May 19, 2019

Blink XT2 Wireless Outdoor Camera (Battery Powered?)

One of the most fascinating development in the past couple of years is that more and more smarthome devices are arriving to the scene and its becoming a lot less platform dependent (ie. NEST, Alexa, Hue, etc.). I can still remember discussing with friends about the pain-staking commitment to real integrated systems such as Z-wave or Zigbee back in 2016 and couple of days ago, I ran across an article published by Gizmodo that helps beginners to choose a platform and Amazon's Alexa and Google's Home seem to be the obvious choices due to it's flexibility.

I stumbled across a new camera to be released in just a few days (May 22, 2019). This camera touts to be 100% wireless, capable of being used indoors and outdoors and includes free cloud storage for just $99. The camera is question is the Blink XT2 (Blink is now an Amazon company - shocker!). The bit about completely wireless and powered by two AA lithium batteries and lasting for 2 years is what interests me as it eliminates one of the two physical limits of placing cameras in obscure locations (electrical and internet connection).

For reference, I wanted to see how the first generation of this camera rate on Amazon, at the time of writing, the top reviews displayed on the Blink XT1 were all 1 star ratings despite the average rating of 3.8 out of 5. The biggest gripes are the discontinuation of "smartthings" integration and some cloud storage limits. The battery seems to hold, even validated by this YouTuber's review who is still on the first set of batteries. I think it has a lot to do with only needing power when the motion-sensor detects a need to record and thus submitting a small clips to the cloud.

Definitely keeping this on the radar (kinda wish this was around before I had to pull electrical for some of my previous NEST installations).


December 11, 2018

$20 Smart Camera by Wyze

I have been a pretty big fan of the NEST cameras (along with the suite of thermostat and smoke alarm in their family of products). Lately, I have been hearing more about a $20 security camera solution called Wyze Cam. This little gem is capable of continuous recording using a built-in microSD card and allows you to monitor through a mobile app. The camera comes with a handful of features such as: time lapse, motion detection, HD recording, 15s cloud storage.

Setup is a breeze and even comes with a built-in magnetic base to attach to any metallic surface without drilling. Overall, I am really impressed by what a $20 security camera can do!

October 26, 2018

Invasion of Smarthome "Surveillance" Appliances

Opened up my email this morning, was immediately prompted with a new Google product called the Home Hub. This device is conceptually not much different than the Amazon Echo Show or Echo Spot. Essentially, it's a fixed tablet with function of a smart speaker built-in. Having an LCD display in place, it addresses the missing link to the smarthome appliances, the ability to control them without having the need to go through your smartphone, essentially the "head" of an otherwise headless system.
More convenience in every corner.
This was one of their marketing slogans from that same email, which is to say that Google now has a wide range of smartspeaker of any size of your choosing. For quite some time now, the concept of loading up on smartspeakers has been making me uneasy. In exchange for convenience, placing various smart listening devices (speakers, cameras, etc.) around the house meant the devices are listening all the time, for how long will this information be captured for? Perhaps this detail is embedded deep within each company's lengthy privacy policy thanks to the new GDPR requirement but I still don't feel at ease. Currently, there is very little trust between consumers and silicon valley tech titans. The paranoid side of me already wondered if our smartphones are listening to our conversations, I have a co-worker who swears that his phone is somehow listening and serving up targeted ads to him.

When Iron Man first came out 10 years ago, I wondered about how long before a smart assistant like G.A.R.V.I.S would be available to us. The reality, as it appears, is closer I suppose with Google now able to act as a voice-command hub to all the smart appliances in your house (lights, locks, cameras, tv, etc.) . Why stop there, before long, we just might be able to ask "Hey Google, start the car and pull it out of the garage". (I suppose Tesla is already there)

October 24, 2018

Fall is My Favorite Season, Folliage, Pumpkin Ale and Pixel Phone Sale

It's that time of the year again, the leafs are turning color, pumpkin spice latte during the day and pumpkin ale by night and at last, Google released a new Pixel phone thus the previous generation gets a discount. In this case, the Pixel 2 XL is now discounted down to $699 (Previously $849). The phone at 6" which is a tad on the bigger side. The smaller Pixel 2 is still at it's full price of $649. Both devices offer 64GB of storage at this price. It seems like Google is so eager to get rid of their XL stock, they are even offering a Power Support case to sweeten the deal.

August 19, 2018

Bluetooth Technology Sucks... Period

I have given this technology so many chances, and each and every time it f**ks me over when I count on it. What gets me more angry is companies like Apple and Google abandoning headphone jacks... Getting rid of the last and final reliable analog input known to mankind. This article speaks to my pain points, consider this entry as a big middle finger to Bluetooth Technology!!!

