Tag Archives: USB

Poken are growing up?

Poken Me! It seems like just a few short months ago that I discovered Poken – neat little USB keychain devices which you can touch together when you meet someone else with one, in order to electronically exchange social network IDs and contact information. Actually… it was only a few months ago – we talked about them on Dogear Nation episode 88 in February, and in an example of serendipitous discovery, I picked one up a week later at Twestival in London. I immediately thought the idea was cool, but I was disappointed to discover how much they cost, and how few people had them.

I mentioned Poken in my presentation at SOMESSO a couple of weeks ago. Whilst I love the idea, I simply haven’t come across enough people who have a Poken to have made it worth my while. My basic comment at the time was that I felt they needed to make themselves more widespread in order to be useful. Since then, I’ve continued the discussion in comments on a couple of blogs. To quote myself:

However, I think there are a few issues…

  • [they] cost more than most people are prepared to pay for what is essentially a small capacity but cute looking memory stick, and they are not very readily available;
  • the cuteness factor can also be off-putting to some people, particularly those with a business purpose in mind and the disposable income to buy them;
  • too few core connectors and salesmen have them (see Gladwell’s The Tipping Point), IMHO they should seed more;
  • the value-add of the site (which actually manages the contacts) is low, so the business model is presumably centred on selling the devices.

I had yet another conversation about Poken at a tweetup in London last week, and again heard comment that they were too toy-like for business users, and too few people had them.

Well – things appear to be changing. For want of a better phrase, it seems as though Poken are going slightly more corporate.

In particular, I was delighted to discover that they are being used in a much broader context at IBM’s Information on Demand conference this year – shedding the cute image, and hopefully becoming a bit more widespread.

This is all great stuff. I engaged with the idea of Poken as soon as I heard about the concept, and I hope that I’ll be able to share and manage my information more easily in future. Maybe Poken won’t be the answer, but I’m glad to see the idea broadening out, and hopefully reaching a wider audience.

nanokey

Amongst a small swarm of gadgets which recently invaded my life (various coupons and things being spent… more soon!) I picked up this little gem – a diddy MIDI keyboard, about as wide as a 13″ MacBook and perfect for the odd GarageBand composition. I made a really quick video which is posted on my YouTube channel.

Fedora 9 on a USB stick

Although you’ll most commonly hear me waxing lyrical about OS X these days, I’m a long-time Linux user. I’ve been running various flavours of Linux at home since Redhat 5.0 days.

Why Redhat and Fedora? Well, a good friend of mine noted a long time ago that it was the distribution likely to get the blessing of enterprise vendors as time went on. I’m not here to invite a flame war, and I’ve been impressed with a lot of other distros over the past couple of years in particular (while I keep meaning to give Ubuntu a “proper” run, I use it for development in VMWare Fusion on the Mac). I’ve run Fedora on a server and a workstation at home for a while now, and I’m always pretty keen to see what a new version has to offer.

Enter Fedora 9. I use my MacBook Pro pretty exclusively these days, so I just wanted a quick and easy way to see what Fedora 9 was like. I considered the Fusion option, but then read about the “Live USB” option. This is really nice… there’s a (currently Windows-based, sadly) desktop app that you run to select the “spin” of Fedora that you want, point it at an inserted USB memory key, and away you go… I chose Fedora 9 and let the Thinkpad download the image and then install it on my 1Gb USB stick. I also asked for a 200Mb “persistent overlay”, i.e. space that I could use for persistent storage of data like (I assume) my home directory. This is a far nicer option than a Live CD, as I can take my data with me.

A quick reboot, choosing a temporary boot device, pointing at the USB stick. The boot process was not all that promising, as it initially reported what looked like errors about inability to assign USB identifiers (or something), but it did all boot fine.

[click for a larger view]

In fact, it booted more than fine. I was pleased to find that Fedora 9 picked the “right” (i.e. max) resolution for my display straight away. The only customisation I needed to do to make the desktop more pleasant was to reduce the font size, but I can see why they went with the default size that they chose.

The next thing was to get myself online, or at least onto my home network. Based on past experience I went into the Network config under system preferences and started fiddling with the NIC settings. Didn’t work – although it could see the wireless card it didn’t want to let me join the network. Then I spotted the little wireless icon in the system tray at the top right of the screen, and clicking there let me join my home network immediately – with OS X levels of ease. Very impressive stuff.

Sound worked straight out of the box too… if I come across as surprised, remember I’ve been using Linux since RH 5 and I’m well aware of how flaky much of this stuff has been over the years.

Firefox worked fine, Pidgin let me configure my Google Talk account within seconds, taking a screenshot and editing in Gimp was no problem… this was a lovely experience overall. I was even able to install the Flash plugin for Firefox (although I had to download and install the RPM via sudo, rather than it just working via the Firefox addons installer).

All-in-all I was extremely impressed with the ease-of-installation and use. I’m not sure how often I’ll want to use this, but the fact that I have a fully-usable Linux distro on a bootable stick is just brilliant.

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!

Review: disgo Video Plus

A new video device

Video PlusA couple of weeks ago I saw a short news item on Tech Digest, which mentioned a new handheld USB camcorder called the disgo Video Plus (also mentioned on Shiny Shiny and Slashgear). Something similar has been available in the US since last year – the Pure Digital Flip Video – but that product is not available in the UK. The disgo camera has a flip-out screen which the Flip Video does not have, but in other respects they seem very similar.

