Category Archives: Life

My 2016 Resolution: Big Data, Smaller Stomach

In my life, I seem to have three recurring problems:

1) Achieving my desired weight (I want to go back to 165, but I’m at 185 or so)
2) Skyrocketing energy bills (looking for $250 average but hitting $450)
3) I have bad driving habits that cost money

This year, I have enlisted the help of big data to help rectify these issues. Here’s the plan.

1) For weight control, I need to diet and exercise more. For diet, I need to go back to the plan of calorie counting on MyFitnessPal, and keeping track of my calories burned using a FitBit. My FitBit Surge should be arriving soon, and once I have it, I can begin collecting data on my progress. Next, I plan to join a gym or invest in exercise equipment, and possibly buy a wi-fi scale to automatically keep tabs on my weight, BMI, etc.. Further steps I can take are investing in a pressure cooker and cutting down on the amount of days eating out.

2) This one is tricky. I already have access to my KW/h online which is updated every few hours, but this doesn’t tell me anywhere near what the full story is. I have decided to try Smappee, a smart meter with promises to isolate each major appliance in your house and keep track on their individual electrical usage.
This should allow me to see the watts being used by the pool pump vs. the AC, fridge, etc. so that I can make decisions on when to run equipment, for how long, or even what devices to get rid of. We’ll see if it works. I have the feeling I’ll discover the pump needs to be swapped out for something more efficient, and possibly even the fridge. The only other thing to do in this category would be to improve home efficiency and go solar, which I’m not prepared to do at the moment. This is more in line with what I want to do once the house is paid off.

3) For improving driving efficiency, I have already purchased an Automatic, and have been using it for over a month. So far, it has helped me drive better and save money in the process. It probably won’t immediately pay for itself, but I imagine in the next few years it will. Next on the list would be to buy an electric car to completely eliminate the cost of gasoline and maintenance.

The conclusion I’ve come to, obviously, is that the best way to solve a problem is by collecting and analyzing data. These solutions should assist with that, and should point me in the direction of a better, more efficient life.

One Year of Credit Card Rewards

So it’s been one year that I’ve built up rewards on my credit card. Let’s see how I’ve done.

Citi Double Cash $735.21 Most used card. 2% on everything
Barclaycard Sallie Mae $279.91 Gas and groceries at 5%
Chase Freedom $356.88 Most of this probably from when dining was 5% for Q2
Chase Sapphire $84.31 Not really using
Credit Union Visa $50.20 1%?
TOTAL $1506.51

So I made $1500, for essentially doing nothing but using credit cards strategically in place of a debit card.

Thoughts on these cards. The Double Cash is essential to the strategy; 1% cash back almost isn’t even worth it, but 2% is a game changer.
The Sallie Mae is worth using, considering gas and groceries are things I buy all the time, and groceries in particular are expensive. Unfortunately, this card is no longer available, but at least I’m grandfathered in for now.
For the Chase Freedom, I’m actually shocked at how much I made, considering how little it was used, at least in Q3 and Q4 it wasn’t used at all. Chase Sapphire wasn’t really used at all.
My Credit Union’s card is awful. For as often as Stacie uses it and how much she charges to it, $50 is a joke. And to add insult to injury, the points expire. I really need to get rid of it.

Will I do it again next year? You bet. Free money is free money.

New Years Resolutions

Last year, my New Years Resolution was to pay off the mortgage on my condo — which I did. It was sort of a bittersweet moment in that I forked over a hard-earned $55k for a property that was now only worth $35k, but it was either that or spend the next 11 years paying that plus another $25k in interest. Now it’s mine, and I can pocket the rent on it instead of forwarding it to the mortgage company. This also leaves me looking toward my last, final debt, which is the mortgage on my house. The house won’t be easy, but the quicker I can pay it off, the quicker I can move on to the financial independence chapter of my life.

This year, I want to spend some time on myself. I have gained 20 pounds over the last couple of years, partly due to less-than-good eating, and partly due to a sedentary lifestyle. I plan to alleviate this through diet and exercise. Walking a mile or more every day, plus sticking to a 1700 calorie diet should hopefully get me where I used to be, if I can follow through with it all year. I plan to use MyFitnessPal.com to keep me focused, and give me the quantitative data I so desperately desire.

