BABY CAM

baby camWe’ve looked at a lot of security cameras, but the $129 “Baby Cam” from TRENDnet.com is the simplest we’ve seen:

It’s slightly smaller than an average person’s hand and can be placed on a surface or stuck on the wall. It records sounds and can take video in normal light or in darkness, using infrared light. You can watch live from a web browser or an app available for Android or iPhone. You can choose to have video clips emailed on a regular basis.

We were impressed with its infrared night vision. Pictures were quite clear even in complete darkness from up to 16 feet away. The built-in speaker and microphone allow two-way audio communications from your phone, tablet or computer. Check the YouTube video.

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PAINTING LIKE A PRO

PAINTER PROThough we’re not professional artists or even students, we decided to try Corel’s new “Painter 2015.” This is a program that has been around for decades and is used by professionals to turn photos into artworks as well as design original art for ads and games. Reviewers are nuts about the new brushes, which can create special effects, like smoke, pixels, color shifts, etc., as you paint.

The program is $429, which is expensive for someone who just wants to dabble, but if you upgrade from an older version — even going back to Painter 7 from 12 years ago — it’s $229.  We saw Painter 7 selling for $20 on eBay, so you can certainly save a few bucks this way.

Before you upgrade, you might want to try out an older version of Painter. Get the feel of what it can do, learn the tools and rules. Later versions add more tools, but they may not be tools you care about. This is true of almost all programs, by the way: just because something is out in a new version doesn’t mean it’s a better version for you; it may in fact even have new problems.

Best of all, older versions have tutorials on YouTube or Lynda.com, but we couldn’t find any video tutorials for the latest version of Painter. Lynda.com has great ones for the previous version, Painter X3. If you do go with the latest version, makes sure you check Painter 2015′s system requirements. We fell far short on this one and were surprised. Read more »

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THIN-FILM SOLAR CELLS

Spray-coating glass to create a solar cell.

Spray-coating glass to create a solar cell.

Making solar cells can get expensive. What if you could just stick them on, or perhaps even spay them on?

 Current research has found that “perovskite,” an inexpensive calcium titanium oxide mineral, reacts to light nearly as well as silicon. This is a recent discovery from a team at the University of Sheffield in England. They’re aiming for 19 percent efficiency, but so far have achieved only 11 percent in the lab. If they get there, just about anything could be spray-painted — your house, your car, your motorcycle, your TV and so on, with solar cells.

NOTE: Perovskite is a mineral found in the Ural Mountains in Russia and comes in several crystal varieties. It can be manufactured.

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APP HAPPY

Google the phrase “Chrome Web Store” to find lots of apps that will run right on your desktop.  Here are a few nice freebies:

murder files– “Murder Files” is a mystery game that takes place in a charming English village. In fact, it’s so charming that you’ll forgive the narrator for laughing at how slowly you solved a puzzle and then giving you just a silver star when the timer shows clearly you earned a gold one.

– “Typing Club” will help you master touch typing, also free.

–”Gliffy” creates diagrams and flowcharts. Include them in presentations, web pages and documents.

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GLIDE ON

video chat“Glide” is like Skype video calling but with a twist. When you tap “record,” you’re streaming live video, whether or not there’s anyone waiting at the other end. Videos can be up to five minutes and the service is free.

All videos are stored in the cloud, and can be viewed later. That way, they don’t take up any space on your phone.  You can use Wi-Fi instead of a cellular connection, which saves data charges, and you can store as many videos in the cloud as you wish. Videos can be sent to a group, by tapping the names among your contacts who also use Glide.

We tried it out with our niece. From our end, we were a bit embarrassed when she said we sent her “butt shots.” She was kidding; what we had done accidently was send videos of our thumb partially covering the lens. Glide recently added a preview option for those like us who would rather review a video before sending it. Lots more info at www.glide.me.

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MEANWHILE… DEEP IN THE JUNGLE

Amazon jungleIf you’re deep in the Amazon jungle, in a hurricane, or traveling too far from a cell phone tower, your text message won’t go through. (Good luck dealing with the giant Anaconda.) A new device called “goTenna” fixes that by using radio signals.

The device pairs with your cell phone to let you send a text message even when you don’t have Wi-Fi or a cellular signal. You type on your phone as you normally would, and the message goes out as a radio signal that can be received up to 50 miles away. (Fifty-one miles away you’re in big trouble.)

The product should be out this Fall, when a pair of goTennas, one for you and one for the person you want to talk to, will sell for $300. Those who pre-order can get a pair for $150. (You should know that low-power radio transmissions can be affected by a number of factors, such as intervening hills, buildings and warm air layers.)

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PLAY DEFENSE

hackedRecently, a reader asked about the program “Driver Restore.” Absolutely do not download this one. Though keeping drivers up to date is important, this program and many like it will infect your computer.

Our favorite tech support guy, who owns the service at helphelpnow.com, says he has cleaned up dozens of computers infected by “driver restore” type programs. The company that makes it offers the same program with a hundred different names. They claim it fixes everything from slow computers to back pain.  Why do people keep falling for this scam? Well, the answer is they didn’t know it was a scam. The price of clear computing is eternal vigilance. Stick with well-known companies. And check with sites like helphelpnow.com.

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THE CHROMEBOOK LIVES AND GROWS

Asus Chromebook C200Laptops with Google’s Chrome operating system, an alternative to Windows or Mac, are Chromebooks, and they are selling big. Sales are expected to reach 5.2 million units this year, up 79 percent over last year.

We first wrote about these laptops two years ago. The key issue with Chromebooks is that nearly everything happens online. The other advantages are light weight, long battery life and no viruses. Prices start around $200 and battery life runs around three to eleven hours, depending on the model. The latest ones are the Asus C200 and the Chromebook 13 from Acer.

Because nearly everything they do is online, the programs and services are maintained by Google. They provide the software and every time you start up the Cromebook, Google does a virus check and clean-up if needed; there is no charge for this.

People who buy this kind of laptop have limited uses in mind: They’re great for email, web surfing and online apps for word processing, spreadsheets, phone books and other business software. Many people do nothing else on their home computers, so they may as well have a Chromebook for its speed and freedom from infection. If you want to play games – a frequent source of problems– you can download clear, free ones from Google Apps. Don’t use a Chromebook for your main computer if you need Microsoft Word and other offline programs.

The newer models have around 16 gigabytes of storage, so you can download a couple of movies or TV shows from the Google Play Store to read and watch on the road.  You can increase this storage by plugging in a flash drive.

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PRINTABLE PAPER

paper airplanesPrintablePaper.net is a great place to print out lined or graph paper, forms for budgets, expenses, story-boarding, and hundreds of others. If you do a web search on “printable paper,” you will come with many others, such as paper airplanes.

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VACCINES, CALLING THE SHOTS

vaccinesPBS.org/Nova has all the TV episodes from the science program NOVA, the day after they air. “Vaccines, calling the Shots” takes you around the world to look at epidemics – particularly appropriate these days. “Rise of the Hackers” finds the super sleuths who decode the world’s most sophisticated cyber weapons.

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