Review: Ryobi Hobby Station (and a missed opportunity)

I love having the right tools for the job whether it is software tools or physical tools to tackle projects around the house. As I’ve mentioned before, I really like the Ryobi 18V One+ line of tools. I have a number of the tools and keep adding to my collection. While the tools may not be contractor grade, they are more than enough for my uses.

Last year they announced a number of new tools in their collection including a new Power Source that can charge batteries from USB-C as well as power USB-C devices. Unfortunately the product isn’t available and I check Ryobi’s website every few days to see if the "Coming Soon" button changes to "Buy Now".

A few weeks ago when I was checking the site, I noticed the Hobby Station which takes on of Ryobi’s rotary tools and turns it into a drill press and holds the tool making it easier to use. This was a little expensive for what it was, but I decided to order it. Even though I don’t own any of the rotary tools that Ryobi says works with it, I though that I might be able to use my P460 Rotary Tool Station with it if I screwed off the top housing. What I didn’t realize at the time is that the diameter of that housing and the diameter of the tools that are designed to work with the station are different.

The Hobby Station arrived and I quickly set it up. When I put the tool in the holder, I found my mistake where the tool was too small. However, that didn’t deter me. I screwed the tool in place and it gripped the rubber and seemed fairly secure. Perfect, I didn’t have to return it!

Hobby Station
Hobby Station with rotary tool

Later I thought about the main nut holding the tool in place digging into the rubber and didn’t like it. So I looked for a reducer bushing and thought I found an irrigation one at Home Depot, but realized that the threads probably wouldn’t match. Not deterred by this, I asked my son if he could design a part and I could 3D print it. After a number of test prints, we had a working bushing! While it isn’t an exact fit, the plastic is soft enough that the threads of the tools can dig into it and provide a fairly tight fit.

Reducer Bushing

Now that I had a working hobby station, what do I think? For starters, the drill press has limited utility. With my solution, there is a bit of wiggle in the tool and frankly, how often have I needed a drill press? The station does hold the tool and make it easier for me to just hold the working piece. The angle adjustment is somewhat useful as I can see myself using it facing straight down or at a 90 degree angle. I don’t know how much I’ll use the fence that comes with it or use the vacuum attachment.

Rotary tool in hobby station

Pros

  • Convenient way to hold a rotary tool
  • Flexible angles to hold tool
  • Appears well made

Cons

  • Only works with some rotary tools
  • Drill press has limited utility
  • Over priced

Summary
This tool is definitely over priced and has limited utility for many people. It isn’t a precision instrument which is needed for a drill press. It does seem like it is built solidly and will work for my needs; holding the rotary tool while I work on something is very useful for me.

Unfortunately I can’t recommend this to others; I will keep mine, but there are probably better solutions out there. If Ryobi had included a reducer bushing to fit their other rotary tools, it may have been a more compelling purchase and would definitely increase potential buyers.

Review: Costco Optical

I’ve been wearing glasses or contacts since I was about 12. As I’ve aged, my eyes have gotten worse and my glasses prescription has become more complex. For the last 20 years or so, I’ve bought my glasses from the optician associated with my optometrist or ophthalmologist. Vision insurance paid for some of the cost, but had to be used at certain locations. Even with insurance, my glasses cost a lot so I had to wait every 2 years before getting a new pair; I believe my last pair of glasses cost over $600 out of pocket with insurance picking up about the same. That’s just crazy for a pair of glasses!

My parents have been using Costco Optical for years and have generally been satisfied with them. This year after my eye exam, I wasn’t eligible for insurance to cover anything on my glasses, so I decided to try out Costco. My ophthalmologist warned me about their lenses and said they weren’t as good as the ones her optician sold. How many companies actually manufacture lenses? I know that Luxottica basically has corned the market on vision insurance, frames, lenses and retail outlets! I figured I didn’t have much to risk trying out Costco; they do have their own lab in Chula Vista (south of San Diego) and computers do most of the work grinding the lenses.

