Thursday, January 31, 2013

A Rose is a Rose

Shakespeare once said that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. The meaning of this, of course, is that a name is just a name and it isn’t important. Well that seems to be no longer true. We have recently had two modern examples of how some people see names as being important.

The first case is the loss of the Lotus brand. IBM acquired Lotus many years ago but kept the name of Lotus for Notes and Domino and the Lotushere conference. Late is 2012 IBM changed their corporate mind and is dropping the Lotus name. I have wonderful memories of Lotus products over the years (I still use Organizer every single day of my life) and I will mis them.

The second name change is Research in Motion becoming Blackberry and this may actually be a good move. After all, Blackberry software and hardware really are the only products the former RIM made and the name change makes sense. The new BB10 phones they recently announced may or may not revive their brand and breath new life into the company. We’ll have to wait and see.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

MSFT and iFruit Announcements

The former Big Two of the tech world, MSFT and the iFruit company both announced new products this week that they hope will be big money makers for them. Both of the announcements are new and innovative, they are just incremental “upgrades” to existing products.

The iFruit company announced a new version of the iPad with 128GB of storage and a starting price of $799. There are no other changes to the latest version of the iPad, it just has more storage. If you’re one of the legion of Fan Boyz and Gurlz who love iStuff then maybe you’ll be willing to shell out big bucks for one.

MSFT announced the latest incarnation of Office with heavy emphasis on “the cloud”. There is a slew of various price options but MSFT clearly hopes everyone subscribes to the online version for $9.99 a month. To MSFT, if selling a product once is good, selling every month is even better! Personally I’ll stick with Google Docs, which is what I’m using to write this post right now.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Lure of the Dark Side

For the past month the Dark Side of the Force has been trying to lure me in. In case you’re not aware of what the Dark Side is let me explain. The Force, as in Star Wars, is the power that controls good and evil. In the hi-tech world there is the Good Side, exemplified by Open Source Linux and Android, and the Dark Side, ruled by the two Evil Empires, MSFT and the iFruit company.

Late last year I was visiting my son and his family and I saw the Dark Side at work. My son had succumbed to the siren song of evil and had bought into the iFruit myth. He and his wife had iPhones, she had an iPad and they bought a Mac for Christmas. Why would they do that when they had perfectly good Android Smartphones and several laptops and netbooks already in place? Beats me!!

Then I went to CES and saw some really cool products, all of them requiring iOS or Win8. Since then we’ve received several of them to review and rather than doing the normal thing which is assigning them to writers who have the hardware on hand to properly test them, I have been tempted to buy new hardware! It may be hard to imagine but I have actually been pricing iPads!! Walmart, by the way, beats everyone else’s price in this area.

Will I finally be lured into the endless abyss of the Dark Side or will I remain a free man using free software? Stay tuned.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Voyager S3 Drive Dock Review

By George Harding

If you have a desktop computer and have had to change or add a new hard drive, you know what a task that is. Getting to the insides of the computer is the first challenge – mine is under the desk, so I have to disconnect all the cables and move the computer out where I can work on it. Then you have to fish around and remove the old drive, mount and connect the new one, and then put everything back together.

The voyager S3 Drive Dock saves you a lot of time and effort. It requires a SATA drive, and attaches to your computer with USB 3.0. You insert your drive in the dock, turn the dock on and you are in business.

It appears in Explorer as just another drive and can be used as any other drive. Using it to back up the system is really convenient. Just start your backup software, select the destination and go. What could be easier?

Since the computer connection is USB, you can swap drives in the dock without having to turn the computer off – just plug and play!

While the dock is useful for a desktop, it’s even better for a laptop. To replace the hard drive in a laptop means opening the base, removing tiny screws, and then installing the replacement. Again, the dock is a breeze to use with a laptop.  You are simply adding a hard drive instead of replacing one.

The box comes with a brief User Manual, the dock itself, which has a slot for a 2.5” drive, and a hinged flap for a 3.5” drive, a power cord and transformer and a USB 3.0 cable that is backward compatible with USB 2.0.

The dock itself has a power button, which supplies power to the SATA drive, an activity LED, which also serves to show when power is on, and a drive eject button. No drivers are required.

This is a handy solution to having an additional hard drive easily accessible, with the ability to swap out multiple drives for either your desktop or your laptop.

Voyager S3 Drive Dock                          Price $35

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Olympus PEN Firmware Update- Part 3

2- ViewFinders

This is where we get down to the camera body upgrade! We have always been strong believers in using viewfinders with non-SLR cameras. Yes, using the built-in LCD provides great focusing and framing accuracy but they are very difficult to use in bright sunlight.

