Just about everyone in the computer field carries around some sort of USB thumb drive. They’re great for transferring files back and forth and sometimes more convenient or faster than setting up a network share or emailing attachments. Before getting my USBCard a few years back, I used to always run into a situation where I needed a USB thumb drive, but wouldn’t have one handy. It would be on my key chain and my keys wouldn’t be nearby. I’d have one in my computer bag, which would just so happen to be back in my hotel room. The one thing I almost always have with me is my wallet! So when I ran across the USBCard by Freecom.com. I knew that this was the one for me. I’ve had it in my wallet ever since.
People are always amazed when I pull it out of my wallet
Whenever I go to use my USBCard people are always amazed by the size of it. I end up doing a 2 minute demo/show and tell every time. Of course being a gadget guy I’d want to recommend this solution to everyone that was interested. However, the problem was that they were out of stock for months. Well the good news is that not only are they back in stock, they also come in larger capacities. I have the 2GB model. Now they come in 1GB, 2GB, 4GB and 8GB models. They also now come in both Black and White. As you might have guessed, I’ve already ordered the 8GB model to replace my 2GB model (you can never have too much space). There is no telling how long these will be in stock this time around. So if you’re interested, I’d suggest ordering one today.
The USBCard starts at $16.90 for the 1GB card. The 2GB card is $22.50, the 4GB card is $29.00 and the 8GB card is $45.00.
Here’s another video review. This time I take a look at portable external hard drives. In particular I look at the NEW Western Digital My Passport Studio 500GB Portable Hard Drive and how much of an improvement it is over my older Passport Studio drive.
The WD My Passport Studio drives come preformatted for Mac but will work on Windows PCs too. You can use it as a bootable drive for either Power PC or Intel based Macs. It can also be used with Apple’s Time Machine for backups. This drive is bus powered over Firewire or USB 2 connections.
I’m starting to see more and more Western Digital drives around my office. So far no failures to date!
CORRECTION: In the video I stated that the OWC On-The-Go drives were not bus powered over USB. I was wrong (working off an old experience). They are!
CORRECTION/UPDATE #2: Blog reader Gary reminded me that this drive is not bootable over Firewire.My primary use for this drive is data transfer and storage, so while I could use it to boot over USB in a pinch, this would not be my drive of choice if I needed to boot over Firewire or needed to use it as a primary drive.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the men and women that currently serve or have served in our US Military Service! Your continued sacrifices to protect our freedoms are greatly appreciated. We are able to spend this day with our friends and families because of what you do!
As we observe this solemn day, we must remember all the brave men and women in uniform who gave their lives in the service of our great country.
This one is definitely going to have more appeal to the Mac users out there than the Windows PC users. However, Windows users stay tuned, I’ve got a reason why you might want this too.
Mactracker has been a long standing indispensable reference tool on the Mac to look up the specs for all the various Mac hardware that Apple has released over the years. It’s a great tool especially when you’re in the market for a used Mac or selling your Mac and you or your customer wants the specs. Well now that tool comes to your iPhone or iPod touch. Just like the desktop version, Mactracker for the iPhone is organized by category and then by Mac type.
So lets say you wanted to know the specs on the 20″ iMac G5 with iSight camera. You would first scroll up to Desktops (assuming you had scrolled down to see what was there) and then you’d tap on iMac. There you see every iMac model since the first Bondi Blue introduced back in 1998.
Once you scrolled down to iMac G5 (20-Inch iSight) and tapped on it, you would then see all the important information. Things like when it was introduced and when it was discontinued. Processor speed, latest Mac OS that it could run, maximum amount of RAM that you could put in it and all the info about Expansion, Ports, Graphics, and even the famous audible “Startup Chime” feature.
Mactracker, it’s not just about Macs
Let’s say you are a Windows user, but you have an iPhone, iPod, AirPort Base Station, Apple Display, or Apple TV. You guessed it! That stuff is in there too. So if you were selling or buying any other Apple gear, this would be a useful tool to have.
The Bottom Line
Having Mactracker on my iPhone is GREAT! I love the instant access to the specs about machines that I’ll never remember or care to remember. Although the App works as advertised and best of all it’s FREE, like most things there is some room for improvement. I was actually quite surprised that there was no option to email the specs page of a specific machine. Don’t get me wrong, I know that the desktop app doesn’t have this either, but it seems like such a natural for the iPhone version. I’d also like to see an “I have that” section. This way I could go through the database finding all my gear and mark it as a Favorite or “I have that” and then whenever, I wanted/needed to know the specs of a Mac or piece of Apple gear that I owned I could just go right to that section. Otherwise this app is great! I highly recommend it!
