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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Tokyo Olympics 2020 T-shirts will be discounted or valuable collector’s items?

Tokyo 2020 has fallen victim to coronavirus. What happens to all of the T-shirts and other gear printed with “Tokyo 2020”? Will these be valuable collector’s items for those with a black sense of humor? Or discounted and/or shredded in favor of “Tokyo 2020 in 2021” (they’re still trying to call it “Tokyo 2020”?)?

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Our new $1,300 three-hour Bosch dishwasher

We replaced a noisy 2010-vintage dishwasher with a brand-new $1,300 Bosch that got top ratings in Consumer Reports. The first installer showed up, pulled the old one out, and declared that the Bosch would never fit due to having a “closed frame” rather than the standard “open frame.” He drove back to the Best Buy warehouse and was never heard from again. I made a few measurements and checked the Bosch installation guide, but I couldn’t figure out exactly why there was an incompatibility.

I assumed that eventually Best Buy would refund our money, but that hadn’t happened after more than a month. I decided to call them up. “We were waiting for you to schedule a redelivery,” the agent said, apparently unaware that the Bosch would never fit under our counter. We agreed on a date. The second installer showed up and, without commenting on any particular challenge, hooked up the new dishwasher. Adventures in American consumerism!

The machine works reasonably well and is nearly silent, but it holds fewer dishes than the old machine and defaults to a three-hour (!) cycle time. A Whirlpool from 1996 was much faster and also better at cleaning. The new machine sometimes leaves things stuck onto spoons, etc.

“Let’s Talk about Ghastly Dishwashers” says dishwashers meeting a 2013 standard use only three(!) gallons of water. (The article also says “Trump is a smart politician” so maybe we should verify the rest of the claims?)

We end up doing about three loads per day, so I’m not sure that we’re saving water or electricity.

Separately, I think it is interesting that, in a society that is otherwise uninterested in quantitative noise measurements, dishwashers are prominently advertised with dBA ratings (40 dBA for the Bosch). If people want to know how many dBA for a $600 dishwasher, why don’t they want to know the dBA for the interior of an aircraft or automobile?

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Feel better about the time you’ve invested in writing documentation

During a recent rental car excursion I became curious about the USB-C port in the front of the Nissan Maxima. Could one run a laptop from the car, for example? I decided to open the glovebox and read the specs from the owner’s manual. After one year and more than 20,000 miles of rental by perhaps 100 different drivers…

(still in its shrink wrap)

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Best Christmas gift ideas?

Who has good Christmas shopping ideas?

The most impressive book that I’ve seen, and one of the few that is a good argument for print, is a 1200-page Encyclopedia of Marine Mammals.

For the man who isn’t woke enough for Gillette and wants a higher-quality shave: Dorco Pace 7 razor. (see my comparison test)

For the nerd who has everything… and wants to back it up, a 16 TB hard drive (just recently available; progress in this area has been slow).

USB-C charger made compact thanks to GaN. (or for the car, since the car companies seem to be years behind on USB-C; or a power strip). Everything will charge much faster!

If the TBM is too slow and its payload too feeble: the newly certified Epic turboprop.

Readers: What are your ideas?

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