Review: ScanSnap iX100 is a fast, portable, uncluttered scanner

When I worked as an IT director in the early 2000s, scanners were huge, bulky slabs of plastic and glass. They demanded a lot of desk space, cranky software, and patience. I thought of those olden days while I reviewed the ScanSnap iX100 this past week.

This small scanner (pictured above with my computer’s mouse for scale) is just under 11 inches long and about 1.5 inches tall. It’s very light — only 14oz — and completely wireless. But don’t let the size fool you, the iX100 is a very capable scanner. I scanned everything from documents to 8″x10″ photos to playing cards with ease. Finally, the lack of cables makes my clutter-averse heart happy. The following is a detailed look at the Fujitsu iX100 ScanSnap wireless scanner.

Unboxing

It was very simple to get the iX100 up in running. Inside the box, I found:

  • A DVD with installation software for Apple’s OS X as well as Windows
  • A Getting Started Guide, complete with URLs for detailed instruction in 10 languages
  • A detailed handbook, again in several languages
  • Warranty and registration information
  • A micro-USB to USB cable
  • The iX100 itself

I was happy to see the USB cable, as I’ve bought a few printers that shipped without one.

Setup

The iX100 requires software to run, of course, and you’ve got two installation options. To get started, just insert the supplied DVD. From there you can install from the disc itself (the faster option), or download the lot from online. It’s a simple process and the installer walks you through the whole thing.

When that’s done, you can connect the scanner to your computer via the supplied USB cable and turn it on by simply opening the feed guide (the little flap on front). My Mac recognized it instantly, which was great. That’s cool and all, but wireless setup is even better.

The installer will ask if you want to enable wireless scanning. If you do, flip the Wi-Fi switch on the back of the machine so that the indicator light turns blue. The software will ask for permission to access your local network. Grant it and follow the instructions on the screen. When that’s done, you can put that USB cable right back in the box! Hooray! This entire process from opening the box to being ready to scan took less than 10 minutes.

Scanning

Easy setup doesn’t matter if the thing doesn’t work, right? Well I’m glad to say that it definitely does. There’s a tiny feature here that I really like. On the far left of the feed guide there’s a tiny arrow pointing to its edge. That little guy tells you how to orient documents, as well as where to place smaller items. If you’ve ever wasted time by scanning something upside down, you how nice that tiny arrow is.

To scan a document, push it gently into the iX100 until you hear its motor give a tiny whirr. That tells you that it has hold of it. Next, decide if you want to scan in straight or “U-Turn” mode. If you decide on straight, it will spit your document out behind the scanner. If you decide on U-Turn mode, it won’t do that. To engage U-Turn mode, fold the top of the scanner’s case up. This directs the paper going through the scanner back toward the front. If you’ve got the scanner on the edge of your desk like I do, this is terrific, as you needn’t worry about anything falling to the floor or getting crumpled by an adjacent wall. Then tap the Scan/Stop button and the scan begins.

Once the scan is complete, a menu pops up asking what you’d like to do with the scanned file. I was elated to see my beloved Evernote included. You can either send your file to Evernote as a document in the inbox or as a note. Other options include sending it to a specific folder, email, your printer, Dropbox, Google Documents, and more. This set of options is really nice, as chances are you aren’t going to simply drop the file onto your computer’s desktop, but do something with it once you’ve made the scan. There are even dedicated operations for organizing receipts and business cards in the software.

Scanning to Mobile

This feature is super cool. Scanning to a mobile device lets to scan even if your computer is turned off or not around. Once wireless scanning has been set up, all you need to do is download the iX100 ScanSnap mobile application. It’s available for iOS, Android, and the Kindle Fire. I have an iPhone, so I tested the iOS app.

Once the app has been installed, and both devices are on the same wireless network, just launch it on your smartphone or tablet. It will immediately begin looking for the scanner, and once it has found it, it asks for the device’s password, which appears on a sticker on the scanner’s underside.

Now, all you’ve got to do is place a document into the scanner and hit the blue scan button in the app. The document is scanned and sent to the device. It worked just fine for me and it’s a super fast way to get a document into my phone and ready to share. When you’re ready to scan to the computer again, simply close the app.

