Results … Month #13

Not a typo!
Unfortunately!!!

I just can’t believe it, I weigh exactly what I did this time last month. I can’t even get the same weight on the scale twice during a single day, never mind over the course of a shaggin’ month. At least I didn’t put on weight, but this whole project is supposed to be about weight loss, so what happened over the course of the last month?

Summer is the time of salads & walking on the beach, it should be the easiest time of the year to lose weight. Not!

My story, & my excuse, for this pretty shoddy result is that I was trying to shop local. In fact, I was trying to find a local beer. I wanted a “favourite” beer made by a company that is locally owned, & not by one of the big international brewers. I have nothing against the big guys, I like a lot of their stuff, but I did want to have a couple of favourites among the small, local brewers too. Craft brewing is big everywhere these days, of course, but I’m struggling to find a couple or three beers that I really like. I don’t know what’s going on with all these fruit & chocolate flavoured brews, I just want a bloody beer-flavoured beer. And no, it doesn’t have to be screaming hops, or some other bloody ingredient, at me either. Is that too much to ask for?

Anyway, sitting amongst hordes of millennials, all of them sipping pink & cranberry coloured brews, with cinnamon sticks & orange slices hanging off the glasses, I tried beer after beer. They’re not all bad but I haven’t found the one yet. You know the one I mean, that one that is so good that you have to have a couple of dozen in the beer fridge, at all times, in order to avoid the constant worry that you might be running low. So … & only very reluctantly, I assure you … I might have to continue this beer investigation through the month of August too!

I think I might not be a wine drinker. Now that doesn’t meant that I haven’t drunk a glass or two of wine in my time. And I’ll probably drink a few more going forward. But really, is it just me, or doesn’t most of it taste like shite!?! That said, I’ve had a few glasses that I’ve enjoyed along the way so, never one to give up, I will persist until I find that perfect red & that perfect white. Here again, I’m looking for a local product. I still have a lot of work to do on this wine front yet. So maybe another project for the month of August.

And of course, when you’re testing beers & wines, you need to eat some stuff that you mightn’t normally eat. To mop up all that excess alcohol swishing around inside you, as it were. The old French fry is a great tool for that & you can get them everywhere, can’t you!?!

On the bright side of things, the good news is that it looks like I’ll be able to integrate beer & wine into my regular diet & not balloon up again.
Sure, isn’t that only great news!!! 🙂

PS … I hope you’re all having a wonderful summer & if you have any recommendations on the beer & wine front, send them my way!

Buying a Bluetooth® Speaker

Anker Soundcore Motion+

Here’s another vaguely-tech review for the more trusting among you! I love my gadgets but I think it just an excuse to go shopping. I like to get new things. Then I play with them a few times. And then they gather dust on the shelf.
That’s why I like to buy good stuff … but it must be cheap!
This review has a value bias.

I love the evaluation process almost as much as the shopping. Very often it’s the more expensive, well-known brand names that float to the top. The top choices in my mind were all the leading brand names that we all know & love. But I had one dark horse in the race too … the Soundcore Flare+™, from Anker, a company that’s trying to provide a quality product at a lower price point. A good strategy in my book & for my pocketbook.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t a Flare+ at the store to listen to, so I went home to read more about it. To see if I could justify buying it without giving it a listen first. Then I stumbled across a brand new Anker speaker, the Soundcore Motion+™. It had just been released. Despite it not being available anywhere in Canada (& that just made me want it more!), the specs looked so good that I felt this must be the one. I bought it off Amazon.com, & who cares about the extra shipping & cross-border charges, it was still a lot cheaper than the brand name contenders I’d been considering.

