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January 2009 Archives

January 10, 2009

Innovelis BudFits - No More Ear Wedgies with iPod Earbuds

Sometimes it's just simple things that make sense, like the Innovelis BudFits -- over-the-ear adapters for Apple iPod and iPhone earbuds, available in several colors for around $9.

Yes, the Apple earbuds work fine for casual listening. But, like other in-ear earphones, you need to insert them firmly into the ear so they stay seated, especially when you're moving around. But that pressure and friction in your ear can be wearing after a while, . And, even with a tight fit, in-ear earbuds can slip out when you are doing physical activities like running or cycling.

The BudFits stop the ear wedgies for iPod earbuds. They are made from soft, flexible plastic -- just snap them onto the iPod earbuds, and slip the earpiece over the ear -- the earbud then can be nestled gently in the outer ear, instead of being inserted deeper into the ear canal. As a bonus, the cord wraps in a channel up and around the back of the ear, so it's more out of the way.

The result is a comfortable fit that still works when you're on the go. Easy!

The BudFits are designed specifically to fit Apple iPod (or iPhone) earbuds. The base is sized to snap around the post at the base of the Apple design (with the light gray band). They could therefore work with other earphones with a similarly sized design.

See my Portable Audio Accessories Gallery for information on headphones and earphones.

    Find the Innovelis BudFits on Amazon.com

January 1, 2009

Everlasting Blossoms -- Hand-made paper flowers

Happy New Year! To celebrate, here are some non-tech origami paper flowers to brighten the winter and anticipate spring events and weddings.

These are created by Karin Hope Dixon, an artist and graphic designer that I happen to know well ... The different designs are described at her Everlasting Blossoms site, and around 100 individual bouquets and flowers are available from her store on Etsy.

(If you haven't seen it, Etsy is the online marketplace for all things handmade -- with over 100,000 sellers from around the world since its launch in mid-2005.)

Photos, left to right:
- Bouquets and bunches of classic origami, specialty, and rose designs and accents, including nested designs, blossoming and buds, and baby blossoms.
- Earrings and hanging ornaments, with hook or hoop earrings. Simple and elegant to fun and fanciful.
- Blossom Bonsai tree, formed of cloth-covered floral wire, wrapped to form a trunk, rooted on stone, and tipped with blossoms.

January 4, 2009

Adobe Dreamweaver CS4 -- How-Tos

Adobe Dreamweaver CS4 shipped in October 2008, with deeper support for developing advanced websites.

Dreamweaver CS4 is easier to use, having adopted the Adobe interface design, especially for customizing your workspace.

For editing individual pages, the new Live View mode lets you design pages in the fully-rendered browser view, and simultaneously view and update the underlying raw HTML. You also can directly access related files including linked CSS styles, with assists for creating styles with CSS best practices.

For creating more dynamic sites, Dreamweaver can incorporate popular Ajax and JavaScript frameworks, for example displaying interactive data by using Spry Data Sets to load content from simple HTML tables.

If you're familiar with Web design, and interested in learning Dreamweaver CS4, check out Adobe Dreamweaver CS4 How-Tos: 100 Essential Techniques.

The author, David Karlins, is a Web designer, teacher, and digital graphics consultant, and the author of more than 20 books on digital graphic and interactive design

This book is not for novices; it does not spend time on basic Web design (HTML and CSS), or on explaining the general Adobe user interface. Instead the first chapter skips basic page design to dive right in to the logistics of managing an entire website of files, and updating them to a remote site.

The first half of the book then steps through important techniques in building pages, including tables, divs, text, images, style sheets, and templates and libraries shared across the site. Each of these 100 techniques explains the idea, steps through the operation (with screen shots), and includes additional tips.

The second half of the book covers interactive content, including pages built with live data, Spry validation for user input, Spry effects, JavaScript behaviors, and embedded video clips. The last chapter then covers testing and maintaining sites, especially for browser compatibility.

Adobe Dreamweaver CS4 How-Tos is targeted to an intermediate audience, with enough Web experience to understand how to apply these various techniques in a larger project, and enough experience with earlier versions of Dreamweaver or similar products to be able to dive in to the instructions. For example, chapter 5 dives into Dreamweaver's Absolute Placement Objects / divs, and then only later discusses CSS divs -- there's no general introductory context explaining these, or why it's useful to use divs for page layout.

