At Home with Tech

Figure out which consumer tech you need, the right gear to buy and how to use your new gadgets.

Tag: gadgets

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…

My iPad Doesn’t Brake for Flash

This PBS report took me just minutes to serve up to my wife during dinner. But as the resident technology chef at home, my meal got burned, because we couldn’t watch the video on our iPad. Whose fault is that?!

I was enjoying a quiet dinner with my wife on Friday night after putting our toddler to bed. Mid course, my wife mentioned an email she received from her brother about a TV report on the important topic of childhood diabetes and obesity his wife produced for the PBS series “Need to Know.”

The show was premiering that evening, and we were invited to tune in. The email also contained a link to the show’s webpage where the video already lived online.

I don’t think I’ve watched any TV in real time over the past year with the exception of some news and the Olympics.
(and that was mostly in ‘pretend’ real time)

Time shifting is really the only way I consume TV content these days. DVR it and watch it later.

But recording “Need to Know” on our cable DVR and watching it sometime the following week seemed like an insufficient response to such a happy email from a family member.

A more immediate response was required.

So I told my wife I would grab the iPad, and we could watch the video online over dessert. What’s faster than that?

Isn’t technology wonderful?
Except when…

I tapped the icon of the video to begin playing on the iPad, and nothing happened.

Oh, yeah. It’s a Flash video.

The IT Guy calmly stated that it was a well-known fact that Apple’s mobile products don’t use Adobe Flash Player, and so they don’t play Flash videos.

The Look
And then we gave each other the look. The look that says, “That’s nice, but it should really just work. We nodded to each other briefly and smiled, acknowledging the problem. We’d been there before.

But deep down, I was miffed.
I know my wife didn’t mind, but the shiny exterior of my home tech kingdom was dinged. And don’t tell her, but so was a little bit of my pride.

But you’ve got to move on.
And I had a back up plan.

I suggested we schlep over to my iMac in the other room to watch the video.
What an inconvenience!
The bananas flambé was ruined.
(It was actually just Trader Joe’s Apple Sauce.)

We proceeded to successfully watch my sister-in-law’s PBS report.

The Future has Arrived?
So, instead of having to go sit on the couch and wait for the PBS show to broadcast later that evening and then wait the for the particular story to run, we watched the report online within minutes of beginning our conversation.
That’s not so bad.

But the promise of today’s technology says we should have been able to do this in seconds through one or two clicks, tops.

Now, I’m not bickering over the loss of a few minutes.
But I could have done without the irritation that the shining beacon of home tech didn’t quite work right for me… again.

It’s 2012, and we’ve just landed on Mars again in a rather stunning fashion.
Did you all watch NASA’s Seven Minutes of Terror on YouTube?
After seeing all that amazing technology in harmony, shouldn’t something as straight forward as this be a non-issue?

Apple vs Adobe
A little history lesson-

In April, 2010, Steve Jobs posted his famous open letter to Adobe regarding his “Thoughts on Flash.”

It explained why Apple didn’t support Flash on Apple’s mobile devices-
Flash didn’t work with touch-based devices. It was a closed platform, created terrible battery life on mobile devices, and had poor reliability, security, and performance.
(Steve Jobs didn’t like Adobe, much.)

After this, Android users jumped up and down with glee, doing their superiority dance, and they happily watched their Flash videos on their Droids.

But last November in a surprise announcement, Adobe said it would no longer develop future versions of the Flash Player for mobile browsers.

Android users stopped jumping.

Adobe explained on its blog its decision to abandon Android’s mobile browser-

1- Premium experiences on mobile devices are typically being delivered through apps, and
2- Mobile websites mostly rely on HTML5 based video delivery.

Looks like Apple was right all along.

Adobe decided to focus on HTML5 technology for mobile viewing, which Apple has long supported. (Adobe will still continue to develop desktop versions of its Flash Player.)

So while Androids and BlackBerry PlayBooks still can play Flash-based videos today, that capability now has an expiration date.

The End of Flash for Android
On August 17th, Adobe removed its Flash Player from the Google Play store, which is the beginning of the end.
Existing users running Android 4.0 “Ice Cream Sandwich” will continue to get updates through September 2013.

If you’re one of the few trailblazers who already have Android 4.1 “Jelly Bean,” you’re out of luck now.

Mobile Apps are the Future
So all this said, why do websites still publish Flash-based videos that can’t be viewed on mobile devices?

Shouldn’t these companies all just have mobile versions of their websites to prevent this problem? Or why not just use the right technology for videos that can play on all platforms?

Hello…!? PBS?

Wait a minute… I’m suddenly channeling a likely response –

Just Download the mobile app.
Oh yeah. Everyone’s got one of those, these days.

So a couple days later, I took the iPad and tapped on Apple’s App Store, and of course, there was the PBS app.
I downloaded it, clicked on the “Need to Know” series, and then found the episode with my sister-in-law’s story.

There it was, thirty seconds later… playing on the iPad.

My Tech Pecs
The problem with this micro success is that it happened 48 hours after the moment I really needed it.
That particular instant when I wanted to flex my tech pecs in front of my wife.
(Married guys, you know what I mean.)

No one wants to deal with all those extra steps when clicking on a link that’s supposed to just… work. It’s a de-motivator.

The good news is we can redeem ourselves
There are lots more links out there to click on and get right.

Much like life, using home tech can be complicated.
But figuring things out can be fun (even a little), if you allow for it.

Just don’t forget-
Perfection is unnecessary, if you’re already getting it done.
Always have a back up plan.
And never lose site of what’s really important.

Especially on the night before your anniversary.

Enough said.

GPS Jane

My Garmin Nuvi took my family on a ride getting to our vacation. Then, my iPhone Maps app actually got us there.

