Current state of Sonos One vs. Play 1

This will likely be the last time I post on Sonos. I don’t think there is much interest in these posts.

There have been a few key improvements in the Sonos/Alexa relationship lately:

  1. Amazon and Apple added Apple Music to the music services that support Sonos via Alexa. In other words, you can ask Alexa to play music from Apple Music over your Sonos speakers. Other music services that also support Alexa and Sonos: Amazon Unlimited, Spotify, Pandora, Tune-in, etc.
  2. Amazon no longer requires that you speak the name of the speaker to direct sound to Sonos. Now, if the Echo device and the Sonos speaker are both in the same Alexa “Group”, you simply say “Alexa play Rolling Stones music” and it will start playing from the Sonos speaker grouped with whichever Echo you spoke to.

These two improvements essentially satisfied my complaints. Sonos has been generous in that they supported the old Play 1 speakers with the updates. But by doing so they’ve made the Play 1 a better choice than the new Sonos One with Alexa built-in.

If you purchase a Play 1 and an Echo Dot, the combined cost will be $180, which is $20 less than the current version of the Sonos One. The sound quality is virtually identical. The only negative about buying a Play 1 and Dot is you will have 2 devices rather than one. But the positives are numerous – the Sonos One contains a crippled version of Alexa and is missing many of Alexa’s features (which Amazon reserves only for its own devices). By getting a Play 1 and a Dot you have access to 100% of Alexa’s features. When Amazon updates its Echo hardware you simply swap the old Dot for a new one. On the other hand, hardware inside the Sonos One cannot be updated.

Assuming someone reads this post my advice is: Skip the Sonos One. Get a Play 1 and an Echo Dot, but place them separately in your room. The Echo is often unable to hear commands if placed right next to a loud speaker.

 

Advertisements

Perfect Brisket in an Instant Pot

I made a recipe from Chef John in the Instant Pot. The link to his recipe is below.

It’s very simple. Just saute some onions in butter or olive oil, add apple juice and some herbs and reduce. Chef John used fresh rosemary but I substituted 1/2 teaspoon of dry thyme. I placed the brisket on the tray in the Instant Pot, poured the onions and apple juice over it, added 1 cup of water, and pressure cooked it on high for 90 minutes. I let the pressure reduce naturally.

Chef John used a complicated cooking method that required nearly 4 hours and two different cooking temperatures. But there isn’t any need for all that if you use the Instant Pot.

The brisket cooked perfectly. I removed it from the instant pot and placed it on a plate covered in foil to rest. The finished dish doesn’t taste of apple juice. I guess the juice just adds sweetness.

To make the gravy: Remove the tray from the Instant Pot and turn on the Saute mode. You can also remove the liquid to a wider pan and saute on the stove, which will be quicker. Reduce the liquid and onions to get rid of the extra water you added and thicken the juices into a gravy. Then blend the gravy with an immersion blender, or use as is.

We made the brisket with mashed Yukon Gold potatoes, and covered both the brisket and the potatoes with the gravy.

Absolutely fantastic.

https://foodwishes.blogspot.com/2019/04/easy-baked-beef-brisket-slow-and-low-is.html

Artificial Intelligence vs. the work force

1. Amazon distribution workers can be fired by a computer:

https://www.theverge.com/2019/4/25/18516004/amazon-warehouse-fulfillment-centers-productivity-firing-terminations

“Amazon’s system tracks the rates of each individual associate’s productivity,” according to the letter, “and automatically generates any warnings or terminations regarding quality or productivity without input from supervisors.” (Amazon says supervisors are able to override the process.)

In other words, Amazon has assigned HR to artificial intelligence with respect to performance warnings and terminations.

2. Home Depot has gone entirely self-checkout at the store in my neighborhood.

A couple of lanes are manned by people but they are labeled “Pro”, which I assume means they are for contractors. For everyone else you walk up to a big new screen and use a scanning gun or table scanner just like someone who used to get paid for checking you out. I’m now an unpaid Home Depot worker.

Why is there salt on Margaritas?

I always order it without salt. Otherwise it makes the Margarita taste … salty. I don’t know why I’m supposed to want that.

