Friday, January 25, 2019

George Washington University Calls

I visited George Washington University briefly during my trip to Washington DC this past Summer. George Washington himself had wanted to establish a university in the capital of the United States. His wishes were finally fulfilled in 1821 when President James Madison signed the charter for what would become George Washington University. Since then, George Washington University has become a very prestigious institution. So much so, that when they started calling looking for Clovis and inquiring about enrolling him in one of their graduate programs, I was convinced that it had to be a scam of some sort. Perhaps they were calling from George Washington Carver University or George Warshington University. But, no, it was actually the hallowed institution itself.


An admissions rep from George Washington University called Clovis looking to see if he would be a good fit for their Masters program. Clovis wanted to know what George Washington was really like and if he still hung out on campus. Getting a tepid response from that, Clovis then recalled a documentary he had seen about an alumnus named Josh Baskin who spoke to a machine as a little boy and magically turned into an adult (this is a reference to the Tom Hanks movie "Big". Hanks' character claims to be a graduate of George Washington University). Again, a tepid response. Clovis then wondered if he got a Masters degree, would everyone have to call him "Master"? That actually got a laugh out of the rep. The call ended when Clovis asked if George Washington Carver was related to George Washington or if he was just the guy who cut him up.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Geeni Switch + Charge Smart Wi-fi Outlet with 2 USB Ports

Wi-fi smart plugs are practically a dime a dozen these days, right? Part of me thinks that there's just one factory located in Southeast Asia manufacturing all of these things, that they then ship off to various companies who program them to respond to their proprietary app, etch a brand logo on them and then resell them to the consumer. What I'm saying is, aside from the app being used to control the plug, there isn't much physical difference in wi-fi smart plugs. Every so often, a company will throw in a few extra features and see if they stick. Enter the Geeni Switch + Charge Wi-fi Outlet.

What it is and what it does is obvious. It's a wi-fi smart plug that you can command through Google Home or Amazon Alexa. In addition to that, the Geeni Switch is also boasts two USB ports that can be used to charge any number of your compatible devices. This little plug is perfect to put near your nightstand. You can plug a lamp into the outlet and then use the two USB ports to charge your phone and tablet overnight. Problem is, if your device supports Quick Charge, you won't be quick charging from these USB ports.

People tend to mis-read the information provided by Geeni regarding it's USB ports on the Geeni Switch + Charge Wi-fi Outlet. In order to support Quick Charge, a USB port has to be capable of delivering 2 amps. Many people who buy the Geeni Switch + Charge think that each USB port on the switch charges at 2 amps. That's not the case. Each USB port charges at 1 amp, so two 1 amp USB ports equals 2 amps. For that fuzzy math to work out to a Quick Charge rating, the Geeni Switch + Charge would have to claim a total of 4 ams (Two 2 amp USB ports = a total of 4 amps on the device).  The USB ports are always on as well, you cannot shut them off via the app. Neither those things were deal breakers for me.

Overall, the Geeni Switch + Charge Wi-fi Smart Outlet has been a fine addition to my smart home deployment. At a cost of around $15, you get reliable, easy to install, easy to manage smart plug that just happens to boast two USB charging ports.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Records Recovery Services

After buying a new home last month, I received an official-looking letter from Records Recovery Services asking me to spend $87.00 to receive a copy of my deed. The letter included a "due date", my property’s parcel number and other information about my home and land.

The thing is, land records can be obtained from your county's Recorder of Deeds by anyone, including companies like Records Recovery Services, which probably has small offices in every state from where they harvest the publicly available land transfer information, generates these letters, and attempts to sell deeds to the property owners at hugely inflated prices. Usually, copy charges from the Recorder’s Office are $2.00 for the first page and $1.00 for each additional page for a total of $5.00. Selling that report for $87 seems unethical and quite shady to me. You know what? I wouldn't mind paying $10 in order to avoid the trip to the court house. If I'm feeling generous, I might even be up for paying $20. But, $87? That's far and beyond unethical, in my opinion.

I spoke with a rep from Records Recovery Services. I'll give him props in that he didn't try to scare me into paying the $87. I tried to bait him by asking if I could be arrested if I didn't pay the money, but he didn't go for it. I told him that I had an offer from one of his competitors for $60 and asked if he could match that price. He said he didn't have the authority to do it. I then asked him to tell me why I should spend $87 on this and where the extra costs factored in. After promising to connect me with someone who could explain it, he hung up on me. That should tell you all you need to know about how Records Recovery Services operates. 

