The Scarlet Crane and the Saffron Falcon

Full Disclosure: I used to work with Jim (although now he’s Mr. Fancy Pants Author J.E. Hopkins).   I haven’t worked with him in 12 years. We had lunch 2012, and he told me he was writing a book, or had just written a book.   I can’t exactly remember which. 

He described it as a fantasy thriller novel, and I thought “Oh great, anther Harry Potter wannabe, just kill me now”.

I’m not a huge reader.  Let me rephrase that.  I read all the darn time.   But it’s usually work related, technical stuff, or IT stuff.   It’s literally all I do, so no I don’t spend a lot of time reading for fun.   I will on occasion pick up a book, usually one that’s recommended, and enjoy a good read.   But that only translates to 6-10 times a year, often less, though that’s starting to change.

Then Jim told me his book was on Amazon, and at the time was on special for $99 cents.  I thought “Ah what the heck, the guy put a lot of effort into this, it’s worth a buck right?”.

Any book is worth a buck? Isn’t it?     So I bought it.

Just to put this in perspective, I like a good mystery.  I like a good action book, or mystery or spy novel, or even sci-fi.  I don’t however, generally dig fantasy stuff.   I have never read Lord of the Rings, though I loved the movies and probably should read the books.   I tried to read Game of Thrones.  I’d rather get a root canal, though I love the series on TV.  So maybe I do like fantasy and I just don’t know it.   The thought of reading Harry Potter though makes me want to hurl.  

When I read that the Scarlet Crane was a Fantasy Thriller revolving around the use of Transition Magic, I had the same initial reaction that I have with Harry Potter.  I clearly thought, this is going to suck, I’m not going to enjoy this.   It will probably be 10 or 12 hours of my life completely wasted.

I was wrong and pleasantly surprised.

It was more like a Grisham novel with a little ‘Magic’ mixed in.  Totally acceptable.   Mixed in might not be the right word since the book is clearly centered on it, but it didn’t dominate the book in terms of being way out there fantasy stuff that you have to be high to believe.    

I enjoyed it.  

Then he wrote a sequel The Saffron Falcon, and I was actually kind of excited to read it too.  I just did, and it was very good.   Jim has evolved as a writer.  The 2nd book was considerably better than the first and I am looking forward to future additions to the line.

So if you’re in the mood for a good easy read, I recommend these books.  

I get nothing from Jim for supporting his writing.  He hasn’t even bought me lunch (yet).  I do believe in giving credit where credit is due and Jim deserves credit and kudos for writing two good books.   Well at least one really good book and one pretty good book.

Dropcam Pro, more cam, less drop.

Earlier in the year, I picked up a couple Dropcams.  The purpose was to set them up at the office so that we can get a look at what’s going on there.   Mostly to make sure the grounds crew was taking care of their end of the bargain.

I wrote about it here: Dropcam, the perfect name.

In that blog post I was very critical of the product.   We couldn’t keep them connected to our enterprise wireless network no matter what we tried.   In fact we jumped through hoops to do so with no support from Dropcam.  It was their lack of decent tech support that forced me to pan the product, and the company and send them back.   (Amazon return policy for the win).

Recently I got an email about the new Dropcam Pro.


Initially I had flashbacks to the crappy support.  But thought, maybe, just maybe they’ve fixed them.  So I ordered up a pair.  What they heck right?  Amazon will take them back if they suck, and dollar for dollar, feature for feature they do seem to have something going for them.

The Dropcam Pro features the following upgrades:

  • 130 degree field of view vs. 107
  • 8x zoom vs 4x (although zoom is misleading since it’s a digital zoom, or like a crop and expand).
  • Excellent low light vision vs. ‘Good’ what ever that means.   I love it when a company uses general words to describe things instead of actual numbers.  Would be nice to know the actual LUX sensitivity.
  • Superior Audio Quality vs. ‘Solid’ audio quality.  Again, no real data.    It’s like saying “My dad can beat up your dad”.

Absolutely no mention of any wireless or stability improvements.  None.

