The Steam Deck Review

The Steam Deck, not to be confused with the Stream Deck, is a handheld gaming “console” that isn’t from Sony, Microsoft or Nintendo. Valve, the company behind Half-Life, Portal, and Steam, made a portable computer you can play games on.

Back in my day, PC gaming was a never-ending money pit of hardware upgrades as new games push the limits of graphics cards. This vicious cycle led me to primarily be a console gamer, mostly focusing on Sony’s Playstation. I was intrigued when Valve announced the Steam Deck, but like most others, skeptical of the performance a portable PC can achieve. Earlier this year I pre-ordered a Steam Deck, but after reviews said it’s not ready yet, I pulled my order. Meanwhile, Valve worked hard on software updates and getting units shipped, so I gave it time to percolate. Revisiting tech reviews, Reddit first-hand accounts, and six months of improvements, I was ready to give it a go.

Steam Deck vs PS5 Controller

Prior to fall 2022, Valve had long wait times to get your hands on a Steam Deck, much like the almost two-year-old next-gen consoles. Apparently I waited until the right time as my pre-order was only in for a few days before I was able to actually order a console. Within about 10 days, it was delivered to my home and I was full steam ahead.

The first thing I did was look at my sad Steam library and figure out how to play games. After exploring SteamOS a bit, I went directly to Reddit to aid in my fun. The Steam Deck community was alive and well and has all the resources I needed to learn about Steam games, emulation, and playing non-Steam games on my brand new Steam Deck.

The Good

  • While a huge device, it’s comfortable to hold and not heavy
  • Great software and familiar if you know Linux
  • So many buttons
  • Speakers sound good for how small they are
  • Right to Repair friendly

Missed Opportunities

  • The screen could be better on a device released in 2022
  • Base model storage is slow and tiny
  • No built-in cellular options
  • Feels kind of locked to SteamOS

The Bad

  • Battery life is very low, especially on newer games
  • No native way to run Windows
  • Runs hot and has an exhaust port
  • Not a Nintendo Switch competitor

The Steam Deck is a full-fledged gaming computer, that (almost) fits in your hands. For me, it wouldn’t replace a Nintendo Switch or gaming on an iPhone. The Steam Deck is targeted at the PC gaming market in an effort to take those games on the go. What Valve may not have realized, is they have a tinkerer’s dream on their hands. Giving a technically inclined person a powerful computer they can take with them on an Airplane is great opportunity in a small package.

Steam Deck in dock mode

What you CAN do with the Steam Deck:
– Play most games available on Steam
– Install and use most apps available to Linux distros
– Emulate retro gaming systems
– Emulate Nintendo Switch games
– Play Xbox Cloud games
– Use it as a real computer

What you CANNOT do with the Steam Deck:
– Play native Windows games without workarounds
– Run iOS or Android apps/games
– Easily play PC games not purchased through Steam
– Play games for more than six hours without charging
– Mirror wirelessly to a display or TV
– Natively play Xbox, PlayStation, or Nintendo games

 

Did you know?

Steam makes a dock for the Stream Deck to allow you to use it as a full desktop computer or connect to a TV for a Nintendo Switch-like experience.

The Top 100 Songs: 2000s

top100 2000s

As a follow-up to my Top 100 Songs of the 1990s, I think it’s time to revisit the actual best decade of music.

The 2000s (aka Y2Ks, 00s, or the oughts) saw a dramatic change in popular music. Boy Bands flashed in the pan which led to R&B and Hip-Hop to top the charts. The early to mid 2000s saw one of my favorite musical themes, which still works well today. That being an R&B singer paired with a Hip-Hop artist creating collaborations like Ja Rule & J-Lo, Fat Joe & Ashanti, and Nelly & Jagged Edge.

I was in high school and college for all of the 2000s, so this era of music had a huge impact on my formative years. This is also when we first had the ability to download music through services like Napster. It was a simpler time, but also a time with a lot of really memorable music.

Much like the 1990s list, here are the rules I set for this list:
– Main singer can only appear once – Beyonce or Destiny’s Child, not both (this excludes features)
– No covers, original recordings only
– Must have been released as a single or on an album after December 31, 1999 and before January 1, 2010
– No compilations, best of, or greatest hits releases apply

To make these rankings, I started with a list of about 130 songs, then fed them through Pub Meeple’s ranking engine. Over about a week, I completed over 400 comparisons of two songs, head to head. This gave me the list I have below. I took the left over songs and culled the list based on what songs were not ranked high enough to make my list but couldn’t be left off a 2000s essential music list.

