Apple Watch – First Impressions

Well, the day has come. Apple launched a new product category, and I have been wearing my watch for over 24 hours.

I’ll start by saying that I think this is a huge deal. Just getting here is a huge deal. This article is a must read if you want to know why. Every time Apple enters a new product category you can bet than in the next 5 years, they will push forward an incredible wave of innovation and change that will affect all of us in some way. This was true with many of their products in my lifetime. Macintosh, Laser Printers, PowerBook, CD-ROM, AirPort, PowerBook, iPod, iPhone, iPad and now Apple Watch.

I am not going to “rate” the watch in this review. Most of my friends have already started to wonder how long this thing will last on my wrist. I’m also wondering that. I’m optimistic, but I’ll commit to writing a follow-up article in 30-60 days once I’ve had the chance to fully experience it and see if it’s going to last in my life.

For context. I I have always worn a watch since I was young. Most of my watches were Swatch as a kid, then Casio calculator at some point, then later in life I was fortunate to receive two gifts. A stainless steel Tag Heuer and then for my 30th birthday (and since then) I’ve been wearing a Rolex Air King (34mm case).

I’ve also tried a few wearables. The Original Pebble, Fitbit and Microsoft Band. Each of these has lasted about 1-3 months before i’ve abandoned them. I’ve always enjoyed wearing a stainless steel watch, the quality of the product and the way that’s felt on my wrist, and lets face it. We are early days here for wearables. Comparing an Apple Watch to a Pebble is like comparing a Motorola StarTAC to an iPhone.

My watch was delivered Friday afternoon. My first observation unboxing it was that this was different than other Apple Products. It’s the first Apple product that is jewelry. I ordered the Apple Watch (not Sport) with the classic leather band. The box was heavy and rather large (compared to the Sport box which is more similar to a Swatch box). The box itself is about 2 pounds. It’s the size of a watch box that you’d get buying a high end luxury watch.

First impressions matter. Apple is telling me that this product is first and foremost a luxury product, then a gadget. Apple packaging is always top notch, and this takes it to a new level.

And I can say that I think the watch is rather handsome. I am very happy I went with the “large” watch. It does not feel large at all. Since it’s tall and narrow, it’s approx the same width as may rather small Rolex AirKing and feels no bigger. However, it weighs about half as much as my old watch, which feels rather great.

The leather band feels wonderful. I’m used to wearing stainless bands and so this is a nice change. I’m looking forward to trying other bands.

Compared to other accessories, setup was rather easy. The longest part was loading all the Apps onto my phone. I have many apps on my iPhone (215 Apps) and 62 of them had watch versions (this is where I should mention that my team also built a Watch App!). Lets just acknowledge that this alone is incredible. Apple has such powerful impact in the developer world, and their APIs coupled with their ability to update their whole ecosystem with the latest OSes gives developers a big incentive to support their latest innovation.

That was all the setup really (besides pairing). Apple can obviously do things other cannot or have not figured out how to do, so pairing compared to a Pebble, Fitbit or generic bluetooth device was better.

I’ll admit that I din’t really know how to use this watch, so I watch some of the videos Apple provides in the Watch iOS App.

I went to an event that evening, so I didn’t have time to do much else and had to experience the watch on the go.

This is a bit of stream of consciousness, but here is what I thought.


  • The Watch experience is great
  • Battery life seems better than Apple claims. This is a surprise given battery life estimates usually fall short of daily claims
  • The watch faces are cool, and I love having weather, calendar and sunrise / sunset always there
  • The physical gestures work well. Raise your wrist to see the time or a recent notifications
  • The haptic gestures are game changing
  • Force Touch is game changing
  • The notifications are brilliant, you glance to look and once you’ve seen one they are dismissed on the watch and the phone
  • Glances (a special kind of app mode) can be useful
  • Paying with Apple Pay is awesome


  • App organization, layout and navigation is really poor. I don’t even really understand this at all. My list of apps is a mess, and organizing them is worse than organizing apps on an iPhone which is already atrocious. Apple should spend some R&D here on organizing apps, or borrow from the Microsoft playbook for Windows Phone (the Start Screen and Live Tiles is better than any other phone experience).
  • Apps take too long to load
  • Glances can get stuck and never load. Glances are not really fast enough
  • Apps are a bit immature
  • Force touch isn’t well implemented
  • The heartbeat and drawing features you can send others are cute, but not game changing. It’s sort of neat to know who has an Apple Watch and who doesn’t, but this isn’t a “blue vs green bubbles” feature yet.

Powerful Scenarios
There are however, some very powerful wrist scenarios. One of the applications I use, Workflow, lets you basically build smart actions that stitch together features and functions across apps. This is very “geeky” but also demonstrates that these little phones and watches we have are infinitely flexible, just like computers.