When using the Olympus PEN MILCs the photographer is limited to using the LCD because there is no built in viewfinder. Fortunately, Olympus recognized this limitation early on and made changes to the PEN bodies that will allow the use of electronic viewfinders that show the same image as the rear LCD.

Olympus currently makes three different viewfnders and we have used all of them.They are the VF-1 Optical View Finder and the VF-2 and VF-3 Electronic View Finders. The VF-2 is optical only and is designed to be used with the excellent 17mm f/2.8 lens. Both the VF-2 and VF-3 and electronic and are installed on compatible cameras through a slot below the built-in hot shoe.

The VF-1 has proven to be a perfect addition to our E-P1 camera body. We leave the 17mm lens, which is a 34mm equivalent on a 35mm format camera, on the body 99% of the time with the VF-1 on it. We added a sunshade to the outfit and it has the look and feel of a Leica M-series rangefinder camera of old. It is a perfect “street camera” and we love the combination. If we only had a red Porsche 356 rag-top to drive it around in!

We have used the VF-2 on multiple bodies including an E-PL1 and two E-P3’s. It functions perfectly with all of them and provides a very bright, clear image to focus and frame with. We used the VF-2 in the Quantico debacle and it provided us with better performance than the lens did. It also went with us on the cruise and proved itself to be a invaluable tool. We were able to focus the two manual focus lenses with no problems at all. We can honestly say that this is a “must have” accessory for all PEN users!

Recently we added the VF-3 to our equipment kit and that’s where we ran into a compatibility problem. It turns out that the VF-3 requires a firmware update if it is used on the E-P2, E-PL1, E-PL1S, E-PL-2 or XZ-1. Since we wanted to use the VF-3 on an E-PL1 we had to do the firmware update.

We went to the Product Support page for the E-PL1 on and chose the version 1.2 firmware update which clearly shows as the VF-3 update. We downloaded the software and connected the E-PL1 to the laptop via the cable that came with the camera. The camera was recognized easily and the process went smoothly. A few minutes after we started we got an OK on the camera’s LCD which indicated that everything was done.

The next step was to install the VF-3 and try it out. The viewfinder didn’t work at all before the update but worked perfectly with the 1.2 firmware installed.

There are some differences between the VF-2 and VF-3 other than the firmware requirement. The VF-2 is slightly larger than the VF-3 and has better resolution, The VF-3 has a lock that clicks into place while the VF-2 is just a friction fit. Both have diopter adjustments but they are located in different places.

Both the VF-2 and VF-3 provide a bright, easy to use view that show what would be viewed of the LCD. They also both turn the LCD off when the VF is in use and the button on the back of the VF is pushed (it’s an ON/OFF switch). Since the VF-1 is strictly optical, the rear LCD on whatever camera body it is used stays on even if you’re using the viewfinder.

The bottom line is: if you have an Olympus PEN camera then you need to have an external viewfinder. Which one you need will vary, of course, depending on your personal needs and pocketbook.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Olympus PEN Firmware Update-Part 2

1- Telephoto zooms.

There are a few telephoto zooms available for the PEN cameras but they tend to be on the expensive side. Not overly expensive of course, but more than we wanted to spend when we had so many comparable lenses available already. In our office we had quite a few lenses available that would work with adapters.

One of the BIG advantages of the PEN MILC cameras is the shallow lens mount to sensor distance. That means that adapters can be produced that will allow virtually every interchangeable lens ever made to work on a PEN. We have adapters available  from several companies that allow us to use lenses from Minolta (MC/MD and AF), Pentax screw and K-mount, Olympus 4/3 mount and several others. Most are manual focus and manual aperture but some allow for auto focus.

For the first trip to Quantico, VA we chose to take an Olympus Zuiko Digital 40-150mm f/4-5.6 lens with a Panasonic DMW-MA1 adapter. We also were using the Olympus VF-2 Electronic Viewfinder. This combination would give us auto exposure and autofocus as well as digital SLR functionality with a lens that was on hand. Great, or so we thought.

The problems turned out to be very traumatic!  The lens and camera combination didn’t allow for manual focus (if you know how to get it to work then please let me know!!) and the poor lighting in the auditorium led to long, long autofocus searches. I ended up with very few poorly focused pictures and a lot of frustration! Getting a blurred pic of MAJ Woody getting his degree is not what I wanted! This is a problem that must be resolved.

