• Moore’s Law for Big Spotlights?

    Well, it’s not exactly Moore’s Law, but the rechargeable spotlight Costco is selling this year for $29.99 is 50 percent more powerful than the one I got for Christmas just last year. (And it costs the same, one of Santa’s elves tells me). Last year’s model, shown right, produced a sissy 10,000,000 candlepower. The 2005 model boosts that to eyeball scorching 15,000,000 candlepower. It makes me feel sooooo tough to have one of these in the back of the Explorer.

    Yeah, sure it does.What can you do with a giant spotlight powered from a small motorcycle battery? That the question I see on the faces of guys who stand, looking sort of perplexed, in front of the pallets of these things stacked at the front of the store. It’s this, “I know I need one of these, but what for?” look that also appears when some guys venture into the Craftsman tool department at Sears.As for that this light can do, let me first warn you: You are talking about a very bright headlight which can be seen forever and runs almost as hot as the 15,000,000 candles would. So don’t let it set something on fire, OK? My light came in handy during a camping trip when we knew we had coyotes in some bushes near the camp, but couldn’t find them with even our most powerful flashlights.

    The Thor-X spotted their shiny eyes almost immediately.I haven’t measured battery life, which can’t be too long, though I’ve also used the lamp to light up after-dark building projects long enough–minutes not hours–to get the job done.You probably don’t really need one of these, but it makes the biggest stocking stuffer I’ve ever seen and the price is certainly right. Recharges from 12v or a supplied wall-wart.

  • Davis Vantage Pro II Weather Station

    I have been more than pleased with the Davis Instruments Vantage Pro II wireless weather station I’ve been playing with for the past couple of months. It’s the beginning of the rainy season here in Northern California and having a weather station allows me to play amateur scientist and keep track of weather conditions at my home. These observations even become part of a National Weather Service database and are subject to daily quality control checks by government computers. Besides mine, there are two other stations in my community of 75,000 that also report their data over the Internet. (You can see my local weather by visiting www.tracyweather.com).The best way to describe the Vantage Pro II is “pro-sumer” as it is solidly built and provides accurate observations. There are weather stations that are less expensive, but seem rinky dink to me. There are others that are more expensive and out of my price range. In fact, the Davis itself seems pretty expensive, especially when you add the $150 data logger used to connect the Davis console to a PC or Mac, necessary for transmitting your observations over the Internet to an anxious world.Other Davis accessories make the temperature observations more accurate, heat the rain gauge for winter use in cold climates, and add features of interest to agriculture, including the ability to control irrigation systems. After having the unit in operation for more than two months, I think you get what you pay for.


    Everything about the Davis unit has impressed me, including the display console (shown left). Because the console is wireless, it can be taken anywhere in the house and, thanks to the long wireless range of the Davis sensor unit, over to the neighbors’ homes as well. The console displays a tremendous amount of information and is easy to operate, thanks to a collection of dedicated buttons.The Vantage Pro II display (shown right, click on the image to see it full size) provides all the important observations at a glance. By scrolling through the readings you can see them on the appear graph on the lower left of the display. There is also what amounts to a “shift” key that replaces some of the data will less-frequently-used information. I’ve come to like the display tremendously.The top photo shows the sensor unit, which includes wind direction and speed, rainfall, temperature, and humidity, mounted above the peak of my roof. The wind sensors are on the arm. Rainfall is measured by the large black piece, essentially a big funnel.

    The ribbed piece below the rain gauge is where temp and humidity are measured. The white upright piece supports the solar cells that power the unit as well as containing the electronics package and RF deck. You can’t see the antenna used for wireless data transmission.If you look around, you’re likely to see this sensor package in many places. All the firehouses in my town have them, though they aren’t connected to the Internet as far as I’ve been able to tell. There is also one that I’ve found atop the big dome at the Lick Observatory, atop Mt. Hamilton, east of San Jose. Next time I am there I must remember to bring a camera as the weather equipment is quite a sight–if you’re into stuff like that.Depending on where you purchase the Vantage Pro II, you’ll pay between $480 and $600 for the wireless system. Try www.scientificsales.com for good pricing. The wired version costs less, but running the wire is a pain and you are limited in where you can place to console. I think wireless is very much worth the investment. One shortcoming: Here in Northern California, the forecasts that the Vantage Pro develops on its own (shown at the bottom of the LCD) are pretty much useless.

