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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Online Tools review: Zamzar

If you've been working with computers for any amount of time, you have most likely run into the situation when you needed to convert a file from one format to another, but just did not have the utility or conversion application that would do the task. In comes Zamzar to the rescue. This online conversion utility has numerous options available to users, in several types of file categories, including: Document formats, Image formats, Music formats, Video formats, Compressed formats and CAD formats. There is something for everyone in here.

It's a handy resource to keep bookmarked, as you never know when you might need to perform a file conversion, but are away from your own computer, or simply don't have the tool to do the job. Go take a look at the full list of conversion types here, I'm sure you will be quite impressed.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Update on Blurb

I just wanted to update you on some personal experience with the Blurb book publishing service. After careful consideration, my wife decided to create a book of black and white architecture images she has taken in the Ottawa and National Capital region. She easily downloaded and installed the Blurb book creation software, BookSmart. After a few evenings of tinkering with the various settings offered in the application, she published her book, and ordered a copy for herself.

Five business days after her order, a very well packaged book arrived from Blurb. Having the physical specimen in hand allowed me to determine that the overall quality was excellent. Although my wife had selected a lower quality paper to reduce the final product cost, the quality of the paper that was used was excellent. The print reproductions were excellent, but my wife also determined that the picture quality might be better if she had used better source material during the creation process. This was to be an experiment in the process of creating and ordering a book from Blurb, and not a final product.

From what I have been able to observe about the process, I can safely say that I highly recommend the use of Blurb for the creation of any book idea you might have. You will get a fantastic product that you will be proud of!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

New iPod Nano

Well, Apple has released a new generation of the iPod Nano, and once again, they've added features that make the device even more useful than it used to be. Taking a cue from the newly released third generation iPod Shuffle as well as the iPod Touch (and iPhone, of course), the new iPod Nano has incorporated many new features that set it above the average player. First is the Voice Over feature, which tells you the song name and who’s performing it without interrupting the music; it's available in over twenty languages, including: Chinese (Cantonese), Chinese (Mandarin), Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Swedish and Turkish.

Second, the new Nano features a video camera with 640 by 480 pixels in H.264, up to 30 frames per second with AAC audio to boot! There are even some live effects which can be used with the video, including Sepia, Black and White, X-Ray, Film Grain, Thermal, Security Cam, Cyborg, Bulge, Kaleido, Motion Blur, Mirror, Light Tunnel, Dent, Stretch, and Twirl.

But that's just the first part; one of the interesting sub-functionality of this setup is the addition of the microphone. Apple has thoughtfully added a voice recording functionality into the menu.

Apart from this new multimedia functionality, Apple has also added another often requested feature: an FM tuner, with a few additions thrown in of course. The feed feature identifies stations and songs (if the information is broadcast) which is always a nice way to find out about new music, and the Live Pause feature, which allows you to pause live radio broadcasts, and rewind up to 15 minutes! It's like a PVR, but for radio! A nice feature in my opinion. In the past, there have been accessories that provided the same function, but it's nice to have it built-in.

One of the nice things about the iPod series is the support for several high quality audio formats, including Apple's own AAC (8 to 320 Kbps), Protected AAC (from iTunes Store), HE-AAC, MP3 (8 to 320 Kbps), MP3 VBR, Audible (formats 2, 3, 4, Audible Enhanced Audio, AAX, and AAX+), Apple Lossless, AIFF, and WAV.

The Nano now sports a polished anodized finish in 9 different colours, including silver, black, red (from Apple only), yellow (from Apple only), blue, purple, pink, green, and orange:

If you are in the market for a new MP3 player, head to your nearest Apple store, or any electronic retailer, and take a look at the new Nano. It might just be the one for you.

Friday, September 11, 2009

A short break....

This is simply to let you know that I will be taking a short break from posting new articles on this blog. Current professional and personal obligations have left me little time for researching material and writing. As soon as these obligations are met, I will return with regular posts.

Thank you for your support and continued following.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Pick of the week: Scribd

If you've never heard of Scribd, prepare yourself for a little bit of information overload. Scribd is currently the largest social publishing company in the world. More than 60 million people visit each month and can discover and share original writings and documents with each other. In existence since 2007, Scribd has quickly garnered attention for their great interface, excellent search and upload tools, and of course, the quality and sheer quantity of the content hosted.

It's also worth mentioning that I've found Scribd invaluable for finding several out of date, out of print books, perfectly scanned and available for free. In my opinion, if a tool or site can help you find something that no one else has been able to, there must be some value to it! Head on over and take a look, I'm sure that like me, you will be completely amazed and will quickly bookmark this fantastic site.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Pick of the week: FFFFOUND!

Last week, I select a great site for finding interesting stuff online. Well, this time, I have selected a site that allows you to do the same with images online: FFFFOUND!. Take a quick look, and I'm certain that you'll end up staying for hours, looking at all of the images they've collected since they've been online.

Well worth a look and a bookmark!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Pick of the week: StumbleUpon

I like StumbleUpon; I've been going to this site quasi-religiously for several months now, and I continue to be amazed at the very cool things I find through this it. The makers and operators of the site describe it as the place to go to "find the very best of the Web", and I have to agree with them. The content is for everyone, as there is a little bit of everything, from the hilarious to the very serious, and everything in between! I am always so impressed by the things people come up with!

I highly suggest that you bookmark StumbleUpon, and soon, you'll be stumbling upon a whole lot of interesting stuff online.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Our new kitchen gadget

My wife and I decided to purchase a kitchen appliance that I have heard a lot about, but never got a chance to try: a bread maker. And I've known several people who have had one, used it for a while, then put it in storage somewhere in the basement. Well, after doing a little research on the topic, I found one machine which met the majority of our requirements, the Cuisinart CBK-200:

The fairly large box holds several items, including:

- The CBK 200 bread maker
- The loaf pan
- The kneading paddle
- A measuring cup for liquids
- A measuring spoon for solids
- An instruction/recipe book

In essence, the bread maker is a fairly simple machine; an enclosed oven with a mixing system within the baking pan. With some simple programming, a timer and a thermostat, the bread maker can mix the dry and wet ingredients, knead them into dough, let the dough rise in a temperature-controlled environment (for as little or a long as required by a specific recipe) and finally bake the dough into delicious bread. One of the nice features is the inclusion of a convection cooking system, which allows for more even baking temperatures, and nicer shaped breads.

The CBK-200 is similar to many other bread makers. It uses a horizontal pan with the mixing paddle in the bottom to make loaves up to 2 lbs in size. Where it differs is with the exterior cladding of the machine, which in the case of the Cuisinart, is stainless steel, as opposed to the more common plastic of competing machines. Several setting buttons allow the user to vary the size of the loaf, the overall browning of the crust, and most importantly, allow various preparation methods, from basic white bread, to whole wheat and more.

We used it this evening to bake a basic white bread, using ingredients to make a 2 lbs loaf. The whole process, from start to finish was done in 3 hours and 15 minutes. Since we took the dough out at the indicated time to remove the mixing paddle, our first bread's shape left a little to be desired. But the taste was fantastic! The crust was golden and crispy, and we wound up eating half of our first bread pretty quickly!

