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Category: Gadgets

In Food: Aeropress makes espresso with the best of them

While currently I am in the process of making a tasty coffee via the well-established and highly effective (if not very fast) “drip method,” I cannot recommend the Aeropress enough. At my last work, we had an old Italian coffee machine that may have cost 15,000 euro new (one of those bar-mounted full-service devices you see at Starbucks). The makers of that machine will be shocked that I can reproduce coffee as well-tasting in something that costs about 0.2% of those machines: a good 30 euro, including filters.

The Aeropress can best be described as syringe that you fill up with coffee powder and water and use to press out freshly brewed coffee. However, if you know what a French Press is, the Aeropress is basically a more modern version of that, faster and easier to clean.

There are several reasons to use an Aeropress:

  • Compact: you could transport that thing in your jacket pocket and make your own coffee at work.
  • Fast: you’ll have a well-tasting espresso in under 2 minutes.
  • Tasty: comparable taste to the big machines.
  • Cheap: 30 euro, price of coffee not included.
  • Creative: I use the inverted brewing method, however just check out the countless information on the web about the different ways to make coffee with this one.

 

 

 

 

In Things: My favourite coffee mug

Christmas is coming and in trying to ignite my creative juices for coming up with present ideas, I thought a good start would be to show my appreciation for some gifts that I received. Starting with the Wild and Wolf Scrabble Tile Coffee Mug!

A piece of kitchenware is perhaps not something that stands on the pedestal of gifts to get for many of you. For me, kitchens are the center of the home, where traditions are made and warmth is found. Thus I wanted to highlight this particular object, because it stands for some important qualities consumer goods must possess: durability, aesthetics, and personality.

This coffee mug is what I start my day with and is my constant companion if I work from home. Lately, I notice more and more cracks on kitchenware, but not with this one. It is extremely robust (microwave & dishwasher safe) and looks as flawless today as it did 1 year ago. For me, Scrabble is something that has personal meaning and that reminds me of that every time I use it. I like the aesthetic too, particularly when I reach the bottom of the cup.

Therefore, a recommended gift idea to end this year with!

火 “Pyramid and human “beehives” designed for Mars dwellers”

This stuff feels like science fiction. It’s an amazing thing that 3D printers can turn our imagination into something tangible.

In Web: Khoi Vinh on why Apple bought Beats

If you like design, you should read Khoi Vinh, former design director of the NYtimes that made the grid look in design popular. He also takes a strong design-centric perspective on the Beats purchase by Apple. It’s all about technology-powered fashion, rather than fashionable electronics. Sounds reasonable to me.

In gadgets: Remembering Sony Walkman

In terms of “Gadget Porn” (yes, such a thing exists), the Sony Walkman perhaps doesn’t pass the test of an ageless object. But it’s an incredibly nostalgic device to anyone growing up in the 80s and early 90s, and it remains an important piece of consumer electronic history. Sony, which had a blockbuster with portable radios, then portable TVs (if memory serves), then walkman, diskman, and then … fade to black (I guess the playstation counts). Little known fact is that I worked for Sony around the year 2000, because I was so fascinated with the company. But just then many things changed and it took the company years to make a comeback, but not even close to the iconic status it had up to the late 90s.

Enjoy the pictures of the Sony Walkman TPS-L2 on Minimally Minimal, the inspiration for this short paragraph.

1396200425052

In Gadgets: The Drama of a White Qwstion Bag

Here’s some relationship advice. If the lady says “I’m afraid it could stain…” Don’t buy the bag! But I did, due in part to me wanting a Qwstion bag, because the salesman gave a great pitch, and because he also gave me a stark discount (probably because it was white…).

The sales pitch

I’m a student of pitches these days. No matter if you talk to me about diapers or a great bag, I want to hear the sales rep tell me about it. Having purchased Qwstion bags twice, once as a gift and the other one just now, I noticed some similarities, telling me a lot about the Qwstion company, its vision and business model. Qwstion bags are high quality, convertible, premium bags, and sold directly to retailers (so no middlemen). The pitch I got both times came out sales reps’ own usage experience, suggesting that they either get a free or strongly discounted bag to use and ‘train’ with. It’s effective because the result is a confident pitch and improvisational according to the varying use-cases customers may have. The discount suggests that there is quite a bit of margin to play with OR that the retailer wants to make space for a new/different model (OR both).

