5 do’s and don’ts for traveling with technology on vacation

2120417193_7a7c5928e3If you frequent this site, you probably are a tech fan and travels with gadgets on vacation. Here are some suggestions you may or may not already be doing that will make the tech portion of your trip a success.

1. Chargers

It should go without say that you should bring every charger you need for your devices when you travel. If you have several different chargers you might want to look into a multiple-device charger. These chargers have one base with several connections for different devices, meaning you need to carry less chargers with you.

I also highly suggest charging all devices before leaving home. This way if you forget your charges you’ll have some power already stored up.

2. More is better

Speaking of charging and power: If you’re using a digital camera, it’s a good idea to travel with a spare battery. I always have a battery on hand if the one in the camera dies, so I can just swap it right out and continue shooting.

I also highly recommend getting a second power source for your phone. This could be in the form of a battery, a phone case with a built-in extra battery, or a separate battery that connects to the phone via cable and can also be used as backup for your tablet. A case with a built-in battery is probably the most expensive, and once you get a new phone it will probably be obsolete. You’ll get more for your money with a spare battery.

3. Bring a camera arsenal

I always travel with my phone and at least two cameras. One camera is my compact DSLR and the other is an inexpensive lighter weight pocket camera. I like the DSLR for when I know I need a fast shutter. The other camera is for when I don’t want the heavier DSLR, although the compact DSLR isn’t that heavy. Plus, my wife hates the compact DSLR.

I also travel with a waterproof video camera that can also take stills. They can be found for under $100 and great for trips to the beach or other wet destinations. I love not having to worry about my camera getting wet in the pool or ocean.

Smartphones have great cameras, but they still are not good enough to be an everyday camera, especially for vacations. They are too slow to capture that one quick moment you don’t want to miss and they don’t have a true optical zoom for getting close to your subject. You also don’t want your smartphone falling into the pool or getting splashed by a wave. It drives me crazy when I see people using an iPhone at the edge of the ocean without a case, and don’t even get me started on tablets!

4. Don’t forget the memory cards

If you do take a camera, make sure you have at least two memory cards with at least 8 GB of memory each. Memory cards are cheap these days and you want plenty of space to store photos and video and it is always good to have a backup card.

I also have the camera connection kit for my iPad. I can take the memory card out of the camera at night and load the pictures onto my iPad to preview, edit, and share pictures before getting home.

5. What you don’t need

If you are taking a camera, you probably don’t need a traditional video camera. Modern cameras take great video and a video cams is just one more thing to drag along, even if it is a small and light weight one. It also means another charger to pack.

If you have a tablet like an iPad or a smartphone, you’ll have to decide if you need a laptop. For me, the iPad is enough. I don’t even have a laptop. Plus, like the video camera, it means more bulk and another charger to pack.

Conclusion

In the end, it is up to you what tech you need on your vacation. It boils down to how much you want to take and how much you want to spend on what you don’t already have. Either way, the most important thing is to have fun and enjoy the trip! The tech is just a tool to help make that trip more comfortable and to help preserve those memories.

Image credit: John Mueller

Will the next iPhone have a fingerprint scanner?

iPhone colorsSince the dawn of the iPhone, users have been creeping, spying, and guessing as to what the latest model will hold. Some hunches were correct, while others were a far cry from reality. However, even the most wrong guesses haven’t kept bloggers and Apple users from scouring for the next big rumor.

This time around, it’s speculation as to whether or not the new iPhone will host a fingerprint scanner.

Likely to be used for security purposes, it’s rumored that the phone will “scan” one’s fingerprint before unlocking the phone. Currently, users can enter a passcode when wanting to lock their iPhones from stranger use. And while the scan would certainly be an improvement from keyed-in numbers, there are concerns as to how well the scanner would work. Is there a possibility of faulty reads? Will it be able to accurately read a swipe/scan the first time around?

Alternate theories toss around the idea of fingerprint scanning for games or identification purposes, similar to software used on crime-based TV shows. Though this is far less likely, more futuristic and less personal is certainly the trend our electronics have been taking on.

Alternative Rumors

Another theory being tossed around is whether or not Apple will release a 5S phone, or jump straight to 6, which would be a plastic, smaller version of the 5. The blogosphere has been predicting a cheaper, smaller iPhone for months, though Apple has yet to confirm whether or not these instances are true. Known as the “iPhone mini” – like its iPad counterpart, this phone would likely be more affordable, much smaller, and host fewer of Apple’s signature features. It’s thought that this move will help iPhones appeal to a larger audience.

Unfortunately, even the scheduled release date is still up for debate (though right now the Internet says September). Until the next iPhone officially hits shelves – or Apple decides to break protocol and give away their secrets – we’re left in the dark, guessing at what new, great features it will hold.

