Microsoft keyboards back from the dead

For those of us whose hands and brains are accustomed to the Microsoft Sculpt ergonomic keyboard, which was discontinued in 2023, it looks as though there is hope. Microsoft has apparently made a deal with Incase, an established computer accessory company, to revive the Microsoft keyboard line (presumably coming out of the same factory in China).

If only Google would do this with Picasa! Open source it so that someone else can take care of the former customers.

The Microsoft product page is still live:

An Amazon seller has a used one for $369:

I paid $111 for this in March 2021. Adjusted for Bidenflation at the official rate, that’s supposedly about $130 today.

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ChatGPT for editing images

We have two Bertazzoni-brand wall ovens. One is a microwave that purportedly also works as a thermal oven, but is wildly inaccurate for temperature. The other is a big convection oven that is even worse for temperature control (if you set 350 you might get 310 or 400).

I’m trying to figure out if I can live my domestic dream of a GE Advantium microwave that can also broil via a halogen light and a wall oven that can inject steam into the cavity for roasting turkey without drying it out, a feature that we had on a KitchenAid range back in Maskachusetts. GE and its brother/sister/binary-resister brands Cafe and Monogram don’t make any full-height ovens with a steam feature. LG and Samsung are the reasonably-priced brands that do make full-size ovens with a steam kicker and they don’t offer Advantium. So I am trying to do a photo montage of the disparate brands to see which ones clash the least.

The LG oven photo comes with a huge red badge on it. I asked ChatGPT 4 to remove it:

I’d like you to edit this photo to remove the red badge at lower right and fill in the pixels to be symmetric:

Maybe readers will want to weigh in on this important decoration issue! Here are Monogram, Cafe (no logo!), and GE versions of the same 240V 30″ Advantium wall oven:

Here is the Samsung steam-capable oven:

(The LG is above.) Here’s another version of the LG:

The “Signature Kitchen Suite” product appears to be exactly the same oven internally, but costs about $2,000 more, maybe due to heavier and fancier faceplate and door, a three-year warranty, a dedicated service organization for the elite/stupid. etc.

I’m thinking that the Monogram+Samsung and Monogram+Signature are least likely to cause a visitor to the house to ask “What happened?” or “Who hurt your kitchen?”

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Who has an Apple Vision Pro VR headset coming?

Today is the day, supposedly, for Apple to begin delivering its $3500-4150 version of the $500 Meta Quest 3. Have any of you ordered one? Tried one? Figured out what could be done with a device that becomes a 1 lb. stone around your head after two hours of battery are exhausted?

As with everything else from Silicon Valley, it is important to be young and Black to be an effective user:

But what if you’re not young and Black? What would you say that you do here?

Based on a quick search, it doesn’t seem as though the obvious “take a walk through every famous art museum” app is available, either for Meta’s or Apple’s headset. On the more mature Meta product, it seems as though shooter games are popular. But who is going to invest in developing great games when there are only 20 million Quest headsets out there and many have been collecting dust on shelves? A non-VR game can be sold to almost anyone on the planet (Xbox, PlayStation, PC). The problem is yet worse for the Apple VR world. Apple is planning/hoping to sell just 400,000 headsets in the first year. A $20 game that gets 10 percent market share will yield just $800,000 in revenue for a developer.

I was wrong about Tesla’s prospects for success and wrong about Bitcoin, so I’m probably wrong about the Vision Pro. But what will it actually be used for?

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Sub-Zero refrigerator with R600a owner’s review

Back in October 2022, we ordered a $13,249 Sub-Zero refrigerator to replace a 42-inch-wide KitchenAid from 2003. The KitchenAid was a $500 landlord special wrapped in $3,000 (pre-Biden dollars) of cabinetry. It looked beautiful with panels that match our cabinets. Unfortunately, the fridge was set up with a single compressor and single evaporator. Cold air to the fridge was supplied via a duct/door from the freezer compartment to the fridge compartment. Failed insulation after 20 years between the two compartments resulted in frost building up every 3-4 weeks and causing the freezer to go down to -20F while the fridge went up to +50F or higher. The automatic defrost mechanism wasn’t hitting the location where this frost was building. KitchenAid’s latest and greatest fridges weren’t exactly compatible with our panels and, in any case, were out of stock. Everyone seems to like the local Sub-Zero service organization and friends with Sub-Zs were happy with the product, so decided to go “Full Douche”.

