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Controlling Your Linux Smart Home with X10

To own and operate a Linux smart home means to control and monitor devices and information around your home by using a standard personal computer, the Linux operating system, and its vast array of open source tools. One of those tools is the system known as X10. Basically, you use X10 to remotely turn on or dim (if applicable) any appliance or light that you can plug in or wire with a switch.

X10 signals are sent and received via the power lines of your home and interpreted by specially made X10 modules. The two basic types of X10 modules are lamp modules for incandescent lights, which can enable your light to dim, and appliance modules, which don't dim. These modules come in various shapes and sizes. They might look like little white boxes; they can look like a normal wall outlet; or they can look similar to a lamp socket.

Using an X10 module

To use an X10 module, you plug in the lamp (or appliance) or screw a light bulb into it, and then you plug (or wire) the module into the wall or screw it into a lamp socket. These X10 modules interpret the X10 signal and determine whether the signal is meant for it, and if so, it can turn itself on or off or dim the light accordingly, based on the signal.

X10 signals don't interfere with any electrical system because A/C current alternates its phases at 60 times per second, and X10 signals operate during the spare time between the phases!

To send the signals to control your X10 modules, you can use any one of the following or combinations of the following:

  • Remote control: This works in conjunction with a transceiver that is plugged into the wall. Press the proper controls on your remote to tell the transceiver what appliances to turn on or off and what lights to dim or brighten.
  • Motion sensors: Motion sensors can signal when motion is detected, and you can set a motion sensor's transceiver to send X10 signals to X10 modules (for instance, to turn on lights) or to an appliance (such as a camera).
  • Other sensors: Water sensors can detect leaks and cause a chime to sound, for example, and rain sensors can delay the watering of your lawn. They operate similarly to motion sensors.
  • Touchtone controller: This item controls X10 modules through touchtone signals, so you can control your system via your phone.
  • Desktop controller: This inexpensive controller plugs into the wall and can control 8 to 16 X10 modules without a transceiver.
  • Computer: You can control your X10 modules via your computer software in the following ways:

• Send and receive X10 signals over the power lines from your computer. For example, the CM11A computer interface can control your modules by using Linux home automation software.

• Enable your computer to function as a remote control. The Firecracker computer interface, also called CM17A, is compatible with Linux home automation software. This is one-way communication only.

Controlling X10 modules with Linux software

By computerizing your X10 system, you gain the power to create sophisticated macros that can operate based on the input of more than one X10 device. For example, the garage door automatically opens if the system senses motion in the hall closet (where you keep your coat) between 8:00 and 8:15 a.m. Or, you can connect your system to the Internet so you can operate it from anywhere in the world without having to pay for a phone call.

With your computer controlling your system, you can also use features that might not be available with other controllers, such as using the Internet to control your X10 system from anywhere in the world or using your computer to operate a smart phone system that can call you if, for example, your basement floods.

Fun and functional ways to use X10

Some practical or just plain fun uses for X10 automation include these:

  • Dim all the lights with the touch of a single button in your living room for a home-theater effect.
  • Automate your security by aiming X10 cameras outside your home so that they will turn on when tripped by motion detectors. If you want to get fancy, have your computer call you to alert you and watch your cameras from the Internet.
  • Use X10 to start your coffee in the morning and open your window shades.
  • Water your lawn automatically on schedule.
  • Check the state of your car's muffler and exhaust system with an automated pan-and-tilt camera base.
  • Decorate with X10-controlled Christmas lights that turn on and off to the beat of your music or other cues.
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