Recent Books — Road to Character, Matchbox Theatre, Mists of Avalon, Pirate Hunters, Shadow Divers


  • The Road to Character by David Brooks. The opening essay (largely reprinted in the NY Times a while back) was terrific, but the character studies themselves were only OK. I would have preferred to see some more contemporary stories. Tho the message got through — building great character doesn’t come easily to anyone, it is a lifelong daily struggle, confronting and overcoming the weaker parts of your nature.
  • Matchbox Theatre by Michael Frayn. A quick read, some gems, but grew a little old.
  • The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley. Been on the shelf forever. Good read from a very different viewpoint, I’m not sure I could have waded thru yet another typical retelling of the story.
  • Shadow Divers by Robert Kurson. Great true story about deep sea divers after a mysterious U-boat. Great characters, life and death drama, an excellent window into a world I knew little about.
  • Pirate Hunters by Robert Kurson. An attempt to capture the magic again of Shadow Divers. A fine story but pales next to Shadow Divers.

Canary seems like a better Dropcam, modulo some quality issues

I installed the Canary home monitoring cam this am.

It is positioned as “Smart Home Security for Everyone”. It is about an 8” tall sleek cylinder with a usb power connection. Key product details:

  • HD camera with wide-angle lens + mic. Purportedly also has night vision support.
  • wifi or ethernet backhaul. If you choose wifi, rather than doing the private wifi network dance that many of these devices do, you use a provided audio mic cable and the smartphone app. the smartphone app sends setup info over the audio cable using modem protocols. it seems simpler than the wifi dance.
  • smartphone app
  • temperature, humidity, airquality monitor. also accelerometer, i guess you can monitor whether it is moved?
  • 90 db alarm. this only activates if you ask it to from the smartphone app.

You have several plan options:

  • Free: last 12 hours recorded, 5 clips in the cloud permanently. so this seems better than dropcam free tier.
  • $10/month: last 7 days always available, 50 clips stored permanently. dropcam-ish — i.e. egregiously expensive app-specific storage
  • $20/month: last 30 days available, 100 video clips stored permanently. In case you wanted even more egregiously expensive storage
  • $40/month: last 90 days available, 250 clips stored permanently. And even more.
  • for an additional $10/month they will hook you up to call center monitoring. i imagine that video is not sent to call center, just events (i.e. akin to existing home security systems). This seems like competitive pricing.

Initial Reactions:

  • install was painless. i like the audio cable approach. tho if the device has a camera, why do you need an audio cable at all — why can’t you just display a sequence of QR-codes (or equivalent) on the smart phone app.
  • it really struggles to deliver HD video over wifi. lots of frame drops. the video is close to unusable as a result. There must be a compression choice that could address this.
  • it uses your smartphone location to auto switch from home to away mode. i.e. when i am in the house, it notes events, but doesn’t send me alerts. when i leave house, it will start sending me alerts. this is nice.
  • it has a “privacy” mode where camera and mic are disabled.

This is a much more focused and complete security solution than drop cam — alarm, remote monitoring service, etc. Setup was simple. I could see replacing my dropcam with this.

It is still tho terribly expensive. The frame dropping issue is a problem. There might be some robustness issues, I’ve had some problems reliably connecting to my streams. If the quality improves tho this might be a good step up.

I am dubious about the Tesla Powerwall

buderusI spent the morning decoding error messages and tracing water lines for my radiant heat boiler. Initially the codes told me that I had insufficient water pressure on the feed line, and when I fixed that, then the boiler said that the output temperature was not responding as expected — likely because I left the resupply line open, and was trying to heat up a very large body of cold water. Or maybe not, because there is supposed to be a backflow valve preventing that. Whatever, I am operational again after downloading two very large manuals and learning more about burner error codes and operations than I ever wanted to.

This was on top of a separate plumbing issue we’ve been wrestling with for a month.

