Thursday, October 22, 2020

Lghting our Way Ahead

In the old days, before covid-19, lights in our apartment were either 60 or 100 watt and were left on on dark days.

Now almost all our lights are controllable with voice via Echo.

They turn on automatically to daylight with breakfast and by evening with warmer color temperatures as we need them

At sunset the lights come on in our living room and dining area.

At bedtime the lighting switch is automatically to the bedrooms at a low level.

No longer do we need to think about and abuse the use of power for lighting.

Mostly it was done with Wi-Fi smart bulbs and cheap switches.

No more changing bulbs as the new ones last 20 years.

Better Hearing with Better Sound

Staying away from exposure to covid-19 plus also a renovation of our living quarters both launched me on a pursuit of better sound.

As good as they were I needed to do away with old bookshelf speakers which required an amplifier, along with wires.

I needed a small and portable and unobtrusive solution. Sound is better as you get closer to the source.

Technology has newly offered some remarkable improvements and what can be had at a low price.

The Echo Dot series 3 was a starter.  These dropped as low as $19 a piece as the new series for was introduced.

Not only do these connect you to Amazon Echo but they are valuable without Amazon Echo

They can be mounted with an adapter directly on the wall in multiple places.

They can receive Bluetooth or send Bluetooth to other speakers.

The Oontz series from Cambridge Soundworks are also small and portable to where you are listening.  I find their sound remarkable, and as good or better than a larger system much further away.

Even smaller and still remarkable are tiny Fiodio resistant speakers  Modek F-130.

We're talking about very small and very low priced technology.

You really don't need the big bulky equipment of the past, however good it was.

And it costs very little to try it out, less than $30.

So where does this all get me?

I can go anywhere in the apartment and to any speaker and access any of the sources of music or audio directly.

That includes everything from my old digitized 78s and 33s plus everything from Amazon and Pandora and Google and also have any of my books read to me.

The highest quality sound at the least possible cost.

Monday, October 5, 2020

Speakers and Speaking are Changing

 I pride myself on keeping up-to-date on technology.

I was busy using speech recognition technology in industry 30 years ago.

However some of the most recent achievements got ahead of me.

Remember those big speakers we used to use with hi-fi systems. I still have a set of KLH speakers which are still really great.

But better tech is here with Alexa and with Hi Google.

Both have simple microphone and speaker system which plug directly into a wall outlet.

Both are unobtrusive and handy and cheap.    The latest versions have very good audio and can be placed near where are you need them.

No need anymore for the old bulky hi-fi unless you have a lot of space you don't need for anything else.

And now they can be controlled entirely with your voice.

Friday, October 2, 2020

Wiring Nightmares

Computers and technology create more and more needs to plug in more and more devices into our old electrical outlets.  In the old days we had a few outlets in a room and that was it.

Our apartment is not that old but it still has only one outlet in each wall, usually in the middle.

One of those outlets is switched, which makes it undesirable for many uses.

So a single outlet was needed to service a TV, a cordless phone, a modem, a router, wireless headphones, power for various TV sticks, and a power recliner which has two plugs, not to mention an Amazon Echo.
So nowadays you too may need to power six or more devices from a single outlet.

That can be complicated by an outlet in the middle of a wall where furniture is usually placed in the way.
I prefer outlets in corners at about chair height for easy access.  I required that at work as a management information director.

Having also been director of a company which was accredited as a hospital, I also prefer nothing on the floor, which accreditation mandated. That avoids electrical exposures and also infection control problems.
But the way as technology has developed, over the years there's a tendency in homes to add surge bars and then plug in surge bars to surge bars and create a disaster.  It is a very bad idea.

So, facing a renovation, I needed to figure out a better way.

My first effort was to eliminate plugins wherever possible. That meant doing away with smart home hubs for smart home switches and bulbs.  I switched to smart bulbs and switches.

It was also desirable to plan for plugging Amazon Echo directly into an outlet as opposed to using a cord. The device hangs directly on the plug.

So now I need an outlet adapter which plugged into the hot receptacle to provide six outlets.

I went through several such devices until I found one which could accommodate the sometimes bulky plugs associated with various devices.

The best solution was a Phillips adapter which provides plugins at the side and on the face along with slots for charging a cell phone and tablet or laptop.

Since I would be out of the apartment during a short renovation, I needed to label power plugs for the appropriate device, to avoid getting them confused.

I picked up a Dymo computer labeler which spits out labels quickly.

The end result was that I could accommodate nearly everything off the ground directly from the outlet.
Where I needed to plug more than six items in, I added a surge bar on the shelf or table.

I needed to throw out all the old surge bars which could only accommodate a very narrow plug, and replace them with newer surge bars which offer plenty of space.

One such surge bar is used for my modem, router, and ethernet hub which then plugs into a remote switch which reboots the system remotely.

That makes it easy to restart the system after an electrical outage, which happens often in a storm..
More frequently our cable goes out in a storm, and I need to rely on internet to watch TV.

In doing all this I realized that the future is likely to offer outlets with many widely spaced receptacles and more devices which plug in without an extension cord like the Amazon Echo and Google Home.
That will free up shelf and floor space for everybody.

The side effect of getting everything off the floor is that our Robovac does not get snarled up in wires.
I no longer need to place something in the way so that the Robovac does not get into trouble.  That was a nuisance.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Upgrading While "Covid19-Safe" at Home

Many of us are upgrading our living space while being confined to home for safety from covid-19.

Having done this extensively, I may be able to save others some mistakes.

Here we go:

I upgraded our light bulbs throughout our living space with smart bulbs.My mistake was an upgrading too early.  Some bulbs got obsolete quickly.