The 100 Essential Techniques are exactly that, clear explanations of how to perform important page and site design functions with Dreamweaver, from basic formatting to more advanced interactivity.

See full article: Summary: Adobe Creative Suite 4 for a summary of the CS4 suites and individual applications.

    Find Adobe Dreamweaver CS4 How-Tos on Amazon.com

    Find the Adobe CS4 Web Suite Suite on Amazon.com

Continue reading "Adobe Dreamweaver CS4 -- How-Tos" »

Preventive Maintenance with iolo System Mechanic

I'm a big believer in preventive maintenance for PCs. Windows systems just accumulate cruft over time, as the disk fills up with junk files, disk access slows down with files broken into multiple fragments, and more and more applications want to be part of the start-up process to run background tasks. And even when you try to be good and uninstall old applications, they still leave remnants of orphaned files, broken shortcuts, and unneeded entries in the Windows Registry file.

And that's when things are going good ... Crashes and bugs can cause corrupted files, and malicious attackers can do even more damage. Since I don't want to wipe my disks and reinstall Windows every year or so, I run variety of tools like Symantec / Norton WinDoctor and CCleaner (freeware) to try to keep the mess to a minimum.

Recently, I've been trying out iolo technologies System Mechanic as a all-in-one approach to keep my systems under control, with PC system and security analysis, optimization, and repair.

System Mechanic has been developed for 10 years and through eight major versions; iolo reports that it is the the #1 best selling PC tune-up product according to NPD Reports.

System Mechanic has some 40 tools to fix, speed-up, and maintain PCs. But it organizes these in an integrated console, so you can just run them all automatically to fix problems, or drill down to individual tools to examine problems and customize the repairs.

And System Mechanic features ActiveCare technology to run in the background to monitor your system status and optionally fix problems. System Mechanic 8.5, released in December, has improved ActiveCare options to stay out of your way when you are working, so it only runs when the system is idle. I have it set to only collect status, which it insists on doing at least once a day.

Version 8.5 also adds a Defragment and Compact Registry tool to clean out bloat, a new DriveSense tool that provides real–time data about the status of hard drives (requires internal SMART drives), and tools to find unnecessarily startup programs and to detect potentially dangerous software.

The System Mechanic interface is a bit confusing in its desire to serve all types of users -- novice, intermediary, and more advanced. The main Dashboard provides one-click display and repair of problems. The ActiveCare tab shows options for automatic fix-up in the background. Then the Power Tools tab offers one-click PC Total Care to run all the tools, or four wizards to run collections of tools: Accelerator, Repair, Cleanup, and Security.

Finally, the Individual Tools tab then reveals all the 40-some tools, but organized slightly differently into seven categories. Plus, there's a Reports tab for IntellStatus information on system resources, and the History of recent changes, including the SafetyNet option to undo changes.

Some of the more interesting tools are Optimize Startup, to suggest removing unnecessary startup programs; and Fix Security Vulnerabilities, including Widows services, network settings, and exploitable file type associations.

Most tests provide options to run quick or complete automatic test and repair, or customize the process by generating a report and then manually choosing items to repair. System Mechanic also provides nice visual status reports on system usage and performance, and clean listings of system elements such as startup programs.

iolo is currently running deals on its website: System Mechanic 8 is $49.95 list, $34.97 on the website, with annual renewals for $29.95, or $14.95 for a limited time. You don't need multiple copies: one license can be installed on up to three machines. And iolo provides free, unlimited technical support and customer service.

There's also a System Mechanic Professional bundle for $69.95 list, $48.97 on the website, with $39.95 annual renewal. It includes other iolo tools: iolo AntiVirus, iolo Personal Firewall, DriveScrubber to securely erase data, and Search and Recover to rescue deleted files from hard drives, CD/DVDs, portable devices, and memory cards.

You can download a trial version to check it out.

    Find iolo System Mechanic and
    iolo System Mechanic Professional on Amazon.com

More on the System Mechanic tests:

Continue reading "Preventive Maintenance with iolo System Mechanic" »

January 5, 2009

Consumer Electronics Show, 2009 Edition

The 2009 edition of CES -- the International Consumer Electronics Show -- returns to Las Vegas this week. The scheduling for the show has changed: It's still the first week of January, but no longer runs during the work week; instead it runs from the end of the week through the weekend, Thursday to Sunday, January 8 to 11.

