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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Loving the iPhone 11 Pro Max camera; struggling with the case

I finally managed to carve out 20 minutes to go over to the Verizon store and swap my iPhone X for an iPhone 11 Pro Max (20 minutes turned into more than one hour thanks to Verizon’s 9 Mbit in-store WiFi).

I’m in love with the camera so far. Here are a couple of challenging scenes with the standard camera…

(mostly backlit; note the bearded hipster behind the 3-month-old Corgi)
(tough job watching Head of the Charles)

Verizon sold me a Gear4 Battersea case. It might be tough, but it makes the already huge phone a little too big for a blue jeans pocket. The case buttons are super stiff and make it tough to turn the phone off from the top side button. An Amazon reader says “after using it for a week I noticed that it has extremely scratched up all four sides of my iPhone”. It is so rigid that I am skeptical that it would protect the screen from shock in the event of a drop. The soft silicone cases seem much more likely to be helpful for a drop on concrete. One good feature: The case is thick enough to keep the lenses of the cameras off whatever surface the phone is resting on.

Readers: Do you carry an iPhone 11 Pro Max in a front pocket? If so, what case works well? What about the Apple silicone case? The Verizon sales guy scared me off by saying that it lacked a bezel to protect the screen from a face-down drop.

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Lightweight luggage review

We had a strict 8 kg. European carry-on and 23 kg. checked bag limit for our recent cruise. My roll-on bag was 10 lbs. (4.5 kg) empty and a touch oversized for Europe. My 26″ Delsey “super lightweight” checked suitcase was 10.8 lbs. empty.

After doing about two hours of research online (articles in Forbes, for example, and reviews at Amazon), I made the following decisions…

Soft-sided expandable bags rather than hard-shell. If limited to the rolling bag as the single carry-on, it would be awkward to have to crack open the entire hard-shell bag somewhere on the plane to get to a small needed-in-flight item. Also, an expandable soft-sided bag with international dimensions (55 x 40 x 23 cm; a couple of inches smaller than the typical American road warrior roll-on bag) could be expanded for use domestically.

Two wheels rather than the four-wheel “spinner” designs. The two-wheel designs seem to have 10-15 percent more space than a bag with the same exterior dimensions and four wheels. Two wheels will work better over imperfect surfaces, but they will likely be more tiring through the airport. On the other hand, the 23 kg. bag won’t be going far and the 8 kg. bag won’t be very heavy.

After reading everything that seemed relevant, what popped out were the latest Maxlite 5 suitcases from Travelpro, the company that invented the modern suitcase (Condé Nast Traveler). These aren’t the most stylish bags, but why would it be better to have a bag that screams “steal me”? Travelpro makes some bags with superior organizational capabilities, but all of them are heavier than the Maxlite series. Durability for bags that are so light? Travelpro says “We are proud to introduce our new Built For A Lifetime Limited Warranty starting with the Maxlite® 5 collection which covers defects on major components such as wheels, zippers, extension handles and carry handles.” Maybe a heavier bag would be more durable, but why wear out one’s body lugging around a heavier bag rather than buying a new one every 5-10 years?

Specific choices:

These weigh 5.4 and 7.1 lbs., thus leaving 8.3 lbs. of additional capacity compared to my previous bags. Travelpro says that these are lighter than the previous generation Maxlite 4, e.g., about 0.5 lbs. for the carry-on. The cost of both bags together was $237.

How did they work during five flights, two hotels, etc.? Fantastic! It would be nice if they were a bit more compartmentalized, but the high payload to vehicle weight was awesome. They seem to be at least reasonably durable.

[Of course, after all of this work, when we finally did show up for the charter flights there was no verification of the dimensions, weight, or even quantity of bags. Quite a few passengers completely ignored the directives and checked two large bags (for a three-week cruise).]

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Why is it difficult to make a reliable refrigerator?

We had a 7-year-old GE refrigerator that would fail every couple of years, requiring $400-500 in service. We got tired of throwing out spoiled food and living out of coolers for 3-4 days so we invested $2,600 in a KitchenAid (one of the few with the same dimensions as the old GE, which fit into a kitchen recess that an architect thought was a good idea).

The KitchenAid failed after three weeks, unable to keep the refrigerator side cooler than 50 degrees. (It has a separate evaporator on the freezer side, so we can live on microwave pizza.)

Given decades of experience and continuous improvements in electronics, why is it difficult to engineer and build a working refrigerator? A modern Honda or Toyota may run for three years and 36,000 miles without anything failing, despite being exposed to hot and cold temperatures and vibration. The car has myriad systems, each of which could fail independently, and yet generally these all soldier on for 5-7 years before the first failure of any kind.

“Owner Satisfaction” is terrible with all refrigerators, according to Consumer Reports. LG is the only brand that achieves a 5/10. Whirlpool and KitchenAid are down at 3/10. Compare to 9/10 for Bosch or Miele dishwashers or 9/10 for LG washing machines.

What’s the challenge with an apparently simple fridge, sitting in a kitchen that is kept within +/- 5 degrees of 72?

[We discovered during this process why modern McMansions are always built with at least two refrigerators. BestBuy refused to accept a return on the unit, citing that it was purchased more than 15 days previously. Whirlpool/KitchenAid wouldn’t answer the phone on a Sunday, but when I got hold of them on Monday morning they cheerfully described their full warranty. They would be happy to come look at the fridge and begin the process of diagnosing the failure… in October. Was that normal? “Oh yes,” said the agent on September 17, “In a lot of areas I’m scheduling the second or third week of October as the first available visit.”]

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Software updates before a trip now take longer than packing?

I’m heading out on a trip that will involve limited Internet connectivity. My notebook computer hadn’t been turned on for 1.5 weeks. Updating that to the latest version of Windows 10 took four tries and roughly three hours (admittedly this was a bigger update than usual and there was also a Dell BIOS update). I’m taking a Sony a7F II camera and two lenses. Software updates were available for all three of these items. Downloading them required resetting my password on the Sony web site, verifying my Sony account, download three Windows applications, running three separate Windows apps, connecting and disconnecting the camera via USB to the PC, following Sony instructions to remove the battery after each lens update, etc.

Thus, I think it is fair to say that updating devices took longer than packing up for a somewhat remote trip!

What if the Internet of Things became a reality? Given the security issues around completely automatic updates, will humans eventually be reduced to full-time sysadmins just for the stuff in their apartments?

Update: arrived in Copenhagen. Here’s the hotel coffee shop electronic menu screen:

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USB-C more durable than USB-A?

When trying to charge a phone from public charging stations and power outlets on airliners, one thing that I’ve noticed is that the USB-A (traditional rectangular) ports tend to be “loose like wizard sleeve”. Unless one is willing to hold the connector and apply pressure, therefore, they are useless for charging. I’m not sure how they get like this. I can’t remember a USB-A connector failing mechanically on a home computer or charger. Is it just that if 1,000 different cables have been plugged over a one- or two-year period that the socket is stretched out to the size of the largest? Compare to at home where I might use only three or four different cables in any given socket.

What’s the prognosis for USB-C? Are the tolerances more precise such that the public connectors will remain functional?

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