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 (http://www.hotspotvpn.com). 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.

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 indenti.ca.

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 www.twitter.com, 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 m.twitter.com. 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…

Celebrities

Aston Kutcher http://www.twitter.com/aplusk
Demi Moore mrskutcher
Shaquille O”Neil http://www.twitter.com/THE_REAL_SHAQ
Dr. Drew http://www.twitter.com/DRdrew
Neil Gaiman (Author) http://www.twitter.com/neilhimself
Wil Wheaton http://www.twitter.com/wilw
Martha Stewart http://www.twitter.com/marthastewart
Jimmy Fallon http://www.twitter.com/jimmyfallon
Brent Spiner http://www.twitter.com/brentspiner
LeVar Burton http://www.twitter.com/levarburton
Penn Jillette http://www.twitter.com/pennjillette
Adam Savage (Mythbuster) http://www.twitter.com/donttrythis
John Cleese http://www.twitter.com/johncleese
Stephen Fry http://www.twitter.com/stephenfry

News Sources
Calgary Herald http://www.twitter.com/calgaryherald
Global Calgary http://www.twitter.com/globalcalgary
CBC News Calgary http://www.twitter.com/cbccalgary
Western Standard http://www.twitter.com/westernstandard
Global National http://www.twitter.com/globalnational
National Post http://www.twitter.com/nationalpost
CNN Breaking News http://www.twitter.com/cnnbrk
Rick Sanchez CNN http://www.twitter.com/ricksanchezcnn
Anderson Cooper http://www.twitter.com/andersoncooper
Stephen Harper http://www.twitter.com/pmharper (not very active)

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

Darth Vader http://www.twitter.com/darthvader
Abe Vigoda http://www.twitter.com/abevigoda
God http://www.twitter.com/god
Fake Stephen Harper http://www.twitter.com/fakesteveharper
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 http://www.twitter.com/theraj
Sheldon Cooper http://www.twitter.com/sheldoncooper

And finally if you wish to follow me go to
http://www.twitter.com/sysguy

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.

Response Point Demo Kit here! Full review coming soon!

Yesterday our Response Point, Syspine Demo kit arrived. Microsoft Response Point is a hardware/software phone system for small businesses. The system is very low cost compared to some vendors system out there and it adds easy administration and changes.

Not sure if this system has the Response Point Service Pack 1 Beta installed on it, but we will be testing whatever version we have and learning it. We should soon be able to offer demos to clients that are looking into replacing a phone system.

 

Live Mesh Tech Preview – First Impressions

My request to join the Microsoft Live Mesh Technology Preview program (http://www.mesh.com) was accepted today and I have just finished installing on a couple of PCs to test it out. Live Mesh is a service that will allow you to synchronize files and folder to a central location that you can share between your PCs as well as giving you the ability to remotely access your devices. You can do many of the things that Live Mesh does right now (also for free) using a variety of technologies, however this puts all of it in one place and one simple application. Currently Mesh only supports Windows based PCs but in the future it will have MAC and mobile device support.

When you first log on to Mesh using your Windows Live ID, you see your Live Desktop (with 5 GB of space) as well as devices and the option to add a device. The first step is to add a device (currently only Vista and XP PCs). You download and install the client software (less than 2Mb) then add your Live ID and password. After the software installation has completed you then see the PC as a device in the Mesh. Once your PC shows up in the Mesh you can add folders to synchronize to the Live Desktop simply by going to explorer, right clicking and selecting "add folder to your Live Mesh". The folder will now appear in your Live Mesh Live desktop and you can access it via the web.

Live Mesh notifYou don’t have to directly access the Live Mesh website to see your devices and desktop either. When installed a piece of software that runs in your system tray called the notifier allows you to see devices, recently added folders and to connect to devices. If you click on Live Desktop it will open the Live Mesh website. From here you also select the folders that you would like to synchronize with the PC.

If you have more than one computer and you install Mesh on each PC you can synchronize the folders between PCs. After adding a folder to your Live desktop from one PC, you go into the notifier (system tray application), select manage folders and then select the folder to sync somewhere to your PC. Adding something to this desktop synchronizes it down to the other PC.

