What case for the iPhone 12 Pro Max and what is MagSafe useful for?

After an agonizing two-day post-order wait, an iPhone 12 Pro Max has arrived from Verizon. My main interest in this new phone is the purportedly improved camera (the super wide “0.5x” camera on the iPhone 11 Pro Max was especially bad, with terrible corner and edge sharpness).

Do any of the early adopters have a case recommendation? I’m interested in (a) protecting the camera lenses from being scratched while in my pocket, and (b) making it more secure to grip the camera (a slightly soft silicone case would therefore be good).

Finally, what is MagSafe useful for? It is supposedly a “wireless charging” system that requires connecting the phone to a wire? This could be considered an innovation in the English language, but how is it a useful innovation technologically? If I have to attach a wire with a magnetic connector to the back of the phone, can’t I just as easily attach a Lightning cable to what we would have called the “female” connector in the phone back in the pre-LGBTQIA+ days?

(I don’t have Apple DouchePods nor an Apple Watch, which I understand both interact somehow with MagSafe.)

From Union Square, last week, a toilet for the homeless with a billboard for the new $1,000+ phones in the background. Social Justice, California-style:

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KitchenAid tries to burn our house down a second time

From 2016: High-end KitchenAid range with burner stuck on.

It happened again! The burner controls fail such that the gas is stuck on. Fortunately the burner happened to be lit so the house didn’t fill up with unburned gas and explode. It is a challenge pulling the range away from the wall while the burner burns and then turning the shutoff valve. An elderly, frail, or small person would never be able to do this.

After three calls and more than 2 hours on hold, I was able to reach someone at KitchenAid customer service. They would be able to come out and begin the diagnosis process… in 17 days. Would they pay for a new gas valve? “Your range was made in 2013. It’s out of warranty.” Did they think it might be worth looking at the engineering design of the gas valve, e.g., so that it would fail in the “gas off” position rather than the “gas on” position? Wouldn’t that make it less likely to burn houses down? “Did your house actually burn down, sir?”

(If they can’t engineer gas valves that don’t fail after 3-7 years in the ON position, they could put a consumer-accessible gas shutoff valve on the front, just before all of the valves. That would be a huge safety enhancement.)

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Alexa and Google Home have proved that home automation is useless?

Ken Olsen, the founder of Digital Equipment Corporation, a pioneer in minicomputers, disparaged microprocessors for controlling houses back in 1977:

In 1977, referring to computers used in home automation at the dawn of the home computer era, Olsen is quoted as saying “There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home.” Olsen admitted to making the remark, even though he says his words were taken out of context and he was referring to computers set up to control houses, not PCs. According to Snopes.com, “the out-of-context misinterpretation of Olsen’s comments is considered much more amusing and entertaining than what he really meant, so that is the version that has been promulgated for decades now”.

We’ve had 43 years of progress since then. The functions that he said were useless to accomplish by touching a switch are now useless to accomplish with our voices (are we truly so fat and lazy that we can’t get off the sofa to flick a light switch and need to ask Alexa to activate a light?).

I’m still kind of an enthusiast for a computer-controlled home, especially if we could have electrochromic windows and skylights everywhere around the house and/or motorized shades and brise soleil. But even in technologically advanced societies, such as Korea and Taiwan, the typical component of a house continues to be dumb, right?

Bonus… a picture of Ken Olsen’s former house, past peak foliage:

For folks who believe in the magic of American real estate as an investment: the Zillow link above says that the house was sold in 2007 for $1.9 million and is now worth $2 million, 13 years later. Up 5 percent, right? (actually 0 percent if it costs 5 percent in real estate commissions to sell) But let’s not forget that it is attracting $28,832 per year in property tax even before the ground has been broken on the nation’s most expensive (per student) school ever constructed.) The S&P 500, by contrast, was at 1,455 at the time of the sale. On October 26, 2020 it was 3,465 (up 138 percent). Instead of requiring the payment of property tax, the S&P 500 has been paying a dividend every year during this period.

