Smart devices update

Posted in Amazon, Apple, Hardware, Internet, Smart Tech on February 2nd, 2021 by michael

My smart devices situation has gotten out of control.

I guess the first thing I need is an inventory, so here goes:



  • Front hallway – Echo dot
  • Joanne’s office (and guest room) – Echo dot
  • Lab (my office) – Echo show 1st gen
  • Lab – Sonos (microphone turned off)
  • Garage – Echo dot
  • Kitchen – Echo show 2nd gen
  • Living room – Echo show 5
  • Living room TV – Echo cube
  • Bar – Echo
  • Bar – Fire Cube (microphone turned off)
  • Laundry room – Echo dot
  • Thermostat – Ecobee (microphone turned off)
  • Bedroom – my nightstand – Echo spot
  • Bedroom – Joanne’s nightstand – Echo show 5
  • Master bathroom counter – Echo dot (no camera on this one)
  • Back patio – Echo dot

(We also have an Amazon Auto that neither of us likes, so it’s on my workbench right now)



  • The lab – HomePod Mini



  • Our bedroom TV – Fire Stick
  • The living room TV – Fire Cube & Apple TV
  • The bar TV – Fire Cube
  • The lab TV – Fire Stick & Apple TV
  • Joanne’s office TV – Fire Stick

(Note that all of the TVs are also Smart TVs, but I don’t use them as such)



  • Front hallway ceiling lights
  • Lab ceiling lights
  • Garage overhead lights
  • Kitchen ceiling lights
  • Kitchen island lights
  • Dining room ceiling lights
  • Game room ceiling lights
  • Bar ceiling lights
  • Master bedroom ceiling lights



  • Office table light
  • Office desk light
  • Lab desk light
  • Lab floor light
  • Lab tree lights
  • Living room table light
  • Living room floor light
  • Living room tree lights
  • Bedroom floor light
  • Bedroom table light – my nightstand
  • Bedroom table light – Joanne’s nightstand
  • Bedroom tree lights
  • Hallway china cabinet lights

(Every year, we add a whole bunch more plugs for all our Christmas trees, village, and indoor and outdoor lights)



  • Lab – Larry – MacBook Pro 16″
  • Lab – Moe – Mac Mini – Intel
  • Lab – Curly – iMac 5K 27″
  • Lab – Bob – Mac Mini – prototype Apple silicon
  • Kitchen – Groucho – MacBook Pro 15″
  • Garage – Chico – MacBook Pro 13″
  • Lab – Joe – Dell 14″ laptop
  • Lab – Brutus – Homebuilt PC desktop
  • Office – Unnamed 1 – Joanne’s Dell 14″ laptop
  • Lab storage – Unnamed 2 – Asus Chromebook
  • Lab storage – Unnamed 3 – Joanne’s Asus Chromebook
  • Lab – Shemp – Raspberry Pi 4 8GB
  • Lab – Junior – Raspberry Pi 4 4GB
  • Lab – Octo – Raspberry Pi 3B+
  • Lab – Peewee – Raspberry Pi 3B+
  • Lab – Nano – Raspberry Pi Zero W



  • Lab – Echo glow
  • Kitchen – Echo wall clock
  • Garage – MyQ garage door opener
  • Everywhere – Our smart alarm system
  • Front hallway – Roombie the Roomba
  • Lab – Monoprice Maker Select V2 3d printer (connected to the net via Octo the Raspberry Pi)
  • Garage – Chip, my Tesla Model 3


I suspect there’s more smart stuff I haven’t thought of yet. If something comes to mind, I’ll add it in the appropriate place above.



It appears that I left out my smart cameras. There are five of them. I think I’ll leave their locations out, other than the one mounted to my 3D printer, providing time lapse video of all my prints. Fun!



Having all this smart stuff has a few downsides.

  • The obvious security risks of having all those connected devices
  • Maintaining everything and keeping it all working
  • Spending WAY too much money buying new stuff


But it has a whole lot of upsides.

  • We can turn lights on and off in every room of the house just by speaking
  • We can control many things in our home remotely
  • We can create fun routines that run either on voice command, at a certain time every day, or when other events trigger them
  • Our home feels like we’re living in the 21st century


Anyway, while I admit my automation is out of control, I don’t care. I love my life. Would you do anything differently?

Big Sur problems

Posted in Apple, Computer Science, Hardware, Software on December 27th, 2020 by michael

I gave Mac OS Big Sur every possible chance. I really did. And there are just too many problems.