In conclusion, I’m quite impressed with the iX100. It’s very small and light, takes up almost no room, scans quickly and offers a wealth of options for working with your scanned document. Setup was a breeze and scanning directly to my iPhone is super useful. It is perfect for a small home office and for anyone who travels for business. Anyone looking for a clutter-free and simple scanning solution should definitely consider the iX100.

Sugru lets you fix, improve and avoid clutter

A few weeks ago I wrote to Erin and said, “I’d like to review Sugru for Unclutterer.” She was intrigued, so I ordered a set, and after weeks of using the product I wanted to share the results of my test-drive with you.

Sugru is a “self-setting rubber” invented by Ireland’s Jane Ní Dhulchaointigh. It feels like Play-Doh when initially removed from its package and then hardens, yet remains flexible, after being exposed to air for about a day. People are doing all sorts of creative and useful things with it, and that’s why I wanted to review it.

For me, part of being an unclutterer means a commitment to frugality, and I use the New England definition of frugal: nothing is wasted. Since Sugru lets you repair or improve on a huge number of devices in and around your home, it prevents those things from becoming clutter.

Packaging

The Sugru packaging includes a list you can populate with future projects, instructions, many photos, use ideas, and a super handy color chart. I received four colors (other combinations are available), and the chart explains how to combine them to produce a variety of hues, so that you can match whatever you’re trying to fix or improve. The Sugru itself comes in sliver, 0.17-ounce packages that resemble the condiment packs you might find at a fast food restaurant.

Use

My goal was to both fix something and improve something; both were met easily. As mentioned earlier Sugru is nice and soft out of the package, with that “I just want to squish it forever” feel. (Note: that the color does come off onto your fingers. Not a lot, and it’s easily removed with a wet wipe, but still worth noting.) Its consistency made it an obvious choice for my two projects.

The first thing I did was to fashion a DIY iPhone cable holder out of a LEGO minifig. I put a bit of black Sugru on his back, pressed him to an inconspicuous area of my bed’s headboard* and the next morning he was ready for cable-holding duty:

The second project was the “fix.” I have an Amazon Fire TV that runs a little hot. So, I decided to add some feet. After molding some black Sugru into little balls and sticking them on the bottom, the device now has a nice cushion of air between itself and the surface it occupies.

At this point, I had the bug. There’s a cabinet in our house that never stays shut. It’s old, the latch is misaligned and the humidity of summer makes things even worse. There’s a perma-gap that lets the door swing freely. Sugru to the rescue! I applied enough white to fill the gap, let it harden and now the door stays shut and only opens when we want it to. Wonderful.

The only caveat I found was that, once a pack is opened, you best use all it contains. I was unable to re-seal a pack and even putting it in a tiny zip-top bag — with as much air pushed out as I could manage — didn’t prevent the leftover from hardening into a solid, unusable slab. Fortunately, each pack contains just 1/17th of an ounce, so it’s easy to use the whole thing.

Conclusion

In the end, it’s great stuff. It’s occasionally obvious that you’ve used Sugru, so if a clean look is what you’re after you might be a bit bothered by the homemade look of your fix. Color matching helps, as long as you have the colors required to mix your target color. I like it, though, because it can help prevent slightly broken things from becoming clutter. Be sure to check out the Sugru gallery for more ideas for how the product can be useful around your home and office.

*My wife’s insistence. Really.

Children’s book review: Franklin is Messy

There are books available for adults on the whys and wherefores of getting organized but there are not that many for young children.

Franklin the Turtle is a Canadian book series that first appeared in the mid-1980s. I love this entire series of books. Franklin is amiable, cheerful, and enjoys playing with his many friends. These wonderfully illustrated books are written to engage beginning readers.

Specifically, Franklin is Messy recounts how Franklin misses opportunities to play with his friends because he can’t find his costumes or toys. Franklin gets exasperated at not being able to find what he needs as he attempts to do some tidying himself. His parents offer assistance and together they create storage solutions adapted to Franklin’s needs. I won’t spoil the ending by revealing Franklin’s perspective on his organized and tidy room!

