My Tech of Travel, An Update!

I actually wrote a majority of this post back in November 2008 on my ASUS 1000H Netbook while waiting for the kids while they were in some lessons. It never got posted at the time and has been sitting on my little machine since then. However I did take all of the gadgets mentioned below on a family cruise with us in early December 2008.

It is almost that time of year when we take our  family on our annual hot weather vacation. Because I  run a business I have to stay in touch with clients in case of emergencies. We are also a family of digital photographers so we have a need to be able to offload digital pictures daily from the variety of cameras that everyone will be carrying. I speak from personal experience that there is no worse feeling that losing a digital camera with a number of pictures on it!

I wrote a similar article last year but some of the tech has been update and there is at least one new addition to the gear that I carry, so without further ado here we go.

Perhaps one of the biggest updates is the laptop I will be carrying…for this particular trip where I will have very expensive but limited and slow Internet service (satellite Internet on a cruise ship). Instead of carrying my Acer TravelMate 6100 12.1″ laptop or my 15.4″ MacBook Pro, I will be carrying my Asus EEE PC 1000H Netbook! in fact I am actually writing this post on this little gem of a machine while I am out of  my home office!

The machine is small (10.1 ” screen), weighs just a fraction less than 2 lbs, has an 80 GB hard drive, 1GB of Ram, wireless card, Bluetooth, SD Card reader, 3 USB ports, a keyboard that is 95% of a full laptop keyboard and a battery that I can consistently use for 4 hours running windows XP Home. There is no optical drive on this machine so if the kids want to watch movies they have to be ripped to the hard drive first. In addition it’s small size allows for someone even as large as me to open this on device in an aircraft while the person in front of me reclines their seat! Other features include a webcam, stereo microphones, Dolby sound room speakers and a track pad.

While the machine is not overly fast and powerful, it features a 1.6 Intel Atom processor, it is more than enough to check email, surf the web, write blog posts, download photos to and more. Would I try major photo editing jobs on it? No but it does a good job of  conversions from RAW to JPG or to re- size and publish images to my photo sharing sites . Another issue is the fact that the native resolution of the monitor is 1024 x 600 which is fine for most web pages but some photo applications don’t like it. There is an virtual 1024 X 768 mode that works well but involves auto scrolling of the screen up and down.

I can also use the machine to charge and manage my Zune and my iPod Touch.  The fact that it has a large hard drive allows for the offload of digital images from our cameras. In addition I have loaded my Garmin software manager for saving track routes, the Zune software and iTunes and some basic photo software.

I will also have to carry a card reader as my Canon 40D uses CF cards and there is no slot for this on the machine and I will most likely carry an USB travel mouse. For my own security I will carry an external Seagate Notebook USB hard drive and copy any downloaded photos on to that device as well and which get’s stored separate from the laptop.

I have started carrying this little machine with me to client sites and have taken it on one trip  so far where I ended up having to RDP into a clients server. This little machine handled it with no issues.

The next item that goes in my bag is my Sony PRS-505 E-book reader. I stumbled across the fact  that these were available in Canada back in August and after seeing one and researching it further (comparing it to the Amazon Kindle not available in Canada), knew that I had to get one. So far I have been very  happy with my reader and have both purchased, gotten free books and even borrowed E-books from the library on the device. I don’t want to give too much away about this as I will soon be writing and posting more detailed review here. But the device works for an extremely long time on one charge (7000 page turns), can be managed with the Sony Library Software and Adobe Digital Editions loaded on my EEE PC, and I currently have about 70 books just on the internal memory of my device with room for I would say about 90 more books. unlike other displays because it is not back lit and active (power only used to refresh the page), it is very easy to read for long periods of time. Please keep an eye on my site for future reviews of this great little device.

My Blackberry Bold will accompany me on the trip and will be used for some client emergencies and emails in the US and it’s territories. We are visiting Sint Maarten and the Bahamas and it is likely that I will turn off the data for those stops as Rogers does not have a deal for reduced data prices. On the ship I could use the Wifi on the phone to download email to it or wherever I may find an open Wifi Hotspot and keep my data roaming down to a minimum. again I will be further reviewing the phone on this blog but I use it for lots of things from twittering, GPS, web surfing, Email,business tracking, photos, videos and listening to music. For me it has truly become an all in one device.

For cameras, I will be using my Canon 40D in addition to 3 lenses and a flash as well as a Canon G10 as a second, carry every where camera. The G10 has recently replaced my old G9 which has moved on to SWIMBO and does have some processor and sensor improvements over the G9. If the underwater chassis are available prior to me leaving I will grab one for taking this camera snorkeling. If they are not I will more than likely grab and underwater chassis for the G9 as I have heard these are excellent for underwater photography. (Underwater housing for the G10 arrived 3 days before we left. It was taken and worked very well).

For video I will be carrying my steadfast Canon HV20 camcorder which shoots a nice Hi Def image . The Canon records all of it’s content to video tape and I have to say is a very impressive camera. For carrying around in my pocket and everyday use I have just picked up a Kodak Zi6 flash camera and an 8 GB SD card. My decision to get the Zi6 was so because I wanted a small pocket sized video camera that I could carry in my pocket around the ship and in port. Flip Video has just released their Mino HD camera that by all accounts may be slightly better than the Kodak but the fact that it is not available in Canada plus a few other little factors had me choosing the Zi6 over the Mino HD.

The Kodak camera shoots 720p (30 or 60 FPS) video footage directly to a SD card. It only features 2X Digital zoom and no image stabilization so you have to use a fairly steady hand. Video quality is very good when outdoors or in well lit spaces and so so (a fair bit of noise) in low light. Having said that, it is a hi def camera that sells for less than 180.00 CAN!. I will again review it further as well as post some video and comparisons to the HV 20. There are a few things going for this little camera that the Mino doesn’t have… it uses 2 AA batteries and comes with a set of rechargeable AAs and a charger, the Mino HD has an internal battery and has to be charged off a PC> The Kodak records to SD cards so if you run out of space you can swap cards. The Mino HD has 4 GB or about an hour of HD video before videos have to be deleted or taken off. I recently picked up an 8 GB class 6 SD card for less than 30.00 CAN for the device. This will be my first trip with so I am excited to see the footage even though I have been fairly impressed with my test footage to date.

I also will be carrying a Garmin Etrek Vista USB GPS unit. I have found these really great as I turn it on at the beginning of the day and pop it into my camera bag. It tracks all of my movement and times for the day and then I can download the tracks and Geotag my pictures with them. It is great to see exactly where certain pictures were taken. We can also do some Geocaching with the device. I will also be carrying my Garmin Nuvi 350 with the 2009 map update for driving in Florida pre and post cruise as well as on St Thomas, USVI.

I carry my Zune 80 player with my music and podcasts and since the release of the version 3 firmware, both my Audible Books and audio books that I have downloaded for my local library. I also have my iPod Touch 8 GB with the 2.2 firmware that I can use as a pocket wireless device and in addition I have loaded some great applications on to for photography!

