Are You Brutal With Your MacBook Pro?

Who out there has a MacBook Pro? Go ahead, raise your hand! Are you as brutal with them as we are here in my house? It’s okay…in today’s day and age we are using laptops on the go more than ever, right?

I’ve been a Mac convert — a serious one — since 2009. My change of heart occurred during my Middle East deployment; we had to go to a public space to access the “non-official” WiFi, and I would see folks on their MacBooks video chatting with their families easily. Meanwhile, I was on an older Dell laptop screaming obscenities while I suffered through spotty connections during my own once-weekly video chat*.

*I want to caveat my whining here by saying that I understand that the ability to chat with my sons and husband while deployed via Skype, ooVoo, or Google Hangouts was a privilege, not a right. My only point here is that those around me with MacBooks had far less trouble doing this, on the same WiFi that my Dell was on.

The very first purchase I made after returning home in spring 2009 was a MacBook Pro and it was glorious. I’m now on my second MacBook Pro (I had to get my second one in 2012, because the 2009 version fell from a car-top carrier). My husband has one of the newer “retina display” MacBook Pros from 2013.

It is with my husband’s newest model that we were able to check out the Urban Armor Gear case for the 13″ MacBook Pro. This case is for those who are seriously brutal on their laptops — perhaps by wanting to toss them into duffel bags, running to catch the commuter train with laptop in hand, or walking back and forth from office to classroom with the laptop open and running**. Continue reading Are You Brutal With Your MacBook Pro?

RawSpiceBar Saved My Christmas Dinner

Food lovers looking for a way to spice things up in 2016 should give the subscription box service, RawSpiceBar a try.

The idea behind RawSpiceBar is to receive spices from around the world that have been toasted, ground or blended just days before being shipped. This will not only introduce the subscriber to new flavors and cooking ideas, but gives them an a chance to enjoy spices that haven’t been sitting on a grocery store shelf for several months.

This service works on the same premise of many other subscription service boxes. Each month, subscribers receive set of three one-recipe sized samples of spices representing a different region of the world, along with corresponding recipes for each sample. The recipes serve around 4 to 6 individuals, and include some history and facts about the regions of which they represent.

Past boxes have represented flavors from Istanbul, Memphis barbecue, Punjabi cuisine and New Mexican Navajo spices, among other areas.

The spice “box” is really a nice, tidy, plain brown little envelope, easy enough to fit in a regular mail slot, which is always nice when those little shoebox-sizes shipments from other services start to take of space after a few months. Continue reading RawSpiceBar Saved My Christmas Dinner

GeekMom Holiday Gift Guide #7: Clothing and Household Goods

Geeks love to dress the part, regularly donning their Doctor Who T-shirts or multi-pocketed Scottevests. They also love their household tools and goods, finding products that make their lives easier. What are the GeekMoms’ favorites for 2015?

Images: Dyson
Images: Dyson

Dyson Cinetic Big Ball Animal+Allergy & V6 Mattress Vacuum
Prices vary
Dyson makes quality and extremely effective products, and these two vacuum models are no different. The upright vacuum will suck more debris out of your carpet and off your floor than you ever thought possible, improving your indoor air quality and ridding it of animal fur and dander, along with other allergens. And the V6 Mattress Vacuum is a great handheld solution to vacuum mattresses, car interiors, stairs, and anywhere else an upright would be tricky to use. These bagless, easy-to-empty vacuums will make your life easier. They did mine.

Continue reading GeekMom Holiday Gift Guide #7: Clothing and Household Goods

Anova Precision Cooker – Worth the Investment

Cooking has always been something I’ve enjoyed, which is lucky seeing as this family of 6 makes meals from scratch for the most part. We are also Sabbath-observant, so every Thursday night and Friday is spent in a frenzy of cooking.

I’d been thinking about taking the idea of molecular gastronomy out of the magazines and websites I was reading and into my kitchen, but I constantly psyched myself out. Sous vide in particular seemed an accessible and useful tool, but I shied away from experimenting with it.

For those not in the know, sous vide is a method of cooking which entails sealing food in a plastic bag (usually vacuum sealed, but Ziplocs work in a pinch) and leaving it in a warm water bath at the precise temperature to which you want it cooked. Sous vide is particularly famous for cooking roasts to the doneness you want from tip-to-tip rather than the typical gradient one usually gets in a roast or steak of an outer crust, a layer of medium-done or above, and a middle of the doneness you actually want. Continue reading Anova Precision Cooker – Worth the Investment

Choosing a Mattress: Being Specific Matters

Science says that there’s no one perfect mattress, just the perfect mattress for a particular person. In my dealings with Saatva Mattress, and their memory foam division, Loom & Leaf, I discovered that is exactly their focus: finding a suitable mattress for each individual.

Saatva advertises their product as “America’s best-priced luxury mattress,” promising to provide a top quality coil queen-size mattress for $899, while the memory foam Loom & Leaf line starts at $999. If you haven’t seen Saatva or Loom & Leaf  mattresses in stores or the name is unfamiliar to you, that’s not a coincidence, as they are an online only retailer.

Ron Rudzin, the CEO of Saatva, said the company philosophy is to provide a clear, high-quality product at a lower price by eliminating brick and mortar costs.

When Saatva offered to send me a mattress for review, great, I thought. A new mattress? I need queen-size. What else is to decide?

Turns out, a great deal.

Loom & Leaf mattress, image via Saatva
Loom & Leaf mattress, image via Saatvia

First, I had to decide between the coil mattress from Saatva or the memory foam from their Loom & Leaf division. I spent time googling information on mattresses in general and browsing the Loom & Leaf website before deciding.

I picked a queen-size memory foam. Why? Because I’ve slept on coil mattresses my whole life and while they seemed fine, they never did anything for my periodic insomnia. I wanted to take a chance that a different type would help.

Also leading to my decision was the promise of no motion transfer with memory foam. My husband is a heavy sleeper. My tossing and turning rarely wakes him. But I’m a light sleeper, and his tossing and turning wakes me. A solution to this issue seemed a godsend.

The research told me that the two biggest issues with memory foam are chemicial smells and overheating. However, Saatva, aware of this, have taken steps to eliminate both those issues.

“We have 16 companies in United States that put together our product. Some companies ship wet and  shrink-wrap, to save on shipping. We don’t,”Rudzin said.  That practice, shrink wrapping before the foam dries, contributes to  unpleasant smells.

“We do not allow the foams to come to any of our factories, moist or shrink-wrapped, we prefer to have any small amounts of off-gassing happen at our supplier before the beds get put together,”Rudzin added.

As for the overheating, a solution to that is built into the design.

“Our top layer is an inverted foam, which create air chambers,”Rudzin said. “There is also a medical grade cooling gel in the center of the bed to help keep the body cool, plus and organic cotton cover.”

Satisfied with my choice, I thought the call to customer service to order my mattress would be quick and easy. Not so. I ended up talking to them for about half and hour, and that was a good thing because without going through all the details with Darlene, my customer service rep, I might have ended up with the wrong bed.

Among the questions Darlene asked:

How high was my current bed? Did I sleep alone or with someone else? Was I a side sleeper? What about my husband, how did he sleep? Did his sleep disturb mine? Did my headboard have anything that might be covered up by a higher mattress?

Darlene walked me through the various firmness choices for memory foam.  I ended up going with their most popular, the Relaxed Firm. During the course of the call,  I had to decide on the height, both of the mattress and the box spring, and Darlene was patient enough to wait for me to grab a ruler and double check those heights. Estimates were not enough. Without measuring beforehand, I would have been surprised at the height of the mattress when it arrived.

This way, I knew it would be higher and that I would likely have to buy new sheets to fit the mattress. And, yes, there were several different heights available, for both the memory foam and the accompany box spring.

“The first qualification for people working for us is someone who is naturally nice,” Rudzin said of my experience. “We don’t try to sell the product. We explain the product so they know what they might like or might not like. If someone likes a real soft bed, we might not be the right people for the job.”

Darlene provided the kind of service they insist from all their representatives, Rudzin said.

“We are very adamant about heights because people can make errors when they buy. We train our people to go over this with our customers. We can’t resell anything we take back, so we’re being careful for the consumer but also for us too, as we get hurt anytime we do an exchange. That’s why we prefer not to have a true sales system but more of a customer service/information system.”

After that, comes delivery.

“Seventy percent of our customers need the old product taken out,” he said. “We have 112 fulfillment centers and, in most cases, we’re building the product fresh for you, so that takes 7-15 days, depending on where you are.”

I was informed the night before delivery when to expect the truck, they arrived on time, and then set up the mattress and box spring on my bedframe quickly and efficiently.

As promised, there was no unpleasant memory foam smell. And, as promised, my new Loom & Leaf is a comfortable but firm mattress. Best of all, no motion transfer. I don’t feel my husband rolling over any longer. That’s a huge relief.

Would I buy my next mattress from Saatva/Loom & Leaf? Yes, for several reasons:

  • It’s been a quality product that has performed as promised so far, especially with the lack of motion transfer on the bed.
  • I like companies that provide great customer service, like Southwest Airlines. Saatva did so. If I have any problems, I’m confident I could call them and they’d resolve the issue.
  • The company is attempting to be as “green” as possible. The products are America-made and use plant based foams. The foams are 30 percent soy and corn oil/bio-based, cutting down on the petroleum in the foams.

 

CharmCam: a Baby Monitor That Does So Much More

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Image via the CharmCam Indiegogo campaign.

Modern baby monitors have come a long way since the sound-only models that used to pick up the neighbors’ wireless home phone conversations. These days, they’re wi-fi enabled, allow remote access and viewing from our smartphones, night vision, and more. They’re certainly good, but they still end up being simply a camera in your baby’s room, and leave you as the parent to play the role of security guard, trying to go to sleep or get other tasks done, and worrying every time there’s 10 seconds of silence.

It seems like, with newer camera technologies, especially in the areas of pattern recognition, as well as the many additional sensors available, there’s more baby monitors could be doing.

Enter the CharmCam (GeekMom’s sponsor today):

Currently looking for funding on Indiegogo, the CharmCam is the next generation of baby monitors. Sure it’ll send a 1080p video stream to your phone at better than 15fps, in normal or IR light, but it also monitors your baby’s temperature constantly, watches in case the baby’s face gets covered by something, senses the air quality, and will even play a lullaby and deliver a soothing light show.

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Every time there’s something you might want to check—an elevated temperature, or a face covered for more than a few seconds—you can set the app to give you a notification. Parents can rest easy that everything is okay.

If you’re interested in helping get the next generation of baby monitors into production, and get your hands on some of the first ones out the door, take a stop by the Indiegogo campaign, where early-bird supporters can pick up a CharmCam with both a table mount and a clamp-style mount for just $149.

GeekMom Holiday Gift Guide #2: Gadgets and Accessories

Gadgets make life easier, and often more fun. And living in the information age as we do, they are practically necessary for survival. We like products to be faster, more connected, and with more bells and whistles. Which gadgets have we GeekMoms deemed to be awesome enough to include in the gift guide? Keep reading! Continue reading GeekMom Holiday Gift Guide #2: Gadgets and Accessories

Can the Amazon Dash Button Change Your Household Forever?

Earlier this month, I had the chance to pick up a couple of those Amazon Dash buttons that the shopping website had first announced around April Fool’s Day (which definitely confused a lot of us!). At first, I was snickering at this concept, but admittedly, it might work out pretty well in our house. Continue reading Can the Amazon Dash Button Change Your Household Forever?

Dyson V6 Slim Cordless Vacuum is Perfect for Quick Clean-Ups

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Image: Dyson

There are few things in life less glamorous than vacuuming. Cleaning the bathroom and ironing shirts are both up there, but vacuuming is definitely high on the list. That’s because it’s never-ending and tiresome. Hauling out a huge vacuum is a pain and when you have kids, there’s constantly stuff that needs to be cleaned. The Dyson V6 Slim is a cordless vacuum with all the power of the big ones in compact form.

Let me go on record saying I hate housework. I keep a very tidy home, which is why I hate housework so much. There’s always something in need of tidying. I no sooner vacuum the floor than the entire thing is a mess again. It’s like there’s an invisible version of Pig-Pen from Peanuts and he’s lurking in my house. It drives me crazy.

I have a very nice upright vacuum. It is a Kirby and it cost me a small fortune many years ago. It works, but it weighs a ton and I hate dragging it around the house. The Dyson V6 Slim takes care of that problem by being a lightweight 8.25 pounds. It’s easy to carry up and down stairs and even the kids can use this thing. That right there is enough to make it worth the price.

There’s a motor that spins at up to 110,000 rpm, which is three times faster than a conventional vacuum motor to generate plenty of suction. The main body is where the motor is housed, along with a clear bin that collects debris. There’s a long, hard tube that extends out from the motor and two different attachments.

You can opt for a bristle head attachment or a narrow nozzle that has a brush or hard end, depending on what you’re trying to clean. You can also lose the hard tube and connect the attachments directly to the motor. This makes it compact and perfect for cleaning up in the car.

Image: Dyson
Image: Dyson

The vacuum worked well and that bristle head picked up dirt better than my pricey Kirby. I vacuumed once with the Kirby and once with the Dyson V6 Slim and was amazed by how much dust it still sucked up.

Emptying the clear bin is easy. You just hold it over the trash and push a little red button. Since it’s clear, it’s easy to see when it’s full. No trying to figure out if a bag is full or if a hidden receptacle is about to overflow.

