How did Amazon become my Smart Home hub before Apple?

How many years are we going to continue saying, “Well, Apple is going to do something amazing with Siri and Homekit any day now.” I’m not seeing any signs of that happening. An over-priced speaker with an under-powered voice assistant certainly isn’t what I’ve been dreaming of. I’ve tried. I have a Series 2 Apple Watch, an Apple TV, an iPhone, newer Macs, and a number of “smart” devices. I try, but Siri kind of sucks. Maybe I’m doing it wrong, but she just doesn’t get me.

A few years ago Amazon sort of quietly lobbed the Echo at us and I’ve used a phrase starting with “Alexa…” many times a day ever since. Alexa isn’t perfect, but my frustration with her never reaches the fever pitch that it does when arguing with Siri. With an original Echo and a couple of inexpensive Dots, Alexa is always within earshot. No battery and nothing has to be on my wrist or in my pocket. And she seems to always hear me when I talk to her.

I want Apple to provide me the perfect ecosystem of hardware and software that is needed for a smooth smart home experience. So far they have failed to produce or even hint at anything.

So, with the introduction of the Echo Plus with a built-in smart hub, I’m heading even further down the Amazon path. If I can set up new devices without adding more hubs or device-specific apps I’ll be happy. Of course I don’t know how well it’ll all work, but Amazon’s track record with these things is pretty good. Surprisingly good.

I don’t understand how Apple, having had all of the smart home ingredients available to them for so long, can seemingly be so far behind Amazon. But that’s where we are. This stuff feels like a “hobby” for Amazon too, but they’ve gotten it pretty close to just right. I’m tired of waiting for “any day now.”

Setting up the Pakon scanner again

Every once in a while I get the urge to shoot color 35mm film and scanning that film is no fun at all. The only thing I’ve ever found that made it painless is the Pakon F-135 Plus.

I recently paved and rebuilt my iMac, meaning I had to recreate my carefully-constructed Parallels/WinXP/Pakon configuration. This turned out to be no small effort. So that I don’t forget, I’ve captured a few random notes here. The short version is that once you have this all running, don’t lose it.

First, I needed a Virtual Machine that would run Windows XP. I decided to try VirtualBox, since it’s free and I wouldn’t need to deal with upgrading Parallels (and the associated cost).

I downloaded the Pakon software and updates from the Pakon Facebook Group. Join the group and check out the Files section. Lots of great information there.

I could not get the Pakon software to see the scanner after about four hours of throwing everything I knew at it. There’s even a pre-built VM available with everything already configured. I just could not get it to recognize the scanner. I must have done something in the wrong order when first connecting the scanner. Eventually I gave up and installed Parallels. That worked on the first try.

After installing Parallels and downloading/unpacking the PakonUpdate.zip from the Facebook Group, I did the following1)See also, http://filmwasters.com/forum/index.php?topic=6842.0:

  • Run Setup from the fx35install folder inside the Pakon Update folder
  • Run Setup from inside the Pakon Update folder
  • Reboot the VM
  • Plug the Pakon in (USB) and turn it on
  • Wait until Parallels asks if I want to use the new device on Mac or Windows (select Windows)
  • When the New Hardware wizard starts, don’t let it use Windows Update2)There’s no way I’m letting XP touch the internet, but do let it find the drivers itself. This worked for me anyway, and I think is where I may have gone wrong earlier.
  • Reboot again (just in case).
  • Wait about 30 seconds, then launch the PMI app in Windows
  • Say No to the request to upgrade Firmware
  • Click the icon at the top left to get to the “advanced” screen. (I’m not sure what it’s called).
  • Leave the password blank when prompted and click OK

This left me ready to start my first scan. I’d almost forgotten how fast this thing is! A roll of 36 frames scanned at 3000×2000 and cleaned with Digital ICE in about 5 minutes. The colors are always dead on, or at least much better than anything I’ve been able to achieve after many hours of tinkering with every known scanning package. The Pakon scans are as sharp or sharper than those from my V750.

In short, if I’m going to shoot color film, the Pakon is the way to go, whatever it takes.

References   [ + ]

1. See also, http://filmwasters.com/forum/index.php?topic=6842.0
2. There’s no way I’m letting XP touch the internet

Cloud backups

I am no longer backing up my drives using a cloud backup service. Namely, Arq to Backblaze B2.

This seems like a terrible idea, and perhaps it is, but a few things happened recently that have caused me to throw up my hands and quit.

First, I’ve locked myself out of my Backblaze B2 account. This is because I stupidly wiped my iPhone before reconfiguring my two-factor auth entries in Google Authenticator. Doing that without making copies of the 2FA backup codes was unwise. A few emails with support haven’t gotten me very far and I’m tired of trying.

Second, Arq isn’t working properly. Suddenly it claims that I don’t have anything configured to back up. Pretty sure I do. This could be due to running High Sierra but I can’t tell. I also can’t tell what Arq is actually doing. I’ve always just let Arq do its thing but now that I’ve dug in I’m finding it difficult to determine what has been backed up, what hasn’t, and how much time/bandwidth I’m going to need.

Third, and speaking of bandwidth, I’ve exceeded my Xfinity quota for the second month in a row, meaning they’ll start charging me for overages. This is a first and no doubt all of these new backups are contributing.

Frankly, I’m tired of thinking about it. The smart thing to do would be to just install and use Backblaze’s automated backups but for now I’m not sure I need it.

  • All of my working files are in either Dropbox or iCloud
  • Photos are in iCloud and Google Photos
  • Older files are mostly in DEVONthink, which is synced and in Dropbox

There’s really not much at risk these days. I’ve only removed one step from my backup strategy, and it’s one I think I can do without.