I built a Workflow that I can use to get driving or walking directions to my next appointment.

1. Select “Directions to Next Appt – looks up calendar for next appointment

2. Asks which Appointment I want directions for

3. Tells me approx how long it will take

4. Launches the Maps app allowing me to chose Drive or Walk

5. Kicks off Navigation and Handoff to my phone allowing me to use either Watch or Phone (or both) for Navigation. Note the watch does turn by turn directions using visual and haptic gestures. 2 taps to go right and 3 to go left. I’ll get to haptic later, but this is the future of notifications.

Game Changing Capabilities
The two biggest game changing capabilities that I see are Haptic Notifications and Physical Gestures.

Haptic Notifications
you may never have heard this word haptic before. Many of you have vibration mode on your phones. Haptics take that further by applying different vibration levels and durations to communicate something.

Apple calls this the Taptic Engine.

It’s called the Taptic Engine, a linear actuator inside Apple Watch that produces haptic feedback. In less technical terms, it taps you on the wrist whenever you receive an alert or notification, or press down on the display. Combined with subtle audio cues from the specially engineered speaker driver, the Taptic Engine creates a discreet, sophisticated, and nuanced experience by engaging more of your senses. It also enables some entirely new, intimate ways for you to communicate with other Apple Watch wearers. You can get someone’s attention with a gentle tap. Or even send something as personal as your heartbeat.

And to me this is the piece of technology which will transform how we interact with technology and objects. The watch is just the first mainstream, quality, powerful experience that uses this. Gamers on Xbox have probably experienced this before via the controller, but hey, we are not all gamers.

Physical Gestures
The Watch is the first product that I’ve used that is capable of doing this well. It seems to know when my eyes are locked on my wrist. Incredible. If I get a phone call I can cover my watch to silence it. If I press and hold on various screens different actions happen. Apple calls this Force Touch

In addition to recognizing touch, Apple Watch senses force, adding a new dimension to the user interface. Force Touch uses tiny electrodes around the flexible Retina display to distinguish between a light tap and a deep press, and trigger instant access to a range of contextually specific controls. With Force Touch, pressing firmly on the screen brings up additional controls in apps like Messages, Music, and Calendar. It also lets you select different watch faces, pause or end a workout, search an address in Maps, and more. Force Touch is the most significant new sensing capability since Multi‑Touch.

We may forget this, but Apple is the company that really made capacitive touch mainstream. Capacitive touch is essentially the screen on your iPhone or iPad. A piece of glass that works against your finger and does not require pressure or stylus. Many touch phones at the time did not employ Capacitive touch.

The Watch is employing two very novel ways of augmenting these existing forms of interaction such as Voice, Touch and physical dials.

When you think about it, the Watch employs a ton of input and feedback mechanisms. More than any device you have today. And it’s all packed into such a tiny package. Incredible.

Ok, so lets talk about apps. This is probably the most underwhelming part of the Watch right now. But since Apple has created a platform that is married to the most sophisticated gestures and feedback, you can expect a lot of innovation.

The basic built in apps are great and provide decent enough experiences to call it a day.

My favorite apps are:

Siri – not really an app, but if you know how powerful Siri is, well, you have a virtual assistant on your wrist. “Where is my wife” is a command Siri can respond to me with, and provide the exact details of my Wife’s location. Same for “Notify me when Lora leaves work”.

Notifications – not really an app either, but with the 200+ apps I have they are pretty chatty and noisy. Being able to quickly glance to see if I should bother looking at my phone is nice. Also nicer is when I get a phone call or text from my wife I can know that right away.

Messaging – coupled with Siri I can reply to most messages as well as author. Messaging is the #1 app I use on my iPhone. I suspect it will be the #1 app I end up using on my Watch.

Calendar – I go from meeting to meeting and having this on my wrist is killer

Passbook – I love Passbook. Every time I fly it’s the most convenient way to get through security and board the plane. It’s a bit cumbersome to manage a phone and luggage and 2 kids, so I expect this will simplify this among other things like paying at Starbucks (till they offer Apple Pay).

Handoff – not really an app, but a capability of Apple’s devices. The nice thing here is that Apple knows which device is “active”, In other words, if I am using my phone, notifications arrive there and aren’t duplicated on my watch (or Mac). Similarly if my watch is active, it is the primary notification endpoint. If I am using a Mac, Watch and iPhone Apple introduces a small delay to give me time to act on a notification before it’s broadcast to the other devices. I’m not sure anyone has noticed or written about this subtle behavior. Why would you? It’s intelligent and something that’s incredibly hard to do technically. Believe me you’d notice if this tech did not exist. In a world where I get calendar notifications on my wrist, I should not need to see duplicate reminders any where else. Today I get 1x notification per PC or device.