I have renewed my Hotspot VPN account for another year ( This is a great little software service that allows me while connected through a public hotspot to connect via a VPN to the Internet and encrypt all of my traffic back to the net. A nice little safety net to secure my data while surfing in public places.

I sometimes carry a Linksys Travel router especially if I know that we will have multiple devices that connect via wireless. This little device can convert a hotel wired connection to an in room secure wireless network or can take a wireless service for one PC (not encrypted) and share it among multiple devices. The device is fairly small as the  AC adaptor is actually built into the router so no extra cards to worry about. The router probably won’t come with me on this trip however.

The last little thing and maybe the most boring items are a couple of Belkin Travel Surge protectors. On a ship or in most hotels there are limited electrical outlets available for charging electronics. We carry a couple of the Belkin surge protectors because they give us 3 additional outlets each as well as 2 powered USB ports for charging iPods, Blackberries or any device that can use USB charging. They can be spun 360 degrees to allow you to fit them into almost any space.

So this was just a short list of things that I typically carry when we go on a family vacation. I use camera backpacks that allow me to carry the bodies and lenses as well as accessories and the laptop in the same bag so the stuff doesn’t take that much room on the plane. A few things stay in the pockets of my Scott-E-Vest Hoodie which gives even more space.

Yes it is a geeky list, but we will come home with loads of photographs not worrying about having to free space and I will be able to remain in touch in case any of my clients run into an emergency with their servers or networks.

Back Up Primer for Home Users – Part 1 – Hardware

I have posted similar articles in the past on this subject, but it seems that every 3 to 4 months, I end up working on a system that has crashed and the user did not do a backup!

Your PC or Mac can crash due to several different reasons; Malware and Viruses, Hardware failure (most typically Hard Drives) and Operating System crashes. A lot of clients say that they aren’t really concerned about their data until they learn that they can’t just re-download music from iTunes and that all of the digital photos they have taken for the last three years are gone. That’s when they panic!

Not every crash results in a loss of data, for example, a corrupted registry problem can be easily fixed and the data is easily recoverable from the system. However a physical hard drive crash (the only real mechanical part in a system) is a little different. Data can be recovered but it is costly.

I recently sent a 60GB drive into a Data Recovery Center on behalf of a client where the drive was completely dead. It cost the client 100.00 for the company to look at the drive and report what could be recovered. The cost of the Data Recovery for this drive was 1800.00 although almost all of the data was recoverable! Spending a little bit of time and money can save you from large bills like that if you have critical data on your system.

There are a couple of ways you can back up your system, A full system backup (usually an image based backup) that backs up everything or a data backup where you select only your data to back up. This is the method that I usually use because I can always rebuild my system with the original install disks and reinstall my applications.

Next you have to decide where you are going to backup to. Do you just want to keep a local backup or do you want to protect yourself from catastrophe (Fire, Theft, Flooding) and use an offsite backup or both?

Personally I use several methods to backup. I use a lot of local backups and for very critical data I also use offsite backup. The simplest method of maintaining an offsite backup is to keep a copy of the back up media in a secure place outside of your home (locked in your office desk, at a relative’s house, etc).

What You May Already Have

So what do you need to get started? At the very least you probably already have the most basic backup device already in your system. Virtually every system sold in the past 4 to 5 years will either have a CD Burner or better yet a DVD Burner in it. You can use this burner to backup data to a blank disk and store it some where. I have been using this method myself for a long time. If you only have a CD Burner you can put approximately 700MB of information on a single disk. If you have a DVD Burner you can put approximately 4.7 GB of Data on a disk. DVD disks can be purchased very inexpensively especially if you buy them in Spindles. I will typically look for sales and pick up 100 DVDs for less than 20.00.

While burning to a DVD or a CD is a good idea, but I wouldn’t rely solely on it. Cheap DVDs or CDs typically do not last very long and some can even go bad after even just a couple of years. If you plan on backing up this way for the long term, at least plan on buying Archival quality disks. These disks are designed to last more than a few years.

One advantage of backing up on DVD is that you can move the disks to another location to give you the added security of offsite storage. I buy inexpensive generic CD binders and keep copies of almost everything in these binders. Multiple copies can also be made and are ideal to keep a set  locked in a drawer at your office or at a relative’s house.

When I used to sell custom PCs, I usually suggested to my clients to build the system with a second drive installed in the machine. With this setup a client could store data or sync data on to the second drive and install programs and the OS to the primary drive. This gave them basic protection against OS Crashes or a hardware failure of the primary drive. Alternatively the client could use the second drive and some imaging software and run full system backups to the second drive on a weekly basis. I still build all of my personal machines with 2 hard drives for this reason. It is not fool proof though as you can lose your data if the 2nd hard drive fails. Some motherboards offer built in Raid controllers as well where Raid 1 can be configured. With this type of a system your primary hard drive is mirrored over to the second hard drive. This is an excellent solution but does make it a touch more difficult to add additional internal storage if needed and has to be set up (ideally) with the purchase of the system.

External Devices

With the popularity of laptops and netbooks today, or if you buy a prebuilt machine and don’t want, or can’t install a second hard disk there are still several options available to you. At the very least, consider a USB key or two. These have dropped in price significantly as well as increasing in capacity over the last little while. You can pick up a couple of 8 GB USB keys for about 40.00 CDN. With these keys you can copy your important documents over to them periodically (or use a little utility I will describe soon) and at least your most important stuff resides in a couple of places. A warning about USB keys however, these devices have a limit to the number of reads and writes they can handle so I don’t suggest relying on them for backup only. Also because they are so small, they can easily be misplaced and or lost and you don’t want your data ending out in the public if lost.

Hard drives have also considerably dropped in price significantly over the years. Along with this external USB drives have dropped in price as well. Some of the brand name drives come with backup software pre-installed on the drives. For example a 500GB Seagate Free Agent Drive sells for about 125.00 CDN and has software that can do backups for you automatically (Windows Only). If you are a Mac user look at a Western Digital My Book drive. Several other manufacturers offer external drives so shop around you may find some at a better price.These are desktop style drives and are not really portable as most require AC power. So if you are a notebook user and want to take the drive with you look at a 2.5” form factor drive. These are available again from a variety of manufactures but are smaller and generally can draw required power from the USB ports on your system. If you are lucky enough to have a FireWire or eSata port on your system consider an external drive that also offer these features. FireWire is as fast as USB 2.0 but is less draining on your system’s CPU during transfers and eSata is as fast as internal hard drives.

You could also make your own external drive by purchasing an enclosure and then buying an OEM hard drive. Currently the sweet spot for hard drives are the 500GB size. You can pick these up in Canada for about 75.00 (OEM Drives). You can pick up an enclosure for 30.00 or so and add the drive. The advantage of doing it this way is if you later want to increase the size of the drive as prices fall on the larger drive sizes you can easily replace the drive you purchased. The same thing can be done for smaller sized notebook (2.5”) hard drives for portable storage.

