Video capture tech has come a long way.

Back when Courtney graduated high school in 2008, I wanted to put together a DVD of home movies of her to play on a loop during her open house. Naturally, this required buying a video capture card so I could get the footage into my PC and then burn them out to a DVD.

Click to embiggen.

I ended up buying a KWORLD DVD MAKER PCI card. You put it into an open PCI slot in your computer and it had a single S-Video connector for the input. Plug your VCR into that, load up the capture software, press record in the software and play on the VHS and, in the amount of time it takes to play back the video tape, you had a video file on your machine. I don’t remember how much it cost at the time, but it probably wasn’t more than $80 to $100 and it worked reasonably well for what I wanted it for. I still have the card around here someplace, but I’ve not had a motherboard with PCI slots on it in ages.

I thought about it recently when I stumbled across the manual while digging through my boxes of computer stuff looking for something entirely unrelated. I realized that we have a number of home videos locked onto VHS that are going to end up deteriorating at some point so I should probably think about making digital copies. Mostly videos of Christmas gatherings, but also some parades mom marched in as a clown and I think a birthday or two. When my mother moved in, she brought a working VHS/DVD combo player with her so I had half of what I needed to make this a project.

So, today I went onto Amazon and started looking at video capture options and there is no shortage of products to choose from. With the rise of YouTube and gamers wanting to share videos of gameplay, there are a ton of them that don’t even need a computer to work. You just hook it up to whatever you want to capture from and pass the signal through to a display and it’ll capture the video to a microSD card in the device itself. There’s several that are full-on PCIe cards meant for industrial usage that have multiple inputs. Then there’s an absolute shit ton of USB based products.

The last option is the one I decided to go with, purchasing a “REDGO Video Audio VHS VCR USB Video Capture Card to DVD Converter Capture Card Adapter” as it’s labeled on Amazon. It should be arriving sometime tomorrow and the difference in size between the KWORLD PCI card and the REDGO USB stick is impressive.

Even more impressive? It costs $9.99. Now that could be because it does a crappy job and, admittedly, it is not the highest rated of the USB based capture cards out there. That said, it shows up on a lot of recommended lists as a second or third option behind the best.

The best one being from Elgato, maker of many of the stand-alone game capture devices as well as PCI cards. Their Elgato Video Capture will set you back $88, which was a bit more than I wanted to spend. I can justify tossing $10 and some change (after tax) at the REDGO option and if it turns out to be shitty, well, I’m only out $10 if Amazon won’t accept a return. Which they almost certainly would.

Elgato’s much more expensive, but arguably better, option.

Now I’m all set to digitize all the old home movies to my PC. With the 4TB mechanical HD I have as a data/backup drive, I should have more than enough room to save the files and then load them up in DaVinci Resolve for a try at editing them a bit.

Given that it’s been 13 years since I bought the last capture card, I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised at how the tech has advanced. Still, when I see the image of the naked board in the USB device compared to the PCI card of the old one, it still impresses me. I’ll let you guys know how good of a job it does. I’m not expecting miracles as we are talking digitizing Standard Definition VHS tapes and then playing them back on high resolution flat panels, but it’s better than losing the videos altogether.

Do fidget spinners actually help people with ADHD?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll already know that one of the latest fads gripping the nation is the Fidget Spinner. They come in a wide range of shapes and sizes, but the most common is a three pronged shape with an axle in the middle that allows you to spin it. Repeatedly. That’s it. That’s all it does.

Here’s an example:

Hours of endless entertainment!

Like any fad, it didn’t take long before some folks making these things started to make a lot of claims about how they were more than just a pointless toy. They could help you with a number of conditions including ADHD, autism, and anxiety.

I’ve discussed the fact that I have ADHD many times in the past and one of the ways it manifests for me is through fidgeting. When I am focusing on something (like writing a blog entry) I tend to bounce my knee a lot or I’ll wiggle the heel of my foot (like I’m doing now). If I’m standing up and engaging in conversation with someone it’s not uncommon for my right hand to be in my jeans pocket fiddling with a USB flash drive cap or fondling coins. So something like this could potentially appeal to me, but I’m skeptical of the claims being made and it turns out many psychologists are as well:

“Using a spinner-like gadget is more likely to serve as a distraction than a benefit for individuals with ADHD,” said Mark Rapport, a clinical psychologist at the University of Central Florida who has studied the benefits of movement on attention in people with ADHD.

