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Edward Barnett RSS Feed (Cambridge, MA United States)
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)    (VINE VOICE)   

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Microsoft Arc Touch Bluetooth Mouse
Microsoft Arc Touch Bluetooth Mouse
Price: $69.95
2 used & new from $69.95

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Clever, innovative design, with a few quirks; excellent for travel, September 21, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
The Microsoft Arc Touch Bluetooth Mouse represents an intriguing solution to the "travel mouse" problem. Some laptops have great trackpads; others, not so much. The laptop recently assigned to me by corporate IT has a terrible trackpad, so I typically travel with a mouse. I've had to decide between a full size mouse, which is big and thick and takes up too much room in my travel bag, or a small travel mouse, which is awkward to use since my hands don't get any smaller when I travel. The MS Arc solves this dilemma with a "pop up" design: The mouse is full size when bowed into use mode, then it folds flat to fit more conveniently into my travel bag. When snapped flat, it's about the size of an old iPod. It's an ingenious design -- sort of like a snap bracelet. The ergonomics and feel when snapped into active position are quite good -- on par with my Logitech mice, which are my favorites.

The other cool bit of technology in the mouse is the center "wheel". In the pictures, the center "wheel" area looks like a physical button, but it's actually a touch sensor that operates a lot like the dial on the original iPod. Flicking up or down along the smooth center surface is the same as using the center scroll wheel on a regular mouse, but since the interaction is all digital it's faster and less fatiguing if you're scrolling up and down pages a lot. The center surface also has a haptic feedback mechanism, so you get a tactile response that feels a lot like a physical center wheel. The virtual center wheel is also "smart" -- slow slides scroll up and down normally, whereas fast flicks generate "momentum" like fast swipes on an iPad. In fact, it makes mousing around a PC screen feel a bit more like an iPad experience.

As much as I love the design and intelligence of this mouse, it has a few quirks. Hence the four stars, rather than five. First, it seems to sleep to conserve battery power (which is good), but sometimes when it wakes up the cursor is jumpy for a second until it gets its bearings. Sort of like a person who's awakened from a deep sleep by an alarm and takes a second or two to reorient. Second, the PgUp/PgDn feature of the center touch surface takes some getting used to. I can always get a PgUp by tapping the top of the center touch sensor, but PgDn seems to require tapping in a precise location that's not intuitive for my finger. I'll develop the muscle memory eventually, but wish it weren't so picky. Both of the

Good news! The Microsoft Arc Touch Bluetooth Mouse paired instantly and perfectly with my Chromebook! I didn't really expect this Microsoft product to work with a Chromebook, which doesn't have a bit of Windows DNA in it. I was surprised and impressed. Way to go Microsoft.

Bottom Line: The current version of this mouse isn't perfect, but the imperfections are quirks, not serious problems. The design is so ingenious that I can live with the quirks. This "curl up, snap flat" mouse is the best solution I've found for travel -- it provides the comfort of a full-size mouse then folds flat for travel. Neat trick. Sort of the TARDIS of mice. While at my desk, I'll probably still use my full-size Logitech mouse, but for travel this is will be my new go-to mouse.

(Note: I received a free evaluation unit for review.)


OXO Good Grips Professional 6-Inch Utility Knife
OXO Good Grips Professional 6-Inch Utility Knife
Price: $16.99
4 used & new from $9.51

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great knife (OXO comfort and safety); bad package, September 12, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I'm a big fan of OXO products, and for years their 4" paring knife has been one of my most heavily used kitchen knives, so I was eager to try this 6" utility knife (disclosure: I received the knife at no cost for evaluation). The 6" utility knife has the signature OXO design, meaning there's a heavy emphasis on ergonomics. The handle is very comfortably contoured, and it's covered in a rubber-like sheath that provides an extremely secure grip. The metal between the handle and blade is shaped to protect your hand from the blade. The design emphasizes safety and comfort -- little risk of this knife slipping, even when wet.

