Category Archives: I am a Consumer

I’m Slowly Adding HomeKit Automation to our Whole House

With HomeKit finally being pretty robust, and widely supported I’ve slowly started adding automation to the house. It started with replacing our Nest with an Ecobee, which has been awesome! Then recently I added a iDevices Outdoor Switch to the rooftop. We’ve got some nice patio lighting up there, that I hate plugging and unplugging. I used to just leave it on all the time, which is kinda wasteful during the day, but easier then going over to the plug and fiddling with the cover to turn it all on, etc. (yes, laziness rules the day)

img_0093With the Outdoor Switch not only can I just tell Siri to turn on or off the ‘rooftop lighting’, but also now the lights are on a schedule; sundown, on, 10pm off. Definitely makes it easy and more energy efficient.

The setup wasn’t super smooth. There’s an app from iDevices you use to get everything connected, and that’s a bit finicky. You have to make sure the device is in wifi range, the phone is on the wifi you want to connect (2.4gHz only of course) etc. but once set up, it’s pretty straight forward, and then you can just use the Home app in iOS 10.

I changed my wifi password and that caused some havoc. About an hour later and many many cryptic errors, i was able to reconnect the switch. I basically (YMMV) had to completely remove it from my “home” and erase it’s existence, then fuss with the iDevices app a few times to get it back to connected, then all was good. I’m not sure there’s a better way than that either, which is a bummer.

If you’re looking to upgrade your outdoor lighting controls, etc, especially with holiday light season coming, I can’t recommend the iDevices switch any more highly! Set up hurdles aside once it’s set up, it’s great and reliable.

I gave in, Trying Bluetooth Headphones again

I had a pair of bluetooth headphones ages ago… It’s hard to remember how long but It was around the time of the iPod Photo/color. That’s what I used them with in fact.

They sucked.

Comfort was not high on their list of things to be, they weren’t very comfortable, in fact they hurt to wear for more than 2 hours or so.

Knowing what’s going in it kind of a big deal to me, they were a PITA to charge, or rather to know when to charge. There was some combo of light color and blink rate that would tell you the status of them; connected, battery low, etc.

The finally fell apart about a year into owning them. I never replaced them.

2016

Well whether I want to or not Apple is forcing my jumping back into the bluetooth headset pool. I didn’t have to rush, they kindly offered what’s likely to be the first of many Lightning to 3.5mm adapters I’ll own (I’ve already nearly lost mine more than once). That said, while the adapter is nice, it’s already frustrating. “Where is it?”, “Did i leave it at the office?” etc.

I have some nice headphones a friend bought me, so those will likely warrant keeping the adapter around, but for runs, I’m convinced I’d rather not deal with the hassle of the adapter, and honestly no cords would be nice.

So, what did I get?

I picked up a pair of Plantronics Bluetooth Headphones, they had high marks on amazon, better than many more well known makers. Plus it’s Plantronics, while not a sexy brand, they’re no slouch in wired and wireless headsets market, so I figured they know what they’re doing. The long battery life they claimed was also a nice feature.

For regular workouts I’ve always used an iPod shuffle (I even found one in the street, when mine started to die, yay me!) but I think with a nice pair of Bluetooth Headphones I’ll likely just use my iPhone for workout music. One less device to sync, and charge.

So, the review

img_0095Ok so this morning was my first run with this headphones. Here’s my thoughts.

The packaging was lovely; very nicely done and easy to open.

Once you get the headphones connected (quite easy, paired on the first try) you’re asking to download an app. I’m not a huge fan of apps for single uses, etc but this one is well done for what it is.

There was a firmware update, which this app handled and got me up and running. It’s now in my “useless ?” folder for things I need for very limited purposes. I’ll probably never need this app unless they update it and it has a new firmware. Oh well.

Thought this was just a useless carrying case

Thought this was just a useless carrying case

The headphones come nicely bundled in what looks like a weird sorta pointless carrying case. It was just the headphones, and a USB cord for charging.

But then i noticed what looked like an armband INSIDE the case. A few minute of fiddling with it and BOOM!

Handy little phone holder

Handy little phone holder

An armband!

I don’t know if I’ll use it as I prefer my phone on my fore arm, and I prefer to see the screen, use the onscreen controls.

Though it could be a nice pouch for storing things, we’ll see, pretty sweet idea Plantronics.

 

In Use

My first run felt weird, I’m so used to a cord flapping around and getting tangled on my hand, it was a bit disconcerting at first. That said I got used to it fast, and it’s nice.

The headphones have plenty of volume, but you can hear cars coming and such, which is great obviously if you’re running somewhere with cars. I’m a fan of not losing situational awareness.

