Automate Your Home

This is the automated house, and your Mac is in control of it. Amazing as it sounds, the automated house isn’t that difficult to create. With X10 technology, it doesn’t require ripping up anything in your house—there are no new wires. It just requires some simple, inexpensive modules plugged into your power outlets and some software on your Mac.

X10 Software for Mac

Indigo, from Perceptive Automation ($90), is the newest (launched in 2003) and the most powerful of the X10 applications. It’s easy to use and flexible, with features that go beyond simple timed events. Indigo can send you e-mail messages when certain events occur (such as a power failure), and you can control the system with e-mail. For example, you can set Indigo to start heating your hot tub just by send-ing it an e-mail message.

Indigo also lets you control your X10 system using a Bluetooth-equipped Sony Ericsson phone. Indigo supports AppleScripts, but you can do so much using menus and buttons that you don’t have to write any AppleScript code to come up with some advanced triggering and control mechanisms.

Indigo was written specifically for Mac OS X—there is no Classic version, which means that you can’t run it on an old Mac. [As of February 2004,] Indigo was the only X10 application that supported the $35 PowerLinc USB computer interface from SmartHome, which means it doesn’t need a USB-to-serial converter cable. It also supports CM-11 (sometimes branded as ActiveHome), from X10 ($50), and Marrick’s $99 LynX-10 PLC. Indigo does not download commands to the CM-11 interface module, but it can do things the module can’t. For instance, you can have Indigo automatically send you an e-mail message when an event occurs.

Indigo uses a simple user interface to create complex control situations. On the left side of the main window are four buttons labeled Devices, Trigger Actions, Time/Date Actions, and Action Groups. With Devices selected, you see a list of X10-controlled devices, such as lamps and appliances, and X10 sensors, such as motion detectors and thermostats. Indigo gives you some samples, but you can add your own with the New button. Double-click on a device to enter its X10 address and other settings. To control a device manually, click on it once to select it and use the controls at the bottom of the main window.

Click on the second button down, and you get a list of trigger actions— actions that are responses to events. Instead of writing scripts, you choose items from pop-up menus. When you first install Indigo, you’ll see a list of sample trigger actions, including “power failure e-mail,” “office light on,” and “aquarium motion.” Double-click on an action, and you get a dialog box with three tabs: Trigger, Condition, and Action. The Trigger tab lets you define what causes the action. The Type pop-up menu lets you select triggers such as an X10 command, a change in a device’s state, receipt of an e-mail message, an application starting up, a power failure, and others. For each of these, you select the circumstances under which to activate the trigger.

The Condition tab puts further limitations on the trigger by letting you assign a time of day and specify whether various variables are true, false, greater than or less than, or follow other Booleans. Under the Action tab, you’ll tell Indigo what to do in response to the trigger. The Type pop-up menu lets you select various types of actions, which you will specify after you select it from the menu. Included in this menu are Send E-mail, a way to notify yourself when something happens, and AppleScripts, which let you further customize your system.

Back in the main Indigo window, the Time/Date Actions button lists items you can schedule for regular occurrence, such as turning lights on and off or dimming them. You can set conditions on these occurrences, so that they will or won’t occur if certain actions are performed or certain sensors get a specific reading. For example, you can tell Indigo to start your sprinklers at 3 p.m. unless your outdoor rain sensors tell Indigo that it’s raining.

Tip: One of Indigo’s powerful features allows you to set an action to occur at sunrise and sunset, rather than at a specific time.

The last of the four buttons, Action Groups, lets you create settings for a combination of devices. You might create an action group called Dinner Party that turns on certain lights in multiple rooms and dims them to preset levels, while it disables some of your other automatic actions.

Another interesting Indigo feature is the ability it offers to use a Bluetooth-enabled Sony Ericsson mobile phone as a remote control. To accomplish this, Indigo uses the $20 Salling Clicker application from Salling Software. Salling Clicker lets you run your Mac from the phone or a Palm handheld device. With Indigo’s scripts, you can also use the phone to control Indigo, and therefore your house.

Indigo comes with extensive documentation in the Help menu. Perceptive Automation also has a helpful user forum on its Web site (which you can access here ), where you can post questions and read tips.

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