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Random musings on technology and gadgets

Last Build Date: Mon, 16 Jan 2017 05:06:56 +0000


Omar’s Finds Jan 16 : 15 FindsOmar’s Finds Jan 16 : 15 Finds

Mon, 16 Jan 2017 16:00:00 +0000

01 Gear: Love this new kids backpack from SF DSPTCH - Mini Utility Ruck

02 Apps: Trying out Zinc , a new Video "Read it Later" service ala Instapaper and Pocket

03 Apps: I love Bear a writing app for iOS and Mac. It’s replaced Ulysses.

04 Amazon: Reuse Amazon Boxes for Goodwill donations. Great idea!

05 Clothing: I seriously love these Wool Runners . They have been popping up all over the Microsoft campus.

06 Apps: Excited for Pana to launch a free version of their travel app . I love their concierge service

07 Apps: As a kid I loved simulator games. Mini Metro is super fun. Make a subway!

08 Gadgets: Just picked this up at the AT&T store. Looks like the perfect solution for bedside travel charging: Belkin Portable Valet Chargerfor Apple Watch and iPhone

09 Coffee: I have been waiting a long time for this Grinder. It's everything I've ever wanted - Baratza Sette 270W

10 Coffee: I backed this beauty of a Kettle for my pour over coffee

11 Coffee: Before I heard of acacia I thought my coffee scale was good - acaia Lunar

12 Gadgets: I’ll let you guess if I have already ordered a charging stand for my AirPods 😱

13 Money: Amazon and Chase just announced that you can now earn 5% back on Amazon purchases , up from 3%

14 Food: My brother-in-law introduced me to this amazing hot sauce called Yellow Bird and we love it. Written up in HuffPo

15 Gadgets: Not a lot of kids wearables our there but this looks great for young kids. Sarah (10) has a Garmin Vivofit that she loves.

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Apple AirPodsApple AirPods

Sun, 15 Jan 2017 18:39:14 +0000

I always get nervous about writing about or discussing seemingly simple products that not everyone is immediately interested in. To me, the Apple AirPods represent that category of product.  Yes, they are headphones. Yes they are wireless. Both of those things exist. But they are so much more. They represent a huge technological achievement for Apple (and for us). The miniaturization of batteries, electronics and headphones to look and appear so similar to the wired versions.

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Pro Traveler TipsPro Traveler Tips

Sun, 08 Jan 2017 20:20:38 +0000

For the past two decades I’ve amassed a lot of travel tips and techniques. For context, I travel a decent amount, but I’m not a business road warrior. About half my travel is with the family, and the other half is for business. I fly about 25,000 - 50,000 miles a year (but in seat). As such it makes sense to be wise about maximizing value, time, etc If you are short on time, here is the TL;DR (that’s too long didn’t read): 1. Signup for Nexus or Global Entry ($50 - $100) 2. Signup for Clear ($170) 3. Get a Chase Sapphire Preferred or Amex Platinum Card ($450) 4. Enroll in all the Hotel / Car programs that come with the card benefits 5. Get noise cancelling headphones ($300) 6. Get a 4 wheeled spinner bag ($300 - $850)

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Allbirds Wool SneakersAllbirds Wool Sneakers

Tue, 27 Dec 2016 15:00:00 +0000

I love wool. In the last few years I have incorporated more and more wool into our lives. Items such as our Wool Comforter. I now own a number of wool sweaters, and recently some new wool socks from Darn Tough (I like the standard issue mid calf light). Recently at work I noticed a number of folks have been rocking the new Allbirds wool sneakers. I used to see tons of their ads in my Facebook feed, but never wanted to bother trying them out. Well based on some personal recommendations I decided to take the plunge. It could not be easier to buy them since the Allbirds website uses Apple Pay, making purchase almost too easy.

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Leaving FacebookLeaving Facebook

Sun, 18 Dec 2016 20:18:21 +0000

Facebook has truly been a powerful force in the world and in my life. I am sincere when I say that I really love the kind of connections that I can keep and the people who I can stay in touch with (albeit very passively sometimes).

I've been wondering if I can or should leave or take a break.


Source: WordStream

This past election in the US has got me thinking  about a few things that I'm going to start trying to do more and do less. Facebook is in the "do less" bucket.

I've become unhappy about how Facebook is jamming my life with stuff that I really don't want to see. It's no longer fun. It feels like I have to do it. Fear of missing out (FOMO) along with unread items and notifications have amplified my thoughts on this topic.

My Facebook replacement plan is the following:

  1. Read different perspectives either shared on Twitter or on mainstream news publications. I'm really enjoying a curated news app called Next Draft and have subscribed to the New York Times. Ironically I think Twitter has won in my mind post election 2016. I don't want an algorithm curating what I see any more.
  2. Message people more 1:1 and stop relying on Facebook for passive communications
  3. Use Snapchat more to talk to people and share Stories
  4. Rely on Instagram for what Facebook used to be about
  5. Keep using Day One as a personal feed of my memories. It does a great job of showing me "on this day" stuff from the past which I do love about Facebook.

