Update on Guardline Wireless Driveway Alarm

A number of months ago I posted Review of Guardline Wireless Driveway Alarm. Since that time, I’ve had a number of reader queries for additional information. Many people want to know what sort of environment I’m using the Guardline Wireless Driveway Alarm in. I live in a rural setting in a cold weather climate. Yes, I do have to deal with some amount of traffic, but nothing like a busy street in the city. However, my road does see a fair number of trucks, along with tractors and even Amish buggies. As far as I know, none of the animals in this area seem to be attracted to the sensor and there isn’t any evidence of attack on them.

I can’t really tell you how long the batteries last in the sensors yet. I’m still waiting for the first set of batteries to fail. So, the batteries will last at least seven months. If the batteries are still good in July, I plan to replace them anyway, just to keep trouble at bay. Replacing the batteries in summer seems like it would be easier than in the frigid winter. Let’s just say that the batteries last a long time if you use good batteries. I used Duracell batteries in my setup—your battery life will likely differ from mine.

About the only maintenance issue I’ve had so far is that the sensor near the road requires adjustment from time-to-time. I’m not sure whether the wind, the traffic, or some combination of both is to blame, but the sensor does require occasional adjustment. So far, I’ve needed to adjust the sensor twice, so it’s not all that often. The sensor mounted near my house hasn’t ever required adjustment. If you start noticing a number of false alarms, the problem could rest solely with a needed sensor adjustment.

I do get an occasional false alarm. Sometimes birds will fly just right and trip the sensor. A deer once stood at the right spot to trip the sensor. The snow plow has tripped the sensor once or twice. I’m still seeing just one or two false alarms per week. Some weeks go by and I don’t receive any false alarms at all. It all seems dependent on just what’s in the area and the weather conditions at the time. Higher winds seem to make it more likely that I’ll get a false alarm.

This product still seems to work better than any unit I tried in the past. Even with the degradation that will occur over time, I imagine I’ll get a long lifespan from it and plan to buy additional sensors at some point. I still stand by the statements that I mad in my earlier product review. Thank you so much for the input you’ve provided to date!


Create Your Own Solar System!

Educational games can be fun and addicting, and still teach you something. Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) has presented a new game called Super Planet Crash. The game is interesting because it’s a lot harder than you might think to create a planetary system that will actually last 500 years. Considering that some planetary systems last a whole lot longer than that, you gain an appreciation for the delicate balance that is being maintained by the various gravitational bodies. So far, the longest my solar system has lasted is 312 years. Let’s hope no one is counting on me to create something lasting!

The game is actually quite simple. You select a gravitational body from the list and put it in place in the solar system. The body then starts to rotate using all the laws of physics we now know. If it doesn’t manage to crash into anything, you have a lasting solar system. The game awards extra points for things like planets in habitable zones. The reason the game is so addicting is that there are infinite possibilities and only a few of them really will last the full 500 years. Trying out the various combinations helps you understand planetary physics better, but it’s just fun seeing the various bodies rotate around their sun as well.

I’m sure that more than a few adults will play the game given that APOD is frequented by people with a need to know about the solar system. However, I can see kids getting quite addicted to the game and that’s really a good thing. The more we can interest kids in science, the better the outcome for education and our society as a whole. After all, many of the people who excel in science today were motivated by writers, artists, and dreamers of the past. Getting kids interested in science is essential for the future health of our society as a whole and I see games like Super Planet Crash as one way to do it.

Whether you like the game because it’s fun or educational, you’ll have to admit that it’s quite addicting. If you need a quick fix for the midday boredom that seems to overtake us all, check this game out.


Tea Time with a New Toy

What warms the hands as well as the heart, especially on a blustery Autumn night? A nice cup of tea.

How can you make a new acquaintance feel special or comfort an old friend? With a nice cup of tea.

I love to drink tea. I like it strong and I like it hot!


