General blog entries that aren't articles in and of themselves.

That's One Expensive Upgrade

You've heard of Sonos, yes? Whole-house audio, wireless and able to bridge pretty-much any source. It'll play my music library, stream Pandora, talk to Alexa (or Google), and even stream the same music in all rooms. The little boxes can do it over WiFi or ethernet and form their own mesh network as well. All in all, it's pretty slick and incredibly well done. Further, once you buy a device, you're done. There's no subscription cost for their service and upgrades.

Of course, this makes sense, seeing as the boxes are expensive. The "Connect," which is a passive audio source (meaning you need to plug the audio output into an amp, like your home theater system) runs over $450. The powered version (into which you can just connect speakers) is a couple hundred more, around $650. Then they have powered speaker versions for a couple hundred up to $500. And I've not even gotten into their home theater sound bars and subs, which can run, as a set, over a grand.

So you feel me on the cost.

Over the years, I've acquired three Connects, one Amp, and one "One," which is their powered speaker. All are first-gen units.

Now we get to the dilemma: Sonos has noted that these first-gen units are underpowered for modern times and they've given them end-of-life. They now have a v2 (called S2, whereas the older units are called S1) and say that new features and modern features will only come out on S2. S1 gets bugs and security patches, but that's it. Initially, they'd said they'd brick S1 (seriously!) but they walked that back when customers rightly revolted. But if you have any S1 devices in your home, you can't use S2.

There are three options: first, just stay on S1 and life goes on like it is now, but no new features. Second, buy some S2 units and split your home. S1 is one Sonos network and S2 is another. There are problems with this, but generally, you can do it. Or, third...

Upgrade everything to S2. To encourage this, Sonos is giving S1 users a 30% credit on any purchase of an S2 device that maps to an S1 that they already have. So in my case, I could buy three S2 "Connect" equivalents and one S2 "Amp" equivalent and get 30% off each. The offer is only per S1 device you already have. Sonos will take the old devices and recycle them for you if you want, or you can do it yourself. Or... as it appears, you can still use them. That's right, you could grow your system by double, split it (S1 and S2) and get 30% off of the S2 stack as a spiff.

Or, in my case, take my S1 Amp and put it in my travel trailer on its own network. Then I could upgrade the three Connect units into S2 units and give them away to friends. A friend who doesn't have Sonos would be thrilled at S1, as it's still pretty cool. The unit wouldn't be eligible for the discount, but it's usable, albeit with today's older feature set.

But that's 70% of $650 + $450 + $450 + $450. More than just casual chump change.

You can't fault Sonos for not being able to use 15 year-old tech in a modern way. On the other hand, that's one expensive upgrade!

If you give advice here, please be snarky, because I already know what I'm going to do ;)

  251 Hits
251 Hits

Unintended Stress Testing

One thing to come of this pandemic is the unintended stress and integration tests being put to our systems, especially home automation. In my house, we have, by being home 24/7 for the past two weeks, put enough unexpected stress on our house that some very interesting failure modes are starting to make themselves known

It started when a couple of my smoke detectors started giving false alarms. This wasn't a case of low or dead batteries, and it tended to happen early in the morning. Some research indicated that the particular model I have tends to give false alarms when dirty. Sure enough, taking them down, the amount of dust was higher than usual. My only hypothesis is that everyone being home 24/7 and the house being mostly closed because of cool weather means more humidity. That could mean dust is "sticking" to things. So, time to clean all the detectors.

And our smart thermostats are completely confused. The concept of "home" and "away" is nonsensical to it now, and its learning logic doesn't appear to know how to cope. I've turned them to full manual and nailed them to the temperature we want. I'll reprogram them later and turn off learning entirely. There is no "house arrest" mode. There should be!

One stress test that we've all been part of has been the Internet and cell system - and it's notable that it's held up pretty well for the most part. Usage patters have changed considerably, but we're all still online. We're all trying to work from home and binge watch movies. Bandwidth usage has spiked - but nothing's fallen down. This is good news.

  2105 Hits
2105 Hits

My New Book!

Fansplaining for Dummies - available wherever fine pedantism is sold. 

  2247 Hits
2247 Hits

A Better Way To Fool (this year)

For April Fool this year, I was going to spin a tale of how I'd accepted a request to stand for election for Congress in 2022 and would be beginning my campaign immediately after this year's election. I think it would have been totally believable and fooled many of you.

