Back to the Pebble (Time)

Pebble-Time

A couple of years ago I jumped onto the smartwatch bandwagon with the Pebble Smartwatch, which I enjoyed. Last summer I had the opportunity to use an Apple Watch instead.

I enjoyed the Apple Watch but after several months I switched to Pebble Time.

Why?

I’m drawn to technology that is not overly complicated and I found that the Apple Watch offers more features than I needed. In addition, it’s not a watch.

The Apple Watch is an extension of the iPhone. It’s a watch as much as an iPhone is a phone. Sure, the Apple Watch can display the time but it does much more.

I certainly didn’t hate the device. I simply wanted a smart watch that did little more than provide some notifications on my wrist. Even while I had the Apple Watch I rarely used most of its capabilities. I used it the way that I used the Pebble, except it is not really well designed to be used in this manner.

The Pebble devices can last for several days without a charge whereas I usually had to charge the Apple Watch each night (simply a result of the hardware used by the different devices). The Pebble watches are waterproof while the Apple Watch is technically considered water resistant.

I didn’t need to view photos on my wrist, send canned text replies or talk to someone through the watch. I just wanted a device that would display minor details and vibrate when I receive a phone call, text message or important e-mail message. And behave like a watch when it wasn’t doing those things.

For myself the Apple Watch is overkill.

I’m not stating that it’s a bad device or that others would not love it. But if you just want a smart watch then a Pebble is a good way to go and it is also much less expensive. It bends to suit my life rather than working the other way.

DEWALT DCST920P1 20V MAX 5.0 Ah Lithium Ion XR Brushless String Trimmer

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The trimmer finally died… I suppose it was at least partially my fault as I did very little to care for it properly though on the other hand I’m not sure it ever functioned well. In any case, when I retrieved the trimmer from the shed and tried to crank it after several attempts I determined that it finally had given up. Gas was leaking out of the engine case.

I detached the trimmer attachment from the motor and tossed the motor. Perhaps some future yard sale shopper will benefit from the purchase of an inexpensive trimmer head along with a tiller and edger.

I wasn’t interested in spending a lot of money to replace it but I couldn’t find many good alternatives based on the various reviews I read. Initially, I looked for something that could use the old attachments but after a while it became less of a concern, especially since it may not be a major concern in the near future (a long story that is still in-progress).

While a gas-powered trimmer certainly has… power I decided to go a different route and instead purchase a DEWALT DCST920P1 20V Max 5.0 Ah Lithium Ion XR Brushless String Trimmer. I simply didn’t want to mess with an engine with moving parts that needs a good bit of maintenance and I’ve seen Dewalt tools in use and knew that the battery-powered tools usually have a surprising amount of power.

I wasn’t disappointed. The first time I used the trimmer (twice now) I quickly learned that it was much quieter and lighter and in terms of power it did not disappoint.

One fully-charged battery had just enough to charge to finish every spot in our yard that I usually hit (and it’s a good sized yard on a parcel of land about one acre in size). It actually died right after I finished the last spot. If you have a larger yard or simply like to trim everything in sight then you might want to purchase an extra battery.

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That’s where the cost really gets you. At the time of purchase this trimmer cost about $199 but the trimmer itself can be purchased without a battery and charger for $99. Dewalt is proud of its batteries though that may be well deserved from what I have seen.

The only real problem I’ve discovered is that I have yet to determine whether or not I can adjust the guard (and I’ll admit that I haven’t checked the manual yet) as its default (and perhaps fixed) position kicks up a lot of debris directly onto myself.

I am very happy with this purchase. It’s effective and easy to use.

 

 

Bose SoundLink On-Ear Bluetooth Wireless Headphones

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I’ve never been very interested in Bose audio equipment. I certainly don’t think the gear isn’t good; I just don’t think the cost is justified. Regardless, last year I actually purchased an expensive pair of Bose headphones.

Why?

At the time I was originally looking for something that could work with my (then new) Xbox One. My preference was for something wireless, rechargeable and that would work with other devices in the home.

I never did find anything that hit all of these marks well and migrated away from looking for something to use with the console and instead for something that I could use with my phone, laptops and TV.

The Bose SoundLink On-Ear Bluetooth Wireless Headphones is not a typical purchase that I would make. I’ve certainly purchased expensive gadgets before but investing this much into a single piece of gear that, let’s face it, doesn’t really do very much is not what I would typically do (yeah, I’m sure some would disagree). I purchased them from Best Buy but they are available from Amazon.com.

I do enjoy listening to music, and good quality does make a difference, though I wouldn’t have spent this much on a pair of headphones, no matter how good they sound, without the wireless Bluetooth support and built-in rechargeable battery. In addition, when the internal battery dies one can still use these with a regular audio cable.

