My Poor Man’s Backup Camera

If a poor man happens to own a wifi-capable GoPro and spare smart phone.

One of the things I really like about my 2012 Ford pickup is its backup camera. Incorporated into the tailgate, it automatically shows an image on the rear view mirror every time I shift into Reverse. It helps me see what’s behind me in tight spaces or parking lots and, when used in conjunction with the obstacle warning system, makes it impossible for me to hit anything while coming as close as possible to it.

Trouble is, when the truck’s tailgate is off — as it is when I’m traveling with my truck camper (the Turtleback) — I don’t have a backup camera anymore. And when the Turtleback is on board, I can’t see out the back at all.

Clearly I needed a backup camera that would work with the Turtleback.

Commercially Available Solutions

There are some options I could buy to give me the setup I want.

The first is the Lance backup camera, which installs over the back door. The Turtleback was already wired for it, although the camera wasn’t installed. I had to buy the camera and then buy the cable that would connect the camera to my truck or some sort of monitor in the truck. I was spared the ordeal (and cost) of putting this system together by the simple fact that Lance no longer sells the camera. At least that’s what I was told and it works for me.

I could also buy a Ford backup camera just like the one in my tailgate. After spending $800 for that, I’d have to figure out how to mount it on the Turtleback and run the wires to the truck’s existing plug. That would be great because it would work just like my tailgate camera. But $800. And how the hell would I mount something that was designed to fit into a truck tailgate?

There were various wired and wireless options I could buy from various online sources. Prices ranged from $50 to close to $1,000. All of them had one thing in common: they would likely be a bitch to install, the biggest problem being getting power to the camera. This, however, would be the avenue I’d travel if I couldn’t come up with a better idea.

The DIY GoPro/Smart Phone Solution

Camera Mount
The window over the Turtleback’s sink with the GoPro mounted and plugged in. I can close the blinds without disturbing the camera. In this photo, the Turtleback is parked in my friend’s backyard in Arizona.

Reading about all these wireless cameras and receivers reminded me that I already had a wireless camera: my GoPro 3. It also had a suction cup mount that made it possible to mount on the inside of the Turtleback’s back window (so I didn’t have to worry about it falling off or getting stolen when parked). And because I’d had a USB power center installed in the cabinet over the sink (where the stereo is), I could run a power cord to the GoPro to keep it powered all the time, thus enabling me to keep the WiFi feature turned on and ready all the time. That gave me the camera component without spending a dime.

But I still needed a monitor.

Sure, I could use my iPhone and just run the GoPro Capture app every time I wanted to look behind me. But did I really want to deal with pushing buttons every time I shifted into Reverse or just wanted to see what was back there? Not really.

And that’s when I remembered my iPhone 5. I’d sold it to Amazon when I bought my iPhone 6 two years ago. They’d rejected it. There was nothing wrong with it. In fact, it was in remarkably good condition since I’d had a skin on it the entire time I owned it. I tried again. They rejected it again, on different grounds. I called up and complained. They looked at my Amazon purchase history. They saw the thousands of dollars I spend on Amazon every year. And they gave me a credit for the value of the phone. When I offered to send it to them, they told me to keep it.

And it had been sitting in a box inside another box in my garage ever since.

By some miracle, I found it. I charged it back up. And then I set it up to work with the GoPro. Sure enough, the rear view picture was almost exactly what I needed. Certainly close enough.

I poked around in my box of RAM mount parts. I found a suction cup mount and an iPhone 5 cradle and all the other parts I needed to mount the old iPhone over the truck’s dashboard beside the mount I already had for my iPhone 7. Then, because I knew the now 6-year-old iPhone 5 wouldn’t hold a charge as well as a new one, I attached a power cable to it.

The result: a dedicated monitor showing a live image of whatever’s behind the Turtleback.