Personally on my desktop systems and my own and client servers, I have been using USB 2.0/eSata Hard Drive Docks. These are similar to the enclosures above however instead of opening the enclosure up and installing a drive, you can simply plug in a 3.5 or 2.5” Sata drive in the bay and away you go. I typically have these connected via eSata so they are hot swappable and when I want to change drives or one fills up, I eject it and plug in another drive. I have found a manufacturer that also makes Drive Boxes (similar to DVD cases) so when I pop a drive out I stick it in a box and on my shelf. The docks sell for about 50.00 and I found this this is a great way to rotate storage device around.

Another type of external enclosure I highly recommend is the Drobo. While not inexpensive the Drobo can do things that other types of enclosures just can’t do. The Drobo sells for 499.00 for the Firewire 800 / USB 2.0 version and 349.00 for the USB 2.0 only version. This does not come with any hard drives at all, but 4 drive bays. The Drobo is unique because it replicates the same type of functionality as a high end Raid 5 system most often found in servers and enterprises, but in a much simpler and flexible format. Where Raid 5 requires a fair bit of knowledge, hardware and specific hard drive configurations to work, the Drobo makes this very easy.

Raid 5 requires at least 3 hard drives of identical size to implement the original array and increasing the size of the Raid requires backing up all of your data, installing new drives of equal size, reformatting and then restoring data. The Drobo eliminates this completely. With the Drobo you can use up to 4 (minimum of 2) SATA drives of any size in the enclosure and it will give you storage and data redundancy where a part of each drive is used to backup parts of the other drives. With the Drobo if a hard drive fails or get’s full, simply swap it out with a drive of equal or larger size. Currently the Drobo can support up to 4 4GB drives. It also works on both PCs and Macs. You can learn more about the Drobo here.

Due to the amount of photos we take as a family, I currently store most of them on one of two Drobos (1 USB only, 1 Firewire) both filled with 4 500GB drives. Sysguy Consulting is a Drobo Authorized Reseller so if you are interested in seeing a demo of this device or to order please contact us.

Network Attached Storage Devices

If you have multiple PCs on a home network there are a couple of other hardware devices you can consider. For 250.00 you can add a device called the DroboShare to your Drobo unit. This device allows you to connect up to 2 Drobo devices to it and share them on a network via Gigabit Ethernet. You will take a little of a performance hit as the Drobo only connects to the share via USB but it allows you to share this device and take advantage of it’s data redundancies capabilities over your network and by multiple computers. We have recently received our DroboShare unit here in our labs but have not yet had a chance to set it up and test it. The new Drobo Dashboard software program (currently in Beta) comes with a utility called Drobo Copy which will allow you to set up folders and files to be copied or synced to the device.

Another device I can highly recommend is the DLink DNS-323. The DNS-323 is a network connected storage device. It allows you to install up to 2 SATA hard drives in it, and configure them as mirrored drives, a single large hard drive, or as two individual drives. I have been using one of these devices with a 400 GB and a 500 GB drive installed in it for a couple of years now and it has been great. I store things that I need access to from my multiple machines from on it as well as backing up Music and other documents to it. With recent firmware the device also servers as a Media server allowing us to stream Music, Pictures or Video to Xbox 360’s in the house or to the PS3. You can get a DNS-323 for about 160.00 CDN in addition to the cost of adding SATA drives. D-Link is also offering the DNS-323 bigger brother the DNS-343 that holds 4 Sata Drives at an MSRP of 658.00 with no drives.

There are other Network Attached Storage Devices available but many of these do require a little knowledge of Raid systems (unless you buy pre configured) and start at around 750.00 CDN.

Windows Home Servers

If you have multiple systems at home you may also want to consider a Windows Home Server. This is designed to be a headless device (no monitor, keyboard or mouse required), that connects to your home network. Windows Home Servers are available from a few manufacturers or can be custom built for you by a system builder. HP has one of the most popular WHS devices with it’s Media Smart Server line.

The HP Media Smart is a WHS with 4 drive bays, a low end processor and 1 GB of RAM. There are several models available and the most recent also offers support for Mac users (apparently this is coming for owners of the older versions). In the older 1 TB version of the WHS, 2 bays are available for expansion. So you can easily add additional storage to the device. I recently picked up the older 1 TB model of the HP Media Smart Server (EX475) in a clearance sale at half price (350.00). I haven’t set it up yet but soon will be replacing the WHS Beta box I was using as well as upgrading this machine to 2 GB of RAM and 2 additional 500 GB Hard Drives. I will post a complete review after it is set up and running for awhile.

With Windows Home Server there are different ways that you can configure the hard drives. You can have everything run as a single large drive or mirror the drives. Similar to the Drobo you can change the storage size by changing or adding drives. You can also add additional storage via USB and if available eSata docks. You can also set up some dedicated external drives for backup of your WHS device which is new in the latest update from Microsoft.

Once connected and set up (using the web interface) you install the included software on the PCs in your home. This will set up all PCs where the software is loaded to be backed up nightly to the home server box. If the PC crashes, simply insert the Client recovery disk into the PC and you can restore the entire device from the WHS. The only stipulation is that the computers have to be left on during the scheduled back up time in order to be backed up. One of the really great things about the WHS system backup is that it uses a single instance file storage system to save space. What this means is that if you are backing up 2 computers and it sees a file in the first one with a specific date, time and version if when it backs up system two if and sees the identical file on it, it will place a pointer to the file it already has, saving space on the storage device. Your first system backup on the WHS will take a while to complete as it has to back up everything on the system. After the first backup however things should be much faster as it will backup only changed and new files.

The really cool thing about the WHS is that it can do a lot more than just be a Networked Attached Storage Device. The server becomes a web server in your home so that you can access your files and shared files on the server from any Internet Connected PC. If you are using XP Pro or Vista Business or better on your home machine, you can use Remote Desktop and connect and work from your home PC also across the internet (this is a feature borrowed from the MS SBS team).

Because the architecture has an SDK (Software Developers Kit) several third party programmers have written numerous add-ons for the devices that also extend the functionality. There are add-ons that allow you to back up the server offsite (I will discuss this in the next post on backup), use it to stream media in your home, create web pages and photo galleries that friends and families can connect to and more. new add-ons are being created every week for these devices.

You can connect up to 10 client machines up to the WHS so for virtually any home the out of the box configuration works well.

WHS is also perfect for a small office. It gives the users virtually all of the features of a full server (no domain security though) but allows them remote access, backup and shared files.

Sysguy Consulting can custom build a WHS for your home or office as well. Contact us if you are interested.


When I first started this post I had planned on writing everything up. Then after I finished about the hardware required I realized it would be too long for just a single post. I will write a separate post about software you can use for backing up your system next.

