Archive for the Misc Category
Posted at 6:00 pm by RobOHara in Misc, Reviews
For my 41st birthday, I asked for (and received) a Parrot AR Drone 2.0. Yes, my birthday isn’t until the end of next week. Now that I’m over 40, I can open presents early if I want.
Starting at $300, the Parrot AR Drone 2.0 (“Parrot 2” hereon) is an intermediate level drone. There are several smaller toy drones in the sub-$100 range, and lots of “toys for big boys” drones in the $1,000+ range. The only comparable to the Parrot 2 is DJI’s Phantom, which runs $499 without a camera and $799 with a camera. $300 seemed more sensible for a first-time drone owner, so I went with the Parrot 2.
For roughly $50 more you can get the Power Edition — same drone, but with two larger batteries and three extra sets of propellers. I went with that one.
Here’s everything that came in the Power Edition package: the drone, an indoor hull, an outdoor hull, two lithium 1500 mAh batteries, a battery charger, some stickers, three additional sets of propellers (in orange, blue and red) and a manual with printing so small I couldn’t even tell if it was in English or not. (The manuals are online in PDF format here.)
Additionally, the Parrot 2 comes with two cameras (an HD 720p front-facing camera) and an SD down-facing camera) and a USB port. You can plug in a USB stick to record videos and pictures from your flights, or purchase additional USB add-ons like the GPS/black box.
Here is the drone with no hull attached.
If you fly it like this, it will be broken in about 4 seconds. Here it is with the outdoor hull:
…and here it is with the indoor hull:
So far I have only flown the Parrot 2 with the indoor hull attached, and I’ll tell you why. First of all, without it, I would have broken many things in our house. Second of all, the majority of all my videos end with me smashing the Parrot 2 into something and having it land belly-side-up somewhere. The indoor hull has definitely saved my propellers from slicing against tree limbs, blinds, the ceiling fan, my face, two different flat screen televisions and the cat at least once.
Unfortunately, the indoor hull is not designed to take a beating, at least not a beating of the level I’ve been dishing them out. My second crash resulted in a clean break of the styrofoam hull. I could not find any black electrical tape so I had to resort to repairing the hull with some white duct tape. An hour after owning the drone, my hull looked like this:
I have since removed all the white tape and replaced it with black electrical tape. Without tape, this hull would be in 5 separate pieces now. I’m afraid to fly this thing without one on. All things said, I have had some spectacular crashes (many from running into the ceiling fan (not running) 15′ in the air) and watching the Parrot 2 drop like a rock to the carpeted floor below. So far nothing has broken but I’ve only had it two days and I’ve been under the weather so I haven’t really put the thing to the test yet.
The Parrot 2 does not come with a remote — instead, you download a free app onto your iOS or Android device and that becomes your remote. Once powered up, the Parrot 2 actually becomes a wifi hotspot, so to start flying all you have to do is connect your device to the drone’s hotspot, launch the control app and you’re good to go.
Most of my early flights took place in the house. The learning curve comes from (a) learning how to control the Parrot 2 with the app, and (b) keeping yourself oriented as to which way the drone is facing. Using the app, your right thumb controls moving up/down and turning left/right, while your left thumb controls moving forward/backward and tilting left/right. It’s very easy for your thumbs to drift from the control circles, resulting in having to take your eyes off the drone and looking down at your phone or tablet instead.
There are lots of buttons on the app, ones for recording video, taking pictures, changing the drone’s options, and so on. There are a couple of ways to land the drone: one is by pressing that green “LANDING” square in the picture above. That cuts the power to 50% and the drone will try and land wherever it is. There’s also the red “EMERGENCY” button at the top of the screen that simply cuts power to the Parrot 2, at which point it will drop out of the sky like a brick. Yesterday I could not imagine a reason to hit that button but after having the Parrot 2 almost blown out into traffic by a wind gust, I can see where it might come in handy.
It’s also occasionally difficult to figure out which was is forward (especially with the indoor hull on installed) which is why I glued a pair of googly eyes to the front of mine.
Because the Parrot 2 is so light it is very susceptible to wind gusts. Last night after the wind calmed down I took the Parrot 2 outside and was able to capture the following picture of my house:
Five seconds later a wind gust blew the drone over my house and over my neighbor’s house, almost causing it to smash into their roof.
