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An anywhere switch to control HomeKit devices

I recently assembled an IKEA cabinet and shelving in the corner of a room. It's a darker corner, so I added lighting to the cabinet and the shelves, all of which is then plugged into a HomeKit-compatible power plug. I can now easily turn the lights on and off with Siri, but I wanted to have a more-traditional wall switch, too.

As the wall outlet isn't switched, the "real" solution would have involved hiring an electrician to cut holes in the wall and run a new line to a new switch, followed up by a fair bit of drywall repair, texture, and painting. I didn't want to go that route.

Instead, I found Belkin's Wemo Stage Scene Controller1Apple sells this on their site, too, but at a much higher price., which promised an install-anywhere switch for any HomeKit connected devices.

(Note: I don't know if this thing works outside the USA or not; I found a note on their site indicating it may not work in the UK, but that's all I was able to find.)

I bought one to test, and after the first day, I was preparing to return it and write a very scathing review…
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Keep authenticated WordPress sites up to date

I have a couple of WordPress sites that live behind HTTP basic authentication—they're family-related blogs that I don't want publicly accessible.

Everything works fine behind the authentication except for automatic updates (and other WordPress cron tasks). This bugged me a bit, but never enough to do anything about it until today. To fix the problem, you can either modify some code (which I generally don't like to do) or use a plug-in (easy and quick). I chose the plug-in.

If you'd prefer the customization solution, though, just follow these instructions. I haven't tested them myself, though, so I can't say for sure that they still work (they are five years old).

For the plug-in solution, install WP Cron HTTP Auth. Go to its Settings panel, and enter your HTTP Authentication credentials, and that's that—WordPress cron tasks, including automatic updates, will now work again. Hooray!

Using NUT to monitor a CyberPower UPS in pfSense

This post is probably of interest only to me, and I'm posting it just because I'm getting tired of remembering where I stored this tidbit on my Mac.

Our home router is a Protectli box running pfSense firewall/router software; the Protectli box is connected to a CyberPower UPS. Within pfSense, you can install the Network UPS Tools package (called NUT in pfSense) to monitor and report on the UPS; here's how it looks in the overview screen:

After recently updating to a newer Protectli box, however, all I saw was a message that read "Cannot communicate with UPS" (or something close to that). I knew I had a fix for this issue somewhere, but I couldn't remember where. Today I found it, so also today, it goes on my blog so I'll always know where it is…

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A mini review of a mini arcade cabinet game

Being a person of a certain vintage, I have a soft spot in my heart for the arcade video games of the 1980s—Asteroids, Pac-Man, Missile Command, etc. I've long wanted to get an original game in its full-sized cabinet, but they're large, increasingly expensive, and complicated to maintain.

So I use MAME to run such games on my Mac, but it's just not the same as a physical machine. I've considered building my own cabinet, but then remembered that I have essentially no carpentry skills (or tools!). Enter Arcade1Up, who offer smaller (yet still substantial) cabinets with fully licensed versions of many classic arcade games.

After watching for sales for a while, I saw a deal on the BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment Legacy Edition Arcade Machine (wow, what a name). This cabinet includes 12 games, though only three—Pac-Man, Galaxian, and Galaga—were of much interest to me. The kit also included the riser, making it playable while standing up.

The kit retails for $449, but I caught it on sale at Walmart (via slickdeals, a site that either saves or costs you a small fortune, depending on how you view it) for under $300. I wasn't quite sure what the quality of the kit would be, as even at $449, it seems relatively inexpensive.

I had the kit sitting here for a bit before I had time to put it together, but now, as you can see by the image at right, it's done. If anyone else is in the market for one of these, I thought I'd share my thoughts on the kit and using the finished product.

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We have (semi) new robotic vacuum overlords

In late 2019, I wrote about how we were using two Deebot robotic vacuums to help keep our floors clean. And while these vacuums worked well, they had two issues that became more annoying as time passed:

  • They clean using a random path method
  • There's no way to map out obstacles they should avoid

The Deebots are basically non-intelligent robot vacuums. They have the ability to avoid bumping into things, and they won't fall off drop-offs, but that's about where their intelligence ends. They clean using a random path, which works but seems very inefficient. Much worse, though, is that there's no ability to mark areas you don't want them to clean.

For me, that meant I had to close the door to our laundry room so it wouldn't try to clean and get stuck in there. And block off access paths to other areas where it could get stuck. And put one shelf on risers, as the Deebot seemed to be able to get under it, but not back out!? And I had to do this any time I wanted to run the vacuums. That gets old pretty quick.

I wanted to find a vacuum that would clean in a more orderly fashion (using some sort of room map), and to electronically block off areas where they shouldn't clean. The problem was most vacuums that offered these features were (at the time) $350 or more, while the Deebots had cost us only $170 or so. So I kept searching and waiting.

tl;dr version: We bought two Wyze Vacuums with LIDAR and restricted area capabilities, and love them. Ours cost $225 each, but the price today is $267 each. Read on for a much more detailed review, if you wish.

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Remember, kids, RAID is not a backup!

Major update: The QNAP box failed tonight (Aug 3) after running flawlessly for three days straight. I went out to grab some dinner (I shouldn't leave, ever, apparently), and came back to the RAID offline with just a power light, no USB or drive lights.

I moved the drive from a USB hub on a long cable to directly into my Mac on a short cable. Same problem. I then pulled the drives from the array and dropped each into my drive dock, and they were both fine. (All my data was gone, though—thankfully I had literally cloned the drive just before I went out.)

Needless to say, the QNAP box is going back. I've ordered a different unit, with a different chipset in it, but it won't be here for about a week. In the interim, I've put my new drives in external enclosures, and I'll just use Carbon Copy Cloner to mirror them every 30 minutes or so. I've edited the post to reflect my experience.

