#411 Goal Zero Solar Charger, Type2Phone, Acura TL Tech Review, Chris Marquardt Beginning DSLR Photography

We’re going to start out with a Dumb Question that results in a review of the Goal Zero Guide 10 Plus Small Adventure Kit solar charger and battery pack. Then we’ll have a quick shout out about the app Type2Phone, and a car tech review requested by Honda Bob. On Chit Chat Across the Pond we’re going to have a new guest, photographer and Mac geek Chris Marquardt from the Tips from the Top Floor Podcast, and ChrisMarquardt.com. I’m very excited to have him on the show and the assignment I gave him is to answer a dumb question from Knightwise about how to get started with a Digital SLR.

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Hi this is Allison Sheridan of the NosillaCast Mac Podcast, hosted at Podfeet.com, a technology geek podcast with an EVER so slight Macintosh bias. Today is Sunday March 24, 2013 and this is show number 411. We’re going to start out with a Dumb Question that results in a review of the Goal Zero Guide 10 Plus Small Adventure Kit solar charger and battery pack. Then we’ll have a quick shout out about the app Type2Phone, and a car tech review requested by Honda Bob. On Chit Chat Across the Pond we’re going to have a new guest, photographer and Mac geek Chris Marquardt from the Tips from the Top Floor Podcast, and ChrisMarquardt.com. I’m very excited to have him on the show and the assignment I gave him is to answer a dumb question from Knightwise about how to get started with a Digital SLR.

Back in 2010 Bart did two fantastic segments on beginning DSLR photography and I’ve put links to his blog posts for both of them in the shownotes. His first was called Getting from Auto to Manual, and the second, my favorite, is Some Thoughts on Composition. That’s the one where he coined the phrase “leave it room to look into”. Great reading and both lessons that I really resonated to and committed to memory. I’m looking forward to Chris’ perspective on getting started too.

Goal Zero Guide 10 Plus Small Adventure Kit

Leon Sargent asks a very timely question, and I’ll explain why after you hear what he had to say:
========Insert Leeon==========

Thanks for the kind word, Leon, and your question is very timely because it just so happens I have a review unit of a solar charging kit that I was about to review. Remember we did an interview at Macworld with the PowerTrekk folks about their soon to be released fuel cell chargers? I tweeted about that solution and the fine folks at Goal Zero contacted me to see if I wanted to review the Goal Zero Guide 10 Plus Small Adventure Kit. That’s a mouthful, so I’ll figure out a way to shorten it.

My approach in using the Guide 10 Plus was to imagine using this while camping, where power sources other than the sun are pretty much zero. The Goal Zero Guide 10 Plus Small Adventure Kit comes with two separate products from Goal Zero. There’s the Nomad 7, which is two 7″ solar panels that provide the power source, and the Guide 10 Plus battery pack. The Nomad 7 folds up to protect the two solar panels, is 6x9x1″, and on the back has a zipper case that is essential to the use of this kit. Inside this zipper case is the USB power outlet for charging your devices directly, or to charge the Guide 10 Plus battery pack.

This kit also comes with a USB to mini-usb cable to charge your devices or to charge the battery pack. There’s a couple of other chargers that seem a bit odd – like a 12V car adapter (female side), so I guess if you have something that can charge in a car, you could charge it with this, but I’m not sure how often that would come up. The battery pack comes with four nickel-metal-hydride 2300mAh rechargeable AA batteries, so you’re going to be able to store a lot of power here. It also comes with an adapter so you can charge AAA batteries too if you have them.

Now let’s talk about operation. I put the Nomad 7 in direct sunlight, angled perpendicular to the rays, and plugged in my iPhone 5 and it didn’t charge, instead I got an unsupported device error from the phone. I tried a couple other people’s iPhone 5s and they also didn’t charge. When we tried an iPhone 4 though, it did charge. I talked to the Goal Zero folks and they explained that the iPhone 5 is pretty finicky on how steady of a power source it requires and the slightest perturbation will irritate it. Their recommendation is to plug in the battery back and let the solar panels charge that, and then charge the phone from the battery pack.

