Where do you go when you need a fast answer?

October 29, 2006 by

A few minutes ago my wife asked me how many ounces are in a pint?  How many are in a cup?

I never cook and seldom use weight measurements for anything – except when I blush at my morning weigh-ins – however my scale is digital and uses decimals.

Where did I go?

I went to www.ask.com.

I typed in “how many ounces are in a cup” and the same question for a pint.  What was particularly interesting is the response:

 You can see it here, but I’ll describe it below:

The first thing it told me was the actual answer – not a list of confusing search results.  Then it gave me a very nice list of relevant websites.

I highly recommend ask.com for quick answers.  I usually try wikipedia.org for more involved questions.  Google last.


brazen, balzy and bullish … tcsdaily.com

October 29, 2006 by

Yesterday I received an article frowarded from tcsdaily.com.  An online news journal I had never heard of before.

The article, was quite brazen.  It was a civil analysis of the vigilante killing sprees that have recently started in Iraq.  The author characterized them as akin to the South American death squads.

 He also asserted that most modern democracies had death squads or vigilante reprisals as part of their transition from fascism/absolutism/communism/autocracy to modern democracy.  In the author’s view, such dark movements are civil society’s only practical response to implacable violence-pledged fanatics.

While the argument is compelling and quite brave, in principle I find it quite frightening.  It strikes me that there is little difference between the vigilante death squads and the squads of the various dictators (think Hitler, Idi Amin, etc…).  Perhaps the only difference is the timing of the group’s activities and their potential composition.  Can evil accomplish good goals?

While an uncomfortable topic, it certainly is a brave one to address.  Worthy of attention.

After reading the arcticle, I was certainly motivated to see who would publish such an article, hence my discovery of tcsdaily.com.

It’s openly ideological – more to the free market than price controls, open societies rather than closed ones and a strong belief in the idea of progress.

Whether or not you agree with it, it is worth examining.


Kill-a-watt Energy Meter

October 29, 2006 by

I recently saw a posting for the Kill-a-watt energy meter at My Money Blog, a blog I often read.

I’ve had the Kill-a-watt meter for about two years.  The idea is quite intersting – it’s a nifty gadget.

You plug it between an electrical device and the wall outlet.  It will track your consumption for whatever period of time you choose.  It has a small built in LCD that tracks your electricity consumption through different methods.  However, you must have the discipline to actually check and take measurements.  You also need to contact your electrical provider to learn your cost per killowatt hour.

For me the device does not work too well, as it sits blindly attached to a television for several months.  For others, it may be a great way to identify high energy consuming appliances, etc….


Home Video Network

October 23, 2006 by

Who does not love their Tivo?  This is not an article about how Tivo has changed my life, nor is it about the new HD Tivo, though someday I would like to get one.  Imagine being able to control and watch Tivo all over a house.  Tivo makes doing this possible, but very expensive.  You can buy one Tivo per TV plus subscription fees and network the boxes.  That was unacceptable to me, so I looked for an alternate way and found it from CrossBar Media.  The product is called Avcast.


Many companies make a product called a modulator.  All this does is add a video/audio signal on to a coaxial cable.  I could take my Tivo signal and combine it with my cable signal in a modulator and the output will contain both cable TV and my Tivo signal on the selected channel.  By connecting that coaxial cable to all my TV’s, I would be able to watch the Tivo on any TV, but I would be missing control.


The product called Avcast fills in the gap with a self-contained video network for $116.  You can actually buy a smaller system for less.  The smaller system comes with the ability to control the Tivo from only one site.  I wanted more.  It is possible to have up to eight with this product.


Although this product comes with all the necessary parts, it is tricky to set up.  You have to read the directions carefully and put in filters and transformers in the correct places.  Even then, I am still having trouble.  Reception could be better.  I also find the Tivo remote does not work reliably.  The company is very responsive and has sent me a new IR sensor to see if that helps. 


My example uses a Tivo.  You could do the same with a VCR, DVD, satellite or almost any signal that uses RCA connectors.  By buying extra parts from the company, you could even have several signals running through the video network on different channels. 


