This isn’t your grandma’s pedometer.
I’m not a celebrity spokesperson given a FuelBand in order to hype this product. I am a runner training for the 2012 Philadelphia marathon and this is my real world review of Nike+ FuelBand.
This isn’t your grandma’s pedometer.
I’m not a celebrity spokesperson given a FuelBand in order to hype this product. I am a runner training for the 2012 Philadelphia marathon and this is my real world review of Nike+ FuelBand.
There was an uncomfortable moment the other day, when Ed Driscoll asked me if I’d review the new PJ Media app for your iPhone and iPad. I mean, I work here. I’ve been getting a paycheck from PJ Media since it launched way back in 2005 — and I’m not exactly known for keeping my mouth shut. But then I figured, that’s kind of what they hired me for, so if it’s a review they want, it’s a review they’ll get.
Now, longtime VodkaPundit readers know I love Apple. It started with iPod lust, then quickly blossomed into an all-consuming affair, including an iMac, more iPods, a Mac Pro, an iPad, three generations of iPhones starting with the very first one, and it’s a sure thing I’ll order an iPad 3 just as soon as they go on sale next month. What you also need to know is, I have also mercilessly ripped Apple products when necessary. Sure, I’m a fan — but I’m no fanboy. I won’t let my biases get in the way of honest criticism.
Keep that in mind when I tell you: The PJ Media app is pretty darn good.
The iPhone version is especially sharp. There’s a bottom row of buttons to your favorite places — the home page, the Tatler, columnists such as yours truly, the Lifestyle page, and, of course, Instapundit. Clicking on each gives you a list of stories, with blurbs. And you have the now-traditional pull-to-refresh feature to get the latest items. Ads are minimal and unobtrusive.
Yes, there are a few banner ads. Did I mention the app is free?
I’m a little more conflicted about the iPad version. It looks sharp, but the small navigation buttons look a little lost on that 10-inch screen. Maybe they just need to be higher-contrast. The story scrollbar is on the left, giving you access to links even while you’re reading an item — that’s something you can’t do on the tiny iPhone. Best part? Unlike every single other news app out there out there — at least in my experience — our app allows you to copy text for pasting elsewhere. In other words, the PJ app is actually useful to people who write or blog for a living — or who just like to share. Blogging is in PJ’s DNA, and it shows.
I only see one major flaw. For existing readers like you, it’s great. Easy navigation, so you’ll know what to expect and where to find your favorite writers. But when going to each page, the default “big panel” is just a blowup of the PJ logo. You have to kind of hunt through the scrollbar, and then click on something, before that giant logo gets replaced by something useful. New readers should get a little more direction, more great stuff to read, without having to work for it. Our top stories of the day should be right there in their faces, each time they navigate somewhere new.
I talked to our managing editor, Aaron Hanscom, about the Big Staring Logo, and he tells me I’m not the only one to think it’s a flaw. Hopefully we’ll get that fixed in an update before too long.
Overall, though? What a handy (and free!) way to put a little VodkaPundit right in your pocket.
You can download me — er, it — right here from the iTunes App Store.
I see that there are now mental health apps to help people with their mental health (via Instapundit):
Northwestern University researchers recently launched Mobilyze, an app that tracks users’ behavior patterns and moods to identify states that trigger depression before it happens. The app gathers data from more than 40 sensors including GPS, accelerometer, and Wi-Fi, which it uses to figure out the user’s activity level and location. This data, combined with information the users supply about their mood and social context, identifies situations in which people are likely to become depressed and reminds them to take action that might prevent it, such as going outside or visiting friends. Alternatively, when users are doing well and adhering to their treatment goals, the app offers positive reinforcement in the form of text messages or email kudos.
The apps can help with everything from conquering public speaking to calming veterans with PTSD. How well do they work? I guess we will see at time goes on. I think for some depressed or mentally ill people, contact with a real person is important, but that is not always possible. Is there anything technology can’t do?
While building a home theater stocked with a variety of electronic components is lots of fun, unfortunately, going the do-it-yourself route often ends with, well, not quite the proverbial Tower of Babel but perhaps worse from your significant other’s point of view – the dreaded Coffee Table of Babel. Those remote controls for the TV, A/V receiver, DVD or Blu-Ray player, cable or satellite set-top box, and other electronic equipment all begin to pile up, making for an ugly mess, and making the home theater appear more complex to operate than it otherwise is.
Back in 2004, Logitech acquired Easy Zapper, a Canadian startup specializing in universal remote controls, giving a firm best known for computer accessories such as replacement keyboards and mice a foothold in the home theater industry.
Under their Harmony division’s moniker, Logitech now produces a full range of remotes in a variety of retail price-points from $29 to $349. While their most advanced remote is arguably the tablet-shaped Harmony 1100, after reading a variety of reviews, I decided to avoid the tablet shape and go with the model directly below it, Logitech’s Harmony 900, which as of the time of this review, sells for $240.99 at Amazon.com.
This is a remote geared towards someone who knows his way around both his home theater and to some extent his PC as well, and who’s prepared to tinker a bit to set up the remote. In other words, expect a bit of set-up time, but once complete, it does make for a rather powerful remote.
Programming the Remote
After installing the supplied software on your PC, the first step is to gather all of your existing remotes, and to write down the brand and model numbers of all of your home theater components. Logitech maintains a database of approximately 5,000 brands and 225,000 devices, which the Harmony 900’s PC interface will search in order to set-up your remote. If you have a component that’s not on there, don’t fret – as long as you have its remote, you should be able to manually program its codes into the Harmony 900 while it’s plugged into your computer via its supplied USB cable.