Last year CES drew over 141,000 attendees and 2700 exhibitors. This year the number of exhibitors is down slightly, and attendance will slip too -- as demonstrated by the discounts being offered by Vegas hotels.

The anticipation is down as well, with the economic turmoil, and with the end of an era in the industry: for the first time in many years, Steve Jobs is not speaking at Macworld, and Bill Gates is not speaking at CES (it's up to Steve Ballmer now).

But there still will be lots of news from CES, and new product introductions, from huge-screen HD TVs with Web connectivity to portable mobile devices that do everything.

If you're not going to the show, you can keep in touch via the major tech blogs like Engadget and Gizmodo, which deploy teams to live blog from the exhibitor press conferences, keynote talks, and exhibit hall. Other tech sites like CNET also feature heavy coverage.

Meanwhile, I'll be assimilating it all, and updating my annual CES Summary article with information about the show and links to the cornucopia of news and commentary and feeds from the events.

See my article, in progress: 2009 International CES Summary

January 8, 2009

Archiving to CD and DVD: Verbatim UltraLife Gold Archival Grade Media

We can all empathize with David Pogue's frustration in a recent blog post, after he discovered that some DVDs that he had burned less than four years ago were no longer readable, at least on some of his systems.

And it's not just old discs -- I have a similar issue with a particular set-top player that just refuses to recognize DVDs burned with some combinations of software and discs. Irritating!

Yes, the CD and DVD formats are well-established standards, and should "just work." But as commodity products under heavy price pressure, discs, burners, players -- and software -- all have little tolerance for problems.

While each individual product may be within its technical specs, if some of the parameters for each device slip from well-in-spec to just-barely, then the combination of a particular disc, burned on a particular drive, and with particular software, then may no longer be playable on a particular player. Crud!

So what can you do?

If you're burning discs to give to others, it's a good idea to first burn some test discs to make sure they work well on all the intended players.

Similarly, professional videographers build up long experience with getting discs to play well on a wide assortment of customer systems. When they find a particular combination of equipment that works, they stick with it, even to the extent of ordering large quantities of a particular brand of disc that works well for them.

And what burning archival discs? -- Can you rely on them lasting for more than a few years?

The core problem, of course, is that there's no margin in the industry to sell battle-hardened discs to the mass market.

But if you're willing to pay a (significant) premium, then products like the Verbatim UltraLife Gold Archival Grade CD-R / DVD-R media offer better compatibility and longevity.

How much more? The industry is reluctant to make exact promises, since there are so many variables in how the disc is burned and then stored. Roughly, most reputable brand name standard optical storage media has a minimum data life in excess of 50 years and archival media has a minimum data life in excess of 100 years. These lifetime numbers are based on accelerated life testing (i.e., in temperature and humidity chambers).

The Verbatim UltraLife Gold Archival media has a dual reflective layers, with a highly reflective silver layer for broad read/write compatibility and an outer gold layer to protect data from corrosion. The DVD media also has a hard coating on the recording surface to protect from scratches or abrasion.

The UltraLife Gold Archival line includes both CD-R and DVD-R discs, available in a 5 pack jewel case or 50-pack spindle. The DVD-R 4.7 GB / 8X 5-pack is $15 list, around $9 street. The CD-R 700 MB / 52X 5-pack is $16 list, around $8 street.

The idea is that you can store content based on the personal value of the data to you. Burn to less expensive discs for quick sharing, do some testing with better discs when you're spending more time on a production, and consider archival grade media for long-term archiving.

Of course, by the time our 100-year discs reach the end of their lifetime, the whole idea of optical media will be a faint memory of an obsolete format.

But until then, you still can successfully use DVDs and CDs to share video productions and store plain old data. Just pay attention to your equipment and your process, pay a bit more for better quality, and be conservative about pushing boundaries (e.g., don't burn at the latest highest available speed).

Also check out the best practices for taking care of your discs, for example, see the
    NIST CD and DVD Archiving Guide for Care and Handling.

See my previous article on Hard Coat Protection for Recordable Discs
    and earlier article on "DVD Rot" / DVD Longevity and Reliability

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

    Find the Verbatim UltraLife Gold Archival Grade DVD-R and
    CD-R Media on Amazon.com

January 10, 2009

Eye-Fi To Upload Videos from Digital Cameras

The Eye-Fi Wi-Fi SD Memory card is a standard SD memory card, with some extra magic: built-in Wi-Fi networking ($129, see previous post).
Insert the Wi-Fi card in a digital camera, and when you take pictures at home it can automatically uploads your photos to your computer. And when you're on the go, and come in range of a public Wi-Fi system, it can upload to a photo sharing site like Fickr or Facebook.

