Google Assistant Automation is a Mess – Amazon Alexa is Going to Win?

I love an automated assistant experience. I have lighting, heat and air, TV’s, dedicated assistant devices like Hub, phones, you name it. Lately though, the entire system is a flakey mess. Here are just a few of the failures that are plaguing the Google Assistant experience in my house that will likely lead to people looking to Amazon Alexa as a replacement, especially with their ever increasing device integration and open ecosystem:

  • Amazon face recognition on Google Nest Hub Max – settings go missing. The Home app shows it no longer is set to recognize owners/users. Things like reminders and the ability to perform actions like removing a pic from the slideshow stopped working, as it no longer recognizes me. Settings in Google home are greyed out, and only removing the device, setting up facial recognition etc. brings them back.
  • Google Home Nest Max stops recording and alerting activity that it sees. Much like the above, the Max and Google Home settings are jacked without a change on my part. Recording and notifications just stopped working. Greyed out in menus, and cannot connect. Remote Nest app shows that the device is no longer connected to the internet, but the Home app while home just shows the settings are all removed.
  • With the latest patch (December 2019??) Google assistant just stopped working on my phone. I sit in the car and say “OK Google, should I switch to Alexa??”. No response. Not even a snarky reply, as it now doesn’t work at all. Settings again, completely reset. (not to mention the auto screen rotation setting that is re-set every fucking time I get a system update).
  • Assistant devices on new devices like Sonos Beam and Move act like red-headed step children. They are listed as in my home and part of rooms just like any device, but they are ignored like 3rd rate citizens, most of the time they cannot control Nest or anything other than Sonos (poorly) and complain that they don’t know what I am talking about – though the same command works on the Google branded assistants.
  • The new shopping list integration into Bring lists is cool, but half the time I say “OK Google add razorblades to slit my wrists to the shopping list” it puts it into the insanely useless default Google shopping list instead of Bring shopping list. I then leave the store without 5 things and curse automation, harking back to killing trees and using pencils.
  • Routines… OMG. They so rarely work, maybe the team leading routines could at least add a damn “Test this stupid routine out” button so I can tell (much more quickly) that it will never work.
  • Sonos integration – OK this one is not a Google issue I guess, but trying to control a Sonos device using voice is the most frustrating thing in the whole world. Add to that a ridiculously broken Spotify integration, and I never even try anymore – I just use the dedicated apps. This may be a Sonos/Spotify issue, but to the user, Alexa is way better and regardless of that, it feels like a broken Google Assistant. Don’t get me started on other integrations like viewing Arlo cameras on Hub devices, holy crap that sucks. The list can go of literally all day for Sonos. How about “groups”? What about “on all of the sonos devices”? Maybe Shuffle or Repeat? What about… fuck. Forget it…
  • I can’t tell you how sick I am of “I’m sorry I don’t know how to help with that” when I say things that work on a second try. Add to that the “OK Google turn on all the lights” with a response of “12 lights are now off” as I stand in the dark. That makes me want to throw things.
  • Take a look at the user groups that support home automation of Google stuff for the nightmares surrounding IFTTT, HomeAssistant.io etc etc. You will run for the hills. It’s a nightmare.

Scam Alert: Amazon Google Pixel 4 and 4XL Pre-order Scam

Amazon has a pretty good scam going with Google Pixel 4/4XL pre-orders. If you were duped like me into buying from Amazon by pre-ordering the new device, you probably found out today that your order is now going to arrive a month later instead of by the end of the day. I purchased a white version of the phone from Amazon with the same deal, a $100 gift card – comparable to the Play Store $100 credit that was being offered last week, and a great release day delivery date last week when the device was announced.

So what is the scam? Well, if you are like me, today the shipping date slips to 1 to 1.5 months later with a new range of November 22 to December 15th. OK, I get it. Amazon sold something they didn’t have their hands on, and the supply chain failed or something, maybe they took too many orders, whatever. Sad. But the issue here is that they ship the $100 gift card the second you order the device. So you get a $100 card in the mail a day or 2 later, and READ THE FINE PRINT – NO REFUNDS OR RETURNS. WTF! Now I have a $100 forced purchase with Amazon, and no phone. I now get to choose from 2 terrible choices: wait forever for the device and get the deal they promised, or cancel the order and find it somewhere else and BE FORCED to spend $100 on Amazon. That is a SCAM. They probably sold a million devices, with 50% or more likely to cancel when they see the “Oh, sorry you aren’t getting this anytime soon” email, they rack up 50 million dollars in sales DOING ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.

