Drawers in the Storage Box, showing the selection of ear tips

Earlier this fall, I decided to spend some gift money on a pair of good in-ear headphones for my iPhone that I use for exercise. I chose Sol Republic Relays in the Black/White color scheme. When you are wearing the Relays, they look very much like the Apple EarPods that come with the iPhone. But these headphones come with four different sets of Ear Tips that provide many semi-custom fit options.

Although the Apple EarPods were a significant improvement over the old iPhone headphones in terms of reliability, they have been badly received because they have unusual teardrop-shaped ear buds that don't fit everyone's ears by any stretch of the imagination.

The Sol Republic Relays, by contrast, have a low-profile design which the manufacturer calls FreeFlex Technology, consisting of a rubber ring surrounding the outside parts of each of the sound drivers.

The sound drivers allow you to mount any one of four different-sized ear tips to them for an almost-custom fit.

I use these Relays when I exercise and for all daily iPhone headphone use, other than podcasting and on-line meetings. I think their sound response is better than the Apple EarPods, and they definitely fit my ears more snugly.

The microphone / volume switch is rubberized and appears to be significantly more water/sweatproof than the EarPods. The only differences between the microphone / volume switch on the Relays and the EarPods other than the rubberization is that the microphone unit is black rather than white, and the Relays' microphone switch is located on the left headphone wire instead of the right one.

The proof of their utility and customizability is that I changed ear tips and gave made them work for Jimmy's appearance as the WXTU Weather Kid last week. Jimmy also got great use out of them, he could hear the radio show hosts well, and his voice came through loud and clear on the air.

The Sol Republic Relays debuted at $79.99, but are regularly available for around $60. They are definitely worth it if you are looking for an upgrade from your Apple EarPods that sound better all day long and work better for listening during workouts. I can't recommend them highly enough.

Hour of Code at the Apple Store

Apple Store Class Leader Explaining Programming to Jimmy

On Thursday, December 11, 2014, I took Jimmy and Peter to the Hour of Code event that took place at the Apple Store at the Willow Grove Park mall in Willow Grove, PA.

This was a fun and informative event that I had initially thought was aimed at kids, but was actually appropriate for non-programmers of all ages.

I had no idea how many accessible programming resources were available at code.org. The coding exercizes that Jimmy and Peter did all involved the characters in Angry Birds, Plants versus Zombies, and Ice Age.

They had a blast and learned a surprising amount about basic programming language constructs like repeat/until and if/then blocks.

I mention these free classes at The Apple Store to friends from time to time, but I can rarely point to documentation of what happened at these events, so people can see how valuable these programs are. I hope this article helps you see the value, and gets you to conside signing up for any event like this in the future.

Kathleen and I have lived in our house in Newtown for almost nine years. When we first moved in, we hadn't had time to buy outdoor holiday decorations, so we used solutions like the Chelsea Light Flurries Projector to blanket the front of our house in virtual snowflakes.

But in the years that followed, like most other people in our community, we invested in Christmas traditional lights. And the ones I've started to purchase recently are long outdoor Christmas light sets that can be strung together in series and connected to a single outdoor power receptacle.

The LED Christmas lights I like best have C6 bulbs, which are the larger bulbs that typically have a raised pattern on the exterior that looks like a checkerboard. I guess this is to look like the bulbs are covered in ice. This pattern is really tough to see from any distance, but the multi-colored strands of C6 bulbs look very nice when hung on the outside of your house.

Most of the sets that are available have bulbs approximately six inches (15 cm) apart on the wire. The 35-foot light sets are typically delivered on a spool, so that they can be put away at the end of the season in a very compact form.

The main reasons to choose LED rather than traditional incandescent bulbs is because LED lights use so much less electricity and do not generate heat. This matters because the bulbs last for years, and multiple 35-foot-long sets can be connected in series to a single 120 volt outdoor power receptacle.

The old incandescent sets were more limited in terms of the number of sets that could be wired together in series and plugged into a single receptacle. This really makes a difference, when you are trying to illuminate a large part of the front of a multi-story house or a long ranch house.

Apple Maps Showing Corrected Location of Wissahickon Skating Club

One of the reasons I started RinkAtlas eight years ago was because a lot of the locations of hockey arenas that were available from navigation systems and mapping websites weren't accurate.

