Posted on Tuesday, December 1st, 2015
Got out of work around 4am, which was nice. And pretty much on-time. A pleasant change from last time when things ran nearly a day late. I celebrated by sleeping in early, then catching up on work back home.
I decided to spend the night closer to the airport, and headed back to Portland. Partly because I'm familiar with the city and comfortable hanging out there... but mostly because amazing dessert was calling me from the Flatbread Company. In the Summer they have a Maine blueberry cobbler that's to die for. in the Winter it's usually apple cobbler, which is almost as good...
But I'm getting ahead of myself...
Noon. Check out of the Hilton Garden Inn Auburn Riverwatch. Which was a lot weirder than usual. Even though I was specifically told it wasn't. There I was loading the trunk of my rental car in the hotel parking lot when a big black pickup truck comes squealing up beside me. A guy leans out the passenger-side window and is waving a yellow piece of paper. "HEY! HEY! YOU WOULDN'T HAPPEN TO WANT A HOME THEATER AUDIO SYSTEM INSTALLED, WOULD YOU?!?" — "Uhhhh... not unless you want to drive 3000 miles to my house..." — "THIS ISN'T WEIRD... WE'RE HOME AUDIO INSTALLERS!" — "And you're looking for business in a hotel parking lot where people you find probably don't even live in the area?" — "No... we're looking in ALL the parking lots!" — "Um... okay?" — "THIS ISN'T WEIRD! WE'RE INSTALLERS!!!"
12:30pm. Drop by the Home Depot in Topsham to see if they have the towel loop I was shorted when my local Home Depot ran out. And they did! If my luggage goes missing again, at least I'll have something to pack home with me.
1:30pm. Check into my hotel and have housekeeping barge in on me while I'm answering emails. At least I had my pants on this time.
2:30pm. I still have tons of work to catch up on, so I can't really go out... but I'm too hungry to avoid eating. So off I go next door to Micucci's Italian Grocery where they have this amazing slabs of Sicilian pizza I love...
4:30pm. Still full from pizza, but hot apple crisp from Flatbread Company cannot be denied.
Midnight. My new lip balm is Maine blueberry flavored. As a result, the entire room smells like a blueberry muffin exploded. This made me hungry again, so I went to the hotel gift shop to see if they had a snack. I am now eating an entire tub of DIBS ice cream snacks at midnight because it's the only thing they had that sounded good. This is not going to bode well for a good night's sleep... but oh well. What else is new?
1:30am. I write this post then plan on surrendering to sweet slumber. Hopefully.
And... that was pretty much it. This probably sounds like I spent most of my day eating, but almost all of it was spent working.
Sadly, no time for pretty pictures like last time.
Posted on Wednesday, December 2nd, 2015
Much like Janice in Accounting*, United Airlines don't give a fuck.
It all started when I missed a conference call on Monday morning because I had to buy clothes for work. The only time I could reschedule the call was for Thursday, but I would need to be back home because the later date would require access to some design sheets I didn't have with me. No problem, right? I just call United and explain the situation.
Except it ended up being a huge problem, because United wouldn't agree to put me on an earlier flight home. THEY lose my luggage, necessitating all these changes, but it's going to cost ME a $200 change fee plus $450 for the ticket cost difference. I politely explain that it's not my fault the luggage was lost and I shouldn't have to pay anything... but they disagree. Talking to a supervisor gets me a "one time offer" to waive the $200 change fee, but not the $450.
Needless to say, I'm livid.
It costs United nothing to make the situation right and get me home over a situation they cause... there's empty seats... but they don't give a fuck about my situation.
So I regretfully start yelling at the supervisor over United's shitty policy and eventually she finds a flight to get me home in time in an effort to get me to shut the hell up. Which is so damn stupid. Why the fuck can't they do the right thing to begin with? Why does it take somebody screaming at them before they'll reluctantly solve a problem THEY created?
But that was yesterday, surely things will go better today. Right?
Nope. It just gets worse.
As I mentioned, my luggage was lost. I made it to Portland, but my bag did not. So I reported the problem, only to be told that they have no idea if/when my bag would show up. Discouraging, but that's the way it goes. Ironically, I stopped flying United a couple decades ago because they lost my luggage (permanently) twice in six months. Now, the first time flying the airline in years, and they lose my luggage again. Except this time I actually ended up getting it back...
You will never leave my side again, Saltalamacchia!
When I check in for my flight, I naturally tell them I'd like the baggage fee waived since I never got to see my bag the entire time I was here.
Essentially, they blame this on me because I didn't know where I'd be in order for them to have delivered my suitcase yesterday. I explain that this is hardly my fault... that's the way my job works, and not knowing where I'll be is not something I can control... but United don't give a fuck.
Instead they offer me a $25 certificate good for my next flight.
Which I refuse, because I'll never be flying with this piece of shit airline ever again. I mean, first I had to pay $240 for last-minute clothes, now they expect me to pay $25 MORE for clothes I never got to use? Fuck that.
And so I vow to make this the most expensive $25 baggage fee they've ever collected. I will pass up no opportunity to badmouth United Airlines from this day forward. Everybody I run across will come to understand what fucking assholes are running the show at United, and how much I fucking hate the entire United Airlines organization.
Those feelings were doubled when I realized that my bag was not checked all the way home, but terminated in Seattle (despite the guy helping me having said it would be transferred to Alaska Airlines). Which means I paid $25 to get my bag home, and it's not even going to get home. I tied to get that resolved, but the United representative at the gate don't give a fuck either. Essentially, United booked me on a connecting flight home that doesn't exist (the 11:10 doesn't fly on Wednesdays). So I had to politely beg Alaska Airlines to put me on a flight that does exist. But in United's computer, THAT'S the flight that doesn't exist. Never mind that I show them my boarding pass for a flight that obviously exists since I've checked in for it... there's nothing they can do. So I ask if there's somebody I can speak to who CAN do something... only to get an epic eye-roll. She then calls a supervisor and says "I have a customer here demanding that I check his bags onto a flight that doesn't exist..."
"Demanding?" Fuck you. All I did was ask a damn question and show you proof that the flight does exist! I tell her to forget it, that I'll just collect my bag in Seattle and re-check it.
I'd like to say that things get better from there, but they didn't.**
All in all, United provided me one of the worst experiences I have ever had in 25 years of near constant travel. I hate... HATE... the company and everything they stand for. If no other airline can get me where I need to go, I would rather drive through a fucking blizzard than to ever fly United again.
And everybody is going to know it.
*Janice is from This Week Tonight with John Oliver... a show that you should be watching if you haven't been.
**A crappy hotel, another canceled flight, weather delays, winter storm advisory, and a complete douche nearly ramming into my car in the airport parking lot awaited me.
Posted on Thursday, December 3rd, 2015
And so... I'm home.
And my bag is here with me.
No thanks to United Airlines... the fucking assholes.
Never, ever, fly with United.
Posted on Friday, December 4th, 2015
I got home in the nick of time.
The weather here is getting a bit crazy.
Kinda pretty though... if you can ignore the crummy road conditions. Looks better from the air though, which I found out as I was flying home yesterday morning...
Posted on Saturday, December 5th, 2015
A couple months ago, my corner of Redneckistan got a roundabout... better known as a rotary (if you live in New England) or perhaps a traffic circle (if you live in other places). Basically, it's an intersection without stops. Everybody yields to traffic within the circle, and enters once it's clear to do so... exiting at the point they need to be.
Ours is a three-way and looks like this...
Which actually makes it seem more complicated than it really is. The concept itself is quite simple. All you have to do is yield to the traffic already in the circle, then enter when it's safe to do so.
I actually rather like roundabouts. I've used them quite a lot back East and they're everywhere in Europe. Once you get used to them, they're pretty awesome... keeping traffic moving efficiently without the need for stopping when you don't have to.
Roundabouts are most effective when you keep two things in mind...