There haven’t been any studies done to establish whether the claims are true or not. So the folks at BuzzFeed decided to give some spinners to employees with ADHD for a week and see what they thought. This is not in any way a scientific study, but it’s interesting just the same:

So it seems it’s of some benefit to some people, but probably not life changing in any way. One person reports that it helped more with her anxiety than it did with her ability to focus her attention. Overall this supports the idea that the claims are overblown, but, again, it’s not exactly a rigorous study.

Personally, I don’t think it would work for me because it’s too busy and would be more of a distraction because it would be pulling my attention away from what I need to be focusing on. It might be a way to alleviate boredom, but all that motion would easily be my undoing.

That said, I’ve given serious thought to buying a Fidget Cube. These are more along the lines of what I already do when I continuously pop the cap on and off the flash drive in my pocket. This is a small cube of plastic with a number of things on it to enable fidgeting such as a rocker switch, a combo dial like you’d find on luggage, a small ball bearing that spins in a socket, and so on. None of them do a damned thing other than give your hands something to do. More importantly for me, none of them are so visually stimulating that I’d be tempted to look at it yet would still supply tactile feedback. The folks who came up with this idea had a Kickstarter project for it a couple of years back that was very successful. Needless to say, just like with fidget spinners, there are already hundreds of knockoffs.

Here’s the YouTube ad they put out to promote it:

As you can see, this is the sort of thing you could keep in your pocket, but even if you take it out it’s less likely to distract everyone around you than a fidget spinner. Again, there’s no evidence that this would necessarily improve my (or anyone else’s) ability to focus our attention, but at least I wouldn’t be wearing out the caps to my USB flash drives.

The one drawback to the Fidget Cube over a Fidget Spinner is that you can’t do wicked sick tricks with the cube:

Bonus video from Ice Cream Sandwich:

What about you guys? Any of you give into this fad and pick one up? If so, do you feel it helps with focusing your attention or do you just like to spin for the sake of spinning?


Sony kills off the Walkman.

Pic of a Sony Walkman

And another fond childhood memory bites the dust.

Sony just announced the other day that they have ceased production of the cassette tape playing Sony Walkman in Japan. The last shipment was sent out this past April and there will be no more. Well, no more from Sony. Apparently some Chinese company has the rights to keep making them under the Sony name for sale outside of Japan.

It’s hard to believe that these devices are over 30 years old — the first was sold in 1979 — and I can clearly remember how it wasn’t long before everyone was producing portable tape players that were quite similar. I don’t think I ever actually owned a Sony Walkman, but I did own several of the imitators and I burned through more than my fair share of AA batteries listening to tapes until they wore out from overuse. In high school the trading of mix-tapes was a big activity for a lot of kids, myself included.

Of course these days the lowly Walkman has been supplanted by the plethora of MP3 players capable of storing months of music in them as opposed to 60 to 80 minutes. Looking back on it now it seems almost paleolithic in comparison, but even though I’ve not owned one for years it still feels like it wasn’t that long ago.

I suppose it’s a sign that I’m getting old that announcements like this make me feel a bit sad. I felt the same way when Sony announced they were dropping production of Floppy Disks earlier this year as well. Now that I think about it I wasn’t even aware that Sony was still making cassette tape Walkmans so I’m not sure why I should be disappointed to hear that they’ve stopped.

And yet I am. I had a lot of quality time with my imitation Walkman back in the day. Good times when there was less to worry about and more time to get things done.

Yeah, I’m a sentimental fool about some things.

Wherein I rave about my love for Canon digital products.

I’ve been a big fan of Canon products ever since I purchased a Canon CanoScan N670U flatbed scanner after upgrading to Windows XP. I had an HP scanner prior to that which stopped working after the XP upgrade because HP couldn’t be bothered to make proper drivers for the new OS. After several months of half-assed solutions from HP their tech support suggested I “stop being an asshole and buy a new scanner.” So I did. I bought the Canon. That was in early 2002 and the damned thing still works great some seven years later. When it came time to replace the HP printer we were using we decided to go with the Canon Pixma iP3000 because it had individual ink tanks and a built-in duplexer at a decent price and we were thrilled with it. So when it came time to move up to a decent digital camera we picked up a Canon Powershot A80 back in 2003. Later we added a Canon Pixma MP970 multifunction in part because it had Ethernet networking built-in and we love that too, but that was after the camera.

