The Robservatory

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Things that happen in or around the home

A possible simple fix for flickering slow-motion video

With the transition to LED lighting, I was hopeful it meant the end of flicker in slow-motion videos, because LEDs don't heat-and-cool the way an incandescent bulb does when running on AC power. Alas, after installing some EcoSmart 100W LEDs over our pool table, I was still getting horrendously bad flicker in my iPhone slow motion videos.

I did a bunch of web searching, and most of what I read said that I'd need to find a way to run the lights on DC, or change my frame rate, in order to avoid the flicker effect. Neither was really a viable solution.

Then, on a lark, I searched Amazon for 100w no flicker LED bulbs, which returned a ton of matches—most of which weren't applicable (I didn't need a 16-pack, and they had to be normal-style bulbs). But I did eventually find the LOHAS 100W Equivalent LED A19 Light Bulbs, which promised "Non-flickering light and zero harsh glares."

I ordered a box (four lights), replaced my existing lights…and surprisingly to me, the new bulbs eliminated the flicker—based on what I'd read, I didn't think there was much of a chance that a simple bulb change would work. But it did.


Our family’s robotic vacuum overlords are Deebots

If you're interested in technology (me!), and dislike cleaning (also me!), you've probably investigated robot vacuum cleaners. There are tons of models out there, covering a wide range of costs from under $100 to over $1,500. I'm not here to try to tell you which is the best, or even which particular one to buy, but to point out a time-limited sale on the one we chose to buy.

Back in May, we bought an Ecovacs Deebot N79S (Amazon)1This is a referral link; I make a modest commission if you use it. to clean our downstairs hardwood floors. I bought it mainly because it was on sale for a relatively inexpensive (for a robot vacuum) $150, and it received decent reviews on Amazon and on various review sites such as Wirecutter.

It's not the smartest robot—there's no ability to save a map or mark off "do not enter" areas. But I've found it cleans well, it's quiet, and the app does what it needs to do to make managing the vacuum about as easy as it can be. It's got a stated 110 minute battery life, and ours usually runs for at least 90 minutes, going over mainly hardwood with a couple of area rugs.

I noticed today that it's on sale again on Amazon for about $150—it shows as $170 in the store, but once in the cart, a $17 discount is applied, bringing it down to $153. We've been so happy with the first that I just ordered a second one to use upstairs (with two cats in the house, one cannot have enough vacuums).

I'm not sure how long this special price will last, nor if it's some sort of targeted thing where only certain shoppers get the deal, but if you're in the market for a decent yet not too costly robot vacuum, we've been very happy with ours.

We’re so done with Samsung appliances…

We presently own three Samsung appliances: The 8700 series washer and dryer, and a French door freezer-on-bottom refrigerator. I can say with complete confidence that these are the last three Samsung appliances we will ever own.

Granted, none are brand new—the fridge was bought in 2012, and the washer/dryer pair in 2015. But that's not old in the world of appliances. And while you might expect a few minor issues as appliances age, we've recently had two major things pop up: One in the washer, one in the fridge. What bugs me most is not that these issues occurred, but that they are apparently very well known to Samsung, and yet they've done very little in the way of making owners aware of and/or fixing the problems.


Monkey Bread recipe—the non-dessert variety

Growing up, around the holidays my mom would bake something we called Monkey Bread. If you search the net for Monkey Bread recipes, what you'll find is a number of dessert-like breads, covered in a sticky brown sugar (or other sweet) coating. Those are not the Monkey Bread my mother made—hers was more of a "regular" bread (containing just 1/4 cup of sugar) that you can eat with your meal.

What makes the bread unique—and fun to eat—is that it's assembled from small pieces, which you then tear off and eat.

Although I bake Christmas cookies and occasional other stuff, I'd never tried her Monkey Bread recipe. But for this year's New Year's Eve party/potluck, I thought I'd give it a shot…and after a couple false starts, I managed to get one done…

As noted, that was not my first attempt. I left the egg out of my first batch (whoops), and missed a whole cup of flour (whoops again) on my second try. But in the end, it came out great, and was well liked at the party.


Kitchen upgrade: Sliding shelves

Over the years we've had our home, we've added some pull-out shelves to some of our lower kitchen cabinets. These work great in the narrower cabinets, making it easy to get to stuff in the way back. However, in wider cabinets, if you use two of the sideouts side-by-side, you give up a fair bit of space due to the sliders and baskets. And we seem to need every inch of storage space we can muster.

So I went looking for a full-width solution for our wider cabinets, expecting to have to pay a small fortune for a custom piece. After a lot of time visiting various sites, I decided to try Shelves That Slide, and we're very happy with the results…


When good cables go bad

Last Thursday, my daughter and I left to run a few errands. We weren't gone all that long, but when we got back, we found that the microwaves had lost their time setting, and the fridge's alarm light was blinking—signs of a power outage. In addition, the internet was offline, which was a bit odd. (My computers and the router/switch are on battery backups, and they didn't show any signs of having rebooted while we were out.)

I fixed all the clocks, and then power cycled the router and the internet came back. But not for long—a few minutes later, it vanished again. I pulled the WAN cable from the router, waited a few seconds, and connected it again. This time, the net stayed with us for a couple hours. Then it vanished again. I repeated the process, and we had net again…for a while. This continued through the day—sometimes we'd have connectivity for hours, sometimes for minutes—until I got frustrated enough to troubleshoot.

