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Sunday, December 23, 2012

A Beginner’s Guide to Taking the DSLR Plunge

I recently had the opportunity to upgrade my DSLR through an awesome online deal. In the process of setting up and playing with my new camera, I got to thinking about the road I've taken from casual point-and-shoot photography to using more serious photography gear. I decided that rather than bore you to tears with a deeply technical review of the camera, I thought I’d take this time to relate why I finally took the DSLR plunge and cover some of the things that you should consider if you’re on the verge of taking the same plunge.

My recent upgrade involved moving from a Canon T2i to a Canon T4i for only $130. I did this by purchasing the deal described in this post, and then selling my T2i body plus the 18-55mm lens from the T4i kit. It was a relatively minor upgrade, but I ended up with a camera that has a faster processor, articulating touch screen, wireless master capability, and better low-light performance for a relative pittance. Wait, $130 is a pittance? Not really, but once you take the DSLR plunge, you’ll see why it starts to feel that way.

So why do I call it a plunge? Aren't we just talking about buying a nicer camera in the same way that one might compare a Honda Accord to a BMW 5 series?

No, not at all.

I was once guilty of thinking that way about DSLRs, but I've come to realize that they are really more like Pandora’s box than a simple camera upgrade. A DSLR most definitely is a nicer camera than a point-and-shoot, but you won’t necessarily end up with better pictures, and it can’t always replace a point-and-shoot. It took me a very long time to realize why, and I’d like to help others avoid some of that frustration. Read on to find out what I mean and learn if you're ready to take the plunge.

Friday, December 7, 2012

SanDisk Pushes the SD Card Speed Barrier

I love photography. I might be horrible at it, but my fondness for recording my experiences runs unabated by my lack of talent. It closely compliments one of my other loves, travel. Anyone who knows me, and knows how much I love to travel, has probably heard me say that I don’t buy souvenirs when I travel. The only souvenir I like to take home with me is my photographs. They allow me to capture memories that I’ll still be enjoying long after a cheap souvenir has been relegated a storage bin.

To be sure that I don’t miss a shot, I like to have both a nice camera and a fast memory card. I’m not an expert in the memory card space, but I've long been happy with the speed and reliability of SanDisk cards. Not long ago, I purchased the SanDisk Extreme Pro 16 GB SDHC UHS-1 card (wow, that’s a mouthful). It might be overkill for some, but I like knowing that if anything is slowing me down, it’s not something I can easily control like the memory card. So how fast is it?

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Goodbye Canon S95, Hello Sony RX100

You might be surprised to read that title if you've read my Canon S95 post. The fact is that I even surprised myself by switching camera vendors after having bought nothing but Canon for the past eight years. About a month or so ago, I sold my beloved Canon S95 and purchased the highly praised Sony RX100. This was not a decision I made lightly, and I spent months deciding what camera I could buy that would give me as close to the DSLR performance of my T2i as possible, without sacrificing the extreme portability of a point-and-shoot. At least for the time being, the RX100 is the best camera I could find in my price range that met that goal.

In addition to being surprised, you might recall how wowed I was by the Sony RX1. In that same post, I referenced the also impressive Sony NEX-6, and lamented the RX100’s high megapixel count (relative to its sensor size). Ultimately, it was budget that won out over all other considerations. If I wasn't spending the equivalent monthly salary of 37 Thai rice farmers each and every month on daycare, this post might have been all about the RX1 instead. The thought of putting my kids through college pushed me to reconsider my aversion to the RX100’s megapixel count, and I’m glad I did.

The RX100 is a VERY impressive camera. That said, at $648 it’s still FAR from cheap. However it's cheaper than the alternatives I considered. There may come a day when a mirrorless NEX-style camera might come back into consideration, but for now that style of camera isn't quite ready to replace my DSLR (with its arsenal of lens options), and not quite small enough to function as a point-and-shoot alternative.

Okay, enough background. If you're reading this, you probably have some interest in photography and/or gadgets. So why the RX100? Is it really worth the equivalent of THREE garden-variety point-and-shoots (or 11 months as a Thai rice farmer)? Read on to find out what’s so cool about this camera and why I was drawn to it.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Windows 8, Love or Hate?

I started my Windows 8 experience with a great deal of trepidation last weekend. We’ll come back to the experience part of that sentence in a minute, but for now let’s focus on the trepidation. My reason for concern was that I had installed both of the early versions of Windows 8 that were made available to customers this past year. Each time I came away afraid and wondering what in the world the people at Microsoft were smoking when then came up with this new OS. 

The new Start menu looked like something I’d expect to see on a child’s LeapFrog tablet, and the new swipe from the left and right gestures gave me the impression that Microsoft had focused so squarely on combating the iPad that they had forgotten about the hundreds of millions of keyboard and mouse users out there. The technology blogs were raving about it, but I was sure that consumers would reject it. At that time I could confidently say that I hated it.

Hello my name is Emmanuel Canaan and I am a former Windows 8 hater. The first step to recovery is admitting that I was wrong. I can now say that while I am not madly in love with it just yet, I like it well enough that for the first time since the release of the iPad, I’m actually open to the idea that my next tablet might not be an iPad. That’s a significant accomplishment for Microsoft considering that I love my iPad.