I use my Macs for work. So if I have a problem, I need that problem fixed pretty quickly (read immediately). My local Apple Store is great. I know most of the reps on a first name basis. They treat me wonderfully!! Although I could probably walk in and get special treatment, I try NOT to abuse their kindness. I don’t walk in expecting special treatment. Therefore, I pay for Apple ProCare, which gives me (or you) Priority Support. You get to make advance reservations for a Genius Bar appointment. You get rapid repairs and moved to the front of the queue. This is the kind of stuff/treatment that I’m more than willing to pay for as I hate waiting in lines!
What I don’t get is why does Apple treats this program so oddly?
With Apple you can do almost anything online including ordering thousands of dollars worth of equipment that will be delivered to your door. I have called support on occassion (prior to the Apple Retail stores) and when the problem couldn’t be resolved over the phone, Apple has shipped me a box to ship my computer back to them in and turned it around relatively quickly. Once they even sent a rep to my home to swap out a logic board.
You can buy MobileMe online and you can even buy AppleCare support online. Out of everything that Apple allows you do do online, the one thing that don’t allow you to do online is buy ProCare ??? You have to go into the store and signup/pay for it in person! OK, fine! Whatever, I’ve done that. That’s not the odd part. The odd part is that you get a ProCare card with no printed experation date. Sure you can keep track of it from the invoice and I do. However, once it expires, Apple sends you no notification whatsoever. No emails, no phone calls, no SMS messages, no nothing! I would think that they would want another $99 for the next year, but it seems like they don’t care. Still this is not the odd part. OK, here it comes: Let’s say that I keep track of my own expiration date. It’s not to hard, simply put it on your iCal or other calendar. My card recently expired on 5/2/09. Again no notification, I only know this date because I’m manually keeping track of it. I want to renew it. However, the only way to renew it is to make another trip to the Apple Store and wait in line to do so. So I have to go to the store, possibly wait in line to renew the thing that I pay for not to have to wait in line. Apple! Dude! What’s up with that? Why are you making it so hard for me to give you money?
OK, you guys are always so good at recommending really cool things back to me. Well here’s your chance. I’m not sure if it exists, but if it does you guys will probably find it and if not, then I want someone to write it!
The “Meet Me Halfway” iPhone app
There are times when you’re meeting someone to complete an eBay/online transaction, or you’re meeting a friend or a colleague and you simply want to pick a place that is half way between your location and theirs. So it would really be cool if there was an iPhone app that would allow you to use your current location and an address that you enter (or one picked from your Contacts) and then show you the halfway point on the map. Once it found the halfway point, it could then tell you the public places in that area (restaurants, coffee shops, gas station, mall, bars, parks, etc.) – like the AroundMe and iWant apps do. You would then pick a place and email or SMS that location to the other person so they would have the directions on how to get there from their location. Of course the place you picked should also be routable for you via the Maps app as well.
It doesn’t sound like it should be all that hard to have an app that does this, yet I’ve only been able to find one app so far called “InBetween” and I just don’t like the way it works. First off it requires that both parties have an iPhone and the InBetween app and an account on their website. Need I go further? It’s just way too much to go through for this relatively simple task.
A few weeks back I reviewed the Kindle App for iPhone. One of the books that seemed like a natural in this format was my iPhone Book second edition. Well now you can actually buy the Kindle version of the iPhone Book and enjoy it right on your iPhone or Kindle device. If you need to look up how to do something on your iPhone, you’ll now have “the book” right on your iPhone.
Earlier this week I completed my project (two months sooner than expected thanks to throwing more Macs and DVD drives at it) of ripping all my DVDs to iTunes/Apple TV. Of course after spending months on this project, the first thing that came to my mind was “I want ANOTHER backup!” The movies are being served up from a Drobo connected to an iMac and I even have that Drobo being backed up nightly to a second drive, but I still wanted one more backup of this massive project to take offsite. I had a spare 750GB drive from a previous upgrade just sitting there. The problem was that it was a bare drive with no case. Also since this is going to be an “if all hell breaks loose” kind of archival backup, I didn’t want to dedicate a case to it. So I just wanted to hook it up to the iMac long enough to do the copy and then take it to my safe deposit box at the bank for safe keeping.
Newer Technology USB 2.0 Universal Drive Adapter
I had one of these sitting nearby for just such an emergency. The good folks at OWC like to keep me up on the latest and greatest gadgets and made sure that I had this cool accessory for testing and review. I’ve had it since January, but this was the first time that I got a chance to put it to use. After all, nothing like a real world test right?