At the time we bought the camera we allowed the Best Buy sales dude to talk us into one of their four year extended warranties that basically said we could smash the damn thing by accident and bring in the resulting shards for a replacement at no charge. That expired in 2007 without us ever having to make use of it. The camera has worked pretty well over the years even after taking a fairly nasty fall that left the casing near the flash dented, but sometime last year the CCD in the camera started having problems. You’d turn the camera on and the display would look like what you get when you try to watch porn on a scrambled cable channel without a proper decoder box. The image was all distorted and wavy with any resulting pictures looking exactly like the display which told me that it was the CCD and not the LCD display itself. If you turned the camera off and back on again it would sometimes clear up and be usable for awhile, but a couple of months ago it stopped clearing up and is that way all the time now. Six years is a pretty good run for a digital device I’ve used the hell out of so I wasn’t too upset about it and I’ve been looking to replace it with a newer model, probably another Canon, once I see a good deal on one of the bargain hunter websites I prowl.

Then I came across this Consumerist article about someone who got their five year old broken camera replaced by Canon for free that mentioned a recall relating to CCD issues. A little searching found the official Canon website about the recall which listed the A80 as one of the cameras covered by it. They put that out in 2005 so it’s four years old, but I gave the number a call and spoke with a rep who confirmed it’s still in effect. I’ll be getting a prepaid shipping form to send the camera to Canon and they’ll check it out. If it’s definitely the CCD problem listed in the recall it’ll be fixed for free, if it’s something else they’ll tell me how much it would cost to fix it. Can’t ask for much more than that.

We’ve been very happy with the camera as we have been with all the Canon products we’ve bought so far and this will just reinforce my loyalty to the brand. I’ll let you guys know what the verdict is on the camera once they get it and give it a look over, but the fact they’re willing to have it sent to them at no cost to me is pretty cool in itself. Needless to say I recommend the company pretty highly at this point. If you own a Canon camera that is giving you similar trouble you may want to give them a call or check the recall website I listed above to see if it’s something you can get fixed at little to no cost.

Looking for your input on GPS navigation systems.

OK gang I need your help again. Anne and I will be taking a trip to Iowa over Memorial Day Weekend in May in the Civic we just bought to hang out with one of her best friends. In preparation for that trip one of the things we’re looking at buying is a GPS Navigation system for use in the car. I’ve been seeing all manner of deals on for new and refurbished systems from various manufacturers, but I’m not overly familiar with which features and whatnot we should be looking for. The big three appear to be Garmin, TomTom, and Magellan and prices seem to range from $65 all the way up to almost $400. I’m sure some of you out there in SEB Land have a GPS system or two so I’d love to hear from you on what you think are the absolute must-have features, any favorite models you’ve owned, and what we should plan on spending to get a decent system.

If I’d had my way we’d have bought a 2009 Civic with the GPS Navigation built-in, but this’ll have to do instead so I’m looking to you guys to help me get educated on this stuff.

The Peekaru will make you look like an extra from “Aliens.”

You see this picture to the left? You’re going to think it’s an April Fool’s joke, but it’s not. That’s a real product you can buy that’ll make it look like your baby is bursting through your chest like those monsters from the Aliens movies. It’s called a Peekaru Original Fleece Baby Carrier Cover:

Let a Peekaru Original simplify the process of getting out of the door. Wear your Peekaru over any baby carrier and you’re ready for cooler weather. Add a coat and you’re ready for winter. Whether it’s a crisp fall evening walk, a winter carnival, or a springtime parade, the Peekaru will keep your baby toasty warm without the clutter.

Baby Wearing Made Warm
The Peekaru Original is a fleece vest that zips over a soft baby carrier to keep you and your child warm. It fits comfortably over all carriers, including Baby Bjorns, Hotslings, Ergos, Mei Tais, and Wraps.

Made from 85% recycled fleece, each Peekaru Original saves approximately 25 plastic bottles from reaching the landfill. Feel good knowing that while you are holding your baby close, you are also helping the environment.

So apparently it doesn’t actually come with the baby carrier itself, it just makes you look like your baby is trying to claw its way out of your chest cavity. In all fairness I should probably point out that the other pictures on their website aren’t quite so… cinematic. Most of them make the baby look more like some kind of weird tumor growing on your chest or back. Which reminds me of a scene from Hellboy II:

This monstrosity making apparel will set you back about $80. Which is probably worth it as it’s sure to make people get the hell out of your way at the local mall.

Found over at Crunchgear.


Say hello to your future Light Bulb.