So what changed? What was so different between the consumer preview version of Windows 8 and the final release?

Friday, October 26, 2012

New Baby Tech Kit

I was recently asked by a family member to provide some recommendations on what “tech” to buy when expecting a new baby. Much of this is subjective, and there are so many arguments as to what one actually “needs”, but I thought I would repeat those recommendations for the benefit of anyone that might be expecting a little bundle of pain…err.. I mean joy. If you can’t spend money on your own tech anymore, you might as well invest your time and money on stuff that can benefit your child, or even preserve your own sanity.

So here is the list of what I like in no particular order. Some of this isn't strictly “tech” but I thought I would include it anyway. Links are provided for Amazon in most cases, but all are available elsewhere:

Saturday, October 6, 2012

The New Kindle Paperwhite: Gift from the Tech Gods, or Paperweight for the Desk?

This past week saw Amazon’s new E Ink Kindle devices finally unleashed into the hands of eager consumers. As someone that loves to read novels, I was one of those eager buyers. I've loved Kindles since they were first released, and as ridiculous as it may sound, I can’t imagine going back to reading paper books. I also can’t imagine reading for any length of time on popular LCD-based devices like the iPad, that just plain make my eyes hurt after a while. Many might disagree with me, but the E Ink technology used by  Kindles is the way to go for a comfortable reading experience.

The new Kindle Paperwhite has done nothing to diminish the allure of tossing my bulky paper books aside, but it isn't perfect and there are some things you should know before buying. Read on to find out why I think the Kindle Paperwhite is a great e-reader, but isn't all sunshine and rainbows like some would have you believe.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

My Thoughts on iOS 6 and the New iPhone 5

Barely one week has elapsed since the release of the iPhone 5, along with its accompanying iOS 6, and we’re already seeing some amazing numbers. It took just three DAYS for iOS 6 to be downloaded over 100 MILLION times. Wow! Thanks Apple for over the air updates and tight control over the hardware!

In contrast, Android’s latest 4.1 Jelly Bean release has only managed to touch 1.2% or about 6 million of the 500 million Android devices worldwide in two MONTHS. You can thank Android’s massive fragmentation problem for that.

Also, in just two days Apple managed to sell more than 5 million units of the iPhone 5. Those are numbers any other company would be downright giddy over. I’m sure Apple is plenty excited about it, but they've had such a string of successes this past decade that they’re probably used to it by now. My wife was one of those lucky 5 million and I’ve had a chance to steal her phone away from her from time to time (I’m ‘stuck’ on the 4S for at least another year).

There isn’t much I can add to some of the already fantastic reviews of the iPhone 5 and iOS 6 that are out there, but I thought I’d at least share some thoughts on the things that stood out for me:

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Critical Flaw in Apple's iOS?

When I switched to an iPhone a year ago and ditched my BlackBerry, I thought I had also left crippling issues like RIM's famous widespread network issues far behind as well. As it turns out, even Apple has a glaring flaw that can disable a very important feature on the phone; WiFi.

I excitedly upgraded my iPhone 4S to iOS 6 today (more on my impressions in another post) and was fine for most of the day, only to come home and find out that I couldn't connect to my home WiFi connection without getting this annoying prompt: 

So what was the problem?

Friday, September 14, 2012

Sony RX1 (Wow, Wow, and Wow)

Sony announced the new RX1 camera this week, and it literally made my jaw drop. If you’ve read my S95 post, or if you’re a photography fan, you likely know very well how important image sensor size can be in a digital camera. It was for that reason that I let out my first “Wow” while reading the RX1’s press release and saw that they have managed to stuff a full frame image sensor in a body that’s not much bigger than your typical point and shoot camera. That is a truly incredible engineering feat.

Check out the massive difference in sensor size below between a point and shoot like the popular Canon S100, the Sony RX1, and the pro-level Canon 5D Mark III:

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Beating the Itch with Therapik

Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that a gadget from a website as cheesy and poorly designed as, would ever prove to be useful. Thanks to a review from Gizmodo, I can now say that yes ladies and gentlemen, there actually is a gadget out there that can effectively mitigate the annoyance and itchiness that come from mosquito bites.

As a full time resident of the Midwestern United States, I am very familiar with mosquitos and the persistent annoyance they leave behind long after they've sucked the life out of me. It was for this reason that immediately clicked on an article titled “Bug Bite Relieving Gadget Review” a few weeks ago. If not for the effusive accolades that Gizmodo gave the device, I would have run for the hills after seeing the Therapik website. It’s just one “buy now and get a mini Therapik free” claim away from being a late night infomercial. Thankfully though, the review’s praise and the low price of $12.95 made me think “What the heck? I might as well try it.”

It’s late in the blood-sucking season for my hometown’s unofficial state bird, but just the other day I FINALLY got a bite! I can’t believe I am saying this, but for the first time in my life I was excited to get bitten. Now I could try the Therapik out! 

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Bing It On Microsoft. I'm Ready!

