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Cool Hardware

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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Give your iMac a lift

I have a 2019 27" iMac, which replaced a Late 2014 27" iMac. Both of these are/were placed directly on their stands on my desk. I've always felt that the screen was just a bit too low to be ideal, but I was too lazy to deal with solving it—especially as I knew it meant I'd also have to deal with the mess of cables on the desk behind the iMac.

Then last week, I saw MacRumor's review of the Twelve South Curve Riser iMac Stand, and thought it might solve my problem. But at over four inches (10cm) in height, I thought it would be too high for me—with the height of my desk and chair, I'd wind up looking up at the screen. And, at $80 for just a bent piece of metal, it seemed expensive for what it delivers.

However, MacRumors also linked to their review of the Satechi Type-C Stand for iMac (view on Amazon), which rises a more-reasonable 1.63" (4.1cm) from the desk. But what really intrigued me was that for $90—just $10 more than the Twelve South riser—the Type-C Stand includes two card reader ports (at up to 104MB/s), three USB-A ports (5GB/s), a USB-C port (5GB/s), and a headphone jack.

The ports on the front were the deal sealer for me: My Logitech keyboard and mouse both charge over USB-C, and I'd been using my MacBook Pro to do that as I only have a USB-C to USB-C cable. I also do a fair bit with memory cards—my drone uses microSD and my camera uses a regular SD card. I'd been using a regular card reader that requires the fiddly task of putting the microSD card into a SD-sized card holder; the Satechi stand has two separate slots, so that fiddly work is gone.

As for the brand, I have a Satechi Wireless Smart Keypad that's been working flawlessly for five years, so I felt pretty safe making the purchase decision. It arrived on Sunday, and after getting everything set up, I wish I would have done this years ago.

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Review: Logitech MX Keys for Mac

In April of 2019, I reviewed the Logitech MX master 2S mouse, which I really liked. Earlier this year, Logitech came out with the Logitech MX Keys for Mac keyboard, so I thought I'd give it a try. (I also upgraded to the MX Master 3 mouse at the same time.)

Executive summary: I love this keyboard. I was on a road trip recently, gone for 12 days straight with nothing but a MacBook Air (of the 'broken butterfly' generation). As soon as I got home and switched back to my iMac, I was reminded of just how much better this keyboard is than the one built into my Air…and the one that came with my iMac.

(Note: The "Mac" in the name simply means that you're getting a keyboard with Mac-specific symbols on the Command and Option keys; I'm pretty sure the Windows version would work just as well, but without the Mac-specific look.)

This review won't be quite as thorough as that of my mouse, mainly because there aren't as many nifty features—it is "just" a keyboard, after all.

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My iPad case of choice—twice over

When I bought my prior 9.7" iPad Pro back in 2018, I wanted to find a case that met my criteria:

  • Full coverage - front, back, and sides
  • Storage for Apple Pencil
  • Auto-sleep on cover open/close
  • Apple Keyboard support was not important to me
  • Relatively inexpensive

I wound up ordering a few from Amazon, tested each of them, kept one, and sent the others back. The one I kept back then is the same general model as the one I've put on my new iPad Air: The JUQITECH iPad Case with Pencil Holder:

This case cost all of $11, and for that, you get a full-coverage case with room not only for the pencil, but the small USB adapter the pencil uses to connect to regular Lightning cables. And when the charging cap is off, it fits in the small hole above the pencil.

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Taking it back to the matte

Many many years ago, Apple made glorious laptops with matte screens. Sadly (for me, at least), these gave way to brighter, shinier, and much more reflective glossy displays. These same glossy screens are found on iOS devices as well, including my new iPad Air.

But on iOS devices, glossy screens are even more annoying than they are on laptops, because of fingerprints. It sometimes seems I spend almost as much time cleaning my iPad as I do using my iPad. But what if there were a product that could solve both the glossy issue and the fingerprint issue?

A friend of mine clued me in to just such a thing…the Moshi iVisor iPad screen protector. (The full line, including iVisor for iPhones, is also available via Amazon.) While I don't have two iPads for comparison sake, here's how my iPad now looks against an uncovered iPad mini:

Obviously, there's a lot less glare on the covered iPad, which I love—it's still not ideal with bright overhead lights, but it's a whole lot more usable.

