Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Wonderful Christmas

Looking back over the last 24 hours, all I can say is; Wow.

So many wonderful memories; quality time spent with loved ones, an abundance of excitement, smiles, handshakes, hugs, and kisses, both gotten and given, as we whisked our way through multiple households, landing back in our own late on Christmas day to talk and nap, then talk some more, mainly about how much we love our large extended family, and each other.

The frosting on the cake, though, was something that happened this morning. My wife and I had opened a couple of gifts while we had our coffee, barely scratched the surface actually, then had to pack up and head out. Our material pleasures could wait, there can be no delay when you’re driving Santa’s sleigh. As we headed out, we realized that it was snowing very lightly. The neighborhood was still and silent, and there was a surreal quality to the moment as we stood there and drank it in.

We had just received the ultimate Christmas gift, one regaled in song and story; a white Christmas, and the best kind, no less; a transitory one that didn’t involve shovels or scrapers. Nice.

The beauty of that moment can not be retold, but if you click on the video below, close your eyes, and think back on the faces and places of the day, you can have a beautiful moment of your own.

I hope you enjoy our little Christmas gift to you, and may all your Christmases be white.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Last Minute Gift Ideas

Still struggling with your Christmas shopping? Here are a few hot items guaranteed to please. All are available locally, and there’s something for every budget.

Let’s get right to it, because you are running out of time, my friend. We'll start high end and work our way down:

iPad 2 $499 to $829
The ultimate coffee table accessory of the new millennium. Available at Apple Stores, Best Buy, Target, Walmart, Radio Shack.

Bose SoundLink Bluetooth Wireless Speaker System $299.95
Get that sweet Bose sound from your MP3 player or phone without the hassle of docking. Available at Bose Stores, Apple Stores, Target.

iPod Touch $199 to $399
The device of the decade. nuff said. Available at Apple Stores, Best Buy, Target, Walmart, Radio Shack.

Cuisinart SS-700 Coffee Maker, Single Serve Brewing System $199
Coffee and tea and the java and me, a cup, a cup, a cup, a cup, a cup. Just like the Keurig system, only the coffee is actually hot. Available at Kohls, Macys.

Canon PowerShot ELPH 300 HS $149
The ultimate point and shoot, now at an even lower price point. Available at Hunts, Best Buy.

Good Earbuds $79 to $117
Dump the lackluster iPod standards for something that sounds great without breaking the bank. Go for the Bose for a natural sound, or the Klipsch for heavy base and noise isolation.
Huh..? Did you say something? Available at the Apple Store, Bose Store, Target.

Bose MIE2i Mobile Headset $117 (with mic)

Bose IE2 audio headphones $89 (without mic)

Klipsch Image S4i $99 (with mic)

Klipsch IMAGE S4 $79 (without mic)


Apple TV $99
Because streaming is where it’s at. Available at Apple Stores, Best Buy, Target, Radio Shack.

iTunes Cards $15 to $100
Official coin of the realm for geeks everywhere. Every Christmas I pick up a couple of 3 packs of the $10 cards. They make great stocking stuffers and they’re good to have on hand in case your Cousin Marvin shows up unannounced bearing gifts. Available everywhere.

That’s it. As I said, something for every budget, and I’ve actually seen and laid hands on all of these options just this week, so you're officially out of excuses. Now get out there and wrap things up, you slackers.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Buying a PC This Holiday Season?

There are some great deals out there, but before you pull the trigger, there’s some important things you need to know.

I’m not going to get into the whole “what’s the right device for me” question. There are so many choices; desktops, laptops, netbooks, tablets, and there’s a plethora of good deals in all categories. For most, usage patterns and pricing will drive their purchase. What I want to talk about today is ensuring that you get the most out of your purchase, and my advice holds true across all platforms.

First thing; whatever you end up buying, make sure you ask the question “How do I reload the system if it becomes hosed up?”

Some systems come with a copy of Windows, or a manufacturer specific recovery disc. Most systems require you to create your own recovery disc. You must do this immediately, and you must store your recovery disc somewhere safe. Store it where you can find it in say, a year or two, and label it boldly, so you don’t accidently toss it, should you find yourself in a cleaning frenzy one day.

You also need to have a plan in place to back up your data on a regular basis. By data, I mean your music, photos and documents. Basically the contents of you’re “My Documents” folder.

Last, but not least, you have to have a decent antivirus program loaded on your PC before you start surfing the web, and you have to update and run it regularly. Symantec/Norton antivirus is great, and usually comes preloaded on your new machine, but you need to pay for it, and renew your subscription periodically. I find that most people either put it off, or just forget. I recommend using a good free program, like MSE. Note: If you’re going to replace Symantec/Norton, you’re going to need the Norton Removal Tool, because a plain old uninstall just isn’t enough.

OK, so here’s why these things are so important;

This past month I’ve worked on 3 PC’s, all were hosed up to varying degrees with spyware and viruses. One of them was my own desktop, proving that no matter how careful you are, it will happen to you. It’s just a matter of time.

Of the 3 systems, the easiest to repair was my own. I have the system recovery discs, and I also have a couple of recent backups. All I needed to do was format the drive, reload the system from the recovery disc, run Windows update, and then reload my music, photos and documents. It took me all of one night and I now have the equivalent of a brand new machine. Anything I hadn’t used recently didn’t go back on, which freed up a ton of disk space, and the reformatting of the drive cured one of the biggest problems with an older system, fragmented files.

