Category Archives: Gadget

Drobo Saved My Day for the Third Time

A few hours ago, I went home to see one of the lights on my Drobo blinking in red color: one of my hard drives in the Drobo has died. For those who don’t know, a Drobo is an external hard drive enclosure which houses five (in my model) 3.5-inch hard drives. Drobo offers protection against drive failures such as the one I am currently experienced.

In the old days, a failed hard drive meant data loss—that is how I lost several photographs and video clips of my family. When I lost my first batch of files due to hard drive failure, I got wiser and backed up my desktop’s hard drive. Sadly, when my hard drived failed the second time, I found out my back-up CDs (those old days) also turned bad. For years, I struggled with back-up solutions, none were reliable enough for my use. Then came Drobo.

The first time I saw this black box, I knew it should be part of my data storage and back up plan. The initial price for the empty Drobo S, my model, was nearly 700 USD—a very steep price indeed. However, the more I thought about my past incidents, the more sense the Drobo makes. Finally, I bit the bullet and purchased one. Let me cut right to the point: I experienced today’s episode twice before, and had not lost a single file due to hard drive failure. I believe that was the best $680 I have ever spent.

Tonight, I will replaced the doomed drive knowing that my Drobo is working hard to ensure my data integrity. My Drobo has saved my day yet again.

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The iPad Stylus Socks GOLD Review

The Problem

I need a stylus to draw on the iPad, but don’t like the rubber-tip ones because of the lack of smoothness and they don’t last long.

The iPad Stylus Socks GOLD

My long research took me to this product. I wish I remember where I received the pointer from to send my thank, but I do not.

The iPad Stylus Sock is basically a “chopstick” stylus, wrapped in a conductive “sock”. I purchased a two-pack GOLD version with marble-like decoration. The stylii are of different sizes, which I will talk more about that later.

Because of the wooden construction, the stylus feels light in the hand. I wish it feels much heavier the way I prefer it. The sock which wraps one end of the stylus is a conductive fabric. As such, it feels much better to draw on the iPad glass surface than a rubber tip. The stylus glides effortlessly with just the right amount of friction. This is the one feature that draws me to this stylus. The sock seems to hold up well. On average, I use my stylus about one to three hours a week for two months now and don’t see any visible sign of wear.

I was curious while the stylus has the word “iPad” in its name as if it is designed just for the iPad. So, I tried it out on an iPhone and Android phone: it performs just as well. However, using a stylus on a phone is not something a phone owner would do.

Because the tip of the stylus is flat, as in a chopstick, I have to hold it vertically for the iPad to recognize. When holding the stylus at an angle to the iPad surface, the stylus sometimes miss register due to the small contact area. This could be a deal-breaker if you are not used to hold a stylus that way. Fortunately for me, I can write with my pen in nearly vertical so I can easily adapt my posture.

I purchase a set of two stylii, the smaller of the two is ideal for travel as it is small. The draw back is it is chopstick skinny to hold comfortably. For this reason, I keep the large stylus in my bag and the small, skinny one at home. The larger stylus’ body is wide at the tip, then heavily tapper in at the top. This shape of reminds me of the dip pens I used in elementary school in Vietnam.

Finally, I would like to mention about the price. I purchased the two stylii for $22, plus $6 shipping and handling; which makes it about $14 a piece. Compare to the other stylii I owned, the iPad stylus socks are inexpensive.

Summary

The large stylus is a keeper for me. The combination of smoothness, style, and price makes it a winner. I keep the smaller one at my desk for occasional use.

What I Like about this Stylus

  • Smooth writing, drawing
  • Comfortable in hand
  • Inexpensive
  • Beautiful style. The larger stylus looks like a dip pen.

What I don’t Like about it

  • Heavier. The stylus is too light for my taste.
  • Holding posture. I would be nice to be able to hold it at a natural writing angle.
  • The smaller stylus is too skinny to hold.

