Saturday, December 12, 2009

Why We Test Our Products before Selling Them

This fire resistant bag from US Patrol looked like an ideal product for full time RV'ers like myself. It's small enough to put in your safe or hide in an appropriate place, yet it's fiber glass construction is claimed to withstand temperatures of up to 1000 degF. An ideal safety precaution for your important documents.

At TechnoRV, we always test products all our products before we sell them, or make them available to the Product Testing Team for more in depth testing and feedback. Below is a video of how we got on testing the US Patrol fire resistant bag. I think you'll like it.

TechnoRV US Patrol Product Test

Needless to say, we won't be selling this product!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Belkin PocketTop Product Review

It looks like the majority of you loved the PocketTop! In fact, the scores are some of the highest for any product we've yet tested.

  • 81% of you rated it useful or very useful with an average score of 4.2 out of 5.
  • 68% would considering giving one as a gift
  • 43% likely or very likely to purchase
There were many great comments about it's usefulness and innovative nature, some of which I've listed below. Regarding it's features, there were three main topics that were discussed - color, size and price.

Some of you were okay about the colors, some of you not (especially the 'bile green'!). I probably didn't do a great job of explaining, but there are actually three colors to choose from. The pea green (tarragon as it is called), Khaki, or Steel. You can look at these different colors on our website. Okay, so they're not exactly going to set the world alight, but at least there is a choice. If you're looking for something a little more lively and 'out there', why don't you check out our Designer Sleeve laptop bags.

Although not specifically mentioned, the PocketTop is designed to fit laptops of all different sizes. It will comfortably fit a 15" and 17" laptop (in fact on our website you can see a photo of it with my 17" Sony Vaio). A widescreen laptop such as my Apple PowerBook is a bit of squeeze, but everything else should fit fine.

This is always a good one. While most of you thought the price of $39.99 was about right, a number of you felt that it was a little pricey. I did a little research online and the price obviously does vary as a lot depends on who you buy it from, what their guarantees, shipping and return policies are, but we were around the middle ($30 - $50). The other thing to consider is our flat $4.80 Priority Mail shipping. Since these bags weigh just over 3lbs, they cost us $12.29 to mail, which is a loss of $7.49. Because of that, we're not able to do anything on the price, but as a special Holiday Season thank you to our Product testing gang, we would like to offer a FREE USB Computer Light with any Belkin PocketTop purchased before 19th December.

I thought I'd share with you all some of the great comments we got about the PocketTop.
"MUCH better that my current carry bag. This would be all I need to be truly portable AND protect my laptop, which is my primary worry. I'm a klutz, and if I drop the laptop, it could be toast without some kind of usable protection. My current bag may protect it very well, but it's NOT usable. Lug-able, maybe. Not convenient. And to use my laptop now, I have to pull it out of the case - and promptly drop it. Keeping it in one of these AND being able to use it IN THE CASE is a great idea."

"Great product to use while traveling as a passenger in a car or bus!"

"It is the perfect thing for someone like me. I use my computer the entire time Dave is driving. We travel on planes & cruises often and it would be perfect for traveling."

"It appears that it would be durable enough to withstand a variety of situations. As a geocacher, I could see this product being of great assistance to those of us who take our laptops out on the hunt with us."

"This looks to be a fantastic bag for anyone who travels or doesn't have a permanent spot for their laptop. I love the idea that you finally use your laptop on your lap!!"

"I like the idea of the tilt to keep it cool. The ability to keep the computer plugged in, yet the cord not hanging loose, appeals to me. I think being able to stay connected on the road would be a positive aspect. "
So there you have it. I think in summary, the PocketTop is ideal for those people who like to use their laptop while on the go, need a little extra something to help protect their laptop and keep organized while using it on your lap.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

How to Rebuild a Windows XP Machine

During my Computer Safety and Security Seminar, I often mention the fact that Windows machines tend to slow down over time, and the best way to cure this is to rebuild the machine. It's not a small job, nor one to be considered by anyone who isn't somewhat computer literate. It'll also take at least 2-3 hours, sometimes a lot more depending upon your internet connection speed or if you encounter any problems. You should only really attempt this if you have another computer, or as a last resort on an old computer, as if anything goes wrong, you'll be left with an inoperative machine. Finding a friend who has done it before to help you is definitely a good idea.

The first and most important step is to back up all your data onto an external back up drive such as the TechnoRV Executive Style Backup Drive. 160Gb should be ample for most older laptops although 320Gb is worth the extra. After that, you'll need the Windows XP installation disks unless your computer has a seperate partition containing a copy of the operating system, and an internet connection. If you don't have the Windows disks, try contacting the computer manufacturer or looking for a cheap replacement set on E-Bay (make sure to buy the disks for your exact machine, otherwise you won't have the correct drivers etc).

To actually perform the re-install I've provided a link to an excellent article on WikiHow. It covers pretty much everything you'll need to do, although you probably won't need to install all the software they recommend, think of that as more of a reference.

Best of luck, and remember, this operation will destroy everything on your computer, so make doubly sure you have everything you need backup up, and preferably copied to a different machine so you can verify it.

Good luck.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Can I use Ecco out of the Country?

Sure! Ecco uses the GPS network of satellites to calculate its position. These satellites circle the globe meaning that Ecco can be used literally in any location. However, if you more Ecco to more than 100 miles from its previous location, it will need re-calibration. Click here to view the calibration video.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Speeding up your Computer

I recently had this question from one of our TechnoRV fans, Bill:
"Do you have any knowledge of these software programs that are suppose to clean up and speed up your computer, such as Pitstop, Double My Speed, and so on? Do you sell any of these types of programs? If not can you recommend one?"
It's a good question and a hard one to get answered because there are so many programs out there claiming to speed up your computer, fix your registry issues etc (and charge you in the process).

