Best Christmas gift ideas?

Who has good Christmas shopping ideas?

The most impressive book that I’ve seen, and one of the few that is a good argument for print, is a 1200-page Encyclopedia of Marine Mammals.

For the man who isn’t woke enough for Gillette and wants a higher-quality shave: Dorco Pace 7 razor. (see my comparison test)

For the nerd who has everything… and wants to back it up, a 16 TB hard drive (just recently available; progress in this area has been slow).

USB-C charger made compact thanks to GaN. (or for the car, since the car companies seem to be years behind on USB-C; or a power strip). Everything will charge much faster!

If the TBM is too slow and its payload too feeble: the newly certified Epic turboprop.

Readers: What are your ideas?

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Loving the iPhone 11 Pro Max camera; struggling with the case

I finally managed to carve out 20 minutes to go over to the Verizon store and swap my iPhone X for an iPhone 11 Pro Max (20 minutes turned into more than one hour thanks to Verizon’s 9 Mbit in-store WiFi).

I’m in love with the camera so far. Here are a couple of challenging scenes with the standard camera…

(mostly backlit; note the bearded hipster behind the 3-month-old Corgi)
(tough job watching Head of the Charles)

Verizon sold me a Gear4 Battersea case. It might be tough, but it makes the already huge phone a little too big for a blue jeans pocket. The case buttons are super stiff and make it tough to turn the phone off from the top side button. An Amazon reader says “after using it for a week I noticed that it has extremely scratched up all four sides of my iPhone”. It is so rigid that I am skeptical that it would protect the screen from shock in the event of a drop. The soft silicone cases seem much more likely to be helpful for a drop on concrete. One good feature: The case is thick enough to keep the lenses of the cameras off whatever surface the phone is resting on.

Readers: Do you carry an iPhone 11 Pro Max in a front pocket? If so, what case works well? What about the Apple silicone case? The Verizon sales guy scared me off by saying that it lacked a bezel to protect the screen from a face-down drop.

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Lightweight luggage review

We had a strict 8 kg. European carry-on and 23 kg. checked bag limit for our recent cruise. My roll-on bag was 10 lbs. (4.5 kg) empty and a touch oversized for Europe. My 26″ Delsey “super lightweight” checked suitcase was 10.8 lbs. empty.

After doing about two hours of research online (articles in Forbes, for example, and reviews at Amazon), I made the following decisions…

Soft-sided expandable bags rather than hard-shell. If limited to the rolling bag as the single carry-on, it would be awkward to have to crack open the entire hard-shell bag somewhere on the plane to get to a small needed-in-flight item. Also, an expandable soft-sided bag with international dimensions (55 x 40 x 23 cm; a couple of inches smaller than the typical American road warrior roll-on bag) could be expanded for use domestically.

Two wheels rather than the four-wheel “spinner” designs. The two-wheel designs seem to have 10-15 percent more space than a bag with the same exterior dimensions and four wheels. Two wheels will work better over imperfect surfaces, but they will likely be more tiring through the airport. On the other hand, the 23 kg. bag won’t be going far and the 8 kg. bag won’t be very heavy.

After reading everything that seemed relevant, what popped out were the latest Maxlite 5 suitcases from Travelpro, the company that invented the modern suitcase (Condé Nast Traveler). These aren’t the most stylish bags, but why would it be better to have a bag that screams “steal me”? Travelpro makes some bags with superior organizational capabilities, but all of them are heavier than the Maxlite series. Durability for bags that are so light? Travelpro says “We are proud to introduce our new Built For A Lifetime Limited Warranty starting with the Maxlite® 5 collection which covers defects on major components such as wheels, zippers, extension handles and carry handles.” Maybe a heavier bag would be more durable, but why wear out one’s body lugging around a heavier bag rather than buying a new one every 5-10 years?

Specific choices:

These weigh 5.4 and 7.1 lbs., thus leaving 8.3 lbs. of additional capacity compared to my previous bags. Travelpro says that these are lighter than the previous generation Maxlite 4, e.g., about 0.5 lbs. for the carry-on. The cost of both bags together was $237.

How did they work during five flights, two hotels, etc.? Fantastic! It would be nice if they were a bit more compartmentalized, but the high payload to vehicle weight was awesome. They seem to be at least reasonably durable.

[Of course, after all of this work, when we finally did show up for the charter flights there was no verification of the dimensions, weight, or even quantity of bags. Quite a few passengers completely ignored the directives and checked two large bags (for a three-week cruise).]

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Why is it difficult to make a reliable refrigerator?

