Aldi’s AirTag Keychain

I have tried several AirTag cases and keychains. They’re universally overpriced, and each one has flaws that make me feel vaguely dissatisfied with having purchased them. Here are some of the ones that I have tried, followed by a surprising discovery that ends up being nearly perfect.

First up is Apple’s Leather Loop. It is chic, pricey, and impracticable for any application where it could be subject to rough handling. But the quality is excellent, and it turns your AirTag into a fashion accessory.

Belkin’s version of the Leather Loop, which is made from plastic and paracord, is better priced but still expensive for what you get. If dangling your AirTag is your jam, though, it’s a less pretentious and more secure alternative.

Bellkin does better with their AirTag Secure Holder and Keychain, which was one of the first third-party cases on the market and, at the time, amusingly omitted the word AirTag in any of their labeling or marketing. (Go figure.) Its plastic construction is sturdy but doesn’t add any appreciable bulk, so that’s nice.

Elevation Lab’s TagVault is, by far, the most rugged and secure holder that I have tried. My issue with it is the Torx screws used on the enclosure, which makes changing batteries in the AirTag a pain in the butt. They’re a silly addition that only adds inconvenience, not security.

Pelican Protector AirTag Sticker is a holder that I’m very pleased with, but it’s very much for niche applications. If you want to hide an AirTag in your car, this is a fine choice.

Finally, we come to the most unexpected, inexpensive, and practical AirTag case that I have found. The Aldi Quarter Keychain. If you’re not hip to Aldi grocery stores — a cousin of Trader Joe’s — they rent you a shopping cart for 25¢. I guess it’s charming, and has given rise to various quarter-holder keychains so that shoppers can keep a coin close at hand. Aldi occasionally sells these keychains at the checkout counter for less than two bucks. And they’re nearly the perfect size for holding an AirTag. Just enlarge the opening for the coin slightly, using a sharp knife, and Bob’s your uncle. Seriously, if you don’t mind the Aldi aesthetic, you won’t find a less expensive and more useful AirTag keychain. (If you miss them at your local Aldi, you’ll find plenty of higher priced alternatives at the Amazon.)


STFU ScanSnap Update annoyances

A while back, there was a big controversy when Fujitsu updated their software to be 64-bit clean and stopped supporting older ScanSnap models.

Eventually, Fujitsu relented and added support for the older units. Thank you very much.

Now, they’ve done it again. The latest ScanSnap software no longer supports my perfectly functional scanner. But the last version that does support the unit seems to function just fine on the latest macOS.

So, just keep using the old version, right? Sure, except that Fujitsu’s auto-update mechanism is a royal pain in the ass. Every few days, it will tell me that a new version is available. Additionally, the user interface for declining the update is (intentionally?) deceptive with a double-negative, making it easy to accidentally apply the update and screw myself.

Worse yet, the update notification not only steals focus, it prevents the computer from shutting down until you answer its inhumane prompts!

The solution to this annoyance is to turn off the ScanSnap’s auto-update function(s). This is accomplished using a separate app that you might not have noticed among all the detritus that Fujitsu installs. See the screenshot below for all the details.

AOUpdater screen shot

A Tempurpedic Remote Control hack

Of all the remote controls that should light up in the dark, the one for the Tempur-pedic bed is a natural. And it does light up, nicely, but unfortunately, there is no way to turn on its light without triggering a command. This is an unfortunate design choice.

The only command that you can quietly activate, without moving the bed’s mechanics, is the under-bed lighting system. But finding this single button in the dark is a challenge, particularly if you’re not fully awake.

My solution comes courtesy of Japanese discount store Daiso. A small adhesive stationery adornment provides the tactile locator that Tempur-pedic forgot.

remote control with small pearl stuck to buttoon, held by gordon meyer

A reliable keypad door lock from Schlage

I’ve recently installed two Schlage BE365 PLY 626 Plymouth Keypad Deadbolt locks, and I have to say, they’re fantastic. Installation, while intimidating, was quick and simple.

The first lock replaces an Emtek E3020 EMTouch Electronic Keypad Deadbolt that had stopped working. The reason for its failure was its construction, but frankly it never should have been installed where it was. (I didn’t do it.) The lock was installed on a set of French doors, a situation for which a motorized lock is not suited. That’s because the alignment between the doors is too variable and, as anyone who has lived with French doors knows, frequently requires nudging to get them to align for locking. The Emtek lock, with its internal plastic parts, just couldn’t handle the variable resistance of moving the cylinder.

The Schlage model that I replaced it with is a manual lock. The keypad controls engaging the chamber, but you move the cylinder by hand. This allows you to feel when the doors need a little jiggle to align. (Additionally, the Schlage is constructed of metal, so it is sturdier.)