Basics
The Motion+™ is a fairly plain, black brick, measuring a little over 3 x 3 x 10 inches, and weighing in at a few ounces over 2 pounds. A little chunkier & heavier than a couple of 1 pound butter bricks, placed end to end. It’s simple, but I like the look. It’s a little too heavy & chunky for on-board luggage travel, but getting decent sound is difficult with anything much smaller than this. The sound quality was more important than portability for me. It has a couple of tweeters, two neodymium woofers, & passive radiators that push out 30W. Comparing products by spec, we’re somewhat stuck with the Wattage as the comparison. It might be better if we knew the relationship between decibles & watts for each speaker, but nobody does that for these little things so we tend to rely on, & compare, wattage. I had a 12W & a 15W speaker already & they weren’t doing it for me anymore. The 30W sounded like a big improvement. And it is.

Key Specs
The grill protecting the speakers is metal, the rest of the body is a grippy rubber that can attract oil from our fingers, along with the dust & dirt that sticks to that. But the thing is IPX7 waterproofed so it’s easy to wash clean. It will survive being left out in the rain & even being dropped into the low end of the pool. The brick is more wedge shaped, giving a 15° angle of tilt towards the listener. Not a bad thing, I guess, & it does look a little cooler because of it.

The frequency range is billed as 50Hz to 40kHz. That sounds great but even a young person with great hearing probably maxes out, at the top end, in the 18 to 20kHz range. My hearing drops off somwhere between 9 & 10kHz. Though you can still drive your dogs & cats crazy going higher!
But … there’s nothing wrong with having a “better” spec than the competition.

From a tech standpoint, & this is great for a lower cost brand, this thing comes with all the latest stuff. Charging is via USB-C, so it matches all the latest phone chargers. You get a charging cord in the box, but not the power brick. It comes with a Hi-Res Audio sticker, & sports Bluetooth 5, with Qualcomm’s aptX™, for better quality & higher bandwidth streaming. But what does that mean?

If you’re playing your own MP3 files, not much. Similarly, most streaming service music won’t be anywhere near the kind of quality that will challenge these specs & capabilities. In addition to supporting a fuller bandwidth, the other advantage of aptX™ is latency. That happens when we watch a movie on our phone, & listen to the soundtrack through the speaker. Latency is the lag between the voice & the lips, or when the sound is out of sync with the action on screen. Watching video, I couldn’t detect any lip-syncing lag.

No NFC on this speaker, but that’s not a requirement for me. The Bluetooth connection was fast & easy. I haven’t checked to see if the battery life matches the 12 hour spec but it’s hanging in there & doing its thing, day after day, without me having to run to the charger.

Should You Worry About All These Specs?
That depends!
If you play highly compressed music files, or if you stream music at the “normal” or even at the “high” quality levels of most streaming services, probably not. I tested a high quality WAV file & I couldn’t tell the difference between the Bluetooth & the AUX cable (a lossless analog transfer). In fact, I wasn’t sure that I could tell the difference between the WAV file & a more compressed version of the same track, so I used a 3rd party for a “blind” sound test. She could reliably tell the difference between the WAV track & the compressed version, with 100% success over 10 iterations. And though she confidently claimed that she could tell the difference between Bluetooth & the AUX connection … she was wrong more often than right!
Though, since there’s no light going on to tell me, I can only hope the aptX™ stuff on my phone was working for all those tests too! 🙂

Now … what does all this mean in the real world?

For those with better hearing, playing a higher quality audio file may matter. But probably not if you don’t listen to them both being flipped back & forth in quick succession.
It looks like aptX™ is doing the job too, since it’s more difficult to tell the difference between using Bluetooth and the analog AUX cable.
And since my test subject could tell the difference between the quality of audio files, it looks like this little sub-one hundred dollar speaker is doing the job too.
The bottom line with specs, however, is that it rarely hurts to have gadgets with the latest & best specs.

Despite differences in what each individual can hear, the sound is really nice, all the way from low volume, right up to the max. The max being pretty uncomfortable on the ear if you’re sitting too close, so I guess that 30W is plenty for a deck or poolside speaker. Anything above 50% has the neighbours casting wry glances my way! For my own entertainment, I’m comfortable with it around the 20% mark. And the fullness, the richness, the roundness of the sound the Motion+ produces is good throughout the volume range. Things don’t fall apart when it goes loud, & it’s a very pleasant listen at lower volumes too. All in all, I was happy I pulled the trigger, sight unseen, on this little thing. It is a lot of speaker for the money.

