Blogography Logo
spacer

   

Automation One

Posted on Monday, December 14th, 2015

Dave!Welcome to Home Automation Week at Blogography!

I've been dreaming of having a "smart home" for years, but the technology never really seemed "there" yet. It's either been flakey or lacked important features or had some quirk that made it less than ideal. I just couldn't see investing the money for an experience that was less than stellar.

But then Apple decided to get into the game by announcing their "HomeKit" platform and I was convinced that this was the solution I had been waiting for. Apple has a real knack for perfecting technology in a way that's smart, elegant, and simple, and finally they had turned their almighty gaze towards home automation. At last.

And so I waited.

And waited.

And waited.

But, other than an announcement, Apple never did shit for the longest time. Third party solutions never came.

Apple eventually got around to improving the HomeKit platform to make it more capable... and a few devices were released here and there... but overall HomeKit has been a failure. I love the security that Apple built into their solution (they really take stuff like that seriously), but that's about the only thing they've done right. Everything else to do with HomeKit has ended up being utter shit. The biggest failing being that all HomeKit devices are local, meaning that you have to be at home to control your home. Their solution for remote access is via Apple TV, but I've never been able to get it working well.

And so I went searching for a new solution.

I looked at every option I could find... Lutron, Wink, SmartThings, INSTEON, Nest, Belkin WeMo... the list goes on an on. There are a lot of companies out there doing home automation, and new ones are popping up all the time.

But which platform to choose?

At first I was convinced that I needed a single-company solution. If everything came from the same company, it would all work together and I'd have the most complete, powerful, and capable system. Right?

Well... not so much.

Every company has their strengths and weaknesses, which made choosing a single source for everything quite difficult. So after a while I decided I'd split my home automation chores between two different companies, focusing on their strengths to get the best system possible. Sure they probably wouldn't play well together, but if I were smart about which company got which devices, I could come up with a split-system that worked well for what I was trying to do.

It was a good plan.

But a plan doomed to failure.

Which I'll talk about in my next entry.

   

Automation Two: Doors

Posted on Tuesday, December 15th, 2015

Dave!Welcome to Home Automation Week at Blogography!

As I mentioned yesterday, trying to tie my home automation project to a single vendor was doomed to failure. So I decided to split the tasks between two vendors along a logical divide... one company for monitoring stuff and one company for acting on stuff. Simple, right?

Yes. Kinda. Maybe.

Except... no. Not really. After a lot of false starts, I realized it doesn't really divide out like that.

And so I decided to stop worrying about how many companies it took to get what I wanted and just get what I wanted. Which, after weeks of research, actually ended up being a pretty good idea.

Starting with the door locks...

Schlage Sense Lock

The one area where Apple's HomeKit came through for me was door locks. Out of the dozen or so that are available, Schlage's "Sense" was the solution I liked best. It's not an add-on that sits on top of your current lock, but a complete deadbolt replacement. You can use a key to lock/unlock. Or you can use the keypad. Or you can use your iPhone. Or, since it's HomeKit compatible, you can tell Siri what you want. It can handle multiple entry codes and has a "tamper" alarm if somebody tries to take a hammer to it. Supposedly it can be controlled remotely (out of Bluetooth range) via AppleTV, but I can't get that to work. Perhaps eventually I'll get that part figured out, but it's not so important to me just now.

The one "feature" I did NOT want was auto-unlocking when you walk up to the door with your phone. This kind of proximity unlocking may sound convenient, but I didn't like the idea from a security standpoint. Schlage Sense doesn't have it, which was actually a plus for me.

Once I reset the door jamb strike plates back so that the lock opened/closed effortlessly when the door was closed, installation went perfectly.

On the first door.

On my two other exterior doors, I couldn't get the tab on the lock assembly to line up with the slot on the deadbolt turn. This was incredibly frustrating, and I had to place a call to Schlage support to find out why in the hell my locks were built upside-down. Turns out they weren't... they just weren't aligned properly. Using a screwdriver (and more pressure than I was comfortable with) you can force the slot to rotate 180° so everything lines up. Why in the hell they couldn't put that in the manual is beyond me, but all's well that ends well.

Except, as you can probably guess, this wasn't the end.

If my locks are HomeKit but my lights are not HomeKit, how do they talk to each other so that the lights turn on when I unlock the door at night?

Guess we'll find out tomorrow...

   

Automation Three: Lights

Posted on Wednesday, December 16th, 2015

Dave!Welcome to Home Automation Week at Blogography!

One thing you find out very quickly when researching home automation solutions is that everybody has an opinion as to what's best. You're never going to find that one flawless technology that everybody universally loves. Which means making a decision can be a tricky business indeed. You have to weigh all the opinions and reviews so you can find the solution that feels like the best fit for you.

I'll just cut to the chase and say that I ultimately decided on INSTEON for the bulk of my home automation tasks.

Yes, there were some reviewers saying that INSTEON is crap, but there was enough good things said about the types of things I was wanting to do that it seemed the best solution.

One thing I really liked about INSTEON was the dual-mesh networking technology they've got going on. Many of their devices are wireless, but that can be problematic because low-power wireless devices don't have a lot of range. But INSTEON also has networking-over-power lines for many devices, which means your network is instantly extended via reliable hard-wired connections anytime you plug a device into an outlet.

So while that open/close sensor on your window may be battery-powered and have limited range over low-powered wireless... that light switch three feet away is wired into the electrical system and acts like an extender to the sensor, so no problem at all.

And speaking of light switches...

My new INSTEON light controllers are ever so dreamy!

Thanks to the INSTEON Hub, you can control your lights from anywhere your smart phone has internet access. You can also monitor what's on and what's off. You can also link light switches together. And, of course, you can program schedules easily. My front and back porch lights automatically turn on at sunset and turn back off at sunrise, for example. You can use INSTEON motion detectors to talk to the lights and have dark rooms light up automatically. You can pretty much do whatever you want so long as there's an INSTEON device to make it happen. And there are a lot of INSTEON devices available.

But, alas, all is not perfect...

The INSTEON "smart" switches are much, much larger than traditional light switches. They take up a lot of space. Which means if you have shallow electrical boxes throughout your home, the odds of the switches actually fitting into them are remote. Even if there is enough room to cram the switches into the box, that may not be a good idea, as it will involve smashing all the wiring to the back of the box with a hammer. I'm not an electrician, but that didn't seem like a very good idea. Won't heat build up and melt your switches? Or, worst case scenario, start a fire if the electricity arcs in there?

I dunno. But it's not a risk I'm willing to take.

So... I either replace all my electrical boxes with something deep enough to handle the new switches (a positively massive undertaking that will involve cutting into walls)... or I give up on automating my lights.

Except... my dad offered another solution when I told him of my dilemma... a box extender.

Usually box extenders are used for when you add tile or some other thick product to your walls and the electrical box ends up too deep for the switch plate screws to reach. That wasn't my problem, so I had to find a solution which would extend the boxes out from the wall.

I figured with all the home automation going on, there would be a plethora of solutions out there to do just that.

I was wrong.

After hours of research, I was able to find just one.

One.

Which I'll save for tomorrow's discussion.

Along with INSTEON's efforts to make their system Apple HomeKit compatible.

   

Automation Four: Controllers

Posted on Thursday, December 17th, 2015

Dave!Welcome to Home Automation Week at Blogography!

Home automated "smart" light switches are not really called "light switches" as their functionality is so much more than that. Most people call them "light controllers."

And, like I said yesterday, they're big.

Which means if your electrical boxes can't handle the additional size, you've got to install deeper boxes... or find a way of extending the box from the wall. Since the first option is a massive undertaking, I went with option two.

Which was not the cake-walk I was expecting. I could find only one manufacturer for such a thing. One.

Arlington Industries, Inc. and their UL-listed BES Box Extenders...

Arlington BES1

The extenders themselves are textured so you can paint them to match your decor. And while some people may not like the way they stick out from the wall, I'm actually quite happy with them. For one thing, I think it will cut down on finger-oils and grime hitting the wall. For another, when you pair the extenders with a screwless switch plate, it ends up looking kinda cool.

And when it comes to controlling the controllers? Now that they've been installed?

As I mentioned yesterday, INSTEON has a hub that plugs into your electrical system and the internet. You can then use your iPhone to control all your INSTEON devices wherever you may be... so long as your phone has internet data access.

But INSTEON didn't stop there.

In an effort to tie into Apple's HomeKit, they've recently released a Hub PRO model that does just that. Being able to integrate all my INSTEON stuff with all my Apple stuff and have Siri voice control for the whole shebang is pretty awesome. In theory. In reality? Well...

The problem with the HomeKit-enabled INSTEON Hub Pro is that it doesn't support all the various INSTEON devices. Only some of them.

Door sensors? On/Off sensors? Water leak Sensors? Nope. Nope. Nope.

Which means that the HomeKit option is pretty much worthless to me, for the time being. Perhaps one day INSTEON and Apple will get their shit together so everything will work right, but that day is not today. So I just bought the "regular" hub and figure I'll upgrade sometime in the future. That will be nice because then my HomeKit Schalge door locks will fit right in with everything else. In the meanwhile though... not so much.

Kind of a buzzkill, right?

Except...

There's another option to bring your INSTEON controllers into the future that Star Trek promised us. And I'll talk about that tomorrow.

   

Automation Five: Alexa

Posted on Friday, December 18th, 2015

Dave!Welcome to Home Automation Week at Blogography!

So... the INSTEON solution for Apple HomeKit integration, the Hub Pro, leaves a lot to be desired. It only works with a handful of devices, which means HomeKit voice control via Siri is half-assed at best. Which sucks, because being able to literally tell your home what you want it to do is the brass ring of home automation.

Lucky for us, there's another solution for that.

It's Amazon Echo, which is better-known by the "wake word" you use to activate it... Alexa.

I've actually owned one for quite a while, but the novelty wore off quickly given the limited amount of things you can do with it...

   
But all that changed once Alexa got INSTEON integration.

Now voice-control for my automated home is a reality.

And it's pretty awesome.

"Alexa, turn on the kitchen lights."

"Alexa, dim the dining room lights 50%."

"Alexa, brighten the living room lights."

"Alexa, turn off the garbage disposal."

"Alexa, turn off the lights."

Anything that can be turned on or off via an INSTEON switch can be discovered then controlled by Alexa. You can even set up groups of items within the Amazon Echo app so you can control multiple devices at the same time. And while Alexa doesn't understand what I'm saying every once in a while, "she" pretty much nails my requests spot-on every time.

And that feels more incredible than I thought it would.

Thanks to my INSTEON automation system and Amazon Echo's ability to integrate with it, my home now has ears and a voice.

But what about eyes? We'll get to that tomorrow.

   

Automation Six: Cameras

Posted on Saturday, December 19th, 2015

Dave!Welcome to Home Automation Week at Blogography!

When it came to installing cameras in my newly-automated home, I thought I would use the cameras I already had. They're older, but they still work perfectly fine. Most of the time. Kinda.

Okay, they suck. They're finicky and don't always work. They have a limited viewing angle so you have to pan to see everything, which is almost impossible to do remotely. You can't store footage to review past events... at least not easily. Worst of all they are a total bitch to set up and maintain. But they were relatively cheap and capable at the time I bought them, which is why they're here.

Time to upgrade.

Of all the home automation devices I bought, figuring out which camera system to get was by far the most difficult decision.