So really what makes all this work is this cloud based DVR solution they offer, and of course ‘take additional money for’.   Out of the box you get a camera, that’s pretty straight forward to configure using a web driven wizard with the camera plugged into your computer.   Once you’ve given I the details on how to connect to your wireless network, you unplug it, set it up and give it power.

It then boots up, joins the wireless network and starts streaming your video into the cloud to their cloud.  Where they will allow you one of three options:

  • No DVR, you just get a live view of what ever your camera sees.
  • For the bargain price of $9.99 a month or $99 per year, they will save 7 days of video for you to rewind and replay.
  • For $29.95 a month/$299 a year, you get 30 days worth of your video saved in their cloud to review.

There are other bonuses like motion alerts and what not.   But that’s the gist of it.  You bought a camera that you can only view through their website/portal, and/or can pay them for DVR services. 

There is no ‘bring your own DVR model’ or a way to store video captured locally.   Not that I’ve found yet, with a precursory look on the web.   I’m sure it can be done, but that’s not their business model.  I wouldn’t hold your breath.  They will likely never offer this, hopefully some thoughtful hackers will in the future.

In all honesty, their base free offering is all we really need for what we’re using it for.   Again, that’s mostly to ensure the grounds crew does their job and clears the parking lot during bad weather.


So far, at the time of this writing it’s stayed connected to our network for 3 days.   One small blip but not anything I’d consider a fail at this point.   So they look like keepers.

Video is good, night vision is decent, though this is behind a window, though our parking lot is fairly well lit. 

So what about their tech support?    Here’s where I get to hit them with a hammer again.   Upon disconnecting the service last time I was told (neigh warned), that we’re gonna delete your account, if you ever buy a drop cam again you’ll have to re-register.  I was OK with that.

So upon setup, I tried to ‘register’.   I couldn’t, that name was in use.  I thought, OK, so they didn’t really delete me.   Let me recover my password.

Sorry, that email is in use.  What?

Sorry, that email and that username don’t match up.  

Those were the only two items you can use to recover, and I’m certain nobody else registered that username with my email.  Not possible, not even to guess.

So I opened a ticket.   “Hey, I’m trying to set up a drop cam, and it says my password is no good.  I tried to use your password reset form and it tells me that the username and password don’t go together.   You recognize my username on one page, and my email on another, but I can’t make this account “GO”.    What shall I do?


The response?

Without reading and processing my request:  Go here and use the password reset form. 

Gee.  Thanks for that.   So while waiting, I just created another email alias, and registered a new username with that.   I was skeptical I’d get my two weeks free trial using that ‘recovered’ account anyway.

So if you’re in the market for a nice camera, that’s backed by a cloud ONLY storage solution.  One who’s tech support is sketchy at best.   I can highly recommend Dropcam.

If you’re not worried that the company will fail, and you’ll lose the ability to store (or potentially even view) video down the road, Dropcam is for you.

If any of this cloud monkey business scares you, as it probably should might. Companies die and go out of business all the time.   Then Dropcam might not be for you.  I really hope it’s still working 2 years from now.

For what it is, I give it one and a half thumbs up.   Which is significantly better than the previous experience.

Sena BlueTooth vs. StarCom 1

OK, since 2007 I’ve had an intercom system in the bike.  StarCom1 Advanced to be exact.


It allows me and a wired passenger to talk.   The intercom part of the StarCom has always been a bit of an issue for me.  Mostly tuning it.  To get the VOX just right, so that we can talk clearly w/o wind noise holding the conversation open when not necessary.

Fortunately or unfortunately I haven’t had to use the intercom portion all that often since Claudine just doesn’t ride with me that much.   When she does they are normally short trips and not worth messing with the intercom.

That being said, I use the StarCom every day on every ride.

It is my audio interface to my GPS (Zumo 550, then 665) and it’s my entertainment center (mp3’s from the Zumo and formerly XM via the Zumo) and when appropriate Radar detector audio.

At one point it also served as my interface to the phone.  Both times, phones connected to the Zumo via Bluetooth and the Zumos hard-wired into the StarCom.

Previous to the StarCom I simply used a MixIT, to be a portable amplifier for iPod/XM and to Mix in the radar detector.


