Review: Plantronics Voyager Focus UC

When I started my new job, I was issued a MacBook Pro, an Acer monitor, an Apple wired keyboard, a cheapo mouse, and a few other things including a USB headset for use with Lync, i.e. Skype for Business. There was also a desk phone next to my computer that I haven’t figured out the purpose as Lync lets me make phone calls. I brought in my own trackpad to replace the mouse and I was pretty much set. However, after a few conference calls with the USB headset, I asked my manager for something better; he and others had the Plantronics Voyager Focus UC. He ordered me one and it arrived this week. The headset isn’t cheap (list price is $299), but I soon began to understand the high cost.

I quickly setup the headset, plugged in the Bluetooth adapter, installed the Mac software (it’s kind of mediocre), reconfigured Lync to use the headset and I was off and running. I also paired it with my phone to play music. After a few hours with the headset (including a conference call), I was hooked. When you take the headset off, the music pauses; when you’re on a Lync call, the LED on the Bluetooth adapter turns red; if you try to talk when the headset is on mute, you get an alert on the computer telling you that you are trying to talk and the most important feature is the active noise cancelling (ANC). When I put on the headset and turned on the ANC, all the noise of the office were drowned out and I had some peace and quiet.

For the first few weeks of work, I didn’t listen to music and suffered through the noise. Since I got the headset, I’ve been listening to music almost all the time and have been able to get in the “groove” of my work even forgetting how long I’ve been sitting (good thing my Apple Watch reminds me to stand up!). In addition to listening to music, the conference calls have been crystal clear. I’m not quite sure what I would need in a headset.

Pros

  • Active voice cancellation works well.
  • Integrates well with Lync/Skype on the Mac. (Look for the -M version)
  • Pairs easily with my iPhone and switches between Mac voice and iPhone music.
  • Sound quality is very good for voice calls and music quality isn’t bad.
  • Controls are easy to access on the sides.
  • When you remove the headset, music pauses; when you put them back on, the music continues.

Cons

  • The cost is much higher than any headset I’ve ever used.
  • The Mac software is subpar; there is a menubar item, but you have to hide the main window otherwise the menubar item goes away.
  • If you set the output from the Mac to be the headset and are playing music, the music stops and plays alerts and then plays the music again. I expected the music to “duck” and then come back, but it is abrupt.
  • Extended wearing of the headset causes slight discomfort.
  • Sometimes a little static that seems to go away despite being less than a foot from the Bluetooth adapter.

Summary

After only a few days of using the headset, I’ve been contemplating buying a pair for my home office (at some point I’ll be able to work from home sometimes). Even though I could move the headset home, the convenience of having one would be worth the money. Without having used the headset for a few days, there is absolutely no way that I’d plunk down this kind of money on something unseen. However, now that I’ve had time to use the headset, I should have bought this headset even if I just wanted to use them with my phone. I was on so many calls at my last job, that having these would have been a huge win for me. When I was told to buy a good headset for calls, I bought a cheap Bluetooth headset that crackles; I should have spent company money on something like this!

If you spend a lot of time on calls in an office, I’d definitely recommend this headset. If you’re using Lync (Skype for Business), even better.

Guest Network with EdgeRouter Lite and UniFi Access Points, Take 3!

I’ve written about guest networks with UniFi Access Points twice before and since I’ve written those articles, the UniFi software has just gotten better and better. My instructions are close to no longer being needed, but not quite. In the latest versions of the UniFi controller (5.x), Ubiquiti has fixed issues with network slowdowns when turning on the guest network. This has excellent news and really simplifies the configuration.

For this post, I’m going to reuse some of my pictures and steps as I don’t like to duplicate my work!

Start on the EdgeRouter Lite and do the following:

  1. On the EdgeRouter Lite’s Dashboard, click Add Interface and select VLAN.

  2. Set up the VLAN as 1003 and attach it to the physical interface of your LAN. Give it an IP address in the range of a private IP block, but make sure you end it in a /24 to specify the proper subnet. (Make sure it is different than your normal private IP block.)

  3. Click on the Services tab. Click Add DHCP Server. Set it up similar to the image below.

  4. Click on the DNS tab under services. Click Add Listen interface and select the VLAN interface. Make sure you hit save.

Now it’s time to move over to the UniFi Controller.

