Saying Goodbye To Wired Earbuds

Posted by TechyDad on June 9, 2014 under Review, Technology
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BTH240_2 For the longest time, I clung to my wired accessories.  While people began sporting Bluetooth ear pieces for making phone calls while driving, I scoffed at them.  Why, I thought, do I need another device that I need to remember to recharge when I can just plug in my wired headset and microphone?  Then, I got a Bluetooth ear piece and discovered just how freeing going wireless could be.

More recently, I decided that I needed new headphones.  My existing ear buds just weren’t cutting it.  I like listening to music at work, but can’t just blast the music for obvious reasons.  Unfortunately, my ear buds didn’t have a volume control.  This meant I needed to rely on my phone’s volume control which seemed to go from "too loud" to "mute" in one step – resulting in many a headache from listening to music that was too loud.  In addition, the cord from my phone to my ears would get caught on my chair and either pull out of my ears or (worse) pull my phone off my desk.

Enter the Kinivo BTH240 Bluetooth headphones.

BTH240 When I was first sent the headphones to review, I was impressed with how they fold up.  The sides move in to collapse the headphones down so small that they can fit in your pocket.  My second thought, after I put them on, was that they felt uncomfortable.  I didn’t like how the band felt on the back of my neck.  However, I wondered if this was due to not being used to having headphones on like this.  Sure enough, the more I used them, the more I got used to the feeling of having them on.  Now, I don’t notice the headphones at all.

Of course, the most important part of the headphones is sound quality.  Here, the Kinivo headphones excel.  No longer am I getting cell phone music induced headaches.  Instead, I can make the audio as loud or quiet as I like.  In addition, while they don’t call themselves noise-cancelling, I’ve found that they work very well to block out many external sounds.  Perhaps a little too well.  I’ve had quite a few moments when someone was trying to talk to me while I had my headphones on – and was oblivious to them.

There are buttons on the side of the headphones to control audio (increase/decrease volume) and music playing (next song/previous song).  There is also another button that is a combination power switch and answer calls button.  Yes, as I was pleasantly surprised to discover, you can have the headset on and talk on the phone.  While I might not recommend them for driving due to the previously mentioned noise blocking (not hearing a car honking could be very bad indeed), I have put my phone in my pocket, put the headphones on, and talked on the phone while making dinner.

Finally, is price.  When I was looking for Bluetooth headphones, many were priced at $100 or more.  While I’m sure they were very good, I just couldn’t justify denting my bank account that much.  The Kinivo, on the other hand, are just $24.99 on Amazon.

Now for a mini side review.

zx100 When I was getting the Kinivo BTH240 headphones to review, I was accidentally sent another product instead.  As Kinivo sent the correct product for me to review, I decided to try out what they had sent as well – the Kinivo ZX100 mini-speaker.  This is a very small speaker that plugs into your phone’s headphone port.  The speaker pops up and provides some very impressive audio.  I could definitely see using this to play a series of MP3s for a group or connecting it to a laptop to boost the audio output during a presentation.  Given that it costs only $19.19, it won’t break the bank either.  Unfortunately, being wired means needing your device right next to your speaker.  Kinivo does make a wireless Bluetooth speaker, though, so that product might suit your needs more if you need a wireless speaker.

DISCLAIMER: I was sent a Kinivo BTH240 Bluetooth Headphone and ZX100 mini-speaker to review.  The opinions expressed above are my own.  No compensation (other than the products) was provided.

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Save Our Internet

Posted by TechyDad on June 6, 2014 under Internet, Technology

DTRave_Cartoon_Computer_and_Desktop_small[1]The Internet is under attack.

Before I get to explaining this though, let’s quickly review how the Internet works.  Suppose you want to watch a Netflix video.  First, you pay your ISP for an Internet connection.  Your ISP pays their upstream provider who pays their upstream provider and so on until you reach the top of the stack.  On the other side, Netflix pays their ISP for bandwidth.  Their ISPs pay upstream providers in the same fashion.  (Some of the ISPs act as “top of the stack” providers as well.)  The “top stack” providers enter into peering agreements which essentially say “we’ll let our networks work together.”

