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

Open their eyes with Live Photos

After the initial novelty of iOS’ “Live Photos” wore off — several years ago — I’ve mostly ignored it. To me, it’s too gimmicky, and because it also records audio, I’m always a little worried that it’s going to leak information if I share the photo with someone else (“…smile for your evil Aunt!”).

But I’ve recently stumbled upon a new use for it that is making me reconsider.

Earlier in the day, I was taking a photo of a waterfall, which Live Photo really is good at, and had left the feature turned on. Later, I had snapped a selfie with a group of friends. When I reviewed the photos later, I was sad to discover that the selfie sucked because one person had their eyes closed. Because Live Photos was still enabled, I was able to pick a new key frame where their eyes were open, rescuing my only snapshot of the evening.

Siri won’t speak in Shortcuts

There are a handful of Shortcuts that I use, a few of which trigger speech as part of their output. At some point, Apple made a couple of changes in this area, one of which had me quite puzzled.

But first, the pleasant surprise change. You can now specify “Siri Voice #3” as the voice to use when speaking your output. This oddly named selection is the traditional Siri voice that we all know and love. This eliminates the jarring sensation of having a usual voice emanate from your Mac or iOS device. (Depending on your platform and OS version, you may have different and additional Siri selections, too. Including my favorite, the Female Irish voice.)

The second, puzzling change, is the necessity to include a “Continue Execution” (Or, “Dismiss Siri and Continue”) action to allow the speech to happen during automated Shortcut execution.

So, if you have a speaking Shortcut where spoken output fails when it’s executed outside the development environment, try including a Continue action to make it work again.

None of Us is as Dumb as All of Us: Goodbye Auto-Correct

I’m giving up on the macOS autocorrect feature. It makes too many inappropriate substitutions, and I don’t always notice they’ve happened. (I’m keeping it turned on my iOS devices, where assistance with thumb-typing is crucial for maintaining my sanity.)

Autocorrect used to be great, and much more accurate. It started going downhill when Apple incorporated crowdsourced machine intelligence into the algorithm. With this highly questionable change, if enough of my fellow monkeys bang out a word and leave it uncorrected, it becomes an acceptable substitution to make on everyone else’s computer. Sadly, as the Trump era has shown us, the world (even Mac users) consists of many ignorant people.

In addition to the problem of “garbage in – garbage out,” there are inevitable software bugs. Several years ago, the vulnerability of a machine-based intelligence became evident when iOS started substituting “⍰” for a lower-case “i.” Apple had to retrain the AI to stop making the mistake. (See this report from New Yorker, and this one from TechCrunch.)

Here are a couple of examples of the maddening behavior that finally drove me to disable the feature:

gordon meyer screenshot of off

I assure you that “off” is not misspelled. And neither is “here,” below.

gordon meyer here mispelled

In addition to the spelling AI, the grammar checker feature must also use mistrained machine intelligence, as I’ve often gotten numerous ridiculous suggestions similar to this one:

gordon meyer

And, ironically, a suggestion about replacing this correctly spelled word with a misspelling, while I was writing the paragraph above.

gordon meyer

Fortunately for me, aside from email, these days most of my Mac-based writing is done in Ulysses, which offers suggestions that are more reliable than those proffered by macOS. Although, I still wonder about the backend privacy of what the Ulysses app is doing to analyze my writing. (I take some comfort that, as a German company, they are likely adhering to stricter EU laws in this regard.)

I’ve been humbled by how much turning autocorrect off has slowed my typing. I’ve clearly grown dependent upon the computer interpreting my fast, sloppy keypresses. Now that I have to deliberately enter words, I’m slower, but I’d like to believe that I’m a little more thoughtful, too.

Feeling bitter about batteries

I’m not sure when this happened, but lately all the companies that make disc batteries (AKA watch batteries, or coin batteries) are making them bitter. (No, not better, bitter.)

That is, they are coating the batteries with a substance that has an unpleasant taste. The intention, apparently, is to discourage morons and children (now there’s a fine line of distinction) from eating batteries.

I am not making this up. The craze about eating Tide Pods (if it was real, which I’m not so sure) was understandable, to a degree. The pods look edible, but batteries? C’mon. Who looks at that and thinks to themselves, “Mmmm, I’ll put that in my mouth.” (Rhetorical question; see “morons and children,” above.)