We will continue to experiment with our new purchase, and will comment on our successes and failures at baking bread at home.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

A new option from Canon

This year, Canon released a new camera that has not received the attention it should have. I'm talking about the new PowerShot D10:

They say that an image is worth a thousand words, and I believe that the above image has a lot to say about Canon's entry into a field that was dominated at the amateur end by Olympus and at the professional end by Nikon. Of course, the D10 is a point and shoot camera and nothing more, but it is designed to be rugged and waterproof, while maintaining Canon's basic PowerShot features.

The D10 is designed with the following parameters:

Waterproof to 10 meters (33 feet)
Shock resistant 1.22 meters (4 feet)
Minimum operating temperature -10 Celsius

This should make it an ideal solution for active people. Personally, I think it's a nice solution for everyday picture taking. Don't get me wrong, it's no replacement for my Canon SLR, but it's got decent functionality, and some pretty good specifications for the price:

Canon PowerShot D10 specifications:

• 1/2.3" Type CCD
• 12.1 million effective pixels

Image sizes
• 4000 x 3000
• 4000 x 2248
• 3264 x 2448
• 2592 x 1944
• 1600 x 1200
• 640 x 480
• 320 x 140

Movie clips
• 640 x 480 @ 30fps [L]
• 320 x 240 @ 30fps [M]

Maximum clip length
• Upto 4GB or 1 hour [L or M]

File formats
• JPEG (Exif v2.2)
• DPOF 1.1
• MOV [H.264 + Linear PCM (Monaural)
• WAVE (Sound Files)

• 35 - 105mm (35mm equiv)
• 3x optical zoom
• F2.8-4.9

Image stabilization
Yes (Lens-Shift)

Digital zoom
up to 4x


AF area modes

• Face Detection AiAF / 9 point
• 1-point AF (center or Face Select and Track)

AF lock
Yes (On/Off Selectable)

AF assist lamp Yes

Focus distance
Closest focus distance 3 cm

• Evaluative (linked to Face Detection AF frame)
• Center-weighted average
• Spot (center or linked to Face Detection)

ISO sensitivity
• Auto
• ISO 80
• ISO 100
• ISO 200
• ISO 400
• ISO 800
• ISO 1600

AE lock
Yes (on/off selectable)

Exposure compensation
+/- 2EV in 1/3 stop increments

Shutter speed
15-1/1500 sec

• Auto
• Scene
• Movie

Scene modes
• Program
• Portrait
• Night Snapshot
• Kids & Pets
• Indoor
• Sunset
• Fireworks
• Long Shutter
• Beach
• Underwater
• Aquarium
• Foliage
• Snow
• ISO 3200
• Digital Macro
• Color Accent
• Color Swap
• Stitch Assist

White balance
• Auto (including Face Detection WB)
• Daylight
• Cloudy
• Tungsten
• Fluorescent
• Fluorescent H
• Custom

Self timer
• 2 or 10sec
• Custom or Face Self Timer

Continuous shooting
• Approx 1.1fps

Image parameters
My Colors (My Colors Off, Vivid, Neutral, Sepia, Black & White, Positive Film, Lighter Skin Tone, Darker Skin Tone, Vivid Blue, Vivid Green, Vivid Red, Custom Color)

Auto, Manual Flash On / Off, Red-Eye Reduction, Slow Sync
• Face Detection FE compensation
• Flash exposure lock
• Range (30cm - 3.2m (W) / 2m (T)
• External HF-DC1 flash (optional)

LCD monitor
• 2.5" TFT
• 230,000 pixels
• 100% coverage
• Adjustable

• USB Hi-Speed
• AV out (PAL / NTSC switchable)

• SD, SDHC, MMC, MMCplus, HC MMCplus

Rechargeable Li-ion Battery NB-6L

Weight (no batt)
190 g

104 x 67 x 49 mm

Friday, August 14, 2009

Pick of the week: Design Ideas Depot

A rather special Pick of the week this week. As I mentioned last week, my wife has been working on her first blog and being a very talented amateur graphic designer, photographer and artist, she has a wide choice of things to write about and share with others. Her blog, aptly named Design Ideas Depot revolves around these topics. English is not her first language, so she took her time writing her first post, and I for one, was quite impressed with it. I find that the elegance and grace of her personality show through in her writing style.

Now, I know that you may think that I am a little biased, and I do admit to being my wife's greatest fan! But in defense of that, I am an intensely critical person, and I struggle to find anything wrong with her work. It's just not that easy; most people who view her photography are astounded by its beauty and quality.

I am keeping an eye on what she'll write about next, and I believe you'll feel the same way after reading her too.

Book review: Pocket Ref

For fans of Mythbusters, the little black book aptly called Pocket Ref is perhaps the most used tool on the show.

Pocket Ref is a book published by Sequoia Publishing, and is now in its third edition, which is a testament to its continued usefulness. It contains reference information of all types, as well as tables, charts and guides on such varied subjects as automotive repair, carpentry, construction, chemistry, physics, computers, physical, chemical, and mathematical constants, electronics, money and measurement conversions, first aid, glues, solvents, paints, and finishes, hardware, mining, milling, and aggregate, plumbing, zip codes, rope, cable, and knots, steel and metals, surveying and mapping, geology and mineralogy and much more.

Some of the information I've found in it so far has been simply mind-blowing! As the publisher indicates, they have made every attempt to avoid any errors, and I can appreciate how difficult it would be to complete this task with any degree of success. The book has been in print since 1989, and as mentioned above, is currently in its third edition (and according to my copy, the 24th printing!). The latest edition was released in 2002, and I would imagine that any errors that were discovered have been reported and corrected since then in subsequent printing runs. I have found a few omissions (specifically area codes for the Montreal and Toronto area, but the base ones listed are correct), and a decidedly USA-centric base of knowledge, as exposed by details such as the fact that most measurements are imperial unless specified, or that listed military ranks are in fact US Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. But in no way does this reduce the value of this book.

As the name implies, Pocket Ref is a pocket-sized book and can truly be carried with you all the time, and its priced low enough to make it an excellent gift for any person on your list. It is also possible to order copies with custom covers, making this an excellent business gift for prospective customers. Trust me, they will remember you forever if you give them one of these with your business contact information printed on the cover. This book is easily one of the three books I would choose to take with me to a deserted island, and might even make my number one pick, if I was thinking rationally!! Get your own copy now, you will definitely not regret it.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Pick of the week: Rotten Dead Pool

The first time I came across the expression Dead Pool was with the Clint Eastwood movie The Dead Pool. In the movie, a lunatic has created a dead pool, a list of people he expects to die. Of course, in this case, the lunatic is conveniently killing the people on his list. But a true dead pool is very much like any other kind of pool, like hockey and football pools. Except that you pick people you think will die, rather than attempt to guess a score or a season winner.