This week at CES, Eye-Fi announced support for uploading of videos from digital cameras, direct to YouTube. Since most digital cameras now shoot video clips, this is a natural extension of the Eye-Fi product (as I previously speculated).

However, this is just an announcement, along with a technology preview demo, but with no details on specific products, although something was said about seeing product this year (see comments from Eye-Fi below).

Even so, just this evening, Eye-Fi won the Last Gadget Standing contest at CES (and for the second year in a row). See clips of the demo and from Eye-Fi.

Also, at Macworld last week, Eye-Fi announced an iPhone application that will allow Eye-Fi card owners to send photos taken on an iPhone directly to their computer and the Web. This will be a free application, that apparently connects uses the upload rules that you have set up for your Eye-Fi card to achieve the same easy and automatic upload process on an iPhone.

See my Digital Cameras Gallery for details on the Eye-Fi cards.

    Find the Eye-Fi Explore Wi-Fi SD Card on Amazon.com

More on the new Eye-Fi video upload ...

Continue reading "Eye-Fi To Upload Videos from Digital Cameras" »

January 13, 2009

Memory Cards Reach to the Terabytes

This holiday season saw ridiculously low pricing for memory cards and USB drives, with 16 GB SDHC cards now around $32, and even 32 GB cards coming into range.

So now casual photographers can just keep on shooting, storing more and more photos for weeks and months, without having to worry about off-loading the memory. But digital photos continue to take up more storage, with higher-res cameras (10+ megapixels) and uncompressed formats (RAW). And video camcorders that shoot in HD resolution gobble up even more capacity.

However, the rush to higher capacity has hit a wall (see previous post) -- as the SDHC format, which was designed to boost the SD format to High Capacity, hits its design limit at 32 GB.

Time for a new format, just announced at CES -- SDXC (SD eXtended Capacity) raises capacity up to 2 terabytes, and transfer speed up to perhaps 104 MB/s this year, with a road map to 300 MB/s.

That's a lot of data -- a 2 TB card can store some 100 HD movies, 480 hours of HD video, or 136,000 fine-grade photos. That should hold us for a while longer...

The SDXC specification is due to be completed this quarter, and we could start to see products taking advantage of the format around the end of the year.

Meanwhile, Sony has worked with SanDisk to also bump up the capacity of its Memory Stick card format.

The new "Memory Stick Format for Extended / Expanded High Capacity" format (tentative name) will also support up to 2 TB, with expanded versions for Memory Stick PRO / PRO-HG and Memory Stick Micro / HG. The data rates will remain the same: up to 20 MB/s , or 60 MB/s for HG data rate.

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

    Find Kingston SDHC cards on Amazon.com

LG's Dick Tracy Watch Phone

I'm not sure it's practical, but it sure is fun -- the LG Touch Watch Phone that brings Chester Gould's vision of the Dick Tracy 2-Way Wrist Radio to life.

At CES, LG demoed a working prototype of the Watch Phone at its press conference, and had more models under glass in its booth, in a variety of colors. The watch is actually not so big (a little more than a 1/2 inch thick, and 3 ounces) -- today's watches for men are substantial fashion statements anyway -- although I'm not sure of the market for the version in pink...

The Watch Phone starts as a digital watch, with a 1.4" display. But it's also a speaker phone -- lift your arm closer to your mouth and gab away, or use a wireless Bluetooth headset to talk in a less ostentatious manner. It supports voice dialing, and text to speech to read text messages.

And it's a MP3 player, so you can play music from the speaker or through your headset. Plus, there's a tiny camera hidden in a corner of the face, so you can use it as for video phone calls, and to take photos. And it's an organizer, with phonebook and scheduler.

There's not much detail on the interface. At the booth, it was described as having three dedicated phone buttons (Send, End, Clear), so you use the touch screen for other functions -- dialing with an on-screen keypad and adjusting volume with an on-screen slider. The middle button also acts as a scroll wheel.

The initial product will be released in Europe in the second half of 2009, as a GSM quad-band "global phone" with HSDPA for high-speed data and video. No news on price or carrier or release in the U.S.

See Engadget hands-on video

See my Mobile Communications Gallery for more on smartphones.