In terms of currently useful 3rd party apps, there are a few cool ones that I’ve made into Glances (you have a limit of 20 glances).

Weather Nerd – [$3.99 iTunes] one of the great thing about Apple product launches are some of the new apps you’ll discover. Apple has a great habit of show-casing and promoting apps that take advantage of their latest products, and this is no exception. I was looking for a weather app that was better than the stock Apple one and ran across this app. Brilliant. This is the best app on Apple Watch.

Here is their glance:

And their app:

Some other Glances I like are the New York Times and my Alarm company’s app,

Finally, this brings back some memories (Calcbot)

Oh, and of course the Watch App. After all, this thing is a Watch.

In closing… I am very excited about this category for Apple. They have delivered something that exceeds what I would expect of a v1 product. You can bet that the next few years will change a lot about how we experience technology in our lives.

Time will tell if this is a lasting v1 product experience. I’m optimistic.

Beyond Coastal Active Sunscreen – 5 stars

It’s almost summer! Well at least in Seattle it is. So I thought I’d write about my thoughts on Sunscreen.

When we had our first child, we started hearing about how terrible and horrible all the sunscreen products are for children. We turned to the Environmental Working Group (EWG) which publishes a lot of amazing information on Sunscreen and other cosmetic products. I recommend checking out their website and all their resources.

There are two kinds of sunscreens in the world. Natural (mineral based) and Chemical. Both can be bad for you. So you are picking from the lesser of two evils. In Europe they have a larger diversity of chemical options, some of which are less toxic than the limited options we have in the US.

Here is what the EWG has to say about Chemical sunscreen in the US

The most problematic of the sunscreen chemicals used in the U.S. is oxybenzone, found in nearly every chemical sunscreen. EWG recommends that consumers avoid this chemical because it can penetrate the skin, cause allergic skin reactions and may disrupt hormones (Calafat 2008, Rodriguez 2006, Krause 2012). Preliminary investigations of human populations suggest a link between higher concentrations of oxybenzone and its metabolites in the body and increased risk of endometriosis and lower birthweight in daughters (Kunisue 2012, Wolff 2008).

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has detected oxybenzone in more than 96 percent of the American population, based on a representative sampling of more than 2,500 children and adults (Calafat 2008). Researchers found higher concentrations of oxybenzone in samples collected from participants during the summer months, and concluded that sunscreen use may explain this seasonal difference.

So basically, stay away from oxybenzone.

Natural sunscreens, which are mineral based, contain products, namely titanium-dioxide and zinc, which don’t get absorbed into the body and block the sun. Unfortunately, they are white, and make you look whiter. And some companies use “nano particles” to deal with the “white” problem which shrinks these minerals so they disappear. However, that means they get absorbed! You can’t win! Some companies are experimenting with tinting sunscreen to deal with the white color. This seems to be a good approach and I’m surprised more companies don’t do this.

Lora and I used mineral sunscreen for a few years. We tried every brand. My verdict? They STINK. Here are my realizations with mineral sunscreen:

  1. It makes you look like a Ghost. Fine, no biggie. I don’t really care if my kids look like Ghosts, as long as they are not being poisoned.
  2. Some of them don’t work very well. Our kids have gotten burned a few times with various brands.
  3. That white gunk gets on all sorts of things and never comes off. It stains clothing, black car trim, and is pretty greasy
  4. Taking a shower after applying this stuff doesn’t really remove it. You are left feeling nasty
  5. For children, the products don’t do a great job if you are swimming a lot

So, imagine my joy when I found a chemical sunscreen that EWG rated as a “2”, which is on par with many of the natural sunscreens!

Beyond Coastal Active Sunscreen SPF 34 is our new go to Sunscreen. We’ve been using it for 2 years for the whole family. It works really well, does not stain, does a great job protecting, and has none of the issues with mineral sunscreen. It is Oxybenzone Free, Paraben Free


You can get the Sunscreen from Amazon in 2.5oz (great for carry on) and 4oz sizes. Amazon’s pricing tends to vary from $12 – $20 a tube depending on who the seller is, so I usually get 2-3 when I order.

They also make a great face stick which is good for kids.

We love this stuff. 5 stars!

Exceptional. A spectacular product.

What I use: Knives

Like many of my friends, I got my first real knife set when I got married. I remember looking at knives in Williams-Sonoma and deciding between the two different German brands, and that was that. We had a “set” of about 6-7 knives for a decade.

Look familiar?

Look familiar?

Then I read this book, An Edge in the Kitchen.

