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Good Bye HomeKit

Posted on Wednesday, March 7th, 2018

Dave!I have spent the past 35 years falling in love with everything Apple. It started with the Apple ][ personal computer and continued through the Macintosh then continued right up through the iPhone. I jump head-first into whatever Apple releases, and I've loved it.

But recently things started to change.

After waiting way, way too long for Apple to release a new "Pro" Mac, they came out with a steaming turd in 2013 which looked pretty, but was overpriced and lacking the things that pro users need. Then... THEN... they did the exact same thing with their MacBook "Pro." And it keeps going... they standardized on an expensive Thunderbolt peripheral port, then abandoned it... they developed the brilliant MagSafe power adapter, then abandoned it... Apple TV can't stream worth a crap, even in its 4th generation model, and the remote is horrific... their mice are built to pit and deteriorate... the list goes on and on, and it's nuts.

And the software side isn't much better. MacOS X has developed so many problems that it feels as though it's been abandoned. They dumped Aperture, their photo cataloging software, after luring people into adopting it. They screwed up iMovie so much that a once-joyful program to use is a frustrating joke.

But the final straw for me was HomeKit.

I've long obsessed over home automation, so when I bought a home where I could install home automation devices, I went full-throttle. Apple had been developing their own home automation ecosystem, called "HomeKit," but it was tough to find any devices. And so I held off until HomeKit devices were released.

Then it happened. Schlage released "Sense" HomeKit-enabled door lock. So cool!

Until I got them, that is.

The locks are great, but the HomeKit functionality is garbage. It never works reliably, and half the time I can't even connect... despite having AppleTV's within 6-feet of them (HomeKit uses AppleTV as a hub). But that's not even the half of it. After all my waiting, HomeKit was laughably incapable and feature-poor. Tons of devices weren't supported... or even available if they were supported.

I immediately regretted buying HomeKit locks, and never bought another HomeKit device. And ever since then I've been dying to replace my locks, but couldn't bring myself to walk away from the hundreds of dollars I spent on them.

And then...

Schlage has released a WiFi interface which allows you to control your locks without having to use crappy HomeKit...

Schlage WiFi Interface

If your locks are set up with HomeKit, you have to reset them to factory defaults and start over again. If you don't, you can't connect them to the WiFi Adapter. Also... they will start screeching an alarm if you try, which I found out the hard way (sorry kitties).

Your lock has to be within 40 feet of the adapter (just like HomeKit, since both use Bluetooth connections). This was no problem for me, and I was able to use one adapter for both my locks (it supports a maximum of two).

Annnnnd...

It works as advertised. Once you set up a Schlage account as a gateway between the locks and your phone's Schlage app, you can control your locks remotely and see their status. Access is blazingly fast and reliable compared to HomeKit. Every once in a while I'll get a bit of a lag, but at least I can always connect.

Then there's the ability to ask Alexa if a door is locked... and then lock it if it isn't (for security reasons, you can't unlock a door via Alexa). I don't know how handy this would be, but it's nice to know it's there. Except when it's not. Because no matter how many times I link and unlink and re-link the skill, Alexa tells me the lock can't be reached... even though both locks show up in my Smart Home list. I've sent an email to Schlage customer service for help... fingers crossed.

And so... good bye to the massive failure known as HomeKit. And good bye to the seventy bucks it cost me to rectify this disaster. But, hey, at least I didn't have to spend hundreds to replace my locks!

My hope is that one day Apple will just bag HomeKit and buy out a company like INSTEON so they have an integrated home automation system that works. Heaven only knows they've got the cash. Until then, I'm just glad to be rid of that one piece of home automation that's never worked for me.

   

Good Bye Apple TV?

Posted on Thursday, March 8th, 2018

Dave!Yesterday I talked about finally being able to dump Apple's home automation disaster, HomeKit. Today I'm contemplating dumping Apple TV for a number of reasons...

First of all, the streaming quality of shows purchased through Apple iTunes is awful... assuming you can get them to stream at all. Do you know how many times I've gone to watch a movie or TV Show I've purchased, only to have Apple TV go catatonic? Do you know how many times I've been watching something only to have Apple TV suddenly stop streaming and then not start again unless I reset everything? And when I complain? Apple blames my internet connection. Without fail. But here's the thing... ALL OTHER STREAMING SERVICES WORK FINE! Even on Apple TV! Episodes of The West Wing I've purchased from Apple won't stream. But episodes of The West Wing stream just fine through the Netflix app... ON MY APPLE TV!!! The problem clearly isn't my internet connection. The problem is that Apple has billions of dollars but can't build a content delivery system that's worth a shit.

Second of all... digital purchases from Apple iTunes are almost always more expensive than purchasing them elsewhere. Movies that are $19.99 at the iTunes Store can be purchased at Vudu or Amazon or wherever for $12.99. Now, the one thing Apple has that other don't (yet) is a no-charge upgrade to 4K and HDR content. But what good is it if you can't watch it?

But the worst offense of all with Apple TV? Apple is happy to take your money, but they absolutely, positively do not give a shit about making sure you get what you pay for.

As an example... I use the Sundance Now app on my Apple TV to watch a show called This Close. I purchased my subscription through my Apple TV and pay my $6.99 a month to Apple. But when Sundance Now is suddenly asking me for a login... but I don't have a login because I purchased through Apple TV... Apple says "Sorry, you have to contact Sundance Now because it's their app." Except... I'm not paying Sundance Now. I'm paying Apple. And the best that Apple can do is cancel my subscription. Problem is... I'm paid up through March 21st. If Apple cancels my subscription, I'm losing almost a month of subscription I've paid for. Their response?

Apple Don't Give a Shit

That's right. They can't guarantee that they can refund me money THEY TOOK for something I CAN'T ACCESS because their only solution is to TERMINATE MY SUBSCRIPTION on THEIR PRODUCT using apps that THEY AUTHORIZE.

What a garbage company.

But here's my dilemma...

All my movie purchases through Apple are safe because Apple is a part of the "Movies Now" collective. I can watch any of my movie purchases on any other device which supports a vendor that is also a "Movies Anywhere" member.

But what about the hundreds of TV shows I've purchased?

I have no idea. I'd ask Apple to refund all my money for all the shows I've ever purchased... but we've already seen how they treat me over a $6.99 subscription fee, so that's probably out of the question.

I remember the days when Apple was an amazing company which stood behind its products. If I had a problem with something I purchased... they fixed it. Or they refunded my money. Or they made it right somehow. Now? I get the feeling they couldn't care less about their customers. Which wouldn't be such a big problem if anything they made was worth a crap now-a-days. But that's not really true, is it? Used to be you could trust Apple products to "just work." That hasn't been the case in years.

The Apple hasn't just fallen from the tree once Steve Jobs left us... it's rotted and turned to mush.

UPDATE: Just to give you an idea of how utterly shitty a product Apple TV is, I ended up purchasing a "smart plug" so I can cut the power and restart the unit when it goes catatonic. Yes, it happens often enough that spending $13 was a worthwhile investment. First the screen goes black. Then the screen goes white. Then it tries to load... something... then it fails and goes black again... lather, rinse, repeat. Over and over until I get up and unplug it, then plug it back in again. Hence... the smart plug so I don't have to climb behind my media center each time this happens...

AppleTV Goes White

Of course, then the Apple TV gives me this...

AppleTV Goes Reset

I regret ever having purchased Apple TV. Version 1. Version 2. Version 3. And Version 4. I absolutely regret having spent money buying media from Apple. You'd think I'd finally learn something here... maybe now I finally am.

   

SONOS and HomePod: Part 1 of 5

Posted on Monday, March 12th, 2018

Dave!Welcome to Sonos Week here at Blogography! Each day I will be talking about my leap to the Sonos platform for "smart speakers" and how it integrates with Amazon's Alexa assistant. Because there's so much to unpack, I'm breaking it up into five parts.

And now on with the show...

Once Apple announced their HomePod, I started saving for one. "It's like having Alexa for my music!" I thought. And since I'm a Certified Apple Whore, how could I not buy some cool new tech from Apple?

Then at the last minute I changed my mind and went with their competition: the new Sonos One with Alexa. Yes, yes... I know. But I actually put some thought into this...

  • I am slowly getting to the point where I despise Apple. They keep shitting the bed over and over and I'm sick of it. HomeKit (their home automation ecosystem) is complete and total crap. Apple TV doesn't work worth a shit... even in its 4th generation. Their new "pro" laptop has none of the ports that pro users actually need. The list goes on and on. I no longer buy blindly into Apple's bullshit because I keep getting burned.
  • Apple's Siri assistant is practically useless because she can't do much. Once I gave up on HomeKit ever amounting to anything after years of waiting, I bought 100% into the Amazon Alexa ecosystem, which can do everything. Alexa runs my home. Alexa runs my life. Since Sonos One has Alexa built-in, it seems like a no-brainer to go with them.
  • Unlike HomePod, which can't do much outside the Apple bubble, Sonos is surprisingly extensible. If I end up giving up on Apple altogether one day, at least I know my investment won't be lost as it would be with HomePod. Rumor has it that Sonos is looking into adding both Google Assistant and Siri to the One, which would be pretty great if I ever need them.
  • I can get two Sonos One speakers for the cost of one HomePod. Reviews say the HomePod sounds better but if I end up expanding my Sonos system with a subwoofer and a soundbar, then there's no competition at all... the Sonos 5:1 setup will trounce HomePod... not just for my music, but for my television too (HomePod doesn't even have that as an option).

There's a caveat, of course. Neither Alexa nor Sonos cannot access iTunes Match, which is where the entirety of my music collection resides.

That's a huge deal.

I can download all my music from iTunes and put it on my local NAS drive, which Sonos can access, but Alexa can't control it there. The only thing Alexa can control is Amazon Music Unlimted, Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio and TuneIn. The cheapest option is Amazon at $79 a year, but that still won't allow me to access a goodly chunk of my more esoteric songs. I couldn't say "Alexa, play Love on Your Back by Thompson Twins because the B-side to Love on Your Side doesn't exist in Amazon Music Unlimited. It used to be that Amazon allowed you to upload your music to their servers for $25 a year, but they discontinued that which is such a bummer. Music options for Sonos are a somewhat long and complex discussion, so let's save that for tomorrow.

Obviously going the Sonos route has some down-sides when it comes to listening to my music, but the down-sides for HomePod are catastrophic. HomePod isn't even an option unless I have nothing better to do with $350.

And so now I'm here...

Sonos One Speakers

   
And now that I am here, I honestly don't know if it's a place I want to be.

There are plusses and minuses to Sonos that I need to unpack and see if the system makes sense for me. Fortunately, I've got 30 days to decide. I'm not anticipating returning them, mind you, but I do want to live with them for more than a week to see if I can live with the minuses.

So far, however, the plusses are frickin' amazing.

   

SONOS and Music: Part 2 of 5

Posted on Tuesday, March 13th, 2018

Dave!Welcome to Sonos Week here at Blogography! Each day I will be talking about my leap to the Sonos platform for "smart speakers" and how it integrates with Amazon's Alexa assistant. If you haven't read past entries in Sonos Week, you'll probably want to start at the beginning by clicking here.

And now on with the show...

Yesterday I talked about deciding to bypass Apple's HomePod and leap into Sonos. Now that they've released the "Sonos One" with Amazon Alexa built-in, it was a better fit for me and my Alexa-centric lifestyle.

Alas, since Alexa has no way of accessing my iTunes Match library, my best option for having music she can control is to subscribe to "Amazon Music Unlimited" at $79 a year (that price reflects a $20 discount because I'm an Amazon Prime member). Since I can now discontinue iTunes match at $25 a year, that's a net increase of $54 annually over what I was already paying. I'm not happy about it, but there's nothing else I can do to get what I want. Something tells me that Amazon and Apple are not going to cooperate on getting things integrated, and I'm too enamored with Alexa to contemplate her not having control of my music the way she has control over everything else in my life.

