I’m not sure where we first saw Animusic, but we have the first 2 shows and the kids love it. Looks like most of the music videos are on Youtube and definitely something fun to show the kids. They really enjoyed this “marble race” one.
While many people have been awake for hours, fighting crowds for deals, I prefer sleeping in and surfing websites for good presents. The biggest challenge for me is not finding the best deal, but finding presents that have the quality, durability, and re-playability. Searching the top ten lists on most sites is a waste of time because they are inundated with things like Twilight and Zhu Zhu hamsters (?!?). Instead, I discovered this tip for finding great gift ideas.
Search for the things you already own and your kids love. Why? Because then you can take advantage of the “customer who bought this item also bought…” part of the site.
For example, one of our favorite games is Monza by HABA (a great game company). Looking halfway down the page I see suggestions for numerous games that also have 5 star rating and reasonable prices. Some by HABA and other by companies we haven’t tried yet. Some examples:
- Zeus on the Loose
- Animal Yahtzee – by HABA
- Knuckling Knights (4461) – by HABA
- Animal Upon Animal (another one we own and love)
- Enchanted Forest
By looking for the things you own you can take advantage of the wisdom of the crowd to find other great gift ideas. Just make sure to do price comparisons between online stores because as we get closer to Christmas you will start seeing unscrupulous merchants start price gouging popular items.
We just transitioned the website to a new server and are having some minor issues. Please bear with us while we beat down the web gremlins and get everything running normally again. Has anyone noticed if the website is loading a little faster?
We’ve been using our point and shoot camera more and more to record video. The short clips are good quality and much easier to manage and share than camcorder recordings. Occassionally, Heather will record a video clip vertically giving us a lovely sideways video. I finally decided to do some homework and found a very easy program for rotating video called Streamclip.
Streamclip is available for both Mac and Windows. To rotate your video, simply open it in Streamclip and then export the file in your desired format. In the options window select a 90 degree rotation in the direction you need AND set the zoom to 75%. This will prevent your video from getting the top and bottom clipped off. The program runs quickly and the end result will be like the video of Ben I posted yesterday.
Here’s a website with a simple tutorial for using Streamclip to rotate a video.
Our iMac isn’t feeling well. On Friday it locked up and now refuses to boot. I ran diagnostics over the weekend and am trying to repair the hard drive, but it seems like the drive is completely toast. I plan on writing a post with the complete symptoms and tests in a day or so, but for now I wanted to let everyone know where we’d run off to.
The good news is that we bought the AppleCare extension so our repairs are covered. We also had been using an external hard drive for our Time Machine and everything should be backed up. I’ll let everyone know how that works. As a fall back I also backed up our 85 GB iPhoto library to our Drobo about a month ago so the worst case scenario is that we lose 1 month of photos.
Let this serve as a reminder to any other photo nuts that you MUST have a digital backup strategy. This is the second hard drive we’ve had crash without any warning. If a disk suffers a hardware failure there is no way to recover the data unless you send it away to a lab and take out a sizable loan to pay for a service that may not recover anything. Buying an external hard drive (or two!) is cheap in comparison. The ideal solution is something that is automatic, like Time Machine, and will perform regular backups without any human intervention.
Stay tuned to hear how we make out.
Families in our area have been getting hammered by bugs the last few weeks. Flu bug, stomach bug, strep throat, and who knows what else. I got sick with the mini-flu that is going around a few weeks ago and promptly passed it on to a co-worker who then shared with his car pool and someone else in our office. Some how our family didn’t get sick then, but now that I’m better we have all 4 kids coming down with a fever and boogers. Fun.
The exciting news in our house is an upcoming project I am researching. We subscribed to the Best of Youtube podcast and have been watching it on our TV at night (thanks to PyTivoX). One of the videos was instructions on building a Bristle Bot. A bristle bot is a simple robot that uses vibration to achieve locomotion.
There are 3 ingredients:
- The head of a toothbrush (w/ angled bristles)
- The vibration motor from a pager or cell phone
- A watch battery
While cleaning out our spare bedroom to gather things for our upcoming garage sale I discovered 3 of our old cell phones. Next I need to hit the dollar store for some toothbrushes and see if we have the batteries lying around.
The tricky part is extending the wires on the motor. For the video they soldered on wires. I’d love to get a chance to try soldering, but that would mean buying a soldering iron. I think I’ll try to simply attach longer wires with electrical tape.
Of course, the uber-geek in me is not satisfied with construction without an element of destruction. My brother sent me a video with ideas for modified bristle bots. So now I am thinking we could get creative with a little aluminum foil and some paper clips. Using the boards from our Kaskey Kids Hockey set we can have our own Battle Bots ring!
Stay tuned. I’ll make sure to document the whole process and get some video of the bots in action.
I just upgraded our site to the latest maintenance release of WordPress. Please let us know if anything gets squirrely.
