July 25, 2010
by Chris
Comments Off on Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM Price Drop

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM Price Drop

I was browsing around B&H’s website and noticed that the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens has come down $200 in price. This is good but it needs to come down a little more before I can splurge. The original version is also available, but it’s still hanging in there at $1899.00. For a difference of $300, is the new version worth it? I don’t know but I’d love to find out by using both lenses.

Another interesting lens is the new Sigma 8-16mm. It’s selling for $699.00 through B&H but again, I’d love to try it out first before jumping. I’ve never really been a fan of Sigma lenses but I’d definitely be up to getting it providing it produces nice results.

Here’s the Canon 70-200mm link and the Sigma 8-16mm.

July 24, 2010
by Chris
Comments Off on Nespresso Citiz

Nespresso Citiz

Today we picked up a piano black Nespresso Citiz espresso machine from Williams Sonoma. The unit (which this particular bundle is unique to Williams Sonoma) cost $349.99. That includes the Citiz, Aeroccino milk frother and a variety pack of the Nespresso pods. First, this machine is extremely elegant in its design. It’s really simple to use and is built quite well. Actually, the unit is built in Switzerland (not China for once) and the quality is evident. It has a really small footprint which will sit nicely on a kitchen counter top or even an office desk. We picked up an $80 table from Bed Bath & Beyond and it fits it perfectly (I’ll link to the table at the end of the article).

The great thing about the Nespresso brand is a) the variety of flavors available b) the inherent freshness by utilizing the sealed pods and c) ordering the pods is easy and a lot cheaper than a Starbucks addiction. We’ve tried 3 different flavors so far and the ranges have been quite dramatic. They base the pods on a strength meter of 1-10. They also have recommendations for what type of drink you want, whether it’s a basic espresso, latte, cappuccino, etc. I prefer the stronger flavors which are in the 8-10 range and to me, make excellent lattes. The Nespresso has a water reservoir in the back and I highly recommend using bottled water or at the minimum, filtered as the water quality will make a difference.

Making a drink is easy, you place a pod into the unit and hit one of two buttons. The button on the left side is for making a single shot and the right button is for a double shot. Regardless of which you choose, it only uses one pod. Another nice feature of the Nespresso is that you can define the amount of water you want in your shot and it will “remember” the amount if you choose. You can train both buttons to suit your liking.

The Aeroccino frother is also really easy to use. It has a base that plugs in and a jug that sits on the base. The base unit is what drives the frother inside the jug. It’s pretty ingenious because it uses magnets to spin the frother which keeps the jug completely sealed from leaking. It comes with two attachments, one for lattes (less foam) and one for cappuccinos (more foam). It will heat the milk up or you can simply froth it cold. If you prefer heated milk, it takes about a minute or so to get to maximum temperature. It does a wonderful job and looks just like what you’d see in a coffee shop. There are two marks inside the jug and believe me, they’re there or a reason. If you fill it beyond each mark it will overflow because it really adds volume when you froth the milk.

The first drink we made with the machine was a latte. Considering how small and easy it is to use, it tasted remarkably similar to what you’d get from Starbucks. I don’t see us going to Starbucks much, if ever, now. The pods cost approximately $.54 a piece so that’s considerably less than a venti latte from Starbucks. You join the Nespresso Club when you purchase your machine and that gives you a code to register your account. This allows you to order pods or accessories for the unit. Nespressos customer service is top notch and if you order your pods on Wednesday, you’ll have them by Friday.

I jokingly told my wife that she could open up a small coffee shop at work with this machine. It’s fast and the smell it produces is FANTASTIC. If you’re a big espresso, latte or cappuccino drinker, I can’t recommend this machine enough. Get one, you won’t be disappointed.

Below are some useful links for the Nespresso:

Nespresso’s website

Williams-Sonoma Nespresso Citiz Bundle

Table we’re using for our “little coffee bar” from Bed Bath & Beyond

July 17, 2010
by Chris
Comments Off on Great Radio Shows

Great Radio Shows

I wanted to compile a list (however short it is) about some great radio shows that I listen to weekly. They all exist on NPR and cover a wide range of topics.

First, we have Car Talk. The Tappet brothers talk about anything and everything and even touch on car problems. 🙂 Their website can be found here. The show runs on Saturday mornings at 10am EST on NPR.

