Studio711

Gadgets

Mesh Networking

As I wrote back in 2016, our house is just big enough and the WiFi band is just crowded enough that we need two access points to get good coverage. Back then I chose to dive into Ubiquiti networking gear. You can kind of think of their stuff as consumer grade equipment with enterprise an level feature set (and learning curve!) I installed some of their stuff at church with great success and it worked ok around here, but I was having to reset it more and more frequently. Plus the router we had was also flaking out periodically. It was either time to beef up my Ubiquiti game or go a simpler route. For once in my life, I chose the easier, less geeky route.

Mesh networking is the hot new(ish) trend. Multiple devices are spread around your house and they work together to service all your wireless clients. They automatically hand clients off to the access point with the best signal. Some of the more popular brands are Orbi, Eero and Google WiFi. I chose… none of those. Instead I went for Synology’s offering largely because a group of people at work were singing their praises and it looked a bit more configurable and was cheaper to expand as needed.

For my main router, I chose the Synology RT2600ac and for the extra access point downstairs, I got a Synology MR2200ac.I think I could have saved a little money by just getting two MR2200’s but I opted for the beefier RT2600ac because I have a lot of wireless and wired clients in my house and I figured the extra horsepower wouldn’t hurt.

The system was pretty simple to configure (though not as straightforward as products like Orbi) and I have been happily roaming around my house for a few weeks without ever dropping my signal. I have great coverage everywhere inside, out in the driveway (useful for checking traffic while I’m sitting in the truck) and out in the cul-de-sac. Oddly the only place I’m having trouble is on the back patio. I’m not sure what the deal is there but I’ll have to either place with the placement of my devices or add a third access point to completely blanket my property.

The interface for the RT2600ac is very impressive. It’s basically a full windowed desktop environment inside your browser. You can enable plugins, get traffic reports emailed to you, and toggle feature switches to your heart’s content.

If your existing wireless setup is working well for you, don’t bother changing it, but if you’re in the market for a new system, this Synology gear gets the thumbs up from me so far.

Cell Phone History

We’ve had our Galaxy S7 phones for over 2.5 years now and they’re holding up amazingly well. I do notice deteriorating battery life, but the wireless charging makes it pretty easy to keep up with that. The features and performance are holding up much better than any cell phone I’ve had before. It’s still tempting to get something newer, but with the top tier of cell phones weighing in at around $1000, I think we’ll have these for a while longer (and I’m also getting more intrigued by the mid-tier phones that have very impressive specs.) Plus, now that Verizon finally has separated the price of the phone from the price of the plan, it makes more sense to hold onto a device for longer.

It got me thinking about the various cell phones that I’ve had over the years. I did a little research and was able to find models and dates for almost everything. Here’s the list:

Sanyo SCP-4000 (?)
May 2001
LG 4500
April 2004
Motorola Q
September 2006
HTC Touch
May 2008
HTC Touch Pro 2
January 2010
HTC Trophy
June 2011
HTC 8x
December 2012
Nokia Lumia Icon
January 2015
Samsung Galaxy S7
October 2016

Computer Upgrades

It dawned on me recently that my main home desktop is coming up on seven years old. SEVEN YEARS. I used to be happy if I got four years out of a computer and here I am at 7 years and I can’t come up with any reason why I’d need to upgrade. I took a look at CPU benchmarks and stuff in my price range would only be a ~30% increase of what I have now. Increases in RAM speed and major increases in SSD technology would definitely give me an improvement but I can’t say that I’d notice it much with my use case. I love getting new computer gear, but I think it’s going to be a while before that happens again.

This seems like a good excuse to update my computer ownership history though. The ones in italics are still in use.

