Quartz – My favorite daily news publication

I’m pretty short on time. But I also love to keep up with world affairs. Previously I wrote about The Week, which is my favorite “magazine”. However, I do a lot more reading of random things across the internet, mostly in the form of blogs (Feedly is my favorite news reader).

I’ve been toying around with other various options for daily news. I’ve tried the New York Times “Now” app, and it’s just OK. However, a few weeks ago I stumbled across a news publication called “Quartz” that is produced by Atlantic Media.

What is it?

Quartz is primarily a mobile first news publication. There are two pieces to it:

1. Their web site, which looks amazing on mobile


2. Their daily digest – which is a very short and concise way to catch up on what is going on in the world (subscribe by clicking the little envelope icon on their website). It’s delivered early in the morning.


I really appreciate a few things about Quartz:

  • The mobile design is amazing. These guys have great designers
  • The content is professionally written
  • The topics come from all over the world, which I also appreciate.
  • The email digest is convenient to read or just delete. All your current “workflows”, that is if you have any, work well for digesting information

Here is how the Atlantic describes Quartz:

Quartz is a global business news brand launched in September 2012 for people who are excited by change. It serves as a digital guide to the new global economy. Designed for an efficient, mobile reading experience, Quartz serves business professionals who travel the world, are focused on international markets, and value critical thinking. Free and built for social distribution with no pay walls, registration walls, or app downloads, Quartz can be accessed simply at qz.com.


Wikipedia has a better description:

Quartz is the business news publication of the Atlantic Media Company and was launched in 2012. In a 2012 news story, The Guardian reported, “Quartz is a fairly light operation based in New York and headed by Kevin Delaney, a former managing editor at WSJ.com. Its team of 25 staff members was pulled together from prominent brands in business journalism: Bloomberg, The Wall Street Journal, The Economist, and the New York Times.


Quartz is a web-native news outlet and it differs from most other news sites by having scrolling stream of news.

My only complaint with Quartz is that they don’t have a native mobile app. I really like native apps because I get an icon on my phone, as well as the ability to get notifications for things like breaking news. Perhaps one day they’ll add that.

But for now, here is how you can work around that on an iOS device (and create a pseudo native app)

1. Go to qz.com on your iOS device.

2. Click the little up arrow “share” icon on the bottom


3. Select “Add to Home”


Now you have a shortcut that runs in full screen mode (like an app) on your iOS device.


Why did you get it?

I love news, and I’m short on time. So Quartz is the perfect way for me to catch up and stay in touch with world happenings. It’s free too which is a big plus (no pay wall)

How has it made your life better?

I spend a few minutes now in the morning catching up on what is doing on, and then at night I read some articles on my phone before going to bed. I’ve found a lot of interesting commentary and perspective that I appreciate a great deal.

Are you going to keep it?

Time will tell on this one. I see no reason to stop reading this. And in fact, by writing this post I’m trying to get the word our to my friends and readers. It’s worth checking out.

  1. Go to qz.com on your PC and subscribe to the daily brief
  2. Bookmark or at a Home Screen shortcut on your phone
  3. Set as your Browser homepage


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Picturewall – A wall full of photos in a box

Photos…. you have lots of them. I bet you look at your walls and say to yourself, one day… I will print some photos and hang them on the wall. Maybe your friends have one of this amazingly organized walls full of family pictures and you think, how? So much measuring, ordering, sizing and then printing photos.

Like this (this is a picture of our wall):


Well, I have a solution for you that is pretty easy, modular and expandable. I put together the above with two Picturewall kits and about 30 min of time.

What is it?

The Picturewall is a “kit”. Everything you need (including pictures) to occupy a decent amount of space on any wall.


For many years I had a few tasks on my todo list that looked something like this:

  1. Buy some picture frames
  2. Print some pictures
  3. Hang them on wall
  4. Make it look awesome

Years and years went by without much progress. Then one day, I came across the Picturewall system. This was made for people who just want to go from idea to finished. Here is how it works.

  1. Buy a Picturewall kit (or more)
  2. Print photos in standard sizes (I use SmugMug to print my photos, PicPlum is another great option)
  3. Insert photos into frames
  4. Hang using Picturewall system

Picturewall is basically the following:

  1. A box of frames
  2. A template you hang on the wall
  3. Some picture hangers you insert into the wall

That’s it. They have this ingenious template system that allows you to create many different layouts.


The system has the benefits that you can also easily remove a frame, replace a photo, and slap it back on the wall.