Much in the same way that the word Kleenex has become synonymous with facial tissue from all brands, and Tivo has done the same for DVRs, so has Google become the de facto standard term used to describe an Internet search. Just “Google it,” you’ll often hear people say. Ever since 1998, Google has been the search engine of choice for many (myself included), much to the chagrin of former search titans like Yahoo, Lycos, Alta Vista, and Ask Jeeves.

Not to be outdone, Microsoft also jumped into the game in 1998 with MSN Search. This later became the horribly named Windows Live Search, then just Live Search. I suspect one day someone at Microsoft with some guts (and influence) must have finally said “this is just stupid; we need a catchy name and unique features.” And so it was that just over 10 years after their failed attempts with MSN search, Bing was born in June of 2009.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Taking Notes With The Livescribe Echo

This post isn’t about anything new, but I get asked about this every time I use it so I thought I would write about it. For the past two years I’ve been using the excellent Livescribe Echo recording pen to record my class lectures. I’m a painfully slow writer and I often just can’t keep up with what professor is saying as I furiously try to take notes. The Livescribe Echo has allowed me to take far fewer notes and concentrate to a much greater degree on what is being said in class. It does this by recording every pen stroke I make on paper, as well as capturing every sound that is made as I write. After class, I can transfer the recording to my PC and watch myself taking notes as I listen to the lecture at the same time. I can skip ahead to any point, or even play it back at 2x speed (yes people will sound like Alvin and the Chipmunks if you do the latter).

How does it accomplish this voodoo?

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Terms of Service? I Most Definitely Never Read, and Now I Don't Have To

Terms of service (ToS) agreements are everywhere today. In fact, they are so ubiquitous that I’m pretty sure almost no one reads them when clicking through to install a new piece of software or use a new online service. I’m guilty as charged when it comes to that. I never have (or make) time, interest, or the legal skill to interpret them. Thankfully, a new site I've just heard about (thanks Ed T.) aims to bring clarity to what lies within these often long and painful to read documents.

The new site ToS;DR does what almost none of us do. The people behind the site actually read the terms of service agreements for many popular websites, companies, and software packages. Not only do they read them, but they summarize them concisely and even provide ratings from Class A (very good) to Class E (very bad).

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Save the Buckyballs!

Do any of you like little office toys to play with as you sit in on lengthy conference calls? Do any of you have fidgety hands that always seem to want to be doing something like clicking a pen or tapping your fingers on the desk? If so, then Buckyballs might be for you…and they might get taken away.

See, it turns out that these simple, yet fascinating magnetic balls are a major hazard to children if swallowed. When more than one is ingested, they can cling together and pinch major organs resulting in the need for emergency surgery to remove them. As a result, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recently filed suit against the manufacturers of Buckyballs and has ordered many retailers to stop selling them. It’s true, I can’t even find them, nor their competitor Magnet Balls for sale on Amazon.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Olympics Tech

It’s Olympics time again! I’m not typically an avid viewer of televised sporting events, but for some reason, I always get really excited for the Olympics and find the time to watch as much as I can. Well this year, I’ll have many more ways to get my Olympics fix as the world of technology has changed drastically in the last four years.

The idea that mobile technology has been growing explosively in recent years is something I’ve been aware of, but it never really hit me just how much it has exploded until I saw the great infographic from iProspect below. Click on the image to expand it, or download the full PDF here.

Those are some pretty astonishing stats for smartphones and tablets. Also, the growth of Twitter and Facebook is simply mind-boggling. Like I said, I knew it was happening, I just hadn’t realized that it has all happened so fast. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised then this is the first Olympics where athletes will have to juggle the opposing obligations of updating their fans through social media, while also trying to keep their mind focused and in the game. Take a look at this amusing (and a bit scary) article about how much of a distraction this new social media craze has become for the athletes.  

Given the growth in mobile, it’s also not surprising that someone finally decided to target those devices for disseminating Olympic coverage. As a mobile technology fan, and an Olympics fan, I’m very excited to see a variety of apps available on iOS for coverage of Olympic news, photos, and video. A big departure from years past is also the availability of live video coverage from web and mobile apps (albeit in a handicapped way, see below).

Friday, July 20, 2012

Size Me Up

You may have read my post about the Canon S95 and what I look for in a camera. In that post, I made a brief reference to the website Camera Size, but didn't talk about it further. I’d just like to use this short post to specifically call some attention to the fantastic tool I use whenever I am looking for a new camera, as well as mention another great tool that has just been released by the same developer, Sensor Size.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Playing the Frequent Flyer Game

Do you like technology? Do you also like to travel? Have you ever had to choose between spending your hard earned money on a vacation, or on a new gadget? Do you have good credit and are you disciplined with money? If you answered yes to all of those, then this post is for you. Read on to find out ways that you can have your proverbial cake and eat it too. 

I’m no expert in this field, but I have learned enough to show you how I got started, and how I've managed to earn nearly 900,000 frequent flyer miles and $1000 (after annual fees) in less than two years. This has allowed me to save tons of cash on travel and spend more on my second love, gadgets. 

