Ah, Tech Toys

I happen to have one of those types of jobs (and a very loving wife) that allows me to play with a number of tech gadgets. This includes the latest and greatest cell phones, GPS devices, server software, WIFI Access Points and a variety of other nerd items. Here's a quick run-down on some of my favortites.

 

Synology DS413+

Over the years, I have acquired 1000's of gigabytes of applications, photos, vacation videos and ripped movies.

My current Windows Home Server was starting to age and I didn't want to risk loosing anything. As such, I replaced it with the Synology DS413+ with four 3-TB WD Red NAS drives. Using RAID 5, it provides an 8 TB array disk storage with a wide range of included server apps (such as Plex, iTunes server, Syslog, email server, etc.). I also upgraded my UPS system to include a CyberPower CP1500PFCLCD PFC Sinewave UPS 1500VA unit to keep it running smooth.

 

Apple iPad2 64GB with 3G

My original iPad worked well and did everything I wanted. But MC seemed to have it in her hands more and more and finally decided she wanted one of her own. Off to the Apple store. We ended up getting a his & her package. One AT&T white model for her and a black one for me. We use the iPads daily for checking email, playing games, recording videos of the kitties, etc.

 

Google Nexus 7

Google's Android powered Nexus 7 is a very nice with a 1,280 x 800 IPS display panel. Text is rendered very clear and readable and 720p videos look great. For the given price, the screen has a good contrast irrespective of the viewing angles and brightness of the room.

The specs for the Nexus 7 are quite impressive. It's powered by a quad-core Tegra 3 processor with 1GB RAM and 16GB of onboard storage.

As well, the battery life is quite good and I reallly like the smaller form factor over the iPad2. For $249, its a great tablet at an affordable price point.

 

Apple 13" Macbook Pro

As many of you may know, I'm a die-hard Windows fan. Always have been. My problem is that too many of my clients at work are starting to bring in Mac's into the office and asking for support. As they say, if you can't beat them, join them. I ended up with buying the Macbook Pro simply because I really didn't know what I needed as far as processor power, features, storage. I ended up getting the 13" Macbook Pro with an i7 processor and 8 GB of RAM and 500 GB hard drive. Over the next few months, I'm grown to enjoy the Mac and have even acquired my first Mac Certification and now digging into Mac Server and Apple Configurator and assorted apps. My favorite is FileMaker Pro.

 

FileMaker Pro v12

One of the easiest database programs I've played with is FileMaker. It comes with both Windows and Mac versions and creates full version for use on iOS devices (iPhone / iPad) with ease. It provides enhanced container fields for storing embedded files (PDF's, videos, images) all within the database. The enhanced iOS compatibility with free new FileMaker Go apps for iPad and iPhone, makes it a great tool. It even has Quick Charts for streamlining the process of creating new charts based off of database entries.

 

TED 5002
Home Energy Monitoring System

06/2010: The TED is a awesome tool that is extremely accurate for home energy monitoring. It allows you to see electricity usage in real-time. The system includes several CT clamps that go around your power mains and senses usage. They're connected to a set of MTU's that sends the data to the TED Gateway that acts like a mini web server that stores months of data and provides all of the graphical charts and usage info.

 

 

The details on energy usage and colorful graphs are outstanding. You can watch power changes as little at 10 watts and the system can update the screen every 2 seconds if desired. Information can be exported to Excel and works with Google PowerMeter too. Our electrical bill has dropped from a average of $189 to $95! The system will pay for it self in just a few months.

 

45-Watt Solar Panel

 

Along the lines of reducing energy usage, I recently purchased a 45 watt solar panel kit from Harbor Freight. I intend on using it to mainly power the 20+ landscaping lights we have in the backyard and add a 300 watt inverter to power a few CFL lights for use in the garage.

The system is currently just sitting on a table in the backyard keeping a 90-amp deep cycle battery charged. I only have a few lights hooked up to it at the moment. More to come on this fun project.

