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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Lost your Android phone? Find it with the free "Where's my Droid?" phone app!

Last time, I wrote about Siri alternatives for your Android phone. This time, I want to talk about security for your investment. That is, keeping track of exactly where your phone is and how to find it should you lose it or it happens to "walk away" in someone else's pocket.

Dude- Where's my Droid?
(source: wheresmydroid.com)
Turns out, there are many options for finding and recovering your baby, but as I did the research I kept finding users were referring again and again to a certain app for the Android phone that helped them to retrieve their phone from all manner of places and, failing that, they were able to wipe the lost phone's memory of potentially expensive data (credit card numbers, addesses, etc.) contained within the device.

Called "Where's my Droid?", this free app sits quietly hidden on your phone until needed. There are a couple of scenarios available that would make this app invaluable:

- One reviewer stated she couldn't find her phone anywhere in her house although she knew it wasn't stolen or seriously lost as she had just used it a few hours before- she had simply misplaced it somewhere nearby, but searching the usual areas turned up nothing and she had set it to silent so calling the device did no good. She went on the Where's my Droid? website, entered her phone number and "told" the phone via text commands to start ringing at it highest volume. The app turned the ringer back on to "loud" and started to sound off. She soon found it under some dirty socks in the laundryroom.

- Another reviewer left his on the roof of his car and drove off. After arriving home, he remembered, much to his horror, what he had done. He went on the website, told the phone to locate itself (he texted "GPS my droid") and within seconds, the phone responded with a Google map of its current location 15 miles away. He drove to that address and found the phone on the side of the road, a little scratched, but still working.

- One particulary relieved user said she had only purchased her Android phone that afternoon and had promptly lost it two hours later. She had no information on the phone at all and had installed no apps either (not even the Where's my Droid? app). She was devastated. But a friend simply went to the WMD? website, gave the WMD? site her friend's cell number and installed the app remotely from her house. They were then able to see the phone was at a restaurant she had visited that evening. They locked the phone remotely and sent a message to be displayed on the screen with her friend's cell number and a request to call. The restaurant did (the busboy found it under a table) and they were able to pick up the phone within a few minutes.

Did I mention this app was free? Also, despite the name, the app works with almost all Android phones. It also has the amazing ability to track its location even if someone steals it and replaces your sim card with an entirely different one. You can also lock the theif out of the phone and demand, via the now locked screen, that your phone be returned.

Or, just call the cops and enjoy a little justice Android style.

Find the Where's my Droid? site here and download the app at the Andoid Market app store located here where more than 68,000 reviewers rated it the best app of its kind. Lifehacker also reviewed the app at their website here.

Now, where did I put that phone...?  While I look, enjoy this video demonstration via Lifehacker.com:

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Apple Siri not in your phone? SIx Siri-ous alternatives for your Android.

"Call Allison Miller!"
(source: Google.com/mobile)
Siri, the voice command app on the Apple iPhone4S, has become one of the most talked about tech subjects for 2011. And for good reason- it seems that Siri can understand simple, casual conversation and doesn't require awkward, precise language to work properly. For those people who actually own an iPhone4S, Siri seems to be an ideal program that can make their life much easier.

But for the other half of the phone buying public, there is no Siri. But, all is not lost as the free market has many competitors for Siri's absence from the Android marketplace (sorry Windows Phone!) . To be honest, at this point, most of the "same-as-Siri" apps for the Android world aren't. They can do most of what Siri can, but may not do it a elegantly or cleanly. But, you can be sure that the developers are working hard to bring their products up to snuff.

One of the stories the press seems to have missed in this Siri love-fest is the fact that Android has had a voice-command system in their phones long before Siri became the media darling of the tech world. Voice Actions does much of what Siri can do, but not all. It's standard in all Android 2.2+ versions of Android and can, simply because you asked it to, look up websites, call phone numbers or send e-mails and more.

There are other apps from 3rd party developers that, to a greater or lesser degree, emulates Siri. Most are free (with ads) or cost just a couple of dollars in your favorite Android app store. The website Extremetech.com has a list of five Android based Siri alternatives you might consider along with an explanation of each. It' surprising how different each offering can be and what each can and can't do. Go to the site here to see the article.

There is another newcomer on the scene called "Iris" (that's Siri spelled backwards). It was created in eight hours after Siri hit the streets and is being constantly improved with new, better versions every few days. It has real potential, but is still in its infancy, tech-wise. To learn more, read the article at tomsguide.com, a slightly geek-centered website. I know I'll be keeping tabs on Iris.  

If you really want something as powerful and sophisticated as Siri. You have two choices: One, buy an iPhone4S or simply wait about 90 more days. As I said, developers are putting in some late nights to make sure their voice-control offering perform so much better than Siri and three months will produce far better versions than exist today. But, if they're free anyway, why not get one and play with it until then?

From the looks (sounds?) of it, 2012 appears to be an interesting and fun year for apps like this.

Stay tuned.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Black Friday Ads: See the sales before anyone else. This website has them!

By now, everyone who reads this blog knows that I'm tight with my money. One way to make money is not to spend it, but when it does become time to spend my moolah, I spend it wisely by looking for the strongest bargains possible.

Know more and save more!
(source: blackfridayinfo.com)
Soon, those of us in the United States will benefit from something we call "Black Friday". This is a fairly recent event when national and local retailers drastically cut prices on many of their most popular products the day after Thanksgiving in preparation for the Christmas shopping season. In the past couple of years, prices for things like TVs, MP3 players, movies, toys and other retail stock have been made available at incredible savings, sometimes as much as 50-75%. The catch? Most stores open at midnight or 5am or some other weird hour and you must stand in line with hundreds of others looking to beat you to the deals inside the store.

The way to find out which store is selling what gizmo at what price is to read the Black Friday sale ads that come out the Sunday before Thanksgiving. These ads do leak out long before that Sunday and many websites make it their mission to find, scan and display these ads for us cheapos to devour weeks before that special Sunday gets here.

One of the best sites I've found for this kind of retail information is blackfridayinfo.com. they always seems to get the ads first, get it right and have the largest number of ads across the board. They break down the info according to store name, products offered (i.e., electronics, toys, clothing, etc.) and even back up all of this with a computer scan of the ads to prove they have the right information.

