Nest: Another Company You Can Count On

Nest: Another Company You Can Count On

wrote recently about how Sony let me down for the third time whereas Apple, under a very similar circumstance, proved once again that they are a company upon which you can rely.

I’ve just had yet another customer service experience with a consumer electronics company when a product of theirs I had purchased, failed. Like the Sony and Apple products, this one was also connected to the Internet through my wifi. It was one of my Nest Protect smoke alarms. They are great. I wrote about them last year.

A few nights ago, one of the Nest Protect smoke alarms went off around 1AM in the morning. All of the units began announcing that there was smoke in the living room. We all got up (except my son who miraculously slept through the entire event – I’ve got to get his hearing checked) and went to the living room only to discover no indication of smoke. We shrugged our shoulders and went back to bed. About 5 minutes later, it went off again. This time, I went to the garage, brought in the ladder and removed the offending Nest Protect. I then called Nest. Someone answered quickly and after I explained what had happened, they determined that it was likely the smoke sensor that had failed. They then told me they would express ship me a replacement unit which arrived the following day. Unlike Sony, Nest never asked me to prove the unit was still within the warranty period. I bought these units from Amazon so the only way Nest knew I had them was that they automatically register themselves with Nest over the Internet, just as you’d expect any electronics product connected to the Internet to do. I just installed the new unit and will be shipping them the failed one (with the pre-paid shipping bag they included with my replacement unit) back to them for their analysis.

This is the kind of customer service I’d expect from a company that stands behind their products and hopes that their customers will recommend them. As I said in the last blog post about Sony vs. Apple, a product is only as good as the customer service you get if and when that product fails. Sony gets an F from me for customer service. Apple and now Nest, get an enthusiastic A. Thank you, Nest.

An excellent, bluetooth speaker

An excellent, bluetooth speaker

Last Christmas my kids bought me a small, waterproof bluetooth speaker so I could listen to music while in the shower. It worked as advertised however, the sound quality was lacking (it didn’t have much bass) and the battery didn’t last very long. It seemed like I was recharging it about once a week or so. It also didn’t have much of a range, requiring my phone to be within 10 feet or so for a good connection. You may have seen this type before. They look like this one:

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They don’t cost much, around $10 to $15 on Amazon, but you do get what you pay for.

A Better Option

I wanted better sound quality and a longer lasting battery. I found both in the Hydra, a water and shockproof, bluetooth 4.0 portable speaker from Photive.

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The Good

The Hydra has good bass, mid-range and highs for a small, portable, wireless speaker. It’s waterproof so you can keep it in the shower or bring it out on the patio and not worry about it getting wet. The battery must be pretty big because the it weighs more than you’d expect which to me means that most of the weight is the battery. That’s good because the battery lasts a really long time. I use my Hydra every day for perhaps 10 to 15 minutes at a time and I literally can’t remember how long ago it was that I recharged it. I’d say it lasts at least a month but probably closer to two months.

Pairing the Hydra to your smartphone or computer is simple since it shows up as discoverable device. Once you turn the Hydra on, there’s a button on the back that will connect it to your device quickly. Just a single press and you’re ready to go. There are also buttons to increase/decrease the volume, skip to the next track or go back to the previous one. These buttons, despite being on the back of the unit, are easy to reach as the unit is designed to point upward with both the front and back at 45 degree angles.

When you do need to recharge it, the unit comes with a USB cable that connects to a port protected behind a rubber cap on the right side of the unit.

The Bad (well, the somewhat bad)

There are two downsides to the Hydra. First, the on/off switch is also behind that rubber cap which means you have to remove it to turn it on and again to turn it back off. I can’t imagine why they didn’t make the on-off switch a pushbutton like the rest of the buttons. This isn’t a huge deal as it only takes a few seconds to pop the cap off, press the on/off switch then pop the cap back on. Still, it’s one thing they could improve. Second, some wireless, waterproof speakers allow you to answer a phone call. The Hydra doesn’t have this capability. If this feature sounds good to you, I’ll tell you that in reality, it’s not. I tried it with my the small, round speaker my kids bought me. It’s not that easy to hear the other person because of the noise your shower makes and it’s not all that easy for them to hear you. It’s also, believe it or not, a little awkward once they realize you’re talking to them from the shower.