In the research I did, there didn't seem to be any definitive answer. Some work sometimes, and some don't. I've tried a couple myself and got almost no benefit. A better solution in my opinion is to re-install Windows on your machine (or have someone do it for you). It's drastic, but it works, as it puts your computer back into the condition in which you bought it. I do this about once a year on my Sony Vaio. You'll need the windows installation disk (unless your computer has a partition with the OS loaded onto it. You'll also need to back up all your data and then reload it and your programs.

One more point on the topic regards Apple Mac's. I've had a Mac for more than 3 years and never needed to re-build it. It still runs as fast as the day I bought it. Something to think about next time you're looking for a new computer.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

TechnoRV to Offer Free Gift Wrapping

You may not be aware, but TechnoRV does offer FREE gift wrapping!

Simply add your gift to the shopping cart and then during checkout, select the 'Show gift options during checkout'.

Check this box and once you proceed, you will be given the option to enter the comments for your hand written gift message.

Feel free to email us ( if you have any special gift wrapping requests.

You may notice that on your order there is a 1 cent charge for gift wrapping. This is because our website will only allow us to offer gift wrapping for an item if we charge something for it (strange, I know). But don't worry, we'll refund you the 1 cent when we process your order.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Rave Reviews for Swift Hitch

If you're interested in buying a Swift Hitch, make sure you have a look at the great reviews it's received on the TechnoRV website. Simply click on the photo to take you to the product page on TechnoRV, then scroll to the bottom to see the reviews.

To make it easier, I've also copes them here:

Very useful (and a lot of Fun) July 7, 2009
Reviewer: William Bevington from Mission , TX United States
I bought this product specifically to hitch up my 40 ft fiver to my Volvo tractor pull vehicle. I had to hitch up completely blind since there is no line of sight to the hitch from the cab of a over the road tractor. I had to get out of the cab about 5 times before I was finally lined up and hitched. Now I do it all from the cab with a little help from my wife raising and lowering the fiver as needed. It is also a limitless source of fun for myself and grandchildren as we find all kinds of ways to entertain ourselves with this wireless camera and monitor. It also has very impressive night vision. The other great advantage to buying something from TechnoRV is the owners. I had the opportunity to spend a little time getting to know the owners Phil and Tracey May. They are an honest hard working young couple who are very quality conscience and customer orientated. You can feel comfortable purchasing anything from this couple, knowing they will stand behind their products.

I Love This Thing! July 4, 2009
Reviewer: Richie Rubenstein from Albuquerque, NM United States
I recently purchased the Swift Hitch camera system and I love it. We tow a 31' 5th wheel trailer and while I am always cautious backing up, I really wanted to be able to see what I'm doing instead of just relying on others and to also save myself endless trips in and out of the truck making sure things were lined up and that I was clear of obstacles. I use the Swift Hitch in 2 different ways. I place the camera on the pin box when hitching up the truck and get a great view of the truck's hitch position as I back into position. Now it's first time, every time. I also attached a small metal bracket on the rear of the 5th wheel trailer (up high and in the middle) and when backing in the trailer I just place the camera on the bracket and get a birds eye view of the space I'm backing into. I love this thing.

Liquid Image Camera Masks - Which is the right one for me?

As both a photographer and a diver, I was blown away when I first saw the Liquid Image Dive Masks about a year ago at the CES Show in Vegas. What a great idea! My daughter Ally and I had scuba certified about three years ago in Monterey California (boy, the water is cold there!), and since then dived in Islamarada (Florida), Bonne Terre Mines in Missouri (read my account on my RV Trip Blog), Mexico and Hondorus.

I'd tried taking photographs underwater with both a disposable camera as well as a rented digital camera in a special housing. The disposable camera was a waste of time, especially as I had to then scan what ever pictures did emerge. The digital caemra was better, but it was still hard as it would bob around on its little strap underwater making it hard to grab hold of and use, especialy as when you're diving there's so much else going on that you have to worry about. I can't wait to get out and use one of these masks as I'm sure that they'll make the whole thing so much easier. They have cross hairs on the mask to show where you are shooting. One press of the button to take a photo and another to shoot video. The mid-range and high end ones even have audio which is very cool.

So how do the photos and videos turn out your wondering? Well, although I haven't taken any yet, I do have some samples from my buddy at Liquid Image who is a big diver. Click on the photo to take you to the Photo Albumn on my TechnoRV Fan Club page. All of the masks use the same camera (5 mega pixels) so you'll get a good idea of what they are all like.

So what about the video? Which one is the right mask? Well, a lot depends upon your budget of course, and what you'll be using them for. Read on ...

Swim Mask (302) - $89.95

This is the cheapest mask and is good down to 15 feet making it great for snorkelling, swimming or just recording fun goofing around on the beach in the waves or in the pool. It will record video at VGA resolution at 20 fps (frames per second) which doesn't sound like much, but don;t be fooled, this little beauty packs great value for money. To get an idea of what that's like, check out the collection of videos on the Liquid Image YouTube video channel for the Swim Mask, or click on the video below.

It's hard to get a good idea of the quality with these videos though as YouTube does a lot of compression on the video making them look not as good as the originals. If you'd like to download an original video file (right click to download) to check out the quality, I have a 38MB file of a turtle and I think you'll be amazed by the quality, even though it's VGA.

Video Mask (310) - $149

This mask has audio as well as better video (D1 which is 720 x 480 resolution at 30 frames per second). It is rated to 33 feet / 10 meters which is fine for snorkelling and shallow scuba dives. Check out the Liquid Image Video Mask Channel, an original video file (right click to download), or the video below:

Scuba Mask (HD320) - $249

Certified to 115 feet, this is the top of the range mask and is great for all types of scuba dives. If you can believe it, the video is high definition (1280 x 720 at 30fps). Check out the Liquid Image Scuba Mask Channel, an original video file (right click to download), or the video below:

Well I hope that gives you a better idea of what this product can do and which is the right one for you. One thing I didn't mention is size. These masks are designed to fit 80% of all faces. If you think that you may need a larger size, let us know as we may be able to special order one for you.

