At Home with Tech

Don’t let your gadgets kill your Zen. Byte back with your inner geek!

Why You Shouldn’t Buy Your Next Watch Online

Are you searching for the perfect watch to wear to work?  If so, you’re going to have to look further than the timepiece images glowing from your computer screen…

Are you searching for the perfect watch to wear to work? If so, you’re going to have to look further than the timepiece images glowing from your computer screen…

I’m overdue. Months. Maybe even years… Let me just say I’ve been wanting to buy a new watch to wear to work for quite a while. But life gets busy… right?

I’ve needed a new ticker for my wrist to share the daily burden with a silver Casio I own. I’ve relied on my trusty Casio WVQ-500 since before the financial crisis. That’s longer than any of my previous Casio watches have survived.

Usually the watchband would give out, and the replacement would never be quite as good as the Casio original. Or I’d be too lazy to drive to a jeweler and replace the battery when it gave out. (Casios weren’t that expensive back then. So I’d move on to the next model…)

But my current stainless steel-banded workhorse has benefited from its solar-recharging battery. And it’s waterproof.

And it’s still going strong…

My Casio Watch

But the charm of my Casio’s cutting-edge tech from the pre-smartphone era has worn thin. I don’t need its four alarms or timers anymore. Nor must I know what time it is in 37 cities around the world.
(I’ve got my iPhone 6 Plus for all that.)

And though the ‘Wave Ceptor’ tech that keeps it synced with the time calibration signal transmitted from Fort Collins, CO is nice, it’s not perfect…
Especially on the two days a year when our clocks spring ahead or fall behind.

I used to be a wizard at understanding every which way to use the four side buttons to enable the 84 (or so) functions. But honestly, I’ve forgotten most of them, and now, it’s more than a little frustrating to get the watch to follow my most basic directions.
(Apple’s UI design is much more user-friendly.)

I’ve been wearing Casios all my adult life. Three decades later, I was finally ready for something different…
Believe it or not, what I actually wanted was a watch to simply tell me the time. No gimmicks. It didn’t have to be made for James Bond. Nor was it going to be an Apple Watch.
(That’s a different conversation to address a different ‘need’…)

Another Online Rabbit Hole
So I began my research online. But the choices quickly became overwhelming. Every ‘expert’ has a different point of view. Plus, you can spend 100 bucks on a decent quartz watch or ten times that amount for a quality timepiece. Then double that. And the choices will keep appearing…

But I wasn’t in the market for a luxury watch. I just wanted a solid, everyday watch for the business casual environment at work. And something I wouldn’t cry over if I whacked my wrist into a doorknob.
(which I’ve done many times)

But I still wanted my timepiece to look sharp…

You Need to Try On the Watch
I finally narrowed my search down to three manufacturers:

  • Citizen
  • Seiko
  • Victorinox

Online, all watches seem beautiful. But unless you know exactly what you’re looking for, I eventually came to the conclusion that buying a watch online is a completely flawed proposition.

First off, you don’t know how the watch is going to feel on your wrist. And just as importantly… how is it going to look?

I originally figured I’d save some money by doing a deal on Amazon, but then I got a little freaked out regarding the potential for ‘fakes’ or whether I would be buying from a non-authorized dealer. That’s supposed to void the manufacturer’s warrantee.
(If it’s all a marketing scare by the manufacturers, they’re doing a good job.)

I finally came to the conclusion I needed to go old school:
Schlep to a brick and mortar store and try on a bunch of watches.

A Man Who Doesn’t Know What He’s Looking For
So I drove down to my local Macy’s and was pleased to see there was a sale going on.
(What a coincidence)
And then I rolled up my sleeve and got to work…

Granted, I didn’t have access to the full online lineup, but there was a sufficiently representative selection of the manufacturers I was interested in.
(The nice saleslady was exceptionally gracious when I admitted I was one of those men who didn’t really know what he was looking for.)

And do you know what I discovered?
I wasn’t at all excited by what I saw.

Half the watches had hands that blended in too closely with the coloring of the face. The other half had ‘complications’ I didn’t really need, which also interfered with the readability factor.
(I should acknowledge I wear reading glasses… so younger eyes might not be as challenged by the littered landscape of some of these watches.)

