Thursday, November 29, 2007

Looking For a Digital Camera?

A coworker was asking me about digital cameras today. He's looking to buy one as a gift and really wasn't sure what to look for. I sent him a link to a nice primer I found on, Nine questions to ask when purchasing a digital camera.

If you're new to digital photography this article will give you a leg up before you hit the stores. It covers the main points well, megapixels, optical vs. digital zoom, batteries and storage media. As with most things today different users have different needs and the article is quick to point that out and give you a good basic foundation to build on.

Once you're ready to get started you should check out another great source, Steve's Digicams. This site does very comprehensive reviews of digital cameras with sample photos from each and "Steve's Conclusion" which cuts right to the chase. There's a ton of info on this site.

My wife and I happen to favor lens quality over megapixels and we prefer SD cards for storage to keep to a standard, plus they're pretty reasonable. We're not real big on teeny-weeny either. They just don't seem to fit right in the hand. For a small, carry around, I won't croak if I lose it kind of camera we have a Canon PowerShot A540 . It's small enough to tote but has a knurled edge that aids in one hand shooting. It's also got a lot of features and functionality for the price. There are newer models out in the PowerShot line, be sure to check them out.

Of course there's a lot of options out there and there's a camera that's right for you. Take your time and do your homework. Then get out there and start snapping!

Drivin' Blind and Savoy Brown

Just a reminder, Drivin’ Blind opens for Savoy Brown (yes, that Savoy Brown, the one you listened to in high school) at The Bull Run in Shirley this Saturday night. Should be a night of scorching guitar.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Stay Connected With Chumby.

Looking for something different for your favorite geek? Check out Chumby.

I recently saw a Globe review of cool gifts that mentioned Liveboard’s blue tooth enabled baseball scoreboard and Ambient Devices’ datacast driven stock and weather displays. They both make cool gifts for the connected set, but Chumby takes the idea to a whole new level.

It’s a small wifi enabled device with a color touch screen that gives you an interactive window on the internet anywhere in the house. You set it up with your pc, downloading widgets for the tasks you desire it to perform. Track something on eBay or Craig’s List, get updated news and scores, receive incoming email, make and send ecards, use it as a digital picture frame linked to your Flickr account. It's even a clock radio and iPod player and charger.

You can set it up anywhere, all you need is power and wifi. Stand it on a counter or stick it to the fridge with the provided magnets. This thing is the Swiss Army Knife of networked gadgets. And get this, the company even encourages you to hack it. They’ll give you all the hardware and software specs and even show you how to change it physically by customizing its enclosure. You can have your own little Franken-Chumby!

A little pricey at $179.95, but it gets decent reviews and is a perfect gift for that friend or loved one that never wants to be off the grid.

Monday, November 26, 2007

I Learned Something New Today

I learned something new today and it turned a bad day around. It was a rough morning to begin with, when the Pats play at night the next morning is never pretty, but this morning I had the added bonus of cold rain and an outdoor project that's had it's ups and downs.

One of the things on my to do list this month is to upgrade a fiber optic link between a couple of buildings. Time is of the essence on this project as the cold New England winter fast approacheth. The conduit for this particular run has been in place for twenty-something years and had been damaged in the past so I have been sort of expecting trouble on this job.

Last week just before the holiday we hit a blockage in the vicinity of the original damage, but the job foreman probed the area and found a pull box just below the surface, cleverly hidden by a few inches of lawn and dirt, and cleared the blockage. We all went home for the Thanksgiving weekend with high hopes of finishing the job easily on our return.

This morning my Nextel gave it's familiar bleep moments after I arrived in my office. It was the job foreman and he wanted to know if there might be another pull box that I hadn't told him about, as they'd once again come to a screeching halt. They were on the home stretch, the last 500 feet before entering the next building, and there was no record of any more pull boxes or manholes in this section. This was going to be a long day.

After joining the crew for a wonderful game of probing the path with steel rods in the pouring rain, hoping to strike the lid of another splice/pull box, I decided we needed to take a different approach. I called the Facilities Engineer and he arrived like the cavalry with an underground cable locator that not only traced the conduit but it also gave depth readings. We found a spot where it was closer to the surface than normal and with the assistance of a great construction crew and a Bobcat, uncovered an unmapped splice box. Why it was buried (rather deeply, I might add) and never recorded, will remain one of life's little mysteries. You can bet the farm that it's on the map now.

