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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


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


October 14,2008 (ReaderTechTuesday)

"Reading is fun-damental."  That was what we were taught growing up.  Reading IS fun, but it got a bit more fun with the Amazon Kindle.  The Kindle is an e-book reader similar in concept to the one from Sony.  Both are pretty cool, but because the Kindle is backed by the giant bookseller Amazon, it is a quantum leap ahead of the Sony unit where it really counts...access to stuff you want to read.

We brought a Kindle along with us to Maine this past weekend.  It is a little bigger than a typical paperback book, but can carry so much more content.  It's perfect for those who like to read more than one book at a time.

Unlike laptop screens, the surface is frosted to minimize reflections.  The result is text that is readable in both shade and direct sunlight.  Like real paper, the Kindle's e-ink display is viewable even at extreme angles

Unlike real paper, the e-ink display is interactive.  To navigate around and to control the cursor, there are buttons all over the surface of the Kindle.  Their locations and placement are designed based on how one would hold the device.

The Amazon Kindle is the most polished ebook reader we have seen to date.  Its controls are easy to use.  The interface is well thought out.  The free wireless capability is a compelling feature not available in the competition. 

There are a lot of reviews of the Kindle v1.0 out on the web.  Our gripe with them was that none had any decent photos of the unit.  Amazon has announced that an update of the Kindle will soon be available.  We will do a more in-depth review of this next version when it is available.  Until then, click on any of the images here for a better look at Kindle v1.0.   [Permalink] - Amazon Kindle


August 7,2008 (TechThursday)

We have been a big proponent of mind-mapping for notes-taking, general organization, and brainstorming.  The PersonalBrain is the software implementation of this technique.  We have been using  it for our various mind-mapping tasks past six years.  One feature we have been asking for is a Mac version of this great piece of software.

When Apple moved to the Intel processor, we knew that it would just be a matter of time before the PersonaBrain will be available on OSX.  We are happy to say that day has arrived!  Actually, it arrived over a year ago, but we were just too busy to notice.

In any case, we recently downloaded version 4.5 for OSX, installed it on our PowerBook, and will be checking out its new features over the next few days.  There will be a full review once we have had an opportunity to merge all the brains we have created these past years. [Permalink] - Personal Brain for OSX


July 27,2008 (WeekendEdition)

Those of you who came by for the "sale" last week got some nice bargains.  We got rid of some good office funiture at some great prices.  This weekend, folks here stopped by IKEA and picked up some new items for their workspace. 

As with all things IKEA, assembly IS required.  Putting desks and shelves together are pretty easy.  Filing cabinets, on the other hand, are a different story.  Carolyn thought it would be "fun" to see just how long it takes to assemble one of these units.  We started the clock and off she went.

IKEA instructions are all in pictures, no language localization required.  Carolyn thought it best to lay things out before diving in.  The holes for the guides and rails are all pre-drilled.  This made the process a lot quicker.  Assembly can be done using a regular screwdriver, but a powered one is recommended.

Getting the guides on was the most time consuming part of the assembly process.  Erecting the cabinet, installing the lock, and handles were much quicker compared to mounting the guides.

The lock is a combination dial which turns to lower a latch into a slot in the side of the cabinet wall.  The lock will secure the file drawer and the two internal flat drawers.  The top drawer can still be opened when the bottom part is secured.

Once completed, we noticed that the alignment of the top drawer and the file drawer were a little bit off.  The bottom drawer does have controls which allows for some up/down and left/right adjustments, but both of these assumes the drawers are parallel...which they were not.  Overall, the build when quite smoothly.  The total time it took for the unpacking, assembly, and final adjustments?  About 2 hours from start to finish. The completed GALANT cabinet and table look great together, are very sturdy, and should hold up well in most SOHO environments. [Permalink] - Wan Chi Lau


June 25,2008 (WirelessWednesday)

Bluetooth is the wireless technology of choice for short haul device to device communications.  It is found in computers, PDAs, printers, cell phones, and headsets.

One of the leaders in Bluetooth products is an Australian company call BlueAnt.  A few of their products were reviewed here in the past (BlueSonic, SuperTooth2).  BlueAnt has recently released two new products:Supertooth3 handsfree kit and Z9i headset.

The Supertooth 3 handsfree speakerphone has a slew of new features (BT v2.0, voice command, multi-pairing).  The two new features we are most eager to test are "text-to-speech" and "voice command."  We have always found the need to push buttons while driving incredibly distracting.  These new capabilities are welcome additions which will let us keep our hands on the steering wheel.

