Articles (Blog)
Posted on September 11, 2017 9:29 AM by Mark Conde
Categories: Home Technology
Ok, here is a short one. The home automation systems, like Simplisafe, have provided water sensors for a while now. What good is that if you are in Florida and you get a water leak? Well here is an evolution of the simple IOT (Internet Of Things) engineering that is very cool to solve that problem.
 
Its a device that simply clamps onto your water pipe and will turn off the valve if there is a water leak detected!
Video showing how it works: https://youtu.be/q8uZXkNbSlg
 
I have seen variants of this but this one is very simple and integrates with many of the home automation systems out there. I may get this just so I can walk into the cabin and say "Alexa" turn on the water :) 
 
Posted on August 12, 2017 9:37 AM by Mark Conde
Categories: Home Technology
 
I am asked quite often what the video cameras are that I use here in Five Forks. The system that I use is the Arlo camera system. You can go here to learn more about them http://www.arlo.com
 
There are a lot of video camera system choices out there and many are quite good. You end up choosing the one for you based on a number of factors. First you need to decide about how they are powered and how the video signal gets back to the internet. You can get higher resolution (that is picture quality) and no need for batteries using a system that needs wires. If you are willing to run cables around these systems can work very well and end up being cheaper to operate.  The second factor is if you want to use them outside or only inside the house.  With many systems you need a special camera that will work outside and will still need power and a cable to get the video back. That’s not very practical if you want a camera down on the deer trail to catch critters wandering by or out by your storage shed.
 
I found that the best combination of features and simple operation is the Arlo for my needs. These cameras are completely wireless, being battery driven, and wireless connection back to the internet. Any of the cameras can be used outside or in the house. No special camera is needed in this system. They will cost a little more to buy initially and you will have the cost of batteries to keep them running, but I have found that to be reasonable to deal with. You can stick these up anywhere because they have a magnet that grabs a mount on a tree, on the house wall, or inside the garage.  My one deer camera is around 200 feet from the house and it connects to the internet base station just fine. 
 
This is what they look like. Note the base station in the picture. This does connect to your internet box and can sit right next to it.

Are they hard to setup? No not at all! You plug in the base station and hit the button on each camera and it does all the rest of the work! They reconnect themselves should the base station loose power or the internet goes down as soon as they can. The most significant thing you have to worries about is keeping them in batteries. These use 4 camera style batteries called CR123. Don’t ever buy these at Walmart because they will want $6 for two. I buy them online on Amazon and get 10-12 for $18-20. So how many do they use? That’s depends naturally. They are pretty well designed to not use up battery power unless they are capturing video or transmitting back the images they see. Even with this usage the ones in my house get replaced around every 6 months. I only activate the inside ones when we are not around for security which helps battery life. The most active cameras, like the one the bear tries to eat, gets changed every 2-3 months. The cameras are smart too. They tell me when they need fresh batteries and if they have any problems connecting. Here is a picture of the batteries I get from Amazon.
 
OK, I have to touch on proper usage around where you point these things. I am able to know when people come around my house but I am careful to aim them so I am not capturing my neighbors activity or every car going down the road. There are even laws in Georgia on Lake Lanier where cameras cant be used because of sensitivity around this. However, even close to your house cameras can sometimes induce great silliness from your neighbor friends. I was once treated to a deer dance by a couple friends who hid their identity behind a handmade deer mask.  OK, I appreciated that comedy and it was in good taste.
 
They talk to me all the time! I can turn them on and see what is happening anytime I want using a browser on any computer. I can bring up the video on my iPhone or my Android-based tablet. There are many settings to tell it what to do. It can be setup to automatically tun on and record video and then send you an email and/or a text message. The video is recorded and held on an Arlo server so you can get it when ever you want. The sensitivity for how big and how close the object is to start the video can be set. The length of time for how long the video runs can be set.  You can tell one camera to turn on other cameras when it is triggered. This is what the iPhone app looks like to see your cameras and control them.
 
