DIY active home security for $15

Here’s how I put together an active burglar deterrent in my home for $15. These work at night and help make my home less attractive as a target. Unlike having alarms blaring when someone breaks in, this leads burglars look for another home to consider even before an incident occurs.

I’ve been meaning to write about the steps I take to make my home less of a target. With my wife and my kids, I cannot take risks (actually nobody does). I read a few home invasion incidents on and realized that my neighborhood is normal. By normal, I mean it is not a fancy neighborhood, it is not a high crime neighborhood, it is one that is just like everyone else’s. That means that those home invasions that happened there can happen to mine as well.


If a criminal wanders into my street looking for an opportunity, the homes will all look about the same. One home might have nicer cars or windows. Another might have a dog or a good fence. For me, my home looks like someone is up and working all night. Do not come here, somebody is awake.
By this, I mean the garage has lights and a loud radio turned on at night til the early morning. In the quiet of the night, my neighbor does not hear it. From the sidewalk you might faintly hear the music. From the driveway, you will hear it and you can definitely see some light. All signs of human activity.
Here’s what you will need:
  • appliance timer
  • FM radio
  • lamp
The appliance timer is available on Amazon or Home Depot. This one is an indoor timer and is manually set for hours of the day you want stuff turned on. There are fancier ones, but this is my choice for my budget.
Used radio-part of my DIY home security setup. The sticker is still on it, cost me $5
I went to my local Goodwill store and got myself this radio for $5. Set it to your preferred radio station so you at least like the music if you hear it at night.
A decent lamp. This one is something most homes already have. Pick your least favorite lamp or get one at the same Goodwill store. My $15 budget is an approximation, it will vary on how you execute the overall idea.
Now the key is to find a location in your home from which you can set this up for best effect. It should be audible and visible from the main approach to your house-or at least the main approach that burglars may take. You might put this so it is heard or seen from a dark area on your property. In my case this was the garage-most of the burglary attempts in my area were from the garage or back door. This takes care of the front of the house.
For the rest of the house, I will be putting another one of these for the same effect in the backyard. Maybe on my wife’s next trip to the thrift store we’ll get another radio. Right now I supplement the garage “activity” with a light turned on elsewhere in the home, in a spot visible from the outside. Also, our backyard and front lawn both have lights turned on all night.

From what I have read, most robberies occur early in the morning or in the middle of the day when the home is empty (like when parents go pick up their kids from school). You can set the timer how you see fit and this should help make your home less of a target by appearing to have people still up and about at those times.

Note: this is also super helpful when we leave for days and the home still looks occupied at night.

Thanks for reading, I hope you find this useful. My goal is to help make resilient families. If you have any suggestions or feedback post them below. You can also check our Facebook group for daily updates and tips all focused on how to makeresilient families.

2016 End of year family resilience review

With the year coming to a close, and with things slowing down for the holidays, now is a good time to reflect back and review what goals you achieved this year. Every day is a chance to step towards the lifestyle that you want, and me and my family listed goals at the beginning of 2016. I am preparing a summary for my family so I can show our progress. Seeing numbers and results quantifies the efforts and sacrifices we have made. It also reminded us of the mistakes we told ourselves we were going to fix-and how we fixed them. I wanted to share some of our goals and which ones we can check off our list.

Reduce debt

-credit no. 1 – auto parts store
-credit no.2 – bank credit card
-credit no.3 – bank credit card
One of our big goals was to reduce debt. I went thru Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University at our local church and learned a ton. With adjustments to our current budget, and with the debt snowball plan, we have made a good dent on our debt. We paid off credit no.2 and 3 above and are working on the rest of them. We knocked out others not listed above. We made the above list in early 2016 and it turned out other debts were easier to close-so those got paid off too. We also paid off our Jeep-which is one of the biggest debts we had. There’s still a few, but it is empowering to know we paid off a few debts last year.
We are still adjusting our budget as we go, and we are still learning discipline so we stay within budget and can know way ahead if there is a big purchase we should plan for. Listing things down really helps. Having them in a notebook somewhere rarely helps, because we never really see that note again. What I’ve done that has worked, is to gather any actionable items I add to the notebook into a spreadsheet. Google sheets work well for this, as I can review and update it wherever I am. The items on the sheet become a schedule on a calendar or a purchase adjustment we will be preparing for.

