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Curious Jenny is Curious

Posted on December 4th, 2019

Dave!I have been working a crazy amount of hours and it's thrown my sleep schedule off.

Last night I worked until a little after 1:30am, woke up at 6:00am to answer emails and feed the cats at 7:00am. Then decided to take a nap. I figured if I could just get an hour or two I'd be rested enough to take on the rest of my day.

It was a good plan.

But one which was doomed to fail.

At 7:28am my phone starts sounding alerts from a web security camera. I figured I could ignore it since the wired cameras weren't setting off any alarms, but the alerts kept coming. So finally I took a look...

Security camera shot of my ceiling with Jenny the cat entering the frame.

Security camera shot of my ceiling with Jenny the cat looking into the camera.

Last night I set up my new Nest Outdoor Cam, but it was too dark and cold outside to install it. So I just set it down in the box and forgot about it.

Apparently that was a mistake. Curious Jenny decided to be all curious, so no sleep for me. She kept coming back to take another look at the camera and was setting off an alert every time. Which meant I ended up installing my new camera this morning instead of taking that nap.

My guess is I will be falling asleep at my desk sometime today.

But, hey... at least I don't have to install a security camera when I get home!

   

In Blackest Friday

Posted on November 29th, 2019

Dave!And... my one shopping day of the year is here! Every month I put aside $100 for clothes and "other stuff" then wait until Black Friday to buy all the clothes and "other stuff" I need. $100 a month is quite a chunk of cash to not have in my pocket, but worth it when I end up with $1200 in November that magically becomes $2400 (or more!) on Black Friday thanks to all the sales and savings.

Below I refer to "Rakuten Cash Back" in a lot. Rakuten bought out eBates and have taken over their cashback operations. It's a pretty easy way to save even more money on Black Friday (or any other day) and you can sign up to get $10 right off the bat with my referral link right here.

And now? On with my Black Friday scores...

   
AKASO DASH CAM! • Reg. $66, Paid $38 (after Amazon cash back)
My previous dash cam was $20 and has lasted for four years before falling apart and going glitchy. As I mentioned, I am afraid to drive without one given how crazy distracted drivers are, so I was hoping hoping hoping I could get a nice one on sale. I was going to buy another $20 camera, but the cheap ones force you to remove the tiny memory card every time you want the footage. With a WiFi model like this you can just connect with your iPhone and grab the video directly. Handy! Plus... GPS! Worth the additional $18.

The AKASO dash cam which is a small wedge-shaped plastic doohickey with a small screen and some buttons.

   
SHOES! • Reg. $170, Paid $128
I should have bought shoes last Black Friday, but I thought I could get one more year out of the pair I have. I'm not rough on shoes... they usually last me four or five years... so a little Shoe Goo will keep them together right? They still look great... it's just the soles that are falling apart. But back in August the soles fell complete apart. My plan was to buy a cheap pair of $20 shoes, rip the soles off, then glue them on mine. This seemed extreme. Instead I used more Shoe Goo to piece everything together. It worked surprisingly well. But I needed new shoes. I would have loved to have found the same model I had before... but of course shoe companies don't do that. I also would have loved to have spent under $100... but of course the shoes I found that I liked weren't under $100. Oh well. It's still 25% off, which is better than nothing.

My bad-ass new shoes being all black and forest green.

   
ALEXA! Reg. $99 • Paid $33 (with trade-in and Amazon cash back)
I bought a SONOS One for my bedroom. It's absolutely fantastic, and fills the room with amazing sound. Problem is, the AirPlay 2 on it is glitchy as hell, which means the audio has constant drop-outs when I'm playing content from my Apple TV. And Apple TV keeps "forgetting" that the SONOS exists, so I am having to reconnect several times a week. It's maddening, because 95% of the time I'm using it for my television. And so I decided to get an Echo (3rd Gen.) which has a 3.5mm audio line-in that I can run directly from my television. I traded in the old Amazon Echo I have in the bathroom for $25, so it ends up being a $35 spend. No, the sound won't be as good as my SONOS One, but it's gotten good reviews for its quality and will be good enough... plus I can transfer the SONOS One to my upstairs bathroom, which will be amazing for listening to music each morning while I shower and get ready.

An Amazon Echo cylidner plus a cutaway view showing the speaker array inside.

   
iTUNES! GIFT CARD • Reg. $100, Paid $70 (with Rakuten Sign-up Bonus)
As is my custom every year, I buy a $100 iTunes gift card at 20% off to cover the Marvel movies and sale movies I buy each year. I joined Rakuten and they gave me $10 cash back for my first purchase, so this year it was an especially sweet 30% off!