What if we adjust for inflation? The house cost $2.4 million in today’s mini dollars. So it has actually lost more than 20 percent in value when you consider the broker fees that will need to be paid to unload it. (Adding insult to injury: U.S. capital gains tax does not adjust for inflation, so the unlucky owner might have to pay capital gains tax on the increase in nominal value despite the fact that there was a loss. in real (inflation-adjusted) terms.)

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What’s a good (and slim) 55-inch TV for Chromecast?

The Samsung UN55ES8000 that was state of the art in November 2012 ($2500) has failed after perhaps 2 hours per month of use. When it can be turned on at all, the screen is filled with a random pattern. One thing that was awesome about this was the depth: just 1.2 inches. The TV is mounted in a fairly small room where one has to walk past it.

I assume that the $2500 TV is now 1080p junk and not worth repairing.

What’s a good 55-inch flat screen TV replacement? This won’t be hooked up to cable. It would be nice to have a TV with built-in Google Chromecast since that seems to be the most convenient way to watch Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney Plus (Hamilton every night 4-Ever!).

I am reluctant to spend big $$ again given that this thing failed after not too many hours of use.

(Should I perhaps also give a shout-out to Panasonic? A 50-inch plasma TV purchased 12 years ago and used far more than this dead Samsung is still working perfectly! It is rather thick and only 1080p resolution, but it shows no sign of flaking out. Panasonic quit the U.S. TV market in 2016.)

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Landline cordless phones with call blocking?

Given that the U.S. phone system has been taken over by spammers (unintended consequence of what we expected to be the boon of free unlimited calls), you’d think that the core feature of any landline cordless phone system would be intelligent call screening and call blocking.

Panasonic has always been my favorite brand of phone (e.g., this five-handset system), but their call blocking system seems to rely on ringing the phone, having the owner answer, and then having the user press the “Call Block” button (plus some additional keys, I think) to store the caller ID in a small local database. When spammers can generate any caller ID that they want (thank you, American phone system engineers for ignoring 40 years of public-key cryptography!), including the phone number for the local public school, what is the value in this?

Given the low cost of computing hardware, why wouldn’t cordless phones (a) connect to WiFi and then communicate amongst themselves a known list of spam caller IDs that don’t correspond to real numbers, (b) do a “hello, may I help you?” interaction with callers whose IDs are not in the contacts directory?

“AT&T” brand phones (are these actually from AT&T or is it like “GE Appliances” that are run by Haier in China?) seem to have a partial solution, which they call “Smart Call Blocking”. From the manual:

If the call is not in the directory, essentially, the caller is prompted to speak a name and type #. One issue with this is that automated calls from organizations that don’t use email, e.g., pharmacies and hospitals, won’t get through. But maybe the solution there is to always provide one’s mobile phone number to these enterprises.

Presumably it is necessary for sanity to purchase a “Connect to Cell” AT&T model so that the directory can be preloaded from one’s mobile phone instead of manually populated. Bizarrely, though, there seems to be only one AT&T model that has both the cell phone connection and the smart call blocker: DL72310 (the three-handset version).

Given that Americans have been going crazy for years being bothered by these calls, how is it possible that there are so few home defense solutions?

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Essential shopping at the gun store

A friend here in Maskachusetts texted us regarding his latest trip to an essential business that remains legal to operate: “No employees in gun store wearing mask.” A bit later: “At another gun store. Also no masks. Cop in here also with no mask.”

An exchange ensued regarding why an excursion was worth the Covid-19 risk:

  • Me: You’re in a gun store because you don’t already have enough guns? How many guns do you think you have at this point?
  • Him: Over 400. My Glocks are getting out of date.
  • Me: Are there actually significant improvements?
  • Him: These are 1/4 inch slimmer.
  • Second friend: Everyone is moving to red dot sights on pistols.
  • Third friend: No, the pistols themselves are stagnant if not possibly retrograde, but the improvements have been in aiming them.
  • Him: These are 3-4 oz lighter than the previous alternative. But [Third friend] is right in that a Glock from 1988 is 98 percent as good as new one.

Separately, what will happen to all of the guns that Americans bought during the BLM protests? There were a lot of first-time gun owners who aren’t committed to maintaining proficiency at the range, cleaning the weapons, etc. Will there be a public health emergency of misfires a few years from now as these guns sit?