1) They can only be used where pedestrian traffic is at a minimum or non-existent. They idea is to keep traffic moving, and you can't do that when cars are constantly having to stop for people wanting to cross the street.
2) They need to be kept clear of obstructing traffic. Again, you can't keep traffic moving if there's a cross-street nearby... or a train crossing... or a turnout... or a place traffic is entering... or anything else that's going to cause drivers to have to stop, thus blocking traffic.
And can you guess what we have at our roundabout?
That's right, both of those things.
1) It's inarguably the first (maybe second) busiest pedestrian intersection in the entire city. At the top of the circle is the only bank in town where most everybody does their banking. To the south is downtown (or what's left of it) which is where everybody shops. That means you get pretty heavy pedestrian traffic as people are wanting to cross at all three exit points on the circle on a fairly regular basis, thus trapping drivers inside and backing things up.
2) As if that weren't a good enough reason to not put a roundabout in the middle of town, the fact that there's a fucking RAILROAD CROSSING 350 ft. to the left of the circle would do it. There's also the exit from the bank parking lot on the left... not to mention the entrance to the bank's drive-through on the right side.
So, essentially, traffic gets a little fucked up all day long because of pedestrians wanting to cross.
And traffic gets totally fucked up several times a day when a train blows through town. I can't tell you how many times things have been backed up so badly that I've actually reversed course and went out on the highway to get home because it's faster than trying to wade through the utter disaster going on at the roundabout.
But fucking traffic armageddon is not even the worst of it.
People here simply don't know how a roundabout even works.
They either come to a full stop when they shouldn't because the circle is completely clear or... much worse... don't fucking yield when you're in the circle trying to get through it. I've been nearly-nailed more times than I can count. And the people who almost ran into me as I'm slamming on the brakes don't even understand that they were in the wrong.
The whole situation is a testament to idiocy, and there's not a day that I'm in the vicinity of the damn thing that I don't get pissed off all over again.
I'd run for mayor and make the stupid stop, but it would be entirely too much work to deal with the stupid that's already been done.
And the last thing I need is more work.
Or more stupid.
Posted on Sunday, December 6th, 2015
The holidays must be near, because the gift of Bullet Sunday starts... now...
• AVOID! I'd like to begin this entry with "Screw United Airlines," easily the worst airline going. They bring nothing but misery, and just don't give a fuck. I'd rather eat a piece of shit encrusted with pubic hair than to ever give United Airlines one cent of my money.
• Ware. Chris Ware is one of my favorite living artists. His work provides insight into the human condition in a way few people can match. This is his latest...
As if that wasn't gift enough, a "behind the scenes" exploration of the cover has been ANIMATED over at the New York Times website. Absolutely worth a watch. Click here immediately to experience it.
• Rescue. Speaking of cats... essential viewing...
Catfishing! Amazing that somebody probably abandoned the poor things out there.
• SvB. Oh gawd. The Superman vs. Batman film looks even worse than I imagined. Even worse than the pile of shit that was Man of Steel. How could DC have fucked this up so bad? Oh... Zack Snyder... that's right. Let's overdramatize the shit out of even the most mundane moments. People love that. Barf...
This makes Superman IV: Quest for Peace look like total genius... because at least that turd had Gene Hackman in it. Jesse Eisenberg's "Lex Luthor" is a fucking embarrassment. I can't help but wonder if this movie fucking tanks... as it rightfully should... what happens to the DC cinematic universe? Hopefully it gets flushed down the toilet so somebody who gives a shit about the comics can start over.
• Regerts. A kitten who regretted his life choice...
Does it GET cuter than this?
• Diamonds. Dayamn! No pressure...
And also... WAR AGAINST CHRISTMAS!!!
I'm spent. No more bullets for you.
Posted on Monday, December 7th, 2015
I've been to Pearl Harbor four times... five times?
I've been to Pearl Harbor some times.
Which is why every time December 7th rolls around, I find myself back in Oahu standing in front of the Memorial Wall at the back of the USS Arizona memorial...
Which is kinda nice. It remains one of the most beautiful memorials I've ever seen...
And it beats the hell out of flashbacks to Michael Bay's Pearl Harbor...
Something best forgotten... any day.
Posted on Tuesday, December 8th, 2015
Wordpress ate my post.
I don't have the energy to rewrite it, so I guess that will have to be another day.
Posted on Wednesday, December 9th, 2015
It's so easy to come down on how monetized and commercialized Christmas has become. The holiday is a major money-maker for retailers and they never seem to let you forget it. But, every once in a while, you come across something that makes you loathe the season just a little bit less.
This is some real Christmas magic right here...
That's one Santa who has earned his sleigh-bells.
Posted on Thursday, December 10th, 2015
Please stop talking.
This country is in bad enough shape as it is. We don't need you making things worse.
But you just can't seem to be able to help yourself... can you?
Posted on Friday, December 11th, 2015
One of my colleagues just spent a week of her vacation working to raise money for a program that's going to help a lot of people. As she's done for as long as I've known her, she selflessly dedicates inordinate amounts of her time to saving lives and making the world a better place while getting nothing in return.
But if Donald Trump becomes president and gets his way, she would not be permitted to enter this country when her work requires it because she's Muslim. She's done more for the people of this planet than just about everybody you know, but that ultimately means nothing because she's not "the right faith." She has made personal sacrifices on behalf of legions of people and never once asked what God those people pray to. She tirelessly advocates for those in need and it doesn't even enter her head to find out their religion. She is one of the most generous people I know, yet her efforts go largely unnoticed... even by the people who benefit from her efforts. She's a better human being than I am. Odds are she's a better human being than you are. But her faith dictates otherwise to people whose agenda it is to make you fear and hate her.
It's at times like this that I am horrified at what this country has become. The very foundation of our religious liberty is being systematically eroded, and too many of our citizens are entirely too comfortable with it. Muslims are citizens of this country just as they are citizens of this planet. To judge them in their entirety as a people based on the actions of their most radical fringe elements is a travesty that goes against everything the United States of America stands for. What America is SUPPOSED to stand for. People like Donald Trump and those who support him are destroying this country more than any terrorist ever could. Terrorists may kill us and destroy what we have built... but Trump and those like him compromise our ideals and destroys what we have achieved. Too many fought too hard and sacrificed too much to let THIS be the legacy of this great nation in the history of humanity. But it will be if we allow it. It will be if we do not speak out. It will be if we do nothing.
And what a shame that would be.
Posted on Saturday, December 12th, 2015
Compared to any of the Republicans running? ANY of them?
Yes. I'll take George W. Bush.
And that terrifies me more than I can say.
Posted on Sunday, December 13th, 2015
The weather outside may be frightful but everything's still delightful, because Bullet Sunday starts... now...
• SUCK! Oh gawd. So this is where stupid goes to die.
• DESTROY! This is... uhhh... interesting?
Now THAT'S some LEGO!
• JUST NO! Buddha is not a god! He never claimed to be a god! He never claimed to be a son of god! He never even claimed to be a messenger from any god! He was a human being, and no Buddhist worships him as a god... they revere and respect him as a teacher. And yet here we are. Again.
The interesting bit here is that the original painting is a nice idea. It's when some joker slaps stupid text over it that makes no sense whatsoever that it becomes a discredit to reason.
• MORON! Fox News Host: Obama ‘Could Give A Shit’ About The Threat Of Terrorism
First of all, it's "COULDN'T CARE LESS," you vapid joke. Holy crap is Stacey Dash a fucking idiot. She says exactly what she thinks her equally dim fan base wants to hear. And since dumbasses like this won't be happy until we nuke the entire Middle East, OF COURSE she's going to be disappointed in President Obama's speech. There is not a damn thing he could ever say to make anybody at FOX "News" happy. With the exception of "I resign," I'm guessing.
Who could have guessed that the character Stacey Dash played on Clueless would actually be smarter than she is in Real Life.
• BAD! I wish I could credit this awesome photo... but I have no idea who took it. Makes me laugh every time I see it...
We now return you to our regularly-scheduled blogging.