I'll edit and repost this once the new box is here and (hopefully) working, though I might wait more than three days after it arrives, just to be sure!

On my iMac, I have a fair amount of data—somewhere around eight terabytes or so spread across 15TB of drive space. Until last week, I had it split between the internal SSD (work and personal files I access a lot), an external 6TB USB drive (archive stuff I want to keep but not regularly access), and an external 8TB RAID box (a whole bunch of music, movies, home videos, work videos, etc.)

Being paranoid, I also had relatively good—but not bulletproof, as I discovered–backup strategies for all of these things. And it's a good thing I did, as last week, my external RAID box died in spectacular fashion. While I was out of town, no less. And that's why they say, "RAID is not a backup!"1Many RAID levels duplicate your data, but if something happens to the RAID box itself, the data is toast.

So what happened, how'd I recover, and what's my new plan going forward?

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My impressions of the M1 MacBook Pro

I recently received my Apple M1-powered 13" MacBook Pro, which is primarily going to be used for testing our apps on Apple silicon, and supporting customers using these machines. But that doesn't mean this is a work machine; it's a personal purchase as I'll use it for my own needs as well. (Thankfully, it only had a net cost of $33 after I sold my 16" MacBook Pro.)

By now, you've probably read a slew of stuff about both the MacBook Pro and its slightly-lighter MacBook Air cousin. Between unboxing videos, extensive benchmark suites, and multi-thousand-word reviews, there is no lack of coverage of these machines. (However, I will add that I did make a video of my MacBook Pro—with its 16GB of RAM—opening 75 apps in just over a minute. Not bad for an entry-level machine!)

I'm not going to try to replicate those reviews, because they do an excellent job of covering the new M1-powered Macs in a level of detail that I just don't have time to get into. Instead, here's what I'll be discussing…

  1. Why I chose the 13" MacBook Pro
  2. A few benchmark results of interest
  3. Rosetta and non-native apps
  4. Using iOS apps on macOS
  5. General discussion on performance
  6. The future of Apple silicon Macs

So why a MacBook Pro and not an Air?

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A deep dive into the Apple Arcade—Part Five

Today wraps up my deep dive into the Apple Arcade. As a refresher, here's what's in each part of the series:

  • Part One: This covers what I look for in games, some general observations on the games in the Arcade, and the lengthy list of games that didn't make my first cut.
  • Part Two: A slightly deeper look at the first half of the games I felt merited additional time for playing and testing.
  • Part Three: A slightly deeper look at the second half of the games I felt merited additional time for playing and testing.
  • Part Four: The first half of my set of definite keeper games.
  • Part Five: The part you're reading now; the second half of my set of definite keeper games, including my two favorites.
  • Part Six: Wrapping it all up.

And now, the rest of the keepers…

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A deep dive into the Apple Arcade—Part Four

Today wraps up my deep dive into the Apple Arcade. When I planned this, one Part Four post was going to cover everything left…but it was way too long. So I'm still publishing it all today, but I've split the last part into three separate posts. So here's the full series:

  • Part One: This covers what I look for in games, some general observations on the games in the Arcade, and the lengthy list of games that didn't make my first cut.
  • Part Two: A slightly deeper look at the first half of the games I felt merited additional time for playing and testing.
  • Part Three: A slightly deeper look at the second half of the games I felt merited additional time for playing and testing.
  • Part Four: The part you're reading now; the first half of my set of definite keeper games.
  • Part Five: The second half of my set of definite keeper games, including my two favorites.
  • Part Six: Wrapping it all up.

Before I get to the keepers, though, there were two more games released while I was working on these posts, so I'll take a quick look at those.

All of You In this unique puzzler, your character is a chicken that needs to collect a number of lost baby chicks. Your chicken walks from left to right across the circles as seen at right. One circle can be animating at a time while the others are still. On some levels, you can rearrange and/or flip the circles, too. (In the level at right, you animate the dynamite circle first, so it explodes before you walk across.)

Higher levels have more circles, so there's not so much empty space…and some of the puzzles get a bit tricky. It's fun, but I'm not sure it's a keeper just yet.

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A deep dive into the Apple Arcade—Part Three

My new iPad Air came with a surprise (at least, to me): A three-month trial to Apple Arcade. So I decided to look at all 139 games available in the Apple Arcade.

Here's what's in each part of the series:

  • Part One: This post includes what I look for in games, some general observations on the games in the Arcade, and the lengthy list of games that didn't make my first cut.
  • Part Two: A slightly deeper look at the first half of the games I felt merited additional time for playing and testing.
  • Part Three: The part you're reading now; a slightly deeper look at the second half of the games I felt merited additional time for playing and testing.
  • Part Four: The first half of my set of definite keeper games.
  • Part Five: The second half of my set of definite keeper games, including my two favorites.
  • Part Six: Wrapping it all up.

Here's the second set of nine games that I felt worth more time testing. Obviously these summaries still aren't anything close to a full review, but there's a bit more detail (and screenshots; click for the large version).

No Way Home What starts as a top-down space shoot-em-up turns into more of a mission-focused shooter—collect things for upgrades, take this to that. Lovely graphics and fun gameplay, plus a helpful robot assistant helps you battle. And while it's another dual control, the second control is for firing direction not camera view direction, which is much less of a pain for me.
Operator 41 One of the "sneak about in the dark" games, and the graphics have a nice grainy texture to them. The ground is divided into grid squares, and you move by tapping on a destination grid square. It's a simple concept, but it's well executed here, and some of the moves require impeccable timing—roving guards and rotating security lights make for brief bits of protected space.

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