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Apple Watch Ultra: The Beard Blog Review

The ultraist Apple Watch of them all.

Watching the recent Apple event where the Apple Watch Ultra was announced, I was elated at the feature set, but at the same time dreading the price reveal. When Jeff Williams revealed the $799 price tag, my jaw dropped. This is not the normal Apple pricing we usually see. I was throwing around $999 or $1099 in my head trying to figure out how I could justify spending that much. Compared to a normal Apple Watch with cellular, sapphire screen, and titanium body, $799 isn’t that far off, but the Ultra does so much more!

I’ve been wearing an Apple Watch every day since buying the first-generation in April of 2015. It was a big change for me as I was an every day traditional watch wearer. I even had a small watch collection growing. Since the first time I put on an Apple Watch, I had wished for a bigger screen for my large wrists. Over the years we’ve seen the (biggest) Apple Watch go from 42mm to 44mm, and then last year to 45mm. The Ultra watch is a generous 49mm.

What’s New on Apple Watch Ultra?

Compared to the Series 7 of last year and the Series 8 introduced with the Ultra, it has a lot more adventurous features than your standard watch. While on the surface it may seem like a whole new watch from the ground up, it’s not. More of a case redesign, it still has the same trusty Apple Watch features we’ve grown to love over the years. What sets the Ultra watch apart from the other Apple Watches is the addition of a 86db siren, 2000 nit display, dual-frequency GPS, customizable action button, and water depth and temperature gauge. If you’re only interested in the health sensors, it has the same exact sensors as the Series 8. Some other improvements to existing features that the Ultra watch has are sure to come to the lower watches like louder speakers, bigger battery, and three mic array.

What Makes This Watch Ultra?

Apple tells us this watch isn’t for everyone, it’s for the most extreme, athletic, and adventurous people out there. We all know that the majority of customers for the Apple Watch Ultra will likely not fit into any of those categories, myself included. This isn’t the first time Apple has offered a titanium case watch with sapphire glass. Last year’s Series 7 was available in that configuration for $699. What truly makes this watch special is the size as it’s Apple’s largest watch to date. Additionally it can withstand the elements more, dive deeper, and possibly not get damaged as easily. My main reasons for buying the Apple Watch Ultra were the large screen size and long battery life, everything else is just a bonus.

Sensor Watch

The new sensor this year on both the Series 8 and Ultra is wrist temperature sensing. This takes a reading of the ambient under-screen temperature and your wrist temperature and forms an opinion on what your body may be like over the course of your sleep. This was presented as a benefit to Cycle Tracking, but for those who do not menstruate, this was left as an unknown. After wearing the Apple Watch to sleep, it does in fact record temperature readings in the Health app. If these will be accurate or useful in the long term remains to be seen.

Water temperature sensing only works when the watch is fully submerged. I was unable to get this to function whilst running my watch under a water faucet.

The Alpine Loop band looks and feels good, but it’s much harder to adjust and remove than any of the traditional Apple Watch bands.

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Apple iPhone 14 Pro Max: The Beard Blog Review

Here we are again, the fall weather is upon us and there are new iPhones out in the wild. Apple recently announced the iPhone 14, iPhone 14 Pro, and iPhone 14 Pro Max. Later this year the iPhone 14 will get a big brother named the iPhone 14 Plus. It’s easy to tell that Apple has a long term strategy with the iPhone. They meticulously add new features that seem like a big deal at first, but are actually very small improvements year over year. This allows them to continue to release a new phone every fall and get people (like me) to buy it.

What’s new on iPhone 14 Pro Max

The iPhone 14 Pro Max is a lot like the 13 Pro max and even the 12 Pro Max. Same shape, size, and materials. The biggest difference is the screen notch has been replaced by a rotated lowercase “i” shaped cutout called the Dynamic Island. I feel like this has a lot of potential in the future, but without any third-party app integration, it’s just a cool demo. The OLED screen has been updated to be brighter and be “Always-On” when not in use. This is similar to the Apple Watch where the screen dims but still shows some lock screen elements. I frequently have my iPhone sitting on a table in-front of me and now I won’t have to tap it to see what’s going on. Having devices where the screen is always-on is soon to become the norm. In the near future we’ll look at devices that don’t have the screen on as antiquated.

