How to reset the Meross MSS120 Dual Outlet Smart Plug

This HomeKit-compatible smart outlet is well-priced and works great. But if you have to reset to factory defaults (in order to move it to a different home, for example) it can be challenging to figure out how to reset it.

The Meross website only has generic resetting instructions, and the way they are written it seems like they don’t apply to this device. Here, they say to hold down the power button. (The device has two power buttons.) Elsewhere on their site, the answer is illustrated by showing a non-existent button on the back of the device.

The correct answer, specifically for the Meross MSS120 Outlet, is to hold down the top power button for five seconds (while the outlet is plugged in). You’ll hear a click, and then the two power buttons will being to flash (one green, one yellow). You can then add the device to HomeKit.


First American Home Warranty woes

Often, when you buy a house, a basic “home warranty” is included by the seller’s realtor or the title company. The buyer can then upgrade to better coverage. Is this a good decision? Probably not, if the warranty is provided by First American Home.

Learn from my experience:

  • You’re going to have to spend additional money to get any value at all from the warranty. There is an up-front fee for each service call. (In my case, $85) This is less than a typical “show up fee” for most tradesman, but a downside is that the fee is paid before the work is scheduled. You’re basically paying to get on a waiting list to make an appointment with an unknown provider.
  • After paying the fee, you’ll (eventually) be contacted by the assigned service provider. You might have to wait several days before the job can even be scheduled, let alone performed. And, as noted above, you’ve already paid your scheduling fee. So all you can do is wait until they contact you. (Calling the service provider yourself might not be fruitful, as they haven’t received the assignment from First American yet.)
  • Once scheduled, the communication from First American and the assigned provider isn’t just slow, it’s inconsistent. Be prepared to get different arrival windows from each. I suppose, like any service appointment, you just have to have faith that they’ll eventually show up. (But hopefully not at the end of the day, see below.)
  • While you’re waiting for your assigned day to arrive, do not look up reviews of your assigned service provider. Clearly, First American hires bottom of the barrel companies to do their work.
  • When your tradesman shows up, if the job is too big, takes too long, or it’s the end of their day, they will declare that the work is not covered by your warranty, and then they’ll leave. (They can’t do any work that they deem out of scope, even if you offer to pay out-of-pocket.) Your only recourse is to call First American and ask for a different provider, which puts you back at square one with scheduling. When the new provider shows up, they will likely have a different attitude and might do the work under warranty. (This happened to me twice!)
  • If you have a repair that’s performed incorrectly, you can have First American schedule a re-visit. But this may get assigned to a different provider who shows up and blames the other guy for creating the problem. Now you’re stuck negotiating with First American to get the re-work accomplished, and they will want to send the first guy back to correct his mistake. Moreover, you had better catch the faulty work within 30 days, or you’re simply out of luck as, ironically, the warranty company doesn’t guarantee their work for very long.
  • If it’s not clear yet, the major challenge in the way this all works is that you are not the service provider’s customer, First American is their customer. You’re caught in the middle.
  • Beginning about three months before your warranty period expires, brace yourself for an onslaught of renewal offers (via text, email, and phone) from First American. Even though no sane person would look at the experience over the last nine months and think “oh, he’ll want more of this,” they will express great surprise and dismay that you’re not continuing your coverage. Additionally, on the first anniversary of your coverage expiring, you’ll get another barrage of renewal offers, suggesting that you miss doing business with them. Hardly.

Fair warned is fair armed.


Change Eve Home to Fahrenheit

Thanks to Ronald Reagan, I only have an intuitive understanding of temperature when it’s expressed in Fahrenheit. Unfortunately, but understandably, the Eve Room environmental monitor defaults to Celsius. (I almost wrote “centigrade” there, which should also tell you something about me.)

Finding how you to change the units from Celsius to Fahrenheit is surpassingly difficult. It’s challenging to Google, and it’s not part of the device’s “Frequently Asked Questions” (WTF?).

Here’s the answer: You have to use the Eve app, which is sort of bullshit, but there you go. As a HomeKit user, I didn’t have the app installed, and I had to download it just to change this one setting. (I only figured this out accidentally, by the way.)

On the whole, I’m happy with the Even Room environmental monitor. The build quality is great. But the battery life is poor. And it doesn’t alert you when the power is getting low, it just silently dies and stops working. Sort of like Reagan.


Don’t Watch the Junk Haulers

Until a few months ago, I was blissfully naive about “junk removal services.” Sure, I’d seen the garishly painted “Got Junk?” trucks in my neighborhood, but if I thought of them at all, I assumed they were in the business of salvaging old cars, tires, and similar debris. You know, “junkyard” stuff.

I was wrong. A big part of their business is emptying homes of items that are no longer needed. Either because a tenant has abandoned them, or because the occupant is moving and doesn’t want to/can’t sell or giveaway their belongings.

