Tales From The Ipe!

I sit by and watch the river flow. I sit by and watch the traffic go.

Category: Technology (page 1 of 11)

The HVAC project is all done

That’s right, folks. We’re all done. We spent over $20K but at least we’re done. A tech came last week to finish up the last of the project – installing a vent and moving the downstairs thermostat.

Overall, both systems are working well. We’ve noticed both systems are much quieter than the original systems. Also, we don’t have to put the AC all the way down to 72 degrees to get comfortable – 75 is plenty comfortable now.

I hope we’ll be all set for a while. This was an expensive unplanned project for 2017, but good for the long haul.

Our new Sonos Play:5 arrived

After waiting five days for shipping time, our new Sonos Play:5 arrived at our local Target store for pick-up. It came packaged in a large fancy box with a carrying handle and two sliding locks to keep it secure. Very fancy.

After some discussion, we finally agreed on where to place it – on top of the kitchen cabinet above the fridge. It’s out of the way but can cover the kitchen and family room. After tuning it, we tested it out and it sounds nice. I especially like how we can group it with the Lounge speakers for a consistent sound.

I think I found a good 4 bike rack for the Armada

I think I found an appropriate (albeit expensive) hitch-mounted bike rack that accommodates 4 bicycles (adult and children sizes), with security features, and tilts out of the way if you need to open the rear liftgate – the  Saris Freedom SuperClamp 4-Bike 

Key product features for us:

  • Streamlined, lightweight and rugged – carries up to 4 bikes of any type (190 lb total).
  • Dual hooks provide best-in-class security without touching the frame of your bike.
  • Tilting feature allows access to rear of vehicle, even when fully loaded.
  • Integrated locks for bikes and hitch.

Yes, a four bike rack. When we go on trips, we can’t take our bikes. When we went to Maryland earlier this year,we had to take my bike because that’s the only one with a bike rack.

For a long time, I had my eyes on a particular Thule model that also folded out of the way, but there are a number of customer complaints that the rack doesn’t lock into the hitch very securely, and needs to be pushed back in occasionally. Hmmm, no thanks. I want something that locks into place and won’t leave a trail of cherished bicycles along the highway.
This model retails for $799, but we have a Saris 3 bike rack for my car, and it’s fantastic. It’s a good brand with good quality behind it. And they’re all produced in Wisconsin!

Our next big road trip is end of August to the Outer Banks in North Carolina, so we’ve got a month to pull the funds together (after purchasing a new car AND new HVAC systems this week) to save up and purchase it. Josh and I plan to go bike riding along the beach at least once, and I expect to ride 2 or 3 times that week.

It’s exciting times for this nerd: we’re hard-wiring our house with Gigabit Ethernet

In our prior townhouse, I had this dream of running Gigabit Ethernet through the walls, so I could have blazing fast speeds. Alas, it was a pain in the butt, it would cost quite a bit of money, and we didn’t know how long we would be in the house for. It’s been a few years now, and we’re in the new house, and we’re still wireless. Well, until now, but no longer.

As part of the recent Living Room / Lounge transformation, we budgeted some extra cash to get the home network project off the ground. [Okay, I budgeted for it, and my wife gave up in the interest of marital harmony.] While we have 802.11ac wireless in the house, the access point is on one side of the house, but should be centrally located to all devices. We have 4 TB of movies and tv shows running on a Plex media server, and I want to stream content to all devices as fast and easily as possible. I eventually want to have a media client at both TVs in order to serve up the Ipe Media Library. Wireless is nice, but Gigabit Ethernet is better when streaming 40 GB movie files. I want to reserve the wireless network for the Sonos music system, plus phones and tablets.

The key elements of the plan were:

  1. We [Okay, just me.] decided to wire the main floor and basement with Cat6 Ethernet network cable. Cat6 provides Gigabit speeds (up to 1000 megabits per second), and suffers less from potential interference and future-proofs me for the road ahead.
  2. Dropping 4 port network jacks in the Home Office, Family Room, and Kitchen.
  3. Moving the FiOS router to the basement.
  4. Connecting every room via network switch.
  5. Moving the wireless access point to the kitchen.
  6. Laying network cable through the basement drop ceiling, and hard-wiring the Basement devices (Playstation 3, Playstation 4, TiVo, and whatever else is next,)

We had a lot of the project completed. I ordered the equipment — wall plates, modular plugs, keystone jacks, 1000 feet of Cat6 network cable, power strip, etc), and the electrician completed most of the work over the course of a few days. Running the network cable was the easy part — capping each end of the network cable took him forever.  For the network switch, I choose the NETGEAR JGS524NA 24-Port Gigabit Ethernet Rackmount Network Switch. The access point is situated nicely and out of the way in the kitchen, and the kids and I successfully snaked the network cable and power cord in a narrow gap between the kitchen cabinets. (Unexpected bonus.)

