The Gadget Bag
Posted Jan 4, 2006

The Gadget Man is back—in a new magazine with a whole new bag of tricks, and quick-hit tips that will help you shoot and produce video and run your business better.
          Let's get right down to business. With rising energy costs, here's a tip that will save you money. All those "wall wart" transformers that recharge your cell phone and power various electronic devices use energy, even if the phone is in your pocket and the electronics are turned off. Unplug them or get a couple of those special power strips that allow multiple wall warts to be plugged in and at the end of your work day, or simply flip the switch on the strip. TV reports state that the average home can save $5-$8 per month with this tip.

Tired of squinting at the viewfinder on the tiny LCD screen on your camera and don't want to spend the money on a larger LCD monitor for occasional use? Most portable DVD players have AUX input jacks that will allow you to feed any video (or audio) signal to their LCD screens.

Here's a tip for wedding videographers. How many of you have encountered the typical country club backlight problem for the head table? (Why do they always place that head table in front of the biggest window in the place?) While the only sure-fire way to correct the situation is to close the drapes, you can achieve a very acceptable picture by shooting at a downward angle, a side angle, or both (instead of head on). Changing angles—and keeping the image tightly framed—will minimize the amount of direct light hitting your camera lens.

Been thinking about replacing that tube monitor with an LCD unit on your editing system? Now would be a great time to do it. Not only are prices dropping, but there are a number of refurbished monitors on the market as low as $169 for a 17" and $229 for a 19" (remember, the advertised screen size of an LCD monitor is actual viewing area, so a 17" LCD is equal to a 19" tube). LCD monitors also use less electricity and give off less heat (saves on the AC), so you'll keep on saving.

The ultimate in equipment shelving is chrome (or black) wire shelving (sometimes known as bakers' racks). These units come in various sizes, with adjustable shelves that can support hundreds of pounds and heavy-duty casters for portability. The wire shelves allow full airflow around electronic equipment. And the shelf edging allows you to attach things like power strips or use twist ties or cable wraps to secure cabling and power cords. Average price for a 48"W x 72"H x 18"D unit is about $70. Mine holds my 24-deck VHS dub system, DA, two 9" monitors, JVC S-VHS/miniDV deck, DVD player, and format conversion deck. And I still have room on it.

Consumer Alert: I've experienced this problem for a while, but it has now escalated and is spreading to many home-based businesses. I'm talking about fax spam. A recent TV piece reported on this growing problem. Generally, it targets fax machines in the overnight hours. Not only is it a nuisance, but it wastes fax ink, toner, ribbons, and paper. Forget about replying to the "remove" number; many of the "businesses" that are sending the faxes are off-shore and outside the jurisdiction of U.S. laws, so those numbers are useless—as with email spam, they only confirm that the faxes are reaching an active destination. They are even using other (legitimate) businesses' names on the faxes!

What can you do? Here are some suggestions:

• Get a separate number or distinctive-ring number for the fax and disable it for the overnight hours. Few legitimate businesses send faxes outside of normal business hours.
• Contact your phone company and have them block "unknown" or "blocked" calls. It requires having caller ID service (which is free); most fax spammers block their IDs.
• Change your traditional fax to an Internet fax service (for receiving faxes only).

Training Tip: Take your camera out to lunch . . . take it for a walk . . . take it to feed the ducks. Too many videographers use their cameras only on the job, and do not really know their full capabilities. By taking your camera out and just playing with it, shooting just about anything, you might learn something that will help you out the next time you get into a unique lighting situation. It also helps to read the manual, too. Try all the buttons on the camera just to see what they do and how they affect the picture. What happens when you use functions in combination? To be an effective and proficient camera operator, you should know your gear, inside and out. You should also know where the more commonly used buttons are so you can adjust the image without taking your eye off what you are recording. It's especially helpful when shooting stage performances in the dark! You won't have to guess, but rather select decisively the adjustment you need to get the perfect shot.