Tag Archives: gadgets

Sunday Mashup: JVC Pocket Camcorder & Sporting Clays

This week I bought a JVC GC-FM1A HD camcorder.  Although I am starting to suspect that this camera might suck, other than the complete lameness of the included MediaBrowser LE software, which does not even recognize HD video on the camera, the jury is still  out.  I do like the fact the camera records onto a flash card, which allows me to remove the card and manipulate the video within Corel VideoStudio 12 (VS 12 users should note that non-HD video is in 4:3 format, to avoid the squished appearance that will result if you set your non-HD video project files to 16:9).

I decided to test the camera by combining two of my favorite things: tech and shotguns.  When I went out to shoot some sporting clays today, I took the camera and my spider tripod and filmed a few shots at each station.  I inadvertently shot the video in non-HD, so the resulting video is in lower than ideal resolution.  One of the features this camera needs is a way to lock the resolution, to avoid accidental resolution changes.

When editing the video footage, it became apparent that my camera placement and, more importantly, the lower resolution made it difficult to see the clays in flight.  It is likely that you would need to follow the clays with the camera to get a good shot shot (to coin a phrase).  Since I was by myself, that was not an option today.  Cassidy and Delaney often go shooting with me, so we’ll have to try a moving camera next time.  I hope that HD resolution will allow you to see the clays in flight, even with a stationary camera.

I love the fact that HD video cameras are getting smaller.  What I would really love would be for the iPhone to shoot HD video.  When that happens (and eventually it will), I will be a happy camper.  In the meantime, I continue to search for a small, full feature HD camcorder that will let me shoot video and easily upload it to YouTube or Vimeo or download it to my computer for use within an editing application.  Suggestions would be appreciated.

As far as the shooting went, I did good with everything in the air, particularly since the pull-delay wasn’t working at some of the stations and I was shooting alone, and horrible with the rabbit shots, where the clays bounce along the ground.  It’s hard to believe I can hit so many of one and so few of the other.

Can TIVO Emerge from the Grave?

imageAs long time readers know, my TIVO cycle went from deep and abiding love, to concern as the horizon darkened, to anger at DirecTV for abandoning TIVO, to a cynical Deathwatch and, finally, to irritation at what I saw as irrational death throes.  Well, there have been recent signs that, like Dracula, TIVO may soon emerge from the grave and retake its place with the living gadgetry.

First, there came news that DirecTV had seen the error and avarice of its ways and was partnering up with TIVO to develop a high definition DirecTV TIVO.  Initially, I put the odds on this happening just above the odds of me ever using Facebook.  Which at the time were astronomically low.

Well, guess what. . .

But the new DirecTV TIVO story had some staying power.  At the moment, it looks like DirecTV customers might get a new TIVO option next yearMaybe.  You can sign up here for relevant announcements.

image_thumbIt gets better.

Today, I read that TIVO has enabled a feature that lets users subscribe to and download video podcasts.  There are potential devils in the details (most significantly, the ability or lack thereof to create a “season pass” equivalent for custom video feeds), but there’s no denying that if executed correctly this will be a neat feature.

Does this mean I will trash my semi-functional but nowhere near a TIVO DirecTV HD recorders?  I don’t know.  It depends on the cost.  Much more delay and I will be out of the contract period I agreed to when DirecTV gave me the new boxes (after I threatened to go crawling back to cable).  If I can get a fancy, new TIVO.  If it doesn’t cost me too much.  And if I believe that history will not repeat itself.  Then I might.

Either way, competition is good for consumers.  And it would be psychologically rewarding to see a technology as good as TIVO survive.  Even if it is, to some extent, in spite of itself.

Phones Down, Tablets to Go

While much of the Apple tablet coverage is, at this point, speculation and rumor, I think it’s reasonable to believe that Apple will release a tablet or tablet-like device.  And I think it’s a good bet that when it does, the Apple tablet will revolutionize the tablet space the way the iPhone forever changed the mobile phone universe.

