Why Google Chat won’t fix messaging

Exclusive: Chat is Google’s next big fix for Android’s messaging mess

The fact that they’re looking to fix Android’s messaging mess and not everyone’s messaging mess is why this will probably fail yet again.

Real-time messaging (be it SMS or real-time chat) is an absolute cluster, not for lack of innovation, for an inability to reconcile the needs of the users over each company’s own goals, resulting in some very draconian restrictions.

I’ve been using GChat/Hangouts for well over a decade, in daily conversations with my wife and family.  We have a basic set of needs:

  1. Enabled for real-time chat
  2. Ability to receive and respond to notifications across both desktop and mobile phone
  3. Group chat capability
  4. Ability to share pictures and other media
  5. Have a large user base and a lower barrier to entry for new users

Hangouts has been solid but also is neglected by Google.  Now their latest focus is to shift Hangouts for Enterprise use and deprecate it for consumers.  Supposedly they were steering everyone to using Allo, and I remember being very excited its pending release – and then it came and underwhelmed.  What made Allo fail out the gate was the fact that it was tied to your phone number and only one device, so you couldn’t use it from a tablet, let alone a desktop.  Over a year later Google came up with this jenky workaround to have your phone forward chat notifications to a desktop, but worked unreliably and required you to have the app open on your phone.  Given they hampered a key feature of Hangouts, it all but wrote it’s failed destiny and is why it hasn’t been adopted.

I don’t see much difference with Chat. From the article, it seems to be driven by whether carriers will pick up the protocol. That’s well and good to get Android the same features that iMessage enjoys on iPhones, but does little for anyone else on the desktop or using an iOS device. By limiting their goals, Google will once again doom themselves to failure.

I’ve looked a lot of other messaging tools, but each one has its own set of problems. iMessage is designed to promote the sale of Apple devices, which is why you won’t ever see a Windows or Android client (removing #2 and #5). Signal, Telegram, and WhatsApp are all great apps with a lot of functionality but don’t have a big userbase and it’s hard to compel people to switch (with the caveat that WhatsApp is big for my international friends).  Facebook Messanger comes closest in terms of offering all the features, but feels really slimy and intrusive to use – and yes, I know that Google reaps the same benefits from inputting my personal information, but you’ve seen a lot more callous coming from Facebook lately.  Skype has been pivoting more into the messaging space, but they’ve had a bad spam problem and I’m not convinced people’s Skype contacts reflects all of their everyday chat contacts. The only time I go to Skype is to make a video call.

If Hangouts vanished overnight, I think I’d reluctantly migrate most of my activity to FB Messager.  It’s frustrating that Google is one few companies that has the clout and wherewithol to tackle this problem, but they’re hampered by their own blinders.  Until then we’re just confined to the ticking clock of neglected consumer Hangouts.

Why I’m not buying an iPhone X

After two years of iPhone ownership, I’ve awaited the September iPhone event with much anticipation, eager to see what Apple is going to deliver. I’ve been fortunate enough to get day-of-launch devices through my participation in the iPhone Upgrade program, satisfying my geeky indulgence of having the cutting-edge phone as soon as possible. However this year, with the launch of the iPhone X alongside the iPhone 8, a huge wrench got thrown into my plans. After watching too many “first reaction” videos and finally having the Reality Distortion Field effects ware off, I’ve decided to forgo the iPhone X and opted for the iPhone 8 Plus.  There are a few factors that weighed into my decision, while much ado has been made about the cost, it wasn’t really a factor in my decision.

I’m not sold on FaceID

Take away the Zapruder-Film-Level scrutiny that’s going on with the “Demo Fail”, I’m just not convinced that FaceID is going to deliver the benefit over the drawbacks for not having TouchID.  When phones started introducing fingerprint sensors, they were replacing PIN-unlocking – or for many users: nothing. Even if/when TouchID doesn’t work, it defaults back to the previous level of authentication. As other phones have tried face scanning, it seems that many still provide a fingerprint sensor, but Apple has gone all in with the face detection.

Let’s assume FaceID works at least as well as TouchID (and I’m not convinced that night-time phone unlocking is going to be reliable or pleasant), unlocking a phone with FaceID is going to require more attention and friction than TouchID.  Gone will be any opportunity to inconspicuously unlock your phone and triage a notification, you’re going to need to intentionally look at your bright screen to unlock your phone.  It’s also not clear to me how to differentiate between an intentional unlock request and an accidental unlock. Take Apple Pay, for instance: there have been a few times where I didn’t mean to get to the Apple Pay prompt and was glad I didn’t have my finger on the home screen. How long will it be before we see stories about people making accidental in-app or Apple Pay purchases?

