Pebble Watch Review

Background
When the Pebble was announced back in 2012 I was a little sceptical. Do people really need to be that connected? Are we so lazy we can’t take our phones out of our pockets? I liked the design features of the watch (long battery, water resistance, light weight) but I didn’t think I was ready to throw down almost $200 Canadian for a novelty wrist watch.  My dim view of wearable tech increased upon the launch of the Samsung Galaxy Gear. The promise of a Android system on your wrist in the form of a bulky, heavy looking, brightly coloured watch just held no appeal for me.

Over the past couple of years I’ve slowly changed my mind while keeping an eye on this quickly growing new sector of the hardware market. My phone usage habits and the recent drop in price of the Pebble prompted me to re-think the idea of a wearable device and so I dropped $119 on a Pebble watch to see what all the fuss was about.

The Good
I don’t usually pay too much attention to packaging but I have to admit I love the tiny little box the Pebble arrived in and the way everything was packaged so neatly inside. It reminded me of the way the Kindle was packaged and so easy to unbox and start using.  The watch itself feels easily just as light weight as my treasured Casio Calculator CA53W watch although the watch face itself sits a little higher on the wrist.  Very soon after opening, the watch was powered up and I was able to load apps and watchfaces from my bluetooth connected phone using the Pebble app.  So far I have no complaints over the range of apps and how easy they are to configure. I won’t go into much detail about individual apps but I will call out a couple of my favourites so far:

Roku Remote – I’ve used this a few times instead of getting up and hunting for where the kids may have stashed the remote.
Google Authenticator – This is much more convenient way for me to access my 2FA codes for Google and Lastpass and will also work if I’m not in possession of my phone. I don’t like to think about the possibility of my phone being stolen but should that ever happen I’d be able to access my accounts easily from the nearest internet enabled PC/Device using the codes on my watch.
Tea Steeping Timer – All too often has a cup of Green Tea been ruined by over-steeping. No more is this the case!
There’s also a crap tonne of apps for the exercised inclined folks out there. Most allow easy access to data while running, cycling, swimming, etc so you don’t have to go digging in your sweat pants pocket.

In addition to these apps I can choose a watchface from one of the thousands available online. I can also remotely control my music/podcasts/audio books using the built in Music app. This may sound like a first world problem but I do find it annoying to dig my phone out of my pocket to pause my audio when one of my kids comes in to ask me something. I’m usually telling them to go and ask their mum most of the time but it’s nice to have my audio paused while I do that. I can now pause my music by pushing a couple of buttons on my watch even while I’m doing the dishes because look….how cool is this???

Another built-in app is the notification system that allows me to take a quick glance at incoming email and “Dismiss”, “Archive”, or “Display on my Phone”. I can also do that with SMS and, with the beta firmware installed, Google Hangouts. For SMS and Hangouts I can choose a template reply such as “OK”, “No”, “Sounds good”, “LOL”, “On my way” and a bunch of others including emoticons.

The main things I like about ereaders is the crisp, glare free, easy to read display and the amazing battery life. Both of these features also shine with the Pebble. The screen is very readable in daylight and a quick shake of the wrist will light the display in darkness. The battery life is insane. I’m 4 days into my first charge and I’m still at 60%. That’s also while I’ve been playing around configuring it, don’t forget.

The Bad
I only have a couple of gripes with the watch. The first one isn’t really too much of an issue with the functions as it is with the design. I can’t speak to the comfort of the Pebble Steal but the strap on the basic model is a little uncomfortable, at least for me. I can go most of the working day without noticing it but by mid-afternoon my wrist becomes a little sore and I find myself taking it off. It’s due to the bulky clasp, guard and thick material used for the strap. I was considering returning the watch because of this but that was before I had really dived into app market. I’ve now opted to go with a different strap.

My other complaint is that I had to tinker a fair bit with the watch to get the auto replies and notifications working the way I wanted them to with Google Hangouts. I had to install the beta firmware and phone app and it’s all good now. It looks like these features will show up before too long for all other users.

Conclusion
I got the watch knowing I could return it to Futureshop for a full refund within 14 days. Aside from the comfort issue with the strap I haven’t really considered doing so. I’m pretty sure I’ll be sticking with it and exploring more apps from the Pebble market place. The company have hinted at newer hardware out later this year which initially made me second guess purchasing the current model. However, any future device has still not been officially announced and would likely be more expensive than the current watch. There’s also no guarantee I’d like the direction they go with the newer hardware so I’m happy to go ahead with this first generation version.  All in all I’d say the watch is a good buy but I would issue this word of caution for anyone considering it: It’s a passive device. That’s one thing that I think helped me to wrap my head around getting one. Don’t expect it to change your life as much a smart phone or tablet has. This is not something to occupy you the way a those devices do. A phone or tablet is something you go to to use, play and create with. A wearable is something that merely delivers data to you and doesn’t offer many input capabilities but that’s ok. That’s the way it’s meant to be and I think the devices that will be successful in this area are the ones that manage to walk that line well.