FYI – When I first tried upgrading I received the following error:
Fatal error: Cannot redeclare class pclzip in wp-adminincludesclass-pclzip.php on line 171
The cause of the error was a conflict with the WordPress Automatic Upgrade plugin. Disable the plugin and use the new built in WordPress upgrade tool found in the Tools section of the admin.
I just discovered a fun program called Comic Life. You can edit your photos to make them look like comic books by adding speech bubbles, putting your photos in a comic grid, and applying styles to your photos to make them look like drawings.
Comic Life is available for both Mac and PC for $24.95 for standard or $29.95 for the deluxe version (more fonts and themes) from Plasq software. We’re going to play with the 30 day free trial before we decide whether we would use it enough to justify buying it. Here’s my first attempt at a comic. Very fun and easy. The kids got a kick out of helping me come up with things for them to say.
Lately I’ve been thinking more and more about the importance of backing up the data on our computer. So much of our lives are stored on that computer and a hard drive failure could make it all disappear. A year and a half ago we had a hard drive die on us. Fortunately, I had been doing a manual back up our photo library. Unfortunately, I hadn’t done it in a few months. We had been using 2 hard drives and between my backup and our email archive, I recovered all our old pictures and some of the newer ones in a lower resolution.
I did do some research on data recovery and learned that when a drive has a mechanical failure the only way to recover data is to send it to a lab and fork over several thousand dollars with no guarantee they’ll get your data.
When we were ready to purchase a new computer last winter we decided to switch to a Mac. A big selling point was the built in Time Machine which will continuously backup your data to an external hard drive. Time Machine also has a nifty interface for going “back in time” to find your lost files. Luckily, we’ve only had to use Time Machine a few times for tracking down email that was accidentally deleted, but each of those times it worked flawlessly.
Even with our new setup I kept asking myself “was that enough”. The iMac and the backup drive are about 6 inches apart. A fire, theft, or leaky pipe would still wipe out everything and that photo library is extremely valuable to us. We’ve got some Google Adsense money saved up and I’m planning to cash it in and invest in an improved backup strategy. Here’s the plan:
1) I’ve got several old Lacie external drives floating around. I plan to backup our photo library onto one and bring it to my mom’s house next time we visit. I can then bring a second drive the next visit and bring the first one home. This backup swapping will keep an emergency off site backup available. The problem with this is that it is manual (ie I have to remember to do it) and the backup is one time so in a worst case scenario we’d only have as much data as the last backup.
2) Install a Drobo. This is an external storage device that can hold up to 4 drives. My plan would be to use the Drobo to store our music and movies along with any archived data. What is special about the Drobo is that if 1 drive were to fail you could simply swap it out with a new drive and all your data will still be there. This will be a foolproof storage solution for our data, but is still vulnerable to theft, fire, etc.
3) Install Jungle Disk. This is a utility that uses Amazon’s S3 online storage service to backup your data online. You designate which folders on your computer you want to backup and Jungle Disk will start uploading. Jungle Disk will monitor your folders and upload any new files or changes automatically. This is the ideal solution. Continous backup to an offsite location. The downside is that given bandwidth restrictions and cost, I will probably limit this to only our photo library. My cost estimate is $20 for Jungle Disk, $5-10 for first upload, and then less than $10 a month after that for storage and further uploads.
While expensive, these combinations would give us plenty of storage and enough redundancy to ensure our digital photo library can not disappear. I can’t help but think that digital cameras have made photography more popular than ever, but how many of these photographers would lose everything if their hard drive were to crash?
I’ve been really slacking off the blogging, partly because I’ve been spending a lot of time replying to ice rink comments, but also I’m just out of practice. Blogging is such a strange experience. When you start it is exciting and you are full of ideas. After awhile it can get a little tiresome and you step away. Once you break the habit it is hard to get back in the rhythm. The irony is that you don’t stop having the blog ideas and you regret not posting them. I had a computer science professor in college that gave me some great advise. His ‘theory’ was that computers shot out lazy-stupid rays and when you sit in front of them for too long your brain goes numb. I still follow his advise and walk away from the computer when trying to solve a problem at work. The thing I haven’t figured out with blogging is how to transfer the great ideas I have while driving to work or mowing the yard from my brain to WordPress.
For me, the greatest part of having a blog is documenting our life. When I first setup the new blog and imported all my old posts from other blogs I ran I was overwhelmed by the value of the simplest posts that brought back a memory of the kids and put a date to it. They grow up so fast that having some of those funny moments documented is so invaluable.
With that in mind I’m on a mission to find my blogging rhythm again and focus on more of our family oriented posts. Our mission with this blog was to focus on how much fun it is to raise a family. Just like the weather or politics, people often find it easier to commiserate at times than to share the joy in things. That’s not how I think, however. When I think about my kids and while I sit here typing while I here Jillian crying upstairs and Ben and Ethan snoring behind in their impromtu slumber party in our family room, I feel so happy.
There’s really no point to this post other than to perform a brain dump and to get back on the blog wagon. I still have a ton of products I want to write reviews for, including the hits that Santa brought us, but I want to focus more on the little things that mean the most.