It was the latter situation that brought me to seek their services. I had several pieces of furniture that weren’t being moved to a new residence, but I had no appetite for an endless parade of Craig’s List looky-loos, hagglers, and no-shows — and especially not anyone incapable of safely removing the items from my home. So, I decided to find a service that I could hire to take the furniture away.

Many of these companies, as I discovered, advertise that they will donate or recycle your items whenever possible. The first company that I selected put a strong emphasis on the donation angle, and even specified that they work with the Chicago Furniture Bank — which serves refugees and low-income households. That sounded good, so I paid a couple of hundred bucks and booked them to remove the first batch of discards.

The results were at best disappointing, and at some level, horrifying. The crew showed up late, understaffed, and struggled to remove the items gently from the house.

But worse yet, observing what happened when my pristine and beloved furniture was loaded on the truck broke my heart. The heavy items were literally dragged down the sidewalk. One piece, a lovely cherry Ethan Allen armoire, fell off the truck’s lift and onto the street. (I later found pieces of it in the gutter.)

Clearly, none of my furnishings were going to be offered to other families. I concluded that the removal service was probably just a way to generate funds via the “donation fee” that they charged. My items became “junk” not because I no longer wanted them, but because of the way they were handled by the company.

After this experience, a friend referred me to a local company called Gone Guys. I wish that I’d called them the first time. Their crew was professional, courteous, and treated my home and belongings with respect. Did my items still end up in a landfill? Perhaps. But their behavior was far preferred and when the truck pulled away, my furniture was still perfectly usable.

If you’re in Chicago, call Gone Guys, and don’t even consider booking one of the franchise crews. But, like surgery, it’s still best if you don’t watch while it’s happening.


Banned at the Aldi’s

I approach the cash registers at the local Aldi grocery store. In a rare occurrence, no one is already in line.

I eye the cashier on duty and decide I don’t want him touching my items. So I go to the self-service checkout right next to his station.

I abhor self-service checkout, but I only have a few items, and the cashier is playing with his Android phone, so I’m doing him a favor. He is probably close to beating his high score in Super Mega Bubble Pop, which explains why he doesn’t glance up when I approach his station.

I start self-scanning my items and glance over at the cashier. He’s leaned all the way back in his chair, has a foot up on the counter, and is engrossed in his game. (Yes, Aldi cashiers sit in chairs, which is really weird.)

As I scan my items, I place them into my backpack. It’s a little too full; I bought too much, as usual. I pay, and the screen reminds me to take my receipt, which ends up at the bottom of my bag after I repack to make everything fit. (Note to self: don’t put bread in first.)

I turn on my heels, take a step towards the door, then hear a voice behind me.

“Did you get a receipt?” Oh, the cashier has awoken from his trance!

“Yup, got it. Thanks,” I reply.

“Let me see it.”

“What?”

“I didn’t see your receipt print.“

“You were on your phone.”

“I need to see it.”

“No, you don’t. It’s in the bottom of my bag, and I’m not unpacking everything. I literally checked out right in front of you.”

“Show it to me or don’t ever come back,” he says, trying to sound authoritative while still leaning back, foot on the counter, and chip-tune music blaring from his phone.

“Ha! Yeah. Right. See you later, asshole,” I say, and walk out the door.

Postcript: I have, of course, been back. I haven’t seen Mr. Super Mega Bubble Pop again. (Which isn’t a surprise given the frequent turnover of employees at the store. I rarely see the same one twice.)

“Banned at the Aldi’s” will be the name of my next album.


macOS tip: You can pause printer jobs

As I’ve mentioned before, my printer is not located in my office, which is inconvenient when I’m doing a lot of printing, such as producing my series of Bizarre Fact Files.

An additional time-saving technique that I use is to pause the printer, run several jobs, then go put the appropriate paper tray in place before resuming the jobs. Not having to go back and forth between my computer and printer saves me about 70 stair steps. Here’s how it works:

Before printing, open System Preferences > Printer & Scanners, then double-click the printer in the Printers list. In the window that appears, click the Pause button. Important: Do not close the window where the Pause button appears.

screen shot of printer window

Next, print the file as you normally would. When the warning message about the printer being paused appears, click “Add to Printer.” Repeat for each document that you want to add to the printer’s queue.

screen shot of paused printer window

To take this even further, I created a Keyboard Maestro macro, triggered via Alfred Remote, to unpause the queue when I’m on the other floor. You’d need both of these pieces of software — which I recommend — to do this, so I won’t dwell on the details. But, briefly, you need to trigger the macro via Keyboard Maestro’s web server. The macro source is available at this gist.


The sad death of computer magazines

I am sad that there are no more American computer magazines. See these two articles for the ugly details:

I grew up with Family Computing and K-Power, then fell in love with Mac User, Byte, ST Format, and Dr. Dobb’s Journal. As a college student, I dreamt about someday being a columnist. (And I ended up doing some ad hoc writing for several of them. It was always a treat to be published like that, but it was a side gig, so the dreams of my youth were only partially fulfilled.)

