
and displays it by means of a pointer on a dial or a column of colored
liquid. Other sensors measure something but do not directly display the
results. An example is the light sensor in those "smart lights" that turn
themselves on as night approaches. The sensor doesn't display its results,
it just tells some other device to do something.
2. Instrumentation and controls engineers spend a lot of time selecting
the right device to measure or monitor a particular control application.
There are literally thousands of different sensors. The following factors
are usually involved:
a. A knowledge of the function to be monitored.
b. A understanding of the scientific principles involved.
c. How does the sensor work.
d. What sensor is best for this particular application.
e. How much does it cost.
f. Who makes it and how do I get one.
g. What is involved in getting it to work in a complete system.
I will try to boil all that down into something the average person can
understand, can use to monitor things with a personnel computer, can
afford, can readily obtain, can calibrate, can build and finally can put
into a home automation system as part of a complete package.
3. The devices we will be talking about are called analog sensors. Analog
means it is a continuous measurement. The speedometer in a car is an
analog device. It shows your speed at all times and changes its display as
your speed changes. Remember, we can put four such measurements per game
connector into the computer. (good stuff all right) What might we like to
monitor around the house? The following comes to mind:
b. Levels (of tubs, tanks, etc)
c. The amount of light (is light or dark)
i. All those things I haven't thought of yet.
Remember that is for analog measurements, those where you could look at
the computer and see a continuous display of a parameter. Like looking at
a wall thermometer only this time the temperature would be displayed
continuous on the computer screen. A temperature sensor would be connected
to the gamecard and use one of the four available analog channels on the
4. There are other types of sensors than the analog ones we have been
talking about for use to a home control system. Many sensors sense
something is either on or off, is high or low, is hot or not hot, etc. In
short these sensors detect one of two possible conditions. Usually they
are referred to as switches. The temperature switch in an attic fan
detects the attic is too hot or not hot. If too hot it switches on (closes
a set of contacts) and starts the attic fan. Their output to the real
world is a set of contacts that usually complete an electrical circuit to
make some- thing happen. Contacts look like this --[ ]-- when open, and
are referred to as N.O. or normally open contacts contacts when closed
--[/]-- are represented like this and are referred to as N.C. or normally
closed contacts. Another way to think about it is contacts are the working
part of switches. Examples of switches around the house are light
switches, level switches to stop filling the clothes washer when the water
level is correct and many others.
Contacts are also referred to as wet or dry. A wet contact is like in the
thermostat to start your heating furnace. Take off the cover of a
thermostat and you will see a little glass tube pinched at both ends with
wires going into the tube. The tube has a little ball of mercury inside
and is tilted as the temperature changes. With the thermostat not calling
for heat the mercury is down in one end of the tube and the contacts are
open. As the room temperature cools a bimetal wound spring tilts the glass
tube and the mercury covers the bottom of the tube its entire length.
Mercury conducts electricity so an electrical circuit is completed through
the ball of mercury. So the term wet contact. A dry contact is just that,
dry, no mercury. Pinch your forefinger and thumb together, two contacts
close, a good illustration of a dry contact. We can monitor both types
with our computer.
5. So where are we? We now know what an analog sensor is? What contacts
are? We also know we can monitor both with the computer. Four measurements
of analog and four of contacts. (In the registered version, I show you how
to put about all the contacts you could want into the computer so the
restriction on four contacts isn't really what it seems.)
Remember what analog and contacts are. I use those terms through out this
documentation. Analog is the continuous display of a measured value. If
you want to see a reading of something displayed and constantly updated on
the computer screen that will probably require an analog input to the
Contacts are the on or off things in life. Contacts are actuated by
switches. Contacts are about position or status. Things like is the gate
open or closed. It could be halfway open, a computer reading a set of
contacts would just see the gate is open.
6. A automation system that is computer based and uses both analog and
contact information is referred as a hybrid control system. These hybrid
systems are the real power that people refer to in talking about computer
type control systems. A computer system reading just contact information
is not much more powerful than a normal control system found around the
home. Just because a computer is involved does not make a powerful system.
There is much, much, more involved and I hope to convey that in in this
discussion. I talk about and develop these themes much further in the
discussion on control theory and in the registered version. By now you
should see that a discussion of one aspect of computer automation runs
into another. Some this rambling is on purpose and some is not.
7. In the registered version I go into the actual hardware for sensors.
How to build them yourself (not that difficult, most are very simple),
where to buy them, how to connect, how to calibrate the measurement (yes,
there is no magic just because a computer is involved), methods of
smoothing your data, conditioning data in the computer for use in control
functions. All this I try very much to keep at the average computer user
level so that it is practical, usable and most of understandable. Not a
lot of high sounding rigmarole.
Design techniques are presented. The user is walked through the
applications in a step by step method. No prior knowledge of the subject
matter is assumed.
The registered version includes the data files,part No.s, curve generators
and instructions for two temperature sensors (one 10% and one precision)
and one visible light sensor.
8. Industrial type sensors can get very complex. Most include the ability
to measure the parameter intended and then "condition or smooth" the data
before sending it to a computer or other monitoring device. Just because a
sensor sees something doesn't mean that what it is seeing is correct.
A ship at sea and you are monitoring a tank full of water within the ship.
The sensor monitoring the level is very good one and it is connected to a
digital panel meter displaying the tank level. As the ship rolls around
due to wave action the digital panel meter will display a varying tank
level even if the tank level is constant. If you try to control another
device using this type of signal you get chaos. So the general idea is to
clean up the signal as close the the monitoring source as possible and do
any other smoothing further down the line. In this example, the solution
is to use two sensors, mount them at 135 and 225 degree positions around
the tank (gets them out of the peak of most wave action) and then average
their signals to cancel out the wave oscillations. Also use a "mechanical
dampening" device so the sensors don't see the level changes for several
I used this example to illustrate there is no magic in using a computer
for just about anything. None of the above solution had anything to do
with a computer. You still have to know the real world. The best computer
solutions are a healthy combination of knowledge about your problem,
knowledge of engineering and scientific principles, knowledge of hardware
involved, knowledge of system design, knowledge of program design and
finally a bit of knowledge how to program/code the solution.
Expect home automation to suffer a little from the fact that the sensors
used will not be perfect. A sensor with 50 foot of wire run through the
walls is a good antenna for picking up all kinds of garbage to put into a
computer. The old adage "garbage in - garbage out" will prove to be very
true. Common sense and good design can eliminate a lot of problems before
they occur. Be wary of claims about hardware, listen to experience, keep
your hands in your pockets (over your money) and do a lot of talking and
understanding before buying anything. You can build most everything needed
in the way of sensors. I saw a light control system for $100 that I could
run rings around for several dollars and a little computer skill.
9. By the vary nature of the beast, home computer automation will never
approach the industrial version of automation (won't cost as much either).
Home automation is where industrial automation was 20, 30 even 40 years
ago. Never forget safety,safety,safety and still more safety. Just because
a computer is involved, doesn't mean you can't still get hurt and maybe
even killed. Use care, think!!!!!
10. How to get a lot of good stuff for absolutely nothing!!!
Many parts, sensors and just plain good stuff is in the garbage. Many
appliances have all sorts of switches, motors, sensors, solenoid valves,
etc. useful in automation labs and applications. Not only do they have the
stuff but all the mountings are included. (Trying buying some of the stuff
and you soon find out the meaning to that phrase "some parts sold
separately"). Dishwashers are good for solenoid valves, microswitches,
heater units, etc. Washers have good switches, timers, two speed motors.
Lot more on the how get the good stuff in the registered version.
FILES OF ACTUAL MONITORING
Several files of actual monitoring using the gamecard, a visible light
sensor and a calibrated temperature sensor have been included to
demonstrate this monitoring capability.
