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25 July 2008

Must Have Toys & Tools

Important clarification: This post will come across as materialistic. But think about it in terms of ministry impact and keeping up with technology. If we wait until something is tried and true we'll always be playing catch up. It's like saying, "Let's start using DVD's now that the market has fully accepted them." Only to realize that Blu-ray has already secured that market for the near future and we are one step behind.

Being an early adopter has both benefits and drawbacks. On the one hand you are ahead of the curve but you also experience the pain being on the 'bleeding edge.'

That said, let's talk toys and tools:

The Computer: I hear people saying, "Duh! Did he just say computer?" Yes, I did, but I really meant notebook. In today's economy portability is to be desired. Any more there isn't a huge difference between the price of a desktop and that of a notebook. So why not be able to take it with you?

I still love a good desktop with two large monitors for graphic and web design, but the majority of my life resides on the notebook.

I won't get into the Mac vs. PC thing here so I'll leave it at: I love my Dell Latitude D830 for the day-to-day and I'd love to own a MacBookPro for my HD video (iMovie)...

As for what to have on your computer. See below...

The Browser: I've been hopping between IE and Firefox for the past few years but recently switched completely to the Mozilla product: Firefox3 which is amazing. I think what finally persuaded me was the way Mozilla attempts to make your life easier. Sure IE7 has begun to offer add-ons but Firefox was built upon this concept and in my opinion leads the way in this area.

I can't live without the FF3 developer extensions for CSS and XML, the extension that syncs my bookmarks (favorites) between my desktop and laptop and the extension (PicLens) that allows any online photo gallery to become a picture wall that I can easily scroll through without waiting for page refreshes. This along with color picker and measureit tools make developing websites much easier.

The Software/Apps: If you do what I do you can't live without Adobe Products. Of course it hurts to say that given the fact that I was a hard core Macromedia fan. But it's all good now. Whether a graphic artist or a web designer these are almost a non-negotiable. My faves are Dreamweaver, Flash and Fireworks.

You obviously need MS Office 07 with the 'ribbon' menu layout, the cool new smart art feature in Word07, Outlook07's powerful upgrades (still the best all around email tool in my opinion) and OneNote07 which makes taking notes and organizing between notebook and desktop a breeze.

Throw in the following apps (both online and downloadable) and you're golden:

  • Blogger: Makes blogging as easy as flossing - for free.
  • Bloglines Beta: RSS aggregator that will revolutionize your life! (no, I don't work for them...)
  • TweetDeck: For managing all your Twitter needs.
  • TwitPic: For taking picture on your mobile phone and easily sending them to Twitter (tell people what you are doing in real time) - simplest way to let people immediately 'see' exactly what you are seeing at any given point in time.
  • Facebook: Just to remain connected to all your peeps - and to create/send Pieces of Flair...
  • Adobe Media Player (AMP): For those of you dabbling in flash video (largely becoming the online standard) you'll need something to watch your FLV files in. Built for the Adobe AIR platform which has some really cool apps. These run on your desktop, but interact as if they were running inside a browser.
  • SmugMug: Need a place to upload all your favorite pictures for safe keeping and sharability?
  • Music: iTunes or the Zune Marketplace. Take your pick. I chose Zune - love the subscription service. I can try anything and everything for one price.
  • Digsby: If you need to keep IM, Twitter, Facebook and other accounts organized and in one place.
  • SocialThing: Still in beta so you'll have to beg to try it out. But when it goes live it might just take over the world :)

The Camera: I've dabbled with photography over the years but I'm still a little on the 'green' side. I have the Nikon D40x because I like the smaller body style and figured it was a good middle of the road camera for learning on.

But none of that really matters. What does is that it's digital, takes large pictures (8-10 megapixels) and can shoot in RAW/NEF format which gives you crazy control over them in the future. IMPORTANT! If you do this, make sure you have the Adobe Bridge software (ships with some of the larger Adobe packages like Web Premium) which makes these images viewable and allows you to easily edit them.

Storage becomes an issue when you start taking a lot of digital pictures (especially when shooting in the RAW/NEF format). You NEED a backup plan! Mine is currently this:
  • Transfer to desktop hard drive
  • Copy these to external hard drive
  • Upload to SmugMug (easy to share with friends and safe in case the first too solutions crash)
  • Delete off camera (SD card)

The Video Camera:
Go HD or the future will smack you in the face :)

I recently purchased the Sony HDR-SR11 HD camcorder with 60GB hard drive, 10MP camera and 5.1 surround in an attempt to keep up with the HDTV revolution.

Here's the problem. Not only is analog going away in February 2009, but in the very near future you'll only be able to buy HDTVs. This means all that footage you've shot on the non-HD camcorder (640x480) is going to look bad on the new TV (which wants at least 1280x720).

Better to start shooting now in HD and save those memories on something that will look great in the future. However cost is an issue (most HD camcorders are between $800-$1500).

Another thing to keep in mind is storage space. You thought digital pictures were hard to keep up with - wait until you start taking HD video! I'm still working out the details on that backup plan...

The HDTV: Currently watching Samsung 50" Plasma 720p.

This technology is fast approaching which means I'm trying to get in on the ground floor and ride the elevator. But that means fairly significant costs up front.

Not only are HDTV's expensive ($1000-$4000 for the type 'normal' people would own) but you also have the additional associated costs that come with cable, HDTV programming and a HD DVR (Tivo or equivalent).

However there is nothing like Discovery Channel in HD and playing back your home videos from your HD camcorder will blow you out of the water.

My HDTV doesn't have a network jack, but look for this in the near future. You'll want one as IPTV takes hold. You will be able to watch streaming content from the Internet right on your TV!

The Phones: Want to stay connected to all the other stuff in the palm of your hand? You'll need one of the more complex phones available to day like the Samsung Instinct (pictured), the Motorola Q9, the HTC Mogul or the iPhone to name a few.

These phones not only allow you to talk to people, they also bring all your other work or personal information to you. These sync with exchange servers so your email, calendar and contacts are available on your phone. You can surf the Internet, text, twitter and Facebook all from the phone.Some even have geolocation and navigation features via GPS.

I currently use the Motorola Q9c through Sprint. All the above can be yours for $69.99/mo. on the Simply Everything Plan.

However please use restraint. More people each day are getting into serious car accidents trying to take pictures, talk on the phone and Twitter all simultaneously...

In Summary
This post is a stinking book! Hopefully I broke it up well enough so you could easily find parts that interest you.

Don't be afraid of technology. The majority of the stuff I purchased for personal use, but there is a huge crossover in what I do for the church. From the digital pictures to the HD video we're daily working with the stuff trying to leverage it for His Kingdom.

If Satan is using technology to make things darker - We need to use it to turn up the light.