2014 Holiday Geek Gift Guide

2014 at 4:13 pm | posted by Scott

Techory SnowflakeAnother year has passed and Black Friday is quickly approaching, so here we are again with a new Holiday Geek Gift Guide. My first list was created in 2004 (yay, 10 year anniversary post!) to help with my own gift shopping for friends and family. Because of my interest in technology and gadgets (and general geekery), most of guides listed fall into those categories, but there are a few that are useful for general gift giving as well. As usual, I’ll keep this post up to date as I encounter additional lists. If you know of any I may have misted, leave a comment and I’ll get it added.

(Guides from previous years: 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004)

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Getting Nolstalgic Over the Danger Sidekick

2014 at 2:57 pm | posted by Scott

Chris DeSalvo recently posted a great article, The future that everyone forgot: Some of the work we did at Danger. The article covers the history of Danger, the company that created the Sidekick. It might seem a bit odd to get nostalgic about a phone that I didn’t own, but that period he writes about was the start of the smartphone revolution. I have always owned a smartphone. I came into the cell phone game a little late in 2003 with a Handspring (before they came back to Palm) Treo 300. At that time, I was very much plugged into the smartphone world. I did a ton of research before making the jump to that little Treo, and can remember looking closely at the Danger Hiptop (which later became the Sidekick). In fact, I can recall reading a magazine article about the new Danger devices in a Barnes and Noble store (I know… a paper magazine in a bricks and mortar bookstore – times have sure changed!). At that same time, I also remember doing a lot of looking at the Kyocera 6035 and the Kyocera 7135 before finally settling on the Treo 300.

The article above brought back a lot of memories of a time when having an always connected device in your pocket was a new thing. Most of the features he writes about had never been done before, or even thought of at the time and are almost an afterthought today. It’s probably harder to find a dumb-phone today than it is to find a smartphone. It was a nice trip down memory lane.

My Smartphone History

My Smartphone History

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2013 Holiday Geek Gift Guides

2013 at 3:10 pm | posted by Scott

holiday-techoryWell, here we are again approaching another Black Friday and (lamely named) Cyber Monday. That means it’s time again for my list of holiday geek gift guides. This list was conceived many years ago to help with my own gift shopping for friends and family. Because of my interested in technology and gadgets (and general geekery), most of these lists fall into those categories, but there are a few that are useful for general gift giving as well. As usual, I’ll keep this list up to date as I encounter additional lists. If you know of any I may have misted, leave a comment and I’ll get it added.


(Guides from previous years: 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004)

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DIY: Tailgate Misting Station

2013 at 8:24 am | posted by Scott

We’re a few weeks into football season this year and the first two game were scorchers. Usually games in the beginning of September can be a bit warm, but seemed even more-so this year with temps around 90 degrees. A dinner conversation the week before the first game prompted me to look into creating a tailgate mister to cool us off a bit before and after the game. The mister was pretty easy to put together with about $30-40 worth of parts from the local hardware store.

  • The base of the system is a weed sprayer. Since we don’t have electricity at our tailgating spot, we couldn’t use an electric pump, so a 3 gallon weed sprayer provides the water and pressure for the system. You can probably get a smaller version, but you’ll likely be filling it more regularly. I’d recommend something 3 gallons or larger for the project.
  • I removed the sprayer head/nozzle from the sprayer and used an irrigation connector to hook up the hose. This may vary with each sprayer, so you may need to get some plumbers tape to connect the hose to the end of the sprayer handle.
  • The rest of the mister is built from lawn irrigation parts. I found a Rain Bird kit that had just about everything I needed. My mister only has two sprayer heads on it, but you could easily spread it out with more heads and use a few more parts. I ended up using 1/4″ irrigation tubing. That provided enough pressure for two sprayer heads.
  • I started by connecting one length of tubing to the weed sprayer with a 1/4″ connector piece. From the end of that, I used a T splitter to get two more lines of tubing to come off the main tube. I placed a single Fogger-Mister end  (this was the only piece I had to order that didn’t come in the kit) on each of the tubes coming off the T splitter. The lengths of tube can be adjusted to fit whatever you will hang the mister on. Ours hangs from a tailgating tent pole.
  • It was pretty simple to hook everything together. I filled the sprayer container with distilled water, thinking they wouldn’t clog as fast that way. We even put a little ice into the reservoir as well. We zip-tied the tubing to our tailgating tent, pumped it up and let the cool mist spray. Everything seemed to work pretty well, and we would get about 30 minutes of mist from a single pump-up.