It’s also possible to tweak the remote to add functions not included in the database. For example, since I do just about all of my TV watching with my A/V receiver on for surround sound, I ended up programming the A/V receiver’s volume and mute controls into the various devices controlled by the remote. Depending upon the amount of equipment you own, and the level of control you’re aiming for, early on you may have to do a fair amount of tweaking to customize the remote to your preferences.
While the Harmony 900 allows control over individual components, its first emphasis is on what it calls (on the remote’s GUI) “Activities.” These typically include watching TV, watching a movie, playing a CD, etc. The Harmony 900 will group together tasks so that pressing one button on the remote will automatically do things such as:
And so on. A similar activity can be programmed watching a movie, which switch everything on to watch a DVD. For those with a few pieces of home theater gear that need to work together in harmony (if you’ll pardon the pun), this is a pretty convenient way to begin a few hours of television watching.
The Harmony 900 also supports individual components of course, which it calls “Devices.” The remote’s GUI can be toggled back and forth between devices and activities.
While the PC has quickly become the de facto home entertainment center for many, there are still moments – such as the Super Bowl or when it’s time to view Lawrence of Arabia or Star Wars on the big, big (home) screen – when sitting down, leaning back, and spacing out in front of a big-screen TV is a welcome change of pace.
LG’s model number 55LK520 55-Inch LCD HDTV produces a knockout 1080p picture. With three HDMI inputs, it’s possible to connect a satellite or digital set-top box, a Blu-Ray player, and an Internet device such as a Roku box. For the home theater industry’s equivalent of “legacy devices,” there are also component and composite inputs. (There’s no S-video connection, curiously. This may be the first video product I’ve purchased in 25 years without one.)
The LG 55LK520 lacks 3D, but I can’t say I’m enamored with that concept, particularly since it involves wearing ’50s-style 3D glasses over my own. And it lacks an Internet hook-up, but that’s OK as well. I’d rather plug-in a device of my own to connect to the Web. (Besides, my DirecTV receiver, Blu-Ray player, and Roku box all have various Web capabilities.)
The unit shares the same IR codes as the LG BD670 Blu-Ray player we reviewed last month; that unit’s remote is capable of performing the basic functions of this TV, though not vice-versa. It’s sort of academic though, as likely most will use some sort of universal remote, such as Logitech’s Harmony 900 or a similar device.
Initially, I was surprised by how “processed” some DirecTV HD programming looked on the 55LK520. Movies that were clearly shot on 35mm had an almost “live TV” sort of look, with little or no film grain visible. But you quickly become used to it. When I mentioned in my review of the Blu-Ray player last month that you can read the Winston logo printed on the band of Martin Sheen’s cigarettes in Apocalypse Now, or praised the details of a vintage Pimm’s Cup bottle label in the Blu-Ray edition of Boardwalk Empire, this was the TV I was viewing them on.
I had purchased the LG 55LK520 to replace an eight year old JVC rear-projection HD set, and immediately found that there was one feature on the older unit that I missed — the ability to zoom an 4X3 image to fill the screen. In contrast, unless I missed an option, the 55LK520 was only capable of black bars around a 4X3 image. If you watch a lot of older movies, or non-HD programming on cable or satellite, this might be something to keep in mind.
Also, for those who wish to place the LG 55LK520 on a tabletop (as I did, placing the unit on the stand in the middle of my home theater cabinets where my older — and much heavier rear projection once sat) my find that the base that the 55LK520 rests on feels a little on the flimsy side. It can do the job, but I wish had built with a more robust feel. Also, for those who placed their older rear projection sets with the screen flush with the edge of their supporting cabinet, the base causes the LG TV to be recessed about five inches in, which may require some adjustments if you’re planning to place the unit inside of a home theater cabinet. For those who wish to mount the LG 55LK520 on their wall, the rear of the set contains the usual VESA mount.
One of the handiest features on the back is a Toslink digital audio output. For those with limited digital audio inputs on their home theater receivers, the LG 55LK520 will output the audio of whatever device is currently displaying on the screen, thus simplifying use of the set with an A/V receiver, and reducing the number of digital audio inputs the A/V receiver needs for your various components. This also makes it easier to use the LG 55LK520 as a switcher for HDMI inputs, which is particularly useful if your A/V receiver has a few years on it, and lacks these connections.
Incidentally, this is as good a place as any for a friendly reminder, which may be old hat for some, but if not: if you’re doing your own installation, invest in a Brother P-Touch labeler or similar device and label your cables, putting the product the cable terminates in on the opposite end of the cable. Once you start building up a home theater with say, an A/V receiver, Blu-Ray player, Roku box, legacy equipment like a VCR, tape deck, CD player, etc, you risk finding yourself in a bewildering labyrinth of cables when you go to update your gear, or pull a device to send it to the repair shop. Having used masking tape, index file labels, and Crutchfield’s pre-printed cable labels, the tough vinyl P-Touch so far are the only labels that I’ve seen that don’t become brittle and risk falling off over time, but any label is better than none.
To give you a sense of how far video technology has advanced, and how far prices have plummeted, let’s first go back to the mid-1990s. Back then, Pioneer Elite’s CLD-97 laser video disc player was one of the finest video playback systems a consumer could buy. Selling at about $2500, it weighed 37 pounds and its exterior case featured a sleek, rich piano black finish with rosewood side panels. With the right source material, it was capable – for its time – of a stunning picture, and can be seen as one of the last steps in the 12-inch laser disc’s evolution before the 4.7-inch DVD came along in the US back in 1997.
