Categories
recommendations Weather

Backyard weather station

I love sensors. Measure all the things! Home power generation/consumption, air quality, CO2, airplanes flying overhead, infrared, ultraviolet, RF… yah.

So here’s the latest, which I’m immediately adding to the “you should buy” list:

Weather station, installed in my back yard.

That’s the WeatherFlow Tempest Weather System, and it’s awesome. Briefly:

  • Smartphone and web-based displays
  • Simple network protocol, so there’s lots of open source to capture data
  • Innovative, clever sensors – ultrasonics for wind speed and direction, piezo for rainfall. No moving parts!
  • Solar powered
  • Works with or without the internet
  • Also has cool stuff like a lightning sensor (useless in San Diego)
  • Calibrated to lux and watts per square meter
  • Reports UV levels too
  • Precise temp/humidity of course.

Here’s a picture from the vendor:

Basically a does-everything solution. I found it via this TechHive review and got one ordered. It took a few weeks to arrive, but having just installed it, like I say, I’m already a fan. You have to pay more ($329) for the better tech, but having bought and had fail any number of $50 to $100 ‘weather stations,’ I’m ready to buy it once and enjoy it.

You can see my data right here on the web. Buy your own from the vendor here.

Categories
recommendations

Inexpensive indoor air quality monitor

These are $38 on Banggood. It measures temperature, humidity and airborne particulates. Laser light scattering technique, the same as in my more expensive Purple Air I wrote about previously. These are display only, two screens, no connectivity but perhaps that’s all you need for something you place on a shelf.

Thanks to my friend Roger for finding these. I bought two and loaned one to our neighbor who promptly used it to check in vs out and verified his AC filters.

Anyway, it’s well made and cheap, so if you want one I say get it.

https://m.banggood.com/PM1_0-PM2_5-PM10-Detector-Module-Air-Quality-Dust-Sensor-Tester-with-2_8-Inch-LCD-Display-for-Monitoring-Home-Office-Car-Tools-p-1588436.html

Categories
Covid-19 recommendations

1080p webcam for Zoom for $40

Fact 1:In the Covid-19 pandemic, we’re all on Zoom et al quite a lot.

Fact 2: Apple webcams are 720p resolution and quite low quality.

Fact 3: Nerds want to be helpful.

Consequence one: Good webcams are sold out universally.

Consequence two: The people behind the cheap and awesome WiFi webcam brand Wyze have written custom firmware to convert a wireless security camera into a very decent USB 1080p webcam. And it’s free.

Hardware requirements

  1. Wyze webcam v2 – vendor, or Amazon. $26 bucks as of today.
  2. 8GB or so micro SD card. You might have one around if you use Raspberry Pi. I bought this two-pack of overkill 32GB cards, since that’s a useful size for Pi project. $14.
  3. USB3 A to A cable. These are unusual and I had to order one. I bought a two pack so I can have a spare. $12, and cheaper versions exist. Note that your computer needs to have a USB3 port with an A plug – I’m using the one on my LG monitor.

Flash the firmware

Instructions are here on their site – TL;DR is to unzip the download and copy demo.bin into the root directory. Power up holding reset for five seconds. Pretty do-able even for the less technical.

Results

There are two Wyze cameras, basic or a $35 pan/tilt/zoom. I already had two of each, because at $20 to $35 each, they’re in my hobby budget and have been delighted with ’em. I chose the base camera as I see no use for PTZ.

Here’s the built-in webcam from my MacBook. It’s the 2018 15″ model, my work computer.

Now here’s the Wyze:

Color is a bit off, but resolution is a huge amount better. it’s also wide-angle, with strong curvature at the edges.

I was just in time for a Zoom birthday party.

Why yes, my family does look sharper than everyone else. And wide angle was perfect for this use. Sometimes you get lucky. You can kinda see my low-rent mounting:

I’ll leave it that way for now, as it makes it quick to move around and try other lighting.

Overall – recommended. Pretty cheap, the parts are versatile, and when this ends you just re-flash the camera to get back to a nice smart camera/IoT device.

Categories
recommendations

You should buy a PurpleAir air quality monitor

Check this out:

Air quality right now in SoCol. One of those is my house.

