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Music + Technology + Random Nonsense from the Music Industry by Ethan Kaplan, VP Product, Live Nation

Did Apple win the race for the living room wall before even starting? Why yes.

OK, so here’s the story. My wife and I have been without cable or sat television since I cancelled Charter cable when we moved out of our place in Pasadena in July. Just recently, during mid-season break (damn), we got DirecTV (a post in and of itself). However, we have a lot of catching up to do.

It seems that the show of the season, over Lost, etc is Heroes. It captures all the geek-gasm’s that exist in this planet in one hour long format. Fantastic. FANTASTIC. The inner geek in Amy has even been exposed when she visibly gasped during one scene (the first “flight” in Vegas).

Side Note: Nothing in this world is as heart-warming as your wife giggling like a little girl at a Japanese man named Hiro and then saying, “That was so awesome… lets watch Serenity again!”

OK, she didn’t want to watch Serenity again, but she does like the movie.

Back to this evening: last night we watched three episodes on NBC’s site, and it was OK, save for the commercials. Tonight I decided: we are watching on our plasma. As regular readers know, I have a MacMini in the living room usually hooked to a touch-screen for the lighting and home automation system. Tonight I hooked the DVI output to the HDMI input on our receiver, and downloaded three episodes of Heroes.

A few cables, a hookup to the receiver for audio and pressing Menu on the Apple Remote and that nice “zing” noise ushered in Front Row. I went to Videos, Shared Videos and selected Amy’s account (its nice that since we have two accounts on the iMac, that both iTunes libraries show up as independent computers). I selected Heroes, pressed play and hoped for the best.

Fantastic.

It looks about the same quality as the SD feed from DirecTV, except maybe a bit softer. However, it worked flawlessly, sounded great and even Dolby 5.1 was supported. We managed to watch three episodes on the plasma, and forgot we were even pumping data out of the small box on the subwoofer. Considering that this computer was pulling data from an iMac upstairs after relaying through two other Airports, this was impressive. The level of transparency the whole process had was inspiring to me, someone who has long longed for the ability to have seamless experiences with my devices.

The ultimate test was playing an AVI rip of Inconvenient Truth w/ the AC3 track. Flawless. HD version of a Sigur Ros video? Flawless. Beyond flawless actually.

Microsoft might have a head-start with the Media Center PC’s. They might have an X-Box 360 with HD download. However, if the iTV is what I think it can (and will) be… Apple won by the shear fact that I don’t even have to think about why.

The beauty of the most flawless technological products and innovation is determined by the degree to which the technology, product and innovation are subjugated beneath the sheer joy of experience.

Sonos Tip: One set of speakers, a ZonePlayer and an iMac = happy harmony

In our office, we have a set of sound-sticks. I wanted to be able to use those speakers for both the Sonos ZonePlayer in the office, and the iMac. The ZonePlayer in the office formerly was just an “extender” as it was the required ZP that needed to be on a hard-ethernet line.

I wanted to be able to use it for audio in sync with the audio in the rest of the house. This was also important because it could act as the announcement system for the home-automation MacMini for the two upstairs rooms. One option of course is to get a mixer for multiple input sources to one output. However, at Radioshack, I spent 24 bucks on a better way:


Headphone splitter


1/8th” stereo coupler


1/8th inch to RCA

Plug the speakers into the coupler, and the coupler into the speaker.

Then plug the computer into one splitter input, and the RCA/1/8th adapter into the other. The stereo RCA go to the Sonos and the other to the iMac.

Adjust volume and just like magic, it works.

Home Update

Picture 1

We’re getting ourselves settled into the house right now, so I figured I’d give the geek-centric update on what’s been happening. I’ll refrain from oohing and aahing over our color pallette.

Home Automation: I’ve pretty much finished all the lights, save for the patio switches. The patio switches have the neutral wire running through their box (as they are not terminal points), so I have to splice into them to install the Insteon switches. Also I killed the downstairs patio switch when I bridged a switch-controlled outlet by the door. Oops. I have to fix that.

Insteon just released an interesting device, which is basically an I/O controller. Indigo doesn’t support use of this device yet, but when they do, I could see me using it from a central location to control the fireplace (which uses a momentary switch to turn it on and off) and the garage door (likewise). As it is now, I have a PowerFlash and a N/O magnetic switch to see if the garage door is open or not.