So, we're back on track and I learned all about underground cable locators. We have a variation for tracking cables in house, but I'd never seen one like this. That baby was a Godsend, as were the crew and the Facilities Engineer. And there's something to be said about playing in the rain, as long as I don't have to do it too often.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

It Wasn't Pretty But They're 11 and 0.

The Patriots became AFC Eastern Division Champs for the 5th year in a row by virtue of a Bills loss today, but things didn't go quite so smoothly on the field.
The Pats pulled off a squeaker against the Eagles, beating them 31 to 28 in a back and forth game that came right down to the wire. The Eagles played inspired football and A.J. Feeley had the game of his career, but the Pats persevered. Brady led them on a 69 yard scoring drive in the 4th to retake the lead and the defense sealed the deal with a pair of interceptions on the last 2 Eagle possessions.

It was a tight game but I don't for a minute believe the post game comments from the NBC porks that the Eagles have shown the rest of the league a blueprint to beat the Pats. The defense was flat tonight, although they came through when it counted, and Moss was not himself. The Eagles secondary had a lot to do with his performance but you could see that his timing was off. He was jumping to soon on the high throws and he seemed to be looking over the wrong shoulder on a couple of plays. Hey, the guy is an amazing receiver, tonight just wasn't his night.

The double coverage on Moss did open up Welker, who had a big night and really pulled our nards out of the fire. That guy is a mean motor scooter. Game balls have to go to both Welker and Samuel.

On to Baltimore to face the Ravens on Monday Night Football. This should be good. There was some jawing earlier in the season between Adalius Thomas and Ray Lewis. I just don't like that guy and would love to see him get shut down.


this is actually a game, I'm not used to this. I had to spend half time talking my dad down off the roof.

Holy Snikies, Gostkowski just missed from the 32!

An iTunes Mystery - The Case Of The Disappearing Cover Art.

I’m running iTunes on XP and I’ve got a problem with disappearing cover art. Songs I rip from CD’s and add cover art too mysteriously lose it. I’ll go to sync my iPod and notice track names flash by in the info box (i.e. syncing Boomtown) that I know have been in my library for months and I’ll know right away that it’s happening again.

It’s usually only a handful of songs and it only happens once a month or so, but it’s frustrating because I spend a fair amount of time copying cover art from Amazon or elsewhere and adding it to the tracks.

For a while I thought it was related to a particular version of iTunes and that the next rev I downloaded would clear it up, but it’s dogged me through every upgrade (I’m at now). I haven’t been able to rule out the platform I’m running it on (XP Pro/Media Center 2005) but I think I’ve finally found a pattern and may have figured out what’s going on.

It seems to only happen to ripped songs that aren’t available through the iTunes store, never to ripped tunes that are part of the iTunes catalog and never to iTunes purchased songs.

I noticed that on the General tab of the Preferences box I had “Automatically download missing album artwork” checked. I think iTunes looks at the non purchased songs in my library and says “Hmm, I’ll get you some cover art for that.” then looks through its catalog and doesn’t find any. Somehow in the process it displaces what you’ve put there. I’ve unchecked the box, so we’ll see if I’m right within a couple of weeks.

In the meantime let me know if you’ve experienced anything similar, and if so, how you’ve gotten around it.

Check out the latest update to this post: An iTunes Mystery - Solved for more info.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

When angry, count to four; when very angry, swear.

A great quote from Mark Twain. It popped into my head tonight as I was blog crawling. What is up with all the f bombs? At least half the blogs I’ve looked at recently have been liberally laced with swears. Do people think they are being edgy? Avant garde? I don’t get it.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m no prude. There are times I swear like a trooper and it serves me well. But that’s the point, it serves me well because when I do it people know I’m pissed off. When I release a string of invective, volume and speed rising as I warm to the task, people physically cringe and things get done. It has a dramatic effect because it’s so out of the norm.

My problem with the current trend of turning swears into mundane adjectives is that it’s taking away their power. Stealing their mojo, if you will. There needs to be ugly words. Society has cultivated these words for a purpose, and it isn’t to describe your shoes, or your neighbor, in a conversational manner.

That is all.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Can Singing Sweet Caroline Save Your Soul?