Next, Splendid Table. This show talks about “people who love to eat”. They cover a huge area in the food industry including wine. The website can be found here. This show runs on Sunday mornings on NPR.

Thomas Jefferson Hour. This show as the title would suggest, deals with the life and political outlook of Thomas Jefferson. Mr. Jefferson is portrayed by Clay Jenkinson who is a humanities scholar and obviously a fan of Thomas Jefferson. It’s quite entertaining to listen to and you might even learn something. The show’s site can be found here.

Be sure to give these shows a listen if you haven’t in the past, they’re educational, fun and all offer free podcasts of their show on iTunes.

July 14, 2010
by Chris
Comments Off on Why I buy Apple products

Why I buy Apple products

Apple has been in the news a lot lately. Mostly due to the “problems” people have with the new iPhone 4. As an owner of an iPhone 4 myself, I haven’t had any issues with my phone. In fact, this is the best design they’ve had so far in my opinion. It’s much more durable and resilient than the previous versions, the screen is absolutely amazing it’s noticeably quicker than my 3GS version. I always keep my phone in a case which is most likely why I don’t have the antenna issue, but to each their own.

The true reason I’m writing this post is to commend Apple on their customer service and support. About a month ago my 24″ iMac went belly up and died. The video card was a goner so I called Apple and made an appointment at the Genius Bar. They took my system and replaced the logic board and video card which took them about 2 days. I picked it up and went on my merry way. I have to caveat this with the fact I had Applecare on the system (which is something you absolutely must have if you own a Mac). When I got home and plugged it back in, I noticed the screen had some debris on the inside of it… actually there was quite a bit if it so I called up Apple and they apologized profusely and informed me I had to take it back in. Off I went, this time they had it for a day. I picked it up for the 2nd time and all was well (or so I thought).

A week later, the system had the same issue and wouldn’t boot at all. I’m not a happy camper at this point in time and once again called Apple. They were truly apologetic to the situation and were willing to have an in-house repair done, but unfortunately since they didn’t know the area of issue, it had to go to the store. I took it back for the third time. Oddly enough, the same guy that helped me the first time helped me the third time so he knew what issues I was having with the system. We talked for a few minutes and informed me of what they’d replace this time. He went to the back for about 5-10 minutes and came back out with a new option. He said that due to the issues I’ve had with the system, they wanted to offer me a replacement versus a repair. My old iMac was an early 2008 version, so it had a Intel Core2Duo 3.06ghz, 2gb of ram, 500gb HD, and a Nvidia video card. The Apple rep told me since I bought a top of the line unit then, they would replace it with a top of the line unit now. Boy did they ever, they gave me a 27″ iMac with 4gb of ram, 1tb HD and the upgrade Nvidia video card. This thing is double what I had before in every way. I was extremely satisfied at this point even though I had to make 3 visits to the Apple store.

None of this cost me a dime and it essentially saved me $2000 because I was going to upgrade to this very unit around the December time frame. Apple offered to refund the balance of my existing Applecare and informed me I could apply it to a new plan on my new system. After all this, Apple called me back (big Apple, not the local store) to inquire as to my satisfaction with everything. Needless to say, I was quite happy. The moral of this story is that when you deal with Apple, you deal with a company that truly cares about your satisfaction with their products. I’ve never had a bad experience with them and you always talk to an American (cough cough Dell support).

Here’s some food for thought if you’re considering an Apple system:

1. Local stores that help you with your transition from PC to Mac (they do this for free).
2. Applecare plans, which are nicely priced, save you from potential headaches down the road in repairs.
3. An American company with American support (every Apple rep I’ve talked to has been upbeat and happy to help).
4. Quality – Apple products are just high quality. Metal, glass and very little plastic. I made the switch years ago and I will never go back to PC.
5. Elegance – their products are just simple and elegant.

I don’t want to come across as what people call “fanboys”. It’s true, I speak highly of Apple. They make great stuff but there’s more to it than that.,. they support what they sell 100% and will always resolve the issue.

