Headset recommendation: Logitech h800

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I've worked from home for ten years. During this time I've needed a reliable headset for doing calls and listening to music that fit some rudimentary needs:

  1. It needed to be wireless, so I didn't pull my laptop onto the ground.
  2. It needed to be stereo.
  3. It needed to have a built-in mic.
  4. It needed to work reliably.
  5. Not too expensive.
  6. 8+ hours of use on a single charge.

This didn't seem like such a big deal, but it turned out to be more difficult than I thought it would be.

Let me work through the headsets I've tried and the problems I ran into.

The first wireless headset I tried was the Logitech h600. It was wireless, had a reasonable quality mic, was stereo, didn't cost too much, and seemed to work fairly well. However, there were some glaring problems, primarily that it was a little small for my head so it had to be pulled down tight to fit right, and because here was no padding on the top band its hard plastic would push down on my head and hurt after a while. Another minor problem was that it needed a USB adapter, it couldn't use the Bluetooth system built into the laptop. The pain wearing it proved to be too much to deal with, given that I was wearing it extensively, so I had to ditch it.

New requirements list:

  1. It needed to be wireless, so I didn't pull my laptop onto the ground.
  2. It needed to be stereo.
  3. It needed to have a built-in mic.
  4. It needed to work reliably.
  5. Not too expensive.
  6. 8+ hours of use on a single charge.
  7. It needed to fit my slightly larger-than-average mellon.
  8. It needed to be comfortable to wear for hours at a time.
  9. Not need any extra attachments to my computer, e.g. a USB adapter or something.

I then tried its older sibling, the Logitech h800. This was larger and had some padding on the band, so it didn't hurt to wear. It also used the laptop's Bluetooth system so didn't need any adapters to connect - just pair it to the laptop once, and then just turn it on when I wanted to use it. Hey presto!

For the most part the h800 has worked well - it's comfortable for wear for hours at a time, even a full day. However one problem I noticed was that the mic quality, i.e. the sound of my voice, is really poor compared to, well, everyone else I was having calls with. Everyone else was using different headsets, I thought my problem was with my headset, so after several years of use it started falling apart and I decided to replace it with something that might be better.

New requirements:

  1. It needed to be wireless, so I didn't pull my laptop onto the ground.
  2. It needed to be stereo.
  3. It needed to have a built-in mic.
  4. It needed to work reliably.
  5. Not too expensive.
  6. 8+ hours of use on a single charge.
  7. It needed to fit my slightly larger-than-average mellon.
  8. It needed to be comfortable to wear for hours at a time.
  9. Not need any extra attachments to my computer, e.g. a USB adapter or something.
  10. It needed to have a reasonable quality mic.

The first alternative I tried was the Jabra Evolve 65 UC. This is a slightly upper scale headset that is purported to have really good quality, and was recommended by some folks at work. I tried looking for one at a brick 'n mortar store so I could try it on, but they couldn't find their on-hand stock so I ended up ordering it online. When it arrived the first thing I did was checked to see how it fit, and unfortunately it was just too tight on my head, and had a hard plastic band with no padding so it just hurt to wear. It also had poor quality audio from the mic, the same as the h800. Clearly wasn't going to work, so I returned it.

After that failure I went back to looking.

The biggest problem with the h800 was with the mic quality. Doing research there seemed to be a known problem with the Bluetooth architecture itself. It seems that there are two "profiles" for how headsets work - a high quality mode for listening to audio, and a lower quality mode for transmitting & receiving simultaneously. Given that I want to have two-way conversations, this turns out to be a major limiting factor in the Bluetooth concept. So.. maybe Bluetooth wasn't what I needed..

There's also a newer generation of Bluetooth that might have helped. My laptop supports Bluetooth 4, but there's a 4.1 that adds a low-power mode, and a new 5.0 that improves things further. I did some searching on 4 versus 5 for audio headsets, but couldn't find anything at the time. So maybe Bluetooth 5 might help, but I'd have to either find a USB adapter or replace the laptop, and that wasn't in the budget.

A coworker mentioned the Plantronics Voyager Focus UC, a set that looks like it might be what I needed - on-ear headphones, includes a USB dongle to use instead of Bluetooth (to avoid mic problems), and it had a comfortable head band. The coworker mentioned that the mic quality was really good when using the dongle, but just using Bluetooth it was terrible, which confirmed my suspicion about needing to go with something that used a USB device! Unfortunately it was no longer available from most suppliers as it was an older model. Given I couldn't try it out, I hesitated getting it.