In other words, the only train wreck I predict is a traffic jam created by the train loads of people lining up outside the Apple stores to buy one.  Or two or three.  I can envision- and embrace- a world where the Apple tablet simultaneously turns the tablet, music and Kindle markets on their respective heads.  I’m particularly hoping Apple can find a way to knock the Kindle off the top of the mountain, and bring choice, price sanity and color into the game.  The hard part will be getting the publishers onboard, but if anyone can do it, Apple can.

For $800 or so, I will buy one the day they are available.  To the extent I can replace both my tablet, my over-priced 1984-stealing Kindle and maybe a music player or two with a single device, I’ll be happy.  Integrated wireless broadband is a must.  To the extent Apple does the only sane thing and avoids tying me to a single wireless carrier, I’ll be really happy.  To the extent I can do all of that for something less- maybe $500- I might buy one for my kids.

But there are a few hills to climb on the journey from strategy to implementation.

First, Apple has to decide which side of the fence the OS will land on- iPhone or Mac.  It’s odd, but the Mac has become the weak-point in Apple’s line up.  I can’t imagine ever using a mobile phone other than an iPhone.  Apple TV is an elegant, fun and much under-marketed device that could easily replace a more traditional television service (for one monthly DirecTV payment, I could buy all 5 seasons of The Wire for my Apple TV).  While I use my Mac occasionally, the fact is that it doesn’t do a lot of stuff as well, or cheaply, as my PC.  The cloud will help, but not enough.  I hope the Apple tablet experience is more iPhone-like and less Mac-like.

This would mean that either iPhone apps will need to work on the Apple tablet, or Apple will have to make it harder for developers, by asking or requiring them to develop for separate platforms.  I’m betting- and hoping- for the former.  There’s very little I need done that can’t be done on an iPhone.  Only the screen size holds me back.

Second, Apple needs to walk the music walk and create a good sound.  I don’t think you can do that with integrated speakers on a small device, so that means Apple will need to develop and either include or offer good, affordable external speakers.  And a remote control.  iPodish docking devices would be another option, but I want the tablet to be the device- not support the device, so I want good external speakers.

Finally (and here comes my sermon again), Apple needs to completely trash the current iTunes application and build a good one from scratch.  iTunes is both the control panel and traffic cop for Apple’s audio video content.  And it sucks.  Completely and utterly.  Even the stripped down Apple TV interface is better than iTunes.  I realize this isn’t going to happen- especially if the “this year” rumors are true regarding the tablet.  But iTunes needs to go, and the sooner the better.

If they play their cards even halfway right, Apple can own the tablet space.  There are some issues to address, but I’m not going to bet against Apple.

Not again.

Pogo-plugging into a Private Cloud

My Pogoplug came today.  I opened it about 15 minutes ago.  Here’s the skinny.

imageSetup was almost as simple as advertised.  I plugged the Pogoplug in, connected it to a network switch in my study, and got an immediate green light (that’s good).  I connected a new Seagate Free Agent hard drive, and activated my Pogoplug via the Pogoplug web site.  With a couple of minor exceptions, it was as easy as could be:

1. It was hard to read the tiny Pogoplug identification number on the attached sticker.  A quick look with a lighted magnifying glass revealed that what I thought was a letter was in fact a number (no big deal- it took maybe a minute longer to reenter the number); and

2. I had to right click and “safely remove” the hard drive from my computer after I formatted it before attaching it to my Pogoplug.  I never, ever do the safely remove thing, but the help box in the Pogoplug activation window suggested I do so (also no big deal, though it cost me an extra 10 minutes or so).

Once you get everything connected, you can log in to your private cloud via the Pogoplug web page.

The interface is perfectly acceptable, even if not perfect.

pogoplug1

The only semi-bummer is that you can’t drag items into a new folder via the web interface.  If you download the Pogoplug software (see the link at the top), your Pogoplug drive will appear in Windows Explorer, just like any other drive.

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There is software for Windows and OS X and a beta version for the four people who actually use Linux for this sort of thing.  From there, you can presumably drag and drop uploads and drag items into folders.  Very nice idea, but I couldn’t get it to work.  It could be another router problem.  If so, this is getting old fast.