 

Garage Power & Lights

In June, I installed two 20-AMP dedicated circuits in the garage each on its own separate phase. The higher capacity circuits were needed for power tools, compressor, table saw, etc. No more hassles with tripping the breakers.

At the same time, I re-wired several of the overhead lights in the garage. They're now hard-wired directly and controlled through the light switches... as they should have been in the first place.



Yaesu FTM-350 Amateur Mobile Radio

 

Yaesu FTM-350

 

 

 

 

 

 

Way back in September 2001, I acquired my amateur radio license. It provided many years of fun and enjoyment. The roof on the old house had several antennas at 30' above the peak that allowed clear communications to almost anywhere within San Diego. I was able to keep in touch with my friends, use the repeaters for quick phone calls etc.

I have recently got the bug again. My latest gadget, the Yaesu FTM 350R, has some cool features I couldn't pass up on. One of the newest features of some of the modern 2-way radios includes GPS satellite and APRS (Automatic Position Reporting System). Yaesu has done a great job of integrating all of features in one nice package.

    • 50 Watts of transmit Power
    • Incredibly Bright & Clear Dual Band Display
    • Complete with TNC
    • High-speed Band Scope
    • Cross-Band Repeat
    • 1200 / 9600 bps packet port

Here's a few screen shots of the display.

Image#1 is the APRS / GPS tracking display
#2 is the beacon pop-up screen when a station is heard by the radio
#3 is the dual band spectrum scope.

Yaesu FTM 350 screens

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yaesu FT 8900 Quad Band

I also picked up a 2nd radio for home use up in the office area. The Yaesu FT8900 is a quad band, 50 watt radio. Because of the HOA requirements, I had to use a small antenna mounted towards the side of the house.

Yaesu FT8900

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Davis Vantage Pro Weather Station

Davis Vantage  Pro

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I started to get into weather because of where I work. No, I don't work outside and worry if it's raining or not. It's because of the impacts weather has on the daily operation of where I work - San Diego Gas & Electric.

Strong winds cause concern if the power lines sway or snap and connect with vegetation (wind + dry grounds=fire).

The Davis Vantage Pro wireless employs the latest technology to bring you sophisticated forecasting, on-screen graphing and the easy wireless installation. The huge backlit LCD display instantly conveys an immense amount of information. The fixed display area shows you the most important weather variables at all times including temperature, humidity and barometric pressure. The compass rose shows wind direction to 1° or wind speed. You can view rainfall for minutes, hours, days, month year or storm plus rainfall for last 24 storms. Time and date are shown or you can show time of sunrise and sunset. The variable display area lets you pick between inside or optional temperature or soil moisture (optional sensors required). Or wind chill, dew point or two different heat indices. Eight phases of the moon are also displayed on a special icon. Quick view icons show the forecast at a glance --- sunny, partly sunny, cloudy, rain or snow --- while a moving ticker-tape display gives more details. The Vantage Pro utilizes a more frequent update interval --- every 2.5 seconds, compared to the 3 to 15 minutes found on other stations!

 

I now publish the weather information on a community web site for Ocean View Hills. Check it out here

 

Verizon MiFi Mobile hotspot EVDo card.

The MiFi 2200 device is about the size of eight stacked credit cards and weighs just over 2 ounces, so it’s ultra-portable Wi-Fi connection for multiple users.

The Verizon Mobile Hotspot provides access to up to five Wi-Fi enabled devices, including notebooks, netbooks, MP3 players, smartphones, cameras, PDAs, portable gaming systems and more. I'm hoping to have the new MiFi in my hands around 10/15. I'll provide an update soon afterwards.

 

Windows 7

On October 22, Microsoft will release it's newest Windows operating system, Windows 7. Microsoft has said that Windows 7 will come in five different editions in most markets--Starter, Home Premium, Professional, Enterprise and Ultimate.

I think I have settled on the Ultimate version. I have a Vista Ultimate for upgrading so I should get a decent price... I hope.

