You’ve likely heard the acronym KISS before, as in “Keep It Simple, Stupid.” It means, when faced with a problem or when coming up with a plan look for the simplest solution instead of trying to exacerbate it with an overly complicated solution.
Consider this urban legend: Back in the ’60s during the space race, NASA wanted a way for the astronauts to be able to write in the zero-G environment of space. They needed a pen that would write when upside down or at any other position and at an array of extreme temperatures with ink that would never stop flowing. NASA supposedly invested millions of dollars researching and developing and testing, ultimately creating the zero gravity “astronaut pen” by using pressurized ink cartridges to keep the ink flowing. The Soviet scientists looked at the same problem and sent their Cosmonauts into space with pencils.
Sometimes the solution to a problem is a simple tweak or redesign that makes for something better. Here are four products that I’ve come across lately that know how to rock and roll all night and party every day KISS style.
Crestron Cameo Wireless Dimmers/Switches
I hate installing lighting control devices. I mean I *hate* it. Even when you take away the fact that high-voltage can actually kill you, it’s still just a hateful chore. The problem is, when we are typically installing a lighting controller, it is in the process of replacing an existing one that has already been installed. And usually installed by an electrician that forced it into the box with all the delicacy of the Death Star’s garbage compactor and without any further thought to someone ever coming behind them and replacing it. Installing a new dimmer or switch means dealing with ultra-stiff Romex wire that is unwieldy, barely flexible and crammed and twisted into the plastic wall box in ways that neither man nor nature ever intended. The brilliance of the Crestron Cameo devices is in the way they accept the hateful, bare copper wire. Every other lighting device I’ve installed requires you to twist the Romex in a circular hook that you can tighten around the screws of the dimmer/switch. This requires pliers and squeezing and a fair bit of cursing to pull off successfully, and even then, there seems to be a fair chance that the thick and stiff Romex wire will slip off the screw when you are delicately placing jamming the switch back into the box. But some mad genius at Crestron looked at this problem and said, “Damn! All this bending and curling is just insanity! Why would you not just stick the wire straight in?! I mean, the Romex is already straight, why force someone to make this God-awful job any harder?!” The Crestron Cameos have a screw to loosen the wire receptacle, but instead of twisting the wire around the screw, you slide it straight into a hole in the back of the dimmer. But wait! There isn’t just one hole, there are two! This lets you loop thru hot or neutral wiring like many electricians like to do. But wait! Every dimmer can also be a four-button keypad! So you can use it to create lighting scenes along with the dimming. So when someone wants to replace a light in a bedroom, they not only get a smart, dimmable lighting device, they also get a keypad that is programmable and capable of doing anything! Take that, problem! Of all the switches and dimmers I’ve ever installed, the Crestron models are by far the least hateful which is high praise indeed.
Lutron Pico Wireless Control
If you don’t know Lutron’s Pico Wireless Control, you should because there are several things that are awesome about it. First, as its name would lead you to believe, it is indeed wireless, meaning that you can place it anywhere. This makes the Pico a perfect retrofit solution that installs in less time than it takes to free from its insidious plastic packaging. Second, it runs for ten years on a single battery. Third, it is so thin that it can mount onto a wall and still be the same thickness as a traditional in-wall Decora switchplate. It’s also Decora shaped, so you can gang it with other switches/dimmers. Finally, the basic model retails for a meager $30 meaning it is a problem solver that absolutely no one will ever balk at or that you could throw in for some good will and be about the price of a DVD. Have a customer that just wants a simple bedside solution as a panic All On button? Pico. At our Mega Job, there was a location in a closet where we needed simple on/off control, but the walls were so stacked out with framing that we just couldn’t cut in a wall box and get wiring exactly where the homeowner wanted the control. No problem. Surface mounted Pico. Add battery mounted shades but need some control, and you don’t want to get an electrician involved? Pico. At another project, the electrician pulled the main garage overhead lights to the complete opposite side of the garage. Should we tear down the drywall and run some wire for a three-way back to the correct location? No. Pico.
Honeywell Wi-Fi Smart Thermostat with Voice Control
You might think that the KISS thing about Honeywell’s RTH9590 Wi-Fi Touchscreen Thermostat with Voice Control would be the verbal feedback and response to voice commands. And, while that is cool, and a potential game changer for those with mobility issues or sight impairment, but the thing that Honeywell also did so right is in simplifying installation. First, the T-stat comes with a really great manual with eight pages of installation diagrams. If that isn’t enough, there are also online videos to walk you thru connections to different types of HVAC systems and a live support phone number you can call. But even that didn’t impress me as much as the new screwless wire terminals that Honeywell went with. Every other thermostat I’ve ever installed uses these micro screw terminals which are placed together on a near molecular level. Getting those wires into those holes and screwed down requires just a bit less dexterity than a micro-surgeon reattaching the nerves from a severed limb. Honeywell replaced these with a clip terminal that you just slide the wire into. It is elegant ant and makes for a much simpler, faster install.
Most Modern Architectural Speakers
Architectural speakers have been striving to make their products more stupid simple to install, with each generation gradually improving to the point where now they practically just put themselves into your ceiling. I wrote about this previously in “The Best Speaker Tech You Never Think Of” highlighting companies like Paradigm, Sonance, Niles, and Definitive Technology for the improvements they’ve made with their speaker designs, not to improve the sound quality but to make them easier for us to install. It was like they finally gave all those fancy engineers and designers a drill and set of wire strippers and said, “OK, Mr. Smartypants, you shimmy on up that 12 foot ladder, and let’s watch you put these things in!” There are two speaker improvements that are most KISS-able. First is the widespread use of magnetic grilles which quickly just snap into and out of place, meaning gone are the minutes of pinching, bending, caressing and finessing the grille into place, all the while hoping that you don’t mangle the thing out of round. Second is the new spring-loaded wiring binding posts that have replaced those diabolically terrible spring clips designed by Torquemada. These spring-loaded posts easily and securely connect speaker wiring of almost any gauge and make it almost impossible for any rogue strands of wire to slip free and cause a short.
We work in an industry driven by technology that often requires working on and with complicated things, but often times, the best solution is the simplest one. Things like a wireless HDMI sender or using an existing Cat-5 cable and a balun. Or, you know, a pencil.
John Sciacca is principal of Custom Theater and Audio in Myrtle Beach, SC.