Why LinkedIn remains the only international social site available in China

LinkedInIn what the Chinese government terms as a move to keeping its society sane and couth, it has blocked the use of social sites like Facebook and Twitter among many others. Actually, accessing these sites is next to impossible, and if attempted, is punishable by law. This unquestionable move to block out international social sites has however taken a surprising and unexpected twist manifested in the government’s decision to let the citizens access LinkedIn.

Though the reasons as to why China has let its citizen’s access LinkedIn still remains a mystery to many, there are many speculations that in the opinion of many contain all the logic needed to render them tangible.

Possible Reasons

Many people believe that LinkedIn’s approach to networking people is the only thing that has let it survive China’s strict censorship laws. LinkedIn focuses on professional qualifications and aims at letting employers meet employees without leaving the comfort of their offices. For a nation that is work-oriented like China, this is a gold mine since it will allow its population to network with professionals, both locally and internationally.

Unlike other social sites, LinkedIn did not come up with a simplified site version for China. Due to this, LinkedIn is more of a top-notch forum that will only work for Chinese who can at least construct coherent English sentences. Since English is not the first language is China, the number of people who can comfortably chat and exchange ideas on LinkedIn is effectively reduced to encompass only those who have gone through the pain of learning English for the sake of business.

Since LinkedIn is all about business and professional networking, loose talk and suggestive picture uploading that is rampant on other international social sites is unheard of. If we go by the fact that China’s basic motive in blocking other social site is for the sake of its societal ethical beliefs, then it would be right to conclude that LinkedIn does not have the capacity to breach these unwritten rules. In fact, all that LinkedIn can do is uphold the virtue of hard work and professionalism.

For How Long?

LinkedIn InNonetheless, it is almost impossible to draw a solid conclusion as to why LinkedIn roams freely in China, bearing in mind that in 2010, the Chinese lost access to one of the most powerful search engines in the world, Google. Perhaps, the Chinese government has realized that LinkedIn is the only safe channel through which its professionals can network with the international world. On the other hand, it could just be biding time before shutting down the service.

Apparently, China is confident that a social network that lets professionals meet and discuss job-related issues is not harmful to the society. After all, it is not the best place to plot or start a revolution or spend precious time chatting about celebrities and impossible fantasies.

Can $20 apps survive in the iTunes App Store?

xcomRecently, I was looking at the new apps featured in the iTunes App Store and one got my immediate attention. It wasn’t for the name (I had never heard of it before) – it was for the price. The game was $19.99.

My immediate reaction was “Wow! That is never going to sell.” Then I looked at the company making it: 2K games, a reputable gaming company. I was intrigued. I used to buy their sports games for the Xbox. The game is XCOM:Enemy Unknown and the description describes it as a game that has come from the PC and console world. A search at Amazon.com shows the game costs about $30.

The app price brings an interesting situation to the App Store. Most apps are $4.99 and less, and many of those are just $0.99. Consumers are familiar with paying low prices for iOS apps, myself included.

Now there is a $19.99 app which is probably console quality available for the iPad. Will customers be willing to pay that much for an iOS game when other ported games are priced at much less? I bought LEGO Batman for $4.99 and it was just as good as any console game I have played. Would I have paid $19.99? Probably not. If apps start having a higher price tag, I (and probably many others) will start buying a lot fewer apps.

I am not saying every app should be $0.99. I’m just saying that higher prices will mean fewer sales in the long run. Developers should be able to charge what they feel is right for their apps. It is the consumer that will decide if the price is right in the long run.

XCOM already has over one thousand ratings in the App Store, and you cannot rate an app without buying it, so it is definitely selling. How much? I don’t know and probably never will.

This app could be the experiment that other companies have not been willing to take and it might be the app that changes app pricing of the future. If it sells well, other developers might start pricing their console quality apps at similar prices.

Screen Shot 92On a similar note, Knights of the Old Republic by Aspyr was recently released at $9.99. It is not $19.99, but $9.99 is a big jump in price from the $0.99 game. That is another game I have played (on the Xbox) and it is great. Is it worth $9.99 on the iPad? For me, the answer is no. This game was originally published in 2003 on the Xbox. That makes it ten years old. While it is a console quality game, and I game I would love for my iPad, I will not be paying $9.99 for a ten-year old game and a game I have already played. However, there are many people who will buy and have bought this game for the iPad already.

Could this be the end of the $0.99 app in App Store? Only time will tell, but this is an interesting experiment for the iTunes App Store and other mobile platforms too.

