Monday, March 14, 2016

Converting a Drop Cam Pro into a nest cam

I had been eyeing the Drop Cam Pro since it first came out.  It seemed to be the darling of the online community and the reviews of the quality of the picture convinced me I should purchase one.  During Black Friday, had one on sale for $154.99 and I impulsively bought it.

The Drop Cam Pro was easy to setup and the quality of the camera did not disappoint.  The night vision was excellent and the motion detection software is much better than the standard passive infrared (PIR) sensors that most other systems use.

Despite all of these things, I eventually got to the point where I couldn't justify using the Drop Cam as part of my home monitoring network.  The monthly cost of $10.00 a month to auto record movement clips was just too hard for me to swallow.  Combine this with the fact the camera was limited to indoor use and required a wire for power and I had to look for other solutions.

This left me with an expensive live camera with really great lenses.  After some thought, I decided I was going to convert the Drop Cam into a nest cam.

The first step was to find a suitable location for my nest cam.  Each spring we have a few birds build nests on our front porch over our brick columns.  My hope was that if I built a bird house that fit on top of the columns and convinced my wife to let me keep it up there, a bird would turn it into a home.

I sat down and designed a simple house with a hole in the back to mount the drop cam and peek in on the hypothetical birds.  After some discussion with my daughter I realized it would be cooler if you could look down on the nest and changed the design to mount the camera on the roof.

Taking the rough sketches, I begin measuring and cutting and changing my design.  The first major change was that instead of mounting the camera inside the bird house, I decided to cut a hole in the top big enough for the front of the camera, but small enough to mount the camera in the ceiling without the standard mount.  This gave me more height in the bird house, but required me to build a small casing to cover the exposed back of the camera.  The hole was exactly 2 1/4 inches but I wish I had cut it at 2 1/2 inches.  As it was, I had to shave away some of the inside to get the camera to fit.

To accommodate the cord running to the camera, I cut a 1/2 inch hole which allowed me to slip the micro USB plug cleanly through it.  For the bird hole, I cut a 1 1/4 inch hole which should allow smaller birds, like wrens and blue birds, to nest in it.

The bird house isn't the most attractive design so I painted the entire thing white to blend in with the rest of the porch and prevent me from angering my wife too much.  After letting the paint dry, we mounted the house and did some wire management.

I changed my Nest account to public and now we just have to wait for a bird to take up residency.

Here's the link to view it live:

If a bird or any living creature moves in I'll blog about it.  For now watch here for yourself.

Monday, February 29, 2016

How to hide the blue light on the Blink

If you read my earlier review on the Blink, then you saw one of my complaints was that whenever the Blink is recording, there is a bright blue light on the camera.  There is no way to turn the light off and this is on purpose according to Blink.  They state that the blue light is a security measure to prevent people from being recorded without their knowledge.

Although I certainly understand and respect people's right to privacy, for my purposes I don't want to draw attention to the camera so an intruder doesn't know it is there and decides to remove it.  My camera is outside on my porch not somewhere creepy like the bathroom.

So I decided to figure out a way to disable the blue light.

The easiest option is to just cover the light from the outside. There may be some ambient light, but tape or something should do the job.  However, this makes the camera look pretty crappy and the OCD part of me wanted a neater solution.


So I disassembled the camera.

The first step is to remove the battery cover.  This is done by sliding the button on the bottom of the camera and lifting up on the lid.  Being careful not to break the plastic catches, pull the lid loose from the camera.

Pull out the batteries if they're already in there.

The battery holder is the piece of plastic with the Serial Number on it.  Using a very small flat head screw driver or your finger nails, gently separate it from the back case.  In the picture above you can see how they're two separate pieces.  The springs for the batteries will slide out of the plastic battery holder and stay with the back case.

Once the plastic battery holder is out, you're presented with a circuit board, 4 screws and a small metal clip.  The metal clip is connecting the top circuit board to the bottom circuit board. Gently push it off the top circuit board making sure you don't bend it or lose it.  The metal clip looks like this:

And can be found near the top right hand screw shown here:

After the clip is off, remove the four small Phillips head screws.  Gently pry out the top circuit board.

