Reasons I Regret Buying a BlackVue Dash Cam

I’ve used portable Dashcams for many years, but this year, before departing on my 8000+ mile storm chasing trip, I thought I’d get one permanently installed. Having had great luck with Garmin in the past, I looked into those units, but my local car electronics dealer—who recently did a great job with a new Android Auto radio for me—suggested BlackVue. I got a Blackvue DR750S-2CH on their recommendation, and regret it. I take responsibility for not doing enough research, and I’m writing this so that others won’t make the same mistake.

First off, I have to say that the unit works. The video is fine and I didn’t have any basic recording issues on my long trip. However, after wasting many hours of research and losing some important videos, here’s my issues with the unit:

  • HUGE ISSUE FOR ME: Manual recordings will be overwritten!!! So, if you record a clip (one minute by default) you have to download it out of the unit before your manual recording scrolls out and are over written. I confirmed with their tech support that there is no way to automatically preserve these files, although there is a setting to preserve up to 50 “Event” recordings, which are files automatically recorded based on an impact trigger. But this loss of manual recordings is to me a deal killer and is my main regret buying this unit. If I record a file manually it’s because there’s something I want to keep. I lost a whole series of incredible storm videos on my trip because of this. I would not have bought the unit had I known about this “feature”.

  • Related to this: whenever you start a manual recording it saves the previous five seconds (good) but then has a LOUD voice on the recording saying “Manual recording on” right over the thing you’re trying to save. When the unit records an impact file or something it just beeps, and it’s not really clear what’s happening.

  • Also, the way you start a manual recording is by proximity sensor, and you have to “Touch or wave a finger within 20mm of the sensor” on the side of the camera (and this sensor defaults to turning on/off voice recording). This is really hard to do while driving, and I often hit the camera which then of course makes a noise and moves the camera.

  • When you change the time zone or almost any other settings, it REFORMATS THE DRIVE. This is stupid.

  • There is a “recording LED” that is very hard to see and it’s extremely hard to see which one of the four recording modes its in.

  • On my android phone, you have to disable mobile data in order to connect to the Blackvue unit via wifi. I only learned this by googling; the app should just tell you this. This is really annoying because I often forget to turn mobile data off or back on. Also, if you leave the wifi on on the camera that means it will hijack your phone and cause you confusion. I eventually changed the setting so that I turn the wifi on and off manually.

  • Also, the app shows you an advertisement every time you start. I already paid hundreds of dollars for this unit, I should not be advertised to.

  • The app is really only good for downloading a short video or two. They have Windows and Apple software to view the videos and change the settings and so on, but to use it you have to remove the Micro SD card out of the unit and put it in your computer. To do this you have to remove all the cables, open a little plastic cover, and then pry the tiny card out and not drop it down between your seats or somewhere. My other dash cams have always had a USB port which is way, way easier for this kind of connection.

  • You can adjust the camera units up and down vertically but, once glued to the windows, there’s no way that I see to level the unit out horizontally.

  • The unit has a “parking mode”. My dealer installed the unit wired with constant power so this would work. However, the camera does not have any built in battery voltage protection, unless you buy the additional $35 Power Magic Pro or the $200 Power Magic Battery. When I drove every day on my storm chasing trip, I had no battery issues. However, when I parked it at the airport for five days it completely drained my battery and I arrived back to a dead battery. Basic low battery killing prevention, it seems to me, should be built into the unit.

  • Powered by accessory power, the unit takes a full 30 seconds to boot up. By that time I’ve already started up the car and started driving.

  • The “cloud” functionality only works if you provide your own, always on wifi. So if you parked in a driveway or something that would work. That doesn’t work for me with street parking.

  • The included Micro SD card is very small. I bought a heavy duty sandisk unit rather than the official (overpriced) blackvue cards.

I’ve invested way, way too much money in this unit now so I’m stuck with it, but here’s things I want on my next dash cam system:

  • Screen on the unit.

  • Real saving of Manual recordings.

  • USB port for loading files.

