DirecTV Now

Do not waste your time on this terrible service. I was lured in to their launch special that included a “free” Apple TV. The only good thing about the offer was the Apple TV. The day I received my Apple TV there was a 6 hour outage (probably because they didn’t anticipate the surge in demand). Can you remember the last time your cable TV service had 6 hours of downtime? Was there an apology or credit from DirecTV for that outage? Nope.

That’s not even the worst part. Sadly, since the day I started using this service, I still frequently get random video stalls. I can be watching a show for an hour and then it randomly happens, or it sometimes happens if I try to change to a channel and I get a black screen. This is only a problem with DirecTV Now. I can use Amazon, Netflix, or any other app without video streaming hiccups. I’ve never had this issue on any other device on my network. I consistently get 250/30 Mbps Internet speed.

Putting aside the technical issues, this service is really no different from regular cable service. They took regular cable service and put it on the Internet. They managed to actually make usability worse and there isn’t even a good value argument.

Other annoying things:

  • Although you don’t get commercials on a channel like MSNBC, you instead get a static image during normal commercial breaks and an annoying audio loop. I hate commercials, but this audio loop is surprisingly more annoying. It would be better if they had no audio.
  • Changing channels is done using the trackpad on the Apple TV remote. Picking up the remote in the dark will often cause accidental channel changes if you brush against the trackpad. I would have happily used either my Android TV, PS4, or Xbox One but they don’t make an app for these devices, which is strange when almost every other streaming service supports at least one of those devices.
  • I added HBO service, which I pay extra for each month. I didn’t realize until after I had signed up that it’s a limited HBO channel. I can’t go back and watch all episodes in a season. It appears you only get some of the most recent episodes. Comcast, as much as I hate to admit, offers a better service and value.

Good things:

  • You can watch live TV from your bed, from any device

Goodbye, Apple Music

I’m switching back to Spotify, at least for streaming music. Ever since Apple Music launched, iTunes stability has taken a dramatic turn for the worse. Considering the first three months were free, I was more willing to ignore these problems, but now that i’m paying for it, it’s pretty annoying.

Especially today when I started receiving this error every few minutes:

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This error makes the iTunes dock icon bounce every time it happens, so it’s very intrusive. So, Apple thought it was important enough to interrupt your work, but not important enough that it can be dismissed automatically. And it appears to be happening even when I play offline tracks. Restarting iTunes does nothing. It doesn’t affect playback of my music, it’s just an annoying error.

This is on top of all of the other random errors and nonsense in the new version of iTunes and Apple Music (I have an almost daily iTunes crash, usually more per day). The iTunes app needs a dramatic overhaul; it seems to be getting more bloated each year and more confusing to use.

I originally switched away from Spotify because I liked the idea of having everything, both my offline music and streaming, in a single app. But the iTunes and Apple Music experience is so poor it’s not even worth that added convenience when the entire thing is a fluster cluck.

I guess i’ll have to get my Taylor Swift tracks somewhere else.

Wireless Routers

I’ve used many wireless routers over the years; from the basic 802.11b Linksys models to running my own PFSense installation with a separate wireless AP. Sadly, it is difficult to find reliable consumer routers/APs that have a decent set of features and don’t require regular reboots to continue working. You often have to trade reliability for good speed/range.

Apple Airport
For several years I’ve been using an Apple Airport Extreme alongside an Airport Express that extended the range of my wireless; it was just enough to give me the range needed to be usable so I could get decent signal outside. It’s also the easiest router i’ve ever setup and one that I think the average person has a better chance of getting working than most competitors. It’s definitely the easiest system I’ve used to extend my wireless signal with repeaters — you just add more airport expresses to extend your range. Setup is extremely easy in the Airport Utility app. The biggest downside is the lack of features and visibility into what is going on; all you get is what you see in the Airport Utility app. I’ve also mentioned before how easy it is to get IPv6 working with this system and with Apple’s coming IPv6 priority changes in El Capitan, it’s nice to see that it’s easier than ever to get IPv6 working for wide adoption by all clients.

For the most part, these Airport devices are incredibly reliable. I can’t remember the last time I needed to reboot them. My last router was a D-Link draft-N router and it required constant reboots and QoS was a joke; a single user could make the network inoperable for all other users.

Speed is very good with Airport, especially if you use 5Ghz. In the same room as the AP, I can transfer files locally at around 20MB/sec (160Mbps) over rsync/SSH.

Mikrotik RB2011UiAS-2HnD-IN
A few people I work with told me about this 802.11b/g/n 2.4Ghz Mikrotik router; it runs on software called RouterOS. Granted, this router does not exactly compete with the Airport system on features. I’m not a networking expert, but you do need some networking knowledge to get this thing working. Your parents won’t be able to use this without your help. On the bright side, this router gives you enough features that you can manage their network remotely if they have trouble.

I was able to get up and running in under 30 minutes, including setting up my native IPv6 configuration (note: I had to do this from terminal, not the web interface). The signal strength is very good throughout my house, but unfortunately it is not enough to reach outside. Still, the speed inside is consistent — I received about 10MB/sec (80Mbps) persistently when transferring a file over wifi to two machines in the same room. I’m still impressed considering that this is only a 2Ghz router; I would love to see a 5Ghz version of this router.

The number of features in this router are simply too many to list. I don’t even know what some of these features do, but the amount of features is almost overwhelming. This is basically an enterprise level router at (below) consumer prices.

Considering the Airport still wins in range, I’ve setup the Mikrotik as my router and the Airport has been switched to AP mode only so I get the best of both worlds.