Have fun and be sure to check out these products on TechnoRV, the prices are the best you'll find.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Grandma Maddock's Curried Parsnip Soup

While giving the Locket presentation at the various shows and rallies, many of you have asked for Tracey's Mum's traditional English parsnip soup recipe. It's a wonderful recipe, ideal for these cold winter nights.

For the sugar, I've also included Xylatol and Stivia which are excellent healthy alternatives, and you can't taste the difference, especially in this soup.

Ingredients (serves 6)

  • 2 parsnips, peeled & chopped
  • 2 eating apples, cored & chopped
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 2 floury potatoes (large), peeled & chopped
  • 4oz sultanas
  • 2 UK pints chicken stock (20 fl oz)
  • 2 tbsp curry powder
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 2 tsp caster sugar or Xylitol or 1 drop stevia
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper 1 tbsp fresh thyme, chopped


  • Cook parsnips, apples, onions, potatoes and sultanas in the
  • chicken stock for half and hour.
  • Liquidise and return to the pan with the curry powder, ginger,
  • sugar and seasonings.
  • Cook for another ten minutes and serve sprinkled with fresh
  • thyme.
Let me know how you get on.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Newsletter Archives

Click on the photo to view the TechnoRV newsletter archives covering TechnoRV News, RV tips, Product Updates and the results of our very popular Product Reviews.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Swine Flu Advice

Well, it looks like we've finally succumbed and contracted swine flu.

How do I know?
Well, here's the list from the CDC of swine flu (2009 H1N1) and seasonal flue symptoms: fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, fatigue, sometimes diarrhea and vomiting. Scoring an 8 out of 9, it's official, I have it. Having said that, I don't know if I'm just lucky, but it doesn't actually feel much worse than some colds that I've had (but then I do get some bad colds).

Is there anything you can do to avoid catching it?
Yes, stay inside and never see anyone. Failing that, there are some things that you can do. There is an email going around purporting to be from Dr. Vinay Goyal that whilst not valid (see Urban Legends), does offer some good advice:
  1. Frequent hand-washing (recommended by the CDC)
  2. "Hands-off-the-face" approach (recommended by the CDC)
  3. Boost your immunity with vitamin C, exercise, sunlight and a healthy diet (source)
Best of luck!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Windows Keyboard Shortcuts

During my Computer Safety and Security seminar I talk about the use of key board short cuts in Windows. These shortcuts serve two functions. First they save time and mouse work by quickly giving you access to a command or function such as copy or paste without having to navigate the Windows menu system. Secondly, since if you type anything like me, then most of the shortcuts require two fingers / hands which makes you let go of the mouse, thereby providing some relief from the dreaded 'mouse grip' (not letting go of the mouse for long periods of time which can cause ergonomic issues).

So what are these mysterious shortcuts and how do you use them? Well, you can use them almost anywhere on a Windows machine (and some actually work on Mac's!). Here's a list of the most common shortcuts and a link to a complete list:

  • CTRL+C: Copy
  • CTRL+X: Cut
  • CTRL+V: Paste
  • CTRL+Z: Undo
  • CTRL+B: Bold
  • CTRL+U: Underline
  • CTRL+I: Italic
  • ALT+TAB: Switch between open programs
  • ALT+F4: Quit program
  • SHIFT+DELETE: Delete item permanently
  • To copy a file: Press and hold down the CTRL key while you drag the file to another folder
  • TAB: Move to the next control in the dialog box
(CTRL+C means holding down the control button while pressing the C key)

I hope that this helps - have fun and experiment with these and you'll be amazed how much quicker tasks will become. Finally, thanks to Katey at RoversRoost in Casa Grande for the question!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

How to install Locket

Locket runs on all the latest versions of Windows XP and Vista. Most important of all, you need to make sure that your computer is running the latest version of the operating system by turning on automatic updates and letting the computer update itself. After that, installing Locket is fairly straight forward, but to make it easier, we've created a 'How to' guide. Simply click on the photo or click here to download the .pdf file.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Ecco Key Chain GPS Product Review - Results

First of all, thanks for an outstanding response to the Ecco Product Review Survey. A total of 43 people responded to the survey which is our largest number yet.

We were also extremely pleased that so many of you seemed to love Ecco and gave us so many positive comments.
  • 81% thought Ecco would be useful or very useful
  • 69% would consider giving one as a gift

"I think this would be superb for any full-time RVer, who has to navigate in terra incognita all the time! They are constantly traveling to unknown places and having to find their way around. This could be a real asset!"

"I always lose my car in parking lots. There isn't anything distinguishing about it and I usually leave a store by a different door and spend hours trying to figure out which one was correct."

"This is not like any GPS I've seen. I love the size and the many features. I see my wife using it in the mall parking lot (or after a ball game for me). Having the compass heading and distance to the location on the display is great. I would love to hold one and see it work personally."

"We were in a new area and I went for a walk and got turned around and was lost for about an hour scaring my husband half to death. I could have used this product then!"

"We went to a NASCAR Nationwide race in Newton Iowa. Parking was in a large open field with no reference points. Numerous people, including us spent over an hour looking for our cars. It could sell great at large out door events such as concerts, races, fairs as well as for hiking and boating."

"I like the size and being able to put it on a keychain. We do quite a bit of hiking and it would be ideal in case we got off the trail. Also like that it has a large tracking distance and multiple satellites to help track. Looks easy to use."

"I think it would be great for a gift to elderly family members who some time forget the most everyday things like where did I park my car. Just recently a friends mother parked in Cracker Barrel parking lot but went across the streat to Hardee's. After she ate she couldn't find her car and called the police to report it stolen. Not! It was still at Cracker Barrel!"

