Dash Cams

Check out the reviews of recent car dash cameras here.

IP cameras

IP Cams reviewed, tested, hacked...

Raving Rabbit

Jul 28, 2009


The little rural village where I live in Ireland has been blessed two years ago with the arrival of the 3G, and the national operator couldn't do anything against it this time (they're still making so much money with all the dial-up users!).
Some competition finally took off, and viable wireless solution became available in this Internet black spot.
So it's only in mid-2007 that I got an internet access with a usable bandwidth (and stop laughing, will you!).

This gave at last some justification to invest in a wireless router and wifi-enabled gadgets.

Thanks to that, I've been close to adopt a rabbit.

At that time, I read a lot of related articles and reviews and it appears that many customers are complaining about the randomly accessible server and the few services that actually work.
What holds me as well is certainly the price tag of the Nabaztag (€200).
The only potential competitor seems to be a wireless (not wi-fi) penguin (€150) built around the same idea, but more Linux developer than final-user friendly.

This product will certainly evolve and may become more attractive with time. So I keep it in my whish-list.

Known alternatives:

- Tux Droid penguin.

- Chumby.
- Your next TV ?

Remote Sentinel



This falls into my wish-list, although I'm not really planning to get one any time soon. I just like to keep an eye on it to see how it evolves price-wise (around €300 at the moment) and feature-wise: The Rovio from Wowwee is an eye-catching IP camera on wheels.

Screen Capture and Screen Recording

As a big part of my job is to make technical procedures as clear as possible for non technical people, a vital tool that I extensively use to achieve this is the screen capture utility, and, to a smaller extend, the screen recorder.

I adopted Gadwin PrintScreen. It's a closed-source freeware, but I yet have to find a matching open-source offering together the features that I required:
- substitute to the PrintScreen key
- ability to save automatically a region screenshot in clipboard as well as file without prompt.
- delayed capture
- ability to capture the mouse pointer
- jpeg support
- automatic naming
- lightweight (3.5 MB)
- fast to load and run

Open-Source alternative:
Greenshot (no delayed capture and pointer capture in v0.7, but does everything else!)

Screen Recording
At times, I need to produce a screen recording video as a software bug evidence for instance, or as a tutorial complement. The open-source CamStudio gives a very complete set of features to produce video recording in AVI of Flash along with captions and audio comment if needed.

myPhoneExplorer



Continuing on my best-of collection of freeware (although not open-source in this particular case) outperforming their professional counterpart, here is one that, for a good part, made me come back from the Windows Mobile to the Sony Ericsson world: myPhoneExplorer

I started around 2005 with a very ambitious phone manager called floAt's Mobile Agent (aka FMA), but its development suddenly stopped around 2007 while myPhoneExplorer was already becoming increasingly popular.

Much lighter to install than the official Sony Ericsson PC Suite, myPhoneExplorer actually provides a lot more functionalities.

It gives the total control over any Sony Ericsson phone: contacts, calendar and notes can be synchronized with either PhoneExplorer only, Google, Thunderbird, Outlook, and any iCal compliant source. Additionally, photos can be synchronized too, and more recently (since v.1.7), any files on the phone, which comes handy, if like me, you use the phone as a flash drive to bring back home files downloaded elsewhere. The Phone keypad function allows to control the phone navigation from the computer as well as taking screen shots from within any phone application.

The developers are very active and updates are constently published with new and improved functionalities.





Jul 23, 2009



I have to add an update (already) on the FI8908W that I presented earlier, and this time, there's good news for Linux, Mac and Firefox users! (corresponding firmware for fi8909w-NA and fi8903/04w here)

Since people at Foscam already proved very responsive, I sent them another question about the chances to see some support for non-ActiveX browsers in a future firmware.

While I expected something like "sorry, this is not planned for this product", the actual answer was:
"Here is an updated firmware with server push mode (for Firefox, chrome an such) and also the method to directly intercept the video stream into VLC"...!!!

