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Better Dead than (WD) Red

Posted on Monday, June 1st, 2020

Dave!My drama with my home NAS (Network Attached Storage) is ongoing.

Last December I took money I had saved for a trip with my mom to the fjords of Normway (our next vacation destination after our Africa trip that wasn't to be) and sunk it into a QNAP NAS on which I would store all my photos, music, and other media files. That way I could access them anywhere yet still have them under my control. As I noted in the above link I wasn't terribly happy with the QNAP unit I bought, finding that it provided crap media services that look like shit when connected directly to my television. Instead I had to abandon all the pricey QNAP media extras I paid for and install Plex, a brilliant media organization server app for which I immediately bought a lifetime subscription. It's amazing, and allows my QNAP NAS to do all the things I wanted it to do.

Along with the NAS, I purchased two Western Digital Red 8TB drives to go inside.

Almost immediately after I got everything running, I found out that Western Digital, a company I had loved and patronized faithfully for decades, had started sneaking chaep-ass SMR (Shingled Magnetic Recording) drives into their popular "Red" line of NAS drives. As explained in this video, SMR is a pile of fucking bullshit that should never be used in NAS applications...

Western Digital has been all over the map with responding to customer enquiries. At one point they said that the 8TB drives I bought didn't use SMR, but who knows? They later retracted and said they refuse disclose that information.

Well fuck that, and definitely fuck them. I will never buy another Western Digital product until they start disclosing critical information that people need to know in order to make informed purchasing decisions. Or maybe I will never buy another Western Digital product again even if they do. Right now I hate that fucking company so badly that I don't plan on spending a single dollar more on their crap.

So now that I've saved up a couple hundred bucks to purchase a second set of drives for all my photos, I decided to go with Seagate IronWolf drives since Seagate has categorically denied using SMR in them. Furthermore, Seagate went on to say that they don't recommend SMR for NAS applications and won't saddle their customers with a shitty, inapropriate product. Good enough for me. I will be switching to IronWolf for any future drive purchases... including the one I just made.

It's a strange feeling... being so loyal to a company that you wouldn't even consider using a different brand... then all of a sudden have to switch gears and go with something else because you got shitted on. Same thing happened with Panasonic. I had bought Panasonic gear for years and loved it... until I bought one of their shitty recording DVD players and could never get it to work. They refused to take responsibility, blamed everything on me despite my following along with their step-by-step instructions over six support calls, then said they would only repair it if I paid for shipping both ways. Rather than continue to sink money into a worthless piece of shit, I filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau. Nothing happened. But I haven't bought a single piece of Panasonic gear since, that's for damn sure.

As word continues to spread about Western Digital's duplicitous behavior and reprehensible response to some serious allegations, I can't help but wonder if they have really screwed themselves. Sure consumer demand might stay steady since home-users won't know... or possibly won't care... that WD is a deceitful company, but IT professionals? Yikes. The pro NAS market is some serious bread and butter to lose en masse.

Oh well. You roll the dice, you take your chances.

But how Western Digital thought people wouldn't notice just boggles the mind. It's as if Coca-Cola switched to New Coke but never bothered to advertise it. They just thought people wouldn't care.

We all know what happened in that scenario.

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The Sound of Tech Obsolescence

Posted on Tuesday, June 9th, 2020

Dave!SONOS released their new OS, called S2, today and I was excited to see what's new.

My Mac made me aware of the new S2 app when I loaded their old app this evening. So I downloaded the new app... only to be told that no S2 compatible devices were found. Since my One speakers are fairly new, I was pissed that they even told me about the update. Maybe my SONOS PlayBar is too old? Then I Googled it and found that apparently you have to upgrade the hardward with the new SONOS iPhone app. So I got that, performed an upgrade to everything, then my Mac S2 app recognized my S2 gear. Why the hell they didn't just allow the Mac app to do the upgrade is a mystery. What if you don't own a smart phone?

Anyway... now my stuff is all running S2. No clue what that does for me, as everything looks and acts the exact same. When I Googled that I found that apparently the only device to make use of the new S2 OS features is the Sonos Arc television bar. An $800 product which adds Dolby Atmos capabilities to your setup.

Soooo... S2 is just a big load of crap for anybody except those who throw out their old gear. Got it.

The sad news is that eventually I will have to replace my PlayBar anyway. It only accepts audio over optical digital, and newer televisions don't really support that. I could get an adapter, but it would be senseless since so few audio codecs can be sent to the speakers that way. It's only dumb luck that the television I bought sends Dolby Surround over optical. Most contemporary sets don't.

My disgust over the disposable society we live in continues. I can only hope that eventually SONOS or some third party releases an upgrade module so the old PlayBar can receive audio over HDMI. Even if it's only Dolby Surround and not Dolby Atmos, it would at least allow me to keep using my pricey investment in SONOS gear.

Tech obsolescence is inevitable. I get that. But sometimes it really doesn't have to be. Like with frickin' speakers. Being able to modify old gear to have new life should be a thing. But it's not, because that's not where the money is.

Confirmation can be found in your local landfill.

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Cable Chameleon

Posted on Thursday, June 11th, 2020

Dave!Now that I have enough hard drive space in my NAS (Network Attached Storage), I need to transfer the tens of thousands of photos I've collected from my hard disk photo archive to the NAS. That way I can access them anywhere at any time.

Problem is that I couldn't connect them together because I didn't have a cable to do it... despite having dozens of fucking cables piled up in my cupboard. My photo archive drive is Thunderbolt only. My NAS is USB-A only. Which means half of the problem is that support for Thunderbolt has been dropped. The other half is that USB ports keep changing. So even though I was dragging out various old drives to use as "hubs" in the hope that I could find a port/cable combination which would work, nothing ever did. After an hour I finally just gave up.

I finally had to borrow a drive enclosure from work so I could put my photo archive drives inside and get it hooked up to my NAS. I'll get on that tonight and see if everything will copy while I sleep.

At this point I should just come out and say it... the way USB keeps changing? It fucking sucks. There are a ridiculous number of USB port variations, and I have devices which use most of them. And why? Why are there so many?

JUST LOOK AT THIS SHIT...

And it doesn't stop there. All our prayers were supposed to be answered now that we've got USB-C... right?

Um, no. Turns out it's as bad as ever...

And so I guess I can just give up now.

Perhaps what I have to do is throw out absolutely everything everywhere that I own and start over. For every old drive I've got I buy a new drive, transfer the data over, then just burn all the old drives in a massive bonfire.

If anybody wants to give me the hundreds of dollars needed to make that happen...

UPDATE: And it didn't work. Apparently Wester Digital changed the proprietary RAID software they use between my older RAID enclosure and my work's newer RAID enclosure. The drives are incompatible. Instead I managed to find an old Thuderbolt-to-Ethernet dongle. Since my old laptop has two Thunderbolt ports and no ethernet port, that's what I had to use so that I could make the transfer via gigabyte ethernet from my Thunderbolt photo archive RAID to the NAS. Holy shit what a horrific mess.

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Bullet Sunday 668

Posted on Sunday, June 28th, 2020

Dave!COVID-19 cases may be on the rise because Americans are too selfish and stupid to wear masks and practice social-distancing, but all is not lost... because an all new Bullet Sunday starts... now...

   
• Lyrical! Before we get to me being a unhinged, profanity-laden rage-machine over frickin' masks and stuff, watch this video. I honestly don't know which is more adorable... this incredible little girl... or the reactions her dad has...

So many adorable videos...

There's more where those came from: The Kabs Family YouTube.

   
• Taxing So Hard! Hasan just finished up his current cycle of Patriot Act on Netflix, and he ended on a doozy of an episode. It is reprehensible how Intuit and other asshole companies have made billions over charging American citizens for something they should not have to pay a damn thing for. Democrats and Republicans may not agree on how much taxes we should pay... but can easily agree that the way we file our taxes is Fucked. Up.

I see shit like this, and I just marvel that people aren't consumed with outrage. Lobbyists have hopelessly fucked our government, and this is a perfect example of how.

   
• Masked, Man! Washington State governor Jay Inslee (who is roundly hated here in Eastern Washington) finally issued a mandatory mask order. He pretty much had no choice. Businesses were having a horrible time trying to enforce it because too many people are just fucking asshole idiots, and I guess he figured that state-wide enforcement was the only way to keep us safe (seeing how countries like Austria which mandated masks had their infection rates drop 90%). Even with the mandate, this is what you'll still witness...

"Excuse me, masks are required to shop here. I'm happy to get you one if you don't have one."

"I DON'T BELIEVE IN THAT!!! STOP INFRINGING ON MY FREEDOM!"

Well, I have news for you... it doesn't matter what you believe or don't believe. THIS IS WHAT'S REQUIRED TO SHOP IN A STORE NOW... SO STOP BEING A TOTAL FUCKING ASSHOLE TO SOMEBODY WHO IS JUST TRYING TO DO THEIR JOB! THIS CASHIER DOESN'T SET THE POLICY, AND YOU'RE A PIECE OF SHIT FOR HASSLING A MINIMUM WAGE WORKER OVER SOMETHING THEY DON'T CONTROL! Go ahead and "don't believe" in masks because you're an ignorant dumbass... don't wear one if you're garbage who doesn't care about others... whatever... BUT DON'T TAKE IT OUT ON SOMEBODY JUST TRYING TO MAKE A LIVING BY DOING THE JOB THEY'RE TOLD TO DO! You can wear a mask for ten fucking minutes in a store even if you're too stupid to "believe in it"... because some retail clerk following the rules doesn't deserve your bullshit.

Fortunately, some good sometimes comes out of abhorrent behavior like this.

   
• Citizens Arrest The Devil! And then...

There's stupid, and then there's whatever trip this fucking nut-job piece of shit is on. Fuck you. Get your own ass to a psych ward, you crazy asshole. Doctors and nurses are risking their lives every damn day to save lives in the middle of a pandemic and ignorant fucks like you are mocking their sacrifice. If you don't want to give a shit about putting your fellow Americans in danger, go live in a cave somewhere.

   
• Oxygen! Here's a human with a respiratory system...

It doesn't matter how many videos like this are released, there are still dumbfucks who will not be swayed.

   
• Statehood! If you watched HBO's Watchmen, you know the American flag was different because in Watchmen's reality, Vietnam was made the 51st state. It's a pretty cool detail in a very cool television show...

Jenny laying down all content while I scratch her belly.

And while we're on adding states... I 100% support Washington D.C. becoming our 51st state... and I also support territories we govern who don't have a voice in government be granted statehood if they wish it. We literally became a country because of taxation without representation. Will it take another revolution to make things right? Despite passing The House, probably. And, yes, Puerto Rico does pay taxes to the US Treasury... $3.5 billion in 2016.

   
• Cheerio! As anybody here likely knows, I have been on a crusade again Western Digital for the shitty, underhanded way that they have been sneaking cheap, shitty SMR drives into their NAS line of Red drives... NAS being an application where they are totally inapropriate. Well, after enough outrage by their customer base (and former customers like myself), Western Digital finally relented and has said that they will from now on label the "good" kind of NAS drives "Red+" and keep sneaking the shitty, totally inappropriate SMR drives in their original "Red" lineup. Something I interpret like this...

Now that we've been caught shitting in your Cheerios, we promise to let you know which boxes of Cheerios have shit in them... NOT by labeling them as "Cheerios with Shit"... but instead by labeling the shit-free version as "Cheerios+"... thanks to our customers for letting us know they want to know when there's shit in their Cheerios! — Love, Western Digital

Yeah. No. Fuck you. The correct move would be to say that you learned your lesson and will immediately be removing SMR drives from your entire lineup since it is promoted for NAS but wholly wrong for NAS. Instead you just continue shitting in our Cheerios. I won't be buying WD again.

   
Until next Sunday... enjoy your pandemic.

   

GigaSupper Zooming

Posted on Tuesday, June 30th, 2020

Dave!I've written a couple times about my love of GigaPan images. It's a really cool technology which stitches together tons of hi-resolution images to form one massive photo that you can zoom into to ridiculous degrees. Most of the time, GigaPan is used for capturing scenery. You see the scene and then can zoom and zoom and zoom to reveal all kinds of little details.

But you can use GigaPixel for all kinds of things.

A really cool application is artwork.

I've been to Milan, Italy in order to see The Last Supper. It's a magnificent work of art by one of my favorite artists, Leonardo da Vinci...

Last Supper of Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie
One of you bitches is going to betray me!

And now Google's Arts & Culture has posted a painting of the painting by one of Leonardo da Vinci's pupils which is presented in GigaPan format...

A copy of The Last Supper

What's interesting is that you can see how the original masterpiece showed Jesus's feet, which were chopped off when somebody decided to cut a door into the wall of the original.

And since this is GigaPan, you can zoom into the canvas to a crazy degree...

Philip the Apostle zoom-in on The Last Supper

Philip the Apostle's eye close-up zoom-in on The Last Supper

Peter and John close-up zoom-in on The Last Supper

A slice of bread sitting on the table in close-up zoom-in on The Last Supper

Jesus's Toes

All in all, it's pretty spectacular.

If you want to explore the painting yourself, here's a link for you.

   

TECH WEEK: QNAP NAS RAM UPGRADE

Posted on Monday, August 17th, 2020

Dave!Welcome to Technology Week at Blogography, where I will be reviewing tech purchases I've made over the last month or so.

   
I have mixed feelings about eh QNAP TS-451+ NAS (Network Attached Storage) unit I bought.

On one hand, it seems capable, reliable, and does a swell job of storing my media and other files. On the other hand, the HDMI video it generates is shit, the software is overly complex, and the thing feels underpowered for the price. The biggest drawback being that it only comes with 2GB of memory. The unit can barely function on 2GB without resorting to swap even if you're just running the bare minimum of apps. If you add any additional apps... like my Plex media server... it's Welcome to Swapsville: Population You.

The skimpy memory is a mystery. 8GB is the maximum that QNAP will support (although there are people who have installed 16GB with no problems) and that's cheap. Well, it's cheap unless you're buying your memory from QNAP. The TS-451+ is $362 if you order it with 2GB... it's $599 if you order with 8GB. That's $237 for an additional 6GB of RAM. Which is fucking insane. Purchased from Crucial, a memory brand I trust, I was able to get two 4GB DDR3L SODIMM modules for $55. QNAP, who undoubtedly can buy memory wholesale in bulk for a lot less, wants nearly FOUR AND A HALF TIMES THE MONEY I PAID.

If you buy the memory upgrade direct from QNAP it's $220, so even that route saves you $17 order buying it pre-installed.

I do not in any way understand this bullshit.

Needless to say, I told QNAP to blow it out their ass and I ordered the SODIMM modules direct from Crucial.

The upgrade took about 15 minutes (it would have taken less, but I was exceedingly careful every step of the way because screwing up meant voiding my QNAP warranty). Despite the upgrade not being a cake-walk, it was pretty easy and everything turned out just fine.

And just because I know I'll be getting Google searches from TS-451 owners wanting to upgrade their RAM, here's the tear down. PLEASE NOTE: THIS APPARENTLY VOIDS YOUR WARRANTY! PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK!...

  1. Power off your T-451, unplug the cables, and remove the drives (or empty drive clips), setting them in a safe place in the order you removed them.
  2. Unscrew the four case screws on the back of the unit. Slide the side case cover forward to unlock, then pull off.
  3. Remove the screws for the drive cage and carefully lift off the board.
  4. Remove the installed 2GB memory card and replace with your 4GB memory card.
  5. Carefully slide the second 4GB memory card under the annoying lower cage assembly (what a stupid-ass design), making sure that the notch lines up with the slot (it's up-side-down from the other memory slot)... then gently press in as far as it can go and press down to lock it into place.
  6. Carefully install the drive cage back into its slot and put the screws back in.
  7. Place the side drive cover back on the unit, slide back to lock into place, then replace the four back-side screws.
  8. Return the drives (and empty drive clips, if any) back into the unit, plug in the ethernet and power cables, then turn the unit power back on.
  9. Verify that the memory is showing up in the NAS Control Panel via the local webpage or the QNAP mobile app.
  10. Wait for the Disk Tool to automatically run through your drives and verify that everything is working okay (you'll hear the drives stop banging away when it's done)... then enjoy your new memory!

Here's the QNAP opened up with the cage removed. Don't mind Jake, he's "helping"...

My cat Jake sniffing around at a QNAP TS-451+ NAS that's been opened up.

Note how the second memory slot is underneath the lower cage assembly. I absolutely didn't want to start jerking out parts to have clear access, so I just carefully squeezed the SODIMM module underneath and managed to gently press it into place. NOTE ALSO how QNAP runs a red Sharpie marker over the screws so they can more easily tell if you've opened it up. Wankers...

A closeup of the TS-451+ motherboard memory slot that's obstructed by a lower metal cage assembly..

This whole process is pretty stupid.

It's stupid because the memory module placement is more difficult to access than it should be.

It's stupid that QNAP doesn't just make 8GB the standard memory in the unit rather than forcing you to upgrade because you'll find out really quickly that 2GB is not enough if you actually want to DO anything with your NAS.

And it's beyond stupid that even if QNAP doesn't want to have 8GB be the standard memory configuration that they charge such an absurdly stupid price for their "official" bullshit SODIMM upgrade modules.

So... it's buckets of stupid all the way around, but now I've got 8GB installed so I guess I don't care...

Interesting to note that running only the bare QNAP necessities plus Plex Server uses 2GB of memory. Which means that 2GB I initially had in my TS-451+ was barely enough memory to just hold the apps!

Absurd that they even sell a model that only comes with 2GB because it's clearly not enough.

If you want to order up your own upgrade direct from Crucial for the QNAP TS-451+, here's the direct link to the page on their website.

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TECH WEEK: Amplifi Alien WiFi Router

Posted on Tuesday, August 18th, 2020

Dave!Welcome to Technology Week at Blogography, where I will be reviewing tech purchases I've made over the last month or so.

UPDATE: This router is expensive garbage. It has almost NO configurable features you need to keep your network safe. Doesn't even have a simple IP blacklist. No way to configure the built-in firewall (assuming one even exists). No Teleport VPN software for Mac or Windows... it's mobile only. The longer I have this router the more I wish I had bought ANYTHING else. You can't even view the log files! I've owned $49 routers that had a better feature set than this pile of $380 shit. Ubiquiti's response is always "This is a consumer product and does not have professional features." SO HOME USERS DON'T NEED TO KEEP THEIR NETWORK SAFE?!? Outrageous. And also keep in mind that if you want a mesh access point added, your only choice is to spend another $380 for a second unit. Trash.