Recently, I received a gift from a friend who knows about my love affair with tea. It is called an “Almigh’ Tea Bag” from Supreme Housewares. This cute little thing is made completely from silicone. It is shaped like a tea bag with tag intact! I’ve carried it to work with me and tried it out with several different cups and mugs.

Cup, Saucer and Tea Bag
Cup, Saucer and Tea Bag

The base of the bag comes off so you can stuff the insides with your own mix of herbs and spices. Some like it strong, some like it light. With the Almigh’ Tea Bag, you can make it just like you want it.

Almigh'Tea Bag
Almigh’ Tea Bag

Here are some of the advantages that I found with this item as compared to the metal spoons or tea balls that you have in your utensil drawer at home.

  1. It is adorable.
  2. It is inexpensive.
  3. There is no metal to ruin your microwave.
  4. It travels well in your “go to work” mug.
  5. To clean out the tea leaves, simply turn it inside out. The leaves come out very easily.
  6. Small quantities as well as buying in bulk will save you money.
  7. No waste, even the used leaves can be added to the compost.
  8. Fresh tea leaves and herbs give more robust flavor.
  9. You aren’t stuck with a whole box of tea in a flavor that you didn’t like.
  10. It is easy to experiment with flavor combinations.


My experiment included whole cloves,              star anise and orange mint
My experiment included whole cloves, star anise and orange mint

There are also other uses for this tool that are yet to be explored. I wonder how it will do for a small “bouquet garni” in a small beef stew? I also wonder how Coffee Beans will work, if they are course ground and stuffed inside with course ground hazelnuts? As you can tell, playing with this teabag may keep me occupied for some time.  It is definitely an item that I will be adding to my stocking stuffer list for Christmas this year! The bag comes in four colors: yellow (shown), green, red, and ivory.

If you have any ideas about what can be stuffed into the “Almigh’ Tea Bag”, or have had any experience with it, I would love to hear from you.  Please respond here or send an email to John at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

Review of Guardline Wireless Driveway Alarm

One of the more interesting things about working out of your home is that you get a number of business visitors. I don’t receive visitors every day, so there is no need for a receptionist or anything that fancy. However, given that I don’t know these people most of the time and it would be a good idea to know they’re on my property, ensuring I know they’re coming up the driveway is a good idea. So, I decided to get a wireless driveway alarm. After looking at quite a few of them in detail and trying out one other model that simply didn’t live up to the vendor claims, I purchased the Guardline Wireless Driveway Alarm.

This particular product is a little more expensive than a few others on the market, but not unreasonably so. It has a number of features that makes it a better choice than the competition. For one thing, it has a longer wireless range than the others I looked at, about 1,000 feet. The signal from the remote sensors is quite strong in my house, so I can move the receiver just about anywhere and expect notification of someone coming up the driveway.

I was also able to obtain sensors as a separate purchase. The system supports four different zones. Each zone has a separate sensor. The receiver displays a different light for each zone and you can also configure each zone to have a different sound. So, you don’t actually have to look at the receiver to know when someone is coming up the drive (or moving around on your property in general).

What intrigues me is that you can also purchase separate receivers. If you have a multilevel house like I do, having multiple receivers saves you from having to carry the receiver from location-to-location. I may eventually have one receiver for each floor of the house.

So far, I haven’t experienced a single false alarm. This fact actually surprises me quite a lot because I live in the country. I had expected that the chickens might escape notice, but so far none of the deer in the area has managed to trigger the sensor either. On the other hand, the sensors have faithfully noted absolutely every visitor I’ve had so far. I can actually see where someone is at on my property based on the zone that is triggered at any given time.

Take my advice and use the quick setup to start with. The book makes everything sound way too complicated. The system comes with a quick setup sheet that makes setup a breeze. All you really need to do is put batteries into each unit, assign each sensor to a specific zone, and then give each zone a unique sound.

The sensors require battery power, which makes sense given that this is a wireless setup. The receiver does include a battery backup, but it normally runs on AC power. A nice feature is that the receiver also provides a battery test for the remote sensors. Simply run the test and you know whether a sensor has batteries that require replacement. A sensor will also light an LED on the receiver when its battery power is low.