Amazon Music Unlimited is nice, for what it is, but it's hardly perfect...

  • My biggest beef is that Alexa doesn't know shit about my music. If I want to listen to Paninaro by Pet Shop Boys, you'd think that all I'd have to do is ask her for it. Not so much. I don't care how I pronounce it, I can never get it to play. And if I specifically say "Alexa, play Paninaro by Pet Shop Boys, she'll say she can't find it even though the song is absolutely available on Amazon Music Unlimited. Whenever this happens (and it happens often) I turn into a rage-monster.
  • Even when Alexa can find the song I want her to play, she'll inevitably pick some freaky alternate version rather than the original song. If I say "Alexa, play Flamboyant by Pet Shop Boys," she'll fire up the demo version, not the album track. I have no clue why. If I want to listen to the demo version, I'd have said "Alexa, play Flamboyant demo version by Pet Shop Boys. It's absolutely stupid, and yet there's nothing you can do.
  • Let's say that I absolutely MUST hear the original Flamboyant track. What do I do? Glad you asked! First I have to fire up my web browser and search for it at Amazon. Then I have to add it to the "My Music" list. THEN I have to say "Alexa, play Flamboyant original version by Pet Shop Boys." Alexa won't know what "original version" means because it's not in the track name... however... when making guesses for a song she can't find, Alexa seems to give preference to songs in "My Music" before she'll play one of the millions of other songs available to her. This whole situation is just nuts but it's all there is.
  • Manually adding songs to the "My Music" list is not always a solution, however. Telling Alexa to "Play Always by Pet Shop Boys" inexplicably causes Alexa to play Always on My Mind instead... even if Always is added to "My Music." The only way I can play it is if I go to Amazon.com, find the song, then see that it’s listed as a 2017 remaster, then tell Alexa to "Play Always 2017 by Pet Shop Boys." It’s insane that I have to look up every song I want to play because Alexa is adding words to my request that I never asked for. If I wanted to play Always on My Mind I would have asked for Always on My Mind and not Always. Not getting what I ask for drives me insane, and I absolutely can't figure out why Alexa is making this a problem.
  • What's worse than having Alexa add words to what I tell her to play? Having her ignore words. Or having her hear the words and not know what to do with them. If I say "Alexa, play Starlight Goldroom Remix by Jai Wolf," she can't find it. She can only find the original Starlight song, which is not what I want. And here's the thing... I have no fucking clue how to play Starlight Goldroom Remix since Alexa refuses to acknowledge it exists in Amazon Music (even though it does). This kind of thing happens way more often than you'd think, and it's buckets of lame. I'm in no way being obtuse with my request. I am literally telling Alexa the exact name of the song, but that doesn't work? Why?
  • Alexa is useless in all new extremes when you ask her to play a song that dares to use initials or abbreviations. Love Etc. by Pet Shop Boys? Can't play it. Not if you say it as "Love Etcetera," not if you say "Love E-T-C," not if you say "Love ehtcee." Nothing. You have tell it to play the album Yes because that's where the song is. No clue how to do this directly with Alexa... I don't even know if it can be done.
  • For reasons I can't fathom, Amazon Music is not as extensive as Apple Music or Spotify. I tried to play A Home to Come To by Silhouettes... it's not there. Which means I can't play it. AT ALL via Alexa. Even though I purchased the song from iTunes and own the file, there's no way to upload it to Amazon. This is shitty in so many ways. Chunks of my music library are simply out of reach with Alexa and Amazon Music "Unlimited." Since I'm discontinuing iTunes Match, all the song not available to me from Amazon will have to be downloaded and stored on all my iOS devices (where Sonos can play them via the Sonos app by streaming off my phone).
  • The Amazon Alexa app for my iPhone is utter shit for so many things, but it's worse than shit for interacting with Amazon Music. You can't even search for a song! All you can do is perform very basic functions like skip to the next track and adjust the volume. I thought perhaps that I'd have better luck with the dedicated Amazon Music app, but it can't interact with my Alexa devices. So I have no idea how to get good control over Alexa when playing Amazon Music. I don't think you can... at least not yet... unless I'm missing something. Some of the slack is taken up by the Sonos app, which actually can search Amazon... but that's a workaround, not a solution, for interacting with Alexa.

That being said, there are some things I love about Amazon Music Unlimited too...

  • Despite not having all my music, the library available is unfathomably vast. In the past I've been adamant about buying music rather than renting it. Now that I can play just about anything any time I want, I'm reconsidering. I hate that any music I want to keep will disappear the minute I stop paying for it, but that's the price you pay for such unprecedented access to a bagillion songs.
  • Being able to ask for songs based on lyrics is about as dope as it gets. One of my all-time favorite Pet Shop Boys songs is The Way it Used to Be. But, for whatever reason, I can never remember the name. I always call the song "What Is Left of Love" because that's the primary hook of the song. Now I can just say "Alexa, play that song by Pet Shop Boys with the lyrics 'What is left of love'" and she'll fire it up. Hear a song on the radio and don't know what it's called or who sang it? Request Alexa to play it from the lyrics. This is far from perfect and Alexa fails as often as she gets it right... but the fact she can do this at all is just remarkable.
  • Alexa and the Alexa app may be shit for accessing the Unlimited library, but the integration with the far superior Sonos app is seamless. Thanks to Amazon for playing nice with Sonos.
  • The quality of the music that's delivered from Amazon is pretty great when played through Sonos. Some songs which break badly on the Alexa speakers are deftly handled by my Sonos One and sound fantastic.

So I dunno. If I have to pay for a streaming music service, I'd rather it be Apple because that's where my music purchases and videos come from. But since Apple was way late to the personal assistant game and has nothing to even touch what Alexa can do, that's not going to happen. So long as I am tied to Alexa for everything, Amazon is where I am going to be. Maybe one day Apple will give up on their laughably bad HomeKit crap and buy out INSTEON or something that drags me back into the fold, but right now I'm done. It's all Alexa all the time until something better comes along. And something tells me Amazon ain't going to allow something better to come along. Alexa is getting better and more capable every day.

   

SONOS and Sound: Part 3 of 5

Posted on Wednesday, March 14th, 2018

Dave!Welcome to Sonos Week here at Blogography! Each day I will be talking about my leap to the Sonos platform for "smart speakers" and how it integrates with Amazon's Alexa assistant. If you haven't read past entries in Sonos Week, you'll probably want to start at the beginning by clicking here.

And now on with the show...

There was never any question that I would be giving up some sound quality when I went with Sonos One over Apple HomePod. Apple made sure that having awesome sound was a priority over everything else and, if that was my primary reason for getting a smart speaker, I would have bought one despite it all. But my priority was smart home integration with Alexa, so Sonos it was.

Though I'm hardly an audiophile, I do like having quality audio, and was hoping that Sonos with their years of experience would deliver. This was not guaranteed. Yes, they regularly get good reviews for their equipment, but I'm buying the smallest speakers they offer. And yet... since my home is not that big and I have cats (which means I never blast the stereo at full volume), I was optimistic.

Turns out the Sonos One is plenty enough speaker for me. Despite their diminutive size in comparison to other offerings, the One had no problem filling my home with rich, vibrant sound. I ended up putting one in the living room and one in my kitchen at opposite ends of my home, then grouping them so that they both play the same thing. I can control their volume independently, or control the overall proportional volume for both at the same time, which is handy...

Sonos Volume Controls

My dining room is closer to the kitchen than the living room, so I have the volume there a bit weaker. When I sit at the dining room table, it's a sweet spot where I am hearing sound equally from both, which is a very cool effect. People can dine and have a conversation while being enveloped in soft music for atmosphere. This... this is the true promise of Sonos. Everywhere sound that can be fine-tuned to whatever effect you want.

Obviously the problem with having only one speaker per room is no stereo sound, because pairing them for stereo in separate rooms is a bit schizophrenic. For my music, I'm not that bothered. If I end up going full-on Sonos with my television and A/V setup, then I'd have to add more speakers to get to Dolby 5:1 anyway (which is as far as Sonos can currently go... no DTS, PCM, DD+, or Dolby Atmos for you!). That being said, there is something which Sonos provides to get the best sound possible from their speakers no matter how many you have or where they're located. They call it "Trueplay" speaker tuning technology, and it's essentially an app on your smartphone that you walk around with to measure your room acoustics so your speaker can alter its output to give the best sound...

In my living room, Trueplay didn't make much different. The speaker seemed to sound the same before and after I applied it. But for my kitchen? Sound quality noticeably improved. Sonos is not blowing smoke here, there was an immediately noticeable improvement. This is a pretty great thing, even though it takes an extra couple minutes of setup to get there (Apple HomePod apparently does this automatically and constantly on its own... no need to walk around with your phone).

In the reviews I poured over before purchasing my pair of One speakers, I heard "lack of bass" mentioned more than once. This is puzzling to me, because I was thrilled to be getting so much bass out of such a small speaker. No, it's not earth-shaking (Sonos sells a subwoofer for that), but it's actually much better than I was lead to believe. Would I like more punch when I fire up All We Need by Odesza? Sure. That thumping bassline is meant to be something you feel. But I'm certainly not feeling deprived by the bass I'm getting, which is very good.

The Sonos One sound lives in the mid-range, which is pretty stellar. And while the highs are nice and bright, they can hit brassy spots that sound harsh to my ear. This is most notable when playing a song like There Must Be An Angel by Eurythmics (my go-to track for testing speakers). It handles the hook beautifully with the angelic backing vocals, but then fumbles a bit with the harmonica solo at the end. Still, it's never so bad that I'm wincing at it, and 98% of the time I'm not noticing anything but beautifully delivered acoustics that surprise me every time I fire up my speakers.

The upshot of all this is that I have no complaints about Sonos One sound quality for what I'm currently wanting to do with it. If I end up wanting to go further, I can absolutely do that buy purchasing more Sonos pieces. And that's the beauty of the system... it's just so darn extensible and configurable.

For a price, of course.

I bought two Sonos One speakers bundled at a $350 limited time price (now since expired), which is $175 each (regular $199). If sound quality is your primary concern, that kind of money can get you a larger speaker with significantly better sound quality. Sure, they won't be wireless, nor will thy have Sonos streaming capabilities or have Alexa built-in... and you'll need an amp to power them... but all that will mean nothing to a true audiophile. So know where your money is going before you plunk down for Sonos, which can get very expensive very quickly for chasing down the best sound the company offers (their largest PLAY:5 speaker, for example, is $500... so $1000 for stereo). Their 5:1 setup would require a PLAYBAR for my TV ($700) and SUB subwoofer ($700) and use my two One's as the back channels ($1750 total investment... $1800 now that the One is no longer on sale). This is a bit absurd when that kind of money can get you a Dolby Atmos-capable amp with some nice speakers for a better home-theater experience. But I'd probably go the Sonos route anyway because I love what it gets me in features and control. Maybe if I had a larger, more acoustic environment... like a custom home theater... my thinking would change. But since I don't, Sonos feels like a better fit, even for the price.

Hefty though it may be.

   

SONOS and Design: Part 4 of 5

Posted on Thursday, March 15th, 2018

Dave!Welcome to Sonos Week here at Blogography! Each day I will be talking about my leap to the Sonos platform for "smart speakers" and how it integrates with Amazon's Alexa assistant. If you haven't read past entries in Sonos Week, you'll probably want to start at the beginning by clicking here.

And now on with the show...

