Unsmarted

A few years ago, frustrated at Alexa’s inability to understand our spoken English, my wife unplugged all of the Amazon Alexa devices in our house.

We shifted, in that moment, to being a Google Home house. It worked well for a long time, with one device in each room. It worked especially well since over time, our use cases for smart home devices matured into three fields – asking for the time, asking for the weather, and switching our smart lights. We tried to use them to set timers related to cooking but they would assume we’re trying to set an alarm and ask us to do a voice verification so Google’s system can set cross-device alarms and also take our voice data. Couldn’t ever be bothered.

I’m not one to buy into expensive systems. So Apple’s HomeKit connected devices and Philip’s Hue with it’s expensive Base Station were always off the table.

Instead, I invested in inexpensive Kasa smart plugs to sit between the power and our traditional lamps. These work with Alexa and Google, so the switch to Google Home was seamless.

Every once in a while, while watching a movie or talking really fast and loud (as both I and my wife do), one of the Google devices would chime in. If we were watching a horror movie, it would be exceptionally hilarious that a device sitting in another room would get activated and reply “I’m well, and you?”

But this got tiring over the years and things came to a head recently. With the birth of our little one, we are acutely aware of noises in and around our space. Particularly irritating are cops and firebrigades blasting their sirens in the middle of the night on completely empty streets. Well done Seattle.

Also irritating was the Google Home mini sitting in our bedroom, which continued its random hello’s and offering newly minted capabilities. One day my wife unplugged it. That left two devices to help us out. But we resorted to using the Kasa app on our phones to control the lights.

Last night, the Google Home in our living room decided to get active soon after the little one slept and inform us that it doesn’t have a nickname but we can set one.

I ran to the device and ripped out the power cord.

Now the last device is on its last warning. One peep out of it and we’ll unplug that too. We don’t use it actively as much as the other two devices. But it’s close to where the little one sleeps and so it’s a pretty big threat.

Google Homes have improved over time. But we only have the first gen devices in our home and no interest in buying new ones with improve directional mics. They have also improved in voice recognition after billions of hours of audio inputs. But the random noise is a function of the system, which I don’t expect to improve.

So we are very close to having an unsmart home and being happy with it.

Dig in

On this dark day in the US, I’m going to pull out my copy of Woman World by Aminder Dhaliwal and dig into it again. Perhaps only in a world where men (and that horrible monster, the anti-abortion woman) don’t exist can perhaps a level of peace for the bodily rights of women exist.

I’m also reading this review on Slate of Sandra Newman’s new book “The Men” and the history of books dealing with the idea of men suddenly disappearing from the world.

Buy this book here

A garden

A garden is the best anxiety med.

Colin Devroe

So true! I don’t have a garden, as I live in an apartment, but we have a small green corner, as well as plants littered around the house, including a bonsai that stands guard near our bedroom.

Tending to these beautiful plants, giving them water, talking to them, and telling them to grow strong and tall is so calming!

We’ve had a few plants die on us, but that teaches you about the lifecycle that every living thing must go through, and being more present – for if you don’t water them on time, they will die.

We have a few orchids. My mom loves gifting us orchids and hers blooms the brightest every year – giving us two of three white flowers that brighten up the living room and makes it truly alive!

The bonsai is a little ginseng tree that we got on a whim from IKEA. We had no idea how to tend plants then, and frankly, we still don’t. But seeing that fellow grow its branches and reach out to fill the space it’s in is a lesson in patience and perseverance. And in the power of IKEA 😁

Colin is right and his words, though pithy, evoke something so true and meaningful in each of our lives. If you don’t have a garden, or a plant corner in your home, please make one!

About Brandon’s Journal

As he says, keeping up to date with the site will require the old school approach of bookmarking it and going back from time to time to see what’s new, not have changes pushed to you.

Liked Brandon’s Journal

I disagree with this. While Brandon’s writing may be amazing, there’s no good way to keep up with it.

Not providing an RSS feed is akin to saying that you don’t want people to follow your writing. People who think differently about the internet very often use RSS as their space to think, read, reflect. It’s not a push model. It’s a pull model.

The days that I don’t open my RSS reader, it doesn’t update and I don’t get any notifications anyways from it, so there’s no way for anything to be pushed to me.

And yes, some people may be awesome at bookmarks and following up on them. I’m not. My bookmarks are a mess, across all the browsers I use. I’m not saying that as a point of pride. That’s just how anyone living on the internet for long enough would be. A morass of unread articles, blogposts, “cool” websites cluttering their bookmarks and myriad other lists. It’s the very nature of the beast.

So I congratulate Brandon on having a beautiful and personal corner of the internet, free from the corporations, social media, and advertisers. But it’s nigh impossible for me to regularly read his writing.

Reverse order feeds show me a truth

brown chicken on brown sand

I recently did something crazy – I reversed the order or my RSS Feed Reader, so I’m not seeing the newest items first, but the oldest. I did this in a single folder – Web Comics, so I could finally catch up with every artist’s evolution and since comics are easier reads, I’ll be able to pound through a 1000 unread items out of the 8000 in my stack right now.

What I didn’t anticipate is that the setting is app-wide. So now every list I’m seeing is in the Old to New order.