While there is a lot of information provided here, I hoped to show that you really don’t need much in the way of hardware to backup your system. You can get the basic hardware for around 100.00 and with some free software I’ll discuss in the next post you can institute an easy back up routing.

If you have any questions please feel free to email us at sysguy at sysguy dot com.

What is Twitter? A Guide for the Uninitiated.

Well this post is late! Twitter has been around now for a couple of years now and has long been a geeks social network. Things have changed now and Twitter is become more mainstream. So what exactly is Twitter?

Twitter started off as a web and SMS based service that allowed friends to “tweet” what they were doing in a 140 characters (limit of an SMS Text Message) or less. But rather than writing out a long and drawn out explanation watch this short little video explaining Twitter.

This video does a great job of explaining Twitter, but a few things have changed since it was produced in March 2008. Twitter has become more than a way of just following your friends. It has become a way to follow other interesting people, have conversations with people and friends and even to get breaking news. A bevy of services have also sprung up with Twitter that allow you to search for specific message subjects, find tweets from a local area, seeing your twitter ranking and much more. For example I have my Twitter account set up so that when I tweet it also updates my Facebook Status.

The popularity of Twitter has led to the development of several software clients for almost any device so you can update your status from virtually anywhere. There are Twitter clients for PCs, Macs, iPhone/iPod Touch, Blackberries and other phones. Personally I use Tweetdeck and Twhirl on my PCs and Macs and a program called Tiny Twitter on my Blackberry. I like Tweetdeck because on a 2 display system it allows me to keep it open and have all my friends in one column, replies in another, Direct Messages to me in a 3rd and then I can have search columns also running It does take up quite a bit of real estate on the desktop and I feel is better suited for dual display set ups. I like Twhirl because while it allows me to follow Twitter, it also supports other services like FriendFeed and Laconica based (open source twitter like software) sites as well for example

Twitter has really changed over the past several months, news has broken on Twitter before it has been aired on the national news services. Reports of the Earthquake in China several months back and the terrorist attack in Mumbai were tweeted up to an hour before news services like CNN could report it. More recently the landing of the Southwest Airline Plane in the Hudson River, the Continental crash in Buffalo, NY and the more recent airline crash in Amsterdam all hit Twitter before the news services.

Signing up with Twitter is free by visiting, but then what. The next step is to follow people that you are interested in. At the end of this post I will include a few notable people that you can start following. Otherwise you can find your friends and start posting your updates. You do have the option of either keeping all of your updates private (requiring approval before allowing people to follow you) or public.

You can also tweet for your Internet enabled mobile phone by going to Blackberry users can also download one of the Blackberry Twitter clients. If you are a Bell Mobility subscriber in Canada you can tweet and get updates via SMS, Rogers and TELUS users unfortunately can not take advantage of SMS updates just yet.

To use Twitter to update your Facebook profile you have to install the Twitter application in your Facebook profile

A couple of things to note about Twitter. While you can send private direct messages to other people they can only be those who follow you and you follow. Some people will automatically follow anyone that follows them as well, however personally I do not. I follow a majority of my followers but there are some that I just won’t. Another thing I don’t do is automatically direct message a person I follow and who has followed me. For some people with very large numbers of followers they can get bombarded with messages “thanking them for the follow” which is akin to spam.

Here are a few interesting people that you can follow right off the bat…


Aston Kutcher
Demi Moore mrskutcher
Shaquille O”Neil
Dr. Drew
Neil Gaiman (Author)
Wil Wheaton
Martha Stewart
Jimmy Fallon
Brent Spiner
LeVar Burton
Penn Jillette
Adam Savage (Mythbuster)
John Cleese
Stephen Fry

News Sources
Calgary Herald
Global Calgary
CBC News Calgary
Western Standard
Global National
National Post
CNN Breaking News
Rick Sanchez CNN
Anderson Cooper
Stephen Harper (not very active)

Some others
In this category are some fake accounts others may be useful.

Darth Vader
Abe Vigoda
Fake Stephen Harper
One night we were watching the TV show The Big Bang Theory, when Sheldon one of the characters mentioned he twittered something. Right after the show I jumped online and checked and sure enough every member of the cast has a twitter account. These two seem to be the most active

Rajesh Koothrappali
Sheldon Cooper

And finally if you wish to follow me go to

Twitter is really what you want to make of it. Some companies are using it and monitoring what is being said about them, and replying. I was contacted immediately by Smugmug Support and the CEO after I complained about an upload problem on twitter. I encourage you to try it out and see if it is useful.


No Zune Marketplace option in Canadian Zune Software. Link to Fix included!

With the Canadian release of the Zune today, I installed the Zune softwre on one of my PC’s that didn’t have it. The software looks the same as the other versions I have except that there is no option for the Zune Marketplace. While this is not a big deal as you can’t buy music outside the US and without a US credit card, you can’t download free podcasts either.

I signed in with both my US based Zune account and my Canadian Xbox live account and still could not see the Marketplace option.

I Googled it and it looks like there is a fix that is pretty easy. Just follow the instructions on this site.

Enable Zune Marketplace in Canada

It is a very simple fix and I can confirm that it works. I can subscribe to podcasts via the Marketplace even signed in with my Canadian XBox Live account.

Otherwise the software seems to work fine.

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom…My Review

About a year ago, Jan 07, Adobe introduced a product called Photoshop Lightroom. The program was billed as a Photographer’s workflow tool designed by photographers for photographers. I looked at it briefly but didn’t really pay too much attention to it.

Fast forward to December of 2007 and I was browsing the Photoshop site at Adobe for something, when I started watching a flash promo for Lightroom. The little promo film intrigued me and I thought that this program was definitely something that I could use to manage my pictures. I downloaded the 30 day demo onto my MacBook Pro and started playing with it (Don’t worry it is available on Windows too). Within an hour and a half of playing with it I was sold and ordered the full version and I couldn’t be happier.

There are programs that I like to use, but rarely has a piece of software caught my attention so much that I wanted to use it all of the time! Lightroom has become one of them.

Is it for everyone? No. But if you take a lot of digital photos, have the need to tag and organize these and want to do some processing it could help you. If you have a need for a lot of specialized post processing, it will not replace a Photoshop or dedicated image editor. It’s strengths really are for workflow and quick processing on lots of pictures. It is not the cheapest software out there either at 325.00, but it is half the cost of Photoshop. In comparison Apple sells Aperture which is a similar application for 199.00 but only runs on Macs.

What is it?

How can I describe Lightroom? Lightroom is an application that helps anyone with a large number of digital photos to organize them, tag them and perform some post processing on the photos. The best thing about the application though is that the changes you make are non destructive to the original photos until you decide to "bake" them in! In terms of the photo processing, if you have ever used any applications that utilize Adobe Camera Raw, or Canon’s Digital Photo Professional, you will have seen some of the power of Lightroom. I have heard Lightroom described as Camera Raw on steroids. Another really nice feature is that the changes also work on all image files and not just RAW formats, so you can make changes to your jpg files and tif files too.

