The EcoFlow DELTA 1300: The Most Badass Battery Ever*

In 2019 I backed a crowdfunded product called the EcoFlow DELTA. While it was promoted as a “battery powered generator”, the name was misleading: fundamentally a generator creates one form of power by consuming another, and this was a battery that stored and outputted electrical power. It’s a battery. A really, really big battery: 31 pounds and 1260 Wh of power to be exact. It has six AC outlets supporting up to 1800 watts of output, 3300 watts of surge protection, pure sine wave output, four USB-A ports (12 or 18 watts per port), two USB-C ports (60 watts per port), and it charges via AC power, solar (up to 400 watts input), or 12V car adaptor.

I backed the project for $799 after we had an 18 hour power outage at my home and I found it frustrating how many things wouldn’t function. I was looking for a specific solution to allow us to continue using our on-demand hot water heater, which uses natural gas but requires electricity to operate. When the power goes out it’s relatively easy to create light and bundle up if you’re cold, but the immediate lack of hot water is an uncomfortable problem for a family with two kids. I had a quote on a natural gas-powered generator, but the $6000 price tag was too high for the rarity of the outages. I’d need to lose power several times a year for 20+ hours each time to justify that expense.

The EcoFlow DELTA arrived in January 2020, and it exceeded all my expectations. I took a bunch of photos because I thought I’d write up a long, thoughtful review of it…and didn’t. That review never quite got written, but I had all these pictures and a few thoughts I wanted to share, so here’s a photo essay of sorts for anyone interested in the DELTA.

* This was the most badass battery that EcoFlow made in 2019, but in mid-2021 they release the monstrous DELTA Pro, a 99 pound battery with 3600Wh of power! 🀯 But it’s also $3599, so…πŸ™ƒ

The 1260 watt-hour battery charges directly from AC wall power, and it charges fast: pulling over 700 watts from the wall power, it will go from 0% to 80% charge in under an hour (often all the way to 100% in 60 minutes). It arrived mostly charged. An audible fan kicks on when it’s charging to keep the heat down.
Continue reading The EcoFlow DELTA 1300: The Most Badass Battery Ever*

Chromecast with Google TV + ESPN+ = Usability Nightmare

I admit it: I’m an armchair product manager.

Every time I use a new product or service, I either applaud it or I’m critical of the user experience. Often both! I wrote product reviews on various tech web sites (mostly my own) for ~15 years, and when I worked for Spb Software I took on the role of a product manager for Spb Imageer, so I’ve experienced both sides of this coin to some extent (though much more on the reviewing side).

Working at HTC also gave me interesting opportunities to learn more about the decisions that go into creating hardware and software. I understand every product is a series of trade-offs; most teams don’t have enough developers to build things they way they wish they could, and timelines are never quite long enough to fit in every feature and testing.

But…

Sometimes product managers and UX designers will make such inexplicably awful choices, you have to wonder what they were thinking. You also have to wonder if they tested with actual customers in real-world use, or if it was never tested by anyone other than an internal QA team with a checklist and no knowledge of real-world use. The ESPN+ app on Google TV is one such app.

When I bought a Chromecast with Google TV late last year (what a mouthful of a product name!), I was genuinely excited about it – this was the first truly new execution of Google’s Chromecast platform since the first one launched. I’ve done a fair amount of tweeting about my impressions of the hardware/software from Google – I wish Twitter had a better search function, but here are a few – so this blog post is focusing on one very specific scenario: how utterly terrible the Chromecast with Google TV is for watching long-form content on a poorly designed app. Walk with me through this real-world scenario…

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Epson-ET3760 Review: Muted Colours, Awful User Experience, but Affordable Prints

The Epson-ET3760 is a decent printer, but it’s hobbled in a few ways that keep it from being an exceptional product. It was more a bit more expensive ($279 + tax on sale from Costco.com) than a comparable HP printer, but Epson makes less on the ink so it’s expected that you’ll pay more in hardware costs. It’s a “pay extra for the razor because you won’t need to buy as many blades” scenario. The bundle I bought from Costco included two extra black ink bottles, so I expect to not need ink for several years. Epson touts costs as low as 1 cent per ISO colour page.

The print quality is crisp – no complaints there. Compared to my HP though the colours are muted and don’t pop as much. Colour accuracy is significantly off as well. Red is more orange, blue is more grey, yellow is more orange. This means, unfortunately, that all that cheap ink you’re getting doesn’t measure up to what you get on an HP printer.

