Category Archives: Gadgets

The Martians have arrived.

You have undoubtedly read a lot about the new Apple Watch.  Having been a definitely apple Fan boy since I purchased my first 128K Mac in the early summer of 1984, I was VERY interested in it.  But, with a price take of about $600 for the main version, I just could not justify the expense, no matter how cool it was.  Plus, I found what I was really looking for for about $170.

Let me preface this with the simple fact that I have been a fan of “smart watches” since the late1980s.  I remember well my Casio “databank” watch.  Yes, it was very ugly, but it was really cool having all my phone numbers loaded into a watch.  Also, the watch actually was responsible for helping reunite me with my family after an accident in the 1990s.  I was run over by a car in a crosswalk, and somehow, while being checked into one of Oakland’s largest hospitals, my wallet was lost.  So, I became a John Doe until one of the bright nurses figured out that I have this watch that had phone numbers on it. They found the number for my brother in San Francisco, call him, and he helped it going to find me.


Then, only a couple of years ago when Kickstarter first started, I became one of the first investors in the new pebble watch.  I’ve used it daily since then for all kinds of things such as showing me what’s coming in on my phone, checking the temperature outside, and all kinds of other cool little things.


But the one thing it didn’t do was allow me to connect with my phone and make phone calls or receive them through the watch, just like Dick Tracy.

But the Apple Watch certainly does this, I discovered another brand, Martian, that works quite well for doing this.  You can’t really compare to the Apple Watch at all. I’m like the beautiful color display, all the various sensors, and just that “Apple quality”, the Martians actually pretty simple.


  The top half of it is actually a traditional analog watch face.  At the bottom of the screen is a small strip with an LED display.  This can show me a variety of information such as tax that are coming in, who’s calling me on my phone, the temperature, and a variety of other things that are fed to it from my phone.  Additionally, there’s a button on the left-hand side that, when pressed, opens up a connection with my phone and allows me to use a built-in speaker and microphone in the watch to make phone calls, receive them, and converse with Siri.   Plus, though not something you want to listen to music on, the quality isn’t half bad.  The only thing you have to be particularly careful with is the fact that it is charged through a microUSB port on the side.  Though it is covered by a little rubber plug, the watch is anything but a waterproof.  Forget about it and accidentally get it wet, and you’re going to need a new watch.

Tesla may be bringing the solution to effective alternative power sooner than you think.

We hear so much about the growth of solar and wind power as alternative energy sources, but they both have a downside.  They aren’t always “on”.  When the wind does not blow or the sun sets, alternative sources of power must be brought online.  Sadly, in some areas, this mean coal fired power plants often negating the positive aspects of the wind or sun.  The problem is how to store electricity for times these power sources won’t work.  There have been some intersting solutions.  In one place, I’ve heard that the power from the windmills and solar panels is used to pump water up to a resevior at the top of a mountain.  Then, when they are not available, the water is allowed to flow down through pipes and generate electricity through turbines.  This is an interesting  but the scale and cost is such that it’s not that viable,

Enter our good friend, Elon Musk, creator of the Tesla electric car and Space X.   His latest effort is the creation of smaller battery systems designed to store electricity for a single house.  When the wind or sun aren’t available, just switch to the batteries.   This idea can work and it’s going to be with us very soon.  

The interesting difference on this is the scale.  If you wanted to use batteries to store enough electricity to power a  large city or even a smaller town, the cost would be prohibitive.  But, using what Musk has learned from the battery systems for his Tesla carts, building a smaller battery pack that would work for a house is very realistic.  Couple this with advances in fuel cells that would also work at this scale, and power companies should start getting very nervous.  

More reading:

  1. Why Tesla’s battery for home should terrify utilities
  2. Tesla home battery on the way
  3. Tesla home battery to drive millions of the grid soon

Are we too connected?

Only a few weeks ago the San Francisco Bay Area was hit by what many were predicting would be the “storm of the century”.  We were warned via all the traditional media to expect intense rain, flooding, horrible traffic, basically the end of civilization.

When it hit, though it did mess up traffice, ad cause flooding in areas prone to this, the storm as a whole was no where near the worst.  Only two years ago, we were hit by a much worse system.  Yet, that storm was not promoted the extent this one was, in part because only the traditional media sources really promoted it.

This time we learned of the storm through tweets, Facebook pokes, and comments (I wish they’d add gooses too), emails, texts, Skpye calls, blog posts and al kinds of prods and nudges that the virtual word offers.  Plus, if you happend to be a dedicated geek, you would get these on your phone, tablet, computer (both desktop and laptop), watch, glasses, earbuds, and maybe even rectal implant (gulp!).