The bottom circuit board is held in place by two screws.  You'll have to unscrew them because you need to reach the Blue LED on the other side.  Again, gently wedge out the bottom circuit board and turn it over.  It should look like the image below.

Taking a small piece of electrical tape, cover the small metal piece labeled D5. It probably wouldn't hurt to cover D6 and D4.  I believe each of these are LEDs. D2 is the LED for the low light recording and you should not cover it or accidentally remove it like I did.

Once the D5 is covered, begin putting everything back.  The tape should be face down into the plastic back. Screw it in.

Replace the top circuit board. Screw it in.  Gently place the metal clip back on the metal film on the circuit board.  I placed mine on the bottom first and then pushed it over the top. It should latch on.

Once all of the circuit boards are in place, replace the plastic battery holder.  Pull the springs for the battery through the holes in the plastic batter holder and then push down. It'll all snap into place.

Replace your batteries, put on the back cover and you should be done.

Now you have a Blink that will record without the blue light.  If you ever want the light back for some reason, just remove the tape.

Feel free to ask me questions in the comments and I might try a video of the process later.

Edit:  Video here

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Political Feedback System

A website that allows users to register their zip code and political affiliation.

An unbiased summary of bills being discussed are listed with a link to the actual bill.
Each user has the ability to rate the bill in the following manner:

1. Don't care
2. Like
3. Hate
4. Like enough to vote for you again
5. Hate enough to vote against you

Bills are tagged with the supporting or dissenting representatives.
Each user is give their representative's contact information, which bills they are sponsoring, and their vote history.

Aggregated results of votes are on display.

Comments are also available, including anonymous.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Blink Home Monitoring System Review

After researching a number of different options, I recently purchased the Blink surveillance system to monitor my home.  So far I like the system, but it does have some drawbacks.


  • Price
  • Completely wireless
  • Easy to setup
  • Online and local storage
  • Decent camera quality


  • Motion sensor won't see through glass
  • No night vision
  • No stealth mode
  • Phone App required to setup and use


Price: I paid $190 for 3 cameras and the sync module, including shipping.  For comparison, a single Dropcam cost roughly the same without shipping included.  In addition to the low startup price, Blink offers online storage and access at no additional cost.  The Dropcam charges $100 a year or $10/month for ten days of constant online storage.  The low cost and no monthly fees are a huge positive for the Blink.

Completely Wireless: If the price is the best part of the Blink, then it being wireless is the second best attribute.  The Blink operates on 2 AA batteries and is supposed to work for a year without having to change the batteries.  Because the batteries are standard, even if you have to change them every 6 months, it is not a big deal.  For comparisons, the ARLO wireless camera takes special CR 123 lithium batteries which can be much more expensive and do not last as long.
There are no wires for power or video, so you can place these cameras almost anywhere.  They come with a mounting base, screw and sticky pad to allow you to mount them how and where you want. The cameras have to be able to communicate with the sync module, which can sit up to 100 ft. away.  I have mine about 30 ft away past a thick wall and I still have good connectivity.

Easy to Setup: Setting up the cameras takes only 3 easy steps according to the directions.  Personally it took me a few extra steps, but it was still not that difficult. The hardest part was figuring out I had to connect my phone to the sync module at the beginning.  The sync module puts out a wifi signal and you have to connect to it with your phone app.  Once you have done this and setup the sync module, then adding cameras is easy and straight forward.  Because the cameras are wireless, setting them up where you want is easy as well.  It took me maybe 30 minutes to completely set it up and that was taking my time.

Online and Local Storage: The Blink stores video clips and pictures online on their own servers. This allows you to access the feeds from anywhere with your phone. It also has an option to plug in a hard drive and store images locally. I have not tried this option yet, so I don't know how well it works, but it is good to have the option.  There is plenty of free space online, but if your internet connection goes out for some reason then you'll still record.  For households like mine with busy network traffic and the occasional outage, this is very handy.

Decent Camera Quality: The Blink records at 720p hd, but not all 720p are created equally.  The quality of the lenses can make a big difference.  The Dropcam offers a superior picture in my opinion, but that doesn't mean the Blink is bad.  You can still make out details from a distance, just not as well.  But camera quality is like bandwidth, you can never have enough.


