home comments edit

When we moved into our house one of the things we noticed was that things didn’t quite heat or cool evenly. Certain rooms would be hotter than others. If you set the thermostat (downstairs) to a specific temperature, in winter the master bedroom (upstairs) would still be freezing; in the summer it’d be boiling. We were able to do a little bit of control using a complex trial-and-error system involving closing down various heat registers and tweaking dampers in the garage.

Besides that, the system wasn’t terribly efficient. When the heat kicked on, it was full-on. Same for the air conditioning. It’s no surprise since the furnace and A/C units installed were the bottom-end versions that usually get installed with new houses.

Eventually we got tired of that and last year I had Sky Heating install a brand new system. We got a Trane XL20i heat pump and a Trane XC80 furnace. One of the key reasons I picked those, besides the efficiency, was the ComfortLink system they support that allows them to communicate with each other. It allows the system to know, for example, when the heat pump is at the end of its efficiency and the furnace needs to kick on - rather than just being based entirely on outdoor temperature. A bit smarter than the average system.

After the install, we did notice a much more efficient use of natural gas and the temperatures evened out a bit… but we still had some pockets of heat (or cool) and I really wanted to be able to fix that.

Luckily, the ComfortLink system also allows support for the new Trane zone system that allows you to set up automatic temperature control in specific areas of your home. Rather than having one temperature for the “whole house,” you can have a different temperature in each zone. (This thing is so new, Trane doesn’t even have a page for it on their web site.) I had heard it was coming out at some point and was lucky enough to get in on the ground floor. A couple of weeks ago, Sky Heating brought one out and installed it.

It is awesome.

First, you get a new thermostat that’s capable of dealing with the more complex programming of the zones - the Trane XL950. This thing is a monster (in a good way). Wifi-enabled. Touch screen controls that let you see everything from the current zone temperatures/schedules to the weather forecast. Stick an SD card with some photos in the side and it’s also a picture frame. Really slick.

Trane XL950

Your manual dampers in the system then get replaced with electronic dampers that are wired into a “zone panel” that attaches to the furnace. The zone panel is responsible for dealing with the dampers and monitoring air flow.

Rather than tell you… here’s a video I made that shows you a bit more:

And another one, a testimonial I did for Sky Heating:

Temperatures in the house are way more consistent now. I can heat or cool just the rooms I’m in, and to the temperatures they should be. Note that it does take a week or so to “dial it in” and get it set up just the way you want it - adjusting the schedule, the temperatures in each zone, and so on. It’s well worth the effort, though, and I highly recommend it. If you’re in the market for something like this, or if you want your house to feel the way it’s supposed to - comfortable - look into it. If you’re in the Portland, OR area, give Sky Heating a call. You’ll be glad you did.

media comments edit

I won an iPad 2 at a raffle recently (a 16GB wifi-only that I upgraded to 32GB wifi-only) and finally got around to setting it up this weekend. So farI like it, but it’s not quite as intuitive as people (and marketing) have led me to believe.

Keep in mind that I come from a Windows/Android world. I have all Windows PCs at home (with the exception of my Synology NAS, which is basically a small Linux box). My phone, my wife’s phone, and my parents’ phones are all Android. While I’ve messed around with a Mac a bit, the majority of my Apple experience is with my 160GB iPod Classic and iTunes on Windows.

The first thing I hit was the initial setup. I know this is supposed to be the easiest thing in the world, but the things they ask, when you’re not familiar with Apple-speak, are not really clear. Do I want to set up iCloud? I don’t know. Does it cost me anything? Is it going to mess with any of the other sync services I’ve got going on to keep my Windows stuff up to date? If I say no now, will I be able to change it later or is this one of those questions that will hose you if you don’t get it right the first time? Nearly every “simple question” asked became a tiny research project to figure out exactly what it meant.

The next thing I ran into was the fact that apparently the USB ports in my primary computer at home are not powerful enough to charge the iPad. It’ll sync, but not charge. Not a huge deal, but surprising since every other USB device I own does just fine with it.

Once I got it all synced up (I’m only syncing books and movies since I don’t anticipate listening to music on it, at least not right now) I started getting a few apps and setting them up. That’s when I discovered that I have been utterly spoiled bySwype. I’ve been using Swype on my Android phone to enter text very quickly and easily so switching back to the hunt-and-peck style touch screen keyboard really sucked. (I’m reading now that you can get Swype for iOS, so I’m going to have to go do that.)

Another thing I discovered as I was setting things up: There’s no “back” button. On Android, I can do something like…

  • Start up an application.
  • Log in and go to the settings panel.
  • Decide I don’t want to do settings and hit the “back” key to get out.
  • Continue using the application.

On iPad, you are somewhat at the mercy of the application developer. If they don’t include a “back” button in the UI, the best you can do is hit the One Home Button and try starting out from scratch. This was really a pain as I was looking at the Epicurious app, where you search for recipes and maybe want to go back to the “home” screen or go back to see your search results. There seems to be a defect where the “back” button in the UI sometimes just disappears so you get stuck. You can’t get out. I admit not having that ubiquitous hardware “back” button actually sort of put me in a little panic mode a couple of times.

I noticed in the apps is that the settings seem to be “split” across in-app settings and global settings. Some settings you change by going into the application and managing them from there. Others you have to go into the “Settings” app to manage. I didn’t even discover them in the “Settings” app until really late in the game because there are so many settings categories that you have to scroll down to get to the apps section.

