Review of Google WiFi


About 2,800 square feet over three floors. Usually around 25 devices connected at any given time. Only one wifi router which can’t be moved due to where the cable enters the house.

This is clearly a job for Google Wifi.


In addition to eradicating humanity, Skynet must keep dozens of my devices reliably connected to the internet.

I switched from an Apple AirPort Extreme to a Google OnHub router about a year and a half ago, and while I didn’t like it very much at first, a steady cadence of software upgrades improved it to the point where I was glad I switched. When Google Wifi came out late last year, and I found out that I could use mesh networking to extend the range of my OnHub, I pre-ordered a three-pack right away.

Mesh networking is relatively simple in theory, but in practice, robust mesh networks are complex. Mesh networks obviate the need to have multiple wifi routers with hardwired connections throughout your home or office. Instead, routers create individual, overlapping zones of coverage capable of relaying network traffic through their peers back to a single hardwired connection. Devices connect to whichever node has the best signal and/or the least amount of congestion, and then traffic is routed through the mesh, to your primary wifi point (the one with the actual connection to the internet), and then back again to the device — entirely seamlessly. Not only can mesh networks dramatically extend the range of your network without requiring you to run additional cables (all they need is power), but they are also extremely durable and robust since the network can route around any problematic nodes which may be temporary unavailable due to software updates or malfunctions.

I’ve had Google Wifi set up for a couple of weeks now, and I’d say that I’m generally happy with the results — though with some qualifications. Here are my overall thoughts so far:

Setup was relatively easy, but surprisingly time-consuming. The first thing you do is install the Google WiFi app on your phone (I used a Google Pixel XL), and then you follow a set of simple instructions which generally involve connecting a Google Wifi device to power (reversible USB Type-C!), scanning a QR code on the bottom, and waiting. And then waiting some more. And then, while you’re at it, doing a little waiting.


Setting up Google Wifi means plenty of waiting. But also plenty of cool animations to mesmerize you in the process.

If the process goes smoothly, your patience is rewarded with a fairly painlessly upgraded network. However, the process rarely went smoothly for me. There were software updates, unexplained errors, and worst of all, ambiguous results. (I was told setup didn’t complete properly, yet the device seemed to be functioning. What do I do? Leave it alone and hope for the best? Perform a factory reset and start again? No way to know.)


When setting up Google Wifi, be prepared for a few bumps along the path toward Wifi Utopia.

Not counting the time it took me to run out to Best Buy so I could replace a surge protector I discovered was blown, it took about an hour from the time I opened the three-pack of Google Wifi devices to the time I had every corner of my home awash in a beautiful overlapping patchwork of 2.4 and 5GHz spectrum. Not too bad.


A healthy mesh network, powered by Google Wifi. The primary node — in my case, an OnHub — is not pictured in this view.

If the story ended there, my review would have been as glowing as the Google Wifi’s Cylon-like LED diagnostic strip. But sadly, the tale continues.

We have very reliable power where I live, but during a recent and particularly energetic thunderstorm, it flickered a few times. Every device in my house is plugged into a high-quality surge protector and/or a UPS so nothing was damaged, but none of my Google Wifi devices came back up properly. Both my modem and my OnHub wifi router recovered just fine, but all my Google Wifi nodes were pulsating red.

To make a very long story short, using the Google Wifi app to restart them fixed two of the three, but the third — the one closest to the network drop — wouldn’t reconnect. And then, after a factory reset, I kept being told that it couldn’t connect to my network because it was out of range of my primary wifi point (it was not). Acting purely out of instinct, I factory reset all three devices, and re-added them again one-by-one (the one closest to the primary router first). After a great deal of waiting and a few more unexplained errors (mostly failed tests), all three devices were back online, and my mesh network was restored to its former glory.


Happy and healthy once again.

For a network that is supposed to be highly durable, I was pretty disappointed that I had to spend about an hour and a half trying to bring it back up after a fairly routine power flicker. And while I feel the quality of my network justifies the time I put into it, I can’t imagine how someone without early-adopter patience would have handled both the initial setup process, and then having to set everything up again a week later. (Actually, I can imagine it, and it looks a lot like several frustrating hours on the phone with support.)

In other words, Google Wifi currently meets my expectations and standards, but it does not pass the “parents” test. (If you buy this for your parents, or recommend they buy it for themselves, be prepared to provide plenty of tech support.)

