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Dec 25,2007(Christmas Day)
Dec 24,2007(Christmas Eve)
We wish all our readers a safe and happy holiday. See you all next year!!! - Wan Chi Lau (permalink)
Scrapbooking is the fastest growing segment in the crafting market. Xyron is one of the major player in that space. We have reviewed many of their gear over the years and have found them to be well designed and easy to use.
To help in all the creative ways of preserving the memories of this Holiday season for future generations, you may want to check out some of the gear assembled here.
For custom labeling and border printing, the DesignRunner and DiscMaker are a powerful pair. To glue things down or laminate, Xyron has many options ranging from small double sided strips to large full page sealers.
To cut intricate outlines or make 3-D shapes, the Xyron Wishblade is the cutter of choice. There are others on the market, but non has the versatility and flexibility of the Wishblade. - Wan Chi Lau (permalink)
The software we use most often to put everything together is Apple's iLife. However, there are other capable entrants that may worth of a look. One such application is Memory Mixer. It is a stand-alone piece of software which can run on either the Mac or the PC.
MemoryMixer can help create Calendars, PhotoBooks, Cards, or interactive DVDs. It comes with a ton of templates, backgrounds, and other enhancements to personalize your scrapbook creations. So this season's memorable moments, properly preserved, will make lovely personal gifts all year around.- Wan Chi Lau (permalink)
Apple's iPod Touch will undoubtedly be under many Christmas trees this Holidays. We had picked up a few 16GB units ourselves just to see what all the buzz has been about: high-rez screens, multi-touch gestures, auto-rotating displays, etc...
First thing we noticed were the different covers on the iPod boxes. Very clever for the Cupertino wizards to know that TRUE Apple fanboys will purchase multiple units just to "collect" these different boxes (which was NOT why we got all these iPod Touches).
The complete package include the USB charging cable, adaptor, ear buds, and a microfiber cleaning cloth. The unit has a solid feel and is heavier than expected from it's thin profile.
There is a power button on the top left corner, a single toggle button at the bottom front, an USB and a headphone connector at the bottom. The WiFi antenne is visble on the back. If the unit has enough power, the "Welcome" screen will come on when the power button is pressed.
Personally, we would have preferred a brushed stainless steel back instead of a shiny chrome one. Yes, we know the screen and the chrome back will get all full of fingerprints, but the iPod Touch is one shiny piece of techy goodness! Also, it is a LOT thinner than we thought possible. Check out how it compares with the nano!
Unlike any other music player on the market, the iPod Touch is ALL display. The controls appears when the screen is touched. The device itself will also sense its orientation, rotating the display as appropriate. We will have more to say about the usability of the unit in a future article. For now, we just want to watch some YouTube videos.
How does one go about protecting the iPod Touch? With an Otter Box case of course! Tell us which one you would use to protect the iPod Touch. If you think you know, send us an email with the subject line "I've got it covered." In the email, tell us which one you would use. There will be something for those with the correct answer. - Wan Chi Lau (permalink)
2007 RainyDayGift Guides
RainyDayMagazine does not support piracy, but we also hate it when our music, video, and other digital files are locked in such a way that they will play only on proprietary devices. DRM was the main reason why we stopped using our Napster subscriptions. It is also why we LOVE our Neuros OSD!!!
Not content with providing just great gear so folks can put their digital entertainment on gear most convenient for themselves, Neuros has begun to spearhead a movement to help consumers readily indentify companies and products free of the DRM shackles.
Hopefully, the "unlocked" logo will catch on. We plan to promote it at every opportunity. Ask for it. Look for it. Spead the word. - Wan Chi Lau (permalink)
When we are not saving data to the terabyte drive, we write it out on to CD and DVD discs. The discs are cheap and reliable. Our problem have been how to best store and more importantly, access these discs when we need to?
DiscGear has recently introduced a product called Selector 100. It is both a disc organizer/container and retriever. Pressing the tab on the left will release a tray with an index for storing the info regarding each disc.
To retrieve a disc, move the slider to the appropriate position and press the long tab. The proper disc will be pulled from the collection and can be easily removed.
