John Galea's Blog

My blog on Gadgets and the like

Garmin Vivoactive 3

Those of you that are my regular readers know I embraced wearables pretty early on. Some of them were not great. To date, hands down the Apple watch is my favorite everyday smart watch. On the plus side the screen wakes up VERY well (although I still prefer always on), notifications are very readable, watch bands can be brilliantly swapped, there are some apps for the watch, and siri on the wrist is killer. Apple pay works well but given your reaching for your wallet or phone for loyalty cards is not the killer feature it could be. On the miss side all of the fitness data (heart rate, steps etc) go only into Apple health with is clumsy to get off the phone and has not portal. Battery life is not bad at almost 2 days, but still not good enough to use to track sleep. My series one is not water proof so no kayaking for it. The built in fitness app again sends workouts NOWHERE. Heh if it isn’t on Strava, it didn’t happen! I actually have largely given up on the built in fitness app and use Workoutdoors which does export to Strava and includes maps. The only thing it doesn’t include is navigation which for me would be killer. So what this leads me to is that I use my Apple watch everyday, and then weekend hits, and for my weekend warrior sports which include kayaking, hockey, hiking, mountain biking and snowboarding (for now) I pull out my Garmins …

For hockey I still use my Garmin Vivosmart HR mostly because it’s cheap and I won’t cry if it gets broken 🙂 Other than that I use my Garmin Fenix 3. It’s waterproof, includes navigation (courses and waypoints and breadcrumbs of your adventure), gets amazing battery life (days to weeks depending on how much GPS you use) and is waterpoof. Watch bands can be swapped but it’s now where near as elegant as the Apple watch’s solution requiring you to pull out a pair of torx drivers. The biggest misses on the Fenix for me include no heart rate monitor (which is a non issue for mountain biking where I use a chest strap for better accuracy and zone alerts/training), it’s large and heavy (I have small wrists), and the notifications are really badly done (so small as to be unusable). What I really would like would be Fenix 5+ but I can’t justify the cost and this wouldn’t change the weight/size issue for everyday.

And so we have the Vivoactive 3. As always DC Rainmaker has a fabulous review of this device. The Vivoactive can be thought of as poor mans Fenix. And with the release of the Gunmetal version of it, it looks a lot like a Fenix, so after some research I decided to try it. There was a sale on over Christmas knocking $90 off the price bringing it down to $250!! At that price if it doesn’t do what I like then I can sell it on kijiji. I suspect Garmin had a lot of uptake at the lower price because the gunmetal has been back ordered for a long time, 5 weeks from GPS City.

For comparison here are the sizes:
Apple 42.5 x 36.4 x 10.5mm 30g
Vivoact 43.4 x 43.4 x 11.7mm 43g
Fenix 3 51.0 x 51.0 x 16.0mm 85g

For a complete list of specs checkout the Garmin site.

Size wise this unit is super small, thin and light. It fits well on the wrist.

The Vivoactive uses the same always on, backlit screen as the Fenix. It suffers from the same problem as the Fenix which is that the backlit comes on when I toss and turn at night leading to restless sleep. It’s trying to detect wrist movements. Fortunately this can be turned off, unfortunately, other than sleeping I would prefer it was on. Too bad Garmin didn’t pay attention to their own Do not disturb settings for the backlit gesture. Oh well … The screen is covered in Gorilla glass so it ought to be pretty durable. That’s the same stuff on a lot of phones.

The heart rate monitor has been dramatically improved over the Fenix 3 HR, as well as my Vivosmart HR in that it reads the heart rate every second, all the time. Not just in activities. This gives you much more accurate resting heart rate and you can really see how well you are sleeping based on how low your heart rate went. This improvement alone is quite impressive.

One of the first things I wanted to do was to transfer my waypoints from my Fenix onto the Vivoactive. I immediately ran into a MAJOR limitation of the device. I had read the manual for it prior to purchasing it and it described saved locations. Well it turns out in Garmin terms saved locations and waypoints are different. Saved locations on the Vivoactive 3 can not be loaded externally using something like Garmin basecamp, can not be backed up, can not be imported, can not be even named, nada. They just live in their own little world, isolated … They are persistent across power on/off so at least there is that. For me this is a dead in the water this thing is getting returned moment … Without this feature I can not use this for mountain biking where I use the saved waypoints ALL THE TIME. You can use the Vivoactive 3 to navigate back to start of an activity, and back to a saved location. I don’t see a trackback ability which is on other Garmins.

From within an activity you can not navigate to a saved location, in fact navigate is itself an activity. Navigate on Garmin connect.

This watch supports ConnectIQ which is an extensible architecture that allows third parties to add widgets, watch faces and the like that they design. The major miss in this is that the third parties decide which devices they want to support. Every time Garmin release a new device they have to go back and add it to the list of devices they support. The result of this is that I found a number of my favorite watch faces from the Fenix were not supported (ie not available) for the Vivoactive 3. This was quite disappointing, albeit somewhat obvious in hind sight.

Move alerts are well done. The usual assortment of activity tracking, steps, stairs, sleep and the like are all here and well done. The device also includes all day HRV (heart rate variability) which Garmin have chosen to mask behind an algorithm and call it all day stress … It also creates an estimated VO2 Max.

Notifications work well and the vibrate is strong enough but I do have it cranked up to max.

GPS accuracy in a dense area like downtown Toronto is bad. I mean real bad. That or I’m drunk. I was walking on a street the whole time.

The menu system is quite different than the Fenix in that it is a touch screen with only one button. This isn’t as good for a sports watch that you need to operate wearing gloves.

The activity screens are customizable for how many screens, and what you want on each screen, but there is only one setting for how many items on each screen. Each field can contain varying amounts of choices for content. Some fields are quite limited.