Here are a couple of videos I shot earlier using the Parrot 2. It never dawned on me that the Parrot 2’s camera would not record sound (only video) so I added some generic 8-bit music to it just because it felt very stark. I plan on attaching my Flip camera to it later tonight or tomorrow (if I’m not feeling better) and see if I can’t record two angles (along with some sound).
Almost immediately I need to order another battery and another indoor hull for my Parrot 2 (maybe with birthday money). I’d like to try flying the thing a little higher outside but I’ll have to wait until the wind dies down (and I get a little braver) before I do that.
EDIT: I forgot to mention how long the thing can fly. On a normal 1000 mHa battery, the Parrot 2 can fly for 8-12 minutes. With the 1500 mHa batteries I bought, you can fly for 12-18 minutes (each). The batteries take 90 minutes to fully charge. Also, the drone is able to fly high — really high. Even though the app supposedly limits the drone to 100m (roughly 330 feet) there are several videos on Youtube of people flying the Parrot 2 1,000 feet or higher (but not in Oklahoma wind…)
Posted at 1:36 pm by RobOHara in Misc, Reviews
What do you get the guy who has everything? This is a problem my father and I run into buying gifts for each other every year. While neither of us are rolling in cash, we both have a tendency to buy the things we want, leaving few gift ideas for each other when holidays roll around. The end result is, we often end up buying each other really unique gifts. For my birthday this year, dad bought me a YourBell. One thing I can definitely say is … I definitely didn’t have one already!
The YourBell, from BCS Ideas, is a replacement doorbell that plays MP3s (or WAV files) whenever someone rings your doorbell. YourBell retails for less than $100, comes in a variety of woods and stains, and easily connects to your pre-existing wiring.
Connecting the YourBell couldn’t be simpler. If you already have at least three wires going to your current door chime, you’ll be in business. Wiring diagrams and examples for almost any type of installation are included on the packaged CD. And, if you run into any kind of weird wiring issues (like I did), simply e-mail the company’s support e-mail address (again, locaed on the CD as well as the BCS website). Within 24 hours (over a holiday weekend) I received a response, more documentation, and the engineer’s home phone number if I needed more support. Talk about service!
Sound files are loaded onto the YourBell using an included program and USB cable. The software defaults into a wizard mode that walks you through the four or so steps to loading sounds on to your YourBell. If you load more than one sound, the YourBell will cycle through them one at a time. The documentation says that the YourBell holds “about four minutes worth of music.” The CD also contains freeware audio editing tools and a CD ripper, but I can’t imagine anyone buying an MP3-playing doorbell who doesn’t already own such programs. The installtion of the tools is optional so I’m not complaining.
The wiring from your wall connects to a small plug which itself plugs into the YourBell. The YourBell hangs on the wall like a picture frame, so removing it is a simple matter of disconnecting the rear plug and removing it from the wall. If you’re like me you’ll probably be reflashing songs on the thing on a weekly basis, so its nice to be able to easily remove the unit from the wall.
For our test run, my son chose Ghostbusters as our doorbell. Minutes later, cooler heads prevailed — now the unit blares the chorus from Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” whenever someone rings our bell. Runners up included Men At Work’s “Who Can It Be Now?”, Guns and Roses’ “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” and that annoying disco song, “Knock on Wood.”
So for that technology-lovin’ guy in your life who has everything (or for yourself!), I highly recommend the YourBell. Great concept, great product, great technical support. And I guarantee the person you’re about to buy one for doesn’t have one already.
Posted at 1:35 pm by RobOHara in Misc, Reviews
In 1998 I got both my first cell phone (a Nokia 5160) and my first PalmPilot (a Palm III). I fell in love with the mobile access a phone provided combined with the storage and utilities offered by a PDA. For the first time I felt as though I had the beginnings of a complete mobile office with me in my pockets at all times. Yes, pockets. In 1998 I also started wearing cargo pants. With a cell phone, PDA, digital camera, wallet and keys with me at all times, I needed all the pockets I could get.
Over the past couple of years I’ve watched these products slowly begin to overlap. When this happens, one of the technologies almost always suffers. “It’s a camera and a phone … but the camera sucks.” “My camcorder takes still pictures as well … but they suck.” “My phone has a calendar system included … but it sucks.” That’s a lot of sucking. In my mind I knew what I wanted — a cell phone combined with a PalmPilot, with complete functionality in both products.
Enter the Treo 650
I rarely buy products the minute they come out any more; I love new technology, but I hate paying to be a beta tester. After working the kinks out of their Treo 600, PalmOne released the Treo 650, a combination PalmPilot/Phone/Camera.
