Solved: Problems with WyzeCam Android Client

I’ve become a huge fan of the WyzeCam IP cameras. They’re small, very high quality, and have a very good mobile client to connect to them. But sometimes, the mobile client will refuse to start. It comes up with the startup screen, and never proceeds.

Searching around the Reddit and WyzeCam forums, many people have seen this happen, but there’s not a clear reason why.

I’ve had this happen on occasion on my Samsung S9+, and I’ve finally found a pattern – it’s quite simple actually.

On the loading screen, the client is making it’s initial connections to WyzeCam’s cloud services. But it’s quite common for providers, corporate networks, and sometimes even hotels or wifi hotspots to block connections to certain services. If the phone cannot connect to the cloud service, it will sit stuck at that startup screen forever, without ever doing anything.

I discovered this when my phone had connected to a mobile hotspot in the office which required authentication to start operating. The phone was connected, but could not reach the internet. The WyzeCam app was sticking at the opening screen. Once I completed the registration, and reloaded the Cam app, it came up super-fast.

I was able to duplicate this experience at a hotel stay recently as well. The local wifi was extremely crowded and performing extremely badly. The WyzeCam app was hanging at the startup screen again. As soon as I switched my phone from the WiFi to my carrier data, the screen loaded correctly!

I think Wyze could fix this very easily by giving some feedback on the loading screen, showing it’s trying to connect, and giving a timeout message if it fails after X amount of time. But for now, this frustrating behaviour is easy to understand and deal with.

Up in the Air – Returning to building and flying racing drones

Over the last year or two I’ve taken time off building and flying quadcopters. Life and other things has been taking up my brain, so some hobbies took a back seat.

Up at the lab, an event was coming up that would bring in some other pilots from New Hampshire and do a race day. I decided it was time to build a new quad, and get some race time in.

The last big event I went to was NAFPV 2017. It was great fun, and I ended up winning a 220mm carbon fiber frame. With that in hand, I began building up a new quad.

The technology has changed dramatically since my first builds. All in one components, ‘stacks’, and other tech has made the builds both more complicated (lots of tiny wire soldering), and easier (most boards are the same size, and can be stacked on top of one another). Turns out pretty much none of the components I had on hand would work on the new quad, so I had to purchase all new pieces. Here’s what I ended up with:

  • Wolfwhoop TX1912 5.8 video transmitter – I chose this board for the MMCX small antenna connection, and the ability to select bands and channels easily via a button and an LED display on the top. Super handy.
  • CaddX FPV Camera
  • CrazyPony 4in1 ESC This is probably the biggest change for me. Originally I built quads using separate discrete ESC’s. This board puts all 4 ESC’s on a single board. It definitely makes the wiring cleaner, but a little denser on the stack.
  • Crazypony 2206 2700kv motors
  • Betaflight F4 flight controller Betaflight is certainly the star as far as flight controllers and software goes right now. Their configuration tool is excellent, and the board is very good. I was slightly concerened about working with a board that had no header pins, but decided to roll up my sleeves and get experience in very tight soldering setups.
  • FS-X6B Flysky receiver – Yeah, I’m still rocking the FlySky setup. It’s still working well for me. I like this receiver because it can mount on the component stack (even though it’s a half-board).

Quadzilla
The build went off without too much trouble. I found all the missing tiny bits I needed, did lots of very small soldering, and over the space of 3 weeks, got everything assembled and tested. It worked! All the components were talking to each other properly, and I even have a fully function OSD (on screen display) showing stats from the batteries, flight controller, and receiver. Even got the LED strip showing the arming state and a set of ‘tail lights’. Hurray!

I did a very quick flight test to check stability, then went up to the lab to put the final touches on things. This is where I made my first mistake.

Kids, don’t do this.
I decided to take Quadzilla outside for a quick LOS test fly. My FPV gear wasn’t ready for flight testing, but I wanted to see the LED’s and play around. I put the quad on the ground, armed it (which spin the props slowly), stepped back, and gave it a little throttle. The quad lifted, started to move backwards, and basically… fell into my hands… still throttled and running. Those props HURT. I scraped up my hands a bit before I was able to disarm.

So what did I do wrong? Pretty easy actually.

  • I flew Line of Sight at night. LOS requires visibility on the yaw, pitch, and roll of your craft. I coudln’t see it, it was too dark.
  • The rear LEDs were pointing at me, which made it even harder to see.
  • I was in Air mode, not Angle mode, which means there was no flight stabilization. Quad did what I told it to, which in this case was to fly right at me.

Embarrassing, slightly painful, but no major harm done. Bleeding stopped within 10 minutes.

Chagrined, I took the quad home, cleaned up, and started prepping for the race, which would be in 3 days. The quad was pretty much ready to fly, I needed to set the mode selector properly, and tweak the LEDs. I also decided to move the battery from underneath the frame to on top of the top deck. Plenty of room there, and the quad would sit on the ground when taking off or landing, not on the battery. Win!

Turns out my batteries needed some love. The 1300mah 90C batteries i got last summer had been sitting idle for a year. Of the 8 batteries I had, one melted while charging, another was puffy so I decided not to use it. That left 6, which charged okay, but my parallel charger has seen better days. A new gang charging situation is needed, more on this in another post.

I charged all my other gear, including a nifty little all in one 9″ monitor with build in 5.8 receiver I carry with me. Great for checking video and watching other pilots fly. I packed up everything into the Jeep and on Sunday, headed up to the lab for race day.