Screen Shot 2015-03-29 at 9.12.01 AM The book really opened my eyes. I loved this quote:

Knives are fundamental. They are the first and most important tool in the kitchen. You need two, a big one and a little one. They must be sharp. — Michael Ruhlman, author of The Elements of Cooking

I’ll cut to the chase and tell you what I learned:

  1. You only need two knives – an 8inch+ chef’s knife and a small pairing knife. With those two knives you can do anything.
  2. You may consider a boning knife and a bread knife. A boning knife is great for removing meat from chicken or turkey where you need a thinner / bendable blade. A bread knife will never stay sharp, so get a cheap one and replace it when it’s dull. Longer is better.
  3. Sharp well cared for knives will stay sharp for years with a small amount of maintenance
  4. German knives are forged which makes them heavier and is a more traditional process
  5. Japanese knives are machined which produces a lighter and in many cases sharper knife. They are precision ground from a billet of high alloy steel and finished.

With this knowledge, I then did my research on Japanese knives. First thing I did was visit the Epicurean Edge in Kirkland, WA. They have an incredible array of knives to look at. I then wrote up my wish list. About a year later I have acquired all the basic knives I want, and donated all the German knives I don’t use. I did keep my German Chef, pairing and boning knife. It’s always good to have a double set of those.

The Knife I settled on is MAC Knife which is a Japanese company. Their knives are highly rated and adored by Chefs all over the world.

Here are “required” knives I now own:

Mac Knife Professional French Chef’s Knife, 8-1/2-Inch (MBK-85) – ★★★★★ – A basic chef’s knife

Screen Shot 2015-03-29 at 9.07.55 AM

Mac Knife Professional Paring/Utility Knife, 5-Inch (PKF-50) – ★★★★★ – my wife’s favorite knife. She uses this to make the kid’s lunches every day.

Screen Shot 2015-03-29 at 9.39.18 AM

Mac Knife Professional Paring Knife, 3-1/4-Inch (PKF-30) -★★★★★ – A basic pairing knife

Screen Shot 2015-03-29 at 9.39.09 AM

In addition to these knives I also have the following:

Victorinox Swiss Army 10-1/4-Inch Fibrox Wavy Bread Knife, Black – ★★★★☆ – this is highly rated by Cook’s Illustrated and is a cheap, and effective bread cutting knife. It’s long enough that I can make long strokes to cut bread without hardly any effort. When it’s dull, I’ll just recycle it and get another one.


Victorinox 12-Inch Granton Edge Slicing Knife with Fibrox Handle – ★★★★☆ – When I cook a prime rib, or flank steak, I want a SUPER THIN and sharp knife to cut.

Screen Shot 2015-03-29 at 9.32.15 AM

As I mentioned above, I still have my original J. A Henckels International Classic 5.5-Inch Stainless Steel Boning Knife – ★★★★☆. This knife get pretty beat up when making Turkey or Chicken.

Screen Shot 2015-03-29 at 9.33.34 AM

And finally, every knife needs a good pair of scissors. For these I use the Messermeister 8-1/2-Inch Take-Apart Utlility Shear  – ★★★★★- These shears are awesome as they come apart and we can put them straight in the dish washer. They can also easily be re-sharpened.


Last but not least there is the topic of sharpening. Sharpening is not an easy thing to do and it’s important that you knives stay sharp.

If you want to learn to sharpen yourself, then I’d recommend the Apex Edge Pro system. It looks bizarre, but it’s incredible.


I’m personally planning to take my German knives to Seattle Knife Sharpening Service (you can ship there) to get my knives professionally sharpened. After 12 or so years, it’s time.

Finally, you should have a ceramic rod to hone your knife. This will restore the blade when it has a burr on it.

Zojirushi Coffee Mug – 5 stars

I’m always on the hunt for a great coffee mug. Recently The Sweet Home published their research on travel mugs. For at home we drink coffee in Bodum Bistro Double Wall 10oz mugs  We really love those as they keep coffee warm for in home sipping. The only problem with them is we break 1 every 6 or so months.

I’ve been looking for a great travel mug so that I can take coffee to work with me. I had no idea that these new vacuum sealed mugs can keep coffee hot for up to 8 hours. That means I can make a pot of coffee for myself (600ml of coffee, one cup to drink at home, and one to drink on the way to work or during my first morning meeting). My home brew coffee now is quite incredible so why not have those benefits go with me to the office?

My challenge with mugs is that I’ve always been looking for something small. My colleague, Chris Jones, has this Vessel 8oz mug I’ve been admiring for a while now (matte black even) but 8oz while perfect for a short latte, is not enough for a cup of joe.

That’s when I saw the 10oz Zojirushi SM-SA36-BA Stainless Steel Mug.

It comes in 4 colors and 3 sizes.



















I absolutely love this mug. And so to Amazon buyers

The cap is dish washer safe and it’s easy to take apart it’s 4 pieces to clean. The body needs to be hand washed.