If you have clear wifi-hypoxic zones in your home, and if you have the patience to deal with a system that clearly still has some bugs to work out, then I definitely recommend that you give Google Wifi a try. I consider $299 (for a three-pack) a reasonable price to pay for sophisticated networking equipment that solves a very real problem without having to run any additional cables throughout your home.

But unless you have a very clear need for something like Google Wifi, I would recommend waiting. Consumer-grade mesh networking is still relatively new, and while $299 isn’t bad ($129 for a single device), as with most new technology, the longer you wait, the cheaper it becomes — but more importantly, the less of your precious time it will demand.

Update (3/27/2017): My experience with customer support, and all connection issues finally resolved.

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Review of the Google OnHub From TP Link


Update (1/13/2017): Although Google still sells the OnHub, it looks to me like it’s being replaced by Google WiFi. Fortunately, they work together so I can add Google WiFi devices to my network without having to replace my OnHub.

Update (5/2/2016): The OnHub now works with IFTTT (If This Than That). Looks like I’m going to be making a lot of updates to this post.

Update (4/25/2016): The OnHub now has support for guest networks. (I’m back to only having to use one router again.) You can even allow your guest network to have access to streaming devices like the Chromecast and Chromecast Audio. Thanks, Google!

Whenever Google dabbles in hardware, I pay attention. And whenever anyone claims to be rethinking not only an ubiquitous consumer electronic, but an entire customer experience, my curiosity is piqued. Google’s OnHub project is both.

I went with the model from TP Link since it was the only one available at the time I was buying, but the model from ASUS looks similar enough that I wouldn’t expect major differences. Here’s a breakdown of my experience with the OnHub so far.

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Logitech MX Master Review


Despite multi-touch screens, voice interaction, and science fiction’s promise of gestural operating environments, the primary ways we interact with computers are still through the firmly established keyboard and mouse. I’ve tested dozens of keyboards to finally find a couple I can claim to truly love, but the same level of passion has always eluded me when it came to mice. So when Logitech boldly proclaimed that they revolutionized the nearly fifty-year-old peripheral with the MX Master, I was in.

Let’s start with some highlights:

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Video Review of the Google Nexus 7 Tablet

I’ve spent about a week with the Nexus 7 tablet now so I thought I’d do a quick video to capture my impressions:

If you’d rather read than watch, here are the highlights:

  • I really like the 7-inch form factor. Since I have an 11″ MacBook Air, 10-inch tablets don’t feel all that portable to me. 7-inch tablets are very portable, very light, allow me to easily type with my thumbs, and are much easier to hold for long periods of time while reading.
  • The performance is excellent. The combination of the hardware and Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean) make the Nexus 7 as smooth and polished as any iOS device.
  • The battery life seems very good. I didn’t explicitly test it, but I’ve only had to charge the Nexus 7 a few times since I started using it. It may not be as good as something like the iPad, but I found the battery to be more than sufficient.
  • I’m not crazy about the emphasis on the Google Play store by default. Since it competes with the Kindle Fire, the Nexus 7 is designed primarily as a content consumption device (which also justifies the very aggressive pricing — Google wants to make money on the ecosystem rather than hardware). Fortunately all the conduits into the the Google Play store are implemented as widgets which you can just delete in order to get a more traditional tablet experience. I should point out that I actually like the Google Play store and have used it several times already — I just don’t want it to be the central experience of my tablet.
  • My only complaint/request is that I want to be able to buy a higher-end version. I like this device enough that I’d happily pay more for a rear-facing HD camera and 4G wireless support. That said, I know Google is competing with the Kindle Fire, and the price is extremely aggressive for such a capable device. I think Google is doing the right thing for now, however I hope they release versions with more features in the future.

To summarize: great device which is absolutely worth the $199/$249 price.

