Roku 3 Streaming Media Player

We’ve used the Roku for several months now. It enabled us to “cut the cable.” There are plenty of great Roku channels including PBS (which makes my wife happy to get to watch Downton Abbey!), Netflix, Amazon, and Spotify. Roku coupled with our Amazon Prime subscription and Hulu Plus means that we get to watch pretty much anything we want when we want to watch it.

Also, we do much more mindful television consumption this way. What I mean is, we no longer have cable so we no longer turn the TV on the minute we get home from work and mindlessly watch whatever is on and far too often, there was NOTHING worth watching on 100+ channels. Plus, with the exception of Hulu, there are no commercials — BONUS!

Finally, we love the Roku Media channel, which allows us to view our pictures and videos or listen to our music on a USB drive that you plug into the side of the Roku. It does help to have a high-speed net connection. We recently traded in our Comcast “high speed” net for FIOS and it has improved the buffering and time-outs from quite often to non-existent. I’ve never used others, this is my first media streaming television device, but for the cost, I sure feel like it is a great deal!

-- Scott Buel  

[This replaces the Roku 2, reviewed here.]

Roku 3 Streaming Media Player
$85

Available from Amazon



 

The Truth Behind Old Comic Book Novelties and Other Great Books

Wink is Cool Tools’ website that reviews one remarkable paper book every weekday. We take photos of the covers and the interior pages of the books to show you why we love them.

This week we reviewed:

R. Crumb: The Weirdo Years (1981 – 1993) – All of Robert Crumb’s work from his fantastic Weirdo Years

Mail-Order Mysteries – Revealing the truth behind the outlandish gizmos advertised in comic books during the 1960s-70s

Warhammer 40,000 (7th Edition) – New rules, new game direction, and surprisingly lovely new rulebooks for the popular tabletop role-playing game

The Red Book – Carl Jung’s amazing self-illustrated dream journal

The Day-Glo Brothers — The story of Day-Glo paint, told with Day-Glo inks

Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities —  Striking artifacts from one of the masters of fantasy and horror

Take a look at sample pages from these books and many others at Wink. And sign up for our Wink newsletter to get all the reviews and photos delivered once a week.

-- Mark Frauenfelder  



75 Questions About Science and Other Great Books

Wink is Cool Tools’ website that reviews one remarkable paper book every weekday. We take photos of the covers and the interior pages of the books to show you why we love them.

This week we reviewed:

Typewriter Art: A Modern Anthology – A handsome collection of this little-known art form

The Where the Why and the How – 75 questions that can’t be conclusively answered by an iPhone


Letter Fountain
– A stunningly well-crafted bible of typography

Adventure Time: A Totally Math Poster Collection – Featuring 20 Removable Frameable Prints


Stencil Republic
– 20 laser-cut, brown-paper stencils bound on perforated pages


The Good Life Lab
– Moving from a high-powered life in New York to off-the-grid living in New Mexico

Take a look at these books and many others at Wink. And sign up for our Wink newsletter to get all the reviews and photos delivered once a week.

-- Mark Frauenfelder  



 

Wink’s Remarkable Book Picks of the Week

Wink is Cool Tools’ website that reviews one remarkable paper book every weekday. We take photos of the covers and the interior pages of the books to show you why we love them.

This week we reviewed:

The Good Life Lab – Moving from a high-powered life in New York to off-the-grid living in New Mexico

The Ashley Book of Knots – Thousands of old timey knots, both useful and decorative.

The Philosophy Book – An absorbing introductory course on philosophers throughout the ages

Masters of Deception – Optical illusion masterpieces by 20 different artists


Pirate Nightmare Vice Explosion
– Found remnants of an amateur dadaist’s library

The Essential Scratch and Sniff Guide to Becoming a Wine Expert – a playful, simple, informative book about wine and its many delectable smells

Take a look at these books and many others at Wink. And sign up for our Wink newsletter to get all the reviews and photos delivered once a week.

-- Mark Frauenfelder  



 

Wink’s Remarkable Book Picks of the Week

Wink is Cool Tools’ website that reviews one remarkable paper book every weekday. We take photos of the covers and the interior pages of the books to show you why we love them.