The folks from the 603 Southern New Hampshire Drone Pilots group showed up, bringing our total pilots to about 10. We ran a couple heats with 4-5 craft in the air at once, on a short ‘H’ shaped course that had several gates and a ‘turnaround’ cube in the middle. The course was off the end of the back parking lot, so there was plenty of room to drive up, park, set up your tables, and get flying without fear of getting hit or getting in anyone’s way.

I flew 3 batteries. First flight was a very basic FPV test (as really this was my first FPV time on the new quad this year, and things went fine. Video was strong and clear, and the quad was very responsive. I flew completely in Angle mode, which is a VERY simple flight mode. I wasn’t comfortable enough yet to go into anything that would let me go more crazy. This was a first time out, I didn’t want to shatter anything.

Second battery apparently was in bad shape. No strong thrust, just running limp. I figured out later the 4S pack had a dead cell, and was functioning as a 3S. That explains that.

Last battery was in good shape, and I was feeling the power of that 4S setup. Unfrotunately, because I was in angle mode, I couldn’t pitch forward enough to get decent speed out of it (I’d just climb), so I was taking it pretty easy. I flew a gate or two, then went through the last one on the course – I caught a motor on that, which spun me out into the trees. The damage to Quadzilla is pretty minor, but I did rip out my VTX antenna, so that ended me for the day. I’m not complaining, I flew, I had a great time with the other pilots, and you’ll be damned sure to see me flying again soon.

My Personal EDC Geek Kit

This month finds me in France for a few weeks, away from hearth, home, family, and all my worldly posessions. While getting ready for this trip, I spent a bunch of time reviewing what I carry in my backpack – cleaning out debris that had accumulated (A few handfuls of receipts, some cold meds, and cables that didn’t make sense anymore), and making sure I had everything I’d need while away from home for an extended trip.

Contents of my every day carry backpack.

I realized while double-checking my kit that it really doesn’t change much. And since I got here (about a week ago) I haven’t had to replace or change anything, and I haven’t gone “Dammit, I’m missing something, guess I’ll go buy it.”

Now I’m not off in the wild jungle or anything – Paris does in fact have stores – but I’m pleased to say everything I’ve needed for work, and for my various jaunts around the city, have all been pretty well covered.

Someone on Slack asked about what I’m carrying for kit gear, so I decided to quickly write it up…

