Monday, May 15, 2017

YouTube Clickbait vs. Quality Content

Sunday, April 30, 2017

What is Fidget Spinner? And Why You Need One!

It doesn't plug in or use batteries, but still a cool little gadget!

Sunday, April 2, 2017

My New Video Camera Rig

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The ChromeOS Freeze

by Tony Thomas

As winter sets in, it appears that the Chromebook platform is in a deep freeze. It is been quite a while since Google announced that the Google Play Store was coming to Chromebooks. To date, only seven models have it and most reviewers see it as a work in progress rather than a finished product.

Rumors have abounded about the so-called “Andromeda” project, which would unify Chrome and Android under a single operating system. However, Google Chrome and Android chief, Hiroshi Lockheimer, has thrown cold water on that theory. He announced that ChromeOS and Android devices would remain separate product streams, sharing some of the same technology, such as Google Assistant.

I was hoping that manufacturers would introduce a number of new models for the holiday shopping season, optimized for Android integration. But, it was not to be. During my trip to a local Best Buy, I found only a handful of older models on display. Bummer.

While Chromebooks are still selling well in the education sector, they seemed to have stalled in the consumer market. Perhaps that is because manufacturers and potential buyers are standing on the sidelines and waiting to see if a new operating system emerges from Google.

Will Chromebooks and ChromeOS re-emerge from the deep freeze in the coming months? Will Google Play be unleashed on all of the Chromebooks on Google’s list? Will more Android-ready Chromebooks emerge from the ice?

We will have to wait and see.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Phones On Fire

by Tony Thomas

Cell phones are catching fire.  Literally.  The recent problems with the Galaxy Note involving their lithium ion batteries has generated quite a bit of fear and concern.   And for good reason.   Spontaneous combustion is not a feature that phone buyers look for in a cell phone.
Should we be concerned that this problem will spread to other phones?  We certainly should. 

Lithium Ion batteries are powerful.   They are what give us devices that last for many hours. That is also a big part of the problem. These batteries produce power via a chemical reaction involving highly volatile lithium.  If damaged or improperly charged,  these batteries can pose a safety risk.  And with skinnier cell phone designs with increased battery life,  the design tolerances are much tighter,  thus increasing the risk.

As a result, cell phone manufacturers are going to have to decide whether it is really worth producing skinny phones that may catch on fire. 

In the interim, let the buyer beware.

The Galaxy Note 7 is Dead (from The Verge):

Why the Galaxy Note 7 Catches Fire (from CNet):

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Xara Designer Pro X365

By Tony Thomas

Xara Designer Pro X365 is a fully professional-grade design solution. It has the advantage of being extremely fast and capable of handling tasks such as layout, page design, text handling, web design, vector drawing and photo image editing.

It combines the feature sets of all of the Xara graphics programs, some of which I have reviewed previously: Web Designer Premium, Page & Layout Designer and Photo & Graphic designer. Unlike one of its major competitors, you don’t have to pay a recurring monthly fee to use it. You buy it and receive 365 days of free upgrades. Its price is also quite reasonable considering its formidable feature set.

Some of the new features include:
  • Enhanced “On Reveal” Animations
  • New Scrolling Animations
  • Easy Move, Rotate and Scale for Photos
  • Cross Process Photo Effect
  • New Blend Modes for Dodge and Burn Effects
  • Photo Filter Presets
  • Magnetic Lasso
  • Symbols and Icons
  • Other Text Enhancements
  • New Online Content Catalog
  • Photo Grids
  • New Smartshapes
  • Improved Import and Export

Designer Pro is a Windows-based application that is light on resources. It only requires a Celeron/Sempron-class CPU, 500MB of RAM and 300MB of hard disk space. That means it will not only run on minimally configured netbooks, but older hardware as well.

In use, the program is equally fast and powerful. If you have had previous experience with sophisticated graphics apps, you should feel right at home. Xara continues to offer tremendous value and processing power for the professional graphic designer.