The Hydra is not inexpensive. It’s $146 on Amazon compared to only $15 so for the small, round ones. However, the difference between them can’t be overstated. You really do get what you pay for. If you want quality sound from a speaker you can get wet and won’t need to be charged weekly, the Photive Hydra is a great choice.

 

Update: March 9th, 2017

After about 10 months the screws that hold the front speaker screen on began to rust. I contacted Photive and they offered to replace them if I sent them the speaker. I asked if they could just send me the screws and they did so at no charge. It look me a total of 5 minutes to replace them. I appreciate their customer service.

Uber is leaving Austin and your city might be next

Uber is leaving Austin and your city might be next

So it appears there’s a huge dearth of critical thinking in Austin, Texas. There was a vote today on proposition 1 which was attempting to repeal the Austin City Council’s requirement that ride sharing companies like Uber and Lyft do extensive background checks on their drivers.

On the surface this might seem ok. After all, if Uber does more background checks, Uber passengers will be safer, right? Wrong. Uber drivers collectively conduct 1 million trips every day around the world. If Uber had 100 assaults each day it would be an epidemic that would put them out of business and yet your odds of being attached would then be 1 in 10,000. You are almost certainly far more likely to die in a car accident while riding in an Uber car than to be attacked by an Uber driver. For example, your odds of dying in a car accident are about 1 in 100. It should be needless to say that using Uber is very safe. Nothing is completely safe of course. People die in their sleep every year by being strangled to death by their sheets but that doesn’t keep us awake at night.

Let’s say you are a violent person out there looking for the best way to find your next victim. You could choose to simply find people who are home alone, break-in and assault them. If you’re smart, you’ll wear a mask and gloves so you leave little or no evidence behind. Instead, you decide to use Uber to find your next victim. Never mind the fact that everything about your transaction (your name, address, photos of your driver’s license and insurance as well as detailed photos of your car, the passengers name and address, as well as when you accepted the trip, when and where it started, the destination, the time it began and more) will all be tucked securely away on a server of which you have no access. The evidence supporting the victim’s claim that they were assaulted by you will be overwhelming. You’d have to be the stupidest person in the world to think that attacking your passenger is a good idea.

So the city council first wasted tax payer dollars coming up with this ridiculous idea in the first place then Uber has had to waste their time and money trying to fight it. Finally, the ignorant voters, only a tiny percentage of which bothered to vote, came out against the proposition. Worst of all is that the people already have a choice. If you think Uber is dangerous don’t use it.

Now Uber and Lyft will abandon the Austin market all because some ignorant city council members couldn’t be bothered to do a little critical thinking before wasting taxpayer dollars to stifle a valuable service. For those that think Uber is bluffing, they have already announced they are pulling out of Austin effective Monday morning and they have done this before in other cities. If it’s happening in a high-tech city like Austin, Texas with an very educated population, it can happen where you live as well.

Folks, we need more critical thinking. We all need to use common sense, do a little more research and spend a little more time considering our decisions before just reacting to every little headline that comes along. We should all know by now that the media is NOT aligned with our best interests. Their job is to create juicy headlines so you’ll see the ads that make them money. The next time you are outraged by a headline on Facebook or Twitter, spend an extra minute or so to determine if it makes any sense before clicking that Share button. You’ll be the better for it and you’ll be providing a valuable service by not spreading the news equivalent of cow manure.

