Friday, January 31, 2014

A Foray Into "The Internet of 'Things'"

Last year, an online acquaintance had pointed me to what looked to be a nifty bit of gadgetry. It was an IP-enabled LED lightbulb that you could control from your iOS or Androd mobile device. Not only was it advertised to be able to remotely power it on and off, you could dim it and even change the bulb's output color.

I followed the link that was posted and it took me to a Kickstarter page. When you go to the page, what's shown is an LED bulb that looks like it packs all this functionality into a standard lightbulb's form-factor:


So, on March 3rd of 2013, I placed an order for four of them. Total cost: $300 plus shipping fees. Original expected arrival date was August of 2013. Halfway through August, get an email saying that there's been a manufacturing delay, but it should only be a couple months. Eventually, in December, get notification that they should be arriving in Q1 of 2014. Today they finally arrived.

I was quite chuffed to open the box and start using my new bulbs. I read the installation manual (no small feat as, apparently, the folks at Lifx really like small print - I'd say the user booklet is probably printed in the 6-8pt range). I download the Android app to my notepad (odd, it's got a really low rating on the Google Play Store). I install the first bulb, power it on, and follow the instructions to set up my bulb. Gets to step 5 and the app tells me "can't talk to the device".

I flip through the manual to find the troubleshooting section. I go through the factory reset steps and retry the setup. I try using two different WiFi routers and two different Android devices. Each  (of literally a dozen) attempt ends in the same failure.

So, I send an email to their support address describing my problem. We go back and forth for a while, with them telling me "the Android app is mostly broken" and asking me "can you use an iOS device to set it up: that App is much more functional". Seriously? I reply back, "no, I can't: I don't have any iOS devices". They assure me that a replacement app is in the works and it will fix all the issues ...but it's "just a couple weeks" from being ready for release. Pardon my concern about what "a couple weeks" means from a company that was a couple quarters late in delivering this PoS.

Speaking of dubious descriptions... See that picture above? Yeah. What came looks nothing like that. To be fair, they'd sent pictures of the updated design. The updated design isn't horrible in the pictures, but when you unbox it? Yeah, it's nowhere near as small as the image above. It won't fit in any of my light fixtures and it's mad-heavy.

I've got other LED bulbs, so I know they tend to be on the heavy side. But my other bulbs are positively frail compared to these beasts. Each socket I managed to fit the bulbs into, the socket is being visibly torsioned from the weight of the bulb.

Also, the default color? Suuuuuuuuucks. My other LEDs provide much better quality of light - better color, less harsh projection and less-stark shadowing. Those other bulbs also cost half as much.

At any rate, at this point, I'm thoroughly disillusioned. I ask, "how do I get a refund for these since they're not functioning as advertised". Their helpful response? They inform me that I'll have to ship them back to Australia - on my dime - before they'll credit back the $300 I've wasted on these.

Wow.

Just...

Wow.

A product whose shoddiness is only exceeded by the shoddiness of their customer support. Oh well, at least looking at the threads on their FaceBook page, I'm not alone in this flooding boat.

Lifx: from your CEO on down, everyone in your organization should be ashamed of this disgraceful product-release. A lot of your buyers are people that like to support small/new businesses - it's why we "sponsor" stuff on sites like KickStarter in the first place. You spat all over that. I dunno about others, but it really makes me question whether I should pony-up on any other similar products.

Philips has a better product for a more reasonable price. And, having dealt with them on other support issues, they actually have a worthwhile customer service organization. 

Disgraceful.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Christmas disaster (hopefully) averted

Had ordered a Christmas gift for my mom and had selected the overnight delivery option so it would get here well before we began our trek north, next week. Figured I was in the clear when the shipper shown was +UPS and *not* +FedEx "SmartPost". Was happy when I saw that the package had gotten to the local shipping facility at 12:20 ...and was chilling on the couch, with the tracking page open, waiting for the truck to show up.

Then, shit fell apart. A little after 17:00, UPS updated the tracking page to say that "package delivery has been rescheduled to Monday by 3PM (or evening for home deliveries)". There was never an "on truck for delivery status". There was no "delivery miss" status. Nope: they simply hadn't bothered to even try to deliver it.

*WHAT THE FUCK??*

Looked up the facility on Google to see if I could call and come pick it up - the location is less than 3mi from my house. Go to the information page and see that, while they're open until 19:00 Monday through Thursday, on Fridays the facility fucking closes at _17:00_. Wasn't even any point in calling them.
Needless to say, I went ballistic. This was two late-deliveries, in a row, from Amazon. Granted, both were due to crappy service from the shipping companies, but that's cold-comfort when you're looking at not being able to give someone their Christmas gift.

I let the apoplexy fade, and then hit the "call me" button on Amazon's site. First attempt was a failure: sounded like the CSR was talking through a couple inches of insulation. Hung up the phone, all spun-up, again.

Chill. Must chill...

