Category Archives: Gadgets

Solar Panels on our roof

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If you click on the panel below, you can follow in near real time the electricity production from our solar panels array on our roof.

GPS, etc…

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I didn’t talk about my favorite gadgets for a while, but this doesn’t mean I didn’t get some new ones, each better than the others:

iPod Touch: Where iPod becomes an agenda, web browser, weather forecast, video player, alarm clock, portable game station and so on… In less time than you’d imagine, everyone will carry something like the iPod Touch (or an iPhone)… remember who owned a digital camera just 8 years ago!

Apple TV: where the movies patiently encoded and stored on my network shared drive can finally be viewed on the HDTV, without handling all these DVDs…

Canon EOS 40D: with which we realize we don’t know anything about photography, but who cares as all the pictures taken with this amazing camera always look nicer 🙂 By the way, did you also count who owned a digital SLR camera 4 years ago?

– And finally, a new GPS, the Garmin Nüvi 760. I can already hear: « Hey, Alex, you already own a GPS, why do you need a second one? »

The new GPS has a suction cup accessory to mount it on any vehicle, and provides a convenient and easy to read 3D view of the road, just as if we were seeing it from above the car. It’s fast to start and acquire the satellite position, as well as to calculate or re-calculate the routes. It also provides voice guides (in several languages), and contains all North America roads and points of interests. I can also use « Bluetooth » to communicate with my phone and use the GPS as a hands free device to securely place and receive calls. The screen is wide and bright, and the batteries are charged with the car power plug.

Also, being a Garmin, the maps updates works both on this new and on my older device.

The first GPS is still best for biking, hiking (and Geocaching), plane or boat (it’s waterproof and floats), and will then carry the topographical maps. It also boasts an altimeter the new one doesn’t provide.

Moreover, its a recent law in Ontario (and I think/hope in many other places around the world): cell phones and handheld GPS are banned in cars, unless using a hand free device and mounted. My first GPS would therefore be forbidden in a car if I’m driving alone… and the Costco deal was such a good one 😉

Skype without a computer

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Being far away from our French family and friends, we want to be able to easily call them in France, and for a reasonable cost.

After trying some local phone offerings more or less adapted to our needs, and tired of paying obscure « system access fees » and other hidden costs, I decided to try Skype: there is no subscription, no hidden costs, you pay as you use it and you make a better usage of your already paid high speed internet service. Moreover, the cost per minutes are much cheaper (at least 2 times cheaper) than any other offering out there.

At first, we simply used the computer, with the drawbacks involved (such as not being able to talk on the phone wherever we want in the house, something we quickly got used to 10 years ago with our first wireless phone). Then, I found a small box, which allowed us to use our regular phone with Skype, but still required the computer to be on for running Skype and was a bit cumbersome to use.

Finally, I found a wireless phone with a router (Philips VOIP 841), which can be used both as a regular wireless phone and has Skype installed on it, thus let us call with Skype (in and outbound calls) without using a computer at all. The router is simply connected to the home network and thus Internet, and a web page is used to configure the system (especially the Skype account).

voip841

Since then, we only use our regular home phone for local calls or be called, and all our international calls are made on this device with Skype.

I like the design, how simple it is to use it (basically, once configured with your Skype account, it just work and you forget about it), and the sound quality is good. what else could we ask for?!

A new camera

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In addition to our Digital SLR camera (Canon EOS Digital Rebel) used for taking beautiful pictures, we like to have a small camera, easy to use and drop in a pocket when we’re off for a quick walk.

A previous experience shown us the interest of using such camera to also capture small videos, and how easy it is today to upload them on Youtube and share them here, somehow like a moving picture (hey, this is just like in Harry Potter 🙂 ).

Then I saw the Canon TX1 in a store, and I almost purchased it right away! I just came back home to check some reviews of the device on line and to compare prices (I saved $50 in a price match!).

canon TX1

The picture quality and the High Definition video (HD – 1280×720, the same size as our TV screen) are great for a camera of this category. It is also very small and easy to use yet powerful.

You hold the device vertically as in the picture above, like a video camera, but it really is a still picture camera too. We love the little screen quality, as well as the fact it turns in every directions.

I added to the package a pouch, a spare battery and a 4Gb SD card for taking tons of pictures and videos (HC = High Capacity).

I then realized that my card reader (used to spare the battery life when transfering pictures to the computer) wouldn’t read this new card! I therefore had to purchase a new cheap SD card reader which is compatible with the « HC » cards, and everything is fine now.

The videos of Ms M singing in the car and in the puddle where taken with this new camera, but their size on Youtube is about 16 times smaller than their original size on the device!

