February 23, 2018

UPDATE: Yet another Monkey Mirror upgrade. Better than ever.

Monkey MirrorI’ve got a lot of respect for Bob, the owner of Monkey Mirrors. Not only are these made in the USA, they are about the best helmet mounted cycling mirror I’ve used. Here’s the clincher… Bob continues to improve this simple concept mirror. Kudos.

So the Monkey Mirror has been improved again. This time the mirror surface is sporting a new beveled edge. But wait, there’s more… the entire mirror body is a little bit thinner and finally the mirror edge has had a coating applied to it to prevent moisture from working its way in-between the mirror and substrate.

These improvements make the Monkey Mirror better than ever.

Buy local. Support the Monkey Mirror. Visit their website: MonkeyMirrors.com

Review: Suunto M5 Black Heart Rate Monitor with Movestick

Suunto M5 BlackThe Suunto M5 Black, is a very comfortable heart rate monitor that offers athletes and fitness oriented individuals to carefully monitor their exercise level by means of measuring the heart rate during exercise. The M5 will guide you to attain a fitness goal (from a list of three choices: fitness, weight or free. If you choose fitness or weight, the M5 will give guidance whereas if you choose free, no guidance will be given) by suggesting workout times and how long of a recovery period you will need after an exercise period. The box contained the watch with men’s strap, chest belt with transmitter and the USB movestick for uploading workout data to the movescount website.

I found the Suunto M5 extremely easy and intuitive to set-up. After taking the watch out of the packaging, you simply remove the protective plastic covering the bezel, push a button to wake the watch from sleep, then hold the indicated button for a couple seconds to enter the set-up mode. You’ll select the language, units of measurement (metric or imperial), 12 or 24 hour clock, time and date. After that you are prompted to enter your vital statistics:birthdate, weight, height and level of fitness (poor,, below average, fair, good,, very good, or excellent.) You then have the option to accept the suggested max and min heart rate or you can manually override that and enter your own values. Once all that’s been entered the M5 assesses your level of fitness and gives you an immediate diagnosis of whether you are overweight. Sigh. It’s rather sobering as your optimal weight based on information you entered is given. In my case, I am 6’2″, 203.9 pounds and 58 years old. I was informed that I was overweight and that my goal weight is 191.6. I guess I’ve got my work cut out for me.

Next you are able to begin to exercise or choose something else. The choices you have are as follows:

-Prev. Exercise
-History & Trend
-Fitness Test
-Web Connect

If you choose exercise, you are given the workout length of time, heart rate zone and level of exertion for the exercise period. You are free to do whatever activity you want to complete the exercise whether it be running, cycling, spinning, hiking, whatever. For me the monitor displayed: “40 minutes, 120-140, very hard.” As you progress through your workout period you are able to cycle through various screens during your workout to view your current heart rate, average heart rate, current time, the kcal you’ve burned as well as an indication of time that you’ve been working out. The monitor also displays a series of arrows that run up the outside perimeter of the watch face from the 6’oclock to 12o’clock position. As you progress through your exercise the arrows appear to fill up the space giving an indication of your progress. to assist in helping you stay within the exercise target heart rate zone, an up or down arrow is displayed next to the graphic display of a beating heart. I do wish there was the ability to set your own heart rate zones and to have the watch beed when you go below or above your zone, but that does not seem to be possible with the M5.

As I’m working out I hear the heart rate monitor play short musical tones but it’s still not clear to me what they are alerting me to. Strange. In the settings menu you’re given the option to turn “all on”, “all off” or “buttons off” but no explanation of what tones you’ll hear while exercising. My best guess is that a short 3 tone melody plays when you begin your exercise and perhaps a melody plays if you are below your target heart rate zone for an extended period of time… it’s like a prompt to get up and go. I suppose as I use the M5 more, I’ll eventually make the correlation as to what the tones are indicating.

The M5 is not a heart rate monitor that lets you set training intervals. This is somewhat disappointing for me as I was looking for a heart rate monitor that would give me that ability. After comparing the various Suunto models and also looking at alternatives such as Polar, I was left with a frustrating set of choices. I was not happy that some Polar HR Monitors did not have user replaceable batteries. I liked the clarity and ease of seeing the display on the Suunto M5 so much that that is what sold me. Way more legible to me than other watches I looked at. So for me, I gave up some needed features so that I could have an easily readable display.

