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Gray Friday

Posted on November 23rd, 2018

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

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

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

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

SONOS Sub Speaker

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

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

Hue Hub Lighting Kit

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

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

iTunes Card

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

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

Dyson V7 Animal Vacuum

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

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

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

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

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

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

   

iPhone Xs and Defects

Posted on November 21st, 2018

Dave!When the iPhone X was released last year, I wanted one. Badly. For one reason and one reason only... the camera. The dual-lens dream had abilities far better than the camera on my old iPhone 6 from 2014. And since I use my phone far more for photography than actual phone calls, it's nice to have a great camera on it. Problem was I couldn't afford it. I had a trip to Antarctica coming up that took every spare dollar in my possession (and then some). Except... along with the X, Apple also released something which put their latest and greatest within my reach: The iPhone Upgrade Program.

This interesting financing option is essentially a loan from Citizens One which amortizes the cost of the phone, plus AppleCare, plus interest over a 24 month period. That, in itself, is not all that "interesting," but I'll tell you what is interesting... after 12 payments you can trade your iPhone in for the latest model. You also have the option of paying off all 24 payments and owning the phone, but what fun is that? *

I didn't want to get the new phone before my trip to the bottom of the world (I probably would have dropped it into the ocean or smashed it on an iceberg or something) so I waited until I got back and ordered my iPhone X on December 20th. It's a great phone. I love the camera. And all was good in the world.

And then...

This past Monday night I received an email from Apple with the good news... my twelfth payment had processed and I was now eligible for an upgrade to the iPhone Xs! Guess my Monday wasn't as crappy as I had thought!

iPhone Xs

My first instinct was to wait three weeks and get a little life from the $56.16 payment I had just made. If I ordered the Xs right away, I'd have to pay that payment again (first month is in advance), which seems financially reckless. But then I remembered that I had a credit of $42 from a return I made, so I decided "What the heck?" And ordered anyway.

It arrived today.

I'm returning it on Monday (UPDATE: No I'm not... see below).

But before we get to that...

The new camera is even better than the X with a wider lens, 30% larger sensor, higher dynamic range, and machine learning image processing which does all kinds of magic so casual users get much better shots...

1 trillion operations per photo!

For professional photographers (and professional wannabes like myself) you'll need to get a camera app that shoots RAW and can put the power of the new camera within reach. Like the $6 Halide app (the developers of which wrote a great article on what the new Xs camera is capable of). I haven't done much shooting yet, but I'm pretty impressed with what I'm getting so far.

In the day I've had to play with the iPhone Xs, there's a lot to love about it beyond the new camera...

  • So Much Faster. The new "A12 Bionic" chip is frighteningly smart and fast. Everything seems snappier and scrolling, in particular, is noticeably smoother. Lag is minimal in places that I definitely noticed before. If you never hear from me again, it's probably because my new phone has murdered me and is joining with other iPhones to enslave all mankind.
  • Tougher Construction. My iPhone X is pristine after a year because I keep it in a case and have a glass cover on the screen to protect it. And yet I worry, because dropping your phone can have bad consequences if it breaks. Especially if you're far from home. Early tests are showing that the Xs is really tough, and that's a good thing.
  • Dual SIM cards. Right now I have to carry two phones with me on days that I have to be accessible for my charity work. But hopefully not for much longer. The Xs has a "regular" SIM card slot... plus an eSim which will (eventually) allow you to have two separate cellular plans in a single handset. But there's more! Once eSIM becomes widely available, I look forward to using cheap data plans when traveling internationally instead of being price-gouged by AT&T's international roaming rates. Both of these things are a big deal to me.
  • Faster Face ID This is one of those features that I didn't think much of... until I started using it. This unlock feature (which uses your face as the key) was so fast that I barely noticed it on my X... now it's practically instantaneous.
  • Superior Display. The display on the X was very nice. This one is stunning. The color fidelity is unreal... or more real... depending on how you choose to look at it. I definitely notice a difference side-by-side with the X.
  • Better Battery Life. I have yet to run out the battery on my X... but there have been times I've come close. Having a little extra battery is a handy thing to have.
  • Gigabit LTE. Needless to say, rural America isn't getting the faster new data standard any time soon, but it will be nice to have faster internet when visiting a Big City that has it. Still not sure why Apple is calling it "Gigabit-Class LTE" instead of just "Gigabit LTE" but any time internet is faster is good. At least until 5G gets here, which will be insanely fast.

And now for the bad news...