Baseball scores in the Dynamic Island

There’s a new main camera sensor (again) this year, but this time they quadrupled the megapixel count from 12 to 48. This doesn’t mean a whole lot, but allows it to gather more details and present you with a better image. I’ve found that when you want the most detail, use the “RAW” option to get a 48mp image as opposed to the Apple processed 12mp version.

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iPhone Photography By The Numbers

iPhone photography

As a semi-professional photographer I use multiple tools for my hobby. With an iPhone, I always have a great camera in my pocket. Since 2007 I’ve been taking photos with my iPhone and updating that camera as fast as Apple introduced new features. Because of the ever-changing smartphone camera market I started to track what type of photos I was taking with my primary camera. Now that we have at least four cameras on flagship smartphones I wanted to know even more which lenses I was using and which I didn’t really care for.

I started tracking these numbers in 2018 when I moved from the iPhone X to the iPhone XS. The iPhone XS had a much better camera over the X which was more of an industrial design change than a focus on photography. Each year since, I’ve counted up my photos from the past year and noted which lens was used. Now I can look back and see which phone I took the most photos with and which lens was the most popular that year.

Over the years my overall iPhone camera usage has gone way down since the iPhone X. Not sure why other than the pandemic. The majority of my photos come from the Main/Wide/1x camera but that share has gone down as the cameras have multiplied and offered different perspectives.The first zoom or telephoto lens was added to the iPhone back in 2016 when the iPhone 7 Plus was announced, and since then it’s been a unique addition allowing you to zoom into subjects without digitally cropping.

With the addition of the Ultra-wide camera on the iPhone 11 Pro, a third rear lens was available to split my photography between. It was recently updated to include macro photography on the iPhone 13 Pro, which explains the large bump in share of my photos this past year. In contrast, the lack of progress on the front-facing camera reflects in my reduced use. If you are the type of person that takes a lot of selfies though, that camera will get a lot of work.

Model

Main

Telephoto

Ultra-wide

Front

iPhone X

2702 / 80%

467 / 14%

-

198 / 6%

iPhone XS

2183 / 74%

646 / 22%

-

128 / 4%

iPhone 11 Pro Max

1458 / 64%

369 / 16%

318 / 14%

141 / 6%

iPhone 12 Pro Max

1094 / 67%

218 / 13%

220 / 14%

104 / 6%

iPhone 13 Pro Max

900 / 52%

291 / 17%

444 / 26%

88 / 6%

Totals

8337 / 70%

1991 / 17%

982 / 8%

659 / 5%

Ever year Apple has a story to tell about how the camera is better/different on the new phones. With every upgrade I say I’m going to make a better effort to take more photos but the numbers don’t lie. Over the last 12 months, I only snapped 1,723 photos which was the lowest amount of iPhone photos per year I have record of. To compare, I have saved about 300 photos from my professional camera, Sony a7III, so overall it was a down photos year. I plan to improve on that over the next 12 months.

Check out my iPhone 14 Pro Max review!

Smarter Home 2022: Curtains

Remote controlled curtains have been around for ages but only recently has that same technology been translated into a smart product. Much like blinds and shades, most of us have at least one set of curtains in our house and depending on where they’re located, you may want to automate them. Opening and closing of curtains can have an impact on both the climate and light in your home, but the primary function is to block nosey people from looking into your room.

The first time I learned about smart curtains was from SwitchBot who I believe was one of the first to market with a smart-assistant controlled curtain controller. Originally they were priced too high for what I wanted to spend, and like a bunch of other products, were only geared toward the Alexa/Amazon smart ecosystem. Even still as I write this today they don’t support Apple Home (fka Apple Homekit).

The smart curtain controller is simple. It rides along various types of curtain rods and rails and pushes or pulls your curtains. The drawback is that if you have two sets of curtains on a window, you need two controllers to push/pull each side. This doubles the cost as most controllers are sold in singles. The controller either connects to the track of your rail or rides along the rod like suspended roller coaster. There is also the compatibility of the type of rod or rail you have for your existing curtains. The compatibility varies from manufacturer and most can’t do a telescoping rod as the wheels can’t overcome the height differences.

When Aqara started selling their curtain controllers I was immediately interested. They’re product connected to my already existing Aqara camera hubs and that connected to Apple Home. They were discounted on Amazon during their initial launch so I thought I would give them a try, and if it wasn’t something I wanted or didn’t work right, I could return them. They arrived pretty quickly and while bulky, they were easy to install.