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Sharing via your Pogoplug is a mixed bag.  You can share entire folders with selected people via an email authorization procedure.  A neat feature is the ability to share the contents of a folder via an RSS feed.  Here’s mine.  You can’t share items individually (only via sharing an entire folder), and you can’t generate direct links to serve media in blog posts and web pages.  At a minimum, Pogoplug needs an embeddable media player, like the elegant one at divShare.

There is a free iPhone app, which installed quickly and allowed instant views of the files on my Pogoplug, over wi-fi and 3G.  I could easily access my photos and MP3s.  Uploading a photo from my iPhone to my Pogoplug was easy and fast.  I didn’t see an option for uploading anything other than a photo.

photo

Overall, I am pretty impressed with Pogoplug, and it will definitely replace my current private cloud setup.

Me Too Phone: Dell to Release a Smartphone?

meetooThe WSJ reports that Dell is about to release a cell phone, possibly as early as next month.  Dan Frommer says it might be called the MePhone, and has a rumored release date of 9/9/09.  9/9/99 would be a better date, and here’s why.

First, the train has left the station.  And the iPhone is clearly the locomotive.  Far behind, but still hanging on, are RIM’s Blackberry Storm (if you’re thinking of buying one, click that link and the intro will send you scrambling towards the Apple Store) and the various Android devices (which have Google’s mojo, money and applications behind them, mainly to get more Google apps into use).  The once thought to be dead Palm prepares to attempt a comeback with the Pre (a silly name, but who knows, maybe it will give the iPhone some much needed competition).

When the Storm came out, there was a little buzz, but not a fraction of the buzz that surrounds even a minor iPhone update.  In the following weeks, the press and reviews were mixed, at best.  I work in the most Blackberry-centric industry there is, and I have seen exactly one Storm in the wild.

Even with Google behind it, the Android buzz came and went, almost without anyone outside of the tech blogosphere noticing.  The Pre is getting some attention, partially out of surprise and partially out of hope.

But in the end they are all playing for second place.  Or in Dell’s case, fourth or fifth.

The iPhone/Apple cult combination has created such tremendous loyalty and raised expectations to such an lofty extent that it would be almost impossible for any new device to measure up- much less blow people away.  Sure, I’m in the iPhone/Apple club, but a true competitor would be the best thing that could happen for consumers.

Yes, competition would be the best thing.  About the worse thing, at least for Dell, would be to toss out a “me too” handset just to get in the handheld game.  Dell already tried to compete with Apple in the MP3 player space, only to beat a hasty retreat.  Last year there were reports that another attempt was forthcoming, but that attempt was delayed.  I have no idea what the plan is now.

Remember the Dell Axim?  Me neither.  Dell entered the cooling PDA market in 2002.  And withdrew in 2007.

As computers complete the inevitable transition from beloved high-end electronic device to taken for granted low-end commodity, I suppose Dell has to follow the money and the margins.  But unless they have beat the odds and created something that is revolutionary, or at least evolutionary, and not at all devolutionary, it’s not going to work.

I hope I’m wrong.

Phone Choices and the Doggone Password Problem

passwords

I need some help.

I have been using a Blackberry 7130e for the past 2 years.  It’s been a good phone, but it’s getting a little long in the tooth.  It does media only slightly better than 2 cans and some string.  I need a new phone.  Fortunately, I am out of contract with Verizon, my current provider, so I am free to pick any phone and any provider I want.  Sort of.

There are issues to be dealt with…

Like most big companies, my firm uses Microsoft Exchange Servers and BlackBerry Enterprise Servers.  Like many big companies, my firm does not use IMAP, I assume because the decision makers do not believe it is secure enough.  Which means that, as much as I dig my wife’s iPhone, if I ponied up and bought one, I could not access my work email, contacts, etc. with it.  This is a problem.  Ideally, I want to carry one device to get all my mail and to serve as my phone.  Carrying a phone and a separate Blackberry for work is inefficient and is not my preference.