The first headset I tried was the Logitech G533, which I grabbed from a local store. It covered most of the requirements, and used a USB dongle so the audio should work nicely. I tried it for two days but in the end it proved to be too much - I really didn't like the over-ear form factor and the noise cancelling aspect distorted how I heard my voice when I was speaking, which was too weird for me on calls. Also, it felt a little flimsy, so I was worried about it lasting a few months, never mind a few years. So back to the store it went.

New requirements:

  1. It needed to be wireless, so I didn't pull my laptop onto the ground.
  2. It needed to be stereo.
  3. It needed to have a built-in mic.
  4. It needed to work reliably.
  5. Not too expensive.
  6. 8+ hours of use on a single charge.
  7. It needed to fit my slightly larger-than-average mellon.
  8. It needed to be comfortable to wear for hours at a time.
  9. Not need any extra attachments to my computer, e.g. a USB adapter or something.
  10. It needed to have a reasonable quality mic.
  11. No noise cancelation, or at least a way of turning it off.

The next set I tried was the Beats Solo Pro. This is a premium piece of hardware at roughly $300, and was using my hardware expense account from work so I could splurge on something I used constantly. The headset had a head band, fairly comfortable ear covers, didn't have a boom mic but supposedly had some nifty stuff to make it work well, long batter life, etc, and several coworkers loved their prior model (Solo 3). I grabbed it on sale at a local store (order-ahead for easy pickup, thank you COVID-19), brought it home, took it out of the box (nice packaging job, Beats!), connected it to my laptop and then... realized it was just too small for my noggin. I tried out the mic anyway, just in case, and it was no better than what I'd used before. Drat! Back to the store it'll go.

I did some research into headsets that fit larger mellons. While there are several articles out there, most of them focus on over-the-ear headsets with noise cancellation, and I didn't want that. They also focused primarily on Bluetooth headsets and didn't take mic quality into account, so they weren't going to work for me.

I also did a little more research on Bluetooth 4 vs 5, and it turns out that the improvements don't change anything about the usage "profiles" - it still cuts the audio quality when you're speaking, so that was going to be a non-starter.

I again looked at the Plantronics headset, but it was getting even harder to find, and some comments on Amazon suggested folks were selling cheap knockoffs, I figured I'd hold off again.

Given they were available locally I figured I'd double check what items Logitech had again, and look through their details. While doing this I happened across a little tidbit about the h800 I've been using for several years - while it's sold primarily as a Bluetooth device, it does come with a small USB dongle to connect it if your computer doesn't support Bluetooth. I'd made the assumption that it was a Bluetooth adapter, but I noticed that the manual didn't actually say this, instead indicating it was a proprietary system. So, it might just work!

This morning I dug around to find the headset's adapter, which wasn't in the handy-dandy holder in the left ear cover, plugged the adapter into my laptop, made a test call with Zoom and saved it, then compared the recording to one made with the device connected via Bluetooth - the difference was night and day!

Final requirements:

  1. It needed to be wireless, so I didn't pull my laptop onto the ground.
  2. It needed to be stereo.
  3. It needed to have a built-in mic.
  4. It needed to work reliably.
  5. Not too expensive.
  6. 8+ hours of use on a single charge.
  7. It needed to fit my slightly larger-than-average mellon.
  8. It needed to be comfortable to wear for hours at a time.
  9. Not need any extra attachments to my computer, e.g. a USB adapter or something.
  10. It needed to have a reasonable quality mic.
  11. No noise cancelation, or at least a way of turning it off.

So, after all my searching for a replacement headset to my held-together-with-tape-and-good-wishes Logitech h800, my new headset will be a Logitech h800! In the end needing to have a clearer mic trumped my hope to avoid using a USB adapter. Go figure.

COVID-19, physical separation, grocery shopping and children

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COVID-19 is here, though so far our family are doing ok - it has been eight days since our last venture out of the house and we're not showing symptoms, so it's so far so good.

We've actually been wondering how to handle a scenario where both my wife and I become ill, and how to manage grocery shopping and food preparation for our three children. There's potential for us both to fall ill and be unable to cook for everyone for two-ish weeks.

There are a few aspects to this.

Firstly, COVID-19 can take up to two weeks for symptoms to show up. Every time we go out we want to wait two weeks to ensure we weren't infected from our last exposure.

Secondly, many people (including some folks I know) have full-on symptoms for two weeks, or longer, where they're unable to do anything, never mind if you need to go to the hospital. If we fall ill towards the end of a two week grocery period we could be out of action for another two weeks.

Put together, that sets us up for wanting to shop every two weeks but having two additional weeks worth of food, so that if we both fall ill by the end of a two week grocery period there's still food in the house for the kids to eat.

Towards that goal we've started focusing more on cooking fresh food instead of processed food, with the goal of freezing half-or-more of it per batch. We're labeling everything that goes in the freezer with the date so the food can be eaten in order.

