Author: Steven Goodwin
Publisher: Apress, 2010
Aimed at: Linux experts
Pros: An enthusiastic approach
Cons: Rambles and lacks depth
Reviewed by: Harry Fairhead
This is a very strange book which claims to be on the topic of Smart Home Automation but really drifts all over the place onto topics that the author finds interesting.
This isn't a bad thing - as long as your interests coincide with those of the author.
The most important point to make is that this is not an "off the shelf" approach to home automation. It certainly isn't about neat kits that you can buy to add automation to even aspects of your home let alone a complete solution. On the other hand there are limits on how far the tinkering goes. The author never suggests building any electronics and is fairly restrained about suggesting "repurposing" existing gadgets unless its a software only mod.
The first chapter is all about X10 but there is little explanation of how X10 works or the protocol. After an introduction to the range of X10 devices you can buy we have an introduction to Heyu, the Linux command line X10 interface. Then we move straight on to an alternative control system C-Bus and a detailed explanation of how networks in general work. At the end of the chapter not much has been learned apart from the fact that certain devices and bits of software exist.
Chapter 2 does an immediate detour into the topic of appliance hacking. The start of the show is the Linksys NSLU2 storage device which is interesting because its an easy to modify Linux appliance. The only problem is that it is getting increasingly difficult to get hold of. We also have a range of other machines mentioned but almost in passing. - PlayStation, Xbox etc but all at the level of "these exist". Finally we have some hardware hacks which amount to basic Arduino projects and how to use a general-purpose X10 device to control ad-hoc equipment. This is all a bit superficial and unsatisfactory.
Nex-t on the list is chapter 3's approach to media. The goes over Linux command line utilities for playing DVDs and ripping DVDs. This is followed up by a discussion of media boxes, WiFi connections and setting up a NAS device as a media server. All fairly obvious is you have the skills to do it and probably too fraught with difficulties if you don't.
From here the book takes a less interesting excursion into how to wire a house for networking. This covers how many watts a machine consumes, setting up UPSs, what type of machine to buy etc. It doesn't really go into anything deep or interesting such as is a managed switch worth it or should you invest in structured wiring.
The next chapter goes off into the general area of communications - how to send an email. There are some interesting ideas such as voice recognition and speak synthesis but a quick search on the web reveals more information that the book gives. Then we have another digression into the legality of using content that you acquire via the web followed by some ways of getting Twitter and Facebook data.
The final chapter is on control hubs and the authors pet subject - a software project call Minerva that co-ordinates things. I'd be more impressed if we were talking of something with a GUI interface and real usability. This view of the smart home is that the home is less smart than my desktop PC. Moving to Linux is no excuse to dump modern conveniences such as a good, easy to use GUI for the rigors of the command line. Why go primitive when what you are trying to do is futuristic?
Overall this is a book that misses the mark by a mile. It rambles and is very shallow. This is a shame because you get the feeling that with so much enthusiasm there is a good book trying to get out.