12 Years of Operation Gadget

November 17, 2003 was the day I published the first four articles on a new website called Operation Gadget. Here's what the first article said:

Good morning. Today I'm kicking off a new weblog called Operation Gadget that will talk about electronic gadgets, software, and related products. I realize that this is not virgin territory in the blogosphere, but, I definitely think there's room for a little friendly competition in this space, and you'll see some features added to Operation Gadget that I think are fairly unique.

My name is Dave Aiello and I have setup and run a series of weblogs over the past three years. The largest one, and where I have done the majority of my posting until now is CTDATA.com, my consulting firm's main website.

Operation Gadget is the first weblog that I've built to cover an editorial niche, and I've had a good time designing it. I was the first guy in my neighborhood with an Apple Newton MessagePad, a TiVo, and a Handspring Treo, so I've picked my share of winners and losers. If you were interested in those products when they came out, you'll probably be interested in the stuff that will be published here.

I'll do my best to keep the main content informative, and I welcome your comments, questions, and tips.

I've written over 1800 articles for this site, and writing for it has been a lot of fun.

I want to thank my wife Kathleen, my son Jimmy and Peter, and the rest of my family and friends, for supporting this site and encouraging me to continue to write for it when I have time.

I drive a GMC Acadia that has a built-in entertainment system, so my sons can watch DVDs when we're driving on trips of more than an hour. This was a great purchase for them. It also gives me an 110 Volt AC outlet which I can use to charge an iPhone using the standard iPhone adapter. However, the outlet has relatively low power output, so charging takes a pretty long time.

The workaround for this was to purchase a car charger that works with the 12V DC outlet, which has the potential to work faster.

The Incase High Speed Dual Car Charger is one of those USB chargers that does a fantastic job. It charges two iPhone 5s smartphones faster than the standard iPhone charger does when connected to my SUV's AC outlet.

This particular model is somewhat more expensive because it includes one Lightning to USB cable. This is handy if you are using this charger to charge an iPhone 5 or 6-series phone, or a relatively recent model iPad. I keep this Lightning cable connected to the charger at all times, and bring a second Lightning cable in from the house if my wife is riding in the car with me.

I've recommended the Incase Dual Car Charger to friends because it does such a good job at rapidly charging one or two iPhones. Some people look at Amazon.com's vast selection of 12V USB chargers and choose a less expensive model. Please note that some of the 12V USB chargers sold are not sufficiently shielded for Radio Frequency (RF) interference. As a result, they can create a hum that's audible on your car's stereo.

The most significant part of the recent announcement of the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus was the introduction of the iPhone Upgrade Program. This is because it allows iPhone customers, for the first time, to lease unlocked iPhones directly from Apple, finance them through Apple1, and get away from the two-year subsidized purchase contracts with mobile carriers that have kept iPhone customers paying inflated rates for mobile data and cellular service.

A lot of customers who looked for ways to finance their new iPhones in this purchase cycle were disappointed that they were being asked to pay monthly as a separate line item for their new handset. But this separation of phone financing from mobile service is already putting pressure on AT&T and Verizon, who charge the highest rates for post-paid mobile service in the United States.

This means that the 16 Gigabyte iPhone 6s can be financed for $32.41 per month for two years, regardless of which of the big four U.S. mobile carriers you choose to use (AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, or T-Mobile). iPhone customers who choose the iPhone Upgrade Program can seek the lowest service rates available from these four carriers.

If you upgrade to an iPhone 6s or 6s Plus, you should seriously look at financing using the iPhone Upgrade Plan or paying for the phone outright, if you can afford it. This gives you the greatest negotiating power with carriers, and gives you the option of paying for service on a month-to-month basis.

That's Fantastic, So Why Haven't I Upgraded?

The problem with the iPhone Upgrade Program right now is that customers must choose between AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint, which are the four largest post-paid mobile carriers. If customers were allowed to choose from the non-branded, pre-paid carriers, the monthly savings on mobile service would be even greater.

My wife and I decided not to upgrade our iPhones (a 5s and a 5), let our two year agreement with AT&T expire, and we were able to get our monthly bill down from about $145.00 on an AT&T Mobile Share Value plan to $80.00 on Cricket Wireless' Bring Your Own Phone plan.

