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)

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.

We like the new Galaxy S7 and Verizon ain’t too bad either


I mentioned earlier that I left AT&T, switched to Verizon, joined my wife’s existing plan, and we bought Samsung Galaxy S7 phones in matching Black Onyx. We got nice cases (mine is extra grippy), screen protectors, and I have the best insurance they can offer. It only seems prudent.

It’s been a few days now, but I like the phone. I think I may have been more wowed with the S7 Edge phone, but I gotta say the regular S7 is very nice. I won’t list all the detailed tech specs because you can find that online in many places. Overall, it’s a very good phone. It’s a good size, fast, running Android Marshmallow 6.0, and a long running battery.

Unfortunately there is no option to remove or swap batteries. We do have the ability to install a micro SD card, so I bought us matching 64 GB SanDisk microSDXC cards.


The S7 does have a fingerprint scanner built into the Home button. I try to use it, but it doesn’t work for me most of the time. Meh.

I mentioned switching to Verizon. I’ve most recently been with AT&T since 2007. I enjoyed significant corporate discounts with both Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase, and I liked their device selection. Switching to Verizon Wireless last month, we’ll be saving a good $75 a month by sharing our data. The network is fine, call quality is good, yada yada.

Good enough for me.

Been using the Samsung Pay service (app?) and I think it’s pretty cool

With my new Galaxy S7 in hand (and in Philadelphia), I took the opportunity to try out the newish Samsung Pay mobile payment app/service. Normally I wouldn’t be all that interested, but Samsung was running a promotion through 3/31. If you registered and used it once, you earn a $30 gift card to these five specific retailers, e.g. Best Buy, Nike, Whole Foods, etc. I was most interested in the $30 Best Buy gift card.

It was easy enough. I registered through the app, took a picture of one of my supported credit cards, and set up a PIN (and my fingerprint.) On our very next taxicab ride, I selected ‘Credit’ as my payment option, selected the percentage for tip, swiped my finger on the fingerprint scanner / Home button, and pressed my phone against the key pad / NFC reader.

In a blink of an eye, it was done. Not bad. I usually have my wallet with me everywhere I go, but I guess if you have your phone in hand, you could skip pulling out your wallet.

Another USB outlet successfully installed


Installed a Leviton T-5632-W outlet in the master bedroom

I replaced another power outlet with one that has USB ports in the house today on my day off. This one is on my side of the bed so I can charge my stuff without needing to reach over my wife. This time around, I went with a Leviton model, as it had a higher 3.6A for the USB ports. You know, in case I can ever afford an iPad.

Now we have new outlets with USB ports in the kitchen (1) and in the master bedroom (2). I have another one of these Leviton outlets to install in the Family room. Hopefully I can get it installed on a weeknight later this week.

Our solar panel system is officially up and running. Huzzah!

Since last we spoke, the Ipes were patiently waiting for our township to provide their certificate of approval, so that we could complete the rest of the process, and then turn the system on officially.

It took more than the expected two weeks, but eventually the paperwork came through. We got the call Wednesday afternoon that everything was done, and we could power on the system. The system (i.e. the inverter) has technically been “On” for a month, but whatever. I went through all of the steps outlined in the latest email from Trinity Solar to initialize the syste. I “re-paired” the system (I think), and that’s it.

I also called Trinity Solar to find out about monitoring power generation, and they emailed me a link where I could register. Once I was in, it was interesting to discover that the system has been collecting solar energy since November 11th. I don’t think that went anywhere, but I should follow up.

I haven’t seen any paperwork from our utility yet, nor do I have any idea how to get on one of these SREC exchanges where we will eventually sell our excess energy. I suppose we’ll eventually figure it out.

I’m glad it’s finally done. I believe I had started down this exploratory journey back in January, so it’s been a long time in coming. In the first six months of the year, we had met with three different companies (Sungevity, Solar City, and Trinity Solar) through many in-person and over-the-phone meetings. So much analysis and research. Discussions on whether we wanted a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA), a lease, or to own. So much work to secure financing so that we could own the system.

A long time coming.


I upgraded the home PC to Windows 10 Home edition and I’m liking it

I am crossing off items on the task list with a vengeance. A small amount of vengeance. With determination? I’m trying, people!

It has been much delayed, but I made time this week to begin identifying and backing up any miscellaneous user data and application settings before the big upgrade to Windows 10. As a rule, we keep all user data on the secondary HDD.

I last rebuilt the home PC in 2012 with Windows 7, so it’s been long overdue for a refresh. My original plan was to deactivate a copy of Windows 8 Home sitting on my sister’s old laptop. I had rebuilt her laptop in October 2012 during Super Storm Sandy, but they stopped using it. I got the laptop from them, but was unable to power up the laptop and free up that unused license. Dang it.

In the interest of time, I purchased and downloaded a new license of Windows 10 Home, burned it to DVD, and installed it. Within an hour, I had the new OS up and running. I had opted for a clean start, but was surprised to find some of my prior GOG.com Star Wars 90’s / 2000s games still there on the C: drive. Not only that, these old DOS games were still workng. Without needing a reinstall. How odd.

So far, I’m really digging Windows 10. It’s fast. It’s fresh. It’s user-friendly.

Update on our solar panel system

We had the township inspector come over yesterday to inspect the solar panel installation. I wasn’t there, but I was informed that the inspection included the brackets & mounts on our roof, and the electrical work. Trinity Solar is coordinating everything at this stage.

We passed!

Now that the township has completed their inspection and review, we have to wait 1-2 weeks until they release to us a Certificate of Approval (CA).

Without the CA, Trinity Solar cannot apply for permission to operate (PTO) our system with the utility provider. After they apply for PTO, our utility provider takes 2-3 weeks to switch out the meter and grant PTO.

Now we have to wait for the electric company to handle the transition to the new outdoor meter.

Soon. Very, very soon.

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