Large Color Screen
Combination Full Keyboard and Stylus
Full Cell Phone Functionality
Full PalmPilot Compatibility
640×480 Camera Phone
SD Ram Slot
The Treo’s list of features is mind boggling. This phone is not recommended for people who have trouble setting the time on their VCR — or really even for people who still own a VCR. There’s a learning curve to figuring out the ins and outs of the Treo. The battery life seems to last a week for moderate usage. The screen is very big and very bright, bigger and brighter than any phone but smaller than the one on my Palm Zire. The first thing I’ll need is a case — the phone slides comfortably into my front pocket, but I cannot hear it ringing in there. As a matter of fact, I can’t hear much of anything — my first goal is to find how to crank up every volume level on the phone. The mute switch on the top of the phone is new and handy. The phone is thinner than it looks in pictures.
The Unit as a Whole
After charging the unit I noticed a green blinking light. That light means, “hey — I’m working!” It’ll be on as long as your phone is on. Get used to it. Despite the poptart’ish shape of the unit, the Treo fits in your hand nicely both while talking on the phone or using its PDA features. The 650 includes a data cable for connecting to your PC’s USB port. Unlike my older Zire, the 650’s data cable includes a physical “Sync Button”.
My first impression of the Treo’s phone was, “it’s not loud enough.” Seriously, I simply could not hear people even after cranking the volume up to the maximum setting. (See 3rd Parties to the Rescue below.) Dialing is performed by either pressing “virtual” buttons on the phone’s touchscreen, or real buttons on the phone’s small but functional keyboard. I found the touchscreen worked best while driving, and works even better if you use the “corner” of your thumb. The 650 comes with a selection of “MIDI’ish” ring tones. Out of the box the 650 will not accept MP3’s as ringtones. (See 3rd Parties to the Rescue below.) If you previously owned a PalmPilot, all your old contacts will be imported into your dialing list the first time you sync your 650 to your computer. If you’ve been a good boy/girl and had everyone in different categories, this’ll work well. If you are like me and never sorted your contact list, you may suddenly see hundreds of people in your contact list. Fortunately, these can be easily sorted into categories.
The Treo 650 is a powerful PalmPilot. Prior to this unit I had a Palm Zire 72, and before that I owned a Palm III. Every program I used on those other two units works on this one as well. My 650 shipped with version 4.1.4 of Palm’s familiar Desktop software. For new PDA owners, Palm Desktop allows read and write Palm data on their laptop. Your calendar, contact list, tasks and other vital information is sync’ed to and from your phone via this program, allowing you to do data entry on your computer (where it’s much faster and easier to do). I had several problems with my Zire (for example: I could never get photos taken on my phone and saved to an external memory card to sync up to my PC) that were all solved in the 650. If I noticed anything at all it was that most Palm programs are designed with a stylus and handwriting in mind. With the 650’s keyboard there is no more handwriting shortcuts, which means you’ll find yourself both holding the stylus and trying to type at the same time in many programs.
I had a few issues with running programs off an added memory card. From my experience, adding an SD Ram card is most useful for storing things like documents and audio/video files. Many programs simply weren’t written to run from a memory card and get confused when you ask them do so.
The Treo 650 comes with a 640×480 camera. That being said, it’s the best 640×480 camera I’ve seen to date. Although my Palm Zire’s camera had double the resolution (1280×1024), the pictures looked horrible at that resolution. Even when they were shrunk down to 640×480, the Treo’s camera still looks better. The 650 is capable of capturing both photos and videos. You can set the phone to default to a memory card which should work for just about any outing — a 512 meg card can store over 7,000 photos.
All pictures appear in Palm Desktop as well as a directory on your hard drive, making pulling pictures from the unit extremely simple and quick.
When I bought my 650 I didn’t have any bluetooth devices so I disabled it. For Christmas, my wife bought me a wireless bluetooth headset. I enabled bluetooth on the phone and it saw the headset. That’s about all I can tell you — it works and was simple to set up.
The 650 comes with both an e-mail client and a web browser. When I purchased the phone I signed up for data access as well (not included in your regular phone service). For $40 (!) I got unlimited data access per month. The e-mail program works well, although I ended up checking most of my messages via webmail instead. The included web browser (Blazer) works as well, and has a few convenient features like easy to access favorites and the ability to view sites with a few different “modes” to make web surfing on a 320×320 screen slightly more bearable. If you have a need to be connected to the net while away from home, the Treo 650 will do it.