   
OUTDOOR NEST CAM! • Reg. $199, Paid $159
I have two camera systems. A wired system with local recording that has a battery backup and will run even with no power or internet... and a Nest cloud system which is constantly uploading footage to the internet. The Nest cameras are fantastic, but I was ready to ditch them all because the per-camera cloud service cost was absurdly expensive. But they made an announcement a while back that this would be changing to a much cheaper "bulk plan" where all cameras would be covered for one price. Given this, I decided to keep all my Nest cameras and replace a failed outdoor camera with another Nest. But not the new "Nest Cam IQ" which has the stupidest mounting requirements (DRILL A HOLE THROUGH YOUR HOUSE!), I got the original Nest Cam Outdoor. I budgeted to get it for $129, but the savings ended up being less steep than I had hoped.

The Nest Outdoor Cam which is a sexy white thing with a lens on it... and a butterfly on top.

   
HELLO! • Reg. $229, Paid $149
The first smart doorbell I had was the original "Ring" model. It was huge, but it worked well. Then Ring sent me an offer I couldn't refuse... a 4th generation smaller "Ring Pro" model upgrade for a fraction of the retail price. Sadly, it has never worked as well. But an even bigger problem with Ring is that it is SO slow. By the time they notify you that somebody has rang your doorbell, they've long gone. And trying to review the cloud footage is futile because it takes forever for it to upload and be available. Since my Nest cloud cameras are always available instantly and very quick to notify, I've wanted to get a Nest Hello doorbell replacement. Now that Google Nest is having a bulk deal on cloud services for multiple devices come 2020, this was a no-brainer.

The Nest Hello Smart Doorbell... looks like a small device with a button at the bottom and a camera lens at top.

   
PRESSURE COOKER! • Reg. $120, Paid $35 (after Rakuten cash back)
I already mentioned this one earlier this week. Thanks to a goof by a website (they switched the sale prices of the 6-quart and 8-quart for half-a-day) I finally got an Instant Pot (or, to be more accurate, an Instant Pot knock-off) for $35. SCORE! I bought this as a flawless egg cooker, but have ended up using it for lots of stuff. Not something I had planned on buying (or had budgeted for) but I was happy to find it.

My Best Buy Pressure Cooker Instant Pot Knock-Off.

   
UNDERWEAR! • Reg. $102, Paid $46 (after Rakuten cash back)
Half of my skivvies are literally falling apart. But I keep wearing them and repairing them because I need enough that I can do full loads of laundry. Fortunately, Old Navy had an EVERYTHING IS 50% OFF SALE plus free shipping on orders of $50 or more. I was able to get 10 pair of quality underwear, some socks, and a couple pair of touch-screen-friendly gloves for $51. Old Navy tends to hold up pretty good, so that was money well-spent. Especially since I earned $40 in SuperCash I can spend on more Old Navy, plus $5 cash-back from Rakuten, which means I am essentially getting all this for $6?!? (assuming I spend the $40).

Some cool Banana Republic underwear and socks!

   
CLOTHES! • Reg. $947, Paid $367 (after Rakuten cash back)
My favorite jeans, hands down, are Banana Republic slim-fit. They are comfortable, look good, and (most importantly) they last forever. Seriously, I have jeans from four years ago that look new. Unfortunately, my American Eagle jeans do not hold up as well and are needing to be replaced. I took Banana Republic up on their 50% off Black Friday offer and buy four pair. With the Rakuten cash back, they're knocked down to $41.25 a pair! SCORE! Then I headed over to The Gap and Banana Republic Factory for some dress shirts, T-Shirts, casuals, and gloves at 60% off off $480 plus $20-something in Rakuten cash back. Not too shabby.

Banana Republic slim-fit jeans on some guy with brown boots and a sweater shirt. And a long-sleeved poplin shirt on some other guy.

   
Grand total? $1025 spent for $2032 in merchandise. Or almost exactly 50% in savings. With tax adding $82, my total spend this year was $1107. So... woohoo! I've got $93 left!

I should keep it in the bank and roll it over for next year... but... the LEGO Jurassic World video game for Nintendo Switch is on sale for twenty bucks!

A scene from the LEGO Jurassic World video game showing LEGO characters in cars and motorcycles running from a LEGO T-Rex.

   
I guess I'll just blow the remainder on cocaine and hookers. Does anybody know where I can find cocaine and hookers for $70?

And so there it goes. I now have enough new clothes and toys to last me until next Black Friday. And until then... time to start squirreling away another $100 a month. Which never seems like much fun until today.

   

Humidity for Days

Posted on October 11th, 2019

Dave!Sometimes having a house that's smarter than you are is a real pain in the ass.

As I mentioned yesterday, my "smart home" keeps nagging me that the humidity is low, but I've been too busy to move all the tools and junk that are piled in front of the whole-home humidifier so I can turn it on. Then come the afternoon my house got even more freaked out about its precious moisture levels and was all "ZOMG! I'M AT 22% AND I SHOULD BE AT 36%! DO SOMETHING ABOUT THIS HUMIDITY ALREADY!!!" And so I moved just enough crap that I could use a stick to poke the "on" button...