I’ve read that salt offsets the bitterness of the triple sec or Cointreau. Also that it cuts the alcohol taste of the tequila. But 1) I use good tequila and 2) I don’t taste bitterness from the triple sec. If it’s made right with decent ingredients, a Margarita is balanced – sweet, tart and diluted enough not to be cloying. I never felt the need to make it taste salty, and when I’ve tried it with salt I never understood why I’d want it that way.

It’s the most popular cocktail in America and most people get it with salt on the rim, so I must be unable to taste whatever they are tasting.

It’s interesting that the Paloma is the most popular cocktail in Mexico, not the Margarita. Possibly because it’s so easy to make: tequila + grapefruit soda. I’m going to try a fancier version (that’s supposed to have a salted rim, but I am omitting it). It uses fresh grapefruit, orange and lime juices + sugar + seltzer.

I’ll post the full recipe when I make it.

Ego 21″ self propelled cordless electric lawn mower

ego-self-propelled-lawn-mowers-lm2102sp-64_1000

My old Toro gas mower needs service again. Last season we had a very rainy spring and summer. I can’t remember ever mowing anything but wet tall grass the whole season. The Toro did a lousy job of it, and needs work before I can use it this year. Probably a new blade, drive belt and carburetor at least.

I paid about $350 for the Toro, which ran fine for the first 6 months and then started to need care and maintenance.  I did the maintenance myself because bringing it to a service center is just not possible with our cars, and the center charges close to $100 no matter what is done.

At first I decided to hire a lawn mowing service this year instead. But where I live it’s nearly impossible to get people to do anything. I called 4 services – 2 just said no. 2 said they’d check out my property and let me know. I never heard from them again.

I got fed up and decided to get a new mower. This time I bought an electric mower from Ego (model LM2102SP), which is very highly rated. It’s more than I’ve spent on lawn mowers in the past ($500) but a lot cheaper than one year of mowing service.

Positives:

  1. No more gas can. I never have to drive to the gas station with a smelly gas can to fill the mower again. No more gas fumes in the garage.
  2. No more oil, air filter or spark plugs. I never have to replace or dispose of used oil, wash air filters or replace plugs again.
  3. Storage. The Ego folds up and stores upright. Takes up 1/3 the space of a gas mower in my garage.
  4. Cleaning. Upright storage makes it easy to wipe off the bottom of the deck with a rag. Ego doesn’t recommend hosing it off.
  5. Start. The mower is electric – it starts with a button touch. No more yanking the pull cord.
  6. Service. It has a 5 year warranty. Hopefully I won’t need to take it for service, but if I do I can fit it in all our vehicles because it folds up so easily.
  7. Charging. Takes only 60 minutes to charge. Once charged the battery is rated for 60 minutes of use. The mower comes with a battery and charger. The battery alone costs $375, which is bizarrely expensive.
  8. Out of the box. It comes fully assembled and the battery comes partially charged. You can be mowing within 2 minutes of opening the box.
  9. Deck height. The mower has a single lever to adjust the deck height in 6 stages. My old gas mower required adjustment to each wheel separately and was a pain in the butt to adjust.
  10.  Headlights. The mower has 2 headlights in case I want to mow at dusk.
  11. Power. There’s plenty of power. The mower has no trouble cutting high grass or propelling the up the slope of my lawn.

Negatives:

  1. It isn’t any lighter than a gas mower.
  2. It’s a little quieter than a gas mower, but it’s advertised as “quiet” and it definitely is not.
  3. It’s not that maneuverable. The self propulsion drives the rear wheels, which gives it more traction when bagging grass. But front propulsion mowers are easier to control. You just lift up the front wheels and pivot with a front drive mower. With a rear drive mower you release the propulsion handle first before you pivot. It’s an extra step, and I’m not used to it yet.
  4. Because of the maneuverability issue I find it hard to mow in tight areas that require back and forth motion (like under shrubs or around the mailbox pole).
  5. When using self propulsion the mower keeps moving for a split second after the propulsion handle is released.There was no delay on my gas mower. This worsens the maneuverability issue.

