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Monday, October 3, 2011

Pick of the week: Tildee

Tildee is a brilliant concept! Make it easy for people to create tutorials they can share online; in essence, make it easier to teach the things you know to others and make it even easier to learn the things others know! With a simple and elegant interface, Tildee allows anyone to easily create tutorial and other step by step documentation; interestingly, you don't even need to be registered to use the tool! Every tutorial created generates a short and unique URL that is easy to share.

If Instructables is a little too much for you, check out Tildee and start showing what you know today!

Friday, September 30, 2011

Online Tool Review: CSSLoad.net

Creating loading animations is a little tedious. Most developers solve this issue by keeping a small library of basic animations, which they reuse at will. Now, it is possible to easily create CSS spinners and bars for AJAX and JQuery by using the great tools at CSSLoad.net. You can easily set up to two colours, width, height and animation speed from a selection of templates and quickly build a loading animation, then get the code.

Brilliant little tool, worth checking out! I think a lot of web-apps could learn from the great layout and easy functionality of CSSLoad.net.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Sugru

Lately, I discovered a fantastic new product called Sugru. Sugru is a silicone putty that cures in about 24 hours, allowing the user to create/hack/modify/improve just about anything they can think of or get their hands on!


Sugru cures at room temperature, is self-adhesive, has a very wide temperature range, waterproof, flexible and dishwasher proof! It comes in several colours as well, including black/white/green/orange/blue. Try it out for yourself, you'll be hooked!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Online Tools review: Poistr

One of the sci-fi concepts that's often appealed to me is the idea of "augmented reality", which in essence is simply a layer of information data overlaid on a real-time image. The most obvious application of this technology has currently been military, as can be seen in most modern fighter jet HUD, such as the image of an F16 HUD below.


There has been some progress in the civilian world, especially in the automotive industry, where some manufacturers have taken to providing HUD options in some of the higher end vehicles. But progress has been delayed as various lobbying groups put pressure on governments to study this technology further.

On another front though, the mobile communication industry is set to begin more widespread use of "Augmented Reality" through the use of more and more powerful smartphones and their ever-present cameras. And sites like Poistr are set to ride this wave, but making it easy for anyone to create "layers" of data information that can be assigned over a real-time view and shared with the world. Available for iPhone/iPod Touch and Android, the Augmented Reality Browser allows users to view these layers in real-time. Currently in beta, Poistr offers ease of use, a concept that I believe is key in the widespread use of this technology.

A brilliant concept in my opinion! Visit Poistr now and start creating your own augmented reality!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Goodfella Safety Razor

I've decided to switch to a more classic method of shaving, in the hope of finding once and for all, the perfect shaving method! You might think I'm a little daft to be thinking of something like this, but let me tell you that any activity to which I will dedicate almost 175 complete days to over my lifetime (yes, that's 10 minutes a day for 70 years, assuming I live to be 85!) should be done well! I purchased a Goodfella DE Safety razor in chrome.
The Goodfella is made by hand in New Zealand and is extremely well constructed of high quality material. The stainless steel handle is machined while the head is cast and finished. It is smaller than would appear in pictures, with a handle diameter of 10mm and a total handle length of 70mm. But it's weight of 57g (almost 2oz.) is heavier than expected and provides a well balanced shaving instrument. The head is an open comb design, which is usually not recommended for beginners, but this specific model provides a very gentle shave.



As with any DE razor, all you need to do is take a little more time shaving, but in exchange, you get a much better shave with far less irritation, at a much lower total cost. The last point is not lost on many men, I am sure! Some of these fancy 5 blade (and I am expecting a six blade design any time now!) cartridges cost a bloody fortune; incidentally, I learned the other day that razor blade cartridges are the most shoplifted item in North America!!

The razor arrived with a package of 5 Derby Extra blades, which is a nice touch! These blades have been extensively tested by the manufacturer as an excellent match for the shaving action of this razor.
I've got a selection of blades that I will be using with this razor and will report on my research in the near future. The Goodfella DE Safety razor is a well crafted piece of gear and provides a clean, satisfying shave! Well worth every penny!

On a separate note, I made my purchase through Fendrihan, who provided excellent service and quick delivery apart from the fact that they have an extremely extensive inventory of razors, brushes, soaps, accessories and more. Worth visiting!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Pick of the week: Moki.tv

This week's Pick of the week is an entertainment selection, which I don't do very often. But I was quite impressed by Moki.tv. In essence, Moki.tv is an aggregator of various free and paid entertainment providers, such as Netflix, Hulu, iTunes and more and allows you to track what's available on all of these sources from a single location.

Add to this a great, intelligent recommendation system that starts to provide choices with as little as 10 user provided ratings, and you have a great entertainment solution for today!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Online Tools review: FileDropper

The issue of transferring and sharing large files remains, even in this day and age of high speed internet and gigabit networks. Even in work settings, the use of USB keys has dramatically increased as created files have quickly become larger than the most generous email attachment rules allow.

