Why is the Bluetooth broadcast mode such a rare beast?

We manage a Pilatus PC-12 airplane in which the manufacturer certified a Sony car stereo as cabin entertainment. Totally state of the art… for 1995.

The speaker output of the car stereo is used to drive airliner-style six headphone outlets in the passenger cabin. They are all hooked up in parallel across the speaker outputs (100X the power required to drive modern noise-canceling headphones?).

Instead of trying to modernize this system, it would make sense to buy a stack of Monoprice Bluetooth noise-canceling over-the-ear headphones ($70 each) and drive them all from one smartphone. Except that the typical smartphone can drive only one Bluetooth audio device at a time.

How could the designers of this standard not have foreseen that people would want a broadcast mode?

This year-old Qualcomm web page says that the hardware for a lot of phones is now capable of broadcast audio via Bluetooth. The company publishes a page showing 7 headphones connected to one phone. Yet as far as I can tell, nobody is implementing this from software. Samsung offers “dual audio” on the S9 and S10 (two headphones). Apple offers nothing.

How did we get to the point that the latest and great technology makes it tougher to share music than it was with the original Sony Walkman (1979)?

[One idea for the airplane is to try to drive all six headphone jacks in parallel from an MP3 player or a Bluetooth headphone amp. The latest noise-canceling wired headphones have high impedance and sensitivity and therefore even six in parallel would be an easy load to drive. Or we could do nothing and wait for an Android implementation that actually enables the Qualcomm hardware capability?]

Entrepreneurs: A lot of aircraft now have USB power outlets. Owners would be happy to pay $1,000 or more for a little box that drives the Qualcomm hardware as intended. FAA certification shouldn’t be required since the device wouldn’t be permanently installed in the aircraft (no different than a passenger bringing a smartphone or tablet on board).

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Who will be the Marie Kondo for gun enthusiasts?

“ATF seizes more than 1,000 firearms at Los Angeles mansion” (The Hill):

Girard Damien Saenz, 56, was arrested and is expected to be charged with possessing, selling and manufacturing assault weapons, according to the LAPD.

Helicopter footage showed agents organizing the cache of more than 1,000 firearms removed from the home, laid out along the driveway.

Officials told ABC 7 out of Los Angeles that the weapons were found cluttered all around the home.

(emphasis added)

For those who love guns, perhaps there could be a Kondo-style business in which each of the 1,000 guns is handled and the owner asks “Does this semi-automatic rifle spark joy?”


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Friends weigh in on Dorco versus Gillette

An MD neighbor had the temerity to put a Trump sign on his lawn back 2016 (error swiftly corrected by righteous neighbors) so I thought it was safe to bring him a Dorco Pace 7 as a gift to free him from supporting Gillette’s campaign for gender justice. Recent text message, appended to a geriatric tennis invitation:

By the way, I like the Dorko [sic] razor very much. It gives a much closer shave than my Gillette. Thank you for introducing it to me.

I had purchased four Pace 7s to give away. From another recipient:

Dorco gives best shave I’ve ever had.

Whether spelled “Dorco” or “Dorko”, I hope that we can all agree this company has suffered in the marketplace due to its name!


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What’s a good online backup service? (Crashplan can do only 10 GB per day)

I used to back up my computer with Crashplan, but the service failed after I parked some big videos from our MIT Ground School class on a secondary drive. I was able to get it started again by beefing up its RAM allocation to 8 GB (it seems to use 3-5 GB; this is why I want every computer to have 64 GB of RAM minimum!) and cutting the backup interval to once/day (attempt to prevent a new backup starting from causing an in-progress upload to file).

The backup is unbelievably slow. Windows says Crashplan uses 0.1 Mbps most of the time, i.e., about 1/10,000th of the provisioned Verizon FiOS 1 Gbps symmetric link. My information will be at risk of drive failure for the next 83 days (about 830 GB of stuff that Crashplan missed during its failed period).