I took my laptop out to the Frontier FIOS box on our garage wall, and connected directly to the FIOS box. I started some large downloads along with a streaming movie, and let them run for an hour or so: No problem. This seemed to point to a cable issue.

Our FIOS box is connected to a long Ethernet cable (red line in the image at right) that runs around the semi-L-shaped house, then under the house, and finally enters the office, where it ends in a wall jack. A shorter cable then goes to the router; I replaced that one first, but we were still getting dropouts. Sadly, that meant the long cable appeared to be damaged.

To test this, I made a long-but-direct cable and ran it from the FIOS box, across the driveway, and through the front door then into my office—definitely not a long term solution, as I had to choose between network connectivity and a locking front door! But using this temporary cable, we didn't have any outages at all the rest of the day.

Thursday evening, I made a much longer cable, hung it on our Christmas hook lights over the garage, and then around the front of the house (just lying on the ground) to the office—just so we could have both a locking front door and internet connectivity. This line worked fine all day Friday, verifying that the old line was having issues.

Thus, my weekend activity was set…ugh.


Home hack: Replacing screen window pull-tabs

This weekend, I wanted to wash our windows, including the glass that's usually behind the screens. To do that, of course, you have to pop the screens. In our house, that's done by a pair of plastic pull-tabs that are installed below the bead that holds the screen in; they look like this:

Also visible in that screen is the problem: That yellowed plastic is incredibly weak, from exposure to the sun. (Whose idea was it to put non-UV-safe plastic in a window??). As soon as I pull on that tab, it's going to come right off in my hand. And that's exactly what happened to that one, and every other sun-facing window in our house.

Amazon sells an assortment of replacement tabs, but the problem is that they must be installed under the bead. That means disassembling the screen, installing the tab, then reseating the bead while getting the screen nice and tight.

I thought there must be an easier way, and after some searching, there is…this video by Felix Wong shows how you can use duct tape to quickly create a much-more-durable pull tab (skip to about 30 seconds for the actual work):

I bought some white duct tape, and in the span of about 15 minutes, I installed new pull tabs on eight windows. Start by folding over about a half-inch of the end of the duct tape, then pull a length out to see how much you need to reach around the frame, and cut to length. Once cut to length, cut in half lengthwise, giving you two narrower tape strips. Apply those to the frame, leaving the doubled-over half-inch where the plastic pull tab used to reside, and you're done.

You might think you'd rip the tape off while pulling, but because the pressure is parallel to the window, it seems rock solid—I tested with one window about a dozen times, and had no issues at all. So much easier—and potentially longer-lasting—than ordering actual replacement tabs.

The right tool for a (floor) stripping job

I haven't posted here the last couple days; between work, family, and a little remodeling project, time has just vanished. And as my blog reflects things going on in my world, today's post is decidely non-tech related: It's about the remodeling project.

We're re-doing our kids' bathroom with a mix of our own work and outsourcing the stuff I know I'd do poorly (tiling the shower, refinishing the tub). On the "own work" side of the ledger was "remove old linoleum floor," as we have some water damaged sub-floor to replace in the shower area, and we hated the linoleum in general. When I peeled up the linoleum, it left huge sections of glue and paper backing behind:

I had no idea how to remove this gunk, so I bought a few tools at Home Depot: A carbide-tipped scraper that looked like a larger putty knife, a "pull to scrape" device, and a heat gun.


Kwikset’s smart lock may require another purchase

Just a heads-up for anyone thinking of installing the well-reviewed Kwikset SmartCode 916 Touchscreen Electronic Deadbolt (and probably other similar Kwikset locks): Check your current deadbolt installation to see if you actually need more than what's included in the box.

In the box is one deadbolt (the "A" in the image at right), which assumes your deadbolt screws into a chiseled cutout in the edge of the door. But if—like me—your deadbolt isn't screwed into the door but just inserted in place, you need "A2," a drive-in deadbolt. This part isn't in the $190 lock kit, nor is it sold (best as I could tell) at Home Depot or Lowes or Ace Hardware.

Check your door before you order your lock, so you can add on a drive-in deadbolt if your door is non-chiseled. Me, because I didn't know about this, I didn't check. So I made a 40-mile round trip to Home Depot for a chisel set, then spent an hour chiseling out the door so the included deadbolt would fit.

Mission accomplished, but I think it's pretty dang cheap of Kwikset to not include both deadbolt styles in a $190 lock kit! (Or perhaps even better, they should design a deadbolt with a removable screw-in plate, then one deadbolt would serve all customers.) So, yea, I had a frustrating Sunday morning!

The magic corner cabinet

As yesterday was a cabinet-related post, I thought I'd stick with a theme and share this one I saw in a friend's home a while back. It's the perfect solution for those useless corner cabinets where most people stick a lazy susan, thus giving up on a bunch of storage space.

If we ever move and I have a chance to specify the cabinet hardware, I'm making sure one of these things goes into the corner cabinet!

(Don't worry, this isn't turning into a home remodeling blog; tech tips and stories return tomorrow.)

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