Archive for the ‘Product Reviews’ Category.

Good Local Things

Some random thoughts that came up chatting with a good person.

If you’ve got kids, the El Cerrito local “Wildcat” 4H is worthwhile. Getting on the google group and watching what transpires for a while is a good start, to see their schedules and such. Here’s the Wildcat 4-H Program main page.

If you’re volunteering for a school outing, it’s really important to get all the chaperones and the teacher’s mobile number in case a kid gets lost or somesuch. Consider making a texting group.

Library Elf is a good service to help unify your library experience. All I use it for is to know when anyone in my family’s item is ready for pickup or due back. It also can log your lending.

Until last year, I kept a book list of what we gave Abigail to read and how it went over. You might get some reading ideas from it. Look at the Ratings column and consider as a starting point, to get any books rated 7 or higher. Abigail’s Book List.


EcoEgg is Excellent Laundry Detergent

We’ve been using EcoEgg laundry detergent for about a year now and I love it.

– It gets our clothes clean. Long ago, I tried 7th Generation laundry detergent and dish soap and they didn’t do a very good job.
– Works as well as our other favorites, Trader Joes Laundry Detergent, Sheets Laundry Club, and All Free and Clear.
– I don’t smell it on my clothes at all. I have been steered away from many laundry detergents due to their strong scent. I can smell the horrid chemical stew of Tide detergent on a person from literally 20 paces. The EcoEgg itself has a slight smell (my princess-and-the-pea nose would say it’s a moderately unpleasant smell) but that smell doesn’t transfer to our clothes. Update on the smell 9-28-22: I refilled the egg a few weeks ago and for the first week my clothes came out with a slight off smell. But about 5 washes later, that smell is gone. I guess when the beads are new, they have a slight smell.
– Really easy to use: just throw the egg in the washer. No pouring, no measuring. You can take the egg out of the washer when you’re done but it’s not vitally important.
– It’s compatible with all the regular stain treating products. We use Oxyclean, Clorox Max Performance stain remover, and real bleach on occasion.
– Very inexpensive at ~$0.04/load instead of most detergents at $0.10-$0.20 per load.

Rclone is a Great Way to Move Files

Rclone is the right software to copy multi-terabyte file repositories from one place to another! It’s also very capable at rearranging files in lots of other different ways. Check it out. It’s something of a sister program to rsync on unix.

I had to fiddle with rclone a bit. Here is the command I ended up using:

c:\aaa\rclone\rclone sync –modify-window=2s -v –exclude=”System Volume Information/**” d:/ f:/[my new repository]

It was so simple (after a two weeks of fiddling and yelling at my computer). Just run that command, wait 3 days (yipe, I’ve got some bandwidth/scale problems) and profit!

(If you copy-paste that text, make sure you don’t use smartquotes, use regular quotes)

Let’s look at that command one argument at a time:


rclone isn’t installed, perse, on a windows computer. You just unzip it and go! That means it doesn’t set PATH variables (unless you do it yourself. So I open up a Windows Powershell with Admin rights, specify the folder to run in (c:\aaa\rclone in my example) and go!


It’s so magically simple. Sync is better than copying because it will delete extra files on the target side.


The FAT file system doesn’t accurately capture file modification times. So every time you run rclone, it’ll compare file modification times and get it wrong. If you turn on very verbose mode with “-vv” you’ll see errors like “Modification times differ by 1.490000000s”, and it’ll copy files over and over and over :-(. This “modify-window” setting says “if the files were modified within 2 seconds of each other, don’t sweat the difference.


“-v” is “verbose” mode, “-vv” is very verbose mode, for when you want to figure out why your rclone session is failing. You can eliminate it when you are sure of your sessions.


–exclude=”System Volume Information/**”

I’m copying from the root (d:\) If I don’t specify this, rclone will try (and fail) to grab files from the system volume information folder.

d:/ f:/[my new repository]

Note that I’m using slashes instead of Window’s backslashes. It might not be essential but rclone (and I) prefers slashes.


