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June 2008 Archives

June 9, 2008

Memorex SimpleSave DVD For Automatic Backup

Back up your stuff! Everybody knows you should, but it's just so clumsy to do, and who has the time, or you run out of backup discs or storage -- and that's for us tech people, who should know better! For many consumers, backup is just not feasible at all -- they need not one-click backup, but zero-click backup -- automatic backup to a removable device, with no software installation, no setup, no messing around with details.

Imation/Memorex has launched a line of recordable DVDs that get right to the heart of these issues --

The Memorex SimpleSave Back-Up DVDs are recordable discs that have a pre-recorded region that launches back-up software directly from the disc.

There's no fuss, no configuring -- the software automatically scans your disc and backs up all your photo or music files, prompting for additional discs if needed. (See press release)

To make backup even easier for consumers, the discs are available in separate products for specific types of files: Photo (5-pack for $12.99) and Music (3-pack for $9.99). Just insert the disc, and all files of these types are found and archived. (Of course, you can specify advanced backup options for specific file types or locations.)

The software used on the discs is actually DVD Click Free Backup from Storage Appliance Corp. in Ontario, Canada. Another way to use this idea is for backing up to hard drive -- the ClickFree Backup HD700 external hard drive, introduced in January for $169, is a 120 GB USB 2.0 hard drive that runs the ClickFree Automatic Backup software. Just plug in the drive, and the software auto-runs and automatically backs up files from your computer. (Again, you can override the defaults and use your own settings.) A similar product was shipped earlier -- the Polaroid Media Backup Photo Edition -- the 40 GB drive for around $119 stores up to some 40,000 digital photos.

See my High-Def / DVD Gallery for more on optical disc formats and media.

See my Portable Storage Gallery for details and comparisons on memory cards, USB drives, and hard disk storage.

June 1, 2008

Digital Copy: Movie "Downloads" from Blu-ray Disc

With the victory of the Blu-ray Disc format for high-def movies, the great hope of the movie studios and consumer electronics industry is that that consumers will rush out to buy HD movies on disc for viewing on their home theatre displays.

But today's consumers want their media available where, when, and how it best fits their needs. And if you spend the money to buy a new HD version of a movie you already own on DVD (and maybe previously on VHS), you're not going to be thrilled to be asked to buy additional lower-res versions for your Apple iPod, Sony PSP, or other portable player.

The studios do understand this, and so, for example, Fox has been experimenting with an ongoing effort to provide digital files of movies along with its Blu-ray discs, what it calls Fox Digital Copy.

Warner Home Video, in comparison, has been tryiing out two forms of digital copies. Special editions of titles like Superman Returns included the option to download an electronic copy over the Internet. But electronic downloads are slow, and it really may not be a good idea for the industry to be training consumers to learn the joy of downloading movies over the Internet.

The more convenient option is to store the digital copy right on the disc with the movie, as with the December release of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. The Warner digital copy is only in Windows Media format (i.e., not for Macs or iPods), and authorizes a copy for one PC and one portable media device.

Meanwhile, Fox has worked with Apple to support Fox Digital Copy on both PCs and Macs. Fox then provides digital movie files in iTunes-compatible format for playback on PCs, Macs, and iPods (and the iPhone), as well as in Windows Media format for playback under Windows and on compatible Plays For Sure portable devices (e.g., from SanDisk, Creative, Samsung, Sony, and others).

I had the chance to try out the Digital Copy feature with the Juno and Alien vs. Predator: Requiem Blu-ray releases. These are two-discs sets: Disc 1 is the movie on Blu-ray, with special features, and disc 2 is a DVD with the digital copy files. 

The disc 2 DVD actually contains three copies of the movie. 

  • Windows Media "PC", ~ 720 x 390 - 300 resolution
  • "Portable" Windows Media, lower 320 x 174
  • Apple iTunes, ~ 853 x 460 - 356

The two higher-res versions are just over 1 GB in size, and the smaller portable versions are around 400 to 520 KB, so all three fit well on a single DVD at good quality.

When inserted in a PC, the DVD launches a simple Copy Manager application (in Adobe Flash). It then can transfer the movie files on the DVD disc to your hard disk, installing the digital copy to iTunes and/ or Windows Media Player, and from there to a portable player.

While the process was relatively painless, after entering the 16-digit serial number, the copy protection will get in the way if you want to move the movie to a another computer or different portable device.The Fox website advises consumers to call with such license authorization issues.

It would seem that these digital copies make sense for the studios, adding real value for consumers while not threatening high-def Blu-ray releases (or even standard-res DVDs) too much, since the digital copies are somewhat lower resolution. Even more, the movie video files do not contain the interactive navigation and extra features that can make the disc versions much more interesting, especially as the more advanced BD-Live interactive capabilities become available later this year.

