The Agony and Ecstasy of Personal Transport

I don’t drive. Crazy, I know. Even coming from Hobart, living 20 minutes by car from the CBD, or 40 minutes by bus, I’ve never really found the need. And if I didn’t need to drive in Hobart, where everywhere is at least a good twenty minutes away by car, then I probably wasn’t going to need to drive when I moved to Brisbane, a city with vastly better public transport infrastructure than Hobart.

But for a little while now, I’ve wanted to explore Brisbane. I’ve visited all the big shopping centres, walked through all the Westfields, and now feel as though it’s time to branch out. As much as I like walking, walking has two major downsides. For starters, it takes a long time if you want to go anywhere, and walking outside in Brisbane heat might as well be classified as self-harm.

So for the past couple of months, I’ve been asking myself: how do I get around Brisbane that isn’t walking or driving?

Biking is the most obvious answer. You could probably pick up a semi-decent bike for under $1000, and would easily satisfy any kind of personal transport you had. While I’ve always been impartial to biking, I’ve never owned a nice bike, so now is probably not the time to start. Besides, the thought of having to ride on the road, alongside cars, is kinda scary. Yes, I know bike paths exist, and Brisbane has some very nice bike paths that look increasingly tempting and very rideable, but there are a few things that keep me from going all-out and buying a nice bike.

If I’m going to get a nice bike, I’m probably going to want some kind of return on investment. It seems crazy to have a really nice bike only to ride it on the weekends, which means I’m probably going to want to ride to work. But what kind of person voluntarily does hard physical exercise for 20-30 minutes, twice per day, in anywhere between 25º and 35º heat? Even if my workplace has great after-trip facilities, there’s no getting around the fact that I’m going to arrive at work as a gross, sweaty mess every single morning. Nobody wants that.

Besides, some quick maths says that a nice $2000 bike, at current public transport prices, is going to take over a year of riding to work before it pays itself off. And if I’m being honest, “biking culture”, if we’re calling it that, is a little too serious for me. Strike bikes off the list, at least for now.

What about an electric skateboards? They’re all the rage these days. Even if they seem a little “how do you do, fellow kids”, they’re actually super cool. The two most popular names, Boosted Boards or Queensland’s own Evolve, are definitely not for the faint hearted. A guy I know has the Evolve Carbon GT, and it’s basically the Ferrari of electric skateboards, with carbon fibre construction and an insane 1500W behind each rear wheel. Unfortunately, the Evolve Carbon GT, being the Ferrari of electric skateboards (after seeing it you’d want nothing else), comes with a price tag to match; the all-terrain model comes in at a touch under $2000, and for that money you could get a very sweet bike indeed. So cross electric skateboards off the list, too.

Which is where the Xiaomi M365 comes into play.

The M365 was perfect. Not overly flashy, but capable enough of getting me from A to B. It was the cheap and cheerful alternative to whatever else I was thinking of buying, and for a while there, was the thing for personal transport. I can only begin to describe what it felt like, scooting around the local neighbourhood, on my way to the shops to pick a few things up, or feeling the wind in my face after a long day at work. When it was good, it was great. That’s “ecstasy”, or at least was.

Unfortunately, long-term reliability issues made the M365 less appealing than what I originally thought it was going to be. I ended up clocking less than 200KMs on that thing, which seems like a terrible shame for how much I spent on it. While it’s entirely possible that later revisions have fixed the problems I (and many others across the world) have experienced, that’s kind of the price you pay for being an early adopter of a new and groundbreaking method of personal transport from a company with no proven track record in the field.

What about a regular skateboard? Too pedestrian.

A longboard? Too impractical.

A Segway? Too nerdy, even for me.

An electric bike? Too expensive.

A Vespa? Good heavens, no.

In light of any real options, it looks like the jury’s still out on what the most suitable of personal transport is.

In terms of daily commutes, I’m pretty lucky. It’s a short 2.5 KM walk between home and work. If I don’t feel like walking (which is, if I’m honest, all the time, even when it’s not 30ºC before 9am), work is just one train stop away, and living closer to the CBD than my work is means that I’ve never had to deal with the hell that is a packed train during peak, as fun as my colleagues tell me that sweat-pit sardine experience is.

All of this will change next year when I move. My daily commute via public transport will go from 15 minutes to somewhere in the 40 minute range, and to make matters worse, I’ll have to switch transport methods along the way; either taking a bus then a train, or a train then a bus, or two busses. This particular public transport debacle probably could have avoided if I chose a better location to buy my own place, but eh, that’s just how it goes. It’ll have to do.