The new fridge showed up in mid-January 2024, 15 months after our order. Partly this was due to underpricing in a world of raging inflation (corrected to some extent; the current price is $14,250, a 7.5 percent increase that in no way suggests that the U.S. is plagued by inflation). Partly this was due to Sub-Zero having introduced a new product line that relies on R600a refrigerant, which is more energy efficient and also enables a more compact cooling system, thus resulting in 0.5 cu. ft. more freezer space.

The aesthetics, such as they are, take some getting used to. It’s a huge wall of stainless steel in what is otherwise a somewhat traditional kitchen. The cream-colored cabinet panels that we had before looked a lot better in my opinion. If you’re starting from scratch and have the option to do matching cabinet panels, I recommend that. Actually, if you’re starting from scratch and have the option to use a non-built-in fridge that can be purchased at any time at Home Depot for $1,000 to $2,500 (a dual evaporator model at the higher end), I recommend that! Despite its hulking size, this 42-inch-wide fridge holds only 24 cu. ft. in the two compartments combined. You can make a freestanding fridge look like a built-in simply by digging out a one-foot space behind the fridge. A 36-inch-wide LG freestanding fridge has 30 cu. ft. of space. It’s 36 inches deep without handles (compare to 26″ for the Sub-Z). It has dual evaporators, all kinds of fancy features including a clear door, and costs $3,200. If it were to die, Home Depot has a whole page of 36-inch wide freestanding fridges, including single-evaporator models (like our old KitchenAid!) starting at just over $1,000.

The first thing that we noticed is the noise. This fridge has, I think, two compressors. Each one is definitely louder than on a standard LG or Whirlpool fridge and the two together make a continuous rumbling that is audible from 15′ away. Everyone who comes to your house will be constantly reminded of what a rich douche you are!

The second thing is that the ice/water dispenser is a design failure compared to what KitchenAid, LG, or anyone else provides. A glass must go twice as deep into the fridge as on the old KitchenAid. If you’re trying to make a powdered drink, for example, it is impossible to stir and fill at the same time (was easy to do with the KitchenAid). More problematic, the water continues to flow for a split second after you take the cup away, thus resulting in a significant spray into the drip tray.

We haven’t had time to experience whether Sub-Zero’s ethylene gas filter (replace once/year for $65) and other preservation tricks will, in fact, keep produce in good shape for longer. A retailer in Maskachusetts did a test back in 2020 and concluded that “Sub-Zero was the overall winner. It did an excellent job on the grapes and lemon. The cucumber could have been fresher.” The Sub-Zero does have three completely separate sealed drawers in the freezer and four in the fridge, so maybe that helps reduce cross-contamination.

The fridge has built-in Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. It was easy to set up the app and the fridge on Wi-Fi. However, the app doesn’t seem to do what you’d want it to do, i.e., warn you that the actual fridge temp is nowhere near the set fridge temp. In fact, the app can’t show the current refrigerator temperatures (displayed on a panel inside the fridge), but only what it is set to do. This was obvious during the startup phase when the fridge was set to 37 and actually at 70.

The interior lighting is awesome. If you hire a decorator to come in once a week and arrange everything that you bought at Publix, the result will be a tasteful beautifully lit display. (Or cram in 35 cu. ft. of food, half of it expired, and it will look like our fridge.)

Owners seem to like Sub-Zero. Here’s the satisfaction ranking from Consumer Reports:

Maybe the old refrigerant was associated with a quieter compressor because Consumer Reports reviewed an older model and said that it was 5/5 on quietness. On the third hand, our house came with a ghetto $700 Frigidaire R600a-based 11 cu. ft. fridge built in 2018. It is completely silent (lives in a pantry closet, but we’ve never heard it, even when going into the closet to get items). So the latest and greatest Thunberg-approved Earth-saving refrigerant does not necessarily result in noise.

Three guys from the appliance store (Jetson in Stuart, Florida) came to deliver and install the new fridge ($275, including hauling away the aesthetically beloved KitchenAid). Although I usually don’t see color, I noticed that all three were Black. Skilled labor like this in Boston, by contrast, almost always involves a team of white people coming to the house; Blacks in Maskachusetts occupy a parallel society to which whites seldom gain access. It’s about a two-hour process for removal, delivery, and careful installation.

The KitchenAid lasted for 20 years so the good news is that we have to live with the wall-of-stainless look and the noise for only 20-25 years (median age for replacement of a Sub-Zero is about 22 years, supposedly). I’m still trying to figure out who thought stainless was such a great idea! It won’t accept fridge magnets, which is tragic. It isn’t easy to clean. If stainless steel is so beautiful, why not cover a bedroom or living room wall in stainless? (Elon Musk might be on board with this! He is a huge proponent of stainless steel in rockets and in the Cybertruck.) I guess that circles us back to building a nook for a 36-inch-wide fridge. The visual impact of one of those is much smaller both due to the reduced width and the lack of a compressor tower on top.