June 27, 2018

Drones Deployed for Emergency Communication Tower

A little bit of old news but interesting nonetheless. Apparently, drones have been in use for areas suffering from natural disasters as temporary connectivity.  AT&T brought it out as a temporary fix in Puerto Rico.  According to ARS Technica, each drone can enable up to 8,000 people to get connected to the network.  Other applications include deployment in large events where relief is needed as large pools of people congregate.  The drone is dubbed as a Flying COW (Cell on Wings) and hovers approx. 200ft. off the ground.

The idea is pretty cool, I am just a bit curious about the practical application of this.  It seems for one, to keep a drone suspended in mid-air would require a large amount of power on a constant basis, this may explain some of the footage where I can see a wire being attached to the base of the drone.  Then there is the question of if setup a portable extension pole is cheaper and more effective but I suppose this might not have the height advantage to clear some trees or tall buildings.

Drones are definitely one of the major game changes in the modern age, its always refreshing to see new applications being deployed.

March 23, 2018

Review: Netgear LB2120 LTE Modem with Ethernet Out

As a follow-up to my last post where I have decided to completely cut out Time Warner as my Internet Service Provider from earning any of more my business.  I was temporarily using an old Samsung J5 phone as my hotspot.  It was working as designed but at some point it decided to reboot itself thus shutting off the hotspot service.  I needed a solution that is more robust to reliably provide internet access to the various smartphone appliances, so I started to look into LTE modems, more specifically, an LTE modem with ethernet out, so I can power up my entire network.

For those unfamiliar, an LTE modem is just like a cable modem, but instead of having the internet connection via a cable line, you can plug in your data-SIM to get a solid internet connection.  Figuring I once tested my way up to 60Mbps+ from my Google Project Fi data SIM at this location, I figured it was more than plenty of firepower to replace Time Warner's cable internet speed.

I picked a NETGEAR LB2120 LTE Modem.  The installation is pretty straight forward.  Prior to powering it up, you insert a micro SIM card (if you have a Nano SIM, you will need to pickup an adapter like this).  After that, power up the modem and connect it to your laptop via the supplied ethernet cable for configuration.  The default gateway address is, from there you can setup your data carrier's APN setting and decide if you want this device to act as a Router or Bridge (set it as BRIDGE if you intend to connect this to your dedicated wireless router).  A quick note on the router selection.  I went with the more expensive LB2120 ($159) because to be totally honest, I didn't really know what I was dealing with.  The lower priced LB1120 ($99) has one ethernet port on the back which I think would have done exactly what I wanted it to do.  The LB2120 has an extra ethernet port which acts as a fail-safe pass-thru connection.  Basically, its for mission-critical applications where it allows this pass-thru LTE modem act as a back-up data should it detect a failure in the primary landline modem.  I didn't really understand this until I got the device, in hindsight, I think the lower priced LB1120 would have worked for my application since the LTE connection is my primary internet connection.

So, how did it work?

As good as I imagined.  I hooked up my Netgear LTE modem directly into my existing wireless router which is powering all of my devices.  The minute the LTE modem booted up and showed it's signal status, it went right to work and all of my smart devices came back online instantly.  The entire experience seems surreal and the sense of freedom (freedom from landline based ISP's utter bullshit) is refreshing.  My Samsung smart TV is hooked up to the router via ethernet cable, so I started to test out HD streaming immediately, the videos started immediately and the picture quality is top notch.  While that was happening, I ran a speed test and was surprised to find a 37Mbps/14Mbps while my TV was streaming a video.

I highly recommend Netgear's LTE modems for folks looking to cut the cords for good or if you live in a rural area where landline is unavailable.

Project Fi Data SIM connected to LTE Modem
Speedtest while TV was streaming a video!

March 18, 2018

Cord Cutting to the Extreme, goodbye Time Warner Spectrum

A few weeks ago, the Northeastern part of the US was hit by a large snow storm.  Apparently the storm unleashed enough power (no pun intended) to wipe out electricity for over 100,000+ households in the region.  I was thankful that the town I lived in had minimal impact and my property, for the most part, braved the storm.  A utility pole on the property had some damage so some of the wires like electricity, telephone and cable were laying across the yard.

Central Hudson(utility company) has done an amazing job to recovery and I was also able to find an amazing electrician to help me resolve all my power issues within 24 hours.  I wish I can say the same for Time Warner Cable or Specturm, my internet service provider. As a preface, I am already a "cord-cutter"; I only subscribe to high-speed internet access in my dwellings.  I can get all of my entertainment, news updates through Netflix, YouTube, etc.  This post is my personal experience on something that most Americans already felt.  In short, I have never experienced such arrogance and poor customer service that I am now thanking Time Warner Cable for pushing me to cut them out completely.   Here is what happened.

