Category Archives: Gadgets

My New Bluetooth Headset: Discovery 925

I had had enough of my previous bluetooth headset. Once I got an awesome new phone, the old headset did not do it justice because I could not use it reliably.

Here were some of the pet peeves I had with my two-year-old headset:

  1. It was out of batteries when I needed to use it and did not have access to the charger
  2. The proprietary charger meant I had limited options when I needed to charge it
  3. I did not get enough notice before it ran out of batteries
  4. The over-the-ear design was a hassle if I wore glasses or had my hair styled in any way

Amazingly I was able to find a bluetooth headset that addressed my pet peeves. I have had my new headset, the Plantronics Discovery 925 for a few weeks now so I cannot remember exactly what brought it to my attention. Maybe it was because it was one of the newest models that Plantronics had. Nonetheless, here is how this headset is superior to the one it replaced:

  1. It came with a carrying case with a rechargable battery that charged the headset. I can recharge both when the headset is in the case. However, while I am out and about, the case comes in handy to charge headset.
  2. It used a standard micro USB charger. It came with two chargers… one for USB and one for wall charging. Since my Palm Pre also used micro USB for charging, it effectively tripled the chargers I had to available to charge either my phone or headset. That meant I could charge while I am at home or at work.
  3. There were two ways for me to find out when it was time to charge. If I hit the big button, it will blink an indicator and if the red light glowed, it was time to charge. While wearing the earpiece, an audible alert will bring attention to the need to charge.
  4. The elegant yet secure design did not have a loop to get in the way. This made it easier to insert into my ear and not have to struggle with my hair or ear.

I liked how it came in different colors instead of the usual black and gray. I decided to get gold because I liked the color and it was less obvious against my skin.

Plantronics listed the price at almost $150. I bought mine from Amazon.com for about half of that. I also got to use a gift certificate credit so that was awesome.

When I considered getting this headset, I envisioned the toughest use case would be my wedding day. My hair and makeup would be done. I didn’t want to run around holding a phone to my ear. This headset would answer the challenge because it would not touch my hair when it is in my ear. It would securely and comfortably enable me to do last minute communications. Plus, it does not look as ugly as most headsets tend to look. However, sometimes I would forget that I was wearing it so I hope that that will not happen during the walk down the aisle. :)

With Manual Control Comes Great Power and Responsibility

Last week, I got my new camera, the Canon Powershot SD 990 IS, just in time to use it during the weekend. I went with some friends to the Petaluma Pumpkin Patch to check out the pumpkin patch and to (try to) go through the Amazing Corn Maze. I was really looking forward to the photo-taking opportunity because I envisioned a very colorful environment. I particularly wanted to take advantage of the camera’s special color selection mode to highlight the orangeness of the pumpkins.

Alas, when I got home, I was underwhelmed by the results. Some of the photographs did not look very colorful and in fact looked kind of bluish. I could see the photographs in an album in Picasa underneath another album taken by my old camera, Canon Powershot S45, that had much more vibrantly colorful photographs of roses. I was thinking that I would need to return the camera. I was glad that I bought it from Costco, which has a relatively generous 90 day return policy. I then thought maybe I should take some test shots with the same subjects and compare the two cameras when I had time and interesting, colorful subjects.

When I picked up my camera to check on something else, I noticed that the color balance was on Indoor-Tungsten/Incandescent. That would totally explain the weird coloring since incandescent lighting makes things reddish, so to counteract that, the camera would need to add blue. However, if the actual environment isn’t reddish, there is not enough to counteract the bluishness.

I posted examples below to illustrate my point. I double-checked the EXIF data to confirm that it’s not my imagination that I had the wrong setting for white balance.

Guess which one is which.

The second one was the one that was on the Tungsten setting.

That was an important lesson, and a tip that I would like to pass on so that others do not have ruined photographs. I got a camera that gives me a lot of manual control over settings but because I was not careful, I got some disappointing results.