In addition Lightroom can export your photos and your changes to files, the web, slideshows or prints. It is when you perform these exports that the changes are "baked in" to the exported files. In addition with version 1.3 that was released as a free upgrade in November, developers can now create plugins to expand the use of the software. I currently use 5 export plug-ins that allow me to export directly to my Flickr, Picasa, Smugmug or Gallery 2.0 online photo galleries. I also use the LRMogrify which allows for some editing colour correction as well as add Watermarks to the files during export. I have donated to the author so I now have the full version that allows me to export more than 10 photos at a time.

How it Works.

When you open Lightroom for the first time, it asks you to create a catalogue file. This catalogue file is database file that stores the meta data from your pictures as well a corresponding preview database is also created. The database file can be created anywhere on your system or external devices with the exclusion of network storage devices. Once the Lightroom catalogue file is created you can import photos into it from your computer or directly from your digital camera or other media.

Here is a tip on how I have been handling my catalogue files. When I travel I download all of my pictures onto whatever laptop I have with me as well as on to a removable hard drive at the same time. When I want to import photos into Lightroom I create the catalogue files on the removable hard drive device and import those pictures into Lightroom, selecting import from folder. Doing it this way allows me to plug the external drive into another system that has Lightroom installed on it, open the catalogue and edit the pictures regardless of what machine the files were created on. It allows me to work on my various laptops or on my desktop. In addition I could always copy the folders and catalogue files to another storage device later and keep all of my adjustments. 

I have not imported a lot of files into the same catalogue file yet either as I am not sure how performance would be or what the max size of the database is. By keeping my catalogues to all of the photos of a single trip or event, then I am using smaller catalogue files and making them easier to move around. Also if a database does get corrupted not all of my adjustments are in the one file. It does make a little trickier to search photos though as I have to open catalogue files for each group of photos that I may want to search keywords on. Lightroom does have the ability to back up and create scheduled back ups of your catalogue files as well and you are prompted when you start Lightroom with a catalogue file.

Lightroom is divided into 5 modules, Library, Develop, Slideshow, Print and Web.

Library.  The Library module is where you can view your pictures, edit metadata (keywords copyright info), make picks as to what photos you want to process and rate your photos. You can even apply some quick development settings. You can search for keywords in your photos, sort by camera, date or even lens used to take the picture.

Develop. The Develop module is where the real power of Lightroom is. Here there are a number of settings where you can tweak and adjust your image. What is very important to note here is that any changes that you make here do not affect the original images. The editing process is completely non-destructive. All changes are stored in the database itself and not "baked" into the image until the image is exported or printed. You can also crop photos (again non destructively) heal spots and fix red eye. You can adjust White Balance (more options if you shoot RAW images), tone, tweak a tone curve, adjust colour saturations, split tone, reduce noise, apply sharpening and more. 
One thing to note though is that adjustments apply to the whole image and can’t be applied selectively, so while Lightroom can do just about everything a photographer needs, if you want to be really creative you will still need an external editor like Photoshop or Photoshop Elements.
You can select the images you want based on the criteria set in the Library module.
Lightroom comes with a wide variety of presets to apply certain effects to your images (such as converting to B&W or applying a Sepia tone). In addition you can save your own presets. This is very valuable as you can adjust one image from a shoot and then apply all the changes to all of the images from that shoot, and save it for later use.
You can save changes to a virtual copy as well so that you can save your changes as one photo and then have the original as well.
If you do need the additional power of an external editor, you can move directly from Lightroom into Photoshop, Photoshop Elements or any other Image editor. The advantage of using the Adobe products mentioned is that you can work on the image in those applications, hit save and because the data is stored in a sidecar XMP file bring those changes into Lightroom.

Slideshow The slideshow module allows you to create an Adobe PDF slide show of your photos. There are some customized options that allow you to create background images, apply your identity plate, adjust the layout and more. Again you can save presets of your favorite styles.

Print. The print module allows you to create prints of your photos. There are several layouts available as presets or you can create your own custom layouts and again save your preset for later use.

Web. In this module you can create Flash based or HTML web galleries that you can publish to your own web sites. Again there is several options for customization and the ability to use presets and save presets.

A little word about presets. Lightroom comes with a large number of presets for every module. As I indicated you can also create and save your own presets. In addition several users are creating and making presets available on the Internet that you can download and use in your software.

My Workflow with Lightroom

I shoot a large number of Digital Photos especially using 3 cameras (Canon 30D, 40D and Powershot G9). When we travel there also also images that come from the kids cameras and my video cameras. Here are a couple of ways that I use Lightroom. One is to pick, adjust and export images from a family trip to a Photo Sharing web site and the other is how I handle shooting a soccer game where I just sort and pick images for sharing online.

Importing Photos.
The start of my workflow is a little different because of the way I deal with my photos. Because I store images in a couple of places, I don’t use Lightroom to copy pictures off of my media cards, although it can. I import photos using a card reader and the Canon Media Card program. This program is set up to import my pictures to a folder created based on the date that the image was taken. Once all of my images are imported to the PC, I then copy the folders to an external drive. It is from this external drive that I import the pictures into Lightroom.

Once all of my folders are copied to an external drive, I open Lightroom. For something like a trip I create a new catalogue specifically for that trip. Likewise this year I am shooting a variety of soccer teams for my community soccer association, so I have a catalogue set up just for those images. Something that I just recently learned about Lightroom is that I can import other catalogues into a master catalogue as well.

So I have a new catalogue file and I am ready to bring the images in. In Lightroom I select the file import photos from disk option. I point the file browser to a folder that I want to import folders from. Once the folder is chosen I can choose not to import suspected duplicates. If all of the photos are from the same location and time I will add the keywords I want to use with them, If they are from a variety of subjects I will just use general keywords (like Hawaii, Trip etc). I also add my copyright information to each photo.

Once I have imported all of my folders, I go into the library mode and if I want to add specific keywords to certain folders, I use the thumbnail view and the spray can tool to add the specific keywords. Next I go into single photo view and using the arrow keys and the p key (to pick an image) I pick all of the images that I may consider exporting. Once I have gone through the folder and picked the images I set a colour flag for those images (say yellow). I then go through the images again and unpick any that I will not export using the U key. I then usually take one more pass at them. Once I have the files that I want to export I select all and change the colour flag to another colour based on where I want to export them (I have developed my own settings for example I use green for Smugmug exports).

Once I have selected my pictures I change to the develop module and filter the images that I want "picked with green colour flag" and process each one, fixing red eye, adjusting exposures, cropping etc.

Once all files are processed I use an free export plug in I have and export those photos to the site and the gallery that I want. for pictures of a soccer game that I want to export I usually use the same process but do not do any processing of the images.