You can add a 2nd Motion+ to the mix if you want a broader stereo platform. And that doubles the volume so make sure you invite the neighbours to the party ahead of time.

The AUX input is located right next to the USB-C charging port. This area is the only weakness from a waterproofing standpoint, hence the heavy rubber plug which must be pried open when you want to charge the speaker. Or for when you want to connect your phone or music player by wire.

Soundcore App
The app isn’t bad & it handles all the basics pretty well. First thing it did when I fired it up was a 7 minute firmware upgrade. All went well. Next, you must flip through the entire product range ’til you get to the Motion+ so you can select it. I’d prefer a list for this, rather than all that swiping. After that, you can choose a sound profile or create a custom profile. There is a BassUp™ button on the speaker that has a corresponding sound profile in the app, either one gives you the same result. I wasn’t impressed with any of the standard presets, so I created the one you see in the top left of the pic. There’s not much logic here, it’s just what I liked. The speaker has two passive radiators, one front & back, but it doesn’t have a secret, hidden sub-woofer & that’s probably why I tend to boost the bass. My higher frequency hearing is shot, so I’m likely doing a placebo compensation thing at the higher end of the scale. I still can’t hear anything beyond 10 kHz but it makes me feel better! 🙂
You will need to play with this to find what suits your ear. The end result of playing with the EQ sliders was far more pleasing to me than any of the included standard presets.

The 2nd image in the above pic is the profile that matches Soundcore’s BassUp™ technology. This, apparently, adjusts the bass in real time but I felt the loss of the mid-range & upper reaches so I kept going back to my custom profile. The profile at the bottom of the pic is Voice. I use this one for listening to podcasts. Here again, I can get a result that is more pleasing to me by adjusting the custom profile. Unfortunately, you can only save one custom profile, so I left that adjusted to my preferred settings for music. Once you save it, & if it’s the last profile used, it comes back by default next time you power up the speaker.

I listen to a pretty full range of music … Latin, Irish, folk, pop, rock, country & so on … but I’ll occasionally dip into my classical & opera “hits” playlists. My custom profile needed some tweaks for opera & classical music, I was lowering the bass & raising the higher frequencies. Ideally, I would like to be able to adjust the existing standard profiles, or I would like to have maybe 3 custom profiles that I could name & save. That would give me one each for Music, Classical & Podcasts. Otherwise though, the app is simple, straightforward & does what is should do.

Summary
I bought the Motion+™ without hearing it & I got lucky! It’s a good solid speaker, with great specs, & it comes with a basic, but decent, app. Where it really delivers is in giving some great sound, along with great value.

Interestingly, it’s currently unavailable on Amazon. What does this mean!?!? Is it wildly popular already & sold out? Or is there something strange afoot here? Will it become an instant collector’s item?

I don’t know what’s going on, nor do I care … I like it & mine is not going back!

A Marketer’s Dream

Smart Stuff or Clutter?

Google Home vs Amazon Alexa … not quite a review!

I’m a total sucker for a good line of marketing. And, with data collection being what it is these days, I’m like putty in the hands of the big marketers. But I’m happy to be a subject in the marketing wars. It’s like I’m having an out of body experience, watching myself be manipulated.
And that can be fun!

Two of my favorite companies are Google & Amazon. I use their products & services so much that I can hardly remember what life was life before they came to be. I haven’t totally lost it though: sometimes I will drive to the corner store without my GPS app running! And while I certainly make an effort to shop locally, not everything is available locally. So I’m glad to have an online alternative.

I noted, above, that this is not quite a review. It’s not that I can’t do a good review, it’s just that I don’t want to take the time to learn how to use these devices any better than I already do. If it doesn’t all fall into place automatically, I’m not bothered enough to take the time to go learn how to do any more. I got my first Google Home about a year ago. Google’s marketing strategy must have been winning my mind then.

