Archives For Gadgets

My main computer that I use for all my day to day work is pushing 3 years old, and it’s really starting to show it’s age. I realize that 3 years doesn’t sound like that long, but it’s the longest I’ve used a computer since the 386 I built my freshmen year of college. But in these economic times I’m sure most of us aren’t able to replace our computers as often as we would like. I find myself in a constant battle in keeping mine from crashing and losing hours of work. I’m sure I’m not the only one, but is there anything we can do that can help prolong the life of our aging machines? Here are a few things that I have found that has helped:

1. Hardware Upgrades: Sometimes over time we can develop some hardware problems that are easy to tackle ourselves.  Two upgrades we can do that make a huge difference are RAM and Harddrive.  If you find your aging computer slowing down, make sure you have the maximum amount of RAM your computer can handle.  If you don’t know the maximum amount for your machine head over to Crucial.com, and run their memory scanner and they will tell you how much your computer can take.  You can also buy the upgrade from them, and their prices are some of the best around.  Another upgrade that can make a big difference is upgrading your hard drive.  Chances are your computer came with a small, slow drive that upgrading can make a huge difference.  If you drive is too full it can slow you down, also upgrading to a faster drive can make a big difference in performance.

2. Clean up the hard drive. You may not feel comfortable swapping out your harddrive, and if you have a laptop it may not be easy.  But that doesn’t mean you’re out of luck.  You can defrag your drive to help speed it up.  I would also clean off unneeded programs and files to free up space.

3. Clean install. This is much more drastic, but often times using the system restore disks your computer came with reinstalling everything often helps fix problems that can be difficult to find and fix another way.  Now if you feel you need to take this step make sure you have a good backup and all the install files for your software because this will result in erasing your hard drive back to the way it came from the factory.  If you are planning to upgrade your computer to the latest operating system (Windows 7 or Snow Leopard) this can be a great time to do this.

4. Find a New Use For It.  You may find that your old computer is just not worth upgrading or fixing so you do take the step to get a new one.  That doesn’t mean the old computer is now completely useless.  You may be able to turn it into a home server to keep your photos or music on so you can share them with other computers in your house.  Or maybe that old laptop will be perfect to your spouse, parent, or child.  I find often times other people in my life don’t have the same requirements that I have, and while my old computer may not be great for editing video anymore, it may be perfect to check facebook or playing webkinz.

What do you do with your old computers?  How old is too old?

Should I Buy That Gadget?

Chris —  October 30, 2009 — Leave a comment

Have you ever asked your self that question?  I know I have.  In fact I keep asking myself about it every time I see a netbook.  Here’s a little flow chart to help with the decision:

shouldyougetgadget
(Click to see full size.)

Source: Scordit.com

TomTom GPS for iPhone

Chris —  August 16, 2009 — Leave a comment

I love my TomTom GPS unit.  I’ve had it for 3 or 4 years now and it’s been great, the software is easy to use and the directions easy to follow.  For someone who seems to have trouble navigating from point A to point B this has been a lifesaver.  One problem.  We only have one TomTom and my wife and I often want to use it when we are off to different places.  That’s why I was so excited to hear that TomTom was working on an iPhone App during the WWDC keynote this year, and tonight it hit the streets.

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The TomTom App is now available in the app store.  One thing you must know is, it’s a little more spendy than most Apps, at $99 it’s the most expensive app that I’ve ever contemplated, but when you think of the cost of an entire GPS unit, $99 is a steal.  Considering that AT & T is trying to sell you a service at $10 a month, a 1 time $99 charge doesn’t sound that bad.  It also looks like it’s the software is just as easy to use as my TomTom 1, plus I can pull addresses from my contact list and have TomTom direct me there.