We had a 7-year-old GE refrigerator that would fail every couple of years, requiring $400-500 in service. We got tired of throwing out spoiled food and living out of coolers for 3-4 days so we invested $2,600 in a KitchenAid (one of the few with the same dimensions as the old GE, which fit into a kitchen recess that an architect thought was a good idea).

The KitchenAid failed after three weeks, unable to keep the refrigerator side cooler than 50 degrees. (It has a separate evaporator on the freezer side, so we can live on microwave pizza.)

Given decades of experience and continuous improvements in electronics, why is it difficult to engineer and build a working refrigerator? A modern Honda or Toyota may run for three years and 36,000 miles without anything failing, despite being exposed to hot and cold temperatures and vibration. The car has myriad systems, each of which could fail independently, and yet generally these all soldier on for 5-7 years before the first failure of any kind.

“Owner Satisfaction” is terrible with all refrigerators, according to Consumer Reports. LG is the only brand that achieves a 5/10. Whirlpool and KitchenAid are down at 3/10. Compare to 9/10 for Bosch or Miele dishwashers or 9/10 for LG washing machines.

What’s the challenge with an apparently simple fridge, sitting in a kitchen that is kept within +/- 5 degrees of 72?

[We discovered during this process why modern McMansions are always built with at least two refrigerators. BestBuy refused to accept a return on the unit, citing that it was purchased more than 15 days previously. Whirlpool/KitchenAid wouldn’t answer the phone on a Sunday, but when I got hold of them on Monday morning they cheerfully described their full warranty. They would be happy to come look at the fridge and begin the process of diagnosing the failure… in October. Was that normal? “Oh yes,” said the agent on September 17, “In a lot of areas I’m scheduling the second or third week of October as the first available visit.”]

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Software updates before a trip now take longer than packing?

I’m heading out on a trip that will involve limited Internet connectivity. My notebook computer hadn’t been turned on for 1.5 weeks. Updating that to the latest version of Windows 10 took four tries and roughly three hours (admittedly this was a bigger update than usual and there was also a Dell BIOS update). I’m taking a Sony a7F II camera and two lenses. Software updates were available for all three of these items. Downloading them required resetting my password on the Sony web site, verifying my Sony account, download three Windows applications, running three separate Windows apps, connecting and disconnecting the camera via USB to the PC, following Sony instructions to remove the battery after each lens update, etc.

Thus, I think it is fair to say that updating devices took longer than packing up for a somewhat remote trip!

What if the Internet of Things became a reality? Given the security issues around completely automatic updates, will humans eventually be reduced to full-time sysadmins just for the stuff in their apartments?

Update: arrived in Copenhagen. Here’s the hotel coffee shop electronic menu screen:

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USB-C more durable than USB-A?

When trying to charge a phone from public charging stations and power outlets on airliners, one thing that I’ve noticed is that the USB-A (traditional rectangular) ports tend to be “loose like wizard sleeve”. Unless one is willing to hold the connector and apply pressure, therefore, they are useless for charging. I’m not sure how they get like this. I can’t remember a USB-A connector failing mechanically on a home computer or charger. Is it just that if 1,000 different cables have been plugged over a one- or two-year period that the socket is stretched out to the size of the largest? Compare to at home where I might use only three or four different cables in any given socket.

What’s the prognosis for USB-C? Are the tolerances more precise such that the public connectors will remain functional?

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Bose Eyeglasses?

“That’s how you show that you’re a douchebag if you can’t afford a Tesla,” said a friend regarding Apple’s AirPods.

At Oshkosh, Bose was demonstrating its old aviation headsets and its new eyeglass frames, which can supposedly play Bluetooth music (or a lecture on tape) for “up to 3.5 hours”. One annoying issue is that they require a custom charging adapter, so it is one more thing to lose when traveling.

Comment from a customer on the Bose site:

Yesterday I was on a long conversation outside of the office tower I work at. I joked with who I was talking to, “I wonder if someone is going to think I’m just talking to myself.”

Well, 45 minutes later a police car pulls up and an officer approaches me. Very nicely he explains that someone called reporting that someone had been pacing around the building talking to themselves for a while. I showed him my glasses and we both got a good laugh. He tried them on and liked them too! He then went on his way.

Do they work for those of us who need prescription lenses? The company says yes and that Costco can put in custom lenses.

Has anyone tried these? We played around with them for a few minutes and were favorably impressed. They seem good for walking the dog while listening to Audible and simultaneously being able to hear important sounds in the ambient environment. Main concern: I hate the idea of being tasked with something additional to charge daily.