Monday, January 14, 2019

Red Dead Redemption 2: Painful Screw-ups Part IV

I've been busy outfitting the house with smart home devices and with getting furniture in for the new place and getting stuff set up and put away. Still, I managed to get some time in this weekend to play Red Dead Redemption 2 a bit more. I'm still plugging away in Chapter 3. I've managed to hunt down most of the legendary animals and have started fishing for the legendary fish. I am comfortable with the game and am immersed enough in the story that I am focusing on getting story missions done on a regular basis.

No matter how skilled I am at playing Red Dead Redemption 2, I will always have my share of fails. I still get distracted looking at the radar and end up crashing my horse from time to time. And, of course, I'm also taken by surprise on occasion and get killed by a wild beast. Check out the video below for Part IV of my Red Dead Redemption 2 fails:


Friday, January 11, 2019

The Nest Yale Smart Lock

When I was growing up, my father was paranoid about house keys. We had gotten robbed when one of my brothers' friends swiped his key and used it to enter the house when he knew when we'd be away for the weekend. So, in my dad's mind, between my parents and my siblings, there were seven keys representing seven potential security breaches. When I was in high school, I lost my key while studying in the local library. I informed my father who then bemoaned the prospect of having to replace seven keys. I figured that, since neither my name nor address had been etched into my key, anyone who found it would have no clue what house it went to, so, theoretically, they'd have to blindly go house to house in order to find the correct deadbolt. And anyone who took the time trying the key in every deadbolt in town probably deserved to have our stuff. My father wasn't pleased with my "logic" and the lock was quickly changed out.

The Nest Yale Lock in All Its Glory!
My point in telling that story is that locks aren't the end-all of home security. Yes, a lock is a deterrent, and is a first-line of defense, but, if someone really wants to break into your house, a deadbolt isn't going to stop them. A front door lock is a means of managing access. To that end, I purchased a Nest Yale lock to integrate with my smart home. The Nest Yale smart lock requires a Nest hub in order to work with full capabilities and integrate into Google Home, so, if you're thinking about purchasing one, make sure that you buy the model that comes with the Nest hub or get one separately.

Installation was pretty easy as the Nest Yale smart lock installs much like a traditional deadbolt. The issue is that the deadbolt has to fit perfectly into the latch in order for the lock to work as expected. Previously, we had been closing the door and pushing it in an extra inch in order to securely lock the deadbolt. This meant that the original deadbolt had not been seated properly. So, when I would ask Nest to lock the door, the deadbolt wouldn't be able to fully extend, which would lead to an error.

Upon further inspection, I discovered that the locks had been changed more than once and that a number of previous screw holes had been put into the door and into the latches. I had to buy some wood putty in order to fill in the old screw holes so that I could properly screw in the Nest Yale lock.

One issue that I have with the Nest Yale smart lock is that it doesn't come with a door handle. My whole purpose in buying the lock is so that I won't have to worry about carrying my house keys. So, I can either unlock the door via the keypad using the keycode I gave myself or I could unlock it via the app on my phone. Yet, having a lockable doorknob on my door defeats the purpose of having a smart deadbolt. So, I had to replace the doorknob with a handle that matched the Nest Yale smart lock. I get it: Nest and Yale don't want to get into the complex issues that come with having to offer multiple iterations of their lock. Offering three colors is enough. Best to push off the handle issue onto the consumer in order to keep things simple. It's still a tad frustrating.

Overall, I'm pleased with how my Nest Yale smart lock works. Everyone in the house has downloaded the Nest app and have created their own code for access to unlock the front door. There was, however, one noticeable objection to this system: In a "you're not my REAL dad" moment, one of the teens wondered if I was using the lock to keep track of their comings and goings. Okay, yes, in theory the Nest Yale smart lock could be used to do that. But, I really don't care who is locking and and unlocking the door and I don't care when they're doing it. I just want to be able to get into my house without my keys if I need to. So, for those in the house who don't want to be tracked, they can use the side door or the back door which still have traditional locks on them. For now.

I haven't made use of Privacy Mode yet, which turns off the outside keypad so that even people with access can't use their codes. They can still open the door via the app though. I'm sure I'll enable it when we go on vacation in March.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Energy Scammer Gets Angry

A telemarketer pushing an energy savings scam called me yet again. When he asked if I received federal assistance to help me pay for my electric bill, I went off on a rambling tangent about getting lost trying to find the federal assistance office. He was a bit impatient, but overall seemed to handle that tangent okay. Then asked me to get a pen and my Com Ed bill. I then launched into a story about my favorite pen and where I had bought it. This really seemed to piss him off because he kept threatening to cancel the deal and ordering me to give him my Com Ed account number. I told him to hold his horses and then started to tell him about how I had just gotten my Com Ed bill when he finally hung up on me.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Setting Up Amazon Alexa

In order to give my bedridden father quicker access to his Ring Video Doorbell, one of my brothers and I decided that it was time to bring him into the world of Smart Home assistants. We debated back and forth for a while about whether to go with Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa. I lobbied for Google Home as I have experience with it and could get it up and running easier. However, I had to admit that, since Ring is owned by Amazon, going with Amazon Alexa is the more logical choice. So, for Christmas, we bought my father an Amazon Echo Show and managed to get our hands on a free Amazon Echo Dot.

