Technology Just because you *can* do something…

… doesn’t mean you should.

I bought a Philips hue starter kit a while ago. For those who haven’t seen it, it’s a system for controlling the colors and intensities of LED lightbulbs remotely, via a wireless base station connected to your home network, which in turn speaks the Zigbee protocol (I believe) to the lights. Essentially, it allows you to do stuff like this:

There are actually 3 lights in that picture, red and green ones visible, and a blue one lighting the top right corner.

Anyway, my thinking when I bought the kit, was that I was going to use the (very cool) RESTful API it provides to do some interesting web hacking of my the lights. Of course, I haven’t had time to do that — I don’t know why I thought otherwise — and so what I have effectively done, at this point, is replace a perfectly functional light switch with an app on my phone. I.e. enter room, get out phone, start app, tell lights to go on, put phone away. Not a win.

But wait, I think, someone must have built a light switch that will control a hue setup. All it would have to do is tell the lights to go on when the switch is flipped. Well… this may exist, but I couldn’t find it. The closest I could come was this:

The WeMo Light Switch

So, this is a light switch that, in addition to doing what it normally does (i.e. switch the current to a light on/off), also talks to your wireless network. That, in itself, wouldn’t solve the problem, but along with the obvious feature of giving you yet another app that can control your lights, the WeMo switch also interfaces to the brilliant site IFTTT (a.k.a. “if this then that”).

IFTTT is a website that lets you set up simple rules based on a trigger (i.e. “this”) and an action (i.e. “that”). It behaves exactly as you’d expect: when the trigger happens the action gets executed. There is quite a range of triggers and actions — it’s worth checking out — but the operative detail here is that WeMo light switches can be triggers and hue lights support several actions including turning on and off. Can you see where this is going?

The sequence of operations is this:

  1. Hit WeMo light switch
  2. Light switch connects (over the internet) to
  3. IFTTT tells all (3 of) my hue lights to turn on.
  4. Room lights up

Unfortunately, aside from the completely gratuitous use of the internet to control something entirely within my home office, there are two real problems with this:

  1. One of the 3 hue lights is connected to a wall sconce that is physically switched on/off by the WeMo switch. Because the power to that light is interrupted when the light is turned off, when it turns back on, it comes on white (i.e. it loses whatever color setting it had before).
  2. Although IFTTT does get the other two lights to turn on, the time between when the switch trigger happens and the resulting action is fired is… variable. Often it’s only a couple of seconds, but I have waited as much as 15.

Oh well. The end result is I can now almost turn the lights on and off again, and I have learned an interesting lesson in the limits of technology.

(Oh, and my lights flash when someone blogs about Orion. 😉 )

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