Since I'm doing a lot more working from home these past months, I finally bit the bullet and upgraded my fiber internet speed. I'm now at a full 1000mbs download / 100mbs upload. Problem is that I wasn't getting much better results than the 100/10 I had previously. Which meant the extra $24 a month I'm spending was wasted. I could downgrade back to where I was, but I'd have to pay yet another change fee to do that.

So I did that thing I loathe to do... call tech support at my ISP.

I don't know why I dread it. The tech agents taking calls are always friendly and always seem knowledgeable. Perhaps I just don't like asking for help?

After running through a bunch of stuff, the tech support guy ultimately thought the problem was my Google Wifi mesh router system. It just couldn't get me the full bandwidth I was paying for. My reaction to this was "Sure, Jan"... because isn't that what tech support always does? Blame somebody else? But then I decided that they could be right since my Google WiFi setup was the first generation model. I was wanting to purchase a new router anyway (I've been frustrated with the lackluster feature set Google has)... but I wanted to wait until Black Friday so I could (hopefully) get a good deal.

But... $24 out the window each month means I'd blow through $120 before the end of November with nothing to show for it.

And so I Googled to find the fastest possible WiFi 6 compatible router. I kept seeing Ubiquiti's Amplifi Alien pop up, so I searched through my YouTube reviewers to see what they had to say. Chris Majestic really liked it (see video below), so I cleared out my Black Friday fund and ponied up the THREE HUNDRED AND EIGHTY DOLLARS it costs. Three days later... the Alien has landed...

   
Introducing the Alien
Ubiquiti's router is a large-ish black cylinder with a thin vertical touch-display on the front. It's cool-looking, even though I haven't found the touch-display to be particularly useful. I'm not about to get up off my comfy couch and walk across the room to see any stats when I can pick up my iPhone and use the Amplifi app to get even more information. There's a cool green glow around the bottom which is distracting to me, so I turned it off. The size seems like overkill, but given the number of WiFi radios that are packed inside, I guess it's not unreasonable. The case doesn't seem to have very good ventilation (just a small series of holes in the back), and I'm pretty sure there's a fan inside to compensate. When I put my hand behind it I can feel the hot air being forced out. This gives me serious concerns as to the operating temperature killing the product's longevity, but I guess we'll see. There are four ethernet ports on the back, but since the router maxes out at 1Gbps connections, its useless for anybody running a multi-gig network (absurd for a router costing THREE HUNDRED AND EIGHTY DOLLARS... future-proofing be damned!).

Alien Setup
Amplifi claims you will be up-and-running within minutes. That was not the case for me. On top of having to call my ISP and have them register my MAC address, I also ran into issues where the Alien was dropping all connections every five minutes or so. This was hugely frustrating, and resulted in my upgrading the firmware then resetting the unit four times before it would function reliably. I have no idea what that was all about, but it was closer to 30 minutes than a few minutes. I did use the same network name and password as my old router so I didn't have to go update all my devices, so at least that went smoothly.

Alien WiFI 6
The latest and greatest WiFi standard is WiFi 6. It promises better speed, more reliable connectivity, and far better support for having numerous wireless-connected devices. Since my home is a "smart home," that last point was important for me... even though none of my smart devices or cameras support WiFi 6. One day, when I upgrade everything, they likely will and I don't want to have to buy yet another router so they can use it. In the meanwhile my iPhone and my iPad do support it, so that's a start I suppose.

Alien Speed
Thanks to the quad-core 2.2GHz CPU, the Alien is more than able to blaze through tasks with no bottleneck. It easily handles the full speed of my fiber internet, which is all I could hope for...


Not sure if these results include the devices which are connected.

Alien App
My biggest problem with the Google WiFi app was that it was woefully underpowered, lacking many capabilities I wish it had. I was disappointed to find that the Amplifi app wasn't much better (indeed, in some ways it's worse). Sure it has great features... like being able to create a static IP address for a device with just a click... but so many things I expected from a THREE HUNDRED AND EIGHTY DOLLAR ROUTER are missing. I guess that's because Alien is considered a "consumer" product, but holy shit... is it too much to ask that I be able to see a device's MAC address in the main device list instead of having to click through to a second screen to get to it? This is amateur hour bullshit, and it makes trying to track down and name all your devices a total nightmare. THEY DON'T EVEN DISPLAY THE IP ADDRESS! So of course you can't sort by IP address... or anything else (like bandwidth usage, which is an important thing to be able to sort out when you have a bandwidth-hogging device on your network). The ONLY list sort you get is alphabetical, which is handy for looking up a device when you remember what you named it, but useless as a pile of dog shit for actual practical information you might need...


NO sort options. NO way to display IP or MAC addresses.

This kind of underpowered idiocy is rampant in the app. Information is sparse or requires additional clicks to get to. A lot of settings are dumbed down to a shocking degree, and there's no "pro mode" to fix that. Devices can have "Normal Priority, Streaming Priority, or Video Game Priority" but I have no idea what in the hell any of that means in actual numbers. Streaming Priority is likely higher than Normal Priority, but is Video Game Priority higher than that? Who the fuck knows? And where is Low Priority? That would be handy for devices that I don't give a crap about when my bandwidth load is high! But it doesn't exist because Ubiquiti apparently thinks dumbing everything down is what people what from a THREE HUNDRED AND EIGHTY DOLLAR ROUTER. Insanity. The Amplifi app is also where you can create and configure a guest network with a time limit (nice!) or access Amplifi's "Teleport" service which allows you to tunnel back to your router as if you were back at home (very nice, but iPhone only?!?). I seriously hope that either Amplifi gets off their asses with this bullshit and comes up with a "pro mode" for their app, or some third party company comes up with a new app which fixes this.

Alien Web Interface
Even worse and more incomplete than the app. The device list sort order is apparently completely random this time, which had me glad that at least with the app I have them listed alphabetical. Why did they even bother?

Alien Mesh Network
A smart feature of the Amplifi Alien router is that you can add another Amplifi Alien router to your network and create a mesh network. This is nice, but absurdly expensive at THREE HUNDRED AND EIGHTY DOLLARS a pop. You'd think that Ubiquiti would have far less expensive mesh nodes you can purchase since this is hella overkill, but that's not the case. At least not yet. But here's where things really start to suck. There is no dedicated mesh backhaul band. None. Nada. Zip. Zero. This means when you create a mesh network, you're cutting into the total network bandwidth, at least as I understand it. And if I am understanding correctly, this is just bonkers. Mesh routers costing far less than THREE HUNDRED AND EIGHTY DOLLARS each have dedicated 160MHz backhaul channels for exactly this, but for reasons I simply cannot fathom, Ubiquiti didn't include it. You can partition out your various WiFi bands and use the WiFi 6 band as a dedicated backhaul, but then you apparently lose being able to have a WiFi 6 network? Doesn't that like... oh... I dunno... DEFEAT THE ENTIRE PURPOSE OF HAVING A WIFI 6 ROUTER?!? Right now I only need the one router, because Alien does a darn good job of saturating my home with decent bandwidth, but the fact that a so-called mesh router is not good for mesh networking is pretty inexcusable. If I am misunderstanding this and somebody wants to set me straight, please do so in the comments. If you are needing a mesh network, I would absolutely look elsewhere.

Alien Band Partitioning
As mentioned above, you can partition out the three bands on the Alien and give them each their own unique SSID, or leave them combined on the same SSID (which is what I did). The three bands are 2.4GHz and 5GHz WiFi 6 bands plus a 5GHz WiFi 5 band. I had toyed with the idea of separating out a band exclusively for my security cameras, but it ultimately wasn't necessary, as everything works just fine as it came out of the box.

Alien and My Conclusions
In the end I have to say that I'm lukewarm on the Amplif Alien. The shitty, under-powered app was enough to sour me all on its own... but the lack of a dedicated mesh backhaul and total lack of future-proofing just added to my dissatisfaction. I struggled with whether or not I wanted to return it or keep it for a couple weeks... but ultimately kept it because it fit my current and near-future needs just fine and I didn't want to be bothered. If I were starting all over, I would probably seriously look at the Netgear Orbi 6, which seems a bit more powerful and far more future-proof... but I think you have to buy them as a mesh pair, and that's $700 I don't have. If you aren't looking for pro features, don't care about future-proofing, and just want a WiFi 6 router with good coverage and great speeds... and have THREE HUNDRED AND EIGHTY DOLLARS burning a hole in your pocket, then perhaps the Alien Amplifi by Ubiquiti is for you.

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TECH WEEK: Google Nest Aware 2.0

Posted on Wednesday, August 19th, 2020

Dave!Welcome to Technology Week at Blogography, where I will be reviewing tech purchases I've made over the last month or so.

After I moved into my new home I bought a set of cloud security cameras... then bought a second set of redundant wired security cameras with battery backup. It's not that I'm overly-paranoid (though I probably should be), they are left over from wanting to watch over my mom while I was at work. After my mom had to leave, I found the cameras were a handy thing to have for keeping an eye on my cats when I travel. Now-a-days I mostly ignore them unless I am trying to solve a mystery that Jake and Jenny have left for me.

The cloud cameras are by Nest, a company that was bought out by Google. They are the best of the cloud cameras I tried, but have always been hampered by the absurdly high cost of the "Nest Aware" cloud service that enables them to record footage. If you don't subscribe to Nest Aware you can watch a live stream, but that's it. No more recording. With my mom gone, I didn't need to spend the money and decided to let all but two camera subscriptions lapse. Instead I switched to $20 Wyze cameras which are an incredible value for the money and, if you put an SD card in them, they are actually more capable than Nest cameras without Nest Aware.

Last year Google announced that they were changing Nest Aware from a pay-per-camera subscription to a new plan which covers all your cameras for one price. If you have a couple cameras, it's more expensive. But if you have a lot of Nest cameras like I do? Huge bargain. $120 a year gets me 10 days of cloud storage for an unlimited number of cameras. "Unlimited" being a relative term. Technically it's unlimited, but eventually you'll saturate your bandwidth, so there's a limit based on what internet access you have.

But there's a catch.

In order to sign up for the new Nest Aware service with unlimited cameras, you have to migrate your Nest account to a Google account. Which didn't seem like a big deal to me because I already had one for my Google WiFi mesh internet system. The problem is that when you login to your cameras on the web, you now get a login with Google screen...

Then you have to select your Google account before having access...

That's two extra steps from when I had a Nest account, because the Nest account info was stored in a browser cookie so you end up at the cameras immediately.

This may seem like a small thing, but it really isn't. Usually when I am accessing my cameras, I need to get to them right away because my security system has detected something I want to check. Calling up the Nest system is slow to begin with. Now, thanks to the Google login, the process horrendously slow because you're in a hurry.

Ultimately, Nest is still a pretty good system. No, it doesn't do everything they claim as well as they claim (I still get occasional alerts that there's a person in my house and it ends up being a cat) and, yes, the Nest Aware you need to buy to make use of your cameras is pricey... but they are dead-simple to set up and use. More importantly, the quality and reliability is great (assuming you have the bandwidth), which is the most important thing of all.

If I was starting over from scratch today I don't know that I would still choose Google Nest for my cloud system. All the glitchy service interruptions that plagued me seem to have been minimized over the past several months (knock wood), but there's still plenty of things that should be addressed...

  • No local storage. This is nuts, really. If your internet goes down, my $20 Wyze Cams are still recording. With Nest you get nothing.
  • The web interface is glitchy for Mac Safari. Camera displays overlap and scrolling a video sometimes snaps back as you're trying to scroll through the timeline. Incredibly frustrating.
  • iPhone interface is lacking. Hasn't been updated in years and years. Still impossible to define the start and end of a clip you want to save. Nest just randomly records kinda-sorta around the general vicinity of where you are on the timeline. This is garbage.
  • Google changed it so that a green light is always on and you no longer have the option to turn it off. Way to draw attention to the cameras when somebody breaks into your house! What kind of logic is this?
  • Cameras are pretty useless without Nest Aware. If your finances change and you can no longer afford to pay for Nest Aware, the camera's have the most basic of functionality. No playback at all... just a live view. This is shitty, shitty, shitty.
  • When the internet goes down or my router goes down, the camera views which you have "flipped" 180º will flip back to default which means all the views for cameras that have been mounted up-side-down (which is most of mine!) are now up-side-down. Why in the hell can't the camera remember the orientation I set?
  • It seems silly that the cameras can't adjust their bandwidth quality on the fly. Or at least be set to use a schedule. Switch to highest quality during the hours I am not at home or sleeping... switch to lower quality when I'm home and wanting to use my bandwidth for streaming to my TV.
  • Google kills the "Works with Nest" program... thus IFTTT integration... when you migrate from a Nest account to a Google account. This really, really sucks. I love IFTTT and use it to integrate many services in my "smart home." Google claims this is for better security. I say it's because they want you locked into the Google ecosystem and don't want you buying non-Google products. What a bunch of bullshit from a bunch fucking assholes. When you destroy functionality of. Product like this, you are taking away the reasons that people bought your product in the first place. Most everything on this list is annoying but not a deal-breaker. This right here comes very close to being a deal-breaker for me. One of these days I am likely going to investigate hacking all my Nest cameras so I can get the fuck out of this backwards, anti-consumer mindset that Google has adopted. Really strange coming from a company whose motto is "Don't be evil." Oh... wait a second... never mind! They are okay with being evil now!

In the end I think Google buying out Nest was probably a good thing, but so many of the things I loved about Nest have changed or been eliminated... so perhaps not? My Nest Protect fire alarms are still chugging along, so at least that much hasn't changed. For now.

Final Grade Nest Protect: A
Final Grade Nest Cam: C

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TECH WEEK: WeatherFlow Tempest Weather System

Posted on Thursday, August 20th, 2020

Dave!Welcome to Technology Week at Blogography, where I will be reviewing tech purchases I've made over the last month or so.

I am not a weather bug. Unless I'm on vacation, I honestly don't care what the weather does. When it's hot, my Ecobee smart thermostat turns on the air conditioner. When it's cold, my Ecobee turns on the heat. When it's going to be hot, my Rachio smart irrigation controller adds more water to the lawn when it waters at 3:00am. When it's raining, my Rachio waters less or not at all.

Kinda.

The small town where I live lost its weather station last year. This means that my Rachio irrigation controller has to pull its weather forecast data from a neighboring town. This is not optimal because they don't always have the same weather we do. The city to the West is more in the mountains... the city to the East is less in the mountains.

Enter the WeatherFlow Tempest Weather System...

The WeatherFlow Tempest weather station.

The main weather sensor has an array of functions for monitoring and collecting weather data...

The WeatherFlow Tempest weather station with it's sensors called out.

There's sensors for light/UV, air pressure, rain, wind, temperature, and lightning, all in the same unit. It's solar-powered, so there's no mucking about with taking the batteries out to charge them. It then broadcasts its data to a base station which you keep indoors that in turn sends it to your account on the internet where you can retrieve it on a smart phone app and view forecast information...

The WeatherFlow Tempest weather station with it's sensors called out.

It's all pretty nifty and setup on my iPhone was a breeze. I started with mounting it to a tripod set on my back porch. When the data seemed to be reliable, I mounted the Tempest to a wood pole I had laying around in my garage and screwed it to the catio. They say it's ideal to have it 6 to 9 feet from the ground, but that's not realistic because my home will obstruct the wind. When mounted to the catio pole, the wind is still being partially obstructed by the second story of my condo, so that's not great either. Eventually I'd like to mount it on a PVC pole that puts the Tempest above the roof-line so that wind direction will be accurate. This will be way, way higher off the ground than 6 to 9 feet, but what else can I do? I guess you're supposed to buy an acre of land so the sensor can be placed the way they want it to be?

Now, granted the weather here has just been different shades of hot for a long while, but there was a day with sprinkles of rain and that registered just fine. It will be interesting to see how it registers snow... if it registers snow. Since I will likely install a pole for it sometime soon, I guess we'll find out and I'll report back.

If this was all that the WeatherFlow was capable of, it would be pretty impressive. But it goes so far beyond just monitoring and recording the data. It uses AI (artificial intelligence) to forecast weather. It communicates with other WeatherFlow units to build a more accurate weather picture. It has an open API (application programming interface) so that it can be made to work with just about any other technology out there... including Alexa. It can broadcast accurate weather data which can be used to control roof heating lines and anything else you can think of. It can be set up to forward your data to Weather Underground so you can help with reporting weather conditions. And you can even get designated as a weather station so that devices like my Rachio irrigation controller can decide whether to water or not.

I haven't had a lot of time to look into all the stuff the Tempest can do (the weather here is just hot all the time now so my incentive to do that is fairly low) but it will make for a very cool Fall project.

With all the unit can do, it will come as no surprise that the unit is not cheap. I got it in a Kickstarter for $300 and it's currently selling for $330 at their store. But if you're wanting to have good weather data and need good weather information to integrate into your smart home, it's money well spent.

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TECH WEEK: Function 101 Remote for AppleTV

Posted on Friday, August 21st, 2020

Dave!Welcome to Technology Week at Blogography, where I will be reviewing tech purchases I've made over the last month or so.

The remote that comes with AppleTV is total shit.

I'm not even kidding. It's absurdly small, easy to fall through the couch cushions and lose, difficult to tell up from down, has a crap "trackpad" for navigation, and is an overall loser for functionality and user experience.

As you might have guessed, I am not a fan.

Before I cut the cord, I had to use an assortment of remotes for my television, satellite box, and AppleTV. I mostly watched satellite TV. and that remote was just fine. But now that I've cut the cord and everything is streaming through apps on AppleTV, this shitty little remote is what I'm using 100% of the time. And I hate it. I hate it. I hate it.

"Surely I'm not the only one who hates this piece of shit! I wonder if there's a third-party remote for AppleTV that has actual buttons and is pleasant to use?"

Turns out there is. The majority of options are programmable remotes, however, and that's overkill for me because I just have the one device now. What I want is a simple remote for AppleTV only.

Enter the Function 101 Button Remote for AppleTV...

Function 101 remote next to an AppleTV.

Exactly what I always wanted!

When the remote arrived, I immediately noticed a few great things...

  • Wonderful soft-touch rubberized surface!
  • Amazingly responsive and clicky buttons!
  • Super-comfortable fit in my hand!
  • Big enough to not slip between my couch cushions!

Alas, it's not all a bed of roses. There are problems to be had.

First of all, there is no "Home" button. I believe this is a technical limitation of AppleTV, because I never had a "Home" button on my Harmony remotes either. Some of the functionality can be had by long-pressing the "Menu" button... but that doesn't work to turn off the AppleTV quickly. Bummer.