The BlueAnt Supertooth 3 package comes 2 visor clips, an AC charger, and a car adapter.  The fully charged unit has 15 hrs of talk-time and an amazing 800 hrs of standby power. 

The Z9i is a super light 0.35 oz headset.  It now has dual mics, new noise suppression technology, and can support two phones simultaneously.  The Z9i will automatically answer the phone that rings first.  This is a great feature for those of us who carries a work and a personal phone.   FirstLook of the Supertooth 3 and the Z9i will be at the beginning of July.  How these new BlueAnt gear rate will be coming in a few months. [Permalink] - Wan Chi Lau


June 12,2008 (TechThursday)

Digital video editing used to take an entire studio.  With the MacBook Pro, a large external drive, and iMovies software, one can turn any room into a digital video editing studio.

Recently, our copy editor Carolyn needed to edit a few hours of training footage for a client down to a something more coherent.  With all of the photo shoots going on and gear strewn everywhere, she decide to claim the only unoccupied surface available, the table in the RainyDayKitchen.

Set up was easy: one USB cable from the laptop to the drive.  Carolyn finds the Saitek mouse with a scroll wheel to be a good editing accessory.  It is easier to scrub the frames back and forth using the scroll wheel then with the trackpad.

The important thing about working with a lot of video is to have plenty of contiguous disk space.  It speeds up the reads and writes to the drive.  Ten minutes of DV footage takes up about 2GB.  This external drive can store about 40 hours of video.  With a MacBook Pro and the Iomega UltraMax 500GB drive, we can really have a video editing workstation anywhere! [Permalink] - Wan Chi Lau


June 5,2008 (TechProjThursday)

As we have said many times (G3, Mac mini) in the past, the most important and cost effective upgrade to any computer is to install more RAM.  Whenever we want more memory, we head to RamJet.  Why? Fast service, great prices, and a lifetime warranty!

Apple has made it much easier to get at the memory slot in the 12" Powerbook than in the Pismo or the Mac mini.  The 12" Aluminum Powerbook has only one memory slot and it is accessible from the bottom of the laptop.  The only tool required is a small Philips screwdriver.  We use a needle-nose plier to pick up the screws.  It is always advisible to remove the battery when working on a laptop. 

The steps are simple: remove the four screws holding the cover in place, pop out the old SIMM, insert the new module, and put everything back together. 

To remove the old SIMM module, use the screwdriver to push the locking pins out to the side.  The SIMM will pop up at an angle.  Once up, the module may be pulled out.

The new module may then be inserted, taking care to properly align the notch and push down to lock the SIMM in place.  This is one of the easiest upgrade we have ever done.  The entire upgrade may be done in less than five minutes!  Anybody can do this.

Our next task will be to replace the keyboard.  The problem with the current one is there are a few non-working keys (Return, Shift) which, while not a huge problem, did tend to start getting on our nerves :-) [Permalink] - Wan Chi Lau


June 3,2008 (TechTuesday)

We let the BodyGuardz dry for a few hours before handling the iPod (not that it really would have mattered).  Here are a few shots of the cover to give you a sense of what to expect when it has dried.

Below are three generations of iPods (32GB iTouch, 60GB Video iPod, 4GB iPod nano) each covered with a film of some kind.  The two older iPods were covered using the InvisibleShield.   The new iTouch has the BodyGuardz. 

We have found these films to be effective protection against screen scratches.   They also do not reduce the brightness of the display in any noticeable way.  Definitely a good project for a rainy day :-) [Permalink] - Wan Chi Lau


May 29,2008 (TechThursday)

i-rocks makes some great peripherals for both the Mac and PC.  They are well engineered, cleanly styled, and reasonably priced.  We have many of their accessories (keyboard, enclosure, card reader) in-house and use them daily. 

Recently, we decided to reduce some of the "wire clutter" around the office, so we started looking at wireless keyboards and mice.  As expected, i-rocks had a combo which was exactly what we were looking for (cross-platform, USB, Bluetooth). 

The X-Slim keyboard has a very low profile.  The keys are well sculpted and the response is noiseless. The mouse is nicely sized and all of the buttons are ergonomically positioned.

Since these peripherals are wireless, power comes from on-board AA batteries.  The optical mouse needs one and keyboard requires two.  The compartments are accessible from the bottom of the devices.