As you can tell, I'm fairly pleased with the iPhone XS. It really is better in every way from the X that I got just one year ago. Except... even though it's essentially the exact same form as my old iPhone, the camera bump on the back is slightly larger at the bottom, so my old iPhone X case is a bit "off" on the new model. The pig-fuckers at Apple are expecting me to shell out $40 for a new silicone case, which is the cheapest case they make! I've never trusted third-party cases, so that was really my only option here.

Or so Apple wants you to believe!

Instead I took an X-ACTO blade and carved a bigger hole. Works just fine and saved me $40.

I positively loathe stupid, money-grabbing bullshit like this. Since the Xs was likely waaaayyyy down the road in development when Apple released the X, they probably knew they should have made the phone hole on the cases larger, but didn't. Because... well... $40 per case times millions of users equals serious money, yo.

And now for the WORST news...

The speakers on my X were fantastic. The Xs is supposed to have even better speakers. NOT THAT I WOULD KNOW THIS, BECAUSE MY UPPER SPEAKER IS DEFECTIVE AND I'M GOING TO HAVE TO RETURN MY BRAND NEW PHONE AND GET A NEW ONE. There's an annoying crackling plus audible distortion which plagues all sound coming from it. Whether it's a phone call or playing music, it's there. And it doesn't matter what volume it's at. Louder, softer, whatever.

UPDATE: Today when I answered a call, it was garbled as usual. I set my phone down to look for a paper, picked it back up, and suddenly it was sounding better? So I looked closely at the phone speaker and saw a tiny piece of film was pushed down into it, but had come out half-way. I pulled it out all the way and, just like that, PERFECT SOUND! No idea if the film came off the protective plastic you pull off or what, but I am so so so so happy that I don't have to exchange my new iPhone!

Anyway...

I was supposed to get a kit to return my old phone. It wasn't with my initial shipment, but Apple sent me an email telling me it will arrive soon. I hope so, because if I don't get the phone returned within 14 days, I'm billed for it.

In conclusion...

If it weren't for my being on the iPhone Upgrade Program, I would not have upgraded to the Xs from the X. Yes, it's a better phone... but not that much better. Because I am on the program I decided to go for it even though I have to return my old phone and lose the money I've put towards it. Since I donate my old phones, this isn't an issue for me, but if you sell your old phones you might was to go the full 24 months and pay it off so you own it.

With my iPhoneX I bought the 256GB model. I barely used any of that memory. So this time I just went with the cheaper 64GB model. Even with everything I had installed, I still have 18GB free. Such is the beauty of having a phone that can upload my hi-res original images to iCloud so the thousands of photos I've taken aren't filling up my phone. Even so? I wish Apple had a 128GB model so I could split the difference in cost and have a bit more memory to play with. Might save me from swapping apps in and out of memory.

Unlike last time, this time Apple offered me two options for my AppleCare. The original AppleCare+... and a new "AppleCare+ with Theft and Loss Protection" for about $5 extra per month. I leapt at it. Sure this essentially eradicates the money I saved by getting a phone with less memory, but the peace of mind over not being on the hook for 100% of my $1000 phone if something happens? Worth it. Here's the deets: "Your coverage includes up to two incidents of accidental damage, theft, or loss. Each incident is subject to a deductible of $29 for screen damage, $99 for all other accidental damage, or $269 for a theft or loss claim." I'm not sure how this works. If I have my screen repaired twice at $29, then my iPhone gets stolen, am I completely screwed? Hopefully it's two incidents each, but who knows? Something I need to check into, I guess.

Ultimately I'd be happy with my iPhone Xs if Apple's quality control had ensured I got one with a working speaker. Here's hoping my next one doesn't have to be returned as well.


*I used to always keep my old phone in case I lose or break the new one, then donate my old-old-phone from before that to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Sure I won't be able to donate any more if I choose to upgrade, but Apple gives millions upon millions to charities with their money, so at least I know some of the money Apple makes off the program is going to good causes.

   

Adobe Doesn’t Give a Shit

Posted on 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.

   

Learning to Live with Disappointment

Posted on 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.

   

Almost AirPods

Posted on 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.

   

Apple Event Baby Steps

Posted on 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?

   

Mesh Wifi After the Fall

Posted on 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.

   

Bullet Sunday 470

Posted on 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!

   

Dubaya Dubaya Dee See

Posted on 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?

   

SONOS and PLAYBAR: Part 6 of 5

Posted on March 17th, 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...

"Dodge this."

When I started SONOS WEEK here at Blogography, I broke down what I wanted to say into five parts. Little did I know that a sixth part would unexpectedly appear.