  • 1998 – Gateway Pentium 2 350 with a 10GB hard drive and a tape backup.
  • 2002 – Dell P4 2.4GHz with 512MB RAM and an 80GB hard drive. $900
  • 2006 – Dell Core 2 Duo E6600 2.4GHz with 2GB RAM and a 250GB hard drive. $1200
  • 2010 – Core i7 860 2.8GHz quad core with 8 GB RAM. $1000 (Replaced motherboard and CPU ins 2014 for $260)
  • 2011 – Lenovo Thinkpad Edge $700
  • 2012 – Core i7 3770 3.4GHz quad core with 16GB RAM. $1400.
  • 2013 – HP Pavilion Touchsmart 15-b154nr AMD A8-4555M quad core 1.6GHZ and 6 GB of RAM. $550
  • 2015 – Dell XPS 13. $800
  • 2016 – Intel Core i3-6100 CPU with 8GB RAM. $360

I suspect that the next thing we’ll replace is the laptop only because that gets more abuse than the desktop machines. I’ve been very happy with the XPS 13 though. It has held up much longer than our previous laptops and isn’t showing any signs of impending doom.

Cord Cutting the Super Bowl

We canceled cable last summer and for the most part, our antenna has filled our needs. We get great reception on FOX, but not great on NBC. CBS and ABC are somewhere in the middle. Since we host a party every year, reception of the game is kind of important.

CBS had been working fine in the days leading up to the game so I wasn’t too concerned, but then it started snowing (for the first time this year) a couple hours before the game. Since we’re kind of on the fringe with our reception, the snow was just enough to start messing with the signal a little more. If it was just me, I wouldn’t have worried about it, but it’s not fun having 20 people watching a glitchy signal.

Thankfully CBS was streaming the game for free and they even supported Chromecast so I used that on the projector. Our experience there was generally good but it probably buffered 10 times and once I had to restart the stream completely. Downstairs I needed it on the Roku so I signed up for a free trial of CBS All Access. (I used a privacy.com temporary credit card number so that I don’t have to worry about forgetting to cancel my subscription!) I didn’t watch that TV but the people downstairs didn’t ever see it buffer and didn’t realize that it wasn’t a “normal” TV feed.

So it was definitely not as easy as traditional cable, but it was pretty good. I think next time I’d use my Xbox to stream the game through a paid service (like CBS All Access) instead of using the free stream from the website and I suspect that would have gotten rid of the few problems that we did have.

Hi Alexa

We’ve had an Amazon Echo in our house for a couple months now. I’ve resisted these types of devices for a long time because of the privacy implications. What changed? Basically I gave up. Privacy feels like a hopeless game because I’m not willing to live the hermit life required to have a chance at privacy. And aside from the “the sky is falling” reasons, maybe I trust these bigger companies a bit because if they’re going to put so much of their business into a product, imagine what would happen if there was a big privacy snafu. That’s probably naive.

My bar for electronics is “If it broke, how much would I want to replace it?” So far the Echo is pretty low on that list. I probably wouldn’t replace it, but I don’t mind having it around. The two main reasons I got it were to be a source of entertainment for Elijah and to play music from our Spotify account.

Elijah does enjoy it quite a bit. There’s an app called Amazon Story Time that reads free ~5 minute stories to him. He loves audio books and he gobbles up these stories. That’s a big hit.

The Spotify integration, on the other hand, is disappointing. While I can easily tell it to play one of the playlists on our account, the fatal flaw is that the Spotify Connect protocol only grabs the first 100 songs from the playlist. We have some very nice (long) playlists that blow past the 100 song limit. 100 song sounds like a lot until you listen to it for a few days. Fail. I blame Spotify more than Amazon for that one, but the end result is the same. The workaround is connecting to the Echo via Bluetooth and playing from my phone but that’s not nearly as convenient and I have other devices that can do that.

Spottily was giving away free Google Home Minis to members with a family plan account so I snagged one of those too. It has been sitting in a box for a few weeks. I haven’t even unpacked it. I’ll probably do that at some point but I figure my results are going to be similar but with a lower quality speaker.

For our use case, the Echo feels more like a party trick than a useful home appliance. I’d rate it a solid “Meh”.