Installing the hardware is also quite easy. You get everything needed except something to drill holes for the anchors. The anchors are long enough that they work fine with rounded surfaces. I was able to stick one of the sensors on a wooden fencepost without problems. The sun shields on the sensors keep false positives to a minimum. Make sure you point the sensors downward, as recommended in the instruction, to keep late day false alarms at bay.

About the only negatives for this unit are the price (you do get what you pay for in this case) and the somewhat annoying tones for the zone alarms. Actually, I can live with both issues without problem—only a few of the tones are horribly annoying and it’s probably a good idea that they are so that I won’t breeze right through an alarm while working.

Overall, the Guardline Wireless Driveway Alarm is a high quality produce that should provide me with years of service. It is a little expensive, but that expense is more than offset by the long reception range it provides and the lack of false alarms. Just how will it ages remains to be seen.


In Praise of Editorland

A good friend of mine, who just happens to be a really good editor too, runs a blog site called Editorland. If you’re like me, you have a shelf full of books that purport to tell you how to write better. These books do provide you with the mechanics of writing better—they provide a common framework of rules that everyone follows to make writing clearer, succinct, and expressive. However, they all lack something that Editorland provides—an experienced hand.

Experience is hard to find in books, articles, or even most places online. It’s not just a matter of learning when to break the rules or to observe the rules to an extreme—being a good editor (or a good author, for that matter) consists of far more than rules. For example, creativity is a good thing, even for a journalist, but certain kinds of creative prove troublesome to an extreme. Burying the topic of a story well into the story is never a good idea and Bill lets you know about it as part of his one blog post.

Sometimes it’s a matter of when to use a hyphen or the proper spelling of a word. The blog posts cover a wide variety of topics that will interest anyone who writes and is tired of not finding good answers in the books on their shelf. The idea of Editorland is to make you a better editor (or author) in discovering how to feel your way through a topic and how to use both words and punctuation effectively. Writing is an art, no matter what sort of writing you do—it can’t be taught in the same way that an engineering discipline can be taught. Experience is the best teacher.

The best part of Editorland is that you can go back through the years of posts that Bill has created and learn quite a bit about the art of writing. The topics seem fresh, even when they were written quite some time ago. In short, if you write, give Editorland a try to see for yourself that it has quite a lot to offer.


Review of Fiber Planting Trays

Every spring we start by planting some seeds for later transplant into the garden. The main reason for starting seeds in the house is that the growing season for the plant is too short if you simply plant the seed in the ground. It’s always a better idea to plant seeds directly in the garden when you can to avoid the shock of transplanting. However, many items, such as tomatoes and squash, need a longer growing time and you simply have to start them early. As a consequence, we’ve tried a number of planting trays over the years. A planting tray contains some number of individual cells that you use to grow plants from seed. When the time comes, you simply remove the young plant from the cell and plant it in the garden. This year we tried a new type of fiber planting tray, the Plantation Products P72HFB Clear Dome Fiber Tray with 72 Cell Insert.

This particular product lets you plant up to 72 individual plants in a single tray. It comes with a clear dome that helps hold in moisture and give the seeds a better start. The clear dome also allows sunlight through, which naturally is a requirement for getting the seeds to grow. We actually use the really large rubber bands that come with file folders, orders from some companies, or the type you use for trash cans to hold the dome in place. Using a rubber band at either end keeps prying paws (those of our cats) out of the new plants.

Of course, there are a number of systems out there and choosing the right kind for your particular needs can be difficult. There are a number of advantages to this system over using plastic trays.

  • The cost of the trays is less than comparable plastic trays (although, the plastic trays do last several years and we don’t know yet just how long these fiber trays will last).
  • The trays are completely biodegradable, unlike the plastic trays that have to be recycled (assuming they have the right recycling number on them, which many lack).
  • The fiber actually absorbs excess liquid and releases it back into the soil, which makes it more difficult to over-water the plants.
  • The trays seems sturdier and less likely to buckle.
  • The fiber breathes better, which means that there is less likelihood of burning the tender roots—overheating the roots is a problem when using plastic trays.