This means that my wife and I should be able to stay as customers of Cricket and be able to afford to finance two 16 Gigabyte iPhone 6s phones through the iPhone Upgrade Program at nearly the same cost we were paying for service alone with AT&T two months ago.

The drawback is that right now Apple doesn't let us choose Cricket. We have to choose one of the big four branded carriers, all of which are more expensive.

Who is Cricket Wireless Anyway?

A lot of middle-class U.S. smartphone users probably aren't even aware of Cricket Wireless' existence, but they are the pre-paid mobile service subsidiary of AT&T. This means that I keep almost all of the features of AT&T, including the exact same coverage areas, and pay about $65.00 per month less than I did by being a post-paid AT&T customer.

If you really want to know what we don't get with Cricket that we had with AT&T, the biggest things we don't get with Cricket are:

  • tethering
  • pooled data (we went from a 10 GB Mobile Share Plan to 5 GB of LTE data for me and 2.5 GB of LTE data for my wife, which we can change if we need to on a monthly basis)
  • capped network throughput (supposedly 6 to 7 Mbps on LTE, but I have not yet noticed any performance difference between Cricket and AT&T's branded service in the areas where I travel)

But for $65 less per month, I can deal with these features being missing.

Best of all, if I ever decide I need tethering, pooled data or somewhat higher throughput, I can switch to a carrier or a plan that provides it at the end of my current monthly billing cycle. I don't have to stay with Cricket more than 30 days because we pay as we go.

Who Are the Other Pre-Paid Mobile Carriers, and What's the Deal with Them?

If you are interested, the biggest pre-paid mobile carriers in the United States that are not branded with the big four mobile carriers names are Cricket Wireless, Straight Talk, Virgin Mobile, Boost Mobile, MetroPCS, and GoSmart. Some of them don't provide LTE data plans comparable to the post-paid carriers. Some of them don't support the iPhone. YMMV.


We should thank Apple for providing the iPhone Upgrade Program, and for breaking the hold that the mobile carriers have on us if we can find the right month-to-month plan that meets our needs as an individual or a family.

But, for me and my family, I want the option to choose a U.S.-based pay-as-you-go carrier as my mobile carrier and still be able to participate in the iPhone Upgrade Program. So right now, I am on the sidelines, still using my iPhone 5s. (...which is still an awesome phone, and runs iOS 9.1 like a champ. It's just not as awesome as the newer phones.)

1iPhone's leased through the iPhone upgrade program are technically financed through Citizen One Personal Loans, but this is Apple's choice of customer financing options.


As the holiday decorating season begins again this year, we want to point out a product that we see people buying to decorate the exterior of their homes that doesn't require the placement of stranded lights.

The Star Shower Outdoor Laser Christmas Lights and Star Projector is one of the more interesting light projectors that we've seen created for holiday house illuminations. It produces a light field containing thousands of green stars, or a combination of green and red stars, that can be projected on your house or any vertical surface of your property.

The area covered by the Star Shower Outdoor Laser Projector can be as large as 600 square feet (55.75 square meters), which could potentially save you from having to hang hundreds of Christmas Lights, if you want to completely avoid doing that.

Some people I know place these projectors on a side of their house that is visible from the street, but isn't the front, so that their house is illuminated on all visible sides for the holidays. Then they place their stranded lights on the front of their house, or nearest to their doors, windows, and weatherized outlets.

I asked a friend who already has one of these Star Shower Projectors if he had any complaints. He said that the projector worked better on areas of his property where there was not a lot of ambient light. In other words, this product will work better the further you place it away from street lights or other lights that illuminate your house, such as spotlights or porch lights.

This doesn't mean that the projected stars won't be visible when another light source is present. But the projected light won't be as strong as it might appear in some photos that were lit specifically to highlight the performance of this projector. To an extent, you can see this in the photo we're using to illustrate this article. Note that the projector light is strongest on the darkest part of the house, but still visible on the parts that are lit by exterior house lights.

I'm looking for another of projector for the side of my house (three of the sides are visible from the street). So I am buying one of these to be turned on the day after Thanksgiving. I hope that this

Apple Watch for Fathers' Day 2015

I got an Apple Watch for Father's Day. It was a complete surprise because my sons were heavily involved in the gift choice, and they kept absolutely silent about it in spite of many opportunities to spoil the surprise.