Where to Buy

I bought mine from Etsy

Verilux HappyLite Mini Ultra

I have been eyeing this lamp for quite sometime because I am in need of a desk lamp with natural light along with its therapeutic promise. Finally, after reading a review from the Gadgeteer site, I purchased one.

When I first use the lamp, the light seems too bright and shines to my eyes instead of illuminating the desk. However, that’s what the lamp was designed for: shining the light into the user’s eyes for therapeutic effect. The power switch has three settings: off, low, and high. I normally set it on low, but during the day, I set it on high to compete with the ambient light. Why do I have to turn on a lamp in daylight, one might ask. If you live in Seattle during the winter, you know that the sky is mostly gray and dark. In order to operate the switch I have to use both hands: one to hold on to the lamp and the other to slide the switch. Otherwise, sliding the hard switch with one hand will only slide the whole lamp around the desk. After a few days of use, I started to get a hang of turning on and off the lamp with one hand, but it is still a difficult task nonetheless.

After a week of using this lamp, I have to admit that it does not make a good desk lamp–and rightly so because Verilux did not design this as a desk lamp, but a therapy lamp. As a desk lamp, the HappyLite Mini Ultra shines directly onto my eyes, as the result, I can hardly see anything else on my desk. My idea of a desk lamp is something that would illuminate the desk, not my eyes.

So, if it is not a good desk lamp, does it make a great therapy lamp? To answer that question, one must have a metric to measure happy mood. That means I cannot objectively say that the lamp works. However, it does brighten up my office and in turn reduces my eye fatigue. I find that by putting the lamp just slightly behind me, it makes an excellent reading light. For this reason, I am considering buying a floor model for my night reading.

In conclusion, it was me that chose the wrong kind of lamp: I looked for a desk lamp and purchased a therapy lamp instead. Nonetheless, the lamp does help me with my reading and brighten up my den, especially at night.

ADVC 110 and EyeTV 250

In my quest to convert my old analog tapes to DVD, I employed two different tools: the Canopus ADVC 110 and Elgato EyeTV 250.

Elgato EyeTV 250

Pros:

  • Easy to use, simple process
  • Works with Toast, iDVD, and other burning applications
  • Also records from cable and other sources
  • Smaller files

Cons:

  • Quality of the resulting DVD is not as good as that of ADVC 110

To turn my VCR tape into DVD, I use EyeTV 250 and Toast 7 Titanium. After hooking up my VCR to EyeTV 250 to my MacBook, I set the input to composit video input and started to import the tape. The import process happens in real time, so it took almost an hour to finish my tape. Next, I edit the tape to remove the irrelevant beginning and ending of the video clip; this part only takes about five minutes. Next, I export the clip to Toast for burning and have the finished disc in about twenty minutes. Overall, it took me about an hour and a half to convert a 55-minute tape to disc. The next step is to verify the result by playing the disc in my home stereo. Overall, the sound quality is excellent and the video quality is good. All is not well, however: the video is a little shaky, thrashing slightly from side to side. Without the ADVC 110 to compare, I would be happy with the result.

Canopus ADVC 110

Pros:

  • Better quality than EyeTV
  • Chapter marks via iMovie

Cons:

  • Large files
  • Single minded device: cannot record from cable
  • More complicated process

To accomplish my conversion, I employed three different pieces of hardware and software: ADVC 110, iMovie, and iDVD. For those who wants simplicity, they can skip the iMovie and import straight from the video source into iDVD. After hooking up the equipment, I started to import the video clip into iMovie. Again, the import process is real-time, so it took almost an hour to finish. Next, I edited out the irrelevant parts and added chapter marks to aid viewing; this process took about half an hour. If I did not add the chapter marks, then the editing would take only five minutes–same as the previous method. Next, I export the movie to iDVD for burning. After spending another five minutes customizing iDVD to my liking, I inserted a blank disc and started the burn process. iDVD took its sweet time to encode the video, which produced the final disc in about an hour. As the result, the process took me about two and a half hour to convert the same 55-minute tape to DVD. The reward for choosing this method is a better video without the shakiness found in previous method. Audio quality is about the same in both methods. One drawback of this method is the file size: the iMovie project demands 11GB of my disk space, while the iDVD project snatches another 3GB. In contrast, the video clip produced by EyeTV 250 weighs less than 2GB. I forgot to record the size of the Toast project, but I think it is from 3GB to 4GB.