    Just ignore them.If you’re not interested in the weather, you wouldn’t have read this far. And I don’t have to tell you that the Vantage Pro II won’t appeal to everyone. But, if you care about observing and recording the weather, this is a wonderful product that will give you many years of service. It would make a great gift, even for someone who isn’t weather savvy, provided someone is willing to mount the sensor package. In a future post, I’ll talk about features I’d like to see added.

  • What GPS For My EMT Wife?

    My wife has just taken a job with a large American emergency medical services company. (EMTs will have already guessed which one). As an EMT, she gets to drive the ambulance a lot. Sometimes she drives because her Paramedic partner doesn’t want to and she always drives when taking a Code 3 (lights/siren) patient to the hospital. For Christmas, I’d like to give her a GPS unit she can carry in her gear bag and  easily install in the ambulance she’s driving on a particular shift. Here is a list of the features/specifications I think she needs. I don’t believe they exist in a single device. If you know of one, I’d appreciate hearing from you.Major requirements:Turn-by-turn directions with voice.One-touch memories, for easy selection of common destinations like hospitals and ambulance stations. This may be the most important feature since a big use for this device will be finding the way back to the hospital from unfamiliar locations. Typically, this would mean using the GPS to get pointed in the right direction and to a known major street from which she’d already know the best way in.
    Automatic rerouting, so that when she takes a particular route, for whatever reason, the GPS will find a new route to the selected destination.

    Easy entry of locations not already in memory.gps watch

    My Magellan RoadMate 700 meets many of these requirements, though address entry could be improved. However, the unit is a tad large, requires external power, and really needs an additional external antenna for this application. I want a unit that can be easily operated while being hand-held, which seems to require an antenna on the dash or outside the vehicle, both of which complicate things. Bluetooth be used to link the GPS receiver to the display, but is also a complication that makes the unit less reliable and not as easy to use as I’d require.


    The RoadMate is too large. I want pocket-sized.

    Major non-requirement: My application does not require a hard drive to hold the map, since it would be used only in a regional area that could be uploaded to flash memory.Features that I don’t think exist:Support for major map grid systems, like the Thomas Bros. maps we use here in California. It ought to be possible to route to a particular page and grid without actually entering an address.
    Time-based routing. There ought to be some way for the system to understand that during “drive times” it’s best to avoid certain routes. I am not sure the best way to do this, but it will take some learning/user input, probably involving a PC and mapping program that can upload data to the GPS to accomplish this. Lacking this, the rerouting feature is the best alternative. (A driving strategy during rush hour is to run streets that parallel more congested major thoroughfares).”Someday when they work” features:GPS units are becoming available that receive traffic information. The problem right now is how limited the information might be and whether it would be current enough to be useful. My thinking is that this feature, today, might be more misleading than useful. Ideally, it would have encyclopedic knowledge of local traffic conditions (could support the time-based routing) as well as construction (hour-by-hour) and accidents. Whether this information will ever be available for a city of 250,000 outside a major metro area isn’t clear to me, but it would certainly be useful in more populous regions.
    Voice recognition for entering addresses. Probably requires too much processing horsepower right now, but this would make the GPS really useful. Right now, it’s a race between finding the location in the paper map book and entering the location into the GPS. Paper often wins.As I said, there isn’t a GPS unit I’ve found so far that meets most of these requirements. Maybe the Garmin Nuvo? I’m going to do some more research, but if you know of a unit that comes close to fulfilling my wish list, I’d love to hear about it.

  • The Headband That Could Save Your Life!

    This may be the last piece I am asked to write for Art Of Sandwiches. But, what the heck, today even sweating has become high-tech and I want you to have the benefit of my exploration into the world of the sweat-challenged, especially when it comes with such an interesting graphic. You sweaters out there, and you know who you are, will appreciate what I am about to share with you.I am a bicyclist and about 20 years ago, back in Texas, I ran into a plastic headband that I ended up wearing for on all my rides over several years. It was the best headband I’d ever owned and solved a problem that often bothered me while riding in the hot Texas sun: Sweat pouring off my forehead and running down into my eyes, usually mixed with sunscreen. The effect was a painful eye that didn’t work very well until it could be wiped off. Not much of a problem in the gym, but losing your vision while riding sends you down the road to a sudden meeting with the road itself.There you are, riding about three inches off the rear wheel of the cyclist in front of you, someone else a similar distance off your wheel when… %$&#! I’M BLIND IN ONE EYE! That’s not just painful and inconvenient, it’s dangerous–for you and everyone riding behind you in the peloton. Over the course of a four or five-hour ride, I’d usually have at least one “sweat emergency” that reduced my vision. I don’t want to over-dramatize this, but I was happy when it solution presented itself.