I figure if I’m going to invest in some kind of personal transport to make my daily commute a little easier, I might as well do it now while I have an easy commute. Unfortunately, even though my commute will take longer, I shouldn’t be paying any more for it after I move, so I might as well get something now so it can start paying for itself while I have an easy commute, instead of next year when I have a terrible commute.

My head says I should get a bike. It’s the practical, sensible option. I’ve got most of the bits I need for practical commuting and some I don’t, including clip-in pedals and shoes, and would really only need a rack to store a change of clothes in two and from work.

On the other hand, my heart wants an electric skateboard. It’s the cool, fun option. There’s no risk of suffering from heat-related injuries during my everyday commute, I don’t have to worry about bike maintenance or the potential of a flat when I’m halfway into my ride, and if I buy an Evolve, at least I’ll have some kind of local warranty if things go wrong.

All I know is, I’ve been thinking about this on and off for the past few months, ever since my electric scooter died, and I’m still no closer to a decision. That’s agony.

Happy Fun Park

We had passed it a few times. Driving to Aeon, you could see it from the highway. In the daylight, it looked abandoned and near-derelict, a collection of small-time amusement park fare. A merry-go-round, bumper cars, and a bunch of those games of skill that tempted you with stuffed animal prizes. Nothing permanent, but a collection of the kind of amusements you might find at the show of a small, regional town. Which made sense, this being Sitiawan and all.

The sign on the front said Happy Fun Park, but I wasn’t so sure.

We went back when it was actually open, at night. While it looked abandoned during the day, that changed completely at night. Flashing neon lights and fluorescent lighting lit up the rides and small booths, and some generic dance/electronic music added an almost cool vibe. My cousins weren’t too interested in any of the rides — they seemed mostly designed to entertain teenagers, not semi-independent twenty-somethings — but we went on the Ferris wheel anyway, in the hopes that it would give us a decent view.

One of the rides was the swinging-hammer type that did a fulled 360-degree rotation around its centre. I had ridden one of those in Hong Kong in what would have been nearly a decade ago, so I wasn’t really interested in riding it again, and especially not alone. Eventually, I convinced one of my younger cousins to ride the swinging ship with me. You know the type; it’s a gentler ride, but can still make you feel a little funny. Unfortunately, the novelty wore off after about 30 seconds, but the ride seemed to go on forever, or at least entirely too long. I thought my cousin was going to throw up, but she just looked mildly sick — this was after we just had a massive banquet dinner, so I’m not sure I blame her.

I tried my hand at a game of skill with another cousin. I didn’t completely understand the rules, but the idea was that you had to pop balloons with darts. Having played electronic darts at a bar a few nights prior, we gave it a half-decent go and got pretty within one or two balloons of a prize, but we ended up missing the last one and ended up winning a absolutely nothing.

The way you paid for rides and amusements was with these small purple tokens, and I ended up keeping one of the tokens as a memento.

A reminder of simpler times, perhaps. Or maybe to just have fun every now and again.

My iPhone X Home Screen

It’s 6am. A frankly unbelievable hour. Nevertheless, I’ve caught the earliest bus I can tolerate, all in the hopes I’ll be able to pick up an iPhone X from one of the three Apple stores in the greater Brisbane region. I’ve chosen Chermside as my go-to — hopefully it’s a little less busy because it’s a little more out of the way, even though the Brisbane CBD store is easier to get to.

It’s not that I forgot to pre-order the iPhone X, it’s just that I wasn’t sure I wanted one. I wasn’t sure then, and I’m still not sure I want one now. But I might as well try. By the time I arrive at Chermside, the queue is maybe 40-something deep. The Westfield is eerily quiet at this time of the morning, but it’s nice. Peaceful, even.

I end up lining up for the iPhone X. It’s the second time I’ve ever lined up for any iPhone. I put in a reservation with the Apple blue shirts when they start working their way through the queue at around 7am, who congratulate me on my new iPhone once we’re finished choosing. The store opens at 8am, but it’s still about another hour after that I get to purchase my iPhone X. Was it worth it? Absolutely.

You probably saw where this was going when I started writing about my iPhone 6 and 7 home screens, years after those devices were released. I thought we needed some kind of catch-up before getting to today’s iPhone X home screen.

Given that it’s only been a year since the iPhone 7 was released, not much on my home screen has changed. I’m still using a home screen organisation method that’s similar to the CGP Grey method, and only a few apps have been swapped out.