In this world of instant 24/7 news and social media that can spread a story at nearly the speed of light, it takes an extra level of vigilance and critical thinking to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

Update (5/11/16): In 2015 The Austin Police Department received 7 reports of alleged sexual assaults committed by Uber/Lyft drivers. What percentage of all fares does this represent? I’ve read there are about 5000 Uber/Lfyt drivers. Let’s assume the average driver handles only 2 fares a day to account for the many drivers that only occasionally drive. That’s 3.65 million fares a year. Divide the 7 assaults by 3.65 million and you get just under two millionths of one percent. That’s a microscopic number. This does not seem like a problem worth solving with tax payer dollars. Note that almost all if not all of those reports were made by young, drunk women. While these women certainly deserve to be able to get home without being assaulted, this problem is actually too small to be worth addressing with tax payer dollars. I don’t wish to be insensitive but we wouldn’t be willing to spend $7 million dollars to stop 7 alleged assaults, right? That means there must be a cost-benefit analysis there’s just no way the cost-benefit analysis works here. Uber knows this. They know that in a few months the Uber users will pitch a fit, the City Council will make the background checks optional and Uber will return.

Gun Control: How much is reasonable?

This week President Obama issued an executive order aimed primarily at closing the loopholes that allow guns to legally be sold without a background check. Unsurprisingly, this has generated quite a bit of controversy.

Many conservatives argue that the 2nd Amendment is clear: the Federal Government should not in any way restrict our right to bear arms. Liberals have countered with a different interpretation suggesting that our Founding Fathers meant that state militias should be free to bear arms. While I can understand why liberals think that, grammatically that doesn’t make sense. If that’s what the Founding Fathers wanted, they would have been more clear.

Having said that, imagine your neighbor who has a Ph.d in physics starts building a hydrogen bomb in his garage. Are you OK with this? Now I know what you’re thinking. We have laws against that right? We do. I doubt you could find any sane person who would argue that the 2nd Amendment gives your neighbor the right to build a weapon of mass destruction within a few yards of your living room. So we all agree there is a line somewhere and atomic weapons are clearly on the other side. The 2nd Amendment does not give each of us the right to bear any type of arms. There are restrictions. So the question is what should those restrictions be?

Imagine if a driver’s license was not a prerequisite for taking a car out on the highway. How safe would you feel knowing that many of those around you may not have any clue about the traffic rules and/or may have repeatedly violated them? There have been laws in place for years that require a background check when purchasing a firearm from a gun dealer. These were designed to preclude some people from buying firearms because they have indicated a serious lack of judgment. We could argue just how big the circle encompassing them should be but that’s for another day.

Unfortunately, gun dealers are not the only place you can legally purchase firearms. They can also be purchased at gun shows and online from private citizens with no background check required whatsoever. The President’s executive order will close these loopholes. It won’t stop every bad guy from buying a gun. Nothing will stop that. Even if we outlawed guns altogether and went around collecting them from everyone that had them, there would still be bad guys with guns. Seat belts don’t save everyone either but they save enough people to warrant their mandatory use.

I haven’t convinced you? Imagine your four year old daughter running around the backyard squealing with delight on a warm summer day while you’re inside making lunch. Unbeknownst to you, her shrieks have penetrated your neighbor’s bedroom through the window he left open. After a night of heavy drinking and another one of those fights with his wife you’ve heard far too often, this felon with a history of violence is suddenly awakened and he’s fuming. Enraged, he grabs his Beretta 93R machine pistol, a weapon that fires 1100 rounds per minute, punches out his window screen and sprays your backyard.

Are you really in favor of making it easier for him to purchase a gun?

Review: Star Wars – The Force Awakens

Let me say up front that this review is chock full of spoilers so if you haven’t seen the movie, you might want to stop reading now. Of course, if you are reading a movie review and not expecting it to have spoilers, I’m not sure what to tell you. They do.

I saw the original Star Wars (now Episode IV, a New Hope) when it was released in 1977. I was in the 8th grade. I just loved it. I wanted to see it over and over again but this was a time before movies could be purchased on VHS (that’s the 1977 version of a digital download for you youngsters except that it wasn’t digital and you couldn’t download it). After the movie, I convinced the theater manager to let me clean the aisles between showings in exchange for watching the movie over and over. It was obviously a great deal for him and it worked out well for me too as I found $40 in cash while cleaning.

