★ 2016 MacBook Pro

About a month ago, I got a new 2016 MacBook Pro. Here are my quick thoughts on it.

  • The hardware is so well built. It is solid. My 2007 MacBook Pro was the generation before they were machined from aluminum blocks. It would flex whenever I picked it up. When you pick up this thing, it is like picking up a 3 lb aluminum slab
  • This is my first Mac with a Retina screen. I’ve used Retina screens since the iPhone 4S but using it on an actual Mac is great.
  • The keyboard is good. I agree with Casey Liss that the Apple Magic Keyboard is the best feeling in terms of travel. This keyboard is loud when you get on a roll, but it’s not as bad as the original MacBook keyboard
  • Having to deal with USB C ports is ok. I picked up a few dongles. One I really like is this one from Satechi. It has 1 USB C, 2 USB A, and an HDMI port.

Being my first new Mac since 2014 and first personal Mac since 2007, I’m super happy overall. Let’s hope this one lasts 10 years also.

Baby Equipment

My son was born almost 10 months ago and in the months leading up to his arrival, my wife and I spent hours figuring out the best stuff that we would need. There are many types of lists out there, but here are the things that worked out well for us.

Britax B-Agile

This was the one purchase my wife let me have total say on. After reading reviews, the Britax B-Agile was the best solution in terms of cost and quality. You will want the full system as it comes with the stroller, carrier and base. The base is the most important piece of this. While you can use a seat belt to strap the carrier in, it is MUCH easier to drop it into the base, which stays in your car at all times. If you can, buy more bases and keep one in each car. The stroller itself is easy to maneuver, even with one hand. And you can fold the stroller quickly, also with one hand.

Britax Stroller Organizer

Unfortunately, the stroller doesn’t come with this. We bought it mostly because of the cup holders.

Motorola Baby Monitor

A baby monitor is nice to have. It gives you piece of mind to be able to glance at your baby. This one is a little expensive. There are options if you have a spare iPhone with apps that turn it into a streaming WiFi cam but having to open an app just to check on your baby is not as convenient as having a dedicated viewer.

Ollie Swaddle

Newborns love to be swaddled. The problem is that with the blankets most people use, they’re made of cotton which is not very strechable and unless you’re a master at swaddling, your baby can wiggle out of the blanket. The Ollie swaddle is great in helping keeping your babies arms tight against their bodies but the fabric is stretchable enough to let them wiggle.

Earmuffs for Babies

Babies don’t like loud noises. This can make it difficult to go out to noisy restaurants or keep baby sleeping on a plane. These things are awesome for blocking out noise. If you put them over your own ears, you can see for yourself how much noise they block out.

Ubbi Steel Diaper Pail

There are two types of diaper trash cans; ones where you use the manufacturer’s own bags and ones where you can use any trashbag. I’m all for using your own trashbags. I hate companies that charge a high price to use their own proprietary bags. Go with this one. You can use your own trashbags and it prevents your baby’s room from smelling like dirty diapers.

Udder Covers

I’m all for things that help you, your wife, and your baby have as close to a normal life as you had before. For moms that breastfeed, these are awesome for having your baby feed while you are out in public. My wife says the plastic “V” at the top of the cover is key for helping keep a “tent” open for your baby to breathe and for mom to keep an eye on him/her.

Joovy Hook On High Chair

Once your baby can sit up on their own, these are pretty cool. Most restaurant’s high chairs are dirty and who knows how old. This thing hooks on to a table and you plop your baby in.

Eco Gemini

Pushing a stroller can get cumbersome, especially for short trips to the grocery store. If you want to carry your baby around, this is the best way to do it. It is capable of forward and rear facing your baby. Easily adjustable and easy to put on. Also available in different prints.

4Moms Playard

Once you are up for it, this thing is the best playard, sleeper for traveling. Once our baby outgrew his co-sleeper, we upgraded to this. The co-sleeper was a pain in the butt to assemble and disassemble. When I saw the video for how this worked, I was sold. Literally one button push to set up, one strap to fold and store. As an engineer, this gets my approval.

Breville Immersion Blender

If you want to have total control of what your baby eats, you need to make your own baby food. To puree his food, we used this immersion blender. The advantage of an immersion blender over a standard blender is that you can take this to any pot and blend food in the pot. No need to have to pour contents into a blender. It’s very time consuming and intensive but making your own baby’s food is very satisfying.

