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David K. Watson "DKW" RSS Feed (California, USA)

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Talking to Siri: Learning the Language of Apple's Intelligent Assistant
Talking to Siri: Learning the Language of Apple's Intelligent Assistant
by Erica Sadun
Edition: Paperback
58 used & new from $0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Useful introduction, but get 2nd edition or later, January 24, 2013
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
There were significant changes to Siri (including some anticipated by the authors) when it was updated along with iOS 6. The second edition publication date was January 2013.

This slim volume is a useful introduction, particularly if talking to a machine seems odd to you. I have found that I mostly use Siri for Reminders and scheduling appointments. I've also found it handy for things like quickly subtracting one 8-digit number from another. If you have the time, I suppose it might be fun to have Siri explain itself to you. For a lot of us, having a book that efficiently covers basic interactions and offers a little advice about successfully communicating with the device is a better use of our limited time.

Natural language computing has been one of the holy grails of information technology, going back at least to IBM's FS (Future Systems) project in the 1970's. Siri is a major advance in the technology and obviously has an astonishing amount of computing power behind it. Taking to Siri is good introduction to what may become a dominate method for communicating with the machines in our lives. As impressive as Siri may be, however, it's not clear if voice command will supersede using smart phones as household controllers (with gestures and taps), which is a technology that is also in its infancy.

McAfee All Access Individual 2013
McAfee All Access Individual 2013
6 used & new from $24.35

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars One-stop solution if you have Mac and Windows., January 21, 2013
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
As a Mac user, I've not been too concerned with malware since the advent of OS X; as a Windows user, I'm always aware of the possibility of a virus or other malware infection. Last year I used McAfee Anti-virus on one Windows machine and McAfee All Access on a second Windows machine and two Macs.

One of the Macs died during the year and took a Bootcamp installation of Windows XP Pro with it. That still leaves me with two Mac Minis and a VMWare Fusion virtual machine running Windows XP Home on one of them. The previous McAfee installations all expired in December.

For reasons not entirely clear to me, the companies that make this kind of software don't offer any incentive for loyalty. Once the subscription runs out, you have to pay the same prices as someone who never used the product. It makes sense to check out the competition for a better deal. As it happened, I got a chance to try McAfee All Access Individual 2013 at about the same time the previous installations were starting to expire.

When you get McAfee All Access Individual 2013, you do not receive software to install, you receive a product key that lets you download and install the software from McAfee's web site.

I first ran it on one of my Macs (OSX 10.6.8) which had no previous installation. I followed the instructions on the card. Since I already had a McAfee account, I logged into that account and entered the product key. The key was accepted and the site offered to download and install the software on that machine. The page also listed my other machines that had previous versions installed, including my dead MacBook.

I then went to my Mac (OSX 10.7) that had the older version installed. I logged onto the McAfee site. The site recognized the machine and the fact that I had access to the 2013 version. What it did not do is offer to install the current version. I poked around on the site for a while looking for an update button of some kind. I finally figured out that the only way to do it was to treat it as a new installation. Once I did this, it downloaded the new version, removed the old version, and did a full install of the new version.

I then started Window XP (SP 3) running in a VMWare fusion virtual machine. I removed the previous installation of McAfee Anti-Virus. When I then logged into the McAfee web site, the site recognized the machine and that it had had McAfee Anti-Virus installed for 2012. I started the McAfee All Access Individual 2013 installation as a new installation. It started and I got a insufficient hard disk space message. This is a chicken-or-egg conundrum. VMWare Fusion manages the virtual c: drive dynamically. If files are being copied to the drive, space will be created for them, if needed. Of course, there's no way for the installer to understand that, so I ended up deleting files and running uninstallers to free up space. Eventually I got to the magic number and the installer started. I ran a custom installation and skipped a few items, such as parental controls, that are not useful in my situation (I have two or three Windows-only applications that I use a few times a year). The actual installation process went smoothly.