April 26, 2010
by Chris
Comments Off on Prosoft Engineering Drive Genius 3 Review

Prosoft Engineering Drive Genius 3 Review

Drive Genius 3.0 Review

The very kind folks at Prosoft Engineering (http://www.prosofteng.com) were nice enough to send me a copy of their Drive Genius 3.0 software to review. I had originally seen this software on one of my regular Mac sites that I visit and thought to myself “This is exactly what I need to help speed up my slow drive.” I’ve been using Onyx and it works for cleaning caches, etc… but it didn’t seem to help the drives performance in any way.

A little information on Drive Genius 3:

Drive Genius has established itself as THE industry standard disk utility for the Mac platform.

Prosoft continues to develop and evolve Drive Genius by improving and adding new features with the latest release, Drive Genius 3. Drive Genius 3 is built upon the same award-winning foundation of the original Drive Genius. Drive Genius 3 now runs as a 64-bit application on Mac OS 10.6 or later with a compatible 64-bit processor and it now offers RAID support. A new feature called DrivePulse® has been added as well as improvements to Defrag, Repartition and Scan. Drive Genius 3 also now offers email notifications to alert you when long-running tasks are completed.

The new DrivePulse® feature helps you monitor the overall health of your drive, alerting you to possible issues before they become major problems. DrivePulse® monitors hardware (via SMART and bad-block testing), volume consistency (via verifying volume structures) and volume fragmentation (via examining volume structures). DrivePulse® automates everything so the user never has to remember to run these tests manually.

The most popular feature in Drive Genius is Defrag. In Drive Genius 3 we have improved Defrag and it now provides even better defragmentation of your files and even more fragmentation information in a new user interface. It will defrag the drive by combining all the empty free space together into one contiguous block, this in turns improves the overall speed and performance of the drive. Enhanced repartition has also been improved and gives you the ability to add, delete, hide, expand or shrink OS X partitions so you can organize your drive more efficiently. DriveSlim™ is another popular feature which helps you get the most out of your Macintosh by identifying unnecessary files that are clogging and filling up your hard drive. DriveSlim allows you to reclaim space on your hard drive for files that you really need and use.

Drive Genius 3 also features a wide array of other features including; directory repair, device/volume cloning, integrity testing, benchmarking, secure erase and several other tools to help maintain your hard drive.

Drive Genius was originally introduced in at Macworld San Francisco in 2005 and since that time it has become one of the top selling hard drive utilities on the Macintosh platform. Drive Genius 3 ships on a bootable DVD.

Drive Genius 3 box

Onwards to the specifics:

Publisher: Prosoft Engineering, Inc

Price: $99.00

Free Demo Available at: http://www.prosofteng.com/downloads/download.php

System Requirements:

Application Requirements
Requires Mac OSX v10.5.3 or newer – 512 MB RAM Minimum

Boot-Disc Requirements
DVD drive – 512 MB RAM minimum – Intel Processor

Documentation: PDF Manual

Support: Prosoft takes pride in providing the best customer service possible. We offer unlimited FREE pre and post sales technical support via phone or email. Our support team is located in our corporate office in Northern California and is avail able from 7:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. PST. We also offer low cost replacement DVDs and reasonable upgrade policies. If a customer looses their DVD or needs an updated one mailed, it is only $7.50…enough to cover our costs. Other companies charge up to $29 + shipping.

Intended Audience: With its huge list of features, Drive Genius 3 is appealing to anyone with a Mac who is interested in improving the speed and performance of their Mac.

Where to Buy: Apple Stores and most other online stores

Sales: 877-477-6763
Support: 925-426-6306 or support@prosofteng.com

This tool is a disk management system that allows the user to perform multiple tasks in order to squeeze the maximum performance out of their drive. As we all know, the more files you add to a hard drive, the slower they perform and ultimately affect your system speed.

The install DMG file is around 28 megs, so it’s a meager install.

The software has a nifty user interface that moves in a 3D space and functions similarly to Cover Flow in OS X (that’s the best way I can describe it at least).

