The Robservatory

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General

Stuff that doesn’t fit in any other category

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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Harry Potter and the Recommended Age Lie

A while back, my wife came home from Costco with something off the list—no shock there, as that's a feature of any Costco trip. What she came home with, though, was a bit of a surprise: A 3D model of the Harry Potter Hogwarts Castle and Astronomy Tower complex.

This thing was surprisingly inexpensive, at only $27 (on sale for $20 when she bought it). I let it sit for a couple weeks, then decided to put it togther—how bad could it be, I figured, with a target age of eight years old? And only four to six hours to assemble? (That's not just Costco's estimate, it's on the back of the box, too.)

As it turns out, it could be bad, really bad. It was still a fun project, but both "four to six hours" and "eight years old is fine" are complete fabrications.

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Bookmark both of Apple’s system status pages

I've long known about Apple's general System Status page, which provides a dashboard showing the state of most of Apple's consumer-focused services:

https://www.apple.com/support/systemstatus/

Until yesterday's "why can't I launch any apps?" outage, however, I'd never known that they also have the same type of status page for developer-focused services:

https://developer.apple.com/system-status/

But this page is useful to more than just developers (and it doesn't require a login to view). Had I known about it earlier, yesterday it would've shown that they were having a problem with the Developer ID Notary Service, which is why apps wouldn't launch.

In typical Apple understatement fashion, they've posted the resolved status for that service today:

"Some users were affected" and "Users may have experienced issues with the service" certainly make it sound less painful than what it was, i.e. "A ton of users were unable to use their Macs" and "Mac users could not launch their apps for over two hours." Somehow Apple needs to come up with a better failure mode for the service, as the results yesterday were unacceptable.

Note: If it happens again, simply edit the /etc/hosts file as root, and add this as the last line:

0.0.0.0      ocsp.apple.com

That will prevent your Mac from trying to contact the validation server at all. Note: This seems to break the App Store app, but it let me keep working, which was more important at the time.

3,641 miles on 0.0 gallons of gas – Part Two

In the first part of this two-part series, I covered the planning and car prep required for our trip; today I'll cover the driving (briefly) and the charging (in lots of detail).

Driving the route

For a trip of 3,600+ miles, it's amazing how little trouble we had—or even saw—on the roads. We had no near miss-accidents, no flat tires, and no mechanical issues with the car. We didn't spot any drivers that looked like they were having trouble staying on the road, and we didn't even drive past any recent accidents. There was some road construction, but only on 50 or so of the 3,600+ miles we covered.

Aside: Bugs
So if we had no mechanical or tire issues or accidents, what was the most annoying car-related issue? Probably bugs. Not in Tesla's software, but the real kind…so…many…bugs!*To really see the splatter, click the image, then click the icon at the top right of the window that opens for the full-size version

Splatter zone

I did my best to ignore the bugs on the front (though I did scrub them off once, in Colorado), but the windshield was another matter—it's hard to drive when looking through a layer of bug detritus.

For that problem, we packed a can of foaming window cleaner and paper towels, because there aren't typically squeegees and water at Tesla Supercharger stations. This stuff works great, and is so much neater than the squeegee/water solution that we've switched to it in our other (gas powered) car as well.

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3,641 miles on 0.0 gallons of gas – Part One

In August, my eldest daughter (Kylie) and I completed a long tour of the western states, visiting college campuses. The linked post discusses the steps we took to try and keep ourselves and others safe from COVID during the journey…these next two posts*Due to the length of the topic, I'm presenting it in two parts. are all about the practicalities of doing really long distance tours in a fully electric vehicle.

Today's post covers the trip planning and preparing the car for the journey; tomorrow's post will cover the actual drive, the charging experience on the road, and summarize the good and the bad of undertaking such a journey in an electric car.

Our electric car is a 2016 Tesla Model S, which we purchased in early 2019. This is our second 2016 Model S; with the first car, I took a trip to Las Vegas and back, a round trip of about 1,700 miles. (You can read about that journey in Part Four of my series about the Model S.)

At 3,641 miles, though, this trip was over twice as long, and ventured further away from civilization—driving through Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming, there's a whole lot of nothing between the small towns along the interstates. This definitely led to some anxiety on my part as we planned the trip. As a reminder, this was our route:

So what was it like driving an average of 300ish miles a day (plus campus visits), 12 days in a row, in our electric car? Overall, it was a non-event, which is about the most positive outcome I could have hoped for. But that doesn't mean the trip was as simple as it would've been in a gasoline powered car.

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Road tripping through a pandemic

In late August, my eldest daughter Kylie and I set off on a nine-state, 12-day, 3,500 mile road trip…no, really…

Why, during the heart of the COVID pandemic would we choose to do this? Because Kylie is a senior in high school this year, and after looking at the calendar and her schedule, we sort of figured this was her only real opportunity to check out some campuses before it was too late. The timing, obviously, wasn't ideal, but it was what it was. We had to figure out how to make it work as safely as possible.

We used our Tesla for this journey, which will be the subject of a near-future post: It was, by far, the longest trip I've ever taken in an electric vehicle.

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A cleaner method for debugging windshields

Unlike gasoline-powered cars, my Tesla is rarely at a gas station. The chargers in Tesla's Supercharger network are occasionally located on or near gas stations, but they're more likely to be at a hotel or in an industrial area, meaning you're not going to find a squeegee and water bin for cleaning your windshield.

To solve this problem, I keep a roll of paper towels and a can of Zep Foaming Glass Cleaner in the back of my car. While the car is charging, I spray and wipe the front and side windows. I've found that bug residue easily wipes off; only the largest of bug stains require a bit of elbow grease.

A recent 3,500 mile road trip (more on that in a future post) really put this system to the test, and it worked quite well—each time we charged the car, we left with a nice clear view…which lasted for all of a few miles, of course.

The other advantage to this method is that it's way less messy than water and a squeegee; it's easy to keep the spray exactly where you need it. This works so much better than the old method that we've put another can in the back of our gasoline-powered car—no more squeegees and water (of questionable cleanliness) for us!

This won't work well if you've got a large SUV, though, as you need to be able to reach across at least half the width and the full height of the windshield…another reason to stick with sedans!

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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Two recommended apps for Tesla owners

If you're a Tesla owner, perhaps you'll find these apps as useful as I have…

The first is a macOS app called Tesla Tunes that overcomes some limitations of Tesla's USB music player: It automatically converts Apple Lossless (which the Tesla can't play) into FLAC, which the Tesla can play, and it offers some rudimentary support for playlists, which aren't supported at all in Tesla's player.

It's quite old, having been last updated two years ago, but it still works well—I prefer USB to streaming over Bluetooth from my phone, which is the other option.

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An oddity with Photos and camera lens information

The other day, I was working on some Smart Albums in Photos, adding a Smart Album for each of the lenses I use with my FUJIFILM X-E3 camera. This seemed like a simple task; each Smart Album just needed to check two conditions:

Camera Model is X-E3 [and] Lens is 16.0 mm f/2.8 (as one example)

But after creating my Smart Albums, I noticed that some photos were missing, so I did a bit of experimenting. What I found was that Photos showed different values for the Lens field—even when the same lens was used on the same camera. Here's an example:

The only difference between those two photos is that one was taken in RAW mode, the other in one of my camera's JPEG modes.

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