A few years later, the sequel, The Empire Strikes Back, was released. It was  great because it continued the story and introduced us to new parts and characters of the Star Wars universe. We saw Luke begin his impatient journey towards becoming a Jedi. Just as he had been anxious to leave his Uncle and Aunt’s farm to join the Academy, he’s too anxious to go help his friends in the Cloud City to stay and finish his Jedi training. Han Solo starts out as someone who cares only for his own wants and needs but later starts to realize that whether he likes it or not, these people are his friends and he cares about them. Even Darth Vader begins as completely evil but later begins to have doubts, paying the ultimate price for choosing family over the Empire. Still, the cracks in the Star Wars storyline began to show. As great of an idea as it was to have Darth Vader end up being Luke’s father, it’s pretty obviously that George Lucas hadn’t thought of that when he made the original Star Wars. If he had, Obi Wan would have had a better story to tell Luke about what happened to his father in the first movie. Instead, George finds himself having to explain why Obi Wan said that Darth Vader killed Luke’s father when in fact, he didn’t because they are the one in the same. We get this lame excuse from Obi Wan that it’s all about your point of view. “Point of view?!?”, Luke replies. Luke’s response tells us that even George Lucas doesn’t entirely buy it.

Before I talk about Return of the Jedi, a little history is appropriate. 20th Century Fox was so convinced that the original Star Wars would flop that when Writer and Director George Lucas said he would waive his director’s fee in exchange for the all of the rights to Star Wars, the studio happily agreed. Years later they realized they had made what is arguably the worst decision in movie history. In fairness to 20th Century Fox, science fiction wasn’t doing particularly well at the time. What they failed to recognize was that Star Wars wasn’t really science fiction. It was more of a cowboy movie set in space.

By the time Return of the Jedi was released, George Lucas was making so much money from Star Wars toys and such that he apparently felt the movie would do well no matter how good or bad it was. Fans just wanted another dip in the Star Wars pool. It didn’t matter if it had been pissed in. The fans wouldn’t notice. Really George? You couldn’t come up with anything better than the Empire building yet another Death Star with yet another weakness that would result in catastrophic failure? Haven’t we already seen this movie?

Many years later, George Lucas decided to go back and do 3 prequels. At that time I thought that could be interesting. A lot of backstory could be filled in to help us understand things like how Obi Wan ended up hiding out on Tatooine and how the Old Republic fell, replaced by the Empire. How did Anakin Skywalker ultimately become Darth Vader? Alas, no. We found out instead that George really didn’t care much about these things. He only cared about selling more toys so the movies suffered accordingly. The first, Episode I was especially bad in terms of the plot. C3PO and R2D2 just go along for the ride instead of being the narrators they were in the first three films. I really thought the idea of these two characters being the consistent element that tied all the movies together made a lot of sense. It’s unfortunate that it was abandoned. Over the next two films we get to see some of the worse acting in all of the Star Wars films. You can forgive Hayden Christensen as he was relatively new to acting. On the other hand, someone thought it was OK for Christensen to wear the Dark Vader outfit at the end of Revenge of the Sith looking more like teen Dark Vader than anything. Are we really supposed to believe that Christensen’s whiny voice suddenly becomes that of the ominous Lord Vader?  And who takes such a fine actress as Natalie Portman and gives her so little to work with and so little direction that she comes across like it’s her first acting job ever? The actress actually said that after making Star Wars that she thought her acting career was almost certainly over. It’s to our great fortune that she found a way to prove that even the finest actor cannot convince you they smell wonderful when covered in horse shit.

For years it looked like Star Wars was done. George had taken what began as something with a lot of storytelling potential, something enduring that could be passed down to future generations, something that could become a classic, but chose instead of sell his soul to the devil. I mean that figuratively of course. It appears that even George felt it was done, selling Star Wars to Disney for $4 billion dollars.