In this way I can go through a large number of images quickly and export to them to the web. For example last night I went through 580 images shot at a soccer game, selected 260 that I was going to export, and exported them to Smugmug all from Lightroom. Total time for three passes to select was about an hour to an hour and fifteen minutes. The way I used to do this took a considerably longer amount of time, as I would import the images to my PC, then using Canon’s Image browser go through and select pictures writing down the ones I wanted. I would then select and copy those images to another folder. Then use a batch resize to make them smaller and then another piece of software to export them. This sometimes took me a couple of days to accomplish! It would have been even longer if I had wanted to process any of the images!

You can see the results of one of these processes by going to the following site Smugmug Kauai 2008 gallery.

The Future

Adobe has recently released the Lightroom 2.0 public beta. You can download a 30 day trial of the Beta now, and existing Lightroom, will be able to use the Beta until the end of August. The beta is installed separately from your existing Lightroom installation and both can be used at the same time.

Version 2 allows for localized correction, so you can work on a specific area of a photo. 64 bit support, better organizational tools, better print package functionality and Multiple monitor support. In addition if Adobe stays true to form, updates to the new Lightroom will continue to add new features as they did with Version 1.0. I really like the changes I have seen in Beta 2.0 and will probably have it within a fews day of it’s release sometime this summer or fall.


Once I started playing around with Lightroom, I started kicking myself for not looking into it earlier. Now that I use it extensively on both my PC and MAC I can’t be without it. It has peaked my interest in photography again and I am shooting more and more. My workflow has changed and I have switched my cameras to only shoot RAW images because they are so easy to post process with Lightroom. I still shoot jpg only for sports photography.

While Lightroom comes with a fairly hefty price tag and doesn’t replace Photoshop, for someone that takes a lot of pictures, especially of you shoot with a DSLR and RAW images. I feel that it is an indispensable tool!


Photo Sharing on the Web

A few years ago, I heard someone say Digital Cameras are great but they never see the pictures that people take like they did when they had prints. When I thought about this I realized that it was true.

I take a lot of digital photos myself and in the past have been publishing to my own web sites and displaying them using server software called Gallery 2. But what if you don’t have your own web site?

I use three public sites for publishing and sharing my photos now. Picasaweb, Flickr and Smugmug. Here is some info on these three Photo sharing sites

Picasaweb Picasaweb is a free Photo sharing site from Google. You can make your Albums and photos public or private. They give you 1 GB of free storage space and you have the option to buy more (1 GB equates to around 4000 pictures). You can also download Picasa photo software which allows you to organize edit and post all pictures in your collections.

One of the things I don’t like about Picasaweb however is the way albums are displayed. All of the public albums are displayed on a single page so if you have lots of albums it can take a while to load the page.

You can see my picasaweb gallery at

Flickr Flickr is a free photo sharing site brought to you by Yahoo. Flickr has gotten very popular over the last few years. They offer both free accounts and Pro accounts. Free accounts do have some limits, there is advertising, as well as a 100MB upload limit per month. You are also limited in creating collections and sets. A Pro account that has all of the limits and advertising removed costs 25.00 USD per year (well worth it in my opinion).

Again you can control who has access to your photos, add keyword tags to make your photos searchable, edit your photos online and your visitors can view the photos in a variety of photo sizes. Visitors can also add comments to your photos.

Something fairly new with Flickr is that Pro users can now also upload short videos to the site.

Flickr is a considered to be a community site. You can add your friends sites to your account and see whenever they upload new photos, as well there are thousands of groups that you can join that have photo pools where you can add your photos and discussion groups where you can ask questions related to the group and photos.

Uploading photos is easy as you can use the free Flickr uploader software or many photo editing software packages will allow you to upload directly to Flickr from the application. I have a free plug in for Adobe Lightroom 1.3 and greater that allows me to upload directly to Flickr.

One of the problems that I have run into with Flickr is that images can easily be used by others. When you upload a photo you can choose the type of license that the photo is uploaded with. This license can be private, public or using creative commons you can select different licensing terms. However there is no real way (other than making images private) that you can protect your images. I have used Flickr to find photos for my kids school projects and downloaded them (yes I only selected public images). With this shortfall Flickr is not a good choice for professional photographers.

Flickr also offers stats so you can see how many times your photos are viewed.

All in all I really like Flickr and will continue with my own Pro account for a while. If you want to see my photos please visit

Smugmug . I found Smugmug via the discussion groups on Flickr. It is a site that a lot of professional photographers use to display images for their clients as well as to sell their photographs. Smugmug does not have any free accounts but they do offer three levels of accounts, Standard, Poweruser and Pro however they do offer a two week free trial. One of the big reasons I like Smugmug is the way that they display photographs for your visitors. When you upload photos they create a flash based web gallery with thumbnails of your images and when your visitor moves through the thumbnails the selected photo appears in a larger window beside the gallery. Your visitor can also click on the photo and choose several sizes of the photo to view. As with the other sites your visitors can also view a slideshow of your photos (or you can control what and how they see).

The Standard accounts offer unlimited storage, the ability to order backup DVDs, your visitors can order prints, personalization of your galleries, the ability to hide your galleries and more. A Standard account costs 39.95 USD per year. Power Users accounts (what I have) for 59.95 USD/year, give the same features as the standard accounts, plus the ability to customize more using headers and footers, add DVD quality videos, use your own domain names and right click protect your images so they can’t be downloaded if you choose. Pro accounts (149.95 USD/year) include all of the features of the Standard and Pro Accounts as well as the ability to set your own pricing for your prints (make some money), sell digital downloads, watermark your images, create guest upload passwords and offer more protection features. If you are interested in getting a Smugmug account you can save 5.00 using my coupon code (XUgaKlvXVMo0Y), just enter this in the referred by field in the sign up. Alternatively you can add use my email address if you know it.

There are also other specials, if you are a Flickr user you can save 50% on the first year by moving your account over as well.

Smugmug gives you the ability to add keywords and captions to your photos and edit them on line. Your visitors can add comments and rate your photos as well as order prints and gifts.

Again Smugmug has all kids of tools that you can use to upload your photos and you can upload directly from several photo editing applications. I have a plug in that I use from Adobe Lightroom 1.3 to upload directly.

Privacy is very easy on Smugmug as you can create Smugislands that protect your galleries from search engines and other users stumbling across it. In addition you can password protect your galleries as well. This is one of the reasons I chose Smugmug as I have an assignment coming up that will allow me to post the images privately in an unlisted gallery (the viewers will need the exact url to see the gallery) and  I can also password protect the gallery.

Smugmug also is a community based site so you can add friends or families accounts. Your visitors can also get an RSS feed of your galleries and they can view any uploaded photos in their RSS reader.

Smugmug’s stats can show you how often an image has been viewed and in what sizes.

At first I found Smugmug a little difficult to figure out, but after playing a little bit I am getting more comfortable with it.

If you want to see what I have dome with Smugmug visit my site at

If you are interested in becoming a Smugmugger please be sure to use my coupon code, XUgaKlvXVMo0Y to save 5.00 off your account.

