Friday, July 20, 2018

Video Doorbells: The Best Functioning Option

Keeping an Eye on the Porch

With Social Media and the Internet, it's amazing what you can find about the Human Experience. And now with connected / Smart Homes, it is possible to see what's happening at home when you're not at home. Whether for security, deliveries, or just plain curiosity, having a robot with a camera watch your front porch is a fascinating idea.

What are the Options?

There are currently two schools of thought when it comes to Video Doorbells; Motion Capture or Full Stream Capture.  Products such as Skybell and Ring both offer Motion Capture only, where as Nest Hello offers Full Stream Capture.  The difference is that Motion Capture only delivers actual clips of captured activity; so if the camera notices a person, or creature, it will start recording for a short period of time. The Nest Hello records everything constantly and when a motion event occurs, it makes note of it.  There is a further distinction between these two schools, but it will be made clear later.

What is the Cost?

Although cost of a product is often stated clearly, the function of cost is rarely covered.  You might think that just by my having not jumped immediately to the price, that I may be trying to avoid the numbers.   It is important to not look only at the price of a product but to critically consider the value of the product.  Of course some people just cannot afford the price and so will immediately stop reading, ...

The short answer there is no monthly service fee for Skybell, whereas Ring ($30 / year) costs much less money than Nest ($50-$300 / year or $5-$30 / month). Each of these devices ranges in initial price around $200

But to those who value the function, please continue reading below.

What is the Value of Security?

Although it is difficult to put an actual definite price on Security, it is possible to make an informed decision based on good information.  Supposing a porch pirate steals a package from the doorstep, having a camera out there would have offered a much better idea of when the package was delivered and who picked it up.

To return to the topic mentioned earlier regarding motion capture, the best function that Nest Hello offers above and beyond other video doorbells is that of full daily video streaming.  While all three devices offer motion detection, no robot with a camera is as good as an alert human.  Even with outlines and masks and facial detection, computers are not very wise and experienced; they do not know to ignore plants blowing in the wind, they do no know the difference between a photo of a face and an actual face. 

The value in the Nest Hello is that to hedge the shortcomings of motion capture alone, it delivers all the video from the entire day.  And recognizing that no human (even those whose job it is) wants to sort through hundreds of hours of real-time footage to find the proverbial needle in a haystack; Nest can speed up the playback to a time lapse of the whole day in seconds. (See Video Above)

A New Age of Availability and Function

Throughout recent technological history, let's say in the last 60 years, it has been possible to get video surveillance on one's home.  It has even been possible to get recordings of that surveillance. And if one could afford it, to have a person watch those recordings; to be the human with experience behind the mechanical function of video recording.   Much more powerful computers now aid society in monitoring and finding differences in the videos, but they cannot fully replicate the wisdom of an experienced human. 

Society often argues for the lowest common denominator thinking that if we can get by with paying less, we effectively get more. But in this case, to sacrifice cost over function is an unworthy loss.  There is no way to go back and recover video that was never recorded.  And if the task is left to inexperienced robots, just to save a buck, we lose more than the money we've tried to save.

There are greater available technologies currently available than what is presented in this article, but for the price. So much more is possible and yet many of do not recognize it.  I highly recommend the Nest Hello Doorbell as it's value is much greater than it's price.

Check out the Nest Hello today:

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Unreal Mobile is Real, Cheap!

TL;DR Stuff about Pricing

Unreal Mobile has made a great case for the lowest cost and most simple Mobile Phone service.  Everything; Talk, Text, and Data for $10 per month.  No gimmicks, no promos, no one-time-deals, just ten dollars for Unlimited everything.

Now, if they're offering all this for so little, why cannot any other carrier do the same?  Well, like every other carrier, the data (or lack there of) is the catch.  You get ONE Gigabyte of data at full speed and then everything else is 2G or 512 Kbps.  It is unlimited 2G, you will get all the content you can take at half-a-megabit per second; which if you think about it, is 10 x faster than an old dial-up modem.