We tested the i-rocks X-Slim USB keyboard and mouse with both Macs and PCs.  Installation and setup were both quick and simple.  The Bluetooth dongle had no problems connecting to the devices.  Folks here are loving their new peripherals.  BTW, anyone out there need some old keyboards and mice?  They are available, but comes with some "strings" attached :-)  [Permalink] - Wan Chi Lau


May 22,2008 (TravelTipThursday)

Traveling can be a lot of things: fun, relaxing, and a lot of work.  It can also mean greasy fingerprints on our laptop screen, cheesy drips on our cellphones, and BBQ sauce on our hands.  OK, the BBQ sauce was because we were down in Texas these past few days :-)

Fortunately for us, on this trip we added a new travel item to our travel kit.  The item, the La Fresh Tech Pack, made a difference on its first outing!  This pre-packaged kit has 4 wet/dry screen cleaning packets, 3 anti-bacterial towelettes, and 3 lens cleaning wipes.

One working lunch later and we were down several of the screen cleaners and a few packets of lens wipes.  We don't know how sauce got on the screen and our glasses, but getting it off with a napkin doesn't work as well as you think it would :-)  We didn't use any of the hand wipes because they had tons of the lemon-scented towelettes at the BBQ places.  If you travel with gadgets, pack this kit. That is our TravelTip for this Thursday.  [Permalink] - Wan Chi Lau


May 8,2008 (TravelGearThursday)

The Tom Bihn Ego bag has seen daily use since our FirstLook post last June.  We thought we would do a quick "almost one year" follow up on it today.

We use the Ego mostly for carrying the 15" MacBookPro and related gear (mouse, power supply, etc...).  When in a hurry, some have managed to stuff the new Nikon DSLR in with everything else. Even with the daily use, this bag looks almost new.  With Bihn's use of top notch material and the bag's excellent build quality it was not suprising that the Ego held up incredibly well. 

We recently discovered a new use for the Tom Bihn Ego: cat carrier!  We realized this when we found Eliot napping in the bag.  Apparently, the main compartment is big enough for one 10 pound cat to rest comfortably.

Note that this may not be an "approved" use of these bags and you will probably NOT be able to take your pets as "carry-on" luggage, but at least know that your Tom Bihn bags are useful in surprising ways :-)  If for some reason you need to transport two furry interns, we would suggest taking a look at the roomier Aeronaut[Permalink] - Wan Chi Lau


Apr 5,2008(WeekendEdition)

Now that folks here have had a chance to use OS X Leopard for a few weeks, we thought we would do a quick update on a feature call "Spaces" which we found surprisingly useful.

Since we are constantly shuffling between about a dozen different open windows (Dreamweaver, Photoshop, various browsers, email, etc...), our desktop gets pretty crowded.  Spaces is a feature which allows the user to logically group various windows on a desktop. 

We have found this feature to be very helpful in keeping the clutter down.  It is better than the "Show/Hide application" toggle because it will work for a group of apps and windows.

Some of us prefer using the keyboard to toggle amongst the various "spaces", but devices such as the Belkin Nostromos n52 is perfect for those who like dedicated keys for special functions.  The Belkin n52 is easy to program and works great with OS X Leopard. 

What are some of your favorite unexpected Leopard features?  Tell us via email.  If the interns agree, you may find yourself with one of these colorful Saitek accessories!  For our Windows-based readers, no worries, we'll be giving Saitek mice and USB hubs away the entire month of April... just keep a sharp eye out for clues.   [Permalink] - Wan Chi Lau


Apr 4,2008(CarbonFiberFriday)

Laptops are suppose to be light and portable.  Some are and some are not.  Putting a carbon fiber-like overlay on one does make it look great, but it does nothing for weight reduction.

One thing which actually makes laptops less portable is a heavy carrying case.  We have a few of those in the office and everytime we used them, we say to ourselves ..."there must be something lighter out there for this little laptop!"

Companies such as BUILT and Civilian Lab are a new breed of makers who understand this need and have created some excellent laptop cases which are protective, great looking, AND light weight.

BUILT is based out of NYC.  Their material of choice is neoprene.  Yes, the same stuff wetsuits are made of.  BUILT laptop cases have some unique properties not available in other cases.  We'll have more to say about them in our FirstLook review of the Porter and the Cargo.

Another other company with a cool laptop case is Civilian Lab.  They have a case called the Radiator which uses suction cups to hold the case to the laptop.  There are reasons for this approach :-)

These cases may be smaller than the traditional leather laptop "luggage" everyone hauls around, but they are not less protective than their larger counterparts.  Tomorrow we'll show what can fit inside these cases by BUILT and Civilian Lab.  You may find youself thinking...maybe it's time my laptops lost a few pounds! [Permalink] - Wan Chi Lau


Mar 31,2008(MonitorMountMonday)

Apple Macintosh computers have been able to support multiple monitors since the days of the Mac II.  Having multiple displays is great, but it does take up desk space.  Mounting them on the wall was not practical until the introduction of LCD panels. 