My situation is not that common. I have two Macs with Windows running in a virtual machine on one of them. I am the only person using them. My Windows use is very limited; I do not have email set up and do not do any web surfing on that machine (I do use Firefox to go to specific web sites if needed). Still, I think having at least minimal malware protection on all three machines is prudent.

I ran the previous version all through 2012 and had no performance issues or weird problems that could be attributed to McAfee software. If you have multiple machines and are running both MacOS and Windows, McAfee All Access Individual 2013 is worth considering as a one-stop solution for malware protection. My only real criticism is that the process for updating from a previous version in neither intuitive nor obvious.

Black & Decker BDH2000FL 20-Volt Max Lithium Ion Flex Vacuum
Black & Decker BDH2000FL 20-Volt Max Lithium Ion Flex Vacuum
Offered by A&BG Products
Price: $309.99
3 used & new from $89.99

13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More power, longer lasting than original, January 21, 2013
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I became aware of the Flex Vac about a year-and-a-half before the first one was introduced when I was given a chance to view and comment upon the concept. I thought it was great idea and bought an HFV-1200 (12-volt) as soon at they appeared in the fall of 2009.

I've been very happy with the HFV-1200, not in the least because it came with the best pet hair vacuuming tool I've ever used. The main criticism of the HFV-1200 is about the running time. Running continuously, it slows audibly at about six minutes and is useless as a vacuum after about seven minutes, although it takes just under twenty minutes to fully drain the battery. The original model is useful for quick vacuuming tasks around the house, but does not work very well for sustained tasks like vacuuming the car.

Needless to say, I was happy try the BDH-2000FL to see what three years of improving battery technology might do for the Flex Vac.

Except for a few minor design changes and a different color scheme, the BHD-2000FL is nearly identical to the HFV-1200. There was one major change I'll address further down. To the casual observer, however, they are virtually the same.

The BHD-2000FL uses Lithium Ion batteries, the HFV-1200 uses nickel cadmium batteries. The BHD-2000FL is more powerful and has a longer runtime. The first time it was used to vacuum the car, it lasted long enough to do the trunk and about 99% of the interior, over 20 minutes with a couple of starts and stops. When I ran the BHD-2000FL continuously with no load (not vacuuming anything, just running) it ran for sixteen minutes before audibly slowing, and shut down completely at around seventeen minutes.

Both machines come with the same set of accessories: a nozzle-brush tool, a crevice tool, and a pet hair tool. They are different colors, but otherwise interchangeable. They use the same pleated filter (FVF100). Both the pleated filter and the plastic filter are washable.

There is one significant design change. The original had a plug-and-jack connection for charging the battery; the BDH-2000FL has a charging base, and it is BIG. With the older model, you could put it in any position to charge, or even hang it on a wall mount they made for it (sold through the Black & Decker parts web site; may still be available). The BHD-2000FL needs to be on a flat, level surface to charge. I can understand why they might choose this approach (it also acts as a caddy for the tools not being used), but it really limits the flexibility of where the vacuum can be stored when not in use. The footprint of the charging base is about 9.25 by 6.75 inches with an additional 3-6 inches of overhang for the nozzle and any attached tool. I would have been happier if they had designed it so that you could either use the charging base or plug in directly to the vacuum.

The BHD-2000FL has a significantly higher cost than the original model. For that money you are getting a machine with more power and a much longer run time. It has a battery that is considered to be recyclable instead of hazardous waste when it can no longer hold a charge.

I was happy with the original Flex Vac, I'm happier with the BHD-2000FL. I just wish I could I could also charge it while it hangs out of the way at the end of one of my kitchen counters. I still have not found a permanent home for the charging base.

Random notes:

- The pleated filter is washable and can even be put in the dishwasher. It should last quite awhile. If it needs to be replaced of if you want a spare to swap in while the first one is drying (they must be completely, absolutely dry before use). The FVF100 filter is available from Amazon, Black & Decker, and other sites.

