Archive for the ‘Home Tech’ Category


December 30th, 2019, 9:54am by Mike
Somebody else’s Switch.

This Christmas, Santa bought our house a new Nintendo Switch! It’s our first gaming system. Actually, I just realized that I think this is my first dedicated game system since my Atari 2600! I never owned another Nintendo, Playstation, Xbox, Sega, or any of those. Other than playing Metal Gear at Kelvin’s house in San Diego, I haven’t even really played the games, so most of the Mario characters are new to me.

So far, we have a couple of games: MarioKart 8 Deluxe (the kids’ favorite), Mario Tennis Aces, and Just Dance 2020. Our library also has Switch games for checkout — I’ve played the Zelda Breath of the Wild game a little and it’s really fun. We also bought an extra set of joy cons so the four of us can play MarioKart.

Since our kids don’t have iPads or anything, they aren’t used to having a portable game, and we’re trying to keep it as a home-based console for now (we would have gladly bought a TV-only Switch if there were one available).

Do any of you have a Switch? Any tips on games, other accessories we need, or how to manage kids’ screen time?

More Home Automation News

July 20th, 2018, 9:39am by Mike

Few fun things related to home automation / integration out there:

We continue our dive into Sonos — we now have a Playbase (at the TV), two Play:1s (basement and office), and two Sonos Ones (the Alexa-capable ones, bedroom and kitchen/patio). I really like them — the sound is a big jump over other speakers I’ve had, and it’s easy to move the sound around between rooms. Couple of new thoughts on this:

  • An important new development is that Sonos now has Airplay 2 on its newer models (Playbase, Beam, Play:5, and Sonos One), which means you can stream directly from your phone to the speaker(s) — great for podcasts or YouTube. Previously, you could play podcasts, Pandora, Spotify, etc through the Sonos app, but the direct way is much easier. In a network with older models, you can stream to one of the newer devices, then share the music across the network to any Sonos device — you just have to have at least one new model to stream to from the phone.
  • Sonos Alexa-capable devices don’t have all of Alexa’s capabilities — for example, I learned yesterday that the One doesn’t support music alarms via Alexa, which would have meant that I could use it as a clock radio that I could snooze by voice. I still can do this (using the Sonos App), but it’s a little less nice.

This brings us to 7 Alexa devices (I think — 3 Dots, 2 Sonos Ones, a Fire TV stick (that we don’t really use), a Dash Wand (that we haven’t used at all in months) — not to mention our phones). I know people are leery about voice control stuff — we’re comfortable with the voice stuff, but don’t have any video-enabled Alexa devices.

Other minor news:

  • All of our switches and plugs (except the one in the bullet below) are Wemo devices, and as of yesterday’s update, Wemo devices are becoming Homekit-enabled, Not sure I really care, since I’m pretty much on the Alexa bandwagon, but if you decided to go HomePod rather than Sonos, this could be useful. Of course, Homekit works with AppleTV as well.
  • My latest find, however, is a wifi-enabled power strip with 4 outlets and a bank of 4 USB charging ports — each outlet (and the USB bank) can be separately named and controlled by Alexa or an app on your phone, and it’s only $30!

I love having stuff happen automatically around the house — we have many lights on timers, our outside lights are proximity-enabled (when our phones come in range they turn on),  and our Nest thermostats and Protects do their thing pretty unobtrusively (the best feature of the Protect is the motion-detecting night light). I get notifications when our house door is opened, or when I leave the garage door open. I’m very reluctant to do locks, though. Still, living in the future!

Cord Cutting, Yet Again

February 7th, 2018, 5:26pm by Mike

Some among us have been cord-free for decades, at least as far as TV service is concerned. We all certainly spent time in the roof/attic at Caminito Amparo putting up and wiring dishes (which were still there as of the last time we checked, 13 years ago). Took our chances with OTA. Contemplated Sling. We’ve streamed from each others’ boxes. Tried BitTorrent and other semi-illegal approaches like Aereo (which, surprisingly, I never posted about). We’ve even contemplated online solutions like GoogleTV. And had lots of conversations about getting rid of cable.

