Holiday Recommendations/Reviews – 2017


Season’s greetings – I hope you are doing well. This post is a retrospective on items that have been battle tested through my regular use. While there are many more products and services to review, I’ve tried to keep this review to 3 items in each category.

Rating terminology: Naughty/Bad (👎) or Nice/Good (👍): Using Christmas terminology for distinguishing those things that were awful (in my experience) from those things that were great.

On a non-related note – think back to the past year:

  • Did you use Wikipedia? What if Wikipedia had ads on every page…would that have made it better? If you’ve used Wikipedia in any way, then please consider donating to this great resource.

  • What about the Wayback Machine – have you used it to look up old content or find the content of a website that no longer exists? If so – consider donating to this great resource.

Disclaimer note: Please remember that the usual disclaimer applies – these are just my opinions. One person’s 👎 is another person’s 👍.

👍👍👍 Podcast Recommendations

There are way too many podcasts to mention. These are my some of my favorites for this year which you might find interesting.

👍Nice List aka Good List

This is the good list. I’m not sure what else can be said about it.

👍Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard

I originally heard about the Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic keyboard from a Marco Arment review. Marco’s review covers the pros/cons of this keyboard. I’ve been using it for more than a year at work, and it’s so good that I bought another one for home. The only annoyance with this keyboard is the need to use the Fn switch to activate function keys. While an inconvenience, the ergonomic position combined with the feel of the keys make this keyboard great for home and work use.

As usual – if you have RSI issues please consult with your doctor to determine if this keyboard would help or hurt you.

👍Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard

👍 Instant Pot DUO80 8 QT

Imagine a pressure cooker that is programmable for both pressure and time. No more watching a pot on the stove, and wondering if it might explode. No imagination needed anymore – check out the Instant Pot (mine was the Instant DUO80). I was extremely skeptical when a friend recommended this device. I can’t even quite believe that I’m talking about it this much.

While there are many types of foods and recipes for the Instant Pot, I find it useful for the most ridiculously mundane “cooking”:

  • Cooking hard-boiled eggs (across any softness level) that are a perfectly easy to peel. This is the recipe that explains why the peeling is so easy and how to do it: “Pressure Cooker Eggs”
  • Cooking perfectly steamed vegetables in 0 minutes (after reaching pressure). Whether it’s a head of broccoli or cauliflower – it’s just 1 cup of water and 0 minutes in the steam setting. Of course it takes more than 0 minutes since the pressure has to build up, but once the InstantPot comes to pressure, the vegetables are perfectly steamed and it’s a matter of releasing pressure, putting butter and demolishing the awesomeness.

Excellent recipe sites:

👍 Instant Pot DUO80 8 QT

👍 CH Hanson 03040 Magnetic Stud Finder

My wife happened to see some contractors use a magical magnetic device that could easily find studs. She took a photo of it, and I found it on Amazon. The CH Hanson 03040 Magnetic Stud Finder is AMAZING. Really…I’ve used electronic ones and all kinds of crappy magnetic imitations. This is the one. It’s pretty much a no-brainer for eight dollars. The form factor in conjunction with this device’s powerful magnets works extremely well.

👍 CH Hanson 03040 Magnetic Stud Finder

Naughty aka Bad List

For this list, I can’t help but provide multiple emojis to express how bad something is. I suppose that it’s the human condition that we barely remember the good, but we remember the bad in extreme detail.

👎👎👎👎👎 Drobo – Bad hardware from initial purchase resulting in FIVE exchanges

I originally bought a Drobo 5N in 2016 during a Black Friday sale. I specifically choose the Drobo because a friend always spoke highly of his Drobo 5D.

I did not have a chance to configure the Drobo until the middle of 2017 (life took over). From the first moment that I plugged the Drobo 5N into power and ethernet it was a non-stop 👎 show. My return history:

  1. The initial unit I purchased didn’t work so I opened a ticket with support and they asked me to get a replacement unit.
  2. I got a replacement 5N and it didn’t work either.
  3. Another back and forth with support and I got another replacement unit (3rd unit). This one failed to work, so I asked Drobo support if I could get a Drobo 5D since it was an older product line that might be more reliable (at least that was my thinking)
  4. I got a Drobo 5D as an exchange unit and once again this one didn’t work either.
  5. Another exchange with support and now I’m on my second 5D (and 5th Drobo device)

The current 5D is still running (it’s been about three months). I feel like I should have a website with a count-up clock that says “It has been ___ days and Drobo 5D serial abc123 is still working”. Drobo has been a stunning disappointment, and I would never touch one with a thirty-nine and a half foot pole. I can’t trust this device to hold any data, and I’m not sure what to do with it even if it is currently working.

The only good thing about Drobo Inc. is their support group. The support folks were great (multiple gold stars to Valorie). They went out of their way to do the best that they could with a crappy situation. They even gave me an additional three years of Drobo Care to provide some reassurance.