A few weeks ago, we went to Eyeglass World to buy my son new glasses (he wanted the same ones he already had so that was easy). My wife and I looked at frames and they had a decent selection of frames. Going through the numbers, 2 pair of glasses for me (regular glasses and computer glasses) would have been $700, I believe. We decided to visit Costco to see what they could do. Costco’s frame selection isn’t as large, but we both managed to find frames that we liked. I found "designer" Oakley frames that were about $85 (frame only) vs the standard frames that ran about $50; definitely lower priced than other places, but the frame price is only a small fraction of the cost of a pair of glasses for me.

My wife picked out sunglasses and regular glasses; I picked regular and computer glasses. Both of us have pretty bad eyes and need progressive lenses in high index material that tends to drive up the price. I like transitions (darkening) in my regular glasses so that adds to the cost. By the time we were done with our glasses, it cost us $700 for 4 pair of glasses (my wife had about $150 in insurance benefit)! Wow, after we paid I told my wife that if the glasses work out, there will never be a reason for me to wait for insurance to kick in to buy new ones!

I’ve been wearing the glasses for a few weeks now and it took a little getting used to the computer glasses (the other glasses are about the same prescription as my last ones). I’m pretty impressed with them; I can see well and I really like the frames. The optician I went to had 1 or 2 men’s styles and nothing like what I got. I’m really kind of surprised how much I like my glasses. They seem well made and the prescription seems on target.

Pros

  • Excellent price
  • Backed by Costco
  • 90 day guarantee to make it right (i.e. wrong prescription, made wrong, etc.)

Cons

  • Limited selection of frames
  • Limited choices on lens options (Costco offered 2 types of Transitions; Eyeglass World offered 4 including 1 that would change while driving)

Summary
If you wear glasses and need new ones, I would definitely check out Costco. The price is truly amazing and I couldn’t be happier with the quality of the lenses.

Does privacy really exist?

The other day my wife and I were talking about the Live scan requirement for AB 506 that I’ll have to do as I’m a Scout leader even though I have been live scanned before to renew my EMT certification once. Live scan is done on a per organization/company basis and is a snapshot in time making it somewhat pointless in my opinion.

My wife suggested that the live scan results aren’t shared because of privacy concerns which got me thinking about how much privacy most people can have in today’s society.

Whether you like it or not, you’re being tracked by the government and various companies. For instance, every time you use a credit card, the date/time, location, and name of the vendor is tracked by the credit card company. While it may be to help prevent fraud, they can build a pretty detailed picture of you just based on your buying habits. Likewise if you have a club card at a super market or shop at Costco, you can bet the data is being used to target you for ads.

Many people don’t realize that they’ve accepted this "invasion" of privacy as they have to sacrifice it for convenience. In addition to your shopping habits, if you own your house it does not take much to figure out where you live.

Let’s get into the more subtle ways you’re being tracked. I just read an article the other day how many law enforcement agencies in San Diego county are using License Plate Readers (LPR) which can give law enforcement a decent idea of your driving habits if you happen to pass by the readers (some are on police cars and others may be stationary). LPR is not just used by law enforcement. The University Town Center mall uses LPR in its parking garages so you can exit without having to insert your ticket in the machine. If you frequent the mall, your habits are being tracked.

If you think that your ad blocker and turning off location services on your cell phone prevent you from being tracked, you’re mistaken. Cell phone companies can know which cell towers your phone hits as it is required in order to route calls to you. Do they keep that data and do something with it? I have no idea, but it is quite possible and not just some made up stuff seen in TV shows.

Do you have a car with "connected services" in it? You’re being tracked. While you can ask the company to turn off all services, you lose the ability to have collision notification, vehicle theft recovery and some other features. In order to have the convenience and safety of these features, your location is being tracked. I have no idea what the car manufacturers are doing with this data, but they’re collecting it. Even if you don’t subscribe to the services and don’t explicitly opt-out, they still may collect the data as the cost to keep a live cellular connection in your car is minor compared to what they can do with your data.