Then in 2013, Disney announced that the next Star Wars film was beginning production with J.J. Abrams directing. This gave me a new hope (pun intended). After all, Abrams had created LOST, Super 8 and successfully rebooted the Star Trek series. I’m a huge Star Trek fan. He took a new and very bold direction with Star Trek and it worked. I heard people say that Abrams was even better suited for Star Wars. If that was the case, there was a lot of reason to believe this new Star Wars film could easily eclipse even perhaps the original. Being better than everything after  The Empire Strikes Back of course would be trivial with the bar set so low.

 

I anxiously awaited Star Wars: The Force Awakens with cautious optimism. The teaser trailer arrived and damn, it looked good! When it finally premiered, the early signs were that it was everything I had hoped it would be. Star Wars had been redeemed and could potentially live on as something great. Alas, it was not meant to be.

The movie is exciting, filled with action, great special effects, the occasional pun and most of the characters we have come to know and love along with some new ones. It’s entertaining if you don’t really care about anything other than being entertained for a few hours. The movie is broad but without depth.

I guess the first warning sign really should have been that the film was announced in 2013 for release in 2016. That’s not very long to write a script, do all the pre-production, complete filming and post production. At least, not for a film and big and as important as this. Disney was no doubt anxious to start getting a return on their $4 billion investment.

Because I had not seen these signs, I went to see the movie yesterday filled with anticipation. After about 10 minutes I started to have that same sinking feeling I’d had with the most of the other films. The Force may be awakening but my 12 year old son sitting next to me in the theater wasn’t. He fell asleep about 20 minutes into the film.

The basic story of the movie is a poor, young, orphaned girl, living on a desert planet comes into the possession of a droid that has information inside it vital to the interests of the Resistance and is is suddenly thrust into the middle of a conflict in which she has no interest. The remains of the Empire, now called The First Order, is once again run by a hideous, monstrous being and a dark, masked, cloaked figure who we later find out is related to one or more of the good guys. The Empire builds yet another enormous planet-killing Death Star only this time it’s called the Star Killer. Our heroine discovers that she has the force in her and gets into a light saber fight with the dark, masked, cloaked figure who wants to bring her over to the dark side and train her as a Jedi. She defeats him but doesn’t kill him despite the fact that he appears to be trying to kill her. Later, she helps deliver the cute droid to the resistance who, after extracting the vital information from the droid, once again finds a weakness in the Death Star, sorry “Star Killer”. They attack and despite over-whelming odds, manage to hit the target and destroy the Star Killer. At the last moment, the dark figure escapes so we know he and the Emperor, will be back.

Really? That’s it? Haven’t we already seen this movie? This is just a rewrite of the original movie. It’s parallel is so unimaginably unoriginal that’s it would be truly unimaginable had I not just seen it. I mean, they didn’t just bring back some of the familiar characters, but actually put them back into  essentially the same story. Even Han Solo and Chewbacca are back to their old business and unexpectedly get caught up in the war. So much for a decent plot.

In some movies, a bad plot can be overcome with well-developed characters. We start with Rey, the Luke Skywalker of this film, scraping by on a meager existence on the desert planet Jakku. Soon we meet Finn, a Storm Trooper with a conscience who decides to abandon the First Order when he’s told to kill innocent civilians. Abrams apparently thinks that we don’t really need to know anything about Finn. It’s enough that we see him hesitate to kill. He comes across a prisoner which he helps to escape only because he needs him as a pilot to get away from the First Order. They crash on Jakku where Finn runs into Rey and they end up having to escape in, conveniently, the Millennium Falcon which is in mothballs nearby. The two manage to barely escape only to be captured by of all people, Han Solo and Chewbacca. Next they are attacked by some bad guys because Han once again has failed to deliver on his promises. Some hungry aliens Han is transporting are accidentally released but only seem to immediately eat the bad guys. When one manages to grab Finn, it nearly drags him through the entire ship like a toddler dragging a favorite blanket, giving Rey all the time she needs to find the right button to close the right door and save Finn. Rey helps Han fix the Falcon as if she knows it well but again, we are giving no backstory to explain why this would be the case.