4 ways to make your Android phone’s battery last longer

Android PowerageOne of the reasons why Android operated devices are highly welcome in the market is their exemplary multitasking capabilities. However, there is a price to pay for this. To maintain a good number of applications running in the background and on demand, the processor has to constantly keep a record of running apps and actively swap every now and then. As the number of services accomplished by the processor increase, so does the devices power consumption.

However, there are a couple of things that you can do to reduce your gadget’s power consumption. This freedom draws from the characteristic customization capabilities that Android devices possess. You can shut down some services and functionalities that you do not need and reduce the hardware performance to save battery juice for a nobler course.  Below are some of the basic tricks to help you accomplish this.

1. Turning off Unused Features

Most of the services and applications bundled into our Android devices do not have to run 24/7. For instance, you will not use you Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and data connection continuously. Even though these services make the device more functional, they also consume a good amount of power whenever they run, whether on active or idle mode.

To save on power, only turn on wireless connectivity when you intend to use it. Additional functionalities that may look cool but are unnecessary and power consuming include vibrations. Only use haptic feedback where necessary to conserve power.

2. Filter your notifications and reduce the number of apps that can ‘Auto-sync’

In bid to keep smartphones smart, most designers give them the power to ‘talk’ to the internet. The basic idea behind this is to allow the phone to access and process data on your behalf. However, such powers would be useless in some instances.

To ensure that your phone does not consume power processing unnecessary notifications or accessing the Internet every now and then for futile synchronization, you could turn off auto-sync and report generation for most of the apps and only let the most important applications retain this capability. This will help your device will stay alive for longer due to reduced power consumption.

3. Make Use of Power Control Widgets and Task Apps

Even though statistical reports show that the number of people purchasing smartphones is on the rise, not all of them know how to optimize their power settings. Developers seal this gap by releasing applications that help you regulate the number of processes your phone executes per unit time and the speed of execution to cut down on power consumption.

With a swift and convenient way to access most of the native setting from under the same roof, you are in a position to optimize your device to best suit your environment and requirements. The most basic things that you can change using these applications include screen brightness, processor frequency and allowed limit of process per unit time.

4. Power Efficient Customization Techniques

As device manufacturers struggle to create better display units, the power needed to run the high-resolution screens increases exponentially. Rendering high quality graphics on the screen at high brightness levels consumes more power than rendering still and dull graphics. When selecting your wallpaper and themes, go for something dull and simple to cut down on power hogging.

These are just some of the things that you can do to your smartphone in a bid to cut down on its power consumption. Though these measures might reduce your device’s performance, they are helpful especially if you do not have the opportunity to recharge every now and then.

New devices help monitor and reduce water usage

How much water do you use throughout the day? Do you leave the sink running while you brush your teeth? Take extra long showers? With a new device, called MyWater, users can learn just how much waste they may be washing down the drain. Simply put in some basic information, plug in the device next to your sink, tub, or washing machine, and follow up to see how your water habits change over time. You can even compare to nearby houses for a real-time comparison.

The company said its goal isn’t to get users to cutback their use by 90 percent – a stat that’s far from realistic. Rather it wants to remind users about their everyday decisions, for instance, using less water to wash one’s hands or setting the washing machine to “small load” when fewer clothes are put into the machine.

How it Works

Setup as an electronic screen (think digital nightlight), the device measures the amount of water going down a drain, measuring speed, frequency, and daily habits. Over time, users can see a chart of how much water they used per day from each spout, and what percentage they’ve decreased (or increased) their usage. The device also measures intake from nearby houses so consumers can see if they’re more or less wasteful than their neighbors. Size of one’s home is also taken into consideration.

The device is yet to be released onto the market, but it taking heavy strides to be on shelves within two years; it’s predicted to cost less than $100.

The WaterPebble

waterpebbleAnother similar device, the WaterPebble, is already available for consumer use. This electronic “pebble” sits in the bottom of one’s drain and measures how much water flows through. What makes the Pebble different is that is shows users when it’s time to stop their water use. A green light means water usage is on the right path, amber shows consumers they’re at the half-way mark, and red means it’s time to turn the water off.

After each shower, water allowance is slightly reduced, encouraging consumers to follow greener habits. WaterPebble can also be restarted at any time to increase one’s shower time or to adjust for a new user.

To get started, users program the Pebble, then place it near the drain. Simply turn the sink on and the WaterPebble will come to life as water touches the device. WaterPebbles cost approximately $10 each.

Consider these devices today for a smart new way to combine electronics with Earth-friendly habits.

Review: Traktor DJ, a professional music mixing app for iPhone and iPad

I would never claim to be a bona fide DJ. At best, I am a hobby DJ who’s been given the occasional opportunity to do his thing at some bars and parties. Even so, I am passionate about playing and mixing music, and over the years I’ve invested in various software packages and items of equipment.