The obvious choice seemed to be going with INSTEON, since that was where most everything else came from. Unfortunately, their camera solutions are terrible. Barely a step above what I have now. Even worse, they're not really an integrated solution at all. They're just old FOSCAM models that have been re-branded for INSTEON and slapped on to the system half-assed. Complaints are legion about how difficult they can be to set up and maintain, which is what I hate most about what I've got now. Which means INSTEON cameras are not at all what I was looking for.

Luckily, there are a lot of other options.

Too many options, actually.

But one model kept rising to the top over and over again... DropCam.

Which was bought out by the Nest thermostat people (which was, in-turn, bought out by Google). Which means DropCam is now NestCam. Which wouldn't be a bad thing, except a lot of people have been complaining about lost functionality with the Nest app compared to what DropCam had. But, in the end, the things that NestCam did right were the things I most wanted to have, so I decided to buy one and try it out.

I loved it.

So frickin' easy to set up. You plug it in, scan the QR code on the back with the iPhone app, then connect to your network. That's it. And once you get it set up, it's solid. Over the past couple weeks there has been -zero- flakiness. The camera always works, it has a wonderful wide-angle lens. It has excellent night-vision. It has motion detection alerts sent to my iPhone. It has online storage (for an extra fee) which is dead-simple to scan through... even remotely. The image quality is fantastic. There are even multiple mounting options. I cannot say enough good things about NestCam. I now own four of them...

NestCam

My hope is that one day Nest will offer a firmware upgrade that will allow their cameras to integrate with Apple's HomeKit. I'm not holding my breath, however, as Nest is building it's own competing architecture, and Google may not want to throw a bone that big Apple's way. Which is a bummer, of course... I'd love to be able to have my cameras be able to pass any detected motion to the rest of my home automation system... but even without that feature, they're still too good to pass up.

Not a bad acquisition for what started as a thermostat company!

And speaking of thermostats... what's in store for the final installment of Home Automation Week here at Blogography? Guess you'll just have to tune in tomorrow to find out...

   

Automation Seven: Thermostat

Posted on Sunday, December 20th, 2015

Dave!Welcome to Home Automation Week at Blogography!

Probably the most famous of home automation toys is Nest, the Learning Thermostat. The brainchild of a couple of ex Apple engineers, their "smart thermostat" took home automation into the mainstream. Able to smartly control your heating and cooling system, Nest is simple to install, easy to use, and makes a real difference when it comes to saving energy and money.

So when it came time to pick a "smart thermostat," Nest was the obvious choice for me... especially since I already had invested in NestCam as my security camera of choice.

But then I started doing the research in HVAC forums and found out that Nest might not be my best choice after all.

So I went looking for alternatives.

One of the first products to jump out at me was Ecobee3. Of all the choices, it seemed to get the best mentions by HVAC technicians. And the reviews were good. And I liked that it features the ability to monitor multiple rooms to figure out a best temperature setting. And of course it has all the usual energy-saving smarts you'd expect...

Ecobee3

What was unexpected is that it can also control the whole-home humidifier I'm installing. I had hoped that this meant the remote room sensors would be monitoring humidity as well as temperature but, alas, this is not the case. Still, handy.

When it comes to controlling your Ecobee3, it comes with a beautiful color touch-screen and equally impressive minimalist interface. You can also use your iPhone (or Android, if you're so inclined) to control your thermostat from anywhere in your home... or anywhere in the world you have internet access.

One of the more interesting aspects of the Ecobee3 is that both the main controller and the remote monitors have motion sensors. This enables your thermostat to automatically determine when you're home and away... and also to follow where you're at so that the temperature is exactly where you want it wherever you are. The main unit's sensor activates the touch controls when you are near it and goes into a "display mode" (where the controls disappear) when you're away.

A nice feature that's so logical it seems a glaring omission for smart thermostats that don't have it... is integrated weather. This helps Ecobee3 figure out how to best use your heating and cooling resources to keep your home at the desired temperature. It also allows the unit to save on energy costs by using outdoor ventilation to cool your home when the outdoor temperature drops after the sun goes down in the summer (assuming your HVAC system can do that). And of course you can view the current weather and forecast at the touch of a button.

At first I thought the remote sensors were kind of gimmicky, but then I saw how Ecobee3 can integrate them into the system. At night, for example, you can tell the thermostat to ignore all but the bedroom sensors, because that's all you're really going to care about. Clever.

I've not had my Ecobee3 long enough to know if the "DataRhythm" technology is savings me big money (it takes a month before any of the main features are available), but the "HomeIQ" web portal keeps track of all kinds of information so you can fine-tune your HVAC system to get the most bang for your buck once everything kicks in. It seems fairly comprehensive, so here's hoping.

Overall, I'm very happy with the Ecobee3. It's easy to use, has features for days, has an excellent interface for my iPhone, on the web, and on the thermostat, and could end up saving me some money. As if all that weren't enough, it's also Apple HomeKit enabled. So if Apple ever gets their shit together, that could be a big plus.

If you're looking to dip your toe in home automation waters, a smart thermostat might be a good place to start. And if the Ecobee3 is compatible with your HVAC system, it might be worth a look.

   

Automation Eight: Smoke Detectors

Posted on Friday, December 25th, 2015

Dave!Merry Christmas to those who celebrate it!

Welcome to an extension of Home Automation Week at Blogography! I say "extension" because a week has seven days and this is part eight. I guess I should have put a bit more thought into this.

But anyway...

I loathe smoke detectors. I loathe CO2 detectors even more. They're all bug-ridden, noisy, and prone to errors. Then you've got the damn batteries running out all the time which results in running around the house trying to figure out which alarm is "chirping" at you for attention. And God help you if you burn the toast.

Don't get me wrong though... if there's an actual fire in the house... or a CO2 leak... then I frickin' love detectors. But, for the most part? Not so much.

When I was looking into "smart" detectors last year, I was intrigued by Nest Protect. It seemed sensible, secure, feature-rich, and very cool. Ultimately I took a pass on it for two good reasons: 1) Nest Protect wasn't compatible with Apple's HomeKit, and 2) A lot of people were complaining about false alarms and features being turned off and never turned back on, despite promises from Nest.

But then two things happened: 1) Apple's HomeKit turned out to be a STEAMING PILE OF SHIT*, and 2) Nest came out with a "Protect Version 2" that supposedly addressed the many problems people were having. Oh, and the reviews were great...

Nest Protect
This is probably Nest Protect v1. I think v2 is not so squared? Very close though.

And so... I went ahead and bought Nest Protect. Actually, I bought five of them, because that's how many smoke/CO2 detectors I had in the house. Since all the Nest protects talk to each other, you kinda have to use them for ALL your detector needs in order to get the most benefit. Not a happy prospect considering they cost $100 a pop. But, when I thought about it, protecting my life and property (even when I'm away) is worth $500, so I handed over the cash.

Setting up Nest Protect couldn't be easier.

Except when it is.

When you first open the thing, they tell you to set it up before you hang it. That way you're not climbing up and down a ladder if there's a problem, I guess. So I pulled the strip to engage the battery and my first Nest Protect told me to "PRESS THE BUTTON IF YOU WANT THE LANGUAGE SET TO ENGLISH!" And so I pressed the button. But apparently not fast enough, because my Nest Protect started speaking to me in Spanish. And wouldn't stop. Fortunately I was able to get the gist of what she(!) was saying and set things up without issue. Removed my old old smoke detector, no problem. Installed the mounting plate, no problem. Hung my Nest Protect, no problem. Tested the unit, no problem. Change the language to English... problem.

Using the iPhone Nest App, I was able to switch to English easily. But then I get a message saying "Changes will take place within a day." Yes... A FUCKING DAY! And they mean it. When I went to work two hours after installation, it was still hablaba español. Kind of ridiculous it should take so long, but okay.

Nest Protect does exactly what you'd expect a smoke/CO2 detector to do... detect smoke and CO2 and then sound an alarm if it finds anything. But Nest Protect goes much further than that...

  • Any alerts will be passed to your iPhone/Android phone, thus letting you know if there's a problem no matter where you are.
  • Have a false alarm? You can silence it from your phone!
  • Instead of having to test your detectors every month like you're supposed to, Nest Protect has a microphone so it can test itself then listen to make sure it's working.
  • You can also manually check to make sure all your detectors are working. Just press the big button on the bottom and they'll all talk to each other, figure out if there's any problems, then report back to you.
  • Rather than just screech at you with an alarm where you can't figure out which detector is going off, Nest Protect speaks in a human voice and tells you exactly where the problem is (you name each unit by its location).
  • Nest Protect monitors its battery level and will let you know in advance if a battery change is in your future. This alone is a feature worth $100 a piece... no more being woke up in the middle of the night by the idiotic chirping of your detector wanting its batteries changed.
  • Nest Protect has a fancy "Split Spectrum Sensor" that Nest says can detect both slow-burning and fast-burning fires. There's shit-ton of documentation from Nest explaining why their photoelectric technology is better than other photoelectric and ionization solutions, but I'm just going to take their word for it.
  • Almost as important, Nest Protect has a humidity sensor so it can tell the difference between smoke and steam.
  • Nest Protect has a light ring around that big button which indicates what's going on with it. Blue and Green lights indicate stuff is going good. Red and Yellow lights are for when things are going badly. Yellow is kind of a cautionary "advance warning" that trouble may be present. Red is for when the shit is hitting the fan. The cool thing is that the light ring can also act as a "Pathlight" nightlight which comes on automatically if you walk underneath it and it's dark. Clever.

Nest Protect is available in both battery-powered and power-line-powered options. My old alarms were power-line-powered, so that's what I bought. If the power goes out, the battery back-up kicks in and the outage is recorded, then (apparently) reported to your phone app. I never got a notification when I tripped the breaker for the the smoke alarms, which Nest says I will. If ALL power goes out, I don't see how Nest Protect can notify you because then the internet would be out as well, wouldn't it?

And so...

All in all, I'm most impressed with Nest Protect. I haven't had it long enough to know if the chronic false alarm problem that plagued v1 has been truly solved with v2, but I'm hopeful. And, of course, I haven't had an emergency to truly put it to the test, but I'm very much okay with that. What I can say is that all the various features seem to be working as advertised. I love being able to check in on my home when I'm gone and know everything is okay... but I've even more in love with the idea that if there's a serious problem with fire or CO2, my home will let me know.

   
*I will talk more about Apple HomeKit being a STEAMING PILE OF SHIT tomorrow.

   

Automation Nine: HomeKit

Posted on Saturday, December 26th, 2015

Dave!If you take away one thing from Home Automation Week (now in Part Nine of Seven Parts!) it should be to avoid Apple's HomeKit home automation platform like the plague. It's no secret that I think it's utter crap in its current form, and the fact that automation companies aren't really flocking to the platform is a sure sign of "too little too late."

Yes, I love the idea of controlling my home with Siri, but Amazon Echo is probably more convenient for that anyway. Yes I love Apple's dedication to privacy and security, but what does it matter if you don't have all the automation options available that you might want? Yes, I love the idea of having absolutely everything tied to a single system instead of being in pieces but, again, it's only nirvana if you actually have all the pieces you need for that one system.

But the biggest reason to completely avoid HomeKit is not what's missing... it's about how what's there doesn't fucking work.

