At Home with Tech

It’s time to maximize the potential of all your gadgets.

Tag: Foscam

Comfort Data to Feed Your Vacation Zen

What's it going to take to make your next vacation as carefree as a three year old experiences it?  Well, you'll need a little tech at your side to maintain a small but steady stream of ‘Comfort Data.’

What’s it going to take to make your next vacation as carefree as a three year old experiences it? Well, you’ll need a little tech at your side to maintain a small but steady stream of ‘Comfort Data.’

As we’ve arrived at the unofficial end of summer, I think it fitting to conclude my season-long investigation on the nexus between:

  • House
  • Weather
  • Home tech
  • and my blood pressure!

Consider this…
You take one last look at your house as you drive away on your late-summer vacation.
You’ve staged your home for low-occupancy use.
(The cats will hopefully use the time to catch up on some sleep…)

But your castle is essentially on its own.
Who knows what tomorrow will bring…
Natural disaster. Power outage. Alien attack.

As you turn the corner towards your relaxing journey, you smile at your family and secretly wonder if you will ever see your house again… in one piece.
(A slightly catastrophic perspective… but don’t tell me the thought has never crossed your mind.)

Are you enjoying your Vacation Zen yet?

Your Tech Always Comes Along for the Ride
Disconnecting from your daily routine is the foundation of recharging yourself on vacation. And that usually means putting down the work BlackBerry and personal smartphone.
But hey, how many of you spend zero time with your iPhone or Droid while soaking up your summer sun?

You’re not disconnected at all.
And you like it that way…

  • Send that text
  • Update your Facebook page
  • Make the phone call

The digital ‘wish you were here’ moments fly off your digits.

So if you continue to keep in touch with every part of your life, why can’t you use the same tech to monitor your house’s life signs?

Well, of course you can…

Comfort Data
I’m back from more beach R&R, and I’m happy to report my house is still in one piece.
(I know you’d be worried for me.)
More importantly, I didn’t have to wait to get home to arrive at this conclusion.  I received enough ‘Comfort Data’ via my iPhone along the way.

I’ve been enjoying the benefits of having made my house a ‘wee bit’ smarter.
Now it shares its vital signs wherever I go.

And this ongoing evolution helped to make this vacation more relaxing than my earlier summer jaunt…

Let’s review my three tech muses that now feed my Comfort Data stream…

Nest – Keeping It Cool
Recently, I installed a Nest Learning Thermostat to give me remote access to my home’s HVAC system.
This vacation was the perfect opportunity to see if my pricey investment was worth it.

Each beach morning, I sat down with my cup of Joe, reflecting a bit while the early sun illuminated the calm water, and then I opened up the Nest app on my iPhone to confirm my house was as temperate as my current surroundings.

(All my windows were closed at home to avoid the possibility of wind-swept rain damage. But that choice also removed the opportunity for my house to breath in all that chilly late-summer night air.
So my Nest really needed to keep things cool without running my AC 24/7.)

The Nest app powered up and showed me the current temperature in my living room. It knew I was away, because it didn’t sense any movement.
(Apparently, its software algorithms can filter out cats.)
Nest was holding the temperature steady just under my ‘Auto-Away’ setting.


Leaving Eyes Behind with Your Foscam
So Nest can make you Lord of the Temperature, but you’re still blind to everything else happening at home.
Well, not exactly…
Remember that Foscam IP baby monitor camera I installed last year…?

  • I walked it downstairs before the trip, so I could take a remote peek at the homestead while building sandcastles with my son
  • I also moved a digital thermometer next to the Foscam so the IP camera could visually confirm my Nest was behaving

This back-up temperature check gave me additional peace of mind to know the cats were comfortable and getting their beauty sleep.

One time, as I was having some fun remotely panning the Foscam about the room, I spotted one of my two felines studying the sudden movement.

I immediately froze the camera so as not to incite more interest and a direct encounter.
(My Foscam didn’t have the optional ‘anti-cat force field’ installed.)

Finally, the simple fact I could successfully monitor the happy status of my Foscam confirmed my home was still getting juice from the street.

Dark Sky Looks for Trouble Overhead
So if you were wondering… no, I wasn’t continuously preoccupied with my offsite tech throughout my vacation.

