The THREE! Flags of France

In this post from 2016, I talked about France’s two official flags.

The first is the traditional tricolor everyone’s familiar with:

But there’s also the civil and naval ensign:

In this version the red stripe is larger – specifically, the ensign’s stripes are at a ratio of 30:33:37, versus 33:33:33 on the original flag. This is because this flag looks more “correct” when viewed from a distance, especially if constantly flapping in the wind, as it would on a ship. This flag is also used in some places like seaside military cemeteries or memorials, again because it looks “normal” in the wind.

In my original post, I said that the ensign was also used on TV, for press conferences and the like. Well, I was wrong. There’s actually a third flag for that:

French Presidential flag

Informally called the “Presidential Flag”, it’s used by French presidents in televised communications. And it works, too. Check out this pic of the flag behind two former French presidents:

French Presidents
Click to embiggen

In contrast, here’s a picture of current French president Emmanuel Macron at the White House with President Trump:
The French must have left their special flag at home (and the White House stocked only with “regular” French flags) because there’s an ocean of white in the flag that photograph.

And it’s not just the French who do something like this. Here’s a picture of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu standing in front of special flags that have been altered so that the Star of David appears in correct (upright) orientation:

Benjamin Netanyahu
(click to embiggen)

Compare this with regular Israeli flags, where the Star of David is crooked when hanging from a flagpole:

Benjamin Netanyahu
(click to embiggen)

Neat.

My Top Albums Of 2020

2020 might have sucked for most things, but it was actually a damn good year for music! Every year it seems like I complain that either there was not enough good music released – so had to scrape together ten albums – or too much was released and I’m forced to make hard choices to whittle the list to just ten.

2020 was definitely the latter.

Before I begin, let me do something I’ve never done on a “best album” post: explain my criteria. Although any album is technically eligible for the list, I strongly discourage “greatest hits” albums and compilations of any kind. I mean, the whole idea is an album as a single cohesive collection of music. For that reason, live albums are discouraged, too. Albums are also subject to the “one-hit wonder rule”: strongly discouraged from my list if the only reason they rank so highly on my Last.fm chart is because of a single song. Georgia’s Seeking Thrills album was #2 or #3 on my 2019 Last.fm album charts due to “About Work the Dancefloor”, a song I listened to hundreds of times. But I’ve only listened to the full album once, and I don’t think I’ve listened to any other song off that album more than twice. Lastly, I’ve decided that, going forward. EPs will be allowed on the “Honorable Mentions” chart, but singles will not, no matter how many times I listen to them that year.  My list, my rules.

As always, below are my ten favorite albums of 2020. The list comes directly from my Last.fm stats; I have, however, tinkered with the order a bit. After the list is a new item: “Song of the Year”. Soon, I’ll do a separate post of some albums I’ve discovered this year but were released in years past. There’s also the list of few honorable mentions, followed by the raw data from Last.fm.

My Top Albums of 2020

10) Washed Out – Purple Noon – Perry, Georgia’s Ernest Greene made a huge splash on the chillwave scene – hell, he was the King of Chillwave – even before his first album, Within and Without, was released in 2011. Which makes it all the sadder that this album is… “just OK”. I mean, some songs – like the opener, “Too Late”, or the album’s first single, “Time to Walk Away” – are as good as anything Washed Out’s ever released. Yet, others, like “Face Up”, don’t seem “chill” so much as “lifeless”. Overall, this album seems more like a collection of outtakes from 2013’s Paracosm than the evolutionary growth of 2017’s awesome Mister Mellow. Even worse, it sounds like Greene really tried… and this is the best he could come up with.

9) Sylvan Esso – Free Love – Speaking of, the longer Sylvan Esso goes on, the less I like them. And I can’t quite put my finger on why. I think a big part of it is that Sylvan Esso has taken the place of Björk in the sense of “the songs I like, I really like, but the songs I don’t like I really hate” of my music world. On this album, “Ferris Wheel” is pretty damn fantastic… but “Ring” and “Rooftop Dancing” make me wanna punch somebody. We’ll see how the next album goes, eh?