What doesn’t work:

Windows File Explorer drag-and-drop copy doesn’t have enough checking, the ability to recover a failed copy, or the ability to “sync”.

Teracopy can copy but not sync. It recovers a bit better from failed copies but not well enough for my 2TB file moves. I think it created system instability, crashing a few times at inopportune times.

Robocopy not enough checking, mediocre recovery from failed copies, not enough feedback.

Windows File History might actually be useful as a local backup tool. I played with it a bit and seemed to work well on a local network. Though it kept nagging me when a computer wasn’t connected (yes, I know, I turned the other computer off an hour ago). Though I’ll likely stick with rclone and Backblaze instead of learning 2 tools.

Minio on a server with some fancy buy-once Amazon AWS compatible backup software for the client like Arqbackup was a good idea until I found that Minio needed to be manually updated every couple weeks or it would refuse to start up.

keywords: backup

Review of Outback Trading Men’s 1497 River Guide UPF 50 Waterproof Breathable Outdoor Cotton Oilskin Hat: Bad

The hat smells of… I can think of no better description: hot asphalt. I wrote to the company who responded “Yes, there will be a slight oily smell and feel to the hat. This will fade over time with exposure to sunlight and the elements of nature.” It is horrible, like wearing a tiny bit of a skunk on your head. I’ll stop noticing the smell for a while and then turn my head and think, “What the hell, why do I smell asphalt?!”

Every time I touch the hat, my hands get oily. It’s like the “oil” in “oilskin” was cheap lubricating oil.

Well, after a month… 1 week of full-time wear, 1 week sitting outside in the sun and rain, 2 weeks sitting out, it still smells of asphalt and makes my hands oily.

Don’t buy this hat. Calm continues to be a magical reprieve from the difficulties of the world. It’s so simple. People show videos of what it looks like out the window of their home. This morning I was welcomed into someone’s home in Brazil, heard birds chirping in Russia, felt the buzz of street traffic in Palestine, and whiled away the time listening to cicadas in Texas. The most magical thing is that in all these videos, nothing happens.
The site is free. I’ve chipped into their “buy me a coffee” jar.

Mpow Flame Solo Wireless Bluetooth Eardbuds

I got a pair of Mpow Flame Solo Wireless Eardbuds, model BH503A recently. I’m really happy with them!

Here’s the Mpow Flame Solo User Manual

I did a comparison recently between them, Tozo T12, Jabra Evolve T65, and Anker Soundcore Spirit X, and these came out on top!

Main features:
— $40 inexpensive on Amazon
— They “just work”. It has taken a little effort to figure out how to switch between my now multiple audio-out options on my computer, that isn’t the fault of the earbuds. Syncing is easy, turning on and of is easy.
— audio quality for music is nearly as good as my wired earbuds, I use them for music and Zoom sessions a lot
— The over-the-ear design means they stay on my head and I don’t have to rely on squeezing the earpiece into my ear to stay on (like the Tozo T12)
— The volume and sound response (highs vs lows etc) is sometimes a little bit less than my wired earbuds. But, as Ultron said as he prepared to destroy earth, “I got no strings on me!”

Laser Printer Toner Refill Kits That Work

I’ve now bought and used 2 laser printer toner refill kits from and I’m very happy with them!

It took about 20 minutes to refill my second toner, saving about $50 off a name-brand new toner cartridge. I’ll get it down to 10 minutes with practice. It takes a little bit of disassembly and work but they gave me excellent printed instructions and their website practically screams “If you have ANY questions or problems, call us, we’re here!”

Our family has 2 Brother HL-L2350DW laser printers. They’re pretty good inexpensive printers. (Though last month one just died on me, Brother support walked me through everything but… [sad trombone sounds])

I’ve had mixed experience with inexpensive, off-brand toner cartridges. I forget the details but I think about 70% of my toner purchases from V4Ink on Amazon worked flawlessly.

Borrowing History of Library Books in California

Here’s one way to keep track of the books you’ve borrowed from the library. Many libraries in California do not let you view your checkout history, citing California law that mandates the confidentiality of borrowing records. I can understand that but I wish my local library let me choose.