These files were collected by sensors mounted on my connector box and left
running in an unattended mode for several days.
The visible light sensor logged the light out the dining room window and
the temperature sensor logged a couple of steamy Boston day's temperatures
inside the dining room.
The registered version includes all instructions, files and methods to
implement monitoring to this level.
The information in these files can be further developed for control via
X-10 Power Line Carrier technology. AUTOMATE Version No.1 (the registered
version) does carry the monitoring through control development with X-10.
X-10 is a separate set of software and the hardware is developed, patented
and distributed by others. The registered version provides a discussion of
X-10 technology, communication file for controlling X-10 modules from
within AUTOMATE derived programs and additional information for purchase
of the better X-10 technology, software for X-10 control by others and
full details for integration of all aspects. A sample program in BASIC is
provided to demonstrate this capability.
Control can be via real time information as developed by AUTOMATE, through
keyboard inputs, time generated setpoints by the computer or via computed
or logged information based on AUTOMATE inputs. Combinations of the
methods are also possible.
To view the files and print out the daily log, select item H. from the
menu and follow the prompts.
********** WARNING ************ WARNING ************ WARNING ***************
WHO SHOULD NOT USE THIS APPROACH TO LIFE ON THE COMPUTER HIGHWAY OF
ANSWER - ANYONE WHO HAS A COMPUTER THAT THEY JUST CAN'T AFFORD TO LOSE !!!
IF YOU HAVE A HIGH PRICED, HIGHLY DEVELOPED, MUST HAVE COMPUTER SYSTEM
THAT IS CRITICAL TO YOUR LIFE. TAKE MY ADVISE, DON'T GET ANY MONITORING
AND CONTROL, X-10 MODULE ON/OFF APPLICATIONS, HARDWARE OR ANY OTHER "OUT
OF THE COMPUTER" STUFF WITHIN TEN YARDS OF YOUR VALUABLE MACHINE. THINGS
DO HAVE A WAY OF GOING "BUMP IN THE NIGHT".
I HAVE A HARD DISK SYSTEM USED IN MY BUSINESS, WITH ALL SORTS OF
DEVELOPMENT TIME IN VARIOUS THINGS. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES WOULD I EVEN
GET A ONE DISK DRIVE "BANG AROUND MACHINE" OR IF IT GETS "HURT" TYPE
MACHINE THAT YOU CAN STILL GET TO SLEEP. GOOD TIPS ON WHERE TO GET THESE
IN THE REGISTERED VERSION.
BESIDES IT MORE FUN WHEN YOU CAN GET IT "DOWN IN THE DITCH AND NOT WORRY"
*********** WARNING ************ WARNING ************ WARNING ****************
1. Why use the game card for automation and control using a personal
computer. First its probably there, most personal computers have one
installed. Second, if you don't they are cheap to purchase and easy to
install. Sears sells a game card with two game port connectors for about
2. Another big feature is you can easily put both analog and digital
(contact closures) type information into the computer. Four channels of
analog and four contact closures are available at each port connector. In
the registered version I show you how to increase the number of contacts
into the computer to just about any number you could want with no changes
required to the gamecard and its very easy to do.
3. Using BASIC or about another programming language this information can
be addressed and collected directly. Very nice, write a little control
program in BASIC and the intelligence needed to monitor conditions in the
outside environment can be brought in though the game port and addressed
directly in the same BASIC program. The commands to X-10 technology
modules to turn ON/OFF high voltage equipment can also be initiated by the
same program. Just what the doctor ordered, we can get into and out of the
computer and have total control of all processes. No archaic gateway card
to buy with software that nobody could ever understand let alone ever make
it work in an integrated monitoring and control system.
4. The gamecard can also "trap events". For contact inputs the gamecard
will act like a information monitor while your software is off taking care
of other business. Suppose you have a pushbutton hooked up in the garage
and it is wired into a control scheme in your computer. The computer is
busy doing some data logging and other housekeeping chores and you push
the pushbutton to have the computer do a particular task. The computer
will not see that contact close because it is busy in another part of the
program but the gamecard will see the contact close and remember the
event. When your software program gets around to talking with the
gamecard, the gamecard will "tell" the program about the pushbutton and
then it can race off to that particular area of the program and do the
task you asked for by pushing the button. No holding the button and
waiting for the computer to get around to you, all very nice.
5. If you have an IBM, or IBM clone, or IBM compatible computer with a
gamecard the port connector should be a 15-pin, miniature D-shell, female
connector. Sometimes its a separate card and sometimes part of a mother
board but it should be marked "GAME". Some systems will have two
connectors, one for joystick #1 and another for joystick #2.
The connector should look something like this:
[ 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 ]
[ ________________________________________ ]
[ \ . . . . . . . . / ]
[ \ / ]
[ \ . . . . . . . / ]
[ \________________________________/ ]
[ 15 14 13 12 11 10 9 ]
Look up the gamecard in the manual that came with the computer. The pins
should be identified like so:
Pin 1 +5V Pin 9 +5V
Pin 2 Button Pin 10 Button
Pin 3 Position Pin 11 Position
Pin 4 Ground Pin 12 Ground
Pin 5 Ground Pin 13 Position
Pin 6 Position Pin 14 Button
Pin 7 Button Pin 15 +5V
Pin 8 +5V
If the manual is missing or doesn't say you can check by using your
joystick. Read pins 2 & 4 with an ohmmeter while pushing the #1 push-
button on the joystick. Sometimes its wired 2 & 5, but it should be one of
the two. Check the #2 pushbutton (if you have one) by reading pins 7 & 4
(again sometimes its wired 7 & 5).
********** WARNING ****** WARNING ****** WARNING ******
***** DO NOT TRY TO READ THE PINS ON THE CONNECTOR ATTACHED TO THE ****
COMPUTER. YOU CAN CAUSE DAMAGE. BE SAFE. USE THE JOYSTICK.
Read pins 1 & 3 for resistance. you should get a reading of between about
20 to 70K ohms by varying the calibration dial on the joystick. Check pins
6 to 8 for resistance and you should get the same readings.
If all this checks out, then all the information, programming examples and
hookups I give in this offering should work for you.
If you take your joystick apart (no big deal, isn't very complicated,
there isn't much in there why do they cost so much?) you will find very
few use all of the pins usually only 6 or 7. Also a good way to really
check things out. 6. How do gamecards really work? A little more
information can be helpful at this point. The gamecard generates a
staircase shaped voltage pattern. something like this:
]__ 5 v
]__ 4.5 v
]__ 4 v
]__ 3.5 v
]__ 3 v
]__ 2.5 v
]__ 2 v
This is not the actual pattern, just something to illustrate the point,
the actual pattern is much finer between steps. Just great for what we
want to do. This staircase voltage pattern is compared to the input
voltage developed across the resistor value in the joystick. The card
selects the staircase voltage value that closest matches the input signal
from the joystick and generates a binary value for use by the program
software. So different resistor values in the joystick wind up being
different binary values in the computer. Easy to see how the computer
knows where the joy- stick position is. By playing around with the
joystick demo programs included you can see better how this works. The
pushbuttons do not use this staircase voltage pattern, just the analog
joystick position readings.
