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November 30, 2006

Talkin' Turkey

It’s amazing what people will do for a little turkey. For instance, we drove 2500 miles to California and back risking life and limb. We had a nice partial family reunion at my eBook-hating daughter’s in Arroyo Grande who lives in a digital dessert with virtually no public access Wi-Fi hotspots, not even at the library. However, we were rescued by a gracious neighbor with an open network that I could connect to sitting at the kitchen counter.

While there, we went on a nice hike in the sand dunes of Pismo Beach with a naturalist who talked to us about the natural restoration of the area. The eucalyptus trees were orange, alive with wintering Monarch butterflies--always a welcome site.

I learned from some fellow hikers that while Wi-Fi may not be too healthy there, geocaching is alive and well; there are seven caches right in the town plaza and scores more in the vicinity with lots of enthusiasts pursuing them.

For navigation on the trip, I had at least three systems going at the same time tracking different information such as velocity, heading, altitude, latitude, longitude, and map location. I gave Earthcomber a good workout too for locating various points of interest. But I must say that I was disappointed in general for the missing information. For instance, we could be passing right in front of a restaurant, hotel, gas station, or attraction, and the program failed to display it.

I was particularly frustrated with my favorite GPS program, Co-Pilot Live. I was testing a new version for my Treo 700wx Pocket PC Phone. You have to re-authorize the software every time you reset your device because it thinks it’s a new unit, and the company doesn’t appreciate piracy and multiple installations. But, I could never get it to work on the Website, and technical assistance is only available during East Coast business hours and not on weekends when most people travel.

I’m sure truck drivers as a class are a decent lot, but something must happen to people when they are in charge of such big machines and virtually own the road. My pet peeve on the road is when a big rig pulls out right in front of you almost running you off the road and tries to pass another behemoth going uphill, and no one can pass for miles when one finally overtakes the other, usually on the downhill stretch. Watching big rigs race uphill at a thundering 45 MPH is not my idea of fun, especially when I’m behind them. Grrr…

It rained most of the way home on the I-5 corridor through Oregon. Can’t there be something done about the copious spray emitted from 18+ wheelers that all but blind you whether you are passing them or they are passing you? I don’t think the trucking industry has any idea of how dangerous this is. There should be some kind of splash law with fenders or skirts required.

And, what about all the truck tire detritus littering the roadsides of American highways? Some of those shredded pieces of tires are humungous and could easily signal the end of someone’s driving career by shattering a windshield and causing accidents. It makes me think that most trucks are running on cheap retreads and are a hazard to other motorists.

We had to take off earlier than expected to beat the weather back home. The day we left, the kids and grandkids went to see elephant seals, Cambria, and Hearst Castle at San Simeon. However, we were able to enjoy their little vacation vicariously thanks to my daughter sending text and photo messages on the cell phone every few minutes. It really made driving home fun.

Let me tell you what was waiting for me when I got home: a new Slingbox. Santa Claus came early. I’ve been coveting one of these since I learned about them not too long ago. Hook a Slingbox up to your TV video receiver box whether cable or satellite or digital video recorder (DVR). It conjunction with our router, it will broadcast your TV signal, digital and analog, over the Internet so that you can pick it up anywhere in the world. If your router is not located conveniently near your TV box, you can use a Slinglink to connect Slingbox to your router wirelessly.

It means that you can watch live TV on your computer or on your laptop anywhere in your house wirelessly. It means that you can watch your favorite programs on your laptop anywhere in the world.

It also means that you can watch TV on your Pocket PC or Smartphone anywhere in the world. Best of all, it means that you can even watch programs already recorded on your DVR. You can even control your DVR remotely from your cell phone and program it to watch your favorite shows from anywhere in the world where you can get online.

The screenshot (to the right?) shows some of the functionality available when you watch live or recorded TV on our Pocket PC or Smartphone.

Maybe you should ask Santa Claus for one of these beauties too. The Slingbox AV costs $179. The Pro model costs $249 and will allow you to control up to 4 TVs. The SlingLink costs $99.99. Check it out at

I will offer a full review as soon as I've had time to set it up and test it.

I will soon offer my annual stocking stuffer suggestion list, and I expect that the Slingbox will be high on that list.