Don’t forget about your Netflix or Amazon Prime history. When and where you watch a show along with what the show is can be valuable data that forms a picture of who you are and what you do.

Is there anything you can do about staying private? I suppose you could always pay cash, stop using a cell phone, drive a car without connected services (or rip out the cellular connection), avoid all places with LPR, etc. Is this practical, not really? Does this mean you should just give up on privacy? I don’t think so, but you have to be realistic on what you can control and how much will it inconvenience you.

Personally I’m not going to change my habits, but I am very cognizant of what I post, when I post it (posting stuff on vacation could give a clue that I’m away from home), and how much I share. That’s really all I can do without wearing a tin foil hat and living off the grid.

The Promise of Wireless CarPlay

I’ve been a huge fan of CarPlay for 5 years and can’t imagine a car without it. Lately I’ve been reading about adapters to make wired CarPlay into wireless CarPlay. This sounded perfect as I wouldn’t have to take my phone out of my pocket and still be able to use CarPlay.

There are a number of devices out there that are basically hacks that make a car think that a wired device is plugged in and then have the iPhone talk wirelessly to it. None of how to do this is public knowledge and I doubt the manufacturers got Apple to reveal the secret sauce, so I knew things might not be perfect.

I decided on this device as it was small and supposedly had the latest hardware version. Installation was a breeze and I was amazed that it worked just like wired CarPlay except that there was maybe an additional 15 second startup time. Given the convenience of not having to plug in the phone, I could accept the delay.

I happily used the device for a few weeks on short trips around town and was pretty pleased with it. When we went on a longer trip, the device restarted after about 90 minutes. The dongle was warm to the touch and I suspect a big heat sink would mitigate the problem. In addition to restarting after awhile, the music was sounding garbled. At first I thought it was the streaming connection, but plugged in the phone and the issue went away.

One of the interesting, lesser known features of CarPlay is that if you have a garage door opener connected to HomeKit (I now use OpenGarage connected via Home Assistant, a button will appear on CarPlay when you are close to your house that lets you open and close the door. Why not just use the opener in your car, you ask? My wife has had a lot of problems with the HomeLink connected mirror triggering the door and kept sending me messages to open or close the garage. This feature, however, wasn’t working reliably with wireless CarPlay and I couldn’t pinpoint the problem.

After a bit of thinking about HomeKit and wireless CarPlay, I have a theory. HomeKit, when away from home uses a hub such as an Apple TV or HomePod Mini to communicate. When you’re on your local network, your phone talks directly to whatever device. Wireless CarPlay uses Bluetooth to setup a connection from the phone to the car (or device) and then switches to WiFi for the extra bandwidth. The car (or device) creates a private WiFi network for communication. Normally when apps talk to the network, they’ll try to use the primary interface (WiFi usually) and then failover to cellular if needed. When using wireless CarPlay, the WiFi connection always will fail and have to failover to cellular. This causes some delay and may be a bit unreliable depending on how long it takes to failover. Apple has an option called Wi-Fi Assist that is supposed to handle this automatically.

So while wireless CarPlay is a great feature, the dongle I purchased had some issues, but what really caused me to return it was opening the garage door; I was just tired of pushing the door button and not having it work.

Frustration with Wireless Service, Who would have thought?

[What follows is a rant about AT&T. If you only want to read my positive and useful posts, please come back for another entry another day.]

I’m not your average consumer when it comes to cellular service. I’ve been working with cellular phones for almost 25 years and worked for QUALCOMM for 4 years on a variety of projects. We’ve been on the same AT&T plan for a number of years now (12 GB of data per month for 2 lines) and thought that was adequate. Recently I saw our usage creep up mostly due to the use of Apple Music. I looked at switching to an unlimited plan and the way to get the best rate was to get a teacher discount as my wife is a teacher. Simple, or so I thought.