I have a bay window in my living room that lets in a lot of light throughout the first half of the day, but also faces the street I live on. This window has your traditional dual curtain rods with a shear set covered by an opaque set of curtains. Putting four controllers on each set of curtains wasn’t cost effective for this setup so I opted to buy two controllers for each side of the inner-most opaque curtains, while leaving the shears to manual adjustment.

The Aqara controllers work well and have yet to fail in the two months I’ve been using them. One odd thing about the Aqara models are that I needed to group them as one accessory in the Apple Home app to get the two controllers to work together. They’re exposed as left and right modules to Apple Home allowing you to operate them individually, but I have no use case for only opening one side. I have not yet needed to charge the batteries and as of writing this they currently sit at 80% so they should last about a year before needing charged.

Controlling them from the Apple Home app or by using Siri is very easy. Usually I just shout into the air, “Hey Siri, open the curtains” and within a second or two they start moving. I currently only have one automation set on the curtains and that is to close them in the evening. In the Apple Home app I have the automation set to: 15 minutes after sunset, close the curtains. This allows the most amount of light until the sun fades and then closes for privacy. In the winter months I can see having a schedule automation to open the curtains in the morning when heat is less of an issue.

While having smart curtain is great and convenient I don’t think it’s yet cost effective to have it on every set of curtains in your house. It’s nice on one or two, but there may be no need to automate curtains that are rarely changed or within easy reach. The smart curtain controllers are a great example of retrofitting smart objects on existing dumb things to make them better. Having a robot push or pull curtains open is a glimpse into the future of how tiny machines can make everyday items better.

Check out my other Smarter Home posts!

Top 10 John Mayer Songs

john mayer guitar

John Mayer is by far my favorite musician and what better way to exercise that fact by creating a top 10 list.

I first discovered John Mayer in college when Daughters was at the height of its popularity. I had thought John was just a fleeting pop artist, but when a coworker 15 years my senior mentioned how good he is, and I must check him out. I started with the only two albums he had out at the time, Room for Squares and Heavier Things. Both of those pop albums were not the Mayer we know today. Outside of his hit singles, I was instantly drawn to Why Georgia and Neon where he flexed his guitar skills. Having an early appreciation for John Mayer’s deep cuts positioned me, as a fan, for the release of his masterpiece Continuum.

I’ve listened to the Continuum album probably more than any other music album in existence. Every song is great and conjures indivdual feelings, much like Usher’s Confessions. Since his third album, I’ve been a fan. More than 15 years later, he’s still putting out classic music and living up to what I would call the greatest guitar player of my generation.

I’ve had the pleasure and opportunity to see John Mayer live in concert twice in the past five years. Listening to his studio recordings are great, but being in an arena with him live brings it to a whole new level.

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Dirty Heads – By The Numbers

dirty heads graphic

My favorite band Dirty Heads recently released their eighth studio album which prompted me to update a long-running spreadsheet I’ve maintained. I like spreadsheets, stats, and organization so I paired that with my love of music and starting keeping track of my favorite band’s songs.

A few years back while listening to Dirty Heads’ back catalog I had wondered how often each singer in the band appears on their songs. Enter Microsoft Excel and a few hours of listening. I went through every song they’ve released and collected data based on who/when a singer is heard.

Over the last year, I haven’t really kept up with the spreadsheet and they haven’t released much new music. When the Dirty Heads announced a new album, Midnight Control, I was excited to update my list. The day that the album was released I went through the eight new songs and logged the data. After the updates, I made a graphic that I could share on Reddit and Facebook’s Dirty Heads groups.

I’ll probably continue to maintain this spreadsheet as the Dirty Heads are an independent band without the large following of a band like Maroon 5, so someone needs to do it.

Link to Dirty Heads spreadsheet

More posts about music

Smarter Home 2022: Blinds and Shades

blinds shades

The summer months offer a lot of natural light, but letting in the light comes with heat tradeoffs. There are ways you can automate blinds and shades to give you the natural light you need, when you need it, without having to touch your window dressings.

After working from home during the pandemic for a year and a half, I decided to upgrade my office blinds. The existing blinds where cellular shades that came with us in the move to this current house. They were fine, but I wanted something powered and better looking. Since I was looking at powered shades, I figured why not just get “smart” blinds too. The smart blind market is a premium one and I was immediately turned off when it starting getting pricing. Luckily Ikea exists to give us affordable options in the home decor space. I settled on the Fyrtur motorized roller shades in gray. Because of the size of my office window, I needed their largest offering of 122x195cm (48×76 3/4″). They fit the width perfectly, but are way too long, so I deal.