********************* WARNING *************** WARNING ********************
NEVER PUT ANY SIGNAL INTO THE GAME CONNECTOR THAT HAS ITS OWN VOLTAGE
SOURCE.YOUR JOYSTICK HAS NO POWER. NO BATTERIES. NO POWER FROM A 115
VAC WALL RECEPTACLE. THE COMPUTER SUPPLIES ALL THE POWER SOURCE FOR ALL
MONITOR AND CONTROL FUNCTIONS THROUGH THE GAMECARD. ALL!!!! THAT IS ALL
!!!!! SENSORS THAT I WILL TALK ABOUT ARE PURELY RESISTIVE IN NATURE AND
GENERATE NO VOLTAGE OR POWER BY THEMSELVES. IF YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU ARE
DOING ASK SOMEONE WHO DOES. ALSO GREAT CARE MUST BE TAKEN IN CONNECTING
SIGNALS INTO THE GAMECARD. DO NOT USE ALLIGATOR CLIPS OR JURY RIGGED
CONNECTIONS. GET A GOOD CONNECTOR BOX. I GIVE DETAILED INSTRUCTIONS IN THE
REGISTERED VERSION ON A CONNECTOR BOX CONSTRUCTION AND CHECK-OUT. A MISTAKE
OR ERROR IN DESIGN, HOOKUP OR ACCIDENTAL FAULT CAN DAMAGE YOUR GAMECARD,
COMPUTER POWER SUPPLY, CONNECTOR CABLE AND BOX AND SENSORS. KNOW WHAT YOU
******************** WARNING ***************** WARNING ********************
7. By using this staircase voltage pattern we can measure and calibrate
analog measurements like temperature, amount of light (how bright,dim),
level, pressure and many others. I give detailed instructions in the
registered version on sensors, calibration and how to use the developed
signals in a program.
The AUTOMATE method of using the gamecard approximates the capabilities of
using a commercial 8 bit input card. That is a signal resolution
capability of one part in 256. I have found this method far more stable
than most commercial input cards. The commercial input cards all exhibited
problems with the measurement values drifting, especially temperature. The
AUTOMATE methods have proven to be remarkably stable and repeatable.
8. A final big reason!! MONEY !!. The X-10 technology does somethings well
but sensing and reacting to a dry contact, with no power involved, telling
the control system something is happening is not one them. The X-10 module
to do that function is $30-40 per contact and smacks a little bit of Rube
Goldberg design at that price. A simple pair of wires into the gamecard
will do the job alot better. The information is where you really want it,
into control central, not out there floating around as a coded signal
hoping the computer might hear it.
X-10 POWER LINE INTERFACE SYSTEM
1 Many people have called me with questions about the X-10 technology.
There seems to be a lot of interest, some confusion and misunderstanding.
2. First a little history. First X-10 didn't invent the power line method
of communication. The method of impressing information on a power source
at one location and reading that information back from the power source
has been around for quite awhile. A number of industrial processes use
In the late 1970's the X-10 concept was introduced through a line of
modules to be controlled from base transmitters. Sears, Radio Shack and
others marketed these systems. Basically it was light control and few
feeble attempts at burglar alarms systems and the like. The systems had
problems, were buggy, lot of false triggering. I abandoned my system for a
burglar alarm and built my own around Delta Sonic technology and my own
design for other hardware.
Over the next twenty years the bugs got worked out of the modules and the
general communications method. What emerged was a kind of standard. The
code format became a kind of defacto standard because so many modules were
produced built on that format.
Basically the technology is to set a system of codes kind of like Morse
Code. In general there is 256 separate codes possible in the basic set and
something called extended codes. To sent the codes the hardware detects as
accurately as possible when the power sine wave (the house 220/110 VAC) is
alternating current) is at the Zero Crossing point. 120 KHz signals are
then impressed on the power referenced to the zero crossing point. These
signals are shaped and have a 1 millisecond duration and are placed on the
power in a certain sequence. Kind of like with a teletype communications
there is a start portion of the code and then the data is in blocks. It
takes a number of power cycles to send one complete X-10 command. The zero
crossing point is the same for all power through out the house. So the
X-10 modules also have a reference with which to know when a signal starts
and can decode the signal strings, validate the data and filter for noise.
The big improvements have been is very custom integrated circuits for
these functions. The modules are now very reliable and also much cheaper.
I have found no problems in the basic X-10 module technology. None seem to
produce large amounts of heat that was common in dimmer, timer type
I have talked to many people since starting to develop AUTOMATE. There is
great interest in both the X-10 and monitoring areas. One conclusion I can
draw is the X-10 transmitter hardware is junk. Remember the X-10 codes are
sent referenced to the zero crossing point and the method of coded pulses
and their shape and duration is important. People call me and are
convinced their problem is in the module design. If they have the older
brown modules, maybe. More likely the problem is in the transmitter. Take
one of those babies apart, not much in there, I doubt much real design
thought when into generating a quality signal in all environmental
situations. More like how can I build this thing as cheap as possible.
Many people complain to me, the stand alone X-10 transmitter won't keep
good time and even those designs where you program the X-10
transmitter/control unit with your computer give problems and drift in
their time keeping abilities.
A lot of the problems, folks are attributing to poor X-10 modules are
actually caused by their electrical systems. Poorly installed systems,
incorrect grounding, noise generating appliances. This explains the
complain, I have all kinds of problems, the guy next door does not. In the
registered version section on X-10 I go into many of these areas, how to
tell what is probably the cause of your problems and some possible
After getting through the development of AUTOMATE I am convinced few
problems existing in the new module design. If you buy the newer designed
Stanley, Powerhouse or Heath/Zenith modules your problems with modules
should not occur.
The most likely causes of problems are the cheap transmitter/control units
and poorly installed or badly retrofitted electrical systems. A word here
about this offering. AUTOMATE Shareware Version 2.0 and its preceding
issues is basically an information program. I do not offer technical
support to the shareware version. This offering is to inform, put issues
in focus and see who is really interested in the subject of automation,
monitoring and control.
Registered owners of AUTOMATE get full support. I cannot design systems
over the phone. I can answer questions concerning what you are getting in
the registered version. Registered owners get the full support up to that
I can legally do. If I don't see the actual installation, I cannot give
specific guidance. What registered owners do get is full support in the
monitoring area. I will analysis the AUTOMATE generated page prints for
problems. Not just phone support, but real support of looking at your
problem on the individual level. The X-10 support level in more general, I
will look at programs for general faults in the AUTOMATE/X-10 interface. I
will not and cannot comment on programs for the actual control features to
any control project. This the shareware version is not intended to be a
technical discussion in any area. The development of AUTOMATE is already
into the thousands of hours range. As I said in the Author chapter, people
have to expect to pay for the value they receive. If you have X-10
problems but are not interested in AUTOMATE approaches, please do not call
me. That registration fee is pretty small when compared to the charges for
a technician to troubleshoot your system. Most won't even start the truck
for that price.
Back to the discussion of X-10. After going through a computer development
to control X-10, as I said the problems appear to be in the cheap
transmitters/controllers. The computer based systems have none of the time
keeping problems. The quality of the transmitted signals is superior and I
have never found any of the type problems folks talk about. The quality of
the transmitted signal is important, if you put a junky signal out, do you
really expect a perfect reception on the other end?? The quality of the
computer generated signals appears to be very high grade. I have
experienced no communication problems what so ever between AUTOMATE
generated programs and X- 10.
In starting to write AUTOMATE I decided to incorporate the X-10 technology
as a means of accessing the real world high voltage devices. So it was do
I want to go to the development length of getting into the hardware side
of things? No, I decided to survey the market and see if anyone made a
good usable system before plunging into that exercise. So AUTOMATE's basic
contribution is in the area of data collection, ability to have total
control of all programming and software development, identify the best
hardware available for monitoring and control including X-10 and finally
to put it all together in one fully usable, understandable system. The
X-10 communications are in ASCII (plain english) and can be accomplished
from the keyboard, generated as setpoints in AUTOMATE derived programs or
as computed values from AUTOMATE programs.