But that’s all Jurassic-era history. Currently selling for $124.77 on Amazon, the LG BD670 3D Wireless Network Blu-ray Disc Player with Smart TV leaves the $2500 CLD-97’s picture quality in the dust. And unlike the home theater technology of the 1990s, it’ll talk to your home’s local area network, too.
Amongst the formats it supports, the LG BD670 is capable of playing high-definition Blu-Ray discs, which output up to a 1920×1080 picture, plus 3d Blu-Ray discs, conventional DVDs, compact audio discs (CDs), WMA, and MP3s . We’ll get to those last two in just a minute.
The LG BD670 does a very good job of upconverting most DVDs before outputting them to an HD television. I wrote my recent review of Boardwalk Empire based on standard definition DVDs played through the LG BD670 on a 55-inch LCD TV and thought, man, this picture looks great. Of course, when the Blu-Ray review copy finally arrived from HBO, I was blown away by how sharp it was; you could discern the weave in Nucky’s proto-zoot suit. Or read the text on the bottles of Pimm’s No. 1 he procures for a politician he’s bribing. Watching Apocalypse Now in Blu-Ray, it was possible to read the “Winston” script on the band of Martin Sheen’s cigarette while he was taking a drag. On some films, this can lend dramatic differences in perception. The pace of 1968’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, a film I’ve seen dozens and dozens of times over the past decades, on pan & scan VHS, a couple of different letterboxed laser discs, DVD, and on a few rare occasions in revival theaters, seemed noticeably faster. The difference was that I could make out the myriad fine details embedded into every shot as eye candy. And I could watch Keir Dullea – almost always photographed in long and medium shots to frame him in his environment – act. It was a potent reminder of how much is lost, even on high-quality playback systems such as anamorphic standard definition DVD.
Speaking of which, the results can vary in quality when watching a standard definition DVD on the LG BD670. I already mentioned the anamorphic standard-definition DVD version of Boardwalk Empire. But plenty of DVDs have been released in TV’s traditional 4X3 format. My DVDs of the legendary early-1970s Thames TV series The World at War probably looked their very best on the LG BD670, but there’s only so much its electronics can do for a series consisting of alternating WWII newsreel footage and 16mm interviews. The worst offender I’ve seen so far was my first generation DVD of the 1989 Michael Douglas, Ridley Scott potboiler Black Rain, which Paramount issued in letterboxed non-anamorphic format shortly after the DVD format debuted. All of the smoke and diffusion in the cinematography made for a muddy, pixilated image after so many lines of resolution were lost in the letterboxing format. (Fortunately, it’s now out on Blu-Ray.)
(Disclosure: my LCD TV doesn’t have 3D, and I’m not a fan any format that requires me to wear extra glasses over my own glasses, so I did not test any 3D discs.)
It is near the end of January and many New Year resolutions are hopefully still in progress. If you have decided to use the new year as the starting point to develop better health and fitness habits, I have three incredibly useful applications to assist in maintaining your resolutions. I use all three apps regularly, however, I have chosen not to share the information publicly.
My Fitness Pal: A fantastic FREE application that tracks your food intake and fitness activities. The app includes the ability to share this information via social media if you so choose to do so. The software tracks your information, producing charts to visually show your progress. You get detailed nutritional information on every food item you enter into your daily diary. If find this application to be incredibly useful in seeing my overall diet and fitness progress.
Runkeeper: A free application for your smart phone that uses the GPS technology to track your fitness activity. You can share the information online with other Runkeeper users or just keep the info on your phone. It provides auditory updates of your progress during the activity, maps your routes, and provides detailed information on speed, time and distance of your activity.
Fooducate: Not sure about a food product you are about to consume? Use this FREE application to scan the UPC bar-code and find out its Fooducate grade. The application grades thousands of grocery food items and provides a stoplight color code and letter grade. It also provides reasons for the letter grade assigned to the food item. Honestly, I was shocked to find my favorite powerbar – Zone Perfect – rated a D+ in Fooducate. The application also provides alternative foods to help users make better food choices.
If you have decided to place an emphasis on healthier eating and increasing your fitness activities, today’s smart phone technology can have a positive impact on successfully maintaining your goals.
NOTE: All three applications are available in the Android marketplace.
For those who have set a new year resolution of creating a more healthier lifestyle, Nike has several tools to support this healthy resolution. One of the newest products is Nike+ FuelBand. The FuelBand is designed to track daily physical activity calories for those looking to lose weight, get in shape or maintain a level of fitness.
For the past year, I have focused on a healthy and active lifestyle with a goal of completing a Marathon (or two). In order to make this happen, I consulted with a nutritionist who suggested an ongoing fitness goal of burning two thousand physical activity calories per week in addition to dietary plan. In order to maintain this goal, I have manually calculated my calories burned for each activity. This method has its limitations and I do not factor in daily activities such as vacuuming, cooking, or walking to the store.
The Nike+ FuelBand looks to be the perfect device to assist with my goal of burning two thousand physical activity calories per week. The data provided can help anyone looking to be more fit and healthy in 2012 by refining fitness goals and serving as a benchmark for improvement.
I’m planning on pre ordering this fitness device today and will share my real world review of the device when it arrives.
Back in the 1990s, when the World Wide Web was still new and shiny, and all things seemed possible, television ads promised us a future where every movie ever made would one day be available for streaming on the Internet. (At least if I’m remembering the ads I saw around ’97 or ’98 or so correctly.) The Roku set-top box is a big down payment on that promise. And if I were the cable or DBS companies, I’d be a little scared.