Thanks to the steam that immediately started blowing through my vents, the humidity reached acceptable levels in just four hours. And now my house is happily maintaining the humidity it wants and no longer bothering me...

I left work early today to take down my DirecTV satellite dish, patch the holes, paint over the holes, cut down the flowers and trim the shrubs, clean the security cameras, disassemble the Liter-Robots for cleaning, hose out the catio, bake bread, clean the guest room, wash clothes, steam clean the cat feeding station, make a grocery list, wash out the garbage and recycle bins, dig for winter clothes I can donate, clean out my tool boxes, and gather books for the library book sale.

Instead I took down the DirecTV dish, filled the holes... then watched El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie on Netflix. Not long after, I heard that Robert Forster, who appears in El Camino, had died. He's had many notable roles but my all-time favorite is in Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown, where he's fantastic at conveying so much without even saying a word...

Amazing. And now I have to go watch that movie for the 100th time. Rest in peace, sir. You will be missed.

BUT BEFORE WE GO...

Though I would take Elizabeth Warren over President Trump (hell, I'd pick Pee-Wee Herman over President Trump)... I don't know that I would want her as President of the United States. But then I see how deftly she handles homophobic bigotry, and have to wonder if she might be the person for the job...

Kinda the perfect video to land on National Coming Out Day, isn't it?

   

Alexa, Ask Sam What Time It Is…

Posted on September 25th, 2019

Dave!With the exception of Apple Events, which I will watch live whenever I can, I generally don't care about other tech companies enough to clear my schedule and watch their press shows. Like today's "Amazon Hardware Event," which I was happy to read in summary rather than have to sit through. Unsurprisingly, it consisted of things I don't need and won't buy (with one minor exception), so at least my wallet is safe.

The one thing I will be buying is the "Samuel L. Jackson Celebrity Voice" for Alexa. And, yes, I will absolutely turn the profanity option to ON.

Sadly, you can't just switch Alexa over to Samuel L. Jackson and have his voice be the voice of Alexa permanently. You have to tell Alexa to ask Sam something. This is pretty lame, but for 99¢ I'm not going to complain too much. Having Samuel L. Jackson tell me that it's "motherfucking cold outside" is what technology was made for...

A screenshot of the Samuel L. Jackson Celebrity Voice skill for Alexa on Amazon.

There were a few announcements which were of interest to me.

The first, and by far the most important if it actually works, is "Frustration Detection" for Alexa. The idea is that Alexa will be able to tell when you're getting pissed off at her. Like when all of a sudden she's doing stupid shit after working flawlessly for years. No idea what she's going to do when I'm raging... hopefully stop being an idiot... because that would be incredibly helpful. As an example, here's a typical conversation...

DAVE: "Alexa, Turn off bedroom light."
ALEXA: "I cannot find a device named bedroom lights. Which device do you mean?"
DAVE: "LIGHT NOT LIGHTS YOU STUPID FUCKING PIECE OF CRAP! I VERY CLEARLY ENUNCIATED LIGHT WITH NO 'S' ON THE END SINCE YOU ALL OF A SUDDEN STARTED MAKING EVERYTHING PLURAL AND ARE TOO DAMN STUPID TO TO TRY UN-PLURALIZED NAMES BEFORE MOUTHING OFF WITH THIS BULLSHIT!"
ALEXA: "I'm sorry, but I can't do that right now."
DAVE: "ALEXA, JUST DIE YOU FUCKING WORTHLESS PILE OF FESTERING SHIT!"
ALEXA: "That's not very nice."
DAVE: "I'LL KILL YOU! I'LL KILLLLLL YOOOOOOU!"

I know I'm kinda subtle when expressing my frustration, but hopefully Alexa will be able to pick up on it anyway.

The second item of interest is Amazon's "Certified for Humans" program, which will make setting up smart devices easier. That's nice and all... but I'd really like for devices to keep functioning properly once you've got them set up. Every couple months one of my SONOS speakers will stop responding and go offline. No idea why. I always have to set everything up again, which is a huge pain in the ass. And don't get me started on device naming, which randomly works... randomly sticks... and randomly decides to be ignored. It drives me insane. What really drives me crazy is that I didn't have any of these problems for years. It's a recent thing.

And now for the hardware...

ECHO LOOP ($130). From the "nobody asked for this department" comes a massive clunky ring which allows voice-only interaction with Alexa once it's been paired to a phone...

A woman talking to a giant ring on her finger.

How is this helpful? So Alexa can read off your shopping list... what are you supposed to do, memorize all 30 items you added to it as she speaks them? Dumb. Dumb. Dumb. If you want a big wearable that's worth a shit, just get an Apple Watch.

   
ECHO FRAMES ($180). And here's a bulky pair of glasses to sit on your face! This is just beyond stupid. Google Glass had an actual visual display and failed miserably. How in the heck is a pair of glasses with voice-only interaction going to be helpful?

A woman with giant glass frames on her face pretending that they are not at all obtrusive.

Again, just get an Apple Watch. This is categorically absurd.