In a way, I feel like this year I started becoming an everyday man. I don’t feel like a twenty-something special snowflake anymore; that honeymoon is over. Now I’m just your average Joe beergut wanting to lose weight this year while watching TV and eating Cheetos. These next ten years of my life are going to be that test everyone goes through, where they have to decide whether they’re going fall in line, be good consumers, and raise a family… or do something different with their lives. I’m not going to settle down just yet. I’m going to live a fantastic life, and I’m going to start by giving it the funding it needs. I want to travel the world, help others, learn new things, and relax with what makes me happy. I can do more of this with money, and I can get money by investing, and not being in debt up to my eyeballs.

I also have to remember where I came from, and how the decisions I made brought me to where I am now. When given the chance, I decided not to hang out with bad people. Not to do drugs. Not to let prostitutes in my car. Not to steal from businesses. Not to hold grudges. And especially, not to settle with being some everyday shemp. The downward spiral happens the minute you decide to do any of this, and it’s not going to happen this year, or ever.

A Millennial’s Guide to Financial Success

by A. Millennial

Below are a few lessons I’ve learned about money that I hope will help other millennials, or any other generations for that matter.

Stop letting the media and politicians scare you.
Now is a great time to be alive. Houses are cheap, interest rates can’t get any lower, the stock market keeps chugging along, jobs are plenty (yes they are, quit making excuses), and cars get more MPGs than ever. Stop worrying about the next bank failure and start making your money work for you.

Decide what you need and how much your salary must be to achieve this.
Do you want a waterfront mansion when you retire? Do you want to travel to every country in the world? That’s awesome, now figure how much you’ll need to save and start bringing it home. But do you really need those things? Maybe you do. Or maybe all you need is a Volkswagen to tow your tinyhouse around to where the jobs are. That’s cool too… but whatever you need, stop sitting around and start making it happen.

Live within your means.
Try to spend only 50%-80% of what you make. If you are living paycheck to paycheck, you’re doing it wrong. Those leftovers are what create your net worth, and with no money in savings, you’ll be perpetually broke the rest of your life.

Stop hating capitalism.
Capitalism is such a great system here because there’s such an abundance of labor needed to make the products and services we use. One day robots will take over labor and capitalism might go away, but until then, you are responsible for winning your own bread. There are a million ways to be a millionaire in America, if you have the motivation to be one.

Stop buying stuff.
If you have something you never use, get rid of it. If you’re only going to use something occasionally, rent or borrow it. Resist the urge to go nuts with a hobby, stop buying crap you don’t need, and break the endless upgrade cycle. Most importantly, keep away from luxury stuff. Most millionaires don’t even buy into that kind of lifestyle.

If you must buy, buy modular.
For the stuff you buy, find something that can solve multiple problems, even if it costs more. Buy a multi-tool instead of 5 separate tools. Buy a desktop PC instead of a laptop, so you can upgrade it when needed. Buy an adjustable ladder instead of 3 ladder sizes. Find apps for your smartphone that replace the need for a standalone gadget. As long as you can appreciate all functionality in something, go with the thing that does more, and/or will stay running longer.

Don’t have a wedding.
Weddings are a massive waste of money. Get married (or not!) and celebrate, but there’s no reason to make a complicated scene out of something that is becoming increasingly meaningless in society. Avoid marriage for as long as you can, as long as your partner agrees. In the long run, marriage can do more harm than good to your finances, especially in the event of a divorce, which is mathematically probable.

Stop being a victim of society.
You can blame politicians, boomers, parents, the 1%, the Man, the Illuminati, the kyriarchy, the voices in your head, whomever you want all day for your financial problems, but not doing something about it is YOUR FAULT. Yes, you’re a victim, and yes, I’m blaming you. We’re all victims. But this is your life… make it what you want it to be, and leap any obstacle that gets in your way like the millions before you have.

Don’t work hard, work smart.
“Hard work” is such a meaningless phrase. Digging holes and filling them is hard work, but not practical. Retail is hard work, but not rewarding. Roofing is hard work, but will wreak havoc on your health. Work smart instead. Automate your work tasks whenever possible, or figure out how to simplify them. If work is hard, that usually means a tool needs to be invented to make the work easy. Make that tool.

Don’t work a job that sucks.
Enjoy what you do, there’s just no excuse not to. If you hate your job, find a better one and quit. If you don’t like your career, learn a new one. Doing what you hate to make enough money to keep hating life, is a waste of a life.

Understand that time is money.
Every hour you play video games, watch TV, or surf Facebook, is wasted. You will learn next to nothing. Cancel your cable (yes, even Netflix). Make your time count for something, unless it’s Friday night.

Avoid drugs.
Alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, etc. are a massive black hole for your money. They will do more harm in the long run than good, so keep this stuff to a minimum, or cut it out of your life completely.

