Small-town Dead

This year, I’ve driven back-and-forth across much of the United States multiple times. Resulting in at least 6000 miles of travel, and several weeks of being on the road.

As a fan of Blue Highways, stopping in small-town America is always a highlight. (Although not always a respite when in Trump-y areas, such as Deadwood and all of Oklahoma.)

One consistent attribute of many small towns is what I’ve come to call “Dead Soldier Square.” It’s remarkable how many places have memorials to residents who have died in recent military service. Occasionally, it’s an old-school statue, but more often the memorial consists of photos of the dead on streetlight poles, or otherwise distributed along Main Street. Every so often, the placards are placed in the windows of empty storefronts, which makes them even more haunting and evocative by combining two forms of civic loss.

The photos of dead youth haunt your every step. The intention is probably to remind the living of their sacrifice, but I suspect the actual result is numbing and normalization.

It’s especially poignant knowing that for at least some of these young people, joining the military was the only viable means of escape from the town. And now, in death, the town is the only place where they are remembered.

Dealing with people who won’t stop talking

I wish I had read What I Learned About Interruption from Talk Radio when it was published in 2017. Back then, I was still spending several hours a day on conference calls, and sometimes struggling to get a word in edgewise.

Part of the issue is that telephone conference calls are not full-duplex, by design, so that when one caller is speaking the microphone of all the other callers are ignored. This makes it technically impossible to interrupt a speaker, except during pauses in their speech.

But the situation is greatly exacerbated when a speaker never takes a fucking breath.

Many of my colleagues were guilty of this. Oh, not on purpose, they just had the habit of drawing out their last word (or saying “ummmmm”) between sentences, or while they were thinking. This vocalization prevented others on the call from saying anything (which sometimes, was only me, as everyone else was in the same room). I wish I had a dollar for every time this happened during weekly staff meetings.

I’m hopeful that the pandemic — which put everyone in their own audio space on a conference call — helped teach people to be more polite and allow time for others to speak. But somehow, I doubt it.

Troubleshooting an IR remote control

The other day, my Sonos Playbase speaker stopped responding to the volume control buttons on my Apple TV Siri Remote Control. Here’s how I eventually resolved the problem.

The source of the issue proved difficult to diagnose because infrared is (of course) invisible light. I couldn’t determine if the Sonos was no longer seeing infrared signals, or if the remote was no longer sending them.

  • I quickly determined that I hadn’t added any new nearby electronics or LED light bulbs that might be interfering with IR signals. A lesson I learned from a confounding situation several years ago.
  • Using the Sonos app, I temporarily re-programmed the Playbase to respond to a TV remote it had not been previously trained on. When I was able to successfully do so, this established that the Playbase’s IR receiver was working.
  • The Apple TV remote was still able to control the Apple TV, but that uses an RF connection, not IR. (Sadly, the Playbase is IR-only.) But this confirmed that the remote’s battery wasn’t dead. I recharged it anyway, under the theory that perhaps the light emitter had grown too dim. This didn’t resolve the problem.
  • The next step was to reboot the remote. Yes, that’s a thing. After doing so, the problem was resolved. Yay!

If you have a remote control that suddenly and inexplicably stops working, I hope these steps will help you in solving the problem.

Nevada Political candidate signs

It’s election season in Nevada, and I was surprised to see how many candidate signs were placed in empty lots around Las Vegas. They were all lined up, like rows of corn plants in the Midwest.

But after seeing so many of these strange outcroppings, I began to notice a disturbing similarity. Many of the signs featured portraits of the candidates. (In fact, at first glance, they’re easy to mistake for Realtor advertisements.) However, of the signs that featured a photo, they were almost exclusively showing Caucasians. Mostly men, of course, but also white women.

nevada campaign signs in empty lots

Now, granted, Nevada is about 73% white, but I couldn’t escape the feeling that the message being sent was “Vote for me because I look like you.”

A solution for an outdoor speaker sound system

I needed to drive eight outdoor speakers, and clearly, I wanted remote control of their operation, and the ability to stream from Apple Music.

I could have utilized something like an Echo Link, or a Sonos Amp. But I rejected those options due to the cost (Sonos) and obnoxious assistive technology (Alexa).

What I ended up implementing is a bit of a Rube Goldberg machine, but it works well, and it did not break the bank. Here are the details:

  • A Belkin SoundForm Connect adapter acts as an AirPlay 2 receiver. This satisfies the requirement of streaming any music I desire either from my iPhone, HomePod, or Apple TV. The only downside is that the AUX output from the Belkin device is horrible, as many of the reviews on Amazon also note. Luckily, the optical output is OK, so I use that instead.
  • Because of the above-mentioned Belkin flaw, and the lack of optical support on inexpensive amplifiers (see below), a Digital Audio Converter is necessary. I settled on an inexpensive Amazon Basics DAC. It works well, and is USB powered, so I can run it from a power hub instead of using up another outlet in my network closet.
  • Audio amplification is provided by a Nubsound 100W mini-amp. It has built-in Bluetooth, which I turned off, as I prefer to use AirPlay. The amp itself is remarkably small — about the size of a Tarot deck. (You were expecting a less esoteric analogy from me? OK. About the size of two sticks of butter.)
  • Finally, I installed a Pyle Multi-zone Selector so that I can fine-tune the volume of each speaker pair. This also allows me to turn off speakers in unoccupied areas of the yard. (Because I’m a good neighbor.) A fancier solution would let me manage this remotely via my iPhone, but for under $100, this passive, no-power-required switch works well. It’s also small enough to fit, barely, on a shelf in the network closet.

Here’s a block diagram of how it’s all connected:

monodraw illlustration

The system works well, with a total cost that is hundreds less than a Sonos solution. (And cheaper than nosey Alexa, too.) The only downside is that I have to stream from a device to the amplifier. The Sonos can independently connect to Apple Music. But this is a limitation that I can take to the bank.

If you need me, I’ll be outside listening to Poolsuite FM.