Ikea’s smart system links to their Tradfri hub to communicate with any of the major smart home ecosystems. When I purchased the blinds, the Tradfri Gateway was out of stock everywhere. As of this writing, Ikea has announced a new version coming in Fall of 2022. Obviously I bought the shades anyway thinking to myself “I bet I can get this working without the Ikea gateway”.

In a short amount of time I received the roller shades from Ikea and installed them above my office window. They have a very utilitarian aesthetic but do a great job of blocking the light. Black out shades were not something I needed, but it does work well. The motorized rolling shade was nice and the simple interface allowed me to set a lower limit so I could one-touch close them and not have them extend all the way to the floor. They came with a little handy remote that can open/close the shades without having to touch the large crossbar at the top. Funny thing about the remote is that the included wireless transceiver needs plugged into power for the remote to work. After searching again for the Ikea smart home gateway, I started the journey of making these dumb blinds smarter.

After some Reddit research I learned more about the Fyrtur blinds and that they communicate over the Zigbee wireless standard. This was great because I have a few Zigbee hubs in my house. First, my recent Aqara camera purchase has a Zigbee hub built in. A quick web search lets me know that the Aqara Zigbee hub is a closed system and only works with Aqara Zigbee accessories. Next, I went to my eero 6 pro wireless mesh system which also has Zigbee built-in. The eero Zigbee implementation is piggybacked on Amazon which means you can only add Zigbee items that work with Amazon/Alexa. The Ikea system does not work with Amazon. Lastly, I looked at some other ways I could get this connected by using a Homebridge plugin, my LG TV’s hub, or even “hacking” the smart system in the Ikea shades. No dice on either of those, so back to Reddit to get more answers. After posting about my predicament, someone recommended to me an open Zigbee hub that I can plug into my Homebridge Raspberry Pi via USB.

The USB Zigbee gateway that I purchased was the Conbee II. This is a pretty interesting project and the configuration is a little tricky. I made a walkthrough on how to get this working over here.

motorized shades gif
Motorized shades closing

My office shades were now connected to the Zigbee hub and I connected that to a Homebridge plugin which added the shades to Apple Home. Now that they were in my preferred smart home ecosystem, I could do some automations. When I start working at home, I have an automation that runs from my Stream Deck to start my day. I added opening my office blinds 35% to that script. Also, my ‘Good Night’ scene closes the blinds. As we get into the cooler weather with less light, I will add some more automations to close them with the setting sun.

Check out my other Smarter Home posts!

Instagram Snapshot

With all the talk of Instagram changing things up and favoring video/reels, I wanted to do a quick snapshot of my feed as it is today.

Opening the app and scrolling, here’s what I experienced:

  1. Photo – Someone I follow
  2. Ad – Starz
  3. Photo – Someone I follow
  4. Photo – Someone I follow (verified✓)
  5. Video – Suggested post
  6. Photo – Someone I follow
  7. Ad – Starz
  8. Video – Someone I follow
  9. Photo – Suggested post
  10. Photo – Someone I follow
  11. Ad – Audible
  12. Photo – Someone I follow
  13. Photo – Suggested account
  14. Video – Someone I follow
  15. Video – Someone I follow
  16. Ad – Starz
  17. Video – Suggested post
  18. Photo – Someone I follow
  19. Photo – Someone I follow
  20. Ad – Science37
  • 25% ads
  • 20% suggestions
  • 25% video
  • 55% content I asked for

I predict it will only get worse from here with more video, ads, and less content of the accounts I actually follow.

Follow me over on Vero!

Top 10 Best Diet Sodas

soda

First, before you roast me for talking about diet soda and exclaim how it is killing me, read this.

Basically, if you don’t drink a ton of it and still maintain a healthy lifestyle, it’s not bad for you. Who knew?

I prefer “diet” or “zero sugar” type sodas because of their perceived sweetness without impacting my glycemic index and adding to my overall daily calories. I would even go as far to say that I prefer the taste over traditional, full-sugar sodas. I enjoy a good soda pop but I don’t want to me left feeling like I just ate a bag of skittles.

Lost of love here for Coca-Cola company, and not so much for PepsiCo.
I’m staying with widely available selections in the US and not considering any seasonal or special editions.
Before you ask, yes Diet and Zero/Zero Sugar products actually taste different and are sold simultaneously.