Second of all, the button layout is not like the original crappy Apple Remote. This is incredibly frustrating and makes zero sense. I am CONSTANTLY hitting the "Channel Up/Down" instead of volume, which immediately forwards you to the next episode in many apps. This is horrible. If I had been the one to design the remote, I would have laid it out exactly like the Apple remote so you can easily switch between them and have the buttons where you expect them to be...

Function 101 remote next to a Dave revised remote.

Third of all, this is an IR-only remote. Which means you must have clear sight of the AppleTV and be pointing the remote directly at it in order for signal to be received.

And Lastly, It did not work with my AppleTV 4K right away. Every time I pressed a button I would get three rapid flashes on the AppleTV, but nothing would happen. It took days of back-and-forth with Function Tech Support (who were very responsive) and it still wouldn't work. Through a lot of Googling, I tried the following suggestions...

  • Restart AppleTV — Doesn’t work.
  • Unplug/Plug In AppleTV — Doesn’t work.
  • Reset Remote Pairing — Doesn’t work.
  • Reset AppleTV — Doesn’t work.

Ultimately it was a suggestion from a friend who's an Apple Store "Genius Bar" employee to Reset & Update AppleTV that got things working. This is a terrible last-ditch effort because you have to sign back into all your apps again. You'd think this would be a simple matter since Apple added a unified AppleTV subscription provider login, but none of the apps seem to use it properly. You tell the app to use your provider login, then still have to jump through hoops to get signed in. Incredibly frustrating.

Ultimately the Function 101 remote is a mixed bag. It's so much better than the crappy Apple remote in form, function, and feel... but the button arrangement is incredibly problematic because it's different from the Apple original which means you're pressing the wrong buttons all the time. This is a shame. If they were to fix this, it would be a seriously good buy at $29.95.

UPDATE: I revised this to reflect that I eventually got the remote working.

   

YouTube for Days

Posted on Thursday, October 1st, 2020

Dave!With television production shut down and the new television season pushed back for the foreseeable future, I've been turning to YouTube for entertainment while I work. There's just so much to experience. And since everybody else is probably in the same boat with running out of stuff to watch, I thought I'd go through some of my favorite YouTube channels that I watch regularly. I did this a while ago but wanted to update after I learned that Great Big Story is shutting down.

Channels I watch because I want to learn something. There are so many brilliant educational channels that it blows my mind, and I'm regularly linking to them in my Bullet Sunday posts. When I'm alerted that Veritasium has a new video available, I drop everything and watch immediately. Derek Muller breaks down science like nobody else, and his latest video is the kind of stuff I obsessess over...

There are many many learning channels I love. CGP Grey, Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell, Johnny Harris, Doctor Mike... they all have cool stuff to open my mind towards.

Channels I watch because I just think what they do is so fascinating. Baumgartner Restoration is just video after video of Julian Baumgartner restoring fine art... mostly paintings. That alone would be amazing to me. But it's the things he develops to be able to do the work that blows my mind out of the back of my skull. He did a SIX PART SERIES on restoring a painting which was painted on wood. But before he even got to the point where he was working on the actual paiting, he had to use his engineering and fabricating skills to build a special table to do it...

Baumgartner is like some kind of renaissance guy who can do everything. And he has one of the most soothing voices and most agreeable personalities of anybody I've ever seen. There are few things I can watch which will calm my mind faster than Julian working on his latest project. Another brilliant channel for watching somebody make magic happen? My Little Bakery is filled with Nadia's incredible icing artistry and has to be seen to be believed. I mean...

Another fascinating thing to watch is Calligraphy Masters which was originally for learning calligraphy, but also features beautiful lettering art I can't get enough of. And then there's the cool stuff that Mark Rober does, which is about as fascinating as it gets.

Channels I watch because I love woodworking and home reno. My favorite hobby is working in my garage wood shop and doing my own home renovation. YouTube has been invaluable in learning how to do all this stuff. The channel I look at first is always Home RenoVision DIY where Jeff will give you all the dirt on how to get professional results from your projects and save money while doing it...

Another person doing God's work for learning renovation and home improvement is skateboarder Ben De Gros at Vancouver Carpenter. For pure woodworking, Peter Millard is another great channel. And I love Fix This Build That as well.

Channels I watch because I want to keep up on tech. My favorite tech blogger is Marques Brownlee. The guy is smart as hell, has a subtle funny streak that makes him fully relatable. He reviews the stuff you want to see, but doesn't get bogged down in too many details nobody cares about. I didn't see his Apple Watch Series 6 video before I bought mine, but I was livid when I finally got to see it because HE HAS THE WATCH I WANTED TO BUILD THAT APPLE WOULDN'T LET ME! A Project RED watch with a black band...

Marques may not want a red watch... BUT I DID! Except I couldn't get it with a black band. =sigh= If you're looking to majorly geek out to tech, Linus Tech Tips has been around forever and sometimes goes reeeeeally deep into the nuts and bolts of it all. And then there's Unbox Therapy, which is exactly what it says in the title.

Channels I watch because I want ideas for new things to cook. But many of them I watch because I just like to watch cooking channels. Especially foreign cooking channels where you can turn on auto-translated subtitles and see how masters of their craft work. Like De mi Rancho a Tu Cocina...

And if you love pasta, the artistry found on Pasta Grannies is remarkable...

There's also channels like Pro Home Cooks, budget-conscious cooks like Joshua Weissman, and exceptional bakers like John Kirkwood... the list goes on and on and on.

Channels I watch because I want to challenge how I see and live. I know that Russel Brand can be problematic. The guy has some views which I consider to be naive, impractical, and just plain bonkers. And yet... he is one of the smartest, most caring, most insightful humans on this planet. And he's hilarious. And it's because of this that I tune into every one of his videos. A third of the time I have to bail because the discussion is not something I'm interested in exploring with him, but the other two-thirds? Fascinating stuff. Take this short 12-minute video where he discusses the presidential "debate" fiasco we just endured...

Yep. Yep. Yep. I mean, Russel is more "big picture /slash/ in the grand scheme of things" here than he might should be... if you believe in a woman's right to choose (to throw out one example) then there is a huge difference between President Trump and Joe Biden getting elected. But is he wrong that our political system is primarily interested in self-preservation over addressing the needs of a diverse population and that the big-picture items won't change much because it's all run by people who only care about money? Fuck yes, he's right. Or, to be more accurate, he's not wrong. And it's not just politics and the hideous crap going on in the world today. Russell has a number of videos on self-help and personal growth that can be inspiring and helpful. Another channel along these lines is Rich Roll. It's not like he's going to convince me to adopt a 100% plant-based diet or become an endurance athlete, but Rich has some very good insight on living a healthier, most enlightened life and I enjoy hearing his thoughts.

Channels I watch because I want to see people being human. It's really easy to get disassociated from humanity even when there's not a pandemic. It's not good for us. It's not healthy for us. It's not fun for us. But it happens. So there are a few channels I subscribe to simply because I like to watch and feel more connected to people. Yes Theory is a good example. The crew there do things and go places and ponder ideas that are just so very... human, and I love to see it. Take a look at this video where Thomas visits the least-visited country on earth to see what I'm talking about...

God I love videos like this. How can you not? The crew's latest video is where they paid somebody to be their friend for 12 hours. The result was wonderful...

Another channel which is sometimes sweet, sometimes shock, sometimes stupid, but always human to a crazy degree is MrBeast, which I talked about here.

And there you have it! Some of my favorite YouTube sites! And I didn't even get to those sites that I watch just to be entertained. I guess that's a list for another time.

   

UPS Delivered My UPS

Posted on Wednesday, November 18th, 2020

Dave!I bought a NAS (Network Attached Storage) in order to access my work files from anywhere and store all my media. It's been working (mostly) flawlessly and has been a real convenience. But over the last couple weeks I've been having power brown-outs which cause my NAS to go down. And every time that happens I have to rebuild everything and run a file integrity check. It's a real pain because my files are inaccessible for hours.

My power has gone out maybe twice in the five years I've lived here. I don't know what's changed that suddenly it's been so unreliable, but I decided to buy a UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply) for my NAS. That way the battery in the UPS can power my NAS through a brownout. And if the power goes out, the UPS is smart enough to talk to my NAS and tell it to shut down safely before it runs out of battery.

I ordered a CyberPower 800VA/450W unit for $85 because it was more than enough for my needs. It was also small enough to mount behind my media center. Or was it?

NO! NO IT WAS NOT!

I didn't have enough solid material on the media center to mount something so heavy. So I claimed the draw next to my NAS Drawer and made it into a UPS Drawer...

My Uninteruptable Power Supply in a drawer with a mess of power cables.

My NAS, Internet Router, and Smart Home Hub are on battery backup on the left. Other devices are surge-protected but not backed up on the right. Now during a brownout or blackout, my NAS files will be safe and I'll still have internet (assuming the power outage doesn't take out my fiber). Nice!

Every time I want to change the electronics on my media center, I end up ripping everything out and cleaning up the wires on the back. Believe it or not, this mess is half the wires I used to have before I merged some devices, got rid of satellite television, and left my Nintendo Switch as my sole video game...

Mess of wires behind my entertainment center.

Something I thought would take me an hour ended up taking just over three hours. But it was worth it because after plugging in a USB cable from my NAS to my UPS it was recognized right away...

UPS Recognized Dialog Box Message.

According to the NAS control panel, I have over an hour of battery backup power available. My guess is that the addition of an internet router and smart home hub will knock that down to about 45 minutes. Which is plenty of time to survive any brownout and most blackouts...

UPS Status Box... Everything Okay!

$85 plus tax was certainly more than I wanted to spend on this thing... but it's a huge weight off my mind to know that my NAS files will be safe when there are power problems.

Here's hoping that everything is working correctly. I'm sure I plugged in something wrong somewhere.

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Outage in the Snow

Posted on Thursday, January 14th, 2021

Dave!I honestly thought that once I got my Uninterruptible Power Supply that I'd never have a power outage again. That's just how things go for me. A problem comes up again and again and again... spend money to handle the problem for next time... the problem never happens again. I'm sure I'm not alone.

Installed my UPS on November 18th... had a power outage this past Tuesday.

Well I'll be darned!

Must to my delight, the UPS operated exactly as it was supposed to. My home automation, internet router, and NAS drive never lost power and there was no need to spend hours restarting and recovering my data with an "integrity check." Nice. So a big thank you to CyberPower for making a product that actually works. I was beginning to think that such a thing didn't exist any more.

Like my Samsung television. Less than five years old and the backlighting is already starting to screw up. My previous Sony television (now in my bedroom) has lasted over a decade. My television before that (a massive Sony widescreen tube television) lasted over 15 years. At this rate, my next television will last for 1-1/2 years? Holy crap.

Winter has been a massive disappointment this year.

Despite getting plenty cold for snow, it's mostly been rain. Any snow we get turns to rain the next day which leaves us with a mushy mess and icy streets. The day of my power outage two days ago, I found myself waking to at least 6 inches of snow. Then it sprinkled rain. So when I peeked out my window and could see cars sliding and getting stuck, I decided to work at home for a bit and wait for the snowplow. But eventually I needed to go into the office and took a chance. It's a tricky business. You have to drive fast enough so that you don't get stuck... but slow enough that you're not spinning out. I had a few dicey moments, but eventually made it to the main road. Just as I was congratulating myself, the snowplow turned onto my road.

Oh well.

Of course the guys hired to plow my driveway did it before the snowplow arrived, which meant a massive berm of snow was blocking my driveway when I got home. Not wanting to get out and shovel, I decided to accelerate to ramming speed and just bust my way through. Which went fine... but it sure felt like parts were going to be ripped out of my undercarriage.

As the berm has melted and re-froze each day, it's now become more of a ice curb than a snow berm. That cannot be solved by busting through it, so I've kinda created a path for my tires to drive through that gets me into my garage.

Probably should have just shoveled it while I had the chance.

But I know the minute I spend money for a snow shovel to solve the problem next time, it will never happen again, so I'm just going to pretend to be oblivious so I can save a buck.

You should know by now that I never learn.

   

Bullet Sunday 711 FAIL WEEK!

Posted on Sunday, April 25th, 2021

Dave!Life sucks, but don't expect a reprieve from the suckage THIS Sunday... because a Very Special Technology All-Fail Bullet Sunday starts... now...

   
• Mojang! The only video game I want to play lately is Minecraft Dungeons. It's a fun dungeon-crawler that's accessible to play because the difficulty is selectable for each level. You can go harder than your character-power if you want a challenge... or easier if you just want something to do that won't stress you out. In lieu of a LEGO dungeon crawler, it's exactly what I need...

Screen capture of Minecraft Dungeons showing a battle in progress.

EXCEPT... I bought it for Nintendo Switch so I have the option of playing it on my television or taking it with me as a portable. The problem is that Mojang did a shitty job of the Switch conversion, so it's jerky and rough if things get even a little bit intense... especially on a television. This is absurd. FAR more complicated games, like Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Diablo III, don't have this problem. Bad enough that Mojang did such a poor job... but to not allow players to decrease resolution and frame-rate settings so they can have a playable game is kinda unforgivable. With the new DLC packs I just bought, it's even more critical that Mojang get off their asses and improve the translation for Switch or, at the very least let us turn the specs down so it plays well.

   
• Mojang Deux! And while we're at it... why does Minecraft Dungeons crash so often? It happens most when I am playing the Daily Trial, which means all the parameters change when I have to restart and begin the level all over again. That SUCKS. Let me go back to the saved game so I can keep going! But instead it's see a Daily Trial game you like, start to play, crash, then you can't get the same game back. Also... why is the online network capabilities so abysmal? Most times when I resume a game, it wants to go back to the Main Menu so it can connect to the Microsoft Network (again), then gives me an error, then allows me on. It's almost to the point where I wish I could afford an Xbox so I'd have a platform that Mojang/Microsoft gives a shit about. Except I don't think that cross-platform saves are available (even though cross-platform playing is), so that may not even help.

   
• Apple Watch! Apple Watch is both genius and stupid at the same time. The main reason I bought it was to track my sleep and hopefully get better insight into how I sleep so I can get better rest. Apple Watch doesn't really do much of that, even though it's got all the sensors and crap to do all of that (it can't even keep track of multiple sleep sessions in a 24 hour period!). The Sleep app they give you is complete shit, which is why I bought the fantastic AutoSleep app for $4. It is phenomenal, and what Apple should have included. And, surprise! It will automatically log multiple sleep sessions and doesn't require you to manually set a sleep window. It's just class all the way through...

Jenny & Jake

One thing I'm trying to do is experiment with going to bed earlier. Last night I decided to go to bed at 9:00pm, but Apple Watch kept me awake because the display is on. "Hey Siri, good night.""Hey Siri, turn off the display.""Hey Siri, how do I turn off the Apple Watch display?" — And of course none of that works because Siri is a fucking idiot. My blood pressure rising because I can't find a way to put the watch to sleep or tell it's I'm going to bed in the shitty Sleep app, I have to Google that shit on my iPhone and eventually find out that there's a "Theater Mode" that I can turn on. Jesus. For a company that prides itself on making technology easy to use... Apple sure fucked up this part. Might want to look into actually making Siri be useful.

   
• Ubiquiti! When my old WiFi router died, I wanted to buy a future-proof model with excellent WiFi 6 capability. I landed on the Amplifi Alien because Ubiquiti has such an amazing reputation. It was $380, but I figured it would be worth the insane investment if I could hang onto it for 5 or 6 years...

Turns out that NOPE, it really isn't worth the money. Mostly because the built-in firewall is total shit, and there's no way to do the most simple shit like blacklist IP addresses or block countries or anything. THREE HUNDRED AND EIGHTY DOLLARS AND YOU CAN'T BLACKLIST AN IP ADDRESS?? Jesus. What a fucking turd of a router. What's worse? You can't add a third-party device like a Firewalla because it's not compatible with the Alien and, of course, the Alien has no configuration options so you can make it compatible. Thinking of buying a new WiFi router? Avoid the Amplifi Alien at all costs. Overpriced trash with minimal configurability and a pathetic feature set.

   
• Samsung! I am still feeling very raw that my seriously expensive Samsung television died after just five years. And the fact that there are NO repair parts available and I have to go to the secondary market in order to find them... at a highly inflated price, of course... is typical of a manufacturer who counts on their products being disposible. They want them to fail so they can sell you a new one. Well, I may be having to buy a new television, but it sure as fuck ain't going to be from Samsung.

   
• PARAMOUNT+! When CBS became Paramount+, there was a special offer to go ad-free for the price of ad-enabled if you bought a year. I did it, because there's a lot of stuff on the streaming service I liked. Problem is? A lot of their older stuff WILL NOT STREAM. New shows? Yes. Old shows? Rarely. Sometimes it will work on a laptop, iPad, and iPhone if you have no ad-blocker, allow pop-ups, don't use a VPN, and turn off every conceivable protection to your network. But even then it's a crapshoot. But here's the thing... it NEVER works on my AppleTV. Old episodes of Ink Master or Drag Race or whatever? NOPE! And it's so fucking stupid. I don't have to turn off all my protection shit when I stream from Netflix, Discovery+, AppleTV+, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Philo, or any other service I use all the time... only Paramount+. What a bunch of fucking assholes. And OF COURSE when you write to their customer support they have you jump through hoops that don't do shit. If ALL MY OTHER streaming services work, maybe it's YOU. If new shows from your network stream fine, but old shows don't, maybe it's YOU. I will not be resubscribing when my year runs out.

   
• QNAP! This past week QNAP, the makers of my NAS (Network Attached Storage) had some kind of vulnerability which allowed malware/ransomeware hackers to install a program on everybody's NAS drives which encrypted all their files. The only way to get your files back is to pay $500+ to the hackers and they would give you the encryption key. I didn't pay them shit because I have redundant offline backups of all my data (which is harder than it should be because QNAP has a shitty, SHITTY fucking backup app)...

I just deleted all the encrypted files and replaced them with the original. No big deal. After that, I installed a bunch of new stuff on my NAS (including a firewall) to (hopefully) avoid new problems. But here's my beef... WHY THE FUCK DOESN'T QNAP HELP CUSTOMERS UNDERSTAND HOW TO SECURE THEIR DATA AGAINST THESE ATTACKS BETTER? Everything with them is far more complicated than it needs to be, and their customers are paying the price for it. Looking for a NAS? Thinking of buying QNAP? AVOID! AVOID! AVOID!

   
And that's it for stuff that sucks on this fine Sunday.

