Nifty gadget

Today’s gadget is brought to you by the phrase, “Simple is Good.”

The modern geek has lots of gear, and there are still plenty of wires and cables.

Power cables, data cables, audio cables, and the list just goes on.

Wire Ties are great for organizing, but not optimized for things like keeping your ear buds cables from forming the bundle of knots it wants to form. OK, they do a good job, but it is a pain to clip them loose every time you want to use them.

So every modern geek needs a roll of Velcro wire ties.

You can get a hundred of these ties for under $8 on Amazon. Free two day shipping if you are a Prime Member.

For smaller bits of cable, like ear buds, Micro USB, or Lighting cables, I cut the ties in half. I find them easier to put on and off at that length.

So go forth and tame the snake pits of cables that exist in your home theater setup, your monitors, and that pocket in your gear bag where you keep the umptyfratz cables you carry around because they could be useful.

Advertisements

Fitbit Force

I broke down and entered the wearable market. Specifically, I replace my analog watch with a Fitbit Force.
The Force is a wrist mounted wearable that tracks the following:
Steps taken
distance walked/ran
calories burned
Flights of Stairs climbed
Active minutes
Sleep time/activity

It actually does that reasonably well. The Force can display most of that data using a OLED display, unlike the older Fitbit Flex wrist based wearable monitor. I like the immediate feedback right on the device. It reminds me when I’m sitting down too much. Getting up and walking around on a frequent/irregular basis actually helps me with my focus. The Force measures all of this using accelerometers and an air pressure monitor.

The Force will also display the time, but that is one of the two major downsides to the design. To find out the time, Fitbit has recreated that genuine early 1980s experience oh having to press a button on your digital watch in order to find out what time it is.

I’ll get to the other major design flaw later. First I want to cover more of the good points.

The Force syncs with my iPhone over Bluetooth. The Fitbit app then allows me to review the data collected in more detail and over periods of time (day, week, month). I can also log other items, including hydration input.

I can also sync my Force with my Windows 7 desktop, but I have to use the Fitbit custom Bluetooth USB dongle to do so. If I wanted to sync to my Macbook, I have to use the Fitbit custom Bluetooth USB dongle, despite the MacBook having Bluetooth 4.0 built in. Thus sayith Fitbit support, which is a PITA.

On the plus side, the desktop view is a web based app, which gives you everything the mobile app does, but bigger, which is good.

The second major design flaw is the crappy wrist band. I have fairly large wrists, so I’m wearing the Large version of the Force. I’ve found that the “latch” on the wrist band will pop loose when I put on or take off a jacket or long sleeved pullover shirt. The bloody thing will also pop loose if I flex my wrist the wrong way. There are very long threads on the Fitbit forums about this problem. People have lost multiple Force devices (many of which Fitbit has replaced, at $130 retail each), and Fitbits response so far has been to post a video on how to properly insert the slots into the tabs, which is the poor design of the wristband latch. User feedback has been better, including the suggestion of adding an O-Ring over the latch.

Overall I’m happy with the device. The geek portion functions well and gives me data to crunch, which makes me happy. The whole crappy wristband thing is a disappointment, but one you can work around as long as you are aware of it.

Serious though. Wristband design is a pretty mature technology. Somebody at Fitbit who valued form way over function green lighted this Charlie Fox of a design. A decision that has cost them a lot of customer good will. The question is what will Fitbit due in order to get that customer good will back?

Update: Fitbit has stopped selling the Force and issued a recall.  The reason given was the skin rash some users were getting from it.  The crappy wristband design probably didn’t help.  Since Fitbit has dropped this product and will not longer provide firmare updates or other support, I put it to return mine for the full retail value.  Fitbit claims to be working on  new tracker.  I posted the following to the Fitbit user forums:

With all the complaints about the Force wristband, there was an underlying theme of the issue being so frustrating because the Force was the best fitness tracker on the market. The users loved it, except for the bloody thing wanting to jump off the user’s wrist every time they took a jacket off.

I’m sure the Force replacement will be an even better fitness tracker, and have the ability to show messages and phone notification from your phone that the Force will now never have.

However, if it uses the same consumer hostile wristband, I certainly won’t be buying one. That move would certainly alienate the Force customers who love their Force but hate with deep passion the low quality wristband that is integral to the device.

Rocket City Rednecks

I discovered this show by reading one of Travis Talyor’s non-fiction books, A New American Space Plan.   While this post is about the TV show, pick up this book as well.  It’s a well laid out case of why American should be serious about getting into space again and how to do it.

Also take the time to watch the show, Rocket City Rednecks, either by streaming or on optical disk.   This show is about five self-identified Rednecks from Huntsville, AL, two of which are actual rocket scientists from NASA who actually build working gear.  Really cool gear that works.  OK, it works most of the time, but even when they fail, they learn from their mistakes so then can do it better the next time.  That is really one of the important lessons.  It’s OK to fail, as long as you learn from it.   Most of the gear is built in Travis’ father’s garage.   Charles Travis is a retired NASA machinist who worked on the Apollo program, and one of the five Rednecks who star in the show.

