The Pocketwatch

After my father passed, I received an old Waltham pocketwatch from his belongings. The story behind it was that he found it and attempted to find the owner. He even went so far as to contact the pocketwatch company and attempt to track the owner with the serial number. His effort failed.PocketWatch

As I thought about it, my dad was filled with a lot of conundrums. On one hand, he was a successful accountant, trusted by a lot of clients, carried a certain amount of prestige in our small two and was a president of the state CPA institute. And the pocket watch showed his desire to go above and beyond with honesty and pursuit of truth.

On the other side, he spent years in an affair while married to my mother. When discovered, instead of being clear about what he wanted and honorably facing up to his Continue reading “The Pocketwatch”

Ring Video Doorbell Pro Review

After much experimenting and consternation I finally decided to jump in for a Ring Video Doorbell Pro. 
I had experimented with Raspberry Pi’s, storing video to a local NAS and the results were just ‘meh’ at best and required a lot of personal babysitting and tweaking and was turning as expensive as retail solutions with limited quality.
I attempted to use a Zmodo per a previous post, but it’s video quality and capture weren’t quite what I hoped, it’s low light capability wasn’t good and the storage was rather expensive for the recurring services with less than high end quality hardware.

The Ring Video Doorbell Pro version was aesthetically pleasing with it’s lower profile than it’s other Ring counterparts. And they come with 5 different color faceplates so your not stuck with one color. The sticker price of $250 made me a bit reluctant.

I had seen the Ring products all over the place, but was sold when I finally did the research to uncover how much the video storage is in their ‘cloud’. At the time I write this, it’s $30.00 annually for a single Ring branded device and $100.00 a year for unlimited devices. That provides video retention for 60 days.

It wasn’t until I had installed the Ring Video Doorbell Pro that I learned they provide a full feature functioning trial period of thirty days beginning the day you register your device. That was a pleasant surprise. That’s plenty of time for me to get a total feel for the functions and features.

Installation wasn’t difficult.
Instructions were straight forward if you have some basic electrical tools and aren’t intimidated. At a high level, I needed to confirm that my mechanical doorbell system operated at the right AC low voltage range and was able to do so with a decent multi-meter. Next I dropped the power on my existing doorbell system, wired everything per the instructions and we were done. By far the longest thing to get done was locating the right breaker doing laps to kill power to the doorbell transformer from the garage to the attic. The last thing to do was setting up an app on my phone and we were done.

I was very impressed from the start. You use an app on a phone or tablet to interact with the Ring Doorbell and the video quality was really sharp and clear in the dark and even better in daylight. The lens is a fisheye which captures all of the entryway area, but amazingly provides clarity out to the street.

The app has functions for capturing video for ‘Rings’, ‘Motion’, ‘Live View’ and ‘Starred’ and a final list option called All, which lists everything. It captures video in snippets depending on the function.

‘Motion’ – based on sensitivity and the area to detect motion this is where video snippets are stored related to movement. I had to experiment with the settings and am very happy. I opted to be a bit sensitive and probably get more alerts than needed. On rare occasions it senses a large vehicle like dump truck or bus in the street or in one instance a small dachshund that decided to check out our doorway.
 ‘Rings’ – whenever someone presses the doorbell, it captures video on the approach to the doorbell and during the time you watch them. From your app, you can answer the door through the built in speaker and microphone. This has taken some getting used to. It seems to give me a bit of a problem with bluetooth headsets.
‘Live View’ – If you check the options with the device you’ll find a ‘live view’ button. This allows you to watch things on demand. This might be useful if your checking the weather I guess. And while you view ‘Live View’ it’s capturing that video.
Of course ‘All’, lists all the snippets captured from every category.
The app also includes the option of sharing with others. This allows you to give others access to the Ring device too, so more than one person can view the storage que. Or you can set it up on multiple devices like tablets in addition to your cell phone.

I’ve been using the Ring DoorBell Pro for a couple months and signed up for the single device option and figure this is a good time for my review. This requires some explanation.

Storage: Pro or Con – You decide
Ring devices are “alert based” devices.This is my terminology. What I mean is the Ring device (across the product line) have a continuous buffer (or storage loop) and only store footage a few seconds before and after a ‘trigger’ event like motion or the doorbell ringing. Other systems (Nest for example) are continuous footage storage systems. Why does this matter?