Keep connected.

Posted by tim at 11:19 PM | Comments (0)

Christmas Ideas from

With Christmas just around the corner, I have begun to compile my online shopping list because I am not fond of last minute fighting for a parking place, fighting last minute crowds for diminishing merchandise, and waiting in long lines at the Post Office.

I wonder if it’s a coincidence that the majority of my family, friends, and associates are PDA packer types, which makes shopping easy and focused. One of the first places I visited in my effort to cross items off my list as quickly as possible was That’s because I consider to be the paramount purveyor of pocket peripherals for the perspicacious purchaser.

If you think of to be the case place, you would be correct. They have a wide selection of cases for just about any electronic device that fits in your pocket, hangs from a belt, or suspends from your neck. You can pick from leather, silicone, titanium, and aluminum.

I quickly crossed off two items in the case department: one for a friend with a Sansa e270 MP3 player and another for the e1730 Blackberry freak.

Speaking of Blackberries, if you are of that persuasion, Proporta has a whole new line of Blackberry accessories that you will want to check out.

For one particularly fastidious friend, I picked a bottle of screen cleaner. This guy is so germ conscious that I’ll bet a major part of his budget is allotted to disposable rubber gloves.

Some people have a difficult time going completely paperless and seem to be incapable of committing to a totally digital lifestyle and still feel compelled to makes notes on paper with a pen. For this kind of vacillating person, I recommend the attractive, new Proporta stylus pens in orange and blue—one of each color in a package. You can choose from a wide selection of multi-function styli designed to fit into your particular device silo.

One of the universal problems with portable devices is battery life. What a bummer when your battery dies in the middle of a phone call or in the middle of an important meeting or a presentation. Sure, you can buy expensive spare batteries for all your devices and pack them around with you for emergencies. Or you can purchase Proporta’s universal charger that comes with a variety of adapters to fit just about any device. You can charge the charger with a USB adapter that you can plug into your computer or car outlet.

Another accessory is the handy retractable USB cable. It’s great for when you’re on the move and want to charge and sync your PDA and not have to carry a bulky cradle.

Speaking of cables, Proporta has another innovative product called the Cable Tidy that keeps those pesky cable clipped together and organized. Until we can go completely wireless, I see this as a must have helper.

Every time I visit this site, I seem to find another creative offering. How about a credit card sized SD cardholder that accommodates three cards or caddies and fits in your wallet?

Now these are just the items I happened to use to reduce my Christmas shopping list. You will find a lot of other accessories and peripherals when you visit, which has been recently redesigned. When you visit the site, pick your device and you will find the accessories listed according to model type.

If you are wondering about shipping, all orders are just $4.95 anywhere in the world, and they arrive in just a few days. I also like Proporta’s no questions asked return policy, even if an elephant stepped on it, no problem. They also include complimentary tea bags with every order, which is a nice touch.

I have found these folks fun to deal with and highly efficient. I’m certain you will as well. Now get shopping. There aren’t that many days left before Christmas and here is a great source of innovative presents for the digital natives on your list.

Posted by tim at 10:42 PM | Comments (0)

November 06, 2006

Plaxo: the smart auto update address book

Plaxo is an innovative address book for Outlook and Outlook Express that has just gone mobile. With Plaxo mobile, you can select just the contacts you want synced with your mobile device.

Get Plaxo here: A Plaxo toolbar is available for Mac Outlook and Outlook Express, Internet Explorer, Mozilla Thuderbird, and for a limited number of mobile phones.

If you are still updating your contact information by hand, get smart and let Plaxo do it. The process is simple and quick. You can actually watch it happen. Once you have installed the software, you simply click on Update Contacts on the Plaxo tool bar. Watch Plaxo update contacts that already use Plaxo and invite your other contacts to send you update information if appropriate. From now on, your contact information will automatically update as it changes. Plaxo’s Universal Address Book is at the center of this universe in which your friends, family, and colleagues keep their info up-to-date, and everyone’s information updates automatically. You can easily import your contact information from Outlook, Outlook Express, Yahoo, and Hotmail into your Universal Address Book. Unfortunately, you can’t import data from Gmail. Once you’ve created it, you can access it from AIM, on the Web, and on your phone or PDA. You can sync between home and work, and it’s securely backed up for safe-keeping.
When anything changes in your contact information, just update on your own address card in Outlook, and your contacts will instantly receive the update information in their address books. All of this happens by permission only. You can decide who gets the information and who doesn’t. When anything in the Universal Address Book updates, you will receive an email alert.

