EXPLORE AMERICA’S HISTORY WITH MAPS

In 1900, 2.5 million immigrants were from Germany.

In 1900, 2.5 million immigrants were from Germany.

Explore America’s History with these Interactive Maps.” Click on that phrase to find four maps from the University of Richman’s “American Panorama” collection. One shows that in 1849, the Erie Canal transported over 1.6 million tons of cargo. Another follows the journeys of those on the Mormon Trail, the Oregon Trail and the California Trail through the 1860s. Another shows the forced migration of slaves.

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100 DANCING DRONES SET WORLD RECORD

Intel-Drone-100-Light-Show-Orchestra100 Dancing Drones Set World Record.  Click on that phrase to find a YouTube video showing Intel breaking the Guiness Book of Records. They created a swarm of drones that could dance to Beethoven’s Fifth, spell out “Intel” and otherwise astonish us. The military possibilities struck us immediately. And no, we’re not kidding.

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FREE ART FROM THE NEW YORK LIBRARY

Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 10.05.12 AMPublicdomain.nypl.org/pd-visualization takes you to thousands of items you can download for free from the New York Public Library. These were all online before but are newly downloadable. You can group the collection by century (going as far back as the 11th century) or by color or genre. In the 20th century section, we saw a lot of commercial posters, and we like those, but there’s a little bit of everything.

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MINIATURE WONDERLAND FROM GOOGLE STREETVIEW

street view smallerGoogle Shrunk its Streetview Cameras” includes a video that takes you close-up inside the world’s largest model railroad railway, part of Miniatur Wunderland, in Hamburg, Germany.  According to Digital Trends, Google worked with Unilab to affix tiny cameras to the model trains, cars and boats to help you explore “Miniatur Wunderland.” Quite charming.

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FUN WITH PHOTOS

Screen Shot 2016-01-26 at 9.56.36 AMFotojet” is a free online program for turning photos into magazine covers, greeting cards, and exotic prints or digital art without the bother of a learning curve (like the long one in figuring out Photoshop).

Joy started by putting her nephews on the cover of Time Magazine. It was so good, complete with headlines, that she shared it on Facebook and saved it on her laptop. You can also share your creations on Twitter, Pinterest and Tumblr or print them out.

Next she made a Valentine’s Day card for Bob. It was as easy as dragging a photo into place and adding some words. You can add clip art and change the font. Fotojet could give American Greetings and Hallmark software a serious run for the money. After all, what’s better than free? Of course, these greeting card programs still have a lot of extras to offer, but if you need a fun photo fast, go with Fotojet.

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COMPUTERIZED CARVERS ON THEIR WAY TO THE HOME WORKSHOP

x-carveIf you ever go to a manufacturing show, you’ll see lots of big, incredibly expensive machines cutting little pieces out of big blocks of metal and other materials. The machines are controlled by computers and can even work in the dark, with no human nearby. The system is called CNC, which stands for Computer Numeric Control. Now, you can get one of these for your home workshop.

They not cheap – $935, and the work area is only 1 square foot. But, hey, we’re talking robot manufacturing. A company called Inventables has a new version of their X-Carve machine, which uses free “Easel” software you can download from the Web. You can watch a demo on YouTube from a guy calling himself “The Drunken Woodworker.” Starting out in Adobe Illustrator, he typed “Be Curious” and turned it into individually carved letters in walnut, tipping the “C” to add a little humor.

Basically, this is called a milling machine, because it “mills” pieces of material out of a block to end up with the desired piece. X-Carve can carve soft and hard materials in a variety of metals, Corian plastic, cork, foam, wood and fiberboard. A larger carver, with a work area of 31 square inches, costs $1,400.

Perhaps because of the expense for home users, Inventables took its show on the road, awarding a 3D printer to one school in each state. Here in Massachusetts, the Sparhawk School in Amesbury won the prize. The contest was held in response to President Barack Obama’s challenge to schools to teach digital manufacturing. Schools that missed out on the contest can enter another one sponsored by NewMatter.com. New Matter is donating more than $200,000 in 3D printers to schools throughout the U.S. The deadline for applying for the grant is Feb. 5.

A similar milling machine is DreamMakers’ EvoOne. It raised more than double the funds it sought at Kickstarter.com. We’re skeptical of crowd-funded products, but this one is backed by Digital Trends, Makezine, Arduino and many other companies. Its work area is around 15 by 9 inches and it claims to provide the ease of use of 3D printing with the precision, speed and versatility of CNC.

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AN ALARMING SITUATION

Neatmo PresenceLots of security cameras around, but “Presence” from Netatmo won four innovation awards at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. This is future stuff, because it won’t be available till next Fall at the earliest. But it is the edge of the wedge, as they say, and shows how sophisticated surveillance cameras can be.

This one can provide color video even in low light and can be adjusted to react to small things, like a dog, or possible menacing movements, like those from a person. After analyzing the data in real time, it figures out whether a stranger is loitering nearby, a car is creeping up the driveway or a pet is in the yard.

We couldn’t get a price yet, but the surveillance cameras business is crowded and competitive, so we would guess around $300 when the light goes on.

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HUNTING TECH

Bracketron Hunting TechInstead of filming your skateboarding, surfing or ski adventure, you can use a mount from Bracketron for hunting expeditions. Using the mount, attach your smartphone or action camera to your hunting rifle, bow, fishing rod or paintball gun.

Their most expensive model is the “ProX Sport Mount 3-in-1,” for $70. It  has a quick release lever to make it easy to mount and dismount your smartphone or camera.  The Mount spins your phone 360 degrees for quick repositioning from vertical to horizontal views.  It works with any smart phone or GoPro and similar “action cameras.”

If you don’t need a “3 in 1” mount, they also have a separate mount for your bow and arrow expeditions ($20) and one for mounting in trees, ($15) which screws directly into the tree. The new mounts debuted at the big Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.

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DUMPING CABLE

sling tvWe keep hearing from readers who have dropped their expensive cable TV subscriptions. This is going to be an unstoppable trend.

With plug-in adapters like Roku, Apple TV, or Google Chromecast, you get channels such as Netflix, Hulu, YouTube and Amazon Video. All of those except YouTube involve extra fees, like $7 a month price for Netflix. But that is very little compared to cable costs. Read more »

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CASH FOR YOUR GIFT CARDS

gift cardsWe’ve never gotten a gift card we didn’t like. But there are some we would definitely reject. (A Bungee-Jumping gift certificate would be high on the list.) Here are a couple of  websites where you can trade your cards for cash.

CardCash.com will buy back your gift cards or sell you new ones at a discount. They trade cards from more than 400 retailers. When you sell them your card, you get 92 percent of the card’s value, or you can trade it for a card from Amazon, CVS or United Airlines. If you buy a card, shipping is free. We saw a $100 Ann Taylor gift card for $76 for example, and a $300 card for $229.

A similar site is  GiftCards.com. They have cards from hundreds of retailers and some are on sale for as much as 35 percent off the regular price.  You can also sell them your cards, as long as there’s still money left on it for more than $20 and less than $300. Check out the GiftCards app for Android and iPhones.

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