NASA Social Launch of Northrop Grumman Commercial Resupply (CRS) via Antares with Cygnus NG-11

I was very happy to be selected for my third “NASA Social” trip, my second at Wallops Island Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) (my 2018 Wallops trip write up is here, and my previous SpaceX 2017 trip in Florida is here). As I wrote last time, Wallops has special significance for me, since I grew up on the eastern shore of Maryland, about 100 miles north of Wallops, and somehow we got a special tour there as a child. I also spent our vacation week each summer in Ocean City, right up the coastline.

NASA Social grants special access to regular people active on social media, and every one I’ve been on has been inspiring. The participants are generally all in future oriented careers, or making money in 21st century ways, like streaming games online or youtubers with millions of followers. This program is very smart of NASA to do, since the social group might have more followers than a TV station. And of course, the scientists and astronauts who present are always amazing, inspiring people. The whole thing is a good reminder that despite the current climate in the country, real, spectacular science conducted by amazing people continues on.

This mission, designated CRS-11 or NG-11 (Northrup Grumman is the NG; they bought Orbital/ATK) is a “commercial resupply” (CRS) mission to the International Space Station (ISS), carrying cargo for the astronauts and scientific experiments and satellites. The Cygnus ship and cargo capsule rides on an Antares rocket for the main boost and then a second stage puts it up closer to the space station orbit. The craft will stay at the station for three months and then, once deployed, will launch some small Cube Sats and go for an extended orbit as a test for future capability to offer a non ISS extended research platform. You can read about all the science on this mission here.

We started on Tuesday morning with science ambassador presentation from Diana Garcia, then toured the Range Control Center tour with Software Engineer Debbie Parks. Unfortunately, they were testing some new proprietary software so we weren’t allowed to take photos, but you can see some from my last trip here. At Wallops they not only launch rockets, but they make smaller sounding rockets for use around the world from scratch. They have some pretty intense machining capability and the material they use is always interesting.

Next, we visited Northrop Grumman’s Horizontal Integration Facility, where they assemble the big rockets for launch.

Then we got to travel right next to Pad 0A, where the rocket was in position:

Later in the afternoon we got a briefing on what’s on board, and a briefing on bio nutrients and their role on nutrition in space. The amount of things they have to work out to sustain life in space is simply staggering.

Next was the pre-launch press conference, which was broadcast on NASA TV.. You can view an archive of the conference here.

That evening I showed a new friend from the social Chincoteague, and we caught some ponies at sunset. It’s still off season in this beach town so finding dinner was a bit of a challenge but we ended up at a pretty nice place.

The next morning we had a nice session with astronaut Robert Curbeam, who was a real inspiration. He works now for Northrup Grumman but flew on the shuttle so most of our questions were about that. He said (paraphrasing) that “you may leave the earth not a conservationist, but you will return one”.

After lunch we got a tour of the Near Earth Network tour dishes back on the Wallops base, which was also really cool, including the main dish which was used on the Apollo missions. In the photos here the dishes are mostly pointed right at the launch pad.:

Next up we got a tour of one of the Wallops aircraft hangars. They get a lot of hand-me-down planes; during the presentation, one of their new acquisitions—a C-130 formerly from the Coast Guard, landed, and we got to go on it.

These launches—even though we are only there to watch—are always nerve wracking for some reason. And we had to wait a long time to get our bus cleared by the bomb dog, etc etc, and then finally we got to the media site, two miles from the launch pad. Everyone with a tripod (like me) ran to get a spot, but fortunately there is room for everyone.:

At 4:46, right on schedule, NG-11/CRS-11 mission began:

Seeing these launches is always incredible (this is probably my sixth or seventh, and my third up close), but the sound is what I think is truly awe inspiring. Here’s my recording with my little stereo Tascam recording (with a bit of compression on the loud bits).

The mission was flawless. Afterwards we went to the post-launch press conference. It was streamed live but the NASA link to the archive seems to be broken.

The Cygnus capsule was successfully captured by the crew on ISS yesterday morning.