8) The Sounds – Things We Do For Love – The Sounds are a Swedish rock band – kinda New Wavy, but closer to the West Coast New Wave like Berlin and Missing Persons – with a healthy dash of Blondie tossed in for good measure –  than most of the synth-heavy bands I listen to. Yet despite being together for 22 years, they’ve only released 6 albums. So when a new one comes out, you pay attention! I’ll admit that the singles are the big draw here – “Safe and Sound” and the title track, “Things We Do For Love” – are way better than much of the filler down album. Call me crazy, but “Bonnie and Clyde” sounds like a Katy Perry reject song (fight me). Although there are occasional gems like “Hollow”. This is just a good working-class band that really hits when they hit:

7) Kid Francescoli – Lovers – Marseille-based Mathieu Hocine – performing as Kid Francescoli – has released three albums… and all three have landed on my “best of” list: 2014’s With Julia, 2016’s Play Me Again, and 2020’s Lovers. It’s not hard to see why: his lovely melodies and intimate lyrics caress your soul like a glove! The English-language songs on the album all hit it out of the park, while the Italian and French songs may or may not be something you’re interested in. I don’t speak a word of French, but have fallen in love with lots of French-language pop… but none of Hocine’s songs, oddly… until this album’s “Ces deux-là”! It sounds like something sexy people in Barcelona would listen to.

6) Linea Aspera – Linea Aspera II – Back when I lived in Atlanta, Album 88 used to play Linea Aspera all the damn time… and I couldn’t figure out what the big deal was. Well, the band is back after a 7 year break… and now I get it! This is some tight darkwave stuff that mages to call back to their earlier work, yet isn’t beholden to it,  and is fully modern. It gets a bit samey, even for a band like this, though.

5) Empathy Test – Monsters – For some reason, Empathy Test reminds me of a cross between Massive Attack and a band like Delerium or Enigma… only without the… cheese, I guess? Check out “Monsters”, the album opener, below. I love that it’s so in your face, the way it tells you all you need to know about the band, in the same way Purity Ring’s “heartsigh” defines another eternity. And the album’s closer, “Love Moves”, is a song I’ve fallen deeply in love with. But there’s more: in fact, there are few bad songs on this album at all. “Empty Handed”, “Making Worlds”, and “Skin” are all fantastic tunes.

4) Kraków Loves Adana – Darkest Dreams –  Freiburg, Germany’s Kraków Loves Adana have toiled away in relative obscurity… until they were picked up by Johnny Jewel’s Italians Do It Better label, instantly making them “a thing” with Chromatics fans everywhere. But after releasing a couple fantastic singles on IDIB, Kraków went their own way. The result is Darkest Dreams, admittedly the first album of theirs I’ve heard, but a worthy one all the same. For people who love Europeans with Synthesizers, tracks like “Don’t Ask Why”, “Love Isn’t Dead” and “The Ocean Between Us” are straight fire. But “Faded to Black” just bangs so hard… I don’t even know where to begin:

3) Purity Ring – WOMB– It would be impossible to top 2015’s another eternity and (spoiler alert!) WOMB doesn’t. That doesn’t mean WOMB is bad, though. As a Purity Ring thing, it’s solid. I didn’t like the opener (“rubyinsides”) nearly as much as “heartsigh”, but it’s grown on me over time. And yes, Megan James is still as into viscera as always (some people call this kind of music “witch house”, but I refuse to use that term in the presence of another sdult). The album picks up with “pink lightning”, the fantastic “peacefall” (see below) and “i like the devil”. And, of course, the album ends with an insanely great song (keep reading). It’s not that anything on this album is bad. It’s all pretty good, actually. But Purity Ring set expectations sky high with their previous album – my “Album of the Year” for 2015, and easily in my top 5 of the last 20 years – that this disc had nowhere to go but down.

2) Young Ejecta – Ride Lonesome – Young Ejecta are Neon Indian’s Leanne Macomber on vocals and producer Joel Fordare… doing everything else. They’ve been around since 2013, and have had several good singles over the years, like “Build a Fire” and “It’s Only Love”. But 2020’s Ride Lonesome is the first album of theirs that make me stop to listen.  NYC synthpop it is, but it’s bubbly and addictive, like soda pop. The opener “Crayon Cactus” just bops along into the ethereal vocals of “Screen Guru”. “Four Corners” was all over my Spotify playlists, then there’s “9 to 5”, and we hit the album’s midpoint with the fantastic “Call My Name” (below). The second half is almost as strong – I can live without “Can I Dance With You”, but it’s all generally good stuff. I don’t know why, but this album really impressed me, and has stuck around in my memory this year.