It is safe for me to say that there is only one choice anybody should make. That choices for Wyse smart bulbs that work without a hub.

They work remotely by voice to adjust schedule and hue and brightness. What a difference in our living space.

I upgraded our computers in four different ways to find the best solution.

Simplest and cheapest and most efficient in space usage was the addition of a 24-in Insignia TV from BestBuy, which also serves as a computer display or monitor.A primitive browser even comes with it, but a cheap Intel Windows 10 PC stick makes the most of it. A caveat is that the stick has somewhat limited memory. That just means you need to store most things in the cloud.

Meanwhile I upgraded our router and moved it centrally.

Then phone arrangements needed to be upgraded to avoid nuisance calls.

Why? Because we all pay triple for our phone service. We pay for the landline, we pay for internet, and we pay for ourselves service. What a waste.

I bought it cheap VOIP device which gives me equivalent to landline service for $50 a year as compared to my previous over $300 a year cost.

I put in a Panasonic cordless system which extends cell service throughout the apartment.

I changed my cell service to Tello at $8 a month.

Next, I upgraded our printers with a Brother wireless laser at about $70 open box.  Less than buying a replacement toner for an older printer.

I also obtained a Dymo label printer now available at $50.

So I did spend some money, but the savings offset all of the costs by a wide margin

It was also pretty cheap to obtain the latest Roku and Amazon sticks which enable us to watch a lot of movies absolutely free.

I did subscribe to Peacock and CBS services, along with Acorn TV. We do use Tubi a lot which has a lot of great movies and TV series free with very limited commercials.

If we had over the air TV service here I would have done away entirely with our cable service which costs only about $30 a month anyway

I did not need to upgrade iPhone or iPad. Older Chromebooks also still work quite well.

Both Windows and Chromebooks have some really severe limitations which I found a way of overcoming.   Windows has very annoying problems with constant upgrades and exposure to viruses, while Chromebooks do not work well at all with printers.

The simple solution was to install Endless Linux which immediately recognizes any printer automatically and has painless upgrades.

With more time to play piano, I obtained fake books and sheet music collections free on the Internet Archive.

To avoid the moving cost of upgrading the whole place with repainting, I simply had touch-up done, with partial carpet replacement.

I also went through everything and disposed of things we just don't need or use anymore. I sell what we do not need on eBay.

And finally, I rearranged so that everything has a place and there is a place for everything. Things we always need in hand are now close by, and other items are in storage.

Closet type drawer storage units helped with all this rearrangement.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Goodbye Cable

Cable TV is dying.

All the big players are shifting over to internet.

The big shift is occurring as we speak.  

Consumer Reports makes the point that you can get all you need in media for $25 a month.

We have seen an explosion in content just over the last month.

More and more services provide channel guides in addition to selected sources.

Even Plex has introduced channel guides, following Peacock (NBC), and Roku.

In Germany you can already access any program and any TV station or schedule with the YOUTV app.  Access over here is free.

The hardest part is finding your way around in the jungle of available media.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

The best Computing and TV for Seniors

Staying at home has launched me on a mission to work out what would be the best computing and TV station for a senior.

It worked out that I needed to abandon cable and Windows and a PC and their many annoyances and costs.

Instead, I needed to adopt what is new and more advanced, and a lot cheaper.

That consisted simply of a 24in TV which also served as a monitor or display, an assortment of so-called sticks, and a Chromebook with a 15 inch screen.

I could find only two such 24in TVs out there and both are fine. One is an Insignia Fire TV from Best Buy and the other is an LG. I also put to use an old HDMI display.

The Chromebook is an HP.

To make efficient use of space, this equipment sits in a bookshelf with one shelf extended out to accommodate a keyboard.  I sit three feet away from the screen.

All are connected direct through ethernet and avoid slow Wi-Fi where possible, such as Roku and Amazon Fire.

I run online media on the display while at the same time also using the Chromebook for computing. I can also deliver the Chromebook screen to the larger display.

This arrangement then opened up a whole new world for me.

The Roku Ultra stick especially opened up a huge array of services.  

I decided to go for broke by adding a Fire stick and a new TiVo stick, which applies TiVo tools to ease navigation. I dispensed with the Chromecast because the other sticks perform the same functions.

The array of services was dizzying at first. It took a while to find out what I really wanted and then weed out what I did not want, such as subscription costs.

I was able to get free all the local TV channels plus also the Philadelphia channels, both live and on-demand. Newson is
an app which gives access to local channels.

I did subscribe to Peacock, which offers a wonderful library of NBC and associated media. I did that also to eliminate commercials. I needed the Tivo stick for that.

There have been more and more services offering a cable like program guide. These include NBC above, and also Pluto, and as I say more and more others.

A favorite service is Acorn, along with Hulu Amazon Prime.

There are also many other services which offer media with commercials, especially movies and TV series.

I had used many of these services on my cell phone and simply had to activate them for the large screen.

These included music services such as Amazon and YouTube Music and Pandora, along with Spotify.

it is possible to subscribe to services such as Sling which give access to TV shows on demand.  These cost $20 a month and up. I avoid such costs. Sling does have some free content.

If you want to watch nearly all German TV series and movies it is possible to get them both live and on-demand via Youtv.    That is NOT YouTube.

You can get two shows at a time free or for less than $10 hundreds at one time which are downloaded for access. Wish we had that here. Yes, there are subtitles in German. Just tap on UT at the bottom of the screen.

For $5 a month I subscribe to a service which provides Canadian and Australian news TV as an antidote for our local news. Newsy is an interesting free USA app which avoids opinions.

The hardest part about the whole effort was learning how to navigate to find the best content.

Both Roku and the TiVo stick and Amazon Fire have voice input to make that easier.