What is a Universal Drive Adapter? Imagine if you took an external drive case and took the electronics that actually hook up to the drive out of it. Now also imagine that those electronics would connect to IDE or SATA drives 2.5″ or 3.5″ drives as well. That’s basically what the Universal Drive Adapter is. It allows you to temporarily hook up an internal drive externally via USB 2.0. The Adapter comes with all the necessary cables and includes an AC adapter to actually power up the drive. The fact that it works with either IDE or SATA drives makes it a great solution for anybody that needs to hook up a drive every now and then and doesn’t want to always have to buy a case or tear into one to do so. This adapter would also be good for anyone that is upgrading to a larger drive. You could connect your new New drive up using this adapter long enough to clone over your old drive to it and then swap the drives.
How well does it work?
This is one of those things that either works or it doesn’t! The first time I got one of these was actually before January and out of the box I could never get my drive to actually mount on the desktop. I eventually just gave up, stuck the drive in a case and it worked fine. Things went a lot better with this kit. I connected it up to my 750GB SATA drive, plugged in the power and the USB cable into my Mac Pro and it came right up. I then used Disk Utility to reformat the drive. Next I moved the drive to the iMac and again for some reason it didn’t mount the first time. I was beginning to get discouraged until I remembered that there were some troubleshooting instructions. I followed them and the drive did mount. I just did a Finder copy of the Movies folder onto the drive and let it run over night (it is only USB 2.0 speeds after all). The next morning, the data was there and I disconnected the drive. Now I can take that drive offsite as an archive. Although I still have the DVD discs as backup, I would never want to have to spend the weeks or months doing the ripping again. That’s the point of this double backup.
The one problem with working with bare drives like this is that they are exposed! On most hard drives you can actually see (and potentially fry) the electronics of the drive on the bottom. So OWC also sells a rubber cover called the ProtectaDrive. This sleeve is designed to offer you some protection against shock and touching the electronics of the drive. They make them in both 3.5″ and 2.5″ drive sizes. Not much to it, you just slip it over your drive before you hook it up to the adapter. I felt a lot better using this than nothing at all. Although I could store the drive in it, I plan to just use an anti-static bag for the drive (like the ones they ship in) and put the drive in my safe deposit box at the bank. This way I can use the ProtectaDrive for other copy/clone projects as they arise.
The Bottom Line
If you need to connect a drive up and don’t want to have to buy or use a case, this is your solution. I could see using this adapter in a lot of different situations. The only thing that I can think of that would make this solution even better is if it also had the ability to use Firewire 800/400. That would make the transfers even faster.
A couple of weeks ago I started the discussion about which site(s) are best to do photo sharing and you guys responded loud and clear with your favorites and why they were your favorites, but in the end it was as I suspected that no single site had it all. The two favorites among you guys were Smugmug and Flickr. Well now it’s time to ask the same question, but this time about video sharing sites and I imagine that the answer is going to be the same. What’s “best” will greatly depend on what you’re looking for.
What you might want in a video sharing site
I’m finding that I’m really enjoying shooting small clips and sharing them on the web with friends, family and colleagues. I used to cringe looking at YouTube clips because the quality was just so bad. I imagine that back when YouTube first started, they were encoding the video using lower quality settings to keep the file sizes down and therefore the bandwidth costs down. However, now that YouTube isn’t the only game in town, they’ve had to step up their game to stay competitive. I asked on Twitter which sites were people using and why and the four sites that kept coming up over and over again were YouTube, Vimeo, Smugmug and Blip.TV. So I decided to give them all a spin.
Here are some things you might want to consider when picking a video sharing site:
Quality of the video playback
Allowable length of the video
Ability to make a video private or secure with a password
Time it takes the video to start playback
Tools and ease of use for uploading the video
Full Screen Options
Ability to turn off embedding for others
How easy can your video be found by others
Upload video from your cellphone directly
Ability to turn on/off video downloading by others
Playable on an iPhone or iPod touch
In my testing I found that each of the sites had many of these options, but no one had it all. I tested all 4 sites by uploading the same HD video to them (my Wacom Intuos 4 video review). Then I embedded the video from each site onto the same page so that we could see a side-by-side comparison. Check out that page here and see for yourself. Also check the page on your iPhone/iPod touch.
Pros: very easy to get started. It’s free. Probably the largest of all the sites and therefore the most likely site to have your video found on. Support for embedding HD video at no additional cost. Videos can be played back on an iPhone or iPod touch even if they are embedded on your webpage using the Flash player.
Cons: Not as many options to make your video private. Videos are limited to 10 minutes/1GB each.
Final thoughts: For most of the videos I’ll be putting up I’m likely to use YouTube. Although they don’t have as many player options or privacy options as the other sites, YouTube seems to offer the best balance of features and playback options.
Pros: Excellent video quality. Free to use the basic features. Great stats on your video plays. HD Support. You can password protect your video or simply mark it that only Contacts or people that you choose can watch it. You can turn on/off the ability for others to download the source video. You can also turn on/off commenting.