You will pay a pretty penny for this convenience though. These things aren’t cheap. I bet you the same could be done by going to Ikea, making your own template, and hanging the frames yourself. Remember my story about my todo list?

Why did you get it?

I basically explained this above. I had a desire to put some of the tends of thousands of pictures I have on our wall.

How has it made your life better?

I walk by this wall almost every day. It’s a fantastic way to look back on your most cherished memories. Our kids love it too! And it’s a hit with guests and relatives! Especially when you change out the photos with new ones.

Are you going to keep it?

Already have. It’s on the wall, so it’s not going anywhere. I’m thinking of getting some more.


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Hard Sided Spinner Luggage – Victorinox Spectra 2.0

I bet you were asking yourself, Gee Omar, when are you going to write about luggage and suitcases? Hmm, well maybe you didn’t. But anyway, we are now venturing into the world of bags and luggage, a favorite topic of mine.

I’m a big fan of quality products (I’m guessing you know this). When I travel I like to be a ninja. Prepared for the horrors of what is now air travel, with the right equipment to guide my family and its belongings to any destination. Luggage is a critical factor in ensuring your stuff arrives, is under the 50lbs airline limit per bag, and is easy to maneuver.

In 2000 we saw the advent of “spinner” hard sided luggage. You’ll recognize these bags as the plastic (polycarbonate) sometimes “shiny” bags that you see people pushing around at the airport (these bags are pretty popular with our friends across the Pacific Ocean).

The father of the polycarbonate bag is Rimowa, a german luxury luggage company. If money is no object, stop reading this post and just go get some Rimowa bags. But if $800 or more for a single bag sounds like a lot, keep reading.

In the quest for some new luggage to replace our 15 year old Tumi ballistic nylon bags (that weigh a lot with nothing in them) I looked at and evaluated a number of options. What I found was that the best value for the money (across features, quality, warranty, and convenience) were the Spectra 2.0 bags made by the Swiss company, Victorinox.

Also, the thing that really set me off to get these was our experience on a recent trip to Hawaii. We happened to land in what felt like a Monsoon. Our then nylon luggage was soaked when retrieved from baggage claim. Eeew.

What is it?

Victorinox Spectra 2.0 bags are “matte” polycarbonate spinners. That means they have 4 wheels which makes them rather effortless to push through the airport.


They are ultra light, non glossy (so they don’t get all scuffed up and ugly), and the “perfect size”. What does that even mean? Well with the 29 inch bag, it’s actually quite hard to exceed the 50lbs weight limit in the US. This is important. I’d personally rather travel with more bags that are manageable to push around and carry than “monster” bags that end up weighing more than I care to lift and manage.

The Spectra 29 Large Travel Case can be purchased at a number of retail stores for $379.00. I purchased one from Amazon and one from Zappos, for the same price. You can also find them in shopping malls that have a Victorinox store.

They come in many colors. We have black and red. The red looks more scuffed up for obvious reasons.

Why did you get it?

To summarize:

  • Wanted to consolidate to a single model of luggage for the whole family
  • Wanted spinners
  • Wanted light weight bag (the Spectra 29 is 8.8 lbs empty, giving you 41.2 lbs of luggage to store
  • Looking for great warranty with local stores to take bag too for service
  • Wanted polycarbonate bag without any bits of fabric or stuff to get ripped off by the airline
  • Easy to lift and carry to get up to our bedroom for packing and into the car to go to the airport.

How has it made your life better?

We’ve now traveled with these bags for a few thousand miles and to a few countries. Each time we’ve managed to fit all our clothing for a family of 4 into two bags. I suspect as the kids get older and they start managing their own luggage, we’ll get 1-2 more of the smaller 26 inch models. But that’s a few years off.

I like to think that the cost per bag, and the anticipated longevity of these bags (10 years or more) will be a solid investment.

I think my favorite thing with these bags though is how easy it is to push two of them through the airport and get in and out of elevators, escalators, cars, checkin and pickup. They are so easy to push and carry. If you need to you can also “drag” them along like a traditional wheel bag.

If you are thinking about new luggage, or perhaps it’s a few years off. You should take a look at these bags (and feel free to compare to the cost/features of the  Rimowa/Tumi/Samsonite polycarbonate spinners). I find that the simplicity of these bags, coupled with the features and warranty are a great investment if you want to transition to hard sided spinners.

Are you going to keep it?