Last week, we did it again. For the last several years, we’ve had basic cable ($20/month for about 15 standard-def channels), only so we could get a discount on our 25/5 MBps internet service. We took a plunge to YouTube TV, as soon as they released their new AppleTV app., for $35 per month, gives us about 50 channels including all the local networks, a bunch of sports channels (5 ESPN networks, 3 or 4 NBC Sports, FS 1  and 2, and importantly around here, NESN for Sox games), and a bunch of random others, all in HD and with free unlimited “Cloud DVR.” It was perfect for the Super Bowl (results aside).

We also upgraded our cable internet — Comcast is our only option, and we upgraded our internet to 200/25 Mbps service for $90. (As a side note, in researching for this post, I was reminded that 10 years ago, Jake was considering upgrading his home Internet to FIOS, but decided not to, meaning he had to give up the possibility of a 5Mpbs connection.)

We financed this partially by cancelling our HBO subscription, which we haven’t really been using.

What are you guys doing these days?




January 9th, 2018, 10:27pm by Mike


Any Sonos users out there? I’m up to 3 speakers now, and I’m really happy with both the sound quality and the overall experience. I got into it when I learned that Apple would be moving on from AirPlay, and that my ~8 year-old Pioneer AirPlay speakers would likely be obsolete.

Three parts to this write up — the hardware, the Sonos software, and the Amazon side (since Alexa support makes it really great). First the hardware — we have:

  • A Sonos One: This is their newest small bookshelf speaker, with Alexa built in. Lives on our kitchen counter, replaced our Echo Dot and Bluetooth speaker. Over the next year, it’s supposed to be updated with Google Assistant, as well as AirPlay 2 whenever Apple actually releases it. In other words, a Swiss Army knife with great sound. We’ve had a Dot in the kitchen for quite a while, and love it, mainly for setting timers while cooking. But now, we just say what we want to hear and it plays our music. More below…
  • A PLAY:1: this is the older version of the One, but without Alexa built in (and as such, can be found a little less expensively on sale every once in a while). I have the old Dot right next to it, by my bike in the basement. So while riding, I can say, “Alexa, play the album 101 by Depeche Mode in the basement.” Since the Sonos skill is on the Dot, the Dot can control even non-Alexa-powered Sonos devices.
  • A PLAYBASE: This one’s in our living room, and is under our TV (it’s like a sound bar, but literally a “base” for the TV rather than a thin bar). It has an optical connection to the TV, and is controlled by the TV remote. But it also acts as a Sonos speaker for music, and can be grouped together with the other units (or can play different stuff). We also have a Dot in the living room, so we can play music on it via voice as well. In theory we could get two more PLAY:1s and have a stereo pair as back channels, but I don’t think we’ll ever do this.

I can see us buying another speaker or two, it’s just nice to have music all over.

Next, the Sonos software. It’s overall pretty good, but not amazing. The main downside is that not everything works through Alexa, so you have to whip out a phone to do some things. My favorite features:

  • You can sign into all your music accounts (Spotify, Pandora, Amazon, Apple Music, your local music library, whatever), and then browse for a song, and it’ll search everywhere and just find it to play.
  • You can group speakers together, as above, on the fly, and add and take away speakers as music is playing. You can do this on Airplay, also, but it’s not seamless — the music stops for a second while the new network is being figured out.
  • Finally, I can turn down the TV from anywhere in the house — like if I’m in bed and the kids are blaring cartoons 🙂

And lastly, the Alexa support. I think it really makes Sonos worthwhile. The key here (for me) — I uploaded my music to Amazon Music — paid $25 a year to put up to 250,000 songs into the cloud (I use about 9,000). It felt like I shouldn’t need to do that, but I couldn’t figure out any other way to be able to talk to Alexa and have it play music on a server in my house over Sonos (note that I love subsonic, and use it to stream my music from my server to my phone for driving — I don’t store any music on the phone itself). So without paying for a subscription service (other than the Amazon music included with Prime), I have all my music, and a lot more stuff that’s free with Prime. Note that if you ever want to upload music to Amazon, they’re about to stop offering new signups (on the 15th — 6 days from now).

Also, the kids love to just yell at Alexa to play music that sucks, but I guess that’s my fault as a parent for not doing a better job giving them good musical taste (yet).