In order to get the discount, the account has to be in my wife’s name. I called AT&T to find out how to do this The person I spoke to said that my wife had to be around and we could do it over the phone. No problem, I’d call back when my wife was around. A few days later I called back when my wife was around and was told that I could do the transfer online and the link was emailed to me. I started the process to do it which was straight forward. I got through to the point where my wife was emailed the link to do the transfer (the email was sent to a new address so I had to bother her less). I entered all the information for her to accept responsibility on the account and it got to the credit check part. I pushed the button, but the credit check failed because our credit is frozen. I unfroze her credit on all 3 credit reporting agencies and tried again. No luck. Same cryptic error message. I tried a few more times. The next day I called AT&T and when I explained the situation, I was told that I had to wait 24 hours after unfreezing the credit to try again (the credit reporting agencies say after 15 minutes the credit is unfrozen and that has been my experience in the past). OK, I waited 2 days and tried again. Nope.

Last Monday I called AT&T when my wife was home and the first time, the call got disconnected (no idea why, but things happen). The next time, I spoke with a really nice woman who worked with me, tried the transfer, spoke to my wife, and eventually got in contact with the fraud/credit department (or whatever it is called) and got the approval to finish the transfer. After about an hour, everything was transferred over. I hoped I was done, but I wasn’t. On a side note, it doesn’t appear that they actually did a hard pull on her credit.

After the transfer was all set, I went online, created a new account and linked it to the new account number. Here’s kind of where the second part of the mess began. I turned on paperless billing and setup autopay. I went through the process to add the teacher discount and my wife got confirmation on her work email that it was setup. The online account set my watch as the phone number for account recovery; of course I can’t receive calls at that number because of NumberSync and my attempts to change it failed due to my old account using the same number (my old online account actually had no wireless accounts associated with it). I decided to punt on this for awhile.

Now I had 2 online accounts and really wanted to ditch the old one as it was useless, but it used my phone number as the login (in addition to an email address). The account showed NumberSync for my phone and watch. I made the mistake of unsyncing my watch thinking that it would remove all traces of the wireless accounts from that online account. That was a really stupid move as it actually removed the watch from the wireless account (remember this online account doesn’t actually have access to my wireless account). So I used my phone and tried to setup my watch again. It failed a number of times and at one point it setup a completely new number/account for it. After a number of tries, I called AT&T and while speaking with the rep, my watch was able to sync again. I ask the rep to verify that there were only 4 lines on my account (2 phones, 1 watch and 1 hotspot).

Since I’m a bit paranoid about all this working, I checked my account yesterday. Turns out I had 5 lines on the account; there were 2 watches! Huh? How is it possible to have 2 lines for the same physical device (ignore the devices that have 2 eSIMs)? I called AT&T and reached their offshore tech support and quickly got frustrated because the woman was not all that helpful as I simply wanted to cancel a line and demanded that I speak to a supervisor. I was transferred to a US based support person (note to self, always request a supervisor as my experience with offshore tech support has been poor at best).

The support person I spoke with asked what number I wanted to cancel. I replied that I had no idea because I can’t directly call the watch. I gave her the IMEI of the watch, but presumably she had that listed for BOTH watch accounts. Eventually she was able to remove the watch line that didn’t have recent activity. While I was on the line, I saw in 1 place on the website it said I had paperless billing and wanted to verify that. The rep said that paper billing was active and I had that changed to paperless (that’s a $10/line per month discount with AutoPay); not sure why the website showed it was on when it wasn’t. Then I checked to make sure AutoPay was on as the website was now showing it was off; it was actually on. To top off all of this, I verified that the teacher discount was active. It wasn’t! I had actually gone through the process TWICE before and my wife received confirmation on her work email that it was active. The rep added the discount and on the account I actually now see "Teacher appreciation" which is good.