I started, as every DJ should, with vinyl decks, and then progressed via CDs to Virtual DJ software. I then added a cheap mixing console which, it’s fair to say, served me well for a few bar gigs.

Then, a couple of years ago, I found myself with a bit of spare cash and invested in a Traktor Kontrol S4, Native Instruments’ flagship hardware controller. I had a lot of fun with it, but lately I’ve became painfully aware of the expensive piece of equipment’s confinement in the cupboard in our spare room, getting (at best) a quarterly airing at an impromptu house party. I made the vague decision to sell it, especially when Native Instruments dropped the price of the Kontrol S4, which resulted in a corresponding drop in the value of my “asset.”

Meanwhile, things have yet again moved on for the digital DJ, and there’s been no development more exciting than the release of Traktor DJ for the iPad and iPhone. Recently, I decided to finally give the iPhone version a go, and I’ll be up-front from the start: I was extremely impressed.

traktor-ipadmini

Usage

Traktor DJ for iPhoneTraktor DJ’s interface is clear and slick and the beat-matching engine is spot-on. What’s more, all the key features are present and correct, and all reimagined for touch control – which, as it turns out, is actually a really tactile and natural-feeling way to mix.

In terms of the basics, there are EQs, filters, hot cue points, loops, and a basic range of effects including delay, reverb, beatmash and gater.

Then, there are a couple of things unique to the iOS version of Traktor. One is “freeze mode,” which allows you to freeze a section of the track (usually a four beat loop), and manually trigger the beats by tapping the screen, effectively allowing you to remix “on the fly.”

There’s also a track recommendation engine that suggests your next track based on its key as well as its BPM. This kind of harmonic mixing isn’t even available in the Traktor Pro software at the time of writing, so to see it in an app that costs $19.99 on the iPad or just $4.99 on the iPhone is truly impressive.

Conclusion

Features aside, however, could Traktor DJ really replace my existing digital setup? Well, on the iPhone alone, probably not. There’s simply too much functionality to cram onto such a tiny screen. Even though the way that Native Instruments has designed the UI is very clever, with the ability to “slide” between decks, I still keep managing to accidentally stop a track when I’m intending to come out of a loop.

The difference in price between the iPhone and iPad versions (which are essentially identical in terms of functionality) seems to indicate that Native Instruments is aware that the iPhone version will be used more as a “toy.” But this brings us to the most important point: On the iPad, Traktor DJ is more than I could ever need for my occasional DJing. In fact, I am already coming close to hitting the “buy now” button on a new iPad Mini specifically for this purpose.

With the addition of Native Instruments’ new Kontrol Z1 mixer and soundcard, I can also have physical faders, headphone cueing and professional sound output – all in a setup that would fit in the glove compartment of the car.

While I’ve no doubt that plenty of DJ purists will object to the ease-of-use of Traktor DJ, for people like me who just want to mix some tunes and play the occasional bar set, it is absolutely perfect. My bulky old equipment just got one step closer to the eBay pile.

GoDaddy remains popular, but offers less than competing services

GoDaddy logoWhen setting out to purchase a new domain, the majority of people head to GoDaddy, type in their hopeful site address, and see if someone has already snatched up the great idea. If not, it’s likely GoDaddy will offer a multitude of discounts, coupons, and .co, .net, etc. options to help bring down the price. (For whatever reason, .coms always set you back the most funds.) Anything to get you to sign up, GoDaddy will do. They have the name, the willing and able customer service, and the clout. But do they have the resources to overcome?

Despite being more popular – likely due to their ongoing commercials – GoDaddy has far less to offer website owners than you may think. Sure they wrap everything up in a nice tidy bow, but service-wise, alternative sites may have far better perks. Such as cheaper hosting fees, advanced spam blockers, and a server that doesn’t regularly get hacked.

Perhaps the biggest downside to GoDaddy is the large, albeit invisible, target on their label. The company has been hacked a few too many times, leaving website owners across the globe without a site. The latest debacle, which took place in September of 2012, left thousands of sites down for an entire day. While few reported actual damage, it’s likely this literal down time cost thousands in web traffic numbers, ad revenue, and sales. And that’s only on the company side; Google likely took a downgrade on daily PPC funds as well.

GoDaddy Backlash

While such a hack has yet to take place since, that’s not to say it can’t or won’t happen again. As an apology, GoDaddy sent out an email with a small discount for users to purchase a new domain – not a coupon for current services; additional funds would have to be spent to see any savings. And because switching hosts is such a significant pain in the rear, it’s likely they lost few sites over the whole incident.

