The prospects for home automation got a lot more interesting with the spread of home wifi networks, iPads, and smart phones. Now that we're accustomed to communicating with anyone or anything from anywhere, maintaining a long-distance relationship with one's washing machine or HVAC system seems a lot less weird. The crucial threshold, though, is when it starts to seem cool. Judging by traffic at the gadget-geek heaven that is CES, that moment may have arrived. --b.d.s.