For most Millennials, the notion of a holiday hack evokes images of the Christmas classic “Home Alone”. In the film, hijinks hero Kevin McCallister (played famously by Macaulay Culkin) uses clever tricks to booby trap his would-be robbers. From the iconic “Get out of here, you filthy animal!” TV scene to turning Christmas lights into a broken glass deathtrap, he weaponized and disrupted societal conceptions of festive decor.
Fast forward to 2016 and many of us still want to turn our houses into festive fortresses with trip wires and paint cans; you know, just in case. Given the inherent impracticality, perhaps it is best to use 21st century technology to turn that folly into jolly and ‘hack the halls’ with synchronized lighting and musical displays, video-mapped Christmas trees and internet-connected everything. The memories you’ll make —and lawsuits you’ll avoid— will be the gift that keeps on giving.
Link Your Lights
No more fumbling under the tree to find the plug or setting automatic timers. Christmas came early. As seen in the Wall Street Journal , the Belkan WeMo electrical socket device can connect your festive lights to your home’s wifi network. From there, the WeMo app on your smartphone doubles as a light switch, allowing you to turn them on or off anywhere, anytime. Using Philipps Hue iDevices switch, you can connect your Christmas lights directly to your iPhone, iPad or iPod. “Siri, turn my Christmas lights on!”.
Hack the Hue
Lumenplay string lights are RGB LEDs that allow you to vary their hue and motion via a smartphone app. Control everything from colour combinations to effects, speed, brightness and direction to give a sense of motion. Better yet, they can be synchronized with music to dance to the beat of your favourite festive track.
(Smart) Home for the Holidays
The Samsung Smartthings hub is a great gateway device for the first-time holiday hacker who’s also interested in turning their house into a smart home. Using sensors, you can automate your lights to turn on when you get home and turn off when you leave, tell you when someone is coming down the chimney, bring that Elf on a Shelf to life or serve as the nervous system of your outdoor lights and music display.
It’s Not What’s Under the Tree, It’s What’s On It
On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me… a video-mapped LED Christmas tree? Alas, no partridge could ever compete with this. Hackaday reports, “The end result is an addressable string of WS2812B LEDs connected up to a Raspberry Pi Zero that can display a video image even though it’s wrapped around a roughly cone-shaped (pine) object.” As IT professionals, we should never want to keep up with the Joneses when it comes to Christmas light displays — we are the Joneses.
Tweet the Season
According to Wired, you can use IFTTT to make your Christmas lighting display a little brighter — as in smarter (and literally more luminescent too). The system allows you to change the colour of bulbs with a tweet, have them shut off when it rains or turn on when the sun goes down.
Not to be a Grinch, but it should be noted that smart home, smart LED lights and other inter-connected devices like those mentioned above are increasingly being targeted by hackers. As noted by CNBC, infecting a single internet-connected device can spread to thousands of others around it if they are in close enough proximity. They studied the Philipps Hue smart lights specifically and found, “In creating a model of the infection process, they simulated the distribution of the lights in Paris over an area of about 40 square miles and noted that the attack would potentially spread when as few as 15,000 devices were in place over that area.”
The potential vulnerability has been reported to Philipps, who has resolved it. That said, it’s best to be vigilant and invest in solid cybersecurity. We’d take a stocking full of coal over a malware any year.
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