When I tried to charge the battery pack though, it would not charge, not even from a wall outlet. I wrote again to the Goal Zero folks and they were highly apologetic and rushed out another unit to me, including the return sticker to send the first one back. I tried charging the new battery pack from the wall, and again it wouldn’t charge. That got me thinking. What are the chances that I got TWO bad units? I must be doing something wrong. I opened the translucent plastic cover over the batteries…and there was a plastic tab saying “pull” on it protecting the batteries! Good grief! I’m telling you four engineers and computer scientists (one with a PhD, two with Masters degrees) had all looked at this and hadn’t noticed that pull tab! I checked the documentation and they didn’t even say in there, “hey moron, pull the pull tab first.” I wrote back to Goal Zero and they apologized profusely for not thinking of that when I wrote the first time (I thought she’d be mad at me for being an idiot.) It’s pretty clear that red sticker on the OUTSIDE of the little door would be in order here.

Ok, so FINALLY after weeks of this I’m starting from scratch. The bad news is that I had successfully charged the battery pack so now I had to find stuff to drain it. It took a surprisingly long time to drain the battery and now I could actually test the Goal Zero solar charger.

The battery pack has a switch that shows an O a | and a little light symbol. I’ve never been able to remember which one means on and off, but the light switch turned on an LED that could be handy in my camping scenario. The O means USB output is disabled (so it can’t charge your devices in this position), | means USB output on (so it can charge your devices). The good news is that the battery pack will charge in any position.

One of the most important things in a battery pack for me is an indicator of how much charge I have left. I have to say that here the Guide 10 battery pack falls short. There is a single indicator light with the word solar underneath it, and you have to learn all of the different light options to figure out what it’s telling you. For example, when you’re charging the device, a slow red blink means you’re between 0-50% charged. Slow green blinking means 50-80% charged, and fast green blinking means 80-100% charged. If you’re looking at a blinking green light (and haven’t seen how fast or slow it can go, how are you supposed to decide if that’s fast or slow? Now let’s say you’ve charged the device to 80-100% (fast green blinking) and you want to charge your smart phone. If it shows solid green (in the | position) then you have power available, but if it’s solid orange, that’s a low warning (how low you might wonder? who knows.) Solid red means it’s got no power at all (just enough to show you the red light I guess.)

I found this baffling and was constantly confused. I kept trying to do tests to see how fast it was charging but with this plethora of indicator options I was left with no clue. I left it in the direct sun for 4-5 hours and it was blinking green when I took it inside…but I forgot to notice if it was blinking quickly or slowly. I’d love to see say 4-5 LEDs like on the Mophie chargers – no interpretation or instruction manual required to tell what they mean and a more granular scale than green for good and orange for some form of bad. On the Mophie if the switch shows red, then you’re not charging your device, if it shows green it’s working, way better than the |O switch on the Guide 10 Plus.

Now after whining about the indicator lights, I don’t want you to think this isn’t an excellent device. I was able to charge the battery pack in four hours or so as they claim, and then charge my devices. The battery pack will charge an iPhone or other smart phone twice but doesn’t have the power in watts to charge a tablet. Those take 10watts of power and like many devices the Guide Plus 10 only carries 5 watts of power.

The solar arrays on the Nomad 7 are very light easy to angle towards the sun because of the folding configuration, and it includes loops on just about every side so you can hook it to things to help keep track of it or angle it towards the sun.

I was very impressed with the customer support at the Goal Zero site, and from reading the comments on other reviews I wasn’t treated great just because I was reviewing the unit, this is their standard way of doing business.

Bottom line time. The Goal Zero Guide 10 Plus Small Adventure Kit is a small and light solar collector and battery pack that will provide you up to two charges of a smart phone, using nothing other than our sun to give you power. It’s $120 at Amazon which isn’t cheap but if you’re often without power, or want to have a good emergency backup in case of emergencies (say, emergencies where the sun will be shining), and you’re willing to spend some time studying the behavior of a single LED indicator I think it’s a great product.