A new computer.

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I don’t buy a new computer everyday…

I’ve been happily using my previous computer during the past 5 years, which is quite long for me. I purchased a high end computer, willing to keep it and upgrade it for a while, and I think it worked out very well that way. It’s now going to replace it’s own aging predecessor (almost 10 years old!) on Ms M’s little desk. Bye bye G4, aka the wind tunnel or the cheese grater 😉

G4 MDD

The new computer is the most recent iMac (released and ordered on August 7th, and received on August 14th). I’ve been using Macintoshes for the the past 14 years now, and I have no reason to change today!

The iMac is a very compact computer, fully integrated, with no room for internal upgrade as my previous tower model G4 did. The only available upgrade is to add more memory.

iMac Alu 24 pouces

As usually, I’m not going to write a review for this computer, but rather tell you what I like and dislike after a month of use.

My configuration details:

  • iMac with a 2.8GHz Core 2 Extreme Intel processor, a 750 Gb internal hard drive, and 4Gb of memory (max).
  • Included is a 24 inches LCD monitor, the iSight webcam is built in.
  • Second 21 inches LCD monitor: the combined size of my desktop is therefore 3520 pixels large by 1200 pixels high.
  • I was able to plug through hubs all my existing USB devices, such as the scanner, flight simulator yoke and pedals, etc…
  • On the Firewire 400 port, I plugged through a hub 3 external hard drives and a DVD burner, most of them where inside the G4 previously.
  • On the Firewire 800 port, I plugged a new external hard drive enclosure in which I’ve installed two 200 Gb hard drive that were in the G4, and that I can now see as one big 400 Gb drive on the desktop. It’s big and fast, suitable for video editing.
  • And, of course, I have my network connection through the router (cable and wireless), the NAS (Network Access Storage) hard drive and the networked printer.

What I like:

  • The new Apple keyboard
  • The silence of this new iMac
  • The overall speed (on average, I find it 4 times faster / powerful than my previous computer)
  • The huge screen
  • The ease of moving the computer: for instance, I can move it to the bedroom in a few minutes, and we can use it to watch a movie there 😉
  • The beauty of the design
  • The use of « Fusion« , a virtualization software: I can start Windows XP inside a Mac window, and then use it as if I was running a PC. It’s like having two computers in one, and all that for an additional $40 🙂

Some dislikes:

  • The « Mighty mouse« : it’s a very nice mouse, but it quickly started to act strangely (some buttons would click on their own, apparently due to some static or ground issues…) so I changed it for a wireless Logitech mouse instead.
  • Some softwares are not yet optimized to run natively on the Intel processor: they work through an emulation layer of the older processor, which slows them down.
  • The noise of my external drives fans: I never heard them with my « wind tunnel », but now I can hear them 😉
  • The video card, which is fine, but not at the computer’s expectation level. This is a well known criticism for this machine: Apple probably had to make a choice based on the size of the computer (it’s so compact that most of the internal components are actually laptop components) and to keep the power consumption low (therefore less heat and less noise with the fans to cool down the computer), which affects the video card’s power. However, as I’m not a hard core gamer, the current video card will be good enough for me.

In summary, I’m very happy with my purchase, which will serve me well during the incoming years and help me build this blog for you!

A Wiiiiiii.

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As I was reading Philippe’s post on his Wii, and I was getting bored waiting for the new iMac to be released, I made an impulse purchase of a Nintendo’s Wii.

 

wii

This is my first « TV pluggable » game ever, so I guess it’s never too late to srat!

I’m not going to provide a review of the Wii, as there’s enough of this on the net already, but instead I’ll tell you what I like or dislike with it.

  • I like the wireless « Wiimote » (the Wii remote control and joystick) concept. It detects any motion (left / right, forward /backward, various rotations) you apply to it, which allows a much more natural playing experience than usual joysticks: instead of sitting still and moving a few fingers while starring at a screen, we push the table in the family room and we move in front of the TV area, giving us a much better experience with moves close to reality when playing at games such as tennis, bowling or golf. This concept also attracts more people: Ms M already understood the game withoug much explanations, and Juliette who never plays video games enjoys a few games too.

Therefore, with the revolutionary Wiimotes and the fact that the Wii costs half the price of other currently competitive video games (Playstation and Xbox), this is an ideal choice for the entire family.

