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December 21,2008 (RainyDayGiftGuide)

"GuyGear" was the term the women in the office coined when they saw what the guys were putting together for today's gift guide photo shoot.  None of the items are things guys "must have," but trust us when we say that these are the things (multi-tools, lasers, watches, etc...) the guys here would love to unwrap on Christmas Day.  Click on any of the items in the image below to order them from Amazon. 

Our favorite multi-tool is the Skeletool from Leatherman.  It is functional, made of stainless steel, and totally awesome looking.  For watches, we favor the Timex TX and ones from YES (Tati, Zulu). The best flashlights are not made by MagLite, but by SureFire.  Their main business is making military and tactical gear, but they also have a civilian line.  We have been using their small-but-extremely powerful flashlights for years now.  We have found no equal.  A surprise late entry to the GuyGear collection is the Livescribe Pulse Smartpen.  Read our reviews about it here.  Buy it here.

The Phoenix green laser from Wicked Lasers is not your father's laser pointer.  This laser pointer is NOT for highlighting PowerPoint presentations. This is a 75mW burning laser. We use it for pointing at stars, but you can use it for whatever you want.  Just remember to wear proper eye protection when you turn it on.

We can pretty much guarantee that NONE of the items in our James Bond case will be on your significant other's list of things to get for you unless you leave this page open on your browser.  So leave this page open, drop the hints, and have a Merry Christmas! [Permalink] - RainyDay GuyGear Gift Guide


December 20,2008 (RainyDayGiftGuide)

There were plenty of photography accessories reviewed in 2008.  We expect to continue this trend in 2009.  The best of the lot were chosen for this year's RainyDayMagazine Holiday Gift Guide.  All of the items were tested using the Nikon D40, but there should be a version which will fit most of the popular camera brands.  As with the other RainyDayGiftGuides, clicking on an item in the photos will bring you to that item on Amazon.  Occassionally it may bring you somewhere (hint, hint) even better.

When we purchased our D40s, they came with the 18-55mm as part of the kit.  But we wanted a longer zoom so we picked up the 55-200mm Nikkor VR lens.  Both lenses have turned out to be real workhorses, but the 55-200mm VR lens has performed beyond expectations.

The D40 camera body has a built-in flash, but often a stronger light is needed.  The SB-400 external strobe is compact, quite powerful, and designed for the new Nikon digital SLRs.  For more control over lighting, American Recorder's Photo Studio In-A-Box sets up quickly, comes with everything needed (lights, backdrop, tripod) for a desktop photo shoot anywhere, anytime.

Digital cameras have a host of automated features which allow the photographer to concentrate on the composition rather then the technical details.  However, it is the control over those "details" which is the reason why many of us opt for SLRs rather than point-n-shoot units.  Lensbaby 3G lenses give photographer the kind of control no other lenses can.  Go here to find out more.  Go here to get one.

Other useful accessories readers may want to consider putting under the tree are items to power the camera (PowerGrip), protect it from bumps and bruises (CameraArmor), or to keep the camera dry (Kata E-690) during those inclement outdoor photo shoots.  If the sun is too bright to read what's on the LCD, then a Delkin eFilm Shade will take care of the problem.  We have one on our Nikon D40 24/7.

We can personally recommend these camera and photo accessories because we use them, sometimes everyday.  If you want gear that can stand up to use but won't break the bank, then check out this collection.  Happy Holidays. [Permalink] - RainyDay Photo Gear Guide


December 19,2008 (RainyDayGiftGuide)

Books entertain, educate, and elevate all those who spend time with them.  Books also make great holiday gifts.  So whether you are interested in physics or fantasy, you will find something in this RainyDay Gift Guide for your favorite bookworm.

We have embedded links to Amazon to all of the items above.  A click on the image of book will bring you to the Amazon page for that item.  For a closer look at ones in this year's gift guide, click on any of the photos below. 

We would read all the time, but sometimes we have to keep our eyes on the road.  For those times, we have audio books.  Last year we spent many hours (144 x 3) listening to the Harry Potter series.  This year we spent a good chunk of our commuting hours with two of Dan Brown's thrillers (Da Vinci Code, Angels and Demons).  Recently, we picked up four new audio sets (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Brisingr, buy-ology, Breaking Dawn) for the daily back and forth.  We'll let you know how we like them after the new year.

For those interested in digital photography, Rocky Nook published some excellent books on a wide range of topics (IR photography, fine art printing, HDRI).  They also have some fantastic books for those just starting out in digital photography for fun or for EBay.