When I organized families, younger children would often be intimidated and nervous that a professional organizer was going to overhaul the house, and possibly throw out all of their treasures. I felt that Franklin is Messy was so well written that I took it with me whenever a client had children under eight years old. I would have the kids help me clear a space on the floor and I would sit with them and either read the book to them or have them read the book to me. Often, I would tell the pre-teens to sit with us too — so their younger brothers and sisters would have familiar company.

Usually, as soon as we finished the book, the children would start organizing on their own. Sometimes it was because they wanted to find lost treasures like Franklin and other times it was because they understood that a tidy room meant more time playing with friends.

Franklin is Messy has been translated into over 30 languages and views the benefits of getting organized in a brilliant, well written way that children can relate to in their own lives.

For those who prefer to watch rather than read, the books were adapted for television in the mid-1990s. In this Youtube video, the Franklin is Messy story starts at 11:40.

Book review: Joseph Ferrari’s Still Procrastinating

Still Procrastinating: The No Regrets Guide to Getting It Done is a book that explains, in an easy-to-read format, the results of the past 20 years of scientific studies on procrastination and procrastinators.

The book defines procrastination as “the purposive delay of the starting or completing a task to the point of subjective discomfort.” More simply, procrastinators voluntarily do not work on important tasks and feel bad or uncomfortable about their delays because they know that this course of action will have negative effects in the future.

Studies cited in the book indicate that although everyone procrastinates about a few things, approximately 20 per cent of adult men and women are chronic procrastinators — they procrastinate habitually in many different areas of their lives. The studies also show that procrastination is a learned behaviour. If people understand why they procrastinate, they can get the support they need and develop strategies to help them learn new behaviours.

There are several types of procrastinators identified in the book.

Thrill-Seekers: These procrastinators claim they do better under pressure, when they feel the deadline is looming. Scientific studies show that these types of people are easily bored and the adrenaline rush of completing the task just before the deadline is a thrill they enjoy. What the studies also show is that even those these types of procrastinators believe they produce better results at the last minute, in reality they make more errors and do not complete all of the task’s components thoroughly.

Indecisives: These types of procrastinators delay making a decision until a choice is made for them. For example, they may wish to purchase tickets for the symphony but they can’t decide which night to attend and they delay so long that there are no tickets available. Studies show that Indecisives may have grown up in situations that did not allow them to acquire good decision-making skills.

Self-Saboteurs: These procrastinators intentionally place obstacles in their paths to prevent successful performance of a task. In this way they can blame external factors, such as not having enough time, to mask their anxiety and self-doubt. However, if this type of procrastinator completes the task successfully despite the obstacle, he/she will protect his/her self-esteem. Many of these self-saboteurs have low self-control. They are unable to delay their need for instant gratification and focus on the task at hand. They do not often reward themselves for a job well done and instead enjoy the “fun stuff” before they get their work done.

Perfectionists: Perfectionist procrastinators maintain impossibly high standards. They delay starting or finishing a task because being perfect is not realistically achievable. These types of procrastinators have a strong desire to be liked by others and show how hard they are working. They often justify their procrastination by saying delays will result in a better quality of work but this is not usually the case.

Regardless of the type of procrastinator with which people identify, Dr. Ferrari is optimistic about procrastinators changing their habits and behaviours. He suggests starting with small changes and gradually progressing. He indicates that getting organized is “Your Secret Weapon in Task Completion.” Do any of these four types of procrastination ring true with you or are you someone who only occasionally puts off tasks?

Professional organizers can certainly help procrastinators in their efforts to become non-procrastinators by helping them declutter, minimize distractions, and improve their time and task management skills. Sometimes consulting a mental health professional such as a cognitive behavioural therapist, may be helpful. Seeking support from family and friends who are non-procrastinators is advisable. These are the people that care for you and will hold you accountable for your changes in behaviour. Checking in daily with an accountability partner or having someone hangout with you as you work on a project at home (like cleaning out your closet) can be beneficial.

Dr. Ferrari states that procrastination is more than just having poor time management skills. Procrastination is an ineffective strategy to cope with the challenges of everyday life. By focusing on the positive aspects of your life and taking action, you can become less stressed and more productive.