January 14, 2009

CES 2009 Wrap-Up

The 2009 Consumer Electronics Show wrapped up over the weekend, with an estimated attendance of 110,000, down from the 130,000 attendees that were projected last fall (and the audited total of 141,000 from 2008). The exhibitor count was about the same as last year, around 2,700, with some 300 new exhibitors. As an attendee, the size seemed just right -- the lines were certainly shorter and more reasonable, which gave more time to see the show and chat with exhibitors.

I've updated my CES Summary article-in-progress with more details on trends and products.

The big news at the show was the resurrection of Palm with the Palm Pre smartphone, due out later this year. As shown by the jump in Palm's stock price, the Pre looks really interesting. If the final design and implementation really works as suggested by the demo, it's going to be a strong alternative in the gap between the Apple iPhone as a music player and the RIM Blackberry as a business tool.

Other home CE trends included thinner HDTVs that can hang like frames on the wall, steps toward 3D TV, connected TV and Internet services, and netbooks as sub-notebook communication devices (including the new Sony P-series).

And portable devices also saw further integration of functions and connectivity, from the LG Watch Phone to the Sony DSC-G3 digital camera with Wi-Fi.

Even with the economic downturn, companies can't just stop releasing new products, so we'll continue to see new technology, new product concepts, and line extensions, particularly to add lower-priced alternatives to existing products.

Another strong theme was Green, in all its possible aspects -- manufacturing with fewer and greener components, less and more ecological packaging, lower power demands, solar (and wireless) power, and end-of-live recycleability. While consumers are looking for green products, and even say they will pay more for them, this effort also helps manufactures reduce costs, from manufacturing to shipping.

Also check out the Links section in my CES Summary article for lots of links to wrap-up coverage, including several awards programs, commentary, and blog wrap-ups. You also can catch videos of the sessions, and more informal video and photo reports on new products.

January 16, 2009

SanDisk slotRadio - 1000 Songs on a Card

The new SanDisk slotMusic card format delivers music "albums" on microSD cards, ready to play on billions of mobile phones with microSD slots, and also free of copy protection so they can be transferred to PCs and other devices (see previous posts).

The slotMusic format is a nice way of delivering no-fuss digital music, but putting only one album with 10 or so songs on a microSD card is a huge waste of space in an era of multi-gigabyte cards. And carrying around music on the tiny cards and swapping them on the go could be something of a pain.

Instead, the SanDisk slotRadio card format, announced at CES in January 2009, fills a card with a thousand songs, professionally selected and pre-organized into genres and themes. The idea is to present a lean-back "radio-like" experience -- you just select the type of music that you're interested in hearing, and the playlist is ready to go.

SanDisk is releasing the SanDisk Sansa slotRadio Player in early 2009 to play this new format for $99.99, including a 1,000-song card. The slotRadio mix card will have around 10 genres (rock, contemporary, country), so you can choose the style of music to fit your mood and then just enjoy. Additional cards will be available for $39.99, with all 1,000 songs selected for a specific genre or theme.

Unfortunately, unlike the slotMusic format, the slotRadio cards will be copy protected (with SanDisk TrustedFlash). The format initially will only be playable in the Sansa slotRadio Player and the Sansa Fuse player, and not on the the older View and Clip models.

SanDisk also is working with mobile phone vendors to support the slotRadio format in new models -- both the DRM and the slotRadio interface to access the music.

See my Portable Media Players Gallery for more on the Sansa slotMusic and slotRadio players, and other music and video players

See full article -- SanDisk slotMusic - A New Music Format

January 18, 2009

AcoustiBuds - iPod Earbud Adapters

How comfortable are your earphones? The Apple iPod (and iPhone) earbuds are designed to hook just inside the ear. Other earphones use a design with a soft earpiece that fits into the ear canal.

You may find one design to be more comfortable, but the snug fit of the in-ear design does have a couple advantages: it helps block outside noise for better sound, and it's more secure when you're moving around, such as out jogging. (For another option, see my previous post on the Innovelis BudFits over-the-ear adapters.)

Or you can use AcoustiBuds to convert iPod (and similar) earbuds to an in-ear design.

These earbud adapters slip over your existing earphones, and have rows of soft fins to hold securely in your ears. Install them by folding back the elastic end and then rolling them over the earbuds.

The AcoustiBuds are soft and flexible, and angled down for a comfortable (and secure) fit. They seat snugly in the ear, and provide better sound by enhancing your music and isolating it from outside sounds.

