– Ben Martens


PTZ Optics Move SE Review

I help with a lot of the audio visual stuff at our church. It’s slowly being upgraded from “random stuff that people were trying to get rid of and donated to church” to actual AV equipment that is fit for the purpose. In 2014, we upgraded an ancient VHS camcorder to 1080p Canon Vixia camcorders. They were… sufficient. They worked but since we don’t have a ton of light in the sanctuary, the cameras struggled to get a good image. It was blurry and there wasn’t much detail in the image. Additionally, the mounts had to be easily adjustable for the times we needed to point the cameras at something else, but that also meant that they frequently got bumped and needed to be adjusted back to level.

This year we made a major upgrade to the Move SE cameras from PTZ Optics. They are 1080p cameras but the image sensor is 1/2.7″ versus the 1/4.85″ sensor on the Canon’s which means they do a lot better in our low light scenario. They also are pan/tilt/zoom cameras and can be controlled via remote, over the network, or even with the MIDI protocol. These cameras come in 12x, 20x, and 30x optical zooms. There’s a zoom calculator on the PTZ Optics website so I was able to stick with only the 12x zoom cameras which seem to fit our space perfectly.

They have a huge range of features that we won’t need for a while, but it’s nice to know we have room to grow. For now the HDMI comes out of the cameras and goes into our Blackmagic ATEM Mini Pro video switcher and the cameras are powered via Power Over Ethernet cables. We aren’t using the PC software much yet, but there’s a lot that can be done with them in that configuration too.

When I plugged them in for the first time, I was nervous that we had spent a bunch of money for somethign that wouldn’t be much different, but these cameras exceeded my expectations. Here’s a short comparison video:

Now that we have two cameras, I’m already itching to buy one more. We typically have one wide shot and one zoomed in shot but it would be handy to have one more for random purposes. I caught these on a Black Friday sale for 15% off so maybe I’ll add a third one next year.

I like to tell people that no matter what you’re interested in, there’s a way for you to use your talents and interests when you volunteer at church. This is a great example. I don’t know in what other situation I’d get a chance to play with fun electronics like this!

And of course, if you ever want to come see these in person, I’d be happy to give you a tour any Sunday morning!

Desk Light For Videoconferencing

I spend a lot of time in virtual meetings from home. During the day, I usually have reasonably good light coming through the window next to me, but when it’s darker outside (or when it is so bright that I have to close the window shade), my video doesn’t look great. Does it really matter? No, but I like to have good quality audio and video.

It took me a while to find a light that I wanted to buy. These were my criteria:

  • Ability to adjust the color temperature – during the day I have daylight coming in and at night I have warm white bulbs. I didn’t know it would look to have different light colors at the same time.
  • Ability to adjust light brightness
  • Ability to work well whether my desk is in sitting or standing mode.

I ended up with the Lume Cube Edge LED Desk Light (Amazon referral link: It clips onto my desk so it’s always in the same place whether I’m sitting or standing, and it has adjustable brightness and color temperature. The arm is easy to move around to work either as a desk light or to light up my face for video. The light is also diffused pretty well so I don’t get a lot of shiny spots on my face. Below is a before and after comparison. Not only am I more evenly lit with the new light, but the background blurring algorithm has a lot easier time identifying the edges of my head.

Google Pixel 6a Upgrade

After buying flagship phones, Tyla and I tried out a midrange phone last time: the Pixel 4a. It has been stellar! Other than a lack of wireless charging, I can’t think of anything I miss from the flagship phones. Our batteries still last a full day, and they don’t feel too sluggish.

We were happy enough with it that we went for another Pixel: the 6a. This phone has been out since last summer, but when I saw the 6a’s were selling for only $299, it was hard to pass up!

It’s hard to give much of a review for a phone that I just unboxed, but I can say that the transfer process was nice. When the new phone booted up, there was a point where I could connect to the old phone via USB and suck over all the content. Not only did it bring my list of apps, but for many of the apps I didn’t even have to log in again on the new phone! We also use Microsoft Launcher so everything works very much like it did before the upgrade. Connecting the phones to the Tesla and the truck was a breeze and went much quicker than with our old phones. I had been having trouble getting Android Auto to work in the truck so it was nice to see it fire up much faster than it did before.

Unfortunately switching our SIM cards to the new devices was not easy. Xfinity Mobile is typically easy to work with. Most things are done through an app or the website, but for some reason, the “replace your device” workflow was not accepting our new phones. It took a total of two hours on the phone to get both phones upgraded.