I manufacture no hardware and basically have no interest in doing so. I
can be totally objective when it comes to hardware. In developing AUTOMATE
if I could find a third party who made a superior product, why monkey with
developing it, I just referenced the source and incorporated it into my
design. In the long run its much cheaper, the systems work better and it
shortens the development time. All of AUTOMATE monitoring capabilities are
from built from the ground up and there is nothing remotely like it on the
The X-10 thing isn't really a big deal when you get into it. The
communications to actually send commands takes quite awhile when compared
to anything in the industrial world. A command sequence is in the order of
seconds not milliseconds. Most X-10 systems on the market use only time as
the controlling parameter or try to sell you fancy expensive do-dads that
you then jury rig to make some kind of control system. AUTOMATE allows you
to do it the right way, with the proper information and system control and
at a very good price.
The one big area all users should be fully aware of is the insurance and
legal liability angles. I am not a lawyer but know a lot of what you can
and cannot do from working around the control business. Automation and
controls should be understood is not like regular computer stuff. In
general you can write software, put one of those disclaimers in the
licensing section and basically be exempt from most product liability
claims. Software for control and automation is not exempt in many areas.
You are causing things to happen in the real world and your responsibility
is much greater. The level and amount of documentation is much greater.
One thing you never, never, never do is write control software to control
things in the real world in a general fashion. All software I have ever
done in this area has been written under a contract, for a particular job,
a particular situation and a particular client. You are responsible to
understand all interlocks required, all protective features needed, all
hazards involved and that particular jobs little nuances. I'm saying you
fully have the design liability for any control software written. People
will say "but I'm only turning on some lights". The real problems come in
writing software for others. The user has a liability for the use of any
product but they can try to claim the design is defective. I'm basically
saying don't write general control software for the public at large (your
liability could be open ended) and if you do write software for others
fully understand all aspects of the project. One kind of common problem is
equipment damage due to some malfunction and who is going to pay for it.
In general this applies to the X-10 technology. The monitoring portion of
AUTOMATE is low voltage and basically has no hazards. The safe way is
write the software for your own project, debug, install any system
yourself. Any third party work either you doing the work or having work
done, I strongly recommend that you have a contract for the work. For
large permanent installed X-10 control projects I think I would run it by
my insurance agent.
Insurance policies have tons of fine print. I knew a couple of people who
burnt their house down using those wall dimmer switches. They weren't
properly installed and started fires inside the walls. Both had lots of
fun with the insurance folks.
A word about bootleg software. Very common problem. Your not supposed to
use the other guys software in an illegal manner. Using bootleg software
for control is deadly business. Who knows how many people may have a claim
against you. You basically have no good defense.
I talk a lot about safety in both issues of AUTOMATE. It is not to be
taken lightly. Safety and the subjects above are tied together. Good
safety practices can prevent problems before they occur.
The general drift of the presentation through out AUTOMATE is be
responsible, research your projects carefully, know what you are doing.
The registered version is that, a careful step by step approach. The level
of detail is very high, cautions and warnings are given at the appropriate
times and the general idea is to progress in an orderly and safe fashion
both from an equipment and personnel safety point of view. I welcome
comments from registered owners of AUTOMATE when they have their systems
up and running.
GENERAL AUTOMATION AND CONTROL THEORY
1. Control theory brings to mind, lots of math, complicated theory, arcane
stuff and just so much mumbo-jumbo. In truth it is far from that and in
the everyday home setting can be applied with great results, all you have
to know is a few of the principles involved. Have some common sense and
control theory can be applied to many situations. I will try to show how
some of those principles are applied in the everyday world.
2. First a little bit about control engineering. Basically it is hard to
master from schooling, the best control engineers learned the trade in an
apprentice fashion. When applied to the real world its about knowing your
equipment, knowing the application, knowing what not to do, understanding
how the design process works, organization, experience, history of the
trade, knowing a little about what everyone does to make a successful
project, a little programming skill and finally a lot about SAFETY,
SAFETY, SAFETY and more SAFETY.
3. When applied to home applications it can be broken down into simple
principles. Some of those principles to be aware of are:
FAIL SAFE CONCEPT - Fail safe is just that, when something fails it is
inherently safe in its failed state. Example: When a light burns out it
doesn't present much of a threat, you just don't get any light. This is
true even though the power to the light is still on. Control engineers
spend a lot of time asking, what happens when this device fails. Another
example of fail safe: The power to the burner and fuel oil solenoid valve
of a home fuel oil fired furnace comes through the contacts of high
temperature sensing probe and other safety sensors. These sensors are
designed to fail or actuate with their control contacts in the open
position. With the contacts open, the burner and fuel oil cannot get power
to operate and the entire system shuts down.
Most appliances have their fail safe concept built in. Example: A
dishwasher must have the door closed and latched to get power to the timer
to start the washing cycle. If there is a problem and the door is opened
to check on the problem the appliance is inherently fail safe. Opening the
door removes power from all operative functions. The water fill solenoid
valve cannot get power to open and flood the kitchen floor.
Most computer control is only to the level of operating a unit. Like: The
computer might turn power on to the dishwasher but would not perform the
functions to control the washing cycle. Only a fool tries to put all
control functions into a computer. Computers are not inherently fail safe
devices. In industry many systems rely on hard wired contacts with sensors
on the actual equipment to back up the computer control. If there is a
problem the hard wired sensor win any argument between it and the computer
as to what is safe.
With home automation becoming a real possibility many manufacturers will
be hawking all sorts of equipment and gizmos to be controlled from
computers. Be careful. A good question to ask yourself is "would I really
do this if no computer was involved"? Computer control can actually make a
safe condition into an unsafe one. Example: Put a electric room heater
near a pile of papers in the off condition, walk away and have a computer
turn it on a later time.
PERMISSIVES - A permissive is a device that allows something to happen.
Our above example of the oil fired furnace, the safety sensor contacts are
permissives. They must be closed to get power to the fuel valve and burner
in order for the system to operate. Computer control is very good because
it allows for very extensive development of permissives in complex control
situations. Usually a combination of contacts sensing something in the
real world and software permissives in order for an action to proceed.
Home control can benefit from this power by bringing contact information
in thru the gamecard and developing software information through analog
information allows for very powerful design concepts. Solar energy
collecting systems for example. The general idea of permissives and fail
safe operation are closely tied together in most applications. In general
if you are trying to get a personal computer to do something in a home
environment where the concept is unsafe by itself, using a computer is not
going to make it safe. Think out any application. Understand what is
involved. It is very easy to think I'll write a program to take care of a
ADAPTIVE CONTROL - Adaptive control is often touted as control that learns
from its own actions. In practice it is really a number of predetermined
courses of action to a given situation. It is usually the concept to which
people refer when raving about the power of computer control. Some
Say you are trying to measure a range of 32 to 600 /F but can't find one
sensor to do it in a satisfactory manner. But you do find a sensor that
can measure 32 to 350 /F and one for the range of 300 to 650 /F. By
connecting both to the computer and then having the software switch
sensors at the appropriate time a satisfactory solution could be a had to
Industrial applications use a lot of adaptive control routines. It is the
basis which allows many complicated processes to be controlled to very
tight and efficient setpoints. Many processes will measure the same thing
with more than one sensor and then have the computer switch on the fly if
it detects a failure in a sensor. Great concept to understand.
A good understanding of adaptive control concept and computer programming
is the dynamite combination. This combination allows solving many complex
problems or just getting you out the sticky I don't have the right sensors
FEEDBACK - Feedback is a complicated sounding concept but in practice is
quite simple. In general is information returned to tune, correct or
adjust an on going event. It is probably the one concept that a
misunderstanding of can get a would-be home automator into big trouble.