Backup Camera Monitor
Here’s an example image from my backup camera “monitor.” In this example, I was parked at a campground in Washington. The empty phone cradle to the left of the monitor is the one where my iPhone 7 lives in transit; I was using my phone to take this picture.

All without spending a dime on any equipment I didn’t already have.

Best of all, when the Turtleback is removed from my truck while traveling, I can set up that camera in the truck’s back window to give me some of the same benefits as the backup camera in the tailgate I left home.

Keep in mind that although I’m unlikely to use that old iPhone for anything else, I can grab the GoPro and use it while I’m on my trip any time I don’t need it back there. In fact, I brought an assortment of GoPro mounts and SD cards, as well as my GoPro 3+, to use on my trip.

A Word about Having “Too Much Stuff”

My friends constantly rib me about having too much stuff. After all, they’ve seen my garage and the seemingly countless labeled bins and still unpacked (but labeled) boxes of things I’ve collected throughout my 50+ years of life.

But there’s a lot to be said about having all this stuff and this blog post offers a perfect example. Because I kept that old iPhone, I had an easy monitor for my camera solution. And because I had later model GoPros with wireless built in, I had an easy camera setup. And because I had that old RAM mount stuff, I was able to put together a solid and reliable mount for my monitor.

In other words, this solution cost me nothing because I already had all the components I needed. And I had those components because I don’t throw much of anything out if there’s any possibility I might be able to use it in the future.

So yes, I have a bunch of labeled bins with old electronic equipment in it. So what?

It’s what made my poor man’s backup camera possible.

Mate: The Solution to a Problem

There is an ebike in my future.

I was minding my own business yesterday, checking in on Twitter, when I came across a tweet by my friend Mike in Brooklyn. He was linking to an Indigogo campaign about an electric bike. I’ve been looking at ebikes for some time now and clicked the link.

Indiegogo, in case you don’t know, is a website that entrepreneurs use to raise capital for new products. They create prototypes, produce slick videos, and put information on the site that includes support levels and perks. The perks are usually versions of the products or a chance to buy at a reduced rate when the product becomes available.

The video for Mate, the ebike Mike linked to, was slick in a way that only Europeans can make them. In it, the Mate designer described the bike while video clips played, showing off how fun and practical it was. I watched closely; I was interested in two features: motor control and foldability. When both features appeared, I was sold.

Mate
Nicely designed and feature-packed. This is the solution I’ve been looking for.

But Mate has more features that make it perfect for my needs. It has a good suspension with all-terrain tires — that means it’ll work on rough road surfaces. (The video shows it riding on cobblestones.) It weighs in at less than 50 pounds. It has an onboard trip computer that helps control the motor and keeps track of distances. The rechargeable battery is hidden in the frame so there’s no bulky box to deal with. There’s an ergonomic handle that makes it easy to lift if you need to carry it up a flight of stairs. And on the top-of-the-line S model, the battery can take you up to 50 miles and an independent throttle can get the bike up to 20 miles per hour. In other words, this bike can go the distance.

Although Mate isn’t cheap, it’s a heck of a lot cheaper than every other ebike or portable bike I’ve seen. Better yet, it’s a lot cheaper than the Honda Grom I’ve been looking at (about $4200) or the cost of getting my new used 100cc dirt bike street ready (about $1200). Yes, it won’t go as fast as either one of those, but I already have a road-ready motorcycle (and now a dirt bike) so I don’t need another fast bike. And with a Mate, I won’t have to worry about how I can take one of those motorcycles with me when I travel (the front hitch with bike carrier solution I was looking at would cost about $700). This will fold up and fit inside the Turtleback, my truck, or even — dare I say it? — my helicopter.

So I signed up for the Mate S. The way I see it, the money I saved by not going with any of the solutions I was already looking at paid for this ebike. And if it does fit onboard the helicopter, I’ll get a lot more use out of it. My only tiny concern is delivery; more than a few Indiegogo campaigns have failed to deliver in the past. This one looks pretty solid, though. I guess time will tell.