 

Ademco Internet Monitoring Module

I recently added a new alarm system here at the house. I wanted more features and the added benefit of getting notifications on my iPhone. I purchased the alarm motherboard, panel and related parts and then added a ICM module (Internet Connection Module) which allows the alarm panel to be monitored by using my home broadband connection instead of requiring a separate and dedicated telephone line. The new system provides;


      • Alarm history available 24/7 including Arm, Disarm of Alarm and any system faults
      • E-Notify: Receive alerts to at any cell phone or e-mail address
      • V-Notify: Receive automated voice notifications to any phone number
      • Latchkey alerts: Receive an alert if the system isn't armed or disarmed on schedule

I' still running the old system that is tied to a second telephone line. I've only had a short amount of time to configure and demo the new alarm. I'm hoping over the next few months I can finalize it and dump the old system. Until then, I'm running both in parallel mode. More information soon.

 

Existing Reviews

Here's a quick review on a few of my more interesting and recent acquisitions.

LiveScribe Pulse digital pen

Note taking isn't one of those things I do well. Somehow I always seem to miss key points during some meetings. I have been following reviews on a number of digital pens over the past few years. None of the devices had really good reports. That was until I started seeing some news of the new LiveScribe "Pulse". Many of the initial reports were from respectable tech editors who gave it some pretty good ratings.


One of the best features (other than capturing your meeting notes in digital ink), is that it also does an awesome job of recording the audio at the same time. The Pulse goes one step further and links the two together and keeps the written portion in sync with the audio portion.

Like many other digital pens, the Livescribe Pulse uses special dotted paper for "spatial recognition" to digitally replicate the notes. In one regard, this is good, because it doesn't require any secondary hardware. On the other hand, you cant just use any old piece of paper to make this thing fully functional. Each sheet of paper has controls on the bottom, allowing navigation of the pens menu system, recording controls, book marking, playback controls, battery life and speaker volume.

 

The note-taking and digital recording function works smoothly. You hit the record button on the paper before you begin to write, then as you jot down your masterpiece, it simultaneously records the audio and keeps the two linked. When you stop recording, you can tap anywhere in the vicinity of your notes and it will playback the audio from that exact moment when you were writing. It's awesome.

Your notes and the associated audio can be uploaded into Livescribe's Desktop software, which manages and archives all of your notes according to the notebook they were written in and the page it was on. Text with audio are linked together.

LiveScribe has joined forces with a 3rd party developer that allows you to convert your hand writing to text (OCR). Knowing how bad my hand writing is, I downloaded the demo version and put it to test of some past notes. Wow-talk about impressive -- it converted with about 95% accurately. The remaining 5% the software missed was due to my very bad hand writing.

 

LiveScribe Digital Pen - $199

2 GB of storage (about 150 - 200 hours of meeting notes and audio)

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Garmin Forerunner 305

I'm trying to get into this fitness thing. The extra pounds from hazelnut coffee creamer, buttered popcorn, sitting in front to the computer for many hours at a time, etc. just hasn't been the best thing for me.

The Garmin Forerunner 305 is an awesome device. It does some pretty fancy tracking of your location, distance, workout time, heart rate, laps, etc. Once you have everything captured, you can plot your run or hike using the GPS information automatically to either the Garmin maps included with your package or you use Google Maps too. Garmin includes the "Garmin Training Center" software to use with the device but there are a number of free third party tools too that helps with logging and tracking your workouts. More information and all the specs can be found on the Garmin web site (located here)

 

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Microsoft Windows Home Server

July 2007, Microsoft released Windows Home Server (aka WHS). In short, it's Windows Server 2003 (limited to a max of 10 concurrent users) with Windows Home Media server all rolled into one.

If you are like many home users with multiple PCs in your home, this often means photos, music, videos and files are scattered about and difficult to locate across multiple machines. The Windows Home Server provides a central file server location to keep all your files for easy access. You can centralize and share your files and media across your home network. Remotely access files on your server and run applications on your home PCs from any connected computer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the two best features I like with WHS is the ability to perform unattended backups of all of your computers. When it performs the backups, it knows if the same exact file already exists on its storage and won't retain multiple copies of the same file. It is also very fast. On average, it can backup a PC or laptop in 30-45 minutes. The other cool feature is the internal storage redundancy. It's not RAID but has a slightly better option. You can tag any network share or folder with the WHS replicate feature. WHS keeps two copies of the data on two different drives and keeps them in perfect sync.