Continue reading Epson-ET3760 Review: Muted Colours, Awful User Experience, but Affordable Prints

Fixing the macOS Microsoft LifeCam Webcam Overexposure Issue

There’s a problem with old Microsoft LifeCam webcams with macOS; often they will have increased exposure, making them basically useless (I look like a blindingly white ghost – well, more than normal). There’s no way to fix this at the OS level, no drivers update or settings to change. I read about a hack using Photo Booth to override the exposure issue, but it doesn’t fix it permanently and I found the effect would randomly stop mid-conference call. Not to mention that it hits your CPU pretty hard, which kicks up the fans on my laptop and makes things noisy. This webcam has to be about a decade old – maybe more – so frankly I’m amazed it works at all. πŸ˜†

I came up with the only thing I could think of to force the exposure levels on the camera down: I popped a lens out of my non-prescription sunglasses and taped it over the front of the webcam. It worked, dropping the exposure down to a usable level. And when the camera occasionally gets the exposure right, I can flip the lens up to remove the darkening effect.

Without the sunglass lens on the left, with on the right.

Now I’m just waiting for my new webcam to show up…in a month. 😩

How to Set up an Office 365 Exchange Email Catch-All

I’ve been using a Microsoft hosted Exchange email solution for myself and my wife for several years. Yes, it’s kind of geeky, but we both rely on Outlook as our main email/contact/calendar tool and it’s worked well for us. Years ago I set up a catch-all email forward for my domain, so anything sent to any email address at jasondunn.com would get sent to me.

Why would I do such a thing? To give myself protection from companies abusing my email address. When I sign up with a new company, the email address I give them is [email protected] When I do this in person, it makes some people practically go cross-eyed because they can’t understand how I could have an email address like that. 😜 Quite often I’ll get asked if I work for the company and when I say no it confuses them further. I always explain if someone wants to understand.

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Vinli’s Dead End: The Hidden Negative of Crowdfunding

I’ve been participating in crowdfunding campaigns since 2011 when I backed a documentary about MMA fighter Jens Pulver. I’ve enjoyed participating in the process of helping to bring products to market – 45 on Kickstarter, 40 Indiegogo – and other than the times I’ve been burned by backing a project that never came to market (which is another blog post) it’s been a fun way of purchasing items.

For this post, I want to focus on the other side of the story: what happens when you get the product, it meets your expectations, you utilize it fully, come to rely upon it…and the company goes out of business or EOLs (end-of-life’s) their product. Many technology products today have a service/app element and that means your hardware has dependencies upon the business model of the company you backed. They brought the item to market that you wanted, but if their business model changes or they go out of business, that thing you bought might just stop working.

Continue reading Vinli’s Dead End: The Hidden Negative of Crowdfunding

How Did a Moko Case Ruin the Aluminium Finish on my iPad Pro?

Anyone knows me understands that I try to take care of my things, especially my gadgets. I keep the original packaging for many items, because unless I plan on keeping it for my technology archive/graveyard, I like to sell items to recoup some of my costs.

Some items, such as iPads, are re-used within my household. Each kid has their own iPad, a hand-me-down from the previous generation; my daughter is using my son’s old iPad Mini, and my son is using my old iPad Pro. When I bought my iPad Pro 11 last year, I took my previous iPad Pro out of the case I had it in – a red Moko case. I was shocked to see the back of the iPad had become discoloured and blotchy. It’s difficult to photograph but in person it looks simply awful.

It had a glass screen protector on the front, and was never used outside this case, so it’s frustrating to have it marred by a case. I contacted Moko and asked them if this was a known issue with their cases. Their response was not to admit fault or explain anything, but instead to give me a $25 refund. πŸ€”It’s better than telling me to pound sand, but it doesn’t change how this iPad Pro looks. I will never purchase another Moko case again – which is a shame because they are really quite good. ☹️

Synology DS-1019+ Plex Hardware Transcoding: This is Magic!

Back in 2012, I purchased my first Synology NAS: a five-bay DS-1512+. I added a five-bay DX-513 expansion unit a few weeks later, and for seven years I’ve been using it to store 1180+ movies and 2300+ TV episodes in MKV format. Because that Synology came with a weak Atom CPU, I had to use a Windows computer (a small Gigabyte BRIX) with a Core i7 CPU to run Plex on because the MKVs needed transcoding for most devices. That’s less the case now that so many devices are powerful enough to use Direct Play, but if I access my videos off-site they need to be transcoded. This system worked great for years, but I’ve been hoping to simplify my overall setup and get away from needing the BRIX.

When I got the DS-1019+ things changed: although it has a relatively wimpy Celeron CPU (to my external frustration, Synology refuses to put out a product with a Core i-series CPU – they go straight from Celeron to enterprise-level Xeon, with price tags to match) it has Intel QuickSync video transcoding capabilities.

The DS-1019+ was something I’d been waiting for because I’d read many reports of how well the hardware transcoding features of the Celeron CPU worked with Plex so I was eager to test it. When I got the new Synology set up, I asked some friends to help me by streaming a movie from it.

Continue reading Synology DS-1019+ Plex Hardware Transcoding: This is Magic!