Here’s an example: At first Ring was a unique experience and I enjoyed being able to see what was going by. But with the neighborhood being overrun with delivery trucks during the holiday season and receiving alerts nearly every five minutes, I reduced the sensitivity so I wasn’t getting alerts for every single car, stray animal or pedestrian that went by in the field of vision. Then someone let their dog poop directly in the line of sight of the Ring without picking it up, but beyond the sensitivity for the alerts to capture that footage. So, who ever it was didn’t get caught by my Ring DoorBell storage.

In comparison, a friend of mine shared his ‘Nest’ storage experience, which is a ‘continuous storage’ system. His system has an alert based function with adjustable sensitivity. So he gets alerts as I do whenever motion is sensitivity thresholds are triggered. But he can also go online and view all the camera footage. With that type of storage option I would have caught the dog pooper perpetrator.

 My viewpoint: If I had ‘continuous storage’ then I would have shared the pooper footage publicly to shame them.
However, I see the Ring Doorbell as a complimentary function to a full coverage camera solution for the hours. Considering the function of the Ring DoorBell and it’s purpose as being focused on the front door and entry way, I have no regrets.

I Can Run Again And Thank Sobriety

I’ve been a runner since the early seventies. I joined Cross Country duand loved it. Being able to jog the trails in the cool early morning hours was a freeing experience even when I was competing with others. Continue reading “I Can Run Again And Thank Sobriety”

Halloween Projection Setup on a Budget

I was strolling my local building supply store and ran across one of those pre-packaged window projection set ups for roughly $150.

I was interested because I like gadgets and I enjoy Halloween decorating. As I examined the contents, it was pretty clear it was a simple inexpensive digital projector, a projection material and a quality DVD for content. Incredibly simple. But, being the budget

I made a mental note to take a look when I got home to comparison shop and promised myself that if I could do it for less than $100, I’d do it.
Fast forward to that evening and I was YouTubing, Googling, and web shopping all over the place to do cost comparisons. The project seemed incredibly simple especially with the drop in consumer projector prices. The projector, the screen material and the content.

I found a simple digital projector that came in around $40 that seemed to have decent reviews. COOQI Mini Portable Pocket Projector Home Theater Support 1080p White/Yellow is the name of what I got and it was less than $43.00 delivered. By the time this blog entry gets out there, another make or model could be great at that price point.

For projection I bought a cheap frosted thin shower curtain liner large enough to cover the window I intend to use. That was less than $5.00.

For content, search on YouTube for ‘Halloween Projection Loop’. All kinds of options pop up and many of them are long or you can pile a bunch in a row in your ‘Watch List’.

Now, let’s go through the parts and put it all together.

I have a room in my house with no windows so I could do testing in a dark place. Testing the projector showed me it was just the ticket. It provides the option of connecting via HDMI, USB, Micro-SD card or via a pig tail with old style audio visual connectors. With that variety of options, you should be able to find some form of connection that works.

I mounted the Cooqi on a tripod and started projecting on one of my walls. I used a Raspberry Pi with Kodi, an Ubuntu laptop running YouTube, I used a USB stick on the USB port, I used a ChromeCast with YouTube and they all worked fine. My biggest challenge was maneuvering in the dark while switching things up. The image was good enough once it was focused.

Next I opened up the cheap shower curtain liner and suspended it on an old compression curtain rod. Not the perfect arrangement, but it was just the ticket.

Then I realized that Happy Halloween was displaying backwards as it would be seen outside. But that was easily addressed by using the menu to flip the video display and everything came out just right.

Next, was choosing YouTube videos. My preferred method of setting everything up was to use a Google ChromeCast on the HDMI port. I started the video up with my Chromebook casting the YouTube video and then just let it go. It worked great.

I did try using the ChromeCast powered by the built in USB port and that didn’t work. I used an external USB power supply and everything worked fine.

When Halloween arrives, I’ll fold over the top of the curtain, secure it with tape and cut it to size. I’ll probably take a few pictures when I have it set up.

Happy Halloween.

