Add Intelligence to your Home

home_automationI hobby in home automation and love to fiddle around with my home’s system.  As such, I was recently asked to design a system for someone’s new home. New to them, but the home is considered an “existing” home since it is fully built.  This is important to remember when designing a home automation solution for someone.

The following is what I recommended to them, figured you guys would be interested in some of the decisions I’d made regarding their new HS solution:

Wireless Internet Router:
Before I decided on a business class non-wireless router… i was looking seriously at this one:

ASUS RT-ACU Dual-Band ($192.99)

But that might be too expensive… so go with one of it’s cheaper models ($107.99):

Either one will set you up for wireless within the house. If you want to extend that coverage to a majority of your yard… consider going with a high-power wireless access point ($275): This would extend your wireless coverage to a major portion of your yard.

If you’ll be adding a separate shop like your current one, you have two options for internet connections out there…

  1. Underground Wiring:
  2. Get a second outdoor access point to connect your house and shop together.

Reasons for connecting your shop…

  • a. you could setup a computer in the shop which is connected to a big screen TV. This could be a cheap one like the one for computer control… and it would run a program which puts the security system up on the TV.
  • b. Wireless internet would keep your cellular data usage on your phone low while you’re out there… pulling up video cameras takes a lot of bandwidth. If you’re on your cellular connection, better hope you have unlimited internet… otherwise be near a wireless access point.
  • c. If you choose not to run video surveillance wires to your shop… you can pick up wireless or wired IP cameras which will let you monitor them.

Computer Control ~ $250
Would Need: PC, Controller, Modules — Cost: $159.94 + (each light) 38.81… plus shipping
You don’t need a super powerful system as the brain for your home. It basically does a lot of "watching" of sensors which is not particular resource intensive.

I’d go with something like this ($109.99):

To control stuff you’ll need a Z-Wave Controller ($49.95):

Appliance/Lighting modules to control desk lamps and such…

Other Z-Wave Recommendations

Security ~ $250
Need: Alarm System Kit, Door/window sensors and Wire… Costs: $221 + (each door/window) $1.57 + (each motion) $15.55 + $40… + shipping

The security system comes in a kit with almost everything for the core system: (you’ll need the kit $213.50 + AC Power Transformer $7.50 + IT-100 Integration Interface $59.94 [get the it-100 interface if you’re doing the computer control])

Just because you pick and install the security system yourself doesn’t mean you can’t get professional security monitoring ($8.95/month):

I’d also recommend wiring it yourself… it’s a hell of a lot cheaper, and I believe it is more reliable.

You’ll also need 4-conductor wire, for wiring the keypad to the box and computer if you wanted that.

Wireless sensors are a lot more expensive but saves a lot in labor
If you go wireless, you’ll require a wireless signal receiver ($55.18):

Video Surveillance

You have two main options for video…

  1. Use a DVR which is a single purpose device and records connected computer for upwards of 1-2 weeks with the started 4-cameras. This option includes an iPhone app but it too is single purpose and can only view cameras, a separate app is required to for home control and remote security. This option can be WAY cheaper than option 2…
  2. Use wired or wireless IP cameras. This option is more expensive because each camera is a self-contained mini computer which connects to your wireless router or wired in using cat5 cable.

OPTION 1 – self contained DVR.
Need: DVR 4-camera Kit… Costs: $249 + $79… + shipping
I’d recommend you go with a DVR; this one is 8-channel with 4 cameras and wire included:

It doesn’t have a hard drive, so you’ll want to pick one up… 1Tb Hard Drive ($79): (avoid Seagate since they can get really hot)

This DVR has 8 channels… so you can add 4 more cameras, includes wire, for only ($109):

The DVR supports up to (2) 1Tb hard drives… Each camera will provide 30gigs of video every 24 hours. So with this 4 camera system… a 1Tb hard drive will support a week’s worth of video. If you add the additional 4 cameras, that’ll cut it to only 3.5 days, so get a second 1Tb hard drive to keep it at a week.

OPTION 2 – IP Camera, recorded on the computer
Need: IP Camera… Costs: $30 + (each camera) $100
If you want live monitoring this is great and can be fully integrated into the home control/security iPhone app and doesn’t require any additional equipment.

If you want to record it, then a cheap $30 software ( will turn the control computer into a DVR…just remember to get a large hard drive.

For wireless, I’d recommend getting the more expensive router or the outdoor one since video is bandwidth heavy.

Lots of wireless cameras are available here (avg $100/ea):

For wired cameras, use the Foscam wide angle ethernet cameras ($105):

Foscam also has a wired/wireless version, but not wide angle ($95):

I would highly recommend wide angle… it distorts the image but shows you more without having to push the camera further away from your target.


If you have recommendations, alternatives, or just want to comment, leave it below… I respond to all, but spam.

Is it me or is live television dead?

child-watching-television-silhouetteI’ve been without a live cable connection for more than 3 years.  When my then girlfriend moved in I had her convinced to do the same thing.  She’s now my wife and years later we are enjoying a television free lifestyle. 