There is another launch from Wallops in October, and I really recommend going to see it if you’re in the area (or anything at Kennedy Space Center). Even if you can’t get as close as I did, it’s a beautiful area, and awe-inspiring experience which demonstrates an amazing, hopeful, and productive use of our tax dollars.

Many more photos here.

Wrong Since 1998: It Was Lactose Intolerance, Not Gluten

Note: This is a personal blog entry that is off topic for the blog, but I'm posting it here so it's public and searchable by others who might have had similar issues.

I've had a sensitive digestive system my whole life, and back in 1998 it got so bad that I went to my doctor about it. He gave me a sort of prescription strength Immodium, and not happy with treating the symptom and not the problem, I went to a different doctor, went through a bunch of blood tests and an elimination diet, and ended up cutting out gluten (long before doing so was trendy). I definitely had less issues and lost some weight, but things were still never quite right, and I would occasionally have serious problems (although less frequently than before). In recent years, cutting out gluten has gotten trendy, and a lot more quality gluten free options have become available, and I started availing myself of them--and had even more problems. I would occasionally binge on excellent gluten-free chocolate chip cookies, or local gluten-free cup cakes, or fresh cooked gluten-free pizza, and in each case I would have terrible digestive problems the next day. So late last year, I decided to followup with a gastroenterologist. He did more tests, didn't find anything physical and suggested that I take a probiotic and keep a food diary. Things got a little better, and I actually started eating gluten again, but I still got occasional problems which seemed pretty mysterious.

After a month of eating gluten again, things seemed better but still not 100%. So I went back through the food diary, and found that the day before any problem day, I had eaten food with lactose (not all of which was immediately obvious, see below). I had long suspected that lactose intolerance might have been my real problem, but in most of my online research I always turned up things that  said, "symptoms usually begin 30 minutes to 2 hours", where my problems almost always are the day after I eat a problem food--typically 12-24 hours later.  

In addition to digestive problems, I had long had what I thought was an allergic reaction to some (typically greasy) foods--I'd get post nasal drip, and would have to clear my throat for half an hour or so after eating. So with all this information I went to see an allergist who specialized in food issues. It turned out that he himself is lactose intolerant and also had the long reaction time, and he suspected that lactose was my issue too.  But being a good diagnostician, he gave me some more info and suggested that I continue my detailed food diary with this in mind and come back in a few weeks. He also did a bank of food allergy skin tests, and I came up completely clear, and that the throat clearing/post nasal drip was actually "silent reflux".

After being wrong for so many years I was a bit hesitant about jumping on the lactose intolerance bandwagon, but carefully avoiding lactose, further food diary recording and a followup visit with the allergist had me pretty convinced that it was lactose all along, and a few things recently have supported the lactose intolerance hypothesis pretty strongly. First, it turns out that some breads are made with butter and some are not.  So by cutting out bread all those years I cut out a source of lactose. In addition, by cutting out things like bagels (which are generally not made with dairy products) I was really cutting out the problematic cream cheese; by cutting out the pizza I was really cutting out the mysterious pizza cheese blend. I love cheese and this was another source of confusion--lactose is the sugar in milk and while some cheeses have a lot of it, aged cheeses (like cheddar, parmesan and swiss--not likely coincidentally my favorites) and processed cheeses have very small amounts of lactose and I seem to be OK with them.

So for the last couple months I've been judiciously reading food labels and cutting out as much lactose as possible.  But that's not easy to do on the road. So on my recent storm chasing trip (writeup here), I was careful about what I would eat--or at least I thought I was. I was doing fine, and one frantic day (storm chasing can mean eating a lot of crappy foods) I ate a couple candy bars (my only dinner while on a storm) that I thought didn't have dairy, and I ended up with horrible problems.  I went back and more carefully read the label, and sure enough it had a milk ingredient in it--I had just missed it.  As an experiment, the next day I tried the same candy bar but took some Lactaid, a digestive enzyme that you take with the first bite of food.  And the next day I had no problems. So for the rest of the trip, with every meal that I didn't cook (which was all of them) I took Lactaid and had no problems.  And when I got home I tried one last experiment--I ordered a regular, gluten-containing pizza, and took Lactaid as I started eating and when I finished, and had no problems the next day.  Last night I was at a party and ate some likely butter-containing bread, but forgot to bring the lactaid, and sure enough, had problems today.  It seems pretty likely to me that the lactose intolerance hypothesis is correct.

