the itjerk

my adventures with technology

Tag Archives: Google

google home mini

I went to Microcenter with my family to pick up a couple flash cards (free with coupon) and as soon as we walked in, we were greeted by an end-cap of Google Home Minis. A well-positioned salesperson said “I think they are still on sale for $29.95.” One of my daughters, armed with Xmas money, immediately grabbed one and started pleading with me to allow her to purchase it (she’s only 10 years old).

With out much banter, I acquiesced to both the purchase and her intended location: her bedroom. Second, older daughter also ponied up. Mind you, I sold my Google Home over the holidays because a) I just never got used to the idea that she was always listening to ALL our first floor conversations, and b) I can perform the same commands on my phone – “Okay Google, play Syd Barrett” – and send them to Chromecast Audio.
Google-Home-Mini

Not much larger than a hamburger, the Google Home Mini is quite a bargain at $29.95. According to the web, that’s just about Google’s cost for the thing. Both daughters have Nexus phones (one part of the Fi plan, the younger wifi only), so once home, they quickly downloaded the Google Home app and we began setting them up. The Mini offers my daughters a couple of things that I like: all the music they’d ever want (with a linked Spotify account), an alarm clock, and interaction with voice technology. Let’s face it, in a decade or so, our houses will have voice-controlled access to computer technology in every room. It’s such and amazing and convenient interface: “what’s the weather” or “what’s 56 times 27?” It’s also a single solution for the clock radio and the bluetooth speaker (though I wish it had a time display).

I have to admit, I kinda wanted to buy one myself, but, alas, the sale ended, and so did my desire for it. For now…

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google pixel 2

With $250 off — $150 trade-in on my “warranty repaired” Nexus 5X plus $100 discount for being a Google Fi subscriber — I couldn’t resist upgrading to the Pixel 2. It’s the same size as the 5X, and honestly, not much different other than the price tag. Excellent battery life and 64GB of storage popped out instantly, as did the “swipe up” home screen, but what I like the most about it is that it’s the purest Android experience yet. And it’s not repaired. ūüėČ

dnscrypt

Domain Name Service (DNS) is the mechanism by where numeric IP addresses become readable domain names; it’s far easier for me to tell you to visit strawberrybricks.com than a bunch of numbers. When you browse the internet, then, the addresses you type or click on go through a DNS search. Typically, your ISP provides this service, or whomever you get your network connection from – however there is an implicit level of trust involved. Who’s to say that yahoo.com for example, is really yahoo.com? What is the DNS server spoofed the reply? Further, any DNS server can collect a wealth of information by recording your DNS requests. Finally, the speed of your browsing is dependent on how quickly these requests are filled.

Both Google (8.8.8.8) and OpenDNS (208.67.222.222) provide free DNS services that are fast and secure, and supposedly do not track your requests. A third service, Quad9 (9.9.9.9) was very recently launched. Your ISP has a lot of information about you. Switching your DNS to one of these providers is simple (just type them in your router, or network connection), and gives some degree of privacy. Every little bit helps?

DNSCrypt goes one further by encrypting all your DNS requests. It’s an easy enough program to install, available for PC, Mac and Linux, and for routers using DD-WRT. On my Ubuntu box, I needed to install libsodium-dev first, and then was most successful installing DNSCrypt-proxy from source by using the old “configure, make, make install” method with version 1.9.5. Then, you can run it with systemd automatically.

On the web:
DNSCrypt

google home

Yeah, I’m a sucker for IoT things like this. Amazon’s Alexa found a new home via eBay in Rockford, and I have to admit, we felt a little empty with the gap she left. “Alexa, what’s the weather” mostly.

So I jumped on board when Google announced their own voice-activated assistant, Google Home. I preordered directly from Google for $129 sometime in October, and it arrived just this week. Setup required me to download the “Google Home” app on my android phone, and I was then prompted to enter my Google account info. A simple process, it did some updates, knew somehow it was in my kitchen, and connected to my home wifi network.

Firstly, there is no privacy with these devices. Google knows who I am, where I live, and can listen to all the conversation maybe even in the entire house. That near-field technology is quite good, and even when laying down in an adjacent room Google Home could hear my commands, all given with the obligatory “Okay Google” salutation.

Unlike Alexa, Google Home, or rather the Google Assitant is quite smart, rattling off answers to questions like “Who just won the World Series” and whatever else we could think of. The biggest surprise was when I asked her to play some music. I have precious little in Google Play, but based on one album I bothered to upload sometime ago (The Blossom Toes’ Ever So Clean), she offered a quite satisfying playlist of late 60s psychedelia I could imagine. Bravo.

So here she will sit, ever listening and patiently awaiting our commands, until we too get bored with her!

uh-oh, what bricked my nexus 5X usb

I did the July 5th, 2016 Security Update for my Nexus 5X running Marshmallow 6.01 and guess what – no usb connection. The phone charges when connected, but no USB menu when I swipe down from the top. My better half also happens to have the same phone, which with the same cable still connects to the same computer. Her Android security patch level? June 1, 2016.