In comes FileDropper to the rescue! Just create a free account and upload your file (up to 5GB) and simply share the link with whoever needs the file! As stated by the creators of FileDropper, the goal of the company is to "offer the most basic file hosting service so you can share your stuff quickly. Files uploaded to FileDropper are kept as long as they are downloaded at least once in a 30 day period. If the file is inactive for 30 days consecutively, it gets deleted (of course, it is possible to get a premium FileDropper account, with the benefit that files are kept permanently!)

Brilliant service, well worth checking out!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Deuter Futura 28 day pack

I was in the market for a new day pack for a while and being the picky shopper that I am, I wanted to make sure that I was getting the most value for my money. I looked around for quite a while before settling on the Deuter Futura 28.


There are numerous features that I found truly well designed and worth mentioning, including the best part, the ventilated back.

The entire bag is essentially suspended off the wearer's back and covered in ventilated mesh to let the air flow. I can vouch for the comfort level of this bag in hot weather. Other interesting features include the attached silicone nylon rain cover, the water bladder compatibility, the zipped internal divider and a host of smaller features. The bag is incredibly well made, with quality fabrics and sewing throughout.

Of course, it is not a heavy duty bag in any sense of the definition. This is a lightweight, day hiking bag with several technical features. If you need a bombproof bag, you'll have to look elsewhere and it will be heavier and warmer to wear, guaranteed. Otherwise, take a look at this line of bags by Deuter and hike in comfort!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Philips Nose & Ear trimmer

I know, I'm actually getting to that age where I can safely say that I need to trim nose hair on a regular basis! I figure it's one of those things that fathers casually forget to point out to their growing boys... "One day son, hair will be growing faster out of your nostrils and ears than on top of your head!"

After trying to figure out how I could do the job with a pair of scissors without the amateur lobotomy it promised, I looked around for a better solution. There is just something a little scary about the rotary cutters I'd seen in several shops. No way I'm sticking THAT up my nose! Then I found the Philips Nose & Ear trimmer.
This trimmer is powered by a single AA battery, is fully waterproof and designed for safety. The head is designed to only allow hairs to fit into the cutters.


Having used this great little trimmer for the last couple weeks, I can tell you from personal experience that it is painless, quick and very effective. Laugh all you want, gentlemen, but pick this one up when no one is looking and save yourself the home neurosurgery!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork trekking poles

I recently replaced my first set of trekking poles, a pair of MEC Mantis (discontinued) as the twist lock mechanism would no longer hold my weight, making them essentially useless to me. My next poles would have to feature a truly excellent locking mechanism. I returned to MEC and after comparing all of the poles they carried (almost 20 different models), I settled on the Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork poles, a set of aluminium poles.
These poles feature Black Diamond's FlickLock 2, an improved version of their cam-type locking device. I can tell you from experience that this locking device is simple to operate and incredibly effective. I have put my entire weight on a fully closed FlickLock with absolutely no give! That is how a collapsible trekking pole needs to operate.

Another nice feature of this specific model are the ergonomically shaped natural cork handles, which are both shock absorbing, cool to the touch and comfortable. As an added touch, a foam rubber grip is also provided below the cork handles, for times when the poles are used on very steep terrain and can't be grabbed as easily in the standard grip.

The poles are provided with Black Diamond's standard flex pole tip, which is tipped by a single carbide cup. A set of standard trekking baskets as well as a set of snow baskets complete the package.
While I was there, I also noticed a great little accessory by Black Diamond: a set of rubber caps for the carbide pole tips! These are specifically designed to fit snugly and provide decent grip and shock absorption, while protecting surfaces from scarring by carbide!
I am incredibly satisfied by the quality of construction and the simple, robust operation of these poles. If you are in the market for a set of trekking poles, take a look at the numerous offerings by Black Diamond.With an extensive line of options (aluminium vs. carbon fiber, cork grips vs. foam rubber, etc), I am convinced that you will find the right ones for your needs!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Pick of the week: Instapaper

This week's Pick of the week is a bit of a cheat, as it is a website, but an app for the iPhone/iPod Touch as well and these two work hand in hand to help you get more stuff read. I'm talking about Instapaper and if you haven't heard about it, head over right now and take a look.

It's a simple tool really; create your Instapaper account, put a bookmark in your browser and when you find a page that you would like to read, but find too yourself short on time, just select that bookmark and the page is automatically parsed, stripped of extra elements, formatted and saved to your Instapaper account, instantly available to read from the website or on your device.

I don't mind adding that the reading experience of this app is probably one of the best out there and several more "commercial" offerings might learn a thing or two here. Some of the features provided truly demonstrates the creator's interest in reading. From a tilt-scrolling mode (brilliant!) to a great night reading mode (a simple but elegant contrast reversal mode), this app is reader's delight!

Head over to Instapaper right now and read more today!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Software review: Logo Design Studio Pro 2

A few days ago, as I was telling my wife about a visit to our local Apple store, she mentionned an application she had seen there and was hoping to get my opinion. "It's a logo creation application" she said, to which I answered that most times, designers simply use applications like Illustrator or Photoshop to create these, instead of using some customized application. "But it creates vector graphics" she added and that got me curious. Vector graphics can be tremendously handy for any kind of printed work, as they can be resized without loss of resolution.