Due to the current world situation, I clue you into my planned prank and then ensure you know that it would have been a prank and hope that you get a grin imagining how it might have played out.

April Fool is out of bounds this year - but humor still helps.

Unless you think it would have been a crappy Fool, in which case I still love you, but you're wrong ;)

(I encourage everyone to post what they would have done, in the bounds of good taste, but not actually pull the prank itself)

  2022 Hits
2022 Hits

A New Model (with a danger)

Universal has chosen to release some moves direct to digital in this time of "shelter in place." For $20, you can get "The Hunt," a film that should be in the theaters, to watch at home for 48 hours. This is great, as we're all going to need entertainment and lots of it. And for $20, a family of four is seeing this film at a price much less than they'd pay in a first-run theater.

My only concern? Those who invite all the neighbors over to save even more money. Because that's not social distancing, is it?

Please think about this before you do such a thing. It could save your life or the life of an at-risk loved one. 

  2303 Hits
2303 Hits

Meme Monday

  2374 Hits
2374 Hits

On Second Thought...

Any other time, I'd see these ludicrously cheap fares to Tokyo as a reason to do a mileage run and enjoy a few days in a great city.

And then I realize why travel prices are falling through the floor and plan my next trip to Costco, instead.

  2457 Hits
Tags:
2457 Hits

Three Things Thursday: 7 November, 2019

Three things I learned from my lawyers...

Continue reading
  4639 Hits
4639 Hits

F*ck It Friday: 1 November, 2019

I think I'm going to take a page out of President Bartlet's playbook. Fans of ​The West Wing​ will recall how he ended every meeting with a simple phrase...

Continue reading
  4531 Hits
4531 Hits

Coal's Demise

CNN reports America's largest coal miner just filed for bankruptcy, as expected.

So much for "Promises Made, Promises Kept," Mr. Trump. Coal is obsolete. There are so many reason to celebrate this fact. I don't even need to be pleased that you're bass-ackwards policy was a bad one and it's yet another nail in your coffin-like legacy.

Though it does kinda feel good to tick that box.

Now, if only we could put some money into broadcast power and room-temperature superconducting so that we can be even that much more efficient...

Musings from the Starbucks.

Power companies are ditching coal in favor of cleaner alternatives at a rapid pace. US power plants are expected to consume less coal next year than at any point since President Jimmy Carter was in the White House, according to government forecasts released earlier this month.

-- CNN
  4779 Hits
4779 Hits

Three Things Thursday: 31 October, 2019

We lost power on Saturday due to PG&E's idiotic need to shut power off when high winds pose a fire threat. We got it back late yesterday. For those unaware, this is simply because of mismanagement over the past decade by a for-profit utility. But hey, why get all political, right?

Three Things I'd Like Right Now:

1. A 12kw Generac house backup generator, since it looks like these week-long power outages, multiple times per year, are going to be the "new normal" for the next five to seven years, or so they say.

2. A week of stopped-time to catch up on my TODO list, reading, and dare I say a little television.

3. Delicious cake. Enough said. 

  4502 Hits
4502 Hits

It's So Hard to Move On

The worst part about training a new Pandora station is when a song comes on that you love, but is quite clearly not in the genre you're trying to curate. You have to thumb-down the song, but you also really would like to hear it.

#FirstWorldProblems 

  4808 Hits
4808 Hits

F-It Friday: 25 October, 2019

On Fridays, I'm so over it. This Friday, I'm done responding to memes I know are wrong. 

Continue reading
  4222 Hits
4222 Hits

Three Things Thursday: October 24

One Insight

I travel a lot for work. Often, dinner is going to be at whatever the hotel offers, and a lot of the time, that's getting food at the bar. It continuously amazes me how much people will say, out loud, during a conversation in such a venue. A lot of the time it's office gossip, which is fascinating. Some of the stories would curl your hair, especially when the participants have had a few drinks. But sometimes the conversation is all work, and just paying attention turns me into a fly on the wall of the company meeting room. I know how projects are doing, which initiatives are getting traction and which aren't, what's likely to be canned, and who's on the up or down as far as promotions go. Potential mergers have been mentioned, with the people talking presuming that they're just sharing information with each other that they already know or should know. Now I know. Something to keep in mind if you travel, yourself (from either end of this dynamic).