If you’ve never had a GPS and own an iPhone this is one app that you will use everyday.  Even when I’m going places I know how to get there it gives me estimated arrival times which makes answering the question “Are we there yet?” so much easier.  This is the perfect companion for a youth ministry road trip to find restaurants, gas stations, rest stops and other points of interest along the way.  Never get lost in that church shuttle again.

tom2TomTom U.S. & Canada

So I finally did it, I got a Kindle.  A used one mind you, but that doesn’t bother me.  I’ve only had it a few hours now, so I’m sure that I will still learn lots of little things about it.  But the first big hurdle I came to was getting documents I already have on to it.  Sure it’s super easy to download new books, or even try out sample chapters.  I’ve even collected a few free ones that I’ve found in the links to over the last few months that I’ve been reading on the iPhone app, but what about other documents I have that I would like to take with me.

I’ve been a ebook fan for a long time going back to the small library I have from my Microsoft Reader days on my old iPaq. Now I would love to be able to read some of these again on the Kindle.  I know I could email them to my Kindle, but don’t really want to pay amazon for the conversion, and I was happy to find there’s a really easy way.

There’s a free piece of software called Stanza (both Windows and Mac versions available), and it will open almost any text document you have (including the old .lit files from my iPaq) and convert them to a number of different ebook formats, including Kindle.

Here’s how to do it.

  1. Plug in your Kindle to your computer via USB and let the computer mount it as a drive
  2. Open stanza and select the file you wish to convert for your Kindle
  3. From the file menu select export as and choose Kindle as the output.  Choose the document folder on the kindle as the save location
  4. Disconnect the Kindle and now the document shows up as a library item.

You may be thinking this is a great way to get ebooks and other documents on your iPhone into the Kindle App as well, but you can’t access the kindle library the same way on the iPhone.  Never fear, Stanza has a free iPhone App as well that you can share books between your computer and phone or ipod.  It’s a great way to transfer documents to your phone for reference, or maybe even your teaching notes for Youth Group. This app is so great, it really deserves it’s own post, but I’ve got some reading to do.

New Site: Gdgt.com

Chris —  July 2, 2009 — Leave a comment

I don’t know about you, but I love gadgets.  And a great new site launched this week just for all of us who share that love of shiny, electronic toys.  It’s from Peter Rojas and Ryan Block, two of the masterminds behind engadget and gizmodo, so they know something about gadgets.  It’s called Gdgt.com (it’s pronounced g-d-g-t), and it’s setup as community site for people to share about their gadgets or research about new ones.

Here’s a video they put together to help explain the site:

So, what is gdgt? from gdgt on Vimeo.

This may not be a place to read about news (although they had a pretty good news feed) , but it’s a great place to read about what others experiences have been.  And if you really want the news, they have a great podcast also that I really enjoy.  It’s worth checking out (click the iTunes link to visit):  gdgt.com - gdgt weekly - gdgt weekly.

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Well, I’ve been using the new iPhone 3.0 software for almost 12 hours now.  Here are some of my initial thoughts:

  • Search:  I think the way they implemented this by having it be to the left of the main screen is interesting.  Although I found myself swiping into it accidentally often.  I hope I get used to it being there.  It’s is a great program launcher though.  I have about 7 screens of apps, and it can be difficult to find certain ones.  Now with the search and few letters into the spotlight search, and up it comes.  It was also great finding things in email.  I really like how they used icons next to the results, it makes it easy to identify what each result is.
  • iPod Features:  I wasn’t ready for the first time i opened my music library and it needed to update.  I had to cruise down the road for a few miles before I was able to fire up my tunes.  So you may want to open up your library right away just so it can update.  I listen to alot of podcasts, and there are a few new settings.  Now under to time bar there are 3 new buttons.  One allows you to send a link to the podcast to a friend.  Nice for those of us who create podcasts.  Two allows you to jump the podcast back 30 seconds incase you missed something.  And three allows you to change the speed of playback.
  • Cut and Paste: This one is so big.  I can’t believe it took so long to get this.  The implementation works well, exactly how I would expect it.  And it works in so many places.  It was supper easy to move text from a web page to an email, or a web address into a note.  I love it.  This makes the whole device so much more useable.
  • General Impressions: My iPhone 3G feels a little snappier.  The transitions from screen to screen definitely seems smoother.  Overall not huge impact on performance, but it just seems a little tighter. 

