General articles about technology, including tech products and services.

Chromecast for the Road Warrior Cord Cutter

Google Chromecast (2015 model)I'm a cord cutter at home. No reason I shouldn't be while travelling too.

I used to travel with an Android tablet that had an HDMI output. All I had to do was carry an extra cable and connect my tablet to a hotel TV to watch streaming services such as Hulu or Netflix.

When I retired that tablet, I needed a new solution. I chose the Google Chromecast. Here's my first road report, using the Chromecast.

TLDR: it works, but hotel WiFi is a problem.

If you haven't seen it, the Chromecast is an inexpensive ($35) and awesome device that hangs (literally) off the HDMI port of your TV. Many Android apps have a "cast" option that will send the video from your Android device to the Chromecast. Even some web-embedded video players have this feature (which works with varying results, more in a sec).

How many "fucks!" and "goddamits!" does it take to change a light bulb?

I don't find light bulb jokes as funny as I used to now that I have a home automation system.

Cloud Fail, Dumb Home

Today has not been a good day for my smart home, and it points to a major flaw in the SmartThings product.

When I walked out to the living area this evening, the motion sensor failed to illuminate the lights. I checked the SmartThings app on my phone. It said my home hub was inactive.

The SmartThings status page had a note saying from 18:39 EST saying:

Some users may be experiencing issues with Hub Connectivity. SmartThings is investigating and will update accordingly. 

Hello, Smartthings

Smartthings hub

Nov 26 update: See note at bottom, where I retract a bunch of stuff in this post.

I've been playing with the Smartthings smart home hub. After two nights of hacking, I can see the great possibilities, but it's got some rough edges.

The default state model provided is a poor fit. The system default provides three states: Home, Night, Away. I think what's really needed is four states, a 2x2 matrix of Home/Away and Day/Night. The lighting I want for Away at night is different than that for Away at day.

LG Optimus G Sprint: Zero to Meh in Microseconds

My old HTC Evo 4G phone died week before last. I had to buy a new phone. I was tired of bumping up against the memory and processor limits of this phone, and swore my next phone had to be a quad-core processor phone.

At the time, the most popular performance phone -- and the best performing Andoid phone available on Sprint -- was the Samsung Galaxy S3. The version on Sprint, however, was dual-core processor. While that may suit now, I suspect I'll be pretty unhappy with the performance at the end of the two year term, given the way the platform and app markets are moving. (Plus, while I like my wife's S2, I'm just not loving the S3. It feels big and clunky and flimsy.)

I was geeking along with everybody else with the new Google Nexus 4  phones just announced. There is a lot in these phones to be excited about, including the fact that they are being offered unlocked at a stunningly affordable price. And, yes, they are quad core processors.

Some Wishes for a Cord-Cutting New Year

The other day I demoted my Netflix account from the pricey 3 discs-at-a-time with Blu-Ray option to the lowly one DVD but unlimited streaming plan -- to beat the impending Netflix price bump.

I did this not so much because of the additional three bucks a month Netflix wants, but due to the realization that the Netflix product has a really bad flaw that makes it a poor value. Thinking about it some more I realize there are so many ways our video options could be better. If we are going to see that "cord cutting" future, where more people switch their video viewing to options such as online streaming, I think some of these issues need to be addressed.

1. Yay on Netflix for offering a streaming-only option. Boo on Netflix for failing to adjust their physical artifact media programs to work the way people want them to. How many of you have a Netflix disc at home that's over a week old? A month? Three months? Yeah, I thought so.

Old Chinacats, New Chinacat

This weekend I will be building a new workstation. I ordered most of the parts back in September but haven't been able to string together sufficient time to do the final build.

The name of this system will be chinacat. My main workstation is always called chinacat. This is probably my sixth chinacat, going back over 20 years.

I remember my first chinacat. It was an 80486DX-33. The "33" is the clock speed, and back then we measured speed in MHz, not GHz. I remember it had one amazing component: one of the fancy new Seagate ST-251 hard drives. It had a whopping 40MB of space and -- here is the incredible part -- it fit in a half-height 5.25" bay. (That's the size of a typical DVD drive these days. In those days most hard drives were twice that size.) It ran SCO Xenix.

PATA is a PITA (and other thoughts on SSD)

A couple months ago I started gathering components to build myself a new workstation. One of the components I got to try is an Intel X25-V 40GB solid-state disk (SSD). That particular part has since been discontinued, but at that time it was $100. That's pretty pricey as compared to a conventional hard disk of the same size, but would be completely worth it if it provided the performance benefit I expected.

It performed as well as I hoped. I set it up with Kubuntu Linux 10.10, and was completely blown away by the speed-up in boot time.

As great as it was on the workstation, this device was just screaming to be put in a laptop. After all, my workstation gets booted once a season. I can cycle a laptop a dozen times in an afternoon.

The workstation project has been stuck on idle, but I've become increasingly enamored with the laptop idea.

Austin Bids for Big Gigabit Broadband

Big Gig Austin logoOn Friday afternoon, Austin submitted its response to the Google "Fiber for Communities" Request for Information. We joined over 1,100 (!!) communities around the nation, who asked Google to build an open, super-high-speed, fiber broadband network in their towns.

Google created a two-pronged process, one for municipalities to submit their response, and another for individuals and community groups to nominate their hometown. The community support aspect snowballed, and we ended up with towns doing stunts such as mayors jumping into lakes and swimming with sharks.

One of the most frequently asked questions I received was, "What stunt is Austin going to do?" The answer, as my friend Chad Williams said, is, "We're going to be Austin."

Note to Big Gig broadband supporters

Big Gig Austin logoHere is a message I just sent to members of the Big Gig Austin group on Facebook.

Hello Big Gig broadband supporters.

The Google deadline for nominations is this Friday (3/26).

1. Now is the time to submit your personal nomination to bring the Google gigabit fiber to Austin, if you haven't already. It's quick and easy and only takes a minute. Directions here:

2. I'll be doing the final count of supporters on Friday, and obviously the more the better. We're currently at 3,300 and I know there are a lot more -- thousands more -- broadband supporters here in Austin. Can you help? Please make one final pass through your friends list, and invite interested friends to our group.

To invite your friends just go to:

and click the "Invite people to join" link in the left sidebar.

3. Finally, come celebrate at the "How Can Google Not Love Us?" Happy Hour this Tuesday. Event info here:

Hope to see you there.

Chip Rosenthal
chip [at] unicom [dot] com
info [at] BigGigAustin [dot] org

We'd also appreciate your support on Twitter. Please follow @BigGigAustin.

Hope to see you at the Big Gig "How Can Google Not Love Us?" Happy Hour and Tweetup on Tuesday, Mar. 23..

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