This continues to be a problem today, although the number of serious location errors keeps dropping.

I had a really good experience the other day correcting a location error in Apple Maps. I used Apple Maps to get directions to Wissahickon Skating Club. The Apple Maps app on my iPhone told me that I had "arrived" when I reached the stadium at Chestnut Hill Academy. Anybody who knows the area would know that the stadium is two long blocks northeast of Wissahickon Skating Club.

I hadn't been to Wissahickon Skating Club in about 20 years, so I wasn't sure where the rink was, but I was pretty sure it was nearby. I continued south on West Willow Grove Avenue and found the rink several hundred feet down the street.

This kind of error causes panic for some people, so I submitted a corrected location to Apple Maps, hoping that Apple would see my recommended change and correct their database. They received my update request on December 1 and corrected the pin placement on December 3.

That's a fantastic turn around on a map correction.

If you find an error within Apple Maps, and a named place is not in the correct location, I hope you'll take a moment and submit a correction. I think Apple is processing these requests faster than ever. That will result in better navigation for you and others in the future.

My son Jimmy has loved working with Snap Circuits building kits for the last two years. Kids who like to tinker and to try to understand how their electronic gadgets work will love Snap Circuits just like he does.

Snap Circuits kits are on sale at a significant discount for the Black Friday / Cyber Monday 2014 sales at Amazon.com, which makes it a great time to pick up a set as a holiday gift.

The Snap Circuits SC-300, which is a set that can be used to build over 300 different electronics projects, is one of the larger sets of Snap Circuits. I'd recommend buying this set rather than a smaller one, if you are certain that your son or daughter will enjoy it.

The way Snap Circuits work is that kids begin with sets of discrete Integrated Circuits (ICs), which can be connected together with switches, buttons, wires, and sound and light sensors to form electronic machines that respond to your activity. For instance, you can build a kit that launches a small plastic spinner whenever you press and release an electronic button switch.

Jimmy first got the smaller Snap Circuits Jr. SC-100 kit, which was a great introduction to electronic kits. But the SC-100 only comes with 30 electronic parts, and as a result, can be used to build a smaller range of projects that each incorporate a smaller set of parts.

The SC-300 includes 60 electronic parts and can be used to assemble projects like lamps and fans, two speed fans, doorbells, motion alarms, simple logic circuits such as ANDs and ORs, and water-based alarms.

We probably play with Jimmy's Snap Circuits kits once or twice a week. This is a great amount of use for an assembly kit that cost less than $60.

Snap Circuits have won The National Parenting Center-Seal of Approval, and are members of the Dr. Toy 100 Best Children's Products and Dr Toy Best Educational Products lists.

Reach Completely Across Your SUV's Windshield with a Blizzerator

Somehow, The Sweet Home failed to name the Blizzerator their top pick of automotive snow removal tools. Clearly their reviewer doesn't drive a GMC Acadia in Philadelphia like I do.

This is a spectacular snow removal device for your car, especially if you are a driver of a Sport Utility Vehicle or a minivan. The reason is that the handle extends 55 inches (139 cm) which lets someone who is less that six feet tall clear the snow from the entire windshield of a GMC Acadia without having to lean against the body of the car. This means you don't get your clothes or your shoes snowy or wet.

For a long time, I've wanted a single snow clearing tool with a brush, a squeegee, and a detachable scraper, and this is it for drivers of big vehicles. If you need something for your Toyota Prius or your Mini Cooper, this is probably not the right tool for you.

I bought a Blizzerator for myself because I can stick it in the back compartment of the Acadia and use it to quickly clear both of the cars in my driveway when we have overnight snowfalls. I'm sure it will be outstanding for use at the rink after a game.

Amazon.com currently has Blizzerators at a great price. When I receive mine, I'm going to do another article showing how the Blizzerator performs for me.

On Black Friday 2014, I'm pleased to announce the Operation Gadget Holiday List. I've decided to work from now until Christmas on telling you about things I find that I think is really cool or useful, for your gift giving consideration.

These are products that are gifts that I could see giving to a family member or a close friend, or something I would put on my list. There are no minimum or maximum prices, just things that I think are great.

I'm calling this effort the Operation Gadget Holiday List in the spirit of good will to all.

  • If you celebrate Christmas, it's a Christmas List.
  • If you celebrate Hanukkah, it's a Hanukkah List.
  • If you celebrate Kwanzaa, it's a Kwanzaa List.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy Kwanzaa from your friends at Operation Gadget.