   
ECHO BUDS ($130). This one actually makes sense. Alexa built into a pair of headphone buds. Hopefully, unlike Apple AirPods, they will actually stay in your damn ears...

A woman with giant headphone buds sticking out of her ears.

I use Alexa to listen to Music Prime Unlimited all the time. Having her in my earbud is actually a great idea. I can play Amazon's streaming music service through my AirPods, but it's not very well integrated. Even so... I'll probably stick with Apple because I own an iPhone and Siri is incredibly handy in an earbud.

   
ECHO STUDIO ($200). Clearly meant to compete with SONOS and Apple HomePod, this is a high fidelity speaker system in a single unit. If I didn't already have SONOS everywhere in my home, perhaps I would have gone this route...

A woman looking way too happy listening to her Echo Studio speaker... like WAY WAY WAY too happy.

Taking a cue from Apple, the audio has been tuned to fill a room with "3D Stereo Sound" from a single speaker. No word if it can work as an AirPlay 2 device for my AppleTV, but somehow I doubt it. The good news is that, unlike SONOS, there's an audio in jack for 3.5mm/TOSlink which I'd rather use over AirPlay anyway. It's also Dolby Atmos certified, which is excellent. Of all the devices that Amazon released, this is the one I'd most likely buy if I had the $200 to buy one. It's actually a better "fit" for my bedroom over the SONOS One I have in there now. That audio input jack is such a smart idea.

   
ECHO 3 ($100). This is yet another upgrade to the basic Alexa device we've seen over and over. It has the design and fabric cover of the previously released Echo Plus, which means it has improved sound quality over the Echo 2 I guess. All these Echos are confusing...

The cylindrical Echo 3 with it's 360-degree fabric cover and a light ring on top.

To be honest, my original Alexa has pretty darn good sound. Definitely good enough for my morning shower music (I keep her in my bathroom). If it keeps getting better and better, this thing probably sounds pretty great. I mean, it has equalizer settings, for heaven's sake! The fact that it has a 3.5mm line in/out is just icing on the cake. If you don't need the additional bass and great mid-range sound from the Echo Studio (above), this is likely a great choice... and half the price!

   
ECHO FLEX ($25). It's a compact smart speaker plug with Alexa built in for $25! Which is a good idea, I suppose. Especially for places like the garage where you might not need awesome sound quality, but would like to have Alexa handy (I have an old Echo Dot in my garage for exactly this reason)...

An Echo Flex compact speaker shown plugged into an outlet at a work bench with tools around it..

A nice feature is that there's a USB plug on the bottom, which allows you to charge your phone or add optional accessories like a nightlight or a motion detector. In most cases, I think an Echo Dot is a better option, but this will undoubtedly fill a niche somewhere!

   
ECHO SHOW 8 ($130). I like the idea of the Alexa "Show" devices, I just don't think I would ever get much use out of them. If I want to FaceTime, I'll just grab my phone. Everything else is already on my phone or my television. I suppose it would make a nice bedside clock that can also show you your security cameras on demand, but that's a pretty expensive clock!

An Echo Flex compact speaker shown plugged into an outlet at a work bench with tools around it..

I dunno. If I had money to burn? Sure. It would be handy to have in some situations. But not enough that I'm going to go rush out and buy one.

   
ECHO GLOW ($30). Oh boy! A smart lamp for kids! This is essentially a Philips HUE type device which pairs with Alexa so you can control colors and such...

A glowing orb light sitting on a child's dresser with wooden toys around it.

Pretty sure they are marketing this as a fun device for kids because it's essentially useless for much else. No idea why somebody wouldn't just buy a smart bulb for their bedside lamp and be done with it.

   
ECHO DOT 3 ($60). For sixty bucks, you can now get an Echo Dot with a clock inside. I guess if you didn't have any other Alexa device in your bedroom this could be handy? But it seems really expensive for what you get...

An Echo Dot sitting on a corner table with the time serenely glowing through the fabric of the speaker cover the circles the hockey-puck-shaped device.

Cute, I suppose... and a (relatively) inexpensive way to test the waters of the Alexa ecosystem, but I think you'd be better off spending a little more to get a "real" Echo device and buy a cheap LED clock to go with it.

   
AMAZON SMART OVEN ($250). Amazon had previously released a "smart microwave" which could be paired with an Alexa device. Now they are going a step further and have created a combo microwave/convection/air fryer/food warmer oven, which is a lot more versatile...

Oddly enough, Alexa isn't actually inside the device itself, so it comes with an Echo Dot. There's a lot of bells and whistles... and Amazon is partnering with food manufacturers to have the UPC code on their packaging be able to instruct the oven how to perfectly cook your food once it's been scanned with a smartphone... which sounds nice, I suppose...

An Amazon Oven, looking much like a microwave, sitting on a kitchen counter next to a bowl of popcorn.