    The Headband

    Traditional sweatbands, usually terry cloth, simply absorbed as much as they could and let the rest flow downward.The headband-that-worked presented itself in the form of a half-inch wide strip of soft, medical-grade plastic, held in place by an elastic strap that ran across the back of my head. It was a little odd looking, since there was no mistaking that I had a thin band of blue plastic riding just above my eyes.The plastic was folded over in something like a J-shape, with the short part up against my head. This created a channel that directed sweat off my forehead and back toward my ears. This solved a problem that tradition headbands didn’t, which was stopping sweat (and sunscreen) from running down my face and into my eyes. While it took a little while to get used to the Amazon of sweat now directed down my sideburns, the headband was a great invention. I am sorry that I lost the one I had. I spent some time looking and never found a replacement.Recently, however, I have come into a slightly less radical device, one that it looks like a traditional headband, but also includes a plastic barrier that channels sweat off to the sides of my head.

    The Halo Headband ($12.95 direct or from dealers) is both very comfortable and very absorbent, thanks to its construction from a technical fabric called Dryline. Most important is a thin plastic band (yellow in the illustration as well as in real life) that forms a comfortable, water-tight seal and directs sweat away from your eyes.I’ve been using a Halo Headband for several weeks, both at the gym and out on my road bike. While I feel nostalgic for the all-plastic model of my youth, the Halo is at least as functional and doesn’t draw nearly as many strange looks. Besides headbands, the Halo folks also offer a cap and other designs, all with the sweat-channeling feature.I’m very happy with my Halo Headband, which is why I’m stretching the Gearlog concept just a bit and mentioning it to you. It has become an almost essential piece of fitness gear, right up there with my heart monitor. If you’re tired of having sweat in your eyes–regardless of what you’re doing–this is the solution.

  • So Why Are We Going to CES?

    Every year, a week or so after the holidays, a very odd thing happens: The consumer electronics industry gathers in Las Vegas. To do what? That’s the question I’ve always had about CES, which I’ve attended six or eight times and will be attending again in January. CES isn’t really where news happens. And the noise-to-signal ratio is quite high. The major brands hold their own product showcases at other times of year and everyone else has just finished the Christmas rush. If they had new stuff, they’d have already sold it. Anybody who shows what they are planning for next Christmas in January is just asking to have competitors steal all their ideas.

    Going to CES?

    I am not sure what the best time would be for the consumer electronics companies to introduce their new products, in time for resellers to order and people like me to stoke demand. I’m thinking Labor Day would be about right, though it could be even earlier. But, one thing is certain: If there is a worse time for the CE people to get together, at least in terms of showing cool products, the first or second week in January might top the list.The trade organization that puts on CES is aware of the issue. One of the show managers told me that if they decided right then to change the show dates it would take 11 years before the change could take place. That’s how complex it has become to put on a huge show in Las Vegas. In retrospect, however, I wish they really had decided right then, as we’d be halfway to a better scheduled CES by now.So why am I going to CES? Well, it’s not perfect but it is the best we have, and CES is much more pleasant to attend than Comdex ever was. My #1 goal is making new contacts so I can bring you items I wouldn’t otherwise find. I also know I will find stuff that I’ve never seen before and will doubtless have much to tell you about. It’s sad, however, that you will have just spent all the money you might have used to buy it. You might want to budget accordingly.

  • 3 Tools to Combine Your Cloud Storage Services

    Research from Gartner indicates mobile technology and the personal cloud will replace the PC as the hub of daily life – at least in terms of digital activity – by 2014. Trends show a movement toward a “bring your own device” era, where people use smartphones and portables more than PCs, reported on Wired. Cloud storage will naturally assume a fundamental role in managing and maintaining data in a mobile hub. For users who don’t want to be tied to only one cloud storage account and are looking to utilize many cloud storage options and access them all in one place, there are applications that provide that service.


    Benefits of Multiple Services

    Every cloud service has unique features, ranging from collaborative tools including chat, to desktop syncing applications, that attract subscribers, according to Online Backup Geeks. Overcoming limited storage space with your free cloud storage service is as simple as signing up for several free storage products.

