Gadgets

A better Garlic Press?

I've been frustrated by garlic presses, until I found 'the one'... I'm a fan of well designed products, and in many cases it's difficult to tell what's going to work well until you get your hands on it. In the case of the humble garlic press I've had a few - some fragile, some that require too much force because they don't have the leverage, and most that were simply a pain to clean.

I used the Ikea Koncis for a while, and while it was robust and simple, cleaning the garlic out from between the pins and from the inside of the barrel was a pain.  This wasn't it. 

I did like the design of the Orblue Propresser press and similar because the pressing tray comes out for cleaning, but generally it's a fiddly design. 

It's simple, consisting of 2 separate parts that fit together easily - the metal grill and the hard plastic plunger (for want of a better word). The parts are all cleanly designed with no crevices or pins to capture garlic. 

You simply drop the garlic in, squeeze, then pull the green handle out to use as a scraper to capture the crushed garlic.

Then flip the metal part over to use the other bit of the green handle to clean out the leftovers, then chuck it in the dishwasher.

For me, the Joseph Joseph Easy Clean Garlic Press is simply the best of the bunch (affiliate link).

Hair today, gone tomorrow

Like many men of my age, the old barnet had been thinning for some time (think Grant Mitchell), so for the last few years I've been wondering if it really is worth paying for a visit to the hairdressers every couple of months.

Well... I can confirm I've found a much simpler and less costly solution.

Philips have a range of DIY hair clippers that are super simple to use, and get the job done in less time than it takes to brew a coffee.

The Philips QC55xx range come with a 180 degree rotatable clipping head that allows you to cover your head with one hand without all sorts of unnatural yoga poses. A rotating click-wheel allows you to set one of 13 length settings from 0.5 to 15mm, or you can remove the comb to get closer. The cutting head clips off easily, making it easy to blow out the clippings or run it under the tap to clean.

I've been using one for 6 month, and can confirm I'm not going back the the hair salon...

The latest model in the UK seems to be the QC5570, and in the US the QC5580, but I've included links below that should find these or the full range.

Philips QC5570 DIY Easy Reach 180 degree hair Clipper - Amazon UK
Philips Do It Yourself Hair Clippers - Amazon UK
Philips QC5580 Do-It-Yourself Hair Clipper Pro - Amazon US
Philips Norelco Do-It-Yourself Hair Clippers - Amazon US

Banish your stack of TV remotes

I've been a fan of the universal remote control concept for years, and have owned quite a few, including a brief foray into PC based home-brew solutions, but each have had their own issues, making none an ideal solution.

That said, the current generation of Logitech Harmony products has definitely progressed to the point at which they're something I would recommend for my Dad - because the annoyances have been surpassed by the usefulness.

So - which one to go for?

Well... the first area to avoid is big fancy LCD touchscreens. Yes - they can be good to visualize your favorite channels, but 95% of the time when you've got a remote in your hand, you want to be looking at the TV, not down at the remote. The second issue with LCD based remotes is that they use a lot more power, resulting in something with a rechargeable battery that needs an always on charger (and finding that your remote is out of juice just when you need it most).

So looking for a remote that's all hard-buttons, the best of the bunch I've found recently is the Logitech Harmony Smart Control (UK £69.64) or (US - $99) or elsewhere. This is a tiny but well balanced unit with just the right number of physical buttons (no LCD) to control up to 8 devices through up to 6 macros. It is powered with a simple 3v button cell battery which seems to last ages, so no need for a vampire-power-sucking battery charger. It is also hidden behind a solid door that's quite hard to get open making it less of a concern if you've got small children running around.

The remote has no IR emitter, instead using a wireless connection between a hub unit located close to your TV kit. This means no need to point the remote at the TV - which is liberating, and also allows you to hide your AV kit behind closed doors. I was at first concerned that the latency or lag between a button press and the IR code would be annoying, but I now don't notice any difference between button presses on the Harmony remote vs the original remote.

The hub connects to your local WiFi network (802.11 b/g/n wireless home network, WPA Personal, WPA2-AES and 64/128-bit WEP encryption), and contains one IR emitter on the unit along with a second on the end of a cable, allowing you to have your kit in 2 different places. Your button presses pass over a wireless connection, then are sent by the hub out of one or both of the IR emitters to your AV gear.

You can program the 3 buttons at the top of the remote to start up to 6 activities (3 on a quick press, 3 on a long press) which trigger sets of commands to switch on and configure your TV, HiFi, PC etc. When switching from one activity to another, the system remembers what you were last doing, and shuts down anything you're not using in the new activity. In addition to these dedicated mode buttons, you can re-program any of the other buttons on the unit to specific functions via either a long-press or a short-press.

The link to WiFi also allows the use of a smartphone app (supporting both iOS/Android along with both phones & tablets), however I've had limited use for this. It has a gesture based control system, which is pretty clever (if you can remember which of the possible 22 gestures you programmed for which function), along with an area for favorite channels and one hosting pages of individual buttons. Usefully, the hub maintains a central record of the state of the system, so you can start something on the remote, then switch to the app, and it will remember which mode you were in.

It is useful when you need to find an esoteric button that isn't on the handheld remote, or if the remote has hidden itself somewhere out of sight, but for day to day use, the real remote is much more useful than having to find, unlock, then find the app, then find the right place in the app for the thing you wanted to do. Perhaps if I had a dedicated home theater tablet without a screen lock, I might find it more useful.

The system currently supports Philips Hue lights, and I've been able to get the app to drive one of my lights, but so far I've been unable to get it to add the light to any of the macros.  There's a new version out in the US called the Logitech Harmony Home Control (US) which adds 2 buttons for lights, 2 for appliances and another +/- button, but I've not had a chance to get my hands on one yet, so I can't comment on its flexibility.

As with many of the older Harmony remotes, configuration is done through a web-based app, designed by a team of crack AV gear-heads. I say that because they've designed the workflow around how they think you'll use the thing to configure it - without giving visibility of the big picture. It is impossible to visualize the configuration on one page, then jump into the right spot, because you have to progress through a series of wizards to get to the appropriate setting. It's as if the guy that designed an Ikea store turned his hand to user interface design. The only saving grace of the software is that once it's setup you don't need to touch it again until you buy a new remote or a new bit of AV kit.

So overall... once configured, this is the best universal remote I've ever bought!