The other two systems were a different story. The owners didn't have the recovery discs, they weren’t even sure if they had ever made them, and they had never backed up their files. I could wipe their systems and reload them with another copy of XP, but then they’d lose all of their personal data.

If they had a copy of their My Documents folder, the fix would be easy. Without it, it’s a slow and painstaking process. You have to clean up the machine enough to be able to write the data to DVD, and if the machine is really hosed, that can be a daunting task.

Both machines had Norton Antivirus and Lava Soft’s Ad-Aware loaded on them when they were new, but neither program had been updated in months, and the last full scan run with either program was back when I had installed them.

After updating both, Norton found five viruses on the laptop and Ad-Aware flagged 253 suspicious items. That one went pretty well, all things considered. I was able to clean it up and save all the data.

On the desktop, neither program would even start. Some piece (or pieces) of malware had disabled both Norton and Ad-Aware, and the host table had been diddled, so I had to resort to reloading them from DVD, along with a few other cleanup tools. The machine was so slow that it took hours to load and configure them.

Very frustrating, and way too much time and labor to be spending on a frelative’s PC. In my spare time, no less, but what are you going to do? It would be a pretty costly endeavor for them to take it somewhere to be fixed, so I try to help, that’s what friends are for, but my rule of thumb is this; The first time it happens, I try to save things, but if you find yourself up the same tree a second time, it’s wipe and go service only.

I value my digital pictures, as do most, and I’ve seen the reaction when someone realizes that all of their files are dust in the wind; anger, anguish, remorse, and sometimes, tears. It’s an awful thing to see. Without those recovery disks and a recent backup, all you’re left with when the hammer comes down is a useless hunk of junk.

Don’t put yourself in that bad place; backing up isn’t so hard to do. I use an external drive with a built in backup program (HP SimpleSave) that’s brainless and painless. I also copy my pictures and documents to DVD and I run the iTunes backup tool periodically. It only takes a few minutes, and it’s time well invested. I keep the most recent copies with the recovery discs, someplace safe.

Also, don’t use rewritable DVD’s when you’re backing up your files (DVD-RW), use write once discs only (DVD-R). I had someone hand me a DVD recently, saying proudly “I have all of my pictures saved on here”. I found out later that they had been writing and rewriting to that same DVD-RW for days, and had overwritten most of the files. It was a hard drive replacement, and a hard lesson. Luckily, I was able to recover the contents of the drive later on, but that’s another story for another time. What I want you to focus on here is that rewritable DVD’s can be dangerous. Capisci?

So, to sum things up:

• Find out if the machine comes with a recovery disc.

• If it doesn’t, create one.

• Store the disc(s) somewhere safe.

• Add or activate antivirus software.

• Back up your important files regularly.

Simple, right?

I hope you’re all nodding your heads out there... If you're not, then we're both in trouble.

That is all.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Canon PowerShot ELPH 300 HS


With Black Friday looming large and the holidays following close behind, its time to roll out some gift ideas that are guaranteed to put a smile on the face of that special geek or geekette in your life. First up is the Canon PowerShot ELPH 300 HS.

This is a great little point and shoot camera; small, solidly built, and chock full of features. The 300 is a 12.1 megapixel digital camera with a 24 mm ultra Wide-Angle lens, 5x optical zoom, full 1080p HD video with stereo sound, and an optical image stabilizer. Canon’s HS system provides fast image processing and great low light performance, and it can capture 8.0 frames per second in high speed burst mode. Not bad for a camera you can slip into your front pocket.

I’ve been playing around with one of these for about 2 months now, and I’ve been very pleased with the results. Nice sharp photos, short time between shots, very decent battery life, and although it’s capable of all kinds of magical image processing, the thing I’m most impressed with is its Smart Auto setting. It reads the situation and adjusts accordingly, giving you the best picture possible with a minimal amount of effort. Just point, and shoot; as it should be.

That being said, I’m looking forward to trying out the Movie Digest mode this Thanksgiving. In this mode, the camera pre-captures a 4 second video clip before each still, and then stitches the whole day together in a file that you can play back as a montage. Cool.

There’s a nice review here on the Hunt’s Camera website, and I’ve posted a video review from infoSync below, because the only way to appreciate how tiny this thing is is to see it in someone’s hands. It’s tiny, but it’s solid. There’s a nice heft to it in your hand, and when it’s off, it turtles itself into a sleek, sturdy little package.

Hunt’s just dropped the price from $199 to $179, and I’m expecting them to bundle it with an extra battery or a nice memory card and case for the same or less this Friday. If they do, jump on it, you won’t be disappointed.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Not Such Deep Thoughts: Epic Fail Edition

This was originally going to be the “Early Fall Edition”, but since last Wednesday night’s Sox meltdown, it’s become the “Epic Fail Edition”. I’ll still be voicing my thoughts on the pros and cons of early fall, but in another post. The Sox collapse, and its subsequent fallout, will be the main topic of discussion here, mainly because it’s all I’ve been thinking about, so let’s dive right in:

The Sox ended the season just the way they started it, badly. They actually played worse in September than they had in April, as hard as that is to believe. They just flat out sucked, and it was all the worse because we’d seen what they were capable of. On September 3rd they had a 9 game lead over the Rays in the Wild Card race, and a 99.6% chance of making it to the post season. Check out the graph below of the Sox and Rays chances of reaching the playoffs throughout the season. It’s painful to see, but it’s the only way to truly understand the magnitude of their collapse.