  • OGIO Camera bag – I got this bag something like 5 years ago, and it’s been great. It’s starting to get a little worn, but nothing is broken, and it came with a rain shroud that I’ve used a few times. It has a special pouch along the bottom specifically for camera gear.
  • Macbook Pro 13 – this is my every day computer. I don’t have a desktop machine at home.
    This is both my work and my personal machine. I’m typing on it as we speak!
  • Camera Flash – A small electronic flash for my Olympus
  • Memory cards – This bag contains about 20 memory cards – some USB3, some SD, a few microSD cards, and adapters. I used to have a specialized plastic case for cards, but there’s no reason to keep them that organized. Just toss ’em in the bag.
  • Earplugs – These are wax custom forming earplugs. I’ve used them on overnight plane flights, or in hotels that are just Too Damned Noisy
  • Macbook power supply – The smallest configuration I could get
  • Checkbook – Yes, there’s circumstances where I may need to use a check. I will probably just pick a few checks off this and put them in my wallet soon.
  • My journal – I have a journal. This was a gift from my sweetie – it’s about 3/4 full of a lot of dense writing. I find the act of writing in it cathartic. It slows me down and lets me think without all the geekery
  • Brainwavez Delta IEM Headphones – This is my second set of these (and I’m using them right now). They’re still fantastic sounding, and roll up into a nice light zippered case. The only reason I replaced them was the laptop fell off my lap at one point and bent the headphone connector all out of whack. Oops
  • Yes, I carry a rubiks cube around. It’s a great fidget toy, and a great way to relax. Also tends to start conversations. Best time right now is 1 minute 14 seconds for a full solve. But I’m out of practice, so nowadays it’s closer to 2 minutes. Also, a friend just reminded me that I sometimes use it for showing scale in a photo. Everyone knows how big a rubiks cube is.
  • Generic clip-on Sunglasses – these are a pair of clip on sunglasses I got off Amazon. They work remarkably well
  • My work ID pass
  • My passport – I don’t keep this with me all the time, just for this trip. I keep it in a buried pocket in the pack, very difficult to reach unless you’re trying hard Pickpocket proof as best I can do it.
  • Cleaning cloth for glasses – I wear glasses. I have sunglasses. Not having a good cleaning cloth at hand can be infuriating, particularly if you’re not wearing a cotton shirt or something.
  • KMASHI K-MP816 10000 mAh battery – This is critical. This battery has saved my ass a dozen times. It’s your typical portable battery pack. The reviews on it aren’t particularly stellar on Amazon, but for $12, I’ve totally gotten my money out of it. It’s a good balance between weight and capacity.
  • LKY DIGITAL Travel Adapter – This is a nifty little cube (it’s int he black zippered case) that has also been a godsend. It is a multi country adapter, able to plug into most European countries, as well as Japan and others I don’t know about. The real kicker is it has 2 USB charging ports on it also, so at night I can plug in my laptop, my cell phone, and my watch for recharging (or my travel battery), and have enough plugs for them all.
  • Apple Displayport to Ethernet adapter – Sometimes you’re in a place where the wifi just plain sucks or isn’t available (like a datacenter).
  • Charge cable for my Android Smartwatch
  • WMZ Multi Charger Cable – I love this thing. It’s a single USB cable with 3 ends on it. Lightning, Micro USB, and USB-C. It’s pretty rare I need more than one at a time, but I have a very good cable in case I need to charge my SO’s iPhone, or charge my KMASHI battery. My phone uses USB-C, so I’m all set no matter what I need. The cable itself is very well built, with a little velcro keeper and everything.
  • A spare small USB multiport charger, just in case.
  • Gerber Bear Grylls Compact Multitool – So, this is a bit of a problem. This is a very small (and inexpensive) multitool that I like to have with me, because having a multitool is handy. I normally carry that inside the Altoids tin with the rest of my ‘support stuff’, but out of the last 10 plane flights, two of them have been pulled out by the TSA and confiscated. Now what I do is take the multitool out of my bag and put it in my checked luggage (if I’m bringing some). If I don’t have checked luggage, I leave the multitool at home. Frustrating, because this thing is tiny, and incredibly useful.
  • Altoids ‘kit’ – It’s a little hard to see in this pic, but there’s 2 altoids tins there. One is full of tasty altoids goodness. The other is a sort of emergency kit I build after reading some of the more sane prepper sites. In that second tin I carry:
    • Bandaids
    • Antibiotic ointment
    • Advil
    • A small LED flashlight
    • Some cash
    • Several rubber bands
    • Several paper clips (these things have come in handy SO MANY TIMES, I honestly cannot tell you. Seriously, carry some.
    • Some anti-itch cream
    • Alcohol wipes
  • The rest of the items are specifically for my Olympus PEN-F Mirrorless Camera. A note here – this is the first long trip I’ve taken with the smaller camera, and I LOVE IT. I’m already having ideas for different lenses to carry but my current set is working quite well.
    • Spare lens caps
    • Olympus 25mm F1.8 Lens – The equivalent of the standard ‘nifty fifty’ lens so common on 35mm bodies. It’s been okay for my work, though I think I’d like faster glass.
    • Spare batteries and charger. I carry 3 batteries with me, because I’m almost ALWAYS having one go down, so having one to switch to that’s fresh, and one in the wings is great They charge pretty fast, so keeping them all charged isn’t much of a challenge.
    • Panasonic Lumix 20mm F1.7 Lens (on camera) – A great landscape lens. Flat and easy to work with, great for scenery and tourism shots!
    • Olympus 40-150mm Zoom Lens – This is equivalent to a 300mm lens in the 35mm body family. It’s great for doing ‘long lens’ work, and is extremely light.
    • Olympus PEN-F Mirrorless Four-Thirds Camera – See my other blog post about this camera, but this is now my everyday shooter. I love it.
    • Leather case for PEN-F – I freely admit one of the reasons I got the PEN-F was it’s retro styling. This brown leather case completes the image, and of course works really well protecting the camera. I leave the lens cover off when carrying it around on shoots, and bundle it up when it’s on it’s way any long distance (like on a plane).

Theres naturally other stuff I have that’s not in the pic, like my cell phone, but one thing I’d like to add in is I carry a Pocketmonkey Wallet Multitool. This is a super handy thin credit card sized piece of metal that has things like a bottle opener, screwdriver, wrench, etc etc on it. I’ve used it half a dozen times, and it is 100% TSA approved (I’ve only gotten nudged on it once, where an overzealous TSA agent asked about it, took it out of my wallet, went over to confer with his supervisor, and came back “Huh, these are 100% okay. Cool!” and off I went.

I’m sure there’s stuff I’m missing. Leave a comment if you think of something I should change or get. I will probably be looking to replace my Ogio pack soon, as it’s a little long in the tooth. Something a little more outdoorsey would be nice.

Best Amazon Echo Dot Wall Mount Ever

I have 4 Echo Dots, plus a full size Echo in the living room. Love the durned little buggers, and calling out ‘alexa!’ has become a normal part of every day life. I use it for music, news, shopping lists, and home control of lights and dimmers. I can see the days of carrying on conversations with your house getting closer and closer.

The Dots are cute, but they need to sit on a surface somewhere. That takes up space and clutter. I’d been digging around to try and find a 3d printed mount or something similar so I could mount the Dots on the wall.

This morning while cleaning up my workbench, I realized there was a very simple way of hanging the dot on the wall. A pair of 3″ framing nails later, and voila. The dot is up and off my workbench, it’s stable, the speaker is cleared enough to be heard and sounds fine, victory.

I know many people dont’ have 2×6 studs exposed everywhere, but goshdarnit, this was a quicky fix that works great.

Creating Timelapse Videos from a Synology NAS

About a year and a half ago, I bought a Synology 216+ NAS .  The primary purpose was to do photography archiving locally (before syncing them up to Amazon S3 Glacier for long term storage).  The box has been a rock solid tool, and I’ve been slowly finding other uses for it.  It’s basically a fully functional Linux box with an outstanding GUI front end on it.

One of the tools included with the NAS is called ‘Surveillance Station’, and even though it has a fairly sinister name, it’s a good tool that allows control and viewing of IP connected cameras, including recording video for later review, motion detection, and other tidbits.  The system by default allows 2 cameras free, but you can add ‘packs’ that allow more cameras (these packs are not inexpensive – to go up to 4 cameras cost $200, but given this is a pretty decent commercial video system, and the rest of the software came free with the NAS, I opted to go ahead and buy into it to get my 4 cameras online).