So we're going to focus on cooking fresh food while we have it, try to freeze some of each meal, and then if/when we're ill our kids have something they can take out and heat to eat.

Ultimately I'd like us to have four weeks of of food between the fridge, freezer and pantry; we'd favor cooking fresh when available, then cycle through frozen stuff while leaving a two-week buffer of "mom and dad are both ill" time.

This is made all the more complicated because of my wife's ongoing health problems. She has been nursing her gall bladder for two years and is currently trying to improve it. Part of this process involves juicing vegetables and fruit to make them easier for her to get the nutrition (and throwing the pulp/fiber left over into chicken broth). Because so much fruit & veg only lasts a week-or-so she found a technique to prolong their shelf life by putting them in baskets of wood shavings, separating each item so that if one starts rotting it won't affect the others. This has been helping so far, e.g. instead of one rotten apple in a bag causing the rest to rot, when one apple started showing signs we could spot it and the others weren't affected.

Even so, fruit and veg can still go off fairly quickly, some items only lasting a few days before they start going off. As a result, it becomes hard to only shop once every two weeks and keep fresh fruit & veg in your diet. To help with this we signed up for Misfits Market a company that ships you a box of fresh veg & fruit every week. They're super busy right now so our first delivery won't be for two weeks, but it looks like deliveries will start on our grocery week off, so I think it'll help.

I should also note that we are in a very privileged position of being able to do this. I work from home and still have a job, and thankfully we're able to fund these efforts. I know lots of people who aren't as fortunate, hopefully the government funding will be able to help people.

Anyway, be safe, stay home if you can, and take care of yourselves.

Never thought this would be the scenario I wouldn't be able to travel for

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When my nephew Elliott's health started taking a turn for the worse, my first thought was to start preparing for the possibility of needing to make a trip to Ireland to be with my family. Unfortunately with the COVID-19 pandemic uprooting the entire world, flying is both not recommended due to the viral load component of virus transmission, and also not easily achieved because so many airlines have stopped their flights. Even if I was to make it back to Ireland somehow, the Irish health board has requested that "Everybody flying into Ireland from overseas should self-quarantine for 14 days". There was not going to be any chance of completing that in time, which would run the risk of me transmitting the illness to my parents or others, should I pick it up along the way (if I don't already have it and am asymptomatic); alternatively, I could pick it up from someone in Ireland and bring it back to the US to share with everyone I was in contact with between the airport and home, never mind my family.

So instead my brother and I have worked out how to use the conference call system Zoom to stream the funeral to family and friends across Ireland and the world. While I won't be able to comfort my family, we'll at least be able to say our farewells to Elliott.

Historically when people from Ireland emigrated to the US family and friends would hold a party for them to send them off. This was traditionally called an "Irish wake" as it was from a time when it was not expected that the emigrating person would ever be seen again. When my wedding 22 years ago became a makeshift Irish wake for me, I never in my wildest, worst dreams believed I would be unable to return home because of a pandemic, with the ease of travel across the Atlantic I assumed I would be able to pop over with short notice, as happened in 2016. The timing this year really is atrocious, and gut-wrenching.

Now the best I can do is tell my family in Ireland I love them, do everything in my power to keep my family here health so that when the pandemic subsides we'll be able to travel. Because there are so many hugs to be shared, and tears to be released.

RIP my nephew Elliott Seamus Patrick McKenna Roddy

Elliott smiling while listening to music being played for him

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My wonderful sister and her husband lost their child after a long uphill battle against the odds. Dearest Elliott Seamus Patrick McKenna Roddy passed away quietly in his mother's arms on Saturday, March 21st, with his dad at her side and his two grandmothers in support. Please keep them in your thoughts.

Why the "Lost in Space" is a huge Meh

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I've watched both seasons of the "Lost in Space" reboot on Netflix and I've found it to be monumentally meh. While it is true that space is life in "Hard" mode, IMHO there were several pieces that made me think the show runners / script writers either just didn't either think things through, or were told to really dial down the realism.

The first thing that stood out was how at the beginning of season 2 they had enough resources to start farming, and they picked corn as their first crop. Corn is one of the least nutritious crops you can grow, so did they choose it because they didn't know any better (and didn't bother spending five minutes on google) or were they told to pick corn because people would recognize it?

The second thing was the garbage pickup. They had garbage collection like is done today where there's negligible consideration for reuse, recycling, composting, etc - everything was just bundled into huge garbage bags and dumped in a waste disposal section. With the minimal amount of resources they have in space, why wouldn't they have a significant effort to make the absolute maximum use of everything, including all waste products? Did they either not think it through, or again did someone tell them to make it match life today so people would understand?

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