Remember that you can access your address book online from anywhere from any computer or handheld device. But, that’s not all; Plaxo syncs your notes, calendar, and tasks as well.

You can initiate an IM session from Outlook using the AIM icon when a contact is online. Plaxo will also remind you of everyone’s birthday for whom that information is available. With Plaxo, you can create your own email signature complete with fancy type and graphics.

You can sign up for the Plaxo basic service free. The Plaxo Premium service costs $49.95 per year. You can try the Premium service free for 30 days. Here is a chart comparing the free service to the Premium service:

With the Premium service, you can send unlimited ecards free, which I appreciate being able to do right from Outlook. If you wish to subscribe to the ecard program separately, it costs $19.95 per year. The Premium edition will also allow you to cleanse your system of those pesky duplicate contacts that inevitably accumulate as you sync between various devices. This service in alone is worth the cost of a subscription as far as I’m concerned.

However, when the program identifies duplicates and suggests a merge, your only options are to abandon the process or to accept the merge. I hope that future versions will allow you to edit the cards and or delete them as appropriate.

Plaxo Mobile Plus allows you to access all of your contacts, calendar, tasks, and notes online with your mobile device. However, if your device already syncs with Outlook, this is not so important as it would be for less intelligent, non-Windows Mobile phones without this feature. The best thing about Mobile Plus is that it allows you to sync your data over the air so that you don’t have to be tethered to your desktop. You can also specify which contacts you want to sync.

Unfortunately, Plaxo Mobile Plus is only available for a handful of mobile devices at this time. To check to see if your device is included, go here: It is not available for Windows Mobile devices, but is not really needed either because WM5 devices will sync with Plaxo desktop data.

Posted by tim at 07:04 PM | Comments (0)

November 05, 2006

The 1.3 Megapixel Solution

It seems that every Smartphone and Pocket PC comes bundled with a camera these days. I soon learned that the 1.3 megapixel excuse for a camera is practically useless and little better than a child’s toy. I have, however, discovered a solution to this issue. The solution is simple: purchase a real camera. I found the new Pentax Optio A10 to be the perfect remedy for the pathetic cell phone excuse for photography.

The Optio A10 is an 8.0 megapixel delight that snuggles in your hand and nestles comfortably in your pocket weighing only five ounces with the battery and SD storage card. It features an auto 3X zooms lens for great close-up shots and shake reduction to cure the blurries and sharpen images. The shake reduction technology uses not one, but two gyro sensors to compensate for camera movement. It also offers auto flash and red reduction.
I certainly would have looked at anyone askance a few years ago if he told me that such a small camera would also be capable of recording video with sound. The A10 uses the DivX encoder device to capture 640 x 480, 30 fps video that you can use with DVD and other portable players.

Recharge the removable Lithium-ion battery inside the camera or separately in the cradle that comes with the camera.

The 2.5-inch LCD monitor is a big improvement over my previous Optio S4i screen. While the backlight is adjustable, it unfortunately turns into a black mirror in bright sunlight. Unlike the S4i, there is no viewfinder so that you have to guess at what you are framing and crop it later.

On the top of the camera, from left to right, is the auto shake reduction button, the power on/off button, and the shutter button. To the right of the screen, on the back, from top to bottom, we find a zoom rocker switch, a view/capture toggle button, a circular control panel, a menu button, and a delete button. The circular controls include an OK action button in the center surrounded by a flash control button, an auto timer button, a mode button, and a distance/focus button. The focus button allows you to select auto focus, macro, super-macro, infinity, and manual focus.

The Mode button offers an array of choices including Auto Picture, Program, Night Scene, Movie Mode, Voice Recording, Landscape, Flower, Portrait, Candlelight, Surf & Snow, Sport, Pet, Text, Food, and a frame composer.