Sonos One speakers are designed to provide great sound in a small package and integrate a microphone so you can talk to Alexa... all while looking good. The speakers, as I mentioned in yesterday's entry, are pretty great for sound. The microphone array for Alexa, on the other hand, could use some improvement. Apparently things were much worse when the One was first released, and they've since improved it with software updates. My hope is that they continue to work on this, because it's irritating how ambient noise can obliterate any Alexa commands you might make. My Sonos One in the living room sits on my media center... exactly where my Echo used to sit. With Echo, I could have the television blasting and Alexa would still respond to commands easily. With One, that's not the case. Both my living room and kitchen speakers will hear me say "Alexa..." (I get that "beep" from both) but, if the television is on, half the time it's the kitchen speaker which is the One to reply. This sucks because I can't hear it with the television on.

Yes, this is a testament to just how good the microphones are at picking up when I ask for Alexa from across the house, but their ability to recognize where I'm at when I'm saying it is really poor. Sure I can disable the microphone on the kitchen One so there's no confusion, but that kind of defeats the purpose of having a One in my kitchen in the first place.

Another issue which may or may not be tied to the design of the Sonos One... there seems to be more lag between when I say an Alexa command and when the speaker will respond and act on that command. It seems faster on Echo and Echo Dot. No idea what that's about, because you'd think Alexa is Alexa no matter where she is. Perhaps Amazon prioritizes commands from the units they sell over third party devices? No clue.

And then there's Alexa not responding to Sonos control commands on the Sonos One speakers, but that's such a complex topic that I'm saving it for my final installment tomorrow.

When it comes to Alexa on Sonos One, the microphone problem and lag are annoying, but it's just the tip of the iceberg. If you listen to Audible audiobooks with Alexa, you can't do it on the Sonos One. At least not yet. If you use Alexa for drop-in (intercom between your Alexa units) or calling, they're not supported on a Sonos One. At least not yet. Some Alexa skills also don't work (like Sleep Sounds). At least not yet. Maybe it's Amazon that's refusing to allow these things, I have no idea. But it's scary to think how the Alexa features people rely on might one day disappear from their Sonos One speakers if Amazon decides to axe them for one reason or another.

As for the physical appearance of the Sonos One speakers, they're very pretty. Also... the design of the touch controls and indicators on the top of the unit are wonderfully unobtrusive. Rendered all in black, it's much better-looking than the multi-toned PLAY:1. Real thought went into making this a gorgeous piece of hardware.

Unless you want to mount it to a wall.

Then you have to add a bunch of shit which destroys the sleek lines of the product.

Because there's no screw mount on the back, all the screw-mount hardware used to hang the very similar Sonos PLAY:1 on a wall won't work. You have to use a specialized mount which has stupid restraining wires to hold on to the unit (something which seems ugly, flawed, and unsafe). I have run this over and over and over in my head trying to figure out why the screw mount was omitted, but keep coming up empty. This is profoundly stupid. Your options for mounting hardware goes from dozens to one or two, and neither are that great (the Midlite cable-conceal mount is not compatible, which is the one I wanted to use, but can't). Perhaps this was a ploy by Sonos to get kickback money? Maybe Sonos hates their customers and wants everybody replacing their PLAY:1 speakers with One speakers to have to buy all new mounts? Maybe they think the Sonos One is too pretty, so they want you to have to ugly it up if you mount it on a wall? I mean, come on... just look at this janky crap hanging off the back...

Janky-Ass Ugly Stupid Sonos One Wall Mount

   
That stupid wire will never stay straight, as you can see if you look close. Maybe Sonos just hates OCD types like me? And it takes two wires... TOP AND BOTTOM to restrain the damn thing...

Janky-Ass Ugly Stupid Sonos One Wall Mount

   
This idiotic shit is rage-inducing. Why even bother designing such a pretty speaker if you have to fuck it up to mount it on a wall?

Regardless of how ugly or stupid, I'm sure more mounts are coming. Hopefully somebody can find a more creative way of solving this which doesn't require a big ass wires and massively ugly clips hanging off the back.

Another design decision which may be problematic... you cannot create a stereo pair between a Sonos One and a Sonos PLAY:1, or any other Sonos product other than another Sonos One. While this may be a bummer to some, I don't know that I'd want a stereo pairing between two speakers that aren't identical anyway. I'm OCD like that. What Sonos should do is come out with a Sonos One "Lite" speaker which looks the same as a Sonos One, but doesn't have Alexa in it. That way it would be cheaper (no Amazon licensing fees or additional microphone hardware) and a much better option for those wanting to create a stereo pair. It's not like you need two Alexas in the same space (you'd probably turn one of the microphones off anyway), so this seems like a no-brainer.

But it's hard to give much credit to Sonos for brains when they screwed up the mounting so heinously bad.

And tomorrow we wrap all this up on an even more sour note, so be sure to tune in for that.

   

SONOS and Problems: Part 5 of 5

Posted on Friday, March 16th, 2018

Dave!Welcome to Sonos Week here at Blogography! Each day I will be talking about my leap to the Sonos platform for "smart speakers" and how it integrates with Amazon's Alexa assistant. If you haven't read past entries in Sonos Week, you'll probably want to start at the beginning by clicking here.

And now on with the show...

I'm just going to start this entry off by saying "I love my new Sonos One speakers." Because after you read the problems I've been dealing with, you may begin to wonder.

The whole point of the new "One" model over everything else Sonos has ever released is the Amazon Alexa integration. Without Alexa, the Play One would be just a prettier version of the PLAY:1 that they already have. With that in mind, you'd think that a company with the stellar reputation that Sonos has would make damn sure that the Alexa integration was rock solid and dead simple.

Yeah, you would think.

In reality? Not so much. This comes down to two issues...

  1. The Alexa Sonos Skill.
  2. Ducking.

In order to get Alexa to do things on top of the basic functionality that's built-in, you have to add app extensions to her "brain in the cloud" which are called "skills." Want to play Jeopardy with Alexa every night? You have to add the Jeopardy Skill. Want to control your Sonos speakers by talking to Alexa? You need the Sonos Skill. There are hundreds of skills to do all kinds of things, and part of the magic of Alexa is using these skills to customize your Alexa experience. Lord only knows I have. Alexa is such a huge part of my life that I find myself asking her to do things even when she's not around. I'm not entirely sure what half of the wall switches in my home do because I haven't used them in years. If I want to turn on a light, I either program it to happen automatically... or ask Alexa to do it.

The issue being that whatever you're wanting Alexa to do is only as good as the skill she uses to do it.

When it comes to Sonos, the skill is really rough.

On the third day of owning my Sonos One speakers, I woke up to an Alexa alarm to feed the cats... my path being lit by lights Alexa turns on. I then get to the kitchen and have Alexa play songs from Depeche Mode's 101 on my Sonos One while I'm dishing up cat food. Then I get myself cleaned up and head to work for the day. When I get home I ask Alexa to play songs by Roxette while I'm unloading my stuff and cleaning up the house. She dutifully complies and The Look starts blasting through my home.

I ask Alexa to turn the volume down and she won't.

I ask Alexa to stop playing music and she ignores me.

I ask Alexa to skip this song and she doesn't know what I'm talking about.

Eventually I'm screaming "ALEXA, STOP!!!" and she cooly asks me what I'd like to listen to while Roxette continues to blare. I yell "OPEN THE POD BAY DOORS, ALEXA!" but the joke is lost on her.

After the song is over, Alexa goes quiet. As a test, I ask her to play songs by Matt & Kim, but she ignores me. Anything else I ask her to do... tell me the time... turn on some lights... read my notifications... she will do. But she categorically refuses to act on commands to control my Sonos speakers. It's as if she has forgotten that my Sonos speakers even exist.

Just to make sure she's hearing me, I look through my request history on the Alexa app. Yep, she heard me alright. Apparently Alexa has gone brain dead when it comes to Sonos, so it's off to the Sonos "Community" forums to find out if other people are having this problem. Turns out they are. This is not an isolated incident or Alexa disobedience... this is the Sonos Skill being wonky as fuck.

What follows is hours of disabling/re-enabling skills... logging-out/logging-in to accounts... deleting/reinstalling apps... forgetting/discovering devices... renaming devices... factory resetting speakers... the list goes on and on and on. Nothing seems to work, so I try everything. Eventually I accidentally get things running again. I say "accidentally" because I have no idea which thing... combination of things... or order I did things... ended up being what got Sonos working with Alexa again. Not a frickin' clue.

And she seems to be working correctly now, though a couple times I've asked her to pause my music and when I ask her to resume, she sends the command to my television instead of my Sonos, at which point I'm back to disabling/re-learning skills.

Obviously, Sonos and/or Amazon has some work to do.

For the sake of anybody coming to this page via Google search because they are having the same problem I was and are ready to smash their Sonos speakers with a hammer, I have three tips (in addition to all the stuff you'll find out there already)...

  1. The thing that seemed to make the biggest difference was forgetting all my devices under "Smart Home" in the Alexa app, renaming my speakers to something entirely unused ("Galley" instead of "Kitchen" and "Lounge" instead of "Living Room" in my case) then rediscovering everything.
  2. When you connect an Amazon Music Unlimted account to Sonos, you're asked to name it. Sometimes (especially if you use different names) you end up linked to more than one account. If you have the individual plan, you'll get caught in a loop of "Amazon Music Unlimited is already playing on another device. Pause that device to play on this one." This drove me insane because I only have one device using my account, but it ended up that it was being used twice. At this point, delete ALL Amazon Music accounts from the Sonos app and then re-add it.
  3. The minute things even start to go wrong, don't keep hammering away at it to try and get it to work through brute force of will. It never works. Start with disabling/re-learning the Sonos skill immediately and you might get lucky that this is all it takes. The longer I spent avoiding disabling/re-learning, the more crazy crap I ended up having to do to get things working again.

This whole ordeal was frustrating to the point of rage for me, and I'm still not quite sure what in the hell is going on. I can only hope that it all gets figured out... soon... so that I don't burst a blood vessel or something.

And now for "ducking"...

Yesterday I mentioned that Alexa on Sonos One has trouble figuring out where you are located so that the correct speaker is talking to you. I ask it a question in the living room and it responds in the kitchen... that kind of thing. But there was something I left out.

"Ducking" is when Alexa will drop the volume of whatever she is playing through her speakers so she can hear your commands. And while it sounds logical, it's actually stupid, stupid, STUPID!

Alexa has a microphone optimized to pick your voice out of other sounds in the room. As an example... when I have the television blaring, I can still talk to the Alexa device sitting next to it. Alexa can't control my television volume, so she does her best to hear around it. And it works... mostly... unless the volume is so loud that she can't make out what I'm saying.

But when your music or your television is plugged into your Sonos system, Alexa can control its volume. And she will lower it each and every time you ask her to do something. And that's not the worst part. If I say "Alexa, next!" to skip a song that's playing, she starts ducking the volume seconds after I'm done speaking... which means she is ducking for nothing!

And it gets better!

Alexa doesn't just duck the volume on the speaker you're talking to... she ducks the volume on ALL Sonos speakers in your whole house.

This is a major bug which I'm told Sonos is working with Amazon to fix.

I sure as hell hope so, because it's a seriously demented flaw that will be especially insane when you have several people living in your home and they are all talking to Alexa in different rooms. Jimmy asks Alexa what time it is in his bedroom on the second floor and the speaker you're listening to in the basement drops in volume? What sense does that even make? Did nobody at Sonos notice this when they were designing the One speaker? NOBODY?!? Good Lord. There's stupid... and then there's... whatever this is. This issue should have been resolved with Amazon long before the product was released to market.