I'm not sure how this experiment is going to go. It's unlikely that I will be completely absent from Facebook as there are times where the unexpected may happen and Facebook the best place to stay in touch on some issues. But if you want to keep abreast of me your best bet is going to be:

I know this means that I'll loose touch with some of you. Please reach out or write to me! I already hear from many of you because you have something to say about my Newsletter posts (please keep doing that!) but you can reach me on Messenger, Snapchat, Instagram, WhatsApp, Email etc!

I hope 2017 is an awesome year and that you all prosper!

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The “New” You Need a BudgetThe “New” You Need a Budget

Sun, 11 Dec 2016 19:41:07 +0000

Two years ago I wrote about a piece of software called You Need a Budget . Back then (the dark ages) this was a desktop app and required complex setups to sync to your phone. A year ago, they launched a cloud / web version with some key features such as directly connecting to your bank. But they also had a number of launch glitches and bugs, along with missing features. All these issues have largely been resolved, and so I’m here to highly recommend this product (again). This time with a slick web app, the same great mobile apps, and eve better features. You might be like “WAAAAAH Budgets? Omar why are you writing about this?”. I often get a lot of “why do you bother budgeting”. Good question.

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My first year with Solar PowerMy first year with Solar Power

Sun, 04 Dec 2016 19:23:50 +0000

I've been waiting to write this post for a year. On Nov 15, 2015 my Solar Array on my roof was activated by Seattle City Light. I have been collecting data for a year now and wanted to share how it's working out. But to cut to the chase, I think everyone should consider getting Solar Panels. It's magical to have something on your roof generating electricity. Even in a place like Seattle the numbers make this very sensible. If I had a bigger roof I would have put on an array sized big enough to take us off the grid. But that will have to wait for panel efficiency to double from my current 280W panels to 500-600W or for roof replacement with the Tesla Solar Tiles. What prompted me to get Solar? Getting my Tesla. Once I started on the electrical path to driving, I decided I wanted to drive off the grid. I had a local Solar Installer, Puget Sound Solar, do a bid and decided to move forward. However, there is another critical part of the equation. I replaced every single light bulb in my house with LED lighting. This alone cut down a pretty significant amount of energy. I also invested in a smart thermostat which helped too. 

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Omar's Holiday Picks 2016Omar's Holiday Picks 2016

Fri, 25 Nov 2016 15:46:41 +0000

Like last year, I decided to write down some of my holiday picks for 2016. Many of the items from last year are still great gifts, so feel free to take a look at last year's list as well. There a number of black friday specials to take advantage of. I have marked those as such.

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App Review: Pana - Human powered travel AppApp Review: Pana - Human powered travel App

Sun, 20 Nov 2016 16:48:30 +0000

I'm pretty proficient at travel hacking and general travel research. I've spent a long time getting good at this (post forthcoming). This is why when my friend Angus was raving about Pana I didn't bite at first. However, a few months ago I decided to give it a shot. I signed up Lora and myself for a Team account (two members). Lora uses it for work, and I use it for family travel (also some work).   Verdict? It's unbelievable. Let me tell you why. 

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My Robot ToiletMy Robot Toilet

Sun, 13 Nov 2016 18:05:03 +0000

Back in May, my wife and I spent 10 days in Japan with our friends. Every day, multiple times a day, in hotels, restaurants, trains we got to experience what such a mundane thing is like in a technologically advanced society. When we returned, the withdrawal started. I had to have a Toto Washlet in my bathroom.  What is this you are talking about Omar? Well, you see, in Japan they have these toilets called washlets. They have heated seats, they clean you when you are done doing your business with a hot jet of water, and some of then even auto flush and open / close the seat automatically. The highest end of these devices detect your arrival, and raise the lid. If you don’t sit down right away, they will also raise the seat. They clean you, dry you, and then flush away the stuff, clean the toilet and close the lid. The latest toilets do all this with a single gallon of water to flush. It’s simply amazing. In some cases all of this is 100% automated. High end models even have lighting so that you don’t need to illuminate the bathroom in the middle of the night.

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My Smart Home 2016My Smart Home 2016

Sun, 30 Oct 2016 18:05:19 +0000

A few weeks ago I was asked to describe the anatomy of my “smart home”. This is a work in progress, so what I will do is update this over time.

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Amazon Echo DotAmazon Echo Dot

Sun, 23 Oct 2016 16:29:51 +0000

You may have seen my review on the original Amazon Echo (Alexa). Everyone I know that has an Amazon Echo loves it. There are so many things it is useful for. In our Kitchen we use it to tell us the News, turn lights on and off "Alexa turn off all the lights", ordering stuff from Amazon and streaming Spotify.