Neutral:

  1. So far it mows fine on high damp grass. This season looks like last season – it rains a lot. But all mowers work well when brand new. If it still mows this well next year I’ll be thrilled.
  2. The battery hasn’t run down while I mow so far. It is rated at 60 minutes but I haven’t needed to mow longer than 40 minutes.
  3. Smooth rolling. The mower rolls very easily and doesn’t require self propulsion unless I’m mowing up a slope. I’d bet it doesn’t roll as smoothly over time, but we’ll see. By comparison, my prior mowers needed self propulsion on flat ground and the Ego doesn’t.

Overall:

You can tell by the number of positives that changing to an electric mower is a revelation. I mow from April to October, so 7 months out of the year. Averaging 4 mows a month that’s 28 mows. If the Ego can make all that mowing less of a hassle I’ll be thrilled.

Personally I’ve always preferred electric yard tools to gas-power. They need no maintenance, last a long time and have enough power for my needs. But dragging an electric cable around the yard is inconvenient.

I like the Ego mower so much I am thinking of replacing my old grass trimmer and leaf blower with cordless versions. The side benefit of getting Ego cordless yard tools is the batteries are interchangeable between the devices. If I ever run out of juice on my mower’s battery I could pop the trimmer’s battery in the mower and keep going.

Update:

I’ve used the mower 5 times so far. Once to get rid of some leaves. I bagged the leaves, which worked as well as any other mower I’ve used. Not great. The bag fills quickly.

I tried mulching the leaves but that just left a mess. Shooting half mulched leaves out the side discharge worked ok. But overall it’s more efficient just to use a leaf blower.

I find cleaning the underside of the mower to be very very easy. A damp towel or rag does the trick in a minute or two. So much better than using a hose through the nozzle of the old Toro mower, which left a lot of wet grass goo on my driveway.

I recharge the battery at the end of each mow, so it’s ready to go next time. I am slowly getting used to managing the rear drive. I find that cutting-in on the lawn around the perimeter works best. That way I can make a wide turn when I mow horizontally.

I’ve decided to get the Ego trimmer. Cordless electric is the way to go. I might not get the Ego cordless blower as I’ve heard the battery lasts only 20 minutes or so. I hate dragging the power cord around the lawn, but we get a lot of leaves in the fall and 20 minutes isn’t enough.

Update 2:

I’ve used the mower about 10 times now, and let it mulch the grass. It’s a pleasure to use. I am getting used to the rear propulsion and find it a little easier to maneuver. The battery has never run out on me (mowing takes me 45 minutes). No yanking, no fumes, plenty of power, easy to adjust the deck height.

I also got the Ego trimmer. Came with a 2.5AH battery. I don’t have that much trimming to do, and the small battery is fine. It is much longer and heavier than my old B&D electric trimmer but I am getting use to balancing it better so that it’s not a chore to carry it around. Does a fine job as a trimmer, about the same as any other trimmer I’ve owned.

The only difference with the Ego trimmer is the trim line. It’s heavy duty and I haven’t needed to bump it at all after using it twice. The trimmer didn’t come with any additional line, just what fit in the trimmer head. But that should last awhile.

Stuffed Cabbage

For a variety of reasons we are making Passover dinner for the first time. I don’t observe, and really can’t stand matzo, but we are doing our best to make something traditional.

The tradition is important to some members of our family, and we don’t want to offend anyone by serving non-Passover food even though the meal would be better if we did. I suppose the quality of the meal isn’t paramount.

The usual family meal is matzo ball soup, chicken, pot roast, potatoes, some green vegetable and some side dishes. We are going to be serving the same basic meal, except replacing chicken and pot roast with turkey breast and corned beef. Also I will likely be making  stuffed cabbage.

Stuffed cabbage is one of those dishes that few go to the trouble to make anymore. I think any dish with cabbage in it is, by definition, a peasant dish. People either love or hate this dish. It either reminds them of poverty, or of their grandmother. They either like the taste of cabbage or hate it.

Personally I like it, but eating it out is a rarity. I’ve only tried making it at home once before. It didn’t come out because the rice was under-cooked.

I tried Ina Garten’s recipe (below) but changed a few things. I used cooked instead of un-cooked rice, I used apple cider vinegar instead of red wine vinegar, I left out the raisins, and I cooked it for 20 minutes in the Instant Pot rather then 1 hour in the oven. I added the sauce to the final serving portion rather than add it to the pot during cooking.