Don’t get me wrong, FaceID looks cool – but it seems like a solution in search of a problem, and the fact that you don’t get a choice between TouchID and FaceID in the same phone is problematic.

iPhone 8 Plus still seems like a great phone

From what I can tell, aside from the OLED display, the biggest differentiator between the iPhone 8 Plus and the X are all the sensors associated with FaceID.  Given that I’m not interested in FaceID, that leaves me missing out on the Animoji- which I likely wouldn’t use much due to the fact that I’M A GROWN-ASS MAN!  Maybe there will eventually be a compelling app that will utilize all of those sensors effectively and give me FOMO next spring, but I’m willing to take that risk.

The iPhone 8 and X share the same processor, and the 8 Plus has the same dual cameras (although I’ve read that the X’s has slightly better low-light performance). It’s not clear if there’s a RAM differentiation, but I’m willing to bet it won’t be significant.  Of course, the Plus has the larger form-factor, but I’m not necessarily clamoring for a smaller phone. Apple did toss iPhone 8 users a bone and did offer wireless charging so there’s that.

No-Bezel OLED sounds great, but I don’t know what I’m missing

That screen sounds (and looks) great, but given the way I consume content on my phone (mostly through Podcasts, Social Media, Email and slight gaming), it doesn’t really feel like I’ll be missing out all that much.  It’d be one thing if I were watching a lot of 4k content on my phone, but that doesn’t appeal to me. I agree that Apple’s bezels make the phone look dated, but I’m not sure if the “notch” at the top and the absence of the home button was the right way to solve that problem.  I think both app-makers and users alike will be going through growing pains through the next year to figure out the new interface.

I’m not willing to wait until November (or even longer)

Make one thing clear: if Apple could have released the phone at some semblance of scale in September, they would.  There have been rumors for months that OLED production has delayed the iPhone X. Apple, who is not willing to set delivery expectations, to begin with (just ask AirPod fans), will likely not be able to meet up the pent-up demand for the iPhone X. When the X goes on PreSale on October 27, the question will be whether it’ll be a matter of seconds – not minutes – before it sells out. At that point, only a few lucky few X fans will actually get their phones on Nov 3. I’m willing to bet that there will be folks who intended to buy on the X on October 27 will be waiting into 2018 before they can get their coveted device.

This brings me back to the Apple Upgrade Plan.  Apple Upgrade enables users to trade in their phone if they’ve made 12 of the 24 payments on their current device.  They can elect to trade it in early but will be required to pay whatever amounts gets them to the equivalent of 12 payments.  I’m willing to bet that when the iPhone XI comes out in 2018, it’s not going to be November, but all the people who value having the latest in greatest will be paying at least 2 months worth of payments early as a luxury tax.  I don’t fault people who are willing and can afford that, but to me, it’s just not worth it, especially in light of all of the doubts I have about FaceID.

 

There was a time where I cared deeply about having the latest and greatest, where I loved being an early adopter and a beta tester. Maybe it’s part of me getting older and having kids, but that priority is now subject to elevated scrutiny. Given the level of unknowns here, I’m not willing to pay the extra $200 just to be an early-adopter of technology that I’m not very enthusiastic, to begin with.  If you get very excited about the iPhone X, more power to you, but I just wanted to point out that there are valid reasons (besides cost), to stick with the 8 and watch the bugs shake out until next September.

How I Cut The Cord

Like many folks out there, I have become fed up with my rising Cable/Satellite bill and my falling TV consumption.  We recently re-assessed all of our bills and despite a reduction in our equipment fees, we were still paying upwards of $115 per month to DirecTV for Satellite.  Since having kids, our TV consumption has both dropped and changed significantly.  Our serialized show consumption has dropped significantly (really only watching a handful per year), but we remain casual news consumers (we record NBC nightly news and watch local news each morning and evening), as well as avid sports consumers (we have normal NFL consumption – no Sunday ticket, as well as NBA and NHL playoffs).  It was getting harder to justify the $115 per month for how little we were consuming.

Last Spring I began to seriously research cutting the cord and what it would entail.  We still wanted to consume broadcast TV with local sports, as well as subscribe to some basic cable channels that would enable us to watch ESPN and TNT/TBS (for sports). Ideally, we’d like a way to DVR the news and other content that wasn’t available on-demand.  It turns out that while cord-cutting is popular, a number of variables make it difficult to follow a standard solution.  Here are the steps I took to enable our cord cutting.

1. Researched Solutions

Over-The-Air HD Coverage.  This is the largest variable and possibly most significant aspect of cord-cutting. Given how big of sports fans we are, we could not forgo live broadcasts of Broncos games and other major events.  The easiest and (possibly) cheapest solution is over-the-air HD.  The biggest factors in your quality of signal are your distance and elevation from the broadcast points.  I found the closest broadcast points going to TVFool.com.  With this, you can now expect which stations to receive and determine how powerful of equipment you need. For Northern Colorado, the strongest signals come from Lookout Mountain just west of Denver, which is about 60 miles away from our house.  I ended up getting a pretty powerful indoor/outdoor antenna (more on that later) with an 80-mile range.