This week we reviewed:

The High Fidelity Art of Jim Flora – Joyously explosive art from a forgotten illustrator of 1940s jazz records

Big Meals for Little Hands – Sophisticated meals that kids will enjoy making as well as eating


Dian Hanson’s History of Pin-Up Magazines
– A jaw-dropping seventy-year history of prurient pulp

The Timechart History of the World – A spectacular 14-foot-long foldable chart that graphs world history from 4,000 BC to today

Graffiti World: Street Art From Five Continents – Jam-packed with 2000 images, Graffiti World is the best gallery of world-wide street art

The Engineer’s Sketchbook – A collection of timeless mechanical concepts explained with basic principles

Take a look at these books and many others at Wink. And sign up for our Wink newsletter to get all the reviews and photos delivered once a week.

-- Mark Frauenfelder  



Wink’s Remarkable Book Picks of the Week

Wink is Cool Tools’ website that reviews one remarkable paper book every weekday. We take photos of the covers and the interior pages of the books to show you why we love them.

This week we reviewed:

Codex Seraphinianus – the weirdest book you’ve ever seen

The Oldest Living Things in the World – a captivating look at ancient organisms along with a personal memoir of science and adventure

Strange Maps – q collection of fun and peculiar maps that you won’t find in an ordinary atlas

Art Forms from the Ocean – exquisite drawings of single-celled plankton

How to be a Genius – fun exercises to boost your brainpower

X’ed Out and The Hive – a thrilling continuous nightmare by comix master Charles Burns

Take a look at these books and many others at Wink. And sign up for our Wink newsletter to get all the reviews and photos delivered once a week.

-- Mark Frauenfelder  



LG HX350T LED Projector

LG projector.jpeg

Recently, a friend of mine blurted out upon seeing the size and array of inputs on my LG HX350T projector, “This is the SMC Barricade of projectors!” The SMC Barricade was a great wireless router. Hackable, cheap, simple, versatile. Nothing like high-end, but a reliable piece of gear that did far more than its size and price implied. It’s a fair description of this projector. It’s easily portable (1.7 lbs), has thoughtfully arranged inputs and menus, and comes with a nice full-size (not membrane-keyed credit-card sized) remote control.

I’ve been watching LED projectors for a while. This is my second, and the first I’ve actually bought (the other was a demo unit). While at 300-lumens it’s no longer the brightest LED-based projector in its price class (Optoma now has one with slightly better resolution claiming 500-lumens ), as far as I know this is the cheapest LED option at this junction of brightness and resolution to feature a built-in tuner. The tuner works well enough, though I’ve tried it only briefly and with conventional (non-HD) resolution. For $50 less, you can also go tuner-free.

Besides the coax input for cable signal, there are inputs for a composite TV signal, VGA, and HDMI signals, as well as a USB slot. You can plug in a USB key with video files in any of a fairly wide array of supported formats, and play them straight from there. It’s not the very smallest LED projector on the market, but it’s hard to see how it could be much smaller and still have so many input options.

All the inputs in the world don’t matter if the output doesn’t look good though, and I’m happy to report that, to my eye, it looks great. On any white (or even light-colored) wall, the image is sharp enough for my taste; on a screen, though, it’s even better. (I’m using it with an Epson Duet 80” screen, selected for portability, and for having a wide-screen mode.) Realism dictates that a 300-lumen projector be used in a room that’s not brightly lit. In a dark room, it has no problem providing a 6-8 foot 720p movie screen. You’ll never mistake the output for that of a multi-mega-lumen high-end projector. This is a game of trade-offs. For my purposes, computer demos, home video screenings, late-night movies, and projecting scary scenes for a home-made haunted house, it works fine so long as I can control the lighting. In a room that’s merely dim, it still looks great in the 40″ range, which is a pleasant way to use it as an adjunct computer monitor.

Speaking of which: this projector is very nearly plug-and-play on my laptop, which is currently running Linux Mint (Debian Edition). I had to click on the “Monitors” control widget to specify its spatial relationship to the laptop’s own screen, but that’s about it. Even for this perpetual newbie, it was blessedly trivial. I plugged in the HDMI cable, and suddenly I had my first dual-monitor setup.

The sound is an understandable weak point in a tiny projector. Rather than harp on this, I accept that the output of the miniscule in-built speaker is on the wrong side of mediocre, and choose to adopt the attitude of “You mean it has *sound*?!” If you want better sound, or surround sound, bring your own. (There’s a stereo minijack on the back, which can be connected to a stereo, or computer speakers, or headphones; you could instead hook up your video source itself to whatever sound system you’ve got on hand.)