Posted on Monday, December 14th, 2015
Welcome to Home Automation Week at Blogography!
I've been dreaming of having a "smart home" for years, but the technology never really seemed "there" yet. It's either been flakey or lacked important features or had some quirk that made it less than ideal. I just couldn't see investing the money for an experience that was less than stellar.
But then Apple decided to get into the game by announcing their "HomeKit" platform and I was convinced that this was the solution I had been waiting for. Apple has a real knack for perfecting technology in a way that's smart, elegant, and simple, and finally they had turned their almighty gaze towards home automation. At last.
And so I waited.
But, other than an announcement, Apple never did shit for the longest time. Third party solutions never came.
Apple eventually got around to improving the HomeKit platform to make it more capable... and a few devices were released here and there... but overall HomeKit has been a failure. I love the security that Apple built into their solution (they really take stuff like that seriously), but that's about the only thing they've done right. Everything else to do with HomeKit has ended up being utter shit. The biggest failing being that all HomeKit devices are local, meaning that you have to be at home to control your home. Their solution for remote access is via Apple TV, but I've never been able to get it working well.
And so I went searching for a new solution.
I looked at every option I could find... Lutron, Wink, SmartThings, INSTEON, Nest, Belkin WeMo... the list goes on an on. There are a lot of companies out there doing home automation, and new ones are popping up all the time.
But which platform to choose?
At first I was convinced that I needed a single-company solution. If everything came from the same company, it would all work together and I'd have the most complete, powerful, and capable system. Right?
Well... not so much.
Every company has their strengths and weaknesses, which made choosing a single source for everything quite difficult. So after a while I decided I'd split my home automation chores between two different companies, focusing on their strengths to get the best system possible. Sure they probably wouldn't play well together, but if I were smart about which company got which devices, I could come up with a split-system that worked well for what I was trying to do.
It was a good plan.
But a plan doomed to failure.
Which I'll talk about in my next entry.
Posted on Tuesday, December 15th, 2015
Welcome to Home Automation Week at Blogography!
As I mentioned yesterday, trying to tie my home automation project to a single vendor was doomed to failure. So I decided to split the tasks between two vendors along a logical divide... one company for monitoring stuff and one company for acting on stuff. Simple, right?
Yes. Kinda. Maybe.
Except... no. Not really. After a lot of false starts, I realized it doesn't really divide out like that.
And so I decided to stop worrying about how many companies it took to get what I wanted and just get what I wanted. Which, after weeks of research, actually ended up being a pretty good idea.
Starting with the door locks...
The one area where Apple's HomeKit came through for me was door locks. Out of the dozen or so that are available, Schlage's "Sense" was the solution I liked best. It's not an add-on that sits on top of your current lock, but a complete deadbolt replacement. You can use a key to lock/unlock. Or you can use the keypad. Or you can use your iPhone. Or, since it's HomeKit compatible, you can tell Siri what you want. It can handle multiple entry codes and has a "tamper" alarm if somebody tries to take a hammer to it. Supposedly it can be controlled remotely (out of Bluetooth range) via AppleTV, but I can't get that to work. Perhaps eventually I'll get that part figured out, but it's not so important to me just now.
The one "feature" I did NOT want was auto-unlocking when you walk up to the door with your phone. This kind of proximity unlocking may sound convenient, but I didn't like the idea from a security standpoint. Schlage Sense doesn't have it, which was actually a plus for me.
Once I reset the door jamb strike plates back so that the lock opened/closed effortlessly when the door was closed, installation went perfectly.
On the first door.
On my two other exterior doors, I couldn't get the tab on the lock assembly to line up with the slot on the deadbolt turn. This was incredibly frustrating, and I had to place a call to Schlage support to find out why in the hell my locks were built upside-down. Turns out they weren't... they just weren't aligned properly. Using a screwdriver (and more pressure than I was comfortable with) you can force the slot to rotate 180° so everything lines up. Why in the hell they couldn't put that in the manual is beyond me, but all's well that ends well.
Except, as you can probably guess, this wasn't the end.
If my locks are HomeKit but my lights are not HomeKit, how do they talk to each other so that the lights turn on when I unlock the door at night?
Guess we'll find out tomorrow...
Posted on Wednesday, December 16th, 2015
Welcome to Home Automation Week at Blogography!
One thing you find out very quickly when researching home automation solutions is that everybody has an opinion as to what's best. You're never going to find that one flawless technology that everybody universally loves. Which means making a decision can be a tricky business indeed. You have to weigh all the opinions and reviews so you can find the solution that feels like the best fit for you.
I'll just cut to the chase and say that I ultimately decided on INSTEON for the bulk of my home automation tasks.
Yes, there were some reviewers saying that INSTEON is crap, but there was enough good things said about the types of things I was wanting to do that it seemed the best solution.
One thing I really liked about INSTEON was the dual-mesh networking technology they've got going on. Many of their devices are wireless, but that can be problematic because low-power wireless devices don't have a lot of range. But INSTEON also has networking-over-power lines for many devices, which means your network is instantly extended via reliable hard-wired connections anytime you plug a device into an outlet.
So while that open/close sensor on your window may be battery-powered and have limited range over low-powered wireless... that light switch three feet away is wired into the electrical system and acts like an extender to the sensor, so no problem at all.
And speaking of light switches...
My new INSTEON light controllers are ever so dreamy!
Thanks to the INSTEON Hub, you can control your lights from anywhere your smart phone has internet access. You can also monitor what's on and what's off. You can also link light switches together. And, of course, you can program schedules easily. My front and back porch lights automatically turn on at sunset and turn back off at sunrise, for example. You can use INSTEON motion detectors to talk to the lights and have dark rooms light up automatically. You can pretty much do whatever you want so long as there's an INSTEON device to make it happen. And there are a lot of INSTEON devices available.
But, alas, all is not perfect...
The INSTEON "smart" switches are much, much larger than traditional light switches. They take up a lot of space. Which means if you have shallow electrical boxes throughout your home, the odds of the switches actually fitting into them are remote. Even if there is enough room to cram the switches into the box, that may not be a good idea, as it will involve smashing all the wiring to the back of the box with a hammer. I'm not an electrician, but that didn't seem like a very good idea. Won't heat build up and melt your switches? Or, worst case scenario, start a fire if the electricity arcs in there?
I dunno. But it's not a risk I'm willing to take.
So... I either replace all my electrical boxes with something deep enough to handle the new switches (a positively massive undertaking that will involve cutting into walls)... or I give up on automating my lights.
Except... my dad offered another solution when I told him of my dilemma... a box extender.
Usually box extenders are used for when you add tile or some other thick product to your walls and the electrical box ends up too deep for the switch plate screws to reach. That wasn't my problem, so I had to find a solution which would extend the boxes out from the wall.
I figured with all the home automation going on, there would be a plethora of solutions out there to do just that.
I was wrong.
After hours of research, I was able to find just one.
Which I'll save for tomorrow's discussion.
Along with INSTEON's efforts to make their system Apple HomeKit compatible.
Posted on Thursday, December 17th, 2015
Welcome to Home Automation Week at Blogography!
Home automated "smart" light switches are not really called "light switches" as their functionality is so much more than that. Most people call them "light controllers."
And, like I said yesterday, they're big.
Which means if your electrical boxes can't handle the additional size, you've got to install deeper boxes... or find a way of extending the box from the wall. Since the first option is a massive undertaking, I went with option two.
Which was not the cake-walk I was expecting. I could find only one manufacturer for such a thing. One.
Arlington Industries, Inc. and their UL-listed BES Box Extenders...
The extenders themselves are textured so you can paint them to match your decor. And while some people may not like the way they stick out from the wall, I'm actually quite happy with them. For one thing, I think it will cut down on finger-oils and grime hitting the wall. For another, when you pair the extenders with a screwless switch plate, it ends up looking kinda cool.
And when it comes to controlling the controllers? Now that they've been installed?