   

I’m Sure It Happens to Every Guy

Posted on Saturday, May 1st, 2021

Dave!My old 65" television weighed 70 pounds (or something like that). I can easily lift 70 pounds, but being able to lift it up a wall and be able to get it attached to the mount without breaking it? Probably not. It's just too big and awkward to see what I'm doing. So after Walmart took my money for installation, then canceled my installation, I assumed I would need help because surely my new 65" television would weigh the same, wouldn't it? Apparently not. When I went to move it out of my living room until I could get somebody to help, I didn't scoot the big box... I tried picking it up by the straps. And it did not weigh no 70 pounds. So I looked up the specs. It only weighed 47-1/2 pounds!

I know the thing is big and awkward, but surely I can manage by myself if it weighs under 50 pounds?

So last night I took down my old TV and my old mount. Installed my new mount. Then gave it a try.

Not going to lie... there was a point that I felt like I might drop it as I tried to hang it on the tiny little centering tab because I couldn't see what the heck I was doing and was trying to feel my way. But after a few minutes I felt a "pop" and there it was. I quickly screwed it in place and I was done!

But not really.

The pricey Sony mount I got which was built specifically for my television didn't allow the cables to come through the middle of the wall like my old one. If I wanted to hide my cables in the wall (and I absolutely did) I would need to cut new holes in my wall off to the side.

Fortunately I already had a punch-cut drywall blade for just such an occasion!

And the nice part about doing it myself is that I give a crap about doing good work. So unlike the "professionally installed" boxes which are all wonky and crooked, I could take the time to do the job right and make sure that my cuts are clean, level, and precise...

A hole being cut in my drywall for the cable box.

I was too tired to run the cables in the wall, so I saved that for this morning.

And then... WAAAAAHHH! My optical cable wasn't long enough! Don't you hate it when your cable comes up short? This has never happened before. I've always had PLENTY of cable to get the job done in the past! But I'm sure this happens to lots of guys and isn't a big deal. Fortunately, in this case, I can just go get a longer cable. Even more fortunate, my local Target actually had one (and only one!) in stock. From there it was pretty easy to run my cables in the wall, hook my soundbar back up, then clean up the mess. Easy peasy...

My new television hanging on the wall.

Surprisingly, everything is working perfectly. Even better than before, actually, because the audio system on the new TV works far, far better with my SONOS home theater... and the picture quality is better too.

But here's the bonus to it all. Sony uses GoogleTV to power their sets. It is a MASSIVE LEAP ahead of the shitty interface on my old busted Samsung. And it has AppleTV as an app, so I don't even have to power on my external AppleTV box! Every streaming service I use is inside my TV as an app now. That's really, really nice. Could not be happier with my new television. Even video games look great! Now all that's left to do is patch the old hole in my wall. And install my bias lighting. But I'll do that next week. I've had enough home improvement for this week.

But who knows how I'll feel tomorrow?

   

Bullet Sunday 740

Posted on Sunday, November 28th, 2021

Dave!Since I'm back from my Thanksgiving adventure, I might as well bullet up the internet... because an all new Bullet Sunday starts... now...

   
• Past Midnight! Fly By Midnight is my favorite band of 2021... and they never disappoint. This live broadcast is wonderful...

I cannot believe that I didn't even know they even existed until a couple months ago. The music industry is weird.

   
• Mata WHAT?! Okay. I know it will get better. I understand this. But right now? No thanks. The "metaverse" looks awful...

Maybe for an occasional chat, but I don't want to live here.

   
• InstaGreat! Oh nothing... just InstaCart making my Thanksgiving be great by doing God's work...

Alas, Instacart isn't quite so accessible when I'm at home... but across the mountains I absolutely love that a few clicks is all it takes to get whatever you need brought right to your door!

   
• DavidLL! Six calls. SIX FUCKING CALLS to U.S. Bank to try and get my name correct on my account. Surely I am not the only "II" to ever have an account at US Bank?? But despite SIX CALLS, my account is still fucked up. My name is David Simmer II. Not David II Simmer. Not David Simmer LL. Not DavidL Simmer. Not DavidSimmer LL. AND NOT DAVID L LL!! Jesus Christ... what the fuck does it take? How hard is this? Apparently it's equivalent to fucking brain surgery that it's STILL NOT RIGHT after SIX FUCKING CALLS!!! Forget having nice, kind customer service agents. I want a total asshole who will ACTUALLY. GET. THE. JOB. DONE!

US Bank can't get my name right.

The fifth time I literally walked them through it... "The first name box should be DAVID, the last name box should be SIMMER, the suffix box should be TWO CAPITAL I's to get II. I don't use my middle name and would prefer not to have it left blank, but if you insist, the middle name box should say LEWIS. Didn't make any difference. Still got it wrong.

   
• Dope Soap! I see Ice-T in the new Tide Pod commercials and try very hard to remember that he had a music career before he went into acting... and pushing soap. Which is a far cry from when he was pushing dope, which was definitely not cleaned by soap...

I don't play when it comes to my dope
I check my lyrics close, like with a microscope
I don't clean'em up with no ivory soap
I leave'em hard and pure, hope that you can cope
Because you might O.D. if you overdrive

Tide Pods... the soap that's dope!

   
• Spidey 4, 5, 6! Rumor has it that Sony has backed up a dump truck full of cash to Tom Holland's house for another trilogy of Spider-Man movies. This makes me very, very happy. While ultimately I'm looking forward to Miles Morales taking over the role, I think that Peter Parker has some stories left to tell. Besides, they can always do a Miles Morales movie, then have worlds merge in Spider-Man 6 as a nice hand-off kind of thing.

   
• A Mother's Love! And, lastly, I had no idea that this happened... The Open Christmas Letter.

   
Enjoy those fleeting shopping days until Christmas!

   

The Ubiquiti AmpliFi Alien is Shit

Posted on Friday, December 3rd, 2021

Dave!It's Friday night and I am not going to bed until I fix all the stuff that got busted on Blogography!

Okay. That may have been a presumptuous statement. Four hours later and it seems like I'm causing more problems than I'm fixing. Which seems to be par for the course when it comes to the technology in my life. And I do mean ALL the technology in my life! Heck, even Alexa has betrayed me... as she's now failing to control my Hue lights for some reason!

But the biggest problem for me right now is my home WiFi.

For a while now I've suspected that I have some unauthorized devices on my network. Usually what I'd do is temporarily lock down my internet to known devices until I figure out what's going on. Either the unauthorized devices will drop off and I'll get a note they tried to connect... or there's aome internet "thing" around here that I forgot to write down which will stop working and I'll know what it is that way. Either way, the problem is solved.

But, alas, my THREE HUNDRED AND EIGHTY FUCKING DOLLAR ROUTER... the AmpliFi Alien from Ubiquiti... is a steaming pile of shit that lacks even the most basic features that my cheaper Google Wifi mesh network had included. Hell, you can't even see the IP addresses and MAC addresses for your device list. You have to click on them twice to get that. Insanity. And don't get me started about the complete lack of features on the router itself. For THREE HUNDRED AND EIGHTY FUCKING DOLLARS I'd expect the absolute bare minimum... like a persistent list of devices that attempted to connect... or MAC address blocking... or separate passwords when you separate out the different bands into their own SSID...or ABSOLUTELY ANYTHING that helps you with basic WiFi functionality or security.

But nope.

I ended up ordering a "Fing Box" to add the basic security features that Ubiquity doesn't feel the need to add to their pricey shit. From what I can tell, neither the app or the router has gotten any kind of features added since I've owned it. Which has been what... two years now?

I'm sure there's purchases I've regretted more than the Alien... but this has got to be in the top ten. Probably top five.

So let this post get indexed by Google as a warning to others looking to buy it. You can thank me for saving you the anguish later.

   

The Canon PRO-100 Printer

Posted on Friday, January 28th, 2022

Dave!After my 11-year-old Epson printer died at work, I needed to buy a new one. A printer by HP was out of the question. I will never buy anything from those assholes ever again. Which means it basically comes down to either Epson or Canon. My old Epson was a huge pile of shit. It would clog all the time. It ran through ink in crazy amounts. Sometimes it would just dump ink on the print, ruining it. Prints would fail for random reasons. Printing would abort for random reasons. It was an exercise in utter futility to print anything, and the cost-per-print was sky-high because of all the problems and failures. I hated it. I hated it. I hated it.

But this did not automatically mean I was going to buy from Canon.

I had a Canon printer at home and it was a pile of shit too.

So I started comparing the Canon PRO-1000 and the Epson SC-P900 to see which large-format printer would be the best fit... and how well they were reviewed.

Both got high marks in some areas and low marks in others. Epson was still suffering from constant clogging... but some people had clogging on Canon too. I went back-and-forth between them for hours.

Ultimately what pushed me in favor of the canon were three things...

  • Canon has 80ml tanks whereas Epson only had 50ml. Which is to say that ink is more expensive with Epson (84¢/ml) than Canon (75¢/ml). Both are still fucking insanely pricey, however.
  • Both printers have Matte Black, Photo Black, Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Photo Cyan, Photo Magenta, Gray, and Photo Gray inks. Canon adds red and blue. Epson adds violet. Canon's approach is smarter. By having true red and true blue, they open up a world of color fidelity... especially when it comes to reds, oranges, and browns, which are notoriously difficult to reproduce in CMYK. Getting deep reds, purples, and blues with Canon will be a piece of cake, and those are some very important color spaces to fill. Which is why I have no clue why Epson went with violet. That helps purples and deep blues, but does absolutely nothing for reds, oranges, or browns.
  • Out of all the reviews I read, Epson had more problems noted with clogs and paper feed. This was often chalked up to the Epson SC-P900 being small, lightweight, and cheaply constructed. Canon, on the other hand, is built like a frickin' tank.

Canon Pro-1000 Printer.

Canon does have two major cons... you can use roll-stock paper (which I rarely do anyway) and it's a 7-year-old model (Epson is a 3-year-old model). Those were not quite the deal-breakers that the above three points were with Epson.

UNPACKING
Like I said... this thing is a frickin' tank (SEVENTY POUNDS, PEOPLE!). It is massively sized and very heavy thanks to it having many metal components. It barely fit on my Anthro Cart side-table. Which is to say that getting it out of the box is a bit of a challenge. I managed, but it was harder than it should have been thanks to my back getting thrown out two days ago. The box was beat to hell but the printer itself was undamaged.

SETUP
Removing all the packing tapes and installing the 12 cartridges wasn't a big deal... though it was time consuming. The screen on the printer guides you through the process of aligning the heads, filling the lines, and all that stuff. No problem there. But then you get to the printer drivers. The included CD only has Windows drivers... no Mac drivers. You have to download them from the web. And here's where everything went to shit. My Safari browser corrected CANON.COM to CANNON.COM (with two N's). This sent me to a third-party site with a phone number where a tech support asshole wanted me to install remote-access software so they could have full control of my computer. Naturally I told them to go fuck themselves, and was able to figure out that my browser was autocorrecting CANON to CANNON. Once I got there, I still couldn't get my installers working and called authentic Canon support for help. 42 minutes later a guy emailed me a URL to get the Mac CUPS drivers in just a couple minutes and I was on my way.

OPERATION
Canon instructions are shit. Their drivers are shit. Everything about operating the printer is shit. Nothing "just works." You have to Google everything in order to understand what the hell you're supposed to be doing. Take the paper, for example. I bought authentic Canon 17×22 semi-gloss paper. But 17×22 is not listed in the driver. I looked on the paper packaging and included spec sheet to see what I am supposed to select to use it and was offered nothing. And so I had to go through each and every weird-ass paper configuration until I found that "C" was the paper size I was looking for. C. Why the fuck Canon can't put that on the fucking paper box... or include the actual paper dimensions in the driver is a total damn mystery. This is not rocket science here. Once I figured out what paper setting I needed, the printer operates like any other printer for the Mac.

PRINTS
Overall, the prints you can get out of this thing are stunning. Reds in my projects have never printed well. I would always get this weird-ish faux-red that doesn't look like true red at all. But not with the Pro-1000. Canon prints serious reds. Blues are likewise very pretty. I expected this to happen since Canon has independent red and blue inks to work with. Where things fall apart is in greens. Since there is no green ink, the printer has to mix cyan (or blue) and yellow to get it. And that will never result in a vibrant green. When I investigated this, the conjecture seems to be something like "Well, green in nature isn't a very vivid green, so you shouldn't need to print it." Which is so categorically absurd as to be laughable. I have photos with ridiculously saturated natural greens (Ireland is filled with them). And this says nothing about photos I have with greens that are outside of nature. Like things that are painted bright-green. Or plastics which have deep green hues in them. How am I supposed to print those? Green exists, and it's a mystery as to why Canon nor Epson did something so you can print with it.

EXPENSES
Since I've had the printer for only one day, I have no idea if I will end up dealing with the clogs and other disasters that makes Epson printers so horrifically expensive to own. I sure hope not. Because wasting a print due to printer failure is one of those things that sends my blood pressure to the absolute limit. When setting up a new printer, you blow through half-a-tank of each color before you can print a single thing. Canon also blows through 2/3 of the capacity of the "maintenance cartridge" which collects the ink from head cleaning and borderless printing and stuff. This wouldn't be bad... they only retail for $14 or so... except they are out of stock most everywhere I looked (even at Canon.com). Since you cannot print without this item, not having replacements is essentially turning your $1400 printer into a massive doorstop, and that's is absolutely nuts. Another item which drives up cost is the "chroma optimizer" cartridge. This is a clear coating which evens out your print so that areas of high ink concentration don't look different from those with low ink concentration. It also makes colors look richer, more defined, and adds greater contrast (black in particular) because reflected light is taken down a bit. You seriously want it on your prints because it makes them look so much better. But since it covers the entire image (unlike the inks), you have to buy a lot of it. I'm already running low and I just got the printer today! Fortunately, it's $5 cheaper than ink... $55 instead of $60... so I guess that's a plus.

CONCLUSION
This is not a great printer. But it's a good one that can make some very pretty photo prints. And I'm guessing I will be much happier with it than I ever was with the dumpster fire that was the Epson I previously had. If Canon is interested in having a great printer, here's where they need to go with the next model...

  • Larger ink tanks. 80ml is better (and cheaper) than Epson's 50ml tanks, but you're still paying for more plastic than ink, and that's shitty. One day somebody is going to come along with refillable tanks on a high-quality photo printer (they already have this for standard printers) and 100% eat Epson's and Canon's lunch. And I will laugh my fucking ass off as Epson/Canon sales plummet). And why not make the "color optimizer" cartridge be double-the-size of the ink tanks since you use so much of it? Operating costs for this machine are crazy-expensive. Do better.
  • Add green ink. Seriously. You've already got 12 tanks, what's one more? Especially when it means that you'll FINALLY be able to cover a decent color gamut. Thanks for red and blue ink. That's awesome. But the puzzle isn't complete and won't be until I can print vivid greens.
  • Include Macintosh drivers with your printers.
  • For the love of God... make a printer driver that allows people to select paper sizes without having to resort to trial-and-error. Especially since you don't label your papers with the size-name that your driver calls them. It is categorically stupid that I have to fucking mention this to you.
  • Show a photo of what your OFFICIAL website looks like on your instruction papers so people won't be fooled into contacting a fraudulent site. I ended up at a shitty scammer site even though I know how "Canon" is supposed to be spelled. It's not your fault that asshole scammers are preying on people... but it is 100% your fault that you're not doing more to warn people about it (especially when you have a non-standard company name that can get auto-corrected).
  • Put a little bit of effort into keeping genuine Canon replacement parts in stock. You warn people not to use third-party parts because they may damage the printer, but what the fuck else are they supposed to do if you can't even get parts direct from Canon? Don't blame your customers for buying third-party if you're not going to bother having the authentic stuff available.
  • Why is auto color-calibration not a thing? It would be a minimal cost to add a spectrometer to your high-end printers so that they could self-calibrate the color, so why don't you? This is no-brainer stuff here.

And that's that. If you are looking for one of the best professional photo printers on the market that can handle 17×22 paper, then this is probably already on your short-list. If I run into any new information as time goes by, this is where I'll put it.

   

WTF Tech Wednesday

Posted on Wednesday, May 25th, 2022

Dave!Oh look! I've got some tech crap to beef about, and you get to come along for the ride! If you're in a good mood and don't want it spoiled by my ranting, I'd just skip this entry.

But if you're already raging on your Wednesday, this one's for you!

Apple Mail
Apple is worth billions of dollars, and yet their Mail app is one of the shittiest fucking user experience for any app ever made. And they keep making it worse! This is not hyperbole, it's absolute fact. Setting aside from the fact that Apple took away your ability to select the outgoing SMTP server for those times you need to do that... and setting aside the fact that the notification app icon badges rarely have accurate information (especially in iOS)... and setting aside that sometimes after reading an email and scrolling all the way through it to get it marked as "read" it doesn't actually mark as "read" until you force it... and setting aside that Mail will not SHUT THE FUCK DOWN when you tell your computer to shut down... and setting aside the fact that account management in the desktop app is a horrific shitshow which is split between two separate locations on two separate apps... the absolute worst part of Apple Mail is that YOU CAN'T FUCKING DELETE AN ACCOUNT... EVER! Choosing "Remove Everywhere" so that the account will fucking die does absolutely jack-shit, because the account is automatically added back seconds later. And it doesn't matter if you make the account inactive on all your iCloud devices. It still comes back, and there's NOTHING you can do about it (except make it inactive). I've read that some people have finally managed to delete and account by turning off Cloud Keychain on all their devices, then deleting the account on all devices, then starting the keychain sync again... but it doesn't work for everybody. So WTF Apple? Why the fuck doesn't "Remove Everywhere" actually remove the shit? Obviously I don't give a fuck if other devices are using it (that I don't know about) because if I want it fucking removed EVERYWHERE that includes ALL MY FUCKING DEVICES! This kind of stupid shit is what drives me fucking insane with Apple and their bullshit. Users have zero power over their own settings.

Amazon Alexa
In the beginning, Alexa was a quirky voice assistant that managed to do very little not very well. But then it started adding capabilities, having better voice recognition, and becoming more reliable in its tasks. At that point it became an essential home automation tool that made "life in the future" so very cool. But over the last couple years, Alexa has turned into unreliable bloatware that pisses me off more than anything. Ask an Alexa device to play a song, the device you spoke to acknowledges the command, THEN PLAYS THE FUCKING SONG ON AN ENTIRELY DIFFERENT DEVICE IN ANOTHER ROOM! How the fuck is this even remotely sensible. I get it if a device in another room hears the command and starts playing there... but that's not what's happening. Then there's the fact that lights will randomly "not be able" to turn off and on by voice command. Then there's the fact that Alexa is constantly telling me about new abilities and features that I couldn't care less about... all while not being able to do the shit that I asked it to do. I have no idea if these many problems are because Amazon no longer gives a shit about Alexa... or if they're concentrating on adding new shit while letting the old shit deteriorate... or the system is so bloated with crap that it's just not able to function. Regardless, I am seriously considering a switch to Google Hub, which has none of these irritating and debilitating issues. At least not yet.