Today, we'll show how easy it is to mount your LCD on the wall.  A wall mount for an LCD monitor runs between $30 and $200 depending on the number of articulations and the amount of weight it can support. 

Our particular mount can be adjusted in the horizontal position.  The monitor may be tilted forward or backward from vertical by about 20º, useful for setting the most comfortable view angle.  The wall plate has a built-in bubble level to make it easy to set it absolutely vertical.  The plate attaches to the wall via 2 large screws.  Just be sure the screws are set into the studs and not just the sheetrock.

The mounting plate's hole locations are standardized, so attaching to the monitor was simple.  We did have to use the supplied spacers because the screws were too long.  With the wall plate attached and the arm mounted to the LCD panel, all we had to do was slide the arm onto the wall plate.

Once the monitor was on the wall, we adjusted its position to a comfortable viewing angle and tightened down the joints. Total time for the project...19 minutes from start to finish :-)  [Permalink] - Wan Chi Lau


Mar 24,2008(MusicMonday)

The Altec Lansing T612 is a new breed of iPod speakers.  They are designed to support the new iPod Touch and iPhone.  If you have upgraded to either of these new iPods and want something which will complement their great looks, the T612 may be just what you have been looking for.

In the photo above, we lit it so you can see the four speakers underneath the grill.  The iPod Touch fits perfectly, but your older nano will look just as slick docked in the T612. 

While the controls on your iPod will work, we would definitely recommend using the remote control.  Pushing the iPod while it is docked would stress the connector.  The blue LEDs volumn indicators are hidden underneath the grill. They light up when the controls are pressed, but will go dark after a few seconds.  The sound was surprisingly rich given the size of the speakers.  The sound from the T612 had no problems filling our 30x20 office.

The real feature of the Altec Lansing T612 is not just its great sound and ability to support all of the dockable iPods, but its shielding from iPhone interference.  We'll cover that in our next installment of the T612 FirstUse review.  [Permalink] - Wan Chi Lau

Mar 21,2008

Usually this time of the year we would be in South Beach "shooting" our annual Spring Break issue.  However, we had to pass on it this year because there were just too many gadgets waiting to be reviewed for this Spring season.  Hey, I thought we were in a recession!

For a while we had stopped reviewing iPod docks, but with the introduction of the iPhone and iPod Touch, a whole new and more interesting series of docks began surfacing again.  So we are now back in the game.  First up for Spring is the Altec Lansing T612 iPod Speaker dock. 

The Altec Lansing T612 system is designed to work with the iPhone, but will connect with any iPod which fits the standard iPod connector.  It will also connect with MP3 players or external audio sources via the supplied 3.5mm stereo cable.

The design of the unit is simple and elegant.  The controls are on top and the cable connections are in the back.  It takes its design cues from the aluminum iMac series.  We especially like the non-reflective rubberized surface...no fingerprints to clean!  The docking adapter plate is not needed for use with the iPhone or iPod Touch.  The T612 also comes with a remote control unit.

Since the unit is so thin, it will fit pretty much anywhere (desk, shelf) and look great do it.  We'll give more details on the specs, usability, and sound quality of the Altec Lansing T612 in our FirstUse report. - Wan Chi Lau (permalink)

Mar 19,2008

With the Mac open and the drives out of the way, we are FINALLY ready to upgrade the RAM modules :-)  The old SIMMs are held in place by the spring clips on the side.  To remove the old SIMMs just push the clips on the side and the modules will pop up.

Remove the old SIMMs and insert the new ones.  Note and align the notch with the slot, push in the SIMM, and press down to lock it in place.

Once both modules have been replaced, just reverse the steps to put the Mac mini back together.  There are only two things to note in the reassembly process: align the top/bottom connector and press together firmly, reconnect the small connector.

When everything has been reassembled, reconnect the various external pieces (monitor, keyboard, mouse), and see if it boots.  If it does, confirm the new memory size with the "About This Mac" menu selection.  Even though we spread this project out over three days, the entire upgrade only took about 30 minutes.  This upgrade is very easy to do and it will be the best money you can spend on speeding up your system. - Wan Chi Lau (permalink)

Mar 18,2008(TechTuesday)

Yesterday we showed you how to open the Mac mini.  Today we detail how to get the top layer out of the way so we can get at the SIMM slots. The only tool needed for this task is a Philips head jeweler's screwdriver.

