Father’s Day Wrapped in a RedEnvelope: Infrared Laser BBQ Thermometer Review

As you might have guessed from my frequent Cooking With TechyDad posts, I love to cook. I’m also a fan of Alton Brown (the God of Cooking Geeks) and have often drooled at some of the gadgets he employs. One of these is a laser thermometer. If he wants to see how hot something is, he doesn’t use no stinkin’ stick thermometer. He whips out his laser and shines it on the object. In a split second, a digital display tells him just how hot it is.

When I heard that RedEnvelope was offering Dad Bloggers (via Dad-Blogs.com) a chance to review some items from their Father’s Day Gifts collection, I was intrigued. When I saw the infrared laser BBQ thermometer on the list, I knew I had to review it.

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Keeping History Alive, Part 3: Ancestry.com

It’s been nearly a month since the last installment in my Keeping History Alive series. There was a good reason for this, though. I’ve been busy trying out Ancestry.com. The folks over at Ancestry.com were nice enough to give me a month free to review the site and I kind of got lost in it. Not in the “it’s a maze where you can’t find anything” sense. Their website is very well put together. It is both easy to use and feature-rich, a balance that can be hard to strike. Instead, I got lost in the “there’s so much information here I don’t know where to begin” sense.

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Keeping History Alive, Part 2: GRAMPS and the Family Tree

In Part 1, I explored how I scanned in my family’s old photos. After doing this, my "Preserve Family History" initiative languished for awhile. Then two things happened. First of all, I started watching "Who Do You Think You Are?" For those who haven’t seen it, it’s a wonderful show that takes a celebrity and traces their family’s history. It’s amazing to see Sarah Jessica Parker anguish over the fate of an ancestor charged with being a witch during the Salem Witch Trials. Or marveling with Emmit Smith over the cold calculations that went into the slave trade. While there are parts of the show I could do without (the "coming up next" clips that give away major surprises and the musical segment at the end), overall I really like the show.

The other thing that happened was that B’s grandmother had a fall about a month ago. I realized that her grandmother’s not going to live forever. I’ve already lost a huge family history resource on my side. With my grandmother’s passing last year, all of my grandparents are dead. On B’s side, her grandmother is the last one still living. I wanted to preserve as much family history as possible.

I began looking into programs to help me organize my geneological pursuits. I came upon a nice piece of free (and open source) software called GRAMPS. The interface took a little getting used to. I’ll admit that I came pretty close to deleting the whole deal a few times. Once I worked out how to operate it, though, I was amazed by how much information I could input into it. What really sealed the deal, though, was the portable version. Pop that onto a USB drive and you can tote your entire family tree around and work on it on any computer.

The fun doesn’t stop at inputting data, however. You can add plugins for GRAMPS that allow it to easily output the data to web pages, family trees, etc. Pretty much anything you want to do with your family history, you can do with GRAMPS. This is definitely a tool I’d recommend for people who want to keep a local family history.

Next week, I’ll expand my search beyond your PC to the World Wide Web and the various resources that are available there.

An Afternoon At the CinemaTube

Last year, I wrote a "Things that make me go *drool*" blog post highlighting some cool tech items I’d love to buy. The backpack and EA Sports Active were bought soon after that post. The Webcam, I bought a few weeks ago. (Well, a different model, but same idea. Review on that coming soon.)

The last item was a Portable Media Enclosure. I didn’t wind up buying this, but I did wind up winning something even better: The Brite-View CinemaTube. (Thanks to Brite-View and Jen from The Dirty Shirt for running the giveaway.) The Brite-View can connect to an external hard drive (which I happened to have an extra of) via USB. It can also connect to your home network and/or the Internet via Ethernet or optional Wi-Fi adapter. I purchased the Wi-Fi adapter and set up the Brite-View.

I’ll admit that my first impressions weren’t all that great. I encountered two big problems. Problem 1 was that the remote had a lag to it. If you pressed a button, you had to wait about 30 seconds before pushing another button. I worked with Brite-View’s customer support and finally realized that the problem was low battery charge in the remote control. Recharging the batteries overnight solved this issue.

The second problem was on the screen where I had to enter my wireless network’s password. The password was longer than the screen allowed and extra characters were added on the end, invisible to the user. This meant that any mistake towards the end was impossible to detect until the network connection failed and the long password had to be entered all over again. This problem was fixed with a firmware update. My takeaway from this is that Brite-View seems to be constantly striving to improve their product with firmware updates. (A good sign as no product is ever perfect.)

Those problems aside, I love the Brite-View. As I said in my "drool" post last year, I hate having to swap out DVDs. First, I need to move the inevitable pile of toys that gather in front of the DVD cabinet’s doors. Then I need to find the correct DVD. Then I need to put it in, keeping the case handy so I’ll be able to put it away when the kids are done with it. Discs can easily get misplaced or lost in the stack of DVDs.

My new system is to convert the DVD to MPEG, store them on the external hard drive and let the Brite-View play them. Even better, the Brite-View allows me to set up video playlists so I can have The Wiggles, followed by 2 Max and Ruby videos and ending with Sesame Street. In other words, I can have hours of kid-entertainment without a single disc to swap. I can also play/view music files or photos or add them to the playlist, but honestly my main use is movie viewing.

In addition, the CinemaTube can stream files from other computers on your home network. Just set up a desktop computer (or laptop, but desktops tend to be more "always on") as a server using TVersity, PlayOn or any similar UPNP media server. I tried TVersity, but want to try out PlayOn for the Netflix streaming capability. I’ll post a review update when I’ve done this, but I’m very excited about this possibility. (We could move the Roku to our bedroom and use the CinemaTube in the living room for Netflix streaming.)

The CinemaTube costs $99.99, or $119.99 for the CinemaTube and USB wireless adapter. At this price, it is well worth it. If I hadn’t won it, I would have gladly paid for the functionality the CinemaTube has provided me.

Sid The Science Kid Talkin’ Sid Review

During the giveaway I ran, I promised that I’d soon be reviewing the Talkin’ Sid The Science Kid plush as soon as I received it.  Well, it took a little longer than expected, mainly due to Chanukah swamping my kids with new toys.  They went into overload mode and I knew I wouldn’t get a good opinion out of them right then and there.  So I waited for the toy high to die down and then had them play with Talkin’ Sid. » Read more

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