I was tempted to wait for the Pixel 8 and Pixel 7a to launch this summer, but those would be sold at full price again and getting two fantastic phones for a total of $598+tax was too hard to pass up. After experiencing our 4a’s, I’m fully onboard with this mid-range phone idea. Not only do they work great for years, but I feel less bad about upgrading since they were more affordable.

Here’s an updated list of my cell phone device history. If we’ve come this far in 22 years, imagine what the next couple of decades will look like!

Sanyo SCP-4000 (?)
May 2001
LG 4500
April 2004
Motorola Q
September 2006
HTC Touch
May 2008
HTC Touch Pro 2
January 2010
HTC Trophy
June 2011
HTC 8x
December 2012
Nokia Lumia Icon
January 2015
Samsung Galaxy S7
October 2016
Google Pixel 4a
September 2020
Google Pixel 6a
March 2023

Limited Laptop Charging

Most battery chemistries don’t appreciate being charged to 100%. That’s why we only charge our Tesla to 80% on most nights. It’s a very expensive battery so we want to take care of it.

I was thinking about this recently when we got a new laptop. The laptops in our house spend a huge percentage of their life plugged in and that’s not great for long term battery health. It turns out that there are apps which will help you optimize for battery life if your laptop is plugged in most of the time. The settings aren’t in Windows though. I don’t know why Windows can’t handle it, but it seems like you need to find an app from your manufacturer. On Lenovo it’s called Lenovo Vantage and Dell calls theirs Dell Power Manager. Those cover our laptops but I’d guess that your brand has a similar app too. Both of those apps have a setting for either a specific charge limit (e.g. 80%) or just a “this laptop is usually plugged in” setting.

It’s hard to tell how it will play out over time, but if it squeezes some more long-term life out of the batteries without much downside, it seems like an easy choice to me.

The Birth of AI

The OpenAI group is making a big splash with websites like Dall-E 2 and ChatGPT. The other night I asked Elijah for the basic plot of a movie and had Chat GPT write the script, write the lyrics for a theme song, and then tell me which voice actors would fit the roles. Then I had Dall-E 2 make a movie poster for it. For this blog post, I asked Dall-E 2 to draw “a van Gogh style painting of a cute penguin sitting in a datacenter typing on a computer” and you see the result on the right.

Experiences like this have led to a lot of conversations about how people feel about it and how we should manage these AIs. It seems like many of the podcasts I follow have spent episodes on this topic and I end up getting bored and frustrated. There are three main points I always wish they would realize:

  1. This isn’t new. Sure, these two specific examples (Dall-E 2 and ChatGPT) are very popular in the news right now. Lots of people are getting introduced to AI in a way they can readily understand, but AI has been around for a long time in many incarnations. AI isn’t one specific thing, but the term appears to have originated around 1956. The range of what people call “AI” is enormous. At some level, you can think of it as “math.” AI doesn’t only mean a sentient robot that’s going to exterminate human life. It’s math that makes things more efficient in your daily life. Here are some examples:
    1. A grocery store deciding how to place items in their aisles
    2. Lane keeping technology in cars
    3. Smart speakers
    4. Junk mail filtering
    5. Motion sensors differentiating between people and shadows
    6. Online advertising
    7. Bank fraud detection
    8. Video game opponents
    9. Social media feeds
    10. Filters on your camera phone
  2. It doesn’t matter whether you like AI or not. It doesn’t matter whether you think there should be rules for its use. That’s like saying there that you need to control the dangerous implications of addition. Anybody on the planet can click a few buttons and spin up “AI” to do any number of built-in tasks on a cloud service like Azure or AWS, and there are plenty of people that have the skills to code things for themselves on top of other platforms or from scratch. We can’t control it like we try to control nuclear weapons material and knowledge.
  3. The technology is progressing faster than you can imagine. I’ve written before about how hard it is for humans to grasp exponential growth, and this is another place where that comes into play. Think about your tech life today (phone, internet, etc) compared to 2000 when we thought flip phones were amazing and iMacs were the hot product from Apple. We’ve come an incredibly long way in 20 years. Not only is it hard/impossible to imagine what another leap of that size looks like, but it’s going to happen in ~10 years this time. And then the same leap will happen in 5 years, then 2 years, etc. So if you think ChatGPT is impressive today, don’t turn your back for too long before you try it again.

