TweetFollow Us on Twitter

Remotely Control Your Mac without a Computer

Volume Number: 23 (2007)
Issue Number: 04
Column Tag: Remote Control

Remotely Control Your Mac without a Computer

Use the world, and your location, to control and manipulate your home

By Andrew Turner

Introduction

If you are reading this magazine, you're probably like me and spend a large amount of time in front of your computer. You are very accustomed to using the keyboard, mouse/trackpad/trackball, and monitor to view and access your files and applications. In previous articles (January '07, February '07) we designed and assembled a location automation system that allowed your Mac to reach into the world and control it to turn lights on and off, make coffee, and control your stereo.

The system was designed such that you were sitting at your computer, or at another computer. It did not know if you were there, or know how to notify you of its status in the case of a problem. This article will lead you through a variety of tools and techniques you can use to remotely control your Mac and automation system based on the your location or the presence of your family or others. In addition, we will teach you how to have your computer let you know its status via remote communications such as email, SMS, instant message, or even a phone call.

This article assumes you are already familiar with Applescript and know how to use Script Editor. An automation software system like XTension or Indigo are not required for any of these techniques, but they can make the tracking and notification systems more useful and integrated into your environment.

Are you Here?

Currently, your computer probably only knows that you come home or arrive to the office when you first move the mouse or press a key. By this time it has to wake up the monitor and start up your programs. Perhaps it also starts up some music to soothe you. When you leave, you manually log out of your email and chat programs (or at least change your status message).

Wouldn't it be easier if your computer would know when you have arrived (or left) without you physically interacting with it?

Using a mobile device

Your mobile phone and PDA are constantly sending out signals looking for devices to pair with via BlueTooth or WiFi (802.11). Presumably, you also carry your device with you as you come and go. Therefore, it can be used for detecting your proximity to your computer.

Salling Clicker (http://www.salling.com) is an application that detects your mobile devices' Bluetooth or WiFi proximity and can then execute commands or Applescript. For example, when you first arrive at your computer, you can have iChat open, change your status to Available, set a state variable, turn on your desk lamp, and start playing music:

using terms from application "SEC Helper"
   on process entering proximity a_terminal
      my set_ichat_status({a_text:available_message, a_status:true})
      tell application "iTunes" to play
      tell application "IndigoServer"
         turn on "Desk Lamp"
         set value of variable "Andrew_Here" to "true"
      end tell
   end process entering proximity
   
   on process leaving proximity a_terminal
      my set_ichat_status({a_text:away_message, a_status:false})
      tell application "iTunes" to pause
      tell application "IndigoServer"
         turn off "Desk Lamp"
         set value of variable "Andrew_Here" to "true"
      end tell      
   end process leaving proximity
end using terms from

In practice, you could set up an Action Group or Trigger Action in Indigo to perform more complex commands and operations and call those from the proximity script. Additionally, there are functions available for setting your status in other applications such as Adium and Skype. Blue Phone Elite (http://mirasoftware.com/BPE/) is another application that has programmed proximity behaviors and many other unique features, but has a shorter list of compatible devices and only works with Bluetooth.

While using Bluetooth or WiFi devices to track our proximity has a high 'wow' factor, there are also some potential pitfalls. First, you may not use a cell phone that is currently supported by Salling Clicker. Second, if you turn your cell phone off, or leave the location without it, then your proximity is falsely detected and the system will not work well. Therefore, we will look at some other options for detecting where you are.

Keyfobs and HomeLink

In the previous articles we incorporated an RF connection into the automation system by using a W800RF32 wireless transceiver. This small device receives signals from various devices and sends them to your Mac via the USB connection.


Figure 1: Motion Detectors, Keyfobs, or PalmPads can be used to let your automation system know that you are around

One device is a small keychain fob, similar to ones used to remotely lock or unlock car doors that can be used to send signals to the wireless connection. They are available with four or eight buttons and can control on and off for two or four channels respectively. Therefore, you can set the buttons to signal when you arrive or leave the location.

Instead of always taking your keys with you, you can also use a PalmPad, which is a wireless control box with sets of buttons. This can be left by a door or in the main part of your house and used to signal your arrival or departure as well as control any other number of actions in your automated house.


Figure 2: HomeLink is a common, but rarely used feature in many cars.

Lastly, there is a little known, and little used feature probably lurking in your car known as 'HomeLink'. Normally a set of buttons may be located on the center console or the overhead console of your car. They are programmable RF buttons that are usually used for programming your garage door opener. They are also trainable to learn the RF signal for your automation system. To use a HomeLink button with your system, you need a keyfob or PalmPad. You need to get your HomeLink into 'training mode' (refer to your manual) and then press the button on your PalmPad to send out the training signal.