Summary

If you want to record from cable and occasionally converts tapes to DVD, EyeTV 250 is hard to beat. However, if you demand quality, then go with ADVC 110.

Apple iPhone: How to Improve It

As of this moment, I am sure you have heard about Apple’s iPhone, which is an amazing product. since many people have focused on what they like about the iPhone, and I agree with most of them, I would like to focus on areas that need improvement. Before I begin, I would like to clarify my position: I love iPhone and will probably buy it, pending test-driving it in person. The reason I post these negative point is to point out the weakness and hopefully someone will listen and improve.

First off, I do not like the iPhone for its size and form factor. Based on the pictures, the phone seems large for a phone. Remember, this device is foremost a phone: I can afford to leave home without my iPod, but not my phone. Therefore, size matters. In my opinion, anything that is wider than the Razr will not do for me. That being said, the size seems excellent for a PDA/phone/iPod device.

After size, my next complain targets the lack of buttons. I agree that the iPhone without button is so sleek and beautiful; it is a piece of art. However, think about this scenario: you are driving and would like to make a call, what should you do? First, you take out your iPhone and unlock it, of course. Now, image yourself performing the “slide to unlock” operation with one hand. I hope that I don’t have to do that while driving. Without the button, the user cannot rely on the tactile feedback to operate the phone. Instead, he or she will have to actually look at the screen in order to make the correct choice. In addition, the touch screen seems to make it difficult to operate with one hand because the user cannot slide the thumb over the screen to reach the intended buttons.

The lack of buttons also brings another problem, namely the smudged screen syndrome. We can protect an iPod’s screen with cases, screen, or even thin protective films. The iPhone touch screen means the user cannot cover the screen, leaving it prone to scratches, dirt, and smudges.

Many people mentioned the fact that Apple has locked into Cingular is a big turn off. I think Apple should have sold the phone unlocked so the users can go on with their own carrier choices. Personally, I don’t use 3G data services, but for those who do, iPhone’s EDGE will surely disappoint them. Many people also express concern regarding the battery life, which might be fine for a phone, but seems short as far as PDA or music player is concerned.

As the owner of a 4th-generation 30GB iPod, I am disappointed at the iPhone’s tiny storage size. I hope Apple should address this issue with larger drives. I understand the use of flash memory reduces power consumption, along with saving weight. I hope that someday flash memory become cheap enough to see 20GB or even larger drive.

For me, the number one reason to buy the iPhone is not because it is cool, but because I expect that it just work seamlessly with my Mac. For that, I mean the synchronizing experience. I currently use a wonderful phone, the Sony Ericsson W810i. While I love this phone dearly, I still think that the synchronization process needs some improvement. Specifically, for years, I have been trying to synchronize notes between the phone and my MacBook. Funny that I can synchronize contacts, appointments, and tasks; but I cannot synchronize notes. My phone currently has more than 50 notes, and that list is growing. I keep note on many things: the dimension of my printer, so I can shop for a printer stand; the model number of my air filter, to name a couple. It would be nice if I do not have to manually synchronize them.

These are a few problems that I can see. I will update this article if I think up more. That being said, I am looking forward to try out the phone is my local Apple Store.