One Hint

Speaking of traveling, I'm often asked what my number-one top travel tip is. I'll give it to you here as one Thing, but look for an expanded post on it in the future. The tip is this: stop thinking about leisure travel in terms of "here's when I'm going, and here's where I'm going, now how can I get the best deal?" That's a trap. The options, once you've locked yourself into a time and location are often very limited. Instead, invert the model. Make a list of places you'd be interested in going. Make a range of dates you could travel. Then start looking. Be flexible and look for sales to destinations or drops in prices when you can go a week before or a week after your first guess. Last year I wanted to get away for Thanksgiving, but chose to not fix my sights on any particular location. I looked at prices in the time range I was considering and ranked them based on both the price and the attractiveness of the destination. One morning, for whatever reason, Japan went on sale. I mean a big sale. I booked it then and there, and spent an incredible week in Japan for next to nothing.

One Bit of Humor

  3977 Hits
3977 Hits

Corrupt News

President Trump just said that he's now going to start calling the "Fake News" the "Corrupt News." This is his new term.

I just registered corrupt.news

Happy Wednesday. ;)

  4287 Hits
4287 Hits

Venn Parts 4: Sports

Just remember, everyone has their fandom!

  4107 Hits
Tags:
4107 Hits

Venn Parts 3: Bites

And, of course, if it bites itself and you die, that's voodoo.

  4508 Hits
4508 Hits

Venn Parts 2

Donald Trump not human? Cut me a little slack on that one...

  4431 Hits
Tags:
4431 Hits

Venn Parts 1

Venn Parts 1

Who knew that sperm whales are the noisiest animal on Earth?

  4573 Hits
Tags:
4573 Hits

You're Being Treated Like a Child

My son likes to think he's a lawyer and, unlike many children who ask the same question over and over will often ask the same question multiple times but with different angles. At some point, usually pretty early (I like to think I'm a smart guy), I realize he's doing this, and I shift into giving a response that I've found works well. I can't claim credit for it, I read it on a parenting blog.

Continue reading
  6702 Hits
6702 Hits

Spam by Any Other Name

It's one thing to sign me up for spam. It's another for a company to do it and claim it's some kind of benefit.

Continue reading
  6120 Hits
Tags:
6120 Hits

There Are No Aliens

One thing I've come to realize that really gets me down...

Continue reading
  5115 Hits
5115 Hits

Does Uber Care? No, I Don't Think So

Uber

Uber's new CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, has been all over the media trying to rehabilitate Uber's reputation by telling us that Uber cares and will make things right when they go wrong. This is great spin, but is it really true? If my experience with Uber, lately, is any indication, it's not. It's business as usual at Uber.

Have you ever contacted Uber's customer service? First, you can't do anything except send a message with the app, but even then, you are constrained in your topics and ability to do so. Often, to get someone to read your issue, you have to select an irrelevant topic.

Once making it past that hurdle, you then send your message and wait for the inevitable misunderstood response. I have honestly never sent a message to Uber in which the response was in any way relevant to my actual complaint. Once going back and forth for the better part of a day with Uber, one may get a response that is aligned to the subject, but there's no guarantee there.

In my latest interaction with Uber, I requested a ride while in San Francisco. The app told me the wait would be about 8 minutes, and I waited while watching the car make its way to me. Once it was near, it was clear that the driver was going the wrong way and would never be able to reach my location. Sure enough, as the app was telling me that the driver was arriving, the car disappeared and the app told me that the driver had to cancel. Just like that.

I had to start over, wait another ten minutes and then... same thing. Driver cancelled.

The third time was a charm, some half-hour after I'd requested my first ride.

I contacted Uber and explained the situation and the response to me was that I should be fine, I wasn't charged a cancellation fee.

Wait. What?

I explained that it was the driver who had cancelled and noted that had I cancelled, I would have been charged $5, but when a driver does it, there's no consequence.

The response I received asked me for a screen shot of the $5 charge I incurred.

After going back and forth, I finally managed to explain what happened and was then told that this is the policy and there would be no refund. Not even an apology.

So... Dara? How is this "making it right?"