After doing this, you can now use the HomeLink button in your car to signal your coming and going.

Motion Detectors

All these devices and gadgets are great, but they still require you to either have the device with you, remember to turn it on, or push a button. The best automation systems do not require you to remember anything.

There are X10 wireless motion detectors available for a reasonably inexpensive price. These devices are battery operated and can be easily mounted indoors or outdoors to monitor your approach and travel as you enter, exit, and move through the building. The motion detector is configured to send out an RF signal to your W800RF32 when it detects motion. No additional wiring or equipment is required to receive the signals.

Here is an example scenario: you approach after dark, and the motion detector outside tells the system to turn on the outside floodlight and the light in the hallway. After you get inside and start moving through your house, lights in the room you are entering can turn on and the lights behind you will turn off.

You can even place a motion detector under your desk to detect when you have sat down at your computer to bring up your programs. All of this automation can occur without a push of a button.

What's my Computer up to?

Do you ever wonder what your computer is doing while you are away at work all day? Are the kids at home and doing their homework? Did you leave the heat on in the vacation home? You computer knows this and can share that information with you in a variety of ways.

In this section we will show you how your computer can alert you via email, a mobile SMS, instant message, or even call you. We will provide the same example use for each of these techniques: we want to be notified when someone comes into the house.

Send me an Email

First you will need to configure the Email settings in Indigo or XTension. This is done under the preferences and is similar to setting up any email client: SMTP server, username, password, port, and reply-to address. It may be useful to setup an account just for your house or office. This email account can then be useful for both sending out status messages and, as we will see, receiving commands.

Now that you have configured your email settings, your Mac will be able to send and receive email messages. We will set up our system to send us an email of the status of the automation system every day at 1PM. Using Indigo, you can add a Trigger Action, and set the condition to be based on either the state of a device, variable, or time. In the Action, you will call an AppleScript:

      emailLog("you@example.com", "House status", 5)
      on email(emailRecipient, emailSubject, emailBody)
         tell application "IndigoServer"
            send email to emailRecipient with subject emailSubject ¬
               with body emailBody
         end tell
      end email
on emailLog(emailRecipient, emailSubject, n_lines)
   tell application "IndigoServer"
      set the_log to build event log list line count n_lines
      my emailSend(emailRecipient, emailSubject, the_log)
   end tell
end emailLog

As you noticed in the Condition tab, you can have more complex triggers than just time. For any of these notification systems they can be based on simple, or very complex criteria.

Your Mac can also receive messages in a POP inbox and trigger actions depending on keywords within the email or whom it is from. This last part is useful to reduce the risk of a spammer or prankster that gets a hold of the email address from playing havoc with your house or office.

Sending emails to your Mac is useful for activities such as turning on the heat to your house before you get home, or maybe telling your Mac to email you back with the current lights and temperature and who is home.

Send me an Instant Message

Sometimes you may want a more immediate notification that an event has occurred. Instant messaging usually pops up a window and can let us know when an event was detected. There are many options for sending out messages via iChat, AOL IM (using Adium), or even Skype. For example, we want to get an instant message when our daughter arrives home (we saw her cell phone, or a motion detector in her room that turned her light on for her).

      sendiChatMessage("im_user", "Daughter arrived home")
on sendiChatMessage(receiver, message)
   tell application "iChat"
      send message to account receiver
   end tell
end sendiChatMessage

Text Me

Email and Instant Messaging are both useful, but require you to be physically at your Mac. Some events should find you wherever you are at that moment. For this, you can have your automation system send you an SMS (Short Messaging System) to your mobile phone.

iChat supports sending SMS by using the full phone number, with +1 at the beginning. Therefore, we may want to get an SMS when a sensor in our basement detects rising water levels (perhaps your sump pump gave out again):

      sendiChatMessage("+18005551212", "Basement flooding")

Call Me

In the most urgent of cases, or if you just don't want to deal with any messaging, you can use Skype to have your computer call you. At its simplest, Skype can call your phone number and hang up after a specified time period:

      skypeCall("+18005551212", 10) -- call the office for 10 seconds
on skypeCall(phone_number, pause_time)
   tell application "Skype"
      activate
      send command "CALL " & phone_number ¬
         script name "Automation Script"
      delay pause_time
      send command "SET CALL 1 STATUS FINISHED " ¬
         script name "Automation Script"
   end tell
end skypeCall

It is possible to actually have your computer speak messages to you. For more information, check out SoundFlower (http://cycling74.com/downloads/soundflower) and the project notes at AppleFritter (http://applefritter.com/node/10758). Using AppleScript and SoundFlower, you can setup your own call-center or voice-messaging alert system that is setoff by triggers on your Mac or automation system.