OXO block set

Once you’ve made your own baby food, this is the best way to store it. Comes with trays that help keep them organized in your fridge or freezer.

Honest Company

For diapers and baby wipes, we signed up with The Honest Company. They pride themselves in using sustainable components and are free from chemicals, fragrances and allergens. They do a subscription service and my wife gets a kick out of picking the prints his diapers come in.

Having a newborn is very overwhelming but as cliche as it sounds, it’s the best thing ever. I can’t describe the feeling you get when your child smiles at you after you come home from work. Hopefully some of these items will help you with your child. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out.

Simple – A New Way To Bank

It’s safe to say everyone has a bank account and that their bank has a website and a mobile app. What everyone CANNOT say is that they love using it or get any other useful information other than “How much money do I have in my account?” I can say, for a fact, that I love using Simple as my bank. It’s a shame that none of the big banks, or even the smaller credit unions or other “online banks”, could put together an elegant and useful banking experience.

Simple, by itself, is not a bank. They partner with Bancorp which is FDIC insured. They merely provide an interface layer for Bancorp. Most bank websites show you your available balance and a list of your recent transactions. There are two problems with this. One, your available balance doesn’t accurately reflect pending transactions or scheduled payments. I’ve long hated the guessing game of trying to figure out how much I REALLY have in the bank. Simple has introduced Safe To Spend. They take your total account balance and subtract any pending or scheduled transactions, and any money you have set aside for goals (more on this later) and lets you know how much you can safely spend. This is much more useful than “Current Balance”.

Safe To Spend
Safe To Spend

The way Simple lists transactions is also pretty awesome. Whenever you swipe your card, your bank receives a bunch of information from the business swiping your card. Obviously, the name of the merchant, the date and the amount. Here lies the second problem. Most of the time, the merchant name is in all caps and is either truncated or includes info like store number or other information not useful to you as is. Simple is smart enough to take only the useful information and lists what it thinks is relevant. For example “LUCKY #749.SAN CARLOS” becomes “Lucky”. You can also edit these if you like.

What most people don’t know is that other information is transmitted such as time of purchase and location. Most banks feel that this is not useful to you. Simple takes ALL of this information and presents it to you. With all this information, you can create a pretty detailed overview of how and where you spend your money. There are also memo fields where you can add further descriptions to your transactions. I like to put what I buy at the grocery store or at Target. Or you can add the price you paid for gas and see the price of gas rise and fall each time you go. You can also add photo or pdf attachments. Great for attaching pictures of your food from a restaurant or your phone bill to your mobile phone provider. You could even search for “dinner” and “weekday” and it’s smart enough to go through your transactions and narrow it down to the ones you made at restaurants, on weekdays, around dinner time. The possibilities are endless and I keep finding new ways to make the service more useful.

Attachments
Attachments
Searchby hashtags
Searchby hashtags
Search:
Search: “dinner” “weekday”

With all the information from transactions, Simple gathers all this information and presents them to you in Reports. After using Simple for an amount of time, it can show you trends in your spending. How much you spend monthly on gas. How much you spend weekly on food. Pretty standard stuff.

Monthly Gas
Monthly Gas
Monthly Food
Monthly Food

Something really unique is Goals. Everyone has ambitions to save money. Unless you have an automatic savings plan set up, not many people actively set aside a portion of money to save for a vacation, new gadget or an emergency fund. Simple has two ways of setting up goals. The first way is straight forward; you start a new goal, specify how much you’d like to begin the goal with and name it. You can transfer funds to this goal by clicking and dragging. You can also save towards a goal over time. Say you want to save $300 for Christmas shopping. You’d start a new goal and specify the amount and date you’d like to have the goal completed. Once you create that goal, Simple will automatically take money from your Safe To Spend amount everyday until your goal is met on that date. In the Christmas shopping example, about $1 a day is needed from now until December 7 if you started April 1st. It really puts saving into perspective.

Goals
Goals

There’s a lot to love about Simple but there are a few things that are missing. First of all, they don’t have checks. At least, they don’t have checks that we’re used to. They have a Send Money feature where you can initiate a payment electronically and they will generate a check that gets mailed within 5 business days. Since you can pay almost all your bills online, this won’t be an issue for a lot of people but it is a hassle for those few times you need a physical check immediately. The second drawback is the inability to send money electronically to another bank account, also known as an ACH (Automatic Clearing House) transfer. My long time bank, ING, would allow me to send money to another account as long as I had a routing number and an account number. Simple promises they are working to bring this feature soon.