Out of the box, the 650 has no way to connect to WiFi networks (See 3rd Parties to the Rescue below), so at the time subscribing to Cingular’s data service for an additional $40 a month was the only way to get your Treo online.
3rd Parties to the Rescue
Although I fell in love with my 650 the moment I took it home, it still had a few flaws. I’ve been able to overcome each of these flaws through several third party programs. Some of these I’d almost consider mandatory for fellow 650 owners.
My biggest problem with the phone out of the box was that I couldn’t hear anything. Within minutes of owning the phone I was Googling for solutions and ran across VolumeCare ($15), which allows you to boost your 650’s volume level. You can even select different levels for your ring tone, speaker, mic, headset, and sound effects. Awesome, and much needed.
My second search focused on how to get this $500 multimedia phone to use MP3’s as ringtones. Phone Tecnician ($6) allows you to do just that, along with setting an MP3 for your SMS notification alert as well. Phone technician has a few other hacks which allow you to control that dang blinking LED and to blank your screen while you’re talking, saving battery life. There are other apps out there that do the same thing, but this one was $6 and works well. Another great program is Ringo ($30), which allows you to set specific ring tones (including MP3’s) for specific incoming callers, as well as displaying your friend’s pictures when they call and reading the numbers aloud (Voice Caller ID).
Palm File Browser
It makes no sense to me why I can’t browse every USB-connecting devices like a USB drive. With PC2PDA installed, you can. It’s a bit clunky to use; you’ll need to run an app on both your phone and your PC to get it to work, and the file copies aren’t as slick as most FTP clients, but moving files to/from your Treo works just fine.
Last year a WiFi card was released for several PalmPilots, although it was announced it would not work on the 650. Then hackers made them work. You can get Palm WiFi cards for a little over $100, but if you’re really wanting something slick check out Enfora’s WiFi adapter ($129) for the 650. It slides on the back of your phone and enables WiFi access. A must for nerds like myself.
While not a must, it’s surprising that this feature wasn’t included as well. What’s not surprising is that Palm is now selling Voice Dialing by VoiceSignal for $19.95. As advertised, the software allows you to dial either names from your contact list or numbers using only your voice. Handy while driving.
Six Month Follow-up
I’ve owned my Treo 650 for a little over six months now. Acutally, that’s not true — I’m on my second 650. Two months ago, my phone came unhooked from my belt loop and fell from waist high down onto a tile floor, cracking the screen. I ordered a new screen from eBay for $100 in an attempt to replace it. I failed, and rendered my old Treo inoperable. It ended up being an expensive venture — the $400 I paid originally was with a two year service agreement. Without that, I paid and additional $650 for a replacement phone (not to mention the $100 for the additional screen). Ouch, ouch, and more ouch. Lesson learned. I am very, VERY careful with my Treo these days.
Screen-breakage aside, I’ve been pretty happy with the unit overall. VoiceDial and VolumeCare are mandatory purchases as far as I’m concerned. Voice dialing should have been built into this phone but wasn’t, and the phone simply isn’t loud enough for me to hear conversations if I’m in a car or in a restaurant (maybe that’s the idea).
Having many devices rolled into one is both a blessing and a curse. It’s great to have a camera, phone and PDA with me at all times; however, if my battery dies or the unit breaks (like when my screen broke) you lose access to all three devices at once. Really this is what’s kept me from using the unit as an MP3 players as often as I had originally hoped for.
My infatuation with the wireless access turned out to be short lived. The $40 “unlimited” data plan only included the receiving of data — sending data (including e-mails and posting on forums) turned out to be extra. When I saw additional charges lumped in on top of the “unlimited” plan, I cancelled it all. I don’t have any mission critical e-mails I need to receive, and I’ve found that when I’m near a wireless signal and need to check my e-mail my laptop is almost as convenient as the phone. Surfing the web via the Treo is pretty slow and rough on sites not designed for it. Some sites such as Google do have optimized pages for mobile devices, but whatever you’re searching for most likely won’t.
I love having the additional ram installed, but overall I’ve been disappointed on how few programs will run from it. Most of the programs I’ve tried need to be installed on the phone itself. The extra storage works well for photo, video, and MP3 storage, but I feel like I’m already beginning to run out of space on the phone itself when it comes to applications. With the memory card installed, I can take every Excel spreadsheet containing every movie, album and videogame I own with me — convenient for not buying dupes while out shopping.
