Tag Archives: nintendo

UPS, I Love You (And I Don’t Mean the Shipping Company!)

On Saturday night, my area of Los Angeles’s San Fernando Valley experienced a large blackout. The L.A. Department of Water and Power (LADWP) experienced an explosion and fire at one of their power stations in the Valley neighborhood of Northridge. To aid the fire department’s efforts to put out the fire safely and quickly, LADWP shut off the power to and from that station altogether. Thus, a blackout.

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The Northridge LADWP Fire. Source: Twitter, @avangerpen

During the outage, some thoughts occurred to me: I hoped nobody was hurt; that those who needed power (like hospitals) could rely on generators until electricity was restored; and on a personal level, how grateful I was that all my electronics were protected by a few UPS units.

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No, not you! Source: Seeklogo.net

For the purposes of this blog post, whenever I say “UPS,” I don’t mean the United Parcel Service; but instead, an Uninterruptible Power Supply: a battery backup for connected electronics. It primarily functions like a large surge protector, allowing multiple plugs to share the electricity from one wall outlet. Unlike a surge strip, however, a UPS contains a battery inside that would kick in during a blackout, brownout, or other dip in the electricity to a home or office.

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The many shapes and sizes of UPS units. Source: Cyberpowersystems.com

Most UPS units that support desktop computers also connect to those computers via a data cable, so the computer can know when it’s running off of battery power. In the event of a prolonged power outage, the UPS can provide minutes, or even hours, of electricity—time enough at least to shut the computer off properly. Some setups even include software that would automatically shut off the computer while on battery power, should the user not be present to turn the computer off him or herself.

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CyberPower’s Windows-only PowerPanel software. Source: Cyberpowersystems.com

In my home, I have three UPS units: one in my office for my desktop computer, and two in my home theater. Here’s what I’m using:

1. Desktop: CyberPower 1500VA

The two main players in the UPS space are American Power Conversion (APC) by Schneider Electric; and Cyber Power Systems, AKA “CyberPower.” I prefer CyberPower for two reasons: it is a little more Mac-friendly in my experience; and the data cable it uses is a standard A-B USB cable, whereas APC, until relatively recently, used a proprietary USB-RJ45 cable. Newer APC models now use standard USB cables, but they missed the “brand loyalty” boat with me when it counted.

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CyberPower’s 1500VA UPS (Note the handy USB ports in front for charging phones and other small gadgets). Source: Cyberpowersystems.com

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“WHAT AM I?!” Thankfully, most new APC UPS units don’t use this abomination anymore. Source: APC.com

Half the outlets in my desktop UPS are backed up by its built-in battery. This is important to bear in mind, when shopping for a UPS: not how many outlets total it has, but how many of that total can run off the battery when the power from the wall dies. I naturally have my 27″ iMac and external monitor plugged into the UPS’ battery outlets, as well as essential devices like my cable modem and wireless router. The devices I have plugged into the non-battery half of the UPS include my iPhone charger and my speakers.

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The back of the 1500VA UPS. Note that only the outlets on the left can run off the battery during a blackout. Source: Amazon.com

The key thing to keep in mind when deciding what gets a battery outlet, is what would happen to that device if it abruptly lost power. In the case of a desktop computer, a sudden power loss could be fatal. Not too long ago, a client of mine killed her computer just by hitting the power button while its hard drive was spinning. We forget that a computer can be an extremely sensitive machine, and if any facet of its operating environment changes without warning, it could spell disaster. Anyone who’s ever spilled liquid on their laptop’s keyboard can attest to that.

This kills the laptop.

The other devices that should be backed up on battery are the networking hardware. In my case, that’s an Arris SurfBoard (remember?), and an Apple AirPort Extreme.

I recently upgraded a client’s network in their home’s attic. In addition to a new modem/router combo from Arris, I also installed a Netgear switch, feeding data lines throughout the house. Both of these units were backed up by the same CyberPower 1500VA UPS model I used in my own home. When the house was hit by the big Saturday night blackout, all of their networking gear stayed powered-on. Unfortunately, the home’s internet provider, Spectrum, wasn’t so lucky. When I spoke with the client about the blackout, she informed me that, according to Spectrum, only 9% of their users were still online in her area. It was frustrating not to have internet, but she and I agreed that given our very recent installation of that UPS (as well as one on each of her three iMacs), the timing could not have been better.

I imagine this is what it’s like at Spectrum headquarters.

If you have a desktop computer, and if you’ve never had a blackout or brownout in your home or office, I’d say you’ve been lucky… but you’re on borrowed time. Here’s a link to Amazon’s selection of CyberPower UPS units. You can determine how many outlets you’ll need (remember: typically, only half of the outlets get the battery), as well as how much electricity you’ll need that battery to provide. In the case of my desktop UPS, 1500VA means 1,500 Volt-Amps.

According to Australian battery vendor APCRBC:

VA is an abbreviation of the electrical term volt-amps, and indicates a capacity of power. For example 240 volts x 12.5 amps = 3000VA. It is used by UPS manufacturers more often than Watts because it makes the UPS sound bigger.

What is the difference between VA and Watts?

Put simply

VA is a measure of power supplied

Watt is a measure of power consumed

Not really very simple is it?

The main thing you have to remember is that the Watt rating will always be lower than the VA rating.  As manufacturers market their equipment based on the VA rating you should look closely at the Watt rating of your prospective purchase.