Now that’s a picture that really tells a story.

How do you blow a lead like that? Well, you can’t blame it on any one person. An epic collapse like this takes a village, or a team, in this case. Everyone from the top of the organization to the bottom needs to fail to pull off something like this. If I could look at it objectively, it would actually be quite an impressive feat, but I can’t.

Terry Francona was the first casualty of this debacle. Actually, he was the second; Red Sox Nation was the first. We had to watch this slow motion train wreck unfold. Terry paid a bigger price, though. While we were just uncomfortable, and ultimately disappointed, he had to walk away from something he loved. Was it the right decision?

Undoubtedly.

He lost the clubhouse, and you can’t continue on as manager once the people you manage become unmanageable. That being said, you can’t really fault the guy. He was the perfect manager in the Dirt Dog days, and he did a masterful job of guiding them to not one, but two championships. This team has moved on, though. They’re not the Dirt Dogs anymore, or even the band of Idiots they morphed into. Matter of fact, they’re not even a team. They’re just a bunch of overpaid, overindulged, selfish wonks.

You have winning seasons and losing seasons, victories and disappointments; it’s all a part of it. Both fans and players have to roll with it, because ultimately, it’s just a game. What’s inexcusable is when the players don’t do their job. They get paid a fantastic amount of money, quite a bit of it coming from the pockets of the Fenway Faithful, and for that they only have to do two things. First, they have to play to the best of their abilities, and second, they have to pull together as a team. They have no chance whatsoever of succeeding if they don’t do both. Doesn’t seem like such a hard concept to grasp.

How do you fix something like this? In my opinion, you need to start by cleaning house. Some of the players need to go, and whoever takes the helm needs to be ruthless about it. Where was the captain through all of this? I really like Tek, he’s a great guy who’s done a lot for the team and the city, but you can’t stay on as captain after being a part of this mess. The captain’s role is to lead by example, or if that fails, through good old fashioned ass kicking. Didn’t happen, as far as I can see.

There are quite a few others whose time has come, maybe even a portly pitcher or two, even if it means the Sox take a huge hit in the pocketbook. Examples have to be made, and whoever doesn’t get shown the door needs to understand in no uncertain terms that not being in shape, not trying your hardest all season long, and not being a team player, is unacceptable. That’s not a lot to ask of men who make more money in a year than most of us see in ten, and without a doubt, it’s the only way to get this team back on track.

That is all.

For now.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

More Extreme Tech - Rigid VP2000 Wet Vac Pump

I found this baby at Home Depot this weekend while I was looking for a replacement squeegee head for my Rigid Wet/Dry Vac.

I love my shop vac, except when it’s full of nasty water and I need to empty it. I could drain it into the sump pit, but that would be kind of counter productive. Instead, we ladle some off with a bucket, and then we lift it up and pour the rest down the basement utility sink. Back breaking work. No fun at all.

With this baby, you pop it on before you start, and then when the unit is full you connect a hose and you can pump the water up to 50ft at a rate of 10gpm. Nice!

I know, I know, I should have done these last two posts before and not during Irene. Can’t be helped; busy, busy, busy.

Backyard Tech – Extreme Edition: Generators

Having a basement that’s prone to flooding, we were way overdue in adding a generator to our flood fighting arsenal. We’re fine as long as the sump pumps run, but if they stop working, disaster ensues. We finally bit the bullet after we remodeled Man Town this past year.

I knew nothing about generators when we started looking, but after a little research, and some professional electrical advice, we came up with a plan. Our main concern was the pumps, but we also wanted something that would help us out during those ugly winter Nor’easters that we’re prone to around here. There’s a great Wattage Estimation Guide on the Honda Power Equipment website that helped us out a lot.

We settled on the Honda EG5000. It’s big enough to hook up to your house via a transfer switch and run quite a few devices, and yet small enough to still be considered a portable. It’s from Honda’s Economy line, which means it has the power of the more expensive models, just fewer frills. No key start, no wheels, no fancy panels. It does, however, pump out 5000W (4500W rated) of power, both 120/240V, via a nice variety of outputs (two 20A 125V outlets, one 20A 125V locking plug, one 30A 125V locking plug and a 30A 125/250V locking plug).

It’s powered by Honda’s commercial grade 389cc engine, which is relatively quiet (73dB), and it has some great features that you won’t find on cheaper generators, like DAVR (digital automatic voltage regulation witch prevents power fluctuations) and Oil Alert (the unit shuts down the engine before you hit the add level). It also comes with a 3 year parts and labor warranty that’s valid for both commercial and residential use.

I bought mine from a Honda dealership (Parkway Cycle), rather than on line, because I wanted one that was assembled, bench tested, and ready to rock and roll. It has an important job to do, so I did it right, and you should too.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Coronal Mass Ejections and You

This past week there were several medium to large Coronal Mass Ejections, otherwise known as solar flares. As the resulting electromagnetic pulses, travelling at about four million miles per hour, collide with Earth’s magnetic field, there will be increased Northern Light activity, and also sporadic disruptions of Radio and Satellite signals.