My WHS server specs include;

  • Intel 2.4GHz Dual Core Processor
  • 4 GB of RAM
  • 2.5 TB of storage

The photo of the server above is HP's version of WHS. I elected to do it a bit different and built my own system. I wanted greater storage options and features. As well, the typical WHS build is a headless unit (no monitor, keyboard or mouse) and I prefer a full stand-alone setup. In my configuration, I have a total of 2.5 TB of storage, of which I'm currently using slightly over 1 TB so far.

With WHS you can stream music and videos to PCs on your network or to your TV or stereo system. You can quickly create a SharePoint site, develop a full blown blog or photo web site and control external access with only the friends or family you designate.

I should mention that I have had a few server crashes over the past year. Each time was after applying patches to the OS. The system hive/registry becomes corrupted and the only way I know around it is to reload the system. Despite the reloading time, I haven't lost a single file on the shared storage.

I also have a "HP Media Vault" server with 1 TB of storage. It runs a unique customized version of Linux. I use this box for performing redundant backups of the WHS server or special backups that I just don't want to lose. Yea -- it's over kill but I do love the toys.

One of the other features of my home network environment is I use a 24 port Gigabit Cisco managed smart switch. This allows transfers to and from all the devices to be as fast as possible. And, it is very fast!

 


 

Roku Media Soundbridge

We have two of the Roku SoundBridge units. One in the living room and the other unit in the home office upstairs. It plays digital music files anywhere in the house by connecting it to your stereo or powered speakers and using the home network. You can listen to a variety of Internet Radio stations without even turning on your computer. It features a 280x16 LED display, for up to two lines of text showing the song and artist playing or you can show the sound response display and watch the lines bounce. I use it in conjunction with the Windows Home Server where I have over 8,000 music files to pick from.

The price has come down in the past year or so. You can now get these for as low as $130. For more information you can go to the Ruko.com

 


 

Apple's iPhone 3GS

 

Yea, I was one of those crazy guys who purchased the iPhone on day one of Apple's release back on June 29th 2007. I can still remember staying up late playing with it. It replaced a aging HTC Windows Mobile device.

Eighteen months after the original iPhone purchase, MC bought me a shiny new black 3G model as a early Christmas present. The increased internet speed and the tons of applications offered in the apps store has really made it like a mini PC.

Like everyone else who has had one in their hands, it is one of the best smart phones around. The operation is simple and the browser with the ability to enlarge text, rotate to landscape and the quality of the pages and images is unmatched.

Around July 2009, I upgraded again to the iPhone 3GS. I love the speed improvements, better GPS integration and four times the memory storage from my original iPhone.

I now can have 5-6 full length movies, 1,000+ MP3 music files, a handful of podcasts for learning spanish and still have plenty of memory left for my favorite apps.

A few of my iPhone apps include;

 

ipFob - Allows me to control my home security system from the iPhone. I can see when a door was opened, who opened it and when they reset the alarm. It pages me with all activity and alarms. Nice!

 

Live Cams - I have a number of IP enabled cameras throughout the house. They are all in a very public location and I even have one focused on the Koi pond. If I get a notification from the ipFob security software, I can quickly bring up the Live Cam app and see what is going on.

 

LoseIt - A free calorie and weight management app. You can track all your meals and exercises. It has a good food database included and can track;

    • calories
    • fat grams
    • sodium
    • carbs
    • protein

 

Evernote - An awesome application that allows you to quickly and easily capture web pages, notes, photos, voice notes, or almost any information using your PC or iPhone. Evernote makes all of the information accessible and searchable at any time, from anywhere. It's like a personal mini database of notes and web clippings & captures all indexed and easy to find.

