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September 2008
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November 2008

Appearing in Magic Chicago

Next week I'll be performing in Magic Chicago, a show that each month showcases different magicians to create a full evening of magic, mystery and wonder.

I'm a guest performer for the show on Nov 5, 2008. (That's Wednesday, the day after election day. Come celebrate or escape your sorrow!) I'll be honored if you're able to make it. Showtime is 7:30PM.


My performance includes a magical reenactment of a bad nightmare, insight into just what I do every day, pontifications about Silicon Valley, a tribute to my first magic teacher, and the realization of a 34-year old dream.

It's at the City Lit theatre, in the Edgewater neighborhood of Chicago. The theatre is inside the Edgewater Presbyterian Church. (1020 West Bryn Mawr). Tickets are $20 at the door or can be pre-ordered at the Magic Chicago website.

For more info, press clippings, and ticket ordering see the Magic Chicago website.

Presenting with iPhone

This week I'll be presenting at a magician's-only conference in Las Vegas. I'll be discussing how home automation techniques can be applied to conjuring and the creation of performance spaces.


This will be the first home automation presentation I've given at a non-technical conference, and the first time I'll be presenting without a laptop and Keynote. Instead, the slides for my session will be projected using my iPhone, thanks to the Apple Composite AV cable. I used the excellent templates from KeynotePro to create the presentation, which worked quite well for me, and I was impressed with the quality and variety of their templates. The Keynote presentation is exported to PNG files, which are then shown onscreen from a photo album.

Control your home and energy use with Vera

A new home automation product, Vera, will arrive soon from Mi Casa Verde. It's an impressively complete package for a first release. It's based on Z-Wave, but what you get is a standalone Linux-based controller that is both energy-efficient and sports a web-based interface.

In fact, energy conservation is a big part of the pitch for this new product. It monitors and reports energy use, and the video demo of the product emphasizes electrical savings along with the usual appeal about security, cameras, and automated scenes.

There's built-in support for the iPhone and iPod touch, SMS messaging, and an HTTP interface for tinkering. Since the product is just now coming to market, the company is offering subsidized starter kits in order to get feedback and testing from home automation enthusiasts. For info on the beta program, see Invitation to Enthusiasts.

Distraction-Free writing with the Neo

I'm a big fan of the AlphaSmart Dana. I learned about it a few years ago from good friend Kathy, and I wrote a decent chunk of Smart Home Hacks using hers. The Dana is a Palm OS-based laptop that has a decent built-in word processor, runs forever off regular AA batteries, and uploads what you've written to any Mac or PC by emulating a USB keyboard being typed on super-fast. Simple, but effective, and you don't need special drivers or fancy software to manage it.

The best thing about the Dana, aside from the battery life, is that it allows you to completely focus on what you're writing. There's no distracting email, web browser, or Twitter. It's also very lightweight, but tough (it's designed for kids), and a breeze to travel with. Lately, I've been traveling only with an iPhone and the Dana, leaving my MacBook Pro behind.

I'm glad to see that AlphaSmart is finally exploiting the utility of their products for professional writers. I spotted an ad in Writers Digest for their new Neo model, which is similar to my Dana but without the additional Palm apps which I've never used. Sight unseen, I have no problem recommending it for your consideration.

Magic Words, now available

Congratulations to Craig Conley, magician and eccentric scholar, on the publication of Magic Words: A Dictionary. It's a remarkable book, and a perfect gift for many people on my holiday list. Word lovers, writers, editors, magicians, or just anyone who appreciates a well-executed and obscure project will love to have a copy.

Also, I'm very pleased to say, this latest edition features a magical phrase that my wife and I created a few years ago. Visit Conley's Magic Words blog for a daily dose, and check out my review of an earlier edition for more details about my view.

New version of HouseLinc 2 for Windows

If you're a Windows user, and ready to get on board with INSTEON-based home automation, the new HouseLinc 2 software from Smarthome is worth considering.

Smarthome invented INSTEON, so it stands to reason that HouseLinc works well with the protocol and devices. And it seems clear the company is serious about it; the software has been updated regularly and clearly serves as a vehicle for their hardware sales.

Robotic Lawn Mowing - Revisited

Of the 100 home automation techniques in Smart Home Hacks, the discussion of Doug Smith's method for building an inexpensive robotic lawn mower generated a lot of raised eyebrows. It's crazy, it's clever, and yes it actually works.

Doug recently let me know that he's posted video of his experiment, along with some updates. See Lazy Lawn Mowing for details. You'll also find a link to Doug's RoboMowerWiki, where you can learn much more refined, and safer, techniques.