RainyDayMagazine's content can now be licensed for your print magazine or web site. Please contact us directly here. If you want to see something reviewed, then drop us a note with a link and we'll be happy to take a look.
We had a quick trip planned to NYC this weekend. The trip is one we have done many times in the past, but we thought it would be a good FirstUse test of the basics of the Navigon GPS.
Programming the trip was straight forward. The user interface was simple to figure out. We have yet the need to crack the manual, but we will when we dive deeper into some of the non standard features (traffice news, Bluetooth dialing, etc...)
The display was bright and easily visible in the Boxster in daylight. The voice prompts were clearly heard (with the top up). We tested the "recalculation" function on the way out of Boston and it was very quick. We plan on testing this function a lot more over the next few weeks.
The "Reality View" display is a pretty cool feature. The Lane Advisor is also useful, especially on some of those "exit on the left" spots on the highway.
We have mentioned that this Navigon 7100 is a preproduction unit. As such, it did not come with a mount for the windshield. The device fitted nicely in front of the shifter, but had a tendency to slide around during turns. Clearly a solution was needed for the ride back.
The Navigon 7100 GPS worked great on its first trip out. We were especially impressed with its ability to lock onto satellites even when placed away from the windshield. There are a lot more features (Traffic news, Voice Commands) to this GPS. We'll walk you through all of the features and screens in the next segment. - Wan Chi Lau (permalink)
It did not take long for many of you to discover the secrets to the content of the big black box (hint...click on the black box's SpyGear logo). The first field report with the correct intel was from Sandin H. of Princeton N.J. Nice Job!
We will check out this new set of SpyGear from WildPlanet and report back with plenty of time before the holiday shopping season. Hey, spys have friends with kids too you know. - Wan Chi Lau (permalink)
While on the subject of kids, RainyDayMagazine would like to remind our readers that October is SIDS Awareness Month. To help promote and contribute to this cause, Baby Luck is donating a percentage of each purchase to the First Candle/SIDS Alliance. Go check out all of the great Baby Luck offerings here.
We are searching for a Baby Luck model. So if you want to see a lucky baby in a Baby Luck, drop us an email with the subject line "Frankie!" We'll pick the winner on Sunday. - Wan Chi Lau (permalink)
If I leave my seat, someone here will put something on it :-) I think it is a strategy for keeping me at my desk...
Anyway, it looks fun. I'll let you know what it is Monday. Have a great weekend! - Wan Chi Lau (permalink)
All kinds of cool stuff show up at the loading dock here at RainyDayMagazine. None garnered more interest this week then the big black box from SpyGear. What could be inside?
Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to assertain details of the contents of the box. If you are successful in obtaining the intel, send it to us via the usual secured drop. Use the subject line "pssst...I know what's inside!" There is a BitDr waiting for the first correct answer. - Wan Chi Lau (permalink)
The first time I saw a laser cutter was in the James Bond movie GoldFinger. Since then, I have always wanted one of my own. It appears that my wait is now over (in theory).
Here is the link to a site detailing the steps in building a 100-watt CO2 laser cutter. What can you do with a 100 watt laser cutter? Well, go here and see.
Readers can thank George T. for sending in the link to this cool project. We'll say "Thanks!" to George with a Bit Dr. While the Bit Dr will not cut a fish out of stainless steel, it will help put together a laser cutter that will! - Wan Chi Lau (permalink)
Want a media center but don't have the room? How about wearing one on your wrist? This watch may not be the thinnest timepiece around, but that's because it can do a lot more then just tell the time.
The controls are on the sides of the watch. Buttons on the right are for navigating the on screen menu, the ones on the left are for selecting.
The 1.8" screen is quite large for a watch, but may be a bit small as a video display. We'll see when we try watching an entire movie on it. The band is made of a soft flexible rubber with an integrated USB cable. Because of that, the strap is not replaceble.
The Brando package includes the watch, interface cables, earphones, and AC adapter/charger. There is also a CD with various drivers and file converters specific for the MP4 watch.
The watch display is straightforward. The outer ring ticks off the seconds. The current time/date are displayed digitally in the center.
