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Decisions: 2021 Household Projects

As we come to the end of the year, I’m looking back across a range of substantial household projects. We rather famously lost power for a few days back in February 2021 during an unusually cold snap. This lead to some additional thinking about household projects, including the new air conditioner. Specifically, how best to adapt our home to operation without utility power? After all, the Great Texas Freeze of 2021 was not the first time we lost power for days. We were without power for several weeks after Hurricane Ike in 2008.

Generac Standby Generator Beauty Shot copy

The most common approach that we see around the neighborhood is the installation of a standby generator. These are permanently installed systems that startup and take over when utility power fails. Generac, Kohler and Cummins are the most common brands. They typically run on natural gas and I’ve seen systems from 14 kW to 32 kW hereabouts.

Standby Generator vs Air Conditioner

Given the position of our home on the lot, and the location of the gas meter and breaker panel, it’s not really practical for us to install a standby generator. It would be prohibitively expensive given the required location of the generator. We’d need to run buried pipe for natural gas, and conduit for electrical cable, a considerable distance. The cost of the installation is much more than the generator itself. The entire project cost is as much as a new air conditioner, for a benefit that that would only occasionally be realized.

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Staying Cool in Texas: Our Recent Air Conditioning Transition

Yeah, I know a picture of an air conditioner's outside coil is not very exciting. It's better than nothing.This begins back when we bought our home in 2001. We gave very little thought to the associated technical systems. It was our first home, which was excitement enough. It had four walls and a roof. A fenced yard for Dickson T. Dog. These were the explicitly stated criteria. It came some with old appliances, an old central air conditioner and a very old gas furnace. The house was built in the early 1920’s, so it’s safe to say that everything was vintage, but we didn’t care.

The Story Begins in 2003

About a year later, the compressor in that obviously very old air conditioner failed. While repairable, it was so old that a major repair (compressor) seemed a bad idea. So, we called our preferred air conditioning vendor and arranged to have a new system installed.

It was spring and not yet too hot. We opted for a 4T American Standard system rated for 13 SEER. Pretty basic, but a leading brand, from a vendor we trusted, with a 10 year warranty. Honestly, I don’t think we even considered anything beyond a single stage unit. It was a vast improvement over the ancient, recently deceased, Kenmore system.

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Connect All The Things…to Ethernet!

This quick post was inspired by a recent article on How-To Geek that describes How to Add Gigabit Ethernet to a TV Without It. I find myself violently in agreement!

things

They say:

TV manufacturers have rushed to improve their latest models with fast HDMI 2.1 ports capable of supporting 4K gaming at 120Hz in glorious HDR. Unfortunately, most of the same models still use outdated 100Mb Ethernet ports.

Further:

Most new TVs support 5GHz and 2.4GHz wireless networking, but Wi-Fi is notoriously temperamental. Even though 5GHz networks have a theoretical maximum speed of 1300Mb/sec, many confounding variables can affect real-world performance. Ethernet is far more reliable in this regard.

To which I’d like to add a Hell, yeah! At least in so far as avoiding Wi-Fi is concerned.

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New Gear: Eaton 9130 Dual Conversion UPS

We have a pair of UPSs here; one in the office and another in the house. In both cases, they run the network core; Ethernet switches, Wi-Fi access points, IoT hubs and the like. Our reliance on power-over-ethernet means that there are actually quite a lot of gear that’s on the UPSs.

For many years the UPS in my office was made by Belkin. It was cheap. It did the job, sustaining the network core through many a minor outage. Being fanless, it was silent…which I deeply admire.Eaton 9130 2UHowever, as with most low-cost UPSs, it was “line-interactive” design. In such a design the power provided by the batteries and invertor is connected in parallel to the utility power. When utility power falters the local circuitry tries to make up the slack. The design is simple. Any UPS under $500 new is almost certainly a line-interactive design.

More sensitive gear is better served using a more sophisticated design known as “online” or “dual-conversion.” An online UPS puts its active circuitry between the utility power and the load. The utility power is turned into DC, which feeds the batteries and the invertor, which makes brand new, pristine, stable AC power for the load.

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My Take – Using your mobile camera as a webcam

A couple of weeks back Chris Kranky offered a post where he explored this topic in some detail. It’s a good idea. Well worth exploring since common, and especially built-in webcams, are so bad. He tried a handful of iOS and Android apps on various handsets. It was a good experimental series.

I’d like to add a slightly different take, using a couple of additional apps that have crossed my path. In particular, I’d like to highlight NDI as a technology that’s very useful in this application.

What is NDI?

According to Newtek:

“NDI® (Network Device Interface) is a low latency IP video protocol developed especially for professional live video production, and is supported by an extensive list of broadcast systems from many manufacturers.”

NDI Camera

Newtek has offered two different NDI Camera apps. The original (no longer offered) which I bought for around $20, leverages full-bandwidth NDI. Full-bandwidth NDI offers the best image quality, and lowest latency, but requires massive bandwidth. It can work very well used when on a robust Wi-Fi network.

NDI Camera Julio

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Birddog Redefines NDI-to-HDMI on the cheap

A little over two years ago, I surveyed the various tools that could be used to display an NDI stream on a monitor or projector. In staging Cluecon 2018 I had used a couple of Lenovo M73 Tiny computers running Windows and Newtek Studio Monitor. There were other options, but the most accessible dedicated hardware solution was the Birddog Mini, which cost around $500.

That post has proven to be quite popular. In fact, it needs to be revisited in the light the latest announcements from Birddog, which happened just this week. Newtek’s launch of NDI 5 allowed Birddog to announce a set of new products and services, including Birddog Play.

Birddog Play is a small dedicated hardware device designed to allow playback of an NDI stream at a monitor or projector. It ticks literally every box I can think of. And it does it for just $150 USD!

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