The knife is heavier than I expected for a utility knife, weighing in at a bit over 4 ounces. The blade is thicker and stiffer than I expected from a utility knife -- in use, it almost feels more like a narrow-bladed chef's knife than a typical thin blade utility knife. For me, this is a positive, but if you're used to an Asian style flexible blade, this knife will seem heavy and stiff. Like I said, it almost has more of the feel of a French knife.

The blade is no-stain, but takes an edge. Like my other OXO knife, I expect this knife to be in the sweet spot -- a little harder to put an edge on, since it's harder steel, but also requiring sharpening less often, since it's harder steel. A very good balance for my use.

The reason for four instead of five stars is the packaging. The plastic packaging is the opposite of frustration free. It was one of the harder plastic clamshell cases I've dealt with in quite a while, and I really feared I was going to slice my fingers trying to get it open. It may seem harsh to subtract a star for packaging, but the whole point of OXO is comfort and safety, and I wouldn't give the product in this package to my elderly parents.

Bottom line: Excellent, sturdy, durable knife designed for comfort and safety ... but in a package that's the antithesis of the wonderful knife. OXO needs to apply their outstanding principles of product design to their package design.


Keeper 85213 13' Lashing Strap - Pack of 2
Keeper 85213 13' Lashing Strap - Pack of 2
Price: $10.82
17 used & new from $6.53

5.0 out of 5 stars Straps + RAV4 = No mattress on the highway, September 1, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Used these this weekend to help my eldest child move into a new apartment. We had to lash mattresses to the top of my RAV4. The straps are long enough to wrap around two twin mattresses and the roof rack easily. The spring-loaded latch made it very easy to cinch the straps very tight, and equally easy to unfasten when we arrived. Much, much faster than trying to tie the mattress down with rope. Nothing shifted during our ride. Every car should have a pair of these straps in the trunk. Beats having a knot slip and watching the mattress fly loose on the highway.

The straps that came with my Thule kayak carriers have fancy rubber covers over the metal buckles. These straps don't (and they're also much cheaper), so when positioning make sure to keep the metal buckle up away from the car's finish.


WallyHome Water Leak Detection System
WallyHome Water Leak Detection System
Price: $299.00

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best Solution Available (workarounds may be needed), September 1, 2014
I've tried a number of sensor systems for monitoring my household environment (temperature, humidity, and water leaks) when I'm gone for extended periods. I haven't found any perfect system, but the Wally system is the best I've found. After several months of use, I've found ways to work around the system's shortcomings and it's become my default system for home environment monitoring.

[Important Update: I think I found out why I had been having trouble making reliable connections. I had some repair work done in the basement a few months ago. Apparently the electrician unplugged the Wally hub from the extension strip and plugged it into a power strip that has a surge suppressor. I just noticed this yesterday. Since the hub was taken off the power strip, I've tried moving some sensors into locations that hadn't worked before. The sensors still have to be near house wiring (I can't put a sensor in the middle of the basement floor), but they don't need to be right by the outlets like before. This is a huge improvement, and I'm raising my rating from to five stars. The Wally manual says to avoid plugging the hub into a power strip with surge suppression, and they mean it. Now, back to the original review ...]

Strengths:
+ Exceptional battery life. Most other sensors either have to be plugged in or chew through batteries.
+ Design. The sensors are very small (about the size of a credit card and about as thick as my iPhone) and have a nice, unobtrusive shape.
+ Setup. Adding a sensor via the web interface or iPhone app is trivially simple, as long as the sensor manages to get a signal through your house wire (more on this later, in the Weaknesses section).
+ Accuracy. The readings match well with my regular thermometer and hygrometer.
+ Interface. The sensors feed data to both an app and also to a web site that can be accessed with any browser. The web page and app both have a very clean, intuitive, easy-to-use interface.
+ Connectedness. Alerts are easy to customize and can be sent to smartphone or email. Most leak sensors just sound a buzzer on the device if they they detect water, which doesn't do any good if you're not home. Others work only with a dedicated app or send text messages to only one phone. Wally wins for flexibility; it pushes alerts and email notices, and you can pull status information from any browser on any device.
+ Intelligence. The website/app don't just display current readings, they also store a year's worth of history, so you can track conditions over time in problem locations (e.g., to see what times of year a basement space is prone to high humidity).

