More HomePod fun…

Get ready to laugh. This will undoubtedly cause you to chuckle.

So… bought the HomePod right? Had it for a few days. Liked it. Not sure it was better-sounding than my Harman Kardon speakers but figured I’d keep it anyway.

A couple nights later, had a few beers, and did a bunch of comparison testing between the two speaker systems.

That night, I initiated a return of the HomePod. The next day I took it to FedEx and shipped it back.

Then I came to some realizations (which I will detail below). Last weekend I happened to be near the Apple Store in Bridgeport Village. So I went and picked up another HomePod before the return on my first one had even processed.

So here are the realizations…

  • It’s probably better not to test out speaker systems while under the influence. Because anything with booming bass sounds good.
  • It’s probably better not to test with Metallica when my normal listening material is classical music.
  • Loud sound doesn’t equal good sound.
  • Bass-heavy sound doesn’t equal good sound either.

One of the reasons for some of these conclusions, was some research I was doing into “studio monitor” type speakers. I have a set of well-rated studio monitors that make good PC speakers. Come to find out my Harman Kardon 2.1 system is also well-rated. So I was trying to decide which to use (since I had returned my HomePod).

Studio monitor speakers attempt to reproduce recordings the way they were recorded without adding “color” to the sound. This can honestly result in some boring listening. Because there isn’t much bass and the sound is relatively flat. But it’s a more “honest” reproduction of the recording.

Then there are the 2.1 style systems. Which can produce some pretty good bass. But my feeling is… the 2.1 system definitely does color the sound. And while it sounds way better when cranking up Metallica after a few beers, it’s probably not “quality” sound.

That’s when I concluded that the Apple HomePod is probably a great speaker for me and the type of music I typically listen to. Will the Harman Kardons outcrank it while playing bass-heavy rock? Sure. But the HomePod probably produces better quality and more accurate sound.

BTW, what you see in the picture is my HomePod elevated on a “yoga block”. I have no idea what yoga blocks are used for. But an audio guy said the HomePod sounds better when elevated a bit and recommended them.

HomePod impressions

The picture above shows my Apple HomePod that arrived yesterday. It is intended to replace the Harman Kardon SoundSticks shown below. The HomePod has no wired connections (except for power). It’s designed to respond to voice commands (via Siri). One can also stream to it from any Airplay-capable device.

The HomePod has very nice sound. Certainly it is a technological marvel for it’s small size. For years we’ve seen a number of small bluetooth speakers on the market that have significantly better sound output than their small size would suggest they should. I have a couple from Sony that I like pretty well. I also had an expensive one from Harman Kardon before I returned it and got my SoundSticks.

For years I have used a number of 2.1 systems like the Harman Kardon SoundSticks shown above connected to various things (usually a PC or a TV). A 2.1 system is a basically an amplified speaker system with two primary speakers and one sub-woofer. I’ve been pretty impressed with a number of these, and I think it’s a great budget solution for many folks.

I think that one cannot expect to match the sound volume or crankability of a decent 2.1 system with a single speaker like the HomePod. However the HomePod does have several things going for it. First, the sound quality is exceptional. Second, it’s entirely omnidirectional. There is no front or back and therefore no real “sweet spot” that one needs to be in. It literally tunes itself to your room and it’s placement in it. Third, it has an always-listening personal assistant (Siri). This is particularly nice since most of our lighting is HomeKit compatible. Controlling the lights with voice commands is kinda cool.

So while the HomePod doesn’t crank as loud as my other speakers… it looks cool, and it sounds cool. Plus I’m an Apple fan. So there is that. Being an Apple fan means I have a predisposition to liking/preferring Apple products. I make no apologies for that. And in the case of the HomePod, my decision whether or not to keep it might be more difficult if it were not a fancy new Apple product. That does kind of tilt the scales for me. I won’t lie, being an Apple fan is fun. And yes, I am keeping it.

I’m going to add this link to a really great reddit article/review on their audiophile subreddit. Seems that this guy thinks Apple totally nailed it. And he has the evidence to prove it.

I will also add a link to a great YouTube piece on the HomePod. This one is entertaining.

I should be a tech reviewer

I’ve been on the fence regarding the new Apple HomePod. For those who don’t know, it’s Apple’s new Siri-powered digital assistant speaker. It went on sale last Friday for pre-order. And will be delivered beginning Feb 9th.