Finally, I realized I didn’t like ‘big’ watches. I’ve grown used to wearing a 40mm diameter face, and everything else looked huge on my wrist.
(Though I might be able to handle a timepiece with slightly more heft)

I have to admit, I was drawn to Victorinox’s ‘Night Vision’ watch, which looked super sharp and had a built-in LED min-flashlight.
(good for reading menus in a dark restaurant)
But it’s a pricey watch, ranging from $600-$700, depending on the band. And last I checked, my birthday isn’t coming up anytime soon…
Plus, I’ve got some other home tech projects to focus on that require funding.
(Can you say, ‘time for some Sonos speakers?”)

Citizen Eco-Drive
I was ready to walk out in defeat, but then I spotted a relatively simple-looking Citizen watch in the corner of the display.

It was a ‘Men’s Strap’ model AU1040-08E with a MSRP of $175.

Citizen Men's Strap Watch

It had a black leather band, and its uncluttered 40mm face was easy to read. There was little window for the date, but nothing else to obscure the time.  A big bonus with this otherwise minimalist watch is its solar-powered ‘Eco-Drive,’ with a rechargeable battery that can provide a six-month power reserve.
(If you choose to spend the next six months in a pitch-black environment)

One downside: It’s only splash resistant. So no swimming or full submersion during my four year old’s bath time.
(But you probably wouldn’t want to get a leather band wet anyway)

As I peered down at the watch, I suddenly experienced my very own “Charlie Brown Christmas” moment… By most accounts, this was the plainest watch in the display case. Who could possibly want it?!

That said, I wasn’t thrilled with any of the other watches, most of which were drizzled with bling.

No, this simple watch didn’t absolutely blow me away either. But it had this solid, clean look.

It didn’t cost a boatload. Yet, it looked great on my wrist.
I think the apt descriptor is ‘elegant.’

And it would be appropriate for either business or business-casual settings.

I said to the patient saleswoman, “I’ll take it.
She smiled, and I think I detected a small sigh.
(My lengthy selection process had taken her past her lunch break.)

There is No Perfect Watch
Yes, I’m satisfied with my simple Citizen watch, and I’m psyched it comes with nifty solar-charging tech.

But it’s not perfect… I’ve still got to manually adjust the date every month if it doesn’t have 31 days.
(I haven’t had to worry about that since way before Y2K.)

Honestly, the entire watch is a very retro experience…
But I think that’s exactly what I need in this moment of my life. A break from too many complications. I don’t want it to answer my email. I just want it to point to the correct time of day…

Eventually, I’ll probably want go back to the future…
(Hello, Apple Watch?)

The reality is I’m not done with my search. My Citizen is a solid addition to my wardrobe, but man cannot live by two watches alone.

My Casio that can't tell time anymore

(I also own a sporty weekend Casio with a rubber black band.

But this waterproof WVA-470 recently suffered some sort of circuit stroke, and now it’s off by three hours and five minutes. And I can’t figure out how to reset it.)

I’m not quite sure how I got this far in life surviving only on Casio tech.

I think I wore a couple of forgettable dress watches in my 30’s, but they’re long gone.
(the watches and my 30’s)

Now I’ve dipped my toe back into the infinite watch-verse and finally moved forward in my journey to build out a more diversified watch collection.

I’ve got two respectable work watches, but my weekend Casio is essentially useless.

Any suggestions on a replacement…?

Should You Store Your Batteries in the Fridge?

Why do people pop their spare batteries in the refrigerator or freezer?  The myth is the cold helps keep them fresh.  Fact or fiction…?

Why do people pop their spare batteries in the refrigerator or freezer? The myth is the cold helps keep them fresh. Fact or fiction…?

I was at a friend’s party last weekend, and he offered me a beer. He opened up his garage refrigerator to reveal his selection of brews.
(I was in the mood for an IPA.)

But before I could spot my bottle of suds, I noticed several AA battery packages hanging out in one of the empty produce drawers.
(Garage or basement fridges rarely house ‘real’ food. But they do provide safe haven for guys’ beer bottles.)

The sight of these batteries sparked a flashback, and I found myself staring into the refrigerator of my childhood. In this 1970’s GE fridge, my parents kept all of our fresh batteries.

It was common knowledge in the Lester household that the cold in the refrigerator ensured our batteries could be stored longer without losing their charge.