1) Mint Julep – Stray Fantasies – Mint Julep are a husband-and-wife duo from Boston, Hollie and Keith Kenniff. They make dramatic (but not over-the-top) music. In spirit, they remind me of an early Clan of Xymox (assuming Clan of Xymox formed in 2007), even if the music doesn’t always sound as such. All their albums are fantastic – 2011’s Save Your Season and (especially) Broken Devotion, which hit #2 on my Best Albums of 2016 list. So it’s not surprising that 2020’s Stray Fantasies would end up here. And I think the reason for that is… it was just around all year long. I mean that: the album came out on January 30, 2020, and where a lot of other 2020 albums burned brightly but quickly faded, this album stuck around all year. A big part of it is that I just love the hazy, dazy gauze of this band’s sound. But it’s more than just that. I mean, it is that – wispy, thin, light, airy. But something about Mint Julep’s sound is, like the Swedish group Postiljonen, nostalgic… even if you’ve never heard their music before. There’s this cinematic quality it has, where you hear it and instantly want it to be the soundtrack of your teenage memories. Give ’em a listen:

As I say, I maybe didn’t listen to this album ALL THE TIME. And only one song (“Just for Today”) really became one of my patented  “song I listen to 800 times a year” hits, but the album was there, man. Through good times and bad, the beauty of their music is matchless.

As a bonus, here’s Mint Julep’s cover of When in Rome’s “The Promise”, a track from Broken Devotion:

Continue reading “My Top Albums Of 2020”

Windows 10: Show Seconds on the Taskbar Clock

By default, Windows 10 only displays the hour and minute in the taskbar clock. This is good enough for most people most of the time… but if you’re doing something time-sensitive – like trying to buy concert tickets or rare records on Virtual Record Store Day – you might need to know the time down to the EXACT SECOND.

For years I’ve used an app called TimeSync to synchronize my various computers. Some computers just don’t keep time that well, and other times you might want to sync the computer more often than Windows’ once a week default. Because TimeSync shows seconds – and because I already had it downloaded on my computer – I just used that:

TimeSync

But did you know that you can configure Windows 10 to display seconds in the taskbar clock?Taskbar clock

Just open REGEDIT.EXE and go to:

HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\Advanced

Right-click on the “Advanced” key in the left pane and select New > DWORD (32-bit) Value. Name the key ShowSecondsInSystemClock and press ENTER. Lastly, double-click the entry you just created and give it the value of 1. You’ll need to reboot or sign out and in for the change to go into effect.

You can undo this in the future by deleting the ShowSecondsInSystemClock key, or you can set its value to 0.

COOL GADGET: Autowit Batteryless Jump Starter

[‘30 for 30′ voice]

“What if I told you a dead car battery could jump start… itself?”

[/’30 for 30′ voice]

Jump starting a dead battery has always been a pain. For one thing, batteries can leak hydrogen and\or other dangerous gasses. The reason you’re supposed to connect the negative alligator clip to part of the car frame and not the battery itself is to prevent sparks, which could cause any leaking hydrogen to explode, which will ruin your day.

Even though car batteries are much safer than they were even 20-30 years ago, jump starting is still no fun. You have to rely on the kindness of strangers (or AAA) and also hope you’re parked in such a way that someone can reach your battery with cables (like a parking deck, if you have cars parked on either side).

That’s why people were excited a few years ago, when companies that make power banks – you know, the battery packs you use to charge your phone – came out with larger capacity packs that included a set of alligator clips so you could jump start a car all by yourself. That’s cool, but it introduces a new problem – the battery pack is just a battery, and it needs to be charged, too. So you have to remember to take the battery pack out of your trunk once a month or so and recharge it. Else, the pack might be useless when you need it most.