For more information:

Previous Reviews:

Full Disclosure: In compliance with FTC 16 CFR Part 255, I hereby disclose that the manufacturer or retailer mentioned in this article provided the product for review purposes with the knowledge that I would provide a full, unbiased and impartial review.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Are Chrome Apps Going Away?

by Tony Thomas

The potential market for Google Chrome apps just got a lot smaller. 

According to the Chromium Blog, Google will be phasing out Chrome apps (but not extensions) for the Chrome browser on all platforms except Chrome OS. This phase out will begin in late 2016 and will continue until early 2018. As only 1% of users reportedly use Chrome apps on Windows, MacOS and Linux, this move will allow Google to simplify the Chrome browser. 

They are encouraging developers of Chrome packaged apps to migrate them the web. What this means is that there will less developers willing to develop for a platform with diminishing potential. 

I really question the future viability of Chrome apps, even on Chrome OS, especially now that Android capability is beginning to roll out to Chrome OS devices. I think that it is just a matter of time before they are just a distant memory.

Monday, August 8, 2016


by Tony Thomas

I have been checking out a new online graphics tool called Canva. It is quick and easy to use and allows the casual user to produce killer designs in minutes. Professional layouts are available that can be easily edited and re-purposed. And it is free!

What’s the catch? While there is an impressive variety of free images and elements, if you want to unleash the true potential of Canva, you have to buy paid layouts and elements. At only $1 each, they are quite reasonably priced and you can do a lot with very little $$$.

Try it out:

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Software Defined Radio

by Tony Thomas

I am a licensed Amateur Radio Operator. As a result, I have an inherent love for all things radio.

If you like to listen to radio, you may want to check out the latest trend: SDR or Software Designed Radio. For less than $25, you can buy a USB dongle that turns your computer into a powerful radio. Not only can you tune in commercial FM stations, you can also access the VHF Ham radio bands, aircraft bands and more.

It all begins with a DVB-T TV dongle based upon the RTL2832U chipset that was originally designed to pick up TV broadcasts in Europe. Some enthusiasts discovered that, with the right drivers and software, they were able to use this dongle to produce a powerful software defined radio.

I have a few of these dongles, and while the quality can vary, they are a lot of fun to experiment with. The software that I currently use is called SDR# (SDR Sharp) and, while it is very powerful, it has a steep learning curve. That said, Software Driven Radio is a lot of fun!

For more information:

Buy an SDR on Amazon:

A great book on SDR:

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Xara Photo & Graphic Designer 365

by Tony Thomas

Every year about this time I get a chance to take a look at the new version of Xara Photo & Graphic Designer. It's like opening up a present and seeing what's inside. I think that's been 20 years since I started using the program and each version gets better and better.

One thing that I should share with you immediately is that, when you buy the latest version (now called 365), you will receive any new features and content that is developed for 365 days after you purchase and register the program. You no longer have to wait a full year to access new features. That, in itself, is awesome for a program that you can actually buy and not just rent!

Even though, when I open up the program, I see the same interface that I have come to know and love for quite a while, I know that there is some brand-new goodness baked inside. Some of the new features include:

Easy Move, Rotate and Scale: New handles are available when in photo mode so that you can quickly and easily manipulate your photo.

Cross Process Photo Effect: This one allows you to dramatically color-shift your photo by manipulating the RGB channels in real time.

Smart Shapes: Allows for quick creation and editing of some of the most common shapes. Examples include bar charts, pie charts and percentage rings.

Online Content Catalog: This is free for one year and allows you to access over 500,000 royalty free photos. Keyword searching is available for rapid access.

Symbols and Icons: Over 1500 fully-editable vector symbols are now available. 

Photo Filter Presets: These presets can be quickly applied to your photos and can be very useful when experimenting during editing.

New Blend Modes: Dodge and burn effects are now available for darkroom-style control of your images.

Photo Grids: These make it easy to display a collection of photos in a single, compact grid.

Although Xara started out as a vector drawing program, it has really morphed into a full-function graphic design tool with a strong set of photo editing capabilities. It continues to be an amazing value for the price!

Full Disclosure: In compliance with FTC 16 CFR Part 255, I hereby disclose that the manufacturer or retailer mentioned in this article provided the product for review purposes with the knowledge that I would provide a full, unbiased and impartial review.