As for the corn maze, three of us were prepared with headlamps, since we were doing the night time version of the maze. We heard a lot of maze goers express their envy of our preparedness, though some were obviously annoyed at the lights shining in their eyes in an otherwise very dark environment. It took quite a while for us to figure things out and we kept ending up in the same spots. When we were 3/4 of the way through, someone gave us the solution, unsolicited. I was kind of annoyed and grateful. It kind of spoiled the experience to know how to get out without effort other than walking, but it was kind of frustrating also to be lost.

Deciding if a High-Speed Memory Card Is Worth It

I just ordered a new digital camera, Canon Powershot SD 990 IS, and wanted to get a memory card to use with it. There are so many storage choices these days, it’s a bit overwhelming. I finally decided on a brand and size, but didn’t know if I should pay extra for the high-speed cards. I looked all over to see if the SD 990 would support it. From my research, not all cameras were capable of writing fast enough to take advantage of the high speeds that some cards offered. Without knowing the camera’s write-speed, I could not know how fast of a card I needed. So I wrote to Canon. I was very surprised to get a quick and detailed response from them. I hadn’t even gotten the product yet and they helped me already. Sorry, I guess I’m just jaded with customer service these days. The following is an excerpt from the email:

Canon does not speed rate digital cameras.  The write speed of the camera is limited by the drive inside the camera.  Using a faster card rated at 12x or 24x speed may not perform any faster than a slower rated card.  If you use a card reader capable of reading at the faster speeds, then you may experience faster downloads from a card reader.

The only features on our cameras that will utilize the high speed rated memory cards are the Continuous Shooting and video recording features. The exact performance increases are not published.  Unless these two feature are of extreme importance to you, you will honestly be wasting your money on a high speed rated memory card.  The memory cards that come packaged with our cameras do not have a speed rating.

I do intend to do continuous shooting and video recording so speed was a factor. I decided to get a card that was in the middle… not standard, but not the fastest either. It would also be nice to have the faster downloads. If speed were to become a big issue, I could buy a faster card in the future, when the price is lower. Besides, I read that it’s better to have multiple cards instead of one big card, in case there are any issues… kind of like “not putting all your eggs in one basket” kind of thing.

I’m so excited. My camera is scheduled to arrive tomorrow. I’m looking forward to getting back into photography and posting photos in my gallery.

Meet Robert, My Roomba

Back in June, I picked up an iRobot Roomba 550 from Costco. It’s one of those purchases where I was not sure if I would continue to use it in the long run. After four months, I am certain that the Roomba is a keeper. My boyfriend helped me with naming it: Robert. It might sound silly to name a gadget, but it’s pretty convenient: “Oh, Robert’s cleaning”; “Robert is done”. I’m not the only Roomba owner who has a name for her robotic housekeeper. Besides, I like to name my gadgets, like my computers, GPS voice, PDA, etc.

In October of last year, I got the Litter Robot . Due to logistics, I had to place it near the entrance of my bedroom instead of in an out-of-the-way spot. When my cats jumped out of the Litter Robot, they would kick some litter out onto the carpet. I had to vacuum a few times a week to avoid having to step on litter crumbs.

The time it took to set up and do the cleaning added up, so I decided to look into getting a Roomba. My concern was whether it would be safe to have it running around in my cats’ presence. iRobot assured pet owners that the Roomba was safe for pets. I can confirm that. Not only is it safe, it has provided some great entertainment to see how my cats responded to the Roomba invading their space. They usually stay out of the way but if not, Robert is very gentle and doesn’t hurt the cats when he bumps into them. My cats haven’t tried to flip him over. They tried to chew on the side brushes but I scolded them and they haven’t tried since. I think it is important to be there in the beginning when using noisy, moving gadgets to reassure the cats that it is okay and safe.

I wish that Robert could go longer without me having to clear the brushes. I didn’t have to do that with my regular vacuum after years of use. The cool thing though is that if there is an issue, there is a voice that tells me that the brushes need to be removed and cleaned or whatever complaint Robert has. It’s a female voice, though. For people who don’t have long hair or pet fur, the Roomba could probably last longer with less maintenance between uses.