The Rotten Dead Pool website is a fantastic resource and allows you to pick ten people you believe will die during the year. The game resets every year, and registered users have their scores kept and displayed throughout the year. The site also provides a pretty extensive database of past and present celebrities, along with any relevant information. Some basic rules about the game are also provided, and please keep in mind that any interference on the part of the player that might concern one of their picks renders the pick invalid. No, you can't kill the people on your list! Where's the fun in that?

My best score so far has been 5 out of my list of 10. I know, it's morbid, but it invokes some pretty deep thinking if you make your picks seriously. Go take a look right now and make some picks, see how you score this year!

Friday, August 7, 2009

A bike for my wife

When my wife and I moved in together, she already had a bicycle. I use the term loosely, as there are so many issues with her bike that I cannot seem to adjust or correct, and the bike is just not worth getting parts for anyway. I have done my fair share of bicycle repairs, from the mundane (like fixing flats and changing pedals) to the more exotic (like installing a suspension fork in a non-suspension bike). But that did not keep me from doing what I could to make the bike a little better.

I began by removing the rear rack, which I noticed she was never using anyway. That removed almost 0.5 kg from the rolling weight of the bike, and removed some rattles as well. I noticed that the rear wheel was a little off, and rather than correct it, I swapped out the rear wheel for an older wheel I already had, with a much better Shimano 105 hub and freewheel, a much better Ukai rim and a lighter spoke pattern overall. I made several attempts to get her Grip Shift shifters working correctly, but was never able to get it to reach the full range of gears. I know what the problem is, the cables are finished, but the bike is hardly worth the price of new shifter cables. Same thing with the brakes. After resetting the brakes and attempting to get them working correctly, they just ended up as mushy as before. I lubed up everything, wiped the bike down, pumped up the tires to an acceptable pressure and that was it.

That is pretty much the extent of what I have been able to do, and I have reached a conclusion: my wife needs a new bike. Now, what I need to do is to properly assess what she needs. It's a little more difficult than I anticipated, as her needs are very different from mine, and her tastes are also very different. When she rode my bike, her first comment was that she found it much too "nervous". I think I understand what she means, but I could be wrong.

I think she would do well with a bike that meets the following criteria:

- Light, rigid frame without suspension, either at the front or rear.

To me, this means an aluminium frame, as it provides the required rigidity, as well as the convenience of a metal unaffected by oxidization.

- Simple, direct gear change system, like Shimano Nexxus internal gear hub

An internal gear hub provides required gearing without the use of derailleurs. This provides a cleaner setup, less maintenance and improved resistance to the elements.

- Good quality brakes, with quality levers

Although disc brakes seem to be the rage, I also believe that their inherent power and modulation capabilities make them a better choice over standard rim brakes. By choosing a cable actuated model over a hydraulic system, the maintenance requirements are reduced.

- A moderate gear ratio

The Shimano Nexxus hub provides 7, 8 or 9 speeds, depending on the specific model selected. The gear ratios have been extensively studied by Shimano, so as to provide the greatest functional range for the user.

- Flatproof, leakproof tires (well, flat-resistant and leak resistant!)

Although an impossible request, the use of kevlar-belted tires has increased for urban bicycles, and have helped to reduce the number of flats. With the addition of leak-proof inner tubes, the combination is as close to flatproof as we can currently make it.

- A comfortable saddle, avoiding the racing profiles

This is a very personal choice, and I've encouraged my wife to try as many as she can. Only she can really tell me what is the most comfortable choice for her.

I've figured that with some options, like a suspension seat post, she could retain the comfort of suspension, without the hassles of maintenance, and unavoidable lack of quality of cheaper suspension forks. It all remains to be seen, but I will update here as soon as we've made more progress.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Amazon's Kindle has some competition from Sony

It was bound to happen. After the popular online book retailer Amazon introduced their ebook reader, the Kindle, it was just a matter of time before another manufacturer attempted to jump on the bandwagon of ebook readers. Well, Sony announced two new readers today, the Reader Pocket Edition and the Reader Touch Edition. Sony plans to have the devices out at the end of the month and with a pricing structure that puts it at the same price or just below the Kindle.

The Pocket Edition has a five-inch display, will be available is three colours for the moment, including navy blue, rose and silver, and is sized to fit in a jacket pocket or a purse. It will store about 350 standard eBooks and will last about two weeks on a single charge, if we are to believe Sony's claims.

The Touch Edition is a little bit larger, with a six-inch display that you can control, as the name indicates with touch, using either your finger, a stylus or the virtual keyboard. The device will also includes a built-in Oxford American English Dictionary as well as Memory Card and SD card slots, for additional storage space. Sony has indicated that both models make use of an E Ink Vizplex electronic paper display, that according to Sony representatives, "mimics the look of ink on paper.

The software provided will be compatible with both PCs and Apple platforms and allow users to read documents in several formats, including PDF, Word, BBeB and other text files. Sony has also created an eBook Store online, and new releases and New York Times bestseller titles will be priced at $9.99. The readers will also have access to the 1 million free public domain books that Google has currently digitized. What remains to be seen is Sony's response to the public pressure against their draconian DRM application.

It will be interesting to see what Amazon's response is to Sony's step into this market. I can only anticipate price reductions on current Kindle models, and perhaps some hardware revisions in the near future? It remains to be seen.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Pick of the week: Meosphere

I browse through a lot of sites on any given week, and a few weeks ago, I ran into Meosphere. Essentially, Meosphere is over 2500 check lists and maps for marking where you've been and what you've done, and to help you plan where you want to go and what you'd like to do.

Some of the lists include selections such as Strangest Foods You've Eaten to Subway Systems You've Ridden On and all sorts of things in between. With the possibility of adding new items to many lists, and the chance to discuss with anyone willing to share their lists, Meosphere is sure to be an interesting browse.

Go ahead and take a look, you might find a few things you'd like to try.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Online Tools review: XE Universal Currency Converter

If you've ever found yourself having to convert currencies, you are probably aware that there are numerous tools available to help you in the process. But one of these, an online tool called XE Universal Currency Converter is billed as the most popular currency exchange site in the world. With a number of tools for currency transactions of all types, as well as charts and more, XE is truly an amazing resource for anyone that requires currency conversion tools and help.

(Foreign currency & coins image©bradipo)

I've recommended this tool to many of my friends when they were travelling internationally, and they have all praised its ease of use and access. Take a look for yourself, and I believe you will quickly want to add this bookmark to your travel links.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Pick of the week: VersionTracker

Like almost every computer user today, I sometimes struggle to get all the updates to the software titles that I use on my computers, let alone find out about new software. There are many software repositories available online, but sadly, they are mostly for the Windows platform, and that is not too helpful for me, being an Apple user (my wife and I are both Apple users). But there is one that I have found to be helpful, well organized and current and that site is VersionTracker.

VersionTracker provides a list-type interface, as well as separate tabs for Windows, OS X, iPhone and the Palm OS.

If you use any of these software platform and didn't know about Version Tracker, head over right now. You'll be glad you did.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Online Tools review: Block Posters

Have you ever wanted to create a wall-sized print of an image? It's not such a complicated feat using software like Photoshop, but it is not necessarily an easy task either. As I was searching for a solution to this problem, I stumbled upon Block Posters, a free online tool that promises to "create any size wall poster from any size image". A rather bold boast, but from my experience so far, I have been very impressed. An easy to use interface, enough options to create your poster the way you want, in all, a really great tool.