After arriving at the base of the Resistance, Rey follows what sounds like a crying baby to find Luke’s original lightsaber. Upon touching it she has flashbacks which apparently require no explanation because none is given. In the Empire Strikes Back, when Luke ventures into a dark area during his training, Yoda explains it for us. This time, nada. Finn is anxious to get as far away from the First Order as possible (where have we heard this before?) but when Rey is captured by Ren (the Dark Vader of this movie), he suddenly can’t live without her and is willing to risk everything to save her.

What? Come again? They just met a few hours ago, there’s no obvious chemistry between them nor is it even clear that they like one another but suddenly he’s willing to risk his life for her? Had there been some time and reason for them to care for each other this might have made sense but they are strangers at this point.

We are told that the droid, BB-8, has a map to Luke’s whereabouts. When he shows it, we are told that it doesn’t match any known star maps. Yet later, when a map of the galaxy is displayed with the portion of Luke’s travels they do know, there’s a missing section that perfect matches the portion that BB-8 has brought with him. Huh? So the map wasn’t encrypted or drawn in some bizarre way that no one understands? How exactly are we supposed to believe they they couldn’t figure out where this part of the map goes? The resistance is apparently desperate to find Luke and they have a nice dotted line on their map to the one region of space where clearly he must be and yet they can’t find him without BB-8’s portion of the map? Abram’s is either treating us like children or doesn’t think the storyline is important at all. Again we are just asked to accept all of this as the price of admission for another dip in the Star Wars pool.

Ren takes Rey back to the Death Star (sorry, “Star Killer”) and and begins to use the force to torture her into giving him the information he wants. She’s resistant and demands that he remove his mask. Of course he capitulates, something Darth Vader would never have done, and instead of finding out that his mask hides a hideous face, he instead is a handsome, young guy so it now becomes difficult to really, truly hate him the way we did with Darth Vader. He hasn’t even killed anyone yet. Failing to get what he wants, Ren decides to try again later and leaves Rey locked up. Rey suddenly figures out that she has the Force and uses a Jedi mind trick to get the guard to let her go. Huh? Once again we are asked to accept something implausible. Rey, having had not a sign that she has any special abilities, having had no training whatsoever, can suddenly perform a Jedi mind trick that it took Luke 3 films to master?

At this point we find out that Ren is the son of Han Solo and Princess (now General) Leia who sent him off to be trained by Luke. Instead he turns to the dark side and joins the First Order. Really? Where have we heard this before? It’s Obi Wan and Anakin Skywalker all over again. Leia asks Han go after their son because she knows there is good left in him, just like his dear old Granddad, Darth Vader. Unlike Vader, Ren cannot control his emotions and has a few temper tantrums. When his underlings fail him, he takes out his frustration on the hardware rather than make an example as Vader did. This makes no sense at all, though there was a funny moment where two storm troopers, coming across their boss having a fit, decide he needs some alone time and make a quick exit.

When Han comes across Ren, the only backstory we have is a few lines from Leia so we barely feel like Han and Ren are anything more than complete strangers. Just as it looks like he might be getting through to Ren, Han is killed by him. Again, no storyline to help us understand any of this. We are asked to just accept it. There were no signs at all that Ren hated Han. Clearly while Harrison Ford agreed to be in this movie, he wanted assurances that he wouldn’t be expected to be in any more of them. Chewbacca, having just seen his best and oldest friend killed right in front of him, chooses to set off the bombs he’s laid but doesn’t go after Ren to avenge Han’s murder. No, instead we get one scene back at the rebel base with Chewy looking more like he’s got a headache than mourning the loss of his best friend. Chewy was more distressed in The Empire Strikes Back when Han was left overnight outside on the planet Hoth than in this movie where Han is killed right in front of him. Leia, having sensed Han’s death, looks less like a woman whose husband (or at least the father of her children) had just died and more like someone whose lunch is repeating on her.