I don't know where they get these ads so far ahead of time, although I do suspect that many of the sources are the stores themselves, who arrange to have an ad posted on the site to build buzz and potentially raise sales when Black Friday arrives. I'm not usually a conspriracy guy, but...

Go to blackfridayinfo.com here to plan out your strategy. Good luck!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Apple Siri Questions- ask Siri anything- online and without an iPhone4S

I don't own a cell phone myself. It seems weird, doesn't it? I mean, here I am- a tech blogger and I don't actually own a cell phone of my own and I never have.

In my day job as a television journalist, I've always had a cell phone provided to me as one of the tools I use to cover daily events. Lately, that phone has been a smart phone, so why would I spend $80-$120 per month in fees when I didn't have to? But, my smart phone is not an iPhone4S nor is it an Apple product at all. And that's a shame, because I love what the new iPhone4S has and that's Siri.

I've covered what Siri does in a previous post, but after a few weeks of worldwide experimentation, it turns out Siri has a cheeky personality and a sense of humor that's caught the attention of geeks across the globe.

Ask Siri a silly question...
(source: CBS47.tv)
For those of us without a iPhone4S who still have the desire to interact with Siri, there's hope. A new website called Siriquestions.com lets you enter any question at all and the website will automatically ask Siri the question for you and provide the answer for all to see. I'm guessing an iPhone4S is somehow wired into a computer at the site as I can't imagine someone sitting at a computer monitor frantically punching in question after question 24 hours a day.

All of the previous questions are displayed for your review and even if you don't ask Siri anything, it's still fun to see what others are asking Siri and what answer Siri may have in store.

Go here to ask Siri a question. I think I'll go myself and ask Siri when I'll get off my lazy keester and get a phone of my own.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Yet more alternatives to buying a Harley Davidson motorcycle- Triumph and Norton- Rule Britannia!

I'll say it again: Harley Davidson makes a fantastic product and satisfies the motorcycle itch of millions of happy owners. Nothing in this world sounds or rides like a Harley. For some, that's just the issue. Not everyone want to be like...well, everyone. For many motorcyclists, it's the unusual that revs their engine.

In an earlier post, I detailed three American-made non-Harley alternatives and the topic proved to be quite popular with the readers. So I rooted around and found two more lesser known makers of fine motorcycles, this time from across the pond. I purposely avoided the Japanese makers not because of any bias, but to find something less common for those who like to be less common.

The two cycles come to America via the United Kingdom. Both Norton and Triumph are legendary marques with a lineage that goes back decades. For both, the business histories of each company have been touch and go with periods of factory shutdowns and no production. But it's hard to keep a good brand down and it was but a matter of time before someone came along to ressurect these classic makers and offer their models to the former colonies across the Atlantic.
A brand-new classic Triumph
(source: Triumph)
Triumph offers a full range of cycles from full-zoot racer bikes as futuristic as any other maker, all the way to classic remakes like the Bonneville that harks back to the classic models of postwar America and the UK when former soldiers zoomed all over creation. Now, you can do the same with state of the art construction, space-age materials and a factory warranty. Triumphs's website has all the info right here, including the dozens of US locations you can buy the Triumph and be the triumph of your neighborhood.

The Norton: modern muscle, classic lines.
(source: Norton)
Norton also makes motorbikes that start with an English accent. Beautiful to behold and even better to ride, the Norton was known (and still is) for its sporty ride and ability to hug the road. In its day, the Norton was the musclecar of musclebikes and everyone who had a chip on their shoulders or a mid-life crisis to satisfy was putting a Norton in their suburban garage. The bad news is current Norton dealerships are tough to find, but if you're one of those people that has to have something no one else has, the Norton is that something. Here's the website- good luck finding the dealerships!

So, if our good friends across the pond can take all the trouble the build these classics for our use, the least we can do is to help them out by purchasing a few...or a few thousand.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Apple Siri- You talk, Siri answers and does your bidding, but only on the Apple iPhone4S

Siri's mic means your life just got easier.
(source: Apple)
As most of us know, the Apple iPhone4S was met by tech fans with a resounding "so what?".

In truth, the iPhone4S is really sort of a iPhone4 1/2. While the phone is faster and a little better in a number of ways- better camera, faster processor, battery upgrade, etc. the real talk centers around a bit of software that make life with the iPhone4S easier to use than ever and it's called Siri.

Simply press a new microphone icon on the iPhone screen and Siri "wakes up" with a friendly beep. The real magic lies in the user's ability to ask Siri nearly anything in normal speech (no keywords or special language required) and Siri responds with the requested items.

For instance, you might say, "Siri, text my wife I'll be ten minutes late" and Siri will automatically write your message, attach your wife's cell phone number and send that message to your spouse without having to lift a finger- literally!

Or...tell Siri "I'm hungry for Indian food" and it will find the nearest Indian restaurant based on information from the iPhone's GPS and database of local businesses.

Or...If you have a hankering for some good music, you can say "Siri, play Tony Bennett" and, you guessed it, Siri plays your request.

You get the idea. Think of Siri like a kind-of verbal butler who listens to everything you have to say and does it immediately.

As the father of three kids, anyone who listens to me is ok in my humble opinion. Apple thinks so too and has all of the info on Siri located right here.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Thomas Jefferson Hour- Listen the the president himself speak in a podcast!

Thomas Jefferson was the third president of the United States and the author of the Declaration of Independence, but did you know he religiously kept five daily diaries, was deep in debt most of his life and used to read Greek literature in it's original language?

It's all true and you can learn more from a podcast I've been enjoying for some time now and it all originates from a most unexpected place, North Dakota. The podcast features nationally known Jefferson scholar Clay Jenkinson in his role of the famous president.

Get ready to be fascinated
(source: The TJ Hour)
That's right, Mr. Jenkinson actually portrays the late president and provides opinions, thoughts, facts and points of view as if he really was the president brought to life. He's guided through each show by David Swenson, a genial and knowledgeable host who often supports the president on his views, but sometimes challenges them. For instance, Thomas Jefferson vehemently opposed slavery, yet owned dozens of them all his life and even fathered a child by one of them. In most shows, Mr. Jenkinson reverts to his normal persona and discusses not just Jefferson, but his other specialties: president John Adams, Lewis and Clark, North Dakota and a host of other interesting topics.