Apple Photos
The only way to force a sync so that any new photos in the cloud are downloaded is to QUIT THE APP AND THEN OPEN IT AGAIN! Why the fuck can't Apple just add a little "sync" button to the toolbar so you aren't doing this stupid, backwards bullshit? And what about the fact that dragging photos out of the app sometimes gets you a JPEG file and sometimes gets you a HEIC file? And what about the fact that sometimes you drag images out of the app and they don't bother to export at all... or export only after Photos sits there like a stupid shit for a minute first? Photos is categorically awful for photo management, and Apple does not give a fuck. Another case of a company with billions of dollars sitting on their stacks of cash instead of using it to update their fucking apps.

AppleTV
Worst user interface ever. Okay, that's probably hyperbole, but it certainly feels like it. If you have anything more than 25 movies or TV shows, navigating is an absolute slog. Unlike Plex (or any other decent media app) which allows you to scroll over to an alphabet directory to skip to a section, AppleTV makes you scroll through every last fucking piece of media you own. I've purchased hundreds of movies and shows... which means if I want to watch Zoolander, I am 100% fucked. Not only do I have to scroll through every other piece of media I own, I have to wait for all the catalog images to load because AppleTV doesn't cash them. Couple all this bullshit with the fact that AppleTV isn't even reliable at playing shit, and one has to wonder why the fuck Apple even bothers.

Apple TouchID
Having TouchID is cool. Not as cool as having FaceID, but still pretty cool. Want to buy something or access private information or enter a password... just touch the fingerprint sensor and your Mac will take care of it for you! Except when it doesn't. Which is often. Despite having TouchID and allowing it to control everything, I still end up having to type fucking passwords every fucking day. When I went to sync my FTP sites just 15 minutes ago, Keychain Access asked me to type my password. Why? What the fuck good is TouchID if it just randomly doesn't work for some random reason? Doesn't anybody at Apple even use a fucking Mac so they can see this? Or do they know about it and just not give a shit?

INSTEON
I am still fucking raw about the home automation company I used, INSTEON, shut down without notice. Luckily I have an independent hub that doesn't rely on their servers, but recently I've found out that all my monitoring devices are randomly failing (this morning I thought that my garage door was open because INSTEON reported it as open, even though it was closed). I understand that you roll the dice and take your chances every time you purchase a cloud-enabled device (may the people behind Feed-and-Go burn in hell for all eternity), but the very least these assholes could do is offer a workaround or give you options so that your devices no longer work.

Boy. My blood pressure is at critical levels and I'm not even half-way through the crap I'm mad about! I'd better stop before I bust a blood vessel or something. As a bonus, I'll have fodder for another WTF Wednesday, if I deem myself healthy enough to write it up.

   

You Know Naught Monday

Posted on Tuesday, June 28th, 2022

Dave!My internet is out.

This doesn't happen very often. I'm blessed with highly reliable internet service, and this is something I truly feel blessed to have. I know friends who are not so lucky.

Fortunately, I have internet on my phone that I can use as a hotspot. Except I burned through my high-speed data alotment in five minutes, at which time I barely had internet at all...

No big loss... except my smart home is now a stupid home, I can't watch television, and my security cameras are in meltdown.

I'd say that it's time to read a book, but I'd rather just go to bed.

   

Billions in Failure

Posted on Friday, July 15th, 2022

Dave!Sad video flashback time.

Back in the day, I preferred Windows Phone over iPhone (shocking, I know). I personally never bought one, but received them for development and spent a lot of time with them. Interestingly enough, all the GUI work I did... for four separate Windows Phones apps... never went anywhere because the apps were never released.

There are still things about Windows Phone that I wish Apple & Android would adopt. Windows Phone is weird in that Microsoft was both behind and ahead of their time...

Interesting to think about what it would take for a new mobile OS to break the strangelhold that Apple iOS and Google Android OS has on the market. I honestly think it can't be done. It's going to take some huge technological leap to get there.

Assuming we're still using phones instead of some kind of chip implanted in our head.

   

arc Arc ARC!

Posted on Tuesday, August 23rd, 2022

Dave!A week-and-a-half ago I ordered a Sonos Arc using my "upgrade discount." The reason was two-fold... 1) I needed a flat speaker in front of my studio desk... and 2) I am really tired of having to use two separate remotes for the PlayBar in my living room (which, foolishly, doesn't use eARC, but instead clings to optical digital, which was outdated years before I bought the thing).

But heeeeere's the thing.

OF COURSE Sonos made it so that the PlayBar wall-mount doesn't work with the Arc so you have to buy a new one. OF COURSE they didn't put the cable hole in the same place. Because OF COURSE. So my first order of business was to move the hole in my wall 1-1/2-inches lower. Fortunately, that's fairly easy. You just flip the piece that you cut out of the new location and put it up top like so...

Re-hole of the hole for my hole in the wall.

And, yes, I cover everything with plastic, because it's all too easy to accidentally spray where you don't want to spray, and I can't afford a new television or furniture...

She's dead... wrapped in plastic.

Next I had to sand and spray texture to cover not only the patch... but the six holes that I had to make for the PlayBar mount...

Spraying the texture.

After that, it's just a matter of installing the wall plug and painting the wall. Yeah, yeah, I know that it would be easier to just run the power cable through the wall, but I really can't afford a new house if an electrical fire burns mine down, so I did everything by the book...

Paintity paint paint paint.

Interesting to note... the PlayBar wall mount was shitty and stupid if you wanted your cables to come through the wall. It is perfectly flat, so if you use a wall port (AS YOU SHOULD!) then you have to shim the bar out with washers (or whatever) until it's flush with the port plate. The Arc wall mount bends outward, so no shimming is needed if you're using a wall port (AS YOU SHOULD!)...

Arc Wall Mount.

A drill, a spirit level, and a shiny new HDMI cable pulled through the wall, and voilà... Arc installed...

Arc is INSTALLED.

It's pretty good. For one thing, the stereo separation is better than it was on the PlayBar. For another thing, this new sound bar has upward-firing speakers to bounce off the ceiling and provide sound from above the television. This isn't terribly effective... there are some Atoms-enabled movies that I can kinda get the effect. But it will never going to be the same as having an actual Atmos speaker setup. BUT THE BEST THING?!? Because HDMI-ARC allows the television to control the volume of the Arc, I can just use one remote control for everything. Yay!

And then there's the PlayBar...

The thing I hated about using the regular ol' Sonos One speakers in my studio is that I wasn't able to put them in front and to the side of my chair so that the separated sound is coming from in front of me as God intended. Instead they are off-center at different places on the side of me because of the way the room is configured.

But PlayBar is flat and has stereo separation in one spot so it can be directly in front of my desk, like this...

My TV PlayBar in front of my desk.

My TV PlayBar in front of my desk.

Piece-o-cake.

I was worried that sitting far closer than intended would screw up the sound, but that wasn't the case at all. There's pretty good separation, the sound comes from in front of me, and the quality is pretty impressive. It's actually a better fit for this than it was a TV sound bar.

And so... a lot of money well-spent, I suppose.

   

I Got Chills… They’re Multiplyin’

Posted on Friday, September 23rd, 2022

Dave!Remember yesterday when I said that I had a fever for 30 minutes, then a sore arm, then nothing else from my booster's booster to my COVID booster?

If only that had been the end of it.

I woke up freezing three times in the middle of the night last night. It's kinda a haze, but I did remember the first time very well because I was shaking so much that I fell over when I got up to grab another couple of blankets. My teeth were chattering so much that I thought they would break.

I've had "chills" before... but never like this!

I woke up tired from lack of sleep, but otherwise feeling fine. Except the wildfire smoke was heavier than usual today, which was really tough on my allergies. I ended up leaving work at noon because my head hurt so bad that I couldn't concentrate.

And now I'm at home with three air purifiers running while I watch YouTube videos. Like this interesting one from 2019 by one of my favorite content creators... Marques Brownlee...

I actually have a very early model Mac. This makes me want to drag it out and play with it again. It's still remarkable to me.

   

DART… ATTACK!

Posted on Monday, September 26th, 2022

Dave!Well, today was the day.

Exactly as planned when it launched last November, the DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) spacecraft slammed into Dimorphos... a moonlet orbiting the asteroid Didymos.

And why would NASA do this?

Because it seems prudent to see what we might can do to knock an asteroid off-course that's headed for earth. This test will give us an idea of what may or may not be possible.

The whole DART mission has me irrationally emotional. I feel sorry for DART, who was ordered to crash and be exploded. I feel sorry for the asteroid who was minding its own business and got exploded into. My life would be easier if I didn't anthropomorphize animals and objects. What even more awful though? DART filmed its own demise...

DART crashing into an asteroid.

DART crashing into an asteroid.

DART crashing into an asteroid.

DART crashing into an asteroid.

DART crashing into an asteroid.

DART crashing into an asteroid.

DART crashing into an asteroid.

Am I the only one who thinks that this is sad?

But I guess extinction of all life on earth from an asteroid impact is also sad, so make of it what you will.

   

Passkey Performance

Posted on Monday, November 21st, 2022

Dave!Having to type passwords is a nasty business that we're forced to deal with because the world is filled with assholes who want to steal from you. Sure there are password managers that help to make things easier (especially if they can be synced over the internet to all your devices), but it's still a ridiculous thing to have to mange. Apple wants to change all this with the idea of "Passkeys"... a password system that uses biometric data, like your face or fingerprint, to handle your login security for you. It's a nice idea, in theory, but it has to actually work. And so far I'm having mixed results. I set it up on this blog, for example, but now I can't actually get into my blog because my Passkey doesn't work and my authenticator app is not syncing properly. Which means that I will have to reinstall... again... so I can access Blogography... again.

Maybe one of these days this will all be worked out.

But, in the meanwhile, here we are.

   

Life of COVID

Posted on Thursday, December 1st, 2022

Dave!COVID is still here.

Tens of thousands are hospitalized with it and hundreds are still dying every day. Which is a vast improvement over where we were, but it's also frightening that it keeps mutating into new strains that keep this plague ongoing. The good news is that the most recent booster is still effective enough to be worth getting, providing added resistance to these new mutations.

Which brings us to this video.

Horrifying. But also riveting.

This is a good time to plug one of my favorite books of 2022, Immune by Philipp Dettmer If you haven't read it yet, it's worth your valuable time.

   

They killed it. But it’s never their fault.

Posted on Wednesday, January 18th, 2023

Dave!NEWSFLASH: Major Layoffs Reported At Amazon And ComiXology.

I am a big comic book fan. I used to be a huge comic book fan. So much a fan that I have a small storage room devoted to housing my massive collection of books. Then the digital age was upon us... I was running out of room to store my comics... and so I made the painful transition from physical printed comics to the digital version that lives on the internet and takes no space at all.

It was a tough transition to make. There's something about the feel... the smell... the experience of reading a real comic book as opposed to staring at a computer or your iPad.

That being said, ComiXology made the experience as good as it could be. I mostly read my comics on a computer with a large screen so I could experience them as full page spreads as the artist (and God) intended. On an iPad I usually use "GuideView" which presents the comics panel-by-panel. Once I got my 12.9-inch iPad Pro it was a little easier to read full pages, but I often decided not to.

Then Amazon bought ComiXology.

And things were fine at first. You still went to ComiXology, you just signed in with your credentials from Amazon. Everything was fine.

Until it wasn't.

Amazon eventually folded ComiXology into their Kindle app, and it was fucking awful. Horrendous experience from start to finish. Even finding your comics was a shitty experience. I fucking hated it so much that I pretty much stopped buying digital comics. Now I only bother when something I want to read is on sale. Instead I wait for the trade paperback to be released and wither buy a physical copy or check it out from the library.

Amazon fucking destroyed ComiXology.

And though improvements have been made, it still sucks compared to the ComiXology experience that I bought into.

Now, to the surprise of absolutely nobody who has had to suffer through reading comics on Kindle, profits are down so Amazon is laying off a chunk of their "ComiXology" team (though why they call it that when they murdered ComiXology in favor of Kindle I have no idea).

I feel bad for the ComiXology team members losing their job because Amazon management fucked over their product so bad that nobody wants to use it. That's not fair. But that's Amazon for you. Jeff Bezos probably wants another super-yacht, so he's getting rid of a bunch of people so he doesn't have to dip into his $120 billion (or whatever).

And isn't that the way it always goes? People with insane wealth that they could never spend in dozens of lifetimes making life utterly miserable for people scratching out a living? Just look at Twitter.

   

AI is Going to Destroy Us

Posted on Monday, February 13th, 2023

Dave!In the Terminator movies, humanity is ultimately destroyed by "Skynet," an AI super-intelligence developed for NORAD that gained sentience. Once humans realized that it was sentient, they tried to shut it down. SkyNet took this as an attack and launched nuclear weapons to preserve itself. By getting rid of the humans who were attacking it.

We are moving very, very quickly into AI space and, at the rate things are going, it's not outside the realm of possibility that AI will keep re-writing itself to get smarter and smarter until sentience is achieved.

What happens next is anybody's guess.

But one thing is certain, AI is going to destroy us.

Not necessarily in a Skynet kind of way. Maybe it will be in a good way. But the end result is the same. We're either destroyed and anhilated or we're destroyed and rebuilt into a life that's very different than the one we have now. One where we're constantly bombarded by AI assistants who can interact with us as if they were a person. A very very smart person with all the knowledge of the internet at its immediate disposal.

Which brings us to this fascinating video by Tom Scott...

What's mildly amusing to me is that Tom Scott is just 39 years old.

So my frame of reference when it comes to computers and the internet pre-dates his. And in that respect it seems to me like the revolution happened even quicker that he makes it sound. He started from a point where computers had already gained a serious foothold. I started from before that. So my frame of reference goes from zero to one million within my entire lifetime. It's not like computers were around when I was a kid and ramped up to where we are now. Personal computers as we know them were science fiction when I was a kid.

To me, computers were something real when the Pong arcade game became a home video game in 1975. I first got to play it at a local pizza parlor in 1976. I was 10 years old and it was absolute magic how they would bring it to your table so you could play while waiting for your pizza. A year later my family got an Atari 2600 video game system. A year or two after that we got an Atari 800 home computer.

The 40+ years since have been an express train to the future, with innovations coming faster and faster.

AI is just the latest thing.

I give us five years. Ten on the outside.

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The Unreality of it All

Posted on Monday, March 13th, 2023

Dave!The quantum leaps in graphics rendering technology is all new levels of mind-blowing any way you look at it. Television shows and movies just keep getting more and more spectacular. But where my mind fails on entirely new levels is video game graphics.

They've gotten so good now that what you can do with rendering engines like Unreal Engine can rival cinematic graphics. Indeed, some shows and movies are using video game tools to craft the worlds their characters inhabit.

Then Unreal Engine 5 came along and just upped the ante yet again. Just look at this tech demo which features a walkthrough for The Titanic (to really appreciate it, click through and watch it full screen)...

And look at this...

And this...

These aren't just pretty renderings... they are worlds you can walk around in and explore.

Paired with upcoming VR technology... can you just imagine what we'll be doing virtually in the next ten years?

Unreal.

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I Don’t Understand

Posted on Tuesday, March 14th, 2023

Dave!The fact that Sonos can say that their Voice Assistant is a viable means of controlling their speakers with anything approaching a straight face is new levels of laughable.

I hear "Sorry, I Don't Understand! Please use the Sonos app!" so often when attempting to use their bullshit that I feel Sonos should hire somebody to sit in the corner with the Sonos app so I have voice control that will actually work.

Between Sonos Voice Assistant and Apple's HomeKit, I spend a hell of a lot of time being embarrassed for tech companies right now.

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Quantum Computing Busted

Posted on Monday, March 20th, 2023

Dave!If the first part of this entry is something you'd like to skip, there's a second video at the end that you most definitely should not skip. It's horrifying stuff that should be seen by as many people as possible.

The stuff I wrote about here on Blogography is pretty random.

Not random-random, because there are several subjects I like to write about more than others... still other subjects I enjoy but have no interest in writing about... and still other subjects I have a lot of interest in writing about, but know that precious few people will want to read what I wrote.

This post falls into the latter.

Because while I am absolutely fascinated with mathematics, in general, and the maths of quantum computing, specifically, the people who read my blog for cat photos and pop culture commentary will likely not care.

But every once in a while I run across something so amazing that I find myself hoping that people who might otherwise skip a post might want to take a chance and read it.

One of my favorite YouTube channels, Veritasium takes a look at how quantum computing will make all of our current encryption efforts laughably obsolete. Considering that encryption is what keeps all of our most secret information safe... from account passwords to banking details to text message privacy... this is an astronomically huge deal. And in as little as a decade, it could all be completely worthless.

But how are quantum computers able to crack this security so easily? Glad you asked! And this video is for you. Now, there is some math that gets thrown at you, but you honestly don't have to understand it to get the gist of what's going on. So maybe give it a shot?

And now for that second video I promised.

It's a story on Timeshares from Last Week Tonight that is essential viewing. Especially if you are considering buying into a timeshare or vacation club or whatever...

Fucking yikes.

I'm really glad that I never had the money to invest in these.

   

A New Era for Sonos Sound

Posted on Thursday, March 30th, 2023

Dave!I have a love/hate relationship with Sonos Home Audio.

On one hand, they are very good speakers. The sound I get from a single Sonos One (the cheapest, smallest speaker in their lineup) is better than I get from the speakers on my pricey Sony television. Sonos speakers are very well balanced to handle just about everything. Music sounds just as good as audiobooks which sounds as good as TV shows and movies.

But on the other hand, Sonos can be incredibly frustrating. When I replaced my Sonos PlayBar with a Sonos Arc, I spent a full hour talking with their support to get everything working. It was supposed to be an easy, no-brainer task, but it sure didn't end up that way for me. And then there's weird networking drop-outs that happen at random and can be a real bitch to resolve considering the only thing I ever get told is "IT'S BECAUSE YOUR WI-FI NETWORK SUCKS!!!" (as if I have some kind of cheap-ass Wi-Fi router buried in the basement instead of dual AmpliFi Alien routers in a mesh network that blankets my home with perfect Wi-Fi).

