Smartifying my home (Part 2)

In my last post, I talked about my new goals of 2018 in smartifying my room. Primarily, it was about adding smart bulbs, lightings and gadgets, adding a layer of automation to my life. The Nanoleaf Aurora, the LIFX bulbs and the Sony Android TV were the items in question.

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The process wasn’t easy. It was in fact, tedious and at times frustrating. A few weeks ago, I got the Audio Pro Addon T3, a portable (and sweet sounding speaker with a relatively huge bass given its dimunitive size) speaker for the living room. It touted awesome connectivity to your own wifi network that works well with Spotify Connect and has the ability to connect more speakers for multiroom setups. Sounds good on paper. I had an extremely difficult time playing nice with my home Wifi network. In the end, it took me a couple of days to figure out a small tiny setting within my router was disabled that prevented the Audio Pro from communicating with the router. The fact that I had to diagnose the problem myself by scouring the internet for a solution was not a pleasant experience.

I was quite traumatized by the entire experience that I had a good inkling that the same problem would surface once I got my Nanoleaf Aurora and LIFX up and running. And true enough I had the same exact problem with them; those devices had extreme difficulty connecting to my Wifi network. The second problem was made evident that such devices requires a fairly strong wifi network to make the first pairing between said device and the router. Since those devices are in my room, this presented unique challenges. The wifi strength in my room is weak with some dead spots around the room. I had no problem with wifi when using my gaming PC that is in my room. That’s mainly because the PC is close to the door and the wifi dongle (provided by the Asus motherboard) is a magnetised dongle, meaning that I can place the dongle virtually anywhere around the PC to get the best signal. The dongle supported 5GHz wifi, which fortunately, was able to get a strong signal from the Wifi in the living room and get very good speeds (upwards of 450mbps, very respectable from a Wifi standpoint).

The 2.4GHz wifi signal on the other hand is a little iffy in my room and since the devices such as the Nanoleaf Aurora and LIFX only uses 2.4Ghz wifi network, pairing is a pain. The weak signal made pairing extremely tedious. This is made worse when Apple’s Homekit has its own pairing problem. So I am dealing with 2 problems at the same time when I am pairing it to my Wifi network for the first time.

Nanoleaf Aurora was a little easier, but the LIFX bulbs were much more difficult. But I eventually after a couple of nights I managed to pair for 4 lightbulbs to my Wifi network. The bulbs tend to get dropped out of connection, as evidenced when I couldn’t control the bulbs in the App on my iPhone which resulted in me having to screw the bulb in and out again and wait for it to reastablish Wifi connection.

Lessons learnt

IoT devices such as the Nanoleaf Aurora, LIFX, wifi connected speakers, smart TVs and future smart devices are still in its infancy, where connectivity is concerned. There are still many technical hurdles to go through before we can get seamless connectivity with a press of a button. Too many standards and ecosytems makes a rather confusing endevour for an ordinary person. One can mitigate the problem by having a robust wifi network throughout the whole house. To do that, one might need to invest in next gen wifi network, such as Wifi Mesh where multiple wifi nodes are placed throughout the room for optimal wifi strength for IoT devices to play nicely. One must also need to plan or choose an ecosystem and stick to it, because you can get quite overwhelmed in remembering what devices works in which ecosystems. Switching from one to the other can potentially be tedious and confusing.

So before embarking on smartifying your home (or my room for that fact) do consider the state of your home wifi network and whether it is ready for a deluge of connected devices around your home.

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Smartifying my room (part 1)

As you know, my room is my sanctuary. I can go to great lengths to decorate my room to my liking. A personal and safe space where I can hang out and be alone. So it is no surprise that I invest quite a bit on a PC desktop set-up, starting with my gaming PC, followed by a nice looking borderless PC monitor from Dell. After that I did a Ikea hack and bought a kitchen tabletop and placed above 2 gray shelves to make a DIY desktop.

This near year, in 2018, my goal is to smartify my room, that is, to install smart lighting such as the Nanoleaf Aurora panels (12 of them) and the Lifx LED bulbs. Oh did I mentioned that I got a brand new 49 inch Sony 4K TV?