We didn't know so many RainyDayMagazine readers were amature astronomers until we started the RainyDayScience section.  Now we get requests for and emails with links to Astronomy books all the time.  Amongst our favorites this year were the Practical Amateur Astronomy series from Michael Covington.  There were also some excellent ones (Illustrated Guide, Astro Hacks) published by O'Reilly in our collection.  Happy reading!  [Permalink] - RainyDay Books Gift Guide


December 18,2008 (RainyDayGiftGuide)

Our staff has reviewed a lot of camera bags over the years, but we have stopped reviewing bags from makers other than Kata this year.  It is not that other makers don't have good camera bags, it's that we think Kata makes the best ones out there. 

We have used them to carry all kinds of digital and film cameras: small point and shoot like the Canon S100, larger fixed lens such as the Canon S2, and full size SLRs similar to the Nikon D40.  They are also perfect for small telescopes and video gear. 

If you have a small point and shoot camera and want to have quick access to it while on the move, then the S-312 sling case is what you will need.  If you want the same type of mobility and access with a larger SLR, then the T-212 Torso pack is what we would recommend.

For those with a lot of gear, Kata makes many different sizes of shoulder cases, waist bags, and backpacks.  Many of these can be combined to form a larger functional system (sling + waist, sling + backpack, etc...).  We use Kata bags to carry our gear every time we go on location.  We would not carry our gear in anything less.  Neither should you.  [Permalink] - Photo Bags Gift Guide


December 17,2008 (RainyDayGiftGuide)

We are closing in on the last week of shopping for Christmas.  If you have not gotten something for your significant other (yes... we are talking about your laptop), there is still plenty of time.

For readers who may need a reminder of the different types of bags we looked at this year, we have assembled them all in one place.  We reviewed bags for travellers, for daily use, and for general protection.  Both Build and Pacific Design make light-weight laptop bags which are functional and great looking.

Tom Bihn makes many great bags for both daily use and travel.  They are made in the USA, use top quality materials, and stand up well to real-world use.  We appreciate their thoughtful designs every time we take them on the road.

We did not mention two of the laptop cases in this Gift Guide.  Find them, name them, and send us the links from their company's site.  Tell us which one you would like.  If we pick your entry, we'll send you the case.  The contest ends on Christmas Day.  Good Luck! [Permalink] - Laptop Bags Gift Guide


December 16,2008 (PenTechTuesday)

The FirstUse of the Livescribe Pulse was an eye-opening experience for us.  It is not often we've come across a product where our first thought was "Hmmm, I wonder if they are hiring?"

The most asked question from our readers was "Does this pen really work?"  Our answer is, "It works AMAZINGLY well."  The tutorial on the first page of the notebook gives a fun and interactive tour of the impressive features of the pen. 

There is almost zero learning curve to using this pen...just turn on the pen and write.  The integrated camera captures the writings automatically.  The "controls" are on each page of the notebook.  To record a note, tap the record icon and speak.  To play the recording back, tap the "play" icon at the bottom of the page and listen.  It's that simple. 

We have used a lot of different tools (PersonalBrain, Visual Thesaurus, etc...) for mind-mapping, but this Pulse Smartpen is PERFECT for those of us who take notes using the mind-mapping technique.  Free form writing is much faster, higher in resolution, and now can be easily captured in digital form.  We'll take a look at the software on both the Mac and PC in our next report.  [Permalink] - LiveScribe Pulse Firstuse


December 15,2008 (MorePulseMonday)

The Livescribe Pulse SmartPen was an instant sensation in the RainyDayMagazine office.  We were all intrigued by its potential.  Judging by all of the emails we got from readers wanting to know whether this pen is "for real," we believe that Livescribe could have a huge hit on it hands if the Pulse can deliver.

We think the Pulse SmartPen has the potential to be a great business tool.  So for the next three months, we are going to use it to take notes in meetings in place of a laptop.  To make the combo easier to grab and go, we found a standard size leather portfolio which will hold both the pen and the notebook.

The Livescribe Pulse kit comes with a SmartPen, pen case, 3D mic/headphones, USB charger, and a notebook with a 100 pages of special paper.  The pen can only be charged when placed in the special cradle. 

The cradle has a magnet to hold the pen in place and to align the contacts for charging.  This is a nice little detail which is one of the many examples of user-focused thinking behind the product.

Quite a bit of technology (1GB memory, IR camera, speaker, mic, rechargeable battery, IO port) has been crammed into this Pulse SmartPen.  The OLED display is bright, has high contrast, and is easy to read.  The built-in speaker is just above where one would normally grip the pen.  The sound is clear and is adjustible by tapping on the controls on the page. 

The pen case has a few thoughtful details as well.  There is a window so the pen's OLED display can be clearly seen without having to pull the pen out.  The back of the case has two slots for holding extra ink refills.

We will be taking notes and recording meetings with the Pulse to see how it performs in everyday situations.  If this Pulse SmartPen can free us from having to always carry our laptop around, it will be the greatest thing since sliced bread.   [Permalink] - LiveScribe Pulse FirstLook


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