Compact Fluorescent (CFL) bulbs are currently the best way to save money while lighting your home thanks to their low power consumption and long life, but they also require careful handling and disposal due to the mercury they contain. That’s why the next best thing just over the horizon will be LED based lighting. You can already buy some LED bulbs for use in your home, but it’s largely limited to spot lights and other highly directional lighting. What we need is a configuration that includes some sort of diffuser to spread out the light and the folks at Philips now have something that fits the bill:

Philips’ Master LED bulb has the same form factor as the old-fashioned kind, making it “simple for people to use and feel good about using.” The bulb draws just 7 watts but gives off light equivalent to 40 watts’ worth, and lasts 45,000 hours, as opposed to the 1,500 of its incandescent predecessors. Already available in Europe, the Master LED should make its way to North American shores sometime before July.

The good news is that it’s form factor mimics a traditional bulb so it should fit into any lamp/fixture designed for incandescents. The bad news is that initially these things will set you back somewhere between $50 and $70 making outfitting your entire home an expensive proposition. With any luck, however, we’ll see some competition in the market bringing the price down relatively quickly just as it has with the CFLs.

As far as I’m concerned these can’t get here soon enough. The lower energy use and longer life of these bulbs will make having at least a couple in your most-used lamps worthwhile.

I gave in to gadget lust yesterday…

… and bought a RCA EZ205 Small Wonder Digital Camcorder. You may recall back in 2007 I wanted one of the earlier models of these for the purpose of trying to do some video blogs. It didn’t happen due to a push back on the release date putting it too close to Krismas—I usually don’t buy anything for a couple of months before Krismas on the off-chance that someone might get it as a gift—and I never got around to ordering it afterward.

Well Amazon had it on sale yesterday for $69.99 with free super saver shipping and I hemmed and hawed over it for half the day and then broke down and bought it. Turns out that was only about $10 cheaper than they usually sell it, but that’s still $10 I didn’t spend. It’s not the worlds greatest digital camcorder, but it should be sufficient for dicking around with. It’ll do 30 minutes of recording at high resolution and 2 hours at “web” resolution (whatever that is). It accepts micoSD flash memory cards and can take up to I believe 8GB for up to 16 hours of recording. For what I’ll be using it for I’m sure the default memory will be fine. It handles low light pretty well, but has problems with bright light.

I’ve wanted a camcorder of my own for ages and while I don’t know if I’d use this for really important special family moments, it should be fun to have it for random nonsense that might make for interesting YouTube posts. Of course it could also make for really boringly bad YouTube videos, but I don’t see why everyone else should be having all the fun in that regard and not me.

Top Gear calls Honda Clarity “most important car in 100 years.”

I plan to make my next car either a Honda Civic or a Honda Fit if I ever get to a point where I can afford to take on a car payment, but if it takes long enough I may end up getting a Honda Clarity instead:

It’s very cool to see that the car has built-in feedback systems to encourage less fuel wasting driving habits. It’s also very cool to see that it’s a real production vehicle as well.

SEB Krismas Gift Guide: The ultra creepy “Hug Me Pillow.”

Know someone who is lonely? No one to hold them while they sleep at night? Do they long for the loving embrace of at least one quarter of a person? Are they not easily creeped out by weird design choices? Got $30 bucks? Then we have the perfect gift for them! 

It’s the Hug Me Pillow and it’s available for a mere $30 right now. Just check out this totally non-creepy shot of it in action:

But don’t take our word for it that this is the finest cure for loneliness ever invented! Just check out these testimonials:

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5
Keeps me company!,  Jun 7, 2006
By Anonymous from Alaska

I bought this pillow to keep my company on nights when my husband, a correspondent for the Trans-Alaskan News Network, was out of town. The pillow exceeded even my wildest expectations. I’m told the pillow was modeled after Brad Pitt, and I believe it! When I first nestled against the soft, but firm chest of my new “husband” I slept better than I ever had before. Now I don’t mind when my husband goes out of town!

Overall Rating:  5 out of 5
What an awesome pillow,  Jul 14, 2008
By WPCexpert from Arkansas

My husband ordered me this pillow for our two year wedding anniversary (cotton anniversary). It works for me in so many different ways, he is military so is constantly deployed so now I have a sleeping companion. It also works well for those nights when he is getting too overheated to snuggle and I can snuggle with my “man”. I absolutely love this pillow I sleep with it every night and can barely stay awake once I lay my head on this wonderful invention.

All the comforts of a fellow human being without any of those pesky adultery issues! ORDER YOURS TODAY!