But what if you didn’t need a battery pack? What if your car’s battery could charge itself?

Capacitors are small, solid state devices that hold a charge, kind of like a small battery. Most electronic devices have them, to provide a steady supply of current to components; they’re also the reason you’re often told to power off a device, wait 30 seconds or a minute, then restart: capacitors can hold a charge for a brief time after a device has lost power – to fully power cycle the device, you need to make sure that the capacitors empty, too.

capacitors
Capacitors are the black, barrel-shaped devices on this PC motherboard

Capacitors have a few advantages – for one thing, they can recharge quickly – in typical consumer devices, they can go from empty to fully-charged in milliseconds. For another, they can release their charge just as quickly. Lastly, they can be charged and discharged hundreds of thousands of times… unlike a cell phone battery, which typically starts going downhill after a few years.

So… here’s the thing: most of the time, your car’s “dead” battery isn’t actually “dead”… it’s simply below the threshold needed to start the car. There’s plenty of power left in the dead battery, power enough to, say, charge a bunch of capacitors… which you could then use to jump start the car.

Welcome to the Autowit Batteryless Jump Starter!

It’s dead simple to use – the actual starter is a largeish plastic box. You connect the red and black alligator clips to the respective terminals on the car battery, then connect the charger (a largish black box) to the starter using a keyed plug. Like most battery packs, there are lights on the charger to let you know you’ve connected everything correctly. You just press a button, wait anywhere from 30 seconds to a couple minutes, and once both lights turn green, you’re good to go! What’s more, the charger has additional inputs – you can charge it via another car’s cigarette lighter or via micro USB.

Here’s the Internet’s favorite mechanic Scotty Kilmer to explain it in detail:

But, like any device, the Autowit isn’t perfect. As Scotty says, the Autowit probably won’t work on very large engines, especially diesels. And if your battery is actually dead – as in, it’s just time to buy a new one – the Autowit might not work, where a traditional jump start might give you one last start so you can drive to the auto parts store. Also, the whole system is a bit bulky; it doesn’t come with any kind of case, despite having multiple parts. Perhaps the next generation of these won’t be quite so large.

Having said all that, I’ve had nothing but great experiences with the Autowit.

The missus and I have a “beater” car, and unfortunately it has a bad case of parasitic draw, where some device is using the battery while the car is off. So you have to start it at least once a week, or it won’t start at all. I’ve had to jump it three times since I got the Autowit, and it only takes around 90 seconds to charge the capacitors and start the car. But the main reason I bought one was because I accidentally left a door slightly ajar overnight in my Honda Odyssey, which meant the interior lights were on, which drained the battery. I’d planned to order the Autowit anyway because of the issue with the beater, but rather than call AAA for the van, I just ordered the Autowit from Amazon (remember when Amazon could deliver stuff overnight? That was nice!). I hooked the Autowit up to the van and two minutes later it started!

Yeah, the Autowit is a bit more expensive than most battery packs – I paid around $104 for it, versus around $70 for a battery pack I bought for my brother-in-law Christmas before last. But, given how well it works, and how it doesn’t need batteries, I think it’s worth it!

My Top Albums Of 2019

Wow… so you’re probably wondering why it took me until almost April to get out an article that I normally do in December, or, at worst, the first week of January.

To be perfectly honest, it’s because 2018 was such a ridiculously strong year for music that it didn’t really stop until late 2019 for me. The top 4 albums from 2018 – Pastel Ghost’s Ethereality , The Perfect Kiss’ Filter, Therapie TAXI’s ass-kicking debut Hit Sale, and You Drive’s eponymous debut – yeah, I just kept on listening to them non-stop until last November. As of Thanksgiving, there was only one 2019 album in my Top 20 “most listened to” stats. It took until the past couple of weeks that I found ten 2019 albums to make a list!

As always, below are my ten favorite albums of 2019. The list comes directly from my Last.fm stats; I have, however, tinkered with the order a bit, perhaps even a bit more than usual. After the list are a few honorable mentions, followed by the raw data from Last.fm.

