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Summary: Three Mini Gadget Reviews… and a Big Week for Security Fails

By Rich

Rich here,

Before I get into the cold open for this week, the past few days have been pretty nasty for privacy, security, and the digital supply chain. I will have a post on that up soon, but you can skip to the Top News section to catch the main stories. They are essential reading this week, and we don’t say that often.

I am a ridiculous techno-addict, and have been my entire life. I suspect I inherited it from my father, who brought home an early microwave (likely responsible for my hair loss), video tape deck (where I watched Star Wars before VHS was on the market, the year the movie came out), and even a reel to reel videotape camera (black and white) I used for my own directorial debuts… often featuring my Star Wars figures.

Gadgets have always been one of my vices, but as I have grown older they not only got cheaper, but also cheaper than what many of my 40+-year-old peers spend money on (cars, extra houses, extramarital partners for said houses, etc. ). That said, over time I have become a bit more discerning about where I drop money as I have come to better understand my own tastes and needs… and as my kids killed any semblance of hobby time.

For this week’s Summary I thought I’d highlight a few of my current favorite gadgets. This isn’t even close to exhaustive – just a few current favorites.

Logitech Harmony Ultimate Home + Hub – I don’t actually have all that crazy a TV setup, but it’s just complex enough that I wanted a universal remote. We switch a ton between our Apple TV and TiVo Roamio, and our kids are so that young regular remotes are a mess.

The Harmony Ultimate is exactly what the name says. The remote itself is relatively small and has an adaptive touch screen that configures itself to the activity you are in. While it has an infrared transmitter like all remotes, it really uses RF to communicate to the Hub, which is located in our AV cabinet under the TV, and includes an IR blaster to hit all the components.

This setup brings three key advantages. First, you don’t need to worry about where to point the remote. My kids would always lose aim in the middle of a multi-component command (something as simple as turning things on or off) and get frustrated. That’s no longer an issue. Second, the touch screen itself makes a cleaner remote with less buttons. You can prioritize the ones you use on the display, but still access all the obscure ones. Finally, the Hub is network enabled, and pairs with an iOS app. If I can’t find the remote I use my phone and everything looks and works the same. Because children.

I have used earlier Logitech remotes and this is the first one that really delivers on all the promises. It is pricy, but futureproof, and even integrates with home automation products. I also got $80 off during a random Amazon sale. There isn’t anything else like this on the market, and I don’t regret it. We used our last Harmony remote for 7 years with our main TV, and it’s now in another room, so we got our money’s worth.

Garmin Forerunner 920XT – I’m a triathlete. Not a great one by any means, but that’s my sport of choice these days. The Garmin 920XT was my holiday present this year, and it changed how I think about smartwatches.

First, as a fitness tool, it is ridiculous. Aside from the GPS (and GLONASS – thank you, Russian friends), it connects with a ton of sensors, works as a basic smartwatch, and even includes an accelerometer – not only for step tracking, but also run tracking on treadmills and swim stroke tracking in pools.

I didn’t expect to wear it every day but I do. Even getting simple notifications on my wrist means less pulling my phone out of my pocket, and I don’t worry about missing calls when I chase the kids during the work day and leave my phone on my desk. Yes, I’ll switch to an Apple Watch day-to-day when it comes out, but I went on a 17-mile run during working hours this week, and knowing I didn’t miss anything important was liberating.

The 920XT is insane as a fitness tool. It will estimate your VO2 Max and predict race performance based on heart rate variability. It pulls in more metrics than you knew existed (or can use, but it makes us geeks happy). You can expand it with Garmin’s new ConnectIQ app platform. I added a half-marathon race predictor for my last race, and it helped me set a new PR – I am not great at math in the middle of a race. It walks me through structured workouts, then automatically uploads everything via my phone or home WiFi when I’m done, which then syncs to Strava and TrainingPeaks.

If you aren’t a multisport athlete I’d check out the Fenix 3 or Vivoactive. They both support ConnectIQ.

Neato XV-11 Robotic Vacuum – With multiple cats and allergies I was an early Roomba user. It worked well but had some key annoyances. It nearly never found its base to recharge, I’d have to remember to use the “virtual wall” infrared barriers to keep it in a room, and it was a royal pain to clean.

Then I switched to the Neato XV-11 (an older model). It uses a stronger vacuum than the Roomba, is much easier to clean, maps rooms with LIDAR (laser radar), and nearly always finds its base to recharge. It is also much easier to schedule.

The Neato will scan a room, clean until the battery gets low, go back to base, recharge, and then start out again up to 3 times (when it’s running on a schedule). It detects doorways automatically, stays in the room you put it in, and will only hit the next room when it is done.

On the downside I cannot use it on a schedule any more because my cats vomit too much and I don’t want to gum it up. But I still vacuum several more times a week than I would by hand – I pull it out, scan the room for cat puke, move a few dirty socks, and let ‘er rip.

That’s it for this week. Three items I use nearly every day that have nothing to do with Securosis or Apple.

On to the Summary:

Webcasts, Podcasts, Outside Writing, and Conferences

Favorite Securosis Posts

Other Securosis Posts

Favorite Outside Posts

  • Adrian Lane: Reverse Engineering Apple’s Lightning Connector. To me hacking is about understanding how stuff really works, and modifying it to suit your needs. For good usually, but I understand there are two sides to that coin. And that’s one of the reasons I love Hack-a-day and articles like this – figuring out how the Lightning connector works.
  • Mortman: HTTP/2 is out!
  • Mike: Emerging Products: Threat Intelligence Group Test. This is why we can’t have nice things. I’m old, but I remember when product reviews were actually helpful. At least they provide a short list of products to look at. So there’s that…
  • Dave Lewis: Superfish. Let us know if any of your corporate Lenovos came with this, but we assume all corporate laptops are wiped and get a standard image installed.
  • Rich: How Spies Stole the Keys to the Encryption Castle. As I keep hinting, I need to write this all up tomorrow.

Research Reports and Presentations

Top News and Posts

As I mentioned in the opening, there are some major privacy and security stories this week. Dave Lewis highlighted Superfish, and here are the other main stories you need to read:

And some other stories:

Blog Comment of the Week

This week’s best comment goes to will, in response to Some days, I think we are screwed.

People tend to be stupid, so the smart ones must protect them from themselves :)

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