As most who have seen the iPod nano know, a small screen size can still provide a quality image. This screen is no different. The TFT LCD display is surprisingly sharp and bright.
The integrated speakers are on opposite sides of the watch. We suspect that the sound will be much better using the headphones. However, it is a nice feature to have some speakers built into the unit.
Next up in this FirstLook series, we'll check out the various modes of this Brando watch size media center. - Wan Chi Lau (permalink)
A day before we left for Madrid a really cool gadget showed up at the office. We have reviewed quite a few GPS units over the years. While the devices have definitely improved in usability, they still were not able to inform the user of the "best" route to take to avoid real time traffic tie-ups. The Navigon 7100 may just change all that. It comes with subscription-free realtime traffic info!
The 7100 we are reviewing is a pre-production unit. It has production release software and most of the accessories that will be in the retail version. It is missing the documentation and the mount.
Like most touchscreen devices, there are not a lot of physical buttons. There is power button and an integrated pointer on the side. All other functions are controlled using the LCD screen.
The circular mount and the speaker are in the back of the unit. The ports and slots (headset, USB, SD) are on the top and bottom. There is an external GPS-antenna port on the back. The 7100 is also Bluetooth enabled so you can use it to dial a cellphone. Why would you want that? We'll show you in the FirstUse review.
We'll have a lot more screen shots in our FirstUse review, but we wanted to include one in this FirstLook to give you a look at the cool the 3D map view.
We will be taking the Navigon with us when heading to NYC this weekend. It will be interesting to see the real time traffic info and some of the other features (Reality View, Lane Assistance) in action! - Wan Chi Lau (permalink)
The first time we stopped by the Vessel Store in Boston, it was closed. I went back a few weeks ago and was fortunate enough to catch founders Stefane Barbeau and Duane Smith working the floor. They were kind enough to give me a personal tour of the store.
This Vessel Store is the design studio and a retail experiment for Stefane and Duane. They use it to field test new products, ideas they want to pursue, and designs they like to promote.
I had a chance to take a lot of images while at the store. Instead of posting all of them individually, links to them have been embedded in the images. Clicking on various items in the images may bring you to a closer look at the item.
Items such as the lamps (Candela, Luau, etc...) are available from a lot of different places. Some of the items (Teepee, dolls) are only available from Vessel. Many of the products found in the phyical store are not yet available on the Vessel's online store. Depending on how they perform on the floor, some may make it to the website.
Stefane and Duane are the designers of the innovative rechargeable Candela lamps. The lighting line has since been expanded to include the fun looking Candeloo and the bigger Luau lanterns. The entire lighting line has recently been sold to OXO so they can focus their creative energies on product design rather than packing and shipping :-)
The store also has a much wider selection of furniture than what is available online. All have very clean lines, are highly functional, and fit comfortably with all things "Vessel." Sofas from BluDot are a good example. The pieces are well constructed, use synthetic material which feels and wears like leather, and are reasonably priced.
If you are in Boston's Chinatown area, drop by and check out the Vessel Store. We will check back with Stefane and Duane soon to see what's new for Fall. - Wan Chi Lau (permalink)
We found the hotel for the next time we are in Madrid. Carolyn will fit right in, but I will have to pack some fancier clothes.
Madrid does not slow down just because the sun sets. Many street vendors were just setting up when we normally would be getting ready to turn in. It must be because the warm, dry weather is perfect for strolling the narrow city streets or sitting at a cafe and people watching.
We look forward to returning to Madrid soon. Next time we will stay up all night! - Wan Chi Lau (permalink)
Today we are making our way back to Madrid via car and train. We rented a Citroen C2 for our stay in Alicante. This small car was perfect for getting around. It seats four and the rear storage was big enough for all our gear.
We brought three bags (ErgoTech, Aeronaut, Evolution) between the two us for the ten days. The Kata ErgoTech handled all of our technical gear (cameras, batteries, Vaio laptop, etc...). Clothing and all other travel gear were distributed between the soft Aeronaut bag and the rolling Evolution case.
Having minimal luggage allowed us to move quickly through the streets, the Metro, and the Atocha train station. It also meant we didn't have to check anything at the airport. This was a huge timesaver as we did not have to wait for our luggage to be brought off the plane before getting into line to clear Customs.
