Jawbone Step Goal

Jawbone Up2 – Firmware Update to the Rescue

I’m happy to report that the sleep and step data issues with the first release of the Jawbone Up2 have been resolved by the company’s latest firmware update. Their Customer Support went out of their way to contact me and get my issues resolved. Truly above and beyond service.

Jawbone published a firmware upgrade (available through the latest version of the Up2/3/4 app) that not only improves device battery life, but also solves some of the early glitches I reported in my earlier blog post. Read More

Jawbone Up 2

Et tu, Jawbone 2? Major flaws with new device.

UPDATE: July 13, 2015: I’m so happy to report the upgrade is finally out and has resolved the major issues I described below. Here’s the latest report: Jawbone Up2 – Firmware Update to the Rescue

A rumored firmware upgrade is coming out this week for the Jawbone Up 2 and 3. I desperately hope it fixes the data accuracy problems I’ve encountered with the Up2, or this Jawbone will sadly be returned. Read More

Podcasts for the Curious Mind – The Best in Storytelling, Informative, & Entrepreneurial Podcasts

In 2014, I switched from devouring the best TV shows to the best podcasts. Here are a list of the best podcasts currently produced. Each one is consistently:

  • entertaining
  • informative
  • binge-worthy (if you are so inclined)

[Refreshed August 2016]

Exploration and Storytelling Podcasts

It turns out, a story-based format is remarkably compelling for audio.
Exploratory podcasts make you think and question.


Note To Self A playful look at how technology impacts our daily lives (from information overload to addictive games, etc), encouraging you to question everything. Led by a refreshingly positive female host, Manoush Zomorodi. Short, digestible episodes [15-30 minutes].
99% Invisible Mesmerizing clips exploring fascinating topics you never thought to question. Wrapped in beautiful audio effects and Roman Mars’s soothing narration, this is an immersive media experience. [~20 minutes]
Invisibilia Mini documentaries on awe-inspiring topics; came out of Radiolab so just as beautifully crafted but not as annoyingly artsy. [1 hour]
Reply All 2 hipster-y guys finding interesting trends and stories happening in the digital world, cracking themselves up in the process. These always put me in a good mood. [~30 minutes]
Hidden Brain An NPR podcast exploring how our brain impacts our world in unexpected ways. Fans of pop psychology, self-improvement, and behavioral economics will love this, led by the very relatable Shankar Vedantam. Dan Pink is a frequent guest. [~25 minutes]
Revisionist History Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast. Nuff said. [~45 minutes]
The Memory Palace History retold in 5-7 minute stories that bring them vividly to life and put you at the scene; rich sound effects and a narrator whose voice you just know would tell the best bedtime stories. [5-10 minutes]
Criminal Fascinating stories involving true crime from an unusual perspective, each episode stands alone. [~45 minutes]
Serial True crime podcast sensation that pretty much mainstreamed binge-podcasting as a thing. Season 1 questioned the conviction of a promising Muslim teen for his girlfriend’s murder, Season 2 examined Bowe Bergdahl’s experience as Taliban POW survivor and potential traitor. [~1 hour]
Unfictional Short true stories or live storytelling events compiled around an episode theme; short, fun & compelling; KCRW-produced. [~30 minutes]
The Moth Award-winning live storytelling events that will make you laugh, cry, and feel things you don’t expect. Great with a glass of wine on Saturday night. [~1 hour]


2 Dope Queens 2 hip, young comediennes introduce us to a lineup of up-and-coming comedy stars. Hosts Jessica Williams (from the Daily Show) & Phoebe Robinson are the closest we’ll get to having friends this street-smart & hilarious. [~1 hour]


The Truth Podcast Creative short fictional works written, produced, and acted out for radio, on topics ranging from sci fi to popular culture (think Amazing Stories or The Twilight Zone); it’s like watching a movie with your ears. [~15-20 minutes]