  4576 Hits
4576 Hits

My Productivity Goes to Eleven

I'm often asked about my personal productivity strategies, and the number one tip that I like to give out is the benefit of making habits of the things that you find valuable. It is said that it takes 21 days for form a habit, and that one must be committed to establishing it. I could argue that if you can remember to do something for 21 days, you've already made it a habit. If the habit I want to create is eating delicious cake every day, I suspect I could do without help. When it's remembering to floss, on the other hand, I might forget if I'm in a hurry, or even blow it off. In this case, I find that checklists help.

My habits checklists on TodoistApplications like Todoist work for me, as they let me make a checklist of tasks and set them to repeat daily (or in some cases, on weekdays, weekends, or whatever schedule works for me). Initially, I had a single checklist, but I found this difficult to work with. Sometimes there are tasks that are expected on a given day but just aren't going to get done, often for very good reason. For example, one task I have is to make a daily journal entry about a particular topic. The problem is that the topic doesn't generate activity every day, so checking off this task when there is nothing to journal about is perfectly okay - but I get "credit" in the app for actually doing it. There is no way to mark it, as we'd say in the betting world, "no action."

My solution was to split out my list into two categories and then split those into two more. The two categories are health habits and all other habits. I treat health differently because many of the items are non-negotiable. Take my blood pressure medication, for example. That goes into the second split of "maintenance," which means that it's a "no excuse" task.

Tasks that aren't maintenance are improvement, and those are the ones that, more often than not, wouldn't get done if I didn't hold myself accountable. Improvement health tasks like working out or meditating (though that's becoming more attractive the more I do it). Improvement habits like committing to writing at least one sentence a day (hat tip to Stephen Barnes for this one).

In all cases, checking them off provides the dopamine reaction I'm after. I want to see, every day, 100% on maintenance tasks, and as close as I can get on the improvement tasks. If something can't be done regularly, I re-evaluate it to see if it must be dropped from the list or if I need to make adjustments to make it possible.

Bonus List: I have one for "Memorize." This is, obviously, anything I need to commit to memory. I put the text in a task and read it once per day and then check it off. After a time, the every-day repetition gets the job done and I can remove the task. Ask me to do some Shakespeare for you some time - this is how I memorized Dogberry's part in Much Ado About Nothing ;)

Do you think this would work for you? I'd love to hear thoughts and refinements! What would you add/change to this?

  5529 Hits
5529 Hits

You're Already Connected

When I was in high school, in the 80s, I was part of a group that hacked into corporate voicemail systems so that we young hackers could communicate. Voicemail was pretty obscure then. You could find me, around lunchtime, at the payphone on campus, picking up and leaving messages. (Note for the young, look up "payphone" if you need to).

Continue reading
  5843 Hits
5843 Hits

Haiku

Life moves pretty fast
Web site left alone too long
Must update daily

  7745 Hits
Tags:
7745 Hits

Bonjour, Monsieur Jarre!

Welcome to the future! I'd heard that Jean Michel Jarre was working on a new album, and last night saw a post that noted that it's out. I remember growing up in the '80s, and when an artist I liked had a new album, I'd have to make my way down to Big Music and go see my buddy Bob. He'd almost always have it in stock, but sometimes he'd have to order it and it would be a couple days before I got my hands on the CD. Before that it was waiting for the vinyl to show up. Those were the days, right?

So last night I see the post and click through. There we are on iTunes, with the album available. One click and my account is debited the $14 or so, and the download begins to my iPad. I'm not worried about single-device, of course, since I know that any iDevice I have (or even my PC with iTunes installed) can get the bits. I close iTunes, open my Sonos controller, and tell it that I'd like to listen to the album on the master bedroom speakers, please. Five seconds later I'm listening to the opening notes of Jarre's new offering.

And wow, this is good stuff! Collaborations with a whole bunch of other artists (including Tangerine Dream!). Clearly Jarre's style, and even more cool, clearly some of these artists are fans, as you can hear their components are often in the style of Jarre's older works. Musical respect.

The takeaway? This is the future I imagined when I was 21. If you'd asked me to describe "a day in the life" when I was in college, this is it. And that's simply amazing.

The album: https://itun.es/us/rpbO8

  11823 Hits
11823 Hits

Sleestaq Logo!

The very talented Matt Zanzibar has delivered the logo for Sleestaq, LLC, my new company for all of the web development and properties I'm working on. Much more about all of this to come, along with my new goal of a daily blog entry here at Bit.Parts!

  4091 Hits
4091 Hits