I’ve been experimenting a little bit recently with video. This device seemed neat – it plugs in directly via USB and is aimed at YouTube-quality, quick video capture. The only thing I was concerned about was that according to the specifications, it didn’t support the Mac… unlike the Flip Video, which has full Mac and Windows support, the disgo product is only listed as compatible with Windows. I contacted disgo’s support team and had an excellent conversation via email where we established that it should just be a USB Mass Storage device, and I might have to do some fiddling to get the AVIs to play on the Mac, but I was willing to give that a try.

Impressions of the Video Plus itself

The camera is extremely neat. It takes 2 x AA batteries (a pair are supplied), comes with a soft carry case, and apart from that… it’s ready to go. The height is less than the size of my hand from the base of the palm to my fingertips, and it is about the same width as a classic iPod. It’s light, too.

ScreenThere’s a 1.5 inch screen (which, incidentally, is really nice and clear) that flips out sideways to enable you to see yourself if the camera is pointing at you – it doesn’t rotate on the axis, though. On the back there are a few buttons: on/off; play/pause; delete (which enables individual clips to be deleted on the device itself); a four way next/zoom/volume button; and a big red button to start or stop a recording. And that’s about it – this is simple stuff.

On one side there is the battery compartment, an SD/MMC card slot which will take up to a 2Gb SD card, and a slider which when pressed causes the USB connector to slide out of the top of the camera to the right of the lens. On the other side there’s a switch to choose between high quality or long play recording, and an A/V connector for hooking up to a TV. There’s a tripod screw connector on the base, and a mystery port on the top with a rubber cover, that I’ve not identified just yet.

It was dead simple to get going – switch on, hit record, and start making video clips. The onboard memory will store 30 minutes of video at high quality, or 60 minutes at lower quality; beyond that, you can obviously add an SD card to expand the capacity.

Using the disgo Video Plus with OS X

There was no CD in the box, and I’ve not plugged the camera into a Windows PC. When I plugged it into my MacBook, it appeared as a USB drive called ‘disgo’ on the desktop.

disgoVideo-1.jpg

Interestingly, although the disgo website does not say that the device is supported on OS X, the ReadMe.txt file included on the disgo’s internal memory does give information about how to access the video files (i.e. you can get them from the DCIM/100VIDEO folder you can see in the screenshot). It is not clear whether files on an SD card plugged into the camera will be able to be read in the same manner – I suspect possibly not, and that I might have to use an external SD card reader, but I’ve yet to try it.

The AVI files played without problems in Quicktime on Leopard. Thinking about it, I did have all kinds of codecs installed already – the camera appears to record an XVID video track at 640×480 resolution, with an mpga audio track – so I may just have been lucky, and it might be necessary to find the right codecs before this will work for anyone else. The files would not, of course, load into iMovie, since that application does not recognise AVI files.

The solution is very simple – transcode to a more Mac-friendly format like a .MOV file or MPEG. The free option for doing this is ffmpegX, but you can also use VisualHub, which I’d previously bought for other purposes and is rather more user-friendly than ffmpegX. Once I’d done that, I was able to use iMovie ’08 to quickly edit together a movie. iMovie ’08 is quirky, and possibly less functional than the previous version, but actually it was ideal for this kind of rapid editing.

Availability

The disgo Video Plus is available via Currys in the UK or direct from disgo.

More photos on Flickr.

Final thoughts

There’s only one way to do this, really…

(I’ve also put this on YouTube)

Update: rebranding, and Windows software

My friend Heidi notes in the comments below that the camera is available in the US as the RCA Small Wonder EZ201. According to this ZDNet review, the original Small Wonder was based on the same technology as the Flip Video, but now RCA have tried to differentiate more (which they seem to have done, in adding the flip screen etc.). However, as we established above, although the ZDNet article claims that this is not Mac-compatible, and the manufacturer doesn’t supply software for the Mac, it seems to work.

The Windows software is on the device itself (remember, I said there was no CD in the box). Inserting the camera into the USB slot on an XP machine, it appeared in My Computer as a USB device called disgo, and when I right-clicked there was an option “Manage your videos” which started the software. It has a few simple features – a grid or list view to access the AVIs and play them; the ability to grab a single frame as a .bmp or .jpg; a section for “editing” i.e. using just part of a clip, or splicing clips together; and a section to email your video to a friend. I’ve added a screenshot on Flickr.

Update: SD card support and UK retailers

I’ve now tried plugging an SD card in. This is treated as an additional device. When you first plug the SD card in the camera copies its software to the card and creates a directory structure. When you then plug the camera into the computer, it continues to see the internal USB flash memory as the storage device, but if you then press the red button while it is connected to the computer the device vanishes (nasty unsafe device removal message), and then the SD card gets mounted instead. So it does work with OS X, but not entirely seamlessly.

Oh, and it looks like Amazon UK have the same device, but branded a Busbi BUSVP0010R Video Plus (and looking at the Busbi site, it looks like they and disgo are the same company since they are both handled by cleverstuff.ie).

Update: other reviews

Paul Knight has done a very detailed video review including a comparison with other cameras including DV tape, and an excellent screencast of how to get the disgo working with a Mac. Shiny Shiny have a short review on YouTube, too.