Kindle MatchBook lets you upgrade your print-edition book purchases to ebooks

We’re very excited. Today Amazon launched Kindle MatchBook, which lets you upgrade your previous Amazon.com print-edition book purchases for select titles to the corresponding ebook versions. The upgrade pricing varies. Some titles have free upgrades, while others are priced as high as $2.99.

Kindle MatchBook

This is a great way to reduce the physical space required for storing books you currently own. Having your books in an ebook format also allows you to reference them while on-the-go.

A relatively small number of titles are currently available for upgrade, but more are sure to be released in the coming months.

If you don’t already own an ebook reader, our current pick is the new Kindle Paperwhite. The new next-gen backlight is very easy on the eyes.

The Staples Vayder Chair is a cozy, sturdy ride

The following is a sponsored post from Staples about a product we believe in. For the past few weeks, I’ve been aggressively testing this product and the review is based on my first-hand experiences. We agreed to work with Staples because they sell so many different products in their stores, and our arrangement with them allows us to review products we use and have no hesitation recommending to our readers. Again, these infrequent sponsored posts help us continue to provide quality content to our audience.

When I was younger my grandfather told me, “Man was not meant to sit.” At the time I thought his cheese was slipping off of his cracker, but contemporary medicine backs up his claim. Dr. Camelia Davtyan, clinical professor of medicine and director of women’s health at the UCLA Comprehensive Health Program, recently told the LA Times, “Prolonged sitting is not what nature intended for us.”

Score one for gramps.

Today, my job requires me to spend tremendous amount of time seated behind a desk, so I want a chair that’s comfortable, supportive, well-made, easy to use, and not out to kill me. I’ve been testing the Staples Vayder chair ($399) for a couple of weeks and can say, a couple of quirks aside, it meets my needs and looks great doing it.

Vayder Chair from Staples

Assembly

Seriously, this could not be easier. In fact, I hesitate to call it “assembly,” as “snapping a few pieces together” would be more accurate. The chair ships in eight pieces: the seat, the base, the gas lift (or piece that sits between the seat and the base), and five wheels. It also comes with a small pamphlet that explains the three-step assembly process and usage details in English and French.

The wheels and gas lift snap into the base and the seat fits into the top of the lift. The whole process took me less than 10 minutes to complete. I will note, however, it’s not super easy to line up the bottom of the seat with the top of the lift by yourself, so if possible get someone else to act as your eyes and guide you. Also, one of the wheels only went about 95% of the way into my base, but the first time I sat in the completed chair it popped in the rest of the way.

Controls and adjustments

Of course, I plopped down into the Vayder before reading the instructions, and found myself sitting bolt upright. Fortunately, Staples makes it easy to configure the chairs six adjustment options for a custom feel. The control levers are made of plastic and bear icons that suggest their function. Most are easy to reach from a seated position, so you won’t need to move around to change things.

Seat hight is simple enough and raises or lowers the seat. Tilt Lock lets you lean back or forward and lock the seat back into one of four positions. For me, one click backward is perfect. To use it, just flip the lever down, move your back and then flick the lever back up to lock it into place.

The arm hight adjustment is something I kind of laughed at until I’ve tried it. When I was in college, I had a job filing and my chair’s arms were so tall I couldn’t get my arms on them and under the desk at the same time. The arms on the Vayder chair move up and down by several inches, and the armrests themselves also move forward and back.

Other adjustment options include back height adjustment (this is the adjustment you can’t make while seated), which lets you raise or lower the back support piece, and a slide seat adjustment that lets you move just the “bottom” of the seat, for lack of a better term, forward or back.

Finally, the tension adjustment is the most interesting. Both the chair’s seat and back are made of a mesh upholstery that’s supremely comfortable (more on that in the next section). Tension adjustment is completed by turing a cylindrical handle just beneath the seat. Move it forward for firmer feel, backward for more relaxed.

Comfort

This chair plain-old feels good. The mesh upholstery breathes so you don’t get hot as you would on a typically upholstered seat. I’ve got the mesh set to be pretty firm, and it feels great, especially against my back. The wheels roll nicely without making a lot of noise and I’ve never been uncomfortable, even after two weeks of 10-hour days. Plus, it just feels solid.