When shopping for a UPS for your desktop computer, it’s a good idea to research your computer’s power needs, starting with the manufacturer if at all possible. My iMac, for example, consumes upwards of 195 Watts when working its hardest. Most mainstream UPS units can certainly deliver that much power; it then comes down to, “for how long.” My UPS, for example, advertises a capacity of 1500 VA / 900 W, and a runtime of 14 minutes on half load, 2 minutes on full. Not a long time; but certainly enough, during the recent blackout, for me to run into my office and properly shut down the computer. CyberPower also stands by their product with a 3-year warranty and $500,000 “Connected Equipment Guarantee.” Thankfully, I’ve never had to put either to the test.

About that three-year warranty: UPS batteries, like all batteries, have a limited lifespan. After those three years, you may want to consider replacing the battery, either from the manufacturer, or from a third party battery seller (which is why companies like the aforementioned APCRBC exist). I always make sure to note, when first installing a UPS, the date the battery went online. I don’t have to rush out to replace the battery precisely three years later, but it’s good to know how old the battery is. With this information I can decide, when I’m prioritizing my household gear upgrades, whether I want to get a new battery; whether I want to replace the UPS altogether (sometimes no more expensive than just a new battery); or whether I’d press my luck and leave the UPS alone with its diminished battery power.

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A replacement UPS battery. Source: Cyberpowersystems.com

But let’s move on downstairs…

2. Home Theater #1: CyberPower OR700

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The wide, flat OR700 UPS. Source: Cyberpowersystems.com

Unlike the upright “tower” form factor of the 1500, this model is a flat, rack-friendly “pizza box” shape. I currently have mine sitting at the bottom of my AV rack, under my PlayStation 3. This UPS provides power to those home theater devices that, like a computer, contain hard drives that could potentially be damaged by a power outage: the PS3, my TiVo, its external expansion hard drive, and my Nintendo Wii U.

During the recent blackout, my UPS did indeed kick in, but the news reports indicated that the outage would likely last longer than the 11 minute maximum “half-load” runtime this 700VA / 400W UPS advertised. Since my PS3 was already off, and since there isn’t a power button on the TiVo or its external drive, I held my breath, turned off the UPS, and waited for power to return to the home. Luckily, when the lights did turn on, rebooting the TiVo was a painless process. But I do wish there were a method of safely powering it off, relying on more than the power of prayer.

This brings us to my last UPS:

3. Home Theater #2: CyberPower LE850G

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The LE850G UPS. Source: Cyberpowersystems.com

I keep this one directly under my TV. It only supplies power to three devices: a 55″ Sony flatscreen TV; a Philips Hue Lightstrip that runs behind the frame of said TV; and my JBL subwoofer. In theory, I could have run everything off the OR700 “pizza box,” but the location of the TV and subwoofer made it both impractical and aesthetically unappealing to attempt to run their power cords all the way to my AV rack. This third UPS wasn’t very expensive, and I was happy to have a dedicated unit for those few devices. Less strain on any one power system that way, too.

One “pro tip” when getting your UPS: many times, your electrical devices will use those blocky transformer plugs that hog so much space on a surge strip, and even on a UPS. Now, many UPS models do accommodate these large bricks with one or two generously spaced outlets; but if you have more than a few plugs like this that you need to connect, I recommend small extension cords from brands like Monoprice (one of my favorite cable manufacturers, anyway). This one-foot extender will let the brick plug in to the narrow outlets on all UPS units—and if you have a brick you need to plug straight into the wall, this will let you use both outlets on the wall without anything getting crowded out.

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Short extension cords can prevent outlet blockage. Source: lisasfreestuff.blogspot.com

As of this writing, I am happy to say my power is back on (truth be told, I was only in the dark for about 90 minutes). I’m composing this on a laptop, so even if the power went out again, I would have at least a couple of hours of internal battery life I could count on, while finishing up here. But of course, even if the wifi and modem stayed on long enough for me to submit this entry to the WordPress server, there’s no guarantee that during a blackout, the internet provider (Spectrum in my case, same as my client) would stay online during that period.

But at least I would be secure in the knowledge that I had protected my valuable technology during this inconvenient episode.

And knowledge, after all, is power.


Products Mentioned in This Article:

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Why Wait? Well…

In technology, timing is everything. When shopping for new equipment, we tend to seek out the newest, latest, greatest in tech—and hopefully for the best price, if we can arrange that as well. That’s human nature. But is there a benefit to waiting, or is our desire for instant gratification justified? It’s not always as straightforward as a trip to the electronics store (or website).

To illustrate my point, I’m going to point out four types of electronics consumer. There is a fifth that I’ll get to at the end, but I want to start with these four:

1. The Early Adopter

We all know this one—some of us even ARE this one! He downloads beta versions of software before it’s officially released. He reads rumor websites like macrumors.com, and he tunes in to the live feeds of keynote presentations from the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and Apple’s WorldWide Developer’s Conference (WWDC). He pre-orders his devices; and when that isn’t an option, he waits in line all night.

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Talk about dedication! These guys are waiting in line together, AND they’ve got matching outfits! Source: MarketWatch.com

I confess to having a lot of those tendencies. And in tech, these are more often considered virtues than vices. It’s a little stressful knowing that there’s always something “brand new” on the horizon, but that doesn’t diminish the satisfaction of being the “first on the block” with the newest toys. Of the four habits, this one requires the greatest investment of time and money. But The Early Adopter is doing his part to keep tech companies in business, churning out the latest gadgets to meet that demand. And once he’s done his part, spreading the buzz about the tech he’s acquired (through no lack of effort), in steps…

2. The Bandwagoner

There is no crime in waiting a few weeks—or even months—for the supply of a given device to rise to meet demand. In most cases, manufacturers look at their sales and, as long as they don’t run into parts shortages or other logistical obstacles, they can ship out enough for everyone. This is where The Bandwagoner can pick up his device of choice. He’s not one to wait in a line, or to sweat over arcane pre-order processes. No, he’s patient. And this patience is often rewarded with “Version 1.1” (or later) editions, honed if not perfected after The Early Adopter reported any bugs he found in that launch wave.