As I mentioned yesterday, INSTEON has a hub that plugs into your electrical system and the internet. You can then use your iPhone to control all your INSTEON devices wherever you may be... so long as your phone has internet data access.
But INSTEON didn't stop there.
In an effort to tie into Apple's HomeKit, they've recently released a Hub PRO model that does just that. Being able to integrate all my INSTEON stuff with all my Apple stuff and have Siri voice control for the whole shebang is pretty awesome. In theory. In reality? Well...
The problem with the HomeKit-enabled INSTEON Hub Pro is that it doesn't support all the various INSTEON devices. Only some of them.
Door sensors? On/Off sensors? Water leak Sensors? Nope. Nope. Nope.
Which means that the HomeKit option is pretty much worthless to me, for the time being. Perhaps one day INSTEON and Apple will get their shit together so everything will work right, but that day is not today. So I just bought the "regular" hub and figure I'll upgrade sometime in the future. That will be nice because then my HomeKit Schalge door locks will fit right in with everything else. In the meanwhile though... not so much.
Kind of a buzzkill, right?
There's another option to bring your INSTEON controllers into the future that Star Trek promised us. And I'll talk about that tomorrow.
Posted on Friday, December 18th, 2015
Welcome to Home Automation Week at Blogography!
So... the INSTEON solution for Apple HomeKit integration, the Hub Pro, leaves a lot to be desired. It only works with a handful of devices, which means HomeKit voice control via Siri is half-assed at best. Which sucks, because being able to literally tell your home what you want it to do is the brass ring of home automation.
Lucky for us, there's another solution for that.
It's Amazon Echo, which is better-known by the "wake word" you use to activate it... Alexa.
I've actually owned one for quite a while, but the novelty wore off quickly given the limited amount of things you can do with it...
But all that changed once Alexa got INSTEON integration.
Now voice-control for my automated home is a reality.
And it's pretty awesome.
"Alexa, turn on the kitchen lights."
"Alexa, dim the dining room lights 50%."
"Alexa, brighten the living room lights."
"Alexa, turn off the garbage disposal."
"Alexa, turn off the lights."
Anything that can be turned on or off via an INSTEON switch can be discovered then controlled by Alexa. You can even set up groups of items within the Amazon Echo app so you can control multiple devices at the same time. And while Alexa doesn't understand what I'm saying every once in a while, "she" pretty much nails my requests spot-on every time.
And that feels more incredible than I thought it would.
Thanks to my INSTEON automation system and Amazon Echo's ability to integrate with it, my home now has ears and a voice.
But what about eyes? We'll get to that tomorrow.
Posted on Saturday, December 19th, 2015
Welcome to Home Automation Week at Blogography!
When it came to installing cameras in my newly-automated home, I thought I would use the cameras I already had. They're older, but they still work perfectly fine. Most of the time. Kinda.
Okay, they suck. They're finicky and don't always work. They have a limited viewing angle so you have to pan to see everything, which is almost impossible to do remotely. You can't store footage to review past events... at least not easily. Worst of all they are a total bitch to set up and maintain. But they were relatively cheap and capable at the time I bought them, which is why they're here.
Time to upgrade.
Of all the home automation devices I bought, figuring out which camera system to get was by far the most difficult decision.
The obvious choice seemed to be going with INSTEON, since that was where most everything else came from. Unfortunately, their camera solutions are terrible. Barely a step above what I have now. Even worse, they're not really an integrated solution at all. They're just old FOSCAM models that have been re-branded for INSTEON and slapped on to the system half-assed. Complaints are legion about how difficult they can be to set up and maintain, which is what I hate most about what I've got now. Which means INSTEON cameras are not at all what I was looking for.
Luckily, there are a lot of other options.
Too many options, actually.
But one model kept rising to the top over and over again... DropCam.
Which was bought out by the Nest thermostat people (which was, in-turn, bought out by Google). Which means DropCam is now NestCam. Which wouldn't be a bad thing, except a lot of people have been complaining about lost functionality with the Nest app compared to what DropCam had. But, in the end, the things that NestCam did right were the things I most wanted to have, so I decided to buy one and try it out.
I loved it.
So frickin' easy to set up. You plug it in, scan the QR code on the back with the iPhone app, then connect to your network. That's it. And once you get it set up, it's solid. Over the past couple weeks there has been
My hope is that one day Nest will offer a firmware upgrade that will allow their cameras to integrate with Apple's HomeKit. I'm not holding my breath, however, as Nest is building it's own competing architecture, and Google may not want to throw a bone that big Apple's way. Which is a bummer, of course... I'd love to be able to have my cameras be able to pass any detected motion to the rest of my home automation system... but even without that feature, they're still too good to pass up.
Not a bad acquisition for what started as a thermostat company!
And speaking of thermostats... what's in store for the final installment of Home Automation Week here at Blogography? Guess you'll just have to tune in tomorrow to find out...
Posted on Sunday, December 20th, 2015
Welcome to Home Automation Week at Blogography!
Probably the most famous of home automation toys is Nest, the Learning Thermostat. The brainchild of a couple of ex Apple engineers, their "smart thermostat" took home automation into the mainstream. Able to smartly control your heating and cooling system, Nest is simple to install, easy to use, and makes a real difference when it comes to saving energy and money.
So when it came time to pick a "smart thermostat," Nest was the obvious choice for me... especially since I already had invested in NestCam as my security camera of choice.
But then I started doing the research in HVAC forums and found out that Nest might not be my best choice after all.
So I went looking for alternatives.
One of the first products to jump out at me was Ecobee3. Of all the choices, it seemed to get the best mentions by HVAC technicians. And the reviews were good. And I liked that it features the ability to monitor multiple rooms to figure out a best temperature setting. And of course it has all the usual energy-saving smarts you'd expect...
What was unexpected is that it can also control the whole-home humidifier I'm installing. I had hoped that this meant the remote room sensors would be monitoring humidity as well as temperature but, alas, this is not the case. Still, handy.
When it comes to controlling your Ecobee3, it comes with a beautiful color touch-screen and equally impressive minimalist interface. You can also use your iPhone (or Android, if you're so inclined) to control your thermostat from anywhere in your home... or anywhere in the world you have internet access.
One of the more interesting aspects of the Ecobee3 is that both the main controller and the remote monitors have motion sensors. This enables your thermostat to automatically determine when you're home and away... and also to follow where you're at so that the temperature is exactly where you want it wherever you are. The main unit's sensor activates the touch controls when you are near it and goes into a "display mode" (where the controls disappear) when you're away.
A nice feature that's so logical it seems a glaring omission for smart thermostats that don't have it... is integrated weather. This helps Ecobee3 figure out how to best use your heating and cooling resources to keep your home at the desired temperature. It also allows the unit to save on energy costs by using outdoor ventilation to cool your home when the outdoor temperature drops after the sun goes down in the summer (assuming your HVAC system can do that). And of course you can view the current weather and forecast at the touch of a button.
At first I thought the remote sensors were kind of gimmicky, but then I saw how Ecobee3 can integrate them into the system. At night, for example, you can tell the thermostat to ignore all but the bedroom sensors, because that's all you're really going to care about. Clever.
I've not had my Ecobee3 long enough to know if the "DataRhythm" technology is savings me big money (it takes a month before any of the main features are available), but the "HomeIQ" web portal keeps track of all kinds of information so you can fine-tune your HVAC system to get the most bang for your buck once everything kicks in. It seems fairly comprehensive, so here's hoping.
Overall, I'm very happy with the Ecobee3. It's easy to use, has features for days, has an excellent interface for my iPhone, on the web, and on the thermostat, and could end up saving me some money. As if all that weren't enough, it's also Apple HomeKit enabled. So if Apple ever gets their shit together, that could be a big plus.
If you're looking to dip your toe in home automation waters, a smart thermostat might be a good place to start. And if the Ecobee3 is compatible with your HVAC system, it might be worth a look.
Posted on Monday, December 21st, 2015
Thanks to Home Automation Week, Bullet Sunday is on Monday and starts... now...