Where does that leave me? Throughout last week, I’ve been threatening to just switch to Verizon as they offer a teacher discount as well. They also offer a first responder discount which I’m qualified for as I’m a certified Emergency Medical Technician (EMT); AT&T’s first responder discount requires me to work for or volunteer for an agency which I don’t. The Verizon unlimited plans are similar to AT&T, but slightly more expensive. Would Verizon give me better support? My AT&T coverage is fine and we’ve had service through them ever since I got an iPhone 6 (and had them a few times before that). Up until this week, I really haven’t had any complaints, but the utter frustration of trying to switch plans and get the teacher discount have made me consider the switch more than once.

While trying to work through this, I visited my AT&T account many times only to have different, incomprehensible error messages presented to me. In addition, I was taken to different links and some help entries gave wrong information about where to find things. The site is extremely slow to load (it isn’t my network) and I kept seeing the loading image every time I navigate to anything. I stumbled upon the Customer Service Summary and it said that my monthly bill was going to be $250 per month! Holy cow. After a search, I found a Reddit thread talking about this and my experience is right in line with others. The summary, however, did show me that AT&T didn’t think I had paperless billing (the website said I did have it). While I’m at it, I got a text message to my hotspot telling me that paperless billing was activated. Huh? Why did my hotspot get a message as it isn’t my primary number (it is interesting that it does get text messages)? The icing on the cake is that I’ve received maybe 15-20 email messages confirming my email address.

Does AT&T care? Probably not. Did they offer me a credit for all the time I spent with this fiasco? Nope. I am probably going to send a letter to the CEO of AT&T to let him know what average customers like me think of their service. I suspect it won’t change anything, but will make me feel better.

The bottom line is that wireless plans and billing systems are so complex and probably so antiquated that anything other than a person signing up from scratch is bound not to work properly. What I’ve done can’t be all that uncommon, can it be? I’m sure if AT&T worked to make their systems more reliable, not throw strange errors and let people handle more things on their own, they could cut down on support. Must be cheaper to just offshore the support than to try to fix the systems. For a fee, I’m available to find things wrong with their systems.

Fixing Display Issues on iPad with HDMI out

Several years ago when Apple released Macs with USB-C connectors, there seemed to be a lot of talk about needing a bunch of dongles to connect things. When I got my first USB-C based Mac, I only had 2 dongles and was content. Over time, I saw various USB-C hubs that had multiple USB-A ports, power delivery, Ethernet and HDMI out. I bought one and used it for everything except the HDMI out as I use an old Thunderbolt Display.

When I bought my 2018 iPad Pro with USB-C, I tried the hub on it, but was told by the support folks that the iPad Pro wasn’t fully supported; I guess the power delivery didn’t work properly. It would have been nice for it to work, but it didn’t really matter to me at the time.

Earlier this year I saw a sale on the Plugable 7-in-1 USB-C hub that had all the ports I’d ever need into SD card slots (I had been working a bit with SD cards at the time, so that seemed convenient). I used the hub with my 2017 MacBook Pro without issues, but never tested the HDMI output as I rarely took my machine anywhere.

Last month we were getting ready to go on a trip and I decided to check the hub to see if I could connect my iPad Pro to our TV in case we wanted to watch a show. The Plugable hub was advertised as iPad Pro compatible, so I had no reason to think it wouldn’t work. When I plugged it in, all the colors were messed up. I plugged in my MacBook Air and it didn’t have any problems.

Messed up display colors

I contacted Plugable’s support and they assured me it was compatible and started going through troubleshooting steps. For our trip, I brought the Plugable adapter as well as my older adapter that didn’t have the same problem. When we wanted to watch a show, I decided to try the Plugable hub and much to my surprise, it worked fine. I sent my findings along with the model number of the TV in our room and thought maybe it was a 4K vs 1080p issue.

When we got home, I tried a few more troubleshooting steps that were recommended to me and didn’t see any change. After much Internet searching, I discovered that when you plug an HDMI display into the iPad Pro, an extra option appears in Displays & Brightness for the display. Under connected displays, there is my TV, the 55R617.

