Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Wii U GamePad Range Issue Fix

My Wii U gamepad started telling me that I needed to be closer to the console - even when I was 6 inches away!  Here's how I fixed it:

First I found a YouTube Video that showed how to fix it.  I was able to do it fairly quickly since I had the same issue a year ago.  I bought the part for $7.99 from eBay so I assumed I would just do that again.

Wrong!  The cheapest I could find on eBay was for $28.99.  Ouch!  So I looked up my old order and bam! - they don't sell on eBay any more.  So I did a web search and found the same part from the same store for $7.99 - it was simply a standalone website vs an eBay seller.  Still not confident in some tiny website, I checked Amazon.com.  No love - it was $34.95 plus $4.95 for shipping.  Well, the site takes paypal, so I ordered it.

Well, it took about two weeks for it to arrive - it had to go all the way from California to Arizona so mostly I thought my order had been lost.

Oddly enough though, by the time the part arrived, my Wii U gamepad started working again.

So now I have an extra part in case it fails again.  However, I can tell you that the video works because I did the same thing a year ago.  If I do have to replace, I'll see if I can get some pictures - just in case it helps anybody else.


Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Death of the Nexus Phones

OK - for people following the goings on in the Android phone world, this is old news but Google has come out with their Pixel phones and have discontinued their Nexus phones.  This is more than just a name change.  The Nexus line had two phones, a midrange phone and a high end phone.  The Pixel line has two phones, a high end phone and a high end phone with a bigger screen.  For those of us not willing to spend $650 on a phone, we've just been priced out.

So why is it a big deal?  Can't I just get a midrange phone from somebody else?  That depends.  To me, a smart phone is a mini-computer.  It runs programs, accesses my private information (banks, emails, contacts, etc.), surfs the internet, etc.  Really, it's not much different than a desktop PC - just smaller.  So, would you buy a PC if you knew it wasn't going to get updated?  No security patches to prevent viruses, no upgrades to the operating system (in this case, Android), to bug fixes, nothing.  I wouldn't.  However, a lot of Android phone vendors are exactly like that.  If I buy a phone made by HTC, Asus, Motorola, Alcatel, OnePlus, etc. will it get security patches?  Upgrades?  Maybe.  That's it, just maybe.  Nexus phones get monthly security updates and get upgraded to the latest version of Android.  Pixel phones get the same treatment.  Do you know who else gets that?  iPhones.  Nice!

That was my initial thought, so I did some research.  Does anybody make Android phones at decent prices that get patches and upgrades?  Sort of.  Three vendors have come out and pledged that they will release security updates for their phones.

  • Samsung
  • LG
  • Blackberry
CORRECTION: Since I published this, Nokia has come out and said their Android phones will get updates.

That's it.  Any other vendor and you have no guarantees.  At least, not that I know of.

I have to admit, I was surprised to see Blackberry on that list but their DTEK60 looks like a pretty good phone.  I was impressed by how they make security a big part of their feature list and will be seriously checking them out when it's time to get my next phone.

LG is also a good brand.  My Nexus 5x is made by LG and I've been pretty happy with it.  I am definitely keeping my eye on them although their high end phones are pretty pricey.  I may have to look more mid-grade.

Finally there's Samsung.  I think I must just love the underdog because I've never really considered getting a Samsung phone.  They're the biggest name in Android phones but I've never really paid that much attention to them.  Perhaps I need to reconsider...

All in all, there are more options out there for well supported phones than I initially thought and I should have quite a few options when I'm ready to go on my next phone.

Of course there's always Apple but... no, I just can't.  Too expensive, too arrogant, too trendy, too controlling.  Nope, I just can't do it.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Withings Activite Steel HR Fitness Tracker Review

I'm going to start with a little history.  I've been a Fitbit fan for quite some time. My first activity tracker was the Fitbit One.  I loved how it would give me a step count, stair count, and it's vibrating alarms.  I thought it was awesome but one day, after a couple of years, I lost it. I was bummed.  I liked it a lot but I decided that I wanted something that wouldn't fall off. I looked at the Microsoft Band but, at the time, it was sold out so I couldn't buy it.  A couple of months later, Fitbit came out with the Charge HR. So I moved to the Fitbit that wouldn't fall off and told me my heart rate. It replaced my watch and has been a good tracker for the past couple of years. However, it had a couple of defects. I couldn't read its display in bright sunlight and sometimes I couldn't get the display to turn on immediately. So it worked great as an activity tracker but, in my opinion, it wasn't a very good watch. So, when it started falling apart a couple months ago -  hey, after two years of constant use, things wear out, I decided to replace it.  Just so you know, I was able to superglue it back together, but I still decided it was time to replace it.. I started looking for an upgrade. 

I decided that I wanted an analog watch so that I could always tell the time.  I wanted something waterproof (I do a lot of swimming). I also wanted to keep the silent alarms and activity tracking that I loved in my Fitbit.

I looked at Fitbit first but the new Charge 2 isn't waterproof.  I looked at Garmin but their analog watch has no alarms. I looked a some Android watches from Timex and Fossil but their watches weren't waterproof. Then a friend at work told me about Withings so I checked it out.