For our return to Madrid, Carolyn found a great little place on the other side of Puerta del Sol called Hostal San Isidro. It was half the price of the Petite Palace that we stayed in at the start of the trip.
The room was much smaller, but it had floor to ceiling doors which opened out to a balcony overlooking the street. Carolyn has always wanted an apartment with a balcony, some kind of Juliet/Rapunzel fantasy I think.
It is interesting to stay in a room right above the street. The sounds come right in with the windows open and you feel the flow of the city even when inside. Even at 3 o'clock in the morning... - Wan Chi Lau (permalink)
Great food is just one of the things we have been sampling while here in Spain. Good inexpensive wine is also available if you know where to go.
Pepe and Rosario are the owners of Bodega La Jumillana, on the road between...somewhere and somewhere else. Pepe does not speak English, but apparently our hand gestures were sufficient to get our intentions across. Pepe was more than eager to provide us with samples of all the varieties he had on tap.
We did manage to understand from Pepe that the wines are priced based on how long they have aged in the oak barrels. The amazing part was that the most expensive (and tastiest) vintage was only 3 Euros for a liter!
We were told by our friends Finora and Patrick that the wine we were drinking in Spain is not made for export and hence does not contain any of the usual preservatives...which is often responsible for altering the tasts and the bad hangovers. Every morning we woke up chipper and looking for our cafe solo. - Wan Chi Lau (permalink)
Today our plans are to take a drive to Murcia for some sightseeing. Along the way, we made a stop for some lunch at a charming spot located right on the beach in Torrevieja.
Wan has been ordering Paella whenever he finds it on the menu. This traditional rice dish is really tasty and the ready availability of fresh seafood makes it a good value.
We arrived in Murcia in the early afternoon. Like a lot of towns in Spain, it has a mixture of old and new. The center of town is dominated by the Cathedral Church of Saint Mary. It was built over 400 years (14th to 18th centuries) and reflects ALL of the styles over that span.
After all that walking around, we were ready for a good sit-down dinner. We considered eating in Murcia, but during the walk along the coast the other day, Finora and Patrick mentioned a restaurant called La Bahia in the marina and said they make an amazing "salted fish" dish. We decided to give it a try.
Tonight we wanted to sample a variety of flavors, so we ordered half dozen or so tapas (mushrooms, soups, meatballs, olives, etc...). We also ordered what we came to La Bahia for...the salted fish.
Even though we feasted on a lot of great food throughout the day, we didn't feel stuffed or bloated. One reason is that portion size here is not like the "super-sized" servings we get back home :-) - Wan Chi Lau (permalink)
When traveling with laptops and other electronics, sooner or later you will need to recharge them. Here are a few things we do to make our power needs simplier.
First, we minimize the number of chargers we have to bring by taking cameras which only use AA batteries. We brought along the new eneloop rechargeables. AA are available almost anywhere in the world. Second, we only bring gear with AC adapters which can automatically adjusts to the local voltage. Last, we bring an universal adapter.
The little adapter we carry will work with every outlet current in use around the world. It also folds flat for storage. In Spain, the voltage is 220 and the socket in the outlet is two round holes instead of slits. We have had no problems with our setup so far.
We did not bring along our Verizon wireless card as we knew that WiFi will be available at our friends Patrick and Finora's place. It did take a little time to get the settings in Dreamweaver correct so we could update the site via FTP. One compromise we did make was on the laptop size. We brought the ultra light Vaio instead of the larger Apple laptop. While the small Sony Picturebook is extremely portable, it is difficult to use for image editing. Still, we think we made the right tradeoff. - Wan Chi Lau (permalink)
Our friends Patrick and Finora (whom have been hosting us for the past few days) insisted we see the Mediterranean ocean while we are in Orihuela. So we took a stroll along the coastal walkway near their place.
The view was just amazing! The constant pounding of the waves against the coast has carved out some amazing features.
We are quickly getting used to the relaxed pace here in Spain. So if you don't see any more updates for a while, you'll know why :-) - Wan Chi Lau (permalink)
Most places in Madrid are reachable on foot or via the Metro, so a car is not really necessary for getting around. A 10 ride Metropass is about 8 Euros.
