Making an On Air Light with Philips Hue and Automation

Because I podcast and do live video from my home office while my wife, Melanie, is homeschooling our five kids in the other room, it’s important that I let others know when it’s safe to knock on my office door and when they have to be very quiet. In the past I looked into those fancy “on-air” lights that you see in TV and radio studios, but they’re pricy and usually need to be hard-wired and so instead I’ve tried various workarounds like notes taped to the door and even a battery operated light that I screwed into the door itself. They never worked well and I eventually stopped using them.

Finally, I think I’ve got the solution, creating a virtual on-air light using a Philips Hue bulb; a cheap plug-in wall light; and some automation on my Mac.

The first step was to purchase the light. I chose this one because it’s not too expensive, it plugs in to the wall, and it will fit a standard Hue bulb. Plus it looks okay. I also got a Philips Hue Color bulb. This was pricier than the regular plain white bulbs I usually get, but for once I had a use for a multi-colored light. When they arrived from Amazon, I hung the lamp, put the bulb in and set it up in the Philips Hue app on my iPhone as normal, naming it “On-Air Lamp”.

The next step was to use the Hue API to identify the bulb and the settings I wanted to use. I detailed how to get your API key and use the browser-based CLIP API Debugger tool in my blog post about automating the Hue motion and temperature sensor. The light was found under the lights section of the GET command response. By setting the bulb to the color I wanted in the Hue app first, I’m also able to see the correct settings for the color and brightness I’d eventually want. It looked like this:

I already have a Keyboard Maestro automation that runs when I turn on my sound mixer. It starts my recording software, Audio Hijack, and turns on an app that prevents my computer from sleeping while I’m recording, called Amphetamine. It’s triggered when KM detects the USB device connecting to the Mac. For me that was a perfect time to turn on the On-Air Lamp so I added the following to the macro in an “Execute Shell Script” action:

curl http://192.168.4.32/api/[YOUR_API_KEY]/lights/25/state -X PUT -d \{"on": true,"bri": 122,"hue": 64738,"sat": 254,"effect": "none"\} ' -H "Content-Type: application/json"

You should replace [YOUR_API_KEY] with your actual Hue API key. You should also set the action to “ignore results” so it doesn’t pop up a notice every time it runs. Also the IP address (“192.168.4.32”) should be replaced with whatever the IP address is for the Hue hub on your network.

Of course, I want the light to be off when I’m done, so I set up another KM macro that detects when the mixer is detached from the Mac and executes the same shell script (and only the shell script), but changes the “on” parameter from “true” to “false” and deletes the other parameters because they’re unnecessary.

I also set up some macros for my Elgato Streamdeck so that I could set the light to yellow for when I’m working, but not recording, so they can knock if necessary. Finally, I’m going to set up a Geektool notification for my Mac’s desktop to remind me how the light is set right now so I can be sure it’s on when it needs to be and off when it doesn’t.

Update: I never set up t he Geektool notification because it was easier to set up another Elgato Streamdeck button. The Streamdeck has built-in Hue support so I have the On-Air lamp as an on/off button and so I can see at a glance whether the light is on or not.

My Podcasting Workflow: Post-Production and Editing

I’m sometimes asked about my podcasting workflow, how SQPN goes about recording, editing, distributing, and promoting our shows. This is the third in a series of posts that explain the multiple steps that take me from the beginning to the end of the process for each show we produce. The first post was about my hardware setup, the second was on research, prep, and organization, and the third was how I record the shows.

After I finish recording a show and I’ve received all the files from others, I store them in a Dropbox folder until I’m ready to edit. My editing software of choice is Adobe Audition, a powerful application that is part of the Adobe Creative Suite. In addition, I use a set of audio processing plugins called Izotope RX 7 Standard.

I should give a disclaimer right here up front: I am not an audio engineer nor an expert sound editor. I know just enough–self-taught, helped by friends, and gleaned from numerous YouTube tutorials–to make our shows listenable. There are other people who are much better sound editors and we are lucky enough to have Victor Lams, who volunteers to help edit some of our shows, especially those with long lead-times for editing. But most of the editing falls on my shoulders at this point, until at least SQPN gets to a financial point not only where it’s breaking even, but with enough surplus to pay a real sound editor.

That said, here’s what I do.

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My Podcasting Workflow: Recording

I’m sometimes asked about my podcasting workflow, how SQPN goes about recording, editing, distributing, and promoting our shows. This is the third in a series of posts that explain the multiple steps that take me from the beginning to the end of the process for each show we produce. The first post was about my hardware setup and the second was on research, prep, and organization.

When it comes time to record a show, I rely on a couple of pieces of software. Now, I know some podcasters prefer to record only to a hardware audio recorder as a failsafe against a software crash taking out the whole recording. But that was back in the days when Skype was a lot less stable than it is now and more prone to crashing and taking everything with it. I also think those people tended to be recording on Windows.1

 

Audio Hijack

My main recording software is Audio Hijack from Rogue Amoeba. This is modular software that allows you to construct an audio workflow using block-like structures. It works in conjunction with another Rogue Amoeba product called Loopback, which allows you to route audio in non-standard ways around your computer.