My Current Keyboard Configuration

my_keyboard_configurationThe picture above is one of my home workstations where I think I’ve finally gotten the right keyboard/pointer configuration. Here’s what you’re looking at:

  • The black keyboard on the bottom is a Filco Majestouch mechanical keyboard with MX Cherry Brown switches (review with video here). This is what I use for most of my typing. The Alt and Windows keys have been swapped and Alt and Command remapped in software to make it more Mac friendly.
  • The keyboard above it is an Apple bluetooth keyboard. I use it for typing when I’m in virtual meetings in order to keep the noise down (it’s very quiet while the mechanical keyboard is way too loud for meetings), and for its media keys (volume up, volume down, and mute). (If you want media keys on your non-Apple keyboard, see this post by Grant Skinner.)
  • The mouse is an Apple Magic Mouse. Mice are very personal objects which people feel strongly about, so I’m not going to claim that it’s the best. In fact, I have a few Logitech mice which are equally good if not better. But I enjoy the accuracy and the gestures of the Magic Mouse enough that I’ve stuck with it. (In my opinion, this is the first mouse Apple has ever made that’s usable.)
  • The trackpad beside the top keyboard is the Apple Magic Trackpad. I use it for gestures and sometimes for scrolling. I also sometimes connect the bluetooth keyboard and trackpad or mouse to my phone.
  • The phone is a Galaxy Nexus. I usually have my iPhone 4S beside it, but I used it to take the photo. I rely on them for notifications. Rather than having alerts pop up on my monitor all the time and distract me, I use my phones for email, calendar, and text notifications. (I have two phones because I do mobile development — and because I love them both.)
  • I have an Energizer family sized battery charger off to the side to keep the keyboard and pointing devices powered. I find I’m swapping out batteries about every two weeks.

I have two other workstations: one for Windows, and one at the office. They’re both different just to mix things up a bit, so maybe I’ll get pictures of them at some point, as well.

Using a Mobile Device as a Desktop Computer

Part 1

Part 2

Part 2 Table of Contents:

Some friends of mine and I are experimenting with what it’s like to use a mobile device (in this case, a Galaxy Nexus) as a desktop computer. With the addition of a bluetooth keyboard, multi-touch trackpad, and a monitor, I found that the experience is surprisingly good.

I don’t demo all that many applications in the video for fear of inadvertently showing sensitive data, but I think I show enough that you can get an idea for how close we already are to this type of computing model. In fact, I think if you were to set up a workspace like this for someone who didn’t have “professional” needs (such as writing code or video editing), and/or someone who didn’t have a lot of preconceptions about how a computer should work, they would be perfectly happy with the experience. I was able to do all of the following with relative ease:

  • Browse the internet.
  • Read news.
  • Manage my calendar, tasks, contacts, etc.
  • Read and write email almost as easily as I can on my desktop.
  • Listen to music and podcasts.
  • Chat on IM.
  • Edit documents.
  • Do some light photo editing (in the default gallery application).
  • Participate in social networks (Google+, Twitter, and Facebook).
  • Watch videos on YouTube and Netflix.

In other words, I was able to do most of what many people do with desktop computers on a daily basis. Of course, there were a few key things I wasn’t able to do such as:

  • Write code. I’m sure it’s possible, but definitely not practical, and probably not something I would enjoy.
  • Advanced editing of things like photos and video.
  • Advanced file management. With this kind of computing model, you definitely want to keep as much data in the cloud as possible since the file system is generally de-emphasized on mobile devices.

Keep in mind that I’m using a stock Android device with whatever capabilities are already in the OS. If you’re willing to go as far as installing Linux on your phone, you can do far more than this. Additionally, operating systems will likely have much better support for this kind of model in the future — in particular, Windows 8 with Metro.

I’m really curious about whether this kind of interaction represents the future of computing. Are we moving toward a model where we use multiple computers and mobile devices with all our data in the cloud, or in five to ten years, are we all just going to use our phones for most of our computing needs? I’m guessing it’s going to be somewhere in the middle (as these things tend to be), but I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Update: I’ve been getting a lot of questions about the cables I used to make this work. Here’s all you need to know:

  • For the display, I used a Samsung MHL to HDMI adapter (along with an HDMI cable, obviously). If you want to do audio through your monitor, make sure your HDMI cable supports audio.
  • For a USB keyboard and mouse, you’ll need a micro USB host mode OTG cable, and a powered USB hub. (I used a bluetooth keyboard and mouse, so this isn’t in the video.)
  • For audio (if you don’t have speakers in your monitor), I just used a standard 3.5mm audio cable from the phone to my computer speakers.

Thanks to Matt Pandina for helping to get this working.