Reduce clutter for home relocation

-eliminate junk
We still have a bunch of the junk. We are slowly selling them online though, and my wife has made some money off of them. We’ve also done a bit on organizing, and our seasonal clothes are currently organized in the garage. I would say these both move as ongoing items in 2017.


CCW permit-get my ccw permit
PDC-finalize design and submit for review
Microgreens work flow-establish a routine for the business
I got my ccw early last summer and have endeavored to carry every day since. It has been a learning experience, one that I hope to write about at some point and share my thoughts and mistakes about. This has been a goal for quite some time, and I am glad I have finally checked it off my list
As for the PDC (permaculture design course), I have been sitting on a design which is about 60% done. I have not made much progress on it, but I will be revisiting this for 2017.
Microgreens work flow
I worked hard on this and did establish a good workflow. I had a schedule all week. Some days and times are set for cold calling restaurants. I had days set for planting, harvesting, maintenance and some days for research. In the end however the urban farm selling microgreens was not profitable for me. I could hardly find restaurants willing to pay for the premium local produce. I ran out of steam around October and a few days ago in December I officially closed the operation.


Take real estate classes
Mom has been making progress on this. We made adjustments to our schedule so I can get home sooner and her locking herself in a room away from any distractions to study. The schedule has been a struggle, but we both agreed we will work towards this goal. She has completed her classes and passed the trial exams. She is now studying for the actual test.


set their own routine and run through it
in the morning, to wash up and get dressed
at night, brush and clean up
Learn to focus

My son and I are still working on this. We’ve set alarms on our phones with a separate ringtone so he knows it is pertaining to his tasks. We have an alarm for breakfast,getting dressed and getting in the car to go to school. We have a few distractions (a lot) but we are making progress.

Summer goals

Fishing-learn to fish or start to learn to fish
Camping-go on at least 1 trip with family
Backyard pool – kids longing for pool fun
Beach trip-see the dang beach!
Fix girl’s room-organize a room for E’s stuff
Gardening-grow 3 select veggies we usually eat
Fishing– we went on a couple of fishing trips South of Dallas. We did not have much luck but we had a pleasant experience. My hope is we can do this more often and find some spots closer to home. I did not push the family to go fishing. I tried to make it as casual as we could, if at some point we got bored from waiting, we went on another adventure along the way. I think this is useful so that the fishing trip is tied to a positive experience that day. Maybe we did not catch any fish, but the family bonded and did some other cool things together.
We plan to keep working on this in 2017. I really want to learn to fish and supplement our diets thru this pastime.
Camping-we went on our first camping trip this year. We’ve been  wanting to go for sometime but had to wait til our kids were old enough. It really helped that we had other friends with their kids who wanted to do this. In the end we and about 5 other families went on a group camping trip and had a great time. We shared gear and that helped with the cost. One of the main hindrances was the cost of certain gear, but I had been slowly purchasing most of it even before we moved from NYC.
Recently, we scored a ton of camping gear in a garage sale. We should be able to camp more comfortably in the spring with a heater and our own cooking gear.
Backyard pool
Yup this was easy
Beach trip-since moving to TX we have not seen the beach. In the summer of this year, we finally went to the coast and spent Independence day together at the beach. It was one of our best Independence day weekends ever and hopefully we can make this a part of our yearly tradition.
We did fix my daughter’s room but I can’t say it is complete. We are doing something about it one of these weekends.
The garden effort this year was very poor. I know I wanted to do a few things, but I think I only got to 50% of it. I forget what took over my time during the fall planting season. I wanted to plant and learn to use automated irrigation and understand how to survive in TX heat. I don’t plan on starting a lot in early 2017 as we hope to move to a different house, but gardening is a critical skill and I will have it again as a goal in 2017-maybe in the fall.

