Another Bad Voltage Live is in the books

Earlier this month we recorded our fourth live show. I’d like to think it’s our best so far. We covered interesting topics, had some laughs, and although we still have a ton of areas we need to improve; we’re really starting to hit our stride. The show kicked off a discussion internally, and while I can’t offer any additional information now, let’s just say that if we can execute on our plans you should definitely stay tuned. If you have any comments or suggestions on how you think we can improve the show, we’re certainly interested in what you think. Back to the live show, I’d like extend a huge thanks to: Ticketmaster for providing the venue and entertainment/refreshments, Linode for getting us there, Dell and Endless for the prizes, and SCALE for once again allowing us to be the prime entertainment for Friday night. Also a huge round of applause for Chris on an ebullient intro, and Rikki and Hannah for agreeing to be in the game show… which in my opinion came out fantastic. Full disclosure on that – I was the quiz master. If you haven’t watched the live show yet, you still have a chance to win a Ubuntu Dell Sputnik laptop.

The Bad Voltage live stage show, from SCaLE 15x in Pasadena, March 2017!

An epic time was had. Jeremy Garcia, Jono Bacon, and Stuart Langridge, live on stage, in which there was some downright unfair quizzing of Jono, a one-sh*t trumpet, the brightest suit that’s ever been seen, a machine to count eggs, Perl abuse, a hollow burrito, pies, more pies, hammer pants, the Phantom Zone, no air horns, the products of the Chevy company, and a reappearance of Bryan! As well as:

  • [00:07:00] The news! Featuring the Amazon S3 outage, Snapchat being worth $33 billion, System76 bringing manufacturing in-house, and how swimming pools have dustbins full of urine in
  • [00:11:30] Cloudflare had a pretty serious security flaw identified by the Project Zero team at Google, where sensitive data from all sorts of Cloudflare sites was leaked — passwords, auth tokens, and the like. What’s the deal with this sort of issue? It’s surprising how much of the internet turned out to be behind Cloudflare, and this sort of centralisation is a problem… but equally, there’s a reason we go to experts in the field and outsource services to them! So, what’s the best approach here?
  • [00:20:00] Quizmaster extraordinaire Jeremy plays Much Taboo About Nothing, in which team opensource Jono and Rikki team up to battle heroic ginger team Stuart and Hannah in a game of wit, erudition, vocabulary, guesswork, and trying to not be too nasty about Ruby people. Partially successfully, depending on your attitude on rule-bending and wide appreciation of cultures…
  • [00:33:20] Why are all our amazing technological advances being used to make stupid pointless gadgets that nobody should buy? Paper towel dispensers that magically detect your hand movement and then still dispense a bit of brown paper to dry your hands on; amazing iPad-based payment systems which still require you to sign your name with your finger; endless pointless stupid Internet of Things devices. Stuart rants, and Jono and Jeremy respond with various degrees of defence or agreement as to where we’re going and what to do about incredible technology put to wasteful ends
  • [00:43:00] Ig-NOT — it’s like the Ignite talk series, but… not. The presenters each do a talk, on an unknown subject chosen by the audience, using unseen images suggested by the community and the other presenters. And… well, see how they get on. Featuring some properly unkind choices, a brief and magnanimous appearance by Bryan, and a very weird old guy with an axe…

–jeremy

PicoBrew Pico Review

In the most recent episode of Bad Voltage, I reviewed the PicoBrew Pico. Tune in to listen to the ensuing discussion and the rest of the show.

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Brewing beer is a complex and subtle mix of art and science. As a fan of both craft beer and technology, when I stumbled upon the Pico by PicoBrew I was intrigued. For those not familiar with the Pico, it’s a device that semi-automatically brews 5 liters of fresh craft beer at home in about 2 hours using grain and hop PicoPaks from dozens of breweries worldwide. From well known beers such as Dead Guy Ale from Rogue and Brew Free or Die from 21st Amendment, to niche beers from small local breweries scattered around the world that are unlikely to be available outside their direct locale, the selection is good and still growing rapidly. You’re also able to create your own beer from scratch via the Freestyle option that lets you choose a base style and then customize with around a dozen grain options, a half dozen hop varieties and the optional ability to dry hop.

