Rocketfish RF-MAB2 Bluetooth Headphones

I had a gift card burning a hole in my pocket and decided to use it on a pair of Rocketfish RF-MAB2 Bluetooth Headphones. (Rocketfish is Best Buy’s house brand.) I was pretty much expecting to return them, but after using them for the past several weeks, I find that I really like them. The freedom of wireless headphones is great.

They support stereo A2DP Bluetooth so they work quite nicely with my iPhone 4. I can change tracks, adjust volume, play/pause music, etc. The sound is pretty good and I like the open-air design. You can pause music and still carry on a conversation without removing them. Volume is adequate.

They are relatively comfortable. Since I sometimes wear glasses, I find it more comfortable to wear them upside-down–where the loop in the band goes under my ears instead of over. You’d think they would slip off, but they don’t. If I’m leaning with my head back, I loop them under my chin. This is awkward at best, but it works.

They have a built-in mic so you can use it to make calls too. Performance is so so, and I find that they only work acceptably in a relatively quiet environment.

I don’t know how much abuse they could take but construction is pretty good. I doubt the band could tolerate being severely bent. I’m not overly proctective, but I do try not to squash them.

I haven’t tested it’s supposed 14 hours of battery life, but I think it might be able to achieve this. I go all day without needing to recharge. It has a standard micro-USB connector for charging.

I highly recommend them. I got them for $49 at Best Buy.

Free Slacker Premium! Cloud music already here…

It’s probably a preemptive strike with all of the cloud music services popping up and Apple’s entrance into this space almost assured, but Slacker is running a promotion for a free one-month subscription to their premium service. I’ve looked at Slacker before, but they’ve added some awesome features worth a revisit.

Subscription Music vs Cloud

Amazon, Google, and probably Apple’s “cloud” music services appear to be geared toward moving your existing library to their servers. This is inherently different than pure music subscription services like Rhapsody, Napster and MOG, where you rent music. Both give you access to music from the cloud, but the beauty of subscription is being able to instantly play something that is not in your library: a song, artist or album you want to hear on the spur of the moment.

There is a third type of online music service, although the lines are started to blur: Slacker and Pandora. These are the digital equivalent of FM radio. With FM radio, you don’t have direct control over what is played, but you can pick from a handful of stations that cater to your tastes, like Top 40, classic rock, country, etc. Think of Slacker/Pandora as radio with thousands of “stations.”

Cache is King

I believe that, most, if not all, of the online services also allow you to cache songs to your device so you don’t have to stream over the air. Not only does this save valuable data bandwidth, but it also makes these services useful on devices that only have WiFi, like an iPod Touch.

Slacker vs Pandora

Both Slacker and Pandora let you create an artist or song station; however, there is a big difference. Slacker “song” stations are actually artist-based. Pandora, by comparison, will try to play songs similar to the particular song. So if you pick a slow song from an artist that normally plays upbeat music, Slacker will likely play upbeat songs from similar artists. Pandora will play similar slow songs. In this respect, Pandora is superior.

On the other hand, Slacker appears to have a much larger catalog of music. (The website says 6 times more than their top competitor, who I assume is Pandora.) Slacker also features professionally programmed “genre stations.” According to the Slacker website, “Each station features a deep selection of music; hand-picked by Slacker DJs and includes breaking hits and top singles along with the very best deep tracks and more! Personalize them by rating the music you love, banning the songs and artists you don’t or use the Fine Tune settings to make them your own.”

I’ve always felt that the weakness of services like Rhapsody/Napster was their playlists, which is the strength of Slacker/Pandora. I’ve always thought that it would be great if Rhapsody or Napster acquired Slacker or Pandora, or vice versa. I guess Slacker with the Premium service is close to that.

Actually, I’ve always wondered why Billboard or American Top 40 has never partnered with one of the online services. Seems like a natural. Most of the songs on the top charts would be available. I’m sure it’s been explored and just is a matter of dollars and (no) sense.

Free vs Paid Service

Slacker/Pandora’s free service has some ads and you are limited to how many times you can skip a song. If you want unlimited skips and no ads, there is a Slacker Plus service that is only $3.99/month. Pandora has similar thing for $36/yr called Pandora One. If you want to play specific songs/artists–Pandora doesn’t do this–, you have to pony up for the Slacker Premium service for $9.99/month. This makes Slacker more like Rhapsody/Napster and is very exciting.

