A Good Cubicle Mirror

Standard

It seems to be human nature that most of us are uncomfortable with our backs to entrances. I’m certainly one of those folks. I’ll assure any readers that I’m not up to anything unsual in my office ,but I don’t care to have folks sneak up on me from behind. I’m not going to jump at anyone that does, but it might be startling for myself if I’m focused on a project and not aware that someone has entered my office. My current office arrangement has my back to the cubicle entrance, so I opted to purchase a small mirror, so I could place it where I could easily see people coming up from behind while I’m looking at my monitor.

As usual, I performed “extensive research” by reading several reviews on Amazon until I found a product that seemed to fit my needs, which was the Ampper Clip On Security Mirror. The mirror clips on easily, and well, and only costs about $12. It provides a good field of view and the clip, along with the flexible neck, made it easy to position well.

It’s another low-tech device that works well.

Secure Home Motion Activated Solar Light (SH-7103-WH)

Standard

Secure-Home-Solar-Light

Recently there were a few break-ins in our neighborhood so I decided to add some additional security measures to our shed. The contents of the shed certainly wouldn’t be a goldmine for anyone but there are a few tools that would be inconvenient to replace. The area wasn’t well lit so I decided to add a motion-activated security light. Just as with the car port, I added a solar powered light. However, this one is more powerful and appears to work much better than the other light.

I bought a Secure Home Motion Activated Solar Light (SH-7103-WH). The cost came in at about $150 dollars but upon opening the box the difference is immediately noticeable. Instead of using rechargeable AA batteries this one uses a single, large 6V sealed battery. Once mounted and working it was also apparent that the lights were much brighter than the one in my carport.

I’ve had the light in place for about a week and a half and so far it’s worked without any problems or noticeable dimming.

The first night I set it up I did have a problem with the light turning on and off again repeatedly. The motion sensor was somehow being re-triggered. Overall, I suspect the problem was related to a significant swing in the outdoor temperature from the time I first turned it on until later at night. I turned the light off, waited a couple of minutes, and then turned it back on. Since then I haven’t noticed a problem.

Updated 01/24/2013: So far the light works just as well as it did when I installed it despite the shorter days.

Updated 05/22/2013: It’s still working great.

Secure-Home-Solar-Light-02

X10, Insteon, and Z-Wave – If I Knew Then What I Know Now

Standard

The Short Version: X10 is considerably less expensive and more compatible with various wiring schemes, Insteon is very reliable and relatively secure but requires a neutral wire for in-wall modules, Z-Wave is more compatible with various wiring schemes and far more reliable than X10. X10 modules are usually around $5 each. Insteon and Z-Wave typically run from $35-$50 each but they both rebroadcast signals and verify device status. X10 is good for beginners but anyone considering a whole-house automation scheme should probably invest in Insteon or Z-Wave instead.

I’ve learned quite a bit about some of the more popular home automation devices and protocols. When I first became interested in home automation I started dumping cash into X10 modules. X10 is typically much less expensive and compatible with most wiring.

Over time, and after much experience troubleshooting my own X10 woes, I eventually started switching over to Insteon modules.

Recently, I installed my first Z-Wave dimmer switch.

X10 was very inexpensive (read “cheap”). Unfortunately it’s not reliable. X10 equipment doesn’t (usually) support any kind of device status or confirmation. In short, if you turn a light on from a remote, and for some reason it doesn’t turn on, the remote can’t check to verify whether or not the command was received.  Granted, our wiring is a mix of new and old (including knob and tube) so it’s not exactly an ideal environment for X10 but even with a signal phase bridge (on the clothes dryer) I still experienced frequent signal loss or interference.

I started using Insteon but so far I’m limited to only using plug-in modules since most of wiring doesn’t have the required neutral wire (at least not at the switches). It does work great with these modules. I’ve almost never pushed a button and not had a device respond.

Recently, I installed my first Z-Wave device on our back porch light. The light was controlled with an X10 wall-switch but it frequently did not receive commands from the computer. Since I’ve installed the Z-Wave dimmer it seems to turn on and off every time it should. This is very impressive considering the distance between the dimmer switch and the controller – at the moment there aren’t any other Z-Wave devices in the house to repeat the signal.

Eventually I will eliminate all X10 devices. I’ll probably keep my Insteon devices, at least until I’ve determined how reliable Z-Wave really is in our home. In the end I’ll probably have a mix of Insteon and Z-Wave, though it’s possible that one day I’ll only be using Z-Wave.

Updated 07/18/2013: I’ve completely eliminate all X10 devices from my house by replacing them with Z-Wave devices. Eventually, I’ll also replace the handful of Insteon devices with Z-Wave modules.

Improving Battery Life With A New MacBook Pro (15″, MacBookPro8,2)

Standard

The Short Version: Using gfxCardStatus to manage the graphics mode made a notable difference. Uninstalling McAfee Security made the most difference.

This week I started using a new 15″ MacBook Pro (MacBookPro8,2) with OS X 10.7 (Lion). It wasn’t long before I noticed a dramatic difference between the battery life of the new MacBook Pro and that of my previous 17″ MacBook Pro, which was about two years old.

In the System Preferences I had noticed that I couldn’t configure the system to only use the integrated, low-power graphics card. Rather, I had to choose to enable “Automatic graphics switching” (in “Energy Saver”) or disable it. If it’s disabled then the computer automatically uses the high-performance, battery-draining graphics card.

Last night I began to suspect that the system wasn’t properly switching to the low-powered card. It turns out that I was almost correct.

Continue reading

Using a Foscam Wireless/Wired IP Camera (FI8918W) with Vitamin D Video

Standard

Occasionally, in the process of setting up a new piece of equipment, I’ll tinker with configuration options if I can’t get something to work right. Later on I may forget the extra steps I made, which can be a problem when I write in a post that I have a piece of software working with a certain piece of hardware but completely forget that it didn’t work out-of-the-box.

This post has some information about setting up Vitamin D Video to work with a Foscam FI8918W. Currently, Vitamin D Video does not officially support this Foscam model. That may change – I submitted some information to Vitamin D Video this evening which might help them add official support.

Continue reading

Foscam Wireless/Wired IP Camera (FI8918W)

Standard

In September of last year I decided to remove an X10 camera that underperformed beyond my expectations (the same can be said of the software that came with it). I replaced it with a Foscam IP Camera (FI8918W), which is a much better device. The Foscam is a good, all-around IP camera for general use and may work well as a security camera in certain situations. At about $90 it’s a good price for a reliable IP camera.

Continue reading

Vitamin D Video: A Licensing Surprise

Standard

Last December I purchased a copy of Vitamin D Video for OS X. However, I’ve been moving various services  over from my iMac to the new ASUS EeeBox. At first, I assumed this would require that I purchase another license for the Windows version of Vitamin D Video.

I figured it was worth a shot to see if the licensing would transfer over to the Windows version and to my surprise, it did. The Windows version accepted the OS X license file for Vitamin D Video.

Many companies would go out of their way to force users to purchase a new license for the same software under a different platform. I’m impressed (and pleased that I saved an additional $50).

Updated 08/31/2011: In a response from Vitamin D Video, regarding a related matter, I was informed that the ability to use the license across platforms was intentional.