Related:

  • the LG 42″ fridge that costs 2/3rds as much ($9k): “Stopped working several time and was Compressor was replaced and 4 months later it is not working again.” and “I bought and had this installed 10 weeks ago, but immediately had problems. … Finally, after 8 weeks, the technician identified the problem as a bent water hose inside the door — a result of poor manufacturing/assembly.” (the $55 water filter is weak by Florida standards; good for just 6 months or 200 gallons; Sub-Z’s is 1 year or 300 gallons for $69)
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If you strung your own Christmas lights, you were paid $6,000 after taxes

Merry Christmas Eve!

If you want to feel better about your economic situation, here is a crew stringing lights at a neighbor’s house:

“Is that the same company that strung lights for the HOA’s clubhouse?” I asked. “They told me that their minimum fee is $5,000.” The owner of the house responded, “We’re paying $6,000.”

So… if you strung your own lights this year, that’s like being paid $6,000 extra, after tax.

Merry Christmas, indeed!

Separately, how tough would it be to build a robot that could climb a tree trunk, secure the end of a light strand at the top, and then come down while wrapping the strand around the trunk? This is a common Christmas light display for cities, hotels, and houses. It is apparently an expensive job and, without a bucket truck, a risky one. Isn’t this ripe for automation and semi-autonomy?

If we can’t have robots to string our lights, how about reengineering the lights themselves so that we can get a higher return on investment from stringing them? Any given light string should have at least 10 different themes (light colors):

  1. Christmas (green and red)
  2. Thanksgiving (orange, red, and yellow?)
  3. Halloween (orange and purple)
  4. (for Californians and Ivy League students) #FreePalestine (white, green, red, black for the Palestine flag and/or spell out “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be Free”)
  5. (for those practicing Jewcraft) Hanukkah (white and blue)
  6. Ramadan
  7. Eid al-Fitr
  8. Islamic New Year
  9. Holi (every color?)
  10. Chinese New Year (red, yellow, and green)

Loosely Related:

‘Cause I’m a redneck woman
I ain’t no high class broad
I’m just a product of my raising
I say, “hey ya’ll” and “yee-haw”
And I keep my Christmas lights on
On my front porch all year long

(“Redneck Woman”, by Gretchen Wilson and John Rich (not to be confused with abortion care and lockdown advocate Gretchen Whitmer!))

The final look of the professionally-lit house:

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Costco Auto Program: mostly a scam

Our beloved 2021 Honda Odyssey’s lease expires in January 2024. Due to the mostly peaceful inflation that the government says does not exist, leasing a replacement would cost nearly 2X what we’ve been paying on our lease whose built-in interest rate is close to 0%. I’m trying to decide whether to buy the car from Honda for about $25,000 or trade it in on a new one (where “new” means “identical to the 2021 version”). I requested a quote from the Costco Auto Program, figuring that the result would be a simple fraud-free number. Here’s what came back from the local dealer that is the Costco affiliate:

The dealer adds in about $4,000 in profit via some worthless accessories for $4,225 and then tacks on $999 as a straight-up “dealer fee” in addition to an “agency fee” of $99 (either of these could be $5,000, right?). On the third hand, there is a note about the accessories being discounted by 75 percent and a bizarre calculation that adds up to more than $73,000 (Cybertruck territory!).

What is the value of going through Costco if the result is having to sort through this multi-layered fraud and being delivered a car that has been disfigured by the dealer? It looks as though Costco negotiates a discount off MSRP and then the dealer is free to add back in as much profit as it wants to with accessories and fees. Costco could negotiate a price of $10 for the Odyssey and the dealer would still be able to charge $45,000 or $75,000 or whatever other price it felt like.

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Best Christmas gift ideas?

What are your best Christmas gift ideas?

If your friend needs to be reminded that Snoopy was gay, how about this rainbow watch from Timex?

Maybe your friend is a university president and wants to know what kinds of plagiarism policies to put in place and whether to organize daily official pro-Palestinian protests. You could give him/her/zir/them a $9,900 gift certificate to this “Harvard Seminar for New Presidents”:

Perhaps your friend is a Democrat and would like a complete collection of videos in which Susanna Gibson stars? “Her Online Sex Life Was Exposed. She Lost Her Election. Now She’s Speaking Out.” (Politico) is curious. The Virginia Democrat was selling access to her streaming videos. Wouldn’t the correct headline be “Her Online Sex Business…”? Amazon was not started as an “online book life”. Carvana is not an “online car life”.