I don’t think most people want to spend time on the electricity, water, hot water, sewer, or other utilities. They just want it all to work when they hit the button. And are willing to spend a little bit of money to make that happen. Most people just want centrally supplied and centrally managed utilities. To switch to local supply/generation/storage, the savings have to be incredibly dramatic, or you have to value your time at a very low rate, or there must be no central alternative (ie off-grid locations). I am dubious that this will ever be the case in urban/suburban US or other major economies.

I also don’t want a 200 pound lump of lithium in my garage.

Recent Books — The Grapes of Math, The River of Doubt

  • The Grapes of Math by Alex Bellos. Supposed to be a fun exploration of math in our lives, but I don’t think anyone is going to really like this book. For people that hate math, there is too much math and too little backstory. For people like me who like math, there is too much rehashing of math we already know, and too little backstory.
  • The River of Doubt by Candace Millard. The story of Teddy Roosevelt’s Amazon expedition after his last failed presidential run. I never realized what an epic disaster this trip was, the team was in no way ready for the rigors of the Amazon. Great tale, makes me both want to see the Amazon basin, and terrified to see the Amazon basin.

Alexa, re-order three wolf moon shirt

This latest Amazon Echo feature is awesome and horrible. Amazon is making it so easy to buy things.


Re-ordering your favorite Prime products is now even easier with Echo — just use your voice. If you’re low on kitchen supplies, want to restock on snacks, or need more rolls of duct tape for the garage, simply ask Echo to place an order for you.

Just say “Alexa, re-order laundry detergent” — Echo will search your order history and can order the item for you using your default payment and shipping settings. If Echo can’t find the requested item in your order history, it may suggest an item for your approval using Amazon’s Choice, which picks highly-rated, well-priced, Prime products. You can manage your shopping preferences and set an optional confirmation code in your Amazon Echo App.

Some customers, like @chmarch, will be happy to know that baby lotion works particularly well (Congrats!).

As always, the Amazon Echo team looks forward to your feedback via the Amazon Echo App and on social media (#AmazonEcho).


Spherical cameras

All these look cool —

  • Bublcam. “The most innovative spherical capture camera the world has ever seen”
  • Giroptic. “The World’s First True 360 HD Camera”. I backed this on kickstarter or indiegogo or whatever.
  • V.360. “The World’s first 360 seamless HD action camera”
  • 360fly. “the camera that takes video to a whole new level”. From their site, obviously going into the gopro market.

All pricy. I like the 360fly and bounce the best, they have focused scenarios they are going after. Two of the others seem to be staking claim to the “world’s first” positioning, but not sure that is actually compelling.

I wish I could just yoke together cheap RPI cameras, or all the cameras I already have on devices I already own.

UPDATE: Oh and don’t forget the goPro spherical solution, this is going to be spendy.

Recent Books

cover image
Dead Wake
  • The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison. From last year’s Nebula list, a great tale of court entrigue.
  • The Ocean at The End of The Lane by Neil Gaiman. A pretty quick read, very entrancing. Worth the accolades.
  • Ancillary Justice and Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie. Also from last year’s Nebula list, a galaxy-spanning human empire starts to crumble from the inside.
  • Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. Good but a big of a slog.
  • Dead Wake by Erik Larson. A great telling of the last days of the Lusitania. Immediately bought another Larson, this was great.
  • City of Bohane by Kevin Barry. A strange tale of near future Ireland. Men are fools.
  • The Child Who by Simon Lelic. A lawyer nobly tries to defend a young murder suspect and finds his own life torn apart. Don’t try experiments on your family.

Remote sensing without video is a tough row to hoe

SNUPI/Wallyhome cuts staff — sad to see a Seattle startup struggle, and these guys have some really interesting technology that has come out of Patel’s work.

But I’ve always thought that remote sensing without video (and to a lesser degree audio) is uninteresting. The first thing you want to do when a remote event is triggered is see exactly what is going on. Without that, remote sensing is just kind of frustrating. I’ve tried Wally and Smartthings and every other kind of remote sensor, the only thing that has stuck is Dropcam because it lets me see what is going on.