The Bandwagoner also can enjoy the added benefit of a growing selection of peripherals and accessories for this new gadget. For example, I’m thinking of the varieties of cases for iPads and iPhones whenever a new model comes out. You see, it takes those case makers at least a few weeks to custom-fit their designs every time Apple adds or subtracts a few millimeters to their products. When The Bandwagoner is ready, he can pick up everything in one trip to the store. And if he waits long enough, he’ll slide into the next category…

3. The Mid-Cycler

This is a well-populated, if not-entirely-festive place to be. When a product has been out for several months (or even years, in some cases), it can be frustrating when you’re ready to buy the “latest” device, even if it’s not particularly “new.” For example, I recently had a friend of mine, “J,” text me to ask about the iPad Pro. This was our conversation:

J: I’m torn between the sizes

C: Have you handled both at the store? The 12 was a bit too big for my comfort. But you know there’s likely a new Pro coming out this year…

J: yeah it is a monster – hence my uncertainty. BUT a large factor in why I want a Pro (and not just new iPad) is to draw on. And the big one seems better for that. I’ve heard the new one is only going to come in one size and likely 10″. You heard dif?

C: Nothing official. They did just release a new 9″ non-Pro model. I’d be surprised if a new 12 wasn’t in the works.

J: Though I’d prob still go with a refurb old one. Wonder how much cheaper those would get when new model came out… And WHEN! Damn you Apple.

C: June 5 is their next big conference. WWDC. If you can stand to wait, it almost always pays off

J: Gah! I mean of course I can. This is all just for funzies.

C: 👍

J: But I want it now! Stupid lousy world.

C: Then get it now. Live your life, son!

J: blah. BLAH

C: Lol

I don’t know what he decided to do, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he waited a little longer, placing him firmly in the fourth category:

4. The Waiter

In tech, waiting for the next release is almost always a good instinct. What comes out next is almost uniformly superior to what’s out now; and it will either come out at the same price as today’s model, thus reducing the price of what’s out now; or the new device itself will debut at a lower price point. The Waiter loves when this happens, and he typically isn’t shy about gloating to The Early Adopter about the “better deal” he got, just by being patient.

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My hat’s off to anyone who can wait five years to buy hardware or software. Source: XKCD.com

The Waiter doesn’t always seek out the newest gear. Often he sees the new release and, unless it has some “must-have” feature, he happily picks up “last year’s model” at a reduced price. I’m reminded of a conversation I overheard at the Apple Store the other day, when a young woman was deciding between the $269 Apple Watch Series 1; or one of the other varieties, starting with the Series 2 at $369.

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Apple’s current line of Watches. Source: Apple.com, click image to go to their comparison page.

The Apple clerk pointed out that the most prominent additions for the Series 2 are the built-in GPS, and that it’s now water resistant to 50 meters (as opposed to the Series 1, which is simply “Splash resistant”). The young lady thought it over, and said, “I don’t need the GPS, and I’m not going swimming with it.” So the salesman suggested she save the $100 and go with the Series 1. For those who don’t remember, the Series 1 debuted in 2015 for a starting price of $349. So not only did not needing to have the “latest and greatest” save her $100, but she saved $80 just by waiting a couple years!

Apple products almost universally reward The Waiter, despite the “ooh” factor of having the brand-newest iPhone, iPad, etc. In fact, Apple broke typical protocol and teased for their patient Waiter audience that a new Mac Pro desktop is on the horizon for possibly as early as 2018. They never do that. If you’re curious about your own next Apple purchase, you might want to pop over to MacRumors Buyer’s Guide. But as we’re still several weeks away from WWDC, don’t be surprised if that site tells you to wait on everything.

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WWDC, likely Apple’s next opportunity to announce new products this year, starts June 5, 2017. Source: Apple.com, click image to learn more about WWDC.

There’s only one scenario in recent tech history where waiting was not only not rewarded, but outright punished. This past week, Nintendo announced that they have discontinued production of their surprise Holiday 2016 hit, the NES Classic. Those who didn’t wait in line or jump through the typical “Early Adopter” hoops for it aren’t going to get to be Bandwagoners for this one. At this point, one can only hope that Nintendo will release a “Version 2.0” follow-up edition (perhaps including Super Nintendo games, or even the ability to download and install games legally?). With the focus shifting to Nintendo’s even bigger hit, the Switch, it’s more likely that Nintendo aren’t thinking about any further “Classic” offerings for a while. But hey, maybe they’ll surprise us. We’ll just have to… wait.


 

Finally, there is a fifth category I’d like to bring up:

5. The Archaeologist

There’s waiting, and then there’s WAITING. This category is mostly populated with hobbyists who have their “daily driver” computer or whatnot; but they seek out “vintage” (or to put it less kindly, “obsolete”) devices with the aim to restore them to original release condition… even if that original release was in the 90’s, 80’s, or even earlier. Sometimes, they see what they can do to augment the original hardware with more modern features, like adding a Solid State Drive (SSD) to devices never built with such a drive in mind, like an iPod from 2002. It’s nowhere near practical, but it can be entertaining to watch them succeed—and just as entertaining, if not more so, when they fail.