Send Money
Send Money

It boggles my mind that it took so long for a company to see that the way banks were giving us information on their websites was lacking. Simple really makes it fun and useful to manage and, in turn, save your money. You can request an invitation to sign up at their site.

Waze

The iPhone currently ships with a Maps app. You can use it to find local businesses or navigate to addresses. You may have heard about Apple’s decision to use its own data and not Google’s. For the most part, Apple’s app does a fine job of doing what it’s supposed to do. They’ve had plenty of time to iron any kinks that were present when they first launched.

For those who want to know about alternatives, I’ll outline the best two in my opinion. Before Apple decided to make their own app, they used Google’s map data. Once they were cut off, Google decided to come out with their own Maps app. Theirs does not disappoint. It’s everything you expect out of their version of a navigation app.

If you’d want a little more out of your navigation app, I’d like to suggest Waze. They have been out for some time, but since Apple stubmled out of the gate with their app, they got a bit of free publicity. After using their app for a few weeks, I use it almost exclusively whenever I hit the road. Here are a few reasons why I prefer it over Apple’s and Google’s offerings

1. Crowd Sourced Info – As you’re driving along, you can see current traffic along your route. This is no different than Apple or Google’s offering. The advantage Waze has is that other Waze users can submit data that is useful to other users. Things such as road hazards, traffic, stalled vehicles, red light cameras, even hidden police officers can be reported by users so that other Waze users can see what to expect on their routes. If you come up to one of these hazards while driving, you’ll see a notification of what type of hazard and how far away it is. As you approach, you can verify if the hazard is still there or if it has been cleared. You can tap “Thanks” or “Not There”. By taking action, you help out other Waze drivers by keeping the information up to date.

2. Predictive navigation – If you start using Waze consistently, it will learn your driving habits and automatically bring up your route so you don’t have to. Let’s say you usually leave for work around 7 am. If you launch Waze on your phone and start driving, within seconds it will ask if you’re on your way to work and bring up your route and any hazards you may encounter. It keeps you from having to tap your destination on your phone. Just launch the app and start driving.

3. Details – There are a number of small details that make this app better than the rest. Once you reach your destination, you can stop the app from giving you directions. There’s nothing more annoying than a navigation app that butts in with course redirections even if you’re just driving around looking for parking. You can also drop a pin once you’ve parked so you can make it back to your vehicle after a long day at Disneyland.

There are plenty of navigation apps available on the App Store, not just the ones I listed here. Personally, I use a combination of both. I use Google to search for businesses and addresses. And I use Waze for actual turn by turn navigation. If you’d like to give Waze a shot, you can find them here in the App Store.

Forecast

When you buy a smartphone, it comes pre-installed with a number of useful apps. For most people, the default weather app is considered “good enough”. The problem with most weather apps is that they either show too much or too little information. Most often, you want to know what the weather is like right now, or will be in the near future. Also, most people don’t care about the humidity or wind speed. Most people just want to know “Will it rain?” or “Is it going to be hot/cold?” 

Forecast, from the makers of Dark Sky, decided to come out with a full featured weather service that builds on what makes Dark Sky so great. Along with providing up to the minute, accurate weather predictions, they do 7 day forecasts. All in a beautiful web app. And since it is web based, you can access it from any device. Just go to forecast.io and save it as a bookmark on your home screen. You’ll forget that it’s not even an app, it’s just a website designed to behave like an app.

After playing around with Forecast, it makes sites like The Weather Channel look like garbage. Read about their announcement of Forecast here.

★ Year in Review: 2012

I look at my past yearly reviews and I notice that with each year, something bigger and more exciting happens. That was still the case with 2012. For almost a year, Mary and I saw each other at least every weekend during our long distance relationship. That feat is pretty amazing and we couldn’t believe that we went that long without missing a weekend. Nevertheless, we couldn’t do that forever and it was definitely getting more difficult as time passed. So in March 2012, I moved from Orange County to the Bay Area to live with Mary and Malia.
Moving to a whole new geographic region, one would think I would have a huge adjustment to make. I didn’t. I was visiting the Bay Area pretty frequently in 2011 so it wasn’t a huge shock to me. I was very fortunate that the company I worked for transferred me to their Bay Area office even after I was recently brought in as part of a merger. That was probably the biggest hurdle to moving up here was having a job lined up. I applied to jobs about month before I planned to move and while I got a few interviews, none of them turned into offers. I told my boss in LA that I was planning to move and he was disappointed that I was leaving after only a few months. He asked if I had anything lined up and the answer was no. I knew we had an branch in the Bay Area but it never occurred to me to ask him about the possibility of transferring. He said he’d call to the manager of the Bay Area office to see if they had a position open. A week later, I had an offer for the job.

