Sony BCG-34HLD Battery Charger

When we had our first child, there was an explosion of devices that required AA and AAA batteries in our household. I decide to start looking into rechargeable batteries. Around that time, Jeff Atwood, published this post. It was then that I learned of the wonders of “pre-charged” AA and AAA batteries. I also ordered the referenced La Crosse charger, but to be honest, I was never satisfied with it. Very bulky and it has an annoying bug that if a battery is totally dead it won’t charge.

Since then I’ve been on the look for something more consumer friendly. And that I found.

Note: The secret to being successful at replacing standard AA and AAA batteries with rechargeable is to have a lot of them. I probably have about 36 AA batteries and the same AAA. I keep them charged and ready to use in our kitchen drawer. Everything in our home that takes batteries is using these things now. I have a few recommendations for batteries at the end.

What is it?

51icypTiwULThe Sony BCG34HRE4KN is a compact charger that will charge AA and AAA batteries. It’s novel in that it will charge just 1 battery or 3 and not require that you charge in pairs.

Why did you get it?

There is this guy (NLee on Amazon) who reviews almost every battery and charger. His review for this charger “Perfect combination of Smart Charger and low-self-discharge cells” [5 stars].

That was enough for me to get this. I no longer use the La Crosse charger except to “test” or “refresh” batteries that seem to be challenged.

How has it made your life better?

  • Compact charger
  • Fold in plugs
  • Can charge 1, 2, 3 or 4 batteries at once in any combination of AA and AAA
  • Each cell is monitored individually
  • Pretty fast charger
  • Battery status per battery

Are you going to keep it?

Most definitely. I don’t know why Amazon has marked this item as Discontinued. I can’t seem to find what the replacement model is, but I’d suggest you get this before it’s gone

If you are looking for some quality pre-charged batteries I’d recommend (also recommended by NLee)

Logitech Harmony Smart Control

note: I got some feedback from some folks who shall remain nameless, that the name of this newsletter is lame. Fair enough. For many years I’ve held on to a domain, omarknows.com, that I registered after coming back from a conference with some co-workers. They nicknamed me ‘omarknows’ because I had the answers to many of their gadget and technology questions. I had forgotten about this, but when I proposed this back to the nameless party who gave me feedback they thought it was much better than “Newsletter of Things”. Therefore, I will have re-branded the newsletter.

I have owned many Harmony Remotes (now owned by Logitech) since they launched their original model in 2004. Back then the idea that you could program a remote with hard buttons was novel (vs a pure touchscreen remote). Today there are hundreds of options. A few days ago, on the recommendation of a co-worker, I replaced my rather expensive Harmony One with a low cost smartphone powered remote.

What is it?

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Logitech Harmony Smart Control [$109.99 via Amazon] is a very simple, light and low power remote that talks to a “base station” that you locate next to your electronics. You program everything via an iPhone or Android app. Gone are the days where you need to download a bunch of software on your PC or Mac (mostly horrible) and spend time going back and forth from you PC to the media room testing to see if things work.

Once you have gone through the well designed setup process you simply enter the model number of your devices and test things out. I had no trouble getting it all working. One benefit is that the device has no IR on the remote at all. All the IR blasting is done via the small base station and small IR emitters that you can place far away from the device if you have to locate the base station in a closet for example. The “brains” for this whole system are in that base station.This is what allows for an iPhone app to control the whole system.

It was easy enough that without any explanation my 7 year old and my wife were able to use the remote and turn on our TV + Xbox without any problems. Success!

The build quality of the remote is fantastic. It’s light, feels good and operates off a watch battery. No charging required and no battery draining LCD screen.

Why did you get it?

The main reason was to simplify the remote control situation and remove the need to have a remote that is charged often, as well as remove any need for “line of sight” IR as that can result in some aspects of the system not powering on causing confusion and frustration.

Also, removing the need to have the Logitech software running on my PC + the additional iPhone + Android app was a plus.

How has it made your life better?

See above. I assumed it would be better, sight unseen (and based on a positive recommendation).

Are you going to keep it?

Yes, for sure. This is my 6th? Harmony Remote. I basically replace one every 3 years as tech improves (I actually have 2, one for each TV).

The price is very attractive if you are someone who has 2-4 remotes today and you are looking to simplify without having to use any complex software or programming. If you can use an iPhone app you can set this thing up and simplify your life.

Limefuel USB Charger

Welcome to the first post of my Newsletter!