I currently own six(!) Macintoshes. Also two Windows computers, one very old Chromebook, and three Raspberry Pi single-board Linux computers, with one more RasPi in the mail (Update: the fourth one is now here and working). I also have a nice Synology server.  They all have a job. I admit that I could safely eliminate a few, but I  don’t want to. So I don’t.

Anyway, I looked forward with some trepidation to the release of this year’s Mac OS update: Big Sur. It looks a lot more like iOS and it comes with several exciting new features, like … hmm … thinking … well, I’m sure there’s something.

Here’s how my Macs stack up:

  • Chico: 13” MacBook Pro, about 2010. Stuck on High Sierra.
  • Groucho: 15” MacBook Pro, early 2013. Stuck on Catalina.
  • Moe: Mac Mini, late 2014. Upgraded to Big Sur.
  • Larry: MacBook Pro 16”, 2019. Upgraded to Big Sur.
  • Curly: iMac 27”, 2017. Upgraded to Big Sur.
  • Bob: Mac Mini, Apple silicon development (A12Z). On latest Big Sur beta.

Chico and Groucho are fine, obviously. They’re stuck on older operating systems for the rest of their lives. That was part of my reason for buying my newer laptop. Groucho is an amazing computer. He’s fast and powerful. He’s started feeling his age, of course, but he has plenty of life left, especially for a 7-year-old computer. Apple has made some exceptional computers over the years.

Bob is what he is. With Apple silicon, he can’t run anything but Big Sur. I got him to test my Morse Code iPhone app, which I’d like to have also running on Mac OS. If I had known I could have gotten a much faster Apple silicon Mini just a few months later, I would have waited. But here we are. It was kind of cool to get one of the early Apple development machines.

That leaves us with Larry, Moe, and Curly. Each one of them has problems.

Let’s start with Moe the Mac Mini. He’s my Plex server and has been running flawlessly for a very long time. Then he got Big Sur. Immediately, Plex started crashing at least once a day. The crashes may not have been Plex’s fault, but they were happening. After a lot of internet research and trying a bunch of things that didn’t work, I finally reverted Moe to Catalina. It’s been a week or two and he’s working perfectly. Strike one for Big Sur.

Then we have Curly the 27” iMac. Ever since I allowed him to upgrade himself to Big Sur a few weeks ago, he has stopped communicating via Ethernet and WiFi about once a day, requiring a reboot to get him working again. This never happened before. He’s going back to Catalina this afternoon.

And there’s poor old Larry, the 16” MacBook Pro. I thought he was working great with Big Sur. That made sense, since even though he’s an Intel Mac, he’s a model that’s still being produced and sold. But no. I tried to attach my portable external monitor to him on Christmas. He was unable to connect or even recognize the monitor. He connected to that monitor many times in the past. So it must be Big Sur. He’s going back to Catalina as we speak.

Frustrating times for Mac owners. This is the worst Mac OS update I have ever seen, and I’ve seen a lot of them. What’s up with that, Apple?

My Personal SSD-palooza

Posted in Amazon, Apple, Hardware, Problems on May 22nd, 2020 by michael

I’ve been doing a few things with SSDs lately. It all started with my niece Christy.

I’m kind of the family Tech Support guy. There are others in the family who are – dare I say? – possible even better tech supporters than I am. Yet I get my share of the work, and I love doing it.

Anyway, Christy lives very close to us and she had a problem: her very old (early 2011) 13″ MacBook Pro had stopped booting and refused to give up its secrets. And it held many of Christy’s secrets. Mainly her photos and a bunch of school work, as I recall. There were no backups. And she needed that data. So I went to work.

I did all the usual things, mainly involving trying to use Apple’s tools to restore the OS, which didn’t work. It appeared there were one or more damaged disk sectors in the boot area. No boot. I needed to operate.

With Christy’s permission, I took the back off the machine, retrieved the damaged disk, put an external USB drive interface on it, and plugged it into my Mac. Everything was there. I copied it all and put it on another external drive her dad Ken gave me. The day was saved!

The machine was old and pathetically slow and I asked Christy what she wanted done with it. She said to keep it and do whatever I wanted with it. So I put it back together, wiped the drive, and reinstalled the operating system.

It booted! But I was right – it was pathetically slow. It was old, couldn’t accept the latest OS, had a slow 320GB drive, and sported 2GB of ram. Pathetic. So while I got it working again, it was far from useful. Time to throw it away?