As I write this, I can’t help but think of this post. When I was debating whether or not to work for Hop full time, I had the idea of moving already in the back of my mind. My logic was: I had a good year of experience on the truck, if I helped him out at the restaurant full time, I thought I’d be able to use all that experience to broaden my prospects of getting a job. I’d apply to both food service and engineering jobs. If I could throw more applications out there, something was bound to stick. Had I pursued the restaurant full time, I never would’ve ended up at DMG and eventually, DMG North. Again, I’m reminded of Steve Jobs’ speech at Stanford: The dots are still connecting.

Living in the Bay Area is all that I could have asked for and more. Whether it’s taking Malia out, finding new places to eat, or just exploring The City, we never run out of things to do. Work is great. They’re flexible and understanding with Malia’s school schedule and I got a slight bump in pay when I moved. I also have the ability to make extra money in commission, an option I didn’t have before.

People have always asked me if I would ever move back to San Diego, the city I was born and raised in. My answer is almost always no. Now that I’ve been in the Bay Area for almost a year, I get asked the same question, except it’s, “Would you ever move back to Orange County.” And my answer is still the same. I love the previous places that I’ve lived. I’m proud of where I’m from but every time I’ve moved on, I grow to embrace my new home. This time, it’s no different.

★ Not An iPad Review

Rather than bore you with a late iPad review, I decided to write about how my iPad went from a $600 play thing to my everyday computer.
It’s crazy to think that the iPad has only been around for a little over two years. In my review of the first iPad, i said that while the iPad is a great consumption device, you really didn’t need it if you had a laptop or desktop.

When the iPad 2 came out, it was thinner and lighter than the original iPad and after being out for a year, it wasn’t as much as a novelty as the first iPad. I didn’t feel as awkward bringing it with me and taking it out to use. there were some things that I wished it had/did, but the form factor and weight were such an improvement over the original that whatever it lacked were easy to overlook. There were also more apps that did a lot of the same tasks you could do on a traditional PC, some even better.

With the release of the new iPad, I find myself using it as my sole personal computer. At home, I mostly use a computer to listen to music, browse the Internet, pay bills, read emails, post pictures, read, chat with friends and check Twitter. Now that the iPad is in its 3rd generation, there is an app for almost everything you need to do on the web. Sure, some things are still easier to do on a traditional computer but the iPad is good enough at almost everything that _I_ need it to do that I find myself rarely using my MacBook Pro. And that’s not a bad thing.

20120614-224942.jpg

I got a 32 GB Verizon iPad in white (to match my white iPhone). I went with 32 GB because I listen to a lot of my music on Rdio which I can stream over a network connection. I don’t HAVE to store all my music in my device. I went with the LTE version because, well, it’s so damn fast. My iPad 2 had 3G available but I never used it since i didn’t see the value in it. I was already using an iPhone with a 3G connection so why pay extra for the same connection on my iPad? With LTE speeds almost as fast as my home internet connection, it was not hard to sign up for a plan.

The one area where I encounter friction using an iPad over a traditional computer is with photos. I bought a canon s90 in 2010 the same time I bought my original iPad. My phone was an iPhone 3GS and while the camera was good, it was nowhere near the quality of a point and shoot. Two years later, the camera on my iPhone 4S rivals my Canon and is in some ways better due to its data connection. With Photo Stream, it is super easy to immediately view, manipulate and share pictures from my iPhone on my iPad. The problem I run into is when I use my Canon. Pictures I take on my S90 require a few extra steps to get on my iPad. I got an Eye-Fi card for Christmas and while it reduced the number of steps, it doesn’t come close to the speed and ease of iCloud and Photo Stream. Until the cameras on iPhones can truly replace point and shoots (zoom, flash capabilities included), I see this as my only real complaint with using my iPad as a full time computer.

Otherwise the new iPad is a great computer. It is almost as indispensable as my iPhone. I take with me almost everywhere I go. And I used it to type this blog post.