Fine Tuning Stations

The feature in Slacker that has really got me excited is the way you can fine tune the stations. There is an Artist Discovery setting where you can tailor how much you want other similar artists to play.

On an iPhone, to get to the Fine Tuning settings you have to be on a station page. Tap Menu, Edit Station, and finally Fine Tune. Now you can adjust how much you want other artists to play using the Artist Discovery setting. I also like the ability to set how popular a song has to be. You can also set the age of songs using the Year setting.

NOTE: It’s not obvious how to create a station from just a song. To do so, just play the song and when it’s done, it will be created automatically. If you can’t wait for it to end, tap the Next Track icon. To create an artist station, just search for the artist and tap the play button. The station is created immediately. However, as I stated earlier, with Slacker, there is really no musical difference between a song station and an artist station.

I’m still exploring the features of the Slacker player, but finding it more and more compelling. I find the extensive artist bios and album reviews really interesting. Lyrics are available for many songs.

One Month Free

For a limited time, Slacker is offering free access for a month to their premium service. All you have to do is go to their Facebook Fan page and sign up; no credit card required. Then go to Slacker.com/gift and use the gift code you will be given. Even if you miss the promotion, Slacker is absolutely worth $10 just to try out the premium features for a month.

What To Do?

Will I be dumping my Rhapsody account? Not yet. Rhapsody seems to have a bigger catalog and also allows me to download songs to my laptop and play music without Internet access–Slacker surprisingly doesn’t support PCs, only mobile devices.

I really like Pandora’s song-based stations and for just $36/year to be ad-free, it’s a no-brainer. I’m on the fence with Slacker since it is somewhat redundant with Rhapsody. I could possibly get away with the less expensive Slacker Plus service, but you need Premium to create custom playlists because that requires on-demand access to songs. I guess I’ll play with it for my free month and then see if I miss it. That will be the acid test.

Tire pressure sensor issue for 2008 Lexus RX350

The tire pressure monitor sensor (TPMS) light had been illuminated for a while on my 2008 Lexus RX350 even though all my tires, including spare, were at or higher than the recommended PSI. I scoured the web for a solution, but it took me a long time to sift through the many forum posts and actually find one.

There’s actually many things that can cause the problem. I’m posting the information below to help out the legions of other RX350 owners looking for a nice concise solution to this irritating problem.

1. Make sure the Main/2nd button, underneath the dash on the passenger side, is set to Main (this is the “out” position of this push button.) This can easily get accidentally pushed in by a passenger’s leg. If you are wondering what this switch does, it’s for people that have two sets of tires with pressure sensors on both sets. This might be for a set of snow tires, for example.

2. Inflate all tires to at least 33psi.

3. Make sure you inflate the spare tire too.

valvestemcaps

4. Make sure you have aluminum valve stem caps on all tires including the spare. Don’t use plastic or non-aluminum metal caps. Other metals can actually fuse to the stems over time! You can probably get them at the dealer, but I bought some on Amazon like these.

5. Press the TPMS reset button underneath the dash on the driver side. There are two buttons near each other and it’s the one on the left.

Well, I hope this information helps someone. The Main/2nd switch is what tripped me up and it wasn’t mentioned on most of the forum posts I read.

UPDATES:
2016-01-06 – Added picture of the Main/2nd button.
2015-07-20 – Since the Main/2nd button is often the culprit, I moved that from #5 to #1 :-D
2015-10-12 – Amazon doesn’t carry the original caps I bought so I substituted the link and photo to some similar looking ones.

Restaurant/Cafeteria-style Hot Oatmeal At Last!

UPDATE 1/2/14: Click here to see my new post on cooking oatmeal

I’ve been a big fan of steel-cut oatmeal, but have developed a craving for the goopy oatmeal they serve at this cafeteria I’ve been frequenting recently. I knew it wasn’t steel-cut and it didn’t seem to be regular old-fashion oatmeal either; however, my research indicated that those basically were the only kind available. I bought a box of Quaker old-fashion oatmeal and tried a few batches without any luck.