Yesterday, I read a post from Sophie Haskins figuring out which virtualization solution to go with for her home setup. She played with a few options (and skipped the one I wanted to read about – Proxmox) and settled with running Ubuntu as the Host and minikube on top. I saw that she linked to a tweet and I wanted to ask why she had skipped Proxmox and so I went over. That’s when I realized that the post is from 2017 so the conversation is long gone.

After I learned that I’d reversed the order of all my feeds, I forgot about it.

Just now, I was reading a post by Vicki Boykis, where she’s talking about how Pinterest sends her emails to entice her back to their site. What was odd was that she was talking about it in context of Halloween. That threw me off, till I realized that the post I’m reading is from November 2013!

From social sites trying to pull people back to their platforms for (as Vicki puts it) click$ to virtualization solutions for your Home Lab… the more things change, the more they stay the same! Be it 2013, 2017, or 2022, we’re looking a the same issues, aren’t we?

(Sorry about the click bait title. I was having a hard time figuring out what the title should be about this Musing. Just went with this one. Recommend a better title please?)

Thoughts on Netflix

About a week ago, I opened the Netflix app on my iPhone to watch something… and was greeted with a prompt to download some games. Netflix Gaming is nothing new. But I’d never had the chance to participate. So I scrolled through the options.

Much like Apple Arcade, Netflix Gaming is all about no IAPs, no ads, and exclusive titles (grain of salt there for both subscriptions). Unlike Apple Arcade, I found some titles that I actually want to play in the list.

When I was exploring Apple Arcade, I was mostly into Call Of Duty Mobile. So the obvious choice for me was their shooter game – Butter Royale. It’s obviously aimed towards kids and is appropriately silly. I was immediately turned off. I did enjoy a few other titles like Outlanders (a settler survival game which I failed at), Mini Motorways (a road design game which got too complex too soon) and Game of Thrones: Tale of Crows (which was confusing as heck to play). I let the free trial of Apple Arcade expire.

If I were to get the subscription today, I would try a few more games from their now 200+ games collection. Partly to play “plus” versions of games I love, like Prune+ and Solitaire+ and Hidden Folks+ and partly to check out truly exclusive titles like The Oregon Trail.

With Netflix Gaming, they’ve tried to cover their bases, to offer something for everyone, mostly using companies which also publish to Apple Arcade as well as having IAP supported games. The titles that caught my eye are Asphalt Xtreme and Wonderputt Forever. While the former is a rehash of multiple variants of the same car racing game (one for IAPs, one for Apple Arcade), the latter is a slow-paced but beautiful mini golf game. I haven’t spent much time on the latter but the former is been a mainstay for me this past week.

And what a week it has been for Netflix. The stock crash was horrible and the ensuing caving in to Wall Street’s demands was worse. The crash wiped out all the gains my own Netflix stock purchase had made and then some. I can only hope to break even one day.

Then came the news that Netflix is trying to figure out a way to appease Wall Street and is promising to add adverts to their platform within a year or two. The ensuing backlash was inevitable.

As a Netflix shareholder, I’m glad that Netflix has always had this option in its back pocket. They can create a tasteful but cheaper subscription offering with ads and this works both in markets where they have faltered, like India, and in western markets where subscribers will be thankful not to pay the burgeoning price of the default Netflix subscription.

But as a Netflix shareholder, I’m also wary of this promise of ads making Wall Street happy. From here on out, at every earnings call, when the CEO admits that ads are not yet integrated, analysts and institutional investors will punish Netflix. When they finally announce that ads are active, the focus will be on ad revenue, not on subscriber growth, the original issue that brought this saga on.

Aside – and what a stupid saga it has been. Netflix lost subscribers for the first time in a decade! That’s ten years of solid growth. And instead of acknowledging those ten years of growth, Wall Street chose to punish Netflix so heavily because some numbers in one quarter didn’t go up and up and up. How stupid! Now, one could claim that it’s just a correction and Netflix’s stock is now at its real value, instead of an inflated value based on perceived profits. But it’s all perceived only. It’s all the inflated egos of a few men that drives Wall Street. So there’s absolutely no merit to that argument.

As a Netflix subscriber and admirer, this whole thing has been terrible. The idea that Netflix may one day have ads is horrible and a loss for the idea behind subscription models. Not only will Netflix’s success in implementing ads embolden other streaming platforms, it’ll also send out a message that online targeted ads work, which for the most part is not true. It’ll also take away from the idea of simply providing good content and being rewarded for it, something Netflix has been working on for years and is now under threat of being upended completely.

It’s also possible that instead of expanding their line of no-IAP games to rival Apple Arcade, Netflix starts to allow IAPs in their games, or shuts down the entire endeavor as a cost sink. Overall, this whole thing is a loss for both Netflix and it’s customers. All to appease some analysts.

In Netflix’s case, it’s better to be the storyteller, not the story. Sad to see their day in the crosshairs. (Sorry for the weak ending to this post. I kinda ran out my train of thought.)

Reposting with WordPress

I wish WordPress had an easier way to repost things
cdevroe.com/2022/04/06/11083/

WordPress does, sort of, have an excellent reposting feature. But it’s wrapped up in a Quote Repost feature. After all, what’s the point of linking to something without commentary or context?

Also, WordPress.com seems to have a much better reposting feature. But to me, that’s a social network and while we bloggers may be social, we’re solitary creatures too.