Go take a look for yourself, upload an image and print out a large poster; I'm sure you'll appreciate the ease of use immediately.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

RAIS Woodstoves

When I was younger and living at home, we lived in a beautiful house in Markham, Ontario. Since my father had decided to remodel the house, one of the elements he wanted was a wood stove. A fireplace would simply not do, as my father was raised in the country, where fire was all important for heating during the winter. It was during that time that he learned that a fireplace was mostly a decorative home element rather than a true source of heat. With a wood stove, the closed combustion chamber and the heavy mass of metal that make up the stove structure increase the efficiency of any wood burned within by capturing and releasing heat over time.

When most people think of a wood stove, the image of a small, black, horizontal, front-loading stove comes to mind. But these types of stoves are what I refer to as the basement stove; it works well enough, but it sure isn't pretty to look at, so might as well hide it in the basement! Well that is not the type of stove my father wanted. He told me about a stove he had seen in an old home, a vertical design, covered in enamel, with front and top loading. I had never seen anything of the sort, but lo and behold, my father returned home one evening with a receipt for delivery for the stove he wanted, the Petit Godin cast iron wood stove:

Although Godin stoves are no longer made, it is possible to find them through specialized dealers and other sources, including antique stores! Although I always found that little stove very nice, it just didn't appeal to me aesthetically. I prefer cleaner design, with less clutter and decoration, but higher manufacturing quality and more efficient functionality. My research led me to discover RAIS, a Danish company that designs and manufactures wood stoves in several different models based on the original RAIS wood stove, designed by the architect Bent Falk in 1970. He took on the challenge of designing an environmentally-friendly series of “green” homes that made use of effective fireplaces. For his designs, he was awarded the Danish Design Award that year for his stove, the RAIS 1.

Some of the models offered include several freestanding soapstone wood stoves. Yes, the same type of stone used in Inuit carving! Soapstone has many advantages to offer from a heating perspective. It is quite dense and retains heat long after the fire has died down. It radiates that heat in a gradual and diffuse manner, avoiding unnecessary hot areas in the room. It allows for the construction of smaller wood stoves that maintain very high thermal efficiency.

If you are looking for a new fireplace, whether a freestanding model or an insert, with or without soapstone, head over to RAIS and take a look at what they offer.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Pick of the week: Strobist

I've been an amateur photographer for almost 20 years now, and the one thing that I've discovered is that as a photographer, one is always learning. Whether learning new techniques, or revisiting something that hasn't been done in a while, there is something new each and every day. And with the digital revolution that has taken place, there is an entire new chapter to the art of taking pictures.

During my quest to learn more about flash photography, I came upon what I consider to be the most advanced amateur flash photography web site, Strobist. The site describes itself as being about one thing and one thing only: "learning how to use off-camera flash with your DSLR to take your photos to the next level. Or the next ten levels". Quite a bold statement, but with over 1000 articles on using lighting to improve your photography is no small achievement.

If you are into photography, do yourself a favour and head over to Strobist and learn something new today!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

A new way to look at mobile homes

My wife and I are hoping to move into a home one day, but we both feel that the quality of most homes today leaves a lot to be desired. Spurred by a belief in self-sustainability, environmental friendliness and value, we are looking at home builders that provide these types of features in their design.

One company that caught our eye is the Canadian design firm, Sustain, that provides numerous designs based around a mobile platform. As such, many of their homes are classified as mobile, and may bypass several issues involved in typical residential construction, such as foundations and more. We have known about this company for a while now, and I've even posted some information about the MiniHome Solo, but we wanted to make sure that they would stay in the business and actually build some of the great concepts they came up with. It is nice to see that they have continued the premise of building on a mobile platform. One great advantage of such a design includes the possibility of moving the entire home to another location, which can be an attractive option.

The model above, called the MiniHome Solo, is a bit on the small side, but is fantastically appointed and one of the greenest and most eco-friendly homes available for production today. Take a look here for a gallery of images. And Sustain is expanding and improving, in more ways than one:

Many of the newer designs are based on the experiences learned with previous models and most of the designs share some common ideas, such as external materials that do not require any maintenance or painting, low power consumption and more.

Head on over to their website and take a look a what they've got to offer. So far, we have been pretty impressed and will inquire to get more information.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Kidrobot Futurama Series 1

I am a huge fan of Matt Groening's Futurama, and since my wife and I have been collecting vinyl toys for a while now, you can imagine how happy I was to find out that Kidrobot and Groening were teaming up once again to create a series of Futurama vinyl toys.

The series will be a blind box assortment, and will comprise a total of 12 figures, with 2 chase figures to boot. Each figure will be retailing for $8.95 USD and will release on August 13th, 2009.

From one of the pictures I've been able to find, it's been determined that the series will include the following figures:

- The Devil robot
- Nibbler
- Leela
- Morgo
- Zapp Brannigan
- Mom
- Fry
- Bender
- Lrrr
- Dr.Zoidberg

and what looks to be Hermes and Hypnotoad (all hail Hypnotoad) as the chase figures. I can't wait to see them for myself!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Building your own arcade cabinet

I've always thought of myself as young at heart, but I am starting to notice that I am physically a little older than that! The other day, I was reminiscing (yes, that was one of the first things that clued me in to the fact that I was getting older) about an entertainment venue that has literally disappeared: the arcade and arcade cabinets. I spent a large part of my youth dropping quarters into these gaming machines and there are days when I really miss it.

Of course, in a fit of sentimentality, I installed the MAME emulator and thousands of ROMS on my iMac, easily replaying the great games of my youth. But something was missing; part of the fun of the arcade was getting to play on a stand up console, with controls that were meant to be used forcefully. And that got me thinking. Wouldn't it be possible to build a stand up cabinet that would essentially be a large PC case running MAME (and/or other existing emulators), with hard drive storage to hold thousands of ROMS and more. That idea really got me going, so I began to do a little research into the hardware that would be required to make this gaming cabinet a reality and any other related information.

The cabinet

The cabinet itself can be built using MDF or another similar material, and is not beyond the skills of most people. Several plans are available online, but it is quite easy to design your own cabinet. A friend suggested using cardboard from furniture and appliance boxes to build a life-size mockup, as it would allow the designer to refine the cabinet design before actual construction can begin.

The monitor

It is possible to purchase monitors in the required sizes, for these exact purposes from manufacturers like Vision Pro. Nowadays, it is also possible to get an LCD panel of the correct dimensions, for a more energy-saving cabinet. For some cost savings, it is possible to substitute a regular tube television, which are now available for a fraction of what they were worth only a few years ago. If you do choose this route, make sure that you select a flat tube television, as it will make your cabinet look that much better.


For the CPU, the sky is really the limit; any system that will run MAME or any other emulator, with support for USB, audio and video will do the trick. An astute builder might also consider that the CPU and motherboard will determine the overall limitations of the cabinet, and could also help to provide additional functionalities (the gaming cabinet could also be a modern jukebox!).

