We had a prowler last week.
According to my neighborhood watch groups and security apps, it was only a matter of time. If you look at the footage captured by people’s security cameras, the wee hours are populated by a shambling zombie army checking car doors, stumbling around your porch and skulking through alleys in search of pawnable items.
When I saw signs of entry in the backyard, I knew it was time to get a security camera — even though I wonder what good it will do. Some of these bad actors trip the motion detector lights, look up, stare at the camera long enough for someone to chisel them in stone, then go about their thievery. You wouldn’t be surprised if they lifted their shirt to show some telltale scars, or held up a driver’s license.
But at least you have something you can show to the police. You hope the conversation doesn’t go like this:
You: “I had a skulker. We were skulked. Here’s the video.”
Officer (watching the video): “Say, that’s pretty sharp. What’s the resolution?”
You: “It’s 4K with infrared night vision, 260-degree field, automatic facial enhancement, output to an m4v codec … ”
Officer: “Nice! Well, thanks for showing it to me.”
You: “Wait. I showed it to you so you can get this guy.”
Officer: “He didn’t steal anything, so it’s not high-priority. Say, you get that on Amazon?”
You: “Yes, twice, because someone stole the first box. Would you like to see video of that?”
Officer: “Only if he tripped and you sped it up and set it to ‘Yakety Sax,’ that Benny Hill song? That’s always good for a laugh.”
Anyway. I did some exhaustive searching for the best camera — meaning, I clicked on Amazon pages until my hand cramped up — and settled on something that did everything. The last time something had so many glowing reviews, it was a report on Chernobyl the day after the accident.
Check out this feature promised in the ad: “You don’t need to worry about privacy even if the camera is stolen because it will shoot the thief immediately and send you a notification.”
Sounds a bit harsh, to me. Oh, by “shoot,” you mean that it takes a picture. That’s OK, then.
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When it arrived a few days later, I charged the batteries and downloaded the app. The setup was easy: Enter your Wi-Fi credentials, point the camera at the QR code on the app, wait five minutes and get an error message.
The screen displayed a plaintive sentence: “I heard failure sound.”
Yeah, me too, pal. Chisel that on 2020’s tombstone.
Then it spoke in a harsh female robot voice, like your worst grade-school teacher returned from the dead and implanted in the robot from “Lost in Space.” “Please format the SSD card with the apps,” she said. I couldn’t because the camera hadn’t connected to anything, and no menu was available. “Please format the SSD card with the app,” she said again. The screen blinked and displayed: “I heard failure sound.”
I took out the battery, scanned the QR code and it connected in a trice. Ah! Formatted the card, downloaded the new software, gave it a name — Back Door — and set it aside to do the second unit.
This one proved to be extremely paranoid and jittery. It would start recording and sending notifications to my phone even though nothing had moved in its field of vision: “Motion detected! View on App!”
“You’re imagining things,” I snarled. “There’s nothing there. Calm down.”
Silence for a minute. Phone buzzes with another notification: “Motion detected! View on App!”
“Do you have X-ray vision and you’re seeing a car pass through the wall? There’s nothing there. Chill.”
Silence for a minute before the phone buzzes with a third notification: “Camera two is not connected.”
Oh, it’s like that, is it? We’re going to sulk? “Well, listen here you miserable little … ”
Phone buzzes. Notification: “Camera one is not connected.”
I picked up both naughty little eggs and put them right on top of the box that emanates the Wi-Fi. Neither could find it. “If it were a snake, it would bite you — and establish a secure connection!” I yelled.
Wife (who was in Wisconsin at the time; I must have really been shouting): “Can you return it?”
Me: “Yes, I can rebox the cameras, go to Amazon, print out the return labels and the bar code that goes in the box, tape it all up, put it by the door and forget about it until the return date passes.”
I checked the company’s website for some guidance and was met with a blank page with a string of Chinese characters that could possibly mean, “From hell, we laugh at thee.”
I gave up and bought another camera that was twice as much. Now I have one camera that works instead of two that don’t, and that’s better. Unless I’m skulked by a pair of guys! But if I’m lucky, they’ll be twins.
(Note: I don’t know what that means, either, to be honest. Wrote that line, and then thought “I heard failure sound.”)
firstname.lastname@example.org • 612-673-7858 • Twitter: @Lileks • facebook.com/james.lileks
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