A number of questions were also raised in the survey that I'd like to address:


Password protection on it would be nice if your keys were on it when lost/stolen. Without password protect, you could be in BIG trouble.
This was a valid concern and I will make sure we pass it back to the manufacturer. However, I think that this may be more of an issue for GPS devices that have a 'HOME' icon. Since Ecco has three buttons labeled 1, 2 and 3, there is no telling which location is for your car, especially if you don't always use just number 1.
What is the battery situation?
Ecco has a lithium ion battery which is rechargeable from any computer USB port and is good for 5 hours of active tracking or 8 days on standby (sleep) mode.
What is the length of time to acquire satellites?
This is a hard question to answer as it depends a lot on circumstances such as the degree of line of sight to the satellites as well as the satellite positions and your previous postion. However, Ecco utilizes one of the most sensitive GPS receivers available and in my experience, locks on very quickly indeed. During the day when you are using Ecco, it goes into a battery saving sleep mode, but does maintain a satellite lock meaning that it is very quick to 'wake up', providing you move more than 30 feet in 5 minutes. During first power-on though, it can take up to 2 minutes to obtain a lock (worst case).
I am concerned about protecting the screen from becoming scratched by keys.
Excellent point. This was common feedback and the manufacturer now has a protective leather-like case to keep your Ecco looking nice and shiny! Visit the TechnoRV website to order.
Can positions be input via the USB port?
No, not at this time, although that would be a nice feature.

We also got some great feedback on the price. Almost half of you felt that Ecco was too expensive compared to other larger GPS devices. As we mentioned in our goals for the Product Review, this type of feedback is invaluable for us in helping us sell the right products at the right prices. Although our buy price is set by the manufacturer, based on this feedback, we'd like to announce that we will be cutting the price of Ecco by more than $10 to $89.00. As a special thank you to our product testing team, we will also be including the free leather-like cases for a limited time, exclusively to our product testers. Just add the Ecco and the case to your shopping cart and use the coupon code FEC01 at checkout.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Using the correct Netac plug

The Netac external USB disk drive comes with a rather unusual cable to connect it to your computer. The end with the smaller plug fairly obviously connects to the Netac drive as it is the only one that will fit. But the other end of the wire has two USB plugs on it, only one of which will work by itself. The reason for this is that it allows for the drive to be used with older model PC's whose USB ports (v1.0) do not supply enough current to run the Netac drive. If you have one of those machines then plug both of the USB plugs into your machine. If you have a newer machine (less than three years old) with a newer USB port (v2), then you should only plug in the plug with the two wires coming out of it as shown in the photo. If the light on the disk is illuminated but the drive doesn't appear in the 'My Computer' icon, then you're probably using the wrong plug.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

What's All This I Hear About Apple Mac's?

Having spend almost 15 years at Hewlett-Packard, you'd think that I'd be an avid PC user. Well, I certainly have used a PC for a long time, but avid I am not. In fact, they drive me absolutely nuts. Having said that, it's not the PC makers fault, it's Windows, and specifically Microsoft that I have the issue with. So much so that the first thing that I did when I left HP was to buy a Mac. I love my Mac! During the creation and delivery of my other seminars, I often referenced a Mac, to the point that people started asking, 'well, what's the difference?". This is how I came to write this seminar. It's focus is on the main differences, some of the advantages and disadvantages and features a live demonstration of downloading photos from a camera, editing them and then uploading them to FaceBook etc, as well as editing and creating a movie and DVD.

Summary and Additional Information
Everyone's talking about Apple Mac's these days, but what's all the hype about? Are they as good as people say and how do they compare to Windows? Should I consider one or should I stick with Windows? If I do move, how easy is it to transfer over my data? Suitable for anyone considering a new computer and are curious, or first time users of Mac's looking for a little help, Philip May of TechnoRV will try to answer those questions by taking you on a tour of the Apple Mac, highlighting some of the main differences between it and Windows, as well as giving you an overview of the main features and functionality. Topics covered include: the Desktop and Application Dock, the File Manager, Backing-up, System Preferences, Web Browsing, Email, Photo Management and Editing, Video Editing, Management and DVD Creation. [TechnoRV is not affiliated with Apple products nor does it sell Apple products].

Computer Safety and Security for the RV

Whether you're a full time RV'er or just like to get away from time to time, having a computer is essential nowadays for email and internet access. However, an RV is a challenging environment for a laptop in terms of safety and security. This seminar was developed to help keep and your data safe while on the road and is based on my twenty years industry computer experience and three years full-time RV'ing experiences.

Topics covered include:
  • Why worry?
  • Protecting your computer
  • Mobile connectivity (WiFi security)
  • Virus Protection and Firewalls
  • Protecting your data
  • Computer Backup
  • Encryption
  • Protecting You (healthy computing)
  • Avoiding Scams
  • Data Recovery
  • Emergency Preparedness
You can find out more information about this seminar as follows:

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Managing Your Mail Over the Web

Receiving your mail while on the road is one of the most challenging aspects of the RV lifestyle, and one that we've struggled with in the three years that we've been on the road. Once we left our house in California, we re-directed our mail to a friends house, but quickly found that that wasn't going to work for us. After that we tried the Escapees Mail Forwarding service which was better, but it was still too limiting. The process of manually having to call up someone and go through a description of our mail was just too hard, especially with the challenge of different time zones. Add to that the fact that we were not able to specify exactly what mail to junk, or to have UPS or FedEx deliveries. We needed a better solution.

About 18 months ago we found out about Earth Class Mail, and I tell you, I love it. LOVE IT, LOVE IT! To start with, you get to choose your physical address from their list of addresses. This means that you have the flexibility of deciding which state makes sense for your to officially reside in based on sales tax, income tax, medical insurance and domocile laws. For us, Oregon made sense as we were also using it to locate our business and so the zero sales tax made sense. You can have someone sign for your FedEx and UPS deliveries which is very useful if you order online.