The Dyson V6 Slim cleaned my home beautifully. It is lightweight and easy to pull out for quick clean-ups, but there were a few drawbacks. It gets warm and you’ll feel the heat in the trigger after a few minutes. You also have to keep that trigger pressed the whole time. This helps conserve the battery, but it is tiresome. Lastly, it only runs for about 15 minutes per charge. It’s not for whole-house cleaning, but for quick clean-ups.

The vacuum comes with a charging unit that can be screwed directly into the wall. It holds the accessories and is an easy way to store your vacuum when not in use. I didn’t think I needed a vacuum like this, but now that I have one, I wonder how I managed without one for so long.

The Dyson V6 Slim is available for $259.99 through Walmart. It’s not a cheap vacuum, but it is worth the price for its convenience, versatility, and cleaning power.

GeekMom received these items for review purposes.

Dyson’s V6 Mattress Sucks Up Dust and Allergens

Photo: Dyson
Photo: Dyson

Perhaps I haven’t been channeling my inner Martha enough, but I never knew it was a thing to vacuum your mattress. I suppose it should have occurred to me, however. Dust, skin cells, and allergens get everywhere. But perhaps I figured that my waterproof mattress pad would protect the thing. No? No. Vacuum attachments on long sticks are a bit tricky to use on something that’s a couple of feet off the ground, though, so Dyson has come up with a nice hand-held vacuum specifically designed for mattresses.

The Dyson V6 Mattress is a powerful and easy-to-use hand-held vacuum. It comes with four attachments, all of which make it easy to get into nooks and crannies, including one that is designed for mattresses and other fabric-y items. The special motorized mattress cleaning attachment agitates the mattress as it sucks, so it can loosen up allergens and particles.

Photo: Dyson
Photo: Dyson

Though designed for mattresses, with its other attachments this vacuum can also be used for places such as car seats, upholstery, stairs, baseboards, bookshelves, and even your computer keyboard. Vacuuming these elevated areas with the Dyson V6 Mattress is much easier than using the attachment hose on your upright vacuum.

The machine is rechargeable and gives a good 20 minutes of suction. It only weighs a few pounds, so it is easy to tote around. There is also a Max mode for when you need additional suction.

If you’re not sure why you might want to vacuum your mattress, the information on the Dyson website will probably convince you. I’ll leave it at that.

I wasn’t sure how much would get sucked out of my mattress. I’ve had the thing for seven or eight years, I believe, but it looks brand new. After vacuuming the top and the sides (it’s a no-flip mattress), the vacuum canister wasn’t full, but it had enough in it to make me glad to have cleaned. It sucked up enough to convince me to vacuum my mattress on a regular basis. Eew.

Photo: Dyson
Photo: Dyson

As with Dyson’s Cinetic Big Ball uprights, the V6 Mattress vacuum is also easy to empty of debris when it gets full. Just pop the latch and gently shake over a trash can. And, like the Allergy + Animal upright, it also has a whole machine HEPA filter.

Dyson has a variety of hand-held vacuums, but this one is specifically for mattresses. It’s a perfect accompaniment to the Dyson Cinetic Big Ball uprights.

Check out the Dyson website for more information about how this super useful vacuum takes care of allergens and other microscopic things in your mattress and elsewhere.

The Dyson V6 Mattress is a fantastic hand-held vacuum for clearing the dust and allergens out of your mattress, and anywhere else it is needed.

Note: GeekMom received a sample for review purposes.

Review: Dyson’s Cinetic Big Ball Animal+Allergy

The canister is very easy to clean with no filters to wash. Image: Dyson
The canister is very easy to clean, with no filters to wash. Image: Dyson.

As the weather gets warmer, many of us are doing some spring cleaning, opening up windows, dusting, deep vacuuming (the move-the-furniture type), and more. The change of season allows us to open our windows and fill the house with fresh air. It also fills the house with plenty of allergens. When combined with the stagnant pet hair and dander, our houses can be one big allergy fest.

Enter the Dyson Cinetic Big Ball Animal+Allergy vacuum, complete with whole-machine HEPA filtration. If you are in the market to buy a new vacuum, I can heartily recommend this one. After my long-time trusty Oreck bit the dust, I tried out a Dyson. It was much fancier than I was used to, but it works so much better. At least, once I got it assembled.

Image: Dyson
Image: Dyson.

I’ll admit to it taking me quite a while to assemble the unit. The directions weren’t very clear, and the written and visual instructions were separate. There also wasn’t a clear list of how to use all of the attachments. But, after some trial and error and bit of research, I got the thing running. It sucked up so much more than my old vacuum that I was cleaning out the canister frequently. (Oh, that’s another thing. This vacuum doesn’t use any bags, and has no filters to wash. Just lift out the canister, empty into the trash can, and reattach. Easy peasy.)

At first, I thought it wasn’t sucking up much debris, since it was so quiet. There were very few of the crackly noises I was accustomed to hearing when you vacuum up loose kitty litter or other debris. But one look at the canister and I knew how well it worked.

Easily picks up stubborn dust and pet hair. Image: Dyson
It easily picks up stubborn dust and pet hair. Image: Dyson.

Having a built-in hose on the vacuum body was also new for me. If the vacuum is reclined, you use it like an upright vacuum. But if the machine is upright (confused, yet?), you can use the on-board hose along with any of the attachments. These are great for edging, stairs, dusting, upholstery, mattresses, ceiling fans, door frames, and extra-tough pet hair. The website has plenty of ideas for how to use the attachments, but you can also use your imagination. There are also two main settings on the vacuum when not using the attachments, one for carpet and one for hard surfaces. This is the only device you need to thoroughly suck up anything on your floor, throughout your house.

The vacuum also came with a high-quality, lined canvas tote bag, which can hold all of your attachments with plenty of room to spare for other cleaning tools. Also, the vacuum body itself is sort of color-coded. Most things that you’ll need to press, check, or maneuver are colored red.

What does “Cinetic” mean? From Dyson:

Dyson Cinetic™ science

Smaller cyclones generate higher centrifugal forces, therefore capturing smaller dust particles. But the tighter the cyclone, the more likely it is to block. The solution? Flexible tips, engineered from a proprietary material, which vibrate 350 times a second. As the tips oscillate, dust is prevented from clogging the aperture. Dust as small as 0.5 microns is spun out of the airflow and into the bin – never clogging a filter.

Clean hard-to-reach areas with this clever attachment. Image: Dyson
Clean hard-to-reach areas with this clever attachment. Image: Dyson.

I have found a couple of drawbacks to the vacuum, but definitely no deal-breakers. It is quite heavy to lift (though it is easy to push, since it runs very smoothly), and I kept almost pulling it down the stairs and on top of myself while vacuuming the steps. (We have high ceilings, and the hose didn’t reach all the way to the top when I had the vacuum at the bottom.) Also, you can’t use the attachments without unwinding the power cord all the way, since the cord wraps around part of the hose. Lastly, the power button isn’t conveniently on the handle. But those are my only negative comments. I did also note that the attachments are the kind of plastic that gets very static-y, so when you’re done using them, they’ll probably be covered in hair, fur, or fluff. They’ll need to be cleaned off a bit before putting away.

Overall, however, this machine is a thing of beauty. I mean, it looks nice, which is cool, but it works. It gets the floor really clean. Walking over carpet that was just vacuumed with it makes it feel like brand new carpet. I think I’ve found my new line of vacuum.

The Dyson Cinetic Big Ball Animal+Allergy vacuum is the only vacuum you’ll need for all of the surfaces in your house. It’s easy to use, versatile, and easy to clean. It also never loses suction. It will clear the pet hair and allergens from your surfaces, making the air you’re breathing much cleaner. And it’s perfect for spring cleaning!

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

Clinging to Antiquated Tech

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Image: Sarah Pinault

 

I’m a big fan of new technology. I like everything to have a touch screen, and I like it to take up as little physical space as possible. I am accustomed to the world of Wi-Fi, and I expect to be connected pretty much everywhere I go. I don’t go very far. Yet, there are still areas of my technological life in which I cling to, what some people would call, antiquated tech. Much in the same way that my dad clings to Zach Morse’s cell phone, or GeekMom Corrina clings to her rotary phone, I find myself clinging to first generation models or heaven forbid, their paper alternatives. Don’t even get me started on my typewriter.

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Image: Amazon.com

My digital camera: While I long ago gave up on film, I’m still a point and shoot person at heart. Most of my friends and fellow moms have traded up over the years, and strayed into the realms of amateur photography. The closest I have come is with my Canon PowerShot which a photographer friend tells me “at least looks like a real camera”. If I want professional pictures I have somebody else take them. To document my life, I’m good with my point and shoot. I also have not converted to the phone camera, though my husband’s iPhone 6XL takes a pretty fantastic picture and is much more convenient for delivery of digital images. My son is already rapidly growing out of his V-Tech and soon will come the day when his amateur movie making skills require something far in advance than his mother’s tech.

My television: Until a few weeks back we had an eleven year old television set. It required a digital box, chopped off the corners of the every wide image, and got very fuzzy reception. But it worked. My dad was a television repairman back in the day that we actually fixed things instead of disposing of them, my husband is of the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mindset. So we had fuzzy reception, we could watch DVDs just fine, and with a Roku box we were well set up. Just not highly defined. The reason we got a new television? Someone gave it to us, no upgrade wanted, but who turns away a free TV really?

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Image: Moleskine.com


My calendar:
 I still use a paper calendar, and am a source of great amusement to my geek friends when I pull it out to literally pencil in a game date. We use Google calendar as well, this is where we store all of our joint events and family adventures. My husband uses the Google calendar on his Iphone, I however, will always pull out my trusty old moleskin. Within which is stored, events, birthdays, anniversaries and the cute things that my kids say to me.

My taxes: To be fair, I only cling to this one grudgingly, because I cling to my husband doing our taxes instead of paying someone to do them for us. He fills out the paper forms and mails them in every year. No Turbo Tax, no electronic submission. Plain old paper, plain old stamp. I am sure at some point we will be shocked to find that paper is no longer an option.

My phone: Much like Corrina I cling to my landline. My entire extended family still live in England, and so a cell phone is not the best method of communication. I gave up my cell phone years ago when I realized it was merely serving as an answering machine and nothing else. Occasionally I miss having one, like when I am five months pregnant and get a flat tire, but for the most part it is utterly blissful to be turned off from technology in this way.

My DVDs: I did not convert to Blu-Ray, I have to admit it. Partly because it ticks me off when we come out with new technology every ten years and everyone rushes to replace things they already have. Partly because I just don’t see the point, especially with a decade old television set! Much like VHS, I am sure a time will come when I have to embrace something new, but by then it probably won’t be Blu-Ray but the next iteration of media storage. Don’t even get me started on digital media, if I can’t touch it, I don’t own it. I got rid of my VHS player a few months ago, having clung to if for my only copy of Jurassic Park, but much like Elsa I finally let it go… and bought the DVD.

Vinyl records: These I will never part with, and accumulate more of every year. This one I cling to, not to exclude all others, but because I love them so. I listen to Spotify, I have an Ipod, I have hundreds of CDs, I also have a vast collection of Holiday music and musical theatre that just sound better on Vinyl. This is pure nostalgia, I love the sound, I love the crackles, it makes me feel home. My record player is a piece of work, you can play records, cassette tapes, cds, and hook it up to a digital player, all of which I do regularly. It also has the capacity to record from Vinyl or Cassette onto CD, for when I don’t have a portable record player handy. This is a realm of geekdom I inherited from my father, who owns enough vinyl records to open several stores across multiple states. Listening to a record is like coming home, and I love sharing that spinning sound with my children.

And finally…

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Image: Amazon.com

My Kindle: Yes, this does make it onto the list of antiquated tech, how times do change. I have a low range Kindle, it isn’t touch screen, isn’t backlit, it is wireless but has books and nothing else, and I like it that way. When I sit down with my husband’s iPhone or iPad for a few minutes, I get easily distracted. Facebook, Pinterest, Angry Birds, whatever the App DuJour is. But my Kindle holds my books and nothing else. I like not being able to accidentally swipe to the next page, or next app. I like that it does one thing, and that one thing well.

I think we all cling to certain things long after they’ve been upgraded, and in some cases the only thing that makes us stop using them is when they fail and customer support no longer exists. That’s why I stopped using Microsoft XP after all. Head over to our Facebook page and let us know what antiquated tech you cling to.

Five Reasons I Love My Rotary Dial Phone

Gandalf believes this phone is a wise choice. (image by Corrina Lawson)
Gandalf believes this phone is a wise choice. (Image by Corrina Lawson)

I bought the old rotary phone on a lark off eBay to hold us over until we decided what cool new phone to buy for the house, but after a couple of months, we decided to keep it.

Why?

1. It’s never lost.

When we had a phone with a handset in my bedroom, the handset disappeared, sometimes for days, meaning I had to roam around the house looking for the phone to answer it. There were times when I never found it.

Now? I always have a phone in my room. Bonus: The kids won’t use it because, eww…Mom, how do I use the dial thing?

I suppose I could teach them.

Nah.

2. It can be used when the power goes out.

Yes, I know I can use my cell phone too, but doing so uses up that battery. Unless the phone service goes out too, which is unusual.

3. I have to memorize phone numbers.

Yes, this sounds like a drawback. It’s not. I like knowing the phone numbers of my family members, especially my eldest two kids, who are at college. I like knowing my mother’s number. If I ever happen to be without my cell phone, I can still reach the people I care about.

4. It’s the perfect shape to fit between the neck and shoulder during conversations.

I can talk on the phone and take notes. I can’t do that with my cell phone or the newer, thinner handset for the phone we used in the family room in the basement. (That disappears frequently, too, but it’s not my problem now. If the kids want to make a call, they can find it on their own.)