Overall I am very pleased with my (now +$1,000) investment. I can’t imagine leaving the home without my Treo by my side.
Posted at 1:35 pm by RobOHara in DS, GBA, Misc, Reviews
The Super Card SD is a flashcart for the Nintendo Gameboy Advance and Nintendo DS. (I dont currently own a Nintendo DS, so for this review the Super Card SD was only tested on a Gameboy Advance.)
The difference between the Super Card line of flashcarts and most other carts is instead of having on board memory, the Super Card has a slot where either SD RAM or CF RAM (depending on the model purchased) can be inserted into the cart. Most GBA flashcarts start at 128 megabits of storage (32 megabytes) and cannot be expanded. For approximately the same price you can now get a Super Card and a 512 meg SD RAM cart (16x the amount of storage). However, like the old saying goes, size isnt everything.
The Super Card lets you do some pretty neat things with your Gameboy Advance. The Super Card home page (http://www.supercard.cn) has utilities that will let you read e-books, look at JPG pictures, and even watch videos (after converting them to GBA Media Format) on your GBA. The Super Card also has built in support for several types of emulation ROMs, including NES, GameGear/SMS, PC-Engine, and original Gameboy (but not GBC) games. The real (illegal) reason most people buy these cards is to allow them to play downloaded Gameboy Advance ROMs for free on their GBA.
Transfering GBA games to your Super Card is relatively simple. First, youll need some Gameboy Advance ROMs (Google). Next, youll need a way to read/write to your SD card. Third, youll need to install the Super Card Software, which you can download from the Super Card site. The rest is a piece of cake. The software will convert/patch your ROMs to work with the Super Card. Copying each game over only takes a matter of seconds. Turning on your GBA reveals a simple text menu, at which the games can be selected. After being patched and converted, the card also allows for save states, saving to/from the card, and dropping back to the menu without cycling the units power. Games can also be compressed on the SD card (trading free space for uncompressing load times), but with so many 4 meg games on a 256 meg, 512 meg or 1 gig card, I cant imagine needed to save space.
So whats not to like? Compatibility issues, for one. Several of the GBA ROMs I tried flat out wouldnt work. Some wouldnt run at all; others ran but with graphical glitches, or locked up during gameplay. The good news is the card is easily flashed with firmware upgrades which are continually improving compatibility, but that doesnt help you if the game you really want to play isnt currently supported.
The original Super Card SD (the one I ordered) is slightly longer than a real GBA cart, causing the cart to stick out the front of the cartridge slot a bit. The new Super Card Mini is the same size as a real GBA cart.
As the owner of an EZF Advance as well, Im torn between the two products. While the EZF offers more compatibility, the gigantic amount of storage possible on the Super Card is phenomenal. The native support for NES and SMS ROMs is nice as well. Its a good product; to be great, Super Card needs to improve its compatibility list.
Posted at 1:33 pm by RobOHara in Misc, Reviews
When travelling to a new city, one of the first things I do upon arriving in town is pick up the free local entertainment rags; not the town’s newspaper, but those free ‘zines you find lying around in coffee shops and record stores. These are the true guides to a town’s culture. Independently-owned restaurants, clubs and bands tend to be featured (and advertise) in these more than your big chains. And as we continue to migrate every aspect of our lives and entertainment online, so too have these guides to local culture. One such site is LA2DAY.com.
LA2DAY bills itself as a guide to “LA lifestyle, culture and perspectives,” and that it is. With categories ranging from nightlife and fashion to dining and toys, LA2DAY mixes local flavor with national topics. The website is filled with interesting articles sorted by categories, making reading, skimming, and locating interesting articles simple.
For anyone living in or simply visiting the LA area, three sections may prove to be useful. The first is the nightlife category, which mixes humorous articles (The Seven Reasons You’re Going Home Alone) to reviews of local hotspots. The second helpful section would be the dining section, which contains dozens of reviews of local eateries. The third spot locals and visitors alike will get some use out of is the calendar, which is filled with enough concerts and events to keep you busy for weeks on end.
The rest of the site is filled with interesting and insightful articles filed under categories such as music, movies, health and beauty and even toys. The site’s articles are more than simple reviews; the reviews that are posted are in depth, and the feature articles show true journalistic merit.
Even if you’ve never been or LA (and never plan on going), check out LA2DAY.com for a west coast spin on entertainment and more.