I pinged the Crashplan folks for support. It turns out that their goal is 10 GB per day:

Looking at your recent history, I’m seeing that you’re getting above-average upload speeds to us. CrashPlan users can expect to back up about 10 GB of information per day on average if their computer is powered on and not in standby mode.

In other words, the consumer who buys a $360 laptop at Amazon with a 1 TB hard drive, fills it up with family photos and videos, and then subscribes to the service will not have a complete backup until 3.5 months of being continuously connected (maybe not for a year if the laptop is turned on only when in use). The consumer who captures or modifies 1 hour of video every day will never get a complete backup, I don’t think.

[Update 5/6: Since the bandwidth used, according to Windows, is the same 24/7, I’m 99 percent sure that Crashplan is throttling to 100 kbps. The customer support emails use some careful language: “We do not apply throttling based on the size of your backup. We also do not limit upload speed based [on?] file sizes or types.”]

I started with Crashplan in 2012, according to this post on the topic:

[Update 11/15/2012: Based on the comments below, I installed CrashPlan. It is uploading 2.2 Mbps currently, maxing out the admittedly feeble Comcast cable modem upload capacity. So this makes it 22 times faster than Carbonite, throttled to 100 kbps.]

Given that it is only 1/20th of its former speed, I wonder if Crashplan has now discovered the miracle of throttling while charging customers for “unlimited” service.

“Why I Switched to Backblaze from CrashPlan” (February 2017):

I failed to get CrashPlan to complete a single successful backup on my new machine for a full month. … After I cranked up Backblaze to the fastest possible, I was shown a transfer speed of 208.14Mbps. Remember CrashPlan? That was at 2.4mbps. So 100x the speed. But could Backblaze really do this in an actual upload? … .it only took Backblaze 18 hours to upload 641GB of data. 735 thousand files. … I’m switching over to Backblaze because of the nice interface, and because of the speed, and well, mostly because they actually can back up my computer.

How about following this guy with a switch to Backblaze? It is $60/year., half the price of Crashplan at $120/year for a single computer, but I think Backblaze adds fees for persistent storage of older versions (6 cents per GB per year, so a 6 TB hard drive could run up a $360/year bill?). This memory usage comparison showed that Backblaze required only 1/25th as much RAM as Crashplan.

Or maybe it makes sense to subscribe to both? Use Backblaze to make sure that you actually can restore your computer if it fails within one of the multi-month windows in which Crashplan is hundreds of GB behind. Use Crashplan to restore an ancient version of a file.

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Cremo versus Edge shaving creme

During the Gillette versus Dorco razor tests (Dorco Pace 7 came out ahead), a reader suggested trying Cremo shave cream.

Result: Chemical engineers today are not smarter than chemical engineers of the 1970s. Conventional Edge gel, essentially unchanged since its 1970 introduction (patented by S.C. Johnson), seems to work better. With Cremo, using both Dorco and Schick blades (the latest test; I think Schick may actually be sharper, but Dorco works better because it is easier to feel the blades working), it became necessary to re-shave various spots. With Edge, if the gel/foam has been wiped away with the razor then the stubble is gone as well.

Some of this might be user error in applying more Cremo than necessary.


  • New Yorker article with some shaving history: “Ever since the Wilkinson Sword company started mass-producing stainless-steel blades, in 1961, every man with whiskers to cut has had no trouble cutting off his whiskers without cutting himself.” (i.e., the last significant innovations in shaving were accomplished nearly 60 years by engineers in England and 50 years ago in the U.S. by S.C. Johnson)
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Supercharged ionized alkaline water too pure to be tested by pH strips

The only thing that our neighbors love more than spending $250,000/resident-learner on a new school building is expressing contempt for stupid Republicans and their “anti-Science” attitudes.

What is the beverage of choice for these folks who consider themselves highly intelligent and experts on science? As evidenced by what sells well enough at the town supermarket to merit endcap marketing:

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Dorco Shaving Test: 7 blades good; 4 blades bad

Having determined that Dorco razors are superior to Gillette, the question of “which Dorco” remains live.

