Studio711

Gadgets

Dash Cams for the F150 and Escape

Whenever I hear about dash cams, I think about people in eastern Europe or Russia recording meteors and crazy crashes (the audio of some of those videos is probably NSFW.) But then I was at a party for one of Elijah’s classmates and a King County detective was talking about how he was installing dash cams in his car and his wife’s car. Huh? It turns out that there are groups of people who travel around the country basically putting you in a situation where you have no choice but to rear end them. With no evidence, the person in the rear is generally at fault because hey, you should have stopped. He said that Seattle is swamped with this stuff right now.

It’s highly unlikely that will ever happen to me, but you know how much I already enjoy doing timelapse video, especially on road trips so having a camera mounted nicely in the car was appealing. The fact that it might come in handy some day for insurance purposes was enough to push me over the edge.

I started with my truck and was lucky enough to find a video showing the camera I wanted being installed in a truck very similar to mine. It was super handy to see where the fuse box was, how to get the various pieces of molding off, etc. Here’s what I ordered:

While Dad was visiting, we got it all installed in my 2016 F150 without too much hassle and it has been working well. You can check the Amazon page to see samples of the video quality, but it’s plenty good for what I want. The camera itself works nicely and is low profile, especially compared to some of the other big suction cup versions. The wire exits the camera and is hidden all the way down to the fuse box so there isn’t anything dangling down or plugged into my cigarette lighter.

It went well so I decided to install the same setup in our 2013 Escape. The only difference was that the Escape used mini fuses instead of the micro fuses that the truck uses. Installation there was a little more tricky because of the goofy shape of the plastic around the rear view mirror, but I found a good spot for it and was able to run the wire down to the fuse box under the glove box. I can get free access to the Chilton’s website via our library and that came in handy for figuring out how to remove a couple pieces of trim. I also stumbled across a YouTube channel devoted to the 2013 Escape which will come in handy in the future.

I’m excited to go on a road trip and use this instead of the hacky/messy/annoying GoPro setup that I used to use. With the 64GB card, I could record 11 hours of 1080p video or even more than that if I use the timelapse mode in the camera.

In other countries, insurance companies offer discounts for dash cams, but that hasn’t been popularized here yet. Even without the discount, I do wonder if/when car manufacturers are going to build these in. It’s not a big stretch to imagine this as part of your rear view mirror mount or maybe even using some of the parking cameras that are already installed.

OBDII Trip Reports

OBDII is the standard for the diagnostics plug that is somewhere around the drivers side footwell of your car. For many years I’ve enjoyed having a ScanGauge in my car, and then for my birthday this year, Tyla got me an Automatic OBDII reader. That has been plugged into my truck for a few months, happily uploading data to the cloud.

I finally got around to playing with their API. I wrote an app that runs twice a day on my computer. It calls their API and pulls down any recent trips that I’ve made. It looks for a few places that I’ve labeled (Home, Work, Safeway, etc) and looks for trips that start and end in a named place. If it finds one, it looks how that trip ranks in terms of fuel usage and time. Then I get an email showing me my “score”. It’s a fun way to see if my fast trip to work really was my fastest trip ever, or how that extra bad stop and go traffic affected my fuel usage.

The email is pretty simple right now. I keep thinking that I’ll make it fancier with some charts, additional stats, etc but so far this has been good enough. I think the next thing that I will add as I get more data is a breakdown to show the score for all time, the current month, the day of the week, etc.

IsoTunes Pro Review

I enjoy using my shop time to catch up on podcasts, YouTube and Netflix. But obviously when I’m running loud equipment, I have hearing protection in and I can’t hear the show. I finally splurged and got the IsoTunes Pro bluetooth earplug headphones. They connect wireless to either my phone or a bluetooth transmitter hooked to my TV.

They do a good job of canceling out shop noise and I can easily hear whatever audio source I have selected. The downside is that I’ve been spoiled with the custom ear plugs I got back when Tyla worked at the hearing clinic. They just slide right into my ear and I don’t have to mess with squishing foam and getting it fit into my ears. That’s not a huge drawback though and I still use the IsoTunes a lot.

XFinity For Roku

Earlier this year, Comcast launched an app for Roku, but I only just got around to installing it. It’s still in beta so you won’t get a full feature set, but it’s still an interesting move for the company.

Previously, if you have Comcast service and you want to add another TV in your house, you had to pony up $10/month or more for another box that sits with that TV. Ouch. Now they are offering you alternatives to that extra monthly bill.

For quite a while they’ve allowed you to stream to a browser window or a phone app. The main limitation there is that you have to be on your home network for it to work, but this has still given me a way to have football on out in the shop. I just connect my laptop to the TV and I’m good to go.

The Roku app makes this even easier. You can pick up a basic Roku for ~$30-40 if you don’t have one already. The XFinity app is free and voila, now you’ve got live TV via the Roku without an extra monthly fee. If you have their Cloud DVR service then  you can access those shows through the Roku interface. (Note that I haven’t tested that since we don’t have the Cloud DVR service.) The only downer for me right now is that I only get standard definition on most of the channels. That doesn’t happen for everyone and it should change when the app is out of beta.

This feels like a direct response to the rise in popularity of non-traditional TV services like DirectTV Now, YouTube TV, Sling TV, Playstation Vue, etc. Compared to those services, Comcast is coming at it from the other side (moving from traditional cable to internet) but it’s good to see them making moves in that direction.

Samsung Gear VR

My first experience with virtual reality was probably playing with a Nintendo Virtual Boy in a store in the 90s. It has progressed a wee bit since then and now the phone that you carry in your pocket can provide a pretty impressive virtual reality experience.

Thanks to Don and Megan for getting me a Samsung Gear VR for my birthday! I had a Google Cardboard set up from last year and that was enough to convince me that it could be really cool but not good enough to really scratch the itch. The Gear VR is a very nice experience.

Setup was pretty easy but required a lot of app installs on my phone. But once that was done, I plugged the phone into the goggles, adjusted the straps, and entered the world of virtual reality. I’m still learning my way around, but so far the coolest thing I’ve done is take a flight with the Blue Angels. 2D videos are great, but being able to move your head around while watching the video really takes it to another level. It’s an awesome experience!

I can’t see using this for long periods of time on a regular basis, but it’s really neat to see how far the technology has come. It makes me want to experience a full-blown setup with dedicated goggles driven by a beefy computer (but not nearly enough to pay for all that myself!) I feel like we’re getting closer and closer to my dream video game: Forza Motorsport VR Edition. It has to be coming some day. RIght? Pleeeeeeeeease?