Posted at 1:32 pm by RobOHara in Books, Misc, Reviews
Jared Fogle, the man who lost over half his body weight by switching to a strict regiment of Subway sandwiches, has written a book. But Jared, the Subway Guy is not a diet book. Instead, its the story of Jareds life, bundled with inspirational bullets.
Anyone who has ever been overweight will relate to many of Jareds stories included within the book. There are stories about secretly eating alone, about being embarrassed in P.E. class, about having to weigh in the doctors office and about girls quietly snickering as he passes by in a lonely school hallway. As Jareds weight skyrockets in college and he surpasses the 400lb mark, he knows something must be done. The book chronicles his story and several of his diet attempts before he invents his own, now dubbed The Subway Diet.
As Jared frequently mentions, .Jared, the Subway Guy is not intended as a diet book. In the book Jared documents how he plummets from his massive 425 pounds down to under 200 in a short amount of time by switching to a steady diet of Subway sandwiches all while not exercising. Those looking to duplicate Jareds success should also know that he was also taking in over 10,000 calories a day (more than enough for five adult men). At that point, Jared could have gone to eating a large pizza for every meal and still lost weight.
The books subtitle is Winning Through Losing: 13 Steps for Turning Your Life Around. At the end of each chapter, Jared offers inspirational advice that can be applied toward any goal or overcoming any obstacle, whether its weight loss or some other type of addiction. His advice is honest but sometimes over simplistec. Overall I had very few complaints about the book. My wife had hoped for more information about his life as a celebrity (the book ends around the time of his first commercial), and I had hoped for at least one before and after photo. Regardless, the book delivers what it promises — an inspirational story, and advice on how you too can get started down the right path.
The point Jared makes throughout the book is that there is no magic pill for weight loss. Its not really about the sandwiches its about finding your inner strength. Its about hitting rock bottom. Its about knowing that you have the power to change your own destiny.
And that knowledge is tastier than any six-inch Subway Veggie Delight, believe me.
Posted at 1:31 pm by RobOHara in Misc, Reviews
Let’s face it, MP3s are really convenient. They’re small, they’re mobile, they offer good quality, they don’t skip … all in all, they’re pretty amazing. The problem is they don’t play on normal stereos, and without an MP3 enabled system you’re kind stuck listening to them on your computer. There are lots of car stereos now that are MP3 compatible, but there’s a much cheaper alternative available. Enter the I-Rocks.
For what it does, I-Rocks is incredibly inexpensive and quite amazing. The top of the unit contains a USB port which will accept basically any USB thumb drive. The bottom of the I-Rocks plugs into your vehicle’s cigarette lighter. Without any modification to your car’s stereo, the I-Rocks plays MP3 songs from your thumb drive and broadcasts them over your radio. Just tune to one of four selectable radio stations on your car stereo, and you’ll be jammin’ in no time. Neat!
Well, kind of neat. Before I complain about the product too much I do have to say that for the price, this is a pretty amazing little piece of hardware. Installation is measured in seconds. After plugging in your thumb drive, I-Rocks scans it for MP3s and plays them alphabetically, sorted by folder.
Unfortunately, the unit lacks many useful features. The front of the unit contains five buttons, two of which are reset, and change station. The other three allow you to move forward one track, move backward one track, and pause the player. There is no fast forward or rewind, which would be really useful if you plan on listening to audiobooks or podcasts on the unit. Likewise there’s no way to skip forward more than one track at a time, so putting multiple albums on your memory stick at once can become a pain if you want to jump to the last one.
Another strange feature of the unit is that it’s always on. The play/pause button contains a superbright blue LED which will fill your car’s cabin at night with glowing blue light. When playing the light flashes, which makes it even more annoying. And when you get out of your car you will notice something — the light’s still blinking, and if your thumb drive has a usage LED on it, you’ll see it still flashing as well. Both the power outlet and the cigarette lighter in the front of my vehicle power the unit even after my car keys have been removed. Pausing the player doesn’t kill the power either. After leaving my thumb drive in the car for only a couple of days it was burning hot when I removed it.
The unit comes with a wire antenna that plugs into the side of the unit. You might not think that an antenna would be needed with a device so close to your stereo, but I found that the quality significantly improved when it was connected. But even with the antenna connected the unit’s sound quality never got much better than “good”. Even with high quality MP3 files I found the sound quality to be less than that of most of my regular radio stations. The I-Rocks has a tendency to muddy most songs, squelching highs and blurring bass. It’s still listenable, but the drop in quality is quite noticable.