Sure, I suppose if I’m on my cell phone that I could put the conversation on speaker, but then everyone in the house would hear the whole call and, trust me, that’s not a good thing.

Note: Why do I have a cell phone and a land-line? Because the cell reception is crap at my house in the boondocks.

5. I can hang up on telemarketers with gusto.

Something has truly been lost when you can no longer slam the phone done and definitively end a lousy conversation, especially one with an annoying telemarketer at the other end. The rotary phone has heft and weight. It just feels good in my hand.

I bet I could use it to smack thieves if they every broke into my house, because the thing weighs as much as some baseball bats.

The only drawback? I can’t use the phone to navigate through voice mail systems used by many companies. Hmmm…maybe that’s not such a drawback after all, since it will prevent me from calling them in the first place.

GeekMom’s 2014 Gift Guide of Clothes and Household Stuff

HousenWear
Collage: Cathe Post.

It’s Black Friday! Today, we have a hodgepodge of items to recommend for the geek on your holiday shopping list. Anything from something to use in the home to wearables are included in this list. (Oh, there’s even a tasty drink, too.)

Since it is Black Friday and there are internet deals to be had, you may want to check out our other gift guides…

Gift Guide of Movies
Gift Guide of STEM Toys and More!
Gift Guide of Geeky Gadgets
Gift Guide of Video Games and Apps
Gift Guide of Table Top and Board Games
Gift Guide of Lego Bricks
Geeky DIY Gift Ideas

And now for today’s guide…

Things to Wear and Bags:

Dakine
Image: Dakine Dakine.

Dakine Grom 13L 14S. Dakine Grom is a great backpack for your day-to-day needs. One GeekMom uses hers to carry daily essentials including Pride and Prejudice, an iPad mini and keyboard case, a journal, a wallet, and backup drives for work. Each bag is made 100 percent from recycled plastic bottles and comes with a lifetime warranty. $35

Hiss2
Image: Cathe Post.

Minecraft Creeper Backpack. Would you like to adopt a Creeper to be part of your family? A character who is known for blowing up may not sound appealing, but this backpack holds about as much as you might think a bag of holding can handle. It’s also super-cute, too. GeekMom Cathe adopted one! $39.99

ScotteVest Travel Vest
Image: Scottevest.

Scottevest Multi-pocketed Clothing. Free up room in your carry-on or even leave the extra bag at home. Scottevest’s products have almost endless, specially-designed pockets to hold all of your gadgets, activities, and reading material. Varies

Image: Her Universe
Image: Her Universe.

Dalek A-line Dress. It’s too late for Halloween, but this Dalek dress is still fun to wear at holiday parties and family gatherings. Pair it with a long-sleeved shirt and leggings for the cold and you’ll be ready to “exterminate” some homemade pumpkin pie. $39.45

Image: Isotoner
Image: Isotoner.

Isotoner Gloves. Isotoner’s SmarTouch gloves, for both men and women, come in a variety of styles and prices for tech-savvy folks who don’t want to remove their gloves to interact with their touch devices, including phones. Keeping you warm and comfortable while you stay connected, Isotoner gloves have been popular for decades, with good reason. Varies

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Image: ThinkGeek.

ThinkGeek Backpack of Holding. If ThinkGeek’s traditional Bag of Holding isn’t right for you, if you need more of a rucksack-type of bag but still want to carry a laptop, then the new Backpack of Holding has got you covered. With a few handy-to-access exterior pouches and some internal pockets, most of this bag is one big space to hold your overnight clothes, shoes, and toiletries, or perhaps your hearty food and supplies for a day hike. And there’s a padded sleeve, of course, for the ubiquitous laptop. $49.99

Misfit Flash
Image: Amazon.

Misfit Flash. Misit Flash is a Bluetooth activity tracker that doesn’t require any charging. It’s the sister product to the Misfit Shine and is made for the sports enthusiast. $75

holiday-2010-chicobag
Image: ChicoBag.

Chico Reusable Bags. Practical gifts can be pretty and fun, too! Now is the time to stock up on the sturdy reusable bags that wad up into tiny pouches and are easy to take with you anywhere. Some varieties come with a carabiner clip that is easy to snap onto the outside of a purse or diaper bag. ChicoBags make it easy to say “no” to plastic bags and are a handy way to always have a bag nearby when you need one—for groceries to library books to kid gear. The holidays are the perfect time to gift this practical item to a favorite friend, teacher, or family member. 4/$20

Edible:

il_570xN.611000440_he53
Image: Friday Afternoon.

Friday Afternoon Tea. Do you know a tea geek? Even if you aren’t geeky about tea, Friday Afternoon offers many geek-themed flavors of tea that are sure to please any pallet. With Harry Potter, Pirate, and even Cylon-themed teas, these sweet and savory flavors are a wonderful addition to any gift. $12 and up

For the Home:

WeMo LED Starter Kit
Image: Belkin.

WeMo LED Light Bulb Starter Set. Connected home light timers begone! The WeMo LED Lighting system will allow you to program lighting in your house while you’re there or away. Have lights turn on when the sun goes down or at certain times. You can even change your mind with a tap of a finger. $99.99

Image: Fitbit
Image: Fitbit.

FitBit Flex and Aria Scale. Combine a FitBit Aria Scale and a Flex (or any of FitBit’s other pedometer-type products) to keep track of your fitness and weight. Completely integrated together, these products help you reach your goals in a way that any data lover will adore. $99.95 and $129.95

Polaroid Cube
Image: PolaroidCube.

Polaroid Cube. For the action-cam enthusiast without the cash for a GoPro, the PolaroidCube is a great option. What we love about this camera is how tiny it is without sacrificing quality in terms of video and picture. $99

Piper
Image: Amazon.

Piper Home Security and Smart Switches. Piper is a home security solution for those who like to keep an eye on things when they are out and about. With an Android or iOS device, you can check in on your home and even yell into the device to get a pet’s attention. Piper also makes a selection of smart switches that let you program them to turn on or off while you’re away. Staying out late, but forgot to leave the light on? Use the free Piper app to turn a light on remotely. $199

3D Deco Light
Image: Amazon.

3D Déco Lights. 3D Deco Lights make for fun and geeky nightlights. One GeekMom has a Raphael up in her office at work, while her husband and son enjoy the Transformers line at home. They are battery-operated and give just enough light be a proper nightlight. $49

DSC_0467
Image: Patricia Vollmer.

WeatherFlow Wind Meter. The WeatherFlow Wind Meter is not just for weather enthusiasts, but also for any hobbyists who depend on accurate wind data, from R/C craft operators to windsurfers. Simply plug it into your favorite iOS or Android device, download the WeatherFlow app, and you’re on your way. At only $34.95, this wind meter is not only affordable, but rugged for many outdoor activities. $34.95

homepage_eu_03.jpg
Image: Oregon Scientific.

Oregon Scientific Weather@Home Bluetooth Weather Station. Oregon Scientific has been making affordable, user-friendly home weather stations for decades; it’s a trusted name in the industry. The Weather@Home series of products allows users to easily access their weather station information using a smart device’s Bluetooth Low Energy connection along with the Weather@Home app. This weather station has an outdoor transmitter so you can access outdoor and indoor temperatures in one convenient location. It’s a great gift! $60.21

d85d452d-c50d-4ebd-bb8a-1a19ac00216d
Image: Goal Zero.

Goal Zero Solar Chargers. This is one of the very best items on the market for solar charging. It’s a great beginner kit that pulls power from the sun to be used to charge phones, cameras, and other electronic devices, as well as store energy in a small (included) power tube that fits into a pocket. The flat charging panels are lightweight and easy to attach to a campsite tree or hang off the back of a hiker’s backpack. One GeekMom writer charges hers on the back porch and always has “power to go.” $120

Photo: Goal Zero
Photo: Goal Zero.

Goal Zero Rechargable Flashlight. If you’re tired of never having a flashlight that actually works and buying expensive batteries that you can never find when you need them, pick up a few of these rechargeable flashlights. Lay them in a sunny window during the day and get hours of useful light at night. It’s a great gift for kids (bedside table for nighttime power outages) and teens. A few in your glove box wouldn’t be a bad idea, either. The price is right to stock up, especially when you subtract the cost and hassle of buying batteries. $14.99

Photo: Goal Zero
Photo: Goal Zero.

Goal Zero Lighthouse Lantern. Meet the lantern that can do it all. Charge it with a Goal Zero solar panel, USB, or hand crank, and get hours of light, using no batteries. The lantern can be set on a dimmer light to extend lighting time, as well as charge cell phones and other small electronic devices. This will prove to be the most useful device you own, in a home power outage or family camping trip. Kids might even love “camping” with it while playing in their bedrooms after daylight hours. $79.95

logitech-harmony-ultimate-home
Image: Logitech.
Logitech Harmony Ultimate Home Touch Screen Remote. Logitech’s latest incarnation of its awesome multi-device remote can be programmed to control your lights, door locks, thermostats, and more. They’re really going for a home automation system here, not just a universal remote (which will program up to 15 separate home entertainment devices). You can also use your smartphone as a control. What’s a better gift than the ability to turn on whatever you’d like from the comfort of your couch? it’s available in black or white. $349.99

Product Review: Oregon Scientific Weather@Home Bluetooth Weather Station

Image: Oregon Scientific

As GeekMom’s token weather geek, I was given another opportunity to check out a home weather station. I’m sure my neighbors get a kick out of the four outdoor sensors throughout our family’s backyard.

I was pleased to get the chance to check out Oregon Scientific’s newest line of weather stations: called “Weather@Home”. Oregon Scientific has been making affordable, user-friendly home weather stations for decades; it’s a trusted name in the industry. The Weather@Home series of products allows users to easily access their weather station information using a smart device’s Bluetooth Low Energy connection.

What Comes in the Box

I received the Oregon Scientific Weather@Home Model BAR218HG to review. It includes the following:

  • One indoor temperature/humidity/barometric pressure set display unit
  • One outdoor temperature/humidity sensor — the system allows for up to five outdoor sensors
  • Quick Start Guide
  • Full User Manual
  • Warranty information

Setup

Setup is quite easy. The Quick Start Guide will get you going quickly, including siting the outdoor sensor and setting the date/time on the indoor set.

Once you add batteries, everything should start talking to each other without issue. I had no issues. There is a troubleshooting guide on the Quick Start Guide that should help many common problems.

It’s important to understand the distance limitations for this set: the outdoor sensors cannot exceed 98′ distance from the indoor sensor set. My outdoor sensor is about 40′ from the indoor set and I have no problems at all.

To set up the system on your smart device, start by downloading the Weather@Home app from either the iTunes App Store (for iOS) or the Google Play Store (for Android). To pair your weather station with your device, ensure your device’s Bluetooth is turned on, then open up the Weather@Home app. Hold down the up-arrow button on the indoor display unit. A flashing iPhone-looking icon will blink on the display unit until the two units pair with each other.

IMG_0259
The Weather@Home app homepage is easy to read and can be customizable. It’s unfortunate it only works when you’re within 35′ of the main sensor set. Image capture: Patricia Vollmer.

There you have it! So long as your device is within 35′ of your indoor sensor unit, you can remotely see your weather station’s readings. You can also remotely set your device this way: You can choose your weather measurement units, set your clock, and give your sensors sets custom names.

Day to Day Usage

I’ve had few problems with this weather station in terms of reliable measurements. I haven’t been able to fully test it in extreme conditions yet, but I’m confident that the outdoor sensor set will perform according to the product specifications, such as with a range from -20°C to 60°C (-4°F to 140°F). I live in a location routinely gets colder than -4°F in the winter so we’ll see how the system acts starting in December.

You have to be very sensitive to where you put the outdoor sensor. I have the Oregon Scientific sensor sitting near my Davis Instruments and AcuRite outdoor sensors. The latter two sets have fan-aspirated housing units that keep the thermometers from getting unreasonably warm. I wanted the three thermometers near each other to test reliability. The Oregon Scientific set has no such fan-aspirated housing unit: if the wall or fence receives sunlight during the day, expect the temperature readings to become unreasonably warm. It’s important to find as shaded a location as possible for it.

That being said, on cloudy days and at night, when direct sunlight isn’t an issue, the outdoor sensor set was performing as accurately as the Davis Instruments and AcuRite systems.

I also like the 12-hour forecast feature on this weather station. Once the weather station is running without interruption for a couple days, it will be able to provide a graphical icon, giving you a quick-and-dirty idea of the short term forecast. It’s not super-precise, but it has done a great job with predicting a chance of thunderstorms, cloudy conditions, and sunny conditions. This feature is mostly based on the barometric pressure trends.

There is also an “Ice Alert” feature that I got to see in action for the first time this week. If temperatures are forecast to go below 32°F, the Ice Alert light will illuminate. I didn’t notice it when my kitchen light was on, but as I turned off the kitchen light, a green light was blinking, about once every 5 seconds. This is purely based on temperature.

Other features of the Weather@Home station worth noting:

  • Weather Trends. This is showing whether your temperatures are rising, falling, or remaining steady.
  • Weather Warning Messages. If the 12-hour forecast indicates that high temperatures, high winds, fog, or frost are predicted, an icon will appear warning you of it.

Other Limitations

Atmospheric pressure trends can be displayed on your mobile app, but you can't see pressure data on the main units. Image capture: Patricia Vollmer.
Atmospheric pressure trends can be displayed on your mobile app, but you can’t see pressure data on the main units. Image capture: Patricia Vollmer.

Once the outdoor sensor set is properly sited, I had minimal issues with the system’s accuracy. I recommend it for any home users.