Make food at home.
Buy a dutch oven, stand mixer, and food processor, and suddenly cooking will be fast, fun, and nutritious. Cut down on your meat intake. Experiment with generic brands and see which ones are equal or better than name brands.

Be honest about whether or not you need a degree.
Do you want to be a lawyer? Doctor? Architect? Engineer? Go to college.
Something else? You probably don’t need it, brah. But don’t take my word for it, do your own research, and don’t be afraid of the conclusion; it may save you $30k or more. Community college is also a great way to get a great education for much less.

Stop listening to Dave Ramsey.
“I love Dave’s teachings, except when he says to do X. And Y… and Z….” I know, I’ve heard it a thousand times.
I’m not a Dave hater or anything, but his method has a massive, obvious flaw: psychology over reality. This is why his books sell so well. However, he is giving you mathematically unsound advice. Credit cards are not the devil. Having a 30y mortgage and investing the savings is usually a better idea than a 15y. Expecting the stock market to yield 12% a year is a bad idea. Buying a beater car is going to cause more problems than it solves. Leaving money under the mattress instead of investing it is incredibly stupid. Paying off your high interest debt first is usually better than paying off the low balances.
If you are irresponsible with your money, than fine, you should use his method. But if you can trust yourself with your own cash, do things the right way.

Don’t be afraid of investing.
One of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t start investing until later in life. Nowadays there are so many ways to do it, but the most common way is, of course, the stock market. If you don’t have time to research companies to invest in, use something like Motif; prefab portfolios are built for you by experts, which you can buy up and watch them grow; it’s really that easy. I use it and its a wonderful system and takes a lot of the complication out of investing. If you want hands-free investing, try Betterment. There are tons of great services out there that help you diversify better than the old Charles Schwab model. Don’t invest the way your dad did.

Start a 401K or Roth IRA. Now.
Don’t have one at work? Make one for yourself. You can use pretty much any trading platform for this. Don’t be like the millions of boomers who didn’t have a plan for retirement.

Be frugal. Don’t be a cheapskate.
Frugal living blogs are all the rage these days, but some of the advice is ridiculous. Before you try to find out the exact amount of bathroom tissue it takes to get the job done, or turn your swimming pool into an aquaponic garden, listen. Your life isn’t worth pinching extreme pennies over. You’ll get stressed out and that’s no fun. Instead, find out where your money is going and figure out where significant corners can be cut without sacrificing your sanity.

Credit cards are not evil. Just don’t carry a balance.
Credit cards can open up thousands of free dollars and give you free vacations, if you are responsible. Always, ALWAYS pay off a credit card in full every month. Also, don’t mess with credit card churning, as this loophole is slowly being closed up.

Pay for large purchases in cash, when possible.
You probably can’t buy a house in cash, but at least use cash for vehicles. The more lines of credit you have open, the more enslaved you are, and the more money you’re losing to interest.

Create a spreadsheet of your ongoing expenses.
I use Google Docs to keep track of all my bills and when I’ve paid them. If I don’t have this checklist, I’ll forget, and then I’ll have a bigger financial problem. Also, it helps to see what’s coming up, how much is left to pay off a loan, and where your money is going.

Log into Mint.com at least once a week.
If you don’t have a Mint account, get one immediately; it will change your life. Mint allows you to link all your financial accounts into one magical system. You will have transaction history, goals, charts and graphs with income and expenses, and a place to track investments. Once you have a Mint account, you should log in every other day and keep track of what’s going on with your money. Mint is a must-have, and I can’t really stress this enough. If you don’t have Mint, stop reading this article and create an account *now*.

Get an online savings account.
Don’t bother with the awful interest rate your bank or credit union is offering. Instead, try opening an online account with Ally Bank, where there are MUCH better (but still relatively poor compared to the good old days) savings rates. Don’t bother with CDs and Money Market, as they don’t offer much more than an online savings account right now.

Negotiate your bills.
Your mortgage is usually a good place to start. Check around to see if you can get a better homeowner insurance rate, and check your property records to make sure you aren’t overpaying on taxes (screwups are extremely common). Jack up the deductibles on your car insurance. Also, cell phone companies are currently caught up in some fierce competition right now, so threaten to leave if they won’t cut your bill down… and if they don’t, dump them for a cheaper company. Right now T-Mobile seems to be leading the charge to dirt cheap unlimited plans.

Go green to save money on utility bills.
Buy a wifi thermostat. Automate your ceilings fans and drapes. Replace your old appliances with energy efficient ones. If you have the money, go solar, buy low-e windows, or get a geothermal AC. If you need a new roof, go with a reflective metal roof.