So what does that mean for you and I?

Well, if you’re far enough north (Maine), and the conditions are right, it means that you may be treated to some strange and beautiful light shows in the night sky. It also means that the satellite feed your cable company gets could suffer periodically, as well as the signals from the GPS satellites.

We we’re up in Maine this weekend and we went down to the beach to star gaze, but it was too overcast to see any Aurora activity. We did however suffer from some strange tics in the cable feed, and when we started our car to leave, the GPS put us squarely in the Atlantic Ocean. It stayed pegged to that spot, just off the coast, until we hit the Hampton tolls, then all of a sudden it came back to life, plopping us on I95, where we belonged.

Phew.

Anyways, it seems we’re in a period of increased solar activity that won’t peak until 2013, so keep a weather eye to the sky, just be sure you have those polarized Ray Bans on, can’t be too careful. Matter of fact, I just finished fashioning myself a jaunty little tin foil cap, and I think I have enough left to line a couple of pairs of shorts.

That is all.

Backyard Tech - Aquabot Turbo T


Vacuuming the pool is one of those chores that you start off enjoying, but quickly run out of time and patience for.

Early in each pool season I’m gung ho to clean it by hand. It’s a great feeling to do something that shows such obvious results, and it can be an almost Zen like experience; standing quietly poolside, hypnotized by the rhythmic motions and the sighing, woodwind like sounds as the air escapes from the pole on each down stroke. It slows things down and gives me time to think and relax.

As the season goes on though, my thoughts increasingly focus on what a time consuming pain in the ass it actually is. The setup, the breakdown, the backwashing, the standing in the hot sun during the day, or trying to keep my focus while swatting mosquitoes in the evening, and as the summer heats up and the algae starts blooming, each vacuum becomes longer and more tedious. You never hit every spot either, no matter how much time and energy you put into it. Consequently the pool liner starts to get that slimy “Slip and Slide” feel to it, especially on the down slope to the deep end. It’s hard to put enough pressure on the pole to really scrub those deep angled places.

A couple of years ago I purchased a rechargeable pool “dust buster”, the Pool Blaster. It attaches to the end of your pole and does a great job. It’s a self contained device, so it cuts out the setup time and the backwashing part of skimmer vacuuming, but you still have to go over every square inch of the pool. It’s great, but it’s not the ultimate solution to vacuuming, it’s more of a spot cleaner.

We also thought about having the pool cleaned on a regular basis by our pool people, but that gets costly. We have them come by when we’re away and they do a great job, but its $70 bucks a pop, and that’s just too rich for my blood over the course of the summer, so we started to look for a pool cleaning robot. There’s a ton of them out there, but after much research we settled on the Aquabot Turbo T.

Aquabot has a whole line of pool bots, one for every type of pool and every budget. The Turbo T model is on the high end of the spectrum, but it pays for itself in time, chemicals and results. It motors around the pool like a little submersible Sherman Tank, scrubbing, vacuuming and power washing every inch of the pool, and leaves it sparkling clean. By the second use we started noticing that the vinyl liner felt like it did when it was new; firm and textured instead of smooth and slippery.

This baby is amazing. It even climbs up the wall and moves along the water line,defying gravity while it scrubs the liner all the way up to the coping. It picks up everything; sand, leaves, rocks, and I’m always amazed at the amount of debris inside the filter bag at the end of its cycle. I run it about twice a week, and the pool has never been so clean. I’m even saving money on earth and chemicals because I don’t need to backwash as much, plus I now get to do my Zen like thinking while seated and watching the bot clean the pool. Much better.

I got my Aquabot online from In the Swim, who I found via GoodSearch. GoodSearch provided me with a discount coupon and made a donation to the charity of my choice based on a percentage of the sale price. Nice. Check them out, they do great things, and check out the video below of the bot in action.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Not Such Deep Thoughts: Special Stanley Cup Edition


Well, it’s that time again; the old noggin is filled to ‘esplodin’ with unvoiced thoughts, so let’s get right to it, and there’s no better way to start this off than by saying:

How ‘bout those Bruins, eh?

They took us for a long and wild ride on their quest for the cup, and the victory was made that much sweeter by its sheer unexpectedness. Sure, they were a pretty good team this year, but after their epic collapse in last year’s playoffs, I just didn’t think they had it in them. Boy was I wrong. In retrospect, it played out a lot like our other sports team’s recent championships; the dark horse team that rose to every occasion, time and time again, always managing to get the job done. No trash talk, no false bravado, just blood, sweat and hustle. It’s become standard operating procedure for our Boston teams. Shut up and play is our mantra here, and it’s served us well.


Speaking of the Bruins, could these guys be any more likable? They just keep surprising me with the things they do, mainly because they’re so down to earth. Out and about with the general public after the victory, walking the streets, stopping in at a barber shop to have their beards buzzed, putting the Cup in a baby stroller and taking it down to Tia’s to hold court, beautiful. You just don’t see that type of behavior in professional sports these days and it’s very refreshing.


Anyone know where I can get one of those Locker Room hats? Damn they’re hard to find.