Firearms advice from our next president (however briefly he may serve):

(my friends above beg to differ; “Best home defense is 6 inch 300 BLK SBR with 30 round mag with silencer and Aimpoint.” What about Biden’s idea of a double-barreled shotgun? “Those are for clay shooting. No one uses those for home defense. They are for shooting small birds so have 22-inch barrels. And if you saw it off, it is life in prison.”)

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Fanny pack sales will get a boost from coronapanic?

Americans have spent months at home, lounging in sweats and stretchy shorts while watching television and/or playing with their phones. Our heroes get off the sofa only for periodic dives into the fridge for waist-expanding calories.

Will we be able to tolerate the discomfort of ordinary pants and belts ever again? If not, how will we carry wallets, keys, and phones? Running pants aren’t adapted for this application. Enter… the fanny pack!

Readers: Will there be a fanny pack (or “waist pack”) boom as soon as we have some need to leave our houses?


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Impeller-based top-load high-efficiency washing machines?

Another day, another appliance failure. It is time to replace a washing machine. The space into which this slots is kind of tight, so it would be good to stay within the 27×27″ footprint that was formerly standard before (a) Americans got bigger, and (b) laundry machines got bigger via front load designs.

There are some top loading machines that still fit the old footprint. Supposedly the latest and greatest are impeller-based and don’t have the agitator spindle in the middle. This is an attractive idea, at least, since it would seem to be better for loading in bulky sheets, towels, etc., and not having them get tangled around the agitator. On the other hand, there are a lot of negative reviews of these machines online.

The dryer duct in our apartment is long and windy, thus making the dryer somewhat inefficient. The higher spin speed of the impeller-based machines is therefore attractive.

Does anyone have experience with this new breed of impeller-based top-loading washing machines? The ones that would seem to fit the space best are from Maytag and GE.

How about front loader versus these new-design top loaders?


Unrelated: a backhoe and/or laundry service in Anguilla, from 2002…

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Why aren’t there good fish tank cameras? (underwater in the aquarium)

Public aquariums have webcams, e.g., from the Georgia Aquarium (funded by Home Depot founder Bernie Marcus and reopened, unlike our aquarium here in Boston).

What about for hobbyists? We should be able to buy a product that goes into the tank, gets power from a USB-C cable, and transmits video back up the cable to a wall wart that then pushes the video up to a server or at least a local computer. This is basically the same hardware as in an $85 Ring Stick Up camera, right, but cracked into a couple of pieces and a little more waterproofed?

Why doesn’t this product exist? Why can’t our fish “go live” on Facebook without a lot of custom engineering?

(And, no, it wouldn’t be acceptable to have a camera on the outside of the tank due to algae growth. Nor is it easy to find that kind of product already packaged up!)

(above: Atlanta’s Georgia Aquarium)


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What home security cameras for impending collapse of Massachusetts?

Governor Baker has now announced that schools in Massachusetts will be closed through June (i.e., until September). There was a hint at the briefing that businesses would also be ordered closed through June in that the order to close daycare for non-essential workers would be closed through June was explained with”to align reopening of child care with the reopening of businesses.”

We have friends who say that Massachusetts has a reasonable chance of descending into looting, home invasions, ATM kidnappings, etc. They’re not very tech-savvy, but they want some outdoor home security cameras that will at least discourage the roaming criminal gangs. What’s a good solution to secure the four corners of a suburban house? It has to be something easy for non-technical people to set up themselves. (And do cameras actually discourage criminals enough to motivate them to move to the next house that doesn’t have them?)

(Are their fears justified? There are a lot of programs for government hand-outs, but the free cash is limited to people who are great at filling out paperwork. That could leave a substantial portion of the population in desperate straits. Venezuela went from pleasant to lawless after a severe economic downturn. Why not the U.S.? I guess that is why everyone was buying guns and ammo until the gun shops ran out.)


  • Wirecutter recommends the Google Nest Outdoor Security Camera, but it doesn’t seem like it is intended for people who want to cover the entire perimeter of a suburban house (more like monitor the front door and driveway)
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