 

SnapTell - Snap a picture of a book, movie DVD or music CD cover and get immediate information and best prices from Google, eBay, Barnes & Noble, etc

 

Google Earth - Just like the desktop version of Google Earth. You can tilt your iPhone to adjust the view and show the terrain to get a panorama view

 

Shazam - Hold the iPhone up to any song and Shazam will identify the tune, artists and provide links to on-line stores

 

     
     

 

Verizon's BlackBerry Storm

UPDATE 09/2009: I have upgraded from the Storm to the new Verizon Tour. Review information is pending. First impressions are very good... maybe because I hated the Storm so much??

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In addition to my personal iPhone, I also have a BlackBerry for work. I just upgraded (11/2008) from the Verizon 8703 to the 9000 (Storm). Well, my first impression was very mixed. The Verizon rep cautioned us about the steep learning curve and, boy does it! The Storm isn't like using the traditional BlackBerry--nor is it close to a iPhone clone. Maybe somewhere in-between.

The display is fantastic. It provides plenty of volume to the speaker for phone calls, movies, MP3's etc. It's the darn touch keyboard that is hard to master. Almost everyone I've asked about their experience has expressed the same frustration. It does get better with more experience but I think was much more productive on my trusty ol' 8830. I recently applied Verizon's update and it has helped with the sensitivity of the keyboard.

 


 

MagicJack

I'm sure you've seen the ad's -- "Never pay a monthly phone bill again! Free local and long distance calling in the USA and Canada. 100% Risk Free 30 Day Trial. $20 a year for unlimited domestic calling".

There have been great reviews from PC Magazine, Washington Post, CNet and many others all with glowing reports on the MagicJack. However, do a Google search on "MagicJack complaints" and WOW there are a few angry users.

The first unit I bought almost 18 months ago. It worked very well and flawlessly. It took about two minutes to configure the USB device, get a VoIP phone number and complete the registration process. This was all too easy and cheap. The audio was clear and no issues in making or receiving calls. The voicemail system works well, caller ID is functioning as advertised -- all worked as promised.

About six months later, all of a sudden the PC no longer recognized the device. I tried multiple PC's, I tried deleting and re-installing the drivers. Nothing worked. This is the same issue that many others had and with the same lack of customer service and poor success rate as myself. After many attempts to figure it out, I just gave up.

In early January 2009, I noticed the MagicJack showing up in Radio Shack and Best Buy ad's. Temptation got the best of me and I'm now on my second device. Just like the original device, it's working great. Lets just hope it lasts longer than 6-8 months.


 

Garmin Nüvi 265 WT GPS Unit


Navigation is just one part of this very cool GPS unit. The Nüvi 265WT includes many extras such as a JPEG picture viewer, world travel clock, automatic time zone transition, currency converter, unit converter, calculator and more.

With photo navigation, you can download pictures from Garmin Connect™ Photos and navigate to them.

The nüvi 265WT's widescreen display is bright and a very nice upgrade. It also has hands-free calling with integrated Bluetooth® wireless technology. And, one of the best features is it's integrated FM traffic receiver. Receive alerts about traffic delays and road construction and it's all included in the purchase price. You can also upgrade to the MSN traffic reports but the basic version work good enough for me.

Since we travel into Mexico frequently, I also purchased the Garmin City Navigator Mexico map SIM card. It does very well in all of the cities that we've been in so far (Tijuana, Rosarito Beach, Ensenada) with the slight exception that some of the one-way streets do not show correctly. The system may route you the wrong way.

 


 

2007 BMW Hard Top Convertible

My Pride & Joy. This is my third BMW and the best one yet. The previous models have been soft-tops and the road noise was just too much for my comfort level. In 2007, BMW announced the new hardtop convertible and I had a chance to look at one close up, I fell in love. The styling was nice and above all, the car was quiet with the top up. In fact, you almost wouldn't know it's a convertible unless you know the BMW line.

I have a whole page dedicated to my car. You can view it here