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Christmas Gift Guide

Thwart burglars ... or just nosy neighbors

Tell 'em you're down the basement

Let your pet do some of the work

Get your pet moving remotely

Have a talk with your hamster

Don't overspend for no reason

Timed lamps are old news

Get smart about your house sitter

Operate shades from anywhere

Program a fake movie night

Fake a dinner party from far away

Your light bulb can double as a deterrent

Your bulbs can learn, and they should

Make 'em think you're binge watching

Do you love tea? You do now

Think a few timed lights and and an alarm system are enough to stop a burglar? Maybe not.

Any plugged-in neighborhood cop will tell you that the typical burglary happens not at night, but during standard work hours. So the go-to anti-theft tech of yesteryear, with its reliance on timed lamps, really isn't going to make a difference in 2016.

Instead, start with your doorbell.

Some security systems, such as Ring, let you answer the doorbell with your mobile phone; essentially, your phone acts as an intermediary between you and an intercom/camera system outside your front door.

Caption by / Photo by iStock

Thanks to a 720p-resolution screen, you can see visitors, but they can't see you. They can only hear you.

So if someone comes a-knocking, just use your phone to tell the intercom what your grandma used to say: "I can't come to the door; I'm down the basement!" Some little white lies are worth it.

Caption by / Photo by Ring

Maybe your Jack Russell is a terrible watchdog. No matter; he can still help guard the homestead ... by just barking, a sound that's usually associated with owners being at home.

Work your furry buddies into a loud lather with the Petzi, a camera-cum-treat dispenser operated via your smartphone.

Caption by / Photo by Petzi

Push a button to speak to your pet via a speaker on the device, or dispense a treat from via remote command.

Big dogs come thundering across the house once they start to recognize the audible Petzi pre-treat signal...and the neighbors downstairs assume that the humans have come home.

Caveat: If you have a pet other than a dog, you may need a few more gadgets to make sure your house is really safe ...

Caption by / Photo by Petzi

Speaking of noises: It's possible to pretend that you're home by video conferencing with your pet...even if it doesn't know how to click the "answer" button.

You'll need to tell your software of choice how to automatically answer your call -- a solution that varies depending on which system you use.

But the result is the same: your voice echoing across your apartment, and your pet howling forlornly in response. Unless that pet is a hamster.

Caption by / Photo by iStock

If you're hell-bent on using lighting as an anti-theft measure: Fine. Just don't overspend on your bulbs. A GE Link-connected LED light bulb that costs as little as $15 can be controlled from a smartphone via a $50 Wink hub. (Hue Lux bulbs go for a just a few dollars more.)

So for less than $100, you can have a basic smart home option perfect for a small apartment.

Caption by / Photo by Philips

Just really love an old-fashioned, timed lamp? Consider the 2016 version: an innovative remote-control bulb that can behave more like a real person is operating it.

Example: Philips has a Hue Lux bulb so canny it has its own IFTTT channel. So you can have the light go on whenever, say, a sensor detects motion outside your front door.

Caption by

Maybe you just like having a house sitter when you're gone. No problem. Control the amount of access your sitter has to your smart-home devices and Wifi with Dojo, a dongle that plugs into your router and protects your tech.

Caption by / Photo by Dojo

If you close your shades only when you leave your house, looky-loos have an easy way of knowing when you're not home. Programmable window treatment systems can fix that.

Tony window-treatment company Hunter Douglas has the PowerView system, which lets you pre-program when and how much you want specific shades or blinds to close.

Caption by / Photo by Hunter Douglas

Use PowerView to program custom "Scene" settings (such as, say, "movie night") for every room, and then activate them through your smartphone.

So even if you're nowhere near your house, you can program your shades to assume different positions on different days to fool house casers into thinking that you are at home ... and actively adjusting the blinds.

Caption by / Photo by Hunter Douglas

If you want to use music to trick people into thinking you're home, you can do so with serious finesse.

The Sonos system lets you control your music via smartphone. Tell the app when you want the music to turn on; for how long; and even what to play.

Select, say, NPR, and neighbors will think you're having some very erudite people over for dinner...even if nobody is home.

Caption by / Photo by Sonos

Some would-be burglars like to case a house by ringing a doorbell. BeOn bulbs can listen for your doorbell and instantly turn on the lights to deter aspiring thieves. Or just nosy neighbors.

Caption by / Photo by BeOn

Even better, the BeOn can learn your light-use habits when you're home, and then mimic that pattern when you're out.

Caption by / Photo by BeOn

Or consider a light that mimics the patterns of a TV. The FakeTV burglar deterrent automatically goes on at dusk but can also work during the day.

Caption by / Photo by FakeTV

Most ambient sound apps specialize in white noise, ocean sounds or other audio designed to help people rest or create. But a few have an added benefit: noises that just happen to mimic the activities of people who are at home.

Alfred Nelson's Sleep and Noise sounds app includes not only white noise and the sound of a purring cat, but also that of an electric fan or a kettle boiling.

Caption by / Photo by Alfred Nelson
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