In the record mode, the Menu button allows you to set the pixel level, quality level, White Balance, AF Setting, AE Metering, Sensitivity, EV Compensation, Move, Shake Reduction, Digital Zoom, Instant Review time, Memory, Green button (delete) function, Sharpness adjustment, Saturation, and Contrast.

In the Set-up mode, the Menu button give you access to setting format, sound, date, world time, language, USB connection, video out, brightness level, power saving, quick zoom, quick delete, auto power off, guide display, and reset.

On the right side of the camera body is a lanyard attachment and covered charger and USB ports.

On the bottom, we find cradle charging contact points, a tripod attachment, and the battery/SD card cover.

Here are the manufacturer’s specifications:

Effective Pixels:
10.0 megapixels

Image Capture Device:
Type - 1/1.8 inch interline transfer CCD with a primary color filter; Total Pixels - 10.37 megapixels; Color Depth - 12 bit x 3 colors; Recorded Pixels - Still: 10M (3648x2736 pixels), 7M (3072x2304 pixels), 5M (2592x1944 pixels), 3M (2048x1536 pixels), 2M (1600x1200 pixels), 0.7M (1024x768 pixels), 0.3M (640x480 pixels); During Blur reduction mode, the recorded size is fixed to 5M (2592x1944); During Frame composition mode, the recoded size is fixed to 3M (2048x1536); Movie - 640x480 pixels, 320x240 pixels

Focus System:
Type - TTL contrast detection autofocus system; Autofocus - 5 point AF, Spot AF, Tracking AF, Infinity Landscape, Pan Focus; Focusing Range - Auto Focus: Normal - 1.15 ft (0.35m) to Infinity; Macro - 4.7 inches (0.12 m) to 1.64 ft (0.4m); Super Macro - 2.36 inches (0.06m) to 5.91 inches (0.15m); Manual Focus: 4.7 inches (0.12m) to Infinity at 6.2mm

Type – smc PENTAX power zoom; Focal Length – 7.9mm – 23.7mm; 35mm Equivalent – 37.5mm -112.5mm; Aperture Range - F2.8 – F5.4; Construction - 7 elements in 5 groups (2 dual-sided aspherical elements, 1 single-sided aspherical element); Optical Zoom - 3X; Digital Zoom - 4X Combined - 12X

Exposure Control:
Light Metering Method - TTL metering with choice of: Multi-segment, Center-weighted & Spot meter; Exposure mode - Picture, Program, Shutter-priority, Manual, *Face priority AE is auto selected at the Portrait and Kids mode; Sensitivity - Auto, or User select ISO 64, 100, 200, 400, 800; Standard Output Sensitivity; During Blur reduction mode, Sensitivity is compliant to Standard Output Sensitivity 1600; Exposure Control Method - Program AE Exposure Modes - Auto Picture (Normal, Night Scene, Landscape, Portait), Program, Night scene, Movie, Voice record, Landscape, Flower, Portrait, Kids, Blur reduction, Surf & Snow, Candle Light, Text, Food, Sport, Frame composition, Pet, Shutter-priority, Manual; Exposure Compensation - +/-2 EV (1/3 steps); Shutter - Type: Programmed AE electronic lens shutter with CCD electronic shutter; Shutter Speed: Approx. 1/2000 - 4 seconds; White Balance - White Balance Control: TTL Auto, Manual; Available Settings - Auto, Daylight, Shade, Tungsten Light, Fluorescent Light, Manual; Flash - Operation Modes: Auto, Flash-off, Flash-on, Auto + Red-eye reduction, Flash-on + Red-eye reduction, Auto backlight compensation; Effective Range: Approx. 0.20 ft - 23 ft (0.06m – 7.1m) (Standard Output Sensitivity Auto), Approx. 1.15 ft – 11 ft (0.35m – 3.5m) (Standard Output Sensitivity Auto)

Shooting Specifications:
Image Stabilization - Still Capture; (CCD Shift) Blur Reduction; Movie Capture; Electronic Anti-shake Digital Filter - Black & White, Sepia, 8 Color, Black & White + Red, Black & White + Green, Black & White+Blue, Soft, Illustration, Special Effect, Slim, Brightness; Drive Modes - Single-shot, Continuous (Standard & High-speed), Remote control (0 sec, 3 sec), Self-timer (2 sec, 10 sec); Movie Mode - Shooting Time: From approx. 1 sec. to memory card capacity