Not to diminish this year’s feats in any way, shape or form, but while we’re on the subject of the Stanley Cup, I’ve been weighing this years Championship victory against what I’ve always considered to be the most exciting hockey moments of my life; the 1970 Bruins quest for the cup.

Orr, Sanderson, Espo, The Chief, Hodge, Pie and The Cheese, that was quite a team, my team, and they were having an incredible season. My Dad and 2 of my Uncles were long time season ticket holders back then, so I got to go to a lot of games, but when it came to the playoffs, nuh-uh, no one was giving those babies up, so my buddy, his little brother and I packed up our lawn chairs, sleeping bags and street hockey sticks and headed on down to the Gah-den to get us some tickets.

We spent three days waiting in line; two camping in the alley between the Garden and the Registry, and one night sleeping in the Garden itself. Our parents would come by a couple of times a day to drop off food and generally check on our well being; it was long before the cell phone, no way to check on Junior except in person in those days. We kept ourselves busy playing street hockey in that alley, there was always a game going on, or playing cards with our neighbors in line. Barrel fires lit the night, and the only thing to fear were the rats (great big rats). We’d sit there at night clutching our sticks, trying in vain to stay awake.

On the last night they herded us all inside and sat us in sections according to our place in line. We ended up exploring every inch of that place before the night was through, us and about a thousand other kids. Pure nirvana for a 15 year old Bruins fan. We walked out of there the next day clutching tickets to games 3 and 4 of the finals, feeling like we had just hit the lottery, and we had, of course, because we were standing high in the gallery during the game 4 overtime period, screaming and yelling ourselves hoarse, when we all learned that number 4 could fly.

Ah, memories. As I said before though, I don’t bring this up to diminish what this year’s team has done; it’s just hard to think of any Bruins team without measuring them up with The Big Bad Bruins of my youth. This season was just as exciting, but for much different reasons.

That 1970 team seemed predestined for coronation; the Orr era Bruins were akin to the Montana era Niners, you just knew they were going to win, and we ate it up. The excitement they generated with their spectacular play and bloody fights, combined with the unabashed hero worship of my youth and the new found freedom our parents had afforded us that spring was totally intoxicating, and it left an indelible mark on me.

This 2011 Bruins Championship was exciting because the outcome was always in doubt. Close, hard fought games, incredible plays, incredible hustle, and incredible determination. They personified team, and made you proud to be a fan.

As I said; just as exciting, but for much different reasons.

On a sad note; I lost 2 of those Bruin loving, larger than life Uncles during this past season, one of them passing just before game five. I like to think they went to join my Dad, and they were all watching from the gallery as that final horn sounded and bedlam ensued. In my mind’s eye I can see the pure joy and excitement on their faces. It’s such a clear and beautiful image that it has to be true.

That is all.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Nook Color Firmware Upgrade

Barnes and Noble recently released their long awaited firmware upgrade for the Nook Color, Version 1.2. It’s based on the Android 2.2 OS, and it brings all kinds of new features to the already cool and functional device.

With the addition of Email, Adobe Flash Player and the availability of productive Apps like Quickoffice® software, as well as time wasters like Angry Birds, it’s got the whole package now, and at half the price of an iPad, this device has become pretty hard to pass up.

Check out our previous review of this device for more details.


That is all.


Oh, wait… Angry Birds anyone?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Barnes and Noble Nook Color

The Nook Color certainly gives you a lot of bang for your buck. It’s not just an e-book reader; it’s almost a full blown tablet. Barnes and Noble bills it as a “reader’s tablet”, and I think that pretty well sums it up. It’s a web browsing, music playing, full color, touch-screen e-book reader.

It runs Android 2.1, has 8GB of on board memory plus a microSD expansion slot for up to 32GB of additional storage, and a microUSB port for easy connectivity. It also sports a beautiful and very responsive 7” VividView Color Touch-Screen with an extra layer of laminate that cuts down on glare and increases off angle viewing. The instructional video it connects to at setup is so colorful and lifelike, and streams so seamlessly, that it will knock your eyes out.

Purchasing and downloading books, magazines and newspapers is quick and easy via the built in Wi-Fi (802.11 b/g/n), and transferring documents, photos, music and other large files (like OS upgrades, Android 2.2 is coming!) is a snap with drag and drop file transfer from your PC or Mac via the USB port. The Nook Color supports both the EPUB and PDF formats, plus has Quickoffice software installed, so it supports a myriad of file types. It also comes with the Pandora Internet Radio app installed, which is a very nice feature.

It’s sized perfectly for an e-reader at 8.1”x 5” x .48”, and weighs in at just a hair under a pound. The casing has a rubberized back that gives it a non-slip grip, and it has a good solid feel without being too heavy. Slide it into one of their leather folios and it looks like a high quality date book.

While it’s not nearly as readable in bright sunlight as a standard e-ink reader, this baby really excels on the e-magazine and children’s book fronts. It even supports audio read along books, which is pretty great if you have children or grandchildren in your life. Like the iPad, flash isn’t supported yet either, and there’s currently no access to the Android Marketplace, so there’s a limited amount of apps available for now, but good things are supposed to be coming with 2.2, we’ll see.

