From Santa to Satan: A Holiday Smart Tech Nightmare
If Santa brings any smart tech this year, I’ll destroy it. It’s not an empty threat. Let me tell you why…
Welcome to Hell! Or is it Christmas?!
Oh, I get it you wascally wascal… It wasn’t Santa, it was Satan all along!
Well, who cares when we have to deal with technology over-promising well above their capability to deliver, making you want to go all coked-up Mexican viking drug lord on the poor plastic thingamajigs.
Join me when I review, compare, and otherwise reflect on some of my own experiences. It’s a rant, for sure, but come along to hear about some really shitty tech and some things that just aren’t worth it.
Don’t buy these things for Christmas
☕️ Coffee machines: Jura ENA8 vs Moccamaster of virtually any variant
I’ve been millimeters from committing unwitting manslaughter by throwing the bastard Jura demon out the 15th floor window.
While not “smart” in the strict sense of the word, it’s got enough of the bells and whistles expected of a fully automatic coffee machine. At over €1000, it’s hardly the luxury segment, but it’s not a cheap one either. And the Jura name carries a sheen of quality.
Well, about that… The first machine we got didn’t even work, instead leaking water all over the place. It’s a heavy beast to drag around if you don’t have a car, which hardly made this relationship start on a good note, having to cart it around to the big box store on the other end of town multiple times. And now after a couple of years of usage, it’s acting up quite a bit again. Water won’t draw from the tank; coffee will start to run on the inside of it; beans won’t grind... All of these things are seemingly mechanical faults, to be honest, but the overall experience is just sheer pain. Oh, and now the machine has started grinding about 30% less than before, for no apparent reason.
One of the single biggest immediate pains was—and I must have half-yelled “OH MY F***ING LORD” when I ordered it—that I bought the version with a touchscreen, not the version with physical buttons. What a dumb, dumb choice 🤦. The touchscreen will miss your presses more often than not—it’s just not very good at all. So suck it up and deal with less (or more) and weaker coffee than you actually want.
The worst part? You can buy an additional Smart Connect thingamabob too, if you desire ratcheting up the pain even more. Oh, dear Lord.
While I don’t particularly like that the Moccamaster glass jugs will break as easily as they do, at least I can walk down to the store 10 minutes away and get a new one for cheap. A Moccamaster is a dumb machine with dumb, simple, replacable parts, which also makes excellent coffee. That’s a good thing and what I have since “downgraded” back to. I think the coffee is a lot better as well.
The Jura will have to go. No one deserves it.
Verdict, Jura ENA8: 💩💩💩💩💩
🧹 Vacuum cleaners: Roomba vs Electrolux Pure D8.2 Silence Green
Oh, dear old mid-range Roomba, you were a stupid one, weren’t you? The runt of the litter, as it were. I still remember the days in which Roomba (the company) wouldn’t want AI in their machines (maybe a good, maybe a bad decision). That left their utterly dumb machines spending all their precious battery-long lives making a “perfect” (durrh) attempt in a very limited space. This was one of the first bigger investments we made in our smart home experiment. Granted, it did start and stop on command and would mostly return unscathed to its home/nest/charger/command center, but it was also an incomprehensibly poor vacuum cleaner. It did a spin but bombed actually getting the apartment meaningfully clean.
The killer app is that I can change my mindset to asking a robot to perform labor for me. It’s fantastic! But it doesn’t work if it’s dead stupid and lacks actual performance to clean well enough. I wish it actually worked; alas, that is for the future…
What to do? The option is to get a tool that requires manual labor but is as good as possible at it to minimize spent laboring.
Electric cars? Generative AI? Lab-grown meat? That don’t impress me much. Let me tell you what does impress me: This (literal) sucker, the Electrolux Pure D8.2 Silence Green.
- Most of its plastics are recycled
- It’s so quiet I can actually have a normal-volume conversation without yelling “WHAT’S THAT AGAIN, DEAR?”