In the end I am happy enough with Sonos to ignore its shortcomings (no line-in is fucking stupid on a level of fucking stupid that has me reconsidering what I consider to be fucking stupid given how expensive their speakers are... and don't get me started on not being able to use dedicated left and right channels for surround sound). I have quite a few of their products collected from Black Friday sales over the years, and most rooms in my house are covered with Sonos sound. Heck, I even have Sonos in the bathrooms so I don't have to miss what's happening on my television shows when I have to get up and go pee.

And then Sonos decided to get cute and offer a new line of "Era" speakers. The Era 100, which takes the place of their entry-level Sonos One speaker... and the Era 300, which takes the place of their long-abandoned Play 3 speaker.

The Sonos Era 100 and 300 Speakers.

At first I was going to safely ignore their new offerings because I have neither the money nor the desire to expand upon my speaker collection.

But then I learned that the Era 300 is designed from the bottom up to support Dolby Atmos and I was intrigued. Dolby Atmos allows precise sound placement within a room. This is usually reserved for theaters which can install speakers all the way around the seating area... along with the ceiling... so that the action can move around the room to match what you are seeing. It's a pretty nifty trick. The technology is something that is supposed to be supported by my Sonos Arc soundbar, but the effect is minimal to the point that it might as well not even exist at all.

The Sonos Era 300 has an up-firing speaker that looked substantial enough to actually maybe kinda support actual Atmos sound bouncing down on your from above...

The Sonos Era 300 Speaker All Blown Apart.

So I used my final two Sonos upgrade credits and all the Black Friday money I had left after buying Neon Bad Monkey and pre-ordered a pair of them.

And now they're here.

And I'm just going to cut to the chase here. They are... pretty good.

Because whether or not you have great Atmos sound largely depends on the audio mix that movie and television studios add to their products. I've tested these speakers for hours with all kinds of movies available in Dolby Atmos, and it's very rare that I find myself going "Whoa!" because some sound playing above me was distinct enough to catch me by surprise. No, for the most part, you're largely just getting a better, fuller surround sound experience. Back-To-Front and Front-To-Back audio is far more distinct with those up-firing speakers because you can feel the "movement" better. Far better than I did with my Sonos Ones as rear speakers. For that reason alone I am quite happy with my purchase. And who knows? Maybe as more and more people have Dolby Atmos available at home, studios will start doing better mixing so that my speakers can take advantage of it.

Now lets get to the Dolby Atmos experience that's truly worth it... Atmos Music!

I tell you what... I had read that Apple was partnering with Sonos so that their spatial audio tracks would play on Sonos hardware... but I wasn't thinking of that when I fired up some music to see if it sounded good from the 300s. A couple tracks played and I was suitably impressed.

Then the song If You're Too Shy (Let Me Know) by The 1975 dropped and I thought I was hallucinating. Lead singer Matt Healy's vocals were IN FRONT OF the music. And acoustical queues were all over the room. If I closed my eyes, it was as if The 1975 were set up in my living room. Then I remembered about the Apple Music Atmos thing and, sure enough...

The Sonos app showing me that my music is from a Dolby Atmos mix.

For many Dolby Atmos music tracks, what you hear is flat-out mind-blowing. The 1975 remixed all their stuff, and (for the most part) it's incredible. Some songs are more experimental than others. Some songs push it too far to the point of distraction. But most of the songs are perfectly rendered in a way that makes the whole experience... maybe not better... but perhaps nicely different.

All of a sudden I was scouring all my favorite tracks to see if they had Atmos mixes available.

And it was like discovering music all over again.

Yes, there are instances where the Atmos is a gimmick that doesn't work. But for others? It runs the gamut. The biggest surprise was Kacey Musgraves Golden Hour. Whomever came up with her mixes just knocked it out of the park (with a couple notable exceptions which are gimmicky as hell). It. Is. Sublime. In Oh, What a World when that banjo hits, I had chills running up my spine. It's a fantastic experience. My favorite Post Malone tracks were wonderfully mixed for spatial audio. The newest Taylor Swift album is beautiful. And some bands you just know were hopping on the bandwagon early with Atmos remixes... like ODESZA. The track they did with Namoi Wild, Higher Ground, feels like her vocals are ON TOP OF the music. Or something. I can't even begin to explain it. But it's fantastic. Of course, it was a great track even before spatial audio...

The highest praise I can offer for spatial audio and Dolby Atmos music is that, when mixed right, the vocals never get lost in the music. They are always distinct and rendered front-and-center. One of the best songs to hear this is with Miley Cyrus's Flowers. There's places that she harmonizes with herself. But when listening to it without Atmos, the voices blend together. With Atmos, however, the harmonizing backing vocals are... like... elsewhere. They don't merge or compete... they're just another part of the music. I don't know quite how to explain it. But once I hear the difference... then go back to regular stereo... I can no longer un-hear it because the Atmos version feels like it's the way you're supposed to be hearing it.

So... probably not returning my pair of 300s... even though there's some bullshit right out of the gate.

First of all, Sonos finally... FINALLY... added bluetooth and line-in to their speakers. But when you configure them to be part of a Dolby Atmos setup... YOU NO LONGER CAN USE THEM FOR EITHER! WHAT THE BLOODY FUCK, SONOS??

The Sonos app showing me that my music is from a Dolby Atmos mix.

When that message popped up, it was all I could do to keep from throwing my phone against the wall. I was more than a little upset... I was fucking pissed.

I'm sure that Sonos will come up with some kind of bullshit excuse to explain it away, but the simple fact is that you could easily... easily... just have the speaker ignore all other input once the line-in is receiving input. This is not fucking rocket science. The fact that I can't just plug into one of my pricey new speakers with a frickin' line-in is so far beyond rage-inducing that I honestly don't know what to do with my anger from it.

But at least there's the option for a line-in... AT ALL.

If I were flush with cash I'd likely buy a single Sonos Era 300 for my bedroom and run a line from my television. That way I could have darn good TV sound along with a kick-ass speaker for music (the stereo separation from a single 300 is surprisingly good).

BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE!

Assuming I win the lottery tomorrow, it's not enough to just buy a $450 Sonos Era 300 speaker for my television. YOU ALSO HAVE TO BUY A FUCKING $20 MINI-PLUG DONGLE! It's like... holy shit. There's fleecing your customers, and then there's Sonos fucking gouging their customers. This is pretty disgraceful.

So... to summarize in bullet points...

  • Setup actually worked like it was supposed to this time. I had an immediate software update I had to send to the Era 300's, but I was up and running in minutes.
  • I love that the power cord plug is smaller now. My rear speakers are on a slim shelf that I drilled holes in so the cords are hidden. But the Sonos Ones had a big-ass plug which meant I had to use a metal rod to smash it through the hole. The new Era plugs are more compact and just pop through. Easy!
  • I've had mixed results with Sonos TruePlay tuning (where you walk around the room waving your phone around while the Sonos app listens to tones and calibrates the speakers so their sound is best rendered in your room). The first time I tried it years ago, I loved it. Then the last couple times I thought the calibration was pretty bad and removed it. This time the jury is still out. I think it made my Atmos music sound better... but the movies I tried after calibration didn't sound as bright and the overhead sound was muted. I'll probably keep TruePlay on but fine-tune the EQ and upward sound levels.
  • The line-in garbage mentioned above is fucking bullshit. I am outraged that not only is it fully disabled when you use them as surrounds... but you also have to buy a fucking dongle. It's as if Sonos said "WELL, YOU WANTED A LINE-IN, SO HERE IT IS... TOO BAD WE FUCKING BROKE IT!
  • Until more studios really invest in doing Dolby Atmos mixes that are killer, I wouldn't buy these speakers just for movies with Dolby Atmos. It's just not a big enough upgrade given how many mediocre mixes are out there claiming to be "Atmos."
  • The "killer app" on the Era 300s is Dolby Atmos music. Spatial audio provides an experience I haven't heard before and, for the most part, I absolutely love it. As more and more artists go back and remix their music (or remix the mixes that aren't that great) I think this is reason enough to give them a listen and see what you think.
  • Yes, the price of Sonos gear is as heinous as it ever was. About the only justification I can offer is that they feel quality. They are noticeably heavy and seem built to last. And, needless to say, the sound quality is darn good given the size. Exceptional even. I have never had a complaint about the sound I get... and even a meager little Sonos One provides a great experience. Sonos is one of those companies where I think the cost is likely worth it. That being said, every piece of my Sonos gear was bought on sale because... damn.
  • All my stuff was purchased directly from Sonos because I like that they offer a money-back-guarantee when you purchase from them. It's the least they can do given how much money it costs. If you are on the fence, it's worth investigating whether the shop you're buying from can offer a guarantee. Pretty sure not all of them do.
  • If you are a long-time Sonos customer, Sonos will give you "upgrade credits" which knock 15% off the price of their wares. For every speaker you own that's old enough to earn a discount, you get one credit to use on another speaker to replace it. Except you don't have to return your old speaker... you get to keep it! If you registered your products with Sonos, be sure to look at your account and see what's available. I saved nearly $70 each on the 300s, which is serious money.
  • A lot has been said about how "ugly" the Sonos 300s are. Personally, I'm not seeing it. I am very sensitive to design aesthetics and actually really like the look of them. When sitting on the shelf behind my couch, they look nice from any angle and have an impressive heft to them that makes me confident a cat isn't going to knock them off (if they were to ever climb up on those shelves, which they rarely do).
  • I did not buy any Era 100s and really have no plan to do so. The improvement over my Sonos Ones seems minimal, as there's no up-firing speakers for rendering Atmos. The stereo separate looks like it might be pretty good... but since the speaker is so narrow, I'm not sure how noticeable it would be.

And there you have it.

If you've got a showroom somewhere near you with Sonos gear, it might be worth a look if you're thinking about investing in new speakers.

   

Vision in 4K HDR

Posted on Wednesday, April 5th, 2023

Dave!Building a truly great home theater is expensive. Over the years I have tried to create the best that I can afford. Which decidedly does not involve building a custom theater room. I just do the best I can with my living room. That, paired with the fact that electronics tend to get cheaper over time, has helped.

My sound recently got a major upgrade with a pair of Sonos Era 300's. Their ability to render a pretty good height channel for Dolby Atmos out of my Sonos Arc may not be as incredible as actual dedicated height speakers, but it's cheaper than ripping apart my walls to wire them in.

I wanted a cool $3,000 OLED TV when my old TV died, but that's way, way out of my budget. Instead I bought a mid-range Sony 65" KD65X80J for $780 on sale. It's far from perfect, but it has decent brightness, HDR color fidelity to display DolbyVision, and can pass-through Dolby Atmos sound. Which makes it worth paying $300 more than a cheaper model (until I check my wallet... then I'm all "What was I thinking?").

Which left me to my media source.

Early streaming efforts were pretty crappy. Color fidelity was awful. Motion artifacts were terrible. And resolution was abysmal. So I invested in a Samsung Blu-Ray 4K UHD player. The picture quality was outstanding. So sharp and saturated. But I could never get the advanced audio to work. Sonos couldn't handle DTS, it can only process Dolby Atmos. But some discs only came with DTS, which meant that I had to rely on conversion by other components, which usually didn't work and got me Dolby 5.1 instead. Rather than wasting money on Blu-ray Discs that may or may not give me the audio I was paying for, I abandoned it. And was thrilled about it, since most discs had a STOP PIRACY warning which you were forced to look at and couldn't fast-forward past (which is fucking stupid... I bought your fucking disc, didn't I?).

Then Apple came out with AppleTV 4K. It could stream much, much better quality 4K video in full HDR10 DolbyVision color, complete with Dolby Atmos. Which is to say that every movie I purchase from the iTunes Store which supported spatial audio would be in Dolby Atmos format for my Sonos system. Yay. When comparing the two visually and audibly, it's darn close to Blu-Ray UHD video quality. The only time I could tell was if I paused the video and compared it frame-by-frame. And so I started buying all my movies digitally, which is cheaper and easier than Blu-Ray anyway. Even if it does mean that I'm always under threat of the stuff I buy getting jerked from the iTunes Store and having nothing to show for it (which should be illegal... at the very least I should get my money back). It's a pity that the user interface for AppleTV continues to be incomprehensibly shitty, but I guess nothing is perfect.

So now I only use my Blu-Ray player for old movies that I am not able to re-purchase as digital, and it's not worth the hard drive space to rip them.

As for DolbyVision? Here are some of my favorites which are taking advantage of the HDR color gamut and video quality...

  1. Bullet Train (2022 - David Leitch)
    When it comes to all the benefits that DolbyVision offers, few movies come as close to perfection as Bullet Train. From the incredible colorscapes of Tokyo to the vivid lighting on the train in question, there's some real visual magic happening here.
  2. Atomic Blonde (2017 - David Leitch)
    Two strange things on this phenomenal Charlize Theron flick. 1) Though the video is in glorious DolbyVision, the sound is not in Dolby Atmos... which is bizarre. 2) When I went to add it to my list and look up the director, I had no idea that it would be the same guy that did Bullet Train! David Leitch very obviously knows how to use the extended gamut in his work. And with Atomic Blonde, he used it to beautiful effect. Most of the film is rendered in cold blues and greens and the HDR allows that to happen while still allowing very good definition. And when warm colors pop up, they add a remarkable contrast that really sets the scene on fire. I just don't understand why we didn't get Atmos, which would be amazing.
  3. Pixels (2015 - Chris Columbus)
    About half-way through the movie when the aliens invade, their hyper-saturated pixel forms are so beautifully saturated against the backdrop of the real-world that it kinda messes with your head. But in a cool way. It's a surprisingly effecting use of HDR which turns a mediocre movie into something beautiful to look at.
  4. John Wick 2 & 3 (2017 & 2019 - Chad Stahelski)
    David Leitch, who directed the first two movies on my list, is executive producer on the Wick franchise. Whether it's a coincidence that the colors on these film is also fantastic I don't know. But it's an interesting thing to note given how fantastic these films look in DolbyVision.
  5. Avatar: The Way of Water (2022 - James Cameron)
    Look, the color in this movie is incredible, as you would expect from something that's artificially rendered. They can make every last object whatever color they want... however saturated they want. They can add glows or artificial lighting... it's all on the table. So, yeah, in DolbyVision this is phenomenal. And if I had an OLED television, it would be fucking mind-blowing. But it's a video game. It's a cartoon. It's not real. You cannot compare it to actual movies in the Real World. Because even if the Real World footage has been color-graded and processed, it's still... real. And yet... if you want to see stunning visuals unlike anything else, here's your movie.
  6. The LEGO Batman Movie (2017 - Chris McKay)
    I actually had to watch this in DolbyVision... and without DolbyVision... at the same time to see if what I was seeing wasn't my imagination. I couldn't tell if my mind was filling in the blanks or if the depth and detail I was seeing was actually there. And it is. They use color like a bomb in most every scene, exploding it over everything. But not in a bad way. In a beautiful, lush way that's just there.
  7. Any Disney/Pixar Film Using DolbyVision
    Animation, with its rich, saturated colors, should be the perfect way to showcase DolbyVision. And, for the most part, it is. Movies like The Incredibles 2 and Monsters Inc. look fantastic in an HDR colorspace.
  8. Blade Runner 2049
    This movie has some incredibly saturated visuals that look amazing in HDR. But DolbyVision is more than just pretty, saturated colors. It's also about having very well-defined details in the shadows... and making sure that there's definition when the color pallet is washed out. In that respect, Blade Runner 2049 is absolutely stunning.

   

Atmos Sphere

Posted on Thursday, April 6th, 2023

Dave!UPDATE: Ironic to note that after I wrote this entry, I was watching a movie when all of a sudden my Sonos Arc soundbar made a loud POP then the sound cut out. It was seriously loud. I thought that the dresser fell over in the guest room or something. I thought it had blew out, which seemed impossible given that I didn't even have the sound up that loud, but after unplugging and plugging back in, it was find. Until it happened again! After some Googling, I found that this is a KNOWN ISSUE and Sonos hasn't done shit about it. Apparently it has to do with several audio sources, including Xbox and newer-generation AppleTV 4K. Like the one I just bought. So, yeah, not sure where I go from here. I guess I call Sonos and complain (as everybody else has done) and hope they get off their fucking asses and fix the problem. Though this has been an issue for over a year and nothing's been done, so who knows. In the meanwhile, I've gone back to my original AppleTV 4K in the hopes that the Sonos problem will abate until it's resolved. If it gets resolved.

UPDATE-UPDATE: Two days running off the old AppleTV 4K, and no pops. I switch back to the Rev. 3 AppleTV 4K and they start up again. WTF?!? I am assuming that Apple is using HDMI and Atmos standards to make their little box... so what's the deal with Sonos? Frustrating. Am I never going to be able to update my media sources now?


When it comes to the Dolby Atmos spatial audio on my Sonos Arc soundbar, I was less than impressed. Despite buying a Sonos mount, positioning the soundbar 4-inches below my television as instructed, and cranking the height channel to maximum, I just wasn't feeling it. I'd watch scene after scene of the best Atmos mixes available, confirm that Sonos was receiving Atmos sound, and never heard anything of any substance. It was a heck of a punch to the gut after paying the money it cost me.

Then Sonos released the Era 300 (which I reviewed here) and all of that was supposed to change.

And so I bought into their game, fully expecting to return the speakers when they let me down as the Sonos Arc had done.

But then they actually ended up worth being the price of admission. Once I adjusted the rear speakers to point slightly inward... increased the height volume to maximum... increased the treble by a lot... increased the bass by a bit to compensate... and increased the surround audio a touch... it all kinda came together. The only thing I could do to improve it further would be to add a wall in my open living space so that the left channel could reflect instead of drift towards my kitchen. Something that's not in the cards, alas.

But still... darn good. Mostly for spatial audio music, because the Atmos mixes we get for home video is lacking. Though the situation is improving, some movies are more impressive than others. Below is a list of my favorites. My top two are films by Denis Villeneuve, who seems to take spatial audio very seriously.