Jul 22, 2009

Back in the late 80's, a particular episode from Jim Henson's TV series Dinosaurs, was showing Robbie, the son, , challenging Earl, his father, for the alpha-male supremacy by taking the TV remote from him.
Earl & Robbie from Dinosaurs TV Series
This marked me as the best illustration of a true social fact: whoever holds the remote control, rules the house!

To secure this fact, a sophisticated device that you only can understand is a great help: for me the first Harmony "web-powered" remote control was just that!

Harmony 745 - the first web powered remote control
Back in 2001, the Canadian company Intrigue Technologies launched a small remote, shaped like a mobile phone, called Harmony 745: the idea was brilliant, the staff behind the web site very responsive, and despite the relative complexity of fine-tuning the configuration directly from the xml source, the remote was very flexible. There was even a page (it actually still exists) to convert waveform files grabbed from other evolved universal remotes (such as Philips Pronto). The developers quickly overcame some difficulties with non-standard waveforms (Nokia, B&O,...) and added support for home automation IR to X10 converters such as IR7243) and soon the H745 could virtually control everything.

Around 2004, Logitech aquired Intrigue Technologies and the Harmony remote range started to be officially distributed in Europe. Logitech even advertised his new remotes through short videos basically claiming "it's so simple, even your wife can used it!" ...Doh!

My next model, the Logitech Harmony 659, was a major evolution, more like a traditional remote, making it simpler to use indeed. The web site also received a lifting and while it became nicer, some options, like the waveform lab page, disappeared.
It would probably still be in use if the soft rubber buttons around the LCD screen had not started to literally liquefy at some stage! This was a know design flaw that many H659 users experienced.

H659 Remote Control







Logitech Harmony 525 and 555: Today, these 2 similar remotes are the entry range of Logitech Harmony, starting at €60, far better and cheaper than the first model (H745) that was around €200!


Logitech H555 Remote Control
Logitech H525 Remote Control







Resources:
RemoteCentral.com , Logitech UK

Jul 21, 2009

the slowest 16-bit computer ever!


Are you nostalgic of the time when it was possible to reboot your personal computer by gently hitting the desk with your fist (Sinclair ZX81) ? Have you been the proud owner of the first 16-bit computer out-performed by all the 8-bit competition (TI99/4A) ? Did you drill holes into your 45 min tapes to use them in the revolutionary tape streamer of the ColecoVision ADAM ?

A small linux-based wireless storage

Linux-based Wireless storage
I must confess that I bought this item by mistake: I expected this tiny wireless storage to be the perfect companion for my DVR (Digital Video Recorder). But I neglected to ensure that it would have a USB Host type of port, and it's not the case. So it cannot act as a flash drive for the DVR, if you follow me.

Still, it's a nice device: small enough, using a 6.3cm (2.5") hard drive, and running on a mini linux OS (telnet access to it can be enabled). Mine came as a SMC WAPS-G flashed with the latest WMU-6000FS firmware from Ovislink. This brand offers a convenient download manager (BitTorrent, HTTP and FTP) as part of its embedded software and while it's not exempt from bugs and typos, it does the job quite nicely, sending you an email when the download is done. Last seen just below €50.- (without the hard drive).

The site macsat.com and its wiki are the places for push the limits further with custom firmwares. However, you should decide if you really need those additional features and make yourself familiar with the recovery techniques (jtag) beforehand as it seems quite common to end up turning that wi-fi storage into a useless brick.

Pros:
+ affordable storage solution
+ mini Linux kernel on board
+ highly tweakable
(source codes are available from some manufacturers)

Cons:
- Official development abandoned (latest fw dated 2007/12/07)
- Disputable reliability
- Some bugs


See also:
Hacking MGB100

Other known clones:
Level-One (WAP-0007), Comet Labs (MGB100), Conceptronic (CHD2WLANU), Micronica (MGB100), Safecom (SWSAPUR-5400), Pearl (PE6643)

Jul 20, 2009

This USB rocket launcher seemed appropriate to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission.


I usually don't like to waste my precious USB ports with useless things, but I'll probably make an exception for this one... one day.