Once you've got your address, you login and are presented with a user interface very much like your email system (see the top image). Clicking on your 'mail' shows you a scanned image of the envelope which is great for deciding what you want to do with it. You then have the options of Recycle, Shred, Scan or Ship. If you select Scan, after about a day they will have opened your mail and scanned the contents. You can then view the contents and download a PDF file onto your computer which is GREAT as it saves you having scan the mail yourself and filing it electronically. If you select Ship, you can define a Shipment and then periodically ship your mail to yourself by FedEx (they have great rates which work out very economical).

Their basic plan starts at $19.95, whereas the plan that makes most sense for us is the Value Plus at $39.95 which includes 100 mail pieces per month and 20 free scans. If you're interested, click on the following link - that should get you an introductory offer and give us a little something too!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Repairing the Locket Database

Occasionally Locket will come up with spurious errors for no apparent reason. This can be caused by a corrupt database (Locket uses the Microsoft Access database) which itself can be caused by the unsafe removal of Locket (see 'How to Correctly Exit Locket').

To repair the database, follow the simple steps.

  1. Run up Locket at before logging in, locate the Microsoft Office icon in the top right corner of the screen.
  2. Click on the icon and select 'Compact and Repair Database'.
  3. Once the computer has finished, login to Locket as normal and see if that resolves the issues. If not, contact me for assistance.

Field test of the Ecco Keychain GPS in Chicago

A little while ago I did a field test of our Ecco keychain GPS (available for $99.99 from TechnoRV) in Chicago. We were in town for a wonderful food tour of the Bucktown district, provided by Chicago Food Planet (a 'must do' if you get chance). Parking was tight, so we had to park the car in a parking meter giving us an ideal chance to see just how good Ecco is at navigating you back to your vehicle. Enjoy ...

Monday, July 27, 2009

Getting the Most Out of Your Digital Camera

I recently gave a new seminar at the FMCA International Rally in Bowling Green, Ohio, entitled 'Getting the Most Out of your Digital Camera'. It was a completely new seminar for me, but one that I had a lot of fun writing and even more fun presenting. I had almost one hundred attendees and despite some challenges with the audio visual (on account of my use of a Mac), I think that everyone got a lot of value from it. We covered Camera Basics (History, Terms, Parts of a Camera, Understanding Features and Settings), Taking Better Digital Pictures, and Managing Your Digital Photos).

As always, I'm happy to hear any comments or suggestions for anyone who attended or not.

Summary and Additional Information
Join Phil May of TechnoRV, for this easy-to-understand explanation of features you may have noticed on your digital camera but were always afraid to use. Phil’s topics will include aperture, shutter speed, flash settings and ISO. Understanding how these items are inter-related will help you use depth-of-field and other techniques to take more interesting photographs and help you understand what happens when using a camera’s pre-set “modes.” His presentation also will explain white balance settings and provide an overview of computer software and websites designed to help you edit, manage, and share your digital images.

Emergency Light Product Testing Results

Thank you so much to those of you who completed the survey for the Emergency LED Light. Apologies that it took so long getting the results published, but we've been a little snowed under from our visits to rallies at Monaco International, Good Sam in Zanesville and FMCA in Bowling Green.

As for the product survey results, it looks like it was a big hit! It gained a 4.1 out of 5 for usefulness with over 62% of you rating it useful or very useful. The price you'd expect to pay seemed to be around the $15 - $20 price point with around 55% of you likely to purchase and 75% considering it as a gift (to view a full graphical summary of the results, click on the photograph).

Based on your feedback, we're pleased to announce that we will begin selling the Emergency Light for the introductory price of $14.99. Once we have them in stock, I'll send out a notification email with a link in case you'd like to order (shipping will be only $4.80), or stop by our booth at one of our upcoming shows.

I'd also like to announce Andy McLean as the winner of the Emergency Light. Congratulations Andy, we'll get the flashlight out to you shortly and look forward to reading your review (for those of you who are interested in how we choose the winner, I use a random number generator on my computer, so if you didn't win, blame my computer!). Thanks again to you all and looking forward to our next product test which will be the Ecco Keychain GPS worth $99!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Free Telephone Calls

Yes, that's right, free! I often tell my kids that there's no such thing as a free lunch, but I have to admit that Skype is about as close to a free lunch as you can get. Imagine this, free calls to anywhere in the world with free instant messaging, plus no annoying ads or spam. It's free to download, and once you are up and running with your own user name, you can call anyone with a computer who is also connected to Skype. If they don't have a computer you can still call them with the Skype-Out service that is much cheaper for overseas calls than a regular call. For example, to call Canada it's 2.4c / minute compared to 59c with AT&T from your cell phone. Even text messaging is cheaper, for example 11c / message to the UK compared with AT&T's 25c.

So what do I need?
First of all, a computer. Skype is not a particularly demanding application and will run on most PC's and Mac's. You will need a microphone and speakers. Some modern laptops have these built-in and work quite effectively, but for the best voice quality I reccomend a dedicated USB headset (like headphones for only one ear with a microphone that expends in front of your face). If you want to video conference you'll need a video camera but again, most modern laptops have these built-in and they work very well.

Internet Connection
The biggest factor in using Skype is the internet connection. If you have a cellphone aircard these can be used very well, especially in urban areas supporting 3G (the fast network), even for video conferencing - I actually get quite a kick out of using my AT&T aircard to call the UK while AT&T doesn't get a penny for my call - serves them right for charging so much!

You can use your campsite WiFi connection, but in my experience this can be very variable. If it's a modern campsite with fewer guests you'll probably be OK, but older parks with slower connections will be more problematic and you can forget video conferencing.

Satellite systems while they provide the necessary bandwidth have significant latency as the signal has to travel so far - it's more like talking to someone on a CB radio than a telephone. Duplex (both people talking at one doesn't work well), but with practice it is possible and if there is no cell phone service can be a useful last resort.

