– Ben Martens

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Blue Iris and Foscam

We’ve had a Foscam FI8910W around the house for a while and I’ve enjoyed being able to look in on Tyla and Elijah while I’m at work. It has worked so well that we decided to expand our collection a bit. We now have a camera watching our front door and another in the garage. It’s a really easy way to watch for packages, make sure we shut the garage doors, and keep track of people who come up to the front door.

To manage all three cameras, I picked up a copy of Blue Iris. It has an incredible array of options including the ability to tweak the motion detection to your heart’s content and then set up alerts that will send you emails, text messages, and much more. Any motion gets recorded to our main file server and backed up into the cloud. There’s an app for all the phone platforms that lets me view live feeds from all the cameras and see recent alerts.

I’m really impressed with the system. These cameras are only $60 each now. It makes me want to pick up a few more.

Easy Data Backup

One recurring theme on this blog has been encouraging you to back up your data. Imagine going home and one of the devices in your house is completely and irrecoverably dead. How much do you lose? Are those family photos gone forever? The strategy I recommend is a 3-2-1 strategy: keep three copies of the data stored in at least two places with one of them being offsite.

If you don’t have this today, you can remedy that very easily by going to and paying them to keep an encrypted copy of all your data. They aren’t sponsoring this post, but I’ve used them for ~4 years now both here and at church and I’ve been satisfied. The key features for me are that it runs automatically in the background and there are no limits on how much data you can store which is good because I currently have 5TB stored on their servers.

Since I recently updated my setup at home, I thought I’d give another overview of my setup. We have a central server in the house that runs Blue Iris (security cameras), TeslaMate (Tesla data capture), and Plex (video streaming). It also serves as our file storage. All our computers use that server for file storage. Backblaze is running on that server to keep everything backed up to the cloud. Our phones also have everything backed up to the cloud through services like Google Photos and OneDrive, but periodically I take the photos off the phones and put them on the file server so the full resolution copies are backed up too.

The file server is a bit complicated though. We have about 7TB of data on it, and I don’t trust having all that data on a single drive because I’ve had a handful of drive failures over the years. Sure, it’s backed up to the cloud, but the goal is to never have to resort to the cloud backup. So our file server uses a feature of Windows called “Storage Spaces.” I shove various drives into the machine and then it is configured to keep each file on two different drives. I previously had four 4TB drives (giving me 8TB of duplicated storage) but we were hitting the limits of that setup so I swapped out two of the drives for 8TB drives. (Pro tip if you’re going to use Storage Spaces: leave one port open so that when you get a new drive, you can plug it in and then decommission the old drive. I’ve also done it where I just pull a drive out and tell Windows that it is dead, forcing it to rebuild on the new drive, but that’s a lot messier and riskier.)

When I upgrade drives in the file server, I take the old ones and put them in external enclosures. The Silverstone tool-less enclosure is the best one that I’ve used. These drives get another copy of all our files and they are protected by BitLocker. When I worked in the office I would keep them in my desk at work. I wouldn’t pay to add this layer of protection, but it gives me something to do with the drives that are retired from the file server.

As I mentioned at the beginning, you don’t have to get this fancy to protect your data, but you do need to make sure you’re protecting your data. When (not if) one of your hard drives fail, you don’t want to be bummed that you’ve lost things you can never get back.

Disclosure: I don’t work on the Windows team, but I do work at Microsoft.

Video Surveillance System

I’ve written quite a few posts over the years about the camera system I use around my house, but I thought I’d write up a new summary of everything that I recommend right now.

This stuff has kind of turned into a hobby for me, so the setup you’ll see later in this post is probably more than Joe Public is interested in. If you’re not looking to tinker a little bit, I recommend a package deal that includes the DVR along with a bunch of cameras. I bought one of the 8 camera Amcrest packages for church and we’ve been very happy with it. There are quite a few options ranging from 1080p up to 4k with varying numbers of cameras. You can see the full list on their site but there are a bunch of companies in this price range with similar packages. If even that is too much for you, companies like Simplisafe and your cable provider have camera packages but of course you’ll end up paying more for the convenience.

Ok, on to the more DIY solution that I have… all of the cameras I’ve ever owned have been from Amcrest. Are they best? Nope. But they work very well for me and they’re super cheap so I’m happy to replace them when they finally give up. I have one camera that is over 6 years old. I keep waiting for it to die because it’s only 640×480 resolution and I want to upgrade!

It’s possible to buy individual cameras and use the built-in web servers to access them remotely. I don’t recommend doing that. The security on those cameras is terrible and it’s very easy to accidentally (or obliviously) leave your camera open for easy access from the web. I kid you not, when I first was looking through the settings, I couldn’t believe the defaults. I did a quick internet search, typed in the default user name and password and bingo, I was watching a camera inside someone else’s house. Gross. The default settings have gotten better over the years but I still don’t trust them to keep up to date with every new exploit that happens.

To add a better layer of security I have a piece of software called Blue Iris running 24/7 on one of my machines at home. That software is then my entry point from the web or from my phone and that software has active development and updates. So none of my cameras are directly accessible from the web. Instead I fire up the Blue Iris website or app on my phone and then connect to my cameras.

The software also gives me a plethora of options (more than I’ll ever use) for doing things like triggering a recording and/or alert whenever motion is detected, recording the last N days of video, etc. I even played around with having it live stream one of my cameras to YouTube. The interface isn’t great but the feature you want is there somewhere. It might take a little while to set it up, but once you’re done, you won’t need to touch it much.

The other nice thing about having Blue Iris is that it supports a LOT of different cameras. So even though I have kind of standardized on Amcrest, I could easily buy one different brand tomorrow and throw it into the mix and I’d get the same standardized controls over the new camera too.