Longevity is the one potential issue that might make these fiber trays a little less of a value than they could be. The plastic tends to break if you don’t handle them with extreme care, but with careful handling it should last three or four years. We think we’ll be lucky to get two or possibly three years from the fiber trays we purchased. However, given the other advantages, the fiber trays seem like a good deal to us.

You also have to be careful to get the product that comes with the watertight tray. The product packaging for the product we bought said that the base was watertight. Otherwise, using this product inside your home could lead to a watery mess.

Of course, there are many different choices when it comes to planting trays, but most seem to come down to a choice between plastic and fiber. Let me know your thoughts on which is better, plastic or fiber, when it comes to planting trays at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.


Review of LED Keeper

On Tuesday I reviewed LED Christmas lighting and found that it’s lacking in some major areas. Normally I don’t post two reviews in a single week, but this week is different because this review is about a product that can help mitigate the repair issue with those lights. The LED Keeper helps you find and repair problems with LED Christmas lighting sets, even if the set is supposedly not repairable. Now that I know how to use the product, I wouldn’t be without it. The company also produces a tool named Lightkeeper Pro for incandescent light sets. Both products make finding and repairing bad bulbs a lot easier.

The LED Keeper works by passing a current through the light set at the point where a failure occurs. The device actually pierces the insulation and injects a 9 volt signal through the line to help you locate the bad bulb. You use clips to help you keep track of how the bulbs light. It actually doesn’t take many tries to locate the bad bulb. The best way to see how this product works is to view the instructional video.

You should note a few things about this tool. First, you need to untwist the wires in order to clip onto the wire that holds the bulb you want to check. The video doesn’t make this very clear.

Second, I found the tool cumbersome to use with the lights in place. Yes, I eventually got it to work, but the best policy seems to be to wait until you take the lights down at the end of the season and perform the required repairs then, when you can work at a table or other easily accessed surface.

Third, you only get two replacement pods. You use a pod to replace a non-replaceable bulb—one that has been glued in place. The pods are what makes it possible to turn an unrepairable LED light set that you’d normally need to throw out into something you can salvage. Fortunately, it’s possible to buy additional pods in sets of four. However, I had to contact the company to find this information out because it isn’t mentioned anywhere on the packaging or as part of the instructional video.

These few problems aside, I found the LED Keeper worked extremely well. I tested it on three damaged light sets and it repaired them all. Given that LED Christmas tree light sets are a bit on the expensive side, having this tool could save you a lot of money. The part I like best about this product is that you don’t have to be an electrical engineer to use it. Yes, you do need to be handy, but most people who can handle a pliers without problem could easily use this product as well.


Review of LED Christmas Lights

I’m always looking for ways to make self-sufficiency pay. One of those methods is to do more with less. In my CFLs for Free post, I described how you could purchase just one Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL) and eventually obtain a house full of them (using the money saved to buy new bulbs) that would end up saving you a lot of money. Thinking carefully about new technologies and how they can make you more self-sufficient is a good way to keep more money in your pocket.

Not all new technologies end up saving you money. The Light Emitting Diode (LED) is one of them. Yes, the new flashlights are fantastic and I absolutely love the one I own. It puts out an immense amount of light seemingly forever on a single change of batteries. However, LED Christmas tree lights are another story. It would initially appear that they’d be a winner. Their life expectancy is supposedly much longer than standard bulbs and an entire 200 light string consumes a miserly 9 watts when you buy one of the nicer sets. In addition, the light they produce is vibrant.