I Dream of Drinking

Yep, it’s true. With more than 450 days dry, it happens.

Does it mean, I feel conflicted about alcohol? I didn’t wake up tempted, so I guess not.

During the first dream, I felt the warming euphoria of the alcohol, in my dream. The spreading warmth and relaxing feeling was very reminiscent of the first good long pull of a tall strong one. Continue reading “I Dream of Drinking”

Security Camera ZModo Mini Wifi

Security
Camera Zmodo Mini Wifi

I’ve
been considering security cameras for a long time. 

Although
I do have a built in wired system, typically they aren’t any good
when it comes to identifying people or capturing events. To enjoy the
full features, it requires subscriptions for monthly monitoring. They
make a lot of noise, call emergency services and then you suffer
inconvenience charges. And frankly, they are moody (false alarms) and
depend on someone to arm and disarm the system, which I would be the
only human in my household that would take the time. 
So,
a normal wired system just doesn’t meet my household or usage
requirements. 

Let’s
face it. Video camera’s allow us all to move around normally without
interrupting our lives, they don’t force everyone to learn
complicated codes or create false alarms where the emergency services
charge for their inconvenience. But there can be a lot to learn. 

How
should I get started? Like any other red blooded American. Pick a
direction and see how it works out. Play that out for a while and
pick another direction. 

Over
a year ago, while browsing a Frys, I picked up a 
ZMODO
ZH-IXY1D 
.
As inexpensive as it was, my expectations weren’t very high. But what
the heck, give it a shot, right?

I
got it home and setting it up at that time was done between an
Android app over my house wifi direct to the camera. The app at that
time was MeShare and seemed unreliable and mounting it at that time
was troublesome. So I tabled it, but made a few notes. 

Fast
forward to a week ago and I pulled it out of my drawer and decided to
try it again. Zmodo had a more current Android app, now called ZModo
Zink. And I discovered from the support forums, that the firmware
needed to be updated. A quick download of the app, the app auto
discovered the camera on the house wifi and then gave me the option
of updating the firmware. I said yes and we were in business. 

The
app was vastly improved, very simple to use and seems much more
stable than the previous app. The camera provides alerts to the
Android app when something might have happened and you have the
option of receiving a notification and a video clip is sent that
gives you the option to download the video clip to your phone. 

I
mounted the camera just inside a window adjacent to my front door.

According
to the documentation, you are allowed access to clips for download up
to 36 hours from the event. That sounds decent for no subscription
fees and if you are a person that hangs onto your cell phone,
theoretically you should see alerts in 36 hours, but have to remember
that you must actually pick the correct clip and download it to your
android device. However, if you have a lot of cameras or your cameras
get a lot of traffic (notifications with video capture) or travel off
line or in questionable cell phone coverage, I can imagine that this
could become an issue with lots of alerts and lots of memory being
eaten up. 

The
business strategy is clearly enticing customers to their cloud based
subscription service to extend retention of footage. Nothing
gets done without the app, so ensure your happy with it as much as
the camera.

About
the Camera: 
Setup
was really easy. It has a normal lighting and an infra red (IR)
mode. Resolution is really good with proper positioning and
lighting. Put some thought into it and experiment, but I expect
that’s required for any installation like this.
The
app provides simple remote controls that allow you to switch between
four modes of operation which you can remotely control. By default
Zmodo has provided logic
to reduce false alerts
, but this algorithm may also exclude a
period of time when something won’t be recorded. Example: Based on
the logic, when there is an event triggered, it only captures 10
seconds. Great for someone showing up initially at your front door,
like package delivery. Any subsequent event from the first will
capture five second clips, so if there is a gathering of people and
something occurs outside that five seconds you might not catch it.
Ergo, their
cloud pricing plans
. I’ll leave it to you to determine if its
reasonably priced or not.

At
the time of this article for continuous retention in their cloud it’s
$99.90 a year. But they also have a less expeensive plan with seven
day retention of $49.90 a year. Additional devices can be added for
an added 50% per device. As an example two cameras on a 7 day plan is
roughly $75 a year. Two cameras on the continuous cloud would be
roughly $150 a year. It doesn’t indicate that it’s an
introductory plan. The superificial search I’ve done tells me there
are cost competitive alternatives.