Everything worked pretty well, and I think we’re beyond the warm games now this year, but we’ll definitely be pulling this out for the early season games in years to come.

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Google Chromecast

2013 at 6:29 pm | posted by Scott

IMG_20130731_184223When Google announced the Chromecast a few weeks back, I got online and ordered one. It was originally going to be a gift, but after playing with it, I decided to hold onto it. At only $35.00, I’m not out much (gift or otherwise). It’s a pretty nice device. It comes in a nice little slide-out package. The Chromecast device has a little slot while the rest of the goodies (power adapter, USB cable, and HDMI extender cable) sit underneath. The dongle (hee hee) has a standard HDMI connector on one end and a micro USB port for power on the rounded back-end. The TV I plugged it into was a bit older, so I did not have a convenient HDMI port on the side and had to use the extender to plug it in because the angle was too sharp on the port for my TV. I also did not have a USB port on this TV, which could power the device, and had to use the included USB power adapter. Everything plugged into my TV looked a little ugly, but I sure took advantage of all the accessories they included. I have a newer TV in the basement that probably wouldn’t need all the extras.

Once everything was plugged in, I switched the TV input to the correct HDMI port and had a nice screen with a URL to continue setup. I used my phone to hit the URL so it redirected me to the Google Play Store to download the Chromecast app. The app will ask you for an ID displayed on the screen to identify itself, and will then walk you through the rest of the setup. This includes providing it access to your WiFi and giving it a name. Once you’ve done those things, you can start streaming media to the TV.

iconThe streaming interface works great. You simply touch a little Chromecast icon and it throws stuff to your TV from apps that support it. Right now (and this is the only negative at the moment), that’s limited to just a few apps. The list currently includes, Google Play Music and Movies, Netflix, YouTube. There are apparently a few others in the works. The thing that makes it irrelevant is that you can also stream a tab straight from the Google Chrome browser (Mac or Windows). If you install the Chromecast extension you can send just about anything else you need to the TV (Hulu, Amazon, whatever). I’m looking forward to more apps that take advantage of the Chromecast, but so far am very happy with it.

The Chromecast is a handy little device.


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Silk: Write With Smoke

2012 at 8:33 pm | posted by Scott

Need a site to waste 5 minutes on? Check out Silk, a website that lets you write in smokey patterns.

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Desktop Images from Desktoppr

2012 at 1:43 pm | posted by Scott

I like to keep my desktop fresh looking and will rotate a new desktop wallpaper image in every month or so. I’m always on the lookout for good sites to find desktop images, and have been collected a few of them over the years. As I was looking for some new images, I ran across a cool site for desktops that has a really nice bonus feature. The site is called Desktoppr. Like many desktop/wallpaper sites it provides high-quality user submitted images. The thing that makes this site stand out is that is automatically syncs your desktop image choices to Dropbox, so you can go through and pick out what you like, and like magic, it is delivered to your computer where you can point your OS at it to change them automatically.

Desktoppr is a new site, and is still in beta, but I didn’t have any problems finding a beta account invite. You can sign up on their site, or just do a little digging to find a beta invite. If you like desktop images, Desktoppr has a lot of nice once to choose from, and they make it really easy to grab them and use them on your computer.

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A CableCARD Update for the HTPC

2012 at 9:05 pm | posted by Scott

A few months back I acquired an update for our HTPC. In order to watch digital channels (anything that isn’t available as an over-the-air network), I needed either a cable box, which I didn’t want to rent, or a device capable of taking a CableCARD. When I first started looking, there were two on the market. The first one out was the Ceton InfiniTV, which is a PCI card device that wouldn’t likely fit into my smaller HTPC case. So, that lead me to a device sold by the company who made the other HD tuner I’m using. The tuner I purchased is the SiliconDust HDHomeRun Prime. There are two models of the HDHomeRun Prime, one with three tuners and another with six. I opted for the one with just three tuners since I currently only have two tuners and didn’t figured I needed the extra three, or the extra expense of the larger box.

