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Closet Space

Posted on 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.

   

My Biscuit, My Biscuit

Posted on 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!

   

Nest Cam / Nest Aware

Posted on 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.

   

Everybody Loves BuddhaCat!

Posted on 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.

   

Snow Lapse

Posted on 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.

   

Sense-Less

Posted on 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.

   

Guest Room Remodel 6: Accessories

Posted on 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!

   

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