But with multiple options, many of which are cheaper and offer better services, what’s holding consumers back from switching hosts? Especially since domains can be purchased through GoDaddy and hosted elsewhere. Is it the popularity, or the sheer hassle of moving a website? It won’t be long before others are finding the value outside of GoDaddy’s monopoly and taking advantage of these competing offers.

Despite their popularity, there’s much more to web hosting than GoDaddy offers. Consider an alternative before caving to their ways, no matter how user-friendly they may be.

How to add Bluetooth audio to your car for under $20

bluetooth-logoIf you are like me, you like listening to content from your phone or MP3 player in your car while traveling. If you don’t have built-in Bluetooth in your car, there are several options for adding it. You can use a cassette adapter (if your car has a cassette deck), an 8mm audio cable (basically a headphone jack, if your car supports it), you can listen through an FM transmitter, or you can listen straight through the device if your device has decent speakers.

In my car I have an audio jack. This method works great, but I hate have to use the cable to go from my phone to the jack. It just gets in the way of everything.

I am happy to report there is another solution for those of us with an audio jack in the car that can be purchased for under $20: the Zehui Wireless Car Bluetooth Music Receiver. It’s a small Bluetooth receiver that plugs into the audio jack (yes, your device has to have Bluetooth for this to work). These devices play the audio from your phone or music player through your car speakers without being hindered by a cable!

I am guessing this is a generic product because Amazon carries several items under different brand names with identical pictures, so I just settled on the cheapest one. There are other name brands that are more money and look different, but I figured I’d try the cheaper route first.

Image screenshot from Amazon.com product listing
Image screenshot from Amazon.com product listing

Surprisingly, this little device works great! It is a little tricky to figure out how it works, especially since the instructions were awful, but once I got it going it is a great addition to my car. Best of all it has a very small footprint. It is about 1″ x 2″ and just sticks right out of the jack in my car. I turn it on when I want to use it and it connects right to my iPhone. The sound quality is great and I can control the volume through the phone or the car. The battery life is at least eight hours.

My family recently took a vacation which involved three hours in the car each direction. My son sat in the back watching the iPad and listening through the car speakers. No more annoying cable from the iPad to the front of the car.

Like I said earlier, there are other brands for more money, but why spend it if you don’t have to? This little device is a great addition to any car with an audio jack. If you have an audio jack in your car and a bluetooth capable device I highly recommend checking out a Bluetooth audio receiver for your vehicle. You’ll be happy you did.

Your internet activities aren’t as safe as you thought

NSAThe idea of snooping on undersea cables is not alien in the world of counter-intelligence. In fact, it was in use by the US against the Soviet Union as early as 1970s. Even though such an escapade in the early 70s would only yield specific information, tapping into the current undersea fiber optic cables gives access to streams of highly valuable information. This is an opportunity that one of the most powerful agencies in the world, National Security Agency (NSA) might have found too lucrative to forego.

How your data can be captured

PRISM

The information regarding how NSA pulls out this alleged massive data “theft” remains hazy. While some sources claim that the agency makes use of a “prism” (hence the program’s codename) to split the light beams in the fiber optics cables into two , one for their own use and another to continue with its journey, experts argue that this is too complex a procedure to effectively sustain.

According to a Deutsche Welle report, it would be easier to do the tapping at regeneration points and sometimes landing stations since at these points the data is split out and more easier to tap into. Nonetheless, all sources seem to concur with the fact that probes and prisms are used to create a replica beam of the light without disrupting the “flow of the original Internet traffic.”

NSA collaborators

collaborator spys

Just like anything else that has ever been associated with NSA, the details about the scheme remain closely guarded with none of the allegedly associated entities accepting the responsibility. Many claim that NSA collaborates with internet service providers and landing country authority to gain access to the data trunk, allegations that most of these players vehemently denounce.

With no one accepting responsibility, not even Google or Facebook who allegedly collude with the agency to deliver detailed user information, it is hard to figure out how deep the intrusion is. There is the probability that NSA does not go through all the information it diverts. Nonetheless, experts like Tim Stronge from TeleGeography believes that if the PRISM is real, it has the power to tap into large amounts of data from different sources since data over the internet will take “the least congested route that is available to their providers.”

The way forward

The NSA internet backbone breach, if true, will not really get many internet users off guard. Even though NSA vehemently denounces the allegations and claims that it cannot even search its own emails, many internet users know that all the information they transmit online is bound to be stolen by one counter intelligence agency or another. Some argue that it makes the internet a safer place to be in; others believe that this is a direct violation of the fourth amendment of the United States constitution.

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