**UPDATE:  My wrist must have become accustomed to the strap as I’ve had no issues the past couple of days.**

Another Adventure in Cord Cutting

Shaw are bonkers but I love it. Last year they gave me 25Mbps internet for a promotional period of 6 months. Regular price $60 but I would only have to pay $30.
When the promotion was over they said if I added cable I could jump into another 6 month promotion at $50 so I did that. I was saving myself $10 by adding an extra service I wouldn’t use. The cable box sat at the top of my closet gathering dust.
Well, now that promotion is at an end. I called to cancel the cable TV portion and they said that rates are increasing come 2015 so my original 25Mbps internet only service is going up and will be $67 per month starting in January. Then they say I can get into another promotion. This one is $60 per month and I’ll get 50Mbps internet, cable and landline phone. I said yes and so my cable box will stay at the top of my closet and go unused, along with the landline phone while I enjoy faster internet and then I’ll have another chat with them around June.

Comics

Below is a list of what I’ve been reading month to month. The list is subject to change but most titles have stuck around for quite a while now.

Amazing X-Men – I wanted to read an ongoing X-Men title and this one just so happens to have Nightcrawler, Ice-Man and Firestar on the team roster. Couldn’t say no to that. So far the story arcs have been mediocre but I’m going to stick with it a while longer.

Alex & Ada – A first rate ‘non-capes’ comic from Image about a guy who’s been given a female android as a gift and helps her become sentient. Pretty gripping with a great synergy between light storytelling and simple art.

Bandette – A delightful romp about a mischievous thief. Sometimes I have to wait months between issues but it’s a treat every time a new one is out. At $0.99 a pop it’s great value for money.

Black Science – A darkly, wonderful sci-fi story of the dimension hopping kind full of surprises and amazing artwork.

Daredevil – My favourite, bar none. Mark Waid has been killing it as writer on this one. The artwork is first class and the character is one of the most well developed and interesting ones in the superhero genre.

Hulk – I’m a sucker for a hero with struggles (see Daredevil above). Hulk can be hit and miss sometimes but when he hits he smashes!

Saga – What can I say? An epic sci-fi/fantasy tale like no other. If you read comics you should be reading this. If you don’t read comics then this is one of the best ones to start with. A must read.

Savage Hulk – Another Hulk? I’m reading both titles until I decide which one to stick with.

She-Hulk – This has been a surprisingly good one. It’s written by Charles Soule, one of my favourite writers. Not a lot of people like the art style but I find it unique and refreshing when stacked up against other titles. The stories are light and fun and, like Daredevil, don’t require you to read a bunch of other ongoings to get the full benefit of the story.

Audio Books

When I was younger I’d devour a few books in a month but these days I’m lucky if I struggle through one every 6 weeks. Between work, being a dad and millions of other distractions I find myself trying to consciously book in time to read. Just tonight I scheduled some time to finally finish off a graphic novel I’d picked up a couple of months ago. I’d made it half way through, put it down then forgotten about it. That’s not a reflection on the book, though. I enjoyed it. The ending was a little rushed but it was good. No, the reason it was forgotten about is that I’ve been distracted from reading by reading. I just want to read too many things. Books, both non-fiction and fiction, essays and comics. Recently I’ve been reading fiction at work on lunch or coffee breaks and setting aside time for comics when I get home. It’s been working so far but I’ve also found another trick to getting more entertainment into my brain in the form of audio books. I’d never really bothered with them before but I recently listened to one or two and have found them to be a terrific way of passing the time when I’m doing household chores if I don’t have a podcast to listen to.

I’ve heard some people knock audio books for not being like “real books” but if you get the unabridged version and you pay attention to the story, provided it has a good narrator, than I don’t see the problem. If you’re going to argue that someone hasn’t fully appreciated a story because they’re having it read to them then I’ll be sure to pass on your opinion to the next blind person I meet. When you think about it humans began telling stories by speaking them out loud to one another before the invention of the written word. I’ve also found myself retaining things much better when listening vs reading and in a very strange way too. I’ll be passing by a place that I was once walking while listening to a podcast or book and I’ll remember the part of the show or the scene in the book that I was listening to at the time.

If you haven’t tried audio books then I highly recommend them. Ask about them when next at your local library.

Moved back to Tumblr

After running my blog from my Raspberry Pi using Ghost, I’ve decided to switch to Tumblr. I’ve done this for a couple of reasons:
1. Tumblr has way better mobile support for posting from mobile/tablet via the app
2. Upgrading Ghost is a pain in the ass!
3. I can get Tumblr to look and feel pretty much exactly like my Ghost blog which I loved the look of
Will I actually blog more? Doubtful, but I’m still tinkering every so often and this latest development has the blog in the forefront of my mind.

To Be

When I was about 10 or 11 I stumbled upon a short animation on TV one evening that had a huge impact on me. It was one of the first times I considered that stories, especially sci-fi stories could make people really think about a whole range of different ideas and that the science fiction was just a backdrop to presenting these ideas. I never saw that short movie ever again. Every few years when I thought back to it I’d run a Google search but come up dry. Just recently I found it! Here it is and I highly recommend watching if you have 10 minutes to spare.

