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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.