Tuesday, December 12, 2017

ProTech's kit jumpstarts electronics hobbyists

Earlier this month I wrote about Charles Platt's book Easy Electronics, which contains a instructions for building super-simple electronics projects. I also mentioned ProTech Trader, an online store that sells sets of components that are needed for Pratt's projects. 

Pratt's book is aimed at younger hobbyists and other novices who are just starting to explore the world of electronics.

But Pratt has another book called Make: Electronics 2nd Edition for folks who want to tackle something a bit more challenging. For example, it will explain how to program microcontrollers to work with things like home automation devices and even robots.

And ProTech Trader has a kit for that book as well.

The Make: Electronics 2nd Edition Component Pack is a double-sided carrying case that is crammed with items such as a solder less breadboard for prototyping circuits, bipolar transistors, low-current LEDS, battery connectors, potentiometers and other testing devices.

The kits come in a variety of configurations with prices starting at about $75. You can order them from ProTech's page on Amazon or through the ProTech Trader website.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Discounts available for Namecheap hosting services

As we roll toward the big Christmas holidays, my family is doing a lot of shopping online. And they're probably sick of hearing me repeat my online shopping mantra:

Before you buy, look for coupons.

They know about the coupons that come in the mail and in the newspaper, but they often forget that many websites provide coupons in the form of discount codes that can deliver some serious savings.

And not just savings on groceries or toys. One site I could offers discount codes for discounts on website hosting, domain registrations, and virtual private servers from Namecheap.

According to its website, Namecheap is an ICANN-accredited domain name registrar and web hosting company that manages about 7 million domains.

Namecheap coupons currently posted at the Saving With Coupons site offer a variety of discounts, from 10% off on domain registrations or transfers to 40% off on VPS hosting. Links on the site take visitors directly to the corresponding product pages at Namecheap where the discount codes can be redeemed.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Mic-Lock thwarts audio snoopers

Last year CEO Mark Zuckerberg celebrated Facebook reaching 500 million monthly users by posting a photo of himself on Instagram. The background of the photo also made news.

One sharp-eyed viewer noticed that the Mac on the desk behind Zuckerberg had tape over it's camera.

No big surprise there - folks like NSA leaker Edward Snowden have warned us about snoopers getting access to our webcams. Even former FBI director James Comey covered his laptop camera.

But the photo also showed a bit of tape over the microphone port of the MacBook behind Zuckerberg.

Can snoops also listen to us throughout computer's microphone jack? The answer, it turns out, is yes. An article published by Wired magazine described one possible approach:

Researchers at Israel's Ben Gurion University have created a piece of proof-of-concept code they call "Speake(a)r," designed to demonstrate how determined hackers could find a way to surreptitiously hijack a computer to record audio even when the device's microphones have been entirely removed or disabled. 

And now one company has come up with an easy device to block that vulnerability.

Mic-Lock is a small device that looks like the plug end of headphones or earbud. The Mic-Lock developers say the device "tricks your computer" into thinking that it is connected to a live mic.

With the Mic-Lock plugged in, it becomes the computer's default microphone - but no audio is transmitted. In essence, Mic-Lock makes the computer or smartphone deaf.

The device is designed to work with Windows or Mac computers and with Android or iOS phones an tablets.

The Mic-Lock sells for $4.99 and is available on the Mic-Lock website.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Kit and book offers electronics for beginners

When my son was much younger, he expressed an interest in learning about electronics and I thought I had a great solution. I ordered one of the DIY kits advertised in the back of a magazine that promised a project that would be fun and easy.

It turned out to be neither and we both quickly lost our enthusiasm.

I suspect that things would have been much different if Charles Platt would have been around. Platt writes books for electronics hobbyists that are aimed at the complete novice. Platt's latest book is Easy Electronics, a book that includes projects so simple that Platt says you don't even need a screwdriver.

Of course, readers will need a few component items to create the experiments in Platt's book. A company called ProTech Trader has put together a collection of items specifically to match Platt's projects. And, it offers the kit bundled with Platt's book on Amazon.

The book and kit bundle costs $49.99 or you can buy just the component pack for $41.99. For more details, check out the ProTech Trader website.

Monday, December 4, 2017

FreshBooks has choice accounting tools for Macs

We're closing in on the end of another year and that means I've gone another 12 months using  home-brewed and half-baked accounting system to run my home-based business.

Maybe 2018 will be the year that I'll get serious about my business and get a quality accounting package like FreshBooks.