Here are 2 screenshots of the UI:

Screen 1

Screen 2

Youtube video showcasing briefly the user interface of the software:

The software offers 13 tools in total. They’re broken down as:

1. Information
2. Defrag
3. DriveSlim
4. Repair
5. Scan
6. DrivePulse
7. Integrity Check
8. Initialize
9. Repartition
10. Duplicate
11. Shred
12. Benchtest
13. Sector Edit

1. Information

As the name implies, this section gives you all the information you’ll ever need for your drive. It displays every drive on your Mac and gives you full General information in addition to details. In fact, there’s so much information in it that only the purest geek will actually read it all. 🙂

2. Defrag

This function isn’t too dissimilar over the Windows defrag tool. You select a drive and begin the defragmentation of it. When selecting a drive, it will analyze that specific drive and show you a visual depiction of how fragmented the drive is in addition to the specific percentage. It also recommends if a defrag is needed or not. It gives 2 views, Volume Fragmentation and File Fragmentation. To me the File Fragmentation option is easier to understand because it lists specific files, size and count to give you a true idea of how much clutter your system has. This tool doesn’t take nearly as long as the Windows defrag does. My iMac has a 500gb drive and it took approximately 20 minutes to run. The final result was a noticeable increase is speed.

3. DriveSlim

DriveSlim is a tool for “slimming” files on your Mac. You’re given a selection of slimming options to choose from. They are Large Files, Duplicate Files, Unused Localization, Universal Binaries and Cache/Temporary Items. Each one will target those respective areas and optimize them and/or remove unnecessary files.

4. Repair

Repair does exactly that.. it verifies permissions and corrects them if the need arises. This section gives you the following options: Verify, Repair (usable after verifying), Rebuild (also useable after verifying), Repair Permissions and finally Verify Preferences. I found this tool to be useful as sometimes disk permissions can get out of whack depending on what you’re installing and configuring.

5. Scan

This section will scan your drive and tests the actual blocks (or sectors) of your hard drive. This can take a bit of time and even more so if you choose the option to perform an extended scan.

6. DrivePulse

DrivePulse will continually monitor your drives and volumes in the background for reliability and performance. It will give you alerts of potential issues before they become actual problems. It states that “drives will only be processed after the user has been inactive for a period of time”, nice! That’s the best time to do it, when I’m away from my desk. This is a great feature!

7. Integrity Check

Integrity Check performs long term integrity tests on selected drives. Options given are graph type, test type, read/write size and test duration. This is a nice function to run to see the general status of your drive.

8. Initialize

This section allows you to quickly erase a drive and create new HFS+ volumes. This tool is one to be cautious of because using it incorrectly will result in bad things. If you like running multiple partitions and need to manage them, this is a great tool… otherwise you shouldn’t need to use it.

9. Repartition

Another great section. This section gives you the ability to Expand, Shrink, Add, Delete, Hide or Reveal volumes on any drive within your Mac. Again, if you’re an average user and only have 1 partition, this is a section of the software you shouldn’t need to use. For advanced users, it will be of great benefit.

10. Duplicate

The name says it all here, it allows you to select a volume and duplicate it. This comes in handy if you purchase a new drive and want to transfer your existing image to it or if you want to set up an identical drive on another system altogether.

11. Shred

This might be one of the best parts of the program. With it you can securely erase a drive, volume, file or folder. If you have valuable data or personal and you want to ensure that it’s properly deleted, then this area of Drive Genius 3 will be a godsend.

12. Benchtest

Benchtest reminds me of a program I used to use on my PC back in the day. It will benchmark your drives/volumes and compare the results with those from other computers. It’s a great way to figure out if you’re running where you need to be.

13. Sector Edit

Sector Edit is the final tool in Drive Genius 3. This tool SHOULD NOT be used by anyone but expert users. This gives you the ability to edit the raw data on your drives, volumes and files. Editing this data is similar to editing the registry on a Windows machine… the consequences could be severe to the tune of a non-booting system. Again, use this only if you’re an expert user and are comfortable editing this sort of information.

I personally ran the tools that, as an advanced Mac user, deemed necessary. Those tools were Defrag, DriveSlim, Repair and Benchtest. Upon completing those areas, I noticed a very marked gain to my drives operation. It no longer stutters when I click a large directory and it just runs better. My benchtest came back and I was happy with the speed results. I wish I had ran a benchtest prior to running the software to see how much of a gain I achieved, but that will come on the next run.

One important note is that some of the features of the program require that you use the bootable DVD that comes with it (if you chose the physical shipment from Prosoft). You can create a bootable DVD from the download and Prosoft includes directions on how to do so.

