Automating my home: Ring Pro Video Doorbell

I have been very opposed to video doorbells for sometime now, it just seemed like an odd place to put a camera, and I couldn’t find one with live video stream, most operated based on the doorbell being run, and more recently on motion, but I wanted to be able to use it as a traditional camera.  I was also a little concerned by the original model requiring recharging and whether I would remember to actually charge it. Recently, my wife mentioned that she was surprised we didn’t have one, and it seemed like a good idea.  With the release of the Ring Video Doorbell Pro, and the live stream update, I decided to jump in and give it a shot.  The worst case I could always return it, but I had high hopes.

The packaged arrived, and of course I could hardly wait to get it opened and take a look.  Installation was a little disappointing, only because it was so simple.  My youngest son removed the old doorbell, and we took off the 24v wires, connected them to the new doorbell, and attached it to the house.  The app walked me through connecting the device to wifi, and we tested it.  The only problem we found was the mechanical chime only rang once, rather than twice as before.  Reading the directions quickly, it appeared that there is a “pro power adapter” which we needed to install in the chime itself.  Again this was almost disappointingly simple.  Once I wired it in, everything just worked.

It has only been a few hours, but I am impressed with the quality of the video, the ease of use, and the simple integration.  I have invited my wife to create an account, so her testing will be important to make sure it is successful.  I also dug out an old iPhone 5 which I locked down to basically the Ring App.  I am planning to mount it in a common area, so we don’t lose functionality.  I would love to see an Apple TV and Roku apps, but those would be tough since it is there is no way for two way audio yet.

Installing this has me considering the Ring Stickup Camera.  The simplicity of the app, and the impressive web interface would make it a perfect fit.  My two hesitations are the 720p camera, and again the battery.  On the cameras, I could deal with the battery, but to replace my 4 Samsung Smartcam HD I want 1080p video.

This is an absolutely impressive product, I am looking forward to seeing what more Ring brings to market.  I am going to experiment with Stringify or IFTTT next to see what new integrations I can do.

Automating my home: Ring Pro Video Doorbell

Updating the Raspberry Pi Unifi Controller to 5.4.16

With the recent release of UniFi’s 5.4.16 controller software, the Java version has been updated to version 8.  On the Raspberry Pi controller, this causes the controller to fail to start after the upgrade.  After some digging on the forums, it seems to be a common problem, but easily resolved.

Upgrade:

To upgrade, it is a simple update command if you followed my previous post on Building a Unifi Wireless Controller with a Raspberry Pi 3.  The upgrade is simply as follows.

sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get upgrade -y

Fix the issue:

To resolve the issue with java, you will need to first make sure you have Oracle Java 8 installed.
sudo apt-get install oracle-java8-jdk

Then make sure the new version is set as default.

sudo update-alternatives --config java

Select Oracle Java 8.

Restart the service.

sudo systemctl restart unifi

This is a very simple fix, but hopefully this saves some frustration on configuring your Raspberry Pi 3 UniFi controller.

Updating the Raspberry Pi Unifi Controller to 5.4.16

To home lab or not to home lab

As I often do, I am again debating my need for a home lab.  My job is highly technical, to take technology architecture and tie it all together with the strategic goals of my customers.  Keeping my technical skills up to date is a full time job in and of itself, and begs the question, should I build out a home lab, or are my cloud based labs sufficient.

One of the perks to working at a large company is the ability to use our internal lab systems.  This can also include my laptop with VMware Workstation or Fusion product which affords some limited testing capabilities, mostly due to memory constraints.  Most of the places I have been have had great internal labs, demo gear, etc, which has been nice.  I have often maintained my own equipment as well, but to what end.  Keeping the equipment up to date becomes a full time job, and adds little value to my daily job.

With the competition in cloud providers, many providers will provide low or no cost environments for testing.  While this is not always ideal, for the most part, we are now able to run nested virtual systems, testing various hypervisors, and other solutions.  Many companies are now providing virtual appliance based products which enable us to stay fairly up to date.

Of course one of my favorites is VMware’s Hands on Labs.  In fairness I am a bit biased, working at VMware, and with the hands on labs team as often as I can.  Since a large majority of what I do centers around VMware’s technology, I will often run through the labs myself to stay sharp on the technology.

While the home lab will always have a special place in my heart, and while I am growing a rather large collection of raspberry pi devices, I think my home lab will be limited to smaller lower power devices for IoT testing for the moment.  While always subject to change, it is tough to justify the capital expenditure when there are so many good alternatives.