Later, Finn gets into a light saber fight with Ren. This is a fight between a former storm trooper who had probably never even seen a light saber up close and a Jedi who we assume has mastered it. Despite this, Finn seems to hold his own, at least for a while. Considering Ren’s custom light saber with it’s little mini-sabers sticking out the sides, it’s wonder that Ren didn’t kill himself. When Ren knocks Finn unconscious, rather than take the opportunity to kill this traitor to the First Order, he just stands there. Then, deciding that what he really wants his is Uncle Luke’s light saber, rather than walking over and picking it up, he instead uses the Force to will the device into his hand. With all his power and experience, the light saber is unresponsive but finally it comes loose from the snow and flies towards him, passing right by and into the hands of Rey! Wow! She really is some Jedi! I mean, it took Luke several attempts in the ice cave on Hoth but not Rey! She barely knew what the Force was a few hours ago but suddenly she’s doing things that her foe that her well-trained foe can not. She’s a quick learner because regardless of having had no training with a light saber, she has little trouble fighting Ren who as I said before is presumed to be at the minimum, very experienced with a light saber. We are asked to just accept all of this.

I had heard that the ending was a really twist. Despite the let down I had experienced so far, I figured that the ending might make the movie worth while. Since I knew that Luke was in this movie and had yet to make an appearance, surely there was quite a bit of movie to go, right? Nope. Luke is in the last 30 seconds of the movie and never utters a word. This was a decent setup for the next movie of course (like the ending of The Empire Strikes Back) but am I the only one that feels gypped?

The move title, “The Force Awakens” sounded great and I expected it to be the central theme of the movie. Instead, Rey discovers she has Jedi powers and is able to do amazing things nearly instantly. This could be accepted and even understood if there had been ANY backstory WHATSOEVER to explain why she might be a powerful Jedi. It’s not really central to the story at all. Put another way, Rey’s discovering of her Jedi powers is not really important to the story at all, let alone its central theme.

I had so much hope going into this film. Many friends had seen it and said it was great. Instead I saw a film that, while entertaining, did nothing to rebuild what little reputation Star Wars had left. It’s sad because it could have been great. If I could narrow it down to one thing, I’d say that Abrams was trying to put too much into a single film. That meant leaving out desperately needed backstory , plot details and character development.

Am I expecting too much? Is my bar too high? I don’t think so. Look at the Harry Potter series. It’s nearly perfect in just about every way one could measure it. Long after Star Wars is forgotten, the Harry Potter series will be an enduring classic. What’s the difference? The Harry Potter series was shepherded from start to finish by a single person who cared deeply for the story and only the story.

 

Is Spotify harming your Mac?

When my daughter was in elementary school, she asked me for a computer of her own. I told her that once she reached high school, I’d get her one. Last August, that day finally arrived so we went to the Apple Store here in Austin, Texas and bought her a MacBook Pro.

A few weeks ago, she started to complain that the computer was making a buzzing sound. It only happened while the computer was asleep. I checked it out and sure enough, every few minutes it would buzz and vibrate slightly like a smartphone set to vibrate. I made an appointment at the Apple Store and took it in.

The guy at the Genius Bar knew exactly what the problem almost certainly was before he even looked at it. He said, “The only moving part in that computer is the fan. Let me take it in the back and run a diagnostic.” He picked up the MacBook Pro and vanished into the crowd of customers and Apple Store employees. About 10 minutes later he reappeared and confirmed that the problem was indeed the fan. He said it would take 3 to 5 days to get it repaired and fortunately it’s covered under AppleCare. Several days later I received an email that the computer was back from repair and ready for pickup.