One of the things I’ve started doing is watching a fair amount of tech reviewers on YouTube. It’s quite a niche for those guys. And it’s pretty high paying for a number of them. We’re talking about people that have to form companies and hire employees to get to the level of video production that is expected. It can be a good place to listen to reviews and things.

Today I was listening to a guy who’s YouTube channel I subscribe to. And he was saying how bad this new speaker sucks. Shortly after listening to his review (he hadn’t actually seen one yet)… I went ahead and ordered one. Just like any respectable Apple fan would do.

I commented on his video. And he responded. We both agreed that a small single speaker like this would most likely not have as good of sound quality as a good 2.1 setup. He says “you can’t skirt the laws of physics”. But from everything I hear, it’s the stand-out excellent sound quality that sets this speaker apart from it’s competition.

While people are comparing it to the Amazon Echo and the Google Home smart speakers, it’s really out of their league. It features like six separate tweeters each with their own dedicated amplifier. It is powered by the same powerful chip that runs their iPhones. And it essentially senses the proportions of the room it’s in… and it’s position in that room w/regard to walls… and adjusts it’s sound output accordingly. Bang and Olufsen has a speaker with similar smarts that retails for about $10,000.

So we’ll see how it does against my 2.1 setup I have in our office at home. Luckily Apple has a no-questions-asked return policy. So this is essentially a trial.

Celebration of life

My wife and I went to a memorial service for a 13-year old girl yesterday. No one was really talking about it, and you don’t really ask, but word was that she committed suicide as the result of bullying.

It was a nice service in that folks shared their memories of her. And I got a small glimpse into this young life of someone I did not know. By all accounts she was an amazing young woman. So very sad how her life ended.

There was a noticeable absence of any mention of Jesus or salvation… or God in general. There were two “clergy” there. I don’t know what kind of clergy they were but IMHO they were not deserving of that designation.

The service made me think a little of my own life, and what my memorial service would be like. Or perhaps my wife’s memorial service. What focus would it have? I have to admit… the current focus of my life is really not God. It would almost seem disingenuous to attempt to have a memorial service centered on God when one’s life clearly was not.

To be fair… I do toy around with the idea of God. I read a devotional on occasion. I try to think about right and wrong and doing the right thing. I definitely know and believe the truth of the Bible with regards to Jesus, His death and resurrection, etc. But my life is a far cry from what my honest idea of a committed Christian should be like. It’s possible that my idea is not accurate. After all, there is real life to deal with… working, eating, sleeping. Not everything is about God right?

In my experience, trying to make everything about God has a tendency to cause one to sort of go off the deep end. And yes, been there, done that, and got the t-shirt.

However, I do think that God’s idea of a committed Christian would be considered “off the deep end” by the world’s standards. So I would say, there is a good off-the-deep-end and a bad off-the-deep-end. I’m not sure I know how to tell the difference between the two.

And I have no doubt in my mind that the majority of people who are off the deep end in the bad kind of way honestly believe that they are walking in truth and right on track.

Christianity is nuts in a good way. But how do you know you’re not just nuts? Because many folks would probably think that you are. One of the tools I use to gauge the general acceptability of things I say or ideas I have is by people’s reaction to those things. That lets me know when I’m off track. However that doesn’t really work that well with Christianity. Because the indications would be highly misleading. I think that with Christianity, it’s totally possible to be perfectly in line with God’s will, and have others think you’re crazy… even other Christians.

So that’s leaves us without a good measurement gauge. Hmmm…

So much for that

My last blog entry explained how I was downsizing my computer gear. I had sold my iMac, my MacBook, and my iPad. All to be replaced by a newer MacBook.

The reasons for doing this are a little difficult to explain. First of all… I have a bit of a computer habit. I spend most my time in front of one, both at work and at home. I’ve been fighting this off and on for years (unsuccessfully I might add). Second, because my iMac was my best device (by a long shot), I spent most my free time basically chained to my desk where it sits, as opposed to using my other (more mobile) devices away from my desk.

I’ve actually gone to great lengths in the past to help curb my technology habit. I went so far as to go without internet at home. I figured I could take my laptop to where there was public wifi when I wanted to use the net. I suppose that was a little extreme. And it wasn’t because the of the cost either. It was because I felt it would be better for me not to have access at home. Something to literally force myself to do other things. Well, like most of my other attempts, that was short-lived.

With my latest downsizing I guess I kinda thought that the move to having the MacBook as my only computer would help free me from my desk. I would be completely mobile and free to geek out from anywhere.