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When You Have a TV Size Hole in Your Heart

broken heart on broken TV

Have you ever been so enamored with a TV show that when it’s over you feel like something is now missing from your life? Me too!

Like any other summer, my wife and I are watching less TV. Entertainment schedulers know this and make less new content available during the warmer months. Because we’re watching less and want to spend more time enjoying the weather, we gravitate towards shorter, less complicated, TV series. Usually sitcoms that are around 30 minutes are the sweet spot because of the usual large amount of episodes available and easy viewing.

This summer we are getting daily doses of Parks and Recreation. Yes, the same Parks and Recreation show that first aired in 2008 on NBC. Having only seen a few episodes here and there we decided to watch the entire series, in order. We’ve done this previously with shows like Seinfeld, The Big Bang Theory, and Modern Family.

HIMYM cast
The main cast of How I Met Your Mother

Last spring, summer, and fall we watched How I Met Your Mother (HIMYM). All 208 episodes. That show took me by surprise with how witty, heartfelt, and relatable it was. Even a year after completing the watch-through, I stand by it being the best network comedy show of all time. When the show ended, not only were we looking for a new regular show to watch, it felt like something was missing. Over the previous eight or so months, the show was a major part of our lives. When it was gone, there was a hole.

Not all TV shows, movies, or entertainment can make you feel this way. In fact, there’s probably only a few in your lifetime. I don’t think it’s wrong to feel this way either. The creators and actors of the show want you to feel. They write and act it in a way to invoke emotion. Different shows will hit with different people but there was something about the story and characters of HIMYM that imprinted on me. After we watched the entire series I took a long look at my life. Obviously one of those introspections was ”why am I having any feelings about a dumb TV show?” Someday I’ll write about the emotions that came out of this or start a feelings blog where I can really go there.

ron swanson gif
Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) is my favorite TV character to date.

We’re about half way through Parks and Recreation and while I don’t feel this will have the huge impact on me like HIMYM, I’m already dreading the end. These TV shows, allow me to escape for 20-ish minutes and live in their fun-quirky world. The end is always disappointing and never what you think it should be. We’ve even avoided watching final episodes in a series so that we can feel that it’s never really over and we will always have just one more episode. Schitt’s Creek is a great example of this. We’ve never finished it even though we loved the series. Someday we’ll go back and spend time with the Rose’s again.

Parks and Rec is a show that I looked over for many years because I thought of it as a bad spinoff of The Office. While some of that is true, it’s very good on its own. If it continues at its current pace, in my perspective, it will be top-10 best shows of all time. Another someday project is list my top-10 best TV shows of all time.

What are some shows that made you feel this way? We’re always looking for another TV series to add to our summer playlist. Usually we look for something that we haven’t seen the entirety of and has a long run. If you haven’t yet watched How I Met Your Mother or Parks and Recreation, you should.

Additional great TV show recommendations:

Love – Netflix
Seinfeld – Netflix
King of Queens – Paramount+
The Office – Peacock
Brooklyn Nine-Nine – Hulu

Toyota Tundra Infotainment Review

As a tech enthusiest and an information technology professional, I‘m always looking at technology first when looking at a vehicle. If I had to rank infotainment (what the industry calls the vehicle’s screen, software, and entertainment package) on a list of most important features it would definitely be in the top three. Not only am I a tech enthusiast, I’m also a car enthusiast so I’m always looking at what’s new in the car world. I’ve thought about buying several vehicles and decided against it only because of the technology implementation (looking at you Ford Explorer).

My current vehicle, 2022 Toyota Tundra Platinum, has the best technology package in a truck as of the time I bought it. Even better than the F-150 Lightning (which I’m still ”in line” to buy). The F-150 Lightning has the same infotainment as the non-electric F-150s with the exception of the added controls for the EV.

Ford Explorer ST Backup Camera View
Ford Explorer ST Backup Camera View

Here’s what is wrong with most of today’s in-vehicle technology:

  • Large screens with bad use of space
  • Not utilizing integrated cameras effectively (see photo)
  • Trying to pack options on the screen that no one wants or uses
  • Not prioritizing the majority of drivers that use Apple CarPlay or Android Auto

Instead of filling the screen with the functions you are currently using, most manufacturers leave space for other controls, split screen, or messages. The same applies to mirroring you phone to the built-in display.

