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December 13-14,2008 (WeekendEdition)

Christmas is just two weeks away.  So it is time for the much anticipated annual RainyDayMagazine Holiday Gift Guide.  As many readers know, our guides are unlike the others.  Not only do we recommend stuff we have used, but just like last year, there are opportunities to win stuff if readers keep a sharp eye out for clues. 

The first Gift Guide for 2008 is a collection of DVD recommendations based on our staff's favorites.  We have gathered them in to five different catagories: Action, Sci-fi, Fantasy, Superheros, and Bond.

Our favorite action series are the Bourne and Mission Impossible sets (sometimes, we just have them on in the background while we work).  They are great to watch even with the sound off!  If you have friends who love Sci-fi, but have not seen Firefly, get them the set NOW.  Don't forget to throw in the movie Serenity to complete the collection.  When it comes to our favorite fantasy movies, the Harry Potter and Pirates of the Caribbean series will easily entertain us for the entire weekend.

Graphic novel are always big favorites in the RainyDayMagazine office.  Iron Man is one of the new favorites.  It is a fun movie not just because of Robert Downey Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow, but because of the awesome computer UI seen throughout the movie.  It is a must have.  Of course, Spiderman, Blade, and HellBoy are some of the other graphic novel heros in our collection.  We think you will enjoy them if they are in yours.

One way to build up a DVD collection is to buy them used.  We do that all the time.  A common problem with used DVDs, though, is scratches that may cause skipping on playback.  Most of the time, a good cleaning will solve the problem.  However, sometimes the scratches are too deep and will interfere with the laser.  This is when more serious repairs may be needed.  We have heard some good things about the dvdDR, but have not yet tried it ourselves.  We will do a more extensive review of it, but thought it sufficiently intriguing to mention it in this year's DVD Gift Guide.  We hope you found this first guide useful.  Look for others in the coming weeks.  Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!!!  [Permalink] - DVD Gift Guide


December 12,2008 (Form&FunctionFriday)

OtterBox is well known for their strong water-tight boxes. We have reviewed many of them (1000, 3500, 9000)over the years.  They are perfect for protecting electronics which might be accidentally exposed to water during transport.  OtterBox also makes cases specifically designed for popular devices (laptops, iPods, etc...).  We looked at such a case back in January.

The Defender Series is a new line from OtterBox.  These cases are device specific, very form fitting, and offers protection against every day bumps and bruises.  While it is not a water-tight case, it will offer light water-splash protection.

We really like the feel of the case, the easy grip surface, and the matte finish.  Note that rubber flaps at the various ports and openings to seal the device from grit and dirt.

There are Defender cases for Blackberry and well as iPhones.  If your gear does not need that much protection, the OtterBox folks have some lighter protective sleeves which may be a better fit.  Want one of these cases?  Find the clue in the upcoming RainyDayGiftGuide, solve the puzzler, and if you are lucky you might just win one!   [Permalink] - OtterBox Defender Series


December 11,2008 (TechThursday)

Back in July we started looking at how to program the iPod Touch.  The books available at the time were based on Mobile Safari, not the iPhone SDK.  The iPhone SDK gave programmers access to all of the device's hardware (multi-touch, accelerometer, camera, etc...) and core software (Quartz 2D, OpenGL, etc...) support which Mobile Safari did not.

Books on how to program the iPhone using XCode and the iPhone SDK are now starting to become available.  We have been working through the lessons in the book Beginning iPhone Development by Dave Mark and Jeff LaMarche.

We are happy to report that this book is a gentle step-by-step introduction to iPhone programming which will be digestible by novice and seasoned developers alike.  The style of the book is that of one programmer "mentoring" another, not a professor lecturing to a class. 

If you are intrigued by the iPhone or if you want to try your hands at programming, Apple's free XCode environment and SDK, coupled with a few good books, will get you started quickly.  Who knows, you may end up building the next iPhone killer app!    [Permalink] - iPhone SDK Programming


December 10,2008 (WowUsWednesday)

We have seen the announcements regarding this LiveScribe Pulse SmartPen.  We have gotten emails from readers asking us to check it out.  We have had internal discussions about what would be a "killer app" for something like this.  However, up until now, we have resisted looking at it because it was Windows only.  We know, we know, 95% of the world is using PCs.  We also know the best of the lot eventually make it over to the Mac.