This sounded attractive. But in reality, even after successfully getting rid of all my other gear… I still pretty much spent all my time at my desk. I went so far as to run my MacBook in closed-cover mode… with an external monitor, keyboard, and mouse.

That’s when it occurred to me. I actually paid a premium for this MacBook in two ways. One, it’s super small size and portability made it cost more. And two, there was also a significant performance sacrifice involved in getting it that small. Essentially, while a desktop machine was the most suitable tool for what I was doing, instead I was using an underpowered and overpriced laptop for a purpose it was not intended for.

Of course when I realized this, it kinda torqued me off. There were a few different times where I swapped back and forth between using the external monitor, keyboard, and mouse… and just using the MacBook as a normal laptop. While the external monitor, keyboard, and mouse gave me the best functionality. They caused me to miss out on the MacBook’s best selling point, which is the super high quality of it’s hardware.

Ok, I’ll acknowledge that this is definitely a first-world type of problem. But (luckily) my life is so boring that I am always trying to figure out ways to optimize my little existence.

After the above realizations, I started thinking iMac once again. I toyed with the idea of buying an iMac and selling my MacBook. I figure I could use my iPad for anything mobile (yes, I bought another iPad). But I do believe that I could be deemed certifiable if I were to sell my new MacBook only three months after purchasing it.

I did order a new iMac. I’m typing this on it now. This time I did a custom-build with an SSD instead of a fusion drive. It’s quite a bit quicker.

So this “experiment” in downsizing was a little expensive. However in the end, I ended up upgrading my MacBook, my iPad, and my iMac to newer models that were all significantly better than what they replaced.

My wife had a bit of wisdom. She said that perhaps I should just accept the fact that I like computers and stop trying to fight it. Hmmm…

Gear trading

Wow. I just finished over two weeks of selling a lot of my tech gear, partially just to trade it for more. This has been a long time in coming. In buying stuff… I suffer from “mission creep” where I keep adding more and more. At some point I need to clear out the excess and do a bit of a reset.

I sold my 27″ 5K iMac, iPad Air 2, early-2015 MacBook, 4 pairs of headphones, and 2 headphone amps. I used eBay for the bigger-ticket items and Craigslist for the lower-value ones.

To replace this stuff, I bought a new 2017 MacBook. Essentially, the new MacBook is replacing my iMac, iPad and old MacBook. My old headphones and headphone amps had already been replaced by a couple pair of Apple AirPods.

My wife and I also swapped out our Series 0 Apple Watches for the latest Series 3 w/LTE. And I did a scheduled phone upgrade from the iPhone 6S Plus to the iPhone 8 Plus. (my wife is holding out for the iPhone X)

I also sprung for a Nintendo Switch and a few games. We have a Wii U that has been obsoleted. For now we’re keeping both. The Switch goes in my office.

This all pretty much happened with no money out of pocket. I’ve been really wanting to downsize my gear for a long time. I finally did it. In spite of the fact that I believe everyone I know would have probably advised me against it. And yes, when you sell used items you certainly take a hit. But Apple stuff has pretty good resale value. And some money for the old stuff is better than no money.

Of course the biggest change for me is getting used to the 12″ screen on the MacBook compared to the gorgeous 27″ 5K screen that I had on the iMac. But part of the goal here was to decrease the role that computers have in my life. Yes, having a computer is a fact of life. But I have decided that I wish to embrace a form of “minimalism” to where these things don’t have more of a role than they need to.

I also think that having my only computer able to go anywhere with me is a bit liberating. No longer will I feel tied to my desk because I feel compelled to “enjoy” my desktop computer. The highest level of functionality I have is now completely mobile. I didn’t really use my old MacBook that much because it was always a compromise when compared to the iMac that was sitting right there on my desk. It’s now no longer a matter of choosing. I have one iOS device and one macOS device. Problem solved.

First-world problems… yeah sorry. Although it’s a big change to my little world.

Well that didn’t last long

A couple months ago I bought a wireless speaker from Harman/Kardon called the Onyx. That speaker has now failed on me. I am beyond the refund window, so Harman/Kardon was going to replace it. Well, honestly I wasn’t that impressed. So I had another idea.

After I’d initially ordered that speaker, I noticed that Harman/Kardon is still selling the Soundsticks 2.1 setup (pictured above). I used to have a set like these when I bought my first Mac back in 2002. So there is some sense of nostalgia.