The next stage was the cruise and we took corrective action. Instead of the Panasonic adapter and the Olympus lens which prevented manual focus, we chose to go with a Fotoiox Pentax K-m4/3 adapter and a Sigma Zoom 50-200mm f/4-5.6 DC OS HSM lens in Pentax K-mount. We now had manual focus and manual aperture control, just what we were looking for. The lens and adapter worked perfectly and we loved the picture quality. The lens on the PEN bodies actually focused past infinity so we did have to exercise a bit of caution using the combination in order to get correct focus.

The major problem we encountered was switching the Olympus VF-2 ViewFinder between camera bodies when we needed them. Whenever we were outside in bright sunlight it was impossible to use the LCD so the VF-2 was a real necessity. It was a pain but we’ll deal with this problem later on.

Once we got back home we discovered two more possible long telephoto zoom solutions. Solution one turned out to be the perfect choice for Quantico but we just plain missed it. We had on hand a Minolta MC/MD adapter and a superb Vivitar Series 1 70-210mm f/3.5 lens in Minolta mount. The lens was made in 1975 and we’ve had it since then. It is, was and always will be, one of the best lenses we have ever used. To test it out we used the lens to shoot a ballet performance by our 4 year old next door neighbor and it was perfect! If only I had that combo in Quantico!! A 420mm (equivalent) f/3.5 lens would have been perfect!

The latest solution will not be tested for a few weeks. We received an offer from that was awesome and will test the lens once we have it. The lens is a Panasonic 45-200mm f/4.0-5.6 zoom in micro4/3 mount that is very compact. We’ll be running a full test on the lens in the future and will let our readers know how it turns out.

Friday, January 25, 2013

TaxACT DocVault

We received this press release this week:
The makers of TaxACT®, the critically acclaimed leader of affordable tax preparation solutions, have launched TaxACT DocVault™, a free companion app for organizing and storing tax documents.

From tax forms to charitable donation receipts, DocVault empowers consumers to create digital copies of tax documents and information for free – anytime, anywhere. Available for Android™ and Apple® smartphones and tablets, DocVault includes powerful image editing tools, customizable tags, and other organizational features.

DocVault images can be uploaded to TaxACT's secure servers throughout the year, where they are encrypted and saved. Users can store up to 3GB of tax images in their free secure cloud accounts at on any device – phone, tablet, or computer.
TaxACT customers who prefer not to use the DocVault app can still create a free web account at and upload images from their computer or local storage device.

Reduced tax prep time plus easy recordkeeping

The combined use of TaxACT and DocVault makes tax time faster than ever. Images saved in the DocVault app, on
, or on a user's computer or local storage device can be imported into TaxACT Deluxe.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Apple Stock Price Collapse

If our regular readers recall, I predicted the steep fall in the iFruit company stock price many months ago. Smart investors who followed my advice could have sold their stock for around $700 a share instead of around $450 today (down over 10% or $50 in the last day).

The bad news from Apple last night about their quarterly sales is a clear indicator of a trend to me, not an anomaly. The iFruit company is planning on introducing several new phones this year aimed at the China market and that will end up being a dud. Samsung and Huawei will dominate the Chinese market along with other smaller companies. Don’t hold your breath for an iFruit comeback, it just isn’t going to happen.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

RIM Stock Price is Going Up

The stock price for Research In Motion has gone up significantly based on a couple of hot rumors. The two ideas we’ve heard are selling off their hardware division and allowing others to license their software. Both of the ideas could help the struggling company survive and I think one or both should be tried very soon.

BlackBerry users love the software and having it available on other styles of phones will make everyone happy. Users, especially Government users, would have the option of using many more devices instead of being forced to only use RIM produced phones.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Olympus PEN Camera Firmware Update

Most of our regular readers know that we are big fans of the Olympus PEN series of Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Cameras (MILCs). We have tested several of them over the years and have always been very impressed with their performance. We have also had the opportunity to test several lenses, lens adapters and viewfinders during our evaluations.

Recently we ran into a number of situations that clearly indicated we needed to do something that we should have done routinely. We should have been doing firmware updates but we hadn’t. Here’s what led us to our revelation.

During the past year we have spent a lot of time on the road on once in a lifetime trips. Yes, we have multiple camera systems available but for several reasons the Olympus PEN series cameras are always our favorites. On our last two trips, one to Quantico, VA for our son’s Masters Degree graduation and the second a two week cruise in the Mediterranean, we did SERIOUS evaluation of all of the options and chose PENs with various lenses.

While we were very, very satisfied with the picture quality of most of the images we captured, we ran into some problems. Most of the problems could have been resolved with more planning (I know, more thought from me!!!) and I think all is well now. Take note that all of the problems involve longer than normal focal lengths. The wide angle and normal focal length zooms we had available all worked perfectly and had zero problems.