Remote Desktop. Also from your Mesh home page you can remotely connect to any devices that have been added, allowing you to drag and drop files between PCs or work the desktop like you are sitting in front of it. I on my Vista Ultimate and XP Pro systems this works fine. I wanted to test it on my wife’s Vista Home Premium laptop but I have been having software issues trying to get it installed on there. XP Home and Vista Home Premium and lower  have remote access built in but it is disabled. Right now I can’t say that this will give it remote access. Windows Home Server does not give this access to XP Home or Vista Home Premium. I have read reports though that Live Mesh does in fact allow Remote Desktop to XP Home and Vista Home Premium machines. Does Microsoft now realize that this is becoming a needed feature for home users too. This is something that I suggested being added to Windows Home Server when I was in the beta program.

Alternatives. As I stated earlier you can accomplish this with several technologies now that are either free or at a low cost. Using the free service at www.logmein.com you can install the client on your PC and connect to your PC from any web browser in the world (including Firefox). Logmein also works on Macs right now. If you have a Windows Home Server you can also access files that are stored there via a web browser and remote control desktops running Windows Vista Business or better or Windows XP pro. Logmein also works with XP Home and Vista Home Premium.

foldershare As for sharing files and folders, that can also be accomplished with another free Microsoft Application that also works on MACS. http://www.foldershare.com is a small application that you can download on to your PC or Mac and share files from any connected PC or via a website. I believe that the Foldershare technology is built in to Live Mesh, but unless you sync the folders to your Live Desktop or connect via remote desktop you don’t have access to them. I chalk this up as a strength of Foldershare. See a screen capture of my Foldershare site on the left.

If you want an online storage folder with the ability to share drives, you can use Microsoft Live Skydrive http://skydrive.live.com. Again this is a free service that allows you to store up to 5 GB of files on the web, maintaining private access or sharing with friends or everyone.

You can also do most of what Live Mesh offers if you have a Windows Home Server. You can add file sharing for all PCs and remote desktop (for XP Pro or Vista Business or better). However Vista home server also has add-on capability so you can add a lot more functionality to your home server (off site backup, photo galleries etc) in addition to expandable storage and data protection.

Conclusion. The idea of Mesh is not new at all. As I ave written you can do all of these things now except that you need other applications. There will be more functionality once you can install the software on Macs and mobile devices. It will be interesting to see if you will be able to remote control a Mac using the application but somehow I don’t think that this i possible. If you have multiple PCs and are mobile with a laptop, Live Mesh may be something that you are interested in.

 

Zunes available in Canada Tomorrow, June 13th 2008.

I was in my local Wal-Mart the other day and I noticed that they have their MP3 case set up with some demo Zunes. The Zune goes on sale in Canada tomorrow June 13th. Unfortunately the Zune marketplace (store) will not yet be available but that is soon. I will be testing a Canadian installation of the Zune software tomorrow. As of right now I have my accounts set up as US accounts.

I currently have 2 Zunes, both an 80 GB and an 8 GB. I have written a review of the 80GB on this blog here. Version 2.5 of the Zune software and the firmware have fixed a few of the little irritants I had (especially separating Video and Audio podcasts) but have also added one more irritant and that when playing a podcast if you have play one podcast episode and also have earlier unlistened to (or unwatched ones) it will automatically play those.

All in all, I still really like my Zunes and will keep them. There has been a confirmation that the devices will soon add Audible audio book support which will make an excellent device even better!

If you are looking to an alternative to an iPod, I highly recommend the Zunes.

iPhone 3G in Canada July 11th?

Well the Steve note at Apple’s WWDC just ended and to no ones surprise the new 3G iPhone was announced. Job’s indicated that the new iPhone would be released in 22 countries on July 11th. In Job’s map in the keynote Canada was coloured red indicating that Canada had (or would get) the iPhone.