  1. After you login to the controller, click the Settings in the lower left.
    Screen Shot 2016 07 13 at 8 17 52 PM

  2. Click Networks.
    Screen Shot 2016 07 13 at 8 19 41 PM

  3. Click Create New Network
    Screen Shot 2016 07 13 at 8 20 23 PM

  4. Setup the network as indicated in the next image and then click Save.
    Screen Shot 2016 07 13 at 8 22 35 PM

  5. Select User Groups on the left side.
    Screen Shot 2016 07 13 at 8 30 17 PM

  6. Click Create New User Group.
    Screen Shot 2016 07 13 at 8 31 01 PM

  7. Enter appropriate values to limit upload and download.
    Screen Shot 2016 07 13 at 8 31 57 PM

  8. Select Wireless Networks on the left side.
    Screen Shot 2016 07 13 at 8 24 32 PM

  9. Click Create New Wireless Network.
    Screen Shot 2016 07 13 at 8 26 10 PM

  10. Configure the network similar to the next picture. Of course, set a password that isn’t bullets!
    Screen Shot 2016 07 13 at 8 28 42 PM

  11. Select Guest Control on the left side.
    Screen Shot 2016 07 13 at 8 34 03 PM

  12. Configure the guest access how you find appropriate. Since I already have a WPA2 password, I just put in no authentication and some basic text. The important part of this screen is access control at the bottom. This area basically isolates guest clients from connecting to your LAN. In my prior configurations, I had to do this at the router level. This is much simpler and cleaner to setup.
    Screen Shot 2016 07 13 at 8 35 54 PM

Now you can test this by connecting to the guest network and accessing the Internet. On my network, I now get a captive portal; nothing fancy, but it’s kind of cool.

Screen Shot 2016 07 13 at 8 38 06 PM

Then try connecting to a device on your LAN or connecting to the EdgeRouter Lite. Both actions should fail.

I know that there are a lot of steps to configure this, but they’re not that difficult and you only have to do it once!

I’ve tested this and it is working well on my network; if I’ve missed anything, please let me know!

This configuration is much cleaner than my previous 2 attempts as most of the configuration is in the UniFi Controller. I’ll be writing one last follow up on this topic when I swap out my EdgeRouter Lite for a UniFi Security Gateway (USG). While the EdgeRouter Lite is a great box, the USG is basically the same hardware, but all configuration is done through the UniFi Controller. I’m not quite ready to do the swap (I have one sitting on my shelf that Ubiquiti sent to me) as I’m waiting for the UniFi Controller to add a few more features like static DHCP assignments, static DNS entries, and IPv6 support (all via the GUI; this can already be done on the command line).

Did I find my next new car?

In January, I wrote that I’ve delayed my decision to buy a new car. Last weekend I had some car trouble where my car wouldn’t start and had to deal with it. My son asked me if I was going to get a new car and I said no; I’d just get it repaired. However, I decided to look at Apple’s CarPlay site and pursued the list of cars that support it. None of the typical American cars like Ford or Chevy interested me and I am not getting a Ferrari! I saw that the 2017 Subaru Impreza will support it. At the auto show, I saw the Impreza and it was a decent looking car. It didn’t have CarPlay and wasn’t a plugin hybrid. Now that it will have CarPlay, I’ve decided to take another look. Plugin hybrids are kind of the neglected step child of car manufacturers; it’s either hybrid or electric which kind of concerns me in terms of reliability and support. I’m going to forego the plugin hybrid for now and that should open up my search.

I found a few sites offering first looks as well as Subaru’s own “sneak peak”. It appears that the loaded package will have some interesting tech besides CarPlay. EyeSight® is a system that helps prevent collisions, notifies the driver if he (or she) drifts, as well as can work with the cruise control. Also, it has blind spot detection, cross traffic backup alerts, and high beam assist. In addition, it finally has a power adjustable driver’s seat. So it would appear that the car (on the surface) has many of the features that I’d want in my next car.

On top of all the features, if the pricing remains similar to the 2016, the car would actually be affordable. EPA estimates for the 2016 are about 50% higher than my current vehicle which would be immediately noticeable as I am now driving a lot more for my commute. Subaru says that the car will be available in the later half of this year. Now I just wait so that I can give the car a test drive and see if it is the vehicle for me.

I’m crossing my fingers!

Commuting

In the last 4 weeks, I’ve commuted more than I have in the last 17 years. I’m starting to get used to the routine; the 30 minute drive each day isn’t too bad, but it is an hour out of my day that I can’t get back. I know that people commute everyday, but it is new to me.

My commute is against traffic which lets me get to work easily; no matter how fast I go, it takes me just about 30 minutes. On the way home, I pay for using the carpool lane (FasTrak) and while the cost varies depending on a number of factors, it is absolutely worth it for my sanity to not to have to sit in traffic. Like my drive to work, my drive home is about 30 minutes no matter what.

At some point I hope to work from home a few days a week. This will allow me to recover an hour each day I work from home and I think will help me more productive.

I wonder what would happen if people that could work remotely did so a few times a week. The office interaction is good, but I believe there can be a balance that affords people some of the benefits I’ve taken for granted most of my career.

My New Adventure

When I was laid off, people kept telling me that there was nothing to worry about and take some time for myself. For the first few weeks, I tried to heed the advice and took it easy while at the same time leisurely looking for a job. I treated the first month as the sabbatical that I didn’t have the opportunity to enjoy and managed to make it through my inbox, my todo list, and ran out of things to do around the house.

After about a month, I started to get antsy as I’d never been away from a job for that long in my 20+ year career. I applied for a few jobs, but didn’t hear back on most of them. This had me quite nervous even though I knew I didn’t have to get a job for awhile. Would I be able to find a job? Would I have to take the first job offered to me even if it wasn’t the job i wanted? Would I have the motivation to start working again?