Assuming Sonos makes it so that ducking only happens with the speakers in the room where somebody is talking to Alexa, that will be a big improvement... but I still won't be happy. I want to be able to turn ducking off completely. I never needed it when Alexa didn't have control over my speakers, and I don't need it now that she does. Maybe some people like it or need it, but those of us who don't should have the option of turning it off. Until we do, integrating Alexa with Sonos is kinda stupid.

And so...

The only option for Sonos to work the way it's supposed to and not duck your volume is to disable Alexa from having anything to do with your Sonos speakers. Which is insane for somebody like me who purchased the speakers specifically for their Alexa integration.

Ultimately Sonos One is a very cool speaker with some amazing features which was rushed to market to beat out Apple's HomePod. Unfortunately the thing that makes the Sonos One so compelling... having Alexa integration... is not done very well. Which is a real shame, because this is something which could potentially take Alexa to another level.

I'd say "This is the end of SONOS Week at Blogography... thanks for reading!," but I cannot. Tune in tomorrow to find out why.

   

Dubaya Dubaya Dee See

Posted on Tuesday, June 5th, 2018

Dave!And lo, Apple did unleash another World Wide Developer's Conference this week.

Given my rapidly diminishing enthusiasm for Apple, I wasn't the least bit compelled to drop everything and watch it live. Instead I made it my after-dinner entertainment tonight.

Here are my thoughts on the parts that stood out to me...

iOS AR
If there's a promise for the future of computing that most people can see coming, it's augmented reality. Apple has teamed up with Pixar to create the USDZ file format for AR Kit 2. This is a fascinating advancement, and the fact that Adobe has grabbed it by the throat and promised support for USDZ in Creative Cloud bodes well for the format. Craig Federighi demonstrated customizing a USDZ guitar and dropping it into reality at actual size so you can visualize exactly what it will look like in your space...

Apple iOS AR Kit

Federighi then demoed AR "Shared Experiences" where two people were playing the same game from their own perspective, and it looks pretty amazing...

Apple iOS AR Kit

But the coolest demo? LEGO!!! They've shown how their physical models can be recognized by AR Kit, then expanded upon with virtual "sets" which are interactive in AR space. Then they showed how two people could explore the space with their own characters at the same time as your real-life model comes alive...

Apple iOS AR Kit LEGO

You can even look inside the physical model to see what's happening inside of it. Kids are going to love this. Especially LEGO-loving BIG kids like me!

The future of AR is mind-boggling. You just know that Apple is developing a headset for full VR/AR envelopment. It will be cool to visit the world... real and imagined... from your sofa.

PHOTOS
I'm still sore from Apple discontinuing Aperture, but they're adding interesting features to Photos, including search, which I'm assuming is making use of their machine-learning algorithm. This will make it easy to dig through the bajillion images on my iPhone. Other features, like automatic image collaboration between iPhone users are also a step in the right direction.

SIRI
I use Alexa on my Amazon Echo dozens of times a day because she can do so much stuff. I rarely use Siri because she can't really do much of anything. Apple seems to be aware of this, and is attempting to make Siri more relevant and useful. A big step up is "Siri Shortcuts," which allows Siri to be customized for your life, and even monitor your habits and schedule to suggest ways she can help out. It's all nice, and will probably encourage me to use Siri more, but my primary use of a digital assistant is home automation. Unfortunately Apple is married to their shitty, shitty "HomeKit," which I gave up on. Maybe if they start allowing other automation interfaces... like my ISY... I'd be able to use Siri for many of the things I use Alexa for.

SCREEN TIME
It's kind of bizarre that Apple is advocating not using your iPhone so much, but once they sell you the phone, they probably don't care how often you use it. To that end, they've expanded what "Do Not Disturb" can do, added new features to slow or group Notifications, and even added "Screen Time" which can monitor and limit how much you use certain apps. Parents can use "Screen Time" to monitor, adjust, and allow/disallow apps on their kid's phones remotely... and restrict access to certain apps and sites. It's a great idea... but I wonder how many people will use it. They use their phone when they want to use their phone and it seems bizarre to set limits on that. Our lives are our phones now, for better or worse.

ANIMOJI
I rarely use Animoji. Apple adding the ability to stick your tongue out or customize Animoji to look like you with "Memoji" is probably not going to change that. It's fun, and very cool... but I don't see it getting much use from me...

Apple iOS Memoji

Being able to put an Animoji over your head and add stickers live for photos is an interesting spin, however...

Apple iOS Memoji

Maybe I'll be more apt to video chat if I can use an avatar like this and not have to worry whether or not I'm having a good hair day.

FACETIME
Group Facetime for up to 32 people at the same time is a pretty incredible technical achievement. The fact that Apple made the feature so smart is what makes Apple be Apple. When somebody starts speaking, they enlarge so you know who's doing the talking. You can also use Live Animoji or Live Memoji during Facetime calls. This would be a complete zoo, but an interesting one.

WATCH OS
I always like to see how Apple Watch is maturing but, until they find a way to make it thinner on my skinny arm, I'm just not interested... no matter how many cool and useful features get added. Kinda sad how Apple has resurrected the dreaded "push-to-talk" and is calling it "Walkie Talkie." I frickin' hate push-to-talk because I don't want to hear people shouting to each other over a phone (or watch) in public. Aren't phone calls irritating enough?

APPLE TV
I really like my Apple TV, but it's got a lot of problems that no amount of new features are going to fix. I can't tell you how many times I've had it lock up. Or be unable to stream a purchase. Or have the interface go all screwy for no reason. I reboot the dang thing so many times that I finally bought an electrical plug that I can control on my iPhone so I don't have to get up, unplug it, then plug it back in. When I contact Apple support, they tell me the problem is always, always, always my internet. So I switched from cable to fiber, which is ten times faster download speed. Still having problems. If bandwidth issues are such an AppleTV-killer, they need to have their apps be a lot smarter on handling it. None of the other apps on my AppleTV have any problems. Netflix, HBO, CBS, ABC, YouTube, Hulu... all of them just fine. So it's not the AppleTV hardware... it's Apple's software that's the problem. You'd think with billions of dollars Apple could get somebody to fix their shit, but no.

MOHAVE
"We love the Mac! — Tim Cook says this every time he presents the Mac at WWDC. He pretty much has to say it because Mac users aren't seeing it. I am almost to my breaking point with frustration at just how bad MacOS has gotten. Printing is so screwed up that it's almost impossible to get work done. Way too many times I end up having to put my work into a PDF and send it to a colleague so they can print it on their Windows machine. Apple can blame printer companies all they want, but it's their OS updates which cause things to break. And lately Apple introduced a huge bug which makes your mouse pointer unable to access menus if you go to the very top of the screen. You have to move the pointer down on the menu bar in order to get a menu to work. WHAT THE FUCK?!?? does ANYBODY bother to beta test this shit anymore? Who the fuck releases such obvious bugs into an OS update? Apple. That's who. They may "love the Mac" but they are constantly shitting all over it, so you'll have to excuse me for not believing them.

STACKS
Apple has been promising automated file stacking and organization for years... but the only place it was ever implemented was in the Dock. Now it's come to the desktop. This is a nice feature for people like me who make a huge mess out of their desktop on a daily basis. But this is the biggest new feature of the next MacOS X release? Stacks? Really? I don't give a shit how much Apple professes to "love the Mac" they are letting it stagnate to obsolescence, which is pathetic.

QUICKLOOK
Adding handy tools to QuickLook is nice, but they aren't very smart about where they are putting their efforts. What about the third party tool you have to buy in order to modify file dates and manipulate other file data? THAT'S WHAT THE FINDER SHOULD BE ABLE TO DO! But instead we get the ability to trim a video clip in the Mac file manager? WTF? Handy, yes, but is editing video something you really need to do on the desktop? Is opening up iMovie really so difficult? How about adding new file tools to the file manager? Revolutionary, I know.

NEWS
I actually use News on my iPhone, so I'm happy that Apple is bringing the app to my desktop.

HOME
I will say this again for those in the cheap seats... HomeKit is utter shit. Partly because AppleTV is totally inadequate as a hub for it. Mostly because it's so restrictive that anybody serious about home automation just doesn't give a shit about it. I tried HomeKit with my locks and couldn't wait to get rid of it. Unreliable, slow, and not nearly pervasive enough with manufacturers, Apple should just buy a company that actually knows how to do this and give up on their massive failure.

PRIVACY
Apple's continuing efforts to protect its users' privacy is admirable. No matter how far they go, it will never be far enough, but I'm grateful for what we do get.

ML
Machine Learning is one of those things that's incredibly useful, and the fact that Apple has been advancing in this area so rapidly is encouraging. And now they've created tools for analyzing datasets which make it easier than ever to get information into a machine learning environment. The possibilities here are mind-boggling, and one of the few exciting things to be happening in MacOS X. Whether it will get put to good use is anybody's guess.

MERGE
Here we go with "We love the Mac" again. This time in the context of the question "Is Apple merging iOS and MacOS?" The answer is "no," but Apple is bringing more of the tools from iOS to MacOS so that iOS apps can be ported to the Mac. Which is great for developers. If your app can run on a phone, pad, and desktop, then this is a big step forward to making it easier to get there.

SWIFT
I have a long programming history. I've coded in BASIC, Pascal, Modula-2, Assembler, JavaScript, Java, PHP, C, C++, Objective C, Ruby, Python, and probably a half-dozen others I've forgot about. I rarely have time to code now-a-days, but I'm intrigued by Apple's Swift programming language. There's a lot to like. It's relatively simple. It's relatively complete. It's relatively easy to debug. And holy crap is it fast. I definitely like it better than Apple's previous tool of choice, Objective-C, and it's maturing quickly. I don't think I'd want to write an app for iOS without it. Yes, there's a way to go yet, and Apple has shifted some major concepts which require re-coding... but overall it's a great environment to develop in, and it's only going to get better in time.

   
And that was the end of that. No new hardware released announced for the MacOS X side of things, which is hugely disappointing. Apple used to absolutely rule this arena. Even people who had to run Windows were buying Mac laptops to do it because they were just that good. But Apple doesn't seem to give a shit now... releasing "pro" equipment that's not what "pros" even want. Instead of true innovation we get a "touch bar" or some silly shit slapped on, which is just a weak effort to hide the fact that the base specs aren't much better than they were five years ago. Oh well. Apple had a good run, but I guess it couldn't last forever. Hopefully Adobe will port their software to Linux so I can switch away from Apple before they hit rock bottom.

Again.

Where's the ghost of Steve Jobs when you need him?

   

Bullet Sunday 470

Posted on Sunday, July 15th, 2018

Dave!We're on fire again and smoke fills the air... but don't despair, because an all new Bullet Sunday starts now...

   
• M-S-G Can You Dig It? Absolutely fascinating...

I don't eat Chinese food hardly at all (it's not very good here, and choices for vegetarians are severely limited)... and yet I've heard the MSG myth forever.

   
• Monkey Business! In case everybody doesn't know... I put the first volume of Bad Monkey Comix up to read online for free. You can take a look by clicking on this image...

Bad Monkey Comics Vol. One Cover

Or you can just click this link!

   
• New MacBooks! Apple's new "Pro" MacBooks once again lacking the ports that "pros" need to actually FUNCTION in their fucking JOBS. Such a crock of shit. DONGLES! DONGLES EVERYWHERE!!!

MacBook Pro 2018

I thought that Apple was supposed to be working with pros to find out what they want in "pro" products? I don't think that's true. Otherwise they wouldn't be sticking with a shallow, shitty keyboard and no standard USB ports. At least you get more than one port now. Still no MagSafe, which sucks.