It just so happens, in September, 2017, we had a contractor come on site and install solar panels on several houses within our community. What I really wanted to do is use the Synology and it’s attached cameras to not only record the installation, but do a timelapse of the panel installs. Sounds cool, right?

Here’s how I did it.

The Cameras

The first thing needed obviously were cameras. They needed to be wireless, and relatively easy to configure. A year or two ago, I picked up a D-Link DCS-920L IP camera. While the camera is okay (small, compact, pretty bulletproof), I was less than thrilled with the D-Link website and other tools. They were clunky and poorly written. A little googling around told me “hey, these cameras are running an embedded OS that you can configure apart from the D-Link tools”. Sure enough, they were right. The cameras have an ethernet port on them, so plugging that into my router and powering up let me see a new Mac address on my network. http://192.168.11.xxx/ and I got an HTTP authentication page. Logging in with the ‘admin’ user, and the default password of… nothing (!), I had a wonderful screen showing me all the configuration options for the camera. I’m in!

First thing, natch, I changed the admin password (and stored it in 1Password), then I set them up to connect to my wireless network. A quick rebooot later, and I had a wireless device I could plug into any power outlet, and I’d have a remote camera. Win!

Next, these cameras needed to be added to the Synology Surveillance Station. There’s a nice simple wizard in Surveillance Station that makes the adding of IP camera pretty straighforward. There’s a pulldown that lets you select what camera type you’re using, and then other fields appear as needed. I added all of my cameras, and they came up in the grid display no problem. This is a very well designed interface that made selecting, configuring, testing, and adding the camera(s) pretty much a zero-hassle process.

If you’re planning on doing time lapses over any particular length of time, it’s a good idea to go into ‘Edit Camera’ and set the retention timeperiod to some long amount of time (I have mine set to 30 days). This’ll give you enough room to record the video necessary for the timelapse, but you won’t fill your drive with video recordings. They’ll expire out automatically.

At this point you just need to let the cameras record whatever you’ll be animating later. The Synology will make 30 minute long video files, storing them in /volume1/surveillance/(cameraname).

For the next steps, you’ll need to make sure you have ssh access to your NAS. This is configured via Control Panel -> Terminal / SNMP -> Enable ssh. DO NOT use telnet. Once that’s enabled, you should be able to ssh into the NAS from any other device on the local network, using the port number you specify (I’m using 1022).

ssh -p 1022 shevett@192.168.11.100

(If you’re using Windows, I recommend ‘putty’ – a freely downloadable ssh client application.)

Using ‘ssh’ requires some basic comfort with command line tools under linux.  I’ll try and give a basic rundown of the process here, but there are many tutorials out on the net that can help with basic shell operations.

Putting It All Together

Lets assume you’ve had camera DCS-930LB running for a week now, and you’d like to make a timelapse of the videos produced there.

  1. ssh into the NAS as above
  2. Locate the directory of the recordings.  For a camera named ‘DCS-930LB’, the directory will be /volume1/surveillance/DCS-930LB
  3. Within this directory, you’ll see subdirectories with the AM and PM recordings, formatted with a datestamp.  For the morning recordings for August 28th, 2017 ,the full directory path will be /volume1/surveillance/DCS-930LB/20170828AM/.  The files within that directory will be datestamped with the date, the camera name, and what time they were opened for saving:
  4. Next we’ll need to create a file that has all the filenames for this camera that we want to time.   A simple command to do this would be:
    find /volume1/surveillance/DCS-930LB/ -type f -name '*201708*' > /tmp/files.txt

    This gives us a file in the tmp directory called ‘files.txt’ which is a list of all the mp4 files from the camera that we want to timelapse together.

  5. It’s a good idea to look at this file and make sure you have the list you want. Type
    pico /tmp/files.txt

    to open the file in an editor and check out out.  This is a great way to review the range of times and dates that will be used to generate the timelapse.  Feel free to modify the filename list to list the range of dates and times you want to use for the source of your video.

  6. Create a working directory.  This will hold your ‘interim’ video files, as well as the scripts and files we’ll be using
    cd 
    mkdir timelapse
    cd timelapse
  7. Create a script file, say, ‘process.sh’ using pico, and put the following lines into it.  This script will do the timelapse proceessing itself, taking the input files from the list creatived above, and shortening them down to individual ‘timelapsed’ mp4 files. The ‘setpts’ value defines how many frames will be dropped when the video is compressed. A factor of .25 will take every 4th frame. A factor of .001 will take every thousandth frame, compressing 8 hours of video down to about 8 seconds.
    #!/bin/bash
    
    counter=0;
    for i in `cat /tmp/files.txt`
    do
        ffmpeg -i $i -r 16 -filter:v "setpts=0.001*PTS" ${counter}.mp4
        counter=$((counter + 1))
    done
  8. Okay, now it’s time to compress the video down into timelapsed short clips.  Run the above script via the command ‘. ./process.sh’.  This will take a while.  Each half hour video file is xxx meg, and we need to process that down.  Expect about a minute per file, if you have a days worth of files, that’s 24 minutes of processing.
  9. When done, you’ll have a directory full of numbered files:
    $ ls
    1.mp4
    2.mp4
    3.mp4
  10. These files are the shortened half hour videos.  The next thing we need to do is ‘stitch’ these together into a single video.  ffmpeg can do this, but it needs a file describing what to load in.  To create that file, run the following command:

    ls *.mp4|sort -n| sed -e "s/^\(.*\)$/file '\1'/" > final.txt
  11. Now it’s time to assemble the final mp4 file.  The ‘final.txt’ file contains a list of all the components, all we have to do is connect them up into one big mp4.
    ffmpeg -f concat -safe 0 -i final.txt -c copy output.mp4
  12. The resulting ‘output.mp4’ is your finalized video.   If you’re working in a directory you can see from the Synology desktop, you can now play the video right from the web interface.  Just right click on it, and select ‘play’.