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From time to time I do use them with my phone, laptops and to watch TV at night (without disturbing my wife). I did all of these activities more frequently, before the arrival of our son, but late-night TV watching is a rare habit these days.

The headphones are recharged via a standard micro-USB connector. A carrying case is included, which the headphones fold into very easily. A regular audio connector is also included though I’ve only used it once or twice as the battery does a good job of maintaining a charge while not in use.

The quality sounds great to me but I’m not an audiophile so if you’re picky about your headphones then don’t use this post to make a decision.

The headphones also have a built-in microphone so they can be used to answer phone calls. It’s a nice feature as it doesn’t require removing the headphones to speak on the phone but most of the time I’d prefer to simply use my stock Apple earbuds for managing phone calls.

What’s the verdict? Do I think they’re worth the cost?

I suppose it’s fair to declare that I think they are overpriced but at the same time I also don’t feel like I was cheated. If you have some extra cash (which I did then but usually don’t any more) they’re not a bad pair of headphones but if you’re on a budget you might be able to find something suitable for far less.

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Baby Monitor (Temporarily) Killed Z-Wave Network

Late last week I started to experience problems with various Z-Wave modules that began having communication problems. One module refused to work at all and others, including our thermostats, demonstrated frequent communication problems.

This was frustrating because I had never experienced communication issues with my Z-Wave gear; it is one of the reasons that I have come to prefer Z-Wave.

At first I thought it was a software issue and then I began checking batteries and routing. After a couple of days I figured out what was actually causing the problem.

Our baby monitors were creating interference. It turns out that the monitors operate in the 900 MHz range and so does Z-Wave. This also explained why it wasn’t my entire Z-Wave network that had problems; only the devices clustered in and near the nursery.

The monitor that we have provides a button to change available channels. Tapping this a few times adjusted the frequency of the monitors enough to remove the interference. Ever since then the communication problems have disappeared (in fact, the change was nearly instant).

The Forgotten Role of Technology: One Step Away from Magic

I’ve noticed an increasingly more prevalent theme this year. The core theme is the concept of technology that is so ubiquitous and elegant that it appears to work like magic. For most of us that is rarely our experience. Often technology, whether we’re using an electronic tool that performs some physical work, or a piece of software that executes a virtual action, rarely seems like magic.

Some of this is simply due to the fact that most of us have developed a specific level of expectation over time through gradual changes that occur across the span of decades. There are certainly many things that might be perceived as magical to someone from an earlier time, whether it was someone from five hundred years ago or only a decade ago.  Perhaps magic, in this context, might be defined as something that is done for you that you didn’t even think about when you made it happen. Like turning on a light switch or opening a door, except the level of interaction is subtler.

Earlier this year I was fortunate to have the opportunity to join a college at a conference where Josh Clark, a user interface design expert, presented along with several other experts. While there we also had the opportunity to speak with him directly at one of the lunches, where he joined our table. Much of our discussion was on this very subject as was his presentation. His topic, of technology functioning like magic, was engaging and, in my opinion, a change heading toward us rather quickly.

I love technology. I enjoy learning about new innovations and gadgets and I have spent several late nights and weekends just tinkering with devices and software, sometimes without a defined goal. Some of those projects were dead ends. Others were successes. I learned from each one.

Yet, over the years, I continue to notice one problem with much of the technology that we have at our disposal.

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First Impression: Amazon Fire TV Stick

My wife and I decided to pre-order an Amazon Fire TV Stick for her parents, which we gave to them for Christmas. While visiting with them I had the opportunity to setup the device and use it for an extended period. Overall, I’m impressed. The cost is relatively low, performance and stability seemed good (at least during the time I was using it) and the interface was easy to use.

We were both impressed enough that we decided to order one for ourselves, though they’re currently on back-order so it may not be until the end of January before ours ships to us. I was able to pre-order the Stick for my in-laws for $19, but it regularly retails for only $39.

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2014 Year-End Review of Enduring Tech

Over the years I’ve published several posts about various devices. Frequently, I’ll return to the original posts and add notes describing my experiences with those gadgets that include details such as whether or not I still use them or if they turned out to be as useful as advertised.

For this post I’ve chosen to highlight the devices that I still use, at least a few times each year, that have endured and remain useful. Though I’ve acquired some excellent gadgets in 2014 I’ve chosen to exclude those here as those items have not yet been used for an extended period.

Unfortunately this won’t include every device worthy of this recognition – only those that I’ve previously highlighted in this blog. In addition, I chose not to write about all of the devices that have since failed, or failed to live up to expectations – those experiences are typically available in the older posts.

But my search for technology that works well, and meets or exceeds expectations, is the reason that I maintain this blog. Over the years I’ve chosen to share several experiences in the hopes that they’ll either serve as good recommendations or, unfortunately, as suggestions to avoid certain products (or at least know what to expect from them).

I’ll begin with the oldest item first.

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