A little background on Unreal Mobile

Unreal Mobile is FreedomPOP, which is Sprint.  FreedomPOP is the company that for nearly 8 years has offered a FREE 500-2000 MB of data to anyone who would sign up.

Originally, they rode atop Clearwire 4G which was purchased by Sprint in 2014 and subsequently shutdown in 2016.  Through what might seem like a very simple ideal, FreedomPOP has managed to continue to exist in the bottom tier of Mobile ISPs, by giving away data for free. 

The Simplicity of the UI

Unreal Mobile likes to keep it simple with the User Interface.  It is very practical and visually basic; appealing if you think simple is good.  This interface is responsive as well and scales to fit any device, be it phone, tablet, or desktop.

The tabs across the top, help the user find the basic feature sets of their bill, usage, plan, service, devices, and propagation (sharing).  As of this post the sharing feature has not been enabled.  If you dig into the tabs, you'll find even more ways to save on data use, plus a feature that Unreal Mobile touts to get away from advertisements.  I personally, wanted to get back to using 2G only, to save all the Faster speed data that I could because they let it roll over, month-to-month.

Comparison to other carriers

The kicker wit Unreal Mobile is the price, but why do no other Mobile ISPs provide all this for as little.  First off, Unreal Mobile (FreedomPOP) is backed by Sprint.  Sprint had, for about a month, a deal on Unlimited Everything for $15.  It too offered minimal data at LTE speeds and then the unlimited came at 2G thereafter.  But that deal was for a limited time.

Every other carrier is almost the same as Unreal Mobile in that they offer a small amount of LTE (1 or 2 GB) and the remainder is at slower speeds. While each carrier has a slightly different deal, each usually runs at least $50 / month with almost the same features as Unreal Mobile.

Source: CNET (

What's the Catch?

How can Unreal Mobile sell Unlimited Everything for $10 / month, and yet no one else offers such a deal?  The reality is that the four major carriers do in fact offer these deals, but they do not advertise them.  They know that they could sell these features for this low price, but they have spent hundreds of millions in advertising to convince consumers that there are more features available if they pay more. 

End Game

Unreal Mobile is a very simple ideal.  It does have other, more costly plans ranging from $10 to $40 and offering more high-speed LTE data, upwards of 10 GB for the top tier.  It is more effectively a mobile phone plan for those who use very little data, or just those who want to text and talk.  Of course anyone can use WiFi for Data, but if WiFi isn't always accessible, it might be good to go with a bigger carrier. Or if you're cool with 2G speeds (512 kbps) all the time.

The end game on this is that Unreal Mobile is trying to tap the bottom of the market, those with the least amount of liquid funds.  It could be that this phone is just a backup phone or for teenagers whose parents won't get them a phone. In any case Unreal Mobile has made the proposal that it is possible to get an unlimited mobile phone plan for almost nothing.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Smart Light Switch from TP-Link

A Smart Light Switch, without Sacrificing Common Function

Just about everyone wants to change or upgrade the home they live in.  And even the wealthiest people never quite get what they want out of their home(s). But with a simple change, a poorly placed switch can be upgraded to a whole new world of possibility.

Using the TP-Link WiFi Light Switch (HS200), it is possible to effectively move the position of the light switch to the kitchen.  Via Google Home devices, like the Google Home Mini, and their ability to receive commands through voice control, the kitchen light switch can be operated from anywhere in the home. The TP-Link Kasa app can also be used to operate the switches, if voice control is not an option.

... But Why a WiFi Switch?

I've long used SmartThings Home Control with both Zigbee and Z-wave and the mere fact that I already have WiFi devices and coverage in my house bewilders me for their necessity.  I recognize that Z-wave requires less power than WiFi, but for something that is hard-wired for power, (like the HS200) it works just fine.   Power conservation is not the problem at hand.

Convenience an' all that...