Weaknesses:
- Wally's "special sauce" is that it sends signals through house wires, rather than having to maintain a high-powered wifi connection (which is how the sensors get such great battery life). The downside is that positioning the sensors so that they can communicate with the house wiring is trickier than you'd think from the pictures. My guess is that whether you are satisfied or not with this system will depend on whether you need to put a sensor in a specific location that doesn't have any house wires nearby. [As mentioned up front, I had been having trouble with signals not getting through, but the problems went away when I realized the hub was plugged into a surge suppressor.]
- The website and app quickly and reliably show data for the past day, and are pretty quick at showing data for the past week or even month. But when I try to call up data for the past three months or six months, performance varies. Sometimes the data will pop up within a minute, but other times the system just hangs up. It's almost as though older data has been archived to slow/offline storage media and has to be retrieved via an unreliable process.

Workaround:
The issue with not being able to communicate through house wires from all locations is a constraint. But I haven't found a better solution (e.g., the Spotter sensor from Quirky is unreliable and, well, quirky in my experience). So I fiddled around until I could make the Wally system work the way I wanted, and I thought it might be helpful to share my workaround. I needed two sensors in the basement to monitor for leaks near our hot water tank and our A/C pump. The sensors couldn't get a signal through from either location, because the nearest house wiring is quite a distance. So I took a heavy gauge 25' extension cord and ran it from a wall outlet straight across the basement floor, past the water tank and the A/C pump. Then I put the Wally sensors along the extension cord. It wasn't a first-best solution, but the sensors have reliably and continuously sent data for months now, and it's still better than having sensors that require being plugged in (nothing is plugged into the extension cord, so I just fastened the open end up high on the opposite basement wall, so there wouldn't be a problem if there was a water leak in the basement -- this seems safer than using water leak sensors that actually have to be plugged in).

Bottom Line: The sensors take some fidgeting to get a connection through the wall wires, and you may not be able to put sensors in exactly all the places you'd like (unless you use the extension cord workaround). But if you succeed in establishing an initial connection with a sensor, it will continue to monitor reliably month after month. Data from the sensors is super easy to check, and the system pushes instant alerts when there's a problem. The system isn't perfect, but it's the best I've found.


Anki DRIVE Starter Kit Smart Robot Car Racing Game
Anki DRIVE Starter Kit Smart Robot Car Racing Game
Price: $149.99
15 used & new from $99.00

3.0 out of 5 stars Amazing Tech ... So-So Fun, August 26, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I saw a demo of this product at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference. That's how cool this product is -- Apple gave them airtime at their big conference to show off the product. The technology is very impressive and showcases the convergence of real and virtual gaming. The cars are much more than updated slot cars in two ways. First, the cars are really Software Defined Race Cars, meaning the attributes of the cars are defined by software, not built-in and fixed. As you race the cars, you can level up and add capabilities, just like in a computer games. Second, the cars can be autonomously controlled by their own software, meaning that some of the cars on the track are competing on their own, rather than being driven by other players. Insanely cool.

The downside of the product is that once you get past the initial feeling of "Wow, this is amazing technology," the fun of the racing game wears off. The racing game should get more engaging as you level up the cars, but the overall range of functionality is pretty limited compared to completely virtual computer games, and the novelty of a virtual/real hybrid isn't strong enough to keep it really interesting. Also, the game takes up floor space and requires that all players have iPhones/iPads to play. My college-age son spends many hours gaming online, but this race-car set pretty much stayed in the box this summer after the initial novelty wore off.

Bottom line: This game showcases some amazingly cool technology, and virtual/real hybrid games will probably become increasingly popular, but this early example offers limited entertainment for gaming/toy dollar in its initial form and at its current price.