In conclusion I like the Staples Vayder a lot. It does have some quirks, like that stubborn wheel and the fact that assembly is a hassle if you’re by yourself, but those are minor quibbles. My real-world experience with the Vayder has been great and I look forward to many, many more hours in it.

And look at that, I got through this whole post without making one “Darth Vayder” pun.

Organizing paperwork with Staples’ Better Binders

The following is a sponsored post from Staples about a product we believe in. For the past month, I’ve been aggressively testing this product and the review is based on my first-hand experiences. We agreed to work with Staples because they sell so many different products in their stores, and our arrangement with them allows us to review products we use and have no hesitation recommending to our readers. Again, these infrequent sponsored posts help us continue to provide quality content to our audience.

When I travel (for work or pleasure) or have special projects, I almost always organize the corresponding paperwork in a three-ring binder. I like to have all of my necessary information in one storage system so I can grab it and go. I also usually have a scanned backup of the same data in Evernote or on Dropbox, but I see these digital copies as being useful only if something happens to my original binder. Usually I need physical copies of the papers I’m keeping, especially with projects, when the papers may be something I’m giving to clients or need to file with a legal entity.

Earlier this year, I was introduced to Staples’ new Better Binder system, and I’ve been using them ever since. I’ve taken them to a conference, on vacation, and am currently using one to store all the paperwork for our second adoption. When finished using the binder for one purpose, I’ve removed the FileRings and dropped them into my filing cabinet. They could also be useful for keeping yearly family or tax information or anything project where you’ll be actively using the paperwork for a period of time and then need to archive it when you’re finished with it.

In short, it is a three-ring binder whose FileRings spine pops out and allows you to file the contents of the binder directly into your filing cabinet. The binders themselves are reusable and additional removable FileRings are available for purchase. (They are currently in the $4 range for the replacement FileRings.)

Removing the FileRings is incredibly simple, especially after you see it done. Pull on the plastic pieces at the top and bottom of the FileRings spine to pop it out. You then push in the top and bottom plastic pieces to hang the FileRings in your filing cabinet. Inserting the FileRings is also simple — set them in place and then push in the top and bottom of the FileRings spine to secure them into the binder.

They also have available Better Dividers, which I really like. The tabs can be inserted on the top or the side of the divider, making them extremely versatile. There are times when having the tab at the top of my binder is helpful, especially when I only have a need for two or three divided sections.

The binder comes with a blank spine label you can tear off and easily slide into place, so you don’t have to cut up a sheet of paper to make one from scratch. The front panel of the binder also allows you to slip in a cover sheet of your own design.

Better Binders come in the traditional size (11” x 11-3/4”) for 8-12″ x 11″ sheets of paper. They’re available in 1″ (275 sheets of paper) for roughly $8, 1-1/2″ (400 sheets) for $9, 2″ (540 sheets) for $11, and 3″ (600 sheets) widths for $14. The binder comes with one removable FileRings spine, but additional FileRings must be purchased separately. Current colors are white, red, black, pink, orange, yellow, green, teal, blue, purple, dark teal, fuchsia, plum, olive, and multi-color combinations of some of these colors. I use the different binder colors to make it even more obvious which binder I need to take with me, in addition to the labeling I use on the binder.

Comparing video streaming services

The way we watch TV and movies is changing. So-called “time-shifted” television and on-demand movies make it possible to see just the programs we’re interested in when we have the time to watch. I love this practice because it lets me get work and family activities completed first, and save TV watching for when my schedule allows it.

There are many ways to access on-demand movies and television shows. Each has its own pros and cons. In this article, I’ll look at some of the most popular options, describing the benefits and drawbacks of each.


Netflix

Netflix started out as a way to rent DVDs through the mail, and today it provides streaming television and movies to millions of users. I’ve been a customer for about two years and I enjoy the service quite a bit.