Starting from the top:

  • Notesy has been switched out for Editorial, as the former has been removed from the App Store. They’re both pretty similar apps, even if Editorial has a bunch of powerful workflow-type actions that I’ll probably never use.

  • Slack was relegated to a folder after I discovered I wasn’t using it as much as I wanted to be, and Soulver makes a return to the home screen in its place.

  • Vesper was also removed from the App Store and my home screen. I’ve got Yammer in its place, because I’m now a corporate drone and a slave to the man.

  • WhatsApp was moved to a folder because I hardly use that either, and the Discourse app lets me check AppleTalk without having to load up Safari, even if it is just a glorified web wrapper.

  • Ecoute was moved into a folder because it’s hard to beat the inbuilt Music app when I’m an Apple Music subscriber. To be fair, Ecoute still works with iCloud Music Library, but the built-in Music app has Apple Music integrations that aren’t available on third party apps. I’m also using a manual playlist for the “play all music from playlists within a folder” problem that I described as one of my main reasons for using something other than Music originally.

  • Tootdon is on my home screen at the moment because I’m trying out Mastodon as an alternative to Twitter. Mastodon feels a lot like App.Net right now, but we’ll see how it all pans out.

It’s been two weeks since the release of the iPhone X, and so far, Gmail, Google Maps, Clear, Editorial, Soulver, and Discourse don’t support the larger iPhone X screen. I’m kind of surprised Google’s apps aren’t updated, I can understand why Clear hasn’t (they’re apparently working on a complete overhaul, but the app was very custom to begin with), but apps like Editorial, Soulver, and Discourse are a little behind. Discourse is particularly puzzling, given that it looks like just a super-barebones web wrapper that you wouldn’t think has much custom code.

But there’s another problem with the iPhone X that’s just as important as non-optimised apps: it’s almost impossible to find great wallpapers for it. Even if you do manage to find something with the right resolution and the right aspect ratio, the quality of the screen means you’ll quickly notice any imperfections. Thankfully, a few recent Samsung devices (the S8, S8+, Note 8, and slightly older Note 4) all have displays with similar aspect ratios. If you can tolerate a slightly zoomed wallpaper, then there’s a whole range of 2560×1440 wallpapers that you can find. I’ve also been using Vellum.

My iPhone 7 Home Screen

For the first time since the iPhone 4 was released, the iPhone 7 introduced no changes to screen size over the previous model (notwithstanding S-revisions). But sometime during the two years of the iPhone 6 and the iPhone 7, I switched to some variation of the CGP Grey method of home screen organisation, once again covered by Ben Brooks. There’s now just one page of apps, at least one row that has no apps at all, and four icons in the dock. Everything else goes in one of the folders.

The advantages of this method of home screen organisation make a lot of sense. The days of having pages and pages of apps were over since Apple introduced folders, and this takes that idea to the next level. No longer do you have to rely on muscle memory to remember which apps are where, and instead, you can rely on Spotlight to find the app you’re looking for. Letting go of any inclination to organise those top-row folders is also incredibly freeing.

Your most-used apps can still remain on your home screen, and with iOS 9 and the introduction of Spotlight suggestions, sometimes you don’t even have to search for the app you want, as it appears in your Spotlight app suggestions. If you’re thinking of adopting this method, I’d highly recommending hit “show more” within Spotlight to show eight app suggestions instead of the default four.

Unfortunately, this requirement for some folders and just one page of apps meant that I had to make some decisions about how many individual apps I had on my home screen. Thankfully, changes to usage patterns made that a little easier. This is going to get a little lengthy, but stick with me.

Let’s talk about what was removed, to start off with. If I was going to keep one of the Camera or Photos apps around, it was going to be Camera, as I could always access Photos from within Camera. The argument could also be made for removing Cameras, as you have shortcuts to it from the lock screen and Control Center, but I still wanted it on my home screen too. With a folder dedicated to games, off went Threes. Passbook, Facebook, and Wikipedia also went — not that I don’t find those apps useful, but I found I wasn’t using them enough to justify a now-scarce spot on my home screen. Once I realised I hardly used the App Store app for finding new apps or basically anything at all, that was also moved into a folder.

Pocket Weather Australia was moved into a folder, which initially proved to be a bit of a dilemma thanks to the fact that the CGP Grey method doesn’t work well with folder badges. Folders only have one badge that is the sum of all the badges on apps within it, and because I use Pocket Weather’s badge to tell me about the current “feels like” temperature, I had to turn off notification badges for every other app in the same folder. As it turns out, none of the apps in there have badges I care about anyway, so off went that switch.

