Tag Archives: Gadgets

Clarifi case for iPhone 3G

Quick review of the Clarifi case… with a couple of photos on Flickr… you can get it on Amazon

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Flip Video hits the UK – is it overpriced?

I see that the Flip Video camera is now available in the UK. I remember being pretty excited when these things were initially announced in the US, and sent the company an email at the time asking when I’d be able to get one in the UK (answer – they weren’t sure yet).

I have to wonder if these guys haven’t missed the boat and are relying purely on brand recognition to get them through here. The disgo / Busbi Video Plus (see my review) has been available for six months already, and is priced £30 cheaper (available from Amazon UK and Currys). Now, the difference is that the Flip has 2Gb memory, but add a cheap 2Gb SD card for less than a fiver and then remember that the Video Plus has a fold-out screen, and it’s hard to see how the Flip has a market.

I’m not in the market for a cheap video device at this point, but I’m fairly sure I’d think twice about the Flip. If they’d brought the new Flip Mino device straight over the pond it might have been a harder choice, but as it stands, I’d look at the alternatives.

Gadgets part 3: Eye-Fi

Here’s something I’ve wanted to get my hands on for a while now… an Eye-Fi SD card. If you don’t know about these things, essentially they are standard 2Gb SD cards that fit into any camera that will take the format (or others, with e.g. a Compact Flash/SD adapter). The good part is that they make the camera wireless-capable….

Pull the tab!

So I picked up my Eye-Fi card and the first thing that I noticed was the cool packaging… pull on the tab on the right-hand side of the box, and the box slides out to the left, revealing a USB dongle and the card already inserted. You need the dongle, because you need to use the computer to configure the card.

Once I plugged the dongle into the machine, an Eye-Fi item appeared on the desktop… it was pretty simple to just install the Mac software. Once I’d done that, I hit a small snag… I got a message about the Eye-Fi Manager software being unable to initalise the card. I tried running the Eye-Fi Manager a few times, but the same thing happened… until I took the dongle out of the USB port on the right-hand side of my machine, and plugged it back in on the left. That time, I got a set of dialogs enabling me to register an account. Not sure what happened there!

Eye-Fi error

Actually this seems to be an issue on my MacBook Pro… for some reason the Eye-Fi Manager software will never “initialize” the card when the dongle is plugged in on the right of the machine (although it still shows up as a mass storage device, and Lightroom sees it and offers to import images from it). Worked fine over on the left, but then the dongle is a bit too wide to enable the Magsafe power plug to be connected at the same time. Actually it seems a little random, unfortunately. I raised a problem with Eye-Fi support and they basically talked me through steps for checking that nothing else is using the port, plugging and replugging – nothing specifically useful. YMMV.

Card and card reader

Right, so here’s how this thing works. You start the Eye-Fi Manager software, which opens a web page to configure the card. Here, you can add wireless network details (it supports a whole range of network settings including WEP and WPA keys), rename the card if you want, and configure a huge variety of online services. I have configured mine for Flickr… but the software supports Facebook, SmugMug, WebShots, SnapFish, Picasa, Photobucket… and a gazillion others that I’ve not heard of before (oddly, Movable Type, Vox and Live Spaces, but not WordPress – hmm!). Once you’ve done that, you put the card in the camera, and it will automatically connect to the network and start uploading shots any time you take them.

EyeFiUpload

What appears to happen, is this: the camera uploads to Eye-Fi’s site, which then transfers to your chosen / configured photo service. The next time the Eye-Fi Manager sees the Eye-Fi site, it then mirrors the photos to the local disk (you can specify a location in the Eye-Fi Manager). I’m not 100% certain that this is how it works, but that’s what I’ve observed.

So now what about the downsides to this? Well for starters, the only supported file format is JPG. That’s OK, but of course Flickr now supports video too, for instance. Oh, and by the way, this is going to upload all your photos, anytime you take any, so I’ve set the default privacy option to private for Flickr uploads so I can review and tag etc. before publishing. The photos are obviously not titled or anything when the Eye-Fi uploads them, and they get a simple tag “Eye-Fi” set, but that’s all. So you will want to go and change title, tags, description, potentially rotate and so on once the image has been uploaded. Now that Flickr has Picnik integration, you can of course do some simple editing later as well. This does all bypass my “standard” photo workflow of Lightroom import, catalog, edit, and then upload, though.

One thing that the Eye-Fi does not support is wireless networks with certificates. Other than that, Open, WEP, WPA/WPA2 are all OK. It’s only going to work with networks it knows about, too (although you can configure more than one) – there’s no UI on the camera for configuring the card, you have to use the Eye-Fi Manager software while the dongle is plugged in to the camera.

Also, because there’s no UI on the camera side, there’s no visual indication as to what is happening… the Eye-Fi will silently upload your shots, and there’s actually no way of knowing that it is doing it, or when it has finished doing it. Of course it would be amazingly difficult for this to integrate with every camera if the makers had tried to build the Eye-Fi into the camera’s user interface, so I understand why this is the case – it’s just a little bit disconcerting! One nice feature is that there appears to be support for “interrupted” uploads, I see there’s a “Receive interrupted” comment in the Eye-Fi manager UI, so I think it will support partial upload and then resume.

Overall, it’s a neat idea, and certainly pretty cool for quick shoot-and-upload scenarios. Of course I often want to catalog my shots and touch-up on the computer first, but I can see cases where this could be really cool. Very handy for conferences etc. (oh, and that USB dongle can act as a reader for any SD card, too – handy). A qualified thumbs-up!