Have a second stream of income.
Make money on the side by turning a hobby or talent into a business. Places like Etsy and Bigcartel make it easy to sell products online. Or, take a second job. There are lots of evening jobs out there looking to hire. You can also look at investing at places like Prosper or Lending Club.

Keep your credit score clean.
Your credit score should be north of 750. Do you know what your score is? If not, use Mint.com to track it for free. Also, you are entitled to a free credit report every year. Credit reports won’t give you the exact number like Mint does, but it’ll tell you exactly why your numbers are what they are.

Found where you want to live? Now buy a house.
Owning a house outright is the smartest thing you can do for your future. You will have a much smaller overhead when living off your retirement, you can’t lose your shelter, and you have something to pass on to your family. Or if you need to sell it, it will likely increase in value.

Have a house? Buy another one.
Real estate is a good way to make extra cash, but the more tenants you have, the more headaches will come with it. Are you a handyman? You’re about to become one. Being handy is a great way to save money, anyway.

Trade in your car for something more economical.
Buy electric if you can; there are 80% fewer parts and cost pennies a “gallon”. If you can’t buy electric, try a hybrid or a subcompact with good mileage. When you can, use a bike.

Understand the difference between retired and semi-retired.
If you read blogs like Mr. Money Mustache, you’ve been told that the way to retire is the save up hundreds of thousands, then spend the next 50 years of your live living off of 25k a year. This sounds like it might work for some, but you have to consider what will get in the way: market crashes, inflation, medical emergencies, lawsuits, and other disasters you aren’t insured for. And what about vacations? College funds? Or otherwise living the good life?
Quitting your career at age 30 is a dangerous way to retire. As long as you can work in your field, do it. If you absolutely want to live in a tinyhouse and live off of ramen instead of helping the world solve problems, go for it. I seriously understand that millennials live for that stuff–but it isn’t retirement. You’ll still end up working, and it’ll probably be somewhere less rewarding.

Know your net worth.
The best way to calculate this is Mint.com. Throw in your home value, car value, and all non-consumable assets worth more than $50. Subtract your debt and loans, and that’s what you’re worth. This number should be increasing steadily every month. If the number is negative, your mission in life is to make it positive. If positive, your goal is to shoot it to the moon as fast as possible by bringing in more income and/or paying off debts. Every year, re-calculate your home and car value using Zillow and KBB.

Understand that money passively works for you.
If you know how to invest, money at rest makes more money. This money can then be reinvested, making more money. The easiest way to create wealth is to create snowballs and roll them down mountains. You won’t “get rich quick”, but this method is far less risky than any scheme.

Diversify.
Don’t just do one thing on this list, do as many as you can. For investing in general, don’t put all of your eggs in one basket.

Don’t get too obsessed with money.
Money can’t buy happiness, but it can buy peace of mind. However, once in awhile you need to step back and appreciate the world, the people you care about, and other things that money can’t buy. Life isn’t about money, it’s about what you do with what you have and the mark you leave behind. Money can help you accomplish these things, but it is only a means to an end.

When you conquer this list and there’s nothing left to do… give.
The saying goes, “It’s better to give than to receive,” and it’s true. Give to those in need. Donate time and money to your community. Life isn’t a competition. Help people do what you did by teaching them to fish. Take care of yourself first, but be altruistic when you can. You can be both selfish and selfless depending on when your needs have been met.

Home Automation Reviews Galore

Universal Devices ISY994i

After deciding the basic SmartHome Insteon Hub wasn’t going to cut it for my home hacking experiments, I decided to bring in the big guns. Universal Devices’ ISY994i is an incredible piece of home automation machinery, and worth every penny.

Everything you need, it does out of the box: Static IPs, remote capabilities, upgradability, complex scripting, and more. If you want to take it to extremes, you can add a Z-Wave dongle, ELK interface, and more. Plus, it has a wonderful REST API so you can easily write your own software and apps for it. It’d be nice if you could have it return JSON instead of XML, but hey, that’s a minor complaint.

First Alert OneLink SCO501CN-3ST + Insteon Smoke Bridge

This is the sort of stuff I look for in home automation. I don’t care about controlling my lights and fans, and other cheesy stuff; I mainly want to collect data, keep the house efficient, and alert me immediately if something has gone wrong. Imagine if your house was on fire or had a carbon monoxide leak, and you were able to receive an alert even when you were away from your house? Wouldn’t that easily be worth a few hundred dollars?

