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.