The problem is that I can’t trust Drobo’s devices. My current Drobo 5D is just a large electronic paperweight. It’s got green lights, so I suppose that it’s useful for Christmas.

👎👎👎👎👎 Drobo - Bad hardware from initial purchase resulting in FIVE exchanges

👎👎👎👎 O’Reilly’s Departure from DRM Free Technical Books 💔

It saddens me that the company that most promoted DRM free books (see picture below and is the one to exit out. I’ve written extensively about O’Reilly’s departures from DRM free technical books and what to do about it:

👎👎👎👎 O'Reilly's Departure from DRM Free Technical Books 💔

👎👎👎 Backup Service – CrashPlan and Code 42 Dumping its Customers

As a loyal CrashPlan customer I find it difficult to find anything positive about the company’s dropping of its consumer clients. I have used CrashPlan to backup my home computers for years, and the option to use their client to backup to local machines (without going to CrashPlan’s servers) has been great.

While I’ll give the company credit for giving plenty of notice about this change, there is much to be desired in terms of migration off Crashplan:

  • CrashPlan (of course) tries to steer its consumer clientele to its “Small Business” plan. There are 2 problems with this:
    1. The plan is much more expensive than the consumer plan
    2. This supposedly ‘better’ business plan does not have the local machine client capability. So you’re losing features and paying more.
  • If you decided to migrate to their suggested option 2 company – Carbonite – you quickly find out there THERE IS NO MIGRATION CAPABILITY. This means that none of your current backups (and all the versions going back in time) can be moved to Carbonite. So it’s really no different than starting over with any new backup provider – whether it’s Carbonite, Backblaze, or anyone else. I can only venture to guess that CrashPlan’s recommendation of Carbonite is there because they get affiliate type of revenue for steering customers there. So once again – a gain for Crashplan and a loss for the consumer.

For all of the above reasons, I cannot recommend CrashPlan in any way to anyone. This, of course, carries forward to any employers I work for and any businesses I encounter. Code 42 (CrashPlan’s parent company) has a right to ‘pivot’ any way that it wants as much as I have a right to pivot away from any of Code 42’s products. The lack of a migration path for its customer backups is unconscionable.

👎👎👎 Backup Service - CrashPlan and Code 42 Dumping its Customers

👎 Samson LTS50 Laptop Stand

I rarely return items to Amazon, but the Samson LTS50 Laptop Stand was very disappointing. My original intent was to have a portable sort of standing desk option. The steel construction components are very solid. The problem was the locking latches. With somewhat little force, the laptop would easily ‘sink’ downwards when slight pressure was applied to the laptop.

As usually – this is just my opinion about this product. Your mileage may vary.

👎 Samson LTS50 Laptop Stand

All Time Favorites

👍👍👍 Love & Logic Framework to dealing with Children

I am far away from being the parent of the year. However, I have found the Love & Logic framework to be extremely helpful as my kid has gone through various ages and stages. I always recommend these materials to any new parents, and I have found the early-childhood information to be very helpful.

👍👍👍 Love & Logic Framework to dealing with Children

👍👍👍 Kindle Voyage

The Kindle Voyage has been a tremendous boon to my reading. I’ve read so many more books since I bought it (as in a magnitude increase). The e-ink is great with the fantastic lighting. I have also found tons of great sci-fi books on the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library (I highly recommend the Frontiers Saga by Ryk Brown).

👍👍👍 Kindle Voyage

👍👍👍 Portable Stand Laptop Holder

A favorite that has survived 2017 (I get questions about it in coffee shops all the time). Note that this item is now out of stock. A compelling alternative might be this other stand (though I have not personally tested it).

From my 2016 review:

I’ll admit that the “Superbpag Multi-angle Non-slip Portable Stand Holder Laptop Stand For iPad 2 3 4 Air Mini Retina Tablet and Most Laptop” looks ridiculously chintzy on Amazon’s site. And yet they work ridiculously well in terms of size, weight, and resilience. They also bring some semblance of ergonomics to laptop use in a coffee shop (assuming you have a keyboard of course).

👍👍👍 Portable Stand Laptop Holder

👍👍👍 iBenzer Hard Case Cover and Keyboard Cover for Macbook

Another survivor through 2017. I don’t know what iBenzer did for the keyboard cover, but it’s amazing – no curling or tearing whatsoever. I can’t speak for any of their other products, but this one is terrific.

From my 2016 review:

The *iBenzer Soft-Touch Series Plastic Hard Case is a light and protective cover for your Macbook. While the cover is great, my biggest surprise was the keyboard cover. The keyboard cover has been very resilient and it does not curl like Kuzy covers (which I’ve previously owned). iBenzer does a great job in both the case and the keyboard cover.*

Note: Make sure to ****exactly match**** you Macbook’s model to the case since there is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to these sort of cases and keyboard covers.