The watch gets 7 days of battery life without the GPS, more GPS = less time. To recharge it you plug in a cable on the back of the watch. Existing battery status is clearly displayed.

The Vivoactive can talk to Ant+ or Bluetooth heart rate sensors for times when the wrist heart rate monitor isn’t accurate enough.

While I can see how to see the heading during a workout by adding it onto a data field, I do not see how to display the compass outside of a workout (or altimeter).

There is a weather app and it actually works. My weather app on my Fenix 3 NEVER worked.

Watch bands (20 mm) can be swapped out using the quick disconnect pins that are common on many watches, meaning there are lots of bands out there for this watch at reasonable prices.

The Vivoactive 3 does NOT have WIFI. Not that I think this is a big deal …

I bought the gunmetal grey one, I think it looks less “flashy” than the silver rimmed one and kinda Fenix like.

Outside of the major gotcha of waypoints the Vivoactive 3 is quite well done! It’s so light and small and packs in a ton of stuff with decent battery life … impressive. Not a chance it could replace my Fenix 3, but it could give the Apple watch some competition with much better more comprehensive health stats and data into the Garmin ecosystem.

February 20, 2019 Posted by | Activity Trackers | Leave a comment

Dlink Dir878 mini Review

Recently my daughter started having WIFI issues in parts of the home. As usual the first thing was to translate what she was seeing into what the issue is. She just kept saying she was getting kicked off the internet. I had to do some digging to find the problem. I used an app called WIFI Analyzer to have a look at what was going on in the air waves around me … Seems my neighbor had updated his WIFI to a higher power one and was overwhelming mine. I’ve been using a Linksys E3000 router for a while now, I’ve been looking for a reason to replace it, seems I found one 🙂

Newer routers such as this are improved in three areas. First they have upped the transmit power. Now what exactly that means I can’t seem to find specifics but it was the cause of my woes. Second newer, faster speeds have been released, in this case AC1900. And lastly they have brought out what is called MU-MIMO which is supposed to be better at handling more than one user at a time and keep the one user from swamping the wireless lan. With external hi gain antennas (Vs only internal smaller antennas on the E3000) reception should be improved.

Immediately I could see the improvement in the signal strength from the new router and the neighbors signal was now below mine instead of them overwhelming mine. My router in the house sits comfortably and safely behind my Pfsense firewall which keeps it solid, reliable and unhacked. This means my router sits in bridge mode. Some routers have a setting for bridge mode, this one does not. So what you do is set your lan IP address to static and assign it to your internal networks settings. Then turn off DHCP on the router. The cable plugs into LAN port and your done. This is different than some that you plug into the internet port and put it in bridge mode.

Once setup it’s time to see what kind of improvements in speed you can get. To test this out I use iPerf which tests raw network speed. You load a server on one machine and then point your client at that sever and you get your results.

First up the E3000 on 2.5GHZ, sitting close to the router I got a link speed of 72Mbps and measured a speed of 45.4Mbps. By comparison the new router got a link speed of 144Mbps and a measured speed of 81.3Mbps. This translated into 79% faster on 2.5GHZ.

Next up lets try the E3000 on 5GHZ, again sitting close to the router and I got link speed of 144Mbps and 89.7Mbps. The new router got a link speed of 867 Mbps and a measured speed of 313 Mbps which translates into 249% faster, WOW.

I bought this router off Amazon after reading reviews for $100 refurbished. For such a low price the performance is exceptional and has solved my range problems to boot! There is another router that is supposed to be even faster DIR882 AC2600, but this is good enough for me. It’s worth noting that the DIR882 also has a USB 3 port.

It’s worth noting that this router does NOT have a USB port so can’t server up anything. It also with the external antennas is not the best looking thing in the room. It by means blends in, rather it sticks out (like a sore thumb). To get the best performance the router should be as close to your main living area as possible. It’s worth the time to run a network cable from the basement where your cable or DSL modem is likely located to the router.

February 19, 2019 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Amber alerts

If you live in the GTA then you experienced being startled out of your sleep by a series of Amber Alerts. The situation, a missing child, had actionable information as to the person, and the vehicle that the police believed had the child. This information was sent out to the public, in hope that someone might see the car and find the child sooner …

A further alerts was issued when the child was located, sadly dead, reportedly at the hands of her father who they believed had her.

A situation like this is EXACTLY why the amber alert program was started. The police IMHO used the system appropriately and reasonably. There are rumors that some people called 911 to complain about being awoken from their sleep. If true, this is truly an example of stupidity. To call 911 for a non emergency is an offence, and frankly one that people should be charged for. 911 is critical to getting help to those in need. And the police are not the owners of the Amber alert system AlertReady are (in Canada) they simply use the tools at their disposal. If you have a complaint about the system, direct your concern to the right place.

The main flaw in this system IMHO all started when they decided to roll Amber alert out to wireless public alerting (WPA not to confused with WIFI WPA) which extended it out to all LTE compatible devices. This got further aggravated when the CRTC got involved and decided that the general public can not be trusted (as they are in the Unitied States) to not opt out of this service and MANDATED all cell phone providers to make this non optional. And just to throw gas on the fire the alert system does not respect the do not disturb or the silent mode the phone is in. This is irritating to put it as gently as I can. What is the point in waking thousands of people from their collective sleep for an alert they are going to do nothing about? Are you going to hop out of bed and join the hunt? I doubt it. Not that I think being awoken for such a tragedy is such a bad thing, it’s just pointless. The system needs to be changed to respect the do not disturb and or silent setting of the phone. I encourage anyone who has a thoughts one way or the other to give AlertReady your thoughts.