This period of unemployment also had me thinking about what happens for older workers; all of their experience comes at a higher price tag and many companies aren’t willing to pay for it. I don’t consider myself an older worker (however, the federal laws about employment consider older workers over 40, I believe), but when I started talking to people and explained that I have 20 years in mobile app development, I started to date myself.

My job search, luckily, only took about 6 weeks from the time I was laid off (actually it was a total of about 10 weeks as I started even before I was told I was being laid off). I saw a job posting for a mobile architect and decided to apply even though the job description was vague. After talking with the recruiter, I felt like the job was perfect for me based on my experience. My interviews went well and the rest is history!

User Experience vs User Interface Design

Once upon a time, I claimed that I could do UI design of applications. This was back in the Newton and Palm OS days where the apps didn’t do a whole lot and the developer guides had pretty clear guidelines that everyone followed. For Palm OS, it even had the number of pixels from the edges for buttons which made it quite easy to know exactly where to place objects.

Moving forward 20 years, it is clear to me that I can follow guidelines, but I need help designing an interface. This is where I’ve learned a ton working with professionals that do design. So far I’m being vague about what I mean by design, because I think that there is a clear misunderstanding of what is mobile design (or application design in general).

There are 2 main areas that I see referenced in mobile design. They are User Interface (UI) and User Experience (UX). While they sound very similar and some people treat them the same, they are very, very different. I’ve had the opportunity to work with a very talented individual that makes both look easy and has taught me the differences.

In general terms (at least to me), user experience is how the user navigates through an app, uses the features, and generally interacts with it. User interface is about drawing the pretty pictures, identifying the typefaces for styling, and picking the colors. In working with a designer on our team, I saw how he meticulously mapped out how everything would work in the application by putting together flowcharts of what every button would do, how you got back somewhere, what was the recovery for every error, how it interacted with hardware, what to do while the user was waiting for a network operation to finish, etc. The actual user interface was secondary to the user experience; for the most part we used standard controls, a standard color palette, etc. This type of design really impressed me as our designer identified so many things that are easy to ignore when simply writing an app. (How many apps just display “Error” with a number with no way to recover from it?)

On the flip side, I worked on a project where the designers were user interface designers trying to do both UX and UI design. Their UX design made the app hard to use, didn’t consider different screen sizes, didn’t consider navigation, didn’t consider how to display data that wasn’t in their sample, and was really about how pretty they could make it look. This frustrated me to no end as they wanted all kinds of custom interactions that would require end user training and were hard to use. In addition, they didn’t consider dynamic typefaces which I feel are important in consumer apps as people like me increase the type sizes to make the text easier to read. I pushed back on some of it and made the app work the best I could. I’m definitely not any type of designer, but having been in this business long enough, I know what doesn’t work!

As a user of apps, I find that a good user experience is paramount for me wanting to keep using an app. However, without an appealing visual appearance, I probably won’t enjoy looking at an app. Keeping these ideas in mind makes killer apps. I feel quite lucky to have worked with a designer that has taught me so much about design; I think that seeing how he did the design and how he considered all the interactions will be a huge benefit to me in the future when I work on new apps.

Non Standard iOS Navigation

In my years of being an iOS developer and user, I’ve seen a lot of apps that try to come up with their own ways of doing navigation that don’t follow Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines. Over this time, Apple has changed their guidelines, but usually don’t adopt some of the concepts that apps have inflicted on us.

I do most of my news reading on my iPad (and sometimes on my iPhone), so I’ve taken a look at the different news apps. Some people pan Apple’s News, however it is one of the easiest to use, has consistent navigation, and has a number of hidden features that make it convenient to use. For example, you can scroll up and down using the arrow keys on an iPad Pro keyboard, scroll page by page using option and the arrow keys and navigate back from an article using command and the left arrow key.

Using News, I’m able to take care of my tech, national and world news craving. So that leaves local news. The local news apps seem to shun standard navigation. One app uses an X in the upper which seems more cutesy than useful. If you’re browsing away with an iPad on a stand, you get used to swiping to the right to go back or at worst, tapping the back arrow.

X for close

This is pretty annoying; using the same app on the iPhone is worse because it prevents one handed news browsing. You have to reach up and hit the X button. The X for close is very much a desktop metaphor.

If we take a look at another news app, they at least kept the back button in the upper left, but because they want to show other articles, you can’t swipe right to go back.

Left Hand Navigation

I keep asking myself if the designers and developers use these apps or have done user studies (it’s hard for me to use a lot of apps I’ve worked on because they don’t apply to me, especially enterprise apps). Just watching a user use the app gives huge insight into what can be improved. One of the best experiences I had in the last year was watching someone use one of my apps; this was an enterprise app and thing that I thought were obvious weren’t obvious to the user.

By sticking to standard design paradigms as well as the Apple Human Interface Guidelines reduces user frustration, decreases training time (especially in enterprise apps) and increase the time that people use the apps.