Skeptics may question whether it is actually convenient to have a mere single light switch converted to automatic for $40, when a standard switch costs no power to operate and barely $2 to purchase.  But in my experience it is the paradigm shift from single manual to multi-use control that is the key.  Were it my decision, no light switch or power outlet in the world would be singly manual. 

The added function of remote access and / or voice control offers more channels of access to lighting control. A person does not need to physically interact with anything to operate a device.  Using the light switch is as simple as speaking.  

Managed Control

Short of obsession, the level of automation in my home is probably not the same as that of Bill Gates' home, but I'd wager that I have more home automation that 90% people.  Yes, I do this because I enjoy it, which probably exceeds even the level that some geeks put to the task. Digital informational feedback is exciting to me; it seems to offer a modicum of control.  

I see home automation as an inevitability, like the automobile in years past. The more automation we can get from the tools on which we rely, the better our lives can become.  In the 1800's it was common for a person to walk the streets in at dusk and dawn to light and extinguish the street lamps.  Later in the early 1900's, a person stood in the middle of the street to direct traffic.  Through automation these monotonous jobs have been re-allocated to a machine.  

It is a realistic expectation that in the near future many devices will be more automated and connected, offering more precise control and better feedback.  It will be possible to recognize better ways to do work and home activities.  Personal ease will enable even further action beyond that which is today inhibited by too often required manual operations.  The future is bright and Smart devices are leading the way.

Check out the TP-Link WiFi Light Switch HS200 on Amazon: 

Thursday, June 21, 2018

It's only Money, I need Data

Money vs Data

A friend recently commented that I spend an awful lot of money on gadgets.  He exclaimed that I should save for my retirement.  I tried to explain, but it's hard to let someone else see inside my head.  The above image is a pretty close ideal; lots of numbers and pictures all centering on the flow of money out of my pockets and the flow of data in.

I want all the Data

I want all the data, but to get it costs money, so I will trade my money for the equipment that will bring me the data.   Alas, why do I want the data instead of the money?   I love to solve problems (sometimes problems that no one, besides me, has asked).   I like correlations, I like to see where my problems come from and for that I need more data.

Take My Money, Please

I don't make a lot of money doing this or my other distractions (er jobs).  But I also do not have kids (yet) and so a lot of my money goes to projects like what I will relate in later posts.  I dedicate a sizable chunk of my income to analysis and enjoy searching for more interesting ideas that analysis.  The money isn't the important part, but what the tool of money can do to get me to the important part.

So Why do all this?

Why do anything that one loves to do?  It certainly meets a need or desire.  I love to do it.  But of all the analysis that I have done or will do, is there a purpose or just a need?  I think it best if something that I need and want be beneficial to others.  Many scientist and researchers before me spent most of their lives studying things that might not have been looked upon as necessary or useful.  But now that they have done the work, we all have benefited from it.  I work for mankind

What Data do you Seek?

I seek monitoring data for analysis of the home environment.  I want to find out how to better manage the environment of the home.   There are so many points of information that are in a home, whether it be an old Apartment building or a new Townhouse.   Insulation, Location, Water, Sewer, Lighting, Heating / Cooling, Waste, and so on; these factors are normal lifestyle aspects.  They can be efficient or inefficient, but without data and analysis a person might never know how their life could be easier or better.

Lately, I've been set on Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC).  There are several important factors to consider.  Maintaining a constant stasis temperature requires good insulation and then efficient heating and cooling.  You could heat a cold room all day, but if all the heat is leaking out or pouring out, it causes a good system to be inefficient.   But without the data, how are you even able to find out that this is happening?

Hardware & Software, Data & Analysis

Here comes the part where I recommend some hardware and software that I use help me find data and analyze it. 

Since the outset, even prior to the buyout, I have used Nest products.  They do (most of ) what I want.  And although they're far from cheap, they live up to the axiom that "you get what you pay for."   Utilizing the Nest Thermostat, Nest Cameras, and Nest Temperature Sensors, I am able to get a much more clear picture of what is happening with the temperature and humidity in my home and I have the capacity to make changes immediately.   These products allow me to see not only the current statuses of the home and its rooms, but to track the performance of the HVAC and it's constant war with the exterior climate.