I make my coffee, which is around 200 degrees and about an hour after I place it in the mug, it’s still too hot to drink so I actually let it cool down a bit in the morning.

The mug is spill proof and small so I can place it in my bag without any risk of it leaking.

Exceptional. A spectacular product.

OmarKnows Newsletter – 1st Year In Review

A year ago (with some encouragement from friends and family) I decided to start the OmarKnows Newsletter. Many of you know that I’ve been blogging for the last 14 or so years, but last year I decided to focus on reviewing items that I purchase in the normal course of my life and share those perspectives.

I started a newsletter (you can sign up here – or visit to make my reviews more accessible, but also to force me into a schedule and rhythm. I’m happy to say that I’ve managed to post a review almost every week for the past 12 months (43 reviews in total)! It’s my new Sunday morning ritual!

As of today, I have 180 subscribers and have averaged a 70% open rate and 12% click rate. That’s pretty great as it means a lot of you like what I’m writing about. Most of the growth to-date has been 100% word of mouth and I really appreciate all the folks that have shared the newsletter!

The blog side of things has also been pretty positive with 27,000 visitors this past year and 44,000 page views.

The thing is, not only have I enjoyed writing, but I love the feedback I’ve been getting from friends and family who have subscribed. I love the emails I get and words of encouragement.

In that vein, I though I would post an annual look back at what I’ve written about and any thoughts on the reviews. For those of you that joined recently, this will give you a quick overview of anything you may have missed.


What I use 2015 – a post of all the stuff I use that’s important

How I make Coffee – A history of how I’ve made coffee over the past few years. We love our Wilfa machine.

How to hit Inbox Zero every time you check email – I did not publish this to my newsletter as it’s not really a review, and more of a How-To but I thought I’d include here in case you are interested.


You Need a Budget
 – ★★★★★ – my budgeting / financial management / software.

1Password – ★★★★★ – Software you must have to manage your passwords


Limefuel USB Charger – ★★★★★- still love these chargers

Logitech Harmony Smart Control – ★★★★★- could not be happier with this remote. It’s worked flawlessly since the day we got it, and I’m considering upgrading to there latest model and using them for our 2 other TVs.

Sony BCG-34HLD Battery Charger – ★★★★★ – it appears Sony has discontinued this model, this Panasonic BQ-CC17SBA looks like a good replacement

Google Chromecast – ★★★★★ – Since Amazon has come out with the Fire TV Sick, I much prefer it. The only issues with the Fire TV Stick that I have trouble with are the fact that it needs occasional rebooting (which the Fire TV does not) and I can’t get HBO on it since Comcast HBO is not supported. Hopefully when HBO Now is release, this is moot.

Doxie Flip – ★★★★★ – In this past year I have scanned 1300 4×6 photos from my childhood with the Doxie Flip. I continue to use it for the occasional photo someone gives us. Very handy.

Fluxmob BOLT Portable Battery Backup and Wall Charger – ★★★★★ – I keep this in my bag at all times. In the past week though my charger died. For $60 I’m pretty unhappy about that.

Sony RX100M3 – ★★★★★ – This little camera is still a marvel. I have since gotten a Fuji X100T and am using that as my daily camera which means the Sony isn’t seeing much action these days.

Normal Ears – custom 3d printed headphones – ★★★★☆- I’ve since stared using my Bose headphones a lot more, but I still keep these in my daily bag.

Microsoft Band – ★★★☆☆ – I stopped wearing this guy a long time ago. It got uncomfortable and I got a bit tired of it.

Dropcam –  ★★★★★ – These things are really incredible. We’ve used them a number of times on vacations to check up on our house. The alerts are handy too for when packages get delivered.

Amazon Fire TV Stick – ★★★★★ – Better than a Chromecast. The Fire TV is still better than the Stick if you have room for it.

Tile – ★★★★☆ – have come in handy to find our keys!

Logitech Ultrathin Magnetic Clip-On Keyboard Cover – ★★★★☆- no changes here, my wife is still using this on vacations.

Bose SoundLink On-Ear Bluetooth Headphones – ★★★★★ – These are one of my favorite purchases of the past year. I just came back from a vacation where I used them a few times a day. Highly recommended.


Kuhn Rikon Dual Edge Slice and Serve – ★★★★★ – this continued to be a useful addition to our kitchen

Supermechanical Range Smart Thermometer – ★★★★☆ – neat toy, can’t say I’m using it much any more.

Epicurean Utensils – ★★★★★ – our go to utensil

Duralex glass food storage – ★★★★★- still love, best food storage system

Joseph Joseph Salad Bowl  – ★★★★★ – still love, used almost every day

Menu Dining Bottle Grinder – ★★★★★ – still love

Zyliss Easy Spin Salad Spinner – ★★★★★- still love, used almost every day to clean lettuce


simplehuman Sensor Mirror – ★★★★★ – Lora uses this nearly every day. We’ve charged it 3 times in the past year. Totally amazeballs.