Check out this article on about Neil Diamond's inspiration for the song Sweet Caroline. He says that he wrote the tune after seeing a picture of a young Caroline Kennedy and that he had never told anyone until last week when he sang it for her via satellite at her 50Th birthday party. The song has recently reappeared on the charts and Diamond attributes the Red Sox with it's resurgence, which brings me to my point.

I had read an article earlier this year in the Globe sports section. It was one of those "I was just thinking..." type of pieces, and the writer was "just thinking" that the playing and singing of the song as a ritual at Fenway made the fans look like yahoos.

Here's the thing. I've been a Sox fan since before I went to my first game with my dad in 1961. The photo above is of me, Circa 1959, decked out in the fan gear of the day. I know that the Sweet Caroline phenomenon is a relatively new thing and is embraced by the dreaded pink hats and band wagoners, but I like it. Not only do I like it, but I think it's a really great thing.

Before I go any further, I have to tell you a secret. You can't let anyone know what I'm about to tell you because it will ruin my reputation as a hardcore rock, blues and jazz fan. OK, here goes:

I have a lot of Neil Diamond on my iPod.

I grew up with his music. You couldn't turn on the AM radio in your parents car in the 60's without hearing something by him. So, although I quickly moved on to the Beatles and the Stones, Neil will always remind me of cruising shotgun with my dad in his '65 Impala.

That being said, the reason I think it's a great tradition is that it's the ONE AND ONLY piece of music that unites all of my friends and family, regardless of generation, whenever it comes on. Whether I'm flipping burgers at a summer cookout or hosting a Christmas party, when Sweet Caroline starts to pulse out of the speakers every man, woman and child present starts to sing, and that's a really good feeling. A feeling of warmth and brotherhood, a feeling of being a part of something.

Now amplify that feeling to the Nth degree by adding 33,000 total strangers voices to your own little group. If you can't feel the electricity and power of the moment, I say you have no soul.

So, hate it if you must. Despise the fans that participate. Just don't grouse about it and harsh my mellow.

I plan to go right on singing.

Monday, November 19, 2007


Both Mike Lowell and my computer are back. I'm doing the happy dance!

The 60 Minute Men are now 10 and 0

That was like a scrimmage. Brady looked sharp, as did Moss. The two of them looked like they were practicing in an empty parking lot. Hell, the whole team was like a well oiled machine. 6 straight drives of 60+ yards. 7 possessions, 7 scores with Tom in the game. Final score 56-10.

Both Brady and Moss set career and season franchise records tonight. Brady passed Steve Grogan as the Patriots career touchdown pass leader with 185 and also passed Babe Parilli for the single season touchdown pass record with 38.

Moss became the first Patriot to break 1000 yards receiving in a single season since Troy Brown in '01. He also broke Stanely Morgan's single season record of 12 touchdown receptions with 16 and Ben Coates' single game record of 3 touchdown receptions with 4.

I don't want to hear any pouring it on comments this week. As John Madden said tonight, "This is pro football and you just don't stop playing. It's up to the defense to stop them". They're just off the bye and they needed to work it. The 2 minute drill at the end of the 1st half was something Brady had trouble with at practice this week, so they worked it. Going for it on 4Th and 1 in the 3rd allowed Buffalo the chance to stop them when a field goal would have been automatic, so they worked it. Faulk and Maroney get hurt so they swap off with Evans and Eckel and still punch it in. Fourth and fifth string running backs!

Other than the Colts there isn't anyone who can give these guys a game, and after watching them the last couple of weeks I don't think they're up to it anymore either. Both Peyton and Adam are definitely in a slump, and the rest of the team has been decimated. It's like they left it all on the field when they lost to the Pats.

Oh yeah, I'm enjoying this.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Safe Tech Toys For The Holidays

OK, unless you've been in a cave you know that there's been some serious issues with toys lately. A couple of weeks ago my grandson was showing me the cool bee he had made with his new Aqua Dots play set. A few days later I saw the news piece on how toxic this crap was and almost choked on my morning coffee.

I called my son even though it was 5:30 in the morning. Scared the daylights out of him, of course, everyone answers late night/early morning phone calls with a touch of dread, but I was freaked out enough about the story that I just didn't care. It turned out that he had seen the story also and had already scooped it and hidden it. Smart man, my son.

We were lucky this time, but I for one am not taking any chances this holiday season, and you shouldn't either. I'm going to give you some safe and really cool high tech alternatives today that are guaranteed to be a hit.