I was prepared for a few aspects of Apple Watch functionality, such as the translation of notifications on the iPhone to the Watch. But one thing I was not prepared for was the effect that Apple's Activity app is having on my lifestyle.

Some of you know that I played hockey at a competitive level through college. This meant that I trained like a professional athlete until my early 20s. I worked as an IT consultant on Wall Street after I graduated, and resumed serious athletics in my early 30s, this time as an amateur and college ice hockey official.

As a result, I am no stranger to hard physical training or trying to maintain a reasonable diet. This website (Operation Gadget) became a venue for a lot of discussion about the use of heart rate monitors and other fitness gadgets to measure athletic performance in the late 1990s.

For many years I've thought that the best way to train was to measure all of your workouts with as much detail as possible. This meant wearing a heartrate monitor, such as a Polar S-Series or the RCX5 that I wore as a wrist watch for the last couple of years before I got the Apple Watch.

The Apple Watch has showed me almost immediately that I didn't have a good sense of my physical activity level on the rest days between workouts, and, my activity level on those rest days was lower than I thought it was. Perhaps this shouldn't have surprised me, since my work keeps me at a desk for most of the day, even on days where I am doing pretty strenuous workouts.

During the time I was learning the less obvious features of the Apple Watch, I was listening to many different podcasts by other technologists who had become Early Adopters sooner than me. One of those people was Jim Dalrymple of The Loop.

Jim has written about how he lost 40 pounds as a result of noticing the effect that walking had on his physical health (see the section "Fitness: information is power") thanks first to HealthKit on an iPhone 6, and then the Activity app on the Apple Watch. He followed this up in a second article on his site, which talks about what works and doesn't work for him in terms of motivation.

Jim has become a real inspiration for me, not because I can do what he did and achieve the same result1, but because he took a device that came into his life for work purposes (the Apple Watch), observed everything it did, and in the process discovered a dimension of the performance of the Watch that revealed something about himself and his motivation. This lead to a major quality of life improvement. I could learn a lot from doing the same sort of diligent review of the fitness apps on the Apple Watch.

After continuing to read and listen to all the information I could get about Jim's weight loss, I promised myself that I would focus my use of the Apple Watch on the Activity app, and complete the three rings (the major daily goals in the Activity app) on every day I possibly could. Recently, I've achieved all three goals for 10 days straight, and in spite of missing out on active calories one day this weekend, I've completed the rings on 16 of the last 18 days.

"You hit all 3 goals!" On the Apple Watch Activity app.

This is making me much more active on the days between my heaviest workouts, and has certainly made me more aerobically fit. However, as I expected, I haven't lost very much weight so far.

Hearing about Jim's progress, and factoring in my own new-found commitment, leads me to the conclusion that the Apple Watch's greatest impact may be the incremental changes in lifestyle that Watch users experience by being open to following the recommendations of the Activity app, and making a significant personal commitment to following those recommendations.

1I don't think I can achieve what Jim Dalrymple achieved simply by following the recommendations of the Activity app. I am a more conditioned athlete at this point in my life than Jim was when he began his miraculous losing streak. So the weight I want to lose probably won't be lost at Jim's high rate of initial loss.

I have tons of respect for Jim Dalrymple. He is an inspiration to me.1

When he says what he said in Apple Music is a nightmare and I'm done with it I certainly take notice:

It's not unreasonable to want to listen to an album in the context the artist wrote it, and then other times, just listen to their greatest hits. It's my choice to make.

However, if I decide I really want those songs, when I click the "Add" button, nothing happens, which seemed odd to me. If adding the songs is an option, why won't they add to the library. I went to my iPhone and tapped "Show Complete Album"--when I tapped on the song to add it, the option was to "Remove from My Music." This means that my iPhone thinks it's already added, but the song isn't showing up. What I had to do is go through all of the songs, remove them from the library, and then click add to get them back in the library.

Based on what happened to Jim, as he reported in his 1200 word piece on The Loop, I am worried about how Apple Music will work out for people who are true music fans. He is highlighting what I (as someone who merely likes music) would consider edge cases. But I know from talking to him and listening to two of his podcasts that he truly loves music, and his interest in curating his music library is much keener than mine.