Well, we donated all our other luggage. So yes ;-).


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Trakdot – GSM location based luggage tracking

I recently returned from an overseas trip visiting Iceland and France. This involved a layover in Iceland for a few days and then a return connection on the way home (Iceland Air – which is pretty fantastic). Interesting tidbit is that Seattle to Iceland is about a 7 hour flight. That’s 90 minutes longer then flying to New York.

Anyway, most of you have probably experienced the “missing” or worse, “lost” bag on your trips. I was visiting my friend Jimmy a few weeks ago and he had a few of these “Trakdot” luggage tracking devices. I had seen similar devices before (on Kickstarter) but the Trakdot seemed like it his a nice sweet spot of cost and annual service ($20/year, first year free). So this post is about my experience with this device.

What is it?


The Trackdot [Amazon - $69.95, Direct - $49.99] is a small black box that runs on two AA batteries for 48 hours. Included in my device, purchased from Amazon was 1 year of service. I don’t know how much it is after that (I think $20/year) and I’m not sure it will matter (see more below). It contains a GSM SIM card allowing it to send text messages from anywhere in the world. The idea is that when ever the bag arrives at any airport, it wakes up and sends you a text message telling you where it is.

Trakdot also has an iOS and Android app that allows you to pair it via bluetooth and receive push notifications. I found the iOS app to be quite buggy. It never kept my signin info, I never got push notifications, and the Bluetooth feature is bizzare. I could not really understand how to get it to work. The idea is that if the bag is within 40 ft of your phone it will vibrate. This could be useful for example to detect of the bag is on your plane.

Why did you get it?

Well, I wanted to make sure my bags were on the plane I was on, that they made their connections etc. On the way home our 90 minute layover turned into a 30 minute layover, and it gave me piece of mind to know that when I landed at SeaTac my bag let me know it was there. Had I not received the SMS I could have immediately gone to the lost bag counter and possibly even told them where it was (maybe it went to the wrong city).


So how did it work? Well it worked OK. I did receive an SMS before departing Seattle. However, I did not receive one upon landing in KEF airport in Iceland. I sent them a support request and didn’t hear back till a few days later. And till now they don’t appear to have a grip on why. When leaving KEF to CDG I did get an SMS (great, maybe there was a bug), but then when arriving in Paris at CDG I got my SMS message after retrieving my luggage from baggage claim (30 min later). So it worked, but not how I would expect.

On the return trip things fared a bit better. I did not get an SMS in KEF Iceland, despite the fact that we were on the ground for an hour…. but then I got an SMS immediately when arriving at SEA (within minutes of landing).

So, my guess is that this device works great in the United States, and is pretty spotty internationally. I am still waiting to hear back from them about this experience. Based on this alone, I could not recommend this product to anyone till these bugs are worked out.

How has it made your life better?

Well, primarily piece of mind. If this technology were more mature, and the cost were lower, I could see this being pretty standard in a few years. In fact, given that there is an opportunity for an annual service fee and a better customer relationship / insights, I could see all the big baggage companies offering this service themselves (Tumi, Rimowa, Briggs & Riley, Victorinox, and so on). In fact, this seems like a good upgrade to the Victorinox Swiss Army Bag tracker program.

However, this is still a pretty immature product category and given the issues that I experienced, they have a long way to go to stabilize the technology.

But for the price, I think it’s a reasonable product and assuming the bugs get fixed, I could see owning these for all my luggage in the future.

Are you going to keep it?

Since I purchased this already (sunk cost), I plan to keep it. I wish they would move to a device that lasted longer (lithium disposable batteries, or rechargeable) as well as an iOS app that wasn’t incomprehensible and SMS messages that were reliable.


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Normal Ears – custom 3d printed headphones

If there was one thing that Apple did (and they did many), it was create a vibrant market for headphones. Since the advent of the iPod, white headphones where every where. Prior to this, most people didn’t care about headphones and most headphones were black and boring. Fast forward to this year, where headphones have become so iconic, and fashion oriented, that Apple purchased Beats Audio for over 3 billion.

But the problem with headphones, is that they are “one size fits all”. We all know that for most products, this approach leads to some amount of discomfort. And specifically, I’m referring to “earbud style”.

Earbud headphones are great because they are compact and you can easily take them anywhere. The challenge with earbud style headphones is that:

  • They don’t often “fit” very well, falling out of ears
  • The “in ear” ones require fiddling around with different size ear tips and at least for me cause a lot of discomfort from the pressure in my ear.