The controls

This is the portion that I thought might be difficult to find, but was I ever wrong. Several companies build hardware for arcade consoles, including the best I found, X Arcade as well as other manufacturers, such as Arcade Controls and Suzo-Happ.

This is commercial quality hardware and should help to build a durable, high quality cabinet.

Other hardware

It is even possible to get a coin-operation panel for your custom-built arcade cabinet. Yes, you can make your machine coin-operated as well (in my opinion, it would be an excellent way to keep your kids off of your cabinet!!!)

Why not try your hand at a project like this? A quick Google and Wikipedia search revealed dozens of related sites, images and tutorials, so go ahead, build a little flash from the past and have fun. Take a look at some of the following links for more information:

BYOACWiki - A fantastic resource for the DIY Arcade cabinet builder.

Webb's MAME Arcade Cabinet - A DIY guide to a great MAME cabinet.

MAME Arcade Cabinet - Another DIY site, with lots of information.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Using the Garmin Nuvi 250

I've had the the Garmin Nuvi 250 for about a month now, and have used it several times in order to get a feel for how the device operates and how accurate it is for everyday navigation. So far, I have been very impressed with the ease of use of the device, and its navigation accuracy. Now don't get me wrong, the device has its bugs. For instance, I have not been able to get the device to map out a route to my father's residence. No matter how I select my dad's address, the Nuvi just hangs at 80% completion, and will not begin navigating. It's odd, and I've been able to get it to map a route to an address on a neighbouring street, and that seems just fine.

I've also used the device on foot for geocaching on several occasions, and have found that it was just as accurate, and more useful than my Garmin eTrex. I have been able to connect it to my wife's iMac without problem (it is recognized as an external drive) and it has been very simple to add waypoints using the computer instead of entering them manually into the device. The most pleasant surprise was to find that the Nuvi recharges when it is connected to a computer through USB. A truly useful feature. I have also been very impressed with some of the useful software utilities provided by Garmin. These tools can make route planning a little simpler, and uploading these routes to the device a piece of cake.

I will post more information on my experiences as I continue to use this fantastic gadget.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A couple months with my netbook

I've been using the Asus EeePC 900HA for a couple months now, and I am still quite satisfied with my purchase. As with any other electronic device, there are changes that I would appreciate in a future replacement, but they don't make the netbook any less usable. I have used it on pretty much daily basis for almost 2 months now, and it has stood up to that use, and more. Most of my use currently is being done outdoors, so although cooling has not been a problem, exposure to dust and other particulates has.

Like most plastic devices, the EeePC is a dust magnet, and I have not been able to keep it clean for the life of me. Another factor that has been bothering me is my inability to turn the touchpad off. Since I am using a wireless mouse with the netbook, the touchpad has only served to cause typos when my thumb inadvertently touches it and moves the cursor in mid-sentence. The battery life has also been much less than anticipated or claimed by Asus. At most, I'm able to get 4.5 solid hours of use from the device, under low load conditions, mind you. Personally, I count on 3 hours of actual, everyday use, with some reserve power to save files and shutdown the system adequately.

Other things I've noticed include flickering of the backlight at the lowest setting; as I've mentioned, I often use my netbook outdoors, and frequently at night. The second lowest brightness setting is more than required in these circumstances, but that is when the flickering is the most obvious. A more annoying bug has been the reconnection to a wireless network after coming back from a suspend mode; about once out of three times, I need to reboot the computer to get the wireless to work again. This last issue might have more to do with the operating system (I've been using Eeebuntu with the Netbook Remix as my OS) than the actual hardware, but I have no real way of confirming or denying such a claim.

I will continue to post more information on my experiences, but so far, I am quite satisfied with my little machine.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Pick of the week: 43 Things

Ever write a list of life goals? It is a demonstrated fact that writing down goals can help one visualize the goals in question, and plan a positive way to achieve them. I know that I've done it more than once in my life, but the sad fact is that I've misplaced that list more times than I care to remember. I've thought about keeping such a list online, but then, I've tended to forget about it, and never really consult it. Well in comes 43 Things to provide a solution to this problem.

Essentially, 43 Things is an online tool that allows you to write down your goals (take a wild guess at how many?), get inspired by other peoples goals, and read and write about those goals and the things you've done in your life. Personally, I've found that reading about other peoples goals has helped me to focus more on my own. From the frivolous and funny to the serious and profound, there are a lot of things that people want to do during their life. The ability to browse those other goals, quickly select whether or not you've done it, and then share some information about it, is in my eyes what makes 43 Things a fantastic idea.

Head on over and take a look, add a few items to your own list and start getting them done. You'll be glad you did.

Friday, July 10, 2009

New Macbook Pro 13"

The Macbook Pro product line has just received some minor upgrades and a new model, the 13" Macbook Pro. And although initially, it did not look like a huge change, after further consideration, it seems like Apple has really hit on a great combination of functionality, design and price, making the Macbook Pro 13 available to almost everyone.

Here are the specs for the two new models of the 13" Pro:

Size and weight

Height: 0.95 inch (2.41 cm)
Width: 12.78 inches (32.5 cm)
Depth: 8.94 inches (22.7 cm)
Weight: 4.5 pounds (2.04 kg)

Connections and expansion

* MagSafe power port
* Gigabit Ethernet port
* One FireWire 800 port (up to 800 Mbps)
* One Mini DisplayPort
* Two USB 2.0 ports (up to 480 Mbps)
* One SD card slot
* Audio in/out (combined)
* Kensington lock slot


* Built-in AirPort Extreme Wi-Fi wireless networking (based on IEEE 802.11n draft specification); IEEE 802.11a/b/g compatible
* Bluetooth Built-in Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR (Enhanced Data Rate)
* Built-in 10/100/1000BASE-T Gigabit Ethernet (RJ-45 connector)


* Built-in stereo speakers
* Built-in omnidirectional microphone
* Combined optical digital output/headphone out (user-selectable analog audio line in)
* Supports Apple Stereo Headset with microphone


* 13.3-inch (diagonal) LED-backlit glossy widescreen display with support for millions of colors
* Supported resolutions: 1280 by 800 (native), 1152 by 720, 1024 by 640, and 800 by 500 pixels at 16:10 aspect ratio; 1024 by 768, 800 by 600, and 640 by 480 pixels at 4:3 aspect ratio; 1024 by 768, 800 by 600, and 640 by 480 pixels at 4:3 aspect ratio stretched; 720 by 480 pixels at 3:2 aspect ratio; 720 by 480 pixels at 3:2 aspect ratio stretched

Graphics and video support

* NVIDIA GeForce 9400M graphics processor with 256MB of DDR3 SDRAM shared with main memory3
* Dual display and video mirroring: Simultaneously supports full native resolution on the built-in display and up to 2560 by 1600 pixels on an external display, both at millions of colors
* iSightBuilt-in iSight camera
* Mini DisplayPort


* Built-in full-size backlit keyboard with 78 (U.S.) or 79 (ISO) keys, including 12 function keys and 4 arrow keys (inverted “T” arrangement)
* Multi-Touch trackpad for precise cursor control; supports two-finger scrolling, pinch, rotate, swipe, three-finger swipe, four-finger swipe, tap, double-tap, and drag capabilities