The bag

I love the Qwstion concept, because it’s sporty, it’s elegant, it’s durable (time will tell, but the materials suggest it), and it’s convertible. The latter means that the bag is re-clippable to become either a backpack, a shoulder bag, or a handheld travel bag. Most bags allow for the last two, but the backpack idea is cool because the material is also waterproof.

The material that the bag is made of is cotton canvas, which is treated to be water-resistant. This is highly practical in rain, which I sadly am affected by every day in this country (the Netherlands). I bought the Weekender this last weekend, but previously bought the Backpack for my brother, who also bikes in equally rainy Ireland. It too is convertible. The straps (of both, I believe) are made of the same material that seat-belts are made of, so I have little doubt that those won’t break anytime soon.

The inside is smartly designed, with plenty of pockets for tablets and laptops, and the weekender even has an outside double strap system “for a Yoga mat,” as the sales rep assured me. Well-designed would be my one-word review for this bag.

A note on the colour

So how about this white? Well, in fact Qwstion calls it “Oyster Grey,” but come on… it looks pretty white.

Qwstion Weekender Oyster Gre

It’s not technically a problem and I’m sure a darker shade is still just as risky, but it’s also kind of calling for “come on, stain me!” Time will tell how this material reacts to different types of dirt and I will certainly be mailing Qwstion about it, as it doesn’t say anything on their site.

Final Words

A unique concept as far as bags go and certainly for anyone, from a casual to a smart dresscode, that would (probably) enjoy this bag. Qwstion did not sponsor this overly positive post. If my worst nightmare should come through, a stain, I will be forced to update this review accordingly!

In Hardware: the iPhone 5s, a future-proof computer and camera in my pocket

First, some bullet-point format observations:

Finger print sensor: I like it, primarily because it saves time over the code I would usually enter to unlock it, not to mention my Apple ID in the App Store. During the unlocking, I don’t like that it immediately requires the fingerprint when I lock the phone, because I had it previously set for a few minutes after closing, which is not an option now. I do hope that changes, because it’s still slower to unlock the phone then. 
The camera: haven’t tested it extensively, but like the nighttime performance, the intelligent flash function, the launch speed of the photo apps I use, the picture burst mode, and the slo-mo, although filming is definitely not my métier. It’s clearly better than the iPhone 4 camera, which is what I wanted. 
The M7 sensor: I’m excited about it, but haven’t used it in an app yet. I hope Moves, which I recommended before, integrates it soon, providing that Nike Move doesn’t sue it out of the water. 
The look & feel: it doesn’t feel oversized and it’s super light, but I found the iPhone 4 light enough. I did notice that the White iPhone collects dirt at the bottom edge, which annoys me to no end. 
The battery life: Houston do we have a problem? This battery does not last long, maybe 10 hours on light use, and I’m wondering if it’s to do with that I’m still on 3G (T-mobile NL is supposedly switching to 4G in a few weeks) or because of the battery bug that I hear about. Or, because of some kind of software or background process problem. Frustrated about it. 
The apps: I started using Pages for writing, because it syncs so easily with my Mac and with Pages in iCloud (useful for Windows PCs). Not really using other apps, or not noticing big changes. I do enjoy making bad music with Garage Band though…
Other: light sensor is much better and I really enjoy using the phone in inverted colour mode (the contrast is much better now!). Siri works well for me, as does dictation (typed a blog post with it yesterday). 
CONCLUSION
The frustrating and good thing about Apple devices is that they are of such good build quality that if you already have an iPhone (4 in my case) and were already able to put iOS 7 on it, the iPhone 5s does not feel that new. My old phone is 3 years old. About 3 months ago, the mute switch and top volume button stopped functioning (I did drop it a lot), but other than being slower, which you get used to, the only reason I needed to upgrade was because it made financial sense with my provider. I’ll probably get the iPhone 8 and 11 for that reason as well, because I’m actually buying something that works durably. With other brands, I never know if the build quality is good, if the software continues to work well, and if the apps are available. So, it’s a pragmatic choice.

It’s frustrating to no longer have that pink cloud feeling about Apple gadgets, but at the same time there are so many easter eggs contained within the software and features that I’m sure to enjoy discovering over the next 3-6 months, after which it will become a good companion.

If you care to support this Website, feel free to order an iPhone 5s on Amazon and give us a kick back!