It was great & I expected it to do all those wonderful things without me even thinking about it. But I’m really not doing much with it. It hung out in the living room … where it gave us the time, the weather, & who starred in what movie … but not much else. I started giving the device shopping list items, but then I couldn’t find them on the app. Where were these things hiding? I had the Home app on my phone & I had to do the whole “Hey Google” thing in the middle of the grocery store. I was afraid someone would recognize that I was a total idiot & stopped doing that! Again, no time to play & explore, just forget it for now. The Home device found it’s way to the bathroom, where it provides morning music at shower time. And that’s nice. But I never did get around to hooking up security cams & all the other stuff I dreamed of it doing when I bought it.
One day … soon!

About a month ago, I saw Amazon’s Echo Dot Gen 3 on sale. About half price. Oh well, why not! It started out in the living room, where it gave us the time, weather, & who starred in what movie. And I can add things to the shopping list. But now, I can find the shopping list on the Alexa app on my phone! Woohoo! This one is still in the living room & I subsequently signed up for a free trial of Prime. I’m watching some Amazon programming & it’s pretty good. I’m getting Amazon music, which is also pretty good. Today is the last Amazon Prime Day, by the way. This is like mid-summer Boxing Day sales on Amazon, with special deals for us special Prime members! Being a Prime member in Canada wasn’t a great deal one time. Now it’s got some shows & movies included, along with some music & books. I don’t think it’s the full version of any of those platforms, I’ll learn more when the full trail finishes & I’m back in the cheap seats. But this does add some value to the membership in Canada. The US version is more expensive than the Canadian one, but the US users get a lot more for their buck. Coincidentally (not!), Google offers sales around the same time as Amazon’s Prime Days.

Anyhow, I found myself buying an Amazon 4k TV Fire Stick in the Prime Day sale. Was I manipulated? Again!?!
Who cares … now I’m curious to see how involved I become with the Fire Stick. I already have Roku & Chromecast, so that will be an interesting comparison to make too.

A side-note here: Google & Amazon started playing together about a week ago. So now, we can cast Amazon’s Prime Video through Google’s Chromecast. And YouTube is available on Amazon’s services. Woohoo!
I’m sure it was all very complex but, as an end user & a faithful subject of their marketing plans, I’m just glad they’ve managed to get together on this front. It felt a little like two of my friends were having an unnecessary squabble!

I’m not sure I understand why we can’t change the voices & names on these things. Amazon gives a couple or three options but really, let me call my smart thing whatever I want, you guys. At least then, when I’m in the grocery store, I can pretend I’m having a phone conversation with my buddy, Seamus!

Back to the whole marketing thing … something tells me that Amazon is currently winning the award for control of my brain. And my wallet. The Amazon systems are just making it a little easier for me to be drawn in.
But I am overcome with guilt!
After all, I love Google too. And I really want that Google Home Max. I have nowhere to put it, really. But I want it anyway!

While all this stuff has gotten pretty smart, it’s not like it’s fully interactive AI yet. But maybe that’s a good thing. One day, I’m really going to take the time to learn how to use both products. Properly. And maybe then I’ll do a real review.

Meantime though … I’m enjoying stumbling through this stuff with both Google & Amazon.
What’s your favorite smart assistant?
What are some of your favorite uses for your little digital buddy?
And what’s it doing for you today!?!

Weight Loss & Being Frugal

A nice bowl of stoup!

This isn’t about comparing the relative costs of grass-fed beef against factory-farmed meat. Nor is it comparing the merits and pricing of organic veggies to those herbicide and pesticide-laden choices we sometimes make. This is about the challenge of sticking to a diet when you’ve been endowed with the frugality gene. And I am so endowed with the frugality gene!