After the storm, we called to arrange for a technician to come out to physically hang up some of the fallen wires back on the utility pole.  I informed them we do have internet connection, so its just a physical hazard to have a few strands of heavily shield cables draping across the state highway into my lawn.  They insisted that we must be home for the technician to come.  So we agreed to the first weekend they have available and waited.  15 minutes prior to the appointment window, we received a call informing us that the technician called in sick, and will not make the visit (strike 1); we were frustrated but rescheduled it for the proceeding weekend.  On the 2nd scheduled appointment day, the technician did not show up in the agreed hour (strike 2); bare in mind that throughout these two incidence, we must have answered 6 different robo-calls asking us to confirm the scheduled appointments.

When we called to complaint about this, we were simply told that the technician "cancelled" the visit.  The service agent was not apologetic as his script is pushing to resolve the issue by scheduling another appointment; when we told them again that this is just their equipment(line) not hung properly outside of the house and they should just send a repairman out ASAP regardless of our availability given that we made 2 attempts to be home, they kept on insisting that owner must be there or else.  After attempting to escalate to a supervisor for a discussion, conversation quickly heated up and we were surprised to see how easily they were to offer for us to be transferred to the "cancellation" department.   Sure, I'll play.  With the even more incompetent cancellation department agent, she faked asked why we wanted to cancel our service, but she was just not listening to anything that transpired and was only focused on what company we were interested in switching the service to; when I generically mentioned I'll be shopping for a competitor she actually asked me what that competitor is offering me so she can match it, to which I yelled "SERVICE!"  The rest of the conversation became a big joke of back and forth where I started to realize the consistency in the general lack of customer service and total corporate bullshit that is driven by numbers; they do not have any understanding of customer relations and servicing.  The objective is either get subscribers or remove subscribers.  After a few minutes of this total bullshit, I started to think to myself: Google Project Fi offers free additional data SIMs and recently, they have rolled out an unlimited data plan.  With a spare phone & spare data SIM on-hand and speeds approaching landlines, why do I really need Time Warner?  At the end, I feel like I was just as eager to cancel the service as these Time Warner robots; at last, we have something in agreement.  Within minutes of cancellation, I fired up my own network and the savings from their monthly charge, I can easily go up to the new Project Fi Data Cap level plus get $30 per month of savings.  In the end, I should probably thank Time Warner, for pushing me to cut their cords, twice.  Just for fun, I did a little Google search on their customer service, and was appropriately given this entry from the Gothamist: Time Warner Cable Really Does Suck, Attorney General Finds

Oh, just for the final kicker, during the cancellation process, we received one more robo-call which is trying inform us that the already cancelled appointment #2 will arrive in the next hour.  And of course, that was just blowing smoke because no one showed.

February 20, 2018

Android Pay (Formerly Google Wallet) is becoming Google Pay

In typical Google fashion of constant re-branding and renaming their products (see examples here and here), I just got an email this afternoon alerting me that Android Pay will now become Google Pay.  Just when I finally remember to look for the Android Pay app (under "A") on the rare occasions when I needed to use it, I will now need to remember to look under the "G" section of my apps to access my Duane Reade member card.  Also, this used to be called Google Wallet.

Just so we are clear, by the time I am done with this entry, I had already forgotten what it is called... oh, its going to be Google Pay.

December 18, 2017

Video Editing on the Go with Kinemaster

Mobile technology have come a long way, we always hear people say that smartphones are computers.  Well, I came across one of those experiences when I compiled a footage combining 2 video clips into one on my phone.  Full disclosure, I am a complete newbie to video editing, and I was able to do it 100% on my phone within minutes.  All thanks to an app called Kinemaster (android, iOS).

My goal was relatively simple, I wanted to combine a video footage from my phone and my wife's phone into one.  I wanted to do Picture-in-Picture style footage showing the action from 2 prospective.  I knew I needed to accomplish three things:  
  1. Overlay a 2nd video
  2. Cut/Trim the respective videos and shift align the starting point
  3. Compile a final video for consumption
Kinemaster made it a breeze.  The app walks you through a few steps to pick the video, enter text tiles, choose audio track and make final edits/cut/trim/alignment.  You can pick the final video output quality and you are done.  I managed to learn the app and churn out a video clip that I had in mind in 20 minutes or less.  The best part of this mobile experience is that I was able to share the final video with the family via screen-cast my TV all from my couch (I have Chromecast on all of my TV sets).

The version of the app I downloaded is a free version so it has a watermark, paid version will allow you to remove that watermark and give you a few other options like some free audio tracks.

