Mana in the Springtime

File this one under: Cool Motorcycles Americans Won’t Buy

A couple of years ago I took a spin on a motorcycle called an Aprilia Mana. It’s an 850cc V-twin that looks like a spiffy sort of bike- no fairings or leather tassels. Just a sit-upright standard with tons of storage and a comfortable seat.

I enjoyed the heck out of it. Brad even wrote a very favorable ride review of the Aprilia Mana. But– there’s a very big but…

It doesn’t have a shifter.

Omigod! That’s right. The Mana uses a constantly variable transmission (CVT) which in layman’s terms means “automatic.” And there’s no quicker way to emasculate the average motorcycle riding dude than to suggest he ride a motorcycle with an automatic. So this perfectly capable bike, dare I say versatile, sits in dealer showrooms across this country unwanted.

So the Mana will join the ranks of fine motorcycles, like the Honda Transalp and the Yamaha TDM 850, that have landed on our shores and promptly flopped.

But the good news is if you’re looking for a deal on a brand new motorcycle with a full warranty, you’re in luck.  Aprilia is offering 2009 Manas for damn near half the original sticker. For details visit our local Aprilia dealer: Brookside Motorcycle Company.


Buy a brand new motorcycle for nearly half price.

Find: Space Needle Hand Towel

I had the Space Needle on my mind last night after perusing the souvenir edition of the Seattle Times from April 1962. I dropped in on eBay to see what sort of Seattle memorabilia might be available.  Turns out ephemera from the worldly fairs actually has a category on eBay. Who knew!

Cool Stuff on eBay

Check it out- a 50 year old towel.

But not just any towel- it’s a souvenir from the 1962 World’s Fair in Seattle! Very cool graphic featuring the space needle and the monorail.

This year happens to be the 50th anniversary of the “Century 21 Exposition.” Check out this classic space-age towel here…

Seattle World’s Fair Hand Towel

Have you spotted cool stuff on eBay?
Let us know about it!

What’s a TV Antenna?

I haven’t had cable in more than a decade. That fact used to make me a fringe element- but now it means I’m hip.

High Tech TV Antenna

But we knew that all along.

A recent Wall Street Journal article chronicled this rise in over-the-air viewing (link below). Web-enabled devices are changing the way TV works. And people are realizing they don’t have to pay someone to make them a slave to their boob tube.

Favorite shows can now be watched when you want to watch them. Those willing to wait a little can enjoy their favorite series en masse instead of waiting a week to see the next episode. All while pocketing the cash usually budgeted for the monthly cable bill.

Eventually the real winners in all this will be local broadcasters. Assuming there are any left. Ironic when you consider just a few years ago the Internet was predicted to bury television as we know it.

Over the years regional and local content has been virtually annihilated by the propagation of satellite and cable TV. And most locals are doing their best to use the new digital channels as mini-cable networks, or at worst weather displays. The smart stations will stop trying to mimic Oprah and leverage digital channels for targeted, local content.

Over-the-Air TV Catches Second Wind, Aided by Web

Free Wi-Fi Booster

Well, almost free.

It takes a sheet of heavy paper, some aluminum foil and a few minutes of your time. So let’s just say insanely cheap.

Our wi-fi router is centrally located within our office. But the conference room, where the wi-fi is most often required, is separated from the router by multiple walls and lots of fluorescent light fixtures. A signal is obtainable- but the strength is meager at best.

Repositioning the router wasn’t really feasible so I started investigating wi-fi signal boosters and such. There are several options available ranging from add-on antennas to signal relays that attempt to extend the signal- supposedly up to 1 mile.

Then I came across this idea from Free Using a simple cardboard parabola covered with foil it promised a 9 dBi gain. For free!

It took about 10 minutes to cut out a copy and place it on one of the antennas of our D-Link router. Just adding the one increased my signal in the conference room from Poor to Fair and 11 meg to 36 meg of bandwidth. I haven’t even got around to making one for the second antenna!