I preordered the tuner, and it arrived a bit later than the company had claimed, but I was happy to finally have it in my hands. My first task was to acquire a CableCARD from my cable company (Medicacom). For those not familiar with CableCARD, it basically provides the decryption for digital cable in your own box without having to use (pay for) one provided by the cable company. The FCC requires cable companies to provide them to their customers. I went down to the Mediacom office and picked up my card. The FCC recently required cable companies to provide a self-install option for CableCARDS instead of requiring a (paid) house call. Once I got the CableCARD home, plugged it into the HDHomeRun and plugged in the coax. I actually have the box in a different room of the house away from the TV. It isn’t necessary, but the way that the HDHomeRun works is it delivers the TV signal via a network connection, and I’ve got an empty network port in the bedroom. That way it also delivers signal through the entire house. If I wanted, I could fire up VLC and watch cable TV on a laptop anywhere. The device powered up and seemed to do what it was supposed to do. Now, on to Mediacom to try and get the CableCARD activated.

Currently, there are very few pieces of software that can legally be used with CableCARDs. The software has to be able to decrypt the digital signal from the cable companies. I use Windows 7 Media Center, and it’s capable of working with a CableCARD tuner via a special plugin provided by Microsoft. I installed the HDHomeRun software and then installed the plugin for Media Center. It quickly recognized the new tuner and gave me a message to with the unique ID for the CableCARD to provide to Mediacom. I called and had them activate my card. It can take as long as 24 hours for the CableCARD to be activated, so I let it sit overnight and got excited to watch more channels in HD the next day.

I’d read horror stories of cable providers not activating CableCARDs correctly. Fortunately that wasn’t the case for me. The next day, the CableCARD reported it was activated by the HDHomeRun control panel (accessed by a web interface), but I was having issues viewing my brand-spankin’ new HD channels. There were some funny things going on. I could get the new channels to play in the HDHomeRun software intermittently, but only in windowed mode (not full screen). I could also get the new channels to play intermittently in Media Center but with the same widows mode issue as well as there not being audio in some cases. I would also see odd messages about PlayReady, which is Microsoft’s DRM to make the CableCARD work. I kept getting messages that PlayReady wasn’t working, or that it needed to be updated. No matter what I did, I could not get PlayReady to reinstall or remove correctly. After banging my head against the HTPC for a few days, I decided to take the nuclear option and reinstall Windows.

Low and behold, the headache of a reinstall worked. The CableCARD activated successfully, and Windows Media Center detected it and configured all of the new channels. The programming guide picked up everything, and everything came in nice and clear. I’ve beem able to watch and record all HD programming without any problems. There have been very few issues, and what issues I did encounter were fixed quickly with a firmware update. So far I am very happy with the HDHomeRun Prime.

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Throwable Panoramic Ball Camera

2011 at 6:19 am | posted by Scott

This is a slick little gadget. It’s a little green ball with cameras mounted all over it. You toss it into the air, and it created a spherical panorama at the apex of your toss.

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I wonder how careful you have to be when throwing this. I bet a little bit of spin would mess up your panorama. Either way, it’s a pretty cool idea.

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What Are Your Favorite Podcasts?

2011 at 11:52 am | posted by Scott

I’ve always got a good collection of podcasts on my iPod. In fact, I probably listen to podcasts more than I listen to music. I usually download a new batch of podcasts every couple weeks. I’ll fill up my iPod and listen until I run out, and then pull down the newest batch. I have my list of favorites, but am always on the lookout for new content to put into my podcast rotation. Below is a list of my top podcasts. Let me know in the comments what you like to listen to.