Cable-Replacement Streaming Services. Over the last two years, the bundled streaming services area has become quite competitive.  During my course of research, I looked at the following:

  • DirecTV NOW – Seemed promising, but didn’t give it much consideration since we have given enough money to DirecTV and AT&T. I’m extremely skeptical that the prices will not rise down the road.
  • YouTube TVThe most compelling solution, but unfortunately isn’t fully baked for my (or many) locations with local TV coverage. I did not try this.
  • Sling TV – Used the free trial and enjoyed using the service. This one was the easiest to use and had a lot of great channels, but didn’t have the combination of the channels that we wanted at the time we tried it. It does appear that Sling has recently adjusted their offering and pricing, and have given me a reason to try it again.
  • Playstation Vue – The solution we ultimately chose.  It’s important to note that you do not need a PlayStation 4 to use PlayStation Vue. Currently, I am utilizing Chromecast through my iOS devices, as well as Roku.  They offered the best channel combination and content possibilities for $30 per month.

Depending on your needs, each solution does have its benefits. The best part about these services is that you’re not locked in, and can switch at any time.  Since the billing is month-to-month, I’m actually going to suspend our subscription for the rest of the summer and will re-evaluate my subscription once football starts.

2. Buy Proper Equipment

Depending on what you determine from TVFool, your equipment may vary.  Some people are able to get away with an on-the-wall indoor antenna. In my case, being 55 miles away from the transmitters, I opted for a pretty high-grade indoor/outdoor antenna.  You may also need to buy a digital receiver, depending on your TV. The basic rule of thumb is that if the TV has an input for a coaxial cable, the receiver should be built in. My Plasma from 2006 was not.

Here is the equipment we purchased:

Channel Master CM-42 UHF and HDTV Antenna ($109 on Amazon)

antenna

CHANNEL MASTER Antenna Mast Steel Antenna Mast (5ft) (CM-1805) ($22.50 on Amazon)

 

Mast

This turned out to be a glorified fence post/pole. Doing this again, I would have looked for something cheaper at Home Depot.

 

Winegard LNA-200 Boost XT Digital HDTV Preamplifier ($34.18 on Amazon)

preamplifier

I returned this.  It turns out I was getting a good enough signal without it.  I’m not sure if my antenna is considered amplified.  If you’re like me, I would buy this to have on-hand, but only open it if the antenna signal looks like it needs to be amplified. If not, return it.

 

Mediasonic Homeworx HW180STB 3 / 4 Channel HDTV Digital Converter Box with Recording and Media Player ($28.30 on Amazon)

Homeworx

I only needed one of these for the Plasma TV. Our other three TV’s already had tuners built in.  The one complaint I have about this unit is that it doesn’t seem to be as sensitive to signals as the other TV’s that have their tuners built-in, so I’m missing out on a few channels.  This one also had a DVR-expansion capability when you plug in an external hard drive through USB, but I quickly replaced it with the next product below.

SiliconDust HDHomeRun ($99 on Amazon)

hdhomerun

It’s important to note that you don’t need this device to cut the cord, but if you’re looking for a DVR option, the HDHomeRun can be combined with Plex to replace your DVR functionality.  The HDHomeRun is a pretty simple device, a tuner that outputs the signal your network cable. You configure it using another computer, with an option to use that computer (or network-attached storage) to store DVR files.  In addition to that, they have a Windows Store App that lets you stream the TV onto your computer in that same network.

Enter: Plex, my favorite Media Center distribution. Plex utilizes that HDHomeRun’s tuner and wraps DVR capability into it. Not only that, but they have a beta feature that allows you to stream the live video directly from the Plex app.

You do need to be a little more technical to utilize these features. Plex is really smart in that it helps you connect all the parts to build your own over-air-to-streaming solution, but I don’t think they can legally offer the service out of the box.  Still, I didn’t have much trouble setting it up.

[UPDATE: 13-July] Some people seemed pretty excited to hear about the DVR possibilities, so I wanted to offer some additional clarification:

  1. You need to be a Plex Pass Insider to use the DVR portion, it’s $5 per month, but I gladly pay the fee because it allows me to access my Plex server from outside my house and download off-line content to our tablets. Yes, it is another bill. The HDHomerun does have some basic DVR functionality that’s not tied to any subscription that simply records the video to your hard drive, but Plex makes it a pretty good experience.
  2. The DVR’d show is only accessible after recording is finished, you can’t start a currently-airing show on time-delay. During football season we would pause football games during bedtime and then speed-watch to catch up, I won’t be able to do this with the current solution.