The experience was surreal, I knew we are all walking around with powerful devices in our pockets but to be able to make an almost professional quality footage right from your couch just puts a smile on my face.  

December 11, 2017

3D Printed Nintendo Switch Wall Mount

Nintendo Switch is this years hottest game system.  It is also break-through in video gaming as it finally fulfilled Nintendo's vision of mobile/family gaming console in one.  For many, this was the first Nintendo system with high definition (the Wii-U had HD, but no one really bought it), and it finally bridge the gap of portable gaming as well as home gaming.

I will spare the hardware review since there are no shortage reviews out there, it's obvious I like it enough to buy it.  But, I am here to share my 3D model of a wallmount that I designed for my Switch.  You see,  as much as I like the whole mobile/home gaming concept, I find leaving the Switch's docking cradle on top of my TV stand is quite a bit of pest as my TV stand's shelfs are too short for a top loading game system.  To my surprise, given the plethora of various Nintendo-licensed accessories, which is an obvious evil-but-successful money making scheme (in my case, I paid for a second cradle, another set of joy con, 2 of the wired controllers costing hundreds of dollars), I could not find a licensed wall-mounting solution.

I figured I'd fire up that old 3D printer and print a wallmount of my own design.  I ended up with two designs (large and small depending on your 3D printer bed).  Head on over to to Thingiverse and download my STL files and enjoy a clutter free setup of your Switch.

November 20, 2017

How to take control and backup your files without thinking about it?

Do you feel overwhelmed by the amount of information you have to manage?  Photos, documents, work, mp3s, media files, contracts, etc.  You probably have these information scattered across multiple devices like a smartphone, tablet and/or laptops.  If you haven't gotten around to organizing and staying on top of backing up your data, I hope this article can help you get going.

Objective:  To easily backup data safely, leverage cloud services on a limited basis.
Pre-requisite:  The system I designed requires a couple pieces of hardware at minimum; a laptop or computer that will serve as your primary information gateway and a dedicated NAS drive (you can proabably hookup a hardrive to your Router if you fancy to take that route).

A couple of thoughts before we dive in; 1). This may not be the best solution, but its something I find effective and helps me stay in control, you may be able to point out a lot of flaws in my design but my objective do something easy and so it promotes the idea of backing up my data on a regular and automated basis.  2). This system pre-supposes you have some kind of discipline in organizing your data on a day-to-day, for instance, labeling your files and folders in a logical manner; the point of this entry is to "backup" data, so it doesn't help on the issue of "organizing" your data.

This backup plan (as illustrated by yours truly) is centered around two types of backup locations; the cloud which is predominately Dropbox for me (you can choose other services of your liking).  Whatever file or important scanned documents I receive on my phone, I would file it in the Dropbox.  The beauty of it is that is auto-syncs with other devices or my laptop (the "mastermind") so I can access useful documents or references on the go.  For all the more sensitive documents, I store is locally on my laptop to keep it away from the cloud (I know this is proabably me being overly cautious), however I do use a free software called Syncback to setup periodic backup of my laptop's content (both sensitive local drive as well as the dropbox folder for added measure) to the NAS drive that is connect to my network.  Beacuse of the way Dropbox automatically syncs with other devices and saves on the cloud and because of my local drive is automatically backed up to the NAS drive, I have more or less designed a simple system to help me keep my files save in an almost autonomous manner.

So here is an example of what a day could look like:  Lets say you are working on a project, you snapped a couple of photos, by default, your Google or Apple account will back it up to their photo services.  If the photo is serving as an important project document, I would then save it to a location in my Dropbox folder (this is then auto-sync'd back to my laptop).  Lets say you scanned a document from a smartprinter; I again choose Dropbox as my destination and boom it goes to the cloud and all my sync'd devices.  Back at home, if I deemed certain documents in the dropbox to be of high sensitivity, I will pull it down and store it locally on the laptop's designated folders.  From there, Syncback software will grab all the content of my laptop (both Dropbox and sensitive data) and back it up once per week to my network drive.

Of course there are flaws in every system and here are some of the draw backs of my design:

1. Having a NAS Drive locally will not prevent from theft or damage in the event of fire or water; experts will recommend having another NAS drive off site to account for this situation.
2. Occasionally, Syncback software hangs because of something I did, so its prudent to double check it (maybe set a calendar reminder for yourself) to make sure things are backing up smoothly, once I noticed it didn't back up for 3 months, the thought alone gave me the chills
3. Some of the cloud services have expenses associated, I keep my documents lite so I am still using the free Dropbox account but I know Google, Apple and Microsoft also charges a couple hundred dollars per year for their cloud storage solution, so if you have a lot of files, that might be added expense