My Schlage Sense door locks are HomeKit compatible. But I never use any of the HomeKit features. Siri is just too fucking slow at unlocking doors to have her do it. I'd rather use a key or punch a code. But even worse than that? HomeKit's remote access features DO. NOT. WORK. My locks are supposed to use my 4th Generation Apple TV to communicate with the outside world, but they don't.

If I'm at work and want to know if I remembered to lock my front door? I'm supposed to be able to ask Siri. Siri asks my AppleTV back home. AppleTV then asks my lock. But unless I'm within Bluetooth range, this is all I see...

HomeKit FAIL!

Maybe my front door isn't close enough to my AppleTV and doesn't have the range to report what's going on? Possibly. So I check my back door, which is two feet away from my AppleTV...

HomeKit FAIL!

Nope! And it doesn't matter how many times I reset my AppleTV or login and logout of my iCloud account. NOTHING I have tried has gotten remote access to HomeKit to work for my locks.

My Ecobee3 thermostat? Also HomeKit compatible. Surprisingly, it can be accessed remotely via Siri voice control. Probably because it isn't having to go through my AppleTV and has full WiFi-enabled control via its app. Funny thing is? I'd rather use the app. Again, Siri is a little slow to act... and often gets my Ecobee3 requests wrong for some reason.

So... lesson learned.

If you're going to get something that's HomeKit compatible, be sure that it has its own remote access app that doesn't attempt to route crap through your AppleTV... because, for me at least, it ain't happening.

Which means as much as I love my Schlage locks, if I had known then what I know now, I would have picked a different non-HomeKit solution that actually works remotely as intended. As it is now, the status of my door locks is always unknown unless me and my phone is standing next to them. Pretty useless.

Maybe one day Apple will fix the AppleTV hub remote-access problem. Maybe one day Siri won't be so damn slow to do anything. Maybe one day HomeKit won't be a pile of shit. Maybe. One day.

In the meanwhile, I reiterate... do not be blinded by the Apple Reality Distortion Field when it comes to making decision about home automation. At every turn I've found that the non-HomeKit solutions which can be paired with reliable in-app remote access and a link to Amazon Echo are far, far superior to stuff that's tied to Apple's home automation platform. Yes, having to go through multiple apps and having no unifying system can take a little extra effort at times, but it's not at all a deal-breaker. If you're organized, it's not even that big of a deal. If you have Amazon Echo, I'd argue you're actually better off than using Siri.

I guess not even Apple can hit a home run every time.

But HomeKit isn't even a base hit.

   

Guest Room Remodel 1: Furniture

Posted on Monday, April 11th, 2016

Dave!Welcome to Remodeling Week at Blogography!

This time, we'll be taking a look at my guest-room remodel, which didn't require moving walls or tearing anything apart or anything extreme like that, so it was actually the easiest to work through. Kinda. The problem being that I've never had a guest room before, so it required all new furniture and stuff. In the end, the guest room actually ended up being one of the pricier expenditures I had.

The room itself is oddly-shaped, has one off-center window, and is kinda small, which left me limited options. I wanted a queen-sized bed, and it couldn't go under the window because I'd only have room for one nightstand, and I wanted two. So here we are...

Guest Room Layout Map

The overall color theme for the room is white. In order to make things interesting, I went with as many shades and style of white as I could find. Then added dark blue to keep it from looking stark.

And now... on to the furniture...

The bed is just a metal frame because I didn't have room for anything extravagant... also, I wanted to put the money where it counted by getting a great mattress (Bellagio at Home by Serta). I did try and dress it up a bit with a pricey headboard from Target though...

Guest Room Remodel Project

Nightstands are IKEA. Originally I didn't want drawers, but ultimately thought they'd be less effort to dust than shelves...

Guest Room Remodel Project

Originally, I wanted to have a desk and chair in the room with the dresser in the closet. But the desk wasn't tall enough that both people could see the television while laying in bed, so I swapped them around, which works really great. Except there's no outlet in the closet, so I mounted an extension cord to a hook on the side of the desk. Both desk and chair are IKEA...

Guest Room Remodel Project

Guest Room Remodel Project

I had the chair by the door, but it looked like it would be easily tripped over, so I put it with the desk in the closet and bought an IKEA stool there...

Guest Room Remodel Project

I should mention that I don't usually allow cats in this room in case my guests have allergies or something... but the minute they hear the door open, they run to get in. It's apparently their favorite room in the house. Probably because it's the one place they can't normally go.

Meanwhile, back at the dresser...

The television is at the perfect height on top of the dresser, so adding the DVD player underneath wasn't working. I decided to remove one of the small drawers and see if I could make a space. I started by attaching some wood strips to the center support, then secured them to the side of the dresser...

Guest Room Remodel Project

Then I whitewashed a thin piece of wood to match and secured it to the strips with carpet tape...

Guest Room Remodel Project

After drilling a hole in the back of the dresser for the cords to pass through, the DVD player (and AppleTV) fit perfectly...

Guest Room Remodel Project

And... that's it for furniture. Thank you, IKEA.

   

Guest Room Remodel 2: Textiles

Posted on Tuesday, April 12th, 2016

Dave!Welcome to Remodeling Week at Blogography!

After the guest room furniture had been purchased, the next step was to figure out what I wanted to do for the textiles. Eventually I settled on a Liz Claiborne bed set that had a pattern I didn't hate. The matching window valance was incredibly expensive, so I found a Liz Claiborne solid that matched (I needed two because the window is apparently wider than average)...

Guest Room Remodel Project

The pattern on the bed cover is called "Arabesque" but it's reversible to a paisley kind of design I liked better...

Guest Room Remodel Project

The bed looked a little plain, so I took a cue from my sister's guest room and added pillows. I found them on close-out at Fred Meyer, and they worked perfectly...

Guest Room Remodel Project

When it came to the rugs, this time I went back to the "Arabesque" pattern for inspiration and found some nice-looking options at Shopko that weren't matchy-matchy blue, but a darker grey-blue...

Guest Room Remodel Project

Yes, the cats decided to get in the way everywhere I pointed the camera. The hams.

In addition to the blanket across the base of the bed, I bought a comforter and some cotton blankets in case my guests get cold. IKEA has nice "under-bed" scooters that work perfectly to store them...

Guest Room Remodel Project

And that's that for textiles.

   

Guest Room Remodel 3: Frames

Posted on Wednesday, April 13th, 2016

Dave!Welcome to Remodeling Week at Blogography!

Rooms are made more homey and comfortable by adding some art and photos to the wall, so I worked hard to find picture frames that were interesting, but not overpowering. Shades of white that would work with the walls and furniture seemed the way to go.

I started with a vertical frame to fill the space between the dresser and the closet. Pier One (my favorite place for frames) had an option in cream that was perfect. I filled it with pictures of my kittens...

Guest Room Remodel Project

The centerpiece of the room is one of my favorite paintings, The Flower Bearer by Diego Rivera. It has a black frame, so it stands out from everything else in the room...

Guest Room Remodel Project

The two photos on the sides I took while visiting Barcelona Cathedral in Spain. The frames I found at Fred Meyer had cream mats to play off the cream vertical frame on the opposite wall...

Guest Room Remodel Project

To tie into the Diego Rivera, I had two postcards also by Rivera framed on both sides of the window. I think they came from Pier One as well...

Guest Room Remodel Project

To tie into the photos of Barcelona Cathedral, I framed photos of the geese in their courtyard on the opposite wall...

Guest Room Remodel Project

The frames I found at Target, and are my favorite in the room...

Guest Room Remodel Project

I needed a full-length mirror for my guests to get dressed in, and I found an interesting one at Fred Meyer. It was pricey, but the detail was pretty cool...

Guest Room Remodel Project

Guest Room Remodel Project

The wall with the TV was boring and needed something, but I didn't want anything too distracting, so I got the matching mirror from Freddy's to stick back there...

Guest Room Remodel Project

And... enough with the expensive wall decorations.

   

Guest Room Remodel 4: Rabbits

Posted on Thursday, April 14th, 2016

Dave!Welcome to Remodeling Week at Blogography!

I wanted some kind of "theme" with the decorative junk I wanted to add to my guest room, but no idea what that might be. Then, while trying to find the right rabbit for an image I was working on for Thrice Fiction magazine, I found myself knee-deep in bunnies and thought I'd give that a try.

Not bad at all.

I started on the nightstand with this cool ceramic bunny I found in Fred Meyer...

Guest Room Remodel Project

That didn't work for my Thrice project, so I found a smaller vintage bunny at an antique store which ended up on the opposite nightstand...

Guest Room Remodel Project

That rabbit didn't work either, so I found another antique store rabbit plus a tall fellow that was on sale at Pier One. They're on the dresser behind the television..

Guest Room Remodel Project

When neither of those rabbits worked, I finally struck gold with bunnies that did work. Those ended up on the other side of the television...

Guest Room Remodel Project

With all my rabbit decor needs met, I ended up buying a plush bunny for the bed to tie everything together...

Guest Room Remodel Project

The cats like to attack the thing every chance they get...

Guest Room Remodel Project

And that's it for bunny rabbits.

   

Guest Room Remodel 5: License Plates

Posted on Friday, April 15th, 2016

Dave!Welcome to Remodeling Week at Blogography!

After jamming bunnies everywhere, I considered getting bunny pictures to add to the walls, but that seemed like entirely too much rabbit.

After tossing around ideas for a couple weeks, I was at an antique mall when the solution jumped out at me... vintage license plates!

Not only are they very cool-looking, but they are available in dark blue to tie into the textiles I bought. I found five great ones for above the closet...

Guest Room Remodel Project

One of the plates I bought was so worn there were no letters left on it... and it was pre-embossing... so I could barely make out that it was an Ohio plate from 1914. I wanted a companion plate, so I went hunting on the internet and found that the 1915 Ohio plates were dark blue... perfect!

Guest Room Remodel Project

Guest Room Remodel Project

The main wall has my Diego Rivera print on it, which has rich reds in it, so I found a license plate to match that I could put it above the mirror on the same wall...

Guest Room Remodel Project

Overall, I'm really happy with the license plates. The only down-side to acquiring them is that all the coolest ones are also the most expensive.

   

Guest Room Remodel 6: Accessories

Posted on Saturday, April 16th, 2016

Dave!Welcome to Remodeling Week at Blogography!

After buying the furniture and textiles, then decorating the place, all I had left was to add all the things the room needed to feel like home for my guests.

I started with an alarm clock. I was going to go with white or blue to match everything else in the room, but the Diego Rivera print above the bed had some yellow in it, so I decided to mix things up a bit...

Guest Room Remodel Project

I live in a relatively quit neighborhood, but there's barking dogs and other distractions on occasion, so I got a Marpac white noise machine in case a guest needs a way to block sounds so they can sleep...

Guest Room Remodel Project

Nightstand lights are simple chrome models with white shades...

Guest Room Remodel Project

To camouflage the screws I used to secure the DVD player shelf in the dresser, I bought a chrome hook bar that guests can hang their keys and stuff on...

Guest Room Remodel Project

The top drawer is for guests to use, but the bottom three I used for a selection of DVDs... divided into Action/Drama, Comedy, and Kids. If a guest can't find something they want to watch, they can go to the main collection in the garage...

Guest Room Remodel Project

For fun-time reading, I bought some antique magazines. I also found some inspirational phrase books in my collection from Richard Bach and Deepak Chopra...

Guest Room Remodel Project

And thus ends Remodeling Week at Blogography!

   

Sense-Less

Posted on Wednesday, November 23rd, 2016

Dave!I should have known better. I really should have.

