Hardware Notes: The Rain Design mStand Laptop Stand

On my desk, I have a 27″ iMac. But I often need a second computer in my work – to be able to test software, do screenshots, and more. For this, I have a 12″ MacBook, which sits on an angle to my left.

I don’t like having a laptop on my desk (I’ve had a number of laptops over the years as a second computer), and for a long time had a plastic stand that raised it off the desk on an angle. But the biggest problem with that stand was that it wasn’t stable enough; when I would type on the laptop, the stand moved, making it annoying.

Doing a search of mail-order vendors, about three years ago, I came across the Rain Design mStand (Amazon.com, Amazon UK). Selling for around $50 in the US, this stand is exactly what I needed. It raises the laptop, tilts it on a good angle, and provides room under the computer to stash things (in my case, a cloth to clean my screens, and some other stuff). It’s easy to slide on the desk, since it has felt feet, and it’s really stable. When I type, it hardly moves, unlike plastic stands.

If you need a good stand, either if you use your laptop as your main computer, with a keyboard connected to it, or, like me, for use with a second computer, the mStand is an excellent choice.

Do You Have Phantom Vibration Syndrome?

Some time ago, I started feeling a buzzing feeling on my right thigh. My muscle would twitch a bit, as though it were a tic. I wondered why this happened, then I realized that it corresponded to the place where I often carry my iPhone. And I almost never have the ringer on; I only have it vibrate when I get calls or texts, and not when I get notifications.

I asked Dr. Google, and, sure enough, this is a real medical condition called Phantom Vibration Syndrome. (You can read about it on Wikipedia.)

It came up again today when I noticed someone on Facebook mentioning that they often get muscle twitches and think it’s their phone buzzing. I find it interesting that this has been around for a while; the Wikipedia article cites a 1996 Dilbert comic strip which discusses phantom pager syndrome, saying “It’s common among technology workers.”

Have you ever noticed this? I don’t any more; it lasted a few months, and it stopped after I realized what it was. I found it interesting, though, that the brain could interpret some kinds of movement or other stimulus as though it’s a phone vibrating. And I wonder if there will soon be phantom haptic tap syndrome for Apple Watch users. Personally, I rarely feel the taps from my phone, since they’re so weak, and I’ve never noticed any phantom taps…

Write on Paper, with Instant Digitization, Using the Moleskine Smart Writing Set

Moleskin has launched the Smart Writing Set, which is a combination of a Bluetooth pen, a special notebook, and an app, which lets you write in the notebook and have your writings – and drawings – instantly digitized. The company has created a video explaining how this works.

I’m intrigued by this idea. I know it’s not the first such device, but I would very much like to write more rather than type, and this could be a good way to do so.

I’ve been using the iPad Pro and Pencil recently, and I found an app that has very good handwriting recognition, even with my chicken scratch, but the iPad’s screen is too smooth to write a lot on. Writing is a tactile activity, and I need the friction of a pen or pencil on paper.

I’m tempted by the Moleskine Smart Writing Set, but at £200 – which is a terrible conversion from $200; it should be about £170, including VAT – it’s a steep price to pay for a gadget like this. Also, additional notebooks cost £24, and they only contain 176 page, and they’re only A5 size, which is a bit small.

This is certainly an interesting type of tool, and I hope it becomes more affordable in the future.

Gadget Review: NetAtmo Weather Station for iPhone and iPad

About two and a half years ago, I reviewed the NetAtmo Weather Station for Macworld. I had to send the review unit back, and have used a cheap weather station ever since. That one having died recently, I looked at what was available, and decided to splurge for the NetAtmo. It’s not cheap; $150 or £139 (Amazon.com, Amazon UK), but it’s easier to use, and provides much more information than standard weather stations.

StationThe NetAtmo comes in two parts, as expected. You place the taller unit indoors; it connects to an AC plug and manages the connection with the outdoor unit, and with your Wi-Fi network, to upload data to NetAtmo’s servers. You position the smaller unit outdoors, preferably on the north side of your home, out of direct sunlight or rain. The two communicate by radio waves, allowing about 100m between them. I live in a stone house, so communication is difficult, but the outdoor unit is on a wall opposite my office, so the connection works. Depending on your location, and the type of house you live in, you may have more difficulty getting the devices to connect.

Once you’ve done this, you really don’t need to touch the devices; you configure them and view their data on the free iOS app, or on a web page. The outdoor device records temperature, humidity, and some pollutants; the indoor device records temperature, humidity, CO2, sound level, and barometric pressure. The data is checked regularly, and added to your account, so you can not only view your latest readings, but also graphs showing historic readings.