My only other niggles with this device: the first is that the focus wheel doesn’t have much throw. I haven’t actually had any trouble getting acceptable focus, but I wish it had more room for fine-tuning. The second is that there’s no zoom lens, so you must figure out a physical arrangement of projector / screen / source that works for you. A cheap camera tripod might be in my future.

It comes with a fairly nice carrying bag and cables for VGA and analog signals, but not HDMI. My advice: go mail order, and save the big-box store markup on an HDMI cable.

The Optoma I mentioned beats this one on most specs, but weighs (a bit) more and does (slighly) less, so I remain happy and declare this a very cool tool. And I’m looking forward to its successors!

-- Timothy Lord  

LG HX350T LED Projector
$650

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by LG



InjectIR HDMI/IR Adapter

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When you’re hanging an HDTV on a wall, the biggest pain is fishing wires through walls to the video equipment that’s hidden in a closet or another room. It is necessary to run an HDMI cable through the wall for the audio/video, but the other pain is figuring out how to control all of your hidden equipment with your remote controls since remotes require a direct view to work (like Blu-Ray player and TIVO in the case of my parents). This tool is really cool because it lets you use the HDMI cable that is already installed to relay the IR signal back to your equipment so I don’t have to run a second wire through the walls.

I’m the one in my huge obnoxious family that everyone asks to wire their house with an ethernet network, surround sound system, home theater set-up, etc. This is my third home theater set-up job, the other two I’ve used a wiring system that requires you to screw a connector block to the closet where the equipment is and to run these wires through the wall. That took hours. This kit takes a couple minutes to set up. All you really have to do is unplug your HDMI cable from your TV, plug in the IR injector adapter, and replug the HDMI cable into the IR injector adapter (and then repeat on the video equipment side). Then, I just took the IR blaster that is on the equipment side and pointed it in the direction of the video equipment, and it works like a charm 100% of the time.
injectIR-Diagram.jpeg
In the past I have used the wired kit from Cables to Go a couple times. It is a really reliable kit, but it is almost twice as expensive and takes twice as long to install. I’ve also seen other wireless models but read in forums that those convert the IR signal into an RF signal that can go through walls, but that the RF signal is too similar to your wifi signal and so the interference makes it not work 100% of the time.

-- Colin Cameron  

InjectIR IR over HDMI for Remote Controls Adapter
$45

Available from and manufactured by Sewell



Google Drawing

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The best simple drawing program there is is hidden away inside of Google Docs. It’s free, and completely intuitive to use. Google Drawing is the opposite of Adobe’s Illustrator, which while insanely deep (and expensive) requires hours if not years to master. You can draw with this one in seconds. The controls of Google’s app follow the same general novice format as those in Power Point, or Word, but don’t require any other software beyond your browser. More importantly, it is a no-brainer to export the drawing directly to the web, or as a jpeg or even PDF. And it has the usual advantages of cloud life: the drawing can be collaboratively worked, and it is backed up automatically. Despite being idiot-proof you can do amazingly sophisticated work with it — diagrams, charts, doodles, or paint over photographic images. For 99% of your drawing needs, this handy free app will satisfy nicely. As Jerry Micalski, who introduced me to this gem, said of it: “it’s as simple as MacDraw but smart enough to publish to a Web page.”

googledraw2.jpg

-- KK  

Google Docs Drawings
If you’re already signed into Google Docs, click the “Create new” button, drop down to Drawing



TinEye

TinEye is a handy reverse image search engine. If finds where on the web an image comes from. You can use it to find where a photo of yours appears elsewhere, to find a higher res version of an image, or to locate the origins of a photo someone forwarded to you.

It does not use keywords, watermarks, or inbound links (as Google does) to locate images; rather it locates images via matching digital fingerprints of the image’s pixel arrays. This means it can find images that have been renamed, or cropped slightly, or even screen grabbed.

Currently TinEye is not exhaustive. In my experience it won’t find all the copies of an image. (They only claim to recognize a billion images so far, which is a small subset of all images on the web.) But it will find enough to be useful.

It can browse your hard disk for a target image, but even cooler is the Firefox plugin which enables you to select in image on a web page and in a click find where else on the web this image also appears.

-- KK  

[TinEye's business model seems to be using this technology in mobile phones to identify products. You snap a picture of an item and it gives you info about where to buy it, sample it, etc. Their first product (which I have not tried) is an iPhone App that recognizes CD covers (the few still being bought!) to provide you with the iTunes album options on your phone. If you have you used this App or anything similar and can report positively or negatively, please let us know below in the comments or via the submit page. -- KK]

Sample Excerpts:
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