Plus, as much as I like the iPhone, it is not without other drawbacks.  It’s not 3G compatible, the camera does not have a flash, there is no voice dialing and some of its features require a Wi-Fi connection.  And, as I have said before, I don’t want to be tied to iTunes to synch my data or to manage my music.

As I mentioned the other day, in an effort to keep me as a customer, Verizon sent me a Blackberry Pearl 8130 for $50.  I thought, incorrectly, that no contract extension was required.  I learned today that a 2 year extension is required, but that I can return the new phone and be free of the contract extension.  The fact is, however, that I really like the 8130.  It’s fast, it has a camera with a flash, it does voice dialing, works with Google maps (with GPS), and it is set up to receive my work and my personal email seamlessly.  In fact, I would strongly consider extending my Verizon contract, keeping the 8130 and waiting for the Blackberry 9000 to hopefully rock my world, but for one little complication…

After I activated my old phone, but before I got the 8130, my firm decided that everyone’s Blackberry should have a forced password on it.  This means that after 30 minutes of inactivity, my phone locks, and I have to enter a password on that little Suretype keyboard before I can access my email, contacts, camera and other applications.  This is not a huge problem for most people at my firm, because they do not use their firm-issued Blackberries as their phones.  On the other hand, I use my Kent-purchased Blackberry as my phone, for my personal email, etc.  Plus, I do a lot of calls while driving, and having to enter that password every 30 minutes is, practically and psychologically, unappealing.  In sum, the password thing is close to a deal stopper for me as far as the phone and personal stuff goes.

So I see my choices as:

1. Getting an iPhone for my personal stuff and carrying a firm-issued, password enforced and likely rarely used Blackberry for my work stuff.  This seems really inefficient and unnecessary to me.  I don’t want to lug two devices around.  On the other hand, I would be able to quench my iPhone-lust.  But if I can’t get my work contacts, calendar and email on it, it’s not really serving its intended purpose.

2. Keeping the 8130 and living with the forced password.  I can’t adequately describe how intrusive I find the password thing.  I wish I could learn to live with it, but I don’t think I can.  On the other hand, if I could somehow come to terms with it, I could be happy with the 8130, and potentially thrilled with a subsequent 9000.

3. Returning the 8130, reactivating my old 7130e and waiting to see how the 9000 shakes out.  Unfortunately, because of account deletions and creations with the new phone, even if I go back to my old phone, I will have the forced password problem.  The only way this makes sense is if the iPhone will be able to pull email from Blackberry Enterprise servers within the foreseeable future.  And nothing I have read gives me any reason to believe that’s going to happen.

I end up caught between two less than satisfactory choices.  One, if I want an iPhone, I have to lug two devices around.  Two, if I want to have one device for everything, I have to live with a forced password.  Honestly, I find neither choice acceptable.

What should I do?

Road Gear

roadgear

Brad Kellett has a post about the tech gear he takes on the road.  He asks Richard Querin and me about our travel gear.

Here’s Richard’s response.

Now that I am so into photography, it makes picking gadgets for a trip tougher than it used to be.  My current digital SLR is a lot bigger than my old point and shoot, plus I have to choose and pack additional lenses I might need.

Given all of that, here’s my current travel gadget list:

1) Blackberry 7130e.  This is my everyday cell phone and PDA- plus it serves as a wireless broadband modem.  This allows me to connect to the net from airports, hotels and even out of the way places like Bandera.

2) Thinkpad X41 Tablet PC.  I have an HP laptop at my office, but I travel with the X41.  It’s smaller and the tablet form allows me to use it more easily on planes.  It has a memory slot where I can stick a memory card full of MP3s to listen to on the plane.  It’s not a perfect laptop, but overall I am very happy with it.

3) Linksys WTR54GS Travel Router.  If I am going to stay somewhere for more than a night or so, I generally buy the in-room internet access and then set up my travel router so I can use my X41 wirelessly.  This little router kicks ass.  I highly recommend it.

4) Canon EOS 30D.  I love this camera.  It’s big, though and once you add a couple of lenses, a charger and an extra battery, you’ve got a load.