There are tons of places to stay in Madrid. Many of them are in the center of the city. We chose a hotel (Petite Palace Arenal) with modern accommodations on a pedestrianized street just a few blocks from the Plaza del Sol and the Metro stop.
The staff spoke both Spanish and English, so language was not an issue. In fact, we were able to get by quite easily with just English (and a polite "Tu hablas Ingles?" or two). Although like any place in Europe, having someone in the party who speaks the native language is the way to go. In a few more years, one can probably get by anywhere in the world with knowing just Chinese, Spanish, and English!
Some of you asked what we are using for luggage on this trip. Well, you know that we would not miss an opportunity to test out some gear. We've taken along some gear we have tested locally on this trip with us to Spain.
We wanted to see how they would perform on this 10 day journey. So far, we have been extremely pleased with our selection. Some readers may recognize the gear. If you can name all three pieces, send us the answers in an email with the subject line "On the road again." We'll pick a winner amongst the ones with the correct answers and send you a BitDr. when we get back home.- Wan Chi Lau (permalink)
The weather in Madrid is very mild this time of the year. We took every opportunity to eat dinner outside knowing that we would be facing much colder temperature back in Boston when we return.
After trekking around Madrid for the past few days, we have come to appreciate the local street art for sale around the city. Many of the paintings and crafts are made by the locals for the tourist, but they are things one would actually want to display once you get them back home! - Wan Chi Lau (permalink)
A few of us are in Spain for a brief holiday this week. We landed in Madrid on Thursday and have been checking out the sites. Madrid is a very vibrant town...lots of cafes, winding alleys, and open squares. The weather is a balmy 29C.
Today we left Madrid and headed to Oriheula for a birthday party and to visit with some friends. We did bring some gear (Picturebook, Canon S2, etc...) to post updates of the trip when we have WiFi access. - Wan Chi Lau (permalink)
Fall is the busiest season for us at RainyDayMagazine. Every year, things start earlier and earlier. Companies interested in getting their new products reviewed before the start of the Holiday Shopping season are already jockeying for space in the schedule.
Here is a preview of what's coming in the Fall of 2007. The folks in the RainyDayKitchen are excited to give Cuisinart's new countertop Brick Oven a try.
The guys in the RainyDayGarage managed to get their hands on a pre-production unit of Navigon's 7100 GPS. This yet-to-be-released unit provides FREE real-time traffic info, photo-realistic 3D views, and many other unique features.
Other gear and gadgets on the Fall schedule are the MP4 video watch from Brando and the ultrasonic toothbrush from Ultreo. Both of these were selected because you asked for them :-)
Also on the list is the new iPod Touch from Apple, scheduled to arrive in early October. We are hoping to install it in the Boxster using Harman Kardon's new Drive+Play2. It is going to be a wild Fall season here at RainyDayMagazine. We hope you will enjoy it.
However, before all this craziness starts for ernest, some of us are going to take a quick trip to Spain for a bit of R&R. It will be a good opportunity to test some travel gear, but mostly we are going to relax.
So for the next few days, the patients are going to be in charge of the asylum...god knows WHAT they are going to post while we are gone :-) - Wan Chi Lau (permalink)
In 1989, Pons and Fleischmann announced they had produced "cold fusion" in their laboratory. The excitement generated by that claim reverberated around the world. Unfortunately, Pons and Fleischmann's experiments were not successfully replicated elsewhere.
Eighteen years later, an inventor by the name of John Kanzius may have accidentally discovered a way to generate energy which may be just as revolutionary, but unlike "cold fusion", Mr. Kanzius' approach appears to be easily reproducible!
The idea is ingenious: the proper radio frequency will weaken the molecular bond of water, separating the hydrogens and oxygen molecules. Add a spark to create the combustion. Energy is released from the burning of the hydrogen and oxygen gasses. This is not "FREE" energy (something has to power the RF generator), just a way of extracting energy from water instead of fossil fuel. The Kanzius technique is totally novel and definitely worthy of a mention in "WowUsWednesday."