The first time my wife and I drove with GPS navigational support was six years ago, while driving in a car rental out in San Francisco.

I should first mention that my wife is the official navigator in the family.
She loves maps and has only gotten lost once (in the woods) in all the time I’ve known her.
It’s probably not going too far to say that I’m moderately to severely geographically challenged. I could get lost driving down a straight highway.

I could blame this unfortunate fact that I grew up in New York City and never drove a car until after college. Good excuse? Well it’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

Driving around Fog City, I felt like I was in the car of the future. A portable navigation device using GPS (Global Positioning System) technology to take you anywhere you wanted to go. No more worrying how to get there.
I was sold, before I even got into the car.

My wife wasn’t so sure.
I was so charmed I set the device’s voice control to dictate its directions in a smooth female Australian accent.

And then I gave it a name.

[My wife joked about “the other woman.”]

The Other Woman
We ended up not following Jane’s directions much that day due to human/computer incompatibility. My wife had her map, and unless she saw the logic of the Aussie hussie, my wife called out an alternate course.

And though we collectively agreed there was little value to this circus show circuit freak, I purchased one within three months. (the Nuvi 760)

The name stuck, and eventually, the two north stars in my life came to some sort of understanding, and Jane became a welcome passenger on most of our big road trips.

Today, even though portable GPS navigation tech is a common consumer tech tool, and of course available in many car models and through our iPhones, we still use our aging Jane quite a lot. The fact that she talks still keeps her ahead of much of the still silent competition, unless you want to buy a costly GPS app for your iPhone.  (That said, I understand Android’s native free navigation capability is pretty awesome.)

And as of May, Garmin has sold over 100 million of its GPS products. So I’m not alone in my devotion to this magic tool that stretches my navigational capability.

Deep down, though, my two navigators still don’t get along.

And much like a bad movie where the “other woman” threatens the lives of a happy couple, I have finally begun to see the errors of my ways with Jane. But is it too late?

The Blind Leading the Blind?
First off, I’ve clearly become overly reliant on Jane.
I take Jane with me down the street to get a quart of milk.
New restaurant in the next town? Too far to risk getting there by myself.
I need my Jane!

And now that Jane has comfortably cemented herself to my life, something strange has begun to happen.
She’s getting lazy.

Her directions are sometimes, well… wrong.
And over time, the problem has gotten worse.
Her directions eventually get me where I want to go, but not always through a shortest route approach.

Yes, I know that road maps need to get updated from time to time, and you’ve also got to refresh your portable GPS unit’s memory with software updates.

About a year ago, I got an email from Garmin offering lifetime software updates for Jane. I took the deal, thinking I would never need to look for another portable navigator ever again.

Cue the ominous movie music…

Jane Takes a Vacation during our Vacation
Last weekend, the Lester family got into the car to kick off our little beach vacation on the North Fork of Long Island.

As usual, Jane was front and center as we headed out.
I type ‘Harbor Road’ into her keypad, but before I can complete my data input, she automatically suggests ‘ Harbour’ without allowing me another option.  She then happily locks in the address but also changes the two-digit house number to a non-related three-digit number.

It’s like the vacation address just doesn’t exist.
Am I in a Twilight Zone episode?
If only…

So I pull out my iPhone and repeat the same exercise to see how the Maps app handles the task.

Problem? What problem?
My iPhone quickly locks into our correct route.
There it is. Harbor Road, on the water.
Not Harbour Road, several blocks inland with an entirely different address.

My wife is driving.
So I have the flexibility to run both devices simultaneously.
A little competition, if you will. (Getting into the spirit of the Olympics.)

Let the Games Begin!
The two wonder machines run neck and neck until the last mile. I knew it would come down to the wire.
Then Jane says calmly, “Turn right.”

But iPhone Maps clearly points, Left!!

This is the moment of truth.
It was time to change the status quo.
I call out, “Take a left…Now!!

Jane proclaims her disapproval at my disobedience.
I firmly repeat my navigational act of anarchy.

My wife complies, and as our car begins its left turn, Jane admits defeat.
I look at her readout and it says, “Recalibrating…”

And in that moment, Jane lost her grip on me.
She eventually regains her composure and finally displays the original address I had wanted all along, as well as our now-correct bearing.

Too late, Jane.

She decides to acknowledge her error in the last minute of our journey?!
I don’t think so. This is the last straw.

I know. Jane and I are bonded together for life. Right?
Lifetime updates with no additional cost.
Doesn’t matter.
It’s time to make a change.

Jane, it’s over.

Let’s Just Remember the Good Times
My change of heart has nothing to do with the recent but separate tech announcements by Google Maps and Apple promoting even greater upcoming capabilities for smartphones. And even more irrelevance for dedicated GPS devices.

Wired has already declared, “The portable GPS device is dead.”

Nope. I’m not just reading the writing on the wall about Jane.
This time, it’s personal.

Where’s the Nearest Flower Shop?
Now I’ve got to woo back the one and only true navigator in my life.

So I decide to write my wife a little note to express the error of my ways and my true regret.

Dear Wife,

I’m sorry I ever doubted your navigational superiority.
Artificial intelligence can never match your keen sense of direction, and your innate capability to drive around a traffic jam, leaving all others in your dust.

I was wrong to ever trust Jane, when you are truly my one and only navigator.

Can you ever forgive me?


Your Geek

So I close the envelope and look around for my wife.
It’s suddenly way too quiet.
Oh no… She’s gone!

Don’t worry.
She just went shopping with a friend at a local farm stand on the side of the road, five miles away.
I should go find her.

But I don’t really know where she went.

Excuse me. I’ve got to go and find Jane.

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