However, in terms of the Bluetooth features, I think there’s a lot to be desired. For starters, having this set connect via Bluetooth is extremely limiting. You cannot be further than your standard Bluetooth range of about 35′ to use the app. Having a remote connection capability now has the ability to go wireless altogether. Like the AcuRite “Neighborhood Weather” feature that I reviewed last year, if the weather station can communicate with your home’s WiFi modem, a user can access the weather station’s information from anywhere. WiFi would have much more utility than a Bluetooth capability.

In addition, the Bluetooth connection will only exist when the app is turned on. As soon as you move away from that app, the Bluetooth communication will cease. Frankly, I prefer things that way (Bluetooth drains battery!), but be prepared for a moment of pairing and connecting when you re-open the app.

Another thing I didn’t care for was the main unit not being able to display atmospheric pressure. It can be viewed on the mobile app (as part of the indoor unit’s readings). I think that’s something that only the more serious weather geeks will notice, most users will be okay not seeing the pure pressure data, and will be more receptive to the forecast icons that the pressure helps to create.

Conclusions

The Oregon Scientific Weather@Home station is a fantastic gift for anyone who might want to be more in tune with atmospheric conditions. The limitations I found were pretty specific to the Bluetooth capability and barometric pressure display; it doesn’t change the fact that I think the sensor readings are accurate and won’t disappoint you.

The Weather@Home BAR218HR model retails for $59.99 and is available through the Oregon Scientific website or other online retailers such as Amazon.

GeekMom received this product for review purposes.

Product Review: Oregon Scientific Grill Right Bluetooth Thermometer & Mobile App

OregonSciBluetoothTherm
Image Credit: OregonScientific.com

In June I received the perfect gadget to improve my summer grilling experience: Oregon Scientific’s Grill Right Bluetooth BBQ Thermometer. If you thought having a standard meat thermometer was serious foodie geekery, you haven’t had the chance to connect your thermometer to an iPhone or Android device!

I received a model AW133 thermometer, Oregon Scientific’s newest thermometer, and the company’s only Bluetooth enabled model. Read on to learn more about my family’s experience with this gadget.

What Comes in the Package

DSC_0014
My Grill Right arrived in that annoying clear plastic clamshell packaging. Make sure you have scissors handy, because if you think you’re going to rip it open with your bare hands at your beach barbeque, think again. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.

The Grill Right thermometer includes the following:

  • Thermometer display unit
  • Temperature probe: 40″ wire with a 6″ rigid probe
  • Two AA batteries
  • User Manual
  • Warranty information
DSC_0015
I’m so glad it included batteries! Photo: Patricia Vollmer.

Setup

Setup is very simple. Insert the batteries into the back of the thermometer display unit and plug in the temperature probe. There are two outlets for temperature probes: a Channel 1 and Channel 2. You can use two temperature probes simultaneously, which is quite nifty! The display unit will illuminate, ready for programming. The instructions will recommend you use a paper clip or other thin wire to depress the RESET button on the back near the battery compartment, but my display unit turned right on with the new batteries.

There are three “programs” available to you with this thermometer:

  • “Meat Profile” mode, in which you can set what kind of meat and what “doneness” you’d like. In other words, you can set “Beef” to be cooked to “Medium.” (See photo at the top of the post.) The type of meat will be displayed as a caricature of the animal, such as cow, lamb, pig, or chicken.
  • “Target Temperature Profile” mode, where you set the temperature for which you’d like the thermometer to alert you. This is my favorite setting, since I usually know already what temperature I want. I’m a math person, I am happiest with such precision measurements.
  • “Timer” mode, which is more or less self-explanatory. If you are, say, smoking a brisket, you might need to add smoke chips to the smoker every 30 minutes, irrespective of temperature. I used this setting for the beginning of our brisket last weekend, then changed it to “Target Temperature Profile” mode for the last hour.

I’m not going to go through all the button-ology of how to set what you want on the display unit, it’s somewhat complicated. However, the instructions clearly spell out exactly how to switch between the modes, and how to set the precise times and temperatures in each mode. In addition, you can set your temperature to display in °F or °C.

For a much easier experience setting up your thermometer, download the accompanying Oregon Scientific Grill Right app for iOS or Android for your Bluetooth-enabled mobile device. This is a far-more intuitive process, with simple finger sweeps and scrolls to get the settings you want.

Usage

When properly set, the thermometer operated as advertised. On July 19th I cooked Huli Huli chicken thighs to 165°F and they were perfect, neither undercooked nor dried out. The five brand new Air Force Academy basic trainees we had over for dinner were very happy and 20 chicken thighs disappeared in no time.

Without a mobile app accompanying it, the display unit will beep for you when the desired settings are reached. However, when I’m smoking a brisket, the display unit is tethered to the smoker outside, and I can’t necessarily hear the beeping if I’m inside the house. With the ability to connect the thermometer to a Bluetooth-enabled device, I was able to get the same beeping from my iPhone in my back pocket when my brisket reached 180°F.

You’ll need to connect the thermometer and mobile device together via Bluetooth. Do not try to connect the two through your Bluetooth settings directly. Rely on the app to connect the devices; it will walk you through quite well.

IMG_9967
This is from the “Target Temperature Mode” on the iOS app. I was baking chicken in the oven. Image capture: Patricia Vollmer.
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When the target temperature is reached, the phone will vibrate, ding, and present you a popup such as this one. If you don’t immediately run to the food and remove the thermometer, it will continue to vibrate, ding, and popup. You can’t stop it. This thermometer means business! Image capture: Patricia Vollmer.

Observations

This grill thermometer is a fantastic gift for the grill master in your life. But it isn’t without limitations. Here are some of the observations about this product.

IMG_9896
You can’t see this quite as well as I wanted, but the screen on the display unit blacked out when it was sitting in the sun. The top of the smoker isn’t excessively warm. Thank heavens for my iOS app so I could see what the meat’s temperature was. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.

Overheating. The user’s manual appropriately advises you: “Do not subject the unit to excessive force, shock, dust, temperature, or humidity.” However, I’d think that a grill thermometer can sit outside. In general. This was not the case. We had our thermometer spend the better part of an afternoon outside in the Colorado July sun (around 85°F) sitting on top of our smoker box. The smoker exterior doesn’t get very hot, so this would be no different than the unit sitting on a black table in the sun. The unit couldn’t handle the heat and the LCD display turned very black in color. Luckily, I had the iOS app running and could readily. see the status of my brisket.

How do I turn it on? I don’t know how to normally turn on the temperature display unit. All I could figure out was to pull the battery cover off and hit the “Reset” button, or remove and replace the batteries. There are no instructions in the user’s manual. Since it isn’t as if I needed a screwdriver to open the battery compartment, so it actually isn’t too difficult to reset the thermometer like that. Unfortunately, if you wanted to maintain a history in the temperature display unit, resetting the unit in this way will clear the history every time.

Kinky probes. The temperature probe will kink up pretty easily. This is the nature of the flexible wiring, but I fear that if you aren’t careful avoiding the kinks, the connections could get compromised. Be careful with this.

Mobile app issues. Once I plugged in the temperature probe while I had the mobile app running. For about 10 seconds, my iPhone showed me this:

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Whoa! Hot! What happened here? Don’t worry, give it about 10 seconds and the app will display the correct temperature. Image capture: Patricia Vollmer.

Don’t worry. Give the app about 10 seconds to accurately display the temperature. It can be a shock to see it, just the same!

I also had a chance to explore the numerous social interactions available through the app. For example, you can search AllRecipes.com through the app, and you can photograph the food and share it with a graphic of the current temperature at photograph time.

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I got a kick out of sharing my not-quite-cooked chicken on social media. I have several Facebook friends who would appreciate this, judging from their dozens of photos of grilled and smoked food. Image capture: Patricia Vollmer.

Conclusions

This gadget will make a great gift, but it has its share of limitations about which users need to be aware. This doesn’t necessarily keep the thermometer from working accurately; on the contrary, it worked perfectly well for the four meals I had prepared for family and friends.

The Oregon Scientific AW133 Grill Right Bluetooth BBQ Thermometer retails for $59.99 and is available through the company’s website and other retailers such as Amazon.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

GeekMom Is Giving Away a Fitbit Aria Scale!

Image: Fitbit
Image: Fitbit

Yesterday, we ran my review of the Fitbit Flex and Aria. Today, we start a giveaway for the Aria scale. One lucky GeekMom reader will win one, so if you’re interested in keeping track of your weight and your body fat percentage, fully wi-fi integrated with the Fitbit app and website, with plenty of colorful graphs and data, enter below!

The giveaway is open to U.S. readers only.

To enter our giveaway just login to the Rafflecopter widget below with your Facebook account or email address (use a valid email so we can let you know if you win). You can then like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for up to two entries! If you already like/follow us it will still enter you in the giveaway. A winner will be chosen at random at the end of the contest and their name will be posted right in the Rafflecopter widget so you can check back to see who won.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Fitness-Oriented Data Lovers Will Adore Fitbit Flex and Aria

Image: FitBit
Image: Fitbit

I always wished that my body had a readout that kept track of how many calories I consumed and how many I burned—a clear indicator of whether I was gaining or losing weight. Such a thing still doesn’t exist, but the Fitbit products come pretty close.

FitBit logoFitbit makes a variety of devices that track your steps and your sleep. I was able to test out the Flex. It’s a wristband that tracks your movement, and the quality of your movement, so it knows if you’re walking, vigorously exercising, or holding still. If you let it know you’re sleeping, it can also track how restless you are when you sleep.

Fitbit also makes the Aria, which is a digital, wi-fi-enabled scale that also detects body fat composition.

Along with the Flex and the Aria, to get the most out of your experience, there is a smart-phone app and a fantastic web interface, and everything is integrated together. I highly recommend them. Want to lose yourself in weight and fitness data? Fitbit has you covered.

How comfortable is the Flex?

At first, it felt like I was wearing a watch again, after so many years of not wearing one (since college). But I quickly stopped feeling it, and it was really comfortable to wear. It even wasn’t too bad to dry off after a shower (yes, you can wear it in the shower!). It was comfortable, that is, until the weather turned and got warmer, and I started working out regularly at the Y. Water from a shower and sweat are two different animals, and the sweating made the Flex somewhat uncomfortable to wear, at least for me. But if you spend much of your time in air conditioned locations, it still should be comfortable to wear most of the time. Unfortunately, it’s the least comfortable to wear at the times when it’s most important to wear it—when you’re exercising.

The Flex is shipped with two different sized wristbands, so you can wear the one that fits you better. The small one is pretty small, though, and will work best for small-framed people.

Image: FitBit
Image: Fitbit

How accurate are the Flex and the Aria?

I found that the Flex was mostly accurate, but it didn’t accurately track my very active minutes. It might get the steps counted, but doesn’t realize I’ve been sweating myself silly for the past 30 minutes. It also doesn’t account well for exercising on machines such as recumbent bicycles. But if you rest your hand on your leg, it will be able to count those steps.

For sleeping, the Flex measures pretty well how restless you were. When you go to bed, tell the Flex you’re sleeping by tapping on it a few times, or use the app to say you’re going to sleep. The Flex monitors your movement and determines whether you’re asleep, restless, or awake. While it didn’t peg me exactly, on nights when I didn’t sleep as well, there were definitely more restless periods. Being awake and moving around aren’t the same things, though, so on my one night of trouble sleeping, it thought I was asleep for much of my awake time because I was playing on my phone with my dominant hand, and the Flex is on my non-dominant hand. But generally, it’s a good, basic sleep monitor.

Image: FitBit
Image: FitBit

The Aria, for us, has been really useful. It’s super easy to just weigh yourself and forget it. You can look at your results, or not, if you want to avoid checking in on your weight daily. It weighs considerably heavier than my usual scale, but it’s consistent to itself. The percentage body fat varies with levels of hydration and other things that contribute to weight (*cough* menstrual cycles *cough*), but if you look at the long term trends, it works well. I love how it recognizes who I am because of my previous weigh ins.

The scale setup was a bit tricky, since you have to set it up through the Fitbit app on your phone, and then connect it to your home network. But once it is set up, it’s a no-brainer. Up to eight people can be remembered by the scale, plus guests can weigh themselves as well. But hopefully none of those people have very similar weights and body fat percentages, or else the scale might get confused.

What else do the Fitbit products do?

My favorite thing about Fitbit is the web interface. You can look at all of your data in the most user-friendly way, set goals for yourself, and so much more. You can also earn badges such as weight loss goals and step goals. If you record your food and water intake, it keeps track of that as well, and you can record specific exercises that you’ve done. The iPhone Fitbit app can also show you much of this information, which is great when you’re away from your computer. Fitbit is entirely what you make it. You can add friends, for a little friendly rivalry, and it will tell you how many steps they’ve taken in the past week.

The Flex syncs via wi-fi with an included Bluetooth dongle that sits in one of your computer’s USB ports.

How did I do?

Since I sit for much of the day, homeschooling the kids and working on my computer, I don’t get nearly as many steps, usually, as when I’m out running errands. Most days I exercise, though, which results in a lot of steps, but I’ve noticed that I get even more steps shopping at Target than I do exercising. YMMV. So steps aren’t everything when it comes to keeping track of how much you exercise. But it is one indicator of how much you move around.

I get a much better picture of how active I am with the Flex, and it encourages me, from its mere presence, to exercise more and move around. The Aria keeps me from indulging in too much food over time, and keeps me honest.

Conclusion: Fitbit is awesome.

