Philips Hue – Motion Sensor


Old-style motion sensors have been around for decades, and they work very well. I have a few in my house, either built into a light switch or in a ceiling socket connected to a bare light bulb in our utility room.

The best use for an old-style motion sensor is in a room that is used periodically – like a hallway, closet, garage, etc. Places where someone enters temporarily, performs some activity, and then departs. Old-style motion sensors aren’t ideal for rooms like bedrooms, where people may not move enough for the sensor to read their motion. When that happens, the sensor assumes no one is in the room and turns off the light. Likewise a bedroom sensor may sense movement during sleep and turn on a light that should have been left off.

Philips has a motion sensor that is smarter than the old-style sensors, and solves some of these problems.

First, you can set it to operate differently depending on the time of day. For example, you can set it to do nothing if it senses movement after 9pm. That way, it won’t turn on the light if someone moves while they are sleeping.

Second, it’s easy to place the sensor anywhere in the room, because it’s battery operated. It doesn’t have to be located inside a light fixture or switch. It can be placed conveniently to capture motion, and avoid shutting off the light inadvertently.

Third, it’s connected to the Philips Hue system, which means it controls any lights that are also part of the system, even if those lights aren’t in the same room as the sensor. For example, entering a hall that leads to the kitchen can trigger the sensor, which turns on both the hall light and the kitchen lights. Or, entering a hall that leads to your bedroom can trigger the sensor, which shut off all lights in your house, except the bedroom.

Fourth, most sensors let you choose a time delay. For example, a sensor may wait 1 minute or 5 minutes or 30 minutes before it shuts off lights. If it senses motion during the delay, it sets the delay clock back to zero. But setting the delay is often a chore, and the process is hard to remember if it’s not done frequently. The Philips Hue sensor has more delay choices than an old-style motion sensor, and you choose them via an app, which couldn’t be simpler.

I put a Philips Hue Motion Sensor in my den. It is positioned to read movements in my favorite spot, and it does not read movement if someone is merely passing behind the den. I set the delay to 10 minutes, so if I leave the room the lights turn off 10 minutes later. If I am sitting still for 10 minutes, it dims the light before turning it off, so I simply move my arm and the lights will snap back to full brightness.

Having to move just to satisfy the motion sensor is a bit of a pain. It would be better if it knew I was in the room even when it didn’t sense my motion, by proximity or signal from my phone. But it’s not too bad the way it is, and I like having it.

The only improvement I would suggest, is to have the sensor controlled by Alexa. There are times when I want the den lights to be off while I watch a movie. But if I turn off the lights and move, the Motion Sensor will register movement and turn them back on. I need to manually shut off the Motion Sensor via the app. It would be nice if I could turn the Motion Sensor on/off via Alexa. Unfortunately Philips does not appear to be interested in connecting the Motion Sensor to Alexa for the time being.

All in all, I’d consider the old-style sensors to be superior for most use cases, unless your home is substantially connected via the Philips Hue system. But my den only has Hue lights, and I am very happy with the Philips Hue Motion Sensor overall.


Instant Pot – Chicken Soup

Chicken soup from a can – who knows what that is. It’s slimy, and yellow and salty. Tastes nothing like chicken. Pretty much the same issue with restaurant soup, since most of them use canned soup or canned chicken broth.

Making it yourself is time-consuming, but the Instant Pot helps with that. Not only does it cut the time, but there is no need to baby-sit the pot. You don’t need to worry if the soup is boiling too hard or too slowly, or whether the pot will boil over.

Chicken soup is basically Water, Vegetables and Chicken. The vegetables add a lot of flavor, and you can choose whichever you prefer. This is the version I grew up with.


  1. A 5 lb. chicken, preferably cut up but it’s OK to use a whole one. Remove extraneous fat and the plastic giblets bag.
  2. 1 rib of celery, including celery leaves if fresh. Cut into 1 inch chunks
  3. 1 medium carrot, peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks
  4. 1 medium onion, peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks
  5. 1 medium parsnip, peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks
  6. 1 small turnip, peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks
  7. 1/2 handful of fresh parsley, stems and leaves
  8. Sprinkle of salt
  9. 5 peppercorns
  10. 8 cups of water

If using the Instant Pot, put all ingredients in the pot (6 liter or larger). Close the lid. Turn the valve to “sealing”. Press the Manual button and set the time to 60 minutes.