In other home automation news, the IR X-10 interface is very flaky, and while I have the Logitech Harmony 880 programmed to trigger a “lights dim” mode when watching the TV, it only works half the time.

Home Theater: We got DirecTV installed with a 5-LNB satellite on the roof of our place. Because of various constraints, we had to do the “non-invasive” installation, which is basically a frame that has six cinder-blocks supporting it. After searching high and low for the new DirecTV HD-DVR (HR20-700 model), I ended up having to resort to E-Bay to get it. After calling DirecTV to activate it, I asked to get an installation done for the second line from the dish to the box for the second tuner. The person I was talking to had no clue what I was talking about, and I had to do escalation to tech-support, who did know. He even knew that E-Bay was the only place to get the device.

The DVR is amazing. Much speedier than the Charter Cable DVR we used to have, and while not as nice as Tivo, it operates just the same, minus the audio cues. Interesting to note is that the box has a Network check on it. I put another Airport Extreme in the living room to extend our network, and hooked it to the DVR and the DVR successfully got on our network and talked to DirecTV, but said it had no purpose of doing so. I have to wonder what they have planned.

On the Airport note, we have three in the house. One primary, and two extenders, one of which is used as a print server.

Sonos: I finally got to hook the Sonos up, and one of the best things I’ve discovered (beyond how insanely cool it is) is the ability to control it from a web interface. I used to the Sonos Web Controller for this. I installed it and run it on the MacMini which the home automation system is installed on. The desire right now is to do something along the lines of this HomeSeer plugin, where I can use Sonos boxes as announcement systems for the Home Automation system.

I’m not sure how I’m going to do this, but I think it involves a lot of Perl, of which I don’t have the most experience with. I do know Perl, but don’t use it readily enough.

Here are a few things I want to do with the Sonos/Indigo interface:
- Use it as a whole-house announcement system, but make it smart to target rooms w/ recent activity
- Have it notify us 20 seconds after the garage door opens of any phone calls or packages left (use Phlink and motion detectors for this)
- Interface it with iCal to remind us of important things (like trash day, etc)
- Interface it with mail monitoring to announce new mail once an hour or so

So when done properly, Sonos can act as a multi-room audio controller. The only complication is that in the living room, its hooked through the receiver, so you have to switch inputs to have it broadcast out as normal. I do wonder if the Sonos simulcasts out of all outputs though, in which case I can also have two smaller speakers hooked up for announcements.

Spousal Approval Factor: We got a LampLinc controller to control our bedside lamps, and so I altered the “Sleep Mode” procedure to match. What happens now is that when you press Sleep Mode (control button 1 on the box behind our bed), the overhead lights dim to 40% and the bedside globe lamps turn on to 60%. Over the course of ten minutes, the overhead lights dim down do 0. At ten minutes then, the globe lamps start dimming down until they reach 0. By that time we’re usually zonked. Once the globe lamps are at 0%, Indigo goes through the house and shuts all the other lights off and changes the behavior of the motion detectors. At night, if motion is detected in the bedroom, the lights only go on to 20%, but the bathroom light and landing light go on. This has made Amy happy.

Sarah St Revisited

I turned over the final check to our contractors for the four month long process that I know as Hell, and they knew as The Job. In other words: our house is nearly done. Nearly! I’ve posted the pictures here. But, I know that all the BRG readers don’t care about how fantastic our wall colors are, or that we have Bambo stools for the kitchen. You care about how I have geeked out the house.

So lets revisit this:

I have a 15″ touchscreen which I got from Geeks.com for a very low price, hooked up to a MacMini Core Solo which I likewise got for a low, low price. Hooked into it I have an Insteon link which I got from FunForGeeks.com. The house is wired with Insteon ICON and SwitchLinc dimmers (depending on the area). I have the more expensive switches on the “main” rooms (dining, bedroom, office, living room) and the Icon’s everywhere else except for the kitchen lights, which have a relay switch (as they are non-dimmable).

The only X-10 devices I have is a IR-543 which is an interface between infrared and the power system. I also have a PowerFlash which I used with a Garage Door sensor to tell me if the garage door is open or closed.

The MacMini is going to reside in the media center, and the touch-screen wall-mounted with a custom mount I’m making. The MacMini also serves up a webpage that allows us to control the house. Below:

the mac mini display

I use Indigo 2.0 from Perceptive Automation for this. Its pretty great.