Tapping on the option brought up 3 choices for Preferred Display Setting with the checked one being Dolby Vision. I selected the second option (High Dynamic Range) and boom, the picture problem cleared up!

Preferred Display Setting

I relayed this information to Plugable support and the person I was working with commended me on my sleuthing and said that was exactly the issue as the chipset used in the hub didn’t support Dolby Vision (extra licensing for it) and offered me a refund if I wanted it. I told him it wasn’t necessary (support was great and would definitely recommend their products) as I just wanted to make sure I knew how to work around the issue when I traveled.

Now I can just bring 1 hub for both my iPad Pro and my MacBook Air when I travel and hook up either device to a TV if needed. As long as I remember to bring an HDMI cable (it’s on my packing list), we should be good to watch our own content when we travel.

My Take on the M1 MacBook Air

Years ago Mac laptops were getting so much better every year that I was on a 2-3 year cycle for upgrading my machine. The performance increases helped with my productivity as it reduced compile times for my work. This increase slowed dramatically in the last decade and I stopped buying new machines so often.

When the Retina MacBook Pro was released (2012), I got a fairly loaded one (quad core i7, 16 GB RAM, 512 GB SSD). This machine was a workhorse for me for 5 years. In 2017, I bought a new 15" MacBook Pro that was kind of a mid range machine that was still a quad core i7, but had a higher clock speed. It definitely was faster, but for being 5 years newer, I really had expected more. In any case, I gave my 2012 machine to my wife (she says she doesn’t mind getting older hardware as long as it works; does she really mean it? I hope so!).

For a few years, the 2012 machine has had an indicator saying that the battery needs service, but it can still be used. We’ve ignored that for awhile as it mostly stays connected to power. Two weeks ago, the machine restarted a few times while my wife was using it to teach. My theory was that the battery was on its last legs and when the MagSafe adapter got knocked out, it lost power and restarted. That might not quite be the issue, but started me thinking about what to do with it. We had basically 2 options; option 1 was to replace the battery myself using a battery from iFixit or buy a new computer.

I’ve opened up machines before and replacing a battery should be doable. However, this machine has the battery glued in and was rated as a hard to replace. If anything went wrong, the machine was basically toast. A friend of mine saw a technician replace the battery and advised me against it. Apple put the machine on its obsolete list last year so Apple wouldn’t touch it and authorized repair centers couldn’t get Apple parts for it; so if I wasn’t going to replace the battery, who would? If the battery wasn’t the problem, getting it serviced would be near impossible. It would also be throwing money at a very old computer (9 years is a pretty long life for a laptop).

The second option of buying a new computer was the easier option, but far more expensive. My wife didn’t care if I got a new machine and she got my 2017 machine or if we got her a new machine. I asked a few friends what they would do and the answers ranged from don’t buy an M1 machine now because it is a first generation to loving his M1 MacBook Air. I had shied away from the MacBook Air for me in the past because they had been underpowered and I thought the screens were too small. These days I use an 11" iPad Pro often and don’t use my laptop all that often without it being connected to an external display, so I would be OK with the 13" display and the differences between the Air and the 13" MacBook Pro were relatively minor that I’d save a few dollars by going with the Air.

I decided to get a new M1 based MacBook Air and my wife would get the 2017 machine. While she didn’t care, I justified me getting the new machine thinking that if there were any problems with the M1, it would be better that I had them than she did as the computer is just a tool for her and she doesn’t like futzing with technology.

The machine I picked up was a 16 GB/1TB/8 GPU M1 MacBook Air. Of course I bought AppleCare+ with it as I now buy AppleCare+ on just about every Apple product that is portable. This was the least I’ve spent on a laptop (in raw, non-adjusted dollars) in a long time; did I make the right decision? Would the machine be able to handle my daily work?