So yes, these new technologies are impressive, but for people who work with this stuff every day, the reaction is “Hey, good job. That’s impressive.” It’s not the “WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE! LOOK WHAT HAPPENED OUT OF THE BLUE!” story that you get from the media. It’s almost like you shouldn’t rely on things like TV/cable news for your news…

Battery Backups

We don’t lose power a lot here anymore, but we have a lot of power flickers. Those rapid shifts in current can be bad for electronics, not to mention that it’s annoying when I’m in a meeting and my computer reboots because the power blipped a second. I started protecting my equipment with battery backups and now I have five of them spread around the house:

  1. My home theater is all on one. When the power goes out, my projector, Xbox, and sound system keep running for a while.
  2. Our home networking gear is all on a bigger unit than it needs to be. I can run our cable modem and WiFi for about 45 minutes. This is helpful not just for keeping the modem from resetting in a power blip, but it also lets me continue my work meetings for a while even if the power goes out.
  3. My main desktop machine and monitors are on one.
  4. Our downstairs TV is on one.
  5. The most recent addition was one for the 3D printer. We had a power blip in the middle of a long print and that meant I had to start all over.

These units give me a little piece of mind about protecting the units from changes in voltage but they’re also nice to smooth out the blips. What I really want is a whole-house system that smooths my power and provides some battery backup but those are not really targeted at home users yet. I expect that will change over time with all the research going into battery tech.

I have a mix of devices from CyberPower and APC, but most of them are either the big 900 watt units or the smaller 550-600 watt units. I like to put a Kill A Watt meter on whatever I’m going to buy the backup for to see how many watts I need and then I give it plenty of headroom (like 2-4x). There are calculators online that will help you translate all that into runtime, but like I said, in most cases I’m trying to protect against the 1-5 second outages so as long as I have a few minutes of runtime, that’s enough.

These battery backup devices only last a few years before the battery dies. The battery is a major component of the cost so in the past, I’ve usually replaced the whole unit to avoid frustration, but with five of them in the house, that’s a lot of extra unnecessary replacements. In the last power outage, I discovered that two of my devices had batteries that wouldn’t sustain the load anymore. I replaced one of the big 900w batteries and now the unit works great! The old batteries take some work to dispose of properly but I had that problem when I’d replace an entire unit anyway. I need to get better about remembering to periodically unplug each of these units from the wall while things are running to ensure that the battery is still good. Some of them do a self-test but it doesn’t seem to always catch bad batteries properly.

These units have other benefits too. When the power goes out for longer than a few seconds, I walk around turning most of the units off so save battery power. I can run lamps and charge phones for hours with them and I’ve even though about taking one of them camping when we’re off grid for a long time.

I Lost It

[UPDATE] I have created a new woodworking Instagram account @martenswoodworks.

The other day my Pixel 4a got into a boot loop, and I couldn’t figure out any way to fix it. It would restart, show a few things on the screen for a couple seconds and then restart again. I found my way into the root menu but none of the easier choices did anything, so I was left with a factory reset. I knew it would be annoying, but it shouldn’t be that big of a deal because everything is backed up to the cloud.

Everything was NOT backed up to the cloud.

There were a few things that I lost forever:

  • Photos I had taken while we were away from the house (and Wi-Fi) weren’t backed up but that wasn’t a huge deal.
  • We use the ScorePal app to record every board game we play. I thought that was all backed up to the cloud, but the last backup I had was from August 2020. Oh well.
  • When I started up my Microsoft Authenticator app, it either hadn’t backed up or I went through the wrong flow and erased the backup. Either way, I was left with no way to do two factor authentication for many of my most critical accounts.

Uh oh.

Thankfully, most of them had ways that I could reset my two factor auth either through backup codes, email verification, or text message verification. But there was one that I couldn’t get back: my @martenswoodshop Instagram account. When you set up two factor auth, they give you backup codes and I’m always good about saving them, but I can’t find the codes for that account anywhere. Instagram has an automated flow which has you take a video of your face with the app and then it looks through your account photos to see if it recognizes you. But guess who didn’t post any pictures of his own face on his woodworking account. Oops.

I’ve tried every way I can think of but it’s just gone. The account will sit there forever, but it’s dead in the water. I’m frustrated but it is what it is. And I think it’s worth mentioning that I don’t blame Instagram for any of this. I set up my account to include a super-secret, no-exceptions password and I lost the key to it. Meta has 3.6 billion users and my valid attempt to reclaim my account is drown out in a sea of millions of attempts to hack other accounts. They use the same protocols as everyone else but I made a mistake with how I configured my account by not having a secondary auth two factor auth mechanism and by not saving the recovery codes.