   
• Science Fact! Tom Bailey's new album, Science Fiction, is here! If you pre-ordered, it has probably arrived (my autographed copy of the deluxe set did!) but you can also listen to it on the usual streaming services. I'm saving my review for another entry, but here's a sneak preview: love it.

   
• Be You! Oh noes. Roll up on a woman, call her a slut because of what she is wearing, then think that you can then proceed to slut-shame her into submission? Not. This. Woman. Not today. My guess is not any day...

What absolutely kills me about this is how we rave about "American freedom"... but never seem to back that up. Whether it's telling a Muslim woman she's wearing too much... or telling this woman she's wearing too little... everybody is just DYING to tell OTHER PEOPLE HOW TO LIVE THEIR LIVES. Well fuck that. Live your truth. Be who you are. Defy those who would oppress YOUR FREEDOM by defining what it means for you to be free. So long as you're not endangering others, be free to be you.

   
• Incompetence. I have been trying very hard to keep politics off of Blogography because I don't want it degrading into a comedy of horrors that makes me want to slit my wrists every time I visit my own blog. But things are so bad right now. So bad. And people don't even seem to realize what's happening. The Trump Administration trade fiasco is probably going to damage this country more than anything so far. Companies are already laying off scores of workers because the reciprocal tariffs are making it impossible for them to operate. It's horrendous, and it's just the beginning. From Professor David Honig...

I’m going to get a little wonky and write about Donald Trump and negotiations. For those who don't know, I'm an adjunct professor at Indiana University - Robert H. McKinney School of Law and I teach negotiations. Okay, here goes.
   
Trump, as most of us know, is the credited author of The Art of the Deal, a book that was actually ghost written by a man named Tony Schwartz, who was given access to Trump and wrote based upon his observations. If you've read The Art of the Deal, or if you've followed Trump lately, you'll know, even if you didn't know the label, that he sees all dealmaking as what we call "distributive bargaining."
   
Distributive bargaining always has a winner and a loser. It happens when there is a fixed quantity of something and two sides are fighting over how it gets distributed. Think of it as a pie and you're fighting over who gets how many pieces. In Trump's world, the bargaining was for a building, or for construction work, or subcontractors. He perceives a successful bargain as one in which there is a winner and a loser, so if he pays less than the seller wants, he wins. The more he saves the more he wins.
   
The other type of bargaining is called integrative bargaining. In integrative bargaining the two sides don't have a complete conflict of interest, and it is possible to reach mutually beneficial agreements. Think of it, not a single pie to be divided by two hungry people, but as a baker and a caterer negotiating over how many pies will be baked at what prices, and the nature of their ongoing relationship after this one gig is over.
   
The problem with Trump is that he sees only distributive bargaining in an international world that requires integrative bargaining. He can raise tariffs, but so can other countries. He can't demand they not respond. There is no defined end to the negotiation and there is no simple winner and loser. There are always more pies to be baked. Further, negotiations aren't binary. China's choices aren't (a) buy soybeans from US farmers, or (b) don't buy soybeans. They can also (c) buy soybeans from Russia, or Argentina, or Brazil, or Canada, etc. That completely strips the distributive bargainer of his power to win or lose, to control the negotiation.
   
One of the risks of distributive bargaining is bad will. In a one-time distributive bargain, e.g. negotiating with the cabinet maker in your casino about whether you're going to pay his whole bill or demand a discount, you don't have to worry about your ongoing credibility or the next deal. If you do that to the cabinet maker, you can bet he won't agree to do the cabinets in your next casino, and you're going to have to find another cabinet maker.
   
There isn't another Canada.
   
So when you approach international negotiation, in a world as complex as ours, with integrated economies and multiple buyers and sellers, you simply must approach them through integrative bargaining. If you attempt distributive bargaining, success is impossible. And we see that already.
   
Trump has raised tariffs on China. China responded, in addition to raising tariffs on US goods, by dropping all its soybean orders from the US and buying them from Russia. The effect is not only to cause tremendous harm to US farmers, but also to increase Russian revenue, making Russia less susceptible to sanctions and boycotts, increasing its economic and political power in the world, and reducing ours. Trump saw steel and aluminum and thought it would be an easy win, BECAUSE HE SAW ONLY STEEL AND ALUMINUM - HE SEES EVERY NEGOTIATION AS DISTRIBUTIVE. China saw it as integrative, and integrated Russia and its soybean purchase orders into a far more complex negotiation ecosystem.
   
Trump has the same weakness politically. For every winner there must be a loser. And that's just not how politics works, not over the long run.
   
For people who study negotiations, this is incredibly basic stuff, negotiations 101, definitions you learn before you even start talking about styles and tactics. And here's another huge problem for us.
   
Trump is utterly convinced that his experience in a closely held real estate company has prepared him to run a nation, and therefore he rejects the advice of people who spent entire careers studying the nuances of international negotiations and diplomacy. But the leaders on the other side of the table have not eschewed expertise, they have embraced it. And that means they look at Trump and, given his very limited tool chest and his blindly distributive understanding of negotiation, they know exactly what he is going to do and exactly how to respond to it.
   
From a professional negotiation point of view, Trump isn't even bringing checkers to a chess match. He's bringing a quarter that he insists of flipping for heads or tails, while everybody else is studying the chess board to decide whether its better to open with Najdorf or Grünfeld.
   
— David Honig

This level of incompetence when it comes to trade is going to completely and totally fuck us. And make no mistake that we, as a country, are fucked. And this is just trade. We are equally fucked in many other areas. Which leads me to believe that President Trump thinks that the era where America was "great" is The Great Depression.

And don't think that just getting a new president in two years is going to fix the problem. The things that have been screwed up may very well take decades to correct. If they are correctable at all.

   
• Czech! Came home to see Stripes was on this past week. It was at the part where their unit has accidentally crossed the border into Czechoslovakia and so, naturally, they're all going to die. Amazing how international relations have changed within my lifetime. I've been to Czechoslovakia... and China... and Romania... and other countries it was assumed I would never be able to step foot in back in the day...

Bill Murray and Harold Ramis in Srripes

Of course... thanks to the ineptness of the Trump Administration, we may very well be going back to those times, so I guess I'm happy to have enjoyed it while it lasted. Pretty soon the only place that Americans may be able to travel is Russia and North Korea.

   
• Which Brings Us To... So... under President Obama we were the laughing stock of the world you say? What about now, you feckless ridiculous ignorant fuck?

The absurdity of where we are as a country keeps hitting new lows.

   
And, I think that's enough bullets for a smoke-filled Sunday. See you next week!

   

Mesh Wifi After the Fall

Posted on Friday, September 7th, 2018

Dave!Last night as I was hanging up my laundry to dry, I slipped on a patch of wet floor and fell. Hard. No idea where the water came from. Twisted my ankle... ripped the toenail off my big toe... blood everywhere... scraped up my leg... slammed my elbow into the door frame. It was a mess. And as I was laying there in agony, I called my cats to please help. They just sat there on the cat tree and stared at me.

The peril of living alone, I guess. I'll probably end up dying while Jake and Jenny watch. I really need to find out if Alexa can call 9-1-1 for me so I can call an ambulance before I pass out and my cats eat me.

But, when it comes to bad news, that's not all!

I really don't have any extra money to spend right now because I bought a bunch of stuff I shouldn't have. New clothes and camera gear for my upcoming trip. New books and movies that were on sale. New kitchenware. A couple new tools. It's a non-stop parade of extravagance up in here. The good news is that I'll have it all paid off by mid-October and can end the year back on track.

At least that was the plan until my router died on Wednesday.

Since I don't exist without the internet, I rushed to Amazon to see if there were any cheap deals on a decent router. There were. Sweet.

But then...

As I was browsing I ran across the Google Wifi Mesh Router...

Google WiFi Mesh Router System

The reviews were stellar so I decided to research it a little bit. After a half-hour of fun-times Googling reviews on Google WiFi I had a 3-Pack in my shopping cart. $257 later* and it was ordered.

And let me tell you why.

The average US home is 2,687 square feet. Mine is smaller... around 1500 square feet. That's twice as much as I really need now that my mom is gone, but I have a room for guests and plenty of space for the cats, so it's all good. You would think that since my home is smaller and two-story that a single WiFi router would cover everything just fine.

You would think.

And to a certain extent it does.

But a reliable signal cant seem to make it from the fiber box at the back of my house all the way through my main floor and garage to the security cameras at the front of my house. This causes occasional drop-outs which can be annoying when I get an alert from the security system that motion has been detected and I can't use my cameras to see what's going on.

Also... my Ring Pro doorbell drops its signal way too often despite there being a straight-shot from the back of my house to the front door. That never happened with the original Ring doorbell, so I have no idea what's happening. Ring probably just used cheaper components to make the newer models and it requires a stronger signal.

I tried a WiFi extender, but could never get it to work very well. I was having to reboot it once a week.

And so... mesh WiFi.

Instead of one router with WiFi serving the entire house, mesh networks spread the signal out to nodes throughout your home, eliminating dead zones. I've got the node with the fiber connection at the back of my house... another node above the stairwell in the middle of my house... and a final node in the garage at the front of my house. They all work together to blanket my entire home with sweet, sweet WiFi goodness. Kinda like this...

Google WiFi Mesh Router System
Not my house, but you get the idea.

But wait, there's more!

Google has done some very smart engineering to make WiFi setup and management so much easier. First of all, you have just one network name to worry about. This has always been true for mesh networks because the system switches you to the node with the best signal automatically... just like a cell phone does as you drive around. But where Google takes it further is that your 2.4GHz and 5GHz networks also have the same name! If a device is getting good signal from the faster, but less powerful 5GHz band, it will use that. If a device needs the stronger signal on the slower 2.4GHz band, it will use that. And it's all 100% automatic. This right here was where I decided that Google Mesh WiFi was for me. You don't have to decide anything. You let the nodes and your devices figure it all out.

Setup was laughably easy.** It's literally a matter of plugging it in, scanning QR codes on your nodes, and naming your network (I used the same name as my old one so I wouldn't have to go around reconfiguring all my devices). I had the extra step of authenticating the new router with my ISP, but it was no big deal. The only irritating part was that I have fiber which doesn't have a modem, but the setup assumes there's a modem and made me wait around for a modem reboot that I never had. What a waste of time.

Turns out all the reviews were right. Google's Mesh WiFi system is amazing. Speed tests shows that I'm getting better speed than I ever got with my old router. What's really strange is that a single node with no antennas sticking out had pretty much the same range as my old router which had ugly antennas sticking out everywhere! And once all three nodes were set up, I get full bars on signal absolutely everywhere. Even in my driveway and to the edges of my yard!

And this makes for some intriguing possibilities when it comes to my home automation obsession, because Google WiFi has IFTTT (If This Then That) integration and can trigger IFTTT actions or be triggered by them. I just added two actions in minutes... one to prioritize bandwidth on my Ring doorbell when it senses motion... and another notifies me when my iPhone connects to my Google Wifi. This second one is just a test right now. What would be cool would be if Nest allowed IFTTT actions to adjust image quality on Nest Cams. That way I could have all my cameras use max bandwidth and best image quality whenever I'm out of the house, then go back to normal quality when I'm home so I can use my bandwidth for other things...

IFTTT with Google WiFi

IFTTT Alert with Google WiFi

Another thing I absolutely love about Google Mesh WiFi? The cool tools it has built in! Before I had fiber internet, it was a real struggle to balance device bandwidth... especially since I had no idea how much bandwidth each device was using. This became less of an issue when I got fiber, but it's still nice to know how much bandwidth my cameras are using so I know what quality picture to broadcast. With Google, this is a piece of cake. Open the app, find the device you're curious about, click on it, and the upload/download bandwidth is displayed. Simple. After a few hours of poking around, I found that I could increase the picture quality on some cameras without causing problems for any other devices.