The “fitness test” function is a way for the M5 to assess your level of fitness. You start the test and then walk as fast as possible for 1 mile at which point you end the test.

I like the simple operation of the M5 and although that simplicity comes at the expense of the loss of more advanced features such as setting intervals. I like that I have complete flexibility in what type of exercise activity I can engage in. The M5 keeps me on target with my heart rate display and time while I do the rest.

My biggest concern with the M5 is the heart rate transmitter and strap. It is very comfortable system but it is complex in construction in that there are two attachements that secure the transmitter to the belt. With sweat, salt and whatever else mingling with electrical connections, I wonder whether the strap will hold up over time? I can’t answer that yet.

It was also very frustrating to discover that while the Suunto heart rate transmitter signal was picked up by the monitors that are on some other exercise equipment in my home gym and the health club I belong to, the heart rate transmitters from those other monitors aren’t able to be picked up by the Suunto M5. I was hoping that I could use any of my transmitter straps with the Suunto but that is not the case. It’s odd that the other equipment can pick up the Suunto signal but that the Suunto can’t pick up the signal from the other transmitters. Should the Suunto transmitter break or fail for one reason or another, it would have been comforting to know that another of my belts would work with it. But they won’t and to buy a new Suunto transmitter belt/transmitter will set you back about $70.

Overall I’m quite pleased with the M5. It is a good looking heart rate monitor that I would feel completely comfortable with wearing while out on the town. It has a watch function that is very attractive and the display is very easy to read outdoors and even inside. The digits and particularly the heart rate number is very large and easy to read.

The M5 does not have all the bells and whistles that other heart rate monitors might have but it is versatile in the way it keeps track of your effort level no matter what it is exactly that you are doing. The M5 will not retain more than just your last workout stats but does keep a running cumulative tally of your workouts in the menu “history and trend” and this tells you how many sessions you’ve done, how may kcals burned in the last 4 weeks and how “on target” you are in the last 7 days and the last 4-weeks by displaying a percent amount. It won’t keep track of laps or splits. The M5 also has a simple alarm function where you can set a single alarm.

The M5 gets high marks for i’t’s looks and legible display. It falls short in features that runners might desire such as splits and laps. The movestick easily lets you upload your workout data to the “movescount dot com” web site.

I’ll update my review as I spend more time with the M5. If you have any questions, leave a comment and I’ll do my best to reply.

Mountain Lion Dictation time limit

I was not particularly excited to upgrade to Mountain Lion, OS X 10.8. There was one feature however that I really wanted to take advantage of,  namely Dictation.

I’ve been using Dragon Dictation on my iPhone and find it quite accurate and very helpful for creating quick emails and notes in lieu of using the abysmal on-screen keyboard. I figured that Mountain Lion would have a great implementation of a dictation app and it does, sort of.

The accuracy is quite good. I can speak rather normally and have had very few mistakes in the text output. The most glaring limitation I’ve found is that there is a roughly 30-second time limit for dictation. This reduces the usefulness of the app to almost that of a novelty.

Try this… start dictating and count from “1.” See how far you get before Dictation beeps at you and stops.

Better yet, I’ll do it right now and paste the text result right here:

123 456-789-1011 1213 1415 1617 1819 2021 2223 2425 2627

A couple things to point out here… I was counting normally with a slight pause between each number. As you can see by the transcript, Dictation combined my numbers into groups, in some cases placing dashes between numbers and didn’t make a single mistake other than the formatting of the numbers. Speaking normal sentences gives a much more satisfying result, but with the time limitation it is not very practical.

I’m extremely disappointed that I cannot dictate for longer than 30 seconds. The time limitation makes Dictation a mostly useless feature for dictating emails, letters or anything other than very short blurbs.

Dictation was the main impetus for me to upgrade to Mountain Lion. I’m just beginning to explore the other features of the OS, but Dictation is a big disappointment primarily because of the time limitation.

Update: Monkey Mirror upgrade. An improved helmet mounted cycling mirror.

I first discovered the Monkey Mirror in the Fall of 2011. Since then the Monkey Mirror has had an upgrade.