To get the top layer out of the way, four screws must be removed.  The photos below show the location of the screws.  Three of them are easily accessible.  The forth one is underneath the WiFi antenna.

The WiFi antenna can be easily removed by pushing the two retaining pins in toward the center spring.  The antenna will pop free when both pins are out of their notch. 

There is one last item which must be freed before the drives can be lifted free.  If you look carefully, you will see a small two pin connector on one side.  Once freed, the drives may be pulled up and hinged back out of the way, revealing the RAM slots.  Now you are ready to put in the new memories. 

Tomorrow we'll wrap this upgrade project up with the installation of the two 1GB RamJet SIMMs, putting eveything back together, and run some tests to make sure it still works.  - Wan Chi Lau (permalink)

Mar 17,2008(MacMiniMonday)

The interns spent the past few days upgrading the Mac mini to OSX 10.5.1, installing the iPhone SDK, and testing everything to make sure nothing has gone haywire.  The only task left for them now is to make everything work FASTER. 

One sure way to make things go faster is to install more RAM!  Last month got two 1GB modules from RamJet.   Over the next few days, we'll show readers how to crack open the Mac mini, upgrade the memory, and put everything back together...all in less than 30 minutes.

To open the Mac mini's case, you MUST use a thin spring steel blade.  A $3 putty knife is the ideal tool for this task.  The first step is to turn the Mac onto its back

Find a space on the edge between the plastic and the aluminum cover and slide in the knife as far as it will go.  Press down on the knife until the plastic cage slides up.  Work the knife around the edge and repeat until the entire cage is freed.  Flip the Mac back over and lift the cover off, revealing the insides.

The SIMM slots are at the bottom of all of the electronics.  Tomorrow we'll show you how to get the stuff on top out of the way, remove the old modules, and install the new RamJet memories.  - Wan Chi Lau (permalink)

Mar 15,2008

Originally we were going to do some work with the OBD units, but the weather was such that most of us stayed inside and played around with the copies of OSX Leopard which showed up on Friday.

As with previous Apple software installations, upgrading from Tiger to Leopard was a simple process.  A few clicks of the mouse, type in a password, and 40 minutes later (the installer's estimate was a tad pessimistic) the upgrade was finished.

There are quite a few benefits in upgrading from Tiger to Leopard, but our the main reason was so we could play with the new iPhone SDK. Over the next few days, we'll be doing all kinds of projects with the Mac mini (installing XCode, upgrading the RAM to 2GB, and playing with the iPhone SDK)...all kinds of geeky fun! - Wan Chi Lau (permalink)

Mar 4,2008

There are a variety of ways (jacket, packs, knapsack) to carry the gear we use everyday.  This harness system from Civilian Lab may be the most unique amongst all of the methods we have reviewed to date. 

If you need to have easy access to lots of different gadgets, there is a Civilian Lab system which will suit your needs.  If you want a system which is adaptable, Civilian Lab has a harnessing mode (chest, belt, thigh, etc...) which can accommodate the situation.

The construction and materials used are both very high quality.  All of the external storage compartments have velcro closures for secure containment while still enabling quick access to the gear.  The flaps are padded to give the contents bump protection.

The inside of the bags have even more pockets, slots, and openings for holding pens, probes, or whatever.  The design is such that the contents are secure but accessible, a very important feature in bags for active users.

There are multiple ways to strap on these Civilian Lab harness bags.  For extended use or when carrying a lot of weight, padded shoulder straps may be added to the harness to distribute the load.

Some here are wondering just how much gear can be loaded into this harness system.  You'll see when we fill it up and take it out for a FirstUse test in the Spring. - Wan Chi Lau (permalink)

Feb 29,2008

By now, everybody has heard Apple will be releasing the iPhone/iPod Touch SDK next week.  For the past six months, we had been working on various iPod projects.  Today we went out and picked up a few more iPods from our local Apple store.

When the Apple clerk was ringing up the sale, we realized these iPods would get trashed pretty quickly if we didn't get some cases for them.  The problem is, knowing the folks here, the iPods would be out of their cases more often than not. 

Remembering how well a protective film worked for our iPod nano, we decided to see what was available for the iPod Touch.  We found a product called BodyGuardZ which claims to be the toughest film covering on the market today. 

Some readers may remember the early days of film protection.  We are happy to report that things have come a long way since 2005. Back then we had to make our own soapy solution and dip the films into a tub of liquid.  Today, products such as the BodyGuardZ comes with everything needed for applying the film to the gear.