Sonos gear is incredibly expensive. Whether it's worth the money is debatable. Given what it can do and how it works, it was worth it to me and my needs. I was able to afford the $350 for the pair of Sonos One speakers because I had a $120 credit at Amazon plus some tax refund money. And while I thought I might buy more pieces eventually, it was not on my radar. I have a nice Denon receiver plus a decent speaker setup and a living room wired for surround sound, and that's more than enough.

But then I had a long-time online friend notice I was reviewing Sonos on my blog who offered to sell me his PLAYBAR for cheap (well, maybe not "cheap," but for less than I could buy it new). He had upgraded to a Dolby Atmos 7.1 setup (Sonos can only do 5.1) and his PLAYBAR was sitting in his attic.

He had all the original packaging and said it was in perfect condition, so I said "Wrap it up, I'll take it."

The next day the UPS driver paid a visit and Christmas morning came early.

I anticipated that setting things up would be a bit problematic because I was having to shuffle around my existing Sonos speakers to get a surround sound system. The PLAYBAR would become the Left, Right, and Center channels... my existing Sonos One speakers (from the living room and kitchen) would become the Rear-Left and Rear-Right channels. Turns out it wasn't a problem at all. I plugged in the PLAYBAR, used the Sonos app to set it up, then was asked if I had rear speakers. Since I did, I tapped a button on the backs of them when instructed and everything was reconfigured for me automatically. Such is the joy of Sonos.

I was worried that a single PLAYBAR speaker taking the place of three speakers would destroy the stereo separation I was used to, but that was not the case at all. The Left, Right, and Center channels were fairly distinct after TruePlay tuning. The rear channels being in separate speakers were even more distinct, as expected. My go-to movie for demonstrating surround-sound is The Matrix, and it sounded terrific through Sonos.

It's a great system and the amount of wires and crap it replaces is very cool...

Bunch of old speaker stuff.
Denon receiver: $500 - Speakers: $300 - I should have just bought the $700 PLAYBAR to begin with.

   

There are some caveats to PLAYBAR, however...

  • Sonos does not support DTS, a popular multichannel sound system. A friend warned me about this ahead of time but I still find it more than a little shocking. Many an audiophile loves their DTS, and Sonos not implementing it is kinda weird. If you buy DVD or Blu-Ray for their DTS encoding option, PLAYBAR ain't for you.
  • Sonos also does not support PCM, DD+, or Dolby Atmos (among others). All you get is regular stereo and Dolby Digital 5.1 surround. If your devices can't output or convert to these formats, they won't work (I lucked out... my Blu-Ray player can be set to encode all outgoing sound as Dolby Digital).
  • PLAYBAR only supports an optical TOSLINK connection. Nothing else. Nothing. I was fully expecting to plug my devices in via HDMI cables or a single cable from the HDMI ARC port on my television. Nope. The only ports on your PLAYBAR are two ethernet ports and the single optical-in port.
  • With that in mind... some televisions don't have optical output... most televisions don't output 5.1 sound via their optical port. When I saw this was my only option, I nearly shit myself because I had no idea if my TV downgraded its optical sound to 2-channel stereo or not. I scrambled to Google it, but couldn't find my model listed anywhere. When I did find a list, all the Samsung televisions said No-No-No-No-No-No-No. Since HDMI is a current standard and optical is antiquated, this is a problem I never even considered. Turns out my particular TV is one of the rare Samsung models which can output Dolby Digital 5.1 via optical, but holy crap!
  • The PLAYBAR debuted in 2013. I don't think it has been updated since then. This means its aesthetic does not match the current black-on-black scheme which my Sonos One speakers use (along with the PLAY:5 and PLAYBASE). I'm not saying the thing is ugly... far from it, this is one beautiful piece of equipment... but it's kind of lame that even if you're buying a brand new unit you can't get a matching system. Mine are on opposite sides of the room, so it's not a big deal, but still. Would be nice if you could buy a strip to put across the metal piece so it can match.
  • The fabric covering the speaker array is a thin, stretchy dust-magnet and tough to clean. Sonos recommends vacuuming it, but if something won't vacuum off, you're kinda screwed. I used a damp towel to brush it in spots, which was better, but I worry about how the fabric is going to end up looking after years of service. There are so many audio-neutral fabrics out there which are much tougher... the choice they used here is perplexing. Ideally, Sonos would use a metal grill like they do on their other speakers.
  • The PLAYBAR is designed to sit on a table in front of your TV or be hung on a wall above or below it. The friend I bought it from said that it sounds much better on the wall. This meant I had to order some mounting hardware ($40 down the drain) and an electrical-code-compliant kit for putting the wiring in the wall ($50 down the drain). I'd like to mount it above my TV so my cats can't mess with it... but I think that's weird, so I'll end up mounting it below. Then pray my cats don't claw at the flimsy fabric mesh.
  • When it comes to music, I'm not so enamored with the PLAYBAR. I don't know what it's trying to do with the stereo separation, but it feels lacking. Fortunately I've got my two Sonos Ones in the rear channel to pick up the slack. If you're in a large room, you'd probably want a pair of PLAY:3 speakers in the rear for music (which would be expensive, but totally doable).