For your viewing pleasure, here are David “The 8-Bit Guy” Murray…

…and Ian “Druaga1” Anderson. You may not want to try these at home.


 

What category to do you fall into? Do you have to have the latest gadget before everyone else? Do you know to “never buy a console at launch?” Have you never paid launch-day prices? Or do you not care about such things, and you buy what’s available when you need it (and not a second earlier)? Each position has its merits. And sadly, each has its pitfalls. I think the best course of action is to “pick your battles.” That is to say, some devices merit rushing out and grabbing them on day one (I, for one, have no regrets standing in line outside Best Buy for my Nintendo Switch). On the other hand, most of my other tech purchases have put me firmly in the “Bandwagoner” or even “Waiter” categories. And I’m fine with that.

I mean, until they announce what’s coming out next. ◼︎

Happy Daylight Savings! Isn’t It Time for Self-Setting Clocks?

At one minute past 1:59 am on Sunday morning, our clocks “sprang forward” to 3:00, to usher in Daylight saving time (DST). When I woke up later that morning, I was pleased to see how many of my household clocks had already followed the time change and were on the correct time. These included the time readouts on my land-line phones (to say nothing of my cell), my cable boxes, my Nest thermostat, and even my “Radio Controlled” La Crosse Technology wall clock.

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It sets itself. Watching it rush ahead an hour must be what time travel feels like.

Sadly, there were still some devices that needed a more “hands-on” approach to catch up. This is the story of those stragglers.


Printer: HP LaserJet Pro CM1415fnw

The only reason this device even needs a clock is for its fax function. Admittedly, that is the least-used aspect of this printer in my home office, but that doesn’t mean it should be incorrect! As I describe below, some of the devices I had to change make it as simple as switching the “DST” setting to “on.” This printer had no such option; it simply required a manual entry of the correct date and time. It’s an eight-step procedure. (Following for each device is the text directly from the manufacturer’s online manual):

1. From the Home screen, touch the Setup button.

2. Touch the Fax Setup menu.

3. Touch the Basic Setup menu.

4. Scroll to and touch the Time/Date button.

5. Select the 12-hour clock or 24-hour clock.

6. Use the keypad to enter the current time, and then touch the OK button.

7. Select the date format.

8. Use the keypad to enter the current date, and then touch the OK button.

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The LaserJet Pro’s touchscreen control panel. That “wrench” icon at the top is where you change the time and date.

It’s tedious, but there is hope. HP has, in the past, included in some of their printers the option to synchronize with a network time server, using NTP (Network Time Protocol). When it’s time to shop for a new printer, I’ll include NTP support among my list of “must-haves” (or at least, “would-be-nices”). Until then, it’s those eight steps above, twice a year.


Game System: Sony PlayStation 3

The oldest “connected” device in my home entertainment setup, the PS3 gets much of its functionality from its wifi connection, and this includes the time. Indeed, the PS3’s Settings menu does include the option to “Set Automatically” its internal clock; but strangely, the option for DST is a manual “Standard” or “Daylight Saving” choice. So, just like my HP printer, this is an update I have to do twice a year, when I switch from Standard to DST and back again.

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Just because it’s from 2006, doesn’t mean it doesn’t deserve to be on the correct date and time! (Click the photo for the relevant page of the PS3 online manual.)

According to its online manual, the PlayStation 4, on the other hand, has included automatic “spring forward” functionality:

Adjust Daylight Saving Automatically

Your PS4™ system automatically adjusts for daylight saving time. To disable this feature, clear the checkbox for [Adjust Daylight Saving Automatically].

This setting is available only if the region set under [Time Zone] is one that implements daylight saving time.

And for those of you wondering why I haven’t upgraded to a PS4 yet, stand by for a future blog post on that topic. But for now, moving on to another Sony device…


Television: Sony XBR-55X850B

Here, the option to access time settings was in the “Preferences” menu on its Home screen. From there, I had to select “Clock/Timers,” then “Current Time.” I have my set configured to automatically acquire the current time over its wifi connection; but again, I must manually change DST from “Off” to “On.” It’s a bizarre quirk that I must attribute to the older TV interface this time. Shortly after I got my TV, Sony switched to the Android interface, and today’s equivalent to my model now features full “Automatic date & time” setting.

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Sony’s “legacy” TV menu screen. The Settings icon on the upper right (boxed in red) is where the time and date changes are made.


Game System: Nintendo Wii U

Not even acknowledging the existence of DST, Nintendo’s previous flagship console has a procedure reminiscent of that HP printer I opened with—if even a little longer!

The Calendar screen allows you to change the Wii console’s date and time settings. The time is in military time (a 24 hour clock) and does not automatically adjust for Daylight Saving time.

To make a selection, point to the desired option and press the A Button.

What to Do:

Select the Wii button from the Wii Menu.

Select “Wii Settings.”

Next, select “Calendar.”

How to Adjust the Date:

Select “Date.”

Select the up or down arrows that correspond with the month, date, and year to adjust each setting.

Depending on the language the system is set to, the date format may be different. Check the List

Select Confirm to save any changes.

How to Adjust the Time:

Select “Time.”

Select the up or down arrows that correspond with the hours and minutes to adjust each setting.

The Wii console uses a 24 hour clock (military time). For example 1:00 p.m. is displayed as 13:00.

Select Confirm to save any changes.

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The Wii U’s friendly, if not particularly advanced, settings screen.

