The secret is (not) to bang the rocks together

3 minute read


So many people seem to purchase a stack of kit, and want it to magically work together, or see the low cost of entry by using an open source project, and assume they don’t have to learn. If there’s one thing I’ve learned when, well, tackling anything new, it’s that learning is key. You can’t just bang random rocks together and expect fire it to work.

The problem(s)

Many people seem to tackle home automation as if it’s a kind of magic - if they just repeat some incantation, change a few things, and it’ll work. The number of times I’ve seen people blindly copy and paste somebody else’s work, or an example, change things at random and then complain that it’s not working…

Actually, if I’m honest, it’s not just home automation, it’s anything outside of their experience. Lurking on the various Tales from X subreddits makes that very clear, even if you haven’t experienced it yourself first hand.

In only seven days

See if these sound familiar:

  • Asking the same question repeatedly, in the apparent hope that the answer will change2
  • Blindly hacking configurations (banging the rocks together)
  • Complaining that the YouTube video from some random person didn’t work
  • When directed to the documentation, laughing it off or ignoring it
  • Ignoring attempts to help them that don’t fit with what they think is the problem
  • Complaining that the platform doesn’t do something, or does something wrong
  • Making unfounded assumptions, and insisting that these assumptions are true, despite evidence otherwise

Anybody on any forum or chat about a product (whether software, hardware, or pretty much anything) will be familiar with these behaviours.

If you want point and click magic, then (some) commercial solutions are likely to be a better choice than most of the open source solutions. Even then, if you don’t take the time to learn then you’re going to have a hard time.

It’s like driving a car, riding a bike, or doing whatever your day job is. That knowledge and skill didn’t suddenly appear in your brain at the stroke of midnight. You had to learn it, and in many cases understand what’s going on when you do certain things. For complex things you’ll have read documentation to gain that understanding. This is a process that takes time, from weeks to months until you become good at it, potentially longer. In my day job for example, the assumption is that it typically takes 6 months to become good enough to work things unsupervised.

Home automation is no different. 

Doing (it) all right

If you take the time to read up on the platform you’re using (official documentation, forums, etc, maybe even read some of the developer documentation) then you’ll understand how to make it work. That understanding makes your own efforts more effective, and reduces frustration all round.

Next, read the error messages. Sure, sometimes the error message is an obscure something went wrong, but most of the time it’ll tell you at least where in your configuration the error is. Often the error will tell you enough that if you read the documentation you’ll have it fixed in no time.

When you ask for help, don’t ignore the things you don’t want to do, or you disagree with. You asked for help after all. If people direct you to some documentation then read it. If you don’t understand it, explain what you’re having problems with. Don’t be surprised if people direct you to learn other things so that what you’re reading makes sense.

Oh, and if you avoid becoming a help vampire and people will be more likely to want to help you3.


  1. The title comes from one of the many funny lines in this book 

  2. The definition of insanity that’s often misattributed to Albert Einstein 

  3. I’m perfectly aware I’m largely preaching to the choir here, consider this a venting post as much as anything