It is why cameras and video is at the heart of what we are doing at — vision is fundamental, and solving the hard scale issues of video processing, storage and transmission puts you in a great position to deal with other types of sensor data.

“I’ll be that guy for a couple of weeks”

Sadly, I am as much a tool as this guy — Money quotes from USA Today:

Perkins says he’s “all in” on Apple products from the iPhone to Apple TV. And, in his line of work, he has to lemmingstay abreast of important tech trends.

But the main reason he’s an early adopter of the Apple Watch? “It’s the perfect sports watch,” said Perkins who plans to wear it while jogging. He’ll also wear it the office for the notifications that remind him to get to meetings on time and as a conversation piece.

“I will have that showpiece that everyone wants to see,” Perkins said. “I’ll be that guy for a couple of weeks.”

Books — Noir, Pradeep Mathew, Secret Speech

  • Noir by Robert Coover. Noir mystery meets mushrooms. Very strange story. Engaged me but I’m not sure I’d want a steady diet of this.lastman
  • The Legend of Pradeep Mathew by Shehan Karunatilaka. Very nicely written, but ultimately defeated me. My lack of any cricket knowledge and lack of any Sri Lanka knowledge put me in too deep a hole.
  • The Secret Speech by Tom Rob Smith. Excellent pageturner, not surprising, Smith writes engaging tales.
  • The Trinity Six by Charles Cumming. Also a great pageturner, for some reason the hunt for moles inside the British intelligence community never gets old.
  • The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski. I enjoyed, kind of an extended Greek tragedy set in rural Wisconsin. With dogs.
  • Y: The Last Man by Brian K Vaughan, Pia Guerra, Jose Marzan Jr. I don’t read many graphic novels but this got such great reviews, and it is a great tale. Every male human and male animal dies off suddenly, except for one, and the race is on to save and recreate the world. This would be a fantastic TV show, tho I’d tame down some of the comic parts a little.

RPI alternatives — Tessel 2, Spark Electron

I see I can pre-order a Tessel 2 now. Interesting part, it is nice that wifi is built in, and they have the same entry price as the pi, and they seem to be more focused on embedded solutions, with a lot of messaging around pricing and use for embedded. But no GPU on this chip which seems unfortunate, unless I am missing something. And no camera port, usb only. This might or might not be ok, tho part of the RPI’s appeal is the camera port dumping right to GPU ram with no use of the limited usb/io bus.

The Spark Electron is another interesting device, built in low cost cellular plan, which is very nice. I am compelled to trial one just for that. Now this is a much more compute limited device than the others, but a great idea.

If you are into this kind of stuff, we are hiring…

Recent Books — Beatles, Sisters Brothers, Wool, Stone’s Fall, Zoo City, Terror of Living

  • The Beatle Lyrics, edited by Hunter Davies. Not a terrible addition to the Beatles literature, but not great either. The discussion of the lyrics is not very deep, which might be ok, but the discussion of what was going on with the writers at the time is also thin. Just OK.stonesfall
  • The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt. Fantastic Old West characters, I loved the two brothers. The tale started out strong and kind of petered out, but memorable characters.
  • Wool Omnibus Edition by Hugh Howey. OK we don’t really need any more near future post apocalyptic dystopia novels, but this was fun.
  • Stone’s Fall by Iain Pears. Well this was twisty and fun. Deception and intrigue across several generations in the 1900s.
  • Zoo City by Lauren Beukes. Near future science fiction set in South Africa, not the usual setting for most books available here in US.
  • Tanglewreck by Jeanette Winterson. Someone recommended this as a great YA title, but I thought it was a bit of a mess.
  • Unseen by Karin Slaughter. How does this thing get good reviews on Amazon, it is a poorly written mess. Gave up on quickly.
  • The Terror of Living by Urban Waite. Smuggling on the Canadian border goes very very wrong.