Modes - dd/mm/yy, mm/dd/yy, yy/mm/dd World Time - Display of the time in 71 cities (28 time zones)

Image Storage:
Storage Media - Approx. 24MB built-in memory, SD memory card removable; File Formats - Still: JPEG (Exif 2.2), DCF (Design rule for Camera File system), DPOF (Digital Print Order Format), PRINT Image Matching III; Movie: AVI (MPEG-4 DivX®) approx. 30fps with sound and anti-shake; Sound: WAV (PCM format), Monaural, Recordable time depends on the remaining capacity of the memory card; Quality Levels - Best, Better, Good

Optical Viewfinder - None; LCD Monitor – 2.5 inch, TFT color LCD- with Histogram Display; LCD Coverage – Approx. 100%; LCD Resolution - Approx. 232,000 pixels

Playback Specifications:
Playback Modes File - Single, Index- Nine image; Magnification - 8X; Mode Pallet - Slide show, Resize, Image Trimming (crop), Rotate, Color Filters, Digital Filters, Brightness Filter, Movie Edit, Red Eye Correction, Voice Memo, Protect, DPOF, Startup Screen, Frame Composition; Movie Edit – Save a s still image, Divide, Extract; Erase and Image Protect Modes - Single, All

One image printing, All image printing, DPOF auto print with Paper size, Paper type, Print quality and Border status selection

English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Swedish, Dutch, Portuguese, Thai

Type - AV output terminal, USB terminal, DC input terminal; Video Output - Compatible with NTSC and PAL formats (monaural sound)

Power Supply:
Rechargeable Lithium-ion D-LI8 battery (allows approximately 150 shots*); AC adaptor kit (optional) * According to CIPA testing (with LCD monitor on and flash used for 50% of the shots)

Physical Specifications:
Operating Temperatures - 32 degrees to 104 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degrees to 40 degrees Celsius); Camera Casing - Aluminum alloy; Dimensions (W x H x D) - 3.5 x 2.1 x 0.9 inches (88.5 x 54.5 x 23mm); Weight – 4.4 oz. (125g) without battery and SD memory card, 5.1 oz. (145g) loaded and ready

Computer System Requirements:
USB Driver installment is required for Windows 98/98 SE, Mac OS 9.2 Mac Requirements - OS: Mac OS 9.2 or later, Standard equipped USB port; PC Requirements - OS: Windows 98,98 SE, 2000, Me, XP Home edition / Professional, Standard equipped USB port

In the box, you also get the Lite version of ACDSee, which is an excellent photo organizing and editing tool optimized for the A10.


This camera is simple to use yet powerful with a plethora of settings to satisfy those who wish to go beyond the PhD (push here dummy) stage of photography and do some postgraduate work. I found the quality of my pictures has improved almost as if my magic with this camera.

I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the fact that it uses a standard SD card instead of one of those oddball other cards that are difficult to find and don’t fit into anything else. Actually, I probably would not buy a camera that had a non-standard storage card. I like it when I can use the same card in my camera, phone, PDA, MP3 player, and Tablet PC. I use one of the combination SD/USB cards so that I can plug the card into any computer’s USB port to view my pictures.

I do have some wishes for future editions of this camera. While Pentax has enlarged the screen significantly over previous models, it could still be larger. Also, the screen needs to be improved so that images may be viewed in bright sunlight. This is the most serious problem with this otherwise terrific camera.

My only other complaint is that my Optio S4i would fit comfortably in an Altoids can and the A10 will not. The Altoids can feature had a lot of WOW factor to it, and I miss that.

Seriously, though, the Optio A10 is a marvelous piece of work with a rich set of features that allow you to take superb quality photographs. I consider this camera to be an excellent value for less than $300 and I am pleased to recommend the Pentax Optio A10 to anyone interested in a lot of photo power in an extremely small package at an affordable price.

Posted by tim at 12:25 AM | Comments (0)