While lots of people will keep watching good ol’ network TV, the ability to cut the cable is now within sight. After seeing numerous links at Instapundit.com, typically with comments from readers about how much they enjoyed their Roku set-top boxes, I decided to give one a try.
Once out of the box, while a few people have complained in comments at Amazon about interconnectivity issues, for me, hooking up the Roko XS couldn’t have been simpler. Plug in a LAN cable, plug the Roku’s A/C adaptor into an outlet, pop a pair of AA batters into the remote, and then follow the instructions on its GUI, and let it do its thing. Within a few moments, it was happily talking to the server back at Roku HQ, and was good to go.
The whole design philosophy of the Roku seems to be “strip everything down to its basics, and keep the interface as clean and minimal as possible.” The remote control bundled with the Roku XS only contains 10 buttons, and an up, down, left, right controller. The onscreen GUI is similarly minimal. But then, this is a unit designed primarily to do one thing: get streaming content off the Web and onto your TV screen.
One element of the Roku is too minimal, in my opinion. I was surprised that the only hook-up options are an HDMI cable to connect to most of today’s HDTVs, and an all-in-one analog output, with a mini-plug-sized jack on one end for the Roku box, and RCA connections for video and analog on the other. I would have liked to have seen a separate digital audio output, whether it was RCA or Toslink, to plug the audio into an A/V receiver for surround sound. Fortunately, my LG HDTV has its own Toslink audio output, and I was able to snake a cable back to my A/V receiver as a workaround. Currently, only the Roku XS model has an outlet for hardwired 10/100 mbps Ethernet, and a slot for a microSD card.
Where No Set-Top Box Has Gone Before
So how is the picture? Pretty damn good, I must say. All of the Roku units output a minimum of 720p HD; the Roku XD and XS up the picture quality to 1080p. Of course, picture quality is dependent upon the source material the unit outputs, which can vary widely. But I watched the remastered version of “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” the second pilot for the original Star Trek on Netflix, and this was the sharpest I had ever seen the original show. (Which sometimes didn’t work in its favor: the picture was so sharp, you could see where Leonard Nimoy’s makeup was applied. And the crude appearance of Gary Lockwood’s reflective silver contact lenses.)
I am reading a new magazine by O’Reilly Media called MAKE: Technology on Your Time. It’s a quarterly magazine put out for those who love DIY projects and according to the product description, “it unites, inspires and informs a growing community of resourceful people who undertake amazing projects in their backyards, basements, and garages.”
Okay, I’m not too much into DIY projects but I love reading about people who are. In the special issue I am reading (Feb. 15th, 2012), called the Ultimate Kit Guide, I found out that kits are the “gateway DIY project.”
They teach skills, make things more fun, are a great way for parents and kids to share something, and drive innovation. Dale Dougherty, the publisher and founder of the magazine states, “Kits also help create the kind of highly skilled amateurs who drive innovation and economic renewal….We know the next Steve Jobs is out there right now, building kits.”
A reviewer over at Amazon says:
I just received the premiere issue of Make Magazine from O’Reilly yesterday. Let me just say this mag is a geek’s dream come true. It’s not a magazine about coding. Heck, I’m not sure if calling it a magazine is even accurate. It’s more of a journal or zine (but with higher production values). A geek quarterly, if you will.
If you like DIY projects or know someone who would, this seems like a good gift for yourself or for them.
Do you build things in your basement, garage or backyard or know someone who does? I would love to hear why and how you got started.
If you haven’t seen or heard of OnLive yet, prepare to have your mind blown. OnLive may be the most interesting innovation in video games of the past year. Here’s a brief taste of what it does.
Gaming in the Clouds
OnLive is cloud streaming video games. That means that it delivers quality video game entertainment while mostly doing away with going to the local game store, with the need for an expensive game console, or with being locked into gaming on a single PC. OnLive plays where you are, on your PC, Mac or TV. Instantly.
The way it works is simple. OnLive’s game library is installed in the cloud. You access that cloud in a variety of ways through your internet connection. First you create an account for free at OnLive’s web site. Then you download and install a small app to your computer, or you hook up the “microconsole” to your TV. Once installed, sign in to your account and you have instant access to hundreds of video games. You can install the app on as many devices as you want, and when you buy and play a game, your saves and progress get tied to your login account. So your game progress goes to whatever device you happen to be on at the moment.
OnLive also does away with the need to download the games or their demos, at all. In this respect, it gains an advantage over its most obvious competitor, the Steam game network, which requires local downloads for all the content you choose to access. So where, in the Steam universe, you might wait hours just to sample a demo of a game you’re considering purchasing, with OnLive, once you click on the Game Trial button, you’re automatically and instantly allowed to demo the game.
OnLive’s optional microconsole also gives it an edge over the more expensive XBox360 and PS3 consoles, in cost, portability and ease of use. Because the games are installed in the cloud, there is no need for discs, and therefore no moving parts inside OnLive’s tiny box. No red rings of death, no DVD readers that suddenly die. And at just a bit larger than an iPhone, the OnLive console will fit anywhere, while at $129 off Amazon for the box and a wireless controller, it fits just about any budget too. Apple fans will appreciate the packaging in which the console arrives; it’s a sleek black box reminiscent of the packaging in which Apple places the iPhone.
I love gadgets and it’s difficult for me to know in advance if a gadget will be one in a long list of “bright shiny objects” which I buy, adore for a few days and then relegate to some dust-catching shelf. But the Livescribe pen system is a keeper.