Hit the "call me" button, again. This time, the (different) CSR came in loud and clear. I pre-apologized for my rather irritable state and explained the situation. She offered the resolution of shipping a new version of the item directly to my travel-destination vi their next (business) day shipping option with shipping fees waived. Was a fair offer, so we went through the process of placing the new order. On the plus side, the replacement item was also 10% cheaper (last minute price-drop on the product!).

Hopefully, by the time we arrive at my mom's house, her Christmas gift will be there waiting for us.

Hopefully, Amazon bitch-slaps their shipping companies for 2014. This is the second order in a row that had shipper-caused late-delivery. So, at this point both FedEx and their USPS proxy have fucked me and UPS has tried to fuck me. The sandpaper condom treatment from the different shipping services is getting old.
Maybe shit like this is why Amazon was pie-in-the-sky'ing about the drone-based delivery?









Monday, November 18, 2013

Cold Comfort

Somewhere along the line, I missed a critical lesson. I think I missed it very early. I think I missed it at each time someone - or maybe even just "life" - tried to teach it to me. It's probably an important lesson, I just don't know how to learn it: "how does one find comfort?"

I look around at the culture I live in. I look around at many of my peers. I see a lot of people who find - or at least think they'll find - comfort in things. There's even a term for it: "retail therapy". For some people, the comfort is in the hunt. For others it's in the having. For me, there's neither. I don't enjoy shopping. I don't enjoy bargain-hunting. I don't particularly enjoy, even, the having of things. Things are functional. Things serve a purpose. Things don't give comfort.

While it's fading - albeit noisily - in western cultures, religion seems to bring many folks comfort. Me? I can't get on board with it. That's not the same as saying I'm an atheist - I know how little I truly know to eliminate the possibility of its basis. I just can't subscribe to it. Even if I could, I don't know that I'd find it a comfort, as, even if the afterlifes accorded to the good and the just are accurately portrayed, for me they'd be a hell. I don't know what to do with the life I have, I can't imagine eternity yawning before me being any kind of good thing.

Most people also seem to find comfort in other people. For the most part, people make me uncomfortable. Except in very specific contexts - work being chief among them - I can't really relate to most people. The people who it did feel like sort of "got" me - that I had a connection to - are all gone ...and I'm adrift.

All I can really do is think to myself. All I can really do is ruminate. And, when the thoughts gel enough, I can type them out ...but doing so isn't a comfort. At best, it's an ordering of things - a setting of a mark to come back to and ponder some more.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Thoughts on Endings

As of today, I've now seen to the disposition of the four grandparents I knew.
  • pallbearer for paternal grandfather
  • pallbearer for maternal grandfather
  • scattered the ashes of my paternal step-grandmother on a church green in London
  • pallbearer for maternal grandmother
On top of that, during the spring of 2010, I helped my mother scatter my father's ashes at the site of their first date.

Death and its trappings have rarely been the kind of sad event that it feels like they should be. Maybe I just process things differently. Dunno.

Even my own father's death wasn't as sad it they felt it ought to have been: the news of the death; the viewing at the funeral home prior his cremation and the scattering of his ashes. The thing that felt the most immediately sad was the extinguishing the last embers of his existence - the paperwork of terminating professional memberships and licensures, seeing to insurance papers, recovering passwords to computers, ensuring the smooth transfer of bank accounts from deceased father to surviving mother. Eventually, the sadness of realizing that the one person who most got me, who I could most easily talk to, hit me. However, that was more sadness for my own situation than true sadness at the death of my father.

I think the thing that came closest to saddening me at today's event was the family picture atop my grandmother's cask. It was a picture of my maternal grandparents, my parents and me taken early in my sophomore year of college. What I found sad was three of the five people pictured were all gone, now - and that, barring misadventure or unexpected disease process, I would be the last of those pictured to draw breath. Piled on top of that, the knowledge that, with no children of my own and no neices or nephews, my final disposition is entirely likely to be at the hands of strangers.

Fmeh.

Then again, I'll be dead and hopefully won't have any capability to know or care.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

I Might Have a Problem With Letting Things Go...

I'm working on a technical project where there aren't a lot of software solutions available - commercial or opensource. Thus far, I've found two that look like they might do what I need to do.

Today, while I was killing time with StumbleUpon, a website came up for a company that's developing what could be a third option. So, I sent them a quick message to see if I could get more info. They replied back quickly, asking if I had Skype and could do a video call (they appear to be a smallish company and are eager to line up potential customers). I'm guessing the Skype thing was both because a lot of people like video conferencing and because they're in Europe and I'm in the US (Skype means no international calling-rates).

I don't really like doing video conferencing to begin with. When I'm required to be on them, I generally try to find a spot in the meeting room that's off camera. What's more, I dislike Skype and really don't want to load it on my system. Since I've got several SIP-enabled devices (both a TA for our house and my mobile devices and laptop), I offered up SIP-to-SIP as an option.

After I sent off the email with my SIP info, I realized, "crap: I've never actually used my VOIP in a SIP-to-SIP capacity. I better test that it actually works!" And thus began the geeky-waste of the rest of my day.