The problems began when some cable ISPs saw some Internet companies 1) using a lot of bandwidth, 2) making a lot of money, and 3) competing with the cable ISPs’ existing video offerings.  The cable ISPs began to worry that people would cancel their TV service thanks to Netflix and that couldn’t be allowed to happen.

Overage Fees

On one front, cable ISPs have been pushing for data caps.  They claim that this is to “only require users to pay for what they use.”  The problem with this is that the light users won’t wind up paying less.  Instead, heavy users will wind up paying more.  And by “heavy users,” I mean anyone that the cable companies think are sending money to companies other than the cable companies for video entertainment.

Right now, you can watch hours of Netflix for just the price of your ISP connection and your Netflix subscription.  If cable ISPs have their way, though, you’ll hit a limit after the first few hours.  After that, you’ll graciously be allowed to continue watching videos – for a “small” overage fee.

This is a win-win for cable ISPs.  It raises the cost of Internet videos to the point that cable offerings become price competitive.  Also, if people continue to use Internet video, they will wind up paying the cable companies more money.  And since most people have two or fewer broadband Internet providers available to them, people won’t have an “overage free” option.

Fast Lanes

Bandwidth caps target the users, but the ISPs aren’t satisfied with that.  They also want to provide a “fast lane” for Internet video services to operate faster.  Sounds good, right?  Well, of course, that fast lane will cost more money for Internet companies to access.  In addition, the “standard speed” lane will quickly become a slow lane to provide incentive for companies to “upgrade” to the faster speeds.  (Of course, the ISPs’ own video offerings will be on their own fast lane by default.) I could spend time explaining it better, but John Oliver already has:

After John Oliver called for Internet commenters to submit comments to the FCC’s website, they were flooded with comments.  So many comments, in fact, that the FCC’s website went down.  As of this writing, there are over 45,800 comments.  Of course, the Internet needs everyone to participate.  After all, the big ISPs have a lot of money to use in their fight to rig the system.  The head of the FCC is even a former lobbyist.  The only thing we have is sheer numbers.  Our only hope, at this point, is the fear politicians have when masses of citizens oppose something.  If we can flood the FCC with comments opposing Internet fast lanes, perhaps they will scuttle the plan.

Many of us spend hours upon hours online.  We can’t let a few big companies ruin the Internet for the rest of us because they are afraid of the future.

NOTE: The computer image above is by DTRave and is available from OpenClipArt.org.

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The Bleeding Edge

Posted by TechyDad on April 30, 2014 under Technology
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tech-scalesWith a name like TechyDad, you would think that I’m always getting the latest and greatest technological toys to play with.  At one point, this was true.  Years back, before I was married and had children, I loved getting new technology.  I obtained the first MP3 CD players (mistakenly backing them over their more limited-at-the-time flash-based rivals).  I got a DVD player when they were fairly new.  I loved upgrading my own computer.

As time passed, however, I fell behind.  I began to realize that my money needed to be spent elsewhere.  Providing for my family meant using money that might have otherwise gone to technological toys.  I still loved technology, but I became a bit more conservative in my purchases.

Today, I find myself falling behind the curve.  My laptop is over five years old and the screen flickers so much that I can’t see anything unless it is angled just right.  (Where "just right" is at an angle that I can barely read it.)  It is a serious strain on my productivity, but I find myself hesitating over buying a new one.  After all, money spent on a new piece of technology is money that could be spent on other things my family needs.  (Even though I earned more than enough for a new laptop from a recent freelance project.)

Furthermore, our TV in our living room is a standard definition set.  While everyone else watches high definition programs, we are keeping our standard definition set until it dies.  We have an HD set in our bedroom only because the standard definition one there died a couple of years ago.