And to even further aggravate the situation Canada’s Weather Network also implemented Amber Alerts, leaving users with NUMEROUS notifications. Why The Weather network felt it necessary to get involved is beyond me, I can only assume they think they are attempting to get the message out even broarder. So to remedy this, simply remove Canada’s Weather network app or remove the apps ability to send notifications. Not like there aren’t many other weather apps out there, we do have choices. Feel free to send your comments on the Weather Networks app.

As you can imagine, blocking AlertReady has all of a sudden been trending on Google. Not that I think blocking is the answer, but given the current flawed implementation, I can totally relate and I myself did the same google search.

So what can you do? Well to start off, ignore all of the American posts that show you how to turn off Amber Alerts. Here in Jolly old Canada this has been removed (as mentioned above). So sadly this leaves you with only a few choices.

The most rational choice is to ignore this interruption in your sleep. Amber alerts fortunately happen infrequently, so do your best to not over react. But if this is not within your abilities then here are your choices. The obvious one is turn your phone off when your sleeping (or put it in airplane mode). For some this is not an option given loved ones may need to get a hold of you for emergencies. Your next option is to turn off LTE. According to the AlertReady site it depends on LTE. This does not immediately imply turning off LTE will disable AlertReady but it might. Some blog posts do say this works, I’m just unsure, it’s not like you can test it. This is a bit of a drastic choice too as it drops data rates down to 11/2 Mbps Vs 108/15 for LTE. On Android there might be ways to automate this, but not on an iPhone. Jail breaking your iPhone MAY give you back the option to disable amber alerts, I’m not sure. Sadly that’s about it for your choices given the current state of things.

February 18, 2019 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Hamilton Beach 04383A True Air Allergen-Reducing air filter

I decided I wanted to buy an air filter for my bedroom to reduce dust and hopefully reduce some of cat hair/dander. When you start looking into filters you have to sort out what you want in a filter. Like anything you can pay as MUCH as you can afford! I wanted something pretty basic. Let’s start by reviewing some of the dizzying array of features they can have.

UV sanitizer (ultra violet)
This can kill germs, as well as reduce some VOC (volatile organic chemicals) in the air. These UV bulbs can be broken as they are often somewhat precariously placed (from what I’ve seen) inside the filter. The bulbs have to be replaced every year or so, so if your interested in this take note of the cost of the bulb. Energy wise the bulb doesn’t take a lot so it’s not really a concern. It would be good if you could turn this off when you don’t want it. For me this is overkill and I didn’t want it.

Ionizer
A number of the filters have ionizers that charge the particles of dust as they come into the filter so they stick and get caught more thoroughly in the filter. I’ve seen so many reports about these adding ozone to the air, although a number of them state ozone free, but who knows. Again it would be good if this can be turned off separately. In the end I am not sure I want it or would use it.

Fan speeds
You really need a number of fan speeds so that you can leave it on one setting through the day when you don’t care about the noise, and another when your trying to sleep. It would be great if the filter was quiet enough to be able to keep it on while sleeping, and maybe even act as white noise to help you sleep. Some of the filters even have auto settings that ramp up and down the fan speed based on how clean the air is sensed. I see the auto feature as problematic when one is trying to sleep. I avoided this feature, but if it has it, your going to want to insure you can also manually select the fan speed for sleeping. Having the fan come on at high in the middle of the night would be less than desirable.

Timer
A number of the filters have timers, but none of them had what I wanted, which would have been the ability to automatically set the fan speed based on time of day. IE high through the day, low through the night. Manual it is …

Carbon
Activated carbon filters can remove odors such as smoke from your home. These need to be replaced so be sure and watch the price of the carbon filter. I’m not looking for this at all …

Filter change indicator
A number of the filters have indicators to remind you to change/clean the filter. This would be a good feature to have.

Room size
You need to know your room size to choose an appropriate filter.

Filter type
And this is the most important part of the air filter … the filter. The best filter is referred to as a True HEPA filter. These generally are all replaceable, it disposable. So be careful to check what the price on the replacement filter(s) is. Some have more than one. A good HEPA filter can catch particles down to as small as 0.3 microns. They are quite effective and the larger the surface area of the filter, the less frequently they have to be changed. The HEPA filters do provide more resistance so can be a little bit noisier.

There a HEPA type filters which are not HEPA at all. They are really a marketing gimmick trying to play of the stupidity of consumers. The fact companies use this term is somewhere between misleading to despicable. That said, they all do it. Se educate yourself. To compare a HEPA type can catch particles as small as 3 microns, Vs 0.3. So you can see how much less effective they are. The huge plus is that the HEPA type filters are often washable, or cleanable using a vacuum cleaner.

Ok so with that as the ground work lets look at what I bought. So I’ll admit, the Hamilton Beach name is synonymous in my mind with low end, older, low quality products. So to buy this I had to turn off the image I have of the company. This is the negative side of brand marketing. That said this filter had what I wanted and none of what I didn’t so I took a flyer on it. It’s inexpensive at $65 on Amazon so it’s not a huge risk.

The filter can be mounted as a tower or laying down. The air is sucked in the front and the entire front of the unit is the pleated, cleanable filter. So it has the max surface area. The filter itself seems to be made of a dense fiber, and is framed with paper. It’s not the most robust thing ever so you will need to be careful with it when cleaning it.


One of the things that I liked about this filter, is that the Youtube videos I found reviewing it showed it moving a LOT of air. And it does. On high it moves quite a lot of air. The cost of this is of course, a lot of noise. The unit has a definitely noticeable loud hummmmmmmmm on high. The vibrations are quite loud. They should have put larger rubber feet on the bottom of the unit for this mode.
The heart of this unit is the fan which is a squirrel cage type fan unit. This allows it to move the max air which taking the minimum of space and making the least sound. I can’t tell what type of motor is driving this fan. The fan has three speeds. On it’s lowest it is quiet enough to allow you to sleep with it, acting as a constant white noise. I personally couldn’t sleep with it on medium and definitely not on high. The fan speed switch is a crisp simple rotating knob that is quite positive in how it snaps in place. Using an app called dBx on my iPhone I was able to measure 50 (db I assume) on low, just under 60 on medium and just over 70 on high.