First up is the VTech V.SMILE game console. It's actually called a learning console and I have to say that it's a pretty apt description. We bought this for my grandson last Christmas and he loved it. It's geared for ages 3 to 7 so it grows with the child. The games/learning modules actually feature popular characters like Bob the Builder, Scooby Doo, Sponge Bob and Spiderman and do a great job of disguising learning as an arcade game.

The games are broken up by age group, 3-4, 4-5 and 5-7 and each group works on a variety of skill sets. The controllers are intuitive and easy to use and the console and games are quite reasonable. The console goes for about $49 and the games are about $19 each.

This has stood the test of time for us. It's still being used on a regular basis after almost a year, and I don't need to tell you parents out there that holding the interest of a 4 year old for a year is quite a feat.

Vtech also makes a system for children 6 and up, the VTech V.FLASH. Same deal, $49 for the console and $19 for the games.

There are some great add ons for both systems and plenty of games, so you can make buying them a family affair. Someone gets the console, others can pick up games or accessories. You also get the added bonus of knowing your not giving them some mindless piece of crap. Bonus!

Got a tween or teen? How about a reasonable but fully functional laptop? The Asus Eee PC is a close cousin to the Laptop for Every Child device but is a very slick computer that can be used by all. It's small and light and comes with a web cam, WiFi, Open Office and either a Linux or Windows operating system. It's flash based so there's no hard drive, boots up and shuts down really quickly, and according to all the reviews on the tech sites and, more importantly, the user reviews on Amazon, everything works right out of the box with no configuration necessary. Does it get any better than that? Why yes it does, the price is just $399!

I'm thinking this would be a great device for someone like my 83 year old dad. Easy to use, hard to hose.

There's not a lot of free disk space, only about 1.5 gb, but for mail and word processing apps it doesn't need much. Plus it has 3 USB 2.0 ports, so thumb drives and portable disks can solve that problem. Check it out.

That's it for now. Next time we'll talk about some cool toys for grown up geeks. I can't wait!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

My PC is Gone, Baby, Gone.

I’m a pretty careful guy when it comes to caring for my systems and preserving my data. I’ve seen enough “data disasters” to last a lifetime.

You know the drill. You get the call from a relative or friend who has been dumping digital pictures onto their PC for the last 2 years and has never backed it up. Their hard drive is clanking, the PC won’t boot, and they’re frantic. “Oh my God, little Nell’s first communion pictures are on there!” they wail.

Usually you can recover some or all of their stuff but it’s always a pain in the butt and your friend or relative always stands behind you the whole time, wringing their hands and asking “How’s it lookin’?” every 5 minutes. Such a fun time! Once I even had to resort to a trick I learned from one of my coworkers to rescue data, freezing the hard drive. If you pop a bad drive in the freezer overnight sometimes it will work for about an hour after you take it out. It worked, but just barely. The drive started clanking again about halfway through the copy and died for good right after I finished.

I actually think there was divine intervention on that one. The drive belonged to a loved one who was particularly distraught and close to tears as I left for the evening with the dead drive in hand. I was flying home the next morning and although her computer was working, she had no hope of ever seeing her pictures again. Man, would I have loved to have seen her face when the FedEx guy delivered the DVD’s I created a few days later. That would have been priceless.

Anyway, we all say “I’ll never be that guy!” but it’s almost impossible not to be that guy.

I have a laptop, an iMac and a honkin’ Media Center PC at home. Any digital pictures and videos we take get loaded onto both the PC and the iMac, and they all get copied to a portable hard drive also. In addition, once every couple of weeks I burn a copy of the My Pictures folder onto a DVD. Same with the My Videos and the My Music folders and just because I’m totally anal, I also run the iTunes backup routine once a month and rip all purchased tracks to CD.

So, you would think that with all this preparation a machine meltdown wouldn’t be such a big deal for me. Well guess what? Even when you’re prepared it still sucks.

The other night, right after I finished the previous post, my PC went into a coma from which it still hasn’t recovered. It froze and that was it. I couldn’t even get it to POST, let alone reboot. Fried motherboard. Gone, Baby, Gone.

Luckily it’s still under warranty so we made a copy of the hard drive (told you I was anal) and off I went to Buy More. The store was great. They popped the hood, confirmed my original diagnosis, then packed it up and shipped it off on its long trip home to the manufacturer.

Beautiful, right?