When I registered my Roomba, iRobot offered a 15% discount on an order of accessories. The hard part was figuring out what to order. I looked around for advice but couldn’t find anything that was useful. I’ll share what I have learned.

 

  • The Roomba set that I got from Costco came with the Brush Cleaning Tool. This is very useful for removing hair from the bristle brush.
  • I got a replacement order of brushes. It took a long time for me to decide on this because I could not find reliable information on how long they lasted and whether it was even necessary to ever replace them. However, I came across a suggestion that having an extra set is useful for when there isn’t enough time to clean the one set of brushes. I have had times where I would have preferred not to deal with the brushes, but didn’t want Robert to get stuck when he vacuumed while I was away. With the extra brushes, I can just remove the dirty ones and pop in clean ones when I didn’t have time to clean.
  • Filters need to be replaced every few months so I purchased extra at the time to take advantage of the discount. I read where someone would wash the filter to avoid having to replace it but the filter can get so dirty that I didn’t think it was worth the effort. But that’s just me. I’m lazy; that’s why I got an automatic vacuum cleaner.
  • I got 2 more Virtual Wall® Lighthouse™, which help block out sections of the room without needing to set up physical barriers.

 

In the beginning, I set Robert’s schedule so that he would run in the morning at around the same time as my alarm to make me wake up. After being awoken on a holiday morning, I decided to have him run after I had left for work. He runs three times a week and does a pretty good job. It’s a good idea to keep the regular vacuum cleaner around for an occassional deep clean. In addition, it makes me more disciplined about keeping my floor clear all the time since Robert cleans so many times a week.

Of course, I can also get him to run manually. In fact, he is vacuuming as I type this blog post. :)

Love My Logitech Harmony 890 Remote

My Logitech Harmony 720 Harmony basically stopped working a few months ago. Thanks to Costco’s awesome return policy and my compulsive box-keeping, I was able to return it for a refund. It was annoying living without a universal remote to control all my home entertainment devices, so there was no doubt that I would get a replacement. I was pretty content with the 720 aside from the issues that occurred after almost one year of ownership. However, I decided not to go with it again because the idea of using RF technology was very appealing.

Although the Logitech Harmony 890 cost about twice as much as the 720, the ability to use RF to control devices sold me on it. After using it for a few months, I have no regrets. Being able to use RF means that I no longer need to point directly at the devices. Since some activities like watching TV involves turning on multiple devices, some devices might fail to get the infrared signal if the remote control is not pointed correctly toward all of the devices. Now, I don’t have to worry about where I point my remote as long as the extenders that the system uses are in place.

Additionally, some appliances and electrical adapters can work with Z-Wave technology. What I did was replace the regular light switch with a wireless-compatible wall switch that my remote could control remotely and wirelessly. With the wireless controlling of lights, the Harmony 890 has a concept that its non-RF brethren like the 720 didn’t have, scenes. For example, I like to watch DVDs with the lights out. When I click on Watch DVD, not only does it turn on the TV and dvd player, but it turns off the lights. That is because I created a scene with no lighting and assigned it to the DVD-watching activity. I have created “activities” that just control the light so that I can turn on or off the lights using my remote, independent of what I’m doing with my home entertainment system.

As awesome as this system is, it took some time and effort to get it set up. There was minimal documentation on how to get my remote to communicate to the Z-wave device(s). I’m pretty techy so I’m not sure if I would recommend this to someone who doesn’t have a lot of technological know-how and patience. Once it is set up, there is minimal effort extended. I might tweak a setting here and there, but they are usually so low priority that I don’t bother to sync the remote until there is something that I really need to add to the remote.

Another useful thing about this remote is that it makes it possible for someone besides myself to be able to use my home entertainment system. They just need to go to the Activities screen and select the desired activity.

Here’s a photo of the remotes for my home entertainment system, with the Harmony posed horizontally above the five remotes. remote controlsThe idea to have a photo of the remote controls that were being replaced was what inspired me to write this post. :)