Example: You are controlling greenhouse grow lights to maintain adequate
light for the plants at all times. Just turning them on based on time of
day may not be energy efficient. So banks of grow lights are installed.
The overall light level is sensed in the greenhouse, and banks of grow
lights are switched on or off to maintain that certain light level. On
most days all lights would be off and then come on as the light fades at
sunset. On bright moonlight nights less lights would be on than on dark
nights. The information provided by the sensing of the amount of light is
feedback. That information allows adjusting or correction of the amount of
light by varying the number of banks of grow lights.
So how can feedback get you into trouble.? Basically by causing something
called cycling or sometimes called "pumping". Take our above example: Say
a bank of grow lights just turned on to maintain a certain light level.
The overall light sensor detects the increased light level after the bank
of lights turns on. The software program in the computer reads the new
light level reported by the sensor and thinks the light level is now to
high and turns off a bank of lights. Its now too dark, so the computer
turns on a bank of lights and the cycle repeats and repeats because the
computer soft- ware cannot find a level which is just right. This is a
common problem that must be guarded against in all control applications.
Microprocessor based control is particular akin to this problem. The
process itself can be the problem, the setpoint in the software can be the
problem or the way the sensor is mounted can be the problem or finally a
combination of all of the situations. Cycling can be a problem even in the
simple program just based on time with no analog inputs.
The connector box described in the registered version comes in very handy
in detecting these problems as it can act as a checkout lab or development
board. This allows checkout of the software and its sensors without
actually installing the equipment. X-10 technology can also be
incorporated in the lab checkout scheme.
It is not something to be afraid or excited about, instead something to be
aware is a common problem. It is something to be detected during software
checkout in a lab setting before installation of an application. Cycling
can still occur after lab checkout if the problem is related to the
process feeding back information that is causing the cycling. Sensor
mounting (the way and manner something is detected) can be the problem.
The other common cause is too narrow a control band in the software to
turn something on and then off. Some cycling problems may be inherent in
the application. These can be controlled by having the software leave
something for a minimum amount of time as long as no unsafe or operating
parameters are exceeded.
Cycling can and does destroy equipment. Trying cycling an ordinary light
wall switch and see how long the light bulb lasts. Cycling causes most
electrical equipment to increase in operating temperature. Again something
to be watched for carefully in designing projects, programming, software
checkout and finally in installation and checkout of that installation.
The purpose of this discussion has not been to alarm anyone or to deter
anyone from using home computer automation type control. Instead it has
been to point out there are a logical principals involved and well planned
projects that is thoroughly understood can be very beneficial. Be wary of
manufacturer claims of easy, foolproof gizmos. Just take this software and
plug it in and lots of magic will immediately happen. Understand what is
being offered and does it fit your application. No industrial control
engineer will take precanned solutions and just plug them in. No major
manufacturer of industrial control equipment will offer any. Examples of
how to program their equipment and software that demonstrates the
capabilities are usually all you will get. Somewhere out there is a
programmer who is going to write the worlds perfect menu driven control
program to solve all home applications. He is a fool and the person who
tries to use it is a fool. There is liability involved, probability no
matter the number or manner of disclaimers offered.
In the registered version are example programs for use in monitoring and
control of the real world environment. Just as important are discussions
of how to "trim" your programs and sensors to adjust them to the
particular application. Pre-canned programs WILL NOT work in all or even
most situations. Each computer, program, sensor and application has its
own set of characteristics. The registered version provides the basic
knowledge required to fit the measurement to the application. A high
degree of programming knowledge is not required, just a small
understanding of BASIC.
The registered version programs are working examples. More important they
are taken though all steps, design of equipment, construction,
calibration, curve generation, data fitting and actual coding of a routine
to use with that information. Also explained are some conditioning, data
validation and smoothing techniques required to get a working
installation. All required information is provided with instructions. No
example is complied, all can be modified for your use.
AUTOMATION AND CONTROL LAB
1. It won't take long after reading and playing with the demos that most
people who are into computers will say "I've just got to try some of this
control stuff". Maybe you don't have any home projects on the menu. Maybe
you don't even own the place. How to do some projects. You got it, a
automation and control lab. It doesn't have to be fancy. A few X-10
modules, a gateway and a few lights, the gamecard/connector box and some
analog and contact inputs.
2. The lab has many functions. If you design home projects to actually
install, the software has to be tested and a lab situation is the best
way. Plus labs are great fun, maybe the best computer fun ever. I used to
design small control projects using programmable controllers (kind of
industrial computer dedicated to control) and I would take a controller
home set it up in the den and check out software at night. Some of the
industrial machines have some of the lab functions designed in. Like most
consist of a control unit (computer), a power unit, a track unit with
input/output signal modules and a box to program the unit. The track unit
with its modules had LED's (lights) to show when output modules were
turned on/off and the contact input modules had little toggle switches
built in to simulate contacts closing in the factory. I built a analog
generator box and presto, one small factory application in the den. I also
built a wooden mounting rack so it was mounted very similar to a factory
mounting and was safe.
3. The gamecard input box I designed can be used as a lab. The design is
such that inputs can be simulated even if no actual automation project is
being produced. The demos and the joystick is a kind of lab. The design is
simple but it does the job.
4. Automation labs are fun but you can get into trouble. There is great
temptation to do unsafe things. Like having 115 VAC on exposed wiring with
alligator clip jury rigs, etc. Using the gamecard as an input, having jury
rigged inputs. If high voltage is involved and exposed a mistake can
result in short circuits, smoke, equipment damage and maybe even injury or
death. The US Navy has about 1000 sailors killed each year even in
peacetime. Looking at who gets killed, it falls into three categories.
Sailors being killed in accidents on the dangerous flight deck of an
aircraft carrier, sailors being killed by electrocution and others. Those
being killed by electrocution are usually sailors who are radar
technician, electrician or electronic technician. All had formal training
in their jobs, safety training and experienced supervision. The Navy has a
safety program where films called "your deadly shipmate - 115 VAC" are
shown. Even with all this they still are killed, sometimes several hundred
each year. Most are very young, just out of training school. There is a
moral to all this "Rookies and the careless get hurt". BE VERY CAREFUL
WHERE CHILDREN ARE INVOLVED IN THE HOME ENVIRONMENT.
5. The analog and contact inputs to the computer through the gamecard are
inherently safe. The highest voltage involved is 5 VDC. The danger comes
when combining that ability with X-10 technology to control 115 or 220
Why did I include this chapter? Schools, colleges, the formal educational
system doesn't even recognize that good olde Murphy even exits. Murphy's
laws are not written by some fat assed politician, nor are they the fruits
of very deep and learned intellectual experience, instead they have
evolved based on the experiences of those poor souls who get dirty doing
the actual work. Play with personal computer automation very much and you
will get to know Murphy on a first name basis and probably get to meet all
his brothers, nephews and cousins.
MURPHY'S LAWS ACCORDING TO CONTROL THEORY
IN EVERY BIG PROGRAM THERE ARE THREE LITTLE ONES TRYING TO GET OUT. ONE OF
THEM IS FLAWED
CONTROL PROJECTS TAKE ALL THE PARTS YOU HAVE, PLUS ONE MORE.
THE FIRST INSTRUCTION DELETED WAS THE CORRECT ONE.
ALL MECHANICAL DESIGNS ARE FLAWED.
ALL BIG FLAWS ARE FOUND AFTER MIDNIGHT.
MOTHER NATURE REALLY IS A BITCH.
IF ITS FIXED, YOU HAVE TO PLAY WITH IT UNTIL, YOU BREAK IT. IF ITS BROKE,
YOU HAVE TO PLAY WITH IT UNTIL ITS FIXED.