There have been a few improvements to the Monkey Mirror. First of all the Monkey Mirror is created out of an actual bike spoke. The improvement is that the spoke length is now a bit longer which makes it a bit easier for viewing. The difference is only about 5mm or so, but it does make enough of a difference to be noticeable. It also appears that the rubberized coating on the mirror is now a bit thicker than before. Finally, the mirror is now finished off with a clear coat. The previous mirror had an issue with water being able to sneak in between the mirror layers causing discoloration in the mirror itself along the edges. The clear coat which is now being applied should put an end to that problem.

The manufacturer of the Monkey Mirror also recommends applying a car wax to the backside of the mirror a few times a year to help prevent it from fading. As before, you can have a custom image applied to the back of the mirror and this is cool for velo clubs or organizations.

I really enjoy using the Monkey Mirror. It’s Made in the USA and of good quality.

Review: MacBook Pro MD102LL/A 13.3-inch Laptop

MacBook Pro MD102LL/AI had eagerly been awaiting the new Mid-2012 MacBook Pro upgrade primarily because of the move to the new Intel processor, “Ivy Bridge.” The 2.9GHz Intel Core i7 dual-core processor just makes this MacBook Pro fly. And it runs much cooler than its predecessors. I had my laptop running while on my lap for a couple hours and the bottom case was barely warm. Fan noise was not noticeable whatsoever. To be honest, I don’t even know if the fan was operating or not, it was that quiet.

The aluminum unibody case has remained pretty much unchanged for several years. In fact, my previous MacBook Pro, a 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo with 4GB of RAM has the identical case that this new laptop has… it is designated as Model No: A1278 if you look at the bottom of the laptop case.

What Apple threw into the mix which made my decision of what new laptop to purchase was the addition of the Retina Display MacBook. Initially I was tormented with making the correct decision, for me, of which computer to purchase. After I weighed the differences and factored in the cost, it became clear to me that for my use, the 13″ MacBook Pro was the way to go. Here are my reasons…

-The Retina Display MacBook lacks an optical drive. For me, that was a critical feature as I am a Mobile DJ and still rip a lot of CD’s to my computer. I did not want to have to carry around an external optical drive so having the internal optical drive on the new MacBook Pro was key.

-The Retina Display MacBook does not have an Ethernet port. Again, this won’t affect all people, but for me it was an essential feature that I use all the time. I wasn’t ready to give up my dedicated ethernet connectivity port.

-The Retina Display MacBook was priced out of my comfort zone. It’s a phenomenal computer but I just could not justify the price.

Honestly, the display on the 13.3″ MacBook Pro is gorgeous. I can see where a photographer might enjoy the Retina Display, but for me, the 1280×800 resolution of the screen on this laptop is perfect. The display is bright, very bright, sharp and has excellent viewing from side to side. I’m not a big fan of the glossy screen, but I have grudgingly accepted it and in some situations it actually is nicer than a glare-free screen. But in other situations it is not the best because of the reflections on the screen of surrounding lights and such.

I had also considered getting an early 2012 refurbished MacBook Pro. That was my second-best option. But for the small difference in price, I would not have gotten USB 3.0 ports and that was important to me, as well as getting Thunderbolt. Admittedly, there are not yet many peripherals that utilize Thunderbolt or USB 3.0 but that is certainly going to change quite rapidly. USB 3.0 is 10 times faster than USB 2.0 and offers throughput of up to 5Gbps. Thunderbolt is even faster and allows daisy-chaining of monitors and other devices. This new MacBook Pro also has an upgraded facetime camera. It is now 720p HD and that’s pretty awesome.

Firewire 800 is still included on this MacBook Pro. Undoubtedly, Firewire is getting towards the end of its lifespan but many videographers are still using video cameras that use Firewire and I also have external hard drives using firewire, so this is still useful for me.

The newly added Tunderbolt port is also useable as a mini-display port and you can easily obtain adapters to enable you to hook up to DVI, VAG and HDMI. I do miss not having a dedicated HDMI port, but at least it is possible to get an adapter to fill that need.

The Lion and soon to be released Mountain Lion operating system has garnered a lot of comments both positive and negative. Personally I have not experienced any issues with Lion. The integration with iCloud is fantastic and allows me to keep my contacts, address book, bookmarks all in sync across all my devices (iMac, iPhone, iPod Touch and another MacBook Pro.)