A Faster, Stronger Blog Host: the Digital Ocean $10 VPS Droplet

This is the speed on Servage, my previous web host. πŸ₯Ί

It’s amazing how server horsepower has gone up over the past few years, and how costs have come down.

For $7.99 a month, Servage gives me a shared hosting environment – an unknown amount of CPU power, an unknown amount of RAM (but I’d guess 256 MB at most), and 200 GB of storage. And the above performance is indicative of the kind of speed I’d see from this blog – when it was loading at all that is.

Servage, a web host I’ve been with for years, has become so dysfunctional, and their shared servers so overloaded, I’d often see 4-6 hours of down time on this blog. It was staggering how many technical problems and poor provisioning (in terms of too many sites on a single host) they inflicted upon customers. And even logging in to file a trouble ticket to ask why my site was down for the 15th time this week always started like this:

Compare that with Digital Ocean, where for $10 a month, I get a dedicated 2 GB of RAM, one virtual CPU, 50 GB of storage space…and a dedicated VPS that has (so far) perfect uptime. And look at the speeds: this site loads 15x faster! It’s amazing how painful WordPress is to use when it’s on an underpowered server πŸ‘Ώ, but what a sheer joy it is to use when it’s on a solid machine. πŸ˜‡ Granted, running your own VPS isn’t for everyone, but so far it’s been a great experience for me.

This is the speed on Digital Ocean! πŸ˜ŽπŸ‘

For those wondering what took me so long to move this blog over to a better service, it’s a combination of having several domains and dozens of email accounts on Servage (which is a pain to move to a new host), having all my Thoughts Media sites on a different VPS (1&1, which also needed to move over onto Digital Ocean), and of course the biggest factor: I am not a Linux expert or web hosting guru, so I was was limited by my own skillset and the gracious help of friends when they could spare the time. 😁

At this exact moment I have my digital footprint spread across the above three service, but within the week I hope to have it down to two, then within the quarter down to one…

The Maddening HP Inkjet “First Print of the Day Blurry Problem”: SOLVED

I have been brutally disappointed in the experience of owning my HP OfficeJet Pro 8710 for the past 15 months. Every single day, the first page of any print job is blurry.

The first week I used the 8710 I started getting blurry prints from it. I contacted HP support and spent 30 minutes troubleshooting it. Because this is an intermittent issue that only occurs after the printer has been idle for hours, it’s impossible to make a change and know if the fix worked. I hoped the steps I took with the first tech worked. They did not.

So I called back and HP helped me again. This time they thought it was the print head causing the issue, so they sent me a new print head. I replaced it.

The problem kept happening: blurry prints.

Then I called back and HP helped me again. This time they thought it was the whole printer that was the issue, so they sent me a refurbished printer.

The problem kept happening: blurry prints.

So I called back and HP helped me again. This time they thought it was a configuration issue with the macOS printer driver (never mind the fact that my wife also got blurry prints when printing from her Android phone). The tech walked me through some changes to the driver, and I hoped it would help.

The problem kept happening: blurry prints.

Always the first print of the day when the printer had been idle for hours.

Multiple firmware updates have occurred and every time I hoped that maybe THIS TIME it would fix the issue. 

The problem kept happening: blurry prints.

By this point, probably 10 months had passed and I’d wasted easily 2-3 hours of my life working with HP tech support trying to fix this problem. I just gave up and didn’t want to deal with it for a while.

Today I called HP support again, even though my printer was out of warranty, in the hopes that there was a known fix for this blurry print issue. The tech kindly offered to help me, despite being out of warranty, but after he had me reboot the printer and pull out the ink cartridges and look for corrosion, I just couldn’t walk through the same useless troubleshooting again. I explained in detail the symptoms of the problem, explained that the problem persisted across printer head chanages, multiple ink changes, and even A WHOLE PRINTER CHANGE, but the tech persisted in wanting to put me through the basic steps.

I’ve owned HP printers for 15+ years, and I’ve never felt like I feel now: that my HP printer is incapable of doing the most core thing I need from it…printing. I will likely never buy another HP printer so long as I live given the extreme distrust I now have for their printing products (and lack of faith in HP tech support to solve customer issues).

July 2019 Update: I am pleased to share that HP solved this problem for me. I was told the 8710 printer was known for having this problem, but only in rare cases and they couldn’t duplicate the problem in their labs and thus figure out how to solve it. That makes it a tough issue to fix for customers. However, HP solved this for me by sending me a different printer: the HP OfficeJet Pro 9015. So far I’ve had it set up for a few days and have had no blurry prints, so I’m happy. 😁 I am extremely impressed that HP support was both empowered and willing to offer me a replacement printer. This undoes a lot of the frustration I had toward HP and I am pleased with this outcome. Kudos to HP leadership for giving their techs the authority to do things like this for customers! It’s unfortunate though that I had to go to such lengths to have them offer me a replacement printer. ☹️