👍👍👍 iBenzer Hard Case Cover and Keyboard Cover for Macbook


I hope this review is helpful. I wish you a healthy and safe holiday 🎁 season and a great new year.

Thoughts? Feedback? Let me know via @eli4d on Twitter.


The eli4d Gazette – Issue 038

Tech Pick

This past week I came across an excellent career path article from Ycombinator: Three Paths in the Tech Industry: Founder, Executive, or Employee.

I like the neutrality of this article and how it provides the pros/cons of each path. This is better information than any guidance counseling that I have ever encountered.


Media Pick

I’ve come across a very short podcast about current tech – Twit Bits. These are 2 to 10 minute daily snippets from various shows on the Twit network. They’re nice tasty bites of happenings in the tech world.

More Drobo Blues

My Drobo difficulties continue even with the switch from the 5N to the 5D. I had the 5D running for about two weeks. I had loaded some data on it, and then it just died. I suspect it’s the power supply, but I’m not sure since I don’t have another supply to switch out. So far: three Drobo 5Ns that have been bad and now a 5D. Am I really this unlucky or is Drobo hardware really (really really really) bad?

I was hoping that I could trust the 5D hardware but no such luck. I asked for a refund, and this (of course) was refused (it’s way past the original purchase, so I get it…but still ). I’m in the process of returning my 5D for another 5D. My trust in Drobo hardware is non-existent, so I’m not sure what to do when/if I get a 5D that is working.


Thoughts? Feedback? Let me know: @eli4d on Twitter


The eli4d Gazette – Issue 035

Tech Pick

I came across an interesting article covering a comparison of PHP frameworks. The comments at the bottom of the article are also quite interesting, to say the least.

Personally, I’ve chosen Laravel as my go-to framework. I’m learning it by applying it to a personal project. It is well covered through excellent documentation, great video tutorials, and a good book. I’ve written about Laravel on my blog quite frequently.

Media Pick

This is tangentially related to media through the MP3 format.

Recently I bought a Love & Logic audio book (great approach for new and experienced parents). My main listening program is the Overcast podcast player. It has great fast playback options. The audio book I got had 10 small MP3 files and the Overcast site allows for individual uploads of files which is a pain. So I figured it would be easier to merge all of these MP3 files into one large MP3 file that I could upload into Overcast.

I tried two approaches that didn’t work: Toast Titanium and using the ‘cat’ command. Looking around further I came across a StackOverflow thread that mentioned the ‘cat’ approach and a utility that did work. The utility was: MP3Cat.

It’s a Go program that works on Mac, Windows, and Linux. It works as follows on the command line:

./mp3cat -o merged.mp3 file1.mp3 file2.mp3 file3.mp3

It works amazingly well, and I highly^100 recommend it.

Drobo Blues (part 3)

On my fourth return I was finally able to exchange the Drobo 5N for a Drobo 5D. The three 5N units that I tried never worked on my network and Drobo support were unable to help me. The 5D is a massive external hard disk with lots of redundancy, so it needs to be connected to a computer. It is also simpler than the 5N and far from being a NAS.

What I’ve learned (and this, of course, is my extremely narrow experience/opinion):

  1. Drobo support is great (for the 5D unit I got extra Drobo Care for free). They tried to help me, but there’s not much they could do with consistently bad Drobo 5N hardware.
  2. I can never trust Drobo’s NAS systems (apparently the “Drobo Difference” does not apply to me). Maybe my case is a complete fluke, but the brand new unit I bought and two additional units did not work whatsoever on my network. If/when I get around to another NAS purchase attempt, I will try out Synology and/or Qnap.

Thoughts? Feedback? Let me know: @eli4d on Twitter

The eli4d Gazette – Issue 034

Tech Pick

This is somewhat of an ‘anti-pick’.

When it comes to technical book publishers, O’Reilly used to be at the top of my list. Unfortunately, this is not the case anymore. I wrote a post about O’Reilly’s abandonment of DRM Free technical books and using other alternatives.

Media Pick

While listening to a recent Security Now podcast, I heard Steve Gibson rave about Ryk Brown’s Frontier’s Saga series. I found that it was available via the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library so I started reading book #1…and I was hooked. I’m on book #6, and it continues to be fantastic science fiction series. I highly recommend this series to any fan of space opera type of science fiction. So if you like Star Trek you’re very likely to really (really) like this series.

Drobo Blues

My Drobo 5N saga/sadness continues. I got a replacement, and it still doesn’t work. I’m in another round of back/forth with Drobo support. Even if I get it working, I’m not sure how much faith/trust I can have in their NAS.

Knowing what I know now I would try Synology rather than Drobo. Synology’s SHR technology seems quite comparable to Drobo’s Beyondraid, so Drobo’s previous multi-size hard disk advantage (i.e. being able to use different sized hard disks) seems moot.

Thoughts? Feedback? Let me know: @eli4d on Twitter