New Gaming PC

After relying primarily on consoles (Xbox and PS3) for gaming over the last few years (and occasionally a very nice Lenovo ThinkPad with a surprisingly capable graphics card), I decided it was finally time to build a serious gaming rig. I’m still tuning and tweaking, so I can’t give a final verdict yet, but so far, I’ve been very happy with it. Here are the components/specs:

  • Intel Core i7-2600K Sandy Bridge 3.4GHz CPU
  • 2x MSI N570GTX Twin Frozr II OC GeForce GTX 570 video cards
  • 16GB (4 x 4GB) Corsair Vengeance DDR3 240-Pin 1.5V SDRAM
  • 2x Western Digital 1TB 7200 RPM drives in a RAID 1 configuration
  • SAMSUNG 470 Series 128GB SATA II Internal Solid State Drive (so game data loads faster)
  • MSI P67A-GD53 ATX Intel Motherboard
  • LG Blu-ray/DVD/CD reader/writer
  • CORSAIR Hydro H70 CWCH70 CPU Cooler
  • CORSAIR 750W ATX12V power supply
  • COOLER MASTER Black Steel/Plastic ATX Full Tower Computer Case
  • Microsoft Windows 7 Professional

At this point, I’ve still put more time into building and tweaking than actual gaming, but hopefully that’s about to change. I’m a few hours into Fallout: New Vegas, and will probably go from there to Mass Effect, Brink, L4D, and eventually StarCraft II. Any other suggestions?

Update: I’ve gotten a lot of questions on cost, so here’s some additional information. I paid about $2,300 for everything (including Windows 7), shipped. If you’re interested in building your own gaming system, you can do it for much less, however. Here are some ways to save money without sacrificing very much (if anything) in the way of gaming performance:

  • Shop around rather than buying all your components from the same site. I spent enough time researching components that I didn’t want to spend even more time finding the lowest prices on them, so I was lazy and bought them all from the same retailer. That said, I bought them from Newegg which has pretty aggressive pricing, so I probably wouldn’t have saved very much.
  • Skip the liquid CPU cooler. The fan that comes with your CPU is sufficient. I just used a liquid cooling system for fun, and just in case I want to get really aggressive with the overclocking (which I haven’t yet).
  • Use fewer hard drives. I could have saved a lot of money just using a single 500GB drive rather than two 1TB drives and an SSD. In fact, this could probably have been my single biggest savings.
  • Buy a cheaper case. The case I decided on was expensive, but I wanted something nice and big for air flow and expansion, and I figured I’ll have the same case for a long time as I upgrade individual components. But there are much cheaper cases out there that will still work fine.
  • Buy less RAM. 8GM would have been plenty. 12GB is kind of ridiculous, but as you can see, I had a little too much fun designing this thing.

If I had really wanted to, I could have probably gotten the cost of everything down to about $1,800 and still had an amazing machine. Of course, I could have also spent much more, so I figure it all balances out in the end.

Review of the New Apple TV

apple_tvI recently got rid of my Verizon FiOS television service (a topic for another post), so when Apple announced the new Apple TV, I ordered one straightaway. At $99, I felt like I had nothing to lose.

I’ve only been using it for a few days, but so far, I’m very happy with it. We’ve used it almost exclusively for Netflix streaming, and to confirm what Steve Jobs said during Apple’s press event, the Apple TV is probably the best Netflix steaming client. As far an I’m concerned, if I only use it for Netflix and for browsing my Flickr stream, it was well worth the $99.

We haven’t “rented” anything yet, and I’m not sure I’ll get into the habit of paying 99¢ for a single viewing of a television show, but I’m not ready to discount the business model yet. Although it still doesn’t feel quite right, I think it might actually make sense. I only watch a handful of television shows, so even if I pay 99¢ for every one of them, I’ll still be way ahead of where I was with FiOS. And most importantly, I’d only be paying for the content I watch rather than the thousands of hours of programming that I don’t watch which, in my opinion, is the biggest problem with the traditional television subscription model.

I will probably pay a movie now and then, however as Netflix streaming becomes more comprehensive (which I assume it will), there will less of a need to pay per film. That said, I do think $3.99 is a reasonable price for low-end HD content, so I’m not opposed to the occasional movie rental.