Processor and memory

Intel Core 2 Duo

* 2.26GHz or 2.53GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor with 3MB on-chip shared L2 cache running 1:1 with processor speed
* 1066MHz frontside bus
* 2GB (two 1GB SO-DIMMs) or 4GB (two 2GB SO-DIMMs) of 1066MHz DDR3 memory; two SO-DIMM slots support up to 8GB


* 160GB or 250GB 5400-rpm Serial ATA hard drive; optional 320GB or 500GB 5400-rpm hard drive, or 128GB or 256GB solid-state drive4
* 8x slot-loading SuperDrive (DVD±R DL/DVD±RW/CD-RW)
* Maximum write: 8x DVD-R, DVD+R; 4x DVD-R DL (double layer), DVD+R DL (double layer), DVD-RW, DVD+RW; 24x CD-R; 10x CD-RW
* Maximum read: 8x DVD-R, DVD+R, DVD-ROM; 6x DVD-ROM (double layer DVD-9), DVD-R DL (double layer), DVD+R DL (double layer), DVD-RW, DVD+RW; 24x CD

Battery and power

* Built-in 60-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery
* 60W MagSafe Power Adapter with cable management system
* MagSafe power port

And here are a few more images, including a comparison shot between the previous unibody Macbook and the new Macbook Pro:

Monday, July 6, 2009

Pick of the week: Bourque Newswatch

The tag line reads: Canada's Matt Drudge, after the American Matt Nathan Drudge, who runs the Drudge Report, a news aggregation website. As fantastic as is the site, it deals with mainly US related news and that is of little use to most Canadians.

In comes Bourque Newswatch. A fully Canadian news aggregation site, Bourque is a fantastic news site, updated several times a day. It also provides links to every news media in Canada, which is a great service in and of itself.

Keep Bourque Newswatch bookmarked, it will easily become a daily read and your first source for Canadian news content and a great news reference site.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

It's Canada Day

Today is Canada's 142nd Canada Day, which commemorates the day that Canada became a nation. The holiday is usually observed on July 1 (and a little known fact is that if the date falls on a Sunday, Canada Day is observed the following day).

On July 1, 1867, the British North America Act united the British colonies of Upper Canada, Lower Canada, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia into "one dominion under the name of Canada." These four colonies became Canada's first four provinces; Lower Canada was renamed Quebec, and Upper Canada was renamed Ontario.

This year, my wife, son and I are staying home. I think our boy is a little too young for the festivities and might be a little scared of the fireworks this evening. But I think next year will be a great time to introduce him to our national day.

So, to all Canadians, here and abroad, I wish you a happy Canada Day!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Pick of the week: Wayback Machine

I have been browsing the Web on a daily basis for almost 10 years now, and was browsing irregularly for the 5 years before that. Although I have a pretty extensive collection on links and try to keep it sorted, refreshed and updated, I still run into a problem on certain occasions; when a site is no longer hosted, and simply disappears! We lose real gems this way!

In comes the Wayback Machine to the rescue. Browse through over 150 billion web pages archived from 1996 to a very recently. And it's easy to use too. To start using the Wayback Machine, just type in the URL of a site or page where you would like to begin, and press Enter. Then select from the archived dates available. The resulting pages point to other archived pages at as close a date as possible. Unfortunately, keyword searching is not currently supported, but it may be in the future.

If you've "lost" a site you really liked, do yourself a favour and head over to the Wayback Machine. You might be surprised at what you find!!!

Monday, June 22, 2009

A visit to Playvalue Toys

Today, my wife, son and I decided to take a short trip to a fantastic toy store near our place called Playvalue Toys. This is the second time we visit this true toy store. Don't talk to me about places like Toys R US, as these are simply commercial entities that just happen to target children by selling toys. Playvalue is a true toy store, with an emphasis on educational and well manufactured toys. The store is located at 1501 Carling Avenue, in Ottawa, and occupies a space in a warehouse-type facility.

The store is divided into two main sections, the boxed toy section and the outdoor toy section. They have what I consider the largest selection of Playmobil toys I've ever seen, and I've had a chance to see some pretty exclusive toy stores in Europe! They also have a fantastic selection of Lego sets, and once again, it is pretty much the largest inventory I've seen with my own eyes. The only sets they seem to be missing are the very exclusive and limited-edition sets (which are pretty expensive to keep in stock, and don't necessarily appeal to children as much as adult-aged children!!!)

One of the fantastic lines that they carry is Plan Toys, and I am astounded at the quality of these toys every time I see them. They specialize in early childhood education and the types of toys the make are very indicative of their level of knowledge. Great stuff!!!

I highly recommend taking a look at the store's website, or better yet, go on ahead for a visit. There is ample parking, and the huge mural logo is hard to miss.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Pick of the week: Smashing Magazine

I have been browsing the Web for many years now, and a topic that used to be very, very popular, web design, has given way to templates and other assorted time-savers for Mr. and Mrs. Everyone. The problem is, there are still web designers around, and they still need insight, inspiration and just plain help.

In comes Smashing Magazine, a fantastic weblog dedicated to web developers and designers. Although some of the articles tend towards the technical aspects of web development, none of them can be faulted with being boring or useless. If you are in the field and have never taken a look at this site, then do yourself the favour. If you are just an amateur, many of the design-specific articles will be of tremendous use as well.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The beater bike

I've been riding bicycles for almost 30 years now, although I really haven't ridden much lately. But I do have a cycling project in mind though. I would like to build a beater bike. What's a beater bike you ask? My definition of a beater is a bike that is just not attractive to thieves, that is simple to operate and that is as trouble free as possible. In essence, a useful urban bike.

I already have a really nice bicycle, and although it is a joy to ride, it is a problem in several circumstances. When I want to go into town, I never feel that I can lock up my bike safely, as it has numerous desirable components. Like a race car, it is meant to be used, then stored. What I need is a bike that I don't really care about, with no removable parts, as are common on more expensive bikes. Parts like quick release hubs or seat posts, derailleurs and shifters, as well as some more obvious materials, like carbon fiber, that can be locked downtown without fear (or with less fear) of theft.

Here are some of my basic requirements:

- 700C wheels (road bike wheels)
- Puncture resistant tires and tubes (with shraeder valve, for availability)
- Single speed drive (simple and reliable)
- Chain drive (simple and reliable, easily available replacements)
- Front and rear v-brakes (simple and reliable, easily available replacements)
- Straight handlebars and low rise stem (for a more comfortable position compared to road bike stems and handlebars)
- Straight fork (no suspension)
- Matte paint job (most likely black, although grey might be even less appealing to thieves)
- Freewheel hub (I don't really like flip-flop hubs)
- Platform pedals (I don't really want the trouble of clipless pedals)

Some manufacturers have begun producing bikes that fit many of my requirements except one, price. I have been told that it is possible to go to a bicycle "recycling" centre, and build up a new bike from old parts for a reasonable amount.