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Dyson Supersonic Hair DryerDyson Supersonic Hair Dryer

Sun, 16 Oct 2016 18:00:00 +0000

In general, there is always a product out there to replace something you have. I'm always looking for things that change the status quo. In this case, the hair dryer (not even a product I use). Every day I listen to the hair dryer as my wife is using it, and let me tell you... those things are noisy (and ugly). Try and buy a new one. It's a rather miserable set of choices. That's why when Dyson announced they were making a hair dryer long ago, I put this on my research list. A few weeks ago, I aquired a white Dyson Supersonic Hair Dryer from Sephora as a gift for Lora, and I have to say, it's an engineering marvel, and a thing of beauty. Rather than tell you what I like about it, I decided to interview Lora.

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Logitech POPLogitech POP

Sun, 02 Oct 2016 15:25:45 +0000

The Logitech POP is an exceptional addition to the smart home. The POP is a programmable button that you can configure to do a number of useful things in any smart home. They have a removable adhesive that you can attach to a wall or table.

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iPhone 7iPhone 7

Sun, 18 Sep 2016 17:07:58 +0000

So much has been written about this phone. A lot of opinion about "should you get it or not". That kind of commentary is utterly useless to me. Here is the thing. A long time ago, I decided that there was at least one luxury I wanted to enjoy. And that was a brand new iPhone ever year. There are a few reasons for this... some obvious now and some not so obvious. Beyond the fact that my team produces software for the iPhone, I also just want to experience everything new about it as soon as it's ready. It also means experiencing the changes Apple is making to the broader ecosystem (like removing the headphone jack). So with that said, I'll do a quick overview of why I think the iPhone 7 is an obvious upgrade.

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Circle - Mobile Parental Controls for your KidsCircle - Mobile Parental Controls for your Kids

Sun, 04 Sep 2016 17:49:19 +0000

Every once and a while you encounter a device that delivers on the "plug and play" promise. Circle is a parental control device that requires no changes to your network. You plug it in to power, ethernet and install a mobile app and you are on your way to protecting your children and gaining insight into their device usage.

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Eero vs Luma - Surround WifiEero vs Luma - Surround Wifi

Sun, 28 Aug 2016 15:22:50 +0000

Wifi has been with us for a very long time now. I'm fortunate that my house is wired for ethernet, which means I have generally had a glorious blanket of high speed internet everywhere... well almost. For my family though, that's another matter. Wifi is infuriating to get everywhere in the house. These days with printers, and tablets and Alexa, Sonos and other devices, it's really critical that you have Wifi signal everywhere in your house.   However, the standard tech out there does not solve for this. I have tried every kind of wifi range extender and other things to solve this problem over the years and only been frustrated by the results.  Being away from their homes, and being "tech support" further complicated this. To make matters worse, my own wifi needs have grown to require wifi to blanket the outside of my house to power things like my Ring Doorbell, Outdoor Dropcams and Sprinkler System. Heck, I also needed wifi in my garage for the Tesla! In addition, wifi has gotten faster over the years, and I also wanted the best / fastest Wifi everywhere. 802.11ac is the newest wifi standard, and with my 120 MBps internet service, I want all that data speed to get to my devices. To date, the gold standard in simplicity, reliability and ease of use (manage from your phone) is Apple's Airport devices. But no more. Enter the new kids on the block, eero and luma.

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Prepworks by Progressive Magnetic Measuring SpoonsPrepworks by Progressive Magnetic Measuring Spoons

Sun, 14 Aug 2016 17:01:33 +0000

In the category of stuff you never think about are your measuring scoops. A few years ago, I found these cool magnetic measuring scoops that I love. 

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Joseph Joseph TriScale Compact Folding Digital ScaleJoseph Joseph TriScale Compact Folding Digital Scale

Sun, 07 Aug 2016 17:31:27 +0000

As I write this on Vashon Island I am enjoying a great cup of coffee. If you have read my post on how I make coffee, you'll know that I like pour over and when traveling will take a Hario V60 cone withs some paper filters. On this trip I brought a Chemex 6 cup pour over to satisfy the coffee needs of 3 people. I greatly prefer pour over than french press for producting a cleaner, less gritty cup with easier clean up (just toss the filter and grounds into the compost or trash). The key part of any pour over system is a digital scale. This is because a pour over uses very simple weight measurements to dose the right amount of coffee and water. The math is very simple. 55g of coffee for every 1000g of water (or 1000ml of water since water volume and weight in metric is the same). So for 3 cups of coffee, I will use 50g of coffee and 900ml of water in the Chemex 6-cup, or half of that if I just want one large cup for me. Recenly I purchased a great little travel scale, the Joseph Joseph TriScale .

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Rachio Smart Sprinkler ControllerRachio Smart Sprinkler Controller

Sun, 31 Jul 2016 18:25:16 +0000

In my quest to make everything in my home "smart" I recently got a smart sprinkler controller, the Rachio Smart Sprinkler Controller.

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