I don’t know about you, but as much as I am hooked on computers, and try to keep all of my notes about things on my computer, I still pick up a pen or pencil when the phone rings and jot notes on any available piece of paper. And when I’m at someone else’s office, I do the same. And then I lose the notes, or keep them but can’t find what I wrote. Or I find that I have 10 different notes listing similar information about 10 different clients and I don’t know which notes refer to which client.
A writing tablet might help, but there’s something that makes my hand gravitate to either a computer or paper and pen–nothing in between. And that’s when the Livescribe shines.
What this doohickey does is allow you to pick up a pen, write on a piece of paper and then when you return the pen to its little cradle, everything you wrote is uploaded to the Livescribe software (or to email, google docs, Evernote etc.) where you can sort it, search on it, and save it forever.
It also allows to make audio recordings your meetings and even book mark important points that correspond to note you’re taking.
The system includes a pen, that looks somewhat like an old fountain pen, special notebooks of various sizes, a docking station and software.
The pen comes in 2Gig, 4Gig and 8Gig models. I’ve been using the 2 gig model for a few months without archiving and haven’t run out of memory but I don’t use the audio recording feature. If you plan on recording things, I would get more memory.
If you can’t stop using pen and paper, I think the Livescribe is a great way to go.
(Originally published in July.)
My friend Francis Turner who writes the blog L’Ombre de l’Olivier sent me an email about protecting my computer from virus attacks. This was particularly germane since a recent weekend was devoted to weeding out #1 son’s computer. Since #1 son is far more computer competent than I am, and has never before been hit, it seems to me I’m at considerable risk.
And, of course, over the holidays, you end up shopping at some iffy sites, because sometimes those are the only ones that carry the barbarian-princess-in-only-chain-mail calendar that you know the men in your household will love.
So, in the spirit of keeping your computer safe for the holidays, here is the email Francis sent me:
We (the company I work for — ThreatSTOP) have come up with a simple way to see if your computer is under the control of someone else, that is to say whether it is running a “Trojan” or “botted”. It’s a simple download that anyone can run and get a report at the end.
The app is important because malware writers these days can regularly avoid (and even disable) antivirus so you may have no idea that there’s a banking trojan on your computer until suddenly you discover that you just sent all the money in your online bank account to some guy in Romania. This is pretty much guarranteed to ruin your holiday season if it happens and it isn’t fantasy, it’s happened to thousands of people and small businesses (see http://krebsonsecurity.com/2011/11/title-firm-sues-bank-over-207k-cyberheist/ for example).
Let your holiday shopping be merry and safe.
There are still another five days left in this sale. New apps are featured each day and, at ten cents a pop, the majority of them are hard to resist. I’ve downloaded several games that I wouldn’t have tried at $4.99 and have been having a blast keeping calmer than usual in the TSA line the past few days. Where else outside of some obscure South Pacific island can you have this much fun for two or three bucks?
The season for gift giving is well underway. If you are puzzling over a gift or two for your favorite photographer, I’ve cobbled together a list of gift ideas that may help. I’ve included is a stocking stuffer list for those quick last minute gifts every photographer will appreciate. Keeping budgets in mind, the prices included are the lowest I could find at the time of writing. Also included are low cost alternatives to some of the more pricier items every photographer dreams about owning. Please note I am a Canon fan and have added certain items specifically for use with a Canon camera, however, all of these items have an equivalent with other camera brands.
Are you looking for a fun toy for the boy or teen on your list? Here are the most popular ones that readers have been buying up from Amazon:
Take LEGO to the next level with MINDSTORMS NXT 2.0. Combining the versatility of the LEGO building system with a microcomputer brick and intuitive programming software, this building kit enables you to construct robots that see, speak, feel, and move. Designed for ages 10 and up, the 2.0 robotics tool set features everything you need to create and program your first robot in approximately one hour.
Finally, a popular item is the Scientific Explorer’s Mind Blowing Science Kit for Young Scientists. This kit is for younger kids from 4-8:
This smartly designed science kit allows young scientists to perform several amazing science experiments that range from erupting a color-changing volcano to growing colorful, jiggly crystals. Young scientists will learn about basic principles behind the science including the difference between acids and bases, and how to use a test tube and pipette.
The last toy mentions that adult supervision is necessary. Anyway, that seems to be what people are buying at Amazon for younger guys. If you have some additional suggestions, drop them in the comment section.
Even before they became a division of Government Motors, Scotty has never been a big fan of GM cars — sorry about that folks, but in recent years I considered one just because of the OnStar system. For those of you who’ve been living under a rock OnStar provides:
And now it’s available for non-GM cars as an add on! It is called OnStar FMV (For My Vehicle), and is available at Best Buy and other electronics stores. It comes in the form of a rear view mirror which replaces your car’s existing one.
That’s the good news. This is a perfect gift for any family member who spends time on the road. It will give them an extra added measure of safety and you greater comfort when they are on the road.
The bad news? Well, installation is a challenge. The unit can’t be installed on all cars, and even if a car is listed as compatible, installation might not be possible. Installation also can run more money than the unit itself and sometimes more than was quoted.
And I assume y’all figured out there’s also a monthly service charge for the call center. It’ll run you around $20-$30 depending the features you want.
This is not a product to buy on the cheap from www.crappyelectronics.com. Buy it from the place that will install it so if it is not possible to install you can return it. Best Buy has a handy “check if we can install OnStar in your car” widget here. But as I said, even that’s only a preliminary determination. An installer will have to see your car, and maybe even work on it to know if it will install properly.