The Soundsticks happened to be exactly the same price as the Onyx. So I talked them into sending me the Soundsticks to replace the failed Onyx. Yes, it’s possible they chose style over substance. But I believe this 2.1 setup will out-perform the Onyx.

In search of good sound

I just got a new wireless speaker for my desk at home. I wasn’t necessarily in the market for one… but this popped up in my twitter feed as a “deal”. I recognize Harman/Kardon as a quality audio brand. And it was discounted about $350 off regular price. I think one could safely say it was originally overpriced. But after the discount it’s probably just about right. One selling point for me… it has Airplay built in. So I can play to it from my computer or my phone, seamlessly and lossless.

Memorial Day 2017

Good Morning. I am the proud mother of a great American hero from Keizer Oregon, PFC Ryan J Hill. I want to begin by thanking Glenn for this opportunity to share our story. And a very special thanks to all of you who set aside a few moments to honor some very brave men and women.

Memorial Day for many means a day off, great shopping deals, family barbecues, camping, the beginning of summer; honoring loved ones who have passed or veterans who have served. While all these are great, it really doesn’t represent what Memorial Day is really about. Memorial Day is the one day set aside to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice in defending and protecting the freedoms that we all enjoy. Since the American Revolution almost 670K men and women have been killed in combat.

Before I go into the events that have brought me here today, I would like to give you a glimpse of who Ryan was.

On April 26, 1986 at 2:00 in the afternoon God entrusted me with one of him most precious treasures, Ryan J Hill. As a single mom it was up to me to teach and guide him. Little did i know that he would in the end be the one to teach and guide me. Ryan had a compassionate heart from the beginning. He was always drawn to the underdog. I didnt want him to be the outsider while growing up as I had been, so i really tried to help him be cool and hang out with the “right” people.

(Story of andy, Aaron and Mike)

Ryan was sharp and a quick learner. I should have known when he came home from the first day of school in the second grade at Keizer Elementary and I asked how was school and he said stupid….

When he attended McNary High school my biggest concern was, would he fit in. High school can sometimes be brutal. Little did I know he would ace the social aspects, but given his view in the first grade of “I’ve already done that” his academics left a little to be desired. He would finish High School at the Oregon National Guard Youth Challenge Program, a military school. He originally went to make up credits so he could graduate on time, but he ended up completing 2 1/2 years in 5 months with an a minus average. It was obvious that he excelled in this environment. His nickname…make me do push ups please.

Just to give you some insight into his mindset, Ryan loved football and played at McNary……..

In July 2005 he would leave for Ft Benning where he would attend Boot Camp and AIT and would go on to be assigned to the 1/26th Infantry Division (Big Red One) in Schweinfurt Germany. When he was in boot camp the drill sgt said as Ryan reached for a piece of cake, Hill you eat that cake your gonna do push-ups; Ryan’s response “I’m gonna do push ups anyway” so he reached for a second piece.

In July 2006 I got the call from Ryan that they were deploying to Iraq into a very bad area. He said to me Mom if i come home God has more for me to do, if I dont then I’ve finished my job.

On Friday January 19th a little after 8pm the earth stood still… I got the dreaded knock on the door. I looked out the peep hole and there they were 2 officers in uniform. I opened the door and told them they weren’t supposed to be there. Shortly after midnight in Baghdad Ryan’s group would be making their final patrol of the night, an IED that was command-wire detonated by cowardly insurgents hiding in the shadows would steal a great man. The unit would come under several hours of heavy fire and Ryan would be the only KIA for Charlie Company that night. Although Ryan was the first among many killed on the deadliest day. Ryan had finished his job. God Almighty said okay you’ve had enough and allowed him to go home. See several of Ryan’s fellow soldiers had already been killed and he took each loss personally. Just like his job here was to protect his family and friends, he viewed his job there as to protect his fellow brothers. In fact he always wanted to be in the lead vehicle which was most likely to be attacked. So when there was a loss he felt like he had failed. I believe he was spared from events that were to come. The attacks got more severe. As the unit found ways to mitigate the insurgents actions, it caused the cowards to escalate the type of attacks they would use. In June 2007 Charlie Company would receive an award at the US embassy from special forces with Ryan’s name on it for the work that was done on January 20th.