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The TV

The TV came in when I finally had the time to shift my bed 90 degrees away from the windows to make way for a one-seater sofa. Opposite the sofa, where my PC desktop is currently at, there is just enough space for a 4K TV. I bought the Sony X800E, 49 inches with HDR capabilities at Courts. I had a great deal. It was initially selling at S$1490, way below the recommended retail price (since, my guess is that they were clearing stock to make way for the 2018 models recently announced at this year’s CES in Las Vegas) S$1499 seemed reasonable enough for me as I always knew that Sony TVs are usually priced at a premium over their competitors. I expressed my interest in making a purchase when suddenly, the salesman who was attending to needs mentioned that there was an opened box of the same model that I wanted.

What happened was that another buyer initially bought that TV but bought the wrong size and couldn’t fit into their TV console. So they were forced to return the TV and bought a smaller one instead. Having been opened, Courts had no choice but to sell it at a lower price point. It was going for only S$1299. That piqued my interest. I drilled him further about the reason for the return and to ascertain whether he was telling the truth. He seemed truthful enough and I was pretty convinced of his story. At the end of the day, I thought to myself; It was only opened and returned within the same day, the plastic sheets and wraps were still largely intact. It wasn’t even turned on before they realised the TV they bought couldn’t fit into the wall mounted TV console. It was a great deal, nevermind it was only opened for a day. I took it immediately, brought back home and tested the TV. It was perfectly fine. S$200 cheaper just like that.

The Lighting

I decided to go for two kinds of lighting from two different companies. The Aurora LED panels from Nanoleaf,  that can showcase 16 million colours and smart bulbs from LIFX, also LED that is capable of showing 16 million colours.

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The Nanoleaf Aurora is fantastic. It exceeded my expectations when it comes to the level of brightness these panels can emit, and the vibrancy of the colours that these panels can display. Installation was a breeze. Just use the tracing paper given to you in the packaging to plan your layout and start connecting the panels together and stick it to the wall one by one. One thing I learned about installing these panels is that a little bit of planning goes a long way. By patiently installing each panel properly and ensuring that they stick to the walls will result in a satisfying piece of art in which you can manipulate the light using your smartphone. I have had hours of fun coming up with various lighting themes, moods and colours for various occasions that may be needed. The app is seamless to your and pretty intuitive. However, pairing the panels with your phone by telling it to connect to the home network can be a pain in the ass. More on that later.

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The bulbs came a couple of days later. The bulbs were meant for my spotlight fixtures on the opposite wall to my PC desktop. It can hold 3 GU10 bulbs. These bulbs are meant for spotlight effect that gives directional light to the room. Again, the colours were vibrant and accurate and although each bulb isn’t as bright as I thought it could be, having three of them light up white or different white temperatures, can be quite bright. Pairing was much more difficult than the Nanoleaf Aurora panels. I will discuss connectivity issues later in another post.

 

 

Saturn V rocket

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Every once in a while, Lego releases some truly spectacular sets. Like the Saturn V rocket, for example, that propelled Neil Armstrong, Edwin Aldrin and Michael Collins to the moon. At exactly 1:110 scale, this piece stands at 1 meter in height. It’s been a joy building this set. Now, where and how do I display this?

What 2017 brought and what will 2018 bring

2017 has been an interesting year. It was the year I started my Master’s studies, MSc in Science Communication, the departure of my supervisor at work, my computer rig GPU upgrade to an Nvidia Geforce GTX 1080ti, vacation in Vancouver and Seattle, the first for me on a North American continent, purchase of my first ever Macbook Pro, upgrade my phone to an iPhone X, and for the first time, buying and wearing an Apple Watch.

2017 has been tough, but meaningful. Looking back, lots of things happened, mostly an investment for my future. 2018 will no doubt be largely similar, maybe perhaps even more challenging, when it is now time to begin on my final year project that would ultimately wrap up my studies, ending my two-year journey as a student once again. Getting a Master’s degree is where I will officially end my formal studies. It has been a very long journey in my education. I have been studying my whole life, on top of starting off with my career upon graduation.