- No need to fiddle with the settings, as the “smart” mode has you covered, even if you go from vacuuming a carpet to a hardwood floor
- The actual handle is well thought-out so you no longer have to Google for “carpal tunnel syndrome”
- It has the carrying handle on top, which makes more sense than on the other axis (as done on my older Electrolux machine)
In short: You don’t need to race to the grandest, sexiest, most hyped areas to make a difference as an engineer (or software engineer). You just have to do smart, customer-empathic work, and stop skimping on the goddamn quality.
Do your f***ing job right, and dumb people like me will thank you every time we vacuum the apartment or whatever other chore you make me enjoy now.
Buy the Electrolux.
Verdict, random mid-range Roomba: 💩💩💩
🤖 Smart assistants: Google Nest/Home Mini & Hub contrasted with Google Wifi
I’ve had several Home Minis and a Nest Hub (screen). The use case has been playing music, listening to news and weather forecasts, and dealing with connected Philips Hue lights. At multiple times have I been so enraged with the Mini’s ability to listen and respond correctly (if at all) that I’ve instinctively violently unplugged the damn things and sent it flying.
We’ve kept the Nest Hub screen and sold the Mini’s, since we want to give it a last shot. It’s mostly damage control, really. The connected lights stay as they’ve worked flawlessly through the years and can be controlled via the app (which I hate doing, but at least it works) and do turn on and off on the physical light switch. And because we already have the LED lights, there’s no reason to change to something else, really.
While not comparable, nor even in the same product category, I pretty much love the Google Wifi router we got some years ago. So much so we just upgraded to the newer WiFi Pro version. It just works right away—though requiring the Google Home app. Neat features like warning if unauthorized connections are attempted and a practical, slim feature set make this an absolute keeper.
If you get “smart home” thingies, ensure they work with physical conditions too in case you rage a lot or there is a Wifi outage or some such disastrous events.
Verdict, Google Home: 😡😡😡😡
⌚️ Timepieces: Apple Watch vs Tid Watches
After Christmas 2022 I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism which immediately explained the extreme tiredness, increase of migraines, and anxiety I’d developed (or “upgraded”) during the last few years. My values were absolutely spiking and getting medication was a godsend. In my own treatment, beyond the clinical one, I was looking to a couple of important lifestyle changes as recommended by many whom suffer from the condition. One of these is—tada, unsurprising—to do regular exercise. It’d been 5 years or so since I exercised regularly, but I figured walking would be a start (and it’s something I do a lot). So during the spring I got an Apple Watch, replacing my trusty, nice-looking Swedish-designed classic-looking wristwatch with the California wrist-mini computer.
I’ve always been eager to test it, but also been suspicious to its actual impact. After ~6 months with it, the number one accomplishment of the Apple Watch has been to harass me to expend my allotted calories and do the training minutes. That’s good, since that’s what I wanted it to do! But it’s been a spectacularly uninteresting product for all other needs. You’ll find thousands of reviews on the web, but my review is that it really doesn’t add anything meaningful to the lifestyle I want to live. To have the watch notify about all Slack messages and its ilk is not something I feel is a positive thing. Even with such things off, there is no meaningful addition to my life. It’s no “iPhone moment”.
I don’t hate it, but it doesn’t do anything for me. As much as I love “less is more”, this thing is literally nearly useless in my life. It’s “less” in precisely the wrong way.
I’ve re-transitioned back to my classic wristwatch. That one I can at least remove when I don’t need it, not like the Californian surveillance shackle.
Verdict, Apple Watch series 8: 🤷🤷🤷🤷🤷
📺 Televisions: Smart TV vs anything else
Oh, the magnificent invasion-of-privacy-shitshow that is a modern smart TV.
I still remember with horror the Samsung flatscreen we got in 2013 or so which even had a goddamn camera that could pop out from up top of it. It would ostensibly allow gesture controls, but trust me, I would have taped that sucker down if it weren’t for the fact that it actually had controls for deactivated all that stuff.
Software updates when you want 15 minutes of peace and calm? Check. Laggy menus and weird bugs? Check. Confusing mess of multiple realities colliding when connecting (for example) Netflix via Apple TV on top of the pre-installed Netflix? Check.
We recently upgraded our oldest OLED (~5 years old) that was on its last legs. Unsurprisingly, just getting the new TV going involved reading multiple long end-user license agreements, toggling through privacy-invasive settings, being offered an LG account to log-in to the f***ing TV and even more such depravity. Oh, dear, what a disaster.