The Mix-IT worked well, but created a mess of wires going into the tank bag where I kept it.  When I decided I wanted an intercom I passed it on to a friend and he still uses it today.  My dad still uses one as far as I know.   (Great product).

The Starcom has a number of advantages for me:

  1. Central mounting location, on the bike.   No longer in my tank bag.
  2. One nice cable to my helmet, no mess.
  3. Intercom capability
  4. Above average volume and sound quality.

The disadvantages are:

  1. It’s not cheap, it’s not super expensive but it’s not cheap.
  2. Starcom cables don’t seem to last a long time.   The Shielded cables for Radar and phone seem to break down.   When you’re talking a $82.95 microphone/audio cable. This is a problem to have to replace it every year or so.  (Two cables actually MIC-02 and MUS-04) if you want Stereo sound, which I do.   And, no, you can’t use cheapo Radioshack cables.  You can, but you won’t be happy.
  3. Tuning the Intercom can be a pain.
  4. Headsets aren’t cheap, now about $75 per helmet.  Figure two helmets for me, one for the wife, one for the kids that equals 4 helmets/headsets.   That is cheap compare to say a J&M system.  
  5. The headsets aren’t easy to shuffle around so you need to mount it in your helmet and leave it there.
  6. Along with the cables I’ve found headsets if worn year-round tend to break down as well, usually the microphone is the first to go.

So what brings me to this review?  Well about two years ago I lost the phone/microphone  capability with my StarCom again.  It actually works if the bike isn’t running, but if it is, well the noise or interference is so bad nobody can hear you.

I replaced the headset, and the cables (again), and re-routed them to get them away from as much stuff as I could to avoid the interference.   It worked for a while but now it’s back to being fubar again. 

All other audio functions work just fine.  It’s the cable from the Zumo to the StarCom that is the issue.

So I decided to look at what else is out there.  

Back in the day before I had the Mix-IT, I did play with one of the first CARDO BT systems for motorcycles and it was pretty good.  At the time it was mono only and phone only.

After searching, the Sena Bluetooth SMH10 seems to be the most recommended at this time.    Also the idea of my riding buddy having one and being able to talk to him was attractive.   So I ordered up a pair.

I unboxed them, charged them, upgraded them to the new 4.0 firmware.

Paired up my Zumo and iPhone and went out of a test ride.

First thoughts:

1) Sound quality from this is HORRIBLE.   Streaming MP3’s from the Zumo 665 is about AM quality at best.   It’s certainly loud enough.  I ride with earplugs so it needed to be loud enough to overcome.   But even at lower volumes w/o earplugs, on a scale of 1-10 it was a 3 maybe a 4 at best.   (Versus the StarCom which I would rate an 8.5-9)

(And yes, I am painfully aware of the need to make sure the speakers are centered in the ear).

2) Phone call testing.

For the first test I used what Sena calls Case 3:


I called my wife who was happy to play along, and she said no.  This is unacceptable.  I was barely legible if at all.

Now knowing that with my windshield down, it can be quite turbulent, I stopped an put the plastic microphone mask on the front side of the mic as suggested and included in the box.

No real change in quality.

I stopped again an switched up to what Sena calls Case 2:


For this the phone call quality was better.  Wife said she’d call me and talk to me in an emergency, or take a call from me in an emergency, but no, she would not talk to me like this for 30 minutes to keep me awake.

It was not as good as the StarCom when the Starcom works.

In this configuration, MP3 streaming form the Zumo was still bad, though GPS prompts sounded pretty good.

At the end of the day I decided I listen to music 98% of the time and talk on the phone 2%.   I’m not willing to give up the music audio quality in favor of what turns out also to be a lesser phone call quality.

The wireless features and Bike-To-Bike capabilities *could* have possibly swayed me.  But even those scenarios are less than 10% of my total ride time and aren’t likely too.

So with some frustration, the Sena gets shipped back today.   

I have ordered the StarCom1 BT-02 module.  If that rectifies my cable issue, then I’ll be a happy camper.  If not then we’ll figure out what to do next.

If you have a sure-fire bike to bike system that provides great audio (with ear plug) and uses or doesn’t use the StarCom system.  Please let me know about it or how you have it set up.