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Random musings on technology and gadgets

Last Build Date: Sun, 04 Dec 2016 18:16:37 +0000


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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The Knapp Made Chainmail ScrubberThe Knapp Made Chainmail Scrubber

Sun, 17 Jul 2016 16:31:27 +0000

One of the things I love about my Cook's Illustrated Magazine Subscription are the product reviews and recommendations. This past month, they reviewed a really interesting product: a Chainmail Scrubber.

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App Review: Day OneApp Review: Day One

Sun, 10 Jul 2016 14:00:06 +0000

I'm going to start a series of app reviews. My first post is on a Journaling app called DayOne. Lora and I have been using DayOne for a few years now to document our kids growing up. We also document our travel and a few other things. The reality of our photos these days is that they are incredible tools for photographing and documenting life's memories and moments, but the easy of capture means that are camera rolls are a jumbled mess of pictures mixing things, people, places, documents and so on. No one wants to organize this and we are a few years out from amazing AI to clean all this up for us. Even if we did have that amazing AI, I find that I like adding a few bits of text here and there to augment memories, places and events. DayOne is an absolutely awesome app for doing all this stuff and I really appreciate how it gives us a diary of our lives.

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Omar’s Finds July 4 : 15 FindsOmar’s Finds July 4 : 15 Finds

Mon, 04 Jul 2016 16:26:20 +0000

01 Devices: Anker introduced a new charger that can charge the MacBook 12 at full speed over USB-C (29W)  02 Headphones: Intel wants USB-C to replace the headphone jack. Apple wants lightning connector to replace the headphone jack.  03 Headphones: Bose updated their very popular noise cancelling headphones with a wireless version. The QC35 now supports bluetooth and comes in an awesome black color. 04 Headphones: Bose also announced the SoundSport wireless headphones that are priced well and look great as daily walk around headphones. 05 Headphones: Bang & Olufsen also got in on the wireless headphone action with the B&O PLAY H5. It seems everyone is shipping products ahead of the rumored removal of the headphone jack on the iPhone 7. I like the wireless charging dock for these headphones, but at $100 over the Bose, I hope they are that much better. 06 Books: On a recommendation from a friend, we picked up the Thing Explainer for our daughter. It’s an awesome illustrated book from Randall Munroe (XKCD).  07 Tools: I really want to get a set of linesman’s pliers. Probably these  from Wiha, a german tool maker. 08 Kitchen: Cook’s Illustrated recently rated the Knapp Made Small Ring Chainmail Scrubber the best way to clean an iron pan. I’ve always wanted to own some chainmail. 09 Kitchen: I’ve been looking for a travel scale to take on trips so that I can make great pour-over coffee. The Joseph Joseph TriScale looks to fit the bill. 10 Beer: I recently discovered the Miir Growler. It’s awesome. So are the rest of their products such as tumblers, camp cups and water bottles. Miir is a local Seattle Company 11 Beach: I backed these micro fiber beach towels and just received them. They are amazing. So compact and the same size as a normal towel. 12 Solar: Deep into the solar production season here in Seattle, I continue to be impressed with how well our solar array is doing. I don’t think I’ll be paying for electricity for a few years. From the looks of things, Solar is just going to get cheaper and more common. 13 Wifi: I can’t wait to get my Luma devices. Luma is a competitor to Eero. I decided on Luma due to their better parental control features. they should arrive by the end of the month 14 Elon Musk: You can now purchase the awesome Elon Musk Blog Series on Kindle by Tim Urban. Elon Musk is currently the most impactful human being I can think of. I highly recommend reading this series. 14 Apps: Streaks is a cool goal oriented app for iOS and Apple Watch. It’s good for setting goal setting if you are disciplined enough to do that. It’s got a nice complication and built in integration to the Activity and Health apps on iOS.  15 Education: Osmo, the awesome iPad educational tool I reviewed released a coding kit. I’ll be getting this.

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August Smart Lock - HomeKit EditionAugust Smart Lock - HomeKit Edition

Sun, 03 Jul 2016 17:26:14 +0000

I previously reviewed the August Smart Lock and gave it 3 stars. Back in that review I mentioned the following issues with the lock 1. Auto unlock does not always work. 2. The auto lock (ever lock) was not customizable enough 3. The auto lock can damage your door frame if the door is not completely shut when the August attempts to lock the door. 4. The battery door is held in by magnets, and often people in our house turn the lock and inadvertently unseat the battery cover In the time I owned the original August, issues #1 and #2 were solved through better software. In that time the software has really matured a lot. But August released a new version of their lock, and this review is about that.

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Bellroy Travel WalletsBellroy Travel Wallets

Sun, 26 Jun 2016 18:03:09 +0000

For Christmas last year I asked for a Leather Travel Wallet. I wanted something that could hold two passports, currency, travel cards and other items such as a boarding pass. My research took me to Bellroy, a company that makes a number of great leather products (wallets, iPhone cases, travel wallets). They make 3 different Travel Wallets.

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YETI Hopper CoolerYETI Hopper Cooler

Sun, 19 Jun 2016 16:33:05 +0000

I bet you aren't thinking, gee I need a new cooler. I wasn't either. That was until I was at our amazing YMCA Camp Orkila on Orcas Island in the fall and saw a dad with what looked like a huge picnic bag, but it was really a cooler. After hauling my heavy, large awkward cooler down to the beach I made a note to check it out.

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