Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Google Home Mini is a Useful Device

Back in October, Best Buy was having a huge sale on their Insignia speakers with Google Assistant.  I bought one for each of the two people who live in this apartment where I rent a room.

Sometime in December, he opened the package and got the speaker out.  She still has yet to open the box.

Thanksgiving Day, Target, where I work, had Google Home Mini speakers for half price--$24.99--as doorbusters for Black Thursday.  I ordered one and it was waiting for me when I clocked out.

It took a bit of configuring and unfortunately, there is no user-accessible battery unlike the Best Buy Insignia speakers, so if it comes unplugged, it doesn't work.  Thankfully, it retains settings and re-connects to the WiFi connection on its own.

From the beginning, I didn't have much luck with Siri in English (Japanese was better), but Google's speech recognition worked for me.  Google Assistant is fairly useful, but often tells me how it doesn't know how to do something.  What was disturbing is when I asked "Where is my package from Amazon?" and it told me.  When did I connect it to that information?  Who asked me?  How did this happen?  Thankfully, it can't go into my wishlist, but I should investigate all of the connections to the e-mail account.

It is especially interesting considering the effort to get Pandora and Spotify to work.  I haven't done a lot of talking to the speaker, except to start and end the music.  Occasionally, I request a certain playlist that I already added to my account.  Music playback is good, considering $24.99 and the compactness of the device.  In some ways, it reminds me of a Bose Wave Radio in that it can fill the room with music.  Vocals are good enough.  Bass is implied, not implemented.

One thing that would really help would be a connection to iHeartRadio, since I miss various radio stations across the country, especially WDAS 105.3 from Philly.  iHeartRadio is having financial troubles, so I'm not sure how they would make a deal.  (Yes, it can be used as a Bluetooth speaker, but it was a pain when I did that and I don't want to try again.)

I'm not sure that I would ever pay more than $24.99 for a speaker with an assistant.  Obviously, Apple's HomePod is too expensive at $350.00--you might as well just pay for the computer.

Google have changed the name to Nest Mini.  I'm not sure that helps but it does confuse.

Friday, February 15, 2019

1TB M.2 drive, 32GB RAM installation complete

Getting a laptop computer that is working well for me has been a struggle.

For years, people have told me how much cheaper it is to buy a Windows machine than it is to buy a Mac.  For years, I told them to find one with the screen resolution and graphics hardware and it would be practically the same price.  It had been for the longest time.  Displays for laptop computers are not inexpensive but high quality displays are really expensive.

I got this 2017 Omen by HP laptop at about 25% discount.  It has an Intel i7 7700HQ quad core processor, Nvidia 1050 GPU with 2 GB of RAM, and the system came with a 1TB hard drive and 8GB of RAM.  It seemed to crawl most days.  The mid-2012 MacBook Pro had 16GB of RAM and a 480GB SSD with an Nvidia 650M GPU.

I found G.Skill RAM that I trusted that wasn't too expensive at the time and bought 32GB in two sticks.  I also found an HP m.2 SSD that seemed a good fit--an EX920.  Given that I've been working in retail and Thanksgiving Day to New Year's Day has been so brutal, I had few chances to get anything installed.  (I actually thought that, having a decent background with computer hardware installation since around 1981, I might be able to do the work myself but was proven wrong rather quickly.  It was much easier to modify each of my Apple Macintosh machines.)

I went to a phone repair store that was close, where I had some work done in the past, and the technician I knew was gone.  The person who might be able to do the work wasn't there that day, and since time wasn't convenient, I didn't return.  I went to a "computer services" shop (that looked like a pawn shop) and that shop's computer person wasn't there, either.

Last week, I decided to check another phone repair shop and found that they did computer work.  I called and was told that it would be US$30 to install the RAM and m.2 drive.  That was much lower than the $130-$250 I expected.

Wednesday, I went to the store and dropped off the computer.  They didn't give me a receipt--scary--but they sent my phone text messages to inform me on their progress.  US$30 to install the hardware and US$35 to clone the drive was given to me as the quote.  Thanks very reasonable.