There’s a nine-volt battery that powers the keypad, which I expect to last longer than the one in the Emtek because it’s not running a motor that moves the cylinder. Other advantages of the Schlage, to my thinking anyway, are that it is less expensive, doesn’t suffer from Z-Wave or other home automation hassles, and thus doesn’t have a weird app that you have to deal with. (I’m looking at you, Rachio sprinkler controller.)

Sure, by going with a manual lock, I forgo being able to lock the door with my iPhone and any form of remote control or notifications. Furthermore, the Schlage lock only supports a finite number (19) of passcodes. The appearance of the lock is also a bit dated. But none of that bothers me when the trade-off is a sturdy piece of hardware that “just works.”

I like the Schlage lock so much that I installed a second one in the garage. The benefit of not having to fumble with keys when carrying groceries is heavenly.

I bought mine from Amazon, after checking local hardware stores and discovering a stock of an overwhelming number of connected, motorized locks, but none with the advantages as I’ve outlined.

A Bigger is Better Shaving Mirror

One of the most popular posts on Kevin Kelley’s “Cool Tools” site is my review of the Shave Well Shaving Mirror. It was also reprinted in the big (and fantastic) Cool Tools Compendium.

After I wrote an addendum to my review, the Shave Well company introduced their travel version, which I immediately bought and have taken on countless trips.

Nine years later, the mirror continues to be extraordinarily useful. Seriously, if you’re a shower shaver (or want to be), it’s a must-have accessory.

Kevin baquerizo lJewNo29uf0 unsplash 19be9d73afa44c6ca443aba7c2f11b95

Instead of shuttling my travel-sized mirror between bathrooms at home, I recently decided to buy one for each shower.(Getting lathered up in the shower then realizing your mirror is in the other bathroom is a bummer.) When I looked on Amazon to buy another, I discovered that the success of Shave Well has spawned a host of imitators. Shamefully, an extra-large knockoff caught my eye, and I bought it. Bigger is always better, right?

Well, so far, so good. I am enjoying the larger size, but naturally, it’s also heavier. Too heavy to hang on the wall using the inexpensive suction cups that I use with the smaller Shave Well. And I’m certainly not going to cement a hook to my tile wall!

Instead, I recommend IKEA’s excellent suction cup hooks, such as the Krokfjorden or Tisken. They hold remarkably well.

(Photo by Kevin Baquerizo)

The secret to reliable remote control of your smart home

As I’ve described here and in my classic book on home automation, Smart Home Hacks, no system is flawless. But ff you’re depending on your automations to control and monitor your home while you’re traveling, there is an easy, albeit messy, way to help you recover when communication failures inevitably occur.

There are, most commonly, three things that can cause the dreaded “offline” response from your remote home: crashes, software updates, and ISP disruptions. For now, let’s focus on the first two.

Aside from egregious and user-hostile automatic updates, such as those deployed by Hue, failed communications can often be resumed by rebooting the uncooperative device. But if your home automation system is offline, how do you reboot it from afar? The answer is the strategic deployment of a redundant control mechanism.

First, figure out which components of your system are either critical, such as cameras, or linchpins that affect other devices, such as hubs. Each of these components should be plugged into a power switch that you can control independently of your home automation system.

For example, I have a HomePod mini that serves as the automation hub for my system. If the HomePod stops operating correctly, my entire HomeKit network is no longer controllable. If the error is bad enough, another hub on the network will take over (an Apple TV, for example). But it’s possible for the HomePod to be operating normally, except for accepting remote commands. (This is a real-world example, which happened to me after the iOS 16.1 software update.) That’s why my HomePod is plugged into a Wemo switch. See the photo below, where I’m using a bulky first-gen Wemo switch that I’ve had for over a decade.

homepod mini and a wemo switch gordon meyer

Using this permits to me to turn off power to the HomePod via Wemo’s independent remote control system. Then, after waiting a few minutes, I turn the Wemo switch back on, which restarts the HomePod and (hopefully) resolves the problem.

In addition to Wemo, some other devices that provide independent remote control that I’ve used are Meross and Switchbot. It gets a little pricey to add a $20+ switch to each of your critical devices, but the peace of mind it provides is worth it, and if you need to use it, you’ll be glad to have it.

Of course, if your Internet connection is down, you won’t be able to reach the independent devices either. So, in a future post, I’ll describe what I use to reboot my network automatically when it goes offline.

Troubleshooting an IR remote control

The other day, my Sonos Playbase speaker stopped responding to the volume control buttons on my Apple TV Siri Remote Control. Here’s how I eventually resolved the problem.

The source of the issue proved difficult to diagnose because infrared is (of course) invisible light. I couldn’t determine if the Sonos was no longer seeing infrared signals, or if the remote was no longer sending them.