Dorco makes life difficult by ignoring every principle of modern marketing. Instead of changing their name to “Shave Supreme” and putting all of their advertising effort into convincing consumers that one particular system is a must-have, the company offers almost every conceivable variation and dumps the problem of picking the best one onto consumers. But what man wants to think for himself? Isn’t it easier to have a razor company say “This system is awesome; the one we sold you last year is garbage”? Or a soft drink company say “Your life will be awesome if you guzzle Diet Coke”?

For consumers who identify as “men,” Dorco offers 1-blade, 2-blade, 3-blade, 4-blade, 5-blade, 6-blade, and 7-blade systems and gives them all more or less equal prominence on its web site.

I did a quick test of Pace 4 versus Pace 7. Conclusion: Pace 7 feels substantially smoother. From the Dorco site, the list prices for these are $1.51 and $2.22, though the Pace 4 was on sale at 76 cents/cartridge last I checked.

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Disney World shows that VR is pointless?

If you’re trying to save a few dollars, maybe a head-mounted display is a good idea. What if you don’t care about capital cost? Disney World has a lot of immersive simulators that don’t require any headgear for the park guests. They just project a virtual world on big curved screens.

What about for home use? Why not build a small room in a house with a curved screen that completely surrounds the player? Use whatever tricks they’re using at Disney to make the projection work, but with $100 LCD projectors instead of the super bright ones needed for the monster domes that hold hundreds of people simultaneously.

If you’ve got your head-mounted VR system on, you’re not going to be a great asset to the rest of the folks in an apartment or house. Why not declare that immersive gaming is an activity that happens in its own room? Maybe it costs $5,000 instead of $500 for the hardware, but people used to pay $5,000 for the then-new plasma TVs.

Readers: Would this be better or worse than the VR headsets?

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Disney World Ticket Price Inflation

Supposedly, the cost of a Disney World ticket has gone up roughly 3.5X, adjusted for inflation, since 1971 (chart).

During a March 30-31, 2019 visit, however, the parks were so jammed that waiting times for popular rides were 90-150 minutes. Using the Disney World app, it was impossible to obtain a same-day FastPass for any of the popular rides. “They’re all sold out at least 30 days in advance,” said a Florida resident season pass holder. “People who are staying in a Disney hotel are able to book them 60 or 90 days ahead.”

I went with a friend who paid up for a Disney VIP guide. He told us that we weren’t seeing a particularly busy day. “The wait times can be 300 minutes on the busiest days.” How crowded would the main streets be? “You won’t see any pavement.” Was the park more crowded because we were there on a weekend? “There isn’t much difference between weekends and weekdays.”

Go early in the morning during the “Extra Magic” hours when only people staying in Disney hotels are allowed in? The line for the roller coaster in Toy Story Land stretched to more than two hours before the park had even opened to the general public. People who said that they got in line at 8:02 am (park opened at 8) were only about halfway through the line at 8:40.

Go in the evening after the kids have collapsed? The app showed that the wait time for the Avatar sim ride was 95 minutes… at 9:58 pm, just before Animal Kingdom closed for the night. Apparently people who are already in line when the park officially closes will get to ride, but only at 11:35 pm after enduring more than 1.5 hours standing in line.

With the guide we were able to get into the FastPass line at every ride, cut through side doors for a few rides, and cut the line for portraits with princesses and other characters. The resulting wait time for rides was about the same as during my 1991 trip to Disneyland, but the overall experience was inferior because the non-rides portions of the park were so crowded that it was tough to appreciate the atmosphere or architectural details. Want to get food or drink? Wait in a 10-minute line at a kiosk or a 1-hour line at an unpopular restaurant.

The guides cost $500 per hour and can tow up to 10 guests around, so figure this adds $320/day per person if the guide is hired for 8 hours per day and there are 8 people assembled in the group. Tickets in 1989 were roughly $60 per day in current dollars (source). With a VIP guide the experience is comparable overall. The wait times for the rides are similar while the rides have gotten better from a technical point of view. Meandering around the park, trying to get a meal, etc., has become far less enjoyable. Let’s say that these pluses and minuses average out. To have a basically comparable experience today, therefore, costs $109 for the park ticket plus $320 for a 1/8th share of a VIP guide = $429 per day per person. That’s 7X the 1989 price.

