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.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Holiday Project: LED Flip Light

This post has nothing to do with wireless.  File under How-To.

The original idea for this project came from David Bakker at ("draailampje" means "flip light" in Dutch) via Make: - I've modified it slightly.  My kids both like to solder, so I wanted a project which my youngest could do mostly by herself.


The idea of the flip light is very simple: parts needed are a CR2032 battery, a coin battery holder, a tilt switch, and a 10mm diffused LED.

This assembly is mounted into the lid of a small hexagonal glass jar with hot glue.  We built 20 of them in assembly-line fashion, with me acting as safety observer and occasionally suggesting that she re-solder some joints.

Operation is dumb simple; flip the light over to turn it on, back again to turn it off.

The CR2032 battery drives the LED directly - no current-limiting resistor is needed.  You have to make a choice about orientation - David Bakker's original design is to have the light on when the lid is up.

My daughter decided to have it on when the lid is down, with the LED pointing up when on, so that the light comes out the bottom of the jar.  She felt this was more "pretty".

The end result was really nice - she tossed a few on the mantle, put some on the dining room table, and gave a few away as gifts.

The most expensive parts of the project were the glass jars.  You can get them for about $1 each if you buy a box of 24.  Parts list above.