The 2022 Toyota Tundra has the cleanest large screen infotainment I’ve seen to date. This was major factor in why I purchased this particular truck, especially after pre-ordering an F-150 Lightning, and never owning a Toyota before. The Tundra’s infotainment is simple and thoughtfully laid out on the giant 14-inch LCD display in the center of the dash. There’s not a lot of bloat either with a modest selection of four different modes, plus Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.

When using Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, it takes over the entire screen giving you the most screen real estate to see your maps, music, or podcasts. My previous vehicles from Stellantis had a bottom navigation bar with CarPlay enabled to allow you to navigate away from CarPlay without having to do anything. Toyota’s implementation, like others I have seen, put a Toyota icon on your homescreen that when tapped, takes you to the built-in vehicle controls. This allows your phone mirroring experience to be more immersive . When the truck’s cameras are activated you again see it fullscreen and are able to see multiple cameras at once. Most of my in-car use is CarPlay so I never use the truck’s built-in functionality so the fullscreen experience was important to me. Hopefully soon Apple updates Carplay to better use the large amount of screen space I have now and make the elements fit better.

Digital rearview mirror camera
Front and bird’s eye cameras at a stop light

2022 Toyota Tundra technology overview

Pros:
UI elements utilize large screen
Fullscreen Apple CarPlay / Android Auto
Responsive and high resolution
No bloatware or complicated views
Landscape orientation
Digital rearview mirror

Cons:
Can’t use in-vehicle WiFi hotspot and wireless CarPlay simulteanously
CarPlay elements not made for such a large screen
Uses Google Maps, but not an online version
360º camera view only available in park [P]
Most camera views only available in drive [D]

In my short four months of owning the Toyota Tundra, it received one software update that was mainly bug fixes, but that doesn’t prevent them from adding features via an update. Hopefully they can add some cool stuff I haven’t thought of, but this is a promising start to a car brand that I once wrote off due to their interest in technology innovation.

Read about why I sold my Jeep and bought a truck.

Adding Ikea Frytur shades to Apple Home

This is a quick tutorial on how I added Ikea’s Frytur smart shades to Apple Home (p.k.a Apple HomeKit) using Homebridge.

These are the items I used to make this work:

Having a working Homebridge implementation was very helpful as I didn’t have to setup another device and could just focus on getting the shades to work.

  1. Install and setup the Ikea Frytur shades
  2. Pair the remote with the shades and make sure they work
  3. Plug in the ConBee II to the Raspberry Pi via USB
  4. Install deCONZ software on the Raspberry Pi
    1. Connect to Raspberry Pi over SSH
    2. Set user USB access rights
      sudo gpasswd -a $USER dialout
    3. Import Phoscon public key
      wget -O - http://phoscon.de/apt/deconz.pub.key | sudo apt-key add -
    4. Configure APT repo for deCONZ
      sudo sh -c "echo 'deb http://phoscon.de/apt/deconz $(lsb_release -cs) main' > /etc/apt/sources.list.d/deconz.list"
    5. Update APT package list
      sudo apt update
    6. Install deCONZ
      sudo apt install deconz
    7. Reboot
      sudo restart -r now
  5. Once the Raspberry Pi is back online, connect to it via VNC
  6. Menu > Programming > deCONZ
  7. Go to the IP address of your Raspberry Pi from a web browser to access the Phoscon web app, the default port is 80
    http://<your-ip-here>/
  8. Follow the Phoscon setup instructions until you are able to access the ConBee II gateway
  9. Go to Devices > Lights under the hamburger menu
  10. Click on Add new lights
  11. On your Ikea shades, quickly press both front button simultaneously to put them in pairing mode
  12. After a few moments they will show up and be recognized in the Phoscon web app
  13. Login to Homebridge and click on Plugins and search for “Hue”
  14. Install the plugin named Homebridge Hue
  15. Configure the plugin with a name and address of the ConBee II, use localhost if your ConBee is plugged into your Homebridge device
  16. Restart Homebridge and your blinds will show up in Apple Home

Smarter Home 2022: Smart Lock

nest x yale smart lock

Recently I made a change to my daily driving vehicle, read about it here. My new vehicle doesn’t allow me to park inside my integrated garage which changes how I enter/exit my house. Previously, after parking in the garage, I could enter the house through the interior door to go inside. Now, I have to park out in the weather and go through my front door. Because of this change, I had to take a long hard look at the current smart lock on my front door.