In July of 2018 I paid $244 to a company called Adrionics for a chunk of PVC stuffed with electronics, the PA-II:

Mine, mounted next to the garage door

It’s a sophisticated, lab-grade piece of hardware – twin laser-based light scattering particulate sensors, and it measures how much junk is in your air. In particular (a pun I am delighted with), the “PM2.5” size range most important to your health and lungs.

It’s rated for indoor or outdoor use. I put mine next to the garage door mainly due to the difficulty of running a power wire outside. Outside is better but you could benefit by having indoor and outdoor if you’re feeling fancy.

You can read about the PMS5003 sensor here, it’s pretty nifty. The PA-II uses twin sensors so you can plot and compare the two readings and thus get better data:

Science! You can connect directly to the sensor (it uses WiFi) and see the full details as well as temp, RH% and breakouts of counts per size range.

Leftover smoke from distant fires, I think.

And even if you don’t own one, head over to https://purpleair.com/ and try their map – you can see see local and regional quality at a snap, as with the top image in this post. I can tell, for example, that we’re in fire season as the quality is usually much much better. And if your health is affected (asthma, seasonal allergies or the like) then a sensor makes even more sense. There are other ‘smart home’ air quality monitors with designer enclosures; I don’t recommend them. Do your own research but I found that PurpleAir was a guy who started making these for himself and then for others who asked.

Which, yeah, is a lot like Paul Scurfield in another post in this series. Or Dan Fock.

Each sensor automatically shares its data so you benefit others too – I like that. I’ve done a few experiments with cheap air quality sensors and have come to believe that you can’t get good data without spending a chunk of money, so while this is a non-trivial expense I consider them a good value and recommend buying one.

Or maybe check the map – if someone nearby has one already, then just bookmark the map and benefit from some citizen science.

Categories
clocks

You should buy an aircraft clock

Yes, YouShouldBuy is now a tag here. It suits me. This post is hand-reposted from the WatchOtaku site after discovering that blog posts will be lost; this one was worth the effort of saving.

Buy yourself an aircraft clock

Created by Paul HubbardLast updated Aug 05, 2013

Waltham 8-day clock

The Story Until Now, and What I’m looking for

I’ve had decidedly poor luck with my quest for the perfect desk clock. I want a mechanical clock, preferably with an audible tick-tock, with an 8-day or greater power reserve. I want to have the enjoyable routine of winding it Monday morning and starting off the work week happy. It needs to not lose more than 2-3 minutes per week, otherwise I’ll miss phone calls. This is totally a desk toy, so budget is limited.

This started when my wife’s mother gave us a ship’s clock her father bought in 1954, but it needs a $400 service and isn’t going to keep time very well. (More of a change-the-watch clock than a navigation chronometer). It gave me the idea of a nice clock, though, dang it.

Next I bought and enjoyed the Omega calibre 59.8D 1940s clock

but have gone through hell with it too. It initially kept OK time, but after a few weeks starting gaining or losing minutes per day, and even finding someone who’d service it was very tough. In the end, Chelsea Clock was willing to service it, but quoted me $900 to do so. I love that clock, but really not sure I’m willing to spend that much on it.

I talked to the nice people at Timekeepers locally, who tell me that Omega a few years stopped selling parts to non-Omega watch and clockmakers. BOO OMEGA. YOU SUCK.

Especially since I’ve emailed Omega and they’re unwilling to service it, for any price. DOUBLE BOO OMEGA. QUIT BEING DICKS.

A New Hope

Timekeepers has a large stock of Jaeger-LeCoultre Atmos clocks, which I would totally adore as a mantle or desk clock. The unfinished-case models are $650, and refinished ones around $1,100 so I’ll wait and ponder that. I’ve also looked into carriage clocks, and deck watches, but hadn’t found anything good. Most were too worn, needed expensive servicing, or were too expensive.

As I’ve said before, for a while I was a student pilot at the Fox Flying Club in Illinois. Had a grand time flying Piper Archers like this one:

Check out the dash:

I’ve left that image huge so you can see details.In addition to the flight-specific bits, there’s a nice legible clock in the upper left. If you think about it, aircraft clocks need to be robust: There’s a ton of vibration and temperature variation. Modern ones like this are quartz, but they were mechanical for decades… 

An eBay search for “vintage 8 days” eventually led me to buying this one.

