In the war for smart assistant domination... Amazon Alexa vs. Apple Siri vs. Google Google, I'm firmly in the Alexa camp. I was so impressed with what Amazon had done that I built my entire "smart home" around devices which were compatible with Alexa. And it's been mostly glorious. I have Alexa-enabled SONOS speakers everywhere and can tell Alexa to control anything and everything just by talking to her in any room in the house.
Then Apple dropped Siri and I figured that it was all over. As a massive fanboy of Apple's computers and smart devices, switching over to Siri was inevitable.
Or was it?
Siri wasn't even a fraction as capable as Alexa was at the time. Siri relied on "HomeKit" to control your home, and it was so utterly bad that I dubbed it "HomeShit" and gave up. I tried once again to get Siri and HomeKit working for me when I bought a HomePod speaker, but that was such an epic disaster that I returned the speaker and gave up a second time.
Google's smart assistant which, from what I can tell, is also named "Google" was never on my radar. I had a Google WiFi router mesh network that left me cold when Google dumped IFTTT. The only smart devices I have are Nest cameras which Google bought out. But I was fine using my phone and MacBook Pro to interact with the cameras and nothing further was required, so getting into the Google ecosystem wasn't in the cards. The only thing I didn't like about this was that the Nest Cam integration with Alexa is awful, and telling Alexa to display a camera feed on my Alexa Fire TV rarely worked.
Enter the Google Nest Hub Digital Photo Frame which was on sale for $50. Down from its regular price of $90. I don't really have $50 to kick around, but I ended up taking it out of my Black Friday money just to have a look. If I hated it, I could always return the thing.
Yeah, this ain't being returned.
My only regret in buying it was that I didn't buy two of them.
The Google Nest Hub Digital Photo Frame is designed to display photos which means the screen is of pretty good quality. And while it's nice to see photo memories from my Google Photos account flash by, but that's not why I bought it.
"Hey Google! Show me the front yard."
Now instead of scrambling for my phone whenever I get an alert, I can just glance over at the photo frame and Google will display the camera feed I asked for. Immediately.
That alone would have been worth the $50. But it gets better. Google Assistant is faster and more accurate than Alexa. I have thrown every ridiculous command I can think of at Google, and it simply does not falter. Compare that to Alexa, which has been getting increasingly finicky. I honestly don't think that Google misunderstood a command or query in the near-two weeks I've been using it. The difference is so nice that I'm seriously thinking about looking into how to bridge my INSTEON smart home devices to Google, convert all my SONOS speakers to Google Assistant, and train myself to say "Hey Google" instead of "Alexa."
The problem is my music.
I go with Amazon Music Unlimited which is ridiculouly easy to control with Alexa. Needless to say, Google doesn't play well with Amazon because the two companies hate each other. Which means I would have to switch to Apple Music, Spotify, Pandora, or something. Since Amazon Music Unlimited is just $6.60 a month because I have a Prime membership, I don't know that it makes economic sense to switch. Apple Music, for example, is $3.40 more a month. In which case I'd probably just buy Apple One to keep AppleTV+ when my free subscription ends in February (gotta have my Ted Lasso!) which also gets me Apple Arcade and a bump in iCloud storage.
So I dunno. Something to ponder in March, I guess? Or in May when my Amazon Music Unlimited runs out.
All I do know is that I wish I had a Google Nest Hub Digital Photo Frame on my bedside table. And in my kitchen. Maybe next Black Friday when they go on sale again?
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...
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
Most times I am happy that the nitty-gritty details of how electronics work are hidden from me. All I want is for my stuff to "just work" and do what I need it to do with as little drama as possible.
This is a double-edged sword, however.
Apple is famous for wrapping up complex tech into an easy-to use wrapper. This is mostly okay... except when they start taking away needed features in the name of "simplification." In cases like this, just let the user decide whether they want the feature active or not. Because Apple's idea of what's best may not be the same as their customers.
Right now I am fighting this same issue with my Google WiFi mesh router/node system...