Summary

We covered a lot of ways your computer can know where you are and let you know what is going on via email, SMS, instant messaging, and normal calling. Based on the techniques discussed in the first section, you can have your computer alert you only when you are not already home. It would be silly to get an SMS that your daughter is home when she is standing beside you in the kitchen! So get up out of your computer chair and start using your Mac from anywhere else in the world.

The full scripts, as well as additional scripts for setting your status and using other chat programs are available from the AutomationWiki: www.highearthorbit.com.


Andrew Turner is an independent software developer and technology integrator, who has built robotic airships, automated his house, designed spacecraft, and in general looks for any excuse to hack together cool technology. You can read more about his projects at www.highearthorbit.com.

 
AAPL
$106.98
Apple Inc.
-0.36
MSFT
$46.05
Microsoft Corpora
-0.57
GOOG
$550.31
Google Inc.
+0.98

MacTech Search:
Community Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

Cocktail 8.0.1 - General maintenance and...
Cocktail is a general purpose utility for OS X that lets you clean, repair and optimize your Mac. It is a powerful digital toolset that helps hundreds of thousands of Mac users around the world get... Read more
LibreOffice 4.3.3.2 - Free Open Source o...
LibreOffice is an office suite (word processor, spreadsheet, presentations, drawing tool) compatible with other major office suites. The Document Foundation is coordinating development and... Read more
VMware Fusion 7.0.1 - Run Windows apps a...
VMware Fusion allows you to create a Virtual Machine on your Mac and run Windows (including Windows 8.1) and Windows software on your Mac. Run your favorite Windows applications alongside Mac... Read more
OneNote 15.3.2 - Free digital notebook f...
OneNote is your very own digital notebook. With OneNote, you can capture that flash of genius, that moment of inspiration, or that list of errands that's too important to forget. Whether you're at... Read more
Audio Hijack Pro 2.11.4 - Record and enh...
Audio Hijack Pro drastically changes the way you use audio on your computer, giving you the freedom to listen to audio when you want and how you want. Record and enhance any audio with Audio Hijack... Read more
Iridient Developer 3.0.0 beta 3 - Powerf...
Iridient Developer (was RAW Developer) is a powerful image conversion application designed specifically for OS X. Iridient Developer gives advanced photographers total control over every aspect of... Read more
TextWrangler 4.5.11 - Free general purpo...
TextWrangler is the powerful general purpose text editor, and Unix and server administrator's tool. Oh, and also, like the best things in life, it's free. TextWrangler is the "little brother" to... Read more
NeoFinder 6.6 - Catalog your external me...
NeoFinder (formerly CDFinder) rapidly organizes your data, either on external or internal disks, or any other volumes. It catalogs all your data, so you stay in control of your data archive or disk... Read more
Chromium 38.0.2125.111 - Fast and stable...
Chromium is an open-source browser project that aims to build a safer, faster, and more stable way for all Internet users to experience the web. FreeSMUG-Free OpenSource Mac User Group build is... Read more
Default Folder X 4.6.11 - Enhances Open...
Default Folder X attaches a toolbar to the right side of the Open and Save dialogs in any OS X-native application. The toolbar gives you fast access to various folders and commands. You just click... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