Digital Camera Reviews and Real World Pictures!

I do get asked a fair bit, what digital camera should someone buy? The answer is always it depends. It depends on what the person wants to spend, what features they are looking for and how they will use the pictures. There are four things that I do when I am looking at cameras for myself or family members.

1) Check the manufacturers web site for detailed descriptions and specifications

2) Read independent reviews. There are 2 main sites that I use for this. and Both sites provide excellent review of almost all digital cameras. Update Mar 19, 2008. You can also see end user reviews at I would take these with a grain of salt however as they are from end users and may not be entirely accurate. Someone may be mad at Amazon, the manufacturer or not even have owned or used the camera. Read several reviews there, the ones that are false or fake become evident the more you read.

3) Check out real world images taken with the camera. By going to you can browse by manufacturer and camera to see pictures taken with those cameras. Since these pages are generated using Meta Data in the images, they are not easily faked.

4) Google the camera for other real world reviews from photography and store forums a well as Googleing a more specific search for pricing for my city.

Following the above steps I can find cameras (although I usually look for specific models), read reviews from professionals and regular users. See some regular user photos and not just shots taken by Pros and get an idea about pricing and availability. Most often I buy my cameras from smaller specialized stores (Vistek, The Camera Store or Saneal’s) rather than from big box stores. Pricing and availability are usually better in the smaller stores.

One thing I try to avoid is going into a store, talking to a salesperson and then going in somewhere else to buy it at a better price. This is not really fair to the employee that helps you, especially if they are commissioned sales people.

Do your research before going into a store and the experience will save you time and money!

One word of caution though. Beware of purchasing from US online stores. Warranties are often different between the US and Canada and if you do have problems with a camera that was purchased through the US often you will have to send the camera to the US Warranty Depot as opposed to the Canadian one. This only delays the time that it takes to get the camera repaired and adds shipping expenses. A perfect example is for Canon Cameras. Canon has a repair depot right in Calgary and if there is ever a problem you can just take your camera there. I have had to do this in the past when a camera was dropped (not by me) and the lens was damaged and required repairs.

Sync Google Calendar with Outlook

Like a lot of people if there is one application that I use an awful lot it is Microsoft Outlook. Not only is it my email program, but I use it as my calendar application as well as my contacts and my to do list. With 2 Windows laptops and a desktop that I use trying to keep all the information up to date on my machines can be tough. What makes it even tougher is that I have two different email services (other than web mail) that I use. I have my main domain email that is set up with my hosting provider and my MS Small Business Server Exchange email which is the primary email address for my Blackberry.

Email has never been much of an issue to keep synced up. If access my primary email account from one of the laptops, it downloads the messages but leaves a copy on the server. When I download the messages on my main desktop it actually removes all of the messages from the server. In addition each laptop or PC has it’s own email address (including my MacBook Pro and Mac Mini) that I can use to forward important emails too, as well as a few distribution lists that send to all machines if needed. I usually just forward contact information via email (vCards) too if I need it on my other machines.

Using the calendar features are a little trickier. If I forward a meeting request to my Blackberry from my primary email, the request shows up sent on a behalf of the original person by myself. This creates a few confusing items. This past fall I started using Google Calendar as well for a home calendar as well as a personal calendar and one for my soccer team. Using Google Calendar was easy as I could copy events between calendars easily, since it was online it was very accessible by all machines. In addition I could overlay the calendars over my calendar in Outlook 2007.

Shortly after that I found a program that would allow for syncing of the Google Calendar with my Outlook Calendar SyncMyCal, available at, brought things together because I could sync two ways between my Outlook Calendar and my Google calendar in both of my Outlook profiles (pop and Exchange), although I had to open each profile to do so. The software was a reasonably priced 25.00 although it is not the easiest software I have ever tried to install as I needed to install several components and it was not always successful on the first install.

Fast forward to last December when Google added a sync tool for Blackberry that allowed syncing of the Google calendar with your Blackberry calendar over the air. This meant that if I added a calendar event to my primary Outlook Calendar, syncmycal would sync it to Google Calendar and then the Google Sync tool would sync it to my Blackberry and then to my exchange server and vice versa. All of my calendars were synced up.

Just yesterday Google announced their own sync tool that allows you to Sync your Google Calendar with Outlook. As usual the Google tool is free. If you are a Google Calendar user, sign into your account and you will see the link to get the software in the upper right portion of the screen.

The download is very small (667KB) and the install is a piece of cake. When it starts it asks for the Outlook profile that you want to use, whether you want full two way sync or just one way, Google to Outlook or Outlook to Google, and the interval of the sync (every 10 minutes is the shortest). The program resides in your task bar and you can toggle it to sync anytime. It does not start automatically with Outlook but it the icon is in the PCs startup folder so it will start with a reboot or login. It can create a shortcut on your desktop to your Google Calendar if you want.

So far limitations I have found are that it will only sync your primary Google Calendar, so if you use more than one calendar it won’t sync those. There are no options for the amount of events (2 weeks worth etc) you want to sync, and no indication of conflict handling. But it is a first generation product and I am sure will get better. Also the only program it supports is Outlook which means Windows only. It works fine with Vista and Outlook 2007.

Syncmycal has two versions, the lite which is free but limited use and the Pro version which can sync multiple calendars and allows for more control may be a better solution for some people now. The software is not expensive and allows for installation on 2 PCs. Installation though can be difficult although it is much better in the latest version and online support isn’t too helpful. Once you get it installed and working it works very, very well.

If you are a Google Calendar and Outlook user and want to keep things in sync, then the new Google Calendar Sync tool is what you need. The price is also right!

My tech of travel!

I am taking the family on a 7 day, Eastern Caribbean cruise in the next couple of months, and I thought I would share the tech I plan on traveling with. These are a few things that you can take with you. on a vacation.

My Acer Travelmate 6292 laptop.
I already know that the ship offers Satellite wireless (at a big cost) and that the hotel that we are staying at pre and post cruise offers free wireless, even if there was no Internet access, I would still be taking the machine. With 6 digital cameras and 4 windows based media players (no IPods here) the laptop will come in handy. I plan on taking pictures off the cameras daily, (the last time we went on a cruise I lost my wife’s camera and all the pictures on it). In addition I will have an external USB hard drive that pictures will also be backed up to in case something goes wrong with the laptop. In addition I’ll rip 3 or 4 DVDs for us and the kids to the machine so that we can watch without carrying disks with us. Finally I will be able to stay in touch with family and friends back home. Maybe Skype will work from the ship but it should work pre and post cruise. The laptop also features a bluetooth voip phone so that I can use Skype. I chose this laptop over my Asus 14.1" wide screen as the hard drive is bigger and the Acer is built for travel. Although the screen is only 12.1" it is smaller, has up to 6 hours of battery life and is a magnesium alloy chassis.