 

Devices to Receive Streaming Services

There are a ton of options here, and it really depends on your needs. It really comes down to evaluating your budget, streaming services you receive, as well as how you want to interact with the device.  At a glance here are the primary ones I considered:

  • AppleTV – One of the more expensive options. Works great if a majority of your content is in the Apple ecosystem. It has most major services, but as of July 2017, doesn’t have Amazon streaming (it’s only been announced).
  • ChromeCast – One of the cheapest solutions, but also one of the clunkiest.  You interface by starting the media on your phone, mobile device, or browser, then “cast” that media to the ChromeCast.  In many cases, the Chromecast is being told to go get the media from another stream on the internet, but sometimes the media may be streamed/mirrored from the controlling device.  The drawback here is that you have to navigate it using your phone, which makes it a chore to select a movie with multiple people.  It has access to a majority of services (although as of this writing you cannot “Cast” Amazon Streaming video from your phone, only your browser.
  • Kindle Fire Sticks – I don’t have any experience with this device, but based on my research there is one major benefit and one major drawback: the benefit is that the device is affordable, the drawback is that it’s likely subsidized by Amazon services and will likely give preference to those services when using content.  I think it has most major services on it, but admittingly I have not researched this fully.
  • Roku – My recommedationI’m a big fan of Roku largely because it’s not tied to any major platform or ecosystem. It’s the “Switzerland” of streaming devices, being that most major streaming services work with it.  As of this writing, it’s the only device that I’ve found that has access to the major streaming services that I use (Netflix, Plex, Amazon, Hulu, Playstation Vue, SlingTV, etc).  I would recommend spending a little more to buy the at least the Roku 3 over the Roku Streaming Stick, for the sole reason that the Roku 3 has a USB port that can stream movies, photos and other content – off-line.  The Roku 3 is about the size of a hockey puck, which makes it a great travel companion. We’ve streamed ripped movies in many hotel rooms, remote cabins and other areas where fast internet isn’t prevalent.  It looks like there are two version of the Roku 4. Unless you really want to futureproof your streaming needs, I would suggest avoiding the 4k model as most streaming content isn’t available in 4k.

3. Setting Everything Up

After receiving all of the pieces, it was now a matter of putting everything together.  Assembling the antenna wasn’t too painful. Luckily of the one I bought, it was mostly assembled when it came out of the box, although other antennas may require more assembly.  I then mounted it to the pole and set out to mount the pole onto the house.  One benefit of replacing my satellite is that I essentially had all the hardware and connections.  With DirecTV mounting the satellite and connecting all the wiring, it was simply a matter of removing the satellite from the roof mounting pole and replacing it with the antenna pole.  I unplugged the coax hookup from the satellite and right into the antenna. It’s important to note that you have to be a little careful down in your wiring hub, as the splitter DirecTV used had a port to send power to the satellite, so I made sure to unplug that before I hooked everything up.

The benefit of this is that I didn’t have to run any additional cable. If I were replacing Cable and did not have a roof mount, I would have considered mounting the antenna in my attic and figuring out a way to send that cable all the way to the splitter in the basement. This isn’t the most elegant solution, but I’m happy I didn’t have to deal with installing a roof rack, playing in the attic, or fishing cable through walls.

Next was plugging in all of the Coax Cable directly into the TV’s (I had packed away all of the DirecTV receivers and equipment).  It turns out that I did not need to use the amplifier that I purchased (and in fact, I think it was interfering with my signals), so I was able to return it. As previously mentioned, I was able to leverage all of the cables that I used and didn’t have to mess with identifying connectors. If for some reason you don’t have access to a Coax Cable Splitter, you’ll need to consider purchasing one.

Now came the tedious part: calibrating everything correctly.  With the report I got from TVFool, I determined that the antenna had to be facing at 200° to get the best transmitter.  I climbed back on the ladder and used a compass (which was available on my iPhone) to get me to 200 and pointed it there.  I then tightened everything and secured the pole (albeit with methods that could be more effective).

I then fired up each TV, set the tuner to “Air” and auto-scanned to discover my channels.

This is where things got tedious. If you’re not getting any signal, you’ll need to troubleshoot all of your connections. I would suggest having a long coax cable on hand and running it directly from the antenna connector into your nearest TV, eliminating all of the possible points of failure.  If you find that you are able to receive channels, make sure you’re getting all of the channels that you’re expecting. In my case, where my location is borderline, this meant a lot of trial-and-error in moving the antenna.  While I tried to keep it at 200°, I played with 195, then 205 and tried to pinpoint the exact location where the scanner is picking up the most channels, and the channels you care most about are the clearest.  This means going up and down the ladder, scanning, then reviewing channels for any interference.  Once your reception was acceptable, I unplugged the long cable from the antenna and plugged it into the cable that led to the splitter.

Once your reception was acceptable, I unplugged the long cable from the antenna and plugged it into the cable that led to the splitter.  Then on each TV I re-ran the channel scans and did the tweaking. At this point, it became apparent that not all TV-tuners are alike, and you may need to do some tweaking to see if you can get the channel you want.  This is where I discovered that the external tuner I got for the Plasma is not as sensitive as the built-in tuners on the more modern TV’s.

