Tag: electrical engineering

Home Automation, 1990s Style


It is a truism that the cobbler’s children have no shoes, the carpenter’s house has a leaky roof, and none of the plumber’s own toilets flush properly.  I would add to that: An electrical engineer’s home wiring is a mysterious network none other should touch.  My best friend is an engineer (mechanical, so his cars are always in need of repair), and has described all engineers as inherently lazy and misdirected.  “You see” he likes to start, “Engineers hate doing any work, even simple work, and so they spend their life’s energies devoted to finding ways to avoid it, even if the quest for said ways takes far longer, and requires more blood, sweat, and tears than just doing the job in the first place.”  When you turn loose such an engineer on a house and its wiring, you begin an adventure in electrical mystery, complete with enough random strobing lights, and lights that mysteriously turn on or off, to put the Winchester Mansion to shame.  Electrical engineers can do far more than any mere eldritch forces.

Enter my father.  Long before the current home automation push, with Nest Thermostats and WiFi lightbulbs and every tech company having a mic in every room to spy on you, and a speaker to flatter you about said spying, my father had the notion that a computer controlled and networked house was a sure-fire winner, and to demonstrate this he decided that our house would be the guinea pig.  And why not?  It was getting remodeled and expanded, and that made for the perfect opportunity to put in the network wire and junction boxes all over.  It sounded good in theory, and moreover he already had the experience in creating the first smart and computerized electrical systems in vocational trucks (the term you hear today is “Multiplexed”), reducing the miles and miles of point-to-point wiring, mechanical switching, relay banks, stacks of relay logic, and all the days of labor associated with wiring up a truck.  All of that was reduced to a single smart panel, entirely solid state, and that was in the late 1980s.  By the early 90s, he was ready to apply those concepts to a house.