If Mrs. S or I drove around a lot I would buy her one in a flash, but we’re homebodies ever since I retired from Star Fleet. But at $275 including “basic” installation, the OnStar FMV gives a heck of a lot of peace of mind.
Depending upon your perspective, the idea of the tablet computer dates back to the late 1990s when they first started making the rounds at the annual Consumer Electronics Show, or back to the mid-1960s, and the flat panel computers that the astronauts were holding in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, released in 1968, but largely shot two years earlier. Ultimately though, it took until 2010 for the year we made contact with Steve Jobs’ iPad to produce a commercially viable product. But once the iPad hit store shelves, the floodgates were opened, and it was soon joined by a variety of competitors, including the Android Galaxy Tab, and other tablet devices.
As a vehicle for consuming media, the iPad and its derivatives function quite well as self-contained units — just had headphones. But for creating media, sometimes an accessory or two is useful to ease the process.
Microsoft’s Bluetooth Mobile Keyboard 6000 is a full-sized wireless keyboard that can be a godsend for those looking to write quickly and cleanly on a tablet. I’m not entirely crazy about the slight bend in the keyboard, but it’s nowhere near as bad as some of the more radically curved ergonomic keyboards I’ve seen over the years. I was able to quickly adapt my “high speed hunt ‘n’ peck” style to the Microsoft Keyboard pretty easily; my recent Thanksgiving trip highlights were largely written via this keyboard in a hotel room, airport departure lounge and on the plane, and my Samsung Galaxy Tab, then polished in Word before publishing.
The Mobile Keyboard also comes with a separate numeric keyboard, which I don’t think I’ve ever used, but for those who need to do lots of numeric input, it’s there.
If you’ve got the space for a separate keyboard, why not a separate mouse as well? Microsoft’s Bluetooth Notebook Mouse 5000 is, as its Shatner Turbo 2000-esque name implies, just that, a handy Bluetooth mouse, which can double duty as a mouse for any Bluetooth-equipped tablet and laptop as well. It’s comfortable, fits in the hand nicely, and like the Microsoft Bluetooth keyboard can further open up a tablet computer. Unlike the keyboard, it also comes with a convenient black nylon protective cover with a Velcro flap, to protect when tossed into a laptop bag for travel.
Both of these devices mate with a tablet very easily. In the case of my Samsung Galaxy Tab, I simply went into settings, and paired the mouse and keyboard with the Galaxy. The Microsoft products have buttons on their underside which activate the units, and send out the code for the tablet to recognize them. Following the instructions that come with the Microsoft products made it a surprisingly easy job.
The 21st Century Music Cloud meets the 20th Century Car Tape Deck
Of course, the primary role of the tablet for many people is to consume media, not produce it. And in a sense, a tablet is capable of near-infinite music storage. 30 years ago, musician-producer Brian Eno wrote that recorded music “makes repeatable what was otherwise transient and ephemeral. Music, until about 1900, was an event that was perceived in a particular situation, and that disappeared when it was finished.” But in contrast:
As soon as you record something, you make it available for any situation that has a record player. You take it out of the ambience and locale in which it was made, and it can be transposed into any situation. This morning I was listening to a Thai lady singing; I can hear the sound of the St. Sophia Church in Belgrade or Max’s Kansas City in my own apartment, and I can listen with a fair degree of conviction about what these sounds mean. As Marshall McLuhan said, it makes all music all present. So not only is the whole history of our music with us now, in some sense, on record, but the whole global musical culture is also available.
Cloud computing goes that several times better. As we noted last month, a tablet or smart phone equipped with Amazon’s MP3 cloud player allows anyone to effectively carry around his entire music collection – which in my late father’s case would have been the equivalent of an entire basement’s worth of records. (Those big black analog CDs with the scratches and pops. Wait, what’s a CD, you ask…?) But getting the sound into your car can sometimes be a challenge. Particularly if you’ve got an older car with a cassette deck that you’d rather not replace. For example, Nina and I purchased our 1985 Mercedes 500SEL last year from the proverbial little old lady in Pasadena San Jose. It was in extremely good shape, with low mileage for a quarter-century old car, and still had the original Blaupunkt AM/FM cassette deck. I had toyed with the idea of replacing the Blaupunkt with a Sirius-XM-equipped radio, but for under twenty bucks, I eventually decided to go with Monster Cable’s iCarPlay Cassette Adapter 800. For less than a couple of sawbucks, it’s an easy way to get the sound of the 21st century into a car built during the height of the Reagan years.
The Monster iCarPlay Cassette Adapter has an output cable terminating in a 1/8th-inch miniplug, making it compatible with just about any tablet, smart phone, iPod or other portable device with a miniplug output. The iCarPlay has a flip-open lid at the top of the “cassette,” which allows the cable to moved to several positions, depending upon if you insert tapes into your car’s cassette player straight in or sideways. However, moving the cable to a new position can take a few minutes, and is particularly “fun” to do in the car at night. If you own more than one car with a cassette deck with a different tape loading style, for under twenty bucks, you might want to buy a second unit and keep it ready to go, rather than fumbling with the output cable’s position each time you want to plug in some music.
Incidentally, I would recommend someone riding shotgun to switch the tracks on your tablet or smart phone while you’re behind the steering wheel. Either that or an install an iDrive on your steering wheel. It makes it much easier to switch tracks and perform other functions on your tablet while you’re driving….
I know that many of you work from home when you can. And y’all know, my job takes me all over the
country galaxy. Being able to work from home or while traveling is becoming more and more important. So I thought I’d tell the PJ Media gang about some of my favorite gadgets, seeing as it’s getting close to Christmas.