Unfortunately, my trusted recipe finder (aka Google) failed me miserably. I just couldn’t find anything that told me how to make it. I did see a few posts about cooking it overnight and it occurred to me that a crock pot (slow cooker) might be involved, after all, the cafeteria made it in these giant vats. Eventually, I did find the right keywords and stumbled upon one post that seemed to be what I wanted. Anyways, I made several batches and here’s what I ended up with:

Ingredients:
– 1 cup oatmeal
– 2-1/2 cups water*

Spray the pot with non-stick spray. (You just can’t avoid the hard semi-burned layer on the sides.) Dump the ingredients in the pot and cook for 8-10 hours on low.

*You will probably need to experiment with the amount of water. First off, add more or less to get the consistency you like. Also, the low setting temperature can vary on different crock pots which will use more or less water. I’ve also found that different brands of oatmeal can affect the amount of needed water.

That’s it! Super simple. Obviously, you can dress it up with fruits and things if you want, but that’s up to you. Comes out exactly like the cafeteria stuff I’ve been getting. Enjoy a healthy and delicious meal!

Use a free-form To-Do list for better memory retension

I’m a big believer in writing things down so I don’t forget to do them. To help me, I’ve used many electronic to-do list apps, but nothing has ever really clicked for me. I even tried hand-written paper lists a couple years back.

The Problem With To-Do Lists Apps

The primary problem for me with to-do list apps is that I’ve never been able to get in the habit of religiously reviewing and updating them. Eventually, I’d forget about them and end up with a bunch of out-dated lists of things to do.

For years, I’ve tried many to-do list apps for the many phones and PDAs I’ve own, including my current iPhone 4. They have always failed me. However, I’ve come to realize that it isn’t the app’s fault. The problem is that I can’t instill the regiment of constantly reviewing the lists all the time. It really didn’t matter what app I used. You know what they say: Out of sight. Out of mind.

To-Do List Nirvana?

I’ve been trying a new method for several months and I feel like I may have just discovered to-do list Nirvana. I call my method a free-form to-do list. Let me explain.

Generally it’s like any other to-do list, but I just use a free-form text app, like a notepad app. It’s all just plain text, no fancy formatting. I group lists using a header in [] brackets. Here’s an example:

[ H I G H  P R I O R I T Y ]
-Get prescriptions

[MUST DO]
-Get car washed
-Go to bank and deposit check

[EVENTUALLY DO]
-Check out iPad 2
-Look at new LCD TVs

[COSTCO]
-Get coffee
-Buy soda

[GIFT CARDS]
-McDonalds
-Starbucks

You get the idea, right? The vertical order of the groups give your a sense of priority as well. [MUST DO] has a higher priority than [EVENTUALLY DO] and naturally appears higher in the list. Note the use of spaces in the [H I G H  P R O R I T Y] header to bring attention to it. I would recommend only having one of these to make it truly stand out.

Why this works

I think this works because I only have to look at one list and can quickly scan through it. It helps me remember some of the things on lower priority lists. Now although editing and reordering is more cumbersome than using a dedicated to-do list app–requiring a cut and paste–this manual exercise increases memory retension.

Using only plain text is very important. Even if the app supports text formatting, avoid it at all costs! Different font sizes, colors, bolding, etc. will eventually become meaningless and you’ll have to think about the meaning of the formatting. Being able to quickly scan your list is key. Using plain text only, limits you to pretty much the order and grouping of tasks. It is simple and easy to pick up things with a quick visual scan. Notice that I don’t even number items. Use the KISS method and keep it simple!

Of course, you still need to remember to update the list, but maintaining a single list is easy to do.

Nothing to buy

One of the beauties of using free-form to-do lists, is you probably don’t need to buy anything. You can just use the notepad app that most any phone or computer comes with. However, I’ve found that something that syncs online, like Evernote, works perfectly because you can edit your list anywhere. Better yet, these services are often free.

There are only two main things you need to keep in mind: 1) update frequently; and, 2) don’t let the list get too unwieldy. That’s it! Drop-dead simple. For me, since I have to refer to it at least daily, it’s almost automatic and requires no discipline at all.

To keep your list concise, don’t put, say, your entire grocery list on it. Just put the things that you want to remember to put on your list as they come up. (e.g., “I have to remember to buy Band-aids.”) Put your final grocery list on its own separate list that you can delete when you’ve done your shopping.

Give free-form to-do lists a try and let me know if it works for you!