What’s a good place to start if I’d like to do some DIY projects connecting stuff to a computer. Like, having a lightbulb light up when an email arrives. The basics (I am bad at electronics, duct tape is my friend!). I can’t seem to find a good place to start with this stuff.

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  1. Peter, probably the easiest way to dabble in computer control of external devices with no soldering or electronics assembly is with X10 technology. See here: http://www.smarthome.com/x10pclist.html

    I know on OS X at least, you can run an app that will trap a computer event through some straightforward AppleScripting and then send a command out to a USB controller box such as the Powerlinc http://www.smarthome.com/1132cu.html which would trigger one or more power modules that could turn on a lightbulb.

    Beyond X10, there are a bazillion computer-driven serial controller card products for external process control applications.

    Hope this helps.

  2. And waht about external things driving your ‘puter to email you? Like an RSS for your pet dog, to tell you when to walk it, or an email that comes when the neighbors start cooking arepas.

  3. MIDI may work for this. Though it was designed for music (Musical Instrument Digital Interface), and given a bad rap by cheezy MIDI covers that automatically play when you load a web page, it’s a pretty nifty technology.

    Not only can MIDI control sound, but since the “sounds” are really just data commands sent from a source to a generator, that generator can be anything. Generator in a generic sense is normally a keyboard, MIDI sound module, or computer sound card… but it can also be stage lighting and fog machines.

    Lots of bands do lighting cues for stage shows on computers and use MIDI to control everything you see on stage. I’d imagine you could figure out how to get MIDI to control pretty much anything (though someone has probably already done it).

    Off the top of my head, I’d say you could create an AppleScript (you’re on Mac, right?) to run when email arrives, and that would send a MIDI signal from your computer to the MIDI-compatible external device (turning on a light when you get an email would be neat, but turning on a fog machine would be cooler).

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