Over the next couple of days we’ll be discussing the problems we ran into and how we dealt with them.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Our February issue is out

Our February issue was distributed this morning by email. As usual there are some great reviews, opinion pieces and articles of interest to all. There is also some initial CES coverage with a LOT more to come!!

Anyone who wants to subscribe just needs to email me and let me know they want to read the best tech news every month and you’ll be added to our list.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

3-D Printing

By George Harding

One of the most interesting developments in technology is 3-D printing. By this is meant the creation of a 3-dimensional object from a file of specifications.

The objects that can be created are nothing less than amazing! I’ve seen bowls, plates, silverware (that is, eating utensils), handcuffs and more. Anything that an be specified in the software program that has the specifics, can be turned into a real-life object.

The process is the repetitive application of the chosen material, layer by layer, until the object is formed Using this methodology, any object can be created by a 3-D printer.

The material used can be just about anything. Plastic is very common, because is it cheap and works well in these machines. But metal can be used, silver, copper and gold are some possibilities. Of course, the more expensive the raw material, the more expensive the finished object.

3-D printers are not cheap, although they are much cheaper now than they used to be. A bargain would be $1,300, about as cheap as they come.

3-D printing is the opposite of the normal machine creating process, which involves grinding away material to create an object, whereas the 3-D process is additive.

One thing 3-D printing is not good at is large quantities. Normal machine processes are good at that and thelargerthe quantity to be created, the cheaper the normal machine process is. The reverse is true for 3-D printing: the larger the quantity, the more expensive and the longer the time required.

For relatively quick results with a minimum of work, though, 3-D printing can’t be beat for turning out a true copy of the object desired. It’s usually used to produce a working model of an object so that it can be tested to see that it meets the desired characteristics.

The design is created by CAD software, which specifies each layer’s dimensions, location and thickness. The result is saved in a digital file, which is the input to the 3-D printer.

Time to create an object is a function of how many layers are required and the complexity of the design. A simple object may be created in several hours.

This is an interesting and developing technology. It can be used for prototyping or just for fun.

See for some interesting objects and information about 3-D printing.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

An Interesting Lenovo Problem

For the past few years I have used a Lenovo IdeaPad S12 Netbook as my primary travel computer. It’s been with me on many a trip and has hummed along in a half dozen countries. But then the inevitable happened, it started getting quirky. A slow boot here, a shut down there, all of the signs of a computer on it’s last legs. I wasn’t surprised, after all it’s close to four years old and still runs on WinXp!!

Finally last week it wouldn’t boot at all. When it was turned on the power light and battery charging lights would come on and the hard drive light would flicker on very briefly. And that was all it would do. My thoughts were that something had finally died and it wouldn’t be worth repair costs. After all, a new 12.1” screen laptop with a 1.6GHz processor and 160GB hard drive costs less than repairs would.

Then I remembered something odd. A couple of years ago we did an article on upgrading the RAM on several Netbooks and ran into some strange anomalies. Some computers had video problems or other symptoms that could be traced back to memory handling. Could the extra RAM possibly be the problem?

A quick trip to our lab's repair table, removal of one screw and a panel and the extra RAM was out. We put the battery back on and tried to boot up. Presto! It works like a champ! As a matter of fact, I’m writing this post on the S12 right now and it works as well as it ever did.

It turned out that what we thought was a dead Netbook just needed to have something that we added on removed. It’s nice to have a trusted friend back again!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Pentax Super TelePhoto Combo

Without a doubt, the coolest photographic combination I saw at CES this year was at the Pentax booth. They combined their HD Pentax DA 560mm f/5.6 ED AW lens with a Q10 Mirrorless camera and an Adapter Q for K-Mount Lenses. The result was the equivalent of a 3080mm lens on a full frame 35mm camera!!  Now THAT’s a long lens!

That leads me to a future project for our ePub, a test of the Vivitar 900mm mirror lens that we have on a Pentax Q!! That will be a 4950mm lens!!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Pentax Firmware Update

Pentax has just posted a firmware update for the Pentax K-5 II and K-5 IIs on the Japanese support site.  Firmware version 1.01 fixes stability bugs and adds an option allowing you to adjust the contrast of the rear LCD display.