Boxie fell victim to “internal team issues”, which meant that development ceased and the app was removed from the App Store and my home screen not too long after.

Exactly seven apps remain unchanged from my previous iPhone. Fantastical, Clear, Notesy, Instapaper, Vesper, Swarm, and Tweetbot remain the staples of my third-party iOS experience, all representing the best-in-class versions of their respective App Store categories. Tweetbot 4 had only recently been released, which is why I was running it in tandem with the old version until I had a chance to do something about my numerous written, but not tweeted, drafts.

Now, changes.

It was during the period between iPhones that I started a new job in a new city, which meant a work email account. Not wanting to cross the streams, I decided to ditch Mail in favour of Gmail for my personal email. This turned out to be a pretty good choice, as I gained push email and smarter notifications at the cost of not using the built-in mail client. Living in a new city also meant I needed the most accurate data possible for Maps, which meant swapping out Apple’s aesthetically-pleasing maps app in favour of Google’s more accurate one. The jury’s still out on which one I prefer.

Sick of Apple’s unending changes to the Music app which removed features I used, I was trialling Ecoute and Cesium as potential replacements for the default Music app. At the time this screenshot was taken, I had settled on Ecoute as I liked how it created a playlist from a folder of playlists containing all the songs within the folder.

Additions to the home screen this time around include:

  • 1Password — I think I added this because I wanted to focus more on using strong, unique passwords for online accounts. Owning multiple computers meant I was logging into those accounts multiple times, and because I haven’t ponied up for 1Password on multiple platforms, the iOS version is the next best thing as my iPhone is always with me. Which is a good thing, as the 1Password iOS app is great.

  • Slack — I’m not sure why this app is on my home screen. I’m a member of exactly one workspace, which hasn’t had a message in any of its channels in months. I could easily swap this out with something else, but for now, I enjoy the nerd cred that I get from having it there (even if I’m the only one that knows about it).

  • NextThere — A new city meant new, real-time public transport options, and that meant NextThere. No other public transport app comes close to the everyday convenience offered by NextThere when it comes to knowing the next train or bus departing from your closest station or bus stop. And besides, who doesn’t want a smiling bus on the their home screen?

  • Outlook — This is for work email only, although I’d prefer using it for Exchange and Office 365 email over the built-in Mail app. Something about a first-party app just makes me feel more comfortable about the reliability of the thing, you know?

  • WhatsApp — My permanent WhatsApp status says “I begrudgingly use WhatsApp. Please don’t message me here unless you really have to.” I really have no idea why this was on my home screen at the time of this screenshot.

  • Copied — With the demise of the iOS version of Pastebot and no replacement on the horizon, I wanted something capable of doing some iOS clipboard management. The need is largely negated now that iOS and macOS talk to each other and I can copy stuff between both operating systems, but having an on-device clipboard manager has still come in handy on occasions, especially when I’m trying to copy and paste between my iPhone and iPad.

The folders themselves are self-explanatory. I could delete most of the Apple apps now that that’s a thing you can do as of iOS 10, but I keep them around. There’s a bunch of apps in the Tools folder that I rarely touch, and even more apps within Rares that I use maybe a handful of times per year. Games tends to get a few new additions here and there, but for the most part that stays pretty static too.

The eagle-eyed among you will note that I’m not sticking completely to the CGP Grey method of home screen app organisation, because there’s three apps in the row that’s supposed to kept free. I’ve been using that row as a trialling ground of sorts — some apps stay there temporarily to encourage use while I give them a red hot go, and from there they’ll either get promoted to a folder, or if they’re particularly good, a coveted spot on the home screen.

And if they’re not that good, then it’s the little X for them.

My iPhone 6 Home Screen

The last time I did one of these was back in 2013 not too long after the iPhone 5 was released, so we’re definitely long overdue for an update on my home screen. I think it’s interesting how this kind of thing changes over time, either because apps stop getting updated, better alternatives come along, or my own usage patterns change. Either way, let’s get into the nitty gritty.

I don’t have a definitive screenshot of my very first iPhone 6 Home screen, but I think is the closest thing, and it’s certainly the only home screen screenshot from just after the iPhone 6 release back in September 2014. As you can see, not that much has changed from the iPhone 5 home screen: besides adding another row of apps, introducing a whole new dilemma for home screen icon organisation, I’m more or less using the same apps.