The storage room is a bit messy, so that’s a work in progress. I’d like to take down that old wire shelving in the future, and put up a nice rack at some point. I have more equipment planned, and this current setup is quite what I’m looking for. The basement isn’t done yet either. While I wanted to get that done too, we decided to prioritize the kitchen first, and save some money. Instead, I have to run the wire in the basement on my own, cap the wires, etc. While I planned to run four wires there, for now, I’ll only run one network cable, and use a Netgear 5-port switch (also purchased last week.) None of the basement devices is expected to transfer or download files concurrently, so no big deal.

Ordered and installed new cleats for my road shoes

Man, check out the bicycle shoe cleats on the bottom row. They were in bad shape. I bought them a few years ago during the 2013 MS Bike Tour down in Brielle when my last set broke during the rode (around 30 miles in.)

This time I bought my own off Amazon, and replaced them on my own. No big deal, easy peasy.

Testing out my new Polar H10 heart rate monitor & chest strap

I mentioned previously that my wife bought me a new Polar H10 heart rate monitor and chest strap for my birthday. I’ve gotten used to chest strap heart rate monitors over the past 3 years. While I’m sure wristbands are more portable and convenient, the chest strap models are more accurate. If I’m exercising, I value accuracy over mild inconvenience. I use a heart rate monitor at the gym.

Speaking of which, it’s been a year since I purchased one of these for when I go to work out at Orangetheory Fitness. While it works well in the gym, the complimentary OTbeat that would allow one to monitor their out-of-the-gym workouts has always given me trouble. Outside of the gym, I always have trouble pairing the HRT to my phone, and the app has a tendency to crash mid-workout, irrevocably out your session data. This happened most recently during my bike ride to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. It’s also happened when I’ve attempted to use the monitor and app at a gym during business trips or on vacation.

71FiFWJYl7L._SL1500_The Polar H10 is the latest version of Polar’s chest strap monitor, replacing the H7. The strap has been improved, and the pod is slimmer. It still supports Bluetooth but it seems Polar dropped ANT+ support so you can’t synch this with some gym equipment. Not important to me. Here’s a nicely detailed review at The 5K Runner. Part of the purchasing decision making process was a product that worked with good apps. The Polar H10 worked with a bunch like the Polar Beat, UA Record, etc. That’s good because I need good app options.

Polar apparently offers two apps, Polar Beat and Polar Flow. The Polar Flow app is the smartphone gateway to the internet for Polar’s sports watches. The Flow app doesn’t record a session itself, but seems to be for overall fitness monitoring like UA Record app. The Polar Beat app uses your smartphone as a recording device and you pair the H10 within the app. Apparently, the H10 also caches data. It says it will cache one exercise. That one exercise can be 65 hours long and data is stored on a per second basis. I guess you can pair it with your phone, kick off a workout, then leave your phone in the hotel room?

I tested out the Polar Beat app last Saturday during a bike ride. It paired effortlessly. I mounted my phone to my bike, started the app, and I was off. Now the only hiccup I encountered was that I didn’t change the units from Metric to Imperial, and you can’t do that during a workout, oddly enough.

I warmed up, stopped my parents’ house to check in on them, then restarted my workout again, without the metric system. The rest of the ride went well, except I felt sluggish. The app and the H10 did great. I especially like the little GPS map that records your workout route

Folks, we have a winner.

I bought the Nikon SB-700 speedlight

I’d been considering getting a separate flash for my camera. I’ve been reading up on the benefits, the basics of flash photography, etc. It’s not as if the built-in flash on my camera is bad at all, but there’s a lot more you can do when you have a separate flash that you attach to the hot shoe of a camera. Yes, a separate flash is more powerful. You can adjust the power of the flash to get the right exposure level. The other big benefit is being able to aim the flash away from your subject, so that you can bounce the light off the ceiling or use a diffuser (material that diffuses the light from the flash.) This helps to soften the light, and help reduce shadows.

Recently at my mother-in-law’s retirement dinner, I was plagued by shadows and funny lighting in the ceiling.  I didn’t like the shadows behind my subjects. I didn’t like being unable to counteract the orange-yellow light in the room. I was recently asked to help take photos at someone’s event coming up in a week, and I didn’t want to have this problem anymore. Not at this dinner thing coming up, or going forward, especially with Christmas coming up too.

So I bought the Nikon SB-700 speedlight, which is what Nikon calls them. It’s a bit expensive, so I had to use up all of my Amex points to bring the cost down. The kit comes with speedlight itself, three diffusers (for use in different lighting), what I think is an attachment for a tripod, and the large case. I had to rejigger my camera case, but I was able to find a way to fit this, a camera, and three lenses in the same bag.