Now that I was getting over-the-air TV, it was a matter of configuring all of the streaming services to work on your device. Most of these were already in place, but I did install and configure the cable-replacement streaming service (Playstation Vue), and now was off to the races.

4. Living with a cut cord

I’m not two months into it and am mostly satisfied.  The first few weeks, I did have to deal with the wind blowing my antenna out of alignment, but I’ve come up with some ways to secure the antenna’s position. Ideally, this would be solved by replacing the roof mount (which has a bigger opening than the pole), or drilling a hole through the pole and secure it with a screw.  However, the antenna position has been pretty secure for over 6 weeks. About two weeks ago, I thought the weather moved it as I was missing my NBC channels (9News/KUSA and it’s Channel 20 affiliate), only to find out that something happened to their transmitter and those channels are not being broadcast correctly (they’re working on repairs now).

I haven’t missed the cable programming at all.  We don’t consume a lot of channels to begin with, and the summer is typically the slower period for shows, so we’ll see how things kick up when fall premieres hit.  I did watch many NBA playoff games through Playstation Vue and was very happy with the result. Most of all, I don’t miss my cable bill at all. Two months in, our equipment has already paid for itself.

I’ll check back in on this when football season rolls around, but if you do have any questions about cord-cutting, don’t hesitate to ask! I’m far from an expert, and there are a lot of complexities, but I’m happy to share what I learned.  Good luck!

Trypod–My Favorite Podcasts 2017

For nearly 10 years I’ve been a huge consumer of podcasts and have been elated to see it come more into the mainstream over the last few years.  The two biggest virtues of Podcasting are the long-form and in-depth conversations that take place, combined with the variety of content. This results in a utopia of great content, no matter how diverse or obscure your interests are.

Some of the biggest podcasts have been involved with TryPod all March, where they ask listeners to invite friends to check out some of their favorite podcasts.  I’ve been meaning to post my list of favorite podcasts all month, but what better time to get around to it than the last day of the month?  Better late than never I guess.

First you need to know that my podcasting obsession may be a little out of control. I currently subscribe to 87 different podcast fees, and this is after recently pruning my subscriptions.  It’s certainly not practical to listen to 87 different podcasts (although some of those are currently dormant or don’t produce content on a frequent basis), and so over the years I’ve adapted my podcast listening strategy. Typically I am an obsessed completion-ist, feeling that subscribing to a podcast meant a commitment to hear every episode. That then evolved into a “must listen” list, where I selected the top podcasts that I wouldn’t miss. Today, I treat my Podcast feeds more like a radio dial: there are shows that I’ll always grab as soon as they’re available, and have developed a lower tolerance for entertaining content and may stop listening to a podcast mid-episode if it doesn’t interest me, some shows I’ll just skip all together and wait for the next episode.

As I’ve said before, there are great podcasts for just about every interest that you have, and as such I listen to podcasts about Politics, Sports, Pop Culture, Photography, Drumming, Music Business, Comics, Technology and Development, News and Comedy. Currently the majority of my listening is steeped in news and politics, where I’m striving to get a vast array of opinions. I politically consider myself a fiscal conservative and socially moderate Republican, that is currently questioning my party affiliation. You may notice that many of the political podcasts are more mainstream or left-leaning, in my attempt to understand different viewpoints.

So without further ado, here are 31 Podcasts for 31 Days (in no particular order):

1947 Meet The Press Podcast

News, Politics Interviews – Weekly

Why I Listen: Hosted by Chuck Todd, the podcast enables him to dive deeper into compelling topics that interest him.

 

Accidental Tech Podcast

Technology (Mostly Apple)  – Weekly

Why I Listen: Geeky tech talk that dives deep into mainly Apple issues, isn’t afraid to go deep in the weeds with nerdy topics.

Can He Do That?

Politics – Weekly

Why I Listen: This Washington Post podcast is focused around Donald Trump, with a fair analysis of recent controversial decisions and behaviors.

Comic Geek Speak

Comics – 2-4 Per Month

Why I Listen: One of my oldest podcasts to remain at the top of my rotation. Some really passionate and nerdy (and I mean that affectionately) discussion-based podcasts.  They cover a wide array of comics, but my favorite episodes are their deep-dive “spotlight” episodes on characters and their eras.

Ctrl Walt Delete

Tech – Weekly

Why I Listen: Really thoughtful discussion on the latest technology topics. Essentially Nilay Patel and Walt Mossberg discuss Walt’s recent column. This podcast has grown to be one of my favorite tech podcasts, and has really made me develop a significant amount of respect for Walt Mossberg.

Deadcast

Sports – Weekly

Why I Listen: Recently back from the dead, this NSFW Podcast gives hilarious discussion on sports and some pop culture.