Here’s a link to a nice review, and here’s some news about the new models coming soon.

(post updated 14th May 2008 – a couple of additional details about workflow, the card initialization error, and the screenshot of the local machine import was added)

Gadgets part 2: Bamboo Fun

Bamboo Fun Until recently I’d hankered after one of the higher-end Intuous graphics tablets from Wacom, but a few friends have bought Bamboo models lately so I began to think that this might be a good option for me[1]. So far, it seems that way. What’s this all about? Well I’ve wanted a tablet for a while to help with photo / graphics work, and to try out sketchcasting (see below).

The product

The Bamboo Fun is a bundle which includes the tablet and stylus, plus a mouse (slightly redundant given I have a Mighty Mouse already) and Photoshop Elements – only version 4 for the Mac, annoyingly, but I guess I could always upgrade. To be honest, I’ve not even installed it yet.

The Bamboo comes in very stylish packaging reminiscent of something Apple would make… the box unfolds neatly, each item is wrapped in that thin foam bag packaging, and the driver CD is in a square box exactly like the ones that Apple uses for OS X CDs! So, first impressions are good. After that, basically it’s just plug-and-play… there’s a driver to install which provides some System Preferences to customise the tablet sensitivity and behaviour of the shortcut buttons, but that’s it.

Negative marks go to Wacom for having their registration page (and most of the website, it seems) “temporarily unavailable” for over a week. Not cool, and they are ignoring my emails too.

Usage – OS X and a tablet

In use, it’s been something of a mixed experience so far. The tablet itself is great, but it takes a lot of getting used to over a mouse (which is something I fully expected). The issues have been around the software support, and specifically in my case Lightroom. Two major annoyances – one that the zoom wheel at the top of the tablet doesn’t work in Lightroom, and secondly that although a single tap/click will zoom in, it is then really hard to get Lightroom to zoom back out with the stylus (should just be a simple tap/click again, that’s how it works with the mouse anyway).

On the plus side, it works beautifully well in Pixelmator.

Although OS X has handwriting recognition built in (the “Ink” system), actually I’ve not found this entirely reliable so far. [For éampe ltd to intSome word Son tbeTABLET] For example, I tried to write some words on the tablet just then, and you can see what happened. There doesn’t seem to be a way for the system to learn handwriting styles either. There is some software called inkBook that looks promising and somewhat more functional than the in-built software in OS X, but I don’t think I need it just yet (here’s a review). Handwriting was never going to be the primary focus of this purchase.

Oh, and it turns out that there are some issues with Ink and 64-bit apps in 10.5.x … I found that iScrobbler started to crash, and it looks like Ink is responsible. Weird.

Sketchcasting / sketchblogging

One of my main interests with the Bamboo was trying out Sketchcasting. Dave Briggs blogged about this a couple of months ago, and I’ve been fascinated since then. My first effort, though, was not the best… it’s way over-long (mainly as I fumbled around to work out how to get the thing to work) and not as well-planned as it might have been. Actually I think the Sketchcast site is somewhat limited… there’s no way of making things private, no friending, few social features at all. So instead, I picked up ArtRage and will try using that and Screenflow to create sketchcasts, and probably share them via my Viddler account, which will at least enable things to be embedded on WordPress.com.

More recently I’ve also noticed that Sacha Chua has been sketchblogging… using her Nintendo DS. Sacha is very creative and this seems like a really cool way of using a DS, although it looks like you need a bunch of homebrew software to make it work. Worth a look if you are interested, though.

[1] and, evidently, the only way I’m going to get a custom header image is to MAKE ONE MYSELF. This comment is aimed at no-one in particular. That is all.

Gadgets part 1: SATA/USB enclosure

It’s a three-part miniseries on gadgets now that I’m back from Las Vegas. If you’ve followed my Flickr then you’ll know what I’m about to talk about. Techie geekery starts here. Yes, I probably shouldn’t get quite so worked up about technology, but here I am.

One thing that I’ve not found that easy to get hold of is an external enclosure for SATA disks. IDE/USB caddies have been pretty widely-available for a while now, but most disks now use the SATA interface so I needed something that would let me backup my Thinkpad onto a spare 200Gb 2.5″ disk I’d been given.

I had a look through a bunch of enclosures in Frys and I have to say I just pretty much went with what seemed simplest (a NexStar SX from Vantec), without really spending too much time on the features… the decision was mainly based on cost ($20) and size. So when I finally (!) got around to opening the box today, I was completely astounded at the quality of the product, given the cost.

The NexStar SX packageThe box itself was solid cardboard (not the flimsy sort of stuff I’d expected). Inside was a soft carry case, and inside that was the metal enclosure itself. The product also ships with a USB cable with a “pass through” socket which seems to enable more devices to be attached, a driver disk, some screws and a screwdriver – very complete.

Once I took the enclosure out of the carry case I had another pleasant surprise. It’s metal and very compact. There are two small squeeze clips at the back… press them in and the top and bottom are released to slide off. The other USB enclosure I’ve previously purchased was really poor compared to this, with ugly screw lugs on the top and a very loose lid… this thing is really elegant. Case open

The only small issue I had was that the Hitachi drive I’d been supplied for my Thinkpad initially would not fit into the actual case, because it is so compact. The side screws made the drive just a little too wide to fit. I had to remove the top cover of the drive (see photo), but since Vantec provided a screwdriver this was no big deal.

That’s really all I have to say, but I just wanted to point out that this seems to be a really good quality bit of kit at a decent price. I probably ought to look for a 3.5″ version and then I can whip out the drives from my old Linux tower before decommissioning it!