Informational Podcasts

News / Research

Planet Money For the economically minded, business stories with a twist. Plenty of humor, fresh perspectives, and some unusual-for-radio American dialects make this stand out. [~20-30 minutes]
Marketplace Kai Ryssdal’s voice is like butter as he examines the day’s top business & market stories with wit and a bit of skepticism. [~35 minutes]
Too Embarrassed to Ask Timely, insightful reviews of technology stories and gadgets, hosted by 2 outstanding female journalists, Kara Swisher & Lauren Goode. I just don’t get the Kara-hates-Lauren banter. [15-30 minutes].
On the Media Insightful stories relating to media & politics – not only what’s trending but how the media covers it. Excellent journalism. [~45 minutes]
As It Happens Canadian daily radio news hour, with cute accents and endearingly bad puns. Different perspective on U.S. & global topics, plus insights into our northern neighbor. [60-80 minutes]
Science Friday For the scientifically curious, fun exploration and coverage of science topics broken into small, easily digestible clips. [~10-60 minutes]
Freakonomics Unusual and humorous economic conclusions on all sorts of pop culture topics – based on the bestselling book [~45 minutes]
Inquiring Minds 2 scientists interview guests (from astronauts to climate watchers), discussing and analyzing thought-provoking scientific and brain-related topics. [~1-2 hours]

Interviews & Influencers

Fresh Air Probably the finest interviewer of our generation, the inimitable Terry Gross. [1 hour]
Star Talk Radio Your personal cosmologist, Neil Degrasse Tyson, talks about the universe, but also interviews celebs & fascinating people, then hosts a live show with comedians and scientists to intersperse commentary around the interviews. [1-2 hours]
Here’s the Thing Alec Baldwin’s surprisingly excellent interview series with all sorts of great minds. They open up to him in unusually candid ways because, well, he’s Alec Baldwin. [~45 minutes]
Tim Ferris Podcast Self-experimenter and author of the 4-Hour (Work Week/Chef/Body)- interviews people that are the best in the world to deconstruct what they do, on topics ranging from productivity to headspace, enterpreneurship to self-experimentation. [1.5-3 hours]
Good Life Project A long-running show where Jonathan Fields (author of Uncertainty) interviews artists, movers, entrepreneurs, and thinkers exploring topics of happiness and meaning. Browse the impressive episode archives to pick a few standouts as a starting point. [1-2 hours]

Entrepreneurial Podcasts

There are so many in this category, but finding consistently good ones is tricky, and time is precious.

Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders A Stanford lecture series where top business thinkers, influencers, and writers come to share their insights. [1-2 hours]
Online Marketing Made Easy Queen of Social Media marketing, Amy Porterfield, gives strategic, actionable tips on online marketing.
This Week in Startups A great primer on what’s hot in Silicon Valley, Venture Capital, and tech media. The journalist-turned-Internet-millionaire host can be a jerk, but he’s incredibly sharp and conducts a great interview. [1-2 hours]

Am I missing a great podcast? Tweet me @valer and let me know!

Armour39 Heart Rate Monitor Review

UPDATE: April 2015. DO NOT BUY. Device still does not work, even with a new iPhone. App has never been updated in the App Store.

UPDATE: Nov 24, 2014. DO NOT BUY. Have had continuous problems with this device not pairing and it has been less than 3 months.
Customer service was helpful for the first 3 calls, then basically told me on the 4th call that I was out of luck and should wait for a future (unscheduled) app store update that, if I’m lucky, will fix the issues. I have never had so many problems, and cannot believe they did not offer to replace it, but upon my asking directly, they did not think a replacement would fix the issues. DO NOT BUY.

The Under Armour Armour39 Heart Rate Monitor is an excellent new addition to the heart rate monitor market. It consists of a chest strap and transmitter which pairs with an app on your iPhone or iPod Touch (or can pair with a watch purchased separately). Read More

Robot Vacuums (Neato)

June 2014 Update:

I have grown to adore my Neato.
Visitors comment on how clean my floor is. I simply hand-vacuum the edges of the room once a month, to get the areas the Neato can’t. I walk barefoot around the house all day, and don’t have to wipe my feet to get in bed. It runs 3 times a week to keep things spic and span, and only gets stuck once every few weeks. I’ve gotten into the habit of keeping my phone charging cords off the floor, and for a few bucks, I purchased a 10-ft cord organizer for all the cables running behind the couch. The Neato avoids it. I even carried my Neato up to the attic and let it suck up the dust and guck that only an attic can collect. That was a perfect job for a robot!