Type2Phone

On Don McAllister’s amazing ScreenCasts Online tutorial series, he showed a super cool new tool called Type2Phone. I’m not going to go through all of its features and how it works, because I couldn’t do justice to it compared to Don, but I did want to tell you about it. Type@Phone lets you use your Mac as a bluetooth keyboard to all kinds of other devices. I’ve been playing with it all week, and it’s amazing. I’ve paired my Mac with 2 Samsung Galaxy S3s, a Galaxy Note 2, a Nexus 7, an iPad, 2 iPhones, AND my AppleTV.

I pretty much always have my Macbook Pro in my lap when I’m around the house, and now I can use the Mac’s keyboard instead of that incredibly annoying AppleTV Remote to find and play shows. I’m not sure I need it much to control my iPad and iPhone (or anyone else’s device) but I also have a Mac Mini hooked to my TV and now I don’t have to get all the way up off the couch and reach for the Bluetooth keyboard 3 feet away. See? Type2Phone is $5 in the Mac App Store and it’s from Houdah.com.

Car Talk

Honda Bob is really excited because I got a new black Acura TL to replace my old black Acura TL. Turns out going from 2005 to 2012 is a pretty big change in technology so he suggested I do a bit of a review. I decided to do this because I want to talk not just about what they did right but what they did horribly wrong.

Having a backup camera on a car is a life changing experience. I now know why I had so much trouble parallel parking – it’s because I was stopping 9 feet away from the car behind me. It’s amazing how much closer I can get than I thought I could! This car has a line at 9 feet, 6 feet, 3 feet, and then a dotted line at 1.5 feet. The other advantage this gives me is if I’m parked between two stupid trucks (people in LA drive giant trucks and never haul anything but themselves up and down the freeway) and I can’t see on either side, my backup camera is wide enough angle that I at least have a fighting chance.

The 2012 has a whole bunch of automatic stuff in it. Like when I walk up to the car with my key fob in my purse, it magically opens for me! That’s pretty awesome. It also simply will not allow me to lock my keys in the car. If the keys are in the cabin, and I push the button on the door handle to lock the car, nothing happens. Even better though, if I try to leave the keys in the trunk, it beeps and reopens the trunk. Pretty cool. I can hear my dad right now though, “you know Al, that’s just more stuff to go wrong, all that new fangled technology there…”

My 2005 TL had a navigation system, but it had one of the most irritating things I’ve ever seen. When you first turned on the car, it had a warning screen that said whatever you do, don’t mess with the nav system while driving. I don’t object to the message, the problem was they kept it up on screen for around 2 minutes which GUARANTEED that I would start driving and THEN mess with the nav system when it was ready. So dumb I yelled at it about twice a week. The new nav system comes on in just a few seconds with no stoopid warning system.

It also has another feature that I didn’t even notice for a week or so. If the car is stationary you can fiddle with the nob and choose driving directions, songs on your iPod, all that kind of stuff. If the car is moving though, it reads everything out loud to you. I think that’s pretty cool, not that you should play with it too much but there’s times you need to, and by reading it to you that means you’re less likely to take your eyes off the road

my car in the garage looking real prettyI mentioned that the 2012 works with my iPod, on my old car Honda Bob put in a third party adapter that worked well enough, but having true integration is much cooler. If a podcast is playing, I can see all of the episodes and the album artwork, I can search for other podcasts and again it reads aloud to me if I’m messing with it while the car is driving. I can finally fast forward through Leo’s 28 minute Audible ads now which is really nice. One thing I don’t like is that about 10 minutes after I start driving, the lady inside my car says, “iPod search is now available blah blah blah” and rambles on and on about how to use it. I have to fumble around looking for the cancel button, which then takes me into the audio controls when I really want the map back and her to shut the heck up. I don’t know why it takes so long to have search available, and I don’t know why she thinks EVERY time we go out together she has to tell me all about it as though she’s just discovered fire or something.