On the one hand, it is good to stay in touch and be aware of whats going on around us.  But, whenever I install a new APP and suddenly my watch (a Pebble which support notificatios) starts letting me know that somebody else has a higher score than I do in Candy Crush, I ask myself if this has really gone too far.

Yes, I can just disable the notifications of that, but shouldn’t the default for a lot of this extraneous stuff be NOT to notify you of useless notices

Just a thoughts.

3 Weeks with the iPhone 6 Plus

I've now had my iPhone 6 Plus for almost 3 weeks. Do I have buyers remorse? NO WAY! Oh, its definitely NOT the phone for everybody. In fact, I'm surprised that it is so incredibly popular. I feal that ultimately a good number of those who rushed out to get one may end up having real doubts in the end. Let's take a look at where I stand on this beast.

The Bad

  1. First, the size. Yes, it does have a fabulous HUGE screen that is very high res. Yes, movies look great. But the damned thing is giant. It doesn't fit into regular pockets well. Put it in your shirt pocket and it sticks out. Put it in your front pant's pocket and it may also stick out but is definitely not comfortable to sit with. Put it in your rear pocket…well..though the “bendgate” was way overblown, it's still not a good idea. I'm lucky. I wear cargo pants (yes, I know I look like a geek…but I have no problem with that) but they work fine.
  2. Second, the size. OK, if what you use your phone for is making phone calls, and you don't have a headset or have the ability to use a speaker phone, putting this monster against your ear makes me feel a little like trying to make a phone call with the iPad. Unless your head the size of the Frankenstein monster, you will look pretty dorky.
  3. Third, the size. Unless you have big hands…and I mean BIG, using the phone with one hand is really tough. Apple has made a real effort to offer little tweaks to the display to compensate for the size of the screne but it's still inelegant. My hands are considered pretty large, and though I can reach most things, I usually use 2 hands.
  4. Fourth, the siz…GOT YA. Well, it is the the size of the memory. If you get the 128 Gig memory option, apparently there is a problem where the phone goes into eternal reboot. Now, I have this model and it's never happened to me, but Apple is concerned enough to have changed a chip in the phones being manufactered currently and, if your phone suddenly starts throwing fits, you can swap your phone for one with the new chip by visiting a Genius Bar near. It's not really a problem now, but something that shouldn't have happened in the first place.

OK, so what's to like?


  1. FIrst, the Size. OK…OK…I know I'm a big obcessive with the size of the damned thing, but as much as it's a negative, for the right user, it's a huge positive. Having all that real estate is really nice. And, as app makers start adapting their apps to this larger space, you'll find it more and more useful. I'm not ready to ditch my iPad, but this thing really is useful.
  2. The Camera. It is the same camera with pretty much all the same features as the smaller iPhone 6, but it has optical motion supression. The smaller one uses digital, which means it oversizes the image captured, then moves it DIGITALLY to compensate for movement. It works fine overall, but the oversizing means you end up losing information and resolution. With optical, there is actually a lens assembly that moves dynamically. This means you lose no information and you can get lower light pictures much better. In a real test, I drove around with the camera shooting out the window of my car. Normally, even on a smooth road, you'd end up with a pretty awful looking video. But with the optical suppression, it honestly looked like it was shot on a motion picture dolly. Couple that with slomo and WOW!
  3. The battery. The larger size means that there is a larger battery. Now, I'm going to be honest. I can drain this battery in a day on mine and so have a charge case for it, but I don't have to turn it on until VERY late. WIth my old iPhone 5, I used the case early in the afternoon and knew it would be touch and go in the evening.
  4. The screen. There is no doubt. The screen is AMAZING! I mean TRUE 1080p HDTV on par with anything you'd see on a big screen….accept the big screen. No, you can't dump you TV but it's still amazing for watching movies. The sound is good as well, though use the headphones (or get some really good ones) or you'll drive those sitting around you nuts. Oh, and be prepared for everbody to come up and want to see it.
In the end, FOR THE RIGHT USER, the iPhone 6 Plus is great. IF you use your phone more for running apps, surfing the net, shooting image/video, and watching movies, this is THE phonoe to have. On the other hand, if you use your phone as a phone (how BOOOORING!) get the regular iPhone 6. You won't be happy with this.

Is HAM Radio dead???