Many of the "standard" toys for a router are also included. Like a firewall, NAT, DNS, WAN, PPoE, and device prioritization. But there are a few things missing for advanced network configuration. Things like being able to decide what IP block to use. Out of necessity, my non-cloud security cameras all have static IP addresses at the back-end of the 192.168.0.X block (instead of getting IPs dynamically like my cloud cams do). But Google WiFi uses the 192.168.86.X block and I found no way to change this. Which meant I had to reconfigure all six cameras in an IP reservation I made in the .86 range. Such a pain in the ass. Another pain in the ass? There's no web interface. You have to use a phone app. Which would be fine if the app were stellar, but it's really not. It's "serviceable," and that's about the best thing you can say about it. At the very least they should have an option to display IP addresses instead of just MAC addresses on your device list. It's rage-inducing to have to open every device just so you can see its IP and try to figure out what all the "Unknown Devices"*** are so you can name them.

And speaking of devices... when you run a speed test on all your devices, or click on an individual device to get more information... you can see which node the device is connecting to...

   
Google WiFi Device Hub Connect

For the most part, each device is connected to the node closest to it. But not always. My Harmony Television hub is connected to the hub upstairs... instead of the primary hub that's right next to it. No clue why that is, but I'm guessing Google WiFi has its reasons. So long as everything works, I'll choose not to worry about it.

So far the only thing that's given me pause over the whole Google Mesh WiFi experience is being forced to tie everything to Google. Believe it or not, the main node has to be connected 24/7 to your Google Account to even function. What the hell? I'm guessing the excuse is that your settings are stored in your Google Account in case you ever need to replace or upgrade your system. Which is bullshit, of course... why not just be able to download a backup? I have no idea if this means Google is tracking all my online activity, but it wouldn't surprise me. I haven't investigated migrating my Nord VPN account to run from Google WiFi, but I should probably do that.

In the end? Very happy with Google's mesh router system. It's weird to me that Google is now occupying problem-solving space that Apple used to, but the system is priced very well, is easy to set up, works automatically to give you the best possible WiFi, and seems to have solved some nagging problems I was having.

Can't help get me up off the floor when I fall, but it can't do everything.

   
UPDATE: Welp. All of a sudden my iPhone could not connect to the internet but my MacBook could. I called up the Google WiFi app but couldn't connect to the Google WiFi router, which was odd because my MacBook still had internet. Just as I was ready to start screaming, my MacBook also lost internet. Then the Google WiFi router restarted on its own and everything began working again. I hope this isn't a regular occurrence, because that will drive me batshit crazy. Also? Here is where only allowing connection via an app can really screw you. It would have been nice if I could have logged into a web interface while my laptop was still able to get internet so I could try and figure out what was going wrong. Also? WHERE IN THE HELL ARE THE LOG FILES?!? I have no idea what happened, and without log files I'll probably never know.

   

*Regular price is $300, but Amazon had the three-pack on sale for $257 plus tax as of this writing. SCORE!

**The only hiccup was that my "smart outlet" lost its internet connection during the transition, which caused it to power-cycle the Google WiFi router as I was adding nodes. Oops. Had to force-quit the Google WiFi app because it got stuck in a loop so I could start over...

Google WiFi App Error

This was my fault for not making sure my outlet was plugged into internet after I got the primary node set up... but Google needs to fix their app so it doesn't get stuck like this. You can't escape the error dialgue no matter how many times you press "OK" because it just pops back up again.

***It drives me insane when device manufacturers don't put the name of their devices... or, at the very least, their company name... in the networking table along with the MAC address. How in the hell am I supposed to know what all these "mystery" devices are on my network? Sometimes you can get a clue by looking up the MAC address owner, but not always. This results in my having to pause the device's internet access so I can try to figure things out that way. Doesn't always help, which means I'm running around the house turning devices on and off in an attempt to figure out which devices are what.

   

Apple Event Baby Steps

Posted on Thursday, September 13th, 2018

Dave!As my enthusiasm for Apple has waned, so too has my enthusiasm for their "events" where they unleash their new products and services on the world.

I do watch them of course. I may not be the raving Apple Whore™ I once was but, as there is no better alternative, I am still tied to the Apple ecosystem.

   
THIS IS BIG
If you want to watch the event before reading what I have to say about it, knock yourself out...

If you'd rather just get an 108-second summary, here you go...

Gotta hand it to Apple... boy do they know how to make "stuff" seem cool.

   
APPLE PARK
After moving from Apple Campus to Apple Park (home of the Giant Donut HQ, AKA "The Apple Mothership"... a building larger than The Pentagon), information on the massive complex in Cupertino has been relatively scarce. Yes, there's been a good article, a few videos, and some interviews, but nothing showing a major behind the scenes look at any of it. At this year's event (held in the Steve Jobs Theater), there were new bits and pieces shown in the cute video that started things off. If you didn't watch the entire keynote above, here it is...

Gorgeous. Obviously I'm dying to visit. But since the only thing you can see when you show up is the 100 million-dollar visitor center, I don't know that it's worth the trip.

   
APPLE RETAIL
If there's one area where Apple continues to impress me, it's with their retail operations. The stunning architecture that is the hallmark of these gorgeous new spaces is mind-blowing...

Apple Event: Retail

Now that Hard Rock Cafes have gone all hipster-lounge and are not nearly the destination-worthy attractions they used to be, one could make a strong argument for visiting Apple Stores around the globe.

   
APPLE WATCH
As I have said every time a new Apple Watch is released, the product is not for me. I have tiny wrists and wearing a massive piece of tech on my arm is not something that works. I'd much rather keep my iPhone in my pocket and use that than to be uncomfortable. Not that I don't see the appeal. Having so much so readily available is definitely something that interests me. Especially with the new Series 4 watches, which add all kinds of things that have me reconsidering my stance...

Apple Event: Apple Watch 4

The sizing issue is helped by more of the product being devoted to the watch face... and that it is supposed to be thinner. Probably not so thin that I'd be happy to wear it, but anything to take bulk away is a step in the right direction. Perhaps it's time that I visit an Apple Store and see if the smaller watch is something I could handle? Maybe. Or, if you factor in the new EKG capabilities, probably...

Apple Event: Apple Watch 4

Yes, you read that right, the thing has a frickin' EKG built into it! I've always had issues with rapid heartbeat, so maybe the new pulse sensors and EKG stuff makes Apple Watch Series 4 a smart move? And now they've also added fall detection to the mix. Considering I just had a bad spill earlier this week, maybe this is more of a necessity than a luxury as I get older? It's certainly very cool. If my cats won't help me and I can't ask Alexa to get help because I'm unconscious, perhaps now is the time to invest...

Apple Event: Apple Watch 4

We don't have an Apple Store in my corner of Redneckistan, but I think AT&T stores will be carrying them... so maybe there's that. Or a trip to Seattle to check things out.

   
iPHONE XS
It would be easy to dismiss the evolution of the iPhone X to iPhone XS with a big "meh" since things haven't changed a huge amount there. But there are three things that make Apple's latest and greatest worth a look. The first is that they are coming out with a "XS Max" version of iPhone X with a larger screen. I don't care about this, but I know a lot of people do. I was not happy having to go with the larger size of the "X" but ultimately adjusted. There's no way I want to have to get used to something even bigger in my pocket. Assuming it would even fit in my pocket...

Apple Event: iPhone

The second? Photography. The faster processor of the next-gen A12 Bionic chip sounds pretty sweet. The machine learning enhancements of the "Neural Engine" alone make for some exciting possibilities down the pipe... particularly in the arena of Augmented Reality stuff. I use my phone primarily for calls, texts, home automation control, and Facebook... none of which will benefit from all this additional power. What will benefit? The thing I use my camera for more than any other function (by a long shot!)... photography. And here's why... the new processing power will allow you to adjust aperture after the photo has been taken! So you don't have to tap anywhere to set focus points and depth of field, you just fire away and adjust after the fact. Amazing...

Apple Event: iPhone

Apple Event: iPhone

More than anything else Apple has tossed out at this event, this is what makes me covet the new iPhone XS. Well, this and the fact that they've upgraded the camera itself again. Better low-light shots with less noise and more detail. Better HDR. Better Bokeh. Stronger dual-lens capabilities. Apple just keeps getting closer and closer to DSLRs. Heck, I wish I had some of these capabilities with my DSLRs!

And that third thing? The display. Hands-on reports say that the display fidelity of the XS is pretty spectacular and a noticeable upgrade from the X. This intrigues me because I thought the OLED Super Retina X display was pretty great already.

There are a few other notable improvements. Apparently the new XS models are capable of "Gigabyte class" LTE cellular speeds. The lack of which was a big criticism of mine on the old X model. But until I know if "Gigabyte class LTE" equals "Gigabyte LTE" I have no idea what this means. It only matters if you travel in an area where it's available but, if you are in that area, it does matter. Another interesting change? Apple has gone with eSIM rather than traditional SIM cards. This is fantastic if you have two phones and would like to be able to use both in a single handset. I have no idea how this affects being able to use foreign SIM cards for cheap foreign service when I'm out of the country though. Everybody knows to contact me with WhatsApp, so the carrier doesn't matter when I'm abroad... all that matters is the price. If I can't easily change SIMs with eSIM, that kinda sucks.

   
iPHONE XR
In general, I've preferred to grab an older model phone over a new cheaper model if I don't have the cash for the latest and greatest. In my head, "former top-of-the-line" beats "cheaper newer alternative" when it comes to tech. Not necessarily every time, but often. Apple once again dips into "cheaper newer" territory with their XR model. And, once again, it's the only way to get cool colors like Blue, White, Black, Yellow, Coral, and Red...

Apple Event: iPhone

Boy would I like to have me a red iPhone! Guess I'll have to settle for a red case again. But anyway... the XR features the same amazing Bionic 12 chip, cool wireless charging, and fantastic TrueDepth sensor array (so everybody can use Face ID to unlock their phone, a feature I love). Where Apple cut corners to get a cheaper price is mainly with the display. Being LCD, its contract ratio is 1,400:1 instead of the stunning 1,000,000:1 ration of the OLED on the XS. Also? No 3D Touch on these displays. Another savings is with the single camera vs. the dual-cams in the flagship models. None of these are terrible compromises. Whether it's worth the $250 savings is the question people are going to have to answer. If I weren't already going with Apple's iPhone Upgrade Program, I would probably pick the XR in red and be done with it. But since I am with Apple's iPhone Upgrade Program (the only way I can really afford any new-model iPhone now-a-days), I'll just swap my X for an XS when my renewal comes in December.

   
MACINTOSH
Not surprisingly, MacOS X was once again shit upon at the event. Apple has long been used their World Wide Developers Conference for all things Macintosh, so all we got from Tim was a reminder that "OS X Mojave" is coming on the 24th and it has "Dark Mode." Wheee...

Apple Event: MacOS X

Boy I wish Apple would put some serious money into redefining the desktop experience. Despite annual upgrades, MacOS X feels stale (at best) and downright stagnant (at worst). Giving us "dark mode" ain't going to fix that. Given how most of their revenue comes from iOS, neglecting the Mac is hardly surprisingly. But it is disappointing. Almost as disappointing as their "pro" model hardware that's not really "pro" at all.

   
And that's a wrap. Until next time. Where hopefully we will get an update on Apple's AirPower charging mat... something that was supposed to be released by now?

   

Automation with IFTTT

Posted on Friday, September 14th, 2018

Dave!Every time I mention my various home automation projects, I get emails with questions. After mentioning "IFTTT" while talking about my new Google WiFi router system, there were people asking about it. So I thought I'd go through ways that I use IFTTT so I can explain better.

