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Visible Mobile

I recently considered Visible Mobile as my phone carrier, to potentially replace AT&T prepaid.

Visible Mobile

There are many factors to consider with carriers:

Price: Visible is cheap. If you figure out how to join a Visible “party pay” , you can get a single line for $25. See Reddit to join a random person’s party, still with no need to share personal information. You can add an Apple Watch for only $5/month compared to most everyone else who charge $10/month. Currently, if you let their free trial expire, Visible will offer you a $100 gift card to join.

Data Caps: The price is amazing considering it’s for unlimited data and unlimited hotspot. My AT&T plan has an 8 Gb cap. Perhaps coincidentally, after I started the Visible trial, AT&T said they’d give an an additional 5 Gb per month.

Coverage: Visible uses Verizon, so it’s arguably got the best coverage available in the US. Having traveled through Wyoming and Yellowstone, I’ve found that Verizon had better coverage. Your mileage may vary. In major cities, AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile should all have good coverage.

Speed: Here’s the rub. Speed isn’t great, typically at around 2-8 Mbps. This compares to around 100 Mbps from AT&T. Still, this would probably work okay if not for the ping times of 100-200ms compared to 30-40ms for AT&T’s prepaid plans. In the real world, that makes a webpage load in 6 seconds instead of 2. Carriers prioritize their traffic and give prepaid and cheap plans the lowest priority. So at busy areas and times, speed and ping times might get worse. Some Visible users claim 80 Mbps speeds but didn’t see any decent speeds or ping times in Virginia, D.C., or Wyoming.

While I didn’t make the switch to Visible, I loved their free 15 day trial using an esim. This can be added to an iPhone while not losing your existing carrier. During the trial, you’ve got two carriers. So if you’re traveling somewhere and want extra coverage or unlimited bandwidth, give Visible a try.

Robot Vacuums Work

Over the last 15 years, robot vacuums have come a long way. No longer blind, today’s robot vacuums use lasers and cameras to identify walls and objects in order to plot logical paths. The original robot vacuums would bump into everything, knock things over, scuff up furniture, and get stuck. They even threw themselves down the stairs, as if understanding their true value.

While modern robots have largely overcome these issues, they lack the suction of a standard vacuum. The robots are meant to be run often, even daily. An upright vacuum is still needed for the occasional deep cleaning.

There are many manufacturers of robot vacuums. The biggest and most well known is Roomba. While Roomba’s are great and the only US-designed robots, they aren’t my favorite for value or smarts. My personal favorites are by Roborock. I currently use the Roborock S6 MaxV (say that 3 times fast), a slightly older model at this point that can still be found refurbished. These use LIDAR to map out rooms and cameras for object detection and avoidance. Object avoidance is a must-have if you have a pet that leaves poop which you prefer not to have smeared around your house. Object avoidance also helps if you leave things on the floor that could snag the robot. This robot also has a mop function, which is nothing great but can help a little.

If you want a cheaper robot, the Roborock S4 has LIDAR, but no camera or mop. Any Roborock with LIDAR is amazing. They create maps of your floorpan that you can easily edit with no-go zones, for example to avoid a pile of wires under your desk. They also vacuum in efficient patterns, better than I have seen with Roomba’s.

Roborock Floor Plan

You can remotely start and control the robots so that they can vacuum while you’re out. You can use one robot on a multi-story house, but you need to carry the robot since they can’t handle stairs. I like the ease of having one robot on each floor.

The robots do require some maintenance: dumping out the dust, cleaning and occasionally replacing the filters and brushes. Replacement parts for the Roborock are relatively cheap.

While an indulgence, robot vacuums are now a useful household tool instead of just an annoying gimmick.

COVID Resources

There are lots of great resources on the state of COVID in general and for your community. Here are some that I frequent:

Virginians, Install the COVIDWISE App

Built with privacy potection in mind, and using technology developed by Apple and Google, the COVIDWISE app will alert you if you have encountered someone who later reported testing positive for Coronavirus. If lots of people use this or other interoperable apps from other states, it will enable easy contract tracing and allow people to more quickly quarantine, thus slowing the spread.

From the Washington Post:

The app will work outside of Virginia, but only users verified by the Virginia health department will be able to input a Covid-positive status. Per the Virginia Department of Health website, “There have been discussions regarding a federal database for positive diagnosis verification which would greatly simplify interoperability of exposure notification apps between states. It is not currently certain when this will be available.”

UPDATE: If you do every get a positive COVID test result, be sure to ask for the 6 digit pin so that you can enter your positive result into the COVIDWISE app. You need that to alert others of your result. Sadly, this isn’t given to you by default. That fact, and the lack of universal usage of the app, have limited its usefulness thus far.

Don’t Buy a New Computer Now

There’s a saying that the best time to buy a computer is when you need one. WIth new technology always arriving, most jumps in technology are incremental. So just buy whenever.  Today, in August 2020, I suggest waiting a bit longer if you can.

Apple is leading the way to end of Intel-based computers with their announcement that they will start using “Apple Silicon” in their computers. This will be a huge jump for Apple’s computers and it portends similar changes that are surely coming to the PC.

Apple CEO Tim Cook Announcing Apple Silicon (aka ARM) for Macs

42 years ago in 1978, Intel came out with the 8086 chip and the x86 architecture. Intel, along with Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) later, made practically every computer’s central processing unit (CPU). (There were many exceptions such as Motorola 68000 chips and PowerPC CPUs, but these never achieved the scale or had the long run of Intel’s CPUs.)

ARM CPUs use a different RISC-based architecture than Intel’s CPUs, and became most ubiquitous in Apple’s iPhones and iPads, as well as most Android phones. Apple will start selling Macs this year with ARM CPUs, which Apple refers to as “Apple Silicon,” justifiably since Apple puts a great deal of effort into designing and optimizing the CPUs for their devices.

ARM is already becoming popular in servers. Therefore, we only await Microsoft Windows’ move to ARM for a full transition away from the Intel era. (Microsoft Windows does have an ARM version, but it is not 64-bit and was never made to be able to run the x86 applications.)

What does an ARM CPU mean for consumers? Due to efficiencies of the ARM CPU, we will see computers that are faster, smaller, and cheaper, while also having better battery life. This is partially because Intel has hit technical snags which have kept their CPUs stagnant the last few years. While AMD has made great improvements with their Zen chips on the same x86 architecture, ARM chips are clearly the power per watt leaders of the future.

So certainly buy a new computer if you need one now. But a big jump in computing is on the way.