I’ve watched about a third of the first season so far, and they have built some really nifty gear so far.  These include a still in order to build a moonshine fueled rocket, the actual rocket, a balloon based observation platform, a working submarine, a radio telescope array using 18″ satellite dishes, under vehicle armor capable of withstanding an IED blast (they drove the pickup truck away afterwards), and a working “Iron Man” suit, that had armor capable of  stopping 9mm handgun rounds, lifting over 100 pounds with a single arm and fired rockets!

Just to add to the overall coolness of this, most of their projects are done over a single weekend with a budget of about $1000.  Keep in mind that three of these Rednecks are current or former NASA employees.  The two active ones have eight advanced degrees in science between them (Travis has five post-graduate degrees.  For those of you who know me, yes, that is one more than Amy currently has).  Rog (Rednect #4) doesn’t have any advanced degrees, but he does have a genius level IQ, and Michael (Travis’ nephew) is mechanically inclined and studying to be a machinist.   Still, if you know basic work working, basic welding, how to solder two wire together, and some basic programming, you and your friends could try some of this stuff.

Which is kinda the whole idea of the show.  To get kids off the XBox and out there building go carts, rockets, radio sets and other cool gear.

This is the kind of show my dad would have loved.  He was 22 year veteran of the Army Corps of Engineers, and would have been out teaching kids how to to build the things the Rednecks are building.

Windows 8.1 blotware

I’m not surprised by the amount of bloatware Microsoft is including in its “free” Windows 8.1 update.

I’m sad, but not surprised.

Some up and coming MilTech

A couple of interesting MilTech items caught my eye.

First is a prototype “Ultra Light Vehicle” prototype.  Only in the world of the DoD is a vehicle with a maximum curb weight of 14,000 pounds considered “ultralight.” 🙂   On the other hand, this is designed to be more blast resistant than an up-armored HumVee and less expensive than the much heavier MRAP.

This is a prototype, not a pre-production model, so it’s more of a rolling test bed.  The hybrid drive is an interesting feature.  Two electric motors, one in the front and one in the back, each capable of moving the vehicle.  Nice survivability feature.  It also has a diesel engine for charging the batteries, supplying power directly to the motors and powering the ton of other gadgets on this vehicle.  Oh, and running quiet on the battery can be useful tactically as well.

The military is still looking at future concepts for individual armor for the War Fighter.  Their current wish list looks a lot like some posts made on Sci.military before the “Endless September” hit UseNET.   Note that these posts were made back in 1991.  They are old enough to buy their own booze, as well as being made before a lot of American kids serving their country now were born.

No iWatch

Well, the Apple WWDC came and went with no mention of the much rumored iWatch.

Oh well.  I have several friends who have Kickstarter Pebble watches and they are quite happy with them.

My guess is that Apple has several prototypes in the works and just doesn’t see the market demand to push one out yet.

3D Printer update

Last time I went on about 3D Printers was back in October 2008.  Time for an update.

There are more options out there than the RepRap. Engadet has a “consumers guide” to 3D printers.

What I found interesting is that there are some sub $1,000 models.  Granted, most of those are Kickstarter projects, but it shows that these things are getting some traction in the geek hobby market.

That expanding base also means a greater number of programmed designs as people share their experiments.

One that is sure to cause a stir is Defense Distributed’s plan to design a 3D printable firearm.  They have designed, and printed an AR-15 lower.  They have put over 600 rounds though a firearm using that printed lower in a single day.  They claim that it should be able to handle a 1,000 rounds.

The AR-15 was a good choice.  It is one of the most popular civilian firearms in the US, and as Gun Geeks will tell you, it’s the general purpose PC of firearms.   It is very modular, with the ability to change stocks and uppers easily. It also has a large market of add on accessories, including pink plastic parts for the female (or male who just likes pink) shooters.

The inter-changeable upper (which includes the barrel) is key.  You can convert your .223 AR-15 to 5.55mm NATO, .308 Winchester, .22 LR or even .50 Beowulf.  All the same firearm by current US regulations.

On the lower end of the 3D printing scale, is the EDoodler.  A hand held devices that extrudes a steam of heated material that you can create whole pieces or parts of a larger object.  This is another Kickstarter project which blew past its original goal of $30,000  pretty fast.  They have pledges of over $2 million and still have three weeks to go for fundraising.

Going even lower end, you have InstaMorph.  I know people who swear by this stuff for really Q&D projects.  You heat the stuff up and then are able to mold it.  When it cools, it hardens.  Kinda like a gateway drug for 3D printing.