Those were the big items on our list for 2016. Obviously other big things happened but these were the ones that we put on a list and said “we will get these done”. I feel good seeing we achieved about 75% of them. It really helps having the goals listed and thus reminding us to make plans to achieve them.
2017 will be another 365 days to work on the life we want to have. Each day seems to go so fast and looking back it did not feel that long. The day to day struggle to get thru the work week seems to be a slog to get thru. However, if we have other goals running parallel to the workdays, slowly we eek out a lifestyle which we will be able to live fully in the future. The days have more meaning. At the end of the year we can say we started back there and now we have made good progress.

Abstaining from new posts

I have been feeding myself new lessons lately and I am a bit drunk from the parts of it which I have retained. I am not saying I can use it, or am an expert on any of it. Heck I am far from any of that. But I want to acknowledge that I have been absorbing way much and need to just stop. To some degree these are also distractions.

Unless I can use the thing I have learned to improve my current lifestyle, then none of it matters.

I am going to hold on any blog posts, will not make any new sites or pursue any new ideas until I have executed/practiced/used any of the new lessons I have learned in the last 2 weeks.

Right now the pivot point on all this are the worksheets for homeschooling. It’s way more work than I thought and way less people interested it seems. I want to apply the lessons I learned to this first before I do anything else.


Road trip: Convoy tips for families

We have been traveling quite a lot, and on more than a few occasions we find ourselves with another family in a separate car. Sometimes it is on our turf, other times it is on theirs. Either way, we have learned some practical convoy techniques. This blog will be short and sweet, so here we go:

Each car must have the same address of the destination
Sounds very basic, but keep in mind if you get separated the following vehicle’s first reaction goes kinda like “Oh crap now I have to catch up or I might miss the turn/exit” or panic and just try to catch up. Having the knowledge that you can all get there with a gps reduces this stress

Communicate stops/breaks
This way if you decide you want to get some burgers for the kiddos, the other car is not scratching their head why you are taking the wrong exit

The more conservative/careful driver may be better at taking the lead
For me, driving with my kids in the car make me more careful and I take less risks in driving. In a sense I am driving slower for the following car, but we all need to work as a team. You can only be as fast as your slowest team member-in this case that driver sets the pace. If communicated before the trip, the following cars will take note and can anticipate a reasonable speed.

The last vehicle can open up lane changes

The last car is in the best position to open up lane changes. He can change lanes (one at a time preferably) and each car ahead of him can change lanes in sequence. This is very effective but needs the first car to signal the lane change early on. The signal lights get relayed to the last car and he looks for an opportunity to change lanes. If you are on a freeway waiting for your exit, depending on your speed, you will want the first car to signal the change maybe 2 miles early.

At stop lights, stop signs, give lots of room
These create big gaps in your convoy if not timed right. The car ahead must adjust timing considering if the cars behind can keep up. Do not run thru yellow traffic lights or you risk the car behind you getting cut off.

Cellphones are good, radios are better

Each time we drive with family in a convoy, we keep wishing we brought a 2 way radio. The main convenience is you hit one button to communicate, and you can do so to the entire convoy. You don’t have to dial someone on the phone and redial for another car. An FRS/GMRS radio would work well for this, and those are fairly inexpensive.

Communicate the route

Even when we have given addresses so we all have it on our GPS, we still communicate what route we plan on taking. No specifics, but just so they understand the general pace/route. On our last road trip, I took an exit and stopped for coffee at a small town. While there, I explained to my dad how we will change the route and stay out of the freeway and use the backroads. This implied we would drive slower, but may have a more scenic trip in this place we were exploring.

Lead car checks traffic

My wife has gotten really good at being my navigator on these trips. Part of the task is checking for traffic ahead before we hit it. This way, we can veer off the freeway and take backroads. Instead of spending 3 hrs at the freeway, we can spend 2 hrs exploring the small towns along the way-less stress and a more pleasant experience.


