Ring Spotlight Cam (Battery)

In addition to the video doorbell I got the chance to test out the Ring Spotlight Cam (Battery). When we built the house it was 2012 and about all we could do was pre-wire the house for security cameras. So there is a blank box on the garage, and in theory a way to route wires to the studio where a DVD recorder and screen could be mounted. Well not it is 2019 and smart home technology has become mainstream. With smart phones as our screens, the cloud as our recorder and wireless cameras you no longer have to plan for anything. You can just purchase the hardware, download the app, maybe sign up for a plan and voila! you’ve made your home significantly safer and more convenient to live in.

I’ll just say I absolutely love this camera. What I like about it most is its versatility to be mounted literally anywhere you can get a wi-fi signal. I mounted mine on the house but you could mount it on the garage, porch…a tree I guess if you wanted to. The Ring app allows you to see the video and sound on demand. The app will also send you notification when motion is detected. I’ve seen strangers, deliveries, family, even wildlife like deer and ground hogs. I also like that the camera has a spotlight. The spotlight comes on automatically which helps illuminate doorways, or just alert people that they are being recorded at night. The video quality is excellent day or night.

The camera comes with everything you need to install it including a drill bit! The instructions are super easy, and the app is simple to install and set up. I mounted it directly to the cement board trim with the included screws. There’s not much to say…it was an easy job.

Ring-camera

The camera looks good, has motion detection and a spotlight. It can be mounted anywhere there’s a wi-fi signal.

The removable battery needs recharging every few weeks but that is easy to do using the included USB cable. There is room for a second battery and they cost about $30 a pop. So far I’ve found one battery to be enough. Eventually I will probably get a second battery.

All Ring products work with one app on your smart phone, which is convenient when you have multiple products like we do. It was great to watch the painters progress on the exterior of our house while we were three thousand miles away on vacation.

I highly recommend the Ring spotlight cam for any home or office. Well worth the money because of the convenience and added security.

Ring Video Doorbell 2

I recently got the opportunity to test out the Ring Video Doorbell 2. We’ve always had a “regular” doorbell at our house. It was a pretty and unique bronze butterfly that was absolutely perfect for our nature oriented home. There was no real reason to replace it. My only complaint was that about half of our guests didn’t realize the bronze butterfly was the doorbell so they would knock. And if I was in the basement I couldn’t hear anyone knocking. But given the opportunity to try out a new “smart” video doorbell I figured it was time to retire the butterfly, at least for a while.

butterfly-doorbel

Our original bronze butterfly doorbell

Ring is a California based smart home company that manufactures and markets smart doorbells, cameras and security systems. The Video Doorbell 2 looks to be a middle of the road entry in their lineup of doorbells.

Ring doorbells copy

The Ring lineup of doorbells as of September 2019.

The purpose of a video door bell is to be able to see who is at the door, via your smart phone, from anywhere in the world. You can also talk to them without having to come to the door, e.g. “No, thank you we aren’t interested.” or “Please leave the package by the door, thank you.” The voice feature is a great way to scare the crap out of people as well, so you can have a little fun with unsuspecting skittish kids and adults alike. You can access the camera at any time to see what’s happening outside your front door. Video is recorded and can be viewed via the website and app for future reference. The app on your phone can be set up to send notifications when motion is detected. I could be in my living room or the other side of the world and see and hear in real time what’s going on. Ring is also promoting safer neighborhoods by encouraging sharing of video with neighbors if you see something suspicious. Imagine a “ring” around your neighborhood via various cameras on everyone’s homes.

The doorbell comes with everything you need for installation including mounting hardware, several paintable faceplate options and even a screwdriver. The instructions and app set up are incredibly easy. The doorbell connects to the existing wiring and also operates off of a rechargeable battery. The app alerts you when the battery starts to get low on power. The removable battery recharges simply using the USB cord included with the doorbell kit in a couple hours.

I installed the unit in less than an hour. My biggest hang-ups were 1) trying to turn the power off to the current doorbell, I never did figure that out but I think it’s so low voltage I couldn’t really hurt myself, and 2) trying to figure out how to take the butterfly doorbell off (there’s a screw the wasn’t readily viewable). I left the new doorbell unpainted because the plastic (black) case matches our exterior superbly.

I love the new “smart” video doorbell. It allows me to check on the front door when I get an alert without having to drop what I’m doing and see who’s roaming around outside or I can see if something has been delivered. The video and sound quality is great day and night.  The app is easy to use and integrates beautifully all of my Ring products in one place. Setup and use is so easy that anyone can install and live with this doorbell.