Did I leave the television on? Has my dryer finished running? How much electricity am I using to heat my home? Good questions all.

These are things I'd like to know, so when I saw there was a new device was coming out called "Sense" that could answer these energy questions... and more... I was intrigued. And once I watched the promo video, I was completely onboard...

After a long wait my Sense ($250) finally arrived and I hired an electrician to install it ($120). Turns out I could have easily installed it myself, but the Sense instructions said I had to go online to get info if I didn't have a breaker free... then provided absolutely nothing online... so I took their suggestion to get a professional to do it.

Unfortunately, since my electrical panel was embedded in the wall and not surface-mounted, the electrician had to add a break-out box for the antennae. Not a big deal, but not exactly elegant. Would have been nicer if the antennae could have been inside the box, but I wasn't sure it could get signal there...

Sense Antennae Breakout Box.

And so... all that was left to do after sinking $370 into this project was to download the Sense app which, fortunately, was free. And, oh yeah, there's one more thing you have to do... you have to wait. The idea is that Sense will "listen" to your electricity usage and eventually learn to recognize your various electrical devices by their "signature." The process takes days to weeks depending on whether Sense has your particular signatures on file.

After a week, my Sense was recognizing absolutely nothing, so I wrote to Sense Support to find out what was wrong. I was told I had to be patient. Eventually it will start to "get it" and devices will pop into place. Until then, I get to stare at two "usage bubbles" for "Always On" stuff (things like clocks and devices in "standby mode") and "Unknown" stuff (things that Sense doesn't yet recognize)...

Sense App.

With nothing else I can do, I decided to be patient.

A month passes.

Now my Sense recognizes exactly three things: my microwave, my garage door opener, and my water heater. It thinks it recognizes other things, but it calls all of them "Unnamed Heat" even though none of them are my heater. I try to figure out what they actually are so I can inform Sense, but I can't for the life of me figure it out, even though Sense tells me what time they turned on and off...

Sense App.

   
What's so fucking stupid here is that my ACTUAL HEATER should be dead-simple for Sense to figure out. It's the only thing in my home that causes the "Unknown" bubble to blow up like this...

Sense App.

   
But no joy. It's the most obvious thing using electricity in my house, but Sense hasn't a fucking clue.

Needless to say, I'm pissed off. Partly because this is not what I was promised, and certainly not what I paid $370 for. But mostly because Sense is stupid as a box of rocks... and there's no way to train it to be smarter about what it's sensing.

Take this morning, for example.

I turn on the garbage disposal. On the Sense app, I can see that it has the same "signature" every time you turn it on. It's right there on the screen...

Sense App.

You would think that I could tap those spikes and tell Sense "Hey, that's my garbage disposal!" but you can't do that. All I can do is scream "IT'S MY FUCKING GARBAGE DISPOSAL, YOU PIECE OF SHIT!!!" at my iPhone because Sense has the garbage disposal lumped in with all the "Unknown" crap and there's no way to tell Sense anything about the "Unknown" crap. But what about those "Unknown Heat" devices?

I turn stuff off and on in an attempt to see which "Unknown Heat" it might be... but that doesn't help. My television? Lumped in with "Unknown." My oven? Lumped in with "Unknown." My washer and dryer? Lumped in with "Unknown." My stereo? Lumped in with "Unknown." My iron? Lumped in with "Unknown." My Litter Robot? Lumped in with "Unknown." Everything I could possibly want to know about is lumped in with "Unknown" which means it's useless.

And so... for now anyways... Sense is junk.

Unless I want to know if I left my microwave or garage door running.

And I really should have known better.

Just like the Kickstarter crap I've bought which turned out to be garbage, I should have waited for Sense reviews to come out before investing in it... even though I saved $50 by pre-ordering. Turns out the Sense I really needed was Common Sense. Typical.

   

If You Never Hear From Me Again…

Posted on Saturday, December 3rd, 2016

Dave!Last night as I was loading my car trunk with some cardboard to recycle, I saw a gallon of milk sitting there. I must have missed it when I was unloading groceries four days ago. Don't ask me how.

I was going to dump it down the drain... but it's been cold out, it's non-fat, and milk is expensive, yo... so I decided to pop it in the refrigerator and give it a shot.

If you never hear from me again, please inform the coroner that it was the milk that did me in.

Now that they've gotten older, I am very fortunate that my cats sleep through the night. They crash downstairs around 7:30-8:00, then follow me up to my room when I retire for the evening. If I turn off the lights to go to sleep, they'll climb on the bed with me. If I leave lights on and work in bed, they'll climb into the kitty beds at the foot of my bed and fall asleep there.

Sounds great, right? Except when I have to get up and pee in the middle of the night. Jake and Jenny think this means I want to play. So when I go back to bed instead of playing with them, they are very, very unhappy I woke them up for nothing.

If you never hear from me again, please notify the police I was eaten by my cats.

Amazon's "Echo" device (called "Alexa") is tied in with my home automation system and controls everything. I can't remember the last time I physically touched a light switch in my home... I just ask Alexa to turn on/off the light I need. At first it was only when I had my hands full. But then... well...

The coolest thing about Alexa is that she can activate "scene" controls and perform numerous functions with a single command. For example... when I say "Alexa, Turn on Night Mode", the following happens:

  • Kitchen lights off.
  • Sink light off, leave porch lights on (all come on automatically at sunset).
  • Dining table lights dimmed to 10% (for the cats)
  • Living room lights dimmed to 25%
  • Thermostat down to 68 degrees.
  • Runner lights on.
  • Cat water fountain turns off.
  • Motion sensors turn on.

That kind of thing.

It's absolutely awesome, and I love having Alexa around. She's become so ingrained in my life that when the internet goes down (which Alexa requires to operate) I kind of forget how everything works. When you never use light switches, your head kind of fogs over what to do when you want the lights on. It takes me a minute. In another couple of years, I probably won't even know where my light switches are.

If you never hear from me again, it's either because I'm trapped in the dark in my house... or trapped on the toilet screaming for Alexa to wipe my ass because she does everything else around here and I've forgotten how. Please call 9-1-1.

The mindsets of foreign countries... particularly those in Asia... are radically different from ours. Relations between nations there can be based on cultural differences few Westerners could possibly understand... or on events that happened hundreds of years before the USA even existed. To not understand these circumstances when building foreign policy is to invite disaster. Even the slightest misstep can set events into motion which could have catastrophic consequences. Because of this, it is beyond critical that our leaders be well-advised by people deep into foreign mindsets before making even the smallest decision.

Unless you are President-Elect Trump. Then you just do whatever the fuck you want, no matter how idiotic or dangerous the consequences.

India and Pakistan are nuclear powers. They are also blood enemies. Keeping them from unleashing mass destruction upon each other is a balancing act that has the entire world on edge. So when Trump has a terrifyingly ill-advised phone call with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif as if he's running Pakistan when, in fact, it's the military that is actually in control of the country... you can see how this could cause a frightening shift in the structure of Pakistan, which could ultimately lead to problems with India. You do not want that.

Then you have Trump accepting a call from the president of Taiwan... which is tantamount to the United States officially recognizing Taiwan's independence from China... which is something that will send China through the fucking roof. This one phone call could set into motion events that have China taking military action against Taiwan in order to make it clear they consider Taiwan to be a part of China. Not to mention making The United States an enemy of China. Which, needless to say, is also a nuclear power. All because Trump wants to build a hotel in Taiwan (or whatever), and he has no fucking clue what in the hell he is doing.

Trump's actions are rushing nuclear powers to conflict in a way he'll never comprehend, and he's not even in office yet.

Can you imagine what happens when he's actually president?

Trump doesn't seem to want to listen to anybody. He acts like a petulant child. He doesn't seem to give a shit what the consequences are for his actions. He is willfully ignorant when it comes to foreign relations and is seriously clueless as to how critical it is not to be making the mistakes he's been making. He is very obviously putting his personal interests ahead of this country. He is inflaming foreign nations with nuclear weapons.

We are all fucked.

And I'm not saying that to be funny or dramatic.

If you never hear from earth again, it's because President Trump destroyed the planet. Please tell any alien life with time travel capabilities to go back into the past and abort this abomination before he's even born.

   

Bullet Sunday 485

Posted on Monday, December 12th, 2016

Dave!Don't go shovel that driveway just yet, because an all new Bullet Sunday starts... now...

   
• Does Whatever a Spider Can! I've always been more a Batman guy than a Spider-Man guy, but Marvel is looking to change that with their first Spidey film, Spider-Man: Homecoming...

I mean... seriously. Marvel seems incapable of fucking up a movie. They respect the source material and give fans exactly what they're dying to see. This is the complete opposite of what DC does, which is rewrite everything that makes the characters great and give fans what Zack Snyder wants to see... which is always a pile of shit. Couldn't be happier to be getting what looks like an amazing Spider-Man movie. The fact that Tony Stark is in there being Tony Stark just makes it too good to be true.

   
• The Artist Formerly Known As... If you're a Prince fan, GQ has a long, but highly entertaining look at his life from the perspective of people who knew him best. As if that wasn't enough... another genius, Nintendo's Shigeru Miyamoto, was interviewed over at Glixel. You're welcome!

   
• No Toys for Tots. After coming across this sorry story, I have concluded that it's probably the stupidest fucking thing I've read in a long time. A charity that collects toys for children won't accept toys raised by a tavern because they prayed on it and decided that toys coming from a bar is a bad thing? Who did this idiot pray to? I mean, she did read The Bible and know who Jesus hung out with, right? Yet another case of Faux Christians following in the footsteps of Jesus... just so long as those footsteps don't lead to conflict with their moral superiority and false virtue.

   
• Can I Be a Lesbian? This had me laughing out loud in the middle of the night at my hotel...

Fortunately, I must not have disturbed my neighbors because nobody beat the door down and strangled me.

   
• Kitty Homebody. Ever since I got back home in the early AM, the cats have been all over me. When I sat down tonight to work and watch Wedding Crashers, Jake came running in and attached himself to me then fell asleep...

Jake Asleep On Me

After a bit he ran to get a snack and I thought I was free... but then Jenny came running in and took his place...

Jenny While I Work

Then she ran to use the Litter-Robot and I figured that was the end of it... except Jake came running back to take her place...

Jenny While I Work

Eventually they must have decided I wasn't going anywhere tonight, and went back to life as usual. Until next time. As if I didn't already feel bad enough about having to leave them...

   
• Paranoia and Smoke Alarms. Just before my trip to Maine, I started getting paranoid about a fire in my garage. That's where my electrical panel is. That's where my furnace is. That's where my whole-home humidifier is. Any of those things could burst into flames and I wouldn't know about it until it burned through the walls and into the house. To set my mind at ease, I ordered another Nest Protect (smart smoke detector) to put in the garage. Now I'm wondering why smoke detectors in garages isn't a thing. Shouldn't they be? Sure it's $100 down the drain, but that's pretty cheap if my electrical panel caught fire while I was in Maine and unaware. Now my house will send me a text if the garage is on fire. So... yay? I suppose now I need to find out how to call a fire into my local fire department so I can actually do something about an alarm when I'm across the country and 9-1-1 won't connect me to the right place.

   
• A New History for Humanity. I whole-heartedly approve of this calendar. A simple change that adds loads of perspective...