After setting up the machine, I worked on getting my projects to build. While they built fine for an iOS device, they wouldn’t build for the iOS simulator due to a different simulator architecture. Unfortunately there are a few 3rd party libraries I use that I don’t have source for and needed a workaround until the libraries are updated. I did a bunch of searching and found the answer:

EXCLUDED_ARCHS[sdk=iphonesimulator*] = arm64

That magic line in my project (as well as sub projects) got me going again. A full build of one project on the M1 machine was 42 seconds; on my 2017 machine it was 1 minute 24 seconds. Wow! That’s some pretty impressive performance.

The next part of getting setup was getting a Ruby on Rails project setup. Luckily Homebrew has many packages compiled for the M1, so I installed that, Ruby and some other pieces. Unfortunately it took me about a week to figure out that I had to change the version of a library to the latest as someone committed changes to build on the M1.

I took the machine on a trip last week and I absolutely love the size and weight! Even though it is a lot smaller than my 15" machine, the screen is easy to read. The keyboard is excellent and the machine performs well in everything I’ve thrown at it. While it only has 2 Thunderbolt/USB-C ports, that’s not a problem. I have 1 connected to a Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt adapter for my Thunderbolt Display and the second is connected to a USB-C hub that has a few USB-A ports, SD Card reader and power delivery.

Up until yesterday I hadn’t restarted the machine since I got it, but have had 3 kernel panics since then which is concerning to me. I’m not sure if it is related to the external hard drive I connected to perform a backup or running Cura in Rosetta 2.

As long as the kernel panics stop and performance remains as good or better than my old machine, then I’ll be a happy camper and this will have been a good purchase. When Apple releases new machines with either the M1 or a newer processor, I think they’ll be a hit. However, I’m so taken with the size and weight of the MacBook Air, I might not want to move to a larger machine even if it has better performance.

Dreading the trip to the mall (it turned out fine)

One of the malls in San Diego is University Towne Center. It has always been my least favorite mall because the traffic around it is horrendous. I hadn’t been there in years even prior to the pandemic. A few years ago, I had read that the whole mall was under construction and they added a major parking garage (there was a small parking structure in addition to lots of surface parking before) which made me want to go there even less. In addition, they started charging for parking. Last week when I was looking to get a MacBook Air, I didn’t want to have it shipped as it would have arrived when we weren’t home and the other close Apple Store didn’t have it, so I decided to brave the mall and goto UTC. I read that the first two hours of parking were free, so that was good.

I drove to UTC using a sightly less traveled route and was kind of lost as I approached it as there is still a lot of construction for the trolley extension. Traffic was light (it was a weekday around lunchtime), so it wasn’t bad getting there. I turned into the parking garage and was overwhelmed at its size; the entrance was very wide open and spanned two stories. I got my ticket and followed some signs to Nordstrom since I really had no idea where the Apple Store was located. As I proceeded, I saw signs that indicated how many empty spaces down each section. In the past I’ve thought that they were kind of made up. Once I started going down an aisle, I realized that the numbers were completely accurate; overhead down the center of each aisle was a small sign that had a red or green indicator on each side showing me which spot was occupied. This made finding a space super easy. I parked, recorded the section I was in on my ticket as I had no idea where I was going, followed the painted walkways to the stores, and then went up 2 flights of stairs.

The digital map said to use at your own discretion, so I pulled out my phone and looked for the Apple Store. I had managed to park relatively close, so it was a short walk. I stood in line outside for less than a minute, showed my barcode, had my temperature checked (yeah, I know this is a waste) and then was told to wait on one of the black dots near the window inside the store. Someone brought out my computer, checked my ID and I was on my way.

Getting back to my car was easy and exiting the garage was another painless activity. When I got to the gate to leave, I tried to stuff the ticket in the machine, but it wouldn’t go and the gate opened. I think it read the barcode and opened without me having to put it in. This particular exit was on a street that had less traffic, so I was on my way. I think my total time from leaving my house to returning was less than hour with about 25 minutes of that being driving time.

The experience was so pleasant, I might consider going back to the mall in the future!