It is sad to see the butterfly doorbell go away but I am extremely happy with the new doorbell.

Too Many HDMI Cords? Fix It With This…

January?

I haven’t written since January?

Ugh, I’ve been stressed all year – work has been crazy so I haven’t had the energy to sit down and write. Which I kind of miss it. So, today I had a blank Saturday in which I could do anything I want to do, including putting off cutting the grass. Even if not a lot has been going on, there’s gotta be at least something to write about since January, right?

Alright I’ll throw some product reviews at you all, over the next few posts. And we can touch base on the mice and whatever else I can think of. I need to write.

First up, back in February I picked up a pair of these Techole HDMI splitter switches. They are about ten dollars (US) on Amazon and got decent reviews.

Techole-switch-in-box

We use our living room as our primary living space. And our family time usually includes an hour or two at night watching tv or movies together. We also play video games…I think if I added it all up there are like ten devices in the living room cabinet…let’s see: two xBoxes, two DVD players, a Nintendo Switch…cable box…anyway it’s more HDMI cables then the Sony tv (the old ~50″+ version of this tv) has ports for. So I needed a splitter to take the HDMI from the tv and feed in two devices. I think I had 5 ports so I picked up two splitters or switches.

There’s not much going on here but these are solid metal switches (like I said, I ordered two) each packaged in some nice simple brown packaging.

Obviously super easy to install, just plug in your HDMI cables and you’re good to go. I believe because the devices I plugged into the switches are powered, the switches themselves are “powered”. This allows the number on the switch to illuminate so you can tell if cable 1 or cable 2 is hooked up at any given time.

Whenever you need to access a device just press the button on the switch and tune to the right input on the tv.

I also ordered these color coded HDMI cables from Cable Matters and love them as well. Good quality and very low cost. $12-18.50 for a three pack. Color coding is a blessing with all that’s going on behind the tv.

I don’t notice any reduction in quality and the switches (and cables) have worked fine since I bought them. I’d definitely recommend trying them out to help manage things and expand your cable capacity behind your tv.

 

WeMo Smart Switch

So when we built this place, apparently we didn’t plan out some of the electrical circuits very well. There are three instances that are kind of annoying, but we’ve lived with for the last six years:

  • Exterior light by garage man door – can only be turned on from INSIDE the garage, which means you have to walk through the dark outside to go turn it on. This means it never gets used.
  • Exterior light by the studio door – operates on one switch, near the door, and you can not readily see if it’s on or not. It gets left on accidentally, if we use it at all.
  • Entering the studio – there is NO light switch for the studio room so you have to walk across the room to turn on any light. I actually think this is against code, but they must’ve missed that when we built the house.

Fast forward to present day, and technology now has some helpful solutions for these minor annoyances. I’ve been researching “smart home” technology, which are devices, apps and controllers which allow one to automate various electronics in the home. For example you can tell your thermostat to elevate or reduce the temperature. Lights can be instructed to turn on when you get home. You can even view home cameras through your mobile device. A lot has changed in the last few years so I decided to investigate what the best solution may be for our lighting issues.

For lighting control there are essentially three options:

  • Smart light bulbs – replace existing bulbs with smart bulbs such as Philips Hue which can be turned on and off with a mobile app.
  • Smart plugs – whatever is plugged into the plug may be turned on or off remotely
  • Smart switch – replace an existing switch to be smart, which means it can be operated either remotely or by pressing a button just like a regular switch

Okay, well a plug isn’t applicable because all the lights in question are hard wired. Nix the smart plug. So that leaves smart bulbs or switches. Well I love my existing LED light bulbs. And as you know I spent a lot of time researching them. The LED’s in the studio are cool looking and work well. As for outside, I don’t even think they make smart decorative LED light bulbs. That’s a mouth full. At any rate, that leaves us with smart switches. Fantastic. Smart switch me baby.

I researched or rather googled “best smart switch” and came up with two options. The Lutron Caseta wins hands down I guess, according to CNET.  The thing is, the Caseta is overkill for what I need to do. I just need switches that can go on and off. None of the bulbs they control need to be dimmed. I decided to go with the “second place” Belkin WeMo smart light switch which retails for  ~$50 (I got mine at Best Buy on sale for $40). Note the WeMo switch only works in one-way switch locations, not 3-way switches where you can turn on a light from multiple locations. This was totally fine as that is the situation with all three of my applications.