Would I recommend the Fitbit products? Definitely. It’s a “fix it and forget it” type exercise and fitness monitoring system. With it, you can obsess over data on a daily or hourly basis, or you can just wear the Flex, weigh yourself daily, and only check on your progress once per week or month. The numbers aren’t 100% reliable, since there are so many factors involved, but if you want to get a really good idea of how well you are doing in fat loss and being active, the Fitbit products can’t be beat. And if wearing a band on your wrist constantly isn’t something you can get used to, Fitbit makes a variety of other products that clip onto your clothes.

Fitbit also has excellent customer service. GeekMom Jackie lost her Fitbit Flex on a recent trip, and someone found it. They recognized what it was, returned it to Fitbit, and they sent it back to Jackie. I assume they were able to access the information in the memory of the Flex’s electronics which told them where to send it. But they do this often enough that Fitbit has special “lost and found” packaging. I was impressed.

The Fitbit Flex costs $99.95 and comes in a variety of colors. You can also get additional wristbands so you can change the color with your mood. The Aria is $129.95. It’s a bit pricey if you’re just looking for a scale, but the wi-fi integration and data tracking is really fun and useful for those of us who like to focus (a bit too much) on numbers.

Note: I received a Flex and Aria for the purposes of this review.

CleverPet is Like Simon for Your Dog

CleverPet
Fido can get in the game, via CleverPet. Image courtesy of Kickstarter.

A dog’s life is mostly walks, scratches, and a few squeaky toys. As awesome as it sounds to some, it can be kind of boring. Your busy day leaves the dog with a lot of free time, which can lead to torn couch pillows, curtains, and trash bags. Enter CleverPet.

CleverPet is an upcoming WiFi-enabled device that’s designed to educate and entertain your dog. (Although, cat people are certainly invited to try this at home.) More accurately, it’s like a Simon-fueled treat dispenser.

The company behind CleverPet describes the device as a “learning console.” Not only will dogs learn that interacting with CleverPet will yield treats, but the device also adapts to each dog’s behavior. In other words, the more your pet is willing to play, the harder it will be to score some of those delicious treats.

Users can control the device and keep track of Fido’s progress through an app or other web-enabled device. After all, like any other gaming console, you may want to monitor the amount of playtime.

CleverPet does start out slow, providing treats when the dog is willing to push buttons. However, after a while, the dog needs to respond to lit buttons to get the goods. CleverPet promises to never get too difficult, though, so you shouldn’t expect to come home to find a half-chewed CleverPet next to a sleeping dog.

That’s a good thing too, seeing as CleverPet isn’t exactly cheap. What gaming device is? Currently, CleverPet is seeking funding on Kickstarter, with an early bird price of $159. At retail, it’s expected to sell for about $120 above that. It’s definitely a little pricey for a treat-related toy, but could translate into savings, depending on how your dog typically spends his or her free time. (Socks, shoes, purses, toys—what’s his/her pleasure?)

At last peek, CleverPet was about halfway through its $100,000 Kickstarter goal. The campaign is will run through Monday, June 2, 2014. Just don’t expect your precious pooch to get instant gratification; initial CleverPet orders won’t ship until February 2015.

A Surprise Gadget Love: The Sensor Velocity V200 Iron

V200
Image: Reliable Corporation

Sometimes new technology comes along and surprises me, it blows my mind and takes me years to get over. I was one of the first in my class to get a portable CD player, one of the first to leave the cassette tape Walkman behind. I thought I was so cool, even though the sound quality was inferior to my old Walkman. I got one of the first iPods when they came out, its design and function was unlike anything I had thrown haphazardly into my purse before. It took me a good year of using the iPod to put away my old devices, to relegate them to the attic of my mind, and to the Goodwill box.

Sometimes new technology comes along and doesn’t surprise me in the least. I grew up watching Star Trek: The Next Generation, and so the dawn of the tablet era came not as a shock, but as an “about time” moment.

My latest “gadget” shocks me back to the stone ages. It’s not a tablet, or a smartphone, or a pair of glasses, it’s an iron. And I am having a hard time even believing these words are coming from me. I grew up with gadgets, and I also grew up with ironing. My dad was a television repairman and audio geek, my mom was a chef with a penchant for experimentation. I know gadgets, I know fads, I know gizmos. I inherited this from them. What I didn’t inherit was their obsession with ironing. For my entire young life there were two baskets of laundry in our house. One dirty, and one waiting to be ironed. I would watch both of my parents spend hours, often in front of Star Trek: The Next Generation, ironing. Shirts, pants, underwear, handkerchiefs, nothing was exempt from the hot steam of the iron.

Iron
Image: Sarah Pinault Circa 2010 and the $6 iron

When I got married, I bought many things, a TV, a digital camera, and a $6 iron from Walmart. It was purchased after the wedding gift version gave up hope, and it was mostly for my mom to use when she visited. I saw no reason to spend any more money on it than Walmart made possible. I used it maybe a dozen times in six years. Then I had my son, and he wore teeny tiny clothes, and I had a brief fling with my ironing board. It didn’t last. In the fall of 2013 I was sent, of all things to test out for GeekMom, an iron, the Sensor Velocity V200. It bemused me, it provided quite the humorous anecdote at  seasonal gatherings, and then I had to go and use the darn thing.

Now I spend at least two hours a week ironing. Netflix streaming on my laptop, laundry piled around me, ironing the crumpled shirts of my husband, shirts that have been crumpled for ten years. Because this thing is so easy to use, so good at what it does, that it does not bore me to tears to iron anymore. In fact I actually look forward to it.

You see the thing they never tell you in Life101 is that a $6 appliance from Walmart is the bicycle you dig out of the stream, and that using the BMW straight from the dealer, is a whole different experience. And yes, this rule applies to ironing. And no, I cannot believe that after ten crumpled years, I am actually saying this out loud.

The Sensor Velocity V200 does four things for me, that my $6 iron and even my mom’s iron never did:

1. It flattens my clothing.  I will admit that much of my disdain for this particular activity of Donna Reed comes from the fact that I could never get anything flat. My fabric was always uncooperative, my iron was never hot enough, the steam never came out in the right direction. I won’t blame the machines, it was me, I was an ironing dunce. With the V200, it doesn’t matter if you are a dunce. I believe this device could flatten clothes from ten feet away, just by hissing, which it won’t do without your touch, which brings me to point number 2.

2. It steams my clothing. Now I have only ever used a steam iron, I’m told there was a day when squirt bottles went hand in hand with this chore, but thankfully it wasn’t on one of my shifts. The V200 has two settings, and eco-intelligent sensor technology that only emits steam when you are handling the iron. The steam is distributed evenly, instead of attacking your clothing from a single point, as per the $6 special.

V200 Icon
Image: Reliable Corporation

3. It gets hot, really hot. I didn’t realize that irons promoted such innovation, but the V200 actually contains patented technology. There are two heating elements. The internal heating chamber pre-heats the water before it reaches the heated soleplate, thus ensuring continuous steam even at low temperatures. Though I rarely use the low temperatures.

4. It doesn’t attack me. The company’s mantra, “No Spitting! No Leaking! No Kidding!” is honest. In four months of continuous use, I haven’t been spit upon or leaked upon once.

The ultimate test, my mom loves this iron. I think my mom would marry this iron, and may possibly be working on legislation to make that legal. My mom’s attachment to an iron is normal, but I remain a little shocked that I am as attached to this particular device as I am. I feel like I should be shunning ironing, in favor of more 21st century pursuits. Yet there is something calming about a pile of perfectly ironed clothing, that I can’t escape.

At $169, it is not for the iron shy. But for cosplayers working with a variety of fabric, and a volume of fabric, for moms looking to make chores easier and less time consuming, for professionals looking to cut back on the carbon footprint of the laundromat, I think it’s a sound investment.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes. 

The mino™: “Don’t Outrun Your Shoes”

The Runmino is the perfect way to objectively measure wear and tear on running shoes. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.
A rare glimpse into the depths of my running shoe. The mino is the perfect way to objectively measure wear and tear on running shoes. LED lights will illuminate as the footfalls trigger a counter in the heel pad. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.

I received an opportunity to check out a mino. This is a device that measures your footfalls on your running shoes.

“What on Earth are you talking about?”

Okay, let me start over. The mino is a computer chip in a heel pad that counts based on impacts. You slip the heel pad into your shoe. It’s programmed to count up to the equivalent of 400 running steps, with a panel of LED lights that will light up one-by-one as the count gets higher. When all the lights are lit, your shoes will have experienced an equivalent of 400 running miles, which puts quite a toll on the soles and might occur before other more visible signs of wear and tear, especially if you’re an avid runner…like I used to be.

I had received a sample mino to try out last fall, but I asked the representative if I could wait until I bought my next pair of running shoes before starting my review. This is the company’s recommendation. Thanks to a snowy Colorado winter, it wasn’t until late February before I bought new running shoes and could put some miles on. Read on to learn more.

What Comes in the Package

DSC_0577
mino packaging is very simple. It’s meant to hang on a hook at your local running specialty store. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.
  • One mino heel pad
  • One 2.5mm thick foam heel “spacer” for the other shoe so you aren’t standing lopsided
  • Instruction card
The top piece is a spacer meant to give your non-mino shoe a matching lift. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.
The top piece is a spacer meant to give your non-mino shoe a matching lift. It also has the instructions, which you will always have in your “other shoe.” Photo: Patricia Vollmer.

Installation

Installation is quite simple. Peel the adhesive from the underside of the counter and stick it underneath your insole.

My awesome new running shoes. I have a lofty running goal in late 2014/early 2015, so I'm starting to venture off-road and needed shoes that could handle it. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.
My awesome new running shoes. I have a lofty running goal in late 2014/early 2015, so I’m starting to venture off-road and needed shoes that could handle it. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.
The company worked hard to make these as thin as possible, so don't be alarmed when you see circuit boards! Photo: Patricia Vollmer.
The company worked hard to make these as thin as possible, so don’t be alarmed when you see exposed circuit boards! Photo: Patricia Vollmer.

Usage

Simply press the blue button in the middle of the “o” in mino to see a quick illumination of the LEDs. The more lights lit means the more compressions measured. Once the mino measures 350 miles of wear, the yellow warning LED will light up. When the red light shows up, your shoes have exceeded 400 miles.

The company recommends checking the LEDs every 3-4 weeks.

That’s it!

It’s important to point out that the mino is meant for one use only. You will need a new one for every new pair of running shoes. Which means, yes, you’re generating some additional waste when you’re getting rid of your running shoes.

How Does it Work?

The convention among long-distance runners is to replace running shoes approximately every 300-500 miles. The folks at ParaWare, the company that makes the mino, decided to come up with a means to objectively measure footfalls that would approximate this distance.

The mino is designed to measure 400 miles worth of compressions on the foam unit. Using an estimate of 600 steps per mile (based on an average human’s stride), after around 240,000 compressions of the foam pad it will fully illuminate all six LEDs. According to the instructions printed on the foam “dummy” pad, 3 lights is approximately 1/3 worn, 4 lights is approximately 3/4 illuminated, and once the yellow light is lit, you’re within 50 miles of the 400 mile breakpoint.

In addition, the mino is designed to measure walking footfalls differently than running footfalls. So walking mileage will add up more slowly than with runs. Perhaps through a force measurement?

Comfort

I was very surprised at how transparent the mino was during my runs. I have a Princess and the Pea syndrome with my running shoes and clothing: anything uncomfortable will distract me and make my runs miserable. So I was quite concerned about a possible bumpiness in my insole distracting me.

But it didn’t. I can feel it a little when I’m walking (which I rarely do in my running shoes; typically I put them on and run right out the door), but during a 5K run, my footfalls were such that I didn’t feel a thing!

Conclusions

So far I’m about 75 miles into my newest running shoes with a mino installed. So when I press the button to illuminate the LEDs, I still only see one light.

If you are a long distance runner who puts so many miles on shoes before other signs of visible wear, this is a genius invention that will help you objectively track the wear on your shoes. It’s a great gift, and the fact that minos are made in the U.S. make them even more appealing!

The mino has an MSRP of $15.00 and can be purchased at the company’s website, or at several running specialty stores as listed here. Give it a try with your next pair of runners.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

Grush Crushes Cavity Creeps with Video Game Toothbrush

GrushBrush
The Grush Brush is a toothbrush that doubles as a motion-sensing gaming wand controller. Image: Grush, Inc.

Recently, my son’s dentist installed an Xbox in the waiting room. He probably doesn’t need a few extra gaming minutes in his life, but it certainly takes the sting out of going to the dentist. (I wish my dentist did that!)

Now, one company is looking to mesh gaming with everyday dental hygiene. A start-up by the name of Grush is hoping you’ll zap those cavity creeps with the Grush Brush, the video game toothbrush.

At this point, my son has gotten too tall to stand behind him to help and typically, I need a miner’s helmet to get a good glimpse inside that mouth. The Grush Brush is designed to create better brushing habits and make tooth brushing less painful for everyone involved.

The Grush Brush combines an electronic toothbrush with motion sensing technology and an app for iOS and Android devices. The motion sensing can track where kids (and adults, yes me—I want one!) brush and how they brush. Then, all of that information is stored in the app. Parents can then check on those brushing habits, as well as share them with the family dentist via the “Grush Cloud.”

Grush was founded by two dads, who apparently share every single parent’s pain when it comes to taking care of teeth. To get the product out to the masses, the two are turning to the crowdfunding site Indiegogo. Judging by the drool my son had while watching the video below and the four times he asked, “Can we get that?,” I’d say the Grush Brush is going to be a success. To reserve your own Grush Brush, you’ll need to pledge a minimum of $30 before the campaign ends on May 18, 2014.