Panasonic DMC-LC1 Impression

Previous cameras

To put into perspective where I came from, here is a list of the cameras that I owned in reverse chronological order:

  • Panasonic DMC-LC1, a prosumer-level point-and-shoot that is the Leica Digilux 2 twin.
  • Canon A610, an excellent compact point-and-shoot camera.
  • Fujifilm F10, an outstanding lowlight performer that can pump the ISO to 1600 while maintaining resonably low noise.
  • Panasonic DMC-FX7, one of my favorite: small, image stabilization, 2.5″ screen, excellent picture quality.
  • Fujifilm S2Pro, a DSLR that I still own. It has excellent picture quality, hard-to-beat skin tone.
  • Nikon Coolpix 5000. I have too many thowaways with this camera. It works well for somebody, but not me.
  • Nikon Coolpix 995. I quickly sold this one to get the Coolpix 5000: I did not like the swivel lens.
  • A Kodak 1MP camera whose model has long escaped me. This was my first digital camera.

Of the ones in the list, the cameras that I currently still own are: LC1, A610, and S2pro. I keep the A610 in the car most of the time for those quick captures. My wife loves the S2 despite its large size and chunky lens. I hope the LC1 will replace my S2 for most situations.

First Impressions

My first impression of the LC1: it is heavy on the left side so one-hand operation is difficult, but not impossible. The camera is well built, I am impressed at the quality of the doors and hinges, especially the battery door: it is the best battery door among the P&S I have encountered. I get confused between the zoom and focus rings; time will fix that. The menu is not the easiest to use–just enough to get by. I prefer the A610’s and S2’s menus.

The white balance is not consistent; my Canon A610 leaves the LC1 in the dust in this department. If I only move the camera just an inch, my picture might go from perfect white balance to a warmer (or colder) tone.

The lens barrel has three rings: the zoom, the focus, and the aperture ring. Since I spent a good deal of time on my DSLR, I am used to operating the zoom ring. In fact, I prefer this method over zooming with the thumb or index finger. To enable autofocus, lock the ring to the AF or AF-Macro positions. For people who used the good old film range finder cameras, the aperture ring should be familar.

These are my first impressions. I will update this page regularly. Please send me any comments you might have.

2006-02-11 Update

Today, I took the kids to the park and brought the LC1 to test outdoor pictures. Unfortunately, I forgot to bring my 1GB SD card and had to get by with a puny 16MB one. Thus, I set the picture size to 1280 which is one size larger than 640; I also set compression to the most agressive. That allowed me to take more than 30 pictures.

To my surprise, they are very vibrant and I do not think I have any problem with 4×6 prints. Overall, I think the color is excellent: warm, bright, and vibrant. The only complain I have against the color is the LC1’s sky seems to be lighter than what I got from my Canon A610. In the future, I might bring both cameras out and test my theory.

While I do not usually take photos at wide angle, I found myself dialed to 28mm as often as 90mm. What set the LC1 apart from the other cameras is how intuitive it is. To zoom, just turn the ring. Need flash? Pop it open. Need aperture priority mode? lock the shutter dial to A (automatic) and dial the aperture ring. My wife, on the other hand, dislike the camera’s large size. She said she would rather use our even-bigger Fujifilm S2 because after all, it is an DSLR.

A second complain I have against the LC1 is the shutter lag. There are some instances when I try to capture a running kid and ended up taking the picture sans kid. This is the problem that prompted my wife and I to purchased our DSLR in the first place.

2006-02-12 Update

Today, I took the camera out for more pictures. I found the LC1’s auto white balance works better in the sun than in the shade. In the shade, the automatic setting renders the picture with a blue cast. My Canon A610 has no problem in this situation. I am sure that if I custom set the white balance, the colors will be dead on. However, custom setting might not be practical because I constantly switched between the sun lit and shade areas; it would be a pain to remember switching the white balance settings accordingly.

2006-02-25 Update

Yesterday, I took the camera for a walk where I frequently step between the sun lit and shaded areas. I found it hard to view the pictures on the 2.5″ LCD, so I switch to the electronic viewfinder (EVF) and found it not very clear. Before I purchase the camera, I was aware of this limitation. However, as I now experienced it, I found it annoying.

The square lens hood add very little weigh and dimension to the camera, but it helps to shield the lens from flare. For that reason, I keep it on most of the time. I recommend you do the same. At least, keep the hood and the square cap in your camera bag so you can use it outdoor.