S’Well Water Bottles – ★★★★★- these are still amazing. We have 6 of them, and we got small ones for our kids. LOVE these things. I’ve since backed the Kickstarter Fred Bottle, and am looking forward to reviewing that.

Vornado 660 Whole Room Air Circulator – ★★★★★- we used this every day in the summer and just started it up again as we’ve had a few warm days.

Wool Comforters  – ★★★★★ – had this for a few years now and we still love our wool duvet

Simplehuman Sensor Pump – ★★★★★- love

Picturewall – A wall full of photos in a box – ★★★★★ – love. It’s the one thing most visitors to our home comment on

Leifheit Wall Dryer – ★★★★★ – awesome

August Smart Lock – ★★★☆☆ – still like, but still needs improvement. August came out with a small plug in wifi device that lets you control the lock outside your home. Also there have been numerous software improvements and auto-unlocking is very reliable now. Still not 100% though.

Dyson Cordless Vacuum Cleaners – ★★★★★ – love

Battery Recycling Container – ★★★★☆ – love


The Week Magazine – ★★★★★ – we have moved 100% to the digital edition which I read on my iPad.

Quartz – My favorite daily news publication – ★★★★★ – still reading every day, but I also subscribed to theSkimm


Kenu Airframe – Mounting your Phone in your Car – ★★★★★ – We have one for every car and I continue to use this almost every day. Since getting the iPhone 6 Plus I had to upgrade to their larger edition.


The Greatest Hoodie Ever Made? – ★★★★★ – many friends are sporting these now. Lora loves their t-shirts!

Capsule Wallet – ★★★★★ – still my daily carry wallet. Love this thing, and the quality is fantastic.


Trakdot – GSM location based luggage tracking – ★★★☆☆ – reliability has improved and it works flawlessly in the US. Not sure if international coverage / bugs have improved.

Hard Sided Spinner Luggage – Victorinox Spectra 2.0 –  ★★★★★ – these  bags are bomb proof. After a year of trips, we continue to think they are the best luggage for the price.

1Password – 5 stars

Hi readers! We are coming up on my 1 year anniversary of the OmarKnows newsletter! Thanks for coming along for the ride. This past week I wrote an article on how I do my email (and manage to have zero message in my inbox all the time). I won’t be publishing this to the newsletter since it’s not a review, but more of a “How To”. If you are interested, feel free to read it here.

If your idea of managing passwords is one of the following:

  1. Memorize a few and use them for all your logins
  2. Write them all down
  3. Something other than using a password manager

You MUST take action and do something about this. At the very least you need to do the following: Protect the password of your email account by using Two-Factor authentication., Gmail, Yahoo, and any credible email provider supports this (if you are still using AOL, you should really do something about that). Your email password is your most important password. It’s the keys to the kingdom. If someone can crack your email, they can reset and take over any other login you have.

Here is a common password that I used to use many years ago for everything….

Screen Shot 2015-03-08 at 9.29.07 AM

Try yours out. You’ll be shocked.

So, what do you do?

Well, I have 449 logins. Each one is different. Why is this important? Well if a website gets hacked, I only have to change one password. If you use the same password everywhere, then you have a lot of work to do.

Each of my passwords is at least 24 characters of random gibberish (if possible).

Here is an example:


What does a Password Manager help you do?

  1. Capture your existing logins – this will be your first step, login normally for a few months and build up a list of all the websites that you use.
  2. Create secure passwords for every new login – for new websites, create secure passwords
  3. Lets you update / change all existing logins to be secure – once you feel that you’ve captured all your passwords from step 1, then go and change them all. This will take a few hours but is worth it.
  4. Fills in all your passwords across web and mobile – a convenience of a password manager is that you can carry your passwords with you on your phone, and protect them with Touch ID or a secure PIN
  5. Protects all your passwords behind one very strong password and in many cases a second factor of authentication – no point in using a password manager if your password to unlock it is not strong. So take the time to invest in one strong password and memorize it.

Which Password Manager to use?

There are a few Password Managers out there. I have used the following in my life:

They are all better than nothing, so it doesn’t much matter which one you use.

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My personal preference and favorite password manager is 1Password. Here is why:

  • They have native 5 star applications for Mac, PC, iPhone, Android
  • Their apps are beautiful, well crafted, updated often
  • If you are on a Mac / iPhone their product is really well integrated into many other applications making mobile sign in much easier
  • All the passwords are store in a single file, making it very portable
  • Sharing passwords among a couple is easy. I have my password file and my wife has her password file. You can easily switch between them in the app.
  • You can share a password over iMessage, email, or within the 1Password app. This is hugely important to us since we share certain passwords like Netflix, Amazon, etc

However, I have many friends who use and love LastPass, and it’s also excellent. It’s a big geeky and the user experience could use a lot of improvement.