- There is a corded 12-volt auto version of the Flex Vac (model PAD 1200) that plugs into a standard power port in your car.

- There is a powered brush head (model PB0240) for the FHV1200 that also fits the BDH-2000FL. It comes with a two-plug power supply that is not compatible with the BDH-2000FL, so you cannot charge both at once as you can with the earlier model.

- The wall mount for the FHV-1200 (part 90542169) holds the BDH200FL just fine, but you cannot charge it while its hanging on the mount. It is still listed on the Black & Decker parts web site.

- Black and Decker offered the wall mount packaged with a shoulder strap (WBSS100). It may still be available on other web sites. I thought the strap was an interesting idea, but it did not work very well for me.

When I read reviews about other portable products on Amazon and elsewhere, it's clear that some buyers have completely unrealistic expectations about battery running time. Any time you are powering a motor from a battery, it's going to suck the battery dry very quickly, even a motor as small as the one in the Flex Vacs (it's inside the filter housing, a remarkable feat of engineering). The BDH200FL is a leap forward in cordless portable vacuums.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 20, 2013 1:09 AM PST

ZITRADE Apple green New Concept Lighting,Protable mini bed light,Mini LED Reading Light,Baby night light 301 Fashional RED LED Dimmable desk light,computer light,Camp light with timer functions
ZITRADE Apple green New Concept Lighting,Protable mini bed light,Mini LED Reading Light,Baby night light 301 Fashional RED LED Dimmable desk light,computer light,Camp light with timer functions

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Versatile reading or close work lamp, January 21, 2013
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
I was looking for an LED reading lamp that I could clamp to my headboard. This seemed like it might do the job, and it does.

The product description is not very clear and the instructions that come with it are in Chinese, so I'm writing this mostly to clarify what this lamp is.

There are four ways to power this lamp:
- AAA batteries (4).
- Lithium Ion battery, type NB-5L, which is used with Canon cameras. The lamp comes with one battery and can charge the battery if plugged into one of the following power sources.
- USB mini-jack, from any USB port on a computer or charger.
- Standard 5-volt power supply with a round connector.

The clamping mechanism is unlike any I've seem before and can clamp to any flat-surfaced object from very thin up to over 2 inches thick. It can also clamp to round objects up to about an inch in diameter. The clamping mechanism has three parts: the lamp itself, a sliding plate which locks into one of six distances from the lamp, and a spring-loaded insert which can be placed between the lamp and the plate to allow clamping to thinner or round objects. The insert is a clever idea, but also has one flaw. There are holes on both the lamp and the plate to make sure the insert is aligned correctly, but there's nothing holding it in place. This means you have to be careful to hold the insert while unclamping the lamp or you're likely to drop the insert behind your headboard or whatever else you're using to hold the lamp.

The lamp can also stand on its own, making it useful for doing close work that needs good lighting.

The single LED bulb is bright enough for reading at reasonable distance, up to maybe two feet. It has one dimmer setting. The lamp head moves up & down and twists around to accommodate most close reading positions. There is a timer button, presumably to turn the lamp off if you fall asleep while reading. The timer turns the lamp off after about an hour on any power source. Both buttons light up when in use. I got two to three hours of light from rechargeable AAA batteries (Eneloop) and three to four hours from the included NB-5L battery. The lamp does not charge AAA batteries. There is a power/charge indicator lamp between the USB and 5V jacks.

This lamp is an interesting, attractive, and practical design. It's the kind of solution I hope to see more of as designers learn to take advantage of the possibilities offered by ever-brighter LED's. Were it was not so easy to drop the clamp insert and if they had made the effort to include instructions in English, I might have given it five stars.