DIY Musician Podcast

Music Business – Weekly

Why I Listen: Put on by CDBaby, this podcast gives me a lot to think about when it comes to musician marketing, outreach and growing our band. I appreciate that their topics are varied, yet apply to working musicians.

Exponent

Tech/Business – Weekly

Why I Listen: These guys are probably the smartest and most insightful analysts I listen to. My mind is always blown by the richness of their discussions. Most of it is based in consumer technology business models, but I’m left with a lot to ponder after each podcast.

Fatman on Batman

Comics – Weekly

Why I Listen: Kevin Smith and Marc Bernardin talking all things comics. Despite the name, they’ve branched out far beyond Batman and talk all things comics/geek culture.  The language can be NSFW, but is often my go-to podcast when I’m trying to catch up on the latest comic news.

 

FiveThirtyEight Politics

Politics – Weekly

Why I Listen: Extremely insightful analysis on political numbers, polls and recent political happenings.  The analysis is very fair and the hosts do a great job of taking a dry subject and making it entertaining and accessible.

 

FoKnowsPhoto Raw Talk

Photography – 2x Monthly

Why I Listen: I’m a huge FroKnowsPhoto fan. Honestly a lot of my photography approach is shaped by Jared Polin.  What I most appreciate about this show is that it covers photo news, happenings and issues that professional and budding photographers face. The show doesn’t get too far into the weeds, but is extremely entertaining. Their newest format with Todd took a while to grow on me, but it’s really matured into an insightful and entertaining show.

Here’s The Thing

Interviews – 2-4x Monthly

Why I Listen: Thoughtful interviews done by Alec Baldwin – yes, that Alec Baldwin. He goes to great depths with celebrities from all over. I leave each show learning more about both Alec and his subject.

 

Jay & Miles X-plain The X-men

Comics – Weekly

Why I Listen: This is probably my favorite podcast. As a closeted X-men fan that got into comics in the early 90’s, this is definitely in my wheelhouse.  The level of depth in the recaps and analysis is impressive and entertaining. It’s easy to take for granted just how much work Jay and Miles put into each episode.

Mission Log

Star Trek – Weekly

Why I Listen: A weekly Star Trek episode recap show.As a Trekie who’s seen every episode at least 4 times, I love revisiting the show each week and thinking about the show’s messages, and whether it holds up.  If you love Star Trek, you’ll be deep-diving into their archives.

NPR Politics

Politics – Weekly

Why I Listen: Insightful center-left analysis of the latest political happenings.  I appreciate the context that is offered for the current issues.

On The Media

Politics/News – Weekly

Why I Listen: A left-leaning look on the ways culture and media impact each other. This show is well-done and thought-provoking, although it’s definitely gone to a darker place since the election.

Pop Culture Happy Hour

Pop Culture – Weekly

Why I Listen: Witty and insightful discussion on the latest movies, TV shows, and pop-culture happenings.  The shows are the perfect length and provide the perfect depth and analysis of the topics.  This show is basically Cliff-Notes for Pop Culture, so you can give the illusion that you’re still hip.

S-Town

Narrative – One-Time

Why I Listen: This is the newest edition to my feed, recently replacing the Missing Richard Simmons podcast. This is done by the same group that put on Serial once upon a time, and is done in the same story-telling format.  I would call this a cross between “human interest’ and “guilty pleasure”.

Whistlestop

Political History – 2x Month

Why I Listen: Hosted by John Dickerson, this podcast provides some historical context to recent political events. This helps you figure out whether you should freak out about latest political developments.

Startup

Tech/Business – Weekly

Why I Listen: A fantastic narrative-based podcast that covers the world of starting and growing a business.

Talk From Superheroes

Comedy/Comics/Movies – Weekly

Why I Listen: An extremely funny show where comedians discuss and recap new and old super hero movies. What starts off as hilarious observations ends up with some very insightful reflections on the movies.

 

The Axe Files

Politics Interviews – Weekly

Why I Listen: Former Obama advisor David Axelrod interviews political figures from all sides of the political spectrum.

 

Bill Simmons

Sports, Pop Culture – 1-3x Per week

Why I Listen: One of my longest-tenured podcasts dating back to the BS Report, Bill ;Simmons has some very entertaining interviews.

 

The Daily

News, Politics – Daily

Why I Listen: A new New York Times podcast that I listen while showering each morning. It’s short, well-produced and very topical.

The Talk Show w/ John Gruber

Tech/Apple – Weekly

Why I Listen: Interesting Apple-focused tech discussion.

West Wing Weekly

West Wing TV Show – Weekly

Why I Listen: An entertaining and insightful recap of West Wing episodes, with Hrishikesh Hirway and Josh Malina (who was on the West Wing in Seasons 4-7). They land interviews from various cast members, including Aaron Sorkin himself.