• The 1975! Definitely a highlight of my week... if not a highlight of my entire year... was flying to San Francisco so I could see The 1975 in concert with Jester. This has quickly become one of my very favorite bands, and their live show did not disappoint. Not only did they play tracks from their flawless debut album, there was plenty of amazing new stuff off their forthcoming one. Like my favorite song of the night, Change of Heart...
I was very surprised by how fantastic their stage set was. It's dead simple... consisting of a large video screen and four video columns... but it's what they DO with it that made the show so spectacular. If you have a chance to see them in concert (which might be tough... they're selling out everywhere) by all means give them a shot.
• Elephant Walk! When I was on vacation in Africa last year, my first stop on safari was at Ruckomechi camp in Zimbabwe. It's a beautiful reserve in a region known as "Mana Pools" and is billed as "The Elephant's Favourite Camp" because elephants are roaming around everywhere. They were always around, and you are constantly running across them throughout your time at camp... I even found an elephant in my shower once. For the most part, if you leave the elephants alone, they leave you alone. Just don't approach them. And absolutely do NOT get near a baby elephant unless you want a momma elephant getting annoyed with you. I loved having the elephants around, and never once had any problems with them. Which is why I was surprised to see this viral video going around of an elephant attack that was most definitely shot at Ruckomechi camp. I ate at that very table...
While this incident is alarming, it also has to be exceedingly rare, because thousands of guests (including me) have been through Ruckomechi Camp without incident. Hopefully this won't dissuade people from visiting, because it is easily one of the most amazing experiences of my entire life.
• Star Wars! I have no intention of seeing Star Wars: The Force Awakens while the hype is still running high. While I love Star Wars, that's greatly overshadowed by my hatred of people at the movies now-a-days. Used to be you only had to worry about people talking during the film. Now you've got mobile phones, which has made things even worse. I'm doing my best to avoid spoilers for The Force Awakens, but am still getting excited by the build-up to the movie. And this video by Jimmy Fallon with The Roots and stars of Star Wars is pretty awesome...
• Feeding! Probably one of the funniest things I've seen all year...
• Kitten! And now, before I go, the most heartwarming thing I've seen all week...
Amazing. I love happy endings like this. Best of luck, Lazarus!
Enjoy the rest of your Monday, everybody!
Posted on Tuesday, December 22nd, 2015
I was fairly excited to see A Very Murray Christmas, but ultimately found it too odd for my tastes once I finally got around to watching it. But there were enough really good parts to make it all worthwhile.
My hands-down favorite? Miley Cyrus singing Silent Night.
Say what you will about Miley and the swarm of controversy that surrounds her, but the girl can sing...
Things like this are why I make no apologies for being a huge Miley Cyrus fan.
Posted on Wednesday, December 23rd, 2015
I'll love you forever.
Posted on Thursday, December 24th, 2015
It's all I want.
Posted on Friday, December 25th, 2015
Merry Christmas to those who celebrate it!
Welcome to an extension of Home Automation Week at Blogography! I say "extension" because a week has seven days and this is part eight. I guess I should have put a bit more thought into this.
I loathe smoke detectors. I loathe CO2 detectors even more. They're all bug-ridden, noisy, and prone to errors. Then you've got the damn batteries running out all the time which results in running around the house trying to figure out which alarm is "chirping" at you for attention. And God help you if you burn the toast.
Don't get me wrong though... if there's an actual fire in the house... or a CO2 leak... then I frickin' love detectors. But, for the most part? Not so much.
When I was looking into "smart" detectors last year, I was intrigued by Nest Protect. It seemed sensible, secure, feature-rich, and very cool. Ultimately I took a pass on it for two good reasons: 1) Nest Protect wasn't compatible with Apple's HomeKit, and 2) A lot of people were complaining about false alarms and features being turned off and never turned back on, despite promises from Nest.
But then two things happened: 1) Apple's HomeKit turned out to be a STEAMING PILE OF SHIT*, and 2) Nest came out with a "Protect Version 2" that supposedly addressed the many problems people were having. Oh, and the reviews were great...
This is probably Nest Protect v1. I think v2 is not so squared? Very close though.
And so... I went ahead and bought Nest Protect. Actually, I bought five of them, because that's how many
Setting up Nest Protect couldn't be easier.
Except when it is.
When you first open the thing, they tell you to set it up before you hang it. That way you're not climbing up and down a ladder if there's a problem, I guess. So I pulled the strip to engage the battery and my first Nest Protect told me to "PRESS THE BUTTON IF YOU WANT THE LANGUAGE SET TO ENGLISH!" And so I pressed the button. But apparently not fast enough, because my Nest Protect started speaking to me in Spanish. And wouldn't stop. Fortunately I was able to get the gist of what she(!) was saying and set things up without issue. Removed my old old smoke detector, no problem. Installed the mounting plate, no problem. Hung my Nest Protect, no problem. Tested the unit, no problem. Change the language to English... problem.
Using the iPhone Nest App, I was able to switch to English easily. But then I get a message saying "Changes will take place within a day." Yes... A FUCKING DAY! And they mean it. When I went to work two hours after installation, it was still hablaba español. Kind of ridiculous it should take so long, but okay.
Nest Protect does exactly what you'd expect a smoke/CO2 detector to do... detect smoke and CO2 and then sound an alarm if it finds anything. But Nest Protect goes much further than that...
Nest Protect is available in both battery-powered and power-line-powered options. My old alarms were power-line-powered, so that's what I bought. If the power goes out, the battery back-up kicks in and the outage is recorded, then (apparently) reported to your phone app. I never got a notification when I tripped the breaker for the the smoke alarms, which Nest says I will. If ALL power goes out, I don't see how Nest Protect can notify you because then the internet would be out as well, wouldn't it?
All in all, I'm most impressed with Nest Protect. I haven't had it long enough to know if the chronic false alarm problem that plagued v1 has been truly solved with v2, but I'm hopeful. And, of course, I haven't had an emergency to truly put it to the test, but I'm very much okay with that. What I can say is that all the various features seem to be working as advertised. I love being able to check in on my home when I'm gone and know everything is okay... but I've even more in love with the idea that if there's a serious problem with fire or CO2, my home will let me know.
*I will talk more about Apple HomeKit being a STEAMING PILE OF SHIT tomorrow.
Posted on Saturday, December 26th, 2015
If you take away one thing from Home Automation Week (now in Part Nine of Seven Parts!) it should be to avoid Apple's HomeKit home automation platform like the plague. It's no secret that I think it's utter crap in its current form, and the fact that automation companies aren't really flocking to the platform is a sure sign of "too little too late."
Yes, I love the idea of controlling my home with Siri, but Amazon Echo is probably more convenient for that anyway. Yes I love Apple's dedication to privacy and security, but what does it matter if you don't have all the automation options available that you might want? Yes, I love the idea of having absolutely everything tied to a single system instead of being in pieces but, again, it's only nirvana if you actually have all the pieces you need for that one system.
But the biggest reason to completely avoid HomeKit is not what's missing... it's about how what's there doesn't fucking work.
My Schlage Sense door locks are HomeKit compatible. But I never use any of the HomeKit features. Siri is just too fucking slow at unlocking doors to have her do it. I'd rather use a key or punch a code. But even worse than that? HomeKit's remote access features DO. NOT. WORK. My locks are supposed to use my 4th Generation Apple TV to communicate with the outside world, but they don't.
If I'm at work and want to know if I remembered to lock my front door? I'm supposed to be able to ask Siri. Siri asks my AppleTV back home. AppleTV then asks my lock. But unless I'm within Bluetooth range, this is all I see...
Maybe my front door isn't close enough to my AppleTV and doesn't have the range to report what's going on? Possibly. So I check my back door, which is two feet away from my AppleTV...
Nope! And it doesn't matter how many times I reset my AppleTV or login and logout of my iCloud account. NOTHING I have tried has gotten remote access to HomeKit to work for my locks.