See the full article: Digital Copy: Movie "Downloads" from Blu-ray Disc

    Find Alien vs. Predator: Requiem [Blu-ray]
    and Juno [Blu-ray] on Amazon.com

June 5, 2008

Flip Video Mino -- Slimmer Simple Camcorder

Pure Digital has released a new version of its Flip Video line of portable and fun camcorders -- the Flip Video Mino (see previous posts on the Flip Ultra, and the related RCA Small Wonder line).

The Flip line is all about quick, fun, and easy shooting -- the cameras power on in under 4 seconds, and then just press the big red button to start recording. There are simple controls for play/pause, rewind/forward, volume/zoom ... and that's it.

No issues about camera setup or video formats or other details -- just plain and simple. There's even a pop-up USB connector so you don't need any external cables.

The cameras shoot 640 x 480 MPEG-4 video -- plenty good enough for quick posting to the web, and often quite reasonable for TV-res playback.

The new Flip Video Mino is designed to be even easier to carry than the Ultra by shrinking to half the thickness (now 3.94 x 1.97 x 0.6 inches), and from 4.9 to 3.3 ounces -- much less bulky in the pocket. The slimming is enabled by doing away with removable batteries, and using internal rechargeable batteries, replenished though the USB connector, which now pops out to the top of the unit.

Other enhancements include the smoother design with backlit touch-sensitive buttons, and an enhanced video engine, so you now can pause, fast forward, and rewind during playback.

The camcorder also includes built-in software for Windows and Mac to organize, edit, and share your videos, now including uploading directly to MySpace for the social networking generation.

The Flip Video Mino is available in white and black for $179, with 2 GB of internal memory, to store approximately 60 minutes of video (There's no slot for additional storage cards).

These simple camcorders make great wedding gifts for easy and fun shooting on the honeymoon. And they work well for desperate adults who don't know what kind of gift to get younger relatives.

See my Digital Camcorders Gallery for more on digital camcoders, from webcams to HD.

    Find the Flip Video Mino on Amazon.com

June 6, 2008

SanDisk microSD Storage -- Wake Up Your Phone

Got a slot? SanDisk would really like you to notice that your cell phone, your PDA, and your MP3 player (though not if it's an iPod) probably have a memory card slot that you could be taking advantage of -- for more storage and more fun.

Wake Up Your Phone

SanDisk has been promoting the use of microSD flash memory cards in its Wake Up Your Phone advertising campaign. The accompanying website provides information about how to use the memory card slot to add more storage capacity to your mobile phone -- from finding the right kind of card, to transferring downloads to your phone.

With removable storage cards, you can "sideload" media files from your PC to the card to play on your phone, or transfer photos and other files from your phone to your PC. You can currently get up to 8 GB on a microSD card, to hold some 1,000 songs (128 Kbps MP3), 1,200 photos (2 MP), or 21 hours of video (MPEG-4 at 384 Kbps).

Mobile Ultra Memory Cards

Conveniently, SanDisk has a broad line of tiny little memory cards for mobile phones, in microSD and Memory Stick Mobile (M2) formats, including larger capacity / higher performance microSDHC (currently up to 8 GB for $99). To access these tiny cards on your computer and other devices, there's also microSD Mobile Memory Kit with SD and miniSD adapters, and compact MobileMate Readers (USB card adapters)

SanDisk recently announced Mobile Ultra premium memory cards for mobile phones in microSD and Memory Stick Mobile (M2) formats, bundled with its tiny MobileMate Micro Reader (press release) which handles microSD, microSDHC, and Memory Stick Micro cards.

SanDisk describes the Mobile Ultra line as "high-performance" cards that provide fast side-loading speeds -- though it does not publish transfer rate specs due to the broad variability in performance between different devices.

Suggested retail pricing for the Mobile Ultra microSD cards plus reader is 2 GB for $34, 4 GB for $59, and 8 GB for $119.

Sansa Sessions Card

But SanDisk's vision for flash memory goes beyond added storage. Memory cards can also be pre-loaded with content distribution format. SanDisk is making this point with its Sansa Sessions free music promotion for its new Sansa Fuze media player.

Purchase the 8GB Sansa Fuze (in snazzy silver, list $129) before August, and SanDisk will send a free microSD card preloaded with DRM-free music from new and emerging artists (press release).

The 500 MB card has a Music folder with the music tracks from 55 artists (with associated album art), all in non-copy-protected MP3 format (mostly at 128 and 256 Kbps). Plus there are Photo and Video folders with a handful of additional music video clips (MPEG4 in AVI files).

There's even a little space left over for you to store your own files.

See my Portable Storage Gallery for more on storage formats and devices.