Cons: HD video requires that either upgrade to Vimeo Plus or your viewer will have to see it on the Vimeo website. Doesn’t playback on an iPhone/iPod touch. The free service is limited to 1 HD video/500MBs per week.
Final thoughts: I like the features of Vimeo, although I’m not as crazy about their player. They definitely have the nicest stats page. It’s a little thing, but I also love the fact that you can replace the video with a corrected one without losing your stats and comments. I’ve run into this on YouTube at least a couple of times where there was a minor change to the video and I could only delete the one that was posted and upload a new one. Vimeo Plus is $59.95/year and allows 5GB of uploads per week, unlimited number of HD videos, ability to Embed your HD videos, higher quality video, priority uploading, player custimization, advanced privacy options, and no banner ads.
Pros: Probably the BEST video quality. Support of HD video up to 1080p.
Cons: No free options. In order to upload HD video you have to pay for the Pro service at $149.95/year. Even if you pay, you’re still limited to 10 minutes per movie. If you embed a higher quality video on your page, the playback could take several seconds before it starts. Limited embedding/player options.
Final thoughts: SmugMug would be the site I’d use if I were mostly concerned by the quality of the video. In other words If I were trying to impress you with gorgeous HD video, this is the site I’d use. This would be keeping in mind that the video is not playable on an iPhone/iPod touch and that highest quality settings may mean a delay before the video starts.
Pros: the most options for customizing the player! You can allow for advertising or not and if you do, they will pay you for it! Web, Mobile, FTP and Desktop Client for uploading.
Cons: Although there was an option to make the video iPhone/iPod touch compatible, it didn’t work in my testing. Have to upgrade to a Pro account ($8/month) to make your videos private.
Final thoughts: Blip.TV is awesome when you want to customize the look and feel of your player/video. Also it’s the only one that I’ve seen that is willing to share the revenue from the OPTIONAL advertising generated by your video.
The Bottom Line
I’m finding myself producing fewer and fewer DVDs as a means of sharing video with friends and family. Sure there are some older members of my family that aren’t online and never will be, but that is a very small percentage of folks I know and share with. Shorter clips shared over the internet for free is the key. You can’t really go wrong with any of these sites and like I figured going into this, there is no one site that is significantly better than all the rest. Each one has something to offer depending upon your needs. For example, YouTube is great for the video reviews I do on my blog. However, if I wanted to post a family video and keep it kinda private, then I’d use Vimeo. If I were trying to put video on my website and match the look and feel perfectly, then I’d lean towards Blip.TV. Lastly if I were trying to impress a client with the highest quality HD video the first site that would come to my mind would be SmugMug.
There are times like the shot above, where the sun is cooperating and I can get beautiful light coming in the window. However, there are those other times when the light is too harsh and needs to be diffused. I LOVE natural light!
Ask any photographer who has ever worked with an assistant on set and they will tell you that it’s absolutely fantastic to have some one to hold that reflector or move that light or change that setting. However, most times I’m flying solo when I’m in the studio. Although I get lots of offers from friends that want to volunteer to help me out, I just usually work alone. So the more equipment and gadgets that I can get to help me out the better.
One of my frustrations when shooting natural light coming through the windows is that sometimes I need to diffuse the light. This is where an assistant would come in to hold the diffuser at just the right angle. You won’t believe some of the ways that I’ve propped up diffusers in the past. –
Lastolite to the rescue, again!
The first item in my bag of tricks is the Lastolite Mini TriFlip 8-in-1 Collapsible Reflector kit. This one does it all. It’s a reflector or a two stop diffuser. If you use it as a reflector you have a choice of white, silver sunfire, sunlite, or gold. You can also use it as a flag because you get black as well. Like I said, having an assistant to hold this up when needed is great, but when you’re flying solo then you’re going to want the next item. – The TriGrip Bracket
This handy gadget is an adjustable arm that holds your TriFlip Reflector at just about any angle you want by simply putting it on a light stand and adjusting it the way you want. It gets better, not only can it hold your TriFlip/TriGrip reflector/diffuser/flag, but it can also hold your speedlight. This is great for when you want to shoot through the diffuser to diffuse the light. Now you can do it all from just one light stand and you can keep your hands free to actually take the shot.
The Bottom Line
If you have an assistant GREAT! Then you’ve got someone to hold stuff up for you. However, if you work alone sometimes or if your assistant can’t be in two places at once holding stuff up, then you’ll definitely want to check out both the TriFlip and TriGrip Bracket from Lastolite. I highly recommend them both. The Lastolite TriFlip kit goes for $75.95 at B&H Photo. The Lastolite TriGrip Bracket (not yet on B&H’s site – hint hint) goes for $117.90 here.