It’s made by Waltham (squint and you can see the name on the dial), a famous now-bankrupt American brand better known for pocket watches. I would guess that they used modified pocket watch movements for these but that’s purely speculation right now.

This one is mil-spec for the US Navy, which should mean super-tough and reliable. Model number 22809-A, military part number AN5743-1. 9 jewels! 

Visually, I’m in love. Uncluttered, two colors, great contrast and legibility, zero extra. Perfect.

Read the listing, and it gets much better:

Clock was completely dis-assembled, all parts cleaned very well, re-assembled and lubed properly with 5 kinds of Moebius oils. The best! All clocks I sell are GUARANTEED to keep good time.

Yay! That’s what I want. At $199 it’s incredibly cheap for a fully serviced 8-day clock.

Did a bit more research and bought a cheap acrylic stand too. Different seller, $15:

A Turn for the Worse And Then Better Again

Clock bought, paid, arrived in two days flat… and it won’t start. WHY?

Contacted the seller (quiche_le_poodle on eBay), a very nice guy, who promptly offered to fix it free:

Hi. Should have been running when you got it. Yes, return it. I don’t know  

why it quit so soon! Usually they last a long time, many years. I have sold 

hundreds of them with no problems. Sorry about that. 

 

Ray 

So it’s headed out today. I will post a followup. I’m optimistic, but then aren’t I always?

Update 8/1/13 – Ray got the clock and reports

Hi. Got the clock. Mainspring busted. That is very uncommon on this model.  

Will send it back with new, not used, spring installed tomorrow. 

Update 8/5/13 – Got the repaired clock today, running and looks perfect. Ray even tucked $12 in the box to cover my shipping! Now that is a nice guy. Highly recommended.

Learn More and Things To Know

Aircraft clocks seem to be as-yet-undiscovered. There’s not a lot of info on the net, and prices are quite modest for what you get. They come in different sizes and different function sets. I got the most-basic, as that matches what I want on my desk, but I’ve also seen 24-hour dials, timers (chronographs), dual-time, ones with 5VDC dial lighting, etc, etc. Prices go from $200 for this one to $1000 for a Breitling from United Airlines with all sorts of coolness:

This page has a comprehensive listing of clocks, part numbers and most-basic specs, but that’s it. Like I said, there’s not much information out there. I think this Waltham dates from the mid-1940’s, which is pretty darn cool.

Ray notes that these are calibrated to run in the vertical position. So make sure and get a stand or make one yourself.

Ray seems to be an excellent seller – his home page shows that this is his hobby, along with electronics, so his margins are probably tiny. I love finding a kindred soul in it for the love. (I can say that; after all this site is free!)

Buying Advice

Start with Ray. Make sure anything you bid on is fully serviced, cleaned, lubed and warrantied to keep good time. And do leave a comment here if you have information to share, please.

Categories
recommendations reviews Watches

You should buy an OWC dive watch

Normally when you write a review you attempt to be impartial, to set aside any bias or prejudgement you might have and be as fair as you can to the watchmaker and your readers. This is a massively biased review. Let me explain.

I first corresponded with Dan Fock back in 2009 when I was writing for ABlogToWatch, when I got the MS-5517 to review. Ten years ago! That initial email and review blossomed into a friendship that I count among my closest, despite the fact we’ve never met, and over that time I’ve reviewed and owned two or three 5517s, both on ABtW and my previous site, WatchOtaku. I’ve also recommended OWC to other sites and friends, both as a fine watch and as a company deserving of publicity. Heck, I even remade his website for a while! I’m an advocate, not an impartial judge. Thinking about those things led me to reuse the idea and title behind my Scurfa review – “You should buy a Scurfa dive watch.” Because I think that you should buy an OWC.

On a closely related note, impartial reviews can and should stick to the original straps and bracelets. I, however, while strongly a bracelet guy, do not like the OWC bracelet as too heavy, so this review will feature straps that I prefer, with of course details and links.

Let’s get started.