The Pico guides you through the first few brewing steps over the course of roughly two hours, however like with any home brew, you need to wait between a few days and up to a couple of weeks for your beer to ferment and carbonate. I’ve heard it described as the Keurig of beer, but I don’t think that’s an apt characterization. Making beer with the Pico is somewhere between traditional home brewing and and a K-Cup type experience, which InBev claims to be working on incidentally. With that in mind, on to the actual device.

The Pico is a fairly large device, measuring 16″ x 12″ x 14″ and weighing in at 24 pounds. That may make it a difficult to accommodate for some. As the initial shipment comes with a PicoPak, a brewing keg, a dispensing keg, and quite a few accessories the delivery box is massive. Once you unpack everything initial setup is a breeze. Simply plug in the device, connect it to your wifi, and then associate it with your Pico account. The only thing left is the initial rinse, which is automated, and cleaning/sanitizing all the accessories and kegs. As with traditional home brewing, you better get used to cleaning and sanitizing as there is a lot of it involved. If you were expecting to hit a button, get beer, and be done let me allay you of that idea right now.

With everything gleaming and sanitary you’re ready for your first brew. The first part of the brewing process involves inserting the PicoPak into the main step filter. Each PicoPak is automatically recognized by the device and comes with a Hops Pak and a Grain Pak. From there you connect the brewing keg, which uses standard ball lock connectors, add some distilled water and start the process. For most recipes you can adjust the ABV (alcohol content) and IBU (bitterness), but nothing else. While the on-screen directions are usually clear, I recommend keeping the manual handy for the first couple batches. Roughly two very noisy hours later you have the smell of fresh bread in the air and brewed wort in your keg. You can track the progress of your brew, in real-time, online. Follow the cleaning and sanitizing instructions on the device and let the wort cool to the correct brewing temperature, which is noted on the Pak. From there you pitch your yeast, watch the airlock bubble for between a few days and a couple weeks, then rack the beer into either the serving keg or your kegerator system. While they offer a method to “fast ferment” your wort, I recommend sticking with the standard fermentation process. You can carbonate the beer with the priming sugar that comes with the PicoPak or force carbonate using the included adapter. You now have fresh homemade beer.

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How is that beer? I’ve brewed a few different styles from multiple breweries and the results have been mixed. My initial brew was a Buffalo Sweat Stout and it came out really good. In fact, some people that tried it didn’t believe I brewed it at home. On the other end of the spectrum, the Dead Guy Ale tasted off to the point of being almost undrinkable. As I brew more recipes from additional breweries I am curious to see which experience becomes the norm. Unfortunately I haven’t had a chance to try the Freestyle option yet, but I plan to very soon and will update with results when I do.

Note that new Pico devices also ship with a sous vide adapter. My Pico did not, but the company has stated they plan to ship the adapter to everyone eventually. Looking at the instructions, however, it’s much more complicated than a traditional sous vide. It’s pretty clear the company was committed to including the functionality because it was promised in their kickstarter, and they should be commended for this. It may be a decent way to test whether you like cooking sous vide, but if you’re serious about it I suspect you’ll want a proper setup sooner than later. I still use the Anova I reviewed in an previous episode and recommend it.

So, what’s the Bad Voltage verdict? At $799 the device is a fair bit more expensive than a traditional home brew setup. While it automates much of the process, there is still quite a bit of manual cleaning, sanitizing, and other work that must be done and the “beer in two hour” pitch is a little disingenuous. PicoPaks run between $19-$29, which translates to around $10-15 per growler of beer. It will be interesting to see how many breweries come on board and how consistent the end result is. So far the company has been very receptive to feedback and seem genuinely interested in listening to customers and improving the product, so I’m encouraged. PicoBrew deserves credit for making the brewing process simpler and removing some variables without making it much less authentic. I suspect if you really enjoy craft beer and live somewhere a good variety of it is difficult to procure, the device could be a compelling purchase. I also suspect many will consider it far too expensive, too complicated, and too inconsistent to justify the cost or effort involved. Note the company also makes a device called the Zymatic which is a true all-grain brewing appliance that is almost akin to a miniaturized commercial brewery. At $2,000 it’s a major investment but it also comes with the ability to sell PicoPaks in the BrewMarkepace, so may be an option for those looking to break into commercial brewing.