But what about installation, use with the pencil, fingerprints, and the brightness of the screen under the cover?

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An unfair fight? New iPad Air versus 2016 iPad Pro

At the end of March 2016, I purchased one of the newly-introduced 9.7" iPad Pros—a Gray 128GB Wi-Fi only version, to be exact. And until Friday, that was the last full-size iPad I bought for my personal use. (I did buy an iPad mini at the end of 2017, mainly as a test device for new iOS releases.)

However, early last week I decided it was time to upgrade, and after comparing a few models, I chose the iPad Air—Space Gray, 256GB, WiFi only for $649. I didn't really need 256GB of storage, but Apple, of course, only offers the Air in 64GB or 256GB capacities—and as I had about 110GB of stuff on my old iPad, I had to get the 256GB model.

Physically, they two iPads are nearly identical—despite the iPad Air's much larger display area, it's only 0.4" taller and 0.2" wider than the old Pro (they're both .24" thick), and it weighs but 0.6 ounces more.

As I had a Pro before, why didn't I buy a Pro this time, too?

I mainly use my iPad for games, watching movies or listening to music, using the internet, reading books, and sending the occasional email. As an iPad will never be my primary work machine, I didn't feel it necessary to pay the extra $2502An iPad Pro 11" with 256GB and WiFi is $899 for an iPad Pro. (And by choosing the Air, I still don't own an Apple device with Face ID.)

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When a light drone is the right drone

Many years ago, I had a big, spendy drone—the DJI Phantom 2 Vision +. This was a monster of a drone, measuring over a foot along the diagonal between the motors, and probably just under a foot in height—this image gives a good sense of the size of the thing:

It was also heavy, weighing in at 2.7 pounds (1.2 kilograms), and it used a 5200mAh battery to provide a claimed 20ish minutes of flight time, though 15 was more typically what I saw. The camera was mounted on a precision gimbal, providing incredibly smooth video—1080p at 30fps (stills were 14mp), which was very good for the time.

While I liked the big drone, for a part-time hobbyist drone user like me, it was also a pain: I needed a big case to transport the Phantom and its spare parts and batteries and charger, it took a while to set up (install propellers, configure controller, make wifi connections, etc.), and I never mastered flying it low-and-slow (perhaps due to the amount of wind its powerful rotors generated). It was also really loud.

Because of the hassle involved with using the drone, I didn't use it as often as I wanted to. So I eventually sold it, and left the world of drones behind for a few years. But lately, I'd been getting the itch again, and after doing some research, bought something much different…

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Our family’s robotic vacuum overlords are Deebots

If you're interested in technology (me!), and dislike cleaning (also me!), you've probably investigated robot vacuum cleaners. There are tons of models out there, covering a wide range of costs from under $100 to over $1,500. I'm not here to try to tell you which is the best, or even which particular one to buy, but to point out a time-limited sale on the one we chose to buy.

Back in May, we bought an Ecovacs Deebot N79S (Amazon)1This is a referral link; I make a modest commission if you use it. to clean our downstairs hardwood floors. I bought it mainly because it was on sale for a relatively inexpensive (for a robot vacuum) $150, and it received decent reviews on Amazon and on various review sites such as Wirecutter.

It's not the smartest robot—there's no ability to save a map or mark off "do not enter" areas. But I've found it cleans well, it's quiet, and the app does what it needs to do to make managing the vacuum about as easy as it can be. It's got a stated 110 minute battery life, and ours usually runs for at least 90 minutes, going over mainly hardwood with a couple of area rugs.

I noticed today that it's on sale again on Amazon for about $150—it shows as $170 in the store, but once in the cart, a $17 discount is applied, bringing it down to $153. We've been so happy with the first that I just ordered a second one to use upstairs (with two cats in the house, one cannot have enough vacuums).

I'm not sure how long this special price will last, nor if it's some sort of targeted thing where only certain shoppers get the deal, but if you're in the market for a decent yet not too costly robot vacuum, we've been very happy with ours.

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