Too many people think that all of humanity didn't begin until Jesus came along. This fixes the problem without completely disrupting everything. Until scientists decide that

   
• Trump Diplomacy. This pretty much sums it up...

Trump Being Trump

And anybody still calling me "alarmist" for posting end-of-days scenarios around President-Elect Trump's ignorance and stupidity can go read this and then go read this and fuck off now. You'll note that I linked to a FOX "News" story the second time since the people who love Trump and are not taking this shit seriously seem to think that FOX is the only "news" source that matters. Guess we don't have to give a shit about Trump cutting Social Security and Medicare since we're all probably going to be dead by the time he gets around to it. In the meanwhile... this is how Republicans are saving American jobs?

   
And... the bullets have flown. Until next week then.

   

The Joy of Home Automation

Posted on Friday, February 17th, 2017

Dave!I've long been fascinated with home automation... even before I had a home of my own where I could implement it. Once I actually got started with the stuff I became even more fascinated, because you just don't know what you can do until you're hip-deep in the culture. Depending on how clever you are (and how much money you're willing to spend), home automation is the ultimate lifestyle hobby.

Most people think that simple tasks... like turning lights on-and-off automatically or locking and unlocking a door remotely... is what home automation is all about. And they would be right. Except it can go so much deeper than that.

Take for example my morning routine.

I am usually up and working in bed around 5:00-5:30am. But my first task of the day... feeding my cats... doesn't happen until 7:00am. Once that time comes, here's what happens...

  • At 6:30am, the furnace/air conditioning comes on, as needed, depending on the temperature in the house.
  • If 7:00am happens before sunrise + 15 minutes, my bedside light, staircase light, dining room light, and kitchen light all come on.
  • I receive a text alert that it's time to feed the cats.
  • If a motion sensor isn't triggered in 15 minutes, I get another alert.
  • Once the cats are fed, I head back upstairs to get ready for work. A motion sensor sees this then turns off my bedside light and kitchen light, then dims the dining room light to 50%, if it was on (cats see better in low light than I do!). It also turns on the upstairs bathroom light and the shower fan.
  • After I'm finished in the bathroom, I say "Alexa, turn off morning bathroom," and everything shuts off there. If it's sunrise + 15 minutes or later, the stairway light goes off as well (if it were turned on).
  • When I leave the house, I tell Alexa and she shuts off any lights that happen to be on. The thermostat goes into "Away Mode" to save energy. Security cameras in private places (like my bedroom) turn on (they are off when I'm home).

It sounds kinda complicated, but it's actually dead simple to set up once your home is wired for it.

Take, for another example, garbage day.

I keep forgetting to put the garbage out on Wednesdays when I get home so it will be picked up Thursday morning. Thinking like a home automation hobbyist, I wonder how I can have my home assist me in remembering. The program to do that is pretty simple...

Home Automation Code

On Wednesdays after 2:00pm, my house is alerted to start looking for me to arrive home. It's able to do this because my iPhone (which is always with me) will trigger an alert whenever I am within 50 feet of my house. Once I arrive, a notification is sent to my iPhone which reminds me to take out the garbage. You can see it in my iPhones alert screen (which you have to read from the bottom up)...

Home Automation iPhone Alerts

The first message I get is that I've entered my "home zone"... then I get a reminder to "Take Out The Trash"... then the garage door opens (while the sensor in there lets me know there is now motion in my garage).

It worked perfectly, but I was worried I'd miss the alert if my phone were in my pocket. So I added a line of code to turn on the light outside my garage. It's easy to notice because it's green (for the Green Light a Vet project)...

Green Garage Light

So now, even if my phone is in my backpack or on silent or whatever, I still have a reminder that I need to take out the garbage can.

What I really need to do is get a bulb that can change color. Then, on alternating weeks, I could have it turn blue to remind me that the recycle bin also needs to be set out.

Ooh... then I could put a sensor on my garbage can and recycle bin so that the garage light is turned off once the task has been completed. That way I'll be saving energy until it gets dark and it comes back on automatically!

And then I could set up a security camera alert to let me know when the trash can and recycle bin have been emptied!

And then I could...

Yeah. Probably best to leave it at that. Home automation can get expensive, yo.

Tags:
Categories: Home RenovationClick To It: Permalink  1 Comment: Click To Add Yours!  

   

Snow Lapse

Posted on Monday, March 27th, 2017

Dave!Call me paranoid, but home security is something that I take very seriously. In addition to having electronic door locks, motion sensors, breakage sensors, trip sensors, and three sets of security cameras, I've got a very cool system that ties it all together with a redundant processor and independent power supply.

One set of cameras has battery backup and records to a secure local location. That way, if the power gets cut or the internet is down, I still have recordings of everything that goes on. The other two sets of cameras record to separate locations in "The Cloud" and are far more fun. The NestCams are my favorite, having really good optics and the best-of-class online storage. I pay for the 10-day option... which is more than I need, but the least you can get... which does have the side-benefit of browsing backwards in time.

This morning as I left for work I noticed that the snow had completely melted from my yard, and made a GIF from snapshots of the past ten days...

Dave Mountain Dissolves!

Pretty amazing given that this shot of my yard was taken on February 8th where the snow was over 6-feet tall and piled out into the street...

Dave Mountain!

Now that the snow has gone, I'm excited to turn my garage into a wood shop once again. In addition to building Catio Phase Two, making my own cat furniture to replace the carpeted monstrosities I have now, and building new kitchen cabinet doors... I also want to rebuild my closet to make use of every bit of available space. I can't believe how inefficient stock closets are. It's like they are built to intentionally waste space and be as inconvenient as possible.

I'm finding a lot of ideas online, but what I really need is a "Pimp My Closet" show on HGTV. Closets are some serious business, yo.

   

Everybody Loves BuddhaCat!

Posted on Tuesday, May 9th, 2017

Dave!A while ago, I saw this amazing BuddhaCat statue at Pier One. I wanted it immediately so I could add it to my Buddha statue collection, but it was $40 and I couldn't justify the cost.

Then today I got a 25% Off coupon in a Pier One email and decided to run and get it... even though I still couldn't really afford it. But let's face it, the thing would look great on my new desk.

And so...

BuddhaCat

My desk is just across from a part of my collection, so BuddhaCat is right at home...

BuddhaCat

He's kind of big, but still fit easily behind the desk pad I got at IKEA on Friday...

BuddhaCat

The cats wasted absolutely no time investigating their new cat companion...

BuddhaCat

BuddhaCat

I must admit that I'll kind of miss having BuddhaCat as my co-pilot though...

BuddhaCat

So pretty in sunlight.

Okay then... just so long as I don't run into BuddhaKitten somewhere, I should remain financially stable through the end of the month.

Assuming I eat nothing but peanut butter sandwiches and ramen noodles until then, of course.

   

Nest Cam / Nest Aware

Posted on Friday, May 19th, 2017

Dave!Internet-enabled security cameras are all the rage even though there are inherent risks to having them. Hackers are exploiting webcams with increasing regularity, which means that your privacy could be violated if you're not careful. Personally, I'm okay with the risks. Being able to remotely view my cameras from wherever I am in the world is the whole point of getting them in the first place. I want to be able to see what my cats are up to and check on possible security problems, and this is the easiest way to do it. But I don't put them in private areas (like bathrooms or bedrooms), I change the default passwords, and I have all interior cameras turn off when I walk in the door, so... if somebody wants to look at my kitchen while I'm away, have at it.

I actually have two sets of cameras. One is all local storage only with battery back-ups in case the power or internet goes down, the other is my webcam system that records to the cloud. After buying four different brands that were rated "the best" so I could test them out, Nest is the one I liked most and bought into...

Nest Cams!

Like anything in life, it's a mixed bag. There are good things and bad things to the deal.

THE NEST CAMS...
Despite my many issues with Nest, the quality of their cameras is absolutely not one of them. Indeed, the only thing that keeps me a customer is that the cameras are just so nice. Dead simple to set up. Beautifully designed. 1080p resolution with a generous wide-angle view. Excellent night-vision. When it comes to security cameras, they are the total package. You pay for it, of course. An indoor Nest Cam is a whopping $199 (around $169 street) and the outdoor Nest Cam is also $199 (around $179 street). I don't know that they are worth the price tag... $129 seems a more reasonable cost (especially considering you have to pay an additional fee for all the features)... but I've found nothing out there that compare at any price.

NEST AWARE...
Where things go off the rails with Nest Cams is the necessity of paying for their Nest Aware cloud service. Yes, your cameras work perfectly fine without it, but all the best features of Nest Cam are unavailable unless you pay. And it ain't cheap...

Nest Aware Pricing!

The least expensive program gets you 10 days of video history at $100 for the first camera (annually), then $50 for each additional camera. I have ten cameras. If all of them were on Nest Aware, that would be an insane $550 a year. I can't afford that, so I only have some of my cameras using the service. What you get when you subscribe to Nest Aware is the afore-mentioned video history retrieval (with the ability to create downloadable clips or time-lapse videos) plus the ability to define "activity zones" so you can choose which locations in the camera's view will trigger an alert. Without Nest Aware, you can tune into a live view any time you want... and you can get a "motion snapshot" history for the past 3 hours (but only on your phone, not from a web browser). I wish they had a 2 day history option for $20 per camera so all my Nest Cams could be Nest Aware... or even have a 1 day history freebie so all Nest Cams could be Nest Aware. But, alas...

NEST AWARE ACCESS...
The Nest Aware service can be accessed from an app on your phone or a web browser. Both have an easy-to-use interface that's beautifully designed. A while back Nest added a "spaces" overview of all your cameras, which is what you see when you login. The only problem is that if you have Nest Protect smoke/carbon monoxide detectors, they bundle them together for some stupid reason, ruining the perfect grid of cameras. I've blurred the feeds so you can't see how messy my house is...

Nest Aware Dashboard View!

No clue why they do this, but it's incredibly annoying and I haven't found a setting to "unbundle" them. Hell, I can't figure out any reason why you would want them bundled in the first place.

NEST AWARE INSANITY...
Recently I have been having major problems with the video stalling on the screen when I view it on a web browser. Things have been working great for a year now (assuming I had a good internet connection), so what's the deal? I chatted with Nest support, telling them that the video is definitely getting to Nest Aware because I can download a clip as a Quicktime movie and the motion is there... I can even view it in motion on my iPhone... but 9 times out of 10 on my browser, the image doesn't move. Whether I am trying to watch the video live or review my video history, the image is static. So obviously there's something wrong with the Nest Aware streaming service for browsers, right? WRONG! First they blame the browser (that's tech support 101). But stalled video happens regardless of which browser and which computer I am using. Then I'm told not just once... but multiple times... that the problem is probably my router because the Nest Aware Service is "fine." This, of course, is insane. If the problem were my router, then motion video wouldn't be getting to Nest Aware. Except it is. My router doesn't even enter into the equation when it comes to getting video OUT of Nest Aware, only into it...

Nest Cams!

Long story short... the problem fixes itself when I use shitty "Flash" instead of "HTML 5" video to connect to Nest Aware. I thought of relaying this back to Nest but, given their fixation on my router, they probably wouldn't believe me.

NEST AWARE ZONES & PEOPLE DETECTION...
My favorite feature of Nest Aware is being able to define "zones" where I want motion reported. In my front yard, for example, I want to know if somebody is on my driveway or walk... or trying to steal my garden hose. I don't care about the people cutting across my yard or the tree moving when the wind blows. Defining a zone where I'll get alerted is a piece of cake (shown below in orange)...