  • Another benefit of the Wii is the internet access from the TV via the wireless network.
  • I also like the dairy which tracks the time spent on each game (no cheating in saying that you only spent a few minutes playing 😉 )
  • The only drawback I found was that the web browser is not free ($5), and of course you quickly want to buy it as well as an additional Wiimote for not playing alone, and of course new games… but with the original price of the Wii, I think I should have guessed that 😉

Lire la musique… avec Salling Clicker

Depuis un certain temps déjà, toute ma musique est enregistrée sur mon disque dur, et j’achète des nouveaux albums directement sur internet. Mon Mac est donc devenu notre source de musique à la maison, avec les iPods qui s’y synchronisent.

Toutefois, j’aime toujours écouter ma musique sur la chaine Hifi, qui se trouve dans une pièce différente de mon ordinateur, suffisament loin pour ne pas pouvoir tirer de long cables audio entre l’ordinateur et le salon.

Une solution est d’utiliser un réseau sans fil et une borne Airport Express, dont j’ai déjà parlé plus tôt. Je peux ainsi envoyer la musique directement de iTunes vers la chaine Hifi dans le salon.

L’inconvénient de cette solution est que pour selectionner un morceau différent de celui qui joue, je dois retourner sur l’ordinateur pour faire ce changement.

C’est là qu’intervient Salling Clicker, un petit logiciel installé sur le Mac et sur le Palm (connecté au réseau sans fil), et qui permet de piloter iTunes (et d’autres applications) avec le Palm, depuis n’importe ou dans la maison.

Musique dans la maison

(clique l’image pour la voir en plus grand)

Me voici donc avec une solution complète, la musique stockée sur le Mac, la chaine Hifi qui joue la musique, et une télécommande qui fonctionne dans toute la maison 🙂

Salling Clicker fonctionne aussi avec des téléphones bluetooth (il y a une centaine d’appareils utilisables comme télécommande !).

Qu’en penses tu ?

Un disque dur externe sur réseau

Voici un nouveau gadget : un disque dur externe de 500Go qui se branche sur le réseau local de la maison.

J’ai acheté le NexStar LX (NST-375LX) de Vantec.

L’avantage principal d’un disque dur en réseau est que le contenu en est disponible en tout temps pour les ordinateurs de la maison, ce qui permet de facilement partager la musique, les photos et les vidéos sans avoir à démarrer l’ordinateur qui contient ces fichiers…

L’installation et la configuration se font très simplement via une interface web, après avoir simplement branché de disque sur le routeur, et le contenu est accessible par un simple partage de disque sur Mac ou PC, ou par un site ftp intégré, ce qui devrait même me permettre d’y accéder à travers internet.

Vantec LX

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Vidéos faites avec le simulateur de vol X-Plane


Atterissage à Toronto City Center airport (RWY 08) avec un Cirrus SR22 le 12 Aout 2006


Décollage de la piste 26 à Paris – Orly avec un Cirrus SR22, le 13 Aout 2006

Utiliser Skype avec le téléphone sans fil de la maison

Skype permet de téléphoner à l’étranger en utilisant sa connection internet, à des tarifs nettement inférieurs à ceux des opérateurs téléphoniques.

L’inconvénient est qu’il faut se trouver devant son ordinateur pour pouvoir s’en servir, ce n’est pas aussi pratique qu’un téléphone sans fil classique.

Suite à un article lu sur macbidouille.com, j’ai acheté un petit boitier (RJ11 phone adaptor) qui se branche sur le téléphone d’un coté et sur le Mac de l’autre via un port USB.

Skype étant démarré sur le Mac, il suffit de décrocher n’importe quel téléphone sans fil connecté à la base reliée au Mac, et soit composer *#* pour passer de la connexion via l’ordinateur à la ligne terrestre pour des appels locaux ou recevoir des appels, soit composer le numéro puis ## pour indiquer à Skype d’appeller, et utiliser la connexion internet pour la communication.

Les avantages de ce boitier sont

  • Le prix raisonnable (52$ CAD en Juillet 2006)
  • Le support du Mac
  • Le fait de pouvoir utiliser un téléphone normal sans fil dans toute la maison pour utiliser skype.

Les inconvénients sont:

  • Un son parfois médiocre, avec en particulier beaucoup d’écho, et une qualité inconstante
  • Les manipulations supplémentaires à faire pour appeller en longue distance ou recevoir des appels.

Une autre solution, plus onéreuses est d’acheter un combiné dédiés à Skype (USB), mais le marché est naissant et peu compétitif, et les offres sans fil sont rares.

[Modification le 4 Juillet 2007] Les dernières mises à jour de Mac OS X (10.4.9 et plus) et le manque de mise à jour du driver de l’appareil le rendent désormais inutilisable sur le Mac (plantages intempestifs), j’ai donc installé ce boitier sur le PC de Juliette, et il marche comme il faut…