Unfortunately, the longevity of LED Christmas lights is a problem. Out of eight test sets I initially purchased for testing, one set is completely dark and two others have dark segments in just one year of use. Of course, the problem is likely with just one bulb in each darkened segment. However, this is where the another problem occurs, the bulbs are glued into place and you can’t change them. (A few newer sets do include replaceable bulbs, but each vendor appears to have a different socket scheme so the bulbs from one vendor aren’t interchangeable with those of another vendor.) However, whenever you can get them, get the sets with replaceable bulbs.

Having read the vendor documentation carefully, I had anticipated a problem or two. The first thing you need to know is that the vendor is misleading you about the longevity. The sets I reviewed specified bulb life between 25,000 and 100,000 hours. The term you need to know here is Mean Time Between Failures (MTBF). MTBF is a statistical measure that doesn’t really tell you anything unless you know how to apply it. An MTBF of 25,000 hours means that half of the bulbs will last that long and the other half will last longer. There is an actual mathematical probability curve that specifies bulb reliability, with higher failure rates at the beginning and end of the curve and a relatively stable period between (called a bathtub curve). You also need to consider what MTBF infers. The vendor is telling you the life expectancy of any given bulb. In order to find the bulb life expectancy of the light set, you divide the individual bulb life by the number of bulbs in the set. A 200 light set that has bulbs with an MTBF of 100,000 will, on average, deliver only 500 hours of light without failure. If you’re like most people who turn their lights on at 6 pm and turn them off at 11 pm, the set will last, on average, 83 days or about 3 years. As a consequence, it doesn’t surprise me that three out of eight light sets have problems.

The second thing you need to know is that LED lights are polarized and of different characteristics. If you’re used to working with miniature incandescent sets with replaceable bulbs, you know you can slip a bulb out of a non-conforming holder and put it into a conforming holder without problem as long as the bulb is of the right type for the number of lights in the set. In addition, it doesn’t truly matter how you insert the incandescent bulb as long as the two leads stick out appropriately. Not so with LED bulbs. It’s possible to put them into the holder backward because there is a positive and negative end. In addition, a check of those replaceable bulbs show that some have resisters attached to the bulbs and others don’t. In other words, you must get the replacement bulbs for your set from the vendor who produced your light set. The addition of replaceable bulbs is a good step forward in LED technology, but things are still too complicated for most people to handle.

There is actually a way around these repair issues and that you can salvage your LED Christmas lights when they fail. On Thursday I plan to review LED Keeper, a product I found for fixing problem light sets. The solution isn’t perfect and it does require some electrical knowledge on the part of the user, but it actually works quite well. I managed to salvage my failed light sets using this tool.

The third thing you need to know is that LED Christmas lights won’t actually save you any money unless you can buy them on sale. The problem is the high initial cost of the light set and the small amount of time you use them. The cost of running a 50 light incandescent set 6 hours per day for the 30 days that most people use them is ((20.4 watts * 6 hours/day * 30 days) / 1000) * Your Electrical Rate ($0.111362/Kwh in my case) or about $0.41. The cost of running a comparable 50 light LED set is ((4.8 watts * 6 hours/day * 30 days) / 1000) * 0.111362/Kwh or about $0.10. The savings of $0.31 per year isn’t very large when you consider the difference in light set cost of about $21.00. The lights would have to work for 68 years to pay back your investment. In order to make LED Christmas lights work as an investment, you have to buy them on sale. However, you might simply like the fact that they produce such vivid colors that the cost differential isn’t a concern.

Overall, I can’t recommend LED Christmas lights as they currently exist. The vendors aren’t being honest about how long they last, most sets are impossible to repair, and even when the set is repairable, the replacement lights aren’t standardized. Adding insult to injury, you’re paying a much higher price for these sets. LED Christmas lights are getting closer to being a bargain each year though and it’s likely that most people will be able to start benefiting from them in a few more years.


Review of Telestrations

It can be hard to come up with a game that isn’t boring, that everyone in the family can play, and that doesn’t take forever to play. Telestrations is a game that fulfills all of these requirements and far more. My sister has said that Telestrations has turned into one of her favorite games and I must admit that I like it quite a lot too.

