Polygon is reporting that Bungie may be considering a reboot of Marathon, the seminal mid ’90’s shooter exclusive to the Mac that destroyed my productivity for about five solid years. I have no idea what shape this would take or how they’d design it, but it would be awesome to revisit that world thirty years later.
Way back in early 2000’s I was playing around with home automation and had varying degrees of success. That system was pre-smartphone, so it ran on your computer and used a clever plug that transmitted signals through the wiring in the house to all the connected devices. I ran it off an old iMac I’d salvaged from somewhere and used the latest version of the software, but it was still glitchy (that was the last CRT computer I owned). It worked OK but I was never really able to build a solid case for investing hundreds of dollars into the gear and software, so I gave up on it.
These days Apple has HomeKit, which is an out of the box automation framework that hooks up to a whole fleet of (relatively inexpensive) peripheral gear. I spent $20 on two smart plugs last week and gave them a try. They are simple on/off switches, so they act as slightly smarter versions of the plug-in light timers we already own. They took all of a minute to register with HomeKit, and I quickly had a light in the living room hooked up to one. With one tap on my phone, the light turns on and off. But this kind of sucks, because I can’t just walk into the room and turn on that smart-connected light without a cellphone, and we don’t live the kind of regimented life where timer-controlled lights make sense. They’re great for when we travel, and I’ll probably swap out all of the old mechanical timers this year, but I can’t think of a use case for these plugs other than that. (I’m not buying an Alexa or HomePod to voice-activate anything, before you ask).
Now that I know it works, I’m going to explore some of the more expensive options for automation—maybe a system set up to control the door locks, for example, allowing us to open the door without a key. But what I’d really like is to replace the thermostat with something programmable from somewhere other than the keypad; our Honeywell unit is about 15 years old and takes three hours of button-mashing to program every time the batteries die. The trick is to avoid the larger monopoly ecosystems; Google bought Nest back in the day and Amazon just bought iRobot—so now Bezos knows how much lint is under our couch. A couple of years ago I picked up a cheap Wyze camera for the house to see what Hazel was doing in her spare time but recently found out their system had been hacked and wide open for several years. Glad I only used that camera for the weeklong demo period.
Meanwhile, we bought a Nest doorbell cam for Bob’s house to keep an eye on things remotely, which I installed on Sunday. The physical installation went fine but trying to set it up through his phone revealed that the Verizon rep completely fucked up his account setup, so that they were sending his bills to Pennsylvania and shut his phone off for nonpayment. We’re sorting that mess out now.
I got an email a couple of weeks ago from Vaer, the folks who made the Field Watch I’ve been wearing for most of this year. They send me a newsletter once every couple of weeks, which I usually don’t read, but this one was a little different; they were offering a deal for owners who’d previously written a review of their watch tied to the opening of their Amazon storefront. They basically dangled two watches in front of me for a sizable discount and expected me to just walk away.
I was ready to, honestly, but when I realized that one of them was a diver offered with a 38mm case size, I got very interested. It’s a solar-powered automatic with a black face and bezel, and from all the pictures I saw, I thought it looked pretty good. They have a couple of other bezels I like just a smidge better—but the more I went back to the open browser tab, the more I liked it. I figured I’d try it out and if it wasn’t to my taste I’d send it back, so I clicked the button.
In the flesh, it’s a very nice watch. It’s taller than my Ollech & Wajs—the Timex I tried was the same height—which has been taking some getting used to. All of the other watches I own are very thin, with the exception of the Todd Snyder Timex, which is also the widest in diameter. This sits up on my wrist, but the relationship of the bezel to the crystal isn’t as severe as the Timex, and the proportions are more carefully considered. The diameter is perfect. It fits the size of my wrist without feeling like I’ve strapped on a dinner plate. The movement is silent and fluid.
I was on the fence when I first unboxed it. I thought it was too tall. I hemmed and hawed and finally showed it to Jen for her opinion. She immediately liked it. She commented that she likes my field watches but said looks like an adult going-to-town watch, which I agree with. She thought I should keep it, and so the decision was made.
One thing that definitely needs to happen is a replacement watchband. The two Vaer shipped with the watch are chunky and, to be honest, pretty ugly. The strap shown on the O&W is my current favorite: a mustard-yellow NATO strap that’s got a light pattern and looks great on both this and the field watch. I need a couple of 20mm pins and a new band.
And clearly, I’ve got to have the crystal on the Ollechs & Wajs polished or replaced.