The final question is how do you want to connect your cameras to the Blue Iris software. The easiest is WiFi and generally that works pretty well. The catch is that you need to plug it into an outlet and if you’re doing outdoor installations, there might not be outlets handy. I’ve started moving to “Power over Ethernet”. To do this, you need a PoE switch that injects power down some of the unused wires in an Ethernet cable. As long as you get a PoE web cam, you can just run a single Ethernet cable to the camera and have a solid network connection and power all in one cable. That’s pretty convenient for those outdoor cameras.

How much does all this cost? Figure about $70-80/camera and then $70 for Blue Iris. There aren’t any ongoing monthly fees. That makes it pretty easy to dip your toe into the water with just one or two cameras to see how you like it. But they’re kind of like Pringles… once you pop you can’t stop! It’s easy to find reasons to add more and more cameras.

If you decide to go the Blue Iris route, I’m happy to help answer questions and guide you through the setup!


We got a Chromecast back in 2014 and while I thought it was a neat device, it ended up in my old gadget box in the closet.

Now that we have Android phones, I pulled it out again. Our new phones combined with all the improvements they’ve made to the software in the last 3 years has really made a difference. This thing is awesome!

The basic idea is that when you’re watching a video or listening to audio on your phone, you press a button and it is “cast” to the Chromecast device that is hooked to your TV. The Chromecast then takes over and plays the video. You can use your phone to browse around and it won’t interrupt the video (though you can also use your phone as a remote control to pause, fast forward, etc.)

I’m amazed at how many apps support this! The obvious ones like YouTube work great, but so does Spotify, my favorite podcast app, and even our security camera app. Duplication of a computer screen to the Chromecast also works infinitely better than it used to. Chromecast doesn’t support Amazon Video (or vice versa… whatever… Google and Amazon are fighting), but I can play a video on my desktop and cast it to the TV. It works great. Granted that’s a limited use scenario since we have other devices hooked up to the TV that play Amazon Video, but it’s cool that it works.

If you have Android or iOS and you have need for an easy way to show pictures, video and audio from your phone onto your TV, Chromecast should be on your shopping list. It’s so cheap it’s almost a no-brainer.

Power Over Ethernet

I dare you to try and buy just one security camera. That’s how it started for me. Now I have six. I might need an intervention.

The last one I put up was an “extra” that we had lying around after we upgraded one of the cameras to a newer 1080p. This old one is only 640×480 but hey, why not use it? I decided to stick it on the back corner of the house, but that meant a long cable run from my network closet and there’s also no power nearby. Power over Ethernet (PoE) to the rescue!

In your standard ethernet cable, half of the wires are unused. The PoE specification defines a common way of transmitting power over those extra wires. This means that instead of running a network cable to the camera along with installing a new outlet nearby, I just had to run a network cable.

You also need something to combine the network signal and the power on one end and deconstruct it on the other end. For the injection side, you can either get a standalone plug/ethernet jack combo thing or you can purchase a switch with PoE built in. I chose the latter since I’ll be using this more in the future. My WiFi access points are already PoE so I can get rid of the two injector plugs and switch them over to this unit. And while it’s possible to buy PoE versions of these cameras, I don’t have those yet so I had to buy a splitter for the camera end.

The hardest part was running the wire 40 or 50 feet under my house and even that wasn’t hard, just dirty and cramped. Elijah loves it when I go down there and always asks if he can poke his head in there too.

The end result is a really nice view of either the cul-de-sac or our back yard depending on which way the camera is rotated. It’s not going to do much for security, but it’s fun to see Elijah playing during the day while I’m at work or just get a little extra assurance that everything is ok while we are away.

backyard_7_31_2016 3_14_06 PM backyard_7_31_2016 3_15_09 PM

P.S. If you are interested in setting up something like this at your house, I have a post detailing my basic setup. You can get more posts by searching my site for “foscam“.

Church Surveillance System

amcrest1080p8chI’m the volunteer IT guy at church so they came to me when they wanted to install a camera surveillance system. I have a DIY system at home that works pretty well, but for church, I wanted something that “just works” and doesn’t require a geek to operate it.

I ordered the following:

A couple Saturdays ago, I met DaveK and LoganB at church to do the install. It’s not very complex. You just decide where you want the cameras, where you want the DVR, and then you run wires to connect them. I’d say about 90% of the project was just running cables around. Yes, there are wireless systems but wired is a lot more reliable at this point. Plus you don’t have to worry about powering a wireless cameras. The cables carry both video and power.

I was really impressed by the quality of the cameras. Those eight cameras give us good overage over most of the church and the entrances. Even with it cranked up to record all 8 cameras 24/7, we still get over two weeks of storage on the DVR.

We were done in about four hours, and by the end I was itching to upgrade to some better cameras at home because these cameras at church look so nice!

Package Camera

A while back I wrote a post talking about the cameras we’ve set up around the house and the software that manages it all (BlueIris.) There’s nothing terribly new in this post except to give a long term test update and say that I’m LOVING this setup. The garage cam lets me easily check to make sure that I remembered to put the garage door home or see if my family is home so I can ask Tyla to defrost some meat for dinner. And since we don’t regularly use our front door, the camera there is a great way to know that we have a package waiting or that someone left a flyer in our door. I even get an email showing a couple images and a 5-second video of whoever was at our door. All of the cameras are great but those are the two that I use the most regularly and I’m eager to add some more coverage.

If you ever want help with a similar setup for your house, let me know. I’m happy to share info. You can get going with one camera and the software for around $100-$125 and then each additional camera after that is about $65. You technically can skip the software but it makes life a lot easier.