There was plenty of room left to apply the power of tech to my present environment…

I was forced to navigate a dodgy weather day at the beach, and I really needed some hyper-local weather forecasting.

My friend suggested I try a weather app called Dark Sky, which was created by a couple of cool-looking dudes via
a successful Kickstarter campaign.
(The name sounds like a bad sci-fi movie on late night TV.)

This app’s trick is to take real-time data from the National Weather Service, pair it with your specific location and offer you an accurate rain report for the next hour right where you are.

I downloaded Dark Sky from iTunes for $3.99 and gave it its first test drive the final morning of our trip as I was packing up the car with all our family gear.

The clouds looked a little ominous, and of course, I was curious to see if I’d be schlepping out all our gear in the rain…

I asked Dark Sky…
‘All clear for the next hour!’

So I took my time.

Ten minutes later, the droplets began bouncing off my head.

To be fair, it only rained for the next five minutes, and then it stopped.
The rest of the day’s precipitation held off till later that afternoon as per the forecast.
(An errant rain cloud in need of a diaper change?)

Clearly this rain predictor app wasn’t completely infallible, but it wasn’t entirely wrong either.

I gave it another try last week during lunch at work. I needed to run an errand, and it was pouring out. Dark Sky displayed there was no end to the storm for the next hour.
So I dashed out after waiting as long as I could.

As I made my return protected by my trusty Tumi umbrella, the heavy rain subsided to a drizzle.
While waiting for a red light on Sixth Avenue to change, I felt curious what Dark Sky had to say…

It was ready to impress and let me know we were in a window of drizzle for the next ten minutes.
(eerily accurate)

Okay, this app wasn’t so bad after all…

It’s Getting Chilly Already
So there you have it… my summer… made a bit more relaxing through the power of home tech.

Yes, it’s always a little sad when you have to say hello to September.

But the good news is you can keep some of that summer glow with you
year round with all your Comfort Data.

You’re going to need it…
Old Man Winter isn’t that far off!

I Don’t Know How to Install my Wireless IP Camera, Part 1

Say hi to HAL. Or you can call my BabyCam – Darth. Either way, this black Foscam Wireless IP camera represents the dark side of the Force until I can figure out how to get it hooked up. Join the resistance!

Some tech battles you tackle head on, some you don’t, and some you leave alone for another day.

And some tech riddles are clearly above your tech-grade.
The problems you’re not supposed to try to fix, or risk total “tech-tastrophe.”

It’s like entering the sacred kingdom of the true tech geek without a membership card.

And I don’t have one of those.
(My old Star Trek convention pass from 1977 doesn’t count.)

Sure, I know more about home tech than some, but you’ve heard the saying,
“The smarter you are, the dumber you feel.”

Often, I can get it work, but I’m not really sure how I did it.
Sound familiar?

Is There Time to Figure out the BabyCam and Have a Baby?
Two and a half years ago, I was running about the house, prepping for the stork’s arrival. What technologies did I need?!

“You should buy a baby monitor,” some of our friends cried out.

So I did some research and found a perfectly adequate Graco audio monitor with two receivers.

My first new parental tech “Aha Moment” was when I realized that one receiver wouldn’t cut it. You need two.
One to carry around until it runs out of juice and another one fully charged and ready to go when the first one poops out!
(no baby pun intended)

I bought the two-receiver system and proudly reported that we were baby ready.

“Just an audio monitor? Can’t it do video too!?”

“Sure… you’ve got to see your baby in his room!
Audio can’t tell you the whole story.
You’ve got to seeeeeeee him.”

I clearly had some catching up to do.

So I did more research, this time on wireless video/audio baby monitors and came up with the consensus that these devices worked… but just barely.
Lots of interference and static like a bad cordless phone.
Nobody I knew who owned one really like it.

But I had to have one!!

Next, I turned to IP baby webcams that transmit their signal via Wi-Fi through your home network. I scoured the web for reviews on which cameras would pair up nicely with my Apple ecosystem.

Back in 2010, it seemed most of these cameras were set up to work with PCs and not Macs. Yes, there were some that were designed to play with Apple, but their reviews were mixed.

Plus the set-up seemed complicated. The reviews didn’t mention it, but it was clear that having a Geek membership card was highly recommended.