These problems are hard to solve. Up till recently “custom” earmolds for earbud headphones (offered by Shure, Etymotyic and the like) require a visit to a hearing specialist where they take a mold of your ear and create a silicon tip. Usually for the cost of a few hundred dollars.

Well, there is a company trying to change that, and their headphones are called “Normals”

What is it?


Normal ears are created in New York City using 3D printers. The way it works is that you download an app do your iOS or Android phone and take some photos of your ears. Based on those photos, they create custom fitted earbuds and ship them to you in 24 hours. Pretty neat. You can read more at Venturebeat:

The company’s big innovation is its ability to create $200, 3D-printed earbuds that are molded for your ears. Normal’s iPhone app can capture the contours of your ears just by taking a few photos while you hold a quarter up to your ear (for a common reference size). Your unique headphone frame is then 3D printed (the company has 10 Stratasys Fortus printers at work in its retail space) and then assembled and tested by a crew of employees.

You also get to personalize your earbuds in a number of different colors. I personally like that experience of creating something unique for me.


Here is what customization looks like in the iOS app.


Here are a picture of my earbuds in the custom case they made for me:


I originally went with black everything and red plastic, but then decided the “red” was too orange for me, so they swapped it out for blue.

Normals are not cheap. at $199 you are making a pretty big investment in your ears. But given how much music I listen to on the go, commuting, and traveling, I felt that this was something I’d get a lot of value out of over time. A set of high quality headphones at the Apple Store is going to run you $79 – $500 and up, so this is a market segment where you can spend a little or a lot to listen to music.

Everything about creating them is fun. And their brand is very playful / whimsical.

Why did you get it?

I really like the idea of having earbuds with me at all times, but I can’t tolerate the discomfort the silicon / foam inserts cause after a while of listening to music. The Normals are very comfortable as they don’t go in to your ear canal, but they mainly sit over your ear canal supported by the custom 3d printed plastic. It’s mainly friction that’s holding them in place. They don’t fall out, so they are well suited for running too.

How has it made your life better?

I think it’s pretty remarkable that you can get custom items these days based on using an app on your phone and 3rd printing. I imagine that we’ll see a lot more of this over time.

Normals have the added benefit that when I commute, I can still hear road noise and sounds around me (they are not sound isolating). They are similar to the earbuds that come with the iPhone/iPod by default, but don’t fall out of your ear and sound much better.

Are you going to keep it?

Till something better comes a long. I’ve found them to be much more comfortable from regular earbuds (albeit not perfect). But there isn’t really a product that offers this much customization delivered so quickly.

If you are interested, you can order your own Normals by heading over to http://nrml.com/ and downloading their app. In about 10 min you’ll have taken the photos and customized your Normals.


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Simplehuman Sensor Pump

One of my life hacks is that I try and use the same product everywhere. For example, we have the same refillable soap dispensers in every bathroom, and we purchase one kind of “refill”, in bulk. That way when the soap runs out, we have plenty of refill on stock and it’s the same in every bathroom. In our house we have 7 places where we have a soap dispenser.

Why do I do this? I don’t want to think about any of this stuff. When the soap is low there is only 1 thing to do. Refill. When we are low on refill pouches there is only 1 thing to do. Buy more in bulk. I do that maybe 1x every 2 years.

There are other ways to apply this technique, but this post is about Soap dispensers.

What is it?

simplehuman makes a variety of soap dispensers. For those paying attention, simplehuman is also the company that makes those awesome makeup mirrors I told you about on mother’s day.

For pumps you have:

  • Rechargeable Pumps
  • Battery operated pumps
  • Hand pumps

The nice thing is you can spend as much or as little as you want, and the soap is all the same. You can buy the soap by the 1 or in bulk. I order them in bulk directly from simplehuman as their prices are the lowest. I hate paying for shipping just like you (Amazon Prime FTW), but for $4.99 I’m willing to get consistent prices on Soap (Amazon seems to have an inventory problem with this company and when that happens 3rd party sellers jack up the prices).

In terms of dispensers, we have a few of the simplehuman Compact Sensor Pump


Amazon just sent me a simplehuman Rechargeable Bath Sensor Pump


And we have a couple of the manual simplehuman 15-Ounce Square Push Pumps (for the adults in our bathroom)



For a Kitchen or high volume soap area, you may want to upgrade to a larger pump (they come in 8oz and 13oz sizes)

The batteries for the non rechargeable ones last about 3-4 months. You can use AA rechargeable batteries, but they don’t seem to be as strong as Alkaline. The newer ones with the built in USB charging are lithium ion and should be amazing. But this comes at a large premium over the non rechargeable model.