My old car had bluetooth so I was able to send and receive calls over the car stereo and I could program phone numbers in by hand and teach it my voice. It was a bit of a pain to program and a real pain to pair the phones, but I actually miss it. The new car is much easier to pair phones, but other than that it’s horrible to make calls. In my old car I could click the talk button and say, “call 310-555-1212”, she’d ask me to verify, and it would show it on screen instantly so I could hit the talk button before she barely got started and say “call” a second time. 2 button pushes.

Now we have to have a big long conversation about it. Instead of the word “call” I have to say “dial by voice tag” or “dial by number”. Let’s start with dial by number first. So I hit the talk button, say dial by number. She comes on screen and says “after the beep, say the number you want to call”. She beeps, but that beep doesn’t really MEAN beep, it means push the talk button so I can make my OWN beep and only THEN am I allowed to say the number. So I’m two button pushes in, but I’m not done yet. Now she starts reading the number back to me, but the display lags her so I have to wait for her to slowly call it out, or keep flicking my eyes off the road to see if it’s on screen yet. Oh, and the screen is the big nav screen, way over to the center of the car, where on my old car it was directly in front of me where I could flick down and up real quickly. Once she’s told me the number she tells me to beep again and say “yes” or call or something like that. I tired multiple times at multiple speeds to say the dialing request and the same number in one fell swoop but she wasn’t having any of it. Steve and I took the car down to Acura and met with a guy who used to be on the support hotline for Acura and he verified that the way I’m doing it is the most efficient way. I’m REALLY annoyed by this, every single day.

I should mention that the 2012 actually sucks my entire address book in, which you would think would be a good thing, but it’s not. I have over 600 people in my address book, so finding them with the little search window is a nightmare – they clump addresses together by the first letter, say separating all of them into maybe 5 groups. And you can search by voice…unless you’ve taught the car to recognize your voice for THAT number. They call it Voice tagging, which sounds like fun, you know, playing tag and all but it’s not. You do get 4 speed dial numbers which are very easy to get to quickly but only 4? They have a second screen but that means rotating the dial to get to the button to get to the second screen which is way more trouble than it’s worth.

I don’t understand why a company that makes such great cars could take such a GIANT step backwards in the user interface for the phone. I hate it and it makes me nuts.

But dang that car is pretty, I love the tight turning radius and the backup camera and the wicked cool wheels and it’s very shiny. I know, I’m no Brian Cooley but that’s my review of the tech in the 2012 Acura TL.

ScreenSteps

One of my favorite things about ScreenSteps is that when you make a mistake (and someone points it out to you) it’s soooo easy to fix. Last week I told you about my clever tutorial on how to make a recurring calendar event with Automator to refresh iTunes. Don Moeller wrote a lovely letter with an important correction:

Allison, Thank you so much for providing the screen steps tutorial on how to update all podcasts. I’ve been wondering how to do this since iTunes 11 shipped. However, I did run into one little snag in the AppleScript. when quoting iTunes make sure you use straight quotes and not curly (which is the way it pastes).

I confessed to Don that even though ScreenSteps has a Code Block format, I forgot to use it (actually too lazy), and evidently there’s a real reason to use it, not just for looks! The good news is I was able to go into ScreenSteps, select the text, change the format to Code Block and push the upload button again. ScreenSteps keeps track of the fact that I’ve posted it before, remembers that I sent it up as a permanent page, and simply reposts it. Easy Peasy as my buddy Niraj would say.

If you like to help people but get tired of repeating yourself, consider buying ScreenSteps from BlueMangoLearning.com. The Desktop version is only $40, or you can spring for the Pro version for $80 if you want to get into doing full on manuals to teach other people what you know. In any case, as Big in Virginia always says, tell them Allison strong armed you into buying it!