I wish there were good options for those of us who love a good OLED flatscreen but want it stupid, like the old TVs were. There’s of course the projector option, but the remaining realistic option is to try to optimize as well as possible, even if that will never go all the way in making a modern TV a painless, nice experience.
Verdict, Smart TV: 🤦🤦🤦
🔊 Stereos: Cambridge Audio Evo 150 vs Hegel H90
”You’ll be listening in no time”. Sorry, not true. With respect to the fact that many of us work within technology, let’s be clear that adding firmware updates, apps, network-only ability to reach trivial functionality — no, none of that necessarily makes the user experience better or faster or easier. Again: Sometimes “more tech” is the problem, not the solution. See below a ”dumb” Hegel H90 I am replacing with a ”smart” Cambridge Audio Evo 150: Fantastic equipment both, but I fear the day I brick the Evo while the Hegel will survive nuclear holocaust as long as there is electricity in the outlet.
PS: The Hegel takes about a minute to set up, while the Evo took an hour with everything considered.
With it working, it’s excellent, no doubt about that. It’s beautiful and sounds amazing.
But, you want a negative example! OK: After changing the router and the password, the unit would of course barely work and was seemingly stuck in some weird mode in which it was highly unclear how to make it connect correctly to the network using the right password. While I figured it out, it was a matter of a couple of stressful minutes in which I made it very clear (and loud) in my household that I thought this was a mistake getting.
In this case, the unit is so expensive—and well-sounding—that I’m not going to make any changes now. There’s a whole lot to like about it, and truth be told, it’s not close enough to deprecation for it to be an issue.
Just think twice before buying tech of this type, which have few real reasons to be connected. At least it needs to reliably work when Spotify, Tidal, and current technical standards are long since forgotten.
Verdict, Cambridge Audio Evo 150: 🤔🤔
Motor vehicles: Modern car vs just about any motorcycle
I don’t drive cars. I don’t even have a license for them. All of which might sound funny, given I’ve worked for years for car companies. It is funny, at least a little. But I do ride motorcycles, even if that was some years back (after it got stolen I haven’t gotten a new one).
The problem: The more these cars get connected, the more there is a very real risk you’ll face serious issues based on software. For example, every time we hear stories about the digital keys not working on a given car, that’s a horror story, and this happens to several companies and their cars. And it doesn’t stop there…
Don’t get me wrong: I have a very realistic view of all the good things that come with a connected car; I even actually look forward full self-driving vehicles. I’m not giving up that fantasy! What I fear, however, is that you can never divorce the “product” (the connected car) from the corporation building it, its sense of quality, and the engineering standards that permeate the result. And right now, car companies are struggling to do software, that’s just the very real case.
Here’s Ford’s CEO spilling the beans on some of these struggles which should be enough reality for your entire week:
Or look at Volkswagen if you are so inclined:
Volkswagen is struggling to fix the buggy software in its ID family of electric vehicles. The problems are giving…www.theverge.com
For the pure pleasure of riding, nothing beats a bike. It happens to be mostly pretty stupid as well… stupid fun, literally. And a lot cheaper!
I love KTM motorcycles, despite their reputational acronym “Keep Taking Money” 😅. When I bought my second bike the salesman in the shop said he had the world’s easiest job. He doesn’t need advertising or anything of the sort. He just lends out the keys for half an hour and that transforms magically into a sale. “Sold”.
Try it and you’ll see what he means.
Verdict, modern car: 😂😂😂
Looking forward to a real dumb Christmas
Could it get any worse? Aye, indeed it can.
Before closing, let me give you some extra reading if you enjoyed this article.
Cory Doctorow seems to have read my mind and wrote the following just while I was drafting the article you are reading presently:
Firms undisciplined by competition, regulation, or self-help measures.doctorow.medium.com
And for more facts and historical examples of “smart” things failing, see:
CES2017 has been all about the connected device - but here are five internet of things gadgets that the world really…www.wired.co.uk
And that’s it. My thoughts on smart tech which just isn’t!
Keep that Christmas shopping list clean. Clean from “smart” tech, that is!