UPDATE: After recording the show I contacted PicoBrew with the following question: “If PicoBrew were to fail as a company, would the device be rendered useless? The fact that you cannot add your own ingredients to a pak would seem to indicate this is the case. Am I missing something? Thanks.”

They once again responded extremely quickly (under thirty minutes) with the following: “You are not missing anything and that is a quite valid concern. To alleviate this concern, we can promise two things:

1.  We’re not going anywhere.  We have a quite solid business plan and a quite large purse to keep us going for many years to come.
2.  If we were to go out of business, we would make sure our customers, those who trust and support us, are not screwed in our passing.  We would release all software surrounding our products and let the community build themselves a working server to support their appliances as well as release how to build your own Pak.”

–jeremy

Bad Voltage Season 2 Episode 3 Has Been Released: And Those Who Dig

Stuart Langridge, Jono Bacon, and myself present Bad Voltage, with special guest presenter Christina Warren, speaker, tech journalist from Gizmodo, and podcaster at Rocket. In this show:

Also, Bad Voltage are returning to SCALE in Pasadena in March for a live show! With free food and an open bar, and the 80s nerd rocker band the Spazmatics, the show’s gonna be great. Buy your SCaLE tickets now!

Listen to 2×3: And Those Who Dig

From the Bad Voltage site: Every two weeks Bad Voltage delivers an amusing take on technology, Open Source, politics, music, and anything else we think is interesting, as well as interviews and reviews. Do note that Bad Voltage is in no way related to LinuxQuestions.org, and unlike LQ it will be decidedly NSFW. That said, head over to the Bad Voltage website, take a listen and let us know what you think.

Bad Voltage Season 2 Episode 2 Has Been Released: Failed to Capture

With Bryan Lunduke moving on (best of luck with the Lunduke Hour; go take a listen), we decided to start “season 2” of Bad Voltage. Last episode we covered our 2017 predictions and Jono reviewed an SUV Caddy. We also added a recurring News segment to the show. In episode two:

Stuart Langridge, Jono Bacon, and myself present Bad Voltage, your fortnightly recommended dose of vitamins and minerals. Featuring a still virulently ill Jono, the uttering of the phrase “FreeBSD” in these hallowed halls, and:

  • [00:02:26] In the news this week, the Guardian wrongly declare WhatsApp to have a “back door” and get huge pushback from security experts demanding a retraction, Google is big enough to develop a trusted hardware solution for internal use only and isn’t going to sell it, possibly heralding a new era of hardware that nobody will be able to buy, and Facebook are doing something with VR thus confirming one of Jono’s predictions and he almost dies of smugness
  • [00:13:00] We review the ACPAD, which calls itself “the electronic orchestra for your guitar” after its successful Kickstarter; what’s it all about?
  • [00:27:30] Is ChromeOS “desktop Linux”? We asked this question in the last show, and it’s a bigger one than we might think. If it is, do Chromebook successes count as “the year of the Linux desktop”? If it isn’t, is it a threat? A rival or a friend? Should we buy a Chromebook?
  • [00:50:07] People are using the GPL less and permissive licenses more; this isn’t just a feeling, it’s confirmed by research. Why is this? Is it a problem? And do we think that anyone should care?

Also, Bad Voltage are returning to SCALE in Pasadena in March for a live show! Keep your ears open for more details, and buy your SCALE tickets now!

Listen to 2×2: Failed to Capture

From the Bad Voltage site: Every two weeks Bad Voltage delivers an amusing take on technology, Open Source, politics, music, and anything else we think is interesting, as well as interviews and reviews. Do note that Bad Voltage is in no way related to LinuxQuestions.org, and unlike LQ it will be decidedly NSFW. That said, head over to the Bad Voltage website, take a listen and let us know what you think.

Bad Voltage Episode 80 Has Been Released: The Two-Percenters

In this episode, we devote the whole show to a different format: a wide-ranging discussion on Linux adoption and market share, following the news that it’s been trending up and over 2% consistently for a while now. Taking in the current state of hardware, Steam gaming, new devices from everyone else, and whether mobile is eating desktop or not, myself, Stuart Langridge, Bryan Lunduke and Jono Bacon dive deep into where Linux is going and whether we want it to get there at all.