While my DroidX2 has a pretty darned good speaker built in… it’s pretty good only compared with getting a ticket for holding the phone up to my ear because I forgot my Bluetooth at home. And since I often end up holding conference calls in the darnedest places, like hotel rooms, I was tired of sounding like some yahoo. So years ago I bought myself a small Bluetooth speaker. While a lot of people use them in their cars to listen to music as well as talk on the phone, it’s also a dynamite gadget to make conference calls so much clearer. While my unit is no longer made, I’ve found y’all two other options that I’m sure your telecommuters will love.
My first choice is portable and can be used in your car, home office, hotel room or where ever you want. The Jabra Cruiser2 is advertised for the car, but I’m telling you, the difference in quality between using this kind of speaker versus the speaker in your cell phone will make you sound like you’re in a big office with one of those fancy 16″ speaker phone deals. And at 61 bucks, it’s a good investment in convenience and professionalism.
This next one is not portable, but if you have occasion to have others come into your home office and you want to do a conference call without banging heads huddled over your iPhone or Droid – this is your baby.
The Soundfreaq SFQ-01R Sound Platform Bluetooth Audio System is a complete audio system with FM radio and has that bluetooth speaker capability. This is a really attractive piece of electronics and comes in 3 colors: red, black and white. It’s small, only 11.8 x 6 x 5.9 inches, but has pretty darned good sound quality. No, it’s not going to compete with a full size Bose speaker system. But it’s smaller than a bread box.
And it will provide you with music in your home office, as well as the capability of having professional “real office” sounding conference calls. I mean wouldn’t it be great to be able to just switch between listening to your tunes and picking up a phone call without having to take your hands of your computer keyboard?
As Americans read daily about the stagnant U.S. economy, they not only have to worry about their family’s savings and retirement plans — which are vanishing right before their eyes — they have to worry about new types of con artists and scammers exploiting their worries.
Whether it’s scams that exploit seniors, identity theft schemes, phony IRS agents or other scams, the world-wide web has proven itself to be a perfect tool during the economic downturn for con artists looking to exploit a vulnerable mark.
News coverage of these frauds may cause a sense of hyper-vigilance and even a desire to limit online activity to familiar places and sites generally to minimize risk. However, that’s not necessarily the way to avoid exploitation in the digital world.
Unfortunately, one of the most insidious opportunities of all time to deceive individuals is one being put forward by digital heavyweight Google. In this case it appears to be part of the company’s business model, challenging the well-accepted notion that name brand products and services are likely to be more trustworthy and safe.
From tracking and collecting your favorite restaurants, movies, and even your dating status, Google’s business model appears to rely on collecting and collating personal information about online users in a way that even the best private investigators can’t. Their algorithms are so sophisticated that they can determine not only how many individuals access the internet in a given home, they even can capture their birthdates, gender etc., all so they can determine how to market products and services. They do this whether you knowingly give permission or not.
If this seems useful, just imagine that the info marketed to you by Google may not be the same as that which is seen by your son or daughter when they log on.
Officials as far afield as Texas and the European Commission have initiated investigations into Google’s actions that exploit online users. In Washington, both the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission are reviewing Google’s practices. Nevertheless, the complaints don’t stop there. From alleged misuse and manipulation of search results to censorship of content and purported intellectual property rights abuses, Google’s practices are beginning to attract attention in the public arena.
After weeks of waiting, I finally got my hands on Fire…Kindle Fire.
Kindle Fire represents Amazon’s initial foray into the Tablet market. Retailing at US$199.00 the Kindle Fire is a 7 inch tablet that seamlessly integrates Amazon’s ecosystem of books, music, video and magazine services. Included in the cost of the tablet is a free month of Amazon Prime. Prime allows the Kindle Fire user to access movies, read bestselling books and it includes free two day shipping directly from the Kindle Fire.
What comes in the box? One Kindle Fire, one U.S. power adapter, and a quick start guide – a very brief quick start guide. I’d like to start this review with a look at the design and features of this tablet. The quick start guide leads you to the Kindle Fire home screen where you can access a user guide with more detailed information on the device.
Handling the device, I found it to be solidly constructed with a soft rubberized backing that allows for a good grip on the device. Thin and sleek, the design is interrupted by a power button, USB 2.0 (micro-b) and stereo audio jack (pictured below).
With great joy I am happy to report that I’ve said goodbye to my ‘man bag’ and hello to the stylish Epiphanie ‘Belle’ camera bag developed exclusively for women.
In recent weeks, I have searched online for a new camera bag that would meet my technical and style aspirations The search lead me to Epiphanie — a website dedicated to the camera bag creations of Maile Wilson. Maile, a talented photographer in her own right, liberates women from the ‘man bag’ epidemic with her line of camera bags that are technically superb and oh so very stylish.
As more women enter into photography either as a hobby or a business, the need for camera bags that can securely hold equipment while maintaining a feminine look has grown tremendously. Maile’s creations have answered this need. The typical camera bag found in a camera store is designed strictly for functionality, with a bewildering choice of colors — black or dark grey. Most are designed to fit a man’s’ frame and style sensibilities. For example, my Lowepro Slingshot, while very functional, became annoyingly uncomfortable during long photo shoots. It truly became a pain in the neck.
After comparing the the camera bags on offer at Epiphanie, I chose the ‘Belle’ model in pink with a lime green interior. The website provides a detailed description of Belle:
Dimensions (LxWxH) 14x8x8inches. Exterior is water-resistant, high quality synthetic leather. Interior crafted with extra padding for maximum equipment protection. Velcro panels can be adjusted & moved to any position for maximum customization & flexibility. Removable cross-body strap with padding for extra support. Two exterior pockets. One interior pocket with zipper. Light colored interior so items can easily be found.
