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Coin and Coin 2.0 – A Year In Review

Posted in Just Cool,reviews by Joe Colburn on the May 1st, 2016

In November of 2013, I was pretty excited to hear about a digital credit card that could replace all of my physical cards for fifty bucks. It was an early backer price and seemed a bit high for taking a chance on something new, but my mind couldn’t let go of the idea of it. Sometimes I see an innovative new gadget and I just have to have it. As Kickstarter was gaining momentum, I felt comfortable giving it a shot and handed over my money. Even though I knew I’d have a wait ahead of me, I often wondered over the next nine months when it would come. In August of 2014, my Coin 1.0 arrived. More than a year later, Coin 2.0 was released and I was upgraded for free.

Coin Digital Credit Card

Coin Digital Credit Card

What is a Coin digital credit card?
Before I get too far into my personal observations, I should take a moment to talk about what Coin is. Coin is a smart device, the size of a single credit card, that can store the information of up to eight credit cards and work as any of them when swiped. It has an e-ink display to show which card is selected and the last four digits and expiration and a button to switch between cards. Coin also has the ability to set up a Morse code style password so you can unlock your Coin with a few short and long button presses when your phone is not nearby.

One year with Coin 1.0
While I’ve had Coin for a year, I’ve honestly only used it for a few months total. For starters, it didn’t always work when I would swipe it. Almost half the time, I had to try again and too often, I wound up pulling out the actual bank-issued card to complete the transaction. Coin’s two big selling points for me were convenience and security. Having to try multiple times and eventually use my other cards sometimes eliminates the convenience I would otherwise gain with a single card to carry around. That said, I now only carry my Coin and one major credit card.

As for security, the thought is that I no longer hand over a card to someone who can simply copy the numbers and make purchases online. Additionally, my Coin (and by extension, all my credit cards) become unusable when away from me for more than 7 minutes. I always worry that my server at a restaurant won’t get it swiped in time, but it hasn’t been a problem yet. Of course, the other side of the security argument is that I now have all my credit card information in a device that uses Bluetooth. What if it gets hacked? I use an RFID shielded wallet, so I’m more concerned about someone obtaining access to my phone than I am my Coin.

The several months in between usage can be explained by the fact that I’d get a new phone and have to enter all my cards again. For the sporadic level of swipe success, it sometimes felt like something I didn’t even want to bother with and my Coin would sit in a box on my shelf for a couple months.

Coin Digital Credit Card

Coin Digital Credit Card

Coin 1.0 and 2.0 Compared
Using a coin is pretty simple and basically the same with both versions. When I’m getting ready to pay, I just pull it out and choose the card I want to pay with and hand it off to the cashier or swipe it at a terminal. With both versions, most cashiers are awestruck having never seen something like this before and usually tell me that they think it’s pretty cool. It can be nice, but it also means I usually have to tell them what it is and how it works when they ask. The first incarnation of Coin – despite a long wait that included being envious of west coast beta testers – did not always work. Above all, that has been my biggest complaint. As mentioned above, just under half the time, it would not work on the first attempt. Thankfully, improvements have been made to really cut down on this. While I’ve only had Coin 2.0 a week or so, everywhere I’ve tried it was a success. There was one place it failed on the first try and I immediately reverted to my bank-issued card because there was a long line behind me.

The Morse code security feature hasn’t proven useful for me yet. The one time I left my phone in the car, I completely forgot that I could unlock the Coin without it and just grabbed my phone. Had I remembered the feature, I don’t think I would have remembered the code. For others, this may be an indispensable feature, but to me, it’s just a possible security hole if I lose my card. Luckily, the Coin app will tell me if it can’t see my Coin when the Bluetooth connection drops. This is another great feature for other people, but not as much for me. Having a shielded wallet means that every time I put my Coin back in my wallet, the app thinks I’ve left it behind. This is an acceptable trade-off, I suppose.

Coin comes with an internal battery that will last about two years with “normal” use. Normal use is defined as using your Coin about 5-6 times a day. I’m assuming I’ll get up to 3 years out of mine since I don’t use it nearly that much.

EVT and NFC are concepts new to Coin 2.0. While the new Coin doesn’t have an actual EVT chip, NFC provides a contactless form of EMV payments. It seems that this will only be useful for cards that support EVT. While shopping earlier this week, I attempted to tap to pay with both of my cards and it simply would not work. This was at a single merchant and I have yet to try again. This was one of the key upgrades with Coin 2.0, so I’m hoping it will prove to be a usable feature for me.

Conclusions
Coin is a great little device, but it has found its struggles as the pioneer in an odd little niche product market that seems to have caught on in the last year or so with a few competitors. Despite the challenges, Coin has done well to support those who believed in it by giving free Coin 2.0 upgrades to early adopters, but it will need to work hard to keep up as competitors innovate with new features. Coin 2.0 offers much needed improvements, but unless there’s a feature-rich Coin 3.0, it will probably be the last of its line. At $99 with a two year battery life, you’ll be in for about $50 per year, which is still not bad if you’re able to make the most use of it.

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Kinsa Stick Smart Thermometer Review

Posted in reviews by Joe Colburn on the April 16th, 2016

I hate being sick. Sometimes I miss work because of it, but it almost always means I don’t know when I’ll feel better or what to expect. This is largely because I’m horrible at self-diagnosing. As I write this, I find myself at what I’m hoping is the tail end of a bad cold. What better way to review a smart thermometer like the Smart Stick Thermometer from Kinsa.