First Alert’s OneLink system doesn’t do this out of the box, but once you add SmartHome’s Insteon Smoke Bridge, you can do just that. Via scripts, you can send emails or texts explaining the scenario (fire or CO), that way you can check your cameras, call 911, etc.. It could save lives, and save your house.

Even without the Smoke Bridge, the OneLink system is a pretty advanced smoke detector system. Maybe not as advanced as the Nest Protect, but it doesn’t need to be either. It will warn you with voice when it detects an issue, and will broadcast it to every smoke detector in your home. That way, if your kitchen catches fire while you’re upstairs in bed, you are guaranteed to hear it and find out about it early, making evacuation much safer.

Why this solution and not the Nest Protect? I wanted something that would work with my Insteon network, and would look less like a big ugly box on my ceiling. This entire system also cost less than a single Nest Protect (minus the Insteon hub).

Insteon Leak Sensor

When I first moved into my house, disaster struck two weeks in. My tankless water heater suddenly decided to fail, and by fail I mean it burst a pipe and spilled water into the kitchen downstairs. A lot of water. Luckily I was there to shut off the main, otherwise it would have caused thousands of dollars in damage. Since then, I have lived in fear of the same thing happening again. But not anymore.

This leak sensor came with the Insteon starter kit I got, and I couldn’t be happier with the way it works. The second it detects water on the floor, it sends a notice to your Insteon controller, allowing you to take necessary action. For me, this means an email and text, but if I were inclined to do so, I could add an electronic valve to the main to allow my Insteon controller to shut off water to the house. Cool, right? Next, I want to buy a second one of these to put in the laundry room, where most of the water accidents tend to happen these days.

Every home should have two of these.

Morning Industry QF Series Deadbolt + SmartHome MorningLinc

This was my favorite of all purchases so far. This deadbolt allows you to electronically unlock your door in 3 ways: traditional key, keypad, and RF keyfob. The keyfob doesn’t work from more than 15 feet, but the keypad works great. I’m sure the regular keys work, but I don’t think I’ll ever need them.

Adding in the MorningLinc bridge to an outlet in the next room, I was able to easily link my Insteon home automation network to the deadbolt, so that I can set a schedule to automatically lock/unlock the door, lock it from the app I made, etc.. Really, this is the best part about the whole setup.

My only gripe with this setup is I’m unable to have Insteon query the device to see if it is currently locked or unlocked, and I have no way of auditing the system to see who has entered and left the house (you can set up to 10 unique codes). Also, if you try to make Insteon lock the door and it has been manually unlocked with the deadbolt (or vice versa), it will not trigger correctly. However, I was able to work around this by having my Insteon scripts run both commands at the same time, ending with the one I want. This forces the unit to synchronize, even if it occasionally has to run both commands one after another.

I love this thing, and I can’t imagine life without it. I only wish it had Bluetooth Smart or NFC support.

Skybell

I finally got around to installing my new wifi doorbell, which is a Skybell. It is one of those Kickstarter-y projects that came out of the gate with lots of bugs, but as of this writing, the firmware updates seem to have ironed out whatever it was people were complaining about. Mine had some problems out of the box, but once I got it going, it has proven fairly stable.

So the problems. First of all, when they say you need a 1.5mb upload capability on your ISP, they are serious. Unfortunately, my bargain Comcast account is 1mb upload, so it can sometimes choke on a connection. This will be made worse if you can’t get your wifi strong enough, which becomes a huge task when you have a brick house like I do, and the room the router is in is surrounded by brick walls on four sides (because it used to be a garage). My old repeater wasn’t doing the trick, so I upgraded to a Netgear EX6200 AC1200 High Power 700Mw Dual Band Range Extender, which is so amazing I should write a separate review about it. Seriously, this thing carries several houses away and barrels through brick.

Anyway, the Skybell. Syncing didn’t always work the first time, and often it would fail so many times it would get stuck in reset mode, which required me to unhook a wire from the low voltage transformer on my doorbell to hard reset it. Not a big deal, but kind of annoying. Once it syncs, you never have to do it again.

Now for the good: the doorbell notification works every time, immediately. Calling the camera to view it works most of the time even on my lousy internet connection. Listening and talking works. The quality of all three are generally not spectacular, but considering how small it is, it works pretty decent. Motion detection works, but all it does is trigger a doorbell notification, and that wasn’t really the way I wanted it to work, so I turned it off. What it ends up doing is it rings the bell automatically if someone sits there, and I was ending up with a few false positives since it sees cars driving past my house.

Overall, I like it, but what I’d really like is an open API. Not only would I love to be able to access it from third party software or a web browser, but I’d love to be able to access it directly without the use of their cloud. Mostly because, if Skybell went out of business, all I’d have left is a big ugly doorbell with no extended functionality.