Pros:

  1. Compatibility. Netflix is available on the iPad, Android devices, the Nook, Kindle Fire, the web, iPhone, Nintendo Wii and more. If you’ve got a connected smart device, it just might run Netflix.
  2. Original programming. Netflix has produced at least two high-quality original TV shows. Lilyhammer starting Steve Van Zant of The Sopranos and Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band was a delightful fish-out-of-water story that put a New York City mob boss in Lilyhammer, Norway, via a witness protection program. Meanwhile, House of Cards starring Kevin Spacey takes a look at the hard-scrabble world of D.C. politics. Netflix is also working to revive Arrested Development, which Fox shut down in 2006.
  3. Navigation. Using Netflix is easy. The company has released several updates to its web app and device-specific applications. It’s clear the team is determined to produce a high-quality product.
  4. The queue. You can identify shows or movies you’d like to see and store them in a queue. When you’re ready to watch, simply open your queue and make a choice from among those you’ve saved.

Cons:

  1. Mediocre selection. Overall, Netflix’s selection is mediocre. The TV selection is better than the movies. Once you’ve seen the ones you’ve heard of, you’re left with obscure documentaries and other films that didn’t make a splash at the box office. Now, many of them are quite good, but be aware that you might not find the latest summer smash in Netflix for quite some time.
  2. Cost. It’s not expensive, but at $7.99 for access to streaming content (DVD rentals are more), it adds up over time.
  3. Search isn’t great. It can take a while to find a title you’d like to see from among the many thousands on offer.
  4. Not very kid-friendly. Netflix features a “kid mode” that only presents child-appropriate content, but anyone can defeat it with two taps, no password required.

Hulu Plus

Hulu Plus is the paid version of Hulu, the online streaming service that works in a web browser, iPad, iPhone and more.

Pros:

  1. Kid mode done right. Unlike Netflix, Hulu Plus requires a password to exit its kid-safe mode.
  2. Fantastic TV selection. Hulu often gets episodes of popular television shows the day after they run, so you don’t wait. TV really is Hulu’s main strong point.
  3. Wide device support. Hulu Plus is available on many devices, from the Xbox to the iPad to Android tablets and phones.
  4. Nice image quality. I’ve watched several programs on my 27″ display and my HD television (via Apple TV) and they always look great.
  5. Picking up where you left off. You can start a program on, say, your iPad and pick up where you left off on your computer (to be fair, other services do this, too).

Cons:

  1. Abysmal movie selection. This is a sticking point for most streaming services but it seems to be a real issue for Hulu. I can often find something to watch on Netflix. On Hulu, I stick with TV. The movie selection is not to my liking at all.
  2. Cost. Just like Netflix, Hulu Plus will run you $7.99 per month. Not a lot on its own, but it adds up when purchased along side other streaming services.

PBS

The PBS app for iPhone and iPad is very nice. Here are a few things I like about it.

Pros:

  1. The scheduling feature is quite helpful. Tell the app your home location to browse a full programming calendar. You can even create reminders to catch upcoming shows.
  2. Favorites. After creating a free account, you can monitor your favorite shows and receive notifications of relevant information.
  3. Great navigation. This app is beautifully laid out and easy to use.
  4. It’s free!

Cons:

  1. Restricted to PBS programming. That’s not a bad thing, especially for PBS fans, but the drawback is obvious: you can’t watch anything other than PBS shows.
  2. Some series are incomplete. For example, I was able to find Julia Child’s Cooking with Master Chefs, but not The French Chef (which I prefer).

iTunes

Apple’s media behemoth iTunes is a great choice for people who want access to current TV and movies in HD.

Pros:

  1. TV shows are current and movies often hit iTunes when they’re released on DVD.
  2. 720p and 1080p HD programs are available.
  3. The iTunes software is available for Macs and Windows PCs.
  4. Renting is less expensive than buying.
  5. The iTunes Store is updated weekly, so content is always fresh.
  6. Apple’s iCloud lets you store iTunes purchases on Apple’s servers for playback on any approved, compatible device.

Cons:

  1. Unless you’re using iTunes on a Windows machine, you must have an Apple device to view rentals and/or purchases. There’s no Android support here.
  2. A la carte pricing. This sounds good, but it’s a lot less economical than the all-you-can-eat flat fee of services like Netflix and Hulu. Every time you want to watch anything, you must pay for it (unless you’ve bought it outright, of course).