Because Reasons

Since High School, I have sought data analysis and the ways to obtain it.  I wanted to know why my parents refused to turn keep the temp in the house in summer at a reasonable level.  Little did I know that it wasn't that they wanted to be uncomfortable, but that they liked money more than physical comfort.  If I knew then, what I know now about how to make the house more efficient, I would have set out for that immediately.  It took me more than two decades and a great deal of life lessons to discover the reasons.   And it is from these life-lessons that drives me to analyze and divulge to this blog, my experiences and thoughts.

Next Up

In subsequent blog posts I will cover other aspects of home monitoring, such as Lighting, Water management, Air Quality, and Insulation.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Quickbooks Self-Employed

Last year (2017) I quit working for a single, particular company and set out on my own.  I have been in IT Services since 1999 (as of this writing 19 years). 

My primary issue (reason for leaving) was that I felt that I was not being heard by my employer(s).  I had many good ideas, most of which I self-implemented.  These ideas were usually accepted after I implemented them.  I found it was hard to prove that my ideas were sound, on paper.

Through my church and at least one other business experience, I had discovered that Quickbooks made a pretty good tool for book-keeping.  During my first few months on my own, I helped one of my clients move from the Quickbooks Desktop to Quickbooks Online.  This freed up the client to access the books from anywhere and by more than one user.  It also pleased the client's Accountant very much.

It just made sense to me to use Quickbooks Self-Employed, once I discovered that such a software actually existed.  I will admit that I tried a competitor first, Freshbooks.  Freshbooks is everywhere on the internet and YouTube.  They seem to really know how to find small business owners.  However, I did not like the version that I was using.  I had problems creating invoices, I had issues uploading my receipts.  I'm certain that any long-time user of the software might tell me that it has since improved, but it's too late now.

What's Good about Quickbooks Self-Employed (QBSE)

As a very long-time user (26 years) of Intuit's Turbo Tax I was immediately taken by the ease-of-importing my current and old data from prior taxes.  Transitioning between any job and another is sometimes a painstaking process.  Fortunately, QBSE makes it easy (even if you're coming from outside). 

Creating Invoices in QBSE is a snap.  With consulting I can input hours, items, or products.  I can send directly to the email of my clients or the physical address.  Sometimes I send to both.

Managing purchases and income is comparable to using Intuit's Mint software.  Mint began nearly a decade ago as an online tool to manage all personal finances in one ledger.  It made my finance tracking so easy that I've used it ever since.  Quickbooks Self-Employed uses a very similar interface and is quite brilliant in it's adaptation to the single ledger-look.  Of course, you will still need to check if something is Business or Personal, but it can all be automated.

The app is one of the nicest aspects of Quickbooks Self-Employed.  I can so very easily add receipts on the fly or send invoices from anywhere.  For the most part everything that is available in the browser app, is available in the smartphone app. 

For those who have used the Online version of Quickbooks, you'll probably be aware of the cost.  It's not free, but it is worth your money for a software that is continually updated.  The full Online versions range between $20 to $40 / month or 10 times that for a full year in advance. The Self-Employed edition is less than half that, at the most $10 / month.

Going Forward...

I am grateful to Intuit for making a simplified version of the full Online software.  Through my use and feedback, I can help make the software better. 

And now, so can you.  Check out Quickbooks Self-Employed now and get a 50% discount for the first year.  That's only $5 per month for the whole software for a whole year.


Saturday, February 24, 2018

Crypto-currency Exchange: It's harder than you might think

Since 2014 I've been mining Scrypt coins on various machines; from USB Dual Miner up to AntMiner L3+. I was very much into mining all sorts of coins on Mining Pool, MultiPool, Prohasing, Clevermining, even on small-time mining operations of obscure coins.  I was very excited about the awesome possibility that some day the millions DOGE (or whatever) that I had would be very valuable.  While a million DOGE at the time of this article is actually worth above $6,000, it is not worth millions (like a million LITE coin would be).