I don’t know how successful the Apple TV will be, but I do know that I want to support new business models around media. I’m perfectly willing to buy content, and in fact, I think it’s important to back business models you believe in by buying into them, but the models simply have to make sense, and they have to represent good values. Apple TV certainly isn’t 100% there yet, but in my opinion, it’s definitely a step in the right direction.

Things I really like about the Apple TV:

  • Very compact. As usual, Apple really knew what it was doing when it designed this thing. It sits next to my PS3, and is next to invisible. Adding an Apple TV to your collection of consoles and set-top boxes will not require you to rearrange your entire component cabinet. It doesn’t even have a power brick, so it won’t add much to the jungle of cords and cables behind your screen.
  • Great remote. Aside from the battery (see below), I really like the Apple TV remote. Apple knows that the remote is the part of the device that you interface with, so it feels very high-quality and works well.
  • Great UI. Traditional television service providers have always had something against simple and intuitive user interfaces. Once again, Apple to the rescue.
  • Very responsive. My old Verizon FiOS set-top box was buggy, slow, and unstable. Although the Apple TV’s software isn’t flawless (see below), it’s far more robust and responsive than the FiOS box I just sent back to Verizon. It’s also far faster and more robust than the OS and applications built into my Sony Bravia. (Sometimes I wonder why Sony even bothered.)
  • Built-in WiFi. To get my TV online (it has built-in services like Netflix streaming, Amazon on-demand, etc.), I had to set up a wireless bridge which cost extra money, time (in configuration), and precious space. The Apple TV is basically self-sufficient, as devices today should be.
  • No Netflix activation. For some reason, when I set up Netflix streaming on other clients (like my PS3 or my Sony Bravia), I had to go through a horrible registration/activation process which required having a computer nearby, creating an account with Sony, copying codes and URLs back and forth, etc. Every time I set up a new device, I always wonder why I can’t just enter my Netflix credentials and be done with it. That’s exactly how it works on the Apple TV. I’m pretty certain Apple wouldn’t have shipped a device with the same experience you have to go through activating something like a PlayStation.
  • It’s cheap. At $99, there’s almost no reason not to try it. If you’re a Netflix user, you have absolutely nothing to lose.

Some issues to watch out for:

  • It doesn’t come with an HDMI cable. I know Apple likes small packaging, and I know they were trying to keep the price down, but I was disappointed that I had to poach an HDMI cable off another device. Replacing it will add at least another $20 to the price of the Apple TV — a cost which I think it’s fair to call “hidden.”
  • The remote is great (nice and simple, and very high-quality), but it uses a CR2032 button cell battery. I just recently got every toy, remote, sensor, and peripheral in the house using rechargeable batteries, and now I have to worry about keeping a CR2032 handy (since you can’t use the Apple TV without it, you don’t want to wait until the battery actually dies to buy a replacement). I’d like to see a rechargeable option, like PS3 controllers.
  • The Apple TV remote also controls the MacBook I keep near my TV and use primarily as a stereo. This isn’t horrible since I mostly use the Remote application to control iTunes, but I did have to stop the Apple TV setup process to disable the remote on my MacBook. If this happens to you, open System Preferences, then go into Security, and check the “Disable remote control infrared receiver” box.
  • I’ve gotten a couple of errors claiming that my HDMI cable doesn’t support HDCP (a digital copy protection protocol) which made the Apple TV inoperable. After rebooting, it worked fine. I imagine this is a bug that will be fixed in a future software upgrade, and really nothing to worry about.

Review of the New Kindle 3

I’ve been a big fan of the Amazon Kindle since its initial release, and I’ve faithfully upgraded with every new generation. The Kindle 2 was a huge improvement over the first model, and the newest third generation Kindle appears to be a worthy and worthwhile successor, as well.

The biggest differences between the Kindle 2 and the Kindle 3 are:


The very compact Kindle 3 on top of the larger Kindle 2.