So once again, despite the console being connected to the internet, no NTP or automatic DST setting is offered. This is just one more way in which the Wii U’s successor, the Switch, is an improvement: when I turned on my Switch Sunday morning, I saw that it had updated its clock to DST either while asleep, or immediately upon waking. Well done, Nintendo. It’s about time (heh).

Leaving my office and my living room, I was confronted with those clocks not connected to internet-enabled devices: namely, my gas range, my microwave, and two clocks in my bathroom.


Gas Range: Frigidaire FFGF3011LWC

Okay, this one is pretty straightforward.

To set the clock:

1. Press clock once (do not hold key pad down).

2. Within 5 seconds, press and hold the ⌃ or ⌵ until the correct time of day appears in the display.

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It’s a tiny black-and-green display, but it’s so irritating when it’s wrong. (Source: specsserver.com)

And that’s it. So it’s a two-step procedure twice a year. But isn’t this the age of the “Connected Home?” The “Internet of Things?” Shouldn’t there be ovens that go online at this point, and download their time from the internet?

Actually, we’re getting there.

General Electric is leading the “smart oven” wave. According to their website:

WHEN THE REMOTE ENABLE BUTTON IS ENGAGED ON WIFI-CONNECT OVENS, YOU CAN USE YOUR SMART PHONE FOR THE FOLLOWING:

• Preheat your oven remotely by turning it on from the App

• Get notifications when preheated, when Timer finishes, or when meat probe* reaches temperature

• Determine time remaining

• Monitor and change the oven temperature

• Turn off your oven

• Adjust your oven control – Set Clock, Tone Volume, Sabbath Mode, and more

Here’s GE’s promo video showing the app in action:

Strictly speaking, they’re not saying if the oven can set its own time; or if you just have the option to do it from your phone, as opposed to the control panel on the oven itself.


Not to be outdone, I had to see if there were similar advancements in microwaves.

Microwave Oven: Panasonic NN-SN661S

My microwave is actually the newest kitchen gadget in my home, but it’s still pretty “dumb.” The clock-setting procedure takes three steps.

Setting the Clock

Example: To set 11:25 a.m. or p.m.

  1. Press timer/clock twice. Colon flashes.
  2. Enter time of day using the number pads. Time appears in the display window; colon continues flashing.
  3. Press timer/clock once. Colon stops fashing; time of day is entered.

From what I could find on their website, GE has not added microwave ovens to their “GE WiFi Connect” family yet (nor may they ever, given how microwaves can interfere with wifi signals).

Indeed, none of the big appliance makers is currently offering an internet-connected microwave, and the closest I could even find was a bizarre 2015 Kickstarter page for the “MAID” oven:

So this one may be stuck in the old-fashioned time changing method for now (or even forever). But it raises an interesting question: other than the cooking timer, why does one even need a clock on the microwave in the first place?


In the bathroom, I have two clocks: one facing my mirror, and one in the shower on my radio.

“Mirror Clock”: Martek Nurdanian Clock

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This is what the clock really looks like at 9:27…

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…and this is what it looks like in the mirror.

This “backwards clock” lets me see the time in my reflection, displayed correctly due to the inverted numbers and retrograde motion. This is a novelty item, and it doesn’t look like La Cross is planning to make a radio-updated version. But there are interesting moves in the world of mirrors with smart clocks built right in.

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The built-in clock is just one of the features advertised at ElectricMirror.com (click photo to visit that site).

While there are indeed commercially-available mirrors with integrated clocks (see above), none of them appears to have native internet connectivity, so they’re no more convenient to set than my cute plastic clock.

Dutch engineer Michael Teeuw built his own “Magic Mirror” with a Raspberry Pi DIY kit; but the work involved  is a far greater headache than spinning the hands of an analog clock ahead or behind one hour, depending on the time of year.

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Yes, it’s very cool. But the process of making it is not for amateurs. (Source: michaelteeuw.nl).


Finally, my shower radio clock:

Shower Radio: Sangean H201

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Sangean’s waterproof shower radio. (Source: sangean.com)

This one took seven steps.

  1. The clock will start running when the batteries are installed or when the radio is connected to the mains supply. The display will show ” – : – – “
  2. The time can be set with your radio switched off or on.
  3. Press and hold down the Time Set button for approx. 2 seconds until the hours digits flash in the display with a beep.
  4. Press the Tuning Up/Down buttons to set the required hour.
  5. Press the Time Set button, the minute digits will  ash in the display.
  6. Press the Tuning Up/Down buttons to set the required minute.
  7. Press the Time Set button to complete time setting. The second will start to count.

From what I could find, even the “smartest” waterproof radios and bluetooth speakers draw the line at automatic time adjustment. Oh, well. I like to run my shower radio a bit fast anyway, so I don’t linger under the water.


So in the final analysis, if I really wanted to, I could upgrade several of my appliances and electronics to save the hassle of having to re-set their clocks twice a year. And honestly, I’m considering it!

I admit it; I’m spoiled. But then, perhaps I’m just cranky because I missed an hour of sleep. If only there were a a gadget to fix that… ■

Nintendo’s Gone USB? Now, There’s a Switch!

A confession: I almost didn’t get this blog post out in time, because I’ve been immersed in the massive world of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, on my new Nintendo Switch. I’m not going to go into detail about how I had to wait in line for a few hours on launch night to get mine–those who pre-ordered would admonish me for poor planning, and those who didn’t get theirs when they wanted feel bad enough as it is.