When the Grush Brush ships, it will come with two standard games. For instance, “Monster Chase” allows kids to brush away all of the monsters in their teeth, while “Toothy Orchestra” transforms that toothbrush into a conductor’s wand. Other games are expected to follow.

The company expects the first Grush Brushes to go out by March 2015. Oh what, you think that your kids will get better brushing habits before then?

Swoop Bag: Organize Your Life and Your Kids’ Lego Collection

I used the Swoop to carry exercise balls, among other things. Swoop carrying a 55 cm ball, using the drawstring cord as a handle. (Photo K. Moore)

If you haven’t seen a Swoop Bag and play mat, I bet you’ll join the rest of us in thinking it is a brilliant idea. It is a large-diameter (44 inches) circular canvas mat with a strong casing around the edge and a drawstring. For oodles of kids, this means they can pile Lego brick onto the mat, play and sort them there, and then just cinch up the drawstring and hang up the bag or pile it into a cubby with all those pesky blocks safely corralled. The global level of nagging is measurably reduced.

Others use it for dolls or Hot Wheels, but clearly Lego storage is the Google query that Swoop was made to answer.

I approached Swoop from a different perspective. Years ago, I thought I could make a dent in the organizational challenges in our home by finding or creating sorting-slash-storage containers. I came up with the idea for little circles of fabric with drawstrings, but mine were more on the scale of a gallon zip-lock bag. We could store crafting, needlework, modeling, art, etc., supplies in the bags and stash them in small spaces. I did research on the materials to use but never followed through on actually making them, but the idea continued to pop up every now and then.

When I saw the Swoop Bag, it instantly resonated with me, and my adventures with my bag have reinforced the fascination with my original idea. My Swoop showed up folded into a small rectangular package and unfolded to a full flat circle of red canvas bordered by a natural-colored casing for the drawstring, which is a sturdy nylon cord. Swoops come in two sizes, 44 or 16 inch diameter, in six bright colors of 100% cotton canvas. The company is owned by Sarah Kirk, whose own mother replaced the original bag, which Sarah’s grandmother made for Sarah’s brother’s Lego collection. Sarah recognized that value and longevity and the company was born.

I don’t have much Lego action at my house anymore, so here are some other challenges I tried with my Swoop:

+ Carting around exercise balls (my favorite): Those giant balls should really come with handles, but since they usually don’t, try carrying one with a Swoop. Set it down on the Swoop and draw up the cord: voila! For a large (65 cm) ball, the drawstring is too short to reach over the ball and act as a handle, as you can see in the photo below, but I just added a bungee cord connecting drawstrings on the two sides of the ball and it was like having a super-sized custom tote bag. With a 55 cm ball, the Swoop was enough.

Swoop carrying a 65 cm ball with help from a bungee cord as an extended handle. (Photo K. Moore)

+ Toting around holiday gifts: I had to transport a collection of oddly shaped presents to an event over the holidays, and the Swoop was my brainstorm for getting them from the house to the car to the destination, without a challenge of playing Tetris to pack them into bags or boxes. The Swoop also worked for collecting wrapping paper and trash to throw away, and then packing up all the gifts and paraphernalia to take home again.

+ Gift wrap: I’ve now realized that with some forethought, the Swoop itself could serve as wrapping for an awkwardly shaped large gift. Bonus points if the gift recipient is named “Swoop” because the gift tag is already applied!

+ Plushie mover: We also used the Swoop to relocate a mountain of variously sized stuffed animals—a perfect use for it. We could pile them in and move a foothill all at once.

Swoop filled with stuffed animals being relocated. (Photo K. Moore)

+ Moving books: We took a heavy load of books to the library for donation. This is awkward with bags; my cloth tote bags are too small, or break after the hard use, or I don’t want them out of commission on the library runs. Disposable/recyclable bags can’t carry many books. The Swoop worked great as long as we exercised a little care about how we loaded the books into it. The drawstrings don’t make good shoulder straps for heavy loads, but we didn’t have to carry it very far. For longer trips, I would recommend some padding between strap and shoulder.

Swoop weighed down with many books headed for our library’s donation program. (Photo K. Moore)

+ Charity donations: We used the Swoop to move clothes and other household donation items around the house and out to the car and into the final destination container. The Swoop’s shape makes it easy to pour or slide contents into another container.

+ The Future: Someday I will teach grandkids to keep their Lego bricks in the Swoop, playing on it when they want to build, and then scooping them all up into the drawstring bag when they’re done. Hopefully this will not clash with my book donation runs…

The Swoop made these tasks much easier and my husband is thrilled that I am not hoarding cardboard boxes to handle such jobs. The success has rekindled my interest in my original idea of personal sized versions of the Swoop (called a Swoop Mini—16 inch diameter).

Now I am scheming toward the day when I have a Swoop Original full of Mini bags filled with crafting, needlework, and hobby supplies. Meta-Swoop!

The Swoop Original ($48) and Mini ($24) are available in six colors in 100% cotton canvas from Swoop.

Other posts on GeekMom that share a similar reuse and crafting view include Lisa’s Repurposed Holiday Crafts for the Obsessive-Compulsive at Christmas and Natania’s 3 Ways Post-it Brand and Evernote Can Simplify Your Work Life.

For the Swoop traditionalists, watch Swoop and Lego on YouTube.

Technology Helps Find Your Bra Size With ThirdLove

This is the bra style that I reviewed. Image: Third Love
This is the bra style that I reviewed. Image: ThirdLove

We’ve covered underthings before (pun intended, plus see Ruth’s fantastic post about Dear Kate underwear), so I thought it was time we tackled a new way to shop for them. It’s often quite difficult to fit yourself for a bra. What size are you? Well, what size were you the last time you went shopping? Have things changed?

We all know that there are a couple of different numbers we have to be concerned with. But when you are pregnant, nursing, previously nursing, or losing or gaining weight, your torso and your breasts will change size and shape. And if you’re shy, like me, you definitely won’t be asking the sales lady to help you find a good fit. Up until now, trial and error was the way to go for finding your current bra size.

A screenshot from the Third Love app. Image: Third Love
A screenshot from the ThirdLove app. Image: ThirdLove

A new company called ThirdLove has come up with a better way to do it in the comfort of your own home. ThirdLove sells bras, underwear, and undershirts, but their bra sizing method is ingenious. You download their app, put on a form fitting tank top (or just your bra), and stand in front of the mirror. The app guides you through some picture taking steps where it measures you from the front and the side. I have no idea how the programming works for this, but, in my experience, it does a pretty decent job.

Once the app takes your measurements, it allows you to select items that are the size it determines will fit you. Products that aren’t available in your size aren’t shown, which would explain why my options were limited (apparently some items are only available in certain cup sizes). There are several options for colors (black, pink, and tan in the style I was able to choose), and you can mix and match base and trim colors. The other kinds of underthings are available in coordinating colors. Place your order through the app, and then wait. A few days later, a nice, overly large box comes in the mail with your items. I ordered just the one bra and it was delicately wrapped it in tissue paper. It’s a fantastic box I can also now use for many other things, but I digress.

The brand-new bra felt like it was made of high quality fabrics, and wasn’t scratchy. The lace looked nice and edged the bra in more places than I would have expected.

Here’s where we get personal. The app measures you pretty accurately, but the numbers may confuse you. In department store bras, generally these days I’m a 36D. In the ThirdLove sizes, I came out as a 33D. I asked my contact at the company about the difference and she said that my experience is typical.

So how does the bra actually fit, knowing that? The cup size fits perfectly. It supports all of the right places without feeling constricting at all. The underwire sits securely against my body. The straps of the variety I chose are attached on the very outside of the cups, not the middle, and so it all feels different from usual, but you get used to it very quickly. The shapes of the cups are more rectangular than triangular, so it works. The band size, though, still seems a bit tight. I think a 34D would have been a better fit for me. I can certainly get it on and fastened, and it is comfortable, but there is zero give in the band elastic. More reason to lose a few pounds!

Would I recommend ThirdLove? Yes, definitely. They make high quality bras in enough colors and styles for most people and the technology in the app does a decent job fitting you. I’m surprised it does so well, since it doesn’t ask for any known size for reference. But the bras fit and are quite comfortable. Rory says the bra makes my breasts look more perky. After two kids, lots of breastfeeding, and plenty of weight loss and gain, that’s a plus in my book. (Sorry, no photos. This is a family blog and photos of me in a bra just aren’t going to make it onto the internet. Sorry, adoring fans.)

The bras and other products at ThirdLove vary in cost, but the prices aren’t drastically different from those at the department store. Give them a look! Beauty + quality + easy peasy lemon squeezy sizing = win. And if you’re not sure, they have free returns and exchanges. Check out their website for their full inventory.

Note: I received a bra for review purposes.

How to Buy a Projector and 6 Ways to Use It

muppettheater
Watching The Muppets in our backyard theater. Photo by Ruth Suehle.

There was a time before I had a projector when I thought they were for the office and movie theaters. And now there is the time after, when I know how awesome it is to have one available. Now that you have a stack of new DVDs you got for gifts, and there are after-Christmas sales going all over town, let me suggest a way to a) escape from the family at about four in the afternoon when the mimosas are running low and b) spend the Christmas check from Grandma.

First let’s talk about how to pick one. It’s not a cheap purchase, so let’s be sure you get what you want, but not more than you really need. Let’s assume off the top that since you’re reading this post for advice, what you need is the basics. If you’re into debating the finer details of xxxxxxxx, check out sites like Projector Central, which can help you more than a single blog post. What follows is Projector 101—for those who know they’d like to see a bigger picture but don’t yet have… well, the “bigger picture” about what they need.

Aspect Ratio

You probably figured this out some time after you got an HDTV as TV shows transitioned from 4:3 “square” pictures to 16:9 “widescreen” pictures. If you’re still not sure what it means, check out the Tovid Wikia page on aspect ratio. As to the projector you need, it depends on what you like to watch. Are you going to spend most of your time watching old black-and-white movies and your Doogie Howser DVDs? (I’m certainly not going to judge you there.) Then a native 4:3 projector, or at least one that supports it, will be suited to your needs. If, on the other hand, it’s going to be mostly Blu-ray movies of whatever your kids want to see on a weekly basis, 16:9 it is. Most projectors sold today are natively 16:9.

The Picture

Let’s do this girly magazine quiz-style.

You’re at a party. A guy starts talking about how his old speakers just aren’t good enough because something something sound something something woofer tweeter hoozit something something don’t even get me started on headphones.

a) Oh, man. The audio guys. You nod politely and drift towards the bar.
b) You sympathize on some level because you remember having crappy speakers in college before you could afford something that didn’t sound like it was at the bottom of a well.
c) It’s not some guy; it’s you giving that speech, and you’re completely offended by my substitution of “something something.”

If you chose c), you are not going to be happy with a blog post’s worth of content about projector picture quality. Please go forth and Google. If you chose a) or b), you probably just want it to not be too dark to see when Stephen Amell’s doing the salmon ladder scenes in Arrow and not be blinded when there’s a bright white flash to signify dream sequences and/or time travel in… oh, just about anything.

For you I will not delve into the details of lumen ratings. Suffice to say, you don’t need to worry about a few numbers here and there. A quality projector (of which all mentioned below are) will almost certainly meet your needs. The surface you’re projecting on is going to have something to do with this as well.

You should, however, take a look at the contrast ratios of the projectors you’re comparing. A higher contrast will show a wider difference between the blacks and whites in a picture. Again, think about where you’ll be using the projector the most. In a living room at night with blackout curtains while projecting on a good screen? Or for backyard movies that start at dusk while projecting on the side of your house?

Other Considerations

Think about where you’re going to be using the projector and how large an image you’ll be able to project. There’s no point in debating a max projection of 300″ or 400″ if your space doesn’t allow for more than 200″. (By the way, I addressed a couple of options for projection screens in my review of the PowerLite 2000.)

But for many, the first consideration is none of these, but cost. I’m of two minds on this issue. One, you want the best you can afford. But two, if you’ve decided to make the purchase, don’t be deterred by a budget that doesn’t allow for the biggest and best. I’ve been more than pleased with projectors at both ends of the price spectrum in a variety of uses.

Here are specs for two of the Epson projectors I’ve tried (see the PowerLite 2000 review from Halloween). They’re both fantastic, but as you can see, there are subtle differences in their abilities and quality:

Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 2000
Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 500
Resolution options Native 1080p (1920 x 1080) Resize: 16:10, 4:3 800 x 600 (SVGA)
640 x 480 (VGA)
1024 x 768 (XGA)
1152 x 864 (SXGA)
1280 x 800 (WXGA)
1400 x 1050 (SXGA+)
Aspect ratio 16:9 native 4:3 native,
supports 16:9
Image size 34″ – 328″ 30″ – 350″ (0.88 – 10.44m) (zoom: wide)
23″ – 260″ (0.88 – 10.44m) (zoom: tele)
 Pixel count 2,073,600 dots (1920 x 1080) x 3 480,000 dots (800 x 600) x 3
Brightness 1800 lumens 2600 lumens
Contrast ratio Up to 13,000:1 Up to 3000:1
Display Composite: NTSC / NTSC4.43 / PAL / M-PAL / N-PAL / PAL60 / SECAM
Component: 480i / 576i / 480p / 576p / 720p / 1080i / 1080p
HDMI: TMDS
NTSC: 480 lines
PAL: 560 line
Available ports 2 HDMI, RCA (composite video and 2 audio), VGA, USB  HDMI, S-video, RCA (composite video and audio in), component, 2 USB (Type A and B)
Speakers 2 W mono  2 W mono
Projection method Front, rear, or ceiling mount Front, rear, or ceiling mount
Other features 3D option (glasses not included)
Lamp life Eco mode: Up to 6000 hours
Normal mode: Up to 5000 hours
Eco mode: Up to 5000 hours
Normal mode: Up to 4000 hours
MSRP  $899 $379

The first Epson projector I tried was the Megaplex MG-50, priced in between the PowerLites, but with the additional feature of having a dock for your iPad or iPhone so that you can project media directly from those devices. If you’re interested in that capability, it was a great projector, and the closest available model now is the Epson MegaPlex MG-850HD.

