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March 25, 2012 4:32 PM   Subscribe

Looking for an object that will move just frequently enough to continually trigger a motion sensor.

My job is one I can do largely from home. Officially, I'm not required to come in at all, but some of my bosses nonetheless prefer that employees be physically present in the workplace.

My office has frosted glass windows, so my bosses' only clue as to whether I'm physically present is whether my light is on or off. However, I can't just leave the light on all the time so as to appear to be present, because it's on a motion sensor timer and will turn itself back off when I'm not there. I'd like to fix that.

What device can I install in my office that (1) will move continually, preferably on a programmable schedule, (2) will trigger the sensor, and (3) is a perfectly plausible, innocuous object to keep in one's office?

When the lights time out, I have to wave my hands above my head a little to trip the sensor again, so it's not exactly a hair-trigger.

Ideas so far include a Roomba or an oscillating fan, though I don't think either would move enough to trip the sensor, and the Roomba would be a weirdly suspicious object to have in one's office.
posted by anonymous to Grab Bag (32 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
The roomba or the fan might be enough if you attach a flag to it's back (I'm thinking of the flags that are sometimes mounted on the back of kid bikes a/o recumbent bicycles to improve their traffic visibility.

No plausible deniability on that path, though.
posted by janell at 4:36 PM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


You could have a fan, on a programmable daytimer, that moves a plant.
posted by fake at 4:37 PM on March 25, 2012


An image search for "modern pendulum clock" gets some office-appropriate items...

Have you seen the Dyson fans? I'm thinking one decorated with streamers? A bit odd tho.
posted by kmennie at 4:38 PM on March 25, 2012


Do you have an outdoor window with blinds or shades? You could install a programmable motor on the shades (for example) and claim it's to make sure a plant (which you'll add to the office) gets enough sunlight. The motion of the shades may be enough to trip the sensor. You might want to experiment first, though.
posted by jedicus at 4:42 PM on March 25, 2012


Does a laser pointer trigger the sensor? You could install it in some unobtrusive place, hook it up to mains power, and have it flash the sensor on a timer of some sort.

This question cracks me up...
posted by defcom1 at 4:49 PM on March 25, 2012


Well, I am picturing this, but perhaps that is impractical for a small room. Maybe a well-placed fan with crepe paper streamers attached to the grill would be sufficient.
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 4:52 PM on March 25, 2012


You clearly need a Drinking Bird.
posted by xil at 4:55 PM on March 25, 2012 [11 favorites]


I don't know how sensitive those light sensors are (I always just wave my arms around too) but my instant thought was, can't those drinking/dipping bird toys go for days if the conditions are right? Not programmable and I don't know if it would move enough to be detected by the sensors, but pretty innocuous. But maybe there are similar, more sophisticated little toys/gadgets that keep themselves moving, that a person might have on a desk or window-sill for amusement.

On preview: xil beat me!
posted by DestinationUnknown at 4:57 PM on March 25, 2012


For (3) specifically I thought of an Anglepoise-type lamp with some sort of robotic base. Unless it were seen to move by someone entering the office, they might not realize anything were unusual. I am unsurprised to find someone has already created this.

Other ideas along the same unobtrusive concept could be something that extends and retracts from a corner or the ceiling. Or oh! How about a robotic door opener on a standard cabinet? Hide it inside, have the door sort of slide open as if wafted by the air.... Again, unless somebody would be standing/sitting in the room when this happens they might not ever know.
posted by dhartung at 5:08 PM on March 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


Can you perhaps replace the switch/motion detector? Maybe even with something that uses the X10 protocol, so that with a networked PC tie-in you can turn it on and off from home.
posted by attercoppe at 5:12 PM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


because it's on a motion sensor timer and will turn itself back off when I'm not there. I'd like to fix that.

Change to a schedule timer for your lights. If that won't work because of your lighting system, get the schedule timer and attach a lamp to it. Set that timer for a certain time, and when that lamp goes on, that will be enough to trigger the motion sensor. You can get one at any Walgreens.
posted by karathrace at 5:14 PM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, if you just set up something that moves, mount it on the back of the door and include a switch that will still it when the door is opened. That way when your boss (or anyone) pokes their head in, tho they won't find you (next week's question?), neither will they spot your hooky rig.
posted by attercoppe at 5:15 PM on March 25, 2012


Maybe one of those dancing Christmas tree type things that responds to noise. Then you could call the office or set a recurring alarm on a desktop clock.
posted by salvia at 5:19 PM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


How about rigging some object to the CD tray of your computer and either setting it up to open and close on an interval, or setting it up so you can remotely open and close it?
posted by Algebra at 5:20 PM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Boss, is there any way to get rid of the light sensor in my office? It's really distracting how it goes dark and then I have to wave my arms around every few minutes."
posted by bleep at 5:27 PM on March 25, 2012 [22 favorites]


Maneki neko
posted by Confess, Fletch at 5:30 PM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Motion sensors require something considerably warmer than the average temperature in the room to be triggered.
posted by phrontist at 5:41 PM on March 25, 2012


Everybody does realise that most/all motion sensors detect not just 'movement', but 'movement of something reasonably large that emits IR radiation at a certain wavelength', don't they?