Old favourites Fantastical, Clear, Facebook, Boxie, Instapaper, Soulver, Notesy, Vesper, and Pocket Weather Australia all make a return, and Tweetbot retains its coveted number-one spot on the dock. This being a year after the introduction of iOS 7, most apps and their icons have made the jump to feature the divisive flat design.

Changes to apps between my iPhone 5 and iPhone 6 include swapping out the much-loved, but unfortunately no longer updated Articles for the surprisingly great official Wikipedia app, which has all the features I care about in a mobile Wikipedia interface. Following the developer joining Apple, Articles isn’t the first app that was abandoned, and it certainly won’t be the last to be swapped out for a more modern alternative.

The demise of App Dot Net also saw the removal of Felix from my home screen. A pity and a damn shame it’s no longer available in any shape or form, as I’d rate Felix in my top five iPhone apps of all time based on aesthetics and usability alone despite the fact it was tied to a promising, if ultimately doomed, social network.

Sometime in 2014, Foursquare decided to split its app into two. Foursquare became the app for place recommendations, while Swarm was the gamified version, the one you used to check into places and collect mayorships based on how many times you had been there recently. Because the mayorships and check-ins was the original reason I joined Foursquare, I decided to keep Swarm on my home screen. Foursquare was relegated to a folder.

Threes is the only game to feature on my home screen, but mostly because it’s perfect for the in-between moments that life sometimes gives you.

Note that I’m still using multiple pages of home screens, with single icons on the first home screen, some folders on the second, and mostly games on the third.

Subscriptions (and Apple Music)

We’ll get back to the agony and ecstasy of personal transport in a bit, but I wanted to do a quick write up about subscriptions (and Apple Music).

I have something of an aversion to subscriptions.

It’s a bit of a dilemma for me, because while I get that you need to pay for things, the idea that I have to continue paying to get access to a piece of software or, to a lesser degree, some service, is kind of scary. I realise software development isn’t free, and subscriptions make for attractive revenue streams for developers who constantly work on new features, but not enough to release proper upgrade versions, but traditionally, paying an upfront cost for something and then owning it until the day you die is still somehow more palatable.

Maybe it’s just because we’ve paid upfront for software for so long that makes this idea that you need to keep paying or lose access to the stuff that you’ve worked on seem so foreign. Office 365 isn’t so bad in that you can still open and view documents created with the office suite, but even when the price of the subscription makes the cost the same over time, it’s still a hard pill to swallow.

At the time, the Photography Plan for Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop made a lot of sense. I recently purchased Lightroom 5 about a year after Lightroom 4, and at that stage I was paying about $100/year for Lightroom, so I’d essentially be paying $20/year extra for Photoshop which seemed like a great deal. Unfortunately, a few things have made this less attractive over time.

For one, Adobe hasn’t released a new version of Lightroom since 2015, so I’ve ended up paying more than those who picked up the standalone version. I also haven’t used Photoshop as much as I thought I would have, making that “added value” null and void, and to top it all off, Adobe has slowly increased prices. New subscriptions to the Adobe Photography Plan are currently $14.29/month, which starts to eat into that extra value of Photoshop, especially if you’re only using it a few times a year.

So that’s software, what about services? Things get a little more complicated when we’re talking about services. I don’t watch enough mainstream TV to subscribe to streaming services like Netflix or any of the other Australian offerings, and even though there are some great streaming services for anime, I’ve never really been able to reconcile paying a monthly fee for their entire library when I only want to watch one or two shows.

I think one of the main problems I have with subscriptions is that most of the time, I’d rather pay for an entire year upfront, instead of a month at a time. It’s weird, but I think I have an easier time justifying $120/year than I do $10 a month, especially if I’m getting some kind of discount that makes the annual option even more appealing.

How does all of this apply to Apple Music? To answer that question, we kind of need to talk about Spotify first…

Continue Reading →

The Xiaomi M365 Electric Scooter, Part II: Electric Boogaloo

This post is part two of my experience with the Xiaomi M365 electric scooter. Reading part one is recommended, but not necessary.

As much as I enjoy scooting around on the Xiaomi M365 electric scooter, I find it very difficult to recommend to someone who wants to pick up something for personal transport. Some of it has to do with quality control, some of it has to do with design flaws, but ultimately, the reliability just wasn’t there for the model/revision I purchased back in January 2017 (more on this later).