One feature that I like a lot is the forwarding feature. With this feature set I can have my Dad call me from his computer in England for free. Skype then forwards the call and I pay (a nominal charge) for the connection to be forwarded to my cell phone. You can even make free Skype-to-Skype calls from your iPhone, how cool is that?

So there you have it. If you have family or friends overseas, want to video conference, or just reduce the minutes on your cell phone plan, Skype could be for you.

[Remember that Skype is not a replacement for your ordinary telephone and can't be used for emergency calling]

Great Campsite Reviews

I don't know about you, but there have been many instances during our eighteen month trip around the US, and after, where we have been sadly disappointed with a campsite. Maybe it's that the facilities don't match what is promised, but often it can be more subtle things like there are only two washers and dryers and one of them is broken, or that they charge $2:00 per load, or perhaps it's that they do have a hot tub but it's never heated (one of my pet peeves).

About half way through our trip we stumbled across RV Park Reviews ( which we found to be very useful indeed. What I like is that not only does it give you all the usual information like number of sites, price, facilities etc, but also honest and frank reviews by fellow RV'ers, for example:

"If you are desperate and want a bargain, I guess this place is OK." or

"I was wondering why this was the only RV campground available in May for reservations over 4th of July. This has to be the least nicest RV campground we have seen over the last month of our summer trip. The only things positive about this yucky campground, was my gravel site was level..."

Check it out, and if you like it, don't forget to leave your own reviews, it all helps!

Friday, July 3, 2009

How can I make my medical information available to the emergency services if Locket is password protected?

One of the beauties of Locket is being able to carry all your medical information with you. However, like all the other information in Locket, it requires a password to access. This is great for most information as you don't want people to be able to read your personal information if you lose or misplace Locket, but there are times when you would like someone, for example, the emergency medical services, to be able to access your information.

Luckily there is a solution. You can think of Locket in two parts, one is a secure vault for your personal data (the Locket software), the other is a regular flash drive on which you can store any form of computer readable data. Whilst you don't want to put too much on the drive as space is limited to 2Gb, there is ample room for medical data.

What I suggest is creating a folder on the Locket drive called ICE and saving your important medical information to that drive. Here's how to do it:

Video Tutorial - Making an ICE folder

Step-by-step Guide - Making an ICE folder

Open the 'My Computer' tab (Start) and then click on the Locket drive (in my case it's drive F:).

Place the mouse over the Locket drive screen (the right hand panel), right click the mouse and select 'New Folder' to create a new folder on the Locket drive.

Name the folder ICE (In Case of Emergency). Medical services are trained to look for anything with this name.

Create a text document with either Notepad or Wordpad (Start / Accessories) and enter what ever informtion you would like to be made available.

Save the text file to the new drive by selecting Save and then navigating to the Locket folder (in my case it's F:Locket/ICE and give it a suitable name (e.g. EMERGENCY Read Me).

You can also copy over any other information that might be relevant such as pdf versions (files saved in Adobe's readily available PDF format) of your lab results, X-rays, doctors reports etc. If you're not sure how to save these in pdf format, drop me an email.

How to correctly exit Locket

Making sure to correctly exit Locket is a very important part of keeping your information safe. If you pull out the Locket drive with the Locket still running, or even if you fail to safely eject the drive, you can risk corrupting your data and possibly losing your data altogether (necessitating a restore from backup).

Video Tutorial - Exiting Locket

Step-by-step Guide - Exiting Locket

As for backing up Locket, look for the orange Locket icon in the computer's system tray (bottom right of the screen).

Select 'Exit' from the Locket panel.

Hover the mouse over the icon of a disk drive with a little green arrow (called the 'Safely Eject Hardware' icon). A pop-up should appear listing the drives that can be ejected. Move the curson over the drive corresponding to the Locket drive (if you are unsure you can open the 'My Computer' screen to see which is the Locket drive letter).

Backing Up Your Locket

After having spent valuable entering your data into the Locket, you must make sure that you back it up. Although flash drives are a very reliable means of storage, they can be corrupted if you inadvertently remove them from the computer before it is safe to do so (see another blog entry), or by simply losing them. To avoid this, here's how to back up your Locket:

Video Tutorial - Locket Backup

Step-by-step Guide - Locket Backup

Locate the orange Locket icon in the system tray of your computer (you may need to use the left facing arrow to expand the icons to see the Locket icon).

Click the orange Locket icon to show the Locket panel

If your machine if configured correctly, this should bring up the Microsoft backup wizard (if not, you may need to just manually copy over the files from your Locket drive - email me if you are unsure).

Click on the 'Backup Wizard' and then 'Next', specifying that you want to 'Back Up Selected Files'.

Select the files to backup by clicking on the box next to the Locket drive (on my machine, it's called F:Locket). This will select on the files on Locket for backup.

Then click 'Next' and then choose where to save your backup files - I create a folder called 'Backup' in 'My documents', and give the backup a name.

Once you click 'Finish' the backup will start, showing you the status screen indicating the files being backed up. Once this has finished, you have completed your backup.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Receive Calls to your Home Phone on your Cell Phone

Have you ever wondered if there's a better way to keep your home telephone number, but be able to receive those calls while on the road, and not have to keep checking that pesky answer phone? Well, there is. Not only can you divert calls to your home phone to your cell phone (or any other phone come to that), but you can save yourself money in the process.

I'm talking about VoIP (pronounced 'voy-p') which stands for Voice Over IP. Basically, it uses the internet instead of the telephone system to make and receive telephone calls. Because of that, it can do some very cool things, like have the answer phone email you with the messages as attachments, simultaneously ring multiple phone lines at once, and divert to any phone. If you visit someone's house, connect your box to their internet and you get to make and receive your own calls without costing your hosts anything! Best of all, when you sign up, you get to keep your old telephone number, so someone calls your home number in Kansas City and you answer your cell phone in Glacier National Park!