Even though I am having some trouble getting my remote control to work reliably, I can see the value in this product.  With Avcast, you can add and control your own programming over existing coaxial cables.  I like products that can work without running new wires. 


Second Life: SIMs Meets RPG

October 23, 2006 by

Second Life is a new role playing adventure that appears to combine the wild and woolly personalities and adventures of the avatars of SIMs with the control of on-line RPGs (Role Playing Games).  This game replaces the scripted random actions of the SIMs avatars with the best random action generator that has been created to date — Man (or Woman for the ladies).  In this game you interact with individuals from all over the net.  Each one brings his or her unique personality quirks to this rich virtual world.

The Second Life interface, while requiring some adjustment time to the “ipod” style control wheel, is not even close to being complicated.  The game maintains a full featured rich set of controls allowing for interactions with both other characters and the surrounding world.

You can create an avatar that resembles the you “you are” or the you “you want to be.”  In less than 15 minutes, I was able to create an avatar that resembled me and my good looks (to include my “cool looking” and “all ways in style beer gut”).  Seriously, there are thousands of combinations and looks that can be achieved in a fairly short time frame which will leave you free to go and experience the Second Life world.  In less than one hour I was flying through this world like I was Superman and the next I was on the dance floor of “Sanctuary Rock.”

Second Life is worth the investment of time and effort.  You will not beat the price.  The base membership is “FREE”.  I highly recommend you go to http://secondlife.com and try this world on for size.

DevonThink Professional 1.2

October 21, 2006 by

An old acquaintance from my days at The University of Chicago recommended this product. On the strength of his review, I decided to give this product a try. DevonThink is a document management system for the Macintosh platform. In plain terms, it is an electronic filing cabinet for electronic documents. Anyone who has done any kind of research on the Internet will understand the utility of document management. Search engines generate voluminous lists of data, and the act of clicking hyperlinks creates electronic paper trails faster than most of us can take notes on what we have found. What is needed for serious research on the internet are tools that help us to understand the data that we have collected, and DevonThink is an excellent tool.

DEAL: year long subscription to gametap at 50% off

October 19, 2006 by

I saw this one at the Digital Life Conference in NYC.

Gametap is a provider of downloadable games.  You pay a monthly or annual subscription and can enjoy unlimited downloads.

Most of the games are older, maybe two generations out:  Far Cry, Civ III, etc….  However there is a very rich supply of ancient games from the earliest console days as well as more recent console games.  GameTap let’s you play these games without complex console emulation, etc… (so they say).

The cost is $59.40 for a year if you act on this deal:  www.gametap.com/digital.  The demos at the conference looked pretty interesting and the games should be fairly fun.

Since the games are downloaded they should perform at a fairly spiffy pace.  I’m not sure how well (or if) Gametap works when a laptop is untethered from the Internet.

Gametap also offers a free monthly trial.  We put this one up because it looked very interesting.  If you try it out – please leave comments.


Just remember it for me…MobiPassword – password and link manager

October 18, 2006 by

Mobipassword is a very useful password and web link manager.

It provides useful categories and templates for storing information for a vast variety of common facts:  everything from websites URLs and passwords, to bank accounts and airline loyal program information.

MobiPassword runs on either your PC or concurrently with your PC and a hand held device, such as a Palm or Windows hand-held.  I personally have run MobiPassword on various Palm tungsten models, Palm Treo and HP handheld.

Links, passwords and data are synchronized automatically when you hot-synch your PDA.  Data is stored in an encrypted format that makes it costly and difficultto try to steal.

MobiPassword sits in the system tray of your PC.  You can right click on the icon and select a website for Mobipassword to launch.  It can then – at your request – automatically log you into the website – saving you time by remembering the password and URL for you.

MobiPassword is mostly stable.  It works and runs well about 97% of the time.  Every so often (about every 2-3 days for me) the program throws an error and mysteriously quits.  No other programs are effected, but it is an inconvenience.