It’s February, 2017. I’m barely a few weeks into electric scooter ownership, a total of 70KMs on the clock, when I scoot right into my first show-stopping issue: a flat rear tyre. At first I have no idea what’s wrong. I’m minding my own business, enjoying the joys of personal transport and riding along, when suddenly the back feels sluggish. It isn’t until I get home that I realise that the rear tyre is looking a little flat. I don’t even own a bike pump, so I can’t see what the issue might be.

She’s flat, Jim.

A quick trip to the local bike shop and I now own a bike pump. But there’s more bad news: while the tyre inflates, as soon as I inflate it to a certain point, it deflates again. Kinda weird. I’m no mechanic, but at this point I’m thinking it’s the inner tube — there’s no signs of a puncture or any other kind of damage on the rear tyre itself, so it must be the inner tube, right?

Tyre, wheel, and inner tube. Getting them apart was a feat in and of itself.

I get no help from the place of purchase (unless you’re counting “take it to the local scooter repair place” as help), so I pick up a few inner tubes I think will fit from Ali Express. A few tyres, while I’m at it, just in case. A few weeks go by; shipping from China is slow, and I am impatient. I set aside a weekend to do the deed, and following an afternoon of the ugliest work I’ve ever done, I get the rear wheel of the scooter, the tyre off the wheel, and replace the inner tube. The replacement valve sticks out a little more than the previous one, but it’s nothing that isn’t fixed by a cable tie.

One repaired rear wheel, now with cable tie to prevent the new valve from contacting the chassis.

Not exactly a heads-up display, but works in a pinch for working out where I want to go.

My suspicions were right; some kind of split in the inner tube that only opened when it was filled with air was preventing it from inflating all the way. Probably a manufacturing defect, but we’re back in business, and that’s all that matters. And for a while, everything is great. I get a case for my iPhone and a little velco, and pretty soon I have my own on-board computer that I can use for navigation.

I’ve started noticing that the range indicator has become less and less inaccurate over time. Strangely, it doesn’t seem to affect my actual range – even with 0KM showing, I can still scoot along, just more slowly than normal. I pass it off as the battery needing calibration or something. Then it happens — with 100KMs on the clock, I run into my second show-stopping issue. One day, the scooter just stops turning on. And with no way to turn it on, there’s no way to charge the battery.

Unfortunately, things get a little complicated here as now electricity is involved, and I’m no electrical engineer. I open up the scooter anyway, and nothing seems particularly broken that would indicate a major fault with the battery. I get the retailer involved again, and this time they’re nice enough to send out a replacement battery. I discover the product page for the electric scooter now has a warning about only using 220V mains to charge the scooter that definitely wasn’t there when I purchased it back in January. I wonder why the warning was added, and theorise that the higher charging voltage has worn the battery down somehow. Nothing on the internet I can find indicates what kind of an effect higher input voltage would have on a universal power adapter (which definitely says it’s compatible with Australian 240V mains), so I can only speculate.

Weeks pass. While I’m waiting for a replacement battery to arrive, I find a French blog about the Xiaomi M365, including detailing issues about the battery and fuses. I discover that people other than myself have had issues with the battery; fuses that have failed, or faulty connections which mean the proper voltage isn’t provided to the electrics, which means the scooter doesn’t turn on. Hundreds of pages on a Spanish forum say that there’s a design flaw within the regenerative braking system which results in a fuse blowing if too much current is passed to the battery at a time, or when current is passed to the battery when it’s already full. There’s plenty of useful stuff there too, including all of the mods people have done to their scooter, but none of it is particularly helpful. I will point out the 149-page unofficial user’s guide PDF that they’ve put together for the scooter, featuring all kinds of information from people who have taken their scooters apart and put them back together again. It’s entirely in Spanish, but there’s enough photos that you should get a good idea of what you’re looking at.

At the end of May, the replacement battery arrives. It’s basically identical to the one I pull out of the scooter, with the important distinction that this one actually works. With a working battery in the scooter, I take apart the old battery and test it using instructions from the Spanish forum. It seems normal enough — the output is 42V, the fuse seems to be intact, so perhaps the battery cells themselves that are dead.

I take it pretty easy on the scooter for a few weeks, only riding it to and from the Valley on weekends for one of my weekly grocery runs. The thrill of riding the electric scooter is now tempered by the anxiety that this will battery will likely fail as well. I contemplate buying a voltage converter so I can charge the scooter using 220V. But a good quality one is about $200, and you can understand my hesitation on spending even more money on something that has already had so many issues with less than 200 KMs on the clock. For now, I’m just thankful that the scooter is back in the land of the living.