To home lab or not to home lab

Google Project Fi: Goodish…

I recently returned from a trip to El Salvador with my Church to do some mission work.  The last time I was there I relied on wireless calling, and messaging protocols.  Due to less than ideal infrastructure, the experience was not great.  This trip I decided to take advantage of google’s Project Fi, mostly out of curiosity.  The basic premise is you purchase a phone which they support, and the service is based on actual data usage.  They use local providers in around 135 countries including the U.S.

Before I go further, I do need to be clear, I have been an iPhone user since 2009, this was my first android device, other than a brief period with a 7″ android tablet.

Device

I chose the cheapest device I could, the Nexus 5x.  I liked the touch id being on the back of the phone.  It was far more accurate than my iPhone touch id, and the positioning was much better for my use.  The metal case was nice, and felt like a quality design.

The android operating system itself was interesting.  I liked that the phone comes with a pretty clean android image, most of the applications that were installed were the native google apps as one would expect with android.  The setup was pretty quick and painless.

Apps

The applications on android were a little disappointing when compared to my iPhone.  While I could get most of the same applications as I had, they felt like cheap knockoffs.  There were some basic functionality issues, and the look and feel was not quite the same as my iOS apps.

I was surprised however by the number of applications for testing wireless signal.  For tools, it seems that android has done a much better job, or perhaps just has a more open policy on applications.

Calling & Data

The calling and data is where the phone really fell down.  In the U.S., it seemed to send me to the lowest quality carrier wherever I was.  The call quality was pretty low, although the data was pretty reasonable from a performance and latency perspective.  The biggest issue was when I was in airplane mode while flying.  Picking up a cell signal took several restarts and 5-10 min of waiting for the system to pickup.  It was highly frustrating.

When I landed in El Salvador, it was even worse.  Waiting on the system to pickup a local cell signal was painful.  Unfortunately it seemed to continue as I traveled around the city of San Salvador.  I would randomly lose signal, and the carriers were intermittent at best.  When I was trying to make calls from Wifi it would often kick me over to cellular and charge me $.20/min.

 

As an apple user in almost every aspect, I am probably the worst person to review this project.  If the sim would work with my iPhone, I would likely have been more forgiving of the lack of functionality on the calling side of things.  The lack of cell & data quality was really the nail in the coffin though.  I chose Project Fi to support international trips, and I have to say it was not a great experience.  I will continue to use it during international travel with the hope it improves however, the fact that I can turn it on and off, and port my google voice number back and forth is the one true saving grace.  I would not recommend it as a replacement phone, but it is not a terrible secondary phone for traveling to foreign countries.

Google Project Fi: Goodish…

Cutting the cord for fun and profit: Smart TV’s and Streaming Devices

As a child I remember going to my grandparents home.  They had cable television, which was a big deal at the time since we had 1-3 channels depending on the weather and the placement of our homemade antenna.  I remember the box that sat on top, you would push down the buttons for the channel you wanted, it was amazing to have so much to watch.  I loved Saturday morning cartoons, and occasionally talking my mother into an evening cop show when we visited.

Apple TV

For our purposes assume this refers to the Apple TV Gen 4, the first with an app ecosystem.  With the exception of Amazon Video, thanks to a rumored disagreement between Tim Cook and Jeff Bezos, this is probably one of the more comprehensive ecosystems in the space, with new apps released fairly regularly.  From a user experience perspective, this is likely one of the better systems, in typical apple fashion, with an ecosystem of streaming services and games.  The biggest complaint on this device is the remote.  While it is larger than previous remotes, the touch remote features, while intuitive, it is tends to get bumped, and can be a pain to use with precision.

Roku

The latest Roku models are quite well done.  With a number of form factors, and quality levels, Roku strives to be all things to all people.  The comprehensive app store experience is good, as is the remote.  It is the right size for your hand, with a minimalist feel on the buttons.  One of the biggest features that made me really like this device is the headphone port on the remote.  On the subject of the remote, these generally use a proprietary wireless technology for the remote paring rather than IR, which is great if you want to hide the device, or just don’t have great line of site.  My biggest concern with the Roku is they are not backed by a large content company such as Amazon, Apple, or Google.  They do seem like an easy acquisition target, or possibly a company which could evaporate in the shifting ecosystem.

Smart Televisions

I want to like smart televisions, I really do.  I even purchased one, with a Roku built in.  My biggest concern is the processor speed.  In the several systems I have tested, my experience has been a little laggy.  Of course we are stuffing a mini computer inside an already thin TV system, but the user experience is critical to solidify adoption.  For most users this is probably a technology which is good enough, but still has a bit to go.