Each package contains two sets of covers, a bottle of spray on application solution, a squeege card, and full instructions.  Some users may want to use both the front and back films, but based on our experience with the nano, it is likely that most can get by with just covering the front. - Wan Chi Lau (permalink)

Feb 26,2008

Recently we upgraded the Mac mini with the latest version of iLife.  Getting the new iPhoto features was our reason for the upgrade.  However, we soon realized that iMovie and iDVD also had some significant changes.  However, when we ran those apps, we noticed the Mac mini ran a lot slower.

We traced the problem to the fact that we only had 512MB of RAM in the machine.  As most readers probably already know, upgrading a machine's memory is probably one of the most cost effective way to increase its performance. 

There are a LOT of memory vendors out there.  They are NOT all the same.  When we needed memory, we head to a company called RamJet.  Their site is easy to use.  The "memory locator" on the site will make sure you get the EXACT type of memory you need for your machine.  The RamJet service is great and their memory modules are guaranteed for life.  What more can one ask for?

This memory upgrade project is something that most readers should be able to do with no special tools.  While opening the Mac Mini can be a bit of a challenge, the upgrade itself should be very simple.  We'll show readers how to open it and upgrade the memory step by step.  This is definitely a great project for a Spring rainy day. - Wan Chi Lau (permalink)

Feb 25,2008

Here are some more FirstLook details reagarding the LapWorks Attache ergonomic laptop stand/cooler we mentioned on Friday.  The stand is weighs 2.5lbs and is about 13"x12."  It is a little more than 1.5" thick when laying flat but can be set at four different support angles.

The Attache may work better on a desk, but in our FirstLook we'll be using it on top of a swing-away platform.  In today's setup, we won't be hooking up any external keyboards or mouse to the stand.  We just wanted to see how well it holds the various laptops (Pismo, Picturebook, ThinkPad, MacBookPro) we have around the office.

The 13"x12" surface easily accommodated all of the laptops we tested.  The computers stayed in place securely.  They did not slide around or move in any way.

While most laptops vent from the side or the rear, the battery, hard drive, and processor all tend to give off a significant amount of heat which users can directly feel on the bottom of the laptop.

We had mentioned in the FirstLook that the surface is slightly curved for better air flow.  Looking at the setup from the side, one can see the curve created an opening for plenty of flow regardless of the type of laptop. 

After playing around with the various laptops on the Attache, we did notice a few potential problems.  First issue was the tab at the base extended a bit high if the laptop was really thin like our Vaio 505VE.  Fortunately, during actual use, the clearance was such that it was not an issue with any of the laptops. 

The second issue was that many of the screens tend to hit the tabs when we tried to close the laptops.  We thought this would be a rather annoying problem when our interns casually pointed out that we were just too rigid in our thinking.  They then made this small adjustment and said that was the reason why they should be making more money.  Wise-asses :-) - Wan Chi Lau (permalink)

Feb 22,2008

Today's laptops run hot, sometimes uncomfortably so.   Keeping them running cool is probably one of the most important ways to extend the life of the machine.  LapWorks has recently introduced a cooling stand which is designed to do just that. 

Long-time readers know we have looked at laptop coolers and stands (CushTop, Futura) in the past.  What is unique about the LapWorks Attache is it has finally combined the two most desirable features, laptop cooling and good ergonomics, in one attactive and compact unit!

The entire surface of the LapWorks Attache is covered by a 2mm thick aluminum plate.  There are two hinges at the base to keep the laptop from sliding off.  There are also rubber feet at the bottom to keep the stand from sliding around on the desk.

The unit has two cooling fans and a slightly curved design to allow for adequate air flow between the stand and the back of the laptop.  This dual approach, fan (air flow) and aluminum plate (heat sink), is designed to give efficient cooling of the laptop with a minimum of bulk.

Integrated into the body of the stand is a 4-port USB (3 rear, 1 side) 2.0 hub.  This is a convenient feature for attaching an external keyboard and mouse to the laptop for "at desk" use.