Within a couple of months, my unit began falling apart. Occasionally it resets itself. I’ve had to take apart and tighten the power adapter portion at least once. I also feel compelled to mention that one of my thumb drives (out of two) quit working altogether while it was in the unit, and after that my computer would no longer recognize it and it had to eventually be thrown away. Coincidence? Who knows. I ended up purchasing a 256 meg USB thumb drive and it works perfectly with the unit — it’s small enough that it scans and begins playing quickly. I have also tested 2 gig and 4 gig drives, both of which worked fine.
It feels wrong to complain too much about the I-Rocks. For only $20 you can easily and quickly add the ability to play MP3s in any car without any technical knowledge. I would happily pay more ($40-$50) for a unit with a few more options (random shuffle, perhaps?) that was built a bit sturdier. I suspect we’ll see these things in the next generation of these devices.
Posted at 1:30 pm by RobOHara in Misc, Reviews
Every Star Wars diorama I set up in my bedroom as a kid had the same problem — a lack of extras. Ships and starring roles were never a problem — I had plenty of those — but what I didn’t have were the dozens of extra Stormtroopers needed to make a convincing scene from the Death Star. Darth Vader didn’t look near as menacing with only two Stormtroopers standing behind him, and my cantina scene looked downright sad with only Greedo, Walrus Man, Snaggletooth and Hammerhead hanging around the bar.
For fans of horror films and dioramas, Accoutrements has addressed this problem with the release of their Horrified B-Movie Victims. As the back of the packaging states, “We provide the screaming hordes! You provide the monster!” If only they had made Stormtroopers back in the day!
Included in the Horrified B-Movie Victims package are nine horrified b-movie victims — four women and five men, in various states of acting horrified. Four of the figures appear to be running away some unknown terror while the other five appear to be facing it, giving display makers some variety when it comes to placing their victims. Each victim is approximately three inches tall — too short to flee from my cantina display, but just the right height to appear terrified when placed next to the average toy monster.
While these figures may only appeal to a small, niche audience, I must fall within that demographic. I love these figures! I’ve had a blast arranging them in my cubicle, and my co-workers people have had a kick out of seeing what horrific creature will be chasing them next. Anyone who sets up displays around their work area (or just has a sick sense of humor) can pick up these figures from Archie McPhee, Accoutrements’ online store.
Posted at 1:29 pm by RobOHara in Books, Misc, Reviews
The Electric Stapler, one of the hundred or so textfiles making up the End of Dayz compilation, opens with a rather profound statement: This is my first article for SOL, the author writes, and the main reason Im writing it is because no-one in the real world will listen to me.
As dependant on mathematics as computers are, it is amazing the amount of art people have been able to produce with them, both as a medium and a vehicle. In the early days of home computing, for a few hundred dollars budding artists could create pictures, music, poetry and literature electronically in their own homes and later, thanks to the proliferation of modems, they began sharing their creations with other kindred souls. What eventually grew out of this online artistic culture were scenes, the most eclectic of the bunch being what was referred to as the textfile scene.
There exists a misnomer that the text scene consisted of less talented individuals than perhaps the art or music scenes. This error rose from the fact that since writing was probably the most accessible of all the arts, a lot of people participated in it; everyone from literary geniuses down to kids who wrote, well, because no one in the real world would listen to them. During the height of the scenes popularity, poets, fiction writers, hackers, anarchists, humorists, reviewers, and anyone else who had the desire to express his or herself began turning on their computers, jotting down their thoughts, and sharing them as files for the world to read. So while the textfile scene may have had a higher signal-to-noise ratio than the other scenes, there was definitely a lot of good work being produced. As a writer, a former sysop, and the founder of multiple lit groups, I have an affinity for old textfiles each one represents a sliver of my own history. And End of Dayz, a compilation of textfiles released over a fourteen-year span by the group The Syndicate of London, serves as a time capsule, giving readers a priceless look into the life and minds of scene writers, and the text scene as a whole.
The individual texts that comprise End of Dayz cover such topics as religion, sex and everything in between. There are serious essays, comedic pieces, fictional stories and even poems and songs. The articles vary in quality as much as they do in subject and style; some offer apologies for how bad they are, while others (particularly many in the Culture section) are so good that they truly deserve a wider audience than this books target audience. Some of the files made me think, I guess you had to be there, while others made me feel as though I had been. The differences between authors keep the book from presenting a single voice; then again, the emerging cacophony of voices does, in fact, encapsulates the anarchic online existence as a whole.