Green Oath Pencil Box, Snap Button Closure, With Pull out Drawer, Pack of 6 Assorted Colors (50251-2076)
Green Oath Pencil Box, Snap Button Closure, With Pull out Drawer, Pack of 6 Assorted Colors (50251-2076)
Price: $14.80
2 used & new from $7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Always useful, January 21, 2013
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
It seems like no matter how many pencil boxes I buy, I always find a use for them. I've even got one or two with pens and pencils in them. They're great for small tools, nail care instruments, dental care products, and small odds & ends that don't have a home of their own.

These are not quite as well-made as some similar ones I have, but they're a great bargain.

Camco 42983 18" x 24" Pop-Up Recycle Container
Camco 42983 18" x 24" Pop-Up Recycle Container
Price: $20.41
31 used & new from $14.61

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Convenient size, lightweight, January 21, 2013
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
My neighborhood has centralized (rather than curbside) waste and recycling collection. The rules were recently changed to allow all types of plastic except flimsies like shrink wrap & shopping bags or styrofoam. This meant I had to rethink my recycling strategy for plastic.

This container turned out to be a perfect solution. It is large enough to hold several weeks of my plastic discards and is small enough to fit on my front passenger's seat to be taken to the recycling bins. It can then be flattened if I'm not going directly back home. I really don't care about the dividers (I have other containers for paper, glass, and metal recycling) but I figure they may make the container more stable standing as it fills up, so I just left them in place.

Popchips Tortilla Chips, Chili Limon, 1-Ounce (Pack of 24)
Popchips Tortilla Chips, Chili Limon, 1-Ounce (Pack of 24)

5.0 out of 5 stars Favorite Popchips so far - Chili Limón Tortilla Chips, January 21, 2013
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Popchips has added four flavors of tortilla chips to their eleven flavors of potato chips. I tried the chili limón version. I found this to be a very good healthier snack chip.

The main ingredient is stone ground corn masa, which tells me that they are starting out in the right place. Popchips are made by mixing the non-flavor ingredients into a dough which is divided to individual pieces. The result is then put into a pressure mold with chip-shaped spaces for individual pieces. The pieces are pressed into the molds, quickly heated, and then quickly released. As a result of the heat and pressure, the chip "pops," becoming rigid and expanding in thickness. The gives you a chip that is less dense that it would be if it were just baked. The texture of Popchips is different from baked or fried snack chips. The flavor is then applied in the type of tumbling drum system used by virtually all chip makers.

I've tried six or seven varieties of Popchip potato chips, and I've liked some more than others. I do like tortilla chips enough that, once in a great while, I'll make my own. It's messy, it's not the healthiest snack, but they're better than anything that comes in a bag.

For a long time, a big snack maker sold lime and chili flavor corn chips. They were never widely distributed and seem to turn up mostly in small bags at gas stations and convenience stores. They were my favorite variety of flavored corn chips. The Popchips Chili Limón Tortilla Chips seemed like a flavor that might appeal to me.

I have to say these were even better than I expected. They have the texture of regular Popchips, and the chili limón flavor is very good. It's spicy but not irritating and the flavor does not linger on your palate. As good as they are, I felt that they could use a touch more limón. I sprinkled a very tiny amount of crystalized lime on a few of the chips. I think the additional lime improved the flavor and added a perceptible citrus tang to the chip. I also bought a bag of lime-flavored regular potato chips for comparison. I would not expect the Popchips to have anything close to the flavor of the potato chips, but the comparison did confirm that Popchips are being truthful when they say "trace of lime" on the ingredients list. This may just be a reflection of my personal preference for anything with a citrus flavor.

I also tried these chips with a medium picante sauce as a dip. Again, the Popchips were even better than I expected with the picante sauce. The sauce and chip complement each other and may become a new favorite snack.

I've added Popchips Chili Limón Tortilla Chips to my shopping list app.