The trouble is not in the value, but in the exchange.

As an example, someone might have an incredibly valuable object or property, but it is only valuable if there is a market for the item(s).  No market, no value; no matter how much one might value it personally.

The Good

Fortunately there are many markets for Cryptocurrency, but not all exchanges trade every coin.  And even within exchanges, not all coins are transferable.  For example, using YoBit Exchange, one cannot trade AERON coin, it is only trade-able on Binance Exchange.  Or if one is trading on Bittrex, one cannot exchange CARBON coin for anything.  Bittrex Exchange only exchanges between BITCOIN and other coins. Another example; one cannot exchange ETHEREUM for LITE coin on Bittrex. 

The Bad

Unfortunately, not all exchanges are active and even within those that are active there is still a fee to be paid for both transfers and trades.  What's more, if no one is willing to buy for the price that is desired, the coins will not sell at all.  Just because there is an exchange offered, like CARBON to NYC coin, doesn't necessarily mean that anyone is interested in acting on it.

I appreciate that the exchanges allow for all the same basic trading features as typical stock markets.  For example; Limit, Max, Market and Good-Til-Cancelled are all standards with most markets.   If one wishes to sell or buy a coin for a particular price that is not currently available, the market will support the option.  It might very well be a while until that coin sells or can be purchased, but at least one does not have to wait around in real-time for the opportunity.

Thousands of Coins

There are so many coins available, it is difficult to track them all and their current price.  Also, no one knows that future, so it's all speculative about what will be worth more or less in the future.  I've looked through the entire list, and have traded some obscure coins.  But I do not enjoy the arduous process of attempting to estimate the market.  It is a massive mire that could very well occupy all one's precious time. 

My Advice... Stick to less than 5 coins or at least setup a trade to convert regularly to something that is a bit more stable (even if it's USD)

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Amazon Key: Have Packages Dropped INSIDE your home... Wait, What?

Ever have you had packages stolen from your porch?
Are you never home because you work dawn til dusk?
Do you share your entire life with the world via social media?

Then you're probably a Millennial and Amazon Key is for you.

While the concept stands to reason that controlling one of the oldest interfaces in your home with an Internet-Connected interface, might be a step into the future, it's down-right scary to anyone older than 35.  Read the top comment on the above video to see the harsh rejection that has come from the public. It's fairly clear that the general public does not believe that Amazon has their interests at heart.

Personally, I have Internet-Connected (Nest) Cameras all over my house so that I can see the activity OUTSIDE of my home.  While I do have one camera INSIDE, its squarely pointed at the family pet (our Cockatiel, who rarely leaves his cage).   I am probably one of the few who would be willing to have a delivery person drop off a package inside the house, but my spouse would not.  But I can definitely see why many people reject this concept.

One of the last bastions of defense and security to our private lives is opened to a total stranger through the use of Amazon Key. While the actor in the video may be acting like the trust-worthy face of Amazon, we do not know what the Amazon delivery driver in our local town is like.  Is Amazon willing to back the possibly liability issues that may occur with this service?  Is the added fee enough to cover insurance claims when it fails?

Amazon is a huge company and there is probably more to the suggestion of Amazon Key than merely offering a different sort of security for packages and entry to our homes.  Like Alexa, Google Home, and Siri, the large data mining corporations of this age want all that they can get from us, and access to our homes is likely the greatest gold mine of all.  Where does it stop, or does it stop?

It starts and stops with each of us.  While these corporations have the money to launch a concept to offer features that might be pleasing, there is no mandate to use these offers.  Like Facebook, the choice to post our personal information belongs to each of us; the choice to allow Amazon into our homes is also in our power.  Of course they have a great, fast delivery service, with an immense library of products, but we are the customers and we have the option choose (thankfully).