Here’s two of the three timelapses I did, using a remote camera in my neighbors house.  Considering the low quality of the camera, it came out okay…

This entire tutorial is the result of a lot of experimentation and tinkering.  There are holes, though.  For instance, I’d like to be able to set text labels on the videos showing the datestamp, but the ffmpeg that’s compiled on the NAS doesn’t have the text extension built into it.

Let me know if you have any suggestions / improvements / success stories!

Handheld Retrocomputing Collection and Display

Okay, so everyone loves retrocomputing stuff.  Looking at a piece of equipment or an item and going “Gosh I remember using one of those ${back_in_some_day}.” Well, I finally decided to formalize my collection a bit, and set some goals for myself.

I’ve decided to focus on handheld computing devices that had a significant impact on the industry, or I have a special emotional connection with.  Handhelds in particularly are attractive because, well, I don’t have a lot of space.  So while I’m sorely tempted to collect Apple II’s, old CP/M machines, and DEC minicomputers, living in an 800sq ft townhouse makes that a practical impossibility.

So I’ve focused on handhelds.

It became quickly apparent that I’d need a place to store and display them.  My partner had a glass fronted wooden display case that was a good starting place.  It had a storage space underneath it for boxes and cables, and nice glass windows on the front.  I had some custom glass shelves made to replace the wooden interior shelving, and installed some LED lighting across the top.  With everything done, I was able to put all the things I had (so far!) into it, and it doesn’t look too bad!. (Here’s what it looks like with the doors closed.)

Many of these were items I already owned, but I’ve fleshed things out a bit with finds from eBay and other auction sites.  So far, here’s what I have.  All items work, and have functional batteries, except where noted.

  • Apple Newton Messagepad 2000.  (1995)
  • Palm Zire M150 (2002)
  • Atari Lynx (1989)
  • Palm Treo 750 (Sprint) (2006)
  • PalmPilot (1996)
  • Compaq IPAQ (2000)
  • Sharp Zaurus 5500 (2002)
  • Radio Shack TRS-80 Model 100 (1983)

I hope to expand the collection going forward.  Here’s my current wishlist:

  • Atari Portfolio (first palmtop computer running DOS!)
  • Newton Messagepad 2100 (the best of the breed, and the equivelent of the unit I used to have)
  • Apple eMate 300 (This is pushing the bounds of a ‘handheld’, but they’re amazingly cool devices regardless)
  • Toshiba Libretto (I used these when i worked at Wildfire, and remember them fondly)
  • IBM Simon – This was the first real ‘smartphone’.  I used one for a while, and ended up either giving it away or selling it.  They’re scary rare now, I’m kicking myself for tossing it.

If I do end up getting these things, I may need to expand my cabinet.  But right now, I’m pretty happy with what I’ve got.

Update: I now have a page specifically for the collection.

I have a Smartwatch, and I’m not sure why

Smartwatches. They’re the new cool toy for geeks. Having a small mainframe on your wrist sounds pretty nifty. But has the time come for everyone to strap a mini-cray to an appendage? I’m honestly not sure.

I’d been resisting jumping onto the smartwatch bandwagon for a long time. When Pebble proved that there was a demand for the gadgets, I watched with interest, but the device didn’t seem polished enough to be worth the expense. So I waited.

Then the Apple Watch came along, and I was still underwhelmed. Super expensive, and because I no longer used an iPhone, not really helpful to me.

Then Android Wear happened, and I began to take an interest.

The first generation of smartwatches was pretty limited. Low battery life, poor performance, clunky look. I wasn’t feeling the buzz, but I could see there was potential there. Then Android Wear 2.0 was announced, and I realized my time was near.

The amount of time I was spending looking at my phone was reaching criticality. I needed a way to be able to be notified about meetings and messages, without having to haul out the damned black slab everytime. And, lets be honest, I like knowing what time it is. So yes, one of the reasons I wanted a smartwatch was I wanted to use it… as a watch.

My employer has a great perk in that you get an allowance each year to spend on health related items. A gym membership, a yoga class, or… a smartwatch, for helping track activities. Given this final nudge, I decided it was time.

Now the next step is to choose which one. I knew I wanted Android Wear 2.0 compatible devices, and also wanted something that didn’t look completely dorky. I have an advantage in that I have big hands, so most of the watches would look just fine next to my meaty paws.

I settled on the Fossil Q Founder Gen 2. I liked the looks, the price was reasonable, and it was Android Wear 2.0 compatable. The styling was quasi-retro, in that it had a light brown leather strap, stainless steel case, and classic lines. Amazon click, and it was on its way.