I had a hell of a time getting wifi sync to work. You can plug your iPad in and it is supposed to detect if your computer is running iTunes and then automatically sync. I checked the option in iTunes to allow wifi sync, but for some reason it just wasn’t working. I ended up finding a forum where people had to disable and re-enable UPnP on their router for it to work. I did that and magically things started functioning. Not sure how non-techies are supposed to figure that out.

Let’s just say the iPad experience is taking some getting used to.

One thing I wish it had was a multi-user setup. I want to use the iPad and set up GMail, Facebook, Twitter, and all that with my user accounts. But my wife also wants to use the iPad. Our only real option right now is to sign in and out of every app every time. That’s a pain in the ass to say the least. I mean, I can see that iPhone is probably not really a multi-user tool, and iPod could go either way… I even faked out iTunes years ago… but an iPad is like a family device. Sounds pretty multi-user to me.

But I got it set up, and so far I’m enjoying it. I did a Skype session with my mom and it was really smooth. I bought The Monster at the End of This Book and my daughter was sucked in so bad she kept trying to tear the iPad out of my hands so she could hold it all by herself. I bought iMovie so I can mess with some video editing (though I still have to figure out how to get pictures and video off the iPad and onto my computer). I can see that after I get settled into it, I’ll have a good time. It’s just going to take some real getting used to… and possibly me having to relinquish some of that control over my environment that I hold dear.

web comments edit

At some random point today, I started going to various web sites and they seemed to be falling back to basic views without anything dynamic going on. For example, in GMail, I saw “Some important features may not work in this version of your browser, so you have been redirected to the Basic HTML version. Upgrade to a modern browser, such as Google Chrome.”

Weird, because it was just working a second ago.

Realizing it was not properly detecting my browser, at first I thought GMail just didn’t support Firefox 8, then I thought, “No, that’s silly, something else must be up. Let me check my user agent string.”

So, really quick I hit whatsmyuseragent.com and my user agent string was showing as

undefined GoogleToolbarBB


A quick venture into about:config in Firefox and I saw that the general.useragent.override preference was set to exactly that - undefined GoogleToolbarBB.

I reset that to default (empty) and now everything works again.

I have no idea when (or why) that happened, but if you see the same thing, that’s how you fix it.

Note: Seems I’m not the first person to see this.

media comments edit

I have, so far, mostly enjoyed the whole “digital copy” thing movies provide. It saves me time ripping DVDs and running them through Handbrake, plus it’s “legal.”

Which isn’t to say l have any moral qualms ripping discs I own and transforming them into formats I require for personal use. I don’t condone piracy and own a lot of discs.

I recently picked up Harry Potter and the  Deathly Hallows Part 2 and it came with this new “UltraViolet Digital Copy” which promises to be the latest and greatest thing to happen to digital copy.

It is The Suck.

To get your digital copy, you first have to visit the Flixster site, where you get to create a new account. Because I needed another set of credentials to remember.

Next, Flixster asks to link to your UltraViolet account. Don’t have one? Sign up now! That’s a second set of new credentials. Thank God for LastPass.

Once you do that, you finally get to enter your secret code to get your digital copy. Entering your code allows you to stream from their web site.

If you want to download the movie for travel, you can do so by downloading the Flixster Collections app to your computer and downloading through that. Keep that app around - you can only play the downloaded copy with it.

My use case is getting the movie on my Android phone and my iPod Classic, so this doesn’t help.

To get it on Android, there’s an app for your phone to install so you can download and play there. Great - so the time and bandwidth you spend downloading to your computer is wasted. Re-download that bad boy just for your phone, baby.

It’s the same for iPod or iPhone. Want to watch? Install the app and download.

Guess what, though - iPod Classic doesn’t run apps and doesn’t have network connectivity. There is no way I can see to get this thing into iTunes so I can sync it onto my iPod. (You let me know when they have a 160GB iPod Touch and I’ll look at switching.)

This all boils down to me having a “digital copy” but still having to rip the disc and play the Handbrake game.

Way to go, Hollywood. You obviously have it all figured out.

General Ramblings comments edit

Friday was Phoenix’s first birthday, so on Saturday we had her party.

Phoenix with her cake.
From 2011 Phoenix’s First Birthday Party

The party was supposed to start at 12:30p, but everyone seemed to be there about an hour early, so it was anarchy from the get-go. Phoenix didn’t seem to mind getting passed from person to person the entire time. It took a bit for her to get into the gift opening spirit, not quite being sure what to do with the wrapping paper, but after being shown how easily it rips, she figured it out.

I’m pretty sure her favorite part of the whole thing was the cake. She really dug into that and ate an entire piece.

Phoenix eating birthday cake.
From 2011 Phoenix’s First Birthday Party

We wrapped it up by a bit after 5:30p and cleaned the house for most of the rest of the night. I’m guessing that’s the signs of a successful first birthday party. Right?

It’s pretty amazing what a kid learns in just a year. From being pretty much motionless in a cradle to walking around the house at full speed, opening drawers and cabinets. From not being interested in anything to pointing and being interested in everything. She doesn’t talk much yet, just “ball” and “hello” (she puts her hand up to her ear like she’s holding a phone every time she says hello - that’s Grandma Illig in action, there). She’s not afraid of anything.

After everyone left, she ran over to the stairs (she’s normally kept in an area without stairs, blocked off by baby gates) and climbed all the way to the top by herself (with Daddy on her tail, just to be sure). She did that three times.

Such a big girl now, and a total maniac. She is everywhere, all the time.

Happy birthday, miniature baby. Mommy and Daddy love you.