If you are not using an Instant Pot, put all the ingredients in a stock pot. Cover. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for 3 hours.

When the time is up, remove the chicken and place in a separate bowl. Strain the liquid and discard the vegetables. If you have a fat separator, use it to remove fat from the liquid and pour the de-fatted soup back into the pot. If you don’t have a separator just pour the strained soup back into the pot.

With the pot uncovered set the Instant Pot to Saute (or turn on a medium-low flame under the stove pot) and simmer for 15 minutes to evaporate some of the water. Taste. Add salt if needed. Continue to simmer if the soup needs more flavor.

If the soup is placed in a fridge over-night any remaining fat will rise to the surface and it will be easy to skim off the next day.

The soup is great with matzo balls or egg noodles. Shred the reserved chicken and add it to the soup as well. Reserved chicken can also be made into chicken salad (although most of its flavor has been given up to the soup).

Coffee – French Press & Aeropress

I decided to spend more money on my coffee addiction and bought an electric grinder – the Baratza Virtuoso. It works very well, and I don’t need to use a drill to automate my hand grinder any more. I tried using pre-ground coffee, but the coffee gurus are right – fresh ground coffee tastes better.

Right now we are using Starbucks Espresso beans from the supermarket. A 12oz. bag is often on sale for $6. At approximately 18gm per cup, a 12oz. bag provides 18 cups of coffee, or $.33 per cup. That’s less than 1/3 the cost of a cup of Nespresso coffee.

The grinder cost $250, so it will take 324 cups of coffee to recover the cost of the grinder, vs. drinking Nespresso.

Right now I make coffee 3 ways: French Press, Aeropress and Nespresso (but only when I am too lazy to make it the other 2 ways). The French Press makes enough for 2, so I share it with my wife. When I am just making coffee for myself I make Aeropress.

Drinking French Press for any length of time changes your appreciation for the texture of coffee. There are more solids in FP coffee, so the brew has more body. It not only tastes rich, it feels satisfying. I don’t think I could drink cup after cup of FP, the way I do with diner coffee. One cup of FP at a time is enough.

Once you are accustomed to FP coffee, regular drip coffee feels thin and watery even if the coffee doesn’t taste weak. Aeropress is definitely thinner than FP, but not as thin as drip coffee.

To some extent, this quest for the perfect cup of coffee seems like I am chasing a mirage. But the coffee I make now is definitely better and more consistent than a couple of years ago. One day, maybe 20 years from now when I am wrinkled and deep into my golden years, I’ll finally get there. I’ll learn how to make coffee that is perfectly balanced with no bitterness or acidity, and taste as good as it smells. Or maybe I’ll never get there.

In any event, there are worse addictions I can think of.

Big Lebowski

The movie is 20 years old so it’s generating some journalistic traffic, some of which questions why it received only mixed reviews at its release. I can’t understand it either.

I first saw the movie about 10 years ago, after friends recommended it. I got the disc, and watched it tabula rasa. All I knew was that Jeff Bridges was in it, wearing a sweater.

The first scene involves Sam Elliot’s voice narration over film of a tumbling tumbleweed. I checked to see if I had the right movie. Then there’s a scene of Jeff Bridges (in a sweater) buying milk. I was close to turning it off, but the next scene hooked me, and the credits rolled by afterward, revealing this was a Coen Bros. movie.

I watched the rest of the movie in state of glee. My face hurt when it was over because I was either laughing or smiling, without realizing it for the entire film. The point where the Dude has the Busby Berkley dream sequence – I was beside myself with joy. It’s still one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen.

I don’t know if I can recommend this movie or not. I loved it. I’ve easily watched it 15 times. But it’s perfect for me. It might be too surreal for others.

Just wanted to mention a couple of trivia items:

  1. There is an iconic scene near the end after Donny dies. The Dude and Walter get a coffee can for his ashes, and spread them over the Pacific ocean. But the wind blows the ashes back all over them. That happened in real life! Mel Brooks told the story years before the Big Lebowski, where nearly the exact event happened to his friend Howie Morris. The only differences were that the ashes were Morris’ father’s, and he tried/failed to spread them over the Hudson River. The ashes blew back over Morris’s suit. Morris said his father’s last resting place was a dry cleaners.
  2. The most famous line in the movie is the Dude’s phrase: “The Dude Abides”. The Dude has a form of delayed Echolalia – he repeats phrases he’s heard but in different contexts. I think “The Dude Abides” is his repetition of a line earlier in the movie, spoken by the Big Lebowski: “As God is my witness, I will not abide another toe!” How many scripts use the word “abide” twice? It must have been a call back. Other call back phrases: “This aggression will not stand”, “In the parlance of our times”.