The historical duo aren't shy about taking on current events either. The national debt, foreign relations, political controversies are all fair game and up for a fascinating conversation with the president as he provides his unique view of things and how he would have handled the issue in his day.

The show is on National Public Radio, but is also offered in a podcast that eliminates most breaks and provides the audio in a pure form so you can get to the good stuff without waiting.

So, why should you wait any longer, either? Go to the podcast's website to hear it for yourself.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

My 100th post!

This is my 100th post for this blog and I couldn't be happier. The reaction from all over the world has been amazing and I'm now read in something like 53 countries and growing!

Not only that, but I fixed the mile-high big blue header problem all by myself (to my wife: see honey- I can fix things!) .

Happy 100th post birthday to MST and most of all, thanks to all of you reading this and making this blog a success!

- Head Monkey

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The new look has bugs and I'm working on it!

You'll notice a new look to the blog as I work to update it. I'll address the massive blue header thing in the next day or so as I figure it out.

Sometimes tech isn't a smooth and error-free thing. My new design is proof of that.

Thanks for your paitence.

-Head Monkey

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Listen up! Record custom voices on your Garmin GPS

In my day job I am forever going to odd addresses or unfamiliar places. As a photojournalist, this is the normal course of events for me day after day. Often, I need to get to breaking news story locations as soon as possible. After all, the competition can't get there first, right?

So, it should come as no suprise that I rely on GPS navigation for nearly all of the addresses I'm sent to by the powers that be. Specifically, I use a Garmin GPS. This isn't an endorsement of the Garmin, per se- it works just fine, but the people at Garmin now have added something interesting to the Garmin lineup that makes this pedestrian appliance just a little bit more interesting.

Instead of using the the built-in voices that come standard (personally, I like the British lady one) Garmin allows you the opportunity to record your own custom voice commands with a website download called Garmin Voice Studio. Simply download the free software on the Garmin website (found here) and you will soon be speaking into a microphone recording your voice or anyone else's as you listen and repeat a long list of commands given to you by the software as it runs ("turn left...in point two miles, turn right", etc." ).  And, all of this is free of cost.

You could put your mom's voice in here,
but that's just plain creepy.
(source: Garmin)
If you'd like to hear some samples of how others have recorded their voices and just what it sounds like, go to The Mike O'Mearea Show podcast website. The podcast is not only hilarious, but the boys in the cast have recorded their voices for their Garmins and have put them up for sale to their fans with samples that will show you just how they really sound (the samples were recorded in a car as a Garmin was being used as a GPS).

BTW, if you want to add a snarky comment or two, you can do that too. Just add a couple of additional words to a few of the directions (i.e., "hey, bubblehead! you're lost! Recalculating...").

After the voice is recorded to your satisfaction, follow the simple instructions to download the recorded files into the Garmin. So, from this point on, you can now listen to the wife as she corrects all of your wrong turns.

Is that too much like real life? Maybe you should record the kids instead.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Buy a Nixie Clock for the person who has everything. I know they don't have this!

We all know the person: ho-hum about anything they receive for a gift or simply someone who posesses the ability to go ahead and purchase anything and everything they could ever possibly want so when the holidays or their birthday comes around, you're stumped and can't think of a unique gift for that person that would catch their attention or be something they don't already have.

Well, my friends, have no fear for I have the solution to your problem. I can pretty much gaurantee your friend will not have this object and it's something that is so cool, your friend will be impressed and remeber your gift for some time.

Behold, the Nixie Clock.

Behold.
(source: Amazon)
The what? Yup, the Nixie clock is indeed something that you don't see everyday. Each numeral is displayed on 1960's technology tubes that manufactuers import from Russia where these tubes are still made and used in "state of the art" equipment. You may have seen these tubes used in countdown clocks for the US space program in the early 60's. You can find out how a nixie tube actually works at the wikipedia article here.

Today, most of us use LEDs to display the time, but there is no denying these unique clocks and their appeal. Why I can't see something like this on the bedroom nightstand, I think it would be ideal in an office, den or even a living room.

Amazon has a nixie clock for sale for the somewhat rareified price of $209.95. Don't despair, though- there are many other makers that offer nixie clocks for far less and kits can be had for even lower prices. Just go to your favorite search engine and enter the term "nixie clock".

Now, your jaded "got it all" friend doesn't have to get another tie this year. Instead, give them a nixie clock and give them a real surprise they'll remember.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Google Goggles- Hard to say 5 times fast, but easy to use in surprising ways

Mobile (phone) apps are all the rage with kids these days. There are apps that play games, apps that change the look of photos and apps that find great restaurants anywhere you happen to be standing.

And now, there's Google Goggles. A new phone app for the Android, iPhone and Blackberry and others.

Not very descriptive name, I'll admit. But when you hear what the app can do, you'll be running to the computer to download it.
Think of Google Goggles as a visual search engine. One that uses your phone's camera to search the internet for answers.

Remember when your Mom said to look it up? Now, you can.
(source: gigjets.com)
For example, if you're in a French restaurant and the menu is in French, but you don't speak a word of the language, what can you do? Simply start the GG app and take a photo of the paragraph of your interest. Google looks up the translation and converts the French into English (or the reverse!). The translation may not be perfect, but the result if close enough to make sense of what was nonsensical just moments before. It handles dozens of languages beyond those of the Francophile.

Or...

Let's say you're in Cincinnati Ohio and you see the famous statue in Fountain Square. "What statue?" I hear you say. Exactly- simply activate the GG App, take a photo of the statue and Google Goggles will search the web (based on your photo) to tell you the statue was installed in 1871 by Tyler Davidson. Didn't know that, did you?

The Fountain Square Statue, Cincinnati, Ohio.
(source: waymarking.com)
Or...