Feeling so far: It could be quieter, but it does a heck of a job. If you don’t have the luxury of a house cleaner and can clear your clutter enough for a robot to navigate the floors, the Neato is a winner.

Dec 2013:

This Christmas, I finally got something I’ve wanted for years,LED Desk Lamps a robotic vacuum. My dog leaves a literal trail of hair in her wake akin to PigPen’s dustcloud, so this bot has its work cut out for it. On a friend’s recommendation (about the quality of the cleaning algorithm), I got the Neato (XV-14) instead of the more well-known Roomba.

Day 1. Gratification and disappointment

Wow, it’s a lot louder than I was expecting. The dog doesn’t love it, but she tolerates it. It moves SO slowly (~15 minutes for a 10×10 room with almost no obstacles, about an hour for 4 small rooms).

It doesn’t clean the edges of the room, nor behind/around things, which is where a lot of the dog hair tends to collect. Even so, it filled its dirtbin twice on day 1, so that was very gratifying. Quite amusing to see it climb my digital scale, push the dog bowl and even a chair. Ran out of juice once requiring a recharge, and made a bit of a scrunched up mess of my lightweight kitchen rugs, though it managed to not get stuck on them.

Feeling so far: Mostly disappointment that robot vacuums aren’t further evolved. I wish Apple made one.

Day 2. Learning boundaries and eating cords

Today I set up the auto-schedule feature so it would run mid-day on a different floor of the house (I work from home), to be away from the noise.

  1. Within a few minutes of auto-starting, I heard the Neato’s oddly pleasant bleet for help. It had sucked up the end of my new iPhone charger and stopped. Stripped a bit of plastic from the wire but didn’t kill the cord thankfully. I cleared the obstacle and vacuuming resumed.
  2. A few minutes later, another bleet as the vacuum had managed to get stuck on a different cord. Never realized how many cords I had laying around. Cleared that too.
  3. A few minutes later, it got stuck under the couch next to a bunch of cables (but not having eaten them), complaining its vision was blocked. Though I moved it to an open space, the error code would not reset on its own until I put it back on its dock. That cleared the error state right away.
  4. At some point it ran out of power 6 inches away from its dock and stopped there. I manually redocked it.
Feeling so far: Robot vacuums are fun to watch. But you really have to clean up in preparation for them (moving cords, obstacles, etc) and that’s extra work.

Day3. Skipped

Didn’t schedule it to run. Kinda missed it.

Day4. Stops and starts

Today I was smart and moved everything out of the way ahead of time, cables, obstacles, etc. The vacuum started on its own schedule, which was great.

  1. I heard it stop after 10 minutes or so and found that it had redocked and claimed it was finished. My still visibly dirty floor and the short run period were evidence it had skipped most of the floor, so I manually restarted it.
  2. A few minutes later, I heard it shut off again. This time it ran out of juice but made it back to its dock for recharging. They say it takes a few charges to hold its full charge. Later it restarted on its own.
  3. Stopped shortly thereafter again. The display reported that the brush was stuck. Apparently my long hair had wrapped around it and knotted. This required a quick (and easy to find) Youtube lesson on how to remove and take apart the brush, which only took a few minutes and wasn’t hard. Given my hair, I’m sure I’ll need to do this on a regular basis. The error code wouldn’t clear on its own, so I redocked it and that cleared it.

Did a decent job cleaning today and it was satisfying to empty the half-full waste collector.

Feeling so far: There is not much that’s truly automatic about this vacuum yet. It requires constant babysitting for stops and starts. My floor looks cleaner than usual though.