Yesterday morning, I noticed that her MacBook Pro was buzzing again. I took it to my desk (I work from home) and left it there, sleeping, while I worked. Every few minutes, sometimes several times a minute, it would make that same buzzing sound. Sometimes the buzz was very short (less than a second) and sometimes long (several seconds). I discussed it with Greg, one of the engineers I work with. We took a look at her Login Items in System Preferences -> Users & Groups. She had several that could no longer be found so I deleted those. This got Greg wondering about background tasks. He had me download a tool that would show them. There were only two. One was from Adobe because my daughter has the Adobe Creative Suite and that task is almost certainly checking for updates. The other was part of Spotify. Like the Adobe task, it was probably getting updated information from a server somewhere. Unlike Adobe, however, this Spotify task appeared to be running even when the computer was asleep. The computer was running on the battery and PowerNap was turned off for the battery so Spotify should not have been running at all.

Using the tool Greg asked me to download, we turned off the Spotify background task. I put the computer back to sleep and left it on my desk. It never buzzed again. So what was that buzzing that Spotify had caused? Greg is pretty sure it was the sound the SDD makes when it’s waking from sleep. This makes sense. Spotify was running a background task and upon receiving new information, writing it to disk. The problem is, it shouldn’t be doing that while the computer is asleep especially because SSDs have a limited number of reads and writes before they go bad. That number is really, really high but still, Spotify was unnecessarily reducing the life of the SSD in my daughter’s MacBook Pro. If you have Spotify installed, you might want to look into it.

I run a software company and I really appreciate feedback from users. With that in mind, I went to the Spotify website to contact them about the issue. There was no way to contact them without a Spotify account. Even the option to login with your Facebook account is not a solution because for that to work, your Facebook account must be linked to your Spotify account. It appears that Spotify only wants to hear from their own users.

If you’re a Spotify user, please contact them and point them to this post. They really need to fix this problem because they may be potentially harming Macs with SSDs without even realizing it.

As for the fan in my daughter’s Macbook Pro, it was probably coincidental that it was bad. Having said that, I’m tempted to take it back in and see what Apple thinks.

Gun Control

In my last post I compared gun ownership and gun death statistics. After posting a link to my blog on my Facebook page, a fierce debate was started between my friends on both sides of this argument. Both quoted statistics that supported their positions and had very strong emotional reactions to what the other side was saying. When I see this, the party having the reaction starts to lose credibility with me because they are now being emotional rather than rational. Emotions are important but what is more important when it comes to public policy is that we look at the situation rationally, trying as best we can to keep our emotions at bay.

While I generally favor keeping the government out of one’s personal business, I don’t own a gun and in the past have definitely favored reducing the number of guns in the US over any other proposal. However, my thoughts on this are changing. This week Sam Harris, an author and lecturer who is one of the most rational people I have ever known of, blogged about what he called “The Riddle of the Gun”. Sam is, on both sides of this issue in that he wants less gun violence but he is a gun owner. It’s a long post but well worth reading because Sam lays out a very rational argument and points out where both sides have been right or wrong.

In summary, Sam states that guns are hear to stay and we should be careful not to over-react to mass shootings like the one in Newtown (as difficult as that can be) because they are rare and there are many things that kill far more people each year, none of which are the subject of public debate. Where we do need more gun control, Sam points out, is in the process of owning guns. He suggests that a license to own a gun should be like getting a pilot’s license which requires hours and hours of training among other things. This is a sensible argument. Sam says (and this was pointed out to me by one of my pro-gun friends as well) that trained gun owners have a much better record when it comes to removing a threat and not killing innocent bystanders than police officers do. But for that to work, you need well and regularly trained gun owners. Right now, just about anyone can buy a gun at a gun show with little in the way of a background check and no required training. The police also can’t respond as fast as someone who is already on the scene. As Sam points out, this is not a matter of priority, it’s a matter of physics.

Sam has changed my opinion when it comes to guns because his argument is well-considered and quite rational. As much as I wish people weren’t killing each other, that’s still going to happen so we have to look at the most rational and practical way to reduce it. His suggestion is to make the process of obtaining a gun ownership license far more stringent than it is today and that seems like the best option to me as well. He also points out that a lot of gun violence is drug-related so ending the failed war on drugs would also end a lot of gun violence. That’s another point upon which he and I agree.

Read his post and let me know what you think.