Nope. I assumed the 5400 RPM HDD was holding it back. So I budgeted a hundred fifty bucks or so and ordered up a decent 500GB WD (Western Digital) SSD and 16GB of RAM. Easy install, quick OS install, and the machine was fast! Even though it won’t update to Catalina, it’s pretty cool. In fact, I’m writing this on it now. Its name is Groucho.

Classic case of the cheap upgrade. Encouraged, I decided to do it again.

I have an ancient Dell Latitude E6430, circa 2012. Joanne and I bought matching refurbished Dells in mid-2019 when she was in the middle of a job change. We wanted the best available bang for the buck for the lowest price possible.

These are actually pretty cool old business laptops. They have 14-inch screens and refurbished, with Windows 10 Professional, 8GB of memory, and 500GB hard drives. We got matching docking stations too! We both really like them, in spite of their age and weight.

The trouble is that they’re a bit slow. So it was time for another project on my laptop. The exact same project as with the MacBook Pro. I bought another 500GB SSD and 16 more gigs of memory. The install on the Dell was even easier than on the MBP. Those things are made to be serviced.

And the best news is that the machine became really fast! Two for two!

It wasn’t long before Joanne felt her machine slowing down and wanted the same upgrades. So I bought a 1TB SSD, threw it into my machine, and gave her my 500GB drive as a hand-me-down, which she seemed okay with. So we both have fast, solid, relatively powerful Windows laptops!

Mine is named Joe. Joanne’s doesn’t really have a name, but that’s okay. It’s her only computer and it doesn’t need a name.

Now what to modify? Curly, my 27″ 5K iMac is pretty new and has a fairly powerful 3TB hybrid drive. I upgraded Curly’s memory to 24GB the day I bought it and other modifications are quite difficult to make. So Curly was a no-go.

Moe, my late-2014 Mac Mini, has a 1TB HDD, 8GB of memory and is slow. iFixit says it takes 35 steps and a complete disassembly to get to the hard drive. And that machine’s assignment has been downgraded to just serving Time Machine backups to the other Macs on the network. So not for now.

Larry is my early-2013 15″ MacBook Pro. I loaded it up pretty well when I bought it. It has 8GB of memory and a 500GB SSD, all of which I’m led to believe are soldered on to the motherboard. Plus, it’s still a quite adequately powerful laptop. So it remains as-is.

On to Brutus, my homebuilt desktop PC. It has a 3.3GHz 8-core AMD cpu, 32GB of memory, and a GTX-760 GPU. It also has 5TB and 2TB internal hard drives. But it runs slowly. What the heck?

So I bought yet another 1TB WD SSD and installed it. Turned it on and . . . it’s still pretty slow. What the double heck? The research began.

My first concern was that I might have installed the drive in a way that resulted in some kind of electronic interference, as remote a possibility as that might be. I had kind of temporarily zip-tied it to the bottom of the 2TB drive. Not the best install in the world, granted.

So I bought a 2.5″ drive sled and installed it. Still slow. As expected, to be honest. What else could it be?

I downloaded the motherboard manual to look for clues. And I found one! The machine has 6 SATA ports, but they’re only SATA-2. I think I need SATA 3. A little bit of research later and I’ve ordered a replacement motherboard that’s slightly newer, has 6 SATA-3 ports (6Gb/sec), and USB 3.1. It uses my existing CPU, memory, drives, GPU, and everything else. Should arrive sometime next week, and then we’ll see.

Enough for today. I’ll tell you about the SSD attached to Junior, my Raspberry Pi 4b, next time.

See you soon.

Apple watch replacement

Posted in Apple, Hardware on January 12th, 2018 by michael

My Apple Watch Series 2 suddenly stopped working the other day. Got on a chat with an Apple employee, who asked just a couple questions, seemed to actually read my responses, and quickly decided to have me send it in for repair. A box came in the mail a couple days later, I put my watch in it and FedExed it back a couple days ago. I just got an email telling me they’re shipping a replacement today. I guess it was REALLY busted.

Anyway, quick, easy, thorough, and polite. Good job, Apple

While waiting for my replacement, I’ve been wearing my old Series 1 watch. It has the dreaded dim screen with image ghosting problem. Can’t see the screen outdoors, but it’s working okay inside. Also, the battery isn’t always lasting an entire day. It should be obvious why I bought a new one. Better than nothing for the time being, though.

UPDATE A FEW DAYS LATER – The new watch is here. I love it. The process was painless and pleasant – although admittedly less pleasant than never having my watch fail. But still, good customer service, Apple!

Alexa works on iOS! Mostly.