Just five short years ago, back when savings account interest rates were in the 5% range, I was up to a different game for earning money on the side. Before the collapse of the economy in 2008, credit card companies were very loose when it came to doling out huge credit lines, often far in excess of what I was even capable of repaying (an important mistake that precipitated the collapse of the housing market). They also used to have a maximum cap on the amount they charged for a balance transfer or cash advance (around $75 to $100). I took full advantage of that lackadaisical attitude and managed to sign up for a few credit cards, and then combine them into a single card with a massive (to me) $55,000 credit line and a 0% interest rate on balance transfers for 12 months. I then turned around and wrote a balance transfer check to myself for, you guessed it, $55,000. I added that to some existing savings that I had in ING, and let it ride for a year. In the end, I paid the money right back at 0% interest, while pocketing $3000 in interest (after taxes) from my ING account.

I took a small hit to my credit score during that year, but quickly recovered it as soon as I paid the “loan” back. Since that time, the credit card companies have clamped down on that particular method, but are still happy to dole out credit to anyone with a good credit score, often with some large bonuses to boot.  Note before I continue: Don’t even think of attempting anything I will mention here if you are not capable of repaying the money back at the end of each billing period or at the end of whatever promotional period you are participating in. If you don’t pay off your credit card bills, you will completely negate the benefits I’ll describe here.

Since I love to travel, AND I love to take expensive gadgets like laptops and iPads with me, I was elated when I discovered just how many free flights bonuses were right there for the taking that could save me thousands of dollars (to buy tech with of course) if I just put in a little bit of effort. So, here are the basics of what I’ve managed to learn so far, and the sources that I went through to learn them.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Seeing Blue

Last week's post had me seeing black after my encounter with Team Oracle and their high G-force maneuvers. This week though, I’m seeing nothing but blue; the Blue Angels that is. It’s summer, and for me that means it’s airshow season. Whenever the Blue Angels come to town, I make it a point to go out and see them perform, and this year was no exception. On Saturday June 9th, I headed out to the MN Air Spectacular to see them perform in Mankato, MN and also to check out Sean D. Tucker’s performance.

I love all things aviation-related, but jets have always been my favorite. The sheer power and speed they possess is amazing to me and the ear-splitting roar of a turbojet with full afterburner is something that always gets my heart racing. As if jets weren’t amazing enough to me already, the things the Blue Angels do with their slightly modified F/A-18s is astonishing. I can’t even imagine what it must be like to fly as close to another jet as they do (at times just 18 inches apart)! I’ve always wondered, what happens if they sneeze that close?

There is no way I can describe the mind-blowing maneuvers they do during a performance other than to point you to a fascinating page maintained by the Blue Angels themselves. There you can see what it looks like from both inside and outside the cockpit as they perform each of their maneuvers. Go ahead and take a look now before reading further and make sure to play around with the various camera angles available: Inside the Demo

Friday, June 15, 2012

Aerobatic Flying with Team Oracle

Usually when I think of technology, I think of electronics. In reality though, it’s much more than that. Besides gadgets, one of my other loves has always been aviation, and there is a whole heck of a lot of technology involved when it comes to that.

Long before I picked up my first iPhone, I was the kid in the airport with his face pressed up against the glass marveling at the impressive power of those giant technological marvels. Literally at my earliest opportunity, I learned how to fly and received my pilot’s license shortly after my 17th birthday. I flew for a couple of years and even got the chance to ride in an amazing piece of tech, the 747-400 simulator. Sadly though, flying was too expensive of a hobby and I chose not to have the lifestyle of an airline pilot always away from home. Twelve long years have passed since I had the opportunity to pilot a plane. Imagine my elation this past week when I not only had the chance to fly again, but in an aerobatic plane with the talented pilots of Team Oracle no less!

Thanks to the incredible generosity of my employer, I flew in an Extra 300 with Brian Norris and was even given the chance to perform a loop myself! The fun didn't stop there though. I was also able to fly multiple flights in Team Oracle’s Piper Seneca and take air-to-air photographs of the amazing Sean D. Tucker in his custom-built Challenger III biplane!

Before I continue on, check out the video of my flight in the Extra 300:

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Foscam FI8910W WiFi Camera

I thought I would post this for anyone that has ever searched as long and hard as I have to find a decently priced WiFi camera for home monitoring. My particular need was for a video monitor to keep watch on my infant and toddler boys in their nursery, but these cameras have any number of other uses. I quickly ruled out video baby monitors as they were all insanely expensive for the video quality you get, all had mixed reviews, most had very limited features beyond video, and none had DECT technology to prevent interference with my wireless network.

I moved on to seeking just a stand-alone camera, and started my search with the following requirements:

  • Inexpensive- The camera had to be under $150, and preferably even cheaper.
  • Night vision- This was a must as I needed to see my children in complete darkness.
  • Acceptable Video Quality- HD video simply didn't exist in my price range so I settled for acceptable.
  • WiFi Connectivity- There was no way I wanted Ethernet cables snaking around my nursery.
  • Remote Connectivity- Come on, what technology geek doesn't want remote access to a camera?