5) Extra Lenses.  Typically, I take a wide angle lens and a zoom lens in addition to my primary lens.  If I am driving, this is not a problem, but if I am flying, the lens threshold becomes a bit higher.

6) Tripod.  If I am driving, I take a tripod for my camera.  If I’m flying, I don’t.

7) Assorted Memory Cards, Adaptors, Cables and Headphones.  I usually take 1 6GB memory card and 2 1GB memory cards, some cables to connect my gear and a memory card adaptor that lets me move my photos to my X41.  I also carry a set of headphones (full size- not earbuds) so I can listen to MP3s or watch movies on my X41.

8) Garmin StreetPilot 2620.  If I am driving, this is my handy co-pilot.  I sometimes take it on planes if I plan to rent a car in a city I don’t know well.  I have been a little frustrated with Garmin, but once you get it set up, this device works really well.

That’s my travel gear.  What’s yours?

Hey JK, Dwight and Claus- what do my fellow Houstonians carry around?

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At Long Last: The Convergence of Phones and PCs

I remember a few years ago when we were selecting new telephones for my office. A few of us got to test out some of the possilibities and we later talked about the pros and cons of each.

I made the point over and over again (as I know I am prone to do, but at least I’m consistent) that I couldn’t believe there wasn’t more convergence between the PC and the good old phone. Specifically, I was amazed then, and I am still amazed now, at the lack of communication between PCs and phones, particularly in the corporate environment. If you’d told me back in the eighties that in 2006 there would not be an easy and widely used way to click on a name in your Outlook contacts and have your phone dial that person’s number, I would have laughed in your face. Yet, if anything it’s gotten worse over the years. One click dialing actually worked back in the dial up with your slow modem days. If I were creating the tech universe, once click address book dialing would have been the next thing I did after word processing and email.

But is hasn’t happened. And the inroads that have been made are much better suited for you home telephone than your office one. There’s still not easy way to get your office PC to talk to your office phone.

Sure, I have a Skype account at home and I know we could use some fancy VOIP phones at work that integrate, at least somewhat, with your PC. In fact, I tested a Cisco VOIP phone for almost a year. It was fine for me, as someone who is very tech savvy. But it would have been a disaster to roll them out to thousands of people who aren’t. Not to mention very expensive.

So we continue to plug along tethered to our regular old phones, which sit beside but never speak to our PCs.

But things are finally starting to change.

Jajah, for example, allows you to make phone to phone calls from their website. Just add your number to the first blank, the number you want to call to the second one and click “Call.” Your phone will ring, the other person’s phone will ring and, presto, you’re talking. It is easy and it works. Even better, there is an Outlook plugin that promises one click dialing from within Outlook- including both contacts and phone numbers that appear in the email you’re reading. The plugin would not install correctly in my exchange-driven office computer, but it is still in beta, so whatever problem I experienced may be fixed before the plugin is finalized. I will contact Jajah and see if I can get a fix on the issue.

Another startup, Hullo, provides similar services. Plus it lets you talk either via your regular phone or over the internet via VOIP. Plus, you can also add others to the call, creating easy conference calls. You can even switch between your regular phone and VOIP during a call.

Pinger, which I just read about today, takes things one step further. It allows you to store a special number in your mobile phone’s speed dial. You press the button for that number and, via voice prompts, you can access a person’s information from your phone’s address book and send that person an audio message, either to his email account or via SMS. Handy for when you need to leave a quick message, but don’t have time to talk. It’s in invitation-only beta right now but it looks very promising.

The big winner will be the company that combines most or all of these features in a cross-platform application that can be used in with corporate phone systems.

We’ve got a long way to go, but I’m excited about the possibility that my PC and my phone might soon be on speaking terms.

Dave Digging Crack for Our Berries

crackberryDave Winer has begun using a Blackberry, which is a good thing for the rest of us, because he will drag applications out of developers and, if all else fails, write them himself.