I thought I’d start off by something that is probably relevant and useful for each of you. I’d bet that you have a number of devices in your home that charge via USB. I’d also bet that if you have children, you’ve been on vacations where you don’t have enough of these things. And if you think buying them from Apple is a good idea, well it’s not. Apple likes to charge a lot of money for things like this.

What is it?

limefuelThe Limefuel USB charger [$16.99 via Amazon] is a Dual Port 4.8A/24W High Output charger. You may not know this but USB chargers come in many versions.

The kind that comes with your iPhone is a 5W charger at 5V is pumping out 1 amp. The kind that comes with the iPad pumps out 2.1A. The Kindle Fire 1.8A. The USB port on your PC is going to do .5A which probably explains why it takes so “long” to charge your phone from your laptop. Some devices are very finiky about this and won’t charge at all unless you use the 2.0A charger that it came with (looking at you Dell).

Another way to say it is this:

Likewise, amperage is just as important. Amps are the current that’s supplied to your device. Think of it like a river, and the amperage is how fast that river is. Amps are usually listed on your power supply as something like, 2.7A or 1A. This regulates how much power flows through from the power supply to your device. The amperage listed on your power supply needs to match or exceed the amperage required by your device.

[lifehacker]

The Limefuel charger is essentially going to charge the most power hungry devices you own at full speed, and do that for 2 devices. It also is smart enough to step down to meet the needs of any other device you have. And it does 2.4A of juice on each port for a total of 4.8A.

Why did you get it?

On our last vacation I realized that we didn’t have enough of these chargers and we didn’t have enough of the high amperage ones. Not to mention we each have 1-2 devices in this family that require USB power.

I did a lot of research on Amazon and my goal was to find a charger that did not make you make silly decisions like “plug the Apple device into port 1″ and “plug the Android phone into port 2″. You’d be surprised at how many devices have nonsense like this.

I also wanted a charger that was not ugly, was not huge, and was compact for travel. The charger comes in white and black. Don’t be fooled by the white in the picture (which looks Ivory). The device is in fact white.

The limefuel fit the bill and has great amazon reviews.

How has it made your life better?

I got 4 of these. One per person in the family, and now each person has 2 USB ports to charge phones, iPods, Kindles, Tablets and so on. This way our devices stay charged and we can also perform quick “re-charges” during the day.

Right now we also have one in our kitchen so that we can keep 2 devices charged during the day or night.

Are you going to keep it?

This one is a keeper. I see no reason to give this a short half life in our household.I may get these as stocking stuffers for everyone next year.

Reminder, my newsletter of things is published weekly with selected posts from this blog. You can sign up here.

Newsletter of Things

For those of you who personally know me, you’ve observed that I have a love for things. Not just anything, but electronic things (mostly). Since I was a kid I loved to take things apart and find out how they work. In the 4th grade I asked my father for a scanner for no other reason than I wanted to be able to scan things into my Mac IIcx and look at them on the monitor. Later I learned to OCR things and start digitizing things. Today this manifests itself in my insatiable quest to acquire the best things. In this case, things that I find “the best”. As this is highly subjective and experiential, I tend to acquire, sell and acquire certain category of things. I read a lot of reviews and perform hours of research often investigating Amazon reviews, forums, and blog posts till I have developed a good sense of the product or category. My goal is to own and experience the best item in a given category. This doesn’t mean the most expensive item, or the item you would chose yourself. That’s OK, hopefully my opinion and perspective helps. My main goal is to learn.

Lately, I have been discovering a number of interesting products on Kickstarter, a site for backing innovators and entrepreneurs that build cool things. Combined with Amazon and the internet at large, I have no shortage of interesting research tools to find cool stuff.

For as many years I have come to remember, I have been a source of advice for friends and family trying to decide on what camera to get, what laptop to get, what tablet to get, what kitchen faucet to get…. you get the idea. I’ve had this blog now for over 10 years and my blogging has declined primarily due to my being busy with our kiddos, my job, and my ability to tweet or share on Facebook which has reduced the “pull” to blogging. I have heard from my wife that some of our friends miss out on my posts, and I’ve heard from some friends that my Facebook feed resembles an Amazon one-click purchase feed (not sure that will change).