It can be hard at times.  That old love of technology still runs strong in me.  Part of me longs to get every piece of shiny new tech to play with.  The other part of me realizes that doing so would cost more money than we can afford.  So I must get my technological fix in small doses and find innovative ways of spreading my "tech dollars" such as focusing on cool freeware.

How do you balance budget and a love of technology?

NOTE: The "tech scales" image above is made of "Scales of Justice" by johnny_automatic, "Dollar Symbol in 3D" by vijayrajesh, "Cartoon Computer and Desktop" by DTRave, "HDTV" by jgm104, and "Smartphone (English Version)" by zorro.  All of these images are available via OpenClipArt.org.

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A Holiday Shopping Trip To Radio Shack

Posted by TechyDad on December 11, 2013 under Review, Shopping, Technology

Disclosure: I participated in a campaign on behalf of Mom Central Consulting (#MC) for RadioShack. I received a gift card to facilitate a shopping trip and promotional item as a thank you for participating.

The holiday season means that, for millions of people, the rush to purchase holiday presents is on.  Although Black Friday and Cyber Monday are over, many people have yet to buy their loved ones gifts.  Shoppers going to RadioShack might be in for a surprise, though.  RadioShack has made improvements to nearly all of its 4,300 stores throughout the nation, including a merchandise update, to ensure a better shopping experience and to stock new products.

The Shopping Trip

Recently, I was given the chance to shop at RadioShack and write about my experiences.  I actually went to local RadioShack stores on four separate occasions.  Each time I went, the staff were very friendly, offering to help but not pressing their help on me if I declined.  When they saw that I was juggling a mix of big and small boxes, they politely offered to hold them behind the counter for me while I continued to shop.  This made the shopping experience very pleasant.

In the end, I purchased some products that highly intrigued me.

final-purchase

How did these products pan out?

Recovering From Failure

key-finderLet’s start with two products that I had high hopes for, but which just didn’t work out.  The first of these was a Bluetooth Key Finder.  I was really anticipating this one.  I can’t tell you how many times we’ve been ready to head out only to realize that our keys had gone missing.  A frantic hunt ensues and precious time is lost (not to mention nerves being rattled).  The Key Finder promised to alert us to the key’s presence via a smartphone app.  It would attach to your key ring and would emit a noise when the app was launched.

What’s more, according to a Radio Shack clerk, the process worked in reverse as well.  You could press a button on the Key Finder and have your smartphone alert you to its position.

Sadly, when I got this home, I noticed that the Key Finder is limited to selected Apple and Android products.  Our phones were not compatible.  I plan to keep an eye on this product, though.  If new versions are released with wider compatibility, I’ll be first in line to buy it.

ifido

The second product was the Silverlit i-Fido.  I got this robot dog toy for JSL to play with as it boasted of having a voice-changer, the ability to interact via an app, and the ability to dance to music.  Unfortunately, when I set it up, I realized that you needed to go into the settings area every time you turned the dog on.  As I’ve locked the boys out of the settings areas of their tablet computers (to keep them from messing something up or installing apps they shouldn’t), this wouldn’t work.

Thankfully, the folks at Radio Shack made the return process easy.  I simply brought the items back and I was offered the credit on a Radio Shack gift card.  (A gift card was offered because I had used one to purchase them in the first place.  Had I used a credit card, a refund would have been put on my card.)  Any store will sell you items, but all too often stores will give you a hard time returning items that just don’t work out.

Big Wins

With those near misses out of the way, what about the rest of my purchases?  How did we fare with them?

snap-circuits

The first one we opened was a 100 piece Snap Circuits set.  This set consists of snap-together circuitry that kids can use to build their own simple devices.  There is an instruction book with circuit maps that the children then replicate to build a night light, alarm, flying saucer, and more.  This was more than a win.  Soon after NHL began playing with it, JSL got jealous and wanted to play with it as well.  However, NHL was having too much fun and wouldn’t relinquish it.  When I returned the i-Fido and the Key Finders, I used some of the store credit to buy another set.  So now we have two identical Snap Circuit sets and my boys are having a blast figuring out how to assemble various types of electronics.

rc-moonwalker

After this came the RC Moonwalker.  This is a remote controlled vehicle that you assemble yourself.  I’ll admit to a bit of trepidation as we opened it up.  Would this be a low-quality kit that would break as we put it together?  Would the RC controls be so weak that you needed to be within 2 feet of it to work?  Would the boys never want to play with it?