I love me some Amazon goodness, and have been shopping with them since the early days of books only. This experience has really put me in a new place with them though. I think this is really a deliberate move on their part to drive sales knowing that they win, without having to provide an actual product. Maybe I’m wrong. But I’m guessing that there are a bunch of people out there that just got a mandatory $100 purchase forced on them today should they cancel and grab a Pixel somewhere else. Way to piss off a customer base Amazon, you do evil.

OK Google: Just Call Google Assistant Gigi

With all of the Google Home Assistant users out there that clamor for a better alternative to the “OK Google” and “Hey Google” methods of accessing the Assistant mode on your phone or Google Home device, I have often wondered why calling it “GiGi” wouldn’t be the perfect solution. Even better than that would be to have to say nothing at all, and have those devices just know when you are speaking to the intelligent helper, but there is no practical way to do that, as well as no way to solve the implementation of having it always listening and trying to discern what the always on recording of your life means to privacy and recognition of a question asked of the “machine” vs. asking your dog if it’s hungry.

It seems to me that calling it Gigi makes the most sense. Apple uses Siri. Amazon is Alexa. Microsoft is… Well. Who really cares? Making it a woman’s name has precedence. Gigi is a nice name. Easy to say. Google has 2 G’s in it. Saying “OK Google what is the weather today” is way harder than “Gigi what is the weather today”. Two less syllables, and kids can never say Google right anyway (I have a 5 year old). The default voice for Assistant is a woman, so she can now be GiGi. Or GG, or whatever and it totally makes sense.

Google added manners a while back. Fire up Assistant and say “OK Google what time is it” and it responds. If you say “Thank you” you are saying it to a machine that responds to you with a polite response. But saying “Thanks GiGi” would be so much more personal and like your personal assistant, who has a name, who helps you every day, who is a part of your life, who is respected and valued as something other than a machine, that this just really makes sense.

My assistant needs a name. Google assistant is my go to life automator now, and I’m really tired of “OK Google”. Make her Gigi. Make her real. Do some fun stuff with deep fake Max Headroom type personalities that make her a member of my family or something – appearing in mirrors, TV’s, monitors, my Google Home devices, whatever. Have her follow me and use voice recognition or biometrics that have her travel with me to other people’s devices. Make Gigi have a persona that is removed from the machine, and part of my world.

Sonos Move Review: The Speaker You Have Been Waiting For

I have a bunch of Sonos stuff, so let me start off by saying I am a fanboy of the awesome products that they put out. The audio quality of the Sonos line is great, and when you throw in the convenience of great apps, the convenience of linking all of your favorite streaming services like Spotify, and zones, party mode, and Google Assistant and Alexa integration on some of the newer devices – you just can’t go wrong with them.

Then the Sonos Move came along this week (9/2019).

I went ahead and preordered the move hoping that all of the hype would make this just another solid product in the Sonos line. Let me say, I was completely mistaking. This little Sonos is a game changer.

First off, the setup was a breeze as usual. I just plugged it in, opened the app, hit the + button and followed along for a few minutes of connecting, a quick update to the device and it was now a part of the system. I went ahead and added the Google Assistant integration, and it nicely threw me into the Home app and I was able to add it to the home automation devices there.

First up? Well, this thing is pretty. Great design and looks awesome, wherever you put it – and guess what? It’s called the Sonos Move, and you can put it anywhere!

And that is the game changer. I have had bluetooth speakers of all shapes and sizes. The Sonos Move is the top end of this genre though, at just under 10 inches tall – it’s fairly large and as any decent speaker is, heavy too. With that heft comes BIG sound. I mean like really BIG SOUND. Like I look at it with a puzzled look sometimes wondering how they could possibly have packed that into this thing, that while large for a bluetooth device, is pretty small for what this thing kicks out. This easily fills a large room with great dynamic range, impressive bass, and crisp clear highs. It really is amazing for the size.