While there are plenty of things out there for testing outbound SIP capabilities, I wasn't turning up too many options for testing inbound SIP. Eventually, I opted to load some soft-phone software on a couple of my cellphones and try dialing my home SIP number. There were ...issues. I eventually got them sorted out (turns out that the free SIP service I'd set up on my cellphone's soft-phone software only did anonymous calling and my home SIP account was set up to reject anonymous calls). But, in the process of getting it sorted out, I ended up sucking in another geeky friend of mine to help with connection-testing and troubleshooting.

Probably would have been a lot quicker to just load Skype. I just have a hard time doing the "easy" thing when I both want to do it another way and have time to work at getting that way to work. I was on vacation, today, so...

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Musings On Decay

Earlier today, a former co-worker pinged me on FaceBook asking me "what happened to 'X'?" In this case, "X" was a mutual friend and former co-worker of ours. Several of us had worked as consultants for the same company for a number of years. However, as happens over time and when no longer joined by a common thread, we'd all ended up going our separate ways. We've each stayed in casual touch - using instant messaging tools, social media, email and the occasional phone call to stay at least somewhat connected. But still, we drifted and time hurtled past in a way you don't really recognize until something calls your attention to it.

This time, what called attention to it was death. Our friend had, apparently passed away this weekend. My attention to FaceBook being fairly infrequent any more, I'd not yet seen all the "goodbye" messages posted to his wall. It was only the notification being lit up from my other friend's direct wall-post that alerted me. When I clicked on the notification, I found the question, "what happened to Warren?" waiting for me.

My initial response was, "huh? What do you mean 'what happened'?" Just the prior weekend, I'd received an "are you there" kind of message via instant messenger from Warren. It had arrived to my computer while I was out doing weekend things with my wife. By the time I noticed the message, it was four hours stale and he was no longer showing as online. I figured, "I'll chat at him the next time I see him online". So, my initial response was going to be "what do you mean".

Given the nature of the message, I'd figured it was worth investigating what might be behind it. So, I clicked on our friend's wall to see if I could glean anything I didn't already know. That's when I saw all the "good-bye" messages. That's when I realized that I won't be chatting to him, again.

It's been four years since I've seen him. The last time I'd seen him was at a work function. Last I'd actually spoken with him was by phone and it had been a few times late last year. At the time, he'd been going through a rough patch - being in treatment for cancer. He'd sounded like the treatments were kicking his as. Each time we'd talked, he'd sounded worse than the last time. The final time we'd talked on the phone, he'd indicated that they were finally done with the treatments. I'd made - what turned out to be - the foolish interpretation/assumption that it meant he was in remission and the treatments were over. The cancer he'd indicated he'd had was one that had a decently-high survival-rate.

And now, he's gone.

Haven't written any good-byes on his wall yet. He won't be the one to read them and I don't really know his friends to be able to say anything that makes a statement seem a sensible thing to do. Don't know that I will write on his wall. I have emailed the other folks I knew who knew him trying to see if anyone knew more than what I could glean from what was already posted on his wall.

Recently, I've been looking at where I am in my own life. Even prior to today's revelation, I was in one of those "decay" states of mind. I'm 43 and my wife will soon be 40. We have no children. My father has already passed and it seems like I have less and less contact with the various folks I've been friends with over the years. It feels like I peaked somewhere along the lines. Ironically, probably during the period in which I worked with Warren.

Full-circle kind of moment, I guess.

Friday, July 19, 2013

On Milestones

A former co-worker hit the big four-oh, this week. He posted that he wasn't bothered by it and didn't see how it could be any kind of milestone to be worried about. For the most part, I agreed, but I did point out to him:

  • At age 32, you've likely been legally driving for as many years as you waited to be able to legally drive.
  • At age 36, you've been legal to vote, legal to sign contracts, tryable as an adult, able to go to war for as many years as you werent - also, that porn model/actress you're ogling likely was only recently evicted from her mother's womb when you were the age she is now
  • At 42, you've likely been drinking legally for as many years as you had to wait to be able to legally do so. For Douglas Adams fans, this is also your answer year.
So, yeah, 40 isn't really a milestone kind of year. All forty really means is that:
  • You're now out of your thirties - an age-range that had already begun to stretch one's ability to argue about still being "young".
  • You're now, actuarially speaking, truly middle-aged. After all, what percentage of people are living much past their 80th birthday when you're living in a country with an average life-expectancy of less than 80 years?
  • If you only had 12 years of primary schooling, you've been working for at least 22 years ...but still have 27 left before you can retire and draw your full Social Security alotment
  • If you went the 12+4 years of schooling route, you've been working for at least 18 years, but still have that same 27 work-years left to slog through.
  • Chances are, when you're filling in one of those age verification things, taking part in a survey, etc., you're likely having to scroll one line further down to find your "I'm between X and Y years of age" box
Could probably think of a few others, but, I'm depressed now (and 43). Think I'll go grab some whisky - a drink-choice that really only seems to make sense once you've reached "a certain age" - and try to forget these milestones.

Any way, happy birthday, buddy!