Amazon Alexa Vs Google Home


Setup


Setting up the Amazon Echo Dot isn't all that different from setting up Google Home Mini. Just download the Amazon Alexa app onto your cell phone, then plug in the Amazon Echo Dot and follow the instructions. I was surprised that, unlike Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa doesn't require you to do a voice check as part of its setup process. Setting up the Amazon Echo Show isn't much different than setting up the Google Home Hub, though much of the setup on the Echo Show is done on the actual device rather than via the app on your phone. This opposite is true for the Google Home Hub.

Usage


Amazon Alexa and Google Home both operate in similar manners. One of the things that I like about the Amazon Echo devices is that they light up with a blue light to indicate that a device is listening to you. Google Home devices light up in a way that, to me, is not nearly as noticeable. A huge issue I have with Amazon Alexa is the trigger word. Saying something like "Hey, Alexa" to activate a device is fine so long as you don't have someone with a similar name living in your house. Yelling across the room to someone with a similar name activates Amazon Echo devices and suddenly Alexa is telling me that she doesn't know how to tell me what she wants for lunch. I'm sure you can change the trigger phrase if need be, but, since it isn't an issue for my father, I figured it would be easier not to muck with it.

The Amazon Echo Show integrates with the Ring Video Doorbell well enough. I still hate that there's so much lag involved, though. My father will say "Hey, Alexa, show me the front door" and then Alexa will say that it's contacting Ring which takes anywhere from 5 to 10 seconds. That just seems way too laggy for me. I don't yet have a Nest Hello so I can't make a good comparison. Maybe that sort of lag time is normal. I guess I just figured that, since Amazon owns Ring, the integration would be much snappier.

There are two huge advantages that the Amazon Echo Show has over the Google Home Hub:

  1. The Amazon Echo Show features a larger (albeit bulkier) display with a better speaker. 

  2. You can do video calls via Skype on the Amazon Echo Show. No such luck with the Google Home Hub, as it does not have a camera attached to it. 

Overall 


My father is happy with his Amazon Echo Show and its integration with Ring. The lag time between Alexa and Ring doesn't bother him, which is much more important than any minor annoyances I have. The system is working well enough that I'm looking at adding an August Smart Lock to his smart home so that he can lock and unlock the door via his connected devices. I still, however prefer the Google Home infrastructure.


Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Into The Spider-Verse

I got dragged, over my vociferous protestations, to "Welcome To Marwen" last weekend. I'm pretty sure that being forced to watch that movie is considered a form of torture by The Geneva Convention. At the very least, I consider it grounds for a break-up. So, in order to soothe escalating movie-watching tensions, I chose "Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse" as our movie option yesterday afternoon.

"Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse" has been called the best Spider-Man movie to date. I can see where people could plausibly make that claim. Don't let the fact that it's an animated feature put you off. "Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse" has a lot of depth to it and every character gets their moment to shine. Moreover, the story itself was satisfying yet also lugubrious at times. "Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse" details the life of neophyte Spider-Man, Miles Morales, as he copes with his newfound powers and tries to climb out of the shadow of Peter Parker's original Spider-Man. Meanwhile, Morales is pushed into attending a boarding school, where he is uncomfortable to the point of being humiliated a multitude of times. This discomfort and isolation leads to him feeling insecure about his newfound capabilities. Enter alternate universe Peter Parker who has had a number of setbacks himself. This "hobo Spider-Man" mentors Miles as they and other alternate Spider-heroes try to stop a threat to the entire multiverse. Miles eventually overcomes his insecurities and ultimately takes a “leap of faith” allowing him to realize his true capabilities. This heroic feat leads to a cathartic denouement.

So, is "Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse" the best Spider-Man movie ever produced? Well, I liked it, but I think that distinction still goes to the cut-scenes in "Marvel's Spider-Man" PS4 (look for the PS4 Spider-Man costume in the Spider-Lair on the far left in "Spider-Verse"). Still, "Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse" is well worth the price of admission despite a few glaring flaws and plot-holes here and there.