As I searched, I drooled over the slick looking but very expensive Logitech Alert 750n, and was lured by the positive reviews of the also expensive Sharx Security VIPcella-IR. I thought maybe I had found my match with the cheap D-Link DCS-932L but hesitated after some mixed reviews. I actually pulled the trigger on the simple and slick-looking Dropcam HD, but then cancelled my order after reading this review and seeing some of the abysmal video samples. When I finally settled on the Foscam model that is the subject of this post, I left the then “coming soon” Withings Smart Baby Monitor far in my rear-view mirror.

Monday, May 28, 2012

What the Soluto?

I saw a tweet from Dropbox recently about a service called Soluto that really piqued my curiosity. It appears to have been around since 2010, but this is the first I've ever heard about it. Read on to find out more about why I find this service intriguing.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Looven Lenovo

When it comes to PCs these days, you’re either a Windows person or a Mac person. There are also a statistically small and brave group of you out there that might be running Linux. Largely due to my professional training and experience, I’m a Windows guy. For those that use and love (or hate) Windows, Lenovo is a name to watch. While their desktops aren't much worth blogging about, their laptops are where it’s at in the Windows world. 

Perhaps you guessed from my embarrassingly lame attempt at a witty title, but I love my Lenovo. I doubt the Chinese owners of Lenovo had any intent of choosing a name from which the scrambled letters can be used to spell love. Rather, I’ve seen suggestions that it was a combination of the old company name of Legend, with the Latin “novo” meaning new. The addition of "new" to their name was appropriate, since in 2005, they became the new manufacturers and owners of what was the IBM ThinkPad line. Perhaps I’m not the only one that loves them since they just announced record sales for the 2011-2012 fiscal year.

The name IBM likely conjurers up images of boring, bland, business machines. In fact, the model I’m currently using (and pictured above) is a Lenovo T410s which is part of their business product line. I assure you though that despite the business roots, the Lenovos of today really are cool machines. In this post, I am going to focus in on their business-oriented ThinkPad line, but keep in mind that Lenovo makes some really nice consumer-oriented machines like their U series. Personally, I think their ThinkPads are perfectly suited for home use as well and I’d rather have a machine designed for the rigors of road warrior travel than one designed to primarily sit on a desk. Which one do you think will be more likely to survive a fall off the kitchen counter or months of back and forth to class in a student’s backpack?

Here are some of the qualities that drew me to the Lenovo ThinkPad line:

Sunday, May 20, 2012

And God Said, Let There Be Arc Light

And it was so. And God saw that it was good. And God saw that it was BRIGHT!

Okay, so maybe the Arc-AAA Premium LED Flashlight wasn’t made by God himself, but it sure is the cream of the crop as far as tiny keychain-sized flashlights go. I want to take a short bit of your time in this post to draw your attention to a great little gadget that has had a permanent spot in my pocket for the better part of the past decade. While originally designed in 2001, the Arc-AAA is simple and great piece of tech that is every bit as useful today as it was then.

You may remember the old Maglite Solitaire flashlights that were popular in the 1990’s and still available today (for around $5 to $20). I carried one for years on my keychain, and have always found it useful to have a flashlight handy. These days, I think many use the light from their mobile phone screen or, even the LED flash that can be used as a flashlight on smartphones like the iPhone 4/4S. While I also use the LED light on my phone for that purpose, there are times when I need to work on something in a confined space and (sorry if this grosses you out) end up putting a flashlight in my mouth while I work. That just doesn’t work with a phone. Also, the LED light on a phone will quickly drain the battery and I prefer to save that power for other uses.

Many years ago, I started to see a wide array of LED-based flashlight products come out that were very bright and had long lasting bulbs that didn’t burn out as frequently as incandescent bulbs. The problem was I couldn’t find one small enough to fit comfortably on my keychain like the Maglite did. At first the Inova Microlight seemed like it might be just what I wanted, until I realized that it used hard to find (and expensive) button cell batteries.  I was excited when I discovered the Arc-AAA Premium online and took a chance by ordering it sight unseen. I was ecstatic when I found that it completely blew away the Maglite. Not only was it five times brighter (10 lumens vs. 2 lumens), but the build quality was impressively good with its hard-anodized aluminum body. This thing screamed quality compared to the Maglite.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

It’s Gettin Hot in Here, So Take…Your Temp

Continuing the MyTech series covering the gadgets I know and love, I thought I would take a chance to talk about a couple of cool (or hot) gadgets that make temp taking a painless (and even fun) experience. In the image above you’ll find the Exergen Temporal Artery Thermometer on the left, and the Mastercool 52225-A Infrared Thermometer on the right. Both take temps, but for vastly different reasons.

As a father of two, I have more cause to take a temperature that ever before. Not only am I concerned with fevers caused by the continuous cycle of bizarre illnesses named like they were discovered in the bowels of the Amazon rainforest (thanks day care), but I am also barraged with a litany of warnings about the temperature of drinks, food, bathwater, you name it.