LARGE VOLUME ~ IKEA Tote Bags~ SET of (5)
LARGE VOLUME ~ IKEA Tote Bags~ SET of (5)
Offered by FASTHOMEGOODS
Price: $8.48
15 used & new from $4.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars AWESOME for moving, for family car vacations, as a gear bag, etc., August 17, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
These bags are AWESOME for moving and for car vacations. Basically the bag is just a lightweight tarp fabric sewn into the form of a bag with two sets of handles (one long, one short). We recently used this set of five bags for a family vacation that involved only driving, no flying. Instead of messing with luggage or boxes, each person got one blue bag. The bags are much roomier than our usual luggage and duffel bags -- each one holds about twice as much as a standard laundry basket, and easily held a week's worth of clothes, biking gear, hiking gear, etc. for each person.

I've also been using them to help the kids move into new apartments. They're much better than boxes for two reasons. First, they're flexible and can be filled beyond the top. Second, the handles make moving so much easier. When hauling stuff up five flights of steps, I find it much easier to carry bags at my sides than to carry a box up at chest height -- the box is harder to grab and it blocks my view of the steps. Also, I can carry two bags at once. Last, but not least, they fold down and take up almost no space when not in use, so I can leave a set with the kids for future moves (unlike boxes, which are a pain to store, even when torn down).

The handle design is great. There are actually two sets of handles on each bag. One set is short, for carrying the bag in your hands. The other longer set can be used like a shoulder strap, for carrying the bag up high.

The material is plenty durable for everyday use. I wouldn't drag it over gravel (it wouldn't survive the abrasion), but it has no problem carrying heavy loads (excellent strength). I expect them to last for years, but not forever. Given how cheap they are, I plan to buy another set for when these wear out -- I expect two sets to last until well after I'm too old to lift them any more.

These bags are a tote design, with an open top. There's a different model that has six sides and zips closed, but it's five times more expensive. The fabric is sturdy enough to stand up when packed, but the sides will flop over when it's empty.

Never thought I'd get excited about super-sized totes sewn out of tarp fabric, but these things are incredibly handy.


Canari Cycling Gel Liner Short Mens(black with red trim)MED.
Canari Cycling Gel Liner Short Mens(black with red trim)MED.
Price: $18.00
11 used & new from $10.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Good Liner, Bad Seams, August 16, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
These Canari liners are made from a good durable fabric, the sizing is good (and the fabric stretches), and have good grippers at the bottoms of the legs. The gel liner is not as thick as I'd like, but it absorbs impact pretty well for its thickness. The seams where the liner is sewed to the shorts are the weak link in this liner. The seams are rough and they chafe. For me, that's not a huge negative, since I usually wear a pair of ExOfficio boxer briefs under the liner; but worn against skin those seams could create real problems. These liner shorts are quite cheap compared to alternatives. Given the price, four stars (but only three stars if these will be your "base layer").


Starshine: Aurora Rising Book One
Starshine: Aurora Rising Book One
Price: $0.99

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Yes, this is a (SF) romance novel ... and also a great SF epic, August 15, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
One of the great joys of living in the e-book age is easy access to the writing of a wide variety of new authors. Based on the number of great reviews for this author, I decided to give her novel a try. I read most of the book while sitting on our porch in Maine, and thoroughly enjoyed it. The writing is both engaging and technically proficient (unlike many non-edited works), the characters are well developed (I had no trouble keeping them straight, since each has a distinct and memorable personality), and the plot development hits the sweet spot of being complex and intriguing without being convoluted. The plot, with its layers and deceptions, reminds me in some ways of Asimov's classic Foundation series, or, more recently, some of Peter Hamilton's epics. The novel creates a rich, engaging, intriguing world.

At one point in the story, a character exclaims "This isn't a romance novel." It's an amusing self-referential nod from the author, since the novel is definitely (in addition to being a well crafted sci fi story) a romance novel. The romance novel aspect of this book was dialed up a bit too high for my taste, and was the one area where the writer's style was too repetitious and formulaic (I noted 42 passages about Caleb's eyes, before I stopped counting, and at least an equal number of references to his evil grin and quirky smile). Almost cost a star, but that's my preference.