  • Buzz Out Loud (websiteiTunes)
    This is a daily podcast from CNET where they talk about the tech happenings of the day. I usually download about 6 of the newest episodes of Buzz Out Loud.
  • A Life Well Wasted (websiteiTunes)
    This podcast is a recent addition to my list. Their tagline is “An Internet Radio Program about Video Games and the People who Love them.” This isn’t your typical video game review show. It’s actual stories about people and video games. It includes stories about collectors, or interesting video game history, and is usually very intriguing.
  • Macbreak Weekly (websiteiTunes)
    This is a Twit podcast from Leo Laporte (of which I subscribe to a number). This one is kind of hit or miss with me. Sometimes I’ll listen, and sometimes I’ll just skip it until my next iPod refresh. It’s about all things Apple, and the quality of the show really depends on the guests of the episode. I find myself fast-forwarding through long Andy Ihnatko rants a lot of times.
  • Security Now (websiteiTunes)
    Another Twit podcast, this one deals with computer and internet security. I kind of pick and choose these episodes based on the topic discussed. There are also regular question and answer episodes that I’ll grab from time to time.
  • Tech News Today (websiteiTunes)
    Again, a twit podcast. I only download this one every now and then, and I usually don’t pull down many episodes. This podcast comes out every weekday and is similar to the Buzz Out Loud podcast listed above. In fact, the host (Tom Merritt) of TNT was a host of Buzz Out Loud up until a year ago, when he moved to Twit. Anyway, it’s a good podcast, the host does a nice job, but it’s not at the top of my rotation. I’ll pull an episode or two every time I refresh the iPod.
  • This American Life (websiteiTunes)
    This is a podcast of the NPR radio program “This American Life.” These are usually pretty good, and provide a view into a certain theme every week. Every now and then I’ll find myself fast-forwarding through a radio essay, or an author reading one of their short stories, but generally the topics are insightful and interesting.
  • This Week in Google (websiteiTunes)
    Yep, another Twit podcast. This one is actually about general cloud computing as well as Google. The hosts (Jeff Jarvis, and Gina Trapani) are very likable, and they usually talk about interesting things that have happened with Google (including Android), and the cloud in general.
  • This Week in Tech (websiteiTunes)
    This is the last Twit podcast I subscribe to, as well as the flagship program for the network. The premise for this podcast is a panel of tech-folk come together to discuss the prior week’s tech news. It’s pretty good 95% of the time, but also very much depends on the panel that gets brought together for a particular episode (sorry, can’t stand Jerry Pournelle).
  • WNYC’s Radiolab (websiteiTunes)
    This is probably one of my favorite podcasts. It is also an actual radio program from WNYC released in podcast format. The premise for the show is usually investigating some big science or technology question through experiments or interviews with experts. Just about every single episode is genuinely interesting, and I end up learning something. Some of my favorite episodes include investigations in to sleep, or if and how animals think, morality, or what makes pop music popular. I highly recommend this program.
  • You Look Nice Today (websiteiTunes)
    YLNT has not been released in quite a while, and may very well be dead, but it’s still one of my favorites, so I decided to list it. This is a comedy podcast, and is mainly made up of three guys sitting around BS’ing. That’s it… doesn’t sound like much… but it’s FUNNY. If you’re looking for a good episode, check out the one where Jonathan Hodgeman and Jonathan Coulton are guest hosts.
  • 99% Invisible (websiteiTunes)
    This podcast is a recent addition to my lineup. It’s a quickie podcast (most episodes are only a few minutes in length). The show is about design and architecture in everyday things. These things are usually overlooked because they’re done so well, hence the 99% invisible.
  • Diggnation (websiteiTunes)
    I used to listen to this podcast more than I do now. I don’t find myself downloading this one very often any more. It’s based on the website, and involves the two hosts going over some of the top stories from the site. They usually only get through a few stories though, as their banter (which is why you listen to the podcast) normally takes up most of the time.

That’s my list. I’m always looking for new podcasts to download. What’s on your list?

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2011 at 7:40 am | posted by Scott


(I just need some more french cuffed shirts)

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Neurowear, Ears Controlled by your Brain

2011 at 6:36 am | posted by Scott

Have you ever wanted to display your mood with a pair of giant cat ears? Well, the wait is now over. A Japanese project called Neurowear has created a set of robotic ears that react to your brain waves. The concept is a little odd, and I’m not sure if this is something I’d wear in public, but it’s a very interesting idea to communicate what you’re thinking using a peripheral that you wear on your body.

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They need to create a dog tail to communicate happiness when it wags.

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The William Stove-top Concept

2011 at 4:46 pm | posted by Scott

Check out this brilliant stove-top concept called The William. This makes a lot of sense… why hasn’t someone come up with this before?

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I could cook 20 things at once on this!