Called Google to tell them yet all they wanted to do was a factory reset. Oh the woes of level 1 support…

Screenshot_20160712-212941

Ends up that I did finally backup my phone to my google drive and do the factory reset.¬† USB still not working so thank goodness my phone was still under warranty. Replacement on the way. So what bricked the USB? Bad cable? Bad USB port? Or was it that security patch? I’m thinking I need a warranty…

Update: USB still not working with the replacement phone, so Google is sending me another!

project fi from google

I dumped T-Mobile. Not because there was any issue, rather, since upgrading to a phone that supports LTE I’ve been quite please with them. No, this was strictly based on price. Instead of paying $64 per month, I am now down to $38 for the same service: unlimited talk and text, plus 1GB of cellular data.

What’s Project Fi? It’s Google’s virtual wireless service. It uses the chip inside the Nexus 5x or 6 to pass calls between Wifi and cellular networks. Of the latter, it includes T-Mobile, Verizon and now US Cellular. So that’s the catch: you have to use their specific phones, which for me was fine because I already had one. If you don’t have their Nexus phone, Google offers a no-interest payment plan.

Upside? It’s less expensive for at least equal service. I do notice that in buildings where cellular service was spotty (you know, those dark back stairwells and basement tunnels), Wifi can fill in the gaps in coverage. Downside? Well, when the kids start youtubing on a cellular network. Since you only get charged for the data you use, if you have a month where you’re under what you signed up for, you’ll get a credit on your next bill. The flip side however is that you’ll also get charged (at the same data rate) when you go over your data limit. T-mobile would allow me to go over my data limit for the same cost, but at excruciatingly slower speeds.

Screenshot_20160613-120248

On the web: Project Fi

 

recaptcha 2.0

unnamed
Got an email from Google about upgrading reCaptcha: “You’re receiving this email because you’re registered as a website administrator for a site that uses reCAPTCHA.” If you haven’t noticed, gone are the days with unreadable letters and house numbers, and in is a simple box asking to to check “I’m not a robot”. I upgraded my reCaptcha module on my drupal website and edited the settings.php file after installing it (depending on your version, you’ll get an error on your status page, also telling you how to correct). But it didn’t work! That’s because I needed to generate new public and private API keys for 2.0. So if you do ever get locked out by reCaptcha, you can always delete the module, login, fix what needs to be fixed and then reinstall.

On the web:
reCaptcha Developer’s Guide

new year brings model b+, beep, chromebook

Happy holidays and all that. Xmas brought a few new electronics to the household, here’s a very brief recap:

Raspberry Pi B+ replaced the old model B. I have a feeling that the old one was a dud somehow because every time it had an unclean shutdown, I had to reformat the SD card. Anyway, in with the new out with the old.

I received my Beep unit just before the holidays, in fact, even before email notification of the shipment. But of what use is a music player Рone that handles digital output btw Рif there is not any software that can access the music that you actually own!?! In a box it will sit until I can use it with something other than Spotify or Pandora.

The Acer Chromebook is quite nice, though the keyboard takes a little getting used to. Supervised mode is a bust because although you can limit/restrict web access, it is not possible to allow a supervised user the use of apps or extensions.  Really Google?

lollipop battery issue

Upgraded my Nexus 4 smartphone to Android 5.0, aka Lollipop. Not without issues, especially some app that’s draining the battery, take a look:

Screenshot_2014-11-26-19-30-53

On the web:

https://code.google.com/p/android/issues/detail?id=80950

https://code.google.com/p/android/issues/detail?id=79907

chromebook acer

Finally got fed up with the girls’ iPad. Fixed one too many times, it’s just time to move on to something different. My oldest told me that she uses a Chromebook at school, and having been impressed with my Nexus tablet and the Android universe, I decided to give it a look.

A Chromebook is a laptop. Sort of. It basically boots to a built-in Chrome browser, and includes everything¬†Google – Drive, Docs, Play, Books, etc. While the offering of Apps is nothing near what’s available for the Android OS, that’s okay as¬†they mostly stick to Youtube and I’m kinda over them playing Candy Crush, Fruit Slice, etc. Plus, I want them to have a laptop with a keyboard, ostensibly so they don’t have to use the wife’s, but in actuality because they’re just getting to that age.

81xTJR-HCGL._SL1500_

Off to Amazon, I found the Acer¬†CB3-111-C670 for a super cheap $179.99. It’s got an 11.6″ screen, with a 16GB SSD, 2GB of RAM and an Intel 2.16Ghz Dual-core Celeron processor. It sports an 8.6 hour battery life, 802.11 AC wireless, SD card reader, two USB and one¬†HDMI port, and a built-in camera. In other words, it’s a notebook computer! And hopefully the hardware will be a little more durable than the iPad wasn’t!

I login with my Google account and viola, it already knows who I am, has my synced apps and bookmarks. That’s not that big of a deal, my Android phone does the same thing. But¬†here’s the coolest thing: I can then setup Supervised Users. These are accounts for my kids that I can total be big brother about. When I browse to http://chrome.com/manage, I get a full report of their browsing history, and the ability to block whatever websites I want. Perfect for a parent. Santa delivers it on Xmas eve, more about this in the new year.

Capture

On the web:
Acer Chromebook