OXO Small Upright Sweep Set
OXO Small Upright Sweep Set
Price: $24.99
52 used & new from $24.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Convenient & useful design, January 18, 2013
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
For quite a few years, I've used a Michael Graves Design long-handled broom and dustpan set from Target (the original design, no longer available). It is an attractive design and has proven useful over the years. However, it is showing signs of aging: the flexible lip of the dustpan is losing its suppleness, bristles are getting bent at weird angles and the broom handle separates from the shaft without warning.

The OXO Good Grips Upright Sweep Set seems like a worthy successor. There are some design differences which make the Oxo set stand out in comparison:
- Both the broom handle and dustpan handle have holes for hooks, should you want to hang them separately.
- The hanging holes are considerably larger and oblong in shape, making it practical to hang the set from a wider variety of hooks.
- The broom head is offset and positioned at an angle to the handle, which allows you to hold it at a more natural position while sweeping and still maximizing the number of bristles on the floor.
- There is a comb mechanism attached to the dustpan that allows you to pull the broom head though it, removing debris than may be clinging to the bristles.

The only problem I found with the OXO Good Grips Upright Sweep Set is that the plastic clip that holds the broom shaft to the dustpan shaft is a little loose. It holds the two pieces together with no problem, but the broom handle can slide up and down, which might allow the bristles to be displaced or bent over time from pressing on the pan or comb if you store it in the free-standing position with the pan folded down. However, when the set is folded up and fully compact with the broom inside the pan, the bristles don't touch any part of the pan. The set can stand in this position, but is not very stable; it's better suited for hanging. Oxo also offers a slightly larger version of the dustpan by itself.

Seagate Backup Plus 2TB FireWire 800/USB 2.0 Desktop External Hard Drive for Mac(STCB2000100)
Seagate Backup Plus 2TB FireWire 800/USB 2.0 Desktop External Hard Drive for Mac(STCB2000100)

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Initial oddities, then perfect performance, January 18, 2013
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Back around the first of the 2012, I replaced an older 1TB USB HD with a Seagate 2TB GoFlex desktop using a Firewire interface. I used that drive to backup another older 1TB FW drive that contained my iTunes media folders. Because my iTunes files were approaching 1TB, I was already looking at 2TB Firewire drives to replace the older HD.

I welcomed the opportunity to evaluate the new Seagate Backup Plus 2TB Firewire desktop external drive. The GoFlex drive had been performing flawlessly for about six months at that point.

The Backup Plus drive is a virtual twin of the GoFlex drive. I reformatted the new drive for Mac OSX and started copying almost a terabyte of files. I ran into problems almost immediately. I spent some time troubleshooting, including consulting with Seagate support. Firewire problems can be both counterintuitive and infuriatingly difficult to diagnose, so I set the project aside.

A while later, I had some time, so I decided to start again on the Backup Plus drive, taking detailed notes as I installed it and copied files. I was able to copy more than 960 GB of files with no problems. I never got anywhere close to that on the earlier attempt. I ran diagnostics and found no problems, so I switched iTunes over to the media library on the Backup Plus drive.

That was several months ago, and I have experienced no problems of any kind with the Backup Plus drive. It gets constant use: I have three devices that sync to iTunes wirelessly, I have multiple video podcast subscriptions, I have an AppleTV, and the disk is backed up on a daily basis to the GoFlex drive. I archived the entire library to a bare drive with no problems of any kind and later back to the original 1TB drive, which will now act as second archive.

What caused the initial problems? I have no idea. At first I thought it might the Seagate Backup Plus drive, but the current evidence completely exonerates it.

As it worked out, I'm using the Backup Plus drive as my iTunes library drive and its slightly older GoFlex sibling as my backup drive for iTunes and iPhoto. They're both doing what I need them to do and have been doing it reliably in one case for several months and in the other for almost a year. I also have another, older GoFlex 2TB USB drive that I have been using on the same system for about a year and a half.