First impressions

I like it. I find it attractive, comfortable, and useful. It is a very good watch. I love that I can customize the watch display to show me other small tidbits of information. Temperature, how many messages I have waiting, how many steps I’ve taken today, battery level, etc. They are all available at a glance, with the display going into a simpler mode when the watch face is not turned toward me, thus saving battery life.

Fossil Q Smartwatch Gen 2

I’ve always been a sucker for geeky watches. I totally had a Casio Databank when I was a kid, and later moved up to good backpacking / hiking watches for backcountry stuff, but this is in a league of it’s own. This is a machine with 4gig of storage, a gig of RAM, and a 64bit 2.1ghz CPU with 3d graphics capability. Those are specs you’d see on a desktop machine from a couple years ago, all on a computer that lives on your wrist.

So, how’s it work?

Eh

I have to say, it’s… okay. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an excellent watch. It tells time, shows me some basic information that I need to have quick access to, but… I’m not blown away by it’s utility. I find the act of staring at it, manipulating menus or scrolling through options, or using a swype-like interface to write a text message tedious and awkward. If I’m going to do any of that, I might as well pull out my phone, which I have to have with me at all times anyway, because the watch basically functions as an extension of the phone. At this, it excels. If I find a function doesn’t work or is unavailable on the watch, I can whip out the phone and get things done.

So where does this leave us on the plusses or minuses of a smartwatch? Unfortunately, it’s still in a gray area. As a geeky watch, I think they’re cool and nice looking and work. As a logical extension of the phone in a new and useful way, I think there’s a long way to go.

Repairing Drone XT60 Power Connectors

A quicky post here. I took about a year and a half off drone racing, and I’m just getting back into it for a bit. What has happened during that time is that the community has moved onto to faster, smaller drones. At the moment all I have is my 250mm QAV250 clone, so keeping that flying until I build a new machine is what’s keeping me busy.

The damaged XT60

I went out to fly yesterday with some folks in Waltham, but before I could power up, I noticed my XT60 connector had broken loose on the positive lead. Bad news. That’s not something I can fix in the field. No flying for me!.
Tonight I sat down to repair the power connector, but realized I didn’t have any spares. I tried to reuse an old connector, and… well, melted it into goo. (that’s what’s int he alligator clips in the picture below). I had one other one, and managed to desolder and solder in the new connection without too much damage. I am sort of proud of the fact that I was able to reconnect the power leads, and add 3″ of extra silicone insulated feed wire, and get my shrink tubing in place without much chaos.

All fixed and insulated properly.

Tomorrow I should be able to fly with the MultiGP folks up in Derry, but I know my time with the 250 is coming to an end. I have a new frame and motor and battery setup in mind, but more on that when things get closer. For now, things are packed up and ready to go flying tomorrow!

Miner 2149 – A 17 year old PalmOS game on Android

It’s no surprise that I’m a big fan of retrocomputing, and the associated fun times of retrogaming. Call it being stuck in the past, an over attraction to nostalgia, whatever, but playing around with older stuff can be fun.

Miner 2149 on Android
I got a hankering to play one of my favorite PalmOS games “Miner 2149” recently. Normally when you do retrogaming, it takes some serious tinkering to get everything in place. But lo, I carry around an extremely powerful multicore computer in my pocket all the time. My Motorola Moto-X Pure. I could probably use that…

And lo, it happened.

The first step was downloading PHEM, a PalmOS emulator for Android. This installed without a hitch. Next was getting a ROM. This is a little tricky, as PalmOS roms are technically copyrighted by whomever owns the PalmOS IP, so downloading them isn’t straightforward. I mean, where could you possibly look to find a file called “Palm OS 3.5-en-color.rom” – but somehow I managed to find a ROM.

Second step was to find the Miner 2149 prc file. These are usually found in zip files of the same name. See previous paragraph for comments thoughts on locating something like this.

Installing prc files into the PHEM emulator takes a moment to figure out, but it’s basically fooling the Sync function in PalmOS to accept a downloaded file as a sync source via the “upload” button at the top of the screen.

Once that’s completed, it’s just a matter of tapping on the Miner 2149 icon in the emulator, and voila! Instant nostalgia!

The game really is as fun as I remember it. I spent about 2 days (okay, evenings… I work for a living) playing it. The first game (pictured above) didn’t end well. Second one went to… well, gosh, this game doesn’t actually have an ‘end’ or win condition that I can tell. I mined every mine and was profitable. At some point I had hoped the game would go “You won!” but that time never came.

Now to dig up some other oldies but goodies. Suggestions are welcome!

Using Amazon Kindle Fire HD’s as Registration Terminals

Even though I’m not working on CONGO as much anymore, I’m still helping out with registration at a couple events, and I’m always looking for better tools and gear to use. I originally designed registration to use cheap, network bootable PC’s, but that was so 15 years ago. The new hotness are small, inexpensive tablets. So could you put together a registration environment using some cheap tablets? Sure.

I’m helping an event that’s using EventBrite for registration services. I’d helped out at a different event about a year ago, and was impressed with the tools Eventbrite offered. The best part was the Eventbrite Organizer, a mobile app for IOS and Android that basically gave you a live dashboard, but also allowed super-fast checkins using a QR code scan. Think of scanning a boarding pass when boarding an airplane. The process is very similar.

The only drawback was, I needed a series of tablets that were roughly the same (bringing batches of workstations that are all different is a sure way to headaches). I didn’t think buying a stack of iPads was going to make sense, and el cheapo tablets from ebay and amazon are sketchy.