Finally, a $200 investment for something that likely wouldn’t work?
(They’ve come down in price since then.)
I had diapers and rattles to stock up on!
This was not the time to get adventurous.

A Hole in the Wall
Then I had a flashback to 2004.
Do you remember that distant era which was still mostly devoid of Wi-Fi?
I do.

Eight years ago, I did a little surgery on my house in the name of web connectivity. Back then, if you wanted to get a computer online, it probably needed a hard-wired Ethernet connection.

For reasons I’ll not bore you with, my cable modem was in one room, and I wanted to get an Internet connection to a desktop computer across a little barrier called…


So get this-
When the cable guy arrived to install my cable modem, I told him to drill a hole between the two rooms for the CAT 5 network cable. Was that crazy or what?

And then he happily pulled out a drill bit that must have been two feet long and said,
“Let’s go!”

I still shudder at the memory.

Not long after that, I bought Apple’s Airport Extreme Base Station and brought Wi-Fi into the house.

And of course, the hole now served no purpose.

Everything Old is New Again
Fast forward back to 2010 and the countdown to Baby Lester.
So I had to face the simple reality:
I just didn’t have the energy and the hours to put towards figuring out the Wi-Fi BabyCam equation.

And then I remembered the hole.

The room with the hole was now the nursery.
What if I hard wired a little security camera from the nursery to a small TV in our bedroom?

You know… like the tiny camera that pops out of the ceiling at a convenience store and is connected via cable to a little TV at the register?

Like that.

I can sense all of the 1’s and 0’s in your brain convulsing in repulsion at my archaic idea.

Did anyone even sell this outdated tech anymore?
B&H did.
Fifty bucks.


I ran the cable through the wall with the knowing flair of the cable guy who hooks you up with HBO for the first time.

Flicked the switch on the TV.
And there it was… the crib. Waiting.

Time to move on for the big day.

The Skeleton in my Tech Closet
Baby Lester arrived with much fanfare and my technology was in place and ready to go. The IT Guy was a hero! (and a happy new daddy)

For the past two years, my little video umbilical cord has continued to provide countless hours of fun for my wife and me as we’ve watched our little boy sleeping from across the wall.

But the fact remains that I never stretched myself to get an IP webcam solution to work.
Heck, I didn’t even try!
Deep down, the happy home tech bubble that Barrett built has been quietly concealing this disturbing detail, and the guilt has weighed heavy.

For two years, I’ve tried not to think about it.
But the skeleton rattles about in the back of my head from time to time.

Just talking about it here makes me question my very “tech-dentity!”
What kind of home tech authority am I if I don’t even try to get a stinkin’ BabyCam to work?

I feel like I’m the one who needs to be in diapers.

But fate has a way of catching up with you.

The Crusade Begins
Guess what? I got a little present from a friend last week.

From a guy who’s a father to both a toddler and a baby.
And he’s clearly at home with tech.

He’s got a bunch of cool gizmos working for him.
In fact, he had an extra one he didn’t need.
Thought I might have a use for it.


It was a Foscam Wireless IP Camera (model FI8910W).


He whipped out his iPhone and showed me how he had programmed the camera’s live signal to beam to the iPhone.
Via Wi-Fi or 3G. Like magic.
He reholstered the phone and smiled.

I thanked him for the generous gift.
And my pulse began to rise.

Though my stodgy, tethered camera has been doing just fine serving up the Lester Toddler Channel to our bedroom, I knew it was finally time to cut the cord and face my demon.

And so I began my trip down the rabbit hole.
Because I simply had no idea how to install this Foscam IP camera.

So I opened up the instruction manual.
Immediately all went black. Confusion surrounded me.

There was a small disturbance in the Force as all of the world’s geeks collectively sensed the beginning of my surely futile crusade.

I would be facing my Darth Vader, and I simply was not yet ready for the challenge.

I would be confronted with confusing acronyms like DDNS and DHCP.
I would have to understand the ancient Jedi practice of port forwarding.
I would even have to grasp the difference between static and dynamic IP addresses.

This journey would surely break my Tech Zen.
But I had no choice but to continue on and risk it all.

Now that I’ve posted this Part 1, there’s no turning back now!

To be continued…

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