I'm not exactly sure how all the tech in the oven works together to know about things like servings being cooked and such, but I'm certainly open to the idea of an oven which can perfectly cook your food every time. Cheap micro/convection ovens are around $150. Most of them are more like $200. I'm not entirely sure that an Amazon Oven is worth the extra $50, but it certainly could be if it lives up to the promises they are making.

   
RING CAM INDOOR ($60). If these things weren't so butt-ugly, they might be a really nice smart-cam option. I most certainly prefer the Amazon Ring Protect Service (which adds cloud recording) to the heinously overpriced Nest Protect Service I have now...

The butt-ugly Ring Cam Indoor, which is a white chunk of plastic with an ugly speaker grill on the bottom which has a big black panel on the front where the lens sticks out... seriously, this is not attractive!

But holy crap is this thing ugly! I mean, seriously... a little $20 Waze Cam is a work of art next to this monstrosity. Somebody at Amazon needs to start putting a little more effort into the appearance of something meant to be displayed in your home.

   
eero MESH ROUTER ($100 each). This is Amazon's answer to Google Wifi, which is what I have. I'm actually interested in this, because the Google units are being left in the dust when it comes to technology advances. Newer mesh routers are smarter, faster, and able to handle more devices. They also have better options for monitoring and controlling bandwidth. Alas, the eero stuff doesn't have any features which would make it worth the upgrade for me...

An eero mesh router pod sitting on a desk and looking like shit.

Interesting to note that the "basic" eero units can handle speeds up to 550 Mbps. To make use of anything faster than that (like fiber) you have to double the cost and buy an eero Pro Router (which also offers the 5.8GHz band in addition to 2.4GHz and 5GHz). Even more interesting? None of the eero devices support WiFi 6 or WPA3, which means they are essentially obsolete the minute they ship. That's pretty bad. I honestly don't understand why mesh router manufacturers don't seem interested in being cutting edge... but they never seem to be there. I like my Google Wifi, but the app control (while easy) is tragic. You can't even permanently prioritize a device, for heaven's sake. One day... hopefully one day soon... somebody is going to come out with an affordable mesh option that's packed with modern features, is easy to use, and is worth a crap. Until that day, it's just more of the same. So lame. Even more lame? This eero iteration has its branding stenciled on top, and the device itself looks like it's melting. At least my Google Wifi has a more elegant cylinder shape with only a discreet "G" on top.

   
And that's all she wrote. Kinda sad that the only thing which has a guaranteed sale for me is a 99¢ Samuel L Jackson voice add-on for the Alexa crap I already have.

   

Google Nest Can Just Die Now

Posted on May 7th, 2019

Dave!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...

  • You must transition your Nest account to a Google Home account. The Nest accounts will be killed on August 31st. You will then have to use the Google Home app for all admin functions, such as adding/deleting users.
  • The "Works with Nest" program will be discontinued. From now on only "select partners" and other Google Home products will be integrated with your Nest products.
  • Third party access... most notably IFTT integration... has been killed.

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.

   

The Keys of Onaconda Farr

Posted on March 26th, 2019

Dave!The first thing I did when I bought my house was to rip out the door locks so my keychain would be two keys lighter. My new locks are opened via keypads or via an app on my phone... no key required.

In case you haven't guessed, I am not a fan of keys. They are (literally) ancient technology that isn't necessary in this day and age. And yet I have loads of them. Most of my keys are at home in my safe. The only two I lug around with me are my car key and my office key. To carry them around more easily, I bought a minfig keychain at The LEGO Store. It looks like Greedo from Star Wars, but it's actually an ambassador from Greedo's planet named Onaconda Farr.

That was years ago.

After a while Onaconda Farr's face and clothes rubbed off. His antennae and ears also wore down. And, last week, one of his legs fell off(!).

So I found a replacement on eBay for $5 and ordered it last week. And now he has arrived...

LEGO Keychain!

So cool. Almost makes me not dislike keys so much.

And, oh yeah... today I drove back over the mountains from my Birthday Weekend celebration with my friends.

I was happy to see that there's still plenty of snow in the mountains. Perhaps it's enough that we don't have to worry about drought this summer? I certainly hope so...

Winter Mountain Pass!

Winter Mountain Pass!

Winter Mountain Pass!

And now back to Real Life.

Such as it is.

   

Home Security is for The Birds

Posted on January 17th, 2019

Dave!This morning while I was at work, I received a notification from my security cameras that somebody was breaking into my front door. This happens whenever anybody is in the vicinity of the exterior doorknobs. I wasn't too worried because my door locks weren't reporting any tampering. But I was curious. Did somebody leave me a pamphlet or something? Let's take a look, shall we?

Well, that's disappointing...

But pretty.

I love birds. Especially in flight...

Bird in Flight

Bird in Flight

   
And now, if you'll excuse me, the first episode of Star Trek: Discovery Season Two is here! I loved the first season, so I'm hoping for more Star Trek goodness this time around...

Live Long and Prosper...