I picked up the application, installed it and got busy creating some logos. First of all, Logo Design Studio Pro 2 comes with several thousand shapes, images, templates and the like to help you get started. With the ability to layer these elements, as well as being able to create new ones, this application really does help the creative process, especially for those users that may not have as much creativity for these types of tasks. But that does not mean that an especially creative person can't also use it to save time!

A great application at a great price!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Aliph Jawbone Era bluetooth headset

For the first time since I've started using mobile phones regularly, I decided to get a BlueTooth headset. To be honest, I've always laughed a little on the inside when i saw someone using one of these gadgets. Yet, I've used telephone headsets at work for more than 15 years now. I did a little research and discovered that two companies really seem to be leading this industry: Aliph and BlueAnt. 
After learning more about the specific features of each device, and reading several reviews I settled on the Aliph Jawbone Era.
I think that i made the right choice; I have been blown away by several features of this great headset.
Aliph markets their headsets as the first "intelligent" devices in this category. What they imply by this is the capacity to incorporate apps within the headset, apps that provide added features to the user. And I found the approach brilliant; download and install the software, plug in the headset through USB and navigate to the MyTalk website. After creating an account and logging in, the headset is automatically recognized and apps, voices and advanced features can all be configured and uploaded to the headset!
Another first is the addition of an accelerometer which allows the user to use various gestures to control the headset. A simple double-tap and calls are answered and another double-tap hangs up (yes, very mich like a communicator is Star Trek!) 
The built-in voice prompts also help to make this a truly handsfree solution; incredibly,as I mentioned previously, it is also possible to update the voice to one of several choices, as well as voices in several other languages!
The headset is not the smallest made but at a little over 8g, it's barely noticeable. Aliph provides several fitting options as well as an ear loop for hard to fit users. Charging the headset is done through a micro-USB port on the earpiece end of the device.
Pairing the headset to a Bluetooth device couldn't be easier. Just give the headset a double shake-shake and it enters pairing mode. Alternatively, press the single button while turning the headset on to do the same. The Era supports up to 8 pairings and can also switch between two active devices.
Overall, I feel that the Era is entirely worth its price and provides outstanding quality and features and I'm sure you will feel the same way!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Online Tools review: Poplytics

Need a simple solution for quick web-based surveys to get some useful user interaction feedback? Look no further than Poplytics, a simple web-based tool that allows you to quickly create useful surveys.

A pay as you go plan allows users to upgrade their account to get the full benefits and downgrade when not required. A great option in today's ever changing business markets. With a free plan (with some limitations), it's possible to try the service out and make a proper decision today!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

MacBook incident, or how I can be a complete goof!

Karma has bitten me on the ass. In the past, I've often laughed when I heard stories involving unfortunate but avoidable notebook computer accidents! I mean, who spills coffee on a computer?
And the answer to that question would be, me! Sitting outside on the patio, I quite stupidly jostled the table, sloshing about a third of a cup of coffee over my MacBook. I managed to flip it quite quickly, getting rid of most of the mess immediately, powered down the machine and wiped it down, then used an air blower to concentrate the spill into a single corner of the casing.
Once that was picked up, I opened the case to see if any great amount of liquid had made it inside. A little bit had collected in the corner toward which I had directed the spill, so after wiping that down, I left the case open to air dry.
A couple days of drying and I decided to turn it on and cross my fingers. Everything turned on as it should and the only issue are a couple of somewhat sticky/stiff keys (the arrows and the space bar) so I'm pretty confident that no permanent harm was done! I've read a lot of posts online about the corrosive nature of coffee, but I think the greatest danger comes from the possibility of a short on the logic board, as the battery in a MacBook is not exactly easy to remove. It has been my experience, with numerous mobile phones and an assortment of other electronic devices that removing the source of power drastically reduces the chances of permanent damage.
Damn that karma!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Pick of the week: Khan Academy

As I was attempting to decide on the Pick of the week for this week, I realised that I had not mentioned one of the great education sites ever: the Khan Academy.


The site was created in 2006 by MIT graduate Salman Khan and now hosts more than 2400 video tutorials on subjects such as math, physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy, finance, economics and computer science. The videos are promoted as "micro-lectures" and are truly fantastic!

If you're having some difficulties helping your kids with their homework, or simply need a refresher on solving quadratic equations, the Khan Academy is for you!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Received my Arduino UNO

After reading a number of Make: Projects that included an Arduino microcontroller, I decided that I needed to take the plunge and order one and see what I could build with it. I decided to order from The Robot Shop, as they had the best selection of Arduino models by far and great customer feedback.
I had previously downloaded the Arduino environment for OSX and was looking forward to trying some of the small programs I had composed. After getting home with my package, I pulled out a USB cable I had lying around and connected the UNO to my MacBook. I was able to upload my first test program in a few moments and got it to work flawlessly!