Set up was easy. The first switch I tried to replace, the studio door one, turned out to be weird looking inside, wiring-wise, so I ditched that one for now and turned my sights to the studio hallway light. This is the light that will help with entering the house and actually being able to see instead of tripping over stuff in the dark.

I followed the directions supplied with they WeMo switch. The switch also came with four wire connecting nuts, a face plate (which I didn’t use) and the device itself. I was replacing one (the far right) of three switches in a common box. The biggest challenge I read about was fitting the WeMo switch device into the wired box because it is kind of large. Sure enough that was the biggest challenge I faced, and eventually overcame.

I connected the white neutral wire and ground wire to their respective “gangs” of wires inside the box. I connected the power in and power out, black wires to the smart switch in the same order as they went to the old “dumb” switch. It took some fiddling but eventually I got all the wires back into the box. It was easier to detach the other two light switches from the box to make room, and then screw them back in once everything was hooked up.

By the way, since the smart switch is a rocker style switch and the old switch was a toggle style, I had to pick up a new faceplate at Home Depot.

Once the faceplate was fastened, I turned the power back on and “voila!” a blinking orange light on the smart switch. I then downloaded the WeMo device on my phone and connected the switch to my home network. Once connected the light blinks green and with the press of a button I could control the switch from my phone!!! Yay!

I then proceeded to connect the switch to my Google Home Assistant for further control via voice. Everything works great and now we can turn the light on before we even go through the door.

Butterfly Garden

Figured out a perk of being lazy and not keeping up with (even planting) a vegetable garden. Letting nature take over has produced a perfect rectangle of butterfly paradise in our yard. Thistle and queen anne’s lace have grown up about five feet tall where once grew tomatoes and peppers. This is the perfect height to immerse one’s self into a world of dancing butterflies. I swear it’s better than the butterfly encounters you see at the zoo or museums. And it didn’t cost me a dime.

I spotted over six species of butterflies including Black Swallowtail, Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Silver Spotted Skipper and Meadow Fritillary.

This place is pretty magical in the summer with all of the plants, insects and animals. Most people would have to go to a park or nature realm to experience what we can on any given day if we just take the time and open our eyes. Very blessed.

 

Milk Snake

The other day, after days of releasing baby mice outside of the house, I saw a big snake moving in from the front planting bed towards the front deck. I called for the boys to come take a look. We had no idea what kind of snake it was. So I googled it and found this keen article on Cleveland.com about the 25 types of snakes that live in Ohio. The wife and I narrowed it down to milk, rat and fox snakes. I sent a message off to the Cuyahoga Valley National Park asking them to help me identify it. Turns out it’s a milk snake. The milk snake is a constrictor, meaning it squeezes it’s prey and swallows it whole, and their primary food is mice. So it is a very friendly animal to have in our yard. I’m hoping this two foot long snake eats up all the mice it can find around the perimeter of my house.

One note on the mice: number 12 and 13 baby mouse were caught and released last night. Ugh.

milk-snake

2′ long milk snake

 

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Milk Snake by front deck.

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Playground Stain

With Memorial Day weekend coming up, now was the time to finally clean up and stain the kids’ playground set. We’ve had the set for five years now and it was looking pretty sad.

Once again I found myself at Lowe’s, I picked up some Olypmic deck cleaner and two gallons of stain. I got Cabot semi-solid deck stain, in two colors. Mission Brown for the play set, and an Oak Brown for another project. It was buy one get one free (after rebate). About $46 per gallon. The cleaner was like $20. I picked up some brushes and mineral spirits too.

I had planned on pressure washing the set but the cleaner said that wasn’t necessary. I applied the cleaner section by section with a pump sprayer, let it sit for a few minutes and used a hand scrub brush to take the dirt, cleaner and old stain off.

Yes! The cleaner actually was taking the old stain off! Left behind was grey weathered wood in some places. In other places it looked like brand new wood. It worked awesome. I could have power washed the set at that point to remove remaining residue but honestly I was trying to do this efficiently and rinsing everything off with a hose worked well enough for me. Two notes: 1) the old stain clumps up and will create a mess and lots of residue so rinsing is critical, and 2) use the cleaner everywhere because it takes the stain off. If you leave the stain on and don’t use the cleaner certain areas, those areas won’t take the new stain as well.

The stain took to the set wonderfully. The Mission Brown was basically a match of the original color, a nice deep brown with reddish hue. One gallon was enough to almost do the entire set. I need about a quart more to finish some underside portions.

The project took about 2-3 days by myself, a few hours each of those days.