   

A Deeper Shade of Hue

Posted on December 7th, 2018

Dave!As I mentioned a while back, I wanted to have my driveway light turn blue when it's recycle day. Since recycle day happens every-other-week, it's easy to forget whether or not it's the right week to drag the big blue bin to the curb with my regular trash.

To make this happen, I purchased one of the cheaper "smart bulbs" available, because A) It was cheaper, and B) It didn't require me to purchase a hub.

Turns out that you get what you pay for.

The bulbs kept disconnecting from WiFi despite having a hub less than six feet away. They refused to respond to IFTTT commands. And, despite constant assurances from tech support that the issue could be resolved, I eventually gave up.

Then on Black Friday Philips had a killer sale on their "Hue" smart bulb kit that came with the hub they require. With nothing to lose except my precious $80, I went ahead and ordered it because $80 is better than $150...

Hue Hub and Smart Bulb Starter Kit

Turns out that there's a reason that Philips Hue is the créme de la créme of smart lighting.

They work exactly as advertised.

The app which controls them is brilliant. The bulbs are smarter (in most ways), brighter, and more saturated. And they work with IFTTT precisely as you would expect them to.

Every night at 10pm I have IFTTT make sure that the light automatically came on at sunset and is "green" for Greenlight a Vet. Then, on recycle days (which I have as a repeating event on a Google Calendar) I have the light turn on and change to "blue" before I get home so I remember to put out the big blue recycle bin. Then that evening, at 10pm, it will be changed back to "green" by the previous IFTTT routine...

IFTTT Programming for HUE

Soooo...

Pretty cool, right?

It is cool! And I love my Hue bulbs so much that I bought one for the lamp on my bedroom nightstand. Every sunset I have it automatically turn on and set to "Tropical Twilight" (a kind of purpley-white color). If I go to bed and want to read, I tell Alexa and she brightens things up. And when I'm ready for bed, I tell Alexa and she dims the Hue to a faint blue color like a nightlight. It's exactly what I've been wanting all along.

Except...

Not everything is perfect.

If power goes out (or you accidentally flick the switch off), the lights don't remember what their previous color was and they default to white. Not the end of the world, but it's kind of crazy that these expensive lights can't frickin' remember what color they were... when my old, cheap smart lights were able to do this! Apparently Philips has a solution that they're going to roll out by the end of the year called "Power-On Behavior" but this sounds like a new default, not a way to remember what they were set to.

The other problem is that, technically, the bulbs I bought aren't for outdoor use. But they're in light fixtures and they are covered by my roof overhand, so I just went for it. They seem to be working perfectly (but probably won't last as long with the cold of winter and heat of summer). Philips has a huge range of growing Hue products, but the only bulbs rated for outdoor use are floodlights unless you want to replace your entire light fixture (which my HOA won't allow). This is crazy. How many people just want to put a smart light in their existing outdoor fixtures? Build regular bulb for outdoor use already!

And then there's the matter of that hub...

For me, it's not horrible now that I've got Google's Mesh WiFi system installed. There's a node right by my front door, and all the nodes have an ethernet port. I just plugged my Hue hub into it, hid it in my cabinet, then I was done. The hub reaches to the Hue on my front porch... then the front porch links to the Hue for my driveway. I thought for sure that my bedroom light all the way upstairs wouldn't reach the hub but, much to my delight, it does. Which means now I can use it extend my Hue lighting mesh even further away without having to purchase a second hub. That's nice.

But I'm still raw that smart lights which don't require a hub are cheaper than Hue lights which do. This makes no sense, since the internet coordination and WiFi drama is handled elsewhere. I mean, yes, there's something to be said by the higher quality lighting you get from Hue, but the pricing is insane. I noted that some Hue products have lowered their pricing to near-Black-Frida levels, so maybe Philips is attempting to address this puzzling disparity? I dunno. I do know that I'm mighty glad that I already have INSTEON switches controlling all my recessed house lighting so I don't have to spend the insane cost for Hue there (even if Philips made can lights, which they currently do not).

And so...

I am very happy with Philips Hue lighting despite some initial concerns and a few caveats. I am undoubtedly going to continue to buy Hue products in the future now that I own the hub... when they are on sale as something I can afford. I would like to invest in their strip lighting, which looks very cool for under my kitchen cabinets, behind my television, and on top of my bookshelves. They also have a "Signe floor light" which looks fantastic... but not $250 fantastic.

But for all my home's built-in recessed lighting? Not until things get a heck of a lot cheaper... and Philips actually makes it.

   

Gray Friday

Posted on November 23rd, 2018

Dave!Black Friday is the one day of the year I set aside to shop for clothes. Not in stores, of course... never in stores... but online. I put aside money every month so that when today arrives I can buy my clothes for the following year at 40% to 80% off. This year all my savings went to pay for vet bills, so I didn't end up buying a stitch of clothing. But it wasn't a big deal. I have a pile of summer clothes I bought for my Hawaii vacation (but didn't get to use because Jake got sick) and I still have loads of winter clothes left from the stuff I bought for Antarctica last year.