Many of the posts on the 2014 Holiday List will contain Amazon.com affiliate links. (Operation Gadget has been an Amazon.com affiliate since 2003.)

When I read about what happened to Bono in his Central Park bike crash, it makes me think of all of the terrible crashes that happen in pro cycling, and how lucky many cyclists have been to not be catastrophically injured.

The headlines I saw in first reports were things like "Bono Injures Arm in Central Park Bike Accident, Requires Surgical Repair". But the surgeries he required were much more extensive than what the headlines indicated.

Rolling Stone says:

While riding his bike through New York's Central Park on Sunday, the singer attempted to avoid another rider and was involved in what doctors have called a "high energy bicycle accident." Bono was rushed to New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center's Emergency Department and underwent "multiple X-rays and CAT scans" followed by five hours of surgery.

According to the statement from Dr. Dean Lorich that is included in the article, Bono sustained the following traumas:

  • Left facial fracture involving the orbit of his eye.
  • Left scapula fracture, leaving his shoulder blade in three pieces.
  • Left compound distal humerus fracture. (A compound fracture involves skin penetration.) The humerus was in six pieces and a nerve was "trapped in the break".
  • Left fifth metacarpal (pinky) fracture.

Dr. Lorich said that Bono is expected to make a full recovery after "intensive and progressive therapy," which is great news.

Wear a helmet and all of your protective equipment when participating in potentially dangerous sports like cycling, in-line skating, ice skating, and ice hockey.

Avoid heavily used multi-use trails like those found in Central Park when you can, because bike handling and in-line skating skills can only do so much to help you avoid injury when too many people are on the trail at the same time.

If this doesn't underscore in your mind the fact that athletes need to wear helmets and other protective equipment at all times when participating in sports like cycling, in-line skating, ice skating, and ice hockey, then nothing will.

Jeff Jimerson Singing "O Canada"

Last night the National Hockey League paid its respects to the people of Ottawa, which experienced a devstating terrorist attack on Canada's National War Memorial and its Parliament Building by playing the Canadian National Anthem at all games, which is not normally the protocol.

During the playing of O Canada at the Pittsburgh Penguins - Philadelphia Flyers game at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, I noticed the Penguins were using small LCD displays on the neck of the microphone that Jeff Jimerson was using during his performance.

I had never seen these small video displays in use before, possibly because the National Anthems are not often shown on television broadcasts of major sporting events any more.

These video screens were showing the contents of the main scoreboard over center ice, which was showing the Canadian Flag, and was totally appropriate for the moment.

I am interested to find out how many teams in each major sport in North America use these small displays as part of their National Anthem presentations.

Update: In response to a tweet from us, Schuyler Baehman, NHL Director of Communications, tweeted the following:

If you haven't read Jean-Louis Gassée's post called BlackBerry: The Endgame, I'd really recommend reading it. The article talks about the missteps that Research In Motion / BlackBerry Limited took since the introduction of the iPhone that have lead to a spectatular loss in the value of their business.

.... In reality, RIM was much more than three years behind iOS (and, later, Android). Depending on whom we listen to, the 2007 iPhone didn't just didn't stand on a modern (if incomplete) OS, it stood on 3 to 5 years of development, of trial and error....

.... All other factors that are invoked in explaining BlackBerry's fall -- company culture, hardware misdirections, loss of engineering talent -- pale compared to the fundamentally unwinnable software battle....

Gasée is right. But, what I've learned over years of watching the technology industry is that Apple's current value resulted from decisions that put Apple's most successful products at risk:

  • Macintosh switching from PowerPC CPUs to Intel.
  • Macintosh switching from a proprietary operating system (OS 7/8/9) to UNIX (OS X).
  • iPhone canibalizing the iPod by incorporating the entire iPod feature set on Day 1.
  • iOS 7 completely changing its UI and abandoning the skewmorphism of iOS up to that point.
  • Apple shifting the focus of its sales and marketing to Apple Stores while computer stores and electronics retailers were still strong distribution channels.

I believe that the key difference between Apple and companies like BlackBerry, Nokia, Palm, and Microsoft has been Apple's willingness to make huge bets on new game-changing products that disrupt their own best sources of revenue at the time.