I looked at the Activite Steel and liked what I saw. Analog watch, silent alarms, activity tracking, waterproof, and a battery that lasts for months - awesome - but no display other than time and a dial that showed how close I was to my step goal. I wasn't sure I wanted to be tethered to my phone for most tracking information.  While I was considering, I saw the info for the Steel HR. Everything in the Steel plus a display, a heart rate monitor, and phone, text, and calendar notifications. It looked awesome so I preordered it.

I've had it for about a month now and it's great! I've only had to charge it twice which gives it roughly two weeks per charge. Granted it says 25 day battery life but with alarms and notifications on, it's less - I also didn't wait until it was almost dead. I'm not really complaining though, I mean compared to my Fitbit where I was happy to get 2 days out of a charge, that's huge!

I like the analog display and the option of the digital display for time, date, steps, distance, heart rate, alarm, etc.  It's got everything on my list.  However, it's not quite perfect.  There are a couple of cons:
  1. In the wrong lighting, the watch hands can be difficult to see so I occasionally have trouble telling the time. This is my biggest disappointment but it's not really that bad.
  2. Occasionally, it gets out of sync with my Android phone (Nexus 5x) and doesn't notify for a call or text. This also isn't a big deal and it's been better than my Fitbit Charge HR was.

Overall it's great! It looks like a classy watch with activity tracking and notifications built in. Its battery lasts weeks and it's waterproof. It's not huge like a lot of smart watches (which is good because I have small wrists) but it sure packs a lot in.  So now I'm wearing a watch again, a real watch and I sure do enjoy it!

Monday, January 09, 2017

Insteon: Controller vs Responder

This entry is going to be more of a technical article.  If you're not planning on setting up scenes in an Insteon environment, this isn't for you.  If you are or like me, have been running into some confusion about what should be set up as a controller, what should be a responder, and what should be both.  Here's what I learned.

I've been using Insteon switches for a couple of years now and had set up a few scenes.  When adding a switch to a scene, you have the option of adding it as a controller, a responder, or both.  Not knowing the difference and wanting to cover my bases, I set all of my scenes to both.  Since my scenes were all timing type scenes (e.g. turn on night lights at sunset) it worked fine.  Then I added an 8 button keypad and started programming the buttons to control other lights.  The program for this, of course, is a scene.  Once again, I set every switch and button as both a controller and a responder.  Then I created a scene, specifically for my Echo, to set my lights as movie lights.  It would turn off my kitchen lights and family room lights and set my dining room light at 25% (the kitchen, dining room, and family rooms in my house have no walls between them).  It makes the family room nice and dark but not too dark.  So, as per habit, I set all of the switches as both controllers and responders.  At first it seemed to work.  I could say, "Alexa, turn on movie lights" and the lights would set just like I programmed.  Perfect.  Then, I turned on the dining room light (via the switch) and the family room and kitchen lights turned off.  What!  And the dining room light dropped to 25%.  What!!?  Time to do some research.

What I found was very simple but not documented in a way that I understood it.  So here's how controllers and responders work in the world of Insteon.

Controllers

A controller initiates an action - specifically a scene.  For example, if Switch A is set as a controller for Scene B, then turning on Switch A will initiate Scene B.  So when I set my dining room switch as a controller for my movie lights scene, hitting the switch (turning on the dining room light) also initiated my movie lights scene (turning off the family room and kitchen lights).  Hmmm... that was the problem.

Responders

A responder reacts to an action - specifically a scene.  For example, if Switch A is set as a responder for Scene B, then executing (turning on) Scene B will turn on Switch A.  The difference is that instead of Switch A turning on Scene B, Switch A is reacting or responding to Scene B being executed.  So I fixed by Movie Lights scene by setting my switches to be responders only.  Then, when the Movie Lights scene was executed, the lights did what they were programed to do but turning on the Dining Room switch (or Living Room Switch or Family Room switch) did not execute the scene.

Both (Controller and Responder)

When a component like a switch is set to Both (meaning both a controller and a responder) it will both initiate a scene (controller) and respond to a scene (responder).  This works great if you have more than one button or switch controlling a single light.  Like a 3-way switch.  For example, you have Switch A and Button B both controlling Light C.  In Insteon land only one component actually turns the current on to the light, the other controls the light via a scene.  So, Switch A actually turns on and off Light C but we want Button B to do it a well.  So, we create Scene D.  This scene turns on Light C and is set with Switch A and Button B as both controllers and responders.  So, the logic of the scene is as follows:

  • Turn on Switch A
    • Light C is turned on (because Switch A controls Light C)
    • Scene D is turned on (because Switch A is a controller for Scene D)
    • Button B is turned on or lights up (because Button B is a responder for Scene D)
  • Turn on Button B
    • Button B lights up (because that what Button B does when it's turned on)
    • Scene D is turned on (because Button B is a controller for Scene D)
    • Switch A is turned on (because Switch A is a responder for Scene D)
    • Light C is turned on (because Switch A controls Light C)
Clear as mud?  

So, if Button B is not set up as a responder, when you turn on Switch A, Light C still turns on and Scene D is still executed but, since Button B is only a controller, it doesn't respond - it doesn't light up or set itself in the on position.  That means that if you now push Button B, it lights up and turns on Scene D which tells Switch A to turn on (because Switch A is a responder) which turns on Light C.  However, Light C is already on so you don't actually see any change and may think the button doesn't work.  That's why your buttons/switches need to be both controllers and responders.