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Bench Talk for Design Engineers

Bench Talk


Bench Talk for Design Engineers | The Official Blog of Mouser Electronics

Home Automation Adventures Part I: When (Internet) Things Go Bump in the Night Arden Henderson

After yet another successful home automation breach, the crew celebrates with a selfie.

It is hard to imagine the world without the internet and the webtubulars.*

For Bob and Alice Smarts (not their real names) and their kids, such a world was not only hard to imagine, it was long-forgotten by Bob and Alice, and never known a'tall by their kids. The pre-internet, pre-web world -- if such a world ever existed -- would be a vast empty space. Boring. A wasteland. Such a world was no more real than the black-and-white, scratchy WWII news reels that Uncle Fred, flying in from St. Louis, tuned-in within thirty minutes of arriving if no football games were on at the moment. There is a room with a smart TV for that.

A pre-internet world was, in large part, unimaginable by Bob and Alice since they were busy. Very busy. They were connected, which brought lots of busy business. They were connected. They had the requisite smart phones (always the latest), almost every room in the house packed a smart TV, laptops, desktops, and sprinkled among these mainstays were the smart watches, the new smart refrigerator, their two smart cars loaded with every electronic option available, the security system with sensors and cams, the lawn sprinkler system controlled via smart phone app, the smart thermostat which could be monitored and controlled from 1500 miles away while visiting Grandma and Grandpa Smarts.

And the kids' stuff. They had the stuff. The toys and games, RF-controlled planes, cars, and now drones. Even Rex, the family dog, had a smart collar that let him in and out of a WiFi-controlled pet door, controllable via smart phone app.

Alice and Bob were "early adopters." They adopted earlier by purchasing early and often. They liked technology and technology manufacturers liked them. They could not imagine life without all the social media blessings bestowed upon them through myriad devices, all connected through the fastest fat pipes to the wired-and-wireless world that their benevolent ISP allowed them for a monthly electronic automatic debit from their bank.

Yet, with all this electron-pushing goodness, the glory days were just ahead! It was only going to get better. Bob and Alice had begun their move to home automation. [1] 

Full-metal-jacket home automation starting with the new fridge and, of course, the smart thermostat. Pretty soon, their security system would be upgraded to talk to the home automation system. The sprinkler system would be folded into home automation wonderfulness. Sensors everywhere.

More cameras. Computer vision. And the lights….every light would be replaced with smart lights, controllable from anywhere in the world. [2] Controllable from Aruba via smart phone app, if Bob and Alice wanted to such while on vacation. A cool feature, if they ever got around to using it.

Home automation was coming and they were ready. Even Rex was looking forward to it. Why, a smarter pet door tied into the home automation system with additional computer smarts bordering on self-aware AI, is what all the cool dogs had these days.

Interestingly, even immersed in all this technology, Bob and Alice were not really conscious of notions of security. [3]  Not really aware of the news stories about massive breaches day in and day out, background noise on the TV news as they checked their smart phones. In their professional jobs, no one worried about phishing, mainly because few knew about it and, to be sure, nothing like it had happened at their companies. As for HTML-based email, it looked cool, much cooler than boring plain text where all links were visible. The suave corporations always sent HTML-based email since it was the very best eye-candy, especially the banks. Some coworkers had remarked that they now put tape over the camera lens on their computers at home, but this sounded ridiculous. Why would they do that? Anyone could see the lens was dark. Much hubbub about nothing.

Sure, Alice and Bob knew the internet had some danger. They weren't idiots, after all. They knew what "spam" was, for example. Who couldn't recognize spam since, say, 1998? And they knew their web browsers and apps "securely" connected to their bank, but the details and variations of that secure connection were eye-glazing technobabble, as meaningful to them as magic dust and unicorns, and therefore nothing to fret over. The notion of a botnet* was as murky as the life cycle of protozoa in a puddle somewhere.

They knew what "domain names" were, of course, but "DNS" meant nothing to them other than a repeated word that made them feel sleepy when the ISP repair guy showed up to upgrade the magical black boxes that made the internets, the webtubulars, and The Google all possible, via wire and air.

But, Bob and Alice, as forward-thinking, astute, hip, bright-eyed consumers, simply knew it wasn't important to know about any of that because they always upgraded to the latest software, kept the hardware fresh, and invested in the best stuff. Besides, surely all this security business had been carefully thought out by the industry?  After all, that was the point. It wasn't their job as consumers to worry about the "danger" of the internet, that vast cloud of sparkly electrons moving, shape-shifting, and billowing across the ether. It was all supposed to "just work." And, you know, it did.

Until it didn't.


Stay tuned for Home Automation Adventures Part II as Bob and Alice begin to realize the internet and their home automation system are as one. Meanwhile, Eve, Sybil, and Chuck show up for dinner from thousands of miles away…

Later, in a fortnight, gather 'round the digital campfire for Home Adventures Part III, where Bob and Alice begin to forge iron-tested steel against the internet legions of darkness, sturdily bulwarking the home automation ramparts.


* Definitions

botnet (bŏt′nĕt′)


A collection of devices, including but not limited to, personal computers to smart phones, all connected across the internet, working feverishly to snag more computers, sometimes autonomously and sometimes controlled by a central command center, and to work in unison on various shenanigans, badness, and other nefarious business.


webtubulars ( wĕb ˈtu byə lər s )


1) The World Wide Web.

2) Handy companion word for "the internets" and "The Google."

3) An abstract word for visualizing the web as a labyrinth or network of tubes, where users surf the tube.






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Arden Henderson spent at least part of his life toolsmithing in dark, steam-powered workshops of software tool forges long gone, drenched in blood, sweat, and code under the glare of cathode ray tubes, striving for the perfect line of self-modifying software and the holy grail of all things codecraft: The perfectly rendered pixel. These days, when not working on his 1964 Flux Blend time machine (which he inadvertently wrecked before it was built after a particularly deep recursive loop), Mr. Henderson works in part-time castle elf and groundskeeper jobs, chatting with singularities spawned from code gone mad in vast labyrinths of vacuum tubes, patch cords, and electro-mechanical relays. Mr. Henderson earned a B.S.C.S. late in life at Texas A&M. Over the hundreds of years gone by before then and after, he has worked in various realms ranging from petrochemical wonderlands spread across the flat Gulf Coast saltgrass plains, as far as the eye can see, to silicon bastions deep in the heart of Central Texas.

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