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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!