While not an overly powerful or fast setup, it's worked just fine for me. My entire home and outdoor space has excellent coverage, which has been nice for my cloud cameras and such. If you just want basic Wifi and need it to extend over a large area, it's a decent pick.
Problem is that the app behind it is laughably inadequate.
It lacks so many basic functions that using the label "router" on it feels way generous.
Want to grant traffic priority to a device? Like your AppleTV so it doesn't run into buffering problems? You can do that... FOR A LIMITED TIME PERIOD! There's no way to permanently give a device "priority status." You have to go into the app and set it up EVERY TIME YOU NEED IT. This is asinine. At the very least you should have the option to tell it not to expire until you turn it off!
And then there's the anemic connected devices display. Can't be sorted by device name, IP address, MAC address, or anything else (bandwith usage is the only metric used to order the list). Can't be searched. Can't be exported. Can't be flagged. Can't be throttled. Can't be ordered. Can't be scheduled. Can't be grouped. You can't even have it notify you when a new device is connected. I don't know why they even bother to allow you to look at a list of connected devices since the whole fiasco is functionally useless.
While having just the bare minimum in features would be nice... what Google WiFi really needs is some smarts. What I want is for my cameras to be automatically prioritized when I'm away... and my AppleTV to be prioritized when I'm home. Since Google Wifi already gets this information the second my iPhone comes within range, why is it so fucking difficult to have this happen? It's such an obvious feature that the fact you can't do this is more than a little silly. You can kludge it together with IFTTT... kinda... but prioritization only lasts 2 hours, so that's useless too.
Ultimately, Google WiFi just isn't cutting it. I thought that their Nest WiFi replacement might be the answer, but it uses the same shitty app and doesn't even have WiFi 6 despite just now being released!
Guess this will be something to research come the new year. I don't even want to think about it when I've got a list of a million other things waiting to be done.
I have two camera systems for my home. One of them is a system of hidden cameras which records locally and has a battery backup. If somebody cuts my power or cuts the internet or whatever, then I will still have then on camera. The cameras automatically disengage when anybody successfully connects to my internet. So if I'm home (or a guest uses my WiFi internet) they go offline. The other system is my NestCams, which are "cloud-based." Back when I bought them, they were the best-quality cameras I tested. They were also the easiest to set up and maintain. Eventually I came to hate Nest because their billing system is shady and shitty, but the cameras are still pretty great. There are occasional hiccups with accessing them via the pricey "Nest Aware" service, but by-and-large they are fine.
Back in 2014 Google bought out Nest.
At first I was excited because I thought maybe... just maybe... the shitty billing system that Nest has in place would be jettisoned for something that actually works, actually lets you know how much you're being billed, and actually maintains a history that bears some sense of accuracy. Nest had none of those things.
But then today the wheels came off of any excitement I might have had.
I got an email from Google saying that "Nest" is now "Google Nest" and they are making some fairly radical changes to how they run things...
Google's reasoning behind this is to make Nest products more secure.
This is complete and total fucking bullshit.
And even if it weren't, it should still be my choice as to how I connect my shit.
Google is making it so other stuff no longer works with their Nest shit because they want you to replace all your other shit with Google shit. As an example (from what I can tell) this means no more Alexa. If you want to voice control your Nest shit, you have to dump Alexa and buy Google Home Hubs instead.
So, basically, the entire reason I bought my NestCams and Nest Protect smoke detectors is gone. No more getting FireTV to display my camera feeds on my television. And no more using IFTTT so I can't interface my cameras and smoke detectors with all my other home automation devices. Which is the entire fucking point of building a SmartHome!
What scares the shit out of me is if Google decides that their WiFi Mesh Network Hubs will no longer allow integration with IFTTT. That's the backbone to my entire system. I would lose at least half of my home automation functionality if they were to do that. There would be no option for me but to replace it with something entirely different.
And it gets worse.