Don’t get me wrong now… we watch plenty of videos and our 60” rear projection is on about 10-20% of the time with one more or television show on it.  But the delivery method has changed dramatically.

Back in 2003 I owned a Tivo and I absolutely loved it.  I saw it as the future of television.  How little did I know that it was the future but for a mere 3 years.

These days we watch television on either Netflix via our xBox 360 or iTunes and our video library via AppleTV.  For our on-time needs we turn to  We’ve never been happier!

All of the shows and movies we watch are completely commercial free… It is amazing how much those commercials can such life out of you!!!

cablebillMy initial decision to cut the “cable” was a simple financial one.  I looked at my various media and the ever growing cost of “cable” bill.  Then it hit me… I could spend up to $100/month on movies and TV collections and outright own them.  Then I could watch them anytime I wanted!  I mean, the cable company bill had grown to $100 if you included the mid level package.

I’d highly suggest everyone make the same decision and cut the “cable” before it’s too late! 

In-Flight Internet services

The in-flight Internet service from American Airlines is extremely nice. It is very fast for Internet and email as well as for posting to my blog. This allows for keeping in contact with anyone anytime!
The service cost me just under $15 and is keeping up with nearly everything I’m throwing at it. Some of the apps on my iPad vie been using is the word press app of course, the FlightTrack Pro as well as other Internet related applications.

If you are planing a trip in the near future, I’d recommended getting the FlightTrack Pro at it not only maps out your flight paths, but also will give you real time flight tracking. Currently the app is reporting that I am half way thru my flight just over Arizona.

If you have an iPhone, another flight app I would recommend is Flight Update Pro. I’ve been using this app to keep tabs of my flights, the gates, and their current status. I even installed this app on my wifes iPhone and regularly update it with trips I am taking. This let’s her keep track of my flights.
Whenever you want to test your internet connection speed I utilize the SpeedTest app to get the stats of my connection. This app downloads a 1 mb file from the specified source to your device. By doing this you gain information on the speed and quality of your connection. During my Dallas to San Francisco flight, I tested the connection with the following results:

Download Speed: 3.16mbps
Elapsed Time: 25.319 sec

Needless to say if your planning a flight(s) some time soon, be sure you pick up a few apps to make things go easier.

Our Key West Adventure and One Moral Decision

IMG_0577Our return to the main land was immediately followed by a trip down to Key West Florida down highway 1.  Basically we enjoyed our island experiences enough to get one last island in…

Key West felt exactly like the other islands we visited this trip.  The biggest difference is we had a hotel room to retreat to and our own vehicle (this part was particularly nice!!).

One cool thing we did down there was to visit the southern most tip of the continental United States.  That’s right… way way down there… even below the Texas tip…IMG_0584

Oh, and I’m sad to report that Flipper is now missing one of his Fins… Diana ate it!!!!!!  We found a great place for dinner on Sunday night, it was called Duffy’s Lobster and Steak.  There’s a lot of those kinds of “lobster and steak” places down there… guess it’s something for everything idea…  IMG_0582Anyways, They had dolphin on the menu… so the next time you see Diana, remember to give her a hard time.  But not too much, it took her a while do decide… during which the Flipper theme song was playing in her head.  We figured eating dolphin was a moral decision in the end…



Oh, after visiting a vegan cafe for lunch… we decided to clean that out of our skin… we needed a very large all beef hamburger.  So we went straight to the Hard Rock Cafe in Key West… and yup I got that t-shirt.


Visit flickr for more pictures of Key West…
2009-03-01 Key West

Cruise and Excursion Tipping


There seems to be a huge myth going on that you are going to be tipping every person that comes into contact with you… The cruise experience is indeed a clever and very well constructed machine for separating you and your money… but it isn’t as bad as one might think. 

Think of it this way… When you go to a fancy restaurant like Red Lobster or the Olive Garden, there is that little line on your receipt which allows you to provide a tip to your server.  Similar to that, on every receipt you receive there is that little line for a tip.  If you bought a drink, feel free to always put a big fat ZERO on that line.  Yes put a ZERO because there is already a tip calculated into the price of your drink… just look up.  The tip line here is their fancy “separating you and your money” part of the bill.

When on an excursion there is a tipping process but don’t be fooled.  Not everyone will push for a tip.  We took two excursions and did our “own thing” on the third island.  During our “own thing” there was no tipping issues at all.  We walked everywhere and enjoyed the shopping experiences.  During our excursions, the main tour guide did invite tips but was not at all pushy about it.  This may be a different experience depending on the type of excursion you take.  Ours was mostly city tours and beach visits.

The moral here is tipping, although helpful in getting better service, it is not necessary.  I’m a business man myself and when they calculated the prices of their services… they factored in all that would make them happy.  Tipping anybody else other than food waiting staff is not at all necessary.