IF THE FLAW IS IN A SENSOR, IT WILL BE FOUND IN SOFTWARE.
THE ONLY GOOD CONTROL SYSTEM IS THE ONE THAT WAS JUST REPLACED.
MOTHER NATURE REALLY DOES SIDE WITH THE HIDDEN FLAW.
THE LAST PART CHECKED IS THE BAD ONE.
THE WORK OF ALL JURY RIG EXPERTS LASTS TILL ONE DAY AFTER THEY QUIT.
ALL BREAKS OCCUR IN THE WRONG END OF WIRE.
NO PROGRAM IS ANY GOOD UNTIL CHANGED TWENTY TIMES. A PROGRAM CHANGED
TWENTY TIMES IS USELESS.
IF A PROGRAM IS USELESS IT WILL HAVE TO BE DOCUMENTED.
THE INSTRUCTIONS ARE NEVER READ. UNTIL THE EQUIPMENT IS DAMAGED.
DATA USEFULNESS IS INVERSELY PROPORTIONAL TO THE AMOUNT OF IT.
ALL BAD DESIGNS CAN BE FIXED BY MORE LINES OF PROGRAM
IF IT DON'T WORK, MORE DATA WILL HAVE TO BE COLLECTED.
WHEN ANY CONTROL SYSTEM IS FULLY UNDERSTOOD IT IS OBSOLETE.
ALL CONTROL PROGRAM SCAN PROBLEMS ARE CAUSED BY GLITCHES
THINGS DO GO BUMP IN THE NIGHT
A PERSON DOING KNOWS NOTHING. A PERSON WATCHING KNOWS ALL.
ALL SIMPLE PROBLEMS ARE COMPLEX. ALL COMPLEX PROBLEMS ARE SIMPLE.
COMPUTER MALFUNCTIONS ARE DIRECTLY PROPORTIONAL TO THE AMOUNT OF PAPER IN
THE PRINTER BOX.
IF THE COMPUTER IS BIG ENOUGH, ALL PROBLEMS CAN BE SOLVED.
THE AMOUNT OF FLAWS DISCOVERED IS DIRECTLY PROPORTIONAL TO THE AMOUNT OF
ALL CHECKS IN THE MAIL AND ALL PARTS SHIPPED TODAY TAKE SIX TO EIGHT WEEKS
THE PART NOT ORDERED, IS THE CRITICAL ONE.
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM A PERSONAL COMPUTER MONITORING AND CONTROL SYSTEM
1. In short, if done well most everything anyone could want. Most of the
hardware critical to a good system is available at reasonable prices. The
shortages are not in hardware but in knowledge of how to implement a good
system, knowledge of control techniques and system design.
2. Home automation will not match the industrial systems but their
capabilities will grow very rapidly. Look at the DEMOC5.EXE again the
short commings become obvious. The scan (the actual doing program steps)
stop during some operations. Like printing and playing music. Long pauses
to do things like this can result in missing time setpoints if the program
ing is simple. These limitations can be overcome by some "timesharing"
techniques. If you really require super automation why not get a hybrid
programmable controller and be done with it. Some of these machines can be
purchased for a few thousand dollars. Some have the ability to talk to a
personal computer via a RS-232. I found program design for anything very
complicated just wasn't worth it. Lots of promises by hardware suppliers
and and then you figure it out. As long as your expectations are
reasonable and can be accomplished via use of the X-10 modules and a few
analog and contact inputs via the gamecard or other means it will probably
serve very nicely. Very large and powerful distributed control systems are
possible using the AUTOMATE concepts. The cost of these systems is quite
reasonable and within the technical ability of most computer users. The
AUTOMATE concepts are a building block concept. Lots of simple, easy to
master monitoring and control functions. These can be networked to build a
system of about any desired size.
3. Any task that requires monitoring on a continuous basis is a good
candidate for automation. A shortage of commerical quality, affordable
sensors will limit some applications but with a little searching or
creative solutions you could probably think of a way to build most.
4. Very high tech and sophisticated solutions are not required to be
useful. Before the big energy crisis (remember that one) I bought a solid
fuel furnance to burn wood/coal/etc. and automated it as much as possible
at the time with regular wall thermostat, pump control, etc. the problem
was that it was like a woodstove, you had to keep watching to see if it
needed more fuel. To solve the problem I installed an electronic
temperature monitoring system and displayed the furnance water jacket
temperature on a nice digital display meter. Mounted the meter in the
TV/entertainment center console so I could see an eye on things without
running down in the basement to see what that critter was doing. It worked
beautifully and I soon learned how to tell what was happening from that
one reading. A computer system can handle those situations with no problem
and at a lot less cost. That one digital display meter cost more than the
shoebox computer I now use for playing around with automation.
5. Most of the hardware is available to build a home automation system.
The shortages appear to be in the areas of good sensors and devices to
display information other that a computer screen. Be wary of manufacturers
who have all kinds of hardware and it looks like it can all be tied
together in one big integrated system. Maybe it can, chances are some
software is needed. Guess who gets to figure it out.
6. Solar heating and cooling (yes, you can cool with solar heat) appear to
be candidates that can justify spending the money for a good automation
system. Some of the big drawbacks in our last big leap into solar energy
was the very poor control systems, poor tracking systems for high
temperature systems, "dumb systems" that couldn't respond to changing
situations and high cost for the value received. A personal computer can
handle a fairly sophisticated solar design. Both for the monitoring, data
logging and system control. I have a couple of solar designs using a PC in
the works. If it can be done in Boston, it can be done anywhere. The
techniques I outlined in this offerring work good in the sensing of light.
Just the ticket for designing tracking systems. The sensors are very
tuneable. Haven't don't a lot on it yet but it looks like a very good
7. If things like X-10 modules that can perform analog out via information
from a computer start appearing on the market things could get very
interesting. Then you can have modulating control (like you standing there
continuously adjusting something. Applications are things like greenhouse
vents, tracking system and anything where a position other than on or off
8. Expect scan problems. Bang any of the more complicated demos around
real good and you can get them to "jump scan" and do very strange things.
Think of a control program as a circle. First read inputs, do the program,
do other (data logging, read/write, etc.) write outputs. Many industrial
control machines operate at the bit level (one bit represents a big pump,
motor, etc) and live or die by the fact they never stop scanning. Many
have "watchdog timers" to watch and verify they are completing their scan
cycles within a certain time limit. Sometimes like 40-50 milliseconds for
the trip around the horn. Some with very small amount of memory (8 K) can
control a small factory. Personal computers are not that kind of animal.
Write a control program and put a trace on it and sure enough the critter
is setting on a program step, dead in the water, waiting for input,
minding its knitting or just on holiday routine. Be reasonable in
expection, or be real good. Cut large data logging or data moving tasks
into buffer sized bites to avoid scan problems. Simple programs without
good signal conditioning routines will exhibt all sorts of problems, some
will appear as scan problems.
PROBLEM AREAS AND LIMITATIONS
1. X-10 technology has some bugs in it. Basically the modules communicate
over the wires that power the house, depending on how your house is wired
will determine if you have problems or not.
First things first. The power company supplying your house brings power
into the house over three wires. One of these wires is a neutral or ground
wire. The other two wires are the "hot" side of the power. They get
connected to the power buses that the fuses or circuit breaker are
supplied from. If you read the voltage between the two "hot" wires you get
220 VAC. Reading the voltage between one of the "hot" wires and the
neutral wire gives a reading of 110 VAC. The whole thing looks something
Fuse or Fuse or
panel [--------- 220 VAC ----------] panel
side A . . . side B
.-- 110 VAC -- .-- 110 VAC --.
. . .
. . .