And so...

Let's start with smart lightbulbs.

There are a lot of programmable LED multi-color lightbulbs out there. Probably the most famous brand is Philips "Hue" bulbs. They are very cool lights with a lot of capabilities and incredible flexibility. But they require a "Hue Hub" in order to operate. This is just silly in 2018, so I ignore them.* Maybe if I start changing all my lights out, I'll switch to Hue where having to buy a hub makes more economic sense.

In the meanwhile I buy GoSund "Smart Life" bulbs which do not requite a hub. They connect to WiFi directly. There are quite a few bulbs that connect directly, but the Smart Life bulbs are cheaper than most. Also? I have a half-dozen other Smart Life products, and find them reliable and easy to use.

But most important? Smart Life products support IFTTT.**

For those unfamiliar with it, IFTTT (If This Then That) is a free service which allows you to create all kinds of triggers to control IFTTT-enabled devices. There are scads of triggers. Scads upon scads. And the number of things you can do with the triggers is vast. Want to get a text every time the International Space Station flies over your house? NASA has a trigger you can connect to a Text Service to do that. Depending on which IFTTT-enabled devices you have, you could have just about anything happen every time the International Space Station flies over your house!

But anyway...

Where I live they pick up your garbage every Thursday morning. But EVERY-OTHER Thursday, they also pick up your recycle bin. I can never remember which Thursday is which when I set my garbage out on Wednesdays, so I decided to have my driveway light turn blue on days before recycle days using IFTTT.

It sounds simple, but the cheaper Smart Life bulbs don't have a lot of capabilities within their own app (which I use to turn outside lights on at sunset and off at sunrise). To do what I want to do, I have to use IFTTT and get creative to makes sure that things work reliably the way I want them to.

Every day at 11:00am, I have IFTTT set the Driveway Light to 100% Green at 100% Brightness (but leave the light itself off). This is the default color I choose because I support the Greenlight a Vet Project. I do this to be absolutely sure that my light is set to default every day in case I have to manually mess with the color for some reason. This also puts my light back to default the day after it goes Blue for Recycle Day...

IFFT Set Driveway Light to Default Green Color

I don't use my Google Calendar for anything EXCEPT a reoccurring event every-other-Wednesday at 1:00pm called "Recycle." Every time that event happens, I have IFTTT set the Driveway Light to 100% Blue at 100% Brightness, then turn it on. So when I come home from work I will have a reminder that I need to set out my recycle bin (in addition to my regular garbage). And when my neighbors see my blue light they know to set their bin out too...

IFFT Set Driveway Light to Blue Color on Google Calendar Event

And that's that. It really is this simple, and creating your own "recipes" for triggers and action is easy. If you want some tips on how to do all that, then a YouTube search will result in a lot of videos showing you how.

   
And another thing I've done with IFTTT?

I have my television on 90% of the time I'm home. Even when I'm not watching it, I like the background noise while I work. The first thing I usually do when I get home? Tell Alexa to turn on the television. But now I don't have to. When I come home and my iPhone connects to Google WiFi, the router automatically triggers IFTTT to have my Harmony Hub turn on my television. It's on when I walk in the door***...

When iPhone Connects Turn on Television

   
Yet another thing I've done with IFTTT?

I have a "Ring" smart doorbell. Thanks to Ring, I can answer my doorbell and see/talk to anybody who rings it no matter where I am. Problem is? I made the mistake of replacing my awesome Ring doorbell with a Ring Pro, which is a pile of shit. It disconnects from WiFi at random times for no reason at all. Even now that my Google WiFi Mesh provides plenty of signal, it's still disconnecting. And of course the piece of shit doesn't reconnect automatically. I have to remove the cover with a special screwdriver, press a button, then run through setup again. And the problem with that? How do I know when the doorbell drops WiFi?

Well, thanks to IFTTT, I have my Google WiFi router text me when my Ring doorbell goes offline...

When Ring Doorlbell Disconnects Text Me

   
I used to use my iPhone's location services to create a "fence" around my home. That way when I arrive or leave home, I can trigger events. But location services, while more accurate than ever, are still not entirely reliable. What is accurate and reliable? My iPhone connecting to my Google WiFi mesh network when I arrive home.*** Which is why I now use that to tell my house that's I'm coming or going. IFTTT then triggers things like setting my smart thermostat to either "Home" or "Away"...

Ecobee Controls on IFTTT

   
The possibilities are limited only by your imagination... and how many IFTTT-enabled devices you own... and what IFTTT services are available. The numbers are growing every day. Heck, even Dominoes Pizza has linked their Pizza Tracker technology to IFTTT! Have your garbage disposal turn on when your pizza goes in the oven... then have your garage door open when it's out for delivery...

When iPhone Connects Turn on Television

Regardless of how much home automation you have, there's still a lot of useful stuff you can o with IFTTT. For the longest time the only action I had was triggering Alexa to call my iPhone when I couldn't find it so I could follow the ring. That's magic right there.

   
*Also? There's some wacky hoops to jump through to get them connected to Alexa I think? I dunno. Whenever I "discover devices" with Alexa, I get some kind of warning for Hue stuff.

**Well, kinda. The ability to change bulb colors with the GoSund bulbs is kinda messed up right now... but I'm assured they are working on it!

*** I also have an IFTTT trigger to set my SONOS to a low volume so I don't give my cats a heart attack on days I was blasting music the night before.

**** Speaking of my Google WiFi mesh network... the sucker got range. When I was walking home from work today I had my phone out so I could see when I first started getting signal... it was here...

WiFi Range

Pretty great, right? My old router had 1/3 the range.

   

Almost AirPods

Posted on Friday, November 2nd, 2018

Dave!I bought Apple's "AirPods" when I got my iPhone X.

Since there was no more headphone jack, I pretty much had to. I mean, I'd purchased wireless headphones in the past... but they never had the sound I got from my faithful Sony buds, especially in the bass. AirPods were reported to have fantastic bass and nice clarity, along with being wireless, so they should be perfect, right?

Gronk Tide Pods Says AirPods!

Not so much, no. I ended up returning them.

The sound was, as expected, fantastic (for an in-ear bud). But they would not stay put in my ears and fall out easily. Especially out of my left ear, which is apparently mutated or something. I was told I could buy some silicone "hooks" to wrap around the AirPods so they would "stick" better, but that was a crappy solution because then you have to take the hooks off in order to fit them in their recharging case.

I went back to the dongle adapter so I could plug my Sony buds into my iPhone X, which sucks ass because then I can't charge the dang thing at the same time. I bought a splitter, but it didn't work half the time. How much easier would my life be if Apple would just put the fucking headphone jack back in their fucking phones because I do not buy the bullshit excuse of "not enough room." Lazy. Apple just doesn't want to have an ugly hole on their pretty pretty phone.

Fast forward a year.

There I was trying to get rid of some expiring shopping points and I see that Apple AirPods are available. This was shocking because, despite being nearly two years old, they are still in high demand and sometimes hard to find. But... here they were (because I'm guessing that Apple is coming out with a new version any day now). My points plus $55 and they were mine. Never mind that I don't really have $55. Never mind that they don't fit in my ears. I figured that I'd buy them anyway then get some of those stupid silicone hooks. At $159, they were not worth that hassle. But $55? Maybe.

And that's when I decided to Google and see if other people were having trouble fitting them in their ears. Turns out I was not alone! I ran across a forum post on MacRumors that said dots of Nexcare tape can be applied and solve the problem.

I gave it a try and it kinda worked. But adding a third piece of the tape mostly worked...

Apple Air Pods Fit Fix!

All those dots and they still fit in the charging case! Perhaps with some experimentation I can figure out a better way of applying the tape so I won't have to use so much of it. As it is, I'm still incredibly paranoid about them falling out of my ears. I just hope I don't end up losing them, as that would be just my luck.

"But other than the fit, how do you like them?"

Well, they're pretty great.

The core to Apple's lone wireless earbud entry is their W1 chip, which allows for some interesting features. The best being the smart way that they pair and sync up with your iPhone automatically after they have been set up (speaking of which, setup is a breeze). The chip is also supposed to be highly energy efficient so you get great battery life (around 4 hours, give or take). Additional juice is stored in the charging case which, according to Apple, gives you a total play-time of 20 hours.

Ultimately "AirPods" are yet another case of Apple being Apple and coming up with something that is of exceptional quality and looks sublimely beautiful... but has questionable functionality because "functionality" always takes a back-seat to what Apple does. Perhaps if I come into some real money (unlikely given Jake's vet bills!) I can afford to get a pair of BeatsX earbuds ($120) or Beats Studio3 over-ear cans (AT THREE HUNDRED AND FIFTY DOLLARS!!!), both of which have the W1 chip. Or, since I'm reaching for the sky here, buy both... seeing as how I prefer cans for home or work and buds for travel.

Whether or not Apple gives a shit about what people actually need and has plans beyond AirPods is anybody's guess. If they could come up with a version of AirPods with variably-sized flexible silicone flanges to keep them in your ear... and a charging case which would accomodate them... something tells me a lot of Apple whores like me would be very happy.

Which would be a nice change of pace from how I've been feeling about Apple lately.

   

Learning to Live with Disappointment

Posted on Monday, November 5th, 2018

Dave!I have work in Spokane early tomorrow morning, so I'm heading across the basin today rather than have to leave at some ungodly hour tomorrow. I really, really don't want to be away from Jake while he's sick, even for just one night, but duty calls (disappointing though that may be).

This was far from the only disappointment today.

Things went off the rails early this morning because my cats are not thrilled about Daylight Saving Time ending. As in seriously not thrilled. They were anxious at 6:00am (their 7:00am feeding time, as far as they know). Concerned at 6:10am. Upset at 6:20am. And absolutely livid by the time I went to feed them at 6:30 (I am slowly adjusting them to the hour time difference, whatever good that does). Jenny was pacing the room and meowing her head off. Jake was pawing at my face while squawking. It's exactly how you want to start a Monday.

And then...

I pulled their "Feed-and-Go" automated internet feeders out of storage so I could get them set up and filled. Except... I couldn't get them set up. The company that makes them went out of business last month. Bad enough that they had to close and shut down their cloud servers, rendering their $200 feeders useless. But it's reprehensible that they didn't bother to notify their customers... or keep their website up with a message to warn their customers... or push out an app update which warns their customers. Because otherwise there is NO WAY TO KNOW that the cloud service has been shuttered. The blue network light on the units still glows blue! Luckily I test the units every time I haul them out, otherwise my cats wouldn't have been fed. And had I been gone longer? They wouldn't have been fed FOR THREE DAYS. With the Feed-and-Go website down, I had to find out the news via a cached Google search...

Feed and Go is sad to say, it's closed it's doors.
We're extremely sad and sorry to say that Feed and Go has closed its doors. We had an amazing time helping thousands of pets eat healthier and on schedule. The time has unfortunately come to close the operation of our web app, and mobile app services. This will mean that unfortunately your Feed and Go's will no longer work as an automated feeder, and will not connect to our servers. We want to take this opportunity to thank you for being a part of our mission and wish you and your pet many happy moments ahead.

What a bunch of pig-fucking monsters. They are perfectly content to LET YOUR PET STARVE rather than contact you so you know that their product no longer works. I can only hope that whomever responsible will be roasting in hell soon. I also hope that some genius electronics expert out there will come up with a circuit board replacement that will allow the feeder to be programmed directly, instead of relying on a cloud service that's not there any more.

I had a couple other automated feeders from back when I was feeding Spanky, but they needed D batteries and I didn't have time to go get some. So instead I filled bowls with way too much food so Jake and Jenny can graze 'til their hearts' content. And hopefully not over-eat and puke everywhere.