Amazon Prime Streaming

Prime is Amazon’s service that includes two-day shipping on qualifying items plus access to its library of streaming video. It’s a good deal for those who shop with Amazon and love streaming video.

Pros:

  1. Cost. At $79 per year, Amazon is much cheaper than the other services listed here (save PBS). That works out to about $6.58 per month, and includes the shipping benefit.
  2. Prime members with an Amazon Kindle can “borrow” books as well, essentially turning Amazon into a lending library.

Cons:

  1. Selection. It’s not good. The movie section is especially lacking. You’ll find some hits that are around 20 years old, but other than that you have to dig.

Vdio

There’s also a newcomer to the group. As of yesterday, audio streaming service Rdio has added streaming video to is business: Vdio. It’s only available to Rdio Unlimited subscribers in the US and UK for now. In the few hours I spent looking at it, I found the selection to be small in number but big in names. Recent hits like Lincoln, Les Mis, The Hobbit and Life of Pi are available right now. Vdio is young but definitely a service to watch. (Sorry for that pun).

So there’s a look at the more popular video streaming services. There are more, of course, but this post is already long enough. It’s really nice when you can schedule TV viewing on your own terms. The whole process becomes more efficient with less time wasted. Have fun watching TV in “the cloud!”

Modo modular desktop organizer on Kickstarter

The organizers of a new Kickstarter project got in touch with us yesterday because they thought our readers might be interested in the modular desktop organizer they’re trying to crowdfund. Watch the following video:

The design seems both simple and flexible. We’d love to see them produce the base in a variety of woods though. While sustainable, bamboo isn’t always our cup of tea.

At a pre-order price of $26, we’re still impressed.

Organize your photos and videos with This Life

Many people use their computers to manage four things: work, browsing the Internet, music, and photos. For my family, photographs are a big deal. My iPhoto library is bulging at 32 GB, and that’s with 2009 – 2010 archived on an external drive. In short, my wife and I take a lot of pictures with our digital cameras and smart phones.

Keeping the lot organized is a challenge. Not to mention sharing with far-flung family and friends, as well as finding that one shot you’re after. While I love Apple’s iPhoto, I’ve been looking for something that’s platform-agnostic (Mac, Windows, whatever), easy, tidy and even fun. There are many contenders, but for right now, This Life is what we’re using.

There are a few things I like about This Life, and I’ll describe my favorites. It recently came out of its beta testing period and is now available to the public.

Getting Photos Into This Life

You can’t start using This Life until you fill it with photos. Fortunately, the process is easy. The company has made a free “uploader” application for both Macintosh and Windows. Simply download it, open it and follow the instructions. It will begin uploading any photos you throw at it. Depending on how big your library is, it may take a while, so go make a sandwich.

You can also import photos from many popular services like Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, Twitter, Picasa, SmugMug and more. I moved my Instagram and Facebook photos over to it easily.

Once your photos are in This Life, it’s time to start organizing.

Who’s Who

Many photo-management applications offer face recognition, but I haven’t found one that works as well as This Life’s. Facial recognition technology lets you give a name to a face in one of your photos. This Life then looks for that same face in the other photos and assigns that name to it. The idea being that you can search photos by face (“Jane Smith”). It isn’t 100 percent accurate but, boy, does it work well. It also runs in the background so you can do other things on your machine.

Once you give it a name/face combination to ponder, This Life gets to work. The next time you launch it, you’ll be given a few guesses to confirm. The next time, a few more. As This Life gets more confident, it does greater and greater batches and eventually leaves you alone. It works well.

Dupe!

This Life also handles duplicates very well. Specifically, if it finds two copies of the exact same photograph, it keeps the one with the highest resolution and deletes the others. That’s very handy and saves me from having to find those on my own.

Organizing

There’s no This Life application for the Mac or Windows (aside from that uploader utility). Instead, you use it in a web browser. It’s organized in a very clever way. By default there are two “views,” or ways to look at your photos: My Story and Library.