Why not choose an iPhone 5c?
The simple answer is future-proofing. The iPhone 5 was a perfectly good phone (apart from some battery life issues on 3G) and the iPhone 5c is essentially the same one, with some improvements in the camera and elsewhere. Another reason for not upgrading to it is the plastic, which I feel is a bit of a downgrade from the Braun-inspired design quality of the iPhone 4.

The iPhone 5s feels more like it’s designed for, well, a lot of interesting things to come. Apart from the camera, which is state of the art for a mobile phone (see a comparison with the new Nokia Lumia 1020 here), the fingerprint sensor seems like a step towards a lot of opportunity, and I’m really excited about the M7 sensor, as I exercise a lot and care about having good performance data.

P.S. I do believe something is wrong with both software and hardware aspects right now (particularly the battery life), which I will try to fix with their help over the coming weeks. 

In Hardware: pre-announcing my iPhone 5s review

In the words of someone at Apple: Never pre-announce anything not yet here. But it will be here soonish and I will write about it.

Most excited about:

  1. The camera
  2. The camera
  3. Did I mention… the camera?
  4. Also the speed of it will be a nice improvement over my current model (4 ouch!)

My number one use case for the iPhone is definitely reading, followed by shooting pictures, and then writing. I’m sure that reading will be an improvement with a bigger screen. I know the camera will be and I’m very excited about the low-light performance. I don’t know about it being better for writing, simply because I find it very uncomfortable to write on the bigger iPad screen. So we will see about the later.

In any case very excited!

The watch

So I got one on the plane. It’s more of a bracelet with a digital
clock built in. There’s some design issues, such as that you can’t
instantly see what time it is–the concave face makes visibility hard
and it also flashes between the date and time due to space
constraints. But ok, if you want a compact, waterproof watch that
hopefully works well with sports like climbing, this watch is a good
one. It’s made by Breo, but my sister kept asking me what time it is
on my Bio watch…

I didn’t wear a watch for most of 2010, due to climbing. It’s an
aggressive sport and I banged my last watch up good, also my wrist
actually got so thick that I broke the metal strap and never bothered
to fix it.

The general problem with an absent watch is your sense of time. I have
a friend I see about once a month in the Hague. I am consistently
late. The same for other events. I’d like to blame it on my
mediterranean (non-)perception of time, but it’s really about not
having a continuous awareness of time.

Now, when I brush my teeth, I can check what time it is; when I’m on
my bike, I can see the time; etc. It allows me to dynamically adjust
to the needs of that moment and how it affects the rest of the day.

God bless the watch.

– –
Sent from a phone, so apologies for any spelling mistakes.

Psychology of a Mac-man

13-inch Macbook.jpgPlease note: “A” Mac-man, One. Not All of them! Today was probably the most innovative Mac-release since… well, the MacBook Air came out. Glass, button-less trackpads, led-backlit screens, combined NVIDIA GPUs and chipsets on one die, A super-rigid single piece (well I think it’s two main ones actually) casing. The new Macbook looks awesome! I’m drooling on my keyboard right now.

The funny thing is that my Mac is slightly over three years old, and I’m sure the amount of my drool will be about the same as the guy/girl that bought a Mac a few months ago. That’s just Apple-reality and how innovative this update really is.

This piece is entitled the psychology of a Mac-man, because that is who I am. I’ve only owned one Mac in my whole life, but I was enticed by this machine, the iBook 12″ G4, well before I bought it. Approaching it like a true geek, I researched all of my options. I wanted a small machine, didn’t even think of OSX or any “think different” factor, but just wanted the best in my budget, about €1000.

The choice
I chose this machine for 5 reasons:

  • the keyboard was meant to be comfortable to type on
  • the screen was matte and good for super-long viewing
  • the machine was durable (Macs have an average life-time of ca. 4 years+)
  • a reasonable batterylife of 4 hours
  • reasonably portable at ca. 2 KGs

All the other machines I could get back then were priced like they are now, between €500-1500 and mostly seemed like they would fall apart in a few years. The only alternative worth considering was a Lenovo/IBM Thinkpad of ca. €2000: also super-wellbuilt and a good quality keyboard.

Software didn’t enter my mind at all. I was a Windows-man before that and knew that OS inside-out. I just assumed that I would learn OSX just as quick and that MS Office would keep me compatible with the rest of the world.

The wait was agonising, I remember. Every beep on the street, every car passing by, would make me run to the window.

My companion
When I finally got my machine, it was magical. A white box, I was unpacking it with a friend. It just felt special, different from anything I bought before. OSX Tiger just looked cool.