Type “HAM Radio is” into Google and the first word that pops up to complete your search is “dead”.  When many of us think of Amateur radio, we think of the crabby guy in his “radio shack” in the basement surrounded by glowing boxes calling out “CQ…CQ” trying to talk with other radio operators in far flung places like Russia or South America.  Or, possibly the pickup parked next to the diner with a multitude of antennas, and stacks of mobile radios mounting on the cab and an ARES emergency radio operator sticker on the rear bumper along with those for he local Fire Department, possibly police and maybe a CERT emergency team sticker as well.  HAM appears even in popular culture.  Tim Allen, in Last Man Standing has a very typical  HAM base station.  Maybe you’d remember the character Jodie Foster played in Contact as a young girl trying to reach other operators “DXing’ as it’s called.  Or, this gets rather obscure,  Sandra Bullock in Gravity had a short conversation with a HAM operator in Iceland when she was in the International Space Station.  Ironically, NASA has tried to make sure there is at least one HAM operator in the ISS for HAM operators to contact.  

In this day of universal Cell Phone access, Skyping across the globe, and satellite communications, HAM seems rather…well..quaint and definitely out of place.  It’s a plaything for older guys who don’t have anything better to do with their free time and like to tinker.  

To a point, I pretty much agree with this view of it if you are talking of HAM base stations and trying to see how many long distance contacts you can make.  But, there’s a new development, thanks to he Chinese, that shows real promise to re-energize this dying art.  A company, Baofeng, currently sells a perfectly acceptable hand held radio which can be used for HAM communications for about $30 on Amazon.  Though you can’t call long distance directly, which requires a full tilt base station radio which can runs thousands, along with a large antenna and a slew of other equipment, with the aid of repeaters, that are everywhere and take the low wattage signal from an HT radio, boast it, then retransmitt it, it’s easy to speak to other operators all over your region and even state.  Some systems even use internet connections to send your connection to other repeaters all over the world. Plus, if you remember Gravity and the HAM operator there, HT radios, LIKE THE 30$ BAOFENG are the most popular to talking to the ISS or one of the hundred of amateur satellites in orbit.  The result is, you can get into HAM for under $50.  

Then, if you check for your local HAM club (the best place to start this is the National Association for Amateur Radio  website ( which as lists, you can drop by their meetings.  Often they hold evens where you can get classroom lessons in the morning, then take the test in the afternoon and earn your Technician level license which gets you a callsign and allows you to do basically 90% of what you can do on HAM radio.  In fact, many operators never go beyond the basic license.  

Now, you may wonder, in al honest, WHY WOULD I EVERY HAVE ANY INTEREST IN THIS!!  Well, you may have seen a previous posting of mine abut CERT emergency aid.  One group that is absolutely indepsensable in dealing with Emergencies is Amateur Radio operators.  Often times, the power is out, phones lines are down, cell towers are offline and the only way to communicate is through radio.  The fact that HAM repeaters are pretty low tech and often have battery backups means that they usually survive disasters.  Though the local fire and police have their own radios, HAMs are key to handling many of the communications they often don’t have time to handle.  Yes, cell companies often truck in portable transmitters and get the set up, but this often takes a day or more.  And, if you live on an island, like I do, which will probably lose all means of connecting with the mainland in the base of our most likely disaster, and earthquake, HAM will be key means of communications.  

Plus, if you are a gadget nut like me, and you’re looking for a whole new world to explore, HAM may be the ticket.  You might think that radios and computers could not be more different but several members of the original Home Brew Computer club, the birthplace of the PC, were HAM operators looking for something new.  

I really need this!!!

Sincer I bought my first Mac and was introduced to the ubiquitous mouse, I’ve been fascinated by new ways to interface with a computer.  I’ve tried a whole slew of pointer controllers including track-balls, track pads, chip movers (a strange tiny cube you moved), and most recently a motion capture system that allows me to control my screen using my hands.  I’m a very big believer in Voice control, and even considered a strange device you wore on your head that allowed head movements to control your computer pointer.  It never caught on for the general market, but has become very popular with the severly disabled.


Yet, since I first read William Gibson’s Neuromancer and heard the term “jacking in” I’ve longed for a time when I could directly connect my mind with the computer.  Well, that wait is no more.  Several companies have developed products that read brain waves and then use them to control, or at least see them on your computer.  One of the most imaginative is Necomimi.  They’ve created this device you wear.  It has a small sensor  you place on your forehead, a clip you attach to your ear, and two soft, furry ears that pop out of the top.  Turn it on, and it will read your brain waves and control the ears.  Get into a relaxed state, they lay down like you are sleeping.  Become alert, and they perk up.  Get, “in the groove” and they wiggle back and forth.  I mean, this is something I REALLY NEED!