Of course, there is a difference between a technology demonstration and a working "salt water" engine. And, we are not quite sure of the implication of using up all our water for running our air conditioners and powering our SUVs. One thing is certain, if this technique is commercialized, it will certainly have an impact on our politics in the Middle East. - Wan Chi Lau (permalink)
When I visited the Empire State building back in the mid-80s, I took a photo from the observation deck. I knew I still had the hard copy around somewhere. It took a while to hunt through 20 years of photos, but I finally located it.
The reason this photo stuck in my mind was of course the two towers of the World Trade Center in the distance. Hard to believe it has been six years since the insanity of that day. - Wan Chi Lau (permalink, 06, 05)
Every year around the start of Fall, the editorial staff reviews the list of ideas for new sections. We have decided on and are currently developing a section for next year called RainyDayScience.
Areas where technology and science intersect are obvious topics for this section. We plan to highlight gadgets and projects that give us a better understanding of the wonders around us.
The first RainyDayScience topic will be Astronomy. This weekend, we scoured Craigslist for telescopes. Fortunately, Boston and its surrounding areas are well populated with sci-tech folks. Consequently, high quality used telescopes are relatively plentiful. We were able to pick up two used telescopes over the weekend for pennies on the dollar.
The small one above is a 3" Jason catadioptric reflector. It is a relatively powerful unit given its table top size. We were able to purchase this unit for $10. It even came in its original box!
The second unit is Newtonian reflector with a 10" mirror and a metal German Equitorial Mount (GEM). According to the owner, its original cost was $800. The asking price was $200, but our crack negotiator was able to make a deal at half that price.
So, for less then the price of an iPod, we got ourselves two very capable telescopes. Our first tasks will be to do some cleaning, checking the alignments, and getting the scopes ready for a FirstUse. We are eager for a clear night so we can take them outside and see what we can see. - Wan Chi Lau (permalink)
The Questar was selected because: our research showed that this privately owned company is universally regarded as a maker of the best product of its kind in the world; the Questar 3.5" telescope is a product which can expand its user's knowledge of the world around them; and finally, because the Questar is built to last and be passed on for generations. It also fits in perfectly with today's topic...hey, it always pays to be lucky :-) - Wan Chi Lau (permalink)
The annual Brimfield Antique Show is a destination for seasoned antique hunters. We reported on the Brimfield show back in 2005. This year, we returned to look for specific items for a few of the RainyDayProjects we have planned for this Winter.
The Brimfield show was a great place to look for Steampunk project items. There were quite a few vendors showing old radio gear. Many of these antique pieces were priced for collectors and were completely out of our budget.
However, after some extensive searching, we came upon a vendor with an amazing collection of stuff (headphones, morse code devices, etc...) perfect for a project we have been planning for some time.
We purchased this WORKING headset for $5! Our idea is to restore and convert this pair of vintage headphones into something Steampunk-ish. It should be a fun project! Look for it this Winter. - Wan Chi Lau (permalink)
No, this is not our new product photographer. We got this link from one of our readers and thought it was too funny not to share. Click here for the story behind this photo.
Apparently, Canon digital cameras are so easy to use that "anyone" can get a shot using them. - Wan Chi Lau (permalink)
Last Friday we gave you a preview of the Parrot photo viewer. Today, we'll take a closer FirstLook.
This Parrot photo viewer comes with an integrated power cable, an AC plug, and a stainless steel stand. The frame is covered with leather and backed with wood. These materials are high quality and will look great on the coffee table at home or the desk at work. Because of the power cable and the need for an electric outlet, the Parrot (along with most other digital frames) is not really designed to for wall mounting. If you want the spec, they are here on the Parrot site.
The finish comes in a variety of colors, but are not interchangeable. We are already thinking of a few upgrade project possibilites (brushed aluminium, exotic wood, etc...). There are three buttons on the back of the frame. They are for navigating amongst the various on screen menu options and making selections.
The only "assembly" needed is to thread the stand into the hole in the lower corner of the frame. The frame may be positioned horizontally or vertically.
We'll show more of the setup phase in the next installment of this series on the Parrot Digital Frame because it is one of the frame's unique features. In the meantime, we wanted to give readers an idea of the amazing quality of the TFT LCD display.