    Find the SanDisk Mobile Ultra microSDHC Card on Amazon.com

    Find the SanDisk Sansa Fuze 8 GB MP3 Player on Amazon.com

June 8, 2008

Monster Cable-It Cable Management Kit

I've been doing some cleaning up, but even in this wireless age I've got a mess of wires running around my office. Yes, I could wrap or tie them, but then I'll need to pull one wire out and have to mess them all up again. And cable troughs really don't work with reconfigurable offices or a home office.

Monster Cable, best known for its performance cables for audio/video and computers, has an interesting alternative: the Monster Cable-It Cable Management Kit that wraps up cables, yet is easy to reconfigure.

The plastic sleeve wraps around cables using a separate Zipper tool accessory. To clean up a tangle of cables, just snap open the Zipper tool to lay in the group of cables, insert the pointed end of the Zipper into the Cable-It sleeve, and then pull the Zipper along the sleeve to lay in the run of cables.

So far so good, but here's the bonus -- you don't have to disassemble the whole set if you just need to remove one of the cables. Instead, you can just pull the one cable out of the sleeve along the zipper, while still leaving it wrapped around the remaining cables. This means that you can wrap a group of cables for a long run, and then split out one or more individual cables as needed at each end.

The Cable-It cables are available in three sizes, Small for 3 to 5 cables (starting at $16), Medium for 5 to 8 cables (starting at $19), and Large for 8 to12 cables (starting at $29), each in 8 and 16 foot lengths plus a 50 foot spool. Just cut them with scissors to fit a custom length.

And put an end to the offense of messy cable clutter.

See my Portable Peripherals and Accessories Gallery for more on fun accessories.

    Find the Monster Cable-It on Amazon.com

June 12, 2008

WINLAB and the Future of Wireless

I've seen big computer rooms, and grids of mesh computers, but I'd never seen 400 computers hanging from the ceiling until I visited the WINLAB facility in North Brunswick, New Jersey.

WINLAB, the Wireless Information Network Laboratory, is an industry-university cooperative research center for wireless networking, founded at Rutgers University in 1989. It's designed as an international resource for academics, industry, and government to experiment with new wireless networking technology.

This room of dangling PCs is the ORBIT Lab -- the Open-Access Research Testbed for Wireless Networks. The 80 by 70 foot room has a 20 by 20 array of PCs, spaced 1 meter apart. Each node is a stand-alone Linux PC with a 1 GHz processor, 512 MB of RAM, 20 GB of local disk, two 100BaseT Ethernet ports, and two 802.11 a/b/g cards (plus some additional connections including Bluetooth).

ORBIT was founded in 2003 with funding by the NSF as a network research testbed, so researchers could perform wireless experiments that required non-trivial equipment -- and which were repeatable and comparable.

Plus, the facility is accessible over the Internet -- Researchers can log in remotely, load up the nodes with their own custom test software (down to low-level protocol drivers), conduct the experiment, and then extract the data for off-line analysis. The facility has around 95 percent usage from some 200 user groups worldwide, and is booted about 30 to 40 times a day.

(A similar collaborative networking project at Princeton University, PlanetLab, has some 866 nodes at 458 sites spread across the globe. But while PlanetLab is focused on long-running Internet-based services, ORBIT works with much shorter timescales: packet collisions on the scale of milliseconds.)

Beyond ORBIT, WINLAB has a broad research agenda for next-gen ("4G") wireless, including sensor networks of small devices, vehicular networks between moving traffic, "Ad-hoc" networks ("infrastructure-less,"), wireless security, and Smart Radios ("cognitive radio"), software-defined radio systems that can reconfigure to communicate on whatever spectrum is available, and with whatever protocol is required (already being integrated into the ORBIT testbed).

And -- It's just fascinating to be standing under 400 PCs as they suddenly power on and start booting up -- because somebody in Australia wants to run a test.

See full article: WINLAB Looks to the Wireless Future

See also: Next-Generation Wireless: LTE & WiMAX

June 20, 2008

Offload PC Security -- Yoggie Systems

The never-ending mess with Windows and viruses and spyware is an embarrassment to the IT industry -- Even as a computing professional, it's a pain to try to keep my own system safe, much less help friends and grandparents set up a simple system to get online to send e-mail and check the Web without running into trouble. Technology like protected operating systems and hardware virtual machines have been around for decades, but on today's PCs it's still horribly easy to accidentally click the wrong thing and suddenly find your entire system under attack.

Even worse, it's a pain to keep up the effort to try to defend yourself -- loading and managing multiple (and sometimes conflicting) applications, clicking through incomprehensible warning pop-ups (and nags to buy upgrades), and then suffering through slow-downs as the software sucks up your processor running scans and downloading updates.

A better answer is to off-load all this checking and scanning onto another device, like an enterprise gateway server for businesses. But you still need to be able to defend your personal systems, and your business laptop on the road.

So check out Yoggie Security Systems, which has developed a security engine that off-loads your system by running on a USB stick, and now in an ExpressCard device for laptops.