You get a business card from a new sales contact but you know little about her. Once again, simply open the GG app, take a photo of the card's petinent information (phone number, person's name, etc.) and lo and behold, Goggles will look up the person and present all of the information available on the web to you in an attempt to aid your business efforts.

There are many more things Google Goggles can do: Look up books, wine labels, artwork, pretty much anything that presents a visual that can be captured by a camera is something GG can help you look up on the internet.

Pretty cool, no? Google doesn't say if people are on the list of available "look ups", but don't be surprised to see facial recognition somewhere down the road.

So, just in case- look in your webcam and smile!

Go here to see an explanation of Google Goggles.



Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Onstar FMV- get help, directions or make calls from nearly any car.

We own two GM cars and both have Onstar. As a husband and father, I feel much better that our cars are equipped with this gear. For those of you not familiar with the service, Onstar is mounted in all GM vehicles and has the ability to make hands-free cell phone calls, provide turn-by-turn directions and, best of all, will automatically call emergency services with the vehicles exact location in the event of an accident via the GPS mounted in all Onstar equippped products.

Until recently, if you didn't own a GM vehicle, you were out of luck and unable to use this service in your non-GM vehicle.

Not any more. Now, hundreds of non-GM cars and truck models can mount Onstar inside their vehicle. Called Onstar FMV ("For My Vehicle"), this is the entire Onstar system built into a rear view mirror module (many GM products have this exact setup too) for replacing your normal, boring, non-button rear-view mirror.

See? Lots of buttons that do lots of things.
(source: GM)
Other available services include bluetooth connectivity for cell phones, calling for roadside assistance and even stolen vehicle recovery (using the Onstar's built-in GPS, they can track the thief and guide the police).

Is Onstar for you? The quick and easy answer is maybe. While Onstar FMV can fit a huge number of non-GM vehicles, it can't fit all of them. the Onstar FMV website has provided a handy guide for you to enter your vehicles make, model, year, etc. to determine if your Ford, Toyota or Jeep (or any make) is compatible with the Onstar FMV system.

Now, Onstar is not free. Two plans are available for $199 and $299 per year (pro rated monthly) with a basic and premium level of services, respectively. For me, I gladly pay the rate and have done so for years. When I know my wife and three kids always have help just a phone call away and they can have the police or fire department respond to their exact location when I can't I feel better. Professional installation is required but can be done for under $100.

And that's worth every penny.

Go to the Onstar FMV site here for ordering info and go to PCMag.com to see a review with the pros and cons of this unique system.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Saving a wet cell phone- 10 ways to dry out your mobile investment.

A while back, I wrote about using a bowl of white rice to dry out a cell phone. This method is not guaranteed to work all of the time, but it's really better than doing nothing. It turned out to be a popular post and it got me to thinking: This is apparently a real problem and there must be more methods than only immersion in a bowl of white rice.

Turns out, there are many more ways than just a dry rice bath.

Mmm...the smell of a feshly baked cell phone...
(source: 6cachet.com)

The people who should know at advancedtele.com have a list of ten ways to possibly save your $300 (or more) investment. Believe it or not, household appliances like your freezer or TV may be able to help you out- even some alcohol may also be of significant use in saving you hundreds of dollars (or pounds or Euros) when your phone goes plop or your teenager didn't remove his iPhone from his jeans before stuffing them in the washer.

Remember, all of these suggestions are last-ditch desperate attempts and should only be used when you have no other option. Do all of these at your own risk. But when you're trying to avoid spending part of the mortgage payment on a replacement nearly anything you can try is better than doing nothing at all.

My first, best piece of advice is not to get the phone wet in the first place. But accidents do happen and it's reassuring to know that there may be methods, albeit desperate ones, to ressurrect your mobile buddy and get it back into service.

Go to the advancedtele.com website here.

Good luck!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Google Plus Explained- it's a New Way to Explore Social Media.

Facebook is a great service, but everyone in your group of friends (in my case 300+ people) see everything you write- whether you really want all of them to read it or not. You really have no option but to publish your thoughts for all to read, even if it's none of their business.

Twitter is OK, too. But suffers from the same idea. In fact, you don't even get to choose or accept your followers. They just pick you and you have no choice in the matter. Everything you post is open to the eyes off all who have chosen to make you a part of their lives.
Google Plus aims to change all that. G+ provides you with what are called "circles". Private groups you choose and approve that are allowed strict access to certain messages. No one else allowed.

Say you have 100 members in your entire GP member list. 25 are family, 50 are business and 25 more are part of your church. You have the option of sending messages to everyone, one person at a time or just for those people in certain circles. If you have a time change in your weekly church meeting, send a message to people in your church circle and no one else will see it.

Hanging out never looked more fun.
(source: Google)

Additionally, you have access to "Hangouts". Think of these as video chatrooms where up to 10 people can talk about whatever. The software can determine who is speaking and automatically makes that person the largest video image on everyone else's screen. You can invite others and have a pre-arranged meeting or you can just, well.. hangout and wait to see who wants to talk to you.

The catch? Google Plus is still in a trial stage with "only" a few million invited members right now, but is set to be released to the entire public sometime in the near future. If you'd like to know more and sign up for an invitation to try GP when the trial expands during the next few weeks and months, simply click here and you'll be on the cutting edge of social media.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Flying car approved for road use. Could this kind of vehicle take off for consumers?


It may drive like a car, but
it doesn't look like one.
(source: Terrifugia.com)

I grew up reading my dad's Popular Mechanics magazines. It seemed that every third issue had an article in it about the next big thing- flying cars. The author would wax poetically about driving to the airport, deploying the wings and taking off  for a vacation in paradise. All at the touch of the proverbial button.

Well, it's fiction no longer. The Huffington Post is reporting that the National Highway Safety Administration has just given the green light for the Terrafugia Transition aircraft/car to legally roam across the highways and byways of the United States with all of the minivans, cars and trucks- just like the rest of us.


The Transition in flight. Is this
the next big thing?
(source: Terrafugia)

The Tansition keeps the wings folded up, origami style, against the side of the vehicle while driving on the road surface. Once at a location that's suitable for takeoff, the driver/pilot pushes a button and the wings slowly deploy until they lock into position for flight.