Sound quality is ok. I’m going to have to experiment with where my phone is (was on the inside of my fore arm this time). Other than the occassional burp of static, the audio was clear. On some songs it was hard to tell if it was the song or the headphones. Not a deal breaker and possibly just situational until i find the right arrangement. Certainly I wouldn’t want that while I work, but as these are for runs and work outs, it’s not really an issue.

Not that I expected to, but I was pleased I never once lost connectivity, and even with the random crackle, it was never more than a second, and never interrupted the music or anything.

The headphones themselves, have some nice features. The voice prompt is to be honest lovely! Power them up, “connected, X hours of listen time” is the first thing you hear. A tap of the power button gives you an update on expected listen time, and battery percentage. Very handy at the end of a work out so you don’t screw yourself the next day.

Oddly (unless I don’t know what I’m doing) the volume control is only up. Not really an issue as I like my phone accessible for skipping a track and volume anyway. The Siri integration is nice, i haven’t played a ton with that but suspect a hold of the “phone” button and i could just ask Siri to skip a track”

The buttons feel nice, it doesn’t take much pressure to trigger them, which is nice since it’s sitting in your ear and all, no need to hurt yourself.

Overall, I’m quite happy with my Plantronics Bluetooth Headphones and expect to enjoy these headphone for some time. At the price, they’re hard to beat!

My Apple Watch has rekindled my Love of Swatches

As a kid I love Swatch Watches. I only had one, but had many Swatch Guards to add some color.  As I got older I could afford a few more, and did. I have a thing for watches, I love them.img_0090

Eventually I moved from swatches to other watches. Lots and lots of other watches.

Then I got an Apple Watch and at first just had one or two bands. Apple sells theirs for honestly a ridiculous Apple price, however Amazon has plenty of non Apple bands to choose from, in far more colors than Apple offers. It went down hill quickly :)

On the weekends I have a nice leather cuff band I wear with my watch. It looks nice, and feels great. But during the week, especially with working out in the mornings or at lunch, I wear the sport bands.

img_0092Then it dawned on me, I have so many bands for my Apple Watch, why not mix and match them? From there I also found these nice little Protective Bumpers in awesome colors, and
boom, my love of Swatches and having a unique piece of kit was reborn!

I’ve gotten tons of compliments on the whimsy my watch bands show, which is fun.

Why I’m Moving Away from Dropbox

tl;dr; ditch Dropbox if you care about the security of your files and your privacy, get something else, I recommend Bittorent Sync

I’ve been in the process of moving from Dropbox for a while now, it started when they brought Condoleezza Rice on to the board. Nothing against her, exactly, but her stance on privacy wasn’t amazing to me. Not that she’d be in control, but still that choice said something to me about how Dropbox views user privacy.

Then Dropbox had some issues, hacks, breaches, etc. Then an outage or two.

Add to that, Dropbox download speeds are TERRIBLE. Customers have been complaining for years, and Dropbox does nothing. Few things are as aggravating as being held up doing your work, because Dropbox can’t deliver a file faster than 100-200kbps. When it’s a 30gb file, you start to question your life choices.

Enough was enough, especially when the result was usually “ooops, shit happens, so sorry” and complete silence on the speed issue. Dropbox clearly has the money, and has achieved “too big to give a shit about users” status.

So I started looking at alternatives. I found a few. I tried a few and the things for me were mostly: mobile client, reliability, and trustworthiness, all behind of course, security of my files.

SpiderOak, was my first choice, but their apps were terrible. The desktop app was confusing, the mobile apps only slightly less so. I struggled to use the apps for a few months and gave up.

Then I decided since the cloud is just someone else’s computer anyway, why not use one of mine? Enter Bittorrent sync (now resilio Sync), which uses the bittorrent protocol to find the fastest path between two devices to move files. No cloud.

bittorrent sync

Bittorrent sync on my media center

For me that was fine, my Media Center is connected to 16tb Drobo, and it’s set to sync all things (there’s selective, and all, as options per folder). So it’s essentially my “cloud” location for all files. Every other machine and mobile device just syncs/has access to the things I want it to.

The mobile client is straightforward and easy to use, the desktop app (Mac at least) is pretty straightforward as well. You can see which folders are synced, who’s got access and if things are moving around, all very easy to follow stuff if you’ve ever used bittorrent for anything else.

Pros

  • All files are on my machines, no one elses.
  • All files are on my machines, no one elses. (important enough to be said twice)
  • Faster than Dropbox, by margins that should embarrass Dropbox

Cons

  • Sharing. This doesn’t apply to me much, and is really why i keep dropbox around; sharing files with others. Dropbox is ubiquitous, so rather than explain bittorrent sync, help with install, go through the more secure invite system, etc. I simply share files via dropbox.