Jason Snell on SixColors.com enumerated the key points of Jim's critique:

  • Adding music to his library was inconsistent
  • This inconsistency seems to be related to mismatches between Apple's cloud library and Jim's existing music collection
  • Songs were sometimes duplicated in the Music app
  • The library couldn't differentiate between tracks on source albums and greatest-hits compilations
  • Albums Jim owned didn't show up in his library
  • He got bad music recommendations

I hope that Jim gets the attention of senior executives at Apple who can mobilize the resources necessary to make his digital music collection what it once was.

1I understand that my reasons for saying that Jim Dalrymple is an inspiration to me are not clear. I haven't stated them here on Operation Gadget. I will have more to say on why Jim Dalrymple inspires me in future posts.

Forgive the sarcasm implied by this post's headline, but I cannot believe the reflexive way that the market reacts to quarterly results for companies that are lapping the field in their industry.

Yesterday Apple reported sales and earnings for their fiscal third quarter that were fantastic. To use a phrase that some of us have heard before, insanely great results. Yet somehow analysts compare the actual financial performance to their back-of-the-envelope estimates, find the results slightly less than they feel they should be, and the stock drops by 5 percent. Here's an example of what passes for analysis these days:

"Where are you going to find growth in the world?" {Colin Gillis, an analyst for BGC Partners} said. "You've done an amazing job sucking all the smartphone profits into your balance sheet, but smartphone sales are slowing. What's going to happen when the industry matures, just like PCs did?"

If you ask me, comparing the smartphone industry to the PC industry is a non-starter, because the PC industry includes companies that are a lot less innovative than Apple and the Android consortium (Google and its hardware followers). The PC industry is shrinking at the moment because nobody in the PC industry makes anything compelling in terms of a new product design or a compelling new application; Not because the folks around the world who already own PCs couldn't afford to replace them if they saw a compelling device that did something that their current PC doesn't do.

Let's talk about what the real constraints on iPhone sales are likely to be going forward. One big one, as far as I see it, is the change in the way carriers in the United States allow their customers to finance smartphones.

I am looking to replace two iPhones in the Fall, once Apple releases the successors to the iPhone 6 line. AT&T and Verizon are no longer willing to allow me to renew my two-year contract and purchase subsidized phones without charging me more for service than they would if I held on to my current phones.

It used to be that you paid the same amount for mobile service regardless of whether you were paying for a subsidized phone or not, and both AT&T and Verizon consider this change to the two-year contract model to be a new "feature" of their billing plans for customers, that they argue saves the customers money.

I think a large number of existing U.S. smartphone customers who are coming to the end of their contracts with the big-two U.S. carriers are in for a shock when they realize that they can't buy the latest iPhone or Samsung Galaxy S phone for a subsidized price without increasing their monthly bills for wireless service. And they may not want to pay for their phones over 18 to 24 months as part of their wireless service fees, in the fashion that AT&T Next and Verizon Edge service plans currently dictate.

Watch the video of this incredible empty net goal by Eric Cole from the Dallas Stars - Boston Bruins game on February 10.

The puck curls left from the boards into the goal in a way that cannot be explained by any rebound off of the sideboards. The only explanation was that the puck was rolling on its edge, resulting in a "Bend it Like Beckham" style swerving trajectory.

Motigo is currently an iOS-only app that was initially released in June 2014 to provide in-race motivation to endurance athletes. This app allows you to record, manage, and play at specific points in your race motivating audio clips from family or friends. I know I'd get a big kick out of hearing my son Jimmy say, "Come on Daddy, you can do it!" at the 2-mile mark of a 5k race.

Motigo is free to download, but currently has in-app purchases associated with each cheer that you want to have a friend record (one cheer is $1.99, five cheers is $7.99).

Motigo has an Indegogo campaign going to fund the development of a subscription mechanism, which I think is a better revenue model for this app than purchasing blocks of cheers, especially if you run multiple races per year.

I love the idea of this app, and can't wait to try it after hockey season ends and I get back to running races again.

As a RunKeeper Elite subscriber who is also working on his first iOS app, I've often thought about apps that would complement RunKeeper or MapMyRun. I think Motigo is clearly that kind of app. More power to them!