    Consolidating Cloud Spaces

    Of course, managing multiple storage services takes time and energy. Consolidation tools have emerged that make managing data more efficient, provide easier access to archived records and synced documents across multiple service areas. Another benefit of utilizing a consolidation service is that expanded storage space allows users to explore the full potential offered by free services before choosing to pay for plans with higher amounts of storage.

    Not all consolidation tools are created equal, according to Techrepublic. Choose the tools that work best for individual needs and equipment by considering both web-based and desktop services. Explore the capabilities and limitations of several consolidation options before making a decision. The three consolidation services below represent some of the best options available today.

    Web-based services from Otixo provide file management services for a monthly fee of $4.99. Subscribers have single sign-on access to their data files and social network accounts. The service support numerous services, including SkyDrive, SugarSync, Facebook and Dropbox. The drag-and-drop feature eliminates the need to download files to move data from service to service.

    A functional interface that delivers a single space to manage audio, visual and text documents across multiple cloud spaces from any device for work or play. This free service is supported by required user promotion on social networking sites. For consumers who use multiple document storage services, such as Dropbox and Google Drive, along with a variety of photo services, this provider delivers an easy-to-navigate mechanism that supports most of the popular cloud options. Running applications in the cloud eliminates the need for external storage and downloading music and videos.

    This offers a web-based dashboard with numerous features that range from checking your email to enabling one-click sign on. An account supports a number of email services and allows users to manage cloud-based services from portable and desktop computing devices. Three service packages are available. The 1GB free account allows subscribers to manage 10 services. The Pro and Premium accounts allow users to manage an unlimited number of cloud services. Subscribers pay $5 monthly for 10GB or $10 monthly for 30GB of storage space.
    What service have you used to consolidate your cloud storage? Leave your input in the comments.


  • 3 Apps Google TV Should Have

    When Google TV launched, I was really excited about the idea of having an app store for my TV.  Look at all the things your cell phone can do now that it couldn’t do five years ago.  The possibilities of transforming the TV from a passive form of entertainment to something more social and interactive were very intriguing. But after a owning my Logitech Revue for almost a year and a half, I still feel very underwhelmed when I open the app store. My biggest issue is that Google has yet to bring some of their best apps to Google TV. There are three apps in particular that I find as glaring omissions that could play a major role in building adoption for Google TV.

    google tv - artofsandwiches.net
    1. Google+  – This seems like the biggest no brainer. Google could add an entire social layer to the Google TV experience. They could add the red notification box to the home screen with a widget and give us the ability to plus one shows as we watch them. They could even add a side bar or footer that we could bring up during a show to display real time messages being posted about a program. Or the side bar could access the show’s official community page.  These tools could open the possibility of having interactions with not only fans, but the productions stars or creators. I would love to have that ability to interact with fans while watching a sports program.
    2. Google Talk – This would bring the ability to real-time chat with friends and family about a television program while you are viewing it. Since Talk is available across multiple platforms, you could chat with more than just friends with Google TV, they could be on laptops, cellphones, tablets, etc.
    3. Google Hangouts – When I got my Logitech Revue, it came with a fancy web cam and the promise that I could video chat with my friends using my TV. It was a cool feature, except that it only worked with other people who had the Logitech Revue with camera setup.  This greatly limited the number of people I could video chat with – actually down to one.  Google hangouts could give us the ability to video chat across multiple devices, with up to nine people at a time.  You could also watch Google Hangout Broadcasts on your big screen TV.
    The big question is why hasn’t Google integrated these tools already?  These apps could usher in a whole new social level for Google TV and by working across multiple platforms would be able to drive awareness and adoption for Google TV.   Perhaps the question isn’t why hasn’t this happened yet, but when will Google move forward?
    Would you like to see these apps on Google TV?  Are there any apps you feel Google TV is missing?

  • DYING LIGHT – Interview with producer Tymon Smektala

    An open-world, firstperson zombie-slaying game from the team behind Dead Island; you’dhave thought the development process wouldhave beenpretty damn smooth, but the delay and the decision todrop last-gen comes fromadesire to innovate. Producer Tymon Smektała explains the game’s lifespan so far…


    How did you plan on separatingDying Light from the competition (Dead Island 2, Sunset Overdrive)when you began development?

    Well, forme,Dying Light isn’t a zombie game – of course it has zombies in it, and shares a lot of elements with our previous games, but the defining element of Dying Light lies in the empoweredmobility that we give to our players. Not only is that new in the zombie genre, but in the first-person games scene in general. The systemwe call ‘naturalmovement’ is amechanic that allows you to traverse the game environment freely without any limits or any invisible barriers. That’s the thing that sets us apart fromother FPSgames, other zombie games.