 

TWiT

Tech Analysis – Weekly

Why I Listen: One of my longest-tenured podcasts for tech news discussion and analysis. I have to admit that I listen to this one more out of loyalty now, with my listening being determined by who’s on the week’s panel.

TV Avalanche

TV Pop Culture – Weekly

Why I Listen: A TV critics podcast about the latest and best shows. I’m a big fan of Alan Sepinwall and am glad to have him back in Podcasting.

Upgrade

Tech News, Apple – Weekly

Why I Listen: Another Apple-focused tech discussion podcast. I’m starting to see a trend with most of my tech consumption being Apple-focused. I’d like to think this is more coincidental in my search for insightful tech discussion, but some may be influenced by my tech consumption as an iOS user.

The Weeds

Political Policy – Weekly

Why I Listen: Intelligent left-leaning political policy discussion going in “the weeds” on issues.

 

The Weekly Standard

Political Discussion – 1-2x Weekly

Why I Listen: Conservative political discussion and analysis of current events. The Weekly Standard is definitely pro-Republican, but not necessarily Pro-Trump, which makes for some insightful commentary.

 

I would definitely invite you to give any of these 31 podcasts a try, especially if any of the interests are in your wheelhouse.  If you’re already into podcasts, I’d love to hear any recommendations you may have.

Educating my home

Over this Christmas we took the plunge into the smart home craze.  This started with the purchase of a Google Home, which I bought as soon as it was available.  We ended up loving it so much that we bought a second one during a Black Friday sale. We then ventured into getting a smart thermostat, a smart door bell, smart switches and smart lights.  About a month into everything I’m mostly satisfied with our purchases, although I would say that few have crossed the line of “luxury” into “necessity”.

There’s still a lot more we can do to smarten up our home, but here are the products I got to dip my toe into the water (in the order they were purchased):

  • Google Chromecast (+ Chromecast Audio)
  • Google Home
  • Belkin WeMo Switches
  • Lowes Iris Switch
  • Ecobee3 Thermostat
  • Ring Video Doorbell
  • Philips Hue Lights

Google Chromecast (+ Chromecast Audio)

We actually began the journey with the Google Chromecast audio last spring, when we bought a device to put into our kitchen.  We love having music on while we’re cooking, which was previously powered by bookshelf speakers I mounted on the wall, then ran off the desktop computer through speaker-wire running through holes I drilled into the adjacent office.  When the office was transformed into Clara’s room, we needed a replacement for the desktop and found Chromecast to be a great solution.

The Chromecast audios, combined with a set of speakers and a digital amplifier similar to this one, makes a good poor-man’s version of the Sonos.  We ended up buying a second Chromecast Audio and have it running from another amplifier to outdoor speakers on our back patio. The beauty of the Chromecast is that you can push audio from most major services/apps (like Spotify, Pandora, podcast players) and create zones inside your house that synchronizes that audio.  This has been awesome for parties we host, or those summer nights when you’re cooking outside and in the kitchen.

Google Home


Enter the Google Home. I was intrigued by the Amazon Echo and had multiple family members who raved about the device, but I held off getting one because it didn’t have the one killer feature I wanted – the ability to play music to the Chromecast.  After going to the trouble we did to find the Chromecast Audio, I didn’t want to have to choose between decent speakers and not-so-good speakers coming from the Echo.  We bought the Google home as soon as it came out almost on the sole basis of the ability to direct audio to Chromecast. It’s great to be able to tell google to “Play (my playlist) in the kitchen” and watch it go to work.  I think Alexa is still an excellent product, but I’m wiling to bet on Google’s AI and ability to interpret voice, as well as it’s openness in having an API that can integrate with technologies. So far that is starting to pay off, with Google now working with WeMo, Philips Hue, but most importantly, IFTT (If This, Then That) enables us to use voice commands to control the devices around the house (as well as customize Google’s responses).

Home is really handy for setting timers (which we use frequently with parenting), add items to our shopping list (it’s great when you’re cooking and can simply call out the ingredients), as well as  answer random questions throughout the day. We ended up getting a second Google and put one in the kitchen with the other on our bedroom.  I think most people could get by with one, but it has been handy to have the other one to provide news in the morning and play music during bath-time.

I still have a lot of wish-list items for Google Home, however.  It really can only be associated with one account, which doesn’t make much sense for a family device.  We’ve tried to get around this by setting up a family account and porting data from both of our accounts, but it still has a lot of kinks. Google still doesn’t support reminders/tasks or random notes. The Chromecast control for Spotify is pretty decent, but the Video Chromecast leaves a lot to be desired.  I would be over the moon if somehow Plex could get integrated with the Chromecast voice commands.

Belkin WeMo Switches

I bought a single WeMo switch the last time it went on sale and use it to control our living room lamps.  The switch was really easy to set up, and with Google Home integration it does it’s job really well. It was easy to set up and does support setting schedules (which we do when we’re out of town).