Not exactly.

Now I’ve got to wait for its return, which could take up to a month, and when I do get it back there’s a good chance I’ll have to reload everything. A small price to pay, especially if I end up with a brand new system, but a time consuming hassle nonetheless.

In the meantime although I’ve still got my laptop and iMac, I’m out of business on a lot of fronts. My laptop isn’t powerful enough to process video and doesn’t have a video capture card and PVR software like my desktop. The iMac can process the video, but the video projects that I had already started on the PC will need to be restarted from the raw video files on the Mac, or they’ll just have to wait. Also a lot of the software I use regularly on the PC isn’t on the laptop or iMac, which means I’ve been busy loading software.

The coup de grace is that my iTunes library is on the PC and my wife’s is on the iMac. Both are radically different and if you’re familiar with iTunes you know the hassle of transferring to another computer.

On the plus side, this will force me to do some things I’ve been putting off. I’ll probably run all my music through a leveling program and then re-import it into iTunes with sound check off. As you may know, the iTunes sound check software really sucks. My levels are all over the place.

And then there’s…


Ah nuts, there is no plus side. A PC meltdown is just no fun at all.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Note to CBS Sports:

Replace Shannon Sharpe. Half the time you can't understand what he's saying, and to make it worse, half the time you can.

Was that a killer game yesterday or what? We haven't seen "The Comeback" in quite a while as Tom and the boys have been dispatching opponents with alacrity of late, but you could feel it coming.

There was only 9 minutes and change left in the 4th quarter and the Pats were down by 10 when Brady strode confidently onto the field and lead the team to score not once, but twice, to take a 24-20 lead. Then the New England defense clamped down, stopping the Colts after the first score, then sealing the deal with a forced fumble on the Colts last possession.

Is there any greater reward for the Patriots faithful then seeing Goober on his belly making the Peyton face at the end of a game?

And speaking of rewards, how about Randy Moss? Spectacular one handed catch. I don't think I've ever seen anything like it. Caught, pulled down and tucked away, all with his left hand as he stiff armed with his right and never missed a step. Fan-farging-tastic!

Moss would open the game up for Welker and company. After his big catch on the 3, Brady had no problem finding Wes Welker and Kevin Faulk for the scores and the final clock killing first down.

Can it get any better than this, and if it does, can my heart take it?

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Things to keep you busy this weekend.

If you’re into the blues and you live in the New England area you should check out berry’s friends the Drivin’ Blind Band. They’re a high energy blues band that will have you hoppin’ and boppin’ the night away. Lead guitarist Steve Dineen is phenomenal and reminds me of a young Alvin Lee. Very fast hands. They have a CD out, Mount Blue Live, and have been featured on both the WZLX and WBOS Sunday blues shows.

We saw them at Palmers in Andover on Friday night, but you can catch them throughout the area. On Dec. 1st you can see them at the Bull Run in Shirley, Ma. where they’ll be opening for blues/rock legends Savoy Brown.

Also this weekend is the GBSCC Sports Card and Memorabilia Show at the Shriners Auditorium. We saw Clay Buchholz, Bobby Kielty and all 3 Papelbon brothers today as well as Juan Beniquez, Duke Snider and Don Schwall. We also picked up some great stuff while we were there. The show runs through 4pm on Sunday, November 3rd (You can still be home in time for the Pats game!) and is a great family activity. My sons and I have been going for years and now my grandson has joined the crew. $5 for adults, children under 12 free.

Past, present and future Sox.

Be a smart geek.

I saw a reader poll on a tech website the other day: HD DVD vs. Blu-Ray, which one will win over consumers and why? My answer is... hopefully neither.

I know it's great to have the newest cutting edge technology, but we as consumers have the power to shape the direction the industry goes in, albeit only to a small extent, by not buying either Blu-Ray or HD DVD. If sales lag, it WILL force a compromise, or even the quicker emergence of a newer technology.

Personally, I'm happy with my upconverting DVD player for now. Things change too quickly to choose sides in an ongoing technology war unless you have money to burn. 1080p won't be embraced by broadcasters for a myriad of reasons, and when and if they do embrace it, it will be in an mpeg-4 format or something new that has yet to be decided, rendering the current crop of 1080p TV's and HD DVD players obsolete. You can read more about the reasons why in this article on Wikipedia and also on in the article "Everything you need to know about HDTV".