(You don’t want your friend downloading Democrats’ videos via BitTorrent. This can lead to a lawsuit for copyright infringement because, apparently, the BitTorrent system makes it trivial for a publisher to get everyone’s IP addresses.)

What if your friend is a Republican? Make a donation to the Ron DeSantis campaign on his/her/zir/their behalf. (Why the inclusive pronouns? If New Yorkers can chant “Queer, trans, no peace on stolen land!” in a pro-Islamic Resistance Movement (“Hamas”) rally then a member of the 2SLGBTQQIA+ community can be a Republican.)

We’ve been getting a lot of use out of our discontinued Ninja Foodi FD101 pressure cooker (5 quarts, which seems to be sufficient 95 percent of the time with meals for 4-6 people). The upscale replacement is neater because it has just one lid, but it is also kind of huge: the $350 OL701 (8 quarts; Amazon reviews suggest that the innovative lid may not be easy to clean). The manufacturer’s blurb says “steam and crisp at the same time” so maybe it works like a $8,000 built-in steam oven for roasting chicken. Maybe the best option is the FD302, which holds 6.5 quarts and is still available new but is no longer offered on the Ninja web site (so it is actually discontinued?). That’s a taller version of what we have, I think. These have lots of buttons and modes so it is kind of like programming to use them.

Do you need the expensive/huge OL701? Here are some excerpts from the inspiration guide:

Since Americans get less numerate every year, the chicken recipe doesn’t ask the owner to set a target internal temperature, but rather to tell the machine “I’m cooking chicken.”

We’ve used the FD101 every day or two for more than a year and it hasn’t failed, but maybe it will and then we can justify upgrading to this even-more-complex marvel!

Given how much smarter and cheaper these countertop devices are than built-in appliances, I wonder if kitchen designs should be updated. Instead of a huge amount of space devoted to heavy industrial-size industrial-weight built-in appliances, shelves and systems that can facilitate the storage and use of these inexpensive super-intelligent constantly-improving countertop machines. Perhaps keep one big (steam!) oven for the Thanksgiving turkey and 2 or 3 induction burners, one of them super powerful, for cooking pasta. The rest of the kitchen can be optimized for a countertop smart oven/air fryer, a multi-/pressure-cooker, a countertop grill, a purpose-built 700-degree pizza oven, a waffle iron, etc. Maybe the ovens can go on shelves where the built-in double oven used to be, for example.

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Second write-down for Gillette after the Toxic Masculinity and transgender ads

Loyal readers may recall A/B tests here in which the Dorco Pace 7 proved slightly superior to anything that Gillette offers. Other brands of razors were found to be grossly inferior. Background:

P&G wrote down the value of their $54 billion Gillette purchase by $8 billion after the Toxic Masculinity and transgender ads. The Wall Street Journal recently reported a $1.3 billion additional charge:

It looks as though Gillette is still stuck on the same 5-blade system that I tested in 2019, though it has been renamed.

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Aftermarket software for dishwashers?

Some people complain that dishwasher performance has been hobbled by regulations limiting water usage (see a comment on Science says to throw out all of your appliances, for example).

For showerheads, manufacturers deal with the regulations by making normal-flow devices in metal and inserting a plastic flow restrictor that any consumer with a screwdriver can knock out, thus bypassing the regulation and luxuriating in a powerful shower.

With automobiles, people who want to get the last bit of performance install aftermarket software for engine control (example from the UK; example from Norway). I’m wondering why nobody seems to have done with this dishwashers. Everything about the dishwasher is under software control, right? When to fill with fresh water, when to stop filling, when to turn on the circulation pump, when to turn on the drain pump, when to open the detergent compartment, etc.

What would stop a consumer from installing his/her/zir/their own control board that would do the following:

  1. fill the dishwasher with 2X the standard amount of water
  2. run the circulation pump for a while (assume the owner has put some detergent in directly on the inside of the door
  3. pump out the dirty water
  4. fill the dishwasher again with fresh water
  5. pump out the rinse water
  6. fill the dishwasher with 2X the standard amount of water
  7. open the detergent compartment
  8. run the circulation pump for a while
  9. rinse again

If the 1980s experience is what is sought, start with a dishwasher that includes a grinding disposer instead of a weak European-style filter (example: GE’s Piranha Hard Food Disposer).

What’s the flaw in the above theory? Are today’s circulation pumps nowhere near as powerful as what the dishwashers of the 1980s had? (I remember putting in pans with stuck-on cheese and they came out of a Whirlpool dishwasher completely clean; the machine was rather noisy, though.) If the pumps are as good as in the old days, it would seem that fresh software could restore function to pre-regulation levels.