My Ecobee3 thermostat? Also HomeKit compatible. Surprisingly, it can be accessed remotely via Siri voice control. Probably because it isn't having to go through my AppleTV and has full WiFi-enabled control via its app. Funny thing is? I'd rather use the app. Again, Siri is a little slow to act... and often gets my Ecobee3 requests wrong for some reason.
So... lesson learned.
If you're going to get something that's HomeKit compatible, be sure that it has its own remote access app that doesn't attempt to route crap through your AppleTV... because, for me at least, it ain't happening.
Which means as much as I love my Schlage locks, if I had known then what I know now, I would have picked a different non-HomeKit solution that actually works remotely as intended. As it is now, the status of my door locks is always unknown unless me and my phone is standing next to them. Pretty useless.
Maybe one day Apple will fix the AppleTV hub remote-access problem. Maybe one day Siri won't be so damn slow to do anything. Maybe one day HomeKit won't be a pile of shit. Maybe. One day.
In the meanwhile, I reiterate... do not be blinded by the Apple Reality Distortion Field when it comes to making decision about home automation. At every turn I've found that the non-HomeKit solutions which can be paired with reliable in-app remote access and a link to Amazon Echo are far, far superior to stuff that's tied to Apple's home automation platform. Yes, having to go through multiple apps and having no unifying system can take a little extra effort at times, but it's not at all a deal-breaker. If you're organized, it's not even that big of a deal. If you have Amazon Echo, I'd argue you're actually better off than using Siri.
I guess not even Apple can hit a home run every time.
But HomeKit isn't even a base hit.
Posted on Sunday, December 27th, 2015
Time to put the holidays behind you, because Bullet Sunday starts... now...
• COMICS! Ordinarily, today would be filled with my favorite comic books of 2015. But I've drastically reduced the amount of comics I'm reading because I'm just not finding the compelling reads I've found in previous years. The biggest disappointment being that we didn't get more installments of Jupiter's Legacy, whose first volume ended in a massive cliffhanger back in January. I dunno. Maybe I'll find my comic book renaissance in 2016, but I'm just not feeling it this year.
• GAH! As if I weren't already excited enough for the upcoming Doctor Strange film...
Less than a year away!
• FOOD! Food costs are going through the roof. Even a meager bag of groceries will cost $25 or more. My average trip to the store is running around $75. With this kind of cash involved, you can bet I'm trying to get the most for my money. Which is why I am getting sick and tired of having to throw food in the garbage because the quality is in the shitter. Latest example? I bought a box of Eggo Waffles only to find that once again they're covered in crystal frost. Even when you scrape as much as you can off, they still end up wet in spots. Gross. And a total waste of money. I can only guess that they are partially thawing at some point, then getting re-frozen. But it's not me. I'm seven minutes from the grocery store. From now on, I'm going to start seeing if I can take the shit back for a refund. If not, I'm done shopping there. Or done with the product.
• WINTERY! The weather has been pretty shitty this past week, but it made for a beautiful couple days this past week once the sun came back out...
Not bad, Mother Nature, not bad at all.
• HOLIDAYS. It's not been a very good holiday season for me. The days from from Thanksgiving right through Christmas has been filled with sadness, loss, and more challenges than I would wish on anyone. With less than a week left in 2015, I'm ready to move on. So... let's wrap up the year with entries looking back at my favorite movies, television shows, and music... followed by a recap of the year here at Blogography, then get on with a fresh start in 2016.
And... the bullets have landed.
Posted on Monday, December 28th, 2015
And it's time once again for my annual wrap-up of movies that came out this year.
Or, more accurately, a "wrap-up of movies I saw that came out this year." As always, there's a bunch of movies I never saw that would have probably ended up on my list (we'll get to that later). And here we go...
THE TWELVE BEST...
These are my favorite movies from this year that I actually saw.
#1 Mad Max: Fury Road
I don't know what I could possibly add to the praise that's been heaped on this film from just about everybody. It was pure entertainment from start to finish, impeccably cast, beautifully shot... and took me completely by surprise given that I was never impressed by the original films. And then there's Charlize Theron's Imperator Furiosa... INTERESTING ASIDE: This is the first time a Marvel movie hasn't topped my list since I started making the list.
When Edgar Wright left this movie, I thought for sure that Marvel's run of amazing super-hero films was over. Instead of letting Wright make something interesting and shake things up a bit, Marvel was going to go the safe and stale route. What a bummer. Except it all somehow ended up working out. Mostly due to the impeccable casting of Paul Rudd and Michael Douglas... and a story that put a lot of fun into the genre. The result was a terrific caper film that hit all the right notes for me.
#3 Star Wars, Episode VII: The Force Awakens
Groundbreaking? Probably not. Entertaining? Absolutely. And that was pretty much the long and short of it, wasn't it? After a crappy third act with Return of the Jedi and a trio of prequels so horrendous that I lost all faith in the franchise, JJ Abrams finally gave us Star Wars back. As a massive, massive fan of things a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, that's all I could ask for.
#4 Avengers: Age of Ultron
I know. I know. The story was weak, fragmented, and featured a villain that wasn't the least bit scary or threatening... but it had super-hero action scenes that were mind-blowingly on-point, and proved more than entertaining (even on multiple viewings). The trick is to let go of all the things this movie could have been and just appreciate it for what it is.
Melissa McCartney is hit and miss for me. I loved her in The Heat and St. Vincent, didn't care for her at all in Tammy and Identity Theif. Then along comes Spy which is her best effort yet. Rather than slapping spy thriller elements onto a comedy, Paul Feig started with a good spy thriller then made it funny. It's a difference you can bank on, and features flawless supporting cast of Jude Law, Jason Statham, and Rose Byrne. My biggest surprise of the year.
#6 Song of the Sea
As a massive fan of animation, I was fully expecting the latest Studio Ghibli release, The Tale of Princess Kaguya, would be making this list. But I never got to see it. I did, however, see another animated film that was genius... Song of the Sea. Stylistically charming and wholly magical, this came out of nowhere to take my breath away
#7 Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
I don't know why I was surprised the latest M:I made my list... they've been increasingly entertaining films with quality directors behind the camera. This time it's Christopher McQuarrie, and he hit it out of the park. A strong story, a good villain, and an entertaining mission... just what the doctor ordered.
You only think you know the story behind Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s march from Selma, a critical point in the civil rights movement. At least I thought I did. Then I saw Selma and realized that history had a few surprises in store for me. This is an important film, beautifully realized.
#9 The Martian
Having read the book, I was surprised when I learned there was a movie being made of The Martian. The story is a little technical in nature, and I didn't see it translating to the screen in a compelling way. But it turns out if you shift focus to the actual action in the book, it makes for a really good movie. Surprisingly, they didn't shy away from the technical bits that made the book so good, AND found a way to keep it from bogging down the film. Somebody deserves a screenplay Oscar.
#10 It Follows
I don't want to say anything about this movie that could give something away. Suffice to say that it's a stylish horror flick that lives up to... perhaps even surpasses... the hype. If you are even a little bit of a fan of the horror genre, here's you're film.
I honestly expected that this James Bond outing would rank much higher on my list. But while it was a good and entertaining film, it wasn't a great one. And yet, if nothing else, it is beautiful to look at, just like Skyfall before it. I just wish that A) Christoph Waltz was better utilized as the villain and, B) the story actually ended up in a place that was worth the journey. Still, new James Bond.
#12 The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
I bought this on sale from the iTunes Store so I had something to watch on a business trip. I knew practically nothing about it except it was cheap entertainment and didn't have entirely bad reviews. Turns out it was actually a darn good Cold War thriller that was worth my valuable time. It was nice to see Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer in a film which didn't totally suck (=cough= Man of Steel =cough= The Lone Ranger =cough=). Really hoping for a sequel.
Shaun the Sheep
Aardman does it again. To the surprise of nobody. Hilarious movie version of the funny television series. Wish I would have seen it in a theater.