The Selector 100 is a much better option than just stacking the discs on top of each other in a spindle (our current method). Not only will the discs not be scratched, the Selector 100 will actually be able to pull the one you want out of the stack when you need it!!! - Wan Chi Lau (permalink)
BTW, congrats to John B of Memphis for discovering the clue and winning the free Selector 100. We sent it out already...hope it gets there before Christmas :-) There are still other "unopened" presents hidden all over the place. Just remember, they will all turn back into pumpkins on Dec 25th... so find them before then or you will have to wait until next year!
Apparently you all REALLY wanted to know more about this Suunto Lumi watch :-) Instead of answering the emails individually, we thought we would post the answers to the most frequently asked questions here.
Yes, this would make for a good Holiday present for your girl.
No, she will not have to be an engineer to figure out how to work it.
Yes, it will look "right" for work AND play.
No, cutting the band to size is not a big deal.
Yes, it will fit a man's wrist...but you may want a different band.
No, you can't have this one.
Folks here will be taking it out for a spin over the next few weeks for the FirstLook/FirstUse tests. We can already tell that they will have a lot to say about this Lumi. - Wan Chi Lau (permalink)
Tech gear design is pretty much gender-neutral. OK...maybe totally skewed toward men, but we don't believe it was done intentionally. Suunto decided it is time to do something about that. In the creation of their new outdoors/adventure line, they paid design attention to gear for both men (Core) and women (Lumi).
The two different branches (Core, Lumi) share the same basic technologies, but the implementation and presentation are distinct. We won't dive into their differences in this report, but will remark that everyone here LOVES the clean smart look of the Lumi.
We did not have time to check out any of the features of the watch, but we did have time to get some photos of it so you can get a better idea of the physical details. Click on any of the images below for a closer look at the Lumi.
We'll have the FirstLook report at the start of the new year. In the meantime, if you want to get your girl the latest in outdoor wrist-worn technology, head on over to the Suunto site and check out the Lumi. You might want to take a look at the Core while you are there... maybe you have been a good boy as well? - Wan Chi Lau (permalink)
Dec 18,2007(RainyDayGiftGuide - Books)
Some of the best presents we have ever received were books. Like DVDs, there is a right one for everybody. For this year's book recommendations, we have assembled some of our favorites. Click on the items in the photo below for a closer look at the individual books.
The bird watchers on your list will love this book of Bird Songs with a built-in audio player. They can hear the chirps and calls of 250 North America species. For those on your list who likes to look a little further out, Astronomy Hacks will help them get the most out of their telescopes. The Illustrated Guide to Astronomical Wonders will let them know where to point the scope.
For those who like to get their hands dirty, MAKE magazine will give them loads of DIY ideas and WIRED will keep them current on the latest in tech.
Our favorite books in 2007 are something you don't have to read at all. RainyDayMagazine's book recommendation for 2007 is the Harry Potter Audio book collection (117 hrs total). We have listened to the complete series twice since September and we have enjoyed EVERY minute of it. Forget who may be on your shopping list, you should just buy a set for yourself. - Wan Chi Lau (permalink)
Dec 17,2007(RainyDayGiftGuide - DVDs)
There are some people for which it is hard to buy gifts. If they are on your Holiday list, consider getting them some DVDs. The following is a collection of some of our favorites. Click on them to read about them on Amazon. Click on an ornament if you want a closer look at the collection.
Watching DVD movies on a 90" screen is about as close to being at a theater at home. When we want the large screen experience, we use the LumenLab eVo projector. There are other $500 projectors out there. Some of them have all the features of the eVo, but none with a $30 replacement lamp! - Wan Chi Lau (permalink)
Dec 16,2007(RainyDayGiftGuide - Stuffers)
Looking for some fun stocking stuffer ideas? Want some suggestions which will are both useful and won't break the bank? We have put together a few suggestions that may be exactly what you are looking for.
For the non-smokers on your list, get them something useful for that cigarette lighter in their car. The handy Weiguo LED SpotLight replaces the lighter and stays charged using the 12V socket. Another great tool for the car's glovebox is the Bit Dr. This compact multi-bit tool was designed by the same folks who created the BionicWrench.