Nest Aware Zones!

The system works really well. Alerts are messaged to my iPhone quickly and, unlike other cameras I tried, motion outside the zone is actually ignored (this turned out to be a bigger problem than you'd think). An additional feature of Nest Aware is their claim to be able to send you "People Alerts" when your camera "thinks it spotted a person"...

Nest Aware Zones!

Nest's website claims that its system is so smart that it can distinguish a person from a thing or a pet. Except... not so much. Their accuracy rate, so far as I can recall, is 0%. A team of landscapers arrive to mow and trim and not one "people alert" is ever sent. The only people alerts I get always turn out to be my cats. The alerts above, for example, were Jake and Jenny wrestling in the catio...

Jake and Jenny Wrestle!

So... if your sole reason for buying into Nest is the "people alerts," then you might want to keep looking.

NEST AWARE SETTINGS...
The settings available for Nest Cams are fairly standard, but organized really well. Some settings can switch automatically based on whether or not I am home (the system uses the Nest App on my iPhone to figure that out). As an example, I have all the interior cameras automatically turn off when I am home, then turn back on again when I am gone. If you don't want your location reported to Nest, you can always set home/away manually by clicking on the big toggle button that shows up at login...

Nest's Home or Away Toggle Button!

If that's still too much information for you, there's also the ability to set a schedule for your cameras to follow. The rest of the settings allow you to decide whether or not you want to have the microphone on, what kind of alerts you want, what kind of image quality you're sending, whether or not to use night vision... that kind of stuff...

Nest's Home or Away Toggle Button!

A feature I wish were available is setting the video quality based on whether I am home or away. When I'm home, I'm using the internet for all kinds of things and would prefer the cameras send low-res video so they're not hogging my bandwidth. When I'm away, I don't care how much bandwidth the cameras are hogging, and want them to automatically switch to maximum resolution. Don't know if this is possible, but boy would that be handy.

NEST AWARE PAYMENT...
If there were one thing that could be a complete and total deal-breaker for me when it comes to Nest, it's the disastrous billing system that they have in place for Nest Aware. It's insanely stupid. Beyond insanely stupid. First of all... if, like me, you bought your Nest Cams six months apart so you could split the annual Nest Aware payment into two parts so the financial hit isn't so terrible... Nest would like to kindly ask you to go f#@% yourself. They don't allow it. If you already have cameras on Nest Aware and want to add more of them six months later, they pro-rate the annual fee for the new cameras so the billing cycle is in-sync with the original purchase. There is absolutely no way to do otherwise unless you have multiple Nest Aware accounts, and I don't even know how that would work. I'm guessing you have to set up guest access to your own damn cameras on the new accounts? I'm sure Nest thinks they are doing you a huge favor with the pro-rated billing, but it should at least be the customer's choice as to whether this is allowed.

And, oh yeah... about that pro-rated account syncing bullshit...

It's horrendous. The system billed me twice... with wrong amounts... but not really. At least according to Nest. I spent months trying to reconcile the statements I received with what was actually charged to my credit card and simply could not do it. And neither could Nest. They ultimately told me that I would just have to trust them that everything was billed the way it's supposed to be, even though nothing they could produce would back that up. To this day I have no clue if I was billed correctly.

And that's not all.

Not by a long shot.

Because of the absolute nightmare I had when I added my second batch of cameras, I thought I would be smart and add my third batch after my Nest Aware expired. Since Nest is forcing me to pay for everything all at the same time, I might as well make sure that they don't screw things up again by taking matters into my own hands.

Except you cannot tell Nest Aware not to automatically renew.

Thinking I could outsmart the system, I decided to remove my credit card so they couldn't automatically renew.

Except Nest doesn't allow you to remove your credit card information from their system.

Yes. You read that right. Once Nest has your personal information, it belongs to them! Something I verified after spending a crazy amount of time in chat with Nest Support. Apparently the only way to remove your personal information and credit card from the system is to cancel your entire service... even if it's pre-paid in an annual payment!

SUPPORT: Here is how to cancel the Nest Aware subscription:
   
ME: Again... I know how to cancel the subscription. That is not what I am asking.
ME: I want to cancel THE AUTO RENEWAL.
   
SUPPORT: I understand. Currently the only way to cancel Auto Renewal is to cancel the subscription for the Nest Camera, itself.
   
ME: And you cannot remove my credit car so that it won't auto-renew that way?
   
SUPPORT: I definitely cannot remove your credit card but I am checking on the steps you can use to get that done.
   
ME: Wow.
ME: Okay.
   
SUPPORT: Thank you for waiting. After you go to the "Nest Aware" part of the app, you will see the type of subscription and be able to change your payment information. Please know that as long as you have an active subscription, at least one credit card will need to be in this account.
   
ME: Sorry I remain so incredulous as to how Nest chooses to treat their customers, but this is the wackiest thing I have ever encountered for somebody providing me a service. 1) You get double invoices with different numbers for every transaction. 2) Nest is not able to offer any explanation as to how the billings work or even tell you how things were billed. 3) You are forced to have your service plans pro-rated so everything syncs up on a renewal date... even if you can't afford to renew everything at once, which is why you staggered the purchase of your cameras in the first place. 4) You are forced to auto-renew Nest Aware, even if that's not what you want. 5) You have no control over your credit card information and cannot remove such private information from your account. 6) Nobody at Nest finds anything odd about all of the above. I mean... wow... just wow.

This is some seriously sketchy shit.

Nest Aware is like the f#@%ing mafia.

And yet nobody at Nest thinks there's anything strange about the way they conduct business. Nor do they appear to have any interest whatsoever in updating their system so it's not so abusive and stupid. It's for this reason that I hesitate to recommend anybody buy Nest's shit. Yes, they have incredible products, but is dealing with their absurd billing practices worth it? If I weren't already invested in the system, I'd probably say "no." But since I am, I guess I'm stuck here unless somebody comes up with a "jailbreak" for the cameras that allows you to pair them to your own "cloud server" for storage and access.

But anywho...

As I mentioned, I have ten Nest Cams. In order to get the coverage I want, I really need one more. And if the cameras end up going on sale one of these days, I'll probably get it. Despite having to be chained to Nest Aware's high cost... despite the stupid billing system... despite my running out of bandwidth. Because even when all that's taken into consideration, it's still the best security camera system I've found.

For now anyway.

   

A Massive Nozzle and Ceiling Fans

Posted on Wednesday, May 24th, 2017

Dave!When I bought my home, I noted how all the heat in the place is constantly rising to the upstairs. Doesn't matter if it's natural heat in July and August... or furnace heat in December and January... it's all the same. Downstairs cool. Upstairs hot.

And since I put my bedroom and  office  cat's playroom upstairs, those rooms can get uncomfortably warm. So I took a cue from places like New Orleans and Maui and installed ceiling fans...

Silver Ceiling Fan

They. Are. Wonderful.

And since they are controllable from my home automation system, the fans can be controlled remotely. No need to get out of bed to turn them on/off or change the speed. I can do all that from the iPhone on my nightstand. Or by saying "Alexa, set David's fan to medium."

What I really need to do is get a temperature sensor and have everything programmed to happen automatically! The fan speed could be determined by detected temperature ranges. That way air could be circulating as needed, even when I'm not home.

The best thing about ceiling fans is that I don't have to run the air conditioner as often. Especially at night when I'm in bed and the fan is above me. This saves a crazy amount of electricity... and if I were able to install them in the downstairs living room and guest bedroom, I could probably get away with no air conditioning at all. Alas, the recessed lighting cans I need to install from are in all the wrong places, so... no joy there.

A summer project I've been bouncing around in my head is to install a ceiling fan in the stairwell. That way I could have it running in the winter to keep the heat downstairs where it belongs. Or so I'm guessing. Air flow thermodynamics are not something I pretend to understand.

And now for my metaphorical explanation of kidney stones from 2009...

Let's say that you built a new greenhouse where the plants require special water. Highly filtered water, you might say. So you build a nice system where dual filtration units remove all the impurities, then pass the filtered water off into a bucket. The bucket in turn feeds a massive nozzle which you then use to spray your plants...

Filtration System Schematic

The key to comprehending this system is understanding just how massive the nozzle is. It's enormous. Firefighters are in awe of just how big it is. You could hose down an entire football field plus a team of cheerleaders in just five minutes (assuming you didn't want to take your time, of course)... because that's how astoundingly large this nozzle is.

Unfortunately, the tubing you bought to feed the system is way too small. It's also very soft, and easily ripped if anything sharp comes near it. It can also be prone to tearing if you force something too wide through it. And no, I don't know why. Maybe you spent all your money on the massive nozzle and didn't have enough left over to buy decent tubes... whatever... it's not important.

What IS important is that the nozzle is just fine. The nozzle works perfectly and can handle just about anything you throw at it. It's the tubing which is totally inadequate to the task here.

Because, oops! Every once in a while the filters let a particle slip through. This causes all kinds of agony, because those little tubes just aren't built to handle it. Eventually, it will most likely make its way through the system, but it's a painful process. The worst, most horrifying part is in the tubes leaving the filters and depositing into the bucket. These are the tubes least able to cope with the damage. You get something going through here and you become so traumatized that all you want to do is burn down the entire greenhouse.

The tube from the bucket to the massive nozzle is uncomfortable, but nowhere near as painful...

Filtration System Schematic with Blockage

Blargh. Having a particle stuck here feels like you have a little razor blade about to run through your nozzle. It also makes you feel like your bucket is full all the time. So you spend your entire day running to the greenhouse even though your bucket is mostly empty. What time you don't spend at the greenhouse is spent in quiet discomfort, just waiting for the particle to finally exit your filtration system so you can get back to a normal gardening experience.

And I would really, really, like to get back to normal so I can start living my life without having to worry about the spikey rock headed down my massive  penis  nozzle.

   

My Biscuit, My Biscuit

Posted on Saturday, June 3rd, 2017

Dave!No matter how many tools I buy, there's always something more.

My latest purchase? A plate joiner... better known as a "biscuit cutter." This very cool tool cuts notches in the side of a wood board so they can be joined together with a small piece of oval-shaped wood (a "biscuit"). The biscuit swells when glue soaks into it, which makes the joints quite strong...

A biscuit cutter became necessary for a number of reasons. First is that I can't fit large pieces of wood in my car. Second is that my sliding miter saw can only handle lumber 8" deep, and when I need a precise angle I don't want to use hand-saw. Aligning small pieces of wood so they can be joined into a large piece of wood is tricky business without a plate joiner, so I bit the bullet and spent the $100.

It works fantastic...

FWood Joined by Biscuits

That's three pieces of 8-foot wood that's been biscuit-joined into a single piece, then filled and sanded smooth. The biscuit joint is not really meant to be for strength... it's more for alignment... but the board is about as solid as it gets. Nice!

The only problem is that every time I use my biscuit cutter, this song goes through my head...

All thanks to my Facebook friend, John, who just couldn't let me enjoy my biscuit cutter without Ivy Levan!

   

Closet Space

Posted on Monday, June 12th, 2017

Dave!Ask anybody who knows me... I am most definitely not into clothes.

But I do want to wear nice clothes, so I save my money all year long and purchase everything on Black Friday. This is essentially doubling my buying power, even though any summer clothes I get will be "last year's models" by the time I end up wearing them. Oh well, because: affordable clothes. Which I hate shopping for. And the only thing I hate more than shopping for clothes? Finding a way to organize them in my closet.