Not really a con, but a result.

  • I cancelled my Dropbox subscription so have only the basic amount of storage (saving me a ton of money), which sometimes causes issues when receiving big files, but oh well.

Set up is easy, install, get the pro (if you’re doing that) licensing set up, then set up each folder you’d like to sync. It’s a bit slow to start as you have to add each folder to each device, but once that’s done it’s pretty nice, and as you add devices they don’t all need the same folders.

 

Thoughts on the iPhone 7, so far

tl; dr; 

It’s nice, a great update to a great device, with a few things I’m not a fan of. Want more details go to the verge.

That said, yeah it’s a good phone so far. Mine came on iPhonemas day, and of course I rushed home from Denver Startup Week, grabbed the phone started the recovery process then went back to basecamp (amazing Wifi), to finish, because yeah, who can wait a few hours?!

Unboxing

Unboxing an iPhone is pretty much boring now, there’s plenty of youtube videos so I’m not adding to it, plus all the think pieces have been written already. The things that stuck out to me are these.

  • The EarPods don’t come in a plastic case now, I use that case all the time. I practiced re-wrapping mine so they fit just right. The case was a great way to transport EarPods. Now they come in a one time use cardboard thing, you’re on your own to carry them without tangling… WEAK. Come on Apple, really? Oh and no, the new ones don’t fit in the case, at least that I’ve found, and I’ve tried
  • The Lightning to headphone adapter is definitely one of those “buy a few to have everywhere” things if you’re like me and have lots of headphones all over the place (office, home, backpack, etc) It’s small, and I suspect we’ll see lots of “lost my fucking adapter” tweets in the coming weeks, but hey, only $9 so go give Apple more money :)

Beyond that, the packaging was very similar to every other iPhone in the last few years. I was impressed that now the outer clear wrap was like the stuff inside, a pull tab undoes the whole thing, no more cling wrap to cut through.

Device

I’m not super sold on the home button yet, but suspect it’ll grow on me. The fact it’s capacitive didn’t really occur to me, and I think now most of my gloves are “compatible” so short of touching it through my t-shirt it should work (and that’s not something I do).

Being waterproof is likely (based on all my previous iPhone ownership) something I’ll never test (knocking on wood now), but I’m sure it’s a nice feature.

My biggest complaint, is the camera. Well that’s actually two issues

  1. It moved from 6 to 7, so all my cases are useless. Not a major issue and I’ve had them since my 6 so they’ve served me well, but still a bummer.
  2. same as always, Apple opted to leave a camera bump. Drives me up the wall. I hate things that wobble, etc. so a case is a must. I just don’t don’t get (and never have) why we can’t have no bump and a few hours more battery, seems like a win for all, since I’ve still never met someone who says “You know I love that camera bump, and just don’t care how long my battery lasts” Oh well, like I said, not a biggie, but just one of those ongoing niggles.

Black Black. I didn’t go piano, jet, iPhone 3G black. I went matte black.. original black, I dunno, whatever Apple is calling it. I’ve always like the darker colors, space gray, etc. So was eager to get matte black, and since the glossy one seems to be popular, I’m sure that made waking up like normal to order my phone easy to get iPhonemas day delivery.

So that’s really it. I’ve not noticed much of a huge win on power or battery life but it’s only been a few days. It’s a nice upgrade from the 6(s), and all that. I’ve never been a bluetooth headphone person (or rather was, it sucked terribly and never tried again) so not sure what my thoughts are on the whole headphone jack other than the terrible DRM implications.

RiNo Music Festival, not a great first run.

So this weekend, I went to the RiNo Music Festival. This was it’s first year in a space that I guess (from what I read) aims to become a music venue in the neighborhood (which is pretty sweet).

The line up was impressive, bands I knew from the radio.

[update] I realized I glossed over this to get to the bad, but the line up really was impressive. Every band had at least one song I knew from the radio so I could recognize them when they played. Having all bands a casual radio listener would know is (I assume) no small feat for a first time music festival. So while there’s plenty I think the organizers could have done better, the line up was a success for sure.

The location was not bad, hard packed dirt with room for food trucks, a stage at the far end of the pie shaped space.

That’s about where the “good” ends.

The show started at 4:30 and we got there about 5. Not too many people had arrived yet so it was easy to get beer from one of the two trucks, easy to visit one of the 5 or so food trucks.