One other thing people worry about is that the videos are stored on a server some where in the cloud. They are secure but, as a technology person, I know they live outside of my control. For that reason, I would always keep in mind that video of you getting out of the shower is not a good idea to capture and leave in the cloud. The nice thing about this is that up to 5 cameras can capture and hold video in the Arlo cloud for no cost! They will hold the video for a rolling month and then delete what is there.  You can download to you PC or iPad any of them you want to keep. You can pay to keep them out there by why would you do that?
 
There are other really nice alternatives to video camera systems and I will talk about them in another blog. These other systems have advantages over the Arlos that are worth considering depending on what you want to do.
Posted on August 5, 2017 7:00 AM by Mark Conde
Categories: Home Technology
Naturally, you have to start with a decent internet in your house. We have been quite satisfied with the SkyTek services. Even though its only 6 MBs they don’t limit how much data we use. That’s a huge deal for only $40/month! You may be able to get a faster speed from other services like AT&T but pay attention to how much data they give you each month. It can get really expensive fast when your grandkids visit and use up your data plan. 
 
This is actually the most fun solution for TV and you can enjoy a lot for not that much money. Even though the Over the Air solution is basically free, you don’t have to climb on the roof to place the antenna with this solution.
 
To start you need an internet streaming box. My favorite is the Roku because you can put many free apps on it for all kinds of TV channels and movies. The other good choice is the Amazon Fire Stick. Both of them connect to your internet through the wireless system so they can be anywhere in the house and no running wires all over. These units are really easy to connect to the wireless network and setup and have great support with them.
 
For this article lets focus on the Roku. There are a number of units you can choose that cover a range of prices. You get additional features and increased loading speed as the price increases. The box I like best is the Premiere model with a good balance of speed, features, and cost. You can buy these anywhere from Walmart to online. So do shop around.  Even some of the new TVs have the Roku built into them!
 
Here is the unit I like the best: https://www.roku.com/products/roku-premiere
 
OK stop a moment and look at the TV you want to hook up to this. You may have an older TV that does not have a connector that these Rokus and other internet TV boxes use. You will find the easiest connection if you have an HDMI connector on your TV. This does not mean you cant use an older TV but you will need a converter box to connect the HDMI cable. I can offer advice on what to get if you write to me.
 
Now that you have installed this nice little box on your TV so what can you do with it. When you install the Roku you setup an account with them. There is no cost for this at all. You can pick out apps and channels through the Roku box or login into their web site and pick channels to add to your unit. One of the channels I chose was to find a news channel in Atlanta that streams the TV news from there. With so many of us coming from Florida you will want to find a local news channel from your florida home to keep up with what is going on there. Again there is not a cost for channels like these. Check out what channels and apps you can choose from here: https://www.roku.com/whats-on Some channels have a fee associated with them but many are free.
 
The channel/apps that Karen and I enjoy the most are Sling TV and Netflix. Start with Sling TV. Remember the 5-6 channels you watched for crazy money on DirecTV? How about getting those and 20 more for $20/month? Go read about Sling here: https://www.sling.com You just setup an account, download the app to your Roku, and you have all you favorite TV channels!  The really nice thing is that you can place Rokus and Amazon Fire Sticks on every TV in your house and you can use the same account on all of them and not pay any more than the one $20 fee per month! There is a plus if you have a tablet. Sling works on that too so you can watch you favorite channel while hanging on the porch.
 
We also enjoy binge watching TV shows and finding our favorite movie. For that we also loaded the Netflix app on the Roku and subscribed to a Netflix account. This adds another fee of as low as $8 a month. I like the $10 one so I can use the same account on multiple Rokus in the house. Imagine that Karen and I don’t always want to watch the same movies together all the time?  Head over to the Netflix site to learn more about the subscription plans and movies you can enjoy here: https://www.netflix.com/#this-is-netflix
 
There is so much available online through these streaming boxes now it seems crazy to keep paying DirecTV for 800 channels we don’t watch. Even with the subscriptions for Netflix and Sling we are easily saving $100 a month and have exactly the channels we always watched. I don’t think the TV knows any other channel other than HGTV though for some reason ? :)
 
Posted on August 4, 2017 7:00 AM by Mark Conde
Categories: Home Technology
Many of us have had enough of paying escalating prices for TV services like DirecTV. If you are like Karen and I we only watched around 5 channels of the 800+ we had on DirecTV.  So we started on a mission to find a better solution. This article is to share what we ended up doing and we saved considerable money a long the way.
 
