Studio711

Location Sharing With Windows Phone

squadwatch-iconTyla and I are regularly texting each other saying that we are leaving various places, headed home, etc. There aren’t many people that I’d share my location with, but letting Tyla know where I am would be pretty useful (and vice versa.)

Microsoft recently launched an app called SquadWatch which purports to do just that. It was built as a fun project by some employees and it feels like it has some growing pains. The first day I wasn’t able to get our phones linked together and since then it has taken quite a while to acquire the location of the other phone. If they get their act together, this could be a good app.

While I was reading about SquadWatch, I learned that there’s another location sharing app called Glympse. Right now it has significantly better reviews that SquadWatch so I’ll be checking that one out as well.

This seems like a super valuable tool for families, but I can see how it could feel like Big Brother watching over you. Will my son be ok with something like this when he’s older? That opens up a whole other set of questions that I’m not ready to answer yet. Parenting is hard.

Summer Plans

relaxsummerI feel like I missed last summer even though I spent more time outside than I have in a long time. Nearly every evening for two months was spent outside with Tim working for 4-5 hours in the evenings on the front and back yards.

So what’s on tap for this summer? What monster house project will I tackle? NOTHING. We’re specifically saying no big projects this summer. We want to leave our time free to enjoy the weekends and get outside as a family.

But home improvement is kind of a hobby I guess, so there will be some smaller projects. For example, I’ve got an endless list of woodworking project ideas, and there will be a day coming soon when Tim and I will put plants all around the house. I bought a basketball pole that needs to be installed and Tyla wants a desk in her craft room. So I’ll still have projects to do but nothing will be so important that I have to put it before normal fun summer activities.

We’ve been getting lucky the past couple months with temps well-above normal. I’m sure we’ll be in for more cool, rainy weather, but these past couple weeks have given me a strong case of spring fever. The grass is growing, the cherry and magnolia trees are blooming. Bring on the summer of nothing!

WiFi Access Points

unifinetworksOn January 1, I took over as the IT guy at church. We had a pretty bare bones set up and I was given the funds to spruce things up a bit. Once I got our internet speed upgraded from 1.5Mbps to 20Mbps (for the same price with some billing fixup) and got new computers installed, the next task was to get better WiFi coverage.

A bit of searching around led me to these UniFi Access Points. They’re simple looking devices that can be managed from a central server app. These are slightly more complicated than your typical home networking gear but well within the reach of any aspiring nerd.

There are tons of complex features that you can enable like zero handoff switching between access points so your VOIP calls don’t stutter, but even just setting it up with the defaults gives you a great experience. I need to do some more testing, but it appeared that my devices were automatically connecting to the strongest signal instead of waiting until the first signal completely died out to grab a new one. The range was good and now with three access points, we can cover all of the buildings with a strong signal.

I’m tempted to install these at home too. Our house is just big/complex enough that we get a pretty weak signal in some parts. Two or three of these would make a big difference.

Sling Television

Sling-TV-logoOne of the major things that held me back from cutting back on cable last year was the loss of ESPN. Turns out, it wasn’t that big of a deal. If I had it, I probably would have watched it, but I guess I don’t really miss it at this point.

That being said, there will come a point where I really want to watch ESPN or some other channel that I lost access to. There’s now an awesome online solution for this and it’s called Sling Television (no relation to the Sling Box.) It’s basically an online cable subscription. For $20/month you get ESPN, ESPN2, TNT, TBS, Food, HGTV, Travel, Cartoon Network, Disney, ABC Family, CNN, and a couple others. There are a few $5 add-on packs if you want more sports, etc. Notably the ESPN package includes access to WatchESPN.com. The best part is that it’s super easy to sign up and super easy to cancel and it comes with a free 7 day trial.

If you’re a cord cutter but can’t give up access to live TV and some of these channels then this could be a great solution. The major drawback at this point is that only some of the channels have any type of DVR functionality (they store ~3 days of content) but stations like ESPN don’t enable this. And only some of the stations allow you to watch On Demand back episodes. If you’re looking for live TV, this is the way to go, but if you want to time shift your TV, you’ll want to pay more attention to what you actually get during the trial period.

While this might not be the perfect service for all circumstances, it’s still fantastic to see us getting closer to the dream of watching what we want, when we want, where we want, on whatever device we want.

Drones

dronefieldThere’s so much negative press around the radio controlled hobby right now. Any time I see a headline with the word “drone” in it or I hear someone on the radio start talking about “drones”, I feel compelled to look away or change the station. It’s almost certainly going to frustrate me. Sometimes neighbors walk up when I’m flying my multicopter and say “Is that a drone?” The snarky reply I want to give is “Only if you watch too much TV”, but instead I try to give them a little education about what it can and can’t do.

It’s not their fault for being uneducated about a hobby that is going through a massive period of change. The electronics needed to succeed in remote control flight are orders of magnitude better than they were 10 or even 5 years ago. This technological growth is allowing whole new groups of people to enter the hobby, and while the vast majority of us are responsible, there are always a few people who feed the media frenzy around “drones.”

Why the big change now? Ten years ago, if you wanted to fly anything remote controlled, you needed to like learning/building as part of the hobby. You probably needed a friend to help you decipher it all and you probably flew at a club site where lots of other people could teach you how to fly safely. With all the new technology, you can walk into a hobby store, plop down your credit card, and walk out with something that would have been science fiction a decade ago. You don’t need to know anything about actual flight. Just push the stick and the computers will translate that into some sort of “safe” flight using lots of sensor to back you up. What might have taken you a month of learning and training with other people helping you can now be accomplished in hours on your own.

It’s that “on your own part” that is causing all the trouble. You didn’t build it yourself to learn how it works and what is dangerous about the device, and you didn’t have someone there how to be safe. It might all be ok, but you learn how to fly completely reliant on all the onboard computers and sensors. You might not even know that there’s a GPS receiver on there that is keeping your multicopter from flying away. What happens when that GPS receiver loses it’s signal? What happens when the accelerometer board has a glitch? Can you fly it manually and safely get it back home or are you going to crash into the White House lawn or a crowd of kids in a park? This is how news stories get made.

It’s easy to cross the line here and sound like an old curmudgeon that doesn’t want new people in his hobby. It’s awesome that so many people are getting excited about this hobby, but it’s not awesome that they are taking a “shortcut” and skipping a lot of the background needed to do it safely.

The FAA is scrambling to try and enact some regulations around this. So far, most of those have been overreaching and ridiculous. We already have laws to cover things that people are concerned about with “drones.” We don’t need extra ones. But what might make sense is requiring a license before you can fly either privately or commercially. Make people take some basic training/online test that teaches about the safety rules and guidelines both to protect other people and to protect the pilot.

Eventually we’ll get to a point where the onboard sensors and computers are SO good that you really can fly these without much training or knowledge. It’s just this interim period that is dangerous for the future of the hobby. Overreactions at this point can put a real damper on the progression needed to get to that safe point.