So now, time for some more interesting applications! I will post any future experiments and creations!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Philips Headgroom

Since we've moved about a month ago, I am no longer able to find my hair clipper. For most people, that wouldn't seem like a big deal, but I actually like to cut my own hair and have been doing it for years now! I also cut my boy's hair and the clipper is the only method (short of hairstyling school!) that can do a clean job of it!

Philips has made a point to offer as many grooming appliances as possible, to meet as many needs as possible. One of the best I've found to date is the Philips Headgroom. After seeing this model, I was completely sold and decided to make the purchase.

The primary selling point of the Philips Headgroom is the 180 degree rotation of the cutting head, which allows ease of use in the most difficult cutting situations. It is also cordless, providing an astounding 60 minutes of use from 60 minutes of charging.

The kit provided is very complete, including a mirror with handstrap, a short comb, the long comb and a foil shaver head for those looking for the Telly Savalas look, as well as a zipped carry case and the AC adapter.

The entire unit is water proof, for easy cleaning (although the manual states that the Headgroom should never be used in the tub or shower!) and it very quiet as well, making it ideal to use with young kids.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Teroforma Whiskey Stones

I picked up a set of these beautiful and useful Teroforma Whiskey Stones for my wife over the weekend! Quarried and milled in Vermont, by one of the oldest soapstone workshops in the world, the Whiskey stones are a simple solution to cooling drinks without dilution.


Simply place the Whiskey stones in the provided drawstring bag, put the whole kit in the freezer for a couple hours and when ready for a drink, just place 3 of them in a tumbler and pour your poison to just over the cubes. Let sit for 5 minutes and your drink is properly cooled, but not diluted.
Soapstone is non-porous and very soft (it's mostly talc, which is pretty low on the Mohs scale) and will not harm glassware. Great gift for the person that has everything!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Linksys E2500 wireless router

As it regularly happens with home routers, our trusty Linksys wireless router bit the dust the other day! Still works as a switch, so it will wind up in the storage closet for use in some project or other! Being satisfied with the performance of the previous model, I decided to stick with Linksys/Cisco and picked up a Cisco e2500

This is a dual band 2.4gHz/5.0gHz wireless b/g/n router with four port switch. A proclaimed increase in bandwidth and speed due to the dual band nature of the router has been somewhat true, but I suspect that this has to do with wireless n more than anything else, as our previous Linksys was wireless a/b/g only.

So far, I've noticed that it runs rather warm. Nothing alarming but never a good thing either! The AC adapter has reduced in size, which is something that is always appreciated, as our router is connected to a UPS and several devices have rather large power connectors.

Simple setup and good performance are all I required. If you are in the market for a new wireless router, take a look at the e2500.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Pick of the week: Bagcheck

One of the websites that has really caught my attention in the last couple weeks is Bagcheck. A truly fantastic site, with a great premise, which is the creation of bags, which are then shared amongst the Bagcheck community, in a dynamic exploration system. A quick and effective search engine allows a user to place pretty much anything they can think of in a bag!

Head on over and take a look! Take a second to join or use your Facebook account to log in. It's that easy and well worth visiting!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Steri-Pen Journey LCD water purifier

Water purification is something of an obsession with me. I must have at least 6 mechanisms for providing clean drinking water and I still don't think that too many! I've used pretty much every method, from iodine tablets (which leave a pretty nasty taste that is hard to disguise) to chlorine and other chemical solutions (usually chlorine dioxide, which also leaves a pretty nasty taste!), filters (ceramic element, carbon element, activated charcoal and so on), reverse osmosis and even distillation. All of these methods provide clean and mostly sterile water. I say mostly sterile, as only a few of these methods are truly capable of getting rid of any organic matter and there are some rather small life forms on this planet, which tend to be far worst than the largest lifeforms!

But a new mechanism has been added to this collection of methods: UV sterilization! SteriPen, a company based out of the US, now offers several models of portable UV sterilizers for travel and outdoor use. The concept is simple; a handle to hold batteries and a glass shrouded UV lamp on a rubber stopper that is inserted directly into the hole in a standard water bottle. A press of the button initiates a timed session and the UV lamp is turned on, while swirling the water around, insuring sufficient dwell time for the entire volume of water. And presto, the water is ready to drink, with no waiting!

The model we picked up is the Journey LCD, which offers the simplicity of an icon driven operation through an LCD display on the handle of the device.

Simply pick your mode, insert into water supply, agitate and follow the timer on the screen. Couldn't be any easier and with two special detection pins, if for some reason the water is not in contact with the sterilizer, the process is interrupted and the result is displayed on the LCD.