Marcella Hazan’s Pasta e Fagioli

Marcella Hazan was the Julia Child of Italian cooking. We bought her Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking cookbook years ago, and several of the recipes have become family staples. Her recipes are clear, easy to follow, and her writing has a “voice of authority”. She knew what she was talking about.

I’ve made her Pasta e Fagioli more often than any other recipe. Probably 150 times over the years. I know the recipe so well I never consult the original book anymore.

Below is my version of the recipe, and indicated the brands I use. The original version is here.

This recipe is the most effort I put into anything I cook. You have to be close to the pot for the entire time because it needs frequent stirring. It’s not hard to make, and the result is certainly worth the effort. Put some nice music on, and prepare to be in the kitchen for about an hour.

8 servings.
Goya Pink Beans – 2 15.5 oz cans, rinsed well and drained
Ronzoni Ditalini – 8 oz
Muir Glen Organic diced tomatoes – 1 cup with juice
College Inn beef broth – a 14.5 oz can, or 1 3/4 cups
Water – 2 1/4 cups
Diced onions – two to three tablespoons
Diced carrots – three to four tablespoons
Diced celery – three to four tablespoons
Pork spare ribs – 2 medium ribs
Olive oil – 1/4 cup
Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Add the olive oil and diced onions to a soup pot. Simmer on medium/low heat for 10 – 15 minutes, stir occasionally, until the onions become amber.
  2. Add the carrots and celery, stir well.
  3. Push the vegetables away from the edge of the pot and place the ribs directly on the pot bottom. Rotate the ribs to sear all 4 sides, 2 1/2 minutes each side. Stir the vegetables occasionally. Keep the heat low to medium or the vegetables will burn.
  4. Add the tomatoes and their juice. Stir well. Adjust the heat low enough that the mixture barely simmers for 20 minutes. Stir occasionally.
  5. Add the rinsed beans. Raise heat to low/medium. Simmer for 5 minutes. Stir occasionally.
  6. Add the broth and water. Add salt to taste and a few grindings of pepper. Stir well. Raise heat to high, cover the pot, and bring to a boil.
  7. Turn off heat. If you have an immersion blender, move the ribs to a plate temporarily and blend the pot contents until the broth is velvety but there are still intact beans left. If you don’t have an immersion blender take half the beans and vegetables plus some liquid and puree them in a standard blender, then return it all to the pot and stir.
  8. Return the ribs to the pot. Bring the soup back to a boil. Add the Ditalini and stir. Cover the pot and reduce the heat to a slow boil.
  9. Stir frequently to keep the pasta from sticking to the bottom of the pot.
  10. When the pasta is par cooked (it loses that raw look and starts to swell up), turn off the heat and leave the pot covered for another 20 minutes or so, until all the liquid has been absorbed by the pasta. The “soup” will look like condensed soup or porridge.

Once it’s done, remove the ribs. They are really good for a snack.

If you are eating the soup immediately, add more water to the pot until you get the consistency you prefer. If you are making it to serve later, do not add additional water. Store it in the fridge and portion it out into bowls when ready to eat. Add enough water to each bowl to thin the soup to the desired consistency, then microwave the bowls of soup until very warm. The pasta will be very delicate, and re-heating in a pot on the stove may be too harsh to preserve the cooked ditalini. Microwaving is more gentle.

The soup is best if served very warm, rather than piping hot. Goes great with some crusty bread and a salad.

BTW I thought Pasta e Fagioli was pronounced “Pasta Fazool”, but Italians pronounce it “Pasta-ey Fajol-ey”.



Amazon Fire TV Stick vs. Apple TV

I’ve owned an Apple TV 4 for 2 years, and just bought an Amazon Fire TV Stick to control TV content with Alexa. The ATV cost $150 and the AFTS cost $40. They both do essentially the same thing. So why is there a big price difference?