. . .
circuit bkr -------. . . --- circuit bkr --
. . .
circuit bkr -------. . .---- circuit bkr --
. . .
circuit bkr -------. . .---- circuit bkr --
The problem is this: if a X-10 module is plugged into wall receptacle
powered by a circuit breaker supplied from side A and tries to talk to
another X-10 module powered by a circuit breaker supplied from Side B the
coded signal will not be seen by the receiving module. X-10 modules must
be on the same side of the fuse or circuit breaker panel to talk to each
The solution is to rewire the fuse or circuit breaker panel to put all
modules on the same side. Another solution is to buy a little module that
will pass the coded signals between side A and B. In both cases you need
to be qualified to work on the power panel system. In many locations it is
illegal to rewire the panel unless you are a licensed electrician.
In any case you need to know about the problem and what the solution is so
you can tell the electrician what to do. If you have this problem and
don't understand it, show the electrician this chapter. He should
understand it. The module to pass coded signals is referenced in the
This problem can be very annoying. In the registered version is a much
more detail discussion with the problem areas fully explained, solutions
offered and various situations that different user might face are covered.
In addition all problems with equipment, the best equipment for the
application and all problem areas/equipment difference and other areas of
difficulty encountered during the development of AUTOMATE are discussed.
These discussions and information alone are worth the price of the
registered version of AUTOMATE. Some of these areas can rapidly exceed the
ability of the average user to find or understand/correct the problem.
WHAT DO I GET IF I REGISTER ?????????
1. First of all my humble gratitude and thanks for rewarding my efforts.
Second a completely different program and instructions for doing all the
things discussed and demonstrated in the introductory shareware version.
2. Construction details on how to build sensors, calibration techniques
and curve generators.
A look at the in/outs of designing sensors and trimming programs to use
A simple, easy to do, method of using graphic displays to show off your
A complete example of how to build, test, calibrate and program a system
to monitor analog real world parameters (visible light and temperature).
The data sets for two temperature probes referenced to their part no.s and
information on suppliers and design of those sensors.
Example of how to use that system for parameter display on the computer
screen, data logging and setpoints generation for control applications.
A complete discussion on inputing contact information via the gamecard. In
addition a input expansion method to increase the number allowable.
The only complete engineering based program on the market for using a
personal computer for monitoring, automation and control.
3. Construction details on building a connection box for the game port.
The box design takes into consideration the identification of gamecard
channels, programming considerations, acts as prototyping testbed to allow
development and calibration of sensors and allows for connection of
sensors to the gamecard for monitoring or control applications. Walks you
through the calibration and testing of the gamecard for monitoring/control
applications and has automatic characteristic curve generator.
4. A photo of the completed connection box, other useful equipment and
several prototype sensors.
5. Information on sensors useful in home applications. Model No.s,
approximate price, where to buy and how to use them.
6. List of suppliers for X-10 technology equipment.
7. List of suppliers for electronic and other hardware.
8. Calibration details and examples of how to do it.
9. Sample programs for monitoring and data logging. (source code is
included for all program examples.)
The source code for the menuing program used in this version. This program
can be used as a model to write a menu selection type control program. The
menu program in this version controlled selection of the demonstration
files, DOS functions and gave an easy way to navigate the program.
10. Tips and hints on designing control programs.
11. A discussion on X-10 technology and how to communicate with X-10
modules. Included is a communication program for use with AUTOMATE
monitoring and control programs. A sample program using AUTOMATE and X-10
modules together. Information on buying the best X-10 interface and
communications software. Discussions on the problem areas and how to fix
12. A completely different program with more in depth discussion in many
areas. The registered version IS NOT a warmed over version of the
shareware version. All redundant files of the shareware version has been
13. Full disclosure of all methods and files. All compiled files have
their source code included. That includes all compiled files of the
shareware version. Nothing is "hidden".
14. The only limitations to the purchaser are: The purchaser may not seek
to duplicate the intent, methods or manner of AUTOMATE so as to supersede,
or directly compete with AUTOMATE in a commercial manner or in any other
manner render AUTOMATE obsolete. The purchaser shall have the right to
develop any other application not contained in AUTOMATE for his own use or
sale. Registration is NOT a license for exclusive use. No restrictions
shall be recognized due to the purchasers copyright, patent or any other
legal protection, where the source is derived from AUTOMATE. A reference
to the source material is required. You CANNOT COPY, USE OR INCLUDE
AUTOMATE to complete your program. No bundling or attaching of files,
whole or in part. The use permission is intended to allow for new product
development. It is not a use through attachment permission.
15. Finally full rights to chop it up and use any part, whole files,
develop any application (software and hardware) and include any
information, in whole or in part in your application without any fee or
liability. Full rights to copyright or patent any equipment described,
written material or methods. All ideas expressed in the registered version
may be developed free of any liability or fee in so far as they are not in
conflict with paragraph 14. This right for use is intended to allow the
user to develop new, novel and useful products where the results of
development of the results of AUTOMATE are integrated into that product
development. Simple attachment or copying of methods, techniques, files
whole or in part as to add value, enhance or complete a user's application
for sale shall be viewed an infringement of the right to use permission.
16. All registered users MUST acknowledge in writing (included in the
order form) their liability for further distribution of the registered
version without financial remuneration to the author. No purchase will be
accepted without the acknowledgement. Purchasers shall fully accept
responsibility for ensuring the registered version is not placed on
electronic bulletin boards or any other means of mass duplication. An
understanding shall exist that registered copies may be "marked" by an
identification means to identify the registered owner. Registered users
are free to make an unlimited number of copies for use by the registered
owner on as many systems as he owns or controls. If the owner is not an
individual, a site registration is required and the number of users is
restricted to 30 individuals per site. Each individual owner is restricted
to his exclusive use only without a site registration. Transfer of
ownership of AUTOMATE through sale, gift or any other means shall not be
recognized by the author. Transfer of ownership by any means shall be
viewed as illegal further distribution of AUTOMATE.
1. All software should have a "QUESTIONS" chapter. O K, I've read it all
but I still have these questions!! So, here is my questions chapter of all
those things I didn't get around to answering.
Do you sell the hardware, I don't want to build my own?
Maybe, if there is enough demand. I'll probably stock the sensor parts
that are the more difficult ones to obtain. As for the other small
construction projects required at this time, I don't want to build them
but if someone out there does I'll try to cooperate. Nothing I present in
the registered version is difficult to build. Plus everything has a parts
list and a supplier referenced to obtain those parts. Most come from one
source and I even give you the catalog numbers. To get you through the
project, I do a lot of "hand holding". The general tone does not assume
that you are an experienced in electronics or computers and explains all
steps as they are accomplished. Where I know small differences exists from
computer to computer, the differences are pointed out, with suggested
solutions. I've also picked over the suppliers and only list those that
give results, plus I kind of rate them and point out some of the flaws.
Yeah, but I don't know anything about electronics, I'm just the average
computer wizard and I always thought an engineer was the guy who drove a
train? Plus I failed differential inverted calculus and can't even spell
lapasal transform or was it laplase transform, anyhow you get my drift?
Great, you don't have to know electronics. The electronics part is
presented for dummies. I "lead you through the woods" in the electronic
and math areas. You can get working applications by just "following the
lead". In the areas of programing or math the examples are fully explained
in a prior discussion to doing that part but the actual application
example to produce a working application is fully worked out. The results
are used "cookbook style". For the "rocket scientists" and math expert
enough back ground is presented to let you wander the woods for all sorts
of goodies. The required math is on the level of balancing your checkbook.
The more your knowledge base, the more you can do.
