Samsung Blu-ray Player Remote

Who designed this Samsung Blu-ray remote?

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Not only are there too many buttons (45 of them!), but it’s way too easy to accidentally hit the Home button when you meant to hit play/unpause.

When this happens to you, which it will probably every tenth time you use it, you will need to wait through minutes of Blu-ray/DVD menus and somehow hope the machine has saved your place in the movie you were in the middle of.

Also, the pause button is tiny.  Who knows what the “Smart” button is supposed to do.  The light button turns on the light on the remote, which is handy, but it takes a full 2 seconds to come on.

Does anyone make a good basic universal remote these days?

Kia Seat Heater Button Design

Here’s where Kia puts the seat heater buttons in some of their recent vehicles:

Kia Seat Heater Buttons Next to a Can of Soda
Kia Seat Heater Button Placement

Can you see the problem with this?  When the driver reaches over to grab a drink, it’s quite likely, on a bumpy road, that a few drops will spill into the crack between the two seat heater buttons.

When that happens, the seat heaters may completely malfunction.  Or the sticky soda or coffee can fuse the two buttons together, resulting in turning on both heaters at once.  (If the latter situation happens to you, you can fix it by sliding a small pocket knife down the crack between the two buttons.)

Other manufacturers like Saab put their seat heater buttons near the sunroof controls, above your head.  Better.  But Saab’s cupholders aren’t great for other reasons.

An ugly but effective workaround for the Kia seat heater problem is to put clear packing tape over the controls.  (shown in the above photo)  This will force you to use slightly more pressure to activate the seat heaters, but it’s worth it to avoid a potentially expensive fix at the dealer (or rental agency) if you short out the electronics.

AirPods Reset

My left AirPod kept cutting out after 3 minutes, even when fully charged. I tried re-pairing it.  That didn’t work.

I then tried a full reset, as described in this Apple support document:

  1. Go to Settings > Bluetooth and tap the “i” icon next to your AirPods. Then tap Forget This Device, and tap again to confirm.
  2. Put your AirPods in their case: Close the lid. Wait 30 seconds, then open the lid.
  3. Reset your AirPods: Press and hold the setup button on the back of the case until you see the status light flash amber a few times, then flash white continuously.
  4. Reconnect your AirPods: Place your AirPods close to your device. Follow the steps on your device’s screen.
ios12-iphone-xs-airpods-setup-animation-steps
AirPods Setup

It worked!

My AirPods are over 2 years old.  Apple does not (yet) provide an external tool to detect how many battery cycles they’ve gone through, but I’m sure they’re past their 500 cycle limit.  (roughly equivalent to 1.5-2 years if you use the AirPods almost every day)

After 2+ years, on a single charge, I get less than half an hour of talk time out of them, and probably 1.5-2 hours of listening time.  When new, the AirPods (1st gen) got about 2 hours of talk time and about 5 hours of listening time.

Combined, that’s about ~30% of the original battery life remaining after 2 years.  Rough.

I should probably be getting some new AirPods, but I’m holding out for the rumored noise cancelling version.

Travel Tips: Flights, Hotels, and Rental Cars

I recently had to book last minute flights, hotels, and a rental car, and learned a few things along the way:

Flights

Book your flights first.  You can get everything else sorted later.

The last few rows of seats on pre-2015 Boeing 737 jets are 5dB louder than the wing seats.  Roughly 88dB vs. 83dB.  Significant difference.  The World Health Organization recommends a maximum exposure time of 4 hours at 88dB.  So on long flights, if you’re in the rear seats, give everyone in your family earplugs.  Or take shorter flights, and give your ears a rest during layover.

If you have a family with small children, you will usually be relocated together.   You don’t always need to purchase seat upgrades.  Sometimes your relocation will be over the wing seats.  Sometimes the only seats left with room for families of 3 or more will be the more expensive seats that others didn’t pick.  Free upgrade!

