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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.

De-distractionate the Touch Bar

Shocking even myself, I'm now the owner of a Touch Bar equipped MacBook Pro—I purchased the entry-level 16" model last weekend. Why? I'll save the detailed explanation for an upcoming look at the machine and its performance, but the main goal was to replace two laptops with one.

But just because I now have a Touch Bar-equipped Mac doesn't mean I suddenly like the Touch Bar. In fact, my feelings about it haven't changed since I wrote about it two years ago:

The Touch Bar, despite its name, is actually an Eye Bar: It forces your eyes off the screen, down to the Touch Bar, back up to the screen, repeat ad infinitum.

After some hours working with my new MBP, this is definitely a problem—and it's a problem even when I'm not using the Touch Bar, which is pretty much all the time: I've found that the changing images and colors on the Touch Bar grab my eye every time I switch apps…

The camera was focused on the Touch Bar, but when I'm looking at the screen, I see all that activity just below the screen, and it's really distracting. Thankfully, there's an easy fix, and one I'd not heard of prior to buying this machine…

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When products play hide-and-seek with serial numbers

I recently bought a set of PowerBeats Pro, which I generally love (more on the headphones in a future post), but today, while trying to register my product with Beats, I ran into a clear example of form trumping function.

To register your Beats, you need the serial number; Beats provides a graphic that shows you where to find it…

Seems simple enough, so I flip open the case…

Umm, where is that serial number?

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Add inelegance to remove heat

At home, our network routing and firewall is handled by an open-source software package called pfSense®; it has a ton of features, and is relatively easy to configure. I built a mini PC (a box roughly 9" per side) for pfSense, and it's been running smoothly for over five years1I'll be writing more about pfSense and my routing PCs in a future post..

While it's not the world's loveliest box…ok, so it may be the world's ugliest box…

…it's been rock solid since day one. However, it's aging and its CPU won't be supported in an upcoming pfSense release, so I decided to replace it. (That way, I'll have a spare if the new one breaks…at least until that unsupported version of pfSense is released.) Here's the new box…

That's a Protectli fanless Firewall Appliance with a quad-core Celeron J3160 CPU, 4GB of RAM, and 32GB of storage. And yes, it's just a bit smaller and more elegant than my old box—the entire thing is roughly the size of my old box's external cooling fan.

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The high cost of software in the 1980s…

A friend recently sent me a link to a large collection of 1980s computing magazines—there's some great stuff there, well worth browsing. Perusing the list, I noticed Softline, which I remember reading in our home while growing up. (I was in high school in the early 1980s.)

We were fortunate enough to have an Apple ][ in our home, and I remember reading Softline for their game reviews and ads for currently-released games.

It was those ads that caught my eye as I browsed a few issues. Consider Missile Defense, a fun semi-clone of the arcade game Missile Command. To give you a sense of what games were like at the time, here are a few screenshots from the game (All game images in this article are courtesy of MobyGames, who graciously allow use of up to 20 images without prior permission.)

Stunning graphics, aren't they?

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A new set of Hubble deep space iMac retina desktops

Back in 2015, I created a set of 5120x2880 deep space desktop images for my then-newish Retina iMac, using images from the Hubble space telescope.

Recently, the Hubble team released the absolutely mind-bogglingly-massive Hubble Legacy Field image

The snapshot, a combination of nearly 7,500 separate Hubble exposures, represents 16 years' worth of observations. The ambitious endeavor is called the Hubble Legacy Field. The new view contains about 30 times as many galaxies as in the HUDF. The wavelength range stretches from ultraviolet to near-infrared light, capturing all the features of galaxy assembly over time.

The image mosaic presents a wide portrait of the distant universe and contains roughly 265,000 galaxies. They stretch back through 13.3 billion years of time to just 500 million years after the universe's birth in the big bang.

Despite those staggering figures, this image still represents only a tiny portion of the sky, covering roughly the area taken up by the Moon in the night sky.

I downloaded the 700MB 25,500x25,500 PNG version of the image, and set to work making some new 5120x2880 desktop images. You can read more about the process in an upcoming post, but for now, here are the resulting images…

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2019 iMac vs Late 2014 iMac—Ripping addendum

In Part 1 of my 2014 vs 2019 iMac comparison articles, I provided an overview and a number of comparison benchmark results. In Part 2, I looked at changes in gaming performance between the two machines.

But there was one more thing I wanted to do: Compare Blu-ray ripping speeds. At the time, though, I didn't have any new movies to rip, and I really didn't want to spend the time re-ripping an existing movie. Now, though, I do have a few new movies to rip, as I'm trying to finish our collection of all the films in the first three phases (now called the Infinity Saga) of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

That meant buying the films I'd liked the least—The Incredible Hulk and the first two Thor movies. With that came the chance to compare the Blu-ray ripping speed of the two iMacs. I use the method described in my article Revisiting ripping Blu-ray discs, which is this:

  1. Use MakeMKV to create an MKV file on the hard drive that contains the video and audio tracks.
  2. Use Don Melton's Video Transcoding tools to create the final movie from the MKV file.

Using The Incredible Hulk, I timed how long it took to create the MKV file and how long it took to create the finished movie. Without further ado, the results (times are in hh:mm:ss format)…

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Review: Logitech MX Master 2S mouse

Shortly after I bought my 2014 iMac, my third-party mouse died. So I started using the Magic Mouse that came with the iMac, and added "get new third-party mouse" to my to do list. Although I never found the Magic Mouse all that comfortable, I kept putting off replacing it.

Finally, when I ordered the new iMac—yes, that task sat on my to do list for nearly five years—I decided to go back to an ergonomic button-laden third-party mouse. After some searching and hand-fit tests, I bought a Logitech MX Master 2S ($70 at Amazon) mouse1Note that this is definitely a right-hand-only mouse, and Logitech doesn't appear to offer a left-handed version. Sorry, lefties..

Note: I really dislike reviews that are so short they read more like press releases (and sometimes actually are reprinted press releases). I don't do a ton of reviews here, but when I do, they tend to be long, because I like to use a product first, then review it in depth.

So what follows are many words (and images) about a computer mouse. If you'd like the tl;dr version instead, here it is: I love the MX Master 2S due to its great ergonomics, customizability, and easy multi-computer support. Keep reading for the much longer version.

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An unexpected ending to an electrifying car story

If you weren't reading along this week, I spent the last four days—parts one, two, three, and four—talking about my Tesla Model S and how much I love it.

Today's surprise ending is this: I sold the car. What I'd replace it with? This…

Obviously that's another Tesla Model S—a used Model S. It is, in fact, a 2016 Models S 90D—yes, basically the exact car I had, but not really—more on that in a bit. My wife and I call it the unicorn car; read on to understand why, and why I made this trade. (As I was writing this, I learned that others had already used that phrase for this particular vintage of the Model S.)

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An electrifying car story – part four

This is Part Four of a four-part series on our 2016 Tesla Model S. In Part One, I covered why we chose the Model S, the cost of the car, and a bit about Tesla the company. In Part Two, I listed some of the things I love about the car. In Part Three, I listed more of the things I love, plus those things I hate. In today's Part Four, I'll discuss what it's like living with an electric car, cover a somewhat long road trip I took last fall, and offer a few thoughts on the future of auto electrification. Finally, tomorrow's Part Five will provide an unexpected ending (of sorts) to the series.


Living with an electric car

My two-plus years with an electric car have been basically a non-event. There are many reasons for this, including the fact that I work at home, and that we have non-electric vehicles, so the Tesla doesn't have to do everything. (But even if I commuted, with the car's range of 280 miles, I think it'd still be a non-event.)

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