My library, and thousands of others use a service called Library Elf. I see a few main benefits:
* view consolidated library accounts… ie. see if your daughter’s account has overdue books
* see a history of the books you’ve checked out
* get nice email reminders of almost-due books

I’ve been using it for about 2 months and it works pretty well. It’s free for me because my library subscribes to it. It might be free for you too.

My New Favorite Musician For Kids: Jim Gill

I came across Jim Gill’s amazing finger play song One From The Left and got hooked. He’s got a huge catalog of catchy, fun kids songs. Check him out!

Wireless Earbud Headphones for Zoom Recommendation

I use Zoom on Windows a lot lately. I wanted cordless earbuds to decrease the number of wires at my desk so I went exploring. Here’s my recommendation:

All of them have “ok”-ish microphones. When at my desk, I use the mic built into my laptop but sometimes switch to the built-in mike when walking around.

MPOW Flame Solo is the best bluetooth earbud for me
– $40 on Amazon
– They “just work”. It has taken a little effort to figure out how to switch between my now multiple audio-out options on my computer, that isn’t the fault of the earbuds. Syncing is easy, turning on and of is easy.
– audio quality for music is nearly as good as my wired earbuds, I use them for music
– The over-the-ear design means they stay on my head and I don’t have to rely on squeezing the earpiece into my ear to stay on (like the Tozo T12)
– The volume and sound response (highs vs lows etc) is sometimes a little bit less than my wired earbuds. But look ma! no cords!


Tozo T12 is my second choice
– $40 on Amazon
– Also “just work.”
– They work as well as the MPOW Flame Solo but the in-the-ear-canal design bothers me since there is something shoved in my ear canal! And they sometimes fall out when I make a big facial expression like a wide smile.

Jabra Evolve 65T was TERRIBLE
I thought these would be the best due to the company’s reputation and their price tag but I was wrong!
– $220 on Amazon. What?? Yes!
— They occasionally make a very loud click in my ears. Once it happened when I walked away from my desk, maybe it lost bluetooth connection? Once it happened while I was trying to configure it. Earbuds should NEVER blast my ears with a loud click!
— The audio balance for music is often 90% to the left and can’t be fixed. I googled around and found several forums filled with people saying “yeah, that’s a problem. I called Jabra and they couldn’t fix it.” One fix seemed to work for some people: sticking a needle in the microphone port below the “R” on the right earbud and wiggling it around. I gently tried this (on my brand new earbuds) and it didn’t work.
— I had a bit of trouble configuring them to work. Making the sound path from Zoom/Spotify/default computer audio to the speakers wasn’t intuitive and the manual consisted of just 4 pictograms. I muddled through but a little more help from Jabra would have been nice. Here are some hints (that Jabra doesn’t mention!): The Jabra “Sound+” app for Android can help you configure the earbuds… but some forums say it is responsible for the left-balance problem. You should get the Jabra Direct Windows program to set up the Jabra USB Link 370 USB Adapter.

Anker Soundcore Spirit X no good for Zoom on Windows
– $30 on Amazon
– They work great on my Android phone
– They sound about as good as the others. The two over-the-ear earbuds are tethered to one another. I had heard people say that a tethered design would make it so you don’t lose one earbud; to that I say “Meh, just don’t lose them!” I find the tether bothers my neck. When I turn my head, it catches on my hair a little and pulls at the earbud a little. I solved that by putting the cord over the top of my head, which makes me feel rather dorky!
– HOWEVER, they are no good for connecting to a Windows computer! They disconnect randomly. Many people online have said similarly that they don’t maintain a connection. And there’s no fix.

Old school wired earbuds
I still keep them near my desk because they sounds a little better than the bluetooth earbuds and they don’t run out of battery. But the wires are a hassle.

PS. Luke, you were right all along!!

PPS. I should try Aftershokz bone conduction headphones. They have a boom mike and a good visual profile (I want to look normal-ish to my clients and not wear giant headphones)… thoughts?