Light wise there are absolutely none … nada zip. I would have liked a filter clean reminder, but nope. Now the positive is that there is no light that might keep you awake. So like everything, there are positives and negatives.
In tower mode the fan can sit on the floor and be as innocuous as possible, assuming you don’t trip over it in the dark 🙂
The filter is a HEPA type that can be cleaned and says it can capture down to 3 microns. They call it a permanent filter, that will depend on how gently you are with cleaning it. I would have liked if the frame of the filter was more robust. Removing the filter is pretty easy once you notice there is a bar wedged in at the top keeping it in place. Ya I know RTFM (read the freaking manual). Cleaning the filter can be done without removing the filter and just removing the front bezel which comes off super easily by pressing the button on the top.

In terms of particle size I found this chart that seems to show particle size and what this filter at best ought to be able to catch:

I found an article that stated “Approximately 75% of cat dander particles are 5 to 10 microns and 25% are 2.5 microns or smaller.” So obviously this would imply this filter is ONLY capable of catching 75% of a cat’s dander.

Power wise this unit draws 10W on low, 20W on medium and just under 40W on high, so very low in power consumption.

All in all this unit seems to fit the bill. We will see how much of a difference it makes.

My second choice had I not bought this one would have been Bionaire BAP600B-CN 99% Permanent HEPA Air Purifier on Amazon. It was very similar and it was a toss up between the two. Time will tell if I made the right choice, but if not, it’s easy enough to buy this one instead! The bionair has a number of lights including a filter clean light. It also has a cleanable filter. It has an ionizer that you can turn on/off separately. It also had three speeds.

As an interesting side note, I found a neat gadget that measures, reports and alerts on your air quality called a Awair Glow.

January 26, 2019 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

GeoTag Photos app review

One irksome think about Canon is that they have been really reticent to add GPS chipsets into their cameras. Even my inexpensive Nikon AW120 has a GPS you can turn on and off … Not Canon, even my T6i doesn’t have GPS (neither does the SX50HS my GF has). And to irritate me more, the iPhone app Canon Camera connect does not support the T6i (nor the SX50HS, no WIFI) for adding locations. GPS location can be stored in EXIF tags and stored with the photo to know exactly where the pic was taken. A super handy feature, especially when your on a long trip seeing lots of things in a day.

I’ve tried a number of PC based apps and none of them worked well, or didn’t work at all. I found this app, GeoTag Photos Pro 2 and decided to give it a whirl. It’s a little clumsy to sort out but once you get the hang of it, it actually works. Step one, and one of the most important is make sure the time on your camera is right. This app sync location using time, so if your time on your camera is wrong, the location will be wrong. You can compensate for and incorrect time on the camera using the app, but it’s just easier to check the time. Be sure and check if the daylight saving time, and time zone are correct. Once this is done your ready to go. So off you go on your photo adventure. You start an app on the phone which you have to purchase from the app store. They give you two free trials to allow to figure out if it works or not. The app is not cheap at just shy of $20, but the alternative from Canon is the GP-E2 which sells for $399

This device sits on the hotshoe of the camera, and has it’s own battery and gets 10 hours out of a AA battery. At that price that’s HUGELY expensive to add one feature.

Back to the app … So you start this app on your phone and it logs periodically your location. You can control how often it logs. When done this log then uploads to their cloud. You then go home and offload your pics from your camera to your PC. Start the PC version of this app, which goes and grabs the log from their cloud. You point the app at the images directory and it will then add the location tags to your images. The app on the PC anyway is by no way quick, and can be buggy, I’ve had it hang a number of times. But when it works, it works. This image from their website shows the process:

From within the properties tag on the image in windows the EXIF tags including location are visible.

If your going to edit your images be sure and tag them first because once saved the time/date will be lost and the app won’t work. And double check to insure the editor you use does not strip off the EXIF tags. I use a free app called Paint.net to edit my photos. I use the most basic of features. It does NOT strip out the EXIF tags so the geolocation get’s preserved. It’s worth noting, facebook DOES strip off EXIF tags.

I often use a Garmin GPS when I hike and the like, so the thought crossed my mind, maybe the GPX file from Garmin could be used and avoid running the app … No joy, it will ONLY accept GPX files created by itself. Pooh …

You can view/copy the EXIF tags using EXIF Data View. The GPS location can be entered into Google Maps in the format of

N 43° 33' 7.73" W 79° 39' 24.89"

Adobe’s LightRoom can also show you a map of where are your images were taken.

January 2, 2019 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Plex media server as a PVR

Plex has been around a long time and is a well supported alternative to Kodi. Once you have a Plex server in your home you can have Plex clients running on PCs, Android, Amazon fire TV and even iOS (iPad/iPhone) amongst others. Kodi on the other hand is not available (easily) for iOS. I looked at Plex a while back but never really liked it, preferring Kodi, actually I think I still prefer Kodi’s interface. I implemented a back end SQL server for Kodi content so that wherever on your network you watch something it is tracked. It also means you only have to scan for new content once, anywhere on your network. Plex on the other hand is centralized for it’s database. And it also allows multiple users easily. Having both Plex and Kodi in the home can be confusing because I’ve not found a way to sync watched content between the two.