In the months to follow, that laptop would become my constant companion. It was my baby and one that I would even wake up with sometime (sad, I know). But back then, writing was my life and I loved to go to a café and just type until the battery ran out.

Intel-Macs came out soon after. Suddenly the world changed: White Macbooks everywhere. Where before I was cool and unique, now everyone became the same. Of course, I was tempted to upgrade, like most of you are now, but I just kept repeating: I love my Mac, I love my Mac. And I did.

That love was expressed externally and internally. Countless were the discussions I had with people about Macs. I blogged about it here and on my old blog. In my short period of Mac-zen, I’ve convinced close to 10 people to “upgrade” to the Mac way of life.

And I learned to become more productive on it too, using many of the little things I wrote about before. I know so much about my Mac that it’s scary.

And when Leopard came out, unlike the new Vista, it ran just fine on my old Mac and I knew I could keep it for a while longer!

Drama
About 6 months ago, tragedy happened. Somehow my internal Airport-card had loosened (or so I guessed) and I was getting kernel-crashes every-time I tried to put it to sleep or reboot it. There’s something else that is special about Macs. When something is wrong, hard- or software, it tells you exactly what it is. That is the benefit of having that closed system that so many people (including me) sometimes criticise. Unlike a Vista-PC, I tried to fix a few weeks back, where I had no clue what was wrong.

Because I was skimmed these last few months, graduating, job-seeking, etc., I didn’t fix my Mac. Instead, it became a server-like entity, which I sometimes kept running for over a month. It was crazy, super-irrational, but it worked. I didn’t want to restart it too often, because it would act like an old car. I would press the power-button, and it would make a sound, then nothing. I would turn it off and try again. Again a sound and nothing! I would leave it running, warm it up, you know. 🙂 Then off and on again. Aah, finally it would start! But it was a nerve-wrecking experience and I just tried to keep it running as long as possible instead.

Revolution!
Then, last week, I took it to the next level. I knew what the problem was, and I didn’t care anymore. I was just going to try and fix it.

With the help of a French instructional video, my Swiss army-knife, and a credit-card, I started the operation. The thing to realise about my iBook and, I think, the Macbook Pros as well, is that doing anything internally is hell. There are countless screws, you have to know what you’re doing at all times.

But ok, I unscrewed 39 screws. I saw more of my baby then I ever wanted to see. I shoved credit-cards into it, I cleaned it, I screwed and put the screws into little diagrams I drew on paper. My heart would be racing and I’d clean the plastic parts from the inside to calm me down. Finally, I came to the Airport-card and I secured it with a piece of paper (as advised). I screwed 39 screws back in, attached cables, and prayed.

Finally, I pressed the button. Chime! Grey screen! Blue screen! Log-in 😀 😀

I wrote on Twitter:
Mac heaven.jpg
And I f**cking fixed it!

Epilogue
My love for this thing has been re-ignited. Its battery-life is still over 4 hours long (under special conditions), I love using it on the road and typing away at reports and what not. Apples rock!

Next morning addendum: I realise that I didn’t say why I wrote this post and what I think of the new Macbooks within that context. I guess I’m saying that if you have a Mac now, you should look at it closely before upgrading to the next version and the next. They are often… with some exceptions… well-designed and built to last. And, while I think the current Macbooks are even better designed and built to last even longer, you can be certain that soon after you get it, there will be another (incremental) upgrade, and another, eventually placing you in exactly the same boat you are now. In my opinion, it’s better to make best of what you have—you can still make make graphics with Photoshop 3, for god’s sake—than being an upgrade junkie. Use-cases may vary.

There you have it, the psychology of one Mac-Man.

The end,
Vincent

The search for convenience – is the iPod the new CD?

Nothing illustrates people’s preference for convenience more than the evolution of money. Go from bartering goods (think rotting tomatoes), to (heavy) gold, to (less heavy) gold-pieces, to certificates of value, to paper-money, to credit-cards, to … mobile phones(?) and I hope the point is clear. When it comes to money, people would rather not deal with it at all; they just want to be able to buy stuff.

The same applies to music-media and the need for quality vs. convenience. Take a live concert: the best possible quality of music, not only can you hear it in the best surround-sound possible, you can also see the band, and feel the emotions going through the crowd. It’s exhilarating, at least I think so. Anything reproduced really only gives you half the quality. 