My Nokia N800 Internet Tablet
This is my latest gadget. It is a small wireless device running a special version of Linux. I have installed several applications on it and it can play back media (video and Audio), play games and do email. I plan on trying this on the ship to check my mail daily. The wireless card in this device is the best I have ever used, although battery life is not great. I do have a small external Lithium Ion battery that I bought off the net for 30.00 and powers virtually any of my devices. I plan on getting another one too. Keep watching as I plan to write a more indepth review here too of this little device. I can also connect my Nokia up to a Bluetooth GPS unit and I have a folding Dell Bluetooth travel keyboard for it.

Creative Zen Vision M 60 GB Media player
Music and video for air travel, relaxing by the pool or just relaxing on the balcony of our cabin. I also have about 10 audio books on there from so it gives me a variety of reading without taking up the space. I can also catch up on a few of my podcasts and web videos.

Garmin 350 Nuvi GPS
I have confirmed that this unit has maps of Puerto Rico and St. Thomas U.S.V.I on it so if we decide to walk around ourselves in port we will be able to get back to the ship. I may also take my Bluetooth GSat GPS receiver which will give my laptop and Nokia GPS capability as well.

US Tracfones
We have four of these phones that our family uses when traveling in the US. On our last cruise in the Gulf these phones worked on the ship (in the Gulf) and in ports. As we are going to US Possessions these phones will work in port and in the gulf. In addition I have recently found out that I can add up to 3 Canadian numbers to each phone, so that people contacting me from here will not have to incur long distance. It beats the rates that Rogers charges for roaming (1.45 per minute incoming and 1/75 per minute outgoing). In addition I have just learnt that I can add up to three Canadian phone numbers to each phone so calling them from here would not be a long distance call to Florida (the current numbers). Tracfone now also offers monthly activation plans you you can just bring the phone up when required.

Sony PSP
As well as for gaming, I also use this as a media player. I can put three dvds on the 2 GB Memory stick I have and with 2 batteries I get about 10 hours of video. While this device can also connect to the web wirelessly, the interface and keyboard is awful, so about the only thing I use it for is RSS feed updates. Using the Sony Media Manager Software I can also convert video podcasts and shows I have recorded on my Media Centre PC to the PSP.

Canon HV 20 HD Video Camera
This is the first time I will be using this on a trip. It is a tape based High Definition Camcorder. I hope to capture some good family shots ans some scenary stuff with it. A further review will follow.

RCA Small Wonder Video Camera
One of my favorite little gadgets. This is a small Digital Video Camcorder. It records 30 minutes of "high quality "video (640X480 30 FPS) to it’s internal flash memory and by adding a 2 GB SD card I can record an additional 2 hours. The device runs on AA batteries,(I use rechargables) and has a built in USB connector and preloaded editing software on it. Plug it into a PC and you can edit in camera. There is a small (1.5") lcd that flips out for self filming and playback as well as a built in microphone. Because it is so small (width and depth like a deck of cards but a little taller) it easily fits into any pocket for quick shooting. The 4X digital zoom is not great, but the camera itself for posting quick video’s to You Tube is fine. I will probably have it everywhere I go this trip. As they are not available in Canada I picked my 2 up off of EBay. A more in depth review will be coming up.

Motorola and Cobra FRS Radios
We have 4of these and will use them for communication amongst each other on the ship, as the ships are so large. They come in handy and  we take them on all trips, great in amusement parks, shopping malls, tourist attractions etc.

Tamarac Adventure 7  Backpack
This was a recent gift from my better half. It is a camera bag designed into a backpack. It can carry a laptop, some accessories, my camera body and additional lenses. All the photo and computer equipment sections are padded, seams are all covered to be weatherproof and it will make carrying my 2 bodies and selection of lenses easier on my back when we are in port.

External LI-on battery pack
This is a small LI-ON battery pack that I recently picked up, It comes with 8 different adaptor tips, a usb cable and an AC power adaptor. It is small light and powers/recharges  every device that we will have (All 4 mp3 Players, PSP, Nokia N800, Nokia Cell phones, Blackberries). It can be recharged from a USB port or with the AC adaptor. It gives an additional 4 to 6 hours of power to all of the devices on a full charge.

Monster Travel Power Strip
Designed for the traveler, it is very small light weight and gives three outlets from 1. We will have 2 of these with us.

Sony Active Noise Canceling Headphones
Picked these up last year and they are really good on aircraft and noisy environments where there is a constant hum (air conditioners, fans etc). Two microphones on the earpieces pick up the noise and then electronically cancel it into the headphones. Runs on one AAA battery. Great for watching movies or listening to portable players on aircraft as they significantly reduce the engine noise.

Seems like a lot of toys to carry, but they are really not bad. Believe it or not everything fits into the Tamarac backpack above. We will be in the air and in airports for 12 hours each way so keeping the kids entertained will be important.

Shaw blocking port 25 outbound

Well it has been happening all summer but Shaw has been slowing blocking port 25 outbound on their connections. They are probably one of the last ISPs in North America to do so.

Does this affect you? Probably not! If you do use email accounts other than Shaw’s you probably are or will be affected. Here is what is happening, Shaw blocks port 25 outbound which is the port that email servers use to send and receive email. By blocking port 25 outbound your mail client can’t communicate on that port to your mail server. and therefore cannot send email. Telus has been doing this for sometime now and I was first made aware of Shaw’s changes in May of 2007. About a month later my connection started doing the same thing.

Their rational behind this is that it reduces outbound spam from their network, where in actuality one of the side affects is that it can make your non Shaw email look more like spam because of one of the methods of working around the block. 

This restriction can affect you if you have your own domain email, or if you use pop3 services for Gmail, Hotmail, AOL etc.

How can you work around it? Well if you have your own domain and use that email server, see if your hosting provider can set up your sendmail program (or mail server) on an alternate port (like 2525). If this is done go into your mail client’s advanced settings for the account and change the smtp port to the port that was provided. You should now be able to send to your own server.

If you don’t have the option to change the ports you will have to send email out via the Shaw (or Telus mail servers if your are with them) . Go into the account settings for your mail client and set the outgoing servers as your ISPs. For example with Shaw cable in Calgary it is  If you are using a mail server other than your own domain you are essential done (although it is possible that you email will be marked as spam because the sending domain will not match the email domain). If you are using your own domain there is one other step you have to do. In order for your email not to be tagged as possible spam, make sure that you create an SPF record for your domain including your ISPs mail servers as authorized servers to send mail for your domain.

There are several web based wizards available that will walk you through the process of creating the SPF record (Microsoft has a good one). Create your SPF record and either add it (or have it added) to your DNS records as a txt record. This tells other mail servers that use SPF that your ISPs mail server is authorized to send on behalf of your domain and therefore it is less likely to be tagged as a spam email.

I have checked and this affects both personal Shaw accounts and commercial accounts. However my server running on a static IP address works fine.

Just another way that spammers have ruined our Internet experience!

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