Of course I had to tweak their design just a smidge- see what you think…

Click the image to view the full-size version. Print it in heavy stock or acetate. You can even scale it up to increase the gain!

All you do is cut it out, cover the rectangle with foil then do the insert tab A into slots B. A little tape on the back side helps keep it all together. Poke holes through the X and slide it over your wi-fi antenna. For more details and specs check the page on Free


eBay’s Top Shopped Crazes in 2011

Okay, apologies in advance for all the End Of Year lists and crap. But this one also fascinated me, partly because of the content and partly from the who-really-cares aspect.

Last week we considered the world as related to us by searches on Google. They even produced a video called Zeitgeist 2011. Well this week I want to share an excerpt from another press release looking back on 2011. This time from eBay:

SAN JOSE, Calif.— eBay, the world’s largest online marketplace and a leader in mobile commerce, today announced its third annual “Top Shopped” report1, ranking the pop culture moments and trends that captured shopper’s attention – and cash – in 2011. eBay analyzed sales data based on what people bought across categories on the marketplace to identify what piqued the public’s interest this year–from must-have tech and toys, to pop star divas and celebrity standouts.

The list is, as one might expect, a roll call of pop stars, gadgets and sports figures.  The one possible exception being Sade. But here’s the best part, and I quote:

“eBay sales are a direct indicator of what Americans are most fascinated by and uniquely reflects the cultural zeitgeist.”

So it appears that Google and eBay have settled it. The one conclusion that stands out above all others.

The 2012 word of the year is zeitgeist.



Top Three Most Expensive Cross-Category
Purchases on eBay Mobile:

  1. Motors | Mercedes-Benz : S-Class: $212,685
  2. Fashion | Hermes Blue Sapphire Ostrich Birkin Bag: $19,975
  3. Collectibles | 1933 Goudey – Babe Ruth #53 PSA Baseball Card: $19,500

Pole Saw Picture Taker

A few months ago I saw a guy photographing a parade with a camera mounted on a long pole. He was able to shoot video from about ten feet above the crowd and see far down the parade route. It was such a great idea I had to try making my own!

Elevating your camera is a great way to get a striking perspective. In fact there are several websites dedicated exclusively to pole or elevated photography.

For my attempt I used an old pole saw. It’s a two-section fiberglass pole that extends to about 15 feet. Using a PVC fitting I attached a Slik tripod ball head to end of the pole. A ball head is a simple device, but I sprung for the SBH-100 that includes a quick release plate.

A 1/4″ x 20 screw holds it to the fitting, and I used a small screw to cinch the whole mess to the end of the pole.

Here’s my first aerial photo I snapped in the back yard:

Altogether it took about 20 minutes and  required the $25 ball head, about $3 of hardware and the pole. So far I’ve only used it with my Olympus E-410, but I’m looking forward to using it for video soon!

Awesome Little Drive

I was in need of more storage for my video files and shopped around for a new external hard drive.  My current drive was a 500 gig Smart Drive that had been very reliable. I was planning on buying another one when I came across a great deal on the Western Digital My Passport Essential SE Ultra Portable.

This is a tiny unit that uses a 2.5″ laptop hard drive.My Passport 1 tb Drive It supports the faster USB 3.0 so it’s wicked fast (but works fine on the older 2.0 interface ). But the best part is there is no power cord. The special cable handles the data transfer AND power needs. No AC outlet needed!

I’ve been using it now for about a month and have not had one hiccup. Transfer rates are excellent and it has a whole terrabyte of room for me to fill up with raw video footage of silly things.

And isn’t that what life’s all about?

Bag That Camera

I recently read an excellent review of some compact camera bags in the BMW Owners News. I realize that probably isn’t a common resource for photography gear. But the review was specifically looking at small camera bags that are well suited for use while riding a motorcycle.

The camera bags and backpacks by M-Rock, a company I’d never heard of. The review claimed the gear was well made and reasonably priced. I’d been looking for a decent camera bag and a sling bag for my video camera but was suffering sticker shock. The best known brands like Tamrac, Kata or Lowepro seemed expensive. Anyway, I ordered a couple of M-Rock bags on the article’s recommendation and have been very pleased.