But the magic is that this speaker sounds like a million bucks, and truth be told, it’s roughly $400 – so part way there – it’s not cheap. But that is the game changer, it’s not cheap. It has an amazing design, with sexy lines, touch buttons, perfect lighting, just enough grill to see the nice sized speakers, a great handle in the back to grab it and move to the deck, or a nice soak in the tub. This thing is portable, and instead of some tinny semblance of music on the go, you bring bass and great all around sound with you.

There are a ton of features packed into this amazing unit. Google Assistant and Alexa are built in, and they work just as well as the dedicated devices in the house we own. There is a set of microphones that magically adjust equalizer settings when you tote it into a new space that dynamically adjust the sound of the unit for the surroundings. The charging ring is a simple affair that charges the unit at lightning speed and acts as a additional stabilizer in it’s “home” spot at 10V, 2.5 amps.

The battery holds a ton of juice and has easily taken all day listening jams without a top-off and has been left alone on stand-by for days, only to come right to life when summoned by the mobile app or PC. You can also hook up a USB-C cable, and depending on the power supply, can charge in that fashion though somewhat slower.

There is a dedicated bluetooth button on the back side for pairing and switching from wifi to bluetooth. This makes it worth every penny. I have seriously grabbed this thing while on bluetooth, walked to my car, thrown it on the seat and rocked out on the way to my destination just as happy as if my awesome truck stereo had been on – all without skipping a beat. Oh, and wait until my camping neighbors hear this thing! They are going to LOVE me! 😉

I’m all in on this new speaker from Sonos. I’ll be buying another to pair for stereo and taking it to the pool, in my car, trips to the park and beach, to picnics with friends and outside while I garden and wash the car. This thing is amazing. I bought into the Sonos ecosystem long ago, and it just keeps stepping up a notch, making me oh so happy that I am the fanboy that I have become. This changes the game.

HOW TO: Calibrate Ender 3 Extrusion

Calibrating your 3D printer’s extrusion rate is a great way to really dial in the quality of your prints. I find that when using the same brand filament I can get away with calculating the extrusion once, and checking it now and again to make sure I’m fairly close. When introducing a new filament or type (like switching from PLA to PETG for example) you probably want to run this quick check again and make sure you are within a few percent for the new stuff. Calibrating is easy, and if you use Octoprint or Repetier Host or Simplify 3D and can send terminal commands, it’s just this simple:

  1. Set your extruder to relative mode by issuing a M83; command
  2. Next mark your filament 120 mm from the entrance to the extruder with a Sharpie
  3. Then tell the printer to extrude 100mm of filament using the G1 E100 F100; command
  4. Now measure the amount of filament yet to enter the extruder. I had 30mm left over. That means that 10mm is not extruded, though the machine settings think it has. So lets fix that now. (If you have 20mm yet to enter the extruder, congrats. You are done and can go get a tasty beverage.)
  5. Lets find out what the current steps/mm setting is on the printer. Enter the command M503;
  6. You will get a bunch of settings returned, and we are looking for the M92 output, mine was:
    M92 X80.00 Y80.00 Z400.00 E93.00
  7. So lets calculate what we need here instead. I had 30mm left over. So 120mm-30mm= 90mm. My printer is pushing 90mm through, thinking it is 100. That is a 10% difference, and pretty significant. The original output above shows that my extruder steps value was 93 (see E93.00 above.) Lets calculate the correct value. A quick formula for this is (original step value x 100) / actual distance. In my case, this is (93×100)/90=103.333
  8. Lets set this value as the new extruder step value with the command M92 E103.333;
  9. And save those settings to the board with a M500;
  10. Now your extruder should be set, so lets test! Run through the instructions again by measuring another 120mm and running the
    G1 E100 F100; command one more time and you should be pretty darn close.

Happy printing! Leave a comment below if this helped your or you have feedback on your results.

How To: 3D Print PETG on an Ender 3

Printing beyond PLA on an Ender 3 can be tricky. Here are a few tips to get you started with printing PETG, a filament that is stronger and has some qualities like better heat resistance than PLA. If you head into a print with PETG using your stock tried and true PLA settings, you may be up for a surprise – it just isn’t that easy. After some testing, here are some tips that will help you get started:

  1. SLOW it DOWN – Running PETG through your Ender 3 is going to be troublesome on many prints running it through at the stock 60mm/s. You need to slow it down. 40mm/s may work, but 30mm/s is probably the sweet spot for this machine and filament. This one is going to be the key to your success. You might get lucky on some prints, like cubes or anything that is pretty continuous in laying down a layer, but for anything with even a bit of complexity, just slow it down.
  2. GET the TEMP RIGHT – This one is going to vary. You can choose a nice test cube and start at the low end of the temp range for the PETG you buy, let it print for a while, and up the temp by 5-10 degrees. Keep track of what you are doing, and when you are done give the layers some pressure with your thumb and find out where the strength and layers are really holding tight. If you head too high, you will get a solid print, but you will end up with stringy prints that take a lot of cleanup or just plain fail. Also, you will note that when you start getting to that sweet spot, the color will start to change from a milky white to clear. This is when you are getting the temp right. I find that most PETG likes it HOT! Try 250C – this may just be your Ender 3 sweet spot too.
  3. FAN all DAY LONG – Sure, let the first layer or two go down without a fan to get a nice adhesion, then blow on! Let the fan run on high, add better cooling by printing a better cooling duct for your machine (I like the PetsFang on Thingiverse – even went with the dual blower version).
  4. BED HEAT – PETG does not require a heated bed, and you may not need any heat there if you have a nice sticky magnetic mat or tape or the like but on glass and some other surfaces you may find that getting the surface up to 70C will help a bunch with keeping the print down, without warping or just plain coming loose.
  5. CLEAN the NOZZLE – Going from PLA to PETG or any other high temp filament is a huge bump up over what you have been using for PLA. Heat up your hot end to 250 degrees and let it sit for 15 minutes and clean it very thoroughly – pulling off everything you can find, even wire brushing around before you get started. You will not be happy if you skip this step and find an overnight print that has lumps of that awesome orange PLA that has dripped into your new PETG piece of trash.
  6. FLOW – Increase the flow (OK maybe decrease – but usually increase). PETG needs it hot, and if your hot end doesn’t keep up (slowing it down as I said in #1 helps a BUNCH) it will lay down layers that don’t have enough material. Use your slicer to increase the flow to 105% or more and see if the layers go down happier. This one you will need to test yourself. If you are doing a bunch of PETG prints, you may even want to calibrate the machine to the filament and your extruder to get it just right.
  7. THINK SUPPORT – Here you may want to just rethink some of the support that you are planning on printing for your model. I have found that the support blocking in Cura is useful for PETG sometimes – eliminating support that is unnecessary and causing you stringing issues that bleed into the quality of the finished product. Mess around here and find out which supports are going to work, and which are failing you. Another great thing to look into (in addition to standard brims potentially) is the ability to support your support with support brims – lol. Check it out in Cura 4.x, you can add brims to your supports while keeping skirts as your starting layer.
  8. BABYSIT those first few layers – and give them a a helping hand if need be. The first few layers are key to a great print. Babysit them for a while and use tweezers and clippers to remove anything that you can easily remove without stopping the print. Often a bunch of stringing or pulled over support issues can be solved by removing the offending clumps early on, making new layers take over and saving your print. This goes for any type of filament, but taking the time with your PETG will pay off even more in my experience.
  9. Lastly, use a profile for your slicing software that has some great extrusion and speed settings for retraction. This one should get you going for PETG if you are using Cura:

3D Printing Layer Shift Troubleshooting Tips

Nothing is less fun than finding that your long print on you 3D printer has failed due to shifting. Here are a few tips to look into if you find that you are having a shifting issue with your printer.

  • Check your belts. If you have belts on your specific printer, make sure they are really tight. Look at your print and determine which axis is shifting. Focus on that belt. A great tip here is to mark your belt and motor gear when you start a print with a sharpie, and see if you are getting slipping. Tighten. Repeat.
  • Check for missed steps. Same as above, mark your belts if you have them. This will show you what might need some tightening.
  • Check the voltage on your stepper motors. Find out what the voltage should be for your stepper motor drivers, use a multi-meter and make sure you have enough voltage heading into them (my Ender 3 for example has upgraded TMC2130 steppers, the correct voltage for these is about .76V)
  • Try different infill patterns. Some patterns jerk the printer around so much that it just can’t keep up, and you will get a shift. Start with a simple infill pattern in your slicer and see if it helps
  • Use a different slicer. I have used Cura, and found that some prints just don’t behave with whatever infill I use, due to the sliced output file. I keep Slic3r on my workstation and load it up there, usually with “different” results – sometimes a complete success, other times with clues to what might be tweaked elsewhere
  • Move the object in your slicer. Sometimes people have success with just moving the object off center in the slicer before exporting it to the printer. Try this if it’s small, otherwise make sure you go through the list above first – or risk printing some plastic trash
  • Slow down the print. My printer defaults to 60mm/s print speed. Some of the objects that I print just don’t like that speed, so slow it down! Try 40mm/s or something and see if your results vary.
  • Replace your stepper. Find the offending stepper driver, and replace it. If you don’t have another on hand, swap the offending axis driver with one that seems to work in your machine and print a test to find out if ordering a replacement might be in the cards for you

