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In Search of the Perfect Headphones

I typically keep two pairs of headphones - Plantronics BackBeat Fit wireless headphones for workouts and trusty wired Bose QC20s for travel and conference calls. About four months before iPhone 7 was announced, the left earphone in my beloved Bose QC20i headphones quit working. I was quite sad - my Bose QuietComforts were amazing. We had done so much together including traveling literally hundreds of thousands of miles across multiple countries. I mourned the loss of great sound, superior comfort, and very good noise canceling technology. With the Bose out of commission I needed to replace my travel headphones, and stat!  This is an account of the journey to find the perfect headphones.

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Siri Called Me Desperate - Apple Announcement Sept 9

Apple just sent invites for a September 9 announcement - just under two weeks away. The announcement is expected to center around a new iPhone, likely called the iPhone 6s (and iPhone 6s Plus). Rumors are also circulating around a new Apple TV that would finally have an App Store. I'm crossing my fingers for that one.

The tagline on the invitation for this event is "Hey Siri, give us a Hint." so I decided to ask Siri for a hint.

Wi-Fi Networks: Frequency Fracas

The Problem to Be Solved: Horrendously slow Wi-Fi in a large apartment building.

The Cast of Characters:

  • Gigabit Wired LAN
  • 6th Gen Apple AirPort Extreme
  • 50 Mbps symmetric fiber connection (shout out to Ellum Net, the best ISP. EVER.)
  • Two MacBook Pros
  • iPad Air 2
  • iPhone 6+
  • Nest Thermostat
  • Belkin WeMo Switches
  • Two Apple TVs and Rokus
  • A Very Frustrated Nerd

The Backstory: I moved into a new building in March 2015. It was an awesome building. Over 100 years old. Ford Model T's were once built where I now sleep! I was able to ditch Time Warner Cable and go with an indie ISP. Life was good.

My household has always been streaming-only when it comes to TV; everything I watch comes in via Netflix, Hulu, etc. As I settled in for my first night in the new place after a day of moving and unpacking life went from awesome to abysmal - the streaming quality was terrible! My "Friends" we're nothing but big pixelated blocks. I didn't understand how this could be with my big fast internet connection. Being the honorable nerd that I am, I set out to figure out what was going on. I was using the AirPort Extreme setup with both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz networks both named Kennedy and a 2.4 GHz guest network named Clinton. Yes, I have a fascination with former Presidents.

The Process: Let the testing being! I first started with a good old fashioned speed test on iPhone 6+ using the Ookla speedtest app. Enter the problem: I was shocked when I saw I was getting only around 2 Mbps. I was certain my internet connection was better than that! When I wired up one of the MacBook Pros directy to the AirPort Extreme, I got around 90 Mbps both directions. Something wasn't right! Tested the MacBook on Wi-Fi and got the same 90 Mbps result.

After using "the Googles", my working theory was that because I live in a densely packed area of town in a large loft building the Wi-Fi frequencies were overloaded. Now, how to test this theory? Was it possible to test? Remembering back to wireless frequencies and that lower frequencies penetrate walls better, I wanted to split my 5 GHz network from my 2.4 GHz network and test them separately. Would the 5 GHz band be less crowded and stay "inside" my loft?

The Solution: Once I seprated Kennedy on the 2.4 GHz frequency and Johnson on the 5 GHz frequency (see what I did there? VP) I tested iPhone, iPad, and Mac on both bands. Sure enough, around 2 Mbps on 2.4 GHz and 50+ Mbps on 5 GHz. 

One Last Burning Question: The only question left was why did the iOS devices not prefer the 5 GHz network over the 2.4 GHz network when they were identically named? Without an Apple Engineer, I can only speculate, but it appears that they prefer networks based only on signal strength. This is my working assumption as most places in my loft the Wi-Fi "seashell" signal indicator shows only 2 of the 3 bars on Johnson (5 GHz) while showing full strength on Kennedy (2.4 GHz). All devices that support 5 GHz are now configured to only connect to Johnson, and I use Kennedy for devices that require 2.4 GHz - Nest, Wemos, etc. Problem solved - speed is king!

 

Apple Wish List: Retina Thunderbolt Display

After spending almost a month on the road using only the retina screen on my MacBook Pro, I was in for a harsh reality check when I connected my Thunderbolt Display earlier this week. I immediately noticed that text wasn't as crisp as on the portable. I normally run my MacBook Pro's screen at a resolution that Apple calls "More Space", giving me the maximum amount of screen real estate on my Mac. I didn't think I would much notice the higher pixel density when running in this resolution, but I couldn't have been more wrong. DPI is king, and makes all difference! The MacBook Pro comes in at 220 dpi (dots per inch) while the Thunderbolt display only has only 109 dpi. For comparison purposes the iPhone 4/5/6 all have screens with 326 dpi.

I second many in their wish for Apple to produce a HiDPI external display like the Thunderbolt Monitor. I suspect we haven't seen these yet due to many problems including bandwidth on existing hardware, graphics performance in portables, and screen costs. Will 2015 be the year?