Well, we just ran out of excuses.  Starting on December 1st, the Pulse SmartPen will run on the Intel-based Mac!  The software is still in beta and not all of its Windows-based features will be available, but the core funtionalities will be there.

The Pulse SmartPen kit comes complete with everything (pen, notebook, charger, case) except for the desktop software, which can be downloaded for free from the LiveScribe site (this includes latest Mac and Windows software and the documentation). We actually like this model better as it saves on resources (CD, paper, etc...) and ensures that users have the latest version.

The key to making the Pulse SmartPen work is the special paper, which comes as an ordinary-looking spiral bound notebook. Imprinted on the paper are tiny little dots. These dots enable the pen to determine its position on the page, the actual page it is on, and what audio content it should be linked to in the pen's memory.

Click on the various images for a closer look at the dots. They are barely noticeable but does give the paper a very faint tint. The paper comes in a few different sizes and may be purchased from LiveScribe. This could get expensive if you take a lot of notes, but soon users will be able to print their own paper. If this product takes off, we would expect the cost of the refills to drop significantly.

There are so many potential applications for this interesting device.  We are really excited about this revolutionary LiveScribe Pulse SmartPen and will be taking a very detailed look at it over the next few months.  [Permalink] - LiveScribe Pulse Smart Pen


December 9,2008 (AudioTechTuesday)

When we got this Hellboy II DVD in the mail, we thought it was because Universal Pictures knew we loved the first Hellboy movie.  As it turns out, it was from GenAudio to show off their new surround sound audio technology called AstoundSurround

We have a 5.1 surround sound system in our media room and we could definitely hear some very clear and distinct surround sound effects.  However, since we didn't have a version of Hellboy II without the new audio processing to compare it against, we could not say anything about being able to hear a difference.  Regardless, what we could say is the Hellboy II audio effects were awesome.

Stereo sound was the earliest attempt at replicating the "live" experience.  Soon engineers realized that placing additional speakers to the rear of the listener would create a richer simulation.   This gave rise to quadraphonics, followed by 5.1 (front, sides, rears, and subwoofer), and 7.1 (front, front-sides, rear-sides, rears, and subwoofer).  The idea, of course, is to try to recreate the acoustics as closely as possible by recording the sounds at different locations and outputing them using the appropriate speakers.

The folks at GenAudio have taken another approach.  They want to fool the brain by using audio processing instead of creating the sounds via speaker placements.  Your brain "hears" the processed signals as if they had came from different locations.  This approach has certain limitations, but does have the distinct advantage of being able to produce a fuller audio experience with just two speakers.

If you want to check out AstoundStereo on your Mac or PC, they have a software module which you can download and use free for 30 days.  If you want want to enjoy the AstoundSound technology without having to do any work, just look for DVDs mastered using AstoundSurround technology. [Permalink] - GenAudio AstoundSurround

BTW, the winner of the Boxster Poster giveaway is David H.  He (and 15 others) correctly identified the three headlights (Cayenne, Carrera S, Carrera 4S).  David claimed he didn't use any of the hints in the article.  So David, any idea what this was before it became a sculpture?


December 8,2008 (MacTVMonday)

In our previous installment of our MacTV project, we took a quick look at the two ClearStream antennae from Antennas Direct.  Today we'll assemble the smaller C1 and hook it up to the Elgato EyeTV tuner.

The assembly of the C1 was very quick and straightforward.  The channel in the base fits over the aluminium rod.  A bolt is then threaded through from the back to secure the loop in the front.  The C1 is now ready for use.

The antenna has a particular reception pattern as indicated by the diagram in the instructions.  However, we wanted to see what we could get without any optimization.  So we just hooked up the C1 to the Elgato EyeTV tuner and turned on the Mac.

The "auto-tune" feature of the Elgato EyeTV software automatically stepped through all of the frequencies and sorted out which had a good signal and which should be ignored.  We were up and running in about 10 minutes.

The Elgato EyeTV and ClearStream C1 are a nice combo.  We were able to easily pick up over fifteen channels totally free out of the air without mounting the antenna outside.  We are eager to see what other channels we will be able to get with the even larger ClearStream C4 unit.   [Permalink] - ClearStream Assembly


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