My Top Albums of 2019

10) Wy – Softie – This Swedish band’s second album is a “solid, if a bit samey” experience. They’re more of a straightforward pop band than the lovely dream pop of Postiljonen and similar Swedish bands I’ve cottoned to in the past. But that’s OK – I love them anyway! It’s a good album to listen to on a sunny day at the beach with an ice cold beer:

9) Clairo – Immunity – 21 year-old Claire Cottrill shows lots of promise with this debut album… if she can resist the temptation to let producers have their way with her music. I agree with Pitchfork that there are many songs on this disc that have been tweaked within an inch of their lives, and that any more edits would ruin them. Still, “Bags” is a great tune, and I’ll be sure to stick around for her next album!

8) Graveyard Club – Goodnight Paradise – They make cool music in Minneapolis? Who knew? Just kidding, folks. Graveyard Club is a strange mix of 80s-style pop and Perry Como style crooning, as evidenced by the album’s lead-off single, “Witchcraft”. But that’s actually one of my least favorite tracks on the album: “Red Roses” and “William”, for example, are much better songs that the slightly gimmicky “Witchcraft”. But it’s an entertaining album, one of those where you kind of get lost and suddenly realize you’re on track 12.

7) Carla dal Forno – Look Up Sharp – This Australian lady is a singer, composer and music experimentalist, not unlike Julianna Barwick or Julia Holter. And this isn’t my first go-round with her, either: 2016’s You Know What It’s Like just barely missed the cut for an honorable mention in that year’s “best of”. Look Up Sharp is more of her swirly, dreamy, hazy music she’s known for. She doesn’t make “bangers”, but then she doesn’t flirt with ambient music as much as, say Barwick, either. So maybe something you won’t throw on during a rager, but something excellent for reading a book on a rainy day!

6) Electric Youth – Memory Emotion – Toronto-based Electric Youth are yet another in the seemingly endless supply of synthpop duos. They’re not the best, or the most original, or most memorable… but they’re nice. This is a really good album, even if it doesn’t break any new ground or won’t set the world on fire. Bronwyn Griffin and Austin Garrick have created a tight, yet dreamy sound that’s certainly a winner!

5) Clio – Déjà Venise – Clio is a French singer-songwriter, originally from Besançon, now living in Paris. Her music is infectious, each song a pretty little gem just waiting to be discovered. It’s also one of those albums where your “favorite song” keeps changing. First it was the hit “T’as vu” (below). Then it was “Amoureuse”, a classic French-style pop song. Then it was the title track. No matter which you settle on, they’re all good!

4) Minuit Machine – Infrarouge – Last year I discovered the French darkwave band Minuit Machine via their banger “Everlasting” from their 2015 album Violent Rains. 2019’s Infrarouge doesn’t really cover any new ground… but then, it doesn’t really need to. The opening track, “Chaos” gently draws you in to their beautiful, yet arctic world. And yeah, sure, lines like “The more I try, the less I exist” seem a bit sophomoric to my almost 50 year-old ears. It sounds like something “deep” I woulda scribbled in my journal as a teen. But the music – and the vibe – is still fun. There’s something about this band – not just the lyrics – that screams 80s angst, and in a good way. If you listen to just one of their tunes, make it “Everlasting” or the remastered version of their 2013 tune “I am a Boy” on this album.

3) Tempers – Private Life – This is a band I know very little about. They’re based in New York City and have two members: Jasmine Golestaneh and Eddie Cooper. Golestaneh was allegedly born in Florida and grew up in London (allegedly, because all the information I can find on her seems highly exaggerated). Whatever the case, Tempers’ newest album is one of those that snuck up on me. I didn’t notice it until much later, but I added a couple of their tunes to my “Discovered” playlist in Spotify. I guess because of that, the song “Leonard Cohen Afterworld” showed up in a Discover Weekly playlist. And from there I was hooked. And that’s weird.

2) Cannons – Shadows – Cannons are a band from the worst place on Earth: Los Angeles. But don’t it against them: they make really good music! It’s kind of a slightly funky synthpop affair with lead singer Michelle Joy’s waify vocals on top. Their cover of “Can’t Help Falling in Love” is all the introduction you need, but I think it’s unfair to judge them on a cover song. I love almost every song I’ve heard from them, from 2017’s Night Drive to 2018’s In a Heartbeat EP to 2019’s Shadows. Shadows kicks off with “Baby”, a good preview of what’s to come. But then there’s “Fire for You”, an infectious low-key banger that’s guaranteed to get stuck in your head. Then ya got “Talk Talk” (below), and next thing ya know the album’s over and you’re like “awwww, man! Is that IT? There should be MORE!” Seriously – check it out!

