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Amazon Sidewalk Approaches

As a household that has several Amazon Echo devices, I feel obligated to share the news about Amazon Sidewalk, including how to disable it.

What is Sidewalk?

Sidewalk is a “feature” in the latest firmware for the current generation of Amazon smart home products, including; Echo smart speakers, Ring doorbells & security cameras, and Tile trackers. When enabled, Sidewalk capable devices used by neighbors, visitors or passers-by are able to leverage your local internet connectivity.

Amazon says that these Sidewalk interlopers are allowed a limited amount of bandwidth, just 80 kbps, which is about the same as a tradition VoIP phone call.

Why Sidewalk?

That’s simple – ubiquitous connectivity is very convenient. Amazon knows this from years of experience. For example, their WhisperNet was a mechanism leveraging AT&T’s 3G mobile network to provide ubiquitous connectivity to early Kindle e-book readers.

Tile tracker

Imagine someone who uses Tile Pro to track their car keys. They are, as so many do each day, dropping their child off at Travis Elementary School, which is across the street.

It could be very handy if their Tile Pro found our front room Echo Dot, allowed it to ping Amazon servers. If they later lost their car keys, Amazon would know they had been near our home. Presumably, Amazon would have a more detailed record of their location that might otherwise be possible.

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Roasting Coffee: Not Burning Down the House

Coffee is a significant part of my routine. It’s my a.m. beverage of choice. In the afternoon I transition to water. And most typically, further transition to wine in the evening. Both coffee and wine are subject areas with considerable depth.

My interest in wine is by now well known. I pursued that with some formal classes and certification about the same time I started working with ZipDX. There’s only so far to go down that path. It gets expensive and requires the sort of commitment that comes from working in that industry. These days I remain a well informed consumer, but not as driven to explore the depths of the world of wine.

Instead, I’ve started to explore coffee. We’re fortunate that much of the coffee entering the US does so via the Port of Houston, making this a great place to be a coffee drinker. The House of Coffee Beans is our regular source. Stella gets me a selection of their coffees every year for Christmas.

 

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My first year with Home Assistant

I set about to solve problem back in December 2019. Not truly a problem, just an annoyance. In my office I have a music player (RPi 3 + Hifi Berry Pro XLR) that feeds a pair of Behringer powered subwoofers and M-Audio BX5 powered monitors. We have several similar arrangements, creating five separate music zones across the property.

I’ve had this arrangement for years. I’m pretty happy with it, with one exception. The audio gear does not have signal-sensing power on/off. What I wanted was a way to turn the gear on/off automatically based upon the status of the media player. How hard could that be?

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Mini-Review: Sennheiser SDW5000 DECT Cordless Headset

For the longest time I used the Sennheiser DW Pro2 DECT Cordless Headset with my Polycom VVX desk phone. They seemed a natural pairing. The Sennheiser having been originally recommended to me by an acquaintance at Polycom.

Looking back, my review of the DW Pro 2 was written way back in 2011! I used it a staggering long time. It was that good! In fact, I replaced its battery twice over the years. While it was a originally costly device, it was a very good investment.

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The DW Pro 2 remains available, but in 2018 Sennheiser introduced newer models, the SDW5000 Series (pictured above.) I was immediately interested in these as they claimed to support a new, super-wideband mode, supporting audio up to 12 KHz.

Just this week I realized that I’ve been using the SDW5016 as my daily driver for over two years. Further, it has met my every need, but I have yet to share my experience with it. In writing this, I aim to correct that oversight.

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DAC32: A New Squeezebox Alternative From Germany

This week I was tipped to the availability of a new streaming music player from PolyVection in Germany. Their DAC32 is a nondescript little device that emulates the venerable Logitech Squeezebox.

The company has a nice little historical explainer about the Logitech Media Server & Squeezebox. We got our first Squeezebox back in 2004 (I think) well before Logitech acquired Slim Devices.

DAC32 is essentially an embedded host for Squeezelite, the very same player that is bundled with PiCorePlayer for use on Raspberry Pi. DAC32 includes the host platform & digital-to-analogue conversion (DAC) in a tidy, integrated package. Connectivity is provided by onboard 2.4 GHz b/g/n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Power is 5 vdc via a standard coaxial connector.

DAC32 streamer front

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Notes from The Big Texas Freeze & Blackout

The week of Feb 15th was extraordinarily tough here in Houston. As you probably know, we had an unusual cold spell that took the area into single digit temperatures. This caught the state’s electric industry entirely by surprise, taking about 35% of electrical generation offline. So vast tracts of Texas were both cold and without power for several days. Eventually, also without water.

We certainly felt the cold. Our 100 year old Craftsman Cottage was simply not built for this kind of weather. We were fortunate to have gas appliances, including a natural gas-fired fireplace in our living room. We closed off portions of the house to minimize the area we needed to heat. Put an air bed in the living room and did the best we could.

After Hurricane Ike (2008) we were without utility power for about three weeks. This motivated the eventual purchase of a portable generator. We bought it used from a neighbor who was tired of it taking up space in his garage. For several years, it sat idle, occupying a corner in our garage. They’re like that.

This one recent week in February we got to know Genny really well. We came to admire some of her capabilities and a few of her quirks. These lessons are worth sharing.

As you can see, Genny is a Predator (in a nice way) which is a brand sold by Harbor Freight. She’s pretty beefy, rated for 8,750 watts starting load, and 7,000 watts continuous load. That’s not that 14 KW that I had calculated necessary to run out entire household, including central air conditioner, but it’s still quite a lot of power.

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