It’s September, and I’m riding the scooter into work on a bright Saturday morning. I brake to come to stop at a pedestrian crossing 200 metres from work, and while I’m almost stopped, I suddenly lose all braking power. I don’t notice something is wrong until the light turns green; I push off into the pedestrian crossing, press the accelerator, only for nothing to happen. I try pressing the power button in the middle of the road, but nothing happens. She’s dead, Jim, and I spend the rest of the 200m kicking my scooter along, and cursing the time I decided to buy an electric scooter.

By this time, you can probably understand I’ve had enough. The scooter doesn’t turn on, and frankly, I don’t care. It’s probably a blown fuse, thanks to the issue that decides to pass power to the battery when you’re braking. If I wanted to, I could probably swap the controller board from my old battery into the new battery, but I’m finding it hard to muster up the motivation to spend time and energy on a product that has already proven to be unreliable.

For what it’s worth, there’s speculation on the internet that later revisions of the M365, or versions with a certain firmware, have fixed the issue where the regenerative breaking will attempt to push more power to the battery than it can handle. As far as I’m aware, I was using the latest scooter and BMS firmware available, and still managed to (probably) blow a fuse on my battery, so I’m not sure how much stock you can put in that speculation. It’s also possible that I got a second dud battery, but the manufacturing dates on both batteries differ by about six months, so I’m not sure what else would have made a difference in terms of reliability. And plus, it was working fine for a few weeks, even if I was only riding it once or twice per week.

It was fun while it lasted, but maybe I’ll just suck it up and buy a bike next time. Or an electric skateboard – but that’s a story for another time.

The Xiaomi M365 Electric Scooter

The Xiaomi M365, all folded up.

Here’s something interesting about the M365. Xiaomi advertises that there’s an app you can connect your electric scooter to, to see your current speed, the remaining mileage, and other current trip statistics. One page of the completely Chinese manual says you can download Xiaomi’s own app or use something called “Ninebot”.

I couldn’t find the Xiaomi app in the Australian App Store when I went to look, but I found the Ninebot app on the first go. It’s pretty basic, but does let you rename your electric scooter and adjust the level of regenerative breaking. But hang on a second, this all seems very weird. How does a Chinese manufactured and marketed scooter, with not a word of English in the user manual, works with an app that has near-perfect English? Something doesn’t add up here.

After doing a little internet sleuthing, I discovered Ninebots were originally manufactured by a Chinese company as a kind of personal mobility device. They’re kind of like Segways, except a little more discreet and don’t have the traditional Segway handlebar design. Still, none of that explains how the M365 is able to connect to the Ninebot app. Did Xiaomi reverse-engineer the app to such a degree that every feature works perfectly with their own electric scooter hardware, down to the regenerative braking setting and the cruise control mode?

As it turns out, Ninebot is a Xiaomi-backed company. It’s perhaps one of the simplest explanations for why the M365 works with the Ninebot app; being the parent company and all, you’d hardly want to go to the trouble of developing an entirely new app when one of your subsidiaries already has something that does exactly what you’re after. It’s not perfect (the Ninebot app doesn’t recognise my M365 as an valid Ninebot), but there’s nothing that I’m missing out on that I can see. My KMs even count towards the weekly and overall distance travelled leaderboards.

What does all of this have to do with Segway? Well, Segway complained to a US trade commission that several Chinese companies were infringing on its patents. They complained in September 2014, and not a year later, they were acquired by the Xiaomi-backed Ninebot in August 2015, which is all pretty hilarious when you think about it.

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The Haul From An Impromptu Malaysia Trip

I wouldn’t say I go looking for cool stuff. It’s not as if I’m methodically searching through every retail outlet or corner store for that extra special piece. But by virtue of my curated RSS and Twitter feeds, all relevant to my interests, I’m always peripherally aware of cool things, and sometimes I go looking.

A recent impromptu trip to Malaysia for the funeral of my grandfather was hardly the ideal time for shopping. Reflection, perhaps, either on the traditional Chinese funeral, or the grandfather I didn’t really know, but somehow, we still managed to make the trips to Aeon. Almost every day we were there.

It was in Aeon’s shopping complex that I first saw the Pikachu and Eevee. Not sure if it was cool or not, I borrowed my sister’s internet to look it up. Apparently, it was a promo that was only available via some kind of lottery system at Pokémon Centres in Japan in 2013. I’m entirely unconvinced that what I purchased is the real deal as the box text is slightly different, but eh, it’s a pretty good fake… that I later discovered was super-common, after finding it at a few other shops.