I've been using Vonage since 2006 and they're great (although there are others). In fact, when we went to stay at a friend's house in Mexico for a couple of months, we plugged in our Vonage box and hey-presto, calls to our San Jose number in California came through to us in Mexico. Calls back to San Jose were local calls! How cool is that? Uber cool.

Finally, it's cheaper than most long distance calling plans. They offer a 500 minute long distance plan for $17.99 / month or unlimited for $24.99 / month. That compares with $32.99 for AT&T's unlimited plan, a saving of almost 25%. You can save even more money by canceling your local calling plan and using your cell phone for local call.

If you're interested, click on the link at the top of this blog and we'll both get two months for free! Happy VoIP'ing!

Cheap International Cell Phone Calls

Even if you don't use it very often, having the ability to make international calls from your cell phone while on the road can be very useful. Perhaps you have a relative overseas, or need to make travel arrangements, either way, you probably think twice before making that call with your cell phone. It's not surprising. AT&T charge 79c per minute for calls placed to Canada (or 59c if you are on their World Traveler Rates). How about if I told you that you could make the same calls, with the same quality of service for 2.4c per minute?

It's not a joke or a con. There's a company that I've been using since 2006 called Tel3 which offers cheap international calls. The beauty is that you can make these calls from your cell phone. Simply dial a toll-free access number, then type in the number you're calling and you get connected, it's that simple! There's no PIN's to enter and you can even set up your own speed-dials for frequently used numbers. When you run out, they simply re-charge your account automatically with your credit card. I love them! Think about it. 5.8c a minute to Mexico, 3.1c a minute to Hawaii, from your cell.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Locket Survey Q&A

In this blog entry I'll do my best to answer the questions that were raised in the recent Locket Product Review Survey.

1. "I like the product looks, but i am wondering about the cost.. is it so different than anyone you'd buy in a store like in staples, for example?"
The difference between this product and a generic flash drive that you could buy in Staples is the fact that this drive has the Locket software preloaded onto it. This software guides you through entering information that you might need in an emergency, as well as presenting this information to you in an easy to use format (for example, being able to print out a report of all the contents of your RV including pictures for an insurance claim). You could store information on a cheaper generic drive but it would be in the form of individual files or a spreadsheet, all of which are harder to use and not as secure.

2. "More info on what is pre-programed into it would help."
You can visit the Locket page on our website that provides an overview and short video of Locket. From the Locket Support Page you can also download the Product Overview Brochure and the FAQ Guide.

3. "The idea is a good one. However; any 8 Gig flash drive would do the same thing. The idea to have pages to fill in blanks, delete pages, accept Scanned documents (like power of attorney for accidents and hospital stays, living wills, etc.) A pamphlet would be very important to remind people of information they must find and put in."
See earlier notes on the differences between this and any other 'generic' flash drive. Scanned documents can be saved as .JPG files and stored securely in the Locket database. A pamphlet can be accessed here.

4. "Easy to keep on key chain and I have my important info with me at all times. Would like to get one for my son with my info when something happens to me and he will be able to take of things. Very easy to use."
Locket is an ideal way of getting your affairs in order and then creating a copy for a relative or executor or your will. All you need to do is to fill in all your information in Locket, back it up to your computer. Purchase a second Locket from our website (we offer 30% discount for additional Lockets), and then restore the data to this new Locket drive. Send the new drive to your friend or relative remembering not to send the password in the same package!

5. "This sounds perfect for an RV'er (or anyone). I like the fact that everything is in one place, and a small place at that! One concern is - will it get damaged carrying it on your keyring? Will it slide around and damage the USB port end?"
The USB port of the flash drive is covered by a swivel style metal cap that keeps dirt out of the connections. The drive itself is all solid-state with no moving parts and is very resilient with a life-time warranty. If the drive fails for what ever reason, simply contact us and we'll replace it free of charge.

6. "I like that there is software to guide users to enter appropriate info. The program and data should be transferable to PC or Mac. Perhaps a link to a secure website."
We are working on a Mac version although there is no date yet for its release. The website is a good idea although I would be a little concerned about having that highly sensitive data on even a secure website. An ability to tag less sensitive data for upload to a secure website would be useful though I think. Thanks!

7. "I am not sure how it works. It seems like it will go out into your computer and retrieve data that you have presetup."
Once you install the software from the Locket drive, it guides you through entering the information (it doesn't pull the information automatically).

8. "Looks like it would be useful to take from one comp to another to share photos or info - would be good for doing a presentation instead of taking your laptop. Don't know the holding capacity of the device, would be nice to know."
Locket is really designed as a way to organize and store you emergency information. It's capacity is 2Gb which means that you can also store documents on the drive outside of the Locket database. However, if this is what you are looking for, I would recommend a larger flash drive such as our 8Gb Mini Backup Drive.

9. "What happens if this falls into the wrong hands?"
Good question, and this is why you wouldn't want to use a regular generic flash drive to store this kind of information. All the data that you enter into Locket is stored in a database which is encrypted (scrambled) to military spec using a 256-bit encryption key. It would take a supercomputer over a billion years to try to unscramble the data!

10. "Your ad states that information is stored on your own home computer. Does the flash drive only link to it or does it store a copy of the same information? How much memory does the Locket have for additional storage (excluding the memory taken up by the software)?"
Only the program is stored on your computer (that is required to run the software), the data ALWAYS resides securely on the Locket flash drive. The Locket drive is 2Gb. Unless you are wanting to store lots of scanned documents or photos in the database, there is ample room on the drive for these (most Locket databases will rarely exceed 0.5Gb).

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Rain, rain and more rain

It's been almost two years since we were this far East and by way of welcome, it hasn't stopped raining for four days now. We arrived in Branson, Missouri on our way to the Escapees Rally in Sedalia. We'd been here before on our trip and loved Branson landing with its wonderful fire and lights show. This time we stayed at the Lakeside City Park which is only ten minutes walk from Branson Landing as is great value $25 a night. It's a bit gravely and wet in this weather, but very pretty by the lake and super convenient for Branson Landing.

