I've been researching computer automation systems, but everything I've found has been overkill for what I'm interested in. Can anyone help me control a lamp that is on my desk, plugged in the wall beneath the desk, with my computer (also on the desk, usually).

What got me thinking is that I have the lamp plugged into a Belkin extension cord/surge protector that came with a wireless switch that toggles the power going to 6 of the eight sockets. Can I somehow hook my computer into this?

I'm not too afraid to get into some wiring type thing, but do have a somewhat limited budget. It'd also be cool to get a dimmer in the loop too.

aha. after more research, I have realized what I'm looking for is instructions for a DIY version of this that won't look so ugly, and that I can build a UI for rather than shortcuts.

  • Is your computer plugged into one of the 6 controlled sockets? – Troggy Dec 3 '09 at 22:45
  • no. i guess it could be. why does that matter? – nona urbiz Dec 3 '09 at 22:50
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    Best use of the 'lamp' tag ever? – djhowell Dec 3 '09 at 22:59
  • @nona: Well you mentioned wanting to control it and I thought you can't really "turn on" the circuit if the computer you want to control it with is located in those sockets that are currently off. And a dimmer switch might do weird things to devices plugged in other than the lamp if it dimmed all 6 sockets. I was just trying to get a better idea of how you had it setup. – Troggy Dec 3 '09 at 23:17
  • makes sense. i thought you were approaching it from the other direction, that you thought it should be plugged in the same circuit, and was very confused. sorry about that. its definitely not. as for the dimmer, i was imagining something i plugged into the power strip, and plugged the lamp into, but thats an interesting point. i could always move this project to another, single socket. – nona urbiz Dec 3 '09 at 23:23

I'd go with an Arduino, a relay and some soldering / coding. http://www.arduino.cc/cgi-bin/yabb2/YaBB.pl?num=1252517327

  • looks intriguing, and far beyond me. anywhere simpler i can start? – nona urbiz Dec 3 '09 at 23:13
  • Well, there's not a really "simple" tutorial about using relays with Arduinos (and microcontrollers in general) but if you have some money / christmas gifts openings, ask for an arduino "starter kit" like those that sparkfun sells : sparkfun.com/commerce/product_info.php?products_id=9284 There's also a nice tutorial about relays etc... on sparkfun's site : sparkfun.com/commerce/tutorial_info.php?tutorials_id=119 And if you never soldered etc..., look at all the sparkfuns beginner tutorials, they are perfect for beginners :) – melka Dec 9 '09 at 0:07

This will get me downvoted for sure, but you could always plug the lamp into a clapper and play back clapping sounds :)

  • :) very clever, but alas, not a right fit – nona urbiz Dec 4 '09 at 4:36

The USB INSTEON PowerLinc Controller is a stand-alone home automation interface for controlling lights, appliances, heating/air conditioning systems and alarm systems.

alt text

The cheaper solution involves wiring (illustrated tutorial):

DIY is the way: USB controlled power strip

  • I'm not 100% sure if I understand the powerlinc, it seems as though it only works with Insteon compatible devices? The DIY seems a bit more like what I'm looking for, but I want to be able to turn on and off the sockets from my computer, not have them do what my computer does. – nona urbiz Dec 3 '09 at 23:01

Well, the hardest part about what you're currently suggesting is that working with AC voltages is both non-trivial and potentially dangerous if you don't know what you are doing. That being said, I would further melka's suggestion to use an Arduino, but not for controlling an AC lamp. Use it to control a DC lamp, which you can build yourself with some LEDs.

Here is a good Arduino tutorial that you can look through to give you some ideas of what you can do. Basically what you would do is use the Arduino as a control interface between your PC and the LEDs. The Arduino could receive commands via a serial/USB connection, and turn on/off/adjust/blink/flash/etc. as many LEDs as you design your circuit for.

The tutorial above is written by a UK electronics supplier based on their kits, but similar kits & components are available from several suppliers. If you need recommendations, let us know which country you live in.


You could also use x10 home automation devices. Though I think that the microcontroller and serial port is a cooler solution.

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