Chit Chat Across the Pond

Knightwise called in with an audio Dumb Question. I’ve brought in the big guns, Chris Marquardt from Tips from the Top Floor to help us get started.

(Al point out that I should not be lumped in with Bart as a photographer!)

Photography 101 – Chris Marquardt chris@chrismarquardt.com

Tech basics

  • What makes a camera? Simple box with a hole works just fine. More modern: lens, viewfinder, battery, memory card, shutter button, mode dial
  • Modes: automatic, program, aperture priority, shutter priority (+ sports, portrait, etc.) – these do EXPOSURE
  • Automatic juggles more things for you than Program, e.g. ISO and flash
  • In Program mode you can rotate the dial to change the balance between shutter/aperture
  • Important things the camera does for you (more or less perfect): exposure, colors, focus
  • What the lab used to do for you: colors, contrast, (exposure)
  • How to influence
    • exposure: exposure compensation
    • colors: white balance
    • focus: manual focus

    Composition basics

    • what makes a good picture?
    • composition is by far more important than any tool (good picture: 90% composition, 10% tech)
    • a boring picture shot with a high tech camera and an expensive lens and lots of technical knowhow will be a sharp, well-focused, contrast-rich, punchy, beautifully colored picture.. that is still boring
    • background check & border patrol
    • Like a flight checklist – look what’s behind your subject, then scan the borders for distractions
  • subject – distractions, size, closer, center
    • Consider moving the subject’s face to the upper right, for sunsets 80% sky instead of 50/50
    • Main thing is move off of center (though some photos are best centered)
    • Get closer to increase the attention to the subject, maybe even take several shots closer and closer and see what looks best at your computer later

    Find Chris’ work

    • Starting in April 2005 he had beginner tips
  • Check out his photo instruction workshops at http://chrismarquardt.com
  • For beginners he suggests the podcast by some friends of his: The Two Hosers from http://twohosers.com
  • That’s going to wind this up for this week, many thanks to our sponsor for helping to pay the bills, Blue Mango Learning at bluemangolearning.com makers of ScreenSteps and Clarify. Don’t forget to send in your Dumb Questions, comments and suggestions by emailing me at allison@podfeet.com, follow me on twitter at @podfeet. Check out the NosillaCast Google Plus Community too – lots of fun over there! If you want to join in the fun of the live show, head on over to podfeet.com/live on Sunday nights at 5pm Pacific Time and join the friendly and enthusiastic NosillaCastaways. Thanks for listening, and stay subscribed.

    4 thoughts on “#411 Goal Zero Solar Charger, Type2Phone, Acura TL Tech Review, Chris Marquardt Beginning DSLR Photography

    1. […] Nosilla Cast Episode #411 […]

    2. Tim McCoy - April 16, 2013

      I’m looking forward to ‘taming the terminal, part 2′. I personally have been “living in the shell’ for decades; love it. I hope you’ll mention “hash bang” construct to invoke any one of the number of different shells available – to mix and match and cascade functionality. Pretty darn cool. You’ll get the hang of it Al, dive in.

      Since you are doing “shell scripting”, Bart, are you gonna touch on the other scripting languages? Like my first love, perl.

      Thanks again.

    3. Bart Busschots - April 25, 2013

      Hi Tim,

      Sorry for the slow reply – been hectic.

      How far this series goes will depend strongly on listener feedback – as long as people are following along and interested, I’ll keep ramping up the geek, so it will be an interesting experiment to see how far we get.

      As for Perl, I can’t promise we will go there, but, if there is enough interest to go into a ‘real’ scripting language, it will be Perl, because that’s not just my first love, that’s my bread and butter. Perl is what I use in work to glue our various different systems together into a working whole. I like to joke that Perl is like the force, it has a light side and a dark side and it holds the universe together 🙂

      Bart.

    4. […] had Chris Marquardt from tipsfromthetopfloor.com on the show about a year ago to talk photography with me and I grilled him about these new fangled mirrorless cameras. He talked me out of thinking about […]

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