Right now they’re running a special on all their gear- plus you can save another 20% if you enter the coupon code 20PC at checkout!

Tracfone Buyers Beware!

Don’t get me wrong, the Tracfone plan is the most economical way I’ve found to own a mobile phone. I consider myself a “casual user” and average about $15 per month for my cell phone service.

But I recently got sucker-punched by a problem that took me weeks to unravel. Fortunately it’s a simple matter to rectify- even easier to avoid!

The Trouble
My new LG600G was unable to send images via email or browse the web. This surprised me because my lame little Motorola was capable of sending photos via email to friends, Picasa or my Facebook page with no trouble at all. After a little digging I learned that my old phone had been on AT&T but the new one was assigned to the T-Mobile network.

Spring into Savings
Many people are not aware that Tracfone and Net 10 do not have their own network. They buy airtime from carriers then resell it to you. Depending on where you’re located one carrier may offer better coverage than another. For me, in Oklahoma, the coverage offered by T-Mobile was pretty bad. And to top it off none of the data features of my phone worked at all!

The Solution
After some wrangling with customer support at Tracfone they finally agreed to send me a new SIM card. The trick here is to insist they provide you with a SIM card for the AT&T network. I’ve included info below on using the SIM card number to identify which network your phone is using.

It’s also possible to avoid this problem altogether before you purchase a phone. The trick is to know a few of the codes used on the Tracfone packaging and website.

Codes to Remember

Model Number suffix shown on retail packaging
AT&T: P4
T-Mobile: P5

SIM Card serial numbers available from the Prepaid menu of your phone
AT&T: 890141…
T-Mobile: 890126…

Market Code shown in the URL as market= when ordering a phone online
T-Mobile: GSM5, COGSM5
Verizon, Alltel and US Cellular: CO
GSM5AT will most likely be assigned to the T-Mobile network

I hope this might help others avoid the aggravation of spotty coverage and unusable features that I have gone through!

Great Phone Unites Cell and Landlines

I went shopping for a decent cordless phone. But happily I ended up with a great deal more!

Until recently I was not aware that some cordless phones offer Bluetooth connectivity. That means you can answer a call on your cordless phone no matter whether it’s coming in on your landline or your cellular line. This isn’t a common feature, but I have discovered it’s well worth looking for.

After a little shopping around I found a handful of phones that offered this feature. Most of these phones included answering systems, DECT 6.0 technology and came with two or three additional handsets. I read reviews and researched cordless phones with Bluetooth made by Panasonic, V-Tech and AT&T. The units from V-Tech received the highest marks for quality, ease of use and reliability. I have owned their products in the past so I was already familiar with their reputation.

After some deliberation I ordered the VTech DS6321 model with three handsets.

I unboxed the set, read through the quick start and installed the batteries. My initial impression was very favorable. The handsets have a nice feel. The answering system is digital, which is pretty common nowadays, and the sound quality of incoming messages is very good. Optional ringtones can be selected for each of the handsets and an intercom feature means an end to the cross-house screaming sessions. The system is expandable up to 12 handsets.

The 6321 will “pair” two cell phones. It took about 10 minutes to set it all up and go through the pairing process (a one-time event) with both of our phones. The clarity is very good, better than using my cell phone directly. Range for the Bluetooth is about 30 feet, which I find quite acceptable. Now whenever we’re home we just sit our cell phones on the counter near the base unit of our new cordless phone set. After a few seconds it will connect so that any cell calls can be answered using one of the VTech handsets. You can also add two Bluetooth headsets into the mix, but I haven’t tried that yet.

I’ve been using the new VTech for about a month now and we love it. Be aware that you will want to adjust your cell’s voice mail feature to coordinate with the answering machine. But it’s a simple matter of setting the preferred number of rings. It’s also worth mentioning that a landline is not required!

My wife and I each have cell phones and both are paired with the cordless phone now. When a cell call comes in we just pick up the closest phone- I actually prefer talking on the cordless now!