Saturday, August 19, 2017

Easy Project: Cellphone/Tablet Charging Stand

With the new school year came cellphones for the girls. We wanted to make sure that they didn't store them in their bedrooms - we have enough trouble with getting them to sleep and don't want to add to the problem, and we want to make sure they're charged for the coming school day.  So Tara and I built a cellphone/tablet charging stand.

Parts were simple and inexpensive.  We already had a small free-standing shelf obtained from a garage sale, similar to the Furinno 5-tier corner shelf (Amazon, $27).  Similar items can be found at Home Depot and Wayfair for under $40.

I ordered an Anker PowerPort 60 watt 6-port USB charger (Amazon, $28) and two sets of 4 ft cables - one for Android (Micro USB - Amazon, $11) and one for iOS (Lightning connector - Amazon, $22).  Don't get me started on why iOS cables are 2x the cost.  (Hint: Apple is evil.)

To show how easy this project is, I tasked my 10 year-old with the build.  She felt it necessary to wear a sequined cocktail dress for the photos.  I stopped questioning these things a while ago.

With all parts removed from their boxes she prepped the adhesive which would attach the Anker PowerPort to the shelf.  I'm partial to 3M Dual Lock because it's very sticky yet removes with no residue, and it allows the pieces to be separated if needed.  Unfortunately, it's also crazy expensive unless you buy it in bulk, in which case it's only kinda expensive (Amazon, $3/ft).  I found that the 3M Command Adhesive strips didn't work, as the Anker PowerPort has a fingerprint-resistant coating to which the Command Adhesive won't adhere.  Double-sided sticky tape might work, not sure.  A bit of surface prep on the surfaces with an alcohol wipe helped.

Assembly is simple.  Attach the Anker PowerPort to the back side of the shelf.  Insert USB cables.  Plug into wall socket.  Charge devices.

Thoughts on the build:

  • I bought 4 ft cables.  I probably could have got away with 1 ft cables.  Coiled cables might be better.  
  • I'm going to add some kind of cable organizer to keep cables tidy when not used.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Review: August Doorbell Camera

El Doorbell Del Diablo
Last year a friend bought two "smart" doorbells for his home, and decided to keep the one he installed first.  So for a discount, I was able to pick up an August Doorbell Camera.  What followed was a journey lasting several months, ultimately resulting in me buying a different product.

I loved the idea of smart doorbell.  Living in a city which due to budget issues and a pension crisis has only 2/3rds of the police officers it needs, and with my wife such a fan of online stores for everything, we're careful about quickly pulling in mail and packages.  Research has shown that burglars will almost always ring the doorbell before attempting a robbery, so if you can appear to be home - they'll move on.  That, and our very large dog, seemed like a good strategy.

"But I love burglars.  They taste like chicken." - Tigger
















I installed the August Doorbell Camera in August 2016, and immediately began noticing issues with it.  Switches on the smartphone app were not properly synchronized between Android and iOS - in fact in some cases turning a switch ON in Android resulted in the switch being OFF in iOS and vice-versa.  I found that when changing a setting in the app the change wouldn't always register.  The device wanted a -60 dBm Wi-Fi signal - which an RF-savvy person will tell you is really hard to get unless you're practically right on top of the access point.

More than anything else my frustration was with the inconsistency of operation.  August Tech Support (which from what I can tell either isn't located in the US or they keep really odd office hours) would often remotely reboot the device and it would work for a day or so, then begin failing.  What's worse than something that doesn't work?  Something that works intermittently.  I'd get a motion or doorbell ringing alert - and the video file would show "unavailable".  Or I wouldn't get the alert.  Or I'd get the alert but be unable to remotely answer the door.  I never knew what to expect.

I gave up on the August Doorbell Cam on March 31st 2017, over seven months after installation.  During that time I exchanged countless emails with them - easily over 100 total.  To their credit, they tried to help - I received two replacement doorbells, including one after the doorbell just completely gave up and refused to reset or connect to anything.  I never felt I could rely on the device, and in the end I wanted that reliability.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Maker Faire Tips in QST

My article on Bay-Net's efforts to showcase amateur radio at Maker Faire Bay Area is in QST (January 2017 edition) hitting mailboxes and digital readers now.  I blogged about this year's project back in May 2016, and that article contains links to detailed materials and presentations.  We also talked Maker Faire with the HamRadio360 team in their late June podcast.

Special thanks again to my team that worked hard on this event: +Beric Dunn, +Bernard Van Haecke, +Derek Kozel, +Marcel Stieber, +Kenneth Finnegan, +Maria Pikusova, and Bob Somers.

Also in the article is an interview with fellow Maker +Jeri Ellsworth on her journey away from and (finally) back to amateur radio, and a cameo appearance by my youngest daughter Tara.