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One of the many launch-night lines. Mario’s got to be wondering why none of the cameras are pointing at him. Source: GoNintendo.com

This week’s post is about the surprising move to the increasingly mainstream USB-C connection standard for the Switch’s charger. Faithful readers may remember my discussion of the new USB-C connector when Apple incorporated it—and nothing else—into their latest MacBook Pro at the end of 2016. Does this mean the days of having to pack multiple chargers and cables are at an end? Well, maybe.

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The USB-C charging port at the bottom of the Switch. Source: CNet.com, click photo for their article, “Zelda at 30,000 feet: Playing the Nintendo Switch on a plane.”

It’s true that the Switch does get its power from a USB-C AC adapter. When placed in its included dock, the power cord fits in a compartment in the back, hidden by a discreet plastic panel. The other end is a beefy transformer brick, so make sure you have room on your power strip or wall outlet for it. To be safe, I invested in APC’s P11VT3 SurgeArrest Surge Protector, with its six widely-spaced outlets.

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So much room for activities! Source: APC.com, click photo for more info.

But what if I didn’t want to use Nintendo’s included power brick?

It’s not an entirely absurd question. The charm of the Switch is that it is entirely portable, as much a successor to Nintendo’s Game Boy and DS handhelds, as it is to their Wii and Wii U set-top consoles. When out of the tabletop dock, the Switch charges off a USB-C port on its bottom. Nintendo’s thinking, I’d wager, is that gamers who plan on traveling with their Switch in “handheld” mode will leave their dock plugged in to the home power outlet; and that those gamers will invest in a second Nintendo Switch charging brick to keep in their officially-licensed Switch Carrying Case while on-the-go.

And that is indeed a solution, if a bit clunky.

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The official Switch charging brick. Note that the cable is not removable. Source: SlashGear.com, click photo for their “Switch Buyer’s Guide.”

The dream of USB charging is only to have to carry one power brick, and only one charging cable. The cable is a separate piece in this dream, because you may need to use it to sync data between devices while not charging. USB is a multi-faceted standard, after all. The problem as I see it comes from the power needs of the various devices that employ USB-C chargers.

Let’s start with that MacBook Pro from last year. The 13-inch model uses a 61 Watt power adapter, and the 15-inch model uses an 87 Watt adapter. Their little sibling, the 12-inch MacBook from 2015 and 2016, uses a 29 Watt USB-C adapter. Apple’s official line is that the higher-wattage adapter will work just fine on devices with smaller power demands, but not vice versa. That is to say, go ahead and charge the 12- or 13-inch laptops with that 87 Watt 15-inch adapter, but don’t try to juice up your 15-inch laptop with only 29 or 61 Watts.

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Apple’s 87W USB-C Power Adapter, cable sold separately (of course it is). Source: notebookcheck.com

Okay, great, so I can use that charger on my Switch?

To determine the Switch’s power needs, a little electrical engineering math is required. The official Switch AC adapter outputs between 5 and 15 Volts at 2.6 Amps (most likely depending on whether the Switch is docked or not). Multiplying 15 by 2.6 gets 39 Watts, so the MacBook Pro adapters—be they 61 or 87 Watts—should make short work of delivering power to anything that needs less than that.

One mustn’t ignore those pesky Amps, though. The power supply you want to use must match or exceed your device’s needs, both in power (Wattage) and electric current (Amperage). My 29W MacBook adapter, for example, outputs either 14.5V at 2.0A if the attached device supports the USB Power Delivery (USB PD) standard; or 5.2V at 2.4A if it doesn’t.

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The “West Virginia” Formulas. Source: twoicefloes.com.

The Switch, as discussed in this Reddit thread, does indeed support USB PD. Since the Switch charges best at 2.6A or higher, my MacBook charger just falls short of the current needs; but it’s also about 10W shy on the power front, so it’s a non-starter either way.

That 87W MacBook Pro charger, on the other hand, delivers a maximum of 20V at 4.3A. Unless something goes horribly wrong, the Switch’s circuitry is smart enough to pull only as much power as it needs, at the highest current it can handle. The 87W charger can deliver all 15V and 2.6A without breaking a sweat. So that will work for your USB-C-equipped MacBook (or Pro), as well as your Switch.

But what if you want to use a multi-port charger?

This is where it gets tricky. In my living room, I have an Anker PowerPort Speed 5 USB Charger in a convenient spot next to my couch. This lets me juice up my phone, plus any other four USB-charged devices I can think of. For reference, my iPhone 7 comes with a 5W charger: 5V at 1A, so I’m in good shape as long as the PowerPort delivers at least that much per port.

From Anker’s website: “The Speed Series was created for one single purpose: To deliver the fastest charge possible to any and all USB devices.”

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Anker’s PowerPort Speed 5 USB Charger. Source: Anker.com.

Utilizing Qualcomm’s QuickCharge 3.0 power delivery standard, the PowerPort outputs between 3.6 and 6.5V at 3A (19.5W); between 6.5 and 9V at 2A (18W); or between 9 and 12V at 1.5A (again, 18W). Insufficient to juice up my Switch (which, for the record, does not support Quick Charge or Dash Charge, according to this write-up.)

The PowerPort is split up, with two QC3.0 ports (the blue ports in the photo above), and three “PowerIQ™” ports. The PowerIQ™ ports output 5V at 4.8A, with a limit of 2.4A per port. Again, not enough Voltage, not enough Amperage. I mean, it’s fine for my iPhone, just not for my Switch.