Quick download links:

Follow these instructions to update your K-5 II's firmware:

  1. Download the firmware ZIP file corresponding to your camera
  2. Extract the file to a folder of your choosing
  3. Locate the extracted .BIN file and copy it to the root (top) of a formatted SD card
  4. Insert the card into your camera and ensure it is fully charged
  5. Turn the camera power on while pressing the MENU button
  6. Select "Yes"at the firmware prompt
  7. Once the screen displays "Complete", turn off your camera
  8. Power your camera back on and resume normal use
  9. In order to verify that the firmware update was successful, hold the menu button while powering your camera on.  The screen should indicate version 1.01.  You should then power off your camera and resume normal use.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

iFruit company Woes

It looks like my predictions for the iFruit company are all coming true. Their stock price continues it’s steady decline with no bottom in sight. The sales of iPhones have slowed down as the Samsung juggernaut continues to gain more and more market share.

The recent announcement that they are cutting back their orders for components for the iPhone 5 by half is a clear indicator of how poorly they are doing. I’ve heard people say it’s a market saturation problem but I don’t buy that. Samsung continues to increase sales every quarter and there is no indication of market saturation for them.

The reality is that all of the Fan Boyz and Gurlz have bought all of the iFruit products they can use. Smart people who want value for their money are buying Android phones and tablets and will continue to do so for a while yet.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

TaxACT Free Will Program

We received this announcement yesterday:

The makers of TaxACT®, the critically acclaimed leader of affordable tax preparation solutions, now offer an online last will and testament solution. LegalACT™ Will empowers consumers to create a will from the comfort of home on a computer or tablet browser in minutes.

"Tax time is an ideal time for will and estate planning," said TaxACT President JoAnn Kintzel. "Life changes impacting your taxes are the same changes that should prompt taxpayers to create or update their wills."

With LegalACT Will, users can create a last will and testament on a computer or tablet browser in a few simple steps. After completing an interview-based questionnaire, users can preview and edit their wills, and then print or download the document.

"More than seven out of 10 Americans do not have a will, in part because people assume a lawyer's services are required," said Kinzel. "TaxACT has made creating your own will online easy and affordable, just as we do with tax filing."

A last will and testament ensures an individual's final wishes for family and property are accurately followed. Without a will, state intestacy law determines who inherits your property. LegalACT Will allows users to:
  • Nominate a personal representative, often called an executor;
  • Nominate a guardian of children and a trustee for property left to them;
  • Designate distribution of one's personal property, including cherished family heirlooms; and
  • Indicate final wishes for funeral and burial or cremation.

Consumers can purchase one LegalACT Will for $9.95 and a second for a spouse or loved one for $5 more. Learn more at

Monday, January 14, 2013

Vidometer Review

By George Harding

Here is one of the neatest applications for iPhone that I've seen. It uses many of the internal facilities of the iPhone at the same time to record your activity.

Here's what shows on your screen:

Attitude (tilt)

All this info shows in the upper left corner of your screen as you take video while you are driving, skiing, biking or other mobile activity.

There are many iPhone apps that use one of the internal iPhone facilities, such as Altimeter, Level, Compass and so on. Vidometer is the only one I know of that uses so many.  This app uses the accelerometer, GPS and gyroscope to build its graphical overlay on the video screen.

The video you take is recorded and can be played back and a library of the recordings is available for later viewing.

There is a power save mode that engages after a minute or so of recording. This saves your battery when making an extended video.

And, best of all, it's free!

It's available for iPhone 4 and higher and several models of iPad. Requires iOS 5 or later.

Vidometer        Price: free

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Value of Marketing

By Chuck Hajdu
One of the most important lessons we have learned over many years is the importance of marketing in almost every business. We have seen great products wither and die because of poor marketing and horrible products thrive and make gazillions of dollars because of good marketing.
We had the opportunity at CES to meet separately with marketing people from several companies in the same line of business, they all make memory of various kinds. They are all dealing with limited budgets but they are addressing things differently. I won’t mention the names of the vendors but they are three of the biggest in the industry.
Company One used to be a major sponsor of events and always had a positive image to project. However, this year they were nowhere to be seen and the reason was simple: shortsighted management chose to slash their budget.
Company Two cut back substantially but they still had some visibility. Not the major presence they had a year ago but at least there were people there to talk to sometimes.
Company Three kept their marketing initiative going and were at as many events and had new, innovative products to show,
All three companies make competitive products but guess which one will get the most exposure for their products? People who want to know what’s happening in the CE industry will hear a lot about Company Three, a bit about Company Two and nothing about Company One.
People will spend their money to purchase products they know about and will be more reluctant to buy something they've never heard of. It seems obvious to us: success in business is very often a direct result of spending on marketing. Was MSFT Office better than Lotus SmartSuite or the WordPerfect Suite? No, it wasn’t. But it was marketed better and it ended up the clear winner.
Here’s some free advice to every company that wants to succeed: spend your money wisely- on marketing!!