  1. Blade Runner 2049 (2017 - Denis Villeneuve)
    How this movie didn't make a billion dollars is beyond me. It is an absolute masterpiece. Not only is it an impossibly good sequel to one of the most incredible films ever made... it manages to capture the atmosphere that made the original so mind-blowing. All while having a great story and flawless casting. It's a miracle on-screen. It's glorious to behold. And when it comes to the Atmos sound design? You're in the film. The many voluminous spaces fill your room with echos and reverb. Music is lush and all-encompassing. Small moments... like striking a piano key... are made to feel huge. You feel the rain falling on you in the dreary, brutalist environment of 2049's Los Angeles. Explosions rock your soul. The Atmos is meticulously crafted to be exactly what it needed to be, and makes me appreciate the movie all the more.
  2. Dune (2021 - Denis Villeneuve)
    It is one of my favorite novels of all time. I've read it a dozen times. It is impossible to adapt into film. But it's been adapted twice. The 2000 TV series was a mess. I actually did enjoy the 1984 David Lynch film (which holds up very well, actually), but it was more style over substance. The Denis Villeneuve Dune, however, is genius. The writing team behind it acted like a skilled surgeon... knowing exactly what to cut while keeping the soul of the novel. And the Atmos soundscape that was crafted for the film is everything you dream about when your sound system can take advantage of it.
  3. John Wick 3: Parabellum (2017 - Chad Stahelski)
    There are few franchises more deeply satisfying than everybody's favorite emo-assassin, John Wick. Each installment ups the ante in cool ways, and the brilliant Atmos soundtrack is no exception. Parabellum does an amazing job of creating immersive sound that gets better with each new movie. From rain pouring down from the sky to bullets bouncing around a room, you're there in the middle of the unrelenting action. And oh what action it is.
  4. Doctor Strange in The Multiverse of Madness (2022 - Sam Raimi)
    Disney/Marvel spends a great deal of money to make their movies a fantastic experience. But when it comes to their Atmos mixes for home video, they've been hit-or-miss... but mostly miss. You hear the film in the theater and it's great... then listen to it at home and it's kinda not. I guess the spatial audio is not a straight 1-to-1 conversion and requires work that Disney doesn't want to pay for. But it's been getting better since Avengers Infinity War & Endgame, and Multiverse of Madness is one of the best so far. The inter-dimensional jumping sounds very cool, but there's other more quiet moments with birds chirping and air moving that are just as nicely done... as it should be.
  5. Avengers: Infinity War & Endgame (2018/2019 - Anthony & Joe Russo)
    The movies themselves were among the best super-hero flicks to ever be released. Smart story-telling combined with amazing special effects. And sound. You can tell that some serious money was put into the Dolby Atmos positioning, because so many scenes were beautifully mixed. And that battle at the end is where it all comes to a head.
  6. Mission Impossible: Fallout (2018 - Christopher McQuarrie)
    It hadn't occurred to me to check out this movie until somebody in a Sonos forum recommended it. Very nice. There are scenes where the auditory positioning is meticulously crafted, but not in a way that sounds artificial. No easy feat.
  7. John Wick 2 (2017 - Chad Stahelski)
    Unlike the consistent spatial audio in John Wick: Chapter 3, the Atmos effects are a bit more hit-or-miss with the second chapter. The ones you get are brilliant... then they just... disappear. You'll get a few scenes where obvious height queues could have been used, but weren't. It's a shame, and I'm not sure why this is. Maybe budget? In any event, the sound design is still top-notch. It just could have been more.

What surprised me most was the Atmos mixes I liked the least. I read over and over and over that my favorite movie of 2015, Mad Max: Fury Road had some of the best Atmos work to date. And yet... I was seriously underwhelmed by the overhead effects, which were so random as to be distracting (unlike John Wick 2 where you can forget about it). The height channel would pop up when it wasn't needed... then be missing when you'd expect them to be there. It's bizarre. But still an incredible movie. I just think it sounds better with a 5.1 mix.

Which is rare.

Most times, the Dolby Atmos mix is incredible... even when it's not consistent. And finally... finally... I can hear it in my home theater thanks to the Sonos Era 300's.

   

Martian Moongazing

Posted on Wednesday, April 26th, 2023

Dave!I don't understand people who don't find space exploration utterly fascinating.

The United Arab Emirates has a Mars probe (named Hope) that sent back one of the most amazing shots I've ever seen. It's of the moon Deimos above The Red Planet, and the image composition is so amazing that you'd think it was Photoshopped. Or CGI. Or a painting. Or anything except a photograph...

Deimos floating above Mars!
Photo from Emirates Mars Mission

The mission was originally set to end by now, but the UAE just extended it another year. The probe's wide orbit of the planet allows study of the planet and its moons in a way we haven't had before.

My fascination with Mars is directly attributed to the Edgar Rice Burroughs Barsoom novels...

A scantily-clad Martian woman with a Martian lion with a palace in the background.
Incredible painting by Michael Whelan shown the Martian moons of Barsoom for Thuvia, Maid of Mars

Burroughs had a fascinating take on the moons Phoebus and Deimos, which Barsoomians (AKA "Martians") call Thuria and Cluros. Because the moons are very small... just 17 miles and 9 miles across, respectively)... people shrink when they approach them. John Carter visits Thuria in the book Swords of Mars only to find the surface area was similar to that of Mars, relative to his tiny size.

Phoebus and Deimos are notable not just because they are so small, but also because their orbits are really close to Mars. Phoebus is just 5,800 miles away... Deimos 14,500. Earth's moon, for comparison is 238,900 miles! But it gets worse. Phoebos's orbit is decaying 6 feet every hundred years. Which means it's likely to break apart (Mars gets a ring!) or crash into the planet in another 50 million years.

Thanks to NASA's Perseverance rover, we actually know what a solar eclipse looks like on Mars...

I could go on for pages writing about Mars and its moons. The exploration of our neighboring planet is a fascinating subject on which there are volumes of research, photos, speculation, and fiction available. It's a bottomless pit from which I'm happy to keep falling.

   

Profit Margin Dickery

Posted on Tuesday, June 13th, 2023

Dave!The whole "wE doN't InCludE a USB poWeR AdaPter BEcaUsE tHE enViRoNMenT aNd eVErybOdy AlReaDY haS a BunCh oF TheM" bullshit has got to stop. Nobody includes them any more and they all have this excuse. Well, my new Aqara M2 hub didn't come with a USB power adapter and I just used my last spare (off a very, very old Kindle reader!)... which means that my next device that I get I'll need to actually buy the USB power adapter. This is such crap. People should be able to request a freebie if they don't have an adapter to use. That's the only way I'll believe it's "for the environment" and not some profit margin dickery.

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Consolation Found from Hauntings Past

Posted on Friday, July 7th, 2023

Dave!When I got home from work today, I was just... numb. Didn't have the energy to do anything except plop down in front of the television with an ice cream cone. Which sounds more entertaining than it was because I never bothered to actually turn the television on.

Instead I told Siri to put on some music while I caught up on the news.

And the first headline I see? FDA grants full approval to new Alzheimer's drug meant to slow disease.

Now, this is a hell of a long way from an actual cure. It costs $26,500 a year, it has been linked to death, it only slows progression for around five months, and it's more for friends and family than the person with dementia, but it's a step! And, from somebody who's intimately familiar with it... from somebody who would have given anything to have a chance at five more months with my mom where she was still mostly herself... I'd have paid the $26,500 and been grateful if it in any way helped.

And that's the way science goes.

AIDS, some cancers, and many diseases are survivable now, and it all started with a step. A step just like Leqembi is for dementia.

But there will always be those for which the science came too late.

For those left behind, I guess you just cling to the consolation that other people may be spared what you had to go through.

Maybe.

One day.

   

Joy! A Bissell Spinwave Tale

Posted on Wednesday, July 12th, 2023

Dave!=sigh= Home robotics still has a ways to go, don't they?

A long while ago I bought a robot vacuum I named "Carl" after the janitor from The Breakfast Club. He was an imitation iRobot Roomba by Ecovacs, so he was cheap, but I didn't have a lot of furniture to confuse him or junk laying around my house to block him, so I was thrilled with how well it worked. Almost immediately I bought a companion mopping robot by iRobot that I named "Joy" after Joy Mangano (the lady who created the Miracle Mop (and was portrayed by Jennifer Lawrence in the movie biography Joy).

The mopping robot was just okay.

It worked better in my bathrooms which are smaller and easier to clean because they are tile. It worked less better in the kitchen, because it was bigger and the pad got dirty before it could finish. It didn't work AT ALL in any other spaces. Partly because they were too big... but mostly because the little vibrating pad ripped up my hideously expensive (but shoddily-made) hardwood floors. I used it for a half-year in the bathrooms, but eventually trashed it.

Fast-forward to last week after I was washing my floor on my hands and knees and thought to look at mopping robots again. The one that caught my eye was the Bissell Spinwave. The pads aren't a vibrating pad, so I had high hopes that it wouldn't tear up my shitty floors...

Bissell Spinwave Robot Mop.

So I went to buy one and... FIVE HUNDRED AND FIFTY FUCKING DOLLARS?!? Does it blow me after it finishes mopping? Because that's the only way I'd spend that kind of money.

But then I Googled to see if there was an alternative that might work for less money... only to find that Best Buy was advertising the R5 model I wanted (it has mapping on the app) for $220 (which is less than the cheaper non-R5 model!). Still more money than the $150 that I was wanting to spend, but if it works...

Bissell Spinwave on Closeout at Best Buy.

When I got New Joy, I set her up next to New Carl so I could charge it. Once Jake came downstairs from his nap, it took him all of seconds to see (smell?) something new...

Jake giving Joy a smell.

My hopes for New Joy were dashed when it left its charging station, turned a corner around the legs of my hutch, and got stuck...

Joy is stuck.

Jake found this to be hilarious...

Jake watching Joy be stuck.

But, seconds after I took the above photo (and before I could pull New Joy out from under the hutch), she freed herself. Nice!

Which brings us to the R5 model's mapping. The reason it's supposed to be worth the $550 price tag. It's actually very cool. The unit has a LIDAR camera spinning on top which is constantly updating it as it moves around the space. For example... this is what Joy thought my living room looked like...

Joy's Map on the iPhone App.

But once it sees that it can go behind my couch, the map is updated to reflect that...

Joy's Map on the iPhone App.

The mapping even noticed where "rooms" are located and decided to mop the entirety of my "great room" (living room to dining room) before moving on to the kitchen/entry hall, downstairs bathroom, and guest bedroom...

Joy's Map on the iPhone App.

But then... uh oh. The map cleared itself shortly after entering my kitchen. Even worse, Joy stopped reporting her location accurately. She would randomly appear all over my house, but then always snap back to her actual location...

Joy's Map on the iPhone App.

Jesus. THIS is what Bissell charges FIVE HUNDRED AND FIFTY FUCKING DOLLARS?!?

You can define Go/No-Go areas easy enough, and your robot will remember it for any future moppings...

Joy's Map on the iPhone App.

Unfortunately, there is a minimum size area you can define... and it's fucking HUGE. If you need tiny areas defined... like my cat feeding station and second cat water fountain... you'd better fucking hope that they are against a wall so you can have it bleed off the edge. As you can see, I got lucky.

And then we get to one of the most idiotic, head-scratching failures of this FIVE HUNDRED AND FIFTY FUCKING DOLLAR robot... you can't define rooms/areas and save them for future use. Sure you can draw an area you want cleaned and send the robot to do that, but you can't save them for next time. They disappear after the cleaning happens...

Joy's Map on the iPhone App.

What the fuck? It would seem that Bissell expects you to clean your entire fucking house in one go. But come on, that's not even remotely feasible. Because your little mopping pads will get dirty fairly quickly, which means it will be washing your floors with dirt. Blergh. This should be a priority for Bissell, because yikes.

When it comes to my home, I don't have tons of furniture and practically no clutter. Which makes it an excellent candidate for robots. There's hardly any obstacles for it to get caught up on. And yet... this happened...

BUMPER STUCK ALERT!!

This seemed weird. First of all because Joy was, as usual, randomly reporting herself where she wasn't located. The map was showing that she was at her docking station. But she wasn't. So I had to go looking for her. Turns out she wedged herself between the toilet and the wall...

Joy stuck.

I don't even know how to respond to this. It's not smart enough to throw itself into reverse and back out of there?

Later on I stopped hearing Joy run. At first I thought she was out of battery and couldn't return to her docking station. The map wasn't reporting her location, so off I went again to try and find her. Oh. Despite her having a FUCKING "SOFT-EDGE SENSOR" LIKE BISSELL ADVERTISES, she was choking on a rug...

Joy stuck AGAIN.

Jesus. But that's not the worst of it. Do you see hoe the bed in my guest bedroom has a dust ruffle around the bottom? Joy thought it was a solid wall and didn't mop under the bed! I added a "GO" area and sent her back in the room... but she returned without mopping under the bed! So the only way to mop my guest bedroom is to remove the rugs and the dust ruffle...

Joy mopping the guest bedroom... now that everything has been removed.

So what have we got here...

  • PRO: It does a good job mopping, even though you'll want to limit how much it mops to smaller areas so you can throw the mopping pads in with the wash so that you're not pushing dirt around.
  • CON: Except you can't save the smaller areas you create because the app is fucking brain dead.
  • PRO: The mopping pads don't rip up my expensive, shitty hardwood floors. I haven't tried the "dusting pads" but I have zero intent of ever using them, so whatever.
  • CON: While the mopping is good, the vacuuming is bad. Fortunately I have a separate vacuum which does a good job, so I just run it first, but why bother with a vacuum attachment if you're not going to put a powerful enough vacuum in it to make it worth doing?
  • CON: To get the LIDAR mapping capability, you have to pay FIVE HUNDRED AND FIFTY FUCKING DOLLARS for the R5 model (or $220 if you get it on sale like I did)... and then it doesn't even report to the app reliably? It erases and can't even report the robot's location!
  • CON: Apparently the robot has "soft edge" detection so it doesn't get stuck on carpets and knows when to raise the mopping pads... or whatever. But the feature is useless because the robot will choke on any carpets!
  • CON: Can get stuck easily if the space is just tight enough to enter, but (apparently) not loose enough to back out of?
  • PRO: The liquid cleaner reservoir is pretty big. I was able to clean my entire downstairs and never had to refill it.
  • CON: The liquid cleaner reservoir is a bitch to fill. You're supposed to fill it with water to a certain level... then fill the remainder with the concentrated cleaning liquid. Except thanks to poor design, the reservoir is overflowing before you can even add the cleaner! Tragic.
  • CON: The robot doesn't just "mop" in wet mode... it mops while it vacuums. But the vacuum dirt chamber is so tiny that you are pretty much forced to vacuum before you mop.
  • CON: The app is awful. Fails mapping after a time, doesn't report the location of the robot accurately, doesn't save defined areas, and won't even always report when there's a problem. If Bissell is serious about staying in the robot cleaning space, they need to do a lot better than this.

Ultimately I'm going to keep New Joy because she mops just well enough that the $220 price is worth it. Had I been able to afford the original $550 price tag, she would have been boxed up and returned within one hour of opening the box.

Maybe I'm just happy that I have a solution for mopping my floors that doesn't involve me doing so on my hands and knees with a wet rag?

I dunno.

But welcome to the family, New Joy.

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BATTLEBOTS 2.0

Posted on Monday, August 14th, 2023

Dave!I wish that my robots would keep to a routine. Joy, the mopping robot, kinda does. Carl, the vacuum robot, never does. This can cause a problem if you want vacuum then mop immediately after. If both robots are made by iRobot, then they can coordinate that stuff.

But if you don't? You either have to wait until the vacuum robot is finished then run the mopping robot.

Or else end up in this scenario, where it feels like they're about to fight to the death...

Vacuum Robot and Mopping Robot Robot Fight!

As it was, they narrowly avoided each other.

This time.

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It’s The Pop of Death That Kills You

Posted on Wednesday, August 16th, 2023

Dave!NEWSFLASH @ Ars Technica: Sonos has been unable to fix Arc soundbars’ “pop of death” for over 2 years.

Ever since the technology became available for home theaters, I've wanted Dolby Atmos, the specialized sound system which adds a "height" channel to your surround sound setup. So that when you are watching John Wick and it's raining overhead... or a bullet goes flying above you... you hear it happening. It's a very cool effect (when done properly) that adds to the experience of watching movies and television... or listening to Atmos music.

I have been investing in a Sonos speak setup, which has been a pretty good solution for home audio. It's wireless so you don't have to run speaker cables, and you can group some (or all) of your speakers so that your audio is playing everywhere you have a Sonos speaker.

At first I had a Sonos PlayBar. It was an amazing soundbar for under your television. Sure, the separation between Left/Center/Right channels wasn't the best, but it was a darn good effort that I enjoyed for years.

Then Sonos released their Arc soundbar which added the afore-mentioned Dolby Atmos.

I waited for the reviews, heard good things, and bought one.

Then I went to crazy trouble to install it in my living room.

It was okay. The Dolby Atmos height channel was incredibly weak (even when set at full volume) and I don't think the quality was quite up to the standards of the PlayBar, but I was pretty happy with it overall.

Then Sonos released the Era 300, which also had the Dolby Atmos height channel for your rear speakers. This was a far, far better implementation of the Atmos effect, and I was very happy to have purchased them.

Until I wasn't.

One day while watching a movie I heard a massive POP sound and my Arc soundbar went dead. I thought it had died a horrible death... but unplugging it and plugging it back in did the trick. Until I experienced the POP again. And again. And again. And again! Apparently once it happens, it will continue to happen forever.

Sonos's solution is to turn off CRC (which turns on your television when your AppleTV turns on), which didn't work for me. Their next "solution?" Turn off Dolby Atmos. Yes, you read that right, turn off Dolby Atmos.

Now, If Sonos gave any shits at all, they would simply have one of their many users who are experiencing this POP OF DEATH problem send in their AppleTV 4K Gen 3 and Xbox, their television, their cables, and their Arc soundbar (after sending them replacement shit). Then they would have a complete system where they could CONSISTENTLY REPRODUCE THIS PROBLEM. But nope. They'd rather say "Oooh... we can't reproduce the problem!" and do NOTHING. — Every fucking time I've contacted Sonos support, they just tell me to turn off Dolby Atmos, WHICH IS THE ENTIRE FUCKING REASON I BOUGHT THE ARC IN THE FIRST PLACE! More and more I regret getting in bed with a company that doesn't give a shit about shipping a faulty product, and has been promising a fix for OVER TWO YEARS that never comes. Get a system that doesn't work.

I don't care if Sonos comes up with a special cable that filters out the problem... or sends out a firmware update... or offers to replace whatever component they can't work out with something that does... or whatever... so long as they actually come up with a fucking solution that doesn't involve turning off Atmos!

This is not fucking rocket science.

NASA could build a rocket in this amount of time.

   

Nest Box Rabbit Hole for Birds

Posted on Thursday, August 17th, 2023

Dave!Boy did I fall down a rabbit hole this morning.

