Over the past couple of months, I've come across a number of products, websites, and tips that I just have to share with you.
The first is something called the Power Squid by Power Sentry. They make a number of innovative power-sharing devices that look like their namesake cephalopod. The unusual design allows every outlet to accept a wall wart, regardless of the plug's size. A number of different models are available, starting with a five-outlet version for about $15 and going up to a six-outlet model with surge protection for $50.
Computer-accessory manufacturer Belkin has designed a portable wireless router billed as the Travel Router. This 802.11g series wireless device is also backwards-compatible with 802.11b and has a range of up to 300 feet. What makes this device so different is that it can be used as an adapter to add wireless capabilities to your computer for connecting to WiFi hotspots, plus it also can be used as an access point to expand the coverage area of an existing network. And it's built like a tank, with a reinforced carrying case, so you can throw it into your carry-on luggage without worrying about damage. MSRP is $70, but I've found it online for less than $50.
Still waiting for Blu-ray or HD DVD? Well the next best thing is a DVD player from a company called Oppo Digital. The model DV970HD is a $149 DVD player that up-converts standard-def DVDs to 720p or 1080i via an HDMI output (HDMI cable included). "Big deal," you say, "I can do that with a regular DVD player." Not so. Component outputs on DVD players will only transmit video at the resolution encoded on the DVD. This unit actually employs a resolution increaser that produces some pretty surprising results. Independent testing has indicated that this increased resolution is real and does create a better picture approaching HD in quality.
Are you one of those people who saves your receipts for everything, only to go nuts at tax time spending countless hours sorting and separating? Or, like me, do you collect business cards at conventions like NAB, only to have drawers full of stacks of cards all bundled with elastic bands? Neat Receipts can save you from the logistical nightmare of searching those stacks, with a 12" x 3" scanner called the Scanalizer, which lets you feed your receipts or business cards through to your computer via a USB port. The size makes it extremely portable (handy for business trips).
So why is a miniature scanner worth the $190 MSRP? The software. The intelligent software will categorize your receipts and insert them into a spreadsheet, sort your business cards, and even import them directly into Microsoft Outlook or V-Card. You can also scan full documents and save them as Adobe PDF files.
Looking for some web design info, I did a Google search and found a very informative website that listed hundreds of how-to's in dozens of categories. Not just a list of links, but pages of instructions, all listed by groups and with single-line descriptions. Called eHow, it boasts 14 main topics. The computer section has many sub-sections and covers almost everything you would want to know about your computer—how to set up email, how to install software, and how to design a website are just a very small sample of the topics eHow covers. Check it out. I'll bet that everyone will find at least one thing that will solve a problem (or two).
Here is a practical tip that was inspired by Don Gunn of Florida. Don started having problems with his Sony PD150s and PD170s when he would use his Motorola FRS-band radios near the cameras. The radios would cause visual and audio anomalies every time they were used on a shoot. My first thought was that the headsets were acting as an antenna to transmit stray RF signals that caused the problems, but I was wrong. In the course of troubleshooting, one of Don's crew members checked the camera's menu and found the image stabilization was turned on. He switched it off, and the problem disappeared. I remember reading and hearing of various forms of interference on Sony cameras, and they all happened with image stabilization on and disappeared with it off. These issues included radio interference, picture "glitches" in the presence of loud audio, and the picture being scrambled when shooting in close proximity to a radio or TV transmitter/antenna. So if you have experienced any problems as described above, check to see if the image stabilization is turned on. If so, problem solved.
As your kids head back to school this fall, you should think about furthering your own education. Everyone should create an education fund in their operating budget to attend a workshop or seminar to learn new techniques such as editing tricks on system-specific software. Depending on your overall budget, try to set aside $1,000-$1,500 each year toward this goal. Many don't realize that education has a faster payback than any equipment and won't become obsolete as quickly. In addition, most education expenses are tax-deductible (see your tax advisor), and this is the best way to keep current and ahead of your competition. How-to books and tutorial DVDs and CDs are probably the least expensive ways to accomplish this, but live workshops and seminars provide the one-on-one help that canned instruction can't. Do some research and get educated. A well-informed mind or a fine-tuned skill set may be the most useful "gadget" in your bag.