Listen to 1×80: The Two-Percenters

–jeremy

From the Bad Voltage site: Every two weeks Bad Voltage delivers an amusing take on technology, Open Source, politics, music, and anything else we think is interesting, as well as interviews and reviews. Do note that Bad Voltage is in no way related to LinuxQuestions.org, and unlike LQ it will be decidedly NSFW. That said, head over to the Bad Voltage website, take a listen and let us know what you think.

Bad Voltage Episode 77 Has Been Released: Wax Cylinder Coming Soon

Stuart Langridge, Jono Bacon, Bryan Lunduke, and myself present Bad Voltage, in which three idiots fail to recognize the glory of having the theme tune from The League Of Gentlemen as one’s ringtone, we create Garcia’s Law, and:

  • 00:02:01 Google have long been a player in the chat or IM ecosystem. But just lately their approach in this area seems to be getting more and more confused. What’s the deal, big G? You’ve got Allo and Duo and GTalk and Hangouts… what’s the end goal here?
  • 00:24:33 Open sourcing your hardware. Kyle from OpenMYR, who are currently kickstartering wifi-controllable motors1, asks the BV team: are we doing the right thing, publishing the hardware source for our creations? When’s the right time to open your hardware: before it exists, after it exists, or never? We look into the question and give some thoughts

Listen to 1×77: Wax Cylinder Coming Soon

–jeremy

From the Bad Voltage site: Every two weeks Bad Voltage delivers an amusing take on technology, Open Source, politics, music, and anything else we think is interesting, as well as interviews and reviews. Do note that Bad Voltage is in no way related to LinuxQuestions.org, and unlike LQ it will be decidedly NSFW. That said, head over to the Bad Voltage website, take a listen and let us know what you think.

Bad Voltage: Philips Hue vs LifX, and are smart bulbs a good idea?

On the next episode of Bad Voltage, we discuss whether smart bulbs are a good idea. To get the conversation rolling, I started out with a brief introduction of two systems I use: Hue and LifX. Here’s how the segment starts:

The Bad Voltage team thought it would be interesting to have a discussion about smart bulbs: whether they’re a good idea or not, what the future holds, etc. Before we do that though, I thought I’d give a brief introduction of the multiple smart bulb solutions I have running in my home.

The first system I have running is Philips Hue. Based on the low-power, wireless mesh network zigbee standard this system requires a hub to operate. The Hue line offers a wide variety of options, including standard lights, accent lights, spot lights, light strips, integrated switches and more. Setup is a breeze and while the stock app could be more intuitive the large number of 3rd party applications and integrations more than make up for that. The bulbs are bright and color saturation is acceptable. One down side to this option is that it’s on the pricier end of the spectrum.

The second system I have running is LifX. Based on traditional wifi, no additional hub is needed. The LifX line is limited to standard white and color bulbs. Setup is once again a breeze and the stock app is intuitive and full featured. It includes some nice touches such as cool effects baked into the app that you can only get with Hue by using 3rd party apps. The number of 3rd party integrations isn’t as large as Hue, but has been growing steadily recently. The bulbs have the greatest brightness and color saturation of any smart bulb I’ve seen. The price of LifX bulbs are comparable to Hue.

Depending on your needs and design requirements, I’d recommend both systems. There are less expensive options from GE, Wink, WeMo, Cree and others but I’ve never used them so cannot comment on how they compare. With that brief intro out of the way let’s get to the first question my co-presenters had. Are smart bulbs a good idea? Let me give you a few examples of how I use the bulbs and then we’ll get the discussion going from there. First, on the more practical side I have a bunch of automations setup that make my home safer and more convenient. Open the front door when it’s dark outside and my living room lights go on. Open the basement door and the basement lights go on (which is especially handy while doing laundry). Next, as I have Redshift adjust the color temperature of my screens at night, the lights in my office also adjust to reduce the amount of blue light as it get later. Lastly, on the less practical side, when my favorite team scores a touchdown various lights in my house flash the team colors. So, fellow presenters, what do you think?

Turn in tomorrow to hear what my fellow presenters think. In the mean time, what is your opinion on smart bulbs?

–jeremy