The AcoustiBuds are available in white or black for $19.99 ($12.99 street), and come with two sizes, with 5 or 6 fins. Besides iPods and iPhones, they also fit a variety of music players and earphones including Microsoft Zune, SanDisk Sansa, Samsung, and Creative. They also received a CES '09 Innovations Award.

See my Portable Audio Accessories Gallery for information on headphones and earphones.

    Find the AcoustiBuds on Amazon.com

January 19, 2009

Rand McNally Obama Inaugural fabMAP

Even in this digital age, Rand McNally has found a fun way to reinvent old-fashioned physical maps with its Rand McNally FABmap line of fabric maps -- water-proof, tear-proof, wrinkle-proof microfiber maps that pack easily (you don't have to struggle to fold them). fabMAP designs are available for 24 popular destinations for $5.95. As a bonus, they also can be used as a cleaning cloth for glasses, mobile device screens, or camera lenses or a protective cover for electronic devices.

Plus there's the special limited-edition President Barack Obama Commemorative Inaugural fabMAP.

This napkin-sized fabric map features a detailed map of the Mall area and Inaugural parade route from the Capitol to the White House, plus notable D.C. monuments and museums, as well as hotels and points of interest.

The reverse side has a full-color portrait of President-elect Obama against the backdrop of the Capitol building, where he will be sworn in as the 44th President of the United States. The map is just under 8" x 12", and features a larger type size so text is easier to read.

The Inaugural fabMAP is available while supplies last for $9.99. It's also designed to be framed as a collectable, and includes a certificate of authenticity.

    Find the Obama Inaugural fabMAP on Amazon.com

January 23, 2009

Victorinox Swiss Army Knife USB Drives

The Victorinox Swiss Army Knife people have had a fun time over the past few years extending from their core product of steel multi-tools into, believe or not, the digital world.

The full line of Swiss Army pocket multi-tools, shown at CES, includes LED flashlights, SwissFlash tools with USB drives, retractable pen, and LED light or laser pointer. And, coming soon, the Presentation Pro line has an integrated Bluetooth remote control for running your notebook. (Sorry -- the pocket knife with MP3 player is no longer available.)

Of course, carrying your USB drive as part of a pocket knife is not going to be a good idea when you are flying, so the flash drive can swing out and be removed, and the knife can go with your checked luggage.

Alternatively, the SwissFlash Flight models dispense with those dangerous metal mini-tools and just have the USB drive within the red Swiss Army case. The PR people swear that the airport staff are used to these, and bringing what looks like a knife though the screening will be fine. Personally, I didn't try it...

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

    Find the Victorinox Swiss Army SwissFlash and
    SwissFlash Flight on Amazon.com

January 26, 2009

Joby Zivio Boom Wireless Headset

Joby -- the people behind the clever Gorillapod line of flexible tripods (see previous post) have come up with another inventive design.

The Joby Zivio Boom Wireless Headset features a telescoping boom that extends the microphone much closer to your mouth.

The boom also can be bent to fit better to your face. The result is less background noise, and less need for you to talk loudly to be heard -- plus a visible signal to others that you're talking on the phone.

In my testing at CES when walking near traffic along Las Vegas Boulevard, the conversation came through clearly, except when a very loud bus went by, and I was able to talk quietly and privately along the street, in the casinos, and on the exhibit floor. There was some background static audible in quiet environments.

The Zivio also is designed to help you customize the fit. The ear bud pivots on a ball-and-socket joint so it can nestle at a better angle into your ear, and you can choose between multiple sizes of both mushroom earpieces (to fit snug in your ear canal), or scoop gels (that hook into the ear). The Zivo is light enough to stay in your ear with just the earpiece, but the Zivio also includes optional ear loops which attach magnetically to the back of the unit.

I found the Zivo worked well with just the mushroom earpieces, although you do need to wedge them in to hold securely, and they can loosen up and need to be adjusted as you move around and sweat. The ear loops may work better and be more comfortable for extended wear.

The headset recharges with a standard (micro) USB connector, and is speced to run for 10 hours talk time, and 200 hours on standby. The product ships with a handy dual USB adapter (so you can charge two devices at a time from a wall outlet), and helpfully includes both a short (5 1/2 inch) and longer (5 foot) USB cable.

The Zivio Boom is available for $129, in black and now in a light blue.