The
camera works well for watching the entryway of the front door of our
house which is no wider than three and a half feet and no deeper than
6 feet. It actually looks across the doorway from one side with
minimal view of the street. I found that if it looked outward more,
it would video capture on vehicles driving by, which would be a real
waste of notifications. There is small sliver of the view that sees a
tiny bit of the street and I still get video clips of big trucks
maneuvering when nothing else happens.
I
mounted it inside a window so it can’t be tampered with but…..
what I didn’t consider is the glow from it’s ‘status’ light
caused a reflection off the glass and made it completely unable to
see anything in night camera mode except the reflection of the camera
itself.

I
covered the status light with electrical tape, which solved the
reflection problem, but really didn’t improve the performance. The
camera has an IR night mode, but unless there is some form of infra
red or normal light illumination, it really does no good at all. In
darkness you need infra red illumination. That’s why you see so
many outdoor security cameras with a ring of LED’s right around the
lens, but the LED’s give off no visible light. When the IR sensors
are set off, the IR illumination kicks on at a non visible spectrum
to humans.

Camera,
App & Service Issues: There are some times
when the clips appear to be absolutely empty. I don’t know if it’s
because of imperceptible things like the wind moving leaves or
traffic in the back ground. There have been instances where I know
someone walked by and the camera didn’t capture them in a clip. Of
course, with continuous footage captured in a loop in the cloud, that
should be a different story. The alert would notify me and I would
check in the cloud for near that time.

The
lack of IR illumination, which might be overcome with lighting
strategies, but adds to the complexity overall.

There
is no way to access the video feed without using the Zmodo app. This is not an IP streaming camera. Meaning I can’t use the camera or its video feed with any non-Zmodo
services. Why does that matter? I want control over my own data
without having to pay someone a monthly subscription fee that
averages out to quite a bit of money per device. It would be nice to
be able to integrate this camera with others for a full suite of
video feeds for customizable recording and storage of whatever I want
for as long as I want.

Final
Summation:
This is clearly not
a full service review. I’m in no way positively or negatively
affiliated with Zmodo beyond having purchased the camera myself.
My
own selfish view? This was a good learning step for
me, but not the end game I
want. I want a more open set
of devices so I can build and control things myself.
However,
this or something similar like Ring and
it’s services
have a role to play in the market. Maybe it’s
something for you?

External Hard Drive Note….

Let’s take a moment to talk about hard drives and their role with a NAS.

If you’ve caught my previous blog entries, then you’re aware I have a WAP bridge that also has a hard drive attached and performs as a NAS.

One thing I learned in all of this, not all external hard drives are created the same.

A few years ago I had picked up a Western Digital Passport 1TB external hard drive. Apparently it had a ‘green feature for saving power. Normally not a big deal if your mobile and plugging your hard drive into a laptop just long enough to do what you need to do. You keep it occupied while attached.

Fast forward to some later time in the future, you plug in the hard drive to a WAP bridge and try to use it as a NAS. It’s recognized and things look good. You step away for a half hour, come back to access the network and get to files on the NAS and, well, it’s not able to access the files.

You spend hours unplugging the hard drive, checking the data, realizing that it keeps disappearing, knowing that it doesn’t make sense UNTIL…..

You take the time to look up the particular make and model of the portable external hard drive you have and find out that it has an inherent feature for a power saving mode that, if dormant, makes the hard drive sleep. Not a huge issue with a hard drive when connected to a pc, but apparently the WAP bridge your using doesn’t have the right ‘nudge’ to wake the thing up again. Ugh.

So how to change that? Western Digital support says the hard drive has firmware and needs to be confirmed to be the latest. AND there is a specific utilities software package that has to be used to change the power saver /sleep option.

Needless to say I did both and turned off the power saving function.

Previous lesson learned: Update to the latest firmware especially when something isn’t operating the way you want.

Current lesson learned: Know your hardware.

Sometimes design ‘features’ have unintended consequences and can be a real PITA when they aren’t obvious.

And yes, it appears that the firmware update and using the utilities configuration to remove the sleep feature solved the problem with the hard drive worked. Yay for progress.