Being raised in a household where “clean your plate” was a dinner time mantra, I learned my lessons well. Perhaps too well. I struggle to leave that token amount on the plate. What a waste of good food, I just can’t do it! My habits are more to the contrary, and I’ll mop up whatever residue remains on the plate with just one more bread roll. Buttered, heavily, of course. Now that I mostly don’t eat bread, I have nothing to mop up my plate with. And I haven’t reached the point of licking the plate yet! But I have transferred the expression of my frugality gene to the fridge.

As we approach garbage day, I start surveying any foods that are likely to wind up in the garbage. Or that I know will not be consumed by other members of the household. I feel obliged to consume such foods. And I often do it in the form of a stoup. A dish that is too thin to be stew. Yet too thick to be soup.

My latest stoup was an Irish-German-Mexican-Thai fusion! Garlic & onion, sauteed in the bottom of a large pot starts the process. Add a liter of (organic, as it happens!) chicken broth to the pot. One large, peeled & sliced, potato as a thickener for the broth. Then I go hunting through the fridge. A full head of cabbage, excellent! A bunch of ignored cilantro. Half a dozen wieners that somehow survived a barbecue. Oh look, a little bowl of leftover mashed potato! And another chicken broth container, with a little less than half the contents remaining. A quick smell … yep, that’s good too. Good job I had that extra mashed potato to thicken up all that extra liquid! A couple of slices of cooked bacon. Wash the inside of that German mustard jar with a little broth & in that goes to the pot. Another half an onion in a container. And … wait for it … half a tub of sour cream! Season that pot with some salt, pepper, some other weird condiment mixes & then … a spoon of curry powder. Absolutely essential that.
Oops, now I’m short some liquid. Can’t spoil the pot by adding water, can I? But a can of coconut milk will do the trick!

I can tell you that this was quite delicious. And I should also admit that that one cute little bowl of stoup in the pic wasn’t all I ate!

It probably wasn’t the perfect dish to have on what should have been a low-carb day. Though I’m sure I’ve done worse. But, being frugal, I’m forced to eat all those leftover foods that others (all of them skinny!) won’t eat. It’s just not fair!

But … with all the money I’ve saved … we’re going out & I’m going to treat myself to a nice steak dinner now! 🙂

Fat & Broken .. but Functional?

Beer or Wine? Mmmm!?!

There has been a big movement decrying fat shaming in recent years and that’s a good thing. It’s sadly typical of the screwed-up society we live in, that men are more “tolerated” for being fat than women. That doesn’t mean we don’t feel the pain sometimes too.

And I do.

These days, we are encouraged to accept ourselves for who we, and as we are. That too is a good thing.

But what if I can’t?

Sometimes I catch a glimpse of my reflection in a store window. Or maybe it’s a pic (Please, God, don’t let them post that online!) on a friend’s phone. And I’m shocked. For the most part I don’t actively notice such things. I carry on with my life, making my best effort to not think about my condition. But, every now and then, I see myself with horrifying clarity. And I am just that … horrified. For some short period of time, I am devastated. Is that really me? How could I have let this happen?

I grew up in a time and place where the definition of good parenting was a little different than it is today. Negative comparisons with our peers was often considered a good motivational strategy. And indeed, for some, it was. Regardless of its impact on my emotional development, I was sometimes motivated to change. Even today, I “happily” berate myself, in the hope of triggering some action.

And … sometimes … it works.

I guess I’m broken. Aren’t we all! Should I go and get it fixed? I don’t think so, it’s not serious enough for that.
Unless it’s the cause of me being fat in the first place!?!
No, that would be a nice excuse but I know that’s not it. Or at least it’s not all of the problem.
But is it okay to use this childhood affliction to motivate adult weight loss?

Occasionally,so long as it’s not bringing me down, I think it is. And, every now & again, I will use a good self-berating session to challenge myself to get back on track.

Such a pity it doesn’t work all the time.

Sometimes, I’ll instead just challenge myself to deciding between whether I’ll have a pint or a glass of wine!!! 🙂