April 10, 2012
Book Review - Programming Your Home, By Mike Riley

A review of Programming Your Home by Mike Riley. This is a new book from The Pragmatic Bookshelf on how to automate your home with Arduino, Android and your computer. It’s a project book, setup so that given the time and means to follow the instructions and equipment lists in the book, the reader will be able to create some pretty damn cool systems.

I have a history in this, well, kinda. I started in home automation when I was around 12 years old, using a series of strings to allow me to control my bedroom door, curtains and lights from a command post by my bed, where 10 or 20 strings came together in a big bunch and if I read the labels right I could open or close the door or drapes, and turn the lights on and off, all without leaving the confines of the bed. Nothing but high tech for this 80’s kid!

Times sure have changed.

The Book

When I first picked up the sample copy of Programming Your Home, I commented to my brother in law, “the perfect book if you have ten grand in home automation equipment”. Boy I couldn’t have been more wrong. In this day and age the super-cool Arduino systems allow us to do amazing things to create home automation projects (and because it’s open source hardware and software, you’re not limited to the home, but only by your imagination.

For the 3 or you reading this that haven’t heard of Arduino before, head over to the home page at Arduino.cc and have a look.

Arduino is an open-source electronics prototyping platform based on flexible, easy-to-use hardware and software. It’s intended for artists, designers, hobbyists, and anyone interested in creating interactive objects or environments.

If you’re interested in Arduino projects but maybe are a bit nervous about taking the plunge, this is the book for you. It’s a nice and clear introduction to creating cool projects with this software and you are hand held (but not in a bad way) through a variety of different builds.

The book has 12 chapters, split into 4 parts, Preparations, Projects, Predictions and at the very end, Appendices.

Part 1 - Preparations

The first two chapters are an introduction to both the hardware and software you’ll be involved with for these projects. It goes into the history and current state of home automation, the software you’ll need for doing the programming components, and of course detailing the hardware that you will use (i.e.: cheap stuff that us mere mortals can afford). All the projects in this book use the Arduino systems so there’s a good introduction to that system and the in’s and out’s of it.

Part 2 - Projects

This is the meat of the book. There are 7 projects here, ranging in difficulty and complexity, both in hardware and software. A few examples are a water level alarm (chapter 3), a tweeting bird feeder (chapter 5) and a smartphone controlled door lock (chapter 9). A fairly good variety of different ideas utilizing different skills, hardware, and types of programming.

Each project chapter follows a similar setup. First an introduction to the project and how it’ll work, including an illustration or two the parts and how it will all look and work once assembled. There’s then a layout of the requirements, both hardware and software. Following this is the build instructions for the hardware, going through any assembly from wiring bits together to laying out breadboards. Finally it’s the programming, compilation, assembly, testing and use.

I like that this book has variety. Since a majority of these projects use Arduino the main bulk of the coding work is in Java (Arduino’s toolkit language), however because of how the systems are connected to the outside world, there’s also Ruby on Rails and Android client programming (well, I guess that’s more Java). Nice to have the variety at least, there’s something in there for everyone.

Part 3 - Predictions

These two chapters have a look at home automation in the future and other project ideas. The predictions go through a look at how the author sees home automation going forward, some old ideas (the fridge that tells you what it’s low on), some new, and some simple extrapolation from what we have today.

Other project ideas is a tick-list of ideas for new projects, building upon the hardware and software that the reader has learned through the rest of the book.

Part 4 - Appendix

This last section is short and sweet, installing the Arduino libraries and a bibliography.

Conclusion and Recommendation

First of all, just go and buy this book if you have an interest in Arduino hardware but haven’t known where to start, or are interested in home automation and haven’t known where to start. If you’re skilled in Arduino already this might not be a good fit for you as there aren’t as many complex builds as might be of interest, I’d suggest browsing the chapters online and see if it matches up with your expectations. As there’s not a lot of people that I know who are deep into Arduino however, I’d say it’s probably a fairly safe bet that this is a book for you.

Disclosure: I was provided with a free copy of the book curtesy of O’Reilly media upon my request and offer to do a this review. No more, no less. Thanks again Mary!

Posted by Arcterex at April 10, 2012 07:20 AM