Chrome Cast, Fire TV, and open source

There are always other options, Google’s Chrome Cast is probably one of the more popular choices.  It is great except that it is simply a receiver.  A phone or computer becomes the remote control for the device, although content is streamed directly from the internet.  Amazon’s Fire TV is a good product as well, but it is very amazon centric.  As an Amazon Prime subscriber, I love all things Amazon, but this just doesn’t quite get my attention.  Kodi, and other open source systems promise to enable you to build your own, with their TV style interfaces, using a Raspberry Pi, or even a PC.  Again not bad, but this is probably one of the few areas I do not want to do it myself on.

 

The biggest issue with most of these devices is a lack of standards.  Developers have to choose what platforms to write apps for, and consumers may end up with several interfaces.  It really comes down to use case, and what apps do you anticipate using over the long term.  It will be interesting to see how many of these devices become a part of televisions, how many become a centralized device that streams to all screens in the house, and whether the television survives a generation more and more inclined to watch on phones, tablets, and computers.

Cutting the cord for fun and profit: Smart TV’s and Streaming Devices

Cutting the cord for fun and profit: Streaming Services

In Geoffrey Moore’s book, crossing the chasm, he refers to those who jump on new technologies before the mainstream markets as innovators and early adopters.

crossing-the-chasm

For many products and services I a solid Pragmatist, waiting until there is significant adoption of the technology before I jump on board.  When it came to getting rid of cable television, I was absolutely a market innovator.  It wasn’t so much of a drive for new technology as my hatred of paying Comcast for something I could stream over the internet.  In this series I wanted to go through some of the choices I made on the way to cutting the cord, including services, streaming devices, and others.

Netflix

I was an early adopter of the Netflix DVD service, and an immediate adopter of their streaming service.  A number of the devices I purchased early in this process were because they supported Netflix Streaming.  In the past few years I have noticed significant decreases in the quality of the content available from legacy networks.  Fortunately the original content has been more entertaining, with apparent investment in new content becoming a priority.  The biggest advantage of Netflix is the number of devices available to stream it, and their recent introduction of offline viewing.

Amazon Prime Video

As a current subscriber to Amazon prime, I occasionally watch Amazon prime video.   The main advantage to Amazon prime is the original content, it’s inclusion in my subscription, and their pioneering offline viewing of content.  As someone who travels regularly this is a necessity.  My biggest complaint outside the lack of content is the limit on devices.  Due to apparent licensing disagreements there is no Amazon Video app for the Apple TV, a minor issue, but frustrating.

Hulu

I wanted to like Hulu, I really did, and at times I have used it to catch up on shows.  When they released their paid model for the Apple TV I tried it for a month or so.  My biggest complaint is they are essentially aggregating content from networks, much of which is accessible through separate apps, and the paid service still has commercials.  Hulu is good in concept, with some good original content, but is lost in the plethora of streaming services.

 

Streaming services are the future of television there is no doubt about it.  Live television is inconvenient, and for the next generation will likely be a forgotten relic, much like the cassette tape.  My biggest complaint is the lack of an aggregator, I use Plex media server for my personally owned content.  Unfortunately this means I need to select what I want to watch across several services, with more coming regularly.  While Apple is working on resolving this with the “TV” app on iOS and TVOS, this is proprietary, and limited.  The future of television and entertainment must come from fewer apps with more content, not the reverse.  It is an exciting time, as long as you don’t make your living providing cable television services.

Cutting the cord for fun and profit: Streaming Services

Killing Comcast: Data caps hurt customers.

With Comcast rolling out the 1TB datacap in several new markets, including my own in Oregon, I have decided to end my long term relationship with their internet service.

I have been a comcast customer almost continuously since retiring from the U.S. Army in 2003, I even spent a year working for the company managing datacenters and infrastructure.  Over time I have shifted my services to internet only opting for more and more streaming services,  using more and more bandwidth.  During that time, my internet only bill has increased from $30/mo – $95/mo with some increase in speed.  When I called to lower my bill I was informed that the only way Comcast would consider lowering my bill was if I bundled with their television product.  The net cost to me would be similar, which didn’t solve my problem.

I received numerous notifications about the cap, looking at the cost increase, which would put me around $145/mo based on my current usage.  Unfortunately I only have one other choice for internet service, Frontier Communications, which is not ideal, but it is Fiber.  Looking at my options, I found that I could trade my 105/10 for a 30/30 connection for $40/mo.  While it was much slower I opted to try it out.  So far 4 weeks in, no one seems to notice the speed decrease.

I waited about a week with the new service before canceling Comcast, I was braced for a fight.  Fortunately I was able to handle the disconnection through online chat.  It took about 15 min, there was a bit of back and forth with the rep trying to keep me as a customer, but when I held my ground he was surprisingly professional and courteous.

The overall transition has been mostly seamless, but the data caps still do not sit well.  I can only hope the public outcry will be enough to drive change, or better yet, maybe we will finally see more local ISP’s again.

Killing Comcast: Data caps hurt customers.