I am seeing 2018 with both an eye for excitement and trepidation. I see major changes is on its way to sweep me off my feet. I must be prepared for the wave, staying rooted, but letting it go at the right time when opportunity arises. I have yet to come up with my New Year’s Resolutions for 2018. I must come up with one soon. It will be a great way to anchor myself for the challenges ahead.

Overall, I am blessed and grateful for all the good things that has happened to me in 2017. Life may be challenging this past year, but I managed to weather them all and instead be rewarded with all the good things in life that we so often take for granted. Financially stable, in good health, surrounded by loving friends and family. What more can I possibly ask for?

Today marks the last day of work for 2017

Today is my official last day of work, wrapping up 2017. I will be on leave for the entire week after Christmas leading up to the new year, ushering in 2018. There are still so many things I need to do, chief among them is to finalise my final year project so that I can get started on it. Before I can do that, however, I need to find a supervisor who would give me guidance on my project. But before I can do that, I need to write up and firm up my research proposal with a research topic clearly in mind, so that I will not look like a fool when I’m talking to my potential supervisors. So many pre-conditions!

But on a more serious note, I need to up my game for 2018. I will be back to school, I need to finalise my project topic, more work responsibilities. It’s gonna be a crazy 2018. At this point, midway in my Master’s course, I am just dying to graduate.

Just a couple of weeks left before we say goodbye to 2017, there is still the issue of writing my New Year’s Resolutions. I will probably be written on a new Moleskin notebook that I bought a couple of weeks back. Exactly the same as I had for 2017, just in a different colour, this time midnight blue. Although I still have empty pages on my current notebook, I guess I can start a personal tradition of starting a new notebook for each new year. There is something personal about having a traditional notebook. You feel greater connection writing in a physical notebook, as opposed to just writing everything electronically like in a blog. The upside of writing in a blog is that you can express so much more since you can type and express your thoughts and feelings far more efficiently.

But a physical notebook does more than simply chronicling your life. You can quickly jot down notes, thoughts, reminders, and most important of all, it helps you organise your thoughts in your brain. Notebooks, to me, will never go away anytime soon.

So right now, I am going to relax and enjoy my Christmas holidays with friends and family. After that, I will take the time off from work to do some serious ‘soul-searching’ for a suitable project for me to pursue (hopefully).

I returned my Airpods.

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After 4 days of using it, I decided to return my Airpods. This is the first time that I had to return an Apple item because I was unsatisfied with it, and also because the money could be better spent elsewhere. Knowing that the less satisfaction I get using a product, the less often I will use it. So before it gets to that point, I decided to use the opportunity to return it and get a refund.

The Airpods, back from my initial impressions that I wrote a few days ago, is an amazing product to use. I really love it, from the design to the ease of use and the above average sound quality that is coming out of the earbuds. But after using it for several days, especially during my daily commute to and from work, there is something that Airpods lacked that I didn’t realise it could be that critical for me until I start to miss it. It is none other than noise isolation. In a crowded, noisy train, the Airpods, to me personally, just fails in the audio department when there is so much outside noise polluting the audio that is coming out from the earbuds. It got to the point where I no longer enjoy listening to music anymore. While I admire how easy it is to use the Airpods, the compactness of the entire package and how the earbuds just ‘disappear’ in your ear after a few minutes of wearing it, nothing beats having good audio quality coming out of a pair of earpiece or headphone.

There is just nothing else that is more important than choosing earphones or headphones by how good they sound. You can design the lightest, smallest, easiest to use earphones, but if the sound is terrible, I am not buying it. So after evaluating my needs and priorities, I came to a decision that the Airpods were simply, not for me.