1) Chromatics – Closer to Grey – So see, here’s the thing: this album came out on October 1, and I liked it. Well, I don’t like the “The Sound of Silence” cover that opens the album, but that’s because I hate Simon & Garfunkel (having said that, Chromatics cover of “I’m on Fire” made me like a BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN song, so that could change). Anyway, the point is: I was looking through my Last.fm stats in December and was like “well crap… Closer to Grey is the only 2019 album in my Top 20 listened to albums”. So I kind of figured this one would win Album of the Year by default. And that bugged me. In 2018, my Top 4 albums duked it out in a fight to the death. You Drive ended up as album of the year, and deserved it. So as much as I like Chromatics, would they win album of the year just by showing up?

Well, yeah. A big part of it was seeing Chromatics (and Desire, and In Mirrors) live in Atlanta last May. That was absolutely an all-time Top 10 concert, maybe even a Top 5 show. I’ve got a framed picture of Megan Louise I took at the show on my wall. 2019 was, in so many ways, “The Year of Chromatics”. And, truth be told, no other album was really better than Closer to Grey last year.

It’s stunning at how often Johnny Jewel hits it out of the park. Between Chromatics, Desire, Glass Candy and all the other bands he works with, and all the soundtracks and solo projects… and the remixes he does, you wonder how he finds time to sleep!

I genuinely recommend heading over to Jewel’s record label site – Italians Do It Better – and picking up a copy of Closer to Grey, and all of the other fantastic tunes they have there. As far as I know, digital versions of all releases are available in WAV or MP3 format for $1, and they even accept Amazon Pay if you don’t want to give your credit card number to an unknown website.  They even have the massive, 47-track “Deluxe Edition” of Closer to Grey for ONE MEASLY DOLLAR! ONE DOLLAR! That’s 2.12¢ PER SONG! WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR? DO IT NOW!

Honorable Mentions

With the usual stipulation that “EPs and singles aren’t albums”:

Bon Entendeur – Aller-retour
Trevor Something – Bots Don’t Cry
Delphine Dupont – French Pop Attitude
L’Impératrice – Matahari
whenyoung – Reasons To Dream
Anteros – When We Land
Mexico City Blondes – Blush
Methyl Ethel – Triage
Pure Bathing Culture – Night Pass

Continue reading “My Top Albums Of 2019”

A BandsInTown Hack

BandsInTown is a service that tracks bands on tour. You download the app for iOS or Android, sign up, then enter a list of bands you want to track (or give the site permission to scan your Spotify or Apple Music\iTunes libraries). That’s it! You’ll get notifications (and emails, if you choose) any time a band you like is playing a venue near you!

There’s one problem with the service, though, and that’s that you can only choose one “home city”.  The concert scene in Charlotte has come a long way in the past 20 years, but if your music tastes could be described as “cutting edge” or “up and coming”, you may find yourself driving to Atlanta or Chapel Hill more often than you’d care to admit. So you can switch your BandsInTown home city to Atlanta… but then you miss out on local shows.  What to do if you’re in a situation like this?

While BandsInTown only allows you to have one home city, the app will allow you to expand your search radius to 150 miles. So in my case, I chose Greenville, SC as my home city and expanded the search radius to the max 150 miles. This way it covers Charlotte, Atlanta, Athens and Asheville:

Bands in Town

Bands in Town
(click to enlarge)

Hope this helps!

The “Smart” Bulb Conundrum

For years, most home and SOHO routers kept 2.4 and 5 GHz networks separate. In fact, you can probably open the Wi-Fi settings on your phone right now and see SSIDs like “Pretty Fly for a WiFi 2G” and “Pretty Fly for a WiFi 5G”.