See my Portable Audio Accessories Gallery for information on headphones and earphones.

    Find the Joby Zivio Boom on Amazon.com

January 27, 2009

Panasonic LUMIX DMC-TS1 Rugged Digital Camera

You can battle the elements, and take pictures of them at the same time, with the newly-announced Panasonic LUMIX DMC-TS1 Digital Camera -- a rugged camera that shoots 12.1 megapixel high-res stills and 1280 x 720 high-def video.

With an airtight body, rubber padding, and reinforced glass, the LUMIX TS1 is designed to be waterproof to a depth of 10 feet, shockproof from falls up to 5 feet, and dustproof.

The TS1 shoots still photos in 4:3, 3:2, and widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio at up to 4000 x 3000 (12 MP) resolution, in JPEG format (optionally with audio clips). And it shoots SD and HD video in 4:3 and 16:9, at up to 1280 x 720, 60P, in AVCHD Lite format at 9 to 17 Mbps quality, plus Motion JPEG. The product includes a (mini) HDMI interface for displaying directly on HD displays.

The camera uses a 28mm wide-angle LEICA DC VARIO-ELMAR lens (to 128 mm telephoto in 35mm equivalent), with 4.6X optical zoom.

The TS1 also features the Panasonic iA (Intelligent Auto) processing to automatically set up the camera for the current subject and environment, including Face Detection to adjust focus, exposure, and contrast, and Intelligent Scene Selector to switche between Normal, Portrait, Macro, Scenery, Low Light modes. And the camera features also work when shooting video, including Optical Image Stabilization and Optical Zoom.

Panasonic LUMIX DMC-TS1 is scheduled to be available in April for $399, in silver, plus surprising shades of green and orange (so you can more easily find the camera after you drop it on the ground or it falls in water).

See my Digital Photo Cameras Gallery more on consumer digital cameras.

    Find the Panasonic LUMIX DMC-TS1 on Amazon.com

January 29, 2009

Camcorder Trends: Panasonic 2009 Camcorders with 70X Zoom and 9 MP Res

Once of the most visible trends in this season's new camcorders coming out of the CES conference is the rapid adoption of the smarts from digital photo cameras into video camcorders.

The new photo cameras try to be more fail-safe than ever (see previous post), with automatic scene selection (Normal, Portrait, Macro, Scenery, Low Light), and not only finding faces in the scene to adjust the exposure, but even looking for smiles on the faces, or recognizing faces that have been identified before.

And the video modes in digital cameras are getting better, taking advantage of the photo features and moving to high-def resolution. But video camcorders are moving forward too, with full HD video, longer optical zoom, and also shooting higher-res stills.

Another clear trend for camcorders is the success of the flash memory and hard disk drive (HDD) formats, and the demise of the tape (DV) and disc (mini-DVD) formats. Flash camcorders are rugged and can be amazingly small, and hard-drive camcorders can store some 30 to 60 hours of HD video before needing to worry about off-loading your clips.

For example, the 2009 line of Panasonic camcorders, most due out in April, includes SD models which use flash storage cards (SD/SDHC), HS hybrid hard disk models plus SD card, and TM models with Twin Memory storage -- built-in memory plus SD card.

Panasonic offers two standard-definition models with not 20X, or 50X, but 70X optical zoom -- plus an optical image stabilization system to reduce hand-shake even at these extreme zooms. The SDR-S26 (shown here) is a small flash memory cam (SD card) for $329, in bright colors (another trend). The SDR-H80 and SDR-H90 are HDD models, with 60 and 80 GB, or up to 72 hours of recording (in LP mode), for $449 and $499.

For shooting in high-def, Panasonic has three new introductory high-def camcorders with different format combinations, the compact and lightweight HDC-SD20 with SD card for $599, the Twin Memory HDC-TM20 with SD card plus 16 GB built-in memory for $649, and the hybrid HDC-HS20 (shown here) with SD card plus 80 GB HDD for $999. These include a touch-screen display, an intelligent index system that detects scene changes and shooting adjustments to skip rapidly through recorded video, and 5-microphone surround sound audio.

Then the more advanced, semi-pro HD camcorders add three full-HD MOS sensors, for over 9 megapixels of resolution. The compact HDC-HS250 and the HDC-HS300 with more manual controls have 120 GB HDD for $999 and $1,399, and the Twin Memory HDC-TM300 (shown here) has 32 GB of built-in memory for $1,299.