If you have gear which uses batteries, the eneloop rechargeables are what you need. Fast charging, stays charged for a year, recharges 1000x... what more do you want? For jotting down quick notes, we have found the PicoPad to be the best analog PDA on the market. It will fit in a wallet, includes a pen, and does not require batteries.
We'll have a few more suggestions over the next few days. Also, you may want to revisit the various RainyDayGiftGuides (hint, hint) as Santa may have placed various "presents" amongst the gift suggestions (hint, hint). The only rule is they must be "opened" before Dec 25th. Happy Holidays!!! - Wan Chi Lau (permalink)
Dec 15,2007(RainyDayGiftGuide - Bags)
Giving and getting gadgets as presents are great! Giving or getting the perfect case or bag to protect and carry the gear around can be just as much fun! In this chapter of the RainyDayGiftGuide, we have assembled some of our favorite pieces for your consideration.
Some of the cases (Otter Defender, CellKeeper) arrived this past week. Others such as the Tom Bihn (Ego, Zephyr) bags have been in constant use at the office for many months.
Selecting the collection of "gadgets" for the RainyDayGiftGuide was a lot more difficult than we had anticipated. The folks here have reviewed a LOT of interesting items in 2007. A few came in right before the start of the Holiday Season. Do we mention them in the guide or should we play with them first? Ahhh...decisions, decisions.
In the end, we thought we would just assemble a collection of cool gear we would like to see under our tree on Christmas morning.
There are a few items we would like to highlight. For the digital artist on your list, if they are look for a better drawing tool, definitely consider the new Wacom Bamboo line. For those who need to get from A to B, check out two of the GPS (HK500, Navigon) units we use everyday. If they need to get there on time, strap one of these great time pieces (TX, YES, aXbo) on their wrist.
There are many other interesting items in our gadget collection : Otter iPhone case, LED flashlights (SureFire, LumaRay), headphones (Jaybird, EtyCom) and digital recorders (OSD, MP4). So click on any of the items in the photos, check out the RainyDay reviews, and find a perfect gadget for those on your list. - Wan Chi Lau (permalink)
Today Boston got its first snow storm of the season. We took the Boxster to work today thinking we would leave at the first sign of snow. However, by the time we were going to take off, the roads were already gridlocked. So we decide to wait it out until the plows had time to do their thing. The weatherman called it perfectly. The storm started around 2PM, dumped about 10" in a few hours, and was done around 9PM.
The one thing we wasn't sure about was how the Blizzak snow tires on the Boxster would perform in such deep snow. I don't recall what we paid for them, but they were worth EVERY penny.
The 7 mile commute home took 2 hours... mostly because we had to navigate around stuck SUVs, front wheel drive sedans spinning their tires, and other less well equipped vehicles abandoned on the side of the street. Clearly, not everyone had Blizzaks on their car. - Wan Chi Lau (permalink)
Update: After a few days break, we got another 8" of the white stuff. At least this time it was on a Sunday. There should be a nice blanket of snow on the Boxster after it is all done. - Wan Chi Lau (permalink)
If you had always wanted to a portable digital camcorder like the one we made a few years back but never got around to putting one together, then you are in luck. Twenty20 has gone and shrunk all of the components in our BackpackCam into one tiny tapeless unit you can mount anywhere.
The difference between Twenty20's VholdR camera and everything else on the market is the VholdR is totally self-contained. The unit is water/dirt proof, one button on/off, and totally digital. There are no moving parts...just a lens, some electronics, and a case. Awesome!
When we see an innovative product from an up and coming group of folks, we like to give them the exposure they deserve. We will have our FirstLook of the VholdR in January. If you can't wait, then check out the preview from bikemag.com.
To keep size down to a minimum, the VholdR stores its data on a microSD card. This is the only other product we have seen besides the Smartphones to use this storage form factor. Because of its compactness, the VholdR may be mounted virtually anywhere. Twenty20 has created quite a few mounting options for the VholdR. There should be one suitable for whatever activities (biking, skiing, motocross, etc...) you are into.
