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November 15, 2004

"Smart Home Hacks": Beyond Mere Automation

Sebastopol, CA--Even George Jetson would suffer gadget envy today. So much of what is now commonplace was once considered impossible, or at least the stuff of far-fetched futuristic cartoons: laser beams in the operating room, cars with built-in guidance systems, cell phones with email access. There's just no getting around the fact that technology always has been, and always will be, very cool.

Technology isn't just cool, it's also very smart. That's why one of the hottest technological trends nowadays is the creation of smart homes. People are turning their homes into state-of-the-art machines, complete with more switches, sensors, and actuators than you can shake a stick at. If you want to equip your home with motion detectors for added security, install computer-controlled lights for optimum convenience, or mount an in-home web cam or two purely for entertainment, everything you need is easily available.

But some people--and they know who they are--just can't leave automated alone. It's not enough that their sprinklers are automated; they want their sprinklers tailored to the weekly forecast so they stop watering in storms. They want to motorize their window blinds. Or heat their toilet seat. And while their neighbors are cursing the teenagers TP-ing the neighborhood, these George Jetson wannabes are rigging camcorders to monitor their mailbox--even when they're not home.

According to Gordon Meyer, author of Smart Home Hacks (O'Reilly, US $24.95), such things are not just possible, but with a little effort, ingenuity, and elbow grease, they're even relatively cheap. "We're at a nice junction between software, hardware, and the Internet," says Meyer. "These pieces are sitting there, readily available, and can be combined to put together something that's actually useful. You don't need a new house, you don't need to rewire your house--you can get started for less than $200 and grow your system from there as your needs dictate."

Today, the ingenuity--like the equipment--is here. Meyer's book captures some of the most useful, clever, and practical (and perhaps most importantly, thoroughly tested) methods that do-it-yourself home automators are using turn a loose collection of sensors and switches into a well-automated and well-functioning home. Readers will learn how to:

  • Turn on lights automatically upon entering a room, or when the sun sets, or only when needed
  • Send reminders of important events to cell phones, email accounts, or pagers
  • Alert everyone in the house with chimes or voice announcements
  • Monitor the driveway, mailbox, refrigerator door, or litter box for activity
  • Automate the sprinkler system, tailor its schedule to the weekly forecast, and make it stop watering during rainstorms
  • Monitor the home when nobody is there
  • Control the entire house from a web browser
  • Smart Home Hacks leaves no stone unturned. From what to purchase to how to use your remote control, it's the ultimate guide to understanding and implementing complete or partial home automation.

    Additional Resources:

    Smart Home Hacks
    Gordon Meyer
    ISBN: 0-596-00722-1, 400 pages, $24.95 US, $36.95 CA
    1-800-998-9938; 1-707-827-7000

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