It doesn’t stop there though. Kids or no kids, I get sick too and hate waiting for the minutes to tick by with a thermometer jammed in my mouth.  Also, as a homeowner of a relatively old and drafty home, I’m always on the hunt for ways to keep warm air in and cool air out in winter (and vice versa in summer). Once I’m done finding the air leaks and spending boatloads of cash fixing them, I’m generally famished and ready to cook a nice meal. What does the recipe I want to use tell me? “Please heat the pan to 100 degrees Celsius.” Oh come on! Another temp to take? What’s a gadget lover to do? Well, buy some awesome thermometers so I can have some fun doing it of course. Here's why I like these two:

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Why oh Why, My S95

I almost feel embarrassed to write this article as there are legions of professional photographers out there with oodles more experience in photography than I have. If any pros are reading this, please don’t hesitate to call me out if I’m wrong about something. I am a gadget fan though, so I do feel qualified to at least tell you why the Canon S95 is one of my favorite gadgets. I’d also like to explain a few key points about what I look for in a camera that may be valuable to many non-professionals, or those just starting to dip their toes into the treacherously expensive waters of photography.

The Canon S95

If you were to peek into my photography gear bag, you’d first see a large Canon T2i DSLR camera, along with a small assortment of stupidly expensive lenses (seriously, I know it takes a lot of R&D to develop these things, but come on now). While looking at all that kit, you’d probably be wondering why an amateur hobbyist like myself needs it all, and in the process I bet you’d probably miss the tiny Canon S95 sitting in the corner of the bag. If you don’t believe how easy it would be to miss the S95, check out this great size comparison of the two cameras from

That brings me to why I love the Canon S95. Why would I need it when I have an expensive DSLR with a high quality lens? Well, given the enormous size of a DSLR in comparison to a point and shoot, you can likely imagine many awkward situations when a camera that large is simply overkill, too heavy to carry, or attracts too much attention. Why the S95 and not just any garden-variety point and shoot? As someone that has come to enjoy the total control that a DSLR gives me over a photo, it is hard to go back to a point and shoot that only offers me the automatic modes like Auto, Sports, Beach, or Fireworks. In addition to the qualities I will mention below, I want a camera that gives me total control over settings like shutter speed, aperture, ISO, white balance, among others.

The S95 gives me manual control of all of those things in a package so incredibly small and light, that I barely notice I’m carrying it. When all of that manual control isn’t needed and I simply want to go full auto, ram the shutter button down, and relax when I’m on vacation, the S95 does a fine job as well. 

I should mention that the S95 has since been replaced by the S100, and I fully expect that the S105 (assumed name) will be released sometime this fall. Normally I would say go right out and buy the S100 over the S95. At this point, without ever having used the S100, I’m not sure. Some have suggested that while the feature set of the S100 is improved, the image quality is slightly reduced. Check out this review of the S100 on The Verge, as well as this side by side comparison of images from the two cameras and decide for yourself. Also, here is a spec for spec comparison between the S95 and the S100. Ultimately, I think the S95 must still have value as it is currently selling for only a few dollars less than the S100 on Amazon (over a year and a half after its release).

Before I get to what to look for in a camera, I’d like to point out one more awesome little gadget that is permanently attached to my S95. I’m referring to the crab-like appendage known as the Joby GorillaPod Micro 250 tripod seen in the image above. Perhaps in testament to the popularity of the S95, some of Joby’s own product marketing shots show an unbranded S95 atop their tripod. This was a great and inexpensive addition to my camera. It is so unobtrusive that I can keep it permanently attached and barely even notice. If you’ve ever tried to take a picture in low light, you’ll notice how essential it is to keep the camera as still as possible. When no suitable flat surface exists to place my camera on, this micro tripod has often fit the bill. It certainly won’t do what a full tripod will, but it’s better than nothing at all. When stowed, the tripod does cover the battery door, but it is easy enough to swing it out of the way to open the door.

Is the S95 the be-all end-all of point and shoot cameras? How can I say this? Mmmm..No. For one, the pop-up flash is irritatingly located right where I would normally put my left index finger. Two, it’s pretty darn expensive as far as point and shoots go (currently $350-375). I’m sure I could find additional negatives, but my point is that it is a fantastic point and shoot that does everything I want it to do. Ultimately, each person will have their own set of requirements. It’s also a Canon and I’m partial to Canon as I’ve had a long and positive history with their products. For amusement sometime, ask a room of passionate  photographers whether they prefer Canon or Nikon and then watch the exchange from behind safety glass. For a full review of the S95, check out this one at Steve’s Digicams.

No matter what point and shoot camera you buy, here are some things I’d recommend keeping in mind when comparing the average $175 point and shoot camera to top-end compact cameras like the S95.  

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Extensions, Extensions, Extensions!

Echoing the chant “Developers, Developers, Developers” that Steve Ballmer of Microsoft famously shouted while extolling the virtues of software developers, this week’s article is about Extensions, Extensions, Extensions! Everyone knows what a web browsers is, but perhaps less know about some of the great extensions available that as their namesake implies, significantly extend the capabilities of the browser.

You may have noticed I said “this week’s article” above. My apologies to my cadre of devoted readers, but I’ve been finding it difficult to post quality material more often than once a week at best. Someday I’ll be able to do more, and I hope that you’ll stick around to see it.