A few airlines say they can’t seat families together if you purchase economy tickets (also noted in this article), but gate agents will usually still do their best to help.  Unless you get there at the last minute, like we did.  In that case, our youngest just happened to let out a cry that made the businessman next to us want to give up his window seat for a middle seat elsewhere, and then we all got to sit together.  We thanked the man for his kindness.

The Boeing 737 2015 revision that we flew on one leg of our trip had more comfy seats than the older pre-2015 737 we flew on the previous leg.  The newer 2015 revision also had seat-back screens.

The Airbus A320 seats are a bit more comfortable than both Boeing 737s we took.  The Airbus also had a bit more room in the bathrooms, with bigger changing tables.

In most planes, if you’re in an aisle seat, it will appear like you can’t lift the aisle armrest up, but in many cases, you can.  This is required by law for accessibility purposes.  Reach under the arm (below where your elbow would sit) until you find a (probably never cleaned) tiny button/lever/toggle.  Push it and you will be able to lift the arm up.

Car Rentals

I tried renting a car through Priceline, but it fell through when I got to the counter at 1AM and the rental company refused to honor the Priceline price.  The rental counter price was well over $200 beyond what Priceline quoted.

Priceline customer service offered no help and tried to get me off the phone.  They sent me a survey days later and apparently this is a common problem, because the first option they list for not booking the reservation is “price at the counter was not what Priceline quoted“.

Thankfully, I was able to book through Costco Travel and get an even better deal than Priceline gave.

If you have kids that need car seats, occasionally they will be free with the rental, but many times you may be charged exorbitant extra fees (ex. $70/day for the seats alone).  Lyft and Uber don’t have car seats either, unless you’re in New York City.  It might pay to arrange ahead of time to have a family member or friend pick up a couple of car seats at a store and deliver them to you at the airport.

Be careful of hidden rental charges – extension fees, convenience fees, tolls, and those car seats.

2019 Ford Edge

We rented a Ford Edge sport utility vehicle, which happened to be the best deal at the time.  It seemed like a safe car, and was definitely roomy, but also felt pretty disconnected from the road.  It had all sorts of bells and whistles (unusual for a rental): radar cruise control with stop & go, lane keeping assist, auto liftgate, and automatic high beams.  And CarPlay.

The radar cruise control was okay.  It would take you all the way down to a halt in stop and go traffic, but many of the stops would be so jerky the whole cabin/vehicle would lurch forward.  So we ended up stopping manually.

The lane keeping assist was kind of cool but mostly ping-ponged you around the lane.  It would also lose confidence in its lane keeping ability, turning on and off seemingly randomly.

The auto lift-gate was cool but slow.

The automatic high beams were great – I want them on my next car.

The infotainment displays were faster than the ones in older Ford vehicles, but still way too information-dense and distracting.  Most Audis, VWs, Volvos, and even Kias are much cleaner.

Hotels

For hotels, Priceline is actually decent.  Especially the Express Deals on 3 and 3.5 star hotels, which are often cheaper than AirBnB.  There are several ways to find out the naming of the mystery Express Deal hotels before you book them – search online.  Only caveat: You will probably not get hotel points when you book through Priceline.

Hope these tips help!

Hearing Protection

I’ve used earplugs to sleep for years.  But in some environments, you need something a little more heavy duty.  So back in 2017, I scoured Amazon for a decent pair of ear muffs. I came up with these from ClearArmor.

They served me well for over 2 years, providing outstanding protection – a 31 decibel noise reduction rating.  They’re great for all sorts of noisy environments, but I like them best when I need to concentrate on something without distraction.  I’m wearing them now to write this, while my young daughter (who should be going to sleep by now) is howling about going to bed when she wants to stay up all night.  I barely hear a thing.  And they’re comfortable enough to wear for hours.

A couple of downsides: To provide the high noise reduction rating, they fit rather snugly – some would even say too tightly.  You can stretch them out a bit to reduce the snug fit, and more recent versions have more comfortable padding around the ears.  (The problem is all but gone in the 2019 version of the ear muffs.)  Second, they can get hot after a couple of hours.