Lastly, there is one group of individuals that is very important to tip.  This would be your cabin attendant, and your waiter/assistant waiter.  These people are the ones you will directly feel their level of service from.  Our cabin attendant always had a new animal made from starched towels waiting for us on the bed.  It was a very cute thing and was that little “extra effort” that made our cruise a fantasy.  Our waiter, well she was fantastic!!!  On more than one occasion we came in later than our designated sitting time.  She happily sat us down for a meal and provided us with the best service… even prompt.  Due to our lateness and the fact that the second seating guests would be coming in soon our service was faster than normal which was indeed very enjoyable and just as wonderful. 

Well overall we probably spent about $175 in tips for everyone involved.  So on your next cruise vacation be sure to factor in at least that much.  Bring $25 for the week of tipping and $150 on the last day for your cabin attendant, waiter and assistant waiter.

Saving money with Drink Packages

IMG_0470 At home Diana and I drink both water and soda pop.  We don’t drink a whole lot of alcohol, maybe one bottle of wine every one to two weeks when the mood hits us.  On the cruise we wanted to enjoy ourselves with alcohol a little more often.  The idea was to continue with what we do at home and embellish with alcohol where appropriate.  To save you money they offer packages.

If your a big soda drinker like I am… be sure to sign up for a soda package!  Oh, and on the first day of the cruise.  This will save you a fortune… for about $48 for the entire week you can walk up to any bar on the ship, even any of the dining areas and flash the little sticker they put on your SeaPass (I talked about this in a previous post.).  No receipt process is involved with this little sticker and saves you time and money.  Just walkup and ask for a soda, flash the card and your golden.

If your a big water drinker like Diana is back home, be sure to signup for the water package.  On the second day of the cruise they’ll bring you huge bottles of water straight to your cabin.  Use the mini fridge to keep them cold and take with you on every excursion off the ship… even around the ship to save tones.  This package only costs $42 for 12 20oz bottles… yes more expensive than home but much much cheaper than buying them individually around the ship.

Unfortunately there is no such thing as an alcohol package.  Nope… don’t even bother asking, we did and were told they used to have that but due to underage drinking or something like that they were forced to get rid of that one…

The one package they do have as far as alcohol goes is a Wine & Dine package.  For about $140 you will recieve 5 bottles of wine for the week which you can use at your choosing.  More bottles are available.  This package gives you a choice of a few dozen types of wine at any meal.  We purchased the 5 bottle and during our main dining area meals we had them bring us one bottle on 5 different days.  On one of those days we even ordered wine, and had them bring us a soda as well… and because of the soda package we had… that was “free”.

The main idea here, is there are ways to save money.  Think ahead and bring about $300 for packages plus what you might order for mixed drinks… They run anywhere from $5-9 each.  So be careful here, they are very happy to provide you with a mixed drink where ever you are… pool deck, dining hall, shopping promenade, shows, etc…  We opted for only getting the drink-of-the-day which included a fancy souvenir glass.  We collected 4 of one kind and two of another.

Buy All your Jewelry during a Cruise

IMG_0148 Yes, you heard me right… never buy jewelry at home.  The discounts for name brand and high end jewelry is soooooo much higher in the Caribbean islands than at your home town jeweler.

The best tip I can give you is this… before your cruise, visit your local jewelers and get an idea of what your wanting to purchase.  Take pictures, brochures, and get lots of details on the size, design and other things that distinguish the piece(s) of jewelry your wanting to buy.  Also try to work them down to their best absolute bottom price.  Act like your leaving for another jeweler right after this visit and your intent on buying today.  This will get them to their lowest prices which usually involves a manager getting involved.  Write that price down and go on your cruise.  During the cruise they’re will be lots of seminars to remind you of the four C’s of diamonds, jewelry shopping and more.  They will also give you all kinds of free coupons for jewels, jewelry, etc… Collect all the free stuff and while there look for the pieces you are really after.  Use the same tactics they teach you in the seminars as well as what I mentioned above.

If you’ve done your research ahead of time, you’d know for sure if your getting a good deal.  This is the exact same thing we’re going to be doing on our next cruise vacation.  For this one we used the price lowering tactics and we’ll be visiting our home town jewelers when we get back to see what similar pieces would cost us.

The moral here is do your research before your cruise to ensure you get the best deals!!!

Lounging on the Beach in St. Martin

During our third island adventure, we docked in a port in St. Maarten (the Dutch side), then jumped onto a bus headed to St. Martin (the French side).  Along the way we learned all kinds of information about the island like the war that IMG_0263separated the island into two halves and the rich history and culture of the area.  In this picture we’re waiting for our tour to begin.  We were to meet on the pier then be transported to the beach.

IMG_0300Although we visited the beach in St. Thomas, we liked the one on St. Martin much better.  In this one we arrived at the beach with a lounge chair, cushion, and a beach umbrella (the umbrella was a $3 rental… but well worth it!!).  Diana got to read her IMG_0349book, and I took pictures of the pretty girls “for the guys at work”.  Here’s a picture for all those “guys at work”.