Plainly the mobs are buying a lot of hotel rooms, food, and souvenirs. But I wonder why Disney doesn’t have “Crowd-hater Days” in each park to capture the market of people who would be willing to pay a lot more to have the 1990s experience. There are four core parks within Disney World. Why not say that every Monday through Thursday one of these parks will be designated “Crowd-hater” and tickets will be sold at whatever price it takes to keep max line length down to 15 minutes? If ticket prices were doubled, for example, I think Disney would actually make more money in ticket revenue since demand should not be cut by more than 50 percent. By using a high price to limit admission to only one park at a time they should still be able to keep all of their hotels filled (tourists who don’t value the less-crowded experience will still go to the other core parks and/or the water parks).

Topiary from the Epcot garden event:

Travel tip: The Swan and Dolphin hotels are run by a competent hotel chain (Westin/Marriott) and are still technically “on property”. Here’s the view from our $215/night balcony room (rates are cheap if they can’t fill these monster hotels with a convention). It is a 20-minute walk to Hollywood Studios or 30 minutes to the center of Epcot. The boat service is loud and slow and was ultimately rejected by my 9-year-old companion. (She wondered why can’t they use battery-powered boats? They are never far from a charger.)

The most outdated structure in all of Disney (Nikon “Darkroom”):

Fair and balanced: Disney gives equal weight to Donald Trump’s favorite restaurant and Elizabeth Warren’s ancestral home.

Three years after a child was killed by an alligator, Disney still doesn’t have signs clearly explaining or depicting the hazard (there is a sign, but a non-Floridian might infer that the lake-related hazard was drowning and could be addressed by watching children):

(See “Disney knew its property had alligators. It caught hundreds before a boy was killed.” (Washington Post))

Readers: Is the Times Square-level of crowding something that should prompt Disney to change its pricing? Or do young people expect to stand in line for hours to get anything good?

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What laptop for Senior Management?

Stop the Presses! My opinion has been asked for by another household member!

It is time for a new laptop for Senior Management. She is accustomed to Microsoft Windows and a 15″ screen. She does not like or want a touchscreen. She’ll be using it at home and in conference rooms at various pharma companies.

Surveying the laptop market I’m surprised at how little improvement there has been in price or specs in the past few years. This seems like truly a stalled industry. You have to pay about $500 minimum. You get a mechanical hard drive just like the 1957 IBM RAMAC. You get 8 GB of RAM, barely enough to ran a cleanly booted Windows 10 (welcome to Swap City!). How is this different than three years ago, for example?

Given that, despite a few trips back to Dell for hardware service and software reinstallation, my last laptop (Dell XPS 13) could never be made to sleep properly, I’m thinking that Dell shouldn’t be on the list of contenders.

The LG gram series seems interesting. Costco is selling one with 16 GB of RAM and a 512 GB SSD for $1300. They promise to support it for two years and take it back within 90 days if it fails the way that the Dell did. It weighs a minimal 2.4 lbs. and reviews say that the promised battery life is real (16+ hours).

Unlike Dell (and Apple?), LG does not plunge the unlucky buyer into a world of dongles. The specs include 3 legacy USB ports, one hip new USB-C port, and a HDMI output (perfect for the executive who needs to plug into a projector and doesn’t want to have to remember a dongle). Photographers will be stuck in dongle hell, however, because there is no SD card reader (only “Micro-SD”).

The LG site claims that the device has been tested for ruggedness and is stronger than its minimal weight would suggest. The only way in which this LG differs from Senior Management’s spec is in the provision of a touch screen (but she doesn’t have to use it!). And perhaps the screen resolution could be higher? But then we would say goodbye to the long battery life?

Readers: What do you think? Is there a better idea than this LG?


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