My Advice to Everyone

Write.

There is so much emphasis these days on reading and how it will open up your life. And don’t get me wrong, it will. However, I think the best thing anybody can do for their careers is to write, and write well.

Looking back at the successes in my life, almost all of it had to do with writing. Awards and contests. Scholarships. Honors. Jobs. Promotions. In almost all of this, writing was involved. I’m not the greatest writer in the world… I can ramble, jump around, list things endlessly, and generally fail to end sentences, but the important thing is I’m comfortable writing and know how to convey a basic message. My advice to anyone who wants to get what they want out of life has always been to master writing as best you can.

Be a good speller; with spellcheckers integrated in everything, there’s no excuse for bad spelling.

Get good at grammar; understand capitalization and punctuation rules, and know where the apostrophe goes.

Be concise, but be complete. Don’t leave out details, but don’t go off on unimportant tangents.

Organize your thoughts. Have a main idea. Give supporting details. Structure your paragraphs so they make sense.

Bend the rules if you know what you’re doing. I break rules all the time if I think it will help my communication. Because sentence fragments.

Sound smart without sounding pretentious. There is nothing more amateurish than individuals who use recherché lexicon in order to impart an elementary communication of their mind. It makes you sound like an idiot.

Write poetry.

Life isn’t Twitter—write as much as you need to write, no more, no less.

A picture is worth a thousand words. Therefore, get a visual in your head and write what you see.

Start a blog. Own your thoughts and don’t be ashamed to make them public; just make sure to have the right ideas.

Before you open your mouth… research. Don’t let your uneducated opinions control your communications.

If you have writer’s block, you didn’t brainstorm properly. Organize your thoughts in Notepad and return to battle when you’ve got the map laid out.

Know when you’ve written enough, and shut up.

Upcycle Your Old Smartphones and Tablets

I’m not normally much of a hippie or a Martha Stewart type, but I somehow got to thinking about the technology graveyard in my closet. Everyone has one. You know, the one with your clickwheel iPod, the Kyocera phone with an LCD screen, or the 2 megapixel Sony camera. The stuff your phone replaced, and then two more phones replaced that before they themselves ended up in the graveyard.

So what’s in my tech graveyard? Lots of stuff I thought was amazing back in the day. A Casio Databank calculator watch, a 40gb Flashtrax, a 128mb MP3 player, a GP32, a Nokia N-Gage, and the list goes on. Also, two old iPods (1st Gen, 4th Gen) and an iPhone 3G. I got to thinking, you know, these iPods could live a new life as a tiny photo frame, or clock, or kitchen computer, or…

…maybe an IP camera? Is that even possible?

It is, actually.

In my attempt to turn these old iOS devices into IP cameras, I found a couple of apps that did the trick. The first one I tried was IP Cam Pro by Senstic. This one was all right, but I ended up going with ipCam by SKJM, which was a more compatible solution, and cheaper. Don’t let the reviews scare you, those people obviously don’t understand what an IP camera actually does. ipCam runs all the way down to iOS 4, which meant I could use the old iPhone 3G and iPod 4th Gen, but not the first gen Touch, so that one went back to the graveyard. However, once attached to a solution such as a Belkin video dock, you now have a working IP camera from something that was collecting dust. Be sure to set a static IP on the device and you’re all set.

I also attempted this with my old Android 2.3 phone, and it was even easier. I used IP Webcam by Pavel Khlebovich, which is an excellent piece of software, and free for what I needed it for. Of course, with Android you have true multitasking, which allows this program to hide in the background and start on bootup. This additionally allows you to give the old phone a secondary use while it sits in a dock, so I figured a photo frame / clock would be a great option. The app I chose was Photo Slides by Softick, which was also free and worked beautifully. As a bonus, you can set it to automatically start itself when connected to a charger, and close when disengaged, making it able to start on bootup and close itself if you want to remove it from the dock and use it as a surfing device. So from a cold bootup, it works 100% without having to configure or launch anything.

The Android solution of installing IP Webcam + Photo Slides ended up being an incredibly useful way to reuse a graveyard-bound smartphone. The iOS devices, on the other hand, can’t do anything but show the camera feed or show a blank screen, and neither of those keep it from being an eyesore. I wrote an email to the developer of ipCam to see if something could be done about that, but we’ll see. Knowing Apple, probably not.

