Posted on May 1st, 2021
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...
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...
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?
Posted on April 25th, 2021
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...
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...
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.
Posted on January 14th, 2021
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.
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.
Posted on November 18th, 2020
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 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...
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...
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...
$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.
Posted on October 1st, 2020
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...
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...
Channels I watch because I want to be more informed on Current Events. All media is biased. All of it! but when you recognize their biases you can use that to expand how you see the world. I'm not saying I'm going to watch Far-Right assholes or Far-Left assholes... that's just torture. But I'll tune into channels by those on the Right or Left if I think that they have something to actually say on a subject and aren't just parroting extremist talking points and don't consider their views to be above the facts. David Pakman is highly opinionated towards the Left, but not beyond all reason. Somebody who is labeled as Right, claims to be more Left, but strives to ride down the middle and distill information wherever it lands, is Joe Rogan Experience. Rogan gets a lot of hate from both sides, some of which is justified, but he has thoughtful commentary and does a really good interview. Here he is with Pakman and some fantastic discussion that really needs to happen...
There was another interview with Pakman which was equally good and equally important from this year (and highly disturbing in hindsight). Seriously. Tune into that.
Sure, Rogan skates on the edge of conspiracy theory sometimes, but the guy got me to change my mind on Bernie Sanders, and that ain't nothin'...
I love that there are conversations which can make me look at a person or an event or an ideology in a different way... or even change my mind. Joe Rogan's show is really good at this kind of thing. Even though I definitely don't always agree with him or his guests, I keep watching.
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...
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.
Posted on August 21st, 2020
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...
Exactly what I always wanted!
When the remote arrived, I immediately noticed a few great things...
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...
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...
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.
Posted on August 20th, 2020
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.
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 main weather sensor has an array of functions for monitoring and collecting weather data...
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...
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.
Posted on August 19th, 2020
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
Posted on August 18th, 2020
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!).
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.
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.
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.
Posted on August 17th, 2020
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!...
Here's the QNAP opened up with the cage removed. Don't mind Jake, he's "helping"...
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...
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.