3 Kindle Fires being configured as registration terminals
I saw a deal come across Woot for Amazon Fire HD 7″ Tablets for… $33. Each. After digging around on the net, it looked like it was possible to load non-amazon software on these, it just took a little bit of jiggling. I’ve rooted Android tablets before, but it’s not a pleasant experience. I was seeing documentation that allowed for the Play store to be activated without a lot of yak shaving, so I decided to go all in.

I ordered 3 of the tablets, and they arrived a few days later.

First impressions – these are really nice. The design and polish is excellent, they fit well in the hand, and have exceptional screens. They have excellent battery life, and front and rear facing cameras. For $33, there’s not much to go wrong with here.

Here’s the steps I went through to get them up to ‘useable’ status.

  • First, charge them up, natch. They have great batteries, and the entire upgrade process and installation can happen on battery, but really, just get ’em charged.
  • Next, power up and log into your Amazon account. All the Fires have to be tied to an amazon login. Using the same one on each is fine (Amazon supports many Kindles per account).
  • Continuously go into the System settings (swipe down from the top) and select Device Information -> System Update. There’s a good 6 full OS updates that have to happen to bring your device up to FireOS 5.3.x or later. This can take upwards of an hour and a lot of reboots, but at the end, you’ll have a fully upgraded device.
  • Next, we’re going need to install APK’s that are not ‘blessed’, so you have to tell the Fire to accept them. Go into settings -> Security settings and check the switch that says “Allow third party apps”
  • Download and install a file manager. I used ES-File Explorer, which is very popular, but I’ve seen others say “don’t use this it doesn’t work”. I suspect the ‘not working’ has since been fixed. It’s worked fine on 3 devices so far.
  • Next, pull down the APK’s via the Fire’s Silk Browser. Go to this thread on the XDA Developers forum and click on each of the APK links, and download the files, in order, from top to bottom.
  • Once they’re downloaded, start up the ES File Explorer, and navigate to the Downloads folder. You’ll see 4 APK’s there. Click on the them from RIGHT TO LEFT (which will install the ‘oldest’ one first, and the Play store last.
  • After each of the APK’s is installed, launch the Play store, log in with your Google account, and you are all set.

Now that the Fire can install third party apps via the Play store, all we needed to do is install Eventbrite Manager, and log into it with an access-limited login we created just for this event (we’re going to allow general joe schmoes to check people in, and having access to refunds, people’s personal infromation, etc – didn’t seem like a good idea. So a generic Eventbrite login that ONLY allows for checkins was created, and that’s what we logged the tablets into.

I also picked up a handful of desk mounts with really strong gooseneck stalks. Because we’re going to be scanning receipts via the rear camera, the tablet needs to be held off the desk easily.

And we’re done! The Eventbrite Manager app syncs the attendee list whenever it’s connected to the internet. So we can go ahead and check in people super-fast (with a very satisfying BADEEP whenever a successful scan happens), and not have to rely on hotel internet connectivity (which can be notoriously sketchy). At the end of the day, we have a full record of everyone who has checked in and when.

What I Did on my Winter Vacation.

My employer does a ‘shutdown’ twice a year; once over Christmas break, and once around July 4th. This year has been great schedule wise because of what days Christmas and New Years fall on, so there’s a lot of free time.

I decided that it was time to move forward on a project I’ve been thinking about for months. Building a workbench in my office. The goal is to be able to work on electronics, drones, and other stuff without crufting up the kitchen table.

I live in a relatively small 2br house. By US standards, it’s very small (about 900sq ft). Since I’m working from home full time, I’ve been using the second bedroom as an office – it had previously been set up as a guest / kid sleeping room with a loft bed that’s out of the way when I’m officing. I decided to use a similar design approach to building out the workbench. The room is only 11’x7′, so fitting in a spare bed, my standup desk, a workbench, bookshelves, and some storage required some creative thinking.

My office before I started work on the new desk.
Office before work started on the new desk.

The first step natch was clearing out my working desk and hardware so I had space to work. Fortunately I keep my bedroom pretty clutter free, so it was just a matter of moving things down the hall. Then construction began.

I used a similar design to the loft bed, just not quite as hefty. On the loft I used 2×6 boards, but for the desk, I just used 2×4’s. Using a magnetic stud locator, I found the wooden studs in the walls, cut the boards to length, and used 3.5″ deck screws to attach the supporting studs to the walls. I guess the best term for these are ledger boards, since they’ll be supporting the ends of the joists. Anyway, the idea is the desk it attached directly to the wall studs, so no legs needed. It’s custom fit to the room.

Halfway through the build
Halfway through the build

Once the ledger boards were screwed in place (14 screws went in, and I hit the studs on every try. Booyah), I used aluminum hangers to put the joists in. These attached directly to the ledger boards and gave good support to the 2×4’s under the surface of the desk. I had to be careful about spacing due to where the ledger boards were attached to the studs. I needed at least 2 2×4’s under each ‘slice’ of 18″ plywood to support it cleanly.

Once all the joists and ledger boards were done, I laid down 2 strips of sanded plywood, and screwed them down with normal 2″ drywall screws. These are not load bearing, so using the weaker screws was fine – it was just to keep the boards flat and not move around.

The finished project
The finished project

The last touch was adding a kickboard around the top of the desk so things weren’t banging against the painted walls. I also drilled 3 2″ holes in the back of the surface to allow power cords to come up for equipment.