Later in the trip I found myself at KLIA2 more than twelve hours before my flight was scheduled to depart. We were dropping off my sister, and after that was done, there was still over six hours to kill before check-in opened, and another eight before my flight was scheduled. We took the KLIA Ekspres to KL Central, then a taxi to Mid Valley Megamall.

We go to Megamall basically every time we’re in KL. Truth be told, I was beginning to get a little sick of the place, even if I’ve found some cool Dota-2 stuff there before. Alas, the gaming store that was there before wasn’t there any more, replaced with yet another gaming store that had nothing that was particularly interesting. I thought about picking up the Hypebeast edition CS:GO Steelseries mousepad, if I didn’t find anything else that piqued my interest elsewhere in the mall.

But it was on the recently-refurbished (at least, I think it was recently-refurbished, it definitely wasn’t like that the last time we were there in 2015) fourth floor that I found a small gaming store. They didn’t have as much stock as some of the larger stores, but their shelves were crammed with all kinds of gaming gear. And on one of those shelves, the SteelSeries Rival 100, Dota 2 Special Edition.

It was only afterwards that I learned these were originally sold at the Shanghai Major Secret Shop, and later released worldwide. But I’ve never seen it posted online anywhere, so stumbling on it was completely by chance.

Last but not least, I happened to know that Uniqlo in the US offers Nintendo-themed tees. I’ve never seen them at an Australian Uniqlo, but a quick recon of the Uniqlo at KLIA2 revealed that Asian Uniqlo stores stocked the Nintendo-themed tees. With the hours dwindling, I made one last stop and picked up a Pikachu-themed tee from the collection, completing this trips haul.

It’d be a misnomer to say cool stuff finds me. I’m always on the lookout for that next exclusive, unique piece that will somehow make my life that little more fulfilled — if only momentarily — but sometimes, that necessitates a little looking. And most of the time, I’m glad I did.

Simplicity is dead, long live Simplicity!

Back in August 2013, I wrote about the simple, it-just-works mentality of Apple products. I was experimenting with dd-wrt at the time, and once I had worked out that it definitely wasn’t the simple option, went out and bought an Apple AirPort Extreme to serve our family’s NBN connection to every device in the house capable of communicating via TCP/IP.

And for a while, everything was great. The AirPort Extreme dished out fast, reliable Wi-Fi, just like it says on the box. A few years pass without incident, and when I move to a different state, I trust that my network setup is robust enough to require zero maintenance. But soon enough, my family begins to complain about internet issues. Unfortunately for me, the kinds of issues they describe necessitate an in-person visit to ascertain what the issue actually is.

I’m back in Hobart now, and the Wi-Fi situation is even worse than I imagined. I realise something is seriously wrong when I try connecting to the Wi-Fi. For some reason, the wireless network is broadcasting its SSID even though I’ve set it to be hidden. It also tells me the password is wrong, even though I, nor anyone else, has changed it since it was setup. I ask my parents more questions about it. We give it a reboot and leave it at that. I’ll need to witness a failure to figure out what’s wrong, not have it broken to begin with.

As luck would have it, the Wi-Fi dies a short time later. And that’s pretty much all I have to go on, given that I don’t have any other way of connecting to the unit to check it out. All the devices in the house are wireless and don’t have an Ethernet port; any troubleshooting that I was planning to do is severely hampered by the fact I can only connect to it wirelessly.

I mean, there’s an old XP box that still has one, but I’m not sure I want to try troubleshooting anything from that. My mum has a Surface (Pro?) that has an USB dock with an ethernet port, but I’m loathe to install some potentially dodgy Targus Mac drivers for it on my MacBook Pro. My sister has a MacBook Air, which doesn’t have an Ethernet port, and even my old Chromebook doesn’t come with an Ethernet port. Of course, I own a Thunderbolt to Gigabit Ethernet adapter, but I left it back in Brisbane, and buying another for the sole purpose to diagnosing a Wi-Fi issue seems somewhat wasteful.

Giving up on diagnosing the issue for now, I ask what my family does when the Wi-Fi stops working. They power-cycle the device, which fixes the issue for anywhere between a few hours or a few days. Given that the Wi-Fi can drop out multiple times a day, that’s kind of an issue. So we power-cycle the unit again, which fixes it until I can work out what’s wrong.

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