I used Dashlane for a few months, as an experiment. My biggest issue with Dashlane was that it’s full of bugs. The Windows Application is a real piece of junk, and their browser extensions stop working all the time. But they have a great user experience.

It’s obvious to me that the folks at 1Password take a lot of pride in their software. They act and behave like a small family who cares deeply about education of their product, crafting their experience, and supporting the customer. For this reason their product costs money to get to all the features you’ll use. I honestly just paid them as much as I could and got the bundle on Mac/PC/Mobile. For $69.99 you can get the complete bundle.

Once you use 1Password you can then start storing things like:

  • Driver’s licenses
  • Passwords
  • Frequent Flyer numbers
  • Software serial numbers
  • Credit Cards
  • Bank Accounts
  • Social Security Numbers
  • Passports

In short, the most important information in your life.

1Password is a piece of software that I simply cannot live without. And you shouldn’t either.

Exceptional. A spectacular product.

How to hit Inbox Zero every time you check email

It’s been over a decade since I have been practicing the Getting Things Done methodology. Getting Things Done is essentially a productivity movement that was started by David Allen. There are a lot of concepts that you learn, some of the most important ones are around Inbox Zero and Context.

Dealing with email is The Struggle. For me it’s been one of the biggest struggles I’ve dealt with. At Microsoft, email is a fire hose. And if you don’t figure out how to tame it, it will eat at you and make you less effective.

It’s unlikely you will read this and adopt a methodology that works tomorrow. It’s taken me a decade of practice and trying to get here. However, I do feel that some of the concepts I’ve found and written about below will get you on your way. From that point on it’s up to you to figure out if you get enough value from an ongoing investment in Inbox Zero.

10 years ago, email was done on PC and usually in specific locations like “Work” or “Home”. Today, we carry computers in our pockets and can do email triage any time we care to. But email has also followed us around every where we go.

What once was a novelty (You’ve got mail) is now The Struggle.

I’ve found that if you can end each day with zero messages in your inbox, you’ll enjoy the time you have with your family more. You’ll sleep better at night. You’ll enjoy your vacations more. You’ll improve your quality of life. This is something worth investing in as it will pay dividends for the rest of your life.

However, the Getting Things Done methodology hasn’t really kept pace. The world is different. And your secret weapon is your phone, a great mobile email app and taxonomy for your energy level.

I spent a few days in December 2014 updating my outdated methodology for email triage and since January 1, 2015 I have hit Inbox Zero every single time I check my mail. No matter the device. And most email sessions on my phone lasts under a minute.

I clear my inbox every single time I check my email.

I’ve experienced slow weeks, hard weeks, gone on vacations and not done any email on those vacations. My inbox has remained at zero every time I’ve engaged with my email client.

I don’t know many people that experience this. And you know what? It’s quite easy. You just need a workflow and discipline. A couple of small changes and you can do the same.

And I can go a whole day just using my phone and get all my email done. I don’t find this awesome or anything, but possible. And it makes me productive anywhere. How do I do this? Well I have a few things. A phone with all day battery life, an awesome mobile email client (Outlook), and apps like OneNote, Evernote, Office Mobile and the Apple HDMI lightning connector mean that I have a real laptop replacement in my pocket. I carry around a tool that does as much as a PC. That’s the biggest change in 10 years.

Prior to this, I might hit zero once a week. It was a constant battle that I lost each day only to have a half victory and no sense of accomplishment for even trying.

The feeling from this renewed experience has been life changing for me. And I put very little effort into processing email now. It doesn’t weigh heavy on me. I put more energy into my work product. Which is not email.

What I have done is put each email into an energy folder. That is, I triage my email into different buckets that I can do depending on my mood, time, and attention. I don’t worry about how many emails are in that folder. I just put them there and drive those to zero when I can make the time.

In a world where you can do your work from anywhere, the thing that varies the most is how much attention you can afford. And what kind of mood you are in. Building a system about these realities was the biggest breakthrough in my methodology.

Now lets talk details.


First you need an email client. I use Outlook on a PC and Mac. My email is in the cloud. And I use Outlook on my iPhone and iPad. I also recommend a read it later app like Pocket.


First, and most importantly. When in an email is in your inbox, you only read it once. Not twice. Once. Read that again. Once.

If you violate this rule, then you may as well give up. It’s the “leave it in my inbox and mark it unread” that gets you in trouble. The reason we read an email more than once is that we don’t know what to do with it. For me, this has been a struggle and I’ll explain why in a second.