Netatmo ios

One nice feature with the NetAtmo device is the way the company crowd-sources weather data. The company hadn’t yet started this when I reviewed the device in 2012, but you can now view maps showing your device, as well as all the others who are sharing data. Here’s a view of my environs:

Netatmo map

I’m in a semi-rural area, so there aren’t that many of these devices, but if you check a major city, you’ll find hundreds, even thousands of them. (Though the presence of this device varies greatly by country.) As such, you can check precise temperatures in areas nearby, or where you plan to travel. (You should assume that some of the weather stations are not positioned optimally; it’s best to make an average of the temperatures you see.)

My only complaint is one that I mentioned in my initial review: there’s no way to view any data on the devices themselves. You either need to use the iOS app, the web interface, or, if you want temperature data to be easily visible, an app such as the $4 AtmoBar 2, which displays temperatures in your Mac’s menu bar, and, when clicked, shows more detailed data.

This is a cool device, though. It’s lots more data than what most people need, though some may want more. The company also sells a rain gauge (Amazon.com, Amazon UK), and will be releasing a wind gauge in the near future.

NetAtmo also makes a thermostat, (Amazon.com, Amazon UK), which works like many other smart thermostats, but which also takes into account the outdoor temperature that your weather station reports, which should make it more efficient. I may try this later in the year.

If you want a weather station, and want the ability to view temperatures in your home remotely, the NetAtmo is a great device. It’s a bit pricey, but it works better than most weather stations.

Update: So, one day after I posted this review, I encountered something a bit annoying. The iOS app showed no data, and I was not able to log into NetAtmo’s website to see my data. So, if the server hosting the data is down, then you won’t be able to see any of your weather data. I’d expect that you’d at least be able to see it locally, and I find it to be quite problematic that this is not the case.

Gadget Review: Dyson Air Multiplier (Fan)

Dyson fanDyson is one of those companies whose products are a lot like Apple’s: they’re innovative, but expensive. I’d long wondered about their “bladeless” fans, and I decided to buy one last week, when, stumbling on the Dyson website, I saw they had a sale.

Dyson’s fans come in several shapes and sizes. I opted for the AM07 Air Multiplier Tower Fan. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) I wanted something bigger than a desk fan, but I didn’t want the pedestal model with the round air multiplier. This tall, slim device fits perfectly by my office door, where I used to have a standard fan on the floor that always got in the way.

I was skeptical at first. This fan is several orders of magnitude more expensive than a standard fan, but it didn’t take long for me to realize that this fan, um, this “air multiplier,” really is different.

These fans work with a motor in their base, and air is pushed up into the circle or column, where it exits through slits in the back. You get a solid column of air moving across the room, rather than the more turbulent air that comes from a blade fan.

The fan has ten speeds, and oscillates, and has a timer. It comes with a small remote control, which is magnetic, and sticks to a spot on the top of the fan. There is also a single ON/OFF button on the base of the fan; if you press and hold the button, the speed increases. There’s no way to control the oscillation, however, without the remote.

I’ve got the fan on now, at the lowest setting, blowing air to one side of me, creating a slow, cooling airflow throughout my office. It’s nearly silent at this speed. Using the fan it higher speeds means a bit more noise, but at its highest speed, it’s less noisy than a standard fan, because of the turbulence that blades create. I don’t expect to use it often at such speeds, but when it’s at the max, it really blows a lot of air.

The exterior of the fan is all plastic; I would have expected it to be metal at this price, but it means the fan is very light. I bought the “iron/blue” model, which you can see at the left, and looks quite futuristic. But the best thing is the small footprint, which means that I can have a powerful fan that takes up very little space.

I’d say this fan is overpriced, but it really works well. The desk fans are cheaper (though not by much), but they need to be positioned in precise locations; the slim size of this fan (it’s about 18cm, or 6 inches across) means I can put it anywhere in the house without it getting in the way. It’s a good buy if you want an efficient, quiet fan that doesn’t take up a lot of space.

Review: Withings Aura Sleep Tracker

Between never-ending Netflix binges and Kindles full of page-turners, we have plenty of distractions to keep us up at night. But you’ll surely regret that decision the next morning if you have a full day of work ahead of you. No matter the cause for your late-night habits, a lack of sleep can be a serious problem for many people—it can make you more likely to have car accidents, make you forgetful, lead to weight gain, and precipitate other health problems. Yet a recent study says that too much sleep can double your risk of stroke. So what’s a person to do?

Withings’ $300 Aura is a device that monitors your sleep, helping you determine if you sleep too little or too much. The Aura also offers sleep programs, with colored lights and sounds to help you fall asleep, and to help you wake up when you are in a light sleep phase. Withings claims that the reddish light the device emits before you go to sleep encourages your body to create melatonin, which helps you fall asleep. Conversely, the bluish light it emits while waking you inhibits melatonin, increasing your alertness.

Read the rest of my review on Macworld.