So, it’s not as fully functional as an iPad, but it’s also not nearly as pricey ($249), or as large and unwieldy, and it’s not as bright light friendly as a standard e-reader, but it has much more to offer. Like most things in life, it’s all about finding a happy compromise. While I wouldn’t be upset if this thing suddenly was able to provide me with a little Angry Bird action, for now I’m happy with it just the way it is; as a “readers tablet”.

Truthfully, I really didn’t think an e-reader was something I wanted; I love real books, and I’m not much for bringing electronics with me into the great outdoors, but this device has found a niche in my life. It’s a bedside companion, a book pile reducer, a quick webmail and website tool, a portable picture and document viewer, and a great grandchild entertainer. Plus, all of your purchases are archived on the B&N website, so you don’t have to sweat losing them. Also, with the free Nook apps available for the iPod touch, IPhone and PC, you have cross platform portability of all of your purchases. That means you can sneak a peek at whatever book you’re currently reading, or anything in your library for that matter, even if you don’t have your e-reader with you.

The real kicker for me though, is the ability to download virtually any book, magazine or newspaper that my heart desires, whenever my heart desires. Reader nirvana.

That is all.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

2 and 7!

Beckett was lights out tonight, the bats were there when we needed them, and I’m slowly sliding my hand away from the panic button. Not far, but at least I’ve stopped hovering over it. Hope is alive again in Red Sox Nation!

Although there were brighter stars tonight, I think Tek made all the difference. He knows how to work these guys, and they need to use him more. At least until Salty picks it up, if he ever can.

I’m not saying that pitching, and consequently catching, is their only problem, but without consistent pitching, not much else matters. Let’s start from there. A few more wins under their belt, and I think we’ll see this team gel into something beautiful.

That is all.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

No Substitutions Please

So, the other day I had to get a considerable amount of stitches, and before I left the Dr’s office they gave me a “Wound Care” sheet. You know the drill; Keep the wound covered and dry for 24 hours, Ice the area for 20 minutes every 2 hours to prevent swelling and bruising and call 911 if you’re bleeding out. All straightforward, common sense stuff. It also contained a warning against using chemical ice packs when icing open wounds, and suggested substituting a bag of frozen peas or corn, which you could then refreeze and reuse.

Sounded good to me; no harmful chemicals, no ice cubes to melt and leak all over, no fuss, no muss. Or so I thought…

I went to the freezer, and quickly realized that there was very little in the way of frozen vegetables in there. After poking around for a few minutes, I discovered an old bag of frozen blueberries buried way in the back. Perfect, I thought. In retrospect, this was my first big mistake, in a series of big mistakes.

I took out the bag, wrapped it in a dish towel, and proceeded to ice. It worked like a charm, and felt great to boot. When I was finished, I threw the bag back in the freezer, and then repeated the ritual a few more times throughout the day. No problem.

After dinner I got my pseudo ice pack out again. This time I decided to sit in my favorite leather chair and watch a little TV while I iced. Big mistake number two. I got myself settled in, commenced icing, and quickly fell asleep. Big mistake number three.

I woke up about an hour and a half later, and my first thought as the fog cleared was that something wasn’t right. Then I felt something cold and wet dripping down my leg. Oh-oh...

Panic jolted me fully awake, and I looked down to see that my “ice pack” had ended up in my lap. The dishtowel I had wrapped around it was stained purple, as was the crotch of my khakis, and the juice was beginning to run down my legs. As I picked the ruined mess up, a small stream of blueberry juice began leaking out.

I just sat there and stared at the tiny blue stream for a minute as it arced down, soaking into my crotch. I wasn’t quite sure what to do next.

It was the awful thought that I may have been massaging blueberry juice into my leather chair with my ass that finally got me up and moving. Holding the ruined mess of an ice pack against my pants (what the heck, they were already toast anyway), I stood, and then waddled into the kitchen, leaving a trail of blueberry juice across the new hardwood floor. Once I had my feet planted on un-stainable linoleum, I quickly stripped off my sneakers, khakis, socks and underwear. Leaving them in a heap, I grabbed the roll of paper towels off the counter and headed back into the den.

Much to my relief, my wife’s new throw had been on the chair and had soaked up the bulk of the leakage, so I balled it up and launched it into the kitchen with the rest of the mess. I wiped up the little bit of juice that had made its way through to the chair, and then got down on my hands and knees and began blotting up the juice off the hardwood.

And that’s how my wife found me; on my hands and knees, naked from the waist down, swearing and cursing like Donald Duck.

She just shook her head and got right down to business. Nothing I do surprises her very much anymore. She grabbed the paper towels from me, and then told me to get my sticky butt into the bathroom. By the time I got myself hosed down and covered up, she had everything under control. No wonder I love her.

Believe it or not, she had thrown the whole sodden mess into the washing machine with one of her magic Oxi Clean stain packets, and gotten almost all of the stains out with the first wash. A little spray action before the second pass did the trick, and everything is as good as new. I’m thinking my little boneheaded adventure might make a great Oxi Clean commercial. I could be the next Billy Mays! "Watch as I rub bluberries into my crotch. You probably think these pants are ruined, right? Just watch what Oxi Clean can do!"

Probably have to leave out the naked floor cleaning part, though...

Oh well, all’s well that ends well I guess, and I’ve certainly learned a valuable lesson; If the recipe calls for corn or peas, blueberries just won’t do.