The whole process of cooking the components and constructing it was a pain in the butt. Then after making 4 cabbage rolls I accidentally knocked the meat filling on the floor. I really didn’t mind, because I wasn’t having a good time making the rolls.

I figured I’d cook up the 4 finished rolls and see how they came out. If not good, I would abandon the project. Unfortunately, they were fantastic. Probably the best stuffed cabbage I’ve ever eaten. Perfectly cooked, tender. The sauce was delicious.

So, I guess I’ll make them for Passover and try not to drop any on the floor this time.

Here’s Ina Garten’s recipe, and her video. She makes it seem a lot easier than it really is.

https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/stuffed-cabbage-recipe-1920701

Sonos Amp

Despite my negative posts about Sonos’ voice assist integration strategy I still like the company’s products. I only have one speaker, the Play 1, which is reasonably priced, sounds great and is a very convenient way to listen to music and radio in my kitchen.

Sonos’ speakers are usually sold at significant premiums, but the Play 1 (and the similar Sonos One) are priced comparably with other speakers of this size and quality, even those without wifi capability.

I hadn’t purchased more Sonos products because I didn’t need speakers. But lately my Sony home theater receiver has been annoying me. It was affordable at $200 but doesn’t sound great, is physically huge for no apparent reason and has intermittent sound connection issues with my TV. I’ve had it 6 years, and decided to try the Sonos Amp.

The Amp is a new Sonos product, an update over one of its first products: Connect Amp. The new Amp has an HDMI port with ARC support, is more powerful, smaller and more attractive than its predecessor. It costs $600, which is the most I’ve ever spent on an audio product.

Out of the box impressions:

The Amp is beautiful (whereas my Sony AVR is an eyesore). Hooking it up took 5 minutes – plug in the power, plug in the speakers. Done. Connecting it to the network took another 5 minutes. Easy.

But getting it to sound good, that took some time. The equalizer built into the Sonos app is underwhelming. Just 3 sliders: Balance, Treble, Bass. Given the price of this device there should have been an “advanced” mode where you can fine tune the sound, and there should have been pre-sets for different genres to get you started.

Furthermore there is a separate section in the Settings to adjust the subwoofer phase, crossover and level. These settings are crucial, at least with my speakers. Once I had the settings correct the system sounds fantastic. Before I found the sub settings I was very disappointed and leaning toward returning the Amp to the store.

Sonos apparently expects its customers to understand how to set up a sub, because there is no guide to help you. I had to google it because I know next to nothing about subs. I used google to set up my original system 6 years ago and I haven’t thought about it since.

Also, Sonos has software called Trueplay that tunes its speakers to your room. But Trueplay doesn’t work with the Amp in the way I use it (2.1 system, non Sonos speakers). Every other manufacturer selling receivers at this price range includes a device for auto-adjusting the settings to the room. Even if the Trueplay results aren’t perfect it’s helpful to have a starting place.

Also weird is the absence of a dedicated remote. Your phone is the remote, but you can control the Amp with a universal remote as well. It took a little while to figure out, but I can use the Harmony remote and the Apple TV remote to control volume. There isn’t a need to change inputs on the Amp – it adjusts from ARC to line-in automatically when it receives a signal.

I set up the sound the way I like it and it’s a huge difference over the old Sony. In addition I now have multi-room audio between my den and my kitchen, I can control music in the den from my phone without turning on the tv, I can use my den speakers as voice for my Echo Dot (the Amp has a line-in port!) and I can control music with my voice for the services that support Alexa + Sonos (Amazon Music, Pandora, Tune-In). If a game is on, or I’m listening to a CD and I need to go upstairs to prepare dinner, I can move the audio to the kitchen and keep listening.

It’s a significant upgrade over my old system in terms of sound quality and convenience. But is it worth $600? The way I look at it, this amp should last a decade or more. Even if Sonos is bought up and it’s streaming service discontinued it will still function as an amp. I don’t know if it’s worth $600, but I like it and will probably keep it.

Update:

As of 4/17/19 the Amp got better. The Apple Music skill now supports Sonos speakers (whether Alexa is built-in or not). The Amp is supported too. Now there is isn’t a need to use the line-in port connected to the Dot. Very Cool.