Guess I'll be wearing a lot of Hawaiian prints next year at Summertime. I rather like Hawaiian though, so I'll survive.

And so... no new clothes. But that doesn't mean I didn't purchase anything for Black Friday. On the contrary, I just blew my tax refund before I even have it! Something I try very hard not to do... but there were some bargains I could not refuse...

   
SONOS SUB
Ever since investing in the SONOS wireless speaker ecosystem (which I love, for the most part) I've been saving money for the subwoofer to complete my Dolby 5.1 setup. My existing SONOS speakers already have pretty good bass, but I miss that punch you can feel when watching movies. Problem is, the thing is SEVEN HUNDRED DOLLARS!!! The amount I've managed to save? $120. Which means buying a SUB was a few years off yet. And then SONOS went and had a Black Friday sale for $100 off the regular price...

SONOS Sub Speaker

I could not pass up $100 savings, even though I only had a fraction of the remaining $599 I needed. And so... there goes a huge chunk of my tax refund!

   
Philips Hue LED Smart Bulb Starter Kit
I was set against the Hue LED lights because they were hideously expensive and require a hub. Instead I went with hub-less bulbs that were a fraction of the price. And... you get what you pay for. The cheaper bulbs I bought are crap, and refuse to stay connected to the internet (even though they are practically sitting on top of my Google WiFi router). They also refuse to change color via IFTTT, which is what I use to remind me when it's recycle day. So I made up my mind that I'd invest in the Gold Standard of smart-bulbs (Hue) next year. But then Amazon had the $149.99 starter kit on sale for a ridiculous $79.99, and I couldn't pass that up...

Hue Hub Lighting Kit

The side-benefit of investing in Hue is that Alexa can control them directly, which is kinda nice. I probably won't be turning my porch lights on manually (they're programmed to turn off/on automatically based on sunrise/sunset times), but it's nice to know I could tell Alexa to do it if I needed her to.

   
iTunes $100 Gift Card
I buy all my apps, movies, music, and TV shows from Apple. Which is why I wait for Amazon to put their $100 iTunes cards on sale for $80, because it's like getting free money... money I'd end up spending anyway. I do this every year. Sometimes I get lucky and manage to find a different store (like Best Buy) who put theirs on sale as well. $200 covers the bulk of the stuff I buy at Apple in a year, so paying $160 is a no-brainer...

iTunes Card

UPDATE: I kept checking all day to see if Best Buy dropped their price. They just did. Not on the $100 card, but $10 off their $50 cards, so I got two of them. Sweet!

   
Dyson V7 Animal Absolute Vacuum
I am not a fan of Dyson. Their technology is great, but their construction is cheap. I still have the one I bought my mom sitting in the garage with a burnt out motor (which I really need to have fixed one of these days since it's still under warranty). So when I wanted to buy a cordless "stick" vacuum to replace the dying vacuum I use to clean my hardwood, it was not going to buy a Dyson. But when I did the research, the Dyson models came out on top every time. And so I bit the bullet and bought the model they make for pet hair (V7 Animal) because it was on sale for $240 (regular $399)...

Dyson V7 Animal Vacuum

I am really hoping that this last longer than my mom's upright, which didn't even make it a year. I'll only use it once or twice a month (Carl the RoboVac does the day-to-day cleaning) so fingers crossed.

UPDATE: I received a notice from Dyson that the V7 "Absolute" which also comes with a fluffy head for better cleaning on hardwood (which is all I have) was on sale for $238 (regular $450)... two dollars less than the "Animal" I bought that doesn't have the fluffy head! So, essentially I'm getting the $100 head for free, PLUS a "deep clean kit" that retails for $80... plus everything that comes with the "Animal" version. This is pretty shitty... why didn't Dyson offer this deal yesterday with all the other deals? And so... I ordered one of those and will just refuse delivery of the original shipment. If you buy direct you get a money-back guarantee, and I am definitely taking advantage of that.

   
What I Spent
My grand total for the day? $1078. Factoring in the $120 I had saved up for my SONOS SUB, I ended up putting $958 on my credit card (probably close to $1000 once tax is added). I loathe, loathe, loathe having credit card debt, but I'm trying to be okay with it since I'll be able to pay it off with my tax refund next year. Given that the full price of all the crap I bought was $1580, I can't complain about getting 1/3 off.

   
What I Didn't Buy
There were a few things I had in the back of my head to purchase. Stuff I want... not need. But once I ended up getting the SONOS SUB, everything else was taken off the table because that ate up way more money than I was wanting to spend. Guess these Black Friday deals will have to wait until next year...