The dash looks pretty much like any car with the exception of a few additional gauges needed for flight. Along with the steering wheel is a typical pilot's control stick planted in the floor. The aircraft seats two and can fly 425 miles at 115mph in the air and still gets 35 MPG as a car.

Interested? The Transition will set you back a cool $250,000. Still interested? Then, you'll find more information at the Terrafugia site located here.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Cool Tools- The best of anything that makes life easier.

I inherited a bunch of tools from my grandfather after he passed on. Among the assortment of hammers, pliers and other stuff I hauled home, I found a strange little shovel. Almost a toy, the shovel was ruggedly built with an oak handle and had a very curved blade- too much for generic use. I had never seen anything like it before until a few years later when I was watching some landscapers plant a tree and they were using an indentical shovel. Turns out, the shovel is meant solely for digging round holes for trees and bushes...and nothing else.

I would call that a pretty cool tool.

Others like me seek out these specialized gadgets for all manner of uses. The common thread that binds them together is the specificity of their design. And finding a quality choice from among the many choices that might be out there can be a challenge too. Luckily, there's a website that relies on the submission of the general public to help them find tools that are well-built and, most of all, useful for the required task.


What is this tool and why is it cool?
Click the link to find out!
(source: Cool Tools)
Cool Tools is a website that seeks out the input of users, professionals and hobbyists to submit their choices for the finest tools available for the job. Many of the users make their living using the posted tool and have gone through a long experience with lesser choices. Experience is the best teacher and you benefit from their encounters with the best.

Sometimes the tools really are tools or they could be books or websites or DVDs or just objects that make life a little easier all around. If any web visitor disagrees, they're welcome to submit their choice and to justify why it's best for the job.

The site is breezy, informative and cheery. Topics and tools can be as obscure as a great BBQ grill, an exciting electric scooter or the best guide to renting property in Bulgaria (!). If it's useful and well thought out, you'll find it here. Also, there's a link at the bottom of every article for you purchase, visit or otherwise experience the specific toll yourself.

To go to the Cool Tool site, click here.

And if you have any trees to plant, I have the shovel to do it right. Pretty cool.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Switch Modular Pocket Knife- the multitool with multi personalities.

I like multitools. I've owned at least five or six. As a television news photojournalist, I am forever fixing or tweaking tripods, live trucks, microphones, cameras, wireless transmitters and all of the ephemera I use for my day job. It seems that everything I use has itty-bitty screws or AA batteries stuck waaay in the bottom of some deep hole that requires my multitool to dig them out.

But, there's a problem with most multitools. I'm often assigned to news locations that don't allow knife blades- courtrooms, police stations, schools and the like- so I have to remember to leave the multitool in the car. If I don't, it becomes the property of the state for good (somewhere, there's a security guard making a fortune selling confiscated multitools on Ebay) .

I did find the solution eventually. The Switch Modular Pocket Knife doesn't have the most imaginative name, but it does have imaginative design. Think of a Swiss army knife- all in separate pieces. Look in the very organized box the SMPK comes in and you"ll see what I mean. 

See what I mean?
(source: ThinkGeek)
Now, pick the tweezers, magnifying glass, screwdriver, nail file, etc out of the box and attach them to the pocket holder. If you leave out the knife blade, then you now have something that can be carried into a courtroom or pass muster with the TSA at the airport (check the TSA site here to see what's allowed). The point is, you can install- or not- any of the tools that come with the kit. Once installed, they are secure as a bank vault until you decide to change them again. And again.

...or stuff it full.
(source: ThinkGeek)


Add just a few tools...
(source: ThinkGeek)












The good folks at ThinkGeek (yes, that's a store) have this gadget for you to purchase for the low, low price of $59.99- that's the same price of a quality multitool from the well known brands. ThinkGeek has other, hard-to-find stuff too, so look around while you're there for other gee-wizardry that will keep your inner geek happy. Click here to go to the ThinkGeek site.

Hey, I think I just double posted and you guys got two times the blogging goodness for the price of one.

You're welcome.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Nissan Leaf reviewed. It drives like a car...and that's a very good thing.

Gas cars have been around almost 120 years. Others have tried steam engines, jet power and even a few abortive tries at electrical locomotion, but it seems that the good old standard combustion engine keeps chuggin' along, merrily carrying us all from point A to point B in relative comfort, safety and efficiency.

That's beginning to change. Slowly, the major car manufacturers are starting to introduce hybrids across their entire product line. The Toyota Prius and the Chevrolet Volt are two examples of the hybrid approach where electrical batteries are used in conjunction with small engine to extend the reach of the vehicle and achieve unheard of MPG of 50, 60 or even 70 MPG.

Would you even look twice at this car on your commute?
(source: Nissan)

Now, Nissan has leapfrogged the industry with the introduction of the Nissan Leaf all electric vehicle. That's right- no gas engine at all! No gas tank and no stopping at the pump for $4/gal. gas again.

Instead, the Leaf charges its batteries overnight or while you work and is good for about 85 miles on a full charge (IMO, I'd cut that by a third to account for real world driving conditions). But if you think about it, how much do you and I really drive most days? I'd say most of us go less than 50 miles a day and the Leaf seems an ideal vehicle for those folks.
 The Leaf still has full air conditioning, heating, power everything and a comfortable interior that gives up nothing to the gas guzzler next door. Nissan's official Leaf site can be found here and you'll be able to see what makes it so special. Technology is nice, but unless the public sees it as a legitimate replacement for fossil fuels, it may all be for naught.

This super high-tech interior looks pretty normal, doesn't it?
(source: Nissan)
Want to know what it's like to live with the Nissan Leaf? Our friends at Ubergizmo acutally ordered one and they can tell you what real life is like with the Leaf- the good, the bad and the shocking. Click here to go there now. Turns out, the Leaf drives pretty much like, well....a car.

And that's high praise. Cars like the Leaf will only find acceptance with US consumers when they don't have to give up the usual luxuries in order to get the efficiency. Nissan seems to be on to something here, but the ultimate test will be in the marketplace.

Check back with my grandson in 120 years and he'll be able to tell you if the Leaf and it's progeny made a go of it or not.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Five e-readers for under $175 reviewed.