When I moved into my new home one of the first things I looked at was the closets. Since the place was built in 1997, I was hoping it was "modern" enough to have smart closet spaces. But it didn't. Same old rod with a shelf on it that I had in my last place. This means all my shirts will end up scattered around while my suits hang in the corner and all my jeans get stacked on the shelf. Again.

Such a waste of space.

So I looked into some of those "closet organizer" websites where you can custom design exactly what you need. For me, this is rather simple...

  • A central shelving unit to organize my growing collection of denim.
  • Separated spaces for my shirts and suits.
  • Space for my dirty clothes hampers, which I am tired of tripping on.

This ends up looking something like this...

Expensive Closet Organizer!

There are several problems here...

  • I'd have to toss out the rod on the bottom right to make room for the hampers.
  • The shelves are those wimpy "peg & hole" kind, which I hate. I am not even sure that they would support the weight of denim jeans stacked six high.
  • There is wasted space under the shelves where I would rather have more shelves!
  • The pieces hang on the wall, which seems dicey as hell.
  • The don't let you fill in all available space.
  • It's not real wood, so the quality will suck.
  • FOUR HUNDRED AND THIRTEEN DOLLARS FOR THIS PIECE OF SHIT? ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR FUCKING MINDS?!??

And so, I added "Closet Organizer" to my list of woodworking projects. Then, a couple weeks ago I sketched out what I needed, headed to Home Depot for lumber, then worked on the thing whenever I had a spare moment. It turned out amazingly awesome in every way...

Dave's Home-Built Closet Organizer!

Features...

  • Solid wood and built like a tank.
  • Shelf supports for extra strength... won't collapse even when packed with heavy jeans.
  • Plenty of space for my 36-pair denim collection (biggest Black Friday savings).
  • Still room in the header for blankets, pillows, and storage.
  • Brushed stainless steel rods and hardware to match my ceiling fan.
  • Separate spaces for suits, shirts, and T-shirts.
  • Room for easy-access laundry hampers.
  • Beautifully constructed! Does not look like a cheap piece of crap.
  • $189 in materials. LESS THAN HALF THE COST OF THE SHITTY ONLINE ALTERNATIVE!

Well, it's kinda half the cost of the shitty online alternative. I ended up buying a biscuit cutter to join boards together, which added a $100 expense to the project that I wasn't anticipating. Even so... I still saved around $125 AND I've got a biscuit cutter than I'm sure to use on many future projects!

Oh... I think the cats like it too...

Jenny Investigates My Closet Organizer!

So... all in all a fantastic investment of my time. And I had fun building it to boot... almost no swearing!

On to the next project, whatever that will be.

   

Robovac 11 vs. Cats: FIGHT!

Posted on Tuesday, July 25th, 2017

Dave!When I returned from Las Vegas earlier this month, my home was a disaster, even though I did a quick cleaning before I left. Between the cats shedding like crazy and their tracking in dirt, leaves, and debris from the catio (not to mention kitty litter everywhere) it doesn't take long at all before my home gets pretty filthy.

And, as much as I'd like to vacuum every day between deep cleaning every-other-month, it's tough to work it into my routine. I vacuum once or twice a week and not at all when I'm traveling.

So... I started looking into robot vacuums. Everybody I know who has one, loves them. They're not meant to replace an "actual" vacuum cleaner, but they are totally capable of sucking up superficial filth that tends to accumulate day to day. Especially if you have cats.

From the time I spent researching them, I learned that my home is ideal for a robot vacuum because it is open-concept, has clear pathways with little clutter, and all floors are either hardwood or tile. Great. So which one to buy? I narrowed it down to three...

  • iRobot Roomba 960 ($700). Coming from the original and most popular RoboVac company, Roomba models are smart, highly rated, and come in a variety of models for every situation. The 960 is near the high-end, but has the features I'm looking for... including network connectivity, brushless extractors for cat hair, and direct-path navigation. If I had $700 to blow, this would be the one I buy because it comes with a 30-Day Money-Back Guarantee when purchased directly from the company.
  • Neato Botvac Connected ($700). Comparative feature-wise to the Roomba 960 above, this was actually my first choice... until I found out that Neato does not offer a 30-Day Money-Back Guarantee. This is absurd, as I'm not spending SEVEN HUNDRED DOLLARS on something that offers no guarantee as to whether it will work in my home. Despite some high ratings and nice reviews, the company doesn't have enough confidence in their product to back it up, so I'll take a pass.
  • Eufy RoboVac 11 ($200). This brand/model wasn't even on my radar until I read that it was the #1 pick by The Wirecutter. No, it's not network connected. No, it doesn't have brushless extractors. No, it doesn't have direct-path navigation. But... it's $200 and is said to work well on short-hair cat fur. And I believe it's covered by Amazon's 30-Day Money-Back Guarantee. The major negative? From what I can tell, the battery is not replaceable. At all. Insanity. Hopefully there are YouTube videos out there showing how to replace the damn battery, because I would be very pissed if I had to toss the thing once the battery dies. So stupid that it's not user-replaceable like most other robot vacuums. Or, at the very least, factory-service replaceable.

I don't have $700 to spend on a robot vacuum, as nice as it may be to own one of the top-shelf models. Technically, I don't even have $200. But I sold an old camera body I wasn't using, which meant I had $200 I could spend.

The Eufy RoboVac 11 it is then.

Before the unit arrived I did three things...

  1. I tore out the poor quality shag area-rug I had in the living room. It was a piece of crap from day one, and only served to trap filth. I was not confident that the RoboVac could manage it, so I trashed it. Not a big deal, since I wish I would have done it a long time ago. As expected, it was disgusting, despite having been vacuumed regularly and installed less than a year ago.
  2. I turned the chairs up in the dining room. Because of the airflow dynamics of my home, a big chunk of the cat hair is forever accumulating around the feet of my dining table chairs and sticking to the felt pads. Since I figured that the RoboVac wouldn't have enough room to navigate around them, I just turned them on top of the table so as to create an easy path. Since I rarely eat at the table (preferring to eat while watching TV in the living room) this was just common sense. I'm mad at myself for not doing it sooner! Bonus: The cats can no longer hang around on top of my dining table.
  3. I did a "deep clean" of my entire home. The last thing I wanted to do was overwhelm the RoboVac on its first run, so I thought it best to start from a clean slate.

And then... it arrived. Set up was a cinch, though finding a place to put the charging base was a challenge. They require an area a bit larger than 7-feet wide by 7-feet deep... and it has to be against a wall! This is a huge area. Instead of having my RoboVac in my living room/dining room area as intended, I ended up putting it in the guest bedroom... and even then it comes up short from the required space. Doesn't seem to be having any ill-effects, but I find it insane that such a massive footprint is required. Does Eufy think all its customers live in mansions?

Eufy RoboVac 11 Charging Base!

I need about a foot more space on the left side, but I can move it to the right because then I don't have enough space in front. Another worry? Look at that tasty cord. I'm going to have to tape it up so the cats don't chew on it. I may experiment with moving the unit under the outlet (even though it will only have half the required space in front of it there) or perhaps build a cord protector. Or something.

The Eufy RoboVac 11 is completely dependent on the included remote control for anything other than automatic cleanings. Want to set the internal clock? Point the remote at it while you program it. Want to set a schedule? Point the remote at it while you program it. Want to send it "home?" Point the... well... you get the picture. Is this a deal-breaker? Not for $200. But it does kinda make you long for the network connectivity of the $700 units.

But the real question is... how do Jake and Jenny deal with our new robot friend? The first time it ran, Jenny hid upstairs the entire time while Jake stalked it around the house...

Eufy RoboVac 11 vs. Jake!

Eufy RoboVac 11 vs. Jake!

Eufy RoboVac 11 vs. Jake!

Eufy RoboVac 11 vs. Jake!

Eufy RoboVac 11 vs. Jake!

But the second day she was stalking it too...

Eufy RoboVac 11 vs. Jake!

A bigger problem than the cats are their cat toys...

CAT TOYS!

If you've got cats that like to leave toys scattered about, that could be a problem. They are certain to get moved around by RoboVac. If they are lightweight and have strings or feathers or other dangly bits, they'll be partially sucked into the unit then get hauled around, stuck there.

Actually, the real question when it comes to robot vacuums probably has nothing to do with cats... and everything to do with how well the thing actually works. Keeping in mind that I had done a "deep clean" the day before I got it, I think this photo of its first run through my home is everything you need to know...

RoboVac Dirt!

Since I had just cleaned, I expected there would be a few bits of dirt and a small amount of cat hair. Nuh-uh. Not even.

The bin was completely full.

Here's day two. FULL AGAIN?!...

RoboVac Dirt!

And day three. Not as bad, but still...

RoboVac Dirt!

Holy crap! Where is it finding all this?!? So gross. But wow does it ever work well! I may only have to "real vacuum" every month or so now!

When it comes to a cleaning schedule, I set the Eufy RoboVac 11 to do a full auto-clean every morning at 4:30am. The results are... weird...

  • DAY ONE (unscheduled): Ran for about 40 minutes. Then the status light turned solid red, the vacuum slowed to a crawl, but continued to roam around, even though there seemed to be very little suction. I thought the battery might be low, but if that were the case it would have gone back to base. The manual said I would hear beeps to count so I'd know what's wrong. It never beeped. I manually picked up the RoboVac and carried it to the charging station. It reset itself, charged up, and everything was back to normal.
  • DAY TWO (4:30am schedule): Cleaned for about 90 minutes, returned to base.
  • DAY THREE (4:30am schedule): Cleaned until 7:10... a full hour past its maximum battery life... then went out of view in my living room. I wasn't home, so I had to learn all this from the security cameras. I speculated that it got lost and the battery died.
  • DAY FOUR (4:30am schedule): Turns out the thing didn't die. It activated from wherever it ended up in the living room, cleaned for around 10 minutes, then went back to its charging base.
  • DAY FIVE (4:30am schedule): Once again cleaned for a ridiculous amount of time. Way, way past it's max battery life. Could not make it stop cleaning and return to base no matter what I tried until I physically turned it off and moved it.

Like I said, weird. But it seems to be working just fine except for the marathon cleaning sessions. Perhaps eventually it will settle into a more consistent routine?

And now the pros and cons of the Eufy RoboVac 11...

  • PRO: Actually works! I cannot emphasize just how happy I am that my every expectation was exceeded.
  • PRO: Shockingly quiet. Quieter than the Roombas my friends have. I think the reason my cats are seemingly okay with it is that it's not hugely noisy. And it gives them something to watch.
  • CON: You are required to have 1 meter of free space on either side plus 2 meters of free space in front of the charging station. This is kinda insane. How many homes have a 7-foot wide by 7-foot deep space against a wall available?
  • CON: Remote control is a bit clunky and has to be physically pointed directly at the RoboVac to function. At least the RoboVac "beeps" to let you know it "heard" you.
  • CON: Error reporting leaves a lot to be desired. I remain completely clueless as to why the unit suddenly went into red-light error mode then slow to a crawl. The manual says that the red light is an error that you can figure out by the number of "beeps" it issues. Problem was... no beeps?
  • CON: My RoboVac will return to base on its own when its battery runs low... eventually... but never when I use the remote to tell it to stop vacuuming and return to the charger. At first I thought it only ignored me when it experiences an error, but... not so much. Neither the remote "home" button nor the "auto" button on the unit works when in "error mode" or regular operating mode. Frustrating. I have to pick it up and physically take it to the charging base when I want it to stop early.
  • CON: Cheaper robot vacuums (like the RoboVac 11) have a kind of random wandering pattern while running. It's all over the place. One minute the dining room, the next in the living room, the next in the kitchen. More expensive vacuums have a straight-path navigation that runs in a grid pattern. This seems like a smarter way to make sure everything gets clean. Except... as the full bins of dirt and cat hair will attest, the random navigation is actually working. Sure it may miss a few spots on one day, but it will probably manage to get to them the next day.
  • CON: Just like so many other electronics now-a-days, the RoboVac is constructed of shiny plastic that scratches easily and adheres dust like a magnet. That's usually frustrating... but manageable. BUT ON A DEVICE THAT IS SUCKING UP DUST AS ITS PRIMARY FUNCTION?!? The thing is filthy all the time! WHY SHINY BLACK PLASTIC?!? Insanity. Or stupidity. Or both.