The basis behind Telestrations is simple communication. You get a word that you must draw on a pad that is issued to you. It actually helps if you aren’t very artistic. I don’t think the game would be quite as much fun with a group of artists as it is for those of us who are a little lacking in drawing skills. After you draw your word (not letting anyone else know what it is), you pass your pad to the next person. That person looks at what you have drawn and tries to guess the word. He/she writes the word down and passes the pad on.

The third person draws the word that the second person guessed. After creating this new drawing, the third person passes it onto the fourth. The cycle continues until you get your pad back. Because each person has come up with a different interpretation of your word, the results are hysterical. You go back through the drawings and guesses to see what sort of journey your original word has taken.

There is supposedly some means of keeping score and determining a winner, but we haven’t actually ever done that. The fun is in seeing what other people come up with. The results really are quite humorous at times. However, as far as I’m concerned, the best part is that everyone is talking to everyone else and everyone is having a great time.

Unlike a lot of games on the market, this one is completely reusable. Except for having to replace the drawing pens at some point, once you buy the game you have everything needed to have a great time. The pads are plastic coated and work like white boards. The kit even comes with some special swatches of cloth for wiping off previous drawings. If you’re looking for a good time at a family event where the event is held in the house, you really do need to check out Telestrations.


Review of an Interesting New Radio Show

One of the ways in which technology can help people is by exposing them to thoughts and ideas from other places. In my case, I’ll listen to radio programs from other areas of the world to gain a better understanding of what people are thinking in those places. Streaming radio broadcasts prove one thing—despite everyone’s best efforts, radio is still alive and well. Even if the station is computer controlled for the most part, I still find interesting shows to listen to during the day.

Sometimes a show is just entertaining or informative in its own right—making it an interesting way to discover something new. Notes from the Underground is a new show that airs from Alpine, California. A friend of mine, Wally Wang, is part of the cast and let me know about the show when we conversed through e-mail recently. So, not only do I get to stay in contact with events in California and a personal friend, but I get to hear an interesting bit of comedy mixed with fact.

The comedy is more along adult lines, but you won’t hear anything so offensive that it’ll make your ears burn. None of the cast will scream at you or swear until you wonder whether they actually know any other words. In fact, I have yet to hear anything I couldn’t say to someone else—not that I would always do so. Most of what you hear is good satire that pokes fun of a situation where the participants really should have known better.

However, to call this a comedy show would be to sell it short. Each of the segments also includes some useful information, or at least it’s information that will make you think. For example, during the latest show Sherri Diaz exposed some of the fallacies behind fad diets and described a number of the problems that they can cause. I knew about the grapefruit diet, but had no idea people were still ingesting tapeworms to lose weight or that people would think that a diet consisting solely of cabbage would be a good idea. Sherri also provides at least one (and usually multiple) good recipes with each show.

One of my favorite segments with Wally was his expose on useless weapons. This segment has actual historical value and discussed weapons that countries have tried during a time of war. In some cases, the results were horrific, but in others the results were strange (if not outright funny). For example, during the battle of Midway in WWII, the US found that its torpedoes needed work. Not only didn’t the torpedoes explode, but some Japanese sailors used the air bottle inside to torpedo as floatation devices when the torpedo broke apart on contact. This last week, Wally discussed the opium wars in China—another bit of history discussed with a mix of seriousness and humor.

I could probably do without the sports segment in each show, but I’m sure that many other people find it interesting. Of course, the sports commentary is local to California for the most part. Don’t get me wrong, Dane Henderson does a great job with this segment, it simply isn’t my cup of tea.

Other members of the cast chime in with interviews and other material that’s both interesting and humorous. Whether you find this show interesting enough to listen to each week (12:00 to 2:00 PST) depends on your interests and tastes. Each show seems to have gotten a bit better from the first one (this last week was the fourth show if memory serves me correctly). You can listen to this show at http://krly.streamon.fm/. Give it a try and you’ll likely find yourself a bit smarter when the show is done .