The iLife suite of applicatons included with the computer are excellent. iPhoto, iMovie and GarageBand are tightly integrated and work well. There is room for improvement, to be sure, but I use iPhoto and iMovie all the time and it is an amazingly capable duo.

If you’re considering a MacBook Pro for the first time and are coming from the PC world, welcome. You will have a little adjusting to do but it’s really easy and you will probably be impressed with how straightforward the operating system is. It just works. I can’t even think of when I had a crash or freeze.

I’ve not yet reached the 7-hours mark for battery life, but still, I’ve been getting at least 5 hours plus so no complaints.

If you are considering the new MacBook Pro and you’re already a Mac user then you will welcome the addition of a much faster processor, the addition of Thunderbolt and USB 3.0.

I am really liking my new MacBook Pro and with 8GB of RAM, and the new i7 Processor running at 2.9GHZ (turbo-boost to 3.6GHz) you will be very happy with the performance.

Review: Grace Audio Mondo Internet Radio GDI-IRC6000

I liked my other Grace radio so much, but unfortunately for me so did my wife. She took it to her office and that’s the last I’ve seen of it. So I bought a new one for me. I choose the Mondo because my local PBS television station offered a discount on the radio and I took the bait.

Please allow me to get my gripe about this radio out right away. The sound quality is mediocre at best. There I’ve said it. If it were not for the so-so sound quality I would rate this radio a solid 5. But unfortunately it does not have great sound. It barely has OK sound. I agonized at the rating I should give this radio as a result. I settled on a 3 for the following reasons. You may not agree, but let me explain…

The Mondo is quite attractive in my opinion. I got the Black in color model. The display and controls are excellent. The Home Screen is well laid out and all the options for the radio are easily chosen using the front facing rotary knob. The number of Internet radio stations available is staggering. There are hundreds upon hundreds of stations available in all genres. You will be challenged to find your favorites since there are so many available. Just the Electronica genre alone has 604 stations.

Initial setup was easy as can be, I plugged the radio in, it displayed all the available networks on the gorgeous 3.5″ screen. I chose my network by scrolling to it and then clicked on it all with the front rotary knob. Next I entered my WPA network key. The radio connected to the Internet and immediately offered me the option to upgrade my firmware. Once I did that the radio restarted, connected to the network again and that was it. I then perused the various Internet Radio choices and added a few favorites to the programmable buttons. It is possible to store 10 favorites.

I also went through the Settings, made a few adjustments such as choosing my Time Zone and tweaked the Equalizer.

If you subscribe to SiriusXM, you can login to your account and then have access to all SiriusXM has to offer. Otherwise you are “stuck” with the thousands of worldwide Internet Rado stations, Pandora, iHeartRadio and other goodies the radio has to offer. I really like the Weather Bug choice off the home screen that displays a quick summary of weather for my city. I wasn’t expecting that little feature.

The radio has an aux-in which enable you to hook up another audio source such as an MP3 player. Actually, since the sound quality of the radio isn’t that hot, I instead utilize the RCA Component Audio outputs to feed the signal to either my Bose SoundLink radio or my mini-stereo that I have on my desk. The Mondo is capable of really great quality audio, just not through its own internal speaker. But when hooked up to another amplified speaker, now we’re talking!

The Mondo includes a remote powered by 2-AA batteries. Here’s a tip, if you have an iPhone or Android device, download the Grace app because it works via Wi-Fi and you can control your radio from the app. It gives you the ability to add stations to your favorites, set alarms and do just about everything you can do from the radio itself.

The radio has an alarm clock built-in as well as a sleep timer to play music for a set amount of time then shut off. The alarms work well. You can change the alarm sounds andset up to 5 separate alarm times. The snooze button on the radio works well.

When the radio is in standby mode, the display shows the time. The brightness of the display can be adjusted while in standby mode or completely turned off if you don’t want to see the clock or think it is too bright even in the dimmest mode.

Grace also sells an optional battery pack for the radio that will give you over 8 hours of use when you don’t have AC Power available but are still within a Wi-Fi coverage area. That really makes this a versatile radio.

There is so mcuh to like about the Mondo. If only the internal speaker sounded better.