So now that I have an OTA (over the air) antenna as well as a HDHomerun my mind naturally drifted to looking for solutions for recording live TV, a PVR/DVR and thus we have my renewed interest in Plex. Plex supports the HDHomerun, but as you may have read in my review of the HDHomerun, if you don’t buy the extend version of the HDHomerun, then all transcoding of your recorded TV has to be done on the Plex server. This comes at a VERY high price in that you need to dedicate a Core i5 or better just to Plex server. If you don’t transcode, your recordings will be huge and you have NO HOPE of playing it back over WIFI. And this presented me a pretty big challenge. I first tried to play with the Plex containers both the official one and the Linuxserver one but got nowhere other than burning a lot of time. Plex really doesn’t suit a container, and given how all encompassing transcoding can be, doesn’t belong as one. I briefly tried running it under Redhat, but eventually found the best place for me and my environment is on a dedicated, core i5, running Windows 10. It works well in this setup. And to state the obvious, if your going to use plex as a DVR/PVR then it’s always on. I don’t think there is a way to have it go to sleep and wake up to the recording. There is a way to kick off a script after recording, but Plex do not provide any scripts for post processing, such as transcoding offline. I found Plex also ran ok on Ubuntu but I did have challenges setting up the recordings directory. I had to do a chown plex:plex to the directory where I was recording.

The PVR functionality is only available if you pay for Plex server. So getting PVR/DVR functionality for OTA isn’t free …

Once you have paid for a plex pass, and there are free trials, you can add a DVR, including the HDHomeRun. Plex then looks at the channels the tuner sees, you tell it the area you live in and it downloads the program guide for you. From the guide you can see what’s playing, schedule recording, and watch live TV.

The guide can be viewed, and recordings can be scheduled remotely by logging into the Plex web site, or locally on port 32400 of the plex server. You can easily also see if Plex is busy recording or playing anything back. By default Plex assumes you have uPNP enabled on your router. If you do then Plex can also allow you to stream all your content remotely, including live TV, music, pictures … everything . Of course this assumes your home outbound as well as inbound can support the data rate. Here again having transcoding at the source is imperative to lower data rates to something manageable. With this you can have your entire music collection available for streaming anywhere! And you can share with friends as well. If you don’t open the port, and UPNP is not enabled then plex does indirect. What this means is it goes from your home, to plex, then to the client. So a double hop. This works fine for pictures, and music, but most likely will be too slow for movies/tv. A VPN is another way you can make Plex available remotely without opening the port.

TV Recordings can be scheculed for a particular one off episode, all episodes or just new. A recording can not be disabled, it can only be deleted. You can easily modify a recording to change it’s settings. I see no way of scheduling a recording for a show that for example might be on hiatus. But, if a show is not on for a given week and you have already scheduled it, it will pick it back up when it returns. All in all this is pretty well done, easily managed and convenient.

The HDHomeRun I bought has two tuners, so if you happen to inadvertently schedule more than two channels to record at the same time, plex will use the recording priority to see who gets the tuners. Within this same screen you can also quickly see what’s scheduled to record.

Because this is OTA it is possible that a channel that sometimes is strong enough to receive, may not be on a particular day. In that case you get an error message saying check your tuner, but this is only visible (from what I can see) the day of the failed recording, otherwise it’s just not there. It’s also possible that a channel might be marginal and it starts recording, and then drops out and you only get a partial recording. I see no obvious setting to tell it to delete partial recordings except in the settings for each and every individual recording.

Once the recording is complete it goes into your TV library. If you have any local TV libraries added to plex the recorded TV and the local libraries get merged into one easy to see view. The recordings are beautifully indexed with the name of the show, season, episode number, details of the show etc.

Playing back works reasonably smoothly, but I have repeated occurrences where attempting to delete a recording once watched fails for some reason and you get no message, the show is just still there. I have had to manually delete files on the server a couple of times.

If you don’t want to use the Plex front end (for example you already have Kodi) you can point Kodi at the completed video recordings and your good to go.

Local libraries for Music, photos, tv, movies and other videos can all be added to plex to give you an all encompassing front end. Adding a library kicks plex to scan the content into it’s local database.

Details about the movie/tv show etc are all downloaded from the net and give you a rich environment to browse around through. Depending on the size of your libraries, this can take a while so be patient. Movie descriptions include cast, description, ratings from Dirty Rotten Tomatoes as well as Plex members. You can add your own rating as well. It also lists Related movies whatever that means. You can click on cast and it will show you the other movies that you have with the same actor/actress.

Once scanned into your library you can do searches for everything from show names, to actors etc.

Visually sorting the library can be done in many ways:

Plex keeps track of what has been watched and will pick up from where you left off irrelevant of what device it was watched on.
And if your a Plex Pass member (which you need to be to use PVR/DVR anyway) you get enhanced music and photo info (or so they call it).

Music descriptions include Tour dates (not location specific), and related artists (from your library it seems). Too bad they don’t give you related artists that you don’t have which would allow you to explore new artists. There’s also nothing to show you what albums of the artist you might be missing or to let you know an artist just released a new album. I’ve yet to find a music ecosystem with everything I want, and this one is no different. A lot of this shit just seems to blatantly obvious. There’s also no ability to edit meta tag data but that would be ground breaking if it did. To be fair, Kodi does even less.

The photo side of the media player is VERY basic. They have attempt to identify what might be in the photo, but it’s laughable. A raccoon was identified as a canine, a fox or an animal with fur 🙂 It could figure out birds as a species 🙂 You can see the pics exif data. But all in all it’s basic.

Another feature of Plex is you can share content of local libraries, as well as live TV (disabled by default in restrictions) with your friends. It worked shockingly well. You can stream directly from them without much fuss. You can not download the file from them though, it has to be streamed.