Related:

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Single-stage versus variable-speed air conditioning dehumidification performance

After an exciting summer packed with three blower motor failures in three 6-year-old Trane single-speed air conditioning systems, the transformation of our house into a showcase for variable-speed communicating Trane/American Standard equipment is complete.

For background, see the folllowing:

The most humid part of our house was the upstairs. This contains two big bedrooms served by a 3-ton A/C for a calculated Manual J demand of 2.1 tons. Relative humidity was 58-62 percent with a TEM6 variable-speed air handler and a single-stage condenser.

Step 1 was replacing the condenser with a variable-speed “communicating” condenser that sends digital information back to the air handler over a two-conductor cable. Trane says that this new condenser is a match for the 6-year-old TEM6 so long as an adapter relay panel is installed. What they don’t say is that the result is a brain-dead system in which the air handler always runs at the same blower speed regardless of what the compressor speed is. Compared to the 6-year-old single-stage A/C, there was no reduction in humidity from this arrangement.

Step 2 was replacing the (working perfect with a new blower) TEM6 air handler with a top-of-the-line TAM9 air handler. Humidity immediately plummeted to a reasonable 51 percent on a wet hot Florida day with hours of rain, an 87-degree high, and humidity as high as 95 percent.

What does #Science say about this result? “Dehumidification performance of a variable speed heat pump and a single speed heat pump with and without dehumidification capabilities in a warm and humid climate” (Kone and Fumo 2020; Energy Reports):

the variable speed mode was able to maintain relative humidity between 50% to 52% on summer days. In the single-speed with enhanced dehumidification, a slightly less effective humidity control was achieved on summer days with the mode keeping the relative humidity between 53% to 55%. In the normal cooling mode, which resembles a conventional system, the humidity levels were controlled between 55% to 60%. In the shoulder season, the variable speed and enhanced dehumidification modes maintained the relative humidity between 55% to 58% and 53% to 56% respectively. In the shoulder season, the normal cooling mode kept the indoor relative humidity near or above 60%.

In going from single-stage to variable-speed, #Science found a reduction in humidity from an average of 57.5% to 51% (middle of the ranges given), or 6.5%. My data, consistent from a Govee sensor set and a $300 Airthings monitor, was 8-10% reduction in the relative humidity reading. The ground floor of the house still feels and measures less humid (40-50% depending on the location), but walking upstairs no longer feels like entering a steam room.

It’s tough to find objective data from anywhere else. Carrier is the only company, I think, that offers any numbers:

The Trane stuff has an emergency dehumidification capability in which it will run the heat strips as the same time as the A/C. Carrier also might have something like this (their commercial systems have a “reheat” mode that might do something similar, but using only the coil and not the resistive heat strips).

It is unclear from the Carrier page if they’re talking about using an extreme measure to dehumidify or just running the variable-speed in an optimized manner.

I’m also unclear what they mean by “400 percent more moisture” removed. If a single-stage system is removing 1 gallon of water, the variable-speed system removes 5 gallons when outside temp and thermostat temp are held constant? That doesn’t seem plausible. If it is hot and humid outside, the system has to remove a huge amount of water just to do its basic job (since cooling outside air will almost immediately result in 100% relative humidity and condensation).

If relative humidity is linear in the amount of water vapor, a properly sized single-stage system has already removed more than half the water that was originally present in the air (since cooling resulted in 100% relative humidity and the house ended up at 50% humidity). As great as Carrier may be (they’re headquartered only about two miles from our house here in Palm Beach County!), I don’t see how they can remove 5X the amount of water compared to a system that removes half of the water available.

(Why didn’t we get Carrier? We already had Trane gear and thought that we might be able to preserve at least some of it (we weren’t). Also, the Carrier dealer who came out to quote the project refused to deal with our house because of a splice where the wires exit the house near the condenser, claiming that their communication wouldn’t function properly.)

I can’t figure out why single-stage A/C continues to be the standard here in the U.S. Everyone in Asia has variable-speed equipment (all of the mini splits are variable-speed). Assuming a constant thermostat setting, a single-stage system is the correct size for only one outdoor temperature. Why wouldn’t people be willing to pay a little more for a system that can run at the correct speed for whatever temp Climate Change happens to dish out at any given hour on any given day? Is it that it is impossible to explain to consumers what a dumb idea single-stage A/C is? (Maybe it makes sense in Arizona, though, where there isn’t any humidity to begin with?)

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