Motion sensor won't see through glass:  This is a con for me, but may not be a big deal for you.  I wanted to monitor activity outside through my glass doors. However the Blink uses a passive infrared sensor to determine motion.  This means it cannot see through glass.  In comparison the dropcam uses sophisticated software to monitor actual motion and will monitor through glass.  This and the fact the Blink isn't a weather proof camera is a major limitation for me.

No night vision: The Blink uses a low light sensor and an actual light to monitor in the dark. This means the image at night is not very clear and you can't see very far.  It also means a noticeable light comes on when the motion detection is activated.

No stealth mode: There could be a way to disable the blue light that comes on when the Blink is recording, but I have not found it yet.  When the Blink is active, a bright blue light shines letting people know it is recording.  This is fine unless you don't want to draw attention to the camera and the placement of the camera.  It's not a huge negative, but it does mean that any trespasser would know immediately they had been recorded and will probably hunt for the system.

Phone App required to setup and use: I have an iPhone so using apps isn't a big deal for me, but I did think it was odd that there was no way to setup the Blink with just a computer.  Neither can you use a computer to monitor the Blink or view video.

Summary:  Overall the Blink is a great system and one I would recommend.  The price and the convenience from it being completely wireless are huge advantages over other systems and outweigh the negatives.  I'm actually trying one of the cameras outside to see how well it holds up over time.  So far so good.  Feel free to ask me any questions in the comments and watch my videos on setup and un-boxing.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Give a Car Auto Pilot and it asks for a....

For those of you without kids, the title is in reference to a series of books that started with 'If You Give a Mouse a Cookie'.  The books are cute and entertaining, which can be rare in the world of kid's books.  It is a story about a mouse that is given a cookie which leads to a series of events.  Eventually the events circle back on themselves and the mouse is asking for a cookie again.

For cars, I'm not sure if being equipped with auto pilot will be a continuous cycle, but I do believe that it'll lead to some interesting events.

In the course of history, travel has always shaped human civilization.  The affects of railroads crisscrossing America has been well documented.  So too has shipping lanes, horseless buggies and learning to navigate by the stars.  Not to mention air and space travel which continues to shrink our world.

The next step of this constant evolution is upon us.  It's the automated vehicle.  It's easy to overlook the significance of this feat without realizing how it will change everything around us.  At first glance, a driverless car seems silly, almost gimmicky.  Ok, a car can drive itself, how is that better than me driving it?  But it's not the effect of one car driving itself, it's the effect of millions.  Initially, it'll be a battle as we transition into a world of driverless and human driven cars.  It'll seem chaotic and costly, but as more cars become automated, the efficiency will begin to show itself.  Cars will follow traffic rules and work together.  They'll be able to communicate with each other and anticipates turns and changes in speed.  In the long run, this network will deliver people faster to their destination than ever thought possible.  No more waiting on humans to correctly judge a turn or look up from their cellphones and see the green light.  Trucks will be able to carry goods without stopping. They can make long hauls, bringing down ship times and costs.  There will be less accidents and drunk driving.  But despite all of these benefits, they are insignificant compared to the value of the software that will be developed to coordinate them all.

A software complex enough to drive cars, would be sufficient enough to drive drones.  Amazon is already working on creating highways in the skies, but imagine software that will define and follow those highways in an automated fashion.  Instead of piloted drones, we have a system of drones delivering products and clearly defining the new elevated airways.

As we grow to trust both the automated cars and now the automated drones above us, the next step will be simple.  Automated planes.  In particular small passenger planes, similar to drones or the ever fabled "flying car".  The Jetsons suddenly becomes our new reality.  In a world where air travel is simple and cheap, people can live and work anywhere.  It simplifies the travel process which today consists of very little actual flying time.  The world shrinks even more.

All of this begins with driverless cars.  If you give a car auto pilot, then you end up with flying cars.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Picks of the Week - Week 8

I'll be honest.  It's hard to get excited about football after watching your team get crushed again.

Ole Miss, you're breaking my heart.  To be fair, you've broken my heart so many times that it doesn't quite sting like it used to during the Tommy Tubberville era, but it still hurts.

So I'm not going to reflect on last week's game against Memphis, but instead comment on the fact that Ole Miss is favored by six points over Texas A&M.  Tunsil is coming back which will improve the line as players switch positions and hopefully fill back in their original spots.  This should provide some relief for the defense.