Three generations of OWC

You’re looking at three generations of OWC, so let’s start there. I would characterize Dan’s watch philosophy as “kaizen,” the Japanese term for continuous improvement. Often seen in manufacturing and research, kaizen here means that every generation of OWC is subtly different and better than the last. That can be difficult as a prospective customer, as there’s always the dilemma of “buy now and enjoy” versus “wait for the next, improved model” as famously sunk the Osborne computer company. Here, we have my MS-6538 “Big crown” leftmost, a previous-generation MS-9411 “Snowfake” center and MS-9411-GD “Gradient Dial” on the right. Straps are the Moose Strap “Premium Slim Nato”, the Toxic Magnum and the Scurfa blue, respectively. More later on the straps.

Let’s start with the differences and commonalities. The center 9411 has a Rolex-style bezel edge, while the others have knurled (crosscut) edges. Ditto with crowns, coin edge vs knurled. I find knurling to be easier to grip, espectially when wet, muddy or begrimed, though honestly either style works well. All three watches have mechanical movements, lume-inlaid ceramic bezels, 316L stainless steel cases, 20mm lugs with Torx-bolt bars, screw-down crowns, sapphire crystals with dual-side antireflective coatings and solid steel casebacks.

The 6538 has Mercedes-style hour hand and a red second hand, Sub-style circle and rectangle hour markers, black rehaut and large crown with no crown guards. The 9411 has Snowflake hands, square/rectangle markers, minute marks on the dial, a brushed steel rehaut and deeper red second hand and a bezel that adds minute markers from zero to 15 plus a date window at 4:30. The gradient dial 9411 moves the minute markers onto a black rehaut, goes to matching orange OWC logo/second hand and reverts to 5 minute spacing on the bezel. And of course the spectacular central color gradient dial, shading from medium to deep blue, paired with the addition of applied markers; the GD is by far the most luxury-watch of the three.

three owc watches

The cases are pretty similar. Note, and this is important, the Torx-key bars – while incredibly strong and reliable, the larger holes don’t work with straps that have quick-release springbars, so no Barton canvas or silicone on these.

The 6538, photographed to show the applied markers and anti-reflective coatings.

The 9411, showing similar hand finishing, printed markers and crown.

At this angle, the gradient isn’t visible but can see that its gloss finished versus matte, as well as the very well finished applied markers and hands. This dial is just plain sexy.

See what I mean?

At most angles the gradient stuns.

As I like in a luxury watch, the reflective surfaces provide a varying and beautiful play of light.

The cases are so well made that they are optically flat – I initially tried to lightbox these but decided to show how good the polishing is.

So you can selfie on the side of your watch. Also note that the tiny screws in the bezels, it’s user-serviceable in case you get sand or grit in the mechanism.

Casebacks use the same Torx bit. These watches are super tough and Dan personally pressure tests each one. Dan, in fact, spent a lot of money on a pressure testing machine to do so.

Each OWC comes in a Pelican-style, OWC-branded waterproof box that I reuse when on the beach. Outside of the Pelican case, is the custom designed and made outer case, cut from bombproof 1cm thick high density polyethlene that is initially a puzzle to open. Here you can also see why I chose the blue Scurfa strap – it matches the dial almost perfectly and is the most comfortable dive strap I own.

Here you can see what’s in the box: two OWC-branded Torx drivers, the butterfly-deployant bracelet, spare bars and the amazing OWC kangaroo strap. It’s summer here, and sweat ruins leather, otherwise I’d simply wear them on the kangaroo all the time as its a wonderful, comfortable strap that looks fantastic.

Showing the strap lining, solid end links and deployant clasp. Also note the foam cubes in the Pelican case; this lets you customize the storage space in case you want to reuse it for a camera, phone, etc.

Dan also made some commercial silver coins with custom logo. If you buy a snowflake you’ll get one. Beautiful, mirror-polished silver in a clear plastic case, it’s mesmerizing to play with.

Here’s pics from Dan showing the OWC coin. He only had two of these made so far but more may be forthcoming next year.

I paired this 9411 with the bulkier Toxic Magnum strap. It’s similar in comfort to the Scurfa but styled like an Isofrane, with both straps being strong, flexible and having lots of closely-spaced sizing holes. You can get both from Toxic Natos.

Sorry about the residual fingerprint.

This feels to me more like a rugged, get shit done and don’t mess around watch. I appreciate having the date function, too.