Another stab at fixing the Vizio SB36512-F6 Soundbar

About a year and a half ago, I wrote about fixing the SB36512-F6 soundbar as sometimes we just couldn’t hear anything from it. My "fix" seemed to work for awhile, but over the last few months, the problems have been worse. We would start a show using Channels or Netflix (primarily) and got no sound. Lately the volume buttons wouldn’t work (through HDMI-CEC) which is also frustrating. Through a combination of powering down the TV, changing the input on the soundbar, and powering off the outlet for the devices, we were able to get sound again.

I’ve been so frustrated with this that I’ve been on the verge of purchasing another soundbar, but waiting for a Costco sale so that I can take advantage of their return policy when it performs poorly. Today I decided to do another web search to see if others encountered the same problem. Unfortunately my original post was one of the hits! On the positive side, other posts indicated that Dolby Atmos was pretty poor on these types of soundbars which gave me an idea.

In order to get Dolby Atmos on the soundbar, I plugged the Apple TV into the soundbar’s HDMI port and then the TV into the soundbar’s HDMI ARC port. If I was willing to forego Atmos, I had more options for connecting the soundbar. Since I like HDMI-CEC for controlling all my devices, I decided to plug the Apple TV directly into my TV and then plugged the soundbar into the TV using HDMI-ARC.

Initial tests show that the setup works as expected with HDMI-CEC working for controlling volume and the power to the devices (I use power loosely as the devices are always in some type of standby mode). Will this fix my problems? I sure hope so or it is back to the drawing board on how to deal with this frustration.

It still baffles me that getting devices that adhere to standards working together is such a crapshoot. I have no idea how the average person gets any type of technology or electronic device to work.

Apple Watch 6 – My Take

When the first Apple Watch came out, I was immediately hooked. I wrote that it did everything I needed it to do. The next few generations of watches didn’t add a huge amount of value to me, so I skipped them. When the Apple Watch 4 came out, I decided to upgrade because it was waterproof, was significantly faster and could run the latest watchOS. I skipped the following year even though the always on display looked like a great feature.

This year with the pandemic, I was unable to goto the pool (last year I swam a lot and used my watch all the time being thankful it was waterproof) so I went back to running. When I run, I take my iPhone and put it in an armband carrier. This has worked well for years, but really started getting on me as I was running on an almost daily basis. When the Apple Watch 6 came out, I was torn. I didn’t need a new watch, but the blood oxygen sensor was interesting, the always on display was something that I didn’t know I really wanted (I’ve been shaking my arm for the last 5 years to get the screen to light up!) and the faster processor would make the watch more usable.

After looking at my usage pattern and selling a bunch of old stuff on eBay to cover the cost, I decided to get the GPS+Cellular version of the Apple Watch 6. Yes, I was going to have to pay an additional $10+fees per month for it, but I’d be freed a little bit from my phone tether.

I can’t say enough good things about this watch; the always on display is absolutely amazing and I can stop shaking my wrist all the time! Running (and walking) without carrying my phone is very pleasant allowing me to still be connected if need be, but not having a phone in my pocket (walks) or attached to my arm (runs). Apple is making huge strides with the processing speed of these watches with each generation. This watch is instantly responsive and Siri on it works very well.

With watchOS 7 comes sleep tracking and I’ve been wearing my watch almost 24/7 because of it. While I didn’t know exactly what my sleep pattern was, I could kind of tell when I didn’t sleep well. My watch now tells me (for the most part) if I had trouble sleeping. This, of course, isn’t exact as it is based on arm movement, but it is much better than not knowing.

Wearing my watch 24/7 causes an interesting problem with battery life. The cellular connection on my watch drains the watch faster than without it, so on days that I run or walk, I have to be aware that I have to charge my watch. In order to make it through the day, I am typically charging my watch in the morning and depending on the day, in the late evening. Some people would say that this is inconvenient, but just dropping it on the charging stand isn’t a big deal.

If I’m as happy with my Apple Watch 6 as I was with my last 2 Apple Watches, it will be another good purchase.