Google is also changing basic functionality of the products. NestCams have a light that glows when somebody is recording or observing the cameras. I've turned this off, because if there's somebody who has broken into my home, I don't want to draw attention to the cameras... the longer a burglar is unaware they are being recorded, the more footage I have for the police. But now Google is no longer going to allow you to do this. The light will be glowing whether you want it to or not... all in the name of my "privacy." Well fuck you, Google. The entire reason I bought these cameras is for HOME SECURITY. If you lessen their effectiveness at doing the one job I bought them for, then you're destroying their whole reason for them even being here.
So now I guess that I hope for a class action lawsuit so I can get my money back and buy an entirely different camera system that works the way I want it to... the way it worked when I bought it... instead of the way Google wants it to work.
First of all...
I wish I could say that I never doubted... but there were definitely some moments! That third game? EIGHTEEN INNINGS loss to The Dodgers? Brutal. And I watched the entire thing from beginning to end while holding my breath. Last night was easier, but I was still a bit anxious all the way through. This is baseball, after all.
Blogography has never been a money-making endeavor. Even when I sold stuff it was always at-cost, which usually meant I lost money in the end. Nope, this is just a place to write my thoughts of the day and I never wanted to clutter it up with ads and other crap.
But that hasn't stopped people from trying to advertise here.
For a while there, I had a Google Page Rank of 7 out of 10. This is about as good as it can possibly get for a personal blog (8 and higher means you're a massively popular site like Apple or YouTube). Despite saying that I don't want ads unless you're willing to pay an obscene amount of money on my About Page, I was getting advertising requests several times a week. Vitamin supplements, clothing, vacation packages, makeup, cameras... even other blogs. I very nearly buckled when I got an offer of $1800 for six months... but it was for a sketchy online gambling site, so I declined.
Over the years my Google traffic has remained fairly good, but my Page Rank has plummeted to 5. When I read up on what this means, I found that it's because I am not using SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and am not actively building link-backs. Oh well. The benefit of a lower rank means that people stopped bothering me for ads, so there was a silver lining to all of it.
Then, as the internet turned into a social media machine instead of being blog-driven, Google Page Rank fell out of favor with advertisers. Sure it's still kinda a big deal if you're trying to make money... Page Rank says where you'll end up in a Google search, after all. But since social media is so huge and bypasses Google's ranking system, it's not the indicator of a website's draw power (especially blogs) like it used to be.
This little blog has been around for a very long time, is updated constantly, has a massive amount of content, and has hugely diverse number of topics (seriously, is there anything I won't write about?). On top of that, it currently has 105,483 backlinks and 1,428 referring domains. Which is nothing to sneeze at. Which is why I still occasionally get advertising offers. Like this one, which was waiting for me when I checked my email this morning...
Another sketchy gambling site, I'm sure.
Maybe... maybe... I would run an ad luring people to lose all their money if I were offered $10,000 annually. Maybe even $5,000 if I get another vet bill (STAY HEALTHY, JAKE!). But I'm not quite that desperate... yet.
Maybe I should be?
I dunno. If you ever see an ad on my blog, I haven't necessarily sold out or given up. It's just that I need the cash and my body ain't pulling on the street corner like it used to.
Most years I do a round-up of my favorite April Fools jokes running online.
This year everybody was eclipsed by the greatest prank of them all... Pac Man Mode on Google Maps! Now you can play Pac Man next to your house or on famous streets around the world!
Like Times Square...
Heaven only knows how long this will last, so get it while you can.
UPDATE: Though, I have to say, this was pretty darn amazing too...
LOVE YOU, BOB BARKER!
Any time I need a reason to keep blogging when most everybody else has quit, all I have to do is look at my visitor stats. For reasons completely unknown, people keep reading. Yes, the death of Google Reader had a big impact on my visitor counts... but the number of "unique visitors" stopping by keeps inching upward.
In short? Lot's of people visit here.
The bulk of my traffic has always come from Google searches but, in the past, those people never stuck around much. They'd get what they came for and move on. Now-a-days, however, a surprising number of people do stick around and keep reading. I'm not exactly sure why. Most of the time it's via tag links. Somebody arrives because a search led them here, they like (or hate?) what I have to say, then click through so they can read more posts on the same topic. And those topics can generally be ranked into a "Top 5" like this...