I like the minute markers better on the rehaut, but here it does make precise time easier to discern and it’s a legible, well-balanced dial.

That’s what you see when you open the box, before I removed the bracelets.

So which watch would I recommend? I’m torn, and here’s why – the 9411 has the date that I like for an everyday watch and a no-nonsense, functional look. The gradient dial, however, is great for when I want something beautiful and and superbly detailed, and it’s a great example of why blue dials are popular. I love what color and gradient bring to the functional OWC look and the negative space on the dial is reminiscent of the nine! thousand! dollar! Blancpain Bathyscaphe that I covet in vain. Also, I already have my 6538, and the 9411 might be a bit too similar in terms of style.

Interestingly, the snowflake hands are quite a bit more legible than the mercedes hands on the 6538; day or night the 9411s are faster and easier to read.

So I’ve already told Dan that I want to buy a gradient dial for myself. And I may end up with the 9411 as well. At $1,200 to $1,500 each, these are simultaneously less expensive than most Swiss-made and more expensive than many microbrands. I’ve used macro lens pictures to try and capture the fineness of finishing so that you can understand why I think they represent value for money. Subjectively, they feel like luxury dive watches, especially the gradient dial, yet I don’t hesitate to wear them into the ocean or hiking. They occupy a fiercely contested price range, of course, and there are scads of competitors to consider as well. I’d point to Monta, Farer, RGM, and maybe Benarus/Raven, Weiss, NTH and Nodus.

One important note: one psychological component of luxury is recognition, in which other people can tell what you’re wearing and infer cost and social status from it. OWC is almost opposite to that, in that they sell in small numbers, advertise very little and generally don’t carry the prices or margins required, so if you want to emphasize your success, look to brands that advertise more. This carries credibility on another axis, that of skill and knowledge, so among watch geeks you will have status, but frankly that’s not a very good reason since most people just don’t care.

These are superbly made watches that you can rely upon.

In the all-important functionality, there are two key aspects not photographed here: timekeeping and luminosity. All of these, and indeed every OWC watch, are hand-tuned and adjusted by Dan’s watchmaker before they are shipped, and indeed each of these keeps COSC or better time. The movements are either ST1812 or Soprod A10, but honestly they’re similar in handwinding, feel and accuracy, with the same 28,800vph beat rate and ease of service. All are better in thinness than the 2824, and are all easy to service by any watchmaker.

Normally I have lume photographs, but the camera I use with my lume rig has been donated to a cousin and my Lumix macro lens can’t focus properly. So please accept my apologies and also that these are all spectacularly lumed, visible all night and equal to almost any dive watch made.

I will be shipping the 9411s to the time bum for review, but as I said above I hope to buy one or both for my collection. And given my quartz bias, this is my highest praise and recommendation. These are superb watches and like it says on the tin, I think you should buy an OWC dive watch. Tell Dan I said hi.

http://www.orangewatchcompany.com/

Categories
recommendations Watches

You should buy a Scurfa dive watch

TL;DR

It’s sold at cost and you literally and actually cannot buy a more legit dive watch. $268 at your door.

Framing the narrative

Back when diving was dangerous and new, companies like Comex and militaries like the French navy commissioned then-new watches to be used for measuring elapsed dive time. Advances in materials and design produced watches durable and legible enough, which combined with the cool factor of diving, led in short order to them being style icons. Back then, a professional diver could and often did buy a Rolex Sea-Dweller and actually use it as intended.

Rolexes and Blancpain and even Seiko have become luxury now, Veblen goods recast in gold and silver as high-status male jewelry. Behold the latest incarnation of the pro-diver Sea-Dweller:

Two-tone rolex sea dweller.

Though diving is now unglamorous blue collar work, there are still divers who need watches and can’t afford sixteen thousand USD. One of them is named Paul Scurfield, and he spends 28 days at a time in a diving vessel, over a hundred meters below the surface of the North Sea:

Having first been made for divers and support staff who were left without a watch when the value of their vintage Rolex diving watches exploded leaving them the option of a large windfall or too self conscious of wearing such a valuable item in a hostile workplace, Paul Scurfield watch enthusiast and saturation diver tried to fill the void with a few affordable watches built to a high standard using the best materials.

https://www.scurfawatches.com/history

Divers working in the North Sea are made up in teams of three and on any working dive you have a diver 1, diver 2 and the bellman, diver 1 controls the dive and this is where the name for the watches come from, diver 2 is there to make his job easier, the bellman tends the divers from the diving bell and the divers work in the water for a maximum six hours, a normal saturation diving system will house four teams of three divers covering the full twenty four hours of the working day stopping only for bad weather or crew changes, the work period for the divers is 28 days including decompression.