That’s fine. I expect to have to upgrade some of my charging accessories when I get a new gadget (remember that new surge strip I bought?). So I went back to Anker’s website to see what they could do for me and my Switch.

I started with their PowerPort 5 USB-C (below).

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Anker’s PowerPort 5 USB-C. Source: Anker.com.

 

 

From their spec list: “1 USB-C Port: 5V 3A max” This may actually do the trick, and here’s why: if you’ll recall, the Switch charger outputs between 5V and 15V. If I’m looking for a handy side-table solution for recharging the Switch when it’s out of its set-top dock, I may only need 5V; and since 2.6A is the current requirement, the PowerPort’s 3A spec meets that requirement, as well.

I was feeling adventurous, so I perused the rest of Anker’s selection, to see if they offered any USB charging solutions with higher Voltage. Their PowerPort+ 5 USB-C with USB Power Delivery outputs between 5V and 15V at 3A, or 20V at 2.25A, a maximum of 45W in any scenario.

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Anker’s PowerPort+ 5 USB-C with USB Power Delivery. Source: Anker.com.

I feel more confident ordering the PowerPort+, since it boasts USB PD support (just like the Switch, and even my MacBook charger). My rule of thumb is to match as many of the “manufacturer’s accessory” specs as possible, and this does just that.

Interestingly, Anker currently doesn’t sell any chargers with more than one USB-C port. I kind of get it. It’s still a new technology, and they’d certainly want to avoid any further problems with the spec, like they had last August.

But some of us also want to recharge our Nintendo Switch Pro Controller (sold separately, of course), which also uses a USB-C port!

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The Switch Pro Controller, shown with its USB-C cable attached on top. Source: CNet.com.

I imagine in most scenarios, the Pro Controller will charge on the side table (off that PowerPort+, for example); while the Switch sits docked across the room, by the TV. When it’s time to leave the house, the Switch comes out of its dock and the Pro Controller stays home. The Switch can then travel with its own one-port charger—be it from Nintendo, or another reliable supplier (as long as that charger meets the specs); or a multi-port charger, again, like the PowerPort+.

Anker’s chief rival in the USB charging space, Aukey, does offer a charging station with two USB-C ports, the Amp USB-C 6-Port Charging Station with Quick Charge 3.0.

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Aukey’s 2-USB-C Charging Station. Aukey colors their QC ports green, as opposed to Anker’s blue ports. Source: AliExpress.com.

But look at the specs from Aukey’s site:

(Quick Charge 3.0): 3.6V-6.5V 3A   |   6.5V-9V 2A   |   9V-12V 1.5A

Remembering that the Switch (and by extension, its Pro Controller) does not support QC3.0, you’re probably not going to get that 6.5V/3A charge from either port.

For now, if you want a multiple-port solution that can charge a Switch OR its Pro Controller (but not both at the same time), I’m recommending the Anker PowerPort+ 5 USB-C with USB Power Delivery. If you only need one port, you might as well stick with Nintendo’s own charger.

One final word of warning: since USB-C is still so new; and since it’s always tempting to get the least-expensive cable you can; make sure you get a trustworthy USB-C cable to plug into your new charger, whatever you plan on powering. A good place to start is http://bensonapproved.com. From their website:

All USB Type-C (USB-C) Cables and Accessories are not created equal. Some will charge most efficiently, others might just fry your battery. Google Chromebook engineer and Caped Cable Crusader Benson Leung has been testing USB Type-C (USB-C) cables off Amazon, and it’s not just the no-brand products that have been failing. Benson’s campaign mostly consists of ordering USB Type-C (USB-C) cables off Amazon, testing them to see if they meet the minimum standards or if they’re just knock-offs, and then leaving Amazon reviews. Cables and chargers fail in all sorts of different ways, although incorrect resistors seem to be a common problem that Benson’s been finding. bensonapproved.com lists all USB Type-C (USB-C) Cables and Accessories approved by Benson. For more info follow us on Twitter @bensonapproved or contact us at bensonapproved@gmail.com.

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Benson Leung, Standards Upholder. Not a bad example to set. Source: ComputerWorld.com.

For the record, here are Benson’s recommended USB-C to USB-C cables.

So that’s this week’s post. If you’ve already gotten your Switch (or it’s on the way), I hope this post proves useful, and you can enjoy your new Nintendo system worry-free. After all, from one Zelda fan to another, “It’s dangerous to go alone.”

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Now, more than ever. Source: SecretToEverybody.com.

 

Oh, and if you refuse to get a new console when it first comes out, then this video is for you:

 

My New Best Buds

Happy New Year! In the spirit of putting my best foot forward, I am happy to report that I have achieved closure on one of my lingering items from 2016… no, I still haven’t found a Nintendo Classic. At this point, I may as well set my sights on its rumored successor, the Super Nintendo Classic.

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Come on, Nintendo. One heartbreak at a time. (Source: @trademark_bot on Twitter)

This loose thread from last year involves my quixotic quest to find the perfect wireless earbuds. In my Dec. 12 posting, I touched upon my experiences with earbuds from Sol Republic and Jabra. Neither brand impressed me, nor had models from Plantronics and Jaybird, which I also tried out. In fact, while I was patiently waiting for Apple to release its AirPods, only one brand met my demands for comfort and functionality: Skybuds, by Alpha Audiotronics, Inc.