As someone who uses two Macs and a variety of iOS devices, FreshBooks sounds like the obvious choice. It tracks projects, financial reports, time logs, and invoices and keeps everything synchronized, whether I'm using a desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone.

One key element of FreshBooks is the ability to quickly generate and deliver an invoice to a client, which means you're likely to get paid faster.

The invoices are customized with a business's brand and logo and clients get a personalized thank you email. And users can offer their clients a variety of online payment options, which can also make money move faster.

Other tools will record business expenses and track time spent by you and your team members on different projects. The FreshBook reporting features give clients a clear picture of how much time and money you devoted to their project.

And maybe my tax preparer will give me a discount when I give hime reports and summaries instead of notes and spreadsheets.

FreshBooks offers a free 30-day trail and doesn't require a credit card to take the test drive.

For more details, visit the FreshBooks website and check out the video below. You can also follow @freshbooks on Twitter.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Cards in Motion puts video inside brochures

During a recent chat with a medical specialist, the doctor handed me a packet of information about a procedure he wanted me to consider.

When I opened the packet at home, I found a printed brochure, several other papers and a DVD. As you might guess, I started my research by watching the video.

In today’s world of YouTube and 500-channel TV services, we are all getting more focused on video. A story told with moving images and sound can easily have more impact than one told with world and static images.    

Cards in Motion is a media production company that has found a way to build a brochure that incorporates printed information, still images and full-motion video.

Their brochures represent a logical evolution beyond the DVD that my doctor gave me. In their brochures, the video plays on an embedded LCD screen when the front cover is lifted.  The video mailers are custom designed to fit each client’s needs and budget. Screen sizes can be as small as  2.4" — about the size of the screen on an iPod Nano - 10.1" — larger than a standard iPad.

Prices for the brochures vary, depending on the screen size and number of units ordered. To request a quote, visit the Cards in Motion website.

New wearable device shares your location and environment

Now that our daughter is old enough to have her own family, she’s delighted to tell us about all the tricks she played on us when she was a teenager.

We would drop her off at the local shopping mall where she said she would spend the evening with her friends. But in fact, they slipped out the back door where boys were waiting to take them to some unknown house party.

I’m betting that her daughters will all have the Lotus by Seam as one of their required fashion accessories.

Developed by Seam Technic, the Lotus is a small wearable device that lets parents and friends keep track of loved ones by recording and transmitting a variety of environmental information including GPS location , photos and audio.

At home, her mother could use a mobile app to see what she sees and hear what she hears. And if any difficulties would arise, she could make a hands-free phone call while sharing her location.

The Seam system lets users record audio and still images captured from two button-style recorders, one facing to the front, the other with a rear view.

Users can share the data and images privately with up to five friends our guardians. Or, they can have the system trigger a call to an emergency phone number while still capturing GPS location data. The data logs are stored in the cloud for up to three months while the service is in its launch stage.

As a parent, I was especially attracted by the safety element of the Seam system. But Seam founder and CEO Drew Henson said he created the system primarily to help his family members feel more connected to him while he was away from home traveling the world. “It’s a seamless way to feel connected, social and safe,” he said.

The Lotus by Seam is scheduled to launch a funding campaign on Kickstarter on Nov. 1. The Lotus recording devices are expected to see for $119 but early supporters will be able to reserve them on Kickstarter for up to 40% less.

The Seam apps are available now for free in the iOS App Store and the Google Play Store. More details are available on the Seam Technic website and @Seam_technic on Twitter.

Monday, October 30, 2017

This lottery runs on Ethereum blockchain

One of the reasons crypto currencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum have been getting more attention and appreciating in value is they operate on a blockchain, a sort of open-source digital ledger that makes trading activity accessible to everyone.

Blockchain technology is being discussed as a potential new platform for a wide range of activities, from banking to real estate transactions.

The people behind ETH93 have come up with another new idea. They’ve created a daily letter that that runs on the Ethereum blockchain.

Ethereum in particular has been gaining traction in the crypto world because its code can include “smart contract” created by developers. For instance, a smart contract might specify that fund could only be spent or transferred once a designated percentage of people agree. In this case, the contract code is posted on the ETH93 website.

Tickets for the ETH93 lottery cost 0.01 Ether (about $3.10 today). You can’t buy in with dollars or other fiat currency. The daily winner is determined by a random number. The payout gives 93% to the winner, 1% to the developers and 1% to ETH93 token holders. The remaining 5% goes to Heifer International, a charity devoted to fighting poverty and hunger.

For more details, visit the ETH93 website.

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