Pixar does it again. Beautifully-animated feature film with flawless voice talent and a unique concept.
DIDN'T SEE, MIGHT HAVE MADE MY LIST...
The Hateful Eight
The Tale of Princess Kaguya
All it took was one viewing of the commercial and I really wanted to see this film. Didn't hurt that the reviews were stellar. I'm not one for period romance films, but this looks like something really special.
I actually purchased this the day it was available on the iTunes Music Store, but haven't gotten around to watching it for some reason. Ian McKellen playing an elderly Sherlock Holmes that tries to solve his last case before dying? Yes please.
I'm just going to come out and say it... I was never a fan of the Rocky films. Probably because I'm not a fan of boxing. But Creed looks to be something a bit more.
I was always a big fan of Amy Winehouse's music, but not her antics. But apparently they are somethign worth watching, because everybody is raving about this film.
Straight Outta Compton
I'm a fan of the album. I expect I'd be a fan of the film telling the story of the album.
I didn't hold out much hope for yet another bad Terminator sequel... but then James Cameron chimed in with how great Genysis was, and I was intrigued. Not enough to go see it in the theater, of course, but enough to buy it from the iTunes Store. I was not impressed. This reboot/reimagining had a few good special effect sequences and it was good to see Arnold again... but everything else was kinda crap. Jai Courtney was an awful Kyle Reese, but that was eclipsed by the mind-bogglingly stupid storyline which involves Sarah Connor using a 1984 time machine(?) to go FORWARD in time to stop Skynet. Yes, FORWARD. Please. For the love of God... just stop with the Terminator movies.
I thought my favorite part of the Despicable Me movies would make for a fun ride on their own. Apparently not. Too. Much. Minions.
Posted on Tuesday, December 29th, 2015
And now is that special entry where I wrap up MY FAVORITE TV SHOWS OF 2015!
Which has a lot of new faces... eight of my top-twelve are new... to keep my television obsession interesting this year.
THE TWELVE BEST...
I was completely blindsided by this series, as I felt the movie from which it spawned was mediocre at best. Most of what makes the show so great is the awesome cast, lead by Jake McDorman, who is absolute magic in every scene. If you aren't watching Limitless, you need to get on that... starting with the first episode. It's smart, funny, and gets better with every episode.
Marvel is firing on all cylinders, producing one jaw-dropping film after another... and then burning up the small screen with fascinating renditions of their second tier roster of heroes. Daredevil's first season was a brutal take on super-heroics that managed to get just about everything right when it came to The Man Without Fear.
#3 Jessica Jones
As if Daredevil wasn't enough of a gift, Marvel also gave us an utterly fascinating adaptation of the Alias comics with Jessica Jones. Kristen Ritter so faithfully nailed the character that it's hard to believe the original comic wasn't written with her in mind. Dark, disturbing, unmissable television. Even better? We got a look at the next Netflix series with an appearance by Luke Cage!
#4 Master of None
As a huge fan of Aziz Ansar's stand-up, I was expecting good things with his new show. Totally blew past all expectations. Consistently smart and funny in a way television comedies should be, but usually aren't.
#5 Agent Carter
I loathe ABC Television's Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which is why I expected an absolute disaster when the network announced a new Peggy Carter show. Fortunately, the two series couldn't be more different. Lush visuals, exciting stories, and amazing casting make this the show to watch.
#6 Mr. Robot
I don't even know how to explain this one. Defines compelling television.
I don't know how they managed to hang on to everything that made me enjoy the first season so much... yet turn in something quite different... but I am ever so glad they did.
The premise of this show... wacky American gets a woman pregnant while visiting London... didn't have me expecting much, but boy did it deliver. Beautifully-crafted dialogue keeps every episode entertaining from beginning to end. Kudos to Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan for unleashing the show I didn't know I needed all along.
One of the best shows on television came to a close this year with Season 6. I thought it was plotted out for seven seasons, so I'm not sure what happened, but I am really going to miss this series.
#10 The Flash
I am exceedingly tired of super-hero shows being built around a team of supporting characters... but it's kind of working here, unlike Arrow and Supergirl. The one part that falls flat every damn time is the show-runners insisting that everybody have a love interest (especially for Barry, which is ten shades of annoying and awkward as hell), but whatever. Fantastic special effects, nifty villains, and pretty good stories keep me watching.
#11 Orphan Black
What I said last year (and probably the year before still holds true: "Easily one of the most intelligent series on TV, it just keeps getting better and better. Where it's all leading to I have no idea, but it's a journey I'm definitely going to keep taking.".
#12 Ash vs. Evil Dead
Fun! It's just fun, escapist television that's faithful to the original films while striking out in new directions. Bruce Campbell has lost nothing over the years, and is able to deliver his brand of humor in a way most actors could only dream of. If you're a fan of Sam Raimi's The Evil Dead films, this will not disappoint.
SIX MORE WORTH WATCHING...
The Mysteries of Laura
This is a great show with a fantastic cast and entertaining stories. Really, really hope it gets a third season.
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
While I am very much enjoying The Daily Show with Trever Noah, John Oliver has risen beyond his humble origins on that show and become a major force in TV news programs. His every episode is fascinating, and I can't wait to see what he'll tackle next. If only we could get more episodes per season I'd be very happy. You just can't get enough of this show.
Game of Thrones
Again, it's fantastic television. There's not much more I can say than that.
I am kind of late to the Transparent bandwagon. I had seen the show before, but didn't really get into it for some reason. Then I caught some episodes while on a business trip and had to start over from the beginning because I enjoyed it so much.
Orange Is the New Black
Yes, there are episodes that drive me batshit crazy, but overall this is a show that makes for some compelling television. The diverse set of characters just work, and it's magic on the small screen to behold.
ANIMATION WORTH YOUR TIME...
Still a lot of good shows out there...
Still brilliant. Still relevant. Still must-see-television for me.
Imaginative entertainment unlike anything else on television. Still going strong.
Couldn't possibly love this show more than I do. They just kill it each and every episode.
Plus three more...
Rick & Morty
Dan Harmon toon series that came out of nowhere to dominate Adult Swim. Back to the Future gone sideways.
Hasn't jumped the shark yet, thank heavens.
This show is absolute genius in the most bizarre way possible. If Ash vs. The Evil Dead didn't exist, Bojack would be my #12 show. Will Arnett is amazing as the voice of the lead character, and he's backed up by a fantastic cast (including Amy Sedaris!). Suffice to say you owe it to yourself to take a look at this show, because I have no idea how else to sell it to you.
IN WITH A BANG, DROPPED WITH A WHIMPER...
The first six episodes had me completely hooked. Then it just kept going in directions that lost my interest and the overall premise grew stale.
Quantico's earliest episodes were great, but in the back of my head I was wondering how they would sustain all the mysteries and intrigue that made the series so good. Turns out they couldn't. Eventually it all kinda collapsed, leaving me bored and frustrated.
How to Get Away with Murder
This show was my obsession last season. This time around it's just such a mess I can't find the energy to be interested.
The special effects are great. The stories aren't bad at all. But I hate the whole "Team Supergirl" bullshit. How much more interesting would this show have been if she was just Linda Danvers trying to figure out life as a teenager while secretly balancing out being one of the most powerful heroes on earth. But no. It's just so idiotic and forced that I can't watch. And I HATE how they keep taking good guys and making them bad guys. Vartox, one of my favorite comic book heroes was made a villain in episode one! No thanks.
Posted on Wednesday, December 30th, 2015
And here's the last of my "Best Of 2015" lists for the year.
Not a bad twelve months for music I like, actually!
THE TWELVE BEST...
