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Working Gadgets: ARLO security camera.

I think the theme today is "convenience". Because as with the coffee maker, the cameras I have around the house are less about some really high end features than about just working with minimal fuss.

I suspect people who care truly deeply about their security cameras laugh at the pitiful battery-operated wireless ARLO cameras. They claim to be "HD", but it's a pretty minimal 720p kind of HD. And no swivel, no sound, no fancy features.

But they are really easy to set up, needing neither wires nor any monthly subscription plan. You can put them up on a wall outside without worrying about ethernet cables or power - just have them close enough to a window that you can reach them easily enough to replace the batteries (which last a few months).

And get the rechargeable batteries, with one extra set, so that you don't run out of batteries or simply because you don't like the waste. The rechargeable might not last as long, but they last long enough that it's simply not a big deal. I've had the cameras for two years, and the rechargeable batteries since they become an option, and it "just works".

If there is a downside to these guys, it's that the wireless link isn't just regular 802.11, and camera placement has to be reasonably close to the ARLO base station. So even if you have a WiFi network with good range, you would actually need a separate base station for the camera if you have a large house or want to reach the gate or whatever.

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Working Gadgets: Automatic Coffee Maker.

I've talked about my addictions before. I've got two: coffee and ice cream. The ice cream I don't do at home (yes, I've tried, but this series is about the gadgets that worked for me). The coffee I can't not do at home.

And by "coffee", I don't mean just any coffee. To me, coffee comes with milk, in the form of a latte or cappuccino.

What I really wish I had at home is some beautiful italian machine with a high end saturated group head with a PID controller and dual boilers for continuous steam and coffee. Obviously plumbed in, and on a dedicated 220V circuit. Because I find the OCD discussions about temperature drops fascinating.

Something like the La Marzocco GS/3, in other words.

But no, that's not what I have. And really, while I say that I would wish for something like that, I just know it's not what I need. What I need and what works for me is something where I push a button, and coffee just reliably comes out with proper steamed milk.

So in the end, no crazy high end beautiful italian machine for me that you can coax some sublime cup of coffee with. Instead of Italian engineering, I guess I'm more of a German - or in this case Swiss - engineering kind of guy. Reliable and everyday useful rather than over-the-top and beautiful handcrafted.

I've tried a few different coffee makers, but over the last 15 years or so, I've had a Jura Impressa. First the S9, which gave up after about ten years, and now for the last five years or so the Z7.

I'm sure there are other fine machines out there, but this one has worked for me.

(Side note and honesty in "working": the milk cooler that is a required accessory to really turn it into a "just press one button" machine is also fine, but the power supply to the milk cooler is a complete piece of sh*t. I had to debate whether I could really put the coffee maker on the "Working Gadgets" list because of that, but I'll just make a note of the one huge glaring engineering problem I'm aware of).

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Working gadgets: Atomic Aquatics scuba regulator.

I started buying my own scuba equipment after a trip to Belize many years ago, where the rental equipment was "sketch", as my daughter recently put it.

And I've replaced just about every piece of equipment since, but the Atomic Aquatics first and second stage regulators remain of my original batch.

.. and that's despite the fact that I bought the regulator used, which should probably tell you something about the price of their titanium regulators (ignore the plastic B2 face plate on the second stage, that has been replaced during normal service).

The SS1 is a later addition, as are those blue miflex hoses.

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Working gadgets: Ubiquiti UniFi collection.

I don't think gadgets that look like space pods are necessarily automatically good, but it does seem to be the theme today. First the Vostok I cat litter box, now the wireless networking UFO you attach to your ceiling (or wall).

I've used the UniFi stuff for several years now. It used to be how I bathed my house in the warm life-giving glow of WiFi radiation, but as I posted late last year, I actually use Google WiFi at home these days.

That didn't make the UniFi gadgets go away, though. It just meant that now it's used in more challenging areas that need a bit more flexibility than the regular home mesh routers necessarily want to do. Unlike the regular home mesh networking, the Ubiquiti stuff comes as a smörgåsbord of options, so you can get the stuff that suits your needs.

When I originally started using UniFi, you had to run the UniFi controller on one of your machines (not all the time, but for setup), and I found that part somewhat annoying, especially since I tend to upgrade my machines more often than I want to upgrade my wireless network (and then I'd lose my configuration and have to redo it all over again).

These days, you can still do that if you want to, but I actually just use the small cloud controller that looks like a pack of gum and you just plug in to your router. It is just a small standalone embedded computer doing all the same things, just in a small form factor that you can then ignore. You can use it as a local controller or with cloud access as you want.

The UniFi gadgets are definitely not as simple to set up as your modern average home mesh network routers, but you can add outdoor units and in general cover more than just a single home with them.

Purely hypothetically, if your buddy had a cabin by a river, and you wanted to make sure there is WiFi coverage while fishing (because, let's face it, fishing is boring), this is what you'd use.

And the PoE setup means that you only need one cable to the access points (and the mesh units means that you can easily make some hops wireless).

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Working gadgets: Astronaut Cat Home.

Yes, it looks odd. Like a russian space capsule for your pet. Yes, it takes a lot of room. Yes, it's expensive. But it actually does work.

The official name is "Litter-Robot III Open Air", which is awesome in a really cheesy way. It's arguably a horrible eye-sore, and sane people would just scoop their cat litter by hand from any number of perfectly good litter boxes that you can get for a small fistful of dollars.

But I've tried several different versions of automatic litter boxes, because if there is one defining word for me, It would be handsome lazy. The original littermaid worked fairly well for us (many many years ago - "lazy" is not some mid-life crisis, as much as a defining part of my life), but stuff would get stuck, if you know what I mean. And the version with metal tines took that to a whole new level. And the other random version by another manufacturer we tried would do the same.

For a couple of years we just gave up, and did the manual thing. The cat reacted to our inevitable failings by mostly going outside instead, which worked, but wasn't optimal. And a few months ago, I just said "F--k it, better living through technology", and decided to go for the Russian Cosmonaut Cat look, even if it seemed ridiculous.

And it really does work, so far. The cat is happy, I am happy, and we haven't had a single "things stuck" experience in three months so far.

Dammit, if I can go out in public wearing white socks and sandals (and if my wife married me despite that), our family can definitely live with an oversized cat litter box that looks like the Vostok I capsule.

Edit, since it is relevant: one very big reason for automation was that the dogs seem to be fascinated by the "organic almond roca", if you know what I mean. Enough said about that.

I was cleaning up my office over the last two days, looking for a piece of equipment that I'd lost (trust me, not that hard in what used to be a really messy office), and throwing out a lot of old gadgets that I no longer use.

Because I love crazy gadgets, and not all of them are great or stay useful. It's not always even computer stuff: my wife can attest to the addition of crazy kitchen gadgets I have tried.

But while waiting for my current build to finish, I decided to write a note about some of the gadgets I got that turned out to work, rather than all the crazy crap that didn't. Because while 90% of the cool toys I buy aren't all that great, there's still the ones that actually do live up to expectations.

So the rule is: no rants. Just good stuff. I will also ruthlessly delete negative comments, in addition to the obvious spammy ones. Because this is about happy gadgets.

I suspect it's going to be a very short list.

Edit: trying out the "collections" feature on G+. Maybe it works, and maybe it just makes all these posts go into some black hole. We'll see.
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