Plex makes a fine PVR, as well as a great streamer to make your content always available wherever you are. For now, I’m not ready to throw the towel in on Kodi, so Plex is a net add to my digital world.

December 18, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Garmin Glo bluetooth GPS

Those of you that follow me know I am a Garmin fan boy. I love their products. They are often some of my most cherished gadgets. I often write Glowing (pun intended) reviews of their products … ehhhh this won’t be one of those :(. Ok so what is this … It’s a bluetooth GPS designed to be used on Apple and Android devices. Garmin went so far as to get MFI (Made for iDevice) certification for this device. So why would you need this you might ask? Well two reasons, one your bought an iPad that didn’t come with a GPS (only the cell models have GPS), or you want to use your iPad in a plane. And in fact, that is where this product if most firmly aimed at.

Like any bluetooth device you power it on, and go into settings and pair it. It can be paired with two devices (not sure if more) at a time but I found the second device needed a prod to connect. It can however, remember multiple devices it has been paired with (no idea the limit). On iOS you then are informed of the apps you can/should install
As you can see use in a plane is what it’s really targeted for. The device powers up, locks up quickly and has a few lights to show you the status. The unit has a battery which Garmin say can last for 12 hours, or you can plug it in using a mini (no micro) USB connector. I’m a little disappointed that it is not mini, micro is so passe and means you will need to remember to bring along the cable for this device since nothing else uses mini today. The unit CAN be used without the battery so you can plug it in and forget it. If your lighter plug goes on and off with the engine then this would be the perfect solution. If not then you should know there is no intelligence whatsoever built into this device. So don’t expect it to auto power off when not in use. On the positive side I measured a VERY low .07A at 5V or 350mW of power drawn. This is low enough you could probably leave it on anyway. Quite impressive.

Don’t go looking for the battery status on the battery widget on iOS. Don’t go looking for an app that would tell you the status of the device, nada. This gadget seems like it was designed in Garmin’s skunk works 🙂 The software that could have been there isn’t. Instead Garmin spent time working on apps like Garmin Pilot and others.

Once linked just about every app I tried from Waze, to Google maps to whatever just worked. Really quite well done. The work with the MFI program paid off, and this does what is supposed to. I tried it on both my iPhone 8 as well as my iPad 9.7 2018.
On my older Android I had less luck. It paired fine, but always ended up using the built in GPS instead and so refused to connect or stay connected.

The device came with a mini USB cable, but it’s so short as to be useless. It also came with a lighter plug with a longer cable.

Now this niche product does NOT come cheap. $129 at Sail.

December 11, 2018 Posted by | GPS Stuff, iPhone Stuff, iPhone/iPad | Leave a comment

Workoutdoors app for the Apple watch review

I love doing stuff outdoors. Hiking, biking, kayaking and my closest digital companion has always been my Garmin Fenix 3. But things are starting to change and this app running on my Apple watch is getting more and more use … I last reviewed this app back in May and I have been working with the author as a beta tester. The progress he has been making on this app is astonishing. He’s super responsive to his users, surveys them to prioritize his work, and works closely with beta testers to iron out the kinks before he releases his latest version. If your getting the idea I’m impressed … I am. And those that know me, know I don’t wax lyrical a lot. FYI, while I am a beta tester of this code, I am not affiliated and get no $$s from this review. So this is my unbiased, unpaid opinion of this app … Just thought I’d make that clear. I first learned about WorkoutDoors on one of my favorite sports gadget pages DCRainmaker. This is not a free app, but trust me, what you pay for it, is more than worth it!

If you haven’t given this app a try and do stuff outdoors you owe it to yourself. This is one of the only apps in this space that allows you to see a map of your workout, during the workout, on the watch. You can see a nice bread crumb trail of where you’ve been and scroll around and zoom the map.

Screens are all programmable, and easily selectable from a series of screens you can swipe through, and you can program each specific workout’s screens separately. And this is all configurable not from the watch, but from the phone. The flexibility and convenience of this could give Garmin a run for their money. There’s lots of options and lots of data there for you.

The app utilizes the onboard heart rate monitor, and if you pair a bluetooth heart rate monitor it will use that for accurate data. Within the app on the phone you can customize your zones (as well as min/max) which can be displayed if you so choose.

You can even set min/max heart rate alarms within the sport profile on the watch (select Alerts and scroll down to min/max). This is a feature I love and use to help me know when it’s time to push myself (low heart rate alarm) or take a breather (high heart rate alarm).

The feature set of this app is really quite thorough. What has been achieved within the closed Apple eco system is impressive. Apple won’t allow the app to do always on so don’t look for that. Even with all this functionality, even on my series 1 Apple watch, battery life is still quite acceptable.

When your done your workout it is stored on the phone, but one of the new killer features is the ability to directly export your workout to Strava. Cause in the fitness world, if it isn’t on Strava, it didn’t happen 🙂 You can also export a GPX which can in turn be imported to other platforms.

This has gotten so good, I’ve started to use my Apple watch more, and sadly my Garmin less. This is especially true in that my Garmin doesn’t have a heart rate monitor.

As of right now the app does not do waypoint saving, or navigation. These are on Ian todo list, which when he adds will make this app truly ground breaking. As of now, if I need navigation, such as mountain biking, I still use the Garmin.

There are lots of new features Ian is still working on, and he is VERY actively releasing these new features. As of now he has a 4.8 star rating out of 182 reviews on iTunes. Give it a whirl, it’s VERY worth the money!

December 10, 2018 Posted by | Activity Trackers, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Canon T6I lenses

I recently bought a Canon T6i DSLR camera and love it. Of late I’ve been using to take shots of birds, and nature and the like. It’s crisp, focuses well, and does ok when the days are dreary. I even sorted out a way to get the camera in a kayak in a way I can live with! One of the things about nature photography is zoom is very important. The closer you get to your subject, the more likely they are to flit away and you miss your shot.