You can check MobiPassword out at www.mobipassword.com.

Enjoy, N

The Canon SD700-IS pocket camera

October 18, 2006 by

My newest and greatest pocket camera is the Canon SD700-IS.  Previously I have owned a few generations of Minolta point and shoot cameras.  Those were the best for their time.  I especially liked that the lense did not protrude outside of the camera when zooming.  Konica-Minolta sold the technology to Sony.  Sony makes good cameras, too, but I prefer to avoid memory stick media.


Canon makes so many models it was a hard decision to choose which one was best for me.  I wanted a small camera with a large screen that could take pictures quickly.  The number of megapixels was important, but other factors were more important, such as shutter lag and image stabilization.  The cameras with more megapixels supposedly have a larger shutter lag and no image stabilization. 


This is the best all around camera I have ever used.  Almost every picture is in perfect focus and exposure.  Try to take a picture of two people.  While most cameras will focus right in between and make both people blurry, this one can recognize the two people correctly.  Sometimes I do not want to be the missing person on the trip, so I turn around the camera and become the subject as well as the photographer.  More times than not every picture looks good.  My aim is sometimes off, but the camera is so quick, I can take many pictures. 


No camera is perfect.  I already mentioned that my choice did include a tradeoff to get image stabilization.  I am not even convinced that image stabilization makes much difference.  My other problem is with the screen.  The outer coating is coming off.  When I called Canon about the coating, the response was always to send it back.  All I wanted to know was whether it would be under warranty.  Since Canon would not tell me, I sent it back.  Sure enough, Canon called it cosmetic and wanted to charge me $137.  I declined the fix.


Besides my annoyance with Canon service, I still love my camera.  It takes great pictures and fits easily in my pocket.

Install your own biometric lock – or look ma no keys – or see what my finger can do

October 15, 2006 by

Biometric locks and security devices are beginning to pop up all over the place.  The most common uses a fingerprint sensor.  Even some laptops use a fingerprint sensor to start up.  Locks, especially ones that do not need keys, intrigue me.  Until now, the cost and unknown accuracy of these biometric locks kept me away.  Costco recently started carrying a door fingerprint lock on their website, model Q-See Fingerprint & Keypad Deadbolt Lock for $280.  Costco’s excellent return policy made it so I had nothing to lose but a little time.


Although I am handy, there was much I needed to know about buying a door lock.  This new lock comes in two flavors, a left hand or a right hand model.  It depends on whether the door opens in on the right or left.  Both the lock and the strike plate need to be correct.  My door was a little more complicated because my door opens out.  That meant I needed a left-handed lock and a right-handed strike plate.  Costco did not make this easy because you have to choose one or the other, so I arbitrarily choose the left-handed model.  I called the manufacturer a number of times to get the correct strike plate.  After multiple calls, the company finally sent me both strike plates just to make sure I received the correct one.


Since I had never really tried a fingerprint lock, I was eager to get the package and start programming in my fingers.  Unfortunately the process is nowhere near intuitive.  You have to start by making one finger the master.  That master finger can only be used to add and delete fingers.  I found the screen for the finger a little too large.  There are too many different ways to put my finger on the screen and the lock is very particular.  The lock allows for over 100 fingers, so instead of programming each finger in once, I programmed each finger over and over.  That made each finger more reliable.  Each finger programmed has to have a numbered slot in the software, so make sure to keep good track.  You cannot just record a new finger in a used slot.  The previous finger has to be deleted first.


The lock has been in for a few weeks.  Aside from the enjoyment of having an exciting new lock, it does work well for me.  Other family members are not as enthusiastic.  You have to have patients to make sure you can repeat the way you set your finger on the pad.  Sometimes the lock works on the first try and on others it takes a few tries.  There are other ways of opening the lock.  You could use the combination or a standard key.  The standard key would work in an emergency, such as a dead battery.  If you can put up with the headache of programming, then I would recommend this lock for people who prefer not to carry house keys. 

We look forward to reading your comments,