This author has the vision to create a rich story and the technical writing skill to tell it. This was one of my favorite novels of the summer -- along with works from Hugh Howey (Silo, Sand), Lee Doty (Out of the Black), and David Weber (Dahak) -- and I'm eagerly awaiting the sequel (yes, as you can guess from the fact that this novel has "Book One" in the title, the story is really just ramping up by the last page).
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 15, 2014 2:14 PM PDT


Schwinn Alloy Rear Rack
Schwinn Alloy Rear Rack
Price: $21.94
9 used & new from $17.70

5.0 out of 5 stars Easy installation, solid as a rock on my MTB, July 27, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Schwinn Alloy Rear Rack (Sports)
I needed a rear rack for a week-long bicycle tour on fire roads and carriage trails in New England. This rack was a fraction of the cost of other models, and I liked the simplicity of a rack that simply clamped around the seat post, since I wasn't sure which other racks would fit on my ten year old mountain bike. The only thing that gave me pause was the number of reviewers who complained about the rack not fitting snugly on the seat and as a result sliding around. On my mountain bike, I used two of the plastic sleeves and tightened the clamp using my regular bike Allen wrench tool, which has about a 4" handle and provides some leverage. The rack clamped easily and tightly around the seat post and doesn't move at all, either up and down or side to side. I've done some rides on bumpier hiking trails with roots and rocks, and the rack hasn't budged from where I clamped it. So, although you'll still need to take into consideration the experience of others, on my bike this rack was easy to install, is solid as a rock, and has provided a very cheap solution to carrying an extra gear bag in the rear. Very happy with the Schwinn rear rack.


AGPtek® Green Bigger Size Roswheel Waterproof Bicycle Cycling Frame Pannier Front Tube Bag (Including Headphone Jack and Clear PVC Window Pouch for 4.2 inch Cell Phone, Reflective Strips for Safe Night Riding)
AGPtek® Green Bigger Size Roswheel Waterproof Bicycle Cycling Frame Pannier Front Tube Bag (Including Headphone Jack and Clear PVC Window Pouch for 4.2 inch Cell Phone, Reflective Strips for Safe Night Riding)
Offered by Coutlet
Price: $5.50
12 used & new from $5.02

5.0 out of 5 stars Perfect for iPhone 5s on mountain bike, July 14, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
After reading the wide variety of reviews on this product (from one to five stars), I wasn't sure what to make of it. But it was fairly cheap, and I needed a solution for carrying my iPhone 5s on my Raleigh mountain bike, so I gave it a try. It works great. The iPhone 5s fits perfectly in the case -- snug, so it doesn't move around, but very easy to insert and remove. The top plastic layer works with the iPhone's capacitive touch screen, so you can use the phone right through the plastic, without removing it from the case. The velcro straps fit perfectly around the frame of my ten-year old Raleigh mountain bike and the pack stayed firmly in place through a 25 mile trail ride -- no wiggle or shifting at all.

I'd been looking for something like this that would protect my iPhone while riding. Popping it in the handlebar pack would subject it to too much pounding on aggressive rides, and putting it in my jersey pocket would subject it to too much sweat. Also, I like to be able to check the phone easily when it chimes, rather than having to dig it out. This pack works perfectly on all counts. The phone sits in a suspension cradle with the case sides providing lots of shock absorption, and the phone is completely visible and usable right in the case. As a bonus, I can stuff my ID and a couple of energy bars inside the case.

Based on my own experience, this is a five-star product, hands down. I think the variation in reviews probably has to do with the fact that people's phones and bikes vary a lot. There are multiple sizes of this product available on Amazon, and I had to search to find the one that would exactly fit my 4.2" iPhone 5s (the product titles use generic terms like "large" and "larger", so you have to read the detailed descriptions to find the right size for your phone). Also, if your bike has vary narrow tubes you might have to trim the velcro, and if you have one of the newer and more expensive bikes with very large, more flattened tubes, you might have to buy a few strips of velcro to use as "extenders" to fit around your frame.

Bottom line: If you pick the right size, and if your bike has a fairly standard frame, this is a great, super convenient product for protecting your phone and making it readily accessible during rides. Wish I'd found it years ago. It will be a permanent fixture on my mountain bike.


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