My daughter recently graduated from high school. Her aunt gave her an Amazon Kindle as a present for all of her hard work. She loves it and reads it as much as possible. This points out just how popular e-readers like the Kindle have gotten over the past few years. With the ability to hold hundreds of books, newspapers and other publications as well as a battery life that can stretch for weeks, it's no wonder e-readers have become so popular.


Once you buy one, you may never get a paper book again.
(source: NPR.org)
 Now, there are many competitors to the Kindle that just might provide a strong experience for you and still keep you on your budget. The National Public Radio website has a review posted of five readers you can buy for less than $175. A couple of them you've probably heard of- the aforementioned Kindle and the Nook. The others have names that are probably strange to most of us (ever heard of Kobo? Me neither).

But the real surprise is the opinion of the author that the quality of these optional e-readers may not be all that bad. The technology has matured and the engineering required to produce a reader that provides a good reading experience.

Go the review here to see for yourself that the world of e-readers doesn't mean you have to buy only a Kindle or a Nook. Other competitors are out there to help you (and my daughter) enjoy reading just about anywhere, anytime.

And remember, you read it here first.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Starting a web Business? There's thousands of products at Alibaba.

Your path to wealth could start here (maybe).
(source: Alibaba)
Turn over just about any product and you're likely to see a "Made in China" label somewhere. Even the keyboard I'm typing this posting with was created in the Far East. However, most of these products are sold by Americans to Americans- but did you ever wonder just how did those Chinese made products make it to our shores?

One way is the website Alibaba.com. It claims to have more than 100,000 suppliers of nearly any kind of product from electronics to patio furniture, toys, clothing, motorcycles, leather products, lamps and nearly everything else you might possibly wish to buy and sell.


See? Anything!
(source: Alibaba)
 I can't vouch for the quality, but in most cases, it seems to be at least acceptable. Be warned, this is not a site for buying one of this or three of that. Minimum orders are required (remember, these folks are both the manufacturer and the wholesaler- they need to stay in business).  The coffee maker you see pictured here has a minimum order of 1088 pieces.

As a business person, it's up to you to make contact with the companies and arrange transport, payment and all of the other details required for transactions like this. Luckily, Aliabab also has an advice section and a member's forum (you don't have to join anything at all to read the forum) that discusses the ins and outs of the import/export business.

But, if you're willing to make some effort, invest some money and work with companies 10,000 miles away, you could be the nest Amazon.com or maybe you just might find a way to make a few extra bucks.

Alibaba will connect you with the manufacturer who is providing you with the widget you seek. Everything else that happens is between you and the factory. Remember, it's in the factory's best interest to provide you with a product you can sell in good conscience so you'll be a repeat customer.

To find Alibaba, click here and remember, you're ol' buddy the Tech Monkey gets 10% off!

Monday, June 6, 2011

I'm writing a new column!

As some of you may or may not know, I work in television news. I've been a news videographer for more than 20 years. Doing this job involves a lot of electronics and gadgets and that is probably where my love of gizmos comes from.

For much of that time, I was a chief photographer- a leader of a staff of video journmalists and expected to be the expert in all things video.

Well, there's a new website in town called the 247 newsroom. It's a website by and for video news professionals and the point is to share and help each other to be better at what we do. Anyone can visit, its free and you might get a bit insight into what goes on in the world of local TV news.

Go here to see it now.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Google Shopper- How your smart phone can save you big money.

It's time to go buy a new TV? Good for you. Once you get down to the big box store and find the flat screen of your dreams, you're blindsided by the big bucks needed to acquire the latest and greatest in electronic gee-wizardry. It has to be cheaper elsewhere, right? Thanks to the smartphone app Shop Smart from Google, you just might be saving a good amount of cash. Plus,  the app saves on more than TVs-  any kind of merchandise that has a barcode qualifies.



You're taking a picture of what?
(source: Google)
How? This is the part that gets really clever: Once the app is open, simply take a photo of the barcode. Google then searches the World Wide Web for all products matching the barcode just entered. If it's cheaper in a brick store elsewhere, Google Shopper will tell you the price and provide directions to the store's location. If it's cheaper online, you'll be given the option of buying it immediately via the phone.

Simple and elegant, isn't it?
(source: AOL)
Books are even more clever. Take a photo of the bookcover- no barcode required- and you'll be given options to find it cheaper elsewhere (if available). DVD covers are rumored to be next.

The app is free, secure and available from a trusted source.

You don't need to Google that to know this is a bargain.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Is a Harley Davidson Motorcycle too cliche for you? Here are three motorcycle alternatives to make you stand out from the crowd!

First: Harleys are fantastic motorcycles with a historic pedigree and a popularity that makes it one of the most iconic symbols of the American open road and the idea of freedom.

That said, Harleys are everywhere. That doesn't make them bad, but it does make them...well, common.

For those who seek out a ride not like everyone else's, but are still built closer to home, there are three options that leap to mind. One is a legendary name, the second is a new "traditional" brand and the last is new on the scene with a fresh approach to what a motorcycle can be.

This certainly is different from a Harley
(source: Indian)


 Indian Motorcycles were built from 1901 to 1953, before the original company went bankrupt. The name floated around from owner to owner until 2006 when the new Indian Motorcycle Company restarted manufacturing in North Carolina. Built to be exclusive and rare, Indians are built with an eye towards the artistic and impresses the viewer with its grace and power. It's not cheap, but being different can sometimes be pricey. http://www.indianmotorcycle.com/.

This sure isn't a Harley is it?
(source: Victory)
Victory Motorcycles are built in Iowa and are meant to be direct competitors to Harley Davidson instead of positioning themselves as a "Tiffany" brand like Indian. Owned by the snowmobile producer Polaris, Victory aims to provide an alternative to Harleys, while maintaining a similar "bad boy" theme. Modestly profitable since 2002, Victory has slowly built a following and has expanded it line to include models from entry-level to opulent. In April of 2011, Victory bought Indian and plans to position it as their upmarket brand. Victory's website can be found here.

And now for something completely different- the Can Am Motorcycle.