Now my house seems to be covered in cameras, and my concerns start, since I don’t want to creep out visitors. However, I think the Android solution at least is a bit more elegant and discreet. People don’t get that big brother feeling in their stomach while staring at a smartphone, like they do staring at an IP camera hanging from the ceiling. And obviously, there are some places where the cameras should never be. In my house, for instance, the 2nd floor (all bedrooms) is a camera-free zone, and the computer rooms as well.

Anyway. I also had an iPad 3rd Gen laying around that only gets used when I’m developing stuff. Although I could go the ipCam route with it, I decided I always wanted a refrigerator with a tablet built in, but didn’t want to spend $4k for it.

The solution? I purchased a tablet refrigerator mount and a 10ft charger cable on eBay. Then I ran the cable around the fridge with neodymium magnets. Easy as that, and now my $400 fridge is a $4k fridge. It got me thinking, I’d like to make a “FridgeOS” app for it. Something with recipes, inventory, shopping list, and other goodies. Perhaps I’ll develop this another day. Perhaps one day I won’t be busy.

The 21st Century Gentleman

In the middle of one of those tired old “is chivalry dead?” arguments I got to thinking about what makes a modern gentleman. Given that chivalry is no longer part of what makes a gentleman (good riddance), it raises the question of how a classy gentleman could be defined these days. I think this is pretty much how I would define it, and by the way, in the spirit of equality, this list should generally apply to ladies as well.

Rule 1: Absolutely no fedoras. Being an obnoxiously-dressed neckbeard does not make one a gentleman. Unless you can successfully rock a zoot suit in your ’90s style ska band, don’t wear a fedora/trilby… and if you are in a ska band, you should really question the direction your life is going.

Rule 2: The modern gentleman rarely discusses religion and politics. When he does, it is discussed with tact and civility, and usually only with friends and family. A gentleman does not spread fake quotes through social media and complain about political correctness. He does not spend his time on social media whining about being short-changed by some race/gender/orientation. He does not post conspiracy theories on social media.

Rule 3: A gentleman brushes his teeth. Shaves. Smells nice. I don’t know why I have to post this, but a gentleman does not make public distasteful noises and/or smells with his body. For some reason IT staff have a hard time grasping this.

Rule 4: A gentleman has a go-to drink. Maybe he enjoys single malt whisky. Maybe he’s more of a mai-tai guy (no shame in that in the 21st century). If he’s creative, he has his own signature cocktails. He has something he can come home to after a hard day.

Rule 5: A gentleman is chivalrous… to everyone. Chivalry is dead not because it’s wrong to be nice to women, but because equal courtesy should be extended to men as well. Be respectful to all that haven’t lost your respect, but never be patronizing or sexist.

Rule 6: A gentleman respects that everyone has a different journey in life. Until you walk a mile in someone’s shoes, never accuse them of having some sort of privilege that you don’t, or that their lifestyle is inferior to yours. That’s tacky and rude. So what if someone was born into a rich family? So what if someone is on welfare?

Rule 7: A gentleman has hobbies, but doesn’t take them too far. Men are the worst at this. Don’t spend a large portion of your money to complete a video game collection or buy recreational drugs. Don’t have more cars than will fit in your garage. Don’t own 142 guns. And for the love of God, don’t buy giant inflatable ponies to keep in your bedroom.

Rule 8: A gentleman knows when to censor himself. Restrain yourself from overuse of expletives, or they lose their effect. A 21st century gentleman can curse sparingly, but not within earshot of unknown parties. Avoid discussions of genitalia, especially at the table. Art is art, but conversation is ultimately an art of restraint.

Rule 9: A gentleman can find social and intellectual well-being without drugs and alcohol, if necessary. A gentleman knows his limit and actively avoids getting drunk and obnoxious.

Rule 10: A gentleman is never a victim. A gentleman accepts their life as the sum of what they have put into it. It may not be exactly what they want it to be, but…

Rule 11: A gentleman is driven. They know what they want out of their life, and they spend every day trying to achieve. However, a gentleman is capable of relaxing and leaving work problems at work.

Rule 12: A gentleman has few enemies. They don’t start petty fights on social media. They forgive those who have wronged them, because having many enemies makes life even more difficult and emotionally draining.

Rule 13: A gentleman does not objectify the gender of his affection. However, he doesn’t allow the opposite sex to shame him when he wants to empower himself.

Rule 14: A gentleman is calm. He doesn’t freak out over things. A gentleman doesn’t get outraged every week on Facebook.

Rule 15: A gentleman is unique. You cannot place a gentleman into a subculture just by looking at him. He is not part of any collective. He is himself, and is comfortable being himself.