For soap, we use the lavender soap and we get 6 packs direct from simplehuman.

note: it seems everyone is out of stock of lavender right now, which explains why the prices on Amazon are so high. 

Why did you get it?

We first saw these at my son’s pre-school. They use them there to prevent the spread of germs (getting on the soap container/pump) and preventing the kids from dispensing too much soap. Smart. I was thinking, why not get these for our entire house? I have certainly seen my kids use WAY too much soap.

How has it made your life better?

Simple is good. At least that’s what I think. And I don’t want to think about something as mundane as soap. Finally, this system produces very little “trash” or recycling assuming you are purchasing refills and using rechargeable batteries, the rechargeable pump or the hand pump.

Are you going to keep it?

We’ve been on this system for about a year now and it’s worked out great.


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The Greatest Hoodie Ever Made?

I’ve taken to wearing hoodies over the past few years. And why not? They are super comfortable for lounging around, traveling, wearing on spring / fall days. I have never found the perfect hoodie though. A few years ago I came close, with a really heavy weight lululemon sweatshirt, but I’m somewhere in between a large and a medium and they don’t quite fit me as well as I’d like.

That’s why when I heard about American Giant, I was intrigued.


What is it?

It’s a hoodie! How special could a hoodie be? Well I’ll leave you to read the following article, “This Is the Greatest Hoodie Ever Made“, by Farhad Manjoo who put this company on the map:

The result is a sweatshirt with several design elements you won’t find on the competition. The most obvious difference is that American Giant’s hoodie is fitted—it sits close around your chest, then gently tapers in around your stomach, resulting in a garment that doesn’t look slouchy. At great expense—and after lots of experimentation—Manoux added a “side-panel” to the hoodie, a strip of stretchy fabric that joins the back of the hoodie to the front. The side panel gives the hoodie “mobility,” Manoux explained—it allows you to raise your arm all the way up without feeling the whole coat ride up on you. It also insures the hoodie against future expansion: As your stomach grows larger, the stretchy fabric will grow along with it.


For me, this design element of the side panel, is what makes this hoodie quite unique. I can raise my arm and not have the hoodie ride up my back.

Beyond this feature, it’s the most comfortable, soft, quality cotton product I’ve experienced.

You can watch this video to see how these are made.

Since Farhad wrote this article, they have been slammed with demand. It got so bad he wrote a followup article, “The Only Problem With the Greatest Hoodie Ever Made“, and goes into more detail on what makes this garment special.

I first purchased the Men’s Heavyweight Full Zip Hooded Sweatshirt in Medium for $89 direct from them. The fit is tailored and I recommend following their size chart. I am 6’3″, 165lbs, 32 waist and the medium fits me like a glove. The sleeves are the right length and their is little slack anywhere.


After receiving mine, I got another Men’s Midweight Full Zip Hooded Sweatshirt for $79.

Lora was so impressed with this hoodie, she ordered some of the Women’s products. She got the Women’s Heavyweight Full Zip Mock Neck Sweatshirt.


Here are the things I love about this hoodie:

  • Super thick plush cotton
  • Long sleeves
  • Tailored fit
  • Super comfy
  • Free shipping to and from
  • Great price
  • Made in the USA

Note: if you purchase an item using this link, you’ll get 15% off your order, and I’ll get a referral fee.

Why did you get it?

Like I mentioned. I love hoodies, and in my quest to find all things awesome, I was intrigued by all this hype.

How has it made your life better?

I’ll leave you with this:

It used to be a sweatshirt was just a sweatshirt—something we grab from the depths of our closets and throw on when we’re feeling lazy and sartorially uninspired. And technically, a sweatshirt is still just a sweatshirt, though if you ask someone from American Giant, they’d politely disagree. “The sweatshirt is the second most iconic silhouette behind the blue jeans,” says Bayard Winthrop. “But for a long time, no one was really passionate about sweatshirts.”

Are you going to keep it?

I now own the world’s greatest sweatshirt. And I agree with what others have said and written. Check them out.


If you are reading this post via Twitter or Facebook, I wanted to note that you can sign up for my weekly email newsletter. It contains all items posted here and is sent on Sundays. You can sign up by going to http://omarknows.com