As an adult, I later reversed that theory as poppycock, because we all know that a car battery has a harder time starting an engine during a deep freeze.
(right?)

But now decades later, I again find myself staring at more batteries in a fridge.
So I decide to do a little research and review the facts…

Cold Can Damage Your Batteries
Question: Does the cold really preserve the charge in a battery?

According to howtogeek.com, a battery has a certain rate of self-discharge, and colder temperatures actually slow this rate. However, today’s alkaline batteries lose only about 1% of their charge per month. So it’s not a big deal to begin with.

The more important issue is your fridge can introduce moisture onto your batteries. And that can be damaging.

So the whole idea of ‘freezing your battery’ to keep it fresh can do more harm than good.

The Energizer Bunny agrees with this line of thought…
Energizer.com has a whole Q&A page on this issue, saying that either cold or hot temperatures will shorten storage life for today’s batteries. But if you keep your unused alkaline batteries at room temperature, you’ll get a shelf life of 5-10 years.

Case closed, right?
Not necessarily…

Cold Can Extend Shelf Life
Lifehacker.com begs to differ. This writer points to the fact that certain kinds of batteries, like rechargeable NiMH models, self-discharge much faster than alkaline batteries. So chilling them down makes it worth it.

Wisegeek.org agrees with this counter argument, but points out you’ve got to warm up your batteries, before popping them into your electronics.

Again, it’s the moisture-factor that’s the big problem.

Reality Check
So where does this all this leave us?

  • Officially, you shouldn’t put your batteries in your refrigerator.
  • Scientifically speaking though, there is some benefit to doing exactly that.
  • Practically speaking, there’s a real risk that you’ll damage your batteries in your fridge, because of moisture concerns.

But if you keep your batteries sealed in an air-tight bag or packaging in your refrigerator, that should protect them from moisture.

Proceed with Caution
So what should you do?
Well, as with many parts of life, there’s no bulletproof instruction manual.
It’s your choice.

For the record, I will not be storing my batteries in my refrigerator like my parents did.

But just as importantly, this all makes me wonder if my parents’ late 20th century batteries had a higher self-discharge rate than today’s more advanced models. If so, that would have tipped the cost/benefit equation back then and explained where all this battery/refrigerator mumbo jumbo came from.

So maybe my parents weren’t wrong after all?

Hmmm… Another mystery from my childhood explained.

Is Nest Protect Worth It?

Stop being angry with your smoke and CO detector and consider getting a Nest Protect.  But it’s a costly upgrade…

Stop being angry with your smoke and CO detector and consider getting a Nest Protect. But it’s a costly upgrade…

I came home from work on Thursday to learn there was a sudden breakdown in my house’s smoke alarm and carbon monoxide-sensing infrastructure. Apparently, the 9-volt battery powering the CO detector in my son’s room decided to suddenly quit, causing the tiny unit to emit a piercing ‘chirp.’

In an attempt to stop the deafening repetition, the smoke detector on the ceiling outside my son’s room was incorrectly identified as the culprit.

And let me simply say… in all the confusion, ‘someone’ broke the smoke detector away from its plastic circular mount.
(Names have been removed to protect the ‘innocent.’)

Broken Smoke Detector Tab

 

 

 

 

 

 

When it became clear that the wounded disc wasn’t the correct target, the CO detector’s horn was properly identified as the disruptor.
(Its dying battery securely jammed inside)

What’s a family to do when good home tech goes bad, threatening your child’s night-time rituals on the way to bed?

The next morning, as soon as my four-year-old son woke up, he ran downstairs to tell me what had happened.
“Mama put it somewhere where we would never hear it.”

It was banished to the garage.

Time to Make Some Lemonade
Of course, my wife had already relayed the ‘incident’ to me the night before.

And how did I feel about all of this?
(I’m not particularly known for my flexible attitude on home-tech malfunctions.)

I should have been sad.
Annoyed.
The essential order of my little kingdom compromised by a bad battery.
But I wasn’t.

I was thrilled.

I had been waiting for this particular moment for life to throw a few lemons at me.  Looking for a reason to replace this smoke detector that had actually been taunting me for years.
(Whenever I’d cook a steak in the kitchen below, the slightest whiff would set it off.)