I went down to the Apple store, where I collected my Airpods, told the staff that I was here to return an item. After giving my name and assigning me to a staff member, I waited until it was my turn to be served. One of the staff members approached me and asked me what was the item in question. I told him that I was here to return the Airpods. He was then curious as to why I decided to return it and I told him that it was simply not for me, as I placed audio quality the highest when it comes to earphones or headphones. I told him that without noise isolation, it was a no deal for me and despite trying very hard to get used to the idea of having outside noise polluting whatever music I was hearing, it dawned on me that having a noise isolating earphones was a way for me to find peace and a way to shut out all the noise from outside. It was something very much overlooked, but was essential, when I realised I was starting to miss it.

He checked the item to make sure that everything is intact and there wasn’t any visible damage to the item. I returned within the 14-day window. I was a little concerned as to whether they will take the product in and give me a refund, as the Airpod case was showing some visible scratches. If was made of plastic after all. But he accepted it and within minutes, the refund was confirmed and he informed me that the money should be reflected within 5 business days. No fuss, no trouble. Perfect.

Maybe the day will come when they might release Airpods version 2 or something, something beefier, this time with noise isolation. Till then, I will stay away from any audio related products from Apple.

Airpods first impressions!

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2 days ago I ordered the Airpods online on the Apple Store. The same day, I collected at the Apple Store Orchard. This tiny little thing has been in high demand for almost a year since its original release. I had the opportunity to collect the Airpods on the same day I ordered it due to immediate stock availability.

I was really curious as to the whole experience of using these truly wireless earphones. Were they easy to pair with your phone? How long is the battery life? How small and light are the Airpods including the charging case?

I immediately went upstairs to the second floor of the store so that I could unbox it and set it up right then and there. My first impression upon seeing this thing in person was how small the case was. Almost the same size as a box of Tictacs! Pairing was dead easy (and to some extent, quite magical, I have never experienced quite like it before). All I had to do was to ensure that my phone has wireless and Bluetooth switched on. Then I had to place the Airpods near my phone and flick the case open. Almost immediately, a prompt appeared on my phone asking whether I want to connect the Airpods to my phone. All I had to do was to tap ‘connect’ and you are done. It was that simple. Next I just had to pull out those tiny earpieces, put on my ears, fire up Spotify and voila, I was already using it like a pro. Pairing a Bluetooth device has never been easier.

Next is the sound quality. Now, I wouldn’t consider myself an audiophile, but I do appreciate a good pair of either earphones or headphones. My criteria for what considers a good pair is that it must produce a good amount of bass. Tight bass, one that does not bleed to the mids and muddle it up. Mids has to be warm and highs should never be too tinny. Soundstage must sound expansive, but not too airy and good sound separation, with the ability to discern the myriad of musical instruments and effects without sounding too ‘jumbled’ up.

So how does the Airpods stack up? It’s not bad actually. It was definitely better than I expected. The bass is more prominent than I expected. I think, the sound quality is good enough for the majority of people out there. However, the Airpods has poor noise isolation, as it doesn’t provide a good, airtight feet in your ear to keep external sounds out. While the audio quality is good, the lack of noise isolation actually marred the sound quality quite significantly. And when you consider the price you are paying for a pair of Airpods, at S$248, you would expect to get better quality audio and at least sound isolating feature built it. Sound separation and overall soundstage is above average.  The sound coming out from the Airpods is generally very clear, but you can definitely hear the bass bleeding to the mids, and not as tight as I would like them to be.

The Airpods, fortunately, fits pretty well in my ear. I had no problems with Airpods coming out from my ear during my morning commute, and it stayed put throughout the entire journey from home to the office. But because I take the train to work every morning, it can get a little noisy and without noise isolation, the Airpods, while producing very good sound quality is hampered by outside noise.

So is spending S$248 worth it? I’m not sure. When it comes to choosing headphones or earphones, the number one deciding factor is sound quality, followed by overall comfort, convenience and aesthetics, At that price point, the sound quality is somewhat lacking. What you are paying for instead is ultra-portability; it has a very small footprint, maximum convenience; you only need to pair once. After you just have to wear the thing to get started. For those looking for a good sounding pair of earphones, you might want to look elsewhere. But for those who are looking for portability and ease of use, the Airpods might be a good choice.