Texas A&M is banged up from Bama last week and will be sporting a slightly injured Kyle Allen and a slightly injured Myles Garrett.  Both are cleared to play, but injuries have a way to slow you down.

So is that enough? The optimist in me wants to believe that if Chad Kelly gets the time to make the throws we could see a lot of offense.  I also badly want to believe Dave Womack when he says the defense will get fixed.  However, the sulken angry fan wants to believe we'll never win a game again.

If I had to bet, I'd take A&M plus the points.

Speaking of bets, how did I do last week?  About as well as Ole Miss against Memphis.

Michigan -8.5 vs Michigan State - Loss
Ohio State - 17.5 vs Penn State - Loss
Boston College vs Clemson Under - Loss
Bama - 4 vs Texas A&M - Win
LSU -9.5 vs Florida - Loss

Vandy +2.5 vs USC - Win

It's important to always learn from your mistakes.  My lessons that have held up so far:

1. Always check the weather.  So far, most everything looks clear for the weekend so that should play a factor.  Next week could get interesting with the remnants of a hurricane.

2. Rivalry games do play a factor.  Michigan should have beat MSU, but the Spartans kept it close and lucked into a win.

3. Because they can, doesn't mean they will.  Teams get stingy with their players later in the season as injuries add up and they look down the schedule at harder teams.

Ok, keeping these lessons in mind, what does this week look like?

LSU -16.5 vs Western Kentucky

Instinct says that's a lot of points.  Western Kentucky has played a lot of teams close and defeated Vanderbilt.  LSU on the other hand is averaging a 20 point margin win over lower level teams.  Vandy held Western Kentucky to 14 points.  Against better defenses, they struggle.  LSU is a better defense.  Take LSU -16.5.

Alabama -15.5 vs UT

Alabama at home against a team that is young and on the verge of an implosion? Safe bet, take Bama -15.5.

USC -3.5 vs Utah

How an un-ranked USC is favored over number 3 Utah is beyond me. If your argument is that Utah hasn't been tested before against Michigan, Cal, ASU and Oregon, then when will you ever be happy?  Utah stays undefeated.  Utah plus the points.

Ohio State -21 vs Rutgers

Rutgers surprised us last week by beating the spoiler Indiana.  It was a close game, but they still won.  You know who else had a close game with Indiana? Ohio State.  Ohio State doesn't have the same pizzazz on the road and Rutgers is going to give it everything they have for this game.  Rutgers plus the points.

I've been really busy the last few weeks which is why these posts keep coming out late and I'm not watching nearly as much football as my inner fan would like.  Hopefully things will slow down so I can spend some more time on my couch.  In the mean time, best of luck.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Picks for the Week - Week 7

They say always go with your instinct.  Well my instinct was telling me to stay away from last week and it was apparently right.  Let's look at the carnage.

South Carolina +19.5 - Loss
Georgia -3 - Loss
Georgia Tech +7 - Loss
Northwestern/Michigan over 35 - Win

Baylor -45 - Win
Indiana +6.5 - Loss
Missouri -4.5 - Loss

Georgia looked like a sure thing and then Nick Chubb gets hurt on the first play and Mark Richt loses control of a 21 point lead and down they go. It always sucks to see a player get injured and I hope Chubb has a speedy and full recovery.

Michigan, wow.  Ok so the two top defenses in terms of points play each other and you think sure this will be a defensive battle.  In a way it was, except Northwestern's defense didn't really show up until the second half.  Michigan had a quick start scoring twice in the first two series while holding Northwestern scoreless.  Michigan's defense lived up to their reputation.  Northwestern did ok, but just really had some bad breaks and was never able to recover.  I think Northwestern is still a good team and still has a good defense.  They just can't score on a defense like that and had a lot of trouble with Michigan's run.  Michigan's profile is a badass defense with a good run game.  Keep that in mind.

Baylor dominated again.  Baylor is killing teams, but partly because those teams have some of the worst defenses in college football.  Can they maintain that dominance against good d's?  We'll find out, but not this week.  Baylor is playing West Virginia this week.  WV gave up 33 and 44 points to the two Oklahoma teams.  There's a good chance they'll give 66 to Baylor.