#1 Arcadia by Mackintosh Braun
Often times, I determine my favorite album of the year by factoring how many plays it registers on iTunes adjusted for the number of months its been released then further adjusted to reflect how new music gets a ton of listens the month after release. It's a scientific approach for something that's not at all scientific. This year, Duran Duran came out on top. Which makes sense, I love their latest album and listen to it constantly. But, in the end, my heart was telling me that Mackintosh Braun was my top pick. They took their EP from last year (my #2 album) and built on it in beautiful ways. The EP track In Reverse is still my favorite song off the album, but Holding Pattern comes a very close second. Everything they touch is melodic and magical and my infatuation with their sound hasn't diminished one bit. If you are a child of 80's pop like I am, they are well worth checking out.
#2 Paper Gods by Duran Duran
After the misstep that was Red Carpet Massacre, I feared that one of my all-time favorite bands was slipping off my radar. But then they hit back hard with All You Need Is Now, which I liked quite a lot. Was it a fluke? Apparently not. Paper Gods is one of their best albums in years, and the fact that they're brave enough to partner up with other artists (like Nile Rodgers, Mr. Hudson, Kiesza, and Jonas Bjerre) has reinvigorated the band and made them more relevant for modern audiences and old fans alike. The perfect example is Pressure Off, which has Simon teaming up with Janelle Monáe for pop brilliance that cannot be denied. And then the band goes into a different direction entirely with the most beautiful song of the year, What Are the Chances. With practically no missteps on this album, my faith in Duran Duran has been fully restored. If you had given up on the band, Paper Gods is essential listening.
#3 Music Complete by New Order
My love of New Order is firmly planted in their formative years. The band was such a massive part of my musical education that their early hits define "New Order" to me. And yet... their later stuff never fails to impress. Republic, Get Ready, and Waiting for the Siren's Call were all excellent releases and maintained my love of everything they do. Now they've blessed us with Music Complete which has only served to cement their genius status in music history. It's an eclectic blend of pop, rock, dance, and electronica that couldn't come from anybody else. Tracks like Plastic, Tutti Frutti, and Superheated are everything I could ask for from the band.
#4 New Glow by Matt & Kim
The fact that so many commercials have opted to use Matt & Kim's sound to pitch their wares has done nothing to diminish the indie spirit that permeates every track the band releases. That they're not afraid to experiment in new directions keeps their music fresh, even if it doesn't always pan out for older fans who are firmly entrenched in the Grand era. With New Glow, everybody's favorite musical duo took a welcome step back on a few tracks while continuing to push forward with others. This has resulted in an album that's a little uneven, but no less fun than what I've come to expect. Not surprisingly, Matt & Kim continue to push the envelope with their music videos, often coming up with genius visuals that rely on imagination instead of budget to wow their fans.
#5 Dark Sky Island by Enya
While I've been a huge fan of Enya since her debut, Ive grown a little Enya-indifferent over the years. I buy everything she comes out with, but don't remember falling in love with an album since The Memory of Trees back in 1995. Fortunately, for whatever reason, I'm really digging Dark Sky Island. It's got that hallmark Enya melodic construction that defines her beautiful music, but it also feels more... more... this time around. It's like she's gone from reaching for the stars to reaching past the stars for what heaven must sound like. But it's not just the way she sounds, Enya has something to say.
#6 Art Angels by Grimes
Claire Boucher, AKA Grimes, is one of those artists that has been a little difficult for me to love through her first three albums. It's not that I couldn't appreciate the experimentation she was going through to find her sound, it's that it went in directions I just couldn't follow. So when Art Angels dropped, I didn't make an effort to take a listen. But then all this critical acclaim started being heaped upon the album and I couldn't stay away. Yes, it's weird in parts... but in wonderful ways. If you're not a Grimes fan... or have yet to experience Boucher's music... this is probably the way to get introduced.
#7 Recreational Love by The Bird and the Bee
While I've been a fan of the band for a while, The Bird and the Bee never really got to the point where I was anticipating what comes next. Then came their Tribute to Daryl Hall and John Oates album (with Shirley Manson on backing vocals for Maneater!) and everything changed. Now comes Recreational Love, and it did not disappoint. I can honestly say that this album has made me a fand of the band and I am most definitely looking forward to what comes next. Playful, fun, brilliant pop stylings that's earned a space in my musical rotation.
#8 Froot by Marina and the Diamonds
This album came out of nowhere when Howard mentioned it as we were headed to the Duran Duran concert at Red Rocks. The only thing I knew about the band is that I think I once passed by them at some kind of record signing. Interested to know what had Howard so excited about a band, I gave Froot a listen. And was captivated. It's beautifully constructed and every song feels fully refined but oddly raw at the same time. Good, good stuff.
#9 Dopamine by BØRNS
After releasing Seeing Stars on the EP Candy, I became an instant fan of BØRNS for his melodic pop sensibilities and fun lyrics. I also became anxious to get my hands on his debut album, which dropped back in October. Turns out it was worth the wait... though didn't quite live up to the hype I had built around it. Still, a lot of really good songs that get a lot of iTunes play.
#10 A Head Full of Dreams by Coldplay
Coldplay is pretty much the law of diminishing returns in music form. Yes, I like the band. Yes, I think they can make good music. Yes, they're latest album is worth listening to. But the band just isn't evolving. They released Ghost Stories last year (which I liked quite a lot) and this is just more of the same. Which would normally be a good thing, but I'm starting to get tired of Coldplay. In ten years will I even be able to remember which song was on which album? Probably not. Step it up, guys.
#11 Introducing Darlene Love by Darlene Love
It's frickin' Darlene Love. With her first non-Christmas album in 27 years. What more do you need to know?
#12 Before This World by James Taylor
It's frickin' James Taylor. With his first album of original material in 13 years. What more do you need to know?
And, that's a wrap. Really looking forward to new music in 2016!
Posted on Thursday, December 31st, 2015
For those who only read one of my posts each year... or anybody wanting a recap of the past year here at Blogography... this post is for you! As usual, I've jettisoned loads of the usual junk so this entry is "mostly crap" instead of the "total crap" they usually are.
This year was difficult for many reasons, but I tried to make the best of it whenever I could. ...
• Restored some very cool old family photos...
• Finally made the switch from Apple's discontinued Aperture to Adobe Lightroom.
• Got angry at the lobbyist pig-fuckers ruining this country.
• Mourned the loss of the blogs in my life.
• Went to a birthday party in San Diego and took some photos...
• I love baby bats!
• Had another encounter with Cirque du Soleil, this time with KURIOS!
• Flew to Memphis to visit their new Hard Rock Cafe, see the sights, and visit some friends...
• Spent the evening photographing beautiful Beale Street...
• Got my hands on the majesty that is the Retina 5K iMac.
• Sang the praises of Netflix and Marvel's Daredevil.
• Took a trip to Vancouver so I could get detained, visit the new Hard Rock Casino, and eat TimBits...
• Had a less than stellar experience when visiting the new Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Lake Tahoe...
• Visited Anchorage to see the new Hard Rock Cafe there and take the Alaska Railroad so I could go glacier watching...
• Marvel at Miley Cyrus and Ariana Grande as they Don't Dream it's Over...
• Dropped some text on vitiligo.
• Spent too long obsessing over a video where a cat taking a nap got an unexpected ride...
• Equality nation-wide...
• Wrote a love letter to Back to the Future on the event of the film's 30th anniversary.
• America. A retrospective of greatness.
• Took a look back at some of my favorite television commercials from past years.
• Took a trip to Los Angeles and visited The Getty Museum...
• Was disgusted by being disgusted.
• Said goodbye to PDX carpet after flying to Portland for a wedding...
• Finally, finally got to see a concert at Red Rocks... DURAN DURAN!
• Became obsessed with LEGO Dimensions...
• Sorry, I'm not Josh...
• iTunes is the shittiest software ever.
• Spent a beautiful day in Marin County...
• Went to see Walk the Moon with Jestertunes...
• Finally said goodbye to my piece of shit car.
• On a trip to Portland, Maine, I discovered that United Airlines Don't Give a Fuck.
• Delved into the world of home automation.
• Closed out my travel year by flying back to San Francisco so I could see The 1975 with Jestertunes.
And that was my adventures in 2015.
Here's wishing everybody a terrific 2016!