6 Best Uses for a Projector

Now that you’ve decided to make the purchase, what are you going to do with it? Besides watching a movie, of course.

1. Video games. The next most obvious, perhaps, right behind re-watching The Day of the Doctor and those Doogie DVDs, of course. Remember when your little brother would sit smack in front of you, even if it was his turn at Super Mario, in which you always made him be Luigi? (That’s the part he remembers.) Your children shall not suffer thusly. There’s more than enough screen space now, even for split screen multiplayer.

2. Outdoor decorations. For Halloween, AtmosFearFX has a line of spooky DVDs for both indoor and outdoor use. At Christmas, we’ve seen houses projecting an assortment of holiday classics on the sides of their houses all season long or slide shows of Christmas-themed images. For this, you can also try AtmosCheerFX.

3. Skype GIANT GRANDMA. Calling Grandma on Christmas morning is sooo 2003. Won’t calls be more fun larger than life? Just pep talk the kids beforehand about how it’s rude to mention that her chin hair is the size of a dinner plate.

4. Make a mural. Who needs art skills when you have a projector? It’s like paint-by-number for your walls. Load up an image, project, trace, and paint. Your friends will think you’ve been holding out on them all these years.

5. The backyard drive-in. This is my favorite. It’s even how we introduced our kids to Star Wars. We entertained a neighborhood of kids with a projector and Monsters University.

6. A house-sized fire that won’t burn the house down. You know that Netflix fireplace? It won’t keep you warm, but that is one gigantic yule log.

GeekMom received Epson projectors for review.

WhiteyBoards Offer a New Kind of Marker Board

Photo: Judy Berna
Photo: Judy Berna

This post is long overdue. In fact, you could safely say it’s been months in the making. I received a colorful box of WhiteyBoard samples way back in September. My kids and I were humored by the clever packaging and I was anxious to start trying them out.

Photo: Judy Berna
Photo: Judy Berna

You see, I am a list maker. Trying to keep four children and a traveling husband organized pretty much necessitates a wide variety of lists. In other words, I’ve always been a huge fan of marker boards. Tell me that a product is a marker board, that it can be cut to custom shapes and be applied to a surface and easily repositioned onto another surface, and I’m in. With both feet, all in.

Then, the floods hit. We live in the part of Colorado that was affected by that historic Friday the 13th flooding, which ended up literally changing our landscape. So the WhiteyBoard post had to be put on hold, while we pumped water and dried out. Throw in a few major life hiccups in late September and early October (did I mention that I have a house full of kids?) , and this post kept (ironically) getting pushed to the bottom of my to-do list (mapped out so beautifully on my customizable marker boards).

Photo: Judy Berna
Photo: Judy Berna

Soon, they just became a part of our life. And I’m starting to think that’s the best review I can give this product. They were so handy, they became integrated into how our household functions. I quickly forgot I was supposed to be writing about them.

My first one went up on the previously underused side of our fridge. These boards come in large rolled up sheets and I wanted to test out a big one. Sure enough, it rolled easily onto the side of the fridge and became the perfect spot for the family to leave notes for each other, as well as a fun place to draw silly pictures. It’s right by the back door, right above the trash/recycling cans, so everyone in the house sees that board, usually several times a day.

Photo: Judy Berna

One corner became the grocery list, with each person picking a color they liked when adding an item they thought we needed. The WhiteyBoard company has a fun assortment of markers, which encouraged my kids to participate in the grocery list making, instead of just standing around complaining that “there’s nothing to eat in this house!”

Because I also wanted to try out some smaller “boards,” I stuck a few on the front of the fridge. I found this spot to be a good one for making sure my kids “got the memo” when I needed to pass along information. Just like when I was growing up in a family with many siblings, my children often complain that I tell important news (grandma coming to visit, holiday plans, etc.) to one of them several times, and then neglect to tell the others at all. Not any more. Now I post all important family news on the WhiteyBoard on the front of the fridge and within 24 hours, I know everyone got the message. No more accusations of, “but you didn’t tell me!”

In fact, after a few weeks with this new system, my son was reading my newest memo to the kids. It was about which items needed to be going into the recycling bin and which were not making it there. He turned to his brother and said, “It’s like an office memo from mom every morning.”

Photo: WhiteyBoard.com

WhiteyBoard also makes its product in a black version, which makes neon dry erase markers pop. My youngest child claimed the black sample and promptly stuck it on his bedroom door. The bright messages get changed out often, usually along the lines of “STAY OUT OR YOU’RE IN BIG TROUBLE!'” I have a feeling a holiday gift list might be appearing there soon, since mom and dad conveniently walk by his room to get to our own. What better way to catch Santa’s eye?

I also put one up in the bathroom. Then, as I’m brushing my teeth each day, I make a mental note of the items my kids have added to the “We Need” list. For a brief spell last week, I had to stare at the heartbreaking message below as I brushed my teeth. Not happy that his family had left town without him, our puppy ran away from his caretaker on the day before Thanksgiving.  (Max finally showed up at the back door again, the marker board was erased, and world order was restored.)

Photo: Judy Berna
Photo: Judy Berna

The website offers many clever uses for these products, for the office and the home. I see them being a great addition to daycares, day-camps, and schools. You can turn a table into a marker board, and peel it off when you want it to be a table again. You can cut it into a child’s initials or another clever shape. It makes a nice surface for doodling, that is a snap to clean up.

Photo: WhiteyBoard.com
Photo: WhiteyBoard.com

WhiteyBoards are as easy to use as contact paper. In fact, I’ve used contact paper a lot in my past (elementary education degree under my belt) and this was actually easier to use because it’s just tacky, without creating a death grip if a corner folds over onto itself during application. And since it’s re-positionable, if you do get some overlap, it’s a snap to just peel up and start over. An unexpected bonus: Since it’s a dry erase surface, I was able to draw my shape, cut it out, then erase the lines with my handy little towel.

Photo: Judy Berna
Photo: Judy Berna

I loved the fact that I could make a marker board into any shape I wanted. This milk jug grocery list makes me smile every time I walk into the kitchen.

Photo: Judy Berna
Photo: Judy Berna

 

I have a teenage son who felt that a gift wish list in the shape of a tree might motivate mom and dad to be more generous. Don’t tell him this, but I do give him points for creativity.

Photo: Judy Berna
Photo: Judy Berna

The company’s website is overflowing with unique ideas that use the marker board paper, but also the other products they offer, like marker board paint. If you’re a creative person, you’ll have a ball with the endless possibilities and if you’re not, no need to worry. The designers at WhiteyBoard have done a lot of the planning for you.

Even the packaging is a lot of fun (huge rolls that come in giant markers, complete with brightly colored caps!), making it a great holiday gift option for teachers, kids, or even moms who like to be organized.

With its versatility, you can create any product/design you want with it. Check out the WhiteyBoard website and after you’ve decided which kind you can’t live without, make a purchase. This is one clever gift that no one will be standing in line to return once the holidays are over. In fact, they will probably be making their New Year’s resolutions on their handy new, personalized marker boards. Top item on the list? Have more fun being organized, with my new WhiteyBoard.

The Kenwood ThermoResist Blender Is a Welcome Addition To The Kitchen

Image: Kenwood

I would never think to be waxing poetic about a blender, but that’s exactly what I’m about to do in this review of the Kenwood ThermoResist BL705 Blender.

The first blender I ever got was a wedding present and it made it a good 15 years before it died. It wasn’t a very good blender, but it did the job. Its replacement was a slightly better blender and did a slightly better job, but neither was impressive. I therefore wrote off all blenders as pretty boring appliances. The Kenwood ThermoResist has changed my mind.

Right out of the box I knew why this one was priced at $199.99. Yeah, I know, that’s a lot for a blender and it was part of what made me want to try the thing. How in the world could a blender be worth that much? I had to know.

First, I noticed the quality of the unit. The goblet is glass, not plastic, and it’s substantial. This makes it lean toward the heavy side, but it also means you can use it on both hot and cold foods. It’s also very large and will hold 56 ounces. If you’re blending drinks for a crowd, then you’re going to save a lot of time.

The Kenwood ThermoResist BL705 base unit is very sturdy with only two buttons and a large dial to choose your speed or simply pulse the blades. It’s also got four suction cups that keep it in place on the counter the minute you set it down. There’s no need to press it into place since its own weight does the job.

Image: Kenwood

Setting the goblet on the base was much easier than my other blenders. The drop-on glass goblet needs no twisting to make sure it is set correctly. Once it drops into place, it’s in. That’s it. Simple, easy, and efficient.

The blender also comes with a small mill that’s perfect for nuts, coffee beans, or herbs. It’s even got a screw-on-lid so that when you remove the mill from the base you can then unscrew the blades and use the lid instead. I tried the mill to finely chop almonds for my Christmas cookies and it worked beautifully.

The blade unit is a combination of heavy-duty plastic and metal with wickedly sharp blades. They’re like steak knives so you really do need to be careful that you don’t slice your fingers cleaning them off. The one drawback to the unit is that the blade assembly cannot be submerged which can make cleaning sticky things difficult.

All of the other parts of the unit, except the base, can be submerged for easy cleaning. You can even put the goblet in the dishwasher. The durable plastic lid has a vented filler cap that pops in and out easily as does the sealing gasket. Nothing is flimsy and it all fits snugly in place without having to work to make sure that things are lined up correctly.

Image: Kenwood

It’s also very simple to use. Yes, it’s a blender so it shouldn’t be complicated but this one has two buttons and a dial. That’s all. There’s a button for soups and one for ice or you can use the dial to select one of five speeds or to pulse the blades.

Blending was quick with a minimal amount of scraping needed on things like pie fillings and dips. It was also quieter than I expected. I even gave it a try on ice and it had the ice down to practically slush in no time flat.

Storage is always an issue with appliances but this one was easier than most. The wide, flat base of the goblet lets you stand it without the base and not have to worry about it being toppled if you don’t have tall cabinet space or don’t want to leave it on your counter. Also, the cord stores right inside of the base so it won’t end up in a tangled mess. The Kenwood ThermoResist BL705 Blender retails for $199.99.

GeekMom received this product for review purposes.

Product Review: Changers Solar Charger System

The Changers solar panel is large in surface area, but incredibly lightweight. Great for backpacks! Photo: Patricia Vollmer.
The Changers solar panel is large in surface area, but incredibly lightweight. Great for backpacks! Photo: Patricia Vollmer.

Apparently I’m the “solar charger” GeekMom, because I’ve had the opportunity to review my third solar charger this year! Today I’ll be discussing the Changers solar charger system.

The Changers system is more than a solar charger and accompanying battery. Changers gives you the opportunity to upload data about how much solar energy you’ve taken in and outputted to their website at Changers.com. It’s a social network for CO2 reduction efforts.

Changers is a German company with a distribution center in Palo Alto, California. On the social network, the preponderance of users (and CO2 savings data) came from Germany and Switzerland.

First I will discuss the physical components to the Changers system, then will briefly walk through how to upload the data to the Changers.com website and see where your CO2 savings stands in the Changers community.

What Comes in the Box

I received the Solar Charger Starter Kit, which includes two main components and eight connector cables that are designed to work with everything except Apple devices (you can use your standard Apple USB charging cables).

  • Quick start guide.
  • Maroshi Solar Charger Panel: This is a large, flexible panel, at 7.5″ x 15″. It’s incredibly lightweight, coming in at only 3 1/2 oz. But beware, there are advisory labels throughout the packaging warning against bending the panel too much: “The Changers Maroshi is flexible but not unbreakable.”
  • Kalhuohfummi Battery Pack: Unlike the other chargers I’ve reviewed, this one transfers the energy to a separate, smaller battery pack. The battery can then be stored in a smaller purse, backpack pocket, or even your jeans’ back pocket. This is about 3″ x 4″ and weighs about 5.5 oz.
  • 1 x mini USB cable: This connects the Kalhuohfummi with the computer and then can double for all of your mini USB devices.
  • Another cable that allows for the following interchangeable tips:
    1 x LG KG80
    1 x Nokia 2mm
    1 x Sony Ericsson
    1 x Samsung D800
    1 x Sony PSP
    1 x Nintendo DS/GB
    1 x Nintendo DS lite

Where did those component names come from?

The quick start guide has a couple of paragraphs about the inspirations for the names of their components. The Maldivian people had built a ship in the 16th century and named it the Kalhuohfummi. The ship’s sail was made on the island of Maroshi, just as the solar panel serves like a “sail” to the solar charger. The ship was used in an influential battle against the Portuguese, and the Changers company likens that battle to the human race’s conflict with climate change.

The philosophy behind the Changers company is to inspire their customers to think of their solar panels as a way to embrace living “off the grid.” By keeping device charging “CO2 neutral,” their community is helping save fossil fuel energy.

No matter what you think about climate change/global warming, every human should strive to reduce their use of fossil fuels and this is an ideal way to do so.

The Kalhuohfummi battery pack has indicator lights to show how quickly the battery is charging, and how much charge it has. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.
The Kalhuohfummi battery pack has indicator lights to show how quickly the battery is charging, and how much charge it has. When half the strip is illuminated, it has approximately 50% charge. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.