A pendulum, Roomba, or dancing toy won't do it. You need a large cat, medium dog, or an employer that trusts you to work from home.
posted by Pinback at 5:43 PM on March 25, 2012 [5 favorites]


An X10 light controller? Shockingly, X10.com, one of the Internet's all time great abusers of pop up ads, is still in business.
posted by COD at 5:53 PM on March 25, 2012


A small lizard with a fever? A small herd of lizards?

A tall heat fan on a timer on a Roomba on a timer?
posted by maudlin at 5:55 PM on March 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


How about making the lights look like they are on by having another lamp on a timer in your office?
posted by advicepig at 5:56 PM on March 25, 2012 [7 favorites]


Came in here to say just that - could you say that you prefer your own lighting and install a few lamps on timers?
posted by davey_darling at 6:08 PM on March 25, 2012


I don't know that something small will work that well. Mine goes out all the time when I'm sitting there. I do the jackass arm waving thing to get it back on and even then, sometimes I have to physically stand up to get it to acknowledge me.

Also some sensor lights require heat or sound to trigger, so make sure your solution addresses your specific switch.
posted by cecic at 6:16 PM on March 25, 2012


I'd try a small non oscillating fan pointed at something like a dream catcher or a hanging flag. A gentle breeze would keep it moving without it flying around vigorously and they can be quite large. Careful placement of the exhaust from your PC might be enough.

Pinback writes "Everybody does realise that most/all motion sensors detect not just 'movement', but 'movement of something reasonably large that emits IR radiation at a certain wavelength', don't they?"

Better quality sensors [PDF] are dual acting and detect both movement via IR and sonically. That way they can trigger off of the door opening.

bleep writes "'Boss, is there any way to get rid of the light sensor in my office? It's really distracting how it goes dark and then I have to wave my arms around every few minutes.'"

Depending on laws in the OP's location non motion sensor style switches may not be permitted. Several LEEDs certifications for example require motion sensors in offices. Also be careful if you decide to just change it out; some commercial lighting systems are running at 277 or 347 volts which is significantly more dangerous than regular wall voltages.
posted by Mitheral at 6:44 PM on March 25, 2012


You'll have to experiment, or maybe see if you can get brand/model info about your building's light sensors. Most modern ones are IR sensitive, specifically so the energy savings aren't lost by having the lights turn on every time somebody leave a fan going. So try a Roomba. Try a Roomba with a tall safety flag attachment.

If you find out that the light are on PIR (Passive Infrared sensor) control, there are all sorts of LED based IR sources that you can use. Say you put a couple of LED sources on a plant, and then aimed a fan at it...
posted by aimedwander at 6:58 PM on March 25, 2012


"Better quality sensors [PDF] are dual acting and detect both movement via IR and sonically. That way they can trigger off of the door opening."

Which is why I said 'most/all'. Typically, to prevent false triggering (which the ultrasonics are highly susceptible to), dual-mode detectors are designed to be triggered by US detection of large changes (door opening, movement of adult-sized objects) & latched on by IR. They're also designed to ignore small / regular / short-duration-repeating US events (e.g. Roombas, oscillating fans, etc) in the absence of occasional IR detection. So, unless you can provide the IR movement across the sensor, they'll turn off fairly quickly (usually something like within 10~60 secs without IR, compared to 2~15 minutes with IR) and require large movement again to retrigger

Despite that, due to false triggering they're still a right royal PITFA, which is why almost nobody uses them - except cases where both fast response is required & gross object detection is easy e.g. windowless toilets, internal hallways, etc.

IR LEDs are probably also useless - PIR detectors are designed to be sensitive to usual large mammal IR emissions (7~15µm, peaking around 9µm), while the output of IR LEDs is typically 700~900nm (0.7~0.9µm) or so…
posted by Pinback at 7:56 PM on March 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think you're going about this from the wrong direction. Is there a light switch in your office, such that you can turn the overhead lights OFF?

If so, first start complaining about how much you hate that damned fluorescent lighting. Maybe the lights buzz, or something about the tone of the lighting is unpleasant to you.

Next, bring in several floor lamps and a few desk lamps, enough to provide a clean, professional level of light to your office.

Your office should be well-lit enough that it looks like a place where work is getting done. Don't cop out at a medium or low level, it will make your office look like a creepy lounge, and People Will Talk.

Give it a few weeks for everyone to get used to to this new set-up. When it's been days since someone commented on your new lighting set-up, you'll know it's time. Then you can start ducking out at will.
posted by ErikaB at 8:30 PM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


My office has frosted glass windows, so my bosses' only clue as to whether I'm physically present is whether my light is on or off.

Are you sure? I can see fuzzy silhouettes through frosted glass, or at least occasional movement of some shadow.
posted by desjardins at 8:39 PM on March 25, 2012


(previously.) I was going to suggest a lava lamp.
posted by crunchland at 8:53 PM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


loose parakeet?
posted by daisystomper at 8:55 PM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


You clearly need a Drinking Bird.

There's more than one way to use the Drinking Bird to get out of work.

(Couldn't find the English clip... so sue me.)
posted by Kevtaro at 3:15 AM on March 26, 2012


I think what you're looking for is a Journalism Major.
posted by jdfan at 12:25 PM on March 26, 2012


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