Today, Friday, I went to see about the computer.  Things happened in the store and the progress was a bit delayed when "things happened", which was expected.  Thankfully, it wasn't some catastrophe where the hard drive didn't work at all.  He was "optimizing" it, so he told me that it would probably be three more hours.

I ate so-so VietNamese food at a new restaurant for way too much money, walked to a store to shop a bit, and got the text message that my machine had been finished.  I returned as quickly as I could walk.

I paid and I started the machine.  We looked and there was an update that required a restart.  I checked to see if the RAM and drive had actually been installed.  I wasn't accusing.  I just worry a lot.  If you can imagine something going wrong almost every time I do something, you'd be cautious, also.

Having the machine at home now, I'm pleased to say that my usual 51-66% RAM usage is around 19-22% now.  I'll be able to get started on my skate park videos finally.  I still need to select from thousands of clips.  I won't have to worry about my software being unhappy with the environment on which it's running, though.  Hopefully, Magix Movie Edit Pro Plus will be good.

As I've played a few games, the response is generally good but there are still delays.  I wonder if the operating system needs to mold itself to the new drive.  This machine is still labeled by HP as a casual gaming machine, which is all I needed anyway.  It still seems strange that UT2004 was smoother on a 2012 MacBook Pro than it is on a 2017 Windows machine purposed for gaming.

Update 2019.02.16: Windows 10 seems much better, although it does seem to be off in Never-Never land far too often still.  Who knows what it's doing?  As soon as I launch Task Manager, whatever was happening stops.  Defragmentation tends to continue, so I'm sure it's not that.  Feedback Hub is running, but why?  Microsoft does not want to know what I think of their collection of patches that they consider an operating system.  Back when a machine was limited to 64KB (or even 4MB) of RAM, it seemed that everything had to be tight.  Sloppy writers didn't make it.  Atari's implementation of GEM and DR-DOS weren't great but they were quick and efficient.

Firefox and Chrome both seem to handle scrolling more smoothly.

Games still seem just a bit better, which doesn't seem enough for the difference of having 4 times the RAM and a much, much faster drive.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Sprint has improved dramatically

Every year around Christmas here, I complain that the shopping area has horrible service with Sprint.  As of the Christmas season 2018, I can complain about it no longer.  We didn't get 100 Mbps service but the service was never unusable as it had been in the past few years since I arrived in 2014.

Further, I had jury duty in Stockton, which has generally had the worst of everything and I had a solid 4 bars downtown, especially on the 7th and 12th floors of the court house, but even on the ground it was exemplary.

I haven't had a lot of praise for Sprint, except for EVDO/3G in 2005 when the others were far behind them, and several years later when WiMAX was delivering data well before LTE was available in even a few places.

I'm pleased to say that the company has done better lately and I'm not sure why but I hope they continue to improve.  I'm almost okay with the T-Mobile merger, as long as we don't end up on GSM.  I hate having a voice conversation with anyone on T-Mobile because of the way it distorts and echoes.

VoLTE (Voice over LTE) should have been implemented already, so that we could rid ourselves of GSM and CDMA.  I expected it would be in place in 2015, even if it wasn't widespread, but it doesn't seem to have gone very far at all.

Update 2019.02.24: Sprint is now advertising that LTE Advanced is in use.  They also have "Calling Plus" for Android-based phones, which appears to be VoLTE, as they mention that you can use the internet while on a call, etc.

Apparently, 5G service will be launched in a few cities in May.  It seems that they've not bothered with Philadelphia or Miami, which is a big change from earlier times.

Don't you love how AT&T/SBC is finally going to LTE Advanced and is calling it 5Ge, as if it's something better than everyone else.  It's similar to when they enhanced their 3G service and called it 4G, even though it wasn't much different from T-Mobile.   By the original definition LTE Advanced is 4G, and we're not quite there yet, as far as a nationwide implementation goes.  I still see 1xRTT on occasion.

Update 2020.02.17: Apparently, 2020 is the year that 5G will penetrate our lives.  According to news, Verizon couldn't cover the Super Bowl stadium with 5G service, so I'm not sure how great it's going to be.  I'm still waiting for 4G/LTE Plus to be everywhere--and for 2G to go away.