When moving into my current house I purchased a smart lock that was the best available at the time. The Yale Assure SL had all the bells and whistles including HomeKit integration (via August), touch keypad, guest accounts, no key access, etc. Since then, I’ve had nothing but troubles with this lock which mostly was how fast the batteries would drain. The 4 AA batteries lasted between 7 and 21 days and more times than not, the door would be unlocked with dead batteries. When I was only parking in the garage, and not entering/exiting through the front door, this really didn’t impact me. At one point about year ago, I contacted Yale about the battery draining issue, and they sent me a new lock. The replacement lock didn’t help the issue and I was back to always having dead batteries.

Frustrated by this and using the front door more than ever, I set out to fix the problem. The latest and greatest technology for smart locks involves a new wireless standard called Thread but also a way to a better way unlock the door with your phone called Apple home key. The only available lock with this technology is the Schlage Encode Plus. Of course this lock cannot be found in stock anywhere and is not available to order (it’s also ugly). I needed a solution I could implement now and not wait for something to be manufactured.

I decided I would try a similar lock to the Yale Assure SL but had Google/Nest as the integration/backend. I went to my local Best Buy and picked up the Nest x Yale – Smart Lock with Nest Connect. The install and most of the parts were similar to my outgoing Yale lock so that made install a breeze. Setting up the lock in the Nest app was very easy and I was up and running within minutes, unlike the August implementation.

Door sensor with custom 3D printer bumper.

A couple of missing features that I was accustomed to on my previous lock were auto-unlock and a door sensor to detect if the the actual door was ajar or not. The August integration of the previous lock used your phone’s GPS to determine when you left or arrived your home, then lock or unlock your door. The idea behind this was great, but regularly failed. When the lock had battery power, upon arriving home, my door wouldn’t be unlocked. Due to the nature of Bluetooth and WiFi, my phone would also struggle to unlock the door, standing directly outside of it. That being stated, I was motivated to get these two features back, in another way.

The door sensor was pretty easy. I already have an Aqara Zigbee hub on my network so I can easily add their cheap sensors. I purchased a Aqara Door & Window Sensor and added it to my network and Apple Home. The sensor has two parts, one that goes on the moving object, in this case the front door, and the other piece goes on the static object, the interior wall. When the two pieces get close enough for a magnetic attraction, the sensor detects that it is closed. Upon installing the two sides on my door, I realized the door-side sensor was too far from the other sensor when closed. After a couple hours, I designed a 3D printed extension for the sensor, and now it lines up perfectly.

Next I had to tackle the auto-unlock feature. The Nest lock does have an auto-lock function, but it’s only time based. Once the door is unlocked, it will auto-lock in 15 minutes, or a preset time duration of your choosing. It doesn’t know if the door is open or closed, so if you leave the door open, it will still lock.

Previous to getting this lock, I purchased a Starling Home Hub that smartly integrates (almost) all Nest products into Apple Homekit. This is a much better solution than running a Nest plugin in Homebridge, plus you get a few extra features. When I added the new lock to my Nest account Starling Home automatically added it to Apple Home and I was able to control it immediately. This led me to using Apple Home and Apple Shortcuts to achieve my auto locking and unlocking goals.

First, I had to setup a plugin in Homebridge to allow me to have a dummy switch (read about why here). After that, I setup another dummy-type switch in Homebridge that triggers on a set time duration. This allowed me to constantly check if the door was open or closed, then act on it. All of this is done in Apple’s Home app with their built-in automation. It allows you to trigger actions based on your phone’s location, which is perfect for when I leave or arrive at home.

Name: ”AutoUnlock”
{
     Condition: ”When I arrive home”,
     Action: ”Trigger $DummySwitch”
}
Name: ”DummySwitch”
{
     Condition: ”When $DummySwitch turns on”,
     Action: ”Unlock $FrontDoor”
}

This unlocks my front door when my phone detects that I’m within range of my house. This usually happens as I’m pulling into the driveway.

Name: ”AutoLock”
{
     Condition: ”When I leave home”,
     Action: ”Trigger $DoorChecker”
}
Name: ”DoorChecker”
{
     Condition: ”When DoorChecker turns on”,
     Action: ”Run Shortcut”
          {
               If ($DoorSensor = ‘Closed’) {
                    Lock $FrontDoor
               }
     }
}

This locks my door when my phone detects that I’m out of range of my house. The DoorChecker automation also checks if the door is open/closed. If it’s open, it will not lock the door. In addition to when I leave my house, the DoorChecker automation runs every 15 minutes to ensure my door is always locked when closed.

Check out my other Smarter Home posts!