Company Culture

I’m not sure who originally authored this but it’s pretty fantastic and so true:

Start with a cage containing five monkeys. Inside the cage, hang a banana on a string and place a set of stairs under it. Before long, a monkey will go to the stairs and start to climb towards the banana. As soon as he touches the stairs, spray all of the other monkeys with cold water. After a while, another monkey makes an attempt with the same result – all the other monkeys are sprayed with cold water. Pretty soon, when another monkey tries to climb the stairs, the other monkeys will try to prevent it.

Now, put away the cold water. Remove one monkey from the cage and replace it with a new one. The new monkey sees the banana and wants to climb the stairs. To his surprise and horror, all of the other monkeys attack him.
After another attempt and attack, he knows that if he tries to climb the stairs, he will be assaulted.

Next, remove another of the original five monkeys and replace it with a New one. The newcomer goes to the stairs and is attacked. The previous Newcomer takes part in the punishment with enthusiasm! Likewise, replace a third original monkey with a new one, then a fourth, then the fifth.
Every time the newest monkey takes to the stairs, he is attacked. Most Of the monkeys that are beating him have no idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs or why they are participating in the beating of the newest monkey.

After replacing all the original monkeys, none of the remaining monkeys Have ever been sprayed with cold water. Nevertheless, no monkey ever again approaches the stairs to try for the banana.

Why not? Because as far as they know, that’s the way it’s always been done around here. And that, my friends, is how a company culture begins.

CloudAtCost Review – How Not To Do Customer Service

The following is my review of CloudAtCost’s services and customer support, or lack thereof.

First things first. I rarely complain to any company and when I do I don’t usually make a big deal of it. However, when it comes to CloudAtCost I want to make sure that as many people as possible see this post and avoid these guys like the plague.

The story begins late 2013 when a friend informed me that a new hosting company was offering lifetime deals on cloud hosting your own VPS. To be honest that should have been my first warning right there. I went ahead and got one of the lower tier $12 a year servers. It seemed like a steal. A server with 512MB RAM, 1 CPU, 10GB SSD, 500GB Monthly Transfer, 10MBit Network. I promptly got one and setup a Minecraft Pocket Edition server. It all went extremely well. It went so well in fact that I decided I’d shell out $70 and get the lifetime deal on the next size up server – 2 Xeon vCPU, 1 public IP, 1GB ECC RAM, 20GB SSD, 100 Mbit Network, 1TB monthly transfer.

I had some WordPress sites I was maintaining for some friends so I installed ISPConfig and transfered the sites over from a free to host site I was hosting them on. The free host is Servers-Free and I highly recommend them if you’re looking for somewhere free and reliable to host a site. No command line access but as a website host they do the job and do it better than some paid services. Back to CloudAtCost, I had now setup a nifty little server, configured it the way I wanted and I was having fun trying out new things with it and playing with different services I wanted to test out. That’s when the problems started. A couple of weeks after I purchased the $70 server I awoke one morning to some emails from my uptime monitor informing me that my websites were down. After failing to connect via SSH on my home PC, I logged into the panel at CloudAtCost’s site and tried to get a console. No luck. I tried rebooting my server. No luck. I logged a support incident with CloudAtCost and waited…and waited…and waited. No confirmation, no response at all for the rest of the day, or the next. My server came up occasionally but not for long. It was at that point I transferred the sites back to Servers-Free server. About a week later I got a response back from CloudAtCost saying they were experiencing some difficulties and normal service would be resumed. Putting this down to teething issues with a new hosting company I plodded on. I moved my sites back and put it behind me. Unfortunately this kind of downtime became more common place in the weeks to follow. In the past when I’ve had an issue with a company I’ve run a quick search for @replies to that company on Twitter. A quick search for @cloudatcost revealed that I wasn’t the only one having these issues. What baffled me then and still baffles me to this day is CloudAtCost’s failure to acknowledge these issues and address them publically. It would only take someone there a few seconds to tweet out a message to customers. Upfront honesty about difficulties would be a lot better than what they have now – a sea of pissed off customers hurling abuse at them on a populer social network.

This is a company that, not only doesn’t respond to its customers, but the ‘Live Chat’ chat window serves only to inform the frustrated user of deals to be had from them. I’ve tried Live Chat twice now when there are ‘Agents Available’ and both times I get offers for deals and no word from a Support Rep. It’s like they are actually laughing at me while my server is down. My current downtime is almost 2 weeks now and CloudAtCost have done nothing to resolve the issue. I’ve logged 2 tickets and I also see them getting the shit beat out of them from angry customers on Twitter and Facebook. They can’t control the Twitter replies but they seem to have enough time on their hands to delete the Facebook comments. I’ve paid $82 for services that are, at this point, non-existant. I even called their parent company, Fibernetics recently and didn’t get much from the individual there. His advice? File a ticket. I told him I was sick of filing tickets that don’t get addressed. His only reply was that it’s a developer server and not production. You don’t get to take people’s money in return for shitty service just because you’re offering a developer server. My advice to anyone is not to buy any services from this company. I suspect they won’t be around much longer. From what I see online it appears I’m not alone in this opinion. CloudAtCost are a joke and I wouldn’t be surprised if the whole thing was just a money grab.