Home automation deals with all types of home control systems—security devices, smart appliances, automatic heating, air-conditioning and watering systems.
by Arthur Leyenberger
Arthur Leyenberger is a human factors psychologist and freelance writer living in beautiful New Jersey.
Have you looked around lately? I mean, really looked around. Have you seen them? You know, the. . . ah. . .eggheads. They're everywhere, and they seem to be multiplying faster than rabbits.
No, I don't mean those nerds in high school who used to carry three calculators around on their belts. Yeah, they're still around competing in chess matches, working in the MIS department of IBM or making a fortune programming video games. I mean the Eggheads, as in Egghead Discount Software stores!
"Now, wait a minute", you say. "I've seen their ads, driven past the stores. They don't sell ST software!" Right! They don't, but think about it for a minute. How many times have you gone to a computer store to purchase a specific program, and they either have never heard of it or didn't carry it? Or you weren't sure which program was just the right one for your particular needs and sought help from the computer dealer only to realize that Jeanne Dixon would have given better advice?
From the half dozen or so Egghead stores I have visited across the country, I can tell you that these salespeople know their stuff. Although each store I visited appeared to be cloned from some master mold, they all were well stocked, not only with the top ten IBM, Apple and Mac software titles, but many esoteric ones as well. In addition, every salesperson I talked to had intelligent answers to my PC and software-related questions. This is un-heard of!
These stores are fantastic. They all offer a two-week, full refund or exchange if the program isn't exactly right. They guarantee to have the lowest price and will beat any lower advertised price. Just think what it would do for the ST market if stores like Egghead sold software for our machines. Think what it would mean to an ST user to be able to shop in a software store like this.
Egghead Software is a first-class operation. I assume they don't carry Atari software because there aren't enough STs out there. However, if Atari can get its act together, and the ST starts to really thrive, it would be foolish for Egghead to ignore the ST. We can only hope.
I know it's a little late—like maybe four months—but I want to make a New Year's resolution. I don't usually do this because it often doesn't last, but I think the time is right. For 1989, at least for the rest of the year, I resolve not to pick on Atari so much. Let me explain.
It's no secret that Atari has let the U.S. ST market dwindle away over the last couple of years. This is due to a number of causes both within and outside of Atari's control. Beyond Atari's immediate control, the shortage of DRAM (Dynamic Random Access Memory) chips has limited the production of ST computers. As a result, Atari has had to decide where it would sell the computers it was able to manufacture. Atari chose to concentrate on the European market where it has become one of the leading computer makers.
Atari decided to maintain its leadership position in the overseas market at the expense of the U.S. market. In addition, with few computers to sell in America, Atari decided not to advertise in the U.S., reasoning that advertising products that were virtually unavailable would only lead consumers to buy competing brands.
Now that the DRAM shortage is easing up, and Atari has stated that it has negotiated a deal for a plentiful supply of chips, there is no reason why Atari can't begin to make up the lost ground in the U.S. marketplace. Further, Atari has indicated they will start advertising in the U.S. again, and perhaps by the time you read this, you will have seen the results. Ads are promised in noncomputing print media, such as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Time and other popular magazines. Even TV ads have been promised.
So. I'll take a chance on Atari (again). I'll believe them when they say they are serious about the U.S. market. I'll look forward to new products like the ST Laptop and the TT (68030) machine and others, all introduced at the appropriate time. I'll watch and hope that developers return to the fold. I'll keep on rooting for the Fuji. And most of all, I'll not pick on them any more for past errors.
While perusing the contents of a magazine rack of a local bookstore, I happened upon a magazine I had not seen before. Electronic House: The Journal of Home Automation looked intriguing, so I bought it and took it home to read at my leisure. Interesting stuff.
Home automation deals with all types of home control systems—security devices, smart appliances, automatic heating, air-conditioning and watering systems. In one way or another, these devices use either dedicated microcomputers or personal computers to automate the functioning of household systems.