My profession is dying

For quite some time I have been tracking all the automation trends: Uber with their automated Volvos, Farmbot with their CNC gardening bot, automated tractors, farming equipment , tools and devices to improve previously heavy labor.

I was wondering how this would affect my profession (architecture). I kept thinking that even the current software we use still requires the designer to provide input. To coordinate issues, to solve problems-on paper and on the field, to communicate with the bureaucrats and to explain the massive building code requirements.

I mean yes the use of BIM software would eliminate a lot of the conflicts and simplify a lot of the construction process. Still, with all the variables and conflicts that come up-owner requests, field conditions, errors in fabrication, compensations for schedule-I could not come up with how mere software can replace my job.

Until I chanced upon this article today. It was all by chance. I learned of a new job description yesterday so I thought I would try it. Basically, the name of the job is (blank) automation (blank), or automation (blank). Whatever the job was, add automation to it, and something would come up.

I ran a search for automation design by mistake. I ended up with  a great article from TechCrunch from June 2016 by Karl Brunner. Here is a link. His article summed it up for me in one word: AI. It is not some kind of mechanical automation, advances in fabrication. It was not the design software we used to make the building plans. It was the actual design software that the end users will use. With AI, the computer can interact with the end user in their preferred method and let them conceive of the environment they want to build. Myself and most designers would cease being the gatekeepers. It hit me in the gut pretty hard (it was a Tuesday morning right after my annual employee review, so this article had to be pretty strong to hit me after the fact).

Think about it, how many products can you currently acquire using AI? I was recently trying to find branding info for this urban farm I am running, and I used AI to come up with some logo and website concepts. Websites are designed with AI. The designers have been sucked of their creativity and their skills now reproduced and scaled by technology.

On the other hand, realizing that I was working as a gatekeeper also sucked. I do not want to be someone who profits by restricting access to something of benefit. I always wanted architecture to improve lives, and always thought there were a lot of flaws in our current system. A few days ago I was pondering on some kind of Uber approach to the industry, that it may be the only way to force change on it. Maybe this is that.

Rather than being a quick relay of info on that TechCrunch article this post actually going somewhere. There is no conclusion here. Only that I need to go and review this direction further. How can I be a part of this evolution, where it holds the potential of truly opening up architecture for the benefit of the end user?

Vlog: 16.09.01 – buying a house and making systems for the home


-Need to ramp up plans to buy a house
Process takes months from offer to closing (approx 3 months). We will need to check if the landlord is okay with a possible month to month rent extension.
-Need to make changes at home so that things are in a system-so that things will be easier for us (laundry, groceries, dishwashing, schedules). This is a challenge because both mom and dad have to be on board for it to work.

Garage sale camping gear mother load

I have been wanting to get myself some awesome camping gear since 5 years ago. We didn’t camp at all but it was always something I wanted to get into. I would drool on the really awesome camping pocket stoves from MSR and visualize myself and my family enjoying the self sufficiency of a propane stove in the great outdoors.

Sadly I never really had the funds to just go and grab gear. And when there was some extra cash, something with a higher priority always popped up.

Until this month >:-) my wife dragged me to a garage sale where she scored a big load of kids clothes. This family was moving overseas and was basically liquidating whatever they can-just short of giving it to Salvation Army. I didn’t expect to get anything but she had me drive there for a 2nd round, the day after her first great score.

We got there and my wife wanted me to check this big piece of furniture that she wanted us to get. My job was to figure out how we could get it home (it was a king size bed, dismantled) I took some measurements, and with sad news told her it would not fit into the jeep. (We ended up renting a pick up truck – but that is another story. We profited from this little adventure) While mulling over what to do, I casually looked around and found something in the corner – it was a Coleman 2 burner stove. Hesitantly I asked how much for it…… five dollars.

