Previous month:
March 2011
Next month:
May 2011

Announcing - Las Vegas: Underfoot

The second edition of my book, Las Vegas: Underfoot, is now available. Last revised in 2006, this new edition has grown by more than 50% and now features every major casino on The Strip and Downtown. (Some of which no longer exist!)

Everything about Las Vegas screams for you to look up, out, and over here. What you see when you look down is no less fascinating, it's just seldom observed. Let Las Vegas: Underfoot change the way you view Sin City.

Binions 1  Version 4

This 90 page soft-bound book features full-page color photographs and a key to each location, so that you can test your Vegas textile knowledge.

Available from Amazon, or see Las Vegas: Underfoot for more information.

Automating your doorbell

In Smart Home Hacks, there's a method for knowing when someone has visited your home. It works by using a motion detector near your front door. It's a particularly good solution for being alerted when a package delivery service drops something on your doorstep without ringing your doorbell, or for knowing when any visitor is approaching.

But most of the time, let's face it, visitors we care about will ring your doorbell. Some home automators replace the standard doorbell with a switch that's wired into the home automation system, so that the system is making the "ding dong" noise in response, but that's introducing a dependency that I dislike. I think it is better to let the doorbell function as it normally does.

But detecting when a standard doorbell has been rung is tricker than it sounds. James Sentman, co-author of XTension and the person behind Mac Home Automation, recently described his hack, and it's fantastic. If you have an older doorbell, that is, one that actually rings a bell by moving a striker, it's very easy to implement.

First, obtain a door-window sensor that works with your home automation system. (Sentman uses an X10 DS-10A.) The sensor will have a two-piece detector. Glue one part of the detector onto the bell's moving striker. Make sure it doesn't interfere with the movement, though. Glue the other part of the detector so that when the striker moves away to ring the bell, it breaks the connection. This will cause a "window open" event to be transmitted to your home automation system. When your controller detects that event, it can announce your visitor, send you an SMS, or any other action you'd like.

James described his method on the XTension discussion list. Even if you don't use XTension, it's a low-noise, friendly list that frequently offers great ideas such as this.