The Trek Soho:

The Trek Soho is a great looking bike, but it is listed at almost CAN$1000, and that is just too much to be considered a beater.

The Trek District:

With the District, Trek is using a belt-drive system instead of the more traditional chain design. They feel that this provides a more rugged and quieter transmission system. I would very much like to ride it myself and determine that on my own. I have faith that such a system could work very well indeed. But once again, the bike is priced beyond the definition of a beater.

The Giant Bowery Mashup:

The Giant Bowery Mashup really looks like a track bike with straight handlebars. It has a nice paint job, and a nice mix of parts. But it is also too expensive for my needs.

I will keep exploring what is available on the market, as that is an obvious and simple solution. But I will also be keeping my eyes open for a discarded bike that might just meet my needs. More to follow.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Pick of the week: Blurb

I've been working on a book project for several years now, a cookbook by yours truly! I have been working on this project for almost ten years now, and although I have about two hundred and fifty pages written so far, I have very few corresponding images. Since I have an interest in photography and have the studio equipment to take the pictures I need, I know that it is just a question of time to get them done. Although I have to admit that the photography is the most time consuming aspect of this endeavour, the part that had me scratching my head the most was the actual publishing. I didn't relish going through a traditional publisher, who would most likely heavily edit my work, and have me rewrite the whole thing five times before going to print. And that got me thinking...

Self-publishing has become a big business now, and with the savvy demonstrated by many online entrepreneurs, and it has allowed many first time writers to publish bookstore quality hard copies of their work, in quantities that are within the realm of affordability. One such business is Blurb; their fantastic site allows you to order your own book, with numerous options and in quantities from one to as many as you'd like!

After registration, and a download of their book making software, BookSmart, both Mac and PC users can easily create their book from a selection of book formats, review and edit to their heart's content, and then upload the final product when ready to order hard copies.

The printing and shipping takes around seven to ten business days, and Blurb will also print books with custom branding or no branding, for those who prefer that option. All in all, a very smooth and easy process, with numerous positive reviews and a great finished product. Take a look for yourself.

Thanks to Blurb for the use of the book images.

Pick of the week: Wil Wheaton.Net in Exile

As I've mentionned before, and to those who already know me, I freely admit the following: I am a huge Star Trek fan! Well, interestingly enough, one of the most criticized and badly scripted characters in The Next Generation series, was young Ensign Wesley Crusher, played by actor Wil Wheaton:

And after watching every episode of TNG, I can safely say that the writers apparently really didn't like his character! For those who are not fans of the show, and even for those who are, Wheaton is really a fantastic guy, and a fellow geek to boot! He is an accomplished author, with several books to his name (including Just A Geek, pictured above, as well as The Happiest Days Of Our Lives, Sunken Treasure and Dancing Barefoot) and has maintained an active web presence for years now. He has also continued his active participation in conventions, both for science-fiction and RPG games.

His current blog, Wil in Exile is usually updated on a daily basis and is truly an entertaining and often thought provoking read. I am not a fan of his acting, but I am a great fan of his honest and witty views on the film and television industry, the importance of life's true priorities, and a good game of D&D!

Well worth taking a look!

Friday, June 12, 2009

My strange index card obsession...

I know what you might be thinking... This guy needs medical attention and he needs it soon. Well, stay with me for a second and you'll understand why I am so enamoured by these little jewels. First of all, I think I can safely assume that most people have seen an index card before (thanks to Lifehacker for the use of the image.):

The lowly index card has a million and one uses and qualities that make including but not limited to the following reasons:

- Convenient size for notes
- Easy to carry
- Easy to sort
- Easy to view
- Lightweight
- Two-sided
- Burn well
- Can be used to create all sorts of complex shapes
- Makes excellent bookmarks for all sizes of books
- Useful as a flash reflector
- Easily available
- Simple to store
- Non-magnetic
- Non-conductive
- Easy to hide
- Makes a convenient coaster
- Cheap
- Can be used as a DIY postcard
- The DIY Planner
- Endlessly customizable

As you can see, I've put a lot of thought into notecards, and make use of them every day. I always keep a small stash on hand and have taken to leaving small stacks of them in the oddest places, in case inspiration strikes.

For more options and accessories related to notecards, take a look at Levenger, a fantastic online store.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

GPS for cheap: the Garmin Nuvi 250

The Source, by Circuit City, is currently having a huge sale, and one of the clearance items is the Garmin Nuvi 250 GPS. Since I had been toying with the idea of a new GPS for a long time now, all that was needed was the impression that I wasn't getting ripped off. At the price it was going for (which was a little over 50% off the retail price), I couldn't miss the opportunity.

There are more sophisticated devices around, but I did not require many of the features supported by these more expensive models. What I was looking for was good GPS reception, ease of use and a decent base map. And that's what I got with the Nuvi and more.

The Nuvi 250 includes the following items in the box:

- Nuvi 250 unit
- Vehicle suction cup mount to mount the GPS to the windshield or other convenient spot
- 12v cigarette lighter power adapter for charging / powering the unit
- Dashboard disk for mounting the suction cup mount on your dashboard instead of the windshield (due to some legal prohibitions from mounting of anything in the windshield in some areas)
- Set up and go guide

Some of the more expensive Nuvi models also include a slipcase for the unit, but the 250 skips out on this useful accessory, in an effort to reduce costs as much as possible, I imagine.

I got the box opened, and was pleasantly surprised to find out that the battery was indicating at least 75% charge, which does not seem to happen often with rechargeable devices. The initial setup and satellite acquisition took a little over 1 minute, and I was ready to navigate, which I did. I took a short drive through the many side streets of my neighbourhood and was pleasantly surprised to find that the Nuvi kept up admirably, and with great accuracy. I parked for a few moments and decided to enter my home address, which was made easier by the Garmin database automatically assuming that my search would be in the immediate area. Once entered, it was simple enough to follow the prompts as they were called out. Did I mention the level of acccuracy was many orders higher than my previous Garmin GPS unit, the discontinued E Trex Legend.

The unit provides numerous other functions that are useful in travel situations, such as a calculator, unit converter, picture viewer and more. It also provides numerous search functionalities that allow the user to search from a database of over 6 million points of interest (POI), including hospitals, fire stations, police, restaurants, stores and more. As well, the entire North American highway system is integrated into the device, providing all entry and exit points, junctions and more. The ability to enter new POIs as well as the possibility of entering navigational coordinates make this device useful for geocaching as well. This is reflected in a usage setting within the device that allows the user to set the device for automobile, bicycle or pedestrian use.

Garmin claims 5 hours from the rechargeable internal battery, and I have yet to test this claim. My only issue stems from the lack of an AC charging cable along with the kit. I understand that this device is meant to be used in a vehicle primarily, but would it have killed them to make a combination adapter for home and vehicle use? Happily, I noted that the unit charges from a USB connection to any computer, and now, with the addition of a Garmin browser plug-in, it is also possible to send addresses from Google Maps right to the device. Truly a fantastic and useful option for any user.