And then...

I noticed that the motor on the drinking fountain had burned out. It's less that a year old. Guess I'm putting out a bowl of water next to the heaping bowls of food...

Way too much food and a bowl of water

And then...

Since I was coming to Spokane, I decided to get the passenger airbag replaced in my car. Toyota has been sending dozens of notices telling me that there was a recall, but I would rather die than go to the asshole who owns the local Toyota dealership. Since Spokane was where it was purchased, it made sense to go there.

After dropping off the car, I decided to get a falafel wrap at The Pita Pit. Only to find that they had gone out of business, just like Feed-and-Go...

Pita Pit Has Closed

No problem, I walked a couple blocks to a cafe with good sandwiches... only to find out they closed at 10:00 this morning for "maintenance."

And then...

Rather than wander around aimlessly, I decided to just go to Red Robin. They no longer have Boca Burgers (inexplicably replacing them with a veggie burger that's so gag-inducing awful I'd rather eat meat). I ended up eating their guacamole, salsa and chips, which wouldn't have been bad except the chips were stale. For dessert I wanted some of their cinnamon sugar mini donuts with caramel sauce. Except they came plain with no cinnamon sugar and instead of caramel, I got raspberry sauce. As if that wasn't enough, the donuts were overcooked.

And then...

The Apple iPhone Upgrade Program I've got allows me to replace my iPhone with the newest model every year. Since my replace-date is coming up, I thought I would drop by the Apple Store and take a look. I also wanted to look at the newest MacBook Pro models, as I'm sure I'll have to be replacing my 2012 model sometime soon. When I asked the Apple sales guy if there was a MacBook Pro that had an SD card slot and a USB and Thunderbolt port... you know, LIKE ACTUAL FUCKING PRO MACHINES WOULD HAVE... I was told no. "Everything has moved to USB-C, because that's the new industry standard." Alrighty then. We're back to Apple being clueless fucking assholes as to knowing what professionals need, but whatevs. So I moved on to the iPhone XS. I thought to ask if the charging cable that came with it had USB-C so I could charge it from the new MacBook Pro. The sales guy told me "No, it comes with the older USB-A and I would have to buy a $20 dongle." And so... I guess USB-C is not quite the "industry standard" I was just told it was since Apple itself isn't using it on their most popular product (by far).

Which begs the question... "Does Tim Cook, Jonathan Ivy, or absolutely anybody at all at Apple know what the fuck they are doing?" Because it honestly doesn't seem that way.

In the past their products were overpriced, but at least I knew I'd be getting something that provided value for the money and would be cutting edge when it came to features. But now? That's not even close to being the truth. Less features with less power and with less flexibility... all while being grotesquely overpriced. It's as if Apple has been working overtime to become the cliché they've always been painted as.

And then...

As I was leaving The Apple Store, I was very nearly run down by a group of amish(?!?) women on motorized scooters. They were driving on a busy sidewalk way too fast and seemed as if they were barely in control of the things. At least I think they were amish because they had those little hair covers on their heads and were wearing dresses. But I thought the amish didn't use technology... and since you have to have a mobile phone app to rent the things, maybe they weren't amish after all?

Scooter Bullshit

In any event, these stupid fucking scooters are littering the sidewalks everywhere downtown, so apparently the latest episode of South Park isn't just hype...

At the very least, they should be illegal to drive on the sidewalk. Given how fast they travel, somebody could get seriously hurt. And if somebody ever runs into me with one of them, I'm going to pick up the scooter and beat them to death with it.

And then...

After walking eight blocks in surprisingly cold weather, I picked up my car and headed to my hotel. They asked if I had a room preference, so I told them top floor and as far away from the elevator as possible so it would be less noisy and I could get some sleep. They put me on the top floor... but right across from the elevator. And next to a room with a woman coughing her head off. Which makes me even more thrilled that I wasn't able to stay home tonight.

And then...

If there's a bright side to having to drive three hours to Spokane, it's that some of my favorite pizza on earth is here... David's Pizza. Their DaVinci pizza (with tomato, pesto, and feta) is seriously delicious...

David's DaVinci Pizza

Unfortunately I had the grave misfortune to arrive on "Let Your Screaming Kids Run Apeshit Through The Restaurant Night." A whole team of the little fuckers were running around screaming and screaming and screaming and screaming... while the parents were in some kind of group meeting in the next room not giving a fuck that people were trying to eat in peace. By the time I left I had such a splitting headache that any enjoyment I got from my pizza was destroyed.

And then...

I decided to end this entry at 8:00pm tonight because I'm worried that continuing on any longer is just inviting more disappointment. Hopefully work will go smoothly so I can head home as soon as possible in the morning and be done with all this nonsense.

Until the next time, of course.

UPDATE: There it is! MobiLinc (the internet connect platform I use to control a good chunk of my home automation, has gone down...

MobiLinc FAIL!

It's been up and running 24/7 perfectly for months... so of course it goes down when I'm away from home and really need it. No idea what's wrong, as the cameras, alarms, and all the non-MobiLic devices are connected to the internet just fine. Perhaps it's time for me to go to bed and turn off the world.

   

Adobe Doesn’t Give a Shit

Posted on Friday, November 9th, 2018

Dave!I wish that I could get through just one day without being filled with rage.

Today I thought I had a good shot at it by promising myself that I would ignore the news and whatever bullshit that President Trump was doing, but that was futile because his level of incoherent crazy was so off the charts that it was everywhere.

As if that wasn't bad enough, work was awful... because I couldn't actually get any work done.

My office iMac, which is around two years old, has been slowing to a crawl for months. Over the last couple of weeks it's happening so often that I had no choice but to try and fix it. I started with doubling the memory from 32GB to 64GB. That helped a little, but the problem seemed to be with the "Fusion Drive" (a hybrid SSD/HD drive). I kept getting a message popping up that it was overheating. I finally decided to replace it, despite the fucking nightmare involved in tearing open an iMac to do so.

And today was the day.

I decided to set up the drive before tearing anything open to install it. This was relatively easy, as I had an external SATA dock that I could pop it into. I downloaded the macOS X Mojave installer, installed it onto the new SSD drive, and 25 minutes later I was booting from it. Nice.

I decided to start fresh by not transferring over my apps and data... just my system settings.

Turns out that was a mistake.

My primary tools at work are Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, Adobe InDesign, Adobe Lightroom, and Adobe Acrobat. They are all part of Adobe's "Creative Suite" which is managed by their Creative Suite desktop app. You install it, then manage all your app installs from there. Simple, right?

No. Not by a fucking longshot, because this is Adobe we're talking about.

All my apps installed fine, except Acrobat. This happened last time I had to install the thing and was solved after I ran a cleanup app. This time the app didn't work, so I spent FORTY MINUTES trying dozens of "fixes" from the Adobe forums... none of which worked. Keep in mind that this has been a known problem that people have been complaining about for over a year.

AND ADOBE HASN'T DONE A FUCKING THING TO FIX IT! How in the hell can I be expected to not become enraged after wasting this kind of time? AGAIN! And I still don't have a working copy of Acrobat on my work computer, a program I use daily.

Not that Adobe gives a shit... they don't. They bought out and buried the competition until there wasn't any competition, and now they don't have to give a fuck about anything.

I would have stayed until I got things figured out, but it was getting close to 6:00 and the alarm to feed my cats would be going off. They're already freaked out by Daylight Saving Time ending, and I was afraid that not being fed when the alarm sounds would send them over the bend. So I packed up my crap and headed home.

Except I couldn't get home because a train was running through town. It was moving so absurdly slow that it took over ten minutes to pass. And then? The crossing arms would not retract. After waiting another five minutes, I finally abandoned the crossing I was at and drove to a different crossing... screaming "FUCK! FUCK! FUCK!" the entire way home.

When I got home (nearly fifteen minutes after the dinner alarm) my cats were, as expected, going nuts.

So I guess everybody in this house is having a bad day.

The difference being that my cats were happy again after being fed. I'm still filled with rage.

   

Patriot and The World Gone Away

Posted on Wednesday, November 14th, 2018

Dave!Last night, as I went to bed with the California wildfires fresh in my mind and the smell of burning orchard brush filling the valley, my own experience with a wildfire threatening my home* came rushing back to me. Rather than try and battle that demon again, I took sleeping pills and waited for the world to go away.

When I woke up, I went through the news and saw that even more homes had been lost in California. There were a surprising number of stars in the list. Miley Cyrus & Liam Hemsworth, Gerard Butler, Robin Thicke, Shannen Doherty, and Scott Derrickson all lost their homes. Loads more famous people had to evacuate (it's as if Mother Nature doesn't give a fuck if you have your own reality show or whatever!). I feel horrible for everybody involved... and even more horrible for the poor animals who have been displaced. There's enough suffering in the world.

Yesterday when I showed up at the tire shop for my 2:30 appointment to get my winter tires put on, I was told that 50 people were ahead of me. Apparently they had a computer bug that allowed people to keep making appointments even though no slots were available. I pushed for a new appointment this morning, which meant I ended up heading back into The Big City.

That's when I got the news that my snow tires are nine years old, which means this is the last season they can be used. Apparently you're not allowed to have 10-year-old tires on your car, regardless of how much tread is left on them. This is a colossal bummer, because my tires look practically new. Then again, it's recommended that you get your tires replaced after six years, so I guess I should be grateful I got to use them for as long as I did. They were purchased for my mom, so I bought the best I could afford at the time. Maybe that's what gave them a decade of life? Probably. If there's one thing I'm certain of, it's that you get what you pay for.

And so... something new and expensive for me to buy next year! Yay.

Then my fun really began.

Today was the day I finally decided to rip apart my work iMac so I could replace the internal "Apple Fusion" drive with a shiny new 100% SSD drive. I was terrified to make the attempt because Apple no longer uses strong magnets to keep the computer together... they use glue tape! You have to use a special tool to literally cut through the adhesive, remove the glass display, then glue everything back together once you replace the drive.

Turns out it wasn't a big deal at all. The kit I purchased from Other World Computing made it fairly easy, and they have videos you can watch to explain everything.

Pretty sweet!

Except... apparently when you install macOS X on an external boot drive, you cannot then just pop it inside and have it work as an internal boot drive. Which meant I had to reformat, re-install, and re-load everything. Again. There's six hours of my life I ain't getting back.

And six hours work I have to make up for tonight.

Looks like I'll be able to burn through another couple Hallmark Christmas Movies on my DVR. Or not. There's a show on Amazon Prime Streaming called Patriot that I'm interested in giving a watch. It's actually just started its second season. Apparently I missed it when it debuted last year...

Amazon Prime Presents Patriot

The show looks very funny. And very disturbing. I guess that would make it "disturbingly funny" then?

I hope so. Given the state of the world just now, "disturbingly funny" is right up my alley.
   


*Back in September 1992, the hillside behind my apartment building caught fire. It spread so fast that the evacuations followed in short order. I didn't evacuate. I stayed behind with a downstairs neighbor to put out the fires that were starting as embers blew onto the building and the yard surrounding it. After a while, my neighbor left. I was alone, on the roof, using a garden hose to home down the flames that kept popping up.

Eventually the fire department came and I was forced to evacuate. I grabbed a photo album, my laptop, and an armload of clothes as I left, not knowing if I would have a home to come back to. Thanks to the firefighters (who later told me that they felt obligated to save my home after I had spent the entire day battling for it), I did end up having a home to come back to.

My lungs never recovered. I still have respiratory problems after all these years. And sometimes I wake up swearing I smell smoke when there is no smoke. I know it's in my head, but it feels real.

   

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