Sure, kids don’t know any better. So parents, you should do as generations have done before — keep small non-edible items unreachable until such time your kids can be taught to be less stupid. Problem solved.

Now, if battery embitterment is new to you, you might be thinking “Geez, Gordon, what’s the big deal?” Here’s the issue: The coating prevents the battery from working! You have to wash off the coating — using rubbing alcohol — to allow the battery to make electrical contact with the device in which you’re installing it.

If you’re aware of this, it’s a pain in the ass. But if you’re not aware of it, you’ll think the new battery is dead. And then you’ll discover that every single battery in the expensive package of batteries is also dead. But they’re not, they’re just broken by the coating.

So now you know better. Thank the morons, shitty parents, and nanny politicians for the situation.

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.

What YouTubers can learn from Buskers

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After largely dismissing and avoiding YouTube for years, I have begun watching it more often lately. Perhaps I was late to the party, but I think there are finally some good “content providers” that aren’t a complete waste of time.

But I’m still annoyed at how many of them devote excessive time to begging for “likes and subscribes” in every video they produce. Not only is it viewer unfriendly, it’s demeaning and wrongheaded. And, frankly, the hamhandedness with which it’s usually done is worse than a protracted PBS pledge drive.

Because of this phenomenon, most YouTube videos are proof of The Wadsworth Constant: “the first 30% of any video can be skipped because it contains no worthwhile or interesting information.”

The people making the videos believe they’re begging for their own benefit, but the master being served is Google. Sure, by increasing your “likes,” your video might get suggested to more viewers. And if enough of those people decide to subscribe, your video might become eligible for playing ads, but those are literally the crumbs from Google’s table. Make no mistake, you are a serf feeding the King while being allowed to keep a few of the crops for yourself. (I feel the same way about the user recruitment schemes used by Trip Advisor and Yelp.)

But setting that aside, the main issue I have is that video creators are making their pitch at the wrong moment — that is, right up front. How do I know if I “like,” or want to see more, when I haven’t yet watched it? It’s as silly as the NYT website that immediately pops up a subscription offer before I’ve had time to read the first paragraph of an article. The right time to hook me is when I’ve completed watching, and presumably enjoyed, the content.

Street performing, a fine tradition with hundreds of years of experience, has solved the puzzle of when to ask an audience for money. YouTubers should learn from the busking tradition and ask for clicks when attention — and presumably appreciation — has peaked. (YouTubing is essentially digital street performing, right?)

Now sure, not everyone is going to watch all the way to the end (particularly if it’s 30+ minutes long, another sore point for me), but if someone bails out early, are they likely to want more in the future? Letting viewers go who are walking out early is not likely to be hurting your subscription numbers.

I don’t know if YouTube provides statistics to publishers that would help find the best moment for the plea. Do people leave your video in the middle by clicking a suggestion in the sidebar? Are they closing the window? Does the browser lose focus while they watch, implying they are no longer paying attention? All of those measures could be used to pitch “subscribe” to the people who will be your best audience.

There are some YouTubers who get it right. JP Coovert, for example, makes his pitch towards the end of his videos, after he’s provided valuable information. It’s the perfect time to ask for reciprocity. Mary Spender also consistently includes compelling and well-timed pitches. (Not surprisingly, given that she’s also a busker.)

YouTubers, follow their lead, please.

(Photo by Tania Alieksanenko)

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.

Dealing with people who won’t stop talking

I wish I had read What I Learned About Interruption from Talk Radio when it was published in 2017. Back then, I was still spending several hours a day on conference calls, and sometimes struggling to get a word in edgewise.

Part of the issue is that telephone conference calls are not full-duplex, by design, so that when one caller is speaking the microphone of all the other callers are ignored. This makes it technically impossible to interrupt a speaker, except during pauses in their speech.

But the situation is greatly exacerbated when a speaker never takes a fucking breath.

Many of my colleagues were guilty of this. Oh, not on purpose, they just had the habit of drawing out their last word (or saying “ummmmm”) between sentences, or while they were thinking. This vocalization prevented others on the call from saying anything (which sometimes, was only me, as everyone else was in the same room). I wish I had a dollar for every time this happened during weekly staff meetings.

I’m hopeful that the pandemic — which put everyone in their own audio space on a conference call — helped teach people to be more polite and allow time for others to speak. But somehow, I doubt it.