[Review] Smart Home Hacks by Gordon Meyer

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By Gordon Meyer
1st Edition October 2004
Series: Hacks
ISBN: 0-596-00722-1
400 pages, $24.95 US, $36.95 CA, £17.50 UK

When O'Reilly first contacted me about the release of this book, I was a little skeptical, mostly because of the misleading (more about that later) title. When I received my copy, and opened the first few pages to take a quick glance, I was relieved to see that this isn't just another home automation book that will sit on my shelf collecting dust. The index alone shows how interesting this book will be, as all the 'hacks' are indexed by location.

The book, written by Gordon Meyer (http://gordon.typepad.com/gordon/), a known and experienced home automation enthusiast, is 400 pages thick, will be able to answer most questions one can have about home automation, and give you some great ideas. I am not the kind of person to spend time reading books as I just don't have that much free time, but I decided to make an exception after browsing through the index to see what the book has to offer. I didn't think I would make it to the end (400 pages about home automation? Worries about the book being too technical / boring are increasing now), but now that I've finished reading the book, I have to admit I am truly impressed with the vast amount of knowledge crammed into this book.

As you know by now, the title is "Smart Home Hacks", which is one of the main issues really bothering me about this book. People who don't have 'geek status' will think that "hacks" reffers to something illegal, as most regular computer enthusiasts will not know the difference between hacking and cracking, and not know the true meaning of 'hardware hacking'. I am not sure which people are supposed to be the target audience, but in my opinion, this book does such a great job of explaining even the basics of home automation, typical problems and such, that it should have been given a more obvious title, attracting people who are interested in getting involved with home automation. Even a title as simple as "Turn your home into a smart home!" would have been a better title and probably improve sales. The only reason this bothers me is because I believe this book should be required reading if you are serious about home automation.

As mentioned earlier, the content is great, the book explains everything, including some of the protocols, limitations, software, hardware, and last but not least, plenty of tutorials (hacks) and code examples showing you how to do things such as video surveillance, making it look like the house is occupied when away from home, heated toilet seats, have the house notify you of certain events when you aren't at home, and many many more great ideas/tutorials. Once you have read this book, both you and your home will be smarter. The book also satisfies the appetite of people who are more experienced in this field. I don't consider myself a novice, and I still enjoyed the book, especially as it has given me some great ideas. One of the other great things about this book is that many well known names have contributed to this book, such as Rick Tinker and Ido Bartana. I do wish that they would have supplied a CD-ROM with all of the code examples on there (and maybe some other useful information), to make things easier for people who aren't used to entering code.

Besides the title, one of the other issues bothering me is the fact that 50% of the examples focus on the Mac platform. While the concept is the same no matter what OS, there are more Windows users out there than Mac users, so I would have thought it would be common sense to show more Windows examples than Mac. That's just the impression I have; I haven't actually counted how many times a Mac-based application was used vs. a Windows-based application.

If you have a family member who likes to tinker, and might be interested in home automation, this book would make the perfect Christmas gift. Gordon did a great job of explaining everything and provides plenty of examples, this book gets the "CocoonTech.com stamp of approval".

Sample chapters:

Hack 7: Turn on the Lights When you Enter a Room (PDF)
Hack 51: Simulate a Sunrise (PDF)
Hack 53: Outdo Big Ben (PDF)
Hack 54: Monitor Your Driveway (PDF)
Hack 61: Track Fuel Consumption (PDF)
Hack 79: Bark Like a Dog (PDF)

CocoonTech.com will be giving away 1 brand new copy of this book by the end of this week. All you have to do is respond to this thread (please don't post more than once as those entries will be stripped automatically, if you have questions, start a new thread) and a winner will be randomly picked sometime this week.
Not bad. It seems to offer real-world practical examples like Bucceri's books, rather than the more generic discussion of Smart Homes for Dummies. I just hope it's not too basic, but I'd be willing to find out for free. :blink:

A friend, new to HA, purchased the book and had the same comments about the Mac focus. Still useful and put my name in the "hat".

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