The Blue Spader Task force is considered the hardest hit since Vietnam. The commanders were continually asking for help but the requests seemed to go unanswered until July 2008 where the 110 who patrolled Adhimayah were replaced with a unit of over 1000. All in all the task force had 34 soldiers KIA, and 122 wounded. Charlie company suffered the most with fourteen men killed 9 of which were from Ryan’s second platoon.

In 2012 the Blue Spaders received the Presidential Unit Citation for extraordinary heroism against an armed enemy.

One of my sons biggest fears is that he would be forgotten. And today you have sent a message that we remember. I remember getting a phone call from him after one of his brothers had been killed. It was during election time and he was struggling from all the negative news reports about the war. He said Mom my friends are dying for people who don’t give a rip. All they care about is did the barista get my coffee right, o did you know Brittney Spears is bald, Lindsey Lohan has a drug problem, what in the world am I fixing for dinner? Meanwhile my buddies are dying and not only do people not know who they are, they don’t care. I reminded him that he told me after he got to Iraq; Mom don’t watch the news it’s really not what’s happening. So don’t watch the news it doesn’t represent all of Americans.

The question for you is do you care? As you drive up and down the freeway and you see my license plate that says “gold star family” do you know what that means? (well probably most of you do, or do now). Please don’t get me wrong with what I am about to say. I don’t want your sympathy. I just want you to think about your freedom, the price that has been paid for it, and not take it for granted. For you to truly understand you would have to experience it. And that is really something I wouldn’t wish upon anyone. Imagine your child or grand child one day stolen from you. Not just them, but of their hopes and dreams, their future, the children that you will never know. Perhaps their son or daughter would have been the one to walk on mars, or discover the cure for cancer or be the next brilliant president. Or perhaps they would have been just like Ryan and been one of the most kind, funny, and loving person you ever met, whose goal in life was to protect their family and friends and to make a difference.

There are many days when I am out and observe people and wonder, does anyone remember? As I watch them go about their lives, I wonder do they know the price that was paid for them to drive thru Starbucks safely and buy a coffee or push the granddaughter on the swing at the park. You see for Gold Star families we live Memorial Day every day. This is my 10th Memorial Day since Ryan was killed and yet it seems like it was still yesterday.

On October 5, 2006 Ryan sent a small group of us this email: “2 days ago one of my good friend was lost for doing his duty for our country. He was shot by a sniper and didn’t get a chance to shoot back. He was doing what he was asked of him regardless of the risks at hand. I ask that as you read this you hold a moment of silence within yourself for another of America’s finest that lost the battle he was told to fight. I ask that you remember your freedoms and that we willingly gave ours up to protect our loved ones back home. That you keep us in your thoughts and prayers in good times and in bad. Because to tell you the truth all we wanted was a better life for us and our loved ones. Some of us won’t make it back from this place and we shall never forget them. The rest of us who are here will keep fighting for you and those you love. Thank you for reading my thoughts and the few minutes it took our of your lives….”

So one thing I ask is that as you drive around going about your day being a productive member of the community pause once in awhile, maybe when you see that glorious flag flying, and just whisper thank you.

In closing I would like to challenge with a quote from Ryan’s my space… “A True Champion is one who wants to make a difference, never gives up, works hard and never gives up their dream”. So for Ryan, go be a champion.

Thank you. Freedom isn’t free.

Apple all the way…

I’m not sure why I did it. Perhaps it had something to do with an app on my iPhone that would allow import of a photo… but only from my Apple photo app… not my Google Drive. But I figured I’d be better off being completely in the Apple ecosystem.

I just spent the last 24 hours or so migrating all my data from Google Drive back over to the Apple iCloud. And at the very last, I even moved all my Gmail mail and contacts over to Apple’s email service. This is something I was pretty sure I would never do.

So now I am 100% back on the Apple ecosystem. I never really thought I would go back to the Apple iCloud email. The main drawback it has… I can’t send email as if I’m at my own domain. Gmail allows that. At one time this was pretty important to me. I own three domains and I want to be able to send email as-if from those domains. But I figured what the heck. I suppose I can live with elden.f@icloud.com. So that’s the address my email will be from from now on.

I suppose I should have less hassle now. Everything is Apple. I’m no longer connected to anything Google on my devices and/or computers. I still have some Google docs. And I really like Google docs. But what I have left there are pretty much just backups of stuff I’ve migrated back over to the iCloud.

In theory things should be pretty nice doing the 100% Apple thing. We’ll see. I know that it’s not the absolute best cloud service out there, but I think it should be alright. Sometimes the path of less hassle is the best.