So after these experiments and continuing to study food labels, I'm avoiding lactose whenever possible, but it's great, after so many years, to have a better handle on the situation, and with the Lactaid I have a solution for travel, which I love to do and has long been problematic. I'm going to focus the food diary now onto figuring out the foods that cause the silent reflux.  

And why the picture of Double Stuf Oreos?  Oreos, it turns out, don't contain milk and therefore also don't contain lactose (just don't eat them with milk).  My biggest problem after avoiding these kind of foods for 17 years or so is now to restrain myself from making up for lost time and overdosing on Oreos.

Storm Chase-cation 2015

For the last few years (here's last year's writeup), I've headed out storm chasing (explanations here and here) on the Great Plains as soon as my classes end, which is also generally also the end of peak chasing season in the southern plains.  This year I flew into Dallas (best flight/car rental pricing), and then headed up to Wichita Falls, Texas. This time last year, Wichita Falls was under an epic drought; this year, they got years' worth of rain just in the month of May.  I've got before and after photos of Lake Arrowhead here.  And from there, I ended up doing 3500 miles in a couple giant loops of north Texas and southern Oklahoma, with a brief jaunt into eastern New Mexico.

The first part of the trip there wasn't a whole lot going on weather wise, and I missed some of the few big storms that happened, but I did see flooding in Wichita Falls, a severe-warned gust front gust front, and then more flooding, the Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, and even a wild boar.  I saw him jump across a little gap in a field and then he was washed away and had a long swim.  After that, I got on the north side of a crazy tornado-warned blob of hail, and it ended up chasing me into suburban Wichita Falls, TX, where I rode the storm out in a car wash (there was big hail in this storm).

Click on any photo for a larger version:

On May 27, I picked a target of Shamrock, TX, which put me in a great position to get on the amazing (and well documented by 100's of chasers) Canadian, Texas storm.  This storm moved slowly and erratically, and I was one of only a handful of chasers to end up on the back (West) side of the main tornado, as you can see in the photos below.  This storm moved slowly and dropped at least four tornadoes if not more.

After that storm, things got spotty again, and I drifted back to Amarillo (and the Cadillac ranch) and then onto Lubbock where I set up for the arrival of a huge severe-warned gust front.  I didn't get great photos because I got road raged by a redneck in the first town I set up in, then eaten alive by mosquitoes in several other spots because of the severe and widespread flooding.  I ended up in a bank drive through west of Lubbock and held down the tripod through 30-50 MPH winds and many technical problems to get a few lightning shots.

The weather then moved too far north for me to get to and make it back in time to Dallas for my flight, so I met some old friends in Fort Worth and saw a couple great bands (photos here) thanks to the recommendation from another friend.  I also saw some of the Trinity River flooding.

All in all, it was a great trip, and I hope to be back out there again next year...

Al Goldstein Memorial

Back in the late 1980's, I was working for a special effects company on Long Island. When we had work here in the city, we would stay at the fabulous Edison Hotel right in the heart of Times Square. The Edison is still there, but those who only know the post Disney Times Square of the late 2000's really couldn't even imagine how rough the place was back then.  Rough, but exciting.

Inside the Edison too, even the TV showed that NYC was different. Because of Manhattan's diversity, it has FCC "community standards" unlike anywhere else in the country, and this means that, after 10pm, if you were flipping across the cable channels in the hotel you would invariably stumble onto leased access channel 35, and...nudity. Two shows dominated that channel, Robin Byrd's stripper show, and Al Goldstein's Midnight Blue. There really is no way to adequately describe what Midnight Blue was like, so if you're not easily offended, watch this very not safe for work clip:

Goldstein was way, way ahead of his time in many ways, and even by the 1980's, when I first became aware of him, he had already established himself as one of the most vociferous defenders of the first amendment. Of course these days, with the anything goes internet, the idea of prohibiting anyone from seeing anything is pretty much dead. But that freedom--for good and bad--we owe, in part, to this hedonistic, gluttonous PT Barnum of porn. 