In the old days we just needed a nice TV antenna and all the channels we wanted were available. Then all the over the air channels went digital and our TVs didn’t work any more. Now we can get TVs with Digital tuners (called an ATSC tuner) and work well with over the air. That is IF you can get a signal. We started here and found that we could use a HDTV antenna with an amplifier to get at least 13 channels from Chattanooga. We are on Beacon Hill but still get a decent signal when the outside antenna is pointed NNW at 315 degrees. I cant guarantee that all locations in Five Forks will be the same.
 
The antenna that I have found works very well is the ClearStream 4V Indoor/Outdoor HDTV Antenna with the Mount - 70 Mile Range. You can find it on Amazon and other online sources as well as stores like BestBuy. I found it easiest to buy direct from the supplier being Antennas Direct. I like this antenna because it picks up both the VHF and UHF channels.
 
 
Now to keep a strong signal you will need an amplifier. I have great performance using the Channel Master CM 3412 2-port ultra mini distribution amplifier. The two port will feed two TVs in the house.
Here is where you can get it on Amazon: http://a.co/h3MTbfq
 
Now what about the lines getting back to the TVs? Remember all those lines we ran to the DirecTV boxes? First, take the DirecTV boxes and do something rude to them out of revenge. Then just hook those cable lines directly up to your TV and the other end to the amplifier. That’s all you need!
 
The final step is to auto search for all the Air channels on your TV.
Posted on July 23, 2017 7:53 AM by Mark Conde
Categories: Home Technology
Well water naturally has bacteria and other microscopic organisms in it. We monitor it to make sure there are acceptable levels and occasionally the levels can rise and fall due to a number of conditions.  Variance in contamination from septics, run off from farms, and well efficiency changes can introduce these bacteria in the water from time to time. Our well services vendors will do things to make sure the wells are working correctly and shocking the water occasionally when numbers are up solves the problem as well.
 
How can you significantly reduce the bacteria in your water to get through these “bloom” periods?  We have installed an in-line Ultra Violet (UV) filter and use finer micron filter cartridges in our house to  kill anything that does get to our water supply. Combining this with finer micron water filters you can reduce most if not all live bacteria from entering your plumbing.
 
We first asked the question was bacteria getting through the system and showing up in the plumbing in our house? We found this test kit that I have used to test for all contaminants from Amazon. We have used it in two homes we have lived in here at Murphy and it seems to work well and its quick with no need to send water anywhere.

Watersafe WS425W Well Water Test Kit .......
 
 
In another neighborhood we had a home here in murphy, that had wells that went in around the early 80s. The water test did show some bacteria coming through. So we put in a UV filter and it eliminated the problem and gave us peace of mind that when a bloom did occur we remained protected. I did not write this article to sell UV filters nor do I have stock in the company :) but we have found that is worked for us and wanted to share our experience. We did not have bacteria in our water here in Five Forks but added  an UV filter inline anyway.
 
Here is what our systems looks like here in Five Forks. We had it installed by Christian Plumbing
You may not see how the lines run but it in installed after the filter. Which make sure that no turbid water goes through the UV filter reducing it impact to the bacteria.  Notice the numbers on the control box it is connected to. That tells me how many more days of UV bulb life I have left.
 
The UV bulb does need to be replaced after running for a years number of hours because it drops in efficiency over time. I find replacements on Amazon for my model and can do it myself.
 
This is an addition you can do yourself with a little plumbing skill but, in my case, I appreciated the help from a local plumber. The two critical things for me were that the plumbing was run correctly and the right size filter was chosen to allow for the proper flow of water. Costs to purchase and install one of these runs around $600. The cost for a replacement bulb ranges from $30-$80 depending on the unit you install.
 
We can talk more about bacteria in another blog but there is a great deal of information out on the web on this and well water.