  • Better screen. Amazon claims that the Kindle 3 has 50% better contrast than any other e-reader. I’m not exactly sure how contrast is quantified, but I can say that the Kindle 3’s screen is much better than the Kindle 2’s. In fact, the first thing I noticed about the Kindle 3 after unpacking it was how much whiter the background looked.
  • Smaller form factor. The Kindle 3 is 21% smaller than the Kindle 2 and 17% lighter. In terms of dimensions, that’s about half an inch smaller in both width and height. Note that the 6″ screen remains the same size.
  • Wi-Fi version. Amazon is now selling a Wi-Fi version for $139 and a 3G version for $189. I decided to go with the Wi-Fi version and save the $50.
  • Better battery. I haven’t really been able to test the battery thoroughly yet, but Amazon claims that the Kindle 3’s battery will last up to a month (with wireless turned off). Based on the battery performance of my other Kindles, I would say that’s probably accurate.
  • More storage. My Mac reports the size of the Kindle 2 as 1.59GB, and the size of the Kindle 3 as 3.33GB. Amazon says that’s enough to store 3,500 books.
  • Faster page turns. Amazon says the page turns on the Kindle 3 are 20% faster. Honestly, that seems low to me. I would say the Kindle 3 is at least 50% faster if not even more, but I’m not doing actual benchmarks. Let’s just say that the Kindle 3 is noticeably and significantly faster.
  • Better fonts. The fonts on the Kindle 3 appear thicker and darker.
  • No joystick. The Kindle 3 replaces the navigation joystick of the Kindle 2 with a D-pad. So far, I think I prefer the new D-pad.
  • Rubberized backing. The Kindle 2 has a brushed metal backing and the Kindle 3 has a nice soft rubberized coating on the back.
  • Better PDF reader. The new PDF reader on the Kindle 3 supports looking up words in the dictionary, notes, and highlighting. I don’t find the Kindle particularly useful for PDF viewing because PDF text gets scaled rather than reflowing, but if PDF viewing is important to you, the Kindle 3’s improvements will probably be a welcomed upgrade.
  • WebKit-based browser. WebKit is the standard for mobile browsers now, and Amazon has built it into the the Kindle 3. I don’t consider this a very important feature, however; frankly, I think you’d be crazy to browse the web on any Kindle. The Kindle 3’s browser works much better than previous Kindle’s, but if you have a computer, smart phone, or tablet anywhere nearby, you’re always going to reach for it over your Kindle when you need to look something up on the web. That said, in a pinch — when you’re out at the pool and your phone and your iPad are both up in the room — it’s serviceable.
  • New color. I bought the graphite version which is the only Wi-Fi option available, but the 3G version comes in graphite or white.

The three features that mean the most to me are the higher contrast screen, smaller size, and faster page turns. These are the things that you will notice right away, and that you will appreciate throughout the entire life of the product. The new lower prices are nice, as well. The cheaper the Kindle gets, the more places and situations you’re willing to expose it to, and hence, the more useful it becomes. I still don’t think we’ve hit that magical price point where purchasing a Kindle and keeping it with you at all times is a no-brainer, but we’re definitely one step closer.

Tour of My New Home Office

Here’s a quick tour of the home office I recently finished building. If you’re thinking of designing your own office, hopefully this will give you some ideas and inspiration.

A quick summary of things I did right:

  • Lots of light switches meaning very flexible task lighting (including dimmers).
  • Very large closet (with its own light).
  • Wire shelving that is both strong and configurable. Additionally, the light can easily penetrate the openings in order to reach lower shelves. (Use foam core board on any shelves that hold straps or other small items that you don’t want to fall through.)
  • Two workstations configured for different kinds of tasks. My primary workstation also raises and lowers.
  • Liberal amounts of insulation, especially in the ceiling. Insulation obviously helps keep the temperature comfortable, but it also keeps the noise down.
  • Bamboo flooring. It’s cheap, durable, environmentally friendly, and looks as good as more expensive hardwoods, in my opinion.
  • Reading chair. Sometimes it’s nice to get away from the computer and relax in a nice comfortable chair.
  • Isolated circuit. My office is on its own electrical circuit, so if something else in the house trips a breaker, it won’t shut off power in my office.
  • Coaxial and network jacks. My wireless signal is pretty strong down here, but I went ahead and ran a network cable anyway for the additional bandwidth.

Things I did wrong:

  • No power outlets at desk-height. I put in a lot of power outlets (12 in a relatively small room), but I didn’t install any at desk height. Unfortunately it didn’t occur to me until after the drywall was in.
  • No track lighting. I used recessed lighting rather than track lighting. Tracks would have given me some additional configurability, and the ceilings are probably high enough.