Home Wifi Re-engineering

February 12th, 2017, 11:44am by Mike

What do you guys have going on for home networking these days?

I spent the better part of yesterday moving modems and routers around and reconfiguring to try to get good coverage throughout the house. I think I’ve settled on something that’s working for now. Curious what you all have, whether it works, and a side question of what, if anything, you do for parental controls on your home internet (we’re still a ways away, but interested on your take).

We have cable internet.

  • We currently still have 25Mbps down / 5 up, which sounds totally crappy, but speed tests say this is what we’re actually getting, and I’m not sure we need more (Netflix says we can get HD at 5 Mbps, and we need 25 for UHD — we have a 4k TV, but there’s not much 4k content). 
  • Comcast has a deal where we could probably upgrade to 200 Mbps for about the same price (assuming we give up our basic cable TV, which we don’t use at all), but we’d have to upgrade our cable modem for $100, so I’m not sure it’s worth it. 

Our main router is an Asus RT-AC66U.

  • Our TV, AppleTV, and an old Apple AirPort Extreme (working as a switch only, no wireless) are hooked up via gigabit ethernet.
  • About 20 other things are connected via wifi — this is a combination of laptops, desktops, phones, iPads, AppleTVs and an old Airport Express, two Echo dots, wireless speakers, Nest thermostats and smoke alarms, IoT light switches and plugs, and even an Amazon Fire Stick. Our two desktop machines (one of which is this server) are connected to the AirPort Extreme via ethernet.
  • The Asus router is running only the 2.4GHz band — running the 5GHz network in parallel was causing issues with some devices staying attached when moving to a range where the 2.4GHz band was actually better. 
  • After moving things around the house, messing with channels, and turning various radios on and off, we get over 75% signal strength from the basement to the 2nd floor, and a pretty steady 130Mbps internally. Since we only get 25Mbps into the house, it seems like upgrading the wifi won’t buy us anything at this point. When we stream stuff off our server internally, everything from the server to the TV is over ethernet, not wireless.

In the future, there are a couple upgrades I’d like to make, but if things keep working now, I think I have some time:

  • Upgrading our cable internet is a no-brainer except for the $100 modem. It kind of pisses me off that I could get 8x the speed at the same monthly cost, but then again, I don’t think I actually need the speed. 
  • I foresee a time when we’ll want to have pretty robust parental controls on personal devices for the kids, but we’re not there yet. I want to make sure we have some router system that can implement at least device scheduling and per-device web filtering. We’ve heard horror stories.
  • Finally, I’m interested in this new mesh networking gear, like the systems from EeroGoogleNetgearLinksys, and a bunch of others (and I know some of these aren’t technically “mesh”). They seem to simplify all the crap I went through yesterday, have the potential for good parental controls, and promise easy, centralized network management. But honestly, my ideal state is to have this all set up and never have to worry about it again. 

CES 2017

January 4th, 2017, 3:24pm by Mike

I’ve heard that you can keep people coming to a blog if you keep giving them new content. We’ve obviously proven the converse (no new posts = no visits), so let’s give it a try. I’m checking out the news from CES — here’s what I see that’s interesting:

Smart watches. I don’t know why, but I just don’t like the Apple Watch, for me. It’s too big in every dimension (you could say my wrists are too small). But with the demise of Pebble, my Pebble Time Round isn’t long for this world, so I need to start looking around. Today at CES are a couple of cool contenders:

      • Garmin Fenix 5S: Unofficially, this is the ladies version of the watch, but it’s 42mm diameter, so on the same order of size as the Apple Watch, but round. It’s definitely more of a fitness/sports watch, but I think it looks more like a normal watch. Unfortunately, it starts at $599, so no way that’s going to happen. You can read all about it here.
      • A much more compelling-looking option is the Withings Steel HR. Looks like an analog watch, but does activity tracking and as the name suggests, measures heart rate. Also has a small inset screen that does notifications, HR, steps, etc. And has a 25-day battery life. And it’s round, and either 40mm or 36mm. And costs $180. I’m nearly sold.

Antenna. Not the most exciting space, but Mohu (maker of the famous Leaf HD antenna) has a new product that’s pretty cool. According to Engadget:

The AirWave promises free TV “everywhere” across a variety of mobile and connected TV devices, since it catches the OTA signal and turns it into an IPTV stream for its app, sort of like a localized Aereo (RIP).