I took a few practice shots, but I need to continue practicing during the next few weeks.

I bought myself the AF-S DX Nikkor 55-200mm f/4-5.6G ED VR II lens and I don’t regret it

It’s been over year since I got a new lens — a NIKKOR 50mm prime lens. It’s a very nice lens, but I could use a good zoom lens for all of these karate demonstrations, softball games, school performances, etc. I think you need to have one in your repertoire if you’re into photography. We have a number of events coming up starting this month, so I figure 16 months is long enough.

I’ve had my eyes on the NIKKOR 55-200mm ED VR II for over a year and it hasn’t dropped in price all that time. I ordered it from Amazon yesterday and they somehow delivered it 24 hours later? Incredible. In my brief testing this evening, it’s easy to use, reasonably light, and the photo quality is excellent.

I can’t wait to use it later this week!



I purchased and installed the Rachio Iro (Gen 1), and it’s pretty darn cool

Ah, Rain Bird, I hate you

Ah, Rain Bird, I hate you

When we moved into the house in the summer of 2014, the one process that I could not figure out was the Rainbird sprinkler controller. Look at the picture at the right — this is the controller that we had in our garage. To understand and adjust the water schedule, you had to read the hieroglyphs and turn the knob X times. Honestly, I ran a few tests, and the only thing I could figure out was how to manually turn on the sprinklers using the ‘Test’ feature. After multiple failed attempts, I closed the cover, and hoped to God that the schedule was fine. Last summer,  we fixed a few broken sprinkler heads and underground pipes (thanks, tree roots!), but our entire Zone 3 along the street was broken. How much to reroute? $650. We held off because of the cost, and we lost only one rose bush. Not the trade off I desired, but that’s what happened. I did want it to get fixed in 2016

Perchance to dream, last year I started researching new irrigation controller made for this century. I asked around at a few irrigation companies, but they all wanted to install more of the same confusing systems, with more dials and switches. For $300, plus $100 installation. Forget it. After much research, I had my eye on the Rachio Iro. A homeowner such as myself could use their app to set up the various watering zones and a watering schedule. Not only that, but it would use flexible watering schedule to not water on rainy days (according to the weather.) I was sold, but was waiting for the right time to make the $250 purchase.

As luck would have it. Rachio rolled out the new Generation 2 for $249, and the Gen 1 (16 zone version) dropped in price to $149. After confirming that the new Gen 2 features didn’t make me swoon, I happily purchased the Gen 1 version. Sweet!

A screenshot from the app with my various zones, names, other info

A screenshot from the app with my various zones, names, other info

Last Thursday, a day before the irrigation company came out to charge me an arm & a leg to fix whatever else was broken this year, I took the time to note what color wires were assigned to each of the existing zones. Once I was confident, I disconnected and removed the old device. It was easy enough then to feed the irrigation wiring into the new Iro (from the bottom), and install the device into the garage drywall. I connected the wiring to the corresponding port, and easy peasy.

The following day, the irrigation guy came out to get the irrigation system up and running again. He rerouted our Zone 3 along the street with new pipes, had him fix any broken sprinkler heads, and better sprinkler heads where needed for better irrigation coverage. Overall, the Iro worked pretty well. There were a few times where I pushed the manual watering button for a particular zone, and nothing happened. No reason why that I could tell. Power cycling the Iro at least twice seemed to work.

After naming each zone (now that I know where each of them are), and taking photos of each one, I set up a flexible watering schedule based on the type of foliage, the type of sprinkler head, the degree of slope, and the type of soil. We start Tuesday morning, so this should be interesting. So far, I like the ease of use, and I have a better handle on my irrigation system.





Bought a Samsung Fast Charge Wireless Charging Pad and it’s kinda handy

One of the key features of the Galaxy S7 is built-in Qi wireless charging. Using one of the $30 gift cards we recently earned through a recent Samsung Pay promotion, I went out to buy a Samsung Fast Charge Wireless Charging Pad.

Samsung has offered a wireless charging pad before, but this is a newer model with “fast charging.” Both wireless charging pads work the same — it’s a circular charging pad with a micro USB cable and a wall charger. When you place your phone on the pad, there is a quick ping, and the light on the pad slowly blinks blue as your phone charges. When you reach 100%, the indicator light switches to a constant green.


To get “fast” wireless charging speeds, you must use the supplied wall charger. I tried plugging it in directly into one of our wall USB ports, but there wasn’t enough amperage. Not sure why. Wall charger or no, you’ll get the fastest battery charging speeds by plugging a USB cable directly into the phone and charging to the wall outlet (or USB.)

For now, I’ve got it plugged in on my desk in our home office. The wireless charging pad works most conveniently there. I come to my desk, drop the phone onto the pad, let it charge, and pick up and go. Quick top off, easy access, and no extra cords on the desk.

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