After a couple of days we decided that we needed a bit of luxury and to get away from all the dampness so we drove over to the Outdoor Resorts (Ozarks RV Resort). They have a hot tub and pool, and despite being 28 miles out of town in the middle of nowhere, is supposed to be very nice. Wrong. First off, it's $55 a night, more the twice Lakeside. It's a nice location by the side of a lake and it is all nicely landscaped with paved roads and concrete pads. However, despite the price, both of the pools and both of the hot tubs were stone cold! I'd asked when we checked in if they were open and they said yes. Jokingly, I even asked if the hot tub was hot (having experienced numerous issues in this department before in the past). Yes, the one by the main pool was hot.

After hooking up, I went in search of said hot tub only to find it freezing cold. I went back to reception and they said they'd turn the heat on. Less than ten minutes later I received a phone call on my cell phone. It was the lady of reception. She'd checked with the owners and wasn't able to turn the heat on until Monday. When asked what was special about Monday, she couldn't answer (I think she too was very embarrassed). What kind of campsite, especially a 'high end one' charging $55 a night in the middle of nowhere, is so cheap that they won't turn the heat on for the hot tub. What about all the people who have spent $100,000 for pads here? Don't they deserve some heat? I was so mad. I told her we'd be cutting our visit short and checking out in the morning. At least that's $120 that they won't be getting, and I hope it's a lot more.

You would think that the story ends there, but no, there's more! I went up in the morning to get my refund, and she said that she'd turned on the hot tub. Great, we were getting somewhere. I got a refund for Monday as Sunday was supposed to be our day off, at least now we could relax in the $55 a night hot tub. Wrong again! I went (again) to check the temperature and it was luke warm. Maybe it was warming up. I went back again at noon, nope, still luke warm. Back to the reception and she said she'd turn it up. This was becoming a major farce. Two hours later with Tracey and the kids in the car, up to the hot tub, nope, still luke warm. Back to reception, she'll send someone out. You'd think that this was an old a decrepit campsite, not a new ultra high end one. The hot tub and the pool all looked only a couple of years old. I hate to say it, but we gave up and had a sauna (at least that worked), even if I did have to sneak into the ladies to have it together!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

What is the best way to organize my photos?

Do you find that you're photos are scattered about your hard disk? Having trouble finding your favorite photos? Even if you use a software program to organize them, what happens if the maker of that program goes out of business?

For me, photos are the stuff of memories. Anyone who leads a mobile lifestyle like most of us wants to document those travels with photos. But keeping those photos securely, in an organized fashion, so that they are still accessible and useable in ten, fifteen or even twenty years is a challenge.

I first started photography with my own darkroom under the stairs when I was ten years old, and with digital photography back in 1998. In fact, the photo on the right of our old house in England was taken in 1998 with one of the world's first commercial digital cameras, the HP Photosmart, launched in 1997. It saved its pictures in TIFF format which was not ideal as they were large and didn't have any compression. Over the years I've developed a system of guidelines as follows:

  • Always save your photos in an industry standard format such as .JPG. Some cameras such as Nikon have their own propreitary formats (termed RAW) which give you more control when editing but are larger and may become obsolete. I therefore always store a copy of my favorite photos in .JPG format.
  • Use a well known photo management program like Adobe Photoshop Elements or Lightroom, Apple iPhoto, of Google Picasa to edit, add tags and ratings to your photos. These are stored in photos meta data and can be accessed by most other photo programs and operating systems and make finding and sorting your photos much easier in the future.
  • Keep your photos in one place on your machine. On a windows machine this is usually in 'My Pictures' and on a Mac in 'Pictures'. My suggestion is to create a directory for the year (2009) and then sub-directories for each event (e.g. Daughter's Wedding). That way your photos will always be correctly grouped together making them easy to find and to backup.
  • At the end of each year, review your photos and save copies to a seperate directory called 'Favorites' and within there a sub-directory for the year. That way you have a back up and a quick place to look for a picture of the grand kids to add to an email card within spending hours hunting around your hard disk.
  • Always, always, always backup. The best method is to use an external hard drive such as our Executive Leather 160Gb External Disk Drive ($99). I back mine up regularly to one of these and then hide it in the RV. That way if someone steals my laptop, at least I have my data secure. I then also burn my favorites onto a DVD and mail to a friend, as well as uploading them to a site such as Flickr, Snapfish or FaceBook.

Monday, April 20, 2009

TechnoRV Launches at the Good Sam Rally

Both Tracey and I wanted to say a big thank you to everyone who stopped by our booth and helped make the company launch so successful.

It was a real pleasure to meet so many of you and get such great feedback about our products and what we're doing. We look forward to meeting you again at our upcoming shows and hearing from you and your suggestions by email.

Neither of us can believe that it's over - TechnoRV is officially launched. I can’t think how much preparation went into it, it seems like all we’ve done for the last month!

The good news is that everything came together as we’d hoped. Despite a non-ideal location (we registered late), our stand looked one of the most professional at the show, and was the envy of many other exhibitors, especially our scrolling banner (one chap said that he was going to order six of them from us!) and the flooring. In fact, a number of people came on our booth just to stand on the floor - it was so comfortable! Tracey had found it on the internet; it looked like a wooden floor but was actually made from interlocking tiles of cushioning plastic. Wonderful to stand on, especially as Tracey and I were on our feet pretty much from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. without even a lunch break!

As those of you how attended know, the show was very well attended, despite the New Mexico weather (it actually snowed on Saturday!). According to the organizers there were over 3,000 RV’s and 8,000 attendees a day at the show! Their favorite products were Locket, a flash drive with software to help you enter information you might need in an emergency, our LED Caps, and our range of flashlights.

Now it's all over and we're off to the 2009 Escapees Escapade in Sedalia, Missouri!