There are quite a few web browsers out there nowadays, but this article will focus on extensions available for my favorite, the Google Chrome web browser. When possible I’ll also note when an extension is available for the equally capable and popular Mozilla Firefox browser. I used to use Firefox for many years as an alternative to the (then) abysmal Internet Explorer browser (IE). While IE has grown by leaps and bounds since Firefox first came onto the scene (and may further leap forward with the upcoming IE 10 browser), I’ve used it sparingly and only when needed ever since my initial defection. I switched to Chrome the it was released as it offered a wonderfully simple and elegant interface, along with some great syncing capabilities, and rapid releases of new features. Firefox has since caught right up and can fight toe to toe (or is it URL to URL?) with Chrome, but so far I’m still sticking with Chrome.

Caveat Emptor: Extensions are usually a wonderful addition to any browser, but they don’t come without cost in terms of performance. They will use additional RAM while the browser is running (which usually isn't a problem on modern-day PCs), and can have bugs of their own that might reduce the performance or stability of your browser. For these reasons, I try to limit the number of extensions I have enabled. 

So without further ado, let’s get to the extensions I use most often. Here is a list that is loosely prioritized by order of importance.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Awesome Solution for a Smartphone Car Mount

In a recent post about iOS apps that I like, I mentioned that I use the social GPS app Waze for navigation in my car. For those that may have been wondering how I go about using an iPhone while driving, this post is for you.

When first looking for a iPhone car mount, I searched long and hard to find a good one. I frequently came back frustrated. Either the mount didn't fit the iPhone correctly, or the mount relied on the ridiculously unstable suction cup method of adhering to my windshield or dash. Some may have had luck with suction cup mounts, but in the cold winters of my home state, I’ve frequently had to lunge to grab my old GPS units as they came loose and went flying across the car. 

In the past, I used Garmin GPS units along with their excellent dashboard friction mounts and was very disappointed to see that I couldn't find another manufacturer that made a nice dashboard friction mount. My solution? I created a Frankensteinian hybrid of the three products below.

Fetal Doppler: A Must Have for any Expecting Parent

I promise this post will be shorter than my last posts! This article will pertain to anyone that intends to have a child in the near future or knows someone that might.

It wasn't until my wife got pregnant with our first child that I first realized the type of worry my parents always felt with me, and further realized that I was in for a lifetime of worrying about my own children. A piece of tech that really helped alleviate some of the worry that arose from some pregnancy complications (everything turned out fine) was our Fetal Doppler from BellyBeats. It can pick up the sound of your child’s heartbeat in the womb as early as 8 weeks, and displays the heart rate on a digital screen.

I can’t describe in words how wonderful it is to hear the sound of your unborn child’s heartbeat. Instead, hear for yourself the sound of my then 12 week old son's heartbeat.  Ultimately, it was worth the $400 we paid to purchase the unit and use it during both of our pregnancies. If you'd rather rent than buy, numerous rental packages are available.

Since we purchased this device, I’ve seen a number of really cheap imitations crop up on eBay. I can assure you though, this isn't a cheap device. It really feels hospital-grade. I didn't realize just how hospital-grade it was until my wife’s OBGYN pulled out what looked like the very same thing during one of her prenatal checkups. Not only did they use the same device, but they used the very same ultrasound gel that we purchased from Amazon.

My prediction for the future? One day people will be able to rent home ultrasound machines that are as tiny as this doppler. Remember, you read it here!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

A Tale of Two Drives

Well other than an attempt at being witty, this post won’t be so much of a “tale”, but more of a short story of two drives. This past week saw the release of two “new” entries into the cloud storage space. I place emphasis on “new” as both offerings aren't really new, but both have added the additional feature of a desktop app that dramatically increases their usefulness.

If you haven’t guessed already, I’m talking about the Google Drive and SkyDrive announcements. Both services have existed for quite some time now, but both have also required that you log in to their respective websites to upload and access files. With the release of their new desktop apps, they are now contenders against my cloud storage favorite, Dropbox. I mentioned recently that it would take a pretty sweet offer to draw me away from Dropbox. Well fear not Dropbox, this isn't a Dear John letter. Rather, I’d like to let you know that I’ve got some new friends joining our cloud party.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

iPad, iPhone, and the Apps of iOS

You’ll often hear the phrase “You must have been living in a cave for the past 5 years if you haven’t heard of (insert subject here).” Personally I think that phrase is a bit of an insult to cave dwellers around the world that choose a more modest and laid-back lifestyle. Instead, I’ll be kind and say that you must prefer a tech-free lifestyle if you haven’t heard of the iPhone or the iPad by now. Since it’s unlikely that you’d be reading this blog if you had chosen to live the aforementioned lifestyle, I’ll dispense with the explanations of what these two pieces of tech are. Rather, I’ll simply give you a brief overview of why I like these gadgets and then focus more on what makes them shine: The Apps!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Dropbox, I Heart You

This is the first in a series of posts where I will take you through the technology I use every day and explain why it’s important to me. I’m starting things off with a service rather than a gadget, and the picture above does a good job of conveying how I feel about the cloud-based file storage service, Dropbox

It isn’t often that I feel an emotional attachment to a product or service. Typically, I view any company with a wary eye, and wonder if a scam to trick me out of my money is just around the corner. Dropbox, on the other hand, has somehow managed to make me fiercely loyal and actually evangelize their product for them.

