Archive for category Reviews

Review: E-Flite Blade 350 QX Quadcopter

The Blade 350 QX quadcopter is an almost-perfect example of its class. Three flight modes provide almost the perfect range from well behaved and safe to crazily agreeable to any insane set of control inputs you supply.

Blade 350 QX

Blade 350 QX

It is light, provides a reasonable flight time with the supplied battery, and you’re pretty well guaranteed to have more fun than you expect fooling around with it.

But that’s not all. The 350 is powerful enough, and stable enough, to carry a Go Pro camera and take awesome HD movies and stills from the air. You can spin the quadcopter in place and create a fabulous pan, or fly right up to something you otherwise can’t get to and take a closeup. Or just fly around and take a look at the countryside.

Everything you need is supplied in the package; the quadcopter, the hand controller, batteries, a charger (12 vdc… meant to hook to your car’s electrical system so you can recharge in the field), and you even get a set of extra blades. Which you are unlikely to need if you are even just a little bit careful. The manual is a little dense, and because of that you’ll have to read it carefully, but everything you need to know is actually in there within twelve pages.
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Easily manage PDFs from the web on the iPad, iPod and iPhone

Ever run into a PDF with information you actually need while surfing the web on your i-device? You can read the PDF, but that’s it… when you leave the web page, you’ve left the PDF behind as well, and there hasn’t been much you could do about it.

That kind of thing was really a problem for me, as I’m often surfing technical and/or reference documents and these are commonly in PDF format.

Well, problem no more: Here is a simple app for IOS that adds the ability to email yourself (or anyone else) any PDF you encounter while surfing with Safari.

Once installed, a simple touch on “Open In”, then “PDF Emailer”, and off the document goes — making surfing the web for information a great deal more productive. All for just a few pennies. This kind of productivity enhancement is why I own a tablet in the first place.

That’s not all, either; the app keeps PDFs until you tell it to get rid of them, so you can review the document later on your IOS device — two extremely useful and productive additions to the IOS platform.

All it takes is one use to justify the tiny price. As far as I’m concerned, this is a can’t-lose proposition. Highly recommended.

Requires iOS 5.1 or later. 17.9 mb. 99 cents.

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Marantz AV7005 – Home Theater

6527948817_ace4721f6b_mFunny (short) story: I wasn’t actually ready to step up to the AV7005, but our Denon receiver in the library was “gifted” with some cat vomit through the top cooling vents; I didn’t know it had happened, because the back of the receiver was through-wall and sort of invisible inside a closet on the other side of that wall. So the Denon just kept on working until eventually, the acid in the vomit actually ate through some of its wiring. Nice, eh? Silly cat.

So the Denon went downstairs into my shop, where it will likely sit until the weather warms up (our basement is cold!) and I”m willing to sit there, rip it apart and fix it. My Sony 7.1 receiver then moved from our home theater to our library (and I built an anti-cat cover for the unit, there will be no more “vomit surprises”), and then I picked up the Marantz AV7005 and some MA-700 amplifiers to serve in our home theater — I’d been eying this specific unit for a while, and well, as I told She Who Must Be Obeyed, “the cat made me do it.” I can’t say I’m depressed over the upgrade, but this wasn’t exactly how I thought it would come about.
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Roku XDS – A Review

If you’ve been following my blog at all, you’ll know that we bought an Apple TV v2. That experience was really, really bad. The details are here if you want them, but suffice it to say that I was impelled back into shopping for a similar device, because the Apple TV simply wasn’t going to cut it.

Enter the Roku XDS. Same price, same general type of device, a fair amount of buzz. Enough to catch my attention, consume a few reviews and comments… at $99, these things don’t exactly break the bank, so, in for a penny, in for a pound, we bought one. This is the story of how that went, often contrasted to the Apple TV v2, as that was what it was replacing. You might want to grab some popcorn.
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Apple TV v2: Box-O-Fail

I bought one. I wanted to like it. I really did. I love my iPad, my iPod, my various Apple computers from Mini through Macbook Air and Macbook Pro to my daily-driver monster Mac Pro.