So, if I can do automation with the X-10 technology equipment, why do I
need AUTOMATE, why not just buy off the shelf equipment and do really
great systems that will really impress all my friends and about to be
Thats just it friend, with the equipment bought off the shelf, you aren't
even going to impress yourself. The "off the shelf" automation equipment
is basically based on time. All really good automation type systems will
require a good source of independent information for decision making. Time
is only one of those good sources of information. A lot can be
accomplished based on time. But the limits appear rather quickly.
Information like visible light level, temperature and others are what is
really required to automate most desired functions. AUTOMATE is the link
to allow development of that desired information. AUTOMATE allows for
complete data logging, automation systems based on information other than
time and the ability to monitor and display the results of automation, not
just another "dumb" system blindly doing its thing. AUTOMATE is NOT
ANOTHER PRECANNED solution to the world's problems. AUTOMATE is written to
inform, guide and allow for the user to adapt automation using X-10
technology and hybrid control systems to their needs and requirements.
AUTOMATE is NOT another magic solution. It requires thought and some work
on the users part. The flip side of the coin is it also allows the user to
develop powerful automation systems for their use or for sale. Plus
AUTOMATE is the only really low cost, effective and workable system on the
market for analog and contact control/monitoring that offers a complete
and fully implemented method for achieving results. AUTOMATE is not about
selling you hardware and a "pig-in-the-poke" but is about a planned,
method based approach to control/monitoring using a personal computer.
Plus it gets you involved with the application, don't believe any other
promises, your application with differ from the next guys, the trick is to
understand the basics and background to handle your own particular
application. AUTOMATE is not an experiment type based program. The basis
is engineering methods. The sensor data is developed from manufacturer's
Is there any good reference book for a beginner programming type who would
like to try but finds all those IBM manuals makes mush out of the brain?
Get the ACORN instruction manual (lot of grade school and junior high
schools used that computer) very good entry level introduction. The Timex/
Sinclair instruction manuals were excellent, even a brain dead adult can
understand using those manuals. For color and graphics beginning reference
I highly recommend Carl Shipman's "How to program your IBM PC - Color &
Graphics". Ask for it at any good bookstore. If they don't have it, ask
them to order it. The fancy standard identification number (most USA books
now have a unique standard type number that identifies that book), kind of
like "dog tags for books". The number is "ISBN 0-89586-256-4". Using those
references and an occasional foray into the IBM BASIC manual you can under
stand anything in the demo programs. I am not your most brilliant
programmer, more like hack and mash and a lot of dust. I do not recommend
playing around with automation without a little programming knowledge.
Using precanned programs to do things you do not understand is asking for
trouble. If you get stuck, ask your kids, if your a kid, ask your parents.
Anyway how are you ever really going to be able to explain it to the
insurance company if you burn the house down.
Do you want to go to work for me?
ANSWER - No
I have a brilliant idea or a problem, can I call you.
Yes, but please not till after 12 noon EST and not after 8 PM EST. I
prefer most things in writing. You have to think it out better.
Is this computer control and automation dangerous?
Yes, if you are careless. The X-10 technology control involves high
voltage, such as 110 VAC and 220 VAC. If you stick your tongue into a
regular wall power receptacle you will get hurt. Computer control is an
extension of the safety and good housekeeping practices that everyone
should follow around the home without any computers involved. There is "NO
MAGIC", if you do stupid things, no computer is going to protect you. The
analog and control monitoring that I talk about is inherently safe. The
highest voltage present if you do things correctly is 5 VDC. If I make no
other impression or get no other point across, KNOW WHAT YOU DOING - the
home is probably the most unsafe place we are exposed too. USE THE SAME
CARE WITH COMPUTER AUTOMATION THAT YOU USE WITH ANY HIGH VOLTAGE, MOVING
PARTS OR OTHER HOME HAZARDS.
Can money be made from the automation/control/monitoring applications?
Lord, yes! The advent of home automation opens up the field of new
hardware or software products in a home market that is probably saturated
with data bases, word processors, games, etc. Automation labs are fun. The
market has not even made a tiny dent in the applications of what is
possible. This field is kind of an experimenters and hobby control
engineers ball game right now with folks building a lot of their hardware
and writing their own application software. I usually know what is
happening in this area and there is really no one trying to exploit the
home market in its full scope yet. It requires a different kind of
computer thinking. The world is full of one function, don't hand me that
type screwdriver (I only do Phillip head screws) type folks. Good
automation requires general practitioners, those with skills in many
different areas and the ability to see the solution and then stay with it
through the final implementation. Those folks who can cut the mustard and
are organized and can count on a ready market. It is there, you have to
find it and then serve a niche. The market is huge and really not even
widely understood as to its potential. No one manufacturer dominates the
industrial market, its is a market of niches, the personal computer market
will also be a market of niches. The really good ideas will survive and be
rewarded. Expect hype and the ad persons to muddy the waters, I hope
software like this will provide an alternate product.
What if I try it but can't understand or am just turned off?
The general field of automation/control/monitoring is huge. I have found
you start in one area and your interests just takes you from one area to
another. It is easy to get "hooked". Unlike most computer stuff, where its
all pre- canned and you feel like a fool for not being able to see the
solution. Computer control and automation is not precanned and you have to
get involved with your particular application. Once you acquire the basic
working knowledge its very difficult not to like it. There is no
right/wrong type thinking. There are many different solutions. I found I
will start with a preconceived idea about something and find I'm all wet,
halfway through the problem.
I have seen all sorts of magazine articles, ads and that sort of thing, is
this just another come on, long on selling, long on promises and then I
won't be able to get it to work?
There is going to be a certain amount of that hype. Anyone promising
"magic solutions" with no basic computer knowledge or "miracles" with
precanned software is probably leading you down the primrose path. A good
solid knowledge of computer basics, a little programming knowledge, some
curiosity, good organization, common sense and some stick-to-it is
required for success. If your the type person who can be found going
sixteen ways all at once or expects instant success based on a very thin
knowledge base your in for trouble. In addition you can get hurt or get
Isn't all this very expensive?
No, just the opposite. You can build most hardware for sensors and control
devices. There are new small, cheap computers (just buy the box), get used
monitors, printers, keyboards and hang a system together. You don't need a
hard disk, the number of ports (com, printer, game, external devices), the
amount of RAM, things like that are more important. A one disk drive
machine is fine. Most can be put together by going to salvage computer
companies. I bought a new keyboard and a very expensive tilt monitor (with
small burnt areas on the screen - which has no effect on what I want to
do) for $50. Used all the extra equipment that was laying around
collecting dust. In all for a 1 Meg RAM, 286 AT, one disk drive, w/2 com
ports, parallel printer port, external drive port, game port, monochrome
monitor, joystick, connector box, C-Itoh 8510 printer, electronic parts,
new digital auto ranging multimeter final cost around $600.00 and my
regular make-the-money computer is not at risk at all. I have used parts
out of my "junk box" that I have never expected to ever have a use for
again. You don't need super "high tech" to be effective. Moreover its the
one area of personal computers where if you want, you can have complete
control over developing YOUR SYSTEM. It may not be the best, may not even
work very well, but it is YOURS. With a little skill and time, it is
possible to build a very nice system.
Plus the X-10 stuff is reasonable and can be built up in phases. Also
using the contact input scheme given in the registered version bypasses
the most expensive modules.
Yeah, but is it fun? I'm up to HERE with computer stuff. All that
databases, inputs demands, cross-inverted double whammy eat the dots games
until I could just bust. It has left me badly burnt-out on computers and
just plain jaded. I just think I've seen it all. Nothing turns me on
Pal, the only thing more fun is the monkey cage at the zoo around feeding
time when they get real frisky. As for the jaded part, you're gonna have
to see some sort of a therapist or shrink for the rest of your problem.