Rule 16: A gentleman is independent. He is organized and knows how to cook and clean when necessary. He doesn’t rely on others to carry him through life.

Rule 17: A gentleman surprises others with their compassion when it is not expected. He is kind and charitable.

Rule 18: A gentleman does not enter into a relationship he does not belong in.

Rule 19: A gentleman has healthy masculinity, but is not afraid of having a feminine side. Some may wear a scarf. Some may carry a man-purse. But no hipster may ever be a gentleman (see #15).

Rule 20: A gentleman does not boast about his finances, and lives a modest lifestyle.

Disclaimer: I am not the perfect gentleman, as I fail a few rules. Most people do. In my opinion, one should strive for as many of these as possible.

My First World Problem

My sense of smell is completely gone.

Apparently this happens after a long battle with the flu. It has been several months since I got over the worst sickness I’ve ever had in my life, and I still have not regained my ability to smell. It seems like it would be a trivial thing, but it has affected my life in unfortunate ways. My ability to taste food has been muted about 20-50%. I can’t tell if milk is expired. I can’t tell if the oven is burning. I can’t smell freshly-cut grass, a woman’s perfume, or summer flowers in the morning rain, or any number of random smells that unlock some faint memory from childhood you forgot you had. Honestly, it really sucks.

I guess I’ll see a doctor about it, but it’s probably one of those things that either comes back, or doesn’t. Once your olfactory nerves are damaged, that’s it, they’re gone forever. Sometimes I get hope, though. I can detect some smells if they’re pungent enough (pepper, vinegar, onions), but even then I think that is my nose reacting to those scents because of acid content, etc.. I can also sometimes detect some scents, but they do not smell the least bit correct… more like a moldy, mucus-y smell.

It could be worse, I suppose… I could have gone blind, or deaf, or lost a limb. Heck, people die from the flu all the time. But I still feel like I have to retrain myself to live life as best I can with what I have left.

Wi-Fi Thermostats are Awesome

There comes a time when a man is unsupervised for 2 weeks, and random household projects take place. Gutter cleaning, hedge trimming, pump re-piping, mysterious projects involving an angle grinder, and on top of all this, the start of what will become numerous home automation experiments.

Anyway, I made the purchase of a Wi-Fi thermostat. It is a Filtrete 3M-50, and it rocks. The same thermostat is also labeled as a Radio Thermostat CT50 and other models. I found mine as an open box model on eBay, figuring some poor guy bought it and couldn’t figure out the wiring. Judging by the few missing wire labels but otherwise perfect condition, I figured right.

Hardware installation was surprisingly easy. Thermostat wiring is somewhat standardized, although my Trane unit threw a curveball at me as far as the “C” wire, which happens to be the most important wire to get a modern thermostat working. On a Trane, it turns out this wire is labeled “B”, and it took some research to figure this out (even Nest’s website couldn’t determine my setup). Anyway, I put the 6 or so wires in their place, fired it up, and it has worked ever since.

The Wi-Fi setup is slightly weird, and maybe it doesn’t look as sexy as a Nest, but it works well, doesn’t need a battery, has a touchscreen, a scheduler, and an app to adjust temperature and scheduling settings. But the thing that sold me on it… get this, it has a well-documented JSON-based REST API. *drools uncontrollably*

Why did I buy this passé, beige, how-you-say… uninspired box when I could have bought a Nest? I guess this would be why…

1) Nest had no open API. The only info I could find was reverse-engineered. It looked nice though.
2) Nest requires the cloud. As far as I could tell, you can’t address it on your network directly.
3) I wasn’t sold on the automatic scheduling. It has to see you for that to work, and my thermostat is in a room with no real traffic.
4) Their website suggested it was incompatible with my wiring. This turned out to be untrue.
5) There are a lot of scary Amazon reviews out there. Either you love it, or it destroys your life (and freezes your pipes). Not much in-between.
6) It uses a lithium ion battery. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to replace the batteries on a thermostat every 3 years.
7) There was apparently a (forced) software update bug that bricked a lot of people’s thermostats in the middle of winter.
8) I don’t care what the hardware interface looks like… if it’s doing its job I shouldn’t have to look at it or touch it.

I’m not a Nest Labs hater or anything though. I like their Nest Protect product, even though it has a few problems of its own, and I may end up purchasing one or two of them. Heck, does anyone else make a Wi-Fi smoke detector?

So, I managed to write an extremely basic class in PHP that allows me to get and set the temperature, and I’ll be releasing it on GitHub soon as part of a big project I’m working on. A project which is getting closer and closer to release. 🙂