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My New Isotoner SmarTouch (techie) Gloves

2011 at 8:15 am | posted by Scott

gloves front

I normally don’t do clothing/fashion reviews here, but I prefer to think of my latest purchase as an electronics accessory and not fashion, though I really do look hot in my new techie gloves. A few weeks ago I got my hands on (or rather hands in… HA!) a new pair of Isotoner SmarTouch Gloves, and they’ve turned out to be really handy (OK, I’m done with the glove jokes now, I promise). So what makes these gloves so special? They allow you to use touch screen device without exposing your hands to the elements with a bit of conductive thread on the thumb and forefingers. There are several types of gloves on the market that I looked at before deciding to go with Isotoner’s SmarTouch. I knew I didn’t want gloves with cut-off fingers so that left me with a few choices from gloves using conductive material. Out of those, Agloves and Glider Gloves were near the top of my list.

I didn’t go with the Agloves because I read several reviews that said they weren’t very warm. They were more a cool weather glove, and not a cold weather glove. The nice plus for the Agloves if you don’t need the extra warmth is that they are made entirely out of conductive material. So where the SmarTouch just have thumb and forefinger, the Agloves have the conductive stitching throughout. The stitching is actually silver, which is where these gloves get their name (Ag is the chemical symbol for silver on the periodic table).

gloves fingers

After reading that the Agloves weren’t very warm, I dug up another type of touch screen friendly gloves called Glider Gloves. Glider Gloves are made by a company in Canada, who if you think about it probably know cold weather pretty well. Similar to Agloves, these are also made with the conductive material throughout the entire glove. They generally get good reviews on their performance, but I didn’t end up going with these either. I didn’t like how they looked. They’re much lighter in color than the Agloves, and have a lighter speckled look to them. I’ve got a black coat to wear them with, and just wanted something a bit darker. I assume they work really well, and supposedly keep you hands very warm, but totally based on my personal tastes on the cosmetics of these gloves, I didn’t end up choosing them.

gloves backIn the end I ended up purchasing the Isotoner SmarTouch Gloves. They offered warmth (they are fleece lined) and the look (they are all black minus the conductive material on the fingers) that I wanted. I actually ended up ordering them twice because of some size issues. I measured my hand like the website instructed me to do, and came to the conclusion that I needed a medium-sized pair. Well, they arrived and were pretty tight on my hands, so I placed an order for large, which were just right. So the lesson learned here is that they run a little small, so I’d recommend getting a size bigger than your hand measurements tell you. Once I got the correct size, it was time to test them out. I expected them to be a bit finicky and need a little more pressure than just my bare skin on the screen. I was pleasantly surprised at how well they worked. I use these mainly with my HTC Evo 4G phone. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not the same as using your bare hands on your touch screen. They do have a little more bulk, and need a bit more pressure than your fingers, but it’s not bad at all. I can manipulate the phone just as well as I do with my fingers. That includes zooming in and out on the browser and even typing which I thought would tough to do with the additional bulk added to my fingers (those little letter buttons are kind of small!). On top of them actually performing pretty well, they are also warm. The fleece lining does its job. I have worn these for a couple of negative-temperature days and they’ve kept my hands as warm as my previous thick winter gloves. The gloves also have a nice rubbery mesh on the palms which help to keep my phone from sliding off my hand when I’m using it. All in all, I’m very happy with the purchase, and would recommend them to anyone who needs to manipulate a touch screen device while standing outside on a cold winter’s day.

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This is a video of the gloves being used with my HTC Evo 4G phone.

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Hot Wheels Video Racer

2011 at 9:32 am | posted by Scott

Playing with Hot Wheels just got a lot more fun (not that it wasn’t fun to begin with). The Hot Wheels Video Racer appeared at this year’s CES event. It’s a regular-sized Hot Wheels car, but it has a small point-of-view camera built into it, as well as a little monitor on the underside of the vehicle. So you can feel like you’re driving the car through the ups and downs and loopty-loops of your Hot Wheels track. The car is supposed to hold 12 minutes of video, and it comes with a USB cable to hook it to your computer. It is also packaged with editing software so you can refine your racing videos. It is supposed to be out in Fall of 2011 and will sell for about $60. This almost makes me want to dig out my old Hot Wheels tracks again and “go play cars.”

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