So, with that, I have decided to start a Newsletter, Omar’s Newsletter of Things, to keep you up-to-date on the interesting items I’ve acquired. I decided on a Newsletter because it felt more intimate to me than a blog, and I know that a bunch of my friends / family out there don’t know how to subscribe to a blog but pretty much anyone with an email account knows how to sign up to receive email.

The newsletter articles will cover the things I’ve recently acquired and answer some key questions for you (following this basic template):

  • What is it?
  • Why did you get it?
  • How has it made your life better?
  • Are you going to keep it?

I added the last item, Are you going to keep it, so that you have a sense of my confidence sticking with the thing. Some things last a few years, most last a year or less. Why? Well as some of my friends joke, my love this week is displaced a few weeks later. Some folks even get upset when they get something months after I’ve raved about it only to find out I’ve moved on. Sorry, but the half-life of some products is short due to my experience using it, or a better version that I’ve discovered. Some products are simply meant to be replaced often by this gadget loving geek (phones come to mind, digital camera bodies) and some products have resulted in boredom. Finally, sometimes I’m just not sure. So I buy and live with the product for a while. This is how I learn and understand what the future is going to be like. And I’ll admit, I already think the future is marvelous. My watch just reminded me to go and pick up my kids!

Anyways, feel free to sign up for the newsletter and I hope you’ll find it somewhat useful. If you already follow or subscribe to my blog, these articles will be published under the newsletter category.

Post will likely be short, and the newsletter will be sent weekly (if there is anything I wrote about that week). I may alter frequency based on posting habits.

Surface RT 6 months later

I’m on a cross country flight to Boston to meet with some Microsoft folks and I’ve only brought my Surface RT, a Kindle and my phone. It sure beats carrying a laptop with a brick and dealing with TSA security theater (can’t wait to get TSA Pre which I should have this summer so I can keep my shoes on).
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Which reminds me. I pretty much don’t need a laptop any more. I have one, that I use once a week for a meeting where I have to present. I use my laptop because the conference rooms at Microsoft don’t deal well with non VGA sources and I don’t like carrying around a dongle to project. Wireless presentation can’t happen soon enough.
Since getting the surface I’ve found I can more than get by both at work, on trips, vacations and around the house.
I’ve switched from the touch cover to the type cover. I loved the idea of the touch cover but I can type so dammed fast on the type cover I’ve just dealt with the extra thickness and lack of color.
I do have a desktop that I use at home and at work, and for a few desktop apps I just run them as RemoteApps on my Surface RT.
All in all it’s been a great 6 months. The weight, keyboard and productivity capabilities make it more than adequate for a “take it everywhere and anywhere” kind of device.

So long compact discs – off to Murfie.com

My first compact disk was Joshua Tree and I played it on a portable Sony D-50 (the first Discman) that my father purchased for me on a trip to Japan. Man that thing was sweet.

Sony D-50

I don’t know what my last compact disc purchase was, but it was a few years ago. I used to rip all my CDs, first as lossless and then as a compressed VBR AAC or MP3 file. I have long since given up on that choosing to purchase music through Amazon MP3 or just listening to music via subscription services like Spotify and Pandora. I don’t really want to own more music any more, since I can listen to virtually anything I want wherever I want for less than I used to spend on CDs a year.

But, I still have 396 CDs that have been sitting in a box in our basement. They have moved from house to house and from state so state. For no good reason really.

On Monday I packed them all up in a free box with paid shipping and sent them off to Murfie.com. Murfie is an interesting service. They have a giant warehouse in which they store all your physical CDs forever.

They do this so that you can essentially “sell” or “trade” CDs with other Murfie members. When my wife and I combined CD collections we had about 30 duplicate CDs. We sold all of those on Murfie a while ago when I was testing the service out.

Because Murfie has the physical CDs, they will rip them for you and let you download them in a variety of bitrates (FLAC, AAC, MP3). They will also send them back to you if you really want.

Murfie also sells brand new CDs to you for the same price as Apple or Amazon. The best part is that: 1) you never get the CD, 2) you get to download a lossless or lossy version, 3) later on you can trade or or sell it (note if you download a digital copy, some labels prevent you from selling or trading it).

Recenly Murfie added to notable features:

  1. You can stream all your music via a Sonos
  2. You can stream all your music to your Phone (currently iPhone and Android).

I have a Sonos and think it’s the best thing since sliced bread.

So there you have it. No more CD, but all my music in the cloud. Lossless listening and download and I never have to deal with CDs again.

You should check Murfie out. It’s pretty neat.