Epson WorkForce DS-30 Portable Document & Image Scanner
Epson WorkForce DS-30 Portable Document & Image Scanner
Price: $79.99
109 used & new from $47.99

49 of 56 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Basic travel scanner, works with Mac OS, January 18, 2013
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This is a good basic bus-powered (no power brick) sheet-fed scanner suitable for anyone who needs to scan documents away from their office or home.

It is compatible with the scanner driver built into Mac OS since the later versions of Snow Leopard (10.6). You can do basic scans and create PDF's without installing the Epson software that comes with the scanner (plug the scanner into to a USB port on your Mac, open the Preview application, choose Import From Scanner on the File menu, the Epson DS-30 should be on the pop-out list).

If you use the installation disc that come with the DS-30 it installs:

Epson Scan - Scanning software that gives you a lot more control over your scans than the scanner software built into OSX.

Presto! PageManager Standard - document management software that, among other things, lets you split or merge PDF documents.

Presto! BizCard 5 - dedicated software for scanning and parsing the information on business cards.

ABBYY Fine reader- Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software used to convert scanned documents into editable text.

The DS-30 physically resembles the NeatReceipts scanner. I tried the DS-30 with the Neat software. It worked one time out of several attempts; in the other cases, the software did not recognize the scanner. It is somewhat faster than my four-year old Neat scanner on ordinary scanning tasks.

I installed all of the software and verified that it all worked with Mac OS 10.7 Lion. I did use the ABBYY OCR software a few times, enough to conclude that you will get decent results scanning reasonably legible documents at higher resolutions (no surprise there). You end up editing virtually any document scanned with consumer scanners and software. The ability of the software to correctly read a business letter increased dramatically going from 200 to 400 dpi, reducing the number or errors from two or three dozen to five or fewer.

The only software I spent a significant amount of time using was Presto! BizCard. I have a box with a couple of hundred business cards I've received over the past few years, so I picked out about 50 to try with the software. I tried to find as many design variations as possible. I've included more information about that experience below.

I scanned over 50 business cards and about two dozen other documents with the DS-30 and found the results to always be acceptable for a document scanner.

The Epson WorkForce DS-30 Portable Document Scanner is a good choice for those who travel and need a decent basic scanner for gathering documents instead of lugging them around until you get back to your home base. It's also worth considering for a home office or dorm situation where space is extremely limited and you have a need for a basic scanner.


Scanning Business Cards

This is slightly off-topic, but I think worth passing along.

BizCard was quite adept at identifying information and putting it in the correct data field. It also saves an image of the card so you can edit the data without having to keep the card. Looking at the results, there are some clear lessons to be learned about designing business cards in an age when a lot of people will just scan them and toss them :

- Never, ever, set type on a diagonal. It did not matter if the card had a horizontal or vertical orientation, but any type on a diagonal was ignored.

- If your company uses a logotype that distorts or joins letters, spell out the company name elsewhere, possibly as part of the physical address.

- Group the elements logically: name, job title, & department; street address, city, state, postal code, & country; email address & web site url; phone numbers. Put each component on a separate line. The software understood most of the common words for differentiating phone numbers (Office, Mobile, Cell, Fax, etc.) and parsed the numbers accordingly.

-Avoid using dashes, bullets, or small logos in or near any typesetting; it may try to interpret them as part of the text if there is too little space between the object and words or numbers (hyphens within phone number are OK).

-Kern carefully, if at all. While kerning (removing space between individual letters) can produce results more pleasing to the human eye, to the scanning software it creates letter pairs that may not read correctly.

- Don't spell out your phone number with letters; it will be ignored.

- You can leave off "[...]" but if you leave off "www," your web site url will be ignored.

-Colored objects and even photos are OK in the background as long as there is sufficient contrast between the background and the type.

-Surprisingly, the most common problems involved names and company names. For these critical items, use legible typefaces that are not significantly out of proportion to the other information on the card. Avoid drop caps, heavy (extra bold) fonts, and the use of any kind of symbol on the same line.

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