Posted in Amazon, Apple, Internet, Problems, Software on April 24th, 2017 by michael

I was delighted to learn today that Alexa is finally ready for iOS! And it seems to work great, except for one glaring problem – one of my very favorite Alexa apps: Jeopardy.

Like many people, I’m a big fan of the Jeopardy television show. I’ve loved it since the Art Fleming days, when little-boy me ran home from school for lunch and watching Jeopardy with my mother. They may not have any more-loyal fans than me.

So I was delighted to learn today that Alexa was now working on iOS, within the Amazon app. I tried it out first by asking for a joke. No problem! Immediately, I asked it for today’s Jeopardy clues, since I’m out of town and don’t have access to my beloved Echos.

That’s when I discovered the problem: Jeopardy hangs the app very frequently when it’s waiting for a user response. Maybe they forgot to test that functionality. The only recourse seems to be to close and reopen the app, at which time it allows you to either start over or resume from where you left off.

But there was a bug with that too. One of the several times it hung, I closed and reopened the app and asked it to play another joke, just to be sure it was still working. Jeopardy had apparently not really closed that time (although it seemed to do so every other time I went through the close/open cycle) and interpreted my joke request as an answer.

I lost credit for my correct answer! Noooooo!

Anyway, please fix the iOS app to allow Jeopardy to work properly, Amazon. In the meantime, it works fine on my Amazon Fire tablet. So that’s plan B until they fix the iOS implementation.

Another OS X calendar quirk

Posted in Apple, Problems, Software on December 16th, 2014 by michael

angry-computeruserOkay, it just keeps getting weirder for me with in OS X. I created a calendar event just now and wanted to include the restaurant’s name, address, and phone number in the “Location” tab. When I enter that information into the Location box, the app pops up a suggested address that’s identical to mine, but doesn’t include the restaurant’s name or phone number, which I want there. When I click outside of the box to dismiss it, the app deletes my entry and puts in its own “suggested” data.

The only way I can get it to keep what I want there is to tab out of the field. If I subsequently click in that field (ever!), it changes it again.

Now, I love Apple products, and they usually do things well. But dammit, if I want to put additional text into the Location box for an appointment I have, Apple has absolutely no business forcing a change there. None.

Unacceptable, Apple.

Flaky iOS camera behavior

Posted in Apple, Problems, Software on December 9th, 2014 by michael


I’ve been getting an unrepeatable error with both my iPhone and iPad under iOS 8. The Camera app’s shutter sound doesn’t work on the first photograph. It doesn’t happen all the time, but it’s frequent enough that it’s noticeable. When I take a second photo, the sound is there.

I just tried to duplicate the problem with the Camera app started cold and again with it brought up from the background, and the sound worked great. I have no idea how to get it to repeat, but I swear I’m not going crazy!

I did a quick web search and couldn’t find any reference to this issue. Has this happened to you?

OS X Calendar app quirk discovered!

Posted in Apple, Problems, Software on March 26th, 2014 by michael

I just added an appointment to OS X’s Calendar app. It’s supposed to run from 10:00 AM until noon. I go to the app and double-click on a date, fill in the event description and location, and then click on the date/time and get this:

Screen Shot 2014-03-26 at 5.09.06 PM

From the keyboard, I enter 10:00 AM as the starting time. Then I tab to the next line and try to enter 12:00 PM as the ending time. It won’t enter that time. It enters it as 10:00 PM, after which I have to go back and manually change it:

Screen Shot 2014-03-26 at 5.11.35 PM

In fact, it won’t let me type anything in the Hours space other than 11 until after I’ve changed the AM/PM indicator first. Now, I know I could do that and I know I could click on the time and select from Apple’s pre-ordained choices (from 30 minutes to 3 hours in half-hour increments). But what if I just want to type in an ending time? Don’t you think Apple’s programmers would automatically allow meetings to go past the noon/midnight barriers?

Am I the only one to discover this issue?

iTunes annoyance

Posted in Apple, Computer Science, Software on October 6th, 2013 by michael

05_Flatbed_2 - SEPTEMBER

Am I the only one who’s sick of the changes Apple keeps making to iTunes? It worked well before. Now it doesn’t.

The latest: they’ve eliminated the forward and back buttons from the Get Info window. Why did they do that? Those buttons weren’t hurting anybody.

I often want to edit multiple files’ information. I used to open the first one, edit it, and press the forward button to edit the next file. That worked okay, even after they changed it from a quick operation to a painfully slow one with iTunes 10 (or was it 9?). Now I have to open each file’s Get Info panel separately, taking about twice as long as the already painfully slow previous version.

Why did you do that, Apple?