What is Dropbox?

Before I get further into why I LOVE this service, I should probably explain what it is in case you aren't familiar with it. Dropbox is a very simple program that takes files placed in the “Dropbox” on your PC (Windows, Mac, or Linux) and creates a copy of those files online, or in other words, the “cloud.” Once in the cloud, you can access your files from any web browser in the world, from the Dropbox app on another PC, or through the Dropbox app on an iOS, Android, or BlackBerry device. Dropbox does a good job of explaining their service further in their online and colorfully illustrated tour.

Geekbit: (tidbit for geeks) The online storage used by the Dropbox service is really a series of data centers across the US that are operated by Amazon Simple Storage Solutions (AmazonS3).

While Dropbox could be simply be used as a solution for backing up files on your PC, its real killer feature is the ability to generate a URL for any individual file or folder in your Dropbox that you can share with any of your friends or colleagues. For example, here is a picture of a very young me (16) after having just completed my first solo flight, and here is different type of shareable link to the image you see at the top of this post. Both images are stored on the hard drive of my PC, but both are also duplicated  in the cloud and thus accessible to you with a simple link. The beauty of this becomes evident when you need to send a file to someone that is far larger than e-mail can handle.

Dropbox also differentiates itself from other basic online backup solutions in that files are synchronized between any PC that I have installed the application on. If I transfer a picture from my digital camera to my desktop, it is automatically uploaded to Dropbox, and downloaded to my laptop, my wife’s laptop, and the media center PC attached to our TV. Other backup solutions such as Mozy, Carbonite, Backblaze and CrashPlan (more on CrashPlan later) simply copy files from your PC to the cloud. They don’t permit multiple PCs to share access to the same files.

Friday, April 13, 2012

This Is Where It All Begins

Well, here it is, post 1. Ground zero, the alpha post, the big bang if you will. The post that started them all. One day you’ll look back and say “I knew him then.”

Yes, I’m being overly dramatic. I do that sometimes when I write, so my apologies in advance. Hey, it’s my blog so deal with it ;-) !

If you are reading this shortly after it was posted, then chances are that you already know me, but allow me to introduce myself to the gaggle of future readers that I'll have (I can only hope right?).  My name is Emmanuel Canaan and I’ve spent the past ten years working in various technology-related roles (many of those years spent in the technical support field). Prior to that, I worked in an operations role for a regional airline. I've had many years of experience working with gadgets of all kinds, and they are most definitely one of my passions in life. I once had the opportunity to seek out and recommend gadgets for the executives at my company that liked to try out bleeding-edge technology. The thing about that part of my job was that it wasn't work at all. It was fun! I did the same type of gadget research for work as I did in my spare time.

That brings me to why I’m writing this blog. I’m doing this in my spare time. My job isn't requiring this of me; I’m doing it because it's fun. Talking about gadgets and new technology isn't work for me. Those things are an integral part of my life. I should mention though that this blog won’t just be about gadget or service reviews. While you’ll certainly find that type of content here, you’ll also find stories and anecdotes on how a given technology can be used to improve our lives, as well as posts of interest to any technology aficionado.  Technology has become an inevitable part of everyone’s life, but some choose to seek it out. For them it’s a lifestyle choice, as it is for me.   

I plan to start things off after this with a series of posts called MyTech. I’ll take you through all the technology that I integrate tightly with my daily life. These won’t be a way of saying that those are the best examples of the respective technologies (I’m a long ways away from affording the best). Rather, those posts will serve to show you what I look for in technology and why I like the things I do. My hope is that some of you will learn about tech you didn't know about, or that you’ll at least pick up some tips on what to look for when selecting your own tech.

In the future you may see me post other articles on tips for earning frequent flyer miles without setting foot on a plane, or for getting large cash back rewards from credit cards. Why would I write about that here? Well it’s a bit of a maniacal hobby I’ve picked up which has allowed me to earn nearly 800,000 frequent flyer miles, and $1700 cash in about a year and a half. I love to travel, and that hobby will save me a ton of money someday (if my two young boys ever allow me to travel again). What will I do with all that extra cash I save? Well buy more tech of course (yes, yes I know…AND save money for my boys' college fund) . I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that the readers of this blog will like tech too, so if you like to travel and you like tech, those posts will be for you.  

Are you into Photography? If so, then I’ll have some posts for you there as well. It's a stupidly expensive hobby that I decided to take up right when my first son was born. I’ve only learned about 5% of what there is to know, and my current skill level/knowledge doesn't hold a candle to a professional photographer, but hopefully I’ll be able to pass some useful tidbits along.

So, that said, please keep an eye on this space for future posts, and I genuinely hope you enjoy them.  Also, please don’t hesitate to pass requests and suggestions to me through the comments section of the posts, or by dropping me a note at