The first 500 off the line have already been spoken for! If you think the VholdR is for you, then you had better get your name on the waiting list. - Wan Chi Lau (permalink)
In the course of prepping for RainyDayScience's Astronomy section for 2008, the crew here has checked out quite a few suggestions from our readers. One of the more interesting tips was a pointer to an Australian company selling a product called the HUGO.
The HUGO is a telescope based on the Newtonian reflector design. The uniqueness of the HUGO is that it comes disassembled. Part of the fun is the construction of the telescope. It is also very educational to see how a telescope works by assembling it from the ground up.
Unlike astronomers of previous generations, builders of this telescope will not have to grind the mirror or build a mount from scratch. All of the major components (mirror, tube, tripod) are supplied and ready for assembly.
Even though Eliot looked a little worried, the assembly instructions of the HUGO were very well written. The entire unpacking, assembly, and calibration process was thoroughly diagrammed and described. RainyDayMagazine will, of course, provide the usual photo documentation of the various steps along the way:-)
The mirrors (diagonal, primary) have been pre-mounted. Once the telescope has been assembled, they have to be properly aligned and calibrated for optimal performance.
In January we'll complete this series on the construction of the HUGO. RainyDayMagazine's furry intern will then walk readers through the entire assembly process of the tube, tripod, and scope.
Eliot, don't look so surprised...we talked about this on your last performance review. - Wan Chi Lau (permalink)
Dec 10,2007(ToyCollection 2007)
Toys are a big part of the Holidays. We have reviewed our share this year, but here is a collection of new ones just in time for the season. Always fun are toys from WildPlanet. New for 2007 is a collection of Spy Gear for the young secret agent!
Whether is to burn off some of that youthful energy or as an alternative for those with too much time spent on video games, HyperDash is the answer. Not only will HyperDash get them moving, it will get them thinking WHILE moving! It is about time a game built up more than just thumb strength.
Some would say kids today get TOO many toys. That may be true if the toys are crappy, but not if they are fun! So click on these FUN toys and see which ones make sense for those on your list. - Wan Chi Lau (permalink)
Yesterday we showed you how we "plucked" the bottom layer of the Pelican 1650 case's two layers of protective foam to conform to the telescope we want to store in it. Today, we'll finish this project.
Using the outline from the bottom layer as a guide, we were able to quickly remove the foam to create a rough outline for the top layer.
To finish the fitting, we placed the C8 scope in the case and fitted the top layer in place to see where additional foam needed to be removed. The fit was almost right. A few pieces needed to be removed to accommodate the fine focus knob and some of the screws on the finder and the base.
We are thoroughly impressed with every aspect of this Pelican case: the build quality is superb, the Pick'N'Pluck foam was easy to use, and the entire package is easy to transport around (the office at least) when fully loaded.
If you have something important you need protected, get a Pelican and you'll be covered. We'll have a FirstUse update when we use this case to take the C8 out in the field. - Wan Chi Lau (permalink)
The interns were VERY excited about the new Pelican 1650 case when it showed up. We thought the newness would wear off in a few days, but apparently it did not. Today, we started the "fitting" process. Eliot stood watch over the project the entire time!
Before we start, we would like to answer some reader questions regarding the 1650 case. The case IS lockable. The locking tabs are reinforced by steel covers. There are three hinges along the back, not one long one.
To offer maximium shock protection, the best way is to "sandwich" the item between the layers of foam. The best way to custom-fit the Pick'N'Pluck foam to the C8 scope is to work on the bottom layer first, then the top layer.
With the top layer removed and the scope centered, we marked the outline using toothpicks. It is best for things to be a little snug, so we decided to be conservative in our markings and remove additional foam as needed.
The Pick'N Pluck foam is easy to rip. We took out the center chunk in one large block because we want to save some foam for a future project :-)
Note in the outline above the depth of one layer of foam. Since scope is tubular, there will be some free space on the curve part on both sides. The space is just right for storing cables and other such items. There is also extra space in the corners for additional smaller items such as oculars and filters.