The Yoggie devices are miniature stand-alone computers -- 520 MHz Intel processor, 128 MB RAM and 128 MB Flash memory, Linux OS, plus 13 security applications built directly into the miniature device (see below). Yoggie offloads all the security processing so that your machine boots and runs faster, and automatic handles security updates and upgrades. (The products include one year of updates, then most have a $30 annual subscription.)

The Yoggie product line includes several USB devices that you plug in to your system:
- Firestick Pico - $119 - Firewall only, no annual subscription
- Gatekeeper Pico - $149 - For consumers
- Gatekeeper Pico Pro - $199 - For corporate, with VPN and centralized management

Plus Yoggie is now adding the same capabilities in a laptop card that you can insert and forget, instead of having to plug in a USB device:
- Gatekeeper Card Pro - $199 / $159 - Security computer in a ExpressCard

Yoggie also offers two corporate devices that are physically separate from your computer on your network connection, and which can be remotely managed and monitored by the IT organization:
- GateKeeper Pro - $220 - For corporate, with pass-though network connection
- Gatekeeper SOHO - $249 - Network protection for up to 5 computers.

See my Portable Storage Gallery for details and comparisons on memory cards, USB drives, and hard disk storage.

    Find the Yoggie Gatekeeper Pico on Amazon.com

More on the Yoggie software ...

Continue reading "Offload PC Security -- Yoggie Systems" »

June 22, 2008

Verizon Wireless XV6900 / HTC Touch Smartphone

The Verizon Wireless XV6900, released earlier this year, is based on the HTC Touch design.

This is certainly a very nice design and interface built on the Microsoft Windows Mobile platform -- And the first smartphone that my 20-something female test panel has found seriously interesting.

But, it's still Windows Mobile 6 underneath, with a sometimes inconsistent and clunky interface still showing its desktop IT heritage -- including a Task Manager on your phone(!).

The first thing you notice with the XV6900 / Touch is the comfortable feel -- a clean white design, smooth curved edges, easy to fit in your palm, and mostly usable with your finger or even one-handed (3.95 oz., 4 x 2.4 x 0.6"). The interface is fully touch based, with only the navigation control button and Talk and End keys for the phone on the front. The 2.8" touchscreen display is 240 x 320, 64K colors.

The Touch interface replaces the default Windows Mobile home page, and is designed for easy fingertip navigation, without requiring pulling out the stylus. Tap along the middle of the screen to switch between the Home display (with large digital clock), Weather (downloaded for your desired location), Launcher (favorite applications), and Sound (quick silent / vibrate). Or use the other buttons to access the main applications including the Phone, Messages, Camera, Calendar, and Contacts.

But there's more: swipe your finger from bottom to top to display the 3-D Touch Cube interface, with the visual effect of a rotating 3-D cube to display other launcher pages that you can customize, if you prefer. When viewing photos, the Touch interface uses gestures to pan, rotate (half-circle), and zoom (full circle).

The interface also offers a profusion of options for text input -- a phone-like Touch Keypad for easy finger input, a full Keyboard with smaller keys best used with the stylus, and a Touch Keyboard with a QWERTY layout mapped on a 5 x 4 grid (tap multiple times like a phone keypad), and multiple handwriting Recognizers.

As a Windows Mobile smartphone, the XV6900 / Touch can sync and edit Microsoft Word and Excel documents and view PowerPoint and PDF files. Play clips with Windows Media Player and take photos and shoot videos with the 2 megapixel camera.

With Verizon's high-speed EV-DO data service, you can send text, picture, and video messages, or access the Internet to use Outlook E-mail or surf with Internet Explorer.

But using Windows Mobile also means clumsy desktop features squeezed onto a handheld -- like close boxes with a tiny "X" in the corner of the screen to exit dialogs. Or an incomplete setup when you first turn on the device, with confusing messages about running .EXE files and installing .XML and .CAB files (!). Or the astounding power off message: "Power will be tuned off, and you may lose data if you have not saved them" -- as if I should have saved my "datas" by burning a backup CD from the phone(?).

Just one more example: To view your photos, you rotate the unit on its side for the Camera Album, which switches the display to landscape mode, and then displays the photos full-screen the same way. But if you view your video clips in the Camera Album and then click to play one, the display switches to portrait mode to launch Windows Media Player, then back to landscape to play the video full-screen, then back to portrait and Media Player to replay the video -- and then you need to click the close box to get back to the Album in landscape mode. Yeesh!

But if you want a Windows Mobile smartphone, the XV6900 / Touch combines a nice physical design with the enhanced touchscreen interface.

The Verizon Wireless XV6900 / HTC Touch Smartphone is $299 online from Verizon, or even less with rebates.

See the Mobile Communications Gallery for more on smartphones.

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About June 2008

Entries posted to Manifest Tech Blog in June 2008, listed from oldest to newest.

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