Brooklyn, evidently has "higher" community standards than Manhattan, so when I moved here in 1990, Al was not on my TV (but he was when I later moved to Manhattan). And with Goldstein's self-destructive personality, the rise of the internet (built on free porn), and even the cable companies selling "smut", Goldstein ended up becoming homeless and destitute (Al's friend Penn Jillette eventually rented an apartment for him). Goldstein eventually offended or alienated just about everyone who knew him, but my friend Viveca was one of the few that stayed with Al until the end.  And she helped to arrange a wonderful memorial last night, and I was lucky to be able to go, and help honor a hero.

The event also was evidence for me that although New York is a lot more homogeneous place these days, there is still a diverse core of interesting people here, and we can use our community standards to help us to see the good in people, even when they might offend us. That's why I'm still here after nearly 25 years.

Here's a few photo highlights from last night, and I have many more photos here

Update 5/22: Captions by Viveca

Erica Dubno and Herald Price Fahringer's backs

Erica Dubno and Herald Price Fahringer's backs

Albert Jaccoma on right with visible wristband talking to Chris Stevens. Co-organizer and Al biographer Josh Alan Friedman visible behind them.

Albert Jaccoma on right with visible wristband talking to Chris Stevens. Co-organizer and Al biographer Josh Alan Friedman visible behind them.

Tere Gerber, Al's assistant from Screw

Tere Gerber, Al's assistant from Screw

Display of selection from Al's "collections," curated by Josh Safdie

Display of selection from Al's "collections," curated by Josh Safdie

Huntington-20140521-DSC_5104.jpg
dirty songster Jeffrey Lewis

dirty songster Jeffrey Lewis

Event organizer Larry "Ratso" Sloman

Event organizer Larry "Ratso" Sloman

Huntington-20140521-DSC_5189.jpg
Uncle Lou Amber, porn chauffer, showing his scrapbook to Museum of Sex Director of Operations Kelley Cordell

Uncle Lou Amber, porn chauffer, showing his scrapbook to Museum of Sex Director of Operations Kelley Cordell

Event co-organizer and Al biographer Josh Alan Friedman

Event co-organizer and Al biographer Josh Alan Friedman

Pioneering freedom of speech lawyers, Al's defense attorneys Erica Dubno and Herald Price Fahringer

Pioneering freedom of speech lawyers, Al's defense attorneys Erica Dubno and Herald Price Fahringer

Gilbert Gottfried

Gilbert Gottfried

Sex writer and actress and founder of Miss Vera's Finishing School For Boys Who Want To Be Girls, Veronica Vera

Sex writer and actress and founder of Miss Vera's Finishing School For Boys Who Want To Be Girls, Veronica Vera

Adrienne Gruberg, widow of Steve "Grube Tube" Gruberg. Adrienne also read a letter from sex educator and performance artist Annie Sprinkle

Adrienne Gruberg, widow of Steve "Grube Tube" Gruberg. Adrienne also read a letter from sex educator and performance artist Annie Sprinkle

: Event co-organizer and Al's lawyer Charles DiStefano

: Event co-organizer and Al's lawyer Charles DiStefano

Dara Gottfried taking a picture of her husband,

Dara Gottfried taking a picture of her husband,

Cousins Albert (left) and Richard Jaccoma. Richard ran Screw magazine.

Cousins Albert (left) and Richard Jaccoma. Richard ran Screw magazine.

Charlie DiStefano's 1962 Cadillac, featured with the 69ers Motorcycle Club in an honor guard for Al.

Charlie DiStefano's 1962 Cadillac, featured with the 69ers Motorcycle Club in an honor guard for Al.

More on Goldstein in his NY Time obit, and there's a great documentary too.

Update 5/23: Welcome AVN readers!