The test fitting of the bottom layer showed the outline matched the scope perfectly and wrapped it snugly. It took us about 20 minutes to trace the outline, layout the tooth picks, and rip the foam. This was a LOT quicker than when we had done this in the past for our Olympus OM camera system. - Wan Chi Lau (permalink)
Eliot was quite intrigued by the new Pelican case. Maybe it was the new smell or the grey color of the foam, but he insisted on hovering around as we checked out the various features of the 1650.
The molded Pelican case is built to take the rigors of travel without excessive bulk. There are handles on three sides of the case. Seven double-throw latches secure the lid to the container. Four polyurethane wheels and a retractable handle is built into the bottom of the case. We expect these wheels will roll quiet and smooth even when loaded because of their stainless steel bearings.
Interior protection consists of four layers of foam: 1 egg crate layer on the lid, 2 PickNPluck layers in the middle, and 1 smooth layer at the bottom. There is a pressure relieve valve built into the case to automatically equalize the internal pressure at different altitudes. An O-ring is fully integrated around the edge to provide a watertight seal.
The foam used in the Pelican cases is the open-cell structure variety. The advantage of this type of foam is that it is soft and form-fits to the gear. The PickNPluck foam layer is precut. To create a custom layout for any piece of gear, all that is needed is to trace the outline and take out the unnecessary pieces.
We'll show you how easy it is in our next segment. Alternatives (organizer, divider) to foam pads specifically designed for photographers are also available from Pelican for this case. Those wanting to pack a lot of small items (filters, cables, etc...) may want to consider this option. - Wan Chi Lau (permalink)
When we purchased our Celestron C8 telescope for the upcoming RainyDayScience section (look for it in 2008), it came in the original storage trunk. The trunk is in perfect condition, but we knew we needed to upgrade it if we wanted to take the C8 out in the field.
After checking around the various forums, the majority of the recommendations were for us to check out the Pelican line of water-tight cases. We did and found the Pelican 1650 to be the perfect size upgrade for our original case.
Pelican's reputation for toughness is well known, and they don't just talk the talk. This Pelican case is backed up with an "Unconditional Lifetime Guaranee." A company cannot be any more confident about their products than that!
We'll have a detailed look at the features of this Pelican 1650 case in the FirstLook review. We'll also show you how to layout and custom fit the Celestron C8 and accessories using the PickNPluck foam. - Wan Chi Lau (permalink)
MP3 players are great gadgets. They are small, highly portable, and perfect for the active lifestyle. The one drawback is that sometimes the cord of the headset gets in the way. We have looked at wireless solutions in the past (O ROKR, Saitek wireless), but for one reason or another they were never quite satisfactory.
Recently, a new product came on the market sporting a smart combination of the latest technologies: A2DP, Bluetooth, Li Poly battery. What all that means is these Jaybird headphones will work with your iPods, MP3 players, and cell phones. No need to have a separate set of headphones for your music and your calls.
The Jaybird earpieces are the "in ear" type design. This makes sense both from a sound quality and wearability perspective. Having the earpiece in will reduce ambient noise. It will also be less prone to move out of place when on the go.
Since the earpieces are wireless, they do need power and tend to increase the size of the device. This is the major problem we've had with other devices of this type on the market. The The Jaybird minimizes the size problem by using LiPoly batteries. The batteries are integrated into the hook and are hidden behind the ears.
The ear pieces slides into the charging base and the contacts are aligned automatically. The charger is powered via USB or can be connected directly to an AC adapter.
Once these buds are charged up, we'll try them out with our cell phones, the various iPods, and video players. It will be interesting to see how these headphones compare to some of the high-end wired (Etymotic, Shure) ones we have in house. - Wan Chi Lau (permalink)
Electric toothbrushes are not new. There are many of them on on the market: Braun Oral-B, SonicCare, and Crest's SpinBrush are some of the more popular products of this kind. A few months ago, we came across something new: Ultreo.
Instead of just mechanically moving a brush head with a motor, the Ultreo toothbrush adds the vibrations of ultrasound to that of the bristle action. This combination is Ultreo's ability to create a deeper, faster clean. Makes sense to us :-)
The proprietary ultrasonic technology was developed by the University of Washington and licensed to Ultreo, Inc. The basic idea is that the vibrating brush creates bubbles, and the ultrasounds generated in the head of the brush combine with the bubbles to "power clean" upon contact. Learn more about it here.