I have motion detectors scattered through the house that talk to an all-frequency RF reader. It is set so that if it is dark, and you enter a room, it’ll light it up. In ten minutes, it’ll turn the lights off.

Custom programming wise, the best thing I did was the “Goodnight” function. When I press (1) on the controller behind the bed, it puts the house into “sleep” mode by first dimming our bedroom lights progressively over ten minutes, then shutting the entire house down. It also checks to see if the garage door is open, and announces it if it is. Often times, the gradual dimming is so soothing that we’re not awake for the final lights out.

So lets recap: we have a smart home that knows where we are, lights the path for where we are, shuts lights off automatically and “tucks” us into sleep.
Next Steps

Now that we’re unpacking and getting things set, I’m starting to integrate with the rest of the house.

Logitech Harmony 880: We got a killer deal on a Logitech Harmony 880 remote. I have started setting up activities for it, including Watch DVD and Listen to Sonos. We’ll add TV when I get the DirectTV hooked up. What I did though is add the IR-543 as a device. Its a bit clunky, as you have to select the light then select “on” to transmit a code through the system.

In Indigo, I set up virtual devices on the housecode the IR-543 is on (E) to correspond to activities. So E2 is “Watch DVD” and E1 is “Listen to Sonos.” Then in the activities, I set it to transmit onto that code at the end of setting up the AV gear. It sends an E2 ON.

Indigo is set to listen to any state change on that house code (E2) and trigger off a series of actions when it hears it. So when you press “Watch DVD,” Indigo dims the living room and dining room lights, and shuts off the porch, patio and entry way lights so that you have optimal conditions for watching television. After you exit that activity, it restores the state.

My one complaint about the Logitech is the software is dependent on a website which is flaky at times. Otherwise I dig it.

Next steps for the Harmony is to further integrate its Activities with the lighting in the house to do things like trigger eating a meal, or other things that a remote is good to instigate.

Sonos: Sonos sent me a unit to review, and I haven’t yet started using it because of construction. However, I am starting now, and planning on doing some hacks to integrate it with the automation system as well. The Sonos Web Controller hack is a Perl library which lets you communicate to the Sonos via programming as if it was the desktop client. The key here is that you can switch the Sonos to using the external input and send that through the house. See where I’m going? Hook the MacMini to the Sonos external input, and program Indigo to talk through AppleScript command line (or some intermediary app) to the Sonos Web Controller and suddenly you have an amazingly smart home announcement system. Music can dim out and it’ll announce and music starts again.

You can also trigger the Sonos via web-pages, so I can integrate it with the touch-screen. I can also have tracks on the Sonos controller instigate actions for the house if I so wanted to. And I so want to. Integrating the Sonos would be cool for other things, like announcing the weather, or changing playlists depending on time of day or where we are in the house. Triggering zones where it detects motions.

Sonos: please let me keep this player! There is so much I can do with it. Please?

Web Interface: Indigo uses Python to make its web interface, and while it is cool, it has some problems. Being that its AJAX, it has unfortunate memory leaks in all browsers. I have no doubt it’ll be fixed, but I was thinking that if I’m going to have a 15″ touch screen, wouldn’t it be somehow radically awesome if it used Flash for its interface?

Think about it: a 3D house in Flash or Director (maybe, for 3D?) showing lights, showing movement, and allowing cool interfaces between things like weather, video cameras around the place, iTunes, controlling IR devices (using IRTrans if I wanted to). I think it’d be pretty fun, intuitive and much easier to use on a touch-screen than an AJAX/HTML solution.

RFID: Just saying, it’d be cool

So that’s where we’re at. As I get the AV equipment setup, and get the rest of the lights automated (six more switches to go!), I’ll post more about the remainder.

Vaka / Number One

I’m listening to the song Vaka of Sigur Ros’ CD () (chronically underrated btw) and it reminds me very much of when I lived in a 550 sq foot apartment by the beach in Santa Barbara. Surely life was simpler when I first put this disc into my computer (a PC at that point people!) in 2003.

But it wasn’t nearly as interesting.

The Office




The Office

Originally uploaded by amyhabkap.

We do have actually two bright red walls in the office. It is a perfect compliement to the iMac and bungee chairs (which we have two of)

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