Here’s some thoughts from one of my favorite Tech Pundits: 10 nifty things about iPhone OS 3.0.   

How was your first day with it?  What’s your favorite new feature?

I often have people ask me how to make good sounding recordings of their youth bands, sermons, or voice overs for videos without spending a fortune on gear. Before I found out about the Shure X2u, I’d recommend a cool mic like the blue snoflake or snowball.  The Shure X2u is called a signal adapter, but it is far more.  It’s powered totally off a standard USB port, and allows you to plug a mic cord into one end while outputting the audio to your computer through the usb.

What is most interesting about the X2u are all its additional features.  It has an integrated mic preamp which will make the audio sound much better and more full.  It will power microphones that require what’s called “phantom power” or +48v.  It has a headphone jack that you can use to monitor the input as well as three dials that control mic gain, volume, and monitor volume.

This little piece of equipment allows you to use the mics you already have, either run through a mixer into the X2u or plugged up directly into the unit, instead of having to go out and purchase a usb mic that will probably not sound nearly as good as the mics you already have, and not give you the option of plugging in a mixer and using multiple mics.

You can get the Shure X2u at Amazon by itself for $120, or bundled with tried and true SM-58 microphone for $199 (a $220 value).

Microsoft Project Natal

Chris —  June 3, 2009 — Leave a comment

I can’t say I’ve always been the biggest X-box fan (OK don’t hate me), but this looks pretty cool.  I wonder if they will ever really come out with it.  I’m still waiting for a Microsoft Surface to show up somewhere.

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Amazon announced today the Kindle DX.  It’s a larger version of their existing ebook reading.  The larger screen is suppose to make reading Newspapers and Magazines easier.  In addition to the larger screen, it has native PDF support and storage for up to 3500 books.  Another cool new feature is it will auto rotate from Portrait to Landscape modes.  Looks interesting, but I think I would still have to go with the original sized Kindle.  Even though native PDF support would be great.

I’m still holding out for the rumored larger iPod / iPhone tablet.  I think that would be the device for me.

Review: Flip MinoHD

Chris —  March 31, 2009 — Leave a comment

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I have been playing with the Flip Video MinoHD Camcorder for a few weeks now, and I have to say, it’s one of the best gadgets I’ve got in a while.  It is super easy to use: Turn the power on and hit the red button to record.  It has a small zoom, but it’s not going to get you very close.  The picture is really good for a camera so small (it’s about the size of an iPod), it’s HD (only 720, not 1080) and is superior to other flash based cameras I’ve tried.  One of the things that makes this camera so easy though, is not how easy it is to shoot video, but how easy it is to work with it.  It has a built in usb port that pops out of the side and plugs directly into the computer.  Once it’s plugged in you can use the built in software to upload directly to YouTube, or into what ever software you use to edit with.  I use iMovie, and the video imported right in and I was working with it quickly.

I think this camera is great for shooting quick little announcement videos, capturing highlights of an event, and an afternoon of fun.  It stores up to 60 minutes of video so it’s plenty for most things, but over the course of a week at camp it might not be enough.  One other improvement I’d like to see is the audio quality.  It’s alright, but a jack to hook up an aux mic would be great.  Another feature you should be aware of is it can only charge via a computer, so if you are on the road you’ll need you laptop to keep it powered up.  I will say that I’ve found the battery life to be excellent though, I have yet to run it down, and even after a few days in my backpack, it’s held it’s charge well.

You can spend a lot more on a camera, but if you are looking for something small and easy to use it’s definitely worth taking a look at.  It would be super easy to hand over to a student to film a video for you and you don’t have to worry about what they may do with you $1000 camcorder.

Here’s a short little video I shot a few weeks ago on a video shoot:

Plugged In

If anyone else has used one, I’d love to hear what you think.

LINK: Flip Video MinoHD Camcorder