The only problem with the WeMo switch is that I don’t have many other appliciances or devices that would be handy.  Lamps make a lot of sense since they can remain in an “on” state and allow the switch to control the flow of power, but most other devices are too smart to just remain on all the time. Ideally I would love to have a WeMo that would control the TV setup so we can have it randomly turn on while we’re on vacation.  I know there are a lot of other WeMo devices that may support this, but it’s not a big priority.

Lowes Iris Switch

When we bought our Christmas tree Lowe’s had a promotion that made the switch really cheap. It works a lot like the WeMo switch, but has a lot less features. It doens’t integrate with Google Home or IFTT, so it’s really just been relagated to running a kitchen lamp on a schedule.  All things being equal, I would pay extra for the WeMo switch.

Ecobee3 Thermostat


Next to the Google Home, this is probably the most useful smart device we’ve bought. While you can make your thermostat efficient by programming a comprehensive schedule, the functionality with a wifi enabled thermostats really makes it easy to manage and monitor your HVAC.  In our home we only have one zone, with the Theo state located in the living room. The furnace sits below our bedroom, with the girls bedrooms on the opposite end of the house. Often during cold nights the girls rooms would often be the coldest, with us being forced to crank up the heat in our room for most of the night.

I was really nervous about the installation, but it really couldn’t have gone easier (even with installing the little power adapter on the furnace).  The accompanying app has very detailed videos that walked me through the installation.

What puts the Ecobee over the Nest is its  ability to have remote sensors being placed throughout the house (we put one in Mariana’s room, the coldest room in the house). The Ecobee uses those sensors to build an average (or you can configure it to make the sensor the primary temperature gage) and equate that to the heat threshold.  The end result has been that our room isn’t as hot and the heat has been more consistent throughout the house.  Our home energy report claims that we are extremely efficient, but it’s hard to tell how much money we have saved just yet. The Ecobee lets you control everything remotely as well through your phone.  In terms of band-for the-buck, this has been the best device.

Ring Video Doorbell


This device was one of my Christmas presents.  Having recently become a teleworker, my home office is deep with the bowels of the basement, where the doorbell isn’t always heard (and I’m often on calls).  In addition to ringing the normal doorbell, the Ring sends notifications to the phones, tablets, and even my computer through the app.  You can then choose whether you want to view a live video feed and even talk to someone through the doorbell.  The Ring also has a motion sensor that lets you set the detection range, and will even capture video when the sensors are tripped (as well as sending you a notication). The Ring installation was also relatively easy, and we were able to hardware it with ease.

The only major gripe I have about the Ring is that it’s an extremely technological replacement for a very simple and archaic appliance (your doorbell). With houses not being wired to send much power to the doorbell, the Ring is limited in how much power it can use to charge. During our deep cold spell this winter, the Ring’s lithium battery wasn’t able to keep the charge and ended up requiring me to take the doorbell off and charge it in the house – so you need to be careful how often you use the “video” features, especially during cold spells.

Luckily we don’t have too many people coming to our door, so I often forget about the Ring, but it has been really handy for giving piece of mind.  I would say that it’s probably the most frivolous device. I’m glad I got it as a gift because I’m not sure if I could mentally justify purchasing it.

Philips Hue Lights


We bought two Hue light bulbs and placed them in our living room ceiling lights.  We’re pretty happy with having them up there, being able to set different colors and levels of brightness through the app on our phone (as well as Google Home integration).  If you’re looking for a really vibrant way to feel like you’re in the future, having Hue Lights will accomplish that.

On the flip side, the lights aren’t the most practical purchase you can make. While it is convenient to tell Google Home to turn on the lights when you walk in the door, I’m not sure if it saves much more time than the light switch (especially when you’re telling Google Home for the second or third time).  The cost can quickly add up, and really only pay off if you’re able to outfit all the lights in the room (which made the living room the easiest barrier to entry).  Eventually I would like to buy some lights for the outdoors (and be able to change them colors at different times throughout the year, but again it’s hard to justify the cost.  It’ll be quite a while before we outfit our 10 movie room lights downstairs. One thing that’s important to note is that you HAVE to buy a hub for the lights to work, so you’ll be dropping $50 before you even get any lights.  I would suggest that you pay the extra to have the colored lights, the white-only lights can only do so many tricks.

While it has been a lot of fun having all these gadgets and tricks in our home, I think we’re a long way off from having a completely Smart Home.  I also don’t think people who can’t afford to shell out for these devices should be afraid of missing out.  If I were to recommend one device, I would suggest getting the Ecobee – especially if you have tempterature consistency issues in your house. If you’re looking for a device that makes you feel like you’re in the future, get the Google Home.

What about you? Have you outfitted your house with any smart devices?  I’d love to hear your story!