Communications: I heard this tip the other day on how to save time on taking calls during working hours. Simply let your answering machine do the answering and return the calls in batches. This way random calls are not interrupting your workflow, and you're taking advantage of "down time" to make those contacts.
If you still like answering your phone whenever it rings, a cordless phone with a headset is also a timesaver. Clipped to your belt and leaving both hands free, it will allow you to continue your multitasking throughout the day. I have a two-line system that allows me to monitor my home phone or create a three-way conference call.
Before you run out and buy whatever is on sale, note these variables: There are three different bands, both analog and digital voice transmission, single or multiple handsets, Bluetooth-compatible, etc. Spend the extra money and get a 5.8GHz digital spread-spectrum system. This type of system is the least susceptible to eavesdropping—the spread-spectrum distributes your voice over several different frequencies at the same time so conversations cannot be monitored outside of your connection.
On the other end of the price band is the analog system, which is very easy to pick up on any receiver that can access those frequencies. The higher frequency also minimizes or eliminates interference (both transmitting and receiving) with other RF devices like wireless internet or even your microwave oven (which can cause interference with many lower-priced cordless phones).
Although most cordless phones have headset jacks, don't assume that they do. Always double check. And as for headsets, don't skimp there either. If you are like me, they are on your head for several hours every day, and comfort is paramount. After destroying several cheaper models, I am currently using an AT&T model that cost about $25 and provides good fidelity and comfort, and even works with my cell phone!
Security: Now that you have all your high-tech goodies, you will want protect them. Again, here you have many choices, ranging from simple, low-cost entry alarms that are self-contained, stick-on modules that alert you with a high-pitched (and annoying) chirping-like siren if someone has opened a window or door. I've seen these in combo packs of 10 for $25.
On the other end of the scale are monitored commercial systems, which can cost thousands to install and require a monthly fee to have monitored. Most of us would probably fall somewhere in the middle.
Having a wired entry system already in place in my home/studio, I recently decided to bring up the security level a bit by installing a camera system. I ended up with a Lorex system that comes with four cameras (expandable to eight), a 15" color monitor with a two-page quad display and video outs, and an internet interface that enables you to monitor your property from anywhere you have internet access. This is a great package for the do-it-yourself type with about $600 (price at BJ's Wholesale Club) to spare. I even have an RF converter that places the video signal on Channel 4 on every TV in the house! How is that for security?
Here's a heads-up that I will pass on for anyone who is considering a wireless security camera system. While they are easy to set up and can be placed anywhere (they are wireless), they also actually aid in theft! Most of these systems operate at 1.2 or 2.4GHz and can be monitored and received by any other system that operates at those frequencies. There is no encryption or scrambling, so the picture of your facility is available to anyone within 100-200 feet!
This may not be a problem if you are just monitoring the outside of your home or business, but if you use it to see the interior, you are essentially advertising the contents of your home or business. And yes, just like with wireless internet, there are lowlifes that drive around with RF scanners looking for live signals to steal.
Rapid-fire tips: Never seem to have any gaffer's tape when you need it? Rip off a few strips and place them on your tripods legs (upper part). Use gray tape for aluminum sticks and black tape for black tripods, that way no one a few feet away will even see it. Stick a few strips inside the covers of your hard-shell camera and equipment cases (behind the foam).
Did you know that you can save serious money if you download software and upgrades, sometimes as much as 50%? Almost all major software companies will offer download packages.
Also, check with equipment manufacturers for firmware upgrades. Most are free. But I wouldn't attempt this unless you have a cable modem or DSL—if not, it might take forever to download.
On the web: Finally, here are some handy websites:
If you have a quick tip or have seen a cool website that you'd like to share, email me and I will include them in the next column (with attribution, of course).
Ed Wardyga, owner of Keepsake Video and KVI Media in Rhode Island, has been producing event video since 1989, specializing in stage productions. He runs the Web site www.theGadgetBag.net and is the recipient of the WEVA Walter Bennett Service to Industry Award.