First Impressions
When I first heard about this thermometer, I took note of all the marketing materials and how they seemed to be geared towards parents. To be honest, I have a digital thermometer that works just fine, so having no children, I’d probably glance at this and forget all about it. Regardless, it did strike me as a great idea for parents and having a way for someone like me to track my symptoms seems like a big plus. The thing that really stood out, however, was the price. At $24.99, the stick falls right into the middle of the pricing range for digital thermometers I’ve seen in the past, but for its feature set, it’s priced very well.

Out of the Box
When my Kinsa Stick arrived, I liked the case that it comes in. My old thermometer is a single piece that has a plastic cap that covers the part meant to go into my mouth. This one has an extension cable, a setup adapter, instructions, and the Kinsa Stick, itself. The extension cord is meant to wrap around the case and the clear platic top keeps it in place. Flipping over the case, I found that the bottom comes off to reveal the setup adapter and instruction booklet. This is well-designed over all, but the cable can be problematic if not wrapped back in place just right.

Using the Kinsa Stick
A couple minutes after heading to the Android App store and searching for Kinsa, I had the app installed and guiding me through the setup process. This consisted of plugging in and unplugging the Stick with and without the setup adapter until finally plugging the Kinsa back in on its own for use. The whole process took just over a minute on my Nexus 6. For those curious about compatibility, the Kinsa Stick will work with quite a few smartphones when running iOS 8.0 or Jelly Bean (v 4.1) and later on Android.

I’m not sure what the setup adapter does, but it seems to be necessary as part of the process getting started. In fact, I had to use it twice on my phone for some reason. Other than that, everything went pretty smoothly. I tried the Stick orally and it read my temperature without having to keep the thing in my mouth for 3 minutes. I decided to also try taking my temperature in my armpit. The first time, I did it through a thin t-shirt just to see what would happen and it was off by 4 degrees. When I tried again under the shirt, it read just about the same as the oral reading, which is what I would expect. Throughout the process, I was guided with video and prompts, which helped everything run smoothly.

For adults, this thermometer adds the ability to set up profiles and keep track of symptoms and readings for each person. While this is handy, the real value seems to be for parents. These same features are useful for the whole family, but there’s also the ability to keep a child entertained by popping bubbles, for example, while the temperature is being read. Being able to read a temperature via the armpit could also be an advantage to parents. The app also offers the option to read a temperature by ear or rectally, though I did not try those features.

Conclusions
As a non-parent, the Kinsa Stick is a convenience, to be sure, but not a necessity. That said, the price point of $24.99 could easily sway a non-parent. For parents, this could be a great device to help make unpleasant times a little easier to deal with. I would imagine this being well worth the small cost for most parents, more so when there are multiple younger children in the house.

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Common Core Math Vs Old Math In PHP

Posted in Code by Joe Colburn on the February 3rd, 2016

Love it or hate it, Facebook brings out the passion in people. People get unfriended and feelings get hurt. There’s no better way to experience it than to post an opinionated political viewpoint. Still, politics are far from the only fuel for these fires. Recently, I’ve seen heated discussions about Common Core Math, a relatively newer way to approach learning math principles. Some of the concepts seem, on the surface, to be a big, crazy departure from the concepts many of us learned as children and that’s what I’ve seen most of the noise about. In some instances, friends share an image from an angry parent whose child’s math solution was marked incorrect because the common core methods were not applied. In other cases, frustration is voiced because it appears that the new methods are actually worse than the old ones. Whatever side you’re on, be sure to open your mind to learning new things and making your own mind up.

I’m still on the fence, so as a software engineer, I decided to throw ones and zeros at the problem and see what stuck. In this case, I decided that the problem I wanted to solve would be to determine which method might be faster for subtracting numbers. The “old way”, as seen on the left in the image below, involves lining up your numbers and borrowing from the next digit to the left as you subtract each digit on the bottom from the one on the top. The new way involves essentially rounding up the number you’re subtracting until it matches the number you’re subtracting from and adding all the numbers you had to use to round up in order to get to the difference. The simplest explanation I saw for this was 9 minutes into this video, in which the teacher describes the process of counting change back to a customer at a cash register.

ccmath

To solve my problem, I used PHP to try to mimic the process we go through as humans to subtract one number from another. I programmed functions for the old and new ways to solve a subtraction problem and added code to time each and loop lots of times to create a more visible comparison. The Commmon Core math in PHP code is on GitHub for anyone who would like to try it out or improve it and below are some example results.

1,000 cycles – random numbers between 1 and 1000.
Total time for the old way : 0.0071358680725098 seconds
Total time for the new way : 0.01004958152771 seconds

100,000 cycles – random numbers between 1 and 1000.
Total time for the old way : 0.71134495735168 seconds
Total time for the new way : 0.97455978393555 seconds

1,000,000 cycles – random numbers between 1 and 1000.
Total time for the old way : 6.9777636528015 seconds
Total time for the new way : 9.8461444377899 seconds

100 cycles – random numbers between 1 and 10,000,000.
Total time for the old way : 0.00092959403991699 seconds
Total time for the new way : 0.0014877319335938 seconds

100,000 cycles – random numbers between 1 and 10,000,000.
Total time for the old way : 1.0502970218658 seconds
Total time for the new way : 1.6906788349152 seconds

1,000,000 cycles – random numbers between 1 and 10,000,000.
Total time for the old way : 22.028552055359 seconds
Total time for the new way : 34.783274650574 seconds

It’s worth noting that computers and the human brain work in very different ways. This experiment is not intended to prove anything either way, nor is it intended as scientific data in the slightest. It’s merely an experiment on the process and I welcome discussion and open-minded debate in the comments.

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