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My Favorite Keyboard Maestro Macros

I got a request to share my favorite Keyboard Maestro macros and so I put a few of them together here. Keyboard Maestro (KM) is a Mac app that allows you to create complex automations to control your software in almost any way imaginable. It’s incredibly powerful, but it can also be useful even in simple ways.

I should note that while I developed some of my macros from scratch, others were shared by other users and I’m using them now or have adapted them to my use. I also have, no kidding, 181 macros so I won’t be sharing them all. Here are some of my favorites.

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Using Hue motion sensor temperature with Geektool and Keyboard Maestro

One part of our smart home setup is our Philips Hue lighting system. Over the years I’ve replaced many of our old light bulbs with Hue smart bulbs in various fixtures, which allows us not only to control the lights with automation and schedules, but also with our voices using Alexa and Siri. We can also group control of them through compatible switches without having to rewire what’s in the walls.

Philips also makes a motion sensor, which is great for rooms that don’t get a lot of traffic during the day, meaning that the lights go off when no one’s using them or where people often forget to turn them off. I have one of these sensors in my office and another in the pantry/laundry room. What’s nice is that these sensors also have thermometers in them, which means I can track the temperature in the rooms. Unfortunately, to find out out what the temp is, you have to open either the Home app or the Hue app to find out. Unless you do a little home programming.

I wanted to have the current ambient temperature of both rooms to be constantly updated and displayed on my desktop and, also, to get notifications if the temperature gets too cold in the winter or too hot in the summer and I might want to turn on the heater or the air conditioner to adjust the temperature.1

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Using Zapier to Setup Omnifocus Projects from AirTable Entries

As you may know, I produce about a dozen different podcasts, most of them weekly, and keeping track of all the tasks of pre-production, recording, editing, distributing, and promoting them is challenging for a one-man operation like myself. Some shows I host, while others have their own hosts. Some shows I edit, while some have their own editors. It’s a lot of moving parts and if I don’t track every step, it could quickly fall apart.

I use Omnifocus, a Mac-based application, as my project management tool of choice and that’s where I keep all of the individual tasks that need to be checked off. Meanwhile, I use AirTable, a web-based database, to keep track of the shows, their episodes, who’s involved, and what stage of production they’re at, among other things. Since the steps to produce an episode of each podcast is pretty much the same every time, that means this process is ripe for automation. What was missing was a way to connect the AirTable and Omnifocus parts of the process because I was finding that I’d enter an upcoming episode of a show in AirTable and forget to setup the Omnifocus project. I needed some way to trigger the project creation from the first step of a new episode. Enter Zapier. Read More and Comment

Completing Crossword Puzzles on iPad with Apple Pencil

I’ve long been a crossword puzzle fan. When we were first married, Melanie and I would do the puzzle at dinner together as a fun couple activity. But as children came along that became impossible to continue at dinner. And then when I quit getting the physical newspaper in favor of a digital version, I gave it up entirely. But last year, when I started working from home, I decided to start doing the crossword during lunch during the week and on Sundays during brunch. At first, I printed them out from the digital newspaper and used a pencil, but that used too much paper and ink and seemed wasteful. But what if I could do the puzzle with my Apple Pencil on iPad?

Sure, there are plenty of crossword puzzle apps for iPad, from ones of questionable value up to the New York Times daily puzzle, but they all seemed overkill since I already had a newspaper subscription and they all used frustrating keyboard interfaces for completing them instead of the natural writing of the Pencil. So here’s what I did, first in my description of the steps and then with a video to illustrate.

First, I subscribe to the Boston Globe e-Paper1. Yes, the Globe website has a puzzle, but it’s not downloadable; it’s the same “complete it in a window” as the ones I didn’t want. However, the e-Paper is available both as an app in a web browser and as iOS and Android apps.2

Second, you should own the GoodNotes app for iOS (and an Apple Pencil). This is an excellent writing and notetaking app that is useful for a lot more than just this puzzle function, but it’s part of my workflow here.

Second, I open the app each day, go into today’s edition and go to the comics section.

Third, I tap on the crossword itself, which opens it in Article view, which is a full-page view.

Fourth, I hit the Print icon in the top right, but I don’t print it. This part is key: Do a reverse-pinch3 in the print preview window in the middle of the screen. This will open another screen that will have a Share icon in the top right.

Fifth, tap the Share icon and the Share sheet will open. If you do not see an option to “Copy to GoodNotes” on the top line here, keep scrolling to the right until you do. Tap on “Copy to GoodNotes.”