But the Apple TV v2 is a very poorly designed system with unfriendly, incompatible connections, unreliable connectivity, contradictory support, and an outright fail of an interface. I’m sorry, but Apple TV v2 sucks.
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Avatar arrives

AvatarMoviePosterSo Deb and I don’t go to theaters any more, we wait for the Bluray. Today was the big day that Avatar arrived, and instead of chess night, we had a movie night (usual suspects.) Brian, Evan, Deb and myself settled in after a nice dinner to see what all the fuss was about.

If anything, I think the movie was under-rated. What a feast for the eyes, and what fun, too. I was able to ignore the silly native-American and global-warming themes and just dig on the whole sci-fi-ness of it; the only thing that sorta bugged me was the musical portion of the sound track, which I can only describe as the Lion King on crack. But the rest was so good that mostly, I just ignored the silly drumming and the crazed new-age sing-a-longs. Which, thankfully, didn’t make up a large part of the movie.

There was quite a bit of other eye candy of numerous kinds — the biota of the world, the corporate headquarters virtual mapping system, the blue folk themselves… really a tour de force. I am so glad we bought the hi-def Blueray; it looks bleeding awesome on our 1080p home theater.

I really loved the ‘Mechs, larger-than-human armed and armored exoskeletons that remind me of baby MechWarrior or MechAssault ‘Mechs from the video and table games. I have a pretty good collection of Mechs (about 2…3 inches high, from the table game) and it tickled me to see things like them handled so well in a movie — definitely for the first time.

There have been some rumblings about DRM incompatibility with el-cheapo and/or poorly supported Bluray players out there; I’ll repeat the advice I give everyone about Bluray players: You want a Sony PS3. You don’t want anything else. Period. There is no doubt, no decent competition, no comparable bang-for-the-buck. The PS3 is it. And the PS3 will play the Avatar Blueray without any problems whatsoever.

Anyway, just thought I’d throw this out there. Great movie. On the (very) off chance you haven’t seen it, you should. This one goes to eleven.

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The iPad – Not perfect. Here’s why.

In and amongst the fevered pro-iPad ravings today, I thought I’d throw a bit of a wrench in the works, as I’m not of the opinion that the thing is all it could have been. Mind you, I’m definitely pro-iPad, I think it’s a great device, I just think it could have been a lot better.

With that in mind, here are some things I really think can be done better:
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Google Base

Recently, I’ve had an opportunity to help a friend utilize Google Base.

I searched for Traxxas Slash; these are web results (and an ad.) To use Base, I'll click the link I've circled at the top in red.

I searched for Traxxas Slash; these are web results (and an ad.) To use Base, I'll click the link I've circled at the top in red.

Base is Google’s attempt to offer a database listing of as many products as humanly (machinely?) possible, with the objective of getting you to use it to find things, and while doing so, be further exposed to ads from their core business. My friend, feeling that this was a marketing opportunity presently unaddressed, was very interested, and understandably so. Base is what you get when you click the “Shopping” button at the top of a normal Google search page.

I agreed to write the code necessary to create the file that packages his inventory (over 30,000 items) for Base, do the uploading, and generally handle the process for him. What could go wrong? It’s Google, right? A company with enormous respect from the technical community, a huge web presence, and a mantra of “do no wrong.” Well. That’s what makes this worth writing about.

I didn’t think it would take a lot of time to implement as I wrote his entire e-commerce system for him and was familiar with the lay of the land, as it were, and in that, at least, I was right. Base is very easy to integrate with; using Python, it only took me a few hours to be able to generate the required data file to Google’s specifications. Uploading the resulting data file to Google is trivial. But… unfortunately, Base has many problems that go far beyond just uploading a correct data file to the system.
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