Heightwise, it’s 29″, which matches the older wooden desk I have. I’ll be able to put a plate in to join the two surfaces (I left a 3″ lip under the front)

Some quick lessons learned…

  • Magnetic Stud Finder – I can’t recommend these things enough. They’re dirt simple, inexpensive, and work great for finding nails in walls. Just a big powerful magnet.
  • LED Worklight – I have a set of old halogen lights roughly the same size. I won’t be using them anymore, as these LED lights are very bright, use much less power, and aren’t nearly as hot / dangerous. Really useful to have around.
  • I still love my Ryobi One+ power tools. They’re aging to be sure, and I’ll be replacing my battery packs from NiCd to Li-Ion shortly. I’ve already upgraded the basic drill/driver from the old yellow tool to the new green one, but I’m still using the older jigsaw and circular saw, which were wonderful for this project.

I’ve already used it to work on some home automation equipment, and it’s the right height, setting, and size to make things totally comfortable and useful. I’m looking forward to ramping my projects up again!

Daves Picks : Best Portable Headphones – Brainwavz Delta IEM

I’m going to start sharing some of the things I’ve found on the net that are exceptional finds, buys, whatever. There’s so much crap out there, sometimes it’s hard to find the true gems.

A bit ago I started looking to replace my wired headphones. The requirements were pretty rough:

  • Inexpensive (< $50 would be best)
  • Durable
  • Comfortable
  • Good for long term wear (talking several hours here)
  • Excellent audio range.
  • Doesn’t look like ass

Simple, right? Uh huh.

After going through a couple el cheapo versions (which, I have to admit, told me how BAD headphones could be), and playing with some super-expensive ones (which… were good, but not as comfortable or durable as I had hoped), I started reading reviews for the Brainwavz Delta IEM Noise Isolating Headphones (say that 5 times fast!), and started to get interested.

Brainwavz Delta Red IEM Noise Cancelling Headphones
Brainwavz Delta Red IEM Noise Cancelling Headphones

The price tag certainly is attractive. Brainwavz has ones with remote for $19, but could something that inexpensive really be any good?

I’m here to tell you – they are. Easily one of the top 5 headphones I’ve ever owned, they’re rock solid in their build, come with a tough zippered carrying case to hold the headphones and the spare silicon earpieces, and sound magnificent. They have excellent range – the highs and lows are crisp and strong across all volumes. The cord is long enough that even plugged into my laptop, it doesn’t get tangled. And they are COMFORTABLE. I can (and have) worn them for 3-4 hours at a stretch and I don’t get sore ear canals or other discomfort. Volume wise, they can keep up with me just fine… I don’t feel like at low levels I have to crank them to hear the full range of what I’m listening to, and when I really want to blast things out, they step up to the task just fine!

So, if you’re looking for affordable, top quality ear buds, I can say with some confidence the Brainwavz Delta IEM headphones will do well by you!

Dashcam Catches Tire Blowout on Mass Pike

(“You won’t believe what happens next!”)

I’ve been interested in getting a dashcam for my car(s) for a while, and when Woot had a had an Armorall Dashcam up for $29, I decided to give it a try. The verdict? This thing is worth about as much as I paid for it. Yes, it records video and audio. Yes it datestamps it. Yes it turns on and off automatically when I start the car, and yes it loops data on the MicroSD card just fine. Other than that, I can’t find a lot to recommend it. The field of view is narrow, the interface is painfully obtuse, and the mirror mount is… weird. Works, but weird.

Anyway. What did happen though was while driving to work this morning, a trailer in front of me had a tire blowout. The sound was funny, a squeaky whoosh (as opposed to a bang), and I missed seeing it happen (it’s at 7:53:17 in the video). I only understood what was going on when I saw smoke and bits of tire flying off the trailer. I backed off and put my my 4-way flashers for folks behind me, and let the guy pull over to the side. The wheel was pretty wrecked, and the sparks and tire debris were pretty dramatic.

If this had actually damaged my car or something more serious had happened, having the recording to show my insurance company and/or police would have been a huge win. But that’s what dashcams are all about, right?

And getting really cool videos like this. 🙂

Revisiting Tethering

For the longest time I was stuck in a weird no-mans land regarding WiFi Tethering on my cell phone. I’m referring here to the practice of enabling a hot spot on the phone so other devices, such as a laptop, can share the data connection the phone is using. This is super-handy when in an area that either has no Wifi service, or the service is sketchy as hell.

Problem is, I had an Unlimited data plan with AT&T. And with that unlimited plan, hotspot service was not available.

A year or two ago I made the change and moved my data service to a family plan with a shared data pool. 5 gig a month spread over 4 phones. We haven’t come anywhere near that limit, even with some heavy duty usage, so all in all, a good choice. What I forgot though, was that by going to a metered billing structure, I was able to start using tethered mode.

My cell phone is a Moto X, aka a Moto X Pure Style.

Speeds over tethered wifi with my Moto X
Speeds over tethered wifi with my Moto X
I’m deliriously happy with it, so setting it up as a Wifi Hotspot would just bring it to a new level of functionality.

Enabling it was easy. I was initially worried about performance, but after connecting to it with my laptop and running Speedtest, the numbers are pretty good.
Working from my laptop over the tethered connection is just like sitting at home. I’ll need to set up a better “show how much data I’m using” mechanism, but right now, this is pretty cool.