Perhaps this reveals something about the adult that I grew to be, but these are some of my fondest childhood memories. Looking over the code printed (!) in the magazine, dutifully typing it all in, then finding my mistakes and making it work taught me about computers, writing, and myself. The code was an incantation that invoked magic, and not only could I wield it, I could actually understand it through study.

Today, Readly provides me with enjoyment of the few computer magazines that remain, including HackSpace, MagPi, Retro Gamer, and Linux Format. (All of which are British, by the way. British magazine racks are outstanding.)

But I hold out hope for a retro-resurgence in the US. Even after the shocking death of Playboy, it managed to return to newsstands (in a much lamer form). Hope springs eternal.


Descaling the KitchenAid Nespresso machine

I have written about my beloved KitchenAid Nespresso Espresso machine. Here are a few more tips, but this time related to cleaning and descaling the unit.

  • The descaling information provided by Nespresso’s website isn’t very helpful. I refer to this eight-year old YouTube video every time. (I hope it stays published!)
  • However, the video has a horrible instructional flaw. Namely, you must close the pod chamber before starting the descaling process. The video does not mention this, and you’re likely to have the chamber open as you’ve naturally ejected the last pod before cleaning. Do not forget to close the chamber or you will have a considerable mess on your hands! (Yes, I speak from experience.)
  • A related discovery, thanks to the above situation, once the descaling process is started it cannot be stopped. Even if you unplug the machine, it will resume until both cycles are complete.
  • No, I can’t fathom why the video instructs you to clean and dry the water chamber before filling it with water again. Seems like busy work. This sort of thing is typical of amateur technical writing, though this is an official video, so it should be better.
  • KitchenAid recommends descaling the unit monthly! This seems excessive to me, especially given the amount of time it requires, but I guess it depends on how hard your water is.
  • Unscientifically, making a cuppa seems to go a lot quicker after the machine has been descaled. If your machine’s coffee stream reminds you of an old man during the middle of the night, consider that it might need to be descaled.

And yes, thank you, I would like another cup. Black.


Book Review: Snails and Monkey Tails

This 2022 publication by Michael Arndt is subtitled “A Visual Guide to Punctuation & Symbols.” I was initially drawn to the book by its distinctive design, which definitely makes it stand out among other reference books for writers.

gordon meyer holding book cover

But, I didn’t buy it the first time I saw it, as the bookstore only had one copy and it was rather shelf-worn. Nor did I buy the book when I saw it the second time, in a different store, as it was shelved with the design books, and I was thinking it might be more style than substance.

But, as they say, the third time is the charm, especially when yet a different book store had it in their remainders section for less than the price of a nice coffee. I figured it was worth a purchase. And boy, was I right.

It does belong in the design book section because it is a lovingly, beautifully produced publication. (All those bleeds! The typography!) But as a reference for writers and word-lovers, it really shines. There’s no usage information (aside admonishment that one exclamation point is enough), instead it consists of the fascinating history of punctuation marks.

Just a couple of the things it taught me:

  • The abbreviation “lb” for pound originates in “Libra Pondo,” where libra is “scale” in Latin, and is also related to the astrological sign of the same name, which is depicted as scales. Over time, the abbreviation was written with a tittle (a crossbar connecting the two letters), which eventually morphed into a currency symbol for the British pound (£).
  • The ampersand is a twisted rendition of “et,” which is Latin for “and.”
  • My favorite punctuation mark, the interrobang, gets only a brief mention‽ Well, partial forgiveness is granted for introducing me to the percontation point, which is a backwards question mark meant to signal a rhetorical question. I wonder why nobody uses it⸮
  • The pointing hand symbol (manicule) lives on in emoji, but was commonly used in medieval times and Renaissance. ☜
  • In addition to the period (full stop) we know today, dots shifted off the baseline were the original forms of the comma and colon.

Usually, a book like this I’ll read, take some notes, and then donate to a Little Free Library. But this one, I’m keeping. It was Unabridged Books where I finally got my copy, but you can find it at the Amazon too. Don’t be like me and procrastinate.


Salt of many flavors

This is about the furthest away from a “food blog” than you can get, so pardon the surprise diversion of topic. (Although years ago I did publish a few restaurant reviews, before the hell spawn Yelp became a big thing.)

Anyway, I have called you here today to recommend Sel Magique. It is the “the worlds finest blend of salt and herbs,” and it’s French. So you know it’s pretentiously expensive.

But it’s also very delicious. Especially with smashed Avocado. This is the sort of seasoning for which kings launched a brigade of ships to retrieve from a distant land, but you can have it delivered to your door via the Amazon. What a time to be alive!

Thanks to friend and Realtor Brian Loomis for pointing my taste buds in this direction.