A great addition to my little collection! If you are heading on a trip to a location with doubtful water, this might be a great tool for you.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Sony Experia Mini Pro

I had been in the market for a new mobile for a while but simply could not find any device that "tickled my fancy" so to speak! The current trend in smartphones has left most mobile users with one of three choices: an oversized iPhone clone, with dual processor, 3D displays and no battery life, a Blackbery model of one kind or another and whY I like to call the "relics", those few devices that could be considered practically ancient in this fast moving industry. 
Then I set my eyes on the new Sony Xperia Mini Pro and found the device I had been looking for all this time! 
Finally, a smartphone in a smaller form factor and a slide out QWERTY keyboard!
This is the second generation of Sony's Mini Pro and it has received numerous updates. Powered by a 1gHz processor, the Mini Pro also runs the latest Android OS (Gingerbread) and offers the standard bells and whistles, including HD still and video camera, GPS, capacitive multitouch-capable screen and removable battery (a feature sorely lacking in most smartphones!)
Sony, the old masters of the proprietary technology, seem to have embraced a number of standards, specifically the use of mini USB for charging and a 3.5mm headphone jack, as well as support for the most common media formats for sound and videos!
The form factor really sets this phone apart from the rest, as it can truly be used with one hand if required. The use of haptic feedback on touchscreen keyboards one-ups Apple in this department! A short vibration to confirm each keystroke is simple genius!
A great mobile so far, but I will be sure to update this article once I've had a chance to use it a little more!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Lumix TS3 waterproof digital camera

At the end of July 2011, my wife, our boy and I decided to have our first family vacation. We decided on the Mont Tremblant resort, in Quebec, as it was close to home and the prices off-season were too good to pass up! As we both love photography, we figured that it would also be a great place to take some pictures. But when I started thinking about our luggage, the boy's luggage and all the other stuff we would lug around, I figured that a smaller, point and shoot type camera might actually be a good idea.

One of the subtypes of this camera made a strong impression with me: the waterproof, shockproof camera. There are only a few models currently available and after looking over the various specifications for these models, we settled on the Panasonic Lumix TS3.
The Lumix TS3 is a 12 megapixel camera, with several features including:

- Waterproof to 12m
- Shockproof to drops up to 2m
- Freezeproof to temperatures down to -10C
- Built-in GPS
- Built-in altimeter
- Built-in compass
- Built-in barometer

It also features a 28mm-128mm lens, as well as the capacity to capture movies in 1080p, at 30fps (it is also capable of capturing up to 60fps in lower resolutions. The camera is simple to use, but a little heavier than most point and shoots, due to the more rugged nature of the camera's body.


We put the camera through its paces on our vacation, taking it pretty much everywhere, and shooting in almost every condition we could think of. From underwater to the top of Mont Tremblant (~800m) in a single day, with temperatures ranging from 15C to a record 42C on one day of our vacation and the camera kept going with no difficulties at all! The only time unexpected issue we noticed was the condensation that formed on the inner glass of the objective, when we left our severely air conditioned room, to an outside temperature of 38C and a ride up to the top of the mountain, within about 15 minutes. As I was shooting, I realised that the scene appeared foggy on the 2.7 inch LCD display and noticed that the bottom portion of the glass cover was fogged up. Leaving the camera's waterproof battery/SD card door open, allowed the humidity to equalize and cleared up the fog.

Reading through the instruction manual, this is something that is discussed and is to be expected in the conditions we experienced.

Here are some samples taken with the TS3:


My beautiful wife!


The great pedestrian village of Mont Tremblant resort


And yours truly, being an idiot underwater!

If you are in the market for a camera you can take with you pretty much everywhere, the Panasonic Lumix TS3 is a model you should consider a serious contender!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Guyot Designs Squishy Bowl and Cup

As simple a thing as it may seem, the perfect outdoor plate does not exist. But the Guyot Designs Squishy Bowl and Cup come really close. I've seen these for several years in the Mountain Equipment Coop catalog, but every time I happened to be in the store, they would always be out of them... I finally broke down not that long ago and purchased a set in blue:

Made of food grade silicone, the bowl (with an approximate volume of 600ml, or a little more than 2 cups) and the cup (with an approximate volume of 275ml, or a little more than 1 cup) are both very flexible and easy to use, as it is easy to create a proper spout on either one, to control the flow of liquids more accurately than you've ever had it using a rigid plate.

Additionally, the silicone material these are made from also provides some thermal protection, helping you avoid burned fingers (and lips!!!).

If you've been looking for a dining set for backpacking or travel, you can stop your search! This is the set for you! And as an added bonus, they pack pretty easily, as you can collapse them to fit in pretty much any nook and cranny in your pack! Great design!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Busy last couple of months

I have been working by contract for a large, non-profit health organisation in Canada over the last several months and as such, have had less time to keep this blog regularly updated. But following a conversation with my wife, I have decided that it is worth making time to keep updating regularly.

So I would like to announce my triumphant return to regular blogging (cue the trumpets!!!)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Online Tools review: Lucidchart.com

Following last week's small article on the online diagram tool called diagram.ly, I received a comment indicating a preference for another online diagram tool called Lucidchart.com and promised that I would review it, as at first glance, it really does look like a much better application than diagram.ly. Several features really set Lucidchart apart from its competitors.