In the Canon world the lenses are what do the image stabilization (look for IS in the name). This larger the zoom, the more important the image stabilization is, and the less likely you will need a tripod. There are lenses out there that are NOT image stabilized and I would personally NOT buy them. The camera kit I bought came with a EF-S 18-55 IS STM. The S in STM stands for silent and is important when you want to use the mic on the camera for movies.

The sensor in the t6i is an APS-C, and measures 22.3 x 14.9mm. A full frame DSLR would have a sensor size the same as a 35mm film camera or 36 mm × 24 mm. Full frame camera are a LOT more expensive than APS-C cameras and so more of a professional or prosumer model.

In the Canon world there are two types of lenses you can buy for the T6I. EF and EF-S. The EF-S are for APS-C cameras like the T6i, while the EF are for the full frame. The T6i can take either EF or EF-S lenses. The EF-S being cheaper, and lighter. The major downside of the EF-S is that if you ever move to a full frame camera you toss out your lenses and start again.

From my older Canon I still had a older EF-S 55-250mm 1:4-5.6 IS II lens. It works great on the T6i and is super in most situations. But, in nature, more zoom is almost always better. Searching around I was able to find a EF 70-300 IS lens on ebay in good condition at a price I was willing to pay. I read an article talking about exactly this subject, using an EF lens on an EF-S camera like the T6i. Because this is an EF lens there is a magnifying factor that comes into play. The 70-300 actually becomes a 112-480 (a 1.6 factor). So I’ve effectively gone from a 250 max zoom to a 480. The lens focuses quickly and does fine on darker days. The lens is NOTICEABLY heavier at 930g Vs 386g for the 55-250. I also noticed a decrease in battery life from ~400 to 250 shots. It was one of the first times I’d encountered the camera running out of juice in a day. Of course you can pretty easily purchase a spare battery for the camera, a LP-E17 cheap on Amazon.

So in all my current lenses I use with the T6i
EF-S 18-55 IS STM
EF-S 55-250 IS
EF 70-300 IS

I looked into one other option, a teleconverter. It acts as a magnifier sitting between the camera and the lens. There are two official ones, a 1.4x and a 2.0x. Sadly none of my lenses are compatible with the offical Canon ones. Before you buy one do your research. I also have seen no end of criticism of them for how they distort the image, be then again there are perfectionists out there!

December 4, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Apple iPad 9.7 2017 review

I last owned an iPad mini 2 with LTE. Honestly I loved it, but it just didn’t fit into my digital life and spent time sitting there, alone, irking me that the money spent was not doing anything. But then along came this iPad with Apple Pencil support and I was tempted. I kept hoping Apple would come out with a mini with pencil support, but, sadly, it was not to be. So I gave in an bought this tablet. One of the things I learned last time around is that a lot of storage on an iPad is useless. Music is on my iPhone and no iPad will replace my iPhone. And putting movies onto an iPad is at best a painful experience with a trip through iTunes and a possible need to convert to H264 … So this time around I bought the smallest iPad, 32G. Staples had the iPad regularly $429, for $339 and then gave me another $10 for joining their email blast bring the price down to a palatable $329 plus $129 for the pencil.

One of the major features for the iPad for me is the integration of the iPhone and iPad, I wish everyone was able to do this. Text messages, phone calls, timers, reminders, lists all stay in sync and work over both. It allows you to put your iPhone wherever and use just the iPad in the home.

With this being a newer iPad Siri works even when not plugged in. So the iPad becomes a digital assistant and works quite well even when your not close. This is a wonderful new use for the iPad! And with it’s outstanding battery life, even not plugged in your good for days. I wish I could find a decent docking station for iPads, oddly they don’t seem to exist?

The dimensions of the iPad are:
240 × 168.5 × 7.5 mm 469g Vs the Vivotab note 8 I am replacing which is:
132 x 221 x 10 mm 360g so quite a bit larger and heavier than what I am replacing
Display wise it an impressive:
2048 × 1536 px vs 1280×800 iPads have always been quite good in this spec area.

Battery size is 32.4Wh Vs 15.5 but the real star here is how much better iOS is at battery life than Windows will ever be.

One of the biggest challenges I’ve had with this iPad is a case. Sounds like it ought to be simple … It isn’t. I need a case that I can hold the iPad while open. So few have straps that help this. Then there’s the pencil holder. Finding a case with a built in pencil holder is challenging and then they make mistakes like putting the pencil loop on the wrong side of the case leaving the pencil flapping in the breeze and slapping against the iPad as you open and close the case … grrr. After three cases I finally found a winner on Amazon, a Ztotop. This case finally has everything I’m looking for (well almost). The case is easy to hold, has the auto on/off magnet, a pencil loop that is useable, a hand strap for holding it while open, the only miss is the inside of the case is light grey which will show stains. Oh well.

I’m not sure when this was added to iOS, or if it was always there, but when you press control or alt tab which allows you to select from running apps, there is now one for the home screen. This allows you to use a keyboard that does not have a button for home on it! Nice …

Speed wise the 9.7 runs the A10 Vs the A11 I have in my iPhone 8, so close. The mini 2 I got rid of was so much older than my phone the speed difference was HUGELY noticeable and discourage it from being used.