The first four categories are not that shocking. They encompass 75% of what I blog about (the remainder being day-to-day "DaveLife" crap).
The last one, however, is a bit surprising because I don't often write about politics. And yet, when I do, it usually ends up getting linked to from... somewhere... whether it's somebody agreeing or disagreeing. Writing about Rick "Piece of Shit" Santorum, for example, always result in linkbait because I'm so passionate about loathing the asshole, and people who also loathe him just love to share. That being said, posts that Conservatives could latch onto are the ones that seem to get the most attention. For example...
All the Right Wing love is nice, but I don't think I'll be signing up for the Tea Party just yet.
Guess I should send out a big "thank you" to Google for keeping people reading my bullshit.
Though I suppose having nearly 12 years of content to search through plays a part as well. When you've been blogging as long as I have, you've pretty much discussed just about everything there is.
Well, except Taylor Lautner. There are some topics beneath even me.
I really hate having to leave the Netherlands.
Almost as much as I hate stupid "April Fools Day" pranks that get unleashed everywhere. And since there's always somebody who believes people's outrageous shit, the fools-pranking will never end.
At least Google puts some effort into their pranks each year...
The really cool thing about this year's gag is that this is something that will probably actually happen one day. It's only a matter of time before augmented reality games are this good.
The Virgin America & Nest prank was pretty funny too...
And since YouTube is where most of the pranks live, they decided to get in on the act themselves...
But my favorite? SelfieBot!
And now I guess it's time to climb in a metal tube for ten hours. Then drive in a car for two-and-a-half hours. Then go to the clinic for my smashed ribs for an hour.
Ha! April Fools! You can never get out of the walk-in clinic in under five hours!
See you across the pond.
Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars... because Bullet Sunday starts now...
• Disaster. First a typhoon in The Philippines, now tornadoes in the USA Midwest outside Peoria. Again, my heart goes out to everybody affected by these tragic events.
• Cornetto. After thuroughly enjoying the first two movies of the "Cornetto Trilogy" (Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz) I was really looking forward to seeing the final film of the trilogy, The World's End. And I wasn't disappointed. It may very well be the best of the lot...
Alcoholic loser Gary King sets out to recapture the heady days of his youth by assembling his old schoolmates for a trip back to the town they grew up in. There he wants to complete "The Golden Mile," which means drinking a pint at all twelve pubs in the town. His mates reluctantly agree and everything is going fine... until they discover that the town has been taken over by space robots. Hilarity ensues. What really surprised me with the film is how great the visual effects were. Not once was I taken out of the story by some random shot where the effects were off. Everything was seamless, which was a pleasant surprise. In the end, the movie was almost too good... it left me wanting a fourth movie in the Cornetto Trilogy.
• Frank. I wasn't terribly impressed with the Warren Ellis comic Red when it debuted back in 2003. So imagine my surprise when I ended up really enjoying the movie that was inspired by it starring Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, and Morgan Freeman. It was a smart, funny, action-packed film with an impeccable cast and a really good script. Willis plays Retired Extremely Dangerous ex-black-ops CIA agent Frank Moses. One day somebody decides they want him dead. Hilarity ensues. Three years later, and here comes Red 2...
It's pretty much more of the same... but bogged down by some unnecessary complications and an astounding body count that makes it less fun than the original. And yet, it's still a really good film and I enjoyed it quite a bit. The movie picks up where the first left off, as Frank Moses is trying to lead a normal life with girlfriend Sarah. Unfortunately for them, Frank is framed as a participant in a secret op called "Nightshade." Because of this, a lot of people want him dead. Hilarity ensues. Kinda. It's not as funny as the first one. But Anthony Hopkins and Catherine Zeta-Jones have joined up this time around, and that counts for something (but it's still Mirren and Malkovich that steal the show). If you liked the first one, the sequel is worth checking out on video.