That is all.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

HP SimpleSave - Revisited

Last year I added an HP SimpleSave 1TB External Hard Drive to my ever expanding desktop disk farm, and I did a post shortly thereafter extolling its virtues. Not only did it increase my storage capacity, it also automatically backs up my systems on a regular basis, and it’s large enough to be useful for both purposes.

After having it in service for a few months, I’m still pleased with the device, but… I have a little user tip that I’m way overdue in sharing.

This drive kicks off an auto backup after 5 minutes of system inactivity, which is a great way to insure that you’re always backed up, but the timer settings can’t be tweaked, and if you have a document open the SimpleSave program write locks it in preparation for backup after about 4 minutes of idle time. That’s just too short. It’s so short that even a quick bio break can trigger it.

Usually my first hint of trouble is an error message that pops up to the effect of: “Saving the Auto Recovery file is postponed for (your file name here)”, which means that Word has tried to do an auto-save on the document, and failed.

The consequence is that any changes you’ve made since the last time you’ve saved it, or the last time Word has done an auto-save, are going to be lost when you close the document. Word still prompts you to save the document when you try to close it, but that fails also.

When it catches me, I’ve usually just started creating a document and I’m cooking along, so when I see that error message I know the whole thing will be lost if I don’t engage in evasive maneuvers.

If it catches you, the fix is simple, although it’s a pain. Click Edit, Select All, and then Copy. Now close the document without saving changes, and then open it again, click on Edit and Select All again, and then paste.

Note: Be sure to go down to the system tray, right click on SimpleSave and selct Exit before you go any further, otherwise you’ll be painting yourself into the same corner.

The real fix is to either remove SimpleSave from your startup, or right click on the system tray icon and select exit before you start anything. I prefer to leave it in the startup and then kill it when I’m going to be working. It’s a pain, but that way I don’t have to sweat whether or not I’ve done a backup in times of crises.

Of course, the ultimate would be if HP made the idle time setting selectable, but I’m not holding my breath. I will, however, be holding my water.

That is all.

Monday, February 7, 2011

It’s Just Snow Fun Anymore

Growing up here in New England, winter doesn’t usually bother me that much. I’ve learned to roll with it, taking the good times with the bad, balancing the drudgery of the cold and snow with the small joys of the season, like skating, skiing, or just sitting snug by the fire.

This year has been different, though. We’ve been stuck in this pattern where every 2nd or 3rd day it snows. Sometimes just a little, sometimes a lot; 2” on a Sunday, followed by 16” on Tuesday, followed by another 6” on Friday, has taken all the fun out of the season.

Actually, there’s just no time for fun. Shoveling, snow blowing, and then shoveling some more, followed by a healthy dose of roof raking, followed by the disposal of the freshly displaced roof snow. Over and over and over again. And when it’s not snowing, I seem to be spending all of my time moving snow around, cuz there’s just no place left to put it, or chipping ice, cuz when the snow melts, there’s no run off.

I don’t think I can take much more of this; I’m beat and beat up. My right hand has been alternating between numbness and throbbing pain (Carpal Shovel Syndrome?), my back is killing me, and being wet and cold has become a way of life.

I’m tore down, baby; I’m almost level with the ground. I need to go someplace warm. Of course, the way this winter is going, my roof would probably collapse while I was away…

Speaking of rooves, what I’d value as much as a getaway, is back to back sunny days. We got all rain on Saturday night, as well as some intense thunder and lightning, instead of the predicted snow, and then a warm up to the mid 40’s today with bright sunshine. Between all of the roof raking and the warm up, I made some decent headway on the ice dam front. I even got most of my gutters reopened and the ice flows around the doors greatly reduced. One more day of sun would be huge.

Funny how your priorities can be so situational; with two more storms predicted for this coming week, one more decent day could make all the difference.

So for now I’ll just bide my time, wrap my claw, and hope for sun.

That, and the knowledge that the boys of summer have started arriving at City of Palms should be enough to get me through. I’ve got my place booked for almost all of Spring Training this year, and I’ll need to bop down between tenants for some quick landlord duties. Maybe I’ll even manage a trip or two to the park. That’ll get my sap flowing again.

Oh yeah.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Stunned

The Jets played well, Sanchez did just enough, and the Pats did far too little. Game, set, match.

It’s gonna take me a while to get over this one. Not because the Pats lost, it happens to the best of them. Any given Sunday, as they say. The real sting comes from the fact that this team beat them. I’m so sick of hearing from these guys. I can only hope that they get smacked in their collective WWF mouths in Pittsburgh. Small consolation, but it’s something to hope for. A reason to watch, and after this game, I need a reason to watch.

The Pats were just flat. Was it the buy week? They’ve been on fire and I hated to see the pause in momentum; it was the one thing that scared me going into this game. The Jets came in flying high, and the Pats just weren’t ready for it. Mental mistakes, miscues, and a little bit of indefinable lethargy. You would have thought that they would be kicking ass and taking names after a buildup like this one, but that just wasn’t the case.

Oh well, blood on the tracks.

As tough as this is to take, I’m thankful to the Pats for giving us more than we dared hope for this season. I really like this team and I expect good things as they grow and mature. They learned a valuable lesson and have a lot to chew on, but they’ll be back, and hopefully be better than ever.