My RoboVac to-do list...

  1. Come up with a way of protecting the charging cord from cats who will most certainly want to chew on it.
  2. Build some kind of "tray" to protect the cat food bowls. The RoboVac pushes the bowls and mats around the dining room, which is kind of a pain.
  3. Replace toys that have long strings and feathers with toys that won't get sucked/stuck to the RoboVac.
  4. Change the cleaning schedule from 4:30am to noon. That way if it runs way long, it won't disturb the cats when they're eating breakfast.

CONCLUSION: Ultimately I'm so very happy I took the plunge. I love my new robot vacuum. I love it so much that I've named him Carl (after the janitor in The Breakfast Club) and he's a part of the family now. My Eufy RoboVac 11 is managing to find dirt and cat hair that I never even see. Yes, I'll still need to vacuum with my upright from time to time... a robot vacuum simply doesn't have the same suction power as an upright... but in helping to keep my home clean from day-to-day (especially while I'm gone). It's a fantastic tool and a big help.

Carl the Janitor!

My goal was to eventually replace the Eufy RoboVac 11 with a more expensive model that has all the bells and whistles I was wanting. But if it keeps doing the great job it has been, why would I? Paying $500 over the $200 that Carl cost me probably isn't going to get my home any cleaner. Maybe if I had carpet or complicated rooms it would be a different story... but, for now, I'm definitely sticking with what I got.

UPDATE: When I changed the schedule time, the RoboVac stopped vacuuming on the schedule. I contacted tech support and said I could try turning the power off. Then removing it from the base station. Then turning it on. Then clear the current schedule (hold the schedule button down until it beeps and clears). Then set a new schedule. Worked like a charm! Now Carl won't be interrupting the cats at breakfast.

   

Wreaths and Hair-Trigger Shotguns

Posted on Saturday, September 16th, 2017

Dave!In order to maintain the illusion that I am a kind, friendly neighbor who cares deeply about how others perceive me, I have been putting decorative wreaths on my door like I see other people do 'round the 'hood. But I refuse to hang cheap, ugly wreaths up... and I also refuse to pay big money for nice wreaths. So I shop the closeouts at Pier One. Quality wreaths at a bargain price! Problem is, closeouts only happen after the holiday is over, so I'm always behind. My Winter Wreath stayed up through Christmas. My Christmas Wreath stayed up through Valentine's Day. My Valentine's Day Wreath stayed up through Easter. And my Easter Wreath has been up until... today.

My plan was to run to Pier One this morning and buy a Summer Wreath on closeout. But I was too late. All the Summer stuff had gone to make room for Fall, Halloween, and Thanksgiving. Since I didn't want to leave an Easter Wreath hanging on my door through the Fall, I did the unthinkable... I bought a Fall Wreath that wasn't on closeout. I did get to take 20% off for some reason though, so I guess that's something.

The benefit of buying decorating crap "in season" is that I didn't have to settle for the lame leftovers. Instead I picked out exactly the wreath I wanted. So now my home looks totally friendly and inviting again!

My New Fall Wreath

Not bad! Since I live in "apple country" I liked that this wreath had fake apples scattered throughout the other crap that was crammed in there.

Earlier this year when I was changing out my Valentine wreath, a neighbor walking by said "Hello" and "That's pretty" and "I'm always afraid that somebody will steal it if I bought a nice wreath like that!" Trying my best to be friendly, I replied with "Oh, I've got security cameras everywhere, motion detectors, a door sensor, a doorbell camera, an alarm siren, and a shotgun with a hair-trigger... so I try not to worry about somebody trying to steal it... ha ha ha ha." The neighbor seemed unsure of how to reply and said "Well, I guess you wouldn't," then shuffled off in a cloud of unease.

Something tells me I was the talk of the neighborhood for a while there.

But it's all true. I have the cameras, sensors, detectors, siren... all of it. Well, it's mostly true... my shotgun doesn't have a hair-trigger. I exaggerated a bit to be funny.

Since moving in, I've only been bothered once. Some kid saw my cats in the window and decided to bang on the door to scare them. Or, at least that's what I was able to piece together from all my security camera footage, which culminated with this...

Punk Ass Door Knocker

Punk Ass Door Knocker

Punk Ass Door Knocker

I was in my garage building something but, since I had my iPhone with me, I was alerted the minute the kid step foot on my driveway. I watched him run up to my door, bang on it, then run away. Then I was able to follow him as he ran through my front yard, past the side of my house, and into the field that's in back of me. At first I found it funny that this kid was so stupid as to ignore the security camera sticker I have plastered on my door. Then I was angry that some little punk was messing with my cats. I was going to print out my camera stills and track down the little asshole, but ultimately decided to be the good neighbor and just let it go.

This time.

Next time I'm going to grab my shotgun and blow his fucking head off.

Just kidding! I don't even have a shotgun!

I have a Ruger GP100 .357 Magnum revolver with custom grip and a fiber-optic front sight.

   

Caturday 37

Posted on Saturday, September 23rd, 2017

Dave!Jenny is turning into one of the most bizarre cats I've ever known. Which is to say she's an average cat. On one hand, she is terrified of everything. If somebody rings the doorbell or there's a loud noise, she vanishes in a flash. Needless to say that if I have a visitor, she hides until well after they leave. If I walk into a room... even carefully, she bolts. She is the very definition of a scardy cat.

And yet... she is demanding as hell. 20 minutes until breakfast? Screw that. She wants to be fed now. You want to work when she wants to be petted? Screw that. She wants to be petted now. She has discovered how to meow, and she uses it when you displease her. And she's completely manipulative about it. If her first meow doesn't work, she will try different meows until she gets results. It's totally adorable, of course. Well, it's adorable so long as you pet her in the way that she wants to be petted. And she will totally supervise your every move to make sure you are doing it right...

Jenny the Cat

And speaking of supervision... Jenny will show up to lord over you whenever you are working on something interesting. When I was rewiring my media center, she sat staring at me for a full 20 minutes...

Jenny the Cat

In other news... Jenny rules my entire house now.

After getting Carl the RoboVac, I had to remove the electrified "Scat Mats" because Carl liked chewing on them. Jake would always hop over them when sneaking into the kitchen, but Jenny rarely crossed over. And, on those rare occasions that she did, it was never while I was around. But now? She puts her little foot out to make sure she isn't going to get zapped... but she goes into the kitchen whenever the hell she feels like it. And that's whether I am there or not. She is fascinated by the refrigerator, and makes a bee-line to the kitchen any time I dare to open it...

Jenny the Cat

Jake, on the other hand, won't go into the kitchen unless I'm gone or upstairs. And if I ever catch him in the kitchen, he bolts the second he sees me. Jenny, on the other hand, has zero shits to give any more.

And speaking of Jake in my kitchen...

I finally got around to painting two doors that I've been putting off for months. I knew I'd need a third coat, so I just left the paint can on the kitchen counter with the lid barely on and the paintbrush nearby. But then... as I was in bed typing this... I hear a big crash that sounds like it's coming from the kitchen. I take a look at the security cameras to see what the heck is going on, and...

Jake the Cat is Going to Paint

Jake the Cat is Going to Paint

I didn't even wait for the video to finish playing. I tossed aside my laptop and went running downstairs expecting to find my kitchen covered in paint. Except, luckily, didn't happen. Jake walked right by the paint can... went to the cupboard... and pawed a can of PAM cooking spray onto the floor... and that's what I had heard.

In other Jake news... he's been stealing Jenny's new favorite spot on the stereo receiver lately. Though sometimes they do share it. Usually when it's getting close to dinner time and they feel like staring at me in an attempt to get an early meal...

Jake the Cat

At least until one of them passes out from hunger...

Jake the Cat

And, since I mentioned Carl the RoboVac earlier...

Apparently Carlthe RoboVac has declared all-out war on Litter Robot. It's robot vs. robot...

I attempted to tell Carl to be nice since his fellow robot is literally cleaning up shit all day long... but Carl is having none of it.

Probably because he's cleaning up shit every day too.

Though, not literal shit. That would be horrifying.

Tags: ,
Categories: Cats 2017, Home RenovationClick To It: Permalink  1 Comment: Click To Add Yours!  

   

Paint by Wumbers

Posted on Wednesday, October 18th, 2017

Dave!Painters were hired to paint my home, which has been ongoing for the past week... off and on. When I bought the place it was about ten years overdue, and the paint rubs off if you run your hand over it. So... very happy we managed to find a painter before winter arrived. Not so happy about the $2,550 it costs for my share of the bill, but dems da breaks when you're a homeowner.

My cats spent most of their time observing all the activity from out in their catio.

Until it was time to paint the catio.

In order to not have to pay anything additional for my addition, I ended up spending two days masking off the catio for ten minutes of painting...

Catio Masked Up

Amazingly enough, ripping the masking off wasn't the piece of cake I thought it would be. Since I had to mask both sides at the same time, I had masking tape sticking to masking tape, which is not easy to pull apart. Something I hadn't thought of when I started this.

But...

It's all over. And the catio matches my condo exactly now, which is pretty great for an OCD brain like mine.

My cats don't seem to notice.

   

  Home  

spacer
Welcome:
Blogography is a place to learn and grow by exposing yourself to the mind of David Simmer II, a brilliant commentator on world events and popular culture (or so he claims).
Dave FAQ:
Frequently Asked Questions
Dave Flickr Gallery:
Dave Contact:
dave@blogography.com
Blogography Webfeeds:
Entries Feed
Comments Feed
Dave Social:
Blogography Tumblr
Blogography Instagram
Blogography on Pinterest
translate me
lost & found
Search Blogography:
thrice fiction
Thrice Fiction Magazine - March, 2011 - THE END
I'm co-founder of Thrice Fiction magazine. Come check us out!
free iphone app
Ask Dave iPhone App
Put Dave in your pocket with this FREE app for iPhone and iPod Touch. All life's answers await you with the Ask Dave app!
hard rock moment
Visit DaveCafe for my Hard Rock Cafe travel journal!
travel picto-gram
Visit my travel map to see where I have been in this world!
badgemania
Blogography Badge
Atom Syndicate Badge
Comments Syndicate Badge
Apple Safari Badge
Pirate's Booty Badge
Macintosh Badge
license
All content copyright ©2003-2017
by David Simmer II
   
Creative Commons License
This weblog is licensed under
a Creative Commons License.
ssl security
Comodo SSL