Ordering through the website, the bag arrived at my doorstep earlier than expected. As I unwrapped the new camera bag, a thank you card attached to the packing caught my eye. The camera bag itself is packaged within a custom-sized dust bag suitable to store the camera bag when not in use. Business cards with inspirational quotes inscribed on them were tucked into the three zippered pockets. I have give the designer an A plus for excellent positive marketing technique.
How does this bag stack up to my current photo bag, a Lowepro Slingshot? On a recent field trip to Winterthur Estate and Garden, I quickly appreciated how well this bag fit my frame. I spent less time readjusting the camera bag and more time was focusing on the landscape.
An immediate difference was realized in the increased amount of equipment stored in the Belle photo bag versus the Lowepro SlingShot. I was able to load the Belle camera bag holds the following items:
Below is a photo of the equipment I was able to pack into the Belle camera bag:
I have compiled a list of pros and cons based upon my personal use of the Belle camera bag.
Overall, I am extremely impressed with the quality and functionality of this camera bag. I would highly recommend this camera bag to women who have graduated from a point and shoot camera into dSLR photography or a professional photographer looking for a bag she can carry on to the shoot then out on the town.
I have been a loyal and enthusiastic Apple customer since 2002, when I bought my first iMac, the “Sunflower,” and wrote this review. I did not, however, get involved in the “cult” of Steve Jobs. I knew little about him until the media coverage of his deteriorating health made him almost impossible to ignore. I recall watching only one of his famous keynote addresses live, the announcement of the iPad in January of 2010. Around the time of his retirement in August, I, like so many others, watched his wonderful Stanford Commencement Address for the first time.
People like me — who love Apple products, who are grateful to Jobs for the indispensable role he played in creating them, but who knew little about Jobs the man — found ourselves “caught flat-footed”, as Jobs might have said, when we learned about the the seriousness of his illness, his retirement, and then his untimely death last month. We wanted to know more about this great innovator and businessman. We wanted a complete and accurate picture of the man who produced so much of value in his short life. Enter Steve Jobs, the authorized biography written by Walter Isaacson. For reasons I’ll explain, Steve Jobs’ getting Isaacson to write this biography was pure genius.
Before the book even came out, we learned that Jobs gave Isaacson hours upon hours of exclusive interviews, that he told Isaacson to feel free to interview anyone whom he wished, and that the interviewees were told to speak freely about Jobs, warts and all. In addition, Jobs said he would not ask to see the finished product before publication. All this, plus the fact that Isaacson was an experienced and respected journalist and biographer, someone picked by Jobs himself, combined to make the book a must-read, and so I pre-ordered it — on my iPad, of course.
After watching some of the pre-publication media appearances by Isaacson, I was concerned about the tone he would take in the biography. While Isaacson said he liked Jobs, some of the interviews seemed to emphasize Jobs’ least desirable and most controversial character traits. And, towards the beginning of the biography, when Isaacson used some of the value-laden terms critics have used to refer to Jobs — such as “Reality Distortion Field” — it seemed unjustified. But after reading about half the biography, I realized (1) there were some character traits of Jobs that served neither him nor anyone well, and (2) given the information he presented, Isaacson came across as both respectful and objective.
Next: The best and worst of what we learn about Jobs in the biography, and my opinion of Jobs after reading it.
Back in July, Stephen Kruiser mentioned his experiences with Amazon’s Cloud-based music app, which I began experimenting with right around then as well, but quickly ran into a snag. Most of the music I had ripped over the years was in Windows Media Audio, and the Amazon Cloud player only accepts MP3s and the iTunes-oriented m4a formats.
Recently though, I began to wonder if somebody made batch processing software that could automatically copy the whole hulking lot of WMAs I had already ripped over the years into MP3s. Naturally, there are dozens of choices available online; this piece of shareware came recommended via a decent review, so what the heck. I created a new directory on my hard drive for all the MP3-ed versions of WMA versions of CD versions of classic albums I already had ripped, and then let the computer do its thing.
Something like ten or 11 hours later, during which time I was blogging, went to the gym, went to sleep, and then woke up, it was done (I think it smoked one of Mark Block’s cigarettes afterwards). Then it was time to upload them to the Cloud. That only took another four or five hours, but then my initial 200 or so albums were now in Cloud city.
The Amazon Cloud isn’t perfect; I wish there was more control over album art images and organizing the data once it’s online. But the idea of all of my music being available in my computer browser, on my Android, and in my car is a powerful one.
Ripping all of these tunes to CD, I couldn’t help but think back to my father’s enormous collection of big band records and began to understand better the powerful feeling of nostalgia they conjured up for him. Recorded music is inherently nostalgic; each recording is fixed to a moment in time when it was completed and released to the public. Or in some cases re-released — many of the CDs I was burning to my hard drive came from that first initial rush in the mid-1980s when the CD debuted.
We take the ‘80s for granted, but the compact disc was released during a time that in its own way, was as revolutionary as the birth of the Web a decade later, at least for pop culture. In rapid succession in the early 1980s, cable TV reached critical mass and took off, MTV was born, digital synthesizers started becoming affordable to musicians, well-off musicians could purchase the Fairlight, which could both sample new sounds, and had astonishing presets (just ask Jan Hammer, Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush), and the compact disc was introduced. All in the space of about three or four years. Whoosh! Welcome to 1985, MTV, Miami Vice and the ‘80s as we know them.