Yes, you can be shooting HD video for under $600, and full-HD video plus 9 MP stills for under $1000.

See my Digital Video Camcorders Gallery more on Panasonic and other digital camcorders.

    Find the Panasonic LUMIX DMC-TS1 on Amazon.com

OtterBox Cases for iPod, iPhone, BlackBerry, etc.

More and more of our lives have converged into our electronic devices -- MP3 players and smartphones, iPod and iPhone, BlackBerry and Palm. Yet these now-indispensible devices are rather fragile, just glass and plastic that is one drop away from disaster. And even if our gadgets survive the inevitable small accidents, they still will become beat up from the normal wear of daily use.

You can protect your devices with a layer of protective plastic (see previous post on the ZAGG invisibleSHIELD Protective Film), or try any number of different and fancy case designs. Or you can defend them from bumps, shock, and drops with protective cases from OtterBox, makers of the OtterBox 1000 and 2000 crushproof and waterproof drybox cases for storing cellphones and other small valuables (around $11 to $17).

The OtterBox Defender series includes cases for different models of the iPod, iPhone, Blackberry, Palm, and other smartphone devices. These include clear polycarbonate screens over the display and camera (and ambient light sensor), a high-impact polycarbonate shell, and a silicone skin to absorb bumps and shocks. You still can access the controls through the case, while acoustic vents protect the mic and speaker.

These OtterBox cases range from around $12.95 for the iPod nano to $49.95 for the iPod touch.

See my Portable Peripherals and Accessories Gallery for more on protecting your devices.

Find the OtterBox 1000 and OtterBox Defender on Amazon.com

January 30, 2009

The Little Digital Video Book

Consumer video has gone YouTube. -- It's so easy and fun to shoot a short little clip on your camera phone, grabbing a brief slice of life (cool -- the cat in the toilet!), and then upload it to enjoy and share with the world. However, that's not terribly creative, compared to the kinds of productions we see on TV and at the movies. But the step up to doing video editing is so daunting -- getting your video into a computer, learning editing software, figuring how to get it back out again -- as well as putting yourself in a position to having your amateur production skills compared to broadcast series and Hollywood movies.

But if you are interested in creating your own videos, then Michael Rubin's The Little Digital Video Book is a great way to get started. Rubin lays out the basics of shooting and editing video, along with good advice about how to keep the process enjoyable.

One of Rubin's key points is to not overreach -- not to try to make "movies," but instead create what he calls "video sketches," shorter pieces that start with around 20 minutes of raw video and can be edited down to around a 4 minute enjoyable sketch.

This is a much more reasonable target -- you can shoot for a while at an event to try to capture a sense of it, and then spend a couple hours editing it. You're then not feeling the pressure to shoot an entire event, and you don't have a big production with days of work hanging over you. Instead, you can tweak it for a couple evenings, and then declare it done.

For the same reason, Rubin recommends not loading yourself down with extra equipment while you are shooting -- tripods, lights, special filters -- but instead provides extensive descriptions of how to get a good selection of shots that you can later edit into a clean production (close-up, medium, wide, establishing, cutaway).

After you're done shooting, Rubin has an extensive discussion of organizing and logging your tapes and then getting the clips captured and organized on your computer so that you're ready to edit. It's easy to take shortcuts at this point, but you'll regret it later, when you can't find a certain clip that you remember in a pile of unmarked tapes, and as your computer fills up with large unidentified video files scattered around the disk drive.

Rubin finishes with advice on the process and art of editing, with a series of "assignments" to lead you though shooting different types of videos (interview, music video, slice of life).

In some ways this is an old-fashioned book, focused on the art and process of editing instead of instant-gratification uploading, using tape-based (DV) camcorders (which are disappearing in favor of memory card and hard disk drive formats), and ignoring the exotic new high-definition formats.

Instead, Rubin is interested in making video editing fun and enjoyable, so you can be creative in shooting interesting material and then editing it into enjoyable vignettes.

The book is indeed little, and approachable for beginners, at 7 x 7 inches and 240 pages. And it's particularly well illustrated with shots of the different components and controls of a camera, visuals explaining different shooting styles and types of shots, and screen shots illustrating the basics of editing.

Plus there's plenty of good advice here even if you already have a camera and some editing experience.

Order The Little Digital Video Book from Amazon.com

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About January 2009

Entries posted to Manifest Tech Blog in January 2009, listed from oldest to newest.

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