I recently moved to a new house. Although I hadn’t planned on creating a “smart home”, I kind of did. See, I already owned a couple Google Home Mini speakers when my missus told me that she wanted some kind of “digital” thermostat at the new house. Right on cue, our power company sent us an offer for a Nest thermostat, along with another Google Home Mini and a GE Smart Bulb, for a very reasonable price. So we took them up on the offer, and now had a Nest and several Home Minis.

Due to the layout of my new office – that is, the furniture and power outlets within – the best option for me, lightwise, was to put a lamp on top of a tall bookcase. But it would have been a pain for me to reach up to turn the light on and off, and my missus would have to get a step ladder every time she wanted to turn the light on or off. No worries – we have that smart bulb Duke Energy sent us, right? I can just put the lamp on top of the bookcase then say “Hey Google, turn the lamp on”, yeah?

I could. But the light put out by the “C by GE” bulb is ugly. I’ve always preferred daylight bulbs over traditional “soft white” bulbs, but the “C by GE” light looked more like an interstate rest stop sodium vapor bulb than soft white light. So off to Amazon to buy some new bulbs, and when that failed, off to Home Depot… which almost failed, too.

Why the failure? Well, most modern routers – especially mesh routers – treat 2.4 and 5 GHz bands as the same. My network has both, but only has one SSID, and most devices can automagically switch from 2.4 and 5 GHz, whichever is the best fit at that moment. My Roku TV, for example, typically uses 5 GHz because it needs the bandwidth when we watch The Crown or Jack Ryan in UHD. My phone defaults to 5 GHz, but might switch to 2.4 GHz when I’m out in the yard because 5 GHz won’t travel that far, and 2.4 GHz is better than zero GHz.

Here, at last, is the problem this whole post addresses: it seems like all – or almost all – smart bulbs are 2.4 GHz only. This makes sense, because 2.4 GHz is better at penetrating walls and appliances, and such devices only send small bits of data occasionally. But guess what? Neither the LOHAS bulbs I ordered from Amazon nor the Philips bulb I bought at Home Depot would connect to my mesh network.

One option would have been to go to the router’s settings and have it separate the Wi-Fi signals into discrete 2.4 and 5 GHz bands. You know, the traditional “My WiFi 2G” and “My WiFi 5G” situation. And when I did that, it worked. But I didn’t want separate bands. It’s almost 2020!

So… what to do? Well, I had an old TP-Link range extender – model TL-WA855RE – lying around. Fortunately, the range extender can connect to the mesh network, despite being 2.4 GHz only. And since it’s only 2.4 GHz, the smart bulb can connect to it… and, by extension, the rest of my network.

Setting it up is pretty straightforward:

– If your smart bulb and\or extender requires an app, go ahead and install them from your app store before doing anything else.

– I reset the extender to its default settings, then logged in to its Wi-Fi network with my phone. I believe the SSID is just the model number: “TL-WA855RE”.

– I then used the extender’s app to connect and initiate the setup process. This is basically just “let it scan for networks, then login to the target network”. Keep all other settings at default, unless you want to: a) use a more complex password for this extended network (which I did); b) hide the new SSID (which I didn’t, because the password I gave the extended network looks like I smashed my fist on the keyboard); and c) this extender also has a “power level” setting which I turned to LOW, because I only need to broadcast the signal a few feet. ‘Cos the neighbors can’t steal your Wi-Fi if the signal never reaches them!

– By default, the new network will have the same SSID as the “mother network”, but with “_EXT” added to the end. So: “My Wi-Fi_EXT”. I logged in to the “_EXT” network on my phone and went through the setup wizard for the WiZ software I had to download for the Philips bulb. The WiZ software inherits the Wi-Fi settings from your phone and sends them to the bulb, which is why you have to do this step.

– Once the WiZ setup was complete, I switched my phone back to the regular Wi-Fi network and added the WiZ service to Google Home. That way I can say “Hey Google, turn on the lamp”.

– Finally, just to be safe, I reserved the internal IP addresses of both the extender and the bulb. That way, now that it’s working, there’s no reason it won’t keep working.

So… if you find yourself in a similar situation, you can buy the same model extender from Amazon here for $14.99, or Netgear’s EX2700 2.4 GHz extender here for $24.99.