Bottom line, this is a great tool. The UI is actually fun to use and it works wonders on your hard drives performance. There’s many tools out there for Mac that can do similar functions, but the folks at Prosoft Engineering were able to effectively pull everything you’d possibly want to do in one suite. At a retail price of $99.00, it’s a bargain considering the gains in improvement you’ll see.

On a final note, please be sure to check back later as I’ll be posting my experience with it after a months use.

For more information about Prosoft Engineering and Drive Genius 3, visit http://www.prosofteng.com

April 26, 2010
by Chris
Comments Off on Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS II USM Lens Review from The Digital Picture

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS II USM Lens Review from The Digital Picture

If you’re a Canon user, there’s no doubt you’ve read about or even purchased the new Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS II USM lens. It’s probably one of the best (if not THE best) lenses Canon has available right now. The image quality is superb and the new IS (Image Stabilization) supposedly works wonders. It’s definitely on the pricey side at $2499 retail, but if you have the cash, it’s a gem to own.

As with anything though, the price will eventually come down. At the very least, Canon hopefully offers a rebate incentive on the lens sometime in the not so distant future.

I can’t wait to get this one as I’m currently using a 70-200 F/4L (no IS).

Read the full review at The Digital Picture

If you want to purchase this lens, enter “CA7020028LIQ” in the B&H search box to the right. The lens is currently in stock.

April 24, 2010
by Chris
Comments Off on Inspirational “Photo of the Day” site list

Inspirational “Photo of the Day” site list

Here we go, a method for inspiration through various “Photo of the Day” sites throughout the web.

Steve’s Digicams – Photo of the Day

National Geographic Photo of the Day

Photo District News Photo of the Day

Dailydigitalphoto.com Photo of the Day

NASA’s Astronomy Photo of the Day

National Post – Photo of the Day

April 23, 2010
by Chris
Comments Off on Free Twitter Themed Wallpapers

Free Twitter Themed Wallpapers

I designed some Twitter themed wallpapers for all you Twitter users. Thanks to PSD Graphics (http://www.psdgraphics.com) for the background images and Smashing Magazine (http://www.smashingmagazine.com) for the Twitter bird.

They’re sized at HD resolution (1920×1200) but will work for any lower resolution.

Twitter wallpaper thumbnails

To download all 5 wallpapers in 1 zip file (3.34mb), click here.

April 23, 2010
by Chris
Comments Off on Firefox add-ons to help manage your social media

Firefox add-ons to help manage your social media

Here’s a list of programs that will help you manage your social networking/media content if you use Firefox. This is one of the reasons Firefox is such a great browser… great community support. Don’t get me wrong, Google Chrome and Safari are great browsers too but Firefox just works great and has TONS of add-ons to make your daily browsing all that much easier. Granted this is just a very small sampling of the available add-ons for Firefox, so be sure to check out the Firefox Add-on site here.

TwitterBar – Post to Twitter from your address bar.

Facebook Toolbar – Integrate your Facebook life into your browser.

Tumblr Post – Lets you post photos, videos, mp3s, quotes and links to your Tumblr tumblelogs by dragging and dropping content onto the extension’s statusbar icon or by the “Post to my tumblelog” menu items in the content’s context menu.

Yoono – All your social networks and instant messaging in one easy to use app – it’s the #1 downloaded social networking add-on for Firefox. Get all your updates, update your status and share across Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and more – all at once.

Digg Firefox Extension 0.7 – The Digg Extension for Firefox allows you to interact with Digg (http://www.digg.com) and see information about the web page you are currently viewing while you use Firefox.

Delicious Bookmarks 2.1.072 – Delicious Bookmarks is the official Firefox add-on for Delicious, the world’s leading social bookmarking service (formerly del.icio.us). It integrates your bookmarks and tags with Firefox and keeps them in sync for easy, convenient access.

April 22, 2010
by Chris
Comments Off on Earth Day Apps

Earth Day Apps

Since it’s Earth Day, here’s some iPhone apps that are centered around the subject.

Billion Acts of Green: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/billion-acts-of-green/id366329673?mt=8
Earth Envi: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/earth-envi/id300420688?mt=8
iRecycle: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/irecycle/id312708176?mt=8
TreeHugger: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/treehugger/id357567546?mt=8
iGreenPeace: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/igreenpeace/id345036175?mt=8