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Alpha’s Skybuds, enlarged to show detail. (Source: Skybuds.com)

The size and shape were a perfect fit, and the sound quality was great… once I was able to pair them to my iPhone 6S. Out of the box, the setup process was arduous, to say the least. I had to install the Skybuds iOS app, and then, pairing each bud was a fussy process. Sometimes Left would pair without a problem but Right wouldn’t show up; sometimes vice versa; and sometimes neither bud would appear at all. To resolve these issues, Skybuds had a software update I needed to get before I could continue. The update told me it would take three hours to download. Three. Hours. Several times during the download, it would drop the connection and I would have to resume. Luckily it didn’t start over at the beginning of the three hours, but each pause was an unwelcome interruption.

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This tour was only supposed to be three hours, too. (Source: Parade.com)

Once the software was updated and the Skybuds successfully paired in tandem, the listening experience was great. And it had better be, at $249.99 retail*. This was my new gold standard for wireless earbuds, even with the setup headache. Apple was going to have a pretty high bar to cross, whenever their long-awaited AirPods would arrive.

And then they arrived.

I had gotten the Skybuds on 12/12, just after posting my blog about my false starts with other brands. Precisely one week later, on 12/19, my local Apple Store notified me that the AirPods I wanted, and for which I had put my name on a waiting list in September, had finally arrived. I didn’t immediately return the Skybuds; I wanted to try out the AirPods before deciding on a “keeper.” So I bought the AirPods over the phone–mustn’t risk their selling out before I got to the store!–and went to pick them up.

 

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And I didn’t even have to wait in line. (Source: MacRumors.com, click photo for their article on the AirPods release.)

 

The setup process isn’t much to describe. I opened the box in the store, opened the charging case, and the AirPods automatically paired with my iPhone 6S. No app downloads, no three-hour updates. I was reminded of the simplicity of adding components to my first Mac, after switching from a Windows PC over a decade ago. “You mean, that’s it?” I thought to myself. And the answer was a resounding yes… and no.

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For real, that’s the process. (Source: CNet.com, click the animated GIF for their article on how easy it is to set up the AirPods.)

Listening to iTunes or Spotify sounded great with both AirPods in. They even stayed in my ears when I would move my head around, despite this satirical take from Conan O’Brien:

So they sounded good, they paired easily, and they fit well–in my ears, at least. What was left?

 

Despite all the positives, AirPods didn’t get along perfectly with my iPhone 6S, when I tried to have a phone call (fun fact for my younger readers: the iPhone, in addition to supporting email, web, and texting functions, also works as a telephone!). With both AirPods in my ears, paired to my iPhone 6S, the bluetooth would disconnect, forcing the call back to the phone’s built-in speaker. I looked into this issue, and apparently the glitch was even worse for some users, ending the call altogether.

In a recent post at AppleToolBox.com, the topic of “iPhone Airpods Disconnecting Calls” came up.  It appears that I was not the only one having difficulty maintaining a phone conversation with both AirPods in. Indeed, with that hypothesis in mind, I began taking calls with only one AirPod, reminiscent of the classic one-ear bluetooth earpieces of years past. This was not an ideal solution, but at least I could have my calls without worrying about losing the audio, or the call outright.

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Using only one AirPod? I suppose there are worse things I could have done…

According to that Apple Tool Box article, “Currently, the issue appears to affect iPhone 6S and 6S Plus more often than other iPhone models.” I’m not totally surprised. It’s no secret that the AirPods were intended to be a companion piece for the brand-new iPhone 7.

It’s the first iPhone without a headphone jack, remember?

At the end of the year, I upgraded to the iPhone 7. Apple’s iPhone Upgrade Program lets me swap out iPhones each year, when the new model becomes available, so it would have been silly not to trade in my 6S (known to have problems with AirPod calls) for a 7. And for readers who recall my frustration with Mophie for not making a Juice Pack battery case that supported the 7, they finally released a compatible case. Everything was in place.

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It’s essentially the same as the Juice Pack Air for the 6/6S, but with a larger opening for the camera (upper left); and of course, no opening at the bottom for a headphone jack. (Source: Mophie.com)

After several days of testing, I can confidently say that the AirPods have none of the difficulties with the iPhone 7 that they had with the 6S. Songs, videos, and even phone calls sound great in stereo from start to finish. But the last lingering question remains: “Are AirPods better than Skybuds?”

AirPods sound just as good. In my ears, they’re just as comfortable. They’re much, much easier to set up. They’re fully supported by Apple; so if I have a problem with the connection, it’s one trip to the Genius Bar to see if the problem is with the AirPods, or with the iPhone. And it should be noted that they retail for $159.00, as much as $90* less than the Skybuds. For all those reasons, if you have an iPhone 7, AirPods get my full recommendation. If you’re still on an older iPhone (particularly the 6S or 6S Plus), save your money, at least until Apple can properly address the issue with phone calls. Heck, just use wired headphones while you still have an available jack for them!

* UPDATE: At publication time, it appears Skybuds have gone down in price to $219.99.

Underestimating the Demand for 30-Year-Old Video Games? Classic Nintendo.

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The image above is based on a meme, inspired by the Nickelodeon cartoon, The Fairly Odd Parents. For more on the meme: http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/this-is-where-id-put-my-trophy-if-i-had-one

If you hadn’t heard about the NES Classic, you can read up on it at Nintendo’s site here: http://www.nintendo.com/nes-classic

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The NES Classic (foreground), in front of its big brother from the 80s. Banana for scale. Source: IGN.com, click photo for their article on supply shortages.

I’m as disappointed as you not to have more this week. I’ll post a review as soon as I can get my hot little hands on one… hopefully before 2017! Until then, I promise to have new content (whether or not Nintendo is able to replenish supplies) here next week. ◼︎