So we have a day-job pro diver who designed a watch for himself and his co-workers. This was his first one:

Picture from Scurfa

I learned about the brand from Jason Heaton’s review on Gear Patrol. At the time, I was intrigued but not enough to buy. Of late, however, I’ve rediscovered the virtues of a good quartz watch, so I was open to the idea, and then via WatchUSeek I saw this:

Picture Scurfa via WUS: https://forums.watchuseek.com/f74/diver-one-d1-500-yellow-available-now-4933985.html

That yellow… I like it a lot. My first mechanical watch was a Seiko SKXA035, and I’ve missed the yellow since I sold it.

Specifications

  • Model: Diver One DI-500 Yellow
  • Case 40mm by 47.7mm by 14.4mm, 20mm drilled lugs
  • 7mm threaded crown, 120-click steel bezel with aluminum insert. His earlier models had ceramic bezels, but he found that he, co-workers and customers were breaking them, so he’s gone to more resilient aluminum bezels.
  • Water resistant to 500m
  • Spring-based helium escape valve at nine, tested by Paul Scurfield down to 154m with multiple gases mixes. How’s that for legit? Usually escape valves are poseur…
  • Domed sapphire crystal with inner anti-reflective coating.
  • Ronda 715 movement, in the Swiss made grade, gold plated, 5 jewels, 60 month battery life with stutter-second end of life indicator. Rated -10/+20s per month. The movement has a cheaper version (non Swiss made), which you can see torn down here.

Normally I talk price at the end of a writeup, but this watch is extraordinary. Talk about burying the lede – in the middle of their history page is this bombshell:

I would like to thank all the customers of Scurfa Watches for helping us grow and be able to invest in new models, We have taken no money for ourselves and we are not looking to sell tens of thousands of watches only as many as Alison and I can handle, we turn down shops and outlets on a daily basis and think it’s too early for magazines so we turn them down as well.

https://www.scurfawatches.com/history

Yeah, these are sold at cost. Buy one while you can, because sooner or later they’ll want or need to turn a profit; until then their prices are astonishingly low. Shipped 2-day DHL prices are:

  • 230UKP in the UK
  • 242UKP in Europe
  • 207.3UKP non-VAT.

So mine in April 2019 was $267.22 delivered. Holy crap that’s a great deal!

It wears quite well; 40mm is a great size and 20mm drilled lugs mean a plethora of strap options. There’s no bracelet yet, but one is promised and until then I’m enjoying trying it on a variety of straps that I’ve already got.

Factory black strap

The yellow makes me smile. If you don’t agree, there are several other dial and hand color combinations for sale at the same price.

Lume is, of course, excellent, in BGW9 white/blue.

DI-500 movement, picture Scurfa

Timekeeping is well within spec, though mine doesn’t hit all of the seconds marks between about 35 to 50 seconds. Ahh well. It’s a solid movement, and I like the 5 year battery and that the EOL feature will stutter the second hand a few months before it dies, so that I’m not left with a surprise dead watch.

And for the price I’m fine thrashing it hard – that’s less than my recent Seiko diver cost. I love my OWC but this is so much cheaper I’ll keep both. If you want mechanical, he makes the Bell Diver with a Miyota 9015 for a bit more, see a review on ABtW here.

So there you are. This is a watch with a best-ever story, a non-profit price and superb functionality. You’ll probably never see anyone else wearing one either, so it’s super hipster in that sense and the antithesis of a luxury good too.

https://www.scurfawatches.com/diver-one-d1-500-yellow

Update 2-Sep-2019: The long-awaited Scurfa bracelets are now available, as I explained here you should go buy one; they’re about 60 bucks which is a typically excellent value.

The URL is https://www.scurfawatches.com/product/diver-one-20mm-bracelet-in-stainless-steel/