Every email has an action

  • Delete it – not very email needs a reply. Delete without prejudice
  • Do it – reply to the email if it takes under 2 minutes. Just Do it then and there.
  • Archive it – place in your archive folder
  • Delegate it – it’s not your’s to follow up on so assign it to someone else to do
  • Defer it – either it’s going to take more than 2 min, or you can’t do it now so you’ll defer it

This stuff isn’t that complicated and comes straight from Getting Things Done. When I started using this framework 10 years ago it was a great framework. The biggest challenges I faced were sticking to the “only read once in the inbox” rule and having a good framework for Deferring emails.

Getting Things Done teaches you about Deferring and using physical contexts. In this mobile first world, that’s not going to cut it.


Instead you’ll think of Contexts based on energy or attention. I first read about this from a friend and have since read an article on Simplicity is Bliss that goes into a lot more detail than I care to.

Energy simply refers to the level of attention you can devote to the tasks. We can do email from anywhere and so we should be able to 100% rely on our phones.

I use the following contexts for email triage:

  • @Quick Hits – takes 2-5 minutes to get done and required little to no attention. Normally I would just do this, but I may not have the time as I’m walking to a meeting.
  • @Full Focus – Generally I need to have time blocked off or at least 10 minutes so spare. This will include reading and responding with feedback, reviewing material, writing a lengthy response to an email
  • @Brain Dead – stuff that is easy to do but I can’t do it right now and requires no energy. Examples include filing an expense report, schedule a meeting, etc. It needs to get done, and I can do it without much thought
  • @Someday – I may or may not ever get to this. No guilt.
  • @Thinking – Ideas I may collect to generate new insight, update strategy, formulate an idea
  • @Waiting For/Agenda – for each person, I create a context and then assign stuff to this context that I need to follow up on (because I’ve deferred it) or because I need to talk to someone about something. When I meet with the person I will go through their folder and look up the relevant email.

The Process

I’ve mentioned how you can and should use your phone to process and triage email. That means you can’t rely on any features that aren’t available from any endpoint. In the past I relied on things like categories and tasks and project lists to manage triage. Which meant then when I used my phone to do any email I was actually throwing a wrench in the whole system. I ended up reading emails more than once, leaving stuff in my inbox to “triage” later on my PC and so on. My system had huge gaps in it.

So my contexts are simply folders. If there is one thing that works everywhere it’s folders. So rather than get fancy, I move messages into folders, and then I go through some of those folders a few times a day.

Remember, only look at an email once in your inbox, and then act on it once. At that point your triage is complete and you are free to do anything else, including process email.

Act on email

I have a folder for every context underneath my inbox. For every email I decide on the Action: Do it, Delete it, Defer it, Archive it, Delegate it. That’s it. Every time I check my email, I clear out my inbox to zero. I do this every single time I check my email. No exceptions.  Nothing gets read twice or gets marked unread. Inbox Zero does not mean you have done anything yet, it just means your mind is now clear from distractions… where this behavior if often the norm when a new email arrives.

I’d add that I get a lot of links to read. I highly recommend a “read it later” service. Anytime I see a url that is worth reading, I throw it in my “read it later” service which I can do anywhere. I happen to like Pocket.

Quick Hits

Once I finish with the Inbox, and I have some time, I go to the Quick Hits folder. Then I work on that till it gets to zero. I usually read oldest to newest and process all the email.

Full Focus

When I’m done with that, I go to Full Focus and clear that out. Since I can get most Inbox triage and Quick Hits stuff done anywhere, that’s what I do. For Full Focus stuff, I just block time on my calendar. I have 2 hours on Monday and 2 hours on Friday to go through stuff. That’s where I curate my task list and project list and also think about what I need to get tone that takes calendar time.

I don’t care if there are dozens of things in my Quick Hits and Full Focus folder. Because I can only get through them in as much time and energy as I have. But my Inbox is empty. Not full of stress and the unknown.


Your Calendar and Task List are now tools in your drive to actually do work. Email drives two things into my calendar:

  1. Time to get through my Full Focus folder – 2 hours on Monday and 2 hours on Friday cover a lot of ground for me. I will sometimes allow this time to be scheduled but I generally guard it
  2. Time to work on projects – I block time to do specific things that are often generated via email workflow

The rest of the time I do “email sprints” using my phone. I can power through a few emails while waiting in line for lunch, or waiting for someone to figure out how to use the projector in a meeting. There are lots of 2-3 minute spots in the day waiting for you to be productive.


Any kind of project that I identify in email goes into my task list (I use Todoist . I then Archive the email.

Some Gotchas

I’ve found that it helps to organize your emails by conversation. One handy feature that Outlook has (Desktop and Mobile) is that you have filed something in another folder, like Quick Hits, and a new message in that conversation comes in, you can see that you have older messages in those folders. This helps you know where to file those messages quickly.