First of all, Lucidchart is an online diagram tool, designed to replace applications like Visio. Like most diagram tools, Lucidchart support several file output formats, allowing you to export your work to other applications if required. Secondly, Lucidchart provides several interesting features, which include collaboration (the ability to have several people working on the same file from different locations), which can be very handy for those that actually make use of such technologies. Of course, this feature is really augmented by the inclusion of a revision history feature, which lets users determine who made what change to a specific diagram, and when this change was made. Add to these features a library of hundreds of shapes and templates, as well as full compatibility with any of the modern browsers under any platform and you have a recipe for an excellent application.

But (and there is a but here) I'm not as ecstatic about paid subscriptions and this is something required if you really want to access all of the interesting features provided by Lucidchart.com. There is a free account, but with several limitations (including a single user per file, a maximum of two collaborators, 25MB maximum file storage and a limit of 60 objects per chart) and these are severe enough to limit the type of diagram you can create without paying for a better account. There are several choices though and I believe that most users will eventually find the account type that is right for their needs.

Following a comment I made, I still believe that Lucidchart.com is a better application from a charting perspective, but diagram.ly offers the not inconsiderable advantage of being free, which in this day and age, really makes a difference.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Online Tools review: TikiToki

Although the task of creating animated timelines is not necessarily the most common, for the times that you have this task on your to do list, you might consider checking out Tiki Toki, a fantastic online, animated timeline maker. With several types of accounts (including a free one!), Tiki Toki makes it easy to create attractive and interactive timelines, which can display images and videos as well as text. With great integration with Flickr, Youtube and Vimeo, its easy to integrate your online media into your created timelines.

Head over to Tiki Toki and try it out for yourself. I think that you might find yourself creating more timelines, just to use this tool!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Online Tools review: Sched.org

Do you find it difficult to organise schedules for your events? Do you need a simple method to confirm attendances for meetings, parties and other gatherings? Well, problem solved with Sched.org! With several pricing options, including a free, limited functionality account, you can easily create bookings and have your attendees confirm online at their leisure.

Head on over to Sched.org and try it free! I'm sure you'll find the solution effective and efficient!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Online Tools review: Diagram.ly

Diagrams; either you love them or hate them. For those who have been around long enough to become Visio experts, you might actually appreciate that you can get the same kind of output from an entirely free tool, Diagram.ly. With numerous features and an easy web-based interface, here is another tool to your work anywhere, with any computer quiver!

No need to sign up and no fees make this a really great tool! Head on over an take a look, I'm sure you'll feel the same way I do!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Canon T2i DSLR

For my wife's birthday, I decided that I would spoil her a little by getting her a new camera. Her photography skills are beyond compare and I figured that she deserved to have a better camera at her disposal. She had been using a Canon Rebel XS for a little while and although a decent camera, some of the improvements made in the last couple years really dated her current device.



I settled on the Canon T2i for several reasons. The first and probably most important in my opinion was the transition from 12 bit images to 14 bit images; for the mathematically challenged, that may seem like a small change, but it's the difference between 2^12 number of colours versus 2^14 number of colours. That's an enormous difference for sure. Secondly, the T2i also includes HD video capabilities, at full 1080p resolution, with adjustable frame rates. That feature alone makes this camera far superior to the previous model. Thirdly, the improved speed of autofocus, startup, continuous shooting and more, really improve the camera's user experience.

Looking forward to seeing some more results from this camera, but as it was a gift, I guess I will have to wait and see what my wife will do with it; no doubt it will be amazing!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Pick of the week: 5factsabout.me

In a world of social networking sites like Facebook, the word "friend" has become a little diluted, for lack of a better word. I've seen people with 500-600 "friends" on Facebook, but no one person that they feel they can confide in. What about those 500-600 people? Are none of them actual friends? You know, those people that actually care about you?

Here comes 5factsabout.me to the rescue! 5factsabout.me allows you to create 5 true or false facts about yourself. Afterwards, you can quiz your friends on these questions by directing them to your profile! See how well they really know you. The results can also be shared on Facebook or Twitter, for those so inclined.

Head on over and take a look, I'm sure you'll find it fun and enlightening!

Happy birthday to my wife!

Just wanted to take a second to wish my beautiful wife a happy birthday! I'm very happy to be able to share another fantastic year with you, sweetness!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Time for a new phone...

I know that smartphones are all the rage and as a dedicated Apple user, it would seem that the iPhone is the device to get, but it's just not doing it for me... I know that the device is great and that's not really the issue. The real problem are the providers and the exhorbitant fees they charge for iPhone packages. I just can't justify that kind of price point for unlimited service, let alone services with so many limitations. As I began to browse through the different canadian providers websites in search of a new phone, I could not help but notice that almost every device available are touch-screen, iPhone-clone smartphones. Where are the plain, regular phones?

Well, Rogers has decided to keep a few of these devices for the "old folks" like me. One of these really caught my eye and after doing a little research, I decided that this would be my next phone: the Nokia 6700 Slide.