When you want to be VERY different
(source: Can Am)

Three wheeled motorcycles are nothing new, but they are always modifications after the two wheeled vehicle is purchased. Can Am is different, because it's designed from the ground up to be a three wheeler or a trike. Artistically splitting waaay off from the Harley look, Can Am chose to take the "Racer" look and add a bit of highway cruiser.

Many people prefer the Can Am because of it's stability and style not to mention the looks it gets from slack-jawed pedestrians- and some people love that kind of attention. Accessories galore are available and it certainly is very different. Owned by the Bombardier Corporation, it's built in Canada (the "Can" part of Can Am). Go to Can Am's site here and be prepared to be surprised.

Harleys are gorgeous, but they're not the only game in town. Others do exist and allow the consumer options, including the option of being the different one on the open road.


Sunday, May 8, 2011

Three days of survival- get a 72 hour kit to help your family in an emergency.

Tsunami- Northern Japan.
Earthquake- New Zealand
River Flooding- Memphis, TN
Volcano- Mt. St. Helens
Nuclear meltdown- Japan
Wildfires- Southern California
Hurricanes- Southern United States

Listed above are 7 reasons why you and your loved ones should put together a 72 hour kit.

A 72 hour kit is a varied assorment of items that provides your family the ability to survive and endure for three days should you find that you are suddenly forced from your home (not likely? The people in the list above thought so too).

It doesn't have to be complicated or expensive, but common sense does rule here. Beyond the obvious items like a first aid kit and some food, other items that may not leap to mind include copies of legal documents (driver's license, social security card, insurance documents, etc.), deck of cards, maps, list of important phone numbers as well as feminine hygene products for the fairer sex in your family.

Luckily, there are numerous producers of 72 hour kits for your consideration and the costs range from the $40 area to a couple of hundred dollars. Kits also range in size from one person to a dozen people (for business and corporations). Amazon offers many kits and  the list can be found by clicking here.


A kit like this could mean the difference between thriving and misery.
(source: 24-7.com)
 But even an expensive kit can't anticipate every need, so you need to research both expert opinion and your family's specific needs like medical conditions, age, size and so on.

One list online to consider is the US Government's Homeland Security recommendations for a homemmade kit. Many other sites offer their opinions on the contents of a kit too. Research all and decide what's best for you and those you love. My suggestion is to purchase a quality 72 hour kit and add items that best serve your needs and requirements. Keep it updated and available and keep your family safe.

You never know when disaster will strike- Some of the people listed in the seven examples above had no idea they would need a kit like this...until it was too late. Be prepared.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Open the FBI Vault and access formerly secret papers, documents and other files of the US government.

For the education of  my overseas readers (I have them in China, France and Iran and more than 30 other countries) we have a process of requesting and recieving formerly secret documents from the government here in the United States. It called a "Freedom of Information Act" request. This means that, unless the information  is deemed to be vital to national security, the information must be released to the person or group making the request, even if the information is embarassing to the national government, politicians or other groups.  

Source: FBI
To make this process easier, the US government's investigative department, the FBI- has recently opened a website called The Vault. Contained within the site are PDF images (scanned copies of the original documents) of the most requested investigations conducted by the FBI over its long, storied history- more than 2,000 pages in all. World War II, civil right leaders, Mafia investigations and UFO sighting are but a few of the topics covered and available for viewing or printing out. Not every piece of paper printed by the Bureau is included- just the most commonly requested ones. More documents are added at regular intervals and you are still free to make specific FOI requests to the FBI if you can't find the document you seek on this website.


The FBI's Roswell UFO Memo
(source: the FBI Vault)
 There's no cost, the FBI doesn't ask (or care) who you are or where you're from and no registration is required to access any of these pages. Some of the names and bits of other information (social securtity numbers, phone numbers, credit card information, etc.) are redacted, but all of the rest of the information is right there for your review.

So whether you're from Nevada, Norway or Nigeria, you have the capability to review some of this nation's most historical documents for free, warts and all.

Go to the FBI's Vault site here.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Justice for fun- Listen to Judge John Hodgeman- he rules!

I use my iPod to fill the empty space in my day- driving to and from work, weeding the garden, painting a bedroom or listening to the wife (just kidding, honey). I fill it with all sorts of podcasts dealing with history, science and tech news of the day. But my player is not just filled with serious subject matter, I have more than a few podcasts I listen to because they amuse and suprise me and keep me laughing through my chores and drudgery.

One of my favorites is "Judge John Hodgeman". You might know him as "PC" on the famous Apple ads from not too long ago. Turns out, Mr Hodgeman is a Yale man and is deeply thoughtful and hilarious at the same time. As a bit of fun, he produces, along with some friends, a podcast where he is the judge and presides over a court of silly disagreements. Topics in the recent past have included How to Peel a Banana Correctly, Is a Machine Gun a Robot and Should my Dad Make me Watch Classic Movies. He has a blaiff sidekick who adds his two cents to the case and introduces and explains each case to the listener.

This show is guilty of being hilarious
(source: maximumfun.org)
Each case is real in the sense the people bringing the case are genuine and the interplay is not scripted. No outcome is promised and the only award a "winner" might get is the satisfaction that his/her side of the case is the correct one in the eyes of His Honor, Judge Hodgeman. The banter between the judge and the litigants is snappy and smart and it appeals to the intelectual in me as some of the theories or ideas introduced force me to think on a higher plane and that makes the humor even sharper to me.

You can download the episodes on iTunes or in the Zune Marketplace or you can go to the website directly and play each episode there, no iPod required- although a speaker is necessary.

You can hear the entire list of shows by going here to listen to the funniest courtroom you've ever heard and you'll find it to be your newest "guilty" pleasure.

Court's Adjourned.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

An Android tablet alternative to the iPad from Archos.

Think tablet and most of us think iPad. This isn't surprising as iPad has had a long time to build the name recognition and ingrain itself into the mind of the consumer. Those who build Android devices have only now gotten started on producing competitors that even start to approch the capabilities and ease of use of Apple's offering.

Looking on the horizon, there are literally hundreds of models just out of sight that are ready for their debut in the marketplace. By this time next year, we'll be knee deep in 5, 7, 10 and even 12" Android devices. But, there is a manufacturer that offers Android tablets right now and in a variety of sizes too.