As for Mike, well his wife is getting one, too.

Nine Years on Twitter

Twitter LogoAn unexpected anniversary.

This week marks the 10 year anniversary of the social networking site, Twitter. It’s been getting a lot of press and there are a lot of tweets from Twitter highlighting events throughout its history. I read through a bunch of them yesterday and remembered more than a few.

That got me thinking of how long I’d been on Twitter. I went to my profile page, and saw that I opened my account in March 2007. Almost exactly nine years. But what day in March? Had I missed my anniversary?

I Googled “Twitter anniversary date” and discovered Twitter Birthday, a site that exists solely to tell you when a twitter account was opened. I put in my user name. And I discovered that my account was opened on March 20, 2007. Exactly nine years before.

Twitter Birth Certificate
My Twitter “birth certificate,” retrieved exactly nine years after my account was opened.

Over the past nine years, I’ve been very active on Twitter, posting more than 57,000 tweets. I’ve formed good friendships with many people from all over the world that I’ve met on Twitter, including Andy Piper (the first person I ever followed, who now works for Twitter), Miraz Jordan, Ruth Kneale, Barbara Gavin, Shirley Kaiser, Michael T. Rose, Mike Muench, Esther Schindler, Jonathan Bailey, Chuck Joiner, Mike Meraz, Greg Glockner, Daniel Messier, Bob Levine, Ann Torrence, Bryan William Jones, Patty Hankins, April Mains, Debbie Ripps, Pam Baker, Terry Austin, Kirschen Seah, Jodene, Amanda Sargent, Ryan Keough, Steven Pass, Bill Evans, Derek Colanduno, Derek Bartholomaus, Bonnie Pruitt, Arlene Wszalek, Marvyn Robinson, and others.

I’ve met several of these “virtual friends” in person, including Andy (who lives in the U.K.), Shirley (California), Esther (Arizona), Mike Muench (Florida), Mike Meraz (California), Daniel (Arizona), Ann (Utah), Bryan (Utah), Patty (Maryland), Terry (Texas).

Barbara (Massachusetts) and Jodene (Washington) have gone on helicopter rides with me and Amanda (Washington/Louisiana) has actually flown my helicopter in Washington while I was tending to some divorce-related business in Arizona.

I wrote a book with Miraz (New Zealand) and was interviewed once by Marvyn (U.K.) for his Inspired Pilot podcast and multiple times by Chuck (New Jersey) for his MacVoices video podcast.

I’ve also used Twitter to keep in touch with people I already knew from my personal and business life. And organizations that tweet information that interests me. Those lists are too long to recite here.

Twitter has changed my life in another important way, too. In 2009, I authored and recorded the first of several video courses about Twitter for Lynda.com. This turned out to be a real contributor to my income with impressive royalties year after year as the course was regularly revised. (Sadly, I no longer do this course for Lynda and can’t recommend the current version.)

I blogged about Twitter and my relationship to it. My very first post about Twitter concerned then presidential candidate John Edwards using Twitter way back in 2007 to attract voters. That’s not a big deal today, but it was huge back then. Another post from 2007 titled “Reach Out and Meet Someone” covered my thoughts on social media and meeting people online. I felt as if I needed to explain it — it was that new. I also blogged “Four Steps to Get the Most Out of Twitter,” which, nine years later, is still valid. You can read more of my posts about Twitter by following the Twitter tag.

Nine years after joining Twitter, I’m as enthusiastic about it as ever. While it’s true that I’m not thrilled about some of the changes I’ve seen — notably the preponderance of “promoted tweets,” the Moments feature, and the algorithm now used (by default!) to sort your timeline — Twitter has remained unique enough to make it an important component of my social networking efforts. It’s still my “water cooler,” the place I turn to get social when I need a break from my daily activities.

While I lot of people just “don’t get” Twitter, I’m pretty sure that I do. And I expect to be using it for a long time to come.