Night Sky Pro™ (Reference)
Night Sky Pro™ 3.0.1 Device: iOS Universal Category: Reference Price: $2.99, Version: 3.0.1 (iTunes) Description: Night Sky Pro™Wonder No More™ Night Sky Pro™ is the ultimate stargazing experience. From the creators of the original... | Read more »
Audio Defence : Zombie Arena (Games)
Audio Defence : Zombie Arena 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $4.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: A zombie shooter audio game. Made from gut-wrenching 3D binaural sound, for a new kind of weird immersion. You... | Read more »
RPG Asdivine Hearts (Games)
RPG Asdivine Hearts 1.1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $3.99, Version: 1.1.0 (iTunes) Description: SPECIAL PRICE50% OFF (USD 7.99 -> USD 3.99)!!! Travel alongside four companions and a cat in the adventure of a... | Read more »
Haunt the House: Terrortown (Games)
Haunt the House: Terrortown 1.0.1 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $.99, Version: 1.0.1 (iTunes) Description: 66.6% OFF! SPECIAL SPOOKY HALLOWEEN LAUNCH PRICE! 66.6% OFF! ...What was that sound? Is somebody there? | Read more »
SAS: Zombie Assault 4 Review
SAS: Zombie Assault 4 Review By Jennifer Allen on October 30th, 2014 Our Rating: :: FLAWED SHOOTERUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Shoot everything that moves in this fun, if flawed, twin-stick shooter.   | Read more »
Naailde the Witch Review
Naailde the Witch Review By Amy Solomon on October 30th, 2014 Our Rating: :: PITCH-PERFECT STORYTELLINGUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Marvelous storytelling, narration, and moving illustrations make this storybook... | Read more »
1st & Goal Review
1st & Goal Review By Andrew Fisher on October 30th, 2014 Our Rating: :: FOR THE D&D LOVING QBUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad 1st & Goal is a board gamer’s football game, a football fan’s board game, and... | Read more »
French Developer Pated Unveils Seashine
French Developer Pated Unveils Seashine Posted by Ellis Spice on October 30th, 2014 [ permalink ] French one-man studio Pated has unveiled Seashine, “a poetic journey into the abyss.” Players take on the role of a jellyfish strugglin | Read more »
Agents of Storm: Tips, Tricks, and Strat...
Calling all agents: Would you like to see what we thought of this rather pretty base builder? Check out our Agents of Storm review! Have you downloaded Agents of Storm, been bowled over by the graphics, and aren’t quite sure what to do next? Never... | Read more »
Any.DO 2.0 Hopes to Help Manage Producti...
Any.DO 2.0 Hopes to Help Manage Productivity Posted by Ellis Spice on October 30th, 2014 [ permalink ] iPhone App - Designed for the iPhone, compatible with the iPad | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Apple Regains Momentum As Windows Stutters An...
The latest smartphone sales data from Kantar Worldpanel ComTech, for the three months to March 2014, shows Apple performing strongly in the first quarter of the year, with sales bouncing back in... Read more
Worldwide Smartphone Shipments Increase 25.2%...
New smartphone releases and an increased emphasis on emerging markets drove global smartphone shipments above 300 million units for the second consecutive quarter, according to preliminary data from... Read more
Apple now offering refurbished 2014 15-inch M...
The Apple Store is now offering Apple Certified Refurbished 2014 15″ Retina MacBook Pros for up to $400 off the cost of new models. An Apple one-year warranty is included with each model, and... Read more
Apple drops prices on refurbished 2013 Retina...
The Apple Store has dropped prices on 2013 Apple Certified Refurbished 13″ and 15″ Retina MacBook Pros, with Retina models now available starting at $999. Apple’s one-year warranty is standard, and... Read more
New 2.8GHz Mac mini on sale for $949, save $5...
Abt Electronics has the new 2.8GHz Mac mini in stock and on sale for $949.05 including free shipping. Their price is $50 off MSRP, and it’s the lowest price available for this model from any reseller... Read more
Sale! 3.7GHz Quad Core Mac Pro available for...
 B&H Photo has the 3.7GHz Quad Core Mac Pro on sale for $2649 including free shipping plus NY sales tax only. Their price is $350 off MSRP, and it’s the lowest price for this model from any... Read more
Mujjo Steps Up The Game With Refined Touchscr...
Netherlands based Mujjo have just launched their Refined Touchscreen Gloves, stepping up their game. The gloves feature a updated elegant design that takes these knitted gloves to the next level. A... Read more
Sale! Preorder the new 27-inch 5K iMac for $2...
 Abt Electronics has the new 27″ 3.5GHz 5K iMac on sale and available for preorder for $2374.05 including free shipping. Their price is $125 off MSRP, and it’s the lowest price available for this... Read more
Simplex Solutions Inc. Brings Secure Web Surf...
New York based Simplex Solutions Inc. has announced the release and immediate availability of Private Browser 1.0, its revolutionary new secure web browser developed for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch... Read more
Save up to $180 off MSRP with an Apple refurb...
The Apple Store has Apple Certified Refurbished 2014 MacBook Airs available for up to $180 off the cost of new models. An Apple one-year warranty is included with each MacBook, and shipping is free.... Read more

Jobs Board

Position Opening at *Apple* - Apple (United...
**Job Summary** Every day, business customers come to the Apple Store to discover what powerful, easy-to-use Apple products can do for them. As a Business Leader, Read more
Sr. Manager, *Apple* Deployment Programs fo...
**Job Summary** Apple is seeking candidates for a new position on the Education Content and Technology team. iPad and Mac is in the hands of millions of teachers and Read more
*Apple* Solutions Consultant (ASC) - Apple I...
…important role that the ASC serves is that of providing an excellent Apple Customer Experience. Responsibilities include: * Promoting Apple products and solutions Read more
*Apple* Solutions Consultant (ASC) - Apple I...
…important role that the ASC serves is that of providing an excellent Apple Customer Experience. Responsibilities include: * Promoting Apple products and solutions Read more
*Apple* Solutions Consultant (ASC) - Apple I...
…important role that the ASC serves is that of providing an excellent Apple Customer Experience. Responsibilities include: * Promoting Apple products and solutions Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.