Jul 7, 2009

next, we'll put the kids in the overhead compartments...
I said once, as a joke (okay not very funny), that with Ryanair, passengers would end up carrying their own luggage to the airplane and would be standing rather than seating during the flight... well it is all about to happen!

I must have said it too loud!

Let's hope it's just another joke from the airline to generate both fear and buzz.











A cheap GPS that can be happily tweaked


Some gadgets are a true pleasure to own, in particular the once that have a high price/tweak ratio.

This is the case of some cheap GPS devices out there that you can buy for less than €100 on the web. They're not too hard to unlock so they can be extended beyond their original purpose.

I recently purchased one of them from DealExtreme, not the nicest Personal Navigation Device, but quite complete and easily customizable.

That one is based on Microsoft Windows CE .NET 5.0 and uses a Centrality Atlas-III 372MHz CPU.
Included is a limited bluetooth stack intended to be used as an audio gateway for your phone, but nothing else, and certainly not transferring files. There's also an FM transmitter for redirecting the GPS audio to the autoradio. TMC is not included but a connector is present to add an external one. Beside the GPS feature, the interface allows to listen to mp3's, view pictures and watch divx movies (quite smoothly actually), and for this last activity, the FM transmitter is convenient so you can listen the soundtrack from your autoradio.

The original features provided might be enough for the average user and if you add a software like iGO Amigo, the added games and utilities of this successor of Igo 8 will be a nice complement.

But if you are an authentic geek, you'll want to explore further, and the first challenge is to determine the brand and model of the chineese GPS device.

At first look it could be mistaken with some Garmin NĂ¼vi, but it's actually referred to in some places as "Navigo V2 Widescreen" (a 4.3" version of the model SY885).

From there, it is possible to find some compatible tweaking source.
Like many other models, there is a file on the storage card that contains the path to the GPS application, in this case it's called gpsrunfile.txt. All you need to do is to change the path for any other application (like USBSetting, which enables the ActiveSync mode) and it will launch from the "Navigation" button of the generic user interface.
The interest of enabling the ActiveSync mode is that it gives you a full access to the device, including its registry database, and that's the first step to making your limited PNA closer to a Pocket PC.
This site is the best place to start tweaking: http://navigo.wikispaces.com/



The original user interface can be easily replaced by a more powerful one; allowing to launch additional games and applications, more like a pocket PC.

I started replacing my interface with BBMenu, and it may well be more than enough for most users. But make sure you tried the beautiful MioPocket (*) before making up your mind!

The device I got came with the excellent navigation software iGO 8 but it's faily simple to add other softwares, the only limit being the SD card size.

(*) A word of caution for this particular device and MioPocket: while mine installed fine, the initial shell interface seemed to fight with the MioPocket shell to be in the background. In my case, it was necessary to edit the registry and inhibate the device's shell (HKLM\init launch50="PvShell.exe" to "")

Pros:
- Cheap
- Easy to hack
- Bright enough 480x272 screen

Cons:
- Touch screen need re-calibration at times
- Car charger noisy (hissing)

Jul 2, 2009

I was looking for a simple way to create a nice map of my network at home. While not so big, it grew fast with the addition of various wifi-enabled devices in the last years.

A colleague brought my attention to a freeware called Network Notepad.

I initially overlooked it as being too basic, but it turned out to be actually exactly what I needed: not too big (about 3 MB), not too simple either.

This tool allows you to create an interactive map of your network elements: it is possible to access the network elements (ftp, telnet, http, ...) by selecting their corresponding icon. You can also define custom actions (like launching the CDP Tool).













The icon library may seem somewhat incomplete but, once you discover how simple it is to create your own, this little tool really starts to stand out of the crowd.

All you have to do is to open the object libraries window,
go to File menu > New, and paste pictures of your choice into the empty library space. The object library allows to resize the elements to a proportion suitable for use in a diagram.










Nice alternative:
Draw Anywhere is a Flash based web application to achieve a static diagram. There's is no installation, and the free registration is optional. It also allows you to add your own images.