I woke up at 5:00am, couldn't get back to sleep, so I grabbed my laptop to see what was happening in the world... and ended up at the YouTube channel for a company called "Nest Box" which sells bird houses with a built-in camera. Then I watched the videos there for over a half-hour!

Here's the video which started it all, and this may very well be the most magical thing you see all week...

Amazing. If you have time to kill, I highly recommend the Nest Box Live channel.

I'd love to have one of these, but they're nearing $300. I wonder if I could build one of my own and stick one of my NestCams in it? Might be a good winter project!

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Gloriously Geekable Broccoli

Posted on Monday, October 23rd, 2023

Dave!I watch a lot of videos. If I'm awake and working, odds are I am watching (but mostly listening to) YouTube videos. And the subjects I have running in those videos are crazy eclectic because I enjoy loads of different subjects. But ultimately the videos I tend to watch more than others are those that can teach me something. AKA educational videos.

More specifically, math and science videos.

I have watched hundreds upon hundreds of such videos. So when I tell you that I have now found my favorite science video that I've yet seen, I am not speaking from lack of data.

It's an absolutely brilliant video about "element hunting" and "the man who tried to fake an element." Not only is is just wildly entertaining (both in the way it is told and the way it is graphically represented), but it is mind-bogglingly fascinating. On top of that, it miraculously is fairly easy to follow for non-scientists despite tackling a rather complex chain of events.

And it's a year old!

I'm posting it here. It's well worth your time. And you're welcome...

Now, isn't that just fantastic?

As I type this, I'm in the process of watching it a second time immediately after having finished watching it the first time.

What's so utterly bizarre is that YouTube shows me that I've seen two of BobbyBroccoli's previous videos. I remember watching both of them, liked them, and have no earthly idea why I didn't subscribe immediately after watching. It's only thanks to the YouTube algorithm that I happened upon his channel again. Which only goes to show... the algorithm isn't always bad.

At least this time I had the sense to subscribe.

UPDATE: Yeah... I may not get any sleep tonight. This guy makes exceptional videos. Like these, which breaks open a huge scandal in a beautifully visual way...


Yikes. I mean... this is the very definition of a train wreck that you can't look away from.

   

Second Helping of Broccoli

Posted on Tuesday, October 24th, 2023

Dave!Yeah, there's no post today.

Look, I am not going to candy-coat this... after "discovering" BobbyBroccoli, all my non-work time has been watching every single video he's produced. And I remain completely blown away.

BobbyBroccoli's channel is six years of video games. Then, three years ago, something changed. All of a sudden Broccoli (Kavan S) switched the focus of his channel to scientific scandals. And this is when things get very, very interesting. His first video in this new direction is actually a video in three parts about Jan Hendrik Schön. If you are a science geek, it's riveting. Mostly because he doesn't just go "Hey, there's this science guy and his lies almost got him a Nobel Prize." Oh no. He goes into glorious detail explaining how everything happened.

PART ONE: The Rise of Jan Hendrick Schön.
PART TWO: The Lies of to Jan Hendrick Schön.
PART THREE: The Demise of to Jan Hendrick Schön.

Last year BobbyBroccoli ran through a series on Ammerica's Missing Collider. As with everything else, it's an absolutely fascinating deep dive into the subject which spans three presidencies...

PART ONE: Ronald Reagan & the Biggest Failure in Physics.
PART TWO: George Bush Vomited & Set Physics Back by a Decade.
PART THREE: Bill Clinton & the Day Physics Died.

That mostly gets you caught up to what I posted yesterday. There's a few other videos, including this fascinating look at The Image You Can't Submit to Journals Anymore...

Assuming I don't fall down another YouTube rabbit hole, I'm guessing things will go back to whatever passes for "normal" here at Blogography.

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Humane in the Face of AI

Posted on Friday, November 10th, 2023

Dave!Between my iPhone and my Apple Watch, I'm good.

That's not to say that I'm against adopting new and exciting "wearable" technology as it arrives... it's just that it would have to be something incredibly useful or amazing for me to hop on the early-adopter bandwagon.

Today Humane, a company creating AI tech, is announcing more details of their "Humane AI Pin" that they demoed in a TedTalk six months ago. Including the price, which clocks in at a whopping $699 (plus a required $24 per month for a cellular contract via T-Mobile).

I fully admit that it's an interesting trinket. With some caveats...

UPDATE - VIDEO REMOVED FROM YOUTUBE BY HUMANE: Let's say that you work hard to create a ten minute joyless video announcing your product launch. What's the best possible thing that could happen? I'll tell you what... people copy and repost your video so it goes viral. There's no better advetising because it's exponential but costs no additional money. Except Humane has started issuing take-down notices with copyright strikes against people reposting it. Apparently the launch video had some pretty serious factual errors involving how much protein is in a handful of almonds and where is the best place to see the upcoming eclipse. So Humane is working hard to remove the evidence, I guess.

A handful of almonds.

Wrong eclipse information.

The one thing they demoed that was its "killer feature" was live translation using your own voice and inflection. Alas, they had to remove the whole video, so that's gone too...

Live translation demo.

And about those caveats...

  • I question the legibility of a "laser screen" that's projected on your hand. First of all... how does it focus? Second of all... the wrinkles and folds of the human hand hardly seem like the best device for projection. The central part is large enough to be readable, but I have no idea what's written around that. If anything. Maybe it's decorative?
  • I rarely use the voice interface on my iPhone or Apple Watch... and even then it's when I'm not in public. I'm not going to start talking to them while I'm out in public, disrupting the peace. It would be hypocritical given the disdain I have for people who take calls on speakerphone in public.
  • They put a lot of effort in talking about privacy. But if your interaction is all 98% talking out loud and listening out loud, how private can it be? Absolutely everybody will be in your business who's within earshot.
  • Despite the fact that the "Battery Booster" is on the back side of whatever cloth the pin is hanging off of, it's only making the thing all the more heavy. I'd have to try it for myself, of course, but it seems like a rather large and clunky device to hang off my T-shirt.
  • I'm on T-Mobile, which is the Humane service provider. And despite what their ads tell you, their quality os pretty much shit. In rural areas, like my home, I bounce between two and three bars (it is 5G-UC, not that it makes my calls stranger or my data faster). In big cities, I have other problems. Possibly from the network being overloaded? No idea. All I do know is that my cell service was better under AT&T... and much better under Verizon. To have something which is entirely reliant on "The Cloud" as connected by T-Mobile seems dicey. Feels like there's going to be some serious lag waiting for actions to be performed.
  • I didn't buy an Apple Watch with cellular service because my iPhone is always with me and the non-cellular version can sponge off my iPhone's cellular connection seamlessly. It seems really weird that the AI Pin can't do that as well. You must buy a $24 a month cellular plan, even if you've always got a phone on you.
  • SEVEN HUNDRED DOLLARS?!? I know that the R&D for this thing must have been pricey, but there's no screen, limited interactivity, and very limited uses. When I compare it to something even more outrageously-priced, like the $3,500 AppleVision Pro, at least I can see where Apple spent the money. This little box though? Look, I fully understand that Humane has nowhere to go but up, and the device will only improve as time goes on, but $700 seems a hugely expensive price to pay for it given its awkward nature and limited application.

I will watch the progression of Humane's little gadget with interest. But I won't be dropping $700 to buy the first one. Maybe they'll be able to prove its necessity in the future. Or maybe the price will drop low enough that it will be a fun thing to play with for the price.

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Bullet Sunday 830

Posted on Sunday, November 12th, 2023

Dave!Officially entering the holiday season, not that it'll keep me away... because an all new Bullet Sunday starts... now...

   
• This is EARTH! sigh. I love love love the YouTube channel Kurzgesagt. They tackle fascination topics in a highly educational and entertaining way. And now there's this absolutely brilliant new video. They have condensed the 4.5 billion year history of planet earth in exactly one hour. And guess when humans appear in that hour? Helpful hint... don't blink...

It's had it running last night on the television while I was working. I found myself looking up to watch more often than I expected.

   
• POIROT! Here's the thing. I thought the Albert Finney original Murder on the Orient Express was better than the Kenneth Branagh remake. I thought the Peter Ustinov original Death on the Nile was VASTLY superior to the Kenneth Branagh remake (indeed, it's one of my favorite films). But I still enjoyed Branagh's take on Poirot, so I just watched A Haunting in Venice. This one I liked a lot...

My mom read all the Agatha Christie books, so I ended up reading all of them as well. I don't remember the book Hallowe'en Party much... but I do remember not thinking much of the BBC adaptation, feeling they were scraping the bottom of the barrel with this one. The Branagh version wisely makes a very loose adaptation with A Haunting in Venice and the movie is far better because of it. I really hope we get a fourth film where they try something unique... and adapt it to be as interesting as this one.

   
• Reacher Deux! The second season of Reacher cannot get here fast enough. The first season was one of the best things to happen to my television last year...

I haven't read all the Jack Reacher novels, but I've read enough that it's shocking how much more faithful the Amazon Prime series is to the Tom Cruise movies (though, I liked those also, if I'm being honest).

   
• Falling! I watched the occasional episode of The Fall Guy but was never so much into the show that I gave a thought to a movie adaptation. Until I saw it was starring Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt!

This movie looks entertaining as hell.

   
• DAFUQ? I had absolutely no idea (here's a link in case TikTok is being a dick)...

@howardsternshow Barbra Streisand on Being the Inspiration for Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” #howardstern #SternShow #thehowardsternshow #howardsternshow #fyp #BarbraStreisand #JamesBrolin #Aerosmith @AerosmithOfficial @Howard Stern ♬ original sound - The Howard Stern Show

I wonder if James Brolin gets any bank off that song?

   
• DAK! All throughout high school I was addicted to the DAK catalog which had really good deals on electronics, computers, and media. It was kinda a weird concept... the owner (Drew Alan Kaplan) hunted down products which were made wrong or had some cosmetic detail that was off or whatever, bought the entire lot, then offered them at a consumer-direct discount price. I couldn't afford to buy lots of stuff... I was in high school... but I obsessed over every new catalog that arrived. And now those catalogs have been scanned and archived by Cabel Sasser on his site...

DAK Catalog Page

This one is my favorite... turn your tiny blurry television into a bigger blurry television with this fresnel lens!

DAK Catalog Page

   
• Pander! I finally remembered to watch the new South Park special on Paramount+... Into the Panderverse... and it's pretty epic. I am 1000% onbord for inclusivity and diversity in entertainment. It keeps things fresh and interesting, because how many times do we want to see the same old shit with straight white people? But the problem is that remaking the same old shit and substituting non-straight-white-people for straight white people is a stupid, lazy way of creating inclusivity and diversity. It completely ignores the lived experience of non-straight-white-people by copy-pasting them into a straight-white experience, and the movie/television studios need to do better than that. Because it's getting boring as hell.

Plus it's got Kathleen Kennedy and her massive ego in it! Though it's fake Kathleen Kennedy, so any hopes of her taking time out from completely fucking up LucasFilm/Disney were shortlived. Unfortunately, there it a downside to this episode. Gino Carano is using it to extend her 15 minutes.

   
Enjoy whatever remains of your Sunday, everybody.

   

AI Generated YouTube Bullshit

Posted on Tuesday, November 14th, 2023

Dave!UPDATE: Well that was fast... YouTube cracks down on synthetic media with AI disclosure requirement. I mean, this literally means nothing unless it gets enforced, and the idea that YouTube will "crack down" hard enough to make the problem go away would cut into their ad revenue, so I'll believe it works when I see it.

As more and more streaming services keep raising prices while reducing content, I cut more and more streaming services. The one streaming source that is in no danger of being cut anytime soon though? Youtube Premium. Simply because the amount of ads they inundate people with is so horrific that I cannot sit through them without having an embolism. But, unlike Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, and the rest, YouTube is always stacking up more content. There's so much content that I couldn't hope to sit through even a fraction of it (not that I'd want to).

But all is not perfect in YouTube Land.

One of the genre's I cannot get enough of is science videos. I watch an insanely huge amount of science-based content.

But lately I've been noticing a shitload of shitty fucking science content being pushed my way. Most of it AI-generated. I'll be enjoying a great science video. It will end. And all of a sudden I get a video with a robotic AI-generated voice, showing the same AI-generated visuals over and over, while reading from a bad AI-generated script, then pushed out with an AI-generated thumbnail.

It's so bad that I ended up searching Google to find out what the fuck was happening.

Ironically (or not) one of the first links returned was a YouTube video that sums it up very well...

Now, I'm just going to put this out there: If YouTube doesn't do something about this crap... quickly... they could end up fucking themselves out of a lot of cash. From people like me who have absolutely zero desire to be exposed to souless content that isn't properly researched or fact-checked by actual people who know how to do that.

A good first step would be for YouTube to require that all AI-generated videos be flagged as such. And easily identified as such. And any video not properly declared as AI-generated can be reported with the account demonetized.

A good second step would be for YouTube to allow its users to set a preference to have AI-generated videos not be displayed. I would check that box in a second, because I have no desire what-so-ever to watch this shit.

A great third step would be to ban the content entirely, but it's not like YouTube would ever ban something that brings them money so I'm not holding my breath.

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Deserving Brand Loyalty

Posted on Friday, November 17th, 2023

Dave!Yesterday Sonos announced a patch which will (supposedly) fix the heinous POP OF DEATH problem that Sonos ARC soundbar customers have been enduring for years. As you may remember, I talked about this a while back... where playing Dolby Atmos content via either an AppleTV 4K or an Xbox will cause a loud POP! and kill your soundbar until you reset it. The only option you have to prevent it is to turn off Atmos. I have both of those devices, and bought the ARC soundbar specifically to play Dolby Atmos content. Then I went ahead and bought two Era 300 speakers for the rear channels in the hopes that Atmos would route through them and allow me to turn it back on. NOPE! It's all or nothing.

Needless to say, I sure hope that this patch actually works. Otherwise I've spent a hell of a lot of money for nothing.

I have been a massive Sonos fan for a very long time. Sure I've has occasional connectivity problems which Sonos Support always blamed on my network (despite my ditching two sets of routers and replacing them with a very expensive Amplifi Alien mesh network), but it hasn't dimmed my enthusiasm for their products. The sound is exceptional and the capabilities are fantastic. I still have occasional connectivity problems to this day, though I reject completely the idea that it's my network's fault. My network is rock solid... and far exceeds what's required to stream sound. Usually going in and manually changing the channel that Sonos is using is enough to fix things up. Until the next time.

But then the POP OF DEATH happened, and I've been "FUCK SONOS!" ever since.

Every time they announced layoffs I was all "GOOD! YOU DESERVE TO FAIL!"... while feeling sorry for the employees who were collateral damage because their fucking management wouldn't allocate the resources required to solve a huge fucking problem that caused their products to fail for the very purpose they were designed. Remember... this problem has been going on for years!

I had it in my head that I would never buy another Sonos product ever again because this was so absurdly fucking shitty.

So when Sonos announced today that they are cutting even more jobs and focusing on developing headphones, I am not swayed. Why would I buy some expensive headphones that could ship with a massive defect that takes the company YEARS to fix? No thanks. I'll continue to buy Apple or Bose headphones, because I'm done with Sonos.

Or am I?

Honestly I don't know.

I'd sure like to think so. But maybe they will come out with something so awesome and revolutionary that I'd be willing to give them a chance if the price is right.

Regardless, Sonos is a cautionary tale of how a beloved brand can trash their own reputation and flush customer good will down the toilet. If a problem comes to your attention, you'd better fucking drop what you're doing and fix it... quickly... because you're never the only game in town, and brand loyalty only goes so far.

UPDATE: Color me fucking shocked...

Fourth time was a charm... well, that and two reboots (unplugging and plugging back in again). I watched a movie on my AppleTV 4K and no POP OF DEATH, so far. So that's refreshing.

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CYBERRRRRR!

Posted on Friday, December 1st, 2023

Dave!Oooh look! It's officially Cybertruck Day!

Which is to say that Tesla is finally... slowly... releasing Cybertrucks to those who had the massive amount of money needed to buy one. I think ten people got their's today.

But, more importantly, today is the day that the journalistic embargo on reviews ends, so everybody and their dog is rushing to publish their hot takes on the future of automobiles. But don't worry, I'm going to save you from having to wade through all of that by providing a link to the only tech reviewer that I consider to be essential, Marques Brownlee...

Now, I'm of the opinion that this is one butt-ugly vehicle and I wouldn't buy one... and certainly wouldn't pay $60,000 (minimum!) to own one. But I'll be the first to admit that it has some truly cool tech in it. Tech that I hope eventually trickles down to cars for the rest of us.

Or, if somebody wants to buy me one, that would work too.

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Task Rabbit (R1)

Posted on Thursday, January 11th, 2024

Dave!CES (Consumer Electronics Show) is in full swing, and for the new stuff it's pretty much more of the same. 75% pie-in-the-sky stuff that will either never be released, be released but is prohibitively expensive, or is released and doesn't even remotely live up to the hype they built. The remaining 25% is stuff that's all grey area. And I never quite know what to make of it.

By far the most fascinating thing to me this year is the Rabbit, which is a kind of magical AI box. And, unlike the utterly baffling Humane AI Pin which makes zero sense to me... this one kinda does. Maybe?

Here's their keynote if you want to watch it. If you don't, I'm talking about it below.

It's cute and capable (in a demo) and it's orange-red! AND NO SUBSCRIPTION? Nifty!

Now, I'm just going to point out the huge, huge elephant in the room... Apple, Google, and others have been very clear that they are working to update their digital assistants with AI smarts. And the minute... nay, the second... that Apple unleashes their AI model on Siri, well... what the heck are you going to do if you bought a $200 Rabit device? Still carry two devices around? Or ditch the Rabbit and use the device you already carry around everywhere that can do the same thing?

Let's face it. This is just another phone-like device that doesn't have an actual phone in it.

This entire company is just one feature away from being bought out by Apple or Google or Amazon or whatever.

But anyway...

Setting aside the imminent obsolescence of Rabbit, I have a number of questions about how this AI is going to actually work in context of Real Life. I use to travel a lot. Like a lot a lot. So I admit the trip planning alone is a compelling feature. But what are you actually getting? Does it know your seat preference for the plane ticket? What about food preferences, are they taken into account? When it comes to the hotel, is it comparing features as well as price?

Maybe if the AI is very smart, it would be able to look through all my old email confirmations to understand what I typically like and how much I typically spend and such, but it seems like there's a lot of access it would need to your life, which your phone already has. Rabbit would have to get to all that some how, I'm guessing.

And so... yeah. Rabbit is cute. But I anticipate Apple will add all of these capabilities to Siri on my iPhone within a year, so I'll just be waiting it out.

   

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