That is all.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Turn Your Laptop Into An HDTV

The Hauppauge WinTV- HVR 850 USB HDTV Adapter will turn your laptop into an HDTV with DVR functionality.

Back when my little 5” battery operated TV was rendered useless by the digital changeover, I started looking around for an alternative. There were very few digital portables on the market then, all in the 5 to 7” range. They started around $130 and went up from there, and that was more than I wanted to pay just for the security of having a way to catch the news in the event of a power outage. Then I found this bad boy that allows me to turn my 14” widescreen laptop into an HDTV with a 4 hour rechargeable battery, all for around $50. I jumped on it.

The Win-TV-HVR 850 receives both NTSC analog and ATSC HD digital over-the-air broadcasts, and also has an optional A/V input, and it comes with a USB extender cable and a remote antenna. The extender cable is great because you really don’t want a USB device that has a cable attached to it plugged directly into your laptop, it’s too easy to hit the cable and cause the USB adaptor to damage the port.

Setup was a breeze. It comes with its own tuner and DVR software, but it also will integrate seamlessly with the Windows Media Center application. Note: if your laptop has the Media Center app, don’t install the drivers that come on the included CD. Instead, go here and click on the Windows Media Center Install tab for the correct driver installation package.

Once the install is complete, reboot and then fire up Media Center. It will ask you if you want to scan for available signals, which you do, but before you do, you want to be sure you’re connected to a really decent set of rabbit ears, preferably powered, instead of the included remote antenna. The reason for this is so that Media Center will find and store the bulk of available channels. In my area it found about 20, as most stations broadcast multiple digital signals, ie: 7-1, 7-2. Once it’s found and stored the channels, the included antenna or a non powered set of bunny ears will work fine, although will need to be fiddled with on a channel by channel basis. That isn’t a big deal in the event of a power outage, but if you’re using it as a supplemental TV, say pool side for instance, or if your cable goes out, you’ll want to stick with the powered antenna. It’s much less work, as you can usually find a position and power setting that allows you to receive most of the channels without fiddling and diddling.

The picture quality is awesome, and over-the-air digital broadcasts include a wealth of program information which rivals the guide info available on cable. Both the included software and Media Center also have easy to use DVR features, which is pretty cool. Remember, it is a graphics and CPU intensive application, so for optimal usage you don't want to be doing too much else on your PC. Recommended minimum requirements are a 2.2 GHz Intel® P4 or 1.8 GHz Centrino processor or equivalent, with at least 64 MB of graphics memory. I’ve found that I can perform most functions on my laptop while having a small TV window open without problem, but if you’ve got an older laptop that only marginally meets the requirements, then you might have some trouble multitasking.

It also comes in both a 950Q and 1500 model for around $99. The only major difference with the 950 is that it comes with a remote. My desktop came with a Media Center remote that works on my laptop, plus if I’m using it, I’m usually pretty close to the laptop, so it’s not an issue for me. The 1500 however, has a twist; it docks to the laptop via an Expresscard/54 slot. While not all laptops have them, it is a pretty good option from a performance standpoint. Lastly, there’s the 1950 model, which retails for around $150. It’s a standalone unit about the size of an iPod dock that connects via USB, and it has an on-board MPEG-2 encoder, which allows your PC to run smoother while recording. All nice choices, but for my intended usage, and because of the $49 price point, I went with the 850.

Bottom line; the Hauppauge WinTV - HVR 850 USB HDTV is a great performer at a great value, and a much better solution for life's little emergencies than buying an overpriced handheld digital TV.


That is all.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Apple TV


I think Santa reads my blog. Last week I mentioned that both the Roku and Apple TV boxes were great tech gifts for under $100, and sure enough, there was an Apple TV under the tree on Christmas morning. Thanks Santa!

I’ve had a week to play with it now, and it’s a great little device. It’s small and sleek, not much bigger than an iPod dock, and it has both Wi-Fi and a wired Ethernet port for network connectivity. For outputs, it has an HDMI and an Optical Audio port, which is key if you plan on sending the audio signal to a separate sound system.

Apple TV delivers up to a 720p video signal and Dolby 7.1 surround to your devices, and it automatically seeks out any iTunes libraries on your network that have home sharing enabled. This allows you to use iTunes through your TV and home theater audio system, as well as to see the contents of your My Pictures folder (note; you need to be running iTunes 10 and have configured the picture sharing tab to use this feature). I’ve set my pictures to be the Apple TV default screen saver, so while I’m listening to music they appear as a slide show on the TV screen.

Performance is great. I have full functionality in iTunes; playlists, shuffle, cover flow, and the quality of both my pictures and the video is stunning, even running wirelessly. No hesitation or jerkiness, just smooth high quality video, and as well as having access to all your own media, and everything the iTunes store offers, you can also connect to Netflix or YouTube. An added bonus is using the iTunes internet radio feature through the stereo. Crystal clear reception from any station in the world! And if that's not enough to sell you, there's also an app available for your touch, iPhone or iPad that turns it into a remote!

Looks like old Santa knew what (s)he was doing. Although the Roku can deliver a 1080p video signal and 7.1 surround, the ability to integrate your iTunes libraries with Apple TV makes it hard to beat, especially if you’re already firmly entrenched in the iTunes camp.