I am partial to stick-type phones and although a slider, I still consider this one to be in the same category. What really sold me was the construction quality though; all metal body and very stiff sliding mechanism lend a feeling of durability to this phone. One of my main gripes with "smartphones" is the massive size of the device and the relative fragility of their screens. I know very few people who have not dropped their mobile phone at least once in their lifetime and I would like to know that my mobile will survive the inevitable drop and rigors of daily life.

Although not the only phone to contani a camera (trying to find a camera-less mobile phone today is a virtual impossibility), at least, the one included with this one is quite good. You have to give Nokia some points for trying to benefit from the associated quality of Carl Zeiss lenses by including a CZ-designed and manufactured lens with this device.

I will update this post with my impressions once I get to use the device regularly.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Online Tools review: Fresh.li

Portfolio sites are really a dime a dozen, but one has really caught my eye, due to its great layout, ease of use and sales-centered orientation.


Fresh.li is a new player on the scene and I've been very impressed with their site! With two options, free and paid, portfolios are easy to create and maintain. Head on over an take a look if you have been looking for a way to showcase your artwork.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Skullcandy 50/50 earbuds review

My daily wear earbuds recently died (I often refer to them as "disposable", as I have rarely kept a pair functional for more than a year) and I decided that a replacement was in order. I do have a pair of over the ear headphones at home, but due to their very "open" design, sound leakage is a significant problem (well, to be honest, it's not really a problem for me but rather for those around me!). For those looking to purchase new earbuds, the choice is literally astounding today. The real problem is finding an earbud that sounds good; specifications provided by the manufacturer don't tell the whole picture.

The previous pair of "disposable" earbuds I purchased were from Skullcandy and as I had been quite satisfied with them, I decided that I would look at other models from the company. Now I am aware that Skullcandy products are not the best that can be found on the market. But as they are easily available, usually pretty decently priced and fairly durable, they are usually a good solution for daily wear earbuds. Looking over the various models on sale at The Source (yes, I still shop there once in a while!) I saw the Skullcandy 50/50s in a separate display.

I looked over the package to see the specifications on these buds, set at almost double the price of other Skullcandy products in the store:

Features


Speaker Diameter: 11mm
Magnet Type: NdFeB
Frequency Response: 20-20k Hz
Impedance: 16 ohms
Max Input Power: 100mW
Cable Type: TPE
Cable Length: 1.3M
Plug Type: 3.5mm Gold Plated
MIC + CONTROL SWITCH + VOLUME
PLAY / / PAUSE / / TRACK CONTROL +
VOLUME CONTROL
Nylon Mesh Carry Case

But specifications are not always what they appear to be. The real test is in the listening and I can safely say that these earbuds are quite good, considering the price point and the mass production aspect of Skullcandy. One of the pleasant surprises was to find a carry case in the box; one of the primary causes of damage to earbuds is incorrect (or improper) storage and a carry case can really help in this regard.

So far, I am quite satisfied with the sound, although I suspect that a break-in period will only be a benefit that far too many users forego. If you are using an iPod Touch or iPhone, there are several applications that are designed specifically for this purpose. For users of other devices, simply create a varied playlist and use that as your break-in sound source. Nonetheless, these were quite good, right out of the package, which is very surprising. The comfort level is quite high and the finish is also quite good.

If you are in the market for a new pair of "disposable" earbuds, do yourself a favour and see what's available at multiple price points; you might just find a new set that makes your music new again!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Online Tools review: Mr. Icons

Collecting resources for training development is an activity that I have pursued actively since I've started working in the field. But one resource is a little harder to find then others: icons! I have purchased sets and collected as many royalty-free icons as I could find, but as luck would have it, whenever I need a specific icon, I never seem to have it in my collection.

Well, if you have experienced the same problem, here is Mr.Icons to the rescue! With more than 125174 icons in more than 437 sets, the icon you need is available, for free!

Head on over to Mr.Icons and browse through their extensive collection, you'll be glad you did.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Pick of the week: Bitterbuzz

Are you feeling a little bitter about something or other? Is life making you miserable? Is your boss getting on your case regularly? Well, here comes Bitterbuzz to the rescue. Log in and vent away or take some time to read through other peoples' raves and rants about whatever it is that is driving them over the edge. To be perfectly blunt, I don't normally suscribe to this type of online "whinning" but some of the writing was absolutely hilarious and as such, I recommend the site as a way to release pressure by laughter!

Head on over and take a look, you'll get a good laugh I'm sure!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Software Review: Autodesk Sketchbook Express

As part of the software package provided with the Wacom Intuos 4 tablet I purchased recently, Autodesk Sketchbook Express 2011 is a fantastic product.


A simple interface and the common tools one would expect in a drawing program really help to make this application simple to use for almost any budding digital artist. What I found particularly great was the ability to use this application without ever using any other interface device than the pen and tablet. I've discovered that I never have to reach for the keyboard when I am drawing. Of course, I expected that the makers of AutoCAD would also know a thing or two about drawing in general.