In spite of the lackluster sound, I still love this radio. The convenience, the iPhone app, the incredible selection of stations, built-in weather forecast, aux in, audio out, USB drive music playing capability, all add up to make this one heck of an Internet Radio.

Review of the Monkey Mirror – A helmet mounted bicycling mirror

I’ve just discovered a great new mirror for cycling. It’s called the Monkey Mirror. It is a helmet mounted mirror–nothing new about that–but with a couple notable improvements over what you may be familiar with. The Moneky Mirror is handcrafted in the United States and that’s a big plus in my book. You could spend the same amount of money on an imported product and you’d be getting something of dubious quality and probably made of some sort of plastic. The quality of of the, Made in the USA, Monkey Mirror is top-notch: It has a hand-polished mirror that is larger than other helmet mounted mirrors that I’ve seen. The mirror is locked into final position by a small nut. The mirror is ingeniously attached to the helmet by an actual bicycle spoke It’s more sturdy than the plastic mirrors, is easily adjusted and has no parts that could snap or break off. The Money Mirror does not attach to your helmet using a conventional sticky-tape backed, plastic mounting plate. Instead it uses good ol’ friction provided by a spring-like metal rod which is actually a wheel spoke. Pretty cool. The implications of this are that you can easily remove the mirror from a helmet and switch it over to a different helmet. The mirror is a bit larger than the other helmet mirrors I’ve seen. Once you get it adjusted just right, it is out of your direct line of sight but right there when you need to check behind you for traffic. It’s decidedly better than the other plastic helmet mounted mirrors I’ve owned and since it’s mounted on your helmet, it is virtually vibration free. You can order these directly from the manufacturers website http://www.monkeymirrors.com. They come with a one-year warranty and you can even customize the graphic on the backside of the mirror with something of your own design. This would be great for bike clubs who want to brand their equipment. Love this mirror.

CablesToGo USB 2.0 to IDE or SATA Drive Adapter

cablestogo usb ide sata drive adapter>The Cables To Go 30504 USB 2.0 to IDE or Serial ATA Drive Adapter (Black)Electronics Cable Adapters) is a new tool in my arsenal and it’s made a huge difference in productivity when needing to work with bare drives or do diagnostics/maintenance on hard drives.

Not having to install a hard drive into an enclosure before being able to access the drive is a very convenient thing to be able to do. Previously I would have to use a Firewire/USB/USB 2.0 enclosure that I purchased from OWC in order to access a drive. But now all I have to do is hook up two cables to the drive (a power cable and the actual IDE or SATA output cable) and then hook the USB to my computer. When I’m done, I just unhook everything. It is just that easy.

You really can’t go wrong with this kit from CablesToGo and the price is right.

The CablesToGo kit is available from Amazon.

Review of Nikon Coolpix L110 digital camera

Nikon Coolpix L110 digital camera

Nikon Coolpix L110

Several months ago I purchased the Nikon Coolpix L110 camera. Since then I’ve taken thousands of photos and hundreds of videos with the camera. It has proven to be quite a capable camera in its price range with many strengths and few weaknesses.

Specifically regarding strengths of this camera, the Macro mode is fantastic. If you enjoy taking close-up photos of flowers, bugs, fine detail of artwork, etc, you will enjoy this camera as it takes excellent macro photographs and allows you to get extremely close to your subject. The L110 also has an amazing 15x optical zoom. A 15x zoom is equivalent to a 420mm lens and this lets you really zoom in tightly which makes it great for wildlife photography, travel, sports and nature photography. Image stabilization helps you get those zoomed shots by helping reduce hand-held camera shake. Don’t forget to turn off image stabilization if you are using a tripod. Image stabilization is only to be used when hand-holding the camera.

THE 720p HD video capture of the L110 is surprisingly good. While most camcorders in the under $300 price range only provide mediocre at best still photography capabilities, the L110 which provides excellent still photographs also produces excellent HD video. The larger form factor of the L110 makes taking videos a lot easier too compared to holding a smaller camcorder.

On the not so great side the L110 audio quality leaves a lot to be desired. And low light performance, particularly video, is not very good. In low-light situations you will see a lot of graininess in the video and the frame rate seems to drop as well. Still photography is possible in lower light situations since the camera does have a flash. But if you are looking for manual control of your camera’s aperture, shutter and ISO, you will be disappointed in the L110 as there is little manual control available.

