Since the pandemic started, I’ve gone all in on working from home. I quit my job at a local software company for a fully remote role, and built a wooden cabin in my garden to work from. Being at home and mostly accessible to my family is great, but sometimes I need a way to signal to them that I’m on a call and ideally shouldn’t be disturbed.
The most obvious analogy is the “ON AIR” light box seen at radio and TV studios, designed to stop people unwittingly disrupting a live broadcast. This kind of thing:
Amazon is filled with cheap (and they look it) remote-controlled versions of this idea. There are some more interesting interpretations on Etsy, but I need something that works outside, so that narrows the field a lot. What I do have is a light fitting on the side of the cabin that takes a regular screw bulb, which opens it up to the smorgasbord that is the smart bulbs market.
When I last looked at the home automation scene a few years ago, I decided it was a bit of an enthusiast’s pursuit - i.e. requiring lots of time and money and still mostly turning out a bit crap. Today, though, there’s a lot you can do quite cheaply and easily.
After a bit of searching I wound up getting a LIFX Mini LED bulb - it’s not expensive, works with Apple HomeKit and crucially is compact enough to fit in the light housing on the outside of my cabin (most bulbs are a little to long).
Being a light that supports any colour and brightness combination, it’s useful to me in other ways too - it can be a security feature at night, and give me some nice soft lighting outside in the evening.
The bulb is in my Apple HomeKit setup, which is easily done by scanning a code (it supports Alexa and Google Home as well; most smart bulbs seem to). What I want is a simple toggle to pop it on and off, ideally from my phone’s home screen. Enter Shortcuts, Apple’s friendly framework for automating home devices.
I have a “Busy/Free” shortcut which toggles the light. It’s a bit less simple than it should be in practise because there’s no way to toggle a device, so it has to check the current status with if/else logic and act accordingly. The shortcut also fires a notification, just to give me some feedback that it worked in case I can’t see the light from where I’m sitting.
The logical next step down the automation rabbit hole would be to toggle the light automatically when a call starts or ends, which I could probably do via IFTTT and its integration with Zoom. I don’t really want or need that complexity though; sometimes a simple on/off switch is perfect.
- Shortcuts works on the Mac too, so I can pin this switch to the menu bar, which is a nice touch.
- I’ll be interested to see how the new Focus modes feature develops, and whether home scenes could become a factor in there.
- Actions gives you lots of extra things to do in Shortcuts (and it’s free).
Okay, I didn’t build it. Some nice people came and built it for me. ↩︎