The photo on the left is the image taken with our S2 of a purple cone flower in the RainyDayGarden. We displayed it as a desktop pic on the 22" screen. The smaller image on the right is the same image on the Parrot. Click on either pic for a closer look at the details. We were very impressed with both the contrast and the brightness of the display. It will be very interesting to see how other digital frames compare to this Parrot unit. - Wan Chi Lau (permalink)
Green screen is a technique used by movie studios to create many of the special effects you see in movies today. The idea is simple: shoot some video in front of a matte screen of one color, replace that color with another image or footage, and voila...you could appear to be sitting at the edge of the Grand Canyon or reporting from the front of the White House lawn.
All of the gear (camera, screen, tripod, software) required to create that type of effect is now available as a complete package. The Creation Station from RipRoar is aimed at the YouTube generation, but allows anyone to add their own green screen FX to videos using the same advanced techniques as the pros.
Priced at $130, it is within reach of even the most modest video budget. It does require a PC for storage and processing of the video. If you want a CreationStation, preorder it on Amazon now. This could be the sleeper gift of the 2007 holiday season. - Wan Chi Lau (permalink)
Many of us have been asking to trading in our Motorola RAZR for the $600 iPhone. However, the bean counters in finance just wouldn't approve the P.O. for the purchase. As it turns out, they were right in making us wait.
Today, Apple announced a $200 price drop on the iPhone. They also introduced the new iPod Touch. We are now torn because it may make more sense to keep our current phone and upgrade our iPod to the Touch. Oh, what to do :-) - Wan Chi Lau (permalink)
One of our favorite portable batteries is the Tekkeon MyPowerAll. We reviewed the myPowerAll 3300 in 2005 and have used it in a variety of projects (camera, helicopter). The battery has been cycled close to 70 times (mostly for photo shoots) and is still good as new. This is definitely one of the "workhorse" batteries at the office.
Tekkeon recently updated the battery (myPowerAll 3450) with an increase in power and connector options. One of the new options we really like is the USB port. This means we can now leave the chargers for the smaller devices (pda, cell phone, gps) at home!
Like the 3300, the myPowerAll 3450 comes with a variety of tips for connecting to different devices. An increase in battery power means the need for a larger AC/DC converter. The upside is that the 3450 is still physically the same size as the 3300, when not stored in their respective cases.
The 3300 case is a padded leather unit with a magnetic closure. The case which came with the 3450 is a thin synthetic one. The 3400 case will protect it from scratches, but probably not from accidental drops ...which we certainly have done a few times.
We will charge up the myPowerAll 3450 and try it out with a few of our favorite gadgets. If it is as good as the 3300, we may have another "workhorse" in the office. - Wan Chi Lau (permalink)
This Labor Day, RainyDayMagazine would like to bring attention to some great products made right here in the USA. Because everyone here tries avoid "laboring" whenever possible, we are cleverly disguising the legwork required to find these great products by holding a contest!
RainyDayMagazine will give away one of these Bit Drs. from LoggerHead Tools for every "find" you send us that we publish for the month of September. To submit a find you consider worthy of mention on RainyDayMagazine, send the link with the subject line "Made In The USA for a RainyDay." If your submission is selected, we will give you credit for the find and send you a Bit Dr.
Keep an eye on the pile of Bit Drs, the contest ends when we have given them all away. Enter as often as you wish, but one link per entry. If you spam us with lame suggestions, we'll add your name to the automated email filters and all your entries will end up in the email black hole. - Wan Chi Lau (permalink)
This past August in New England was a dry one. Many of the Cone Flowers (known as echinacea) have gone to seed earlier than usual. The golden finches have been spotted taking advantage of this bounty in the RainyDayGarden.
We spotted the finches only because Eliot and Buffy were both perched on the 2nd story window with their gaze fixated on a spot in the garden.
Getting a shot of them was a little more difficult. The 12x zoom on the Canon S2 was barely good enough. The slight overcast made for even lighting, but cut down on the overall brightness. This situation (high zoom, low light) is particularly difficult for digital cameras.
It is suprising how light birds really are. This finch is sitting on and pecking at the cone and there is not so much as a shake. - Wan Chi Lau (permalink)