We are big fans of anything which will improve dental hygiene and are looking forward to testing this new cleaning technology. The FirstUse report will give our impression of what it feels like using the Ultreo. We'll do an update after a few months with comments on its effectiveness and any improvements on our dental health. - Wan Chi Lau (permalink)
The Museum of Science in Boston is the home to the Charles Hayden Planetarium. The Planetarium's centerpiece is the $2,000,000 Zeiss Star Projector, one of the few in the world. And when a telescopically/astronomically-obsessed managing editor wants to go, whaddya gonna do?
The projector is capable of projecting over 9,000 stars and 29 constellations. RainyDayMagazine spent a few hours at the Planetarium this weekend exploring the night sky in indoor comfort. The Planetarium has different shows running all day long. Check out their schedule here.
The seating is very comfortable and has just enough recline to allow everyone in the theater to see everything. The two narrators (one for each of the TWO shows we went to) were very knowledgeable and got the kids (and some managing editors) into the Planetarium groove by asking them questions and having them shout out the answers (apparently the North Star is NOT the brightest star in the sky, it is the Dog Star).
While waiting for the show to begin, visitors can check out the many interactive exhibits. You can see how much you would weigh on the moon or on Jupitor (ladies will rather want to stick with the moon scale, since one of us would weigh 440 pounds on jupiter), learn about spectral analysis, or see the relationship of the earth to the rest of the planets (hey, we really ARE the third rock from the sun!).
We spent a bit strolling through the Museum Store getting ideas for the more "discovery-minded" folks on our Holiday list. The Store has items for all ages and interests (but why it's not just filled with dinasaur kits and freeze-dried ice cream one of us just cannot fathom, since EVERYBODY likes those).
We had a great time at the Boston Museum of Science this weekend. If you are in Boston, this is one of the stops you must make. The skys are always clear in the Charles Hayden Planetarium :-) - Wan Chi Lau and Carolyn Donovan(permalink)
Identity theft is a billion-dollar business. Some countries count Internet fraud among their larger businesess--Nigeria and the post-Soviet countries comes to mind. While not sanctioned by their governments, neither are the operators in those countries aggressively pursued.
Four digit ATM PINs are not enough to guard against these formidable adversaries. Public-key encryptions, biometric ids, and laser-cut keys should all be part of your defenses against unauthorizied intrusion into your personal or private information.
To understand how technologies such as cryptography and public-key encryption works, check out "Applied Cryptograpphy" by Bruce Schneier. While it is not the definitive book on the topic, it is a practical guide and good launch point into the subject. If your bank or broker offers auto generated password keys, cough up the $5 and get a fob. It'll be the best $5 you will ever spend.
For readers shopping on the web this Holiday Season, especially if you are using machines not technically owned by you (like... while at work), it is always best to leave zero residual presence.
One easy way to do that is to have your information "masked." If you don't know anything about IP masking, or encrypted emails, or password management, then check out StealthSurfer. They have taken everything need and put it all on an USB fob. We can tell you more, but then we'll have to...well, you know, kill you (it's a JOKE, don't tase me bro'...have to be clear these days. Homeland Security is not known for its sense of humor). However, identity theft is not a joke. So it would be better if you do click over to the StealthSurfer site and read about it. - Wan Chi Lau (permalink)
If you missed out on winning the Neuros OSD in our November RainyDayPuzzler, you can still pick up a Pile-o'-Cash if you have some coding skills. DVRupgrade.com is offering a bounty of $3500 for the creation of some code to integrate TiVo and the Neuros OSD. The cash would get a nice flat panel in time for the SuperBowl... perhaps to watch the Patriots cap off a perfect season!
BTW, those of you who were quick got in on yesterday's "stealth giveaway." Michiel Kemeling of the Netherlands was the first to win so he got his pick of the lot :-) The give-away was over in matter of minutes. Don't feel too bad if you didn't find the hidden clue in time. There will be plenty more in December! You just have to look around. - Wan Chi Lau (permalink)