Phony Sony

Some people have the common sense to get alarm systems. Others set up all sorts of lights and timers to make the bad guys think they're home when they're not. I thought I was pretty smart for being a member of the latter group - until last week when my neighbor asked, "Were you gone Monday and Tuesday? I noticed your light timer was on."

Of course, there's no way this revelation would convince me I should cough up $40 a month and sign a monitoring contract that would lock me in through Jenna Bush's second Presidential term. No - I needed to improve my ruse; make it so convincing that even the savviest scoundrel wouldn't dare desecrate my domicile.

Lucky for me, the Sound & Vision editors stumbled upon FakeTV, a $39.99 device engineered to make it look as if a TV is on in your home (with the assumption being that people will think you're in there watching it). It's a tiny plastic unit a tad more than 3 inches across, packed with red, green, blue, and white LEDs that flash in semi-random patterns. The idea is if you place it in a room with translucent shades or drapes, or flash it against a wall, it looks like a TV's running. A switch on the back lets you turn it on and off, and you can also set it so it flicks on automatically at dusk and runs for four or seven hours.

The wizards at Opto-Electronic Design, Inc., who created FakeTV, say they did all kinds of scientifical-type analysis to figure out how to make a little field of LEDs look just like a real TV. Of course, we at Sound & Vision don't take manufacturer claims at face value unless they buy us a really nice dinner. And since Opto-Electronic Design, Inc., is in Eden Prairie, MN, and we don't yet have a satellite office there yet, that wasn't going to happen. So the only thing left to do was request a product sample and actually test the thing.

I was the perfect guy to do it. My Los Angeles neighborhood of Canoga Park recently earned fame as home of the city's most-wanted gang leader. That means the most dangerous gangbanger in the city that invented gangs is my neighbor. By my reckoning, that makes this the most dangerous neighborhood in the country. (Never mind that I live in the 'hood's quiet western quarter, where many of the denizens live on fixed incomes and fuss about "those kids from the next block and their damned minibike.")