Ole Miss beat NMSU pretty badly point wise. They covered the 45 pt. spread, which was a pleasant surprise to me.  NMSU is a bad team and Ole Miss started the first quarter playing down to their level of competition.  Turning the ball over 3 times is pretty inexcusable.  Once Ole Miss found their rhythm, they scored fairly easily but they're still not very successful with the inside runs and had a few dropped passes that should have been caught.  Memphis will be a good test.  Memphis is going to give Ole Miss everything they have.  They had a week off and are on a 12 game winning streak.  After week two I was not worried about Memphis, but having watched our offensive line thin out and struggle and our secondary get burned in the zone over and over again, I'm not so sure.

The good news is that Memphis doesn't typically rush with a lot of people.  They send three and try to cover.  Try is the key word as they're worse at it than Ole Miss.  If they keep this strategy against Ole Miss, they'll lose.  If you give Chad Kelly longer than 4 seconds to sit in the pocket he's going to destroy you with an accurate deep ball.

On the other side Memphis has a very capable QB and a power run.  Ole Miss routinely plays the same defensive strategy of rushing only 3 leaving the QB to make accurate throws.  This could be a high scoring game (over 70).  I see Ole Miss jumping to a big lead, then letting Memphis get close but closing out the game with a win of about 8 points.

I'm still struggling to watch as many games as I'd like.  It's really not fair how life gets in the way of my football obsession.

Let's look at next week:

1. Michigan State +8.5 vs Michigan
Talk about a comeback.  Harbaugh has Michigan looking like a real contender with 3 shutouts in a row, two of them to a top 25 ranked team.  Michigan's only loss was to Utah and we all know now that Utah is a pretty good team.  MSU on the other hand has maintained a high rank, but seems to keep squeaking by all of their opponents.  At the very least they're letting them stay close.  This is a rivalry game at Michigan and that has to be kept in mind as well.  However, with the home field advantage and the quality of the defenses that Michigan State has faced up till now, there is little doubt in my mind Michigan wins this game.  I think they'll beat them by 21 points.  This is my lock, Michigan - 8.5

2. Ohio State -17.5 vs Penn State
It's tough being the number one team in the country because everyone gives you their best game.  Sometimes, they even employ crazy schemes and risk everything with thin man to man defense just to try and beat you.  As a result a lot of your games end up being closer than they should.  Penn State hasn't lost since Temple.  They haven't really played power houses, but they're in a rhythm.  If there is anything Franklin does well, it's pump up his team for the big game.  Penn State will probably lose, but I see them keeping it a lot closer than 17.5.  Take the points.

3. Boston College +15.5 vs Clemson
Clemson is on a home game stretch and really feeling it after beating Notre Dame.  They covered against Georgia Tech, beating them by over 19 points.  BC on the other hand is off and on with some crazy low scoring games.  BC tops pretty much all of the charts in terms of defense.  I think the spread here is pretty close.  I think Clemson wins by 14, but it's going to be close.  What I don't see is the over hitting at 36.5.  BC can't score, but at the same time won't let the other team score.  I think this is a 21 point game tops.  I'll take the under.

4. Bama -4 vs Texas A&M. My instinct says Bama beats A&M by 14.  Bama still has a topped ranked defense and although Texas A&M's defense has improved, it's worse than Arkansas.  The Aggies have a gutsy coach and pretty good offense, but they haven't seen a defense like Bama's. I'd take Bama -4.
5. LSU -9.5 vs Florida.  Again my instinct says LSU opes up a cajun can of whoop ass and Florida loses big here.  There will be no mercy shown like USC had and Fournette is going to go in there and have a 200 yard game.  Florida has a good defense, but part of that has come against poor teams or good teams with poor performances. Their offense is going to be lead by old unreliable Treon Harris in one of the worst possible stadiums in the SEC. I'm just not convinced that this team is for real.  I think LSU wins by 18.

The rest of the games are right on the money in terms of spreads.  Vandy +2.5 vs USC should be interesting.  I think USC covers, but mainly because I have no faith in Vandy and I have to believe USC will send Spurrier off with some sort of farewell win.  And Vandy sucks.