So please consider this yet another reminder to think about what you would do if your laptop or phone were suddenly wiped. Would you be able to recover everything? I thought I was ready, and I mostly passed the test, but I clearly had some holes. I’ll learn from these lessons and hopefully have a better experience next time. Never let a crisis go to waste. (And in the big scheme of things, losing an Instagram account is hardly a “crisis.”)

As for the woodworking content, I’m going to focus more on posting pictures of my projects here and not worry about posting woodworking stuff to Instagram. There’s a lot to be said for putting my content into a system that I control, and I could do with a little less time staring at Instagram.

Church AV Equipment

The audio-visual setup at our church is not very impressive. We don’t ask a lot of it. The main functions are:

  1. Amplifying pastor’s voice
  2. Providing a feed to the screen in the nursery area
  3. Recording the service

Check out this “before” picture. Believe it or not, this is after I had started replacing some gear and throwing stuff away.

Yes that is a CRT TV and yes it was used every Sunday.

I’m the one who ends up running the equipment most of the time so I decided it was time to take this area on as a project. If you’ve been following my @martenswoodworks account then you’ve seen some progress updates in the stories, but over the last couple months I’ve been slowly building up the new solution piece by piece. I wasn’t confident enough to do it all at once since there are so many unique constraints to a project at church. Things rarely play out as expected. This was my rough plan going into it:

Along the way, I was happy to find someone at work who was selling three 24″ monitors and a monitor arm to hold them all. That was the perfect addition to the project because I’m always nervous about stuff toppling over the edge and landing on people. Here’s a look at the end result:

The screen on the left is the video switcher. It takes input from up to four cameras though we only use two today and it combines in the audio from our audio mixer. It records straight to USB (or in the future can live stream to YouTube.) The middle screen is a PC that I’ll use for uploading to YouTube, using extra features of the video switcher, and, in the future, controlling the TV in front of the church. The right screen is for our security cameras.

If I wanted to post a sermon with the old setup, I would come home with two SD cards from the video cameras and a DVD with audio from the mixer. I would have to edit that all together and then upload it to YouTube. That was a couple hours of work for me when I got home every Sunday. So you can imagine my joy when yesterday I recorded the whole service to a USB stick and uploaded it directly to YouTube before I left church!

I hesitate to post this because there are always more things that can be improved (cable management for one), but I do feel like this is in a place where I can slow down for a bit. Not only is this a nicer to use, it opens more possibilities down the road and hopefully it’s not so intimidating for others to learn.

Tap to Pay

We’ve had “tap to pay” enabled on our phones for a while, but it really came in handy on our trip to Hawaii. The condo had a keypad lock on it, so when we left the room, as long as we had our phones, we were prepared. It got me wondering about all the options I have for paying in most stores:

  1. Swipe the physical card
  2. Tap the physical card
  3. Insert the physical card
  4. Tap my phone

Which one is the safest?

Contactless payments use NFC (Near Field Communications) which is a subset of RFID (Radio Frequency Identification). When an NFC chip gets within an inch or two of a reader, wireless energy is transferred to the chip. It powers up enough to communicate with the reader via a unique encryption key for every transaction. If you’re swiping your card, you’re handing out the same information every time you swipe so if a thief gets your info one time, they are free to use it repeatedly.

Tap to pay has additional safeguards in place too:

  • Transaction amounts are limited, and you’re notified of transactions.
  • Your phone must be unlocked to make a transaction.
  • You are still backed by your credit card company’s zero-liability policy.
  • Less information is shared with the vendor (e.g. no customer name)

If it were possible to use my phone to pay everywhere, that would be the safest option. As soon as I carry a physical card around, I’m opening myself up to more risk. Tapping the card or inserting the chip are good choices if I retain control of the card, but if I must hand it off to someone (like at a restaurant), then I’m adding the risk of a credit card skimmer.

In the end, the credit card companies are the ones bearing the brunt of security breaches and they all recommend contactless payments. They’re not going to recommend something that costs them more money.

For more info, check out this article from Forbes.

The Best Pen

We have a lot of cheap pens around our house. They get collected from random locations and every time I grab one of them, I’m frustrated that they are not great to write with. I heard someone on a podcast mention the Pilot G2 0.7mm gel ink pen and they went on and on about how they threw away every other pen in their house once they found these. Then I randomly heard someone else talk about the same pen a few weeks later. Maybe it was some sneaky social marketing campaign, but it worked and I bought them.

This is now the only pen I buy. I will walk around the house to find one instead of writing with anything else.

(This isn’t a sponsored post, but that is an Amazon referral link.)