But a typical battery-driven smoke detector rarely stops working. Sometimes, it just annoys you… till you find a reason to throw it away.
(Usually because one of the delicate plastic latches breaks away when you’re pulling it down)

Now I had my excuse.
An excuse to buy a Nest Protect.

Thank you, family!

Hello, Nest Protect!
Nest Protect is a relatively expensive smoke and CO detector and alarm created by the makers of the Nest Learning Thermostat.
(now owned by Google)

But this $99 smart device is exceptionally cool!

  • You can purchase either a long-life, battery-powered unit or the wired 120V version, which also uses batteries for back up.
  • The six included L91 batteries are supposed to power the device for ‘years.’
  • It’s Wi-Fi enabled.
  • That means it can communicate with the Nest Thermostat in your home.
    If there’s a CO problem, the Nest Thermostat will automatically turn off your furnace.
    And Nest Protect senses your presence, which improves the Auto-Away feature of the Nest Thermostat. Sometimes mine forgets I’m home when I’m typing away in my office.
    (The wired Nest Protect is a better for this, because it gives the thermostat immediate feedback.)
  • Nest Protect talks to you in lieu of those vague chirps and explains if there’s smoke or carbon monoxide present and which room the problem exists in.
    (If you own multiple units)
  • It also uses circular color cues on its face to communicate.
    (green, white, orange and red)
  • It momentarily glows green when you turn your lights out at night, indicating all is well.
    (How civilized)
  • It can evaluate the ‘situation’ and give you a friendly ‘heads up’ notification or a full-on ‘Emergency!’
    (complete with loud horn)
  • Nest Protect lights your way at night by glowing white as you walk by it.
    (This feature can also be turned off if you like.)
  • You can keep track of it from anywhere with the Nest Mobile app, and it will send your smartphone a message if there’s a problem.

Welcome Home
Did I mention that $99 is rather expensive, regardless how cutting-edge Nest Protect is?

By comparison, Kidde makes a $33 device that senses both smoke and CO.
But Nest Protect does buy you a whole new level of connection.
(Plus, I had a Best Buy gift card I needed to use…)

A year and a half ago, you may recall I purchased my Nest Learning Thermostat.
Overall, I’ve been satisfied.
(That said, there have been a couple of glitches recently, but I’m sticking with my Nest. In fact, I’m doubling down…)

It was time to add onto my Nest ecosystem…
I hurried over to Best Buy and eagerly brought my new Nest Protect home.

My Installed Nest Protect

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Installing it was a snap!
A few pointers:

  • You can only set up your Nest Protect with an iPhone, iPad or Android device.
  • You’ll first need to download the free Nest Mobile app.
  • You’ll be scanning the QR code on the back of the Nest with your phone.
    (cool)
  • And then temporarily connecting the two together via Wi-Fi.
    (Yes, the Nest emits its own tiny Wi-Fi bubble for this particular occasion.)
  • Finally, you’ll be connecting the Nest Connect to your home’s Wi-Fi network.

Setting Up Nest Protect

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was done with the activation process in five minutes. The installation on my upstairs ceiling simply involved unscrewing my old smoke detector’s mounting plate and screwing in the Nest’s mount.

WARNING:
As nifty as the Nest Protect is, its plastic mount works on the same principal as any smoke detector. It has plastic tabs to grip the unit. If you twist the Nest Protect on with too much force, you can break the tabs off. Just be careful…

Nothing Lasts Forever
One other cautionary note:
In the small print at the end of the manual, which you don’t need to read, you’ll discover that Nest Protect only lasts for seven years.
(I don’t think any smoke/CO detector is designed to work forever.)

Much like a “Blade Runner” replicant, this particular tech will self terminate.
(It’s supposed to give you two-week’s notice.)

I’m sure I’ll prefer a little more warning…
Maybe, I’ll set myself a calendar reminder for 2022.

Impulse Purchase?
So to summarize:
A 9-volt battery goes south. And the next day, I buy a Nest Protect.
I know… it doesn’t make complete sense.
But I was looking for an excuse to try out a Nest Protect, and I found it.

That said, I’ve got several other old-school smoke detectors around the house, and now, I’ll need to consider whether I should continue with my Nest Protect upgrade program.

It is all worth it?

I’d like to think my home is a bit safer.
It sure feels a little more fun to live in…

And isn’t that what living at home with tech should be all about?

Click.

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