  • I quickly determined that I hadn’t added any new nearby electronics or LED light bulbs that might be interfering with IR signals. A lesson I learned from a confounding situation several years ago.
  • Using the Sonos app, I temporarily re-programmed the Playbase to respond to a TV remote it had not been previously trained on. When I was able to successfully do so, this established that the Playbase’s IR receiver was working.
  • The Apple TV remote was still able to control the Apple TV, but that uses an RF connection, not IR. (Sadly, the Playbase is IR-only.) But this confirmed that the remote’s battery wasn’t dead. I recharged it anyway, under the theory that perhaps the light emitter had grown too dim. This didn’t resolve the problem.
  • The next step was to reboot the remote. Yes, that’s a thing. After doing so, the problem was resolved. Yay!

If you have a remote control that suddenly and inexplicably stops working, I hope these steps will help you in solving the problem.

A solution for an outdoor speaker sound system

I needed to drive eight outdoor speakers, and clearly, I wanted remote control of their operation, and the ability to stream from Apple Music.

I could have utilized something like an Echo Link, or a Sonos Amp. But I rejected those options due to the cost (Sonos) and obnoxious assistive technology (Alexa).

What I ended up implementing is a bit of a Rube Goldberg machine, but it works well, and it did not break the bank. Here are the details:

  • A Belkin SoundForm Connect adapter acts as an AirPlay 2 receiver. This satisfies the requirement of streaming any music I desire either from my iPhone, HomePod, or Apple TV. The only downside is that the AUX output from the Belkin device is horrible, as many of the reviews on Amazon also note. Luckily, the optical output is OK, so I use that instead.
  • Because of the above-mentioned Belkin flaw, and the lack of optical support on inexpensive amplifiers (see below), a Digital Audio Converter is necessary. I settled on an inexpensive Amazon Basics DAC. It works well, and is USB powered, so I can run it from a power hub instead of using up another outlet in my network closet.
  • Audio amplification is provided by a Nubsound 100W mini-amp. It has built-in Bluetooth, which I turned off, as I prefer to use AirPlay. The amp itself is remarkably small — about the size of a Tarot deck. (You were expecting a less esoteric analogy from me? OK. About the size of two sticks of butter.)
  • Finally, I installed a Pyle Multi-zone Selector so that I can fine-tune the volume of each speaker pair. This also allows me to turn off speakers in unoccupied areas of the yard. (Because I’m a good neighbor.) A fancier solution would let me manage this remotely via my iPhone, but for under $100, this passive, no-power-required switch works well. It’s also small enough to fit, barely, on a shelf in the network closet.

Here’s a block diagram of how it’s all connected:

monodraw illlustration

The system works well, with a total cost that is hundreds less than a Sonos solution. (And cheaper than nosey Alexa, too.) The only downside is that I have to stream from a device to the amplifier. The Sonos can independently connect to Apple Music. But this is a limitation that I can take to the bank.

If you need me, I’ll be outside listening to Poolsuite FM.

Wired backhaul and Linksys Velop Wi-Fi mesh networks

The Linksys Velop MX4200 mesh Wi-Fi router supports wired backhaul between nodes. However, the information you’ll find online about how to set it up is either outdated, or confusing, or both.

When you use Google to find info about it, many of the top hits won’t help you very much. In particular, there is a top-rated reddit post from a few years ago that is filled with incorrect information (maybe it used to be accurate?) And, surprisingly, even the Linksys support site has conflicting advice. (I’m not linking to any of these so as to not reinforce their dominance in search results.)

Here’s what worked for me:

  1. Add the child as a wireless node first. Let the system perform any software updates, etc.
  2. Connect the ethernet cable to the Internet port on the child node. The device will automatically adjust its settings to use wired backhaul to the parent.
  3. It’s OK (if not, perhaps, required) to connect all the children to an unmanaged switch. Daisy-chaining is not necessary. (Apparently some managed switches cause problems, see this support article for things to try.)

You’ll know that each child is set up correctly by the way it is displayed in the Linksys management app. Signal strength will indicate it is connected via ethernet, and “Connected to” will show the parent node. (Called “Master Bedroom,” in the screenshot below.)

linksys screen shot

That’s it, you’re finished. Bravo to Linksys for making this “just work,” now if only we could clean up the bad info lingering around on the internet.

See also: How to lose a customer, the Amazon eero 6e way

A system for aging in place

Since 2007, I’ve written several times about using home automation technology to support aging in place. And over the years I’ve heard from many folks about the peace of mind such techniques can bring to families with seniors who remain in their homes.

I’m really pleased to see that Amazon has introduced an easy and comprehensive service for this. It’s called “Alexa Together,” and for a small monthly fee, it brings together various useful techniques.

Although I’m definitely not a fan of the Alexa service overall, I like that Amazon only requires one Alexa device (placed at the senior’s home), and that the compelling nature of Alexa will help ensure it will work in this capacity. The service also seems to have some nice privacy and security features (if you’re willing to live with Alexa’s other serious flaws in this regard).

Although I haven’t tried it myself — I no longer have a use case for it — I like everything about it and encourage you to consider it when approaching the challenging and sensitive nature of this growing need.