Do you have tips that would help with figuring out shift issues with your 3D prints? Let us know in the comments below. Happy printing!

Should I Buy a Curved Monitor

I recently had that question, and came up with the answer – Sure! In fact, I jumped in and bought 2. Was it a good decision? Is it better than a traditional flat screen setup? Does it make sense for anything other than gaming? What about the cost? Here are a a few thoughts on the subject, and a link to the monitors that I went with:

First of all I was surprised that the price for a set of curved monitors was so low. Sure the Samsung LC24F ones that I picked up aren’t the top of the line, but they are really nice for the price. I added 2, sitting on monitor stands at just under eye-height. At first, there is something strange about curved monitors, something that you notice standing up and looking at them way more than when seated in front of them. These monitors look great in the space and add a nice futuristic look to the setup.

So what about in real-world everyday use? The odd thing about good curved monitors is that you don’t even notice. The content on screen sort of wraps into your peripheral vision and makes it easier for you to slightly turn and look at the content, but you really don’t notice the curve at all. Only when you think about it or stand up do you see the curve again.

I would definitely make this upgrade again, in fact I am thinking about adding a 3rd, and may even mount it above the 2 in place now. I have things that I like to monitor, but don’t really interact with that would be nice to display on another monitor while using the 2 below for everyday dragging and dropping windows around for productivity. The mounts on these monitors come right off, and they have the standard mounting hardware on the back to make things easy.

Now if I could just get my employer on board, and get a few of these in my work station… Until then, I’m enjoying the switch to curved and think you should give it a shot too! What is your experience? Share below!

Sonos – No Google Home Automation in 2018

And just following a post on the subject, Sonos is looking to testers across the web to sign up for their Google Home automation support, promised in 2018, but not happening. In the request for beta testers, they state that their is no dice on Google Home Assistant integration in 2018 as they had previously stated in announcements earlier this year. Provided all that testing works out, we can now sit tight and expect them to get this out, wait for it, in the future.

Well, is 2019 Google Home Assistant Sonos integration coming??? You make the call in the comments below.

Google Assistant Home Sonos Automation Where are You?

Earlier this year, Sonos proclaimed that their awesome network-powered in home speaker system would provide support for Google Home Assistant automation in 2018. They went so far as to shake up the executive team, and provided statements about how they were all-in getting the ecosystems available for Google Home.

Well here we are in the final days of 2018, counting down the moments that will lead us to the inevitable fail, and without really a peep from Sonos or their all-in strategy. Sure they made some strides with Alexa and Spotify integration along the way, but Google Home Assistant is still the red-headed step child of home automation.

Too bad those expensive Sonos speakers sit waiting for something to happen in this space, because they are still the kid to beat when it comes to awesome sound and seamless integration into home and home theater solutions. But the clock is ticking. If another vendor steps up and provides products that match the quality of the Sonos line, there will certainly be a bunch of people who abandon ship in the space, and you will see a huge bump in Sonos speakers and gear hitting eBay moments later. When this happens, Sonos will be dead in the water instead of being positioned as the solution of choice on high end speakers as they have been in the past. Add the possibility of a spry Anker or other vendor jumping in (sure Google has the Home Max, but meh), providing quality and integration at a low price and the Sonos dream will be over.

I currently have 9 Sonos speakers around the house, and would certainly love to see the product move forward in the Google Assistant space, so sure I have a horse in the race. But couple the lack of integration and the awful change when the Spotify API changed and the Sonos app no longer maintained the folders, groups, etc. and the writing may finally be on the wall.

Drop your thoughts in the comments below, we would love to hear about your solutions and thoughts for the Sonos/Google Assistant world…