We will try out the LapWorks Attache with a few of the laptops in the office to see how well it does in keeping them running cool.  We will also see whether it is practical to take it along with us when we take our laptops on the road.  Based on this FirstLook, we are quite impressed with the overall build quality and thoughtful design of the LapWorks Attache.  We are hopeful that we will be just as pleased with it performance in our FirstUse of the unit.   - Wan Chi Lau (permalink)

Feb 14,2008

RainyDayMagazine readers are well aware of our penchant for Tom Bihn gear.  Someone in an elevator once noticed we had a Tom Bihn case and said they had a few Bihn bags.  His toughest problem was coming up with new reasons for continually purchasing the latest TB creations.  We know EXACTLY how he feels :-)

The newest in the Tom Bihn line is the Western Flyer.  It is designed to be a blend of a business case and an overnight bag.  Empty, it is a little thicker than the Zephyr briefcase, but much thinner than the Aeronaut.

If you take a lot of overnight trips but only want to travel with one bag, this Western Flyer was designed for you.  The bag has plenty of room for the typical stuff (a laptop, some files, dress shirt, gadgets, etc...) you will likely pack for a short trip.

The Western Flyer has two compartments, both of which can open flat for easy packing of shirts and pants.  There are also internal zippered compartments for separating out smaller travel items.

To make sure this bag is as easy to use as it is to pack, there are the usual easy access front pockets, rain resistant heavy duty zippers, convenient pulls, and multiple carrying options.  We'll let you know how well these features perform when we get this Western Flyer out on it first trip! - Wan Chi Lau (permalink)

Jan 25,2008

Our American Airlines flight took off and landed on time, which is exactly what we want from an airline.  Flying is easier now that everyone is used to the ritual of the new "security" procedures.  Like many, we are unclear whether making everyone take their shoes off at the security line does anything more than ensure everyone wear socks without holes when they fly, which I suppose is a good thing...at least for the seller of socks.

We are perplexed that TSA is more worried about shoes but not at all of the electronics many passengers take onboard.  At last count, we have the following devices with us in our carry-on: Blackberry, GPS, Bluetooth headphone, security keys, laptop, and a digital camera.  All of these devices have batteries of some sort and is potentially more problematic than a pair of shoes.  Well, we are sure the TSA knows what they are doing.

Yesterday, we mentioned we take the StealthSurfer with us when we travel.  Another piece of gear we now also pack with us is one of our trusty GPS units.

Driving around in a strange city is much easier when you don't have to worry about getting lost.  If you don't have a GPS, you can still find out where you are by using your Blackberry and Google Maps.

By triangulating off cell phone towers and overlaying satellite images on the calculated position, Google Maps can give a fix of your Blackberry's approximate location in real time.  It won't replace a dedicate GPS yet, but it is still a really fun application to play with in the while someone else is driving :-) - Wan Chi Lau (permalink)

Jan 24,2008

This is the time of the year for tradeshows (CES, MacWorld, PMA).  Many of us are on the road checking out the gear for 2008.  Some of us are out visiting clients, reviewing the progress of last year, and discussing new initiatives for this year.

When the folks here go on short hops for business, they usually grab the Pacific Design roller and laptop case combo.  These two pieces (Evolution, Nucleus) are well designed for a few key reasons: tough construction, lots of storage, and light weight.  After a year of pulling them around various airports and hotels, this combo is still our first choice for business trips.

One new piece of gear we now always take on the road with us is the StealthSurfer.  While the availability of free WiFi everywhere is wonderful, hopping on an unknown network or hotel computer is like asking a stranger to pass along a personal message...you never know who you are talking to.  StealthSurfer takes all of the risk out of logging on while on the road.  Check out the details of this "must-have" piece of roadwarrior gear here. - Wan Chi Lau (permalink)

Jan 18,2008

We turned off one of our Moto RAZR yesterday and got a very different "log on" screen when we tried turning it back on.  It appears that the software on the phone somehow got corrupted and was not able to start up poperly.

A service call to T-Mobile and visits to two T-Mobile stores convinced us that it was highly unlikely that anyone in those stores would be sufficently technical to help.  We should have just Googled "Boot Loader" and saved ourselves a lot of running around.  A quick search brought us up-to-date on the basics of RAZR phone flashing (MultiFlashFlex, Monster Packs, RSD Lite). 

The basic steps to "re-flashing" a phone are: find the software drivers to enable the phone to be recognized by computer when connected via USB, obtain the appropriate upgrade pack(s) for the phone, use an uploading tool to install the upgrade software to the phone.

Once the "re-flashing" process completed the RAZR came back to life.  The phone now functions perfectly.  It responses faster, has a few more applications, and we think the photos taken with the camera may even have improved!

If our success in repairing the RAZR has given you the inspiration to try it with your dead phone, then go poke around on the Net. You will eventually find what you need. 