Sixth, GoodNotes should now open. If this is the first time doing this, you can import the puzzle as a new document. On subsequent imports, you can choose to import into the same notebook. If that notebook is open, you can append it right to the end or you can “Change Location” and select the correct notebook to append to.

Seventh, you are now ready to complete your puzzle. Obviously, unless you have a very large iPad, you will need to pinch and zoom to read the clues and write in the little boxes, but that’s what iPads are good at. Frankly, it’s superior to pencil and paper puzzles since when I erase, it never smudges and I can always ensure it’s at least legible as my handwriting allows.

Obviously, this can work with any puzzle (or any document that you want to write on really) as long as you have a way to print it on iOS. Once you have it in the print dialog, then turning it into a PDF that gets sent to GoodNotes is the key.

Enjoy!

  1. This is the first caveat: You have to be a paying subscriber. Support local journalism. Read the paper.
  2. Second caveat: the iOS app is of spotty quality. Sometimes they forget to format it correctly so one of these steps doesn’t work. In that case, I have to use the website to “print the PDF”.
  3. Reverse-pinch: Place two fingers (thumb and forefinger usually) together on the screen and then move them apart, like you’ve got some taffy on your fingers and you’re stretching it.

My Podcasting Workflow: Research and Preparation

I’m sometimes asked about my podcasting workflow, how SQPN goes about recording, editing, distributing, and promoting our shows. This is the second in a series of posts that explain the multiple steps that take me from the beginning to the end of the process for each show we produce. The first post described my hardware setup.

Before I record a podcast, there’s a certain amount of work that needs to be done. I keep track of all our shows and the individual episodes and where they are in the process using the relational database tool AirTable. The database is broken down into a series of views either by show title or specific filters like “In the edit queue” or “in the release queue”.1

AirTable

Each record has the episode title, episode number, the date and time that the recording is scheduled (if any), the release date of the show, current status (i.e. idea, scheduling guests, recording scheduled, edit queue, posting scheduled, posted), series title, assigned editor, host, guests/co-hosts, episode description, editorial notes, link to the episode on the SQPN site, and then specialized fields related to particular shows (e.g. which Doctor is it, the Doctor Who season, Doctor Who or Star Trek original air date; the Mysterious World category; the Star Trek series and season, etc.) There’s also a database of the podcast panelists and guests and their contact information as well as databases for tracking the picks of the week for The Secrets of Technology and Let’s Talk.2

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Going iPad Only is Stupid

iPad on top of MacBook Pro

Sorry for the clickbait headline, but this does encapsulate some of the frustration I’ve been feeling lately. I listen to a lot of Mac/iOS/tech podcasts and read a lot of blogs in that space as well and one of the common trends I’ve seen lately is how many people have declared that the age of the PC is over and that the new touchscreen tablet era has begun.

Time and again, I see these pundits exclaim that they have eschewed their Macs, with their clunky keyboards and massive screens in favor of the simplicity of a touch interface and Apple Pencil, which has simplified their workflows and allows them to focus on getting their work done. Sure. Perhaps. But it sounds like a lot of hipster baloney to me.

I’m no neophyte with technology, but whenever I try to do my work on an iPad instead of my Macs, I feel like I’m trying to swim through a pool of pudding with one arm tied behind my back. It’s not that I can’t do my work there (although there are some things that are still not possible on an iPad), but that trying to do it there takes longer and is harder. So why do it? To prove a point? Read More and Comment

My Podcasting Workflow: Hardware Setup

Dom sitting at his desk with his computer gear

I’m sometimes asked about my podcasting workflow, how SQPN goes about recording, editing, distributing, and promoting our shows. Right now, for the most part, this is a one-man operation. However, we’re growing to the point where I’m going to need to start bringing on some help and handing off some of these elements to other people. So what follows is a series of posts that explain the multiple steps that take me from the beginning to the end of the process for each show we produce. The first step involves the hardware setup.

My office at home is where I do my podcasting. I have a big Ikea desk on which sits my computer and a second monitor and microphone. Actually “sit” isn’t technically true. Both the 27″ iMac and the 27″ secondary display are on separate swing arms that allow me to move and reposition them independently as needed. On a small rolling cart to my right sits my Mackie ProFX8 mixer. It’s a bit overkill for a single microphone setup, but I anticipate doing multiple microphone recordings in my office in the future and this will work well for that. The Mackie is connected to my Mac via USB.

My microphone, an Audio-Technica ATR2100, is connected via XLR to the mixer through a Cloudlifter CL-1 microphone pre-amplifier. The microphone hangs off of a Rode PSA1 boom arm and a shock mount along with a pop filter.

Update: I’ve replaced my ATR2100 with a Rode Procaster, which is the next step up in quality. I think it provides a better sound for my voice type and it’s better at recording just my voice.

Hanging from an Elevation Lab AnchorPro headphone hook under my desk is my Audio-Technica ATH-M50x headphones which are directly connected to my iMac’s audio-out port.
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