Some really nice things about PLAYBAR before I go...

Sonos PLAYBAR Exploded View

  • The sound on this thing, as I said, is very nice. Its nine-speaker array can separate sounds well and come in a good-looking package.
  • The "Speech Enhancement" option on PLAYBAR is surprisingly good. No more having to crank the volume to hear dialogue. I've always hated having to do that, but have found all the "enhancers" I've run across don't do a very good job. It seems to work with Sonos, probably because their speaker quality allows it to be good. On my wishlist... a way to temper it to a lower setting because on some movies it can be a bit too powerful.
  • In my old setup I had a subwoofer because the bass wasn't very punchy on my stereo. I like to feel the rumble of an explosion when I'm watching a movie. With PLAYBAR I'm liking the bass just fine. If my opinion ever changes, I can get a Sonos SUB. But for right now? I'm happy to save myself the $700.
  • I can't overstate how easy PLAYBAR is to set up. It's a simple step-by-step process with the Sonos app. Most things are handled automatically.

One horrible downside for me is that I lost my kitchen Sonos One speaker so it could fill out my rear channel. No more listening to music while I cook dinner or load the dishwasher. Replacing it is another $200, so that's the end of that.

The good news? Now that I could put my Amazon Echo in my bedroom and my Echo Dot in my garage, I have Alexa in every room of my house. All I need now is to embed an Echo Dot inside my brain and I guess I'm set.

Meanwhile, Neo has just realized he's The One and a fight has ensued, so I gotta get back to The Matrix.

   
UPDATE: And so my POWERBAR mounting kit came. It's pretty basic for $40... just a metal plate and some drywall screws. But it does the job. Kinda. There's a major problem with it.

Electrical codes make it illegal to run a power cable behind a wall. You have to purchase a electrical outlet wall kit which is code compliant. Then you can plug stuff into the outlet. But the six-foot power cable that came with my POWERBAR can't fit behind the speakers, so it has to hang below it in a big wad...

Bunch of old speaker stuff.

Kinda defeats the whole purpose. You'd think that since SONOS makes you buy a kit to wall-mount the thing that they would include a tiny power cable with it. Assumably they know that you can't run the cable in the wall, right? I mean, come on, every single photo they ever show of their stuff being wall-mounted shows the cables hidden in the wall... so how are they doing it? No frickin' clue since I can't find where they sell a short power cable anywhere. Maybe they don't care about complying with the electrical code and are mounting their stuff illegally.

I've emailed Sonos Customer Service, so I guess we'll see what they say.

UPDATE: Sonos Customer Service is all... "Uhhhh... nope, we don't sell that. We hire professional installers for our photos and they use adhesives and stuff to hide the wires!" (or something to that effect). Well, whatever. It really chaps my ass that Sonos has most every damn photo with the wires hidden, yet it's something they don't really provide for.

UPDATE: I found a Dell laptop 4.5-inch power cable that works much better than the 6-foot cord from Sonos. The plug is a tad too long, so it sticks out at the bottom a tiny bit, but it's better than the wad of Sonos cable I was dealing with. Hopefully one day Sonos will get off their asses and sell a short power cable with a small plug so you can legally get hidden wire mounting like they show in all their photos.

UPDATE: I have given up on wall-mounting my Sonos One speakers. With no screw-mount on the back, the solutions I've found are far from pretty. Furthermore, even if you buy short power cables, there's no really solution to bury the cables legally... at least not yet. Instead I'm using two IKEA 4-drawer shoe cabinets that are only 8 5/8-inches deep, wall-mounted, to put my Sonos One speakers on. They are the perfect height for the speakers to rise above my couch, but not so tall that they take up a lot of wall space. By drilling new holes to shift the top board, they can be set side-by-side. And once I drill holes in the top boards for power cables, they drop through and are completely hidden. Best solution I could find given hiding power cables in the wall was not an option for me.

   

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