A trial version of the application is available for download and if you have a pen and tablet, you might want to try it out and discover this great tool for yourself.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The pretty good but not quite perfect laptop bag

I had already decided on a laptop bag when I purchased my Macbook, but since I could only order the bag I was looking for (a Booq Taipan Shadow S), I opted instead to find a bag locally that I could get my hands on before purchase. I just like to be able to visually inspect any item that I plan to purchase, if only to let me gauge the quality before handing over some money.

On a weekend trip to MEC, I decided to pick up a very nice bag by Onsight, the Saigon Micro.

There are three sizes for this particular bag and I hesitated a bit before the purchase as I wasn't exactly sure that my Macbook would actually fit in the smaller size. The interior includes a padded computer pocket and that was the crux of my dilemna; the pocket looked a little small, but I figured that if it was, I could always use a sleeve to protect the laptop and slip it in front of the laptop pocket. I asked the MEC staff, but no one had tried this size.

After looking over the bag, I decided to make the purchase anyway, as even if the laptop did not fit at all, the bag was still of fantastic quality.


Well, for clarification, when I did get home, I determined that the laptop pocket was in fact too small for my Macbook, but the bag was large enough to fit the laptop in a sleeve. Quality materials, several well designed pockets, strong and easily adjustable strap and excellent stitching really makes for an outstanding product. Even the interior lining has been thoughtfully designed, with a lighter colour fabric to make finding contents easy.


If you are in the market for a new bag, why not take a look at Onsight; they offer several quality products are very reasonable prices. A lot of manufacturers could learn a thing or two from them.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Online Tools review: Initializr

Having a hard time with HTML 5.0? Finding it difficult to get started. Well, Initializr can help you with this task. Just pick from your choice of options, from HTML and CSS, Javascript, jQuery and even server configuration files and download your template file! That easy!

Based on the HTML 5.0 Boilerplate template, Initializr is a brilliant tool to help get the new standard out the door, properly. Head on over and take a look, I'm convinced that you'll find it useful.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Wacom Intuos 4 tablet

After doing some research, I decided to purchase a Wacom Intuos 4 medium drawing tablet. A while back, I had purchased a small Wacom Bamboo drawing tablet for my wife, but one of the first things I noticed was that it was pretty small and not as responsive as I had expected. It was fine for occasional use, but I had decided that I wanted a larger drawing surface and better responsiveness.

After shopping around, I headed to Henry's in Ottawa as they were offering the best prices I had seen on Wacom products in the region and picked up the tablet. One of the first things to remark is that Wacom has taken care to produce an attractive looking and effective packaging solution.


One of the deciding factors on this specific model was the great software discounts for Adobe Photoshop CS5, almost 50% off the list price! Wacom has also included a very decent software package, which includes the following:

Nik® Color Efex Pro™ WE6
Wacom Brushes 3.0
Adobe Photoshop® Elements 8 for PC and Mac
Autodesk SketchBook Express® 2010
Corel Painter™ Sketch Pad
    I got home and unpacked everything. I wasn't exaggerating about the great packaging job that Wacom has done on this line of tablets. The box contains:


    The tablet
    The drawing stylus (or pen if you prefer)
    The mouse
    A weighted stand for the stylus
    10 extra nibs for the stylus
    A nib extractor tool
    A USB cable (standard to mini)
    A documentation package (which includes a driver CD, a quick start manual and a reference manual)
      I don't use a mouse with my Macbook Pro and I don't think this is about to change. Although the mouse is quite nicely shaped, with five fully customizable buttons, excellent resolution and battery-free operation, it's limited to the tablet surface to work and that quickly limits its use, in my opinion. I set the mouse aside and got everything else setup. I have to give some kudos to Wacom for the elegant design of the pen stand, which doubles as a storage container for both the extra nibs and the nib extractor tool.


      After installing the software (and let this be a general tip to less experienced computer users, always get the software installed and updated before plugging in the hardware; saves a ton of headaches afterwards) I plugged in the tablet. Another interesting design feature is the inclusion of two USB ports on the tablet, to allow the option of a proper cable orientation when used in right-hand or left hand mode. One of the most common complaints of Wacom's tablets was the general right-handedness of their devices. The new Intuos 4 models have resolved this issue by placing all of the tablets secondary controls on one side of the device. This allows the user to simply flip the tablet to allow both righties and lefties! The settings menu allows the user to switch modes and the tablets customizable OLED displays flip to the correct orientation.


      The displays themselves are truly useful, removing the need to memorize yet another set of custom controller parameters. The touch ring, another change to the Intuos line, has four modes, indicated by one of four small lights. This allows the ring to provide access to four linear-type functions, like zoom, brush size, canvas rotation and more.

      The tablet is incredibly responsive and a pleasure to use. The increased level of pressure sensitivity, together with very low starting weight (1 gram vs. 10 grams) really set this line apart from previous incarnations.


      If you've never tried a tablet, I highly recommend any of the models from the Intuos 4 line. If you already have a tablet, consider any of the models to be a great upgrade to the tablet you might currently be using. Really, a fantastic product!