Aereo was pretty cool, and worked well for me until it was shut down. I’m excited that I could potentially get HD channels, since I haven’t found an antenna yet that works in my living room. With this one, I could put it somewhere else in the house, since all it needs is to connect to my Wifi network to stream video. $150, so probably not the first thing on my wish list, but cool nonetheless.

Anybody else paying attention?

Be careful out there Derrick!

December 15th, 2016, 2:23pm by Jake

Mountain lions at your doorstep.

More on the story,



“TiVo Deathwatch Is Prophetic”

September 7th, 2016, 8:10pm by Mike

Today, Jake posted to following on Twitter:

(The link is to this page.)

A cursory glance shows that this site has at least 44 posts with TiVo in the title, starting with the 4th post ever on The Board. And as we all remember, my voyage into TivoLand started with a wedding present over 15 years ago (and try as I might, I can’t find the original website that announced the present, though I know it survived for many years after our wedding). It was so futuristic at the time, and a great present!

But my own TiVo deathwatch has come to an end as well. My history with the platform is well-documented here, but for the last several years, that Series 1 box has sat in the basement in a box (right beside my father-in-law’s Sony Series 1, which I was going to use for a Frankenstein reincarnation experiment that never quite worked years ago).

This weekend, both TiVo boxes, with lifetime subscriptions, found their way to a garbage bag, and will be taking their last trip to some landfill tomorrow. Farewell, old friend. 

Another keynote

September 9th, 2015, 8:13pm by Mike

I could be stranded on another planet, but when Apple keynote time comes around, I feel the need to head over to The Board to make a post. This pretty much fits with the frequency of new posts around here. I haven’t watched the keynote itself, but I’ve read a bit today.


So, what did we get today?

  • iPhone 6S. Looks like more than the usual speedbump for the “S” designation. I’m pretty sure I’ll be jumping in on this one, to replace the now-three-generations-old iPhone 5 I have. Besides the things I’m most excited about (more storage, Touch ID, Apple Pay — which aren’t new), the new camera looks good, but I’m not sure about “3D Touch.”  I think the iOS interface is getting way to complicated — they keep adding on new, more complicated ways to “get out of our way,” and it’s getting to be a mess. Maybe it’ll be better in person, but now, in addition to where I touch, and whether I move my finger(s) while touching, I also have to think about how hard I’m touching. I guess it’ll either be intuitive or completely confusing, we’ll have to see.
  • AppleTV. Since getting our new TV, we only use the AppleTV for one thing — AirPlay. Looking at the features of the new AppleTV, we already have all the streaming services, a nice interface (thanks to WebOS), and even a remote that allows us to do the “smart search” that Apple is touting (we can say, “Modern Family,” and it’ll tell us which streaming services have it, and also search YouTube, and give links onscreen. It’s pretty awesome.). As such, we’re probably not in the market for this anytime soon. We do want another Airplay receiver for our old TV, but I may save $80 and get an “old” AppleTV instead. Interesting, too, that the new AppleTV did away with optical audio out, which we actually used with our soundbar.
  • iPad Pro. No interest. Interesting that in an atmosphere of declining iPad sales, they’ve decided that what the world needs is a bigger, more expensive iPad. I wonder whether I’ll ever see one of these in public.
  • Apple Watch. Not sure what’s new other than a pink color, but I guess we’re still waiting for the updated OS. I’ll leave this to our Apple Watch correspondent.

So, that’s that. Anybody psyched about any of this?

TiVo on the AppleTV

August 1st, 2015, 1:55am by Jake

At long last. Tivo finally updated their app so it supports AirPlay. That means I can now stream tv shows from the living room TiVo onto the bedroom tv via an iPad or iPhone. Tested it tonight and it works fine. A long overdue technology on the one hand, on the other hand it’s nice that the AppleTV, TiVo & iPad manage to improve years after the release of these models.

anyone else rocking this or a similar configuration? Living off of OTA tv and Netflix, this handy tool will make it practical to dump even Hulu, which we’ve kept for the tv watching flexibility.

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