The answer to all of these is a resounding no!  The kit is made (mostly) of plastic, but it seems pretty sturdy and snapped together firmly and easily (with one minor exception which was easily addressed with minimal gluing).  Once the batteries were in and the vehicle was turned on, we tried it out.  We quickly found out that it responded quite well to the remote control.  At one point I even tried to see how far it would work away from the remote.  I came up with a distance of over 20 feet.  Not bad for a $15 build-it-yourself RC kit!

Just like with the Snap Circuits, the boys began to fight over this.  Therefore, we’ve added an RC Dinosaur to the mix.  Now they can take turns being a Moon rover or robot dinosaur rolling across the landscape of our house.

rc-dinosaur rc-pals

Finally, there was the smartphone mini-tripod.  How many times have you wished you could be in the shot you were taking with your camera phone?  Assuming there is a flat surface, this is just the answer.  Simply position your camera in the grip of the mount, extend the legs to stabilize, and line up the shot.  Then, making sure your camera is on a timer delay, press the shutter button and get into the shot.  Your camera will be held in place by the tripod and mount and the photo will be exactly as you framed it.

tripod-1 tripod-2

This setup can also be used to take stop motion videos.  Simply use the tripod and mount to keep your camera steady while you take photos or short videos.  Then, string them together into a movie.

There were plenty of other items at Radio Shack that I passed up – for now – but that got me thinking about maker possibilities.  I’ve wanted to get into making things for awhile, but always held back.  Items like a 30 second audio recorder module (powered by a 9 volt battery) and enclosure boxes, have led me to think about the possibilities for putting things together.  I definitely envision more trips to Radio Shack in my future.

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Radio Shack – Name Your Deal

Posted by TechyDad on November 21, 2013 under Shopping, Technology
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dollar_smallDisclosure: I participated in a campaign on behalf of Mom Central Consulting (#MC) for RadioShack. I received a gift card to facilitate a shopping trip and promotional item as a thank you for participating.

The approaching holiday season means that a lot of stores will be offering deals to entice you to buy from them.  In addition, next Friday is Black Friday – a time when even more deals are offered.  Radio Shack is no exception and – being an electronics store – is one that I’m definitely interested in.

Radio Shack is taking a slightly different approach to Black Friday.  In addition to their regular Black Friday deals (with deals of up to 80% off starting on Friday, November 29th at 8am) and Cyber Monday deals (December 2nd beginning at 12am), Radio Shack has a Name Your Price deal.

Here’s how it works.  First, go to Radio Shack’s Holiday Hub and click on the Name Your Deal Now button.  Next, select one of twenty-nine products.  There’s everything from phones to speakers to tablets to RC cars to a microcontroller kit to headphones to a 3D printer.  One you select your product, you will be presented with a series of deals to choose from.

Each vote will push that deal higher in the rankings.  On November 27th, the top five deals will be announced and will be available.  If you want to increase the odds that a particular deal will be selected, you can share the deal via social media.  If your friends vote for the deal, it might just help push that deal into the top 5.  But you need to vote quickly.  Voting ends on November 22nd!

Having looked over the Name Your Price deals, I’m most interested in the Google Nexus 32GB tablet (after all my kids and wife have tablets, why can’t I?), a couple of the RC cars or even RC helicopter (for some outdoor fun), or possibly one of the over-the-ear headphones (as I’ve found that the in-ear ones that I have hurt my ears).

What are you hoping to buy during Black Friday or Cyber Monday?  Do you have your eye on any particular piece of technology?

NOTE: The "dollar sign" icon above is by vijayrajesh and is available via OpenClipArt.org.

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