I’ve posted a fairly complete review of the L110 on Amazon. If you read my review on Amazon, be sure you also read the comments as many people have asked questions that I’ve attempted to answer as best I can. A lot of information not in the review is presented in the comments. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wgYAAZ1zbqA

Here are some representative photos taken with the Nikon Coolpix L110…


Review of CMS Made Simple 1.6 by Sofia Hauschildt

I’ve been absorbing the most excellent book on CMS Made Simple published by Packt Publishing. Written by Sofia Hauschildt, a tutor, consultant and programmer, CMS Made Simple 1.6 is a beginners guide to learning the basics and so much more of CMS Made Simple, an open-source, content management application.

I first started using CMS Made Simple to build web sites about 5 years ago. I have also used WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, RapidWeaver and hand-coding to build websites. But CMS Made Simple is one of my favorite tools to use because you can get started with it very easily and produce a great website without knowing much about what goes on behind the scenes. Documentation has always been hard to come by though. The wiki and user forums are the best places to visit to glean information and ask questions. But the developers have clearly stated that CMS Made Simple is geared to web developers and not so much to neophytes who need a lot of hand-holding and who need relatively basic questions answered.

CMS Made Simple 1.6 is the book that neophytes need. It takes a very measured and slowly paced approach in presenting small doses of information to enable almost anyone to get the CMS installed and operating in no time at all. This is done as a ‘case study” whereby you build a CMS Made Simple website with a capable tutor by your side… Sofia Haushildt.

The methodology used in this book is straightforward and effective. You are told what you will be doing, you are guided through the process of doing it, then you are told what you just did. It is this repetition of information that facilitates the learning process, especially for block-heads like me. I learn best when I am able to observe someone doing something then doing it myself. That is exactly what this book does… it teaches you by doing. There are ample screenshots at every step of the journey to further illuminate the tasks. Furthermore, there are quizzes that test your comprehension of the material covered. If you diligently follow through in a linear fashion, you will learn all the basics and so much more of how CMS Made Simple can be used to build a great web site.

I was particularly impressed with the aplomb in which Sofia approached Smarty. Smarty is the template engine used by CMS Made Simple. Without an understanding of what Smarty is and how it works in your templates and pages, you would be at a huge disadvantage when approaching a web design project. Her treatment of the subject leaves you with a very good understanding how Smarty functions and gives you many ideas of how you can use Smarty tags to simplify site design by harnessing the power of Smarty.

As you continue through the book you are gently guided into more advanced topics and taught how to incorporate various features into your website such as form pages, inserting YouTube videos onto pages, learning how menus and sub-menus work and are displayed and so much more.

There is an excellent discussion of how just about any web template can be converted to work with CMS Made Simple and it is surprisingly easy when you apply what you learned about Smarty tags to that task. You also learn how to build a template from scratch as well as how to import templates obtained from other sources.

Many code snippets are presented in the book. Unfortunately the book does not include a CD containing code snippets by chapter. But the publishers website has all the code available for download in a zip file so that is a big help since it obviates the need to tediously type error free code from the book.

If you want to learn CMS Made Simple, get this book. It’s as simple as that. What you learn in these pages will save you hours of frustration and question asking in forums. This is arguably the best introduction to CMS Made Simple that you will find. The book is not just for beginners either. People who have been developing web sites with CMS Made Simple already may likely find valuable tips and information that they did not previously know. This book is not a reference book on CMS Made Simple however, so if you are looking for a comprehensive reference book, this will not satisfy that need. In spite of that though it actually is quite comprehensive in that it does cover every important area of using CMS Made Simple in a really well written way. Sofia writes clearly and in a very straightforward, uncomplicated way. I have shelves of computer books and this is what I would consider a top-shelf book.

I’d like to give a plug to CMS Made Simple as well. I know that WordPress is all the rage. I build many sites using WordPress myself. But if you are not building a blog-centric site, WordPress is not always the best way to approach building a page-based website. CMS Made Simple is a worthy consideration. It is very easy to learn and use. It is under continual development and has an active user forum. I like it a lot and it is so much easier to get your head around than Joomla, Drupal and other CMS’s. Check it out and see for yourself.

Now if you’ll excuse me,  I need to try and persuade Sofia Hauschildt into writing a book about Magento