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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 CameraSize.com.

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.