Addendum: Upon further testing, I discovered that the Garmin browser plug-in also allows users to download cache information from, which is another added bonus. I also discovered what I believe is the reason for the low price on the device I purchased. Upon closer examination, what was intended to be an SD card slot turned out to be a MiniSD card slot. As it is stated in the included user guide, the slot may be one or the other! At least, Garmin makes maps available on MiniSD as well as SD cards!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A tale from Moleskine...

My wife and I are great fans of the Moleskine notebooks. And I know what you might be thinking. They are too expensive. The quality of construction has gone down somewhat. We are being manipulated by clever marketing. But we are fans nonetheless, as these notebooks seem to provide inspiration that few other paper products match. My personal belief is that this motivation is clearly based on the apparent sense of waste of not using such a luxury item, but I could be wrong.

One of the things that I had read online pertaining to Moleskine, was their policy regarding the replacement of any defective product. My wife unwrapped her new Moleskine watercolour sketchbook the other day, and lo and behold, a big air bubble on the cover, hidden by the label. It doesn't really change anything about the notebook itself, but we both believe that it is entirely normal to expect a manufacturer to have some pride in the quality of their product, and any apparent flaws don't really reflect that pride. And for the price, these books should be flawless!

You can imagine my wife's disappointment, especially considering the price of the notebook. At that point, I remembered the policy and suggested that she take some pictures of the damage and send them to Moleskine. And that is exactly what she did; two days later, she received a response from Moleskine, with apologies and possible explanations of the source of the problem, as well as a promise to send a new replacement a soon as possible.

Today, a parcel came in for my wife, mailed from Italy no less. And in it, a perfect, brand new watercolour sketchbook. So thank you Moleskine, for being true to your promise.

The pen is mightier than the sword...

Over the last several years, I have developed an interest in everything that has to do with writing, from pens and pencils to paper and notebooks. It is on the border of becoming an obsession, and when I was in the town the other day with my lovely wife and son, we stopped by a fantastic store in the Byward Market called The Papery. Since they are a pen and stationary store, I decided to treat both myself and my wife to a new pen.

I had my eye on a Lamy Safari fountain pen for a while now, but I just wasn't sure about the colour. Looking over the display in the store, I saw that there was a single, limited edition white Lamy Safari, and I decided right then and there.

The Safari comes with a piston adapter for those who prefer to use their own ink. It is also possible to use the Lamy refills, and although I find the ink quite nice, I still prefer to use a piston refill of my own ink.

I have had several fountain pens over the years, and even compared to some very expensive pens, the Safari is one of the smoothest writing instruments I have used in a long time. But as I mentioned, I couldn't leave the store without getting something for my wife, and she eventually settled on a fantastic Tombow rollerball.

Although I am not normally a fan of rollerballs, the Tombow refills offer some of the darkest black ink I've ever seen. Quite a nice pen.

With the ever increasing use of computers for correspondence, and their total lack of data integrity, I feel more and more compelled to put my thoughts down on paper rather than trust them to digital media. To each his own, I guess.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Pick of the week: oobject

Following up on the first instalment of Pick of the week, here is this week's pick. Those who know me also know that I am an somewhat obsessive person. In itself, that's not such a bad thing, but a side effect of this is my love of lists. In my search for various types of lists online, I came upon a list-lover's dream, Oobject. Calling itself a Daily User Ranked Gadget Lists website, the site provides lists of items and concepts for your enjoyment. I took great pleasure in such inane lists as 12 tiny Indian school buses, 12 inhabited bridges or 16 genuine cyborg technologies. There are hundreds of such lists, with fantastic images and links when possible. From the common to the extravagant, you are sure to find it here.

A great site, and highly recommended. Enjoy!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Something new from Lego: Architecture Series

The LEGO Group and Brickstructures Inc. have unveiled a great product labelled LEGO Architecture. The LEGO Group and Adam Reed Tucker of Brickstructures officially introduced the LEGO Architecture line in 2008, which now contains six different models and from the images I've seen so far, I am quite impressed. It is difficult to determine the exact scale of the models from the boxes, but most of them look simple enough that I imagine the scale to approach 1/500 to 1/700. It is also possible by comparing the different models to note that Lego has not selected a specific scale for the line, but rather has let the model itself decide the scale. It really is whatever looks good, and I think they look very good. Here is the image that can be found on the Lego website, in the Architecture Series section:

I look forward to getting my hands on one or more of these kits (specifically the Frank Lloyd Wright models). If you haven't played with Lego in a while, give it a try. It is a fantastic way to develop and improve your imagination!

Office in a box

During a browsing session the other day, I came across a concept that really inspired me: the office in a box. Essentially, a modernized version of what was previously known as the campaign desk, there are no hard and fast rules about the design of such an item. Some of the ideas I discovered once I began researching the topic ran the gamut from fantastic to downright bizarre.

Here is the image that started it all:

The design is fairly simple, and provides all the amenities required for an office, but in a storable and portable unit. Further research turned up this:

as well as this:

But then I ran into a most luxurious entry, that goes to show that I was not the only one who thought that this concept might be interesting:

Just looking at some of these examples and browsing through numerous other ideas gets the creative juices flowing. The last entry in particular, is especially nice considering the incorporation of solar panel technology, high quality materials and even an integrated coffee maker! One can't help but be somewhat impressed by Louis Vuitton's extravagance!

Interestingly enough, some of the older, original campaign desks were absolute masterpieces of wood craft and would still be very useful today. I plan to continue my research in the hope to be inspired to create my very own office in a box.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

I love Lego!

Many of us are familiar with the Lego construction blocks and I have yet to meet a person in North America that has not played at least once with these fantastic bricks. And although I am 36 years old, married and father to a wonderful little boy, I have yet to stop playing with Lego. And apparently, I'm not alone. In my quest for things Lego on the Web, I've discovered that I am not the only adult that enjoys building things with Lego.

Perhaps one of the most interesting sites I've found to date on the topic, MOC Pages is dedicated to showcasing Lego constructs of all types. As I browsed through the gallery of user uploads, I was absolutely astounded at some of the talented entries I found.

But I found other, equally interesting sites, albeit different, such as The Brick Testament, a fairly humorous view of the Old Testament, in Lego bricks!

Other more specialized sites, such as BrickArms, allow the creation of custom armies made up of Lego figurines! Go figure.

And finally, a useful database of all that is Lego, the Lugnet Guide is a user-created repository of over 4000 Lego products.

I am glad to see that Lego seems here to stay and that I will be able to introduce such a great toy to my son when he is finally old enough. For now, I'll just keep those bricks warm for him!

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Pick of the week: One Sentence

Here is another instalment of Pick of the week. This week, I ran across a site that got me laughing at 4h30 in the morning, after I had fed my son. One Sentence is a site dedicated to telling a story, in one sentence. Although one might be reminded of Twitter, there are no character limits on One Sentence, and posts carry tags that allow users to search through the thousands of submitted stories.

A search using the humour tag revealed such gems as:

As we walked down the "Feminine Products" aisle, my 3-year-old son grabbed a box of panty liners off the shelf and said, "Look, Mama, Mouse Diapers!"

Do yourself a favour and take a look at One Sentence. You'll be glad you did.