    So would you say Dying Light ismore like a platformer, a bit likeMirror’s Edge?

    Of course,Dying Light is similar to Mirror’s Edge, but in the way that Mirror’s Edgewas the first game that’s tried to do something new in the first-person movement area. It was released [over five years ago], and nothing’s really been done on the back of it since. I fell in lovewith that game, though – evenwhen I first saw the screenshots, I fell in love. But now I think it’s time todo somethingdifferent, to take that idea to a completely new level. [Mirror’s Edge]worked in a very specific way: therewere certain objects in the environment, and it was only those you could interactwith. So you couldonly climbwhere the developerswanted you to climb, or you could only slide under what the developerswanted you to side under… In Dying Light, you’re in an open world: you can climb over any fence, jump from any building, go anywhere you like. I don’t think it’s fair to say we’re making ‘Mirror’s Edgewith zombies’ – we are extremely respectful toDICE, and itmade a breakthroughgame – butwe’re taking advantage of the power of [the Xbox One] and the talent of our developers.

    Techland says it delayed the game ‘because it hadadesire to innovate’.

    I think I speak for thewhole company when I sayDying Light is the biggest game for the company andwewant the title to show the world Techland is a triple-A developer, and that we’re a studio that canplaywith the biggest names in the business. It ismy personal belief that Dying Light is a fantastic product, and we took a lot of risks in pushing the game back anddropping the release on [Xbox 360andPS3], butwe knew it needed more polish if wewanted toprove to theworld thatwe’re as good as the big [triple-A] developers.We want people to notice that we’ve done something great.

    What happened in those two years between prototype build and now?

    We had to look at things like motion sickness,movement speed, camera speed, how the cameramoves when you’re moving in the environment, how you’re supposed to see things from the firstperson view. I’mproud to have been a part of this development team because I think we’re doing something new here – I think Dying Light will be a game synonymous with next-gen gameplay and a benchmark forwhat this hardware can achieve.

  • EVOLVE – Is there still time left to rescue this lumberingmonster?

    If there is one thing that a public alpha should never do it’s worry everyone, and at this point Evolve is nothing if not a worrying videogame. Everything about it is fuzzy. The classes are fuzzy. The rules are fuzzy. Even the weapons are fuzzy. And you know that a shooter is in deep trouble when it isn’t much fun to shoot things in it. The main problem though, is that the main monster (or Goliath, as Turtle Rock have named it) is ridiculously overpowered. It moves so quickly that, even after its stamina has depleted and it can’t jump, matches just descend into unbelievably boring foot chases. If you decide to split up, you’re helpless if you come across the beast because you’re almost powerless on your own. If you are playing as the Trapper class, and somehow manage to secure the monster in your gigantic dome trap, the monster will either comfortably evade you until the dome vanishes (which takes 20 seconds or so) or will stomp you to death in two or three easy hits. The maps are also so large that calling for help can mean waiting for a full minute before anyone can reach you.

    Some players have reported that playing as a team of four like Left 4 Dead against an AI-controlled Goliath makes for a much more enjoyable experience, if only because the AI isn’t programmed to run away from you all day long. The class system is confusing too: the Medic has recon abilities for some reason, and the Assault character has access to explosives while the Support one does not. It begs the question: why even give these characters traditional class titles if they don’t even fit into those moulds? If you’re playing as the Goliath, laying waste to the four humans is amazingly easy: you just take out the Medic first (he’s the one constantly emitting the green heal beam) and then stomp the other three into oblivion. If it gets too hot in the kitchen? Just leap the heck out of there and leave everyone choking on your dust. Once you’ve eaten enough of the small creatures that bounce around each environment, you can evolve and then destroy the humans’ power source, which ends the game. To win, you have to avoid everyone for ten minutes, and then hit a box. It’s boring.


    During hunts you’re led around by an AI-controlled sniffer dog called Daisy, who reveals bright blue Goliath footprints on the ground. In the end, like so many of Evolve’s gameplay systems, this all turns out to be pointless. There’s no point in following the tracks because the Goliath moves so much faster than you do. They vanish quickly to boot.


    When the Goliath starts munching on wildlife, it can sometimes startle resting birds in the trees above. These incidents flash up on your HUD, with information about how far away the birds are, along with an instruction to “Hurry!” But you can hurry all you like. Eating is a brisk process, and there’s no reason for the Goliath to hang around and wait for you.