They also broke after 2 years of almost daily use (I dropped them by accident a few too many times on hard surfaces.). Here’s what they looked like when broken:

2017 ClearArmor Ear Muffs- broken after 2 years.jpg
2017 ClearArmor ear muffs after 2 years of use – broken after dropping too many times

The amazing thing is, I emailed the owner of the company with a photo of the damage and he promptly replaced them with the latest version, completely free, and also included an extra pair!  Now my wife has a pair to use.  That’s outstanding, above & beyond service.  And that’s why I’m writing this review.  Big thanks to Gary at ClearArmor.

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2019 ClearArmor ear muffs – replacement pair – brand new and even more comfortable

Pepper Shaker Design

I’ve been meaning to pick up a copy of Don Norman’s The Design of Everyday Things.  Norman says “Design is really an act of communication, which means having a deep understanding of the person with whom the designer is communicating.

Whoever designed the Trader Joe’s pepper shaker seems to have been thinking about packing the shakers neatly in boxes for shipment, vs. people actually using the shaker to shake pepper on their plates.  Look at this:

Trader Joe's Ground Black Pepper Shaker - Badly Designed.jpg

  • All black – so it’s hard, at a glance, to read the iconography on top.
  • Symmetrical pull tabs, so it’s easy to pull the wrong tab and start pouring way too much all over the food when you meant to just add a little.

When I prepared sandwiches the other day, you can guess what happened.  Not buying this ground pepper again, Trader Joe’s.

Working Hard or Hardly Working? Colossians 3:23, and the 7th Commandment

Many years ago, when I was young and working the second real job I had ever held, I bought a portable Zip drive so I could download files at work that were too large for my home Internet connection to handle.  My boss noticed the bright blue drive and asked why I had brought that in.  When I told him, he laughed at me disapprovingly.  He was disappointed in me, and rightfully so.  I felt ashamed, and learned a lesson. Like viewing non-work-related web sites during work hours at this particular company, it was not an appropriate use of work resources, and I should have known better.

One of the special graces Catholics have available is the ability to go to confession, contritely confess all of the sins you can remember, and be completely forgiven.

But how do you remember all the sins you committed?  Some people prepare for confession by going through The Ten Commandments and asking themselves whether they broke any of them.  The seventh commandment is “Thou shall not steal.”

My pastor told the congregation one day, “You may think you haven’t stolen anything, but what about stealing from your employer?  Taking office supplies is obvious theft, but did you know wasting time that your employer pays you for is a form of stealing too?”  This really hit home for me.

I don’t think there’s a person alive that has not looked at a non-work-related web site at work.  If you want to use some of your break time to take a peek at your email or the news, I don’t see a problem, and most bosses don’t either.  Many companies, especially on the west coast, even encourage non-work related activity at work, as long as you actually get your work done on time.

But if you’re extending your breaks or interrupting your work for hours to play games or read non-work related news, social media, or otherwise procrastinate on the real work you have to do, there’s a problem.

I knew one guy who watched Netflix when he should have been answering support tickets.  The result was predictable: customer unhappiness and increased stress on co-workers.  The customers that had written in expecting replies from him got delayed responses, and others on the team had to pick up the slack.  He was a knowledgeable and helpful worker when he wanted to be, but just didn’t have the right attitude.

Everyone has temptations to procrastinate sometimes.  When I get tempted, I try and bring to mind this verse:

“Whatever your task, work heartily, as serving the Lord and not men …” – Colossians 3:23

Another way of saying this is, “Make sure you bust your butt, because you really work for the Lord.”

The average person puts in about 3 hours per day of actual productive work.  Be better than average.  Do your best.  I keep myself honest by tracking my time at work using a tool called RescueTime.  Here’s an example of RescueTime in action:

RescueTime.png

I also motivate myself by trying to get my hardest task out of the way first, before anything else is done in the day.  This concept is called eating the frog.  Block out an hour of your time first thing in the morning and eat that frog.  You’ll feel great for the rest of the day because you got your hardest task out of the way.