The format of the New York Times’ Newsriver that Dave writes about is exactly the way mobile content ought to be pushed- though I’d like to see it updated more frequently. There’s nothing to set up, no registration, just quick and easy like mobile content ought to be. Hey Dwight, how about something like this for the Chronicle?

I have used a Blackberry (or Crackberry, as they are often referred to) for years, recently having the good fortune to lose my old one, which required that I buy a new one. That post contains my mostly positive thoughts about my Blackberry- including the best feature. The model I have lets me connect my laptop to Verizon’s wireless broadband network.

It works great in Bandera, where Verizon can hear me now, but not so well in Concan, where it cannot. The best use of course is in airports and hotels in order to avoid high daily connection rates.

Here are some things I really want for my Blackberry. Hey Dave, can you help a brother out?

1) I want a media player that is easy to install and works. I pay for Verizon’s broadband service, so I want to be able to use it. Any of the features on the Sprint phone that Dave and I both got for free would be a good start. The Sirius Radio capability alone is enough to love that phone.

2) I want an application on my Blackberry that will let me listen to my office voice mail via email, the way I do at the office. For years my voice mail has been delivered to my email inbox, where I listen to it via the possibly abandoned Lucent Voice Player. It sounds silly if you’ve never tried it, but once you get used to getting clickable voice mail via email, you’ll never go back.

3) I want some reasonably priced GPS functionality. My Blackberry has GPS, but as far as I can tell only for 911 calls, etc.

4) And of course, I want to have Blackberry network capability in a Treo, but that’s a gift for another Christmas I suppose.

The biggest impediment to writing killer Blackberry apps, in my opinion, is the lack of a flash memory drive. With all that extra, swappable, memory, it would be a breeze to expand the Blackberry’s relatively meager media offerings.

Hopefully Dave will figure out a way to get us there anyway.

How Zune Can Win the iPod War

zuneMicrosoft has confirmed what we already knew: that it is going to take its shot at knocking the iPod off the portable music player throne. TechCrunch has a story about it, in which Marshall Kirkpatrick sums up what I and others said a couple of weeks ago when the Zune rumor first hit the blogosphere:

“It’s an ambitious project that some critics are already saying goes too far outside Microsoft’s core strengths and could end up joining other media projects on the junk heap of tech history.”

Trying to pick up where Scoble left off, Microsoft’s Cesar Menendez is blogging about Zune at the aptly named Zune Insider blog.

I don’t own an iPod, and I would love to see someone provide a successful alternative to the proprietary iPod/iTunes semi-monopoly. I’m just not convinced Microsoft is ready to take on the musical equivalent of trying to convince Coke drinkers to switch to some new cola.

But here’s my roadmap for how to do it, in case Cesar and the rest of the Zune crew are serious about it.

First, embrace the saying “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” and go cut a deal with Yahoo to embrace Zune as a part of its looming war with iTunes. France and America don’t like each other either, but they unite every 50 years or so in the face of a common enemy. If you have to, make Yahoo a partner in this venture. Otherwise, I can’t envision a way to unseat iPods to any significant degree.

Second, make the players work with as many formats as possible- do not try to force people to formats they don’t want to use. Windows media may or may not be a better format, but millions of people have millions of MP3s that they are not going to convert to another format just to use Zune. Couch yourself as the open standards player. Play the proprietary technology card when talking about iPods.

Third, be thoughtful about DRM implementation. DRM will be necessary to get the music providers to play ball. But don’t forget the horde of people, including me, who have never and will never buy a DRM infested song. We want the ability to move our music to and from our players without any DRM-related hassle. DRM should be invisible to us.

Fourth, be wary of feature overload. Don’t try to make the Zune all things to all people. Make it a quality, reliable and intuitive music player. Period.

And finally, market the player as aggressively as you market the new versions of Windows. You don’t need to hire the Stones again, but go hire a bunch of new artists to do commercials for Zune. Come up with a slogan- maybe “Set Your Music Free,” and use it over and over and over, until people associate a positive shift in music management with Zune.

There you go, Microsoft.

Have at it. We’re all watching.

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