The tape became a success, even though they were accompanied by a lot of hissing, because it was so easy to integrate it into social life, like music should be. You could exchange it with friends, carry them in your pocket, even listen to it in your car. The CD really had the same qualities, with the added benefit of no hiss. And along came MP3s, worse quality than CDs again, with their compression and small sizes. Yet it became an instant success because we could exchange it globally, and it had no DRM for liberal home-use. You could burn it on cheap cds and play in your car.. yay!

convenient music.JPG

iPods are infinitely more expensive, and even though I got my 20 gigs worth for only €50 (student-deal), I don’t think I would hesitate to buy a €300 model when mine breaks. The simple answer is convenience again. It is expensive, yes, but it’s so nice to carry a device around that allows you to play songs in any order, create flexible playlists, as well as play podcasts and, for some (not me), play video and browse websites, even call / photograph people. How cool / convenient is that?

John Gruber wrote another good post about Amazon’s new MP3 store and the fact that it works so well with iTunes and hence iPods:

People buy iPods because they love them. If your music doesn’t play on iPods, it isn’t going to sell. And so if (a) you refuse to sell music downloads without DRM; and (b) no other DRM system other than Apple’s is compatible with iPods; then we’re left with a situation where the only successful store is going to be iTunes. What Universal and EMI now seem to have learned, at long last, is that (b) is completely under Apple’s control; only (a) — the labels’ own willingness to allow their music to be sold without DRM — is under their control.

The point being is that people don’t care about DRM, it will not affect the way they decide things. They did not buy at the iTunes store because they were locked into the iPod. They bought at the iTunes store because it worked so well with the iPod.

That said, the way Apple treats the rest of the world is disgraceful and I have yet to buy more than 1 song in iTunes. It pissed me of because I couldn’t use it anywhere else, because US-customers get a more complete offering, including video, because I already feel like a criminal before I even stole anything… But hey, I agree with the core-idea of iTunes, not necessarily the legalese surrounding international business.

Allow me to digress for the rest of the post.

The dilemma of hardware-companies
w580i.pngRecently, I bought my brother a Sony Ericsson W580i phone. It has a lot of media-capabilities and is actually kind of cool. I like the way that Sony is trying to turn this little device into the new walkman. But there’s two things I hate about it. One is that I need to use a special plug* with any headphones I want to use (they don’t show you that in the picture). OK, it sucks, but I can deal with it. And two, the software that comes with the phone stinks!

It might be the computer (note that iTunes works well on that one), but as soon as the software started I was both confused and frustrated. Moving music is a three-step process; I had to dig to understand how to import my music; and the whole process is kind of slow… even lags down my brother’s PC (might be his crappy PC :). But you could summarise the whole thing down to being pretty unsatisfactory. Alternatively you can use the phone as a hard drive and drag files to it using explorer, but it then doesn’t import metadata, like eh what the artist is called and the album.

In both cases, Apple and Sony, you are restricted to using the software. But the iTunes experience is actually kind of nice (except if you want to export things — if it wants to become DRM-free it should also allow me to move music out of my iPod). You can create brilliant playlists, etc. iTunes is in fact the interface that no media-player manufacturer has as yet managed to create, both on the player or on the computer. And what you see with Creative, Sony, etc. is that they are clearly not software-companies, focussing all their energy on the player instead of the software on the computer. But I digress.

The point is that, even though the W580i is infinitely cheaper, it is not Walkman 2 or 3, because there is actually no improvement in the experience. In the technology, yes, in the experience it’s a couple of steps backwards. The reason is very much Sony-specific; it has the weirdest business-structure where it splits all its divisions into a competitive matrix, where each has to fight for its yearly budget (if that sounds familiar, it’s because public institutions like schools operate in the same idiotic way.) And because of this divided structure, there is no co-operation, no synergy. The hardware-people create brilliant hardware, like they’ve always done. The software-people, because they suck, create inferior software, and continue to under-perform under Sony’s “interesting” mechanism of only rewarding the strong.

Businesses who want to compete for the next medium in music need to understand that customers make decisions based on a very simple principle: “How is my life better because of using your product?” You need to look beyond the lab, into people’s homes to see if your hardware-solution might benefit from better software, or vice versa. Or else, you can’t even hope to succeed against Apple.

The good thing about the rise of online media-stores, is that if you can create software that works well with them (e.g. Amazon imports music in to iTunes), as well as well with your player, you are already half way there.

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