My Airpods Pro have been making terrible crackling noises for the last couple of weeks, something I didn’t notice until I was in the Scout listening to a podcast with noise cancellation turned on last weekend. Once I heard it I couldn’t not hear it, and I realized it was worst in my left ear. I made an appointment at the Apple Store and stopped in Friday morning to have them look things over. The tech verified they were covered under the replacement program, took them in back, tested them, and returned with two new earpieces (I get to keep my beat-up case, sigh). I know I’m a low-key Apple fanboy, but it’s service like this that keeps me loyal.
Driving to and from St. Mary’s County yesterday, I wore them almost the entire day, and I’ll say this: the difference was astounding. It could be the old ones were very broken, or they put new firmware on my replacements, but the noise cancellation was ten times better and the sound was improved.
Daring Fireball does a review of the new M2 MacBook Air, and makes an interesting point comparing it to the current MacBook Pro:
Basically, there are millions of people whose computing needs would be more than met by the MacBook Air but who feel like they probably need a slightly thicker laptop with a fan on the inside and the word “Pro” stamped on the outside because their current ostensibly pro-level laptop — which may well be a MacBook Pro from Apple with Intel inside — struggles under the load of their daily work.
I’m not currently in the market for another laptop, but I sense the time is coming soon. I get Pro-level equipment from work, and the majority of what I do on my personal machine doesn’t require the extra ports and goodies the new Pro models have. I suspect I would do just fine with a midlevel Air and save myself a grand or so.
This is the first weekend in a long time where we’ve been home. Like, in our own house for two days. Jen has been socked in with work for several weeks, and a lot of it has come to a head, so we thought we’d take a break from driving south to Lexington Park and stay around the homestead. I’ve had a lot of things around the house piling up in our absence, so I took the opportunity to knock a couple of them out.
The first thing was replacing two basement windows that were original to the house. I’d ordered replacements back in March and they finally arrived about a month ago; I’ve been waiting for a solid weekend to tackle the project. Pulling the old windows was pretty quick work—they were only held in by two sets of ancient brass hinges and a hook and eye latch. I cleaned up the wooden surrounds, cut and installed baffles, and slotted them into place. With some careful carpentry the inside baffles got nailed into place, and they got caulked tight. Now we can have open windows and enjoy fresh air in the basement! A miracle.
The second project is one Jen has been asking about since last year: painting the garage to match the house. I started out by scraping the west side and got it ready for paint. After cleaning both my guns and consolidating the remaining paint, I filled the compressor and sprayed out the west side and half of the driveway side before running out. I’m going to have to repair some of the plywood on the front side and do a lot more scraping overall, but it looks pretty good so far.
Finn has been binging a new videogame for the past month, and has been asking me to play with her. It’s a survival/exploration game called Ark, where you land on an island teeming with dinosaurs and have to learn how to gather food, build tools and shelter, and tame those same dinosaurs to help you advance. She’s been playing on her iPad, but I can’t load it on my phone and squint at tiny menus. I saw that it was available for the Xbox so I ordered a used copy on Amazon and installed it on the console. From there it demanded a 100GB update, so we waited days for the console to choke that down (it puts itself to sleep after an hour, so I had to constantly keep it awake) and then two more updates before we could play.
Once that was done, we picked up our controllers and started a new world together. And found, very quickly, that it was almost impossible to navigate in 2-player mode. They split the screen horizontally, so the top half is one character view and the bottom half is another, but they didn’t change the menu system to fit that resolution. So when you go into the menu system (and half the game is spent here) it’s still the size and shape of an iPad and you have to squint at tiny little icons smushed into the narrow space given. It’s like looking at the menu bar of Word 97 through a peephole: impossible unless you know exactly what you’re looking for. I tried for several nights but found it almost unusable.
She then found a new game called Albion and started playing that. Seeing that it was available for the Mac, I downloaded a copy and tried it on my 8-year-old laptop, which slowed to a gelatinous crawl, cooling fans struggling to keep the processor from melting. I thought about it for a day or so and decided I’d pull the trigger and finally buy the iPad Pro I’ve been looking at since they were released. Playing games with Finn was a big part of the decision, but the other reason was that I want to work in Procreate with the Apple Pencil and learn how to illustrate with the system. I bought a new 11″ unit with the Pencil and picked it up at the local Apple Store this past week. The early review is very favorable: playing Albion on it is easy and fun! We spent a couple of hours on Friday getting me set up in the game and understanding how not to die. Now I have to catch up to her character level.
This is the first device I’ve owned with Face ID, and it’s very slick. The Pencil is fast and responsive. I bought Procreate and started fooling around in the program but it’s going to take a lot of time to sort out how I use it and get the most out of it. Getting used to the way the brushes and pressure work is an uphill battle, especially for someone as picky about the tactile feel and orientation of scratchboard tools as I am. I’m going to start out trying to mimic what I know and love, and then see where the app takes me.
© 2022 Bill Dugan