With a straight face, I said “awesome” and took it. From there, she
showed me another tub of camping gear. To which I snobbishly said great, I will check it too (I didn’t check on that right away). I went to put my $5 Coleman propane stove to the jeep first,in case she changed her mind 🙂 I came back and my wife and her are already  looking at a tub filled with camping gear.She offered us that tub, plus a bunch of Home Depot buckets with gardening gear, for $10.

Sold! After some more digging we found another tub of camping supplies. We got beddings, blankets and stuff. Altogether, we paid $20 for all 2 tubs, the stove and the gardening equipment.

Here is what we got:
Coleman Instastart 2 burner Propane camping stoveColeman Propane Catalytic heater
MSR Isobutane pocket stove
approx 10 Camelbak type water bottles
approx 4 sets of first aid kits
a full pack of strike anywhere camping matches
collapsible shovel
around 4 sets of camping utensils
backpacking cooking pan, spatulas and stuff
egg tray
around 4  propane canisters
Coleman LED lantern
Coleman camping/pruning saw
Window planter box
approx 2 Home Depot buckets
Landscaping fabric (almost a full roll)
gardening shears
2 plastic tub containers
Inflatable bed
inflatable bed air pump, 12 volt
thermal blankets


Well we took our bounty home and I spent about 2 hrs sorting and testing them. The appliances/gear all worked! I sorted them and packed them away for our next camping trip. The other stuff went to the dishwasher and laundry bin. I have yet to do the laundry part, so those blankets are still not in storage. Everything else is clean and ready.

The entire time I was in the garage sorting and testing, in the 95 degree temps, I was smiling like a kid in a candy store. This is just an awesome day. Just the stove, is something I’ve been wanting to get as a redundancy for power outages (all our home appliances are electric).

Later on we went back to the house one last time. They kept messaging my wife about getting some more things. We did go back, with a pick up truck and everything. In the end I think we helped them as much as they helped us with this great stuff. We are still sorting thru much of what we got, and a bunch of them went to our local Salvation Army too. I have asked my wife to sign me up for the group where she found the garage sale. I need to find more of these as this was definitely a good way to spend the weekend.

Action Items 16.08.12

This weekend is going to be busy. I plan to finish the planter project and set up a new food storage system. I have some money to spend on an initial bulk purchase for the food storage. Will make it count. If I have time, I plan on dropping by Cabela’s to see about trading for a shotgun.

Set up yard for irrigation
Video a review of the holsters I have been using
Draft up letter for a salary increase
Update house budget plan for August 15

Day 56. I finished the storyboards but I need to start drawing the pages. Weekend project. I skipped 2 nights because I lost sleep Wed due to family things I needed to take care of. I got back lost sleep on Thurs. Fri tonight will be busy.



-60 DAYS

Mental white noise

I was focusing yesterday on finding some kind of mental white noise. What happens sometimes is I listen to a series of podcasts/videos while at the office and I get saturated with information. Some are actionable and some are conceptual. At some point my mind gets bogged down and I don’t always realize it but I end up wanting to stare empty into space and zone out. These are times I try contemplate/meditate and make plans. Me feeling like I want to zone out, is actually my brain telling me he is tired and signaling me to stop using him. To accommodate this rest and jumpstart my head, I am trying to find this mental white noise-be it a place to meditate or a state of being. Hopefully it is a place I can designate as a neutral physical space and train my mind to assign this place as a time to power down.

I continue to carry a gun using this holster I am still testing. I am in a weird state as I carry it loaded but not cocked. I guess it is an extra precaution as I get used to the fact that I am carrying a gun on my person. The holster has had issues and I am trying to figure out where and when I can test it. For example I checked how hard it would be to draw from a car seat.

Progress update:
Book-drew entire story board early this morning approx midnight.
Blog-still contemplating format. Must be actionable for myself and others-not just me blabbering. Must also document my progress in a concise manner.Children’s story-every night I tell my son a story. Sometimes a real story sometimes it is a micro lesson on all kinds of stuff. Yesterday it happened to be how the election process works. Told him about voting and how America currently has 3 folks still running in this contest. No specifics, no heavy stuff, just how the thing is supposed to work.