The ATV is just nicer. The remote feels like a quality piece of equipment, and has a touch pad to make moving around the interface smooth and intuitive. The remote has volume keys. The interface is attractive, is easy to use and understand.

The ATV permits limited voice control via a subset of Siri. Primarily voice is used for search and opening apps. The ATV does not work with Alexa at all.

The AFTS is clumsy in comparison. The home screen is a mess of different options and bars of icons. There are essentially two home screens – when you press Home you get a screen with a jumble of viewing choices. It looks like the Netflix home screen, but a little messier.

If you long-press Home you get a shortcut screen, and from there you can select an icon that shows a screen containing only your installed apps, which is equivalent to the ATV home screen.

The remote has no volume buttons, so you’ll need at least 2 remotes to operate your TV. The remote feels cheap, but works fine. It’s neither comfortable or uncomfortable, but is less likely to get lost than the ATV remote, which is very thin and can slide easily behind couch cushions.

The configuration of the AFTS remote buttons make it simple to know that you are holding it correctly, even in the dark. It’s easier to make a mistake with the ATV remote and push wrong buttons by accidentally holding it upside down.

The AFTS plugs directly into one of your hdmi ports, and will be invisible behind the TV or the receiver. The ATV is a box that sits on its own and is noticeable.

The AFTS uses Alexa voice control, via a button press on the remote or simply by talking to an Echo in the room. Alexa can open apps, and programs within apps too. But opening a program won’t take you to the last episode you watched; you choose your episode via the remote. You can use Alexa to search for content as well.

If you use the Echo instead of the remote, Alexa can get confused. For example, if I tell the Echo to Open Pandora, it will start to play music over the Echo’s speaker. It won’t open Pandora on the AFTS unless I use Alexa via the AFTS remote. But if I tell the Echo to Open HBO Go it will start up the AFTS.

I haven’t compared every app available on the devices, but all the major apps are available to both of them: HBO Go, Starz, Showtime, Amazon Prime Video, Pandora, CBS, NBC, ESPN, ABC, etc.

Some differences: Apple Music is only on the ATV. Spotify and Amazon Music are only on the AFTS. Since Pandora is available on both devices, I swapped between them and to my ears the ATV sounds better. The ATV probably has better sound hardware.

The YouTube app on the AFTS needs a browser to work. Whenever you select the YouTube app icon, you must select a browser or the app won’t load. The YouTube app on the ATV works without a browser.

So overall is the ATV worth the extra $110? Given how long this product should last (5 years at least), I’d say YES unless you are a Spotify or Amazon Music subscriber.

I bought the AFTS to integrate Alexa with my TV watching, but it doesn’t work well enough yet to make much of a difference. I’m thinking of returning it.


Apple HomePod vs. the world


Apple released its new $349 connected speaker. People have judged its sound to be superior to just about everything, by audiophiles and speaker-nerds alike. (notes: I didn’t realize there was a thing called speaker-nerds. Also, the audiophile who tested the HomePod, and concluded it was better than speakers 3x the price, backtracked on his conclusions after his data was shot down by more sophisticated audiophiles)

Some of the tech reviewers drew their conclusions from a sound test set up by Apple, in which … their speaker sounded best.

But I was surprised to find out that no one set up a blind sound test until David Pogue of Yahoo! . As Jon Gruber pointed out, Pogue used a curtain to hide the speakers, which might have affected the results. Perhaps Pogue could have had the judges turn around so they couldn’t see the speakers.

In any event, the 5 judges picked the Sonos One and the Google Home Max. No one picked the HomePod as the best speaker in a test consisting of 4 different types of music. The judges were three young people and two middle-aged people. All the young people preferred the Sonos One, the middle-aged people chose the Google Home Max.

I don’t know how statistically significant the results were, but it certainly sounds like there is something to the fact that no one in Pogue’s panel picked Apple’s speaker in a blind test, while all the reviewers I’ve read (in non-blind testing) picked the HomePod.

Given that the HomePod is limited to Apple’s eco system and Sonos is not, and given that regardless of who does the testing Sonos’ sound impresses, and given that right now you can get 2 Sonos Ones for the price of 1 HomePod, it’s hard to see why someone would choose the HomePod based on sound quality and value.

But if you want Siri in your speaker, then HomePod is your only choice.