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Being from a Computer and Electrical Engineering background I'm a big fan of PIC chips. They're programmable on your PC then you just plug them into whatever circuit you have. They're capable of running fairly complex programs, so I know they could do everything that's been discussed here and a lot more. They're maybe 30-40$ for the mid-range ones that have 16 I/O lines. That would probably be enough for all but a huge viv. I have never been interested in automating everything (lights are on timers, that's it though), but if I were that's how I'd go about it. If anyone is interested in trying this I'll be more than happy to help you out as far as wiring and programming (it's been about 3 years but I have a TON of experience with these).
 

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Yeah I've seen the Atmel ones, but I don't believe I've actually written directly on them. You can use assembler, but there are PIC compilers out there (all free as far as I know) that let you write in C.
 
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