The tome is mighty. Just shy of 500 pages, End of Dayz has enough variety to offer readers bit of everything. But dont let the size intimidate you; the majority of the texts are ten pages or less in length, short enough to be read in one (bathroom) sitting, and the variety of subjects keep the book continually fresh. As a single body of work the book may seem somewhat confusing, but when viewed as a historical compendium, the compilations true merit shines through. Recommended to all sceners and BBS aficionados alike.
End of Dayz is available through Lulu.
Posted at 1:28 pm by RobOHara in Misc, Reviews
According to a survey by Jon Peddie Research (as referenced in a recent New York Times article), adding a second monitor to your work station will increase your productivity by 20 to 30 percent. If you already have a dual monitor setup you are either nodding along in agreement or saying to yourself, “only 30%?” The fact is, having two side-by-side monitors makes a lot of daily easier.
Setting up dual monitors takes a little work and a little money. You’ll need two video out ports (and, obviously, two monitors). Windows and many other operating systems support dual monitors by default. Unfortunately, just because your operating system supports multiple monitors doesn’t mean your programs will by default. To simplify the entire process, Matrox has released their external DualHead2Go box.
Simply explained, the DualHead2Go has one input and two outputs. Connecting the DualHead2Go couldn’t be simpler; simply connect the box to your computer’s video card via an included cable, and connect your monitors to the box’s two output ports.
There are advantages to using an external dual monitor solution like the DualHead2Go over simply adding a second video card to your PC. One advantage is, through the use of a KVM system, you can use the DualHead2Go on multiple machines at once. Another advantage to the DualHead2Go is that both the video cards are identical. If you were to add a second videocard to your PC chances are it would not be identical to the first one (especially if it’s onboard) which can lead to resolution and performance differences. One final advantage is that Windows sees the box as one videocard instead of two. If you run dual video cards, Windows will see two separate monitors (1280×1024, and another 1280×1024, for example). Instead of two separate entities, Windows sees the Matrox box as one giant 2560×1024 monitor. That simplifies a lot of things. The two disadvantages I can see with using an external dual monitor solution is the price ($150, which isn’t astronomical but higher than a cheap videocard), and installation complexity. Read on.
Matrox’s DualHead2Go is billed as a plug and play solution, which it’s not. We delivered three DualHead2Go to three different computer experts, and the average installation time was around two hours. This included a lot of troubleshooting in getting the product to work through a KVM. If you are not sharing the box between multiple systems, except significantly less installation times.
Along with the video connections, the DualHead2Go also connects to your PC via a USB cable. The documentation claims that the USB cable is only used for power, but that cable became the source of our troubleshooting problems for a couple of hours. To configure the DualHead2Go, you must install the included PowerDesk SE software. We could not get the software to run unless the USB cable was directly connected to the computer we were installing the software on. In other words, in a multiple-system environment, you must either directly plug the USB cable into each machine when installing and configuring the software, or you need a KVM system that shares USB connections among all the connected machines. Fortunately, the software is only needed to install and configure the unit. Once your video display has been configured, the software no longer needs to run (and it won’t, if the USB cable is disconnected). This took an hour or so of troubleshooting to figure out.
On two of the three systems I tried the Matrox DualHead2Go on, it worked as advertised. Using the onboard videocard of a Dell 260 I was able to get 2048×768 (1024×2 width). Using an added on PCI card, I was able to get 2560×1024 (1280×2 width). While the card supported more, the KVM limited me to this resolution. My laptop (a Dell 620) also ran 2560×1024 with no problems. The third system, a Dell 490 running Windows 2003 Server, would not work at all. The software gives a DDraw error upon installation. The software does not implicitly say 2003 is supported, even though the website does. Repeated Googling for the error only returns dead links to Matrox’s now defunct website. I was not able to determine if the problem was due to the hardware or Windows Server 2003. Downloading the latest version of the PowerDesk software from Matrox’s website did not help.
On the two systems the PowerDesk SE software did install on, the Matrox DualHead2Go unit worked as advertised. Both systems are now running at 2560×1024. The DualHead2Go is available in both analog and digital models. I purchased the digital version, and the video quality is great. I have not tried any graphically-intense games yet, but normal day-to-day operations work beautifully. If nothing else, leaving my e-mail open in monitor B while working in monitor A is incredibly convenient.
For those with more desk space than common sense, Matrox now offers the TripleHead2Go for connecting three monitors to your computer or laptop, offering a 3840×1024 resolution.