The library view presents all of of your photos at once, in chronological order, from left to right (oldest on the left, newest on the right). There are three rows of photos and a pretty little drop shadow makes them appear to be resting on a big table. A slider on the bottom of the screen lets you move back and forth, and if you have a mouse with a scroll wheel, that will work, too.

Click any photo to zoom in and share via Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr or email. You can also leave a comment and perform simple editing tasks like “Image Magic,” which attempts to correct for lighting and color balance (hit or miss in my testing) and rotation. Finally, you can delete the image or download the full-resolution original to your computer.

That’s great, but the real beauty is in Stories.

Stories

This Life lets you group photos into what it calls Stories. You can think of Stories as albums, but they’re more than that. This Life’s developers refer to them as “living albums — they are a dynamic collection of photos, videos and notes.” I’m a big fan of This Life Stories.

Creating a new Story is simple. Just click “New Story” in the upper left and give it a name. Adding photos and/or videos to a story is even easier: just place your mouse over it and click the heart that appears. That’s it. Honestly, you can add dozens of photos to a Story in seconds. To switch to a different Story, select it in the drop-down menu and resume clicking hearts.

Stories are also collaborative. You can invite others to contribute to a story and upload their own photos and videos. My family has a reunion ever year, and everyone takes pictures. It was fun to invite them to my “Family Vacation ’12” Story and see their contributions come in.

There’s more to love like searching by location, which shows all photos taken at a certain geographic location, and tags, which lets you describe what’s happening in the image. This makes search very powerful, as you can enter “Jane eating cake at Grandma’s house” and find exactly those shots. Super.

Sign Up Options

This Life is free to use for up to a certain amount of storage, and additional plans increase based on the amount of storage you require. There are many photo management options out there, and This Life is definitely worth your consideration.

Review: Martha Stewart Home Office with Avery Dry Erase Decals

We receive a lot of offers to test products and write reviews for the site, and we almost always decline. Very rarely do the items look like they would actually be useful. A few weeks ago, however, we got an offer from the Martha Stewart company to try out their new dry erase boards that looked like they might be useful, so we agreed to give them a try. I received the new Martha Stewart Home Office with Avery Dry Erase Decals (free of cost from the manufacturer) to test out a few days later. Two of the key features are that they can stick to many surfaces (including walls, stainless steel, glass, and plastic) and they’re removable (and, therefore, can be repositioned as many times as you want).

At first glance, they look like giant gift labels (about the size of a piece of notebook paper), but they’re really a bit more than that. They can be used to write reminders, to do lists, a grocery list, or even a fun, positive quote for the day. Since I really like to handwrite lists, I was curious to see how well they would work.

I decided to use one of the decals for a task list and placed it in a location that was very visible (so that I would be reminded to use it) — on the glass window of the main entry door to our house. This was the perfect spot for me as I often remind myself to take things when I’m leaving home by putting them by that door. To remember everything on my list, all I had to do was snap a picture of it before heading out to run errands.

Here’s my to do list from last week:

I used the other label on the wall adjacent to my daughter’s room door. This time, I wrote down books I wanted to remember to buy for her. It could be used by older children (or their parents) to jot down updates to their schedule (like a change to an extracurricular event). Or, you could write the instructions for a new recipe or a note to call a client at a certain time. Perhaps you need a visual nudge that says, “Work on important project today!” (that could work well if the decal is placed by your workspace) or a happy face to help you get through an eventful day.

The decals were very easy to apply to both the glass window and wall, and I had no problem removing or repositioning them on either surface. It didn’t leave a residue or take off wall paint. The writing surface is very smooth and erasing was just as easy as using a typical dry erase board. They work well for capturing ideas and reminders, though you will need dry erase markers close by. I will be continuing to test the decals in my home office (to write future blog topics) as well as on the fridge (to write a grocery list). They seem to be a nice solution for someone living in an apartment with restrictions on nailing things into the wall. If you want to give them a try for your home, office, or dorm room, you can find them on Amazon and at Staples. They cost in the $3 to $5 price range and come in a variety of styles, which is relatively inexpensive especially in comparison to most traditional dry erase boards.