Their biggest problem? Marketing.

Archos has been around for years and virtually no one had heard of them in the United States (have you?)and that's a shame. With offerings that range from MP3 players no larger than a stick of gum to full sized tablets , Archos seems to be running under the radar of the common consumer.

Sticking to the Android theme, Archos has platforms with 2.5". 3.2" and 4.3" screens that appear and operate exactly like a typical Android cell phone- without the phone part. Relying on wifi for an internet connection, these are able to use most of the same apps with the same performance and results as a $75/mo. cell phone would provide.

Moving up in size, 5, 7 and 10 inch models are available that mimic the tablet form factor and some of them have memory up to 250G in size (the iPad maxes out at 64G).

The Archos 101 internet tablet
(source: Engadget)
Is it better than the iPad? No- not yet. Most of the tablets aren't on the Honeycomb version of Android software (yet) and the ease of use may not be at the Apple level for awhile. But for those of use who could use the utility of the Apps without the inflated costs of cell phone service, the Archos line deserves your consideration, especially when you consider the model most comparable to the iPad (the 10" model) comes in at $300 less than the model from Cupertino.

I'm looking at getting one to keep near the couch upstairs for casual browsing, checking e-mail and other impulsive, light duty computer use.

BTW, I found an interesting review of the internet tablet in the photo. Go here to see it.

Go to the Archos site here and maybe next time someone mentions a tablet computer, you'll think of more than the iPad.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Eat Cheap- Spend a few bucks at Restaurant.com to save big bucks at your local eatery!

There are two things I love in this world besides my wife and kids: saving money and eating out. If I can do both at the same time, even better. Lately, what with gas prices going sky high and my new job, money has been a little tight lately, so when I was on the lookout for different ways to save money and still do what I love, my friend Allison came to the rescue.

Thank you Allison!
(source: unknown)
She told me about Restaurant.com. Here's an example of how it works: Buy a $50 gift certificate for $10 from the long list of restaurants in your area. They have a contract with Restaurants.com to accept the certificate and in the unlikely event your certificate is denied, you'll get your money back. You can search for a place by name or zip code.

Is it legit? Allison seems to think so and has used the service several times with full satisfaction. Also, the site has more than 18,000 "likes" on Facebook, so that's promising.

There are a few minor catches: all are local restaurants (no chains that I could find), Drinks are not included and the tip is to be computed before the discount is taken- although this is standard for all discounts. Finally, you have to spend a up to certain amount before you can redeem the certificate (easy with a family). This is Ok with me as we have several locally-owned favorite places we frequent and one well-liked Mexican restaurant three blocks from my house is on the list, so you can be pretty sure I'll be buying a certificate soon.

BTW, if this seems like a commercial for the site, it isn't. I have no connection whatsoever with Restaurant.com. I just love saving money and feeding a family of five ain't cheap and if there's a way to keep a few dollars in my pocket and frequent a local business, I'm in.

Go to Restaurant.com here and don't forget to tip your waiters!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Movie trailers- see both current and future releases right now!

Spring is in the air and Summer is not far off and for many fans these seasons are are great time to catch a movie and be swept away by Hollywood magic. One of my favorite times in a cinema is to see the trailers for movies about to debut at my local theater.

This very theater was my local movie house as a kid.
(source: modbee.com)
 But you don't have to pay $8 to see what's coming in the next few months. For movies lovers like me (and you), Yahoo! offers a movie service that debuts trailers and clips from future releases for your enjoyment. Most of the trailers are for film just a couple of months out from release but a few are from film scheduled for much farther out and at least give you an idea of what is in production for Christmas or even summer 2012.

Now, there are other websites that offer a similar service, but for my money, Yahoo!'s movie website is the easiest to navigate, simplest to use and provides a better overall ecperience for me when all I want to do is see the darn trailer!

You'll be able to see clips from movies like the new Pirates of the Carribean installment, Captain America, Apollo 18 and Kung Fu Panda 2 (that last one is for my kids- really) , plus more are added every day. If I had to guess, I'd say that 50 or 60 trailers are available for current and future releases. You can also buy tickets, get the latest news and photos and see blogs on films and Hollywood.

Go to Yahoo! Movies to see the trailer that catches your fancy. After all, if you're going to spend an ever increasing amount of your money for tickets, a little research can help you make a better choice.

Shhhh! Movie's starting...

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Family Handyman magazine and website- the DIY person's secret weapon.

Our last house had what my wife calls "potential". In our marraige, this is shorthand for "the husband is in for a lot of work to get this house just the way the wife wants it". When we purchased the home, it was the model home for the development...in 1967! Very little had been done in the way of modernizing and it was up to me to develop this potential. The kitchen, bathrooms, entry and other parts of the home needed a major redo. As a do it yourselfer, I'm average, but there were times when I need just a bit more information or a handy tip or two to get the result just right.

Ladies love a guy who is handy- that's what
my wife tells me, anyway.
(source: TFH)
Luckily for me, the answer is just a few clicks away. For decades now, the national magazine The Family Handyman has been a fixture on store shelves and is well known for clear, easy to follow instructions for all manner of home improvement projects, from toilets to drywall to plumbing and roofs. The problem is keeping all of these publications organized according to subject and then having it available when you need it.

But The Family Handyman has all of this solved for you...and for free! Virtually thousands of "how-to" articles are kept on The Family Handyman website for your perusal and printout. Need to know about power tools? Sure, it's in there. What about installing a home theater? No problem- it's there too. Just about any topic is covered and in the unlikely event you do happen to stump the search function, you can always join the FH online community where someone is certain to have the information you seek. To search for your particular subject is easy- at the top of the homepage is a large search window- simply fill it out with words matching the topic of your choice.

Personally, I have used both the magazine and the online home of TFH to help me renovate three bathrooms, drywall an entry, plant just the right flowers at just the right time and ensure that the ceiling fan I was installing was done safely and correctly. Go to The Family Handyman website here to save time and effort and make you the DIY hero of your house.

BTW, I showed my wife the 1st draft of this post and she said it had "potential". Sigh...back to work!

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