Reviewers on Amazon are lukewarm (4 stars). Here’s a cruel, but presumably honest, one:

it looks like no effort was put into making them capable as a pair of sunglasses – the glare reflected on the inside makes them almost unusable. I’ve had $20 walmart fishing sunglasses outperform these.
But seriously, if you’re buying Bose sunglasses, you don’t care about the sunglasses part right? The styling alone is enough to drive away anyone who actually wants them as sunglasses. You want overpriced audio products that have poor bass, overdriven mids, and a logo that you can point out to all the lesser beings you meet. And these deliver on almost every one of those points.

But maybe still good enough for spoken word content from Audible? It seems that they’re not loud enough to be used in loud environments (like the coding pens of Silicon Valley?). And they’re not very high quality, but what would we expect for $200?

I love the idea of enhancing something that many of us are already required to wear, rather than adding more clutter to put on when leaving the house. I wonder if this is yet another example of something that would be awesome if battery technology were 10X better. Imagine if the entire frame were a 98 percent efficient solar cell charging a battery with gasoline-like power density.


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Schick razor blades: too sharp?

Happy Father’s Day!

This seems like a good time to wrap up the razor blade test inspired by Gillette’s Toxic Masculinity ad.

Side-by-side testing with multiple subjects and some female perspectives revealed that the Dorco Pace 7 is superior to Gillette’s latest and greatest 5-blade cartridges.

What about Schick? The present company is the result of a merger with Wilkinson Sword, the inventors of the modern razor blade. So they should know more about making blades per se than anyone else.

After testing the Schick cartridges that are compatible with Gillette handles and the Schick Xtreme 5 Pivot Ball system, my conclusion is that Dorco Pace 7 remains superior. The Schick blades may actually be sharper and possibly therefore better for certain skin types. At first it seems that the razor isn’t working because, unlike with Dorco and Gillette, there is no feeling of tugging. However, stubble is removed from one’s face so plainly the blades are working. I ended up preferring the Dorco and finding it easier to control.


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Why is the Bluetooth broadcast mode such a rare beast?

We manage a Pilatus PC-12 airplane in which the manufacturer certified a Sony car stereo as cabin entertainment. Totally state of the art… for 1995.

The speaker output of the car stereo is used to drive airliner-style six headphone outlets in the passenger cabin. They are all hooked up in parallel across the speaker outputs (100X the power required to drive modern noise-canceling headphones?).

Instead of trying to modernize this system, it would make sense to buy a stack of Monoprice Bluetooth noise-canceling over-the-ear headphones ($70 each) and drive them all from one smartphone. Except that the typical smartphone can drive only one Bluetooth audio device at a time.

How could the designers of this standard not have foreseen that people would want a broadcast mode?

This year-old Qualcomm web page says that the hardware for a lot of phones is now capable of broadcast audio via Bluetooth. The company publishes a page showing 7 headphones connected to one phone. Yet as far as I can tell, nobody is implementing this from software. Samsung offers “dual audio” on the S9 and S10 (two headphones). Apple offers nothing.

How did we get to the point that the latest and great technology makes it tougher to share music than it was with the original Sony Walkman (1979)?

[One idea for the airplane is to try to drive all six headphone jacks in parallel from an MP3 player or a Bluetooth headphone amp. The latest noise-canceling wired headphones have high impedance and sensitivity and therefore even six in parallel would be an easy load to drive. Or we could do nothing and wait for an Android implementation that actually enables the Qualcomm hardware capability?]

Entrepreneurs: A lot of aircraft now have USB power outlets. Owners would be happy to pay $1,000 or more for a little box that drives the Qualcomm hardware as intended. FAA certification shouldn’t be required since the device wouldn’t be permanently installed in the aircraft (no different than a passenger bringing a smartphone or tablet on board).

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Who will be the Marie Kondo for gun enthusiasts?

“ATF seizes more than 1,000 firearms at Los Angeles mansion” (The Hill):

Girard Damien Saenz, 56, was arrested and is expected to be charged with possessing, selling and manufacturing assault weapons, according to the LAPD.

Helicopter footage showed agents organizing the cache of more than 1,000 firearms removed from the home, laid out along the driveway.

Officials told ABC 7 out of Los Angeles that the weapons were found cluttered all around the home.

(emphasis added)

For those who love guns, perhaps there could be a Kondo-style business in which each of the 1,000 guns is handled and the owner asks “Does this semi-automatic rifle spark joy?”


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