For example, I have mentioned one product in previous buyer's guides: The X-10 System from X-10 America, Inc. This is a product used to remotely turn AC devices on and off, either directly or from a preprogrammed timer. Assorted modules control such things as lights, appliances, thermostats and other electrical devices by means of commands sent through the AC wiring in your house. A computer peripheral called the X-10 Powerhouse, attaches to the RS-232 port of your ST and can be programmed to control these various AC devices.
The X-10 Powerhouse unit is self-powered and automatically controls the X-10 System modules. Once programmed, it can be disconnected from the computer, thus freeing the serial port for other uses. MichTron sells the X-10 Powerhouse for $25. Lamp and appliance modules sell for $10 to $15 and are available from Sears, Radio Shack, mail order and electronics specialty stores. In addition, replacement wall switches and outlets that look and work like ordinary fixtures are available for under $15.
The software that runs the X-10 Powerhouse is called Echo and is also published by MichTron. This $40 program was created especially for the Powerhouse/ST computer combination and allows you to use the X-10 system to change the status of up to 256 electrical devices at up to 128 different times of the week. Echo is a GEM application, so the mouse is used to enter all inputs and instructions and currently active desktop accessories are always available.
It appears that the home control field is currently at a similar stage to where the personal computer industry was ten years ago. You'll recall that back then the IBM PC had not yet been introduced. Rather, small companies such as IMSAI, Processor Technology and MITS were selling computers primarily in kit form to hobbyists. You had to be a tinkerer to use a microcomputer or to even want to use one.
Apple burst upon the scene in the late 1970s with a "ready to run" computer that just about anyone could use. The rest is history. Computer users were originally hackers (as in "techies," not online burglars), trying to utilize the machines for a specific purpose, while learning about the technology in the process. People interested in home control similarly want to achieve a particular outcome, like turn the sprinkling system off with a phone call when it starts to rain, but they are also interested in the technology of doing.
Sometimes it seems that a lot of the fun is missing in computing. Sure, discoveries and personal achievements occur with word processors and spreadsheets, but somehow it's not the same as say, automating the entire lighting in your home. This may sound like futuristic pap, but as computers become more prevalent in the home and links are made between them and household devices, it will not only make our lives easier, but it will be fun. That's what computing is all about.
If you're interested, check out a copy of Electronic House. Look into the X-10 System and MichTron's hardware and software products. Get that ST doing more than cranking numbers, moving blocks of text or playing the hottest new game. I think you will enjoy your ST all the more.
Over the years I have put together a computer tool kit of odds and ends based on the things I have had to do. To help you get the most out of your ST, I thought I would share these useful aids and some tips in using them. You may already have some of the same tools in your toolbox.
As a true ST user, I just can't be satisfied with the status quo. There always seems to be some new program or gadget that I just have to have. Therefore, I keep a calculator handy for determining how much money I have spent on my ST system. It has a memory function so that I can just recall the previous sum and easily add to it.
I also have a nice Stanley pocket tape measure for precisely measuring the three inches required to raise the ST off the desk in order to then drop it to reseat the chips on the motherboard. I don't use this tool as much as I did during the first year or so I had my ST. I also keep some masking tape handy for taping down those chips. Don't really need it anymore since I had the machine overhauled.
There are a couple of tools that I just know I'll need pretty soon. I have a brand new chip retractor tool for removing the TOS ROM chips when Atari gets around to issuing the new version of TOS. In addition, I also have a chip inserter tool for inserting the new ROM chips. Although these two tools haven't been used yet, I think they'll be needed real soon now.
Here's something that you wouldn't normally expect to find in a tool pouch: an alarm/chronograph/watch. I use it for measuring how long it takes for GDOS to load and signal me when I can start to use the computer after it's finished. Haven't used that baby much since I got G + Plus.
There are a couple of things I use when I write programs in ST BASIC. A screw-driver is always handy for tightening the code (actually I have several different sizes of screwdrivers that I use depending on how big the program is). Of course, I keep a flashlight around to help me find the bugs in my programs.
Remember, this month you can't believe everything you read.