Just beware that we had to look in some pretty dodgy areas for some of the files and tools.  However, if you have a phone which has crashed to the point of no recovery, then you don't have much to lose.  It will be more fruitful than bringing it to the phone store and in the end at least you will have learned something.  We can pretty much guarantee THAT :-) - Wan Chi Lau (permalink)

Jan 16,2008

We are sure those interested in all things Apple have already heard about the supermodel thin MacBook Air announced at yesterday's MacWorld.

However, just in case you haven't, here is a summary: 3 lbs, 5 hr battery life, $1800.  Features includes a multi-touch trackpad, built-in iSight camera, and the option for a 64GB SSD.  What is an SSD?

SSD stands for Solid State Drive and is made of Flash memory.  It is the same stuff used to store pictures in your digital camera packaged to work like a hard drive.  Why use SSD?  Flash memory chips has no moving parts.  It uses no power unless data is being read from or written to it.  It will not care if it is dropped.  It is perfect for laptops.  Why is it not used everywhere now?  It is expensive.  At today's prices, a 64GB SSD will cost around $1000 to $1500.  Compare that to a regular 80GB hard drive costing around $150 and you see that it will be a few more years before SSDs can make it in the mass market.

However, we are glad to see this option available even if it will only be a selected few who can afford it.  Options such as SSD is a chicken and egg issue.  The cost will go down when there is mass adoption.  Mass adoption will only occur when it is cost competitive.  Sony has had this option available in some of the UMPCs.  Now with the introduction of the MacBook Air, that day is getting a little closer.- Wan Chi Lau (permalink)


Jan 15,2008

A LOT of Bluetooth headphones have passed through the RainyDayMagazine office over the years.  We have tried units from Plantronics, ORokr, RazrWire, etc...  They all worked well and are great to use while driving in the Boxster with the top down.  However, none of them are ones we would wear any longer than necessary because they are just too big.

This week two new units (Invisio B3, Invisio G5) from NextLink showed up at the office.  They are incredibly small!  So small that we may even be able to leave it in all the time :-)

The Invisio G5 headphone is the smaller of the two.  The G5 is so tiny that it cannot be charged using a mini USB plug.  Instead, it comes with a separate carrying case which doubles as a charging unit. 

The case has a built in battery so the G5 can be recharged when it is not plugged into an outlet.  A very clever design!!!

To charge the headphone, just place it inside the case and close the top.  The case and G5 may be charged simultaneously. 

We have a few different headsets to test this month.  One of them is from FoneGear and two from NextLink.  It looks like we'll be making a lot of calls this month! - Wan Chi Lau (permalink)

Jan 8,2008(GearTestTuesday)

Just about everyone who covers consumer electronics is at the CES out in Las Vegas this week.  We used to go, until we realized that most of what we saw at the show never made it on the market.  So for the past four years, we have stayed home during the "crazy" season :-)  When we want to see what is the latest, we just pop over to Gizmodo!  It costs a lot less and gives us more time for testing gear that has actually made it on to the market!

Today, we will be reporting on the results of our FirstLook of the OtterBox Armor case for the iPod Touch.  This case, like all of the other cases in the Otter line are functional, tough, and great looking.

The front of the case has a crystal clear window.  The material is soft enough to allow the user to manipulate the screen, but feels tough enough to hold up to extended use.  There is a removable clip on the back which doubles as a cord management system.  The case does add some thickness to the iPod, but did we mention this case is part of Otter's Armor series?

The latch to the OtterBox case is on top.  As expected, there is an O-ring around the perimeter of the case.  On the bottom of the case is the watertight headphone socket.

The lid of the case opens enough to insert the Touch.  It was easy to seat the iPod in the case, especially with the headphone plug inside the case as the guide.  The overall fit is perfect.  The iPod does not move at all when inside the case.

Since this is suppose to be a watertight case, we had to at least dunk it into the water to see if that were any leaks.  Yes, we could have done it without the iPod, but what fun would that have been?

We left the iPod under water for about five minutes.  During that time we saw no bubbles rising out of or any signs of seepage into the case.  The moment of truth came when we reached in an pressed the button to turn the iPod on.  No problems.

While the case will protect the iPod if dropped in to water, it clearly does not float.  So this case is good for protecting the iPod in rugged and dirty environments, but don't drop it overboard!

Everyone here had full confidence that the OtterBox case would keep the Touch perfectly safe.  The OtterBox Armor case is rated to 3 feet deep.  However, we think this is a conservative estimate.  If you want to see just how deep we can go with this case before water starts seeping in, just send us your iPod Touch and we'll be happy to test it out :-) - Wan Chi Lau (permalink)

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