Beer was cash only, yet they used square registers with iPads. One more step and they could take credit cards. One step, and they could have been totally awesome, and modern, yet they opted for cash only with shitty signs you couldn’t see until you got to the front of the ever lengthening line.

Oh and every food truck there, totally capable of taking credit cards. Fail one, RiNo Music Festival.

We grabbed beers and food and were able to grab a table with an umberella. As we sat and enjoyed our beers, more and more folks showed up. A good thing for sure, the festival was clearly not a failure.

That’s when things went off the rails.

As we sat there, the the line for beer (remember just two trucks, cash only) got longer and longer.

The line for the food trucks started to get longer. The line for the ATM got as long.

When our cups were empty it was “stand in a 100+ people line” or leave.

We left.

Leaving was a zig zag obstacle course of overlapping lines.

On leaving the security guy asked the guy in front of us if he was coming back in, “Fuck no, i can’t even get a beer in there”

Well said brother.

We walked to the Blue Moon Brewery, paid $2 less for a beer, and got a larger cup, and used our credit cards.

I feel ike the RiNo Music Festival was so close to executing an awesome event. They surely had an idea of how many people were coming, because it wasn’t free, tickets were required. They surely knew about square registers, so why not speed up the process selling beer? Why not add another beer truck?

I had friends who showed up and lasted 10 minutes.

Next year if it happens I’ll think twice about attending even though it was right in my backyard.

Amazon and the Kindle

I sort of love/hate Amazon. Mostly love, but still.

I have a Kindle Paperwhite, I’ve had a Kindle since the 2nd version was released. I’ve liked them all, loved really. They’re my go to reading devices, but most of the time it feels like Amazon is just pushing them out the door ( a new one just dropped last week!), without actually caring what anyone wants. Sure they add a new font here, and finally integrated goodreads a few firmware versions ago, now there’s a really expensive ‘luxury’ one, but look around the internet at an eReader or even Kindle specific forum, you’ll find lots and lots of discussion around the minor things that would vastly improve the kindle for many owners.

IMG_0982Content Management. When you end up with a library of hundreds or thousands of books, managing them on device is a bag of hurt. Especially if that device has an Epaper screen! Managing them on the amazon site isn’t even an option. So what works? Surely there’s something, oh no there’s nothing. The Kindle for mac (or PC I assume) seems like it’d be the right place, plenty of screen space, etc. to allow for easy sorting of books and managing of collections, generally managing your Kindle library. Nope, Collections are a mix of device and cloud, essentially making them useless on both, because what changes you make on your desktop, won’t reflect on the device, and vice versa. Side loaded books aren’t synced so the desktop and mobile app versions, don’t even know about them.

There used to be a nice view on the kindle that showed books and collections together so you could see books that weren’t assigned a place to live, making it easy to manage. Once your kindle screen was just collections, done. You’d sorted all your books. That view went away a few firmwares ago. You can see above that now there’s no telling. The three books at the bottom, are in the collection above, yet there’s no way to see just one. You can see only collections, but then books not in collections are gone. You can see everything but then collections are pretty pointless.

Screen savers. I admit this is a huge one for me (and anecdotally a huge group of owners). I don’t know why, but Amazon thinks we want to see some random ass images (previously it was dead authors) instead of the cover of the book we’re reading, or our own images. Why? beats me. Sure if you have the “special offers” version it makes sense you only see the offers. But if i’m not running that version, why wouldn’t I want to see what I’m reading? instead of one of like 6 rotating images. Why wouldn’t I want to customize that experience?

IMG_0981I know some folks don’t care one way or the other, I’d argue even not caring, none would object to seeing the book cover. It seems like such a low hanging fruit that Amazon could please a vocal subset of customers, please others who don’t care but wouldn’t oppose seeing the cover of their book, and in no way harm anything at all. In fact it’s not even like it’s not possible since one of the biggest reasons people jailbreak their kindles (myself included) is to gain access to book covers as screen saver.

Even if a book doesn’t have a cover, the system that renders it could make a generic one. I know this because the creators of the Screensaver hack have done it. The Side loading app Calibre, has also done it.

To my knowledge Amazon has never said why they don’t offer this, the jailbreak works so well, doing it officially seems like it’d be easier/cleaner.

Unlike Apple who seems to at least pay attention to the jailbreak community to see what’s popular, Amazon seems to ignore it completely, focusing on other things. Other things that no one is asking for (at least based on the last few firmwares, and subsequent roll backs).

None of this keeps me from owning a Kindle, or enjoying mine, but I’ve never understood when businesses seem to ignore their user base so completely as to be seen as hostile towards what are the most active and vocal of their supporters.

¯\_(?)_/¯