  • Nintendo Switch Games — Probably wouldn't have time to play them much anyway, so I'm good.
  • Beats Solo3 Wireless Headphones — I have a nice pair of wired headphones, so I'm good.
  • Cookware Set — The old stuff I inherited from my mom works fine, so I'm good.
  • Cat Tree — Jake and Jenny's cat tree is getting pretty raggedy. My ultimate goal is to build one that doesn't look crappy (like most all cat trees do). But, in the meanwhile, I was going to get a fresh replacement. Theirs still works just fine though, so they're good.

And so... until next year then...

   

Alexa Out The Window

Posted on October 22nd, 2018

Dave!As I've undoubtedly made very clear here on my blog... my entire home is run by Alexa (Amazon's "Echo" voice assistant). I don't touch light switches because I just tell Alexa to turn stuff off and on. I don't adjust the thermostat, because I can just tell Alexa to change the temperature. She also turns the television off and on and changes the channels for live TV. She plays my music. She manages my shopping list. She tracks the weather and can Google questions for me. She is everywhere in my home from my garage to my living room to my kitchen to my bedroom to my bathroom. There is no part of my home that I can't reach Alexa, and she does absolutely everything for me.

Most of the time.

Sometimes she decides that she doesn't understand me, and it drives me insane...

ME: Alexa, turn on stair light.
ALEXA: I don't know the device "star light."
ME: ALEXA, TURN ON STAAAAAAAARE LIGHT!
ALEXA: =plays acknowledgement tone=
ME: ALEXA, WAS THAT SO HARD YOU $#@&!%#& #!$#@#?!??
ALEXA: =plays acknowledgement tone=

This is so stupid. I don't have a "star light" and I guarantee you I am not saying "star light" when I talk to her. You would think that she would learn that I am actually saying "stair light" because I've corrected her a hundred times, but no. I should look into seeing if there's a way of listing alternative names to a device so I can just enter "star light" as an option... but I'm too lazy.

And just this morning I wanted to listen to Haerts, which is pronounced "Harts" by the band (Hearts). Getting Alexa to understand is an exercise in frustration...

ME: Alexa, play "Wings" by "Harts."
ALEXA: Playing "Wings" by Heart Cardio.
ME: ALEXA, STOP!!!! YOU $#@&!%#& #!$#@#?!??
ME: Alexa, play "Wings" by "Hurts."
ALEXA: Playing "Wings" by Ruan Hurtgen.
ME: ALEXA, STOP!!!! YOU $#@&!%#& #!$#@#?!??
ME: Alexa, play "Wings" by "HAIRTZ".
ALEXA: Playing "Wings" by "Hurts."
ME: ALEXA, WHAT THE FUCK?!??
ALEXA: =plays acknowledgement tone=

At this point, I'm wanting to take Alexa and throw her through the fucking window.

If I had wanted "Heart Cardio" don't you think I would have fucking said "Heart Cardio?" If I would have wanted "Ruan Hurtgen" don't you think I would have fucking said "Ruan Hurtgen?" Why in the hell is Alexa ADDING SHIT to what I'm saying? And why is it that she doesn't understand Haerts as "Hurts" WHEN THAT'S WHAT SHE FUCKING CALLS THEM?!? This shit makes no sense.

And then there's this fucking bullshit...

ME: Alexa, play "Always" by Pet Shop Boys.
ALEXA: Playing "Always on My Mind" by Pet Shop Boys.
ME: ALEXA, STOP!!!! YOU $#@&!%#& #!$#@#?!??
ME: Alexa, play "Always 2017 Remastered Version" by Pet Shop Boys.
ALEXA: Playing "Always on My Mind 2013 Remastered Version" by Pet Shop Boys.
ME: ALEXA, STOP!!!! YOU $#@&!%#& #!$#@#?!??
ME: Alexa, play "Always 2017" by Pet Shop Boys.
ALEXA: Playing "Always 2017 Remastered Version" by Pet Shop Boys.
ME: ALEXA, WHAT THE FUCK?!??
ALEXA: =plays acknowledgement tone=

Don't get me wrong... Alexa is utterly amazing. I rely on her for So. Many. Things. and can't imagine going back to a life without her in it.

But come on. Amazon needs to do a hell of a lot better than this mess.

A good start would be to STOP ADDING FUCKING WORDS TO WHAT I'M SAYING AND JUST DO SPECIFICALLY WHAT I AM ASKING FOR. Also? It would be really great if what Alexa says matches what she understands. If she things Haerts is pronounced "Hurts" then fine. But when I ask her to play something by "Hurts" and get something by "Ruan Hurtgen" so I have to say "Hairtz?" That's just fucked up.

And if you were to tell the 1980's me that I would be bitching about my voice assistant not playing the correct Pet Shop Boys song I asked her to, I think my head would have exploded... so there's that.

But right now? I am left wondering if Alexa would break through the window... or weather she would just bounce off it. Because I really don't have the money to go replacing windows.

Or Alexas.

UPDATE: THIS! ALL THIS! I FEEL YOUR PAIN, ADORABLE LITTLE GIRL!

=dies of cuteness overload=

   

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