I often start to wonder, and even get into discussions with people of whether an iPad can replace a laptop. You can spend money that will add a keyboard to the iPad and even hold it in positions it looks a lot like a notebook, but for me the number one reason an iPad can not replace a laptop is the lack of mouse support (iOS still today does not support a mouse). Editing photos, trying to do RDP and many other tasks just need a mouse. The pencil can help a little. And the number two reason is that the browser support even on chrome is designed for mobile browsing. Some sites, and it’s a lot, just don’t display right or flat out don’t work on iOS. So before you go out and spend $120 or more on a keyboard give this some serious thought. The best keyboard I had found for it, in case you want to leap in anyway, is a Brydge . It gets good reviews for tactile feel, key placement, functionality, and ease to put the iPad in and out. And at 9.7″ the screen is big, but not big enough.

This iPad like all current ones use the typical lightening connector, and the ubiquitous 10W, 5V 2A charger came with it. I tried a 12W Apple iPad charger and it worked fine, but still only drew the 10W of power, so no benefit. I plugged it into my Aukey 5 port charger and it worked fine, and even drew almost 12W, but made little to no difference in charge speeds. As with other Apple product, I plugged it into the Qualcom quick charge 3.0 port on my Aukey and it halfed the power (5W) it drew meaning it would take forever to charge, so stay away from those.

The iPad like all Apple devices is included in the find my phone.

When an App is written the author decides whether to offer an iPhone, or iPad version, or in the best case, both. But some just don’t. When the app is written only for an iPhone it looks bad on a large screen like this. I mean really bad. I find is shocking that companies even like my bank don’t spend the time and money to create an iPad app for it. I really find this quite irksome, and yet another reason an iPad can’t replace a laptop.

There is a video converter that would allow the iPad to work with a display, but again with no mouse support it’s use is limited.

As always installing Kodi on an iPad is best left for extreme tekkies with access to a Mac. I did find a somewhat dodgy but easier way to install Kodi on TvAddons. The method requires you to install an app from a web site and permit an untrusted cert, and lastly tolerate the occasional adds. To remove the app is simple and then you delete the cert.

After a weeks light use the battery on the iPad was finally dead. The standby power management coupled with a HUGE battery means that battery life is outstanding. In the same time the pencil with little to no use was down to 27%. As important as battery life is charge time is also important. Apple in the past have no embraced fast charging with this finally appearing on the iPhone 8. As mentioned above the iPad came with a 10W charger, and did not benefit at all from the 12W. Here’s what the charge curve looks like. What you can see is a straight line across the charge curve. The current starts to reduce as you can see in the data after about 80%. The iPad took about 4 hours to charge from 5%.

And as always, the devil is in the details. And this was one I knew from last time, and forgot. Only iPads with the cell radio in it have GPS. Which means you can not use this iPad for Waze or other in car navigation. I stupidly bought the WIFI only. The difference in price is $429 Vs $599 or $170 extra (for the 32G). There are a few options. Generically Apple do not support bluetooth GPS, however there are a few in the market that have worked with Apple and work. There’s also one that plugs into the lightning connector. The ones I have found (not necessarily extensive):
Dual Electronics XGPS150A Bluetooth
Bad Elf GPS iPad Receiver Apple Lightning Connector
Garmin GLO Bluetooth
GNS 2000 Bluetooth
The cheapest option I was able to find was $140 so if this is something your interested in, your better off to just bite the bullet and buy the cell version. I ended up buying the Garmin Glo and while it works it is a clumsy option.

The iPad works fine as a media player, able to stream what can come over WIFI. I used it with Plex, HomeRunHD and Kodi all worked fine.

That’s about it for now, I like the iPad, the addition of the pen means I will use it for taking digital notes and I guess time will tell what else I use it for. This GPS revelation is irritating at best and has me now considering to return it.

Update: I returned it and got a one with the cell and GPS from Fido for pretty much the same price. Dilemma solved.

Accessories can protect your device and add additional convenience and usefulness … First and foremost is a case. This as mentioned above presented more challenges than I expected. If you don’t have a pen the SR Premium Leather Business Multi-Functional Folio Stand is made of very nice material, has a strap for holding it while you write, and has the auto on/off function. This comes with a pen loop but they botched it and put it on the wrong side of the case making it unuseable. The inside of the case is a lovely felt but it is a stain and moisture magnet, and being black shows everything.

If you need a pen then the Ztotop Premium Leather Business Slim Folding Stand Folio Cover is the best. It has a hand strap for holding it while you write, it has a pen loop that is useful, has the auto on/off function, has a couple of angles you can prop it up at and the inside material is easy to wash. If there is any downside it’s that the materials are just cheap looking. But at least they got the physicals right!

Don’t bother with a mouse because the iPad doesn’t support it but a bluetooth keyboard can come in handy. Be sure and buy one that is for Apple so that the keys all just work right. Look for the command key on it. I’m using a very old Targus and it works well. I’m not sure for my usecase that a keyboard case is worth the money, I just leave the keyboard on the table and use it when I’m there.

I wouldn’t own a phone these days without a tempered glass screen protector so I nervously bought a Spigen one. Putting a screen protector on a screen this big and not getting imperfections under it are a huge challenge. A friend of mine Lance taught me a trick, use packing tape to make sure every last spec of dust and lint is off the screen. It works so much better than the small pieces they give you. Just keep going over and over the screen in different directions until your satisfied. The piece of mine knowing the screen is protected is well worth the angst … And if you use the pencil then if the pencil was to get damaged it can’t scratch the screen as a added bonus.

Obviously the Apple pencil is a great choice if you take notes digitally as I do, or like to doodle.

I bought a lightning SD card reader, meh don’t bother. I should have listened to the little voice. It’s not all that useful. You can import photos, and if you have to get a movie that is exactly as Apple intended you MIGHT be able to import it. Movies are generally converted to Apples narrowly supported specs by iTunes. And mp3s were completely ignored.

I’ve bought a car holder but don’t have it yet … I’ll update the blog when it arrives.

December 4, 2018 Posted by | iPhone/iPad | Leave a comment