• Gondola. Venice is one of those cities that really leaves an impression. There's simply no confusing it with any other city on earth, and exploring it has been a highlight of my travels. Which is why I was very happy to learn that Google has gone above and beyond their "Street View" technology to create "Canal View" for the floating city of Venice...
So now, thanks to Google Maps, not only can I walk the crazy maze-like route from the Rialto Bridge to the hotel I usually stay at... I can also explore the city as seen from the canals. It's pretty nifty, and I don't even have to leave the comfort of my own home... or put on pants. If you want to have a little web holiday in Venice, Google has an info hub that's a good place to start.
• Coin! Ever since I started carrying a wallet again, I've been looking for ways to make it slimmer. But no matter which brand I buy and how thin the wallet may be, it's the stack of cards I have to carry that thicken the thing back up again. A big part of that is the four credit/debit cards I carry. Now a company has come along with a product that may be able to help. Introducing Coin...
If you'd like to get a Coin at 50% off the $100 retail price, just follow this link they gave me and pre-order your own for $50! They aren't shipping until next summer, but it looks like they'll be worth the wait!
Annnnnnd...scene. Take care of yourself out there.
Time to pick up that mint julep... because Bullet Sunday starts now...
• Gone! For my first bullet, I'd like to thank Google for the big "fuck you" they drop tomorrow when they kill off Google Reader. It's great how you blow into town with some essential tool and dominate the entire market after killing off the competition... then abandon that market when you can't exploit it for millions of dollars. Way to be "not evil." Next up... Feed Burner?
• Gone Too! Just to show that Google doesn't have a monopoly in killing off services... Yahoo! is killing off a dozen products, including Alta Vista on July 8th, which was my go-to search engine back in the 1990's. Yahoo! says that you should now "Please visit Yahoo Search for all of your searching needs"... but my guess is that this will actually mean more search traffic for Google. Oh well. Another piece of internet history to be gone and forgotten.
• Schadenfreude! I try to be respectful of other people's beliefs and opinions... honestly I do. But the outpouring of hand-wringing over the repeal of DOMA and striking down of Prop 8 is just too delicious to ignore. Because, seriously, if you don't accept same-sex marriage, THEN DON'T MARRY SOMEBODY OF THE SAME SEX! There's really nothing more to be said on the matter, BECAUSE WHETHER OR NOT OTHER PEOPLE GET MARRIED DOESN'T AFFECT YOU! Apparently Justice Kennedy agrees, having denied an application to halt marriages in California.
The people yelling the loudest seem to be the people who make money from fighting against equality, which isn't really surprising. When you fail utterly in your job... bigoted as it may be... I suppose you have cause to be upset.
• Haunted! As a huge fan of visionary musician Trent Reznor (aka Nine Inch Nails) and visionary director David Lynch, the idea of them teaming up for a music video seems too good to be true. And now, after having seen their effort for Come Back Haunted, I know it was too good to be true. What a boring, predictable, and sadly expected video. Rather than looking like something cutting-edge and new, it reeks of all the "nihilistic" videos that were unleashed after the amazing opening credits for the movie SE7EN happened. This is made all the more sad when you consider that the song used in those opening credits was Closer... by Trent Reznor. So I just don't know. Was this meant to be some kind of homage? A parody perhaps? Some kind of commentary on all those who think intermixing shaky camera moves with disturbing images is still edgy? Lynch had a real opportunity here to take us in a new direction, and we get something that would have looked dated ten years ago. Maybe in another ten years he'll go techno-speed-nihilistic and give us a parody of the US credits from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo?
• Here! And now we're to the part of Bullet Sunday where I offer up this bit of 80's Thompson Twins genius, courtesy of Sixteen Candles, just because it's there...
They don't make teen angst movies like that anymore.
• Rest in Peace. As somebody who lives in a fire zone and has been threatened by wildfires more than once, my heart goes out to the friends and family of the "Granite Mountain Hotshots," 19 of whom perished in a horrific fire northwest of Phoenix...
UPDATE: The Free Republic has an article remembering this elite team of firefighters.
And... back to work. I think I can still get in another two or three hours before I pass out.