The new iPhone is lower priced, 199.00 (Black) for the 8GB and 299.00 for the 16GB (available in white), features include Microsoft Exchange support, VPN support, a flush headphone jack, better audio, GPS and better battery life. As well it will work on Rogers HSDPA network in major centres for high speed browsing.

Several other products we announced at WWDC today. Applications for the iPhone and the new App store on iTunes, Mobileme which will replace .mac as a new way to sync your data between computers and your iPhone.

No word yet form Rogers (at least on their press release site) as to the availability and pricing of the plans, but if they are joining the July 11th release date expect to see something really soon.

New applications will be available for older iPhones free and for iPod Touch owners for 9.99.

I am up in the air about this new iPhone and I am not sure I want to give up my Blackberry Curve just yet. I have been awaiting the announcement from Rogers of the new Blackberry Bold and maybe the Thunder. I ave an iPod Touch with the iPhone applications and while I like the WIFI browsing experience I am not sure if I am a big fan of the on screen keyboard. I have to correct loads of my own spelling mistakes as I have fat fingers and I find it is a little tricky to type on the keyboard.

Update: Just checked the Apple.ca website and they do indicate that the 3G iPhone will be coming to Canada July 11th. No release on Roger’s website yet though.

 

You may now buy an Apple TV!

Yesterday the Canadian iTunes store added movies (for purchase or rental) to their offerings bringing us a step closer to getting what our friends south of the border have. However the TV show offerings still leave a lot to be desired, unless you want to watch Canadian shows.

By adding movies to the store for download, it now makes sense for Canadians to buy an Apple TV.  Apple TV is a box that connects to your TV and allows users to rent and buy movies, TV shows and video podcasts from the iTunes store and watch them on their big screen TV. The box can also stream video and audio content from your PCs or Macs via iTunes to the Apple TV. The original (although with version 2 software and 40 GB hard drive sells for 249.00 CDN and a 160GB version that sells for 349.99.

The Apple TV has been available for a while in Canada but without the movies on the iTunes store it wasn’t really worth purchasing.

Most of the movies available are in standard definition but if you have an Apple TV only you can rent HD movies. Movies sell for roughly the same as a DVD in stores (in some cases a little more) 14.99 to 9.99 however I have seen some movies for 19.99. Rentals cost 4.99 and you have 30 days from the time of rental to watch and 48 hours after you have started watching to finish it. After these times expiry the movie will disappear.

As with most other iTunes products you can transfer purchased content to up to 5 PCs or Macs. Purchased movies can be burned to DVD (or copied to an external drive) for backup purposes but not for watching (basically you are burning a data DVD). Purchased and rented movies can be transferred to an iPod to take with you when you head out. 

Movies can take from 20 minutes to 3 hours to download to your PC depending on the speed of your Internet connection. You can start watching once enough of the movie has been downloaded.

From what I understand video quality is not bad and the HD rentals are slightly lower quality than an HD DVD or Blu-Ray Movie.

Personally I do find the idea intriguing. I still like the idea of purchasing a movie on a DVD disk to get all of the extras on the disks as well as the portability of the disk. I can take a purchased DVD disk over to my parents place with me, not so for the downloaded movies. As for selection of movies it does not look too bad but it is limited. As I have stated as for TV shows there is not much available and if you are looking for US network shows, forget about it on the Canadian store.

One thing to note. I have heard that the Apple TV does get extremely hot to the touch. There is no fan in the system to keep it cool so it uses the case as a large heat sync. Be careful not to leave items sitting on top of it.

I might try out renting a movie by connecting my MacBook Pro to my HD TV and downloading one just to see what happens. If I do so I will post my results here and let you know what it looks like.

 

Smugmug vs Flickr

Since joining Smugmug a little while ago, I have spent a considerable amount of time looking at published photos both on Flickr and Smugmug. I have to say that I am very impressed with the members of Smugmug. Browsing the days popular photos always amazes me with some of the talent that is there. There are some stunning images being published there.

I find that while Flickr has a large number of outstanding photos as well, it is a little more difficult to sort through all of the cell phone pics etc.

Check out both

Smugmug http://www.smugmug.com/browse/

Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/