Ease of Use

It’s very easy to use: Plug the Maroshi charging panel into the Kalhuohfummi battery and place the panel in direct sunlight. The battery will blink a green light to indicate it’s charging. The faster the green blink, the more incoming sunlight is being received and the faster the Maroshi can collect energy.

Press the round button to see how much charge is in the battery pack: There are four green lights in the horizontal bar, which loosely correlate to 25% increments.

Straight out of the package, it took eight hours in direct sunlight for the battery pack to reach a full charge. In the winter, in Colorado, it was difficult for the panel to receive direct sunlight. It was several days before I had a cloudless sky with eight hours available to charge.

Once you’re finished collecting solar energy, you can disconnect the solar panel from the battery and put the panel away. To use the battery, connect one of the USB charging cables and give it time. A green light will blink at a constant rate to indicate that it’s dispensing energy to your device.

I found that the charging speed on our devices has been comparable to using a standard AC power cable. I was very happy with this. For my iPhone 4s, it gains about 20% charge every 30 minutes. My son’s Kindle Fire charged even faster: about 25% every 30 minutes.

I really like this charger design. I can collect the energy I need for the battery ahead of time, then just pack the smaller battery for my hiking, skiing, or running adventures.

The Changers.com Community

Your Kalhuofummi battery pack is collecting more than just the energy needed to charge your devices. It’s also keeping tabs on the grand totals of your solar power intake. When you plug it into a computer with your mini USB cable, you can upload the data to the Changers.com community and help the group get an idea of how much energy has been collected using Changers products.

First download the Changers software which is free from Changers.com. You will need a Changers.com account—which can be tied to Facebook—to continue.

ChangersDataUploadScreen
Image: Patricia Vollmer.

Then when the data is submitted it will then be shown as individual tabulations as well as group tabulations.

Every time you want to upload the data to the Changers.com website, you will need to open the Changers software on your computer. Downloads are available for Windows, MacOS, and Linux.

Lists of the top users and the top geographic communities are available, and from there you can continue to explore the page. Feel free to make some friends, comment on users’ data, and so forth.

The Changers social network takes the best of Facebook, Foursquare, and Instagram. Comment on friends' energy use and earn badges as you pull in more solar energy. Image: Patricia Vollmer.
The Changers social network takes the best of Facebook, Foursquare, and Instagram. Comment on friends’ energy use and earn badges as you pull in more solar energy. Image: Patricia Vollmer.

Conclusions

Of the three solar chargers I’ve reviewed so far, this one has the best design and has a device-charging performance comparable to the Solar JOOS Orange I had reviewed in April. The idea of having the panel semi-permanently mounted to my window and just plugging in the battery pack as needed is more convenient for shorter trips away from a power source. The lightweight panel is easy to transport, but users just need to be careful to not snap the panel in half.

The Changers Solar Charger Starter Kit retails for $179.99 and is available through the company’s website or through Amazon. I think it makes a great gift for someone who wants to make a difference in the world…or is an outdoor activity fan.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

GeekMom 2013 Holiday Gift Guide: A Hodgepodge of Geek-Parent Gifts

Here at GeekMom, we have no shortage of recommendations for what to get the geek on your holiday gift list. This time we have a little of this, that, and the other. It’s a mix of things dedicated to that geek-parent you might not know how to shop for.

Check out our other gift guides for more suggestions!

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Espionage Cosmetics Steampunk Collection. Image: ThinkGeek.com

Espionage Cosmetics Steampunk Collection Espionage Cosmetics combines geek and chic like no other makeup company. Their newest collection of shiny eyeshadows is an homage to the earthy tones of steampunk, and they’re not just limited to eyes—the cosmetics are safe for hair, eyes, cheeks, and nails. If you have a steampunk fan in your family who likes to get glittery from time to time, this is the collection for her. $28.99

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Googaro Subscription Box. Image: Googaro.com

Googaro Subscription Box Googaro is a new subscription service that will send a curated box of 4-5 full-size items each month based on the child’s age (from 0-3 years) and gender. The brands are high-end, and the goodies are the kind of things that moms might not think to pick up in the store but really appreciate having. Everything is “organic, BPA-free, and eco-friendly.” You can give a single gift box or pick the number of months you’d like to send as a subscription. $35/month

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Itzbeen Pocket Nanny. Image: Amazon.com

Itzbeen Pocket Nanny For the new geek-parent on your list, an Itzbeen meter is the perfect techy way for them to keep track of sleeping, eating, and diapering schedules. The little gadget fits nicely in a stocking, too.

octopus print wrist wallet Image Amazon
Octopus Print Wrist Wallet. Image: Amazon.com

Octopus Antique Travel Print Wristlet Wallet Wristlet wallet printed as a vintage map with inky octopus in tea stained shades. Accordion style for extra storage space. Fully lined with durable water resistant material. Eight card slots and one window ID slot. Detachable wristlet. One zipper pouch. Two slots for cash and checkbooks. Full zipper. $32.94

OrbitBaby - Photo copyright Orbit Baby (from website)
OrbitBaby Stoller. Image: Copyright Orbit Baby

Orbit Baby G2 Stroller and Car Seat Set This stroller and car seat set is pricey, but it is a workhorse. Other seats in the Orbit Baby system are interchangeable with the stroller base, including the bassinet—so you can get out for walks around the neighborhood if your baby needs motion to fall asleep. The seats can swivel all the way around in the stroller base, which is lightweight and easy to fold up for storage. The safety ratings for the original first generation system were conflicting—Consumer Reports hated it, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said it passed with flying colors—but it was completely revamped in 2010 and the old model discontinued. The G2 system has excellent safety ratings, and this system is just not to be beat. GeekMom Jackie swears by it. $940 (less on Amazon)

TMNT shell backpack
TMNT shell backpack. Image: Nickelodeon

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Shell Backpack If you know someone who loves the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and wants to show off that love, this backpack is a perfect gift idea. The backpack is padded and very high quality, and holds quite a lot of things. Great for school or sleepovers, or for just wearing around town, the backpack also comes with accessories to complete the look. $30-45

Gadgets and Accessories TyIt Energi+ Backpack, Image TyIt
TyIt Energi+ Backpack. Image: TyIt

Tylt Energi+ Backpack This fantastic backpack combines the ability to charge your gadgets with a quality backpack that has plenty of room to carry the rest of your stuff. It can charge three devices at once, including a tablet, and comes with not just the battery but all the cables you need to keep your tech powered up and ready. $199

GeekMom 2013 Holiday Gift Guide: Household Gifts

These days, geeks aren’t afraid to let their living space reflect their inner geek. Today’s holiday gift guide should help you find something for the geek in your life who needs a little help with showing their inner geek in their home.

Warning: One of the kitchen gadgets is an anatomy joke which may not be suitable for work.

For around the home:

LittlePartners The Learning Tower - Photo from LP website
LittlePartners The Learning Tower. Image: Littlepartners.com

The Learning Tower Little Partners makes this Montessori-approved tower in six colors, and it is brilliant. If you have little ones too small to reach counters or stand safely on a step stool, this is a must that will grow with them. Get your kids involved with you in the kitchen, or turn the tower into an easel or a even a puppet theatre with Little Partners accessories. Ages 18mo+. $199.99

Scanimation Lamp Image Eye Think, Inc
Scanimation Lamp. Image: Eye Think, Inc

Scanimation Lamp Remember this amazing lamp I told you about on GeekMom.com a few weeks ago? It’s the perfect gift for anyone who wants something unique on their desk, or for a child who needs a more interactive night light to help them fall asleep. Be sure to check out the video on the links; you have to see it to believe it! $35

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Wall Clings
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Wall Clings. Image: RoomMates

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Wall Decals For the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle fan in your family, check out these wall decals. They are simply peel and stick, and are able to be moved whenever your kids feel like it. Made by RoomMates, who also make a variety of other wall decals, these are a great way to customize a wall affordably. $10-15

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Reliable V200 Sensor Velocity Steam Iron. Image: Amazon.com

Reliable V200 Sensor Velocity Steam Iron If you love to iron, this device is your masterpiece. If you hate to iron, this device takes all the thought and hassle out of it. It may seem very Betty Crocker to give the gift of an iron, but five minutes with this baby and you’ll be thanking Santa. Patented technology and touch sensitive handling, prevent those steam/leak accidents of the past, and provide smooth sailing, regardless of fabric. Great for a crafter, great for everyday use. $169

Household Second Generation Nest Thermostat, Image Nest
Household Second Generation Nest Thermostat. Image: Nest

Second Generation Nest Thermostat Control your thermostat from your smartphone and watch as it automatically learns when you’re home or away and adjusts the temperature accordingly. You can even look up your history online and see when you use the most energy and learn ways to help keep those energy bills under control in the summer and winter months. $249

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Acu-Rite Professional Weather Station. Image: Amazon.com

Acu-Rite Professional Weather Station For the cost, this is an excellent home weather station. The system is lightweight and easy to install. The tools on the top of the sensor set make it easy to level and properly orient the wind vane, and the digital display is very easy to read. Bringing the data to mobile device apps and Weather Underground brings a whole new level to the data collection. If you are looking for a basic system to introduce your kids to weather observation and data collection, this is the one. $199.99

For in the kitchen:

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Keurig 2700 Keurig® Vue® V700 Single serve coffee system. Image: Amazon.com

Keurig 2700 Keurig® Vue® V700 Single serve coffee system This is not your mama’s Keurig machine. With the ability to set temperature, larger sizes, and strength of coffee, this is a single-serve coffee maker for both the aficionado and the casual coffee drinker. This is the eco-friendly version of the single serve machine, as the vue packs, no longer K-cups, used can be pulled apart for both compost of the inner contents and recycling of the outer container. Great drink options for those impromptu holiday guests. $170-230

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Book Platter. Image: gonereading.com

Book-shaped platter Serving dish for the book geek, also comes in other sizes. Safe for dishwashers, ovens, and microwaves, it’s perfect for entertaining or everyday use. Made from porcelain. This is one of many more enticements offered by GoneReading.com such as games, t-shirts, and literary action figures. Better yet, 100% of their net profits are donated to reading-related charities. The founder was inspired after helping to build a library in a remote area of Honduras and now funds libraries both in the developing world and in the United States. $14.99

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Zoku Slush and Shake Maker. Image: williams-sonoma.com

Zoku Slush and Shake Maker For the lover of frozen drinks year round, the Zoku Slush and Shake maker will help with those frozen margaritas to get through the holiday crazies! Not necessarily a winner for impatient children, but for those looking for a little escape, it’s a great fix. $20

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Reusable Candy Cottage. Image: Amazon.com

Candy Cottage Don’t bake and assemble a gingerbread house, just snap together this sturdy base, cover with frosting and decorate with the kids. After the holiday is over, just rinse off candies and save the cottage for the next holiday (Valentine’s Day cottage, July Fourth cottage, Halloween cottage)! For healthier cottage decor, consider using pretzels, cereal, and crackers. $34.99

Thermos insulated lunch box
Thermos insulated lunch box. Image: Thermos

Thermos insulated bags, bottles, and jars From R2-D2 to Hello Kitty, Thermos makes an extensive series of lunch ware for kids (or adults). Soft-sided lunchboxes, food jars, drink containers, and more can be had showing off your favorite characters. They are high quality and affordable, and will last for years. Price varies

Smart Women
Smart Women products. Image: Smart Women

Smart Women products Smart Women Company makes all kinds of household products with cute, 1950s style artwork with snappy sayings such as “Smart Women Elect to Make a Difference” and “Smart Women Thirst for Knowledge.” Buy mugs, erasers, kitchen towels, mouse pads, pencils, trays, and more. Price varies

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Tablet Friendly Cutting Board. Image: amazon.com

Chef Sleeve iOS Kitchen Tools The Chef Sleeve family of tablet-friendly kitchen products is the safe, clean way to fully incorporate your devices into the kitchen. Slip your iPad into a plastic touch-sensitive sleeve and prop it up on the Chef Sleeve cutting board and you’re all set. They make great gifts for your favorite cooking geek. $19.95 – $69.95

Shark Fin Ice Cube Trays Image Mustard Company
Shark Fin Ice Cube Trays. Image: Mustard Company

Shark Fin Ice Cube Tray Want to jazz up the next party? How about a bucket full of ice that, when placed in a drink, looks like a shark is swimming below? A great gift for kids and grown ups alike.  $9

Vinyl Record Coasters Image Modern Artisans
Vinyl Record Coasters. Image: Modern Artisans

Record Label Coasters Check out these amazing coasters, made from real vinyl records. With so many of our kids not understanding what a vinyl record even looked like, these would be a nice addition to any family’s living room or family room. $16.95

Roasting Sticks Image Camp Ground Products
Roasting Sticks. Image: Camp Ground Products

Naughty fire pit roasting sticks Warning: this gift is not G rated. If you have some fun-loving campers in your family, or you just love to sit around the fire pit in the backyard, these hot dog/marshmallow roasters are the perfect addition. They are guaranteed to bring lots of laughs, even before the alcohol is brought out. $49

mermaid bottle opener Image Spacepositive
Mermaid Bottle Opener. Image: Spacepositive

Mermaid bottle opener Do you have a hard-to-buy-for person on your list? This unique, old fashioned looking cast iron bottle opener might be the perfect gift. It’s unique look makes it just as useful as a decoration to hang on the wall as it is an actual working bottle opener. It would be a fun addition to anyone’s household bar. It’s also a great house-warming gift for the host of the big holiday party you’ll be attending soon. $12.82